Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces conducted massive missile strikes across Ukraine for the second day in a row.
  • Army General Sergey Surovikin’s previous experience as commander of Russian Armed Forces in Syria is likely unrelated to the massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine over the past few days, nor does it signal a change in the trajectory of Russian capabilities or strategy in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Federation is likely extracting ammunition and other materiel from Belarusian storage bases, which is incompatible with the notion that Russian forces are setting conditions for a ground attack against Ukraine from Belarus.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued to conduct counteroffensives east of the Oskil River and in the direction of Kreminna-Svatove.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued ground attacks in northern and western Kherson Oblast.
  • Ukrainian forces are continuing an interdiction campaign to target Russian military, technical, and logistics assets and concentration areas in Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground assaults in Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian reporting of explosions in Dzhankoy, Crimea, indicated panic over losing further logistics capabilities in Crimea following the Kerch Strait Bridge explosion.
  • Russian federal subjects are announcing new extensions and phases of mobilization in select regions, which may indicate that they have not met their mobilization quotas.
  • Russian and occupation administration officials continue to conduct filtration activities in Russian-occupied territories.

Russian forces conducted massive missile strikes across Ukraine for the second day in a row on October 11. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces fired nearly 30 Kh-101 and Kh-55 cruise missiles from Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers and damaged critical infrastructure in Lviv, Vinnytsia, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhia oblasts.[1] Ukrainian air defense reportedly destroyed 21 cruise missiles and 11 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).[2] Social media footage shows the aftermath of strikes throughout Ukraine.[3] Russian forces additionally continued to launch attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure with Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.[4] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian air defense destroyed eight Shahed-136 drones in Mykolaiv Oblast on the night of October 10 and 11.[5]

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Army General Sergey Surovikin’s previous experience as commander of Russian Armed Forces in Syria likely does not explain the massive wave of missile strikes across Ukraine over the past few days, nor does it signal a change in the trajectory of Russian capabilities or strategy in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative, Andriy Yusov, linked the recent strikes to Surovikin’s appointment as theatre commander and stated on October 11 that “throwing rockets at civilian infrastructure objects” is consistent with Surovikin’s tactics in Syria.[6] However, Surovikin has been serving in Ukraine (as the Commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces and then reportedly of the southern grouping of Russian forces) since the beginning of the war, as have many senior Russian commanders similarly associated with Russian operations in Syria.[7] Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was appointed in April to the role that Surovikin now holds, similarly commanded Russian forces in Syria between 2015-2016 and became known for deliberately and brutally targeting civilians.[8] Colonel General Aleksandr Chayko, the former commander of the Eastern Military District who took an active part in the first stages of the war in Ukraine, also served as Chief of Staff of Russian forces in Syria from 2015 and into 2016.[9] As ISW noted in April, all Russian military district, aerospace, and airborne commanders served at least one tour in Syria as either chief of staff or commander of Russian forces, and Russian forces deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure including hospitals and breadlines throughout the period of Russia’s active engagement in that war.[10] Disregard for international law and an enthusiasm for brutalizing civilian populations was standard operating procedure for Russian forces in Syria before, during, and after Surovikin’s tenure.  It has become part of the Russian way of war.

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Surovikin’s appointment will not lead to further “Syrianization” of Russian operations in Ukraine because the battlespace in Ukraine is fundamentally different from the battlespace in Syria, and direct comparisons to Surovikin’s Syrian “playbook” obfuscate the fact that Russia faces very different challenges in Ukraine. Russia cannot further “Syrianize” the war largely because of its failure to gain air superiority, which precludes its ability to launch the kind of massive carpet-bombing campaigns across Ukraine that it could, and did, conduct in Syria. ISW has previously assessed that Russian air operations would have been markedly different if conducted in contested airspace or a more challenging air-defense environment, as is the case in Ukraine.[11] It is therefore highly unlikely that Surovikin’s role as theatre commander will cause a fundamental change in Russian air and missile operations in Ukraine as long as Ukraine’s Western backers continue to supply Kyiv with the air defenses needed to prevent Russia from gaining air superiority.

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Russian military officials may instead have coordinated Surovikin’s appointment and the October 10 cruise missile strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure to rehabilitate the perception of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Whoever was appointed as theatre commander would have overseen the October 10 cruise missile strikes, which Ukrainian intelligence reported had been planned as early as October 2 (and which Surovikin certainly did not plan, prepare for, and conduct on the day of his appointment).[12] Russian milbloggers have recently lauded both the massive wave of strikes on October 10 and Surovikin’s appointment and correlated the two as positive developments for Russian operations in Ukraine. This narrative may be aligned with ongoing Russian information operations to rehabilitate the reputation of Central Military District Command Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin following Russian failures around Lyman as part of a wider campaign to bolster public opinion of the Russian military establishment. The Russian MoD is evidently invested in repairing its public image, and the informational effects of the October 10 missile strikes and the appointment of Surovikin, a hero in the extremist nationalist Russian information space, are likely intended to cater to the most vocal voices in that space.

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The Russian Federation is likely extracting ammunition and other materiel from Belarusian storage bases—activity that is incompatible with setting conditions for a large-scale Russian or Belarusian ground attack against Ukraine from Belarus. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on October 11 that a train with 492 tons of ammunition from the Belarusian 43rd Missile and Ammunition Storage Arsenal in Gomel arrived at the Kirovskaya Railway Station in Crimea on an unspecified recent past date.[13] The GUR reported that Belarusian officials plan to send an additional 13 trains with weapons, equipment, ammunition, and other unspecified materiel from five different Belarusian bases to the Kamenska (Kamensk-Shakhtinsky) and Marchevo (Taganrog) railway stations in Rostov Oblast on an unspecified future date. Open-source social media footage supports this report. Geolocated footage showed at least two Belarusian trains transporting Belarusian T-72 tanks and Ural military trucks in Minsk and Tor-M2 surface-to-air missile launchers in Orsha (Vitebsk Oblast) on October 11.[14] Belarusian equipment movements into Russia indicate that Russian and Belarusian forces likely are not establishing assembly areas in Belarus. Belarusian equipment and supply movements to Crimea and Rostov Oblast indicate that Russian forces are less confident about the security of Russian ground lines of communication running through northern and western Luhansk Oblast given the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive there. Ukraine’s General Staff reiterated that it monitors Belarus and has not observed indicators of the formation of offensive groups in Belarus on October 11.[15] Russian and or Belarusian forces remain unlikely to attack Ukraine from Belarus, as ISW has previously assessed.[16]

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Belarus remains a co-belligerent in Russia’s war against Ukraine, nonetheless. Belarus materially supports Russian offensives in Ukraine and provides Russian forces with havens from which to attack Ukraine with precision munitions. Russian forces struck Kyiv with Shahed-136 drones launched from Belarusian territory on October 10.[17] The GUR additionally reported that Russia deployed 32 Shahed-136 drones to Belarus as of October 10 and that Russia will deploy eight more to Belarus by October 14.[18]

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Authors: Karolina Hird, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, and Frederick W. Kagan

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