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.
- Despite a difficult week for Kyiv’s counteroffensive operations, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) continued to regain more ground, predominantly along the eastern and southern fronts. The main axes of focus during the reporting period are:
- Southern and northern flanks of Bakhmut – UAF made marginal territorial gains towards Rozdolivka, 18km northwest of Bakhmut, as well as towards Klishchiivka, 7km southwest of Bakhmut.
- Zaporizhzhia-Donetsk Oblasts border – Ukrainian authorities claimed that UAF had advanced 2km in the Zaporizhzhia-Donetsk Oblast border region with Russian milbloggers additionally claiming Ukrainian forces had reached the village of Pryyutne, located 15km southwest of Velyka Novosilka.
- Western Zaporizhzhia Oblast – UAF advanced south and southwest of Orikhiv towards the village of Robotnye.
- Western Donetsk Oblast – UAF advanced northeast of Volodymyrivka, 12km southeast of Vuhledar.
Video footage of UAF strikes on a Russian base in Donetsk. Source: @UKikaski
- On 4 July 2023, Russian authorities stated that they repelled a Ukrainian drone attack in the Moscow region causing a number of flights at the nearby Vnukovo Airport to be diverted. Russia claimed to have defeated the Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) using a combination of Air-defence (kinetic interception) and electronic warfare (soft kill).
Reporting covering the attempted Ukrainian drone attack near Moscow on 4 July 2023. Source: @Gerashchenko_en
- Ukrainian forces have continued to make limited territorial gains during their counteroffensive operations in the reporting period. Russian sources have described the offensive operations that they have encountered as small tactical manoeuvres, containing smaller infantry groups and reduced numbers of armoured vehicles, in comparison to earlier Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. This is likely indicative of the assessed UAF intent to probe a broad front of Russian defensive positions to understand the defences and force the deployment of the RFAF reserve. Western observers have also commented on the reduced footprint of Ukrainian forces stating that they are likely manoeuvring through treacherous and difficult minefields, progressing anywhere from 500 metres to 2000 metres a day. Previously, Western observers had been critical of the slow progress made by UAF in Kyiv’s counteroffensive however, General Mark Milley, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated that he is not surprised by the rate of progress and that the US was giving Ukraine “as much help as humanly possible”. Vocal acknowledgement of the slow (versus the previous Kharkiv offensive) progress during the counteroffensive will undoubtedly serve as a welcome confidence boost to the Ukrainian government indicating that its largest funder (the US), is acutely aware of just how long the counteroffensive could take and has confidence in Ukraine’s war effort.
Close up map illustrating location of UAF advances. Source: @War_Mapper
- Russia accused Ukraine of conducting a terrorist attack on Moscow by launching an attack consisting of five drones into the Moscow region. Ukrainian authorities have not commented on the attacks, but it does follow similar incidents launched on the Russian capital that Ukrainian authorities have conducted. The Russian Ministry of Defence (RuMoD) stated that air defence systems had shot down four of the five drones, whilst the fifth was jammed using electronic warfare (EW) capability. Whilst the Russian military has come under broad criticism during the conflict, the EW ability of Russian forces has reportedly performed well. The US has even raised concerns regarding this matter, stating that Russian jamming has become so effective against precision-guided weaponry, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) glide bombs, that they are no longer confident they will hit their targets. This could give rise to collateral damage of residential and civilian infrastructure which Russian authorities will extort to their own advantage, likely stating that Ukrainian forces are intentionally targeting such facilities therefore condoning Russia’s war on Ukraine. It is a realistic possibility that the US will use the battleground in Ukraine to test the effectiveness of munitions and systems against a peer opponent, in preparation for future conflicts.
Video footage of black plumes of smoke caused from a downed drone in Moscow. Source: @NOELreports
Operational / Strategic Military
- The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) informed the public that Russian forces and officials were reducing their presence at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and setting objects that appear to be explosive charges against the roof of some of the reactors; indicating that Russia intends to carry out a deliberate radiological incident.
Ukrainian emergency workers conduct emergency nuclear drills. Source: @United24media
- On 04 July 2023, the UAF targeted a Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) ammunition depot in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian military confirmed that they had carried out a precision strike in the region. Imagery from the attack shows numerous secondary explosions and sympathetic detonations, indicating the presence of large quantities of explosive materiel, including unguided rockets.
- Ukrainian government officials have increasingly vocalised their concern that Russian forces are planning to damage the nuclear power plant which could lead to a radiological environmental disaster. Ukrainian officials initially warned that Russian forces had placed mines in the cooling ponds of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant but in recent days Russian forces have intensified their provocation, surrounding a potential radiological disaster, by placing explosives next to 4 of the 6 power units as well as placing objects bearing a resemblance to explosive devices on several of the nuclear power plant’s reactors. In addition, the Ukrainian GUR reported that Russian forces and officials were reducing their presence at the power plant. Several members of the Russian nuclear energy company, who control every day running of the installation, have reportedly vacated and headed to Crimea. Ukrainian military authorities claim that Russia’s considerations regarding a nuclear incident would be to establish a nuclear disaster area that would prevent any further advancement of Ukrainian forces. However, it is assessed that Russia is highly unlikely to cause damage to the nuclear power plant resulting in an intentional radiological event. The aftermath sustained from such a disastrous event would almost certainly cause severe damage to Russian occupied territory more so than to Ukraine. Extensive mapping models illustrate that the radiation cloud from such an occurrence would cover Russian occupied territory in southern Ukraine, including Crimea, as well as spreading into the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. Therefore, it appears that Russia’s rhetoric is an attempt to employ a strategy that projects a false impression of planning a potential catastrophic event at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant with the aim of instigating concerns about a Ukrainian crossing of the Kakhovka reservoir. The intention behind this manoeuvre is likely to avoid a need for Russian forces to defend across the whole front of the defensive line, as Ukrainian forces continue to conduct recce-in-force operations along multiple axes of the front, and to concentrate their forces in areas of strategic importance. Furthermore, Russian officials are likely trying to shape Western decision-making ahead of the NATO summit on 11 July 2023 in Lithuania.
Potential radiation coverage following an incident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Source: @squatsons
- Ukrainian military officials stated that they had launched an overnight missile strike on the Russian occupied city of Makiivka. Drone footage of the strike impact shows the initial explosion setting off numerous secondary detonations which almost certainly confirms the location as an ammunition depot although, Russian sources were quick to state that Ukrainian forces had targeted residential areas as well as a hospital complex. Additionally, the UAF have previously targeted such Russian military infrastructure when striking the RFAF ammunition depot in Rykove with Storm Shadow cruise missiles. However, in this instance Russian authorities stated that the attack was carried out using the US-supplied HIMARS rocket artillery system. Analysis of the battle around Bakhmut indicates that the UAF have used HIMARS to target Russian BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch systems which have previously been supplied ammunition from the depot in Makiivka. It is, therefore, highly likely that due to the Ukrainian strike RFAF will have a reduced daily rate of fire along the eastern front, predominantly around Bakhmut. The creation of temporary shortages in ammunition can present ideal opportunities for Ukrainian forces advancement, particularly considering the Ukrainian military troops’ proximity to overpowering Russian fortifications in the southern flanks of Bakhmut.
Drone footage of the explosions at the ammunition depot in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast. Source: @Osinttechnical
- Russian military bloggers, who hold influence over huge numbers of pro-war Russians, are growing increasingly frustrated with the Russian Ministry of Defence’s inaccurate reporting of frontline activity.
- Vladimir Putin made his first appearance at an international event since the armed rebellion of 23 June 2023 as he participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
- Vladimir Putin is facing a difficult decision on whether to back his own defence ministry or a section of Russian Ultranationalist military bloggers. Tensions between the milblogger community and the RuMoD have continued to escalate this week after the ministry overstated the defeat of a small-scale Ukrainian operation on the left bank of the Dnipro in Kherson Oblast. It stated that Russian forces had cleared a contingent of Ukrainian units in the vicinity of the Antonivsky Bridge however, certain elements of the Russian milblogger sect were quick to state that celebrations were highly exaggerated whilst other reports suggest that Ukrainian forces had repelled all Russian attacks. Such efforts to overstate such a limited Ukrainian attack likely implies that the Russian government are still feeling the effects of Prigozhin’s failed coup and are looking for any success, even if fabricated, that it can feed to the Russian people. Russia’s propagandist machine has worked well in the past when conducting its disinformation campaigns, however the control of the Russian government over its population has severely diminished since the armed rebellion and maintaining lies to people who have become further disenfranchised with the Russian government will be problematic to surmount. This is where Putin’s problems lie; due to his war efforts coming under scrutiny, Putin will want to retain the support of the Russian milblogger community but in siding with them he will add further friction to the Kremlin/RuMoD relationship and potentially loosen his grip on power. This in turn could give rise to aspirational figures within the Kremlin advancing their own personal interests – and there is a realistic possibility that anyone with aspirations to take Putin’s job would be more hardline and militaristic than the incumbent.
- On 4 July 2023, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, attended a virtual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with the likely intent to deepen ties with its members, in particular with China. Russia and China have long shared a similar outlook on the threats posed to them from an ever-greater Western influence and Putin will be keen to demonstrate that, not only does Russia have the ability to counter this threat, but he is also the man to lead them. In his speech, Putin stated that Russia is withstanding all Western sanctions and that his country is still developing but Kremlin officials have a long history of downplaying the impacts of Western sanctions. However, Russia’s trade with SCO members has increased drastically since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, and with the collective member states of the SCO contributing 30 percent of global GDP he will be eager to tap further into the SCO trade market.
Since the armed rebellion carried out a little over a week ago by Prigozhin and his Wagner Group private military company, the Kremlin has been hard at work to mitigate any fallout. The Kremlin is fighting hard to prove to the people of Russia that the threats posed from Kyiv, as well from the West, are well and true and are deserving of Russia’s full military might. Russian authorities continue to manipulate Ukrainian forces attacks in their favour by stating that Kyiv launches attacks against civilian and residential infrastructure but without providing any evidence. Putin will also want to ensure that he keeps his allies close and will look to maintain control of those closest to him and who he can puppeteer to undermine the West’s relationship with Kyiv. This was evidenced this week when Hungary’s Prime Minister Vicktor Orban, who shares a close personal relationship with Putin, opposed the European Union’s plans to grant further money to reinforce Ukraine’s security and war efforts against Russia. Russian disinformation campaigns are highly likely to continue, especially in the build up to the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on 11 July 2023.