Issue 150, 15-21 August 2022 (Weekly update) (Free access)

folder_openUkraine Conflict Monitor

Key takeaways

  • Russian forces continue to press on with their attacks in Ukraine, but they are only able to operate effectively in two directions at once (Bakhut and probably Kherson);
  • They lack manpower and heavy armour support to break through Ukrainian lines in other areas.
  • Russians are very active near Bakhmut, attempting to approach the city from three sides, but over the past week, the progress was incremental at best.
  • Russians continue to supply and move their forces through the Dnieper into the northern Kherson Oblast. Their supply lines are complicated but not paralysed.

BMP-3 ->BMP-2

Last week, TASS ran an interview with the head of Kurganmashzavod, Petr Tyukov. This company produces infantry fighting vehicles and is responsible for their modernisation. Tyukov stated that since the start of the “special military operation in Ukraine (..) a significant increase in the state defence order became noticeable.” Interestingly, Tyukov stated that Kurganmashzavod is considering a (Russian MoD) proposal to restart the production of the earlier generation of BMPs, presumably BMP-2s, and modernisation and overhaul existing vehicles of this type. However, the speaker voiced concerns about whether this would be doable and at what cost, as Kurganmashzavod is solely focused on manufacturing BMP-3s and BMD-4Ms. The prices of older variants will be much higher to produce than currently manufactured vehicles.

Regarding the performance of BMP-3s in Ukraine, Tyukov stated the vehicles would be up-armoured with additional protection screens.   In general, the military is content with BMP-3s and their capabilities on the battlefield. In total, there were around 860 BMP-3s in the Western and Southern Military Districts in early 2022. Out of this number, approximately 80 were stationed in the Kaliningrad Oblast and were presumably not deployed to Ukraine. According to Oryx, Russians also lost 133 BMP-3s so far in Ukraine, thus leaving them with around 650 vehicles, enough to field six regiments. It is, therefore, surprising that the military is exploring the possibility of producing less capable BMP-2s. Although the price per vehicle may eventually be smaller than BMP-3, setting up a production line with the necessary machinery and expertise it will take time and will be costly. On the other hand, the MoD may be concerned about training. Converting BMP-2-based units to BMP-3 would take time, and probably the MoD is reluctant to withdraw its scarce forces from the battlefield.

One way or the other, the current discussions about the structure of the IFV fleet fall into the (partial) mobilisation of the Russian economy, which sustains Moscow’s operations in Ukraine. In July, Putin signed amendments to existing federal law “On Defence” and the labour code that allows the government to “introduce special measures in the realm of economics.” There is no doubt that these changes aim to ensure that the domestic defence-industrial complex can fully satisfy the current needs of the Russian Armed Forces.

These amendments address four specific issues:

  • State-owned and private companies are not able to refuse state defence orders;
  • Without changes, the issues the armed forces are facing in terms of modernisation and repair would only intensify;
  • The defence-industrial complex is prioritised over other branches of Russia’s economy; and
  • The state has the right to change the terms of contracts even after they have been signed.

Companies also now have a bigger leeway regarding what working schedule to implement for their employees to fulfil new state orders, hence changes in the labour law.

However, the bills do not provide for compulsory conversion of civilian small and medium-sized enterprises for the needs of the armed forces. At the same time, the measures are primarily directed at enterprises already on the list of defence sector suppliers, so these bills do not spill over to the remaining parts of the economy. It will also probably take a few months before changes affect the industry’s capacity to address armed forces’ requests, especially regarding expanding the industrial base.

The situation in Belarus

Last week Lukashenko also spoke about the possibility of Belarus joining the war. He claimed he had no intention of sending “my children to fight”, but “we will bomb Ukraine” from our territory. He added that “Ukraine is not at war”, but NATO is at war with Russia. The conflict should have ended long ago, but it keeps igniting by the United States and Poland. Earlier, Lukashenko warned Kyiv against aggression against Belarus, saying that in this case, the Belarusian army would strike immediately at the capital without even entering Ukrainian territory.

These are obviously overstatements. Belarus’s capability to attack its southern neighbour is limited. It has only six BM-200 ballistic missile launchers and an unspecified number of Tochka-U, but, some of the latter may have been handed over to the Russian Armed Forces. Lukashenko is undoubtedly flexing his muscles to deter any Ukrainian attempts to hit storage sites in Belarus and force him to be true to his promise.

We maintain that the chances for a Belarusian ground attack on Ukraine are remote. There is no evidence to suggest that they are concentrating their forces near the border. Their existing presence continues to be limited to 4-7 battalion tactical groups, although in reality, they are likely company tactical groups.

Regarding last week’s activity, the Belarusian President showed more activity in the military security sphere. On Monday, he made personnel changes in the Ministry of Defence. Specifically, Lukashenko appointed a  new Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces. He also transferred the Chief of Missile Troops and Artillery and First Deputy Chairman of the State Military Industry Committee to the reserve. On Wednesday, Lukashenka approved a new military-technical cooperation agreement with Russia. At the end of the week, the Belarusian President referred to the issue of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. His rhetoric remains unchanged. He still claims that the war was caused by the western countries, which are also currently responsible for its prolongation (mainly the US and Poland).

Among the Belarusian generals, the Minister of Defence Viktor Khrenin and the Secretary of the State Security Council Alexander Volfovich were the most active. They visited various enterprises, mainly in Russia. In Belarus, the Chief of Communications Oleg Mischenko might be described as the most industrious officer during the last week. Despite his involvement in the International Army Games 2022, he also led the inspection of the 297th Central Courier-Mail Communications Center.

Last week, the number of training activities among the Belarusian military formations was noticeable, primarily due to the ongoing International Army Games 2022. Drills mostly involved SOF elements (especially the 5th Spetsnaz Brigade), as well as (sub)units of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces (also in Belarus and Russia). The visible activity of the Belarusian Air Force on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday should also be highlighted. It is also worth mentioning that elements of the 51st Artillery Brigade conducted various training classes on the Osipovichi Training Ground, while the 38th Air Assault Brigade subunits closely cooperated with Belarusian OMON during joint tactical exercise.

Last week’s important event occurred at the 297th Central Courier-Mail Communication Center. The Head of the Communications Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, Major General Oleg Mishchenko, conducted a sudden check of the level of combat and mobilisation readiness in the centre. The drill checked the ability of the centre to transfer from peacetime to wartime organisation with “the practical supply of mobilisation resources to conduct combat coordination and successfully complete the tasks for its intended purpose”.

In the past week, only a few transfers of Belarusian military equipment might be described as interesting. Mainly, they consisted of various logistic convoys (involving trucks, sometimes radar stations with an escort of light vehicles). Some tanks were also observed on the move, including a company-level formation. Other transfers were singular and consisted of single air defence, artillery, MLRS systems, and so on.

Last week, the activity of Russian forces in Belarus was limited. However, the Russian fighters could still conduct a missile strike on the Ukrainian targets from Belarusian airspace. There is also an unknown number of Russian aircraft deployed to bases in Baranovichi from where they run training flights.

Referenda

Last week, Meduza ran an interesting story about the upcoming referenda on occupied territories joining Russia. Citing sources close to the Kremlin, the outlet claimed that despite war reaching a deadlock, Moscow had not abandoned the idea of organising the vote. The administration is considering holding the referendum in the Donetsk Oblast on 11 September in areas Russians control (around 60% of the Oblast). “If Russian forces manage to capture the rest of the region later, this territory will be incorporated into Russia “by default.” The backup plan is to organise the vote during winter when the rest of the oblast will be entirely under Russian control.

If the vote is postponed, then it will be the second time this will have happened. Initially, a referendum was to be held during spring but was postponed to September due to the armed forces’ inability to fulfil what the Kremlin wanted.

However, Tatiana Stanovaya, a  nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sees things slightly differently.

Moscow is unlikely to organise the referenda in a hurry. The vote needs to “look good”, and now the situation is far from “good”. The vote will nevertheless take place sooner or later. Whereas domestically and politically, Moscow is ready to launch the voting process, at the current stage, such a decision would signal weakness and be hasty and half-hearted. On top of that, organising the referendum in only 60% of the Donetsk Oblast appears “flawed and compulsory.” She does not expect the votes in September and perhaps not even until the end of the year.

The same goes for other regions where Russians struggle to maintain control, most notably the Kherson Oblast. The big question is whether Moscow decides to organise the vote in parts and first focus on regions where Russian military presence is cemented, such as the Luhansk Oblast and Zaporizhzhia.

Frontline situation

In general and with limited exceptions, the frontline remained mostly static last week. Russia does not have the manpower to open up new lines of advance and is predominantly focused on maintaining its existing territorial possessions.

The outlook for a Ukrainian counterattack is also becoming increasingly bleak as there are no indications that anything larger in scale is being planned. In an ideal scenario, Ukraine would deploy its tanks and IFVs to push the Russians out. However, we are uncertain how much equipment Ukrainians have “put aside” in reserve. There also have not been any deliveries of heavy equipment from Western Europe recently, thus probably highlighting the limit to what Europe can draw from its stocks. Poland is likely committed to sending another 400 tanks, but this is a process that will last a couple of years. Warsaw will probably not hand over its operational tanks until it starts receiving K2s from South Korea and Abrams from the United States in 2023.

Ukrainians will thus have to conduct attacks with what they have. Infantry training of volunteers is ongoing, but we have seen no evidence that it has impacted Ukrainian ground operations and a territorial expansion of their attacks.

Operationally and from a ground perspective, we are unlikely to see a major shift in this war over the next month.

That said, Kyiv has been trying to mitigate its deficiencies but conducting strikes on Russian rear areas attempting to hinder its logistics support. A strike on the Saky Air Base in Crimea has reportedly forced Russians to limit their air operations in the Kherson Oblast. Explosions in Russian storage areas in the peninsula have likely caused some disruptions. However, one must remember that Russians generally fix bridges and rail tracks relatively quickly, so these interruptions are probably short-lived.

But Ukrainian attacks also have a PR dimension. A flock of cars attempting to leave Crimea and Belgorod does not reflect well on the Russian air defence capability and the general ability of the Russian Armed Forces to deter or interdict Ukrainian artillery units. After Saky, we assessed that a Ukrainian SOF operation was likely behind the event. Still, the sheer number of such strikes over the last week in Crimea probably indicates that Ukrainians possess a ballistic missile capability (not Tochka-U).

Ukrainian advisor to the President, Oleksiy Arestovych, hinted on Friday that Ukraine was using HIMARS missiles other than ATACMS with “122km, 166km and 210 km” ranges. The rocket is also “smaller and faster” than ATACMS and hard to intercept. We do not know where the 166 km and 210 km ranges can come from, but the first number is achievable by GMLRS-ER. In June 2022, Lockheed Martin conducted tests of the missile, which achieved enhanced capabilities and an extended range of 135+ km, but the goal is to reach 150 km. The missile will go into production in 2023, but if GMLRS-ER is indeed what Ukrainians have, Kyiv probably got some test missiles.

Russia probably cannot respond to such a threat. Russian S-400 missiles (40N6) can only shoot down missiles at terminal phases (altitude of about 27km and 60 km range) rage against ballistic missiles of no more than 60km. But at 2-3 Mach speed, a battle management radar is probably unable to track the missile, thus rendering the system ineffective. So far, Russians have not produced evidence to confirm the shooting down of any GMLRS missiles.

But not all deficiencies can be attributed to technical weaknesses. On Saturday, a drone targeted a Russian Black Sea Fleet’s HQ. The Drive speculates it was a Chinese-made, Aliexpress-procured system that can be turned into a small cruise missile.

The HQ was already attacked once on 31JUL ( the Navy Day), so one would expect Russians to upgrade the air defences of their main command base in Crimea. Yet,  apart from small arms fire, the air defence was absent, which is baffling at best and ignorant at worst.

Frontlines in Ukraine with FIRMS data – 13AUG

Frontlines in Ukraine with FIRMS data – 20AUG

 

Development of reported shellings since June 9 (Source)

Ukrainian General Staff reported shellings by city and oblast for the past seven days (Source)

 

To the extent possible, FIRMS data show a decrease in the number of fires over a seven-day period. In general, the decline in fires is coupled with a fall in Russian reported artillery strikes. This is probably indicative of the inability of the Russian artillery units to maintain the previous pace of attacks. Whether this is caused by Ukrainian strikes on Russian ammunition depots and declining artillery stocks, or both, is presently unclear.

Kharkiv Oblast was the second most shelled region in Ukraine last week. Together with Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia, they received 46% of the shells that landed in Ukraine, compared to 50% last week. In other words, areas shelled the most are the ones, which display relatively little ground activity.

Heatmap with reported shellings, past seven days (Source)

Summary of losses

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, since the start of the war, Ukraine has lost 267 aircraft (+0), 148 helicopters (+0), 1,785 UAVs (+47), 367 anti-aircraft missile systems (launchers?)(+2), 4,359 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles (+56), 810 MLRS launchers (+12), 3,323 field artillery guns and mortars (+25), as well as 4,984 units of special military vehicles (+96).

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost (killed) 45,200 personnel (+1,650), 1,912 tanks (+48), 4,224 armoured personnel vehicles (+169), 1,028 artillery systems (+48) and 266 MLRS (+5), 141 anti-aircraft systems (+5), 234 aircraft (+11) and 197 helicopters (+3), and 806 UAVs (+22), 3,143 vehicles and fuel tanks (+165), 15 warships and boats (0) and 99 special equipment (+8).

The number in parentheses denotes a weekly change.

The situation at selected axes and directions

Kharkiv direction

There were no changes in this direction last week.

Russians are deeply entrenched in areas north of Kharkiv; despite some attacks, they cannot gain any more territory. The frontline, therefore, remains static, and we do not expect the situation to change in the near future. As everywhere, there is a manpower and armour deficiency. On the contrary, Kharkiv Oblast is the second most heavily shelled oblast in Ukraine.

Last week, some reports indicated that Russians captured Udy, but this claim has never been independently confirmed.

Kyiv also cannot push Russians out, but the fact that it is not conducting precision strikes on many Russian concentration areas on the Russian side of the border probably confirms that Washington would not welcome such a development. Nevertheless, Ukrainians are using their own capability to strike Russian targets near Belgorod. On Friday, an ammunition depot was targeted in Timonovo, 31 km from the border. The entire area was burnt to the ground.

There are certainly other critical facilities in the area, such as the base in Urazovo, 23 km south of Timonovo.

There were no changes in areas south of Izyum either. Ukrainians did not capitalise on capturing Dmitrovka, Mazanivka, and Dibrivne two weeks ago, and, since then, they have not been able to capture more territory. At the same time, Russians exert pressure on Ukrainians defending this line by conducting daily artillery strikes and undertaking occasional ground assaults. It appears that the tempo of the latter has decreased over the past two weeks. Previously, ground attacks occurred daily, now, there are some pauses.

Kharkiv Oblast is the second most shelled city in Ukraine. According to Ukrainian General Staff reports, the oblast was shelled 174 times last week, compared to more than 194 previously.

The situation in Kharkiv Direction with FIRMS data (20AUG)

 

Donetsk Oblast Direction

This direction is divided into three main areas of combat operations.

First is Siversk, where there were no changes last week. Russian attacks do not deliver any results and are unlikely to punch a hole in Ukrainian defensive lines. But, even if they succeeded, they lack the reserves to exploit gaps and make fast advances.

Last week they began testing defenders’ lines south of Siversk, near Vyimka, but this attempt was fruitless. Ukrainians control Ivano-Dar’ivka and Spirne to the south and Serebrianka and Hryhorivka to the north of Siversk.

Moving further south, the Russian presence in Soledar has probably not expanded. They are entrenched in the southern parts of the city. Some Russian sources claimed the attackers had pushed deeper into the city, but this claim remains unverified.

The attackers are also focused on the Yakovlivka area. If this area is captured, it will allow them to move closer to the main road linking Bakhmut with Siversk. The next couple of weeks will show whether this is the plan.

Russian attacks on Bakhmut continued, but the pace of advance was at least sluggish. In this area, too, despite various claims, Russian gains were minimal. They are probably now near Bakhmuts’ke, some 6 km east of Bakhmut.

To the south of the city, Russians are present in Vershyna, but attacks on Zaitseve and Vesela Dolyna were unsuccessful. The attackers are trying to approach Bakhmut from the north, east, and south, but there is no concentration of effort on one selected route of advance. Russians, therefore, appear to be spread too thin in this area.

Russians also were unable to move from Semyhirja to Kodema. Maintaining control over Kodema is vital due to the hills west of the city that allows holding Russians away from the Mykolaivka Druha and the road linking Horlivka with Bakhmut.

When it comes to Avdiivka, Russians made no gains there either. They are in the city’s southern outskirts, just where they were two weeks ago. However, they probably captured Opytne, although this information remains unconfirmed. The fall of this village would be important as it would allow Russians to approach Avdivvka from the rear.

There is no clear information about Pisky. Russians continue to maintain that the city is almost under their control and started pushing towards Pervomais’ke. Ukrainians deny these claims, and Russians have not shown evidence that this has happened. We assess that Russians probably control most of the village.

The situation between Izyum and Bakhmut (20AUG)

 

Zaporizhzhia direction

The situation in the Zaporizhzhia direction has not changed.

Neither side can alter the frontline, but at the same time, neither side really tried to push in this direction. We can argue that Russia and Ukraine were content with how the situation stalled in this direction, allowing them to focus on other areas.

It doesn’t mean that Russians are inactive. Last week they attacked Yehorivka, but without success.

Despite deploying new formations into the oblast, the intensity of battles did not rise. The tempo of Russian attacks did not increase either.

We continue to assess that Russian forces in this area are predominantly tasked with protecting the right flank of Russian and proxy forces deployed to the Kherson Oblast and preventing any Ukrainian attempts to break Russian lines and approach Melitopol.

The situation between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia (20AUG)

 

Kherson direction

There were no frontline changes in this direction last week, but the overall situation remains tense.

Ukrainians continue to maintain their presence near the southern side of the Inhulets River, probably between Bilohirka and Andriivka. Late in the week, some Ukrainian sources information that Kyiv captured Blahodativka, just west of Andriivka, but this information remains unconfirmed. Nevertheless, Ukrainian positions appear to expand horizontally, not vertically. Or in other words, Ukrainians cannot expand in depth. They have little room to manoeuvre due to the Inhulets River behind them. However, last week Russians appeared to mostly counterattack in this area, and the fact that they have not managed to capture any territory is a testament to their weaknesses.

The Antonovsky and Nova Khakova bridges were repaired, but the latter was hit again late in the week and was put out of use. We do not know how long it will be out, but Russians are likely already working to fix it. Both bridges are also used to transfer military equipment north and south of the river, although Russians are probably refraining from transporting the heaviest pieces of equipment through these bridges.

Last week, we wrote that Russians were using two main routes for troops and equipment coming into the Kherson oblast:

On Tuesday, a rail track near Maiske. Initial reports suggested that it was the work of Ukrainians. However, in reality, the line was damaged by shells flying out of the nearby ammunition depot that exploded on the same day. This undoubtedly caused some disruptions to rail traffic, but they probably were not severe.

However, apart from Dzhankoy, there is no rail line alternative to reach Kherson from Kerch. So damaging rail near the city can significantly impact Russian troop mobility.

We continue to maintain that a big Ukrainian counterattack, a counterattack everyone has been expecting, is presently unlikely due to a large number of Russian forces in the Kherson Oblast.

The situation in the Kherson direction with FIRMS data (20AUG)

 

Outlook for the week of 22AUG – 28AUG

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%

 

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 remember 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.

Previous forecasts

“Starting with the Kharkiv Oblast, we will stick to our previous forecasts. We do not anticipate significant changes in this direction, although Russia will almost certainly continue to exert pressure on Ukrainians by conducting artillery and air strikes. If Russia commits new formations to the battle, it will likely make some territorial gains.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

Regarding areas around Izyum, it is likely that Ukrainians will make incremental gains as the Russian presence in the area has decreased. We also think Russia has no reserves available to conduct a  new wave of attacks south and southwest from Izyum.” This forecast was inaccurate as Ukrainians made no reported gains, let alone confirmed.

“It is highly unlikely that Russians will reach Slovyansk and unlikely they will reach Siversk.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“We assess that Russians will likely engulf Soledar, but the city is unlikely to fall next week.” This forecast was partially correct. Russians probably made some marginal gains in Soldedar, but we expected them to make more significant advances.

“Russians are highly likely to make new gains around Bakhmut and will likely enter the city next week. It is highly unlikely that the city will fall.” Again, this was partially correct. Russians made new gains around Bakhmut but did not enter the city.

We do not foresee any significant changes in the Zaporizhzhia 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.” This forecast turned out to be accurate.

“Lastly, the Kherson Oblast. We continue to maintain that there is a real threat (it is likely) that Russians will push Ukrainians over the Inhulets River near Davydiv Brid. It is also likely that Russians will make territorial gains toward Kryvyi Rih.” This forecast was inaccurate as neither development materialised.

The score was 4 out of 7.

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 Oblast, we will stick to our previous forecasts. We do not anticipate significant changes in this direction, although Russia will almost certainly continue to exert pressure on Ukrainians by conducting artillery and air strikes. If Russia commits new formations to the battle, which is unlikely, it will likely make some territorial gains.

Regarding areas around Izyum, we expect no frontline changes in this direction (It is likely that there will be no frontline changes). Russians will continue in their efforts to dislodge Ukrainians and break their defence lines, but we do not think (highly unlikely) that this will happen.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Russians will reach Slovyansk.

Attacks near Siversk are also unlikely to deliver new territorial gains. It is highly unlikely that the attackers will reach Siversk next week.

When it comes to Soldedar, it is likely that Russians will make new gains there, but the city is unlikely to fall next week.

Russians are highly likely to make new gains around Bakhmut. Russian press reports suggest that the attackers have already entered the city, but this remains unconfirmed. We nevertheless think that there is an even chance this will happen next week. We do not expect (remote chances) that the city will fall.

We do not foresee any significant changes in the Zaporizhzhia 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, the Kherson Oblast. Russians continue to amass forces in the northern part of the oblast. There is an expectation on the Ukrainian side that they will make a new push towards Kryvyi Rih. But we struggle to predict when, if at all, this will happen. So there is a roughly even chance that Russians will make new gains towards Kryvyi Rih.

When it comes to Crimea, Ukrainians are highly likely to continue targeting Russian C2 posts, air bases, and logistics sites.

 

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