August 25, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 24–25, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

On Aug. 24, the Special Forces of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine conducted an operation near the Tarkhankut Peninsula in Crimea. This comes shortly after our previous sitrep highlighting the destruction of an air defense system at the same location. According to Andrii Yusov, representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine, Ukrainian forces claimed to have inflicted losses on the opposing side, damaging four high-speed boats and reportedly eliminating 30 occupiers. However, no substantial visual evidence has emerged to confirm these claims, with only a Ukrainian flag being raised on land visible in video footage of the operation. The Baza Telegram channel reported that unknown individuals attacked the Olenivka Village camp near the Tarkhankut Peninsula overnight on Aug. 24, with no reported casualties.

Russian military bloggers have published a video, initially released by Dmitry Rogozin [Russian nationalist politician and former Director General of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos], and later referenced by pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov along with a map, allegedly showing a sizable column of 85 armored vehicles of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the Zaporizhzhia axis near the town of Orikhiv. These developments suggest a potential escalation of combat activities in the coming days.

New information has emerged about the mysterious landing of a Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopter in Poltava, which we covered in yesterday’s sitrep. First, there is a village called Poltava in the Kharkiv region, southwest of Kupiansk. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber appears to have mistaken it for the city bearing the same name in the Poltava region. This mistake was then repeated by journalist Yurii Butusov, and subsequently by our team. Second, the Helicopterpilot Telegram channel has published further details on this case, offering more insight into what actually occurred:

  • Helicopter crews are trained to navigate solely using maps and landmarks, without satellite navigation. Moreover, in this instance, the crew was already familiar with the route.
  • It has been noted that the commander and copilot collected all their belongings from their hotel prior to the flight, while the flight engineer only took provisions for the day. This is atypical behavior for flight crews.
  • Air defenses in the Shebekinsky district of the Belgorod region, along with border guards, spotted the helicopter heading towards Ukraine, but took no action. This has been attributed to the Mi-8’s IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) system being on.
  • The helicopter took off around 4 p.m. local time, and, according to Helicopterpilot’s sources, landed in Ohirtseve, Kharkiv region, about an hour later, having traveled approximately 165-170 kilometers (103-107 mi) by that point. A few days later, the Mi-8 was seen in the city of Poltava, Poltava region.
  • The commander’s fellow officers reported that he was open about having relatives fighting for the AFU. He had also expressed his reluctance to "fly over Ukrainian territory." Furthermore, there is now growing speculation that the airman might have been providing intelligence to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for the past six months.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Last Flight

Many foreign media outlets have reported on the crash of the Prigozhin plane. Referring to sources within the US government, The Financial Times stated that the plane was shot down by a missile from an air defense system. This information was also reported by Reuters. However, later clarifications stated that, according to the official Pentagon statement, there is no information to support this version (it is worth noting that there was no mention of arguments in favor of an explosive device either). On the contrary, according to Wall Street Journal sources, satellites capable of detecting the launch of a surface-to-air missile did not register any signals (data from these satellites helped confirm the downing of the Malaysian Boeing by a Russian Buk SAM system in 2014). This could suggest that the cause of the crash could have been an explosive device on board.

The Baza Telegram channel also stated that investigators are considering the explosion of a bomb in the service compartment in the tail of the aircraft as the main version (while not excluding the possibility of two explosive devices). In our view, an explosion in the tail area does not explain why there are marks on the wings left by prefabricated fragments contained in missile warheads, while the tail section fell relatively intact.

The Kremlin-aligned news outlet Mash reported that ammunition and weapons belonging, apparently, to Priogzhin's security, were found at the crash site.

The VChK-OGPU Telegram channel learned from the relatives of a killed flight attendant that she had allegedly informed potential buyers interested in the business jet (which was up for sale) about the date and time of the flight. She also helped organize an inspection of the plane, obtaining passes for them as if they were passengers. However, we cannot verify whether this is true or whether the provided screenshots are genuine.

Putin expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the jet crash and said that he had known Prigozhin since the early 90’s. He described Prigozhin as someone whose life had not been easy and who had committed serious mistakes, but nevertheless had been able to achieve objectives important both for himself and for the greater good.

Andrey Zakharov [Russian investigative journalist] drew attention to the phrase "had known Prigozhin since the early 90’s," since Putin had previously stated that he had first met Prigozhin in the early 2000’’s. Zakharov recollects that in the early 90’s Prigozhin was a petty trader in a street market in Saint Petersburg who was known to have sold a Zhiguli 2106 [Lada 1600 in export markets] car to Andrey Konstantinov, the future author of Bandit Petersburg [a popular Russian detective television series]. Later Prigozhin became a top executive within entities belonging to Mikhail Mirilashvili, an entrepreneur best known as the owner of several casinos in Saint Petersburg. At that time Putin was Vice-Mayor of Saint-Petersburg and Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee responsible for, among other things, issuing casino licenses. It was rumored that Roman Tsepov [Russian businessman and confidant to Putin suspected of criminal and corruption activity], who was a close protection officer for Putin’s family at the time, might have been collecting protection money: he was consequently formally contracted by several casinos to provide security services and eventually died a suspicious death.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov also expressed his condolences saying that Prigozhin had been an important state figure who had lately "either did not see, or chose not to see the full picture of developments in the country" and "put his own ambitions ahead of matters of primary importance to the country."

RFE/RL's Belarus Service has released satellite images of the Wagner Group camp in the village of Tsel dating Aug. 23 and compared them to earlier ones, revealing a continued reduction in the number of tents in the camp. The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project concluded that as of Aug. 15, only a tenth of the tents had been dismantled, while by Aug. 23, 101 out of the 273 tents had been taken down (roughly a third of the entire field camp). This suggests that the camp may have shrunk by approximately 2,000 people. Still, the amount of equipment has remained largely unchanged, and there have been no indications of mass movements of Wagner Group members, such as bus convoys or special flights to Africa. The fate of the mercenaries and their camp in Belarus remains uncertain. Additionally, Belarusian Hajun notes that recently, the topic of training Belarusian military personnel has disappeared from local propaganda media. The last report on mercenaries sharing their "unique combat experience" was published on July 30, nearly a month ago.

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

On the night of Aug. 24, ten people were injured as a result of a Russian missile attack on Dnipro.

That same night, Ukrainian forces shelled Donetsk with cluster munitions. Photos from the scene show the typical exploding marks of submunitions on the ground and their fragments. There are also videos taken at night with distinctive explosion sounds. No casualties have been reported.

On Aug. 24, during a Russian artillery strike on Kurakhove in the Donetsk region (slightly west of Marinka), several shops were hit. As a result, four women were injured, one of them was rescued from under the rubble.

Ukrainian Telegram channels have published videos presumably filmed by a Russian serviceman near the town of Tokmak in the Zaporizhzhia region. The videos are claimed to show "strikes on the command post and the location of military equipment belonging to a unit of the 58th Combined Arms Army." Judging by the serviceman’s comments that a BTR APC was also hit, one can conclude that a certain military facility was indeed attacked. However, obituaries for senior officers are needed to confirm the hit on the command post.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, on the night of Aug. 25 the territory of Crimea was attacked with 42 UAVs, and all of which were shot down or suppressed by means of electronic warfare. Yet, there were no videos published or other signs confirming such a large-scale raid. The interception of an S-200 SAM system modified missile by air defenses (in the vicinity of the Shaikovka military airfield) over the Kaluga region is also reported. In addition, nighttime videos filmed by eyewitnesses were published showing explosions in the sky.

The Krasnoyarsk Garrison Military Court sentenced private Drigota to six days in a guardhouse for bringing an iPhone into the military base. The court expressed concerns that such a device could collect and disseminate audio, photo, video and location data. The soldier was found guilty of a "serious disciplinary offense." Previously, we had not encountered cases where such matters reached the court, instead of being resolved on the spot by a commanding officer (it is common in the army for prohibited smartphones to be nailed in prominent places).

Western Assistance

Norwegian TV channel TV2, citing multiple sources, reports that Norway is planning to donate F-16 fighter aircraft to Kyiv.

During a briefing, Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder stated that Ukrainian pilots will begin training to operate F-16 fighter aircraft in the United States in October. In September, they will undergo English language courses at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center in Texas, followed by pilot training on F-16s at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona. According to US specialists, training a new F-16 pilot from scratch takes about nine months, while retraining an experienced pilot takes five months.

Several dozen aircraft, especially if equipped with long-range weaponry, represent a substantial force that could pose a serious challenge to Russia (especially with proper coordination between the Ukrainian Air Force and other military branches).

The Ukrainian media outlet Militarny published information about a new development from Ukraine's military-industrial complex—the Perun loitering munition. Similar to the Lancet kamikaze drone used by Russian forces, it is equipped with an electric motor, making it fairly quiet. Since the Lancet has proven to be effective, the introduction of similar equipment in Ukraine could prove very useful.

President of Estonia Alar Karis has demanded explanations from Prime Minister Kaja Kallas regarding the scandal surrounding her spouse's business activities, as he has ties with Russia. ERR [Estonian Public Broadcasting] previously uncovered that Kallas' husband Arvo Hallik owns a stake in the Stark Logistics transport company, which is involved in delivering goods from Russia to Estonia, and Kaja Kallas had provided financial assistance to her husband's company. It is worth noting that she had previously advocated for banning voting in municipal elections for Russians and Belarusians and had called for halting visa issuance to Russians, stating that "visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right."