July 30, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian war correspondents silent as Ukraine attacks important bridge to Crimea

Institute for the Study of War

The lack of Russian milblogger reaction to a Ukrainian strike on the Chonhar bridge represents a notable inflection in Russian reporting on the war in Ukraine and may suggest that the Kremlin has directed Russian milbloggers to refrain from covering certain topics. The Ukrainian Armed Forces announced on July 29 that Ukrainian forces successfully struck the Chonhar bridge on the M-18 (Dzhankoi-Melitopol) highway between occupied Crimea and occupied Kherson Oblast. ISW has not observed any Russian milblogger discussion about the Ukrainian strike or Russian milbloggers promoting Kherson Oblast occupation administration head Vladimir Saldo’s claim that Russian forces intercepted 12 Ukrainian Strom Shadow cruise missiles targeting the bridge. The only other Russian source to comment on the strikes was a local Russian news Telegram channel, which amplified alleged claims from Russian tourists in the area about the bridge being closed to traffic. Russian milbloggers responded to a Ukrainian strike on the Chonhar bridge on June 22 with widespread outrage and concern, and Russian milbloggers routinely comment on both successful and allegedly unsuccessful Ukrainian strikes on Russian logistics. The Chonhar bridge is a notable bottleneck along a critical Russian ground line of communication (GLOC), and it is highly unlikely that Russian milbloggers would voluntarily ignore a successful or unsuccessful Ukrainian strike on the bridge. ISW has previously assessed that select Russian milbloggers may be shaping their coverage of the war in Ukraine in ways more favorable to Kremlin narratives out of fear of Kremlin punishment following the removal of prominent critical voices in the Russian information space, particularly pro-war critic Igor Girkin and Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. General fear of Kremlin punishment would not likely result in such near-universal lack of coverage of a dramatic event, however, and it is more likely that a specific Kremlin directive not to cover disruptions to critical GLOCs caused this lack of reporting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin disingenuously framed the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as inhibiting prospects for negotiations. During a press conference at the Russia-Africa Summit on July 29, Putin accused Ukraine of launching a large-scale offensive so that Russia cannot discuss a ceasefire while its troops are defending against Ukrainian attacks. Russian officials have previously weaponized the mention of negotiations in order to accuse Ukraine of being the party unwilling to enter into negotiations discussions, and Putin is likely using discussions of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to undermine reports of Ukrainian battlefield successes and accuse Ukraine of continued lack of interest in a potential negotiations process. Russian forces have been conducting their own attacks in Luhansk and around Donetsk City almost continuously since before the Ukrainian counter-offensive began, moreover, a fact that Putin did not, naturally, mention. Putin also notably lauded the work of Central Military district Commander Lieutenant General Andrey Mordvichev for repelling Ukrainian attacks and securing advances, likely in Luhansk Oblast.

Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and made claimed advances in some areas. Ukrainian military sources reported that Ukrainian forces are achieving small successes on the southern flank of Bakhmut and are gradually advancing in the Berdyansk (western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast area) and Melitopol (in western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The lack of Russian milblogger reaction to a Ukrainian strike on the Chonhar bridge represents a notable inflection in Russian reporting on the war in Ukraine and may suggest that the Kremlin has directed Russian milbloggers to refrain from covering certain topics.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin disingenuously framed the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as inhibiting prospects for negotiations.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and made claimed advances in some areas.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Svatove-Kremina and Avdiivka-Donetsk City lines and did not make any confirmed gains in these areas. 
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations southwest and northwest of Bakhmut and made claimed gains in this direction.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast and western Zaporizhia Oblast and made claimed marginal advances. 
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces counterattacked and regained lost positions in western Donetsk and western Zaporizhia oblasts. 
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian officials plan to regulate civilian volunteers who take supplies to Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian partisans reportedly sabotaged Russian military equipment in occupied Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast on July 29.
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