dispatches
August 17, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 16–17, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

Intense fighting continues over Robotyne on the Zaporizhzhia axis, suggesting that the Russian Armed Forces might be attempting to counterattack. As of now, the frontline remains largely unchanged.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

On Aug. 16, the Armed Forces of Ukraine struck a Russian training ground, located between Lazurne and Zaliznyi Port in the Kherson region, roughly 50 km away from the frontline. The strike was executed using HIMARS MLRS M30A1 Alternative Warhead rockets, packed with pre-formed shrapnel, following an aerial reconnaissance mission. Video of the strike shows prefabricated tungsten fragments dispersing in the direction opposite to the rocket’s trajectory—resembling the dispersal pattern seen in high-explosive fragmentation munitions, but on a larger scale, as we reported this past December. A similar incident occurred on Aug. 2 near Dzharylhach Island, south of Skadovsk in the Kherson region.

On Aug. 16, Ukrainian forces struck Yasynuvata in the Donetsk region. Videos from the scene capture the distinctive sound of a cluster munition: an initial explosion, followed by a sound of multiple explosions of submunitions resembling that of machine-gun fire. It is worth noting that, unlike in several previous incidents, this attack on a residential area took place during daylight hours.

On the night of Aug. 16, the Kyivskyi district of Donetsk was hit with cluster munitions (judging by the aforementioned distinctive sound). In addition, as a result of a strike on Donetsk with BM-21 Grad MLRS rockets, one person was killed and several single-family residential houses were destroyed.

The Wall Street Journal published an article citing sources among US and European officials explaining that the US is developing a plan to export grain from Ukraine without Russia's participation. The most realistic scenario at the moment seems to be one of exporting the grain to Romania along the Danube through the Ukrainian seaports of Reni and Izmail, where the grain will be delivered by land. However, Russia, understanding the importance of these ports on the Danube, regularly hits them in order to prevent Ukraine from using their facilities to export its grain.

For example, on the night of Aug. 16, Russian forces attacked the Reni Seaport with loitering munitions. Despite the work of Ukrainian air defenses, some drones still hit their targets, destroying hangars with grain and agricultural equipment.

Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal discussed the issue of exporting Ukrainian grain by land. Despite the logistical difficulties and restrictions imposed by some European countries on the transit of Ukrainian grain in order to avoid problems on the domestic market (which we previously mentioned), according to the WSJ, during the entire period of the "grain deal," more Ukrainian grain was exported by land routes than by sea. In addition, the United States is considering the issue of protecting ports "by military means" — apparently implying the deployment of additional air defense systems. It will likely be a challenging task, given the limited availability of such military equipment.

CNN released a report showcasing video footage of the July 17 attack on the Crimean Bridge, carried out with unmanned surface vessels. The video was provided to the television channel by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). It appears that the bridge supports were targeted using thermal cameras for guidance. The CNN report also included video recordings from CCTV cameras on the bridge, capturing the moment of the attack on both the road and railway sections of the bridge (when a train was passing on the railway). However, as we know, the railway section suffered minimal damage. The origin of the surveillance camera footage in the possession of the Ukrainian intelligence services remains unknown.

Vasyl Maliuk, Head of the SBU, claimed responsibility for this attack on the Crimean Bridge and a previous one in October 2022. He also showcased the Sea Baby surface drones, developed by the SBU, which were used for the attacks on the bridge, the Olenegorsky Gornyak Ropucha-class landing ship and the Russian Sig chemical/oil tanker. It is worth noting that the attack on the Crimean Bridge was executed by an unmanned surface vessel fitted with a 850 kg warhead, while in other instances, the warhead was 450 kg. In one of the videos, the drones appear to have the capability to temporarily submerge underwater. It remains unclear whether they can overcome booms.

Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen has stated that, contrary to its promises, Russia has not yet deployed its troops to the border with Finland in response to the country joining NATO. In our view, this was to be expected since the entire Russian Army is involved in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project has calculated that there may be between four and four and a half thousand mercenaries in Belarus. They are mainly occupied with training Belarusian security forces and military personnel, for which the educational organization "The Wagner Group" was registered as a legal entity.

In Kyrgyzstan, a former mercenary of the Wagner Group has been detained. He came to Russia to work, committed a crime and ended up in prison, from where he was recruited by the group. On July 8, he returned to Kyrgyzstan and, on Aug. 1, was detained by the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan for being a mercenary. During the search, documents supporting his employment, symbols of the Wagner Group and awards were found on him.

Governor of the Bryansk region Aleksandr Bogomaz has reported two attempts by sabotage groups to penetrate into Russian territory on Aug. 16. The first sortie resulted in four saboteurs killed, the second—in five out of six saboteurs killed. Stavropol’s Telegram channels are reporting one Stavropol-born officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) killed when repelling the attack.

Ukrainian sappers showed CNN their new mine-clearing tactics using drones equipped with thermal cameras. Mines laying on the ground get hot during the day and, by dusk, they cool down much slower than the ground, making them highly visible on a thermal camera.

Another video has surfaced, showing a Challenger 2 tank not far from the frontline (this time, without an improvised cope cage).

FSB is conducting raids to identify individuals who have recently obtained Russian citizenship but have not registered for the military reserve. Detentions have been reported to take place in Cheboksary and Novocheboksarsk. On Aug. 16, a large-scale raid took place at a vegetable warehouse in Saint Petersburg, resulting in 100 people taken to the draft office. In our view, this once again highlights the challenges faced in recruiting for the war effort, revealing a shortage of volunteers signing contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The military commissariat of the Mendeleyevsky district in Russia’s constituent Republic of Tatarstan has promised to pay an extra 500,000 rubles [$5,300] to volunteer fighters who sign contracts before Aug. 18.

Authorities in the Samara and Omsk regions are preparing to allow enlisted men from these areas to vote directly from the "special military operation" zone during the Sept. 9-10 elections. It is difficult to predict how remote voting can be arranged without withdrawing substantial troops from the front lines and without endangering the safety of electoral commission members.

Andrey Kartapolov, Chairman of the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] Defense Committee, has announced that Russia is preparing an offensive in the zone of the special military operation, though this requires creating certain conditions.

We believe, one of the essential conditions for a Russian offensive to happen is mobilization, since there is no other way of recruiting a sufficient number of soldiers.

Earlier, Newsweek reported, citing its sources, that the RuAF are likely to start getting ready for an offensive in the beginning of October so as to deliver a decisive blow in spring.

The decision to order a new mobilization will no doubt be a political one and although we are not experts in political science, we doubt that it is possible to announce a mobilization in the run-up to the regional and presidential elections.

Czechia has sanctioned Boris Obnosov, head of Tactical Missiles Corporation [Russia's largest defense holding], and two of his family members living in Prague. This became possible thanks to an investigation carried out by Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation and public pressure that followed.

According to the Financial Times and its sources, the United States has offered Iran to stop exports of drones and their parts to Russia in exchange for sanctions relief. The article states that Washington would refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran, except those related to human rights violations, and would ease its enforcement of existing sanctions on Iranian oil exports. In addition to ceasing UAV exports, Iran must agree not to enrich uranium above 60% purity, improve its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and pledge not to target Americans.

Iran ceasing exports is unlikely to affect the use of loitering munitions in attacks on Ukraine, since Russia has already localized their production.

About a week ago, there was a report on another deal between the US and Iran involving a prisoner exchange—five individuals with dual citizenship held by Tehran will be swapped for five individuals serving prison time in the US for violating sanctions against Iran. Additionally, the US has promised to unfreeze $6 billion worth of Iranian assets frozen in South Korea, that were obtained from the sale of Iranian oil. Qatar will be a mediator in the deal and will ensure that the unfrozen funds would be used only for humanitarian purposes and not for purchasing weapons.

A court hearing on the case of Michael Nacke and Ruslan Leviev, who are accused of spreading "fake" news about the Russian Army, was scheduled to take place on Aug. 16. However, the case was assigned to another judge, Elena Lenskaya, who is known for sending Vladimir Kara-Murza to a pre-trial detention center in 2022. Lenskaya announced that she would start the trial anew.