7 September, 12:58 PM

Russia’s transfer of forces to south likely enabling Ukraine’s offensives in Kharkiv, Donbas

Russia’s redeployment of forces from Kharkiv Oblast and the Donbas to Ukraine’s south is likely enabling Ukrainian counterattacks of opportunity in these areas, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its Sept. 6 report.

According to ISW, this is evidenced by the Ukrainian counterattack near the town of Balakliya in Kharkiv Oblast.

It is noted the said counterattack likely drove Russian forces back to the left bank (north side) of the Siverskyi Donets and Serednya Balakliyka rivers on Sept. 6.

“Ukrainian forces likely captured Verbivka (less than 3 km northwest of Balakliya) on Sept. 6,” ISW experts said.

“Geolocated footage posted on Sept. 6 shows Ukrainian infantry in eastern Verbivka (less than 3 kilometers from Balakliya). Multiple Russian sources acknowledged Ukrainian gains in Verbivka and reported that Russian forces demolished unspecified bridges in Balakliya’s eastern environs to prevent further Ukrainian advances.”

Images posted on Sept. 6 also show a destroyed Russian bridge over the Serednya Balakliyka River – a geographic feature behind which the Russian front line in this sector likely lies.

According to ISW, social media users reported that Russian forces withdrew from checkpoints six kilometers west of Balakliya on Sept. 6.

At the same time, Russian forces likely no longer maintain their previous positions in Bairak and Nova Husarivka (just south of Balakliya on the right bank of the Siverskyi Donets River).

“Russian forces likely abandoned Bairak and Nova Husarivka in late August,” the report says.

“Images posted on Aug. 30 show that Russian forces blew the bridge over the Siverskyi Donetsk River near Bairak on an unspecified date. Bridge demolition activity indicates a planned Russian withdrawal. Ukraine’s General Staff reported on Sept. 6 that Russian forces conducted air strikes against Bairak, indicating that Ukrainian forces may have advanced in the area.”

Expert believe that Russia’s deployment of forces from Kharkiv and eastern Ukraine to Ukraine’s south is likely enabling Ukrainian counterattacks of opportunity.

“The Sept. 6 Ukrainian counterattack in Kharkiv was likely an opportunistic effort enabled by the redeployment of Russian forces away from the area to reinforce Russian positions against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast,” they say.

“Obituary data on Russian servicemen indicates that Russia deployed elements of the 147th Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army to Kherson Oblast no earlier than late August. This is the first time ISW has observed elements of Russia’s elite 1st Guards Tank Army operating in southern Ukraine. Elements of the 147th previously fought in Bucha in Kyiv in March and elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army were active primarily along the Kharkiv Axis after the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv.”

ISW experts also commented on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Sept. 6 report on the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), saying the report is “a coded condemnation of Russian moves that have created and are perpetuating the danger of nuclear disaster in Ukraine.”

ISW emphasized the report does not attempt to determine which party is responsible for the shelling that has damaged the facility and repeatedly calls on “all relevant parties” to take measures to improve the situation. At the same time, the moderation and apparent neutrality of that language can overshadow the extremely clear articulation of the Russian activities undermining the plant’s safety and the fact that the report attributes no dangerous actions to Ukraine.

According to experts, the IAEA report demonstrates that Russian officials have placed military equipment in locations inhibiting access to essential facilities, installed their own personnel to oversee the plant’s operations in ways that the IAEA judges could undermine effective response to a nuclear emergency, restricted the Ukrainian operating staff’s access to key parts of the facility, and shifted the emergency center to a location lacking essential components vital to an effective response to a serious nuclear emergency.

“The Russians have thus created conditions at the ZNPP that increase the risk that an emergency could occur and significantly increase the danger that the operating staff will be unable to respond efficiently and effectively in such an event,” ISW said in a report.

ISW experts also warn that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin could seek to use the fears that his actions are causing to coerce the IAEA and the international community into a de facto recognition of Russia’s right to be involved in the operation of the ZNPP, which he might seek to portray as de facto recognition of Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine.

“The somewhat coded language of the IAEA report reflects the fact that Ukraine remains the operator of the ZNPP and the party responsible for its safe operation and for complying with the IAEA under international law,” ISW said.

“Putin might seek to take advantage of this situation to attempt to create a process analogous to the Minsk Accords that established the ‘ceasefire’ in Ukraine following Russia’s 2014 invasion.”

Other conclusions of ISW analysts about the situation in Ukraine over the past day:

  • Ukrainian forces have launched likely opportunistic counterattacks in southern Kharkiv Oblast and retaken several settlements. Russian redeployments of forces from this area to defend against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson likely prompted and facilitated these counterattacks;
  • Russian and Ukrainian sources discussed kinetic activity northwest of the city of Kherson and in Kherson Oblast along the Inhulets River;
  • Russian forces made incremental gains south of Bakhmut and continued ground attacks north, northwest, and southwest of the city of Donetsk;
  • Russian authorities continue setting conditions to Russify Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

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