September 1, 2022

Institute for the Study of War: Putin reportedly extends deadline for capture of Donetsk Oblast until Sept. 15

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his false framing of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a defensive operation to protect Russia on September 1. During a meeting with schoolchildren in Kaliningrad, Putin stated that the purpose of the “special military operation” is to eliminate the “anti-Russian enclave” that is forming in Ukraine and is an existential threat to the Russian state.[1] Putin similarly invoked the concept of an “anti-Russia” in his February 24 speech declaring a “special operation” in Ukraine.[2] Putin’s reiteration of an “anti-Russian” entity that must be defeated militarily to defend Russia reaffirms his maximalist intentions for Ukraine and is likely intended to set the information conditions to call for further Russian efforts and force generation going into the fall and winter of this year.

Russian milbloggers continued attempts to claim that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south has already failed. Igor Girkin, a Russian nationalist and former commander of militants in the 2014 fighting in Donbas, stated that Ukrainian forces are continuing to attack after the “failure of the first attack”—falsely portraying ongoing Ukrainian operations as separate attacks after an initial failure—and reiterated the common Russian narrative that what he claims are Ukraine’s “Western handlers” pushed Ukraine to conduct a counteroffensive.[3] Girkin additionally stated that Ukraine’s Western partners poorly planned for the counteroffensive, underestimated Russian capabilities and assumed Russians are incompetent, and principally accounted for political—not military—considerations.[4] One milblogger stated that Ukraine’s defeat in the south will be the strongest psychological blow to Kyiv and that this failure will have a continued long-term psychological effect on Ukraine’s morale.[5] The Russian milbloggers are increasingly centrally describing Ukrainian attacks as tactless and “suicidal” rushes.[6]

As ISW has reported, military operations on the scale of the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive do not succeed or fail in a day or a week.[7] Ukrainians and the West should not fall for Russian information operations portraying the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast as having failed almost instantly or that depict Ukraine as a helpless puppet of Western masters for launching it at this time.

The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the deadline for Russian forces to capture Donetsk Oblast from August 31 to the still highly unlikely target date of September 15, and Russian forces are conducting several redeployments to meet this goal.[8] Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian Main Operational Department Oleksiy Gromov stated that Russian forces are regrouping elements of the Central Military District (CMD) operating in the Luhansk-Donetsk Oblast directions in an effort to increase the number of troops west of Donetsk City.[9] Gromov added that Russian forces deployed two battalion tactical groups (BTGs) in the direction of the western Zaporizhia Oblast frontline from Belgorod Oblast, which he noted might support resumed Russian offensive operations in Donbas.[10] Gromov stated that Russian military officials are continuing to form the 3rd Army Corps to deploy to Donetsk Oblast, also likely to resume offensive operations in the Donetsk operational area.[11] Gromov noted that it is unclear if all mobilized 3rd Army Corps servicemen have undergone military training.[12] Russian forces also reportedly introduced one BTG each to the Slovyansk and Mykolaiv directions.[13] RFE/RL’s footage also shows that Russian forces are continuing to react to the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast by consistently transferring military convoys to southern Ukrainian via the Kerch Strait Bridge.[14] These Russian deployments are likely intended to set conditions for a revised operation to capture Donetsk Oblast, but Russian forces remain highly unlikely to make the progress necessary to capture the Oblast by September 15.

The Kremlin is likely seeking to capitalize on the significance of seizing areas around Donetsk City that have been contested since 2014 to boost the morale of Russian and proxy forces. Russian forces have not been successful in advancing toward Siversk or capturing the E40 highway to Slovyansk-Bakhmut since the fall of Lysychansk and are likely experiencing challenges incentivizing Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) elements to continue fighting to reach the Donetsk Oblast administrative borders.[15] Russian forces had minor territorial gains around Avdiivka, which generated positive chatter among the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) fighters in early August after which the advances stalled west of Donetsk City.[16]

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian forces continued to target Russian logistical nodes and key positions throughout Kherson Oblast in support of the ongoing counteroffensive in southern Ukraine.
  • Russian milbloggers reiterated claims that Ukrainian forces are fighting along four axes of advance in Western Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks northwest of Slovyansk, south and northeast of Bakhmut, and northwest and southwest of Donetsk City.
  • Russian authorities escalated claims that Ukrainian forces are threatening both the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the newly arrived International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation on the territory of the ZNPP.
  • The Russian 3rd Army Corps is continuing to form for deployment to Donbas.
  • Russian occupation authorities are likely increasingly recognizing their inability to successfully hold sham referenda in occupied areas of Ukraine due to Russian military failures and ongoing Ukrainian resistance in occupied territories.
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