Russian forces conducted another series of strikes against Ukraine with cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones overnight on May 28 to 29 and during the day on May 29. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 40 Kh-101/Kh-555 air-based cruise missiles and 38 Shahed-131/136 drones on the night of May 28 to 29 and 11 Iskander-M/K missiles during the day on May 29. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defenses destroyed in all 36 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles, 30 Shahed drones, and all 11 Iskander missiles. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces intercepted all 11 Iskander missiles, and 40 cruise missiles and Shahed drones that targeted Kyiv City and Kyiv Oblast. Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces also intercepted missiles and drones near the cities of Lviv, Mykolaiv, and Odesa, and that Russian forces struck port infrastructure in Odesa City and a military infrastructure facility in Khmelnytskyi Oblast. Russian forces launched a relatively higher number of missiles than in recent series of strikes following the largest Russian series of Shahed strikes since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on May 28. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces began a new limited air campaign in recent months to degrade Ukrainian counteroffensive capabilities, but that the Russian prioritization of targeting Kyiv is likely further limiting the campaign’s ability to meaningfully constrain potential Ukrainian counteroffensive actions.
Russia deployed more S-400 air defense systems (probably at least a battery) to Belarus on May 28. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense released video on May 28 showing a train with S-400 systems deploying to an unspecified area in Belarus. Independent Belarusian monitoring organization The Hajun Project reported that the train with S-400s arrived at the 25th Missile Arsenal near Stoubtsi (about 60 km southwest of Minsk). It is unclear whether these S-400s will enter service near Stoubtsi or deploy further to a different location. These systems will likely enter service with the Belarusian military but under Russian operational control. Russia’s and Belarus’ Joint Regional Air Defense System (established in 2009 and operational in 2016) effectively subordinates Belarus’ air defense assets to the Russian Western Military District. Belarusian officials confirmed that Russian-provided S-400 in Belarus became operational and deployed on combat duty on December 25, 2022. ISW forecasted in 2020 that Russia would deploy S-400s to Belarus.
Former Russian Deputy Minister of Defense for Logistics Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev confirmed that he is now operating as deputy commander of the Wagner Group. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger published an interview on May 29 in which Mizintsev confirmed previous claims that he assumed the position. Mizintsev stated that he has maintained good relations with Wagner for the previous 10 years, further substantiating reports that Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin used close connections with Mizintsev to secure resources for Wagner while Mizintsev was in the Russian MoD. Mizintsev claimed to be in Bakhmut overseeing the ongoing relief-in-place operation and claimed that Wagner is conducting an organized withdrawal. Mizintsev praised the Wagner commanders and advocated that Wagner’s structure and management become a model for the total war that Russia needs to be fighting. Mizintsev declined to comment about feuds between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Wagner but highlighted that the Russian military has struggled with ammunition provisions and conducting a large-scale mobilization of the Russian nation to win in Ukraine. ISW previously assessed that Prigozhin likely appointed Mizintsev as Wagner deputy commander in an effort to retain Wagner’s access to supplies, and Prigozhin has since promoted Mizintsev as his preferred replacement for Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Mizintsev’s publicized confirmation of his position and adulation of Wagner is likely part of Prigozhin’s wider effort to advocate for more influence following the capture of Bakhmut.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin denied former Russian officer Igor Girkin’s May 27 accusation that Prigozhin could stage a military coup against the Kremlin by arguing that Wagner lacks the personnel needed to start a coup. Prigozhin stated on May 29 that there are different types of coups across the globe – including a “chaotic military coup” in Sudan – which take too long and result in major conflicts. Prigozhin argued that Wagner does not have a large enough army required to carry out a coup and claimed that Wagner has good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin vaguely implied that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu could stage a coup as he has access to the Russian Special Forces. Prigozhin added that while some individuals in Russia are expecting a revolution Wagner is only advocating for select corrections to the Russian system. Prigozhin’s response to Girkin notably follows his response to a media inquiry in which he hypothesizes about who could have authorized the reported ban on mentions of Wagner on the Russian state media, and even considered Putin. Prigozhin then stated that there is an effort in Russia to avoid recognizing the legitimate heroes of this war and that “the officials-bureaucrats who run the Russian state today must remain the heroes and they are the only ones who can be thanked.” He added that “if they aren’t thanked, then they say, ‘Fine, heck with it, praise the president,’” implying that Putin is receiving unearned praise and thanks because of the unwillingness of Russian bureaucrats to honor those who truly deserve it. Prigozhin has dramatically increased the number of direct references to Putin since May 9 – after he indirectly criticized Putin during the Victory Day holiday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning denied a Wall Street Journal report that Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui urged European officials to end the conflict in Ukraine before it escalates. Mao claimed that European officials acknowledged China’s “positive role in promoting peace talks” and appreciated China’s “calling for sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Mao claimed that the war in Ukraine is “now at a critical juncture” and that China continues to attempt to work with all parties to resolve the “crisis.” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that European officials did not confirm reports that Li urged them attempt to end the war or consider recognizing Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine as Russian territory. Kuleba also stated that Ukraine will continue to engage with China on the basis of three principles: mutual respect for territorial integrity, no proposals of territorial concessions, and no suggestions of freezing the conflict.
Russian authorities continue to forcefully integrate dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast into the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) demonstrating the integral connection of the ROC with the Russian state. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claimed that the Russian Bishop of Bronnitsky, Luka, held the first liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Berdyansk Cathedral, which the Russian Orthodox Church had taken control over on May 16. Rogov claimed that Russian Orthodox Church Head Patriarch Kirill appointed Bishop of Bronnitsky Luka as head of the Berdyansk and Prymorsk dioceses of the ROC. The Berdyansk and Prymorsk dioceses were previously part of the Russian-affiliated UOC MP, and their forced integration with the ROC emphasizes the close relationship between the ROC and the Russian state.
- Russian forces conducted another series of strikes against Ukraine with cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones overnight on May 28 to 29 and during the day on May 29.
- Russia deployed more S-400 air defense systems (probably at least a battery) to Belarus on May 28.
- Former Russian Deputy Minister of Defense for Logistics Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev confirmed that he is now operating as deputy commander of the Wagner Group.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin denied former Russian officer Igor Girkin’s May 27 accusation that Prigozhin could stage a military coup against the Kremlin by arguing that Wagner lacks the personnel needed to start a coup.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning denied a Wall Street Journal report that Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui urged European officials to end the conflict in Ukraine before it escalates.
- Russian authorities continue to forcefully integrate dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast into the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) demonstrating the integral connection of the ROC with the Russian state.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- The tempo of Russian offensive operations in and around Bakhmut remains notably low.
- Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front, particularly focusing on Marinka.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast and are expanding fortifications in Mariupol.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled limited Ukrainian reconnaissance in force operations in Zaporizhia Oblast.
- The Russian military command appears to be introducing doctrinal organization to some of its irregular formations.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on May 29 that will further strengthen the martial law regime in occupied areas of Ukraine.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is likely not hospitalized as of May 29.