December 21, 2022

Sitrep for December 19-20 (as of 5:00 p.m.)

Today, on Dec. 20, the war has been going on for exactly 300 days.

Error correction

The assumption that Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was flying in his helicopter over the trenches in the Belgorod region turned out to be incorrect. The video of his flight was geolocated by Twitter user @GlasnostGone and volunteers from the GeoConfirmed project. It turned out that he was flying in the area of Armiansk (Crimea), which is also quite far from the frontline. We doubt that Shoigu was at the forefront (although it cannot be unequivocally stated either way based on the video available).

On the morning of Dec. 20, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Bakhmut, where he awarded Ukrainian servicemen.

The video has not been geolocated yet, but Zelenskyy had already visited fighters near the frontline before. So, the information about the president's visit to Bakhmut looks plausible, despite the fact that there is heavy fighting on the eastern outskirts of the town.

The situation on the frontline

One of the most important axes now is Soledar, because if Russian forces manage to capture the town, it will jeopardize one of the three supply routes for Bakhmut, namely, from Siversk (the other two supply routes are ones from Sloviansk and Kostiantynivka).

On Dec. 19, there were reports of downed helicopters. One video, reportedly, shows a Ukrainian helicopter being shot down in the Yasynuvata district of the Donetsk region. Whether this helicopter fell is unclear yet [apparently, it is the same downed helicopter as in the following video — CIT].

There was also another video filmed from a Ukrainian helicopter flying at an extremely low altitude. The video shows the other, probably also Ukrainian, helicopter being hit, reportedly by an air-to-air missile by a Russian fighter jet. Reportedly, only one pilot survived, and he is in serious condition.

On Dec. 20, Chief of the Directorate of Media service and Information of the Russia’s Ministry of Defence Igor Konashenkov stated at a Ministry briefing that two Mil Mi-8 helicopters and three AFU aircraft, two Mikoyan MiG-29 (Fulcrum) fighter aircraft and one Sukhoi Su-25 (Frogfoot) attack aircraft, were shot down in the "DPR".

Also on Dec. 20, the General Staff of the AFU stated that the Armed Forces of Ukraine shot down two Russian helicopters without specifying the area of the incident.

The Belgorod region came under fire again. Storage and production facilities in an industrial zone as well as two cars were damaged with shell fragments. No casualties were reported. For some time there were problems with the electricity supply in the area, but those were resolved rather quickly.

It became known that Borshchevik [Hogweed] mobile direction-finding system was developed in Russia. It is claimed to be able to pinpoint the location of Starlink terminals at a distance of up to 10 kilometers and with a precision of 60 meters.

At an event dedicated to the Security Services Agent Day, Vladimir Putin called on personnel of such agencies to firmly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services, and promptly uncover traitors, spies and saboteurs. He also named the key areas of their work: the fight against terrorism, extremism and the protection of the borders of the Russian Federation. It is quite possible that in the near future in order to get promotion these personnel may start arbitrarily charging random Ukrainian citizens currently residing in Russia with sabotage.

In yesterday's sitrep, we aimed to revisit an investigative report by The New York Times on Russia's failures in this war. You will not find anything new in this article if you have been following our reports for some time, but you will be able to navigate the terrible events that have occurred since the beginning of the full-scale invasion (in four days, it will be 10 months since the beginning of this stage of the war). Below are highlights of the article accompanied by our comments.

According to sources of the NYT, Putin decided to start a war during the pandemic in an atmosphere of complete personal isolation without consulting experts. According to one of the presidential advisers, "Putin decided that his own assessments and conclusions would be enough [to make a decision about launching an invasion]." Meanwhile, various advisers and minions fueled Putin's numerous grievances and suspicions toward the West. They assured him that Russia had a powerful army, and it was time to raise Russia from its knees and restructure the world order.

The article also claims that the Russian Armed Forces were completely unprepared for a full-scale war. Moreover, many commanders did not realize until the last minute that they were facing not an exercise but a real invasion. Decades of negative selection, corruption, theft, and negligence had done their job: soldiers were unprepared for combat operations, and equipment was in very poor shape. The article cites a military contractor who recalls how huge patriotic banners were hung at one of the bases in a frantic effort to cover up the state of affairs from a high-ranking delegation, and the delegation was prevented from going inside to use the bathroom so they wouldn't detect any problems.

As one of the reasons for the failure at the beginning of the offensive, the article mentions old Soviet maps and poor intelligence data. We do not fully agree with the thesis about the use of Soviet maps: they most likely were used not for planning but for reporting because, according to the instructions, each crew must have a complete set of gear, including a paper map. It is also said that Russian soldiers were actively using their cellphones to call home, and some were printing out instructions from the Internet on how to use this or that type of weapon.

In addition, the article tells us that Russian commanders have been unable to learn and correct mistakes. For example, even after several aircraft were shot down, pilots kept flying over the  combat zone, and ground units were repeatedly sent to attack directly under the fire of Ukrainian artillery. All this was affecting the morale of the soldiers.

In the beginning, it was assumed that the war would be a "walk in the park." The article contains a timetable showing a detailed schedule of movement for airborne troops in Ukraine. It specifies the time when each unit should pass certain settlements. According to this schedule, the 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade was supposed to be the first to cross the border, reach Borodianka (a bit before reaching Kyiv), and stay there. And just two hours later, a convoy of the Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia] and OMON [riot police] – the so-called Leeroy Jenkins unit – was supposed to cross the border and storm Kyiv. And only then, another half hour after the OMON troops, paratroopers were supposed to do their job.

The article contains a statement, which says that many pro-Russian commanders are not even servicemen. As an example, Kadyrov and Prigozhin are being named. Despite the fact that some military units called the Kadyrovtsy just fight bushes and empty houses and do not take part in real fighting, there is the Akhmat special operations unit and other volunteer units, who fight for real. As far as we know, after being formed and equipped in Chechnya, these units were then moved under the command of a particular direction’s general (for example, general Lapin).

Prigozhin is also not a Wagner Group commander, it would be right to call him an “owner” or a “boss”: he gets money for his combatants, provides logistics and PR. In fact, one of the real combat commanders is Andrey Bogatov — a Hero of Russia, an Afghanistan and Yugoslav war veteran. Later he fought in Syria against ISIS, where he lost his arm. In terms of combat skills, the majority of the Wagner Group mercenaries exceed soldiers of regular Russian Armed Forces (not taking into account elite units).

The article also tells us, that in recent months, Russian officials have tried to convey to US President Biden the idea of their readiness to endure any losses — no matter how many Russian soldiers are killed or wounded on the battlefield, Russia will not give up. Most likely, this is a typical Kremlin bluster, an attempt to scare its opponents and exaggerate its own capabilities, just as before the invasion, the Russian Army had been trying to make an impression of its “unmatched combat force”. This also includes Putin’s nuclear threats.