August 4, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 3-4, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Over the past week, combat activities continued along the frontline east of Robotyne on the Zaporizhzhia axis, but without much progress so far. Both sides continue striking each other's positions.

On the night of Aug. 4, residents of Novorossiysk reported hearing explosions and gunfire coming from the sea. Later, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed it had prevented an attack by maritime surface drones. The explosions occurred near the shoreline around the village of Myskhako, just south of Novorossiysk, and locals also reported "seeing a bright flash over the sea and explosions near the Caspian Pipeline Consortium" (CPC, an international oil pipeline system for delivering oil from western Kazakhstan to terminals on the Black Sea near the port of Novorossiysk).

To date, it has been the farthest known attack by USVs launched from the Ukrainian coast.

That same night, Ukrainian forces launched a loitering munition attack on Crimea. Residents of Feodosia, in the eastern part of Crimea, reported explosions, which were likely the result of anti-aircraft defense operations. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 13 fixed-wing drones were intercepted.

Following two consecutive loitering munition strikes by Ukrainian forces on the Moscow City, employees of the Ministry of Economic Development were ordered to work remotely.

On the night of Aug. 4, Russian forces hit Kherson. Preliminary reports indicate that a medical institution and a supermarket building were damaged, though no casualties were reported.

Russian federal media released a report on Russia’s Ministry of Defense Sergei Shoigu visiting a forward command post of the Group of Troops “Center” in the “special military operation” zone. He was first shown flying by helicopter together with General Sergey Rudskoy and, upon arrival, received a briefing and inspected a captured Swedish CV9040C infantry fighting vehicle and its munitions. We believe that the video was shot during the past week, as this infantry fighting vehicle was captured about a week ago, most likely very far from the frontline.

Before delving further into the issues faced by the AFU in their offensive planning, we would like to clarify that combined arms operations refer to joint operations by various service branches along a single section of the frontline. For example, reconnaissance units first investigate enemy positions and weaponry, and then artillery (e.g., targeting anti-tank weapons) and, if necessary, engineering and mine-clearing units do their job, followed by armed convoys and infantry moving into action and covering each other. The opposite approach would be, for instance, launching an attack with armored convoys and no air support.

Back in the Soviet era, the centralized command system, with its rigid vertical hierarchy, was established due to the lack of competent commanders on the ground, who could be entrusted with making operational decisions. This system is still alive in the RuAF, as the number of competent and proactive officers has significantly decreased over decades of negative selection. Newly formed AFU brigades also have issues with the quality of command staff.

The Lookout, a Norwegian milblogger, described how the "western" training of AFU units unfolds. New units are mostly composed of draftees, their training taking 4 to 6 weeks. This is a very short amount of time considering that on the frontline, they are tasked with breaking through fortification lines, where Russian soldiers, according to many experts, are fighting "by the book," despite a myriad of problems.

For comparison, in the Norwegian Army during peacetime, it takes six months from the start of a conscript's basic training to prepare a battalion for brigade-level operations.

As previously noted, the goal of Western training programs should ideally be to strengthen, improve and support the Ukrainian way of warfare, especially at the battalion level and above. Attempts to reform the AFU along the US (NATO) lines during wartime are unlikely to be effective.

A Ukrainian drone reconnaissance platoon soldier has described the training they received from American soldiers at a base in Germany (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Despite the fact that this training proved highly beneficial for soldiers of mechanized units, infantrymen and tank operators, as they were intensively trained in shooting and handling Western weaponry, aerial reconnaissance officers were also able to impart substantial new knowledge to their American counterparts. This is due to the fact that Ukrainian reconnaissance units utilize Chinese-made Mavic drones that can quickly be launched for situational assessment and fire correction. The US Army, however, lacks similar tactical drones, although they use much more powerful MQ9-Reaper or Global Hawk drones, and does not seem ready to adopt this new approach. Moreover, American soldiers were surprised that while they were teaching their Ukrainian counterparts to navigate using paper maps, with azimuths and landmarks, the Ukrainians shared how they use offline digital maps on tablets and phones during combat. While it is important to be able to navigate using paper maps, one cannot deny the impact of technological advancements. Even though the AFU has asked the Americans to modernize their program, the training continued following old manuals. It also came as a surprise to the instructors that many of those sent for training had already spent several months on the frontline.

This situation could be improved by involving Ukrainian officers in the development of training programs. However, given that combat is ongoing, this is not a feasible solution. Moreover, conducting training within Ukraine’s territory is extremely dangerous (cases of attacks on training grounds and barracks were recorded at the beginning of the full-scale invasion).

When discussing the lack of relevant experience among Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, parallels can be drawn with the appointment of RuAF generals to commanding posts who gained their combat experience in Syria, which is unlikely to significantly benefit them in this war.

Mobilization Update

According to Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council, 231,000 individuals have signed contracts with the Ministry of Defense between Jan. 3 and Aug. 3, 2023. This number surpasses the total number of Russian troops deployed on Feb. 23, 2022, which was estimated to be between 180,000 and 190,000 servicemen. To achieve this level of recruitment within seven months, an average of 1,500 individuals would need to sign contracts daily. However, there is no visible evidence to substantiate such a significant increase in new contract soldiers, such as training grounds with new recruits or mass movements of military convoys.

Last year, prior to the start of the mobilization process, an aggressive advertising campaign for short-term contracts led to the recruitment of 13,000 individuals. Considering that all contracts with the Russian MoD are now becoming open-ended, the figure of 231,000 does not seem realistic, even with former Wagner Group mercenaries and conscripts who are now eligible to sign contracts from their first day of service.

The Human Capital Development Agency of the Sakhalin region has launched an advertising campaign on Yandex, specifically targeting visitors from Kazakhstan. They are offered to sign a contract with the Russian MoD, with promises of a sign-up bonus of 495,000 rubles [$5,210], as well as a monthly salary of at least 190,000 rubles [$2,000] and other additional bonuses. This regional advertising effort suggests that the Sakhalin region is encountering challenges in meeting its recruitment targets.

On Aug. 2, Airborne Forces Day, the Ministry of Defense’s Zvezda TV channel published a video greeting from the commander of the Airborne Troops, General Mikhail Teplinsky. In his message, which was later removed from the channel’s website and Telegram channel, he proudly states that over 5,000 wounded paratroopers have returned to the frontline after treatment. Additionally, he notes that over 3,500 paratroopers have refused to leave forward positions, despite their injuries. Therefore, it appears that Teplinsky has inadvertently revealed the total number of paratroopers that have been wounded in the war, around 8,500 individuals. By adding an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 critically injured to that number, those with debilitating injuries, the total count of wounded paratroopers since the onset of the war reaches approximately 10,000. Given the typical wounded-to-killed ratio of 3 to 1 in the Russian Army, it can be inferred that over 3,000 paratroopers have been killed over the course of the invasion of Ukraine. These numbers align with findings published by Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet], BBC News Russian and volunteer researchers. Their latest tally, derived from open source data, determined that no fewer than 1,832 paratroopers had been killed as of July 30. According to these sources, the obituary data used for their study represents about half of all soldiers actually buried in Russian cemeteries, further substantiating the figures provided by Teplinsky.

It is worth noting that, in addition to losses of personnel, the Airborne Troops have also lost their reputation during the current invasion, as they stand out among other branches of the military for the number of civilian murders in the captured cities of Ukraine, including in Bucha.

This week, a series of arsons occurred at draft offices in various cities. Our team considers it highly unlikely that this could have been a coordinated action by the Federal Security Service (FSB). However, neither can we with certainty that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) or the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) initiated the campaign. It is possible that a non-state pro-Ukrainian group is behind it.

One consequence of these events was the suicide of a 76-year-old pensioner who attempted to set fire to a draft office in Vsevolozhsk. He failed to throw plastic bottles filled with an incendiary mixture at the building and was apprehended. After criminal charges were filed for attempted destruction of someone else's property, he was released under the obligation to appear. On Aug. 2, it was reported that he killed himself.

In Russia, attacks on people based on their appearance, especially unconventional haircuts or hair colors, have increased. In the past month, there have been at least three such incidents.

On July 9 in the city of Elektrostal, two individuals attacked a young man when he asked them for a cigarette. They did not like his green mohawk, which they shaved off along with a portion of his scalp. Both suspects were detained.

On Aug. 1 in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, three local residents attacked three 18-year-old men, triggered by one of the victims having bleached hair.

Also on Aug. 1 in the city of Kamensk-Uralsky [Sverdlovsk region], two men assaulted an 18-year-old girl with blue hair and attempted to drown her in a fountain. The girl's mother claimed that the attackers were Ukraine war veterans. Later, a report emerged about their arrest, stating that they were not involved in the "special military operation."

The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency news] Telegram channel analyzed data from government procurement contracts and found that companies associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin [owner of the Wagner Group], secured contracts with civilian organizations for no less than 2 billion rubles [$ 21,325,000] within a month after the rebellion. Information regarding Ministry of Defense procurement contracts is classified and inaccessible. For comparison, Putin stated that Concord [the company group, half owned by Prigozhin] earned 80 billion rubles [$832,450,000] from May 2022 to May 2023. Perhaps, maintaining government contracts with Prigozhin's structures is linked to Putin's interest in maintaining the Wagner Group in African countries.