December 27, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces make tactical gains in western Zaporizhia and in Donetsk

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian drone footage published on December 27 showed another Russian execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The geolocated video shows Russian servicemen shooting three Ukrainian soldiers whom Russian forces captured in a tree line west of Verbove (east of Robotyne). The video later depicts one Russian soldier shooting an already dead Ukrainian serviceman again at close range. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General‘s Office announced that it opened an investigation into Russian forces violating the laws and customs of war in addition to premeditated murder. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office stated this incident occurred on an unspecified date in December 2023. ISW previously reported observing drone footage of Russian servicemen using Ukrainian POWs as human shields near Robotyne on December 13. The killing of POWs violates Article III of the Geneva Convention on the laws of armed conflict.

Russian forces recently advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast and retook positions that Ukrainian forces had captured during the summer 2023 counteroffensive, likely after Ukrainian forces withdrew to more defensible positions near Robotyne for the winter. Geolocated footage published on December 14 and 27 indicates that Russian forces recently advanced west of Verbove (9km east of Robotyne). Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated in an interview with BBC published on December 27 that Russia’s leadership wants to retake Avdiivka at a minimum but has a more ambitious goal of capturing all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and recapturing the territory Russian forces lost in Zaporizhia Oblast during the Ukrainian counteroffensive. ISW assessed that the Ukrainian capture of nearby positions in August 2023 was tactically significant because it could have allowed Ukrainian forces to begin operating past the densest Russian minefields and subsequent Russian defensive layers but does not assess that the recapture of these positions by Russian forces is particularly significant at this time. Recent Russian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast nevertheless support ISW’s assessment that the current positional war in Ukraine is not a stable stalemate because the current balance can be tipped in either direction by decisions made in the West or in Russia, and limited Russian gains could become significant especially if the West cuts off military aid to Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian drone footage published on December 27 showed another Russian execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian forces recently advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast and retook positions that Ukrainian forces had captured during the summer 2023 counteroffensive, likely after Ukrainian forces withdrew to more defensible positions near Robotyne for the winter.
  • The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (KHPP) dam on June 6, 2023, reportedly postponed a Ukrainian crossing of the Dnipro River that was likely intended to support Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.
  • Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi described continued Ukrainian battlefield challenges and requirements for future territorial advances during an interview with BBC published on December 27.
  • Ukrainian officials highlighted the Ukrainian defense industrial base’s (DIB) increased production in 2023 and offered projections of Ukraine’s domestic drone production capabilities on December 27.
  • Russian forces launched another series of Shahed-136/131 drone strikes against Ukraine overnight on December 27.
  • Satellite imagery from the successful December 26 Ukrainian strike on a Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessel in occupied Feodosia, Crimea indicates that the strike damaged the surrounding port infrastructure.
  • Russia maintains its maximalist objectives in Ukraine and is uninterested in good faith negotiations despite reports that Western officials are becoming more amenable to eventual Ukrainian negotiations with Russia to end the war.
  • The Russian state-owned Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) found that Russians are increasingly less trusting of Russian state TV and are turning to social media and the internet for news.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on December 27 in a likely effort to maintain Russia’s critical trade relationship with India.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Donetsk City, and Verbove as positional engagements continued along the entire line of contact.
  • A Russian insider source claimed that Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has created his own private military company (PMC).
  • The Ukrainian “Cyber Resistance” movement obtained information about a Russian deputy commander of the 171st Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (51st Air Defense Division) committing sexual crimes against minors in occupied Ukraine.

For full report: https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-27-2023

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