November 13, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia ‘regroups’ forces on the east bank of the Dnipro River then retracts announcement

Institute for the Study of War

Russian state media released and later retracted reports about the “regrouping” of Russian forces on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast to positions further east of the Dnipro River, suggesting that the Russian command and/or Russian state media apparatus has failed to establish a coordinated information line for the Russian response to ongoing Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank. Kremlin press wire TASS and Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti published reports claiming that the command of the Russian “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces (currently active in east bank Kherson Oblast) decided to transfer troops to unspecified “more advantageous positions” east of the Dnipro River and that the Russian military command would transfer elements from the “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces to other directions for offensive operations following the regrouping. TASS and RIA Novosti withdrew the reports within minutes and TASS later issued an apology wherein it claimed that it had “erroneously” released its report. Russian state-affiliated outlet RBK reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) called the reports of a regrouping on the east bank of Kherson Oblast “false” and a ”provocation.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded to a question about the situation in Kherson Oblast by stating that only the Russian military can and should comment on the situation.

The Russian MoD has not acknowledged persisting Ukrainian positions on the east bank or ongoing larger-than-usual Ukrainian ground operations in recent weeks. Russian milbloggers have increasingly reported on Ukrainian activity on the left bank, however, sharply contrasting with the continued lack of acknowledgement from Russian state media and Russian officials. The Russian command has previously struggled to establish a coordinated informational approach to developments in Ukraine, particularly when the Russian command failed to set informational conditions for defeats during the Kharkiv 2022 counteroffensive. Previous failures to set coordinated informational approaches have led to chaotic fractures and pronounced discontent in the Russian information space, and the Russian command risks repeating these incidents with the situation on the east bank, which has drawn notable concern from Russian ultranationalists. The reports‘ references to Russian “offensives“ elsewhere on the front suggests that the uncoordinated informational approach may be more widespread than the east bank, since the Russian command has not explicitly recognized any current Russian operations in Ukraine as an offensive effort.

Ukrainian officials indicated that Ukraine will likely conduct an interdiction campaign against Russian supply routes in the upcoming winter. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk responded on November 13 to the forecasted large-scale Russian strike series against Ukrainian critical infrastructure in the upcoming winter and stated that Ukraine is preparing air defense capabilities and needs additional air defense systems and long-range missiles, such as ATACMS, to hit 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) and that these disruptions, coupled with the onset of inclement weather, will “freeze” Russian offensive operations.[25] Fityo also stated on November 13 that Ukrainian disruptions of Russian GLOCs will create issues for the supply of food, water, ammunition, and winter materials to Russian forces. Ukrainian forces have been conducting an interdiction campaign against Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea, primarily Black Sea Fleet assets, since June 2023 to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian operations in southern Ukraine, and Ukraine may intend to intensify and widen this interdiction campaign in the coming months.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian state media released and later retracted reports about the “regrouping” of Russian forces on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast to positions further east of the Dnipro River, suggesting that the Russian command and/or Russian state media apparatus has failed to establish a coordinated information line for the Russian response to ongoing Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank.
  • There are three hypotheses of varying likelihood for the release of the now-retracted reports of a Russian regrouping on the east bank of Kherson Oblast: They may be indicative of actual discussions taking place in the high echelons of Russian military command that may have prematurely entered the information space before being officially released by the Russian military; the Russian military command alternatively may have instructed state media to release and then retract these reports as part of an information operation that aims to have Ukrainian forces underestimate available Russian manpower on the east bank of Kherson Oblast; or an outside source posing as the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) provided information about the reported “regrouping” of Russian forces on the left bank of Kherson Oblast to Russian state media outlets.
  • Regardless of the causes and circumstances of the TASS and RIA Novosti reports, the reaction to them suggests that events in Kherson Oblast continue to be highly neuralgic in the pro-war information space and emphasizes that the Russian media space still has not coalesced around a singular rhetorical line about what is happening on the east bank of the Dnipro.
  • Ukrainian and Russian sources noted that weather conditions are impacting the battlespace but not halting operations.
  • Ukrainian officials indicated that Ukraine will likely conduct an interdiction campaign against Russian supply routes in the upcoming winter.
  • A Russian milblogger called on actors in the Russian information space to more widely amplify Russian strikes on Ukrainian military assets as opposed to Ukrainian strikes on Russian rear areas, indirectly highlighting a unique dynamic wherein the majority of reported Russian strikes seem to affect Ukrainian civilian objects, whereas the majority of reported Ukrainian strikes affect Russian military assets.
  • US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink stated that the 100th civilian ship departed the Black Sea corridor for civilian vessels on November 13, amid continued Russian efforts to deter usage of the corridor.
  • Former Wagner Group personnel are reportedly rejecting Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) recruitment attempts aimed at subsuming Wagner operations in Africa.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas of the frontline.
  • Ukrainian officials continued to discuss Russian forced mobilization of Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine.
  • Russian occupation officials continued to deport Ukrainian children to Russia under vacation schemes.
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