Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • The Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) operating in Luhansk Oblast remain focused on preventing the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) from making significant ground towards Troitske, Svatove, and the P-66 Main Supply Route (MSR). The RFAF have constructed defensive lines which have transitioned from ‘hasty’ to ‘deliberate and planned’ since the rapid capitulation in Kharkiv Oblast.
  • The weather over the reporting period has been poor, with heavy rain causing issues with mud which have significantly slowed both UAF and RFAF offensive operations. The reduced pace of manoeuvre explains the reporting of increased artillery use, aiming to destroy normally mobile units.  
  • The RFAF conducted assaults near Lyman and Kreminna, but this did not result in a change in territorial control. 
  • Russia continues to hold the defensive line along the P-66/Aidar River and has reinforced defensive positions with mobilised soldiers (‘mobiks’). Some reporting indicates that the UAF have advanced to within direct fire range of a stretch of the P-66 south of Svatove towards Novovodyane. If true, this will force RFAF resupply to take a lengthy detour towards Starobilsk to resupply Svatove from Sievierodonetsk. 

Image showing Russian anti-tank ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ obstacles, reportedly near Svatove. Source: @Walter_Report

East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort)

  • The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing. Russia continues offensive operations near Bakhmut along a line 14km southwest near Klischivka, stretching to 30km northeast near Yakovlivka. Some Russian mil-bloggers report fighting 3km southwest of Bakhmut as RFAF slowly advance; however, this is yet to be confirmed. Russia has reportedly attacked Bakhmut with incendiary munitions – an act banned in areas with a civilian presence, according to the Geneva Conventions. 
  • The possible break-in of the RFAF to Opytne reported last week was either false or the RFAF were subsequently forced to withdraw, as at this time the town reportedly remains in Ukrainian hands. Ivanhrad, less than a kilometre northeast of Opytne is contested. 
  • Northwest of Donetsk City near Pisky, the RFAF continue to launch ineffective assaults against the UAF defenders at Vodyane and Pervomaiske; fighting is reportedly ongoing.
  • The Russian military has threatened mobilised soldiers (and prisoner ‘volunteers’) with execution or imprisonment if they retreat, it is reported. Both professional RFAF and Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) soldiers are reported to have threatened demoralised troops to prevent retreat.

Video footage of reported RFAF incendiary munition use in Bakhmut. Source: @EuromaidanPress

South – Kherson, Zaporizhia and Black Sea Coast Area of Operations

  • There have been no reported territorial changes along the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) in Zaporizhia Oblast. The RFAF continues to degrade UAF defences around Pavlivka and Vulhedar with artillery but has not renewed any major ground offensive since failing to advance last week. 
  • On the morning of 22 November, a Ukrainian spokesperson from the Southern Operational Command stated that UAF elements were operating on the Kinburn Spit, which is located at the westernmost tip of the Kinburn Peninsula to the west-southwest of Kherson city. There have previously been unconfirmed reports of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces crossing the river from Okachiv only 4 km away on the right bank as the Russians withdrew from Kharkiv on 13/14 November. Control of the Kinburn Spit provides control over the narrow shipping lane that connects the Dnipro and Southern Bug Rivers with the Black Sea. It is also claimed on social media that the RFAF do not have artillery on the peninsula within range of the Kinburn Spit, with it instead located further northeast to shell the right bank where the river is narrower. 
  • There is limited reporting to indicate that small pockets of RFAF remain present and active on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson. These groups are likely to slow and hinder UAF operations to clear the recaptured territory and return civilians to their homes.

Interview with the Ukrainian head of Mykolaiv Oblast regarding the final villages of his territory that need liberating. Source: @Espresotveng 

  • Russia continues to shell settlements on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson Oblast from across the river using rocket and tube artillery.
  • On the left bank of the Dnipro, along the new Russian defensive line, mobilised troops are pushed forward to the first line whilst professional soldiers man the second and third lines of defence – further lowering both the morale and effectiveness of the poorly-trained and led mobiks.

Strategic/Political

  • On 20 and 21 November 2022, Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) was heavily shelled. Both sides have accused the other of the shelling; however, even some pro-Russian bloggers and telegram channels have stated the point of origin for the artillery fire was from the south of the ZNPP in Russian-controlled territory. 
  • The head of Rosatom, the Russian Nuclear Power company, has stated that the activity could cause a ‘nuclear disaster’. Regular artillery shells are unlikely to penetrate the hardened structures of the nuclear power plant but are capable of significantly damaging fuel storage facilities – which could cause a more limited radiological incident. 
  • There are unverified rumours on Russian mil-blogger channels that the RFAF is preparing to withdraw from ZNPP and the associated town of Enerhodar, and hand control of the plant to the International Atomic Energy Agency and from there to Kyiv’s control. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with 60 Minutes about the threat to ZNPP. Source: @60Minutes

  • The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) reportedly raided the Orthodox Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Monastery on the morning of 22 November. The raid was reportedly conducted to counter suspected “subversive activities by Russian special services”. The SBU and national police also reportedly raided the Koretsky Holy Trinity Monastery and the premises of the Sarnensko-Polyska eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy in the Rivne region.

Tweet linking to a news report on the SBU and National Police raid on the Kyiv Monastery. Source: @EuromaidanPress

  • The UAF have released a graphic reportedly showing Russia’s remaining stocks of long-range attack munitions.

Tweet containing the UAF graphic showing assessed remaining Russian stocks of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM)

So What?

  • It is likely that the lack of reporting over the last 96hrs regarding a Russian withdrawal in northern Kharkiv Oblast is indicative of a Russian intent to continue to hold the defensive line along the P-66 for as long as it is tenable, assisted by the wet weather causing reduced mobility. 
  • The mobiks deployed to this front are almost certain to have very low morale, which in turn will reduce their combat effectiveness in the face of determined UAF assaults which are likely to renew once the ground starts to freeze and mud becomes less of an issue. The mobiks are poorly trained and equipped; they are effectively forced to remain at the front out of fear of imprisonment or execution by their own countrymen. 
  • The increased use of artillery caused by the deteriorating weather is likely to be difficult for both supply chains to maintain. This is likely due to the propensity to move artillery ammunition to forward distribution points using trucks, which are liable to get bogged down. Artillery ammunition resupply is one of the most difficult logistical challenges due to the vast volume and mass of the shells and rockets. 
  • Russian attacks against Bakhmut are likely to continue as additional mobilised RFAF personnel are deployed to western Donetsk Oblast. Experienced troops who evacuated from the Kherson front are likely to continue to deploy to the area, and it is a realistic possibility that artillery and combat support functions will become more efficient in the second echelon as these troops arrive. The use of incendiary munitions by the RFAF is likely to continue in order to force UAF troops into hard cover, disrupt reinforcement and UAF troop movement, and burn fortifications/strongholds. It is highly likely that the contest for Bakhmut will continue to be attritional in nature and will depend on which side can reinforce at the highest rate. 
  • As occurred with Opytne (and multiple other locations throughout the conflict), Russian mil-bloggers are likely to pre-emptively declare control of Ukrainian towns to improve morale among their own forces (who have reduced access and significantly reduced trust in western media outlets) and to confuse the information space. 
  • It is unlikely that the UAF have landed any significant bodies of force across the Dnipro to the Kinburn Peninsula. As previously assessed, the ground there is not suitable for mechanised or armoured formations. It is likely the UAF intend to deny the use of the Peninsula and Spit to Russian forces, particularly from indirect fire assets which have previously been used to shell Okachiv and other Ukrainian settlements on the right bank. 
  • Russian shelling and disruption caused by stay-behind units on the right bank in Kherson are highly likely intend to slow Ukrainian clearance operations and delay any attempt to conduct a river crossing in Kherson and maintain offensive momentum. The Ukrainians are unlikely to rush into an ill-fated crossing under fire and are likely to continue to use precision fires to target RFAF reinforcements, logistics nodes, and high-value targets such as engineering vehicles. These UAF attacks are likely shaping activity as preparation for future offensives once the Russians are sufficiently degraded or are pulled away to another threat axis.
  • It is highly likely that there is no military reason for Russia to shell the Russian-controlled ZNPP. However, it is a realistic possibility that for political or deceptive reasons, Russia is shelling the plant as a false-flag attack and to raise international concerns that there will be a nuclear disaster – which can only be averted by the IAEA/West putting pressure on the Ukrainian government to declare the plant a demilitarised or ‘safe’ area. The risk of a nuclear disaster is very low whilst the reactors are cold and have been ‘scrammed’; however, a more limited radiological incident caused by damage to nuclear fuel storage is unlikely but possible. 
  • SBU and National Police raids on Orthodox churches are likely to be met with significant vitriol on social media and among Russophone Ukrainian nationals. Raiding sites of religious significance is always challenging, and in this instance, it is almost certain that the raids will be amplified among Russian media in order to gain more public support for the ongoing ‘Special Military Operation’. It is likely that the Russian state security services (SVR and FSB) and military intelligence (GRU) have agents operating among the clergy and congregation of Russian Orthodox churches overseas, particularly in Ukraine.
  • The recently published graphics (see above tweet) showing remaining Russian PGM stocks are likely to be relatively accurate. The UAF are likely showing their understanding to garner greater Western military support – and add emphasis to requests for additional air defence equipment. It is worth noting that the individual missile type in the largest supply is the S-300. The S-300 is designed as a surface-to-air missile system and is not accurate enough when used in land-attack mode to be considered a ‘precision’ munition. S-300 missiles have also been in production for a long time (originally being a Soviet-era system), hence the large number available at the outset of the invasion. The reportedly very low stocks of Iskander missiles are likely to explain the high interest of Russia in purchasing Iranian ballistic missiles, which could likely fill the same role.

What Next?

It is a realistic possibility that the UAF will continue to conduct offensive operations in the east of Kharkiv Oblast to make the situation untenable and force a Russian withdrawal to a shorter more defensible line along the Siverskyi Donets river north of Luhansk. It is unlikely that the UAF will be able to cut the P-66 north of Svatove within the next week, and unlikely that Russia will be compelled to withdraw forces before mid-December 2022. It is likely that the seasonal rains will continue to create conditions in which it is difficult for offensive forces to gain momentum or rapidly exploit any localised victories or penetration of RFAF defensive lines. 

It is highly likely that morale among mobiks will remain low, or decrease further as they are forced to remain at the front in poor conditions and with little training. It is unlikely that this will cause an increase in surrenders to the UAF as the mobiks likely fear being used for a prisoner exchange and subsequently punished by the RFAF. It is likely that the fear of punishment for soldiers that retreat or surrender is of a greater immediate concern than the chance of being killed by the UAF; therefore, the troops are likely to attempt to fight to hold the line irrespective of the chances of success. 

The landing of small UAF units on the Kinburn Spit/Peninsula is unlikely to precede a larger landing in the short term. It is likely that the UAF will use their presence there to prevent re-occupation by the RFAF and to force the Russians to redeploy forces to block the threat – which may create opportunities elsewhere in the battlespace. It is likely that Russian stay-behind forces on the right bank in Kherson will continue to conduct delaying and disruptive activities in the short term until killed or captured.

If the SBU can find credible evidence of SVR/GRU activity linked to the Russian Orthodox church, it is highly likely that more raids on religious buildings will occur. This is likely to further spur Russian amplification of the narrative that this activity is Russophobic repression of a religious institution and further justifies their invasion of Ukraine. The Government of Ukraine will need to be seen to be very transparent and considerate during the investigation in order not to alienate both Orthodox Ukrainian nationals and Western supporters. United States/Western experiences of Mosques being used for military purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to provide the SBU with some leeway in their actions without undermining military aid provision.

Attacks on Ukrainian electrical infrastructure are likely to continue to occur frequently. It remains a real possibility that the next concentrated strike will occur using a proportion of Iranian-made weaponry. The number of Russian missiles remaining stated in the UAF graphic is indicative that, in spite of extensive use (and oft-reported limited remaining supplies), Russia is unlikely to stop strikes against infrastructure. Russia will almost certainly continue to seek both external suppliers of munitions, and mechanisms to circumvent sanctions to increase domestic PGM production and sustain their long-range strike campaign.


DONETSK, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 01: Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire artillery from a self-propelled howitzer toward Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine on Nov 1, 2022. / Wolfgang Schwan