October 6, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia said to have recruited several hundred Serbian nationals to fight in Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 6. Ukrainian military sources noted that Ukrainian forces continued successful offensive actions south of Bakhmut near Andriivka (8km southeast of Bakhmut). Geolocated footage posted on October 5 shows that Ukrainian forces have advanced towards a tree line between Robotyne and Verbove, about 6km southeast of Robotyne. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash noted that Ukrainian forces are preparing for offensive operations throughout the autumn-winter period. Yevlash emphasized that while supply requirements will increase and rainy and foggy conditions may complicate the use of drones and tactical and army aviation, Ukrainian forces will continue to fight through the winter. Yevlash’s statement supports ISW’s longstanding assessment that weather will not prevent either side from conducting offensive operations throughout the winter of 2023-2024 if they are well-supplied and choose to do so, as they did in the winter of 2022, and that the pace of Ukrainian offensives will largely be metered by Western provision of appropriate small-arms and ammunition and non-lethal supplies to Ukraine – not simply winter weather conditions or any specific weapons system.

Russian forces appear to have recently conducted a regimental rotation in the Orikhiv area, demonstrating an ability to sustain their defenses in this critical sector of the frontline. A Ukrainian military observer reported on October 6 that elements of the 291st Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District), which were recently “partially restored,” withdrew to positions east of Nesteryanka (about 10km northwest of Robotyne) after the Russian command previously committed them to the area. The Ukrainian observer also suggested that elements of the 71st Motorized Rifle Regiment (also of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division) are ”persistently” counterattacking on the northern outskirts of Novoprokopivka (2km south of Robotyne). ISW observed in mid-September that critical elements of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division, particularly its 291st and 71st Motorized Rifle Regiments, withdrew behind the Russian defensive line between Verbove and Solodka Balka (about 5km south of Robotyne) due to casualties that may have rendered them combat ineffective. Following the withdrawal of elements of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division to rear areas in western Zaporizhia Oblast, elements of the 7th and 76th Airborne (VDV) divisions laterally redeployed to the area from Kherson and Luhansk oblasts to fill in the gaps left by 42nd Motorized Rifle Division elements. By late September, ISW observed elements of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division apparently recommitting to the front near Novoprokopivka, suggesting that they rotated back to the front after resting and reconstituting for a short time. The Ukrainian military source’s observations about the 291st and 71st Motorized Rifle Regiments, as well as increased recent Russian reporting of these regiments defending against Ukrainian attacks in the areas south and west of Robotyne, suggest that Russian forces have conducted regiment-level rotations in this sector of the front over the past month. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces were likely struggling to conduct tactical to operational level rotations along the entire frontline, but is revising this assessment considering the apparent rotation of substantial elements of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division and two VDV divisions to and from the frontline south of Orikhiv.

Russian forces reportedly resumed an offensive effort near Kupyansk on October 6, but the majority of the Russian forces reportedly deployed to this sector of the front likely remain combat ineffective. Ukrainian military officials reported a decrease in Russian activity near Kupyansk in recent weeks, but Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash stated on October 6 that Russian forces resumed combat operations in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces launched an offensive push near Synkivka (8km northeast of Kupyansk) and that Russian forces are heavily shelling the N26 (Shevchenkove-Kupyansk) highway. One milblogger characterized the renewed Russian offensive push towards Kupyansk as “large-scale” in a now-deleted post. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov previously reported that the Russian military deployed elements of the newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army (CAA) (reportedly formed under the Eastern Military District) to the Kupyansk direction to replace elements of the 41st CAA (Central Military District). The resumption of Russian offensive operations near Kupyansk, possibly including elements of the 25th CAA, is likely intended to draw Ukrainian attention away from other sectors of the front in southern Ukraine. ISW previously assessed, however, that the 25th CAA was hurriedly deployed ahead of an intended deployment date of December 2023 and is likely severely understaffed, poorly trained, or both.  ISW has also previously observed the presence of heavily degraded Western Military District (WMD) elements, particularly of the 1st Guards Tank Army and 6th Combined Arms Army, in the Kupyansk area, and ISW does not assess at this time that a grouping comprised of the newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army with degraded WMD elements will be able to sustain meaningful offensives in this area.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 6.
  • Russian forces appear to have recently conducted a regimental rotation in the Orikhiv area, demonstrating an ability to sustain their defenses in this critical sector of the frontline.
  • Russian forces reportedly resumed an offensive effort near Kupyansk on October 6, but the majority of the Russian forces reportedly deployed to this sector of the front likely remain combat ineffective.
  • Russian forces may be expanding military training infrastructure in occupied eastern Ukraine as part of ongoing efforts to increase the training and mobilization capacity of the Russian military.
  • The Kremlin’s continued attempts to deflect blame for the crash of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane crash and disgrace Prigozhin are generating continued praise for Prigozhin and efforts to defend his legacy among select information space communities.
  • Former Russian military commanders who participated in the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 reportedly remain in peripheral positions of some influence within the Russian military or defense-industrial base.
  • Russian forces conducted a Shahed-131/136 drone strike targeting port, grain, and border infrastructure in southern Ukraine on the night of October 5-6.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Lyman line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations near Bakhmut and advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russia has reportedly recruited up to several hundred Serbian nationals to fight in Ukraine.
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