The Ukrainian armed forces are pushing against Russian defensive lines in several different places along the southern front, achieving some results, though it can be seen that the pace of operations has changed. Heavy battles are taking place in the Robotyne area, with Ukrainian troops assaulting the town with increased intensity, though the Russian defenders continue to hold the line, even in some cases conducting successful counterattacks.[i] In the Velyka Novosilka area, Ukrainian forces are enjoying greater gains. According to available information Ukrainians have partially liberated the settlement of Staromaiorske, and are mounting attacks on the neighbouring village of Urozhaine. The biggest achievement of Ukrainian forces in the southern direction however, is the successful strike on the Kerch bridge, connecting Russia with Crimea. The attack damaged one of the support pillars of the bridge, causing a section of the road to fall. The railway bridge remained intact. As of now limited traffic is allowed on the road bridge, with Russian estimates placing the return to partial (non-hazardous) functionality in September and full functionality in November.
The Ukrainian offensive operations on the southern front suggest that Ukrainian forces are trying to weaken Russian backline efforts – logistics, command structure etc, while simultaneously pressuring the frontlines to grind down Russian forces. Such an approach probably aims to limit and stretch Russian resources to cause breaks and openings in Russian defensive lines. By drawing Russian forces to engage in fighting outside of their main defensive line Ukrainian troops are able to more easily attrit Russian troops, while strikes against logistics, commands and communication networks limit their ability to quickly manoeuvre and respond to threats. Thus, when an opening is created Ukrainians will be able to achieve significant gains before Russians organise a response. This all however, bases on the Ukrainian ability to maintain their own forces, and whether enough will be left to conduct the breakthrough.
The eastern front is a mixed bag for the Ukrainian side. In the area of Bakhmut Ukrainian forces are maintaining their momentum and are pressing against Russian defences. To the northwest of the city Russian forces have been pushed away from the town of Orikhovo-Vasylivka. Additionally Ukrainian forces have advanced closer in the direction of Yahidne, further pressuring Russian forces in Bakhmut, and threatening Russian positions along the E-40 Bakhmut-Slovyansk highway. To the south Ukrainian forces are attempting to break through Russian lines in Klishchiivka. The Russians continue to hold a small number of key hills in the area, and are utilising reserves to reinforce their positions and push back Ukrainian advances. The situation in Klishchiivka is very difficult for Russian forces, desperate to stop the Ukrainian encirclement of Bakhmut from the south. Should the Ukrainians succeed they would cut off the Russian garrison in Bakhmut from their primary supply lines, and force them to rely on longer and less effective lines of communication.
In the northern section of the eastern front however, the roles are reversed. For the second week now Russian forces have been conducting offensive operations in the direction of Kupyansk, Svatove, and Torske-Lyman. As stated on July 16 by Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Malyar Russian forces have been actively advancing in the Kupyansk direction for two days in a row.[ii] Similar statements have been made by the Russian Ministry of Defence, claiming that Russian forces advanced up to two kilometres forward. Russian forces continued offensive operations in the direction of Torske, hoping to capture the settlement but so far Ukrainian defenders have held their positions. According to some sources, in the area of Kuzemivka, northwest of Svatove, Ukrainians were forced to commit reserves of 1 battalion strength to reinforce positions defended by Territorial Defence Forces to stop the Russian assault.[iii] The situation in this part of the front is becoming difficult for the Ukrainian forces, and the Russian attacks might grow in strength and intensity as according to spokesperson of the Ukrainian Army’s Eastern Operational Command, Serhiy Cherewaty the Russians have concentrated over 100,000 soldiers, more than 900 tanks, artillery systems, and 370 rocket artillery systems.[iv] As the Ukrainian forces are focused on offensive operations elsewhere the Russian counterstrike in this sector might prove very dangerous for Ukraine.
As reported earlier this week, Russia has terminated the Grain Deal, using the threat of food shortages and famine in the Middle East and northeastern Africa to blackmail the West into political concessions. Two days after the announcement of withdrawal from the deal Putin has stated his demands for restarting the Grain Deal.[v] The first is the resumption of the operation of the Tolyatti-Odessa ammonia and chemical pipeline. The second is the reconnection of the Russian financial organisation to the SWIFT system. The exclusion of Russian from the SWIFT system has been one of the major sanctions imposed by the West, and one visibly successful, should Russia be reconnected it would be able to reinforce its economy, thus enabling it to finance and continue the war in Ukraine. Russian blackmail has put Ukraine and the West in a difficult spot – if they agree to the conditions Russia will be able to reinforce and possibly partially recover its economy, which has suffered greatly since the start of the war. If the West will not agree, they will have to face the consequences of a new crisis in the Middle East and northeastern Africa. The collective West and Ukraine have been hard at work since the Russian announcement trying to conceive a third way, that prevents food shortages and does not give in to Russian demands – with several scenarios presented so far including the continuation of the Grain Deal without Russian approval, alternative transport routes etc. In the meantime however, Russia has been conducting a terror campaign to further pressure the West, using missiles and drones to strike Ukrainian port cities, primarily Odessa, targeting key infrastructure – including primarily grain supplies and transport facilities. Furthermore, Russia announced that starting on July 20, each ship travelling to and from Ukrainian ports will be considered hostile and a viable target for the Russian Armed Forces.[vi] The high intensity of Russian pressure and blackmail has forced the West into a difficult position, with limited ways out.
Russian Homefront – a contradictory affair
In the meantime the Russian homefront is presenting a confusing contradictory picture. On the one hand a number of sources have presented footage of transport of new Russian tanks. The vehicles, examined to be T-90M and T-72B3M tanks, appear to be factory new – and quite visibly different to the counterparts already in Ukraine.[vii] This footage has appeared on the same day the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that Uralvagonzavod has shipped a new batch of T-90 and T-72 tanks.[viii] The confirmed information of a new batch is a bit worrying as it suggests that Russian military industry maintains the ability to produce new advanced (in the case of the T-90s) vehicles, despite Western sanctions, resources and manpower shortages. Coupled with the Ukrainian reports from the Lyman-Kupyansk line stating that Russian has concentrated over 900 tanks, it shows that Russia has the ability to not only replace their losses, but do so with new equipment. This could in turn suggest that Russia managed to reorient its economy and industry to war production, which would allow them to equip larger quantities of soldiers, and potentially prepare for a large-scale mobilisation.
On the other hand however, some sources paint a much different picture. A piece of footage created by Russian servicemen preparing to move to the front, shows that Russian military industry might not be doing so well. In the video the Russian soldier, from an air defence unit, talks and shows a newly delivered batch of 6 Tunguska air defence vehicles.[ix] According to the soldier only one is in working shape, four are dysfunctional with different parts damaged and broken, and the last one totally broken, unable to start without endangering the crew and its surroundings. As stated by the soldier each of these vehicles has been renovated in November 2022, with full maintenance conducted. This means that at least certain parts of the Russian defence industry are dysfunctional, unable to effectively renovate needed equipment, either due to lack of parts, skilled workers, or time constraints.
Western Deliveries to Ukraine
The US has announced another aid package for Ukraine worth USD 1.3 billion. As part of the package the US will deliver four NASAMS to supplement Ukrainian air defence.[x] Additionally it will also deliver 150 fuel trucks, 115 vehicles to tow and haul equipment, as well as 50 tactical recovery vehicles.[xi] Package also includes missiles, artillery ammunition, drones, and other munitions to restock Ukrainian supplies. Interestingly the package also includes undisclosed Port and harbour security equipment – most probably a response to Russian withdrawal from the Grain Deal and subsequent targeting of Ukrainian coastal cities and port infrastructure. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have also pledged an unknown number of additional M113 armoured personnel vehicles to reinforce Ukrainian offensive efforts.[xii] Germany has also announced that the first 10 Leopard 1A5 tanks have been delivered to Ukraine – this marks the beginning of the promised delivery of over 100 such vehicles.[xiii] What is more, Germany also delivered 100,000 first aid kits, these much necessary pieces of equipment for every infantryman will serve to save the lives of many Ukrainian soldiers. Additionally, according to Wall Street Journal Poland has secretly delivered a batch of 12 Mi-24 attack helicopters.[xiv] If true it would be a significant boost to Ukrainian close air support capabilities – which have been sorely sought after by Ukraine to support its offensive. In total the new, and newly discovered deliveries can be seen to tackle issues faced by Ukraine as it continues its offensive operations.
As the Ukrainian offensive continues, the Russians launch a counter strike. The Russian offensive operations along the Lyman-Kupyansk line are problematic for the Ukrainian forces which are focused on other sections of the front. Should the Russian assaults succeed, Ukrainian position and logistics on the entire eastern front might be threatened. At the same time Russian termination of the Grain Deal, and the famine blackmail pressures Ukraine and the West from a different direction. The situation is difficult, but Ukrainian forces are ready for a fight, defences have been prepared, and the Western allies are searching for a way out of the Russian ultimatum.
Author: Sebastian Czub, analyst at Casimir Pulaski Foundation
[i] Karolina Hird et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 18, 2023”, Press ISW, July 18, 2023, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-18-2023.
[ii] Hanna Malyar, Telegram, July 16, 2023, https://t.me/annamaliar/938.
[iii] Artur Micek, Twitter, July 15, 2023, https://twitter.com/artur_micek/status/1680313874891907072?s=46&t=I-r9GETvDy8gm6bbbhswvA.
[iv] Anastasia Bogach, “На Лимано-Куп’янському напрямку ворог зосередив угруповання чисельністю більш як 100 000 особового складу — Сергій Череватий”, ArmyInform, July 17, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/07/17/na-lymano-kupyanskomu-napryamku-vorog-zoseredyv-ugrupovannya-chyselnistyu-bilsh-yak-100-000-osobovogo-skladu-sergij-cherevatyj/.
[v] NOELREPORTS, Twitter, July, 19, 2023, https://twitter.com/noelreports/status/1681725231075868677?s=46&t=I-r9GETvDy8gm6bbbhswvA.
[vi] “Russia may attack civilian shipping in Black Sea, White House says”, Reuters, July 20, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/white-house-russia-may-attack-civilian-shipping-black-sea-2023-07-19/.
[vii] Fertilizer Finder, Twitter, July 18, 2023, https://twitter.com/maniacmagic1/status/1681293334214504455?s=46&t=I-r9GETvDy8gm6bbbhswvA.
[viii] Ekaterina Krylova, “Мишустин отметил «Уралвагонзавод», который поставил армии танки Т-90М «Прорыв» и Т-72Б3М”, July 18, 2023, https://ura.news/news/1052667878.
[ix] Dmitri, Twitter, July 19, 2023,
[x] “Biden Administration Announces Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine”, U.S. Department of Defense, July 19, 2023, https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/3463890/biden-administration-announces-additional-security-assistance-for-ukraine/.
[xii] Olena Mukhina, “The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg to transfer repaired M113 armored vehicles to Ukraine”, Euromaidan Press, July 19, 2023, https://euromaidanpress.com/2023/07/19/the-netherlands-belgium-luxembourg-to-transfer-repaired-m113-armored-vehicles-to-ukraine%EF%BF%BC/.
[xiii] “Military support for Ukraine”, Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, July 20, 2023, https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-en/news/military-support-ukraine-2054992.
[xiv] Ian Lovett and Daniel Michaels, “Why the Ukraine Counteroffensive Is Such Slow Going”, The Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-war-counteroffensive-frontlines-russia-add3e4e4?mod=hp_lead_pos7.