September 24, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: three Russian divisions defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive in Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

ISW is providing an assessment of a very dynamic situation in the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive near Orikhiv in western Zaporizhia Oblast. ISW emphasizes that the situation remains dynamic and unclear and that the tactical situation is likely changing rapidly. It is too early to forecast if Ukrainian forces will achieve an operational breakthrough in this sector of the front.

Elements of three Russian divisions are actively defending against Ukrainian assaults around the Ukrainian salient in the Orikhiv area in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Elements of the Russian 42nd Motorized Rifle Division (58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) are deployed and are defending at the southernmost point of the Ukrainian penetration and are engaging Ukrainian forces in Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). Elements of the Russian 76th Air Assault Division deployed to the Ukrainian salient’s western flank near Kopani (11km southwest of Orikhiv) towards Robotyne (10m south of Orikhiv) and are counterattacking there. Elements of the 7th Air Assault Division are deployed on the Ukrainian salient‘s eastern flank near the Verbove-Novopokrovka line and are counterattacking there. Sources affiliated with the Russian Airborne (VDV) Forces report that the 56th Air Assault Regiment (7th Air Assault Division) is deployed about 5km north of Verbove near Novofedorivka.

A Russian source claimed that the 7th and 76th VDV Divisions were ordered to conduct an operational encirclement of the Ukrainian salient, but that they failed to do so and that the 7th VDV Division’s effectiveness significantly declined after a successful Ukrainian strike against the division headquarters on September 19. ISW offers no assessment about these reported orders to encircle Ukrainian forces beyond noting that it would be a sound practice for Russian forces to conduct counterattacks against Ukrainian forces’ flanks within limits. 

Ukrainian forces are attacking along three directions within the Orikhiv salient as of September 24. Ukrainian forces are conducting attacks from Robotyne against Novoprokopivka. Ukrainian forces are attacking directly into Verbove’s western side. Ukrainian forces are also attacking north of Verbove.

Russian sources report that Ukrainian forces broke into Verbove on September 22 and continued attacking the settlement with armored vehicles as of September 24. Geolocated combat footage posted on September 24 shows a Ukrainian BMP operating within Verbove’s westernmost village limits. A VDV-affiliated source reported that Ukrainian forces entered Verbove for the first time on September 22 and continued pushing east. The VDV source later reported that Ukrainian forces occupy half of Verbove as of September 24. The VDV source accused the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of trying to conceal Ukraine’s tactical progress in Verbove, rhetorically stating, “For how long can Shoigu’s MoD hide the breakthrough in Verbove?“ Several Russian sources reported on September 24 that Ukrainian forces continue deploying vehicles against Verbove, including Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Some Russian sources are vehemently denying any Ukrainian breakthrough in Verbove as of September 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces captured new unspecified locations near Verbove on September 24.

Key Takeaways:

  • Elements of three Russian divisions are actively defending against Ukrainian assaults around the Ukrainian salient in the Orikhiv area in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian forces are attacking along three directions within the Orikhiv salient as of September 24.
  • Russian sources report that Ukrainian forces broke into Verbove on September 22 and continued attacking the settlement with armored vehicles as of September 24.
  • Ukrainian forces are attacking north of Verbove and could isolate the 56th VDV Regiment deployed in Novofedorivka from its sister regiments in the Verbove area according to Russian sources.
  • Russian forces continue to expend significant combat power on counterattacking to hold their current positions and appear to be resisting the operationally sound course of action of falling back to prepared defensive positions further south.
  • The Russian military command may be ordering these counterattacks to buy time, but it is unclear how the Kremlin intends to use time bought at such a price.
  • The Russian sacrifice of combat power to hold every meter may alternatively be intended to support the Kremlin’s informational and hybrid warfare objectives.
  • The Russian resistance to ceding ground may also be tied to Russian military commanders’ and officials’ attempts to use the counteroffensive to achieve political goals, or it could result from Putin’s micromanagement.
  • Ukrainian forces may be able to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough in the southern frontline if several key assumptions hold.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 24.


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