Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | November 15

Senior Fellow (Non-Resident)
The Ukrainian military fires RPGs at enemy positions as the special military unit "Kurt & Company group" hold the first line of the frontline Russian-Ukrainian war on November 3, 2023, in Bakhmut District, Ukraine. (Kostya Liberov/Libkos via Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers fire RPGs at enemy positions as the special military unit "Kurt & Company group" hold the first line of the front line on November 3, 2023, in Bakhmut District, 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 hit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, with long-range strike weapons, marking the beginning of the winter war.

The Ukrainian military’s Dnipro bridgehead has provided it with new military options.

Ukrainian naval drones continued to target the Russian Black Sea Fleet, demonstrating a significant asymmetric capability. 

The Russian military intensified its offensive action to capture Avdiivka.

1. Battlefield Update

The present state of the battlefield offers a mixed picture. Around some of the war’s recent flashpoints such as Bakhmut, Russian forces have begun implementing a tactical shift, executing well-calculated, targeted offensives. Russian combat formations have also maintained their aggressive stance along the strategic Kupiansk–Svatove–Kreminna axis, and they are on the offensive to the west and southwest of Donetsk.

Notwithstanding mounting personnel and equipment losses, the Russian military also has continued to push in the Avdiivka sector. Russian combat formations have significantly scaled up their attacks there in an attempt to break through Ukrainian defenses. The Russians are also following a nuanced strategy—at least compared to the strategy they employed in Bakhmut—in an attempt to capture Avdiivka, relying more on bombardment through air power than they have in the past. 

Both developments suggest that Russia is trying to complete its effective siege of Avdiivka before grim winter conditions set in. Yet open-source intelligence findings show that the Ukrainian fortifications remain strong, allowing Ukraine to hold the city despite the daily Russian shelling.

Recent battlefield assessments further show that Russian forces are facing logistical challenges. In particular, they are finding it difficult to mobilize additional combat-ready units to counter the Ukrainian push in the eastern sectors of Kherson while simultaneously maintaining defensive postures on Zaporizhzhia’s western front and executing offensive maneuvers in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s drone manufacturing edge is also rapidly improving, providing Kyiv with a strategic pivot that could shift the dynamics of aerial reconnaissance and strike missions. High-ranking officials in the Ukrainian government have stated that the country will be able to produce thousands of drones per month by the end of 2023. Importantly, Ukraine’s assaults on Russia’s S-400 air defense systems have forced Russia to reallocate its defense assets, potentially diminishing its peripheral air defense capabilities.

2. Russia Strikes Kyiv with Drones and Missiles 

Russia’s recent long-range strikes have showcased the Kremlin’s strategy for the winter war. On November 10 and 11, the Russian military launched a series of attacks that pounded Kyiv.

The salvos unleashed a mixed strike package, including Iran-made Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions, Kh-59 cruise missiles, Kh-31 anti-ship missiles, Iskander ballistic missiles, and S-300 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) modified for land-attack roles. The Ukrainian Armed Forces intercepted only 19 of 31 Shahed drones, a worrisome interception rate. 

The return of drone attacks on the Ukrainian capital and its civilian infrastructure after a pause of roughly two months is further cause for concern, a telltale indicator that the winter war is beginning as the mercury drops.

3. Ukraine’s Dnipro Bridgehead Remains Tactical in Scope but Holds Promise

In an attempt to break the persistently static battlefield geometry, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have maintained pressure in Kherson Oblast along the Dnipro River, where they have been attempting to consolidate their bridgehead in Krynky. Ukraine is pursuing a daunting and stubborn series of river-crossing operations in the face of Russian attempts to push them back across the river. Ukrainian combat formations have already crossed the Dnipro in western Krynky, along an axis from Poima to Pidstepne.

Ukrainian marines are now advancing under the protective umbrella of attack helicopters—flying at low altitudes when possible, and with intensive artillery support. Cross-river missions are challenging, leaving troops particularly vulnerable to air assaults. Maneuver short-range air defense (M-SHORAD) and close air support are essential for success.

Adapting to an increasingly digitalized battlefield, Ukrainian troops have also employed significant electronic warfare (EW) measures by deploying jammers around the riverbank, cultivating an environment conducive to successful Ukrainian operations while rendering Russian first-person view (FPV) drone tactics more difficult to execute. The Ukrainian military is also attacking Russia’s own electronic warfare capabilities in the area.

Having established a bridgehead along the Dnipro, Ukrainian forces are turning to innovative tactics that could allow them to continue cross-river ground operations under harsh conditions in winter, when the riverbank is likely to turn muddy. Amphibious tractors with tank engines, for example, could enable the 38th Ukrainian Marine Brigade to cross the Dnipro, complementing smaller infantry units on boats. Another important player in Ukraine’s river-crossing efforts has been the 808th Pontoon Bridge Regiment, which has mastered the challenging task of building bridges in the dark.  

Make no mistake, the Dnipro river-crossing campaign is merely tactical in scope for the time being. But if Ukraine can replicate its gains on a strategic scale in a reloaded counteroffensive in the spring of 2024, the rewards could be galvanizing.  
4. Ukrainian USVs Continue to Pound the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea

On November 10, the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported the successful engagement and destruction of two Russian landing ships near a naval facility in Chornomorske on the Crimean coast. While the exact type of naval drone used in the attack has not been disclosed, explosive-laden unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) reportedly played a pivotal role in the assault. 

According to reports from Ukrainian military intelligence, the targeted Russian ships were carrying armored personnel carriers, specifically BTR-82s. Open-source intelligence, as well as previous statements by Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, suggested that United24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s fundraising initiative for emerging and disruptive defense technologies, also played a role in the attacks. 

Kyiv’s strategy of targeting Russian surface platforms with USVs underscores its intelligent exploitation of defensive gaps in Russia’s naval bases, as exemplified by Ukraine’s successful attack on the Chornomorske port. Russia’s improved fortifications around Sevastopol, including sea barriers, signal Moscow’s response to these persistent threats. Ukraine is likely to continue its USV-led operations in Crimea for the foreseeable future, providing a cost-effective capability against Russia’s naval deterrent.

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