ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 23 May – TTG

Russian armed forces destroyed a bridge across the Seversky Donets, connecting the cities of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk | Readovkanews/Telegram

Russian nationalist figures are increasingly criticizing the failures of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and are calling for further mobilization that the Kremlin likely remains unwilling and unable to pursue in the short term. The All-Russian Officers Assembly, an independent pro-Russian veterans’ association that seeks to reform Russian military strategy, called for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to declare war on Ukraine and introduce partial mobilization in Russia on May 19. The Assembly said that Russia’s “special military operation” failed to achieve its goals in three months, especially after the failed Siverskyi Donets River crossings. ISW previously assessed that the destruction of nearly an entire Russian battalion tactical group (BTG) during a failed river crossing on May 11 shocked Russian military observers and prompted them to question Russian competence. The Assembly’s appeal called on Putin to recognize that Russian forces are no longer only “denazifying” Ukraine but are fighting a war for Russia’s historic territories and existence in the world order. The officers demanded that the Kremlin mobilize all regions bordering NATO countries (including Ukraine), form territorial defense squads, extend standard military service terms from one year to two, and form new supreme wartime administrations over Russia, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR), and newly occupied Ukrainian settlements. The officers also demanded the death penalty for deserters.

The Assembly’s letter may be a leading indicator of elements of the Russian government and society setting informational conditions to declare partial mobilization. However, the Kremlin has so far declined to take this step likely due to concerns over domestic backlash and flaws in Russia’s mobilization systems. The All-Russian Officers Assembly called on Putin to recognize the independence of the DNR and LNR three weeks prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, setting conditions for the Russian “special military operation.” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on May 20 that Russia will form 12 new Western Military District units (of unspecified echelon) before the end of the year in response to NATO expansion. Russian forces may intend to man these units with newly mobilized personnel, as it is unclear how else the Kremlin could generate the manpower for new units. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are withdrawing old T-62 tanks from storage to form new BTGs. Russia is likely continuing to exhaust its remaining combat-ready reserves to maintain the momentum of the Battle of Severodonetsk, rather than prioritizing preparations for new reinforcements. ISW previously assessed that Russian mobilization is unlikely to generate combat-ready force due to hasty training.

More Russians supportive of the Kremlin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are beginning to criticize the Kremlin openly. Russian milbloggers claimed that the Kremlin will not honor the Officers Assembly appeal, indicating an intensifying negative perception of the Russian leadership among Russians supportive of the war in Ukraine. Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Anton Alikhanov publicly stated that the Russian war in Ukraine has disrupted transport routes and construction schedules in the region, a rare admission of the economic cost of the war from a Russian government official. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian military personnel are increasingly complaining about the ineffectiveness of offensive operations against Ukrainian troops.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian nationalist figures (including veterans and military commentators) are increasingly criticizing the failures of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine and are calling for further mobilization that the Kremlin likely remains unwilling and unable to pursue in the short term.
  • Russian forces around Izyum increased their tempo of air and artillery strikes and likely intend to attempt to resume stalled offensive operations in the coming days.
  • Russian operations to encircle Severodonetsk made minor gains in the past 24 hours, driving north through Zolote. Fighting is ongoing in Lyman (north of Severodonetsk) as Russian forces attempt to cut off Ukrainian supply lines
  • Russian forces will likely make further minor gains west of Popasna in the near future but are unlikely to be able to quickly seize Bakhmut.
  • The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv continues to threaten Russian positions and is forcing Russia to pull units from ongoing offensive operations in eastern Ukraine to shore up their defensive positions near Vovchansk.

Comment: Seems things are getting a little testy back in Russia. Add to this the fact that things are still blowing up and catching fire across the country. As I said before, it’s going to be a long, hot summer and probably a long, cold winter, in Russia as well as in Ukraine. Interesting that prior to the invasion, this All Russian Officers Assembly called on Putin to avoid getting involved in a war in Ukraine.

This assessment also goes into detail about the situation on the Donbas front. The Ukrainian positions at Severodonetsk and Lysychansk are, in my opinion, getting damned near untenable, no matter how well dug in they are. This is the DLIC (detachment left in contact) from Hell. At some point soon, the Ukrainians should withdraw to the Kramatorsk-Slaviansk fortifications before they are forced to retreat under fire or execute a breakout from encirclement. Losing Severodonetsk would be a tactical victory for the Russians. Given lowered expectations, it would also be a psychological victory. It would not be a strategic victory or even an important tactical victory, but it would change the subject from the Siverski Donets disaster. 


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60 Responses to ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 23 May – TTG

  1. plantman says:

    “Testy” you say?

    They are calling for a full mobilization and an open admission that the west, led by the US is carrying out another war of extermination against the Russian Federation. I’d call that more than “testy”

    Russian support for the war still exceeds 70%. Show me any Biden policy that can claim the same level of support?

    There aren’t any.

    And the reason the Russian people support the war, is because they are convinced that the US wants to destroy their country, topple their leadership and steal their resources.

    And, they are right, aren’t they?

  2. Datil D says:

    Thankfully Putin is a patient, reasonable leader. The Russian neocons are probably as crazy as ours and if Putin was replaced look out.

  3. Fourth and Long says:

    Two points. First, consider these two articles on Henry Kissinger’s counsel regarding this conflict, dateline May 24, May 10, respectively.

    Quick take – he says there are approximately two months remaining within which he considers it imperative for Russia and Ukraine to resume negotiations or else he foresees
    disastrous consequences for Europe’s long term stability. (For those needing a refresher course and willing to forgive my sarcasm, Europe was and remains and one would think promises to continue to be not only one of only a very few cradles of present day civilization, but an ongoing nursery, school and center of research and innovation etc).
    His comments indicate that he regards the neglect of his cautionary advice as boding such serious consequence that Ukraine should give up some territory to that end. He explains the error of getting too wrapped up in the excitement of the moment and overlooking Russia’s geographic and historic importance in sustaining civilized life as we, the earth’s inhabitants, have known things to be.

    Second. The individual, from the “All-Russian Officers Assembly” who is listed as the primary author of the document mentioned in this post is a Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov. If I am not mistaken this refers to the man who is the subject of this biographical summary, who although having a distinguished career as a Spetznatz officer, eventually found himself arrested and convicted of attempting an assassination of a Russian government official:

    Therefore, though there is nothing untrue as far as I can determine, in TTG’s report, and it does conform with reports of various sentiments within Russia that I have seen, in my wholly unsolicited opinion, the wisdom of any proposed actions it suggests are worthy of being called into question.

  4. jld says:

    Some Americans have somewhat dissenting views about Moscow’s goals.

    • TTG says:


      The author’s enumeration of Moscow’s goals still boils down to a restoration of hegemony over the former USSR and an outsized influence over the former WTO countries of Eastern Europe. That’s just not acceptable to any of those countries, including Ukraine.

  5. Jovan P says:

    Seems like the first UAV MQ-9 Reaper have been deployed in Ukraine. I wonder where the operator will sit if it is chosen to be remotely controlled.

    Can’t get out of my mind Fred’s thinking on how do you drag a nation into a war, without questioning the people…

    • TTG says:

      Jovan P,

      The whole point of a drone is that it’s remotely controlled. If Ukraine gets the Reapers, they can be controlled from Lviv to Kyiv to Odesa or anyplace in between.

      • James says:


        Or Warsaw. Or Nevada.

      • Jovan P says:

        Thanks for the answer, but if the price of one of these UAVs is in tens of millions of dollars, isn’t it logic that it will be operated by some US army specialists in some near base, e.g. Romania or Bulgaria? And isn’t this on more step to an open US-Russia war?

        • TTG says:

          Jovan P

          A Reaper system consists of four drones, one ground station and the satellite connection, much like a Bayraktar system consists of six drones and a ground station. Total cost of that Reaper package could be as high as $32 million. A single drone costs four to five million. You don’t need an USA or USAF specialist to operate it. Maintenance, maybe. Keeping the satellite connection up, definitely. We already provide SATCOM to Ukraine and allow Elon to do the same. The surveillance and intelligence we provide to Ukraine is more consequential than even a couple of Reaper packages.

          Reapers are slow and not at all stealthy. We’re looking at replacing them for that reason. I don’t know how long they’d last against Russian A2/AD.

  6. Al says:

    ‘Warmongering, lies and hatred’: Russian diplomat in Geneva resigns over Ukraine invasion
    Boris Bondarev issues public statement saying: ‘Never have I been so ashamed of my country’
    “Today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not about diplomacy,” wrote the diplomat, a 20-year veteran of the Russian foreign ministry. “It is all about warmongering, lies and hatred. It serves interests of few, the very few people thus contributing to further isolation and degradation of my country. Russia no longer has allies, and there is no one to blame but its reckless and ill-conceived policy.”

    Boris Bondarev passport photo
    Boris Bondarev said his decision to resign was ‘very simple’. Photograph: Handout/AP
    Bondarev is the highest-level diplomat yet to resign publicly from the Russian foreign ministry over the war, which began in February. In a telephone interview with the Guardian, Bondarev confirmed that he had written the statement and submitted his letter of resignation on Monday.

    “The decision was very simple,” said Bondarev. “When you see that your country is doing the worst things and being a civil servant you’re somehow related to that, it’s your decision just to terminate your connection with the government. We all must be responsible. And I don’t want to have any responsibility for what I don’t approve of.”

    • Leith says:

      Al –

      Bondarev needs to brew his own tea from now on. But Putin’s sicarios will still get to him. They’ve brought murder by exotic poisons down to a fine art.

      Strange though that they use that method for assassinations. Hasn’t poisoning always been thought of as a woman’s weapon?

      • KMD says:

        Sergei and Yulia Skirpal would probably disagree with that assessment since they survived the poisoning attempt.
        Same with Alexei Navalny. Boris and Natasha just don’t seem that competent if one wishes to believe the narrative that the MSM and our governments are peddling.

        • Leith says:

          KMD –

          Yushchenko and Kara-Murza and many others also.

          Is it incompetence? Underestimates of Western medical capability? Or done deliberately as scare tactics?

  7. jld says:

    Not posting comments that do not conform to your narrative does not make them less true.
    As a intelligence officer I suppose you know that. 🙂
    Russians are performing poorly but they are not losing.

  8. jld says:

    My comments criss-crossed over display time, sorry.

    • TTG says:


      A reminder that comments are reviewed and approved/disapproved manually. Neither I nor Colonel Lang man the keyboard 24/7. We get to them when we get to them.

  9. Pat Lang says:

    Yes. People don’t understand that this is a part-time thing for us and all comments are moderated.

  10. Fred says:

    ” The All-Russian Officers Assembly called on Putin to recognize the independence of the DNR and LNR three weeks prior to the ….”

    So they are going to fully moblilze in 3 weeks?

    ” Russian milbloggers claimed that the Kremlin will not honor the Officers Assembly appeal….”

    So there’s an ‘out’ to the full mobilization and all that means. Depending upon? Well don’t ask the Kagans as the ISW takes “Russian milbloggers” as being supperior to actual Russian officers. The google translate version of the ‘milbloggers’ is:
    “In general – most of the proposals / requirements from a military and political point of view – are quite justified and must be met if the authorities want to win the war. But, unfortunately,(right now, at least, although it was necessary “the day before yesterday”) will fulfill them … P.S. Moreover, none of the recipients will even read them …”

    Who actually did that analysis as all the by-lined people are recent college graduates, one of whom is a Ukrainian expat?

    “… things are still blowing up and catching fire across the country. As I said before, it’s going to be a long, hot summer and probably a long, cold winter, in….”

    In New York state tens of thousands of Americans face getting cut off from electric service.
    Speaking of blowing up:

    And there are those protests outside the homes of members of the Judicial Branch of government, which is a federal felony.

    But, our Oligarchs will have jet fuel, while we have $10 gas by July 4th:

    “… Refiners are planning to spend the summer increasing jet fuel and diesel production instead of gasoline because refining oil into diesel or jet fuel is currently more profitable than making gasoline despite those fuels historically being the least profitable parts of the barrel. Currently, the profit margin on distillates is nearly $60 a barrel, while the margin to make gasoline is $34. ”

    Meanwhile on the US Southern border, and the Baby Formula Front, and the WOW how much does that cost front…..

    At least Biden is Building Bolshevism Better.


    I believe you have a typo in the title block.

    • TTG says:


      First, thanks for spotting the typo. ISR just flows off the tongue and the fingertips.

      There are plenty of others besides the All-Russian Officers Assembly calling for going all in on this war. There are plenty within the Russian government who are dead set against it. Nothing unusual there.

      Interesting about all the “accidents” at the food processing plants. They should be investigated as possibly related. Could be anti-capitalists or some eco-terrorist group. Could also be some MAGA extremists looking to sabotage the economy and Biden. The jet fuel story doesn’t surprise me at all, just our fossil fuel oligarchs being good capitalists. If Biden really wanted to build a Bolshevist command economy, he’d do something about it. On the US southern border, Biden is just flat dicked.

      • Fred says:


        “MAGA extremists” LOL can’t possibly be just a plain old industrial accident, which a some of them probably are.

        “If Biden really wanted to build a Bolshevist command economy,..”

        He would wreck the middle class and small business owners first. Which is precisely what is being done.

        • TTG says:


          I’m glad the MAGA extremists gave you a chuckle. How about the anti-capitalists or eco-terrorists? Of course the logical explanation is a series of unfortunate events, including the two plane crashes. Tucker Carlson doesn’t think so or was that just more of his “asking questions” shtick?

          The middle class has been losing ground since the 1970s. Although Biden has been in government since that time, I doubt he’s the mastermind behind the decline of the middle class. The decline of the middle class does coincide with the decline of labor unions.

          • Fred says:


            I’ll take “what is immigration’s impact on wages” for $200 Alex. Followed by “Which Unions outsourced the industrial base?” .

            Certainly you haven’t forgotten the conversations on SST when Scott Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin went after closed shops in Wisconsin and how the democracts responded? Or the outrage when the Trump administration changed labor rules to allow union members to opt out of mandatory membership? or the Janus decision?

            “Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Supreme Court decision that struck down laws that allowed unions in state and local government to charge so-called “agency fees” of non-member employees in a bargaining unit.”

            But of course, “coincided” doesn’t mean “caused”. Unlike $6 and rising gas, food shortages, being declared non-essentail, stay at home orders, etc, etc. And putting a couple of trillion additional dollars into circulation. Along with inflation that will break a lot of the middle class.

          • TTG says:


            I’ll Bite. Which unions outsourced the industrial base? I thought it was the industrial oligarchs and shareholders that did that to maximize profit. The courts and most politicians have routinely sided with those oligarchs and shareholders over the workers and the unions.

          • Fred says:


            You mean Joe From Scranton didn’t defend the middle class during all those years in the Senate or as VP under Obama? And all those judges over all those years….. Sounds like you believe in Obama’s “Fundamentally transforming the United States of America”, because that’s exactly what he’s doing with Joe as front man for his 3rd term.

      • Poul says:

        Personally I wonder if Putin is waiting for the new intake of conscripts to finish training before annexing the parts of Ukraine Russia controls then the conscripts can be used in the defence of that territory as it’s now part of Russia.

        No war declared but a nice manpower increase for defensive tasks.

  11. Barbara Ann says:


    “At some point soon, the Ukrainians should withdraw to the Kramatorsk-Slaviansk fortifications before they are forced to retreat under fire or execute a breakout from encirclement”

    Re “soon”, I take it you still think an orderly withdrawal is possible. As we can be sure the Russians are planning to make it impossible at the earliest opportunity, what should we observers look for as indicators that the defenders at Severodonetsk and Lysychansk have left it too late (i.e. a withdrawal under fire or a breakout would involve unacceptable losses)? TIA.

    • TTG says:

      Barbara Ann,

      The Russians have been trying to make an orderly withdrawal, or any withdrawal at all, impossible for three months. I’ve seen reports today that Lyman has finally fallen, but no one knows if the Ukrainians withdrew before the Russians pushed them out. We just don’t know. It’ll be the same lack of clarity if and when Severodonetsk falls.

      • Steve says:


        The Russians are taking prisoners and with a few exceptions, treating them pretty well. Perhaps a shade better than their own government has been doing. I can see the point of that.

      • southpoint says:

        The buses have been tied up “evacuating” Azov. Now that the buses are free, orderly evacuations elsewhere are now possible.

  12. Leith says:

    @Fred – “So there’s an ‘out’ to the full mobilization”

    Yes. Putin will do a partial one on the sly. He won’t do it in big cities, especially St Pete and Moscow. It’ll mostly be in the countryside. Think non-Russian minorities. He’ll put them in those 60-year old T-62s he is taking out of storage.

    • Fred says:


      Ukraine under Zelisky (he got a standing ovation for a zoom appearance at Davos) is a few months ahead on the mobilization and training front, as well as being rearmed, they can thus put a counter offensive into action any day now. Led by that armor bridade TTG commented on a couple weeks ago. Of course Ukraine has no more air superiority than the Russians do so maybe that will pose a few problems for that, though perhaps that old Russian armor probably won’t be one of them. I suspect that the T-62’s can’t have armor worse (in any meaningful sense of the word) than the equipment they are to replace. Do the main guns work? Can the move and fire? Can they ‘shoot and scoot’ like was commented on about artillery in the last thread?

      • TTG says:


        Those T-62s were pretty good for the 1960s and even into the 1970s. I even saw some in action in 1983. Today they’re under-armored, can’t keep up with the BMPs and BTRs and have guns incompatible with modern Russian tank ammunition. Plus, they’re been sitting in open air tank parks for thirty plus years with little to no preventative maintenance. A lot of the optics and electronics left in them have probably been sold off long ago. Of course, we’re sending M-113s to the Ukrainians. They’re contemporaries with the T-62s.

        • Fred says:


          Yes and the Houthi’s have been using what to take on the Saudis?

          “we’re sending M-113s to the Ukrainians..”
          Perhaps they can use some of the $40 billion to buy equipment from the Taliban.

          • TTG says:


            The Houthis have used drone and ballistic missiles to take on the Saudis. Up close, they’ve relied on light infantry tactics. When they capture government forces, they typically burn the captured armor and other vehicles. We did send Iranian mortars seized from a shipment to Yemen to Ukraine.

          • Fred says:


            Men fight, weapons don’t, as the Saudis prove in every battle.

          • Pat Lang says:

            The Saudi army? The world’s largest static display of equipment.

      • Leith says:

        Fred –

        “smaller gun (115mm vs 125mm), thinner armour, no autoloader, obsolete fire control systems and radios, no night combat capabilities, lower speeds and a slower rate of fire.”

        Harder to maintain. Might be worthwhile in occupied areas to keep the civilians cowed and in check. Or as a reserve.

  13. Tidewater says:


    Neil Hauser is a Canadian freelance writer now in the Bakhmut area. He has an article in Military Times. He is also on Twitter.

  14. d74 says:

    ISW is a poem.
    I would say from their convoluted prose that Putin is a pacifist (because he backs away from competent and aggressive people advices). Great news, I didn’t know that.

    Summary: when you don’t know or want to say anything about tactics and terrain, turn to speculativ politics.
    A poem.

  15. Al says:

    Ukraine Is Using Quiet Electric Bikes to Haul Anti-Tank Weapons: The e-bike is ideal for moving snipers and anti-tank weapons quickly and quietly around the battlefield.

    The Ukrainian military is using stealthy electric bikes modified to carry next-generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWS) to fight Russia.

    Soldiers on electric bikes have been spotted across Ukraine since the early days of the war, mostly on ELEEK brand bikes. e-bikes are fast and, critically, much quieter than a gas powered bike. They allow soldiers to perform quick guard patrols or move swiftly into position.

    On Telegram last week, pictures surfaced of the Delfast branded bikes that had been modified to carry massive anti-tank weapons. The two photos showed the e-bike modified with a crate on the back and a huge missile launcher poking from the back.

    The e-bikes are used for transporting the launchers; the anti-tank weapons aren’t fired from the back of the bikes. The quiet design and fast speed—a Delfast can reach speeds up to 50 mph—allow the bikes to move NLAWS into position and quickly flee once fired.

    Militaries across the world have been developing electronic stealth bikes for around a decade. Australia has been testing them for the scouting missions and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—the Pentagon’s mad scientists—began throwing money at the problem in 2014. The development has led to two prototypes: the NightHawk and the Nightmare. The SilentHawk is a hybrid model that sounds about as loud as a vacuum cleaner and can get up to 80 mph. Less is known about the Nightmare.

    The speed and low heat signature make e-bikes ideal for reconnaissance and special operations. In addition to the NLAW hauling Delfast bikes, reports have flourished online of Ukraine using e-bikes to move snipers around the battlefield and quickly deliver medical supplies.

    • Leith says:

      Al –

      DARPA will undoubtedly over-engineer and over-price those e-bikes. Plenty of good commercial off the shelf models like what Ukraine is doing.

      The only spec that DARPA should look at is miles-per-charge. But Ukraine apparently is not worried about that and has kluged together some charging stations.

  16. MJ says:

    If the rooshkies are having trouble manning their T-72 & 80’s with full 3 man crews (autoloader), how are they going to man the T-62 which requires a 4 man crew (loader needed). What about infantry support for the T-62 units now that they require an extra personnel to man the the tanks.

  17. Razumov says:

    Ukrainians are reporting that Russian troops now outnumber them 7 to 1 in Donbass. The defenses are falling as the Russian grinding strategy has bled the Ukrainians white of experienced troops.

    This is the beginning of the big offensive.

  18. Razumov says:

    The ISW analysis of Russian patriots is a joke.

    Russian patriots have been complaining about the conflict in Ukraine very loudly for 8 years. The complaining stopped for a short time once operation Z began and then came right back. Lately there has been somewhat less complaining because of the capture of Azov and the destruction of Ukrainian positions in Donbass. Usually the patriot has a legitimate issue to complain about, if he doesn’t then he complains about losing the propaganda war.

    Bitching about failures and incompetence and demanding a more aggressive line is a constant of Russian patriots.

    Strelkov has been demanding a mobilization since Russia intervened in Syria. Anyone who thinks Strelkov has influence in the Kremlin is a fool. Did you notice that he doesn’t have a command? That wasn’t an oversight.

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