Friday, September 16, 2022

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 15

At the Institute for the Study of War:

Ukrainian forces are continuing counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine, increasingly pressuring Russian positions and logistics lines in eastern Kharkiv, northern Luhansk, and eastern Donetsk oblasts. Russian sources reported that Ukrainian forces are continuing ground operations southeast of Izyum, near Lyman, and on the east bank of the Oskil River, reportedly compelling Russian forces to withdraw from some areas in eastern Ukraine and reinforce others. Russian forces in eastern Ukraine will likely struggle to hold their defensive lines if Ukrainian forces continue to push farther east.

The Kremlin is responding to the defeat around Kharkiv Oblast by doubling down on crypto-mobilization rather than setting conditions for general mobilization. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called on all federal subjects to initiate “self-mobilization” and not wait on the Kremlin to declare martial law. Kadyrov claimed that each federal subject must prove its readiness to help Russia by recruiting at least 1,000 servicemen instead of delivering speeches and conducting fruitless public events. Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan echoed the need for Russians to volunteer to join the war effort, and several loyalist Russian governors publicly supported Kadyrov’s speech. The Russian-appointed head of occupied Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, announced the formation of two volunteer battalions on the peninsula in support of Kadyrov’s calls.

The defeat around Kharkiv Oblast prompted the Kremlin to announce a Russia-wide recruitment campaign. Kremlin officials and state media had not previously made country-wide recruitment calls but had instead tasked local officials and outlets to generate forces ostensibly on their own initiative. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov vaguely welcomed the creation of the battalions on July 12, while 47 loyalist federal subjects advertised and funded the regional volunteer battalion recruitment campaign. A prominent Russian milblogger and a supporter of general mobilization praised officials such as Kadyrov for taking the recruitment campaign from the ineffective Russian Ministry of Defense; this recruitment revamp is likely to secure more support for the Kremlin among nationalist figures who are increasingly critical of the Russian MoD, even if the drive does not generate large numbers of combat-effective troops.

The Kremlin has likely abandoned its efforts to shield select federal subjects from recruitment drives, which may increase social tensions. ISW has previously reported that the Kremlin attempted to shield Moscow City residents from reports of the formation of the Moscow-based “Sobyaninsky Polk” volunteer regiment. Russian opposition outlet The Insider noted that several groups in the republics of Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tyva, and Yakytia (Republic of Sakha) are publicly opposed to the Kremlin's emphasis on recruitment on an ethnic basis. Simonyan’s statement about “self-mobilization” prompted numerous negative comments among Russians calling on Russian oligarchs to pay for and fight in the war.

The Kremlin has almost certainly drained a large proportion of the forces originally stationed in Russian bases in former Soviet states since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February, likely weakening Russian influence in those states. A Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) investigation reported on September 14 that the Russian military has already deployed approximately 1500 Russian personnel from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to Ukraine since the full-scale invasion began and plans to deploy 600 more personnel from facilities in Dushanbe and Bokhatar, a southern Tajik city, in the future.[10] RFE/RL additionally reported on September 13 that Russia has likely redeployed approximately 300 Tuvan troops from the Russian Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan to fight in Ukraine at varying points since late 2021.

The withdrawals from the Central Asian states are noteworthy in the context of border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Tajik and Kyrgyz border guards exchanged fire in three separate incidents on September 14, killing at least two people. The uptick in violence between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both of which are members of the Russian-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comes alongside renewed aggression by Azerbaijan against CSTO member state Armenia. Russian forces also withdrew 800 personnel from Armenia early in the war to replenish losses in Ukraine, as ISW has previously reported.

Key Takeaways

*Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine.

*The Kremlin is responding to the defeat around Kharkiv Oblast by doubling down on crypto-mobilization, rather than setting conditions for general mobilization.

*The Kremlin has almost certainly drained a large proportion of the forces originally at Russian bases in former Soviet states since *Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February, likely weakening Russian influence in those states.

*Russian and Ukrainian sources reported Ukrainian ground attacks northwest of Kherson City, near the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, and south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border.

*Russian-appointed occupation officials and milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a landing at the Kinburn Spit (a narrow peninsula in Kherson Oblast).

*Russian forces conducted limited ground assaults and are reinforcing positions on the Eastern Axis.

*The Russian proxy Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) is likely attempting to stop its administrators from fleeing ahead of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, demonstrating the bureaucratic fragility of the DNR.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

*Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Southern and Eastern Ukraine

*Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and two supporting efforts); *Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast

*Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis

*Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts

*Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

Eastern Ukraine: (Vovchansk-Kupyansk-Izyum-Lyman Line)

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine, setting conditions to drive deeper into the Russian rear in eastern Kharkiv and western Luhansk oblasts. A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces expelled Russian forces from Sosnove on the north bank of the Siverskyi Donets River and are fortifying positions at the settlement.[14] The source also reported that Russian forces may have pulled out from Studenok immediately west of Sosnove to avoid encirclement.[15] Official Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces reinforced Russian positions in Lyman.[16] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the heavily reduced remnants of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) 2nd Army Corps 202nd and 204th Motorized Rifle Regiments were disbanded into reserves, possibly meaning that the remnants of these reduced elements reinforced the Russian Combat Army Reserve (BARS) elements fighting in Lyman.

Ukrainian forces are reportedly advancing across the Oskil River in northern Kharkiv Oblast. A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces are establishing bases and artillery positions throughout Kharkiv Oblast, including emplacing artillery in Hryanykivka on the east bank of the Oskil River near the R79 highway. A confirmed Ukrainian position in Hryanykivka would indicate that the Russian frontline east of the Oskil River is weak and/or that Russian forces’ lines in this area are farther east of the Oskil River than previously assessed. ISW will continue collecting and reconciling data to refine our control of terrain assessment. A Russian source reported that Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups occasionally cross the Oskil River in unspecified areas.

Ukrainian forces continued operations to disrupt Russian logistics in eastern Ukraine and pin Russian forces away from the frontlines...
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