On 17 July, explosions struck the Kerch Strait Bridge. Following the explosions, President Putin vowed a response stating that what had happened had no logic from a military point of view. Madam Chair, let us be clear, opened in 2018 by Putin himself, the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge was a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It is a bridge built by Russia on Ukraine’s territory. It is a bridge that provides Russia with a key logistics link for sustaining its forces in southern Ukraine. It is a bridge that has played a key role in moving heavy military vehicles and equipment as well as fuels, oils and lubricants to the southern front of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Accordingly, any substantial damage to this bridge will almost certainly have a significant impact on Russia’s already strained ability to sustain its forces under pressure in southern Ukraine.
Madam Chair, for over 500 days Putin and the Russian military leadership have consistently underestimated the will, determination and courage of the Ukrainian military and civilians to defend their homeland from a brutal and barbaric invader. These miscalculations continue to have a demonstrable and enduring impact on the combat capability of Russian forces.
On 12 July 2023, the Ukrainian Centre for Defence Studies reported the average Russian battalion strength in Zaporizhzhia as 200 troops; that is 30-40% of its regular establishment. This is plausible following recent high intensity combat. Russia has likely also introduced ammunition conservation measures in Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut, limiting daily expenditure to 12 rounds for some types of gun. Recent Ukrainian strikes on Russian logistic depots are likely partially responsible for reducing Russian materiel reaching the front line.
Russia is also almost certainly struggling with a crisis of combat medical provision, after suffering an average of around 400 casualties a day for 17 months. The influx of military casualties has likely undermined the normal provision of some Russian civilian medical services, especially in border regions near Ukraine. It is likely that many dedicated military hospitals are being reserved for officer casualties.
As claimed by the head of the Kalashnikov Company’s combat medicine training division, it is likely that up to 50% of Russian combat fatalities could have been prevented with proper first aid. Very slow casualty evacuation, combined with the inappropriate use of the crude in-service Russian combat tourniquet, is reportedly a leading cause of preventable fatalities and amputations.
The discontent and poor morale amongst Russia’s troops now also appears to have reached its highest ranks. On 12 July 2023, 58th Army Commander Major General Ivan Popov was relieved of command. He has claimed he was sacked for criticising Russian Ministry of Defence deficiencies. In an address by Popov to his forces, circulated on Telegram, he said he had complained about, “the lack of counter-battery combat, the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations and the mass deaths and injuries of our brothers from enemy artillery”.
As of 15 July 2023, Russia has also likely dismissed the commander of the Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska’s (VDV) 106th Guards Airborne Division, General-Major Vladimir Seliverstov. There has been no official confirmation as to the reasons why Seliverstov has been dismissed, but 106th VDV division has been in intense combat near Bakhmut since January 2023. Russian military bloggers also suggest that the divisional commander of the 90th Tank Division (Eastern Military District), General-Major Ramil Ibatullin, has been arrested. There are multiple reports which indicate that several other military commanders have or are also being removed from post.
Madam Chair, at the last FSC, we noted that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion on the weekend of 24 June represented an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority, and that it was clear that cracks were emerging in Russian support for the war. Those cracks now appear to be shaking the very foundations of Russia’s forces in Ukraine. Russia’s leadership cannot even justify this war to its generals let alone its soldiers. All, increasingly aware that they have been sent to fight Putin’s horrific, unjustified and unprovoked war of choice – poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly led.
Madam Chair, the UK and our allies are committed to providing Ukraine with the support it needs to defend itself and push Russia out of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. This is the swiftest, and only, path to a just and lasting peace. We will stand by Ukraine for however long it takes.
Ukraine will win.