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.
- As of 4 June 2023, footage circulated on social media channels of a Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) Officer, Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col) Roman Venevitin, reportedly detained by Wagner forces. According to the footage, Lt. Col. Venevitin and his troops conducted a failed ambush against Wagner forces transiting east out of Bakhmut, with Wagner winning the firefight. Lt. Col Venevitin and his troops were reportedly drunk at the time, and a somewhat sobered up and ruffed up Lt. Col. appeared in the footage explaining his actions were down to animosity against Wagner forces. An open-source intelligence (OSINT) group, Bellingcat, have revealed Lt. Col Venevitin to be the commander of the 72nd Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade, who are known to have been fighting in Bakhmut in recent months.
Footage of the captured RFAF officer after a failed ambushed against Wager Forces. Source: @igorsushko
- Russian officials made several claims throughout the reporting period that the UAF has started its counteroffensive. This included proclaiming that the UAF conducted large-scale offensive operations across five sectors, plus amplification by former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. However, these claims continue to be refuted by Ukrainian officials, maintaining a media blackout on the scale and intent of its tactical operations.
- Despite this lack of clarity, UAF shaping activity continued, with notable events reported across the following fronts:
- Reports suggest that the UAF successfully made territorial advances to the north and south-west flanks of Bakhmut. The settlement of Berkhovka (AKA Berkhivka), situated to the north, has been at the centre of hostilities. Russian sources claim it is under RFAF control; however, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Ukrainian officials have separately claimed that the UAF have made advances in the western portion of the settlement.
- Klischiivka, to the south of Bakhmut, has also observed an uptick in skirmishes between both sides. Ukrainian sources stated that the RFAF have withdrawn following a UAF pincer movement assault. Other locations where RFAF are under contact include Ivaniska, and Krasna Hora.
- In Donetsk Oblast, UAF continue to repel RFAF ground attacks on Marinka. Russian activity in this area remains indicative of a medium-term encirclement objective, currently being conducted on two flanks. Whilst it defends in Marinka, UAF units continue to probe RFAF defensive lines in the vicinity of Avdiivka and also further south near Velyka Kovosilka.
- On 7 June 2023, Russian officials accused the UAF of damaging an ammonia pipeline near Masyutivka settlement, Kharkiv Oblast. Ukrainian officials deny any involvement in this incident, attributing the attack to RFAF following a period of sustained artillery bombardment on 5 & 6 June 2023. The pipeline runs from Togliatti, Russia, to Odessa Port, Ukraine.
- RFAF continue to conduct air strikes against major urban settlements, deploying Shahed-136 UAVs; Kh-101/555 cruise missiles; and S-300 surface-to-air missiles in a ground attack role. Ukrainian officials claim that they have managed to successfully intercept most munitions throughout the reporting period.
- All-Russian pro-Ukrainian forces, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) continue to conduct tactical incursions into Belgorod Oblast. Elements of both groups are reported to be situated in Novaya Tavolzhanka.
Video reported to show UAF conducting assaults of RFAF positions near Klischiivka. Source: @KrzysztofJano15
- The 72nd Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade were reported to have been covering the flanks to the south of Bakhmut, however highly publicised footage showed elements fleeing positions and ceding ground to UAF. This highly likely put additional pressure on Wagner forces still fighting on the western edge of the urban centre back in early May 2023. Wagner-owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, quickly took to social media to deride the ability of RFAF, and it is likely that Lt. Col. Venevitin had incurred additional repercussions by his chain of command. It is likely that this is a much more extreme example of the general animosity which is felt between all the different elements which fight within the ‘Special Military Operation’ (SMO), however this is a serious escalation from animosity to conducting deliberate fratricide. Regardless, it is highly likely evidence of tensions which progress from professional competitiveness between commanders, to the overbrimming of personal vendettas. This is highly likely a consequence of disorganised and possibly corrupt (regarding the acquisition of lethal aid) RFAF command and control between supposedly mutually supporting elements. Although Wagner have a reputation for dispensing brutal punishments (although Lt. Col. Venevitin appeared to have bruising to the face), given that his actions have been made public, and likely also his rank – it is likely that Wagner will follow due process and hand him over to the Rosgvardia, (the Russian National Guard). Rosgvardia have been known to deal with serious discipline issues within RFAF, the most notable example being their deployment to Vuhledar, Donetsk Oblast, in February 2023 to deal with rioting troops who refused to take part in combat operations.
News outlet reported to show Russian video footage of damage to ammonia pipeline in Kharkiv Oblast. Source: @nexta_tv
- The UAF counteroffensive and the shaping activity during this reporting period remains the focal point of discussion. The multi-dimensional threat, as reported previously, remains in-play with the UAF command retaining a close hold on operational details in a likely effort to pressurise the RFAF to maintaining a level of alertness across both the Eastern and Southern Fronts. Ukrainian officials indicated that they are looking to transfer from a defensive to an offensive posture near Bakhmut. Evidence of increased ground attacks to the north and south-west flanks will likely be met with increased reinforcements from degraded RFAF units, and possibly augmented by battle experienced Wagner personnel. However, the concerns raised by several Russian milbloggers in the last seven days illustrates the potential for further RFAF setbacks. This will put RFAF supply lines at risk due to UAF fire control and translate into other opportunities for the UAF to penetrate RFAF defensive lines in areas where Russian units remain ill-equipped, barely reconstituted, and lacking command and control elements – both along Eastern and Southern Fronts. Therefore, Russian attempts to control the tactical media picture were to be expected, exploiting the ‘fog of war’ and lack of information from Ukrainian sources. Yet this approach hasn’t been as effective due to the contestation within its own ranks – notably Prigozhin – and is unlikely to abate going forward. RFAF strikes into urban settlements continue to feed into its short-term strategy, another way to attempt to deflect from the tactical situation. However, as many commentators have suggested, the RFAF’s supply of precision guided munitions is decreasing which has resulted in reliance on Shahed-136 UAVs. The UAF has demonstrated up until this juncture that it is capable of using ‘less prestigious’ air defence systems to combat this threat, adding to the list of immediate Russian operational concerns in the current phase of the conflict.
Video reported to show member of the RDK stationed in Novaya Tavolzhanka, claiming that the group controls the settlement. Source: @Doranimated
Operational / Strategic Military
- During the early hours of the 6 June 2023, the Nova Kakhovka dam suffered severe damage consistent with an explosion. This destruction is causing serious flooding of the Dnipro River Delta, surrounding wetlands, and settlements along the shoreline. Evacuation operations of the affected areas have been ongoing, with over 80 settlements reportedly affected. The dam, forming an integral part of the reservoir along the Dnipro River for the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) is reported to be draining at 15-20cm per hour, with the reservoir likely to be empty by the end of the week, and potentially still yet to flood settlements 120km downstream. Initial concerns regarding the potential dangers to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) 100km north-east have since been alleyed, with neutral representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) located there stating that there was sufficient water within its own reservoir and posed no danger.
The Ukrainian Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, posted before and after satellite imagery of the destroyed dam at Nova Kakhovka. Source: @oleksiireznikov
Ukrainian mil-bloggers have also posted before and after satellite imagery, showing the scale of the flooding. Source: @Tatarigami_UA
- The Ukrainian Government accused Russia of being responsible for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam. RFAF have reportedly been in control of the dam for approximately a year and would highly likely have had access to the dam in order to emplace explosives sub-surface, however the exact method of the damage cannot be verified. Russia counter-claimed that Ukraine was responsible due the failed counteroffensive, accusing Ukraine of resorting to desperate measures. Given that UAF are still in the height of shaping operations for the counteroffensive, and no activity at this stage indicates that a largescale counteroffensive has begun; it is highly likely that Russia is responsible for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam. RFAF conducted similar activity on 25 May 2023 20km west of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast: shelling of a dam in the Karlovsky Reservoir, Karlivka. The damage to the dam also caused significant flooding downstream, leading to a mass evacuation and rescue efforts for stranded residents. Russia’s denial is highly likely an example of Russian disinformation that seeks to get ahead of its own failings (regarding the utility of the flooding) or to accept responsibility for the perpetration of war crimes. The Dnipro River has been a delineation of Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast on the east (left) bank, with UAF defenders liberating the west (right) bank in November 2022. Since this time, there has been near constant shelling by both sides, as well as raids and reconnaissance operations, particularly in the islands of the Dnipro River Delta area. RFAF have highly likely sought to prevent UAF from launching counterattacks from the Kherson area and have escalated these defences to the destruction of the dam. It is highly likely that RFAF are threatened by the prospect of a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south, as success would provide UAF the ability to isolate the Crimean Peninsula. Footage purporting to show RFAF troops wading through flood water indicate it is highly likely that ground forces were unaware and unprepared for the disaster. This likely demonstrates the level of risk that the RFAF is willing to take against its own forces. Additionally, the scale of the flood, being that RFAF are fleeing defensive positions with only what they can carry, also likely indicates losses of weapons, munitions, and equipment, which would almost certainly be required for troops in defence. As such, it is highly likely that the loss of the Crimea is a strategic red line to the Kremlin, and therefore the RFAF have sought to impede UAF counter offensive activity by any means necessary. Whilst it has been stated by President Volodymyr Zelensky that the environmental crisis caused by the flooding will not impact the counteroffensive, it has possibly caused a delay, due to the large-scale evacuation effort.
Footage on a telegram channel purports to show RFAF troops wading through high flood water after their defensive positions on an island in the Dnipro River Delta became flooded in Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast. Source: @t.me/dva_majors
On 25 May 2023, RFAF shelled a dam on the Karlovsky Reservoir, Karlovka, Donetsk Oblast (approx. 20km west of Avdiivka). Causing flooding downstream and evacuations of residents.
This reporting period has seen Russian disinformation operations increase especially in its response to accused UAF counteroffensive activity. There is no activity at the information cut off to suggest that Russian allegations of the UAF counteroffensive activity has begun, nor is there any evidence to suggest that RFAF have been as victorious as the Russian Ministry of Defence claims. This level of disinformation is highly likely intended to add to the delay of accurate information in order to intensify the fog of war; affecting UAF morale yet garner Russian domestic popular support. In a continuation from the last reporting period, RFAF are still reportedly dealing with an incursion within its borders of the Belgorod Oblast. As such, Russia is likely also having to conduct something of a regain domestically, which will highly likely increase the intensity and frequency of denials associated with UAF gains, deflecting blame away from Russia (regarding catastrophic environmental and humanitarian damage), and amplifying inaccurate battlefield victories. Conversely, the Ukrainian MoD has released its media campaign video of keeping silent regarding counteroffensive operations – taking both the moral high ground and invoking the “loose lips sink ships” mentality. It is a realistic possibility that RFAF personnel fleeing the flooding on the left bank of the Dnieper River will be reorientated north in Zaporizhia and used to bolster defences around Tokmak and Polohy – where Russian sources believe the UAF counter-offensive main effort will lie.