November 1, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine war at a stalemate

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi assessed on November 1 that the war in Ukraine has taken on a positional nature and offered a series of recommendations for Ukraine to restore maneuver to the battlespace. In an essay entitled “Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It” and an interview with The Economist, Zaluzhnyi outlined the current operational environment in Ukraine and noted that, despite several previously successful Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in 2022, the war is now “gradually moving to a positional form.” Zaluzhnyi heavily stressed that the current positional nature of the war is largely a result of military parity between Ukrainian and Russian forces, noting that a deep and dramatic Ukrainian penetration of Russian lines will likely not be possible with the relative technological and tactical equilibrium currently between Ukrainian and Russian forces. In his interview with The Economist, Zaluzhnyi acknowledged that technological and tactical parity between opposing forces in Ukraine has resulted in a “stalemate” similar to the case of the First World War. In the more extensive essay on the subject, Zaluzhnyi notably refrained from classifying the situation as a full stalemate and instead framed it as a “positional” war resulting from aspects of this technological-tactical parity. According to Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s ability to overcome this technological-tactical parity will be contingent on Ukraine’s ability to secure five main operational components that have become particularly significant since the summer of 2023 — gaining air superiority; breaching Russian mine barriers in depth; increasing the effectiveness of counterbattery combat; creating and training the necessary reserves; and building up electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.

Russian forces are likely preparing for another wave of highly attritional infantry-led ground assaults on Ukrainian positions in the Avdiivka area. A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces near Avdiivka have largely slowed the pace of ground attacks north and south of Avdiivka in favor of heavy indirect fire against Ukrainian frontline positions and near rear areas. Russian forces may be conducting an interdiction campaign against Ukrainian assets in the Avdiivka area, but this heavy fire is more likely air and artillery preparation for the battlefield ahead of another wave of Russian assaults. Other milbloggers also characterized the current Russian operations as “preparatory support,” presumably for later assaults. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun also notably stated on October 30 that Russian forces are preparing to conduct “meat assaults” (colloquial jargon for infantry-led frontal assaults) near Avdiivka and are training “Storm-Z” assault units made largely of convict recruits for future assaults without equipment.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on November 1. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attacked near Zelenopillya (12km southwest of Bakhmut) and along a section of the railway line between Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) and Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut). A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces marginally advanced from Shcherbaky (18km west of Orikhiv) towards Myrne (16km southwest of Orikhiv) and made gains west of Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv).

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi assessed on November 1 that the war in Ukraine has taken on a positional nature and offered a series of recommendations for Ukraine to restore maneuver to the battlespace. Zaluzhnyi offered a series of specific tactical solutions to the five aforementioned operational components that have created the conditions for positional warfare, which in his view will allow Ukraine to overcome military parity with Russian forces.
  • Russian forces are likely preparing for another wave of highly attritional infantry-led ground assaults on Ukrainian positions in the Avdiivka area.
  • The current situation near Avdiivka is a microcosm of the Russian General Staff’s wider failure to internalize and disseminate lessons learned by Russian forces during previous failed offensive efforts in Ukraine to other force groupings throughout the theater.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on November 1.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reiterated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s framing of ongoing Ukrainian ground activity on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast as part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • Russian forces conducted a relatively large series of drone and missile strikes mainly targeting Poltava Oblast on the night of October 31 to November 1.
  • The Russian military appears poised to re-establish its military districts as the primary joint headquarters for its ground forces while transferring naval assets back to the command of the Russian Navy.
  • Russian sources speculated that Pavel Prigozhin, the son of deceased Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, is officially the acting head of Wagner remnants operating under the auspices of Rosgvardia.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, in the Bakhmut direction, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in various sectors of the front.
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