December 6, 2023

Sitrep for Dec. 4-6, 2023 (as of 11:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Russian forces have stepped up offensive operations in the Bakhmut direction near the villages of Bohdanivka and Chasiv Yar, northwest of Khromove, which came under Russian control a few days ago.

Fighting continues on the left bank of the Dnipro River, in the area of the village of Krynky, as well as in the Kupiansk and Avdiivka directions. According to the available data, Russian forces have not yet managed to gain a foothold in the Avdiivka industrial zone.

The Ukrainian Air Force reported the downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M (Fencer) tactical bomber near Snake Island. This information was confirmed by Russian pro-war Telegram channels. The Fighterbomber Telegram channel [associated with the Russian Aerospace Forces] published a black and white photo of a corresponding aircraft signed with three dots. Such posts are usually associated with aircraft loss. At the same time, the Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] Telegram channel reported that a Sukhoi Su-24M tactical bomber, operating under the cover of a Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role fighter jet, had been shot down during its combat mission over the Black Sea by an MIM-104 Patriot SAM system deployed near Odesa. Speaking about the type of air defense system, he refers to some Ukrainian sources. A Mil Mi-8 helicopter and an Antonov An-26 transport aircraft were sent to search for the crew, but to no avail. According to a Russian Aerospace Forces helicopter pilot with the call sign "Voevoda," the Patriot SAM system promptly changed its position after intercepting the aircraft, preventing a retaliatory strike. We admit that the Ukrainian air defense forces may have achieved success thanks to the recent delivery of another Patriot air defense system from Germany. Previously, Sukhoi Su-24 bombers repeatedly dropped air bombs equipped with Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPKs) targeting the Odesa region.

A convoy of Russian military equipment was hit by Ukrainian artillery on Nov. 10 in the village of Hladkivka in the south of the Kherson region. At that time, the reported death toll of over 70 people seemed greatly exaggerated to us. However, a video from the scene of the crash has been released, showing a large number of bodies on the ground and in Ural trucks. Canopies covering the trucks are riddled with small holes, suggesting the use of HIMARS MLRS rockets with tungsten balls as prefabricated fragments. This type of rocket is highly effective against unprotected infantry. Although the video shows only about two dozen bodies, it becomes clear that the death toll may indeed be much higher than we initially thought.

Western Assistance

While the Democratic Party in the US Congress is alarmed about the dwindling aid to Ukraine, Republicans are demanding measures to be taken in connection with the migration crisis on the Mexican border. Only after addressing these concerns, they say they will be ready to agree on aid to Ukraine.

This debate is being closely watched by European policymakers, who are ready to adjust their plans in line with US policy changes.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy unexpectedly canceled his planned video-link appeal to US senators for continued US funding.

Ukraine's Minister of Defense Rustem Umerov has stated that Belgium will transfer F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine in 2025. He emphasized the current need to initiate the process of establishing supply chains for ammunition, spare parts and technical equipment for this type of fighter aircraft.

A Ukrainian volunteer published photos of 122mm D-30 howitzer shells. These shells are being produced by one of Ukraine's partner countries. The captured images revealed a notice board indicating that the manufacturer is Palladium Defense and Security Solutions, an Azerbaijani company. Although the company has no direct relation to the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, it has consistently won various government contracts. Simultaneously, Azerbaijani officials claim that the country does not produce anything related to warfare for Ukraine.

In December, according to Zelenskyy, Ukraine reached the production of six Bohdana 155mm wheeled self-propelled howitzers per month. This is a commendable achievement for a country at war. It is possible that these Ukrainian 155mm self-propelled artillery howitzers, produced in three different modifications, are actually being manufactured on the territory of Ukraine.

The German automotive and arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has secured a 142-million-euro contract to deliver 155mm artillery rounds to Ukraine. These will be manufactured by the company's Spanish subsidiary. However, their delivery is scheduled for 2025. Meanwhile, work on a 40,000-round order placed earlier this year is underway for delivery in 2024. It is worth noting that on Oct. 10, the German government placed an order with Rheinmetall for over 100,000 155mm rounds earmarked for Ukraine.

Finland will start production of artillery ammunition for Ukraine, Finnish Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen told the Iltalehti newspaper. Negotiations to this effect have already been completed, and Finland's assistance to Ukraine is considered crucial.

At the same time, a criminal case was opened in Finland over the supply of 3,500 drones to Russia, worth over €2 million. The delivery is suspected to have circumvented sanctions through a common scheme: the batch of UAVs was allegedly purchased for a third country and intended to transit through Russian territory but never crossed the border. Customs officers also reported supplies of various electronics worth over €600,000 and anti-drone equipment worth €350,000.

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyzed the effectiveness of the oil sanctions imposed on Russia and concluded that Russia lost around 14% of its estimated revenues which is significantly less than originally projected. In many ways, the reason for this is that Russia has created a "shadow fleet" of tankers, which facilitates the trading of oil in circumvention of sanctions. The European Union is concerned about the inefficacy of the measures and plans to task Denmark with checking the insurance of Russian tankers passing through the Baltic Sea straits and stopping ships without Western insurance.

The Washington Post has published a two-part analysis of the reasons behind the failure of the Ukrainian offensive. From our perspective, it seems to serve as a series of justifications put forth by Western officials to explain why substantial financial resources were allocated to aid Ukraine without achieving significant results. As many publications wrap up the year, we anticipate that several more similar articles may emerge by the end of December.

According to sources cited by The Washington Post, there were notable disagreements between US and Ukrainian officials concerning strategy, tactics and timing. The Pentagon wanted the assault to begin in mid-April to prevent Russia from continuing to strengthen its lines. The Ukrainians hesitated, insisting they were not ready without additional weapons and training. Consequently, assigning blame to the Ukrainian side for the delayed offensive is deemed inappropriate.

According to the article, Western military doctrine dictated a concentrated push toward a single objective. US generals advocated a focused assault along the Zaporizhzhia axis, but Ukraine’s leadership believed its forces had to attack at three distinct points along the 600-mile front, near Bakhmut, in the area of Velyka Novosilka and toward Tokmak. Whether this decision was correct is unknown, but currently, many experts agree that allocating a significant number of  well-trained troops to defend and subsequently attempt to capture Bakhmut was a mistake.

Furthermore, the article discusses that US partners expected Ukraine to conduct armored maneuvers, breaking through Russian defensive lines, and moving forward with armored vehicles and artillery support "in a kind of symphonic way." However, such armored maneuvers are impossible without complete air superiority. Massing troops is also impractical due to threats from artillery, missiles, and drones. Consequently, instead of attempting to breach Russian defenses with a massed, mechanized attack and supporting artillery fire, the AFU shifted to offensive actions in small groups (platoons or companies), resulting in fighting for every piece of woodland.

The challenge of massing troops and achieving air superiority is relevant to both sides, considering that Ukraine also has effective air defenses. As a result, a large-scale and successful Russian offensive is not anticipated either. This war could potentially endure for years, given that the development of new technologies to achieve air superiority is essential for a substantial breakthrough.

We do not identify a specific major mistake on the Ukrainian side that led to the actual failure of the counteroffensive; it resulted from a complex set of problems. It is worth noting that one of them was the incorrect assessment by Ukraine and the West of the capabilities of the Russian side, such as expecting Russian forces to retreat upon encountering the first Leopard tank. Perhaps the trend of portraying the enemy as incredibly weak and stupid was initiated by Ukrainian society. However, it is also important to remember that before the invasion, Western officials significantly underestimated the capabilities of the Ukrainian side, believing that the Ukrainian Army would not hold out for long and therefore refusing to supply heavy equipment.