Russian hopes to capture southern Ukraine unlikely to succeed, says Institue for Study of War

April 22, 2022

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A briefing by the Russian Deputy Commander of the Central Military District on April 22 reiterated standing Russian objectives in eastern and southern Ukraine and did not announce any new operations. Deputy Commander of the Central Military District Rustam Minnekaev gave a speech to the annual meeting of the Union of Defense Industries on April 22 that has been misinterpreted as the announcement of a new Russian campaign. Minnekaev said Russian forces began a new phase of the war two days ago, an unsurprising confirmation of the new phase of the Russian offensive announced by both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian officials on April 19. He stated the primary objective of Russian forces is to capture the entirety of the Donbas region and southern Ukraine to provide a land bridge to Crimea; as ISW has previously assessed, Russian forces seek to capture the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and retain control of the Kherson region.

 

Minnekaev stated that Russian control of southern Ukraine provides Russia a future capability to conduct an offensive toward Transnistria, rather than announcing an imminent Russian offensive toward Moldova. Minnekaev said Russian control of southern Ukraine will provide “another way out to Transnistria,” the illegally Russian-occupied strip of territory in Moldova, where he falsely claimed ”there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.” We do not read this as a statement of intent to conduct a major offensive operation toward Moldova. An offensive toward Moldova would likely have been phrased around securing a “land corridor” [сухопутный коридор] to Moldova, much like the Russian land corridor to Crimea. Even if Russian forces did seek to resume major offensive operations toward Mykolaiv and on to Odesa, they are highly unlikely to have the capability to do so.

 

Key Takeaways

  • A briefing by the Deputy Commander of the Central Military District restated the standing Russian objectives in the current phase of the war: capturing the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and defending Russian positions in southern Ukraine against Ukrainian counterattacks.

  • Ongoing purges of Russian general officers for failures in Ukraine will likely further degrade Russian command and control.

  • Russian forces seek to starve out the remaining defenders and civilians in Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Plant and are unlikely to allow trapped civilians to leave.

  • Russian forces conducted localized attacks and reconnoitered Ukrainian positions south of Izyum and did not make any advances.

  • Russian forces secured minor gains in continuing daily attacks on the line of contact in eastern Ukraine.

  • The Kremlin is setting conditions to create proxy republics in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts to cement Russian control over these regions and conscript Ukrainian manpower.