The Armed Forces of Ukraine are carrying out a coordinated counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, which will take some time to play out, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its Aug. 30 war report. Russia is downplaying the significance and potential of this operation, focusing on Kherson not falling to a lightning Ukrainian strike.
Ukrainian forces began striking Russian pontoon ferries across the Dnipro River on Aug. 29, which is consistent with the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Satellite imagery confirms that Russian forces continue to rely on such temporary river crossings to transport very limited quantities of equipment across the Dnipro River. This pattern of strikes only makes sense for Ukraine if Kyiv intends to capitalize on them in a ground offensive, ISW analysts say.
Ukrainian forces have long undertaken efforts to destroy Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) prior to the announcement of the counteroffensive operation, which likely indicates that Ukrainian forces are committed to a long-term effort - composed of both strikes and ground assaults. Ukrainian strikes on Russian GLOCs disrupt the Russians’ ability to supply and reinforce their positions with manpower and equipment, which will assist Ukrainian ground counteroffensives.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is thus a cohesive process that will require some time to correctly execute. The Kremlin will likely exploit the lack of immediate victory over Kherson or Ukrainian operational silence on the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to misrepresent Ukrainian efforts as failing and to undermine public confidence in its prospects.
Russian forces are continuing to react and adjust their positions throughout southern Ukraine, likely both as a response to the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive and in preparation for broader Ukrainian counter-offensives further east. Russian forces are continuing to transfer large convoys of military equipment from Crimea and Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov also noted that Russian forces have opened up around five military bases and barracks in Melitopol and will likely continue to prepare defenses around Melitopol given its strategically vital GLOCs between Rostov Oblast and southern Ukraine. Ukraine’s Operational Command South reported that Russian forces in Kherson Oblast are attempting to conduct rotations of troops, likely in an effort to reinforce some vulnerable positions.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is likely driving Russian redeployment and reprioritization throughout the theater. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are reinforcing the grouping of forces operating west of Donetsk City area with elements of the Central Military District (CMD). The ISW has previously identified that CMD units, under the command of the CMD Commander Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, operated in the Lysychansk-Siversk area in Donbas and recently concluded an operational pause in mid-August. The movement of CMD units to Donetsk area further suggests that Russian forces are deprioritizing the Siversk advance in favor of attempting to sustain momentum around Donetsk. ISW has previously reported that Russian advances around Avdiivka and Donetsk have effectively culminated following Russian limited breakthroughs around the Butivka Coal Mine ventilation shaft.
The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are deploying elements of the newly-formed 3rd Army Corps, which is at least in part composed of inexperienced volunteers, to reinforce neglected Russian positions in Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts.
The deployment of the 3rd Army Corps may indicate that Russian forces seek to recoup combat power for use in offensive operations around Donetsk City or defensive operations in Kherson by replacing experienced troops with raw and poorly trained volunteer units.
Other key report takeaways:
- Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack north of Kharkiv City;
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks southwest of Izyum, south of Bakhmut, and near the western outskirts of Donetsk City;
- Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack in northern Kherson Oblast;
- An anonymous senior US military official stated that the US believes that Russia is firing artillery from positions around and in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant;
- Russian forces are continuing to move military equipment into Crimea;
- Russian federal subjects (regions) are continuing to recruit and deploy volunteer battalions;
Russian occupation authorities are taking measures to forcibly-integrate Ukrainian schools into the Russian education space in preparation for the approaching school year.