July 17, 2023

Sitrep for Jul. 14-17, 2023 (as of 11:30 a.m.)

Crimean Bridge Explosion

At this time, reports indicate that an explosion occurred close to the Crimean bridge around 3 a.m. local time. The prevailing hypothesis suggests that the attack was conducted with unmanned naval vehicles, also known as surface naval drones. Similarly, photographic and video evidence points to a blast originating from below the bridge, and directed up towards the road (this has been confirmed by an engineer contacted by CIT). A video shot by a passenger traveling on a train going parallel to the road bridge reveals that the explosion has resulted in one of the bridge spans significantly tilting towards the water. Whilst we have not yet come across any visuals of the bridge’s pillars, it is premature to say that they are intact, contrary to claims made by Russian authorities.

The explosion resulted in the death of two people, a couple crossing the bridge in a car with Belgorod license plates, and serious injuries to their 14-year-old daughter. It is likely that the girl was not wearing a seatbelt at the moment of impact, as she was ejected from the vehicle through the windshield (information has later surfaced indicating that the girl was airlifted to a children’s hospital in Krasnodar. She is currently in stable condition). Preliminary data suggests the accident occurred due to the driver losing control of their vehicle after the explosion, and crashing into a guardrail.

Spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Operational Command South Natalia Humeniuk has stated that the explosion could have been a Russian provocation aimed at derailing the finalization of the "grain deal." However, in our view, this theory does not stand up to scrutiny.

The RBC Ukraine media outlet, citing its sources in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), reported that the attack was a special operation conducted jointly by the SBU and the Ukrainian Navy. According to a representative of the SBU, "one of the symbols of the Putin regime has once again faltered under military pressure."

It's worth noting that it was not until Jul. 8, 2023 that Ukraine officially took responsibility for the first explosion on the Crimean bridge. On that day, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar in her Telegram channel, referred to the explosion on the Crimean Bridge on Oct. 8, 2022, as the first strike aimed at disrupting RuAF logistics.

Russian authorities are now suggesting that tourists use the land route through the occupied territories, as the road bridge is currently closed. However, a long line of vehicles has formed before the Chonhar bridge, leading to Crimea. It is worth noting that the bridge has only recently reopened following a Ukrainian attack.

Pro-Russian sources claim that the strike on the Crimean bridge was carried out by surface naval drones that look more like hydro scooters rather than boats. A similar USV, allegedly capable of carrying 500 kg of explosives was used in the attack on Sevastopol on Jul. 16.

It is still unclear where they were launched from (it seems unlikely that the hydro scooters could have sailed from Odesa). Such drones are probably relatively inexpensive to produce, so similar attacks on various targets can be expected to continue in order to hinder Russian logistics and weaken the military forces opposing the AFU offensive.

Frontline Situation Update

Preliminary information suggests that the AFU have achieved some progress outside and south of Velyka Novosilka. Former separatist commander and military blogger Igor "Strelkov" Girkin writes that Ukrainian forces have entered the northern part of Staromaiorske village and fighting is ongoing, however, there has been no visual evidence of it so far. Similar information has also been reported by the General Staff of the AFU and Rybar, a prominent pro-Russian Telegram channel.

The New York Times has published an article with the subtitle “Early in the counteroffensive, Ukraine lost as much as 20 percent of its weapons and armor. The rate dropped as the campaign slowed and commanders shifted tactics” that may mislead some readers. Some media and Telegram channels reported on the article alleging that the AFU could have lost up to 20% of the Western military equipment in the course of the counteroffensive. It is worth noting that the article was actually referring to the loss of 20% of the equipment involved in the offensive. Many armored personnel carriers and tanks were destroyed or damaged during the first two weeks of the offensive but the loss rates later decreased, allowing a large portion of equipment and manpower to be preserved for upcoming assaults of a greater scale.

Over recent weeks, we have seen the Ukrainian side no longer sending armored convoys headlong through minefields. It seems that Ukraine has learned from the course of the offensive and has intensified strikes on all major Russian military targets along the frontline, i.e., equipment, ammunition depots, and command posts, undermining the combat capability of Russian forces.

This has been corroborated by a large Washington Post publication which states that Ukrainian forces have changed their tactics of negotiating minefields in the Zaporizhzhia region. Areas ranging from 4 to 16 kilometers [3 and 10 miles] deep in front of Russian fortified strongpoints have been heavily mined with antipersonnel and antitank mines. These minefields have been successful in stalling the Ukrainian advance. As a result, in order to clear a path for their soldiers, Ukrainian sappers have to slowly move across a minefield on foot or crawl on their stomach in the dusk without using any specialized equipment (Russian forces target mine-clearing systems with drones). According to sappers, it is impossible to use metal detectors since they are too conspicuous and it slows down the progress. Similarly, Russian forces can drop more mines from drones, reseeding areas that Ukrainian forces had already cleared.

We are unaware of such drones (they may be makeshift devices) though Russian forces do use ISDM Zemledeliye remote-mining engineering systems.

At this stage of their offensive, Ukrainian forces have stopped sending forward armored convoys and have adopted attrition warfare tactics with a prospect of transitioning to a maneuver phase if successful. The immediate objective is not to break through Russian defensive lines, but to preserve their own forces as much as possible until a breakthrough becomes possible, while breaking down the enemy's ability to defend itself.

Judging by the amount of addresses from relatives and mobilized soldiers themselves, who complain about being sent on suicide assaults, as well as the words of Major General Ivan Popov and data from the Oryx project, the AFU's new tactics seem to be working. Despite an approximately 1:1 ratio in the total number of military vehicle losses (which is already commendable, as the attacking side usually tends to suffer significantly heavier losses), Russia has lost four times more artillery than Ukraine. On the one hand, Ukraine is significantly better at intelligence and counter battery fire, and there is also high-precision long-range weaponry (such as GMLRS rockets) in service with the AFU—these factors play a big role in their success. On the other hand, the negligence and sloppiness of Russian soldiers also contribute to this situation. One example of this was a crew bringing a 2S5 Giatsint-S self-propelled gun to a position and leaving it there after firing, and heading to the rear for the night. In the morning, they came back to find a crater in its place.

On Jul. 15, a large convoy of cars and trucks with “DPR/LPR” license plates was seen entering Belarus and passing through Rahachow, Gomel region, to Asipovichy, Mogilev region. Cumulative evidence indicates that this was the Wagner Group convoy moving to the tent camp in the village of Tsel, Asipovichy district. There were no less than 60 vehicles, including at least 10 trucks, 3 buses, UAZ Patriot pickup trucks and UAZ SGR Bukhanka off-road vehicles. In the meantime, a photo has emerged from the Zvenchatka-Ponyatovka checkpoint on the Russia-Belarus border where the Wagner Group flag had been raised.

President of South Korea Yoon Suk Yeol arrived in Ukraine on an unannounced visit. As a result of the meeting, a military aid package including mine detectors and additional mine-clearing equipment was announced. South Korea adheres to the principle of neutrality and does not directly supply Ukraine with weapons, however, it transfers ammunition to the US on a circular exchange scheme (so that the US can supply its ammunition to Ukraine).

The United States plans to acquire from Taiwan 23 Hawk surface-to-air missile launchers and supply them to Ukraine (in fact, it is not yet clear whether it is launchers themselves, missiles, or both that will be transferred; the number 23 appeared due to a mistranslation of the full name of the missile which is MIM-23 Hawk).

We have repeatedly said that in the RuAF generals are typically not fired, and those who are guilty or misbehaving are reassigned to lower positions. It became known that Major General Ivan Popov (the former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army, who was fired last week and published an audio address to former subordinates) has been sent to Syria.

Rossiya-1 [Russia-1] government-owned federal TV channel reported about the increase in the production of Lancet kamikaze drones. The RT [Russia Today, a Russian state-controlled international news television network] Telegram channel reposted a message about this originally published by the pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant], but mistook the Star Wars quote for the actual number of drones produced and planned for production.