Content Assessment: Bombings, Blackouts, and Battlefield Losses: Russia's Troubled Invasion from November 9-16, 2023
A short assessment of the qualitative benefit of the recent synthesis of reporting from the Institute for the Study of War on the Russo-Ukrainian War from November 9-16, 2023.
Source Note: One of the most accurate and detailed sources for ongoing updates on the Ukraine crisis is the Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment from the Institute for the Study of War. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is a 501(c)(3) organization and produces strictly non-partisan, non-ideological, fact-based research. ISW seeks to promote an informed understanding of war and military affairs through comprehensive, independent, and accessible open-source research and analysis. ISW’s research is made available to the general public, military practitioners, policymakers, and media members. Providing a daily synthesis of key events related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, ISW updates may benefit investigators and litigators as they follow the business, information technology, and legal trends and trajectories impacted by and stemming from the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
For those seeking to grasp the full scope of this evolving landscape, the complete updates from the Institute for the Study of War serve as an invaluable resource.
Russo-Ukrainian Conflict Update*
Bombings, Blackouts, and Battlefield Losses: Russia’s Troubled Invasion from November 9-16, 2023
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches its 22nd month, Moscow is struggling to gain ground on the battlefield while intensifying attacks on civilians and tightening its grip on information, society, and the occupied territories. A look back on key events reported over the past week from November 9-16, 2023, reveals Russia’s increasingly troubled military, political, and societal efforts in the face of mounting challenges.
From the battlefront to the information war, Russia appears determined to continue its faltering war effort even as Ukrainian resistance, equipment losses, and morale issues pile up with each passing week. But any gains seem marginal as the Kremlin’s brutal invasion drags into another winter.
Russian Strikes Across Ukraine; Efforts to Control Information Space and Children
On November 16, Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine, targeting critical infrastructure and civilian areas. Meanwhile, Russia announced it is strengthening air defenses in areas bordering Ukraine, likely in response to Ukraine’s stated plans to strike Russian rear logistics and supply routes in rear areas this winter. Russian milbloggers and media figures continued criticizing Russian state media for portraying the war effort overly positively in a disconnect with realities on the ground. In an effort to co-opt prominent non-state voices, Putin awarded a prestigious state honor to a formerly critical military blogger, likely aiming to win his loyalty as elections approach. Ukraine warned that under Russian occupation, equipment failures and improper maintenance at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are increasing, posing a dire security risk. An international investigation also found that Cyprus banks have been complicit in helping sanctioned members of the Russian elite launder money. Russian state energy giant Gazprom acquired a major Russian blogging agency, further expanding the Kremlin’s control over online media and narratives. And a former Russian air force commander was found dead under unclear circumstances in southern Russia. Meanwhile on the battlefront, Russian forces continued offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, pressing their stalled campaign. In a troubling development, Russia is also moving forward with efforts to militarize Ukrainian society, establishing military education programs for schoolchildren and forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia from occupied areas.
EU Poised to Sanction Russia; Russia Suppresses Dissent and Controls Information
As reported on November 15, the European Union appears poised to ban exports of precision machine tools and key weapons manufacturing components to Russia. This could deal a significant blow to Russia’s defense industrial base, which relies heavily on European imports. In other economic pressure, Denmark will reportedly start inspecting and potentially blocking Russian oil tankers to enforce an EU price cap and insurance regulations on Russian seaborne oil. Ukraine reached an important deal to provide affordable insurance coverage for civilian vessels carrying Ukrainian grain and food exports through the Black Sea corridor, amid Russia’s continued efforts to undermine the vital route. Politically, Putin stated firmly that Russia will suppress any foreign or domestic interference in Russian elections, as he prepares his own re-election bid in 2024. Recent polls show about half of Russians maintain support for negotiations to end the war, though most still back the broader war effort itself. As the Kremlin continues asserting control over the information space, Russian tech giant Yandex aims to fully exit Russia by the end of 2023, allowing the Russian government to further increase its dominance online. Militarily, Russian forces continued offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, pressing their campaign. The Kremlin is reportedly coercing former Wagner mercenaries into signing contracts with the regular Russian military. And Russian authorities persist with efforts to indoctrinate Ukrainian students under occupation.
Russia’s Offensives Across Ukraine; Tightening Grip on Information and Society
On November 14, Russian forces conducted several simultaneous offensive operations across eastern Ukraine, aiming to regain the broader strategic initiative, though it remains unclear whether they can fully succeed as Ukrainian forces maintain pressure on critical areas. Ukraine stated they have established a foothold on the east bank of Kherson Oblast in an important development. Putin approved amendments to Russian election laws that increase the Kremlin’s control over the electoral process and reduce transparency, ahead of the 2024 presidential vote. Overnight, Russia conducted strikes across Ukraine with missiles and drones. Ukraine’s Western partners pledged additional military and financial aid as the war drags on. Russia levied a fine against Google, likely trying to force the company to cease operations in the country entirely as the Kremlin asserts online control. Armenia continued distancing itself from Russia amid deteriorating relations, saying it will not attend an upcoming CSTO summit. A senior Russian official proposed restricting work opportunities for migrants from countries that have not designated Russian as an official state language, likely attempting to coerce them into Russian military service. Russian forces maintained offensive operations across several axes in eastern Ukraine, pressing their stalled campaign. As Russia tightens its grip on society, authorities discussed harshly penalizing draft evaders, and volunteers who shirk duties. Meanwhile, Russian occupation officials are beginning to restrict Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in controlled areas of Ukraine, citing security concerns.
Confusion Over Kherson; Braving the Weather to Keep Fighting
On November 13, reporting highlighted that Russia had released and then quickly retracted official reports about withdrawing forces from Kherson Oblast over the Dnipro River to more “advantageous” positions further east. This suggests a lack of internal coordination on messaging regarding the situation there. Possible explanations for the fumbled reports include premature reporting of actual planned troop movements, a botched information operation aimed at deceiving Ukraine, or even false information provided by an outside actor posing as official Russian sources. Regardless, the incident and hasty retraction shows events around Kherson remain highly sensitive for Russia’s information space and elite. With winter setting in, both Ukraine and Russia stated that poor weather is increasingly affecting military operations, but not halting them entirely. Ukraine indicated it likely will begin conducting strikes on Russian logistics lines and rear supply routes this winter to disrupt the invasion. A prominent Russian military blogger complained that unlike Ukraine, Russia does not adequately publicize its strikes on Ukrainian military targets, only Ukrainian strikes on Russian sites. The 100th civilian cargo ship successfully departed Ukraine’s vital Black Sea grain export corridor amid Russia’s continued efforts to undermine the route’s security. In manpower developments, former Wagner mercenaries are reportedly rejecting recruitment offers from Russia’s Defense Ministry aimed at absorbing Wagner’s operations into formal military structures. Russia maintained offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, pressing their stalled campaign. Ukraine continued discussing Russia’s forced mobilization of civilians in occupied territories. And Russia persisted with its program of deporting Ukrainian children into Russia from occupied areas under the guise of cultural “vacation” trips.
Efforts to Reassert Control in Africa and Information Space
On November 12, reports indicated Ukraine is intensifying attacks against Russian military logistics facilities and other high-value targets in rear areas of both occupied Ukraine and Russia itself. Russia claimed it will only block specific virtual private network (VPN) services, likely trying to downplay the true extent of its censorship and control of the information space. Russia is posturing itself as a prominent security partner for authoritarian regimes in Africa by pursuing more bilateral military agreements. Its aims likely include gaining access and influence as Western actors withdraw. Russia conducted limited missile strikes in southern Ukraine. On the battlefront, Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia border region, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast, pressing their stalled campaign. Ukraine reportedly made marginal gains on the east bank of Kherson Oblast amid continuing localized ground operations there.
Strikes Across Ukraine; Relying on Raw Manpower
On November 11, Russia conducted a large-scale series of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine, including the first strikes against Kyiv Oblast in over 50 days, damaging critical infrastructure. Ukraine’s intelligence service was reportedly involved in at least one of three recent attacks and sabotage actions deep inside Russia itself, including derailing a military rail shipment and detonating explosions at a munitions factory. Russian military bloggers continued discussing Russia’s increasing reliance on massed infantry assaults along the front to gain ground, highlighting the challenges Moscow faces in using waves of poorly trained personnel to offset systemic issues enabling Ukraine’s advances. In Chechnya, regional strongman Ramzan Kadyrov appears to be sidelining his eldest son in favor of his younger son, for unknown reasons. Russian forces continued offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, pressing their stalled campaign. Russia has reportedly launched another covert mobilization wave to drum up personnel. And Moscow continues efforts to alter the demographics of occupied areas in Ukraine by forcibly filling employment gaps with deportees and deporting Ukrainian children into Russia itself.
Putin Promotes Himself as Wartime Leader
On November 10, Ukraine’s military intelligence arm reported that Ukrainian surface drones sank two Russian amphibious landing ships in the Black Sea near occupied Crimea—part of an ongoing Ukrainian campaign to degrade Russia’s military capabilities on the peninsula. Russian military bloggers continued voicing hyperbolic reactions about Russia’s failure to push Ukrainian forces back from their bridgehead on the east bank of Kherson Oblast. Perhaps in hopes of preempting Ukraine’s coming winter counter-offensive, Russia appears to be launching fewer, smaller drone strikes against Ukraine in recent weeks after months of relentless attacks. Russian President Putin again visited the Southern Military District headquarters, likely aiming to portray himself as an involved wartime leader preparing his own reelection campaign. Putin will reportedly hold his major annual televised public call-in show and press conference in tandem on December 14, likely to promote his campaign messaging while controlling the environment. In positive news, a Ukrainian teenager who was forcibly deported to Russia from occupied Mariupol and then ordered to serve in the Russian military will finally return home to Ukraine. A major British-led military training program for Ukrainian forces reached its goal of training 30,000 personnel since the war began. On the frontlines, Russian troops continued offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, aiming to jumpstart their stalled campaign. Russian forces continue struggling with low morale and poor discipline. And in occupied Mariupol, Ukrainian partisans detonated an explosive device destroying a police vehicle.
Targeting Kadyrov; Opportunistic Attacks in Bakhmut
On November 9, reports indicated that Russia will face significant challenges redeploying capable reinforcements to counter ongoing Ukrainian ground operations around Kherson while also maintaining defenses along the Zaporizhia front and sustaining its various offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine. Russian troops have likely undertaken opportunistic localized attacks around Bakhmut in recent days, taking advantage of a perceived reduction in Ukrainian troop activity there as Kyiv redeploys limited assets to more critical fronts. In continued efforts to undermine confidence in the vital Black Sea grain export corridor, Russia again struck a civilian cargo ship near Odesa. The Kremlin announced Putin’s major annual public call-in event and year-end press conference will now occur back-to-back, possibly to retain flexibility to cancel one or both events as conditions require. Russia may seek to supply natural gas to Iran via intermediaries in Central Asia, aiming to secure Tehran’s continued military cooperation. And unspecified actors appear to be targeting Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov with criminal investigations into his family members, as he continues bestowing official honors on his children. On the battlefront, Russian forces maintained offensive operations along several axes in eastern Ukraine, aiming to resuscitate their stalled campaign. With strikes afflicting infrastructure deep inside Russia, Moscow appears increasingly reliant on private security firms to protect key domestic energy sites. And Russian occupation officials continued systematic efforts to militarize Ukrainian youth through “patriotic education” in controlled areas.
Nearly 22 months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this past week spotlighted Moscow’s chaotic war effort amid increasing headwinds. Stiff Ukrainian resistance and military shortcomings continue to frustrate the Kremlin both on and off the battlefield.
Looking back at developments from November 9-16, Russia pressed disjointed military offensives while doubling down on dissent crackdowns, civilian bombardments, deportations, and societal control in occupied areas. But winter is coming, and time may be running out for Russia to salvage its flailing invasion.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
Detailed Reporting with Maps for November 9-16, 2023, from the ISW – Mouseover to ScrollISW Detailed Reporting with Maps for November 9-16, 2023
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