August 22, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 18-22, 2023 (as of 9 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

Incoming reports indicate that at least the northern part of Robotyne, in the Orikhiv direction, is now under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Intense fighting is underway in the central part of the village, while in the southern part both sides are striking each other’s positions. Although some Ukrainian sources are reporting that the entire village is under AFU control, we have not yet seen evidence of this.

A striking example of the challenges of mine-clearing encountered by the Ukrainians in their offensive is this photograph of a minefield. Eight mines have been placed in a small area of 1 to 2 square meters, with anti-personnel mines set up next to an anti-tank mine as an anti-sapper trap.

Institute for the Study of War analysts believe that since Ukrainian forces have already crossed the first lines of dense Russian minefields, their advance will henceforth proceed at a quicker pace. We do not fully agree with this assessment. Retreating Russian forces are able to continue laying mines in new areas, albeit less effectively, further complicating Ukrainian advances with time-consuming mine-clearing operations.

According to the occupation authorities of Donetsk, on Aug. 18, three utility workers were killed as a result of the explosion of an unexploded cluster submunition. It is not clear if the fragment shown in the photo is actually part of it. Such incidents are not very common—much more often civilians are killed or injured by landmines.

Russian federal media and the Russian Ministry of Defense Telegram channel published a video stating that the Russian Armed Forces had mopped-up the Ukrainian bridgehead near the village of Kozachi Laheri in the Kherson region on the left bank of the Dnipro river. It is challenging to verify the footage as it was filmed in a wooded area on the river bank. One can also see dead Ukrainian soldiers there, apparently killed as a result of mortar strikes, which forced the AFU to leave these positions and return to the right bank. In our opinion, the AFU may soon repeat their attacks in the same or another place as they are mainly aimed at disturbing the enemy.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels published a video allegedly filmed in Synkivka in the Kupiansk direction in order to prove it had been captured by the RuAF. However, the video was actually filmed in the Russia-controlled village of Voronove, located 100 km from Synkivka in the Luhansk region.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

Both sides continue daily artillery strikes. According to the information available to us, almost all of these attacks constitute war crimes as the photographs of their aftermath show no signs of military facilities. The city of Kherson and the Kharkiv region, as well as other border regions are attacked by the RuAF causing civilian casualties, while the city of Donetsk and the Donetsk region, occupied by Russia, are regularly shelled by the AFU.

Today, we will only cover the most egregious tragedy of recent days, the Aug. 19 missile attack by Russian forces on a drama theater in Chernihiv where an unmanned aerial vehicle expo approved by the Chernihiv regional military administration, was taking place. Despite claims that the event was affiliated with the Brave1 defense technology cluster, there are no verified accounts of the military being present there. Even if they were there, the strike is undoubtedly a war crime since it occurred during the daytime and targeted a civilian facility in the city center with a significant number of civilians present. The military advantage gained from such a strike is completely disproportionate to the threat posed to them. The number of civilian casualties has reached 181, 7 of whom were killed. Many potential additional casualties were avoided thanks to the robust structure of the theater building and a timely air-raid alert that allowed time for the majority of the visitors to reach a bomb shelter.

It is unwise to conduct such events near the frontline (in this case, about 80 km/50 miles away) given that Russian forces have been known to target any object that could even remotely be considered as associated with the AFU.

Ukrainian UAVs continue striking various facilities on Russian territory. During the night of Aug. 22, two drones were shot down near the town of Krasnogorsk and the village of Chastsy in the Moscow region. Debris from one of the drones damaged the windows of a high-rise building and nearby parked cars.

Higher-resolution videos of guard booths on the rooftops of residential buildings in Moscow and the Moscow region have emerged. According to the person recording the video, individuals with anti-drone rifles are on duty in these booths throughout the night. We have significant doubts about the effectiveness of such measures.

A video has emerged clearly showing breach in the hull of the Russian Sig chemical/oil tanker (caused during the night of Aug. 5 by a Ukrainian maritime surface drone). The dimensions of the breach are approximately 8 by 8 meters, with the engine compartment severely damaged. It is likely that the fact that a significant portion of the breach is at or above the waterline saved the tanker from sinking.

On Aug. 19, an attack was carried out by drones on the military airfield in Soltsy, Novgorod region. A Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber was destroyed (the Ministry of Defense only acknowledged partial damage).

An interview with the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vasyl Maliuk was published, in which he explained, among other things, how the attack on the Crimean Bridge in October 2022 unfolded, resulting in the deaths of five civilians. Steel cylindrical containers with RDX were camouflaged as rolls of packaging film, with the film’s thickness chosen to evade detection by scanners. Additionally, it is claimed that the SBU somehow “circumvented” jammers that disrupt GPS coordinates. According to Maliuk, many Russians “who were engaged in their usual activity—smuggling” were used in the operation in an unwitting fashion. While collateral damage can occur when targeting military objectives, it's essential, in our view, to prioritize the protection of civilians rather than involving them in suicide missions.

Ex-convicts recruited by the Wagner Group and released in exchange for their participation in the war keep committing brutal crimes after returning from the frontline. Another such case took place in the Kirov region, where an ex-Wagner fighter is now wanted. In December 2020, A. Kostromin, a 24-year-old employee of the Federal Penitentiary Service, killed a young woman with a hammer out of jealousy and tried to escape but was caught and convicted of murder. He had not served even a fifth of his sentence when he enlisted in the Wagner Group and went to the war. Recently, he came back to his home village, where he became the suspect of another crime—according to the investigation, Kostromin brutally assaulted and then raped a 26-year-old woman on Aug. 18. She is now in serious condition in intensive care.

A video has emerged showing Prigozhin saying that the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa are continuing and announcing that recruitment has been resumed. It is not quite clear to us why additional recruitment has to be announced when there should be a sizable number of mercenaries in reserve.

Western Assistance

Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukrainian pilots have initiated test trials of the Swedish Gripen multirole fighter aircraft.

Furthermore, Zelenskyy revealed plans for Ukraine to receive 42 F-16 fighter aircraft following the completion of pilot and engineer training. Spokesman of the Air Force Command of the AFU Yurii Ihnat, had previously emphasized the need for Ukraine to secure 128 fighter aircraft to overhaul its aging Soviet-era air fleet and establish air superiority.

At the moment, two countries have received permission to transfer their F-16 fighter aircraft: the Netherlands and Denmark. According to Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen, Denmark hopes to deliver the first six fighters to Ukraine around New Year's Eve, eight more during 2024 and five more in 2025.

It became known that about 200 Ukrainian soldiers have almost completed training on M1 Abrams tanks in Germany, but at the request of Kyiv, they will remain at a training range and will maintain their skills until the tanks are ready to be sent to Ukraine. It is worth noting that the AFU will not be supplied the same tanks with which the training was conducted.