July 19, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia destroys Ukraine grain and oil terminals and 60,000 tons of grain

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces launched an extensive missile and drone attack against port and grain infrastructure in southern Ukraine on July 19 likely to further emphasize Russia’s objections to the renewal of the Black Sea grain deal and hinder Ukraine’s ability to export grain. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted strikes using 16 Kalibr sea-based cruise missiles, eight Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, six Onyx cruise missiles, one Kh-59 guided air missile, and 32 Iranian-made Shahed drones. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces predominantly targeted civilian and military infrastructure in Odesa Oblast with Kh-22 and Onyx missiles and that Ukrainian forces shot down 37 air targets including 13 Kalibrs, one Kh-59 missile, and 23 Shaheds. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Russian forces deliberately targeted the infrastructure necessary for executing the Black Sea grain deal in Odesa, Zhytomyr, and other oblasts. The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces struck grain and oil terminals and damaged tanks and loading equipment.  Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskyi reported that Russian strikes destroyed 60,000 tons of grain in the Chornomorsk port in Odesa Oblast on the night of July 19. The Southern Operational Command added that Russian strikes also targeted coastal areas in Mykolaiv Oblast and some infrastructure in Kherson City. Spokesperson of the Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Captain of the First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk stated that the Russian July 19 strikes “happened virtually simultaneously,” and that Russian forces likely attempted to overwhelm the Ukrainian air defense systems. Ukrainian Air Forces Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that this attack was the most intense missile and drone attack on Odesa Oblast since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Russian sources, apart from the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian strikes on south Ukraine aimed to dismantle the port infrastructure necessary for the Black Sea grain deal. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces struck Ukrainian military infrastructure and ammunition depots in Odesa Oblast and the Kanatove Air Base in Kirovohrad Oblast. Kremlin-affiliated mibloggers and former proxy officials claimed that Russian strikes damaged port infrastructure, grain storage, and industrial facilities in Odesa Oblast. Some Russian ultranationalists called on the Russian MoD to authorize additional strikes to destroy Ukrainian port and grain infrastructure to ensure that no grain deals can ever be renewed. One milblogger who has been routinely skeptical of the Kremlin’s war effort claimed that the Russian strike campaign is more “retaliatory” than “operationally sound” and blamed the Russian General Staff for wasting Russian efforts (and likely the dwindling stock of Russian precision weapons) on striking Ukrainian civilian infrastructure rather than military infrastructure.

The South African Presidential Office announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in-person in Johannesburg in August 2023. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent Russia at the summit, and President Putin will participate by video call.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin and reportedly Wagner Commander Dmitry Utkin greeted Wagner fighters at the new Wagner base near Asipovichy, Belarus, on July 18. Footage posted on July 19 and likely captured on July 18 shows Prigozhin addressing Wagner fighters at the field camp near Asipovichy, Belarus. Prigozhin welcomed the fighters to Belarus in a ceremony whose symbolism demonstrates that Prigozhin still controls the Wagner Group. Prigozhin handed the Wagner flag that had previously flown at the Wagner Group’s main military base in Molkino, Krasnodar Krai, to the local Wagner commander – a man with a first name of Sergey and callsign “Pioneer” – who will command Wagner forces in Belarus. “Pioneer” has reportedly been awarded five Orders of Courage and participated in combat in Syria, Central African Republic, Sudan, Mali, and other countries. Prigozhin stated that unspecified current events in Ukraine are a “shame in which [Wagner] does not need to participate” but acknowledged that Wagner may return to Ukraine when Wagner can be sure that Wagner fighters will not be forced to “shame” themselves. Prigozhin also ceremonially presented ribbons of Russian and Belarusian flags so that “no one will think that [Wagner] fights without a flag and without a Motherland as some have said.” Prigozhin stated that Wagner personnel will remain in Belarus “for some time” and that they will make “make the Belarusian army the second army in the world” – an insult directed against the Russian Ministry of Defense. Prigozhin also stated that Wagner will embark on a new journey in Africa after regrouping in Belarus. An unidentified man – reportedly Dmitry Utkin (callsign “Wagner”) – also thanked the Wagner fighters for their work and for making Wagner a world-famous name. Utkin said that “this is only the beginning of the biggest job that will be carried out soon.” ISW is unable to confirm the identity of the man who was presented as Utkin. If the man is indeed Utkin, this ceremony would mark Utkin’s first public appearance since 2016. Russian milbloggers reported that several thousand Wagner fighters attended this ceremony, though ISW cannot verify attendance numbers at this time.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces launched an extensive missile and drone attack against port and grain infrastructure in southern Ukraine on July 19 likely to further emphasize Russia’s objections to the renewal of the Black Sea grain deal and hinder Ukraine’s ability to export grain.
  • The South African Presidential Office announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in-person in Johannesburg in August 2023.
  • An explosion at a Russian training ground in occupied Kirovskyi Raion (Islam Terek Raion), southeastern Crimea, disrupted the Russian use of the Tavrida highway that connects eastern Crimea to Sevastopol on July 19.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on July 19 and made gains in these areas.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin and reportedly Wagner Commander Dmitry Utkin greeted Wagner fighters at the new Wagner base near Asipovichy, Belarus, on July 18.
  • Russian sources claimed that Wagner will continue to operate abroad in African countries, although Prigozhin’s involvement in these activities remains unclear.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to display his knowledge of Russian history at odd moments, this time appearing to warn against the possibility of revolution in Russia.
  • Russian authorities opened a case against an affiliate of the ultranationalist Angry Patriots Club for discrediting Russian forces, prompting the Angry Patriots Club to make explicit demands of Russian officials.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Kupyansk area, near Kreminna, in the Bakhmut area, and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front and made gains near Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, in the Bakhmut area, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front, and in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia oblast area. They made marginal gains along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City front and reportedly made limited advances in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia oblast area.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia area and western Zaporizhia Oblast and made reportedly made gains in both sectors of the front.
  • The Russian State Duma adopted on July 19 a law on the first reading and “in general” that allows the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) to have heavy military equipment.
  • The Ukrainian Crimean-based “Atesh” partisan group conducted another successful attack on a Russian military convoy in occupied Kherson Oblast on July 14.
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