December 26, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian capture of Donetsk village of Marinka a tactical gain

Institute for the Study of War

Russia’s likely capture of Marinka in Donetsk Oblast represents a limited Russian tactical gain and does not portend any operationally significant advance unless Russian forces have dramatically improved their ability to conduct rapid mechanized forward movement, which they show no signs of having done. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 25 and claimed that Russian forces completely captured Marinka (immediately west of Donetsk City). Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi stated on December 26 that combat has effectively destroyed Marinka, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces withdrew in part from Marinka, and stated that Ukrainian forces nonetheless are still operating in the northern outskirts of Marinka and have prepared a defensive line outside of the settlement. Geolocated footage posted on December 25 indicates that Russian forces advanced in the northern sections of Marinka. ISW assesses that Russian forces likely control most if not all of Marinka despite not yet observing visual confirmation of the complete Russian capture of Marinka as of December 26. Putin claimed that the Russian capture of Marinka will allow Russian forces to push Ukrainian combat units away from occupied Donetsk City and create a wider operational space for Russian forces. Many Russian milbloggers acknowledged the capture of Marinka as a tactical victory and claimed that it will allow Russian forces to conduct offensive operations toward settlements up to 15km west of Marinka in the coming weeks and months, threatening nearby Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs). Russian forces have attempted to capture Marinka since 2014 and have been conducting daily frontal assaults on the settlement since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, intensifying those assaults starting in early October 2023. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that fighting has completely destroyed Marinka, a small settlement with a pre-invasion population of roughly 9,000.

A small and completely destroyed settlement does not offer Russian forces a secure operational foothold from which to launch further offensive operations. Marinka is located less than a kilometer from the pre-invasion frontline and Ukrainian forces have long fortified many of the surrounding settlements, which Russian forces have been similarly struggling to capture. Russian forces have advanced roughly over three kilometers in depth into Marinka since February 24, 2022, and there are no indications that the rate of Russian advance to the next settlements identified as tactical Russian objectives will be any quicker, especially considering the rate of attrition that Russian forces suffered to capture a small settlement directly on the border of territory Russia has controlled since 2014. Russia’s capture of Marinka follows several months of highly attritional marginal gains and is not the result of a sudden rapid mechanized Russian advance. Russian forces have not conducted any offensive operation that resulted in a rapid and mechanized forward advance since Spring 2022, and Russian capabilities to conduct the mechanized maneuver that would be required for such an advance have been severely degraded.[9] Russian forces have recently illustrated the lack of these capabilities in failed waves of mass mechanized assaults to capture Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, and those offensive operations resulted in further armored vehicle losses that have prompted the Russian command to transition to infantry-heavy ground attacks. Rapid maneuver warfare also requires combat effective mechanized units, and the Russian units that have participated in the effort to capture Marinka have largely been elements of poorly trained and less effective Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) units. Russian forces are highly unlikely to make rapid operational advances from Marinka, and the reported Russian capture of the settlement at most sets conditions for further limited tactical gains.

Localized Russian offensive operations are still placing pressure on Ukrainian forces in many places along the front in eastern Ukraine, however, and can result in gradual tactical Russian advances. Zaluzhnyi stated that holding Ukrainian territory is important but that Ukrainian forces are prioritizing the preservation of their personnel. Zaluzhnyi added that he believes that Russian forces can repeat “what happened in Bakhmut” (using high-casualty frontal attacks to force tactical gains over a protracted period) in Avdiivka in the next two to three months, which would force Ukrainian forces to retreat to save their personnel and retake the settlement at a later date. Russian forces captured Bakhmut in May 2023 after months of gradual tactical gains during the Wagner Group’s infantry-heavy urban offensive operation to capture the city, which resulted in staggering Russian losses including the effective destruction of the Wagner Group following the abortive armed mutiny that those losses precipitated. Russian forces are conducting similarly attritional ground assaults in localized offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine, although not at the scale that Wagner did during the battle for Bakhmut. These Russian offensive operations will continue to pressure defending Ukrainian forces and produce limited tactical gains. The accumulation of marginal Russian gains amid continued heavy fighting may produce tactical scenarios wherein the Ukrainian command may choose to withdraw forces from endangered positions of limited operational significance if it determines that the preservation of personnel is more expedient.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia’s likely capture of Marinka in Donetsk Oblast represents a limited Russian tactical gain and does not portend any operationally significant advance unless Russian forces have dramatically improved their ability to conduct rapid mechanized forward movement, which they show no signs of having done.
  • Localized Russian offensive operations are still placing pressure on Ukrainian forces in many places along the front in eastern Ukraine, however, and can result in gradual tactical Russian advances.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted a successful missile strike that destroyed a Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessel and potentially damaged port infrastructure in occupied Feodosia, Crimea on December 26.
  • Russian forces struck a train station in Kherson City where civilians were waiting for evacuation on December 26.
  • Russian forces have reportedly decreased the tempo of their operations on east (left) bank Kherson Oblast, likely in connection with decreasing Russian aviation activity after Ukrainian forces recently shot down several Russian aircraft.
  • The Ukrainian government continues efforts to systematize and increase the sustainability of Ukrainian mobilization over the long term.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to portray himself as a gracious Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, while contrasting his apparent attention to the Russian irregular forces’   with the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) incompetence.
  • Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states met during a series of meetings in St. Petersburg on December 25 and 26.
  • Russian actors seized on ongoing protests in Serbia against Serbian President Alexander Vucic to blame Western actors for causing instability in Serbia, which Russia perceives as a long-term European ally.
  • A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Finland is becoming a “second Ukraine,” creating rhetorical parallels between Russian narratives about Ukraine and Finland, further suggesting that Russia maintains future ideological and territorial objectives that far exceed the war in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kupyansk, Avdiivka, Marinka, and Robotyne as positional engagements continued along the entire line of contact.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a series of laws on December 25 to help further bolster Russia’s force generation capacity.
  • The Kremlin further formalized avenues to coerce residents of occupied Ukraine to receive Russian passports using maternity capital payments.

For full report:   https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-26-2023 

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