August 27, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Ukrainian forces continue their advance in Zaporizhia

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces reportedly advanced in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in southern and eastern Ukraine. Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun reported that Ukrainian forces are advancing in the directions of Novoprokopivka (13km south of Orikhiv), Mala Tokmachka (9km southeast of Orikhiv), and Ocheretuvate (25km southeast of Orikhiv) in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Shtupun also stated that Ukrainian forces advanced near Urozhaine (9km south of Velyka Novosilka) and Robotyne (10km south of Orikhiv) and achieved unspecified successes near Staromayorske (9km south of Velyka Novosilka) in the Berdyansk direction (western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area) and in an unspecified location in the Melitopol direction (western Zaporizhia Oblast). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Ilya Yevlash stated that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut direction.

A Ukrainian soldier, likely operating in the Robotyne area, offered further tactical details on the prepared Russian defensive positions that Ukrainian forces have penetrated and on those that are currently ahead of them. The Ukrainian soldier stated that, in the Robotyne area, there is a system of interconnected Russian trenches, dugouts, and limited underground tunnels that allow Russian forces to facilitate the movement of personnel, weaponry, and ammunition from different tactical positions along the front. The Ukrainian soldier stated that anti-tank ditches and minefields stretch across fields in front of and in between these interconnected layers of defensive positions. The soldier added that all “unexcavated” areas around these prepared defensive positions are heavily mined and that Russian forces have narrowly designated unmined paths in their defensive layers to allow Russian forces to reach firing positions. The Ukrainian soldier did not indicate whether the Ukrainian forces had passed through the densest minefields but suggested that Ukrainian forces still had to demine areas at a gradual pace before advancing further. ISW previously assessed that areas near the next series of prepared Russian defensive positions may be less heavily mined to give Russian forces operating north of these positions the ability to retreat, although the Ukrainian soldier’s reporting suggests that this may not be the case in the areas where Ukrainian forces are currently approaching the next Russian defensive layer. Ukrainian forces are now within striking distance of the next series of Russian defensive positions, which appears to be comprised of a relatively more contiguous array of anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles with Russian fighting positions behind these obstacles similar to the previous layer of Russian defenses. The highly interconnected systems of trenches and dugouts that the Ukrainian soldier described is the result of months of Russian preparation and it is unclear if Russian forces extended that system throughout subsequent series of defensive positions further south.

The composition of Russian defensive positions in southern Ukraine and the ambiguities about how Russian forces are manning and equipping them continues to obscure how the next phase of fighting will transpire. ISW recently assessed that a lack of observed uncommitted Russian forces in the area may suggest that a subsequent series of Russian defensive positions may be less heavily defended than the positions that Ukrainian forces already penetrated to the north, although this remains unclear. Russian forces have reportedly conducted additional lateral transfers to the Robotyne area with elements of the 76th Guards Air Assault (VDV) Division from the Kreminna area in Luhansk Oblast and are also reportedly redeploying unspecified elements from the Kherson direction to the area. Russian forces committed elements of the 7th VDV Division immediately to combat after laterally transferring them to the Robotyne area in early August, although the Russian command could decide to commit these new reinforcements to strengthen the next series of defensive positions south of the current Ukrainian advance. Russian forces committed a considerable amount of materiel, effort, and manpower to hold the series of defensive positions that Ukrainian forces are currently penetrating, and it is unclear if Russian forces will retain the advantages they have held if they cannot commit the same level of resources and personnel to these next layers of defense. The next Russian defensive layer will, nevertheless, very likely pose significant challenges for the Ukrainian advance.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces reportedly advanced in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in southern and eastern Ukraine.
  • A Ukrainian soldier likely operating in the Robotyne area offered further tactical details on the prepared Russian defensive positions that Ukrainian forces have penetrated and on those that are currently ahead of them.
  • The composition of Russian defensive positions in southern Ukraine and the ambiguities about how Russian forces are manning and equipping them continue to obscure how the next phase of fighting will transpire.
  • Russian forces conducted missile strikes against targets in Ukraine on the night of August 26 to 27 and reportedly targeted a Ukrainian airfield in Kyiv Oblast.
  • The Russian Investigative Committee announced on August 27 that genetic tests confirm that Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin was among 10 people killed in a plane crash on August 23.
  • Russian milbloggers claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) had been actively setting conditions to halt Wagner Group’s operations in the Middle East and Africa prior to Prigozhin’s death on August 23.
  • The Russian MoD may be more intensely focused on disbanding the Wagner Group than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in western Donetsk Oblast, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast but did not make confirmed advances.
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to coerce migrants and foreigners living in Russia to fight in the war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian citizenship.
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