Ukrainian forces expand their presence on the eastern bank of the Dnipro. Russian strikes hit more civilian targets.
Ukraine at D+536: Fighting east of the Dnipro.
Ukrainian forces are said to have made "tactically significant" advances along the border between the Zaporizhia and Donetsk oblasts. The advance may be opening the avenue of approach to the occupied cities of Mariupol and Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov. The Institute for the Study of War cites Russian sources in reporting that Ukrainian forces have established an enduring presence on the east bank of the Dnipro in the Kherson Oblast, but the Institute was cautious in calling that presence "a bridgehead." Mines remain the principal obstacle to more rapid Ukrainian advance.
The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) wasn't so reticent in this morning's situation report. "Over the last week, there has been an uptick in small-scale combat along the banks of the lower reaches of the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces have worked to raid or set up small bridgeheads at new locations on the Russian-held east bank. This is in addition to expanding the bridgehead Ukraine has maintained near the ruined Antonivsky Bridge since June 2023. Some of these operations likely took advantage of a local Russian force rotation. The combatants also continue to skirmish for control of small islands in the Dnipro estuary. Russian commanders face a dilemma of whether to strengthen this area or to deploy troops in the areas of Ukraine’s main counter-offensive operations, farther to the east."
Russia has redeployed forces to maintain combat power along the line of contact, the British MoD reported Saturday. "Russia has likely redeployed airborne forces’ (VDV) units from the Kherson region to the heavily contested Orikiv sector in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The 58th Combined Arms Army (58 CAA) has been in combat facing Ukrainian assaults since 4 June 2023. As early as 11 July 2023, the then commander of 58 CAA was sacked, likely partially because of his insistence that elements of his force needed to be relieved. Reports suggest that the 70th and 71st Motor Rifle Regiments have faced particularly intense attrition and heavy combat on the front line. There is a realistic possibility that the arrival of VDV will finally allow elements of these regiments to be pulled out for rest and recovery. However, the redeployment will likely leave Russia’s defences near the east bank of the Dnipro River weaker, where they are increasingly harassed by Ukrainian amphibious raids."
Ukraine fired at least two, possibly three, missiles at the Kerch Strait Bridge Saturday. Russian forces claim to have shot all three down, sparing damage to the bridge. There's video of smoke coming from the bridge, but Russian sources say that it's a smoke screen they laid down to obscure the bridge and protect it from further attack. The smoke does indeed look like obscuration, but how that might protect the bridge from further attacks of this kind is unclear. The S-200 is a Soviet-era air-defense missile that can be adapted to a land attack role. As far as is generally known, the missile relies on semi-active radar guidance, and a smoke screen is unlikely to affect radar, although it might be useful against electro-optical systems.
Russian forces also claimed to have knocked down twenty other Ukrainian missiles fired against targets in occupied Crimea early on Saturday. For its part, Russia continued to strike cities indiscriminately. Al Jazeera reports that Russian shelling of villages in the vicinity of Kherson killed seven and wounded at least twenty-two civilians.
The Wagner Group's sales problem.
The Wagner Group may be withering from lack of customers. The UK's MoD in its Sunday morning situation report said, "The Wagner Group is likely moving towards a down-sizing and reconfiguration process, largely to save on staff salary expenses at a time of financial pressure." That pressure isn't confined to the Wagner Group proper, but extends to its sister enterprises as well. "Since the abortive mutiny of June 2023, the Russian state has acted against some other business interests of Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin. There is a realistic possibility that the Kremlin no longer funds the group." There's no other obvious, deep-pocketed customer in the offing, either. "If the Russian state no longer pays Wagner, the second most plausible paymasters are the Belarusian authorities. However, the sizable force would be a significant and potentially unwelcome drain on modest Belarusian resources."
The South China Morning Post has an interview with Bellingcat's Christo Grozev, who confidently predicts that within six months Mr. Prigozhin will either have been killed by the Russian organs or will have led a second insurgency.
Ukraine's SBU claims Russia's GRU is attacking Starlink with custom malware.
The Telegraph reports that Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU) has claimed that Russia's GRU is attempting to deploy malware against the Starlink satellite communications system with a view to collecting data on Ukrainian troop movements.
Russian Ministry of Digital Development bans Apple mobile devices.
Workers at Russia's Ministry of Digital Development are no longer permitted to use either iPhones or iPads for work purposes. The responsible Minister, Maksut Shadaev, announced the order Friday, Reuters reports. Personnel at the Ministry will still be permitted to use iPhones for "personal needs," but they're henceforth prohibited from using them for work email or for accessing work applications. The ban is generally believed, as Livemint observes, to have been prompted by an FSB report in June that Apple devices had been compromised by the US NSA, probably with Apple's connivance. Apple has denied both the compromise and its alleged cooperation in undercutting its own security. If iOS devices represented the security risk the FSB says they do, a dilatory partial ban seems a curious response.
Microsoft will not renew Russian licenses for its products.
Microsoft stopped sales to Russia when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. It did continue to license products that had been purchased before the invasion. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports that Microsoft has now served notice that such licenses will not be renewed after September 30th. Active licenses will run through their expiration dates, and then will terminate.