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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 545: Ukraine continues to advance in Zaporizhzhia Oblast

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 545: Ukraine continues to advance in Zaporizhzhia Oblast

Ukraine continues to advance in Zaporizhzhia Oblast – Defense Ministry. Moscow to relocate 300,000 Russians to occupied Mariupol. First water pipeline segment is operational following Kakhovska HPP attack. 

Daily overview — Summary report, August 22 2023

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 15.08.2023, supplemented by its [18:00 assessment].

Situation in Ukraine. August 21, 2023. Source ISW.
Day 545 of the russian full-scale military aggression against Ukraine has begun.
During the day of August 21, the enemy launched 2x missile and 43x air strikes, 45x MLRS attacks at the positions of Ukrainian troops and various settlements. Unfortunately, the russian terrorist attacks have killed and wounded civilians. Residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure were damaged.
The likelihood of missile and air strikes across Ukraine remains high.
During the day of August 15, there were around 30x combat engagements.
Volyn and Polissya axes: no significant changes.
Luhansk Battle Map. August 21, 2023. Source ISW.
Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary fired mortars and artillery at over than 20x settlements, including Klyusy, Bleshnya, Karpovychi (Chernihiv oblast), Sydorivka, Volfyne, Krasnopillya, Hrabovs’ke, Popivka (Sumy oblast), Chervona Zorya, Veterynarne, Kozacha Lopan’, and Strilecha (Kharkiv oblast).
Kup’yans’k axis: the adversary fired artillery and mortars at the settlements of Dvorichna, Syn’kivka, Kyslivka, and Berestove (Kharkiv oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. August 21, 2023. Source ISW.
Lyman axis: the enemy launched air strikes in the vicinities of Tverdokhlibove (former Sverdlovka), Tors’ke, Bilohorivka, and Serebryans’ke forestry (Luhansk oblast). About 15x settlements, including Karmazynivka, Nevs’ke, Kreminna, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Rozdolivka, and Spirne (Donetsk oblast), were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. August 21, 2023. Source: ISW.
Bakhmut axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives in the vicinity of Klishchiivka (Donetsk oblast). The invaders launched air strikes in the vicinities of Vesele, Pryvillya, and Kurdyumivka (Donetsk oblast). More than 20x settlements, including Pryvillya, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Markove, Bohdanivka, Chasiv Yar, Klishchiivka (Donetsk oblast), suffered from enemy artillery shelling.
Avdiivka axis: under heavy fire from enemy aircraft and artillery, the Ukrainian defenders continue to hold back russian troops’ advance in the vicinity of Avdiivka (Donetsk oblast). The settlements of Oleksandropil’, Stepove, Avdiivka, Sjeverne, Pervomais’ke, and Nevel’s’ke (Donetsk oblast) came under artillery fire.
Mar’inka axis: the Ukrainian Defense Forces continue to hold back the russian offensive in the vicinity of Mar’inka and Novomykhailivka (Donetsk oblast). The enemy launched air strikes in the vicinities of Mar’inka and Novomykhailivka. The invaders fired artillery at the settlements of Zhelanne Druhe, Krasnohorivka, Mar’inka, Pobjeda, Yelyzavetivka, and Novomykhailivka (Donetsk oblast).
Shakhtars’ke axis: the enemy launched an air strike in the vicinity of Staromaiors’ke (Donetsk oblast). Vuhledar, Prechystivka, Novoukrainka, Velyka Novosilka, Blahodatne, and Urozhaine (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. August 21, 2023. Source ISW.
Zaporizhzhia axis: the adversary launched air strikes in the vicinities of Mala Tokmachka and Robotyne (Zaporizhzhia oblast). More than 30x settlements suffered from enemy artillery shelling, including Huliaipilske, Charivne, Yehorivka, Stepove, Lobkove, and P’yatykhatky (Zaporizhzhia oblast).
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. August 21, 2023. Source ISW.
Kherson axis: the adversary launched air strikes in the vicinities of Tomaryne, Dachi, and Zymivnyk (Kherson oblast). More than 25x settlements suffered from enemy artillery shelling, including Novovorontsovka, Zolota Balka, Mykil’s’ke, Kherson, Kizomys, Sofiivka (Kherson oblast), Ochakiv, and Solonchaky (Mykolaiv oblast).
At the same time, the Ukrainian Defense Forces continue to conduct the offensive operation on Melitopol’ axis, consolidating their positions and conducting counter-battery fire.
During the day of August 21, the Ukrainian Air Force launched 6x air strikes on the concentrations of the adversary troops.
During the day of August 21, the Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 4x command posts, 1x concentration of troops, weapons, and military equipment, and 3x artillery systems of the adversary at their firing positions.

Military Updates

West’s fear feeds Putin’s ambition: not arming Ukraine counteroffensive risks wider war. Recent Western news headlines paint a pessimistic picture of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. They question Ukraine’s ability to liberate its territories from Russian occupation. Most of these headlines, and the stories published below them, fail to point out several factors contributing to the current reality. Western allies have failed to supply Ukraine with the weapons systems it needs to achieve battlefield breakthroughs. Those disappointed with the pace of the counteroffensive are victims of quixotic expectations. People have imposed artificial timelines without any knowledge of what Ukraine’s armed forces confront.

Air superiority is key to success on the ground – Ukraine Air Forces spox. Western fighter jets like the F-16 can reshape the dynamics on the battlefield, as aerial cover is paramount for ground operations, according to Ukraine’s Air Force Command. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command, discussed the matter in an interview on Ukrainian telemarathon on August 21, writes Ukrainska Pravda.

UK intel: Russian troops reinforce southern front, creating new military formation. Russia likely will create a new formation, the 18th Combined Arms Army, aimed to expand its military structures in the face of wartime realities, British intelligence reported. “The formation is likely to be an amalgamation and uplift of other units currently operating in Kherson Oblast, including the 22nd Army Corps, the force which usually constitutes Russia’s garrison in occupied Crimea,” UK intel said in its daily report.

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

British Intelligence Map.
  • On 19 August 2023, a Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE medium bomber of Russia’s Long Range Aviation (LRA) was highly likely destroyed at Soltsky-2 Airbase in Novgorod Oblast, 650 km away from Ukraine’s border. The Russian Defence Ministry said that a copter-style uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) was responsible for the attack.
  • If true, this adds weight to the assessment that some UAV attacks against Russian military targets are being launched from inside Russian territory. Copter UAVs are unlikely to have the range to reach Soltsky-2 from outside Russia.
  • Russia has frequently used BACKFIRE bombers to launch the notoriously inaccurate AS-4 KITCHEN heavy anti-ship missiles against Ukraine. Early in the war, they also carried out the intense bombardment of Mariupol using unguided bombs.

Losses of the Russian army

Losses of the Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press.

Humanitarian

Moscow to relocate 300,000 Russians to occupied Mariupol – Ukraine’s National Resistance Center. Russia has prepared a “development plan” for the temporarily occupied Mariupol, which aims to increase its population by about 300,000 people through migration from Russia, Ukraine’s National Resistance Center reported citing sources in local underground. According to documents obtained by the underground, Moscow intends to complete the transfer by 2035. To encourage Russians to move to the occupied territories of Ukraine, Moscow has introduced a program of preferential mortgages.

Environmental

First water pipeline segment operational following Kakhovska HPP attack. On Monday, the first segment of the main water pipeline, connecting “Inhulets – Kriazheve” was launched, providing water to a quarter of Kryvyi Rih’s population following Russia’s terrorist attack on the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant. This announcement was made by the Ministry of Infrastructure’s press service. The construction of this pipeline was initiated on the third day following Russia’s attack on the Kakhovska Hydroelectric Power Plant, in line with President Zelenskyy’s directive.

Support

Sweden: no plans to send Gripen fighters to Ukraine. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has declared that his country requires the Gripen fighters for its own defense and has indicated that there are no current plans to transfer them to Ukraine. According to a report by “European Truth” citing TV4, Kristersson emphasized, “Sweden is a geographically large country, and we must defend ourselves, especially considering our non-membership in NATO.”

Kosovo joins G7 security arrangements for Ukraine. Kosovo decided to join the G7 declaration on security guarantees for Ukraine announced at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti wrote on his Twitter. Kurti shared the document and noted that “ensuring victory for Ukraine – and holding Russia’s leaders accountable for their crimes – is essential to the preservation of peace and democracy.”

New Developments

42 countries and EU join formation of International registry of damages caused by Russian aggression against Ukraine. 42 countries and the European Union have joined forces to establish an international registry cataloging damages inflicted by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as announced by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. During the international conference titled “Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine: Justice Must Prevail” held in Kyiv, Prime Minister Shmyhal emphasized Ukraine’s commitment to seeking compensation for the losses incurred due to the war with Russia.

Zelenskyy visits Greece, meets with Greek PM, Serbian President. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met at the Maximos Mansion in Greece on 21 August, Protothema reports. “Greece stands by Ukraine,” emphasized Kyriakos Mitsotakis. President Zelenskyy will also meet with Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the President of Greece. Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Volodymyr Zelenskyy will have a one-on-one meeting followed by extended discussions with delegations. This visit marks Zelenskyy’s first official visit to Greece, and it is particularly significant following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Drone crashes onto Russian airfield, at least one aircraft damaged. On the morning of August 21, a drone kamikaze crashed onto the grounds of Shaykovka Airfield, situated in the Kirovsky District of Russia’s Kaluga Region. Initial reports suggest that the impact caused damage to an aircraft stationed at the airfield. According to available information, an unidentified drone fell onto the premises of an airfield in the Kaluga Region’s Kirovsky District. While the exact airfield name is undisclosed, only “Shaykovka” is situated in that area.

Assessment

  1. On the War

The Institute of Study of War has made the following assessment as of 11 August:

Ukrainian forces made tactically significant gains in and east of Robotyne in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on August 20-21 while continuing counteroffensive operations on the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia Oblast administrative border and in eastern Ukraine. Geolocated footage published on August 20 and August 21 indicates that Ukrainian forces reached the central part of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and broke through some Russian defenses south of Mala Tokmachka (9km southeast of Orikhiv).[1] Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Ukrainian forces succeeded in the direction southeast of Robotyne and south of Mala Tokmachka, and that Russian forces unsuccessfully counterattacked east of Robotyne.[2] Maliar and Russian sources stated that fighting is ongoing in Robotyne.[3] A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces captured some positions in a part of the Russian forward defensive lines after intensifying attacks on the Robotyne-Verbove (21km southeast of Orikhiv) line.[4] Some Russian sources reported that Russian forces retreated from some positions near Verbove as part of their elastic defense, likely in response to a Ukrainian advance south of Mala Tokmachka.[5] ISW previously assessed that Ukrainian attacks on Robotyne are tactically significant because a Ukrainian advance in the area may allow Ukrainian forces to begin operating past the densest Russian minefields.[6] Ukrainian advances across fields in this area likely confirm this assessment. Persistent Ukrainian advances in the Robotyne area also likely aim to degrade Russian forces that have committed significant effort, resources, and personnel to hold positions around Robotyne.

Ukrainian forces also reportedly advanced in the Bakhmut and Kreminna directions over the past week and continue counteroffensive operations south and southeast of Velyka Novosilka in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhzhia oblasts.[7] Maliar stated that Ukrainian forces recaptured three square kilometers around Bakhmut over the past week and 43 square kilometers in total since Wagner Group forces captured Bakhmut in May 2023.[8] Ukrainian Sievierodonetsk City Administration Head Andriy Vlasenko reported that Ukrainian forces achieved some unspecified successes south of Kreminna while conducting active mobile defenses in the area.[9]

Russian milbloggers continue to indicate that Russian forces lack equipment and suffer from low morale along the entire frontline. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces – especially the 20th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) and 2nd Combined Arms Army (Central Military District), both operating in eastern Ukraine – lack light transportation vehicles, which inhibits them from using equipment and operating effectively and reduces their morale.[10] The milblogger claimed that Russian personnel must register their privately-owned vehicles with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), after which their vehicles disappear or get transferred elsewhere.[11] The milblogger claimed that Russian commanders regularly punish servicemen who keep their vehicles for minor administrative violations and that Russian personnel feel that they are “at war” with their commanders.[12] A Russian milblogger claimed on August 21 that Russian authorities have not provided Russian forces operating in the Kherson direction with boats and have ignored milbloggers’ ongoing appeals since July 2.[13] “Vostok” Battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky claimed that Russian forces continue to face problems with counterbattery operations after Russian forces began experiencing artillery systems shortages and claimed that Russian forces began to receive “outdated” D-20 towed gun-howitzers.[14] Khodakovsky claimed that the “outdated” D-20 howitzers are not suitable for counterbattery combat, possibly referring to barrel wear from constant use that makes tube artillery less accurate over time.[15] Multiple milbloggers have claimed that Russian forces lack adequate counterbattery capabilities, especially since Commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army Major General Ivan Popov’s dismissal in early July.[16] Another Russian milblogger, however, claimed that Russian forces are improving artillery tactics and that artillery units have become far more accurate than they were a year ago.[17] The milblogger may be suggesting that mobilized personnel who did not have prior military experience have learned to accurately strike targets. Ongoing complaints from Russian personnel suggest that the Russian MoD is unwilling or unable to address persistent equipment shortages and problems with low morale. Russian forces may be improving tactics and learning from previous mistakes as the war continues, however. The protraction of the conflict resulting in part from delays in the provision of Western aid to Ukraine gives Russian forces time to improve and to learn from their mistakes.

The Russian MoD is creating new military formations possibly to allow more combat effective units currently defending in Kherson Oblast to redeploy to more critical sectors of the front. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported on August 21 that the Russian military is highly likely forming the new 18th Combined Arms Army (CAA) from other units currently operating in Kherson Oblast, including the 22nd Army Corps.[18] The UK MoD reported that the new army will consist mostly of mobilized personnel and will focus on defensive operations in southern Ukraine.[19] Russian authorities in Dalnegorsk, Primorsky Krai stated on June 5 that the newly created 25th CAA (Southern Military District), for which the Russian MoD has been recruiting volunteers from the Russian Far East since mid-May, will deploy to Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts in December 2023.[20] The Russian MoD previously formed the 3rd Army Corps (Western Military District) in the summer of 2022 from mostly volunteer battalions which were then largely destroyed in Kharkiv Oblast and Bakhmut.[21] The formation and reported future deployment of the new 18th and 25th CAAs to southern Ukraine are likely meant to allow more effective standing formations such as the 49th CAA (Southern Military District) currently operating in Kherson Oblast to redeploy to more critical sectors of the front possibly to reinforce combat-weary Russian forces degraded defensive lines.[22]

Russian insider sources indicated that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov may have decisively won Russian President Vladimir’s Putin favor following the June 24 Wagner Group rebellion. A Russian insider source claimed that Putin postponed a meeting with Alexey Dyumin, former Putin bodyguard and current Tula Oblast governor, and forced Dyumin to publicly escort Shoigu at the recent Army-2023 Forum in Moscow.[23] The insider source claimed that the Kremlin wants to portray Shoigu and Dyumin as having positive relations and to gauge public reactions.[24] The Kremlin, however, likely aimed to publicly subordinate Dyumin to Shoigu. Dyumin and Shoigu have notably had a tense relationship, and Russian milbloggers recently floated Dyumin as a replacement for Shoigu immediately after the Wagner Group’s rebellion on June 24.[25] A Wagner-affiliated source claimed that the Russian General Staff now has “carte blanche” and has purged all proteges of Army General Sergey Surovikin, a former deputy theater commander and Wagner affiliate who was reportedly ousted and placed under house arrest.[26] The source also claimed that unspecified aspects of the Putin-Wagner deal collapsed for unknown reasons, which could indicate increased Putin favor for Shoigu and Gerasimov if true. Putin also recently publicly met with Gerasimov in Rostov-on-Don for the first time since the Wagner rebellion, which further indicates that Putin has fully aligned himself with Shoigu and Gerasimov despite their military failure and inability to stop the rebellion.[27]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be attempting to re-establish Wagner in Africa, and some Russian sources are portraying this reported effort as necessary for Wagner’s survival. A Wagner-affiliated source claimed that Wagner representatives and possibly Prigozhin himself arrived in Mali on August 19 possibly to discuss the regional security situation or cooperation with Niger.[28] Another prominent Wagner-affiliated source published footage of Prigozhin on August 21 in which Prigozhin claims to be in Africa and claims that Wagner is increasing its presence in Africa.[29] A Russian insider source claimed that Prigozhin began a media campaign to portray Nigeriens as begging for Wagner’s intervention in order to help Wagner secure a contract with Niger and thereby save Wagner.[30] The source claimed that Wagner has struggled with significant personnel and financial issues from funding cuts following the June 24 rebellion and the recent claimed (but unconfirmed) withdrawal from Belarus.[31] Wagner likely has thousands of personnel to dedicate to operations in Africa if Wagner is able to both secure a contract and deploy personnel from Russia and Belarus, actions that Prigozhin may see as Wagner’s final option to maintain its independence from the Russian MoD.

Some Russian sources are likely running an information operation to exaggerate the degree to which Wagner is struggling to survive, possibly in support of the Russian MoD effort to destroy Prigozhin’s reputation and the whole Wagner Group. Russian insider sources are increasingly portraying Shoigu and Gerasimov as having Putin’s full support and ousting insubordinate commanders while painting Wagner as a private military company increasingly struggling to survive.[32] ISW has observed indicators that the Wagner Group is struggling to maintain coherence, including recent reports of conflict within the Wagner high-level representatives.[33] These Russian sources may be exaggerating the degree to which Wagner is struggling, however, especially if reports of Prigozhin’s travel to Africa are accurate and his reported efforts to secure contracts for Wagner are successful. Shoigu likely seeks to deal a final blow to Wagner but may struggle to make that blow decisive. A Russian milblogger noted that the Russian MoD may struggle to replace Wagner in Africa as Russian forces need time to train before deploying, have not established the connections with locals that Wagner has, and may destabilize conflicts rather than quell them.[34] If Wagner is able to secure contracts in Africa and deploy its personnel before the Russian MoD can deploy personnel, then Prigozhin and Wagner may retain at least some ability to operate independently in Africa contrary to the MoD’s efforts to eliminate Wagner.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces made tactically significant gains in and east of Robotyne in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on August 20-21 while continuing counteroffensive operations on the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia Oblast administrative border and in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russian milbloggers continue to indicate that Russian forces lack equipment and suffer from low morale along the entire frontline.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is creating new military formations possibly to allow more combat effective units currently defending in Kherson Oblast to redeploy to more critical sectors of the front.
  • Russian insider sources indicated that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov may have decisively won Russian President Vladimir’s Putin favor following the June 24 Wagner Group rebellion.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may be attempting to re-establish Wagner in Africa, and some Russian sources are portraying this reported effort as necessary for Wagner’s survival.
  • Some Russian sources are likely running an information operation to exaggerate the degree to which Wagner is struggling to survive, possibly in support of the Russian MoD effort to destroy Prigozhin’s reputation and the whole Wagner Group.
  • Russian sources made and walked back claims about significant Russian advances in the Kupiansk direction amid continued offensive actions on August 21.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line and advanced near Bakhmut.
  • The Russian government continues to introduce mandatory nationalistic and militaristic courses into high school curriculum to promote military service among Russian youth.
  • Belarusian authorities reportedly exposed forcibly deported Ukrainian children to pro-Kremlin propaganda in Belarus.
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