The Prevail Partners Newsroom is supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces media campaign asking for silence regarding the counteroffensive. In the spirit of this, whilst tactical and operational military updates will be given for both Ukraine and Russia, no predictive assessment will be published on upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive activity.           

Tactical Military

  • Russian Forces continue to press forward with localised offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kremina line resulting in marginal confirmed gains. However, the significant Russian equipment and personnel losses in the vicinity of Avdiivka (southwest of Donetsk City) are mounting daily. The Russian forces have suffered substantial casualties, with estimates of 5,000 personnel killed or wounded and 400 armoured vehicles lost near Avdiivka and Marinka since only 10 Oct (17 days at the time of writing this), according to Ukrainian sources. Despite heavy losses, Russia has maintained persistent pressure on both the flanks of Avdiivka – notably fighting for control over the Slag Heap north of fortified Ukrainian positions.

Heavy fighting in the vicinity of Avdiivka. Source: @NOELreports

  • In the past week there has been an escalation in Ukrainian counteroffensive activity along the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces have likely begun prioritising operations in this area as they begin to strengthen the small bridgeheads they have established since late summer using reconnaissance groups and special forces.

So What?

  • The Russian command will likely face challenges compensating for the equipment losses, especially in armoured vehicles. These losses bear a resemblance to the earlier stages of the conflict, where Russia's equipment/organisational shortcomings significantly impeded their effectiveness in executing mechanised manoeuvre warfare. These setbacks manifested as disorganised mechanised assaults and substantial losses, notably near Vuhledar, subsequently deterring further large-scale offensives in Ukraine. Given that recent losses near Avdiivka appear even more severe than those experienced near Vuhledar, it is unlikely that Russia possesses either the inclination or capability to launch another round of large, mechanised assaults across a broad frontage, although localised efforts are feasible. While the Slag Heap to the north of Avdiivka holds strategic importance for Russian forces, its tactical limitations should not be overlooked. It is exposed and situated at a similar elevation as the Ukrainian Armed Forces' (UAF) positions in Avdiivka, where the UAF holds the high ground. Additionally, traversing the slag heap is likely to be challenging, making it better suited for cover and observation, rather than serving as a fortified position for launching attacks. While monitoring the tactical situation on the slag heap remains important, given the uncertainty surrounding Russia's capacity to sustain high-pressure assaults, it is arguably more crucial to focus on Russia's gradual advancement toward Stepove. Establishing a foothold in Stepove could potentially enable them to disrupt the remaining Ukrainian logistical and supply routes into Avdiivka.
  • Ukrainian forces have conducted several limited incursions across the Dnipro River in the past. However, the most recent reported advancements seem to be a move aimed at extending the territory they hold, potentially in preparation for a more extensive river-crossing offensive. The limited raids are likely shaping activity, conducting identification and targeting of Russian artillery systems in order to set up a larger bridgehead and take advantage of a considerably less fortified region of the Russian defensive line. Russian authorities are likely becoming worried about Ukraine’s increased operational tempo, and success, in this region. This is due to them having recently placed Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, Russian Airborne Forces’ Commander, in charge of Russian forces operating in the Dnipro region, likely indicating that they were doubtful of the previous commanders’ ability to repel UAF.

Operational / Strategic Military

  • On 23 October, Russia initiated the use of their new long-range "Italmas" (possibly also classed as Geran-3) drones, colloquially referred to as "lawn mowers" due to their distinct sound, marking their first use in the Ukraine war during a drone strike on the Kyiv Oblast, targeting critical national infrastructure. It is likely that a modernised variant of the ‘Lancet’ munitions are also now in use, which feature an all-weather capability through the use of thermal cameras in place of the original electro-optical units and a new guidance system.

Footage of Russian authorities showcasing the Italmas drone. Source: @Jamie04381095

  • On 25 October, Russia’s military conducted a simulated nuclear strike midway through their Strategic Missile Forces exercise - A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile was fired from a test site at a target in Russia's far east, a nuclear-powered submarine launched a ballistic missile from the Barents Sea, and Tu-95MS long-range bombers test-fired air-launched cruise missiles.

So What?

  • Italmas One-Way Attack Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (OWA-UAVs) are lighter than Shahed OWA-UAVs and are harder to detect and shoot down. They are also cheaper than Shahed drones, which means that they can be more widely manufactured and used, potentially in swarms to overwhelm Ukrainian Air Defences. Some reports suggest that these drones deliver lighter payloads, which restricts their usefulness in isolation – therefore Russian forces will likely use the Italmas OWA-UAVs in concert with Shaheds and cruise missiles. However, the stated specifications include a flight range of 200 kilometres and a warhead weighing 40 kilograms, which equals the warhead size of the Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munition. Additionally, RFAF have begun using a new variant of the Lancet drone. These are X-winged, OWA-UAVs that are launched from a small catapult and have a range radius of more than 40km and carry a payload of up to 5kg. The newest versions are fitted with an automatic guidance system, allowing them to differentiate between target types. Furthermore, it is likely that they possess thermal cameras which will enable these munitions to bypass multi-spectral camouflage concealments. All of this therefore, means that they exhibit an increased strike success rate. However, RFAF have not reportedly begun using these drones on an extensive scale as of yet. Due to their relatively small payload, in comparison to Shahed OWA-UAVs, they are unlikely to cause significant damage to infrastructure targets and will instead be used against UAF vehicles and troop concentrations. Radar systems and air defence units are likely to be high on the Target List for Lancet drones. Therefore, they will likely be used in large numbers, both, in order to overwhelm Ukrainian air defence systems as well as causing maximum damage. Nevertheless, this is all in line with assessments that Russia is likely trying to expand and diversify its arsenal of munitions for strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure in advance of the winter season, and increased use of Italmas and Lancet OWA-UAVs is likely part of Russia’s intentions to broaden their munitions portfolio.

Russian forces target an evacuation bus, with a Lancet drone, whilst it is refilling. Source: @gazunkles

  • The nuclear readiness exercise took place shortly after the Russian Upper House of Parliament voted to withdraw the nation's endorsement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The next step involves submitting the bill to Putin for final approval. Putin has expressed that renouncing Russia's endorsement would align with the United States' position, which signed but did not formally ratify the nuclear test ban. Sergei Shoigu, Russia's Minister of Defence, explained that the purpose of the drills is to simulate "responding to a nuclear strike by the enemy with a substantial nuclear counterstrike using strategic offensive forces." Nonetheless, comparable exercises occur every autumn and serve as a display of the preparedness of Russian troops. The missile launches likely serve as a display of nuclear capabilities rather than an indication of any intent to target Ukraine.

Russian authorities release footage of the launch of the Yars Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Source: @Heroiam_Slava

Political

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited North Korea last week after concerns that the latter has been supplying Moscow with weapons in return for a range of military assistance, including advanced technologies. Moscow pledged its complete support to North Korea after its support in Ukraine. The US has released satellite imagery showing more than 1,000 containers of military equipment, artillery, and munitions to Russia being shipped from the North Korean port of Nanjin to Dunay on Russia's east coast, and then transported to a military warehouse near Tikhoretsk, close to the Ukrainian border. Two cargo vessels have made at least five runs between Dunai and Rajin since August, although both ships had turned off their transponders, making them difficult to track. As of late September, the ammunition depot in Tikhoretsk went from containing a modest number of munitions storage pits to more than 100. There has also been an unprecedented buildup of train traffic along Russia’s border with North Korea, indicating the supply of arms and munitions taking place. From there, North Korean weapons and munitions can be shipped to logistics depots on the border of Ukraine for distribution to frontline units.
  • On 26 October, A Hamas delegation visited Moscow for discussions regarding the release of foreign hostages, including Russian citizens, currently held by the militant group in Gaza. This information was reported by Russian news agencies, citing the foreign ministry. Among those present at the talks was senior Hamas member Abu Marzouk. The discussions focused on the immediate release of foreign hostages in the Gaza Strip as well as arrangements for the evacuation of Russian and other foreign citizens from the area.

So What?

  • Due to the frozen conflict with South Korea, North Korea has a large stockpile of arms of Soviet-era artillery systems that Russia would be keen on due to their compatibility with Russian weapon systems. It also has the production capacity to manufacture new weapons that would help Russia maintain its high ammunition burn rate as the Kremlin seeks to scale up domestic production. Considering North Korea’s relative lack of resources, it is likely that Pyongyang demanded a high price for the weapons and access to Russian aerospace and military technology. As international sanctions and pandemic restrictions have severely reduced North Korea's essentials, such as food and medicine, North Korea would likely ask for humanitarian aid to provide Russia with ammunition. Moreover, in addition to this, North Korea may seek other assistance from Russia in return for its support, including providing missiles and other sophisticated Russian military technologies to boost North Korea’s military and nuclear program.

Lavrov being greeted in North Korea. Source: @Gerashchenko_en

  • Russia maintains diplomatic ties with key players in the Middle East, including Israel, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, a designated terrorist group, by the UK and US, in control of Gaza. Moscow has attributed the current crisis to the perceived failure of U.S. diplomacy and has called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, urging the resumption of talks for a peaceful resolution. Moscow has even refused to condemn the actions of Hamas despite the terrorist group killing 16 Russian civilians. Hamas issued its own statement, commending the efforts of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and the foreign ministry in addressing what it referred to as "the crimes of Israel, supported by the West," as reported by Russia's RIA news agency. In response to the 07 October attack that has claimed 1,400 lives, and rising, Israel has pledged to eliminate Hamas. Israel has conducted airstrikes in Gaza, imposed a blockade on the enclave of 2.3 million people, and the Israeli Defence Forces have just begun their ground invasion of Gaza. According to Palestinian authorities, over 6,500 people have lost their lives. While it hasn’t been proven that Russia has supplied Hamas with weapons, Russia has, at a minimum, assisted in providing material support to the group: Hamas received millions of dollars via a cryptocurrency exchange based in Moscow in the lead up to the 07 October attacks. Additionally, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mentioned during a weekly briefing on Thursday that Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baghiri Kani was presently in Moscow. However, no further details were provided. Baghiri Kani serves as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, and Iran is a staunch supporter of Hamas in its conflict with Israel.

What Next?

North Korea’s supply of significant quantities of munitions to Russia will likely have profound consequences for the war in Ukraine. A major North Korean supply line will alleviate munitions shortages for Russia, enabling the armed forces to restock their frontline troops while repelling the Ukrainian counteroffensive. This will highly likely lead to a need to escalate the West’s support to Ukraine by providing additional quantities of weapons and munitions. North Korea and Russia will highly likely deepen ties as both countries have become increasingly isolated on the world stage. Involving China, which has shown a passive attitude so far, is also likely to happen in order to strengthen Russia-China-North Korea solidarity to break international isolation and counter pressure from the West.

On the tactical front there is unlikely to be any significant advancements from either Ukrainian or Russian forces. There is a realistic possibility that activity on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River into occupied Kherson will continue. Ukrainian forces are unlikely to commit large numbers of personnel to this sector of the front due to the difficult logistics behind such a manoeuvre and the fear of being a sitting duck from Russian forces’ strikes.

Russian forces’ air strikes against major urban conurbations will likely remain subdued until the Winter season begins and there is a substantial change in weather conditions. Russian forces will likely continue stockpiling munitions in this time period in order to conduct extensive strike operations during the coldest periods in order to have the most impact on the Ukrainian energy system, increasing the state’s burden of care.