Ukraine Situation Report: Russian Forces Being ‘Chipped Away’ Along Multiple Fronts

Ukrainian forces over the past two days have launched a second counter-offensive around Kharkiv in the North, adding another front at which Russian troops appear to be fleeing aggressive attacks from the air and ground.

Officials who have until now been reticent to comment on Ukraine’s advances southward toward Kherson have commented on the steady advances against Russian forces

On Sept. 7, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged “good news from the Kharkiv region,” but said, “it is not the time to name the places to which the Ukrainian flag is returning.”

“Each success of our military in one direction or another changes the general situation along the entire front in favor of Ukraine. The more difficult it is for the occupiers, the more losses they have, the better the positions of our defenders in Donbas will be, and the more reliable the defense of Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv, and the cities of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, will be, and the sooner we will be able to liberate the Azov area and the entire south,” Zelensky said, according to a translation of the below video. 

Colin H. Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, also acknowledged Ukrainian advances around Kherson in the south. That offensive, which began last week, featured heavily in previous War Zone Ukraine Situation Reports.

“The Ukrainians in recent weeks have kicked off a counter-offensive around Kherson. They’ve done a lot of good, a lot of work to cut off the bridges and the other ways in which the Russians have been unable to resupply the troops that are essentially stranded now on that side of the river,” Kahl said Sept. 7 at the Defense News Conference in Washington, D.C. “And the Ukrainians are chipping away. So, the way that I describe it is that it is early days. I think the Ukrainians are making slow but meaningful progress, and we’ll see how things pan out. But it’s true. Certainly, think things are going better on the Ukrainian side right now in the south.”

The U.K. Ministry of Defense, which previously stopped short of confirming the Ukrainian advance, on Wednesday said there is now heavy fighting on three fronts, including to the east in the Donbas, where Russia appears to still be on the offensive. 

“Russia’s planned main effort is probably an advance on Bakhmut in the Donbas, but commanders face a dilemma of whether to deploy operational reserves to support this offensive or to defend against continued Ukrainian advances in the south,” the U.K. MoD said in its latest intelligence assessment of the war. “Multiple concurrent threats spread across 500 km will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources across multiple groupings of forces.”

“Earlier in the war, Russia’s failure to do this was one of the underlying reasons for the military’s poor performance,” the U.K. MoD said. 

Before we get into the details of what’s taken place as the Ukrainian war effort has gathered steam enough to strike back at the invading Russians, check out our previous rolling coverage here.

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin left Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where the Ukraine Defense Contact Group will meet to discuss plans for keeping Ukraine in the fight for the long haul. It is the fifth meeting of the group of NATO members and other like-minded Ukraine-supporting nations and the second hosted by the U.S. military at Ramstein. 

Promises of new weapons donations, training initiatives for Ukrainian soldiers, and more are expected to emerge from the meeting, all in the service of preparing Kyiv for a protracted fight that is expected to last at least through winter, Kahl said. 

“We have prioritized the systems that Ukraine needs for every stage of that fight,” he said at the Defense News Conference. “At the beginning, we were prioritizing anti-armor systems and defense systems, loitering munitions, and drones. As it shifted to the east and the Ukrainians started to run out of Soviet legacy artillery, we transition into NATO standard howitzers of the 155-millimeter artillery shells … then started to introduce the HIMARS and guided multiple-launch rocket systems … in combination with other capabilities like the HARM anti-radiation missiles, the Harpoon anti-ship missiles and other systems that have been proven, I think, devastatingly effective.”

“Right now, we are focused on making sure that Ukrainians will be successful in generating momentum in their counteroffensive and going into the winter, so that when and if the two sides eventually sit down, Ukraine will be doing that for the strongest possible position.”

U.S. officials will try to change the focus of allies and partners from Ukraine’s immediate fight to long-term support for a war that could last another six months to two years, he said. 

At the same conference, William LaPlante said that the L3 Harris Vampire anti-drone systems the U.S. is donating to Ukraine were acquired as part of a massive request for information in May that called for weapons that could aid Ukraine. The Defense Department received more than 1,300 responses and another 15 or so systems will come out of it on top of Vampire, he said. 

Ukrainian forces advancing on and through Russian positions are capturing significant amounts of prisoners. Videos of Russian prisoners of war began popping up all over social media on Wednesday. Some include graphic images of wounded and dead Russian soldiers. Ukraine has prioritized severing Russian routes of resupply — and escape — in recent weeks, to trap enemy units when it launched the ongoing offensive. 

Some of the captured Russian troops appeared to be higher-ranking officers. 

In Kharkiv, Ukrainian captives included an interestingly armored T-72B3 tank, which seem to more often explosively fall victim to Ukrainian munitions. The vehicle appears to be decked out with rows of chains over its front bumper between the tracks.  

In several sectors of the long frontline, Russian troops appear to be abandoning ammunition and equipment as they flee. Many of those weapons are quickly repurposed by advancing Ukrainian forces, including this improvised explosive device jammer and other gear captured in Kharkiv.

In the skies over Kharkiv, Ukrainian troops armed with man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, managed to shoot down what appears to be a Russian Su-25 attack jet. The video shot at a very wide angle, shows the jet going down after being struck from behind.

Russian troops trapped north and west of the Dnipro River in the south of the country have had to rely on pontoon bridges and other expedient methods of crossing the waterway ahead of the Ukrainian advance. Those new river crossings have therefore become juicy targets for Ukrainian artillery, as seen in the graphic video below. Russian troops attempting to cross a pontoon across the Dnipro are seen coming under long-range Ukrainian fire and dismounting their vehicles to care for wounded soldiers. 

Elsewhere a barge ferry carrying Russian troops, vehicles, and equipment was destroyed trying to cross the Dnipro, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces Operational Command in the south.

More intense combat footage shows a Russian Spetsnaz unit in close quarters battle with Ukrainian forces in an undisclosed forested area.

Russian troops are reporting Ukrainians using NATO combined-arms maneuver tactics to rapidly overwhelm their positions. Ukrainian troops are increasingly being brought to NATO countries like Germany, where U.S. and allied soldiers are teaching them to operate their donated weapons effectively. As NATO prepares Ukraine for a protracted fight, expect to see more training initiatives hosted by European supporters of Kyiv against the Russian invasion. 

Ukrainian forces are using, among many other NATO-donated artillery systems, M777A2 howitzers loaded with M982 Excalibur GPS-guided projectiles. As seen in the below video, the rounds are much more precise than conventional artillery rounds thanks to extendable fins that allow the Excalibur round to alter course during flight according to a pre-set GPS target location. In part of the video, the Enhanced Portable Inductive Artillery Fuse Setter (EPIAFS) used to enter targeting coordinates into M982 rounds can be seen.

Also now in Ukraine are additional Warmate loitering munitions, also called suicide drones, donated by Poland to the cause. A short video shows the small flying bombs arrayed in a hangar as they are delivered to Ukrainian military officials. The 3.5-foot-long unmanned aerial vehicle has a wingspan of just over five feet, weighs eight pounds, and can stay aloft for an hour using an electric motor. Flying 50 miles per hour, the basic Warmate has a range of 19 miles.

Footage of French President Emanuel Macron speaking to Zelensky at the outbreak of war shows the consternation of the French leader as he learned of Russia’s total-war attack in February. 

A small group of Ukrainian soldiers demonstrated why it is unwise to fire an SPG-9 recoilless rifle, donated by Germany, indoors when the backblast from the rocket projectile blew a hole in the wall behind the operator. A video of the aftermath of the resultant explosion shows the room was almost destroyed though none of the troops appear to be badly harmed. 

More often than not, war is weird. On Sept. 6, Chichi the chimpanzee escaped from a Ukrainian zoo and wandered the streets for hours until it began to rain. Zookeepers persuaded the ape to return to the zoo after it began to rain and they offered her a coat and a bike ride back to her enclosure, according to the Washington Post.

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