May 2, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:   Chasiv Yar ‘likely to fall’ top Ukrainian intelligence official says

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian intelligence officials identified three Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine and achieve victory, and both Ukrainian and US intelligence officials issued assessments about the battlefield situation that are consistent with prior ISW forecasts that Russian forces may take Chasiv Yar but are very unlikely to seize major Ukrainian cities. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated in an interview with the Economist published on May 2 that the first effort to destabilize Ukraine is comprised of military operations that aim to take advantage of Ukraine’s ongoing materiel and manpower shortages. Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces knew that April and May 2024 would be difficult months for the Ukrainian military as existing supplies dwindled and as Ukraine waits for sufficient quantities of fresh US military assistance to filter to the frontline. Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces will likely continue pursuing their longtime goal of completely seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and that the Russian command wants to achieve a battlefield victory before the May 9 Victory Day holiday or Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s visit to Beijing in mid-May. Skibitskyi stated that Ukraine is currently focusing on Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast, where ISW assesses that Russian forces have the best opportunity to achieve operationally-significant gains, and that while it is “probably a matter of time” before Chasiv Yar falls, Russian forces will not seize the town “today or tomorrow. Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces have achieved only tactical successes near Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast following a recent tactical penetration northwest of the city, and ISW has noted that Russian forces remain far from any operationally-significant objective in the area and are unlikely to pose such a threat here in the near-term.

Skibitskyi assessed that Russian forces will likely begin an offensive effort towards Kharkiv and Sumy oblasts at the end of May or start of June 2024 but that Russian forces will not be able to take Kharkiv or Sumy cities. Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces have currently concentrated roughly 35,000 personnel in the international border area and plan to concentrate a total of 50,000 to 70,000 personnel for this effort, presumably before the start of the offensive operation. Skibitskyi stated that this grouping will be insufficient for achieving anything beyond localized gains, consistent with ISW’s assessments that Russian forces would likely struggle to take Kharkiv City but that Russian offensive operations in the area would draw and fix Ukrainian forces from other parts of the frontline. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi stated on April 28 that Ukrainian forces are monitoring the increased number of Russian forces regrouping in the Kharkiv direction, likely referring to Belgorod Oblast, and that Ukrainian forces have reinforced defensive positions in the “most threatened” areas with additional artillery and tank units.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian intelligence officials identified three Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine and achieve victory, and both Ukrainian and US intelligence officials issued assessments about the battlefield situation that are consistent with prior ISW forecasts that Russian forces may take Chasiv Yar but are very unlikely to seize major Ukrainian cities.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi assessed that Russian forces will likely begin an offensive effort towards Kharkiv and Sumy oblasts at the end of May or start of June 2024 but that Russian forces will not be able to take Kharkiv or Sumy cities.
  • Skibitskyi noted that the Kremlin views information operations as a second line of effort to defeat Ukraine and that current Russian information operations heavily focus on undermining Ukrainian mobilization efforts and the legitimacy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
  • Skibitskyi stressed that Russia’s third line of effort to achieve victory in Ukraine is an ongoing campaign to diplomatically isolate Ukraine.
  • The US Department of State (DoS) announced on May 1 that it has determined that Russian forces are violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Russia is a signatory.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Tula Oblast Governor and known Wagner Group-affiliate Alexei Dyumin on May 2, further indicating that Putin may be seeking to reduce Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s power by balancing him with rivals.
  • Putin likely deliberately publicized his meeting with Dyumin following the high-profile arrest of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on April 24 and before the presidential inauguration on May 7, possibly to punish the Shoigu-led MoD for failing to accomplish the Kremlin’s military goals.
  • The Putin-Dyumin meeting suggests that Putin is likely the responsible decision-maker behind Ivanov’s arrest.
  • Recent Russian government crackdowns against Central Asian migrants living in and entering Russia following the March 22 Crocus City Hall attack appear to be straining Kyrgyz-Russian relations in addition to Tajik-Russian relations.
  • The Georgian parliament passed Georgia’s Russian-style “foreign agents” law in its second reading on May 1 amid continued protests against the law in Tbilisi.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances west of Avdiivka.
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