April 23, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Most Russian forces in Ukraine are damaged and operating substantially under strength 

Institute for the Study of War

April 23, 2023

ISW is publishing a special edition campaign assessment today, April 23. This report outlines the current Russian order of battle (ORBAT) in Ukraine, assesses the offensive and defensive capabilities of Russian force groupings along the front, and discusses major factors that may complicate Russian defensive operations in the event of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

This report is based on a number of assumptions about Ukrainian capabilities that ISW does not, as a matter of policy, attempt to assess or report on. It assumes, in particular, that Ukraine will be able to conduct a coordinated multi-brigade mechanized offensive operation making full use of the reported nine brigades being prepared for that operation. That task is daunting and larger than any offensive effort Ukraine has hitherto attempted (four Ukrainian brigades were reportedly used in the Kharkiv counter-offensive, for example). It also assumes that Ukraine will have integrated enough tanks and armored personnel carriers of various sorts into its units to support extended mechanized maneuver, that Ukrainian mechanized units will have sufficient ammunition of all sorts including artillery, and that Ukraine will be able to conduct long-range precision strikes with HIMARS and other similar systems integrated with and supporting maneuver operations as it has done before. It further assumes that Ukrainian forces will have the mine-clearing and bridging capabilities needed to move relatively rapidly through prepared defensive positions. ISW sees no reason to question any of these assumptions given the intensity with which Ukraine has reportedly been preparing for this operation and the time it has taken to do so, as well as the equipment reportedly delivered to Ukrainian forces by Western countries. If any significant number of these assumptions prove invalid, however, then some of the assessments and observations below will also be invalid, and the Russians’ prospects for holding their lines will be better than presented below. ISW offers no assessment of or evidence for these assumptions, and thus offers no specific forecast for the nature, scale, location, duration, or outcome of the upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive. Ukraine has attractive options for offensive operations all along the line, and ISW does not assess that the information presented in this report or any observations ISW has made below lead obviously to the conclusion that Ukrainian forces will attack in one area or another.

Russian forces in Ukraine are operating in decentralized and largely degraded formations throughout the theater, and the current pattern of deployment suggests that most available units are already online and engaged in either offensive or defensive operations. ISW assesses that Russian forces are currently operating along seven axes: Kupyansk; Luhansk Oblast; Bakhmut; Avdiivka-Donetsk City; western Donetsk/eastern Zaporizhia; western Zaporizhia; and Kherson Oblast. Russian forces are pursuing active offensive operations on at least five of these axes (Kupyansk, Luhansk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka-Donetsk City, and western Donetsk/eastern Zaporizhia) and predominantly pursuing defensive operations on the western Zaporizhia Oblast and Kherson Oblast axes. The forces currently committed to both offensive and defensive operations in Ukraine are both regular (doctrinally consistent based on Russian pre-war units) and irregular (non-standard and non-doctrinal) forces, and it is highly likely that the majority of Russian elements throughout Ukraine are substantially below full strength due to losses taken during previous phases of the war. This report will discuss “elements” of certain units and formations deployed to certain areas, but it should not be assumed that any of these units or formations are operating at full strength.

Kupyansk Axis (Northeastern Kharkiv Oblast)

Russia has committed elements of previously damaged Western Military District (WMD) formations to the Kupyansk area. Russian forces have been pursuing limited offensive operations on the Kupyansk axis in the first few months of 2023, but have failed to make operationally significant gains towards Kupyansk and have made only occasional and localized tactical gains. ISW has observed mentions of unknown units of unspecified echelon of the 1st Guards Tank Army (1st GTA)’s 47th Tank Division operating in the Kupyansk direction.[1] The 1st GTA notably suffered major manpower and equipment losses during the Russian offensive in Chernihiv Oblast early in the war in 2022, and then once again during Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensive in fall 2022.[2] The 1st GTA’s 4th Tank Division, particularly its 12th and 13th Tank Regiments, lost nearly 100 tanks in a few days in September 2022, so any constituent elements of the 1st GTA that are currently operating near Kupyansk are likely short of tanks and other critical systems.[3] The commitment of damaged and understrength 1st GTA elements to this line likely suggests that the Russian military command is not immediately prioritizing this as an axis of advance or defense. Geolocated footage from February 2023 additionally shows that the WMD’s 6th Combined Arms Army (CAA) has committed unknown units of unspecified echelon near the Fyholivka-Novomlynsk area, about 19km directly north of Kupyansk.[4] A Russian milblogger additionally indicated that elements of the 6th CAA’s 138th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade are operating in Kharkiv Oblast, likely near Kupyansk.

Based on the pattern of deployment of WMD formations on the Kupyansk and Luhansk axes, the WMD’s 2nd Motor Rifle Division (1st GTA) has likely deployed toward along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border. ISW has previously noted that it has not yet observed explicit confirmation that the 2nd MRD has come online but considering that unnamed 1st GTA elements are deployed near Kupyansk and that it is highly unlikely that Russia can afford to hold a division in reserve while trying to pursue offensive and defensive operations, the 2nd MRD has likely deployed near Kupyansk.[5] 

(for the full report:  https://www.iswresearch.org/)

Share the Post: