April 27, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia uses new tactics in missile attack to evade Ukrainian air defense

Institute for the Study of War

April 27, 2023

The Russian military command appears to be reshuffling the leadership of command organs associated with force generation, sustainment, and logistics. Several prominent Russian milbloggers claimed on April 27 that Colonel General Aleksey Kuzmenkov, Deputy Head of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia), has replaced Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev as Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation for Logistics. A Wagner-affiliated milblogger claimed that Mizintsev’s dismissal may be a result of a combat readiness check of troops of the Northern Fleet carried out by former commander of the airborne (VDV) forces and Wagner affiliate Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, who was recently re-appointed to an unspecified command role in Ukraine. The milblogger claimed that Teplinsky’s inspection revealed that troops in certain places of the front were not receiving necessary weapons. The Wagner Group has experienced significant issues with dealing with the Russian logistics enterprise, and Teplinsky’s reported role in identifying issues with supply may portend a renewed focus of Russian sustainment organs on providing Wagner with necessary logistical support, as Teplinsky’s affiliations with Wagner are well-established. ISW previously reported on September 24, 2022, that Mizinstev replaced Army General Dmitry Bulgakov as Head of Logistics and that Mizintsev previously was the head of the Russian National Defense Control Center and oversaw command of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division (8th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) during Russian operations in Mariupol in spring 2022. Russian milbloggers additionally reported that former Head of the 8th Directorate of the Russian General Staff (State Secret Protection) Yuri Kuznetsov will become Head of the Main Directorate of Personnel of the Russian Ministry of Defense and that Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Department of the Russian General Staff will replace General Oleg Gorshenin as Head of the National Defense Control Center. Official Russian sources have not yet confirmed these changes.

The three command organs that are reportedly receiving new leadership as part of this reshuffle are noteworthy because they are associated with managing aspects of Russian force generation, troop sustainment, and logistical oversight. The Russian National Defense Control Center is the body responsible for coordinating the actions of the Russian Armed Forces and is essentially the nerve center of the entire Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Alongside the coordination actions of the National Defense and Control Center, the organs responsible for personnel and logistical oversight facilitate critical troops sustainment functions. The Russian General Staff may be scrambling to enact these changes as fear over a Ukrainian counteroffensive mounts in the Russian information space. These changes also suggest that existing commanders in charge of these functions failed to properly facilitate Russia’s winter offensive, which has largely culminated without making substantial gains. However, these changes are unlikely to effectively set conditions for Russian forces to respond to a Ukrainian counteroffensive in a timely manner. These changes may be part of a wider effort to reform and formalize the Russian Armed Forces over the long term.

Western officials expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to conduct a successful counteroffensive. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on April 27 that NATO has trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian brigades, emphasizing that Ukrainian forces are in a “strong” position to retake captured territory in their upcoming counteroffensive. Stoltenberg also stated that NATO and its partners have delivered over 98 percent of promised combat vehicles to Ukraine, totaling over 1,550 armored vehicles, 230 tanks, and other unspecified equipment. US European Command (EUCOM) Commander General Christopher Cavoli stated that the US has been working closely with Ukrainian forces to develop a counteroffensive plan, including developing techniques to surprise Russian forces.

Russian forces are reportedly using new tactics to complicate Ukrainian air defenses’ ability to detect Russian missiles. Russian forces conducted four Kalibr missile strikes on Mykolaiv City on April 27, and Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces directed the missiles using different terrain features, different heights of launches, and multiple trajectory changes to complicate their detection by Ukrainian air defenses. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) acknowledged that Russian forces conducted a sea-based, long-range, high precision missile strike on April 27, following its recent notable silence about Russian missile and air strikes as part of its broader missile campaign in Ukraine. ISW previously assessed that Russia‘s missile campaign to degrade Ukraine‘s unified energy infrastructure definitively failed and that Russian forces appear to have abandoned the effort. Russian forces maintain the capability to renew their missile campaign if they desire, and Russian forces may employ these tactics in order to conserve their stocks of high precision missiles in the event of a renewed missile campaign.

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov appears to have launched a renewed campaign for national attention. Kadyrov publicized that he met with several prominent Russian officials – including Russian National Guard Federal Service Director Viktor Zolotov, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Presidential Administration Head Anton Vaino, and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov – on April 26. Kadyrov claimed that he discussed topics including relations between Russian regions and the federal government with Bortnikov and that Bortnikov thanked him personally for the stable situation in Chechnya. Kadyrov also continues to draw heavily on Chechen soldiers’ role in Ukraine to bolster his own image. Kadyrov claimed on April 26 that Chechen Akhmat-1 Special Purposes Mobile Unit (OMON) security officers with extensive combat experience departed to replace their comrades in Ukraine.

Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin met with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu and Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani in New Delhi, India on April 27. Belarus’s ongoing efforts to build relationships with countries that have either supported or not condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine likely aim to build a coalition of non-Western countries and deepen pathways to help Russia evade Western sanctions, on which ISW has previously reported. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that Khrenin and Li discussed the status of an “all-weather” comprehensive strategic partnership between Belarus and China as well as prospects for cooperation in military and general spheres. The Belarusian MoD’s mention of an “all-weather” partnership closely mirrors Russian efforts to frame the Sino-Russian relationship as a “no limits” partnership despite existent Chinese reservations. The Belarusian MoD stated that Khrenin and Ashtiani noted the existence of “significant potential and prospects” to strengthen military contracts and increase practical cooperation.

Key Takeaways

  • The Russian military command appears to be reshuffling the leadership of command organs associated with force generation, sustainment, and logistics.
  • The three command organs that are reportedly receiving new leadership as part of this reshuffle are noteworthy because they are associated with managing aspects of Russian force generation, troop sustainment, and logistical oversight.
  • Western officials expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to conduct a successful counteroffensive.
  • Russian forces are reportedly using new tactics to complicate Ukrainian air defenses’ ability to detect Russian missiles.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov appears to have launched a renewed campaign for national attention.
  • Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin met with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu and Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani in New Delhi, India on April 27.
  • Russian forces conducted defensive operations in the Kupyansk direction and limited ground attacks near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut but may be transferring additional reserves to the Bakhmut area.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian forces are further militarizing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) to defend against possible Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.
  • The Washington Post reported that leaked US intelligence documents state that Russian military leaders aim to enlist 815,000 soldiers while balancing concerns about critical labor shortages.
  • Ukrainian partisans conducted three separate attacks in occupied territories on April 26-27.
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