Issue 252, 31 January 2023

*Please note that tomorrow’s update will only focus on developments in Belarus*

Situational report 31 JAN 2023

Key takeaways:
  • On a tactical level, Russians continued to gain more territory near Bakhmut-Soledar. In other front areas, the battles have positional character;
  • There were no changes in the Kharkiv Oblast;
  • In the Luhansk Oblast, battles were somewhat subdued, especially in the northern part of the frontline. Near Kreminna, Russians consolidated their gains and launched another attack in the westward direction;
  • Russian forces captured two more villages north of Soledar; Wagner PMC’s potential could be exhausted, although this claim requires further research;
  • Near Bakhmut, Ukrainians are increasingly pressed. On Tuesday, Russians probably inched towards the city centre;
  • Ukrainians assert that the situation near Vuhledar was under control, while a Russian objective is probably to encircle the settlement;
  • No other changes were recorded in other parts of the Donetsk Oblast;
  • There were no changes in the Zaporizhihia and Kherson Oblasts;
  • There were no changes in the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces; On Tuesday, Russia and Belarus started joint staff training.
General outlook

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UA) repelled Russian attacks near Novoselivske, Bilohorivka in the Luhansk Oblast and Yampolivka, Spirne, Krasna Hora, Paraskoviivka, Bakhmut, Klischiivka, Ivanivske, Avdiivka, Vodyane, Pervomaiske and Vuhledar in the Donetsk Oblast.

During the day, Russians also launched five air and six missile attacks. They also carried out more than 65 MLRS attacks. Civilian infrastructure was damaged in the Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Kherson Oblasts. Russians also carried out artillery strikes on towns and villages near the state border. In particular, they shelled Kliusy, Mistky, Huta-Studenetska, and Leonivka in the Chernihiv oblast and Sopych, Volfyne in the Sumy Oblast. In the Kharkiv Oblast, Russians hit Lemishchyne, Veterynarne, Strilecha, Hlyboke, Zelene, Neskuchne, Ohirtseve, Vovchansk, Starytsya, Budarky.

Regarding battlefield strikes, on Tuesday, Russian artillery hit Ivanivka, Kupyansk, Kyslivka, and Kotlyarivka in the Kharkiv Oblast and Novoselivske, Kovalivka, Novojehorivka, Nevske, Chervonopopivka, Kreminna, Dibrova in the Luhansk Oblast. In the Donetsk Oblast, they shelled Verkhnokamyanske, Spirne, Berestove, Bilohorivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Predtechyne, Klishchiivka, Kurdyumivka, Druzhba and Mayorsk, Velyka Novosilka, Neskuchne, Novoukrainka, Bohoyavlenka, Vuhledar, Mykilski Dachi, Vremivka, Novopil. In the Zaporizhzhia region, Russians struck Malynivka, Hulyaipole, Charivne, Orikhiv, Novodanylivka. Lastly, in the Kherson Oblast, shells landed on Zolota Balka, Beryslav, Vesele, Mykolaivka, Tyahynka, Poniativka, Antonivka, Berehove, Yantarne and the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian Air Force launched nine air strikes on concentration areas and two air defence sites. Ukrainian missile and artillery units struck 13 manpower concentration areas, a command post and an ammunition depot.

The situation at selected axes and directions

Kharkiv/Luhansk direction

We continue to see no changes in the Kharkiv Oblast. Both sides limit their activity to positional battles and artillery exchanges without impacting the frontline. No Russian ground attacks were recorded near the border, but at the same time, Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups were probing UAF’s positions near Dvorichna – Hranykivka. The Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast confirmed no changes on the line of contact. He added that Russians shelled Kupyansk, Vovchansk, Strilecha, Dvorichna and other settlements near the border in Kharkivsky, Chuhuivsky and Kupyansky districts. There were no reports of military damage as a result of these strikes.

The situation in the Luhansk Oblast also remains essentially unchanged. Some Ukrainian sources claimed that the initiative in this sector belonged to the UAF. Yet, despite this, they couldn’t advance as Russians heavily saturated the line of contact with manpower. By saying ‘initiative’, we understand that Ukrainians conduct more daily attacks on Russian positions than vice-versa. In this light, the ‘initiative’ does not translate to territorial gains.

According to Serhiy Cherevaty, the speaker of the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Lyman direction (towards Kreminna) stopped because weather conditions and (a lack of) resources did not allow Ukrainians to continue pushing east.

According to Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk Regional Military Civil Administration Head, in the Svatove and Kreminna direction, Russians constantly shell Ukrainian positions and pull up reserves and heavy equipment. He added that they were preparing for a counteroffensive in the (Luhansk) oblast. He also claimed that the two-month training period for the first wave of mobilised reservists was coming to an end. These forces are now to be deployed to the frontlines.

No attacks towards Stelmakhivka were recorded on Tuesday.

Positional battles continued near Novoselivske. Both Russian and Ukrainian sources claimed on Tuesday that positional battles occurred near Novoselivske without impacting the frontline.

The same pertains to Makiivka and Ploshchanka. The Ukrainian source claimed that the intensity of fighting in this area was low.

There were no changes near Chervonopopivka, where after a small territorial gain on Sunday, the intensity of fighting was also subdued.

Following recent Russian gains near Kreminna, Tuesday delivered no changes. However, in this sector, the “initiative” belongs to Russians. No Ukrainian attacks were recorded, while Russians strengthened their presence in Dibrova. There was another Russian attempt to capture Yampolivkla, but the attack failed, as per a Ukrainian source.

Donetsk Oblast Direction

Despite permanent attacks, Tuesday did not bring changes in this direction.

Starting from the northern parts of the oblast, Russians launched an attack on Spirne and Verknokamyanske, but it did not bring any results. Russian sources published an online video (viewer discretion advised) showing the remnants of a Ukrainian Mi-8 that had been shot down near Spirne.

Wagner PMC fighters again attacked Rozdolivka and Vesele, but no confirmed or reported advances were made in this area.

Russians again made some progress in the Bakhmut-Soledar area. Ukrainian bloggers claimed they captured Sakko and Vantsetti (for those interested in historical trivia, here is who Sacco and Vanzetti were). Another Ukrainian source added that regular Russian army units likely have replaced exhausted Wagner group forces in the Bakhmut direction. The spokesperson for the Eastern Group of Forces, Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty, claimed on Tuesday that despite Russian attacks in the Bakhmut area, Ukrainian forces in the city can still be supplied with necessary items, including weapons, ammunition, food, and medical resources. Cherevaty also confirmed Ukrainian plans: preserve personnel and gradually withdraw while inflicting as much damage to Russian units as possible.

Ukrainians did not counterattack following the loss of Blahodatne. Russian units control the village. Attempts to encircle Krasna Hora continued, but on Tuesday, the UAF repelled all Russian attempts to achieve this objective. However, a Russian blogger portrayed the situation differently. He claimed that Russian units entered Krasna Hora already last week. Another source added that during attacks on Paraskoviivka and Krasna Hora, Russians established control over two Ukrainian strongholds.

In Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian bloggers, Russians attack Ukrainian positions from five directions. On Tuesday, they also reportedly captured parts of the Artwinery (champagne factory) from which Russians had been dislodged in December. The overall situation in the Bakhmut area is deteriorating for Ukrainians, mainly because Russians fire control the main supply roads leading to the city. There are a few smaller and, thus, less suitable roads which are relatively safe. According to Denis Pushylin, the Donetsk People’s Republic head, after Russian troops captured Bakhmut, the road opened up towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. However, such claims are overly optimistic. Although the distance in a straight line between Bakhmut and Kramatorsk is only 30 kilometres, many settlements are on the way, which Russians will need to capture to move forward. Unless there is a collapse of Ukrainian defensive lines, Russians face hard battles moving forward.

Russian operations north of Klischiivka still focus on capturing Ivanivske to cut off the highway to Konstantinovka. So far, it appears that the UAF are holding their positions.

No changes were reported near Avdiivka on Tuesday.

According to a Ukrainian source, a stable situation remained near Pervomaiske, Vodyane and Nevelske. Despite Russian attacks, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to hold defensive lines. No frontline changes were recorded on Tuesday in these areas.

There were no Russian attacks aimed at Pobieda, but the village was shelled.

In the Vuhledar area, according to a Russian source, heavy battles were taking place on the southeastern outskirts of the village. The UAF reportedly counterattacked, but Russians were not dislodged from their positions. Another source claimed that Russian troops were trying to outflank the city, surround it and cut off all logistics routes. Ukrainians stated that the situation was under control despite Russian heavy artillery strikes.

Zaporizhzhia direction

This direction did not undergo any changes on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian General Staff claimed that Russian troops were on the defence but did not elaborate on this further. Russian artillery hit Novoandriivka, Orikhiv, Novodanylivka, Charivne, Hulyaipole, Chernove, Malynivka and Poltavka. Ukrainians again launched a high-precision missile strike on Svitlodolynske.

No Russian attacks in this direction were reported on 31JAN, which confirms that Russian attacks fizzled out.

Kherson direction

The situation in the Kherson Oblast remains stable.

Russians continued to fire on Kherson, damaging civil infrastructure.

According to a Russian source, Russian artillery hit Kherson, Komyshany, Korabel, Chernobaivka, and Antonivka. UAF respond by hitting Oleshky.

Another source claimed that Ukrainian paratroopers landed near the Kruhlyk lake. But the attack was unsuccessful, and they were probably destroyed by Russian artillery.

Apart from these strikes, both sides focus on conducting sabotage and reconnaissance activities on the Dnipro River. The UGS reported on 31JAN that Ukrainian forces destroyed five boats carrying Russian sabotage and reconnaissance teams.

On the other hand, Ukrainians reportedly conducted at least one raid and landed presumably on a Russia-controlled riverbank.

We do not know the full extent of both sides’ reconnaissance activities on the Dnipro River, but it is clear that they are constant.

Military situation in Belarus

On 31JAN, the Secretary of the State Security Council, Lt. Gen. Alexander Volfovich, arrived at Ruzhansky Training Ground to observe the practical actions of Belarusian and Russian troops during the joint flight exercise. He was accompanied by the Commander of Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces, Col. Andrey Lukyanovich, and the Commander of the Russian Air Forces, Lt. Gen. Sergey Dronov (he also serves as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces). According to an official statement, officers watched operations linked to the suppression of the enemy air defence (SEAD) and close air support (CAS).

Those missions were likely conducted by the bomber and assault aviation air assets covered by the fighters of the 61st Fighter Aviation Base (Baranovichi). Classically, the Russian A-50U AEW&C plane (RF-50608) that took off from the 51st Mixed Aviation Base (Machulischy) navigated fighters in the air. Nevertheless, the A-50U was escorted by an unidentified aircraft operating from Baranovichi Air Base. It is unclear whether it was the MiG-31. Moreover, a single An-26 took off from Machulischy Air Base to provide radio relay. At the same time, flight personnel of the 116th Assault Aviation Base (Lida) participated in theoretical training and carried out preparations for the infrastructure and military equipment for flight operations.

Russian Mi-8 helicopter crews, with the service members of the Belarusian 38th Air Assault Brigade, trained in searching, blocking and neutralising enemy sabotage and reconnaissance groups. This episode was held at the Brestsky Training Ground.

Later, the Secretary of the State Security Council talked with journalists and answered their questions. He stressed that pilots of both states successfully carried out their tasks and showed a high level of interoperability. Volfovich also highlighted the defensive and transparent character of the exercise. He added that the drills were not directed against anyone. Moreover, they were planned within international transparency rules and are widely commented on in Belarusian media.

When it comes to other military activities, Belarusian servicemen visited Serbia. Specifically, they inspected the Serbian 72nd Special Purpose Brigade garrison within the framework of the Vienna Document.

Besides, representatives of the Kazakhstan Border Guards visited the General Staff Faculty of the Belarusian Military Academy. The visit had a working character and was connected to future bilateral cooperation and interaction prospects.

On Tuesday, the Belarusian MoD informed about the start of the joint staff training of the Russo-Belarusian forces grouping. As noted in the official statement, it is meant to work out the whole planning process of using the combined forces based on the “recent” armed conflicts. The training can be considered as direct preparation for the Union Shield-2023 exercise, which will be held on the Russian territory in SEP23. The reader should note that when speaking about Russian plans for 2023, the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu stated in DEC22 that both countries would hold the Zapad-2023 exercise this year as well. Organisning Zapad just two years after its most recent iteration would be out of the cycle. Joint Russo-Belarusian exercises operate in a two-year cycle and alternate between quadrennial Zapad and the Union Shield. As such, both states conduct large-scale drills every two years. We will be tracking preparations for the Union Shield closely.

On Tuesday, several ongoing training activities continued. This pertains to the continuation of the drills involving the logistic battalion of the 11th Mechanised Brigade (50-kilometre training march) and one of the mechanised battalions undergoing a combat readiness check. Regarding the first one, the marching column of the battalion was spotted at the M1 highway. It included about twenty trucks likely moving towards 230th Combined Arms Training Ground (Obuz-Lesniovsky).

In addition, the Uruchcha Training Ground hosted a firing training of the 339th Mechanised Battalion (120th Mechanised Brigade) service members. At the same time, an unspecified mechanised battalion of the 6th Mechanised Brigade was involved in the tactical exercise combined with live ammo firing at the Gozhsky Training Ground.

Representatives of the Military Commissariat of the Kobrin and Zhabinkovsky Districts checked local organisations that are to provide civilian vehicles for military needs. This check was probably related to requisitioning of civilian property during wartime.  

ON 31JAN, unofficial sources reported five noteworthy transfers of Belarusian military equipment.

  1. A single tractor with 2S1 SPH was moving in Grodno;
  2. Three BTR-70MB1 and two MAZ trucks (103rd Airborne Brigade) were moving towards Losvido Training Ground from Vitebsk;
  3. A single ZIL-131-based command-staff vehicle was moving from Minsk towards Lohoisk;
  4. Three BTR-70MB1, three covered MAZ trucks, and medical Gazel (presumably also 103rd Airborne Brigade) vehicles were moving in Gomel.

The activity of the Russian forces in Belarus was much smaller.
Only three Russian vehicles were spotted in Minsk (two Gazel Next vehicles and a UAZ Patriot). However, it might be noted that the movement of another civilian truck carrying “dragon’s teeth” was observed in Gomel.

Below are exercises conducted by the Belarusian Armed Forces on Tuesday, 31JAN. To access the complete list of exercises conducted in JAN2023 click here:

31JAN: Continuation of the Russo-Belarusian tactical-flight exercise (Ruzhansky Training Ground, Baranovichi, Machulischy, Lida, Osovtsy air bases, Russian A-50 AEW&C plane and unspecified fighters,  as well as Belarusian An-26 and Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters);

31JAN: Start of the Russo-Belarusian joint staff training (unspecified location, presumably staffs of  higher/highest echelons);

31JAN: Continuation of the 50-kilometre training march with the use of military equipment removed from long-term storage (230th Combined Arms Training Ground (Obuz-Lesniovsky)?, elements of the Logistic Battalion of the 11th Mechanised Brigade presumably with reservists called up);

31JAN: Continuation of the combat readiness check (unspecified location, unspecified mechanised battalion of the 11th Mechanised Brigade);

31JAN: Firing exercises (Uruchcha Training Ground, elements of the 339th Mechanised Battalion of the 120th Mechanised Brigade);

31JAN: Tactical exercise combined with live ammo firing (Gozhsky Training Ground, unspecified mechanised battalion of the 6th Mechanised Brigade);

Lines of advance in Ukraine


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