May 3

Sitrep for May 1-3, 2024 (as of 9:00 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Contrary to forecasts and claims of the issuance of an order to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9, there has been little change in the pace of the Russian advance along the Donetsk axis. No significant reserves have been committed to battle, while the breach of Ukrainian defenses has not led to any maneuvers in operational areas.

Nevertheless, Russian forces have continued advancing towards Chasiv Yar. In our previous sitrep, we reported that the Russian Armed Forces had managed to approach the point where the Siverskyi Donets-Donbass Canal goes into underground pipes. It appears they intend to envelop the Kanal neighborhood, attacking it from both the north, from Bohdanivka, and the south. While it will most likely take Russian troops at least a couple of months to reach the town itself, given the current rate of progress, there is little doubt that they will capture Chasiv Yar eventually, despite the resumption of military aid shipments from the United States. However, similar to Bakhmut, the town will likely have been almost razed to the ground by artillery and aerial strikes by the time it is fully conquered. According to Associated Press drone footage, a significant portion of buildings in Chasiv Yar have already been damaged.

We still do not see grounds for a new large-scale mobilization campaign in Russia. It is worth noting that the prospect of a new wave of mobilization starting around June 1 had been reported by the Vyorstka media outlet, and even mentioned by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Though the RuAF would certainly benefit from additional mobilized troops, it remains unlikely that a political decision will be made in that direction: high command is continuously receiving overly optimistic reports from the ground, while the media has been peddling Russia’s successful breakthrough of Ukrainian defensive lines.

In the Pokrovsk direction, the RuAF have continued their gradual advance. As of May 2, they have entered the village of Arkhanhelske northeast of the village of Ocheretyne and are advancing towards the village of Novooleksandrivka northwest of Ocheretyne. Their apparent objective is to continue their offensive towards the road connecting the towns of Pokrovsk and Kostiantynivka. While there are suggestions that Russian forces intend to capture the entire Donetsk region by the end of 2024, we doubt the feasibility of reaching towns like Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in that timeframe.

The War Mapper researcher, who studies Ukrainian defense lines using satellite images, has observed the appearance of two extended lines of fortifications with concrete pyramids in the Zaporizhzhia axis. Despite claims by pro-Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov (a.k.a. WarGonzo) that the RuAF entered the village of Robotyne in this direction, no evidence has been found to support these claims. The frontline in the Zaporizhzhia axis has remained largely unchanged for some time.

On the Donetsk axis, according to War Mapper, a single line of defense has not been formed, with chains of strongpoints built instead. These strongpoints typically lack defensive features like anti-vehicle ditches and concrete pyramids, making this direction more vulnerable to enemy attacks. In our opinion, this represents a significant miscalculation on the part of the Ukrainian forces. While concrete structures in settlements and industrial zones can serve as shelters and firing points, they are generally less effective than properly constructed fortifications.

The US Department of State has accused Russia of using chemical weapons, specifically chloropicrin, in the war in Ukraine. Although the use of this substance has been regularly reported, in our observations, it has always turned out to be tear gas grenades (“tear gas” is not a gas in the literal sense of the word).

When it comes to chemical weapons, we pay close attention to the opinion of military expert Dan Kaszeta, who specializes in this field. He notes that he has never seen evidence of chloropicrin being used throughout the two years of the war in Ukraine. However, it has been documented that Russian forces use tear gasses such as CN tear gas (chloroacetophenone) and СS tear gas (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile), which are used by the police and Rosgvardia [the Russian National Guard] as riot control weapons. They are easily confused because chloropicrin also causes tearing and smells similar to CS gas. It is impossible to distinguish between them in field conditions without special chemical equipment. People who reported the use of chemical weapons were likely sincerely mistaken. The photographs allegedly proving the use of chloropicrin turned out to depict K-51 grenades (we have already written about such cases). Kaszeta notes that it is not possible to modify these grenades for use with chloropicrin, as CN and CS gasses are powders (they are injected into the air as aerosols when the grenade explodes), while chloropicrin is a liquid.

We consider such mistakes by state agencies as a sign of insufficient inquiry into the issue. An expert opinion from the OPCW could have been requested to determine which substance was actually used.

As retaliatory measures, sanctions have been imposed against the Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Protection Troops of the RuAF as well as two research institutes responsible for the development of chemical and biological weapons. While these sanctions will not directly prevent Russian forces from using tear gas, they are intended to make it more difficult for them to obtain the components and equipment needed to produce it.

Confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by the RuAF is particularly important, as this is not the first instance of Russia violating or ignoring the Chemical Weapons Convention. In addition to developing chemical agents of warfare and poisoning opposition figures with Novichok, Russia repeatedly provided diplomatic cover for the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons during the civil war in Syria, including falsely claiming that the Assad regime had destroyed its chemical weapon stockpiles.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On May 2, Ukrainian drones attacked energy infrastructure facilities and railway traction and transformer substations in the Kursk and Oryol regions. These attacks resulted in temporary power outages in several localities and caused delays in train traffic.

On the same day, the AFU Special Operations Forces announced the destruction of a Buk SAM system launcher and loader in the Kursk region. The video footage was geolocated approximately 15 km [9 mi] from the border with Ukraine.

In addition to air defense systems and slat armors, drones can be countered with electronic warfare means jamming GPS guidance systems. We assume that to combat Ukrainian drones, Russia will install more jammers, including in border areas.

On April 29, Finnair suspended flights from Helsinki to the Estonian city of Tartu for a month. Since 2022, Russia has been interfering with GPS signals over the Baltic Sea, with a significant increase in both intensity and coverage in 2023. Tartu Airport lacks an alternative solution for landing without a GPS signal. After two unsuccessful attempts to land there, the airline announced the suspension of its flights. Even before the full-scale invasion, Russia faced issues with GPS signal interference. Civil aviation pilots occasionally reported signal disruptions during takeoff and landing at Moscow airports. However, various additional navigation systems allowed to circumvent this problem. OSINT researchers suggest that jammers may be located in the Kaliningrad and Leningrad regions. In the Leningrad region, they are presumably used to counter Ukrainian UAVs, while the purpose of placing jammers in the Kaliningrad region remains unclear.

On May 1, Russian forces struck a Nova Poshta [a private Ukrainian postal and courier company] warehouse in the city of Odesa. The strike injured 14 people and ignited a severe fire. No military facilities were observed nearby. It is possible that MoD reports will indicate that a warehouse containing military equipment was destroyed—it is difficult to scout real military targets, and it may be easier to declare any random warehouse as such.

In our previous sitrep, we mentioned a possible strike on the airfield in Dzhankoi on the night of April 30, however, at that time, we could not verify the accuracy of the information. However, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has since published satellite images of the airfield. Before the strike, air defense systems vehicles were visible, and after April 30, traces of fire suggest that some of them were damaged or destroyed.

Furthermore, the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel claims that during the night of April 30, twelve ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles were launched at two targets in Crimea. The first target was an air defense military unit of the Southern Military District of the MoD, where six servicemen sustained injuries. The second target was the airfield in Dzhankoi, where five military personnel were injured.

The RuAF continue to conduct troop formations and concentrate military equipment in open areas. On April 1, a training ground in the village of Rohove in the Luhansk region, located 80 km [50 mi] away from the frontline, was reportedly struck by the AFU with three ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles. Video footage recorded hits on a truck park and a large gathering of soldiers, indicating the possible use of missiles equipped with cluster munition warheads. There will likely be obituaries emerging in the coming days that will help us confirm the veracity of the strikes.

The exact number of ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles transferred to Ukraine remains unknown. The latest aid package mentioned 100 long-range missiles,  however, the number of missiles transferred before that was never reported. Estimates suggesting 12 missiles for a strike on Dzhankoi, as claimed by the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, or 15 missiles allegedly used for a strike on the Tarkhankut Peninsula on the night of April 28, appear exaggerated in our assessment.

Petro Andryushchenko, Advisor to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, reported that the Russian occupation administration has allowed the first train to run on the new railway line linking the port of Mariupol to Volnovakha. While this section may not be lengthy or particularly significant, its completion signifies successful progress in the ongoing construction efforts.

Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu chaired a meeting where he demanded an increase in the supply of weapons, military vehicles and other munitions to the army to "support the required pace of advance and ensure the growth of combat personnel." While Shoigu has recently criticized production cadences in the defense industry, we do not believe that his statement can significantly influence events on the frontline.

In a video released by the MoD, Shoigu is shown inspecting a prototype of an improvised anti-drone system, assembled from three PKT machine guns with a collimator sight. Additionally, he examined a prototype of a drone-mounted net firing mechanism(here is an example of how such a mechanism works). However, doubts have been raised about the usefulness of such a device. Experience suggests that drones can effectively neutralize enemy UAVs by flying over them and ramming them from above, damaging their propellers.

The UK government has announced that its Ministry of Defense has supplied Ukraine with 50 AS-90 self-propelled howitzers, which amounts to two-thirds of all available in the UK. However, as previously mentioned, for Ukraine to bolster its reserves, seize the initiative, and transition to the offensive, there is a need for a significant increase in the volume of arms supplies.

On May 15, Conflict Intelligence Team celebrates its 10th anniversary, for which we plan to hold a celebratory live broadcast. As always feel free to ask your questions through our bot.