April 3

Sitrep for April 1-3, 2024 (as of 8:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Pro-Russian Telegram channels report that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are actively counterattacking near the village of Tonenke and gradually recapturing lost positions. Fighting continues west of Bakhmut, towards Ivanivske and Chasiv Yar, as well as west of Avdiivka along the Berdychi-Orlivka-Tonenke line.

Russian forces currently hold about half of Ivanivske, with only a little ground left to cover to reach the first houses on the outskirts of Chasiv Yar. During the battle of Bakhmut, Chasiv Yar was a crucial logistical and command center. Its capture could be strategically important for Russian troops as it would allow them to continue on to Kostiantynivka, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in their bid to reach the administrative borders of the Donetsk region. However, Russia is also experiencing a shortage of manpower and equipment, leading the Russian Armed Forces to advance at a slow pace, with their progress practically imperceptible against the vast scale of the frontline.

Ukrainian Drone Strikes in Tatarstan

In the early hours of April 2, Ukrainian drones struck targets in Tatarstan, traveling over a thousand kilometers [620 mi] from the Ukrainian border and setting a new record for the AFU. These strikes confirm Ukraine's earlier claims regarding the development of new long-range UAVs.

One of the targets was the Taneco plant, which is part of an oil refinery complex in Nizhnekamsk. Despite the mayor’s statement claiming that no damage had occurred, Reuters determined from a photo that the primary oil refining unit had been struck.

According to CNN sources, the long-range loitering munitions currently used by Ukraine are equipped with vision algorithms to improve accuracy. It is worth noting that optoelectronic navigation systems, albeit in a more primitive form known as correlation-extreme navigation systems, have been used on cruise missiles since the 1980s.

One or, according to some yet unconfirmed sources, two UAVs hit the special economic zone of Alabuga, located 10 km [6 mi] from the town of Yelabuga. According to the Russian Protocol and Razvorot media outlets, as well as some Western media, the area hosts a facility manufacturing Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munitions, now almost entirely produced in Russia. According to these investigations, students from the Alabuga Polytechnic College, including minors, are involved in the assembly of these UAVs.

Footage of the attack shows a Ukrainian drone the size of a light aircraft striking near the dormitory buildings, located approximately 500 meters [550 yd] from the production workshops. Initially, an incorrect geolocation of the landing site was published, which was about 400 meters [440 yd] away from the workshops. As a result of the explosion, up to 14 people were injured, at least 2 of whom were minors.

According to the Geneva Conventions, military facilities are legitimate military targets; however, strikes should aim to minimize casualties among civilian personnel. It is also worth noting that Russia disregarded the safety of students by locating dormitories near the workshops.

It is unknown whether the dormitories were the intended target or if the UAV missed the workshop building. The relatively large distance between the dormitories and the workshop favors the first version, while the pointlessness of targeting the college dormitory supports the second.

Initially, there were speculations that these strikes were carried out by a Ukrainian UJ-22 Airborne drone, known for its flight range of approximately 800 km [500 mi], which has been previously used for strikes on Russian territory. However, the prevailing version suggests the use of a modified version of the Aeroprakt A-22 light aircraft or its modernized version, the A-32, as a drone. Although the original range of the A-22 is insufficient, it can be extended through modifications. Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] claims that the flight range of the A-32 is up to 1,300 km [810 mi].

It is evident that a facility producing drones, such as Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munitions, is an extremely important target for Ukraine. Since satellite images indicate that the workshops have not sustained damage, we expect that more attacks will be attempted in the future.

Western Assistance

In the fall, Jens Stoltenberg’s term as NATO Secretary General will conclude, and by that time, he aims to implement his new idea of establishing a five-year, $100 billion military fund from NATO members for Ukraine. Stoltenberg describes this package as a shield "against winds of political change," specifically targeting potential anti-Ukrainian decisions from a hypothetical Trump presidency. It is expected that the package will be finalized before the NATO Washington summit in July, although discussions will only start at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on April 3. Another topic for discussion is granting control over the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, also known as the Ramstein Group, to NATO, also as a safeguard against a Trump presidency. Extended discussions are likely necessary to secure consensus on the package among all NATO members, including Hungary, which has consistently objected to providing assistance to Ukraine.

Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, stated that he expects to move a package including aid for Ukraine with "some important innovations" when the House returns from recess. While he did not provide specifics on these innovations, he hinted that they might involve the use of seized assets belonging to Russian oligarchs. It is worth noting that some time ago former US President Trump suggested an aid package for Ukraine in the form of a loan, with frozen Russian assets serving as collateral.

Crocus City Hall Terrorist Attack

According to the Washington Post’s sources, a message from US intelligence services transmitted to Russia on March 6 stated that the most likely target of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province attack would be Crocus City Hall. It is worth noting that on March 7, the US Embassy issued a warning to American citizens about an imminent terrorist attack and recommended avoiding large gatherings of people, including concerts.

During the first week following the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, the number of administrative cases against migrants in Moscow courts has increased by 50%. Mass raids involving document checks are being conducted across Russia, leading migrants to file over 8,500 complaints with human rights activists. Additionally, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has proposed a draft law that would allow, among other things, the deportation of migrants from Russia without a court decision, but rather by a decision of the executive authorities. We believe that such measures do not provide any protection against terrorism and are likely to serve as a convenient tool for corruption.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reported that representatives of the Taliban (a group prohibited in Russia) have been invited to the Russia-Islamic World forum in Kazan. In addition, the Foreign Ministry has stated that they are "working on the issue" of removing the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations.

It is worth noting that the Taliban is one of the main opponents of IS-KP, and the Taliban's cooperation with Russia was one of the motives for the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack.

According to Reuters, Iran also warned Moscow about the planned terrorist attack several days in advance. After the attack carried out by IS-KP at a cemetery in Kerman on Jan. 3, 2024, several people were arrested, from whom information was received about a possible major terrorist attack in Russia. However, similar to the warnings from US intelligence, this information was disregarded.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

Massive RuAF strikes targeting the city of Kharkiv continue. According to the city's mayor, Ihor Terekhov, almost all critical energy infrastructure, including private facilities, has been destroyed. At the moment, 1.3 million people live in the city, with no evacuation plans yet in place.

The motives behind such attacks remain unclear. While they could potentially be part of a strategy to isolate the area in preparation for subsequent attacks, the RuAF lacks the necessary military equipment and personnel to execute such an operation. To contextualize the scale, the pre-war population of the town of Avdiivka, captured by Russian forces in February, was 30 thousand people. Attacking Kharkiv directly seems impractical; instead, it would require surrounding the city, requiring vast resources that Russia currently lacks. Hence, it appears that Russian forces are aiming to create a humanitarian catastrophe in Kharkiv, though the ultimate objective remains uncertain. We continue to closely monitor the movements of military equipment in the Belgorod region and have yet to observe any indications of preparations for an attack.

We regularly report on the competition between Russian regions for volunteer fighters and the increase in the amounts of one-time sign-up bonuses. In mid-February, this could be clearly seen in the case of the neighboring Rostov and Krasnodar regions, which almost simultaneously raised their sign-up bonuses from 300,000 rubles [$3,250] to 500,000 rubles [$5,410]. A month and a half later, the Rostov region raised its sign-up bonus again: as of April 1, it amounts to 700,000 rubles [$7,580]. Anyone who signs a contract in the Rostov region, regardless of their place of residence or registration, will receive this amount. For those who decide to serve in the newly formed namesake battalion, the sign-up bonus will be 1 million rubles [$10,800]. The second increase in payment by 200,000 rubles [$2,160] within a month and a half supports our assumption that the number of people in Russia willing to go to the frontline is decreasing. According to our estimate, no more than 200,000 people were recruited in 2023. We consider the report of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine on the recruitment of 30,000 people per month (360,000 per year) as unrealistic, since the necessary number of new units to accommodate the new recruits was not created, unlike during the first wave of mobilization. We expect that in 2024, the RuAF will manage to recruit about 100,000 volunteer fighters, many of whom will be directed to compensate for losses in combat units.

Mobilized soldiers already on the frontline can also sign a contract with the region—in this case, the payment will be 300,000 rubles [$3,250]. This confirms our assumptions that some of the "new" contract soldiers appearing in the statistics are not new recruits and were drafted during the mobilization.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a law reducing the lower draft age limit from 27 to 25 years and issued an order to discharge conscripts who were drafted in 2022 and served throughout the war. Additionally, Zelenskyy has signed a law removing the category of "fit for limited military service." Individuals with such a status will have to undergo a military medical examination within nine months and be categorized as either "fit" or "unfit."

It is worth noting that the problem of recruiting people into the AFU is largely restricted by funding, military equipment and other resources—recruits must be adequately armed and provided with necessary training.