August 28, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 25–28, 2023 (as of 11:30 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

No news has emerged about a sizable column of 85 armored vehicles of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the Zaporizhzhia axis near the town of Orikhiv. Kirill Fyodorov, a pro-Russian milblogger, speculates that since a concentrated offensive in the Orikhiv direction did not materialize, the vehicles might have been dispersed throughout that area.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense, confirmed that Robotyne in the Orikhiv direction has been liberated, and the AFU are advancing toward Novoprokopivka and Ocheretuvate.

Russian sources have released videos depicting drone strikes on Ukrainian forces east of Novoprokopivka, where the AFU are attempting to expand their flanks eastward towards the village of Verbove and westward towards the village of Kopani. Gaining an expanded foothold is crucial to avoid potential encirclement during attacks on the AFU's flanks.

A video of mine-clearing operations near Pryiutne and Levadne on the Zaporizhzhia axis has been published. Ukrainian HMMWVs equipped with mine-clearing systems, possibly M58 MICLIC, are creating pathways by using line charges to detonate mines. This clearance technique aids in swiftly opening passages, but also makes it easier for Russian artillery to target them, as mine detonations cover the ground with smoke and debris.

After the liberation of Robotyne, military analysts and journalists widely discuss whether the AFU have breached the first line of Russian defense. Experts disagree on what actually constitutes the term. Some of them believe that the Russian fortifications (trenches) which Ukrainian forces have already crossed in the Orikhiv direction in the area of Robotyne should be considered the first line of Russian defense. OSINT analyst Def Mon marked them in yellow on his map. However, others claim that it is the so-called Surovikin line [named after ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces, Deputy Commander (and former Commander) of Russia's Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin], which goes behind Novoprokopivka, as well as through Shyroke, Chystopillia and Verbove. The AFU has only recently reached these fortifications consisting of anti-tank ditches, rows of concrete pyramids and trenches for infantry with various weapons. In addition, this area is heavily mined. Thus, although the AFU have overcome the very first trenches of the RuAF, they are only approaching the first substantial line of defense, which means that in the near future, they will face an even more challenging task.

In the coming months, Western supplies capable of significantly impacting the pace of the offensive will be limited: GLSDB munitions and F-16 fighter aircraft will be delivered only by the end of the year, M1 Abrams tanks will not be a game changer on the battlefield, and the supply of long-range ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles is still out of the question.

Therefore, we deem the likelihood of the AFU reaching Melitopol this year exceedingly low, unless a narrow corridor is liberated, which can be easily cut by Russian forces. A more plausible strategy involves expanding the current active combat zone towards the villages of Kopani (to Vasylivka) and Verbove up to the "Surovikin line" near Novoprokopivka. This approach might be helpful in the transition to the next stage of the offensive.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, met with several European and American generals at a location on the Ukrainian-Polish border to discuss changes in AFU tactics and strategy. The results of the talks are not yet known. The Guardian has published an article covering the meeting.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

During the night of Aug. 28, the village Hoholeve in the Poltava region came under artillery attack. An oil mill was struck where two people were killed and five wounded.

On Aug. 25, a woman was killed as a result of a cluster munition attack on the Petrovskyi district of Donetsk. A video shows a typical aftermath of exploding submunitions with shrapnel fanning out.

Two L-39 military training aircraft collided on the same day above the Zhytomyr region while on an unspecified military mission. Three fighter pilots were killed: Andrii Pilshchykov (call sign Juice, featured in several Western publications), Vyacheslav Minka and Serhiy Prokazin.

Andrii Pilshchykov, call sign Juice.

To ease labor shortage, Putin directed the government to lift restrictions on employing underage labor. Enterprises who hire underage workers will receive incentives. According to the Gaydar Institute, the labor shortage at Russian factories following the mobilization reached a peak not seen since 1996: 42% of enterprises complain of inability to fill positions. The Industry and Trade Ministry estimates that the economy needs 660 thousand additional workers. The deputy head of the ministry states that the labor shortage is exhausted both "locally and strategically."

We continue covering the most outrageous cases of former convicts pardoned after a stint with the Wagner Group returning home before completing their sentences.

In Mytishchi, Ruslan Bakiev, 42, call sign Pauk [Spider], has been detained under suspicion of conspiring to kidnap a child. Before joining the Wagner Group, Bakiev was serving a 24-year sentence at a penal colony for a series of kidnapping children for ransom in the Samara region.

Also confirmed is the pardon of the mercenary Vladislav Korobenkov convicted of rape and murder of Maria Nechetnaya, 19.

Residents of the village of Pervomaiske in Crimea created a petition demanding the Russian military leadership to remove Russian soldiers from abandoned buildings near where civilians live, as this puts them in danger and could lead to casualties.

Russian soldiers stationed at the frontline recorded an appeal to Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov and Chairman of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin demanding the closure of a landfill in the village of Poltavskaya, Krasnoarmeysky district, in the Krasnodar region. The appeal states that while they are "bleeding on the war," their wives, children and parents are "poisoned and killed" in their homeland, as poison from the landfill ground gets into the rivers and canals of the village, as well as rice plantations. As a result, almost every family allegedly has cancer patients. The fighters threaten that if this problem is not resolved, they will return to their homeland and join the ranks of those who want to close this dump (previous protests included blocking roads). The appeal was effective, and Bastrykin instructed the relevant departments to sort out the situation.

In an article titled All The Evidence Points To Kyiv, Der Spiegel discusses the findings of the investigation into the Nord Stream gas pipelines explosions. News agency’s sources in German police and the Prosecutor's Office reported that the investigators were practically fully convinced that Ukraine was behind the attack. Charges could be filed before the end of the year.

The article lists the facts pointing to the involvement of Ukraine. Traces of octogen, an explosive that also works underwater, were found on the rented yacht called Andromeda used in the attack. It is believed that less than 100 kg of explosives were used. On Sept. 6, the Andromeda with six saboteurs (five men and a woman) onboard left the German city of Rostock. The charter fee was covered by the Polish travel agency Feeria Lwowa, a company with no website or phone number. The company is headed by a 54-year-old woman named Nataliia A. from Kyiv. When the journalists called her number, she hung up, and a few days later a man who introduced himself as a Ukrainian police officer called back from the same number and threatened the journalists with stalking charges. Based on this the authors of the article conclude that Feeria Lwowa is a shell company.

Moreover, the rental was booked using a Romanian passport issued to a person who, according to him, has not used it since 2019. It is likely that using this passport’s data, a fake passport was issued in the name of Dnipro resident Valery Kolesnik.

The article also provides the reasoning as to why only three pipelines were blown up instead of all four: at such a depth, it is extremely dark and divers could have accidentally attached two sets of explosives to the same pipeline.

According to an anonymous official, in addition to the information listed in the article, the investigators have a lot of additional evidence that remains classified. It is not yet clear what the official German reaction will be. On the one hand, Germany cannot turn a blind eye to such a high-profile case, considering it is an attempt on homeland security, and on the other hand, Germany cannot simply cease its support for Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Last Flight

Genetic testing has confirmed that the identities of all ten victims of the plane crash correspond to the list on the flight manifest, and Yevgeny Prigozhin [owner of the Wagner Group] was on board the plane and died in the crash.

Various aviation experts interviewed by The Wall Street Journal have analyzed all available footage of Prigozhin's plane crash and concluded that it was caused by an explosion on board. In their opinion, the cloud visible in one of the videos appears to be a trail from a detonated bomb as it is too short to be a contrail from a missile.

Additionally, the experts suggest that the perforations on the wreckage were not caused by prefabricated fragments contained in missile warheads, but rather resulted from nearby debris impacting it during the crash. Given the poor quality of the video, it is hard to make a definitive conclusion and challenge this point.

It is also stated that after the explosion, the plane’s fuselage had been falling intact, while in case of a missile hit the damage would have been much greater. However, we consider the separation of both the wing and the tail section to be significant damage.

The experts believe that the trail of white smoke that followed the falling plane was left by leaking fuel and say that if the plane had been shot down by a missile, the fuel would have ignited.

Based on the information above, the experts have concluded that most likely the cause of the crash was the explosion of a bomb planted in the tail section of the plane. Unfortunately, they have not commented on the accounts of witnesses who reported hearing several bangs, which for us strongly supports the theory of an anti-aircraft missile. However, an anonymous US government official told the Wall Street Journal that special satellites did not detect the launch of a surface-to-air missile, providing a strong argument against the missile theory. Unfortunately, there is not enough data available to draw definitive conclusions about the cause of the crash.