Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | April 5

Senior Fellow (Nonresident)
A Ukrainian infantryman takes cover on the frontline facing Russian troops on March 5, 2023, outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine. (John Moore via Getty Images)

1. Iran-Made Loitering Munitions Pound Odesa

During the night of April 3, the Russian military unleashed a barrage of Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions upon Ukraine’s Black Sea coastal city of Odesa. Ukrainian air defenses intercepted 14 out of 17 hostile loitering munitions. 

Available reports suggest that the Russian Southern Military District’s launch positions were on the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov. These sites around Krasnodar were previously revealed by Hudson Institute’s open-source defense intelligence efforts.

Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 drones enjoy low thermal and radar signatures and follow hard-to-track flight patterns. Their slow cruising speed and low-altitude flight paths translate into an increased ground-clutter effect that further stresses air defense systems. In most cases, anti-aircraft artillery and air defense guns provide efficient countermeasures to the Iran-made loitering munitions, which make a noise like a lawnmower that signals any incoming attack. Recently, the Russian military has prioritized nighttime strikes to catch Ukrainian air defenses unawares. The overnight attacks of April 3 followed this pattern.

Russia and Iran have been deepening their defense ties since the outset of the war. Tehran’s ability to equip the Russian military with a large number of loitering munitions in a prolonged, high-tempo conflict speaks to the supply capabilities of the Islamic Republic. Russia will continue to receive a steady supply of Iran-made weapons for the foreseeable future. 

2. Russia Sends Fresh Conscripts to the Fight

President Vladimir Putin signed an order this week authorizing the Russian Ministry of Defense to commence a springtime conscription. Moscow will enlist some 147,000 young men between the ages of 18 and 27 for compulsory military service; compared to numbers from this time last year, the call-up has effected a manpower increase of 12,500. Recruitment will take place gradually between April 8 and July 15. Following the partial mobilization of fall 2022, Russian conscripts are now cleared to serve in combat duties in Ukraine. Putin will gradually insert these 147,000 servicemen into his invasion campaign. 

The Russian military has been able to alter the force-on-force and force-to-terrain ratios in its favor, while Kyiv has reached the very limits of its force-generation capacity. Ukraine’s decision to hold Bakhmut at all costs has further worn out its combatant pool. 

While most Russian fighters have proven poorly trained and disciplined, they nonetheless can stabilize fortified lines of defense when deployed in large numbers. Russia’s fall 2022 draft occurred simultaneously with partial mobilization. It remains to be seen whether the incoming draftees will be accompanied by a second wave. Although the Russian General Staff has denied rumors of a new mobilization, Ukrainian defense intelligence does not completely rule out the possibility that Russia will take such a radical measure

3. Russian Offensive Makes Critical Gains in Bakhmut

Russia’s slowly but steadily progressing offensive is making gains in Bakhmut, as the Wagner private military company has been sending in new columns of attack. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, on April 3 Russian forces conducted 20 assaults along the line of contact in Bakhmut. On the very same day, it launched 25 additional assaults in Avdiivka and Marinka.

At the time of writing, things remain in flux. Wagner units claim to have seized the Bakhmut City Administration, with Yevgeny Prigozhin spotted raising a Russian flag in the area. However, a Ukrainian Ground Forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, stated in a Telegram post that the situation was under control, and that suggestions of Russian advances were merely the work of “propagandists.”

Since the Ukrainian leadership opted against a tactical withdrawal in this sector, Bakhmut has become a highly attritional arena, with casualties mounting on both sides. While Moscow can always introduce refreshed boots on the ground, Kyiv cannot easily compensate for its mounting losses. Ahead of its long-awaited spring counteroffensive, this is a disadvantage the Ukrainian Armed Forces will have to bear. It remains to be seen whether casualties in Bakhmut will jeopardize Kyiv’s offensive agenda. 

That upcoming spring offensive will likely aim to sever Russia’s land connection to occupied Crimea. This would require cutting deep into the fortified Russian lines of defense along the Melitopol–Berdyansk axis. Reports suggest that the Ukrainian military has generated an 80,000-strong offensive force for this task, raising Kyiv’s expectations of a Russian collapse that could trap Putin’s forces in and around Crimea. The Russian high command will probably seek to forestall this outcome with the same tactics General Sergei Suroviki employed to halt the Russian combat formations’ disorganized retreat in Kherson, where he quickly organized a defensive line along the Dnieper River and encouraged a partial mobilization to stabilize the front. 

Since its successful breakthroughs in Kharkiv and Kherson in late 2022, the Ukrainian military has failed to conduct a decisive large-scale offensive. Kyiv must have an ironclad plan of attack to penetrate the Russian front when its counteroffensive comes. 

4. Will Russia Reshuffle Its High Command? 

Russia’s winter offensive has claimed the lives of thousands of Ukrainian servicemen, and despite heavy losses of its own, the Kremlin may yet succeed in capturing Bakhmut, or a large portion of the town, to be accurate. Even if Bakhmut falls, the Russian invasion will fall well short of seizing control of Donetsk Oblast, one of its main territorial objectives. This may trigger sensational high-command reshuffles. General Valery Gerasimov could be the first to go, just as General Rustam Muradov of the Eastern Military District was relieved from his post following the earlier fiasco in Vuhledar that embarrassed the Russian 155th Marine Brigade.

Such a development would offer lucrative opportunities to the Wagner-friendly hardliners waiting in line, such as General Sergey Surovikin of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) and General Mikhail Teplinsky, who reportedly has recently reassumed the command of the Airborne Forces (VDV). Hudson’s Ukraine Military Situation Report will continue monitoring the game of musical chairs being played among the Russian high command to determine which generals will lead the defense against the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive.