February 2

Sitrep for Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3) 

Correction to Previous Sitreps

The statement in the previous sitrep regarding a T-62 tank engaged in combat in the Avdiivka direction was erroneous. The tank in the video had six track rollers, while T-62 tanks typically have five. It was, in fact, a T-72 tank, likely a T-72AV, captured in the footage. Nevertheless, T-62 tanks are also engaged in combat, with several dozen of them reported lost, according to the Oryx project.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, has released a new essay, as reported by CNN, which also published a detailed analysis of the text. Zaluzhnyi outlines Ukraine's military plans for 2024, emphasizing that every war requires a unique strategy and logic to achieve victory under new conditions. The main reason for evolving strategies, forms and methods of deploying forces, he contends, is the development of weapons and equipment, especially unmanned systems, the use of which has become widespread and allows to perform a wide range of tasks, which are constantly growing. Therefore, Zaluzhnyi states, unmanned systems, along with other advanced types of weapons, are probably the only tools that can help Ukraine move away from disadvantageous positional warfare and rekindle a maneuver-based strategy. Zaluzhnyi also listed several factors prompting the exploration of new methods of waging war:

  • Unstable political situation in Ukraine's allied countries, leading to a reduction in military support;
  • High probability of Russia provoking other local conflicts to distract Ukraine's key partners;
  • Depletion of missiles, shells and artillery in allied countries and the inability to quickly produce them;
  • Ineffectiveness of the sanctions policy, which leads to the development of Russia's and its partners’ military-industrial complexes, allowing Russia to continue a war of attrition;
  • significant superiority of Russia in the mobilization of human resources and the inability of Ukrainian state structures to improve the condition of their Armed Forces without taking unpopular measures;
  • Imperfection of the legal framework and partial monopolization of Ukraine's defense industry, leading to even greater dependence on partners' supplies;
  • Uncertainty of the further nature of an armed conflict of such a scale and, therefore, difficulty for allies in determining support priorities.

Zaluzhnyi claims that for Ukraine to transition to maneuver warfare, securing air superiority is imperative. However, the feasibility of achieving this goal in the near future appears challenging. Concerns are raised about the reserves and production speed of air defense systems in allied countries, with skepticism about their ability to significantly limit the influence of the Russian Air Force in the medium term. Additionally, we do not see sufficient efforts to provide Ukraine with the necessary number of aircraft. Furthermore, there is a perceived lack of sufficient efforts to provide Ukraine with the necessary number of aircraft, often centered on discussions of a single model—the F-16 fighter aircraft. The absence of proposals to transfer aircraft analogous to Russian Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft is noted. Nevertheless, it is relatively realistic for the Ukrainian Air Force to match the Russian Aerospace Forces in the near future. Notably, the presence of numerous air defense systems on both sides already imposes restrictions on enemy aircraft, meaning that F-16s would likely face similar conditions to those of Russian aircraft, and would have to operate at a distance from the frontline to avoid entering the range of Russian air defense systems.

Zaluzhnyi's assertion regarding the incapacity of state structures to enhance the staffing of the AFU without resorting to unpopular measures is also deemed highly debatable. It is unclear what "popular measures" might entail in such a context. Even higher salaries are a relatively weak incentive to convince people to go to war. Perhaps the intended meaning could be the insufficient determination of Ukrainian authorities to undertake necessary but unpopular actions.

For us, this essay resembles a manifesto calling for a transition towards a more automated army. Given that most people are unwilling to sacrifice their lives in war, not only in Ukraine, but also globally, it is necessary to invest in a production base capable of manufacturing substantial quantities of various unmanned systems to offset shortages in military personnel. The organizational structure of the armed forces needs to evolve as well.

Zaluzhnyi wrote that it is imperative to achieve the following in 2024:

  • Create a system, which can supply the AFU with high-tech equipment;
  • Adopt a new philosophy for planning and combat operations, which takes into account current limitations;
  • Consequently, master new combat capabilities as soon as possible.

Zaluzhnyi estimates that this could be achieved in five months, which appears too optimistic in our opinion.

It is worth noting that the CNN article mentioned that the general wrote his essay before the first rumors of his potential replacement as Commander-in-Chief started to emerge. Despite this, CNN wrote on Jan. 31 that its sources expect Zaluzhnyi to be dismissed before the end of the week. Although it is impossible to say at this time, whether the general will in fact be dismissed, we do not agree with Svyatoslav Khomenko, BBC correspondent in Ukraine, who opined that the specificity of the Commander-in-Chief’s plan indicated that he does not intent to submit his resignation.

As far as we know, during the summer Ukrainian offensive, several staffing changes already occurred in the AFU, with UAV companies being integrated into some brigades. A recent illustration of their effectiveness is seen in the actions of the unmanned aerial system strike company of the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the AFU. A compilation of videos filmed on Jan. 30 by Ukrainian drones in the south of the Donetsk region, near Vuhledar, depicts a significant column of Russian armored vehicles moving towards the highway between Vuhledar and the village of Novomykhailivka. The column is attacked by a swarm of improvised kamikaze drones armed with shaped charge projectiles (RPG-7 rounds with HEAT warheads). Consequently, the entire column is destroyed, including three tanks, seven MT-LB multi-purpose armored vehicles and one BMP IFV. It is worth noting that one MT-LB vehicle was destroyed with an ATGM, and not with the help of a UAV.

This video has garnered commentary from pro-Russian Telegram channels. The Povernutye na Z-voine [Possessed with Z-war] Telegram channel claims that the reason for that defeat lies in the absence of "jammers" on armored vehicles. On the other hand, Russian military blogger Andrey “Murz” Morozov attributes the problem to the lack of explosive reactive armor and proper slat armor, which are deemed effective against HEAT warheads.

It is worth noting that this Russian attack was aimed at cutting the highway connecting Vuhledar and Novomykhailivka in order to complicate the supply of Ukrainian forces stationed in the town of Vuhledar.

Lately, there has been widespread discussion on the issue of protecting infantry from FPV drones, as videos continue to emerge depicting soldiers failing to evade drone attacks. The Russian version of personal anti-drone protection has taken the form of a repurposed flare gun transformed into a single-shot shotgun. The Ukrainian variant is fabricated from scratch, as recently demonstrated by a volunteer named Serhii Flash, and follows much of the same principles, although it features a five-barrel design and is consequently less compact. It is claimed that it costs slightly less than an FPV drone to make.

Similar devices have existed since the 19th century in the form of multi-barreled "pepper-boxes" and double-barreled "derringers." Notably, a derringer was the weapon actor John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

We believe that these weapons could indeed become effective drone countermeasures, with the two-barrel design likely being the better option. However, we are equally concerned that should such compact weapons be mass produced, they could increase crime rates in cities on both sides of the frontline. Some weapons inevitably find their way into the “black market” during large-scale conflicts, and compact weapons are much more sought after by criminals than, for example, assault rifles, as they are easier to transport and conceal.

Incidentally, according to the Vyorstka media outlet, this past year, Russian regions bordering Ukraine have seen their highest number of homicides in 16 years. The Belgorod region is now the most murder-prone in the entire country. However, this statistic could be explained by the fact that people killed in Ukrainian strikes are often recorded as having been murdered rather than casualties of combat operations.

A potential solution to this issue could involve the widespread adoption of anti-drone weapons equipped with net-firing mechanisms. This approach not only addresses the threat posed by drones but also minimizes the risk of a contact fuse on a drone being activated in close proximity to a soldier. This is particularly relevant as attempting to shoot down a drone using improvised means often leads to contact fuses being accidentally triggered.

A video has surfaced depicting a Russian Autel drone colliding with a Ukrainian Baba Yaga drone hovering over RuAF positions to drop ammunition. Subsequent reports indicate that by the time another AFU drone reached the location, the Russian soldiers had already relocated. While instances of drones attacking other drones are relatively rare, the increasing frequency of such incidents prompts a critical question for both sides: how to protect their drones. One potential solution could involve implementing a system akin to the Traffic Collision Avoidance System used by air forces. Such a system would track nearby drones, helping prevent collisions and enhance overall airspace safety. Additionally, the development of unmanned Airborne Warning and Control System UAVs may become necessary for this purpose.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

In recent weeks, there have been several attacks by Ukrainian UAVs on Russian oil processing infrastructure:

  • On Jan. 31, a drone struck the Nevsky Mazut oil refinery in Saint Petersburg, damaging several fuel tanks;
  • On Jan. 31, a UAV reportedly crashed near the village of Chernukha in the Nizhny Novgorod region, close to refineries. The incident is said to be a result of electronic warfare;
  • On Jan. 27, a drone attack caused the shutdown of a Rosneft plant in Tuapse, where a vacuum unit caught fire;
  • On Jan. 18, UAVs attacked an oil terminal in the Leningrad region.

It is evident that the Ukrainian side is actively targeting the Russian oil processing industry with the objective of causing maximum damage.

These actions are likely connected to a Reuters report, indicating that Russia is reducing gasoline and diesel fuel exports to compensate for disruptions at refineries. The extent to which Ukrainian attacks contributed to this reduction, in comparison to OPEC’s decision to cut oil and fuel exports by 500,000 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2024 to stabilize global oil prices, remains unclear. Reports also mention that Russia holds significant gasoline reserves of 2 million tons and diesel reserves of almost 4 million tons. This reserve capacity appears sufficient for a considerable duration, even in the event of a temporary shutdown of refineries. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that these attacks will not significantly impact combat operations.

In recent weeks, there has been a notable surge in drone attacks targeting civilian objects from both sides of the war. For example, in the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Kherson region, specifically in the town of Beryslav, two people were killed and five were injured due to UAV attacks. Additionally, on Jan. 31, in Nova Kakhovka, located in the occupied part of the Kherson region, a Ukrainian UAV dropped munitions on a water supply repair brigade, resulting in the death of a worker and a civilian. On the same day, a Ukrainian UAV struck a station in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, the Joint Center for Control and Coordination of the "DPR" (JCCC DPR) increasingly refrains from sharing footage of strike locations, and is seemingly labeling various other events, such as alleged mine drops in private houses, as UAV strikes.

The Kyiv Research Institute of Forensic Expertise published a mini-study on Russian Orlan-10 drones. All recent samples examined contain geolocation trackers, equipped with autonomous power sources and SIM card slots. Obtaining information on the downing location of a UAV allows identifying the Ukrainian air defense systems’ operational areas and adjusting drone flight routes. Additionally, if a UAV is not dismantled on-site and the tracking module is not destroyed but brought intact to a Ukrainian base, it can reveal its last known location to the RuAF.

On Jan. 31, the AFU reportedly carried out strikes on the Belbek airfield near Sevastopol. The Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel claims that two missiles hit the command and control center of the 38th Fighter Aviation Regiment, and another one hit the communication center of the airfield. As a result of the strike, 10 people were killed, including Lieutenant General Aleksandr Tatarenko. A later statement by Yurii Ihnat, Spokesman of the Air Force Command of the AFU, mentioned that at least three aircraft were hit.

On the night of Feb. 1, the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine carried out an operation, using naval drones (as specified by Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, they used Ukrainian-made MAGURA v5 drones) to attack the Ivanovets Tarantul-class missile corvette, leading it to sink. The first drone hit her stern, disabling the ship’s propulsion system, after which she became an easy target. After that, a second drone struck the ship’s hull in the middle, and a third entered the resulting breach and detonated inside. Pro-Russian Telegram channels claim that all 32 people on board were rescued, although this class of ship typically has a crew of 39 people. We do not exclude that obituaries may appear in the future.

Interestingly, in February 2014, the Ivanovets approached the external raid of Balaklava Bay near Sevastopol and blocked the exit to the sea for ships from the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, citing an engine failure.

Western Assistance

On Feb. 1 the European Union finally approved a financial support package for Ukraine worth €50 billion. It is meant to last four years, and every year the European Commission will meet to discuss the aid plan (but without a vote, contrary to what Hungary required) and revise it "if necessary."

John Kirby, the US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, has said that this funding package does not replace American military assistance, and stressed that Congress needs to agree on it as soon as possible.

A new military support package for Ukraine from Germany has been announced, which includes:

  • 24 MRAP armored vehicles;
  • 4 Bandvagn 206 tracked all-terrain vehicles;
  • IRIS-T SLS missiles;
  • 1,040 155mm artillery rounds;
  • 3 Wisent 1 mine-clearing tanks and 14 mine plows;
  • 1 Biber armored bridge-laying vehicle with spare parts;
  • 1 naval mine clearance system;
  • 1 Satcom surveillance system;
  • 4 border protection vehicles;
  • 450 snow chains;
  • 194,000 single module group rations.

An interview with the crew of a Ukrainian Challenger 2 tank has been published. The crew members say that they work mainly from concealed firing positions at a distance ranging from 2,600 to 2,800 meters. They praise the tank for its high accuracy and armor-piercing high-explosive projectiles that are highly effective against any field defenses. As a downside, they highlight the tank’s low cross-country ability due to its significant weight.

The issue of artillery ammunition to be supplied to Ukraine by Europe is still not quite clear. According to some sources, by March the EU will be able to deliver 500 thousand rounds out of the one million promised last year, according to others, it will be 600 thousand.

The Frontelligence Insight team founded by Ukrainian military analyst Tatarigami reports that a shortage of artillery ammunition creates problems with counter battery fire. As a result, Russian forces are able to bring their artillery and logistics closer to the frontline without fearing to receive enemy fire in return.

This situation was confirmed by a statement made by Ukraine's Minister of Defense Rustem Umerov explaining that the AFU are conserving projectiles and using no more than 2,000 per day (across a 1,500 km frontline). Undoubtedly, this significantly affects the course of combat operations.

On Jan. 31, there was an exchange of prisoners of war. The Russian side claims that it was an even exchange based on a "195 for 195" formula, while the Ukrainian side asserts that 207 Ukrainian POWs returned home (Zelenskyy has mentioned 207 military and civilians, but the detailed breakdown lists 206 different military personnel and 1 policeman). Hypothetically, it can be assumed that the difference of 12 individuals consists of people who were captured not by the Russian Ministry of Defense but, for example, by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces.

Ukraine emphasizes that among those released were individuals who were supposed to be exchanged on Jan. 24, the day the Il-76 Aircraft crashed. However, among them, there are none from the published list of the 65 deceased.

Crash of the Il-76 Aircraft in the Belgorod Region

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has announced that over 670 body fragments have been collected at the plane crash site, all of which have been identified as belonging to 6 crew members, 3 military police personnel and 65 Ukrainian military personnel. It is somewhat surprising to us that all victims have been identified so quickly. Earlier, the Russian side had requested genetic material from Ukraine. We believe that when POWs are taken to the rear for long-term detention, their genetic material is collected.

The Investigative Committee has also released a video showing the work of experts at the crash site and fragments of missiles, one of which bears Latin markings. It is claimed that these are fragments of an MIM-104A Patriot surface-to-air missile. While we cannot confirm this fact, it appears plausible. On May 13, 2023, the AFU shot down 2 Russian planes and 2 helicopters over the Bryansk region with missiles from this system.

In our previous sitrep, we mentioned that some Chinese banks were refusing to work with Russian companies, fearing secondary sanctions. Now, Turkish banks have also started closing accounts for Russian companies.

Additionally, in the last sitrep, we reported that the Oko Gora satellite imagery research Telegram channel discovered a new runway in the Belgorod region, approximately 80 km from the Russia-Ukraine border. A viewer informed us that this runway near the village of Belaya Vezha in the Krasnogvardeysky district, Belgorod region, is being constructed by the Efko company for its business jets, and discussions about its construction began even before the war.