October 2, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: More signs of sinking Russian troop morale near Bakmut

Institute for the Study of War

A prominent Russian milblogger and front-line unit commander claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky “saved” the Russian 31st Guards VDV Brigade, which was fighting south of Bakhmut, mirroring claims made by a much smaller milblogger about VDV units in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Vostok Battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky recalled a conversation with then-Commander of the 31st VDV Airborne Brigade Colonel Andrei Kondrashkin prior to Kondrashkin’s death around Bakhmut in mid-September, in which Kondrashkin revealed that his forces suffered personnel losses and that their motivation to fight dropped to a critical level. Kondrashkin reportedly stated that the Russian military command demanded that his forces undertake “decisive actions,” while he knew that his personnel were suffering a critical lack of motivation. Khodakovsky noted that Kondrashkin refrained from raising his concerns to the military command and proceeded to blame his military failures on the lack of cohesion among Russian forces. Khodakovsky, in turn, noted that cohesion was not the problem, but rather that Kondrashkin needed to make a choice to either “waste” his troops in combat or protest the Russian military command’s order at the expense of his career. Khodakovsky observed that Kondrashkin never had a chance to make this choice because he sustained an injury in combat immediately after the conversation, and that Teplinsky “saved” the 31st VDV Brigade by taking the “remnants [of the brigade] under his wing” and giving them the opportunity to take a break from combat.

A Russian “Storm Z” assault unit instructor speculated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) removed Lieutenant General Andrey Sychevoy from commanding in the Bakhmut direction due to his poor performance. The instructor claimed on October 1 that the Russian military command removed Sychevoy from his position for conducting unprepared and unsupported counterattacks south of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka and Andriivka. Sychevoy’s current formal position within the Russian military is unknown. Sychevoy previously commanded the Russian Western Group of Forces in Kharkiv Oblast until his dismissal in early September 2022, and this claim is the first observed speculation that Sychevoy has had a role in military operations in Ukraine since September 2022. Prominent Russian ultranationalist media outlet Tsargrad claimed in August 2023 that Sychevoy refuses all journalistic requests for comment, indicating that Sychevoy retained an official position and may have intended to keep this position concealed.

Ukrainian forces marginally advanced in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and near Bakhmut on October 2. Geolocated footage published on October 2 indicates that Ukrainian forces marginally advanced northwest of Novomayorske (18km southeast of Veylka Novosilka). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) and Bakhmut directions. ISW is updating its October 1 assessment that Ukrainian forces lost positions in a trench system southwest of Robotyne (13km south of Orikhiv) to Russian counterattacks between September 13 and 30. Geolocated footage published on October 2 and satellite imagery indicate that Ukrainian forces likely retook these positions sometime between September 12 and 17 and currently hold them.

Key Takeaways:

  • A prominent Russian milblogger and front-line unit commander claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky “saved” the Russian 31st Guards VDV Brigade, which was fighting south of Bakhmut, mirroring claims made by a much smaller milblogger about VDV units in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • A Russian “Storm Z” assault unit instructor speculated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) removed Lieutenant General Andrey Sychevoy from commanding the Bakhmut direction due to his poor performance.
  • Ukrainian forces marginally advanced in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and near Bakhmut on October 2.
  • Prominent actors in the Russian information space continue to speculate about the possible future of the Wagner Group under Rosgvardia.
  • Interethnic tensions and claims about the superiority of Chechen “Akhmat” forces over regular Russian forces continue to generate controversy in the Russian information space.
  • Russian forces conducted a small-scale Shahed-131/136 drone strike on Ukraine on the night of October 1-2 after Russian forces conducted a record number of drone strikes targeting Ukrainian grain and port infrastructure in September 2023.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations near Kreminna, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced in some areas on October 2.
  • The Russian “Vostok” Battalion continued to complain on October 1 that the Russian military command is not fulfilling its promises of having the unit fight as a second-echelon force and is not providing state awards.
  • Russian occupation officials continued to transport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of educational trips.
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