March 30, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on March 30 authorizing Russia’s semiannual spring conscription which will induct 147,000 Russians between April 1 and July 15. Russia conducts two conscription cycles per year with the spring conscription cycle usually conscripting 134,000 Russian men. Russia may use Belarus’ training capacity to support the increase of 13,000 conscripts from previous years. A Ukrainian military official reported on March 4 that Russian personnel training in Belarus do not exceed 9,000 to 10,000 at a time, and ISW previously observed Russian forces training up to 12,000 troops in Belarus. Satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces training in Belarus at the Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground recently redeployed to Russia in mid-March, freeing up space for new Russian trainees. The new conscripts will not increase Russian combat power in the short term, as Russian conscripts must undergo months of training and service before they see combat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a prominent milblogger and Russian proxy battalion commander as a regional Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) official for occupied Donetsk Oblast, advancing several Kremlin efforts. Multiple Russian milbloggers reported on March 30 that Putin signed a decree appointing former Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Security Minister and current Vostok Battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky as deputy head of the Main Directorate of Rosgvardia in occupied Donetsk Oblast, making him responsible for Rosgvardia’s special rapid response and riot police (OMON and SOBR) in the region. Khodakovsky announced on March 30 that he received this appointment in early February 2023 and posted a public recruiting ad for Rosgvardia OMON and SOBR units now under his command. Khodakovsky publicly praises Putin and has been a loyal pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist since March 2014. (Khodorkovsky was a Ukrainian SPETSNAZ commander for the Donetsk Oblast Alpha Group under the Ukrainian State Security Service before participating in Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine in 2014.) Khodakovsky’s appointment is analytically significant for several of ISW’s running assessments:
- Khodakovsky’s appointment indicates a Russian effort to generate more forces from occupied Donetsk Oblast. Putin passed a bill on March 27 removing the upper age limit and other barriers to entry for Rosgvardia recruits from occupied Ukraine. Khodakovsky — a native of Donetsk City — is well connected with Donetsk People‘s Republic militia fighters, veterans, and pro-Russian patriot groups in Donbas, and can help facilitate recruitment drives.
- The appointment advances a Kremlin effort to formalize legacy irregular Russian proxy forces in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and subordinate them to Kremlin-controlled structures.
- Putin may use Khodakovsky’s appointment to ensure that Putin maintains reliable control over new Rosgvardia elements in Donetsk Oblast. ISW assessed that Russian authorities may be conducting a sweeping corruption probe within Rosgvardia, possibly to weed out actors who are perceived to be unreliable to Putin.
- The appointment could help Putin divide and conquer influential communities that the Kremlin does not fully control. Mixed reactions to Khodakovsky’s appointment from various Russian milbloggers’ — notably among Russian military veterans — indicate a significant fracture within the Russian nationalist veteran community. ISW has previously assessed the Russian nationalist veteran community within the blogosphere to be more or less unified.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on March 30 launching the semiannual spring conscription cycle, which will conscript 147,000 Russians between April 1 and July 15.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a prominent milblogger and Russian proxy battalion commander as a regional Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) official for Donetsk Oblast.
- Western officials reported that Wagner Group and conventional Russian forces have likely lost a substantial amount of manpower in the Bakhmut area.
- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast on charges of espionage.
- Ukrainian National Security Defense Council Secretary Oleksii Danilov stated that Ukrainian authorities do not intend to expel the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra by force.
- Russian authorities arrested Bryansk Oblast Acting Deputy Head Elena Egorova and Second Deputy Governor Tatyana Kuleshova for reportedly receiving bribes.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks north of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut as well as along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front.
- International Atomic Energy Agency Director (IAEA) Rafael Grossi stated that plans to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) have evolved.
- Pardoned Wagner Group convicts are continuing to commit crimes in Russia following the end of their contract service with Wagner.
- Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to set conditions for September 2023 elections by further integrating occupied territories into the Russian legal apparatus.