Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

The Wagner Group will likely no longer exist as a quasi-independent parallel military structure following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s almost certain assassination of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner founder Dmitry Utkin, and reported Wagner logistics and security head Valery Chekalov on August 23. The death of Wagner’s central leadership disrupts Wagner’s ability to reverse the effects of the Kremlin’s and the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) campaign to weaken, subsume, and destroy the organization following the June 24 armed rebellion. The Russian MoD has reportedly established private military companies (PMCs) that have been recruiting current and former Wagner personnel to assume control over Wagner’s operations abroad. Russian sources claimed that the Kremlin refused to pay the Belarusian government for Wagner’s deployment to Belarus and that financial issues were already leading to reduced payments that were causing Wagner fighters to resign. Satellite imagery from August 1 and 23 shows that Wagner had dismantled almost a third of the tents at its camp in Tsel, Asipovichy, Belarus in the previous month, suggesting that the effort to weaken Wagner may have resulted in a notable flight of Wagner personnel from the contingent in Belarus. Some milbloggers denied claims that Wagner fighters are dismantling their camp in Tsel, however. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on August 23 that an unspecified number of Wagner personnel at camps in Belarus began preparations to return to Russia following Prigozhin’s death. The central Wagner leadership had brought Wagner to the height of its independence during the offensive to capture Bakhmut and was attempting to retain some semblance of that independence in the aftermath of Wagner’s rebellion. The elimination of this central leadership likely ends any remaining means Wagner had to operate independently of the Russian MoD. It remains unclear whether the Kremlin intends for Wagner to completely dissipate or intends to reconstitute it as a much smaller organization completely subordinate to the Russian MoD. A third option—restoring Wagner as a quasi-independent organization under a new commander loyal to the Kremlin—is possible but unlikely.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 24, 2023

August 24, 2023 - ISW Press

The Kuomintang (KMT) is facing several internal disputes as the party falls further behind in the presidential election polls.

The flagship CCP journal Qiushi republished a February article by Xi Jinping on August 15 that emphasized “Chinese-style modernization.” This content of the publication and its reprinting indicates that the party aims to buttress support for spreading its political and economic governance models in formerly colonized countries.

The CCP outlet Red Flag Manuscript published an article on August 14 about the necessity of recapturing the spirit of “revolutionary patriotism” embodied by the Chinese military during the Korean War. The content of the article indicates that creating ideological alignment amongst PLA leadership is becoming increasingly necessary in order to prepare for future wars.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 23, 2023

August 23, 2023 - ISW Press

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and founder Dmitry Utkin reportedly died after Russian forces shot down an aircraft transporting senior Wagner commanders over Tver Oblast. The Russian Federal Aviation Agency (Rosaviatsiya) reported on August 23 that all the passengers – Yevgeny Prigozhin, Dmitry Utkin, Sergei Propustin, Yevgeny Makaryan, Alexander Totmin, Valery Chekalov, Nikolai Matyuseev – died in the crash along with all three crew members. Russian opposition outlet Dossier reported that Chekalov, who is under US sanctions for transferring munitions to Russia and has acted on behalf of Prigozhin, oversaw Wagner transport logistics and “civilian” projects abroad. A Russian insider source claimed that Chekalov also served as head of Wagner’s security services, though another source refuted this claim. Dossier also reported that several other passengers joined Wagner between 2015 and 2017 and fought in Syria, although their current positions are unclear. Russian sources amplified footage apparently showing a Russian missile striking an aircraft carrying Prigozhin, Utkin, and other Wagner commanders and the wreckage of the aircraft. An insider source claimed that two S-300 missiles shot down the aircraft. Flight tracking data for an Embraer Legacy 600 jet (registration number RA-02795) registered to the Wagner Group stopped after 6:11pm Moscow time while over Tver Oblast. Russian sources claimed that a second Wagner Group-owned Embraer jet (registration number RA-02748) departed Moscow but turned around and landed at Ostafyevo airport in Moscow around the time of the strike. Flight tracking data showed that this second aircraft arrived in St Petersburg at 6:27pm and flew back to Moscow 20 minutes later arriving at 8:02pm, however.

Iran Update, August 23, 2023

August 23, 2023 - ISW Press

At least 16 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian provinces of Suwayda and Daraa on August 23. The protests have gained popular support and activists are circulating calls for protests in Deir ez Zor Province on Thursday, August 24, and in all Syrian provinces on Friday, August 25.

Armed groups assassinated four pro-regime personnel, two of whom were from Iranian-backed groups, in eastern Syria between August 10 and August 22. Syrian regime forces refused to complete patrols in Mayadin City on August 23 following the assassinations.

The Supreme Leader’s office showcased the Iranian regime’s sponsorship of Palestinian resistance groups on August 22 after Israeli officials blamed Iran for kinetic activity in the West Bank.

Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari traveled to Moscow between August 20-23. Heydari’s visit to the border surveillance equipment center and comment about “terrorism” indicate that Iran seeks Russian assistance in enhancing its border security.

Iran Update, August 22, 2023

August 22, 2023 - ISW Press

At least 21 anti-regime protests occurred in the southern Syrian province of Suwayda on August 22. Local media reported higher numbers—around 35 protests—but CTP could only verify 21. These protests initially erupted on August 16 after Syrian President Bashar al Assad adjusted bus prices and cut fuel subsidies. The largest protest on August 22—consisting of several hundred people—occurred in Suwayda City. Suwayda locals furthermore have continued to strike and block roads with burning tires for the third consecutive day. The protests are explicitly anti-regime and shut down government offices and Baath party headquarters. Disaffected Syrians in other provinces, such as Homs, Latakia, and Tartous, have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 22, 2023

August 22, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces continued to make advances in and around Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast as of August 22 amid indications that Russian forces likely have a limited presence in the settlement. Geolocated footage published on August 21 and 22 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced in southeastern Robotyne and east of the settlement near Novopokrovka (13km southeast of Orikhiv). The Ukrainian 47th Mechanized Brigade published a video on August 22 showing its personnel successfully evacuating civilians from Robotyne while accompanied by Ukrainian journalists. The 47th Mechanized Brigade stated that its personnel broke through multi-echelon Russian defensive lines near Robotyne and have entered the settlement. The evacuations and the presence of Ukrainian journalists suggests that areas of Robotyne may be relatively secure due to diminished Russian positions in the settlement itself and the nearby area. Russian maximalist claims that Ukrainian forces only maintain positions on the very northern outskirts of the settlement are likely false given the footage and reporting from the 47th Brigade. Most Russian milbloggers continue to acknowledge that Ukrainian forces hold positions in much of northern Robotyne and that Russian forces likely control at most positions on the southern outskirts of the settlement at this time.

Iran Update, August 21, 2023

August 21, 2023 - ISW Press

Anti-regime protests have continued to expand in southern Syria, despite the beginning of the work week. The Syrian regime is trying to redirect frustrations toward external actors and local elements.

The United States reportedly unloaded Iranian oil off a tanker after seizing it in April 2023. Iran may further seize commercial vessels and/or threaten US ships in response.

The Artesh Ground Forces commander traveled to Moscow to discuss military cooperation. This visit is part of the evolving military and security partnership between Iran and Russia.

The Iranian regime is working behind closed doors to pass an oppressive law that would expand the mandatory hijab requirement. These measures could further aggravate frustrations throughout Iran.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 21, 2023

August 21, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces made tactically significant gains in and east of Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 20-21 while continuing counteroffensive operations on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast administrative border and in eastern Ukraine. Geolocated footage published on August 20 and August 21 indicates that Ukrainian forces reached the central part of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and broke through some Russian defenses south of Mala Tokmachka (9km southeast of Orikhiv). Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported that Ukrainian forces succeeded in the direction southeast of Robotyne and south of Mala Tokmachka, and that Russian forces unsuccessfully counterattacked east of Robotyne. Malyar and Russian sources stated that fighting is ongoing in Robotyne. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces captured some positions in a part of the Russian forward defensive lines after intensifying attacks on the Robotyne-Verbove (21km southeast of Orikhiv) line. Some Russian sources reported that Russian forces retreated from some positions near Verbove as part of their elastic defense, likely in response to a Ukrainian advance south of Mala Tokmachka. ISW previously assessed that Ukrainian attacks on Robotyne are tactically significant because a Ukrainian advance in the area may allow Ukrainian forces to begin operating past the densest Russian minefields. Ukrainian advances across fields in this area likely confirm this assessment. Persistent Ukrainian advances in the Robotyne area also likely aim to degrade Russian forces that have committed significant effort, resources, and personnel to hold positions around Robotyne.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 20, 2023

August 20, 2023 - ISW Press

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, August 19, 2023

August 19, 2023 - ISW Press

Russian forces launched a missile strike during the day on August 19 targeting Chernihiv City center after carrying out a series of Shahed drone strikes overnight. Russian forces struck Taras Shevchenko Theater in Chernihiv City, killing seven people and injuring 117. Chernihiv Oblast Administration Head Vyacheslav Chaus reported that Russian forces “probably” launched a “ballistic missile” at the theater, and Russian sources claimed that Russian forces used an Iskander-M ballistic missile during the strike. The theater reportedly hosted a drone exposition called “Lyuti Ptashky” (Angry Birds), which had previously occurred in other Ukrainian cities. The event organizer, Maria Berlinska, stated that organizers only shared the location of the event with individuals who registered and were screened before attending the event. The event reportedly ended shortly after an air raid warning, and organizers advised people to hide in a shelter. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated that Russian forces are targeting public events to emotionally affect Ukrainians and noted that Russian forces have previously struck public events even without prior public announcements of such events. Many Russian milbloggers originally claimed that Russian forces targeted a Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) building, before most indicated that Russian forces struck the drone exhibition.