Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, Nicole Wolkov, and Fredrick W. Kagan
June 5, 2023, 8pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Note: The data cutoff for this product was 2pm ET on June 5. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the June 6 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.
Russian and Ukrainian officials are signaling the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. ISW offers no assessment of these signals at this time. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on June 5 that Ukrainian forces conducted a “large-scale offensive” across five sectors of the frontline in southwestern Donetsk Oblast on June 4. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled all Ukrainian attacks and assigned Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov to oversee the southwestern Donetsk frontline. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar noted on June 5 that Ukrainian forces are “transferring to offensive actions” in some unspecified areas of the front. Malyar added that Russian sources are actively spreading information about the Ukrainian counteroffensive to deflect attention from Russian losses in the Bakhmut direction. The Russian MoD’s claims that Russian forces immediately repelled Ukrainian counteroffensives are consistent with previous false Russian claims made during past counteroffensives. Ukrainian forces are likely making limited gains despite Russian denials. ISW will not attempt to assess at this time whether or not these gains are part of broader counter-offensive operations. ISW observed an increase in combat activity in different sectors of the frontline but will not speculate about the intent, weight, or focus of Ukrainian counteroffensives operations. A successful counteroffensive operation may take days, weeks, or even months before its outcome becomes fully clear, during which time Russian sources may falsely claim to have defeated it.
Ukrainian forces made limited advances north and southwest of Bakhmut on June 5. Malyar reported that Ukrainian forces are conducting offensive operations on the eastern front in the Bakhmut area and advanced 200 to 1,600 meters in the direction of Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut), and 100 to 700 meters near Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut) and Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that mechanized Ukrainian forces also advanced from 300 meters to one kilometer in the direction of Zaliznyanske (13km north of Bakhmut) and Bohdanivka (8km northwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut direction for “moving forward” in their areas of responsibility on June 5. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Ukrainian forces captured an unspecified part of Berkhivka (6km north of Bakhmut) and criticized the Russian military command for previously withdrawing Russian forces from the Berkhivksy Reservoir on May 12 to protect their positions in the settlement. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian assaults in the direction of Soledar (12km northeast of Bakhmut), likely referring to the wider area north and northeast of Bakhmut. One milblogger claimed that Russian forces fought Ukrainian forces near Rozdolivka (19km northeast of Bakhmut). Another milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces also attacked Russian positions in an unspecified location in the Siversk (31km northeast of Bakhmut) area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian assault near Mayorsk (21km southwest of Bakhmut) and north of Horlivka (26km south of Bakhmut). ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Ukrainian advances in the Bakhmut associated with these limited offensives on June 5.
The pro-Ukrainian all-Russian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) claimed that it continues to operate in a Russian border settlement in Belgorod Oblast as of June 5. Geolocated footage published on June 5 shows the RDK personnel operating in Novaya Tavolzhanka (a small settlement about 3km from the Kharkiv-Belgorod Oblast border). The Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR), which conducted a raid into Belgorod Oblast with the RDK, published footage purportedly showing LSR forces striking Russian tanks and armored vehicles near the Shebekino checkpoint, about 7km northeast of Novaya Tavolzhanka. The Russian MoD claimed on June 5 that Russian forces and the Russian Border Guard Service repelled two attacks near Novaya Tavolzhanka on June 4, but did not respond to the RDK’s claim that RDK personnel still operate in the settlement.
Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that Chechen forces are ready to defend against raids in Belgorod Oblast, likely in part to keep his forces out of combat in Ukraine. Kadyrov claimed on June 5 that he has 70,000 Chechen servicemen serving in unspecified formations in the Russian military who could defend against the raids into Belgorod Oblast due to their extensive anti-terrorism training. Kadyrov notably stated that the Russian “Commander-in-Chief” – implying Russian President Vladimir Putin – “knows better,” but that Kadyrov wanted to “remind” everyone that Chechen units could have dealt with ”terrorists who invaded Belgorod Oblast.” Kadyrov’s suggestion for Chechen forces to operate in Belgorod Oblast follows Putin‘s order deploying Chechen units to areas along the Donetsk frontline on May 31. Kadyrov’s rhetorical shift towards suggesting that Chechen forces get involved in Belgorod Oblast may suggest a desire to preserve his forces from engaging in combat in more challenging sectors of the front. ISW previously assessed that Kadyrov appeared to have been conserving forces and did not deploy forces to participate in large-scale offensive operations since summer 2022. Kadyrov previously claimed on May 26 that 7,000 Chechen servicemen are operating in Ukraine. If Kadyrov’s claims are close to accurate, only about 10 percent of available Chechen forces are serving in Ukraine, but his statements are impossible to verify.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet is attempting to mitigate complications with logistical support in occupied Crimea by shifting resources to mainland Russia. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk reported on June 5 that Russian forces are transferring the Black Sea Fleet’s logistics centers from Sevastopol, occupied Crimea, to Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai. Humenyuk stated that Russian forces are moving the logistics centers because of widespread logistical and ammunition provision issues in occupied Crimea. Humenyuk noted that Russian amphibious ships are continuing to maneuver in the Black Sea and enter Sevastopol, but that the overall center of gravity of the Black Sea Fleet appears to be shifting towards Novorossiysk. Recent strikes on Russian concentration areas, logistics hubs, and transportation assets in southern Ukraine may be causing increased anxiety over the security of the Black Sea Fleet, and the move to Krasnodar Krai is likely in part reflective of this fact.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to exacerbate the divide between the Wagner Group and the Russian MoD. Prigozhin’s press service published a video on June 4 showing a Wagner fighter interrogating a Russian soldier who identified himself as Lieutenant Colonel Roman Venevitin of the 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (3rd Army Corps). Venevitin admitted on camera that he ordered his unit to fire on a Wagner vehicle while intoxicated due to his own “personal animosity” towards Wagner. Venevitin appeared to have sustained facial injuries during the time of his capture by Wagner. Prigozhin also claimed that Wagner personnel engaged in a small skirmish with Russian MoD personnel in Semihirya (15km southeast of Bakhmut) on May 17 after the MoD personnel fired on Wagner fighters when they tried to stop the MoD personnel from laying mines in Wagner’s rear. As ISW has previously assessed, Prigozhin continues to inject such anti-MoD narratives into the Russian information space in order to retain his status in the information space following the culmination of Wagner’s Bakhmut offensive and Wagner’s withdrawal from combat in Ukraine. The suggestion that units operating under the Russian MoD are actively firing on Wagner while intoxicated strengthens Prigozhin’s argument that the Russian MoD is a combat-ineffective and somewhat nefarious force.
Russian milbloggers responded to the video of Lieutenant Colonel Venevitin with concern, indicating that several prominent pro-war voices are becoming increasingly concerned over the ramifications of the Wagner-MoD divide. One prominent milblogger called for Venevitin to be tried by the military prosecutor’s office, which would be normal practice in such cases, but noted that the Wagner-MoD conflict “continues to be unhealthy.” Another milblogger who claimed to have personally spoken to Wagner commanders accused both Wagner and MoD units of not knowing what they are fighting for and all of trying to outcompete each other to be “heroes.” Former Russian officer and prominent critical milblogger Igor Girkin noted that the video of Venevitin is another step towards “troubles” regardless of the circumstances of the incident and that Prigozhin is provoking an open war between units ostensibly on the same side of the war. As Prigozhin continues his efforts to maintain informational relevance his rhetorical charades will likely further deepen the divide between the MoD and Wagner, thus hindering the overall combat-effectiveness of both forces and additionally generating increasing discontent in the information space that used to back him.
- Russian and Ukrainian officials are signaling the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
- Ukrainian forces conducted limited successful offensives north and southwest of Bakhmut.
- The pro-Ukrainian all-Russian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) claimed that it continues to operate in a Russian border settlement in Belgorod Oblast as of June 5.
- Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that Chechen forces are ready to defend against raids in Belgorod Oblast, likely partially in order to keep his forces out of combat in Ukraine.
- The Russian Black Sea Fleet is attempting to mitigate complications with logistical support in occupied Crimea by shifting resources to mainland Russia.
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to exacerbate the divide between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
- Russian milbloggers responded to the video of Lieutenant Colonel Venevitin with concern, indicating that several prominent pro-war voices are becoming increasingly concerned over the ramifications of the Wagner-MoD divide.
- Russian forces reportedly conducted unsuccessful reconnaissance-in-force operations northeast of Kharkiv City and continued limited ground attacks northeast of Kupyansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued limited offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
- Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts and made further limited tactical gains.
- Ukrainian forces continue to target rear Russian positions throughout southern Ukraine.
- Iran has allegedly signed contracts with Russia for about $1.74 million in ammunition for Russia to use in Ukraine.
- Ukrainian sources and Belarusian sources indicated that Belarus has been involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.
Action at last, with pressure being put on the Russians around Bakhmut, and the Russians seeking to neutralise the treat of an attack out of Kherson by blowing the Khakovka dam. This attack at Bakhmut is probably not intended to be the main axis of attack (at least at this time), rather it is to place those areas under pressure to require the diversion of resources from other areas of the front, hopefully increasing the chances of the real offensive to make a breakthrough. Of course, if these attacks meet success and the Russians do not react with reinforcements there is nothing to stop this developing into a more sustained attack. The determining question is probably whether these attacks include the western tanks, which should be a signal that it is in fact the main attack - however the Ukrainians will know this as well as the Russians, so its possible we might see a double bluff, with the initial push taking as much ground as possible using ex-soviet equipped units, with the real western armed attacking units behind them and passing through at the point the initial attacks stalls to complete the breakout. With its recent history and concentration of Russian equipment and troops there, an encirclement and capture of Bakhmut is not a bad way to start the summer campaign.
The dam looks to be like a proper demolition job, with a very long span removed fairly cleanly. It seems unlikely this could be achieved by artillery fire, previous HIMARS attacks on bridges have resulted in plenty of holes drilled through but not anything like the kind of clean break over such width. Also, destruction of the dam would be consistent with the Russians panicking due to the percieved start of the offensive and trying to ruin any intended Ukrainian incursion, both to stop the Ukrainians capturing and securing the dam and bridge, to impede a crossing downstream, and also perhaps to impede crossings upstream by lowering the level of the reservoir, thus creating steeper and longer banks on each side and rendering loading points unusable. Could still concievably be the Ukrainians using special forces placed explosives, but difficult to see what the point is - perhaps to deny the Russians the ability to do it when it best suits them, or perhaps it affects the water supply to Crimea. Either way, I would have thought taking that bridge intact and putting pressure on the Russian left flank would have been far more valuable, so I think it unlikely.