July 20, 2023

Sitrep for Jul. 19-20, 2023 (as of 08:30 a.m.)

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

Details have emerged about the RuAF night strike on Odesa on Jul. 19. The Ukrainian Air Force claimed they were able to intercept 13 out of 16 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles, 1 Kh-59 missile, and 23 Shahed-131/136 loitering munitions. Additionally, eight Kh-22 and six P-800 Oniks cruise missiles were launched by the RuAF.

Photos of the aftermath of the strikes in the port of Odesa have been published. Reportedly, 60,000 tons of grain, belonging to both international and Ukrainian traders, were destroyed in the silos. It will take at least a year to restore these facilities.

According to Igor Konashenkov, Chief spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, the RuAF hit an ammunition depot in Odesa, however, it turned out to be a fireworks warehouse.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that starting Jul. 20, all vessels traversing the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be considered potential military cargo carriers. Mykhailo Podolyak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, conceded that it is unlikely any cargo ship would venture into Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea after that announcement. The grain deal termination and subsequent Russian threats have already caused wheat price increases initially of 5%, followed by another 8%. Companies are unlikely to insure vessels traveling to such a high-risk region, thereby precluding them from entering many international ports.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia have signed a declaration extending the ban on Ukrainian grain imports, whilst still allowing for the grain to transit through their countries.

NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) has identified extensive fires through satellite imagery on Jul. 19 at the Shkolny military airfield in Odesa, as well as in the port and a factory in Mykolaiv, though it remains unclear whether that factory was being used for military purposes.

Russia launched another attack on Mykolaiv overnight on Jul. 20. Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Senkevych reports on a huge crater on the ground near a three-story residential building and a substantial fire. Head of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration Vitalii Kim has stated that, in total, 19 people were injured, including five children. First aid workers have managed to rescue two individuals from the rubble; the number of fatalities is still being determined.

In a separate incident, downtown Odesa was hit again, which, according to Head of the Odesa Regional Military Administration Oleh Kiper, sparked a fire engulfing an area of 300 square meters (3200 sq. ft.), leading to at least two people injured.

The same night, the northwestern part of Crimea was attacked by drones. According to Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, four administrative buildings were damaged as a result of the attack and a teenage girl was killed. (A video of the damaged building in the Razdolnoye settlement was later published, along with details about the deceased, who was allegedly going with a friend to watch the sunrise.)

Mobilization Update

Local authorities in the Khanty-Mansi autonomous region-Yugra, a federal subject of Russia, are struggling to meet recruitment targets for the Russian Army. The 86.RU local publication,  citing its own sources in the regional government, has reported about a "failure to meet recruitment targets set by federal authorities." Nearly all municipalities reportedly failed to meet their quotas for contract soldier recruitment.

In the Kupchino district of Saint Petersburg, a trolleybus has been observed, effectively acting as a mobile draft office. This initiative was spearheaded by vice-governor Kirill Polyakov, who oversees transportation. A recruit, who signs a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defense on the trolleybus, automatically becomes employed by Gorelectrotrans [Saint Petersburg state unitary enterprise in public transport] after completing their service.

The methods used to recruit people as well as reports from municipalities and state enterprises that have failed to meet quotas, have reinforced our opinion that the official numbers of contract soldiers recruited since the beginning of 2023 have been greatly exaggerated.

In Berdiansk [a city in the Russian-annexed part of the Zaporizhzhia region], three ex-convicts serving in the Storm-Z unit of the 291st Motorized Rifle Regiment refused to go on a suicide assault and attempted to leave their positions. A mobilized lieutenant and two other Russian soldiers decided to stop them and were shot. Later, the ex-convicts were detained and taken to a police station in Berdiansk, where they managed to seize the armed guard's gun, beat him and escape.

It is worth noting that since May 27, there have been no updates on the 39 convicts who escaped from forward positions in May 2023.

Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] has published a study showing an unprecedented increase in criminal cases opened against soldiers going AWOL since March 2023 in Russia. In the first half of 2023, military courts received more than 2,000 such cases, twice as many as in the whole of last year. Since March 2023, the majority of those convicted were mobilized men, not contract soldiers. By June, military courts were issuing around 100 sentences a week. Many of those convicted receive suspended sentences, which makes it possible to bring them back to the frontline, where they are entirely dependent on their commander, who, in case of any violation, can propose that the court replace their suspended sentence with a real one.

Consequences of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Armed Rebellion

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project has adjusted its estimated number of the Wagner Group mercenaries who arrived in the Mogilev region, Belarus, from 2–2,5 down to 1,4–1,5 thousand, and has also counted that nine convoys of various vehicles have already arrived in Belarus. The last one consisted solely of trucks that after unloading in the village of Tsel near Asipovichy, drove back and returned again, implying they were transporting some cargo.

Fresh satellite images of the camp have been published: in comparison to the image from Jul. 16, the  Jul. 19 image shows many new vehicles, indicating the camp has significantly expanded.

According to the Belarusian Hajun monitoring project, Prigozhin’s business jet landed in Belarus again on Jul. 18. That same evening, a video surfaced on the Razgruzka Wagnera [Wagner’s tactical vest] Telegram channel showing Prigozhin addressing mercenaries at the camp. He stated that they had honorably fulfilled their duty, and would now refrain from participating in the war, as the situation there is an utter disgrace. However, he has also claimed that there would come a time when they would once again venture into Ukraine. Prigozhin also promised to make the Belarusian Army the second strongest in the world ( he considers the Wagner Group to be the strongest) while in the meantime, the mercenaries were to prepare and enhance their skills for a new venture in Africa, despite "local girls lustfully whispering that the Wagnerites have arrived." Following Prigozhin, Dmitry Utkin (the actual "Wagner") also addressed the crowd. We have already reported on how mercenaries had occupied most of Krasnodar’s hotels until the end of July and were actively disrupting public order. There is a high probability that similar incidents will occur in this region of Belarus as well.

Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Richard Moore made a statement in Prague about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s armed rebellion. In his opinion, Putin was forced to strike a deal with Prigozhin and pardon him to "save his skin." He drew this conclusion based on how the situation evolved during those days: on the morning of the rebellion, Putin called Prigozhin a traitor, but a few days later, he invited him to the Kremlin for negotiations. Moore emphasized that even for him, it is difficult to interpret those events unambiguously and make any predictions for the future.

Vazhnyye Istorii [iStories, independent Russian investigative media outlet] has discovered that Lavrentiy Zakharov, the youngest son of Alexander Zakharov (the developer of the Lancet loitering munitions), owns an apartment in London and works at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. In our view, this raises serious concerns about a conflict of interest. (As noted in the article, "The UK has imposed sanctions on the drone manufacturer, LLC CST, but not on the Zakharov family.")

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

Today, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has officially announced a new security assistance package for Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which we mentioned yesterday. The capabilities in this announcement, which totals $1.3 billion, include:

  • Four National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and munitions;
  • 152mm artillery rounds;
  • Mine clearing equipment;
  • Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
  • Phoenix Ghost and Switchblade Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS);
  • Precision aerial munitions (probably, JDAM);
  • Counter-UAS and electronic warfare detection equipment;
  • 150 fuel trucks;
  • 115 tactical vehicles to tow and haul equipment;
  • 50 tactical vehicles to recover equipment;
  • Port and harbor security equipment;
  • Tactical secure communications systems;
  • Support for training, maintenance, and sustainment activities.

Swedish Bärgningsbandvagn 90 armored recovery vehicles have been delivered to Ukraine.

A video of a possible strike on a Ukrainian domestic-produced 2S22 Bohdana 155mm self-propelled howitzer has emerged. The footage starts with a reconnaissance drone targeting the howitzer, followed by an edited montage showing smoke rising from a tree line. From this video, it is not possible to conclusively determine the accuracy of the hit, leaving the fate of the howitzer unknown.

Continuing on the topic of the preliminary report from military analysts who visited Ukraine, it should be noted that organizing the actions of the Ukrainian Army is an ongoing challenge. As they solve one problem, they face the next one. Therefore, it is essential neither to become overly euphoric about the successes of the AFU or the deliveries of new Western military equipment, nor to despair upon hearing about new challenges for Ukraine in the war.