December 18, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 15-18, 2023 (as of 9:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Firstly, let us clarify the information about the strength of the Russian Armed Forces mentioned in the previous sitrep. According to our estimates, the current strength of Russian forces in Ukraine may be about 550,000 troops. This includes those on the frontline, as well as those at training grounds (recently contracted), along the Russian border and in the occupied territories. Within this number, however, there are about 200,000 soldiers who had previously suffered injuries, among whom there may be both fully combat-ready and practically non-combat-ready soldiers. There is no consensus on their proportion within the CIT team; some believe that even poorly healed injuries can make soldiers more combat-ready than draftees in poor health. It is worth noting that certain injuries reduce endurance and can cause significant discomfort in field conditions, especially in winter. Additionally, many soldiers experience exacerbations of chronic illnesses, further reducing their combat readiness.

Frontline Situation Update

Russian forces have adopted a new tactical approach along the Zaporizhzhia axis. Drone footage shot around Robotyne shows Russian infantry walking behind infantry fighting vehicles, in what we call "police tactics." This is a departure from previous approaches, where infantry typically dismounted close to enemy positions or near forested areas before engaging enemy troops, while IFVs either offered fire support or left the area altogether. This may be aimed at protecting the infantry in the event of anti-tank guided missile or drone strikes. A recent video from Synkivka, on the Kharkiv axis, captured a Javelin AGTM hitting an IFV carrying infantry. In that instance, the number of casualties was most certainly higher than had the soldiers followed their vehicle on foot.

In the Avdiivka direction, additional Russian units have been redirected to the southern flank of the front, according to Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets. This decision is likely due to the slower progress observed from the south compared to the north, where Russian forces have managed to reach the coke plant and traversed the railway towards the village of Stepne. The RuAF have achieved only limited success south of Avdiivka, failing to advance towards the villages of Severne and Tonenke where heavy fighting is currently ongoing, with visual evidence suggesting the Russian side is incurring substantial losses.

According to data collected by the independent researcher Naalsio, Russian losses in the Avdiivka direction reached 334 armored vehicles as of Dec. 15, including 12 tanks, 6 IFVs and 3 armored personnel carriers lost from Dec. 8 to 15. In contrast, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have only lost 25 armored vehicles throughout the entire Russian offensive in this direction, showing the efficacy of the Ukrainian tactic of gradual retreat in the face of advancing Russian forces in order to better inflict heavy losses.

Ukrainian military personnel provided comments to the New York Times on the situation on the left bank of the Dnipro River. According to two marines, Ukrainian officials express overly optimistic statements about the progress of the offensive, while challenging fighting with significant personnel losses unfolds. Initiating an offensive at the mouth of the Dnipro was extremely difficult due to the marshy terrain, making it nearly impossible to entrench or find cover. Even in forested areas on the left bank, AFU soldiers are constantly under Russian fire, and moving military equipment across the Dnipro is almost unfeasible. At least to these marines, the purpose of establishing this bridgehead remains entirely unclear.

Deputy Commander of the 14th Separate Regiment of the AFU Yevhen Karas presents a different perspective. He believes that gaining this foothold allows the AFU to inflict considerable damage on the Russian side, which is constantly launching new waves of attacks in an attempt to eliminate the foothold. Ukrainian officer Robert "Madyar" Brovdi, commander of a UAV strike unit, criticized the New York Times article, calling it manipulative and not reflecting the objective reality.

We lack data to assess the ratio of losses, but it appears evident that Russian armored vehicles are incurring much greater losses, primarily due to the difficulty the AFU faces in transporting their equipment across the Dnipro. Regarding personnel losses, the advancing forces are likely experiencing more casualties. However, Ukrainian naval infantry units are much more valuable than, for example, Russian Storm-Z units, making such an exchange less favorable for Ukraine. Additionally, wounded Ukrainian military personnel face challenges in securing swift evacuation, unlike their Russian counterparts.

Contradictory opinions and assessments of the situation are likewise found in pro-Russian sources. Some complain about senseless losses, while others boast about the significant damage inflicted on the enemy. Without specifying the names and affiliations of commentators with either the RuAF or AFU, it is challenging to determine their side.

Over the past weekend, there was a rise in temperature and precipitation in some areas along the frontline. Consequently, numerous videos have appeared showing the slush and muddy season: armored vehicles getting stuck and sinking in the mud, and a 2S1 Gvozdika 122mm self-propelled howitzer's firing position heavily flooded.

Ukraine is in the process of drafting a law on mobilization. The proposed legislation includes reducing the conscription age from 27 to 25 years old and also obliges women to register for military service on an equal basis with men. They are required to undergo military training and serve during martial law, stationed in the rear, with deployment to the frontline being voluntary.

The personnel issue has been publicly acknowledged by Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense. According to him, recruitment alone cannot meet the personnel needs of the AFU; only mobilization can. Those who wished to fight did so in the first six months of the war, and for objective reasons, there were few of these individuals left. Therefore, a proper social dialogue and justification of mobilization are necessary to resolve the issue of motivation and maintain the required number of AFU personnel.

On Dec. 17, Russian forces lost another Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft along with its crew. According to one version, the crash was attributed to a loss of spatial orientation, with visibility at altitude to be less than 70 meters, as reported by pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov.

On the same day, it was reported that a Russian Buk-M3 SAM system shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, sparking speculations about the possibility of friendly fire. Even Ukraine's Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk made such a claim. However, according to the pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force], these are two different incidents that occurred in different locations at different times. As of now, there is no evidence supporting the claim that the Ukrainian aircraft was shot down.

During the night of Dec. 17, Ukrainian drones attacked the Morozovsk airfield, Rostov region, where Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-34 bombers were stationed. One of the aircraft received minor damage. According to Fighterbomber, icing reinforced by the protective netting on the aircraft, contributing to its lower damage.

Western Assistance

Some US officials claim to have devised a legal mechanism that allows European countries to seize Russian assets. It is worth noting that in Western countries, predominantly in Europe, almost $300 billion belonging to the Central Bank of Russia is frozen. In the summer of 2023, an EU working group concluded that there is no legal way to seize these assets.

According to Reuters, Austria has withdrawn its objections to a new package of EU sanctions after the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention suspended the "international sponsors of war" status of the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank "for the period of bilateral consultations involving representatives of the European Commission."

The AFU has received new AQ 400 Scythe kamikaze drones. This UAV serves as a loitering munition and can carry a payload of up to 32 kg (with a more advanced version allowing up to 70 kg) over a distance of 750 km. Its main advantage is its low cost and ease of assembly. The manufacturing company is already delivering 50 Scythe drones per month, with plans to produce 500 units per month by the second quarter of 2024. The ultimate goal is to produce 1,000 units per month.

However, according to Ukrainian volunteers, the state's attention to the production of FPV drones is currently insufficient, and the purchase of these drones by volunteers cannot meet the required quantity.

On Dec. 7, a pro-Russian blogger reported that there was an order to confiscate civilian vehicles donated to the troops by volunteers unless they are on the balance sheet of a military unit. Subsequent discussions revealed that such orders issued by Russian generals do indeed exist. They mandate the confiscation of civilian vehicles from Russian soldiers, especially if their military specialty is not a driver. In such cases, from the perspective of the military police, these soldiers do not have the right to drive any transport. It is plausible to assume that this is an effort by the command to address issues of incompetent driving, often leading to accidents involving military personnel under the influence of alcohol.