While Russian recruits must have clean criminal records to serve, Russian mercenary companies such as the Wagner Group will recruit petty criminals, and many of these low-level offenders have been mobilized into combat with Wagner in Donetsk and Luhansk, U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a report on June 14.
The ISW also says that the Belarusian Armed Forces began a command-staff exercise focused on testing command and control capabilities on June 14. However, Belarus remains unlikely to join the war in Ukraine on behalf of Russia, the think tank believes.
According to the ISW assessment, despite the apparent lack of a Kremlin-backed mandate concerning the condition of occupied areas, Russian authorities are likely pushing to expedite a comprehensive annexation process in order to consolidate control over Ukrainian territories and integrate them into Russia's political and economic environment.
However, the Kremlin retains several options in occupied Ukrainian territory, and is not bound to any single annexation plan, ISW said.
It is also noted that Russian forces are continuing to fight for control of the Azot industrial plant and have destroyed all bridges between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk – likely to isolate the remaining Ukrainian defenders within the city from critical lines of communication.
Russian forces continue to prepare for offensive operations southeast of Izyum and west of Lyman toward Slovyansk, the ISW said.
At the same time, Russian forces are continuing offensive operations to the east of Bakhmut near the T1302 highway to cut Ukrainian lines of communication to Severodonetsk-Lysychansk.
Russian forces also continued offensive operations to push Ukrainian troops away from frontlines northeast of the city of Kharkiv.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian counterattacks have forced Russian troops on the southern axis to take up and strengthen defensive positions.