Following the Initial Scenario analysis, JCOT tries to analysis the tactical situation and its strategic consequences. Contradictions and errors are to be expected.
The situation has changed rapidly since the last entry. Ukrainian forces have liberated most of Charkiv oblast, up to the Oskil river, crossing it at Kupiansk. Russian forces have been routed in the region, leaving back a high volume of arms and ammunition. In the Cherson region, progress has been much slower, but Russian troops west of the Dnipro are now more or less isolated after the destruction of the bridges and of ferries crossing the wide river.
Yesterday, Russia has announced referenda in the next few days in all of the occupied areas to prepare their annexation, and today Putin announced a partial mobilisation of 300'000 reservists, combined with threats of usage of nuclear arms. It seems that hardliners have successfully exerted pressure on Putin to escalate the war. Also, reports are coming in that the Iranian drones delivered to Russia are being used with some success. This will lead to more military pressure on Ukraine, but also probably to enhanced Western support.
Regarding the use of nuclear arms by Russia, JCOT sees the risk rising again. The partial mobilisation will raise internal pressure in Russia to end the war quickly - reservists are not as easily used as cannon fodder as DPR / LNR, provincial and penal "volunteers" are. Their losses will shake Russian society to its roots.
In the last 2 weeks, a limited Ukrainian counter-offensive has started. As predicted in the 2022.06.30 entry, Ukraine has severely damaged all bridges over the Dnipro. In the region west of the Dnipro, Ukrainian forces have liberated some villages while focussing on disrupting Russian supply lines and splitting Russian battle groups. This has forced Russia to move troops into that region, opening other regions for Ukrainian operations. The town of Balakliia, south east of Charkiv, is now almost encircled by an Ukrainian surprise attack, with several villages in the vicinity already liberated. This attack also threatens Russian supply lines going through Kupyansk.
Also, due to the Ukrainain counter-offensive, the Russian annexation referendum of the Cherson / Zaporizhzhia region has been postponed. Ukrainian guerilla attacks on facilities linked to this are ongoing.
Russia is now reported to receive supplies from Iran (drones) and North Korea (artillery and ammunition). This is a sign of desperation. Financially, Russia is still in a comfortable position due to high fossil fuel prices.
As autumn and winter are now approaching quickly, we believe Ukraine is trying to reach positions from which they are able to use the seasons to their advantage. Units require more supplies in winter, but supply lines are more bound to roads and railroad lines when rain and snow make fields and forests impassable. This will create supply problems for the occupation forces and makes it also highly improbable that Belarusian forces would enter the war and open up a new front in the north. For Ukraine, one option is to try to break through at some point north of the Azov coastline, to come into artillery range of the coastal highway. This position would be difficult to hold, but could help to stop the flow of Russian supplies and troops.
Two months later, the conflict is still deadlocked. Russian troops have progressed a bit in the Donetzk region, while Ukrainian forces have attacked a large number of Russian ammunition depots and also military and air force bases via undisclosed means. We assume that drones, long range artillery, local resistance forces and special commandos have been used. Most importantly, the 3 bridges over the Dnepr have been damaged. Although Russia is trying to repair them and use other means of transport over the river, it is probable that supply to the occupied territory around Kherson is now severely restricted.
Critical events are occurring around the Nuclear Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia. Today, Russia has cut the connection to the Ukrainian grid on a pretext. Currently there is only power supply via a heating plant and the local diesel generators. If power supply to the plant stops completely, the cores will melt quickly and an immeasureable catastrophe will occur.
The war situation has only slowly changed in the past month. A cruel war of attrition is taking place, with between 100-200 fallen soldiers on each side per day. Ukraine has finally withdrawn from Sievierodonetzk and continues to be pushed back in the area, while managing not to leave troops enclosed in pockets like in Mariupol. In the Kherson region, Ukrainian forces have pushed back the invasor on some fronts, but not yet reached the boundaries of the city. One major success of Ukraine, partly due to Western long range weapon systems, was announced today, as the last suriviving Russian troops left Snake Island (Bile).
The main political issue of the following weeks will be the transport of Ukrainian wheat to the world markets via ship. Here the liberation of Snake Island might help.
From the view of the military, the critical factor is ammunition - Soviet calibre now almost used up, and the number of Western artillery systems not high enough to counter the Russian onslaught in Donbas. There might be some surprising action on Ukraine's side to extend their supply of Soviet ammunition. But in sum, Western military aid has not yet turned the situation into Ukraine's favour, especially in Donbas. We do not see the expected breakdown of Russian forces yet. It may yet come, depending on the efficiency of the delivered modern artillery systems. The Snake Island victory is a good sign.
Another target of those systems might be the two bridges and the dam crossing over the Dnepr, at Antonivka / Prydniprovske and Kosazke. Destroying them or making them inoperable for larger transport will efficiently break Russian supply lines for the Kherson area. Similar strategic chokepoints exist at the ends of the Crimea peninsula and through it the resupply lines to the Zaporizhzhia region.
Strangely, both Russia and Ukraine have not yet tried to turn their economies into "war economies" of the WW variant, although it is obvious that for both sides losing the war would be an existential threat (for Russia, at least for the Putin nomenklatura). The intensive exchange between Ukraine and the West should make sure there will not be a "sudden death" like breakdown of Ukraine - supply programs will be ramped up in case of emergency.
For Russia, one target line could be the occupation of Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut in Donbas. But even if they succeed here, it will take two months at least. This is in line with the announced 2022.09.11 "referendum" planned to annex the DNR / LNR and maybe other regions. Assuming though that Russian forces will be put under severe pressure west of the Dnepr and possibly in Zaporizhzhia oblast by that time, if not outright driven away, these referendums might be postponed.
We currently estimate the risk of a nuclear attack on Ukraine as not very high. The flow of western arms is not strong enough to really impress the Russian command, while the potential reaction of NATO, soon to be strengthened by Sweden and Finland, must be expected to be robust. As long as Russian forces advance in Donbas, it would not be "necessary" in Russian eyes to take such a risk. Similarly, a confrontation with the West at the Suwalki corridor would take too much preparation to be invisible and would also be too risky. These calculations would change with larger Ukrainian successes.
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