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Ukraine Sept. 19
Military and security developments
Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: Tensions will remain elevated in coming days following renewed clashes. Tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will remain elevated following further reports of border clashes on the morning of 16 September. Unconfirmed reports indicate that ‘heavy weaponry’ was involved, resulting in at least one casualty and several civilian injuries. The clashes took place while both countries’ presidents were attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in neighbouring Uzbekistan. Diplomatic attempts to de-escalate the situation will almost certainly take place due to the attendance of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, at the summit. The clashes are the latest in a series of relatively frequent border confrontations between the two countries, and are unlikely to result in an all-out war. However, tensions will remain high in the short term, with further localised clashes a realistic possibility in the next 24-48 hours.
Ukrainian forces have in recent weeks inflicted the worst battlefield defeat suffered by the Russian Armed Forces of the war, and orchestrated one of the most successful operational counteroffensives conducted by any military force in recent decades. At the time of writing on 16 September, Ukrainian forces have recaptured almost the entirety of Kharkiv oblast and retaken over 6,000 square kilometres of ground since 6 September, dwarfing the amount of territory Russian forces have taken in numerous offensives since April. For further context.
The scale and rapidity of the operation mark a major turning point in the Russo-Ukrainian war, which entered its 200th day since the invasion on 11 September. The success of the Kharkiv counteroffensive, launched in tandem with another large-scale counteroffensive in Kherson, has shown at once strengthening Ukrainian offensive capability and combined arms tactics, while exposing endemic institutional, morale and logistical weaknesses within the Russian Armed Forces. The scale of Russia’s operational defeat in Kharkiv oblast has raised the possibility of a Ukrainian military victory in the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this report, we will assess various scenarios for a Ukrainian military victory, including trigger points, implications, and likely Russian responses. Report can be found here: https://mcusercontent.com/8820fad262ad2a5db554a985a/files/10d81ad9-e8da-1ae8-9cd5-d739b0b32651/Sibylline_Situation_Update_Brief_Ukraine_Ukrainian_Victory_Scenarios_16_09_22.pdf?mc_cid=8d393384b1&mc_eid=2b523eac5f
- Ukrainian forces have over the past 24 hours continued counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine. While Ukrainian officials and sources remain largely silent on confirming progress, Russian sources continue to report on Ukrainian advances, indicating continued pressure across the frontline.
- Russian sources claimed on 15 September that Ukrainian forces are continuing to advance across the Oskil River and establishing bases across Kharkiv oblast. One such claimed base is at Hryanykivka, a village on the eastern bank of the river that controls one of the few bridge crossings over the Oskil. If confirmed, this would indicate that Ukrainian forces are consolidating control over the eastern bank of the Oskil as well, with the frontline likely to be further east as a result. As previously reported, all indicators point to Russia either struggling to or not prioritising the reinforcement of the newly vulnerable Luhansk/Kharkiv frontline. Therefore, if Ukrainian forces can maintain pressure on this flank and continue disrupting Russian ground lines of communication (GLOC), further advances towards the Luhansk border are likely in the coming days.
- Further south, Russian sources continue to report on Ukrainian attacks along the Lyman-Yampil axis. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Ukraine has forded the Siverskyi Donets River and taken the village of Sosnove, 18km northwest of Lyman, resulting in a Russian withdrawal from the nearby town of Studenok to avoid encirclement.
- Russian sources maintain that Lyman has been reinforced, though further Ukrainian advances along this axis are likely as Russian forces continue to concentrate on reinforcing operations further south. In this respect, Russian forces have claimed they have taken Mayorsk, a small settlement 6km northwest of Horlivka that controls the start of the T-05-13 highway that runs north to Bakhmut. However, this remains unconfirmed, as the Ukrainian General Staff yesterday, 15 September, reported that their forces have repelled attacks on Mayorsk.
- On the southern Kherson front, Ukrainian officials stated on 15 September that earlier unconfirmed reports that Kyselivka had been retaken were incorrect and that Russian forces retain control of the settlement northwest of Kherson city. This reinforces the confused picture on the ground as Russian and Ukrainian forces are contesting areas as well as engaging in positional battles across a wide area of territory. Nevertheless, the majority of Ukrainian information from this axis continues to be focused on the successful interdiction of Russian GLOCs, including the claimed destruction of a military base in Nova Kakhovka, various ammunition depots and continued strikes along the Inhulets and Dnieper rivers. Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to strike at Ukrainian water infrastructure in Kryvyi Rih on 15 September, following the attack on the Karachuniv reservoir that caused large-scale flooding. Russian sources claimed their forces had struck an unnamed dam along the Inhulets River to raise water levels and undermine the Ukrainian bridgehead on the eastern banks of the river – a focal point on current ground operations.
- On 15 September, President Putin attended a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. At the summit, Putin met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine, where the two leaders largely presented a united front. Putin praised Beijing’s “balanced position” on the war in Ukraine while acknowledging China had “questions and concerns” over the invasion – likely an allusion to the economic fallout of the war and the risks of secondary sanctions faced by China if it continues to assist Moscow.
- While Sino-Russian relations remain fairly strong, despite the war in Ukraine, Moscow’s standing in Central Asia continues to wane as regional governments raise concerns about imperialist and irredentist narratives in Russia. Relations between Russia and Kazakhstan have in particular worsened in recent months, even though a Russian-led CSTO intervention helped prop up the Kazakh government during unrest as recently as January. China is looking to expand its influence in the region as a result, with Xi notably stating that China will “always support Kazakhstan in maintaining national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”. This could indicate Chinese interest in expanding its engagement in the region beyond purely economic investment, with Astana possibly looking to Beijing as a future security guarantor for the region – a role traditionally held by Moscow.
- In this respect, Radio Free Europe estimates that Russia has withdrawn around 1,500 military personnel from its 201st Military Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to fight in Ukraine, with a further 900 redeployed from other bases in Tajikistan and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Amid clashes along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border this week, which have restarted this morning (16 September), a visibly diminished Russian presence in the region could yet facilitate further destabilisation, a trend already evidenced by renewed fighting in the Caucasus this week (see Sibylline Alert – 13 September).
- On 15 September, the US announced another USD 600 million military aid package to Ukraine, raising the total provided by Washington since the invasion to USD 15.1 billion. The newest package will include additional ammunition for HIMARS and precision-guided artillery, as well as four counter-artillery radars, which will augment still further Ukraine’s growing counterbattery capabilities.
- As Ukrainian forces consolidate their recent gains in Kharkiv oblast, evidence of war crimes continues to emerge. Ukrainian authorities have reportedly found a mass grave containing 440 bodies in the recently retaken city of Izyum – which if confirmed would make it the biggest mass grave seen in Europe since the aftermath of the Balkan wars. Ukrainian officials have also reported the discovery of alleged torture chambers. The discoveries, akin to those identified in Bucha following the Russian withdrawal from northern Ukraine, will only reinforce Ukrainian resolve to continue fighting. Senior advisor to President Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, asked rhetorically on the back of the discoveries “anyone else wants to ‘freeze the war’ instead of sending tanks?” This is the latest indication that Kyiv has no intention of reaching a ceasefire agreement for the foreseeable future, and will only reinforce its determination to retake all occupied territories, including Crimea and the Donbas.
On 15 September, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov openly called on Russian regions to ‘self mobilise’. He stated that there is no need to wait for the Kremlin to order general mobilisation and martial law. As a result, he has called on regional administrations and governors to take it upon themselves to raise new volunteer units for the war effort. Kadyrov’s intervention comes amid mounting calls from Russian hardliners for mobilisation in the aftermath of Russia’s operational defeat in Kharkiv. Several senior loyalist governors have expressed support for Kadyrov’s calls for ‘self-mobilisation’, including the governors of Kursk and Crimea, with more likely to follow. Prominent propagandist and editor-in-chief of RT Margarita Simonyan also announced on her Telegram (which has 350k followers) that the time has come for “every Russian to decide which side they are on”, encouraging people to volunteer. The Kremlin is attempting to mobilise the population indirectly and encourage greater engagement with the war effort; the push for so-called ‘social mobilisation’ previously reported upon (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 14 September). However, Kadyrov’s calls for ‘self-mobilisation’ are highly likely to increase pressure on regional governors, many of whom are newly re-elected following polls last week, to step up partial mobilisation efforts across the whole country. Such efforts will likely include more liberal, metropolitan regions, such as Moscow and St Petersburg, which have up until now been largely shielded from sharing the burden of raising volunteer battalions. The majority of troops raised in Russia’s 3rd Army Corps, for example, come from economically disadvantaged or ethnic-minority regions. Issuing general mobilisation will remain a highly risky option for the Kremlin, given the potential for widespread civil disobedience and refusals to fight. However, placing the responsibility to ‘self mobilise’ on regional governors is likely to prove a more favourable option for the Kremlin moving forward, as the Kremlin attempts to martial a largely apathetic and fearful public to sustain military operations in Ukraine.
- Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have continued to consolidate their recent gains in Kharkiv and northern Donetsk oblasts. The frontline along the Oskil River has largely stabilised, while Russian sources maintain that their forces are defending against Ukrainian attacks south of Lyman, on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River. Fighting is also ongoing around Bilohorivka, a settlement inside the borders of Luhansk oblast, 10km northwest of Lysychansk, which Ukrainian forces recaptured on 10 September. This is the only foothold Ukrainian forces retain inside Luhansk oblast itself, but further attacks against Lyman are threatening to push Russian forces back towards the border further north also.
- The southern Kherson counteroffensive has also continued over the last 24 hours, though the information blackout maintained by the Ukrainian military limits our ability to confirm advances. Ukrainian officials and military reporting remain focused on recording the successful interdiction campaign across the frontline, including strikes against ammunition depots, command and control centres, and bridges and pontoons across the Dnieper River – which continue to degrade Russia’s ability to reinforce and supply the Kherson front. Ukrainian officials also reported the liberation of Kyselivka, following our earlier reporting that DNR forces had withdrawn from the settlement, which sits 15km northwest of Kherson city. However, Russian sources have denied Ukrainian advances in this area. For the Russian attack on the Karachuniv reservoir and its impact on Ukrainian counteroffensive operations along the Inhulets River, see below.
- On 14 September, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the prominent Putin confidant suspected of founding the Wagner Group private military company (PMC), gave a recruitment speech at a Russian prison. In a video published on Telegram, Prigozhin offered Russian prisoners the opportunity to join Wagner Group forces and fight in Ukraine for six months. After completing a six-month tour, the prisoners will be given their freedom, but Prigozhin was clear that deserters will be shot and consumption of alcohol or drugs banned – likely an indication of extensive alcoholism issues which the Russian military has suffered since the 1990s.
- We have previously reported on Russian efforts to recruit in prisons, reflecting efforts by the Kremlin to raise manpower for the war without issuing general mobilisation. Notably, Prigozhin, sometimes known as ‘Putin’s Chef’, has gained a reputation amongst Russian military bloggers and hardliners as a highly competent overseer of the Wagner Group, which has spearheaded assaults around Bakhmut in recent months. Given his popularity, Prigozhin is likely to take a more prominent role in recruitment going forward as the Kremlin looks to shore up support for the war following the Kharkiv counteroffensive.
- While Prigozhin attempts to increase recruitment for Wagner Group forces, the PMC continues to lead largely unsuccessful ground assaults east of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian General Staff have this morning, 15 September, reported that Russian forces are prioritising the strengthening of the ‘first line of defence’ in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia frontlines. The General Staff report that elements of the newly-raised 3rd Army Corps and units that have been withdrawn from Kharkiv oblast are redeploying to the Donetsk front. This aligns with other reports that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) forces are being redeployed to frontlines in Donetsk, rather than reinforcing the newly vulnerable Luhansk oblast border east of the Oskil River. Ukrainian officials have claimed that women in Luhansk have been protesting the redeployment of LNR forces to the Donetsk frontline. Such reports remain credible given the extensive resistance LNR and DNR forces have historically shown to being deployed outside of their immediate oblast’s borders in recent months.
- Nikita Yuferev, one of a small number of Russian municipal deputies from the Smolninskoye district of St Petersburg that have called for President Putin’s resignation, has stated that he stands by his statement. The authorities have already fined him and he is now facing jail time if he does not retract his statement. Such open opposition to Putin remains very limited at present, as previously assessed, and Yuferev and his colleague’s stance has not created any groundswell of support. Prison sentences will likely deter others from openly criticising the president, but if the military situation in Ukraine does not improve for Russian forces, further calls for his resignation will become increasingly likely as the war drags on and sanctions begin to bite.
- Yesterday, 14 September, President Volodymyr Zelensky was involved in a traffic collision, when a private car collided with the president’s vehicle. Zelensky is unharmed, and while it was most likely an accidental collision, it remains unclear whether the driver of the private vehicle purposefully attempted to injure the president.
- On 14 September, Eberhard Zorn, the Inspector-General of the German Bundeswehr, equivalent to a Chief of Defence Staff, gave an interview in the German magazine Focus, warning of an expansion of the war in Ukraine. He expressed fears that Moscow could yet open a “second front”, naming Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea, the Finnish border, Georgia and Moldova as all “possibilities”. He justified this by stating that only 60 percent of Russian land forces are committed in Ukraine, arguing that Russia still has significant uncommitted capabilities as a result. Zorn’s assertions stand largely in opposition to our assessment that the likelihood of conflict spillover is diminishing given weakening Russian capability.
- It remains our assessment that much more than 60 percent of Russia’s deployable combat power has been committed to Ukraine, given the extensive losses regular units have suffered and the apparent reliance upon volunteers and reservists to plug gaping manpower shortages – illustrated by Prigozhin’s appeal to Russian prisoners to join Wagner Group formations. Therefore, we do not anticipate Russia opening a second front in the short term, as we assess that Moscow cannot do so even if it wished. Moldova will remain most vulnerable over the longer term given the Russian presence in Transnistria, but amid the Ukrainian Kherson counteroffensive, Russia is in no position to invade Moldova at present.
As anticipated in yesterday’s reporting, Russian forces have begun what is likely to be a campaign of long-range strikes targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure across the country. On the night of 14 September, eight Russian cruise missiles struck a dam at the Karachuniv reservoir in the city of Kryvyi Rih. The strike compromised the dam and led to extensive flooding across western sections of the city, leading local authorities to issue an evacuation of numerous streets. The water level of the Inhulets River rose to historic levels overnight, but local engineers have since stopped the water from rising further, though extensive repair works continue. Temporary blackouts and enduring water shortages have affected the city. At the time of writing, numerous other Russian missiles have reportedly struck targets across Kryvyi Rih around 13:00 (local time).The attack on the Karachuniv dam likely serves two purposes. The first is military. By causing extensive flooding along the Inhulets River, Russian forces are likely attempting to disrupt the Ukrainian Kherson counteroffensive, which is to a large extent focused around the Inhulets downstream. Disrupting or destroying Ukrainian pontoon bridges along the river could potentially have been an aim, designed to stymie Ukrainian attempts at creating new bridgeheads across the river The second purpose is more strategic, and aligns with our forecast yesterday, that the Russian military is likely to launch an intensive missile campaign against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, in response to the Kharkiv defeat. The attack is also likely to mark a major shift in official military targeting, with the Kremlin likely to now openly target civilian infrastructure in a bid to placate hardliners shaken by recent military setbacks and undermine Ukrainian civilian morale over the winter. Major electricity, water, gas and telecommunication blackouts are therefore increasingly likely across Ukraine in the weeks ahead and throughout the winter. While Russian stocks of long-range precision weapons continue to diminish, Moscow is likely to retain sufficient stocks to continue such strikes for the foreseeable future.
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Reports of ceasefire deal reduce risk of conflict, raise risk of unrest in Yerevan. A senior Armenian political official stated on 15 September that Yerevan and Baku had reached a ceasefire deal. However, Azerbaijan is yet to confirm this at the time of writing. The development follows yesterday’s announcement that Russia agreed to deploy a Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) monitoring mission to Armenia to demonstrate Moscow’s role as a reliable security guarantor, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine. Although the immediate risk of an outright war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has decreased, domestic unrest and calls for Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign are rising. Thousands of people gathered in the capital Yerevan on 14 September to demand Pashinyan’s resignation. This is on trend with previous instances of truce agreements between Yerevan and Baku, with Armenia’s domestic opposition accusing Pashinyan of capitulating to Azerbaijan. Further protests are therefore highly likely in Yerevan this week.
- Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in Kharkiv oblast have continued to slow over the last 24 hours, with Ukrainian forces consolidating recent gains and largely stabilising the frontline along the Oskil River. Nevertheless, Russian sources have claimed that Ukrainian forces have forded the Oskil near Borova, northeast of a key river crossing at Horokhovatka 30km northeast of Izyum. Given limited indications that Russian forces are prioritising reinforcing the Oskil line, it remains likely that Ukrainian forces will have opportunities to make further progress east to the Oskil in the coming days. If Ukrainian forces do not choose to continue offensive operations, relative Russian weakness on this axis will nevertheless likely provide opportunities to conduct raids and special forces operations aimed at disrupting reinforcements and the establishment of new defensive lines.
- Fighting nevertheless reportedly remains ongoing further south along the Lyman-Yampil axis, where Ukrainian forces have taken positions on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River. No further confirmed advances have been made in the last 24 hours, but Ukrainian forces are likely to continue applying pressure on this axis, with the aim of pushing Russian forces out of Lyman and Yampil and pushing towards the Zherebets River along the border of Luhansk oblast.
- While counteroffensive operations in Kharkiv have slowed, Ukrainian operations in Kherson continue to make steady progress. Ukrainian forces appear to be launching ground assaults in a bid to expand their bridgehead across the Inhulets River, including assaults on Davydiv Brid – though it is difficult to confirm whether any progress has been made amid Russian counterattacks. Fighting has also continued northwest of Kherson city, with advisor to the Ukrainian President’s Office Oleksii Arestoyvch claiming that Ukrainian forces have retaken Oleksandrivka, a settlement that has changed hands numerous times some 33km northwest of Kherson along the coast.
- Russian forces have meanwhile continued offensive operations to the east of Bakhmut and west of Donetsk city. This reinforces earlier indications that Russian commander Colonel General Alexander Lapin has no intention of ceasing such operations against heavily fortified Ukrainian positions in order to help stabilise the Kharkiv front. Russian sources claimed on 13 September that Wagner Group forces seized Mykhailivka Druha, a settlement that sits on the T-05-13 highway west of Kodema. If confirmed, this will be the first time Russian forces have reached the highway south of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian General Staff in their morning report on 14 September claimed Ukrainian forces had repelled assaults near Odradivka, just to the north of Mykhailivka Druha, suggesting Russian forces have made progress towards the road. Ultimately, however, such gains remain very limited and their strategic and operational significance are dwarfed by Ukrainian gains to the north, which have now exposed the borders of Luhansk oblast to potential attack.
- Russian sources have over the last 24 hours continued to report on a growing Ukrainian build up along the eastern end of the Zaporizhzhia frontline. A Russian-installed official in Zaporizhzhia claimed on 13 September that the Ukrainian build up near Vuhledar is “colossal” and “unprecedented”, reflecting mounting concern among Russian sources about the growing vulnerability of this flank. As Colonel General Lapin continues to prioritise marginal gains around Bakhmut and Donetsk city, Vuhledar will be a key location to watch in the coming days that could be Kyiv’s next target to unbalance the Russians in the south.
- On 13 September, the Kremlin openly acknowledged their operational defeat in Kharkiv oblast, the first time the state has recognised a Russian defeat in the war. The Ministry of Defence’s previous explanation for the defeat, that Russian forces were withdrawing to “regroup” to support operations in Donetsk, received widespread criticism from even pro-Kremlin commentators. This latest acknowledgement is therefore a likely attempt to regain the narrative and insulate President Putin from criticism. The communication strategy now employed by the Kremlin fits the ‘Tsar-boyar’ dynamic we predicted in our earlier reporting, with the Kremlin blaming ill-informed military advisors within Putin’s inner circle. Such open criticism of the military by the Kremlin reinforces the growing likelihood of high-profile purges within the Ministry of Defence, including potentially Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu himself.
- As previous assessed, as long as mainstream criticism continues to focus on Ministry of Defence officials and military officers, rather than Putin, a major challenge to the regime is unlikely to materialise. However, if that criticism shifts and the Kremlin loses control of the narrative, internal stability will likely deteriorate, particularly if the Kremlin ignores prominent hardliners’ demands to make concrete steps towards mobilisation. Such calls are increasing among not only the hardliner military commentator communities, but also within the State Duma. During the first autumn plenary meeting of the Duma on 13 September, numerous prominent opposition lawmakers called for varying degrees of mobilisation. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who has long supported the Kremlin in almost all policy areas, stated that general mobilisation is needed precisely because the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine is nothing short of a full war. Similarly, United Russia deputy Mikhail Sheremet, a deputy from Crimea, also called for full mobilisation, one of the first members of the ruling party to do so.
- Despite growing calls for a transition towards full mobilisation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on 13 September that “there is no talk of mobilisation in Russia at the moment”. At present there are limited indications to suggest the Kremlin has approved or is preparing for a general mobilisation, though pressure is growing and therefore remains a realistic possibility going forward, particularly in the new year. The new conscription cycle begins on 1 October, and we could see revised legislation that makes the retention of conscripts easier.
- While there are numerous reports of service personnel not being allowed to leave the front, there are also reports of highly experienced personnel leaving after their contract ends – something the Kremlin will need to prioritise. Indeed, the Duma is due to debate a bill that will allow conscription notices to be distributed by mail – rather than in person as the current law requires. However, this debate is not scheduled until December. This indicates that a rapid transition to mobilisation is not currently a priority for the Kremlin – though legislative timetables could change at short notice, and will be a key indicator to watch.
- In the meantime, we are most likely to see continued partial mobilisation and efforts to get the population more actively involved in the war effort. On 13 September, the leader of the centre-left Fair Russia – For Truth party and former Chairman of the Federation Council, Sergey Mironov, called for a ‘social mobilisation’ of the Russian people. This would involve more active engagement with the developments of the war among the general population – though he stopped short of calling for full mobilisation. Notably in this respect, prominent military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who has over 430,000 followers on Telegram, stated that “if you support Vladimir Putin and his team” you should follow the ‘Operation Z’ Telegram channel to keep up to date with the situation in Ukraine, as part of a wider call for civilians to receive round-the-clock coverage of the war.
- On 13 September, NATO published a new report commissioned by President Zelensky that calls for Ukraine’s international partners to commit to legally binding large-scale weapons transfers and investment to support Ukraine’s military over multiple decades. While not binding, and subject to further diplomatic negotiations amongst NATO allies, the report aims at providing a security framework that will help ensure Russia is unable to successfully invade Ukraine again. The key proposal in this respect will be the training of a large territorial defence and reserve force, alongside a robust regular force trained to NATO standards. The report also proposes wider security guarantees for Ukraine short of the commitment of foreign troops in the event of a further invasion, including sanctions and future military aid. However, the enforceability of the proposals remains to be seen, with the proposed financial commitments likely to see resistance among some NATO members ahead of what is likely to be a very challenging winter and a potential global recession in 2023.
- In response to the publication of the report, the Kremlin reiterated that Ukraine’s NATO ambitions remain a security threat to Russia, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described as “the main threat” to Moscow. The announcement comes as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visits Kyiv today, 14 September, after she also stated that Ukraine will one day join the EU.
Following the operational defeat in Kharkiv, the Kremlin is clearly attempting to regain control of the narrative and insulate President Putin from mounting criticism of how the war is being waged. In this respect, the Kremlin appears to be making direct overtures to the hard-line military commentators that currently dominate the information space around the war. Not only are senior Russian lawmakers encouraging greater public engagement with the war, a so-called ‘social mobilisation’ amid widespread apathy and disinterest, but Kremlin-backed media are now increasingly calling for an intensive missile campaign against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, in response to the Kharkiv defeat. Such a campaign has widespread support from the hardliner community, and while not yet official Kremlin policy, such calls from Kremlin-backed sources indicate a shift is highly likely in the coming days. The Kremlin has throughout the war maintained that its forces are not striking at civilian infrastructure. However, the targeting of electricity and water facilities across eastern Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal from Kharkiv is a clear indication that punitive strikes remain one of the only options available to Russia to respond to their most recent defeat. As such, Mykhailo Podolyak, senior advisor to President Zelensky, stated on 13 September that the government anticipates Russia will step up attacks on Ukraine’s energy system in order to increase pressure on the country over the winter. Mass blackouts and heating issues are therefore increasingly likely as Russia looks to maintain pressure on Kyiv and the morale of the Ukrainian population. Today, 14 September, Russian officials have also reportedly ordered local mobile operators to cut internet services in Luhansk oblast for “security reasons”, with strikes against telecommunication services also likely across Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv appears to have slowed, and as anticipated appears to have largely culminated along the naturally defensible Oskil River, though further advances east and around Lyman to the south remain likely. Ukrainian officials have over the last 24 hours confirmed the liberation of numerous settlements across Kharkiv oblast, including Ternova, Vovchansk and Dvorichna, all of which lie close to the Russian border. President Volodymyr Zelensky has now claimed Ukrainian forces have retaken over 6,000 square kilometres since the start of September.
- Russian sources have claimed that the frontline has stabilised along the Oskil River, but there are numerous indications suggesting that Russia is still failing to bring up reserves and reinforcements quickly enough to stabilise the line. On 12 September, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serhiy Haidai claimed the Ukrainian flag had been raised in the village of Kuzemivka, some 20km east of the Oskil inside Luhansk territory. We cannot confirm whether Ukrainian forces are operating in significant numbers east of the river, or whether this was a special forces operation and/or partisan activity anticipating a further Ukrainian advance into Luhansk.
- Nevertheless, Haidai has claimed this morning, 13 September, that Russian forces have totally abandoned the town of Kreminna, and while Ukrainian forces have not reached there, partisans have raised the Ukrainian flag in the town. If true, this would indicate that Russian forces are retreating on a much larger scale than previously indicated. Kreminna sits 12km northeast of Ukrainian positions on the Siverskyi Donets, and is northwest of Lysychansk – a settlement Russian forces paid a heavy price to take earlier this year. Haidai maintains that the operation to reconquer Luhansk oblast will begin from Kreminna and Svatove, though he acknowledged that Russian forces had returned to the latter settlement following reports yesterday of a withdrawal. His reports suggest that Russian forces may establish a new defensive line between Kreminna and Svatove along the Krasna tributary river and the P-66 highway. However, this would mean abandoning many more hundreds of square kilometres of territory.
- The focus of Ukrainian operations is therefore currently to the south of the Oskil River, along the Lyman-Yampil line, along the Siverskyi Donets River in northeast Donetsk oblast. Ukraine’s Airborne Assault Command confirmed on 12 September that paratroopers have seized the town of Bohorodychne (25km southeast of Izyum), with geolocated footage also indicating Ukrainian forces have seized control of Sviatohirsk (3km east of Bohorodychne) along the banks of the Siverskyi Donets. Russian sources have reported further Ukrainian attempts to cross the river on this axis, with Lyman and Yampil the most likely objectives as part of an effort to force a Russian withdrawal from north-eastern Donetsk oblast.
- Meanwhile, Russian forces continue to launch unsuccessful ground assaults against the Bakhmut line and around Avdiivka, despite the collapsing Kharkiv axis to the north. The fact that such attacks are continuing indicates that Colonel General Alexander Lapin, commander of the Central Military District and newly appointed commander of the western grouping of forces, currently has no intention to stop offensive operations in a bid to shore up the collapsing frontlines to the north. This is furthermore supported by unconfirmed reports that elements of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic (DNR/LNR) forces are currently redeploying from Kharkiv oblast to southwestern Donetsk oblast, suggesting that reinforcing the vulnerable positions east of the Oskil River is not a priority for Russia.
- Russian forces have made almost no progress around Bakhmut and Donetsk city in recent weeks, and this is highly unlikely to change given that the western grouping of forces to the north is now in full retreat. Even if Lapin’s forces were able to seize Bakhmut and Avdiivka, these gains would mean very little when compared to the hundreds of square kilometres lost in northern Donetsk oblast following the withdrawal from Izyum.
- Russian sources have reported that Ukrainian forces launched a Tochka-U ballistic missile at Taganrog, a Russian port city on the Sea of Azov some 150km from the frontline and inside de jure Russian territory. This likely indicates Ukraine’s determination to maintain pressure across a wide frontage and step up long-range attacks on Russian territory proper. However, the target would be at the extreme range of the most advanced Tochka variants, and so questions remain as to whether it was in fact a Tochka-U missile. The attack could nevertheless indicate Ukraine’s intentions to launch supplementary offensive operations against the Zaporizhzhia frontline towards Mariupol, over which Russian sources have expressed concern in the last 24-48 hours.
- While developments in Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts remain the focus, the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson continues to make steady progress. Despite widespread speculation that the Kherson counteroffensive was merely a feint designed to distract from the ‘real’ counteroffensive in Kharkiv, the scale of the Ukrainian operation in Kherson means that this is not the case. Rather, the Ukrainians have managed to coordinate two separate but complementary counteroffensives, both of which are seeing results. Ukrainian officials maintain that their forces have retaken over 500 square kilometres in Kherson since the beginning of the counteroffensive, penetrating the frontline by between 4 and 12km in places. Of particular note, DNR forces have likely retreated from Kyselivka, a key strategic settlement along the M-14 highway 15km northwest of Kherson city. This will still further expose Kherson to encroaching Ukrainian ground assaults, increasing pressure on the whole front as Ukrainian forces also claim to have made the Antonivsky Bridge unusable to Russian forces.
- Nevertheless, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov stated on 13 September that there were various reasons why the Kherson counteroffensive was proceeding more slowly in contrast to Kharkiv; an operation he stated ‘went much better than expected’. Firstly, Kherson is an agricultural region, with irrigation canals which Russian forces are able to use as defensive trenches. Secondly, Chechen units are being used to prevent frontline Russian units from leaving their positions.
- Ukraine’s Operational Southern Command has claimed that some Russian forces allegedly negotiating their surrender on this axis. The Ukrainian General Staff has furthermore claimed that Russia’s 810th Naval Infantry Brigade has lost over 85 percent of its personnel and is refusing to fight. Amid growing reports of other unconfirmed mutinies, desertions and refusals to fight across the frontline, Russian forces are clearly facing a profound crisis of morale, which could precipitate wider collapses if security services and military police are unable to reinforce discipline and stabilise the frontlines. Indeed, the Ukrainian Resistance Centre reported on 12 September that Russian forces had restricted freedom of movement across Kherson oblast, as well as strengthened military checkpoints. The centre also reported an uptick in looting, particularly of motorcycles – which could indicate preparations among some Russian troops to flee if Russian forces collapse.
- Following yesterday’s rare display of government criticism where a number of municipal authorities in several districts in Moscow and St. Petersburg signed a petition calling for President Putin to resign, the Kremlin issues a vague comment today reminding of the consequences of any criticism of the military campaign. More specifically, yesterday, the municipal lawmakers reportedly stated that Putin’s actions are ‘damaging Russia’s future and its citizens’. The development is notable and comes despite the state’s tight grip on dissent and political criticism and despite the Russian state media continuously reporting that the operation in Ukraine is going according to plan. Those criticising Putin and the government will inevitably face consequences. However, the strength Ukrainian forces shown in their counteroffensive will only continue adding pressure on the Russian domestic political situation in the weeks ahead, increasing the likelihood of further purges of senior officials in the short term. Additionally, although mass unrest is still unlikely in the immediate term, given that Moscow and St. Petersburg have previously seen some of the largest anti-government protests and are more predisposed to such demonstrations, further undermining of the Kremlin’s official narrative in Ukraine will likely increase the likelihood of demonstrations down the line.
- On 13 September, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that although Kyiv’s operation went ‘better than expected’, the country needs to be prepared to defend the territory from a potential Russian counterattack. Yesterday, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that it was carrying out strikes in the areas that had recently been retaken by the Ukrainian forces. The shelling has reportedly resulted in the entire Kharkiv region being left without electricity as of today, according to the Ukrainian authorities. Reznikov’s statements and the persistent shelling underline the need for caution when considering the likelihood of an outright Ukrainian victory, though, in the short term, the boost to Ukrainian morale as a result of the successes over the weekend will contribute to the likely further advances in the short term.
- Additionally, on 13 September, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that ‘negotiations with Russia are on the battlefield’. Kuleba furthermore added that even though Kyiv did not oppose peace talks, the ultimate goal was the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The statements underline our initial assessment over the last few months that the prospects of a diplomatic breakthrough are virtually impossible at this stage, with Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar stating today that Ukraine is ‘very motivated’, especially following the counteroffensive in Kharkiv.
- Finally, Russia’s operational defeat in Kharkiv is already arguably having a destabilising effect across the wider Eurasian region. On 13 September, renewed overnight fighting on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border resulted in the death of at least 49 Armenian soldiers and injuries on both sides, representing the most serious flare-up this year. The timing of the incursions is highly likely to be linked to perceived Russian weakness and is likely to represent the first major test of Russia’s role as the principal security guarantor in the Caucasus. If Russia is perceived to fail this test amid the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, Moscow’s status as security guarantor across the wider Eurasia region is likely to be called into question, threatening second and third-order stability effects across the wider Caucasus and Central Asia. For further analysis, see Sibylline Alert – 13 September 2022.
The Ukrainian General Staff has claimed that the Russian command is no longer sending newly formed units into Ukraine, allegedly due to the recent operational defeat and apparent distrust of the Russian senior military command among newly trained troops. While these claims are unconfirmed, they suggest widespread refusals to fight among newly raised Russian volunteer battalions. If confirmed, this indicates that the Russian military faces a profound crisis in terms of its ability to stabilise the frontline and regenerate combat power for the war going forward. Ukraine has mobilised and is fighting a war of national survival, with concomitant advantages in terms of manpower resources and the steady supply of Western military aid and training. Russia, meanwhile, continues to fight a ‘special military operation’, with only limited ability to regenerate forces under current rules, while having suffered significant losses in advanced equipment. However, reports of widespread refusals to fight and mounting criticism of not only the Russian Ministry of Defence, but also of President Putin himself, make a transition to full mobilisation increasingly risky for the Kremlin. The new Russian conscription cycle begins on 1 October, but given that the Russian military is not a mass conscript army, unlike that of the Soviet Union, mobilisation will do little to provide Russia with forces in the immediate and short term to shore up the faltering frontlines in Kharkiv and Donetsk. With isolated calls for Putin to resign and mounting criticism of incompetence amongst the Russian high command, the situation inside Russia remains extremely tense. Key triggers to watch that could indicate a major challenge to the Kremlin’s stability include: a shift in mainstream media towards blaming Putin directly for the operational defeat, including increased calls for his resignation; the surrender or desertion of further Russian units along both the Kharkiv-Donetsk and Kherson frontlines; a military collapse in eastern Ukraine; and an uptick in attacks against military recruitment centres across Russia, indicating opposition to potential mobilisation.
Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: Border clashes likely reflect growing instability across region following Russian operational defeat. On 14 September, military personnel along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border exchanged gunfire for several hours. The escalation comes less than one day after Kyrgyzstan showcased a newly imported batch of Turkish drones, part of a weapons procurement programme designed to give Bishkek the edge during future military confrontations. The incident is the latest in a series of clashes along this international frontier in recent years, with Tajik officials claiming that Kyrgyz troops fired four mortars against one of their border units stationed near the Vorukh exclave in the mountainous region. So far, one death and five injuries were reported on the Tajik side. The incident comes less than 48 hours after similar clashes took place between forces from Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is the latest example of growing instability in geopolitical flashpoints across post-Soviet states following Russia’s operational defeat in Kharkiv oblast (Ukraine).
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Deployment of CSTO mission to Armenia will mitigate escalation risk amid Russian efforts to demonstrate strength in region. On 14 September, the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) agreed to deploy a monitoring mission to Armenia following border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The mission will reportedly aim to ‘aid the drafting of proposals for the de-escalation of tensions’ between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia’s response likely reflects an effort to proactively demonstrate strength and respond to perceived weakness by upholding its status as the primary security guarantor in the region. Notably, it follows Russia’s operational defeat in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv oblast (Ukraine). The CSTO deployment will likely reduce the risk of a major escalation, though it will also stand as an important test of Russia’s ability to project power and the alliance’s capabilities, particularly given the growing tensions between Russia and Kazakhstan, another key CSTO member. For further information please see Sibylline Alert – 13 September 2022.
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Border Fighting. In the early hours of 13 September, the Armenian Ministry of Defence accused Azerbaijan of launching artillery strikes and incursions against several of its border towns, such as Goris, Sotk, and Jermuk – notably settlements outside of Nagorno-Karabakh and in Armenia-proper. This resumption in fighting marks one of the most serious escalations between the two sides since the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. According to Russian state news, Moscow has this morning mediated a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
- Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence confirmed Armenia’s allegations of engaging in the strikes, while downplaying their scale and stating that the aim is “to ensure the security of Azerbaijan’s borders”. At the same time, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of firing in the direction of settlements in Gadabay and Lachin regions – allegations that Armenia has denied. Armenia has confirmed at least 49 of their soldiers have been killed in fighting overnight, with Azerbaijan also acknowledging that they have taken casualties, though they have not provided a number. The Armenian death toll alone, however, makes this the most serious fighting this year.
- Accusations of limited ceasefire violations have remained a relatively regular occurrence since the signing of the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. However, following the most recent reported violations, Yerevan announced today that it is formally seeking Russian military assistance through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Russia’s state-run news agency TASS confirmed Armenia’s appeal for assistance, with Russia and Armenia reportedly agreeing on ‘joint steps to stabilise the border’, though no details have been announced at the time of writing. This morning, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced they had mediated a ceasefire between the two sides.
- Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has already held phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as US State Secretary Antony Blinken. Washington has called for the “immediate cessation of hostilities”, though the situation is likely to remain highly volatile in the short term, particularly given that an increasingly distracted Russia suffered a major operational defeat in Ukraine this week (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 12 September).
The developments are the latest in a series of ceasefire violations between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the signing of a Russia-brokered peace deal in November 2020. The latest fighting and a formal appeal for Russia’s assistance also come as Armenia began withdrawing its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh under the peace agreement, though Russian peacekeeping forces have continued to remain in the area. However, the casualty rates sustained and reports of major fighting outside Nagorno-Karabakh make this the most serious fighting this year and have increased the risk of a resumption of open conflict amid perceived Russian weakness.
Russian peacekeepers remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Russia’s operational military defeat in Kharkiv oblast this week has exposed growing Russian weakness across the region, prompting serious questions as to whether Russian peacekeepers are able to ensure stability in the region. The success of Ukraine’s performance has already begun putting pressure on the Russian government, with municipal deputies in a number of Russian districts in Moscow and St. Petersburg signing a petition on 12 September calling for President Putin to resign. To that end, and in line with our previous assessments, today’s fighting is highly likely to have been an exercise in exploiting Russia’s distraction to test Russian capability and resolve to uphold its security guarantees in the region. While an announced ceasefire will likely mean a termination of the fighting in the short term, the trajectory of this latest flare-up and whether it will escalate further will likely depend heavily upon what the “joint steps to stabilise the border” agreed between Armenia and Russia mean. If Russian forces are unable to effectively deploy in the region and stabilise the border, there is a realistic possibility that Azerbaijani forces will continue to push into Nagorno-Karabakh and even Armenian-territory proper in a bid to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue militarily. Baku has over the last 24 hours reiterated its calls for a land corridor across Armenian territory to connect its exclave of Nakhichevan. However, even if this does not occur and fighting subsides over the next 24 hours, Azerbaijani forces are likely to regroup and launch renewed incursions at a later date to keep the pressure on Armenia and exploit Russian weakness. Ultimately, this is arguably the first major test of Russia’s role as the principal security guarantor in the Caucasus, and more are likely to follow. If Russia is perceived to fail this test amid the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, Moscow’s status as security guarantor across the wider Eurasia region is likely to be called into question, threatening second and third-order stability impacts across the wider Caucasus and Central Asia. Lastly, the developments will also place renewed pressure on Pashinyan and his government, driving the likelihood of domestic opposition in Armenia calling for anti-government protests.
- Publicly-disclosed Pro-Russia cyber campaigns experienced an uptick during this monitoring period, highlighted by former Conti ransomware group members’ return to targeting both Western and Ukraine-based organisations supporting the Ukrainian government under a new moniker. These cyber attacks coincided with the pro-Moscow hacktivists Killnet and Phoenix’s formal declaration of cyber warfare against Japanese websites. Further politically motivated cyber attacks are highly likely to emerge over the coming weeks in response to the growing success of the Ukrainian military’s counteroffensives in Eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, these cyber attacks are likely to remain low-level activity, such as DDoS or defacement, and have a limited impact on their targets’ operations. Ukrainian government agencies, their foreign allies, and their private sector partners, such as in energy or technology, will remain the most at-risk for these cyber attacks.
- In contrast, cyber campaigns disclosed by Pro-Ukraine hackers maintained pace during the last week. Further such pro-Kyiv cyber attacks against targets of typical interest – such as Western businesses that maintain operations in Russia and/or are critical to the Russian economy, including firms in the transportation, energy, and telecoms sectors – are highly likely to emerge over the coming weeks, especially as Anonymous and the IT Army of Ukraine’s growing cooperation enhance the two group’s technical capabilities. These threat actors’ cyber attacks will likely take the form of DDoS, defacement, and/or data leaks.
Pro-Russian cyber campaigns were limited during this monitoring period; Moscow-aligned hacktivists’ disruptive cyber attacks against Ukraine-allied nation-states continue
- On 6 September, Japan’s National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) announced that the Japanese government’s e-Gov web portal was subjected to a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack. Pro-Russian hacktivist group Killnet claimed responsibility for this cyber attack, and another against the Japanese social media site Mixi via its Telegram Channel, and said it was against “Japan’s militarism”. As such, there is a realistic probability that this incident was in retaliation to Tokyo’s recent decision to expand its military capabilities to counter Chinese and Russian threats in contested territories. Indeed, Russia and Japan have been engaged in a years-long territorial dispute over the Russian-controlled Kuril islands (known as the Northern Territories by Japan). Such activity would be indicative of Killnet’s pledge to aid the Russian government by targeting countries either supporting Kyiv in its conflict against Moscow and/or engaging in inflammatory activities against the Russian government.
Pro-Ukraine cyber campaigns are limited; disrupting and countering Russia’s disinformation/misinformation remained the primary focus during this monitoring period
- On 5 September, a Twitter account allegedly representing the Belarusian Cyber-Partisan Group, a group of pro-Kyiv hacktivists, claimed that they had compromised infrastructure facilities in Gomel, Belarus. The group claimed that this cyber campaign resulted in, amongst other things, the facilities’ internal networks being “partially paralysed” and the defacement of employees’ computers. If officially confirmed, this would be the group’s latest cyber campaign since the group alleged on 30 August it leaked Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s passport information online. Despite such allegations, several cyber security researchers have noted that the leaked passport information is likely fake given several spelling and formatting errors, including the misspelling of Lukashenko’s first name.
- On 1 September, industry reports claimed that hackers hacked into Russian technology firm Yandex’s taxi services. The hackers reportedly ordered taxis to Moscow’s Kutuzov Prospect at the same time, which caused traffic congestion for less than an hour according to Yandex’s spokesperson Polina Pestova. While Yandex has refrained from attributing this attack to a specific threat actor, the pro-Kyiv cyber groups Anonymous and the IT Army of Ukraine have claimed responsibility. If officially confirmed, this would be indicative of the two hacking groups’ declaration of “cyber warfare” against the Russian government and its private businesses over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Cyber activity launched by pro-Russian hacktivists and cyber criminals notably increased during this monitoring period. Most notably, the resurgence of Conti-linked cyber attacks against Ukraine-based targets underscores the group’s members’ pledge to defend the Russian government by launching malicious cyber activity against both Western and Ukrainian targets hostile to Moscow. Despite TAG’s discovery, this does not represent a resurgence of the Conti group in its entirety. Indeed, the heightened scrutiny that Conti’s operators received from both international law enforcement agencies and within the cyber criminal community for its public support of Russia, which resulted in the Conti Leak (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 8 March 2022), will likely prevent any outright resurrection of the Conti name. Instead, the group is highly likely to continue migrating its affiliate hackers and operators to other ransomware groups, such as Hive or Black Basta, to further its influence over the cyber threat landscape and launch further financially and politically motivated cyber campaigns. Western and Ukraine-based organisations that are providing aid to the Ukrainian government, such as NGOs and Western governments and their private sector partners, will remain the most at-risk for this ransomware activity.
Meanwhile, Killnet’s and Phoenix’s formal declaration of cyber warfare against Japan is consistent with pro-Russian hacktivist groups’ continued targeting of nation-states that either provide financial or military aid to Ukraine and/or are engaged in activities that could be perceived as inflammatory towards Russia. Previous cyber campaigns launched by Killnet targeted several Western governments, including Lithuania, Norway, and Romania, and private sector firms, such as Lockheed Martin (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 16 August 2022). Despite these groups’ continued attacking of the aforementioned targets, they have not displayed the capabilities to engage in any highly sophisticated or destructive cyber activities, such as wiper attacks. Instead, there is a realistic probability that the group’s limited technical capabilities will result in the hackers engaging in low-level cyber attacks, such as Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) or defacement attacks. Nevertheless, pro-Russian groups such as Conti, Killnet, or Phoenix are likely to increase their activities over the coming weeks in light of the growing success of the Ukrainian military’s counteroffensives in Eastern Ukraine (see Sibylline Ukraine Daily Update – 13-09-2022). Organisations operating in industries of typical interest for these groups, such as government agencies, energy, IT, or telecoms, are advised to consult Western government agencies’ “quick guides” to minimise their exposure to these threats.
In contrast, publicly-disclosed pro-Ukraine cyber activity maintained pace during this monitoring period. Anonymous and the IT Army of Ukraine’s increasing cooperation against Russia-based entities underscores the two group’s pledge to target organisations that are critical to either the Russian government’s economy and/or military operations in Ukraine. The industries at most risk will likely remain those in the technology, hospitality, transportation, energy, telecoms, or water sectors. These cyber attacks will most likely take the form of either DDoS, defacement, and/or data leaks.
- Ukrainian forces have over the past week inflicted the worst battlefield defeat suffered by the Russian Armed Forces since the First Chechen War, and orchestrated one of the most successful operational counteroffensives conducted by any military force in recent decades. At the time of writing on 12 September, Ukrainian forces have recaptured almost the entirety of Kharkiv oblast and retaken over 3,000 square kilometres of ground since 6 September, dwarfing the amount of territory Russian forces have taken in numerous offensives since April. The scale and rapidity of the operation mark a major turning point in the Russo-Ukrainian war, which entered its 200th day since the invasion on 11 September.
- Following our reporting last week, Ukrainian forces over the weekend of 9-11 September succeeded in pushing the Russians back behind the Oskil River, as well as pushing them to the Russian border north of Kharkiv city. On 10 September, the Russian Ministry of Defence formally announced a withdrawal from the Balakliya-Izyum axis, describing it as a “regrouping” of its forces to support operations in Donetsk oblast. This statement has done little to hide the fact that all indicators point to a disorderly withdrawal that has likely resulted in desertions and numerous units being trapped.
- As predicted, Ukrainian forces managed to retake Kupiansk and move south along the Oskil River, precipitating a seemingly disorderly Russian withdrawal from Izyum – a city they have held since the first weeks of the war that has played a key role in threatening northern and western Donetsk oblast. Ultimately, the Russian retreat from Izyum has now severely undermined the likelihood of Russia achieving its principal objective in Ukraine in the short term, namely the conquest of the remainder of Donetsk oblast. Indeed, the scale and rapidity of Ukraine’s counteroffensive now threaten Russian control over the northern Luhansk oblast border east of the Oskil River.
- The Oskil River could represent a natural culmination point for the Ukrainian counteroffensive and will provide an opportunity for Ukrainian forces to consolidate their significant gains and bring forward air defences. Given the significant territory Ukrainian forces have retaken in just a few short days, continuing the counteroffensive further east across the Oskil will risk overextending their supply lines and exposing forward units to Russian air power. However, if Russian commanders are unable to deploy reserves and reinforcements to shore up this line quickly enough, Ukrainian forces are likely to seek to exploit the disorder they have created to push further eastwards and threaten the Luhansk border.
- Indeed, this morning, 12 September, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that the Russian military have withdrawn from Svatove, a settlement over 35km east of the Oskil River inside Luhansk oblast. The General Staff maintain that only the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) militia has remained in the settlement, making it unclear whether the Ukrainians have reached the town. If the abandonment of Svatove is confirmed to be true, the Ukrainian counteroffensive is likely to continue over the coming days, with Russian forces facing a broader collapse of the front and loss of territory inside Luhansk oblast itself.
- The Russian Ministry of Defence reported on 9 September that reinforcements are being sent to the Kharkiv axis. However, it remains to be seen what quantity of reinforcements are available at such short notice, and whether these reinforcements will be able to stabilise the frontline and prevent further Ukrainian advances. Ultimately, Russia is now decidedly on the defensive across all axes, with very limited options in terms of how to respond beyond emergency damage control operations. Nevertheless, Russia launched numerous long-range strikes against Ukrainian power infrastructure over the weekend, clearly in retaliation to its counteroffensives. Strikes against the civilian infrastructure resulted in power and water blackouts across Kharkiv oblast, though power has reportedly been restored as of this morning, 12 September.
- The Ukrainian Kharkiv counteroffensive is likely to have a significant impact on the Russian domestic political situation, which we will be monitoring closely in the coming days and weeks. The Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defence have refused to acknowledge the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, creating an information vacuum which has left Russian media to at once play down the importance of the counteroperation while also justifying the defeat by framing Russia as fighting the entire Western bloc.
- Such confusion and criticism on pro-Kremlin television networks will further undermine the Kremlin’s narrative that the ‘special military operation’ is going according to plan, with Moscow’s silence exacerbating the growing disconnect between the official narrative and what is happening on the ground. Indeed, Chechen leader and Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov stated on Telegram that if there are no changes to how the ‘special military operation’ is conducted by today, 12 September, then he will contact the Kremlin to “explain the situation on the ground”.
- Amongst Russian pro-war commentators and milbloggers, criticism of Russian failures has also been steadily increasing, with blame overwhelmingly directed at the Ministry of Defence, and in particular Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. This fits with established patterns identified in recent weeks and months, which has seen Shoigu steadily side-lined in public, ostensibly due to his overseeing of various military failures.
- While Shoigu is a civilian without military experience, it should be noted that he was initially reticent to engage with the ‘special military operation’ during the first few months of the war, seeking to distance himself from it. Meanwhile, numerous indicators, including credible US intelligence, have suggested that President Vladimir Putin has been heavily involved in operational planning and micromanaging military operations. It, therefore, remains unlikely that Shoigu is the principal architect of the current Russian failures, but rather is transitioning into a scapegoat. At present, criticism is not being directed toward President Putin. This ultimately aligns with traditional Russian dynamics of blame during times of difficulty, wherein setbacks are understood to be a result of incompetent or malevolent boyars (advisors) misleading the Tsar (President).
- Purges of senior personnel have already begun, with more likely in the coming days – including potentially the firing of Shoigu himself. Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) has reported that Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov, the commander of the western grouping of Russian forces that have now retreated from Kharkiv, has been relieved of his command and a replacement is being sought; the commander of the Central Military District, Colonel General Alexander Lapin, has reportedly taken over command of the western grouping temporarily.
- Notably, in a hard-to-explain announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on 11 September that Putin had postponed all his meetings with the Ministry of Defence leadership. This is most likely an attempt to isolate Putin from the mounting criticism of the Ministry of Defence. However, given the scale of the Russian defeat in Kharkiv, shutting down public-facing meetings between the executive and the Ministry of Defence is unlikely to assuage mounting criticism and concern amongst Russian hardliners and the public at large.
- As we have assessed throughout this conflict, the most immediate threat to the Kremlin will most likely come from pro-war hardliners, rather than anti-war activists. In this respect, regular Kremlin critic and former DNR commander Igor Strelkov (real name Girkin) have compared the collapse of the Kharkiv axis to the Russo-Japanese War, which led to the Revolution of 1905. On his Telegram he stated, “the war in Ukraine will continue until the complete defeat of Russia. We have already lost, the rest is just a matter of time”. While Strelkov has often remained pessimistic throughout the war, he has a significant following in Russia (over 550k followers on Telegram) and is a prominent ultranationalist, and, as such, reflects growing alarm among pro-war hardliners that Russia is now decidedly losing the war.
- On 12 September, results of Russia’s regional elections that took place between 9-11 September began to be released. Preliminary results indicate that more than 1,100 of the 1,400 seats in Moscow’s municipal elections were won by candidates from the ruling United Russia party. United Russia also received 34 mandates of the available 38 in St Petersburg’s municipal elections. Results will continue to be released, although early data indicates United Russia has consolidated its power. Widespread apathy and repression will mitigate the threat of unrest in the aftermath of the vote, as the Kremlin seeks to consolidate its position ahead of the 2024 Presidential elections. However, deteriorating socio-economic conditions, and indeed the deteriorating military situation in Ukraine, could increase the risk of this throughout winter 2023.
- However, in the first indications of potential opposition, numerous municipal deputies in the Moscow district of Lomonosovsky directly appealed to Putin for him to resign on 10 September, arguing that his policies are not working and that a change of power is necessary for the sake of the country. Similarly, on 7 September, seven deputies of the Smolninskoye district of St Petersburg formally demanded that the State Duma bring charges of treason against Putin due to the military failures in Ukraine. The seven deputies in question have now been convicted under laws banning any “discrediting” of the Russian military, and will likely face long prison sentences. While these remain two isolated incidents involving low-level lawmakers with very limited power, the timing of their intervention during the elections and the collapse of the Kharkiv axis points to increasing political instability inside Russia, which could yet escalate despite growing repression.
200 days into the war, the scale of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv oblast has dramatically shifted the balance of the Russo-Ukrainian war, and will recalibrate forecasts for the coming months. Momentum and the tide of the war are now decidedly in Ukraine’s favour, with military initiative likely to be dictated by Kyiv, rather than Moscow, for the foreseeable future. The Ukrainian military has achieved historic operational surprise through highly successful deception and maskirovka. By exploiting, and in part orchestrating, Russian vulnerabilities following redeployments from Kharkiv to the Kherson front, Ukrainian forces have brought about the total collapse of the Russian Kharkiv-Izyum axis. It remains unclear how many Russian troops have been caught in the counteroffensive, but it has humiliated Russian forces and will have a profound impact on operational capability and morale going forward – even if Russia is able to reinforce the Oskil line and stabilise the front in the coming days. However, we should be cautious in declaring an “inevitable” Ukrainian victory as a result of one extremely successful (and unexpected) operational victory. Further Ukrainian counteroffensives will be required to push the Russians out of all occupied regions, and it remains to be seen whether this will be possible if the Russians can stabilise the frontline. In addition, further Ukrainian successes will significantly increase the risk of a major escalation. If Ukrainians are able to begin retaking parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, Moscow will face a fundamental challenge to the entire rationale for the ‘special military operation’, which was to ostensibly protect the LNR/DNR and the Russian speakers in the region. If Russian forces are unable to prevent further Ukrainian advances, Moscow will face increased pressure to escalate their commitment to the war to prevent a military collapse, with tactical nuclear weapon use once again a low but growing threat in this scenario.
In the meantime, the Ukrainian counteroffensives in both Kharkiv and Kherson continue, with further advances highly likely in the coming days. Russian sources have reported this morning, 12 September, that Ukrainian forces are also concentrating around Vuhledar, some 40km southwest of Donetsk city at the eastern end of the Zaporizhzhia frontline. If true, this may indicate that Ukrainian forces intend to launch supplementary offensives to the south, potentially aimed at cutting off Russian forces and driving south towards the Sea of Azov. The Zaporizhzhia frontline remains another relatively weakly held axis, which could potentially provide the next opportunity to unbalance Russian forces and undermine their ground lines of communication. However, such a feat would be extraordinary given the Ukrainian effort currently being deployed in Kharkiv and Kherson oblast. As such, any attacks here would more likely be an effort to maintain pressure along the entire frontline and undermine efforts to reinforce Kharkiv. Nevertheless, the nature of the Kharkiv counteroffensive has shown Ukrainian initiative to take advantage of situations as they materialise, and so further dramatic advances remain a realistic possibility if a wider collapse of Russian forces occurs. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Sep 22. Russian missile narrowly misses Ukraine nuclear plant, says Kyiv. Officials say strike nearly hit Pivdennoukrainsk energy site and renew warnings of possible catastrophe. Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said about 100 windows at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant were shattered when a missile struck near the site. Russian forces carried out a missile strike that narrowly missed a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, officials in Kyiv said, days after an international watchdog warned that shelling at another atomic energy site risked causing a serious incident. Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday said the strike nearly hit the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant located in the Mykolayiv region, around 200km north of the southern frontline of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops. “At night, a missile fell 300 metres from the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant,” Zelenskyy said in a Telegram channel post which included video footage purporting to show the strike and subsequent explosion. “Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,” he added. Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, said three reactors at the plant continued to operate and nobody was injured. It added that about 100 windows at the site were shattered and a brief power outage had occurred. Ukraine’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, on Monday accused Moscow of adopting a “nuclear terror” strategy following the invasion of Russian troops in February. “Russia, in desperation, is putting the world on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe,” he said. Moscow did not immediately confirm or deny the strike. Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of conducting artillery strikes at another atomic energy site — the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, located in the southern town of Energodar. (Source: FT.com)
19 Sep 22. Volodymyr Zelensky vows no let-up in fighting against Russia.
Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to maintain pressure on Moscow, warning there would be no let-up in fighting to regain Ukrainian territory lost to Russia.
Ukrainian troops have advanced to the eastern bank of the Oskil River in another important milestone in Ukraine’s counter-offensive, threatening Russian occupation forces in the Donbas.
According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ukraine now controls the east bank of the river. Meanwhile, Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk region, on Telegram said: “Luhansk region is right next door. Decoccupation is not far away.”
Speaking in his evening video address late on Sunday, Mr Zelensky said fighting would continue as the whole of Ukraine had to be liberated.
“Perhaps it seems to someone now that after a series of victories we have a certain lull. But this is not a lull,” Mr Zelensky said.
“This is preparation for the next sequence. For the next sequence of words that are very important to us all and that definitely must be heard. Because Ukraine must be free – the whole of it.”
Russian artillery bombarded towns and villages across the frontlines in the east and south on Sunday, including civilian infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia city, Ukrainian officials said. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
18 Sep 22. Top U.S. general urges vigilance as Russia weighs Ukraine setbacks. The top U.S. general cautioned on Sunday it remained unclear how Russia might react to the latest battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and called for increased vigilance among U.S. troops as he visited a base in Poland aiding Ukraine’s war effort.
The remarks by U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were a reminder of the risks of the conflict intensifying as the United States and its NATO allies aid Ukraine from a distance and Kyiv wages a so-far successful counter-offensive against Russian forces.
“The war is not going too well for Russia right now. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to maintain high states of readiness, alert,” Milley said in Warsaw after the base visit.
Milley reviewed the base’s air defenses, which include Patriot missile batteries that would be a last line of defense should Russia decide to attack the base – risking war with the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.
Milley said he was not suggesting U.S. troops in Europe were under any increased threat, but said they had to be ready.
“In the conduct of war, you just don’t know with a high degree of certainty what will happen next.”
Reporters traveling with Milley were asked not to publish the name of the base or describe its location.
Milley was also briefed on critical support being provided by U.S. forces at the base to Ukraine, including remote maintenance assistance via secure teleconferencing for the billions of dollars in U.S.-provided weaponry.
Some members of a roughly 50-member repair team showed reporters images of damaged U.S.-provided arms, including M777 howitzers, that in the West would have long been considered beyond the scope of repair. Not in Ukraine.
“They’re not willing to scrap it,” one soldier said, recalling artillery with shrapnel damage and sometimes completely worn out from firing round after round against Russian troops.
But Ukrainians are managing to bring these weapons back into battle, thanks to guidance from U.S. forces and manufacturing prowess by Kyiv allowing it to reverse-engineer spare parts.
Since the program began in June, more than a dozen teleconference channels have been set up with over 100 Ukrainian contacts. But priority support is being given to the M777s and to the high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), which have been central to Ukraine’s counter-offensive nearly seven months since Russian forces invaded.
“Combat power for Ukraine is staying at the level it is because of America’s investment in the sustainment,” the soldier said.
The rout of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region a week ago has prompted unusually strong public criticism from Russian military commentators.
Putin has brushed off the counter-offensive but said on Friday that Moscow would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure.
Such repeated threats have raised concerns he could at some point turn to small nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, or perhaps mobilize Russia’s reserves, who number around 2 million men with military service within the past five years. Russian government officials have dismissed Western suggestions that Moscow would use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Milley did not speculate on Putin’s next steps but cautioned the war was in a new phase in which Ukrainian forces have seized the strategic initiative.
“Because of that, we have to very closely watch what Russia’s reactions to that will be.” (Source: Google/Reuters)
18 Sep 22. Aid Earmarked for Ukraine Includes Cold Weather Gear. President Joe Biden approved another $600 million transfer of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine Thursday night.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the security assistance brings the total given to Ukraine to $15.1 billion since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
This tranche of military systems, equipment and gear includes cold weather gear for Ukrainian service members, Ryder said.
The Ukrainian military has scored a notable military success near Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, with thousands of Russian soldiers driven across the border back into Russia. Ukrainian officials said they’ve taken many Russian prisoners and are continuing to drive Russian soldiers from their country.
The latest tranche of gear includes mobility artillery rocket system ammunition; precision-guided, 155-mm rounds; 105-mm, artillery rounds; systems to counter unmanned aerial, mine-clearing equipment; and night vision devices.
Ryder said this transfer still allows the U.S. military to do what needs to be done. He noted that the United States, while the largest donor to Ukraine, is not the only donor. The United Kingdom has transferred more than $2.3 billion to Ukraine. Other nations — many members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — have also donated equipment, training or money, he said.
Ryder said U.S. military leaders will continue to keep an eye on the situation and ensure that U.S. stocks are replenished. “The bottom line is that U.S. military readiness is not in jeopardy or close to being in jeopardy,” he said. “We’re confident that we can continue to support Ukraine in their fight going ahead.”
Addressing Ukraine’s supply needs will be front and center as U.S. officials — in coordination with NATO — will host a special session under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group with senior national armaments directors on Sept. 28, in Brussels. William LaPlante, DOD’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, will represent the United States at the meeting. (Source: US DoD)
16 Sep 22. Zelenskiy accuses Russia of war crimes, sees no early end to war.
- Zelenskiy: it’s too early to say tide turning in war
- Outcome of war hinges on arms supplies, he says
- Northeast counterattack should boost support, he says
- Zelenskiy proposes Russia free POWs in ammonia deal
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia on Friday of committing war crimes in Ukraine’s northeast and said it was too early to say the tide of the war was turning despite rapid territorial gains by his forces this month.
The Ukrainian leader also told Reuters in an interview that the outcome of the war with Russia, now in its seventh month, hinged on the swift delivery of foreign weapons to his country.
He compared the situation in newly liberated areas of the northeast “to the bloody soap opera after Bucha”, a town near Kyiv where he accused Russian forces of committing numerous war crimes in the first phase of the war. Moscow denied the charges.
“As of today, there are 450 dead people, buried (in the northeastern Kharkiv region). But there are others, separate burials of many people. Tortured people. Entire families in certain territories,” Zelenskiy said.
Asked if there was evidence of war crimes, he said: “All this is there… There is some evidence, and assessments are being conducted, Ukrainian and international, and this is very important for us, for the world to recognise this.”
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zelenskiy’s new allegations.
Russia regularly denies targeting civilians during what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine and has said in the past that accusations of human rights abuses are a smear campaign.
The governor of Kharkiv region, Oleh Synhubov, told reporters on Friday at one of the burial sites in the city of Izium that some bodies exhumed there had been found with their hands tied behind their backs. read more
Moscow has not commented on the mass burial site in Izium, which was a Russian frontline stronghold before Ukraine’s counter-offensive forced its forces to flee.
NO EARLY END TO WAR
Friday’s interview took place in the president’s office in the heavily-guarded government district, which is now like a citadel for Zelenskiy and his advisers. Sandbags were piled up in the windows of the building’s labyrinthine, dimly-lit corridors.
An air raid siren – used to warn of the danger of incoming missiles – sounded in Kyiv shortly before the interview.
Zelenskiy, who visited Izium on Wednesday, repeated his appeal forWestern countries and others to step up weapons supplies to Ukraine.
“We would want more help from Turkey, We would want more help from South Korea. More help from the Arab world. From Asia,” he said.
Zelenskiy also cited “certain psychological barriers” in Germany to supplying military equipment because of its Nazi past but said such supplies were vital for Ukraine to defend itself against what he called Russian “fascism”. He has often accused Berlin of dragging its feet over providing arms.
He lauded Ukraine’s rapid counter-offensive but played down any suggestion that the war was entering some kind of end game. “It’s early to talk about an end to this war,” he said.
Zelenskiy said he would only support the idea of reopening Russian ammonia exports through Ukraine, an initiative proposed by the United Nations, if Moscow handed back Ukrainian prisoners of war to Kyiv. read more
Speaking in Uzbekistan on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed off Ukraine’s counter-offensive with a smile, but warned that Russia would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure. read more
Zelenskiy said he had been convinced that foreign weapons supplies to Ukraine would have fallen if Kyiv had not launched its counter-offensive and that the territorial gains would impress other countries.
“I think this is a very important step that influenced, or will influence, the decisions of certain other countries,” he said.
Asked on the 205th day of the war if he ever got a chance to relax, Zelenskiy said: “I’d really want the Russians to relax”. (Source: Reuters)
16 Sep 22. Sanctions hamper Russia’s ability to make advanced weapons, NATO says. Western sanctions are starting to hurt Russia’s ability to make advanced weaponry for the war in Ukraine, a top NATO military adviser told Reuters on Friday, although he added Russian industry could still manufacture “a lot of ammunition”.
The United States, the European Union and other countries announced several packages of sanctions against Moscow after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which included a ban on the sale of advanced technology.
“They are hampered more and more by the sanctions – because some of the components that they need for their weapons systems come from the Western industry,” Rob Bauer, a Dutch Admiral who chairs NATO’s Military Committee, said in an interview.
“We now see the first serious signs of that in terms of their ability to produce, for example, the replacement of cruise missiles and more advanced weaponry,” he added.
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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that a loss of technology due EU sanctions was severely hurting Moscow’s ability to sustain weapons production.
Both sides in the war are facing challenges because the conventional conflict has required expending military supplies at rates unseen in decades, said Bauer.
“As far as we know, the Russians still have a considerable industrial base and are able to produce a lot of ammunition. And they still have a lot of ammunition”, he added, speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of NATO defence chiefs starting in Estonia later on Friday.
Moscow says that what it calls a “special military operation” was necessary to prevent Ukraine from being used as a platform for Western aggression, and to defend Russian-speakers. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss these arguments as baseless pretexts for an imperial-style war of aggression.
‘OLD FASHIONED’ RUSSIAN FIGHTING
President Vladimir Putin said on Sept. 12 that Russia was holding up well in the face of Western sanctions. “The economic blitzkrieg tactics, the onslaught they were counting on, did not work,” he said on state TV while chairing a meeting on the economy.
Bauer said that about 85% of Russian troops are already fighting in Ukraine, limiting Russia’s ability to enlarge its military presence as it cannot announce a general mobilization without declaring a war.
“We see limited numbers of fresh troops coming in. And the one thing that we’re sure of is that the training level of those troops is not very high”, said Bauer.
This month Ukraine has stunned Russia with a counter-offensive in the northeast Kharkiv region, with Ukrainian officials saying 9,000 sq km (3,400 sq miles) have been retaken, about the size of the island of Cyprus.
Bauer said the advance was successful due largely to NATO-standard Ukrainian troop training since 2014 that had allowed its units to take initiative.
“One of the reasons why they are so successful at the moment is that the Russians are fighting in a very old fashioned way”, he said.
“Every Russian unit gets its direction from higher authorities, therefore, if something changes, they are waiting for a new order. The Ukrainians advanced so quickly that the Russians didn’t get (new orders) and had to retreat and retreat”. (Source: Reuters)
16 Sep 22. Vladimir Putin’s catalogue of miscalculations. Russia’s leader has suffered a week of military and diplomatic setbacks. Since its earliest days, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has appeared a gross miscalculation. Until this week, Russia’s president had largely seemed to escape the consequences of his error. Recent days, however, have laid bare the catalogue of bad assumptions that underlay, and followed, Putin’s unprovoked assault on Russia’s neighbour. Ukraine’s rout of Russian forces in the Kharkiv region does not necessarily presage a swift end to the conflict. But it highlights anew the Kremlin’s mistaken expectation that Russia’s size and military resources meant that the smaller Ukraine would fall into its lap — and that Ukrainians would welcome their Russian “liberators” with flowers. It also exposes Moscow’s error in assuming that the forces it had committed would be sufficient to achieve the scaled-down target of seizing and holding all of eastern Ukraine once Moscow had pulled troops out from around Kyiv and the north — without a general mobilisation. Moscow is resisting a national call-up even now. But there are signs of increasing difficulties recruiting soldiers. Footage emerged this week of a Putin ally offering prisoners their freedom in return for serving in Ukraine. Another mistaken assumption was that western countries would lack the appetite for punitive sanctions on Russia that would harm their own economies too; unity would quickly fray and they would press Kyiv to end the war. The opposite has proved true. Europe still faces a testing winter after Putin sharply cut back natural gas deliveries, and differences remain between EU capitals over how to respond. But much progress has been made on joint preparations and mitigation. The west’s concerted opposition has forced Putin to fall back on another assumption: that leading non-western countries, above all China, would side with him through a shared interest in challenging the US-centric international system. Many emerging markets have so far refrained from criticising Russia’s invasion; China and India have stepped up purchases of Russian oil. Yet Putin’s belief that he could accelerate a “pivot to the east” is being tested too. Shortly before his assault on Ukraine, Russia’s president met China’s Xi Jinping in Beijing who declared a “partnership without limits” with Russia. Yet in the first meeting of the two since the invasion, Putin this week acknowledged the Chinese leader’s “questions and concerns” about the “Ukraine crisis”. His comments, at a summit in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan, appeared the first public admission of differences with Beijing over the conflict. On the way to the summit, President Xi had taken the unusual step of offering support to Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in defending his country’s sovereignty and integrity should it face “interference of any forces”. Since the most likely source of interference would be Moscow — northern Kazakhstan has a large Russian population — the words seemed a veiled warning to Putin. A day after Putin’s exchange with Xi, India’s Narendra Modi also publicly criticised the Ukraine invasion for the first time, telling the Russian leader at the same summit that now was “not an era of war”. Modi added that he had “spoken to you on the phone about this”. The Indian premier’s comments added to the sense that, after Russia’s military setbacks, a spell had been broken. The realisation of the extent of Putin’s miscalculations is reason for western democracies to take heart, but also for wariness. A cornered leader can be a dangerous one. If Putin does find himself facing a broader rout in Ukraine, his cascade of miscalculations to date provides little confidence that his subsequent decisions will be wise. (Source: FT.com)
16 Sep 22. Narendra Modi chides Vladimir Putin over Ukraine war Indian. PM’s ‘concerns’ publicly acknowledged by Russian president at meeting in Uzbekistan. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has told Russian president Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not of war”, in some of his most pointed public remarks yet about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At a meeting between the Indian and Russian leaders in Uzbekistan on Friday, Putin publicly acknowledged New Delhi’s “concerns” about the conflict for the first time — a day after doing the same thing during an encounter with Chinese president Xi Jinping. The exchanges at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gathering in Samarkand are Russia’s most public recognitions yet of the disquiet in Beijing and New Delhi about the implications of the Ukraine invasion. Though Xi and Modi have both attempted to remain neutral on Ukraine, their strong ties with Russia are crucial to Putin’s attempt to show Moscow remains a major player on the world stage. Putin’s new deference to Modi and Xi’s concerns about the war in Ukraine highlight how Moscow has become increasingly dependent on their willingness to buy its exports after western nations imposed sanctions on Russia. “I know today’s era is not of war and we have talked to you many times over the phone on the subject,” Modi told Putin in remarks published by India’s foreign ministry. India’s prime minister added that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue kept the world together. “I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns that you constantly express,” said Putin, according to a Kremlin transcript. “We will do our best to stop this as soon as possible.” But Putin sought to blame Kyiv for the conflict continuing, saying: “Only, unfortunately, the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its abandonment of the negotiation process, declared that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, as they say ‘on the battlefield’.” The remarks on the war, which Putin usually calls a “special military operation” to calm public opinion in Russia, appeared to differ from his usual mantra that “the tasks will be carried out in full”. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused disquiet in New Delhi centred on the disruption to food and raw energy supplies and the forced evacuation of thousands of Indian medical students from Ukraine. India, whose political elite have long courted close ties with Russia, has previously called for an end to hostilities in Ukraine, but has mostly been reserved in public commentary on the war. “Certainly, it’s a change in tone,” said Indrani Bagchi, chief executive of the Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi think-tank, of Modi’s remarks on Friday. “The tone is not overtly critical, but the fact that he has actually said this is not a time to be fighting a war is implied criticism.” Putin’s comments to Modi came a day after his first face-to-face meeting with Xi since the start of the conflict, where he also publicly acknowledged Beijing’s “questions and concerns”. India and China have ramped up their purchases of Russian oil since the war in Ukraine began in February, allowing Moscow(Source: FT.com)
15 Sep 22. Russia steps up missile strikes to slow Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Russia is escalating missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure, blowing up reservoir dams and electricity generators in a campaign described by Kyiv as “terrorist acts” aimed at slowing its counteroffensive. A second consecutive day of Russian attacks on Thursday hit a dam in the central city of Kryviy Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “There were two strikes again in the area of hydroelectric infrastructure,” Oleksander Vilkul, the city’s mayor, said in a post on Telegram. Having stated earlier on Thursday that water levels were receding after construction crews patched up the dam and river fortifications, Vilkul again urged citizens to seek safety in bunkers. The dam, which forms a vast reservoir along the Inhulets river, was hit multiple times on Wednesday, unleashing heavy floods on the city known for its iron and steel production. Running water was knocked out in some neighbourhoods, forcing residents to buy supplies of drinking water. Russian missile strikes on electricity generators and grids have knocked out power across this week eastern regions from Kharkiv in the north-east to Zaporizhzhia in the south-east. “The day before they hit the power plant in Kharkiv and left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, now they are hitting a dam at a huge reservoir, threatening to flood and deprive peaceful people of running water,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister. “They are artificially making natural disasters . . . These strikes are yet [more] proof that Russia is a terrorist state that is impotent on the battlefield and tries to compensate for its humiliation by terrorising civilian populations and targeting civilian infrastructure,” Sak added. (Source: FT.com)
15 Sep 22. Under pressure, Germany pledges more military aid to Ukraine. German defense leaders on Thursday pledged additional weapons and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia, announcing plans to deliver two multiple-launch rocket systems, known as MARS II, with 200 missiles and 50 Dingo armored personnel carriers.
In addition, the government is close to finalizing a swap with Greece that would see Athens send 40 of its Soviet-made BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine and in return get 40 Marder IFVs from former Bundeswehr stocks now kept by industry, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in Berlin.
The announcements come as the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under pressure to justify its reluctance to give Kyiv battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles — Leopards and Marders — made in Germany. Critics argue the prudence is misplaced because it fails to match the government’s rhetoric that Europe’s freedom is being defended in Ukraine.
Speeches this week by Lambrecht and the Bundeswehr’s top uniformed official, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, indicate defense leaders are still wary of Russia as a formidable foe, despite recent Ukrainian battlefield wins in the northeast of the country. By that logic, Moscow launching yet another war closer to Germany is a scenario for which Berlin should keep its panzer powder dry.
Lambrecht said the armed forces must keep the Leopard 2 battle tanks, for example, to uphold homeland defense pledges and commitments made to NATO and its eastern members, like Poland and the Baltic states.
That argument fails to account for the reluctance to send older equipment, though, namely Leopard 1 tanks and Marder fighting vehicles, hoarded by manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann since the Bundeswehr’s massive shrinkage after the end of the Cold War. Rheinmetall requested an export permission to Ukraine for 88 Leopard 1 tanks and 100 Marders, Reuters reported, but the case has been pending since the spring.
Experts argue Ukrainian soldiers could learn fighting with those weapons relatively quickly because the low-tech design is reminiscent of the Soviet-style tanks with which they are familiar.
Lambrecht on Monday praised the tech-savvy of Ukrainian experts, who were able connect the software baselines of German and Dutch howitzers previously donated to Ukraine, the Panzerhaubitze 2000, in a surprisingly short time.
German officials believe those howitzers, plus the 20-some Gepard air-defense tanks, have contributed to Ukrainian wins since Kyiv launched a counter-offensive aimed at liberating Russian-held territory earlier this month.
But Zorn, the Bundeswehr chief of staff, cautioned against viewing the trajectory of the war and Russia’s remaining strength through “western glasses.”
“We haven’t seen a counteroffensive along the entire length of the front,” he said.
No western country has sent Ukraine modern battle tanks, though officials say there’s no formal policy keeping individual nations from doing so. Advocates argue there is a window of opportunity now in which tanks could help Ukrainians push Russia out of the country further.
(Source: Defense News)
15 Sep 22. Vladimir Putin acknowledges Chinese ‘concerns’ on Ukraine Russian leader’s comments are first public admission of differences between Beijing and Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin has acknowledged Chinese “concerns” about the war in Ukraine at his first in-person meeting with President Xi Jinping since the invasion. Putin’s comments in a meeting with Xi in Uzbekistan on Thursday were the first public admission of differences between Beijing and Moscow over the war in Ukraine. “We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told Xi, according to a video shared by the Russian state Zvezda news channel. “We understand your questions and concerns about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.” Beijing has struggled to present itself as neutral on the Ukraine war. Last week, China’s third top-ranking official, Li Zhanshu, was quoted by the Russian Duma as saying Beijing “fully understand[s] the necessity of all the measures taken by Russia . . . we are providing our assistance.” Putin and Xi were in Samarkand, Uzbekistan for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional security body. At their last in-person meeting in Beijing, 20 days before the launch of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, the pair announced a “no limits” partnership in response to what they said was the US-led expansion of Nato. Putin arrived in Uzbekistan just as a counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces recaptured important territory in the north-east of the country, and changed the battlefield dynamics in the Donbas region, a key area for Putin’s forces. The US and EU have stepped up pressure on other countries to crack down on Russian sanctions evasion. Beijing has declared its willingness to help Russia resist sanctions. Li last week proposed sharing experience with Russia on “legislation regarding fighting against external interference, sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction”. Putin also told Xi on Thursday that Russia condemned US “provocations” over Taiwan. “We firmly adhere to the One China principle in practice. We condemn the provocations of the United States and its satellites in the Taiwan Strait,” Putin said. On Wednesday, the US Senate foreign relations committee passed a bill that would directly fund the provision of weapons to Taiwan for the first time, and also trigger sanctions against major Chinese state-owned banks in the event of a “significant escalation in aggression”. The summit is Xi’s first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic and marks a renewed attempt to gather allies in the face of tightening US sanctions against China. Xi met with the leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Wednesday. The summit is also being attended by the leaders of India and Turkey. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is also widely expected to meet Putin and Xi at the summit. He is due to arrive in Samarkand on Thursday evening, Indian officials said. (Source: FT.com)
15 Sep 22. Olaf Scholz pressed to send German tanks to Ukraine Coalition urges chancellor to revise arms policy after Kyiv’s successful counter-offensives. Ukrainian military vehicles in the freed territory of the Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive is piling pressure on German chancellor Olaf Scholz to rethink his resistance to sending tanks to Kyiv, with even his own coalition partners calling the policy into question. Scholz has maintained a cautious stance on arms deliveries to Ukraine, sending sophisticated artillery pieces and armoured vehicles as well as multiple rocket launchers but stopping short of providing battle tanks. Defence minister Christine Lambrecht reiterated that line on Monday, saying that no other country was providing western-built tanks to the Ukrainian army “and we have reached an understanding with our partners that Germany won’t go it alone”. But the rout of Russian troops in north-eastern Ukraine — the Kremlin’s biggest military setback since it was forced to withdraw its forces from Kyiv and the north in March — has prompted calls for a change of policy. Officials in a growing number of Nato countries are now calling for a big increase in weapons deliveries to Ukraine, arguing a well-supplied army could liberate even more territory. They have also pointed to the big role played in Ukraine’s recent battlefield successes by western arms such as the US-made long-range rockets known as Himars. (Source: FT.com)
13 Sep 22. Russian council faces dissolution after call for Putin’s removal.
- Local councillors demanded Putin be removed for ‘treason’
- One member fined $780 for discrediting authorities
- Rare act of public dissent by elected deputies
A group of St Petersburg local politicians who called for President Vladimir Putin to be sacked over the war in Ukraine faces the likely dissolution of their district council following a judge’s ruling on Tuesday, one of the deputies said.
Nikita Yuferev said the judge decided that a series of past council meetings had been invalid, paving the way for it to be broken up by the regional governor.
Another council member, Dmitry Palyuga, said the same court then fined him 47,000 roubles ($780) for “discrediting” the authorities by calling for Putin’s removal. Court officials could not be reached by telephone for comment.
Four more members of the Smolninskoye local council are due to appear in court in the next two days.
Last week, a group of deputies from the council appealed to the State Duma to bring charges of state treason against Putin and strip him of power, citing a series of reasons including Russia’s military losses in Ukraine and the damage to its economy from Western sanctions.
Another local deputy said 65 municipal representatives from St Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions had signed a petition she published on Monday calling for Putin’s resignation.
While posing no current threat to Putin’s grip on power, the moves mark rare expressions of dissent by elected representatives at a time when Russians risk heavy prison sentences for “discrediting” the armed forces or spreading “deliberately false information” about them.
Palyuga told Reuters before Tuesday’s hearing that the group’s appeals were aimed not only at liberal Russians but also at “people loyal to the authorities who are starting to have doubts when they see the lack of success of the Russian army”.
He said he expected the numbers of such people to increase after last week’s lightning counter-offensive in which Ukraine drove Russian forces out of dozens of towns and recaptured a large swathe of territory in its northeast Kharkiv region.
“Of course, what is happening now has successfully coincided with our agenda. Many people who liked Putin are starting to feel betrayed. I think the more successfully the Ukrainian army operates, the more such people will become,” he said.
‘VERY, VERY THIN’ LINE
Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said the greater risk to the Kremlin lay not in the councillors’ protest itself but in the danger of responding too harshly to it.
“The reaction, or overreaction, may cause more political damage to the regime than this petition. But I have no doubts that all those who signed the petition will (come) under political pressure,” said Stanovaya, founder of the independent analysis project R.Politik.
Thousands of legal cases have been launched against people accused of discrediting the army, usually leading to fines for first-time offences, but a Moscow district councillor was jailed for seven years in July after being convicted of spreading false information. Several other journalists and opposition figures have been charged and face potential prison terms.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that critical points of view were tolerated, within the limits of the law. “As long as they remain within the law, this is pluralism, but the line is very, very thin, one must be very careful here,” he said.
Ksenia Thorstrom, a St Petersburg local councillor who published Monday’s petition calling for Putin’s resignation, said it was too early to say how the campaign would turn out.
“To call for a politician to resign is absolutely normal. There can be nothing criminal about it,” she told Reuters.
“Of course there is a certain risk, but to show solidarity with our colleagues – independent politicians who still remain in Russia – is much more important.” (Source: Reuters)
14 Sep 22. Ukraine stabilises counter-offensive gains, Biden sees long haul.
- Ukraine now on offensive in both south and east
- New U.S. military aid for Ukraine likely, White House says
- Residents in northeast greet Ukrainian forces with cheers, hugs
- Russia likely using Iranian UAVs in Ukraine – UK Defence
Ukraine worked on Wednesday to secure territory reclaimed from occupying Russian forces in a swift counter-offensive and reiterated plans to win back all occupied regions, as U.S. President Joe Biden predicted “a long haul” ahead.
In a Tuesday evening address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said around 8,000 square km (3,100 square miles) have been liberated by Ukrainian forces so far this month, apparently all in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.
“Stabilisation measures” had been completed in about half of that territory, Zelenskiy said, “and across a liberated area of about the same size, stabilisation measures are still ongoing”.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the full scope of battlefield successes claimed by Ukraine. The total area cited by Zelenskiy is roughly the size of the Greek island of Crete.
Asked whether Ukraine has reached a turning point in the six-month war, Biden said it was hard to tell.
“It’s clear the Ukrainians have made significant progress. But I think it’s going to be a long haul.”
The White House, which has provided billions of dollars of weapons and support to Ukraine, has said the United States is likely to announce a new military aid package in “coming days”.
Since Moscow abandoned its main bastion in the northeast on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
Speaking in the central square of Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub taken by Ukrainian forces late last week, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said 150,000 people had been liberated from Russian rule in the area.
“The aim is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation,” Malyar said on the road to Balakliia, which lies 74 km (46 miles) southeast of Kharkiv.
Groups of Ukrainian soldiers smoked, grinned and chatted beside the road to Balakliia, which was littered with charred vehicles and destroyed military hardware.
One soldier was stretched out on the top of a tank like it was his living room sofa.
With Ukraine’s flag flying in the city once again, people clamoured for supplies, and spoke of all they endured.
“I was walking away … when I saw an armoured personnel carrier coming onto the square with a Ukrainian flag: my heart just tightened up and I began to sob,” Mariya Tymofiyeva, a 43-year-old resident said, her voice trembling with emotion.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syehubov said authorities were trying to record crimes committed by Russians during their occupation of the area, and recover the bodies of victims.
“We’re asking everyone around about all the places of burial which can be found,” he said.
Moscow denies its forces have committed atrocities in areas they have controlled since President Vladimir Putin ordered what he calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24.
Meanwhile, repair crews have restored the two main power lines supplying Kharkiv city and its surrounds, power firm Ukrenergo said after Russian shelling caused blackouts.
Kyiv fears Moscow will step up attacks on its energy networks as winter approaches and is pleading for anti-aircraft technology from the West to protect infrastructure.
Russia has likely used Iranian-made uncrewed aerial vehicles in Ukraine for the first time, Britian’s defence intelligence said on Wednesday, after Kyiv reported downing one of the UAVs on Tuesday.
“Russia is almost certainly increasingly sourcing weaponry from other heavily sanctioned states like Iran and North Korea as its own stocks dwindle,” it said in a regular update.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday that Russian forces had launched three missile strikes, 33 air strikes and fired 58 rocket artillery strikes at military and civilian targets over the past 24 hours.
Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, but Kyiv is now on the offensive in both areas.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych held out the prospects of moving on the eastern province of Luhansk, which together with Donetsk is known as the Donbas, a major industrial region close to the border with Russia.
“There is now an assault on Lyman and there could be an advance on Siversk,” Arestovych said in a video posted on YouTube. He predicted a fight for the town of Svatovo, where he said the Russians have storage depots.
“And that is what they fear most – that we take Lyman and then advance on Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” he said, referring to the twin cities taken by Russia after fierce fighting in June and July.
On top of the setbacks in Ukraine, Russian authorities are also facing challenges in other former Soviet republics.
About 100 people have been killed this week in the deadliest fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia since a 2020 war, prompting Putin to appeal for calm.
On Wednesday, shooting broke out between guards patrolling the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Russian news agencies said, citing the Kyrgyz border service. (Source: Reuters)
14 Sep 22. Ukrainian offensive ‘dooms’ Russia’s aims for the Donbas. Cutting Moscow’s lines of attack from north hands. Ukraine’s surprise counter-offensive has achieved much more than the recapture of some 3,800 sq km of territory in the north-east of the country. It has, say Ukrainian officials, flipped the battlefield dynamic in the Donbas region, a focal point of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Moscow’s stated aim, after losing the battle to seize Kyiv in March, was to “liberate” the entire eastern Donbas region by encircling the cities of Kramatorsk, Slovyansk and Bakhmut. The plan was to close in on Ukrainian positions from three directions — north, south and east. But progress all but ground to a halt after Russia made costly territorial gains in July. The lightning counter-offensive has enabled Ukrainian forces to cut off Russia’s attack from the north, the most threatening direction of Moscow’s offensive. As they push further to the east, Ukraine’s forces will now focus on trying to outflank Russian positions and sever more of their supply lines. Since early last week, Kyiv’s troops have swept eastward, taking back the strategically important city of Izyum, a city in Kharkiv province that had served as a key staging ground for President Vladimir Putin’s forces. “Regaining this region, from Kharkiv to Izyum, has wiped out the risk of our troops in Donbas getting encircled. We have flattened out the frontline,” said Serhiy Kuzan, an adviser at Ukraine’s defence ministry. “Establishing control of Izyum also opens the door to de facto control of the northern Donetsk region,” said Kuzan. “The loss of Izyum dooms the initial Russian campaign plan for this phase of the war,” said analysts at the Institute for the Study of War. Advancing in the south and south-east would no longer be enough for Russia to seize the last pocket of Donbas under Ukrainian control, they concluded. (Source: FT.com)
13 Sep 22. Ukraine shoots down Iranian-made drone used by Russia- defence ministry. Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had shot down an Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone used by Russia’s armed forces in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, the first time Kyiv claimed to have eliminated one of the devices. Ukraine and the United States have accused Iran of supplying drones to Russia, something Tehran has denied.
The defence ministry posted images of what appeared to be parts of a destroyed drone with “Geran-2” written on the side in Russian. The wingtip appeared to match that of a Shahed-136.
It said the drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), had been “eliminated” near Kupiansk, a town in the Kharkiv region recently recaptured by Ukraine.
Military experts have said Iranian drones would be useful to Russia for both reconnaissance and as loitering munitions that can bide their time in locating and engaging suitable targets. (Source: Reuters)
13 Sep 22. Ukraine’s Success Was a Surprise Only to the Russians. Ukraine’s success in its counteroffensive against the Russian invasion did not surprise its allies and partners, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
“I think if anyone was surprised, just based on the reports that we’ve seen in terms of the Russian military’s response, it was probably the Russians,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters that Ukrainian service members had liberated more than 2,300 square miles of the country from the Russians. The president said Ukrainian troops are pressing Russian forces northeast of Kharkiv and many of the invaders have fled across the border into Russia.
“Certainly, since the beginning of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, we’ve seen the Ukrainians demonstrate a remarkable adaptability and their ability to use their warfighting capabilities to great effect,” Ryder said during a Pentagon news conference. “So, it’s not surprising to us that they have pushed as quickly as they have.”
The Ukrainian military also took advantage of military opportunities that presented themselves on the battlefield. The Kharkiv counteroffensive is proof of that, the general said.
Western weapons and supplies played a part in the success of the counteroffensive and at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and counterparts from nearly 50 other nations pledged to keep the supply chain moving and increase aid that can be applied to mid-term and long-term Ukrainian defenses, Ryder said.
Russians unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a challenge to the international rules-based order that has prevented wars among major powers since the end of World War II.
Countering Russia requires a mix of aid that will make a difference today, and aid that presents Ukraine the capabilities it will need to fight and/or deter Russia in the future, defense officials have said.
“Secretary Austin and other U.S. government leaders continue to regularly engage with our Ukrainian counterparts,” Ryder said during the press conference. “I think last week’s meeting at Ramstein is a good example of how seriously we’re taking this and that we are constantly engaged in a dialogue to determine what are the needs of our Ukrainian partners, based on the conditions on the ground.”
In the counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces are using the equipment they have to great effect, and they have changed the dynamics on the battlefield, the general said. The Ukrainian military also has learned as the conflict has continued. The Ukrainian military adopted the NATO battle tactics, embracing combined arms as a way of war. The Ukrainian military has been able to adapt older, Soviet-era military equipment with these new tactics and outfight the Russians. Ukrainian service members also learned western systems like the M777 howitzers and HIMARS and drones and more and were able to use them with the older systems and integrate them into the battle tactics they are using.
“It is just that remarkable adaptability on the battlefield to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to use not only equipment that they’ve already had in their inventory, but the equipment that has been provided to them by the U.S. and other international partners,” Ryder said. “So, it is very evident that they continue to figure out ways to fight.”
The fifth Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base last week is indicative of a global effort to support Ukraine and defend the rules-based order. Russia is isolated. This isolation is exemplified by the fact that the only two countries that have supplied arms to Russia are Iran and North Korea.
War is uncertain, but right now, “Ukraine continues to use the aid provided by the United States and other international partners to great effect on the battlefield in their fight to defend their country,” Ryder said. (Source: US DoD)
13 Sep 22. Ukraine faces ‘tough fight’ even as some Russian forces retreat, says US Pentagon offers a cautiously optimistic assessment of lightning counteroffensive in north-east Ukraine still faces “a tough fight” after Russia gave up most of the territory it had taken near Kharkiv following a lightning counteroffensive that forced many of its retreating troops to leave the country, according to the Pentagon. A senior military official said on Monday that the Russian military “had largely ceded their gains” around Ukraine’s second-largest city and had “withdrawn to the north and the east”, adding that “many of these forces have moved over the border into Russia”. The Pentagon’s assessment came as US officials expressed cautious optimism about the Ukrainian counteroffensive while warning that the rapid advances had not fundamentally changed the near-term outlook on the battleground. “This continues to be a tough fight for the Ukrainians,” the official said. “Our focus will be to continue to work closely with the Ukrainians and the international community to provide them with the support that they need as they push back on the Russian invaders.” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that while Ukrainian forces have made “significant progress” in their counteroffensive, particularly in the north-east, it “is too early to tell exactly where this is going”. Speaking at a press conference in Mexico City, he said Russia continues to pour resources into the war. “The Russians maintain very significant forces in Ukraine, as well as equipment and arms and munitions,” Blinken said. “They continue to use it indiscriminately against not just the Ukrainian armed forces but civilians and civilian infrastructure.” Some western officials have been emboldened by Ukraine’s progress, saying that recent advances have bolstered the case for Nato countries and partners to provide it with lethal aid. The US is aware of reports that Russian forces abandoned equipment as they retreated, “which could be indicative of Russia’s disorganised command and control”, the official added. A senior US defence official said Washington and its allies were discussing Ukraine’s longer-term needs, such as air defences, and whether it may be appropriate to give Kyiv fighter aircraft in the “medium- to longer-term”. Ukrainian military officials have said they have reclaimed more than 3,000 sq km of terrain in what has become Moscow’s biggest military setback since it was forced to scrap plans to conquer Kyiv and retreated from the country’s north in March. (Source: FT.com)
13 Sep 22. Ukraine calls for more Western arms after Russian setback.
- Ukraine has seized back dozens of towns in rapid advance
- Many fleeing Russian troops have exited Ukraine – U.S. official
- Zelenskiy calls for anti-aircraft systems from West
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on the West to speed up deliveries of weapons systems as Ukrainian troops move to consolidate control over a large swath of northeastern territory seized back from Russia.
Since Moscow abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
A senior U.S. military official said Russia has largely ceded territory near Kharkiv in the northeast and pulled many of its troops back over the border.
Washington and its allies have provided Ukraine with bns of dollars in weapons that Kyiv says have helped limit Russian gains. In a video address late on Monday, Zelenskiy said Ukraine and the West must “strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror”.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukrainian forces have made “significant progress” with Western support.
“What they have done is very methodically planned out and of course it’s benefited from significant support from the United States and many other countries in terms of making sure that Ukraine has in its hands the equipment it needs to prosecute this counteroffensive,” Blinken said during a news conference in Mexico City.
Washington announced its latest weapons programme for Ukraine last week, including ammunition for HIMARS anti-rocket systems, and has previously sent Ukraine NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems, which are capable of shooting down aircraft. read more
Zelenskiy said Ukraine had recaptured roughly 6,000 square km (2,400 square miles) of territory, a sliver of Ukraine’s overall land mass of around 600,000 square km. The recaptured land is approximately equivalent to the combined area of the West Bank and Gaza.
Russia has taken control of around a fifth of Ukraine since its troops invaded on Feb. 24.
President Vladimir Putin and his senior officials have been largely silent in the face of Russian forces’ worst defeat since April, when they were repelled from the outskirts of Kyiv.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday side-stepped a reporter’s question of whether Putin still had confidence in the military leadership.
“The special military operation continues. And it will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved,” Peskov said.
Putin was shown on state TV on Monday chairing a meeting on the economy at which he said Russia was holding up well in the face of Western sanctions.
“The economic blitzkrieg tactics, the onslaught they were counting on, did not work,” he said.
Sony Music joined a list of global companies exiting Russia, saying on Tuesday it was transferring the business and musicians to local management due to the Ukraine conflict.
“As the war continues to have a devastating humanitarian impact in Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia continue to increase, we can no longer maintain a presence in Russia,” Sony Music said in a statement.
The war in Ukraine, a major grains supplier, has also sent global food prices soaring.
The International Monetary Fund’s executive board, under pressure to provide emergency funding to countries facing food price shocks, reviewed a plan on Monday that would help Ukraine and other countries hit hard by Russia’s war, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
‘PEOPLE ARE JOYFUL’
As thousands of Russian troops pulled back, leaving behind ammunition and equipment, Russia fired missiles at power stations, causing blackouts in the Kharkiv and adjacent Poltava and Sumy regions.
Shelling of residential areas and infrastructure sparked fires in the city throughout the day on Monday, regional emergency services said on Facebook.
Shelling around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has sparked grave concerns about the risk of radioactive catastrophe. The U.N. atomic watchdog has proposed the creation of a protection zone around the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, and both sides are interested, IAEA chief said.
“We are playing with fire,” Rafael Grossi told reporters.” We can not continue in a situation, where we are one step away from a nuclear accident. The safety of the Zaporizhzhia power plant is hanging by a thread.” read more
Britain’s defence ministry said Moscow was struggling to bring reserves to the south, where Ukraine is attempting to isolate thousands of Russian soldiers on the west bank of the Dnipro River, forcing most Russian forces to focus on “emergency defensive actions.”
Ukraine’s southern command said its forces had recaptured 500 square km of territory in the south, killing 59 Russian troops in the past 24 hours and destroying 20 pieces of equipment.
The situation there could not be independently confirmed.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Aretovych said Ukrainian forces were making progress in Donetsk and crossed the Siverskyi Donets River, threatening to retake key towns lost to Russian forces after weeks of heavy fighting in June and July.
As Ukrainian forces swept closer into territory seized from Russian troops in the north, joyful residents returned to their frontline villages for the first time in months.
“”People are crying, people are joyful, of course. How could they not be joyful!” said retired English teacher Zoya, 76, in the now-quiet village of Zolochiv, north of Kharkiv and 18 km from the Russian frontier. (Source: Reuters)
12 Sep 22. As Ukraine Pushes Forward, U.S. Officials Give Update.
Ukrainian government officials are trumpeting the success of their offensive in the Kharkiv region saying they have retaken about 1,200 square miles of territory from Russia, which launched an unprovoked and brutal invasion of its neighbor in February.
A senior U.S. military official speaking on background said Ukrainians “are obviously fighting hard.”
The military official said that “Ukrainian forces have very likely taken control of Kupiansk and Izyum in addition to smaller villages. Notably, we’re aware of anecdotal reports of abandoned … Russian equipment, which could be indicative of Russia’s disorganized command and control.”
After six months of war, Ukraine launched the counteroffensive into the region east of Kharkiv. “On the ground in the vicinity of Kharkiv, we assess that Russian forces have largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians and have withdrawn to the north and east, many of these forces have moved over the border into Russia,” the senior military official said.
Ukraine has also launched a more limited offensive in the south around Kherson, and the official assessed the push in the south is making more limited gains.
Neither official would comment too much on the offensives because the Ukrainians are actively engaged in combat operations.
Russian forces are still shelling areas of Ukraine.
At the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported the last reactor has been shut down and put into its safest state. Still, there continues to be shelling in the area near the plant and the vicinity of Kherson.
On the maritime side, Russia has about a dozen ships underway in the Black Sea, including Kalibr-capable ships that have contributed to strikes in Ukraine and are supporting the Russian invasion.
However, grain shipments from Ukrainian ports continue.
U.S. officials assess the airspace over Ukraine remains contested, with the Russians conducting increased airstrikes over the weekend. Many of those strikes are aimed at civilian targets, “which have contributed to widespread blackouts,” the official said.
The senior defense official said the recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, brought together 48 countries and two international organizations and put to rest the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin could simply outwait the West.
One objective of the meeting, the official said, was to ensure Ukraine has the systems it needs to defend itself from the Russian invaders. “And at this meeting, there was a strong focus as well on what is necessary to provide Ukraine capabilities over the medium to longer term,” she said.
This commitment is a key message to Russia. Putin needs “to understand that the international community stands behind Ukraine, and that Russia can’t count somehow on holding out and waiting until the international community weakens,” the official said.
This second part shows the international community is thinking in terms of energizing and coordinating the defense industrial bases of these countries to ensure an effective defense for Ukraine and deterrence to Russia.
This longer-term support will include training for Ukrainian military forces including basic training for new recruits and more complicated maneuvers involving larger units.
The United States and other nations are already training Ukrainian troops on some of the more modern capabilities that have been delivered. This includes the maintenance, repair and sustainment of these capabilities.
“We would certainly continue that area of training,” the official said. “The leaders discussed … the next logical step in that progression, which is higher level unit training.” (Source: US DoD)
13 Sep 22. Russian army hobbled by shortage of soldiers In wake of Ukraine rout, anger erupts at failure to extend conscription. When Russian forces retreated from north-eastern Ukraine this past weekend, military bloggers and pro-war commentators knew what to blame: President Vladimir Putin’s reluctance to conscript more soldiers. Russia is fighting in Ukraine, “but we are doing it without engaging the HUGE CAPACITY of the RUSSIAN STATE!” pro-war blogger Yuri Kotenok wrote on Telegram. “And you can’t win doing things by halves.” “The state must be mobilised for war and for victory. That’s the only way . . . Everyone must work, from the last man to the first man. Everyone must be focused on winning this war,” Kotenok wrote. The retreat of Moscow’s forces in north-eastern Ukraine has again exposed the weaknesses of the Russian military machine and its shortcomings in terms of manpower, morale, intelligence and command. As when Ukrainian resistance forced the invading troops away from Kyiv’s outskirts in late March, criticism of the Russian high command and of Putin’s refusal to intensify the war effort with a general conscription has spilled into the open, with Russian pro-war commentators and military bloggers venting their anger.
“We have to be honest — we’ve been defeated in the battle (full stop),” wrote Yuriy Podolyaka, a Crimea-based video blogger whose daily battlefield updates have garnered him a following of almost 2.4mn on Telegram. “The current defeat in Kharkiv is the result of the fact that so far many in the defence ministry are trying to ignore the problems that were revealed during the first months of the war,” Podolyaka said in a post on Saturday amid reports of Russia’s retreat from the region. Russian military bloggers, some of whom are embedded with front-line troops, sounded the alarm about a build-up of Ukrainian forces north of the town of Balakliia in late August. But Russian commanders do not appear to have responded by bringing in reinforcements. Mykola Bielieskov, research fellow at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, said Russia lacked the numbers for a multi-layered defence in the north-east after it redeployed troops to prepare for a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south around Kherson. Once Ukrainian forces broke through around Balakliia, there was nothing to stop them surging forward. Bielieskov estimates Russia has sent 200,000 to 250,000 total troops to Ukraine. The US estimated last month that 70,000 to 80,000 of that force had been killed or wounded since the beginning of the invasion on February 24. Moscow’s troops, deployed along a front line 1,300km long, are stretched too thin. By contrast, Ukraine now claims total armed forces of 1mn. (Source: FT.com)
12 Sep 22. Ukraine’s advance boosts case for more western weapons. Rout of Russian troops has emboldened some officials to press for the expansion of arms supplies to Kyiv. The advance by Ukrainian troops in the north is the biggest military setback for Russia since it was forced to retreat in March after five weeks of failing to encircle the capital Kyiv. The rout of Russian troops in north-eastern Ukraine has raised hopes among Nato allies that a well-supplied army could liberate even more territory, strengthening demands to rapidly expand the supply of western arms to Kyiv. The unprecedented and widely unexpected Ukrainian advance has emboldened officials from the US, UK and more hawkish EU countries, multiple officials told the Financial Times citing private conversations over the weekend, given the counter-offensive was under way as western defence ministers met in Germany to discuss maintaining weapons supplies. “The tone has shifted, without a doubt,” said a senior European diplomat. “You won’t really hear anyone talking against more weapons now, just a chorus of supporters and one or two staying silent.” “It is 100 per cent true that more weapons mean more Ukrainian territory,” said a second official. “And less blood, less tears.” But western intelligence and defence officials cautioned that the advance would not necessarily be repeated all along the war’s front line, and that while it would likely force Moscow to reassess its strategic aims it was unlikely to herald a collapse of Vladimir Putin’s army. “I’m watching this closely,” a senior western intelligence official said of the Ukrainian advance. “Cautiously optimistic.” The Ukrainian advance which began early last week, in which it seized critical towns and about 3,000 sq km of territory, is the biggest military setback for Russia since it was forced to retreat from the north of the country in March after five weeks of failing to encircle Kyiv. Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov told the FT that while the advance had gone “better than expected”, Kyiv had to be careful not to be overconfident and allow its front line supply lines to become overstretched and risk a Russian counter-attack. “We have to be worried,” he said. Moscow has claimed that the significant shift in the war’s front line was the result of a decision to “regroup” and move forces further south to repel Ukrainian attacks in the occupied Kherson region. Konrad Muzyka, director of Poland-based defence analytics company Rochan Consulting, said it was now possible to imagine Ukrainian forces advancing to positions they held before Putin launched his full-scale invasion on February 24 — when large parts of the Donbas region and Crimea were controlled by Russian proxies and annexation respectively — if western military support was maintained and there was no full-scale mobilisation of the Russian population. “We are probably now entering the third stage of this war, where Ukraine has the initiative and Ukraine gets to decide what the focus will now be,” said Muzyka. “It does not mean that Ukraine will achieve all that it wants but that now it gets to choose where the war goes,” he said, adding: “It is only going to get harder from here.”
The US, UK, and other Nato allies have pledged to supply Ukraine with more than $16bn in physical weapons, but have only delivered half that so far, according to publicly available data collated by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think-tank. Weapons shipments have been sporadic in recent months, western officials have admitted, due to logistical challenges and concerns among the allies that their own stocks are running low. The recent advances, which have involved strategic use of western arms — particularly high-precision long-range missiles such as the US-made Himars system — have supported the argument of those who say the scale of shipments and the rate of delivery should increase, say security officials and analysts. “The Himars are clearly making a huge difference,” said the western intelligence official. “As has the allied training and weapons.” “If Himars had been there from day one, then the conflict would have been very different,” said Muzyka, adding that the missile systems would have likely “annihilated” Russia’s immobile and exposed supply lines during their failed assault on Kyiv. (Source: FT.com)
11 Sep 22. As Ukraine counterattacks, Russia’s military facing steep artillery, resupply challenges. Even before this weeks’ gains by Ukraine, there were signs that Russia’s artillery is wearing down, and that it is running low on munitions – potentially limiting Moscow’s options.
The rapid success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in recent days has left Russian forces retreating and yet more videos on social media of abandoned tanks and artillery units. And for Russia, every piece of hardware destroyed or abandoned on the battlefield underlines a growing consensus among Russia watchers that Moscow’s losses of both personnel and equipment in Ukraine are reaching a potential breaking point.
In discussions with Breaking Defense and in public writings, analysts particularly point to industrial challenges facing Russia’s military. Six months into what was expected to be a quick strike campaign, facing a Ukraine push that has reportedly liberated the key Russian logistics hub of Izium, Russia’s ability to resupply for its own counter is deeply in question.
Pavel Luzin, a Russian defense sector analyst from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), has compared Moscow’s declining production in the defense industrial sector and sinking manpower levels with the rate of consumption of munitions and personnel losses in the war in Ukraine. He came to the inescapable conclusion that the Russian war machine will soon be unable to function due to a lack of both.
“For Russia, six months of war have led not only to colossal irreplaceable losses in manpower, but also to a huge waste of weapons and military equipment: guided missiles are already very scarce, shells for artillery and armored vehicles will be exhausted by the end of the year, and the state of military aviation precludes a full-scale air campaign,” Luzin wrote in an Aug. 30 analysis. “Because of the sanctions, Russia cannot continue full industrial production of weapons and replenish its arms stockpiles, which are rapidly running out.”
There are plenty of anecdotes to back up the idea that Russia is having a hard time keeping its forces supplied. One recent video shows two Ukrainian soldiers inspecting a Russian T-80BVM model tank produced at the Omsk plant. They reveal that none of the reactive armor compartments were loaded with the explosive charges that are supposed to detonate and destroy an incoming ATGM before it can penetrate the hull.
“Look at this, they are all like this,” one of the two Ukrainians says as he opens the reactive armor blocks one after the other and finding them filled with rubber quadrangles roughly the size and thickness of the average mousepad. “These would not protect against anything.” The other Ukrainian soldier then comments that the turret is not a standard T-80 design but from an older-model T-64 and that the commander’s machine gun model on the turret lacks the required range.
Other photos taken earlier in the year show upgraded T-72B3 and T-80 models fitted with “skirt armor,” which are soft-sided pouches attached to the chassis, filled with sand and composite “egg-carton” shape forms designed to add rigidity to the individual protective pouches. A few years ago Russian state agencies were reporting that there were some 1,000 tanks equipped with this kind of external protective, ignoring the fact that simple sand and composite inserts are obsolete protection against current-day ATGMs.
Asked about the takeaway from those photos and videos, a former US Army special forces operative now serving in one of the international legions in southern Ukraine confirmed such equipment has become fairly common on the battlefield
“Yeah, we have seen the same kind of unprotected tanks,” he told Breaking Defense. “The [reactive armor] compartments are filled with nothing but cardboard in some cases. It is obvious how pervasive the corruption has been. Everyone — including up to the generals — has been stealing everything in sight.”
Asked how long Russian combat operations could be sustained in light of the dismal state of the units in the field he had been he answered confidently: “This will be over by the Spring. Maybe even by the end of the year.”
Going through open-source reporting, public analyses from researchers, discussions with sources and what little reliable information still comes out from Russia, it is clear there are major challenges ahead for Russia when it comes to a key part of its military strategy: conventional artillery.
In the six months since the Feb. 24 invasion, Moscow’s military has expended, per best estimates, no less than seven m shells. Add to this consumption the number of artillery rounds lost due to Ukrainian strikes on Russian ammunition stockpiles located close to the front lines. If the conflict continues at the pace seen thus far, Russia’s military will find itself running short of shells by the end of the year and will have to conserve their use.
Another issue is that artillery and tank gun barrels wear out after a finite number of rounds have been fired. Russian troops are not known for being diligent about the maintenance of these systems, so the most likely outcome is that the shortage of artillery rounds will be accompanied by a drop-off in the number of useable artillery pieces as well. A sign that the shortage of useable tubes has already begun may be Moscow’s recent increased use of Almaz-Antei S-300 and S-400 missiles in their secondary surface-to-surface ballistic missile mode rather than as air defense weapons.
Another indicator of Russia’s concern about supplies? Russia has reportedly turned to North Korea to purchase ms of artillery rounds, chiefly 152mm shells, and other munitions from the isolated Stalinist dictatorship. While North Korea has a long-standing emphasis on conventional artillery, that Russia’s vaunted military would have to turn to Pyongyang for military aid speaks volumes.
“The only reason the Kremlin should have to buy artillery shells or rockets from North Korea or anyone is because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been unwilling or unable to mobilize the Russian economy for war at even the most basic level,” Frederick W. Kagan from the American Enterprise Institute told the New York Times. “This is very likely an indication of a massive failure of the Russian military industrial complex that likely has deep roots and very serious implications for the Russian armed forces.”
Meanwhile, there are scant indications that Russia’s defense industrial sector can keep pace with the marked spike in demand the op-tempo of the war in Ukraine is creating.
One of the most important suppliers at the bottom of the munitions food chain is the Kazan Gunpowder Plant, which in 2014 purchased manufacturing equipment from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. This required the plant to acquire chemical components for its production from foreign suppliers as well, the purchase of which is now denied due to sanctions. Similar acquisitions of foreign-design machinery were made by the Federal Research and Production Center (FNPTs) Altai and the other Russian developers and suppliers of gunpowder and solid rocket propellants.
The assessment of several Russian analysts is that the ties with these foreign suppliers deteriorated in 2014 after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea. The production equipment acquired also began to show wear and tear before it could be properly serviced or modernized. The plants also began to lose personnel due to the “peaks and valleys” nature of defense procurement and production costs began to increase. A subsequent corralling of several of these munitions enterprises under one management structure enhanced neither quality levels nor productivity. Labor efficiency levels sank to levels 9-10 times lower than that of American counterparts to these firms, according to one estimate.
In the last week of August these gunpowder plants saw a sudden, unscheduled visit by the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense sector, Denis Manturov, and Deputy Chairman of Russia’s National Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, who was formerly Russian president from 2008-2012 and Prime Minister from 2012 to 2020.
“Inspections by officials at this level are tell-tale signs that there are serious deficiencies in the production levels,” said a Russian defense specialist in Moscow who spoke with Breaking Defense. “There is also very little chance that these senior officials — no matter how forcefully they lean on the management teams at these enterprises — are going to inspire the workforce to magically become more capable and efficient.”
Imported Parts Becoming A Challenge
Beyond these manufacturing shortcomings are the multiple failures of Russian defense firms to reduce their dependence on imported components. Citing the work of several foreign analytical reports, Luzin points out that Russia’s industry has become progressively more dependent on foreign-made electronic systems, due in no small part to the fact that import substitution it is flawed concept.
“The very notion of import substitution and autarchy is a dead-end, unreasonable, and generally false idea that simply rejects the division of labor and the benefits of international cooperation,” he writes. “For an authoritarian system and the command-administrative economic model, the path to self-isolation and inevitable self-destruction is predetermined.”
This has proven to be the case with the most sophisticated systems in Moscow’s arsenal. According to a Ukrainian missile guidance system designer who spoke to Breaking Defense at the beginning of the war, who is very familiar with its design, some 70 percent of the components used in the now-famous Kalibr cruise missile (9M729) are of foreign origin. “There is now virtually no way for Russia to re-start a production line at this point,” was his assessment in early March.
Moreover, even prior to Moscow’s invasion and the subsequent sanctions regime imposed by the US, the EU and others, the production of this missile and other munitions with a range in excess of 300 km was no more than 225 per year, per sources. Russia has tried to compensate for the small numbers of modern systems available by bombarding Ukrainian cities with the nearly obsolete Raduga Kh-22 cruise missile — a 1960s-era design. These are typically launched from Tupolev Tu-22M bombers while they are still safely cruising in Belarusian air space.
However, these long-range missiles are no longer being manufactured and the Kh-32 that was developed to replace it began series production only four years ago at a rate of about 20 per year. There are today no options for a dramatic increase in missile output, causing the use of long-range missile systems to drop from the dozens per day that were fired in the beginning of March to a parsimonious launch rate of only one missile every few days.
Armor And Air
The same culprits bedeviling Russian munition production are factors in any attempt to replace tanks or aircraft lost in the fight. And if you look at the almost daily videos that pop up online, it is clear the losses are real.
When the war began, only 2,000 of the roughly 3,300 tanks in Russian army service were rated as modern or upgraded. Although numbers vary, even conservative estimates put the loss of Russian tanks to date at more than 1,000 units. Ukrainian reports are that at least 34 percent of the tanks lost by Russia are due to them being abandoned by their crews, a significantly higher rate than the norm for combat operations.
Aviation losses have been lower than in the armored vehicle community, but production of new combat aircraft has all but halted. The support of existing platforms in operation is also severely impacted by the same sanctions against the importation of foreign electronics that cripples Russian missile production.
One source with knowledge of Russia’s industrial status told Breaking Defense that production of the Sukhoi Su-35 had declined precipitously from a planned 120 aircraft in 2021 to an actual number of 10-12 units. What remains of the aircraft industry at this point is only capable of manufacturing a small number of essentially hand-assembled aircraft with whatever production materials that remain on-site and with a complete loss of any economies of scale.
Combat losses to Ukraine’s own tactical airpower and air defense units has the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) unable of establishing air superiority in the conflict. Pilots are staying within safe corridors or “bubbles” provided by their own SAM units close to their lines and do not place themselves in harm’s way.
The lack of confidence in their survivability is demonstrated in the difference between their operational profile in the Ukraine theatre and how they perform in the Vostok 2022 joint training exercises currently taking place in the Russian Far East. In Ukraine, VKS Sukhoi Su-25s tend to fly at very low altitude and fire unguided rockets to reduce the probability of being engaged by the Ukrainian Air Forces. Meanwhile, in the Vostok exercises, the same model Su-25s drop unguided bombs from medium altitudes as per standard procedure — as their targets are only mockups representing “SAM systems of the conditional adversary” that do not shoot back.
In April, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London published an assessment that included details of how Russia intends to try and evade the sanctions regime imposed on them by the West. Moscow’s basic strategy is to re-invigorate the channels for illegal procurement of foreign technology that were utilized by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The difference between today and the Cold War period is that there is no nation more familiar with the tricks used by Russia to circumvent this technology export bans than Ukraine itself, which is determined to see Moscow thwarted. Its intelligence services have been able to procure detailed knowledge of Russian operations, to include Russian defense industry’s high-tech “shopping list” of high-technology components, copies of which have been provided to the US publication Politico.
Nations that maintain ties with Russia at one level or another — the Czech Republic, Serbia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, India, and the UAE — have also been mentioned as potential third-party pass-throughs that could place large orders for these electronic systems and then illegally transship them to Russia.
China has additionally been identified as another portal that could be used for Moscow as a mechanism for financing these purchases. Zongyuan Liu, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has stated that “Russia could take advantage of Chinese ‘burner banks’,” a reference to the “burner phones” used by drug traffickers and other criminal operatives, “which facilitate illegal transactions but are then liquidated or reconstituted before their activities are discovered.”
“This is an established model,” she recently wrote in the Financial Times, “and it is already used by North Korea (DPRK) and the Iranians.” If the Russians begin to operate this way on a large scale it will have to involve Beijing — creating a situation where “China could have more leverage over Russia in negotiating oil and gas deals, meaning it could buy Russian oil and gas at heavy discounts.”
And of course, both North Korea and Iran could lend their support and expertise to Russia on the best way to get around sanctions. Increased military ties to Russia — North Korea through artillery sales, Iran through drone sales — likely comes with greater political discussions as well.
Six months in, the fight in Ukraine is far from finished. But for those in Kyiv and its supporters, even before the success of the last few days, there are signs the Russian military machine could run out of steam, limiting Putin’s options to push back and reclaim territory. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
12 Sep 22. Russia to press on ‘until all the goals’ are achieved in Ukraine, Kremlin says. Vladimir Putin in ‘round-the-clock’ contact with military after troops forced to retreat south-east of Kharkiv. Russia will push on with its invasion of Ukraine until all military goals are met, the Kremlin has said, as it responded to Kyiv’s massive counter-offensive in the east, which has reclaimed over 3,000 square kilometres of terrain. The Russian military setback is the Kremlin’s biggest since it was forced to U-turn on plans to take the Ukrainian capital and has led to a rising tide of recriminations in Moscow over who is to blame. President Vladimir Putin is fully briefed on the relocation of Russian forces, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. The defence ministry has acknowledged that Russian troops were pulled back in the Kharkiv region, but authorities have since avoided calling it a retreat. “The president is in constant, round-the-clock communication with the minister of defence, and with all the military commanders,” Peskov said.
Asked if Putin still trusts his military leadership, Peskov replied that the “special military operation” — the name Moscow gives to its invasion of Ukraine — will continue, and “will continue until all the goals that were originally set are achieved.” On Monday, Ukrainian troops worked to consolidate gains they have made since launching the offensive east of Kharkiv. In Izyum, a key logistics hub where thousands of Russian troops had been stationed, Ukrainian soldiers hoisted the national flag over the central district government building in the main square. Nataliya Humenyuk, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern operations command, said on Monday the country’s forces in the southern Kherson region, where Ukraine initiated an earlier counter-offensive, had also liberated about 500 sq km of territory from Russia’s forces. “Our progress during the last two weeks is quite convincing. We have advanced in different sections from four to several dozen kilometres. We have freed areas — about 500 sq km,” she said. Towns liberated included Visokopiylya, Novovoznesenske, Bilohirka, Sukhy Stavok and Myrolyubivka, she said. (Source: FT.com)
09 Sep 22. Kyiv officials lay out vision for security, digital future at DC event. As Ukrainian forces battle back a stalling Russian invasion, government officials hailing from Kyiv told a conference in Washington, D.C., that they are eyeing a future defined by digital innovation, defense know-how and high-tech investments.
“We want not only to fight, but also to continue our development, our digital transformation,” Georgii Dubynskyi, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, said Sept. 9 at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit. “And we are ready to take any modern technology and to test them in Ukraine and to develop a digital country, develop a digital state, and show the rest of the world.”
Dubynskyi’s remarks followed a prerecorded video played at the conference in which Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov pitched “a big vision of turning Ukraine into a top tech country.”
“Strong security and military solutions,” he said in the video, could become the Eastern European country’s key export and expertise.
Ukrainian leaders have in past months solicited international spending to reinvigorate industries and rebuild its economy, both ravaged by Russia. The World Bank in April predicted Ukraine’s economy would shrink 45% this year, noting the magnitude of the contraction depends on the length and severity of the war.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sept. 6 remotely rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and launched Advantage Ukraine, an initiative seeking foreign investments in opportunities the government says total hundreds of billions of dollars. Key sectors include defense, infrastructure, metallurgy and digitization.
Some three months prior, Zelenskyy welcomed Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp to Kyiv, where they discussed Russian cyberattacks, defense cooperation and the opening of a corporate office. Karp’s trip to the capital marked the first made by an executive of a major Western company since Russia launched its invasion in February.
Palantir is known for its data analytics and software development capability. The company has been involved with Project Maven, a Pentagon effort to develop artificial intelligence capabilities that could help flag and decipher aerial surveillance footage.
Zelenskyy at the time described the rendezvous as a “positive signal that, despite a full-scale war, Ukraine is open to business and ready for cooperation.” The president also said he was “delighted that Palantir is ready to invest in Ukraine and help us in the fight against Russia on the digital frontline.”
The in-person dialogue involved Dubynskyi and Fedorov, according to photos shared by Zelenskyy’s office. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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