War in Ukraine – Flag tank

Autor foto: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence

WAR IN UKRAINE WEEKLY UPDATE – Situation After Prigozhin Putsch (24.06-30.06.2023)

WAR IN UKRAINE WEEKLY UPDATE – Situation After Prigozhin Putsch (24.06-30.06.2023)

Opublikowano: 30 czerwca, 2023

WAR IN UKRAINE WEEKLY UPDATE – Situation After Prigozhin Putsch (24.06-30.06.2023)

War in Ukraine – Flag tank

Autor foto: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence

WAR IN UKRAINE WEEKLY UPDATE – Situation After Prigozhin Putsch (24.06-30.06.2023)

Autor: Sebastian Czub

Opublikowano: 30 czerwca, 2023

Ukrainian Offensive – Southern Front

Ukrainian forces continue to find success along the southern frontlines. Ukrainian troops continue to advance in the area of Velyka Novosilka, managing to liberate the settlement of Rivnopil, according to a statement by the Deputy Minister of Defence of Ukraine Hanna Malyar.[i] The capture of the town has granted Ukrainians access to highground which will aid their endeavours in attacks further south towards Pryiutne, Makarivka, and Urozhaine. In the western part of the Zaporizhia Oblast Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to struggle for control over the towns of Piatykhatky and Zherebianky – with no side gaining the upper hand. Ukrainian forces have also recorded marginal gains in the direction of Robotyne, a key town which if taken would bring Ukrainians very close to the Russian main lines of defence.

Ukrainian troops have established a bridgehead on the eastern (Russian held) bank of the Dnipro river in the area of the demolished Antonivsky Bridge. Despite several Russian counter attacks the Ukrainian bridgehead has been held, successfully maintaining Ukrainian presence. According to some sources Ukrainian armoured vehicles have been transported to the area to bolster the troops. Ukrainian objectives in the Kherson region are unknown. It is possible that Ukrainians are simply trying to force the Russians to commit more troops to the area, potentially weakening defensive lines in Zaporizhia. Or Ukrainian forces are attempting to exploit the weakened Russian presence in the area to conduct a crossing operation across the Dnipro river and open a new avenue of attack for the offensive. As of now however, Ukrainian troops are holding positions in hard to traverse swamp areas, away from Russian main lines of defence.

Ukrainian Offensive – Bakhmut

Ukrainian troops have escalated their offensive efforts in the Bakhmut area. Assaults have been launched both south of the city in the direction of Klishchiivka, as well as north towards Yahidne and Berkhivka.[ii] Ukrainian armed forces  are also pressuring Russian lines in the area of Blahodatne, and from the north towards Soledar. They  so far have managed to achieve some territorial gains, however, key Russian positions are still not taken. It seems that Ukrainian forces are trying to encircle and besiege Bakhmut, rather than assault the city itself. If they manage to even a partial encirclement of the city, it would spare the lives of many Ukrainian troops and possibly cripple Russian operations in the sector of the frontline. However, it seems that so far Russian defences on the hills of Klishchiivka and to the north of Bakhmut are denying the Ukrainian assault. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty Russian forces in the Bakhmut area are behaving cautiously and are mounting a comprehensive defence.[iii] He also stated that while Russian troops are desperately trying to stop the Ukrainian advance, Ukrainian armed forces continue to hold the initiative.[iv]

Prigozhin and Wagner Group

Prigozhin’s Putsch has created chaos in Russia for several days. Marching all the way to Moscow Oblast Wagner rebels and the pro-Kremlin forces seem to have reached some kind of agreement, successfully preventing wide scale bloodshed and collapse of the Russian state into civil war. Wagner mutineers have returned to their bases unpunished, with criminal proceedings against them and their leader Prigozhin dropped by Russian security services. It is hard to ascertain what exactly happened in Russia – a failed Putsch? A purge gone wrong? Or maybe an impressive maskirovka meant to bait Ukraine into prematurely launching their main offensive effort?[v] While it seems that these events failed to influence Russian defensive efforts, it spurred Ukrainian forces to launch a number of offensive operations along the frontline. Another major implication here however, is that the Wagner Group might not be deployed back in Ukrainian as a single fighting force. Wagner soldiers were given the choice to either disband and go home, sign up with the Russian Armed Forces, or relocate to Belarus to their new base.[vi] It is yet unknown what Wagner forces will do once in Belarus.

Ukrainian offensive and western support

As the Ukrainian offensive tries to breach Russian defensive tools it is in need of the right tools for the job. The most common and everyday need of Ukrainian troops is ammunition. Ukrainian forces, especially their artillery detachments, have struggled to maintain combat operations due to the high use of ammunition, even during the siege of Bakhmut, Ukrainian defenders routinely reported shortages. Now as the offensive is picking up speed the demand for ammunition will continually rise, with artillery again facing the most severe issues. Without fire support Ukrainian assaults will be easily repelled and result in heavy losses.

The second, need of Ukrainian troops are armoured vehicles. Main battle tanks provide attacking troops with immediate fire support, either destroying key enemy assets – armoured vehicles, defensive positions, etc. – or simply by suppressing enemy combatants allowing foot troops to advance forward. Tanks also offer protection by simply drawing enemy fire away from the more vulnerable infantry carriers. Which brings about another key need – armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles – especially those of Western design. Foot troops are key in the fight – clearing enemy positions and capturing ground. However, they are very vulnerable to enemy fire, and thus they have to be ferried into battle. Here Western equipment is preferred as it offers a greater degree of protection that the Soviet and descendant counterparts. This could be seen on the example of Ukrainian initial operations where US made Bradley IFVs suffered from mine explosions, and anti amour fire – which damaged and crippled them, with the crew and mounted troops only receiving light injuries, concussions or no damage at all. Furthermore, Western vehicles possess considerable firepower that provides supporting fire to attacking soldiers, freeing the tanks to engage heavier targets. Due to their role these vehicles will be often damaged and destroyed, however they have to be continuously replaced to maintain the offensive potential of infantry formations.

Another key obstacle in the advance of Ukrainian forces are minefields. Russian forces have created extensive mine barriers in front of their defensive positions which hinder Ukrainian assaults, damaging vehicles and wounding Ukrainian infantry. Several pieces of footage have surfaced this week showing Ukrainian infantrymen suffering heavy losses as a result of a densely packed minefield.[vii] Furthermore, while mines themselves cause damage they also slow down troops traversing them, giving Russian forces time to prepare for the attack and potentially target the attackers with artillery fire. Ukrainian forces have been employing a number of mine clearing devices to forge a way through the Russian defences, however the equipment is few and far between, and is often the primary target of Russian forces. If the offensive is to succeed Ukraine’s Western allies have to ramp up the deliveries of this equipment.

Thus, the West should prioritise the delivery of these systems in particular in order to maintain the Ukrainian offensive. Such an approach has already been undertaken by the United States which pledged to support Ukraine by replacing equipment lost during the offensive on a continuous basis. The first such batch has already been unveiled, with a new one to be announced this week – which according to reports will contain as much as 30 Bradley IFVs and 25 Stryker armoured personnel carriers as well as mine clearing equipment.[viii] Additionally Australia pledged to deliver a further 28 M113 armoured personnel carriers and 14 Special Operations Vehicles.[ix] If such deliveries are maintained and expanded upon Ukrainian forces  will be able to continue their offensive efforts.

Conclusion

Amidst the events of Prigozhin’s unfulfilled putsch in Russia, Ukrainian forces launch major offensive operations. As Ukrainians hope to capitalise on the temporary chaos and unrest in Russia they are once again forced to contend with extensive Russian defences. Minefields are one of the primary challenges faced by advancing Ukrainian soldiers, and they require the right tools to forge a path through them. It is now to the West, Ukraine’s allies, to provide the proper equipment to maintain the offensive in the hope of Ukrainian victory.

 

Author: Sebastian Czub, analyst Casimir Pulaski Foundation

[i] “Рівнопіль під контролем України — Ганна Маляр”, Army Inform, June 26, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/06/26/rivnopil-pid-kontrolem-ukrayiny-ganna-malyar/.

[ii] George Barros et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, June 27, 2023”, Press ISW, June 27, 2023, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-27-2023.

[iii]  Diana Kozlova and Polina Mirer, “Знищили російську „Іронію”. У ЗСУ розказали про втрати російської армії під Бахмутом за добу”, Suspilne Media, June 22, 2023, https://suspilne.media/513125-znisili-rosijsku-ironiu-u-zsu-rozkazali-pro-vtrati-rosijskoi-armii-pid-bahmutom-za-dobu/.

[iv] Viktor Shubets, “На Бахмутському фронті ініціатива за Силами оборони України — Сергій Череватий”, Army Inform, June 27, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/06/27/na-bahmutskomu-fronti-inicziatyva-za-sylamy-oborony-ukrayiny-sergij-cherevatyj/.

[v] If, you would like to know more about the possible scenarios of Prigozhin’s Putsch follow the link: https://pulaski.pl/prigozhins-putsch-possible-scenarios/

[vi] Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina, “After mutiny, Putin says Wagner can go to Belarus, go home or fight for Russia”, The Washington Post, June 26, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/06/26/putin-prigozhin-russia-rebellion-wagner/.

[vii] Aryo, Twitter, June 26, 2023, https://twitter.com/somegumul/status/1673403477706285064?s=46&t=I-r9GETvDy8gm6bbbhswvA.

[viii] Mike Stone, “US keeps up weapons shipments to Ukraine with new $500 mln package”, Reuters, June 26, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/new-500-mln-us-military-aid-ukraine-include-vehicles-munitions-sources-2023-06-26/.

[ix] “Australia Pledges Further Support to Ukraine”, Prime Minister of Australia, June 26, 2023, https://www.pm.gov.au/media/australia-pledges-further-support-ukraine.