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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 208: Russian missile hits South Ukraine nuclear power plant

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 208: Russian missile hits South Ukraine nuclear power plant
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Russia has increased its targeting of civilian infrastructure. The Armed Forces of Ukraine cross the Oskil river and took its left bank under control. About 200 occupiers were killed in the explosion in Svatove in Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainian Armed Forces sink Russian barge carrying military equipment and personnel. Armed Forces of Ukraine capture hundreds of Russian soldiers during the counter-offensive. Russia lost a total of 533 units of heavy equipment since 6 September. Around 3.7 million tonnes of food left Ukraine ports under the grain deal. Russian missile hits South Ukraine NPP’s industrial site 300 m away from reactors. Occupiers report a new attack on the POW camp in Olenivka, Ukrainian prisoner of war dies. Spain to train Ukrainian soldiers in the use of tanks and anti-aircraft batteries.

Daily overview — Summary report, September 17

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 06.00 am, September 17, 2022 is in the dropdown menu below.

Situation in Ukraine. September 18, 2022. Source: ISW.


“Russian forces continue to focus their efforts on attempts to fully occupy the Donetsk oblast, organize defence and hold the captured territories, as well as disrupt the active actions of the Defence Forces in certain areas. It fires at the positions of our troops along the contact line, carries out measures to regroup its units in separate directions, introduces reserves and does not stop conducting aerial reconnaissance.

Russian forces continue to shell the houses of civilians and civilian infrastructure objects, violating the norms of International Humanitarian Law, the laws and customs of war.

Over the past day, Russian forces launched 3 missiles and 22 airstrikes and carried out more than MLRS 90 attacks on objects on the territory of Ukraine. Since the beginning of this day, Russian forces have carried out three more missile strikes.

The infrastructure of more than 30 settlements was damaged. These are, in particular, Mykolayiv, Zaporizhzhia, Soledar, Bilohirya, Novopil, Pershotravneve, Temyrivka, Sukhy Stavok, Myrolyubivka, Petrivka, Bereznehuvate, Bilohorivka, Spirne, Krasnohorivka, Stepove and Olhivske.

There remains the threat of air and missile strikes throughout the territory of Ukraine.

The situation in the Volyn and Polissya directions has not changed significantly.

In other directions, Russian forces fired from tanks, mortars and artillery, namely:

Kharkiv Battle Map. August 18, 2022. Source: ISW.
  • in the Slobozhansk direction – in the areas of the settlements of Hoptivka, Huryiv Kozachok, Kamyanka and Kupiansk;
Donetsk Battle Map. September 18, 2022. Source: ISW.
  • in the Kramatorsk direction – Svyatohirsk, Rayihorodok, Serebryanka and Bilohorivka;
  • in the Bakhmut direction – Siversk, Rozdolivka, Soledar, Bakhmutske, Bakhmut, Vesela Dolyna, New York, Yuryivka, Rozivka and Zayitseve;
  • in the Avdiivka region – Avdiivka, Opytne, Karlivka, Kostyantynivka, Mariinka and Pervomayiske;
  • on the Novopavlivsk and Zaporizhzhia directions – Vuhledar, Velyka Novosilka, Mali Shcherbaky, Myrne, Vilne Pole and Vremivka.
Kherson and Mykolaiv Battle Map. September 18, 2022. Source: ISW.
  • In the Pivdenny Buh direction, Russian forces were shelling along the entire contact line. More than 18 settlements were affected by the fire. Among them are Bila Krynytsia, Myrolyubivka, Visokopillya and Andriyivka.

Over the past day, units of the Defence Forces have repelled enemy attacks in the areas of Mykolayivka Druha, Vesela Dolyna and Bakhmut settlements. [Yesterday, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine repelled enemy attacks in the areas of Kupiansk, Hoptivka, Mykolayivka Druha, Vesela Dolyna, Odradivka, Mariinka, Novomykhailivka and Pravdyne settlements.]

During the day, the aviation of the Defence Forces carried out 21 strikes – it was confirmed that 16 areas of concentration of enemy manpower and strongholds and 5 positions of anti-aircraft missile systems were hit.

Over the past day, missile forces and artillery have fired at more than 14 enemy targets. In particular, for 6 command and control points, 3 support points and areas of concentration of personnel and military equipment. Objects of air defence, electronic warfare and 3 ammunition warehouses fell into the affected area. [Yesterday, the missile forces and artillery fired at more than 20 enemy targets. In particular, at 7 command and control points and 9 support points and areas of concentration of personnel and military equipment. Air defence facilities and pontoon crossings of the Russian occupiers fell into the affected area.]

In connection with the significant shortage of both human and material resources, the Russian occupiers continue to resort to non-standard ways of replenishing them. For example, 400 people who are in prison serving sentences for criminal offences, were sent from the Russian city of Tambov to strengthen units fighting in Ukraine. In the Krasnodar region, public organizations of “Afghan soldiers” received the task of collecting money from the local population for the purchase of warm clothes for the regional volunteer battalion.

[In connection with the lack of human resources to send to the war in Ukraine, measures of so-called “internal self-mobilization” are being carried out on the territory of the Russian Federation. In the Kursk region, under the guise of recruiting candidates for logistics units, and the Nizhny Novgorod region, in particular, employees of the “Atomohorona” organization – allegedly for the units of protection of important facilities. Candidates who have signed the contract undergo a one-week rifle training course and are immediately sent to the combat zone for replenishment.]

[In the temporarily occupied territory of the Luhansk oblast, in particular in the Bilovodsk district, new recruitment to the so-called “units of the ministry of internal affairs” has been announced. After significant losses in the battles, most of the full-time employees fled or deserted to the territory of the Russian Federation.]”

Military Updates

The Armed Forces of Ukraine cross the Oskil river and took its left bank under control, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Centre of Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “Since Saturday, [Ukrainian Armed Forces] crossed the Oskil river in the Kharkiv region and now control not only the right but also the left bank of the river.”

About 200 occupiers were killed in the explosion in Svatove in Luhansk Oblast – Head of Luhansk Oblast Military Administration, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Serhii Haidai, the Head of the Luhansk Oblast Military Administration, reported that approximately 200 occupiers were killed as a result of an explosion in the occupied Svatove on the night of 17 September.”

Ukrainian Armed Forces sink Russian barge carrying military equipment and personnel, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Operational Command South. “[Ukrainian forces] have established fire control over Russian forces’s transport routes, logistical hubs, manoeuvres and redeployment, bases and command points. As a result, the occupiers’ plans to restore the capacity of the Antonivka rail bridge, which they were trying to repair, have been thwarted.

[Ukrainian forces] also destroyed […] a barge which the occupiers were using to transport weapons and equipment. […] The Operational Command reports that Russia’s confirmed losses amounted to 62 military personnel and five armoured vehicles.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • Russia has highly likely lost at least four combat jets in Ukraine within the last 10 days, taking its attrition to approximately 55 since the start of the invasion.
  • There is a realistic possibility that this uptick in losses is partially a result of the Russian Air Force accepting greater risk as it attempts to provide close air support to Russian ground forces under pressure from Ukrainian advances. Russian pilots’ situational awareness is often poor; there is a realistic possibility that some aircraft have strayed over enemy territory and into denser air defence zones as the front lines have moved rapidly.
  • Russia’s continued lack of air superiority remains one of the most important factors underpinning the fragility of its operational design in Ukraine.
  • Russia has launched several thousand long-range missiles against Ukraine since 24 February 2022. However, in the last seven days, Russia has increased its targeting of civilian infrastructure even where it probably perceives no immediate military effect.
  • This category of mission has included strikes against the electricity grid, and a dam on the Inhulets River at Kryvyi Rih.
  • As it faces setbacks on the front lines, Russia has likely extended the locations it is prepared to strike in an attempt to directly undermine the morale of the Ukrainian people and government.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Monday 19 September, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

  • Personnel – more than 54650 (+170),
  • Tanks – 2212 (+2),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 4720 (+2),
  • Artillery systems – 1313 (+4),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 312 (+0),
  • Air defence means – 168 (+0),
  • Aircraft – 251 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 217 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 3581 (+3),
  • Vessels/boats – 15 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 920 (+2),
  • Special equipment – 125 (+3),
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
  • Cruise missiles – 238 (+0)

Armed Forces of Ukraine capture hundreds of Russian soldiers during the counteroffensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing an interview with Reuters. “Ukrainian forces captured several hundred Russian soldiers during the counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast, thus making a significant contribution to Ukraine’s POW exchange fund. [According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy] I can tell you honestly that Russia holds more of our soldiers’ prisoners than we hold Russian soldiers or mercenaries who work for the Russian Federation, the terrorists. So our goal is to replenish this fund [the prisoner exchange fund  ed.].

Russia lost a total of 533 units of heavy equipment since 6 September, WarSpotting reports. Russia seems to have sustained unprecedented material losses. A total of 533 units have been lost. Out of those 533, a total of 137 have been found destroyed: It’s important to acknowledge a lot of these have been lost much earlier when Russia was taking over the area, and are only discovered these days.

Ukraine has captured a total of 391 units, including 74 tanks (44 T-72s and 30 T-80s), and 143 captured IFVs with 48 BMP-2 taking the lion’s share. On top of that, there are a few SAMs, radars, several dozen command posts, SPGs, MRLs, engineering vehicles as well as 60+ trucks of different kinds. Additionally, there are 70+ recent losses with no confirmed location as of today which might (or not) be a result of the Kharkiv offensive.

Russian military hospitals close doors to “volunteers” wounded in Ukraine – intelligence, Ukrinform reports, citing the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “Volunteers are being refused medical treatment in hospitals and even left behind in their positions by the retreating units.

One of the battalions of the so-called “Union of Donbas Volunteers” suffered heavy losses in firefights near Avdiivka. As the wounded servicemen were brought to a hospital in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, its staff refused to provide medical aid to them citing the fact that the unit is not formally part of Russia’s regular army. The “Union of Donbas Volunteers” was formed under the program of voluntary mobilization of Russia’s combat army reserve. In all such cases where the wounded are refused hospital treatment, medics cite direct instructions by their command.

Also, tension is brewing between Russian army servicemen and those mobilized into the invasion force from among the residents of Russian puppet pseudo-republics “LNR” and “DNR.” The conflict is caused by Russian units leaving the latter behind during the retreat, with no support. Due to this, some of the units composed of the “DNR-LNR” draftees have been totally destroyed.”


Haidai: devastated cities of Luhansk Oblast will not survive the winter, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Serhii Haidai, chairman of the Luhansk Oblast Military Administration, notes that it is impossible to have a heating season in the occupied Luhansk Oblast, exactly where active hostilities have continued. According to the head of the OMA, the Russian invaders did nothing to help the population restore communications and housing that suffered damage from the bombing.

Winter will finish off the surviving houses in cities, and it will be impossible to restore them after exposure to low temperatures. In most cases, citizens will try to go to the countryside and spend the winter in abandoned houses.”

A ‘terrible picture of what the occupiers did’, The New York Times reports. “After the rout of Russian forces in Ukraine’s northeast comes the grim task of recording what happened there during the six months of Russian occupation. Already several burial sites have been found in the liberated areas. In the city of Izium, investigators began exhuming bodies from 445 individual graves and one mass grave, cut into the sandy soil of a pine forest. Local officials estimate that as many as 1,000 people died in Izium, many from a lack of medicine and medical care.

We have a terrible picture of what the occupiers did, in particular, in the Kharkiv region, Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said in a statement. In fact, now such cities as Balaklia, Izium are standing in the same row as Bucha, Borodianka, and Irpin. Among the bodies already exhumed were a family — a mother, a father, a daughter and two grandparents — killed in Russian bombardments in the spring, Ukrainian officials said. The mass grave appeared to be where soldiers were buried.

Residents of Izium contacted by The Times have described terror at the hands of Russian troops. One man said he was tortured and held with his wife and teen son in a basement for two days. The account could not be immediately verified, but it is supported by the well-documented behaviour of Russian forces during their brief occupation of areas outside Kyiv and other northern cities.

In Washington, Yuliia Paievska, a Ukrainian volunteer medic, gave a searing account yesterday to US lawmakers of the torture she witnessed and experienced during three months of captivity in the southern city of Mariupol, The Associated Press reported. […]”

Around 3.7 million tonnes of food left Ukraine ports under grain deal, ministry says, Reuters reports. “A total of 165 ships with 3.7 million tonnes of agricultural products on board have left Ukraine under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye to unblock Ukrainian seaports, the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry said on Sunday. The ministry said 10 ships with 169,300 tonnes of agricultural products are due to leave Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Sunday.”


Russian missile hits South Ukraine NPP’s industrial site 300 m away from reactors, Ukrinform reports, citing Energoatom National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine. “At 00:20 a.m., September 19, 2022, the Russian army launched a missile attack on the industrial site of South Ukraine NPP. A powerful blast occurred just 300 meters away from South Ukraine NPP’s reactors, the report states.

According to Energoatom, South Ukraine NPP’s buildings were damaged by a blast wave, and over 100 windows were broken. One of the hydroelectric units of Oleksandrivka Hydro Power Plant, which is part of the South Ukraine Energy Complex, was disconnected, as well as three high-voltage power transmission lines.

Currently, all three power units at South Ukraine NPP are operating as scheduled. No casualties among employees were reported, fortunately. Russia’s nuclear terrorist attacks are posing a global threat and must be stopped to prevent another disaster, Energoatom stressed.”

Occupiers report a new attack on POW camp in Olenivka, Ukrainian prisoner of war dies, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Russian occupying forces reported that on 18 September at about 9:00, a POW camp in Olenivka (Donetsk region) was struck again; a Ukrainian prisoner of war died in the attack. According to the “Ministry of Justice” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”, a Ukrainian prisoner of war died as a result of the attack, and five more prisoners were injured. There are no victims among Russians.”

390 children were killed, 759 children injured, 7,754 deported by foe forces, and 233 reported missing – the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of September 17. 2,500 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 289 of them are destroyed fully. 34,723 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 15,870 crimes against national security were registered.


Transfer of 40 BMP-1 IFVs from Greece to Ukraine, the Ukrainian General Staff reports. “On September 16, 2022, the Ministry of Defence of the Hellenic Republic officially announced: Following the decision of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Greek Minister of National Defence, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos and the German Defence Minister, Christine Lambrecht, agreed, in support of Ukraine’s brave defence against Russia’s ongoing aggression, that Greece delivers to Ukraine 40 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, which will be replaced by 40 MARDER infantry fighting vehicles, that Germany will deliver to Greece.”

A Group of German experts supports Europe’s transfer of battle tanks to Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Ukrinform reports. “The supply of battle tanks, in particular Leopards, to Ukraine would be an urgent need rather than an escalation, and such a German initiative would create trust and serve the security of Europe. Three German political scientists from the European Council on International Relations – Gustav Gressel, Rafael Loss and Jana Puglierin – said this in an article in the German news outlet Zeit, Ukrinform reports. […]

They recalled that apart from the Bundeswehr, 12 other European armies use tanks of this type. These are more than 2,000 tanks in various modifications. Not all of these tanks are immediately suitable for use in Ukraine, but in order to equip one Ukrainian tank brigade with combat-ready equipment, at least about 90 tanks should be found first. […]

“The federal government should seize the initiative and, together with European partners, create a consortium to support Ukraine. The more of the 13 user states join their efforts, the smaller will be a decrease in the combat readiness of their own armed forces,” experts say. […]

The article also notes that the arguments with which Western partners still refuse to supply tanks and combat vehicles to the Armed Forces of Ukraine are becoming less convincing. The successes of the last few days in the Kharkiv region prove that the Ukrainians can plan and carry out complex operations. In addition, Germany’s initiative would compensate for the trust lost over the past few months and provide real “added value” for the security of Europe and the future of Ukraine, the article read.”

Spain to train Ukrainian soldiers in the use of tanks and anti-aircraft batteries, Ukrinform reports, citing the Spanish defence news site Infodefensa. “The Spanish army will train Ukrainian soldiers in the use of tanks, artillery ammunition and anti-aircraft batteries. The first group of 20 soldiers will arrive early next week. Training will focus on the use of tanks, artillery ammunition and anti-aircraft batteries, the report said.

The training will also allow the Ukrainian military to better understand the procedures for use and the storage and transport conditions of artillery ammunition supplied by Spain. In the past two weeks, Spain’s Ministry of Defense has sent in five flights a batch of 1,000 full rounds of heavy-calibre artillery ammunition and has begun to deliver cold weather uniforms and equipment.

Finally, training in the handling of battle tanks will prepare the Ukrainian military for the use of vehicles that could arrive in Ukraine in the coming weeks. It should be remembered that Kyiv has insistently requested tanks from countries such as Germany and Spain, both of which have fleets of Leopards in service.”

New Developments 

  1. Ukraine to dominate as world leaders gather at United Nations, ReutersRussia’s invasion of Ukraine and a global food crisis aggravated by the war will be the focus of world leaders when they convene at the United Nations in New York this week, a gathering that is unlikely to yield any progress toward ending the conflict. It would be naive to think that we are close to the possibility of a peace deal, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the high-level meeting of the 193-member UN General Assembly, which starts on Tuesday. The chances of a peace deal are minimal, at the present moment.”
  2. Zelenskyy’s meeting with Putin makes no sense now – Presidentʼs Office, Ukrainska PravdaWe are not at all interested in meetings for the sake of meetings or the same banal Russian negotiation “scenario”. We are interested in the liberation of the occupied territories, significant tactical defeats of the Russian Federation, and mandatory large-scale legal processes. Everything else is derivative from this.”
  3. Zelenskyy: We might pursue diplomatic means to take back Crimea, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing an interview with Reuters. “When asked whether Ukraine can take back Crimea: There’s no other option, no other solution: we have to liberate the territory [of Crimea]. It could happen that [Ukraine] might pursue diplomatic means to take back Crimea. It’s undeniable that people in Ukraine are more supportive of the diplomatic way of resolving this issue. President Zelenskyy stressed that Ukraine will only find peace when it takes back all of its land.”
  4. Negotiating with the Russian Federation because of the fear of nuclear weapons is the beginning of the Third World War, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing President Zelenskyy in aninterview with Reuters. “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not believe that Russia will use nuclear weapons but calls on the world to stop Russia’s threats. But, I’m sorry, being afraid of something that this state can do, and therefore coming to an agreement with them in one way or another, is the worst possible outcome. This is precisely the beginning of the Third World War. Zelensky stressed that there can be no dialogue with people who threaten with nuclear weapons.”
  5. Biden urges Putin not to use tactical nuclear arms in Ukraine, ReutersAsked by a “60 Minutes” reporter what he would say to Putin if he was considering using such weapons, Biden said: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. It would change the face of war unlike anything since World War Two, in a clip of the interview released by CBS on Saturday. Biden said the US response would be “consequential,” but declined to give detail. Russia would become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been, Biden said. Depending on the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur.”
  6. In a first, European Union moves to cut Hungary funding over damaging democracy, ReutersThe European Union executive recommended on Sunday suspending some 7.5 billion euros in funding for Hungary over corruption, the first such case in the 27-nation bloc under a new sanction meant to better protect the rule of law. The EU introduced the new financial sanction two years ago precisely in response to what it says amounts to the undermining of democracy in Poland and Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban subdued courts, media, NGOs and academia, as well as restricting the rights of migrants, gays and women during more than a decade in power.”


  1. On the war. [Paragraph]

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Sunday 18 September:

Eastern Ukraine: (Vovchansk-Kupiansk-Izium-Lyman Line)

Ukrainian forces are continuing to establish positions on the east bank of the Oskil River. A Russian source reported that fighting is ongoing in eastern Kupiansk, indicating that Ukrainian forces are consolidating prior gains. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian ground assault on Kupiansk. […] Footage posted on September 17 shows Ukrainian forces operating on the Oskil River in a boat and receiving Russian artillery fire before advancing to the east bank.

A Ukrainian official stated that Ukrainian forces are waiting for the fall of Lyman before beginning ground operations to retake Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainian forces reportedly struck the Russian logistics node at Svatove, Luhansk Oblast on September 18. […] Ukrainian forces have likely previously struck Russian military targets in Svatove, likely impeding the Russian ability to defend Svatove and other areas in the rear if Ukrainian forces choose to advance. Svatove has served as a hub on the Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Sievierodonetsk. Haidai noted that Russian forces are establishing fortifications in areas close to the front lines, including Svatove, Troitske, Rubizhne, and Popasna. Ukrainian strikes on Russian rear areas undermine these efforts and will degrade Russian forces’ ability to defend these areas if Ukraine advances. These positions are not close to one another, moreover, Russian forces in this area may be challenged to form coherent defensive lines across such a wide area.

Russian forces continued to strike border areas along the Kharkiv-Belgorod Oblast border and conducted a limited ground assault north of Kharkiv City. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian ground assault on Hoptivka, less than two kilometres from the international border.

Southern Ukraine: (Kherson Oblast)

Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces are “conceding” and losing tactically significant positions in unspecified areas in Kherson Oblast. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command added that Russian forces have decreased the intensity of their artillery fire over some unspecified segments along the line of contact. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command noted that platoon-sized Russian elements still unsuccessfully attempt to assault Ukrainian positions in unspecified areas, however. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are coercing civilians to fortify Russian positions in Chonhar on the eastern Kherson Oblast-Crimean border, which may indicate that Russian forces are setting up defences in anticipation of Ukrainian counteroffensives south of the Dnipro River. […]

Ukrainian military officials and local reports note that Ukrainian forces are continuing their interdiction campaign in Kherson Oblast. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian barge that was delivering military equipment and ammunition, resulting in the deaths of 62 Russian servicemen and destruction of at least five armored vehicles according to preliminary information. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command added that Ukrainian strikes undermined Russian efforts to repair the Antonivsky Railway Bridge. Ukrainian military officials also reported the destruction of a Russian ammunition depot in Blahodatne, although it is unclear if they referred to the Blahodatne settlement in Mykolaiv Oblast or Kherson Oblast. Social media users also reported that Russian air defenses activated in Nova Kakhovka at least 10 minutes after a missile struck an unspecified target in Nova Kakhovka. Residents published footage of plumes of smoke in Yubileyne, Oleshky Raion (about 51km southeast of Kherson City).[…]  Local Telegram channels also published footage from around Beryslav in northern Kherson Oblast.[…]

Ukrainian and Russian sources identified three areas of kinetic activity on September 18: northwest of Kherson City, near the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, and south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border near Vysokopillya.[…]

Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly relying on irregular volunteer and proxy forces rather than conventional units and formations of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. ISW has previously reported that Putin has been bypassing the Russian higher military command and Ministry of Defense leadership throughout the summer and especially following the defeat around Kharkiv Oblast. Putin’s souring relationship with the military command and the Russian (MoD) may explain in part the Kremlin’s increasing focus on recruiting ill-prepared volunteers into ad-hoc irregular units rather than attempting to draw them into reserve or replacement pools for regular Russian combat units.

A prominent Russian milblogger reported that Russian forces have “already began the process of forming and staffing the 4th Army Corps, at least on a documentation level.” The report may be true given the recent Russia-wide push for the formation of more regional volunteer units among the Kremlin representatives following the Russian defeat around Kharkiv Oblast. Russian federal subjects had previously begun advertising for contract service in volunteer units around the time of the formation of the 3rd Army Corps. Russian forces are also increasingly recruiting prisoners, involving Cossack units, deploying elements of Russian security services such as the Russian Federal Security Service and Rosgvardia, and covertly mobilizing men from occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The continued focus on the formation of irregular units is receiving some criticism from retired Russian officers who are calling for proper conventional divisions rather than volunteer battalions.

The formation of such ad-hoc units will lead to further tensions, inequality, and an overall lack of cohesiveness between forces. Ukrainian and Russian sources have reported instances of Russian Armed Forces refusing to pay veteran benefits, one-time enlistment bonuses, or provide medical treatment to BARS (Russian Combat Army Reserve) servicemen. Some military formations offer financial incentives for every kilometer that the serviceman’s unit advances, an incentive that few soldiers will likely benefit from considering that Russian forces are on the defensive almost everywhere apart from the areas around Bakhmut and Donetsk City, where gains have been slow and very limited. Russian opposition publication Insider reported instances of ethnic discrimination within Chechen units, noting that the Chechen leadership deploys non-Chechens to the frontlines before committing Chechens to the battle. Professional military staff are likely to confront behavioural issues among recruited prisoners, especially considering the likely prevalence of prisoners convicted of violent crimes, narcotics, and rape. The Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LNR and DNR) have both previously refused to fight for each other’s territory. All these groups have different levels of military training, decentralized command structures, and different perceptions of the war and motivations to fight, which makes conflict and poor unit coordination more probable. The one thing they have in common is wholly inadequate training and preparation for combat.

The formation of irregular, hastily-trained units adds little effective combat power to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Forbes noted that the 3rd Army Corps rushed in to defend Russian positions around Kharkiv Oblast during the counteroffensive but failed to make any difference and “melted away.” The reported arrival of increasing numbers of irregular Russian forces on the battlefield has had little to no impact on Russian operations.

Russian forces are likely attempting to conduct a more deliberate and controlled withdrawal in western Kherson Oblast to avoid the chaotic flight that characterized the collapse of Russian defensive positions in Kharkiv Oblast earlier this month. The Russians have heavily reinforced western Kherson Oblast over the past several months including with airborne units and at least some elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army. These ostensibly more professional and well-trained and equipped units are concentrated in a small area in Kherson Oblast and were prepared for the expected counteroffensive. They appear to be performing significantly better than Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast. The Ukrainians destroyed a number of units of the 1st Guards Tank Army in Kharkiv Oblast, putting them to flight and capturing large amounts of high-quality equipment. The worse performance of professional Russian soldiers in Kharkiv Oblast compared with those in Kherson Oblast may be due to the thinner concentration of Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast as well as the fact that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast appeared to surprise the Russian defenders.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast is nevertheless making progress, and Russian forces appear to be attempting to slow it and fall back to more defensible positions rather than stop it cold or reverse it. Continuous Ukrainian attacks on Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) across the Dnipro River to western Kherson Oblast appear to be having increasing effects on Russian supplies on the right bank—recent reports indicate shortages of food and water in Russian-occupied Kherson City and at least a temporary slackening of Russian artillery fire. Poor-quality proxy units have collapsed in some sectors of the Russian front lines, moreover, allowing Ukrainian advances. Ukrainian forces remain likely to regain much if not all of western Kherson Oblast in the coming weeks if they continue to interdict Russian GLOCs and press their advance. Ukrainian gains may continue to be slow if the Russian troops can retain their coherence but could also accelerate significantly if Russian forces begin to break.

A prominent Russian milblogger also claimed that the Russian command issued a “no retreat” order last week for all units serving in Donbas, requiring that Russian forces operating on the axis hold their positions regardless of the unfolding situation in front of them.  This order would be noteworthy in two ways if the report is accurate. First, Donetsk Oblast is the only area in Ukraine in which Russian forces are still attempting offensive operations. There have been sporadic reports of limited Ukrainian counterattacks, but no evidence that Ukraine is preparing a large-scale counteroffensive operation in this area. The order suggests that the Russian military may fear a Ukrainian counter-offensive into the teeth of their last offensive efforts, however. Second, it shows deep mistrust of the combat capabilities of the units receiving the order in contrast with the apparently higher confidence Russian commanders have in the units in western Kherson Oblast, where sensible efforts to conduct a controlled withdrawal appear to prevail. 

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be increasingly relying on irregular, poorly trained ad-hoc volunteer and proxy units rather than attempting to rebuild damaged or destroyed conventional Russian ground forces units.
  • Ukrainian forces continue to consolidate positions on the east bank of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast despite Russian efforts to contain them.
  • Russian forces in western Kherson Oblast may be attempting to fall back to more defensible positions in a controlled withdrawal to avoid the chaotic retreat that characterized the collapse of Russian defenses in Kharkiv earlier in September.

Russian forces suffered devastating losses of manpower and equipment in their fight for eastern Ukraine and especially during the Ukrainian Kharkiv counter-offensive. Multiple Russian armoured and mechanized units have likely been effectively destroyed according to assessments released on September 18.

Top US general urges vigilance as Russia weighs Ukraine setbacks, Reuters reports. “The top US general cautioned on Sunday it remained unclear how Russia might react to the latest battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and called for increased vigilance among US troops as he visited a base in Poland aiding Ukraine’s war effort. The remarks by US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were a reminder of the risks of escalation as the United States and its NATO allies aid Ukraine from a distance as Kyiv wages a so-far successful counter-offensive against Russian forces.

“The war is not going too well for Russia right now. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to maintain high states of readiness, alert,” Milley said in Warsaw after the base visit. […] Milley’s trip included a review of the base’s air defences, which include Patriot missile batteries that would be a last line of defence should Russia decide to attack the base — risking war with NATO.

Milley said he was not suggesting US troops in Europe were under any increased threat but said they had to be ready. […] Milley said the war was in a new phase in which Ukrainian forces have seized the strategic initiative, although he cautioned that could change again “in weeks or months.” Because of that, we have to very closely watch what Russia’s reactions to that will be.”

Russia moves missiles from St Petersburg to Ukraine, Yle News reports. “Satellite images obtained by Yle indicate that Russia has been moving a large number of anti-aircraft missiles toward Ukraine, including from as far away as St. Petersburg, one of the most crucial areas for Russian air defence. Satellite images reveal that both mobile firing platforms and missiles disappeared during the summer from a base in the Zelenogorsk (Terijoki) area on the Karelian Isthmus, northwest of St Petersburg, among others.

St Petersburg—Russia’s second-most important city—has long been surrounded by a protective ring of 14 anti-aircraft missile bases. Now several of them stand empty. In addition to the completely emptied bases, anti-aircraft missile equipment has been moved from other bases around St Petersburg during the summer, most likely toward Ukraine.

According to Eklund, the transfer of equipment is unlikely to have significantly weakened St Petersburg’s air defences, because the armament that has been removed is its oldest, so Russia may no longer necessarily need it for defensive purposes. In its Ukraine war, even old anti-aircraft missiles still have a use, though, as Russia is running short of modern precision weapons.”

Russian invaders run mobilization drill in Crimea, briefly banning local men from crossing out, Ukrinform reports, citing the Center for Countering Disinformation. “In the temporarily occupied Crimea, the Russian occupation forces are testing the region’s r readiness for mass mobilization. As part of the measures taken, a decree was briefly posted, banning the male population of military age from leaving the peninsula. The decree was shortly removed from the official platforms.”

At the end of the summer of 2022, the Russian Federation began the rotation or withdrawal of warships from the Mediterranean Sea, the BlackSea News reports. Because of Türkiye’s ban on the passage of Russian warships through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits, including ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, as well as Türkiye’s closure of the airspace for Russian military and civilian aircraft heading to Syria, the Russian squadron in the Mediterranean Sea was ” preserved”.

Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, its become impossible for its warships to conduct repair and maintenance in EU ports in the Mediterranean. A limited capability at the base of the Russian Navy in the Syrian port of Tartus will force the Russian Federation to return the ships of the Northern, Baltic and Pacific fleets for repairs.

Ships of the Black Sea Fleet, which have been in the Mediterranean Sea for a long time, may be forced to relocate to the Baltic Sea. Currently, 2 missile ships of the Northern Fleet, a reconnaissance ship of the Black Sea Fleet, and 2 tankers of the Black Sea Fleet and Pacific Fleet have been withdrawn, the Ukrainian expert Andrii Klymenko reports.

The confirmed composition of the Russian Navy squadron in the Mediterranean Sea as of 15 September includes 10 ships (7 of which are carrying cruise missiles) and 4 auxiliary ships. The numbers include 2 submarines, while a third remains to be confirmed.

  1. Consequences and what to do? 

Ukraine wants the US to send more powerful weapons. Biden is not so sure, The New York Times reports. “President Biden wants to avoid provoking Russia at a moment when American officials fear Vladimir V. Putin could escalate the war to compensate for recent losses.Øverst i skjemaet

Nederst i skjemaet

 Flush with success in northeast Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky is pressing President Biden for a new and more powerful weapon: a missile system with a range of 190 miles, which could reach far into Russian territory. Mr Zelensky insists to US officials that he has no intention of striking Russian cities or aiming at civilian targets, even though President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces have hit apartment blocks, theatres and hospitals in Ukraine throughout the war. The weapon, Zelensky says, is critical to launching a wider counteroffensive, perhaps early next year.

Mr Biden is resisting, in part because he is convinced that over the past seven months, he has successfully signalled to Putin that he does not want a broader war with the Russians — he just wants them to get out of Ukraine. A shipment of long-range guided missiles, which could also give Ukraine new options for striking Crimea, the territory Russia annexed in 2014, would likely be seen by Moscow as a major provocation, Mr Biden has concluded. We’re trying to avoid World War III, Biden often reminds his aides, echoing a statement he has made publicly as well.

Senior aides to the president also say that when Biden asked the Pentagon in recent weeks how much the longer-range missile systems would help Ukrainian forces during the next stage of the war, he was told the benefits would be minimal. That led him to conclude, they said, that it was not worth the risk. The argument over the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, comes at a critical moment, when officials in the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies appear more concerned than ever that Mr Putin could escalate the war to compensate for his humiliating retreat.

They do not know what form that escalation might take. But many of the options they are preparing for are bleak: more indiscriminate bombardment of Ukrainian cities, a campaign to kill senior Ukrainian leaders, or an attack on supply hubs outside Ukraine — located in NATO countries like Poland and Romania — that are channelling extraordinary quantities of arms, ammunition and military equipment into the country.

This account of the administration’s effort to control escalation in the war is based on conversations with more than a dozen senior American officials as they struggle to calibrate the next steps — hoping to build on Ukraine’s advances without triggering a wider conflict. It comes as the Ukrainians have gained momentum and the Russians, for now, are still in disarray.

American officials believe they have, so far, succeeded at “boiling the frog” — increasing their military, intelligence and economic assistance to Ukraine step by step, without provoking Moscow into large-scale retaliation with any major single move. They say that Mr Putin almost certainly would have pushed back hard if Washington had, at the outset of the war, provided Ukraine with the kind of support it is getting now, such as intelligence that has allowed Ukraine to kill Russian generals and target arms depots, tanks and Russian air defences with precision-guided rocket attacks. Instead, the Americans believe their incremental strategy, and refusal to give Ukraine advanced weapons or aircraft that could reach deep into Russia, has put guardrails on the conflict.

But Putin has grown increasingly frustrated as his military struggles. We are, indeed, responding rather restrainedly, but that’s for the time being, Putin said on Friday, after attending a regional summit in Uzbekistan. If the situation continues to develop in this way, the answer will be more serious. […]

The same day, speaking at an intelligence conference in Washington, the deputy director of the C.I.A., David S. Cohen, said Putin would be asking his military leaders what has happened, why it is happening, what can we do to push back and to retain our position. I don’t think we should underestimate Putin’s adherence to his original objective, which was to control Ukraine, Cohen said. He added: We should not underestimate his risk appetite. […]

On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for preventing the war in Ukraine from spilling into a wider conflict. But many lawmakers said the Biden administration was being overly cautious in denying Ukraine additional advanced weaponry. Ukraine has called for much greater Western assistance, like fighter jets, tanks, and long-range missiles. Although Mr Zelensky has asked for ATACMS, the Pentagon has instead provided thousands of satellite-guided rockets and 16 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers, or HIMARS, to fire them. Those rockets have struck more than 400 Russian ammunition depots, command posts and radars. […]

Critics say the military aid that the West has provided until now has been enough for Ukraine to stay in the fight but not to win. […] Some American officials express concern that the most dangerous moments are yet to come, even as Putin has avoided escalating the war in ways that have, at times, baffled Western officials.

He has made only limited attempts to destroy critical infrastructure or to target Ukrainian government buildings. He has not attacked the supply hubs outside Ukraine. While he has directed low-level cyberattacks against Ukrainian targets every week, they have been relatively unsophisticated, especially when compared to capabilities that Russia has shown it has, including in the SolarWinds attack on American government and commercial systems […].

Some officials have expressed concern Putin could detonate a tactical nuclear weapon — perhaps in a demonstration blast over the Black Sea or the Arctic Ocean, or in Ukrainian territory. But there is no evidence that he is moving those weapons, officials say or preparing such a strike. One senior intelligence official said there was a debate underway inside American intelligence agencies over whether Putin believes such a step would risk Russia’s alienation from the countries it needs most — especially China — or whether he is holding the option in reserve. […]

But as he made clear on Friday, he is content no more. American officials say Moscow is even more ready to blame the United States for its troubles than it was earlier in the war. The disclosures that the US intelligence is helping the Ukrainian side has shifted the Russian narrative even more to the message: We are fighting NATO now, said Larissa Doroshenko, a researcher at Northeastern University.

There also are signs that Putin could be worried about his own political standing. Public criticism in Russia is on the rise in the aftermath of the counteroffensive. Commentators have, mostly, avoided any direct critique of Mr Putin. But some academic experts see harsh assessments of the Russian military command as an implicit criticism of Putin. The troubles facing Putin — from mounting criticism to the Ukrainian military strength — mean that his escalation calculus could change. […]

The recent rhetoric out of Russia may well be designed to make the United States think twice about the ATACMS. The missiles would allow Ukraine to strike deeper into Russia or Crimea. Zelensky has vowed to take back the peninsula and has carried out stunning attacks against Russian targets there in recent weeks. […]”

Hans Petter Midttun: According to The New York Times, Presiden Biden is not sending more powerful weapons “in part because he is convinced that over the past seven months, he has successfully signalled to Putin that he does not want a broader war with the Russians — he just wants them to get out of Ukraine. […]. We’re trying to avoid World War III.”

The statements in the article help bring clarity to the US strategy.

Let me, however, start by shooting down the strategic message about the “broader war”. The message has been adapted by both NATO as well as its member states and has become a mantra that if repeated often enough, becomes an established “truth”. The narrative, however, runs contrary to the realities on the ground.

On 14 September, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, stated that “This is not only a war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine. This is a war on our energy, a war on our economy, a war on our values and a war on our future. This is about autocracy against democracy.”

Russia has already defined NATO as a threat and a party to the conflict. It has publically declared that the West is waging an information wareconomic war, acts of aggression, war with Russia through a proxy and a total war. It sees our defence aid to Ukraine as proof of our participation. In December 2021 it even handed over a set of ultimatums to the USA and the Alliance after having waged a Hybrid War against the West for years.

NATO, therefore, is already involved in a broader conflict with Russia. The constant denial of the fact only serves to undermine the credibility of the Alliance and the need to build Western resilience. The choice of strategic message, however, signifies a more fundamental challenge within NATO as the consequences of decades of underfunding of defence budgets are slowly dawning on the countries.

As to the strategy, the US might be aiming for a stalemate or a frozen conflict.

If they are truly concerned about the consequences of a Russian defeat, the timing of it has no significance. President Putin cannot afford to be defeated in Ukraine. Period. Whether this happens quickly or slowly has little impact on Russian considerations.

To turn the problem on its head, the Russian strategy was always long-term. The attempted “Blitzkrieg” in February was the exemption, not the rule. The strategy has long reverted to its original long-term effort believing that Russia can outlast the Western short-term attention span, its perceived lack of resilience as winter is approaching and frustration spreads among European and US voters

The moment Russia realises it is being defeated by the joint and collective efforts of Ukraine and its western partners, its response, however, will be the same.

Some officials have expressed concern Putin could detonate a tactical nuclear weapon — perhaps in a demonstration blast over the Black Sea or the Arctic Ocean, or in Ukrainian territory. But there is no evidence that he is moving those weapons, officials say, or preparing such a strike. One senior intelligence official said there was a debate underway inside American intelligence agencies over whether Putin believes such a step would risk Russia’s alienation from the countries it needs most — especially China — or whether he is holding the option in reserve.

If the US truly believes Russia will risk a nuclear war over a defeat in Ukraine, the only way to reduce the risk is to avoid a Russian defeat. At the same time, the US cannot accept a Ukrainian defeat because of the catastrophic consequences this would have for both European security as well as NATO credibility. The only alternative left to them is a stalemate in which Putin can claim a “victory”. The “liberation” of Donbas might be turned into a strategic victory, supported by the false claim that “Russia has decimated the Ukrainian Armed Forces, reducing the threat to Russia.” A country that has started a war on lies will be able to turn lies into a victory.

That said, I do not share the US concern over the risk of a nuclear war for the following reasons:

  1. A Russian defeat in Ukraine does not trigger a response according to the State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence.
  2. Nations do not wage war for war’s sake but in pursuance of policy in which a better state of peace is the main objective. Hence, it is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace one desire. A nuclear attack is in direct conflict with its long-term strategy. Russia needs Ukraine to become a “Great Power”. It is facing vast demographic challenges. It needs Ukraine’s defence industry. It needs a self-sustained Ukraine. It needs a well-functioning agricultural industry. It needs access to its huge mineral resources. It needs to secure a well-functioning country. The use of nuclear arms would, therefore, be extremely counterproductive.
  3. The main battlespace of the nearly 9-year-long Russian Hybrid War occurs inside the cognitive spaces of populations and key decision- and policymakers. Using war, disinformation, cyber-attacks, blackmail, provocations, fabrications, military deceptions, and other active measures, it creates a virtual reality that prompts the West into making the political decisions Russia wants without suspecting (or acknowledging) they are being manipulated. Its nuclear blackmail is a part of this strategy. Russia has for more than 8,5 years done its best to avoid dragging the West into the war as an active participant. Its nuclear “fait accompli” strategy has proven extremely efficient in this regard.
  4. Russia is by default exposed to the same “blackmail” as the West. Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual destruction is a two-sided strategy. Putin does not know how the West will respond if it chose to use nuclear arms in Ukraine.
  5. Equally important, Russia needs Western trade. A conventional victory in Ukraine would over time possibly be accepted as a “fait accompli” by the West. A nuclear attack would render this option impossible.

As my Ukrainian friends and colleagues would say: The Russians are highly immoral, but they are not stupid.

If my assessment of the US strategy is correct the last seven months have demonstrated that it is by no means sustainable. Ukraine is not about to give up its fight for its independence and sovereignty. Additionally, as previously argued, the NATO members do not have the sustainability and resilience needed to support a long-term effort.

More importantly, the strategy does not account for the very real and imminent risks connected to ongoing warfighting around some of Ukraine’s 15 Nuclear Power Plants. That’s a real risk that can only be solved through a Russian defeat. As Russia is still facing Western indecision and unwillingness to intervene militarily, the risk of a “civilian” nuclear disaster is increasing.

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