Thu. Dec 7th, 2023

Content Assessment: Ukraine Makes Gains Against Degraded Russian Defense as War Grinds On (September 18 - 24, 2023)



A short percentage-based assessment of the qualitative benefit of the recent update on the Russo-Ukrainian War prepared by ComplexDiscovery from reporting and maps from Institute of the Study of War.

Editor’s Note: Recent territorial gains by Ukraine correspond with degradation of defending Russian units as the war continues along multiple fronts in late September 2023. However, Russian forces persist in conducting strikes across Ukraine despite military shortfalls. Ukraine has steadily advanced in western Zaporizhia, likely degrading defending Russian units there. Advances near Bakhmut also correspond with losses among Russian brigades. This alignment suggests Ukrainian gains are coming partly from Russian weakness, not just Ukrainian strength. Additionally, Russia continues missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and rear areas. But Russian forces face challenges like poor ground coordination, inaccurate artillery, and equipment shortages amid likely heavy losses. As both sides conduct operations, Ukraine appears to be making measured gains from Russian unit degradation. But Russia maintains military pressure through strikes nationwide despite its own force weaknesses.

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.

Assessments and Maps*

Russo-Ukrainian Conflict Assessments

General Assessment Background Info 

  • ISW systematically publishes Russian campaign assessments, including maps highlighting the assessed control of terrain in Ukraine and main Russian maneuver axes.
  • Maps augment daily synthetic products that cover key events related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The Russian Offensive Campaign Assessments

Overall Summary

The focus is on Ukraine making incremental but meaningful gains recently by taking advantage of weaknesses in Russia’s military defenses and capabilities. This comes while Russia continues efforts like strikes across Ukraine despite its own force challenges.

September 24

On September 24, Ukrainian armored vehicles were reported to have penetrated Russian defenses near the settlement of Verbove in western Zaporizhia Oblast, though it was unclear if a full breakthrough was achieved. Ukraine has made steady advances in the area in recent weeks, which Russian troops have been unable to prevent. This aligns with the observed pattern of Ukrainian gains often corresponding with the degradation of defending Russian units in a given area.

In occupied Crimea, Ukraine reportedly struck Russian airfields and Black Sea fleet command infrastructure. Later the same night, Russia conducted an unusually large missile barrage, likely timed to coincide with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States.

Meanwhile, Russian officials quickly worked to mitigate critical comments made by the Polish prime minister about potentially reducing arms supplies to Ukraine. Such efforts reflect Russia’s broader campaign to damage Ukrainian relations with neighboring countries.

In the Russian legislature, the State Duma signaled it may soon allow volunteer groups to operate under the National Guard amid persistent rumors of the Wagner Group working in that capacity. This could be an attempt to reintegrate former Wagner fighters under direct Russian state control.

Additionally, Kremlin propaganda recently began highlighting the role of Russian artillery and airpower while downplaying ground forces. This is likely an effort to avoid mentioning significant Russian losses and poor counterbattery capabilities.

Russian officials also seem to be blaming Armenia and the West for Azerbaijan’s renewed military operation into Nagorno-Karabakh, as Russia’s influence declines in the region.

September 23

On September 23, Ukrainian officials stated their armored vehicles had penetrated Russian defenses west of the settlement of Verbove, though they did not fully overcome all prepared defensive positions in the area. Fighting was seen in Novoprokopivka just south of Robotyne, while attacks north of Verbove could threaten to isolate the Russian 56th Airborne Regiment in a precarious position. A Russian source even expressed panic about the prospect of Russian troops becoming encircled near Verbove.

Ukrainian military officials stated the counteroffensive would continue through the winter, as the primarily infantry advances were less affected by harsh weather. Ukraine’s military intelligence chief stated the Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade was “completely defeated” in southern Ukraine.

A senior Ukrainian official also explicitly confirmed operations around Bakhmut are fixing Russian troops in place and preventing their transfer elsewhere. However, the Russian military redeployed its unfinished 25th Combined Arms Army to Bakhmut instead of the Kupyansk front, which likely eases pressure on Ukraine’s positions near Kupyansk but slows Russia’s long-term force generation capabilities.

Overnight between September 22-23, Russian forces conducted strikes targeting Ukrainian coastal areas.

September 22

On September 22, Ukrainian armored vehicles were reported operating beyond Russia’s tri-layered defensive fortifications west of Verbove in what represented a significant show of progress in the counteroffensive. However, Ukrainian forces did not fully overcome all prepared Russian defensive positions in the area. Fighting occurred in Novoprokopivka just south of Robotyne.

The steady Ukrainian gains since August in western Zaporizhia likely correspond with the degradation of defending Russian units that have been ground down after weeks of combat without reprieve.

Ukrainian strikes also significantly damaged the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. The Black Sea Fleet controls naval and ground force assets critical to Russia’s operations across southern Ukraine.

In a quick walk back, Poland’s Prime Minister Andrzej Duda reiterated his country would still provide arms to Ukraine after an earlier concerning suggestion it may reduce supplies. Russia has sought to damage Ukrainian relations with neighboring countries like Poland.

Persistent rumors also circulated of potential cooperation between Wagner Group fighters and the Russian National Guard, which could represent efforts to reintegrate these forces under Russian state control.

September 21

On September 21, Ukrainian armored vehicles were seen operating beyond Russia’s anti-tank ditch defenses west of the settlement of Verbove in western Zaporizhia. However, ISW could not independently confirm a full breakthrough had been achieved.

The gradual Ukrainian gains in western Zaporizhia since August correspond with the likely degradation of defending Russian units over weeks of intense combat.

Ukrainian strikes also likely damaged Russian military aircraft stationed at the Russian-occupied Saky airbase in Crimea. Later that night, Russia conducted an unusually large missile barrage across Ukraine, in what appeared timed to coincide with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States.

The Kremlin continues efforts to damage Ukrainian relations with its Central European partners, including over grain exports through Europe, as part of Russia’s broader campaign to undermine Ukraine’s ties. However, a Ukrainian military official swiftly denied widespread claims that Wagner Group forces were operating in occupied Kherson Oblast, which had seemed intended to boost Russian morale.

September 20

On September 20, Ukraine continued offensive actions near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and in western Zaporizhia Oblast, as the counteroffensive push remained ongoing.

Notably, Russian sources including soldiers revealed that the Russian military leadership has ordered troops to undertake unsupported and risky counterattacks around Bakhmut with the sole aim of urgently regaining some lost ground, to their detriment.

Russian forces also conducted drone strikes overnight against Ukrainian targets, increasingly relying on readily available Iranian-made Shahed drones to hit key infrastructure as the war drags on.

A Russian milblogger outlined the training process and tactics of reconnaissance groups using drones in Ukraine, shedding light on their central role on the battlefield.

In a remarkable claim, Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate stated saboteurs had damaged Russian military aircraft stationed at the Chkalovsky airbase near Moscow, representing an audacious operation deep in Russian territory.

The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, also asserted he remains in good health despite rampant recent rumors he had fallen gravely ill or died.

As fighting continued between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin aimed to depict the conflict as a failure of Armenian leadership and Western interests, as Russia appeared unable or unwilling to significantly intervene despite its historical military alliance with Armenia.

September 19

On September 19, the Russian government signaled it would not direct its nominal peacekeeping forces to intervene in Azerbaijan’s major renewed military operation into the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, despite Russia’s historical security ties with Armenia.

In Ukraine, Ukrainian sources credited superior Ukrainian combat coordination, more precise artillery fire, and stronger electronic warfare systems for recent advances south of Bakhmut. This came amidst continued reports of very significant Russian losses in personnel and equipment in the area.

Reinforcements were also said to be lacking to shore up defenses in western Zaporizhia Oblast along the southern front, as Russian degradation of units continues mounting following weeks of attrition.

Overnight, Russia launched widespread missile and drone strikes targeting both the Ukrainian coast and rear areas inside the country.

Additionally, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with his Iranian counterpart about increased military cooperation just one day after Iran’s president explicitly denied it was providing drones to Russia.

September 18

On September 18, Ukraine’s liberation of the settlements of Klishchiivka and Andriivka south of Bakhmut were assessed as likely having degraded overall Russian defensive lines in the area. Strikingly, the Ukrainian General Staff stated the advances may have rendered up to three Russian brigades fully combat ineffective.

The Ukrainian gains near Bakhmut aligned with the recognized pattern that its advances in western Zaporizhia also correspond closely with the degradation of defending Russian units after weeks of attritional warfare. Russia’s defensive vulnerabilities are increasingly laid bare by Ukrainian operations.

Specifically, the counteroffensive has severely diminished Russia’s tactical capabilities for counterattacks, which are essential to the Russian elastic defensive model. This overreliance has resulted in the excessive degradation of Russian airborne troops in particular.

Similarly around Bakhmut, recent Ukrainian moves forward likely correspond to inflicting unsustainable casualties among defending Russian brigades, further undermining Russia’s position.

Meanwhile, Russian overnight missile strikes continued targeting both the Ukrainian coast and rear areas inside the country.

Domestically, an organization tied to top Putin aide Sergey Kiriyenko was indicated to be disseminating propaganda and disinformation supporting the war effort to prominent Russian figures.

And imprisoned Russian nationalist Igor Girkin directly criticized Putin in an appeal to anti-regime elements, calling the current system untenable and demanding rapid mobilization of opposition.

As Ukrainian forces also advanced in western Zaporizhia, some Russian sources notably claimed former Wagner mercenaries are now cooperating with the Russian National Guard in order to return to combat in Ukraine.

In summary, in late September 2023, recent territorial gains by Ukraine continue corresponding to degradation of defending Russian units. Russia persists with strikes across Ukraine despite its own military challenges. The potential reintegration of former Wagner Group members under Russian state control remains a dynamic to watch. As the war continues along multiple fronts, both sides vie for greater positional advantage through reciprocal offensive and counteroffensive operations.

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 September 18-24, 2023, from the ISW – Mouseover to Scroll

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment – September 18-24, 2023

Review the Detailed Reporting and Maps PDF

See the Institute for the Study of War Interactive Map of the Russian Invasion
Read the latest Ukraine Conflict updates from the Institute for the Study of War 

* Shared with direct express permission from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

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