Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan
September 25, 2023, 5:50pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.
Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on September 25. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the September 26 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.
The tactical situation in Verbove remains unclear amid continued Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) direction and offensive assaults in the Bakhmut direction, inflicting losses on Russian manpower and equipment and depleting Russian forces along the entire front line. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces reached northern Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv) but that Russian forces pushed them back to their original positions. Russian sources have yet to directly address a claim from a source reportedly affiliated with the Russian Airborne (VDV) Forces that Ukrainian forces control half of Verbove as of September 24.
The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces reported on September 25 that a precision Ukrainian strike on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea, on September 22 killed 34 Russian officers, including BSF Commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov. Ukrainian Special Operations Forces reported that the strike, which occurred during a meeting of senior BSF leadership, also wounded 105 Russian personnel. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated on September 23 that the strike seriously wounded the commander of the Russian 200th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (Northern Fleet), Lieutenant General Oleg Tsekov, and the commander of the Russian grouping of forces in Zaporizhia Oblast, Colonel General Alexander Romanchuk. Ukrainian Special Operations Forces also reported that the Ukrainian strike on the Minsk landing ship in Sevastopol on September 13 killed 62 personnel, noting that many personnel were present as the Minsk was scheduled to go on combat duty on September 14. ISW has yet to observe confirmation that these Ukrainian strikes killed Sokolov or any other high-ranking Russian commanders, although the Russian command would be able to easily disprove Ukrainian reporting if these reports are false. Sokolov's and other Russian officers’ reported deaths would create significant disruptions in command and control in the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Ukrainian forces reportedly struck the Khalino Airfield and a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Kursk Oblast during a series of drone strikes on September 24. Ukrainian media reported on September 24 that sources connected to the Ukrainian GUR stated that Ukrainian forces struck an FSB building and an oil refinery near the Khalino Airfield in Kursk Oblast. Russian Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoyt confirmed that a Ukrainian drone struck an administrative building in the Central District of Kursk City. Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine's sources clarified on September 25 that Ukrainian forces struck the Khalino Airfield and killed an unspecified number of officers of the Russian 14th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (105th Guards Composite Aviation Division, 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army, Russia Aerospace [VSK] Forces), which is based at the airfield. The Russian 14th Guards Fighting Aviation Regiment is equipped with Su-30SM aircraft. Russian sources confirmed the strike on the Khalino Airfield and the death of an unspecified number of Russian servicemen.
Russian forces conducted a series of Shahed-131/136 drone and missile strikes on the night of September 24-25 against Ukrainian port, grain, and military targets. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 12 Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles from the Black Sea, two Onyx cruise missiles from the Sevastopol area, and 19 Shahed drones from Krasnodar Krai. Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 Kalibr missiles and all 19 drones. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces struck port and grain infrastructure in Odesa Oblast, and footage shows that Russian strikes damaged a hotel in Odesa City. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian forces struck a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter aircraft at the Dolhintsevo airfield in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Moldovan government officials stated on September 25 that fragments of an S-300 missile fell in Chitcani (5km south of Tiraspol) in Transnistria and that the missile’s origin and flight path have not been confirmed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on September 25 that US-provided Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine. The New York Times reported that US officials stated that the US delivered an unspecified number of Abrams tanks to Ukraine on September 23 and that the Biden administration intends to send 31 Abrams in total. Politico previously reported on August 31 that Ukraine would receive the first 10 of 31 Abrams tanks in mid-September.
Russian military officials continue efforts to build out the Russian armed forces to suit the needs of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Russian outlet Izvestia, citing sources in the Russian military, claimed on September 25 that the Russian armed forces are forming reconnaissance and assault brigades in combined arms armies and newly formed army corps and that these brigades are already actively recruiting. Izvestia reported that the new units will be comprised of assault troops intended to break through layered defenses and reconnaissance troops that will conduct reconnaissance at “tactical depth,” and noted that each brigade will receive tanks, light armored vehicles, artillery, and various drones. Izvestia emphasized that these new brigades are meant to overcome pre-prepared Ukrainian defensive positions, particularly in areas of Donbas, where Ukrainian forces have been expanding and equipping fortifications since Russia’s first invasion in 2014. Colonel Valery Yuryev, chairman of the Russian Union of Paratroopers, told Izvestia that the war has stressed the “need to have specialized units for storming fortified areas” and that “separate assault units and formations are necessary.”
The Russian military has previously attempted to adapt to lessons learned in Ukraine by forming similar assault-focused company-sized units intended to target urban and fortified areas in the form of “Storm-Z” companies, which have been primarily active and mostly unsuccessful along the Donetsk City-Avdiivka frontline and on the Luhansk-Kharkiv Oblast front. ISW has been reporting on ongoing Russian military reforms and the creation of new combined arms army and army corps level formations, and it remains unclear how the Russian force generation apparatus will be able to recruit, train, and staff brigade, army, or army-corps level formations considering the multitude of endemic mobilization issues the Russian army faces at this time.
The Kremlin and the Armenian government continue to deflect blame onto one another over the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan amidst deteriorating Armenian-Russian relations. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan delivered an address on September 24 in which he criticized Russia by stating that the Russian-led security structures of which Armenia is a part are ineffective and by questioning the motives of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinyan blamed Azerbaijan and Russian peacekeepers for the recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Pashinyan labeled as “a policy of ethnic cleansing.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) responded to Pashinyan’s statement on September 25, blamed Pashinyan for avoiding personal responsibility for “failures in [Armenian] domestic and foreign policy,” and heavily criticized Pashinyan’s recent turn to the West. Russian milbloggers have consistently focused on anti-Pashinyan protests in Yerevan since the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities accepted a Russian peacekeeper-mediated ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan on September 20. ISW previously reported that the Kremlin reportedly distributed a manual on September 19 instructing Kremlin-affiliated media to blame the West and Pashinyan for recognizing Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. The initial protests in Armenia following the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan appear to be skewing in the direction of the Kremlin’s preferred narrative, although it is unclear if the Kremlin will retain strong Armenian support for Russia in the long-term following the inaction of Russian peacekeeping forces.
- The tactical situation in Verbove remains unclear amid continued Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 25.
- The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces reported on September 25 that a precision Ukrainian strike on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea, on September 22 killed 34 Russian officers, including BSF Commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov
- Ukrainian forces reportedly struck the Khalino Airfield and a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Kursk Oblast during a series of drone strikes on September 24.
- Russian forces conducted a series of Shahed-131/136 drone and missile strikes on the night of September 24-25 against Ukrainian port, grain, and military targets.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on September 25 that US-provided Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine.
- Russian military officials continue efforts to build out the Russian armed forces to suit the needs of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
- The Kremlin and the Armenian government continue to deflect blame onto one another over the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan amidst deteriorating Armenian-Russian relations.
- Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive operations near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast but did not make any confirmed gains.
- Russian officials continue to deport children from occupied Ukraine to Russia.
The stunningly successful series of operations carried out in Crimea by Ukraine, culminating in the strike on Black Sea Fleet headquarters is a rare triumph in a so far frustrating 2023. It also shows that the picture painted by the largely successful Ukrainian air defence network that drones and cruise missile attacks can be successfully defeated, that is not the end of the story. The Russians have long had an assumed expertise in this area, culminating in the deployment of the feared S-400 system. A relatively limited and isolated region like Crimea, with approaches over relatively flat terrain/water, should be easily defended by sophisticated modern air defence systems. Instead, not only are high value targets (the headquarters, the Minsk and Rostov-on-Don, and key bridges onto the mainland) being struck, two S-400 systems themselves were successfully attacked (cf. the failure of the similar but unsuccessful Russian attempt to take out the Kyiv Patriot battery). Whether this is a failure of Russian systems, a sign of superior Western systems, superior tactics, or a combination of all three is yet to be seen, but the number of such successful attacks makes one thing clear - luck is not a factor.