A second Russian jet is downed by friendly fire. Annexing four oblasts could be premature if the expected Ukrainian offensive is successful.
- Calls made by Russian nationalist and pro-war voices for the Kremlin to officially define operations in Ukraine as a war, conduct general mobilization, and pursue expanded territorial goals reached a crescendo on July 19 with some criticizing the Kremlin and others claiming that Putin has been preparing for the “Syrianization” of the war all along.
- The Kremlin will likely attempt to illegally annex occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts into Russia as early as September 11, 2022.
- Russian milbloggers highlighted the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) failure to fight as they had trained—a critique that helps explain the general Russian failures during the initial invasion of Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued efforts to resume offensive operations toward Slovyansk from southeast of Izyum and around Barvinkove.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks to the east of Siversk and had partial success in ground attacks to the east of Bakhmut.
- Russian authorities are continuing to leverage unconventional sources of combat power to avoid general mobilization.
- Russian occupation authorities are escalating law enforcement measures to protect administrative control of occupied areas.
“Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an ‘annexation playbook,’” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, citing what he called “ample evidence” gathered by Western intelligence and already “in the public domain” indicating that President Vladimir Putin wants to take Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and the Donbas region “in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
“First, these proxy officials will arrange sham referenda on joining Russia. Then, Russia will use those sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” Kirby told reporters during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. Kirby added that the referendums “will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia’s regional elections.”
Russia honed its “annexation playbook” in 2014, when it occupied the Crimean Peninsula and subjected it to a referendum, effectively bringing the region under Russian rule. It remains a de facto part of Russia, despite the international community’s efforts to condemn and punish Moscow for the move.
Putin never attempted a similar move with the parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that fell under the control of pro-Russian separatists during heavy fighting in Donbas that followed Crimea’s annexation. But Kirby said Russia has been preparing for such a land grab, and doing so with increased urgency as it slowly presses its occupation deeper into Ukrainian territory.
He cited examples of Moscow installing Russian banks and establishing the ruble as the official currency, forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship and passports, installing loyalists as regional government officials, and controlling broadcasting towers, the internet and other telecommunications infrastructure to ensure complete control of the information residents receive.
Supporting Effort #1—Kharkiv City (Russian objective: Defend ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Izyum and prevent Ukrainian forces from reaching the Russian border)
Russian forces conducted combat operations to maintain occupied lines in the Kharkiv City direction on July 19. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces retreated after an unsuccessful reconnaissance in force attack on Udy on July 19. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces continued air, artillery, and missile strikes on settlements to the north, northeast, and southeast of Kharkiv City.
Subordinate Main Effort—Southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk Oblasts (Russian objective: Encircle Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine and capture the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued offensive operations northwest of Slovyansk from the southeast and southwest of Izyum on July 19. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces are trying to create conditions to resume the offensive toward Slovyansk, which is consistent with ISW’s observations that Russian forces are preparing to advance on Slovyansk from positions around Izyum and Barvinkove (further southwest of Izyum). Russian troops reportedly conducted an unsuccessful reconnaissance-in-force operation in Dmytrivka, north of Barvinkove, and continued to shell settlements northwest of Slovyansk along the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border, including Dibrovne, Dolyna, Adamivka, and Bohorodychne. Russian forces also continued to strike Slovyansk directly in order to continue to set conditions for eventual advances on the city.
Russian forces continued ground assaults to the east of Siversk on July 19. Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that Russian troops engaged in fierce positional battles in Hryhorivka, Spirne, Ivano-Darivka, Serebryanka, and Verkhnokamyanske, all within 10 km east of Siversk. The Russian Ministry of Defense also claimed that Russian forces engaged in counterbattery actions that destroyed Ukrainian equipment concentrations in and around Siversk, indicating that Russian forces are continuing to prioritize ground attacks under the cover of artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions around Siversk to prepare for direct advances on the city.
Russian forces made incremental gains east of Bakhmut and continued efforts to advance toward Bakhmut from the south on July 19. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops successfully entrenched themselves in the southern outskirts of Pokrovske, about 5 km directly east of Bakhmut, which will open up westward advances toward Bakhmut along a local road. Russian forces additionally continued limited ground assaults to the south of Bakhmut around Vershyna, Semihirya, and the Vuhledar power plant. Russian forces continued to fire on Ukrainian positions in and around Bakhmut to support ongoing ground attacks toward the city.
Russian forces did not make any confirmed ground attacks around Donetsk City and focused on firing along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on July 19.
Supporting Effort #2—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Defend Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts against Ukrainian counterattacks)
Russian forces continued focusing on equipping existing defensive lines, developing secondary defensive lines, and firing at Ukrainian positions along the Southern Axis on July 19. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command noted that Russian forces are using S-300s to strike ground targets on agricultural land in Mykolaiv Oblast. Russian forces continued to focus on firing on Ukrainian positions along the Kherson-Mykolaiv Oblast border in order to prevent Ukrainian counterattacks in this area. Russian forces additionally conducted rocket and missile strikes against areas in Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa Oblasts.
Ukrainian forces reportedly used high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) to strike the Antonivskyi Bridge over the Dnipro River, east of Kherson City, on July 19, doing little visible damage to the structure. A Ukrainian partisan-affiliated Telegram channel noted that this bridge is a major supply route for the Russian grouping on the right bank of the Dnipro, indicating that Russian logistics are increasingly under threat of high-precision Ukrainian weapons.
On May 11, the website of RuTube, Russia’s largest streaming service and YouTube competitor, was taken offline for three straight days in what the company called the “largest cyberattack” it had ever suffered.
At the end of the cyber onslaught, a volunteer group of technologists and hackers known as Ukraine’s IT Army claimed responsibility on its official Telegram channel, calling the attack “the biggest victory of the cyber war.” The hackers also claimed to have changed admin passwords, deleted and stole internal data, and even blocked employee’s access cards to the company’s server rooms, locking people in.
The IT Army was created by Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, in a tweet that linked to a Telegram group.
After the tweet, the Ministry of Digital Transformation posted a message on its Telegram channel, calling for volunteers. “We urge you to use any vector of cyber and DDoS attacks on Russian resources,” the post read.
In the first ever post in the official IT Army Telegram channel, the group announced: “Task #1: We encourage you to use any vectors of cyber and DDoS attacks on these resources,” listing 31 Russian banks, businesses, and government websites.
As of this writing, the IT Army’s official Telegram channel has almost 250,000 subscribers, and the group has been active almost daily since its inception. In the beginning, however, the members of the IT Army were flying blind.
“We literally had nothing, not even ideas on how it should work, because it came out of the blue,” a member of the IT Army, who asked to remain anonymous to protect himself, told Motherboard in a phone call. “Frankly speaking, we had to invent everything from scratch.”