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Intel Report: Ukraine war, what has been happening, and what to expect?

 


 

Date: October 2023 - September 2024


Who is involved: 

  • Ukraine, Russia, US, EU, Iran, North Korea, China

In this report:

  • What has been happening?

  • Expectations

  • Conclusions


What has been happening? 

In order to get an understanding of where the war is likely going, it is important to look at the major events and factors that have happened and influenced the war in the past months. 


Eastern front

  • Arguably the front that saw the most Russian successes, albeit minor ones. While the  taking of the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk Oblast was majorly covered and presented as a key event in the war, on the bigger scale it did not make a significant difference. While Russia hoped for a major breakthrough, the Ukrainian army, Zbroini syly Ukrainy (ZSU), has managed to stabilize the lines right behind Avdiivka. 

  • Russia now seems to be focused on taking as much ground as possible before the mud season starts again in Ukraine. Russia is now focusing its attention on the Kharkiv Oblast’s town of Kupyansk, to take it and use it as a staging ground for another attempt at taking Kharkiv. Until now, Russia’s attempts have however been unsuccessful. On the other hand, Ukraine has not made any territorial gains for months, and seem to prioritize digging in and damaging their enemy as much as possible, as opposed to performing assaults and taking ground back. 


Attacks on energy infrastructure 

  • As announced, Ukraine has managed to ‘bring the war to Russia’. Ukrainian strikes have reached further into Russia than they have before, striking important industrial and some military targets. The refineries struck so far produce collectively around 30% of Russia’s oil output. However, not all of these refineries were put out of action. Due to these strikes, Russia has stopped its gasoline export for six months to most of its customers, such as Libya, Nigeria and Tunisia, starting in March 2024. 

  • Russia has also increased its attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, military factories and ammunition depots, often employing Iranian-made drones. In March, the biggest attack since the start of the war took place and was carried out with approximately 150 drones and missiles targeting the energy infrastructure. It managed to cut off energy supplies for more than a million Ukrainians, with Kharkiv being especially affected. Emergency power outages have been implemented to reduce the load on the energy network. Airstrikes also targeted the western areas of the country, which were previously quieter. The attack temporarily cut off the main power line for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, although it was restored shortly after. Western slowness in supplying air defense systems has impacted Ukrainian ability to fend off these attacks, while the supply flow of Iranian-produced drones for Russia remains steady. 


Foreign support for Russia

  • Russia has been seeking support from many countries in an effort to develop new economic and military ties and counter Western support for Ukraine. North Korea has been openly supportive of the Russian offensive in Ukraine and has supplied Russia with more than 10,000 containers of artillery shells and military equipment since the start of the conflict, in exchange for food and other types of aid. North Korean military factories are producing at full capacity to support Russian operations. Russia is also allegedly providing North Korea with fuel and technological knowledge that could expand North Korean satellite and nuclear-powered submarine capabilities.

  • China has maintained a more ambiguous stance on the war, at times posing as a mediator and refusing to supply lethal weapons to Russia. Nonetheless, Russia has strengthened its economic cooperation with China to which it has redirected trade to lessen the impact of Western sanctions. China has benefited from cheap Russian oil and gas and has supported Russia with non-lethal weapons. 

  • Iran has been supporting Russia with UAVs and weapon systems, even opening a factory of Iranian drones in the Russian region of Tatarstan and offering newly developed models to its army in January 2024. Reportedly, Iran is also considering transferring ballistic missiles and related technology but the deal is not yet definitive. 


Foreign support for Ukraine

  • Western support for Ukraine is currently vacillating. The US government has struggled with approving new bills to aid Ukraine as the Republican Party has been opposing government bills both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, of which it retains majority. This has been the case with especially a $60 billion aid bill that has been stuck since August 2023. This has further strained Ukraine’s situation, as military aid has been delivered too late according to Ukrainian needs and has complicated the situation on the battlefield. 

  • The European Union has started stepping up its support to Ukraine to try to fill the gap left by the US, with some difficulties. At the beginning of February, the EU managed to approve a €50 billion financial support package for Ukraine after overcoming Hungarian opposition. European countries have also stepped up military aid and agreed on a €5 billion fund for a collective boost to military aid. Moreover, the European Commission is elaborating a plan to use the interests earned by Russian frozen assets to fund the purchase of military equipment to support Ukraine. On the other side, European economic ties with Ukraine have sparked rage among farmers in many countries, especially Poland. Polish farmers, challenged by cheap Ukrainian imports, repeatedly blocked the border with Ukraine to demand a stop to these imports. 


Crimea

  • The Crimean peninsula has become a hotspot for military activity. The island houses the Russian Black Sea fleet and the Kerch bridge, which connects it to Russia, and it is in range of Ukrainian systems. From Special Forces raids to complex airstrikes, Crimea has seen some of the most successful actions in the past months. These included targeting and destroying ships in port and striking officers quarters and military leadership buildings.

  • Crimea is one of the two supply routes for Russian troops near Kherson and those stationed in Crimea itself. All of these supplies transfer over the Kerch bridge, explaining why it is a priority target. Ukraine hit and damaged the bridge a couple of times during the war, but until now it has not fully destroyed it. If successful in this task, it would force Russia to supply its entire Southern front and Crimea itself through the territories it occupies in Ukraine. As the most effective way for Russia is railroad supply, this would put the continuity of these supplies at great risk. 

Russian volunteers fighting Russia

  • Reminiscent of last year, another incursion into Russia is (at the time of writing) occurring, performed once again by Russian nationals. The timing of these incursions, which started on 12 March, was likely due to the upcoming elections, in order to contrast the image of domestic order under the control of the Russian government. 

  • A key difference this year is that an extra brigade joined the action – the Siberian battalion. This battalion was established to recruit people from the Siberian minority groups, who are unequally affected by the war and are relatively more likely to be sent to and killed in Ukraine. They joined the fighting against the Kremlin alongside the Freedom of Russia Legion, and the Russian Volunteer Corps.

  • The number of people in these groups is relatively small, likely thousands, compared to the Russian military. This means that even though the groups are successful in the Belgorod and Kursk regions, the territorial gains are not significant. However, the group’s activity does force Russia to move troops to these regions and away from Ukraine, helping the latter in their war effort. 


Black Sea

  • Albeit often overlooked by the media, the Black Sea is where Ukraine arguably has booked its biggest successes in the past year. The Black Sea between Crimea and Odessa used to be a common missile launching site for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. From there, it would target the more western cities of Ukraine such as Odesa and Lviv. These missiles going for Western Ukraine would even overfly or closely pass by Moldovan airspace. Ukraine has sunk over 33% of the Russian Black Sea fleet, severely impacting its capabilities. Ukraine also recaptured or relieved the oil platforms in this section of the Black Sea, destroying or taking Russian Electronic Warfare systems. 


Robotyne

  • The town of Robotyne, the endpoint of the Ukrainian counteroffensive last year, now sees combat action with Ukraine on the defensive. Russia has tried to take this settlement, presumably to start a collapse in the Southern defenses of Ukraine. To note is the use of over 60 year old T-55 tanks in an assault role, which up until then had only been seen in an improvised artillery role. As of writing, the Russian assaults have not been successful. 


Krynky

  • Krynky is a small foothold near Kherson held by Ukraine, across the Dnipro river. Even after extensive fighting, the ZSU managed to hold onto the small town. It was first thought that the small town was used as a staging ground for operations on the Russian-held side of the river, but it seems that Ukraine holds on to it as a ‘thorn in the side’ of Russia, as well as to inflict maximum damage to any Russian units sent to reconquer the town. It is unclear how large the cost is for Ukraine to be present in Krynky. 


Expectations 

Russian Summer focus

  • It is likely that after the coming mud season, Russia will launch an offensive again. The focus will likely be Kupiansk and Kharkiv. On top of the Ukrainian defenses already in place, a possible successful Ukrainian offensive in the coming summer would help in countering this threat. However, Russia has held the upper hand in the war for the past months and, due to slow western support, it has to be seen whether Ukraine can regain the upper hand in the second half of 2024. 

  • In a recent announcement, Russian defense minister Shoigu stated that by the end of the year, Russia is planning on forming two new armies. As announced, these two armies will be made up of 16 new brigades, and 14 new divisions. This will need a total of around 450.000-500.000 men to be recruited or mobilized, and the necessary weapons and vehicles prepared for action. Whether these plans are realistic, especially on the equipment part, remains to be seen. The manpower is likely to come mostly from mobilization of minority groups. The purpose of these new armies is up for speculation; whereas some expect they will be used in an attempt to ‘steamroll’ Ukraine, others worry that Putin is preparing for an offense on NATO.  


Ukrainian Summer focus

  • Ukraine has announced plans for another attempt at an offensive for the coming summer. After the failure of last year’s offensive, likely due to a shortage of (promised) supplies and leaked battle plans, Ukraine aims for more success this year. The most likely goal would be another attempt at liberating Melitopol. The city is one of the closest major cities near the front line, and serves as a logistical hub for the Russian army. A wildcard attempt at liberating Crimea is a minor possibility, and would be a high risk-high reward scenario. Limiting Ukrainian plans is slow western support, especially US support. While some of the anticipated F-16s might be operational in time for the summer and will certainly be a helping factor, they are not likely to be game changing. 


Developments in the West

  • Support for Ukraine in the West will likely remain uncertain, as many stakeholders are working against it and will likely continue to do so. Ukraine has already become a central issue in electoral campaigns, most notably in the US with the Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump stating he will stop supporting Ukraine if he becomes president. The Republican Party will likely continue to obstruct new aid bills in the US Congress, especially coming closer to the November presidential election. This will make the approval process of new aid for Ukraine long and uncertain, affecting its possibility to advance and retake territories.  

  • Tensions will likely remain in the EU as well, as Hungary and possibly Slovakia are taking increasingly pro-Russian stands in the European Council. The stance of Slovakia may be influenced by the results of the March-April 2024 presidential election, which sees a close race between pro-Russian candidate Peter Pellegrini and pro-EU candidate Ivan Korcok. These obstructions will probably impact the European Commission’s plan to use the interests earned by Russian frozen assets to finance the purchase of weapons for Kyiv. While the European Commission is seeking a more proactive role in supporting Ukraine, a new opposition front might arise as Austria, Ireland and Malta, traditionally militarily neutral countries, are increasingly concerned about supplying weapons and munitions to Ukraine. Ukraine trade with European countries will also likely be impacted as European farmers demand a solution to the disruption caused by cheaper Ukrainian tariff free imports. Nevertheless, Ukraine can count on the support of many European countries and they might decide to act separately from the European institutions in order to bypass obstructions by other countries. 



Conclusions 

The war in Ukraine is far from over. Russia dictates the direction of the war, without caring for losses, and Ukraine in full defense bringing as much damage as they can to the Russian army. The race seems to be between Russia grinding down the Ukrainian defenses, and Ukraine receiving more help from the West (mainly Europe), as well as being able to effectively start and increase weapon production in its own territory. 

For now it seems unlikely that NATO will directly join the conflict in any form. The West’s willingness to provide Ukraine with virtually limitless help has drastically reduced and, as a result, Ukraine is preparing to rely on its own production capabilities. 

Russia and specifically the Kremlin seem to be stuck in a sunken-cost fallacy. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will give up its goals in Ukraine unless it suffers a total defeat on the battlefield.


 

2024 Ukraine Intel Report
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