January 17

Sitrep for Jan. 15-17, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of Jan. 16, Ukrainian drones struck Voronezh, likely targeting the Voronezh military airfield. Reportedly, a Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system intercepted the drones, but debris hit residential buildings, injuring a 10-year-old girl. Local residents were seen collecting the fallen drone fragments, which poses a significant safety risk.

On Jan. 17, Russian forces launched a missile strike on the center of Kharkiv, causing 17 reported casualties and damaging 10 residential houses along with a private clinic. According to Oleh Syniehubov, the head of Kharkiv Regional Administration, modified S-300 surface-to-air missiles were used.

Contrary to concerns expressed by some journalists and observers, the increased intensity of attacks on Kharkiv does not necessarily signify that Russia is preparing for a ground operation to surround and capture the city, as no other signs of such preparations have been observed. Nevertheless, the localized advance of the Russian Armed Forces in the Kharkiv region continues at the same pace in the Kupiansk direction, near Synkivka.

Additionally, on the night of Jan. 17, the RuAF once again targeted the city of Odesa with loitering munitions, resulting in three injuries and a residential building catching fire. Footage captured by witnesses shows drone debris, likely belonging to Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munition.

New details have emerged regarding the downing of the Russian Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft and Ilyushin Il-22M advanced airborne command post aircraft. However, visual evidence supporting the two main versions of the events is still lacking.

A first version of the events attributes the loss of the aircraft to an incident of “friendly fire” from Russian air defenses. However, similar to last May’s incident in the Bryansk region, we remain doubtful that air defense units could successively target two of their own aircraft. Additionally, the Ukrainian side released radar data showing the trajectories of the Russian aircraft over the Sea of Azov. OSINT analyst Michael Sheldon suggests that the trajectory of the A-50 is depicted in green, and that of the Il-22 in blue. The prolonged flight times of the aircraft before the interceptions argue, in our view, against the friendly fire theory. However, if this version is correct, Russian air defenses may adopt a more cautious approach in the near future, potentially opening a “window of opportunity” for new AFU aerial attacks in the region.

A second version of events stipulates that the aircraft were struck by a Ukrainian Patriot air defense system, aligning with a previous statement made by the Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. However, this theory is difficult to confirm in the absence of reliable data on the Patriot’s range. The presumed range of Patriot PAC-2 missiles is 160 km [100 mi], with the exact figure still classified (it is not even known for certain whether such missiles have been transferred to Ukraine). Both aircraft flew near Primorsk, west of Berdyansk, where the distance to the nearest AFU position near Orikhiv is about 120 km [75 mi], while the presumed crash site in the Sea of Azov, according to Elliot Higgins, is at least 160 km from that position. The likelihood of Patriot systems being deployed directly on the frontline is close to nil, as such systems are typically positioned at least 10 to 20 km [6-12 mi] away from the frontline to avoid detection. While we consider it possible that the RuAF aircraft were shot down by a Patriot system, there currently is no evidence to confirm it.

In conclusion, given the available information, we do not favor either of these versions at this time.

The least probable version, in our view, is that of an F-16 fighter jet, secretly transferred to Ukraine, downing the Russian aircraft. While there have been instances in the past where information about weapon transfers surfaced after the fact, the delivery of a batch of fighters is less likely to go unnoticed, given that they are unlikely to be transferred one by one. Moreover, we would expect certain hints by Ukrainian officials to appear after their successful use. It is worth noting that both the current Minister of Defense of Ukraine Rustem Umerov and Ukraine's former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov had previously stated that F-16 fighter aircraft were not expected to arrive until spring 2024.

Based on emerging reports, it appears that the Russian Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft has crashed in the sea, resulting in the death of the entire crew. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber, associated with the Russian Air and Space Force, has stated that 11 (according to some sources, 12) military pilots were killed.

Additionally, photos of a damaged Il-22M aircraft have appeared. Reportedly, two crew members were killed, and two others were wounded.

On Jan. 14, a preliminary closed-door meeting of national security advisers took place at the World Economic Forum in Davos, focusing on Russia's war against Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelenskyy's "peace formula." According to Bloomberg, the meeting did not yield significant results, consistent with expectations.

It has been revealed that the upcoming Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting (Ramstein) will take place online on Jan. 23. Anticipated announcements include information about the delivery of additional air defense missiles and artillery shells.

The Financial Times, based on conversations with various officials, experts and analysts, has released an article on Russia's strikes on Ukrainian territory this winter.

It has been reported that the targets of Russia's winter campaign are not energy-related but military facilities. According to Vadym Skibitskyi, a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, Russia is focusing its efforts on the destruction of military-industrial complex facilities, headquarters, command and control systems and military units on the frontline. This information cannot be independently confirmed based on open data, as information reports of hits on military facilities are not published. However, in the previous winter, there were numerous reports of strikes on substations, transformers and resulting blackouts. As of now, there is no confirmation of the use of Shahed-136 loitering munitions on targets along the frontline.

The article also highlights that the effectiveness of mobile SAM platforms, such as HMMWVs mounted with heavy machine guns, is currently reduced when these vehicles get stuck in the snow.

In the same piece, a South Korean expert suggested that North Korea could potentially supply around 100 KN-23 missiles from its stocks.

Another expert posited that Iran could supply “just to start,” several hundred short-range ballistic missiles. This hypothesis is indirectly confirmed by the ongoing negotiations between Russian and Iranian officials in recent weeks.

Additionally, the article notes that Russia is currently manufacturing about 300 attack drones and more than 100 long-range missiles a month, compared with about 40 at the start of invasion. This aligns with the assessment provided by Skibitskyi.

Western Assistance

A Reuters columnist proposed a novel mechanism for Ukraine to raise funds. The country could sell government bonds for $300 billion, equivalent to the total value of Russian central bank reserves that were frozen by Western governments at the start of the war. The bonds would be backed by future claims for war damages against Russia. However, there are doubts about whether there will be sufficient interest in these bonds, given the uncertainty surrounding future reparations.

President of France Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to visit Ukraine in the near future, perhaps as early as February. Alongside this announcement, it has been revealed that France intends to supply approximately 40 SCALP-EG long-range cruise missiles, along with several hundred bombs and other weapons to Ukraine.

The Economist has published an article discussing the support provided to Ukraine by various EU countries. Notably, Europe’s total financial assistance has exceeded that of the USA.

In terms of military aid, Germany stands out as the leader, while France is not even listed among Ukraine’s top ten partners. The prominent European manufacturer, German automotive and arms company Rheinmetall, has announced plans to increase the production of artillery rounds to 700,000 a year by the end of 2024. The majority of these orders have been funded by Germany, while France's contribution is relatively modest. This contrast raises questions, especially in light of President Macron's repeated calls to put the country's economy on a war footing and actively support Ukraine.

The article also reports that by December 2023, Ukraine had received 480,000 artillery rounds. It is worth noting that in March 2023, the EU committed to sending 1 million artillery rounds to Ukraine within a year.

A significant factor impeding the increase of ammunition production is that most European defense industry enterprises are private. To secure investments to expand production, these enterprises require the assurance of receiving orders for the next 10 years. The acceleration of artillery ammunition production is possible if certain conditions, such as storage shelf life, are relaxed. It is evident that ammunition produced in the near future will be used in warfare immediately rather than being stored for years.

In addition to the shortage of ammunition, as previously discussed, Ukraine is also facing a scarcity of machine guns. Recently, there have been more photos emerging of heavy DShKM and NSVT machine guns, modified with bipods for infantry use.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

Governor of the Tver region Igor Rudenya has significantly increased payments to participants in the war in Ukraine, stating that "this direction of work is a priority for the regional government." The one-time regional payment for those who have signed contracts has risen from 100 to 305 thousand rubles [$1,130 to $3,460]. This development aligns with the ongoing trend of regions actively working to fulfill recruitment plans and competing with each other to attract volunteer fighters.

Ukraine claims that more than a thousand contract soldiers join the Russian Army every day. We consider this figure to be greatly overestimated—such statements are probably needed to justify Ukrainian mobilization.

A video address has emerged featuring ex-convicts from the Oryol region who were part of a Storm-Z unit. They are complaining that promised salaries are not being paid, combat veteran certificates are not being issued, and other promises made at the time of recruitment are not being fulfilled. According to the video, the soldiers are now in the rear, having completed their contracts with the Ministry of Defense and returned home. Additionally, they report that a majority have sustained serious injuries, suggesting that this may be a contributing factor to their demobilization.

RBC [Russian media group], citing sources, has reported that a draft law is being prepared that will allow asset seizure on charges related to "fake news" about the army.