August 23, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 22–23, 2023 (as of 11 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

In the Orikhiv direction, Ukrainian forces are now engaged in combat in the central-eastern part of Robotyne and are striking Russian positions, including with Bradley IFVs. Additionally, footage has emerged showing the evacuation of civilians from the village. Robotyne holds strategic significance as once under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, it will pave the way for further advances towards Tokmak—a key logistical hub for the Russian Armed Forces. In turn, the capture of Tokmak would open a path towards Melitopol and Crimea, severing the land-bridge running from Russia to Crimea along the Ukrainian Sea of Azov coast.

Another significant area of operations is the frontline sector around Velyka Novosilka, in the South Donetsk direction. There, Ukrainians forces are advancing from Urozhaine towards Zavitne Bazhannya and Staromlynivka. Russia’s main fortified lines are reportedly situated near Staromlynivka, according to pro-Russian sources.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

On the night of Aug. 23 Ukrainian drones attacked Moscow once again. According to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, one drone was suppressed by means of Electronic Warfare, and two more were shot down: their debris fell in the Mozhaisky district of the Moscow region and damaged a building in the town of Khimki. The UAV, which is said to have lost control because of EW, crashed into a building under construction in Moscow City, damaging its glazing (the blast also blew out the windows in a nearby residential building).

The Kommersant media outlet, citing sources, reported that one of the two drones, that attacked the Moscow region on the night of Aug. 22, was suppressed with an anti-drone gun presumably, from a booth installed on the roof of a residential building in Krasnogorsk (earlier, some of them had been photographed in Krasnogorsk). However, it remains unclear why the drone exploded in the air, as such guns are EW weapons that suppress, but do not destroy drones like air defenses, e.g. the Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system. Judging by the available nighttime video, it is unclear whether the drone fell to the ground (which would be logical if it had been suppressed with EW) or exploded while flying at low altitude.

RIA Novosti [Russian state-owned news agency] reported the resignation of Army General Sergey Surovikin from the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. He has been replaced by Colonel General Viktor Afzalov. It is likely that Surovikin has also lost his position as commander of the "special military operation," although this has not been directly stated. We believe that Surovikin may be sent to Syria in the future or appointed to another relatively unimportant position. There is currently no news about the fate of Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, who previously oversaw the work of the Wagner Group.

Mark Krutov, editor of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service, published satellite images from Planet of the Soltsy airfield in the Novgorod region taken on Aug. 16 and 21 (the airfield was attacked on Aug. 19). The images show the impact site where one of the aircraft burned, and as we expected, the rest of the Tu-22M3 aircraft have been relocated, which is likely to complicate logistics for the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed the detection and destruction by a RuAF aircraft of a high-speed US-made Willard Sea Force military boat with an AFU landing group on board in the Black Sea, east of Snake Island. The video indeed shows the aircraft firing at the boat with its cannon, but there are no visible impacts. According to a representative of the Ukrainian Navy, there was no incident involving the sinking of a Ukrainian boat near Snake Island, and there were no casualties among personnel.

Labor shortage has worsened in Russian regions. In particular, Governor of Russia's constituent Republic of Bashkortostan Radiy Khabirov states that local enterprises have over 50,000 vacancies. We link this issue directly to mobilization, including the ongoing covert one, as Bashkortostan has become one of the leading Russian regions in terms of volunteer fighters sent to war. The Bashkortostan authorities have already formed seven named battalions as well as the Bashkortostan Volunteer Unit.

An obituary of Colonel Vladimir Kochetkov, commander of the 1232nd Motorized Rifle Regiment, has surfaced. It is worth noting that this regiment consists of mobilized men—perhaps Kochetkov himself was also mobilized. This makes him the fifth commander of a mobilized unit to be killed. This, along with the story of Major Tomov, the commander of the 1822nd Battalion, who was captured near the village of Kozachi Laheri, reveals a great deal about the effectiveness of the Russian Army command.

Reddit users have identified the customized assault rifle that appeared in the recent video with Yevgeny Prigozhin [owner of the Wagner Group]. It turned out to not be a Russian AK 100 series, but a rather rare East German MPi-KMS-K.

Western Assistance

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh, answering questions from journalists, said that before obtaining full approval for the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft, Ukraine must fulfill certain requirements. In particular, this includes comprehensive English language training not only for pilots but also for ground personnel responsible for aircraft maintenance as well as ensuring logistics. She also commented on the training of Ukrainian pilots, emphasizing that if European countries that were ready to train Ukrainian pilots lacked resources, then the United States would be ready to participate in the training.

In the Bosporus Strait, a cargo ship was filmed transporting new FPB 98 MKI patrol boats manufactured in France for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. This raises the question of how the boats will get to Ukraine, and whether the Black Sea Fleet of Russia will try to prevent this.

The Washington Post published an article about American cluster munitions transferred to Ukraine. According to some Ukrainian soldiers, they are already showing their effectiveness. For example, in the Kharkiv region, in the Kupiansk and Liman directions, these munitions have helped to slow down the advance of Russian forces, since cluster munition strikes against advancing infantry are particularly effective. Ukrainian soldiers also said that they initially use conventional high-explosive fragmentation munitions to drive Russian soldiers out of trenches, and then fire cluster munitions at them, covering a vast area.

In our opinion, this article could show Western audiences that the AFU really needed cluster munitions and that their use only on military targets is carefully controlled. The cases of their use in Donetsk are not covered in the article, but despite such episodes of their indiscriminate use, we continue to support the supply of as many weapons as possible to Ukraine, including cluster munitions, since we see no other way to end the war and thereby stop civilian deaths, except through the military victory of Ukraine.

Eight Ukrainian pilots have staаrted training to operate F-16 aircraft in Denmark, and 65 servicemen have arrived at a military base in Skrüdstrup to be trained in aircraft maintenance.

Bulgarian Defense Minister Todor Tagarev said that Bulgaria will supply Ukraine with 100 armored vehicles in the fall. Probably, he was talking about old Soviet BTR-60PB armored personnel carriers, but as we have repeatedly pointed out, any means of mechanization are better than having none at all.

Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet] published a large article analyzing the current situation on the frontline and describing the prospects for this war. In general, we agree with what was written, however, we would like to add a couple of comments.

As many Western military analysts note, all 13 trained Ukrainian brigades are already participating in the offensive in one way or another. It is impossible to determine from open data whether these brigades are participating as a whole or as separate units, and whether they are substituting for previously spotted brigades or operating simultaneously with them. Therefore, we cannot accept the assertion that all of Ukraine's available forces are already engaged in the war and that there are no reserves left.

We also do not fully agree with the statement that the Wagner Group showed relatively effective territory capture tactics last winter and this spring, which required a large number of soldiers capable of getting close to enemy positions without heavy equipment and then storming these positions, requiring a lot of ammunition and artillery to support such attacks. In our opinion, it is incorrect to compare the urban fighting that was widespread during the capture of Bakhmut with an offensive through mined fields under helicopter and artillery fire.

In general, according to the authors of the article, the war will again come to a standstill, with the most likely scenario being that the AFU while managing to push аpast parts of the Russian defenses, will ultimately not be able to break through in the south; and the RuAF, in turn, will not make significant progress in the north. At the same time, events like mobilization in Russia or the supply of new types of long-range weapons to Ukraine can greatly alter the course of the war.

This article also argues that a war of attrition could prove to be more successful for the AFU than an attempt at a deep breakthrough transitioning to maneuver operations as was done during the Izyum operation in the fall of 2022, when the AFU were able to quickly liberate a significant part of the Kharkiv region.

The New Yorker has published an article on Elon Musk, providing an in-depth account of this past year’s events when he refused to extend Starlink communication services to Ukraine.

Musk was growing increasingly uneasy with the fact that his technology was being used for warfare. Consequently, in the fall, he notified the Pentagon that SpaceX was not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund existing terminals. Following this, he publicly asserted that Putin "wants peace" and began advocating for negotiations. Musk tweeted a proposal for his own peace plan, which granted Russia control of Crimea and entailed Ukraine's retention of neutral status. According to sources within the Pentagon, preceding the plan's release, Musk regularly engaged in consultations with the Kremlin and spoke with Putin personally. Subsequently, both Musk and Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President's spokesperson, denied these negotiations ever took place. Following discussions between the White House, Pentagon officials and Musk, he continued to supply communication for the Ukrainian military. This June, the US Department of Defense announced that it had reached a deal with SpaceX.

The publication labels Elon Musk as a de facto unelected official, given that the United States' space programs are now entirely reliant on SpaceX. Musk’s influence has rendered him an unavoidable figure for the US administration.