April 22, 2023
Russian milbloggers have provided enough geolocated footage and textual reports to confirm that Ukrainian forces have established positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast as of April 22 though not at what scale or with what intentions. Geolocated footage published by a Russian milblogger on April 22 shows that Ukrainian forces have established positions on the Dnipro River bank north of Oleshky (7km southwest of Kherson City) and advanced up to the northern outskirts of the settlement on the E97 highway, as well as west of Dachi (10km south of Kherson City). This footage also indicates that Russian forces may not control islands in the Kinka and Chaika rivers less than half a kilometer north of the geolocated Ukrainian positions near the Antonivsky Bridge. Russian milbloggers claimed on April 20 and 22 that Ukrainian forces have maintained positions in east bank Kherson Oblast for weeks, established stable supply lines to these positions, and regularly conduct sorties in the area—all indicating a lack of Russian control over the area. Another milblogger’s battle map claimed that Russian forces do not control some Dnipro River delta islands southwest of Kherson City as of April 22, suggesting possible Ukrainian advances on these islands. Some milbloggers complained that the slow rate of Russian artillery fire due to the over-centralization of the Russian military command allowed Ukrainian forces to land on the east bank. Russian forces may be prioritizing maintaining defenses in urban areas such as Oleshky and Nova Kakhovka, leaving the islands in the Dnipro River delta unmanned. The extent and intent of these Ukrainian positions remain unclear, as does Ukraine’s ability and willingness to maintain sustained positions in this area. ISW is recoding territory on the east bank of the Dnipro River to Ukrainian-held only now because this is the first time ISW has observed reliable geolocated imagery of Ukrainian positions on the east bank along with multi-sourced Russian reports of an enduring Ukrainian presence there.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely attempting to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to go over to the defensive ahead of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive. Prigozhin argued on April 21 that Russia needs to “anchor itself in such a way that it is only possible to tear out [Russian forces from their positions] with the claws of the opponent.” Prigozhin’s comment followed a discussion of the Ramstein meeting results, Western commitments to train more Ukrainian personnel and continuous military support for Ukraine. Prigozhin also noted that Ukraine will try to “tear” Russian forces apart and that Russia needs to resist such attacks. Prigozhin has been increasingly alarmist in his recent rhetoric and has made similar statements about the uncertain future of Russian offensive operations in Donbas. Prigozhin’s calls for strengthening Russian defenses in occupied territories and frequent discussions of the prospects of Ukrainian counteroffensives are notable as they indicate that he is trying to amplify the discussion in the Russian domestic information space. Russia, however, continues to conduct offensive operations in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Prigozhin is also advocating for Russia to focus on holding the current frontlines rather than seeking more gains so that Russian forces can regain their combat effectiveness for later offensive operations. Prigozhin is not arguing for Russia to end the war and negotiate with Ukraine and the West as some Russian and Western sources reported, as ISW previously observed, but is instead condemning the faction within the Kremlin that is hoping to end the war in negotiations. Prigozhin is actually arguing that Russia needs to meet the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive at full strength and try to hold the current frontlines without ending the war or entering into peace negotiations. He argues that a pause after the Ukrainian attack culminates would allow Russia to regain combat power and build nationalist support within the Russian society for renewing the fight even in the event of a defeat. Prigozhin is also attempting to redefine and undermine some of Putin’s key maximalist goals in Ukraine—namely the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine—likely to minimize the informational impact that might result from going over to the defensive and abandoning efforts to gain more ground now. Russian far-right paramilitary formation Rusich (Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group), which facilitates recruitment of Russian ultranationalist and irregular forces, echoed Prigozhin’s rejection of the “denazification” and “demilitarization” goals. Rusich noted that Russia is fighting Ukraine to avenge Donbas, for living space, and for combat experience—rather than fighting claimed Ukrainian “fascism” and “Nazism.” By reframing Putin’s goals, Prigozhin and some factions within the ultranationalist community may be attempting to condition the Russian domestic information space for the prospect of frozen frontlines, potentially near the initial lines of February 23, 2022.
- Russian milbloggers have provided enough geolocated footage and textual reports to confirm that Ukrainian forces have established positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast as of April 22 though not at what scale or with what intentions.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely attempting to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to go over to the defensive ahead of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- The Russian military command is likely attempting to convince Putin to turn to defensive operations as well – but is unable to bluntly deliver this message to Putin.
- The continued insistence on Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine suggests that the group that wants to freeze the war along the current front lines has not fully persuaded Putin of its views.
- Russian occupation authorities are continuing to oppress Roman Catholics in occupied Ukraine, likely in an effort to suppress Ukrainian religious institutions beyond the Kremlin’s control.
- A Russian fighter-bomber accidentally bombed Belgorod on April 21 with two FAB-500 bombs, one of which likely malfunctioned.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line and near Siversk.
- Russian forces continued to advance around Bakhmut on April 22, although Russian forces have not completed a turning movement around the city.
- Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front and conducted a limited ground attack in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian authorities have made headway in their attempts to compel international recognition of Russian ownership over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- Continued Russian efforts to block evacuations of wounded soldiers, likely to prevent soldiers from leaving the combat zone, have contributed to the deaths of some Russian soldiers.
- Russian occupation officials are expanding patronage networks in occupied territories.