October 4, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian defense minister lauds units carrying out relentless counter-attacks against Ukraine forces in Zaborizhia

Institute for the Study of War

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. Shoigu attributed successful Russian defensive operations around Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv) to elements of the Russian 70th Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army [CAA], Southern Military District), 56th Air Assault (VDV) Regiment (7th VDV Division), 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet), and the 291st Guards Artillery Brigade (58th CAA, SMD) during a Russian military command meeting on October 3. Shoigu did not highlight other formations that are routinely credited for maintaining the Robotyne-Verbove line such as the 108th VDV Regiment (7th VDV Division) or the 247th VDV Regiment (7th VDV Division).

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. Russian outlet Kommersant reported on October 3 that sources close to the Russian Presidential Administration stated that Putin may announce his campaign during or shortly after the opening of the “Rossiya” international exhibition and forum on November 4. Kommersant’s sources claimed that the main ideological line of Putin’s campaign will be Russia as a “family of families” being attacked by its enemies and that Putin’s campaign will only discuss the war in Ukraine “exactly as much as necessary.” ISW has previously observed that Russian officials, particularly those affiliated with Putin’s United Russia party, appear concerned with the impacts the war will have on the electorate during local and regional elections. Russian news outlet RBK reported that the Kremlin is compiling a list of “proxies” to campaign for Putin ahead of the March 2024 presidential elections. These “proxies” must meet several criteria, including: expressing public support for Putin and the war in Ukraine; having a high level of recognition and respect in their communities; having public speaking skills and debate experience; and being involved in religion, the military, education, or other specified public spheres. Concerns within the Kremlin and United Russia over domestic support for the war and efforts to increase public support for Putin are not indications that United Russia or Putin’s dominance of Russian politics faces a legitimate threat in the upcoming presidential election.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction and offensive actions in the Bakhmut direction. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks near Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) and Andriivka (10km south of Bakhmut) south of Bakhmut and on the Kopani-Robotyne-Verbove line (11-18km southwest to southeast of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

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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