Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | August 2

Senior Fellow (Nonresident)
A Ukrainian soldier from a mechanized brigade trains using live ammunition at a training ground near the front lines in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on July 31, 2023. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This report first appeared as a part of Hudson's Re: Ukraine newsletter series. To subscribe, click here.

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

1. Putin’s New Conscription Plan Further Militarizes Russia

The Russian State Duma voted to raise the maximum age for conscription from 27 to 30, providing more available manpower for Russia’s war effort. The move will enable the Kremlin to replenish its forces participating in the invasion of Ukraine without initiating another mobilization. 

The new law prohibits draftees from leaving the Russian Federation once they receive their official notice of enlistment, while a companion piece of legislation increases fines for those who fail to comply with the draft. These new regulations are designed to prevent service-age males from undertaking a mass exodus from Russia as they did last fall.

The Kremlin has beefed up its surveillance powers to enforce compliance with its orders. Several months ago it enacted a series of measures dubbed the “digital gulag” in reference to the notorious Stalin-era labor camps. These measures updated Moscow’s database of military-age citizens and paired that database with recent summons and draft orders. Russian security services have also boosted their already widespread network of cameras and facial recognition systems across the country and at border controls. 

Other recently enacted regulations equip Russian governors with the authority to form regional militias during times of mobilization and martial law. These paramilitaries will be tasked with hunting down enemy squads behind Russian lines and intercepting hostile drones. The recent raids in Belgorod likely prompted Russian authorities to take such firm countermeasures at home. 

These conscription and surveillance measures bode ill for Ukraine and the West. A new wave of draftees will allow the Kremlin to maintain its advantageous force-to-force and force-to-terrain ratios, the two key prerequisites for a favorable balance of power on the battlefield. Taken together, the new pieces of legislation manifest the Russian elite’s goal of wearing down Ukraine’s soldiers—and the West’s will to support them.

2. Wagner Deploys Combat Detachments to the Suwalki Gap

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced this week that his government had acquired intelligence indicating that pro-Russia Wagner mercenaries are deploying near the Suwalki Gap, the 40-mile-long border between Poland and Lithuania that also serves as a strategic chokepoint separating Belarus from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Around 100 of the 5,000 Wagner personnel operating in Belarus are now stationed there.

The Suwalki Gap is the fulcrum on which NATO’s defense planning in the region turns. It is the only land route connecting the Baltic states to the rest of NATO-allied Europe, so if Russian pincer attacks from Belarus and Kaliningrad were to overrun the gap, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would find themselves completely encircled within Russian and Belarusian territory. Previously released reports of NATO wargame exercises have suggested that such a move could bring the Russian military to the outskirts of Tallinn and Riga within 60 hours.   

While conventional military wisdom suggests that a mere 100 fighters represent no significant threat, Wagner is an unpredictable force that does not always abide by the conventions of military strategy. Its deployment is probably the first link in a series of upcoming provocations designed to escalate the situation and test the West’s reflexes. The NATO policy community’s strategic assessments depict the Belarusian Armed Forces as the weakest elements of any Russian military plan revolving around the Suwalki Gap. But as previous editions of this report have detailed, Wagner is now running a comprehensive training program for the Belarusian military’s elite combat formations, to which they are attached up to the company level. 

This development, along with Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons and other advanced weapons systems to Belarus, indicates that the Kremlin intends to turn that country into a garrison state on NATO’s borders. Wagner’s move near the Suwalki Gap seems designed for nothing less. 

3. Ukraine Counterpunches with Drones

On July 30, Ukrainian drone salvos inflicted significant damage on skyscrapers in Moscow’s upscale business district. The strike marked the fifth instance of unmanned aerial systems spotted over the Russian capital since May 3, when two drones attempted a sensational attack on the Kremlin. In early July, Russian forces also intercepted several drones intended for targets at a Russian airbase near Kubinka. At the time of writing, Russian Telegram sources were reporting another attack taking place in the capital. 

These attacks reveal Ukraine’s resiliency in designing an asymmetric long-range strike deterrent to address a need not currently being met by Western military assistance. Open-source intelligence suggests that Ukraine has frequently used the UKRJET’s UJ-22 drone to conduct previous strikes, and has even cooperated with social media influencers to fundraise for such systems. Recently, Ihor Lachenkov, a prominent Ukrainian blogger, raised $500,000 for the Beaver Drone project, which aims to manufacture loitering munitions with distinctive small forewings and an operational range of 1,000 kilometers. Some open-source intelligence outlets credit Beaver drones with the recent Moscow strikes. 

Ukraine’s long-range strike deterrent is not limited to traditional loitering munitions. Taking its cues from the Russian military, Ukraine is now modifying air-defense missiles for use as land-attack weapons. Available intelligence suggests that the Ukrainian military might now be using S-200 strategic SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems to retaliate against Russian targets. Even Russian sources have confirmed this trend, claiming that the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ modified S-200s have targeted the Kerch Bridge in occupied Crimea.

4. Battlefield Update: A New Phase in the Ukrainian Push, with No Breakthrough in Sight

Recently, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have replaced the 9th Corps with the 10th Corps on the battlefield. Rotation of exhausted combat formations is a common practice and makes sense in a counteroffensive effort that has produced limited territorial gains at the expense of mounting casualties. Nonetheless, while the 10th Corps has brought some momentum to the campaign, the Ukrainian military is now without major reserve formations in the rear echelons.

With the 10th Corps leading the assault along the main Orikhiv axis, the Ukrainian military is now pushing into Robotyne, which is on the forwardmost edge of Russia’s first line of defense. Along the supporting Velyka Novosilka assault axis, Ukrainian combat formations have reportedly liberated Staromaiorske, although Russian Telegram channels continue to call the town a contested battleground. 

Russian forces are still probing Ukrainian defenses along the Kupyansk axis. Both Russian and Ukrainian official sources confirm that the fighting there has resulted in no major territorial changes. In this region, the Russian military is seeking to repel Ukrainian combat formations beyond the Oskil River to distract Ukraine from its main action in the south.

Hudson Institute’s Ukraine Military Situation Report foresees no imminent shifts in battlefield geometry, with a protracted conflict likely for some time to come. 

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