Executive Summary

  • Strikes using long-range Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) are the greatest kinetic threat to personnel security in Odessa.
  • Russian strikes predominantly target infrastructure which has military utility – such as Odessa airport and the Zatoka Bridge.
  • Odessa is unlikely to face amphibious assault in the short to medium term.
  • It remains highly unlikely Russia will launch a ground-incursion from Transnistria into Odessa Oblast.
  • It is almost certain that Russia will not be able to seize Mykolaiv (essential for a ground assault on Odessa) before 10 Jun 22.

Odessa – Current Status

Odessa is currently under Ukrainian control. The nearest Russian position is reported to be approximately 50km east in Kherson Oblast. Intelligence indicates that Russia does not currently intend to commit forces to launch an assault against Odessa, as its armed forces prioritise operations in the Donbass region.

However, as the below events log shows, Odessa is highly likely to remain a long-range strike target due to its strategic importance to the Ukrainian military effort. This includes primary routes in/out of Ukraine; presence of Ukrainian military personnel; and use of logistics nodes for military, commercial, and humanitarian purposes.

Reporting from late Mar 22 also suggests that saboteurs are known to operate in the city. However, this activity is reported to have been effectively disrupted by Ukrainian security services.

There is some anecdotal reporting of low-level criminality, however, it is likely there has been a reduction in serious crime due to: the implementation of a curfew; the large number of checkpoints (CPs) established across the city and Oblast; and the reduction of maritime smuggling because of sea mines and Russian FSB/Naval patrols in the Black Sea.


Odessa – Kinetic Activity – Summary of Events

Since late Mar 22, there have been 36 strikes reported in Odessa city and Oblast. Primarily, Russian targeting priorities focus on military and logistics infrastructure.

The Zatoka Bridge has been targeted on five separate occasions in this timeframe, as it is a primary route used to transport humanitarian supplies from Romania. The route is also likely to be used for military purposes. Odessa airport is another location which has been targeted on more than one occasion since late Mar 22.

However, it must be noted that whilst Russian activity is largely focussed on military-linked targets, there have been several instances where missile strikes have resulted in civilian casualties. Since 19 May 22, there have been no reported strikes on the city, which is a reduction on what has been observed since late-Mar 22. The table in Annex A logs all strike activity in Odessa city and the wider Oblast since 28 Mar 22, and the results are visualised in the below graph:

Figure 1. Table showing frequency of strikes on Odessa

The peak period between 26/4 and 9/5 is consistent with a wider campaign of strikes targeting transport networks and infrastructure across western Ukraine in a Russian bid to prevent both reinforcements and western weapons/aid from being able to reach the front in the east.


Naval Activity

Monitoring of Russian naval activity in the Black Sea west of Sevastopol is critical to understanding the prospect of an amphibious assault on the city. 24 May 22 saw a major amphibious demonstration by the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. This is an exercise where their landing ships are used to carry out activity mimicking preparation for an amphibious assault, without becoming engaged with the enemy. The demonstration included two groupings, one larger than the other. The smaller grouping, consisting of two landing ships, a frigate and an FSB Patrol boat sailed a race-track pattern off the coast of Sevastopol. A larger group (a mine-clearance ship, two frigates and four landing craft) conducted manoeuvres in the central Black Sea to the south. This activity is likely intended to threaten Ukraine and fix UAF units in the west of the country against the low probability but high-risk prospect of a seaborne assault. The below events are notable as Russian air attack against coastal-defences could be used in response to future attacks on its naval assets located on the Black Sea.

Maritime events of note:

Saboteur Activity

In addition to the kinetic threat, there have been reports of Russian saboteurs attempting to destabilise parts of Ukraine outside of Russian-controlled territory. This reporting extends to Odessa, where two incidents are outlined in the table below:

Saboteur activity is generally disrupted and reported by the SBU, the Ukrainian internal security service. It is judged that further arrests will be made in the coming months, demonstrating the effectiveness of the Ukrainian security services operating in Odessa.


Wider Region – Mykolaiv Oblast

Any serious attempt by Russia to seize Odessa would almost certainly need a sizeable land component from the east, which would need to seize Mykolaiv first. This is unlikely to occur concurrent to offensives in the Donbas. Russian troops have reportedly been digging multiple layers of defensive earthworks to the east-south-east of Mykolaiv, likely to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack towards Kherson. Previous Russian offensives in the direction of Mykolaiv City had been stopped by the UAF, and Russia is unlikely to have the combat power available for another concerted push against the city, which sits on an essential river crossing (over the Southern Bug River). Mykolaiv has been attacked by both aircraft and long-range rocket artillery recently, however this is likely to sew fear and disrupt UAF military movements that as preparation for an offensive.

Transnistria

In early Apr 22, media reports suggested that Russia were going to mobilise its troops situated in the Transnistria region, Moldova, to attack Ukrainian forces from the southwest and cause provocations along its border. It is highly unlikely that Russia (and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) will invade Ukraine on a new axis from Transnistria. It is however a realistic possibility that Russian forces will posture or conduct demonstrations within Transnistria to force the Ukrainian Armed Forces to keep a greater number of units close to Odessa and prevent them reinforcing operations further east.

It is a realistic possibility that Russian intent to secure Odessa faded when their operations to take other major administrative centres (Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy etc) ceased. It is highly unlikely that there are sufficient forces available between the OGRF/Transnistrian Army, and amphibious forces in the Black Sea, to encircle and seize Odessa.

More background information on the Transnistria situation and the make-up of Russian forces operating in the region can be found here.


Current Threat Assessment

The overall threat to civilians in Odessa is assessed as LOW. The most significant risk comes from Russian long-range strikes with PGM, however, this can largely be mitigated by avoiding government and military locations, and key infrastructure points where possible. With the exception of hypersonic weapon use (such as the Kh-47M2 ‘Khinzal’), which reportedly occurred in Odessa on 9 May, air defence systems and air-raid alarms provide an effective warning of incoming missiles and will provide time to get into cover. Local civilians in Odessa have a good understanding of the alert system, and will seek cover only when the alarm persists for more than a few minutes, indicating that the inbound weapons are coming in their direction.

It is unlikely that Russia will launch an amphibious invasion in the vicinity of Odessa. Vessels available may sortie for further demonstrations in the Black Sea, however without some sabotage operations and concentrated preparatory bombardment – likely specifically targeting air-defence units and coastal-defences, as well as a significant Russian army breakthrough at Mykolaiv, any seaborne assault would almost certainly fail.


Annex A – Table or recorded strikes on Odessa


An artillery team with the 93rd Brigade camouflaging an artillery piece captured from the Russians near Sumy, in the Donbas region. Image courtesy of Lynsey Addario for The New York Times