January 15

Sitrep for Jan. 12-15, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Based on the latest information, it appears that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have retreated from the village of Stepove (some sources call it Stepnoye in Russian), situated northwest of Avdiivka. A video has been published showing Bradley IFVs attacking a T-90M Proryv tank on the western outskirts of the village. The footage depicts an infantry fighting vehicle firing almost point-blank at a Russian tank, as a result of which its turret control mechanism apparently failed, the driver lost orientation, the tank got stuck and was later hit by an FPV drone.

On the Zaporizhzhia axis, Russian forces persist in their active offensive. The most critical section of the frontline currently is between Novoprokopivka and Verbove. Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets suggests that in the near future, there is a likelihood that the Russian Armed Forces could reclaim positions liberated by the AFU during the summer offensive. This is yet another consequence of the insufficient supply of weapons to Ukraine, especially artillery ammunition.

The situation on the Donetsk axis, particularly in the vicinity of the town of Marinka, was recently detailed by the pro-Russian war correspondent Dmitry Steshin on Telegram. Despite Russian propaganda asserting that securing Donetsk was a primary objective of the attack on Marinka, the town's capture did not impact Donetsk's security. Steshin refused to comment on the first year of the assault on Marinka because he was afraid of being prosecuted under the charge of “discrediting the Russian Army.” Subsequent attacks, including the most successful ones, took place in an atmosphere of secrecy, with journalists being denied access to cover the situation. In general, as previously highlighted, success in this and other areas tends to be achieved at the expense of significant losses.

The Ukrainian side has released a video featuring two Russian prisoners of war, one of whom identified himself as a Somali citizen who signed a contract with the RuAF for financial reasons. The location and circumstances of his capture are not specified. The second PoW is a young man born in 2004, who celebrated his 19th birthday in December 2023. Enlisting in the military at such a young age became possible due to the adoption of a law allowing individuals to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense shortly after being conscripted for regular military service.

BBC News Russian, together with Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] and volunteers, has identified the names of 41,731 Russian military personnel who were killed during the invasion of Ukraine since February 2022. Among them, more than 1,100 were younger than 20 years old. Additionally, at least 5 soldiers born in 2005 and 48 born in 2004 have been reported killed during the recent months of the war.

Fighting continues on the left bank of the Dnipro River, particularly near the village of Krynky. Pro-Russian sources have released a video showing drones dropping munitions onto Ukrainian boats supplying the left bank bridgehead or evacuating wounded soldiers to the right bank of the river. The footage reveals that the channels between the islands at the mouth of the Dnipro are partially frozen, making it challenging for the boats to navigate through the ice. This route has become increasingly hazardous due to good visibility at the mouth, minimal radio signal interference and a significant reduction in the speed of movement through the channels. Another video captured in Krynky highlights the evident destruction of homes and trees, a consequence of fighting, shelling and airstrikes.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

Information about casualties from the AFU's Jan. 4 attack on Crimea continues to emerge. On Jan. 12 in Sevastopol, a funeral was held for five individuals who were killed in the strike on a command post near Sevastopol's Yuharyna Balka. The Crimean Wind Telegram channel reported an additional five burials on Jan. 10, bringing the total confirmed casualties to 13. It is uncertain whether the previously mentioned Colonel Ismagilov is included in this number.

On the evening of Jan. 14, information surfaced through radio monitoring and aircraft tracking services, such as FlightRadar, indicating a loss of contact with a Russian Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft over the Sea of Azov, likely due to being shot down or damaged. Simultaneously, confirmation came regarding the downing of an Ilyushin Il-22M advanced airborne command post aircraft thanks to intercepted conversations indicating it made an emergency landing in Anapa and several crew members were injured. As of Monday morning European time precise details on the fate of the Beriev A-50 remain unavailable. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Helicopterpilot confirmed the successful landing of the Il-22M aircraft. Pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov hinted that the incident might be attributed to Russian air defenses. Another pro-Russian blogger, Aleksey Sukonkin, rhetorically questioned the motive behind shooting down their own valuable aircraft and pondered the consequences for those responsible. The Dva Mayora [Two Majors] Telegram channel also reported that the cause was likely "friendly fire," suggesting an Identification Friend or Foe system malfunction. Striking targets over the Sea of Azov proves challenging for the Ukrainian side due to the distance from the positions of the AFU. Later, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, confirmed that the A-50 and Il-22M aircraft over the Sea of Azov were shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force. Additionally, a photo of the downed Il-22M aircraft emerged later in the day.

On Jan. 12, a video was released showing Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu inspecting the progress of a state defense order at an arms manufacturing facility in the Moscow region. Among other things, the segment features a FAB-1500 air-dropped bomb equipped with a Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK) with elevons on its wings. Previous versions of the UMPK featured a flat wing design without elevons. This indicates that the RuAF now has the ability to control the roll of its glide bombs. In another frame of the video, the tail assembly of the system appears to be equipped with what we believe to be Pitot tubes mounted on vertical stabilizers—an air pressure-measuring instrument that allows to determine an aircraft’s speed and altitude. These tubes are likely part of the inertial guidance system needed for course correction in environments where GPS or GLONASS signals are jammed by the enemy. For this to work, the UMPK module must also be equipped with gyroscopes and accelerometers.

Additionally, in a shot of a FAB-500 equipped with UMPK (which, according to the video, is the same version that is installed on the FAB-1500), the tail assembly clearly shows that the vertical stabilizers are rigidly attached to the bomb’s tail ring and cannot rotate. This tends to confirm our assumption about the placement of the Pitot tubes on the FAB-1500 UMPK, as they must be directed into oncoming airflow in order to be accurate. However, we speculate that on the underside of the bomb, there is a controllable tail assembly (also present on the FAB-1500 UMPK version), with tail fins that can synchronously rotate up or down to control pitch and adjust the bomb’s flight range. It is worth noting that after the bomb is released, it flips over, with the tail fins now on top and the vertical stabilizers on the bottom.

Russian forces carried out an airstrike on Beryslav, Kherson region, on the right bank of the Dnipro River on Jan. 13, resulting in an injury to an elderly woman. One of the photographs from the scene shows an unexploded air-dropped bomb, presumably an OFAB-250-270. Fragments of the tail assembly, likely from an UMPK module, are visible in its tail fins.

Mikhail Fedorov, the Head of the Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, has announced the launch of the People's Drone project. Under this initiative, any Ukrainian can enroll in a complimentary two-week training course to acquire the skills needed for assembling FPV drones independently. Upon successful completion of the training and passing the required test, the assembled drones will be dispatched to the troops. As of now, more than 100 drones have been assembled through this project, 80% of which have successfully passed the test.

Yurii Ihnat, the Spokesman of the Air Force Command of the AFU, has stated that local communities have the opportunity to procure Electronic Warfare equipment from civilian manufacturers to counter Russian missiles and drones.

It is worth noting that the previously mentioned Russian Volnorez [Wave Breaker] electronic warfare systems are allegedly also assembled by volunteers.

We believe it is important to verify that products created by volunteers or procured by local authorities are not inadvertently sourced from China.

There have been instances where products claimed to be Russian innovations are, in fact, imported from China. Some Chinese manufacturers produce unbranded "white-label" items, allowing any company to affix its logo. In such cases, rather than promoting individual designers and local production, the armed forces may be receiving low-quality Chinese products, potentially creating opportunities for money laundering.

The commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, has stated that the Ukrainian Air Force requires additional attack aircraft, specifically mentioning the A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft. We do not agree with the assertions made by some journalists and analysts claiming that these aircraft are too slow and ineffective given the current level of air defense system saturation on the frontline. Both sides effectively deploy the Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, which shares similar technical characteristics, without directly approaching the frontline. However, it should be noted that the transfer of the A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft would additionally require the training of not only pilots, but also maintaining specialists, so we consider it more rational to request the provision of more F-16 fighters and, accordingly, organize training for more pilots specifically for this type of aircraft. Moreover, in our opinion, the transfer of an additional batch of the aforementioned Bradley IFVs would be much more useful for the Ukrainian Ground Forces than A-10 attack aircraft.

Western Assistance

Latvia has announced a new military aid package for Ukraine. It will include:

  • howitzers;
  • 155mm artillery rounds;
  • anti-tank defense and air defense systems;
  • rocket launchers;
  • all-terrain vehicles;
  • helicopters;
  • other weapons.

In addition, Latvia will extend assistance to Ukraine in the production of drones.

The World Economic Forum is set to commence on Jan. 15 in Davos, running through January 19, with the overarching theme being the restoration of trust at the international level. Notably, a special address by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled for Jan. 16. Preceding the main event, a private meeting involving national security advisors from various countries, including Ukraine, took place on Jan. 14. The forum will delve into several critical aspects of Zelenskyy's Peace Formula, including:

  • Restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity;
  • Withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities;
  • Payment of war reparations by Russia and the establishment of a military tribunal;
  • Compensation for environmental damage;
  • Signing of a peace treaty with the widest possible involvement of states and international organizations.

The Davos Forum has faced widespread criticism, as its discussions often fall short of resolving specific global international problems. A more beneficial approach would involve a concentrated focus on the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, particularly considering its continued acquisition of complex weapon-manufacturing components through third countries. Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, emphasized in an interview with the Voice of America that the Russian economy appears to be entirely driven by military needs. He argued that none of Europe's twelve sanction packages has had any tangible impact.

In general, ammunition deviating from their course and the accidental release of air ordnance can occur in any war, since equipment is never completely foolproof. For example, on Jan. 13, a missile was found in the Krasnodar region, near the village of Atamanskaya. We preliminarily identified the wreckage as a 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missile. This unexpected location suggests that the missile likely traveled from the Caspian Sea. Notably, Ukrainian air defense forces had reported launches from the Caspian Sea on Jan. 8. It is presumed that Russian ships in that area were responsible for launching this type of missile, as the Kalibr's range is sufficient to attack Ukrainian territory from that region.

It is worth noting that only cases of missiles falling on Russian territory typically become widely known. In contrast, incidents involving missiles or bombs falling on Ukrainian territory occupied since 2014, such as Donetsk or Horlivka, are primarily reported by local Telegram channels. It is believed that such incidents have increased recently, not necessarily due to a decline in missile quality caused by sanctions or the lack of specific production components. Rather, the increase is attributed to a surge in attacks since December 2024, with Russia launching over 100 cruise missiles on certain days.

On Jan. 12, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv and signed an agreement with President Zelenskyy, focusing on security guarantees for Ukraine. The ten-year pact, with the potential for extension, will remain in effect until Ukraine becomes a member of NATO. The agreement encompasses a broad spectrum of cooperation, particularly in light of the ongoing Russian invasion. In the event of a future Russian attack, the UK commits to providing Ukraine with prompt and sustained security assistance, modern military vehicles and equipment, and essential economic support. Detailed language of the agreement has not been disclosed, and there is uncertainty regarding its applicability in the case of a ceasefire violation. During the visit, Sunak also announced a ÂŁ2.5 billion assistance package for Ukraine in 2024. Of this, ÂŁ200 million will be allocated for the purchase and production of reconnaissance and combat UAVs as well as sea drones, marking the largest drone shipment ever sent by a foreign state to Ukraine. Prior to this, Ukraine used mostly foreign reconnaissance drones, while strike and sea drones were primarily produced domestically. Commenting on this agreement, US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink stated that the US has already held two rounds of security obligations negotiations with Ukraine. The Biden administration aims to secure a comparable agreement, reinforcing the US commitment to support Ukraine's NATO accession. The security agreement is seen as a strategic measure to serve as a "bridge to security" until Ukraine achieves NATO membership.

FPV drones cannot completely replace artillery systems. Instead, they represent a separate class of weapons with distinct capabilities. The payload of most FPV drones is significantly smaller than that of artillery shells, resulting in less powerful explosions. Moreover, drones are affected by fog and other weather conditions, as well as EW systems. On the other hand, drones are becoming an increasingly effective means when combined with other weapon systems to contain an advancing enemy or even support storming operations. There have been instances where drones flew directly into trenches and pursued individual soldiers. There are also unconfirmed reports of certain drones having the ability to automatically lock onto a target. In practice, using FPV drones in conjunction with artillery systems is often most beneficial. Instead of replacing each other, they complement one another.

The Bild newspaper published an article containing excerpts from a secret document of the Bundeswehr, describing a scenario of a war with Russia in 2025. The authors anticipate the initiation of a hybrid war through Russian provocations and troop deployments, potentially escalating into a full-scale confrontation. It is the responsibility of the General Staff of the Armed Forces in every country to consider all scenarios, no matter how unlikely (even a war between Canada and the USA for example). The existence of such scenarios does not necessarily mean that a conflict is likely, so it would be unreasonable to conclude from the article that German officials are convinced that a war with Russia next year is inevitable.

Stéphane Séjourné, the newly appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, visited Kyiv on Jan. 13 on his first official visit abroad. During a meeting with President Zelenskyy, they discussed Ukraine's defense needs, focusing on the joint production of drones, artillery and the further strengthening of air defenses.

Olga Romanova, Executive Director of the Rus’ Sidyashchaya [Russia Behind Bars] civil rights movement, has stated that heating is being deliberately turned off in some Russian penal colonies to force convicts to go to the war. It is possible that such practices are indeed occurring in Russian prisons, especially considering that convicts who were willing to join the war voluntarily have likely already done so. Currently, it is impossible to sign a contract, fight in the war and return to civilian life six months later, having received a presidential pardon, something observed when the Wagner Group was recruiting convicts. While convicts from Storm-Z units are presently pardoned after six months of fighting, they are required to sign open-ended contracts with the Ministry of Defense. There has been no recent information about convicts released after the expiration of their fixed-term contracts, signed with the Ministry of Defense in the summer of 2023.

In 2023, amendments to the legislation allowed the direct recruitment of convicts into the structures of the Ministry of Defense. However, despite these changes, convicts continue to sign contracts with "volunteer" units.

Anastasia Kashevarova [pro-Russian propagandist] has stated that convicts from Storm-Z units and volunteer fighters from the Redut PMC and the Nevsky unit are not entitled to any state benefits or payments.