June 19, 2023

Sitrep for Jun. 17-19, 2023 (as of 09:30 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

The Ukrainian side claims to have advanced about a kilometer in the Avdiivka direction and to have liberated the village of Vesele.

On the Zaporizhzhia axis, southeast of the village of Lobkove, the AFU managed to liberate the village of Piatykhatky (OSINT analyst Def Mon has already marked it on the map). The pro-Russian Telegram channel WarGonzo reported on Jun. 18 that Russian forces had abandoned the area, other pro-Russian Telegram channels also reported heavy fighting in the area, and a video showing Russian strikes on Ukrainian military vehicles was posted. On the morning of Jun. 19, the liberation of Piatykhatky was confirmed by the Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Maliar. Due to the lack of videos, it is difficult to say whether these advances signal an end to the lull and the renewed Ukrainian offensive.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

The Ukrainian Air Force claims that it has shot down four Shahed drones, one Lancet loitering munition, and three Ka-52 attack helicopters (two on Jun. 17 and another on Jun. 18) over the weekend. However, these claims have not yet been substantiated by evidence, such as photographs and videos of wreckage, or obituaries.

In the Kharkiv region, Russian forces hit a civilian vehicle with an anti-tank guided missile, killing two people.

Seven people were injured after strikes in the town of Valuyki, Belgorod region. Five apartment buildings and four houses were damaged.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have struck depots near the Partizany railway station in Rykove, Kherson region. According to the Nikolaevsky Vanyok Telegram channel, which is close to the AFU, the buildings targeted had been serving as storage for Russian munitions for a long period of time. Satellite imagery reveals the extent of the damage. The degree to which the railway itself was damaged remains unclear; however, it too is an important target as it supplies Russian troops on the Zaporizhzhia axis (via Crimea to Melitopol).

Pro-Russian Telegram channels have posted condolences after the hit on a command post of the 80th Separate (Arctic) Motor Rifle Brigade, however, no specific obituaries have been published so far. It is interesting to note that a video emerged recently showing this brigade’s fighters thanking Governor of the Murmansk region Andrey Chibis for assistance (including anti-drone guns sent to them). We do not rule out that Ukrainian forces managed to geolocate that video.

The officially acknowledged death toll on the left (Russian-controlled) bank of the Dnipro River has reached 29. It is highly likely that this figure is grossly underestimated, given the hundreds of locals being searched for by volunteers in the flooded area.

On the right bank of the Dnipro (controlled by the Ukrainian side), it is currently known that 16 civilians are dead and 31 are missing.

During a meeting with president Putin in Strelna, African leaders presented their plan for a peaceful settlement, consisting of common and populist measures such as the need for de-escalation of the conflict and the initiation of negotiations. In response, Putin presented a draft treaty that had been initiated (preliminarily agreed upon) by the Ukrainian side in Istanbul. The attached document even specifies the permissible amount of military equipment and personnel that could remain in Ukraine in the event of a successful resolution of the conflict. According to Putin, after Russia fulfilled one of the conditions (withdrawal of troops from Kyiv), the Ukrainian side refused to continue negotiations. It is worth noting that the meeting in Istanbul and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv region did occur on March 29. However, after the world saw the photographs from Bucha, Ukraine found it unacceptable to engage in peace talks with Russia.

Commenting on this meeting, Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov made a paradoxical statement that at least one of the goals of the “special military operation,” namely the demilitarization of Ukraine, had been achieved, as Ukraine has less and less of its own weapons remaining, and there is an increasing use of Western weaponry in combat operations.

The evolving relationship between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense has taken another interesting turn. Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group], accompanied by his bodyguards, brought a signed contract to the Ministry of Defense [in response to earlier Putin’s statement that Wagner Group mercenaries need to sign contracts with the MoD], but it was not accepted by the secretary, after which Prigozhin sent the documents by regular mail. One of the Telegram channels managed to take screenshots and decipher the text in this contract. According to the text, the Russian Ministry of Defense is supposed to take full responsibility for the supply of the Wagner Group (including financial support), initiate the coordination of combat operations with the group’s leadership, provide office space in the main building of the Ministry of Defense, and appoint one of the group’s leaders as either the Deputy Minister of Defense or the Deputy Chief of the General Staff—obviously, this is an intentionally provocative set of conditions. The accompanying letter states that the Ministry of Defense must inform the Wagner Group's leadership by Jun. 20 whether they refuse to accept this contract; otherwise, the contract will come into effect automatically on Jun. 25 (a typical act of trolling by Prigozhin).

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, added fuel to the fire of this conflict by stating that the Russian forces now occupying positions in Bakhmut are much weaker than the Wagner Group units.

Chairman of AvtoVAZ [Russia's carmaker] Maksim Sokolov said that Russian citizens sentenced to penal labor will be involved in car production, due to a shortage of workforce.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov gave an interview to Nastoyashсheye Vremya [Current Time, an editorially independent US-funded Russian language media outlet] where he stated that the program for training pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets is designed to be completed in six months, but he believes that Ukrainian pilots will master it in four months, although the training plan has not yet been approved. In addition, in order for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to use F-16 fighter jets, it is necessary to prepare the infrastructure, engineers and equipment for maintenance. Oleksii Reznikov couldn't name even an approximate date for the first F-16s to be available to the AFU, but he is certain this will not happen before 2024.

Denmark is ready to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if the United States gives its green light. Previously, there were statements from Pentagon officials, according to which the US is not yet ready to directly supply aircraft, but won't object if other countries do so.

It has been reported that the production cycle of the CAESAR self-propelled howitzer in France will be reduced from 30 months to 17 by the end of 2023, and the production rate will increase from 2 to 6 units per month by the end of 2023 and up to 8 by 2024.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that at the alliance summit, scheduled for Jul. 11-12, a long-term support program for Ukraine will be announced, bringing the AFU closer to NATO standards.

Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu visited weapon storage arsenals and inspected the fulfillment of the state defense order in the Omsk region. At Omsktransmash [Omsk transport machine factory, major tank producer], he was shown the modernization of the T-80 tank to the latest T-80BVM version. It was stated that tanks are being equipped with quick-detachable Krysha (roof) explosive reactive armor (previously, makeshift devices were used, which CIT referred to as slat armor or cope cage). The report also showed old military vehicles withdrawn from storage, including ZIL-131 trucks with field repair workshops and BTR-70 armored personnel carriers. It should be noted that the doors on these old armored personnel carriers are too narrow for soldiers wearing body armor.

Russian units near the frontline are facing a shortage of drinking water, as stated in a video appeal by mobilized soldiers. The reason for that could be the destruction of utility lines in frontline settlements due to constant artillery strikes and lack of maintenance. Once again, Yevgeny Prigozhin took this opportunity to compare the Wagner Group with the Ministry of Defense, claiming that mercenaries receive three times more water per person.

A video has been published from Marinka where the Akhmat special forces unit is reportedly engaged in active combat. The video shows an abandoned tank that was attempted to be used as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Russian soldiers reportedly mined an allegedly captured Ukrainian tank with a large amount of TNT (approx. 6 tons) and directed it towards Ukrainian positions. However, the tank ran over a mine, stopped, and subsequently exploded upon being hit by an RPG rocket propelled grenade. The video captured a massive explosion.

A video has emerged, showing a Leopard tank attempting to push an exploded vehicle off the road in the middle of a minefield. However, the attempt was unsuccessful, and the tank had to retreat. If the tank crew had tried to pass around the vehicle, it would have most likely triggered an explosion as well.

A British-made Challenger 2 tank has been spotted in use by the AFU, apparently not yet deployed on the frontline.

Destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant

It has become known how much the Kakhovka Reservoir has shrunk as a result of the destruction of the dam: this can be seen in satellite images and photos taken between Beryslav and Kakhovka.

The New York Times published a new investigation into the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. It is based on the opinions of several engineers who believe that the likely cause of the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant was an explosion in the maintenance passageway, or gallery, within the concrete body of the dam (it is not entirely clear what NYT means by concrete heart and concrete foundation — whether it refers to the entire body or specifically the lower part, the so-called base zone). This concrete structure, 20 meters high and 40 meters wide, is below the water line and bears a significant portion of the load exerted on the dam. Inside it, there is a gallery (maintenance passageway) accessible only from the Russian side through the main generator hall (machine room).

Ukrainian engineer Ihor Strelets, former Deputy Head of the Dnipro Basin Water Resources Management Agency, who provided the dam’s drawings to the editorial team, believes that  explosives were planted in the gallery, and such an explosion is the only possible explanation for the dam’s destruction. Engineer Michael West, specializing in dam safety, states that a massive explosion is required to destroy a dam, and the gallery is an ideal place to plant explosive materials. Gregory Baecher, engineering professor at the University of Maryland and member of the National Academy of Engineers, says that if the Russian side planted explosives in the gallery, it would explain a lot.

As the main argument, a video from the pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] shot on Jun. 15 (nine days after the destruction when the state of the dam could have changed dramatically) is presented. The video shows the upper part of the dam’s concrete body remained preserved on a certain part of the width of the dam, but not at the breach point. The article also refers to data from the seismic laboratory in Norway, which we have already discussed, which reports that two sensors in Ukraine and Romania recorded seismic signals at 2:35 a.m. and 2:54 a.m. as well as an infrared signal observed by a satellite shortly before the dam collapsed (unfortunately, the exact time stamp of this signal is not reported).

According to experts cited in the publication, the water pressure itself could only have destroyed the dam if it had been poorly designed or made of poor-quality concrete, but they consider such an event highly unlikely. The engineers we consulted believe that this conclusion does not take into account the fact that the dam had been operating in an abnormal mode for eight months before the accident. The velocity of the water flow pouring through several open sluice gates since November could have exceeded the non-eroding velocity (which varies depending on the type of soil), and this high-velocity flow could have eroded the foundation from the lower water side.

Furthermore, the article includes high-resolution Maxar satellite images, which demonstrate the damages to structures around the dam that occurred in previous months: a road that was targeted by the Ukrainian HIMARS MLRS, spans of the road destroyed by the Russian troops during their retreat from the right bank, and a concrete wall separating the Kakhovka HPP and the dam, which collapsed on Apr. 23. The cause of the collapse of the wall is attributed to erosion due to water discharge near the dam. The article does not provide explanations as to why the erosion that caused the collapse in that particular location could not have led to the erosion of the dam's body, nor does it mention the reasons for the gradual collapse of the road near the main generator hall in the days leading up to the dam’s disintegration.

We know some of the authors of the article personally and contacted them a week before the article was published. Unfortunately, our arguments about the gradual destruction of the dam were not addressed in the publication. The NYT experts should be asked the following questions:

  • Does the fact that the gates were only open on one side for eight consecutive months affect the integrity of the dam?
  • How does this configuration affect the formation of hydraulic jumps?
  • Does the velocity of the water flow exceed the non-eroding velocity in this case?

It is important to note the fallacy of the popular belief that dams are built to withstand a nuclear strike. A dam should be designed to withstand earthquakes considering the seismicity of the region (which is very low in this case) and the probable maximum flood within a given time period.