February 4, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces advance on three fronts in eastern Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

Russia’s reported reserve concentrations throughout Ukraine largely align with Russia’s assessed priorities along the front, although they are not necessarily indicative of future Russian operations. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that Russian forces currently have 17 regiments, 16 battalions, and two regiment-battalion level tactical detachments in reserve. Mashovets stated that there are about 60,000-62,000 total Russian personnel in reserve units, but Russian forces have only equipped about 20,000 tactical and operational-tactical level reserve personnel with weapons and equipment. Mashovets stated that Russia’s reserves are concentrated in the greatest numbers in the operational zone of the Southern Grouping of Forces, followed by the Western Grouping of Forces, Dnepr Grouping of Forces, the Zaporizhia Grouping of Forces, the Eastern Grouping of Forces, and the Central Grouping of Forces. The Southern Grouping of Forces is responsible for the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, and Mashovets noted that the reserve concentration in this area aligns with the areas where Russian forces are concentrating their offensive efforts. Mashovets observed that it is not surprising that the Dnepr Grouping of Forces — which operates in occupied Kherson Oblast — has the third highest number of reserves given that Russian forces may be concerned over a Ukrainian threat in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian officials have recently indicated that Russian forces have more than 70,000 personnel on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts, but that many are concentrated deeper in the rear. The Dnipro Grouping of Forces’ reserves would likely be able to easily move to the Zaporizhia direction if circumstances so required. Mashovets assessed that the Central Grouping of Forces, which is responsible for the Lyman direction, has the lowest concentration of reserves due to its smaller operational zone that requires fewer troops. ISW additionally assesses that the Central Grouping of Forces has a lower concentration of reserves because Russian operations in the Lyman direction are likely meant to support the Western Grouping of Forces’ operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove line, as ISW will soon outline in an upcoming operational analysis of the Russian offensive on the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis. Russian forces will be able to move their reserve concentrations freely between different sectors of the front as long as Russia holds the strategic initiative across the theater. ISW continues to assess that an active Ukrainian defense throughout the theater in 2024 would cede the strategic initiative to Russia allowing Moscow to determine where, when, and at what scale fighting occurs in Ukraine and to allocate Russian resources appropriately while forcing Ukraine to respond. Ukraine would be able to deny Russia this ability, however, if Ukraine were able to contest the initiative.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia’s reported reserve concentrations throughout Ukraine largely align with Russia’s assessed priorities along the front, although they are not necessarily indicative of future Russian operations.
  • The Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is unlikely able to fully support Russia’s reserve manpower despite Russia’s ability to sustain its current tempo of operations and ongoing efforts to expand the Russian DIB.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontline near Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast and the Ukrainian Eastern Air Command in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on February 4.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to criticize Russian authorities’ failure to properly equip Russian forces with drones and electronic warfare (EW) systems in response to a recent unsuccessful Russian mechanized assault near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to face the authoritarian’s dilemma, whereby his authoritarian regime is itself systematically preventing him from receiving accurate information about military-political realities in Russia.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline. 
  • Kremlin newswire TASS reported on February 4 that Vladimir Oblast will be a patron of the new Knyaz Pozharsky Borei-A class nuclear submarine.
  • Ukrainian officials continue international efforts aimed at returning Ukrainian citizens whom Russian authorities illegally deported to Russia.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-february-4-2024

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