Issue 128, 18-24 July 2022 (Weekly update)

folder_openUkraine Conflict Monitor

The next issue will be published on Tuesday, 27JUL.

General outlook

The Russian Armed Forces and its proxies have made virtually no progress over the past three weeks. Despite the Russian Defence Minister’s inspection and order to intensify attacks made on 16JUL, the operational tempo has not increased. Russian forces have made some limited assaults west and south of Lysychansk (towards Siversk and Bakhmut), but their scope was reduced.

Although judging from open-source data (images and videos), the vehicle traffic has increased in the Luhansk region, it was mostly confined to supply trucks or other logistics vehicles. We have not seen any increase in the movement of armoured vehicles (this does not mean this is not happening). If this picture accurately portrays Russian preparations for renewed attacks, then we assess Moscow is not yet ready to resume the offensive.

Another vital aspect to remember is artillery fires. Russian strategy in this war, or at least since the second phase commenced, is to undertake mass fires to weaken opposing forces’ defensive lines. Ground units later reconnoitre these areas. If the lines aren’t sufficiently softened, additional strikes are ordered, followed again by reconnaissance-in-force. This process is then repeated over and over. This approach allows Russians to preserve personnel and achieve superiority in mass fires at selected front areas.

However, the intensity of Russian fires decreased considerably over the past weeks. NASA’s FIRMS data shows a large number of fires on 10JUL.

NASA FIRMS data – 10JUL

 

The reader should note that not all icons result from artillery fire or even real fire. Nevertheless, there is a clear difference between the data obtained from 10JUL and the FIRMS collected on 17JUL.

NASA FIRMS data – 17JUL

 

NASA FIRMS data – 23JUL

 

The data collected on 23JUL confirms the return to the “standard” number of visible fires observed before the operational pause.

These changes nevertheless probably mean that Russian artillery strikes increased their tempo over the past few days. The pause was probably used to replace tubes/guns and move artillery assets closer to the frontlines.

Another very probable impact on Russian artillery and ground operations came from HIMARS. Ukraine now has some 8-12 launchers. These systems have been used to good effect to target Russian C2 points, HQs, but have been predominately employed against logistics bases and weapon storage facilities. So far, since late June, we have counted around 40 strikes conducted on various Russian and proxies’ ammunition depots or ammunition storage sites. Not all have been struck by HIMARS, of course. HIMARS (and now the M270s) seem to focus on sites deep behind the enemy’s lines, most likely higher-echelon bases that serve several tactical formations (regiment/brigade level bases). Naturally, these strikes had to cause a decrease in Russian strikes and the pace of ground attacks.

Although, in recent days, the scope of precision-guided attacks decreased (perhaps apart from the Kherson area), Ukraine is set to receive another four systems, thus bringing the total number of “contracted” launchers to 16. This number could eventually double. According to Rep. Adam Smith (Democrat-Washington), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, the current goal is to increase the number of rocket systems deployed to Ukraine to 25-30. This figure probably also includes M270s.

The main difference between M270 and HIMARS (M142) is that the latter is a wheeled platform (thus air transportable on tactical airlift aircraft) and is therefore more mobile. However, it only has one launch pod, compared to two for M270. HIMARS can fire six missiles in one salvo compared to 12 for M270.

Although Ukraine requested 50 MLRS, 25-30 Western-supplied MLRS systems will allow Kyiv to maintain several launchers on station in each direction all the time. This will further pressure Russian units and rear services and force them to adjust to the threat of high-precision missiles. Thus far, we know that Russians are dispersing their ammunition depots.

They are also introducing other countermeasures to detect and destroy Western MLR systems. The armed forces have put together groups that include SU-24MRs and Su-34s, electronic warfare and radio-technical systems, reconnaissance units (artillery and UAVs), and artillery systems such as BM-30 Smerch and 2S7 Malka. Once a system’s possible presence is detected, artillery systems engage the location. It is unclear how well or poorly the system works. The Russian MoD has claimed to have already destroyed one system, but this assertion seems unsubstantiated.

Suppose Russians do not find a way of destroying launchers or limiting HIMARS’ effectiveness (air defence). In that case, Moscow ground attacks across the entire frontline, in the Donbas in particular, could potentially stall.

Summary of losses

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, since the start of the war, Ukraine has lost 260 aircraft (+31), 144 helicopters (+10), 1,605 UAVs (+165), 357 anti-aircraft missile systems (launchers?)(+4), 4,156 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles (+263), 763 MLRS launchers (+59), 3,196 field artillery guns and mortars (+118), as well as 4,457 units of special military vehicles (+478).

Undoubtedly, these Russian figures reflect significantly decreased operational tempo on their part. Some Ukrainian losses suffered over three weeks were previously sustained over one week.

Summary of Ukrainian losses as reported by the Russian MoD. A weekly change (27JUN-3JUL)

 

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost (killed) 35,970 personnel (+3,550), 1,722 tanks (+138), 3,942 armoured personnel vehicles (+198), 869 artillery systems (+68) and 255 MLRS (+9), 113 anti-aircraft systems (+8), 221 aircraft (4) and 188 helicopters (+1), and 714 UAVs (+60), 2,2823 vehicles and fuel tanks (+259), 15 warships and boats (0) and 73 special equipment (+9).

The number in parentheses denotes a three-week change.

The situation at selected axes and directions

Generally speaking, the frontline remained unchanged for the past three weeks. After the fall of Lysychansk, Russians announced an operational pause. This period, however, was meant to finish on 16JUL. Yet, since then, Russian ground attacks only saw a slight uptick, predominantly south of Izyum, near Bakhmut, and along the T1305 road linking Bakhmut with Lysychansk. Victories only had a tactical character and did not evolve into a large-scale attack for both sides.

Kharkiv direction

There were no major changes in this axis over the past week (or three). Russians probably still maintain control over Rubizhne but do not appear to have successfully moved towards Staryi Saltiv.

Some Ukrainian sources indicated that Russians may still be interested in trying to encircle Kharkiv. However, we currently do not foresee such an event. Russians appear content with their current territorial gains and probably do not possess immediately available capabilities to alter the frontline. Ukrainians, likewise, have struggled to push Russians out.

From Kyiv’s perspective, Moscow’s plans to set up a military-civilian administration in the Kharkiv area are more concerning. This may eventually result in an annexation attempt.

The situation in Kharkiv Direction with 23JUL FIRMS data

 

Izyum axis

There were no changes in this axis over the past several weeks. After several days of no ground activity, On 20JUL, Russians conducted an assault towards Krasnopillya and Dolyna. The attack was fruitless. We believe that these settlements and Bohorodychne are contested in that Russians keep on trying to capture them. However, they are probably controlled by Ukrainian formations.

We assess that Russia maintains some 33-35 CTGs/BTGs, including all available forces (ground elements, special forces, national guard, proxies, etc.) between Kharkiv and Lyman. Out of this number, 20 units could be near Izyum.

However, the attackers are unlikely to move until forested areas near Bohorodyche, Krasnopillya and Dolyna are fully cleared of Ukrainian units. It has been underreported, but Russian units struggle to push Ukrainians out of these areas. Ukrainians also waged partisan-type operations in these forests to tie Russians down and increase their manpower costs. It seems that, so far, they have been successful.

The situation around Izyum-Slovyansk with 23JUL FIRMS data

 

Donbas direction

Russian operational pause has impacted ground operations in the wider Donbas area, predominantly around Lysychansk. We are still not sure whether the operational pause indeed ended. Although last week, the Russian Minister of Defence visited HQ of Russian forces deployed in the area and ordered them to increase operational tempo (offensive operations), this did not happen. There is no evidence to suggest that the scope of attacks significantly increased or that Russian formations were reinforced to allow them to break Ukrainian defensive positions.

Indeed, during this war, Russians could only advance when they created a local imbalance of firepower and personnel, allowing them to push through Ukrainian positions (Popasna, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk). Consequently, Russians are unlikely to move until more reinforcements arrive (volunteer battalions?). Important also have been Ukrainian precision strikes on Russian ammunition depots. We assess that Ukrainians mostly targeted higher-echelon level bases (brigade/regiment level) deeper behind the frontline to cripple Russian ability to support company/battalion formations near the frontline. This approach appears to have been successful. However, Russians are also trying to adapt by dispersing their logistics bases and probably paying greater attention to camouflage and operational security. It remains to be seen how successful they will be in this adjustment, but the deployment of additional HIMARS/M270 will undoubtedly further hinder their operations. It is noteworthy that Ukrainians have not yet attacked Russian bases in mainland Russia, probably at the request/order of the United States. Many bases close to the border provide rear support to Russian formations fighting in Ukraine. Targeting them would probably turn the tide in this war.

That said, Russians conducted some ground assaults towards Siversk last week. The goal is to approach the city from two directions: north and south. To this end, they attacked Hryhorivka and Serebrianka and Spirne and Ivano-Darivka. However, without success. Russian territorial possessions have not changed since the Ukrainian withdrawal from the Luhansk Oblast. They struggle to move beyond the Lysychansk Oil Refinery.

Further south, Russian still do not control the T1302 road linking Lysychansk with Bakhmut. There were reports that they captured Bilohorivka and Berestove, but we have not been able to confirm the authenticity of this claim. In the meantime, our sources in Ukraine claim that the defenders are reinforcing the Siversk-Bahmut line. So even if Russians eventually do push through, they will find themselves fighting against another fortified area.

Russians made only progress in Pokrovske on the south-eastern approaches to Soledar, but it is difficult to call this even a tactical success.

There have not been any changes in other areas of the broader Donbas direction, and it is difficult to expect any changes over the medium-term.

The situation around Zaporozhihia with 23JUL FIRMS data

 

Kherson direction

Some reports late this week indicated that Ukrainians have almost surrounded Russian units in Vysokopillya. Ukrainians probably make some tactical gains, but these do not translate to operational successes. However, if Ukrainians are to be operationally successful in this war over the medium term, it will be in the Kherson area.

Employment of high-precision weapons and the damage they inflicted to the Antonovsky Bridge will likely hider the supply of Russian forces operating in this theatre. Ukrainians reported (pending confirmation) that the bridge is closed for armoured vehicles. This could impact Moscow’s ability to reinforce its positions with heavy equipment.

There is also a rise of insurgency and partisan movement in the oblast that will obstruct Russian operations, improve the morale of Ukrainian citizens, and probably complicate Russian attempts to establish a civil-military administration in the Oblast.

The situation in the Kherson direction with 23JUL data

 

Outlook for the week of 3JUL – 10JUL

In assessing the probability or likelihood of certain events, we will use a set of terms followed by the US Intelligence Community.

 

Almost no chance Very unlikely Unlikely Roughly even chance Likely Very likely Almost certain(ly)
Remote Highly improbable Improbable (improbably) Roughly even odds Probable

(Probably)

Highly probable Nearly certain
0-5% 5-20% 20-45% 45-55% 55-80% 80-95% 95-99%

 

Previous forecasts

We have decided to introduce more accountability to our forecasts. Therefore, each weekly update will feature an assessment of how correct (or incorrect) our predictions were. Here is what we said last week. Please also bear in mind that while we try to remain as objective as possible regarding our performance, the reader will ultimately have to decide how (in)accurate we have been.

There were no frontline changes over the past three weeks so let’s go back to what we wrote previously (UCM – Issue 119)

“Starting with the Kharkiv axis, we will stick to our last week’s forecast. We do not anticipate major changes in this direction, although Russia will very likely continue to exert pressure on Ukrainians by conducting artillery and air strikes. Russia will therefore have the overall initiative. That said, if Russia commits new formations to the battle, it will likely make territorial gains near Staryi Saltiv.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“We are changing the forecast for the south of the Izyum axis. We are now looking at a stalemate with neither side making significant gains. Or in other words, we forecast that Dolnya/Krasnopillya/Bohorodychne will remain contested.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“We do not anticipate Russians to reach Slovyansk from this direction.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“It is likely that after the Luhansk Oblast is confirmed to have been taken, Russians will continue to press on.” We did not anticipate an operational pause.

“Russians will likely reach Siversk, and there is a roughly even chance that Ukrainians will make an orchestrated withdrawal from the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road to the more defendable Siversk-Bakhmut highway.” This forecast also turned out to be incorrect.

“Russians may break Ukrainian lines between Bilohorivka-Berestove. If this happens, Ukrainians will likely withdraw towards Siversk with Russians approaching the city from the south/southeast.” This did not occur.

“Russian gains towards Bakhmut will be incremental, from south, north, and east. Russians are unlikely to reach the city next week. But we also have to consider a scenario where the fall of the abovementioned Ukrainian defences along the  T1302 road can lead to a domino effect and threaten defenders’ positions near Bakhmut”. This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“We do not foresee any significant changes in the Zaporozhihia Oblast. Russia will very likely maintain its pressure on Ukrainians by conducting mortar and artillery forces on military and civilian targets. We do not anticipate a Russian offensive in this direction. Ukrainians are not likely to break Russian defensive lines either.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“Lastly, in the Kherson Oblast, Ukrainians will very likely inch closer to Kherson. We continue to maintain that it is unlikely that Ukrainians will reach the city by the end of next week (10JUL).” Ukrainians may have indeed “inched” closer to the city, but we nevertheless expected more progress on their part.

The score was 5/9. We did not forecast the Russian operational pause after the fall of Lysychansk. We anticipated Russians to push on with their assaults towards Siversk. A failure to predict this pause “cost” us three points as it had a domino effect on two other projections.

Next week’s forecast

Everything in war is contingent. With this in mind, here are our predictions for the next week.

Starting with the Kharkiv axis, we will stick to our previous forecasts. We do not anticipate major changes in this direction, although Russia will almost certainly continue to exert pressure on Ukrainians by conducting artillery and air strikes. Russia will therefore have the overall initiative. That said, if Russia commits new formations to the battle, it will likely make some territorial gains.

Regarding areas south of Izyum, our baseline scenario is that Dolnya/Krasnopillya/Bohorodychne will remain contested. If Russians start a new wave of attacks on this axis, there is a roughly even chance they will break through.

We do not anticipate Russians to reach Slovyansk from this direction next week.

There is roughly even chance that Russians will likely reach Siversk and Soldedar next week. These cities will unlikely fall if the Russians do not start a new offensive.

Russian gains towards Bakhmut will be incremental, from south, north, and east. Russians are unlikely to reach the city next week.

We do not foresee any significant changes in the Zaporozhihia Oblast. Russia will almost certainly exert pressure on Ukrainians by conducting mortar and artillery forces on military and civilian targets. We do not anticipate a Russian offensive in this direction. Ukrainians are not likely to break Russian defensive lines either.

Lastly, in the Kherson Oblast, Ukrainians will probably move closer to Kherson. We continue to maintain that it is unlikely that Ukrainians will reach the city by the end of next week (31JUL).

Ukrainians will likely make progress in other areas of the Kherson Oblast (specifically near Vysokopillya)

 

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