August 2, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian war reporters told to stop reporting military setbacks

Institute for the Study of War

A dispute among prominent voices in the Russian information space highlights the Kremlin’s sensitivity to Russian reporting about setbacks in Crimea in particular and possibly in Ukraine in general and has further exposed fault lines within the milblogger community. A pro-war milblogger accused other prominent pro-war milbloggers who have been critical of the Russian conduct of the war on August 2 of being “imbeciles” who support “provocative publications” and the “frantic criticism of the [Russian Ministry of Defense]” because the milbloggers posted images reportedly showing the aftermath of recent Ukrainian strikes near Sevastopol and on the Chonhar Bridge, which some sources suggested would irresponsibly spread panic. A notorious Kremlin-backed pro-Russian Ukrainian blogger additionally accused one of the critical milbloggers under attack of stealing crowdsourced collection funds meant for Russian forces. Both these specific critiques drew significant attention from other pro-war Russian commentators, many of whom supported the critical channels being attacked for reporting on the Crimea strikes. One milblogger noted that the crux of the issue lies with the fact that these two channels post pictures of purported Ukrainian strikes on Crimea but emphasized that the original images came from Ukrainian Telegram channels. Another prominent milblogger claimed that the dispute over posting images of strikes in Crimea became so intense that it attracted the attention of the Crimean Federal Security Service (FSB) branch and Crimean occupation head Sergey Aksyonov, likely because these entities are interested in preventing panic in Crimea.

Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky announced the formation of up two new VDV regiments and the reestablishment of the 104th VDV Division by the end of 2023. Teplinsky announced that the existing 31st Guards Separate VDV Assault Brigade will be subordinated to the 104th VDV Division. Teplinsky claimed that one battery of a new artillery brigade (presumably of the 104th Division) is already fighting in Ukraine. The Russian military has been attempting to stand up multiple new division and army corps-level formations since the end of 2022 when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s announced the reconstitution of the Moscow and Leningrad military districts and the establishment of several new formations. Ongoing Russian force generation efforts will likely staff the new VDV formations with new, untrained personnel rather than recruit experienced personnel more typical of the VDV’s historical elite status. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the Russian MoD has likely begun staffing its new formations including the new 25th Army Corps (Central Military District), but that Russia is unlikely to recruit enough personnel to staff even one new army-level formation without conducting a general mobilization.

The Russian MoD officially provided weapons and vehicles to the Belgorod and Kursk Oblast Territorial Defense forces on August 2, reallocating conventional military assets as a part of the Kremlin’s efforts to steadily expand Russia’s internal security capabilities following the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion on June 24. Russian media reported that the Russian MoD provided machine guns, anti-drone guns, and UAZ vehicles to the Belgorod and Kursk Oblast Territorial Defense forces. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov stated that Russian authorities provided each of the Belgorod Oblast Territorial Defense‘s eight battalions with five UAZ vehicles, additional car radios, quadcopters, and anti-drone guns. Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoit also announced that the first batch of weapons arrived in Kursk Oblast and that more weapons will arrive “in the near future.” Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly stated that the Kremlin issued the weapons to the Belgorod and Kursk Oblast Territorial Defense forces against the backdrop of attacks from the territory of Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and reportedly advanced near Bakhmut on August 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations near Bakhmut and in the Berdyansk (Zaporizhia-Donetsk Oblast area) and Melitopol directions (western Zaporizhia Oblast). A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced north of Kurdyumivka in the Bakhmut area. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks on the Svatove-Kreminna line in the Lyman direction, near Staromayorske on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border, and near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

Key Takeaways:

  • A dispute among prominent voices in the Russian information space highlights the Kremlin’s sensitivity to Russian reporting about setbacks in Crimea in particular and possibly in Ukraine in general and has further exposed fault lines within the milblogger community. This dispute, alongside the accompanying allegations, suggests that the issue of strikes against Crimea is a distinctly neuralgic point in the pro-war Russian information space.
  • The highest echelons of the Russian military command may have directed milbloggers to stay silent about problems that can be directly blamed on the Russian military command.
  • Russian forces conducted a drone strike on the night of August 1-2 that destroyed port infrastructure in Odesa Oblast including 40,000 tons of grain.
  • Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky announced the formation of up two new VDV regiments and the reestablishment of the 104th VDV Division by the end of 2023. Teplinsky’s announcement indicates that he maintains his position and the public support of the Russian MoD following rumors of his arrest, possibly as a result of his affiliations with the Wagner Group, in mid-July.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) officially provided weapons and vehicles to the Belgorod and Kursk Oblast Territorial Defense forces on August 2, reallocating conventional military assets as a part of the Kremlin’s efforts to steadily expand Russia’s internal security capabilities following the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion on June 24.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and reportedly advanced near Bakhmut on August 2.
  • The highest echelons of the Russian military command may have directed milbloggers to stay silent about problems that can be directly blamed on the Russian military command.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and reportedly advanced in the Bakhmut area.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove line, near Kreminna, around Bakhmut, and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line and advanced in some areas.
  • Russian civilians are increasingly targeting military registration and enlistment centers across Russia as a result of what Russian sources claim are targeted scam calls.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the Kremlin narrative of “Novorossiya” and announced Russian government initiatives to provide books to occupied territories of Ukraine on August 2.
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