April 5

Sitrep for April 3-5, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Russian Armed Forces have launched a new attack with a large armored column in the Donetsk region, this time targeting Chasiv Yar in the Bakhmut direction. This confirms our suspicion that the column earlier moving towards Popasna split in two, with one half launching an attack on Tonenke, and the other veering off to head towards Chasiv Yar. A video of the attack shows several vehicles blowing up on landmines, while several infantry fighting vehicles turn around and retreat along a dirt road.

Incredibly, the video also shows four RuAF Su-25 Frogfoot CAS aircraft—it is extremely rare to see jets providing fire support directly above the line of contact. Judging by the video, the Su-25s were flying around Bakhmut, just a few kilometers [miles] away from Chasiv Yar, well within range of Stinger MANPADS, which raises questions about the density of Ukrainian air defenses in this area. Additionally, this map shows Russian armored vehicles moving towards Chasiv Yar, with some of the IFVs veering north towards the railway and disembarking troops with the aim to occupy forest lines and later proceed towards residential areas on the outskirts of the town.

However, the 67th Separate Mechanized Rifle Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has stated that they were able to repel the Russian attack. According to their estimates, 19 out of the 32 armored vehicles involved in the assault were destroyed. Soldiers of the attacking 98th Guards Airborne Division of the RuAF later confirmed that, following heavy fighting, they had been indeed unable to enter the town.

Furthermore, we are perplexed by the absence of adequate air defenses and the apparent shortage of minefields or fortifications, as the armored column was able to advance freely for several kilometers. Additionally, we question why the AFU used neither FPV kamikaze drones nor other anti-tank weapons for a rapid counterattack on the column, similar to their response during the recent RuAF attack in the area of Tonenke.

Russian attacks are likely to continue in the same directions next week, targeting Chasiv Yar, as well as the town of Semenivka and the village of Umanske.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

Mark Krutov, editor of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service, studied videos filmed by eyewitnesses after the attack on the dormitory of the Alabuga Polytechnic College in Russia's constituent Republic of Tatarstan, which housed students engaged in assembling Shahed type drones. The distinctive names and architectural designs of the buildings enabled easy identification in the footage depicting the aftermath of the attack.

The first video shows the Geron building with several broken windows, with firefighters and first responders nearby, along with some debris on the ground, but no significant damage. In contrast, the second video reveals much greater damage to the same building. This comparison irrefutably proves that the dormitory was hit by two drones on April 2, indirectly suggesting that the dormitory may have been deliberately targeted. In response to this incident, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Andrii Yusov, issued a statement alleging that the drones deviated from their trajectory due to Russian air defense interference. However, this explanation appears dubious in light of the fact that both drones hit the same location.

During the night and morning of April 4, Russian forces launched another series of strikes on the city of Kharkiv, presumably using Shahed-136/131 loitering munitions. According to Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of Kharkiv, four civilians and three first responders were killed, falling victims to a second strike, or double-tap, at the site of the aftermath of the initial attack (this moment was captured on video). At least 12 more people were injured, including a police officer, a nurse and a gas company service personnel who was conducting repairs after the first strike.

The double-tap tactic, along with strikes on dormitories of military enterprises, constitutes a war crime, and is widely used by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian territory, including residential areas.

In the Russian controlled Verkhnii Rohachyk district of the Kherson region, kamikaze drones attacked a GAZ-3310 Valdai vehicle transporting water and supplies to the village of Babyne. The vehicle, which did not display any signs of military affiliation such as camo-paint or the letter Z, and bore Ukrainian license plates, was unmistakably civilian. The first drone strike targeted the driver's door, resulting in an instant fatality. Subsequently, the wounded passenger, who managed to exit the vehicle and apply a tourniquet, fell victim to a second UAV strike. This incident constitutes two war crimes: the initial attack on a clearly civilian vehicle and the subsequent targeting of the wounded passenger.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has disclosed a massive drone attack on Russian territory during the night and morning of April 5. Strikes were reported in Morozovsk, Rostov region, as well as in Kursk. Explosions were also reported in Engels, Saratov region, and Yeysk, Krasnodar region.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

At a joint press conference with the President of Finland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Russia is preparing to mobilize 300,000 people on June 1, although he did not elaborate on the source of this information. Additionally, Zelenskyy refrained from disclosing the anticipated number of individuals to be enlisted in the new phase of mobilization in Ukraine, remarking "we do not need half a million."

It is worth noting that concealing troop movements for such a large-scale offensive, such as the potential assault on Kharkiv, is virtually impossible. At present, neither our team nor other analysts have detected any signs of preparation for a new wave of mobilization in Russia or the accumulation of military equipment for a new offensive in this direction. In theory, it is conceivable that regular conscription may be halted on June 1 to conduct mobilization. However, immediately deploying recruits into combat would be impractical, as they would require time for training. Additionally, based on our observations, the pace of military equipment production and repair in Russia does not allow for the accumulation of enough equipment for large-scale offensives simultaneously with ongoing combat operations, as the RuAF constantly suffer heavy losses in equipment on the frontline. The siege of Mariupol, for example, lasted more than two months, despite the city being quickly surrounded and its population being half the size of Kharkiv. Despite defending Mariupol with only tens of thousands of soldiers without proper supply and reinforcement, the RuAF sustained significant losses in manpower, including among marines and mobilized men from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. Therefore, without mobilization and the accumulation of the requisite amount of equipment, the encirclement of Kharkiv appears impossible, and any attempt to advance with existing Russian forces would result in colossal losses.

We assume that Zelenskyy's statement might be aimed at his domestic audience to provide further rationale for the upcoming mobilization.

At the same time, Russian authorities continue to actively lure people into contract military service. A number of recently adopted amendments to the law require men to regularly provide their information to draft offices in order to receive any state services through the Gosuslugi public services portal and even for employment (this is the reason for the periodic queues in front of draft offices, whose opening hours are quite limited, rather than an increased desire of people to go to the frontline). Meanwhile, control over men with acquired citizenship has intensified: since April 1, they are required to exchange foreign driving licenses for Russian ones. As a result, a queue formed outside the local State Inspectorate for Road Traffic Safety office in Yekaterinburg, where draft office officials were distributing draft notices to men waiting in line, instructing them to register for military service the following day. Once they arrive at the draft office, they will most likely be persuaded to sign contracts with the MoD.

Competition for contract soldiers persists across Russian regions. In our last sitrep, we discussed the increase in one-time sign-up bonuses in the Rostov region and anticipated that these payments would also be increased in the neighboring region. That is exactly what happened: the very next day, the Krasnodar region raised the amount of sign-up bonuses to 1 million rubles [$10,800].

Western Assistance

While at the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron advocated for dialogue with Putin, his stance has notably toughened in the past months. In a public statement, Macron expressed his desire to maintain all military options open in Ukraine, a move that has unsettled his NATO allies. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Macron seeks to persuade allies to alter their rhetoric and refrain from voicing restrictions on the use of various weapons supplied to Ukraine against targets in Russian territory. His aim is to keep Russia guessing about the allies' intentions and encourage greater caution. However, this proposal has thus far been met with reluctance from US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In our previous sitrep, we dwelt on NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s initiative to provide a five-year €100 billion military fund from NATO members to Ukraine. Following initial discussions, the foreign ministers of the alliance agreed that it is necessary to establish reliable long-term structures to assist Ukraine. However, according to Politico, some of them “rolled their eyes” at such a huge amount, wondering where it would come from, while others believed that it is dangerous to make promises that one cannot keep.

It is highly probable that as a result of internal political challenges, the United States' role within NATO is diminishing, prompting European leaders to act more independently. For instance, our estimates show that should the ammunition secured by the Czech initiative be supplied on time, Ukraine’s current needs would be fully met.

In a recent sitrep, we reported on the anchors of the Volgograd 1 TV channel, Mazanov and Potolovsky, who broadcasted the names and personal information of individuals who had laid flowers in memory of Alexei Navalny at the monument to victims of political repression in Volgograd. Following complaints from some of these citizens to the prosecutor's office regarding the unauthorized disclosure of personal information, Mazanov and Potolovsky claimed that the video was falsified: they purportedly did not broadcast any personal data, suggesting that malicious actors had inserted it into the TV broadcast.

An article dedicated to the Kakhovka Dam has been released in the peer-reviewed academic journal Communications Earth & Environment (published by the Nature Publishing Group, impact factor of 7.9). Researchers analyzed radar data from the Sentinel-1 and Umbra satellites. The interferometric analysis they applied is usually used to identify minor ground surface displacement and to apply remote sensing techniques for monitoring critical and strategic structures, such as dams. The analysis in the article indicates that deformations in some of the dam’s sections, exceeding normal seasonal movements caused by thermal dilation, began in June 2021—long before the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The authors note that while the study does not completely rule out the version involving the intended explosive demolition of the dam, the most probable cause of the collapse was the lack of proper maintenance and incorrect operation of the spillway gates. Faulty spillway gate operation, coupled with overtopping, led to the accumulation of sediment and debris build-up, resulting in the undermining of the dam. These factors likely exacerbated the preceding destabilization of the structure and led to its collapse.