Military

Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • Overall, the Area of Operations (AO) has witnessed continued skirmishes with limited offensives from both sides; notably in Hrekivka and Neveske, both located on the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) between Svatove and Kreminna. In all these areas, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) have reported the repelling of Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) advances, as well as in Stelmakhivka (15KM northwest of Svatove). The UAF reported that their use of artillery has been fundamental in the repelling of the RFAF advance west.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that Russian forces conducted successful offensive actions near Dvorichne, Kharkiv Oblast (53km northwest of Svatove – further north along the FLET) and pushed UAF out of the western outskirts of the settlement. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) suggests that this was not the reality, at most the RFAF have advanced into a ‘no man’s land’, with the UAF still firmly entrenched in a defensive line.
  • The UAF continue to strike RFAF logistics, an industrial facility (reportedly a garment factory) in Svatove was targeted with HIMARS on 4 February, there were no reported casualties. Similarly, on 4 February, a fire in Borsivka, Belgorod Oblast within the Russian Federation occurred in an industrial facility and oil depot which produces metal structures for the repair of the Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea. Russian media stated it was started by Ukrainian militants, yet there has been no comment from Ukrainian officials.
  • There have been no reports of RFAF troop concentrations or formations of combined-armed groupings on the Russian border with Kharkiv Oblast. (NO CHANGE)

Video footage from a Russian telegram channel showing the industrial facility fire which could not be extinguished for five hours. Source: t.me/readovkanews

So What?

  • Previous assessments regarding the unlikely UAF counter-offensives remain extant; skirmishes have continued in the western and southern vicinities of Kreminna north along the FLET to the north-west of Svatove and north-west to Divorichne. The Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) on this axis is approximately 65km in length; both sides are currently unlikely able to resource major offensive manoeuvre for clearance/defence in addition to their activity in Donetsk Oblast. The RFAF main effort is highly likely still in Donetsk Oblast; however, skirmishes and reconnaissance will likely continue to disrupt UAF shaping activity prior to planned counter-offensives in the medium to long term. (NO CHANGE)
  • Russian information operations are highly likely to be deliberately claiming territorial gains which are not reflective of the reality – as previously evidenced by pro-Russian accounts claiming the capture of Soledar for approximately three weeks prior to its actual capture. It is highly likely that the focus of Western OSINT reporting and analysis on Donetsk Oblast denies Russia of its preferred narrative of swift advances and occupation of its targets. Whereas the almost uncontested information space surrounding activity in the north likely creates a permissive area for mis- and dis-information. It is likely that such narratives are to give the impression that Russia is not entrenched along the entirety of the FLET and is achieving successes, both to demoralise any pro-Ukrainian readers and to reassure the Russian public. This narrative likely also gives the impression that Russia is conducting offensive operations, rather than opportunistic/small advances, in order to inflate successes.
  • Similar to the previously reported UAF HIMARS strike against a hospital in Novodair, it is also likely that the garment factory was being used by the RFAF for military purposes. This is highly likely a continuation of UAF intent to erode RFAF preparations for future offensive activity. Although the fire on the industrial facility and oil depot has not been claimed officially by any Ukrainian entity, it is highly likely an act of sabotage orchestrated by the UAF. This will have implications for ongoing Russian repair efforts for the Kerch Strait Bridge, a critical Ground Line of Communication (GLOC) for Russian forces in southern Ukraine. It is likely that such acts of sabotage will continue, and both the HIMARS and the fire demonstrate an asymmetric ability to exert multiple effects across multiple fronts.

East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort – seizure and occupation of all of Donetsk Oblast).

  • RFAF and Wagner forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut area over the reporting period. Russian forces continue to commit a significant amount of their personnel to the offensive, with the intent to break through the UAF defences; however, the gains are still incremental. It is likely that these assaults are also intended to fix UAF defenders and set conditions for isolating them.
  • UAF reportedly also repelled Russian assaults near Verkhnokamyanske, Krasna Hora, Paraskoviivka, and Ivaniske. Ivaniske is 6km southwest of Bakhmut and on the approach to Chasiv Yar (approximately 15km to the west of Bakhmut). This RFAF activity was assessed last week as a likely Course of Action (COA) for Russian forces to deny UAF GLOCs and encircle Bakhmut to force a UAF withdrawal. Whilst Russian forces are on the advance, they have met UAF defences, turning the attempt at manoeuvre into another attritional fight.
  • The same can be said further south towards Donetsk, with smaller scale Russian offensives continuing in Marinka and Vuhledar, although the Russian offensive operations on the western outskirts of Donetsk City are reported to have slowed in recent days. Ukrainian officials reported that RFAF have not conducted assaults on settlements in the Donetsk city-Avdiivka area for the previous three days.

OSINT reporting of Wagner forces on the outskirts of Ivaniske, reportedly 1km south of a GLOC running west out of Bakhmut. Source: @DefensePolitics

So What?

  • Progress for the Russian forces in Bakhmut is likely slow, due in part to the high ground to the east slowing the Russian advance. This is also likely why a Russian advance towards Ivaniske and thus Chasiv Yar was initiated over the reporting period, targeting resupply routes and denying vital UAF GLOCs. The current reported location of Wagner forces on the western outskirts of Ivaniske reportedly puts Chasiv Yar under fire control. It is likely though that the UAF defenders in Bakhmut have anticipated this and will likely exploit the high ground and smaller GLOCs to the northwest for resupplies and force protection should the UAF decide to withdraw. A UAF withdrawal from Bakhmut has however been removed as an option by President Zelensky. As such, it is likely that the Russian intent will be to advance and occupy Bakhmut up to Bakhmutovka river and continue the encirclement.
  • The slowed pace of Russian assaults on the Avdiivka–Donetsk city axis likely indicates Russian forces lack the combat power to sustain multiple large offensive operations in Ukraine, and thus, Russian forces have likely slowed their pace of assaults in this area to prioritise their offensive to capture Bakhmut, Marinka and Vuhledar. Vuhledar remains strategically important allowing for Russian observation and fire-control of the ground to the north, which is reportedly flat and open towards Kurakhove, and would provide access to Russian forces transiting west. Maximum application of pressure by the Russian forces on a smaller number of fronts will likely hasten fatigue and attrition of UAF combat effectiveness and force the redeployment of UAF defenders. However, if a Russian Spring offensive is to begin in the next few weeks, it is possible that the successful or near complete occupation of Bakhmut, Marinka and Vuhledar is a trigger.

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

  • Continuing from the last reporting period, there has been little activity from either side with regard to offensive operations, except for routine fires. Russian forces reportedly shelled Kherson city, again using incendiary munitions.
  • On the 1 and 3 February, the UAF targeted and destroyed two Russian Tor M2DTs; a tracked short-range air defence (AD) (SHORAD) system designed for arctic warfare. These were located 12km southwest of Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast and 8km from the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. The presence of Tor M2DT indicates the Russian 80th Separate Arctic Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Northern Fleet is operating close to the riverbank having brought its own AD systems. It is not known what munitions the UAF had used to target it and subsequently destroy it with a (reportedly) single shot; however, the Tor M2DT was unable to defend itself.

Burning wreckage of a Russian TOR M2DT short range air defence system, after the Ukrainian strike. Source: @Danispun

So What?

  • The shelling of Kherson city is still highly likely targeting civilian areas and UAF concentrations whilst also allowing RFAF to continue defensive preparations and conduct reconnaissance-in-force to probe for weaknesses in the UAF line. There is still likely a reprioritisation of conventional high explosive munitions to the RFAF main effort in Donetsk Oblast, and no intent in the short term to follow up shelling with offensive manoeuvre. (NO CHANGE)
  • The Russian Tor M2DT destroyed on the 1 February was reportedly struck by the UAF 406th Artillery Brigade using M982 Excalibur GPS-guided projectiles, provided by the United States (US). It is likely that the second incident also used the same weapon system. It is highly likely that in both incidents, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), possibly in conjunction with Special Operations Forces (SOF) were used to find and fix their locations for targeting. The UAV footage of the Tor M2DT on the 1 February being destroyed was shared and geolocated by an official Ukrainian military account, almost certainly for propaganda purposes.
  • It had been noted in news outlets that the RFAF had been publicising in Russian media the deployment of the Tor M2DT. It is possible that this inadvertently caused it’s targeting and raised the Tor’s placement on the UAF target priority list. The Tor M2DT has a maximum range of 12km, therefore it is highly likely that their positions 8km from the left bank of the Dnipro River was intended to mitigate against UAF raids whilst providing AD against UAF close air support at the FEBA, as well as aviation raids or SOF/airborne insertion of disruption and reconnaissance groups. Whilst the all-terrain Tor M2DT is well-suited to operating in the terrain and conditions of an eastern-Ukrainian winter, it is a modern and specialised piece of equipment, likely only available in small numbers. It is likely that the deployment of these units to Ukraine indicates both a lack of other available SHORADs, and that Russia is willing to compromise the security of its arctic operations in order to prioritise the operation in Ukraine.

What Next (Next 7 Days)?

It is almost certain that the main effort for both the RFAF and UAF continues to be in the Donetsk Oblast, with Bakhmut and the surrounding fronts, and Marinka and Vulhedar south along the FLET taking priority. RFAF and Wagner territorial gains are highly likely to be limited and incremental. Developing from the last reporting period, the previous assessment of re-tasked Wagner forces to a new advance towards Chasiv Yar has been seen; further confirming assessments Wagner forces are used to initiate new fronts whilst the Russian army seeks to professionalise its presence in Bakhmut as part of the ongoing battle for influence in the Kremlin. Thus, Ivaniske is likely to become yet another complex front with its western outskirts a launching ground for fires, shaping the advance towards Chasiv Yar. It is possible this will become the new Russian priority, after the occupation of Bakhmut up to the Bakhmutovka river. From this perspective, complete occupation of Bakhmut is unlikely to be necessary; pressure in the surrounding area may lead to the isolation of the UAF and force either a surrender or rout.

It is unlikely in the short term that new concurrent RFAF offensives will take place elsewhere on the FLET, save for the localised skirmishes seen over the last few weeks in Luhansk Oblast, which are highly likely to continue. Russia is likely to seek to maintain the pressure on Bakhmut and Vuhledar whilst it prepares fresh troops for offensive activity in Luhansk Oblast near Kreminna. Similarly, UAF targeting of logistics nodes in Luhansk is highly likely to be prioritised over deployment in Donetsk Oblast, likely to disrupt RFAF preparatory activity before the probable planned offensive. A paucity of UAF deep and precision-strike capability is likely to prevent comprehensive use across the battlespace, which will make it increasingly difficult to hold ground in Bakhmut whilst disrupting RFAF offensive preparation. It is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s defenders will be isolated within the next two weeks.

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 in Zaporizhia east of the Dnieper river to probe the UAF defensive line and identify concentrations of troops as well as artillery firing points/manoeuvre areas. (NO CHANGE)

KHARKIV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 05: Ukrainian rescuers at a damaged residential building after a Russian missile hits in the centre of Kharkiv, Ukraine on February 05, 2023.