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.
- During this reporting period Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) maintained their counteroffensive operations along 4 axes of the front. The current areas of focus regarding the counteroffensive are:
- Flanks of Bakhmut – Ukrainian forces launched successful simultaneous attacks advancing between 600 metres and 1000 metres on the southern and northern flanks of Bakhmut.
- Border of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts – Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister stated that UAF captured the settlement of Rivnopil, 10km southwest of Velyka Novosilka.
- South of Kreminna – UAF conducted attacks south of Kreminna, Donetsk Oblast making limited gains in territory.
- Southern Bank of Kherson – An unconfirmed report suggests that Ukrainian forces have crossed the Dnipro River and regained territory, capturing the village of Dachi, on the left bank of Kherson province.
Map depicting recently liberated village of Rivnopil on the border of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts. Source: @ukraine_map
- On 24 June 2023, Russia conducted its most extensive series of missile attacks on Ukraine in recent months; targeting residential areas in Kyiv, Dnipro City and Kryvyi Rih with Kh-101/555 cruise missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles and Shahed-131/136 drones. On 27 June 2023, Russian forces struck a restaurant reported to be popular amongst journalists and military personnel in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, killing at least 9 and injuring 60. Some pro-Russian social media channels are reporting that the location was being used by the UAF for a meeting at the time of the strike.
Video showing the damage caused by air strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine. Source: @WarMonitors
- Previous reporting suggested that counteroffensive activity will see a reduction in pace from UAF which has been observed in the current reporting period. Russian lines of defence have proven to be well-fortified and Russian forces are showing more competence than originally assessed by many analysts, which will have also added to a slowdown in Ukrainian forces counteroffensive operations. However, UAF do continue to slowly attrit Russian forces and have retaken Russian occupied territory, with reports stating that Ukrainian forces having highly likely recaptured land in the country’s eastern Donbas region which has been occupied by Russia since 2014. Additionally, despite the strong Russian defensive lines, Ukrainian authorities claim that since the start of the counteroffensive they have liberated 130 sq. km in the south, including 17 sq. km in the past week. Furthermore, Ukrainian sources also stated that the main push in the Ukrainian counteroffensive is yet to come which is in keeping with assessments that it is highly unlikely that UAF have committed sufficient forces to signal that a full-scale offensive has begun. The Ukrainian capture of Dachi on the left Bank of the Dnipro near Nova Kakhovka keeps Moscow guessing as to where the main attack of the Ukrainian counteroffensive will originate from. It also demonstrates UAF’s ability to continue to conduct probing attacks along the entire front of Russian defensive lines looking for any potential weaknesses to exploit.
- The increased strike activity on 24 June 2023 was likely to signal a show of strength that Russian forces activities in Ukraine were unaffected by the armed rebellion carried out by Prigozhin and his Wagner Group mercenaries. Additionally, the recent targeting of civilian buildings in Kramatorsk is unlikely to signify any change in Russian forces targeting patterns, as they have previously targeted civilian infrastructure in the city, and just highlights Russian forces indiscriminate bombing of Ukrainian settlements. It is also worth noting that civilian objects/locations can be frequented by UAF personnel and become targets. The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) are reported to have detained a Ukrainian civilian that informed the RFAF of the location in which UAF soldiers were eating. The reporting indicates that the RFAF were informed of the potential target mere hours before the strike, demonstrating improved Russian proficiency at conducting long-range strikes against time-sensitive targets.
Operational / Strategic Military
- On 23 June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, conducted an armed rebellion against the government of Russia. Prior to the uprising, the leader of the Russian private military company Wagner Group, accused Russian authorities of carrying out a missile strike on one of his unit’s camps and openly criticised the Russian Government’s handling of the Russian-Ukrainian war, stating that the military leadership had neglected and destroyed the lives of Russian soldiers. The crisis intensified as Prigozhin instigated an armed uprising against the Russian government, with the aim of bringing about a change in leadership amongst the military hierarchy. The Wagner forces effortlessly captured crucial military installations in Rostov-on-Don and proceeded towards Voronezh Oblast, reaching within 330km of Moscow, with little opposition despite Putin stating that the armed rebellion would be met with a strong military response. However, just as events were reaching boiling point, Prigozhin received a phone call from Belarusian President Lukashenko who mediated a deal whereby Prigozhin ceased the rebellion and called for his troops to return to their bases without fear of imprisonment and persecution. For the Prevail Partners initial report on some of the possible consequences, please follow this link.
Wagner Group forces on the street of Rostov-on-Don. Source: @Osinttechnical
- It is highly likely that Prigozhin’s actions arose from being backed into a corner following the Russian Ministry of Defence’s (RuMoD) goal to take control of irregular formations, including Wagner. He therefore likely regarded a rebellion as his only option to retain leadership of the Wagner Group, as well as his wider political power within the Kremlin. Prigozhin’s intent was likely to gain the influence of senior Russian officers and military personnel, but he likely overestimated the level of support that he would garner for his Wagner Group’s forces en route to Moscow. Following the decision taken by Prigozhin, and many of his Wagner Group mercenaries to carry out an armed rebellion, it is difficult to see how Putin and the Kremlin could ever again put their trust in such a unit. However, it is important to understand the value of this unit to Putin’s Kremlin; they have frequently conducted operations unofficially in regions where it was crucial for the Russian government to maintain the appearance of limited involvement, thus offering a means of plausible deniability. Moreover, they have played a vital role in Russia’s attack on Ukraine with Wagner Group forces having been involved in some of the most intense fighting in the war and possess some of the most battle-hardened and experienced troops among all of Russia’s combatants. The failed rebellion will, therefore, highly likely increase the pace of the integration of irregular forces into the RuMoD, who will be keen to retain the services of such highly experienced fighters from the Wagner Group. Having said that, the concentration of Wagner forces absorbed into the Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) is likely to take place in Ukraine whilst it is likely that Wagner forces’ operations in Africa and Syria will continue in the short to medium-term. Yet, the Wagner Group mercenaries’ disposition to integrate into the RuMoD is yet to be seen and could pose a challenging hurdle for the Russian government to overcome, due to their previous loyalty to Prigozhin and their willingness to conduct the rebellion. The armed rebellion is unlikely to have any immediate impact upon the front-line activity of Russian armed forces operating in Ukraine and it is unlikely that Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) will be able to capitalise upon any potential faltering in RFAF fighting capability that could have arisen from such events. What was also a striking observation during the attempted coup was at how ill-prepared and unaware the Kremlin were of the rebellion. Prigozhin had consistently vocalised his discontent at the Russian leadership in the weeks preceding the uprising, yet despite this, Russian intelligence services showcased a surprising lack of awareness of any possible outcomes from the outbursts of such a volatile person. Furthermore, the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) and its subordinate specialist units, OMON and SOBR, were completely ineffective at preventing Wagner Group forces from taking control of military complexes of high importance and also at preventing Russian-on-Russian kinetic activity. Such obvious failings will likely bring about changes in the hierarchy of the security units. The short-term implications of such a major event are unlikely to cause any significant changes to RFAF fighting capability however, the medium to long-term effects could herald greater benefits for both the RFAF and RuMoD. It will force a hastier approach at incorporating irregular forces into the Russian military as well as being able to weed out any disenfranchised units, which will in turn enhance command and control and give rise to greater loyalty to the state, thus improving the fighting capability of the Russian military. There is likely to be a reduction in combat-effectiveness as purges of accused collaborators hamstring the RFAF chain of command and spread mistrust and fear among mid-level leaders. Some reporting also indicates the rapid provision of armour and heavy weapons to internal security units, which are ill-equipped to combat conventional military forces if required to do so. This will also divert some much-needed resource from operations in Ukraine.
Wagner forces reportedly destroyed Russian military aircraft during their failed coup. Source: @UAWeapons
- The extraordinary events of 24 June 2023 have posed the greatest challenge to Russian President Putin’s time in office and have undoubtedly weakened his authority on both a national and international stage. They also reveal the significant weaknesses posed by the Russian government as well as there being a realistic possibility of members of the Kremlin being disgruntled with Putin’s leadership.
- Late on 25 June 2023, China released a statement in which it voiced its backing for Russia reaffirming interests in strengthening their relationship and downplaying the insurrection.
- Prigozhin and his Wagner forces managed to seize control of Rostov-on-Don, home to the command centre for the Southern Military District as well as the entire Russian Forces effort in the Ukraine war, without encountering any resistance. Undertaking such a risky manoeuvre poses the thought that Prigozhin would not have launched his rebellion unless he trusted that senior level military leadership would come to his assistance. Recent reports have stated that US officials believe that Command-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, General Sergey Surovikin along with several other members of Russian military leadership knew about Prigozhin’s possible coup attempt but did not inform the Russian President of it. Additionally, social media footage also shows that Wagner Group forces were seen to be greeted with open arms amongst some of the residents of Rostov-on-Don, indicating that Prigozhin enjoyed backing from a broader segment of the population. Both the factions of the Russian population and military leadership are likely unhappy with Putin due to his inability to lead Russia to victory in the protracted Ukrainian war and the substantial lifestyle changes caused by Western sanctions. Despite Putin’s image having been weakened, it is almost certain that he will not relinquish power and instead will likely be determining who he can trust within his ranks in order to reshuffle the defence ministry in a bid to reassert his control. Both Shoigu and Gerasimov remained quiet during the rebellion but have long been loyal to Putin’s leadership despite the numerous military failings during their tenures. Likewise, Surovikin has long been a valued military leader and brought valuable military expertise to Putin’s government, helping to fortify Russian defences after the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson last year. Reshuffling either of these 3 figures could further damage the stability of Putin’s perceived hold on power and would almost certainly have a negative impact on the operational and strategic levels of the RFAF campaign in Ukraine.
- China waited until after the turmoil had ceased before publicly announcing their support for Russia and Putin in what was a carefully scripted statement. China has long maintained a neutral stance to the Russia-Ukraine war advocating for a comprehensive ceasefire in Ukraine whilst simultaneously showcasing its partnership with Russia. However, despite stating their continued support of their relationship with Russia, the latest developments will have served to provide an unwelcome level of anxiety amongst the Chinese government which could see them distance themselves from Russia in the future; especially if their stance could provoke increased tensions with the US and NATO allies. This could pose potential problems for Russia leaving them further isolated on the international stage.
Report indicating that General Sergey Surovikin had advance knowledge of the coup attempt. Source: @sentdefender
The reporting period has been dominated by the events of 24 June 2023, and to no surprise, as they characterise the fractures that have been circulating within Russia’s military leadership ever since Russia waged war on Ukraine. Regardless of Prigozhin’s coup failing it will doubtless have significant and far-reaching consequences – even if they are not observed in the open-source community. Theories have been circulating that Putin will not be able to survive the Wagner rebellion however, similar assumptions were made of Syria’s dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, during the Syrian Revolution of 2011 and he is still very much in power. These may be slightly different circumstances, but dictators have a way of ensuring that they remain in power even when faced with problematic situations, such as a massed uprising. Putin will need to show that he is in command and could look to exert an even greater level of control over the state, pushing Russia further towards totalitarianism. Prigozhin was bold in his statements, exposing the embarrassing truths of the war to the Russian people: that Russian forces had suffered casualties far beyond what had been reported by Russian authorities and that Kyiv posed no threat to Russia. All of this could force Putin to concentrate efforts into his commitments to the Russia-Ukraine war in a bid to prove that he still remains in control and further exacerbating what is already a brutal conflict.
It is unlikely that Wagner Group will cease their external operations in Africa, as these are important mechanisms for funding the Ukraine operation (through mineral extraction and training/advisory roles) and to maintain allies among African leaders whilst preventing the spread of western/NATO nations’ influence. It is a realistic possibility that in the medium to long term Wagner in Africa will be re-branded, or additional management/leadership brought in to ensure loyalty to the Russian state.