July 26, 2023

Sitrep for July 25-26, 2023 (as of 8:30 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

The General Staff of the AFU has confirmed the successful advance of Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut direction north and south of Bakhmut in its report for Jul. 25. In particular, the AFU has managed to drive Russian forces out of Andriivka. The Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group Rusich [an openly neo-Nazi Russian volunteer unit] Telegram channel reported that Russian troops had abandoned Klishchiivka, however according to Semyon Pegov’s pro-Russian WarGonzo project, RuAF are still fighting in the area, supported by artillery, and it is too early to talk about a complete withdrawal.

OSINT analyst Def Mon has marked part of Klishchiivka and the outskirts of Andriivka as contested areas on his map, and also provided the geolocation of a July 25 video showing Russian forces hitting Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of Klishchiivka.

A video showing combat activities in Klishchiivka was also published: Russian paratroopers are seen riding a BMD airborne infantry fighting vehicle when they are ambushed by the AFU. After coming under fire, they leave the vehicle and try to take cover. In the end, they were killed with either artillery or mortar strikes.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that Russian forces have captured Serhiivka, in the Kupiansk direction, close to the village of Karmazynivka. Satellite images of Serhiivka reveal no houses left standing, suggesting that the settlement, which had 20 inhabitants in 2001, has likely long been abandoned.

We have not come across any visual confirmations of advances in this direction, only statements emanating from both sides.

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

On July 24, Russian forces struck Kostiantynivka, a village traversed by a road that had once served as one of the supply routes to Bakhmut. A projectile hit a local gathering spot, leading to three people, including two children, killed and six others injured. The Ukrainian side is claiming that cluster rockets fired from a BM-30 Smerch MLRS were used in the attack, however, there is no evidence confirming this.

The 38th Brigade of the AFU has reportedly shot down a Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopter. The Helicopterpilot pro-Russian Telegram channel has confirmed the loss of the crew. Other pro-Russian sources are reporting that the helicopter’s commander was a well-known, high-ranking officer. According to them, the helicopter was shot down by three missiles fired from a British-made Stormer HVM air defense vehicle.

In Syrian airspace, a Russian Sukhoi Su-35S fighter aircraft flew dangerously close to an American MQ-9 Reaper UAV, making various maneuvers, and deploying flares in front of it. One of them hit the UAV’s propeller, causing serious damage. The UAV managed to land safely.

This was not the first such incident involving Russian aircraft. US reaction in such cases is limited to diplomatic statements.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

Rheinmetall Group of Germany has publicly promised to deliver two Skynex wheeled self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine in the second half of 2023. This system uses the same 35mm munitions as the Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, firing up to 1000 rounds a minute. Skynex is a state-of-the-art model that is not even part of the Bundeswehr’s arsenal yet, so Germany is unlikely to have substantial stocks of munitions for it. Hence, the issue of ammunition shortage for this caliber, which we previously discussed regarding Gepard vehicles, remains acute. Furthermore, two units would only be enough to defend a single target.

In the July issue of the Armeiskiy sbornik [Army Digest] monthly magazine, the Russian Defense Ministry mentioned the Iranian origin of Geran loitering munitions, posting a photo of a drone with the caption "Shahed-136, better known as Geran-2" and its tactical and technical characteristics: in particular, a range of 1800-2500 kilometers was specified.

With the construction of assembly plants in Russia, we can expect the development of upgraded drone variants, for example, equipped with a larger warhead and a reduced fuel reserve.

Mobilization Update

Just a month and a half after the last promises to raise both the lower and upper conscription age limits at the same time, State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] members decided to leave the lower limit at the 18 years of age, and raise the upper limit momentarily to 30 years in 2024 (it is unclear whether this is inclusive or not). Those who turn 27 in 2023 are promised to be transferred to the reserve (although this possibility is not specified in the document).

During a  State Duma session, Chairman of the Defense Committee Andrey Kartapolov  expressed his opposition to the idea, proposed by other State Duma members, of exempting fathers with disabled children, and those with multiple children, from military service, stating: "This law was written for a big war, for general mobilization. And now this already smells like a big war."

Changes have also been made to the Military Conscription and Military Service Act regarding digital draft notices. It was previously assumed that "restrictive measures," such as a ban on leaving the country, would come into effect seven days after the draft notice appeared in the unified electronic registry. However, under the new bill, the ban on leaving the country will come into effect immediately after the notice is sent by registered mail to the place of residence, to the place of work (or study) of the conscript, or from the day it is placed in the draft notice registry or personally handed to the conscript.

Several media outlets are reporting that heads of Russian regions will gain the authority to create and arm their own military companies. According to these sources, an amendment was made to the bill on extending the conscription age, allowing governors during mobilization, martial law, or wartime to establish special state unitary enterprises for protecting state borders, and combating sabotage and reconnaissance groups and illegal armed formations. The decision to create and disband them will be made by the president. Such military state companies will receive firearms and ammunition.

At the same time Ilya Abishev, BBC News Russian military observer, points out that upon closer examination of the amendments, it becomes clear that they do not apply to all Russian subjects, but only to occupied Ukrainian territories. The amendment is being made to the law adopted in June, "on the action of permissive documents in the field of weapons circulation and security activities, as well as on the features of legal regulation in the these fields in the territories of the Donetsk People's Republic, Luhansk People's Republic, Zaporizhzhia region, and the Kherson region." Presumably, this amendment applies only to the four aforementioned regions. It remains unclear whether the creation of such military state enterprises on the territory of, for example, the Belgorod region, is possible.

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project reports that an 11th convoy has already arrived at the Wagner Group's camp in the Mogilev region of Belarus. For the first time Chekan (Shchuka MRAP) armored vehicles, specially created by order of Prigozhin based on the Ural truck and never listed in the Ministry of Defense's arsenal, were spotted. Probably, those are the only remaining armored vehicles available to mercenaries.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the British House of Commons [the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom] has published a report, asserting that the British government's efforts to counter the activities of the Wagner Group in at least seven countries are inadequate. Chair of the Committee Alicia Kearns remarked upon the report's publication that the British government should take more decisive actions against the Wagner Group, whose operations span across Africa. However, she also acknowledged that there is an issue with regulating the activities of private military companies in Western countries, as seen in incidents involving the US Blackwater company, which was accused of killing civilians in Iraq.

Importantly, we must emphasize that, as we stated in the past, comparing the Wagner Group to traditional private military companies is not only inappropriate but also plays into Russian propaganda. The Wagner Group fundamentally differs from any conventional private military company.