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Russia’s war on Ukraine. 18.09.2023

Operational situation

In the operational zone of the Ukrainian Operational-Strategic Group of Forces (OSG) “Khortytsia” on the Bakhmut direction, the Ukrainian Defense Forces successfully repelled enemy attacks in the Bila Hora area. Russian forces made unsuccessful attempts to breach the defense of the Ukrainian forces in the Andriivka area. The Defense Forces continue assault operations in the area of Klishchiivka, inflicting significant losses on the enemy in both personnel and equipment, and consolidating their achieved positions.

In the “Tavriya” OSG operational zone on the Maryinka direction, Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions in the Maryinka area, making 10 unsuccessful attempts to dislodge Ukrainian units from their positions. In the Avdiyivka and Shakhtarsk directions, the Ukrainian Defense Forces maintain the initiative, exert pressure on the enemy, and conduct assault operations. On the Melitopol direction, the Ukrainian Defense Forces continued the offensive operation, inflicting significant losses on the Russian forces in both manpower and equipment, forcing them to retreat from their positions. 

In the operational zone of the “Odesa” OSG, the Ukrainian Defense Forces are conducting counter-battery warfare, destroying the enemy’s logistics, deployment sites, and firing positions.

General conclusion: 

  • The regrouping of the Russian “Zapad” Operational Grouping at the Kupyansk-Svatove line explains the decrease in the overall intensity of hostilities in the Kupyansk direction.
  • The combat actions on the Berdyansk direction mostly have a positional character. The “Tavriya” OSG is conducting troop rotations, the combat readiness of which has noticeably decreased.
  • All formations and military units of the Russian Airborne Forces are engaged in combat operations either on the Bakhmut or on the Tokmak directions.

Change in the line of contact (LoC):  

  • 35 combat engagements took place on different directions.
  • On the Kupyansk direction, Russian troops are conducting sabotage actions near the international border to lock Ukrainian forces in the border areas and prevent their redeployment to other directions. They are increasing the density of mine-explosive barriers along the border in the Belgorod Oblast. Periodic military operations with the use of artillery take place near Strilecha.
  • Russian forces advanced slightly south of Dibrova, attacked near Kyslivka, and tried to regroup along the Kupyansk-Svatove line after failures near Novoyehorivka.
  • OSG “Khortytsia” troops carried out offensive actions near Kreminna and attacked near Dibrova, Torske and in Serebryansk forest.
  • On the Bakhmut direction, the 80th and 95th Separate Air Assault Brigades, the 5th Separate Assault Brigade, and the “Lyut” National Police Brigade of the “Khortytsia” OSG liberated Klishchiivka. They achieved success east of Orikhovo-Vasylivka. They repulsed 5 Russian assaults in the areas of Klishchiivka and Bila Hora and counterattacks in the area of Andriivka and Kurdyumivka. Combat engagements continue near Andriivka.
  • Russian troops entrenched themselves near the railway to the east and northeast of Klishchiivka. They unsuccessfully attempted to displace Ukrainian forces from positions near Bohdanivka.
  • The Russian grouping in the Bakhmut direction is estimated at 52,000 servicemen.
  • On the Avdiivka direction, the “Tavria” OSG troops achieved further success east of Krasnohorivka.
  • Units of the enemy’s 150th Motorized Rifle Division from the 8th Army repelled Ukrainian assaults near Maryinka. They conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Avdiivka, Opytne, and Severne. Russian forces carry out daily from 10 to 15 assaults near Maryinka with motorized rifle units and combined units “Shtorm-Z”.
  • Berdyansk direction (Velyka Novosilka):  “Tavriya” OSG forces continued shelling along the line of Novodonetske – Novomykhailivka, near Staromayorske and Pryiutne.
  • Units of the 39th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 68th Army Corps, the 40th Separate Marines Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet, “Vostok” and “Cascade” illegal armed formations of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Novodarivka and Rivnopil, advanced in the direction of Urozhaine.
  • Tokmak direction (Robotyne): Russian forces repelled an attack by the “Tavriya” units near Robotyne. Heavy combat continued along the Robotyne-Verbove line, especially in the direction of Novoprokopivka. They counterattacked near Robotyne and from positions near Novoprokopivka and Kopani. The 247th Air Assault Regiment of the 7th Air Assault Division is defending south of Orikhiv.
  • In the Black Sea-Azov naval operational area, there were 6 Russian ships on combat duty; 4 in the Sea of Azov; there was 1 Russian ship on combat duty in the Mediterranean.

Change in the enemy’s disposition:

  • Units of the Russian 41st Army began a slow redeployment from Luhansk Oblast to an unspecified area in the south of Ukraine.

Possible operation situation developments: 

  • The Russian command is preparing to launch a large-scale offensive in the Kupyansk direction;
  • Units of the 164th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 25th Army will be deployed in the direction of Dibrova – Serebryansk Forest, and units of the 36th Motorized Rifle Regiment will be positioned west of the Chervonopopivka – Zhytlivka line in the general direction of Novosadove or Terny.
  • The enemy will attempt to regain positions in the Klishchiivka and Andriivka areas, deploying the 102nd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division in the Klishchiivka area and the 57th and 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigades of the 2nd Army Corps in the Andriivka area.

Russian operational losses from 24.02.22 to 18.09.23 

Personnel – almost 272,940 people (+620);

Tanks – 4,623 (+3);

Armored combat vehicles – 8,834 (+6);

Artillery systems – 6,027 (+24);

Multiple rocket launchers (MLRS) – 776 (0);

Anti-aircraft warfare systems – 525 (+2);

Vehicles and fuel tanks –8,571 (+34);

Aircraft – 315 (0);

Helicopters – 316 (0);

UAV operational and tactical level – 4,769 (+27);

Intercepted cruise missiles – 1,462 (+7);

Boats/ships – 21 (0).

Humanitarian + general:

  • According to information provided by the MOD’s Situation Center, over the past day, Russian forces shelled 11 regions of Ukraine. 100 towns and villages and 65 infrastructure objects were attacked with various types of weapons;
  • Over the past day, Russian forces shelled Kherson Oblast 92 times, firing 502 shells from mortars, artillery, “Grad” MRLS, UAVs and aircraft. Two people were killed, and four more were wounded. 1 civilian was killed and 4 were wounded in Donetsk Oblast. 
  • On the night of Monday, September 18, Ukrainian Air Defense destroyed 18 of 24 Russian Shahed-136/131 attack drones and all 17 Russian Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 missiles launched at Ukraine. During the attack, Russia used an unprecedented number of aircraft, the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine spokesman, Yuriy Ignat, stressed.
  • In the temporarily occupied Kherson Oblast, Russian military forces abducted and subsequently killed 26-year-old Anastasia Saksaganska and her 34-year-old husband Valery from Mali Kopani village. Both individuals were taken from their own residence during the night of September 16. Relatives of the murdered couple claim that the reason for their death was the refusal to receive Russian passports, the Center for Journalist Investigations reports.
  • Two brothers, 13-year-old Kyril and 4-year-old Serhiy, were repatriated to Ukraine from the temporarily occupied territories upon their mother’s request, as reported by Dmytro Lubinets, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada.

Comments on current events

Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council contends that “we’ve arrived at an inflection point.” Given that Putin’s Russia seems responsive only to the language of strength, the Ukrainian Peace Formula essentially translates to an equation of armament. “Refusing or delaying the transfer of modern weapons to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is a direct encouragement of the Kremlin to further war, not the other way around,” Oleksiy Danilov argued. He posits that the dismantling of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, either partially or entirely, could force the Russians to seek an exit from the ongoing conflict.

“This counter-offensive is much more than a ground assault… it’s a multi-domain operation,” remarked General Ben Hodges regarding a recent series of Ukrainian attacks on Russian assets in Crimea. Ukrainian special operations forces effectively neutralized air defense and surveillance equipment. In a coordinated effort, drones and Neptun cruise missiles dealt a crippling blow to a state-of-the-art Russian air defense system valued at billions.

The degraded air defense capabilities paved the way for the attacks on the military base in Sevastopol, leading to the destruction of a Kilo-class submarine and a landing ship via the British “Storm Shadow” missile. A Ukrainian-manufactured sea drone, known as “Sea Baby,” inflicted significant damage on one of Russia’s missile hovercrafts. These strikes bear long-lasting consequences. Russia will require considerable resources and time to replace the lost assets. The effectiveness of this series of attacks dealt a blow to the reputation of the Russian S-400 “Triumph” air defense system.

The recent attacks yield a critical strategic insight. Mykola Bielieskov, a Ukrainian military and security expert, has highlighted a fundamental contradiction in the Biden Administration’s policy towards the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He argues that the approach of “escalation management” runs counter to core principles of warfare, particularly the need to outpace the enemy’s capability regeneration to prevent them from recovering. 

Bielieskov points out that earlier in 2022, a more assertive supply of М142/GMLRS to Ukraine could have been a missed opportunity to eliminate invading forces and restore the pre-February 2022 status quo. Similarly, delayed heavy armament supplies allowed the Russians to fortify their positions in the South, making it more challenging for Ukraine to reclaim Melitopol and render Crimea and the Southern territories untenable for Russia.

When President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with President Joe Biden, his primary objectives will be to secure the supply of ATACMS missiles and a decision regarding the F-16s. With these capabilities in place, the counteroffensive could have been a combined arms operation, aligning with the expectations of Western observers and the public.

Zelensky aims to persuade Joe Biden that the Administration needs to formulate an explicit theory of victory. This theory should revolve around the goal of restoring the status quo ante bellum (2014). Such a theory would require abandoning failed red lines and putting efforts to make the 2024 military campaign a success. “Most wars last longer than expected when they started”, and that is why “the Alliance must prepare for a long war in Ukraine,” the NATO Secretary-General said. Ukrainians are acutely aware of this reality and are gearing up for a prolonged struggle. However, the outcome of this existential battle hinges significantly on the commitment of Ukraine’s partners, with the United States being of paramount importance. 

For the Ukrainian leader, the most formidable challenge is to garner support from ordinary Americans and members of Congress. Recent polling by CNN in August revealed a split opinion among Americans, with 55% opposing additional funding for Ukraine, while 45% support it. Notably, Republicans overwhelmingly lean towards opposing new funding (71%), while Democrats largely favor it, with 62% in support and 61% advocating for increased U.S. involvement.

Persuading Republicans presents quite a challenge, as the MAGA faction has adopted Ukraine as a tool in their political battles against the sitting President. Complicating matters, the indictment of Hunter Biden has cast Ukraine in a negative light, alleging corruption tied to a former Ukrainian official who fled to Russia. Moreover, some Republican Representatives are inclined to withhold support for the Presidential budget request, arguing that these resources are better allocated elsewhere.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky also faces a formidable challenge in rallying support from leaders of the Global South for the Ukrainian Peace Formula at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York. 

The G20 statement on Ukraine was a disappointment, for it didn’t bring anything new but eliminated the strong language condemning the Russian aggression.

The “One Earth, One Family, One Future” summit left Ukraine on the margins but didn’t bring the others close on the dividing issues. Significantly, in the lead-up to the summit, China followed Russia’s lead by making territorial claims against its neighbors, including Indian territory, on a newly published standard map. This development underscores the difficulty of advocating for one’s interests in the Indo-Pacific while concurrently ignoring another nation’s illegal territorial annexations in Europe.

The G20 has expressed optimism about Russia returning to the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Still, this possibility remains slim due to conflicting objectives between Russia and the rest of the world. The Kremlin has effectively used food as a political tool, attributing surging food prices to the U.S. and other developed nations to garner support from the Global South. Moscow’s primary goals include breaking the sanction regime and maintaining control over the northern portion of the Black Sea.

Ukraine has demonstrated an alternative approach to addressing these issues. Ukraine’s military actions in Crimea and its maritime operations off the Peninsula, coupled with establishing sea lines of communication through neighboring territorial waters, have bolstered the case for the principle of freedom of navigation. In recent days, two grain bulkers have docked at Ukrainian ports, and five cargo vessels have departed from Ukrainian ports, with their routes taking them through the Straits to overseas markets.

Vladimir Putin has opted to refrain from attending prominent gatherings like the BRICS and G20 meetings, fearing arrest under the ICC warrant. There are limited safe havens for him to visit now, although Lula da Silva has assured the Russian leader of a welcome in Brazil.

Instead of showing off abroad, Putin’s focus has centered on securing both his political future and Russia’s wartime objectives. The Russian dictator is wary of inciting dissatisfaction among the Russian populace ahead of his inevitable reelection in March of the coming year.

It’s improbable that Putin will announce a new mobilization wave publicly until after these so-called elections. Instead, he’s likely to rely on a covert mobilization that has never truly stopped. The enthusiasm for the war has notably waned among Russians, making it increasingly challenging to recruit new personnel into the Russian Army. Nonetheless, recent legislative changes and stricter regulations concerning international travel have provided the necessary tools for potential future mobilization efforts.

Vladimir Putin tried to secure supplies of ammunition and weapons from the North Korean dictator, who described the war against Ukraine as the “sacred struggle to punish the gathering of evil that claims hegemony and nourishes expansionist illusions.” 

Kim Jong Un’s potential supply to Russia includes Soviet-era ammunition and armaments, including millions of 122 mm and 152 mm artillery shells, anti-tank missiles, and various other missile types. Russia faces challenges in scaling up its annual production of artillery shells to meet its demands, as it expended between 10 and 11 million shells in 2022. In contrast, North Korea, with its 8,800 field guns and 5,500 rocket launchers, has the capacity to offer tens of millions of such munitions from its stockpiles and may even ramp up production through over 300 munitions factories.

In return for this assistance, Kim Jong Un is likely to pursue access to satellite, missile, and nuclear technologies. North Korea’s primary defense objectives encompass the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, other delivery systems like nuclear-powered submarines, the expansion of their nuclear warhead arsenal, and the deployment of military reconnaissance satellites. Vladimir Putin may contemplate reciprocating by providing non-military resources, including energy and raw materials, as well as food supplies, which might even include confiscated Ukrainian grain.

The potential for Russia to bolster the offensive capabilities of the DPRK, including nuclear ones, calls for a response that reinforces the security of the Republic of Korea. Simultaneously, there’s a chance that Seoul may reconsider its stance and offer ammunition and arms to Kyiv.

In a less likely scenario, Israel may revisit its prohibition on providing arms to Ukraine. Mossad Director David Barnea has expressed Israel’s concerns about Russia potentially supplying advanced weaponry to Iran, which could pose an existential threat to Israel. Moscow’s willingness to bolster Iran’s offensive capabilities is driven by its urgent need for Iranian drone and missile support. The sooner Russia encounters setbacks in its Ukraine campaign, the less pressure it may feel t to share dangerous technologies with the rogue regimes across the globe.

Putin’s aggressive capabilities will remain constrained for several more months due to political limitations and insufficient production capacity. He is making desperate efforts to compensate by acquiring weapons and ammunition from Iran and North Korea. Ukraine and its allies now face a recurring dilemma where delayed weapon supplies could result in missed opportunities and the prolongation of Moscow’s brutal regime. The Kremlin persists in its belief that victory can be achieved by committing all available resources to the conflict, while simultaneously trying to discourage the West from offering more substantial support to Ukraine.

Centre for Defence Strategies (CDS) is a Ukrainian security think tank. We operate since 2020.

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