By Can Kasapoğlu
1. Battlefield Update
No drastic battlefield shifts occurred this week in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But Kyiv experienced incremental progress and stymied a Russian effort to contain its forces.
With skillful small-unit tactics and the intelligent use of artillery salvos, Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive has cemented its gains in the Robotyne bulge along the Orikhiv axis and has made incremental advances toward Verbove. In the east, in the direction of Bakhmut, Ukraine has made gains in Klishchiivka and has reportedly seized control of Andriivka. Since these advances were made on a tactical scale and were not large-scale strategic thrusts, the overall outlook along the Donetsk axis remains unchanged.
Russia’s offensive actions in Luhansk Oblast and along the Kupiansk assault axis have also been progressing slowly. Russian combat formations have made no tangible progress in the area, and were unable to force the Ukrainian General Staff to reallocate a large number of troops from Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive.
The Russian military has continued to pound Ukraine with Iran-manufactured Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions. Since Moscow’s withdrawal from the grain deal, Odesa has become a regular target for such drone warfare salvos. Russian forward detachments also attempted flanking maneuvers this week to enclose and contain exposed Ukrainian units. Open-source defense intelligence monitoring detected no changes in Ukraine’s positioning along the Orikhiv assault axis, indicating that Russia’s attempt at tactical envelopment has failed for now.
In the meantime, Ukrainian detachments manning the beachhead on the left bank of the Dnipro have continued to hold the line there. While a small-scale river-crossing action along the Dnipro is of little value in itself, keeping the beachhead could offer Ukraine a variety of assault options in the future.
2. Ukraine’s Long-Range Strike Deterrent Hits Occupied Crimea
Ukraine conducted several long-range strikes this week against high-profile Russian assets. First, Kyiv’s Defense Intelligence Directorate announced that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian S-400 Triumf strategic surface-to-air missile (SAM) unit south of Yevpatoria in occupied Crimea. The attack came only weeks after an August 23 strike that hit another S-400 battery near Cape Tarkhankut, also in the occupied peninsula.
To attack these S-400 units, Ukraine used Neptune anti-ship missiles modified to conduct land-attack salvos. Previous editions of this report have noted how Ukraine has been turning this coastal defense asset, known for sinking the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship Moskva missile cruiser earlier in the conflict, into a critical component of its long-range surface-to-surface attack portfolio.
Also this week, Ukraine’s Air Force attacked Russia’s Black Sea Fleet with British-transferred Storm Shadow missiles. Ukraine launched these missiles at Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, an Improved Kilo-class submarine equipped with Kalibr naval-launched cruise missiles of its own. Available visual evidence suggests that Storm Shadow projectiles penetrated the submarine’s hull before exploding. The missile achieved this feat due to its special tandem warhead configuration, with an initial penetrating warhead clearing the way for a main charge. Storm Shadow’s success highlights the involvement of Ukraine’s Su-24M frontal bombers in the airstrike.
While a definitive conclusion cannot be reached without conducting on-site inspections, open-source intelligence input shows that the Rostov-on-Don remains beyond repair, likely marking the Russian Navy’s first wartime loss of a submarine since World War II.
Ukraine’s attacks this week showcased the deep-strike capabilities of its military and highlighted the hyperbolic strain in Russia’s tactical nuclear rhetoric. Kyiv’s successes in conducting long-range strikes without incurring meaningful Russian retaliation have increased the likelihood that the United States can transfer Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) with minimal risk of triggering a massive Russian response.
3. Rumors Fly Regarding Chechen Strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s Health
Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s health became a matter of public discussion this week, with Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate claiming that the rotund warlord had fallen into a coma. Notably, these allegations also surfaced in the Russian information space. While Putin’s most important ally in the Caucasus denied the rumors via a video upload, Kadyrov’s long-term well-being is a matter of strategic concern for the intelligence elite that rules contemporary Russia.
For decades, Kadyrov has embodied the hardline stance in Russian political life, prizing loyalty to Putin’s iron rule above all else. Some news stories suggested that his elite paramilitaries attempted a botched assassination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy early in the conflict. On his flamboyant Telegram channel, Kadyrov even threatened to march on America if Putin ordered him to do so. Not lacking in political acumen, Kadyrov was also smart enough to decouple his interests from those of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner’s shadow army who was likely assassinated last month.
Kadyrov’s health is of the utmost importance to the Kremlin, since its ability to guarantee stability in volatile Chechnya depends on the loyalty of the local leadership. While it is difficult to obtain a reliable prognosis on such a high-value figure’s medical condition, a careful intelligence analyst can connect the dots.
Even in his own uploaded visuals, Kadyrov looks overweight, and his face is bizarrely bloated. But there is more than medical intelligence (MEDINT) to suggest he is unwell. In March 2023, Putin met with Kadyrov’s eldest son, Akhmat. While the ostensible purpose of their summit was to congratulate the young man on his upcoming wedding, the unusual meeting could also mark Putin’s stamp of approval on the succession plan of Kadyrov père et fils.
Putin values a stable Chechen succession for a reason. In the event that the Kremlin cannot keep a lid on its restive regions,Chechnya would likely be first in line to secede from the Russian Federation. Several battle-hardened and capable Chechen battalions hostile to Kadyrov are currently fighting in the Russian-Ukraine War—but for Ukraine, not for Russia. Furthermore, Ukrainian lawmakers have also promoted the independence and recognition of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. If Chechnya were to descend into internecine warfare, it is far from clear that the pro-Russia side would win out, and even more importantly, who the pro-Russia side would be.
Ramzan Kadyrov, whether hale and hearty or in ill health, likely recalls the example of his father—named, like his son, Akhmat. Akhmat the elder was a high-ranking figure of the Chechen independence movement that caused the Kremlin so much trouble throughout the 1990s—until, sensing the tide of events turning against his cause, he changed sides in 1999 during the Second Russo-Chechen War. He then threw his support behind the newly appointed Russian prime minister, a former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin.
Unscrupulous like his father, Ramzan Kadyrov is not loyal to Putin out of a sense of comradeship. Kadyrov is a power broker; he is loyal to Putin because Putin is powerful. If that changes, so, health permitting, may Kadyrov’s support.
About the author: Can Kasapoğlu is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute
Source: This article was published by the Hudson Institute