Issue 203, 14-20 November 2022 (Weekly update – Free access)

folder_openUkraine Conflict Monitor
Please click here to download this issue as a pdf. The file includes a summary of training events in Belarus, which is not available in the text below.
Key takeaways
  • There were no substantial frontline changes in Ukraine last week;
  • The Ukrainian Armed Forces continued their attacks in the Luhasnk Oblast, while efforts to stabilise the Kherson Oblast were ongoing;
  • Russian posture in the Luhansk Oblast is largely defensive, but the withdrawal of forces from the right bank of the Dnipro River allowed them to strengthen their positions across the entire front;
  • Russia clearly maintains the initiative in the Donetsk Oblast as it continues its attempts to capture Bakhmut and surrounding settlements;
  • It was in the Donetsk Oblast where Russian and proxy forces captured Pavlivka and are now preparing an attack towards Vuhledar;
  • Last week delivered no changes within the Belarusian Armed Forces. There are no indications that mobilisation is ongoing and that their forces are moving closer to Ukraine;
  • Russian presence in Belarus increased last week as new T-72/T-90 tanks were delivered (presumably) to a training range near Baranovichi. However, the influx of Russian forces is slow and does not indicate immediate danger to Ukraine from Belarus;
  • Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid continued last week and delivered shattering effects. They form a deliberate strategy to exert pressure on Kyiv and the West to enter negotiations and partly offset Moscow’s conventional weaknesses on the frontlines.
  • We expect Russians to continue their attacks on critical infrastructure over the medium-term and especially during winter;
 General outlook

Last week did not deliver major changes on the battlefields in Ukraine. Both sides continued their attacks on selected parts of the front, but the line of contact barely moved. Although Russian forces slightly extended their territorial control, these gains have not changed the operational, let alone strategic, picture of how this conflict is developing. There appears to be an expectation in the broader audience watching the ongoing war that winter will lead to a significant decrease in military activity on both sides, which opens up some space for negotiations.

We believe that both assumptions are incorrect. Firstly, whereas a decrease in the tempo of attacks could decrease, we do not expect a significant lull in military activity, especially when it comes to Ukrainians. There is an understanding within the Ukrainian military establishment that Russian forces will be at their weakest during winter months. Poor logistics, poor access to heavy weapon systems (tanks, IFVs, APCs), and inadequate personnel equipment (winter clothing, winter sleeping bags, etc.) will make Russian forces weaker in general and more susceptible to withdrawals when placed under pressure from Ukrainian formations. Last week new videos appeared on social media showing bad lodging conditions of Russian soldiers in frontline areas. Such conditions will not improve during the upcoming winter, and Ukrainians will try to use this opportunity to their advantage.

Secondly, Kyiv is highly unlikely to accept Moscow’s peace terms, which do not include the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s territory. On 17NOV, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that Ukraine had changed its position on whether it even wanted to negotiate with Moscow several times during the course of the nine-month conflict. Thus, Moscow cannot rely on Kyiv. As a result, ongoing missile strikes on critical infrastructure targets in Ukraine will continue to compel Kyiv to enter peace talks. At the current juncture, we assess that even if Ukraine decides to begin negotiations, they are unlikely to deliver any long-lasting results. Kyiv will not trade territory for peace as it did in 2014. Secondly, given continuous Russian efforts to subjugate Ukraine, Moscow is highly likely to use negotiations and potential cease-fires to enhance its military potential near and in Ukraine to resume the offensive next year. There are many reasons one should be sceptical about Russian efforts and public messaging regarding the ongoing war. Although significantly degraded since 24FEB, the current Russian military, with its post-mobilisation mass, has not yet reached the point where it cannot fulfil its primary tasks. Although its effectiveness on the battlefield is limited, which translates into poor operational and tactical performance, it can still hold defensive lines and conduct limited attacks. In a situation where casualty rates do not appear to be a significant issue for Moscow, Russia is probably now seeking to wear down Ukrainian forces and citizens and reduce Western financial and military support for Kyiv.

Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid are a vital component of this approach. Last week saw another round of attack on critical infrastructure targets, which at some point, left 10 million Ukrainians without electricity, according to President Zelensky. To put this number into perspective, 44 million people were living in Ukraine in 2021, so around a quarter of the country’s population was deprived of electricity last week. Continued attacks can lead to another wave of migration out of Ukraine and a humanitarian crisis due to constant power cuts and limited access to heating and water supplies. Indeed, according to Ukrainian government press releases, last week’s strikes crippled almost half of Ukraine’s energy system. We expect these strikes to continue, especially when winter sets in. These attacks form a deliberate strategy to exert pressure on Kyiv and the West and partly offset Moscow’s conventional weaknesses on the frontlines.

Compared to two weeks ago, the operational picture remains largely the same. After the fall of Kherson and surrounding territories, Russian forces continue to entrench their positions south of the Dnipro River. The pullback allowed Moscow to introduce some of its troops to other regions. New formations started arriving in Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts. There are renewed discussions about larger-scale attacks in the Zaporizhzhia area, while in the Donetsk Oblast, Russians made limited gains last week. Ukrainians’ attempts to pierce the frontline in the Luhansk Oblast have yielded no apparent results. Especially in areas where Ukrainians continue to attack, Russians are well dug in deep defence, not attempting to move but to force Ukrainians to bleed out in attempts to break the deadlock.

Given tremendous successes in the Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts, Ukrainian forces are on a roll. Morale is incredibly high. Western equipment provides the Ukrainians with an edge. But at the current stage, Kyiv will find it increasingly hard to dislodge opposing forces. There are no obvious weak spots along the Russian lines that could readily be exploited, as was the case earlier this fall. Thus, it will be very challenging for the Ukrainians to create conditions that would ultimately result in a manoeuvre leading to a large-scale defeat of Russian forces. They are poorly equipped and poorly trained, but their advantage is mass. Moscow is not looking at the quality of its troops — but at holding the line, especially in the short term.

Frontlines in Ukraine with Russian artillery strikes – 14-20NOV 2022

 

Development of reported shellings since June 9
(Source: Ragnar Gudmundsson)

 

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

 

Heatmap with reported shellings, past seven days (Source: Ragnar Gudmundsson)

The situation in Belarus

There were no significant changes in Belarus over the past week. The political-military leadership made no official decisions that would impact the security sphere either.

However,  the activity of the Belarusian Armed Forces visibly increased. We assess that this uptick was directly linked to the end of the academic year and various events related to the summary of the past few months of training activities.

As such, Belarusian generals and high-ranking officers held more meetings than usual. On the other hand, elements of the Russian Armed Forces deployed to Belarus showed little activity, although Russian presence in the country is expanding.

Last week, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka made only one major decision linked to the Belarusian Armed Forces. On Friday, he signed Decree No. 408 dismissing the current Air Force and Air Defence Forces Commander, Maj. Gen. Igor Golub. According to official information, Golub reached the retirement age and was transferred to the military reserve with the right to wear the military insignia and uniform.

Regarding the actions of political representatives, the Chairman of the State Military Industry, Dmitry Pantus, provided some information about the process of the Belarusian Army modernisation and rearmament on Monday. Pantus stated that 10-20 samples of state-made pieces of military equipment are transferred to the Belarusian Armed Forces annually. Also, the domestic military industry firms intensely cooperate with their Russian counterparts regarding creating their microelectronic elements and modernising Belarusian T-72A tanks (to the T-72BME standard). Pantus highlighted the increasing popularity of Belarusian weapon systems worldwide, referring to the Polonez MLR system and Groza electronic warfare complexes.

Over the past seven days, a few high-rank representatives of the Belarusian power agencies conducted several informational briefings. However, most of them had an exclusive character and were addressed to the representatives of certain state bodies or Belarusian service members. The only briefing generally addressed to the citizens occurred in Bobruisk on Wednesday. It was attended by the First Deputy Chairman of the State Security Committee, Maj. Gen. Sergey Trebov, Deputy Chief of the Belarusian General Staff for Combat Command, Maj. Gen. Valery Gnilozub and the Chairman of the State Border Committee, Lt. Gen. Anatoly Lappo, who provided official information about the current political-military situation for the workers of the local enterprises. Lt. Gen. Lappo expressed his dissatisfaction with the actions of the Ukrainian side, which destroyed bridges and roads near the Belarusian border.

Two more briefings had more exclusive character and occurred at the Belarusian State Academy of Communications and an unspecified school in Barysaw. They were attended by the Head of the Communications Department, Maj. Gen. Oleg Mischenko and the Deputy Head of the Combat Training Department, Maj. Gen. Andrey Zhuk, respectively. A day later, another meeting was held at the 120th Air Defence Brigade base (Baranovichi) and in Brest and Slonim. Chief of the Belarusian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich attended the first meeting and lectured about the situation in Belarus. The events were held at the 111th Artillery Brigade, the 48th Electronic Warfare Battalion, and the 11th Mechanised Brigade.

Representatives of the Belarusian military leadership were active internationally last week as well. On Tuesday, the Assistant to the Minister of Defence for Logistics, Maj. Gen. Andrey Burdyko and the Deputy Minister of Defence for Armaments, Maj. Gen. Sergey Simonenko participated in the meeting of the CSTO working group on logistics. During the meeting (videoconference), they discussed issues relating to stocks of material resources, the provision of joint forces with supplies, and the creation of necessary reserves for deploying the CSTO forces. At the same time, the First Deputy Chief of the Belarusian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Igor Korol started his three-day visit to Pakistan’s 11th International Defence Exhibition IDEAS-2022. There he met with the Pakistan Deputy Minister of Defence and Deputy Chairman of the Pakistan Joint Chief of Staff to discuss the current state and prospects of bilateral military cooperation between Belarus and Pakistan.

Regarding the Belarusian military international affairs, the Head of MoD, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, met with the Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to Belarus on Wednesday. At the same time, the Deputy Chief of the Belarusian General Staff for Scientific Work, Col. Viktor Tumar, led an international conference on the development, training and the use of the CSTO joint forces. This event was also held on Wednesday and was attended by the representatives of the CSTO Join Staff and delegations from various member states.

Due to the end of the 2021/2022 military academic year, Belarusian senior officers were also involved in the summarising events and meetings. Such events pertained to both representatives of certain military specialities and selected military units and occurred on:

  • Monday – Meeting with personnel of the 111th Artillery Brigade and attended by the Acting Chief of the Missile Forces and Artillery of the Western Operational Command (Col. Sergey Boksha).
  • Wednesday – Meeting with military psychologists and attended by the Head of the Belarusian Military Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (Lt. Col. Vasily Korotkevich).
  • Thursday – Meeting with representatives of military financial bodies and attended by the Head of the Main Financial and Economic Department (Maj. Gen. Igor Mozhilovsky).
  • Friday – Meeting with representatives of ideological bodies of the North-Western Operational Command and attended by the Head of the Ideological Work Department of the North-Western Operational Command (Col. Valery Yanushkevich).
    There were also various similar events with servicemen from the 61st Fighter Aviation Base, 38th Air Assault Brigade. 103rd Airborne Brigade and the 48th Electronic Warfare Battalion.

Last week, sixteen officers were promoted to colonels, while 6,000 draftees took military oaths.

When it comes to training activities, they were more visible last week compared to the week prior. Some of them were probably related to the Friday attestation ceremony. Such drills were reported in the 11th Mechanised Brigade, 103rd Airborne Brigade, 111th Artillery Brigade, and 48th Electronic Warfare Battalion.

Nonetheless, a few standalone exercises occurred during the week. It pertains to the tank firing exercises carried out by the cadets of the Belarusian Military Academy (Tuesday, the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground), elements of the 11th Mechanised Brigade (Wednesday, Gozhsky Training Ground) and the tank battalion of the 6th Mechanised Brigade (Friday, Gozhsky Training Ground). Besides, a BM-30 battalion of the presumably 336th Multiple Rocket Launcher Brigade carried out a tactical exercise combined with live ammo firing (Saturday, Osipovichi Training Ground), while the personnel of the 51st Artillery Brigade was involved in the methodological lesson linked to the new forms and methods of reconnaissance, shooting data preparation (Wednesday) and provision of medical support (Friday).

The Belarusian Air and Air Defence Forces activity was observed on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday but mainly revolved around training flights.

Over the past seven days, the number of observed movements of the Belarusian military equipment was relatively small. Military columns generally consisted of various trucks or pontoon-bridge elements. Sometimes, a few reconnaissance vehicles or BTRs were spotted. On Saturday, unofficial sources reported the movement of BM-30 and TOCHKA-U launchers, but the likelihood is high that it was correlated to military-oath ceremonies held in almost every major Belarusian city.

Despite that, the Belarusian Military Monitoring Team Беларускі Гаюн informed that more than 211 vehicles were delivered from Belarus to Russia in October. Specifically, Belarus sent out  98 T-72A tanks, 60 BMP-2s (20 without turrets), and 53 URAL trucks.

Deliveries of military equipment from Belarusian bases to Russia in October

Departure date Arrival Date Origin (military base) Destination train station Destination area Cargo Mass (in tons) Number of waggons
09.10.2022 15.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Uspenskaya Border station with Ukraine 20x T-72A 840 20
11.10.2022 20.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Uspenskaya Border station with Ukraine 25x T-72A 1050 25
11.10.2022 21.10.2022 288. Automobile Reserve Storage Base Millerovo 474. Automobile Battalion 37x Ural lorries 224 19
14.10.2022 21.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Uspenskaya Border station with Ukraine 25x T-72A 1050 25
14.10.2022 29.10.2022 288. Automobile Reserve Storage Base Kamienskaya(?) 91. Central Automobile Reserve Storage Base 16x  Ural lorries 96 8
16.10.2022 27.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Uspenskaya 91. Central Automobile Reserve Storage Base 40x BMP-2 (including 20 without turrets) 780 24
21.10.2022 24.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Biryuch Near field base 20x BMP-2 280 10
28.10.2022 29.10.2022 966. Tank Reserve Storage Base Biryuch Near field base 28x T-72A 1176 28

The activity of the Russian Armed Forces decreased last week. Only about five cargo planes arrived in Belarus (Il-76 – RF-76731, An-26 – RF-47324 and RF-90319 twice, as well as An-12). Also, only two patrol flights of MiGs-31K deployed in Belarus were observed. They occurred on Wednesday and Thursday, involving two airframes (RF-92339 and RF-92333). The number of ground transfers was also small. However, two movements of military trains should be highlighted. This pertains to an echelon with about 23 trucks, and a BM-21 launcher observed on Wednesday and another one that carried 12 T-72B3 or T-90 tanks on Friday (they presumably were delivered to the 230th Combined Arms Training Range near Baranovichi).

Belarusian Military Monitoring Team, Belarusian Hajun, confirmed the movement of Russian S-300/S-400 air defence systems from Belarus. Satellite imagery analysis of the Prybytki Air Base confirmed a significant decrease in Russian air defence presence on the base. (see Issue 200).

Moreover, on Sunday, the Ukrainian military intelligence informed about the possibility of terrorist attacks on the Belarusian critical infrastructure facilities. Specifically, a flase flag attack was to happen against the Astravec Nuclear Power Plant. Coincidentally, two Belarusian BTR-80s and a single VOLAT vehicle were reported in the vicinity of the plant on Thursday.

Kyiv has regularly warned about such false flag attacks, but they never materialised.

Summary of losses

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, since the start of the war, Ukraine has lost 333 aircraft (0), 177 helicopters (+1), 2,538 UAVs (+40), 388 anti-aircraft missile systems (launchers?)(0), 6,729 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles (+160), 899 MLRS launchers (+12), 3,604 field artillery guns and mortars (+27), as well as 7,293 units of special military vehicles (+91).

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost (killed) 84,210 personnel (+3,350), 2,886 tanks (+46), 5,817 armoured personnel vehicles (+75), 1,868 artillery systems (+31) and 393 MLRS (0), 209 anti-aircraft systems (+3), 278 aircraft (0) and 261 helicopters (0), and 1,537 UAVs (+30), 4,371 vehicles and fuel tanks (+76), 16 warships and boats (+1) and 161 pieces special equipment (+1).

The number in parentheses denotes a weekly change.

The situation at selected axes and directions

Kharkiv direction

Starting with the Kharkiv Oblast, we continue to see no changes in this area. The UAF does not seem to conduct any attacks in this direction, as their main focus is firmly on the Svatove-Kreminna area. Russian defensive lines also appear to be comfortably placed on the Oskil River.

Last week, neither side showed any ongoing preparations for a large-scale attack to break the deadlock. There were also no reports suggesting such measures were ongoing. We expect to see no changes in this direction over the short term.

Moving south, despite continuous attacks from both sides, we saw no real progress by either Ukrainians or Russians near Svatove and Kreminna. Ukrainian attacks appear to have stalled, and given reports indicating Russian reinforcements arriving into the Luhansk Oblast, it seems unlikely that Ukrainians will break the deadlock soon.

Last week, Ukrainians focused their attacks on Kuzemivka, Chervonopopivka, Novoselivske, Kolomychikha, Makiivka, Ploshchanka, Chervonopopivka, and Dibrova. It is unclear whether any of these assaults were successful. However, there is no information to this effect. Interestingly, geolocated footage released by the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade showed the destruction of a Russian TOR-M2 air defence complex in Dachne, just west of Svatove. This event shows that using small UAVs, Ukrainians can conduct pinpoint strikes on Russian forces behind the frontline. Dache is located around 10 km behind the forward-deployed Russian forces.

Russian sources also claimed last week that the UAF shifted their attacks from Kreminna towards Lysychansk and Popasna. There were also some reports about alleged Ukrainian preparations to conduct a large-scale attack between Orlyans’ke-Svatove-Kreminna (almost along the entire front). Still, no further information about this development was published.

According to the UGS, Russian redeployed from the Kherson Oblast arrived in Novoaidar, Luhansk Oblast. We do not know how strong, capable, and numerous these forces are or whether more are to follow. But, Moscow has been shifting its troops from the Kherson Oblast almost across the entire frontline, including Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and now Luhansk Oblasts.

On the other hand, Ukrainian sources that Russians attacked near Novoselivkse and Stelmakhivka confirm that both sides heavily contest this area. Russians also attacked towards Bilohorivka, but these attempts were pushed back.

Despite this heavy activity from both sides, the frontline remained unchanged.

Ukrainians try to degrade Russian ability to supply its forces near the frontline by conducting high-precision strikes on opposing forces’ rear in the Luhansk Oblast. Last week, Kyiv reportedly used HIMARS systems to strike Myrne, Zymohirya, Starobilsk, Svatove, Bairachky(?), and Kadiivka. These strikes seek to force Russians to disperse their forces and supply bases and consequently strain Moscow’s ability to support its forces near the front. Russian problems with logistics are well-known, but it remains to be seen when Russians will start to feel the impact of HIMARS strikes. Given a lack of natural barriers, Ukrainians may find it difficult to shape, let alone isolate, the battlefield and achieve a local preponderance allowing it to push through the existing Russian positions.

Two weeks ago, Ukrainians hit logistics and rear support bases Kadiivka, Artemivsk, Krinichne, Svatove, and Lysychansk in the Luhansk Oblast. They also engaged various industrial enterprises in Luhansk Oblast, including a coal mine in Krinichne, a construction company in Kadiivka, and a concrete plant in Svatove.

It is thus clear that the Ukrainian focus on deep strikes is constant.

Frontlines in the Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts with Russian artillery strikes, 14-20NOV 2022

 

Donetsk Oblast Direction

Russian and proxy forces maintain the initiative in the broader Donetsk direction. Given the number of clashes over the recent weeks, it also appears that combat operations in this direction are prioritised. Indeed, Russians made some territorial gains in the Donetsk Oblast last week, but these changes have not impacted the overall operational-strategic picture.

The picture is that Russian progress is minimal despite deploying additional (mobilised) forces and Wagner PCM into the area. Moscow has only managed to capture several settlements over the last several weeks, of which only two are confirmed to have been definitely taken over. The remaining areas appear to be contested. Secondly, despite trying to capture Bakhmut from late July-early August, Russian troops only managed to capture neighbouring settlements, a claim which could still be disputed as many areas are still heavily contested. Even assuming that Bakhmut falls, Russians would still be more than 20 km away from another city, Kostyantynivka. Bakhmut could also open up a road towards Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, located 45 and 55 km from the city, respectively. Wars do not develop linearly, so the fact it took Russians months to approach Bakhmut does not necessarily mean that it would also take them the same amount of time to reach Kostyantynivka or cities further west. However, Moscow is burning through their personnel with Bakhmut-like operations, and its ability to support ground elements with equipment is deteriorating. So despite making some progress in the Donetsk Oblast, Russian forces are still far from achieving operational success, let alone a strategic one.

Russian forces maintained an overall attacking posture towards Spirne and Soledar, but these assaults did not deliver any results last week. In fact, the number of reports about these two settlements was relatively small compared to previous weeks, which could indicate a decrease in the number of attacks in their scope and/or regrouping and resupplying forces.

Bakhmut saw no changes last week. Russian attacks were repelled, but it is unclear whether they control areas northeast and south of the city. This particularly refers to Opytne, Ivanhrad, and Bakhmutske. It was reported last week that Russians took over Ivanhrad and Bakhmutske, but the veracity of this claim has not been confirmed yet. Ukrainian reports from Bakhmut describe many Russian attacks as pointless and senseless, with utter disregard for military tactics. Ukrainians claim that the OPFOR die in large numbers and see a steady degradation in Russian combat performance. Nevertheless, the influx of personnel allows Russians to continue their attacks across the frontline near Bakhmut, which is not expected to cease over the short term.

Moving south, the status of Opytne, which Russians claimed to have captured two weeks ago, is unclear. Last week, the UGS stated that Russian troops attacked the village, thus suggesting it was still under Ukrainian control.

On the other hand, Russian units captured Pavlivka, although their positions in the settlement are challenging to hold. The village is lower than neighbouring Vuhledar, and Ukrainians holding onto the latter are in a good position to conduct artillery strikes on Russian positions in Pavlivka. As a result, Russians may soon be forced to push north and engage Ukrainian units near Vuhledar to improve their tactical situation.

Russian forces in this area have probably benefited from the pullback from Kherson. Pavlivka is well-supplied by the rail link with Crimea and areas north of the peninsula.

Frontlines in the Donetsk Oblast with Russian artillery strikes, 14-20NOV 2022

Topography around Pavlivka

 

Rail links in Southern Ukraine

 

Rail links near Pavlivka

 

Zaporizhzhia direction

The Zaporizhzhia Direction saw no frontline changes last week.

There is increasing uncertainty about the situation in this area. It appears that Russian forces withdrawn from the Kherson front are being deployed to Zaporizhzhia, most likely to tilt the local balance in their favour. So far, we have seen no evidence to suggest that Russians are setting up defensive lines akin to those currently established in the Kherson Oblast. The exception is areas near Mariupol, but it does not seem that these efforts are widespread. This could indicate that Moscow does not plan to remain on the defensive over the medium to long term and that offensive operations are likely.

Indeed, last week, Oleksey Arestovych, an advisor to the President’s Office, claimed that Russians conducted a counterattack in the Zaporizhzhia direction and that the results would not be ‘pleasant’ for Ukrainians. However, no information was forthcoming from any other source validating the claim about the Russian counterattack or its size.

Last week we wrote that ‘we expect the situation in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts to stabilise regarding ground, manoeuvre attacks’. As far as Moscow is concerned, the situation is possibly stabilised as new Russian formations were moving into Zaporizhzhia throughout the week. Consequently, likely, the tempo of Russian attacks will now steadily increase.

We also expect Russians to continue their artillery strikes on Ukrainian military and civilian targets in the Zaporizihihia Oblast.

Looking at the situation from the Ukrainian side, we continue to see no evidence of a Ukrainian build-up in this direction. Kyiv’s actions seem to be predominantly based on active, manoeuvre defence.

Frontlines in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast with Russian artillery strikes, 14-20NOV 2022

 

Kherson direction

In terms of ground activity, last week delivered no frontline changes. Both sides are digging in for the winter and are echeloning their defensive lines in anticipation of probable river-crossing operations.

On top of that, Russian forces have reportedly moved their artillery pieces 15-20 km from the Dnipro River to avoid Ukrainian artillery strikes. It would mean that Russians are outranged in this particular direction if confirmed. Consequently, their ability to strike Ukrainian forces north of the river will be limited and achieved only through ‘heavy’ MLRS systems such as BM-27 or BM-30. At the same time, and contrary to our forecast, Russian attacks on the city of Kherson have been sporadic, not systemic. We expected the city to be regularly shelled, similar to what Mykolaiv underwent for several months.

Thus, it is likely that main Russian artillery systems are out of range when it comes to Kherson, but the city can still be fired upon with missiles fired from S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

Last week, the Ukrainian artillery and missile forces began their campaign against Russian logistics centres, warehouses and concentration areas south of the Dnipro River. A Russian logistics centre in Chaplynka was hit almost daily as Russians rushed their equipment out.

It is unclear whether Ukrainians just strike these areas because they are easy targets or whether this is a part of a long-term strategy to shape the battlefield, wear Russians down and degrade their defensive capabilities.

Chaplyanka, 11 OCT 2022. Source: Christo Grozev

 

Chaplyanka, 27 OCT 2022. Visible decrease in presence. Source: Tatarigami_UA

 

Due to the constant threat of being engaged with HIMARS, Russians will find it difficult to maintain a concentrated and robust presence south of the Dnipro River. Larger bases could nevertheless be set up in areas where Russians feel relatively safe, such as between Oleksandrivka, Hryhorivka to Novotroitske. These locations guarantee proximity to main roads leading towards Russian lines near Dnipro.

We assess that Ukrainians will continue to strike Russian bases or targets of opportunity south of the river over the short term. Russians will also find it difficult to adjust to this operational environment and their primary efforts will be focused on dispersal.

Consequently, chances are remote that Russians may attempt a river crossing operation in the Kherson Oblast area over the upcoming months.

Frontlines in the Kherson Oblast with Russian artillery strikes, 14-20NOV 2022 (Source for defensive lines: Benjamin Pittet)

 

Outlook for the week of 21NOV-27NOV

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 assesses 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.

Last week’s forecast

Regarding the Kharkiv Oblast, we expect no changes in this direction. Over the past several weeks, neither side attempted to make concerted efforts to change the frontline near Dvorchina. Consequently, it is unlikely that the situation will change next week.” This forecast turned out to be correct.

Score: 1/1

“In the Luhansk Oblast, Ukrainians will likely inch closer towards Svatove. However, we assess that they will unlikely reach the city next week.” Whereas it is possible that Ukrainians indeed “inched” closer towards Svatove, the reality is that the frontline on this axis has not shifted in recent week(s).

Score: 0/1

“On the contrary, Russians will likely conduct counterattacks west of Kremmina in an attempt to divert Ukrainians from Svatove, which we think is the main Ukrainian objective. Consequently, there is roughly even chance that Russians will recapture some territories in the Kreminna area. We assess it is unlikely that they will capture Bilohirovka.” We were correct in anticipating further Russian attacks near Kreminna. However, here too, we did not appreciate how fixed Russian and Ukrainian lines were.

Score: 0/1

“Currently, we assess that Ukrainians do not pose a threat to Lysychansk.” This assessment was correct.

Score: 1/1

“When it comes to Soldedar, given recent reports about Russian forces shifting their focus from Bakhmut, we assess it as likely that the attackers will make some progress near the city. Still, it is unlikely that the city will be captured next week.” Whereas it is possible that Russians may have indeed made some progress near Soledar, the central part of this forecast focused on Russian (in)ability to capture the city. In this respect, the assessment was correct.

Score: 1/1

“Russians are unlikely to capture Bakhmut next week. However, they will likely capture more territories north of the city.” Russian indeed did not capture Bakhmut last week, but neither did they capture areas north of the city (at least there are no reports to that effect).

Score: 0.5/1

“We do not foresee major changes in areas around Donetsk. Positional battles will likely continue.” There indeed weren’t any significant changes near Donetsk, despite Russians reportedly capturing a couple of settlements in the Donetsk area.

Score: 1/1

“We do not expect significant Russian and Ukrainian behaviour changes in the Zaporizhzhia direction. It is highly unlikely that a new offensive will start in this direction next week.” Some reports surfaced late in the week claiming a large-scale Russian attack was ongoing in this direction, no concrete evidence surfaced confirming this development.

Score: 1/1

“Last but not least, when it comes to the Kherson Oblast, we expect to see now changes in this direction in the short term. It is unlikely that Ukrainians will try to cross the Dnieper this year, if at all. Artillery exchanges are likely to start soon, and we assess that the city of Kherson will be shelled daily like Mykolaiv.” This assessment is a mixed bag. On the one hand, we were correct in anticipating no major moves on the Ukrainian side. However, Russians reportedly pulled back their artillery systems from near the frontline (Dnipro River). Consequently, whereas Kherson is hit with artillery fire, it is not as intense as with Mykolaiv used to be.

Score: 6/9

Next week’s forecast

We continue to have no major expectations, or rather we have no shifts in expectations when it comes to the Kharkiv Oblast. We have seen no evidence to suggest that either side will decide to open up this axis and conduct larger-scale attacks.

In the Luhansk Oblast, there is a roughly even chance that Ukrainians inch closer towards Svatove. However, we assess that they will unlikely reach the city next week.

Russians will likely conduct counterattacks west of Kremmina with the same goal as last week of attempting to divert Ukrainians from Svatove. Consequently, there is roughly even chance that Russians will recapture some territories in the Kreminna area. We assess it is unlikely that they will capture Bilohirovka.

When it comes to Soldedar, there is roughly even chance that Russians will make some territorial gains near the city. Still, it is unlikely that the city will be captured next week.

Russians are unlikely to capture Bakhmut next week. This week we will not make any forecasts about areas surrounding the city because the situation is exceptionally unclear about which side controls which village.

We do not foresee major changes in areas around Donetsk. Russians are likely to make new territorial gains, but they will have no operational impact on the battlefield.

We are slowly shifting our forecasts regarding the Zaporizhzhia direction. Previously we expected no changes in this direction, but now given that some Russian forces have been moved to the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, we think that Russian behaviour, in general, will display a more offensive intent. For the next week, we think there is a roughly even chance that Russians may conduct an organised attack. We would not like to call it ‘a large scale attack’ just yet.

When it comes to the Kherson Oblast, we expect to see now changes in this direction in the short term. It is unlikely that Ukrainians will try to cross the Dnieper this year. Ukrainians are almost certain to continue their interdiction attacks on Russian bases north of Crimea.

Tags: Ukraine Conflict Monitor

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