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Russo-Ukrainian war, day 558: Ukraine chips away at Russia’s southern wall

Ukraine is poised to quicken the pace of its advance in the south after conclusively penetrating Russia’s first main line of defense, which the Kremlin had devoted most of its engineering efforts towards fortifying. Russian forces are now reduced to defensive “patches” amid dwindling reserves, but progress remains grueling for Ukrainian troops facing dense minefields.
Russo-Ukrainian war, day 558: Ukraine chips away at Russia’s southern wall

Situation

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 04.09.2023, supplemented by its [18:00 assessment].

“Last night, the Russian Federation conducted another airstrike on Ukraine using Iranian Shahed-136/131 combat UAVs. Information on the aftermath of this terrorist attack is currently being updated.

On September 3, the enemy launched 1 missile, 78 airstrikes, and 47 brMLRS 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 missiles and airstrikes across Ukraine remains high.

On September 3, there were 30 combat engagements.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: no significant changes.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Strilecha (Kharkiv oblast). The invaders fired mortars and artillery at more than 15 settlements, including Hrem’yach, Bleshnya (Chernihiv oblast), Vorozhba, Mezenivka, Kindrativka, Ulanove (Sumy oblast), Udy, Vovchans’k, Vil’khuvatka, Hatyshche, Budarky, and Neskuchne (Kharkiv oblast).
  • Kupiansk axis: Topoli, Dvorichans’ke, Berestove, Kolodyazne, and Kyslivka (Kharkiv oblast) came under enemy fire.
  • Lyman axis: the adversary launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Cherneshchyna (Kharkiv oblast), Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Spirne and Vesele (Donetsk oblast). More than 10 settlements, including Nevske, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Tors’ke, Verkhn’okam’yans’ke, Spirne, and Rozdolivka (Donetsk oblast), were shelled with artillery.
  • Bakhmut axis: the enemy launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Bohdanivka Klishchiivka, Bila Hora, Ozarianivka, Kurdyumivka, and Pivnichne (Donetsk oblast). More than 15 settlements, including Tykhonivka, Bohdanivka, Chasiv Yar, Ivanivske, Pivnichne, Zalizne, and New York (Donetsk oblast), suffered artillery shelling.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives in the vicinity of Avdiivka (Donetsk oblast). It continues to fire artillery and mortar shells at localities, including Nevel’s’ke, Karlivka, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Pervomais’ke, Sjeverne, Novokalynove (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: the Ukrainian Defence Forces continue to hold back the Russian offensive in the vicinity of Marinka (Donetsk oblast). The invaders fired artillery at the settlements of Krasnohorivka, Marinka, Heorhiivka, Pobjeda, Novomykhailivka, and Katerynivka (Donetsk oblast).
  • Shakhtarske axis: the adversary fired artillery at more than 10 settlements, including Vuhledar, Vodyane, Prechystivka, Zolota Nyva, Blahodatne, and Urozhaine (Donetsk oblast).
  • Zaporizhzhia axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the vicinity of Pryyutne (Zaporizhzhia oblast). The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, and Robotyne (Zaporizhzhia oblast). The adversary fired artillery at more than 15 settlements, including Levadne, Malynivka, Chervone, Charivne, P’yatykhatky, Huliaipilske, Orikhiv, and Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast).
  • Kherson axis: the enemy launched airstrikes in the vicinities Antonivka Mykolaivka and Ol’hivka (Kherson oblast). Mykil’s’ke, Dmytrivka, Mykolaivka, Bilozerka (Kherson oblast), and the city of Kherson came under artillery and mortar fire.

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.

On September 3, the Ukrainian Air Force launched 9x airstrikes on the concentrations of troops, weapons, and military equipment, as well as 5 airstrikes on the anti-aircraft missile systems of the adversary.

On September 3, the Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 10 artillery systems at their firing position and 1 anti-aircraft missile system of the adversary.“

Ukrainian Air Force shot down 23 of 32 Shahed UAVs launched upon Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainian Air Force. “23 kamikaze drones were destroyed in the south and east. A total of 32 Shaheds were launched, attacking Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. The Ukrainian Air Force specified that on the night of 3-4 September, the Russians bombarded Ukraine with Shahed-136/131 loitering munitions from the southern and southeastern directions (Cape Chauda, Russian-occupied Crimea and Russia’s town of Primorsko-Akhtarsk).

The report says fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile forces and units of mobile fire groups of the Ukrainian Defence Forces were engaged to destroy the Russian UAVs. Earlier, the Russians reportedly fired Shahed kamikaze drones on Odesa Oblast overnight, 17 of which were shot down by Ukrainian air defence forces, but there were some hits.

The Russian forces also attacked Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv oblasts with drones. The Ukrainian Air Forces shot down seven Russian UAVs, but some hits occurred in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.”

Defenders kill 76 and wound 170 Russians on Tavriia front – Commander in Tavriia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Tavriia Operational and Strategic Group of troops. “In total, over the past day, the enemy attacked our positions 16 times and carried out 688 attacks and 19 airstrikes.

Artillery units from the Tavriia Defence Forces completed 1,328 fire tasks during the day. Over the past day, Russian losses amounted to 249 people (76 killed, 170 wounded, and 3 captured). Tarnavskyi said that 20 units of Russian military equipment were also destroyed. Specifically, 1 tank, 2 armoured personnel carriers, 5 artillery systems and mortars, 1 anti-tank guided missile, 1 UAV, 10 vehicles and 1 special vehicle were destroyed. The Defence Forces also wiped out 2 Russian ammunition depots.”

In Lyman-Kupiansk direction, enemy is trying to occupy advantageous heights, heavy battles are ongoing, Censor.net reports, citing Ukrinform quoting the press service of the Eastern group of troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Captain Ilya Yevlash. “Over the past day, there have been five combat clashes, unsuccessful for the occupier. The enemy is still focusing his main attention in the direction of Novoiehorivka: wants to break through a kind of corridor right there since the main commanding heights are concentrated near Novoiehorivka. In the future, he will try to wedge into our defense in order to break through the land corridor and reach the Oskil River. However, thanks to the competent planning of the command and the heroic actions of our servicemen, infantry soldiers, tankers, and all other defense forces, they managed to restrain the enemy’s furious onslaught, Yevlash said.

According to his information, on September 2, 126 invaders, one field warehouse with ammunition, one car, and seven UAVs (six of them – “Lancets”) were destroyed in the Lyman-Kupiansk direction.

Over the past 24 hours, the enemy has carried out 570 attacks on the positions of Ukrainian defenders, using rocket and barrel artillery, as well as aviation – Ka-52s, which enter in pairs, and Su-25 attack aircraft, which deliver missile strikes. Yevlash noted that there are about 110,000 Russian troops in the area. We are recording constant movements; they are raising reserves. However, the enemy feels a lack of equipment: the new units that are approaching are poorly staffed. However, they continue to storm, he added. “

Drone attack reported in Kursk Oblast: fire breaks out, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Roman Starovoyt, governor of Kursk Oblast, Russia, has reported a fire in a “non-residential building” as a result of an attack by Ukrainian drones on the city of Kurchatov.

As a result of a Ukrainian drone attack, a non-residential building caught fire in the city of Kurchatov. Firefighters extinguished it. There were no casualties, and law enforcement agencies are working at the scene. […] In addition, Starovoyt wrote that two Ukrainian UAVs were shot down in the border areas of the region: near the village of Kozino, Rylsky district, and near the village of Gornal, Sudzhansky district.”

Warehouse ablaze in Moscow Oblast, 1,200 square metres on fire, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Moscow Oblast Prosecutor’s Office. “A paint and varnish warehouse in the city of Vidnoye, Moscow Oblast, has caught fire, covering 1,200 square metres. A fire broke out at around 23:30 [3 September – ed.] in a warehouse for storing paint and varnish products. Preliminary reports indicate that the fire covered 1,200 square metres. There are no casualties reported.”

On the night of September 3, 2023, the Russian occupiers launched several waves of attacks by “Shahed-136/131” UAVs from the south and southeast (Cape Chauda, Crimea and Primorsko-Akhtarsk), the Ukrainian General Staff reports. “A total of 25 “Shahed-136/131” attack UAVs were launched that attacked the southern regions of Odesa.

22 of them were destroyed by the forces and means of the Air Force in cooperation with the air defence of other components of the Défense Forces of Ukraine.”

Oil depot on fire in Russian St Petersburg, Ukrainska Pravda reports. On Sunday, 3 September, a big fire broke out at an oil depot in Krasnogvardeysky District, St Petersburg, Russia. Local residents reported that they heard sounds of explosions at the Ruchii (Streamlets) oil depot, located near the railway station. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations claimed that a fuel tank was the source of the fire.

A smoke column is visible above the city. Eyewitnesses reported that gas cylinders and fuel were allegedly stored at the place of the fire. There is no information about casualties.”

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

  • On 31 August 2023, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), alongside international partners, published a report on a malware campaign targeting Android mobile devices used by the Ukrainian military.
  • The malware, referred to as ‘Infamous Chisel’, has been used by the Russian cyber threat group known as Sandworm. NCSC has previously attributed Sandworm to the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate’s (GRU) Main Centre for Special Technologies (GTsST).
  • Infamous Chisel enables persistent access to, and the collation and exfiltration of data from, compromised Android devices. This includes targeting applications used by the Ukrainian military.
  • Infamous Chisel has highly likely been used with the aim of stealing sensitive military information. This activity demonstrates Russia’s continued use of cyber capabilities to support the invasion of Ukraine.
  • As of late June 2023, Russia has been appealing to citizens of neighbouring countries with recruitment adverts for individuals to fight in Ukraine. Online adverts have been observed in Armenia and Kazakhstan offering 495,000 roubles ($5,140 USD) in initial payments and salaries from 190,000 roubles ($1,973 USD). There have been recruitment efforts in Kazakhstan’s northern Qostanai region, appealing to the ethnic Russian population.
  • Since at least May 2023, Russia has approached central Asian migrants to fight in Ukraine with promises of fast-track citizenship and salaries of up to $4,160 USD. Uzbek migrant builders in Mariupol have reportedly had their passports confiscated upon arrival and been coerced to join the Russian military. There are at least six million migrants from Central Asia in Russia, which the Kremlin likely sees as potential recruits.
  • Russia likely wishes to avoid further unpopular domestic mobilisation measures in the run up to the 2024 Presidential elections. Exploiting foreign nationals allows the Kremlin to acquire additional personnel for its war effort in the face of mounting casualties.

As of Monday 4 September, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the invasion to the present day:

  • Personnel – about 265120 (+460)
  • Tanks – 4480 (+4)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 8663 (+14)
  • Artillery systems – 5611 (+29)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 741 (+2)
  • Air defence means – 503 (+1)
  • Aircraft – 315 (+0) 
  • Helicopters – 316 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 8149 (+47)
  • Vessels/boats – 19 (+1)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 4481 (+37)
  • Special equipment – 847 (+6)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 1447 (+0)

Russia signs 280,000 people for contract military service this year, Medvedev says, Reuters reports. “Some 280,000 people have signed up so far this year for professional service with Russia’s military, the deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said on Sunday.[…]

Last year Russia announced a plan to expand its combat personnel more than 30% to 1.5 million, an ambitious task made harder by its heavy but undisclosed casualties in Moscow’s war against Ukraine. Some Russian lawmakers suggested Russia needs a professional army 7-million strong to ensure the country’s security – a move that would require a huge budget allowance.

President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 reservists in September 2022, prompting hundreds of thousands of others to flee Russia to avoid being sent to fight. Putin has said there is no need for any further mobilisation.”

Russians want to increase and speed up mobilisation by “elections” in temporarily occupied territories, the Ukrainian Pravda reports, citing the National Resistance Center . “Russians want to increase and accelerate the pace of mobilisation with so-called “elections” announced in the occupied territories of Luhansk Oblast. The military commissariats established by the occupiers in the TOT of Luhansk region have been instructed to accelerate the registration of so-called “conscripts” and “persons liable for military service” among the residents of the occupied region.: The National Resistance Center notes that Russians probably intend to increase and accelerate the pace of mobilisation.

In particular, the National Resistance Center reports that there are plans to update the lists of people who may be subject to mobilisation during the pseudo-elections organised by the Kremlin. To this end, the occupation administrations have allowed the use of any identity document for registration at “polling stations”, including Ukrainian passports and driver’s licences, the National Resistance Center said in a statement.”

Humanitarian

Education ministry: 80% of Ukrainian schools provided with bomb shelters, Ukrinform reports, citing the Ukrainian Education and Science Deputy Minister Andrii Vitrenko. “About 13,000 schools are running in Ukraine now, and more than 80% of them have already been equipped with bomb shelters. According to Vitrenko, the Ukrainian government has allocated more than UAH 1.5 billion to create a safe educational environment.

However, there are 12 schools in Ukraine, where it is impossible to set up bomb shelters. Hence, four pilot projects are now underway to build the new-type bomb shelters. Such experience can be found all over Ukraine. For example, a similar bomb shelter was built in Borodianka, Vitrenko said. In his words, the new-type bomb shelters will be built in educational institutions with no structural, geological or location possibilities.

A reminder that this academic year more than 6,500 schools are expected to run across Ukraine as usual. About 4,000 schools will be conducting classes in mixed mode and 2,500 schools remotely.”

Russian drone attack hits Danube port infrastructure, Ukraine says, Reuters reports. “Russian drones hit Danube River port infrastructure that is critical to Ukraine’s grain exports, injuring at least two people in the attack on southern parts of the Odesa region on Sunday, Ukrainian officials said. The Danube has become Ukraine’s main route for exporting grain since July, when Russia quit a UN and Türkiye-brokered deal that had given safe passage to Kyiv’s exports of grains, oilseeds and vegetables oils via the Black Sea.

Sunday’s attack took place the day before Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan are due to hold talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Türkiye has been pressing to revive the grain deal.

Ukraine’s South Military Command said on social media that at least two civilians were injured in the early morning attack on what it called civil infrastructure of the Danube. The Ukrainian Air Force said air defence systems shot down 22 of the 25 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia.

Officials did not give details of which port facility was hit but some Ukrainian media reported blasts in the Reni port, which along with Izmail is one of Ukraine’s two major ports on the Danube. The military said a fire that resulted from the attack at the facility was quickly extinguished.”

UN suggests connecting Russian Agricultural Bank subsidiary to SWIFT and unlocking assets of Russian companies, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Turkish news agency Anadolu. “The UN, with the participation of Türkiye, has prepared new proposals for the restoration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, providing for the connection of the Russian Agricultural Bank subsidiary to SWIFT and the unblocking of the frozen assets of Russian companies producing fertilisers in Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow that the UN has prepared a new package of proposals involving Türkiye, and they believe that this may be a suitable basis for reviving the initiative. The news agency says the most important elements of the package are the connection of the European subsidiary of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the SWIFT system and the unblocking of frozen assets of Russian companies producing fertilisers in Europe. While Türkiye, coordinating its diplomatic efforts with the UN, continues to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative, other alternatives to this agreement pose security and cost concerns, the news agency says.

Anadolu recalls that among Russia’s demands for the restoration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative there are such points as the reconnection of Rosselkhozbank to the SWIFT system; the restoration of supplies of agricultural machinery and spare parts to Russia, and the lifting of restrictions on ship insurance and bans on access to ports. […] Reuters reported on 13 July that UN Secretary-General António Guterres offered Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative in exchange for reconnecting the subsidiary of Rosselkhozbank to SWIFT.”

Ukrainian tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky detained in fraud case, Reuters reports. “A Ukrainian court ordered tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky to be held in custody for two months on suspicion of fraud and money laundering on Saturday, a striking move against one of the country’s most powerful businessmen. The detention of Kolomoisky, who is under US sanctions and is a one-time supporter of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy whose election he backed in 2019, comes as Kyiv is trying to signal progress during a wartime crackdown on corruption.

Defence lawyers said Kolomoisky would appeal the ruling, questioning its legality, but that he would not post bail of almost $14 million in order to secure his release, broadcaster Radio Liberty reported. After a hearing at a district court in Kyiv late on Saturday, Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men, was shown being led away in a blue tracksuit jacket in television footage. He could not be reached for comment.

The Security Service of Ukraine announced the case against Kolomoisky on Saturday morning […]. It was established that during 2013-2020, Ihor Kolomoisky legalized more than half a billion hryvnias ($14 million) by withdrawing them abroad and using the infrastructure of banks under (his) control, the agency said in a statement. […]

Kolomoisky is seen as one of the class of oligarchs who amassed huge industrial wealth after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and wielded outsize political and economic influence. Before Russia’s February 2022 invasion, Zelenskyy and his team passed legislation requiring oligarchs to register and to stay out of politics. The war has eroded the oligarchs’ power as industrial assets have been destroyed in the east and south, and their television channels have been broadcasting under a centralised signal. […]

Earlier this year, security officials searched Kolomoisky’s home in connection with a separate investigation into embezzlement and tax evasion at the country’s two largest oil companies partially owned by him. Kolomoisky is a former owner of leading Ukrainian bank PrivatBank, which was nationalised in late 2016 as part of a clean-up of the banking system. He has owned assets in the energy, banking, and other sectors, including an influential television channel.

Support

Zelenskyy: France will train Ukrainian pilots, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Zelenskyy’s evening address. “Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, has reported that an agreement has been struck with France regarding the training of Ukrainian pilots. Today in a conversation with French President Macron, we discussed what new supplies can help our warriors. We discussed the protection of our Odesa region – what France can do to protect Odesa and the region. 

And there is a very important agreement on training our pilots in France – our coalition of modern fighters is getting more powerful.”

Ukraine received about $100B from partners since invasion started, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in an interview with Ukrinform. “Ukraine has received about USD 100 billion in aid from partners since Russia’s full-scale invasion started. […] In his words, this refers to ammunition and military equipment.

In value terms, I think we have received up to USD 100 billion worth of weapons and different military equipment units, ammunition, shells, and shots. More than USD 50 billion, or around USD 60 billion now, from the United States alone, Reznikov explained.

Meanwhile, according to Reznikov, the lion’s share of the budget of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, provided in the State Budget of Ukraine, is spent on the financial support for the military and compensation.”

Ukraine today has unmatched variety of air defence systems at service, Ukrinform reports, citing the spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, Yuriy Ihnat. “Today, we already have such a variety of air defence equipment, which can’t be found anywhere in the whole world. As our soldiers with the air defence units joke, it is a kind of vinaigrette… All these air defence systems work and yield results, complementing the Soviet-era equipment, Soviet systems that still operate quite effectively here. These are the S-300s, Buk-M1s, and S-125s, Ihnat said.

He noted that the ground air defence system could be supplemented by the F-16 fighter jets, which could actively destroy cruise missiles and drones launched by invaders. According to the spokesperson, increasing the number of anti-aircraft defence capabilities will allow Ukraine to better protect energy facilities from Russian attacks.”

Ukraine’s drone production to boom this autumn, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in an interview with Ukrinform. “Ukraine’s drone production will significantly increase as soon as this autumn. According to Reznikov, the process of facilitating the drone production procedure has been lasting for almost a year now. I believe this autumn there will be a boom in the production of various Ukrainian drones: flying, floating, crawling, etc., and then this will be developing in volumes already, Reznikov noted.

A reminder that, on July 21, 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine endorsed the resolution ‘On the Implementation of a Pilot Project on the Production, Procurement and Supply of Ammunition for Unmanned Systems and Combat Units of Unmanned Systems’.”

Ukraine’s Defence Minister expects Armed Forces to use F-16s in coming spring, Ukrainska Pravda eports, citing Ukrinform. “Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, believes that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will have F-16s for use at the front in the spring of 2024. […] Because today we have permission to train, there are countries that have volunteered to teach [the pilots – ed.], and there are even countries that have volunteered to transfer F-16s to us after completing training and infrastructure preparation. […]

According to Reznikov, the refusal of partners to provide F-16s has never been a political issue. He explains that the West has been afraid of escalation and is trying not to drag NATO into a war with Russia. The minister said that he had written more than one letter of commitment that Ukraine would not use NATO weapons in Russia.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Ukraine has made arrangements concerning the supply of about 50 F-16 fighter jets but overall needs nearly 160 such aircraft to protect its skies.”

Ukraine planning to implement 200 more NATO standards before year end, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in an interview with Ukrinform. “Ukraine’s security and defence forces have already implemented 287 NATO standards and are planning to introduce 200 more before the end of 2023. In general, there are more than 1,200 NATO standards, according to Reznikov.

Ukraine’s security and defence forces have implemented 287 NATO standards, which is about a quarter of the total number. 174 of them were adopted within the framework of Ukraine-NATO Partnership Goals and 113 were ‘initiative’,” Reznikov told. However, the minister mentioned that the number of implemented standards is not a determining factor when making a political decision regarding the Euro-Atlantic integration of the state. According to Reznikov, most member states have, in average, about 30% of the standards implemented. According to this indicator [the implemented standards – Ed.], Ukraine has been ranked first among NATO partner states and even exceeded the indicators of some member states, Reznikov noted. […]

Reznikov named three criteria that will be decisive in the process of Ukraine’s integration into NATO. Firstly, civilian democratic control over the Armed Forces, both in terms of legislation and the infrastructure actually built. Secondly, clear, transparent and responsible procedures for providing military equipment, starting from procurement. Thirdly, joint operations planning.”

New developments

  1. Zelenskyy decides to replace defence minister: new approaches are needed, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the President’s evening address. “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that he has decided to remove Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov from his post and that he will be replaced by Rustem Umerov, the current Head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine.”
  2. Armenian PM says depending solely on Russia for security was ‘strategic mistake’, Reuters reports. “Armenia’s prime minister has said his country’s policy of solely relying on Russia to guarantee its security was a strategic mistake because Moscow has been unable to deliver and is in the process of winding down its role in the wider region.[…] Pashinyan suggested that Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia and a militray base there, did not regard his country as sufficiently pro-Russian and said he believed Russia was in the process of leaving the wider South Caucasus region. Yerevan was therefore trying to diversify its security arrangements, he said, an apparent reference to its ties with the European Union and the United States and its attempts to forge closer ties with other countries in the region. […] Today we see that Russia itself is in need of weapons, arms and ammunition (for the war in Ukraine) and in this situation it’s understandable that even if it wishes so, the Russian Federation cannot meet Armenia’s security needs.”
  3. Romania condemns Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Danube infrastructure, Ukrinform reports, citing Barron’s, referring to Romania’s Defence Ministry. “Romania’s defence ministry on Sunday strongly condemned repeated Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Danube infrastructure close to its border as ‘unjustified’ following the latest overnight drone strikes in the southern Odesa region, the report states. The ministry reiterates in the strongest terms that these attacks against civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine are unjustified and in deep contradiction with the rules of international humanitarian law. […] A reminder that, on the night of September 3, 2023, Russia fired 25 Shahed-136/131 loitering munitions at the Odesa region’s southern districts. Twenty-two enemy drones were destroyed by Ukraine’s Défense Forces.”
  4. Hungarian official speaks of “security guarantees” for Russia and hindering Ukraine’s ascension to NATO, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Gergely Gulyás, head of the administration of the Prime Minister of Hungary, announced the need to provide Russia with some kind of “security guarantees” from Western powers. Gulyás said this during a speech to students of the summer university in Vajta, reports European Pravda with reference to Hirado. […] According to the Hungarian official, to achieve lasting peace, the Western world, which supports Ukraine, must provide security guarantees to Russia, but not NATO membership for Ukrainians.”

Assessment

  1. On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Sunday 3 September:

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove line on September 3 but did not make any confirmed gains. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Novoyehorivka (15km southwest of Svatove). Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Head Artem Lysohor stated that Russian forces resumed offensive actions near Novoyehorivka after significant Russian losses over the past week prompted a short pause in Russian offensive activity in the area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continued offensive actions seven kilometers away from Kupiansk and near Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove). Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces captured six unspecified positions northwest of Petropavlivka (7km east of Kupiansk) on September 2.

Et bilde som inneholder tekst, kart, atlas

Automatisk generert beskrivelseRussian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted limited unsuccessful ground attacks along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on September 3. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on September 3 that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian counterattacks near Serhiivka (13km west of Svatove), Hryhorivka (11km south of Kreminna), and Kuzmyne (6km southwest of Kreminna). Russian Central Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Alexander Savchuk claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian assaults near Torske (15km west of Kreminna) and the Serebryanske forest area south of Kreminna.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and advanced on September 3. Geolocated footage published on September 3 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced further into southern Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that elements of the Russian Southern Grouping of Forces repelled Ukrainian attacks near Zaliznyanske (12km northwest of Bakhmut), Dubovo-Vasylivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut), Bakhmut, and Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces continue to assault heights near Klishchiivka. The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces have reduced their operational tempo near the Berkhivka reservoir north of Bakhmut. Another Russian milblogger claimed on September 2 that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian attack near Berkhivka (6km north of Bakhmut). A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted reconnaissance-in-force operations near Zaliznyanske and Rozdolivka (15km northeast of Bakhmut) on the evening of September 2. The milblogger also claimed that Russian forces repelled four Ukrainian assaults along the Bakhmut-Klishchiivka line.

Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut on September 3 but did not make any confirmed advances. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Ilya Yevlash stated that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful counterattacks in the Bakhmut direction. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces counterattacked near Kurdyumivka (12km southwest of Bakhmut). Another Russian milblogger posted footage purportedly showing elements of the Russian 31st Guards Airborne (VDV) Brigade striking Ukrainian forces near Bakhmut.

Et bilde som inneholder tekst, kart, atlas

Automatisk generert beskrivelseRussian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on September 3 but did not advance. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled two Ukrainian attacks near Vesele (6km north of Avdiivka) and Staromykhailivka (19km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian and Russian forces skirmished near Avdiivka and Marinka (on the western outskirts of Donetsk City).

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on September 3 and advanced. Geolocated footage posted on September 2 indicates that Russian forces advanced in Marinka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on September 3 that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations east of Sieverne (6km west of Avdiivka), near Avdiivka and Marinka, and south of Krasnohorivka (directly west of Donetsk City) and Novomykhailivka (10km southwest of Donetsk City). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assault operations on the outskirts of Krasnohorivka. Another Russian milblogger amplified footage claiming to show elements of the Russian 9th Motorized Rifle Brigade (Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] 1st Army Corps) striking Ukrainian positions in the Avdiivka direction.

A Russian milblogger claimed on September 2 that fighting is ongoing in western Donetsk Oblast where a meeting engagement occurred northwest of Yehorivka (7km south of Vuhledar).

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations along the administrative border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts on September 3. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces attacked along the Pryyutne-Urozhaine line (up to 16km southwest of Velyka Novosilka).

The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations along the administrative border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts near Pryyutne (16km southwest of Velyka Novosilka) on September 3.

Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in western Zaporizhzhia on September 3 and reportedly advanced. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes in the direction of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). A Russian milblogger claimed on September 2 that Ukrainian forces are expanding their foothold between Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv) and Verbove. The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces control northern and central Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) while the southern part of the settlement is contested. Some Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces retain control of the southern outskirts of Robotyne, while others claimed that Russian forces retreated to the south. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attacked near Robotyne and Verbove. A Russian source claimed on September 2 and 3 that Ukrainian forces continue assaults near Verbove from the northwest. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are attacking east of Novoprokopivka in the direction of Pshenychne (17km southeast of Orikhiv).

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Automatisk generert beskrivelseRussian forces reportedly conducted limited counterattacks in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast but did not advance on September 3. A Russian source claimed that Russian forces attacked southwest and south of Robotyne and near Verbove. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces have had problems with the timely delivery of ammunition to the frontline, communications, and excessive bureaucracy in the area.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on September 2 that two more civilian vessels have successfully passed through the Ukrainian-created temporary corridor in the Black Sea as part of Ukrainian efforts to circumvent Russian attempts to curtail maritime traffic.

Ukrainian military officers offered notably frank and direct commentary about the prospects of further Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and indicated that the series of prepared Russian defensive positions immediately ahead and further south of the Ukrainian advance may be less challenging to Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who commands the Ukrainian grouping in southern Ukraine, discussed Ukraine’s counteroffensive in an interview with The Guardian on September 2. Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces have decisively breached Russian forces’ “first line of defense” and that he expects faster Ukrainian gains as Ukrainian forces press on a weaker “second line” of defense. Ukrainian forces have advanced up to the next series of prepared Russian defensive positions in certain areas in the Robotyne area in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, although many Russian sources assert that these positions are the first, not the second, defensive layer in a multi-echeloned Russian defense in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials and Russian milbloggers are using different terminology to describe the same positions. Russian sources characterize the first series of positions that Ukrainian forces have previously breached as a forward line without giving it an ordinal number, and the series Ukrainian forces are currently approaching as the first main line of defenses — while Ukrainian forces characterize these positions as Russia’s second line of defenses.

Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces devoted 60 percent of their time and resources into building the series of defensive positions that Ukrainian forces have now breached and only 20 percent each to the two subsequent defensive layers further south. This breached series of Russian defensive positions consists of a system of interconnected Russian trenches and dugouts guarded by anti-tank ditches and dense minefields, and Tarnavskyi’s reporting supports ISW’s previous observation that Russian forces may have not extended similarly challenging preparations throughout subsequent series of defensive layers, particularly regarding the density of minefields. Russian defensive positions are not uniform in strength across the frontline in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and Tarnavskyi’s description of weaker Russian defensive positions may refer only to the immediate Robotyne area. Tarnavskyi also commented on the weight of Ukrainian efforts elsewhere in southern Ukraine and suggested that the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast is an operational priority.

Ukrainian military officials particularly noted that advancing Ukrainian forces can operate more freely in areas with sparser Russian minefields. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun stated on September 3 that minefields near the next series of Russian defensive positions are less dense than the initial defensive layer that Ukrainian forces advanced through. Shtupun and Tarnavskyi both stated that Ukrainian forces are deploying more vehicles in these areas and maneuvering more equipment and troops towards the next Russian defensive layer, but they acknowledged that minefields will still present a significant threat. Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces spent more time on mine clearing than they expected to at the beginning of the counteroffensive and that consistent Russian artillery and aviation fire forced Ukrainian infantry to conduct mine clearing only at night. Shtupun added that heavy minefields forced Ukrainian breaching operations onto narrow paths — the exact intent of minefields under Russian defensive doctrine. Ukrainian forces may now be better positioned to maneuver more freely in the tactical rear of the breached Russian defensive layer. Tarnavskyi’s description of the Russian minefields may pertain only to the immediate Robotyne area, and Ukrainian forces may encounter heavily dense minefields at certain sections of subsequent series of Russian defensive positions. Although Ukrainian forces certainly face further hard fighting regardless, Tarnavskyi characterized Ukrainian forces as having successfully broken through the most difficult Russian defenses.

Ukrainian military officials noted that the strength of the next series of Russian defensive positions around Robotyne will likely depend on Russian force composition in the area. Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces in the Robotyne area are destroying the Russian units that provide cover for retreating Russian forces and that Russian forces are operating in defensive “patches,” likely referring to strongpoints rather than a continuous defensive line. Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Oleksandr Rodyansky stated that upcoming Russian defenses are not as well protected. Shtupun also noted that Russian forces are deploying reserves of unknown quality to defend in the area. Shtupun is likely referencing the lateral redeployment of previously degraded elements of the 7th Guards Airborne and 76th Guards Air Assault (VDV) Divisions to the Robotyne area from elsewhere in the theater. Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces are deploying reserves from both Ukraine and within Russia, likely referencing Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Head Kyrylo Budanov’s statement on September 1 that the Russian military deployed elements of a newly created “reserve army” (the 25th CAA) to allow Russian forces to conduct further lateral redeployments to strengthen the defense in southern Ukraine. Tarnavskyi noted that Russian forces will run out of their best soldiers sooner or later, giving Ukrainian forces an impetus to attack more often. Tarnavskyi acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are also losing their “strongest and best” and must therefore concentrate on certain areas of the front as a result. Shtupun optimistically noted that additional Ukrainian successes will allow Ukrainian forces to commit more personnel to the ongoing Ukrainian breach of Russian defenses in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations and advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on September 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol direction (western Zaporizhzhia Oblast). Geolocated footage published on September 2 and 3 indicates that Ukrainian forces control southern Klishchiivka. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes in the direction of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv).

Several Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continue to operate on the left (east) bank of the Dnipro River in occupied Kherson Oblast. Generally reliable Russian milbloggers have consistently claimed since August 30 that Ukrainian forces maintain positions on the left bank of the Dnipro River northwest of Pidstepne and in the Antonivsky Bridge area. One milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces have been able to transfer supplies and personnel to positions on the left bank during the past week. Another milblogger claimed that units of mobilized personnel and volunteers are defending in the Kherson direction after unspecified Airborne (VDV) elements departed for Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The milblogger is likely referring to elements of the 7th Guards Mountain VDV Division, which ISW observed deploying from the Kherson direction to the Robotyne area in Zaporizhzhia Oblast in late August. The Kherson Oblast area is likely relatively poorly defended if the milblogger’s claims of mobilized personnel and volunteers replacing VDV elements are true.  

Russian forces conducted a series of drone strikes targeting Ukrainian port infrastructure in Odesa Oblast on September 3. Ukrainian military sources reported that Ukrainian air defenses downed 22 of the 25 Shahed drones that Russian forces launched from Krasnodar Krai and occupied Crimea.[26] Most Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian drones struck Ukrainian port infrastructure in Reni, Odesa Oblast. Several Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian strikes primarily targeted Ukrainian military fuel storage facilities near the ports. Russian sources claimed that Russian Shahed drones also struck port infrastructure in Izmail, Odesa Oblast.

The Russian military appears to be recruiting personnel at scale through ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts, although the quality and allocation of these new servicemembers remains unclear. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev stated on September 3 that 280,000 people signed contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) since the start of 2023. Medvedev noted that this figure includes individuals formerly in the Russian military reserve or who previously fought as volunteers. Russian State Duma Deputy Andrey Gurulev stated on September 3 that Russian officials intend to sign a total of 420,000 contracts before the end of 2023. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on June 10 that all volunteer formations were required to sign military contracts with the Russian MoD by July 1, so Medvedev and Gurulev’s figures likely include many volunteers that have already been fighting in Ukraine; however, ISW cannot independently confirm how many of these claimed 280,000 personnel are entirely new to the war in Ukraine. Regardless, the Russian military is continuing to successfully recruit for the war in Ukraine at scaleThe level of training and combat experience of these contract personnel likely varies, as the Russian military advertises contracts ranging from a few months to two years. These contract soldiers are likely less skilled and experienced than the Russian military’s pre-war number of “kontraktniki,” professional long-service soldiers. Contract soldiers received greater training and occupied key positions (such as technicians and vehicle crews) in Russian units, with relatively elite units such as Airborne (VDV) formations having a higher proportion of kontraktniki. Many units suffered heavy losses among kontraktniki at the beginning of the war and have unlikely been able to reconstitute with the same quality of personnel. State Duma Deputy Viktor Sobolev stated that the Russian General Staff determined the 420,000 figure as necessary for the creation of new formations and units, likely referencing Defense Minister Shoigu’s intent to form many new Russian army formations. However, the Russian military faces the competing priorities of establishing long term new formations and rushing personnel to the front in Ukraine. As ISW previously reported, new formations earmarked for reserves have reportedly already deployed to the frontline ahead of schedule.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on September 3 that he dismissed current Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and intends to replace him with Rustem Umerov. Umerov is currently the chairman of Ukraine’s State Property Fund. Zelensky stated that he believed the Ministry of Defense “needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both military and society at large” and that he hopes the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada will confirm Umerov this week.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian military officers offered notably frank and direct commentary about the prospects of further Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and indicated that the series of prepared Russian defensive positions immediately ahead and further south of the Ukrainian advance may be less challenging to Ukrainian forces.
  • Ukrainian military officials particularly noted that advancing Ukrainian forces can operate more freely in areas with sparser Russian minefields.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations and advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on September 3.
  • Several Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continue to operate on the left (east) bank of the Dnipro River in occupied Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of drone strikes targeting Ukrainian port infrastructure in Odesa Oblast on September 3.
  • The Russian military appears to be recruiting personnel at scale through ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts, although the quality and allocation of these new servicemembers remain unclear.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in western Donetsk, in the western Donetsk–eastern Zaporizhzhia border area, and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and advanced in some areas on September 3.
  • Russian law enforcement is patrolling and guarding polling stations in occupied Ukraine to prevent citizens from expressing opposition to the elections and recording the voting process.“ (unquote)

Russians spent 60% of time and resources on their first line of defence, breached by Ukraine’s forces, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Observer. “In an interview with The Observer, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Tavriia Operational and Strategic Group of Forces, said that the Russian forces have spent 60% of their time and resources on the construction of the first line of defence, and only 20% for the second and third. Now the Ukrainian army is advancing on both sides of the breakthrough and are consolidating their positions.

In my opinion, the Russians believed the Ukrainians would not get through this line of defence. They had been preparing for over one year. They did everything to make sure that this area was prepared well. Tarnavskyi said the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now between the first and second defensive lines. In the centre of the offensive, we are now completing the destruction of enemy units that provide cover for the retreat of Russian troops behind their second defensive line,” he said.

Tarnavskyi emphasised that the counterattack was restrained by a huge minefield put down by the Russians. Behind it, Russian troops just stood and waited for the Ukrainian army, knocking out Ukrainian equipment. As soon as any equipment appeared there, the Russians immediately began to fire at it and destroy it. That’s why demining was carried out only by infantry and only at night, he stressed. Now that the mine barrier has been overcome, the Russians are forced to manoeuvre and redeploy their forces. The enemy is pulling up reserves, not only from Ukraine but also from Russia, Tarnavskyi emphasised.

However, he is sure that sooner or later the Russians will lack strength, which will allow the Ukrainian forces to advance faster. Now that the minefield has been breached, the Russians have lost much of their advantage. There is a very big difference between the first and second line of defence, Tarnavskyi said. He explained that the second line is not so well constructed, which means the Ukrainians can use their vehicles, although there are still minefields. The closer to victory, the harder it is. Why? Because, unfortunately, we are losing the strongest and best. So now we have to concentrate on certain areas and finish the job. No matter how hard it is for all of us, the Brigadier General concluded.“

Breaching 1st line of Russian defences opens opportunities for manoeuvre, Ukrinform reports, citing to Oleksandr Shtupun, the spokesman for the Tavria Grouping of Troops, who spoke with Susliplne. “After the breakthrough of the first line of Russian defences in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine’s Armed Forces received an opportunity to manoeuvre equipment and troops. The enemy distributed resources along the three lines of defence at 60-20-20 percentage-wise. That is, the first line of defence was densely mined, with concrete fortifications, and a large number of anti-tank weapons. The second line also cannot be dismissed and ignored. There are also quite powerful fortifications, quite competently erected, but here we already have the opportunity to manoeuvre equipment and troops, he said.

However, according to the spokesman, these fortifications are not too strong in terms of engineering. There are also minefields, somewhat fewer than there were on the first line of defence, but one should not suggest that it will be easy to get through them, Shtupun said. The military explained that the Ukrainian soldiers demined the first line of defence by hand because the enemy targeted any equipment and tried to destroy it. That’s why it had to be withdrawn. According to him, demining of the second line of defence will be done comprehensively.

We can already cover our infantry. On the first line of defence, we would penetrate through some narrow path, so our heavy equipment and infantry could not manoeuvre left or right because there were dense minefields. Here we entered the territory on which we can manoeuvre and the enemy also will have to act somehow different, said the spokesman. Shtupun noted that the success of Ukraine’s forces in Zaporizhzhia region will allow more troops to be deployed in breach points.

And I hope that we will advance successfully, but it depends on many circumstances, including the amount of ammunition and how the enemy will act. But I hope we will successfully advance towards the coast of the Sea of Azov,” he said. According to Shtupun, after the Ukrainian troops broke through the first line of defence, the Russians started pulling up reserves and involve airborne assault units in their defence.

The enemy is responding, the enemy is digging in, the enemy is pulling up reserves. Well, their quality is somewhat worse now. But now the enemy is employing airborne assault units in defence, which in principle is not their traditional use. That’s because the Russians see them as elite forces so if they are throwing their so-called elite in defensive battles, then something is going wrong for them, he said.

According to the spokesman, active hostilities are currently ongoing in the Marinka area: The day before yesterday, the enemy tried to run an assault operation in Mariinka head-on, but they saw no success. Now the enemy is trying to break through to the north and south. These are Novomykhailivka and Krasnohorivka. Active hostilities are also ongoing in the Robotyne area.

According to Shtupun, Ukrainian troops are getting entrenched in the direction of Verbove, where the defence forces had certain successes and are now preparing for further action. We will engage in fairly powerful counterbattery combat, that is, we are trying to destroy the enemy’s artillery, disrupt their logistics, systematically destroy their field depots and in general ammunition depots of various levels, company-battalion and so on, the spokesman said.

Earlier, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Tavria Groping Commander, said the Ukrainian forces penetrated the first line of Russian defences near Zaporizhzhia after weeks of painstaking demining efforts. Now they expect swifter advance as Ukrainian forces will be confronted by the weaker second line.”

Destroying Russia’s defense industry among keys to ending war, Ukrinform reports, citing the Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, Andriy Yermak. “One of the keys to bringing the war to an end and preserving world order is the destruction of the Russian military-industrial complex. Russian terrorists continue to attack port infrastructure in the hope they will be able to provoke a food crisis and hunger around the world. The main task for us and our partners today is to eliminate the capabilities of the Russian military-industrial complex to produce weapons for further attacks on Ukraine. Also, (we need – ed.) tougher accountability for those helping the enemy circumvent sanctions, Yermak wrote.

He emphasized that one of the keys to ending the war and preserving the world order is the destruction of the Russian military-industrial complex. According to Yermak, it is unable to function without foreign components for weapons, and after the destruction of the Russian defence industry, the defeat of the Russian troops will be completed.”

In first days of invasion, Russians hit only 20% of Air Force facilities, Ukrinform reports, citing the Head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) , Kyrylo Budanov. “Thanks to the Air Force’s preparation for a Russian attack, the Russian Aerospace Forces failed to complete their tasks of gaining complete aerial dominance.

They actually hit about 20% of the targets they sought. That’s what got in the way of their total aerial dominance. And the fact that they failed to destroy most of the air defence systems nullified their dominance in terms of warplane class and numbers, Budanov said. He said that the Air Force had been warned of the attack and redeployed assets. Therefore, the result did not correspond to the tasks set before Russia’s Aerospace Forces.”

Consequences and what to do?

Musk’s new Twitter policies helped spread Russian propaganda, E.U. says, The Washington Post reports. “Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) has played a major role in allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to reach more people than before the war began, according to a study released this week by the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union. The research found that, despite voluntary commitments to take action against Russian propaganda by the largest social media companies, including Meta, Russian disinformation against Ukraine, thrived. Allowing the disinformation and hate speech to spread without limits would have violated the Digital Services Act, the E.U.’s social media law, had it been in force last year, the year-long commission study concluded.

Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased substantially all over Europe, the study found. Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards. The social media platform was recently renamed X.

The E.U. has taken a far more aggressive regulatory approach to government-backed disinformation than the United States has. The Digital Services Act, which went into effect for the biggest social media companies Aug. 25, requires them to assess the risk of false information, stop the worst from being boosted by algorithms and subject their performance to auditing. Separately, European sanctions on Russian state media have prompted YouTube and other platforms to ban the likes of RT, the Russian news outlet formerly known as Russia Today that was once one of the most-followed channels.

The study is the starkest indication yet that the legal and voluntary measures are not getting the job done, following June warnings from E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton that X had work to do to avoid potentially massive fines under the DSA. The research was conducted by nonprofit analysis group Reset, which advocates for greater oversight of digital platforms. Without full access to data held by the companies — data that must be made more available under the new law — Reset relied on public information, such as the number of interactions that problematic content drew from people who had not been following the account that posted it.

Musk’s X was not alone in having failed to stop the spread of Russian propaganda, the study found. Instagram, Telegram and Facebook, owned by Meta, also drew criticism. In absolute numbers, pro-Kremlin accounts continue to reach the largest audiences on Meta’s platforms. Meanwhile, the audience size for Kremlin-backed accounts more than tripled on Telegram, since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the group wrote. We found that no platform consistently applied its terms of service in repeated tests of user notification systems in several Central and Eastern European languages.

Reset senior adviser Felix Kartte told The Washington Post that the myriad propaganda campaigns used hate speech, boosted extremists and threatened national security, potentially influencing European elections next year. The researchers said the law and the social media companies were not equipped for a full information war of the type Russia has been waging across state-owned official accounts, aligned accounts and others. Russian interests also coordinated actions by volunteers on Telegram channels, such as Cyber Front Z, urging simultaneous posts to manipulate the formulas that boost popular content. They filed false mass claims that pro-Ukraine accounts were violating platform rules to get them suspended, and they intimidated others with doxing and other threats.

Using one key technique, the propagandists first posted numerous messages in unregulated spaces with less traffic, then promoted those postings with links on more popular channels. No [social media] platform introduced policies addressing all or even most Kremlin-operated accounts, they wrote. In addition, platforms fundamentally ignored cross-platform coordinated campaigns. X and Meta did not respond to requests for comment.

Though the main period of study was 2022, the reach of pro-Kremlin accounts has increased between January and May of 2023, with average engagement rising by 22 percent across online platforms, Reset found. However, this increased reach was largely driven by Twitter, where engagement grew by 36 percent after CEO Elon Musk decided to lift mitigation measures on Kremlin-backed accounts, arguing that all news is to some degree propaganda.

Musk withdrew his social media platform from the voluntary code of conduct for combating disinformation that was widely propagated in June 2022, and he has eased content rules and cut enforcement staff. Under Musk’s ownership, the company has dropped the state-affiliated media labels it had been attaching to RT and other Kremlin-controlled accounts. Propagandists have also paid for the platform’s blue-check verification program to make their posts more prominent.”

Hans Petter Midttun: Contrary to what many believe, the main battle space is not along the frontline in eastern and southern Ukraine. Nor is in the air space over occupied territories or Ukrainian cities, villages and settlements. It is not even in the Black Sea.

The main battle space is in the heads of Western voters and key policy and decision-makers.

Why? Both Ukraine and Russia know what they want to achieve and remain committed to the end-state. The West does not yet know what it wants and remains vaguely committed.

Ukraine is desperately fighting for its right to exist as both a state and nation. It is defending itself according to the UN Charter against an unjustified, unprovoked, and ruthless Russian war of aggression. It knows that if it stops fighting it will cease to exist. It is doing its best to prevent a genocide. It is, however, also fighting for the right to choose democracy over autocracy; universal human rights over the “Russian World”; and its right to choose its own security arrangements.

Ukraine’s end state – its strategic aim and objective – is fixed.

Russian forces must be evicted. War criminals must be held accountable. Russia must pay compensation for lives lost, injuries sustained, and destructions caused by its horrific war.

Unless defeated, Ukraine will maintain its strategic aim “for as long as it takes”.

Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and its broader confrontation with the West is closely linked to its Great Power ambitions. This remains out of reach unless it can subjugate Ukraine and Belarus. The two hold the key to establishing the preconditions – demography, economy, technology and not least, geostrategic space – needed to position Russia on equal footing with China and the US.

Russia’s nature as an imperial power should be incontrovertible. It has expanded continuously for centuries at the cost of its neighbours. Even as the Soviet Union was being dissolved, Russia set about re-establishing its control over the post-Soviet space. Its calls for a sphere of interest and the right to veto the decision of independent and sovereign countries are only a continuation of its past and present nature.

Russia’s end state – its strategic aim and objective – is fixed.

Ukraine is a crucial object in a broader strategy: Ukraine is needed to transform Russia into a Great Power; while Great Power status is needed to dominate Europe and compete with the US and China on equal terms.

Having started a war of aggression – turning itself into a pariah state and “its best friend into its worst enemy” – the dice is cast. It either succeeds in defeating Ukraine or its Great Power ambitions are “forever lost” (recognising that “forever” in the diplomatic field is 2-3 decades only).

Unless defeated, Russia will maintain its strategic aim “for as long as it takes”.

Unfortunately, the Western strategy is not equally clear-cut. NATO condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. NATO and Allies have pledged to continue to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.

It has, however, failed to formulate what peace looks like. Neither the US nor Europe have fully signed up to the Ukrainian end-state: The full restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity according to the internationally recognised borders. While they support President Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan, they are not setting up Ukraine up for victory. It has never defined what “for as long as it takes” means.

Equally important, NATO shows clear signs of discord. Eastern Europe has called for the Alliance to act according to its late strategic concept: To stop a war that threatens the security and stability of the Alliance. Several are providing Ukraine defence support above their “weight class” as they are defending themselves in Ukraine. Being a consensus-based organisation, however, NATO has instead allowed its weakest link to define its highest ambition: Non-military support only.

Military support is provided by most – but not all – of its member states and allies outside the framework of NATO.

At least one of its members is openly opposing defence support to Ukraine. Several are advocating negotiations and compromise of territorial integrity in conflict with international law.

The Alliance is “bound together by common values: individual liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law”, in which many are rated as flawed democracies and one as a hybrid regime (Türkiye). Several are continuing a downward democratic trend. The political landscape in Europe is slowly changing as a consequence of the “tsunami of ripple effects” from the war. “Look around Europe right now – north, south, east and west – and you see far-right parties of different flavours – nostalgic nationalist, populist nationalist, ultra-conservative with neo-fascist roots and more – enjoying a notable resurgence.”

On top of that, European leaders are fearing a Trump victory in the forthcoming US presidential election, threatening the transatlantic link and Western support to Ukraine.

More than 9.5 years into the war, only 11 out of 31 member states are fulfilling their commitment to invest a minimum of 2% of GDP in the defence budget. Worse still, having failed to invest in security and defence for more than 3 decades, they are ill-prepared to support a protracted war. Many European countries are unable to carry their share of the burden, fuelling the US frustration as expressed by former President George Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump alike.

The US and Europe are, therefore, targeted by Russia.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine possesses the military means needed to win a conventional war. But this is not a conventional war. Russia has all the tools it needs to defeat Ukraine through the combined efforts of both military and non-military means (Hybrid War).

It will, however, fail if the collective West decides to adopt Ukraine’s strategic aim and objectives as its own and deploy its total resources accordingly.

That’s why Russia is increasing its efforts to be victorious in the main battle space: The cognitive space.

The moment the US and Europe decide on “peace at any price” – when it stops defending shared values and principles; and stops protecting the international security architecture that has ensured security and stability since WW2 – and argue in favour of negations and territorial concessions, Russia has won the first phase of what is essentially a battle between democracy and autocracy.

This is why the Digital Services Act and Europe’s efforts to counter the Russian information war are increasingly crucial. This is also the reason why X (former Twitter), Instagram, Telegram and Facebook must be held accountable for their failure to protect democracy.

This is not least, why Heads of States need to adjust their strategic messaging and start describing the war as it is: A broader confrontation between Russia and the West.

 

Hans Petter Midttun is educated at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, the Norwegian National Defence Command and Staff College and the Norwegian Defense College, as well as education from the Federal Defence Forces of Germany. He has broad international experience from both operations and postings abroad (NATO, Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Ukraine). The service includes seven years in command of frigates and six NATO deployments. Midttun put into operation, tested and verified the operational capabilities of one of the newest frigates in the Norwegian Navy. He served at the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) before being posted to Ukraine as the Norwegian Defence Attache (2014-2018). Based on previous experiences, Midttun is presently publishing articles and analytic works on the security situation in and around Ukraine as a private person.
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