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Commentary
Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | November 22

Senior Fellow (Non-Resident)
Ukrainian soldiers open fire from a large-caliber machine gun to suppress enemy shelling on November 3, 2023, in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Kostya Liberov/Libkos via Getty Images)
Caption
Ukrainian soldiers open fire from a large-caliber machine gun to suppress enemy shelling on November 3, 2023, in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Kostya Liberov/Libkos via Getty Images)

Below Hudson Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu offers a military situation report about the war in Ukraine

Executive Summary

  • Russia has ramped up its drone strikes using Iran-supplied Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions, with Kyiv the primary target.
  • Ukraine’s militarily valuable bridgehead on the Dnipro River faces intensifying attacks from Russian glide bombs.
  • Russia’s offensive in Avdiivka continues, with a highly attritional tempo and incremental tactical gains.

1. Battlefield Update

The war between Russia and Ukraine remains positional, with a static battlefield geometry and a high operational tempo. Moscow and Kyiv have made only tactical progress across multiple theaters, with no strategic change in territorial control. Barring unforeseen developments, the positional character of the conflict is unlikely to change in the coming months.

Russian forces have been mounting a push in the eastern sector, continuing their offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna axis in western and southwestern Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have also continued their counteroffensive operations in the Verbove bulge in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, with only minimal territory recaptured.

Russian tactics in Donetsk Oblast this week displayed several innovations. Recent footage from the region showcased Russia’s improvised use of the MT-LB multipurpose armored fighting vehicle in a bomb-carrying role. Russian forces equipped the MT-LB with explosives to turn it into a kamikaze strike asset, sent to the frontlines to inflict damage on Ukrainian combat formations. While the vehicle was ultimately destroyed in a minefield before it could reach its target, its use could evolve into a meaningful strike concept for the Russians.

In Kharkiv Oblast, the overall situation remained static but highly attritional. Frustrated with its troops’ lack of progress, the Russian high command continued pounding Ukraine’s regional infrastructure with heavy artillery salvos. 

The main effort of the Russian offensive continues to be the push for Avdiivka. Over the past week, clashes around the city continued at a rapid pace. Intense Russian assaults led to minimal advances along the front, but Russia’s tactical intention to capture the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in the northern part of the city bears monitoring. Militarily, the capture of this plant would provide Russian formations with a variety of maneuvering options. Since the facility is strategically located near the main road to Avdiivka, its capture could severely hinder the passage of Ukrainian supplies into the city.

One promising indicator for Ukraine is its comparably small material losses. As the Russian military sends its heavy armor into the teeth of the Ukrainian defenses, it loses hundreds of armored platforms per week. The bad news for Ukraine is that the Russian high command’s tolerance for material losses is also seemingly higher than that of the Ukrainian General Staff.

In Kherson, where Russia has been on the defensive for weeks, its death toll reached the approximate equivalent of a brigade. However, commercial satellite imagery and reports from the Ukrainian General Staff suggest that Russian defenses and trench complexes in the region remain capable of holding occupied ground.

Intensive Russian air and missile salvos have also continued over the last two weeks. Russia’s Shahed‑131 and Shahed‑136 launches, in particular, have mounted up since late fall, with Kyiv a primary target for these loitering munitions.

2. Continued Drone Proliferation Fuels Counter-Drone Measures 

Both Ukrainian and Russian forces have increased their use of small explosive-laden drones. Both sides will likely continue to adapt as drones of all sizes become a permanent feature of the conflict. 

Ukrainian drones are taking on important surveillance and artillery guidance missions, effectively identifying and hunting down critical targets, particularly Russian heavy armor. First-person view (FPV) drones have also become Russia’s weapon of choice for targeting Ukrainian combat formations. In the meantime, Shahed kamikaze drone attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure also continue apace and may intensify as winter kicks in. Both sides are stepping up their research and development projects in the FPV domain, leading to a new field of competition in a war characterized by the heavy use of aerial robotic systems.

The rapid dronization of the war is pushing infantry units to bolster their anti-drone measures. Ukrainian troops are resorting to simple yet effective defenses against Russian solutions, especially against agile FPV drones. These defensive measures include drone-proofing trench warfare by shielding troops using affordable solutions like nets, metal mesh, and cope cages.

Electronic warfare (EW) has also become a mainstream military measure against drones, augmenting traditional air defenses and proving to be a critical capability in Ukraine’s ongoing cross-river operation in the Dnipro sector. This has led both sides to attempt to counter their adversary’s EW assets to prepare adequate conditions for drone warfare. In Kherson, for example, Ukrainian drones have effectively targeted and destroyed Russian electronic warfare assets, creating an environment conducive to offensive operations.

3. Russian Glide Bombs Complicate Ukraine’s Cross-River Operations

Open-source intelligence suggests that Ukraine’s cross-river operations are unfolding at a slow but sustained rate. The situation along the Dnipro remains worth monitoring, with recent Ukrainian advances establishing bridgeheads on the river’s eastern bank near Krynky. 

Despite the general slowdown in Ukraine’s counteroffensive that has been noted by many Western officials, both Ukrainian reports and the Russian-installed governor of the occupied part of Kherson Oblast have confirmed the Ukrainian presence across several bridgeheads along the Dnipro’s eastern bank. Yet Ukrainian units conducting the cross-river operation are under significant threat from Russian aerial bombardment. As Ukraine’s troops advance under a friendly electronic warfare umbrella, the Kremlin is now replacing its drones with combat aircraft. Evidence suggests that Russian Sukhoi-34s are wreaking havoc on Ukrainian ground units, attempting to stall the operation by heavily bombing the Dnipro bank with newly manufactured glide bombs.

The limited scope of protection offered by Ukraine’s electronic warfare and air defense capabilities is further cause for concern. While Ukrainian forces have achieved control over unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in Krynky, their air defenses do not cover the entirety of southern Kherson. Therefore, while effective in their area of operations, the Ukrainian Air Force’s S-300 systems deployed in northern Kherson do not adequately protect the area around the Dnipro bridgehead. This leaves Russian pilots with a significant advantage, allowing them to bomb areas within 25 miles of the Dnipro. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent commitment to bolster air defenses in the area is crucial to the survival and success of the Ukrainian combat formations conducting the cross-river operation.

4. Ukrainian Air Defenses’ Interception Rates Plummet

On November 18, Ukrainian official sources announced that the country’s air defenses managed to intercept 29 out of 38 Shahed‑136 and Shahed‑131 kamikaze drones over the course of an eight-hour air assault.

This signals an alarming decline in Ukraine’s interception rate over the last two weeks, particularly of Shahed drones. Worryingly, this could indicate that Russia’s Iran-supplied offense-dominant regime has gained a lasting advantage over Ukrainian air defenses.

Yet despite its deteriorating interception rates, Ukraine is making progress in the aerial combat domain, recently issuing a statement on the mass production of a long-range kamikaze drone. Developed within a much broader industrial package focused on the production of new solutions and ammunition, this new drone will possess a maximum range of 1,000 kilometers. Once operational, the loitering munition could prove effective against Russia’s Shahed‑136. 

Finally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed this week that the security crisis in the Middle East has had a negative impact on the supply of artillery rounds to Kyiv. Accordingly, the head of the state-owned Ukraine defense industry concern formerly known as Ukroboronprom confirmed this week that the main efforts of Ukraine’s defense technological industrial base in 2024 will be focused on the production of ammunition. Given the artillery-hungry nature of the war, this effort could fill a critical gap in Ukraine’s warfighting capability.