Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv’s Forces Push Deeper South Near Robotyne
The small but potentially significant push deeper south in Zaporizhzhia Oblast puts Ukrainian troops a step closer to Crimea.
Pushing along several vectors in its counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces appear to be making continued progress in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on her Telegram channel Monday that Kyiv’s forces gained about 10.2 square kilometers in the southern vectors over the last week and nearly 170 square kilometers since the counteroffensive began early last month.
She didn’t offer specifics about where, but the Russian Two Majors Telegram channel claimed Monday that a platoon of Ukrainian troops from the specially trained 47th Mechanized Brigade, backed by Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, penetrated about 400 meters near the town of Robotyne. The Institute for the Study of War offered a similar assessment Monday, saying "a Russian source and geolocated footage indicate that Ukrainian forces advanced closer to Robotyne as of July 10."
It’s a small, but significant thrust after weeks of fighting. The town is about six miles south of Mala Tokmachka, which was the scene of a disastrous attempt by Ukraine to advance early on in its campaign that became iconic as the result of damaged and destroyed Bradleys, a Leopard 2 tank and some anti-mining armored vehicles. There is more on that attack later in this story.
On the eastern portion of the frontlines, Ukraine gained about 24 square kilometers in a week, Maliar said.
“In Bakhmut, our defenders have been keeping the entrances, exits and movement of the enemy through the city under fire control for several days,” she said. “This became possible due to the fact that in the process of advancing, our troops took control of the main commanding heights around Bakhmut.”
The Russians are "trapped," in Bakhmut, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of the Ukrainain Ground Forces, said on his Telegram page Monday. "The city is under fire control of the Defense Forces." The Russians, he added, "are breaking out" of their positions as Ukraine advances.
It still seems that Ukraine is probing for spots to break through as it appears the bulk of their forces have yet to been seen on the battlefield. It will likely become more apparent in the coming days and weeks how that is shaping up as more imagery emerges despite Kyiv's efforts at maintaining operational security in a very difficult environment to do that.
However, the advance in Robotyne, if it holds, puts Ukraine one small step closer to Crimea.
We are keeping a close watch on these developments and will provide updates when they become available.
Before we head into the latest updates from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
To mark the 500-day mark of this all-out war, Maliar on Saturday seemingly offered the first official confirmation that Ukrainian forces were behind the Oct. 8 attack on the Kerch Bridge, Vladimir Putin's prized $4 billion span linking Russia with the Crimean peninsula it has occupied since 2014.
Kyiv has been notoriously quiet about its role in that incident. Ukrainian spy boss Kyrylo Budanov last November responded to our question about who attacked the bridge with a question of his own: "Why did they think that Ukraine is the only possible actor that could do that? There were multiple cases before when the Russians have blown out their own constructions and buildings, and just to unbind their hands for doing something else."
But on Saturday, Maliar confirmed it on her Telegram channel.
"273 days after they struck the first blow on the Crimean bridge to break the logistics of the Russians," she said in a Telegram message extolling the successes of Ukrainian forces in this war.
Contrary to Ukraine’s wishes, that country is not ready for NATO membership, President Joe Biden told CNN Sunday ahead of this week’s alliance summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” Biden said. “For example, if you did that, then, you know – and I mean what I say – we’re determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory. It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who will be traveling to Vilnius, on Monday repeated his desire to join the alliance.
"When we applied to join NATO, we were frank," Zelensky said in a Tweet. Ukraine "is de facto already in the Alliance. Our weapons are the weapons of the Alliance. Our values are what the Alliance believes in. Our defense is the very element of the formula of Europe that makes it united, free and peaceful. Vilnius must confirm all this."
Construction is already underway for Turkish drone maker Baykar’s manufacturing plant in Ukraine, Oleksandr Kamyshyn, Minister for Strategic Industries, said Monday during the national joint 24/7 newscast.
"The plant has actually started to be built, rather than just being a memorandum,” Kamyshyn said, according to Ukrainian Pravda. “This is the huge Bayraktar facility that we agreed on a few years ago; back then, there were interruptions and scandals. The plant is now starting to be built, and we have taken real steps," he said.
Last week, Kamyshyn signed a new memorandum with the Ministry of Industry and Technology of Turkey to develop capacities and capabilities for producing various types of UAVs, the publication wrote.
Germany’s largest arms maker Rheinmetall will open an armored vehicle plant in Ukraine within the next 12 weeks, company CEO Armin Papperger told CNN.
The company will also train Ukrainians to maintain tanks and other armored vehicles made at the plant, which will be located in the western part of the country. CNN noted that Rheinmetall’s plans run counter to other Western defense companies concerned about building a presence in the country while it is at war with Russia.
“[Ukrainians] have to help themselves — if they always have to wait [for] Europeans or Americans [to] help them over the next 10 or 20 years… that is not possible,” Papperger said.
The supply and delivery of ammunition for Ukraine was so bad that at one point, a field commander had to grind down Finnish-donated 120mm mortars to make them fit into donated Mod. 63 Italian mortar tubes being used by troops, according to a scathing new report by the Lighthouse Reports organization.
Published in conjunction with the Kyiv Independent, Follow The Money and El Diario, the report was the result of a six-month examination of “the main reasons for Europe’s ongoing struggle to ramp up ammunition production.”
More Pakistani munitions have apparently shown up on the battlefield for Ukraine. These 122mm Yarmuk rockets, being used to feed Ukraine's Soviet-era BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems, are part of an effort to purchase ammunition from Pakistan through an intermediary country. You can read more about that in our story here.
Out of the public eye since Wagner Private Military Company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin's aborted mutiny last month, Russian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov finally made a public appearance Monday. The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) posted a video of him at a meeting. Gerasimov, along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, were targeted by Prigozhin for allegedly mismanaging the war effort, leading to tens of thousands of needless troop deaths. The appearance comes after Russian media and Telegram channels reported that Gerasimov was fired from running war operations, replaced by Col.-Gen. Mikhail Teplinksy.
Aerospace Forces commander Gen. Sergei Surovikin, meanwhile, has yet to be seen since the June 24th putative putsch. The New York Times reported last month that Surovikin help Prigozhin plan the mutiny.
Speaking of Prigozhin, despite staging a march on Moscow, he was part of a group of military leaders who sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk about what happened days later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.
Prigozhin and Wagner unit field commanders were among 35 people to the attend the three-hour meeting, Reuters reported.
"The only thing we can say is that the president gave his assessment of the company's (Wagner's) actions at the front during the Special Military Operation (in Ukraine) and also gave his assessment of the events of 24 June (the day of the mutiny)," Peskov told reporters.
Peskov said Putin had listened to the commanders' own explanations of what had happened and had offered them further options for employment and combat.
Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), said Wagner troops were able to reach the nuclear base, Voronezh-45, but were unable to seize any nuclear weapons.
Budanov said the goal was to acquire small Soviet-era nuclear devices in order to "raise the stakes" in their mutiny. "Because if you are prepared to fight until the last man standing, this is one of the facilities that significantly raises the stakes," Budanov said.
However, those troops were unable to break into the facility, Budanov said.
"The doors of the storage were closed and they didn't get into the technical section," he said.
Reuters was not able to independently determine if Wagner fighters made it to Voronezh-45. Budanov, the publication reported, did not provide evidence and declined to say what discussions, if any, had taken place with the U.S. and other allies about the incident. He also didn't say why the fighters subsequently withdrew.
A source close to the Kremlin with military ties corroborated parts of Budanov's account to Reuters.
A Wagner contingent "managed to get into a zone of special interest, as a result of which the Americans got agitated because nuclear munitions are stored there," this person said, without elaborating further.
Concern over this incident in the Kremlin sparked the negotiations brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Reuters reported.
The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) on Monday claimed that Ukraine has “stepped up” its recruitment of foreign fighters in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, is again rattling the nuclear saber. This time, he is calling for retaliatory Russian strikes on Ukrainian nuclear power plants.
“If an attempted attack by NATO missiles is confirmed [at the] Smolensk (Desnogorsk) Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), it is necessary to consider the scenario of a simultaneous Russian strike on the South Ukrainian NPP, Rovno NPP and Khmelnitsky NPP, as well as on nuclear facilities in Eastern Europe,” Medvedev wrote Monday on his Telegram channel. “There is nothing to be ashamed of here.”
Medvedev was apparently reacting to information posted on the Russian MASH news outlet’s Telegram Sunday, claiming an attempted attack on the Desnogorsk NPP, possibly by Ukrainian S-200 air defense missiles converted to surface-to-surface weapons. You can read more about that in our story here.
A former captain of a Russian submarine accused of launching Kalibr missiles at Ukraine was shot to death in Russia, according to the Operation Z Telegram channel.
Stanislav Rzhitsky, who was serving as the deputy head of the Krasnodar department for mobilization work, was on a morning run near the 'Olymp' sports complex when he was shot four times in the back and chest by an unknown assailant, who fled the scene, according to Operation Z, citing local media accounts.
Rzhitsky was a captain of the 2nd rank and commander of the Improved Kilo-class submarine Krasnodar (B-265), according to Operation Z. The vessel is suspected of launching a Kalibr cruise missile that killed 27 people in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia last July.
Speaking of Improved Kilo-class submarines, Russia is building more and plans to name them after occupied Ukrainian cities, according to the Barents Observer.
"The construction of the first new vessel is reported to start in 2024," according to the publication. "It will get the name Mariupol after the occupied Ukrainian city that was completely destroyed by attacking Russian forces."
"Following the Mariupol, another five improved Kilo-class submarines will be built for the Northern Fleet."
With Russian mines playing a major role slowing down its counteroffensive, Ukraine has shifted tactics, relying far more on small teams of sappers to clear minefields instead of heavy equipment, The Economist reported Sunday.
That came in the wake of the unsuccessful attack southwards from Mala Tokmachka on June 7th that saw much of its most capable Western-supplied mine-clearing equipment bogged down — then targeted — in minefields.
Ukrainian sappers are now given the job of finding a way through have to deal with around 1,500 mines per square kilometer, according to the publication. That is before Russian artillery, drones, aviation and electronic warfare begin their work.
“Sappers have become target number one,” says “Sleepless”, the company commander in charge of one such mission that turned deadly on June 27th. “It’s a hunt, pure and simple.”
The Russians are facing mine dangers of their own. This video below shows a Ukrainian drone dropping PTM-3 anti-tank mines and the purported aftermath of a Russian BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle damaged and abandoned after running over one.
Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) has released video showing a wide array of its combat capabilities, ranging from armored vehicles to various drones to its Black Hawk helicopter.
The riverine battle on the Dnipro River has been raging for months, and new video has emerged of a Ukrainian small craft reportedly conducting combat operations on that waterway.
More intense battlefield video has emerged on social media. In this case, Ukrainian troops on a BTR-80 come under fire as they ride in the armor vehicle, reportedly while storming Russian positions in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. After dismounting under gunfire, at least one of the troops is wounded and receives attention from medics.
Speaking of wounded, Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker from Crimea, jailed by Russia for five years for his opposition to annexation, is now a soldier. He recently posted video of the aftermath of being injured on the battlefield and the heavy price paid for a Ukrainian advance in an undisclosed location.
Counter-battery duels, aided by drones that can spot targets and adjust fires, have become a mainstay of this war. In the video below, two Russian 122mm 2A18 D-30 howitzers were reportedly destroyed by Ukrainian artillery.
A Russian S-400 air defense vehicle and radar was apparently destroyed and its crew killed after a Ukrainian M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS strike.
A smoldering Russian tank can be seen in this video below after an apparent failed attack on a Ukrainian position. The tank was destroyed and its crew reportedly captured.
Ukrainian troops are seen in this video below firing the 30mm main gun of a BTR-4 "Bucephal" amphibious infantry fighting vehicle at Russian positions.
Ukrainian troops reportedly captured a Russian anti-drone weapon that appears to operate by jamming signals on four different frequencies, that can be selected by the push of a button.
Not every FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank guided missile hits a target. In the case of these images below, it appears engine failure caused the failure of the one of those Javelins.
Another series of videos has emerged on social media of Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" attack helicopters taking out Ukrainian armor. You can read more about the challenges the Alligator is posing Ukraine's armor in our story here.
But the front lines aren't the only places where an Alligator can be found. One recently got up close and personal with beach goers at the Russian-occupied Azov Sea port city of Berdyansk. The video below shows people watching the helicopter hover near the beach, then running for cover as it kicks up water and sand as it moves off.
It seems that the venerable and versatile Russian MT-LB tractor has yet another modification, this time a 100mm MT-12 Rapira anti-tank gun mounted on top. And with a newer-model cope cage.
Cope cages are apparently not just for armor. The Oryx open-source intelligence tracking group posted a photo of a Russian Lada, the ubiquitous auto of Soviet days, sporting one of those improvised metal devices designed to defeat drones and other threats from above. It remains unclear why the owner of this vehicle wanted such protection, but it seems like a Lada effort.
And finally, meet Mavic the crow, Ukraine's latest front line pet. So named after the drones Ukraine has been using to great affect, the crow is smart and strong enough that they keep it away from the grenades.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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