According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly focusing on recruiting irregular volunteer soldiers and reserve forces rather than the Russian army’s conventional formations.

Since the summer, and especially after the Russian defeat in Kharkiv Oblast, Putin has passed over the higher military command and leadership of the Defense Ministry. According to ISW, the deteriorating relationship could also explain why the Kremlin is recruiting poorly prepared volunteers and creating irregular units out of the ground instead of keeping them in reserve for regular Russian combat units.

According to a well-known Russian military blogger, the Russian military command is said to have imposed a withdrawal ban on all units working in Donbass. This is to guarantee that the Russian forces on the Axis will hold their positions – regardless of how the war situation develops ahead of them. According to “ISW” estimates, this order would be noteworthy in two respects if the report were correct.

For one thing, Donetsk Oblast is the only area in Ukraine where the Russian army is still launching offensives. There are isolated reports of limited Ukrainian counter-offensives. However, Kyiv is not currently planning a large-scale operation in this area. However, the Russian withdrawal ban implies that Russia’s army fears another counterattack after the recent Ukrainian counter-offensives.

On the other hand, the Russian command shows a deep distrust in the combat capabilities of the units in the Donbass. Commanders in more western Kherson Oblast, meanwhile, would be held in higher esteem, where sensible efforts at a controlled retreat currently seem to prevail.

Kyiv has ruled out negotiations and a meeting between Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Zelenskyy at this point in time. “In short, the negotiation process itself and a face-to-face meeting between the presidents doesn’t make sense right now,” external adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podoliak, said on Sunday, according to Ukrainian media.

Podoljak gave three reasons why talks are pointless at this stage. First, Russia will try to record and legitimize land gains. Second, maintaining the status quo is only serving Russia as a breathing space so that it can then continue the attacks on the new line. And third, Russia must be held accountable for crimes committed on Ukrainian territory.

Negotiations are therefore only possible once the Russian troops have withdrawn from Ukrainian territory. Then the level of reparation payments and the handing over of war criminals could be negotiated, Podoljak said. Russia and Ukraine had negotiated a peace settlement shortly after the Russian invasion, but had not come to a final agreement.

A video showing the Ukrainian army driving through Bilohorivka, a village west of Lysychansk, is also said to prove the recapture. However, this information has not been officially confirmed.

In the past few days, the situation around Lysychansk had deteriorated due to the advance of the Ukrainian army. According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Kremlin failed to send large-scale reinforcements. The city is therefore vulnerable to Ukrainian counter-offensives.

Kyiv draws its self-confidence from its own recent offensive in the north of the country. Most of the Kharkiv region was liberated. The Russian troops set up the new front on the east bank of the Oskil River, but this line also seems to be shaky. According to their own statements, the Ukrainian military was able to cross troop units on the river and thus form a bridgehead to the east. “The Ukrainian forces have overcome the Oskil. Since yesterday, Ukraine has also controlled the left bank,” the press office of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Sunday via video on its Telegram channel. Earlier there were reports that Kyiv had secured control of the eastern part of the city of Kupyansk. The information cannot be verified independently.

In their counter-offensive at the beginning of September, the Ukrainian forces in the Kharkov region advanced as far as the Oskil. Behind, the retreating Russian troops established a new front line and repelled several attempts by Ukrainians to cross the river. Establishing a beachhead on the east side of the Oskil would be a strategically important achievement for Ukrainian troops. This would allow them to continue their attack towards the Luhansk region. The military did not provide any information about the exact location of the river crossing.

Popular Russian pop singer Pugacheva has criticized Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Since the Justice Department has blacklisted her husband Maxim Galkin as a “foreign agent,” they are asking to be included among the foreign agents, the 73-year-old wrote on her Instagram account on Sunday. Pugacheva has shaped rock and pop music in Russia since the 1970s.

After the start of the war against Ukraine, the couple left for Israel. In contrast to Galkin, who criticized the Russian leadership, Pugacheva has so far held back with political statements. All the greater is the echo that could now follow their harsh criticism of the war. Political scientist Abbas Galliamov, once President Putin’s speechwriter, spoke of a “strong slap in the face” for the Kremlin.

That will be important on Monday

In the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, investigators want to gather more evidence of Russian war crimes. In Isjum, where 440 graves were recently found, the exhumation of the corpses is to continue. According to Ukrainian sources, some of the victims showed signs of torture. As of Monday, Russian citizens with a Schengen visa will no longer be able to cross the border to Poland and the Baltic States. The four states have decided to refuse entry to Russians despite valid visas for tourist stays, business trips, sporting and cultural events. The measure is intended to increase the pressure on Moscow, but is not without controversy even within the EU.

The September 18 Ukraine update.