December 16, 2023

Institute for the Study or War: Ukrainian forces continue operations on the east bank of the Dnipro River

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian forces continue operations on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast amid reported difficult conditions in the area as part of an apparent effort to set conditions for future Ukrainian operations and the resettlement of west (right) bank Kherson Oblast. The New York Times published a series of interviews with Ukrainian military personnel operating on the east bank and along the Dnipro River on December 16, wherein the commander of a Ukrainian regiment stated that Ukrainian drone strikes have heavily suppressed Russian long-range artillery on the east bank in recent months. Ukrainian officials previously stated that Ukrainian forces established several bridgeheads on the east bank as part of an operation that aims to push Russian forces out of artillery range of west bank Kherson Oblast. The reported suppression of long-range Russian artillery may allow Ukrainian forces to operate more freely in near rear areas in west bank Kherson Oblast, which may partially explain intensified Russian glide bomb strikes against Ukrainian targets on the west bank. The much more abundant 152mm tube artillery systems that Russian forces widely operate in Ukraine have an approximate range of 25km, although Russian forces are unlikely to deploy these systems to immediate frontline areas due to the threat of Ukrainian counterbattery fire.

The withdrawal of tube artillery beyond 25km from the west bank and the suppression of long-range Russian artillery would remove consistent threats to populated areas on the west bank and allow the many Ukrainians who fled the Russian occupation of west bank Kherson Oblast to return more safely. The reduction of Russian artillery fire on the west bank would also allow Ukrainian forces to operate more freely along ground lines of communication (GLOCs), deploy more critical counterbattery and air defense systems within the vicinity of the Dnipro River, and more securely launch operations across the Dnipro River. A bridgehead is meant to provide security for crossing forces to continue operations, and the withdrawal of Russian artillery further from the Dnipro River would establish a safer position from which to conduct future operations if the Ukrainian high command so chose.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supporters formally nominated him as an independent candidate for the 2024 presidential elections on December 16, further solidifying Putin’s image as a figure above the Russian political system. The Russian “initiative group of voters” composed of over 500 politicians, actors, athletes, milbloggers, occupation officials, and even a Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) battalion commander, unanimously supported Putin’s decision to run as a self-nominated candidate during the elections. Secretary of the United Russia Party’s General Council Andrey Turchak stated that Putin will be able to establish his election campaign headquarters after completing all procedures for self-nomination – such as registering the initiative group and gathering 300,000 constituents’ signatures – and that the United Russia Party fully supports Putin’s campaign. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin also stated that the entire Russian government is “Putin’s team” and that Putin’s decision to run in the presidential elections corresponds to constituencies’ demands. Putin had previously run as an independent candidate in 2018, and ISW’s non-resident Russia fellow Nataliya Bugayova then assessed that Putin creates conditions in which most Russians believe that other Russians support him – an outcome that self-nomination is likely meant to simulate. Bugayova also assessed in 2018 that Putin cares about the perceived legitimacy of the presidential elections, despite the fact that most Russians recognize the regime’s policy failures and the limitations it imposes on their civil liberties. The proclaimed support for Putin of the United Russia Party, other factions, and the government creates the illusion that Putin stands above the Russian political fray and establishes him as a unique figure uniting all of Russia.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces continue operations on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast amid reported difficult conditions in the area as part of an apparent effort to set conditions for future Ukrainian operations and the resettlement of west (right) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supporters formally nominated him as an independent candidate for the 2024 presidential elections on December 16, further solidifying Putin’s image as a figure above the Russian political system.
  • Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dmitri Polyanskiy more clearly defined recent statements from high-ranking Russian officials that align with ISW’s long-standing assessment that Russia is unwilling to negotiate with Ukraine in good faith.
  • Russian forces launched another series of Shahed-136/131 drone strikes across Ukraine overnight on December 15 to 16.
  • The Financial Times (FT) reported on December 15 that the G7 may consider using frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine.
  • Russian actors continue information operations aimed at discrediting and dividing Ukraine’s military and political leadership, specifically Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
  • A Russian “Storm-Z” assault unit instructor implied that Russian President Vladimir Putin lied about the unregulated status of private military companies (PMCs) during his “Direct Line” forum on December 14 given the state’s significant administrative control over PMCs and other irregular formations.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on December 16 and advanced in some areas.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Russia will have at least ten Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates in an unspecified time period.
  • Ukrainian Mariupol Mayoral Advisor Petro Andryushchenko and the Ukrainian Telegram channel Mariupol Resistance stated on December 16 that Ukrainian partisans recently blew up the car of the commander of an unspecified Russian unit from the North Caucasus in occupied Mariupol.

(For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-16-2023)

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