Comments by Russian officials and government representatives in the information space highlight the ubiquitous anxiety about potential counter-offensive actions by the Ukrainians, the Institute of War Studies (ISW) assesses.
“The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, noted on April 26 that as soon as weather conditions improved in Bakhmut, Ukraine launch a counter-offensive that may coincide with the Russian Victory Day celebration on May 9 (commemoration of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi Germany in 1945)” – writes ISW.
The Institute for War Studies also cites a social media post by one of the popular Russian bloggers, who indicated that Ukraine may be planning a counter-offensive to spoil the May 9 celebrations in Russia.
According to the American think tank, mentioning the date of May 9 in the Russian public space “suggests that symbolic meaning is still attached in Russia to dates related to the Russian Great Patriotic War, which continues to shape the discourse on the prospects of war.”
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated during a press conference in New York on April 25 that discussions about the possibility of negotiations after the successful Ukrainian counter-offensive were “schizophrenic”. There is no consensus yet in the Russian information space on how to respond to significant and growing concerns about the near future.
ISW: Russia continues its policy of depopulating the occupied territories
The ISW also assesses that “Russia continues a deliberate campaign of depopulation of the occupied territories of Ukraine in order to facilitate the settlement of Ukrainian territories by Russians.” “Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malar stated on April 26 that Russia is trying to change the ethnic composition of Ukraine by actively carrying out large-scale population transfers mainly from poorer and remote regions of Russia to Ukraine,” it was written.
According to Malar, the most intensive operations are to take place in the occupied Luhansk region. The deputy minister pointed out that Russia is deporting Ukrainians and forcibly resettling them to Russia. The Institute of Internal Affairs has previously reported on specific cases of the Russian authorities depopulating and repopulating areas of occupied Ukraine, especially in the occupied Kherson region during 2022.
According to the think tank, Russia continues its activities in the hope of “further social, administrative, political and economic integration of the occupied territories with Russia, thus complicating the conditions for reintegration of these territories into Ukraine.” The HEI had previously assessed that such practices could be ethnic cleansing and a clear violation of the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Main photo source: Abaca/PAP/EPA