September 4, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine forces advance further into Russian prepared defenses in western Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian light infantry has advanced to positions beyond anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles that comprise the current Russian defensive layer ahead of the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Ukrainian forces likely intend to hold those positions. ISW is not prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have breached this Russian defensive layer in the absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment in these areas. Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced to tree-line positions that are east of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are a part of a tri-layered defense immediately west of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). Geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian light infantry has also advanced further into a series of prepared Russian defensive positions along the road that runs northwest into Verbove. Other geolocated footage published on September 4 indicates that Ukrainian forces have advanced up to Russian defensive positions between Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv). Ukrainian forces are widening the breach they have already made in one Russian defensive layer and are reportedly maneuvering more equipment and personnel into tactical rear areas of this layer. Ukrainian forces appear to be making gains in the immediate vicinity of the not-yet-breached Russian defensive layer that runs northwest of Verbove to north of Solodka Balka (20km south of Orikhiv) with infantry assaults and heavy artillery fire on Russian positions further into and south of this layer. The deployment of Ukrainian heavy equipment and more substantial forces to these areas than ISW has so far observed would indicate both a breach of this Russian defensive layer and an effort to widen that breach.

Russian forces conducted a drone strike on Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa oblasts on the night of September 3-4. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Russian forces launched 32 Shahed 136/131 drones from Cape Chauda, Crimea, and Primorske-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai on the night of September 4 and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 23 of the drones. Ukrainian Southern Command Spokesperson Captain First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk stated that Russian drones struck civilian infrastructure in Odesa Oblast, and Russian sources claimed that drones struck port infrastructure in Reni and Izmail, Odesa Oblast. Head of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Council Mykola Lukashuk reported that a drone strike destroyed 1,500 tons of grain in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko stated that a Russian drone fell on Romanian territory, which the Romanian Ministry of Defense subsequently denied.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Russia’s unwillingness to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative until all of Russia’s extensive terms are met at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Putin reiterated claims that the West ignored its obligations to allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer at a meeting with Erdogan in Sochi, Russia on September 4. Putin claimed that Russia will supply 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain for free to unspecified African countries in “the coming days.” Putin and Erdogan claimed that Turkey is willing to help process and transport one million tons of grain intended for these countries. Putin and Erdogan also announced Qatar’s interest in providing financial support so that these countries can receive free grain.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian light infantry has advanced to positions beyond anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles that comprise the current Russian defensive layer ahead of the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Ukrainian forces likely intend to hold those positions. ISW is not prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have breached this Russian defensive layer in the absence of observed Ukrainian heavy equipment in these areas.
  • Russian forces reportedly attempted to expand minefields in southern Ukraine following the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in June.
  • Limitations on Russian artillery capabilities and Ukrainian advantages in counter-battery fire are forcing the Russians to deviate from their own doctrine, RUSI reported.
  • Russian forces conducted a drone strike on Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa oblasts on the night of September 3-4.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Russia’s unwillingness to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative until all of Russia’s extensive terms are met at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Head of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine Erik Mose stated on September 4 that the commission has not yet concluded that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas on September 4.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations and advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 4.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on September 4 that the Russian military will not be holding “Zapad-2023” joint strategic exercises scheduled for September.
  • Russian occupation officials continued the fifth day of early voting for Russian regional elections in occupied territories on September 4.
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