Ukraine at D+606: Ukraine continues diversionary raids into Russian-occupied territory.
N2K logoOct 23, 2023

The Russian active defense around Avdiivka shows a modest result: a contested advance into a garbage dump, over which Russian forces have been unable to establish control.

Ukraine at D+606: Ukraine continues diversionary raids into Russian-occupied territory.

Russia continues its "active defense" in the vicinity of the well-defended town of Avdiivka, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Friday, despite very heavy losses of combat vehicles. "Russian forces launched a renewed offensive push near Avdiivka on October 20 and marginally advanced, indicating that the Russian military command remains committed to offensive operations in the area despite heavy materiel and personnel losses."

By Saturday, the ISW assessed that "Ukrainian forces have likely repelled another intensified Russian offensive effort towards Avdiivka." Ukrainian sources put Russian losses in the attacks at 50 tanks, 100 other armored vehicles, and 900 human beings. The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Sunday offered an appraisal of the relation between Russian mobilization, losses, and the ability to maintain forces in Ukraine. "Recent Russian assaults in Avdiivka have contributed to a 90% increase in Russian casualties recorded by the Ukrainian MoD. Since February 2022, Russia has significantly increased its force footprint on the ground in Ukraine by intensifying recruitment using financial incentives and the partial mobilisation conducted in Autumn 2022. This increase of personnel is the major factor behind Russia’s ability to both defend held territory and conduct costly assaults."

Russian losses to date have been heavy. "It is likely that Russia has suffered 150,000-190,000 permanent casualties (killed and permanently wounded) since the conflict began, with the total figure including temporarily wounded (recovered and due to return to the battlefield) in the region of 240,000-290,000. This does not include Wagner Group or their prisoner battalions who fought in Bakhmut." The heavy losses for a very modest gain (an incursion into a local garbage dump, which the Russian forces haven't been able to fully control) have, the ISW suggested Sunday, produced a Russian operational pause as more troops are staged into the area.

The New York Times reports an increase in Ukrainian raids into Crimea.

Kinzhal air-to-surface missiles deployed to the Black Sea. It's a gesture for domestic consumption.

Saturday morning the UK's MoD reported that Russian President Putin had cited US deployment of carrier battle groups to the Eastern Mediterranean as a reason to move Kinzhal-equipped combat aircraft to the Black Sea. "On 18 October 2023 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will begin conducting fighter patrols in the eastern Black Sea using the MiG-31I interceptor aircraft armed with Kh-47M2 KINZHAL (DAGGER) air-launched ballistic missiles. His justification referred to the recent uplift in the US’ maritime presence in the eastern Mediterranean, with the intent of holding these vessels at risk using a weapon system with a published range of up to 2000km."

The US has deployed the USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS Dwight Eisenhower battle groups to the Mediterranean in what US Secretary of State Blinken described as a deterrent to further expansion of the war between Hamas and Israel.

The announcement and the deployment itself are intended, the MoD thinks, largely for domestic consumption. "This announcement is in line with typical Russian rhetoric aimed at its domestic audience, calling the West aggressors whilst framing Russian activity as necessary for protection of the state.The specific mention of the KINZHAL missile and its capabilities by Putin was almost certainly for strategic messaging purposes, to demonstrate that Russia remains able to produce and operate newly developed weapons, despite the ongoing Ukrainian conflict."

The Kinzhal isn't regarded as particularly menacing by informed foreign audiences. "The KINZHAL effectively remains in operational testing, with its performance in Ukraine to date being poor. It remains highly capable on paper, able to fly at hypersonic speeds and evade modern air defence systems, although there almost certainly needs to be significant improvement in how Russia uses it to achieve this potential."

The ISW draws attention to a growing trend in Russian domestic influence operations. "A lawmaker who is a prominent member of the Russian veterans’ community claimed on October 20 that Russians who do not support Russian President Vladimir Putin should be 'isolated' or 'at least somehow destroyed.' Russian State Duma Deputy and former Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) Lieutenant General Andrei Gurulev claimed that at least 80 percent of Russians trust Putin, which Gurulev claimed indicates Russian unity, and called those who do not trust or support Putin 'rot.'"

Military budgets, resources, and the course of the war.

Both sides in the war are taking stock of their resources as winter approaches, the AP reports.

Monday morning the MoD looked at the stress the war has placed on Russia's economy. "Russian government spending is becoming increasingly focused on the costs of its war on Ukraine. The state’s proposed 2024 budget envisages an approximate 68% increase in planned defence spending compared to that allotted for 2023 – this puts defence spending for 2024 at around 6% of GDP. In contrast, education and healthcare spending will be frozen at the 2023 allocation, which amounts to a real term spending cut due to inflation. More spending will need to be allocated to fund payments and healthcare costs for the mounting numbers of wounded soldiers and the families of those killed in the conflict."

The MoD thinks care for the wounded will exact considerable expense, although how much of that the state will pay isn't entirely clear. "More than half of those soldiers wounded severely enough to require longer term medical care have lost limbs, with one in five requiring upper limb amputations, Deputy Labour Minister Alexei Vovchenko stated on 17 October 2023. These injured soldiers will almost certainly require lifelong healthcare."

The war will probably place great and possibly politically unsustainable stress on the economy. "Consistently heightened military spending will highly likely contribute to inflationary pressures within Russia. Furthermore, continued increases in military spending would force the Russian government to make difficult decisions about how to fund the war, likely increasing financial pressures on Russian businesses. However, any substantial future reduction in military expenditure would likely remove an increasingly central driver of Russian economic activity in the face of sanctions."

Update: cyberespionage at the ICC.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has confirmed, TechCrunch reports, that a cyberattack it sustained in September was indeed cyberespionage. “The attack can therefore be interpreted as a serious attempt to undermine the court’s mandate,” the ICC said. The ICC hasn't determined what government is behind the attack, but it's almost certainly Russia, which has been determinedly hostile to the court since it issued a warrant for President Putin's arrest. (Russia retaliated by issuing its own arrest warrants for the court's president, deputy, chief prosecutor, and one judge.) The ICC expects to be the target of disinformation campaigns designed to destroy its legitimacy, and it views September's cyberespionage as preparatory work for that disinformation.