September 16, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine breach Russian defenses south of Bakhmut, but still can’t deploy armor

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut direction on September 16 and continued to make gains in the area. Geolocated footage posted on September 15 confirms that Ukrainian forces have advanced south of Rozdolivka (about 13km northeast of Bakhmut) and in northern Klishchiivka (about 6km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar noted that fighting is ongoing near Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka (12km southwest of Bakhmut) and stated that Ukrainian forces continue to be successful in the Klishchiivka area. Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky posted footage of Ukrainian personnel in Andriivka (8km southwest of Bakhmut) following the Ukrainian liberation of the settlement on September 14.

Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast have likely forced the Russian command to prioritize the Russian defense there and laterally redeploy elements of a relatively elite formation away from the Russian defense south of Bakhmut. North Ossetian volunteer battalions “Storm Ossetia” and “Alania,” which are operating in western Zaporizhia Oblast, posted an image on September 16 purporting to show a small detachment of the Russian 83rd Separate Guards Air Assault (VDV) Brigade in Nesteryanka (on the western shoulder of the current Ukrainian breach in western Zaporizhia Oblast). Elements of the 83rd Brigade deployed to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations around Klishchiivka in late June and were observed in combat in the area in late August. Elements of the 83rd Brigade were reportedly still operating in the Bakhmut area as of September 11, although elements of the brigade may have been split across two different sectors of the front. Klishchiivka has been a focal point of fighting in the Bakhmut area in recent weeks, and the redeployment of any elements of the 83rd VDV Brigade amid Ukrainian advances near Klishchiivka suggests a deep concern about Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast and the Russian prioritization of the defense there.

Ukrainian forces have likely made a significant tactical breach along a section of the current Russian defense layer in the Robotyne area over the past several weeks that they continue to widen. Ukrainian forces have continued offensive operations past a section of the Russian defensive layer west of Verbove since penetrating it on September 4 and have widened their breach along a 2.6km section of those Russian defensive positions. The continued absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment and vehicles past this defensive layer continues to indicate that Ukrainian forces have yet to complete a breakthrough of this defensive layer, however. Ukrainian officials have indicated that the series of Russian defensive positions currently ahead of the Ukrainian advance may be less challenging than the initial Russian defensive layer that Ukrainian forces broke through to the north. Russian forces had concentrated the majority of their combat power at those forward-most Russian defensive positions to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations, and these Russian forces have likely suffered heavy losses and conducted fighting withdrawals to prepared positions behind the current defensive layer. ISW has long assessed that Russian forces lack the manpower to man the entire multi-echeloned Russian defensive fortification systems in southern Ukraine, and the Russian forces defending the current layer of defense are likely elements of formations that have been fighting in the area without operational-level unit rotation since the start of the counteroffensive or elements of formations that laterally transferred from elsewhere along the front.

Key Takeaways:

• Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut direction on September 16 and continued to make gains in the area.
• Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast have likely forced the Russian command to prioritize the Russian defense there and laterally redeploy elements of a relatively elite formation away from the Russian defense south of Bakhmut.
• Ukrainian forces also advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 16 and continued to penetrate the Russian defensive layer that lies ahead of the current extent of Ukrainian advances.
• Ukrainian forces have likely made a significant tactical breach along a section of the current Russian defense layer in the Robotyne area over the past several weeks that they continue to widen.
• Russian ultranationalists continued to complain about endemic lying within the Russian military after Russian State Duma Deputy and former Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) Lieutenant General Andrei Gurulev voiced similar complaints on September 15.
• A Ukrainian naval drone strike likely damaged a Russian ship in the Black Sea on September 14.
• A Ukrainian official confirmed on September 16 that a civilian vessel used the Ukrainian corridor in the Black Sea to reach a Ukrainian port for the first time.
• Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Vladivostok, where Kim viewed pieces of Russian weapons technology on September 16.
• The Russian military leadership may be removing ineffective air defense officials on the pretext of corruption charges to avoid admitting the failures of Russian air defenses against increasing drone strikes on Russian cities including Moscow.
• Russian military officials continue efforts to solidify Russia’s relationship with African states amidst changing dynamics on the continent resulting from the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) efforts to subsume the Wagner Group.
• Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia on September 16 and advanced in some areas.
• Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in at least two sectors of the front on September 16 and advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
• Russian milbloggers continue complaining about the role of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) in perpetuating issues affecting Russian military personnel.
• Russian occupation officials continue efforts to resettle residential areas of occupied Ukraine with Russians.

Share the Post: