dispatches
February 5

Sitrep for Feb. 2-5, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Russian Armed Forces have yet to gain a foothold on the southern outskirts of Avdiivka. The streets that they entered after advancing in the Tsarska Okhota area remain contested. However, Julian Röpcke, along with other analysts, observes a deteriorating situation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the northern part of the town. Journalist Yurii Butusov reports that the RuAF have made slight progress towards the northern town outskirts. The advancing units are now 1.5 km away, as the crow flies, from the town entrance sign. Butusov considers the situation critical, noting that the 110th Mechanized Brigade deployed in the Avdiivka direction faces ammunition shortages and exhaustion due to a lack of rotation. He also asserts that the operational and tactical command is the weakest link in the defense, adding that commanders include lies in their reports to avoid upsetting their superiors with unfavorable news.

Butusov’s remarks resonate with a statement made by General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, when meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zaluzhnyi indicated that the President's advisors tend to embellish rather than realistically assess the situation on the frontline. In our view, if Zaluzhnyi were to be replaced, his successor would face a challenging decision: a retreat from Avdiivka could further impact the political standing of the authorities, while a decision to defend it to the last would result in greater losses, as was the case with Bakhmut. Moreover, ammunition shortages remain a key challenge for the AFU, complicating the already difficult situation in the Avdiivka direction. While the EU agreement on aid for Ukraine is a positive development, it may take some time before ammunition shipments commence.

Russian forces are also reportedly advancing in the Vuhledar (South Donetsk) direction, previously frequently referred to as the Vremevsky ledge. The RuAF have occupied several forest lines near the village of Pryiutne, spanning approximately 1.5 km. Reportedly, Russian forces are attempting to force Ukrainian troops to retreat beyond a cascade of reservoirs.

Zelenskyy visited Robotyne, west of the Vremevsky ledge, a village reclaimed during the Ukrainian offensive in the summer of 2023. A video of award presentations was published on Feb. 4, likely a day or two after the visit. Zelenskyy also gave an interview to the Italian channel RAI, presumably recorded several days before it was published, and possibly before major information on Zaluzhnyi's resignation emerged. When asked about rumors regarding the resignation of the Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, Zelenskyy emphasized the need for a reset in Ukraine, suggesting changes not only in the military leadership but also a rotation of several state leaders.

Interpreting his words, it seems to be confirmed that Zaluzhnyi's resignation was at least discussed, and a decision might have been made.

Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics and former Minister of Economy, commented on the situation, suggesting that those who doubt Zaluzhnyi's resignation may not fully grasp Ukraine's young and evolving political system. Therefore, the Office of the President of Ukraine is delaying the final decision amid emerging rumors, possibly to mitigate its political consequences.

The Time correspondent and biographer of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Simon Shuster, has published an article shedding light on the work of Ukraine’s Minister for Strategic Industries, Oleksandr Kamyshin. According to Shuster, Zelenskyy tasked Kamyshin with reforming the entire defense industry, recognizing the impracticality of relying solely on supplies from Western partners. Kamyshin, who had previously served as the chairman of the board of the Ukrainian state railway company until March 2023, demonstrated competence in his former role. The new minister faced challenges in providing the AFU with mine trawls, which, while abundant in Russia, were in short supply in the West, and in repairing damaged tanks transferred to Ukraine. Transporting these tanks to factories in Poland led to significant logistical difficulties. During his tenure, Kamyshin discovered that the Ukrainian industry possessed everything necessary for independent tank repairs. Consequently, the focus shifted to convincing Western partners to provide licenses and permission for the repair, maintenance and production of certain models of Western weapons. Kamyshin believes that the effectiveness of any weapon should be evaluated based on the so-called "cost to kill" formula—how many enemy soldiers, on average, one unit of that weapon can eliminate and whether this justifies the production costs. For example, drones outperform Stugna-P ATGMs in this regard: both the drone and the missile can, on average, eliminate three enemy soldiers, but the drone costs around $1,650 compared to $4,613 for one anti-tank missile. Therefore, Ukraine needs to increase drone production.

It is possible that Zelenskyy, in the mentioned RAI interview, specifically referred to the reform of the defense industry.

Kamyshin emphasizes that all UAVs and maritime surface drones attacking targets on Russian territory are of Ukrainian origin. This stands as one of the most significant outcomes of the defense industry reform, serving as a testament to the successful development of the drone sector in Ukraine.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Zapiski Veterana [Notes of a Veteran] also commented on the situation with FPV drone production. Although both countries have escalated production efforts, Ukraine purportedly holds a distinct advantage. While several large manufacturers produce drones in Russia, the resulting drones are identical—they operate on similar frequencies, making them more susceptible to jamming by the AFU. In contrast, Ukraine provides state support to numerous small producers, including private entities, leading to the production of a diverse array of drones with varying technical specifications and operating frequencies. This diversity enables the AFU to strategically select drones for use in different frontline areas, considering Russian electronic warfare suppression capabilities in each region. Additionally, a significant number of thermal cameras, including those for drones, are procured at the state level. As previously reported, dedicated drone units are being established within the AFU.

An example of Ukrainian organizational innovation is the establishment of the Ptakhy Madyara [Madyar's Birds] unit as a separate battalion.

The 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade of the AFU has released a video featuring a radio frequency analyzer capable of detecting the presence and approximate location of Russian Lancet loitering munitions, allowing soldiers to target the drone with anti-air guns beyond visual range. Last year, similar analyzers capable of detecting Russian drones had already been spotted on the battlefield. These devices could potentially serve as the foundation for a Ukrainian unmanned AEW&C aircraft, a capability it currently lacks.

Ukrainian military expert Serhii "Flash" Beskrestnov shared a video of experimental Russian technology designed to counter FPV drones, previously disseminated by pro-Russian Telegram channels. This EW device detects signals on the 1.2 and 5.8 GHz frequencies, used to transmit video feeds from drones to operators, and activates a jammer in the 700-1000 MHz range upon detection. This approach ensures no interference with friendly equipment until an enemy drone is detected, at which point broad suppression is activated.

Wet weather with wet snow and rain is forecast for much of Ukraine through to Feb. 8, followed by abnormally warm conditions from Feb. 9 to 15, with temperatures reaching 20°C (68°F). Consequently, muddy conditions are expected to materialize by midweek, possibly leading to new videos showing military equipment stuck in mud.

Ukrainian attacks on Russian oil refining infrastructure persist. On Feb. 3, a drone struck Lukoil’s Volgograd refinery, specifically targeting a crude oil distillation unit. At the peak of the blaze, the fire spanned an area of 300 square meters. It is worth noting that oil refineries typically cover vast areas, and even a severe fire is unlikely to completely destroy the facility. Satellite imagery provides a perspective on the scale of the targeted unit in comparison to the entire facility.

Expert Sergey Vakulenko wrote for the Carnegie Foundation website that the threat posed to these facilities by small drones should not be overstated. The standards to which Russian refineries were built and modernized date back to the Cold War era, a time when plants were engineered to endure aerial bombings with 1000-kilogram bombs. A drone might, with great luck, strike a gas fractionating unit which is the most vulnerable part of the facility, filled with gasses that ignite and explode more easily than liquid fuel. Such an impact could trigger a more extensive explosion and considerably damage the unit, yet the plant itself would likely suffer minimal harm.

It is worth noting that the modernization of most such refineries primarily involved Western equipment, meaning sourcing components for repairing damaged units will be quite challenging.

Analyst Covert Cabal, primarily engaged in assessing Russian weapon reserves through satellite imagery, has released a detailed study on artillery, comprising both a video and a thread. According to his findings, if the rates of withdrawal from storage remain consistent and all remaining military equipment proves capable of restoration, Russia's self-propelled howitzers would sustain approximately 4 years of wartime operations, while towed howitzers would last for 2 years. It is worth noting that the pace of equipment withdrawal from storage may diminish, as numerous systems were allocated not for replenishing losses but for the formation of new units following the onset of mobilization, with some storage facilities being rapidly depleted.

One of our viewers has shared a video (with a pixelated background to ensure the source's safety) of a large convoy of GAZ-66 Shishiga trucks with 2B9 Vasilek gun-mortars mounted on them. Over the past one and a half years, we have already seen convoys of Shishiga trucks and witnessed the deployment of Vasilek gun-mortars on the frontline, but this is the first time we have observed a convoy of trucks with mortars already installed.

The Investigative Committee of Russia has initiated a criminal case against Moscow pediatrician Nadezhda Buyanova for "discrediting of the Armed Forces," following a complaint from Anastasia Akinshina, the widow of a soldier killed in the war with Ukraine. According to Akinshina, during a medical appointment, Buyanova told her 7-year-old son that his father was a "legitimate target for Ukraine" because of Russia's invasion and the killing of civilians by Russian troops. Buyanova, in response, informed the Astra Telegram channel that she had not made such statements. A search has been conducted at Buyanova’s residence, and the court has imposed restrictions on her activities as a preventive measure.

Akinshina's husband, Anton Seslavinsky, a native of Taganrog, went to the war as a volunteer fighter allegedly in response to an attack on the city on July 28, 2023, during which more than 20 people were injured. It is worth noting that, according to publicly available data, this was not the only motive for Seslavinsky. It is crucial to acknowledge that such emotional responses to civilian casualties and other war crimes, often amplified by Russian propaganda, serve as significant motivations and justifications for individuals to participate in the war. Regrettably, neither side has shown political commitment to systematically investigate the military crimes committed by its armed forces.

On Feb. 3, in occupied the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, as a result of a Ukrainian strike, a bakery was destroyed. At the moment, 28 people, including one child, are confirmed killed and 10 more wounded. The Russian side asserts that the strike was carried out by HIMARS MLRS rockets. It is reported that a café, where the bakery owner's birthday was being celebrated at the time of the attack, was also located in the same building. Allegedly, local "deputies," as well as the leadership of local units of the "prosecutor’s office" and the "Ministry of Emergency Situations," were present at the celebration. Based on open data and photographs, there appear to be no military facilities nearby. Presently, the incident is deemed to be an indiscriminate use of weapons and constitutes a war crime. Following the sitrep, an obituary for Aleksey Poteleshchenko, the Minister of Emergency Situations of the "LPR," was published.

In Feodosia, Crimea, efforts have commenced to retrieve the wreckage of the Novocherkassk large landing ship. Despite this, the Russian Ministry of Defense has yet to acknowledge the deaths of individuals who were aboard the ship at the time of the strike.

Western Assistance

According to Politico, Czech diplomats have found 450,000 artillery shells in an unnamed country outside the European Union and are seeking ways to finance this purchase through the EU.

Bulgaria has started delivering its old BTR-60PB armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, fulfilling a previous promise. The supply was financed by one of the countries participating in the Ramstein format meeting.

Canada plans to transfer CRV7 air-to-ground rockets to Ukraine, which were previously intended for dismantling. The CRV7 is a fairly old 70mm unguided aircraft rocket that was discontinued approximately 20 years ago. It is reported that Canada has more than 83,000 of these rockets in stock, and a contract for their dismantling was signed three years ago.

Estonia has provided Ukraine with a military aid package, which includes Javelin man-portable anti-tank systems, ammunition for small arms, ground and water vehicles, diving equipment, as well as machine guns, addressing the recent shortage reported.

Google is removing the caching of links from its search results, which means users will no longer be able to view pages saved by the search robot. This function allowed users to access news or compromising comments by officials that were deleted shortly after publication. The company explains its decision by stating that at the time the feature was introduced, network infrastructure was weaker, leading users to frequently encounter inaccessible websites. According to Google, this feature is no longer necessary, although it appears to be more of a cost-cutting measure. It is worth noting that Google is known for discontinuing various projects.