October 1, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces counter-attack in Robotyne

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces are conducting tactical counterattacks in the Robotyne area as part of their elastic defense against ongoing Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The situation south of Robotyne is fluid as some tactically significant field fortifications have changed hands several times.Geolocated footage posted on September 30 shows Ukrainian forces striking Russian troops trying to enter a trench system about 1km southwest of Robotyne near the T0408 Robotyne—Tokmak road. Footage posted on September 13 shows that Ukrainian forces had previously occupied segments of this trench and thus appear to have lost it to Russian counterattacks between September 13 and 30. ISW has recoded this area from Ukraine’s counteroffensive to Russian advances.

A Ukrainian soldier analyzed the footage of the area and noted that the aforementioned Russian-controlled trench is a strongpoint in an interconnected system of trenches, firing systems, and dugouts that lie between Robotyne and Novoprokopivka. The Ukrainian soldier noted that the trenches are connected by underground tunnel-like structures and that Russian forces are prioritizing the defense of these positions, which have tactical significance in the area between Robotyne and Novoprokopivka. Geolocated footage posted on October 1 shows Russian forces striking a Ukrainian vehicle just south of the middle of the three trenches and about 1km west of the easternmost trench in the system, suggesting that Ukrainian forces control the easternmost trench and are attempting to push westward to recapture the remaining two trenches and connected dugouts and firing positions. Commercially available satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces destroyed this vehicle between September 25 and 28, indicating that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian attack and reconsolidated Russian positions near the trench systems in late September. The reported continued presence of Russian forces in the western and central trenches suggests that Russian forces have been conducting successful limited tactical counterattacks south of Robotyne and that the tactical situation in this area is complex and dynamic.

The Russian information space continues to falsely portray Western aid to Ukraine as escalatory in order to discourage continued Western support for Ukraine. Newly appointed United Kingdom Defense Secretary Grant Shapps stated in an interview with the Telegraph published on September 30 that he held talks with unspecified (likely UK) “Army leaders” about moving “more training and production” of military equipment into Ukraine. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walked back Shapps’ statement on October 1 and stated that the UK has no immediate plans to deploy military instructors to Ukraine. Sunak clarified that it may be possible for the UK to conduct some training in the future in Ukraine but stated that the UK would not send British soldiers to fight in the ”current conflict.” Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev, a notably nationalistic and extreme voice in the Russian government, called Shapps’ since-clarified statement a “push” toward a ”third world war.” Medvedev regularly voices alarmist rhetoric and continues to portray any Western aid to Ukraine as escalatory in an attempt to undermine Western military aid to Ukraine. His comments are part of a long-running Russian information operation along these lines and do not mark any sort of inflection.

Several Russian milbloggers also expressed baseless paranoia in response to UK officials’ statements by claiming with no evidence at all that the UK intends to help train Ukrainian forces for future operations in Crimea. The milbloggers’ claims are likely also a part of a Russian information operation intended to portray Western military aid and continued support for Ukraine as escalatory. Russian milbloggers have noted broad indicators such as Ukrainian strikes on military targets in Crimea and on Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets to suggest that western forces are currently aiding Ukrainian forces in preparations to launch military operations in Crimea. Ukrainian strikes against Crimea and BSF assets are more likely part of Ukraine’s interdiction campaign assisting Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces are conducting tactical counterattacks in the Robotyne area as part of their elastic defense against ongoing Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The situation south of Robotyne is fluid as some tactically significant field fortifications have changed hands several times.
  • The Russian information space continues to falsely portray Western aid to Ukraine as escalatory in order to discourage continued Western support for Ukraine.
  • The status of the Wagner Group remains unclear amid reported negotiations about the Wagner Group’s future cooperation with the Russian government.
  • ISW will revise its assessment about the prospects for the Wagner Group to reemerge an as effective military organization if the Wagner Group successfully reconstitutes as a large, unitary organization under Rosgvardia, the Russian MoD, or a similar organization.
  • Russian forces conducted another series of drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of September 30 to October 1.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Lyman line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and marginally advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast. 
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) officially announced the beginning of its regular fall 2023 conscription cycle on October 1.
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