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.
- Ukrainian defence officials claimed that fighting in eastern Ukraine had intensified along the eastern front with Russian forces conducting offensive operations in the direction of Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast. In spite of this recent Russian attacking posture, Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) maintained their counteroffensive advancements along 3 axes of the front during the reporting period. The key areas of progression are:
- Russian sources asserted that Ukrainian forces continued to make notable gains north and south of Bakhmut, liberating the settlement of Zaliznyanske (situated 13km north of Bakhmut), elevated terrain close to Klishchiivka, allowing Ukrainian forces to establish fire control over the city of Bakhmut, as well as claiming areas west of Andriivka (situated 10km south of Bakhmut).
- The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that the UAF are solidifying newly taken positions in the Velyka Novosilka-Urozhaine directions.
- Ukrainian forces continue limited advancements in the directions of Melitopol and Berdyansk, western Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
- Both Russian and Ukrainian sources have reported Russian offensive activity taking place in the Kupiansk region. Ukrainian sources claimed that Russia has amassed 100,000 troops, 900 tanks and 555 artillery systems along the Lyman-Kupiansk axis. Contradictory reporting is also available, with claims that the RFAF is unable to mass that amount of equipment and large troop numbers without being observed and struck.
Reporting of the RFAF troop build-up on the Kupyansk axis. Source: @sentdefender
- It is likely that Russian forces are conducting offensive operations along the Lyman-Kupyansk front with the aim of taking advantage of Ukrainian forces’ greater focus on other axes further south. The likely objective will be to divert Ukrainian reserves from crucial areas, particularly from Bakhmut, western Donetsk and western Zaporizhzhia Oblast regions, where Ukrainian forces are carrying out effective counteroffensive operations. According to reports from both Ukrainian and Russian sources, “Storm-Z” assault units have been deployed towards the Kupiansk direction. Captured fighters within “Storm-Z” units, which are comprised from convicts from Russia’s penal system, have claimed that they suffer from poor morale, incompetent leadership, and inadequate equipment, and when given the chance to surrender to Ukrainian forces, they do so en masse. Therefore, due to the subpar quality and structure of these Russian troops, it is expected that their capabilities will be limited to achieving only minor tactical advances and will not be able to make any noteworthy breakthroughs from an operational standpoint. Russia’s reliance on using such poorly trained and equipped troops likely further indicates that Russia is lacking in numbers of operational reserve units, an assessment made in Prevail Partner’s previous Newsroom Update. Russian forces have also bolstered their forces, including airborne troops, in the area of Bakhmut in order to block and defeat Ukrainian counteroffensive actions. Furthermore, in recent weeks the media have repeatedly stated that Ukraine’s counteroffensive operations have hit roadblocks and aren’t advancing at the rate that Western allies had initially hoped for. Ukrainian authorities have not shied away from these accusations and have responded by asserting that Ukrainian forces are intentionally advancing at a slower rate in order to avoid high casualties as a result of heavily mined areas - highlighting deficiencies in western-provided and organic mine-clearing equipment. Fundamentally, de-mining apparatus is required to enable mechanised formations to carry out tactical manoeuvres against prepared defences. As scarcity of engineering mobility equipment continues, infantrymen supported by artillery shoulder the burden of advancing the front line. As a result, progress is constrained to yards/metres instead of kilometres/miles. Without an increase in obstacle breaching equipment from NATO nations or a major breakthrough of Russian defensive lines, it is almost certain that the high casualty rate and bloody attritional warfare will continue.
Video footage of Ukrainian offensive activity. Source: @NOELreports
Operational / Strategic Military
- Russian military commanders continue to be removed from their posts by the senior Russian command. Notably, the commanders are being removed from Russia’s most combat effective units currently conducting offensive and defensive operations in major axes of the front.
- The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out a strike on the Kerch Bridge, which connects the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, in the early hours of 17 July 2023. Russian authorities claimed that 2 Ukrainian seaborne drones struck the bridge, killing 2 people and injuring a child.
Video footage of damage caused to the Kerch Bridge. Source: @Global_Intel
- Last week, Ivan Popov, the former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army, was dismissed from his command due to his criticisms of the Russian military command, particularly Gerasimov. Popov’s criticisms appear to have exacerbated existing fractures within the Russian military leadership, as ever more senior Russian military commanders are being removed from their posts. Recent reports state that Major General Vladimir Seliverstov, commander of 106th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division, and Major General Alexander Kornev, commander of 7th VDV Division, have been discharged of their commands, likely due to acts of insubordination. Additionally, some Russian sources claim that Major General Ramil Ibatullin, commander of the 90th Tank Division, was arrested alongside two of his deputies. There have also been reports that Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky, the commander of the VDV may also face arrest. These reports are unconfirmed yet, but Teplinsky was closely affiliated with the former Wagner leader, Prigozhin, and it is likely that the Russian military command is ousting figures who are insubordinate and could potentially challenge their leadership. Teplinsky has previously been vocal in his criticism of the RuMoD’s execution of the Russia-Ukraine war and has garnered respect amongst his VDV units, as evidenced by a leaked audio message in which soldiers of the 7th VDV Division threated to extract from their positions if Teplinsky was arrested. The continual removal of successful and respected commanders will likely have resounding impacts for the RuMoD; insubordination could continue to grow amongst Russian soldiers, and a mass desertion from some of Russia’s most combat capable forces would have serious effects on Russian defensive and offensive capability. Notably, the commanders who have vocalised their criticisms of the RuMoD have escaped serious punishment which is likely to encourage further acts of insubordination from commanders wanting to defend their soldiers.
- The Kremlin claimed that Ukrainian security services used two explosive-laden unmanned, underwater drones to target the Kerch Bridge from beneath the roadway. The attack was carried out in the early hours of the 17 July 2023 and killed 2 adults and injured a child. Kyiv has not yet responded to the accusations; however, the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) sent a message on Telegram indicating that the Ukrainian Government was responsible for the attack. The Kerch Bridge is both of symbolic and strategic importance to the Russian government; it is the only direct link between Russia and Crimea and has been used as a main supply route for Russian forces fighting in southern occupied Ukraine, including Crimea, and was a flagship project for Putin following the annexation of Crimea. Although Kyiv has not admitted carrying out the attack, it is, however, almost certain that the bridge was partially destroyed by friendly actors for the benefit of Ukrainian's strategic aim. Ukraine continues to strike a number of logistical supply hubs deep into occupied territory with the intent to disrupt Russian logistics and supply chains. Russian authorities were quick to announce that damage to the infrastructure of the bridge was not serious and that rail and road traffic on the bridge would be quickly repaired. However, video footage following the attacks shows that one road span of the bridge had collapsed whilst the other remained intact despite taking damage. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin stated on 18 July 2023 that one lane of the bridge has been reopened for vehicle traffic and that the bridge would be fully repaired by 01 November 2023. Despite the bridge not being fully destroyed it will likely create short and medium-term problems for the Russian logistical supply chain. The further lack of supplies to front line troops will only serve to exacerbate the issues that commanders, such as Popov and Seliverstov, have already announced, and as has already been discussed, will likely push others to vocalise their discontent with the Russian military command and RuMoD.
- On 17 July 2023, Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, a United Nations brokered deal that allowed the safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.
- The Black Sea grain deal, facilitated by the United Nations and Turkey approximately a year ago, aimed to establish a secure route for Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea. This initiative was necessitated by the cessation of shipments following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and subsequent blockades of its seaports. In accordance with the agreement, a joint Coordination Centre was established to oversee ship inspections and to monitor their activities. The deal specifically encompassed three Ukrainian ports situated along the Black Sea coast: Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. Before the onset of the war, Ukraine generated sufficient food exports to sustain 400 million individuals and exported approximately 5 million metric tons of grains per month through its Black Sea ports. However, following Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s agricultural output plummeted to zero. This drastic reduction in supply severed the connections between net-importing countries, significantly impacting impoverished countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Additionally, the global food market experienced a surge in prices as a result of these events, impacting nations worldwide. The U.N. brokered deal helped to reduce food prices and saw 33 metric tons of food produce exported to 45 countries. The deal also allowed Russia to ship food and fertiliser despite the western sanctions placed on its government. However, despite the allowances on Russia to export its own goods, the Kremlin has continuously stated that it won’t extend the Black Sea grain initiative unless Western sanctions were removed, in particular that the Russian agricultural bank is reconnected to the SWIFT international payments system. Following Russia’s decision to pull out of the initiative, there have been concerns that global food prices will surge once again however, the current global food situation exhibits a decreased level of volatility compared to the previous year. This is in part due to efforts of other countries to offset Ukraine’s grain losses through their own increased production. This counterbalancing action has primarily involved nations from both South America and Europe. Additionally, Ukraine has been dispatching substantial quantities of grain through Eastern European nations since the initial blockade of its Black Sea ports. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that these land routes handle lesser volumes in comparison to sea shipments. It is also important to highlight that Ukraine’s grain exports through Europe have aroused discontent among certain European nations, namely Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, alleging that such shipments have undermined local supplies. Despite this discontentment, the EU is looking to bolster transportation of Ukrainian grain by road and rail, and Croatia has offered its railway network and ports in the Adriatic Sea to help with the transportation of Ukrainian grain. It is likely that Russia decided to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative a while ago as it deemed the deal no longer beneficial to its interests. To conceal this disinformation, Russia has asserted that its departure is based on concerns about the safety of civilian ships due to Ukrainian mines and alleges that Ukraine was exploiting the grain corridor for military purposes without substantiating these accusations. The consequences of the Kremlin playing hardball over their stance on the Black Sea grain deal are likely to be far less severe than they hoped and any scope for relieving western sanctions will almost certainly not be met.
In the wake of the Ukrainian attack on the Kerch Bridge, there has been an increase in tit-for-tat strike activity between Russia and Ukraine. Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) have carried out targeted airstrikes in retaliation for the supposed Ukrainian strike on the Kerch Bridge, consisting of the Iranian-made Shahed 131/136 drones and Kalibr cruise missiles, against military installations in southern Ukraine. The RuMoD stated that the strikes on military facilities, predominantly in Odesa and Mykolaiv, have destroyed fuel depots as well as causing damage to port infrastructure. Ukrainian forces have since carried out their own reprisal attacks on the Crimean port of Sevastopol, with Kyrylo Budanov, Head of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, releasing a message stating that the destruction of an ammunition warehouse in Crimea was a successful operation of the UAF. It is likely that we will see escalatory retaliatory strikes occur between Russia and Ukraine in the coming days, with Ukrainian strike action primarily targeting Russian logistics hubs. Furthermore, China and Russia are hosting a joint military exercise in the Sea of Japan demonstrating a deepening collaboration between the two nations. Despite China not funding Russia’s war in Ukraine, they have been complicit in supporting Putin’s invasion in a diplomatic sense. However, as tensions between the US and China grows, and Russia faces criticisms from senior commanders regarding insufficiencies in equipment, Russia will want to strengthen its ties with the Chinese government with the aim of securing shipments of Chinese weaponry.
Aftermath of a successful Ukrainian strike on an ammunition warehouse in Crimea. Source: @bayraktar_1love.