Ukrainian Offensive – Southern Front
Ukrainian forces continue offensive operations across the southern frontline. Capitalising on last week’s capture of Rivnopil, Ukrainian troops launched successive attacks in the area, leading to the capture of Makarivka.[i] The hills in between the two towns have also been liberated, and can now serve as staging areas for attacks further south towards Staromaiorske and Urozhaine. Currently Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting for control over the town of Pryiutne (around 4 km southwest of Rivnopil). Footage of destroyed and burning Russian armoured vehicles just north of the settlements has surfaced, however there are no clear reports that Pryiutne has been captured by the Ukrainians.[ii] This section of the southern front has seen the greatest Ukrainian advances, with several towns and villages liberated since the start of the offensive, however they are yet to reach the main Russian line of defence located around 8 kilometres further south.
In the western part of the Zaporizhia Oblast Ukrainian forces conduct attacks towards the heavily fortified town of Robotyne. According to Russian sources the settlement has been attacked on several occasions by smaller detachments of Ukrainian soldiers, however with no success.[iii] Robotyne is a difficult obstacle on the path of the Ukrainian advance, with extensive defensive positions and presumably a considerable garrison. However, should it be taken the Russian positions further west would become vulnerable, potentially allowing Ukrainian forces to reach the Russian main defensive lines while dealing heavy casualties to local Russian forces. However, further west the Russians launched counterattacks in the area of the contested towns of Piatykhatky and Zherebianky. Geolocated footage confirms that Russian forces creeped closer to Piatykhatky, potentially endangering Ukrainian positions in the settlement.[iv]
In Kherson Oblast, Ukrainian forces continue to hold the bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dnipro river. Russian forces have launched several attacks aiming to eliminate the bridgehead, also using artillery to target Ukrainian supporting positions on the western bank, however, they have been unsuccessful. It is possible that failures of Russian forces in this area are the result of the prioritisation of other frontlines. This potentially opens the opportunity for major Ukrainian operations in the area, including even an amphibious assault across the river in an effort to pressure Russia forces either by capture of territory or by drawing Russian attention away from other frontlines.
Ukrainian Offensive – Eastern Front and Bakhmut
Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut region are pressing hard on Russian positions. According to available information Ukrainian assault detachments have taken large sections of the hills surrounding Klishchiivka. While the town itself is still in Russian hands, the situation of Russian forces is extremely difficult. The control of the hills has granted Ukrainians high ground which can be used to control surrounding areas and facilitate further attacks. If the town is taken, it would endanger the Russian supply and communication line to Bakhmut via the T0513. Though, it seems that Russian forces are committed to the fight, with reinforcements being brought in to stabilise the frontlines and thwart the Ukrainian offensive. However, Klishchiivka is not the only point of interest in the Bakhmut area, to the north of the city Ukrainian troops are committing an assault in the direction of Yahidne and Berkhivka. While the information is limited, official Ukrainian sources state that the assaults are successfully advancing forward, though the fighting is reportedly very intense.[v] The battle for Bakhmut, the longest battle of the war, continues to be the site of heavy fighting with both sides committing vast amounts of resources to the battle.
Further north however, it is the Russians that hold the initiative. Over the last week Russian forces have launched a series of offensive operations along the frontline from Lyman to Kupyansk. These attacks have achieved some success, especially in the area of Serebrianka forest and in the direction of Torske. Ukrainian forces are also hard pressed in the direction of Svatove with Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar stating that „Fierce fighting is taking place…The situation is quite complicated.”.[vi] According to some sources Ukrainian forces have committed reserves to break the Russian attacks. It seems that this area of the front is gaining significance, with increased number of engagements, artillery and missile strikes, and commitment of greater quantities of manpower and resources. According to Serhii Cherevatyi the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Russian forces have gathered 120,000 soldiers along the Kupyansk – Lyman frontline, calling them “a pretty powerful grouping.”.[vii] This suggests that Russian forces are now prioritising this part of the front, either hoping to break through while Ukrainian forces are focused elsewhere or draw Ukrainian forces away from other more beleaguered areas – for example Bakhmut.
The Western support for Ukraine continues. This week German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced that in the next few weeks dozens Leopard 1A5 tanks will be delivered to Ukraine – the first batch of the over 100 promised vehicles.[viii] While the exact number is unknown, basing on previous deliveries, the number will most probably be equal to battalion strength, that is around 40 vehicles. This will allow Ukrainian forces to replenish losses suffered in the first weeks of the offensive. Additionally, the Netherlands have signed an agreement for the delivery of Belgian MAG machine guns to Ukraine, worth 111 million EUR.[ix] The deliveries of vast quantities of machine guns will allow Ukrainian forces to better equip their soldiers, including when forming new units. The vast number of the weapons will also streamline Ukrainian logistics, allowing entire detachments to be based on the same weapon system. These deliveries will serve to maintain the momentum of the Ukrainian offensive.
As the Ukrainian offensive continues and losses mount up, the Russian forces are forced to seek further replacements. It seems that Russian armoured units have suffered significant equipment losses forcing Russia to turn to their legacy passed down from the Soviet Union. T-54 and T-55 tanks have been spotted on several occasions being transported to the frontlines in Ukraine.[x] According to some reports the ancient tanks have been used in combat on Ukrainian battlefields, though most probably only utilised as a support fire platform rather than an armoured spearhead.
The Russian defence industry is capable of producing and repairing more modern tanks, however at a limited rate. More and more modernised T-72 and T-80 tanks have been spotted on the battlefield, proving that the Russian defence industry is working and churning out refurbished and new vehicles for the war effort. In the meantime in order to plug the gap, caused by heavy equipment losses the Russians decided to reactivate older tanks that require less resources and time to be refitted, thus allowing Russian forces to replace their armour losses while more modern tanks are made available. While the T-54s and the T55s are worse than the modern tanks, that can still be somewhat useful, especially in defensive operations or when fighting from prepared positions.
As the Ukrainian offensive continues and gains ground, Russian forces spring to action. The Russian concentration of troops and counterattacks along the Lyman-Svatove-Kupyansk line are a worrying sign. Increased pressure from Russian forces along this sector might force Ukrainian forces to transfer additional resources and manpower, potentially at a cost to their own offensive efforts. The reactivation of the T-55 and T-54 tanks however, means that Ukrainian strikes against Russian armour are taking their toll, with the defence industry unable to replace the losses and forced to salvage outdated Soviet era tanks. At the same time Western support serves to maintain Ukrainian forces, replacing lost equipment and keeping the Ukrainian momentum going. As Ukraine continues to seek a way to break Russian lines it has to be wary of potential Russian counterstrikes.
Supported by a grant from the Open Society Initiative for Europe within the Open Society Foundations
[i] Riley Bailey et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 5, 2023”, Press ISW, July 5, 2023, https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-5-2023.
[ii] WarArchive, Twitter, July 5, 2023, https://twitter.com/JagdBandera/status/1676623649426554886?s=20.
[iii] Riley Bailey et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 5, 2023”, Press ISW, July 5, 2023, https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-5-2023.
[iv] Riley Bailey et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 5, 2023”, Press ISW, July 5, 2023, https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-5-2023.
[v] “Сили оборони України мають успіхи на Бахмутському напрямку — Олександр Сирський”, Army Inform, July 5, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/07/05/syly-oborony-ukrayiny-mayut-uspihy-na-bahmutskomu-napryamku-oleksandr-syrskyj/.
[vi] Ron Popeski and Nick Starkov, “Ukraine reports Russian attacks in east, progress in south”, Reuters, July 2, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-reports-russian-attacks-east-progress-south-2023-07-02/.
[vii] Mariya Knight and Olga Voitovych, “Russia has deployed over 180,000 troops to 2 major battlefronts, Ukrainian military says”, CNN, July 3, 2023, https://edition.cnn.com/europe/live-news/russia-ukraine-war-news-07-03-23/h_2e0837e6df67845e0d8a10e2529071b8.
[viii] Jędrzej Bielecki, “Minister obrony Niemiec, Boris Pistorius, o Ukrainie w NATO: Warunki ustalimy po wojnie”, Rzeczpospolita, July 3, 2023, https://www.rp.pl/polityka/art38687171-minister-obrony-niemiec-boris-pistorius-o-ukrainie-w-nato-warunki-ustalimy-po-wojnie.
[ix] “Nederlands-Belgische samenwerking bij Anti Submarine Warfare fregatten”, Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands, June 22, 2023, https://www.defensie.nl/actueel/nieuws/2023/06/22/nederlands-belgische-samenwerking-bij-anti-submarine-warfare-fregatten.
[x] Euromaidan Press, Twitter, July 6, 2023, https://twitter.com/euromaidanpress/status/1676712809546018816?s=46&t=I-r9GETvDy8gm6bbbhswvA.