September 9, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine forces advance in Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces made confirmed advances in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and made claimed advances south of Bakhmut on September 9. Geolocated footage published on September 9 shows that Ukrainian forces advanced northwest of Novomayorske (18km southeast of Velyka Novosilka) along the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border, where Russian sources claim fighting has intensified in recent days.[1] Additional geolocated footage published on September 9 shows that Ukrainian forces also advanced northeast and east of Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv) and west of Verbove (20km southeast of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast.[2] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified successes south of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv).[3] A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces forced Russian forces to withdraw from Andriivka (9km southwest of Bakhmut), and another prominent milblogger claimed that Andriivka is now a contested “gray zone.”[4] Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces also achieved unspecified success south of Klishchiivka.[5]

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Vadym Skibitskyi reemphasized Ukraine’s right to target critical Russian strategic and military objects in rear areas. Skibitskyi stated on September 8 that Ukraine identifies and strikes the most critical Russian objects in Russian rear areas using drones, missiles, and agents on Russian territory.[6] Skibitskyi emphasized that Ukrainian forces target military facilities and objects of the military-industrial complex that help with missile production and logistics support. Skibitskyi stated that Ukraine purposefully targets these objects to degrade Russian offensive potential and achieve a “domino effect” where destroying one object forces other dependent enterprises to stop production.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly constraining Russian local and regional politics, with even the minimal pre-war competition suppressed and regional governments increasingly focused on their ability to generate resources for the war. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)’s Tatar-Bashkir service Idel Realii posted an interview on September 8 with Russian political scientist Dmitry Loboyko regarding “the peculiarities of election campaigns during the war.”[7] Loboyko stated that this election season is one of the most “uncompetitive” in Russian history and that it particularly lacks opposition alternatives, especially as people are increasingly voting with the mindset that the war in Ukraine may last a year, five years, or even ten years.[8] Loboyko also noted that Russian federal subjects (regions) are competing for resources on the basis of how many military personnel each region was able to mobilize for the war, with the insinuation that the federal government allocates more resources to regions that mobilized more personnel, thereby increasing inter-regional competition.[9] Loboyko’s insights suggest that the war in Ukraine, and its continued drain on Russian regions, has contributed to a more muted political atmosphere within Russia. ISW has previously observed that Russian officials, particularly those affiliated with the leading United Russia party, appear concerned with the impacts the war will have on the electorate during local and regional elections, and the muted political atmosphere outlined by Loboyko aligns with these observations.[10] Various Russian insider sources additionally reported on September 9 that Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly backed Nizhny Novgorod Governor Gleb Nitkin, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, and Smolensk Governor Vasily Anokhin in the regional elections.[11] The insider sources suggested that the Kremlin is invested in publicly backing the infrastructure and connectivity projects that these regional leaders espouse.[12] As the war continues, Russian officials will likely continue to have to balance the suppression of domestic political opposition with the need to posture the government as being actively involved in ameliorating domestic matters.

The Kremlin continues to refuse to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative in an attempt to extract maximum concessions from the West and may believe that apparent support or acceptance for its demands from some international actors offers it more leverage in renegotiating the deal. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reiterated on September 9 that Russia will not resume its participation in the grain deal until all its demands are met.[13] Peskov specifically highlighted the Kremlin’s demand for the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking system and suggested that the reconnection of one of the bank’s subsidiaries is insufficient.[14] UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offering extensive concessions for Russia’s return to the deal, which included SWIFT reconnection for a Russian Agricultural Bank subsidiary in Luxembourg.[15] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan similarly supported offering Russia extensive concessions during the G20 summit in New Delhi, where he reportedly called on G20 leaders to resume insurance for Russian grain and fertilizer cargos and to reconnect Russian banks to SWIFT.[16] The Kremlin may believe that Erdogan’s and Guterres’ support for offering concessions places further pressure on the West to acquiesce to Russian demands for rejoining the grain deal, and Russian officials will likely continue to reject offers that meet many of these demands in the hope of extracting a maximalist set of concessions.[17] The Kremlin may alternatively have no intention of returning to the grain deal, however, and may instead aim to increase the market share and attractiveness of Russian grain by degrading Ukrainian grain export potential through continued strikes on grain and port infrastructure.[18]

The Telegraph reported on September 8 that the United Kingdom’s military aircraft are conducting patrols over the Black Sea to deter Russian forces from conducting attacks against civilian vessels carrying grain exports.[19] NATO previously announced on July 26 that it would increase surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including with maritime patrol aircraft and drones, given Russian threats against civilian ships and attacks on Ukrainian ports.[20]

The Group of 20 (G20) adopted a standard and boilerplate consensus declaration during the G20 summit on September 9 that called for a “durable peace” in Ukraine without explicitly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[21] The G20 advocated for all states party to the G20 mandate to uphold the rules and principles of international law and called for initiatives that would lead to a “comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine.”[22]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces made confirmed advances in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and made claimed advances south of Bakhmut on September 9.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Vadym Skibitskyi reemphasized Ukraine’s right to target critical Russian strategic and military objects in rear areas.
  • Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly constraining Russian local and regional politics, with even the minimal pre-war competition suppressed and regional governments increasingly focused on their ability to generate resources for the war.
  • The Kremlin continues to refuse to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative in an attempt to extract maximum concessions from the West and may believe that apparent support or acceptance for its demands from some international actors offers it more leverage in renegotiating the deal.
  • 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 and advanced in some areas on September 9.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to manufacture a guise of legitimacy and legality around ongoing local elections in occupied regions of Ukraine.
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