Центр оборонних стратегій

Russia’s war on Ukraine. 21.07.2023

General conclusion: 

  • The Ukrainian Defense Forces have successfully continued offensive operations on at least three fronts, conducting local advances east of Kupyansk, near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, as well as south of Orikhove and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk line, achieving successes near Bakhmut.
  • For three consecutive nights, Russian forces have launched missile and aerial strikes on port and grain infrastructure in southern Ukraine. These attacks, coupled the threat of maritime escalation, form a part of the Kremlin’s strategy to ensure Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and to exert pressure on the West to make substantial concessions.
  • The enemy continued local attacks on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, around Bakhmut, and on the Avdiivka-Donetsk line. They unsuccessfully counterattacked the positions of the “Tavriya” Operational Grouping on the administrative border of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts. 

Change in the line of contact (LoC):  

  • There were more than 32 combat clashes on various fronts. 
  • In the Kupyansk direction, the enemy continued with localized attacks along the Kupyansk – Svatove – Kreminna line and advanced across the H26 highway Kupyansk-Svatove south of Novoselivske.
  • The Ukrainian Defense Forces successfully repelled enemy attacks southwest of Masyutivka and their attempts to advance from the Kupyansk – Lyman line. They are engaged in defensive battles in the Kupyansk area while conducting offensive actions to the east of the city.
  • On the Lyman direction, Russian forces made slight advancements in the Serebryansk Forest area. They were able to repel Defense Forces’ attacks near Bilohorivka and Vesele.
  • The Ukrainian Defense Forces initiated localized offensive actions in the Kreminna area but made no significant progress.
  • On the Bakhmut direction, the Ukrainian Defense Forces launched offensives both north and south of Bakhmut, achieving limited successes. They made advancements towards Yahidne, in the forested area near Klishchiivka, close to the E40 highway Bakhmut-Slovyansk in the area of Orikhove-Vasylivka, as well as towards Andriivka and near Kurdyumivka. Small assault groups of the Defense Forces, supported by light armored vehicles, attempted to advance in the Dubovo-Vasylivka area. The 3rd separate assault brigade successfully attacked the positions of the enemy’s 72nd separate motorized rifle brigade of the 3rd Army Corps, advancing 1.8 km in the direction of Bakhmut.
  • Heavy battles are ongoing in the Orikhovo-Vasylivka – Paraskoviivka and Klishchiivka – Andriivka areas with no significant change in positions. The enemy is putting up strong resistance, actively deploying reserves. The attacks in the Bilohorivka, Klishchiivka, and Vesele regions did not yield successful results.
  • On the Avdiivka direction, the Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked the Defense Forces’ positions near Bohdanivka, Nevelske, Maryinka, Krasnohorivka, and Novomykhailivka.
  • The Ukrainian Defense Forces launched unsuccessful attacks on the enemy’s positions near Pervomaiske, Krasnohorivka, and Maryinka, but successfully repelled the Russian forces’ attacks in the Nevelske area. They continue to hold their ground and contain the Russian forces’ advances in the areas of Novomykhailivka and Maryinka.
  • Zaporizhzhia Direction: 
  • Tokmak Direction (Robotyne): The “Tavriya” Operational Grouping made minor advances to the northeast of Robotyne and successfully cleared passages through minefields. They advanced in the directions of Mala Tokmachka – Verbove, Novodanylivka – Robotyne, Novodanylivka – Verbove, and Novodarivka – Pryiutne, achieving some success. They have consolidated their positions on the attained frontlines and captured new positions to the northeast of Robotyne and west of Novopokrovka. Intense battles continue.
  • The Russian forces are defending in the area of Robotyne and near Novopokrovka;  their attempts to regain lost ground to the north of Pryiutne were unsuccessful.
  • Berdyansk Direction (Velyka Novosilka): The “Tavriya” Operational Grouping unsuccessfully attacked the positions of the Russian 36th separate motorized rifle brigade (the 29th Army of Eastern Military District) and the 155th Separate Marine Brigade of the Pacific Fleet near Mykilske. They also advanced towards Urozhaine and made some progress in the area of Novodonetske.
  • The enemy’s “Vostok” Grouping’s units repelled two attacks by the “Tavriya” Grouping near Staromayorske and launched unsuccessful counterattacks towards Novodarivka in an attempt to regain the lost positions near Rivnopil.
  • In the Black Sea-Azov Sea operational area, the enemy had 8 ships on combat duty in the Black Sea, among which was 1 cruise missile carrier—a small missile ship that fired 3 cruise missiles overnight and is now equipped with 5 more ready-to-launch cruise missiles. The remaining cruise missile carriers have the capability to reach launch areas within 2-3 hours. Furthermore, there is 1 ship deployed in the Azov Sea and 8 ships in the Mediterranean Sea, including 1 cruise missile carrier. The total potential salvo consists of up to 21 “Kalibr” missiles.
  • Recent attacks by the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Odesa were carried out from protected bays, as they are cautious about venturing out to open sea.
  • Additionally, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has installed additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports.

Change in enemy disposition:  

  • Near Urozhaine and Staromayorske, units of the 247th air assault regiment of the 7th air assault division of the Russian Airborne Forces and the special unit “Sokol” of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic are operating.

Escalation indicators:

  • The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation announced that it considers civilian vessels in the Black Sea, heading to Ukrainian ports, as legitimate military targets, and declared several maritime areas in the northern and southern parts of the Black Sea as “temporarily dangerous for people and navigation”.
  • In response, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine stated that the Ukrainian Defense Forces may view all ships in the Black Sea heading to ports in Russia and occupied territories of Ukraine as military cargo vessels.

Possible operation situation developments: 

  • With the Defense Forces reaching the main defensive line of the enemy and the deployment of a significant portion of their operational reserves, the enemy command is expected to initiate an offensive operation with the “Zapad” Operational Grouping on the Kupyansk direction and the “Tsentr” Operational Grouping on the Lyman direction. The main thrust on the Kupyansk direction will be launched from the area of Mykolaivka – Nova Tarasivka – Yahidne – Orlianka towards Stepove, Novoselivka – Petropavlivka.  Another attack will be launched from the area of Horobyivka – Vilshana – Lyman Pershyi – Masyutivka towards Synkivka – Kucherivka or Petropavlivka.
  • The enemy, operating in a general direction towards Borova and Kruglyakivka, will attempt to penetrate the Defense Forces’ formation on the left bank of the Oskil River and establish a covering line from the south for the striking formation of the 1st Tank Army, deployed along the Svatove – Kupyansk direction.
  • During the following week, Russian forces will continue their attacks along the Siversky Donets River through Serebryansk Forestry, along the Kreminna – Lyman road in the direction of Zarichne, and will attempt to dislodge units of Ukrainian Defense Forces from Bilohorivka;
  • In the Berdyansk direction, the Russian forces will be forced to withdraw to the Remivka – Volodyne – Staromlynivka – Kermenchyk line before the end of July.
  • To prevent the collapse of their defenses in the Berdyansk direction, the Russian military will exert efforts to maintain control of Staromlynivka and Kermenchyk.
  • On the Robotyne direction, only the 1st, 3rd, and 14th detachments of BARS cover the main defensive line. However, due to their capabilities and morale-psychological state, they are unable to fulfill the tasks. Therefore, we should anticipate their reinforcement with units from the 22nd and 45th separate SOF brigades;
  • The Russian forces are preparing a counterattack in the direction of Novodarivka and Levadne;
  • We should expect enemy attacks in the direction of Pisky – Pervomaiske or slightly southward, between Pervomaiske and Nevelske, to secure the positions of the grouping deployed along the Vodyane – Opytne line.

Russian operational losses from 24.02.22 to 21.07.23 

Personnel – almost 240,690 people (+680);

Tanks – 4,133 (+4);

Armored combat vehicles – 8,080 (+15);

Artillery systems – 4,610 (+18);

Multiple rocket launchers (MLRS) – 692 (0);

Anti-aircraft warfare systems – 440 (+7);

Vehicles and fuel tanks – 7,145 (+11);

Aircraft – 315 (0);

Helicopters – 310 (0);

UAV operational and tactical level – 3,933 (+15);

Intercepted cruise missiles – 1,298 (+5);

Boats/ships – 18 (0).

Russia’s Actions: Potential Impacts on Global Food Security, Ukraine, and Western Relations.

Russia is poised to starve millions of people in the developing world as it pursues the destruction of Ukraine and undermine the West. Russia pulled out from the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), threatened to target any cargo ships bonded to or from the Ukrainian ports, mined the sea routes, and stepped up targeting grain and other Ukraine’s port and commodity-related infrastructure.

If Russia had succeeded in invading Ukraine, it would have the potential to emerge as a significant agricultural superpower, thereby gaining additional leverage to pursue its geopolitical goals. With 17% of world wheat exports in 2021 (33 million tons), Russia ranked first, surpassing the E.U. (16% or 31 million tons). Along with Ukraine (ranked 5th with 10% of exports or 19 million tons), it could have amassed a 27% share of global wheat exports — equivalent to the combined export share of the E.U. and the U.S. On top of that, before the all-out Russian invasion, Ukraine ranked first in exports of sunflower oil and millet; third in corn, barley and rapeseed; fifth in walnut and honey; and sixth in the export of soy.

Unable to achieve its initial neo-colonial objectives, Russia resorted to dismantling the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure. This strategy aimed to weaken the Ukraine’s ability to resist the invasion immediately and hinder its capacity to recover, rebuild, and allocate resources for defense and security in the long run.

Agriculture accounted for 10% of Ukraine’s GDP in 2021 and was severely affected by Russia’s illegal occupation and combat in Ukraine’s Eastern and Southern oblasts, which are crucial agricultural regions. Russian forces intentionally targeted agricultural infrastructure, looting equipment and machinery, and “exporting” stolen grain and other products to foreign markets.

Ukraine is now among the most heavily mined countries globally, with up to a third of its territory contaminated by mines and unexploded ordnance. The estimated time required for demining the territory, including crop fields, varies from thirty to sixty years. Russia’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam also caused the irrigation system’s collapse on which key regions depended (Kherson – 94%, Zaporizhzhia – 74%, and Dnipropetrovsk – 30%). 

After another instance of withdrawing from the grain deal, Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukrainian ports and agriculture-related infrastructure for several consecutive days. These actions constitute war crimes and will have lasting damaging implications for Ukraine’s economy and worsen global food security for years to come.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) comprises two distinct agreements: one between Turkey, Ukraine, and the U.N. for exporting food from Ukraine and Turkey, and another between Russia, Turkey, and the U.N. for exporting food and fertilizers.

Russia has consistently disregarded the agreements it entered from the start of it. Just barely 12 hours after signing a deal on July 22, 2022, Moscow initiated a missile barrage against Odesa, targeting Ukraine’s main port and infrastructure. It had frequently threatened to withdraw from the deal or decline its extension routinely. Moreover, it deliberately misused the monitoring mechanism to create shipment hurdles and disrupt their flow.

In October 2022, the Kremlin declared the suspension of its participation in the deal. However, it had to eventually rejoin the agreement due to the continued determination of Ukraine, Turkey, and the U.N. to proceed with the outflow of food under the terms of the deal.

The BSGI allowed Ukraine to export some 30 million tons of its food to foreign markets through the Black Sea, while enhancing alternative transportation routes. The railway is capable of exporting more than a million tons monthly, road transport could handle more than 600 thousand tons, and the Danube River ports might handle over two million tons, potentially reaching up to three million tons. However, alternative export routes can’t substitute the sea trade for many reasons, including increased costs, logistical difficulties, the necessity for big-ticket and long-time infrastructure investments, etc. 

While its sea trade remains unimpeded, Russia has managed to claim control over the North-West part of the Black Sea, even though it did not succeed in occupying it, and faced no repercussions for doing so under the Law of the Sea. Instead of making Russia obey the Law of the Sea, ensuring freedom of navigation, the international community talks about prolonging the BSGI.

The U.N. State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 Report highlights that one in ten people worldwide faces hunger, and a staggering 3.1 billion individuals cannot afford a nutritious diet. Due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, an alarming 23 million people have been pushed into hunger. The Russian authorities have been utilizing these vulnerable populations as leverage against the West. The Kremlin has been widely disseminating narratives in the Global South, attributing the surge in food prices and food scarcity to the Western sanctions imposed on Russia.

In June, a delegation of African leaders led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Kyiv and Moscow, advocating for their peace initiative, which involved facilitating food exports. Prior to that, in May, Senegalese President Macky Sall, acting as the African Union chief, visited Moscow and Paris (bypassing Kyiv), urging the West to lift sanctions against Russia. It’s worth noting that there are currently no sanctions on Russian food and fertilizer exports, and these exports have been particularly lucrative, bringing Russia a 70% increase in revenue due to the surge in prices. Furthermore, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently emphasized that “Russian grain trade has reached high export volumes.” 

Russia has strategically utilized the BSGI to undermine the Western sanctions directly or, in the event of failure, to shift the blame for the food crisis onto the West. The Kremlin’s objective is to create a looming food crisis that could trigger waves of refugees, destabilizing social and political situations in European countries. The Russian hope is that this instability would pave the way for pro-Russian political forces to displace the current ones, consequently weakening support for Ukraine and disrupting Trans-Atlantic unity concerning Russia.

Ukraine has been proactively seeking a solution to restore its freedom of navigation and ensure a stable food supply to countries in need. Kyiv has urged its partners to create a naval demining coalition, either as a standalone initiative or as a first step towards enabling protected cargo convoys under the escort of a joint naval force. This coalition may involve assets from littoral states and, hopefully, from nations beyond the Black Sea region. In either scenario, the pivotal role of Turkey is crucial, as it possesses the largest Navy in the Black Sea.

Since the beginning of the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has invoked the Montreux Convention of 1936 provisions, which restricts Russia and non-Black Sea nations from deploying naval assets to the Black Sea. Ankara is hesitant to proceed with shipments via cargo vessels under its flag, as it fears potential attacks as Turkey is a significant military power and a NATO member. 

The unique dynamics in the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could act as a buffer against further escalation. In 2015, Turkey downed a Russian jet that had violated its airspace, leading to a tense moment in bilateral relations. However, it did not escalate into a full-blown military response from Moscow.

An alternative approach that appears more feasible is chartering sea lines of communications from Ukrainian ports toward the Straits within the territorial waters of the littoral states (Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey). However, this approach would require these nations to confront the risks of a direct attack, regardless of how insignificant it may be, and find solutions to the mine issue in the region.

In addition, legal actions under international law and Ukraine’s domestic laws are crucial to hold Russia accountable for its actions. Ukraine’s current military capabilities are insufficient to deter the Kremlin from transforming the Northern part of the Black Sea into a “Russian lake.” The deployment of anti-ship missiles and modern Western fighter jets could play a significant role in restraining Moscow’s actions in the region. 

As Russia continues to cause increasing damage to Ukraine, it has effectively deterred the West from taking more assertive actions against its exports. Notably, the Russian ports on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea have remained sanctions-free. In fact, Russia has even escalated its exports of oil and oil products from the Black Sea ports, including instances that breach the prohibition of direct shipments to Europe.  

Before the E.U.’s 11th package of restrictive measures was announced, crude oil exports from Russia witnessed a significant surge, increasing by 14.55% in June alone. Among the 42 tankers transporting Russian oil from the Black Sea last month, 15 belonged to companies from E.U. countries, with 14 belonging to Greek shipowners and one to a Latvian company. Russia is gradually shifting its grain exports to Baltic Sea ports in response to capacity challenges.

To compel the Kremlin to reconsider its actions, it is imperative to enforce existing sanctions and target Russian ports in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Baltic Sea. Additionally, Ukraine and its allies must intensify efforts to engage with developing countries to counter Russia’s propaganda.

 Addressing Russia’s malicious activities, including those through Wagner PMC in Africa, requires more decisive actions, such as designating Wagner PMC as a terrorist organization and, if warranted, considering Russia itself as a state sponsor of terrorism. This approach may prove challenging, but it is essential to hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions and protect global security and stability.

In order to effectively address Russia’s malicious activities, particularly those of Wagner PMC in Africa, it is crucial to take more decisive actions. One necessary step is to designate Wagner PMC as a terrorist organization. Moreover, if such a designation is warranted for Wagner PMC, it also implies that Russia is considered a state sponsor of terrorism. While implementing this approach may present challenges, it is essential to hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions and safeguard global security and stability.

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