January 29

Sitrep for Jan. 26-29, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

In the Kupiansk direction, Russian forces advanced to the northwest of the village of Krokhmalne and captured the village of Tabaivka. Due to its lowland location, the village did not provide significant tactical advantages to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, making it impractical to hold. It is more strategic to retreat to the heights near Tabaivka and fire at the enemy from that vantage point.

The situation with Bohdanivka in the Bakhmut direction is similar: Russian forces have occupied the outskirts of the village and keep fighting the AFU in the contested area. However, it is also tactically disadvantageous for Ukrainian forces to retain control of this village due to its lowland location. In the spring of 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin [deceased owner of the Wagner Group] spoke about the absence of a tactical advantage in capturing the village of Berkhivka, located northwest of Bohdanivka.

Russian forces used thermite incendiary munitions to hit the village of Krynky on the left bank of the Dnipro River. It remains unclear whether any civilians are still present in this nearly destroyed village, but if so, this attack constitutes another war crime committed by the Russian Armed Forces.

Crash of the Il-76 Aircraft in the Belgorod Region

A recording of the conversation between the captain of the aircraft that crashed in the Belgorod region and the Belgorod airport air traffic controller has emerged. The pilot can be heard mentioning that the aircraft’s registration number is RF-86868, and not RF-86828 as previously thought, and that the plane is traveling at an altitude of 27,000 feet (8.2 km [5 mi]). In another recording, the air traffic controller notifies the pilot that a missile danger alert is in effect. It is plausible that the Il-76 was redirected to another airport, likely Voronezh, due to this alert. This could also explain why the aircraft was flying from west to east, although we still lack video of the aircraft flying before being hit.

On Jan. 27, the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War confirmed that the 65 prisoners, named in a list earlier released by Russia, were indeed scheduled to be exchanged on the day of the Il-76 crash.

We do not anticipate any new information to emerge in the near future. Similar to the case of the destruction of Russian landing ships in Crimea, the identification of the bodies of the deceased through DNA testing may extend over several months.

We find the notion that this incident is a Russian ploy to discredit the AFU to be unsubstantiated, as the loss of an Il-76 strategic airlifter with its crew does not bring any benefit to the Russian leadership.

New information has emerged about the strike on a gathering of Russian soldiers at a training range in Ilovaisk, Donetsk region, where they were undergoing drone operation training. Niyaz Valeyev, call sign "Khan," is confirmed to be among the casualties, as revealed in his obituary. A ground-level photo of the aftermath shows the strike hit an open area, leaving no refuge from flying shrapnel. The Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel reports 38 servicemen and 2 civilian instructors killed, 20 servicemen injured and 2 missing in action. This strike is particularly sensitive for the Russian side due to the shortage of drone operators and the crucial role of drones in the current stage of the war.

Shamsail Saraliev, a member of the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] from the United Russia party [Putin's ruling party], revealed that Russia and Ukraine exchanged bodies of killed soldiers: Ukraine returned 55 bodies to Russia and Russia returned 77 to Ukraine. Saraliev, previously reported as one of the negotiators for the exchange of prisoners of war, was supposed to fly on the downed Il-76, together with General Sergey Egorov but was allegedly ordered by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to board another plane.

In collaboration with volunteers, BBC News Russian and Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] have released another summary of Russian losses in the war with Ukraine. At this moment, they have counted more than 43,000 names of killed soldiers. In the last two weeks, 1,283 names of Russian soldiers have been added to the list, significantly exceeding the average indicators of 2022 (300 confirmed deaths per week) and comparable to the losses of last year’s winter (600-800 confirmed deaths per week) when Russian forces were attempting an offensive in the Vuhledar direction. This confirms our observations that the current Russian winter campaign is similar to last year’s, with the difference that it is taking place on the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia axes, in the Avdiivka direction, as well as in the areas the towns of Marinka, Vuhledar, and Krynky.

Media reports also highlight that nearly half of the RuAF combat casualties occurred among those who enlisted after the start of the full-scale invasion. This indicates that various combat units now consist of mobilized soldiers, frequently lacking any prior combat experience, and consequently, they do not stand out in terms of training proficiency.

In Saint Petersburg, Putin met with students who participated in the "special military operation". According to him, fighters engaged in the "special military operation" receive an average of around 200,000 rubles [$2,230] per month. This contradicts statements promising a minimum salary of 205,000 rubles [$2,280] upon signing a contract with the Ministry of Defense. Thus, Putin indirectly confirmed the claims of some servicemen who complain that instead of the promised 200,000 rubles [$2,230], they receive only 100,000 [$1,115]. We consider such "discrepancies" worthy of attention, as they can help us assess the future pace of contract soldiers’ recruitment: if the minimum salary is indeed 200,000 rubles [$2,230], it is a serious incentive for residents of poorer regions to join the military. However, spreading information about real payments of around 100,000 rubles [$1,115] will likely lead to a decrease in the number of those willing to sign a contract.

Donald Trump intends to elevate the migration issue as the primary focus of the presidential race, asserting that he does not accept the compromise almost reached between the President's administration and Congress because the solution to this issue must be more radical. Such statements can change the opinion of some Republicans and divide the party.

Western Assistance

Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, plans to visit Washington soon to discuss the issue of further aid to Ukraine. It is worth noting that Germany has provided Ukraine with more weapons than other European countries. This year, Germany plans to transfer to Ukraine:

  • IRIS-T SLM medium range air defense systems;
  • Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns;
  • Additional artillery systems with over 230,000 rounds;
  • Over 80 Leopard 1 A5 main battle tanks;
  • Additional infantry fighting vehicles;
  • 450 armored vehicles;
  • Engineering vehicles, bridge-laying tanks and mine-clearing systems;
  • Drones;
  • Radar and reconnaissance systems.

The German automotive and arms manufacturer Rheinmetall intends to open a new plant in Lithuania and expand existing production capacities to achieve a production rate of 700,000 155mm artillery shells per year by the end of 2024. This represents a significant increase compared to the 80,000 shells produced in 2022.

Ukraine has been observed using 105mm canister tank cartridges, specifically the M1040, on Leopard 1A5 tanks. Upon firing, these projectiles deploy and release a large number of spheres (canister shot) that cover a significant area at distances ranging from 200 to 500 meters. Although these projectiles have a shorter range compared to others, during the ongoing war, tanks have frequently engaged opponents located in forested lines at close distances. As a result, such projectiles could prove to be quite effective.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, Greek authorities have approved the transfer of outdated weapon systems to Ukraine. In return, the United States has pledged to sell Greece F-35 fighter jets worth $8.6 billion. The specific weapon systems involved in the transfer are not specified; however, publicly available information indicates that Greece possesses air defense systems such as Tor-M1, Osa-AKM and S-300 SAM systems, as well as ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft twin autocannons.

Black-painted RuAF Shahed loitering munitions with thermobaric warheads have been identified in Ukraine. These warheads are similar to those equipped on the heavy flamethrower TOS-1 Solntsepyok MLRS. The black color appears to have been designed to make these UAVs less visible at night, and it is reported that a special composite material covering makes it less detectable by radars. Earlier speculations had already suggested the use of such materials for these purposes. Reports about the use of Shahed loitering munitions with thermobaric warheads first emerged in December.