Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Appoints New War Commander
The general inherits a rickety Russian fighting force deflated from recent high-profile defeats and eight months of fighting in Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced Gen. Sergei Surovikin as the new overall commander of Russia’s combined group of forces in Ukraine as Moscow looks to slow Kyiv’s momentum.
Surovikin, commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces and a previous commander of Russian forces in Syria, has reportedly commanded the Southern Group of Forces in Ukraine since June.
The change from Moscow comes as Russian forces face ongoing Ukrainian offensives in the Donbas and in Kherson Oblast. As if that wasn’t enough to stretch the lines, Ukraine could soon begin a new offensive in the center towards Melitopol or Berdyansk.
The October 8 explosion at the Kerch Strait Bridge, which damaged the vital road and rail link between mainland Russia and occupied Crimea, makes Melitopol a lucrative prize for Ukrainian troops. Since the attack, reports indicate rail and road traffic over the bridge have resumed, but in a very limited fashion. Make sure to read our most recent and updated post on the explosion at the Kerch Strait Bridge here.
Russian forces in Kherson rely on supply lines from Crimea to the south and Melitopol in the east. The supplies in Crimea must come from Russia by sea or over the damaged bridge, and the Melitopol line is well within the range of strikes or a sudden breakthrough of Ukrainian forces. If Ukraine could seize this area, they could sever this essential landbridge to Crimea and their forces in southern Ukraine.
Russia hasn't provided much clarity on its chain of command since April, when Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, another Southern Group commander with Syrian experience, reportedly took overall command of Russian forces. He, too, inherited a mess, and there have been dubious gaps in Russian résumés from the moment the “special military operation” went pear-shaped. But by June, Dvornikov was reportedly back in command of only the Southern Group of Forces, Surovikin replaced him. With how things have gone through the summer and into fall, the overall command position may well have been a revolving door.
Before we head into more of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
The British Ministry of Defense’s latest intelligence update highlighted the public discord between nationalist, pro-war voices of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group PMC owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, and those of the Russian military high command.
The Kerch Strait Bridge attack likely hasn’t improved things between the two reported factions, as we reported in our ongoing coverage of the explosion.
If the Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel Grey Zone is to be believed (it shouldn't be outright), then the post-Kerch rumors aren’t solely a Ukrainian information op. The channel claims Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov are getting sacked as a result of the bridge attack, and the Kadyrov-Prigozhin faction may already have replacements lined up. The War Zone cannot independently confirm these claims, and the rumors themselves may be designed to force the issue with Moscow.
The Institute for the Study of War's latest control maps show continued Ukrainian gains on all fronts except the Bakhmut direction, where Russian forces have taken piecemeal territory in vicious battles against dug-in positions.
Footage from Russian media shows one such attack in the area, with mechanized troops assaulting a Ukrainian position near the village of Spirne.
The BMPs advance over a moon-like cratered field before troops dismount and move up to the edge of the trenches. Even in an otherwise shredded treeline, it quickly deteriorates into close-in trench warfare with lobbed grenades and an otherwise point-blank firefight.
Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces "West" reported Russia has deployed at least 20 Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to Luninets Air Base just across the Belarussian border from Rivne Oblast. The base housed numerous Russian aircraft in the build-up to invasion in February, and satellite imagery shows the base has been upgraded in recent months amid the ongoing war.
The concern is Russia will use the base to send the kamikaze drones against infrastructure and population centers like Kyiv and Lviv far from the frontline. Drones struck Bila Tserkva in Kyiv Oblast earlier this week, sparking fears of further attacks.
Incredible helmet camera footage shows a Ukrainian soldier rescuing a wounded Russian soldier pinned in debris after his BTR crashed into a wall during a fight near Kupyansk. The clip documents a remarkable exchange, in which the wounded Russian asks the Ukrainian to "finish him." The Ukrainian soldier scolds him, answering "We're not like you!"
Russian soldiers are getting instructions on how to surrender from the same weapon system hunting them with sweeping rocket barrages. Video shows Ukrainian artillerymen loading and firing a Czech-donated RM-70 Vampir MLRS with rockets, their warheads swapped for propaganda leaflets.
As we saw in a stunning video of Russian troops surrendering earlier this week, instructions on how to surrender can’t be overlooked if everyone wants to survive that course of action.
In an interview with BBC Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky didn't mince words when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's fate should Ukraine win the war.
Finally, Ukrainian forces continue to turn heads with paint jobs on their equipment and weapons. There’s an M142 HIMARS launcher sporting 69 skulls for 69 “significant confirmed hits” on targets, and an R-27R air-to-air missile on a Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 that tells the Russian president exactly what he can do with it.
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