Ukrainian forces along the southern front are continuing offensive operations. After many weeks of fighting Ukrainian troops seem to be cracking the Russian defences in the direction of Robotyne. Last week’s flanking manoeuvre executed to the east of the town seems to have successfully pressured Russian positions in Robotyne allowing Ukrainian soldiers to enter the town.i While currently the gains within the settlement are not significant they offer a vital foothold that can be used as a staging ground for further attacks. On the other hand, significant losses suffered over the course of the weeks-long assault might hamper the ability of Ukrainian forces in further attacks on the Russian primary line of defence.
In the area south of Velyka Novosilka Ukrainian forces continue their advance. According to recent reports Ukrainian troops are in partial control of the settlement of Urozhaine.ii Russian positions in the settlement have been put in a difficult position after Ukrainians surrounded them from three sides – west, north, and east. However, it seems that the battle for Urozhaine is not over yet, as the Russian “Vostok” battalion continues to defend the area. Other Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defence, have boasted that Russian forces in the direction of Urozhaine continue to repel Ukrainian attacks. Moscow’s claims however, provide little to no proof of such achievements, while the progress of Ukrainian troops is visible and confirmed even by statements from the “Vostok” battalion itself.iii Should Urozhaine be liberated by Ukrainian forces, they will most probably continue their march south along the Mokri Yaly river. This would probably lead to a repetition of previous weeks – with Ukrainian soldiers fighting for local dominant heights to then use them to pressure Russian points of resistance.
While the Ukrainian offensive in the south continues to make some gains, the situation on the eastern front appears to be deteriorating. The Bakhmut sector of the eastern front has previously been considered one of the most successful avenues of the Ukrainian offensive. Significant gains on the flanks of the city, targeting of supply lines, and steady encroachment of Bakhmut successfully pressured Russian defences in the area. In the area of Klishiivka Russian troops have been suffering significant losses, and were at a risk of losing Bakhmut’s southern flank. Now however, the offensive seems to have stalled. To the north of the city Russian forces pushed the Ukrainians away from Berkhivka, stabilising the northern flank. In the south Ukrainian advance in the area of Klischiivka stalled, with Russian forces mounting counter attacks and reoccupying some unspecified positions in the town. The Ukrainian operations in the area of Bakhmut, as noticed in the previous report, have most probably been hindered by the redeployment of forces to the north in response to Russian assaults along the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line.
The situation on the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line itself also remains problematic for the Ukrainian armed forces. Russian forces have continued intensifying their operations in the area of Kupyansk hoping to reach the city itself. As part of their approach Russians have intensified the bombardment of Kupyansk and other key settlements, hoping to hinder and pressure Ukrainian logistics, destroy key equipment, eliminate concentrations of manpower (Kupyansk is a key garrison city in the area with many soldiers rotating in and out of it), and terrorise the Ukrainian troops and civilian population. In response to the Russian actions, Ukrainian officials announced a mandatory evacuation for civilians in 37 settlements located in the Kupyansk region.iv Ukrainian sources also spoke of reinforcing the local defences and transferring more troops into the area. Judging from the Russian and Ukrainian actions it is increasingly possible that Russian troops will soon engage in a major offensive operation in the Kupyansk area either hoping to achieve significant gains while the Ukrainians are still focused on their own operations elsewhere or simply to relieve the pressure on Russian defences in other sections of the front. At the same time as other Russian forces are continuing offensive operations in other areas along the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line, it seems more likely that the potential assault will not be a feint.
A prelude to mobilisation?
On August 9, Russian News Agency TASS, reported that Vladimir Putin has submitted a draft federal constitutional law to the State Duma, which would allow Russia to enact martial law or a state of emergency in Russia without notifying the Council of Europe.v As per the current legislation Russia is required to notify both the Council of Europe and the United Nations Secretary General when enacting martial law. The reason for the change is unclear, however it would allow Russian to act more discreetly away from pro-Ukrainian actors in the Council of Europe. Interestingly, on the same day as the TASS report, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a western volunteer in the Ukrainian armed forces, and a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stated that the Kremlin has notified the UN of its intent to change the procedures for enacting martial law in Russia.vi Ashton-Cirillo has also stated that this is a prelude to mobilisation in Russia. Such a scenario is possible, as with the increased number of drone strikes against targets in Russia, predominantly Moscow, the Kremlin has the perfect opportunity and excuse to officially declare war and begin full scale mobilisation. The timing could also be indicative here, as Russian forces will require reinforcement in the wake of the Ukrainian offensive and its own potential offensive operation along the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line.
As the Ukrainian offensive continues with limited gains, the Russians might be preparing to play their own hand. The offensive operations of Russian forces along the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line, especially Kupyansk, as well as the changes to Russian legislature on the enactment of martial law suggest that Russians are preparing for a major operation. The recent attacks within Russia have prepared fertile ground for escalation which can be harnessed by the Kremlin. With easier procedures for enacting martial law and high pro-war sentiments fueled by drone strikes in Moscow, the potential mobilisation is very likely and might not be as opposed as the previous partial mobilisation. Time seems to be slowly running out for the Ukrainian offensive and there is trouble brewing in the east.
Author: Sebastian Czub, analyst at Casimir Pulaski Foundation