Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 17
Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Yekaterina Klepanchuk, and Frederick W. Kagan
November 17, 7:45pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops launched five airstrikes and 25 cruise missile strikes at civilian infrastructure objects in Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Mykolaiv oblasts throughout the day. Ukrainian Air Force Command noted that Ukrainian air defense forces destroyed four cruise missiles, five Shahed-136 drones, and two Kh-59 guided missiles. Russian forces conducted the largest missile attack since the start of the war on November 15, and as ISW has previously assessed, such missile campaigns are consuming Russia’s already depleted store of precision munitions.
Russian forces in eastern Kherson Oblast are likely partially vulnerable to a Ukrainian interdiction campaign such as the one Ukrainian forces successfully exploited to retake western Kherson Oblast. Several major ground lines of communication (GLOCs) run through eastern Kherson Oblast into other Russian-controlled areas in southern Ukraine: the southern T2202 Nova Kahkovka-Armiansk route, the southeastern P47 Kakovkha-Henichesk route, and the M14 highway that runs eastward into Melitopol, Berdyansk, and Mariupol. Geolocated satellite imagery indicates that Russian troops are establishing defensive positions along some of these critical GLOCs, and social media reporting indicates that Ukrainian strikes have already begun targeting Russian concentration areas and military assets on these routes. The limited number of high-quality roads and railways in this area, particularly connecting Crimea to the mainland, creates potential bottlenecks that could be vulnerable to Ukrainian interdiction efforts that would gradually degrade the Russian ability to continue supplying its grouping in eastern Kherson Oblast and other areas of southern Ukraine. ISW previously reported the targeting of similar bottlenecks along key GLOCS--not just the bridges across the Dnipro River--during Ukraine’s Kherson counteroffensive in late August to mid-October culminated in the Russian withdrawal from the west bank of Kherson Oblast to positions further south of the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces will likely find it harder to achieve such dramatic effects in eastern Kherson but may be able to disrupt Russian efforts to solidify and hold their new defensive lines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree changing the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on November 17. The decree notably expels four Russian human rights activists, including Ekaterina Vinokurova, who wrote a piece criticizing the rise of “patriotic” Telegram channels and nationalist milbloggers who have cornered the information space against opposition outlets who deviate from the predominant Kremlin line of the war in Ukraine. Russian media previously reported that Vinokurova and other members of the HRC appealed to the Russian Investigative Committee to look into the widely circulated video of the execution of a former Wagner Group fighter who reportedly defected to Ukraine. Putin’s new appointees to the HRC include a slate of Russian political and proxy members and notably Sasha Kots, a prominent milblogger and war correspondent who has been heavily involved in covering Russian operations in Ukraine. Kots most recently called for Russia to maintain massive missile strikes against critical Ukrainian infrastructure on November 17. This decree likely represents the Kremlin’s wider effort to stifle domestic civil opposition by continuing to platform prominent voices in the information space that propagate the Kremlin’s line on the war in Ukraine.
- Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine on November 17
- Russian forces in eastern Kherson Oblast are likely partially vulnerable to a Ukrainian interdiction campaign such as the one Ukrainian forces successfully exploited to retake western Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree changing the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on November 17.
- Russian sources continued to claim that Ukrainian troops are conducting counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and southwest of Donetsk City.
- Ukrainian troops continued targeting Russian military assets and concentration areas on the east bank of Kherson Oblast and in the rear areas of Zaporizhia Oblast on November 17.
- Russian authorities continue to face discontented mobilized personnel and low morale on the front lines.
- Russian occupation officials continued to destroy Ukrainian culture in Russian-occupied territories.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and two supporting efforts);
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)
Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the directions of Svatove and Kreminna on November 17. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian air and artillery strikes prevented Ukrainian forces from attacking in the direction of Novoselivske and Kolomychikha (both within 15km northwest of Svatove); near Makiivka, Ploshchanka, and Chervonopopivka (all within 22km northwest of Kreminna); and near Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna). The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 17 that Ukrainian forces also repelled Russian assaults within 16km northwest of Svatove near Stelmakhivka and south of Kreminna near Bilohorivka. Russian mibloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces tried to attack Russian defenses near Svatove and conducted offensive operations near Kuzemivka (13km northwest of Svatove) on November 16. A milblogger cited a BARS-13 (Russian Combat Reserve) commander who claimed that Ukrainian forces are preparing for a large offensive along the Orlianka-Zatizhne-Svatove line, although ISW offers no assessments about future Ukrainian operations.
The BARS-13 commander also claimed that Ukrainian forces tested Russian defenses near Kreminna on November 16 and that Ukrainian operations south of Kreminna have created another active sector of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Luhansk Oblast. Another BARS-13 source claimed that fighting is ongoing 12km south of Kreminna in Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast as of November 16. Russian sources also claimed that Ukrainian forces struck Myrne, Zymohiria, Starobilsk, Svatove, Biloukrakyne, and Kadiivka in Luhansk Oblast with HIMARS rockets. Ukrainian forces will likely continue to target Russian military concentrations and logistics in Luhansk Oblast as the eastern Ukrainian counteroffensive progresses.
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued to prioritize offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast on November 17. Ukrainian Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, stated that the most difficult situation is in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are attempting to cross the administrative border of Donetsk Oblast. Hromov stated that there have been 500 combat clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Donetsk Oblast within the last week alone. ISW has previously reported that the Russian military is likely trying to use mobilized personnel and troops who were previously deployed on the west bank of Kherson Oblast to revitalize the Donetsk offensive but will likely continue to fail to achieve operationally significant gains.
Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian Forces repelled Russian assaults within 34km northeast of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamianske and Soledar. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces also attacked Vesele and Bilhorivka to cut the road in the Soledar area. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group formations southeast of Bakhmut retain control over Vesela Dolyna, Odradivka, the western outskirts of Opytne, and the southeastern outskirts of Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area and western Donetsk Oblast on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults within 28km southwest of Avdiivka near Nevelske, Marinka, and Pervomaiske. A Russian milblogger claimed that the 100th Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia established control over a stronghold on the southeastern outskirts of Nevelske that they claimed would allow Russian forces to control the Krasnohorivka-Pervomaiske-Avdiivka supply road. The Russian milblogger also claimed that Russian forces southwest of Avdiivka are clearing the northern outskirts of Opytne and the eastern part of Vodiane. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces attacked a Ukrainian stronghold within the city limits of Avdiivka itself. Russian milbloggers claimed that the developed network of Ukrainian strongholds in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area makes the Russian advance in the area particularly slow. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) also claimed that Russian forces took full control of the road between Pavlivka and Mykilske (47km southwest of Donetsk City). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces deployed 400 personnel from the Rosgvardia rapid response special forces units to Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the line of contact in Donetsk Oblast on November 17.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Note: ISW will report on activities in Kherson Oblast as part of the Southern Axis in this and subsequent updates. Ukraine’s counteroffensive in right-bank Kherson Oblast has accomplished its stated objectives, so ISW will not present a Southern Ukraine counteroffensive section until Ukrainian forces resume counteroffensives in southern Ukraine.
Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast on November 17. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces are attempting to secure safe supply lines on the east bank and withdrawing further into the rear of Kherson Oblast to avoid Ukrainian fire damage. Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov noted that Ukrainian control of the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River allows Ukrainian troops to control territory near the occupied Crimean Peninsula (presumably by fire, since Ukrainian forces are not yet operating on the east bank of the river), and that Ukrainian troops are continuing to target Russian positions on the east bank at maximum range.
Geolocated satellite imagery from November 15 shows that Russian troops have constructed additional defensive positions in Chkalove, a settlement approximately 55km south of the current Dnipro River frontline.
Ukrainian troops continued targeting Russian military assets and concentration areas on the east bank of Kherson Oblast and in the rear areas of Zaporizhia Oblast on November 17. Social media reports indicate that Ukrainian strikes hit Chaplynka (50km south of the Dnipro River) and Kalanchak (58km south of the Dnipro River). Footage posted by Ukrainian military sources shows Ukrainian troops striking a Russian armored personnel carrier in Oleshky, just south of Kherson City. A Russian media outlet additionally reported Ukrainian strikes on an administrative building in Nova Kakhovka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that a Ukrainian strike destroyed Russian headquarters in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast.
Russian forces targeted areas in Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odesa oblasts during a missile strike on November 17. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces launched air and sea-based missiles at infrastructure facilities in Odesa Oblast on the morning of November 17. Russian missiles additionally struck critical infrastructure in Dnipro City, which the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed was a defense enterprise. Russian and Ukrainian sources additionally reported a Russian missile strike on infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia City and the Vilniansk Raion of Zaporizhia Oblast and Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast. Russian sources reported that Russian forces shot down a Ukrainian drone near Feodosiia, Russian-occupied Crimea. Russian forces otherwise continued routine artillery strikes along the line of contact in western Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson oblasts.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian authorities are continuing force-generation efforts across occupied Ukrainian territory and the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian officials are preparing a draft law that provides for the legalization of conscription for military service for Ukrainian citizens in the temporarily occupied territories who possess a Russian passport from the spring of 2023. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces recruited about 650 prisoners from correctional institutions in the Russian Federation during the previous week and sent them for training in Rostov Oblast. A Russian source reported that the military registration and enlistment offices in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug will continue issuing summonses to all persons liable for military service, allegedly to verify information on eligibility for service. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to share videos of conscripted soldiers being called up for service in Murmansk Oblast, Khabarovsk Krai, Saint Petersburg, Sevastopol, and Stavropol Krai as well as training in Stavropol and Chelyabinsk Oblast.
Multiple sources reported the movement of Russian military equipment in the temporarily occupied territories, presumably in support of incoming Russian recruits. Video footage shows Russian forces unloading heavy equipment, including tanks, off of trains in Bilokurakyne, Luhansk Oblast. Video footage also shows Russian trucks carrying prefabricated concrete bunkers near Melitopol and Russian forces unloading self-propelled artillery in the Luhansk Oblast.
Russian authorities continue to face discontented mobilized personnel and low morale on the front lines. A Russian source reported that mobilized soldiers from Novosibirsk Oblast wrote reports stating that they received insufficient training and therefore refused to fight without further training. Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar stated in a briefing that Russian forces are experiencing an increase in panic and declining morale as a result of successful Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. Malyar stated that Russian forces are engaging in mass abuse of alcohol and in some cases, committing self-mutilation to leave the front lines. Details continue to emerge about holding cells for deserting mobilized Russian personnel in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, with one source identifying eight such cells across the regions.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation officials continued to destroy Ukrainian culture in Russian-occupied territories on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian occupation officials seized all Ukrainian history textbooks in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, and plan to destroy them. Social media sources amplified pictures posted on November 17 showing Ukrainian books and portraits in a waste pile in an unspecified location in Luhansk Oblast. The Ukrainian Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov reported that Russian occupation educational institutions teach Ukrainian schoolchildren about the greatness of the Russian Federation and force them to write letters to Russian military personnel. Fedorov reported that Russian occupation officials plan to introduce a new curriculum emphasizing that Ukrainians and Russian are ”one people” and justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian occupation officials will likely continue to enact measures aimed at minimizing and destroying Ukrainian cultural identity as Russia pursues what ISW has previously assessed likely amounts to a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign.
Russian occupation officials and forces continued to intensify filtration measures and restrictions on movement in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine on November 17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian occupation officials and forces are increasing filtration measures in Rubizhne, Luhansk Oblast as well as in the Kakhovka raion in Kherson Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces have instituted restrictions on movement in Rubizhne from the directions of Kreminna and Varvarivka in Luhansk Oblast. A Russian source reported that Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo signed a decree on November 15 instituting a new network of checkpoints in Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast to prevent the ”export” of special equipment and trucks from the Oblast. Russian occupation officials and forces will likely continue to intensify filtration measures and restrictions on movement as the Ukrainian counteroffensive progresses.
Russian occupation officials continued to coerce residents of occupied areas of Ukraine into supporting the Russian war effort Zaporizhia Oblast occupation head Yevgeny Balitsky stated on November 17 that residents of occupied areas are receiving a full range of social support measures for donating blood. Balitsky stated that his administration intends to offer 736-ruble ($12) payments to popularize blood donations. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on November 17 that many companies in Russian-occupied Donetsk Oblast have received a plan with a designated number of employees who must donate blood, indicating that the blood donation measures may not be voluntary. Russian occupation officials are likely pursuing some level of a coercive blood donation scheme to aid a substantial number of wounded Russian military personnel in occupied territories and address the Russian military’s likely shortage of blood supplies.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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