January 24

Sitrep for Jan. 22-24, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Fighting in the Avdiivka direction persists without any significant changes since our previous sitrep. A French researcher, using the X (formerly Twitter) username Poulet Volant, posted the geolocation of videos capturing a Russian attack in the Tsarska Okhota area. The DeepState project also noted visual evidence that Russian forces are currently in the south of Avdiivka.

Pro-Russian sources are spreading a story claiming that approximately 150 Russian assault troopers in Avdiivka allegedly "discovered an underground pipe with a diameter of 0.8 m and crawled along it for almost 2 km," emerging behind Ukrainian positions. Notably, no photos or videos of this alleged pipe have been published. The report suggests that this pipe shortcut is responsible for the Russian advances in the south of Avdiivka. It seems implausible that such previously unknown tunnels could have been discovered in Avdiivka, a location under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for almost 10 years.

In January 2024, Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fitio, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ground Forces command, reported that 44 thousand Russian soldiers were located in the Kupiansk direction. However, just six months ago, in July 2023, Serhii Cherevatyi, Ukraine's Operational Command East spokesman, stated that there were 100 thousand soldiers, more than 900 tanks, and over 550 artillery systems and 370 MLRS in the Kupiansk direction. Although some of these forces were sent to Avdiivka and Krynky, the 25th Combined Arms Army arrived to replace them. Even considering these changes, the numbers reported by the Ukrainian side remain implausible, as no noticeable concentrations of troops can now be visually observed, mirroring the situation six months ago.

However, some media outlets have begun publishing forecasts, likely based on these statements about the supposedly significant concentration of Russian forces. On Jan. 4, The Telegraph, citing a source close to the AFU, published an article reporting that Russia is apparently preparing for a new attack on the city of Kharkiv on Jan. 15. While the possibility of an attack on Kharkiv has been discussed in several other sources, including pro-Russian ones, there is still no confirmation that it is planned in the near future.

Furthermore, the Daily Mail tabloid published a speculative plan for a Russian attack on the EU in 2044. Among other things this plan included the fantastical assumption that the attack would be conducted using AI-operated Russian tanks.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On Jan. 23, Russia carried out another massive missile attack on the territory of Ukraine, with the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions being particularly affected. Residential buildings in Kyiv sustained damage, and in Kharkiv, an entire section of flats in a residential building collapsed. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated in his address that at least 18 people were killed and another 130 were injured. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that they intercepted 21 out of 41 missiles launched by the RuAF, including five 9K720 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles targeting Kyiv. It is possible that North Korean missiles could have been among the downed ballistic missiles. Ukrainian air defense operators might have mistaken them for Iskanders due to their similarity in appearance and performance characteristics. It is worth noting that the RuAF continue to use missiles equipped with decoy flares to effectively overcome Ukrainian air defenses, as evidenced by a new video showing a Russian missile in the sky above Kyiv.

There have been no new developments regarding the Jan. 21 attack on Donetsk; however, many researchers have shared their conclusions based on the limited amount of available information. There remains, in our view, several misconceptions surrounding this attack. Firstly, we still maintain that it is impossible to determine the direction from which the projectiles were coming from or the caliber of the munitions used from the photographs of the impact sites. Various sources suggest different directions, ranging from northwest to east, and calibers such as 155mm, 152mm, 122mm, 120mm and 82mm are all still in contention, as the size of a crater depends in part on artillery fuse configuration. While a picture of a tree damaged by an explosion rules out a projectile arriving from the southeast, it does not allow for any more precise conclusions.

Secondly, freelance journalist Euan MacDonald has analyzed a video allegedly capturing the sounds of outgoing and incoming munitions, and calculated the travel time of the projectiles to be 2.5 seconds. Such a short travel time can only be achieved in cases of direct artillery fire. Moreover, in urban settings, sounds are often reflected off building walls, making it impossible to accurately construct a timeline based on sounds recorded.

And thirdly, despite a collection of widely diverging conclusions, many observers have asserted that the Russian side is responsible for the attack. Based on the available data, our team was unable to determine who exactly carried out this attack.

The Joint Center for Control and Coordination of the "DPR" (JCCC DPR) claims that on Jan. 23 a drone allegedly dropped a munition into the chimney of a private house in Yasynuvata, Donetsk region, resulting in the death of two pensioners. The demonstrated destruction seems too extensive for the types of grenades typically dropped by drones. At the same time, the possibility of a 120mm mortar round, mentioned in the report, getting into such a narrow chimney is questionable. Furthermore, in our opinion, the bloodstain on the ceiling in the part of the room opposite the wood stove with the chimney and the fact that the body of an elderly man was thrown out of the window, do not entirely align with the official version.

It is possible that an all too common tragic incident, for settlements located near the frontline, took place: local residents quite frequently come across explosive items and bring them home, leading to inadvertent detonations.

We have consistently emphasized, as third-party observers discussing attacks on Ukrainian cities, that our knowledge is limited to information regarding the deaths of civilians and the destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure. Generally, we lack information about damage to military facilities. However, such information does become available from time to time. Ihor Mosiychuk, a former member of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament], reported that during a Russian strike on the night of Jan. 20-21 in Myrnohrad, Donetsk region, 16 soldiers from the 110th Mechanized Brigade were killed, with more than 20 still trapped under rubble at the time of his post. On the date of compiling the summary on strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and Russia, we did not have this information. Consequently, the summary only included details about the destruction of civilian infrastructure and two injured civilians.

Earlier, we mentioned measurements conducted by the Kharkiv Prosecutor's Office on the North Korean missile that struck Kharkiv on Jan. 2 raised doubts, as they did not align with North Korean missile dimensions assessments from trusted experts. Conflict Armament Research examined the missile debris, revealing that its tail diameter is 110 cm, which is 15 cm larger than the 9K720Iskander system missile. This contradicts the initial report of 1 cm difference and is consistent with estimates for the KN-23 missile. Researchers also detailed and photographed components that distinguish it from the Iskander missile.

In December 2023, Putin instructed the Ministry of Defense to conduct the fall regular conscription campaign in 2024 using an electronic registry for conscripts. Forbes reported, based on a Dec. 22 digital development commission meeting protocol, that the government opted not to develop the unified register of Russians subject to military service using the GosTech digital platform due to its incompatibility with state secrets safekeeping. Instead, the military registry will be built from scratch on the Gosoblako platform. Ivan Begtin, director of the Information Culture NGO, anticipates a three to four-year development timeline, possibly shortened to a year and a half under pressure.

In August 2021, Georgy Povilayko, a resident of the Primorsky region, raped and killed Anna Koshulko, a 37-year-old mother of two. He was subsequently sentenced to 24 years in prison, but spent only about a year in a penal colony because he was recruited for the war at the end of October 2023. According to his neighbor, Povilayko signed a six-month contract, but for reasons unknown, he managed to return home after only three months.

Currently, two types of contracts between the Ministry of Defense and convicts are known. Between January and July 2023, convicts recruited into Storm-Z units signed six-month contracts and were subsequently released from penal colonies after being pardoned. Upon the completion of the six-month contracts, convicts received documents, although they were not entitled to any payments or benefits. The second option, mostly applied after August 2023, involves convicts leaving penal colonies on parole and signing contracts with the Ministry of Defense, similar to other volunteer fighters. In this scenario, they can only return home after sustaining a serious injury.

It is decidedly unclear how Povilayko happened to regain liberty only three months after signing his contract in October 2023. There are no reports that he has been injured.

Bloomberg reports that EU foreign ministers have tentatively agreed to apply a windfall tax on Russian frozen assets in Europe and use the funds to support Ukraine. In 2023, such gains amounted to €15 billion. Many countries continue to object to an outright confiscation of the assets, as this could potentially impact the stability of the euro and the EU economy in general. Some investors could also withdraw their funds due to concerns that their own assets might be confiscated in a similar fashion in the future.