June 5, 2023

Institue for the Study of War: Ukraine gains ground outside Bakhmut amid signals that Ukraine has launched its counteroffensive

Institute for the Study of War

Russian and Ukrainian officials are signaling the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. ISW offers no assessment of these signals at this time. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on June 5 that Ukrainian forces conducted a “large-scale offensive” across five sectors of the frontline in southwestern Donetsk Oblast on June 4. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled all Ukrainian attacks and assigned Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov to oversee the southwestern Donetsk frontline. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar noted on June 5 that Ukrainian forces are “transferring to offensive actions” in some unspecified areas of the front. Malyar added that Russian sources are actively spreading information about the Ukrainian counteroffensive to deflect attention from Russian losses in the Bakhmut direction. The Russian MoD’s claims that Russian forces immediately repelled Ukrainian counteroffensives are consistent with previous false Russian claims made during past counteroffensives. Ukrainian forces are likely making limited gains despite Russian denials. ISW will not attempt to assess at this time whether or not these gains are part of broader counter-offensive operations. ISW observed an increase in combat activity in different sectors of the frontline but will not speculate about the intent, weight, or focus of Ukrainian counteroffensives operations. A successful counteroffensive operation may take days, weeks, or even months before its outcome becomes fully clear, during which time Russian sources may falsely claim to have defeated it.

Ukrainian forces made limited advances north and southwest of Bakhmut on June 5. Malyar reported that Ukrainian forces are conducting offensive operations on the eastern front in the Bakhmut area and advanced 200 to 1,600 meters in the direction of Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut), and 100 to 700 meters near Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut) and Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that mechanized Ukrainian forces also advanced from 300 meters to one kilometer in the direction of Zaliznyanske (13km north of Bakhmut) and Bohdanivka (8km northwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut direction for “moving forward” in their areas of responsibility on June 5. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Ukrainian forces captured an unspecified part of Berkhivka (6km north of Bakhmut) and criticized the Russian military command for previously withdrawing Russian forces from the Berkhivksy Reservoir on May 12 to protect their positions in the settlement. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian assaults in the direction of Soledar (12km northeast of Bakhmut), likely referring to the wider area north and northeast of Bakhmut. One milblogger claimed that Russian forces fought Ukrainian forces near Rozdolivka (19km northeast of Bakhmut). Another milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces also attacked Russian positions in an unspecified location in the Siversk (31km northeast of Bakhmut) area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian assault near Mayorsk (21km southwest of Bakhmut) and north of Horlivka (26km south of Bakhmut). ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Ukrainian advances in the Bakhmut associated with these limited offensives on June 5.

The pro-Ukrainian all-Russian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) claimed that it continues to operate in a Russian border settlement in Belgorod Oblast as of June 5. Geolocated footage published on June 5 shows the RDK personnel operating in Novaya Tavolzhanka (a small settlement about 3km from the Kharkiv-Belgorod Oblast border). The Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR), which conducted a raid into Belgorod Oblast with the RDK, published footage purportedly showing LSR forces striking Russian tanks and armored vehicles near the Shebekino checkpoint, about 7km northeast of Novaya Tavolzhanka. The Russian MoD claimed on June 5 that Russian forces and the Russian Border Guard Service repelled two attacks near Novaya Tavolzhanka on June 4, but did not respond to the RDK’s claim that RDK personnel still operate in the settlement.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian and Ukrainian officials are signaling the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted limited successful offensives north and southwest of Bakhmut.
  • The pro-Ukrainian all-Russian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) claimed that it continues to operate in a Russian border settlement in Belgorod Oblast as of June 5.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that Chechen forces are ready to defend against raids in Belgorod Oblast, likely partially in order to keep his forces out of combat in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Black Sea Fleet is attempting to mitigate complications with logistical support in occupied Crimea by shifting resources to mainland Russia.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to exacerbate the divide between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
  • Russian milbloggers responded to the video of Lieutenant Colonel Venevitin with concern, indicating that several prominent pro-war voices are becoming increasingly concerned over the ramifications of the Wagner-MoD divide.
  • Russian forces reportedly conducted unsuccessful reconnaissance-in-force operations northeast of Kharkiv City and continued limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued limited offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts and made further limited tactical gains.
  • Ukrainian forces continue to target rear Russian positions throughout southern Ukraine.
  • Iran has allegedly signed contracts with Russia for about $1.74 million in ammunition for Russia to use in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian sources and Belarusian sources indicated that Belarus has been involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.
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