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 Armed Forces (UAF) have continued pursuing four axes of advance along the front line during this reporting period. The current axes continue to be:
- The flanks of Bakhmut city - UAF made further advances towards Klischivka (7km south), and Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km north-west).
- Advances south of previously reported “de-occupied” towns near Velyka Novosilka, Donetsk Oblast have continued, yet have slowed in comparison to the last reporting period.
- South of Orikhiv, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, UAF continued to advance up to 7km.
- P’yatykhaky, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, (25km west of Orikhiv) was “de-occupied” during this reporting period.
- The UAF have reported the repelling of localised Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) activity west of Kreminna, towards Torske and Yampolivka, and south-west of Kreminna towards Dibrova, as well as south of Avdiivka towards Marinka, all within Donetsk Oblast. Additionally, the RFAF have unsuccessfully conducted attacks north-east of Svatove, Luhansk Oblast, in Novoselivske.
UAF compiled footage of counteroffensive activity in P’yatykhaky, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, during this reporting period. Source: @bayraktar_1love
- As the counteroffensive has continued, there have been critical observations by Western commentators that the offensive has not been progressing quickly enough. President Zelensky was quick to defend the UAF, by stating that war “is not a Hollywood movie”. Whilst this counteroffensive is unlikely to replicate the pace and progression of the November 2022 offensive, the UAF have made considerable progress given that it has still unlikely moved into the decisive phase. It is therefore highly likely that “de-occupation” continues to be a result of UAF initiative during recce-in-force operations. The striking of the ammunition depot in Rykove, Kherson Oblast (in more detail below), highly likely shows that shaping operations are still ongoing, as does the retention of the operational reserve. The slowing of UAF counteroffensive activity in this reporting period, compared to that of the last reporting period, does indicate a likely tactical pause, which is to be expected, and will highly likely ebb and flow during this stage of the conflict. It is also likely intended to observe RFAF responses to possible threats against their defensive line.
- The unsuccessful RFAF attacks elsewhere on the frontline are likely based on the assumption that UAF are unable to respond, due to commitments on their current axes of advance. However, the successful defence is likely indicative of UAF ensuring that their defensive lines have remained firm and appropriately staffed regardless of counteroffensive activity taking place. The RFAF are likely still under pressure to achieve their main efforts of occupying the entirety of the Donetsk Oblast and advancing further west into Kharkiv Oblast (to re-occupy what was lost in November 2022). This is all likely to demonstrate to the Russian domestic audience that the RFAF is an effective fighting force, able to complete its objectives. Likely somewhat embarrassingly for the RFAF, its Airbourne Forces (VDV) operating west of Kreminna, have been unable to advance, and have likely still not recovered from heavy losses suffered in November 2022 when they were pushed out of Kyiv. Therefore, save for the eventual occupation of Bakhmut City after a long attritional battle, the RFAF have had significantly little gain, and are highly likely settling into a defensive position.
OSINT mapping of heavy UAF/RFAF clashes in P’yatykhaky, Zaporizhzhia Oblast. RFAF continue to falsely claim it has been retaken. Source: @NOELreports
Operational / Strategic Military
- On 18 June 2023, the UAF targeted a RFAF ammunition depot in the Russian occupied town of Rykove, Kherson Oblast, approximately 170km south-east from Kherson. The commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, Lieutenant General (Lt. Gen.) Mykola Oleshchuk, confirmed the strike, and published footage of the explosion on his social media, where black plumes of smoke and secondary detonations could be seen.
A satellite imagery comparison between 18 May 2023 and 19 June 2023 of the extensive damage to the RFAF ammunition depot by UAF targeting. Source: @Tendar
- Given the catastrophic damage to the ammunition depot, its distance from the frontline within Russian occupied territory, and confirmation from Lt. Gen. Oleshchuk of a strike being conducted; it is almost certain that the UAF conducted this strike using British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles. Secondary detonations almost certainly confirm the location as an ammunition depot as munitions sympathetically detonate or deflagrate. The Newsroom has previously assessed that UAF cruise missile capability will highly likely force RFAF logistic nodes further from the frontline, and it is almost certain that RFAF knew the range of Storm Shadow cruise missiles (approx. 560km). However, Rykove is approximately 150km from the frontline and 20km from the Sea of Azov, it is unlikely that it would be able to fulfil its purpose were it further from the forward edge of the battle area. It is therefore highly likely that this ammunition depot had been established before the gifting of Storm Shadow, with RFAF likely accepting risk due to no other option, possibly on the basis of Air Defence assets, due to its location alongside road and rail Ground Lines of Communication (GLoCs). These GLoCs are approx. 70km from the Dzhankoy RFAF logistic node in the Crimea, which had previously been struck by UAF UAVs in late March 2023, reportedly destroying a shipment of RFAF Kalibr Cruise missiles. It is highly likely though that given the location of Rykove, 75km south-west of Melitopol, and 125km from Tokmak on the same axis (highly likely another important logistic node and GLOC interchange), it consisted of munitions such as small arms ammunition, and artillery rounds required for RFAF defence of the frontline. It is highly likely that RFAF will have a reduced daily rate of fire along the entirety of the frontline as a consequence, with other ammunition depots having to supplement areas of the frontline which relied on Rykove, or else these locations would be left exposed and weakened, setting the conditions for a UAF breakthrough. Additionally, it is also likely that other munitions were present at Rykove such as land mines, which are required not only for bolstering defensive standoffs but also for seeding likely UAF routes should there be a breakthrough and RFAF decide to retreat and delay UAF advances. The implications of the loss of Rykove are both tangible and existential for the RFAF, given that no comment has been made by the RFAF or Russian MoD on its targeting and subsequent destruction.
Black plumes of smoke can be seen rising from the RFAF ammunition depot in Rykove, Kherson Oblast, after UAF almost certainly targeted it with Storm Shadow cruise missiles. Source: @TWMCLtd
- The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken visited China during this reporting period. During the visit, Secretary Blinken held meetings with Chinese Foreign Policy official, Wang Yi, and a last-minute meeting with Chinese President, Xi Jinping. After the meetings, Secretary Blinken stated to the media that he believed the Chinese reiteration that there has been and will not be any provision of lethal aid to Russia, due to there being no evidence of supply at this time. However, Secretary Blinken did state that Chinese companies are possibly still providing Russia with technology which aids in the invasion of Ukraine.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken meets with President Xi Jinping in Beijing on 19 June 2023. Source: @SecBlinken
- The visit by Secretary Blinken was initially intended to take place in early 2023 however was delayed due to the Chinese “Spy Balloons” incidents in late January and early February 2023, and is the first US official visit to Beijing since 2018. Overall, the mood was cordial, with Mr. Wang stating that “it is necessary to make a choice between dialogue and confrontation, cooperation or conflict,”. This is highly likely a sly reference to military provocations in recent weeks, with a Chinese Naval vessel cutting off US Navy destroyers in several near collisions over the past fortnight. The US and Canadian Navies have been participating in joint exercises in the Taiwan Strait, which has highly likely been interpreted by China as the US recognising Taiwanese independence. Directly, these interactions have little to do with the Russian invasion of Ukraine; however, it is highly likely symbolic when juxtaposed with the current position of China regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Chinese strategic intent of Taiwan being recognised as Chinese territory. Both China and Russia have spoken openly regarding the level of influence Western countries have strategically and wish to redress the power-balance. US involvement in disputes regarding the South China Sea and Taiwan are highly likely interpreted in much the same way as US/NATO involvement in Ukraine. Whilst China has refrained from providing lethal aid to the RFAF, Chinese State Enterprises, sanctioned by the US have continued to provide dual-use technologies and componentry such as semi-conductors, as well as parts for fighter-jets and Electronic Warfare jamming equipment. Whilst Secretary Blinken spoke of China’s reiteration that it will not provide lethal aid, it is highly likely that Secretary Blinken also reiterated both US and possibly NATO’s position. Regardless, it is highly likely that both the US and China recognised that bi-lateral relations had descended since the start of 2023, and it is likely that this meeting will have contributed in the least to improved communication particularly in the realms of military activity and the prevention of miscalculation. Given that President Xi permitted a meeting with Secretary Blinken in the final hour of his visit, this is likely indicative of improved dialogue and diplomatic relations of the two countries. Overall, however, this improvement is highly unlikely to alter Chinese position on its relationship with Russia and its “neutral” position on the invasion of Ukraine.
At the information cut-off, there had been reports of UAV sightings in the vicinity of a military base in the town of Kalininets, near Moscow, Russia, which according to the Russian MoD, were subsequently destroyed. This is likely a continuation of the Moscow UAV attacks within residential areas, seen in May 2023, likely carried out by all-Russian pro-Ukrainian forces. Whilst at this stage it cannot be confirmed who carried out the latest attempted UAV strike, it indicates, along with the events during the reporting period of the ammunition depot strike and continued initiative on the frontline, that the UAF are maintaining the momentum of a multi-dimensional threat to the RFAF in occupied areas and within Russia itself. It is still highly likely that the UAF are still in the early stages of the counteroffensive, yet also likely setting the tone for RFAF to endure a long and hard defence, not only attriting forces on the frontline, but also making it increasingly difficult to maintain itself logistically with accurate targeting in-depth and attacking the Russian psyche at home. President Zelensky was also likely setting this tone with regards to his statements of war not being a Hollywood movie; RFAF have had adequate time to establish defensive positions, breakthroughs will be costly and take time. However, there are continued reports from Russian Prisoners of War reporting to the Wall Street Journal of ‘mobiks’ and penal recruits being forced through the threat of execution to conduct human wave attacks. This has been seen previously in Bakhmut and Vuhledar, and it amplifies the likely low morale of RFAF troops. It is possible that RFAF voluntary surrender becomes more prominent as the pressure of UAF shaping activity renders RFAF defensive lines untenable due to lack of equipment and willingness to fight.