Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in at least three sectors of the front and reportedly advanced near Bakhmut on July 28. Ukrainian military officials stated that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut, and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on July 27 that Ukrainian forces continued advancing south of Bakhmut. A Russian milblogger claimed on July 28 that Ukrainian forces advanced near Kurdyumivka and Andriivka. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces continued ground attacks along the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border near Staromayorske (9km south of Velyka Novosilka) and Urozhaine (9km south of Velyka Novosilka), and some milbloggers acknowledged that Ukrainian forces captured Staromayorske on July 27. A Ukrainian source claimed that Ukrainian forces have advanced to within 10-12 kilometers of the main Russian defensive line in the Berdyansk direction. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian ground attacks near Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv), Verbove (17km southeast of Orikhiv), and Pyatykhatky (25km southwest of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Russian “Vostok” Battalion Commander Alexander Khodakovsky stated that Ukrainian forces can conduct strikes against the full depth of defending Russian forces and that these strikes are killing Russian commanders and degrading Russian command and control. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the 247th Guards Air Assault (VDV) Regiment (7th VDV Division) refused to go to combat near Staromayorske due to heavy Russian losses and Ukrainian battlefield victories.
Russian naval posturing in the Black Sea likely aims to impose a de facto blockade on Ukrainian ports without committing the Black Sea Fleet to the enforcement of a naval blockade. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Captain First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk reported on July 28 that Ukrainian officials have intercepted radio transmissions of Russian forces warning civilian ships in the Black Sea against heading to Ukrainian ports. A Russian milblogger amplified an audio recording purportedly of a Russian warship telling a civilian vessel in the Black Sea that Russian forces would consider the vessel involved in the conflict in Ukraine as a military cargo ship if it sailed towards a Ukrainian port. Russian sources also claimed that Russian authorities announced a nighttime navigation ban for all small vessels near the Kerch Strait due to concerns about Ukrainian naval drones. The Black Sea Fleet conducted exercises on July 27 wherein naval warships launched a missile at a target ship in the Black Sea. The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) recently attempted to soften the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) July 19 announcement about viewing civilian ships in the Black Sea as legitimate military targets by claiming that the announcement meant that Russian forces would inspect ships. The Russian MoD itself has not clarified what actions its announcement will allow the Russian military to take and even the Russian MFA’s interpretation would require Russian forces to board and possibly seize foreign civilian vessels. The Russian naval posturing in the Black Sea is likely intentionally ambiguous to generate widespread concern about possible detention by the Russian navy or outright strikes on civilian vessels. The Kremlin likely aims for this posturing to have a chilling effect on maritime activity so that Russian naval assets do not need to enforce an actual blockade of Ukrainian ports. A naval blockade is only mandatory for neutral entities to follow under international law if a belligerent declares the existence of the blockade, and Russia has yet to do so.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure African partner states that Russia will maintain its economic and security commitments during the second day of the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg. Putin addressed African heads of state and representatives at the summit’s plenary session on July 28 and highlighted military-technical agreements with 40 African countries and plans to expand Russia’s diplomatic presence in Africa. Putin stated that Russia aims to help train African partners‘ military and law enforcement personnel and noted that there are many African personnel at the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) academy. Putin also claimed that between 2022 and 2023 Russia wrote off $23 billion of debt for African countries. Putin claimed that Russia has sent almost 10 million tons of grain to African countries so far in 2023 and reiterated a pledge to send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain to six African countries in the next three to four months free of charge. Putin pointedly stated that Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products, likely aiming to reassure African partners concerned about food security following Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat stated at the summit that disruptions to energy and grain supplies must end, and both Mahamat and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi explicitly called for the revival of the grain deal. Al-Sissi also promoted a Kremlin talking point that Russia quit the grain deal because the grain corridor was not facilitating grain shipments to the poorest of countries, even though Putin himself cited Russian producers’ losses at depressed grain prices as a primary reason for leaving the deal. African countries are likely appealing to Russia without fully backing its position concerning the grain deal in hopes of retaining Russian economic and security commitments, in line with their likely primary objective to mitigate the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine affecting their economies.
The Kremlin continues to display little interest in an unspecific peace plan focused on eliminating disruptions to international trade proposed by African heads of state. Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Senegalese President Macky Sall, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and Mahamat all appealed to Putin to consider a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine. A delegation representing seven African states proposed a generalized peace plan focused on resuming international trade to Putin on June 17. Putin responded to renewed calls to engage with this peace plan at the summit by stating that Russia is respectfully and carefully considering the proposal. Putin has yet to address the feasibility of the peace plan and instead reiterated boilerplate rhetoric that Ukraine and the West are preventing negotiations from taking place. The Kremlin is likely trying to portray itself as considering the peace plan to promote ongoing Russian information operations that feign interest in a negotiated settlement while aiming to slow Western security assistance to Ukraine. The Kremlin is also likely using the proposal to pursue strengthened bilateral and multilateral engagement with African states as part of an overall effort to present itself as a more attractive ally than the collective West. The Kremlin has not demonstrated any intent to engage with any peace process meaningfully.
- Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations in at least three sectors of the front and reportedly advanced near Bakhmut on July 28.
- Russian naval posturing in the Black Sea likely aims to impose a de facto blockade on Ukrainian ports without committing the Black Sea Fleet to the enforcement of a naval blockade.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure African partner states that Russia will maintain its economic and security commitments during the second day of the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg.
- The Kremlin continues to display little interest in an unspecific peace plan focused on eliminating disruptions to international trade proposed by African heads of state.
- Russian authorities may be increasingly concerned about how the Russian electorate views the war ahead of regional elections in September 2023 and the Russian presidential election in 2024.
- Politico reported that the first batch of refurbished US Abrams tanks will likely arrive in Ukraine in September.
- Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on July 28 and made advances in certain areas.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on July 28 and have reportedly advanced along the Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, and along the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border.
- The Russian Federation Council approved measures allowing the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) to receive heavy military equipment and increasing the upper limit of the conscription age range from 27 years old to 30 years old.
- Russian authorities continue to deport Ukrainian teenagers to Russia under the guise of summer camp programs.