Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 1, 2023

Russian forces are conducting tactical counterattacks in the Robotyne area as part of their elastic defense against ongoing Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The situation south of Robotyne is fluid as some tactically significant field fortifications have changed hands several times. Geolocated footage posted on September 30 shows Ukrainian forces striking Russian troops trying to enter a trench system about 1km southwest of Robotyne near the T0408 Robotyne—Tokmak road. Footage posted on September 13 shows that Ukrainian forces had previously occupied segments of this trench and thus appear to have lost it to Russian counterattacks between September 13 and 30. ISW has recoded this area from Ukraine's counteroffensive to Russian advances.

Weakness is Lethal: Why Putin Invaded Ukraine and How the War Must End

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t invade Ukraine in 2022 because he feared NATO. He invaded because he believed that NATO was weak, that his efforts to regain control of Ukraine by other means had failed, and that installing a pro-Russian government in Kyiv would be safe and easy. His aim was not to defend Russia against some non-existent threat but rather to expand Russia’s power, eradicate Ukraine’s statehood, and destroy NATO, goals he still pursues.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 24, 2023

Elements of three Russian divisions are actively defending against Ukrainian assaults around the Ukrainian salient in the Orikhiv area in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Elements of the Russian 42nd Motorized Rifle Division (58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) are deployed and are defending at the southernmost point of the Ukrainian penetration and are engaging Ukrainian forces in Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). Elements of the Russian 76th Air Assault Division deployed to the Ukrainian salient’s western flank near Kopani (11km southwest of Orikhiv) towards Robotyne (10m south of Orikhiv) and are counterattacking there. Elements of the 7th Air Assault Division are deployed on the Ukrainian salient‘s eastern flank near the Verbove-Novopokrovka line and are counterattacking there. Sources affiliated with the Russian Airborne (VDV) Forces report that the 56th Air Assault Regiment (7th Air Assault Division) is deployed about 5km north of Verbove near Novofedorivka.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 17, 2023

Ukrainian forces liberated Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut, on September 17 and continued successful offensive operations elsewhere in the Bakhmut direction. Geolocated footage posted on September 17 shows Ukrainian forces holding up flags in Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut).[1] Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash later confirmed that Ukraine has liberated Klishchiivka, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade, 5th Assault Brigade, 95th Air Assault Brigade, and National Police “Lyut” Assault Brigade for their role in liberating the settlement.[2] Further geolocated footage posted on September 16 shows that Ukrainian forces have captured positions east of Orikhovo-Vasylivka (10km northwest of Bakhmut).[3] The liberation of Klishchiivka, as well as continued Ukrainian tactical gains northwest of Bakhmut, are tactical gains of strategic significance because they are allowing Ukrainian forces to fix a considerable portion of Russian airborne (VDV) elements in the Bakhmut area, as ISW’s Daniel Mealie discusses in the September 17, 2023 special edition.

Ukraine’s Operations in Bakhmut Have Kept Russian Reserves Away from the South

Key Takeaway: Ukrainian forces are celebrating the liberation of two small towns south of Bakhmut, but Ukraine’s entire effort first to defend and now to conduct counter-offensive operations around Bakhmut has been the subject of much unwarranted criticism. Ukraine's defensive and counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut area since summer 2022 are an operationally sound undertaking that has fixed a large amount of Russian combat power that would otherwise have been available to reinforce Russian defenses in southern Ukraine. Elements of two of Russia’s four Airborne (VDV) divisions and three of Russia’s four VDV separate brigades are currently defending the Bakhmut area. This significant Ukrainian achievement has helped prevent Russia from creating a large mobile VDV operational reserve that could have been used to stop the main Ukrainian counteroffensive effort in Zaporizhia Oblast. Continued large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts around Bakhmut are necessary to keep Russian forces fixed in that area, as the likely recent redeployment of a detachment of one VDV separate brigade from near Bakhmut to southern Ukraine shows how eager the Russians are to recoup the combat power that the Ukrainian counteroffensive around Bakhmut is fixing there.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 12, 2023

Russian insider sources claimed that the Kremlin’s inner circle is again actively disagreeing about the necessity of and preparations for a second wave of reserve mobilization ahead of the semi-annual fall conscription cycle, which starts on October 1. A Russian Telegram channel with alleged connections to Russian security sources claimed that select Russian officials are “seriously” preparing for a second wave of reserve mobilization and are hoping to conduct another reserve mobilization wave in the fall. It is important to distinguish between Russia’s normal semi-annual conscription callup, a large-scale reserve mobilization like the one that brought more than 300,000 reservists into the Russian armed forces in Fall 2022, crypto-mobilizations that bring reservists into the force at lower numbers over a long period of time, and various efforts to encourage or coerce Russians to sign ostensibly voluntary contracts with the Russian military. The channel claimed that Russian officials want to mobilize between 170,000 to 175,000 reservists and move the fall conscription date from October 1 to November 1 to accommodate a reserve mobilization processes, while simultaneously conducting “contract mobilization” to recruit an additional 130,000 personnel for contract service using coercive measures. The channel claimed that a powerful group of “siloviki hawks” is also proposing stricter reserve mobilization measures such as restricting certain individuals from obtaining mobilization deferrals, which has sparked major disagreements with officials in the Russian Presidential Administration. The channel claimed that the Presidential Administration fears a response to such measures from other Russian officials and broader Russian society.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 7, 2023

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 7 and made further gains on both sectors of the front. Geolocated footage published on September 7 indicates that Ukrainian forces have made further advances northwest of Verbove (18km southwest of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces made further advances in the area and other milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces temporarily advanced to the northwestern outskirts of Verbove on September 6, likely indicating further recent Ukrainian advances northwest of the settlement. Satellite imagery collected on September 6 shows burning foliage in a tree line roughly a kilometer northwest of Verbove, suggesting that Russian forces are firing on advancing Ukrainian forces in the area. Geolocated footage published on September 7 indicates that Ukrainian forces have made marginal gains northwest of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes south of Bakhmut and near Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Verbove in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 2, 2023

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced on September 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian milbloggers who have recently maintained that Russian forces hold positions in the southern part of Robotyne claimed that Russian forces withdrew from the southern outskirts of the settlement to unspecified positions further south. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on September 1 that Ukrainian forces have overcome the Russian “first line of defense” in some areas of the Zaporizhia direction, but that the situation remains difficult due to additional Russian concrete fortifications and dense minefields.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 1, 2023

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov reported that the Russian military deployed elements of a newly created “reserve army” (the 25th CAA) to enable units currently on the frontline in Luhansk Oblast to laterally redeploy to defend against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. Budanov stated on August 31 that the Russian military deployed elements of the newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army (reportedly formed under the Eastern Military District) to replace elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (Central Military District) in the Kupyansk direction, and that these elements of the 41st Combined Arms Army (CAA) began a “slow” redeployment to an unspecified area in southern Ukraine. Elements of the 41st CAA’s 35th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade and 90th Tank Division participated in the failed Russian winter 2023 offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast and have continued limited offensive activity along the Svatove-Kreminna line through now. These units are likely degraded and have been operating without brigade and regiment level rotations like many frontline Russian units throughout the theater. ISW previously assessed that a lack of operational reserves would force the Russian command to conduct further lateral redeployments and make tough decisions about what sectors of the front to prioritize.The Russian military command appears to have deployed elements of the newly formed and likely low quality or understrength 25th CAA to Luhansk Oblast to free up the relatively more effective 41st CAA elements for southern Ukraine. Budanov added that elements of the 25th CAA are already participating in hostilities in Luhansk Oblast.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 26, 2023

Ukrainian forces have made further tactically significant gains in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and several Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that Ukrainian forces are advancing through what Ukrainian and US sources suggested may be the most challenging series of prepared Russian defensive positions. Geolocated footage published on August 25 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced 1.5km southward northeast of Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley stated on August 25 that Ukrainian forces are currently attacking through the main set of Russian defensive preparations along the axis of Ukrainian advance. Reuters reported on August 26 that a Ukrainian commander fighting in southern Ukraine stated that Ukrainian forces believe they have broken through the most difficult line of Russian defenses in the area and will now be able to advance more quickly. The Ukrainian commander reportedly stated that Ukrainian forces have entered areas where they encountered only Russian ”logistics groups" and that he expects that further Ukrainian breakthroughs in these areas will be easier. A Russian milblogger claimed on August 25 that Ukrainian forces were attacking in the direction of rear defensive lines near Verbove (18km southwest of Orikhiv), suggesting that Ukrainian forces may be near tactical rear areas within the series of Russian defensive positions that they are currently penetrating - though these reports should not be misinterpreted to indicate Ukrainian forces have entered Russian rear areas at the operational level.