August 31, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 30–31, 2023 (as of 8:30 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

A video from the Zaporizhzhia axis has emerged on pro-Russian Telegram channels, purportedly showing a group of Ukrainian soldiers moving through forest lines and coming under enemy fire. The quality of the footage, captured from a Russian drone, does not allow for definitive confirmation that the troops depicted in the video are indeed members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, the footage has been geolocated to the western outskirts of Verbove. The video description reads that Russian Armed Forces are firing AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers at assault groups of the 82nd Separate Airborne Assault Brigade of the AFU.

A map published by OSINT analyst Def Mon indicates that Ukrainian forces have now partially overcome the first "Surovikin line," named after General Surovikin, former Commander of Russia’s Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine. The AFU has crossed an anti-tank ditch and concrete "dragon’s teeth" pyramids, seemingly with ease, as the road they were using ran uninterrupted and was free of obstructions; the anti-tank ditches were dug on either side of the road. Typically, such openings in defensive lines are strategically constructed to allow for counterattacks, should the occasion present itself.

There has been controversy among military analysts over the video, with some seeing it as confirmation that the AFU managed to breach the first "Surovikin line." Our team shares Def Mon’s opinion, who disagrees with such a conclusion. Firstly, only one infantry unit, which might as well be a reconnaissance group, is shown in the video. Secondly, they did not manage to reach the trenches reinforced with firing points (the third layer of the first line of defense) from where RuAF soldiers hit the group with automatic grenade launchers. It is wrong to believe that Russian defenses in this direction have weakened due to this "breach" of the first "Surovikin line."

In addition, according to ISW analysts, it is premature to say that the Russian defense line on the Zaporizhzhia axis has been breached (as we reported yesterday).

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

The Russian Ministry of Defense reported on a new Ukrainian attack on the Bryansk region with kamikaze drones on the evening of Aug. 30.

Additionally, on the evening Aug. 30 Ukrainian forces tried to attack the town of Feodosia, inthe southeastern part of Crimea. According to Ukrainian Telegram channels, as well as Head of the occupied Crimea Sergey Aksyonov, a Ukrainian Neptune cruise missile was used. However, Rybar, a prominent pro-Russian Telegram channel, claims that it was a modified Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone which was last used on May 7. One can hardly see anything on the available night video, but the sound of a jet engine, typical for both the Strizh UAV and a cruise missile, can be heard. Russian air defenses reportedly intercepted a flying object, and falling debris damaged a power line near Feodosia. According to Rybar, the target of the attack was chosen for a good reason, since the town is home to oil reservoirs and a power plant connecting all power lines in Crimea.

New information has emerged regarding the attack on the airfield near Pskov on the night of Aug. 30. The Skhemy [Schemes] project (part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) published recent satellite images of the airfield, showing part of the territory obscured by clouds, but two Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft with dark spots on their fuselage are visible. The extent of the damage cannot be determined from these images.

The Russian Volunteer Corps stated that on the night of Aug. 27, they successfully attacked an airfield in the Kursk region using drones, penetrating Russian territory and launching unmanned aircraft against military targets. This was not included in the sitrep since the only specific information came from Governor of the Kursk region Roman Starovoyt,who published a photo of a slightly damaged residential building on Karl Marx Street, purportedly as a result of a drone strike (according to the Russian Volunteer Corps, a Russian anti-aircraft missile intercepted the drone). The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel geolocated these images and determined that two military facilities, the 16th Separate Electronic Warfare Brigade and the 3754th Central Air-Technical Base, are located near this building. There are no satellite images of the airfield in Kursk yet, so it is impossible to confirm whether this attack was indeed successful.

On the night of Aug. 30, Russian forces hit the village of Bohatyr in the Donetsk region, resulting in the deaths of two gatemen on a farm.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] confirmed another war crime committed by Russian forces. They quoted a Facebook post from a Ukrainian individual with an obituary for sanitation instructor Andrii Levitskii, known by the callsign Ukol, who was killed on Aug. 18 when Russian forces dropped air-dropped bombs on a field hospital with Ukrainian military personnel. The channel reported that on that day, two FAB-500 bombs with UMPK (Universal Gliding and Correction Module) were dropped. It is worth noting that the Geneva Conventions do not allow targeting hospitals under any circumstances.

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Last Flight

The Interstate Aviation Committee has stated that it is not participating in the investigation of the Prigozhin plane crash, and international norms will not be applied to this incident, which occurred on a domestic flight. Russian President's spokesman Dmitry Peskov informed that the Investigative Committee is handling the probe, and one of the versions being considered is "deliberate wrongdoing." The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer expressed interest in joining the investigation to prevent similar accidents in the future but was denied by Russian authorities.

Bulldozers were used to remove and transport a layer of soil from the plane crash site.

The Grey Zone Telegram channel, closely connected to the Wagner Group, released a purportedly recent video address from Prigozhin. It is evident that the recording is old, as indicated by a reference to the "second half of August" and the absence of any mention of the plane crash.

Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories, an independent Russian investigative media outlet] has discovered that fighters from the Wagner Group have been instructed to seek alternative employment, and their contracts in Africa are being transferred to other so-called private military companies. The journalists obtained the audio recording of a statement by a representative of the Wagner Group and confirmed its authenticity through their sources. The person in the recording, while responding to complaints and questions from mercenaries and their relatives, explains that despite the readiness of several tens of thousands of trained fighters to, as he puts it, "work and defend their homeland," they are currently not being deployed for any so-called "special military operation." Consequently, they are compelled to seek employment in Africa and the Middle East, which is challenging due to competition from the Ministry of Defense and Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia]. It is also reported that the Wagner Group will attempt to provide employment opportunities to its personnel, but the timing and scope remain unclear. Therefore, Wagner Group members are faced with the options of either waiting, or exploring alternative means of generating income. If the Wagner Group is allowed to participate in the "special military operation," its leadership will resume recruitment.

We believe that the days of the Wagner Group are numbered—the mercenaries will likely transition to other organizations. Previously, the Vazhnyye Istorii media outlet reported that there will likely be two private military companies operating in Africa: the so-called PMC Convoy, created by Sergey Aksyonov, and the so-called PMC Redut, linked to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff of the Armed Forces.

In the Rostov region, a former Wagner Group mercenary has been detained under suspicion of raping a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Last fall, while serving time at a penal colony, he volunteered for the war and returned home as a free man after six months. The man had been previously convicted of theft and intentionally inflicting severe bodily harm.

In Volgograd, a former Wagner Group mercenary has been arrested in connection with the rape of his 13-year-old niece. In 2008, he was convicted of theft and robbery with extreme violence, while in 2018 he was sentenced to 11 years in a maximum security penal colony for murder. He volunteered to join the Wagner Group while serving time and returned home after being pardoned. According to prosecutors, he raped his niece at knifepoint.

In one of our recent sitreps, we made a correction that booms were installed in the Sevastopol Bay, and not in the Kerch Strait near the Crimean Bridge, contrary to what we had previously reported.

Mark Krutov, the editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service, examined recent satellite images from Planet and discovered that barges are being anchored, or submerged, on the western side of the Crimean Bridge. The sea depth at this location is 2 to 4 meters. Military maritime expert H. I. Sutton was the first to notice these structures and referred to them as ferries. They are likely to be used for fastening booms between them to protect the bridge from attacks by Ukrainian maritime surface drones.

Western Assistance

Liquefied natural gas deliveries from Russia to Europe have increased by 40%, despite sanctions and the war in Ukraine. According to an analysis by the monitoring NGO Global Witness based on data from the company Kpler, which collects data on commodity markets, during the first seven months of 2023, European Union countries purchased over half of Russia's liquefied natural gas (LNG), totaling around 5.3 billion euros. From January to July 2023, they bought 22 million cubic meters of Russian LNG, compared to 15 million cubic meters during the same period in 2021 (a 40% increase). The largest buyers of Russian LNG are China (20%), followed by Spain (18%) and Belgium (17%).

Germany has delivered another military aid package to Ukraine. It includes:

  • 10 Leopard 1A5 tanks;
  • One air defense radar system TRML-4D;
  • 16 Vector reconnaissance UAVs;
  • Four 8x8 HX81 truck tractor trains;
  • Over 13 million rounds of small arms ammunition.