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. The United States Sends Cluster Munitions to Ukraine
The Biden administration has decided to send cluster munitions to Ukraine in its latest military assistance package.
Cluster munitions, also known as dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs), comprise a broad range of rockets and artillery rounds, ranging from 105mm-class, 155mm-class, and 203mm-class artillery shells to 227mm-class rockets. The latter are often used with M-270 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and the famous M-142 HIMARS. These munitions are designed to disperse multiple “bomblets,” as well as anti-armor strike charges, in a single volley. The area over which any given cluster munition disperses is determined by several factors, such as the burst altitude, weather conditions, terrain, and the skill of the artillery crews deploying them. While the latest military assistance package seems to provide Ukraine with the 155mm-class DPICM, future aid packages may extend to other categories.
Militarily, the DPICM offers three advantages to the Ukrainian military. First, cluster munitions can engage a variety of targets—from troop concentrations in fortified areas to combat-deployed armor along the Russian lines of defense—and could help Ukraine break its current deadlock against layered Russian defenses with stubbornly deep trench architecture.
Second, DPICMs may allow Ukraine to quicken its operational tempo. It has been pursuing high-intensity engagements to overwhelm Russian defenses but has achieved only limited territorial gains with minimal breakthroughs. This strategy has resulted in casualties, personnel exhaustion, and materiel attrition. DPICMs offer a superior kill ratio to conventional high-explosive artillery shells, an edge that could allow Ukrainian fire-support units to achieve more with less.
Third, the artillery that fires cluster munitions can enable Ukrainian maneuver formations to change their concepts of operations (CONOPS), shifting from positional and highly attritional static warfare into blitz-style combined arms assaults.
2. Wagner Remains Relevant
As Hudson Institute’s previous assessments anticipated, Wagner is still showing resilience in navigating the Kremlin’s corridors of power.
News emerged this week that Vladimir Putin met on June 29 with Wagner chief and erstwhile putschist Yevgeny Prigozhin. The meeting occurred only days after the Wagner mutiny that risked dragging the nation into civil war. The Kremlin confirmed the meeting.
While Putin denounced the revolt as a treasonous stab in the back, his meeting with Prigozhin—a man whose forces shot down several Russian aircraft, marched hundreds of miles toward the gates of Moscow, and seized control of the Southern Military District Headquarters for more than 24 hours—demonstrates his continued need for Wagner’s manpower.
Available evidence suggests that the Kremlin is employing different strategies to manage the Wagner fighters deployed in Africa and the Middle East. In Syria, the Kremlin’s agents are operating closely with the ruling Ba’ath Party’s intelligence apparatus to rein in Wagner fighters by urging them to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense. Those who refuse to sign reportedly are being flown out of the country.
In Africa, things are more complicated. Wagner exerts a strong presence on the continent, and it is hard for even the most powerful elements of the Russian leadership to throw Prigozhin’s loyal triggermen there under the bus.
While initial reports suggested that hundreds of Wagner personnel had left the Central African Republic, the African nation’s presidency announced the movements as simple exercises in troop rotation. Shortly after Prigozhin’s thwarted mutiny, the Kremlin dispatched diplomats to Mali to reassure the government there that Wagner would stay loyal to the Kremlin. Some sources claim that Wagner is coordinating its efforts with General Khalifa Haftar in Libya to provide anti-aircraft artillery and man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces, who are engaged in a civil war against the government in Khartoum. Sudan is essential to the maintenance of Wagner’s gold business in Africa.
These differing strategies reflect a larger divergence in Prigozhin’s organization of Wagner forces. His elite fighters—by some estimates no more than 10,000 men—are veterans and professional mercenaries, many with experience in the Russian security apparatus, and a number of foreign fighters. This upper echelon receives plum assignments and benefits from proximity to leadership.
Then there is the line infantry and cannon fodder class that supplies the Russian effort in Ukraine with its manpower. Wagner, mimicking the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, has started mass recruitment efforts across the country to replenish its supply of fighters. More important, it has cultivated a notorious outreach network within Russian prisons. This second class of Wagner fighters has suffered heavy losses, especially when deployed in conventional warfighting roles in the meat grinder of Bakhmut.
In the aftermath of the mutiny, these two Wagners are likely to divorce. Putin needs the cannon-fodder Wagner to allow his military to maintain a favorable force-to-force and force-to-terrain ratio against the Ukrainian Armed Forces, especially as the latter wage a large-scale counteroffensive. The elite Wagner, meanwhile, will likely move its base of operations to Belarus.
However Wagner evolves, the June 29 meeting between Putin and Prigozhin demonstrates it will continue to play an important role moving forward.
3. High-Ranking Russian Commanders Killed
This week witnessed the deaths of two high-ranking Russian officers, revealing the sophistication of kill chains in modern warfare.
According to press sources, General Oleg Tsokov of the Southern Military District was killed in the Sea of Azov coastal city of Berdiansk in occupied Ukraine, reportedly by a strike from a British-transferred Storm Shadow missile. While Russian authorities have not confirmed the strike, Ukrainian military intelligence has shown an impressive ability to target Russian field leadership since the outset of the conflict. Unsecured communications have revealed the locations of key generals’ command posts, making them low-hanging fruit for Western precision weapons systems.
The second high-profile death this week was that of Captain Stanislav Rzhytsky, an Improved Kilo-class submarine commander of the Black Sea Fleet responsible for the Kalibr missile salvos that have claimed the lives of scores of Ukrainian civilians. While Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed that Rzhytsky was shot dead in the city of Krasnodar, it has not claimed responsibility for the shooting. What makes this incident especially notable is that Captain Rzhytsky uploaded his regular running route to the Strava app, allowing his path to be tracked by anyone with internet access. Thanks to the skill of Ukrainian military intelligence, the last sprint of Captain Rzhytsky’s running career may have been his easiest.
The Ukrainian military has long capitalized on open-source intelligence in planning for kinetic strikes. In April 2022, Ukrainian artillery targeted Chechen leader Ramzan Kadryov’s paramilitaries when they live-broadcasted their position on the battleground. In August 2022, a Wagner facility in Donbas was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces after a Telegram upload revealed the location’s surrounding street information in clear detail.
4. General Valery Gerasimov Reappears
Following rumors suggesting his demise and replacement by General Mikhail Teplinksy of the airborne troops (VDV), General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian chief of staff and overall commander of the invasion campaign, was seen receiving a military briefing. Still, General Teplinsky, a hardline warfighter who began his career in the Transnistria and Chechnya wars, remains a prime candidate for elevation should Putin opt for a reshuffle in his high command in Ukraine.
Needless to say, things are not stable in the realm of Russian generals. General Sergei Surovikin, the Wagner-friendly chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, has not been seen in weeks. Some have claimed that he was arrested by the FSB for treason due to his tacit support for Prigozhin’s mutiny. After all, details of the deal that the Kremlin made with Yevgeny Prigozhin to end the mutiny remain unknown.
It remains to be seen how Russia’s military game of thrones will play out. Hudson Institute’s Ukraine Military Situation Report will maintain its focus on intelligence assessments concerning the Russian military.
5. NATO’s Vilnius Summit Sends Mixed Signals
The Vilnius communique, signed by the allied leaders of NATO during their meeting this week in the Lithuanian capital, announced both positive and negative news for Ukraine.
On the positive side, Ukraine has managed to secure a faster track to full alliance membership by skipping the Membership Action Plan (MAP), a critical diplomatic threshold for becoming a NATO nation. Likewise, the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council has been marked as a promising step.
On the negative side, the summit signaled that as long as the war continues, there will likely be no practical membership agenda for Kyiv. The communique also obliquely highlighted the challenges posed by Wagner’s likely move to Belarus, as well as the growing integration between the Belarusian and Russian armed forces.
While touching upon Iran’s growing role in the Russian invasion, the communique failed to specifically address drone warfare systems transfers to the Russian Federation by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, the very resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. The concluding document of the summit merely drew attention to violations of UNSCR 2231 concerning Iranian ballistic missile activity. Yet again, it declined to mention the joint military development program Tehran and Moscow have launched in Tatarstan. Nor did it address the challenges that will undoubtedly arise when the missile restrictions imposed on Tehran by UNSCR 2231 sunset in October 2023.
Finally, although the summit communique voiced concerns about Russia’s deployment of tactical nukes on Belarusian soil, NATO has signaled no adjustment to the alliance’s tactical nuclear posture via forward-deployed American assets in Europe.