April 24, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Attack on Russian naval base in Sevastopol attributed to Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

April 24, 2023

Russian milbloggers speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered additional military command changes on April 20. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Putin signed a decree on April 20 about a series of military command changes and formally dismissed Commander of the Eastern Military District Colonel General Rustam Muradov. The milblogger noted that Muradov’s dismissal likely resulted from his disastrous offensive on Vuhledar that resulted in many casualties among Russian personnel and the loss of much military equipment. The milblogger added that the decree also forced Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov — who reportedly commanded Russian forces in Ukraine in April 2022 — to retire. The milblogger claimed that Putin forced former commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov into retirement alongside other unnamed commanders as well. The milblogger claimed that the Kremlin is now relying on newly reappointed Commander of the Russian Airborne Forces Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky to achieve decisive results.

These reports about command changes and dismissals follow the Kremlin’s reported dismissal of Russian Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Sergei Avakyants on April 19. A Russian milblogger claimed that Avakyants was not fired as a result of poor performance during military drills in the Pacific, but that he will be forming a new “organization” under the rumored control of the “gas sector.” It is unclear if this was an intentionally vague reference to the reports about Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom‘s formation of a private security company. The milblogger noted that he is not sure if the organization will cooperate with the Russian Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation, and Navy of Russia (DOSAAF) or the Young Cadets National Movement (Yunarmiya). ISW previously reported that Russian state gas companies — namely Gazprom — are forming new military formations and that DOSAAF has been proactive in Russian military recruitment efforts.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched an information operation to undermine the credibility of Russian state-affiliated private military groups (PMCs). Prigozhin claimed to visit the positions of “Potok” and the “Alexander Nevsky” units — which Prigozhin characterized as “micro-PMCs” — and harshly criticized the poor condition of these units on April 24. The Potok battalion is reportedly one of three volunteer detachments of the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom and is analogous to the Russian State Combat Reserve (BARS). The Potok battalion is reportedly subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Defense PMC Redut. Prigozhin claimed that these units are supposed to cover Wagner‘s flanks and asked how these units can conduct combat operations if they lack the proper supplies and weapons. Prigozhin also criticized the general proliferation of such PMCs, which likely suggests that Prigozhin views these new entities as Wagner’s competition.

Wagner-affiliated sources claimed on April 24 that Wagner forces tasked Potok with defending unspecified newly captured positions to allow Wagner to regroup, but that Potok abandoned these positions and allowed Ukrainian forces to recapture the area. Alleged personnel of the Potok unit posted a video message on April 24, blaming the leadership of Gazprom and PMC Redut for failing to provide Potok with proper weapons and supplies as well as blaming Wagner for forbidding the Potok personnel from leaving their positions. Some milbloggers — including Wagner-affiliated milbloggers — criticized the Potok unit for blaming leadership and instead attributed their poor combat performance to their status as volunteers. The milbloggers’ and Prigozhin’s reports indicate that Wagner has authority over Russian MoD-owned entities, which in turn indicates that Prigozhin has regained some favor with the Kremlin.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian milbloggers speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered additional military command changes on April 20.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched an information operation to undermine the credibility of Russian state-affiliated private military groups (PMCs).
  • Kremlin authorities proposed equalizing pay between mobilized personnel and volunteers, likely in an attempt to incentivize military service.
  • Saratov Oblast Investigative Committee detained a former Wagner Group commander who told Russian human rights organization Gulagu.net about Wagner’s murder of children and other civilians in Bakhmut.
  • Ukrainian forces likely conducted a naval drone attack against the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s (BSF) base in Sevastopol in the early morning of April 24.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in New York City on April 24 to chair a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
  • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on April 24 that Russian ships are ferrying Iranian ammunition across the Caspian Sea to resupply Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.
  • Krasnoyarsk Krai deputy Konstantin Senchenko resigned on April 24 following the resignation of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Uss on April 20.
  • Ukrainian forces have made marginal gains south of Kreminna as of April 24 and continue to target Russian logistics nodes in rear areas of Luhansk Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks in and around Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline.
  • Some Russian sources denied claims from other Russian milbloggers that Ukrainian forces established enduring positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • The Kremlin continues crypto-mobilization efforts likely in an attempt to avoid a second wave of formal mobilization.
  • The Wagner Group may be attempting to fill law enforcement roles in occupied territories.
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