November 16, 2023

Institute for the Study. Of War: Russia beefs up air defense to thwart Ukrainian attacks on supply routes

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of October 15 to 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 18 Shahed-131/136 drones of which Ukrainian forces destroyed 16. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Russian forces launched S-300 missiles targeting Kharkiv Oblast and that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Kh-59 cruise missile over Poltava Oblast on the evening of November 15. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat reported on November 16 that Russian forces changed the timing of the November 16 drone attack from their normal strike pattern by conducting the drone strikes until around 9:30am local time, as opposed to conducting the attacks at their usual time from around 10:00pm to 3:00-4:00am. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Captain First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk stated that the Russian military has concentrated over 800 missiles, including Kalibr and Onyx missiles, in occupied Crimea and intends to use all of them against Ukrainian energy infrastructure in winter 2023.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev announced on November 16 that Russian authorities are strengthening Russian air defense over Russia’s Central Federal Okrug, likely in response to Ukraine’s recently implied intent to conduct an interdiction campaign against Russian supply routes in rear areas during the winter. Patrushev also announced that Russian authorities have organized patrols to protect critical infrastructure facilities to prevent attacks and that the Russian government is funding the creation of “territorial defense lines” for oblasts bordering Ukraine. Patrushev added that Russian authorities are updating a list of all critical infrastructure facilities – including fuel and energy facilities and important transportation objects – that require protection from unspecified threats. The Central Federal Okrug consists of 18 federal subjects including Bryansk, Kursk, and Belgorod oblasts, which border Ukraine. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk stated on November 13 that Ukraine needs additional air defense systems and long-range missiles to strike Russian rear areas. Ukrainian Ground Forces Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo stated on November 12 that Ukrainian forces’ current main task is to disrupt Russian ground lines of communications (GLOCs).

Key Takeaways: 

  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of October 15 to 16.
  • Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev announced on November 16 that Russian authorities are strengthening Russian air defense over Russia’s Central Federal Okrug, likely in response to Ukraine’s recently implied intent to conduct an interdiction campaign against Russian supply routes in rear areas during the winter.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to criticize actors in the Russian information space for distorting the reality of the Russian war effort, highlighting an emerging cyclical dynamic in the Russian information space in which the majority of Russian sources coalesce around a particular predominant narrative and, in turn, a subset of different sources coalesces to criticize the majority’s prevailing opinion.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded a prominent Russian milblogger who was previously critical of Russia’s military performance during its full-scale invasion with a prestigious state honor, continuing the Kremlin’s long-standing effort to coopt milbloggers and make them loyal to the Kremlin. 
  • Ukraine stated that the continued Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has resulted in equipment and maintenance failures that threaten the plant’s security.
  • The Ukrainian and IAEA reports indicate that Russia’s presence and exclusive control over the ZNPP is increasing, suggesting that similar failures may escalate under continued Russian occupation.
  • Cyprus has reportedly been complicit in helping Russian elites, sanctioned for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, launder money.
  • Gazprom Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, announced on November 16 that it acquired the majority share of a large Russian blogger agency, likely in an effort to expand its already extensive control over the Russian media space.
  • Russian authorities discovered former Russian 6th Air Force and Air Defense Army Commander Lieutenant General Vladimir Sviridov dead in his home in Stavropol Krai on November 15. 
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, near Robotyne, and northeast of Vasylivka and advanced near Avdiivka. 
  • The Russian Ministry of Education issued a draft order establishing a course called “Fundamentals of Security and Defense of the Motherland” for Russian middle and high school students starting in September 2024.
  • The Russian government and Russian occupation authorities continue to forcibly deport children in occupied Ukraine to Russia under the rubric of educational programs.
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