UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Based on images from the last week, it’s looking as if the dam didn’t blow up. It fell apart gradually from Russian neglect.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
The level of the Dnipro above the broken dam is reportedly dropping rapidly. How this will affect upstream locations like the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant, I don’t know. It’s also unclear how much flooding will result downstream.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Multiple reports that the Nova Kakhovka dam has been blown. I ignored this when it first started flooding (so to speak) Russian Telegram channels, but it’s started to be repeated by some fairly reputable sources. Video is reportedly on the way.
No idea of the impact.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
They may be only the second best army in Ukraine, but when it comes to lying no one beats the Russian Ministry of Defense! Their update on the situations says they have killed 1,500 Ukrainian troops, destroyed 28 tanks (including eight Leopards and three AMX-10rc), and taken out 109 other armored vehicles. A very busy day for the Russian Legion of People Who Make Up Numbers.
On Monday, the Ukrainian deputy minister of defense gave a statement translated here by Tim Mak: "A defensive operation includes everything, including counteroffensive actions. Therefore, in some areas we are moving to offensive actions."
Right now, what we know is that there are Ukrainian advances going on both north and south of Bakhmut, and possibly in the city itself. There are also a number of Ukrainian actions underway along the southern front west of Vuhledar. Finally, the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom for Russia Legion appear to be holding both Russian territory and Russian prisoners.
All this clearly represents a counteroffensive. But is it the counteroffensive? Is this the big push we’ve been anticipating since Ukrainian advances cooled down with the weather last fall, and talked about all through the stunted Russian winter offensive and months of mud? That’s unclear.
Right now, more reports are coming in from Russian sources than from Ukrainian, and those reports are all over the map. There’s one report that Russia “crushed” a Ukrainian force and destroyed over thirty vehicles. Another has Ukraine busting through Russian defensive lines and liberating a town in southern Ukraine. The only thing certain at this moment is that this pattern, where Ukrainian sources are mostly silent and Russian forces are chattering a mile a minute, is one that has been seen before. It happened with Kharkiv last fall. And with Kherson.
One thing that should be noted immediately: Because a lot of this information, even when reported through familiar names, is ultimately going back to reports on Russian Telegram channels, the level of trust in much of what’s coming out today should be low. Very low. The fact that Ukrainian sources are being quiet reflects well on Ukraine’s operational security, but secondhand info from Russian sources definitely deepens the fog of war.
However, based on everything that is coming down the mile-a-minute pipeline, there are at least five offensive operations underway by Ukraine.
That same deputy minister of defense that gave the “moving to offensive” quote also said that Bakhmut “remains at the center” of operations.
In the Bakhmut area, Ukrainian forces have reportedly liberated a portion of the town of Berkhivka, northwest of the city. Russia initially captured this area back in February as part of the semi-encirclement that allowed them to place pressure on Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut from three sides. One very important factor about Berkivka is that it sits just south of the M03 highway that runs northwest to Slovyansk. When Russia captured that location, it cut off one of the biggest routes of supply into Bakhmut, making the situation there much more difficult for Ukraine.
But if Ukraine is able to move through Berkhivka and reach the M03, it would put Russia in an even worse spot. Because several Russian units moved west along the highway, extending a salient 8 kilometers west to a point north of Orikhovo-Vasylivka. Russia has no other exit route for those forces, which are already pinned by Ukrainian forces on three sides. There’s a possibility that a large group of Russian forces could be completely cut off.
Of course, the primary source for all this is … not the best. Much of this information is coming from the mercenary Wagner Group CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose relationship with the truth is barely nodding on his best day. Prigozhin could be overselling Ukraine’s advance in the area just to press his claims that only his Wagner forces are capable of holding positions around Bakhmut. However, Ukrainian forces had already made verified moves in this direction last week, and it seems reasonable that they should extend their gains.
Then there’s Bakhmut itself. As in the city. Even as Prigozhin was claiming that Wagner had finally taken the city, Ukraine was still claiming that it was holding onto that extreme southwest corner of Bakhmut—the area just west of the highway at the city’s southern entrance (if you enlarge the image above, you can see there’s a large appliance factory and several industrial buildings in this area). Now the Ukrainian general staff is reporting progress “in the city.” Does this mean they are recapturing blocks and taking back portions of Bakhmut? It’s entirely possible, especially since Prigozhin reported last week that Wagner forces had withdrawn from 99% of the city. However, at the moment there are no details.
South of Bakhmut, the town of Klishchiivka has been on the receiving end of shelling with a reported Ukrainian advance in the area. Again, much of this information is coming from Russian sources, and it’s hard to tell how much is real, how much is panic, and how much is false reports given out so they can claim to have “stopped the Ukrainians,” but there is a reported advance in this direction. The settlement is important because of heights overlooking its western border. If Ukraine occupies those, it both forces Russians out of Klishchiivka itself and territory farther east, and provides yet another high vantage point to fire on Russian forces inside Bakhmut itself.
The fighting in the south appears to be underway at several locations, but Velyka Novosilka is near the center of the action, so for now I’m hanging that name on this section of the front. Fighting in this area appears to have begun on Sunday, with Ukrainian attacks reported near Novodarivka, Neskuchne, and Novodonetske.
A tank battle took place east of Novodarivka on Sunday in which it appears that at least three tanks faced off. A Russian T-80 came out the loser, with the whole ammo supply cooking off seconds after the tank was hit. It’s unclear if Ukraine has continued to press the attack in this area.
Also on Sunday, Ukraine advanced several infantry fighting vehicles and MRAPS into the area south of Velyka Novosilka. This advance appears to have been stopped by Russian artillery, with Ukrainian forces apparently leaving damaged vehicles behind. At least one vehicle appears to have been hit over a kilometer to the north, reportedly by a Russian drone.
The Russian ministry of defense touted this incident on Monday morning, claiming that they had stopped a “major offensive” taking out “over thirty vehicles” and hundreds of troops. Russia seemed to be claiming the counteroffensive was over before it began—not to mention the Russian bloggers who claimed “all the Abrams tanks” had been destroyed in this thwarted attack.
It now looks as if Ukraine has resumed the attack in this direction and that Sunday’s effort was more of a “reconnaissance in force.” There are reports that Ukraine has liberated the area west of Storozheve and broken through Russian trenches at that location, but this (like everything else this afternoon) is unconfirmed.
The third prong of Ukraine’s attack in this area is southeast of Velyka Novosilka near Novodonetske. This town was formerly occupied by Russia, although the area around it had been in dispute and Russian trench lines are actually south of the town. On Sunday, Russia claimed to have stopped a Ukrainian advance in this area. On Monday, Russian sources are claiming that Ukraine has liberated Novodonetske, forcing them to retreat.
One notable item in addition to this advance: Several Russian sources in the area claimed that they had spotted the first Leopard tanks being used on the front lines. However, images suggest that the new gear in the area is actually the small, wheeled French AMX-10rc. That would fit with other reports that the attack involved Ukraine’s 37th Marine Brigade, as that brigade trained on NATO equipment, including the AMX.
There is a widely-circulating image that’s being reported as showing a Leopard 2 that has been destroyed. That image is a fake. Russian Telegram channels are also circulating another image claiming it’s an abandoned Leopard. It’s not a Leopard, but it may be an AMX-10rc lost as part of the recon south of Velyka Novosilka. However, the camo in the image suggests that the vehicle in question is painted in the tan, desert camo that the AMX-10rc typically wears for French operations in Africa and AMX in Ukrainian service were repainted months ago. So it may also be a fake. Or not. It’s very foggy. A second image reportedly shows two more AMX-10rc left behind, but those also look to be in the former desert tan color. Also foggy.
Despite multiple claims, it’s not clear that any actual Leopard I or Leopard 2 is yet on the front lines. It’s also not clear that Ukraine has put together the kind of large, combined arms assault that many expected. The scale of actions so far suggests they may still be “feeling out” operations, but they’ve apparently been pretty successful.
Even if Ukraine did begin attacks in this area as a minor part of the overall plan, or even if this was intended as a diversionary tactic for an attack to be launched elsewhere, Ukraine seems to be meeting with some success. if they have actually punched through Russian defenses in two locations moving more forces into this location might be a good idea—it’s only 85 kilometers to Mariupol.
Meanwhile, Ukraine-aligned Russian forces operating under the ”RDK” banner (the Russian initials for “Russian Volunteer Corps”), report that they continue to hold at least part of the Russian village of Novaya Tavolzhanka south of Belgorod. Over the weekend, they also took at least two Russian prisoners, who RDK leaders indicated would be used in prisoner exchanges with Russia.
Multiple maps suggest that the anti-Putin forces are actually holding onto a much larger portion of Belgorod oblast. At the moment, there’s no visual confirmation of anything outside the Novaya Tavolzhanka area. Even so, that RDK has been able to apparently remain in control of Russian territory for a period of days goes a long way to indicating that not only is Russia’s border extremely porous, its home defense forces are dysfunctional.