Ukrainian forces continue to advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Geolocated footage posted on September 5 shows Russian forces striking Ukrainian positions northwest and west of Robotyne, indicating that Ukrainian forces have advanced into an area near the settlement that Russian forces previously claimed to control. Additional geolocated footage posted on September 5 shows that Ukrainian forces have also advanced south of Robotyne and northwest of Verbove (about 10km east of Robotyne). Geolocated evidence of Ukrainian forces northwest of Verbove suggests that Ukrainian forces are advancing along the line of Russian fortifications that runs into the settlement. Ukrainian military sources also confirmed that Ukrainian forces have been successful in the Robotyne—Novoprokopivka directions south of Orikhiv, and further reported that Ukrainian forces are pursuing successful offensive operations south of Bakhmut.
Ukraine Crisis Updates
Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations on at least two sectors of the front and advanced near Robotyne. Geolocated footage published on August 19 and 20 shows that Ukrainian forces recently advanced east of Robotyne. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) and Berdyansk directions (western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast area). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces continue to face issues with counterbattery capabilities on all sectors of the front, but particularly in the Zaporizhia direction.The milblogger also claimed that Russian units are facing officer shortages due to manpower losses and that privates command some Russian companies, which should have a junior officer in command.
Ukrainian forces continue to counterattack in the Bakhmut area amid unconfirmed claims of further marginal Ukrainian gains southwest of the city as of May 13. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces established new positions on the outskirts of Kurdyumivka (14km southwest of Bakhmut) and pushed Russian forces behind the Siversky Donets-Donbas canal in the area. The milblogger also claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced towards Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) from the direction of Predtechyne (16km southwest of Bakhmut). ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these additional Ukrainian gains southwest of Bakhmut or elsewhere in the wider Bakhmut area as of May 13. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated on May 13 that Ukrainian forces are advancing in unspecified areas of the front, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces are currently conducting active operations in the Bakhmut area. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated on May 13 that Ukrainian forces liberated 17.3 square kilometers of territory in the Bakhmut direction over three days of counterattacks. ISW has assessed as of May 13 that the Ukrainian forces have liberated 16.85 square kilometers in the Bakhmut area during recent counterattacks. Russian sources amplified footage purporting to show the aftermath of a recent Ukrainian counterattack on Russian positions near Mayorsk (20km southwest of Bakhmut) and claimed that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 3rd Brigade of the 1st Army Corps repelled the assaults. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that recent successful limited Ukrainian counterattacks north of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut) degraded Russian forces’ ability to interdict the O0506 highway between Khromove and Chasiv Yar (13km west of Bakhmut), a significant ground line of communication (GLOC) for Ukrainian forces operating in Bakhmut itself. The milblogger claimed that Russian retreats in response to recent Ukrainian counterattacks have occurred in relatively small areas of the frontline but warned that these “regroupings” could become more significant if Russian forces fail to stabilize the frontline. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on May 12 that talks of tactical Russian withdrawals are nonsense as Russian forces continue to outright abandon positions in unspecified locations.
Ukrainian officials have indicated that Ukrainian forces plan to continue offensive operations over the coming winter to capitalize on recent battlefield successes and prevent Russian forces from regaining the battlefield initiative. Spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Eastern Group Serhii Cherevatyi stated on December 4 that frozen ground enables heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles to advance and that Ukrainian forces are preparing such vehicles for winter operations. Cherevatyi also stated that low-quality mobilized recruits and Wagner Group personnel recruited from Russian prisoners are unprepared for combat in the winter. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated on November 20 that those who suggest the winter will pause hostilities “likely never sunbathed in January on the southern coast of Crimea,” suggesting that Ukrainian forces intend to continue counteroffensive operations over the coming winter that contribute toward the goal of retaking Crimea. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov stated on November 18 that Ukrainian forces will continue to fight in the winter because any type of pause will allow Russian forces to reinforce their units and positions. Ukrainian officials’ prior statements on ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive actions in Kherson Oblast are further evidence that these official statements on winter counteroffensive actions are indicators of continuing counteroffensive operations.
Ukrainian forces reportedly reached the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River across from Kherson City. The Ukrainian “Carlson” volunteer special air intelligence unit posted footage on December 3 of Ukrainian servicemen traversing the Dnipro River in boats, reaching a wooden marina-like structure on the east bank, and raising a Ukrainian flag on a tower toward near the shore. Special Unit “Carlson” reported that this is the first instance of a Ukrainian flag flying over the east bank of the Dnipro River and emphasized this operation will provide a springboard for subsequent Ukrainian operations on the east bank. If confirmed, this limited Ukrainian incursion onto the east bank could open avenues for Ukrainian forces to begin to operate on the east bank. As ISW has previously reported, observed Russian fortifications on the left bank indicate Russian forces are anticipating Ukrainian offensive actions on the east bank and have been constructing defensive lines south of the Dnipro River. The establishment of positions along the eastern riverbank will likely set conditions for future Ukrainian offensive operations into occupied Kherson Oblast, if Ukrainian troops choose to pursue this line of advance in the south.
Russian forces have resumed localized ground attacks northwest and southwest of Izyum and may be setting conditions for offensive operations further west into Kharkiv Oblast or toward Kharkiv City. Russian forces have already launched unsuccessful assaults and reconnaissance-in-force attempts on Chepil, Shchurivka, and Husarivka (northwest of Izyum) and resumed assaults on Dmytrivka and Brazhikivka (southwest of Izyum) in recent days. Russian forces maintained positions around Balaklia and Velyka Komyshuvakha for months and may use these two areas as springboards for an offensive operation. Russian forces may use their positions around Balaklia to restart assaults on Kharkiv City from the southeast. Russian forces are extremely unlikely to seize Kharkiv Oblast or capture Kharkiv City – the second most populated city in Ukraine – given the pace of Russian progress in Donbas and continued challenges in force generation and logistics. ISW has previously assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have ordered Russian forces to take Kharkiv City and the unoccupied portion of Kharkiv Oblast but that he is unlikely to be successful in such goals. Russian forces may also be conducting spoiling attacks to prevent Ukrainian counteroffensives.
Russian forces are likely emerging from their operational pause as of July 15. Russian forces carried out a series of limited ground assaults northwest of Slovyansk, southeast of Siversk, along the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, southeast of Bakhmut, and southwest of Donetsk City. These assaults may indicate that Russian forces are attempting to resume their offensive operations in Donbas. The assaults are still small-scale and were largely unsuccessful. If the operational pause is truly over, the Russians will likely continue and expand such assaults in the coming 72 hours. The Russians might instead alternate briefer pauses with strengthening attacks over a number of days before moving into a full-scale offensive operation. A 10-day-long operational pause is insufficient to fully regenerate Russian forces for large-scale offensive operations. The Russian military seems to feel continuous pressure to resume and continue offensive operations before it can reasonably have rebuilt sufficient combat power to achieve decisive effects at a reasonable cost to itself, however. The resuming Russian offensive may therefore fluctuate or even stall for some time.
5:30 pm EDT: Russia’s Western Military District (WMD) is likely preparing for more exercises in Belarus. Unspecified Russian signals elements of the Moscow-based First Guards Tank Army performed over 300 special command and control and warning signals transmission exercises in the WMD in late September. Signal elements practiced transmitting targeting information, deploying concealed field command posts in blackout conditions, and defending command and control infrastructure against weapons of mass destruction.
September 27, 4:00pm EDT: ISW has updated this piece to include Kavkaz-2020 exercises conducted on September 25 after the original publication.
September 25, 3:00 pm EDT: The Russian Armed Forces are conducting large-scale annual exercises from September 21-26. The Russian Armed Forces conduct large-scale exercises each year in one of its four military districts (Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern) on a rotating basis. The Southern Military District (SMD) is hosting this year’s exercises, dubbed Kavkaz-2020. The exercise involves ground, air, naval, air defense, engineering, logistics, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) units in the Caspian and Black Seas, the Caucasus, and near Volgograd in southern Russia. Kavkaz-2020 is a multinational undertaking. Russian units are exercising together with Armenian units in Armenia. Iranian missile boats conducted joint exercises with Russian ships in the Caspian Sea. Chinese personnel were featured prominently in images of planning sessions. Belarusian and Pakistani forces are also participating. Russian forces are exercising in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories illegally seized from Georgia in the 2008 war and annexed to the Russian Federation, as well as in Crimea, illegally seized from Ukraine in 2014 and annexed to Russia.
6:15 EDT: The Kremlin significantly expanded its military presence in Belarus to facilitate a brigade-sized “tactical exercise” as part of the Slavic Brotherhood exercise’s “second stage” for September 21-25. Russian forces’ size was at the battalion level during Slavic Brotherhood’s first stage from September 14-21. The Kremlin deployed a battalion tactical group from the Tula-based 106th Guards Airborne Division to Brest, Belarus, for Slavic Brotherhood’s second stage on September 21. Forces from the 106th arrived in Belarus via railway on September 21. There are now elements of two different Russian airborne regiments from two different divisions in Brest. The Kremlin deployed a senior general with extensive combat experience in Syria to "participate in” operations in Belarus. The Kremlin deployed Commander Colonel General Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), to Belarus for Slavic Brotherhood exercises on September 21. Serdyukov commanded the Russian military operation in Syria during the peak of the Assad regime’s Idlib offensive in April-September 2019. Serdyukov’s arrival indicates Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively prioritizing military operations in Belarus, since Russian Airborne Forces are also participating in the Kavkaz 2020 exercises, which should in principle have a higher profile as the premier annual multinational exercise.