December 4, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 1-4, 2023 (as of  8:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Over the past weekend, discussions were rife about the hypothetical Russian capture of the town of Marinka, southwest of Donetsk. On Dec. 1, several pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed that Marinka had fallen almost entirely under Russian control. However, the only visual evidence presented to support that claim was a drone video showing a Russian flag raised on a house in the western outskirts of the town. We generally do not consider videos featuring flags to be conclusive proof of territorial control, unless they are accompanied by visible military presence or vehicles, and recorded from the ground rather than the air. The placement of a flag could theoretically be orchestrated by a reconnaissance team, infiltrated deep into a contested area.

Other Telegram channels presented a less optimistic assessment of the situation. Pro-Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov (a.k.a. Wargonzo), for instance, published a video of a Soviet Victory Banner hoisted over a house in the western outskirts of Marinka, writing that while Russian forces had made noticeable advances in the town, it was still premature to consider it as completely captured.

Later in the evening on Dec. 1, another video emerged, purportedly confirming the capture of Marinka. The footage showed individuals claiming to be from the 103rd Regiment of the 150th Division of the Russian Armed Forces, asserting that the town was under their control. However, the video had poor lighting and could not be geolocated, rendering it unsuitable for verifying the veracity of the claimed advances on the frontline.

Fighting for the devastated town of Marinka has been ongoing since 2014. This summer, there have already been bold statements regarding progress in this direction. For example, the Akhmat unit, deployed to the area, claimed control over 70% of the town. Previous statements indicated that the RuAF had held sway over a larger area.

The DeepState Ukrainian project map highlighted an escalation of fighting and a modest Russian advance in the Lyman direction, particularly in the vicinity of the villages of Terny and Yampolivka. Additionally, a video showing an airstrike on a bridge between the villages of Novolyubivka and Nevske was published. Reportedly, this bridge was part of the supply route of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is worth noting that Ukrainian forces have established a bridgehead on the bank of the Oskil River, an area that the RuAF have been trying to mop-up for an extended period.

The GeoConfirmed project, specializing in geolocating videos and photos, released an infographic illustrating the extent of fighting for Avdiivka. The map shows the frontline areas from which the most visual data was received. According to this infographic, Russian forces are most actively attacking Avdiivka head-on, affirming the shift in tactics mentioned earlier. At the same time, there has been a notable decrease in the intensity of fighting to the north (around ​​Stepove and Berdychi) and south of Avdiivka (near Vodiane and Opytne).

Near the village of Stepove, a Ukrainian drone captured the moment when AFU soldiers, who had surrendered, were executed. Two unarmed soldiers, with their hands raised, exited a dugout and laid down on the ground, only to be subsequently shot by two Russian soldiers with assault rifles. This act constitutes a clear war crime and undoubtedly incites retaliatory violence.

Vitaliy Barabash, Head of the Avdiivka District Military Administration, stated that shortly after the execution, the AFU successfully cleared those positions, presumably eliminating the shooters. There is also video evidence of a cluster munition attack on fleeing Russian soldiers around Stepove, indirectly supporting Barabash’s claims. However, it remains uncertain whether the two Russian soldiers responsible for executing the AFU soldiers were actually killed.

Ukrainian border guards were killed following a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group incursion into the Chernihiv region. According to a pro-Russian source, one more border guard was taken prisoner, however, a Ukrainian source only confirms the information about those who were killed.

A team of researchers, having studied fresh satellite images of barriers protecting the Crimean Bridge, discovered that not only were the booms damaged, but also the barges. Three of them were completely flooded, one was partially submerged, two were blown off and carried away into the open sea, and one is afloat but no longer tied to anything.

Barrels that once served as barriers against maritime surface drones have been observed floating along the Kerch Strait in various areas of Crimea.

Given that the Crimean Bridge is an important logistical hub for the RuAF, it is reasonable to expect new attacks from Ukrainian intelligence services. The storm-induced destruction of Russian defenses provides them with an additional opportunity.

On Nov. 30, a blast in the Severomuysky Tunnel of the Baikal-Amur Mainline led to the explosion of several railroad tank cars, resulting in a fire. The following day, an explosion occurred on a bypass rail track. Media reports, citing sources, implicated the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in both sabotage attacks, leading to the opening of a terrorism case. However, on Dec. 2, traffic in the Severomuysky Tunnel was restored. It is worth noting that the Baikal-Amur Mainline serves as a route for the delivery of ammunition from the DPRK to the European part of Russia.

On Dec. 1, Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, stated that more than 452 thousand people had signed contracts with the MoD since the beginning of the year, which is exactly what we expected based on a linear extrapolation of previously announced figures. We believe that these statements are not based on real data and appear to be calculated using a formula. Based on reports from local draft offices and other officials, we believe that in reality about 20-30% of the plan is being met.

In addition, Putin has ordered the RuAF to increase its number of troops by nearly 170,000, and this is not the first increase since December 2022.

In the spring of 2022, we presented photos of a Tigr infantry mobility vehicle equipped with explosive reactive armor. It is worth noting that installing such armor on thinly armored vehicles, such as self-propelled howitzers, poses a danger to the vehicle's crew. Recently, photos of a GAZ-66 Shishiga truck equipped with Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armor have surfaced. These trucks lack inherent armor, making the installation of explosive reactive armor on them dangerous and ineffective. (Although small plates of thin armor can be seen under the ERA blocks in the photos, this does not change our conclusion).

A video has been published showing DesertCross Chinese all-terrain vehicles on the frontline after being hit by the Ukrainian Ptakhi Madyara UAV company. We still believe that these vehicles can only be effectively used in dry weather and on dirt roads without deep ruts, or when the dirt freezes and there is minimal snow. However, we are currently witnessing the opposite scenario: armored vehicles with wheels of much larger diameter are getting stuck in the mud.

A mini-study has been published assessing the production of Russian tanks this year. We agree with the provided data on deliveries of T-62 (250 units) and T-80 (120 units) tanks, as the data aligns with our observations of train shipments and the pace of deliveries to the front. However, the indicated number of T-72 and T-90 tanks (120 and 140 units, respectively) appear to be underestimated in our view. Due to the absence of a detailed description of the methodology employed in this assessment, we suspect that the primary source of information may have been the statements issued by UralVagonZavod [Russian state-owned machine-building company]. Nevertheless, we have consistently observed trains carrying T-72 and T-90 tanks that were not included in their official statistics.

Mykola Salamakha, a Ukrainian colonel and military analyst, shared his assessment in a comprehensive interview with the Militarnyi Ukrainian media outlet. He predicts that the Russian defense industrial complex will be able to supply the armed forces with 1,000 tanks (both new and modernized) in 2024, 1,000 in 2025, 900 in 2026, and 800 in 2027. Towards the end of this period, the stock of tanks suitable for repair and modernization will begin to run out. He also considers it likely that Russia will resume the production of T-80 tanks.

Both sides are gradually preparing for the next year of the war. Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced the "Ocean-2024" strategic exercises, including all existing military branches. According to RIA Novosti, the Russian state-owned news agency, the Russian Aerospace Forces will start extensive training for Russian pilots to use air-dropped bombs with the Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK), aiming to carry out even more airstrikes on AFU positions in the coming year.

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project published a note about the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, during which an agreement was signed on the modernization of joint facilities servicing the combined joint military grouping for the years 2023-2027. Most likely, the plan involves repairing, restoring and modernizing warehouses, depots, airfields and access roads to these facilities. It is worth noting that the RuAF actively used military infrastructure in Belarus during the full-scale invasion.

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, in collaboration with the Ministry of Strategic Industries, will significantly increase the production of missiles, ammunition, weapons and military vehicles in 2024. The main focus will be on the production of air defense systems, including portable SAM systems and air defense systems with a range of over 100 km (e.g., the Coral SAM system). The Coral is a new Ukrainian SAM system not yet in service. In 2021, it was claimed to be 70% ready, with a range of about 30 km and a target engagement altitude of up to 10 km. However, considering that Coral is now cited as an example of a SAM system with a range exceeding 100 km, it appears that the project may have undergone significant changes. The potential production location of these systems raises questions, as it is unlikely to be within Ukraine's territory.

In 2024, the German automotive and arms manufacturer Rheinmetall is planning to start manufacturing armored vehicles on Ukrainian territory, with first the Fuchs armored personnel carrier and six months later, the Lynx infantry fighting vehicle. The production will start about six months after the signing of the contract, which is to take place no later than early 2024. It is not yet clear how these production facilities will be defended.

Western Assistance

Germany has announced a new military aid package to Ukraine, which will include:

  • 3,840 155mm artillery rounds;
  • 250 tool kits with blasting material;
  • 4 MAN HX81 truck tractor trains and 4 semi-trailers;
  • 8 Mercedes-Benz Zetros trucks;
  • 2 border protection vehicles;
  • 3 other vehicles;
  • 1 mobile antenna mast system;
  • 5 drone detection systems;
  • 25 laser range finders;
  • 15 HLR 338 sniper rifles with 60,000 rounds of ammunition.

Also, Germany is trying to make arrangements with other European countries to take its military aid to Ukraine into consideration when calculating its contribution to the European Peace Facility.