September 2, 2022

Institute for the Study of War: Six months in, only a slight dip in Russian public support for Ukraine invasion

Institute for the Study of War

Russian independent polling organization Levada posted survey results on September 1 indicating that while the majority of Russians still support military operations in Ukraine, public support for the war may be gradually declining. Levada stated that the overall support for Russian forces in Ukraine has not changed significantly over the summer, with 76% of the survey’s respondents in favor of the action of Russian forces in Ukraine (46% strongly supporting and 30% generally supporting).[1] Levada also noted that 48% of respondents believe that it is necessary for Russian operations in Ukraine to continue.[2] The polls showed that 44% of respondents were in favor of peace negotiations and that a majority of Russia’s younger segments of the population (18-39-year-olds) favor negotiations.[3] In March of 2022, Levada found that 53% of respondents strongly support Russian military actions in Ukraine but that the percentage of respondents in this category declined to 46% by August.[4] This is a minor deterioration and will not fundamentally impair the Kremlin’s ability to conduct the war. However, declining support and war weariness will likely increasingly impede Russian recruitment and force generation efforts. 

Russian and proxy officials are solidifying their narratives surrounding the Ukrainian counteroffensive to amplify false claims that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast is detrimental to Ukraine’s continued existence. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed on September 2 that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky planned the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast solely to create an illusion among “Western curators” that Ukrainian forces can conduct an effective counteroffensive.[5] Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Deputy Interior Minister Vitaly Kiselyov claimed that Ukrainian forces’ engagement in the counteroffensive was (referring to the offensive in past tense) “collective suicide” and suffered high casualties.[6] Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on September 1 that internal Ukrainian divisions will soon force the military conflict to end.[7] Russian milbloggers increased their amplification of these narratives on September 1-2 as the information space around the success and tempo of the Ukrainian counteroffensive remained murky.[8] Russian sources will likely continue propagating these false information narratives to exploit Ukrainian operational silence. As ISW has previously noted, complex counteroffensives cannot be resolved overnight or in a matter of days, and the Russian presentation of an immediate Ukrainian failure due to a lack of constant Ukrainian claims of territorial gains is a deliberate obfuscation of reality.[9] 

Key Takeaways

  • Independent polling showed that a majority of Russians still support the Russian war in Ukraine.
  • Russian and proxy officials are solidifying their narratives surrounding the Ukrainian counteroffensive to claim it will debilitate the Ukrainian military.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that positional battles are underway in unspecified areas of Kherson Oblast and that Ukrainian forces are continuing to strike Russian ground lines of communications (GLOCs), logistics nodes, and reinforcement efforts throughout southern and central Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks south and northeast of Bakhmut and along the western and northern outskirts of Donetsk City.
  • Russian forces continued targeting Ukrainian rear areas along GLOCs and may be reinforcing the Southern Axis by reallocating equipment from Russian rear areas in Donbas and Crimea.
  • Ukrainian sources claim that Russia can pull an additional 300,000-350,000 military personnel from support units in Russia, Syria, Armenia, Tajikistan, Nagorno Karabakh, and Kazakhstan. These figures do not accurately represent the fact that support units placed into combat roles will not generate substantial combat power and are necessary for supporting combat, training, and other operations. 

Ukrainian military officials reported that positional battles continued in unspecified areas of Kherson Oblast, but maintained operational silence on the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive on September 2.[10] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched an unsuccessful ground assault in the direction of Potomkyne (just south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border), and notably launched airstrikes on Khreshchenivka in northern Kherson Oblast.[11] ISW previously assessed that Russian forces controlled Khreshchenivka, but Russian airstrikes in the area suggest Ukrainian forces could have advanced nearby. Russian milbloggers amplified a claim that Russian forces encircled Ukrainian troops in Petrivka, corroborating indications that Ukrainian forces likely entered Petrivka.[12]  NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) remotely sensed data for September 2 showed fires south of Khreshchenivka, which may further corroborate a Ukrainian advance in the area. ISW previously reported that FIRMS data showed fire activity in Petrivka (north of Khreshchenivka) on August 31 before Russian milbloggers reported on a Ukrainian presence in Petrivka the following day.[13] The Ukrainian General Staff also recorded airstrikes near the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, notably in Sukhyi Stavok.[14] ISW reported that many milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced to Sukhyi Stavok on August 29.[15]

Ukrainian military officials reiterated that Ukrainian forces are continuing to target Russian GLOCs, reinforcements, and ammunition depots.[16] The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces struck Russian ferry crossings across the Dnipro River in Lvove (west of Nova Kakhovka) and Kozatske (north of Nova Kakhovka).[17] Ukrainian military officials also reported striking a Russian military equipment concentration point in Tariisk (east of Nova Kakhovka) and destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations center in Pravdyne (about 33km due northwest of Kherson City), indicating that the August 29 CNN report about Ukrainian forces’ capture of Pravdyne was likely inaccurate.[18] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed three Russian artillery systems, an ammunition depot, and a Russian company in the vicinity of Enerhodar and Kherson with precision strikes.[19] It is unclear how close the Ukrainian strike “near Enerhodar” was to Enerhodar City. Ukrainian military officials also noted that Ukrainian forces destroyed five ammunition depots in the Bashtanskyi, Beryslavsky, and Khersonsky raions, and nine command posts in unspecified areas.[20] The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed (likely falsely) to have intercepted 14 rounds of HIMARS rockets over Kherson City and Nova Kakhovka.[21] Geolocated footage showed Ukrainian forces continuing to strike Russian forces on the eastern bank of the Inhulets River in Novohrednyeve.[22]

Visual evidence from social media footage shows that Ukrainian forces continued striking Russian positions and GLOCs in central and southern Kherson Oblast on September 1 and September 2. Satellite imagery and geolocated photos from September 1 show a fire burning around the Kozats’ke grain terminal near Nova Kakhovka.[23] Social media footage from September 2 reportedly showed rocket plumes near Nova Kakhovka.[24] Local residents reported that Ukrainian forces may have struck a Russian pontoon crossing near the Antonivsky Railroad Bridge and footage showed smoke clouds rising near the bridge area.[25] Social media users also reported that Ukrainian forces struck Russian military equipment awaiting the ferry near the railway bridge in Oleshky (about 9km southeast of Kherson City), and the pontoon crossing in Darivka.[26] It is unclear if social media users witnessed a new strike on a crossing in Darivka, or repeated reports about the confirmed strike on the crossing on September 1.[27] Geolocated footage also showed the aftermath of a strike on the Kherson City branch of the Odesa State University of Internal Affairs where Ukrainian social media users claimed that Russian forces quartered their troops.[28] Combat footage published on September 1 and 2 showed Ukrainian forces using Bayraktar TB2 armed drones to provide Ukrainian forces tactical air support on September 1 and August 31.[29]

Russian milbloggers claimed that fighting continued in four directions, but ISW cannot independently verify all of these claims. Several milbloggers claimed that fighting continued east and west of Vysokopillya south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border, southeast of the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, around Snihurivka about 65km east of Mykolaiv City, and north of Kherson City.

Several milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to launch counteroffensives from the Kryvyi Rih direction and noted that Russian forces are using rocket artillery and aviation to repel Ukrainian attacks on settlements east of Vysokopillya.[30]  Milbloggers also claimed that Ukraine’s main objective is to reach Beryslav (just north of Nova Kakhovka).[31] The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian forces continued to shell Ukrainian troops along the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border.[32] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are attempting to accumulate enough forces to gain control over Vysokopillya, and another noted that Russian drones have been directing artillery fire at advancing Ukrainian military equipment in the vicinity of Vysokopillya.[33] The Russian Ministry of Defense also reported striking Ukrainian positions northwest of Vysokopillya.[34] Milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced south of Kostromka (10km southeast of the Ukrainian bridgehead) to Bezimenne, after failing to advance to Shchastlyve (west of Bezimenne and in the direction of the T2207 highway).[35] Milbloggers additionally stated that Russian forces continued to use aviation to drop over a dozen FAB-500 500kg bombs on Ukrainian forces in Bezimenne.[36] The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed to have destroyed Ukrainian weapons in Bila Krynytsia (between the Ukrainian bridgehead and Davydiv Brid), inadvertently admitting to some Ukrainian advances in the area.[37] A milblogger stated that Ukrainian forces lost two infantry fighting vehicles after unsuccessfully attempting to launch an assault on Blahodatne (west of Snihurivka).[38] Milbloggers noted that Russian forces regained control over Zeleny Hai and Ternovi Pody (approximately 25km north of Kherson City), while Ukrainian forces maintained positional defenses in Myrne (approximately seven kilometers west of Zeleny Hai) and Lyubomyrivka (just north of Ternovi Pody).[39] Some milbloggers noted that Russian forces are preparing a strike group, increasing artillery and multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) fire, and are requesting air support in the direction of Posad-Pokrovske (about 27km northwest of Kherson City).[40]

The Russian Ministry of Defense maintained that Ukrainian forces continued to launch unsuccessful counteroffensive operations in the Mykolaiv-Kryvyi Rih direction.[41] The Russian Ministry of Defense added that Russian forces captured two Ukrainian prisoners of war, and some milbloggers reposted interrogation footage of a claimed Ukrainian POW.[42] Pro-Kremlin radio channel ”Komsomolska Pravda” interviewed Russian military expert Vladislav Shuryhin who likely falsely claimed that Ukrainian forces decided to launch a counteroffensive in the south out of fear of the newly-forming Russian 3rd Army Corps.[43] Russian forces likely instead accelerated the formation of the 3rd Army Corps to reinforce Russian positions around Izyum and eastern Zaporizhia Oblast and to replace Russian forces redeployed from other axes to reinforce Kherson Oblast before the Ukrainians announced their August 29 counteroffensive.[4

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