August 3, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 2-3, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

Photos have emerged of the aftermath of a strike on the port of Izmail in the early hours of Aug. 2 which damaged the port terminal, the building of the Danube shipping company and an elevator, along with starting a fire at a granary. There is no information of any military targets other than an oil storage facility having been hit.

Earlier reports indicated that three commercial ships had allegedly broken the maritime blockade, however, this information has turned out to be false. Still, according to online trackers, one commercial ship did head up the Danube towards the port of Izmail. Nevertheless now, after the strike, the ship is unlikely to be able to follow such a dangerous route. It cannot be excluded that the aim of the attack was to warn other countries of the danger of visiting Ukrainian ports outside the framework of the "grain deal."

The Russian Ministry of Defense has published new restrictions concerning navigation in the Strait of Kerch and released a map indicating that it is a temporarily dangerous zone. Now ships can follow this route exclusively in the daytime and only within the bounds of navigation channels and recommended transit routes or towards ports in the strait. These measures are, most likely, motivated by the imperative to protect the Kerch bridge against sea drones attack.

Mobilization Update

Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] has counted 30 attempted arson attacks on draft offices over the last five days, July 29 to Aug. 2. Journalists have drawn a diagram showing that the previous peak in arson attacks was seen in late September 2022, after the mobilization started. The attackers have mostly been elderly people. The absolute majority of the attacks of the last five days was provoked by phone scammers, who used various pretexts to convince people to carry out the attacks. In some cases, they posed as law enforcement, and told people that there was a criminal in the draft office.

Criminal charges qualified as "willful destruction of property" and "disorderly conduct" have been brought in 10 out of 30 cases. Note that it is a common practice in Russia to first bring relatively lenient charges and upgrade them to more serious ones, if necessary, before submitting the case to the court.

Several media outlets are reporting that assault rifles and other weapons have been distributed to Territorial Defense Forces in the Kursk and Belgorod regions. However, according to videos, fighters were given handguns and Saiga MK semi-automatic hunting rifles, which, to a layperson, resemble Kalashnikov assault rifles. This type of carbine can be obtained with a hunting license; it is not an automatic weapon, it can only fire single shots. The main difference is the safety-fire selector: a carbine has a two-position safety, safe and single-shot, while an assault rifle also has a third position, the burst mode. We noticed what appears to be an assault rifle in one of the photos published by Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, but it is too early to conclude how many assault rifles might have been given to the Territorial Defense Forces. Moreover, not everyone even received rifles: for instance, in the Kursk region, only 300 weapons were purchased for several thousand people. Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that the munition was distributed in accordance with the law and the authorities will be able to control it.

Neither semi-automatic nor assault rifles will enable militiamen to repulse attacks by Russian Volunteer Corps fighters who have armored vehicles. However, these light small arms can be useful for countering marauders or self-defense.

On July 15, during a raid by a sabotage and reconnaissance group into Russian border territory (when a Russian Ural military truck was ambushed, presumably, by a Chechen volunteer unit fighting for the AFU), a conscript from Ryazan was killed. This information emerged thanks to a comment on a post announcing his funeral on the VKontakte social network. It took over two weeks to send his body home back to his family.

In recent days, there have been several murders committed by Ukraine war veterans.

The first notable incident occurred in Vladimir on July 31. A man entered a bar and, according to eyewitnesses, began to pester the customers with the words: "You are sitting here resting, while there...", then he approached a patron and stabbed him in the throat, resulting in a rapid death. The attacker, 43-year-old Aleksey Demeshchenko, was later detained. He used to be a volunteer fighter, was wounded, and in the fall of 2022, came to Vladimir for treatment. It is unclear whether Demeshchenko and the victim had known each other before. Demeshchenko has been charged with murder and placed in detention for two months.

Another murder took place on the night of Aug. 1 in the village of Derevyannoe, Prionezhsky district of Karelia [Russia’s constituent republic]. Firefighters received a report of fires in two houses. After extinguishing the fire, they discovered the bodies of five men and one woman with stab wounds. Shortly after, the police detained two suspects, who had previous criminal records and had served sentences in a penal colony. One of them, Igor Sofonov, had been imprisoned on charges of murder, theft, robbery and possession of drugs. He was probably recruited by the Wagner Group from the colony, fought, was wounded, and returned home in the spring of 2023. During the hearing to determine the pretrial restrictions, Sofonov emphasized his military affiliation and responded to the judge's questions with, "Yes, ma’am."

A photo of a Wagner Group mercenary allegedly standing in front of the border pillar of Poland has been widely circulating online. The man in the photo shows a gesture that many associate with mercenaries, specifically the Wagner Group. In fact, the Shaka sign is a Hawaiian greeting that means "everything is fine", "relax" and has become widespread in many subcultures: surfers, skydivers and also among soldiers of different countries. The photo turned out to have been edited, specifically, a military insignia was replaced. The original photo depicts a Polish soldier or border guard.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty obtained satellite images of the Repishcha training ground near Asipovichy taken on July 31. This training ground is located 15 km from the main Wagner Group camp in the village of Tsel. The images from the Planet Labs service reveal ongoing construction work to erect various fortifications, and possibly dugout shelters, with cars, minibuses and bulldozers visible on site.

A video showing a possible Lancet kamikaze drone strike on another IRIS-T launcher has emerged. As we do not see the impact itself and the effects of the strike on the vehicle, it’s impossible to definitively say whether it was successful. Still, it is somewhat surprising that the air defense system allowed the reconnaissance drone filming the video to fly overhead.

The New York Times has published an article shedding light on a notable shift in the tactics employed by Western-trained military units. According to the piece, the Ukrainian Army has for now set aside US fighting methods and reverted to the tactics it knows best. Biden administration officials had hoped the nine Western-trained brigades, some 36,000 troops, would show that the American way of warfare was superior to the Russian approach. While the Russians have a rigidly centralized command structure, the Americans taught the Ukrainians to empower senior enlisted soldiers to make quick decisions on the battlefield and to deploy combined arms tactics—synchronized attacks by infantry, armor and artillery forces.

The newspaper highlights several instances where these Western-trained units did not perform as expected, according to US officials and independent analysts. One unit delayed a nighttime attack until dawn, losing its advantage. Subsequently, Ukrainian military commanders have changed tactics, focusing on wearing down Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles.

It is worth noting that photo and video reports documenting the training of Ukrainian troops in the West have, thus far, mainly depicted exercises resembling police special operations: disembarking from armored vehicles in low-rise urban environments, storming buildings and floor-by-floor mopping-up operations. Yet, we have seen very little evidence of comprehensive combined arms training, or exercises tailored to confront the unique challenges of the current war, such as extensive minefields and the widespread use of drones.

Whilst American war tactics typically aim for complete dominance in the air and on the ground, in this war, both sides appear to be more or less evenly matched. In recent weeks, the Ukrainians seem to have adopted a tactic of artillery and missile strikes on military depots and command posts, supplemented by sporadic sorties of military vehicles, involving small groups of IFVs and tanks.