October 4, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia withdraws Black Sea fleet vessels from Crimean base following Ukrainian attacks 

Institute for the Study of War

The Russian military recently transferred several Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessels from the port in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea to the port in Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai, likely in an effort to protect them from continued Ukrainian strikes on Russian assets in occupied Crimea. Satellite imagery published on October 1 and 3 shows that Russian forces transferred at least 10 vessels from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk. The satellite imagery reportedly shows that Russian forces recently moved the Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen frigates, three diesel submarines, five landing ships, and several small missile ships. Satellite imagery taken on October 2 shows four Russian landing ships and one Kilo-class submarine remaining in Sevastopol. Satellite imagery from October 2 shows a Project 22160 patrol ship reportedly for the first time in the port of Feodosia in eastern Crimea, suggesting that Russian forces may be moving BSF elements away from Sevastopol to bases further in the Russian rear. A Russian think tank, the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, claimed on October 3 that the BSF vessels’ movements from occupied Sevastopol to Novorossiysk were routine, however. Russian forces may be temporarily moving some vessels to Novorossiysk following multiple strikes on BSF assets in and near Sevastopol but will likely continue to use Sevastopol’s port, which remains the BSF’s base. Former Norwegian Navy officer and independent OSINT analyst Thord Are Iversen observed on October 4 that Russian vessel deployments have usually intensified following Ukrainian strikes but ultimately returned to normal patterns. ISW will explore the implications of Ukrainian strikes on the BSF in a forthcoming special edition.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and marginally advanced on October 4. Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks towards the rail line between Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) and Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut), and the Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian forces achieved partial success near these settlements. Geolocated footage published on October 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces marginally advanced east of Novoprokopivka (5km southeast of Robotyne) in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and the Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces achieved partial success west of Robotyne. Some Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces advanced up to a Russian trench line on the Robotyne-Kopani line (5km northwest of Robotyne).

Autumn and winter weather conditions will slow but not stop Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby stated on October 3 that good weather will last for another six to eight weeks before weather will impact both Ukrainian and Russian operations. ISW has previously observed that seasonal heavy rain and resulting mud in the autumn will slow ground movements on both sides, and that the autumn rain and mud are usually less intense than spring conditions. Hardening ground during the winter freeze will likely enable the tempo of combat operations to increase, however, and Ukrainian officials have expressed their intent to continue counteroffensive operations into late 2023 and exploit cold weather conditions. ISW has frequently assessed that offensive operations will continue through the winter season and has observed the continuation of combat activities throughout the fall mud season of 2022, winter season of 2022–2023, and spring mud season of 2023.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu celebrated an odd group of Russian armed formations operating in the western Zaporizhia Oblast direction during a conference call with Russian military leadership.
  • Shoigu’s choice of units could indicate he seeks to highlight Russian commanders who continue to follow Russian military leadership’s orders for relentless counterattacks.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) signaled its support for both Chechen units in Ukraine and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov amid a recent controversy surrounding interethnic tensions in the Russian government, military, and information space.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly preparing to announce his (certain to win) presidential campaign in November 2023, and reportedly intends to discuss the war in Ukraine as little as is necessary in political messaging.
  • A Reuters report published on October 3 stated that Russian forces have embedded “Storm-Z” units within conventional Russian units to conduct costly counterattacks against Ukrainian gains in key sectors of the front.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 3.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of October 2 to 3.
  • The Armenian Parliament ratified the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Rome Statute on October 3.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced in some areas.
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is reportedly investigating Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoit, likely in an attempt to remove government officials with connections to deceased Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin.
  • Russian opposition outlet Verstka revealed that almost half of all occupation officials of the senior and middle management levels in occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts are from Russia.
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