Ukraine Conflict Monitor - 12 June - 16 June 2023 (Weekly update)
Situational report 12 June – 16 June 2023
**From now on, Belarus updates will no longer be published within UCM. Instead, they will be released separately on Monday. We will revert this change should Belarus enter the war**
Key takeaways from last week’s developments:
The main phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive continued, but Ukrainian gains proved to be limited; The number of newly established Ukrainian brigades committed to battle did not change; In fact, it may have decreased following the withdrawal of the badly battered Bradley- and Leopard-equipped 47th Mechanised Brigade; This decision also highlights a lack of stubbornness in conducting pointless assaults, which Russian commanders showed during the assault on Vuhledar in JAN-FEB2023;
Ukrainian force commitments are greater in the Velyka Novosilka, where Kyiv maintained nine brigades, including two artillery; In recent days, Ukrainians launched some successful artillery strikes on Russian artillery and air defence assets to hinder Moscow’s fire support capability in preparation for the deployment of more into the battle; Altogether, Ukrainians liberated some 100 sq km since mid-last week;
The overall situation in the Kharkiv Oblast did not change; Russians made no territorial gains, while the Russian Volunteer Corps continued to maintain some presence in the Belgorod Oblast;
The frontline in the Luhansk Oblast did not change either; however, the most recent reports indicate Russian determination to capture Bilohorivka;
No significant frontline changes were reported in the Donetsk Oblast (apart from the Vuhledar axis);
Ukrainian units carried on counterattacks on Bakhmut’s flanks, but despite official announcements claiming progress, no visual evidence was presented to confirm territorial gains;
The Vuhledar axis remained stable for most of the week; however, late in the week, Ukrainian sources claimed progress in this area;
The Dipro flows appeared to have stabilised, although many areas are still flooded; Ukrainians have reportedly launched two cross-river attacks near Hola Prystan and Nova Khakovka; both were repelled;
Russian missile and drone attacks were limited last week and delivered no impact on the battlefield; One cruise missile hit a residential area in Kryvyi Rih, killing at least 11 people;
The past five days did not deliver any major frontline changes. Ukrainians continued counterattacks near Orichiv, Velyka Novosilka, Vuhledar and Bakhmut, but the impact on a frontline was relatively limited.
Ukrainians made the biggest progress near Velyka Novosilka, where they deployed seven manoeuvre units and two artillery brigades to provide fire support. It seems that territorial gains came as a result of a momentum built up during the initial days of the counterattack. Without the deployment of reinforcements, momentum petered out early this week, and by Friday, Russians conducted numerous counterattacks on this axis, trying to regain their losses. All Russian attacks appear to have been repelled.
The kill zone Ukrainians entered south of Orichiv, which comprised ATGM crews, artillery, minefields, and aviation, also stopped Kyiv’s advances as the Bradkey- and Leopard-equipped 47th Mechanised Brigades suffered losses and was pulled back. But at the same time, there is a striking difference in the number of units committed to both axes. In the latter axis, Ukrainians employed only five brigades supported by one artillery brigade, a force 50% smaller than what was sent to battle Velyka Novosilka.
The Ukrainian centre of gravity thus is around Velyka Novosilka, and currently, the prospects of Ukrainian success are the biggest there. It does not mean the main Ukrainian push is ongoing on this axis. The commitment of newly established brigades is still relatively low, and Ukrainians still have ample reserves to be sent to combat.
But to sum up the first week, Ukrainian artillery preparations were insufficient to disorganise Russia’s defence and disrupt its C2, especially along the main axes of advance. This especially pertains to the elimination of Russian ATGM capability and artillery assets.
Neither did Ukrainians manage to sufficiently surveil Russian minefields and other engineering fortifications even close to the FLET (forward line of enemy troops). This, combined with an insufficient number of sapper units deployed, resulted in a small assault tempo, high losses, and limited gains, especially near Orichiv.
Nevertheless, the past few days have seen Ukrainians focus on operations to degrade Russian artillery support. Only within a day, Russians lost five 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers. Ukrainians also hit air defence and electronic warfare equipment to open up the skies for its own aircraft, limit Russia’s ability to operate freely closer to the front, increase the accuracy of precision-guided munitions, and improve its own C4.
On both axes, Ukrainians are still some 8-10 kilometres from the first major Russian defensive lines.
The West continues to deliver equipment. This week images surfaced showing Swedish-donated Strf9040C (also known as CV90) IFVs in Ukraine. Indeed, the Swedish Armed Forces press service stated on 8JUN that Ukrainians had finished their training and that 50 vehicles would soon be transferred to the country. It is unclear which unit operates CV90s, but the impact on the firepower of frontline formations and crew survivability will be evident. The United States government also announced the delivery of an additional 15 M2A2 Braldeys and 10 Strykers to Ukraine, partly to cover the losses sustained last week.
Although the decision to donate F-16s to Ukraine has not yet been (officially made), Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, stated that Ukrainian pilots were being trained to fly these fourth-generation fighter aircraft. Although this is a speculative comment, training would not have started had the likelihood of delivering F-16s to Ukraine been small.
We have seen various comparisons floating around about the ongoing counteroffensive. The reality is that what is presently occurring is neither akin to the Kherson Offensive nor what happened in Kharkiv. The Kharkiv Oblast was deprived of regular Russian army formations, which made it easier to advance once Ukrainians pierced through initial defensive lines. In the Kherson Oblast, thanks to HIMARS strikes on the Antonovsky Bridge and other river crossings, Ukrainians could isolate the battlefield north of the Dnipro River, forcing Russians to abandon their positions. Yet, despite the sustained employment of high-precision capabilities, the latter campaign lasted three months.
Ukrainians cannot isolate the current battlefield in the Zaporizhihia and Donetsk Oblast, while the hundreds of kilometres of echeloned defensive lines will undoubtedly cause casualties on the attacking side. We are in the early stages of the third Ukrainian counteroffensive during this war. This one will be the most difficult and complex to undertake. It is thus important to manage one’s expectations as to how quickly and what this counteroffensive can deliver.