September 17, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine recaptures town south of Bakhmut

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces liberated Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut, on September 17 and continued successful offensive operations elsewhere in the Bakhmut direction. Geolocated footage posted on September 17 shows Ukrainian forces holding up flags in Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash later confirmed that Ukraine has liberated Klishchiivka, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade, 5th Assault Brigade, 95th Air Assault Brigade, and National Police “Lyut” Assault Brigade for their role in liberating the settlement. Further geolocated footage posted on September 16 shows that Ukrainian forces have captured positions east of Orikhovo-Vasylivka (10km northwest of Bakhmut). The liberation of Klishchiivka, as well as continued Ukrainian tactical gains northwest of Bakhmut, are tactical gains of strategic significance because they are allowing Ukrainian forces to fix a considerable portion of Russian airborne (VDV) elements in the Bakhmut area, as ISW’s Daniel Mealie discusses in the September 17, 2023 special edition.

Russian forces launched another series of Shahed-131/136 drone and cruise missile strikes at southern Ukraine on the night of September 16-17. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched six Shahed drones from the southeastern and southern directions and 10 Kh-101/555/55 air-launched cruise missiles from nine Tu-95MS strategic bombers that took off from Engels Airbase, Saratov Oblast.Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat noted that Russian forces mainly targeted grain infrastructure in southern Odesa Oblast, and Ukrainian military sources stated that Ukrainian forces shot down six Shaheds and six cruise missiles. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command posted images of the aftermath of one Russian strike in an unspecified part of Odesa Oblast. Russian forces additionally struck civilian enterprises in Kharkiv City with four S-300 missiles.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un concluded his trip to Russia on September 17 and received several pieces of military technical equipment from the governor of Primorsky Krai. Kremlin newswire TASS reported that Kim visited the Far Eastern Federal University on September 17, where he met with Russian military engineers.TASS and other Russian sources additionally noted that Primorsky Krai Governor Oleg Kozhemyako gifted Kim a military vest, an unspecified loitering munition, and an unspecified long-range reconnaissance drone. ISW previously reported that Russia may be open to forms of technological and defensive cooperation with North Korea but is unlikely to provide physical systems due to Russian fears that providing the North Korean regime with such systems may trigger further sanctions against Russia. It is therefore notable that a Russian official gifted Kim with pieces of military technology that will presumably return to North Korea with Kim. United Nations sanctions specify that ”All Member States are required to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of all arms and related materiel, including small arms and light weapons…”

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces liberated Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut, on September 17 and continued successful offensive operations elsewhere in the Bakhmut direction.
  • Russian forces launched another series of Shahed-131/136 drone and cruise missile strikes at southern Ukraine on the night of September 16-17.
  • North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un concluded his trip to Russia on September 17 and received several pieces of military technical equipment from the governor of Primorsky Krai.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) effort to subsume the Wagner Group is prompting Russian officials to more openly back military juntas in West Africa.
  • Prolonged concern about Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s health in the Russian information space highlights Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dependence on Kadyrov for continued stability in Chechnya.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast area on September 17 and advanced in some areas. 
  • Ukrainian forces also continued counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Recent Russian claims that small contingents of former Wagner Group personnel are returning to fight in Ukraine do not indicate that a fully reconstituted Wagner fighting force will return to Ukraine anytime soon if ever.
  • Russian occupation administrations continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia and erase Ukrainian cultural identity.
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