September 1, 2023

Sitrep for Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2023 (as of 8:30 a.m.)

During the last days of August, on the Zaporizhzhia axis, Ukrainian soldiers crossed the first "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] for the first time. They went behind the anti-tank ditch and rows of concrete pyramids on foot without any support of armored vehicles, suggesting they were apparently reconnaissance groups. The Armed Forces of Ukraine must have focused on expanding and strengthening their flanks, i.e. going along the main line of Russian fortifications.

The War Zone published a large article about the Ukrainian drone attack on Kresty Air Base in the Pskov region on the night of Aug. 30. New Planet satellite images obtained by the media outlet clearly show that at least two Il-76 Candid strategic airlifters were destroyed, and two others damaged, which we reported on yesterday. However, the extent of damage is still unknown.

The article also contains an interview with Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, who said that the drone attack on Kresty Air Base was launched from Russian territory.

Additionally, the War Zone obtained a screen capture from an infrared camera video feed from one of the drones used in the attack. The image, provided by a Main Intelligence Directorate source,  implies that the area between the wings was targeted with bomblets dropped from one or more drones. The author of the article, Howard Altman, admits that the source of the image might have been used as an observation drone to record the strike, however, the aforementioned version is considered more likely.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine successfully deployed home-made long-range weapons, hitting a target 700 km (435 mi) away, without giving further details on the attack. It is worth noting that the straight-line distance between Ukraine and the Pskov airbase is precisely 700 km, leading many to conclude that Zelenskyy was referring to that particular target. However, this would contradict earlier statements made by Budanov. The airbase strikes have achieved the most significant results of all the drone attacks conducted on the night of Aug. 30. UAVs are much more effective against unsheltered aircraft than against factories, or other types of buildings, where they are unlikely to deal any meaningful damage.

Immediately following the Ukrainian drone raid, an article was released by the Japanese news agency Kyodo News, quoting military expert Yu Koizumi, who, after examining Maxar satellite imagery, discovered that Russia had removed its S-300B SAM systems from the Kuril Islands. This was likely done in response to the increased frequency of drone attacks on Russian territory. Koizumi also explained that Russian soldiers had removed old tanks and artillery from the 230th military vehicle storage and repair base in southern Sakhalin.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) has announced the discovery of a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group in the Navlinsky district of the Bryansk region. In the firefight, two saboteurs were killed (photos of their bodies are available), while another five were reportedly apprehended (although no visual evidence has been provided). Video footage depicts captured weaponry, including US-made AR-15–style rifles and M67 grenades, which are the weapons of choice for Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups, including those belonging to the Russian Volunteer Corps. It is worth noting that this marks the furthest incursion of a sabotage and reconnaissance group into Russian territory, some 60-70 kilometers from the border.

Video has emerged of a raid conducted by Russian border guards and members of the Akhmat unit (previously deployed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to safeguard the border from saboteurs) in the border areas. The video shows them entering vacant private residences with weapons at the ready, despite the stated objective being the verification and inspection of foreigners and potential saboteurs (residents registered for preventive monitoring). As a result of the raid, five residents of the Belgorod region were detained on suspicion of sabotage and reconnaissance activities.

Commander of the Wagner Group Dmitry Utkin (call sign Wagner), was buried at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchi, Moscow region. Although Russian news agencies reported that the burial was conducted with military honors, this is not apparent in the available photos and videos. However, a plaque with six Orders of Courage, which Utkin was awarded, is visible. Currently, no other person is known to have received even five such orders, although many awards during the war could have been kept secret. It is worth noting that the funerals of individuals holding the honorific title of Hero of the Russian Federation are strictly formalized. It is also reported that civilians were not allowed at the funeral; only military personnel and holders of the Wagner Group identification tags were present.

In the Moscow region, former mercenaries of the Wagner Group were detained for kidnapping three individuals for ransom. They abducted men who were swimming in a lake and demanded 5 million rubles [52,000 USD] from their relatives. However, the relatives reported the incident to the police. The kidnappers were apprehended eight days later, by chance, while transporting the abducted individuals in a car.

New details have emerged in the case of Ildar Bulatov, who gained notoriety for brandishing a hand grenade on a highway and taking his own life in a pre-trial detention center. It was previously known that he was facing criminal charges for going AWOL and, during his transport for psychiatric evaluation, seizing a grenade and threatening to detonate it at a gas station, and demanding a conversation with the leader of Bashkortostan [Russia's constituent republic], Radiy Khabirov. After the conversation took place, Bulatov surrendered and was taken into custody.

It has now come to light that Bulatov served in the Dostavalov volunteer Bashkir battalion, and, like many other volunteer fighters, had a conflict with the command. According to military sources, commanders engaged in alcohol abuse, maintained extramarital relationships ("field wives"), misappropriated "humanitarian" aid, and neglected their direct duties. Soldiers from this battalion even recorded a video address requesting transfers to other units, such as the Vatan unit. The result of all of these attempts to change the situation was regular threats and assaults, with fabricated cases of desertion or insulting superiors filed against activists. Bulatov himself fell victim to an assault at the hands of  his platoon commander, Sergeant Rinat Kultumanov, which resulted in a fractured rib. The motive behind the attack stemmed from Kultumanov's desire to claim a pickup truck for personal use, which had been introduced into the unit. When Bulatov went to Ufa to seek a transfer to another unit, he was charged with going AWOL.

It is worth noting that Kultumanov himself is running for a seat in the Bashkortostan Parliament (Kurultai) as a candidate from the United Russia party [Putin’s ruling party].

There is a new development in the story of the 205th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade on the Kherson axis, whose soldiers complained about various issues they were facing. The pro-Russian Telegram channel the Trinadtsatyy [the 13th] of "DPR" serviceman Egor Guzenko reports that military counterintelligence presumably received the order to detain a number of popular pro-Russian war correspondents including Romanov, Zhivov, Saponkov, and allegedly the commander of the 205th Brigade gave all checkpoints the order to identify and detain them.

The OVD-Info independent human rights project compiled all the anti-war case defendants’ stories into one. This article reaches the same conclusion as our joint study with IStories [independent Russian investigative media outlet] on parliamentary candidates in annexed territories: real support for the war is low and many are against it, regardless of the consequences.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that, according to his information, Russia is negotiating with North Korea to purchase artillery ammunition.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has resigned and is succeeded by Energy Secretary Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. The Secretary of Defense is an administrative position in the UK, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is King Charles III, and the Chief of the Defense Staff is Sir Antony David Radakin. Earlier commenting on the war in Ukraine, Shapps called Putin a "man with delusions of grandeur" who "commits an act of horrific violence and attempts to justify it by false excuses and bogus reasoning," adding that he needs to be stopped, by fully supporting Ukraine and demonstrating the strength of the global coalition.

Western Assistance

BAE Systems, a British multinational arms, security and aerospace company, will manufacture and repair in Ukraine L119 towed 105mm light howitzers according to NATO standards. We believe that repairs could start relatively soon, but production is likely to only commence after the war ends. Besides L119 howitzers, the Ukrainian army also uses other equipment made by the company, such as M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzers and CV90 infantry fighting vehicles.

The first evidence of a YPR-765 PRI infantry fighting vehicle equipped with a Oerlikon KBA-B02 25mm automatic cannon being used by the AFU has emerged. Previously, only YPR-765 armored personnel carriers equipped with machine guns had been spotted on the battlefield.

200 Ukrainian military personnel completed training in Germany for operating and maintaining M1 Abrams tanks.

In Moscow, Andrey Kurshin, the administrator of the pro-Russian Telegram channel Moscow calling was detained on charges of spreading "war fakes." He fought on the separatist side in Donbas between 2014 and 2015. Despite the channel's pro-war orientation, Kurshin had repeatedly criticized Russian authorities and leadership, stating that a full-scale war should have been started back in 2015.

The second hearing in the "war fakes" case against Pyotr Verzilov [Russian activist and a founder of the Mediazona independent Russian media outlet] took place. The prosecution provided as evidence the exact same response from the Ministry of Defense that was presented in Ilya Krasilchik's case. It stated that Russian Armed Forces personnel did not commit intentional murders of civilians in Ukraine, including in the town of Bucha in the Kyiv region, and that information spread by Krasilchik was false. According to prosecutor Aleksandr Kienko, this document is indirectly related to Verzilov's post.