Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 10, 2023

Russian forces launched localized offensive operations in the Avdiivka area of Donetsk Oblast and southwest of Orikhiv in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 9, which are likely intended to fix Ukrainian forces away from the Robotyne area. Russian forces intensified offensive operations northwest of Avdiivka near Ocheretyne, Tonenke, and Berdychi and southwest of Avdiivka on the Vodyane-Opytne line. Russian forces also attacked southwest of Orikhiv on the Pyatykhatky-Zherebyanky line, and Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced up two kilometers in the area. The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed up to three Russian battalions conducted an attack in the Avdiivka direction, and ISW has observed footage of fighting in the area, but ISW has not observed any confirmation of these claimed Russian advances as of this writing. Russian milbloggers are largely portraying the Avdiivka-area operations as a significant offensive effort aimed at encircling the Ukrainian force grouping in Avdiivka and capturing the city. A successful encirclement of Avdiivka, one of the most heavily fortified areas of the Donetsk Oblast front line, would very likely require more forces than Russia has currently dedicated to the Avdiivka-Donetsk City effort.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 8, 2023

Russia advanced legal mechanisms to reform the Leningrad Military District as part of ongoing large-scale military reforms. The Russian federal portal of draft regulatory legal acts published a presidential decree on October 8, prepared by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), which proposes stripping the Northern Fleet (NF) of its status as an “interspecific strategic territorial association.” Russian state media noted that the proposal indicates that the NF will no longer be a separate military-administrative unit equal to a military district, suggesting that the NF and its four constituent regions (The Komi Republic, Arkhangelsk, and Murmansk oblasts, and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug) will be transferred to the reformed Leningrad Military District. Russian military analyst Yuri Fedorov noted that the recreation of the Leningrad Military District suggests that Russia is preparing for possible conflicts with Baltic states and NATO. The Russian military merged the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts into the Western Military District in 2010. The MoD created the Northern Fleet in 2014 out of territory covered by the Western Military District, and Russian President Vladimir Putin made the NF a military-administrative unit equal to a military district starting January 1, 2021. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed the recreation of the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts on the basis of the Western Military District (reversing the 2010 and 2014 changes) in December of 2022, and confirmed that these military districts were under active formation as of August 2023. The MoD’s decision to re-divide the WMD indicates Russia sees the need to restructure its forces facing NATO and likely posture on the Finnish border, although it remains unclear how Russia will be able to mobilize, train, and organize these forces into new military district-level formations.

Special Edition Campaign Assessment: Ukraine’s Strike Campaign Against Crimea

Ukrainian forces have conducted a campaign of strikes against Russian military infrastructure, headquarters, and logistics routes in Crimea since June 2023 in order to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian defensive operations in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian strikes on logistics routes are disrupting Russian supplies to Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblast. Strikes on Black Sea Fleet assets are degrading its role as a combined arms headquarters but have not defeated it as a naval force. Ukrainian strikes generate outsized morale shocks among Russian commanders and in the Russian information space. Western provision of long-range missiles to Ukraine would amplify this ongoing, essential, and timely campaign to weaken Russia’s ability to defend southern Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 7, 2023

The Kremlin is already and will likely continue to exploit the Hamas attacks in Israel to advance several information operations intended to reduce US and Western support and attention to Ukraine. The Kremlin amplified several information operations following Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7, primarily blaming the West for neglecting conflicts in the Middle East in favor of supporting Ukraine and claiming the international community will cease to pay attention to Ukraine by portraying attention to the Middle East or alternatively Ukraine as a zero-sum comparison. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev claimed the United States and its allies should have been “busy with” working on “Palestinian-Israeli settlement” rather than “interfering” with Russia and providing Ukraine with military aid. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) accused the West of blocking efforts by a necessary “quartet” of Russia, the US, the European Union, and the United Nations, leading to an escalation in violence, implicitly blaming the West for the current fighting. Prominent Russian propagandist Sergei Mardan directly stated that Russia will benefit from the escalation as the world “will take its mind off Ukraine for a while and get busy once again putting out the eternal fire in the Middle East.” These Kremlin narratives target Western audiences to drive a wedge in military support for Ukraine, seek to demoralize Ukrainian society by claiming Ukraine will lose international support, and intend to reassure Russian domestic audiences that the international society will ignore Ukraine’s war effort.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 6, 2023

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 6. Ukrainian military sources noted that Ukrainian forces continued successful offensive actions south of Bakhmut near Andriivka (8km southeast of Bakhmut). Geolocated footage posted on October 5 shows that Ukrainian forces have advanced towards a tree line between Robotyne and Verbove, about 6km southeast of Robotyne. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash noted that Ukrainian forces are preparing for offensive operations throughout the autumn-winter period. Yevlash emphasized that while supply requirements will increase and rainy and foggy conditions may complicate the use of drones and tactical and army aviation, Ukrainian forces will continue to fight through the winter. Yevlash’s statement supports ISW’s longstanding assessment that weather will not prevent either side from conducting offensive operations throughout the winter of 2023-2024 if they are well-supplied and choose to do so, as they did in the winter of 2022, and that the pace of Ukrainian offensives will be in large part be metered by Western provision of appropriate small-arms and ammunition and non-lethal supplies to Ukraine - not simply winter weather conditions or any specific weapons system.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 5, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the 20th Valdai Discussion Club on October 5 and promoted multiple long-standing Russian information operations. Putin reiterated the false narrative that the West initiated the conflict in Ukraine in 2014 and claimed that NATO expansion threatens Russian security. Putin claimed that the war in Ukraine is not a “territorial conflict” but is about Russia establishing principles for a new multipolar world order, stating that the UN and modern international law are “outdated and subject to demolition.” ISW recently evaluated claims that Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 because he feared NATO and instead assessed that Putin’s aims were to expand Russia’s power, eradicate Ukrainian statehood, and break up NATO – goals he still pursues. Putin’s expressed goal of establishing a multipolar world order further supports ISW’s assessment that Putin’s goals in Ukraine have also exceeded responding to some supposed NATO threat or conquering limited additional territory.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 4, 2023

The Russian military recently transferred several Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessels from the port in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea to the port in Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai, likely in an effort to protect them from continued Ukrainian strikes on Russian assets in occupied Crimea. Satellite imagery published on October 1 and 3 shows that Russian forces transferred at least 10 vessels from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The satellite imagery reportedly shows that Russian forces recently moved the Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen frigates, three diesel submarines, five landing ships, and several small missile ships. Satellite imagery taken on October 2 shows four Russian landing ships and one Kilo-class submarine remaining in Sevastopol. Satellite imagery from October 2 shows a Project 22160 patrol ship reportedly for the first time in the port of Feodosia in eastern Crimea, suggesting that Russian forces may be moving BSF elements away from Sevastopol to bases further in the Russian rear.

Ukraine Aid: Congress’ Failure of U.S. Foreign Policy Leadership

That there has been no major war in Europe since 1945 isn’t an accident. It is because that generation of American leaders — political, diplomatic, economic and military — came together to defeat Adolf Hitler’s expansionist, war-crime-filled aggression. This same set of leaders then designed a set of structures that (a) provided near-term stability in a very turbulent and quite violent post-fighting Europe that (b) laid a foundation for a long-term peace — NATO and the European Union — from which almost four generations have benefitted. That is, until Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 3, 2023

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu celebrated an odd group of Russian armed formations operating in the western Zaporizhia Oblast direction during a conference call with Russian military leadership. Shoigu’s choice of units could indicate he seeks to highlight Russian commanders who continue to follow Russian military leadership’s orders for relentless counterattacks. Shoigu attributed successful Russian defensive operations around Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv) to elements of the Russian 70th Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army [CAA], Southern Military District), 56th Air Assault (VDV) Regiment (7th VDV Division), 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet), and the 291st Guards Artillery Brigade (58th CAA, SMD) during a Russian military command meeting on October 3. Shoigu did not highlight other formations that are routinely credited for maintaining the Robotyne-Verbove line such as the 108th VDV Regiment (7th VDV Division) or the 247th VDV Regiment (7th VDV Division).

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 2, 2023

A prominent Russian milblogger and front-line unit commander claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky “saved” the Russian 31st Guards VDV Brigade, which was fighting south of Bakhmut, mirroring claims made by a much smaller milblogger about VDV units in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Khodakovsky recalled a conversation with then-Commander of the 31st VDV Airborne Brigade Colonel Andrei Kondrashkin prior to his death around Bakhmut in mid-September, in which Kondrashkin revealed that his forces suffered personnel losses and that their motivation to fight dropped to a critical level. Kondrashkin reportedly stated that the Russian military command demanded that his forces undertake “decisive actions,” while he knew that his personnel were suffering a critical lack of motivation. Khodakovsky noted that Kondrashkin refrained from raising his concerns to the military command and proceeded to blame his military failures on the lack of cohesion among Russian forces. Khodakovsky, in turn, noted that cohesion was not the problem, but rather that Kondrashkin needed to make a choice to either “waste” his troops in combat or protest the Russian military command’s order at the expense of his career. Khodakovsky observed that Kondrashkin never had a chance to make this choice because he sustained an injury in combat immediately after the conversation, and that Teplinsky “saved” the 31st VDV Brigade by taking the “remnants [of the brigade] under his wing” and giving them the opportunity to take a break from combat.