August 18, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 17–18, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Correction to Previous Sitreps

In previous sitreps, we erroneously reported on multiple occasions that new booms had been installed in the Kerch Strait near the Crimean Bridge. This was due to an error in our initial geolocation; booms were actually installed in the Sevastopol Bay.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

Moscow was targeted by another drone attack in the early hours of Aug. 18, this time damaging the roof of the Expocentre Fairgrounds, adjacent to the Moscow-City business district. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin stated that the drone had been shot down by air defenses. According to the Baza Telegram channel, part of one of the pavilions collapsed, with no casualties reported.

Governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov reported that a man was killed in an attack on Kupiansk on Aug. 17.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine attempted an attack on Russian naval vessels using maritime surface drones southwest of Sevastopol. According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the Pytlivyy frigate and Vasily Bykov patrol ship successfully destroyed the drones using their onboard weapons. It is worth noting that the MoD typically claims to thwart Ukrainian attacks, regardless of their actual outcome.

A Russian drone filmed a strike on a Ukrainian trainload of ammunition at the Mezhova railway station in the AFU-controlled Dnipropetrovsk region 70 km from the frontline. As a result of the strike a fire starts in a car followed by an explosion and secondary detonations of ammunition. It is a rather rare case of properly conducted reconnaissance by the Russian Armed Forces followed by a successful attack on a complex target in the deep rear.

Frontline Situation Update

Over the past week, the main fighting took place in the Robotyne-Verbove section of the frontline on the Zaporizhzhia axis. A video has surfaced showing Ukrainian forces near the village of Novopokrovka, south of Robotyne.

Ukraine's Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk reported that Ukrainian servicemen had managed to shoot down a Russian Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopter near Robotyne. The incident was confirmed by the pro-Russian Telegram channels Fighterbomber and Helicopterpilot [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] that specified that the navigator was killed, but the commander ejected and survived. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker project published a video showing the helicopter being hit, suggesting that a Swedish RBS-70 MANPADS was used. In addition, there was another video showing the Ka-52 flying in pair with a Mil Mi-28 attack helicopter when it was hit. More videos emerged showing the wreckage on the ground and the evacuation of the pilot-commander by a Russian Mil Mi-8.

The Washington Post has released an article citing insights from military analyst Rob Lee, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and sources within the US intelligence community. According to assessments provided by the US intelligence community, it is unlikely that the AFU will have been able to reach Melitopol by the end of 2023, and sever the land corridor to Crimea. Their projections suggest that Ukrainian forces may, at best, halt their advance approximately 10-15 km away from the city. Lee added that the AFU's offensive requires not only breaking through three lines of Russian defense but also maintaining their offensive capabilities. This is because the AFU will subsequently face the challenging task of retaking the heavily fortified town of Tokmak; and seizing large cities is exceptionally demanding. It is important to note that Melitopol holds significant importance for Russian forces, since it is a junction of several key roads and a railway. The article also cites General Mark Milley, who highlights the anticipated length and difficulty of this offensive phase. Nonetheless, the AFU has already inflicted substantial damage to the RuAF, rendering it incapable of launching offensive operations without undergoing mobilization.

Ukrainian forces continue to advance to the south of Urozhaine, in the vicinity of Velyka Novosilka along the South Donetsk direction. As reported by the prominent pro-Russian Telegram channel Rybar, Ukrainian naval infantry is currently engaged in an offensive aimed at Zavitne Bazhannya and is actively trying to make headway towards Staromlynivka.

Furthermore, Rybar claims that units of the 6th Combined Arms Army of the RuAF in the Kupiansk direction have reportedly partly encircled the village of Synkivka. This information has not been confirmed yet. Consequently, the AFU maintain control over the southern part of Synkivka, while other sections of the village are contested.

Fighting in the Avdiivka and Marinka directions continues, yet with no success on either side.

Western Assistance

The German new aid package for Ukraine includes two IRIS-T SLS Launchers with a range of 12 km (7.5 miles). Earlier, Germany transferred Ukraine IRIS-T SLM air defense systems with a range of up to 40 km (25 miles) and an altitude of up to 20 km (12.4 miles). IRIS-T SLS launchers are effective for countering Russian Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopters, which approach Ukrainian positions at a distance of approximately 10 km (6.2 miles) to employ 9K121 Vikhr air-launched anti-tank missile systems.

The United States has approved sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands as soon as pilot training is completed.

Mykola Urshalovych, Deputy Director of the Planning Department of the Main Directorate of the National Guard of Ukraine, reported that the Azov Brigade has resumed performing combat missions and is currently fighting in the area of Serebrianske Forestry west of Kreminna.

It is worth noting that in 2022, when the Azov Regiment was defending Mariupol and the Azovstal plant, many of its soldiers were captured. In September, the captured fighters were exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk [pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician, oligarch and a personal friend of Putin], while the Azov commanders were interned and sent to Turkey. They were returned to Ukraine on July 8, 2023 after Zelensky’s visit to Turkey. One of the commanders, Denys Prokopenko, was seen at the regiment’s training exercises in early August.

The Lefortovo Court of Moscow has taken Gene (Evgeny) Spector, an American citizen of Russian origin, into custody on suspicion of espionage. Spector was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Medpolymerprom and was initially arrested in February 2020 on suspicion of bribery. In September 2022, the Ostankino Court of Moscow sentenced him to 3.5 years in a maximum security penal colony. Why he was at large following the verdict remains unclear (one explanation could be that he had filed an appeal and was awaiting the decision).

Test models and prototypes of various military UAVs, which can be assembled in Russia from foreign components, were presented at the Army-2023 exhibition. In April, Putin called drones a promising industry, saying that in the future the volume of investments in this field could reach 1 trillion rubles. Consequently, we now see many companies presenting their developments.

The Washington Post has published an article on the Russia-based production of Iranian Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munitions in the Alabuga special economic zone. The Post obtained documents from an individual involved in the operation and found that the production keeps facing challenges over and over again, such as being behind schedule or having issues with copying various parts (almost 90% of components of the original Iranian drones are Western-made and available in the civilian market).

Experts have estimated that, by summer 2025, Russia would be able to produce by itself up to 6 thousand loitering munitions (about 250 a month on average). Earlier, based on the documents published by the Protocol and Razvorot media outlets, we estimated the production output to be 400 munitions a month or, with an expansion to three production lines, up to 700 a month.

Seven weeks ago we showed Iranian howitzer rounds used by the Russian military, which contained old Chinese projectiles.

Photos of brand-new Iranian manufactured rounds have been published. According to documentation, the projectile was manufactured and loaded with explosives in 2022, the fuse, gunpowder charge, cartridge case and primer were produced in 2023, with assembled rounds packaged in February 2023.

Vyacheslav Gladkov [governor of the Belgorod region] promoted the Radar application developed by the pro-government All-Russia People's Front movement. The app is designed for reporting on detected drones, explosions, rockets, or sabotage and reconnaissance groups. Similar applications have been used in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion.

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has drafted amendments to the law "On the Conduct of Investigations." While they do not provide for any new options for the process of investigation, they make the bureaucracy of it much easier. Getting access to telephone conversations and correspondence used to require a court decision, which was actually always positive, while now, should any threat to national security be perceived, no prior court sanction will be needed.