December 25, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 22-25, 2023 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Fierce fighting continues along the entire frontline. In the Svatove direction, Russian advance towards the village of Terny has been noted.

In the Bakhmut direction, northwest of Bakhmut, Russian forces managed to advance 300-500 meters into the village of Bohdanivka.

In the Avdiivka direction, the Russian Armed Forces have intensified their activity along the railway leading northwest from Avdiivka. They are attempting to advance towards the urban-type settlement of Ocheretyne. Additionally, over the weekend, a significant attack was launched on Novomykhailivka, but the Armed Forces of Ukraine successfully repelled it.

During the current trench warfare phase, any advances typically amount to no more than 300-500 meters, akin to capturing a forest line. Large-scale breakthroughs or encirclements are unlikely until spring. Much will depend on the supply of military aid to Ukraine by Western allies.

On Dec. 22, Ukrainian forces launched a drone attack on the territory of the Rostov region. According to a photo analysis, it appears that at least one of the drones was a Ukrainian-designed UJ-23 Topaz or UJ-25 Skyline jet-powered drone, capable of carrying a warhead weighing up to 10 kg.

On Dec. 22, Ukraine's Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk announced that the AFU successfully shot down three Russian Su-34 aircraft. The Fighterbomber Telegram channel [associated with the Russian Aerospace Force] was the first among pro-Russian sources to report the loss of an aircraft, suggesting that it was the result of a Patriot SAM system work.

Subsequently, pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov wrote about that incident, adding that more than one airframe had been lost. Additionally, he posted photos taken during the search and rescue operation, confirming the loss of at least one aircraft. The photos show a rescue helicopter and a set of parachutes used by the crew after ejecting. It is quite likely that three Su-34 aircraft were indeed shot down.

As a result of regular friendly fire incidents, Russian pilots have adopted predictable flight itineraries to facilitate the distinction between friend and foe for Russian air defenses. Over time, however, Ukrainian intelligence discovers these itineraries and passes the information to effectively target enemy air assets.

Fighterbomber notes that Ukraine has received the latest variants of the Patriot SAM system.  The AFU shot down several Russian aircraft over the Bryansk region, attributing their success to the extended range of the system. Additionally, the performance of these Patriot systems enables the interception of Kh-47M2 Kinzhal and S-400 missiles.

Furthermore, reports of two more downed Russian aircraft, a Su-34 and a Su-30, appeared during the night of Dec. 25. There is no confirmation of this yet, and Fighterbomber denies the Russian Aerospace Forces have lost any more aircraft. However, the Russian MoD claimed a day earlier that, between midday on Dec. 23 and midday on Dec. 24, its forces had shot down four Ukrainian aircraft in the vicinity of Shyroke and Odarivka [villages in the Zaporizhzhia region] and Hryhorivka [village in the Dnipropetrovsk region], again without any evidence.

All these statements led many to doubt the official version. Some pro-Russian bloggers even started to speculate that the initial loss of the three Su-34s could have been the result of friendly fire.

Another incident related to air defense, as reported by the Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel, took place in Crimea on Dec. 21. An S-400 SAM system in the city of Kerch launched three missiles despite no air alert signal. It was later determined that the radar had mistakenly detected airborne targets.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held negotiations with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. During the talks, Rutte announced the initiation of preparations for the transfer of the first 18 F-16 fighters to Ukraine. Unfortunately, these statements lack clarity regarding the delivery timelines for the aircraft and do not affect our preliminary assessments, suggesting that the F-16s may not arrive in Ukraine before the spring of 2024.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article about the murder of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the deceased owner of the Wagner Group. According to the publication's sources, Nikolai Patrushev [Secretary of the Security Council of Russia] personally oversaw the operation to assassinate him. Patrushev had long warned Vladimir Putin that the Wagner Group and Prigozhin were becoming increasingly independent and dangerous. After the outbreak of the armed rebellion, Patrushev took it upon himself to settle the matter and later devised the operation to assassinate Prigozhin by placing a small bomb under the wing of his business jet during the pre-flight preparations.

On Dec. 22, for the first time in a long while, there was an exchange of bodies of the deceased. 66 bodies were returned to the Ukrainian side; the number of bodies returned to the Russian side is unknown.

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has prepared changes to the regulations, according to which, starting from Apr. 1, 2024, those who did not appear at the military commissariat [enlistment office] upon receiving a draft notice and are subject to temporary restrictive measures will not be issued driver's licenses.

In Khabarovsk, the first two sentences have been issued in cases related to financial assistance to the AFU. A woman received an eight-year sentence for treason involving money transfers to Ukraine, while another Khabarovsk resident was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony. The imposed terms are less than the minimum possible for treason cases, suggesting that the cases were considered in a special procedure where the accused admit guilt, and the verdict is delivered without an examination of evidence.

It is worth reminding residents of Russia that the only secure option for participating in such transactions is non-custodial cryptocurrency wallets, meaning it is completely controlled by the user.

In the summer of 2022, following his recruitment into the Wagner Group, Aleksandr Tyutin, previously sentenced to 23 years in prison for organizing multiple murders, was released. After the expiration of his contract, he and his wife flew to Turkey, and six months later, they returned to Saint Petersburg. There, Tyutin attempted to organize another murder. Seeking assistance, Tyutin approached an acquaintance from prison, asking him for money to kill a special forces officer whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife in Turkey. The individual he approached reported the information to the police, leading to Tyutin's arrest.

BBC News Russian has published another summary of losses in the Russian Army. In cooperation with independent Russian media outlet Mediazona and a team of volunteers, BBC has compiled over 40,000 names. Among them, 15,520 soldiers killed in 2022, and at least 24,100 killed in 2023. This year, losses among those recruited "from civilians" have increased significantly. Two-thirds of those who were killed in 2023 had no previous connection with the army before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine—they were volunteer fighters, mobilized soldiers, or ex-convicts.

Surviving professional soldiers from the first year of the war are now being preserved and used in special complex operations. "Volunteer fighters," whose training, judging by obituaries, sometimes lasts only a few days, are primarily sent to "meat grinder" assaults, followed by mobilized soldiers. It is likely that instances of mass casualties among mobilized soldiers, such as those occurred last winter, lead to uncomfortable subsequent video addresses and complaints directed at the authorities, prompting the command to take measures to prevent them.

Additionally, there is a noticeable increase in the number of older individuals within the ranks of Russian military personnel.

Over the past week, we have engaged in extensive discussions about our methodology for assessing Russian Army casualties, both internally within our team and with other researchers working on this topic, including Mediazona.

In the first months of the full-scale invasion, obituaries published in local media and public pages were promptly removed at the behest of regional officials. However, the authorities are now less meticulous about concealing the losses. Various memorials and public records are appearing, leading to the discovery of new names. This has enabled us to estimate the losses of regular military personnel and mobilized soldiers more accurately. However, data for other categories are becoming increasingly unreliable. We lack accurate information on the number of missing in action and losses among convicts. Consequently, the formula we have been using for the past year and a half to estimate casualties no longer seems accurate to us. At the moment, we are not prepared to provide a new formula, as its development requires collaboration with journalists. For now, we suggest that our readers approach our estimates more critically and widen their confidence intervals. When we give a rough estimate of Russian losses at around 100,000 killed and 300,000 wounded, we acknowledge that the actual number of casualties could fall within a range between 80,000 and 130,000.

Germany has announced a new military aid package for Ukraine. The package includes:

  • ammunition for Leopard 2A6 tanks;
  • 3 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns with spare parts;
  • More than 30,000 35mm rounds ammunitions for Gepard SPAAGs;
  • 2,500 155mm rounds ammunition;
  • 2 Wisent 1 mine clearing tanks;
  • 10 Vector reconnaissance drones;
  • 2 AMPS self-protection systems for helicopters;
  • 8 Mercedes-Benz Zetros trucks;
  • 2 8x8 HX81 truck tractor trains and 5 semi-trailers;
  • 2 border protection vehicles;
  • 8 other vehicles;
  • More than 25,000 40mm rounds.