August 31, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine unveils long range missile as forces advance in Donetsk and Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 31 and reportedly advanced in both sectors of the front. The Ukrainian General Staff and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions and achieved unspecified success in the direction of Novodanylivka-Novoprokopivka (5km to 13km south of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast.[1] Malyar also stated that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified success in the Bakhmut direction.[2] Ukrainian Chief of the Main Directorate of Missile Forces and Artillery and Unmanned Systems of the General Staff Brigadier General Serhiy Baranov stated that Ukrainian forces have reached parity in counterbattery capabilities with Russian forces.[3] Baranov stated that NATO-provided artillery systems with ranges of 30km to 40km allow Ukrainian forces to destroy Russian artillery systems and force Russian forces to move their artillery further from the frontline.[4] Ukrainian officials previously made statements in late July indicating that Ukraine’s interdiction campaign is successfully degrading Russian counterbattery capabilities.[5] Russian sources have repeatedly expressed concerns since mid-July over the lack of Russian counterbattery artillery capabilities, particularly in southern Ukraine.[6]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted Ukraine’s domestic production of long-range missiles on August 31, likely as part of a coordinated Ukrainian campaign promoting increased Ukrainian strike capabilities against Russian deep rear areas. Zelensky stated that a Ukrainian-produced long-range weapon successfully hit a target 700 kilometers away, but did not provide further details about the strike or the weapon.[7] Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov previously stated on August 26 that a new but unspecified Ukrainian-made missile struck a Russian S-400 air defense system in Crimea on August 23, and Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Major General Kyrylo Budanov stated on August 24 that Ukrainian forces have the ability to strike any part of occupied Crimea.[8]

Russian authorities arrested a notable fringe ultranationalist Russian milblogger on accusations of discrediting the Russian military, likely as part of centralized efforts to silence some critical milblogger voices without prompting a general backlash. Russian authorities arrested Andrei Kurshin, who reportedly runs the Telegram channel “Moscow Calling,” on August 31 but did not specify what content Kurshin posted that prompted the charges.[9] The “Moscow Calling” channel routinely criticizes Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and notably commonly attacks many aspects of Russia’s military conduct of the war in Ukraine while supporting the ultranationalist goals underpinning the war itself. The wider Russian ultranationalist information space welcomed Kurshin’s arrest and noted that he routinely discredited the Russian military by mocking Russian military deaths and writing ”vile” thoughts about the Russian war effort.[10] ”Moscow Calling” also regularly supports imprisoned Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin, likely generating further Kremlin opposition towards Kurshin.[11] Elements of the wider Russian ultranationalist community revealed Kurshin’s previously anonymous identity in April after he joked about the assassination of Russian milblogger Maksim Fomin (Vladlen Tatarsky), and at the time milbloggers called on Russian authorities to punish Kurshin for fostering anti-government attitudes online.[12] Kurshin and Girkin’s arrests suggest that the Kremlin may be arresting prominent ultranationalist voices that the wider community largely reviles to avoid backlash as the Kremlin intensifies its effort to increase its long-term control over the Russian information space.[13] Kurshin’s arrest does not necessarily portend wider repression of more mainstream Russian milbloggers. Milblogger reactions, including those who have been outright critical of the Russian military leadership, additionally suggest that the milblogger community has been and is willing to establish unofficial guidelines for what is permissible criticism of the war and the Russian leadership. The Kremlin likely benefits from and encourages this self-policing, to a certain degree, among milbloggers – tolerating some criticism while cultivating key milbloggers and seeking to silence particularly critical voices.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 31 and reportedly advanced in both sectors of the front.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted Ukraine’s domestic production of long-range missiles on August 31, likely as part of a coordinated Ukrainian campaign promoting increased Ukrainian strike capabilities against Russian deep rear areas.
  • Russian authorities arrested a notable fringe ultranationalist Russian milblogger on accusations of discrediting the Russian military, likely as part of centralized efforts to silence some critical milblogger voices without prompting a general backlash.
  • Russian military authorities allegedly ordered the detention of three Russian milbloggers who have recently criticized the Russian MoD – a move that sparked a backlash in only a small corner of the Russian information space.
  • Imprisoned Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin and his associates conducted likely futile political maneuvers intended to coalesce into a coherent and meaningful political opposition group.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line and unsuccessfully counterattacked in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 31.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to forcibly deport Ukrainian children to Russia and Russify Ukrainian youth.
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