Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) units attacked north-west from Svatove, unsuccessfully attempting to take the towns of Novoselivske and Stelmakhivka.
  • The RFAF also conducted limited counter-attacks from Kreminna towards Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) positions in the Serebrianka forest area and towards Teny. There was no reported change in territory in the area, and the attacks are unlikely to have been successful.
  • The UAF continue to conduct strikes in rear areas of Luhansk Oblast in line with their target priority lists – likely as both shaping activity for future operations and to disrupt counter-attacks by destroying ammunition supplies, command and control (C2) nodes and logistic resupply areas.
  • There have been no reports of RFAF troop concentrations or formations of combined-armed groupings on the Russian border with Kharkiv Oblast.

Video reportedly showing the RFAF’s most modern Main Battle Tank (MBT), the T-90M, in use along the Svatove-Kreminna line. Source: @RALee85

So What?

  • The RFAF is unlikely to commit to a significant offensive in Kharkiv and northern Luhansk Oblasts due to the terrain and the difficulty in massing forces without being observed and targeted with disruptive strikes. It is likely that the presence of UAF HIMARS in the area of operations (AO) forces the RFAF to disperse forces and keep resupply areas further to the rear, making artillery support and ammunition resupply more challenging. 
  • It is unlikely that there will be a significant offensive effort from either side currently, the Russian priority is likely to remain in control of current territories and to disrupt UAF shaping activity and prevent Ukrainian forces from massing for another counter-attack, with minimum losses to their own forces.
  • Ukraine remains unlikely to commit to a frontal assault against Kreminna or Svatove in the short term. Attempting to dislodge RFAF defenders who have had months to prepare defensive positions. The complexity of urban clearance and inextricably linked high levels of collateral damage are likely to lead to UAF offensives aimed at penetrating and unbalancing the RFAF defensive lines to force a withdrawal south or east. This would allow the UAF to avoid becoming sucked into an attritional clearance like the RFAF face in Bakhmut.
  • Due to a lack of force availability and an already-extensive front line, it is highly unlikely that the RFAF will launch another axis of attack into Kharkiv Oblast from Belgorod Oblast.

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

  • The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing, with small territorial gains occurring near Bakhmut following the capture of Soledar and Sil in the previous reporting period. 
  • Russian forces continue to pressure Bakhmut from the north, east and south. Geolocated footage shows RFAF elements in northern Opytne and breaking into southern Bakhmut. 
  • To the north of the town, the RFAF reportedly conducted an unsuccessful attack northwest along the M-03 highway towards Paraskoviivka.
  • Ukrainian officials report that whilst the UAF have lost some ground in eastern and southern Bakhmut, counter-offensive actions are ongoing to regain lost positions in the town. 
  • There is contradictory reporting concerning RFAF/Wagner Group success in Klischiivka to the southwest of Bakhmut, with some claims that the town has been captured already and others claiming it is still contested. Yevgeniy Prigozhin claimed on 19 January 23 that his Wagner Group forces had captured the town – but Prigozhin (and the RFAF and Russian mil-blogger community) have a history of pre-emptively or falsely reporting successes in Eastern Ukraine. 
  • Russian forces also reportedly attempted to cross the canal south-southwest of Bakhmut, on an axis of advance towards Stupochky, but the attack was unsuccessful.  
  • Further south, to the north-west of Donetsk city, the RFAF conducted unsuccessful assaults along the M-30/E-50 highway from Pisky towards Pervomaiske and along the N-15 highway towards Kurakhove.

Tweet reportedly quoting Yevgeniy Prigozhin claiming that his Wagner Group forces captured Klischiivka on 19 January 23. Source: @DonglePuck

Report of an apparent Ukrainian Remote Control – Improvised Explosive Device (RC-IED) being prepared in Bakhmut. Likely in preparation for a delaying action should the UAF have to withdraw from the town. Source: @HKaaman   

So What?

  • As the Russians advance (albeit slowly) around Bakhmut, it will become increasingly difficult to resupply the UAF defenders and rotate units to prevent fatigue and attrition from reducing combat power. The same MSRs used to resupply the UAF in Bakhmut are also likely withdrawal routes should the defence become untenable, and the Ukrainians have to cede the town. 
  • The complex urban terrain in Bakhmut, combined with natural choke points such as the crossings over the Bakhmutovka River, will make the clearance of Bakhmut a very costly affair for the Russian military. This is likely to be the reason they are attempting to cut off all of the main Ground Lines of Communication (GLoC), both road and rail, into the city, to force a withdrawal and avoid another prolonged and costly siege. 
  • It is highly likely that the UAF have seeded likely Russian objectives in the city with IEDs and mines. These IEDs may be used to strike Russian forces as they advance to create opportunities for defensive forces to withdraw to new fighting positions as part of a delaying action. This work by small units can provide time and space for the main body of forces to conduct an orderly withdrawal if required. 
  • It is unlikely that the Russian forces will dramatically change their tactics during the assault on Bakhmut, relying on the weight of numbers and concentrated fires to defeat Ukrainian positions – causing massive destruction to the town in the process. 
  • Russia is unlikely to send additional reinforcements from Soledar to Vodyane and Marinka whilst the assault on Bakhmut is ongoing. It remains likely that the RFAF will maintain pressure in these areas, whilst the priority of resupply and effort remains in Bakhmut – likely in the hope of unhinging the UAF defensive line in Donetsk Oblast.

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

  • On 21/22 January 23 there were claims on Russian channels that there was an RFAF offensive starting in Zaporizhia Oblast between Kamyanske and Orikhiv. It is confirmed that there was an increase in shelling, but no corroborated reporting showing a major offensive action nor of Russian forces capturing additional territory.
  • Russian and Ukrainian fighters continue to contest Potemkin Island (and others) in the Dnipro near Kherson city. There has been no reported change of control as both sides continue to vie for the islands using infantry with fire support. 
  • The UAF continues to target logistics nodes and troop concentrations alongside C2 nodes within occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. Russian forces continue to conduct cross-river counter-battery fires, as well as shelling civilian areas and UAF troop concentration points where identified on the right bank of the Dnipro. 
  • Russia continues with defensive preparations along major GLoCs in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, as well as the northern approaches to occupied Crimea. This includes emplacement of anti-tank obstacles such as dragon’s teeth, and the digging of trenches.

Footage reportedly showing the UAF destroying attacking Russians in Zaporizhia Oblast. Source: @Tendar

Tweet reportedly describing the situation on Potemkin Island in the Dnipro south of Kherson. Source: @NOELreports

So What?

  • It is highly unlikely that the RFAF launched a major offensive action in central-western Zaporizhia Oblast – despite claims by the Russian mil-blogger community that this was the beginning of a long-awaited offensive to push north and disrupt UAF resupply to forces operating near Donetsk.
  • The UAF have had a considerable amount of time to conduct defensive preparations in Zaporizhia despite frequent bombardment activity. The RFAF are unlikely to be able to amass sufficient combat power to penetrate these defences without detection by Ukrainian and Western surveillance systems. It is a realistic possibility that the RFAF are conducting reconnaissance-in-force to probe for weaknesses in the UAF line whilst they continue to train and equip mobilised soldiers in Russia, Russian-occupied Ukraine, and Belarus.
  • It is highly unlikely that either the UAF or RFAF will conduct an opposed river crossing in Kherson to secure more territory in the short to medium term. 
  • It is highly likely that Ukrainian partisans and SOF will continue to disrupt Russian movements, ammunition stores, troops concentrations and defensive positions through sabotage or calls-for-fire. It is likely that these groups also assist with the targeting of long-range strikes (predominantly using HIMARS) against RFAF high-value targets. Assassinations of occupation officials are also likely to continue.

What Next? (The next 7 days)

It is highly unlikely that the RFAF will open a new axis of advance in Kharkiv Oblast. Positional battles, reconnaissance, and fires are almost certain to continue as the UAF seeks to set conditions for a future offensive, and the RFAF prepare to hold and possibly counter-attack. The ongoing UAF strikes into the deep of the Russian units are likely to continue as part of pre-offensive shaping activity and to degrade the ability of the Russians to resupply the defensive forces arrayed along the P-66 highway. 

In northern Luhansk Oblast the RFAF are likely to continue to probe UAF defences, conduct spoiling attacks, reconnaissance, and fires. Concurrent to this it is likely that defensive preparations are ongoing in rear areas, with logistics and C2 nodes being relocated to prevent being struck. In the next week, it is unlikely that the UAF will be able to launch an offensive on this axis either.

It is unlikely that the RFAF will capture/clear Bakhmut in the next seven days due to likely UAF defensive positions in Krasna Hora and Berkhivka and the natural obstacle formed by the Bakhmutovka River. The RFAF are likely to continue to use Wagner Group and ill-trained personnel to conduct dangerous urban clearances and fix the UAF in the city, as supporting forces attempt to encircle the town and cut the remaining resupply routes. The intent is likely to ideally force a surrender, or at the very least a disorderly withdrawal they can degrade opportunistically. UAF defensive preparations among the heavily rubblized city are continuous, and it is likely that the RFAF/Wagner will encounter ambushes, pre-planned fires, and mines/IEDs among the ruins as they progress further into the town. It remains likely that the RFAF operational Main Effort is the capture and control of Donetsk Oblast in its entirety – capturing Bakhmut is just a step in the right direction.

It is unlikely that there will be any significant change on the ground in Kherson or Zaporizhia Oblasts within the next week. It is a realistic possibility that the RFAF will conduct reconnaissance in force to probe the UAF defensive line, and identify concentrations of troops as well as artillery firing points/manoeuvre areas. 

It is highly likely that skirmishes will continue on the islands situated in the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast as both sides seek to gain control and establish observation posts and call for fires on the opposite banks. 

DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE - JANUARY 18: Ukrainian tankers carry out maintenance on their tanks on the Donbass frontline as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war on January 18, 2023.