April 27, 2023

Sitrep for Apr. 26-27 (as of 09:30 a.m.)  

RuAF Strikes on the Territory of Ukraine

On the night of Apr. 27, Mykolaiv was hit, reportedly with four 3M-54 Kalibr missiles (if so, they were used for the first time in a long time). Initially, those were reported to be S-300 air defense system missiles, but later the Ukrainian military amended the information.

One missile hit a multi-storey residential building, another one destroyed a single-family house. There is still no information on where the remaining two missiles hit. As a result of the strike, one person was killed, and 23 more were injured; debris removal continues.

As a result of the attack on Antonivskyi bridge (near Kherson) by Russian troops, a journalist of the La Repubblica Italian media outlet was wounded, and a Ukrainian citizen who accompanied the correspondent as a local guide and interpreter was killed. According to La Repubblica, the reporters were wearing press vests and were driving in a car with all the necessary markings to distinguish them from the combatants. It is not reported what kind of attack it was.

Mark Krutov, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Russian Service, studied satellite images as of Mar. 26 and Nov. 8, 2022 showing the community center in Chervonopopivka which was hit by HIMARS MLRS (we reported about it in our yesterday’s sitrep). When compared, serious damage can be seen in a later picture — thereby confirming the fact of the strike.

Also, RFE/RL published new material on how in February 2023 the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the RuAF reported on “successful efforts in operational camouflage”, which were designed to convince Ukrainian intelligence of the possibility of a new offensive against Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. The operation took place from Feb. 3 to 10, and the leaders of the directorate declared its success. A roll-up by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service on Ukraine's reaction to reports of joint tactical flight exercises between Russia and Belarus, which began on Jan. 16, as well as the transfer of 9M723K1 Iskander-M mobile short-range ballistic missile systems from the Russian Federation to Belarus was cited to prove its efficiency. The directorate also recommended continuing the operation to disinform the Ukrainian command until Mar. 11.

Let us recall that in those days the public was really worried about the issue of a possible offensive from Belarus. But according to public statements by both the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov and analysts (CIT and the Belarusian Hajun project [monitoring group]), there was no military activity indicating preparations for the offensive, and Russian forces deployed on the territory of Belarus were mobilized soldiers transferred there for training. Belarusian analysts openly called that a psyop.

The Situation on the Frontline

Two videos related to the Potok [Stream] battalion formed from employees of the Gazprom [Russian majority state-owned energy corporation] security service have appeared. The first one is a statement from its members, who claim that instead of promised contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense, upon their arrival at the frontline, they were forced to sign a contract with the Redut private military company and sent to positions previously occupied by Wagner Group mercenaries. When during an active attack by Ukrainian forces Potok had to retreat, the soldiers faced death threats from "Wagnerites."

In the second video, a mercenary from the Wagner Group complains that fighters from the Potok unit were supposed to hold the flanks, but they fled during the enemy's attack.

The situation was also commented by Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group]. According to him, such a large number of “private military companies” appeared due to sentiments among Russian elites who allegedly expect a power struggle to begin, so “everyone needs to have their own private army”. In addition, Prigozhin complained again about the lack of ammunition, which allegedly could last for only 2 or 3 weeks. In his opinion, the Ukrainian counteroffensive will begin when the rains stop and the soil dries up; this may happen by May 9.

Recently, there have indeed been many videos showing vehicles stuck in the mud. The muddy season is obviously going to hinder offensive operations.

According to Supreme Allied Commander Europe Christopher G. Cavoli, Ukraine has already received 98% of the promised tanks and armored vehicles from Western countries, and everything is being delivered on time. However, this statement is disputed by Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. It is not possible to independently confirm or refute General Cavoli's statement, but the Ukrainian counteroffensive cannot begin until all the necessary military equipment is delivered.

Mobilization Update

Paper draft notices, distributed in Saint Petersburg, now include a red stamp in the corner, which states: “Attention! Restrictive measures will be imposed on you if you do not report to the military commissariat [enlistment office] within the allotted time.” On top of that, these notices are being deposited directly into mailboxes, without seeking the recipient's signature. The section containing the signature field, used to confirm receipt, is being preemptively torn off, as if the notice had already been served. This is contrary to the military service law (including its new edition), which still requires a receipt of delivery of paper draft notices.

The military commissariat of the Vyborgsky district of Saint Petersburg confirmed that the draft notices were genuine. The press service of the Western Military District said that such stamped draft notices were only sent to those citizens who had previously evaded military service.

Governor of the Kaluga region Vladislav Shapsha replaced the regional military commissar. According to the governor, he made this decision so that volunteer fighters could be sent to the war more quickly, without red tape. In accordance with the law, governors do not have such powers since the military commissars are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. Perhaps, this became possible after the appointment of governors as heads of draft boards during mobilization.

A Ukrainian media outlet has published instructions for an operator of a radio-electronic warfare system in case of possible appearance of unmanned aerial vehicles over Red Square during the May 9 parade. Our attention was drawn to the list of equipment participating in the parade. Among other things, it includes a lot of military vehicles that are in demand on the frontline: 12 T-72B3M, T-80BVM, and T-90 tanks, and about a hundred of various BTR armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles.

Bellingcat investigator Arik Toler revealed that for the first time secret Pentagon documents were widely spread through the Donbass Devushka Telegram channel, which is run by a pro-Russian former US Navy servicewoman. He was also able to prove that the author of the channel was given these documents by pro-Ukrainian "trolls" in comments to another publication, and that it was precisely in this Telegram channel that an edited version of the document first appeared, in which Russian losses were reduced, and Ukrainian losses were increased.

Perhaps, the purpose of this document transfer was to "expose" the Donbass Devushka Telegram channel, which allegedly published fake documents. We consider such actions, the purpose of which is solely to "troll" and relieve emotional tension, extremely ineffective. If you found a place of a leak of secret documents related to the war, it would be more correct to inform the SSU [Security Service of Ukraine] or Ukrainian journalists so they could extract useful data or, on the contrary, stop extra leaks (since these documents contained information that was useful for the Russian side).

We have been facing this problem of audience overreaction since the start of the war in 2014. Back then, the Russian Defense Ministry did not monitor Russian servicemen's posts on social networks, and their profiles were easy to find, so Ukrainian users often left negative comments under pictures that were valuable for investigations or wrote to the servicemen's relatives and loved ones. As a consequence, their profiles were quickly deleted, and investigative teams had no time to preserve evidence of war crimes.

If you find any information that has not yet been widely shared, think of getting the most out of it for social benefit. For example, it could be useful to save a copy of it using the web.archive.org or archive.is archives (if it has not been widely distributed for a day, you can send it to our Telegram bot).

The investigative community has other problems as well. For example, the GeoConfirmed project, which is engaged in geolocating events taking place in the war zone based on photos and videos, has currently suspended its activities on Google Maps (the new platform has not yet been found). Moreover, OSINT analyst Def Mon, whom we often referred to in our sitreps, has his threads deleted by Twitter, so now he only updates the interactive map.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

The Slovenian government has completed a secret transfer of 20 Valuk armored personnel carriers to Ukraine. The operation took several months: first, the APCs from the country's armed forces underwent technical preparation, and then they were transported by air to one of the logistics centers in Slovakia or Poland.

During the April meeting of the Ramstein format contact group, a decision was made to create a service center for tanks transferred to Ukraine in Poland. Starting from May 2023, infrastructure will be established to repair Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 tanks at a plant in the town of Gliwice.

Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force Mykola Oleshchuk has released a video of a Patriot SAM system on combat duty in Ukraine.

Ukraine managed to return home 44 people in the latest exchange of prisoners of war, Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, reported. Some of them were defenders of Mariupol, and two of them were civilians. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that 40 servicemen returned to Russia.

British MPs renewed calls for the Wagner Group to be classified as a terrorist organization after a new report found it had played a role in destabilizing Sudan, Darfur and territory across the Sahel (at the borders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger). Recall that in January, the United States designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization.

RFE/RL’s Mark Krutov published an article based on leaked Pentagon documents about Russia's involvement in the preparation of pro-Russian protests in Moldova. The potential participants of the protests had been scheduled to be trained from Feb. 24 to 28,  2023 in a camp in Turkey, however, due to "travel restrictions" and "increased attention" of the Turkish special services to Russian men, the training location was changed to an unknown place in Russia, and the duration increased to "one or two months". 150 people were to be trained on protests instigation, provision of first aid in case of injuries during the dispersal of rallies, and behavior in case of detention.

On Feb. 13, an upcoming provocation and a possible coup was reported by Moldovan President Maia Sandu. Meanwhile, on Mar. 9, shortly before the opposition rallies, a man was detained at the airport in Chisinau, identified as a likely mercenary of the Wagner Group; he was deported to an undisclosed country of departure. The Moldovan police published photos of his tattoos (one of them was the logo of the Reverse side of the medal Telegram channel close to the Wagner Group) and a photo from his phone, showing a few people in military uniform (one of them had a patch resembling the emblem of the  Vega PMC, the other had a cross, which is awarded to the mercenaries of the Wagner Group).

In 2019, we published an article about the Vega PMC (Vegacy Strategic Services Ltd.) and its activities in Syria. Since then, it secured a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defense and an agreement that the Ministry of Defense provides logistics in Syria, and in return, Vega trains groups associated with Bashar al-Assad. In addition, Vega has got a base in Russia.

Anticipating the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) published a longread on the prospects of Russian defense. We will soon conduct in-depth research of it, but for now we are ready to comment on its main point: the Russian side is ready for defense to a limited extent. On the one hand, in many places, Russia was able to establish fortifications and mine fields. On the other hand, we see a lack of military vehicles and ammo shortages, as well as problems with personnel — there hasn't been a new wave of mobilization, and the launched advertising campaign for the contract service isn’t bearing the desired result. A significant part of Russian forces is mobilized servicemen, including those who have not yet been deployed to the frontline. Thus, rotation of troops is still possible, but those are still poorly trained and unmotivated people, only partially ready for combat.