December 27, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 25-27, 2023 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Strike on the Novocherkassk Landing Ship

On the night of Dec. 26, the Ukrainian Air Force launched a missile strike on Feodosia. The target was the Novocherkassk landing ship docked in the port. Based on the photos of the aftermath that emerged in the morning, it is evident that the ship was almost completely destroyed. Eyewitness videos captured a massive column of flame and secondary detonations. Fragmented ship hull pieces were found scattered several hundred meters from the port, suggesting that the landing ship cargo detonated, possibly containing artillery rounds or loitering munitions.

Mark Krutov, editor of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's news service, analyzed satellite images of the port before and after the strike. He discovered that, in addition to the Novocherkassk landing ship, the T-43 class training vessel UTS-150 partially sank, and a warehouse near the pier was destroyed.

Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, reported that one person was killed, and two (four according to other reports) were injured as a result of the strike. In most similar cases, the number of casualties may be significantly higher than reported as a significant portion of the ship's crew was likely on board at the time of the strike, as reported by the Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel. Following the sitrep, the ASTRA Telegram channel found posts expressing condolences for the crew of the landing ship, which reportedly consisted of 77 conscripts and contract sailors. At the time of publication, information on 33 missing and 19 injured servicemen has been confirmed. Information on four civilians injured and one port security guard killed has also been verified.

As former Norwegian officer and independent military expert Tord Are Iversen of Lookout has pointed out, while the loss of another large landing ship may have reduced Russian maritime transport capabilities, it is unlikely to significantly impact logistics and the course of combat operations, since the majority of military cargo is transported via the Crimean railway bridge.

Nevertheless, it is surprising that this shipment of ammunition was transported by sea. This decision could either be attributed to a desire to deliver a large amount of cargo in one go, or to the fact that the ammunition first arrived by sea in Novorossiysk, possibly from Iran (if the hypothesis about the ship carrying Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munition is correct), from where the landing ship departed for Feodosia. Additionally, it is possible that should a significant portion of the Black Sea Fleet’s landing ships be destroyed, Russia might resort to using civilian vessels to transport military cargo.

Feodosia is home to several battalions of advanced Russian S-400 air defense systems. A few days ago, the Dos’ye Shpiona Telegram channel reported a peculiar incident when false targets appeared on the radar of one of the systems, prompting it to launch several missiles. Therefore, it is possible that S-400 operators mistook the missiles headed for the port of Feodosia for another radar malfunction. Alternatively, the radar equipment may have been undergoing maintenance after a malfunction a few days earlier. It is also worth noting that many sources indicate that Dec. 26 is Air Defense Forces Day. Perhaps air defense operators were celebrating the occasion, leading to decreased vigilance. However, other sources indicate that Air Defense Forces Day is celebrated in April.

Frontline Situation Update

Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced to Vladimir Putin the seizure of Marinka by the Russian Armed Forces. DeepState also reports the town's complete destruction and capture. General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, revealed that Ukrainian forces had to retreat, fortifying defensive positions within and around Marinka. The town now lacks intact homes and nearly any undamaged trees due to prolonged attacks. For the RuAF, this advance provides access to Novomykhailivka from the northern flank, potentially facilitating an offensive towards Vuhledar.

The 150th Motor Rifle Division played a decisive role in the capture of Marinka, as reported by the 5th Brigade of the "DPR" People's Militia. The mention of the Akhmat special forces unit is notably absent, despite earlier claims by Apti Alaudinov and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov stating their active participation in the battles for this settlement.

A photo from Avdiivka shows the use of wire obstacles on the frontline, a simple yet effective means, even against tanks.

During the briefing, Zaluzhnyi commented on the situation in Avdiivka, suggesting that the Russian Army could concentrate forces in this area and, in 2-3 months, replicate what they did in Bakhmut. The AFU would defend it as long as possible, and in a critical situation, they might retreat to preserve Ukrainian soldiers’ lives. It is worth noting that he did not explicitly state that Avdiivka would necessarily be captured during or by the spring.

Forecasting the situation’s developments is further complicated by pending decisions on military aid in the United States and the European Union, expected in the second half of winter. Additionally, the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] of Ukraine will need to address decisions on further mobilization. Furthermore, by spring, the AFU could receive their first F-16 fighter aircraft.

It is worth noting that in recent months, the RuAF have taken several steps to encircle Avdiivka. The northern flank is situated around Stepove, heading towards Berdychi and Ocheretyne; on the southern flank, they have captured Opytne and Vodiane, advancing towards Sieverne. Attempts to encircle were likely halted by mines, fortifications and AFU strongpoints. The situation increasingly resembles the battle for Bakhmut, captured through systematic advancement with significant losses, involving the destruction of the town by artillery and airstrikes. Additionally, the Avdiivka Coke Plant, which has turned into a formidable strongpoint, remains unconquered.

Zaluzhnyi stated that the discussed plans to mobilize 450,000 to 500,000 people are the goal for 2024. Mobilization will be carried out gradually, considering the current understaffing, the formation of new military units and the forecast of future losses.

It is worth noting that mobilizing such a large number of people in addition to those currently in the combat zone does not make sense unless the issues regarding aid from the US and the European Union are resolved, as new units need to be armed and equipped with vehicles. An alternative option is a scenario in which a new intake is carried out for rotation purposes, demobilizing and sending home those who have been in combat for two years. The option implied in this case remains unknown, as all official statements are very cautious.

After the New Year’s festivities, the Verkhovna Rada is set to discuss the Mobilization Bill. One proposed change is the removal of the "fit for limited military service" category. Individuals with this status would need to reappear before the military medical board to be reclassified as either fit for service or not. Another consideration is the introduction of electronic draft notices, which can be sent via the draftee’s personal account or email. For those who fail to appear before the draft office, proposed restrictions include a ban on traveling abroad, limitations on transactions with movable assets or real estate, restrictions on obtaining driving licenses, limitations on the right to dispose of assets and valuables, refusal to sign credit agreements, and suspension of government benefits and services. The new bill may come into force in early spring of 2024.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that the coming year is expected to see significant growth in domestic defense production. A recent meeting of the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief focused on the production of various drones, including FPV drones and ammunition for them.

The authorities of the Tomsk region have allocated 2.8 billion rubles [$30.5 million] for the year 2024 for the "development of unmanned aircraft systems." This surpasses expenditures for culture (2.5 billion [$27.3 million]), housing and communal services (2.4 billion [$26.2 million]) and agriculture (2.4 billion [$26.2 million]).

Additionally, the 2024 Russian federal budget implies the launch of the national project "Unmanned Aircraft Systems." Andrey Belousov, the First Deputy Prime Minister, will oversee this project, and Denis Manturov, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade, will be the director. The largest funding allocation is planned for 2023, almost 45.5 billion rubles [$496 million], followed by approximately 9.6 billion rubles [$105 million] in 2025 and 8.8 billion rubles [$95.93 million] in 2026. Overall, about 900 billion rubles [$10 billion] are planned to be spent on the entire national project by 2030, with nearly 700 billion rubles [$7.6 billion] allocated from the federal budget, almost 150 billion rubles [$1.6 billion] from regional budgets, and the rest from non-budgetary sources. A significant portion of these funds will likely be misappropriated, similar to the case of the Chinese DesertCross off-road vehicle deliveries. It is also worth noting that some funds will be redirected to this national project from other funds originally allocated for environmental purposes, specifically the elimination of unauthorized landfills in cities.

Izvestia [the News, a Russian pro-Kremlin daily broadsheet newspaper and a news channel], citing a review by the Expert RA agency, reports that 67 Russian regions (approximately 80%) are facing a record shortage of labor resources, despite a low unemployment rate. In some of these regions, the deficit reaches 70-90%. The year 2023 may be a culmination of the expansion of production in Russia, and sustaining such growth rates in the future may become impossible, at least until the end of the war.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On Dec. 26, the RuAF hit the railway station in the city of Kherson. According to Zelenskyy, approximately 140 people were waiting for an evacuation train at the station at that time. Consequently, one policeman was killed and two other policemen and two civilians were injured.

In our previous sitrep, we mentioned the downing of Russian Sukhoi Su-34 [Fullback] strike aircraft on Dec. 22. On Dec. 25, pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov reported on three pilots killed during the incident. Based on his report, we can conclude that at least two Sukhoi Su-34s were lost, given the typical crew complement of two members. Confirmation of the downing of the third aircraft may come later.

According to Natalia Humeniuk, the Spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Operational Command South, following this successful operation by the AFU, Russian forces have reportedly suspended the use of air-dropped bombs equipped with the Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK) since Dec. 22. An objective assessment of this statement is difficult due to limited information about the intensity of RuAF strikes on Ukrainian military facilities with such bombs prior to this incident. Previous reports primarily focused on strikes on civilian infrastructure, with occasional mentions of targeting objects near the frontline.

In our latest sitrep, we discussed the initiation of criminal cases for state treason against Russians who transferred funds to the AFU. Now, it has been revealed that a man in Chuvashia [Russia’s constituent republic] has been detained on charges of treason for making several transfers to the AFU, totaling up to 30,000 rubles [$330]. It is also reported that he allegedly provided information to a certain nationalist Ukrainian unit.

For Russian residents, the only secure method of participating in such contributions is through non-custodial cryptocurrency wallets, which means the user has full control over them. Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation offers detailed videos and text instructions on their usage.

Please note that the Dec. 29 sitrep will be the last for this year. The first video of 2024 will be released on Jan. 5, and we will resume regular updates on Monday, Jan. 8.

Additionally, we remind you that we continue to accept questions for our live question-and-answers session on Dec. 29 through our bot or email.