Ukraine Weekly Security Report 7 April 2023
The battle for Bakhmut has entered a critical and perhaps decisive phase. On 3 April Russian forces captured the city center and Ukrainian defenders are locked in a desperate struggle to consolidate lines and create fallback positions in the western suburbs. Heavy fighting is ongoing as both sides battle for control of the N-32 highway close to Ivanivske approximately 3 miles to the west of the city. On 5 April President Zelensky confirmed troops defending Bakhmut are facing a very challenging situation and are ‘prepared to withdraw from the city to avoid encirclement if necessary, but it is not yet necessary’. It remains uncertain how long Ukrainian defenders can hold out against the Wagner Group and Russian army advances. Reports from the front lines indicate Russian forces are showing no signs of the previously reported ammunition shortages in their efforts to conquer the city. Wagner forces are reported to be supported by elite VDV troops armed with thermobaric artillery, which is being used to great effect against Ukrainian positions.
President Putin has focused efforts on reassuring regional authorities and Russian citizens on the strength of the Russian economy. On 3 April the Kremlin emphasized the need for regional industrial funds to support Russian Industry and reassured the public that there is no problem financing budget obligations as federal reserves will cover oil and gas revenue losses. Mr. Putin addressed workers at a Tula railway plant on 4 April and held a State Council Presidium during which he (falsely) claimed sanctions were having a positive effect on the Russian economy by forcing Russian firms to embrace import substitution. On 5 April Russian media reported the Kremlin is to develop a program of privileges for low level administration workers and civil servants. These privileges are aimed at mitigating discontent regarding the cost of the war from within Russia’s regions. Russia’s economy is yet to show any signs of resilience against sanctions and Putin’s actions would appear to underline growing financial concerns in Moscow.
Ukrainian and Russian sources have observed that Russia’s Winter Offensive did not achieve any of the objectives set by the Kremlin on the Donetsk and Luhansk fronts. It was announced on 22 Dec by Russian General Chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, Russia would focus all efforts on seizing control of the Donetsk Oblast and offensives were launched along the Kupyansk – Svatove – Kremmina – Lyman front and selected targets in Western Donetsk. U.K. Ministry of Defense Intelligence announced on 1 April, Gerasimov has failed to extend Russian control in the Donbas and missed the deadline to capture the region by 31 March and his continued advances are being criticized by Russian commanders as serving his personal interests as opposed to being tactically astute.
The recent success in Bakhmut has come at the cost of heavy losses to Russian forces. It is extremely likely Ukrainian forces will eventually be forced to withdraw from the city completely however they are determined to continue with defensive efforts and wear down Russian forces as much as possible before doing so. Russia has committed elite airborne VDV troops to support ground offensives along the frontlines on the Donetsk axis and whilst this tactic has created some limited success, it is likely casualties amongst VDV forces will take a toll on combat effectiveness in the face of the expected Ukrainian Counteroffensive. Previously reported munition shortages have been questioned by Ukrainian commanders who have reported relentless Russian artillery support for ground operations on the Bakhmut and Donetsk front lines. It is highly likely Russian commanders have focused resources on achieving the capture of Bakhmut and Adviivka. The use of elite forces may explain the more effective use of artillery against Ukrainian positions and ammunition shortages may become apparent as Ukrainian troops mount expected counter offensives in the near future. Russian Milbloggers have meanwhile declared the Russian Winter Offensive a failure and are now urging military commanders to begin preparations and defensive positions as opposed to pursuing offensive strategies that are unlikely to result in any meaningful breakthroughs. Russian General Chief of Staff Gerasimov, has been accused of trying to remain in Putin's favour by prioritizing operations in pursuit of his failed objectives over the need to prepare defenses ahead of the Ukrainian Counter offensive which Milbloggers believe will commence between Orthodox Easter on 16 April and Russian Victory Day on 9 May.
Russian advances on Bakhmut have regained momentum over the past week. Wagner forces supported by elite Russian airborne troops have taken control of the city centre, administration buildings and the west bank of the Bakhmutska river.. Ukrainian defenders have been forced to re-establish front lines in the Western suburbs of the city and are scrambling to create adequate fallback positions in anticipation of a renewed Russian offensive. Despite heavy fighting in the area, Russian troops have failed to control the vital highway N-32 into Bakhmut. Ukrainian commanders have reported resupply is still possible and defence of the city will continue for as long as it is possible however President Zelensky has admitted withdrawal is possible should his troops face being encircled. Russian offensives in the Donetsk and Kreminna regions are ongoing with limited success, Russian forces are reported to have been forced back at Novoselivka 5 miles Northeast of Avdiivka. Ukrainian defenders in Adviivka have reported Russian troops are being replaced by specialized units in the aftermath of failed offensives. Meanwhile leaked Russian documents have indicated Russian forces are training specialized urban assault companies to be attached to frontline units in support of offensive operations. The Newly formed units known as 'Storm Z' have been selected from mobilized forces and will receive an additional 15 days training before being deployed to the front line. With barely adequate training and the nature of the task given to the new units, it is unlikely they will bring any success against well organized Ukrainian defenses. Russian VDV troops have been deployed to support ground operations along the Oskil - Kremmina front line. The troops are armed with TOS-1A thermobaric weapons which have been used to great effect in Bakhmut. Despite the deployment of elite forces and new weaponry, progress on the front line has been slow. Ukrainian commanders have reported no sign of shortages in Russian ammunition as attacks continue against positions in the Bakhmut and Donetsk Axis.
BAKHMUT: 3- 5 April, Russian forces have captured the west bank of the Bakhmutska river and control the city center and city administration buildings. Ukrainian forces have been falling back to the Western districts of the city and are preparing defensive lines and fallback positions in anticipation of further Russian advances.
BAKHMUT: Russian troops have failed to make significant advances around Khromove and Ivanivske to the west of Bakhmut which would effectively control the N-32 Highway and close Ukrainian supply routes.
BAKHMUT: 6 April Ukrainian General Staff reported their forces repelled around 20 Russian advances near Bakhmut in the last 24 hrs
BAKHMUT: Ukrainian Intelligence has confirmed Russian VDV units ,deployed in support of Wagner Forces, have been using TOS-1A thermobaric artillery in Bakhmut.
DONETSK: Russian forces have continued offensive operations along the Donetsk City and Avdiivka axis without making any significant progress. Ukrainian General Staff have announced a counter offensive by Ukrainian defenders forced Russian forces to withdraw from positions around Novoselivka, 5 miles to north-east of Avdiivka.
OSKIL-KREMINNA: Russian forces have made little progress against Ukrainian defenses on the axis. Reports by Ukrainian military, on 4 April indicated that mobilized units have been reinforced by elite VDV units armed with TOS-1A thermobaric weapons.
SOUTHERN FRONT: The past week has seen very little activity along the Southern front line. Russian forces have been preparing defensive lines and redeploying equipment and ammunition away from the Crimea in anticipation of a Ukrainian advance.
ODESSA: On 4 April Russia launched 17 Iranian Drones against Odessa and Mykolaiv oblasts. 12 drones were intercepted with the remainder striking Shkolny airfield, a grain terminal and civilian targets in the city.
SUPPLIES: Ukrainian spokesman for the Eastern Military Command, Sergey Cherevaty has announced that Russian forces are not showing any signs of ammunition shortages as they carry out artillery strikes and ground assaults against Ukrainian front lines.
Belarus: 5-6 April, Vladimir Putin hosted talks with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko. Both leaders held one to one meetings and attended a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State where talks focused on economic, security, defense, culture and humanitarian integration topics. Meanwhile Russia has reiterated plans to position tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. On 2 April Boris Gryzlov, Special Envoy to Minsk, announced Belarusian military storage facilities for the nuclear arsenal will be completed by 1 July.
United Nations: On 1 April Russia commenced its month-long presidency of the U.N. Security Council despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.The Ukrainian permanent representative to the U.N. has accused the U.N. of taking ‘absurdity to a new level’ by permitting the Russian presidency. Other countries such as the U.K., France and U.S. have voiced disapproval but none of the 15 permanent members are planning to boycott meetings or form any other protest.
Poland: 5 April, President Zelensky signed a joint memorandum during meetings in Warsaw with Polish President, Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. The agreement pledges to support the reconstruction of Ukrainian territory and begin production of 125mm tank rounds. Poland also announced further military aid to Ukraine as other E.U. allies face legal issues on how to implement procurement of munitions for Ukraine.
China: Over the past 5 days China has downplayed the nature of its relationship with Russia. During a press conference after talks between President Putin and President Xi, both leaders declared a ‘no limits’ cooperation between both countries. On 5 April, Chinese Ambassador to the E.U. Fu Cong, described the comments as being taken out of context and reiterated that China does not support the invasion of Ukraine and will not provide weapons to Russia. China has been urged by French President Macron to take a role in negotiating peace between Russia and Ukraine during a recent visit to Beijing.
Aid: On 5 April, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called upon member states to pledge an additional 500 Million Euro of non lethal aid to help boost the assistance package for Ukraine. The increased aid would be used in the short term to provide additional fuel, PPE and Anti-Drone defenses, necessary to help Ukraine defend the country. Once the war is over, the funding would assist Ukraine to complete a military modernization program which would help the country meet NATO’s interoperability standards ahead of any future membership of the organization.
Finland: On 4 April Finland officially became a member of NATO. The Kremlin has responded by claiming it may be forced to take counter measures to ensure its own border security. Tensions are likely to rise in the short term but are unlikely to result in any direct confrontation with NATO.
Russia: The assassination of the prominent Russian Milblogger, Maksim Fomin in a café in St Petersburg on 2 April has led to speculation regarding who masterminded the attack. Darya Trepova, a 26 year old activist, was immediately arrested by state investigators and charged with involvement in the plot, however the Russian Anti Terrorism Committee claimed Ukrainian Special Forces carried out the attack in collaboration with imprisoned opposition leader Aleksi Navalny’s supporters. Institute for the Study of War has suggested the assassination was carried out as part of an internal political struggle in Russia and intended as a warning to Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin with whom Fomin had strong ties.