ISW Assessment for March 20

Russian forces did not make any major advances on March 20. Russian forces around Kyiv are increasingly establishing defensive positions and preparing to deploy further artillery and fire control assets. Ukrainian forces repelled continuing Russian efforts to seize the city of Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv, and Russian forces did not conduct any other offensive operations in northeast Ukraine. Russian forces continue to make slow but steady progress on Luhansk Oblast and around Mariupol, but did not conduct any offensive operations towards Mykolayiv or Kryvyi Rih.

Key Takeaways

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reported for the first time that the Kremlin is preparing its population for a “long war” in Ukraine and implementing increasingly draconian mobilization measures, including deploying youth military organization members aged 17-18.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly killed three Russian regimental commanders in the last 24 hours.
  • Russia’s Wagner Group will likely facilitate the deployment of Libyan fighters to Ukraine.
  • Russian forces are digging in to positions around Kyiv, including the first reports of the war of Russian forces deploying minefields.
  • Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault on Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv, and inflicted heavy casualties.
  • Russian forces continued their slow advance into Mariupol but did not achieve any major territorial gains.
  • Ukrainian forces launched further localized counterattacks around Mykolayiv.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, March 20 | Institute for the Study of War (

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29 Responses to ISW Assessment for March 20

  1. Cerena says:
    “Like in the playground when our classmates were fighting each other, we want to know who started it. There is no contest: eight years ago, the United States organized a regime change in Kiev with the help of armed groups. These people call themselves “nationalists” … They claim to be real Ukrainians of Scandinavian or proto-Germanic origin and not Slavs like the Russians. They claim to be Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian collaborators of the Nazis, the equivalent of Philippe Pétain from a symbolic point of view for the French, but above all of Joseph Darnand and the soldiers of the French SS Division Charlemagne.”

  2. cobo says:

    It’s so hard to get an idea of where the Russians really stand. I’m no military analyst, but from the deployment of the Chechen forces, the deployment of Syrian mercenaries and potentially the deployment Lybian mercenaries, and the potential for Belarusse to enter the war – these don’t look like the moves of a confident aggressor. Bringing foreign mercenaries into the battle space will assure that hatred of the Russians spreads far and deep and burns red hot for a long time. In many ways the practices of our political and business classes have weakened the US Military – but if we’re going to do this thing, and take on Russia and its closest allies, the hard heart of hard core needs to rise and make sure we aren’t being set up for failure. Jusy sayin’

    • JohninMK says:

      So far I can’t see any evidence of either Syrian or Libyan mercenaries deployed, their mention may have been as a response to the Ukrainians saying similar.

      The Chechens are part of the Russian forces, and seem to be primarily employed as armed police, they do not appear to be trained as assault troops.

      As to Belarus, as effectively part of the Russian Federation in many ways, it would be surprising if they didn’t join in. They are making all their infrastructure available to Russian forces who operate freely out of them. From the moves the Belarusian Army are making at the moment, it seems that they are protecting the Russian northern flank whilst posing a threat to western Ukraine.

  3. walrus says:

    Col. Lang is right; one must separate the source of information from the content when trying to analyze a military situation and much as I feel contaminated by reading anything authored by the ISW, they do appear to present good data.

    Having said that, the essence of a good IO is to present verifiable facts along with your disinformation as well as your own appreciation that supports your position. It enhances your credibility.

    Take for example the observation regarding the Russians laying mines; ISW’s reference for this is a communique from “The Ukraine General Staff” (my quotes because I haven’t verified that it is genuine). The only open source reference to mining refers to anti tank mines (manufacturer unknown) found by Ukraine forces near Kiev and even the finders aren’t sure who put them there.

    Considering the very little I was taught about the employment of mines, and why Russians would lay anti tank mines of all things, I fail to understand how ISW can use this alleged event as evidence that the Russians are bogging down and preparing for a static war of attrition , which would be an attractive conclusion from the ISW’s point of view.

    If you take the trouble to find and read the Kremlins take on matters, you will be offered equally one sided and rosy views of their situation. Similarly the shrill pronouncements of the Saker, Johnson, RT, CNN, BBC, etc., the truth must lie somewhere in between.

    On that note, I commend to you the 1943 Private SNAFU cartoon “Rumors” its a Five minute classic written by none other than Dr. Seuss.

    • Harry says:

      Great observations! Very useful.

    • Leith says:

      Walrus –

      Thanks for the links to the Private SNAFU flics. Hollywood used to be on the side of the angels back then. Sadly no more.

      But I can’t believe you couldn’t find anything about landmines other than the single France24 report. There are lots of reports of both RUS and UKR use of landmines on the web. You should look a bit harder. My favorite is the pic of the champion Ukrainian landmine finder, an EOD K9 Jack Russel terrier with the UKR Chernihiv bomb-disposal squad.

      UKR SOF posted a video of using chained explosives and small arms to take out much of a convoy in the south. And there are pics from the north of RUS vehicles stopped by landmines.

      RUS are digging in behind berms and trenches both E and W of Kiev. Standard doctrine would be to put out landmines. Why would they not?

      • walrus says:

        Leith, I am not yet aware of other reports of mining. My faulty memory tells me there are both strategic and tactical ways and means to employ mines and these range from enormous machine laid strategic barrier minefields to command detonated emplacements to spice up an ambush.

        Without knowing what was laid, where and how it was laid, we can’t guess the purpose.

    • Stadist says:

      I’m checking both sides, and the pro-russian takes are increasingly silly.

      Regarding civilian targets getting hit, these are always either pure fakes OR ‘ukronazi’/azov false-flags.

      Russian casualties – all fakes and lies.

      Russian objectives and plan – everything achieved and everything going according to plan.

      Actually the russian side is claiming the whole western world will collapse within days/weeks (just check Yves Smith on nakedcapitalism) to the domestic political pressures caused by high energy prices, and that this all part of the superior mastermind russian plan to make west self-destruct themselves with sanctions.

  4. Leith says:

    I do have one beef with ISW’s assessment. They keep saying that Kyiv is still the Main Effort. IMHO it was the main effort back on 24 February. But IMHO once that special operation to take Ukraine’s capitol city fell apart it is no longer considered primary.

    I suspect they are now using Kyiv to hold down Ukrainian forces while they have upgraded the supporting efforts in Kherson, Mariupol, Luhansk, and Donetsk. The goal being to create a landlink to Crimea, plus get a steady supply of water for Crimea. They also want to expand the LNR/DNR enclaves to all of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, which they have been trying to do by ignoring the Minsk Agreements for the last seven years (while blaming it on the other side). Perhaps they might even try to incorporate the eastern chunk of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and southern Kharkiv Oblast, which were historically considered part of the Donbas.

    Other than that I believe ISW’s assessments are on point.

    • Cerena says:

      You put cart before the horse:
      “The Minsk agreements were a series of international agreements which sought to end the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The first, known as the Minsk Protocol, was drafted in 2014 by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, consisting of Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with mediation by the leaders of France and Germany in the so-called Normandy Format. After extensive talks in Minsk, Belarus, the agreement was signed on 5 September 2014 by representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group and, without recognition of their status, by the then-leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). …
      The agreement failed to stop fighting and was thus followed with a revised and updated agreement, Minsk II, which was signed on 12 February 2015. This agreement consisted of a package of measures, including a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, release of prisoners of war, constitutional reform in Ukraine granting self-government to certain areas of Donbas and restoring control of the state border to the Ukrainian government.”
      You missed this part: “constitutional reform in Ukraine granting self-government to certain areas of Donbas.”
      Mr. Zelensky was elected on his promise to implement the Minsk II agreement. He never did.

    • Steve says:


      I saw no effort at all to take Kyiv, only installations on the outskirts such as airfields. The Russians seem to have taken some SOF losses there. Other than that it seems pretty obvious from anyone’s maps that Kyiv has never been a target to take, only to suppress.

    • d74 says:

      I think you are right. But landlinks and water fo Crimea is already a given no matter what, barring defeat.

      Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Russian command…

      Kiev is so far an abscess of fixation.It attracts media attention and wears out the Ukies.

      The important thing is in the south: agricultural production, industries and sea ports and sea links which are to be taken away from the present Ukraine. The bonus is a direct link to Transnistria, a gun pointed at south-eastern Europe. Or to put it another way, a southern Kaliningrad.

      The south is relevant for the future, but tactically encircling the Uki forces besieging the LDPR is very important. Not to allow their withdrawal is critical.

      And then if Kiev fell, it would be a divine surprise.

      Don’t the Russians have “eyes bigger than their stomachs”? They may choke

      • Mark Logan says:


        Late in the report is a prediction the Russians will abandon efforts to encircle Kyiv and are instead preparing defenses for fire bases with which to bombard it. Why? I imagine the reason is to get Zelensky to agree to the deal, or something close to the deal, which Russia has on the table.

        “You can’t sustain this. We will wear you down and you will leave!”
        “Yes, but I can flatten cities the whole while, I don’t have enough to encircle and take but I have enough for that.”

        Destruction of Kyiv is shaping up to be Putin’s only card, he might play it. Kyiv may have begun as a diversion but he may view it now as the whole game.

        • Fred says:


          All those troops doing along the Black sea coast look a lot like Kyiv isn’t the only objective.

    • Leith says:

      Mark Logan –

      Ofc you are right. Since Putin could not take Kiev, he will try to destroy it.

  5. James Doleman says:

    Worrying map, if accurate, for government forces in East Ukraine.
    If Russia can close the kettle things might change very quickly.

  6. TV says:

    Saw a comment somewhere: “even military amateurs can see the major errors in Russian tactics – armor sticking to roads in formation, no infantry with the armor, ineffective air support, unprotected supply lines.”
    Maybe the Russians should stick to espionage and leave war to grownups.

  7. KMD says:

    Took a look at the ISW website after seeing it used as a resource here. Saw that it was founded by Kimberly Kagan. That name sounded familiar. Sure enough, she’s part of the Kagan Neocon clan.
    Remember when Victoria Nuland was handing out cookies during the Maiden uprising?
    I doubt this is an objective group or assessment.

  8. jim ticehurst says:

    Objective …The Three Bears Came Home..

    Subjective…The Three Bears Found out Victoria Newland
    gave All Thier Cookies Away..So They Ate Her..

  9. alexandar says:

    SITREP Donbass
    1 – After reducing remaining UKR forces in the southern edge of Yzium (49°13 North, 37°15 ), FR will advance to Slaviansk and Kramatorsk where the bulk of the UKR is located , 54eme Bmeca + 95eme Brigade Azov + 24eme Bmeca + 26eme Bmoto (?) + logistical support elements.
    2 – Severodonetsk Salient is being reduced by 3 FoPRD mechanized brigades + 4 3rd Div/1st ABG armoured battalions.
    The city was shortly occupied by FoLPR, then they retreated due to the presence on western edge of JS /OTG «C» and 111 BrAssault, 17th BrT and 3rd BrT (?) UKR 
    3- FoDPR in Maryinka (47° 56 North, 37° 30 East) located on the southwest outskirts of Donetsk.
    Litght fighting after a strong preparation of FoR artillery.
    UKR forces appear to be retreating towards Kramatorsk and/or Dnieper (TBC)
    Slow progress 15 km in 1 week from Donskoye
    Delayed by the neccesite to clean Volnovakha (49°13 north, 37°15 ) and a difficult terrain, heavily fortified for 8 years and held by the best UKR forces.

    Overall progress
    Given the progression of FoR/DNR in recent days:
    South to Maryinka (47°56 N, 37°30 E) and Kourakhove (47°59 N, 37°16 E) and ARTY strikes on Pokrovsk (48°16 N, 37°11 E) by Russian 439th GRAB
    North from Kamianka to Barvinkove (48° 54 N, 37° 01 E)
    the closing of the kettle will therefore be as short and as close as possible to the UKR forces along the axis Kourakhove – Pokrovsk – Bilozerske – Barvinkove
    Following massacre of 26 civilians in Donetsk by a Toska-U, the FoR/DNR want to end it quickly.
    On this front the OTG UKR «B» conducts a retarding fight with 55th BrAssault + 30th BrMeca + 56th BrMeca + 25th BrAzov + 26th BrAssault
    The operational capacity of the 55th, 30th and 25th after a week of combat is probably greatly diminished.

    Today, TBC:
    EM UKR have seen the trap and reportedly requested the removal of the OTG UKR “B” to Dzerzhinsk (48° 23 55 N / 37° 50 52 E) to position south of Kramatorsk.
    Which would release it from static positions facing Donetsk where he’s doomed to destruction
    Positive point for UKR;
    This maneuver makes it possible to build a set of forces with more or less 12 brigades – according to the attrition – capable of arming a firm defense pole while having the manpower to allow punctual counter-attacks.
    Negative point:
    In the long term, depending on the speed of land conquest by the FoR along the Dnieper
    – Creating a new trap
    – Withdrawal to Dnieper impossible
    – Possible reverse grip UKR line defence on the Donets River ( Kiev – Priluky – Romny – Okhtyrka ) by FoR.

    1 – FoR reorganisation and consolidation phase and pocket cleaning, Sumy, Cherniv.
    2 – Replacement of FoR by Rosgvardia in conquered areas.
    3 – Kiev is a decoy that forced the UKR to transfer troops.( Take the armies, not the cities; Clausewitz )
    4 – Dombass kettle soon closed, where the best troops, 20 to 30,000 UKRs are trapped.
    5 – Russians have strategic initiative
    6 – The UKR army is not capable of mounting any large-scale counter-offensive, does not have an organized defense system between the Donbass and the Dnieper and can only conduct a delaying combat with no effect on the outcome of the war.

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