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 previous, quieter tactical reporting period, Ukrainian counteroffensive operations have intensified along three axes of the front, but particularly along the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Additionally, Ukrainian forces continue to maintain a presence on the east bank of the Dnipro River.
- The Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister reported that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in Melitopol (western Zaporizhzhia Oblast) and Berdiansk (Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia border region) directions.
- Ukrainian officials also stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) had advanced up to three square kilometres in the Bakhmut direction and had liberated 40 square kilometres since Ukrainian forces started their counteroffensive operations in this direction.
- Russian milbloggers claimed that the UAF have conducted operations in and around Urozhaine (western Luhansk Oblast) and were able to liberate the settlement.
Ukrainian HIMARS strike destroys Russian training camp in Kherson. Source: @bayraktar_1love
- After months of cautiously navigating minefields Ukrainian troops are now achieving somewhat larger gains along two primary axes of assault. Whilst Ukrainian forces haven’t progressed more than 12 miles along either attack route, these gains carry significance as they are forcing Moscow to redirect forces from other sections of the front line. Geolocated footage released on 16 August 2023 indicates that Ukrainian forces made strides northeast of Robotyne, positioned 10 kilometres south of Orikhiv in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Considering the consistent activities observed in the wooded regions northeast of the settlement over the past weeks, it is plausible that broader advancements have been achieved in the adjacent areas. The strategic gathering of the Ukrainian 35th Marine Brigade along the Mokri Yaly River has yielded positive results for Kyiv. The marine force, which has deployed all four of its frontline brigades simultaneously within a 10-mile-wide segment, has successfully liberated a series of communities along the route to occupied Mariupol, situated 50 miles south on the Black Sea coast. Most notably, the recent example is Urozhaine, where marine artillery operators, using American-made cluster munitions, inflicted heavy casualties on retreating Russian troops over the past weekend. A video was released by the Ukrainian 35th Marine Brigade showcasing their personnel hoisting the Ukrainian flag in the centre of the village. This confirmation aligns with previous statements by Ukrainian officials regarding the liberation of similar settlements in the region and recent assertions from Russian sources indicating withdrawals of Russian units in the vicinity. Furthermore, the Ukrainian military have deployed additional counteroffensive brigades, including Ukraine’s 82nd Air Assault Brigade, to the vicinity of Robotyne, western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The 82nd Brigade and its counterpart air-assault unit, the 46th Air Assault Brigade, are among the final major units that had been retained in reserve. By deploying these formations into combat, the Ukrainians could notably enhance their offensive capabilities along a key front—the stretch spanning 50 miles from Russian-held Robotyne to occupied Melitopol, just north of the Black Sea shoreline. If the recent developments in Urozhaine involving the Ukrainian marines are indicative, the influx of air-assault troops around Robotyne might lead to swift advancements for the Kyiv forces. The Ukrainians had already been engaging in probing actions and seeking to outflank the Russian garrison stationed in Robotyne. With the addition of two more brigades, particularly well-equipped and heavily armed ones, they stand to fortify their endeavours significantly.
Footage of Russian forces fleeing from Urozhaine. Source: @Osinttechnical
- As reported in last week’s Newsroom Update, Ukrainian forces had successfully landed on the east bank of the Dnipro River and had driven out Russian forces from the vicinity of Kozachi Laheri. Some Russian milbloggers claim that Ukrainian forces continue to maintain a presence in the region and are concerned that the UAF are establishing semi-permanent positions but not quite fully established bridgeheads as of yet. The Ukrainian presence on the east bank could be bolstered by a potential 1,000 Ukrainian marines who have recently received training from their British counterparts. Establishing a bridgehead would enable Ukrainian troops to consider a push towards the Russian-held Crimea, effectively dividing the invading Russian forces into two. An opportunity could arise in the Kherson region by taking advantage of Russian troop redeployments that have led to a reduced presence, and therefore diminished strength in the area, as well as a shallower and less heavily reinforced defensive line compared to other areas of the 1000km frontline. Due to the continued Ukrainian presence on the east bank, in conjunction with the realistic possibility of reinforcements arriving, Russian commanders are likely facing a dilemma whether to bolster defences in this area or to redeploy troops to the eastern front where fierce battles are taking place around the vicinity of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian forces using western-supplied kit during night operations. Source: @bayraktar_1love
Operational / Strategic Military
- On 15 August 2023, the Russian government released footage of Russian forces boarding a commercial ship, sailing under the flag of Palau, in the southwestern region of the Black Sea. A civilian cargo ship bound for the Izmail port in Odesa Oblast was forcefully intercepted and inspected by a Russian warship. The Russian Ministry of Defence (RuMoD) reported that the Russian patrol ship Vasily Bykov halted and searched a cargo vessel registered under the Palau flag, as it failed to respond to inspection demands. Small arms warning shots were fired, and a Ka-29 helicopter with Russian personnel landed on the ship. After inspection, the civilian ship was permitted to proceed. On 19 July 2023, the RuMoD declared its intention to treat ships headed for Ukrainian ports as potential military cargo carriers and any country which the cargo carriers were registered under as supporters of the Kyiv regime. However, on 30 July 2023, three civilian ships, which openly stated their destination as Ukraine, were not stopped by Russian forces indicating that Russia might struggle to forcibly intercept neutral vessels.
- The interception of the Palau-flagged vessel likely indicates that Russia is trying to reestablish the threat of escalation against civilian ships en route to Ukraine. Furthermore, the forced inspection likely undermined the confidence in temporary trade routes through the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports. Russia’s naval actions in the Black Sea likely deliberately maintain uncertainty, intending to discourage maritime transportation to Ukraine without necessitating the involvement of the Black Sea Fleet in order to enforce a full blockade of the Black Sea. Russia highly likely has a reluctance to deploy its naval forces considering that in recent week Ukrainian forces have conducted strikes, using Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV), against Russian naval targets in the Black Sea and Russia’s Novorossiysk naval base. Additionally, what makes these USV strikes quite so impressive is that during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, approximately 100 Ukrainian Navy vessels, constituting 75% of their naval fleet, were seized by Russian forces. The subsequent 2022 Russian invasion led to the destruction of a significant portion of the remaining fleet and reconstructing naval capabilities amidst an ongoing conflict presents a significant challenge. Therefore, due to a lack of a secure industrial foundation, Ukraine is resorting to innovation and technology to counter the Russian Black Sea fleet. Consequently, due to the success of the Ukrainian forces naval drone strikes, it is almost certain that we will see more of these types of attacks as the UAF look to disrupt Russian logistics supplies.
Russian forces board a civilian vessel in the Black Sea. Source: @FunkerActual
- Over the past few months, the Russian rouble has experienced a significant decline, prompting the country’s central bank to intervene in an effort to arrest the downward trend.
- The Russian central bank has increased its key interest rate to 12%, in an urgent effort to counteract the recent decline of the rouble in response from the Kremlin demand for stricter monetary measures. Previously, the government had remained passive as the devaluing rouble offered benefits to its budget. However, the risk of increased costs for ordinary citizens due to a weaker currency has prompted the government to take action and prevent further depreciation. Russia is experiencing reduced overseas sales, particularly evident in declining earnings from oil and natural gas whilst simultaneously increasing imports. Exchanging roubles for foreign currencies contributes to the rouble’s devaluation. Additionally, Russia’s once substantial trade surplus, which supported the currency due to elevated oil prices and decreased imports after the Ukraine invasion, has diminished. However, this year oil prices have dropped, and selling oil has become more intricate due to Western sanctions. These sanctions are hampering Russia but haven’t caused the economy to collapse. Western nations have boycotted Russian oil and imposed a cap on oil exports to non-western countries, reducing exports and pressuring the rouble. These measures force Russia to sell oil at a discount and adopt measures such as using ghost tankers beyond the sanctions’ reach. Russian bank officials as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin have stated that the hike in interest rates will not risk the country’s financial stability. However, despite these assertions, it has been assessed that the interest rate increases are unlikely to put a swift halt to the rouble’s decline which will have severe implications for Putin’s ability to wage war. Russia likely won’t be able to sustain the conflict indefinitely due to the rouble’s continuous decline. Western economists have stated that conditions are favourable for western powers to escalate sanctions against Russia, with the objective of curtailing Russia’s financial capacity for ongoing and future military operations in Ukraine, as well as further afield – perhaps restricting Wagner mercenary operations in Africa. Nonetheless, this economic predicament is unlikely to deter Putin. The state of Russia’s economy, while challenging, has demonstrated more resilience than anticipated, attributed to substantial oil income and significant government expenditure on war-related production.
As the Ukraine-Russia conflict continues to evolve, several key factors are shaping the trajectory of the conflict and indicating potential developments in the short to medium term. Ukraine's strategic moves and the response of Russian forces are critical in this dynamic landscape which we will likely see ebb and flow with varying commitment from both sides as both Russia and Ukraine prepare for Autumn and Winter. Ukraine's recent acquisition of 155mm artillery shells through a resupply from South Korea, facilitated by the US, have reportedly provided a significant boost to Ukrainian firepower and ammunition reserves. These artillery shells, coupled with successful ongoing mine clearance efforts, are likely to be instrumental in exploiting gaps in the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET). This tactical advantage enables Ukrainian forces to maintain pressure on Russian positions and push forward along strategic axes. However, it is important to note that as we see Ukrainian successes in the southern oblasts, we must consider the realistic possibility Russian forces are withdrawing troops from the area to capitalise on Russian successes in the East, around Bakhmut and in Kharkiv Oblast.
Furthermore, as Ukraine's Independence Day on 24 August approaches, an uptick in military activities is expected. This could involve an increase in long-range strikes and drone attacks targeting Ukrainian Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), port facilities, perceived enemy positions in residential areas, and Governmental Infrastructure. Such actions are often employed to assert dominance, gain psychological advantage, and send strategic messages during significant national events.
The conflict's future trajectory hinges on the interplay of these factors. While Ukraine's enhanced arsenal and strategic advances offer a favourable outlook, potential shifts in Russian deployments and the response to Independence Day activities remain influential variables. As the situation remains fluid, Prevail Partners will closely monitor how these elements interact to determine the next phase of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.