Tactical Military

  • Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) counteroffensive operations continue to be muted during this reporting period. This has been echoed by Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Zaluzhnyi who stated in his essay, “Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It”, that Russian and Ukrainian forces are at a stalemate, akin to that seen in the First World War. He assessed the war in Ukraine as having transitioned into one of a positional nature, driven by technological and tactical equilibrium between the two (2) military forces. 

Ukrainian marines cross the Dnipro River under Russian fire. Source: @ukraine_world

  • General Zaluzhnyi outlined five (5) key operational components to overcome the positional impasse that is being experienced from both sides:
  • 1. Gaining Air Superiority: In modern warfare, achieving air superiority is crucial for successful large-scale ground operations, a concept embraced by both NATO and Russia. When the conflict began, the UAF has 120 tactical aircraft, with only 40 in usable condition, and 33 anti-aircraft missile battalions, of which only 18 had fully operationally equipment. With the support of Partner Nations, Ukraine has bolstered its aviation and air defence systems, receiving fighter and attack aircraft, along with an increase in anti-aircraft missile systems. This assistance has resulted in significant losses for Russian forces, both in aircraft and air defence systems. However, despite these losses, the enemy maintains considerable air superiority, severely complicating the advancement of Ukrainian troops. 
  • 2. Breaching Mine Barriers in Depth: Another critical factor that has shifted the nature of the current conflict into a positional form is the extensive use of mine barriers by both sides but predominantly by Russia. At the start of the war, UAF had limited equipment and resources for breaching mine barriers, with some of the equipment being outdated. Support from Western partners allowed for a slight improvement in mine clearing units’ capabilities, using equipment such as the M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC). However, Russian forces have deployed mine barriers with extremely high density along crucial axes, extending up to 15-20 kilometres in depth. Russian forces also use reconnaissance drones to detect and target Ukrainian mine and obstacle clearing units, and when UAF successfully breach mine barriers, Russian forces rapidly restore minefields using remote mine-laying systems. Nevertheless, in response, the UAF are effective in using reconnaissance and fire systems to detect and eliminate the enemy’s engineer equipment for demining. The situation results in both sides encountering significant challenges and sustaining substantial material and personnel losses during offensive operations.
  • 3. Counter-Battery: Throughout the Russia-Ukraine war, missile and artillery forces have played a substantial role in offensive and defensive posturing. Counter-battery operations have become a crucial aspect of this war due to both forces prioritising the countering of the enemy’s artillery fire in order to mount successful ground troop offensives. When the UAF received Western missile and artillery weapons, they gained an advantage in counter-battery efforts, particularly with precision-guided munitions. However, Russian electronic warfare has reduced the precision of such munitions. To maintain and enhance their artillery superiority, Russian forces increased artillery density and the use of conventional ammunition. To counter this, Ukraine employed rocket artillery systems, such as HIMARS against enemy targets. Although a substantial number of missiles were used, Ukraine managed to achieve a rough parity with the numerically superior Russian artillery by focusing on accuracy over quantity.
  • 4. Preparation of Reserve Units: Russian forces possess approximately three (3) times the mobilisation forces in comparison to Ukraine. However, RFAF have struggled to turn this advantage into a significant combat strength superiority against Ukraine due to various political, organisational, and motivational factors. Vladimir Putin is hesitant to implement a general mobilisation due to concerns about growing social tension and the risk of a political crisis, especially in the run-up to the presidential election. Russia faces limitations in training mobilised citizens and providing them with necessary equipment. Substantial personnel losses have led to a reluctance among the Russian civilian population to be conscripted and participate in the war. On the Ukrainian side, despite efforts to improve the reserve creation and training process, challenges remain. Training reserves within Ukraine are constrained because Russian forces target training centres and grounds with missile and air strikes. The protracted war fighting, difficulties in rotating soldiers on the front lines, and legal gaps that allow some people to evade mobilisation reduces citizens’ motivations to serve in the military. Although these issues are acknowledged and solutions are being sought, Ukraine will be unable to surpass Russia’s reserve numbers.
  • 5. Enhancement of Electronic Warfare (EW): RFAF have long prioritised the development of EW capabilities, even establishing an air component for EW. RFAF possess approximately 60 forms of modern EW equipment, even ensuring that the majority of outdated equipment has been upgraded. One notable advantage of Russian EW is the production of “trench EW” systems, such as “Silok” and “Piton” which are widely used at the tactical level. Ukraine, on the other hand, initially relied on former Soviet jamming stations, with limited newer equipment. Ukraine has improved its EW capabilities with international assistance and as a result Ukraine has achieved near parity in EW with Russia, complicating the chances of either side gaining a significant advantage. Despite Russian forces having strategic superiority, they have been unable to fully execute their plans, making countering Russia’s military-political objectives a costly endeavour for Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces eliminate Russian forces along the Dnipro River. Source: @Ukraine_Oracle

  • As of 6 November 23, Ukrainian forces have maintained their positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. Russian milbloggers stated that Ukrainian forces continue to hold an area within Krynky, located approximately 2km inland, despite Russian attempts to dislodge them from the bank of the Dnipro. Additionally, UAF personnel also expanded their control over positions located north of the settlement of Podstepnoye, Kherson Oblast, located approximately 20km west of Krynki. Ukrainian forces continue to hold out from intense Russian bombardment as well as making incremental gains in a highly difficult riverine operating environment.

So What?

  • Zaluzhnyi’s report has highlighted the rifts that are occurring in the Ukrainian military and civilian spheres and comes at a time when support for Ukraine’s protracted war effort has started to cause divisions to appear among its international supporters. Drawing attention to Ukraine’s difficulties in spearheading its counteroffensive operations against Russia only likely serves to strengthen the ideologies of those who wish to pull the funding and support for Ukraine and implement a peace deal which sees Russia retain or expand the currently occupied territory.
  • There has been little change on the battlefield throughout the entirety of the frontline. Russian forces made limited territorial gains along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kremina. However, 250 former Wagner Group mercenaries have been deployed to this area of the front in order to manage the offensive operations of Storm-Z units. The Private Military Company, Wagner Group, were among the most accomplished of Russia’s fighting force, playing a critical role in capturing Bakhmut. It is likely that in the short term that the redeployment of Wagner forces will have a limited impact. However, given their superior tactical abilities, from previous combat deployments, the longer they are deployed to the region it is likely Russia will see marginal gains. The fact that Wagner mercenaries are now under the direct control of the state will likely increase the chance of them remaining in the region for an extended period. It is therefore unlikely they will be redeployed on a whim as was seen under Yevgeny Prigozhin. 
  • At the moment progress in the region has likely slowed. This is likely due to Ukrainian forces being deployed in support of operations around Avdiivka, where Russian forces are deployed in large numbers and conducting large-scale offensive operations. However, as the Winter season approaches and the ground hardens, there is a realistic possibility that conditions will become favourable to allow for further Ukrainian forces to deploy into occupied Kherson and to build on the recent successes in the region.

Operational / Strategic Military

  • On 4 November 23, Ukrainian forces launched a successful strike on the Zalyv Shipyard in Kerch, occupied Crimea. According to Ukrainian military officials, the strike targeted Russian marine and port infrastructure, with the strike inflicting damage on a Karakurt class corvette.

Footage of the Ukrainian strike on the Zalyv Shipyard. Source: @visegrad24

  • On 6 November 23, Polish truckers began blockading border crossing points between Ukraine and Poland. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union initially suspended the need for road haulage permits for Ukrainian truckers, extending this exemption until June 2024. Nevertheless, Polish truckers are currently urging a return to the former licensing system, seeking the removal of this privilege due to the adverse effects it is causing for their businesses. 
  • On 03 November, Russian forces conducted an airstrike operation consisting of a significant number of Shahed One-Way Attack Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (OWA-UAVs) in Ukraine. Russian forces deployed approximately 40 Shahed OWA-UAVs and one (1) Kh-59 cruise missile, launched from Kursk Oblast and Primorsko-Akhtarsk in Russia, targeting multiple regions throughout Ukraine. Ukrainian air defence reportedly successfully intercepted the cruise missile and 24 of the OWA-UAVs. Notably, the strikes primarily focused on civilian infrastructure. Additionally, a military facility in Ivano-Frankivsk, situated in western Ukraine, was also targeted. According to Ukrainian authorities, the initial wave of strikes involved Russian forces deploying small groups of OWA-UAVs for reconnaissance of Ukrainian air defences. Subsequently, Russian forces launched multiple drone waves to create confusion and overwhelm the Ukrainian reaction.

So What?

  • The Zalyv Shipyard, Eastern Europe’s largest shipyard, likely serves as the primary repair facility for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in Crimea following a successful Ukrainian strike on the Russian state-owned ship repair facility Sermorzavod in Sevastopol in September. The extent of the damage to the repair facilities at the Zalyv Shipyard remains uncertain, however available satellite imagery suggests that the Ukrainian strike is unlikely to disrupt Russia’s operations in the medium-to-long term, unlike the previous strike on the Sermorzavod facility. Ukrainian forces have been conducting strike operations against Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea, primarily targeting BSF infrastructure, vessels, and equipment. These series of strikes aim to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for operations in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials have stated that they intend to capitalise and build on their successful strikes on Russian rear areas and conduct further large-scale drone strikes on Russian military assets and naval sites when fighting likely slows during the winter. It is likely that the UAF will continue to strike ports and shipbuilding/repair facilities in order to neuter the BSF, and potentially increase maritime freedom of manoeuvre. Whilst the UAF does not have the conventional surface fleet to capitalise on the losses the BSF is incurring, it likely provides opportunity for infiltration by Special Forces and for the use of maritime drones and other alternate weapon systems. 
  • Poland has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies in Ukraine’s war against Russia. However, in recent months relations between the two (2) nations have soured and the latest protests will not only likely strain relations further but could also have an impact on Ukrainian military supplies. Ukrainian officials expect border closures lasting as long as two (2) weeks to serve as a means for the Polish truckers to convey their political message. However, the demonstrators have declared their readiness to persist with their protests until 3 January 2024. There will, however, be exemptions for deliveries of Ukrainian military equipment. Nevertheless, if protests continue until January 24, there could be an impact on Ukrainian military provisions reaching personnel on the front line due to the heavy build up of traffic at border crossing checkpoints. 
  • RFAF are almost certainly increasing their readiness for winter strike operations targeted against critical national infrastructure, primarily energy generation and transmission facilities. As a result, a substantial increase in Russian strike activities is highly likely in the short-to-medium term. It is likely that further reconnaissance missions will be conducted in order to identify Ukrainian air defence radars and defensive measures in order to subsequently adapt their drones and flight paths for greater effect. Unconfirmed anecdotal reporting suggests that the RFAF is integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into their Geran-2/3 OWA-UAVs in order to create effective swarms and circumvent UAF defensive measures. If this is the case, then it is highly likely we will observe an increase in effectiveness of drone strikes over the remaining part of 2023 and into 2024.

Political

  • Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has stated that the Israel-Hamas war is “taking away the focus” from Ukraine’s war with Russia. He further stated that any attention deflected away from Ukraine is one of the aims of Russia, and that the Israel-Hamas war presents diplomatic challenges to Ukraine’s long-term efforts to garner international support.

So What?

  • Since the onset of the Russian invasion, Ukraine has been vying for international support but the conflict between Israel and Hamas threatens to destabilise support for its protracted war efforts. Ukraine has faced additional challenges in gaining support from the international community due to Russia’s influence and position on the United Nation’s Security Council. The Ukrainian President, Zelensky, has been cautious in his approach regarding the war in the Middle East, aligning Ukraine with the United States’ position of support for Israel. Still, he is also not trying to alienate key players in the Arab world. This balancing act aims to maintain global attention on Ukraine’s situation. On the other hand, Russia has also been engaging in diplomatic efforts to court the global community, mirroring Ukraine’s actions. It has taken a stance in favour of Hamas against Israel, which serves Russia’s broader strategy in both the Ukraine war and its efforts to increase influence in the Middle East. Additionally, Russia’s goal of a new world order contributes to its strategy, aiming to diminish US influence and strengthen its connections with countries like Iran, which support groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. 

What Next?

  • During and after the Israeli-Hamas conflict, the United States, similar to Ukraine, faces the crucial task of maintaining support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia. This will necessitate provision of military and economic aid to both Ukraine and Israel. It’s also essential to ensure that public attention remains focused on the situation in Ukraine, and to not feed into the Russian propagandist machine that diverts attention away from the atrocities being committed in Ukraine. However, recent reports state that Senate Republicans have released a caution to President Biden saying that they won’t support further aid to Ukraine without stricter rules being imposed regarding a tightening of US immigration laws. All of these issues certainly don’t help to ease Ukrainian worries of continued support from the US, but it is essential that Ukraine receives the full weight of support from the international community in order for it to win the war. Zelensky faces a balancing act in order to maintain the western awareness of the campaign and continue to attract support from individuals and governments – whilst not irritating donors who may now have competing priorities with the ongoing Israel conflict. Zelensky must also engage diplomatically with Poland and other eastern-European allies in order to maintain logistics routes without undermining his own voter-base and Ukrainian transport companies.

Picture credit: Peter Master’s Photography