September 2, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine forces advance near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced on September 2. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction. Russian milbloggers who have recently maintained that Russian forces hold positions in the southern part of Robotyne claimed that Russian forces withdrew from the southern outskirts of the settlement to unspecified positions further south. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on September 1 that Ukrainian forces have overcome the Russian “first line of defense” in some areas of the Zaporizhia direction, but that the situation remains difficult due to additional Russian concrete fortifications and dense minefields.

The New York Times reported on September 2 citing Ukrainian military personnel that Russian forces are spreading inflammable agents on mined fields and igniting them with drone-launched grenades while Ukrainian forces clear mines from the areas in an effort to hinder Ukrainian mine clearing efforts that have allowed Ukrainian forces to advance in certain areas. Estonian Defense Forces Intelligence Center Commander Colonel Margo Grosberg reported on September 1 that Ukrainian artillery capabilities are “equal or even better” than those of Russian forces and have been able to push Russian artillery units back from the frontline, preventing them from supporting Russian forces. This observation is not universally true across the frontline, as Ukrainian units regularly report coming under heavy Russian artillery fire corrected by Russian drones. Grosberg also stated that Ukrainian forces have been successful at severely damaging Russian artillery radars since July. Russian sources have repeatedly expressed concerns since mid-July over the lack of Russian counterbattery artillery capabilities, particularly in southern Ukraine.

Select Russian sources claimed that Russian officers of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) defending in Zaporizhia Oblast contacted former 58th CAA commander Major General Ivan Popov due to the worsening situation at the Russian frontline. Russian milbloggers claimed that Popov has maintained contact with his former subordinates in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and a Russian insider source claimed that these officers turned to Popov for help instead of their new commander. The Russian military command dismissed Popov as the commander of the 58th CAA (Southern Military District) in early July after he engaged in clear insubordination by attempting to bypass Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov and bring his complaints about poor counterbattery capabilities, heavy losses, and a lack of rotations directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian sources have routinely expressed concern about the issues that Popov highlighted and their detrimental impacts on the Russian defensive effort in southern Ukraine. Popov partially established a precedent for insubordination, and his conduct reportedly prompted the Russian military command to begin removing similarly insubordinate commanders from frontline units, although not all reports of commanders removed were confirmed. Russian sources claimed that Popov encouraged his former subordinates to report the truth about the front to the higher Russian command, possibly encouraging them to replicate his insubordination. Popov’s contact with his former subordinates, if true, suggests that Popov’s replacement has not won the trust of his subordinates either because he is less competent or because he is less forthright with senior Russian leadership about continuing challenges facing the Russian defense in western Zaporizhia.

The Russian ultranationalist information space response to a Russian critique of anti-Western mindsets and Russian propaganda demonstrates that the ultranationalist community retains the ability to coalesce around certain issues. Director of the Russian think tank the Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada, Valery Garbuzov, published an article on August 29 criticizing Russian ruling elites who, he argues, have created and perpetuated a series of “utopian myths” about Russian hegemony, the “crisis of capitalism,” and Russia’s claimed leadership of a global anti-Western coalition. Prominent voices within the Russian ultranationalist information space levied largely coherent criticisms against Garbuzov’s article on September 2, criticizing Garbuzov’s argument and the Russian political and informational structures that allowed Garbuzov to hold a prominent position in the Russian political sphere. One prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Russian Telegram channels have filled an analytical gap in the Russian information space following the onset of the war in Ukraine that think tanks should fill and continue to do so 18 months later.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and reportedly advanced on September 2.
  • Select Russian sources claimed that Russian officers of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) defending in Zaporizhia Oblast contacted former 58th CAA commander Major General Ivan Popov due to the worsening situation at the Russian frontline.
  • The Russian ultranationalist information space response to a Russian critique of anti-Western mindsets and Russian propaganda demonstrates that the ultranationalist community retains the ability to coalesce around certain issues.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas on September 2.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations along at least one sector of the front on September 2 and advanced near Bakhmut, in western Donetsk Oblast, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has formed its own Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard) units, elements of which reportedly operate both on the front line and in far rear areas of occupied Ukraine.
  • Russian and occupation authorities are encouraging residents of occupied Ukraine who are residing in Russia to vote in the occupation regional elections, likely to increase voter turnout and the perception of electoral legitimacy.
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