Russian Victory Day celebrations and possible “declaration of war” are being framed by Ukrainian air attacks on Snake Island more tailored for propaganda and morale. Similarly the number of Russian air attacks are expected to escalate for the next 48 hours. Perhaps the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol may finally capitulate. Ukrainian forced resettlement in far-flung areas of Russia is no different than trafficking. Mud season limits mobility and the disinformation campaigns continue. Outside weapons deliveries have not been delayed by air attacks.
Immediate items to watch
- Russian forces will likely continue to merge offensive efforts southward of Izyum with westward advances from Donetsk in order to encircle Ukrainian troops in southern Kharkiv Oblast and Western Donetsk.
- Russia may change the status of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, possibly by merging them into a single “Donbas Republic” and/or by annexing them directly to Russia.
- Russian forces have apparently decided to seize the Azovstal plant through ground assault and will likely continue operations accordingly.
- Ukrainian counteroffensives around Kharkiv City may unhinge Russian positions northeast of the city, possibly forcing the Russians to choose between reinforcing those positions or abandoning them if the Ukrainians continue to press their counterattack.
Main effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and four supporting efforts);
- Subordinate main effort- Encirclement of Ukrainian troops in the cauldron between Izyum and Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
- Supporting effort 1—Mariupol;
- Supporting effort 2—Kharkiv City;
- Supporting effort 3—Southern axis;
- Supporting effort 4—Sumy and northeastern Ukraine
Russian forces claimed to capture Popasna on May 7 but remain largely stalled in eastern Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian government confirmed the last remaining civilians trapped in the Azovstal plant evacuated on May 7, though the remaining Ukrainian defenders appear unlikely to surrender. ISW will likely be unable to report any discrete changes in control of terrain until Russian forces capture the plant as a whole due to the poor information environment in Mariupol.
By all indications, Russian forces will announce the creation of a Kherson People’s Republic or possibly forcibly annex Kherson Oblast in the coming weeks to cement its occupation administration and attempt to permanently strip these territories from Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued to target Odesa with cruise missile strikes and conduct false-flag attacks in Transnistria over the past several days.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive northeast of Kharkiv is making significant progress and will likely advance to the Russian border in the coming days or weeks. Russian forces may be conducting a limited withdrawal in the face of successful Ukrainian attacks and reportedly destroyed three bridges to slow the Ukrainian advance. Armies generally only destroy bridges if they have largely decided they will not attempt to cross the river in the other direction anytime soon; Russian forces are therefore unlikely to launch operations to retake the northeast outskirts of Kharkiv liberated by Ukrainian forces in the near future. Russian forces previously destroyed several bridges during their retreat from Chernihiv Oblast—as did Ukrainian forces withdrawing in the face of the Russian offensive in the initial days of the war.
This Ukrainian offensive is likely intended to push Russian forces out of artillery range of Kharkiv city and drive to the border of Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. As ISW previously forecasted, the Ukrainian counteroffensive is forcing Russian units intended for deployment elsewhere to redeploy to the Kharkiv front to halt Ukrainian attacks. Given the current rate of Ukrainian advances, Russian forces may be unable to prevent Ukrainian forces from reaching the Russian border, even with additional reinforcements. Ukrainian forces are not directly threatening Russian lines of communication to Izyum (and ISW cannot verify claims of a separate Ukrainian counteroffensive toward Izyum at this time), but the Ukrainian counteroffensive demonstrates promising Ukrainian capabilities and may set conditions for further offensive operations into northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
By all indications, Russian forces will announce the creation of a Kherson People’s Republic or possibly forcibly annex Kherson Oblast in the near future and are intensifying occupation measures in Mariupol. Russian forces are reportedly increasing their security presence in both Kherson and Mariupol, including withdrawing personnel from frontline combat units to protect Russian dignitaries in Mariupol. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Leader Denis Pushilin arrived in Kherson on May 6, and local occupation officials stated the region will “strive to become a subject of Russia” and “will resemble something close to Crimea in terms of the pace of development,” echoing longstanding rhetoric used by Russia’s existing proxies in eastern Ukraine. As ISW has previously assessed, the Kremlin will likely form illegal proxy republics or directly annex occupied areas of southern and eastern Ukraine to cement its occupation administration and attempt to permanently strip these territories from Ukraine.
Jaw-dropping footage released Saturday reportedly shows two Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flankers making a high-speed, low-level bombing run on Russian-occupied Snake Island located in the western Black Sea.
Yet another Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 drone caught the strike on video, showing a tight shot of the island from the west. Two Su-27s enter very low from the south — lower than the lighthouse on the island’s southern point, while dropping infrared countermeasure flares.
The Flankers toss what were possibly high-drag bombs at minimal altitude, scoring what appear to be direct hits on the island’s main complex, buildings just above the pier, and on the eastern point. There are at least two major secondary explosions, suggesting a hit on ammunition and/or fuel storage area, on the island’s east end before a larger blast near the island’s center. From the limited albeit stunning angle we have of the attack, this was a very high-risk operation not just due to the threat from the enemy but from blast and fragmentation of the bombs striking the launching aircraft themselves.
Weather Impact. The 10-day forecast for east Ukraine shows temps (16-24 C) will continue to slowly dry out areas with extensive mud, slightly improving offroad movement. However, mud still restricts movement to roads. Rain & cloud cover slightly degrades air & UAV operations.
Kharkiv OD. Ukraine’s limited counteroffensive of 02-05 May north & NE of Kharkiv threatens to push Russian forces back across the border into Belgorod. Russian forces in the Kharkiv OD are to spread out and weak to reverse recent Ukrainian gains. #Kharkiv
4/ Russia cannot afford another major defeat and will likely have to repurpose reinforcements designated to the Main Effort along the Siverskyi Donets Line between Izium & Popasna or pull units from that direction to stabilize defensives in the Kharkiv OD.
5/ Severodonetsk-Donetsk OD. Russian forces continue to struggle to achieve a general breakthrough along the Siverskyi Donets Line between Izium and Popasna. Along the Izium Axis Russian forces are stalled, unable to gain ground against Ukrainian hasty defensive positions. #izium
6/ Russian command posts remain vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes. Russian C2 nodes are not nimble, lack proper concealment, and struggle to mask their electronic signature. Ukraine targets Russian C2 nodes with great effect, crippling their ability to exercise command of forces.
Zaporizhzhia OD. Russian forces are focusing artillery and air strikes in support of limited assaults on Orikhiv, Huilaipole, and Velyka Novosilka. The Ukrainian General Staff estimates the main Russia objective in the Zaporizhzhia OD is Orikhiv. #Zaporizhzhia #Melitopol
8/ Orikhiv sits at the crossroads of several major roads and is a vital point of communication for an advance on Zaporizhzhia. It is likely that units still refiting and reorganizing from the Siege of Mariupol may be committed here in the coming days.
9/ Azovstal (Mariupol). On 03 May Russian forces resumed their assault on the Azovstal Metallurgical Zone. Intense air and artillery strikes supported ground assaults which made minimal gains resulting in Russian troops entering the Azovstal complex for the first time. #Azovstal
10/ Azovstal still stands. Given the reduced number of Russian troops available for operations against the Azovstal Complex, Russian forces will continue to rely on siege tactics and massed air and artillery strikes to reduce Ukrainian resistance.
11/ Odesa-Kherson OD. There has been little activity in the Kherson-Odesa OD. The Ukrainian General Staff reports that Russian forces continue to reinforce forward positions for a likely resumption of offensive operations to secure the northern and NW Kherson Oblast borders.
12/ It is assessed Russian occupation authorities will move forward with an illegitimate referendum to create the KPR. Ukrainian intelligence surmises false-flag incidents in Transnistria are intended to fix Ukrainian forces in Odesa to prevent their support to other operations.
13/ Aerospace Assessment. VKS air sorties remain steady at 300 in a 24-hour period. The focus of these sorties is on the interdiction of western aid supplies moving from west Ukraine to the front lines. These strikes have largely been ineffective.
14/ Battle Damage Assessment. Russian forces continue to sustain heavy losses against Ukrainian defenses along the Siverskyi Donets Line & Severodonetsk Salient. The Ukrainian General Staff reports 4x BTGs have been withdrawn from the Izium Axis.
15/ Ukrainian TV, Day 67-72. Russia continues to lose ground in the information & economic sphere. Russia is attempting to find work arounds to western sanctions to replace critical military components. Western nations work to accelerate aid to Ukraine.
16/ InfoWar. The Kremlin continues its crackdown of domestic opposition to its war effort while state-media claims the war in Ukraine is a NATO proxy-war against Russia. This narrative is meant to play into the possibility of a 9 May declaration of war and/or full mobilization.
17/ Information Advantage. Ukraine is taking full advantage of recent Russian diplomatic gaffs to drive a wedge between Russia and countries that so far have remained neutral (specifically Israel) to reconsider their position and support Ukraine.
18/ The Ukrainian government continues to dominate the cyber sphere, recently launching an online funding effort to support Ukrainian resistance.
19/ Humanitarian Impact. Ukrainian refugees total 7.78+ million with 6+ million in countries bordering Ukraine, another 1.78+ throughout Europe, and 7.5+ million internally displaced people throughout Ukraine (1.4+ million in eastern & 228K in southern Ukraine).
20/ Despite efforts to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal, Russia continues to violate ceasefire agreements to allow organized evacuations by attacking relief convoys attempting to evacuate civilians & the wounded along approved humanitarian corridors.
21/ Overall Assessment. As surmised in my 03 May thread of the likelihood of a Russian breakthrough along the Siverskyi Donets Line, Russian forces are likely heading toward tactical success but a strategic defeat.
22/ Likewise, as surmised in my 14 April thread, Ukraine is in the process of a significant localized counteroffensive in the Kharkiv area that has the high likelihood of creating a serious strategic dilemma for the Russian General Staff.
23/ These maps have been created by me based off the most reliable information of activity in the Ukrainian Theater of War from a variety of OSINT sources. Errors will be corrected as soon as they are identified.
24/ Information regarding Ukrainian units are meant to be general, are based on Ukrainian General Staff statements and social media posts, official Ukrainian government press releases, and local news. It does not depict current unit movements. END
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Thus technology taketh away and technology also giveth, as the Old Testament might put it. But the tech that is suddenly on everyone’s mind in relation to sanctions and Russia is blockchain, the software that underpins cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and the like. These currencies have been proliferating like wildfire for some years, and I long ago lost count of them all, but in essence they all have one thing in common: they’re decentralised payment systems that can enable anyone to transfer value to someone else anywhere. And because every part of the process is heavily encrypted and unsupervised by any authoritative institution such as a central bank, cryptocurrencies are clearly useful for money laundering – and for evading sanctions.
Whatever else it is, Russia seems to be a crypto-savvy country. An official government estimate puts local holdings of cryptocurrencies at $200bn, which is, at a guess, 12% of the world total. Another survey, by a Singapore-based crypto payment gateway, concluded that 17 million Russians own cryptocurrencies and that upwards of half a million computer programmers work in the industry. And Russia is currently third in terms of Bitcoin network-mining activity – apparently with government backing; Putin has called for the use of surplus energy for crypto mining.
Given that, it would be surprising if the regime did not have a strategy for using cryptocurrencies as a way of dodging or undermining sanctions. This would be a viable option for individual Russian citizens seeking to trade with others outside the country (or even to protect their savings at a time when the rouble has crashed). But for an economy the size of Russia, crypto transactions on the scale required to offset the impact of sanctions would be much too large to conceal from western governments. For once, there’s no technical fix for the problem that Putin has created for his country… and for the world.