Key points to remember
- The Kremlin did not respond to the International Red Cross (ICRC) request for access to Olenivka prison by July 31, hampering international investigative efforts.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks southwest and northwest of Izyum, consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces could establish conditions for advances northwest of the line current Izyum-Sloviansk.
- Russian forces continued their ground attacks northwest of Sloviansk, northeast of Siversk, and east and south of Bakhmut.
- Russian forces made marginal gains in the Avdiivka area and continued their ground attacks towards Avdiivka and Pisky.
- Russian authorities have started recruiting volunteers for the Nevsky and Ladoga battalions in Leningrad Oblast, Russia.
- The Russian occupation authorities continued to prepare for a referendum in Kherson Oblast and took steps to portray support for Russian control of the occupied territories.
Russian forces have resumed localized ground attacks northwest and southwest of Izyum and could set the stage for offensive operations further west into Kharkiv Oblast or towards the city of Kharkiv. Russian forces have already launched unsuccessful assaults and attempted reconnaissance in force on Chepil, Shchurivka and Husarivka (northwest of Izyum) and resumed assaults on Dmytrivka and Brazhikivka (southwest of Izyum) these last days. Russian forces have held positions around Balaklia and Velyka Komyshuvakha for months and could use these two areas as springboards for an offensive operation. Russian forces can use their positions around Balaklia to relaunch the assaults on the city of Kharkiv from the southeast. It is extremely unlikely that Russian forces will capture Kharkiv Oblast or the city of Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second most populous city – given the pace of Russian progress in Donbass and the continuing challenges in force generation and logistics. The ISW has previously assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have ordered Russian forces to take the city of Kharkiv and the unoccupied part of Kharkiv Oblast, but is unlikely to succeed in any such goals. Russian forces could also carry out sabotage attacks to prevent Ukrainian counter-offensives.
Crimean occupation officials have indirectly accused Ukraine of orchestrating a drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in occupied Sevastopol on July 31, but Ukrainian officials have denied responsibility for the attack. the attack.. Russian Governor of Sevastopol Mihail Razvozhaev claimed the Ukrainians had ‘decided to spoil’ the Russian Navy Day celebrations and noted that a drone had exploded in the courtyard of the headquarters, but did not clarified whether Ukrainian forces or locals had launched the drone. Razvozhaev posted images showing minor damage to the headquarters building and courtyard, and footage on social media showed a small cloud of smoke rising from the building. Razvozhaev also claimed that the explosion injured six people. Russian Senator from Crimea Olga Kovitidi later announced that unspecified actors carried out the attack with a makeshift drone from the territory of Sevastopol. Spokesman for the Ukrainian Naval Forces and the Odessa Oblast Military Administration, Serhiy Bratchuk, indirectly suggested that the drone attack was a Russian false flag operation. ISW cannot independently verify the actor responsible for the attack.
The Russian government could complicate international efforts to discern the nature of an unidentified kinetic event on July 28 at the Olenivka penal colony. The Russian Defense Ministry has officially invited experts from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to investigate the July 30 attack on Olenivka prison. The ICRC said he had no access to the prison in July. 31, however. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk also noted that Russian authorities have not responded to Ukrainian requests to return the bodies of deceased Ukrainian POWs.
Open source intelligence analyst (OSINT) Oliver Alexander released a review of satellite images from July 27 showing open graves at Olenivka Prison, noting that satellite images from July 29 appear to show the same graves were covered . Founder of investigative journalism group Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, said low-resolution satellite images show ground disturbance after July 18 and before July 21, suggesting the Russians may have planned the incident in advance. The ISW will continue to monitor the open source for information on the strike on Olenivka and will provide updates as they arise.
Written by: Kateryna Stepanenko, Layne Philipson, Karolina Hird and Frederick W. Kagan.
See the full report here.