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.
Following the tactically significant gains made by Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) during the last reporting period, this week UAF counteroffensive operations have been more subdued. Officials from the Ukrainian General Staff have reported that UAF continue to operate on 3 sectors of the front in their counteroffensive operations.
- The UAF continue to operate northwest and southwest of Bakhmut – Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister reported that Ukrainian forces have liberated a further two square kilometres of ground in the Bakhmut area.
- Counteroffensive activity has been reported along the Velyka Novosilka – Berdyansk axis (Western Donetsk Oblast) – Ukrainian authorities have reported that Ukrainian troops have liberated approximately 12 square kilometres of territory.
- Heavy fighting has been reported along the Orikhiv-Tokmak axis (Zaporizhzhia Oblast).
Footage of Ukrainian forces shelling Russian troops along the Velyka Novosilka axis. Source: @GeoConfirmed
- In southern Ukraine, there are ongoing intense battles occurring in two specific areas. Firstly, Ukrainian forces are concentrating their attacks against Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to the south of Orikhiv. The 58th CAA is highly likely facing significant challenges due to battle fatigue and attrition in its frontline regiments which have been engaged in intense combat for over eight weeks without rotation. The 58th CAA’s recently dismissed commander, Ivan Popov, criticised the Russian Ministry of Defence (RuMoD) for not providing sufficient support to his troops. Ukrainian forces are highly likely focusing their attacks on the 58th CAA in a bid to capitalise upon the significant fatigue and morale issues facing the unit. Moving eastward of Orikhiv, and to the south of Velyka Novosilka, Russian forces that are operating in defensive posturing are likely from Russia’s Eastern and Southern military districts. This is likely causing coordination issues between the newly integrated units, and again will likely work to the advantage of the UAF as they draft in fresh rotations of reserve units that can exploit these problems. Additionally, components of the 5th Combined Arms Army, that have been engaged in extensive defensive activity in the western Donetsk Oblast, are also likely experiencing significant exhaustion from continuous Ukrainian forces counteroffensive operations. Regarding the battle around Bakhmut, Ukrainian General Staff have reported that Russian forces carried out unsuccessful offensive operations in the north and west of Klishchiivka, as well as south of Andriivka. Additionally, they also stated that Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) retreated from positions south of Andriivka. Some Russian milbloggers affirmed that Russian forces counterattacked north and west of Klishchiivka, without making any territorial gains. Furthermore, there are reports that elements of the 57th Motorised Rifle Brigade, subordinate to the 5th CAA, are operating in the Bakhmut direction. As previously mentioned, the majority of the 5th CAA are deployed to the western Donetsk Oblast so, the manoeuvring of elements of its troops to Bakhmut suggests that Russian forces are likely rapidly deploying various units to the area in an effort to strengthen their defence as Ukrainian forces continue to gain a foothold over the battle for Bakhmut.
Ukrainian Armed Forces strike activity around Bakhmut. Source: @NOELreports
Operational / Strategic Military
- The Russian Ministry of Defence alleged that, on 1 August 2023, Ukrainian forces attempted to attack two Black Sea Fleet patrol boats and a Russian civilian transport ship using unmanned semi-submersibles.
Footage showcasing the effectiveness of kamikaze drones used by Ukrainian forces. Source: @UKikaski
- During the night of 1 August 2023, Russian forces carried out drone strikes that resulted in the destruction of port infrastructure in Odesa oblast, along with approximately 40,000 tons of grain.
Aftermath of Russian drone strikes on Odesa. Source: @WarMonitors
- Iran is reported to be actively working on building drone factories in Belarus. This move will enable Russia to access Iranian drones more easily and readily and will also bring multiple economic and military advantages to Iran.
- According to the RuMoD, Ukraine allegedly launched three unmanned submersibles towards the Sergey Kotov and Vasily Bykov patrol ships in the southwestern region of the Black Sea, approximately 340km southwest of Sevastopol. The patrol ships were escorting a Russian transport ship on its way to the Bosphorus Strait via the Black Sea. However, it is important to note that there have been reports that the transport ship was a container ship, the Sparta-IV carrying weapons on its return from Syria. The RuMoD claimed that the patrol ships intercepted all three submersibles. Conversely, Ukrainian authorities have denied these claims and emphasised that they would not engage in attacks on civilian vessels or any other civilian objects. However, from intercepted communications, Russian sailors reportedly asked for evacuation of victims from one of the ships after the alleged attack. This contradicts the Russian authorities’ claims of successfully thwarting the attack. During the evacuation process, Ka-29 helicopters were utilised to transport the deceased and wounded individuals to the Black Sea Higher Naval School in Sevastopol. The intercepted communications between the helicopter crews and coastal aviation services revealed the vessels’ coordinates and the number of casualties. According to the intercepted message, at least one was reported killed and five others were wounded requiring immediate evacuation. It is also important to note that Russia calls the Sparta-IV container ship a civilian vessel but reports state that the vessel is carrying large-calibre weapons, armed crews, and military personnel onboard, which is in violation of international maritime law. It is likely that Russian authorities are exaggerating any claim of a Ukrainian attack on civilian vessels to portray Kyiv as a threat to civilian ships in the Black Sea, likely to justify further escalation of naval activity and to strengthen their control in the region.
- According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russian forces conducted drone strikes on 1 August 2023 in Kyiv and Odesa Oblasts. Ukrainian air defence systems successfully destroyed 23 drones, but an unspecified number of drones targeted the port infrastructure in Izmail, Odesa Oblast. These Russian strikes results in the destruction of 40,000 tons of grain meant for shipment to Africa, China, and Israel. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that between Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 17 July and 26 Juily, RFAF had destroyed 180,000 tones of grain. The Kremlin has promised to send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain to African countries free of charge in the coming months. This suggests that Russian forces are likely targeting grain storage infrastructure while claiming to strike military targets, with the intention of succeeding Ukraine as the primary grain supplier to Africa and other states, thus benefiting Moscow financially rather than Kyiv. While mainstream news recently reported that the Kremlin is having second thoughts about weaponising food, it is actually likely that Russia is in fact happy to continue with this stance, and seeking to blame Ukraine for the lack of grain arriving in Africa. The destruction of Ukrainian grain and the disruption of grain shipments due to Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal, as well as their posturing and threats against neutral shipping to and from Ukraine, are causing fluctuations in grain prices. It is also highly likely that Russia is seeking to benefit from rises in grain prices as Africa, China and Israel are forced to buy Russian grain due to Ukrainian grain being kept off the market.
- The development of drone factories will have benefits for both Iran and Russia; for Iran, the drone sales will provide much-needed revenue for its struggling economy, which is facing critical economic conditions with soaring inflation rates and a depreciating currency. In return for supplying drones to Russia, Iran may receive military benefits, such as the possibility of acquiring Russian Su-35 fighter jets. The acquisition of greater numbers of Iranian drones will be advantageous for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as constructing a drone factory in Belarus will address logistical challenges in transporting Iranian drones from Iran to Russia through the Middle East. Previous reporting has indicated that Russia’s stock of long-range high-precision missiles are dwindling, and the construction of a drone factory so close to its borders will go some way towards alleviating the potential issue of reduced missile stockpiles. Ukraine has so far been reluctant to attack Russian ground targets in Belarus (in spite of the RFAF using Belarus as a launchpad for ground offensives early in the war, and also from continuing to use Belarusian airspace to launch strikes), and this may also have factored into the decision to disperse drone manufacturing into their territory.
Damage caused from Russian forces drone strikes in Kyiv. Source: @business
- Despite a ban on civilians arming themselves, the Russian government is providing weapons, including anti-drone guns, to civilian defence forces near the Ukrainian border.
- The Kremlin's growing concern about ongoing attacks on Russia's border with Ukraine is evident through the recurring allocation of additional military assets to Belgorod and Kursk Oblasts. Russian local authorities in the south-west of the country have initiated the distribution of anti-drone guns and other weaponry to civilian forces for the first time since the Ukraine war began. According to Russian state media, the territorial self-defence forces in the Belgorod and Kursk Oblasts, bordering Ukraine, have received this equipment, which includes machine guns and off-road vehicles. Kremlin officials stated that these measures were necessary to counter attacks originating from Ukraine, and he expressed confidence in the proper implementation of control mechanisms to prevent the weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Local leaders in the border regions have urged Moscow to ease restrictions on civilian forces bearing arms. While many self-defence groups have emerged in response to the conflict, a ban on civilian possession of arms, except for hunting purposes, still officially exists. The Belgorod and Kursk regions have borne the brunt of attacks and sabotage from pro-Ukrainian groups since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, leading locals to form their own self-defence groups. Belgorod's governor reported that by May 2023, around 3,000 people had joined these groups. A Kremlin affiliated milblogger suggested that the weapons supplied to the Belgorod and Kursk Oblast Territorial Defence forces would be stored in a centralised location, raising concerns about the forces' ability to access the weapons quickly in case of an emergency, as they might be locked away in a storage facility. This move, if confirmed, indicates the Kremlin's attempt to strike a balance between enhancing border security and preventing the empowerment of devolved military groups that could potentially launch armed rebellions similar to Wagner's attempted coup on 24 June 2023. Moscow may also be apprehensive about the implications of large quantities of small arms falling into the hands of inadequately trained territorial forces or the general population. The fear could be related to potential security risks and uncertainties arising from widespread firearm distribution, as well as the possibility of additional arms making their way onto the black market or the hands of criminals.
Since Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, promised to bring the war to Moscow, there has been a notable uptick in drone strike activity against the Russian capital. Following these attacks, Ukrainian government officials have stated that more attacks will follow. Although the recurring drone strikes have not resulted in casualties or significant damage, they have sparked widespread unease and become a source of embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. This is particularly problematic as they strive to maintain the perception among the nation's citizens that their almost 18-month-long invasion is progressing according to Moscow's intended course. Furthermore, Russian forces will almost certainly continue to strike port facilities in the Odesa Oblast as they continue to try and replace Ukraine as Africa’s main supplier of grain. This could in turn allow Russia to gain a stronger foothold within Africa where large numbers of their private military company, Wagner Group, already operate to unofficially further Moscow’s foreign objectives.