November 9, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine’s advances in eastern Kherson pose a challenge to Russian forces 

Institute for the Study of War

The Russian military command will likely struggle to redeploy combat effective reinforcements to respond to ongoing Ukrainian operations in eastern Kherson Oblast while conducting defensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and sustaining other offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine. Russian milbloggers claimed on November 9 that Ukrainian forces established control over new positions in Krynky (30km northeast of Kherson City and 2km from the Dnipro River) and conducted assaults towards Russian positions south and southwest of the settlement. A Russian milblogger claimed that there are reports that Ukrainian forces advanced to forest areas south of Krynky. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces also attacked near Poyma (12km east of Kherson City and 4km from the Dnipro River), Pishchanivka (13km east of Kherson City and 3km from the Dnipro River), and Pidstepne (17km east of Kherson City and 4km from the Dnipro River) and are trying to establish positions between Pidstepne and Kozachi Laheri (23km northeast of Kherson City and 2km from the Dnipro River). Ukrainian military observer Konstyantyn Mashovets stated that Ukrainian forces have established continuous control of positions from the Antonivsky railway bridge north of Poyma to the Antonivsky roadway bridge north of Oleshky (7km south of Kherson and 4km from the Dnipro River) as of November 9 and have cut the Oleshky-Nova Kakhovka (53km northeast of Kherson City) road in at least two areas.

Elements of the Russian 18th Combined Arms Army’s (CAA) 22nd Army Corps (formerly of the Black Sea Fleet) and 70th Motorized Rifle Division as well as the 177th Naval Infantry Regiment (Caspian Flotilla) appear to be the main Russian forces responding to Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank of Kherson Oblast. The Russian military reportedly formed the 18th CAA from other units previously operating in the Kherson direction, and it is unlikely that new units of the 18th CAA are comprised of fresh forces or staffed to doctrinal end strength. Elements of the 177th Naval Infantry Regiment previously defended positions in western Zaporizhia Oblast for almost the entirety of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and have likely suffered significant casualties. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated on November 5 that unspecified elements of the 7th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division are operating in the Kherson direction, although the bulk of the 7th VDV Division appears to be committed to defensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Mashovets claimed on November 2 and 9 that elements of the 7th VDV Division’s 171st Air Assault Battalion (97th VDV Regiment) are operating near Pishchanivka and Poyma, but it is unclear if these reported elements have been present in the Kherson direction since the start of the counteroffensive or recently redeployed to the area. Elements of the 49th CAA (Southern Military District) have reportedly been operating in the Kherson direction since the Ukrainian liberation of Kherson City in November 2022, but some Russian and Ukrainian sources claim that the Russian command has since redeployed elements of at least one its brigades to the Zaporizhia-Donetsk Oblast border area. Mashovets claimed that elements of the 49th CAA still comprise the Russian “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces in the Kherson direction, and elements of the 49th CAA’s 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade appeared to be operating on the left bank as of late August 2023.

The Russian command will likely face significant challenges in redeploying units from other sectors of the front should relatively combat ineffective Russian formations and currently uncommitted Russian forces in the Kherson direction prove insufficient to respond to the Ukrainian operations on the east bank of the Dnipro. Redeployments of considerable elements of the 7th VDV Division or other VDV formations and units in western Zaporizhia Oblast would likely disrupt Russian defensive operations there. Russian forces reportedly continue to accumulate forces for sustaining the Russian offensive effort near Avdiivka and localized offensive operations in Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts. Any potential Russian redeployment to the Kherson direction will likely degrade the Russian ability to sustain these other operations and efforts.

Unspecified actors appear to be targeting Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov as he continues to heap honors on his children. A Russian insider source claimed that Moscow authorities are investigating and charging members of the inner circle of an unspecified nephew of Kadyrov for various crimes including kidnapping, extortion, and organizing a criminal community in both Moscow and Chechnya. The insider source claimed that two high-ranking Chechen security officials lead this inner circle, and that its other members include Chechen police officers and bureaucratic officials. The source claimed that Russian authorities allowed this circle to commit these crimes for “quite a long time” but that “apparently, something is starting to change.” It is possible that Russian authorities are targeting Chechen organized crime activities. This insider source’s specific reference to Kadyrov, however, suggests either that some Russian authorities may seek to target Kadyrov’s affiliates through criminal charges or that some actors may seek to target Kadyrov informationally by using this insider source to discredit him and his family. Kadyrov has notably awarded his children, many of whom are underage, with prominent Chechen governmental positions and awards in recent weeks following the Kremlin’s refusal to become involved when his 15-year-old son Adam was filmed beating a detained man in September 2023, sparking domestic outrage.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Russian military command will likely struggle to redeploy combat effective reinforcements to respond to ongoing Ukrainian operations in eastern Kherson Oblast while conducting defensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and sustaining other offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russian forces have likely launched opportunistic localized offensive operations in the Bakhmut direction and intensified ground attacks near Bakhmut in recent days.
  • Russian forces struck a civilian ship near Odesa City on November 8.
  • Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual live “Direct Line” forum and annual press conference will occur in tandem on an unspecified date by the end of the year, potentially to set conditions to cancel the events as the Kremlin sees fit.
  • Russia may seek to provide gas to Iran through Kazakhstan.
  • Unspecified actors appear to be targeting Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov as he continues to heap honors on his children.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, in the Avdiivka direction, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Kupyansk.
  • Russian authorities appear to be increasingly reliant on private security companies to protect domestic energy infrastructure from Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian far rear areas. 
  • Occupation authorities reportedly continued efforts to militarize Ukrainian youth. 
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