Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 16, 2023
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, October 16, 2023
Karolina Hird, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Christina Harward, and Mason Clark
October 16, 2023, 6pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on October 16. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the October 17 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.
Russia likely deployed elements of at least two Central Military District (CMD) brigades to reinforce offensive operations by Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces on the Avdiivka front. A Ukrainian military observer reported on October 16 that three Russian brigades — the DNR’s 114th Motorized Rifle Brigade (MRB) and the CMD’s 15th and 21st MRBs (both of the 2nd Combined Arms Army [2nd CAA]) — have been involved in recent attacks on Avdiivka alongside various scattered DNR elements, while Russian forces are holding the CMD’s 30th MRB in tactical reserve. Elements of the CMD, particularly of the 2nd CAA, have been active along the Svatove-Kreminna line until recently, and the newly formed 25th CAA likely relieved them along the Svatove-Kreminna line. 2nd CAA elements have primarily conducted defensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line for the last several months and have therefore likely had more time to rest and reconstitute before deploying to a more challenging sector of the frontline, which accounts in part for recent Russian advances in the previously stagnant Avdiivka sector of the front.
Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Avdiivka direction on October 16 and recently made some gains, albeit at a relatively slower pace than in the initial attacks. Geolocated footage posted on October 16 shows that Russian forces have marginally advanced past the E50 road about 3km south of Avdiivka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a total of 22 Russian attacks in the Avdiivka direction in the past day, notably fewer than the 30 reported attacks on October 15. Russian sources noted that Russian forces have increased the intensity of air and artillery strikes on the settlement in order to compensate for slow ground maneuvers, which are complicated by heavy Ukrainian fortifications surrounding Avdiivka. During a meeting on the operational situation in Ukraine on October 16, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have improved their tactical positions in unspecified areas and that the Russian “active defense” along the front, including near Avdiivka, is prohibiting Ukrainian advances.
Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) and Bakhmut directions. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted assaults near Avdiivka and on Verbove’s western and northwestern outskirts (10km east of Robotyne or 18km southwest of Orikhiv). Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces are within 200 to 300 meters of Russian positions west of Verbove.
Kremlin-appointed Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova reiterated statements admitting that Russia deported millions of Ukrainians — including 700,000 children — to Russia since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as a Qatari-mediated deal returned four children from Russia to Ukraine. Lvova-Belova claimed in a report published on October 15 that Russia has “accepted” about 4.8 million Ukrainians, including 700,000 children, since February 2022 and that Russian authorities have placed 380 Ukrainian orphans into foster care in Russia between April and October 2022. Lvova-Belova also attempted to discredit information about Russia’s deportation of Ukrainian children and claimed instead that Ukrainian authorities act “against the interests of children.” The Washington Post reported on October 16 that four children ranging from two to seventeen years old have returned or will return to Ukraine from Russia after Ukraine asked Qatar to mediate negotiations on the matter. An official source told The Washington Post that more Ukrainian children may be returned in the future as part of the Qatari-mediated negotiations but that the process has been complicated by Russia providing a list of only hundreds of Ukrainian children currently in Russia while Ukraine has identified thousands of deported children. International humanitarian law defines the forced transfer of civilians to the territory of an occupying power as “deportation,” and ISW continues to assess that Russian authorities are conducting a large-scale campaign to deport Ukrainians to Russia.
Some Russian milbloggers continue to complain about the alleged restriction of information about Russian military failures. A Russian milblogger criticized an unspecified associate of Russian Lieutenant General Andrey Sychevoy, who was reportedly recently dismissed from a command position for military failures near Bakhmut, for causing Russian forces (presumably near Bakhmut) to suffer 1,500 casualties in September 2023. The milblogger also criticized the broader Russian military command for communication failures and forcing injured personnel back into combat. The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces have crossed the railway line south of Bakhmut in some places and complained that only one major milblogger has discussed this issue, underlining the fact that many milbloggers restrict their presentation of negative information about Russian capabilities. Another milblogger, who previously claimed to censor all but 10-20 percent of the “sad” information they receive, claimed that the first milblogger’s complaints provide a glimpse into the 80-90 percent of unreported information, yet criticized other Russian milbloggers for consistently claiming that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed.
Russian forces conducted a drone and missile strike against Ukrainian rear areas on the night of October 15-16. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched five Kh-59 cruise missiles, one Iskander ballistic missile in eastern and southern Ukraine, and 12 Shahed-131/136 drones in western Ukraine. Ukrainian air defense reportedly destroyed two of the Kh-59s and 11 Shahed drones. Ukrainian officials reported explosions near Myrhorod, Poltava Oblast, and in Kirovohrad Oblast. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that one strike destroyed a Ukrainian communication center at the Myrhorod airfield in Poltava Oblast.
A new Russian procedure restricting the border checkpoints that Ukrainians can use to enter Russia from third countries came into force on October 16, effectively only allowing Ukrainians to enter Russia from third countries through the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. The new procedure only allows Ukrainians aged 14 and older to enter Russia from third countries through the Ludonka automobile checkpoint from Latvia and Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Latvia announced on October 12 that it would close its side of the Ludonka checkpoint beginning on October 16. ISW previously assessed that Russia implemented this new border crossing procedure likely in response to continued concern over the security of Russian border regions. The new procedure does not apply to Ukrainians entering Russia from occupied Ukrainian territories or Ukrainians under the age of 14 traveling with a legal guardian.
A group of Russian lawyers appears to be challenging the Kremlin’s precariously crafted veneer of legality surrounding the Russian judicial system, calling for a strike three days after Russian authorities arrested four lawyers on extremism charges. A group of Russian lawyers published a petition encouraging members of the Russian Federal and Regional Chambers of Lawyers and other public lawyer associations to strike from all types of legal proceedings from October 25 to 28 in response to commonplace intimidation of lawyers in the Russian judicial system. The petition states that Russian authorities often ignore violations of the professional rights of lawyers and threaten violence against them on “trumped-up administrative and criminal charges.” The petition also argues that Russian judges increasingly abuse their powers and accuse Russian law enforcement officers of perpetrating crimes against lawyers. The petition states that “sophisticated methods of prosecuting lawyers for their professional activities on far-fetched administrative and criminal charges” have become established practices by Russian law enforcement agencies and courts. This petition comes three days after Russian authorities arrested four lawyers, including three of imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s lawyers, on extremism charges on October 13. The Russian lawyers calling for a strike appear unwilling to further tolerate the Kremlin’s weaponization of the Russian judicial system, challenging the Kremlin’s veneer of legality and legitimacy in Russian institutions that are intended to provide cover for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian and corrupt rule.
- Russia likely deployed elements of at least two Central Military District (CMD) brigades to reinforce offensive operations by Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces on the Avdiivka front.
- Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 16.
- A new Russian procedure restricting the border checkpoints that Ukrainians can use to enter Russia from third countries came into force on October 16, effectively only allowing Ukrainians to enter Russia from third countries through the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
- A group of Russian lawyers appears to be challenging the Kremlin’s precariously crafted veneer of legality surrounding the Russian judicial system, calling for a strike three days after Russian authorities arrested four lawyers on extremism charges.
- Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, in the Bakhmut direction, near Avdiivka, southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.
- The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reported further details on ongoing North Korean weapons shipments to Russia on October 16.
- Senior Russian officials reiterated boilerplate narratives about the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the Israel-Hamas war during a Russian Security Council meeting on October 16 likely to deter Western support for Ukraine.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied areas
- Russian Information Operations and Narratives
Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces continued offensive operations on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on October 16 but did not make confirmed advances. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces captured new positions near Krokhmalne (25km southeast of Kupyansk) and Stepova Novosilka (17km southeast of Kupyansk) but noted that Russian forces have not achieved significant advances in the Kupyansk direction. Other Russian milbloggers reported continued Russian offensive operations near Synkivka (8km northeast of Kupyansk), Lyman Pershyi (12km northeast of Kupyansk), Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna), and in the Serebryanske forest area (11km south of Kreminna). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks near Synkivka, Ivanivka (19km southeast of Kupyansk), Stelmakhivka (12km northwest of Svatove), and Nadiya (20km west of Svatove). Ukrainian military analyst Petro Chermyk stated that Russian forces are concentrating 100,000 personnel in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction to distract Ukrainian forces from ongoing offensive operations near Bakhmut. Chernyk stated that Russian forces may achieve partial success in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction but will need to commit significant forces to capture territory.
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on October 16 but did not advance. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks near Synkivka, Ivanivka, Novoyehorivka (16km southwest of Svatove), Makiivka, Dibrova (7km southwest of Kreminna), and the Serebryanske forest area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces periodically conduct unsuccessful attacks in the Kupyansk area.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued limited counterattacks in the Bakhmut direction on October 16 but did not make any confirmed gains. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka (6km southwest) and Andriivka (8km southwest). Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash noted that there were seven meeting engagements in this direction over the past day. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces attempted to regain lost positions near Klishchiivka and Andriivka but were unsuccessful.
Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut direction on October 16 but did not make any confirmed gains. The Ukrainian General Staff noted that Ukrainian forces continued offensive actions near Bakhmut but did not specify the outcome of the Ukrainian attacks.
Russian forces continued offensive operations near Avdiivka on October 16 and made confirmed advances on the northern outskirts of Donetsk City. Geolocated footage posted on October 16 shows that Russian forces have marginally advanced past the E50 road about 3km south of Avdiivka. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continue attacking the fortified area around Avdiivka while shelling Ukrainian logistics routes into the settlement. One milblogger claimed that Russian forces continue ground attacks in several directions in an attempt to encircle Avdiivka from Sieverne (southwest), the Opytne-Spartak area (south), and Krasnohorivka (north). The milblogger additionally claimed that Russian forces marginally advanced near Stepove (7km northwest of Avdiivka) but failed to advance toward Keramik (10km northwest of Avdiivka). Russian sources additionally presented conflicting claims about the status of the waste heap area northwest of Avdiivka, with some claiming that Russian forces do not control the area at all, others claiming that battles are ongoing near the waste heap and that Russian forces are advancing into the contested ”grey zone,” and some sources claiming that Russian forces completely control the waste heap. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks near Avdiivka, Keramik, Stepove, Tonenke (5km west of Avdiivka), Sieverne (5km west of Avdiivka), and Pervomaiske (10km southwest of Avdiivka). A Ukrainian reserve officer noted that Russian forces are increasingly resorting to heavy air and artillery strikes on infrastructure within Avdiivka due to heavy Ukrainian fortifications around the settlement that are making it difficult for Russian troops to advance.
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful counterattacks near Avdiivka on October 16. One milblogger reported that Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attempted to launch attacks from positions in the Avdiivka Coke Plant in northwestern Avdiivka.
Russian forces continued offensive operations southwest of Donetsk City on October 16 and have recently advanced. Geolocated footage posted on October 13 indicates that Russian forces control Stepne, a settlement about 23km southwest of Donetsk City. Additional geolocated footage posted on October 16 shows that Russian forces have advanced up to a tree line south of Novomykhailivka, 20km southwest of Donetsk City. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled numerous Russian attacks near Marinka (on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are conducting ”powerful” attacks on Ukrainian positions in Marinka.
Ukrainian forces did not conduct any claimed or confirmed ground attacks southwest of Donetsk City on October 16.
Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks in the Doentsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on October 16. Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Oleg Chekhov claimed on October 16 that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks near Staromayorske (9km south of Velyka Novosilka). A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attacked near Pryyutne (16km southwest of Velyka Novosilka). The Russian “Vostok” Battalion, reportedly fighting near Novodonetske (12km southeast of Velyka Novosilka), claimed that their section of the front was quiet on the night of October 15 to 16. A Russian news aggregator claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian attack near Staromayorske on October 15. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed on October 15 that positional battles occurred near Pryyutne over the past week.
Russian forces continued attacks in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on October 16 and reportedly advanced. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks north of Pryuutne, south of Zolota Nyva (12km southeast of Velyka Novosilka), and south of Prechystivka (18km southwest of Velyka Novosilka). A Russian source claimed that Russian forces advanced near Zolota Nyva.
Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 16 but did not make any claimed or confirmed advances. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian sources, including the Russian MoD, claimed that Ukrainian forces launched an unsuccessful mechanized assault on Verbove‘s western and northwestern outskirts (10km east of Robotyne or 18km southwest of Orikhiv). One Russian milblogger claimed that the intensity of the Ukrainian assault on Verbove subsided due to bad weather. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces are within 200 to 300 meters of Russian positions west of Verbove. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attacked in the direction of Kopani (5km northwest of Robotyne or 11km southwest of Orikhiv).
Russian forces continued counterattacks in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 16 and marginally advanced. Geolocated footage published on October 15 indicates that Russian forces marginally advanced northwest of Verbove. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked southwest of Novodanylivka (4km south of Orikhiv), west of Robtyne, and west of Verbove. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces counterattacked along the Kopani-Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove line (5km northwest to 10km east of Robotyne). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are advancing along the Robotyne-Verbove line.
Russian sources continued to express concern on October 16 over the perceived future threat of Ukrainian amphibious landing in occupied Crimea. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Russian forces destroyed a barge near the Kinburn Spit in Mykolaiv Oblast, which they claimed Ukrainian forces were planning to use as a “jumping platform” for a future attempt to conduct an amphibious operation in the Black Sea.
Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reported further details on ongoing North Korean weapons shipments to Russia on October 16. RUSI reported on October 16 that satellite imagery from August through October 2023 indicates that two Russian vessels repeatedly transported hundreds of shipping containers likely containing North Korean armaments between Rajin, North Korea, and Dunai, Russia from mid-August to early October. RUSI reported that Russian authorities rapidly expanded a munitions storage facility 200 kilometers from the Ukrainian border in Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Krai in early August and that this facility received cargo containers of the same size and color as those transported from Rajin to Dunai.
US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby previously stated on October 13 that North Korea provided Russia with as many as 1,000 containers of “equipment and munitions” in “recent weeks” from North Korea to Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar Krai via sea and rail. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) previously reported on October 8 that satellite imagery indicates that rail traffic between North Korea and Russia also “dramatically” increased since mid-September 2023 and that these containers likely transported ammunition and artillery for the war in Ukraine.
Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian citizens into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
The Russian federal government continues efforts to integrate occupied Ukrainian territories into Russia. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stated on October 16 that small and medium-sized businesses in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts will be able to participate in Russian federal grant programs for education, medicine, social services, culture, sports, and hotel businesses.
Russian Information Operations and Narratives
Senior Russian officials reiterated boilerplate narratives about the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the Israel-Hamas war during a Russian Security Council meeting on October 16, likely to deter Western support for Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reiterated his claim from October 15 that Russian forces are conducting an “active defense” and claimed that Russian forces have improved their tactical positions in some places. Shoigu also reiterated standard Russian claims about the Ukrainian counteroffensive having failed. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated claims about Western policies bearing responsibility for the Israel-Hamas war.
Putin reiterated standing attempts to portray Russia as a capable, long-term partner to China during an interview with the Chinese Media Corporation on October 16. Putin claimed that current Russian-Chinese relations have developed over the past two decades and are based on goodwill and national interests. Putin also expressed support for China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Putin also reiterated longstanding Kremlin narratives falsely claiming that the West caused the war in Ukraine and that Russia remains open to meaningful negotiations.
Russian officials continue efforts to downplay the effects of the Russian war in Ukraine on domestic society and avoid fully shifting domestic society to a wartime footing. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov claimed that the fulfillment of social obligations is one of the highest priority areas in the Russian federal budget, 30.5 percent of which is allocated to social issues. Siluanov stated that defense capability is another priority area of the Russian federal budget but that the federal budget is not a military budget.
Significant activity in Belarus (Russian efforts to increase its military presence in Belarus and further integrate Belarus into Russian-favorable frameworks and Wagner Group activity in Belarus)
The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on October 16 that the next group of Belarusian maneuver elements had begun a combat readiness check. The readiness check includes moving military personnel and equipment along roads in Minsk, Grodno, Brest, and Vitebsk oblasts for combat training. The Belarusian MoD stated that Belarusian forces inspected the equipment of tank elements of the 6th and 120th Separate Mechanized Brigades.
ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus as part of ongoing Kremlin efforts to increase their control over Belarus and other Russian actions in Belarus.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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