Key Takeaways 

  • Likely Ukrainian forces conducted an attack against a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles on October 29.
  • The Kremlin reportedly relieved the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, of his position as the commander of the “central” group of forces in Ukraine.
  • Russia is likely expediting efforts to forcibly depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast along the Dnipro River and repopulate them with Russian soldiers, some of them out of uniform in violation of the law of armed conflict.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely responding to pressure levied by milbloggers regarding its treatment of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) and the conduct of prisoner exchanges.
  • Ukrainian forces consolidated gains and continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Ukrainian intelligence indicated that the highest quality Russian troops are still responsible for the defense of Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued to establish defensive positions on the western bank of the Dnipro River.
  • Russian forces likely slowed the pace of offensive operations in the Bakhmut area due to a Ukrainian strike.
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian troops launched an offensive in the Vuhledar area.
  • Russian troops likely made marginal gains around Donetsk City.
  • The Kremlin reportedly instructed Russian judges to not grant prisoners parole but instead to direct them toward recruitment in unspecified private military companies (PMCs).
  • The Kremlin is likely conducting an information operation to reduce tensions between Christians and Muslims in Russia to cater to religious minority groups within the Russian armed forces.

Likely Ukrainian forces conducted an attack against a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles on October 29. Social media footage documented an unknown number of unmanned surface vehicles striking at least one Grigorovich-class frigate in Sevastopol on October 29.[1] Footage also showed smoke near the port in Sevastopol and what appeared to be Russian air defense in Sevastopol engaging air targets.[2] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Ukrainian forces used seven autonomous maritime drones and nine unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct a “terrorist attack” against the BSF and civilian targets in Sevastopol.[3] Attacks on military vessels in wartime are legitimate acts of war and not terrorist attacks. The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces destroyed all air targets, destroyed four maritime drones on the outer roadstead, and three maritime drones on the inner roadstead. A similar unidentified unmanned surface vehicle first appeared on the coast of Crimea on September 21.[4]

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Damage to Black Sea Fleet vessels is unclear at this time. The Russian MoD claimed that the attack inflicted minor damage against BSF minesweeper Ivan Golubets and a protective barrier in the south bay.[5] Russian officials did not acknowledge any damage to a Grigorovich-class frigate, similar to how the Russian MoD denied any damage to the cruiser Moskva when Ukrainian forces sunk it on April 14. Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the attack as of this publication.

British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 15 July 2024
Other Topics of Interest

British Defence Intelligence Update Ukraine 15 July 2024

Latest from the British Defence Intelligence.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia indefinitely suspended its participation in the United Nations-brokered grain export deal with Ukraine due to the attack on October 29.[6]  Russia had been setting rhetorical conditions to withdraw from the deal for some time, however.

The Black Sea Fleet has three Grigorovich-class frigates, all of which are capable of firing Kalibr cruise missiles. A Ukrainian decision to target Kalibr-capable frigate at this time makes sense given the intensified Russian drone and missile strike campaign targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure. If Kyiv ordered this attack, it would have been a proportionate, even restrained, response to the extensive Russian strategic bombing campaign attacking civilian targets throughout Ukraine over the past few weeks.

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The Kremlin reportedly relieved the commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Alexander Lapin, of his position as the commander of the “central” group of forces in Ukraine. The Kremlin has not officially confirmed Lapin’s relief as of October 29, prompting the rise of contradictory reports across Kremlin-sponsored outlets and Telegram channels. Kremlin-sponsored outlets cited reports from Chechnya-based TV channel “Grozny,” milbloggers, and other unnamed official sources that Lapin no longer commands Russian forces in northern Luhansk Oblast.[7] Some Russian milbloggers claimed that Lapin resigned on his own initiative, while others claimed that he was unfairly terminated.[8] A Wagner-affiliated milblogger claimed that Lapin lost his position due to his devastating failure to deploy and organize mobilized men in his zone of responsibility, and ISW has previously reported on the poor treatment of untrained mobilized men on the Svatove-Kreminna frontline under Lapin’s command.[9]

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It is unclear whether Lapin was also relieved of his command of the Central Military District. Some milbloggers implied that Lapin is no longer the CMD commander as well, however, there is no clear reporting or evidence. [10] Local Russian outlet Ura claimed that Lapin is taking a three-week-long medical leave citing an unnamed Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) source.[11]

ISW cannot independently confirm the reports of Lapin’s dismissal, but the deluge of conflicting reports may indicate that the Kremlin is struggling to control the narrative regarding its higher military command. The Kremlin had previously refrained from discussing command changes before the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in Lyman, after which Russian President Vladimir Putin formally replaced the commanders of the Western and Eastern Military Districts (WMD and EMD). Putin likely publicly reshuffled district commanders to use them as scapegoats for Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast and Lyman.[12] The increasing transparency within the Russian information space—spearheaded by the siloviki Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and the pro-war community—is likely making it more challenging for the Kremlin to conceal and explain away any command changes in public. Kadyrov and Prigozhin both have publicly attacked Lapin on several occasions, leading some milbloggers to point out that other Russian district commanders did not receive any criticism despite their own failings (and firings).[13] The reports of Lapin’s dismissal, whether true or false, indicate that the Russian siloviki faction is gaining dominance in the information space that allows it to damage the image of the Russian higher military command that the MoD would likely prefer to present.

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Reports of Lapin’s dismissal further highlighted the fragmentation within the Russian pro-war community. A milblogger who had defended Lapin stated that unspecified “lobbyists” had finally removed Lapin from his post acting in their own self-interest, going against the pro-Lapin group of milbloggers.[14] Kremlin-leading Russian outlets also emphasized that a group of milbloggers supported Lapin, indicating the ever-growing influence of milbloggers in the information space.[15] The milblogger added that he and other pro-Lapin milbloggers faced criticism accusing the milbloggers of being on Lapin’s payroll and producing propaganda in support of him. A pro-Wagner milblogger, in turn, stated that overwhelming cries in support of Lapin did not conceal his numerous military failures.[16] Milbloggers from both sides are effectively focusing on failures of Russian military command from either side of the argument, which further undermines the reputation of the Russian Armed Forces and the Kremlin.

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Russian pro-war milbloggers have recognized that Western-provided HIMARS halted Russian offensive operations in northwestern Kherson Oblast in July. Some Russian milbloggers commented on satellite imagery of an empty Russian military base at the Kherson International Airport Chornobaivka (northwest of Kherson City) obtained from the private US company Satellogic. The milbloggers noted that Russian forces withdrew their “contingent,” military equipment, and aviation from Chornobaivka between May and September in an effort to protect their equipment against Ukrainian strikes on the base.[17] One milblogger noted that while Russian forces withdrew some aviation elements from the base between May and June due to Ukrainian Tochka-U strikes, the introduction of HIMARS forced Russian command to establish a withdrawal plan from the base that concluded in September.[18] Another milblogger noted that the satellite images further confirmed that the situation on the northwestern Kherson Oblast frontline has not changed in two months and that withdrawn detachments did not return to their positions.[19] Previous satellite imagery from the August-September period showed at least 16 main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers at Chornobaivka, which indicates that the total Russian withdrawal from the Kherson International Airport is fairly recent.[20]

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Russia is likely expediting efforts to forcibly depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast along the Dnipro River and repopulate them with Russian soldiers, some out of uniform in violation of the law of armed conflict. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported on October 28 that Russian officials gave residents of Kherson City a two-day eviction notice and that Russian forces have introduced intensified inspection and verification checkpoints at roadblocks on the “evacuation” routes to Russian-occupied Crimea.[21] The Ukrainian General Staff also stated on October 29 that Russian forces are continuing to forcibly evacuate civilians from Nova Kakhovka and that in Beryslav, Russian soldiers are changing into civilian clothes and moving into private residences en masse.[22] International law considers the “simulation of civilian status” to constitute a resort to perfidy, which is a violation of the laws of armed conflict.[23] Russia may be using resort to perfidy tactics to depopulate areas of Kherson Oblast and repopulate them with soldiers in civilian dress in order to set conditions to accuse Ukraine of striking civilian targets when attacking Russian military positions.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is likely responding to pressure levied by milbloggers regarding its treatment of Russian prisoners of war (POWs) and the conduct of prisoner exchanges. The Russian MoD announced on October 29 that Russia negotiated the release of 50 Russian prisoners of war but did not provide further details on the identities of the POWs or the terms of exchange. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin stated that seven of the POWs are DNR servicemen and that two are servicemen of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).[24] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that in exchange 52 Ukrainian POWS returned from Russia.[25] The Russian MoD’s announcement of the exchange is particularly noteworthy in light of recent milblogger criticism of the Russian MoD’s previous handling of POWs and POW exchanges. As ISW reported on September 22, the Russian MoD faced substantial criticism for a POW exchange wherein 215 Ukrainian soldiers, including commanders of the Azov Regiment, were released in exchange for 55 Russian soldiers and political prisoners.[26] Russian sources additionally previously complained that the Russian MoD has neglected to contact and adequately care for Russian POWs and demanded that Russian authorities do more to secure the safety of POWs.[27] The Russian MoD is likely attempting to mitigate public pressure over the handling of POWs by presenting a more proactive approach to POW exchanges.

See the full report here.

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