July 14, 2023

Sitrep for Jul. 13-14, 2023 (as of 11:30 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

Video footage released by Russian forces shows drone strikes conducted on Ukrainian positions near fortifications around Robotyne, an area in the Orikhiv direction where we had anticipated Ukrainian offensive operations in recent days. It appears that some of Russia’s frontline trenches have been taken over by Ukrainian troops.

Despite a week having passed since president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his head of office Andriy Yermak visited Snake Island, laying flowers at a monument to fallen soldiers, Russian forces have launched a series of airstrikes on the islet over the past two days. Zelenskyy shared a video of the visit on his Telegram channel on Jul. 7. The timing of these airstrikes could be attributed to the notoriously slow-moving kill chain process within the RuAF.

It is common knowledge that  Russian anti-war activists face pressure both in Russia and abroad. However, the situation has recently become even more dangerous: the Federal Security Service (FSB) has been increasingly detaining them on suspicion of attempted treason. Under such charges, the punishment can extend to life imprisonment, and since proceedings usually take place in closed sessions, even the defense lawyers can have limited access to case materials. The reason for arrest can be a money transfer to a Ukrainian organization, which is interpreted as providing financial assistance to the AFU (this was the case with the recently detained LGBT activist and volunteer of the OVD-Info independent human rights project). Additionally, FSB agents may organize provocations by creating chat rooms and chat bots under the names of the Russian Volunteer Corps or the "Freedom of Russia Legion" to identify potential supporters of these organizations. It is likely that a similar incident occurred with a resident of Samara who was arrested for attempting to join the "Legion." She adhered to anti-war views and engaged in small protest actions, such as wearing clothes in the colors of the Ukrainian flag or writing anti-war slogans on banknotes.

Our team has mixed feelings about the audio address of Major General Ivan Popov, the former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army. Popov indeed mentioned important, albeit not new, issues regarding the state of the Russian Army. Moreover, he is perhaps the first high-ranking combat general to make such a serious political statement. However, we believe that Popov only made his statement because he was dismissed, likely in an attempt to portray himself as a victim in the fight for truth or seeking to clear his name in case of possible prosecution. Furthermore, it's unclear whether State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] member Andrey Gurulyov released the recording with Popov's permission.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources, reported that at least 13 high-ranking Russian officers, including General Sergey Surovikin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces and Deputy Commander of Russia’s Armed Forces in Ukraine, were detained for questioning on the day of the rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin [owner of the Wagner Group]. Those detained include Surovikin’s deputy General Sergey Yudin, former deputy head of the Russian Ministry of Defense Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who had joined the Wagner Group, and General Vladimir Alekseyev, the First Deputy Executive of the Main Directorate (ex-GRU) of the General Staff. After questioning, Yudin and Alekseyev were reportedly released but suspended from duty and had their movements restricted.

Besides, various sources revealed that the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Defense had built a secret prison (or at least used a closed military base) for high-ranking officers.

Vladimir Putin told a Kommersant newspaper correspondent that the Wagner Group does not have any legal status, and that the State Duma should be responsible for legalizing such private military companies. He apparently does not see any contradiction with his recent statement about state funding of the Wagner Group. Thus, he officially acknowledged that, first, the Wagner Group is an illegal armed group, and second, that this is known throughout Russia's power hierarchy up to the president himself.

The US Department of Defense confirmed that they do not observe any activity of Wagner Group mercenaries on the frontline. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Kots, Đ° pro-Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent, published a video allegedly showing a convoy of Wagner Group vehicles traveling on the M-4 Don highway towards Moscow.

According to published reports, there are still more Mil Mi-28N attack helicopters produced and delivered to the Russian Army than Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopters. Yet, we have seen ample evidence of Ka-52 helicopter deployment, while sightings of Mi-28N helicopters have been scarce, generally only appearing in text briefings from the Ministry of Defense. A video was finally published on Jul. 13 showing a Mi-28N flying at low altitude over the Taganrog-Rostov highway, colliding with high-voltage wires and severing them, but not crashing, and continuing to fly.

The first confirmation of a Slovenian M-55S tank in service with the AFU being hit has emerged (we don't know whether the tank was destroyed or just damaged).

Die Welt published a report about Ukrainian tank crews training to operate Leopard 2 tanks in Germany. The video captured a conversation where a Ukrainian soldier asked a German instructor how to navigate such a tank through a minefield, as at that moment it was a very pressing issue. The German instructor suggested simply driving around the minefield, as on the training ground map it only measured 200 x 100 meters. The instructor, lacking real combat experience, did not comprehend how vast mined areas are in Ukraine and that circumventing them is usually impossible.

US President Joe Biden said that the AFU already have the equivalent of ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles (possibly referring to Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG long-range cruise missiles) and what they need most of all is artillery shells.

At the current stage of the war, Russia's presumed goal is to prolong the conflict as much as possible in order to exhaust Ukraine's European and American partners and induce them to reduce or cease their support, while Russia prepares new military vehicles and soldiers for the next offensive. Therefore, the main takeaway from the NATO summit is that partners are likely to continue supporting Ukraine until victory, especially since the US and European countries have begun to invest in scaling up the production of ammunition and equipment.