The Russian military is likely trying to use mobilized personnel to restart the Donetsk offensive but will likely still fail to achieve operationally significant gains. Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Valerii Zaluzhnyi reported on November 4 that Russian forces have tripled the intensity of hostilities in certain sections of the front with up to 80 daily assaults. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are currently focusing those offensive operations in the direction of Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and western Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian Eastern Group of troops spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi stated on November 4 that Russian forces are likely trying to seize Bakhmut and Soledar in Donetsk Oblast so that Russia can declare some type of success by announcing the “liberation” of the Donbas (even though those gains would not give Russia control over the entire region). Cherevatyi also noted the presence of mobilized men in the Bakhmut direction, an area that should not in principle see many mobilized personnel given the extensive presence in this area of Wagner Group and proxy units that should not be receiving large numbers of Russian reservists. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces prematurely impaled an insufficient concentration of mobilized personnel on offensive pushes near Bakhmut and Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast on November 3. The apparent intensification of Russian assaults in Donetsk Oblast likely indicates that Russian forces are repeating that mistake throughout this section of the front. The increased quantity of personnel at frontline positions may allow Russian forces to achieve some gains in Donetsk Oblast, but poor training, logistics, and command will continue to prevent Russian forces from making operationally significant gains that would materially affect the course or outcome of the war.
Russian forces are continuing to withdraw some elements from northwestern Kherson Oblast, but it is still unclear if Russian forces will fight for Kherson City. Kherson City occupation deputy Kirill Stremousov stated on November 3 that Russian forces “will most likely leave for the left (eastern) bank” of the Dnipro River urging civilians to evacuate from Kherson City “as quickly as possible.” ISW has observed that Russian forces are continuing to prepare fallback positions on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River while continuing to set up defensive positions northwest of Kherson City and transporting additional mobilized forces there, despite Stremousov’s statement. Some Russian elite units — such as airborne forces and naval infantry — are reportedly continuing to operate on the right (western) bank of the Dnipro River and their full withdrawal from northern Kherson Oblast would be a clearer indicator that Russian forces will not fight for Kherson City or settlements on the right bank.
Russian force generation efforts combined with Western sanctions are having long-term damaging effects on the Russian economy, as ISW has previously forecasted. Financial experts told Reuters that the Kremlin will face a budget deficit that will “drain Moscow’s reserves to their lowest level in years” due to projected decreases in energy revenue, sanctions, and the cost of Russian mobilization. One expert predicted that payouts to mobilized men including social benefits may cost the Kremlin between 900 billion rubles and three trillion rubles (around $14.6-$32.4 billion) in the next six months. The number does not account for payouts to other categories of servicemen within the Russian forces such as BARS (Combat Army Reserve), volunteer battalions, and the long-term commitment to veterans' payments to contract servicemen, volunteers, non-military specialists who moved to occupied territories, and proxy fighters. ISW previously estimated that one volunteer battalion of 400 servicemen costs Russia at least $1.2 million per month excluding enlistment bonuses and special payments for military achievements.
Iran plans to send more combat drones and new ballistic missile systems to Russia for use in Ukraine, likely further strengthening Russia’s reliance on Iranian-made weapon systems. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on November 1 that Iranian officials intend to send a shipment of more than 200 Shahed-136, Mohajer-6, and Arash-2 combat drones to Russia. The GUR reported that Iran will send Russia the drones in a disassembled state and that Russian personnel will assemble them with Russian markings. CNN reported on November 1 that unnamed officials from a western country that closely monitors Iranian weapons programs stated that Iran plans to send a thousand weapons to Russia by the end of the year, including surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles and combat drones. This would be the first confirmed instance of Iran sending Russia advanced precision-guided missiles. Russia likely negotiated the additional Iranian shipment of weapons systems due to the depletion of its stockpile of cruise missile and drone systems over the course of the war in Ukraine, particularly during the Russian campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure. The GUR reported that Ukrainian air defenses have shot down more than 300 Shahed-136 drones since Russia starting using them in Ukraine on September 13. Russia will likely continue to use drone attacks and missile strikes against critical infrastructure to try to offset the failures and limitations of its conventional forces on the frontline. Russian dependence on Iranian-made systems, and therefore on Iran, will likely increase.
Effective Ukrainian partisan attacks are forcing the Kremlin to divert resources away from frontline operations to help secure rear areas, degrading Russia’s ability to defend against ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensives, let alone conduct their own offensive operations. Poor Russian operational security has enabled Ukrainian partisan attacks. Russia’s increasing manpower shortages are likely degrading Russian forces’ ability to effectively secure Russian rear areas against partisan attacks and simultaneously defend against Ukrainian counteroffensives. The Kremlin still has not effectively countered Ukraine’s organized partisan movement and is unlikely to have the capabilities to do so.
Russian forces conducted another massive wave of missiles strikes targeting critical Ukrainian infrastructure across the country on October 31, likely in an attempt to degrade Ukraine’s will to fight as temperatures drop. Russian forces fired over 50 Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles from the northern Caspian Sea and the Volgodonsk region of Rostov Oblast, targeting critical Ukrainian energy infrastructure. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 44 out of over 50 Russian missiles. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reported that the strikes damaged 18 mostly energy-related targets across 10 Ukrainian regions. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian strikes cut off water to 80% of Kyiv residents on October 31 and left hundreds of thousands without power.
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, October 30. This report forecasts that Russia will continue to conduct conventional military operations well into 2023 rather than escalating to the use of tactical nuclear weapons or scaling back its objectives in pursuit of some off-ramp. It considers the timelines of Russian force generation and deployment, of weather effects, and of Moscow’s efforts to freeze Europe into surrender. It includes a summary of battlefield activities that will be described in more detail in tomorrow’s update.
Likely Ukrainian forces conducted an attack against a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles on October 29. Social media footage documented an unknown number of unmanned surface vehicles striking at least one Grigorovich-class frigate in Sevastopol on October 29. Footage also showed smoke near the port in Sevastopol and what appeared to be Russian air defense in Sevastopol engaging air targets. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Ukrainian forces used seven autonomous maritime drones and nine unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct a “terrorist attack” against the BSF and civilian targets in Sevastopol. Attacks on military vessels in wartime are legitimate acts of war and not terrorist attacks. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces destroyed all air targets, destroyed four maritime drones on the outer roadstead, and three maritime drones on the inner roadstead. A similar unidentified unmanned surface vehicle first appeared on the coast of Crimea on September 21.
Russian forces are not making significant progress around Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast or anywhere else along the front lines. A Russian information operation is advancing the narrative that Russian forces are making significant progress in Bakhmut, likely to improve morale among Russian forces and possibly to improve the personal standing of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces are largely responsible for the minimal gains in the area. Russian forces have made limited advances towards the Ukrainian strongpoint in Bakhmut but at a very slow speed and at great cost. Prigozhin acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner Group ground operations around Bakhmut on October 23 and stated that Wagner forces advance only 100-200m per day, which he absurdly claimed was a normal rate for modern advances. Ukrainian forces recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut around October 24. Ukrainian military officials stated on October 16 that Russian forces had falsely claimed to have captured several towns near Bakhmut within the past several days, but Ukrainian forces held their lines against those Russian attacks. Russian forces are likely falsifying claims of advances in the Bakhmut area to portray themselves as making gains in at least one sector amid continuing losses in northeast and southern Ukraine. Even the claimed rate of advance would be failure for a main effort in mechanized war--and the claims are, in fact, exaggerated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to reject the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with serious negotiations. Putin continued to reject Ukrainian sovereignty during a speech at the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27. Putin stated that the “single real guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty” can only be Russia, which “created” Ukraine. Putin reiterated that it is a “historical fact” that Ukrainians and Russians are fundamentally “one people” that were wrongly separated into “different states.” Putin stated on October 26 that Ukraine has “lost its sovereignty” and become a NATO vassal.