June 26, 2023

Sitrep for Jun. 24-26, 2023 (as of 08:30 a.m.)

Consequences of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Armed Rebellion

Apparently, Yevgeny Prigozhin traveled to Belarus. The last video with him was shot on the evening of Jun. 24, when he was driving away from the headquarters of the Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don. Prigozhin’s press service reported that he would get in touch and issue a statement as soon as he gets the chance. As suggested by Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier, most mercenaries would probably sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense or volunteer units. The question remains about the fate of the commanders of the Wagner Group (Dmitry Utkin, for example).

As a result of the armed rebellion, the Russian Aerospace Forces lost six helicopters and one Ilyushin Il-22 aircraft. The latter served as a relay station providing communication for the Russian Air Force during combat missions, and it was returning from such a mission when it was shot down by mercenaries in the Voronezh region. Information about the crew casualties varies between eight and ten people killed. Such aircraft are not capable of carrying out strikes, and according to the war correspondent Irina Kuksenkova, citing Prigozhin, it was shot down by mistake, because the air defense operator was ordered to shoot down everything that was flying. Prigozhin promised to pay a total of 50 million rubles in compensation to the families of the killed crew members.

Ilyushin Il-22 aircraft.

A photo was published from the crash site of one of the Mil Mi-8MTPR helicopters. As a reminder, these helicopters differ from conventional Mil Mi-8 helicopters by having electronic warfare equipment on board, which, among other things, protects the aircraft from MANPADS.

According to the pro-Russian Telegram channel Helicopterpilot, as of Jun. 24:

  • One Mil Mi-8MTPR helicopter was shot down but made a forced landing in a field. The crew survived.
  • One Mil Mi-8MTPR helicopter made a forced landing and caught fire. The crew survived.
  • One Mi-35M helicopter was shot down. The crew survived.
  • One Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) helicopter was shot down, resulting in the death of the two crew members.
  • One Mi-28N helicopter sustained damage but managed to reach its destination. The crew survived.

Another Mil Mi-8MTPR electronic warfare helicopter was shot down over Luhansk on the evening of Jun. 23, when the armed rebellion had just begun. The commander managed to parachute to safety, but the other three crew members were killed. The recently emerged video from Luhansk likely depicts the moment of this helicopter's crash. The aforementioned channel, due to its distance from the frontline, speculates that it was also shot down by Wagner Group mercenaries.

The Fighterbomber Telegram channel, associated with the Russian Aerospace Forces, claims a total of 13 fatalities, taking into account that the plane had eight crew members, according to its information.

The rebellion led by Prigozhin and the capture of Rostov-on-Don revealed that only military police were defending the Southern Military District headquarters. No armored vehicles were reported there or in central Russia—they are all deployed on the frontlines.

Meanwhile, in addition to tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, the Wagner Group was spotted with an array of 2S5 Giatsint-S self-propelled guns, 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled heavy mortars, and other types of artillery.

The Akhmat special forces unit, part of Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia], was heading to Rostov-on-Don, without heavy armored vehicles, however it, inexplicably, did not reach its destination (except for one vehicle) and somehow found itself near Kolomna. In the absence of tanks, anti-tank weapons, or artillery, it is likely that Kadyrov’s men would have found themselves at a considerable disadvantage in a direct confrontation with the Wagner Group.

The Russian Air Force was dispatched to both strike the Wagner Group armored column, and destroy key infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Four unguided air-dropped bombs can be seen in this video (the Fighterbomber Telegram channel has suggested that pilots intentionally directed some of the bombs off target due to the presence of civilian vehicles on the road. However, we believe that the strike missed because of the bombs’ inherent lack of precision).

At present, all units from the Wagner Group, including those who had established control over the Millerovo air base, have left Rostov and are headed to the frontline. It has been reported that this airfield had served as a base for the Wagner Group ever since it started flying its own planes. Local engineers were allegedly pressed into servicing the group’s aircraft. After the start of the rebellion, the aircraft located at the base reportedly took off with Wagner personnel on board. They were tasked with preventing the aircraft from striking mercenaries on the ground. They also inspected all cargo.

According to The Washington Post and New York Times, the US intelligence received initial information about the planned rebellion no later than Jun. 21 and relayed it to congresspeople.

The Russian Ministry of Defense published a report on Shoigu's visit to the advanced command post of the Group of Troops "West" and a meeting with the commander of the group, Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov. This is his first appearance after the armed rebellion.

The main goal of the rebellion, as we believe, was to save Prigozhin himself, who could have been eliminated after refusing to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense (as reported by several Telegram channels). It is highly likely that units of the Wagner Group could have reached Moscow and taken control of, for example, the television broadcasting tower in Ostankino. Military units located on the outskirts of Moscow, lacking combat-ready armored vehicles and the willingness to risk their lives, would have had little to counter them with. Even the destruction of key bridges would likely only have slowed down their advance. The presence of civilian cars traveling alongside the Wagner Group's vehicles made it difficult to launch strikes with unguided air-dropped bombs, and the Russian Aerospace Forces has a shortage of precision-guided weapons.

Some commentators suppose that sending Prigozhin to Belarus means that the Wagner Group will attempt to attack Kyiv from its territory. We consider this highly unlikely. Firstly, the Belarusian Army would not supply the Wagner Group with shells and vehicles, and secondly, such an attack would mean engaging Belarus directly in the war, and Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka is trying to avoid that.

We assume that one of the results of the rebellion was the reduction of both vehicles and personnel of the Wagner Group, so it is unlikely that it will be able to take part in military activities in the coming months, except to serve as a PMC (providing security and instruction services) in Africa.

Frontline Situation Update

Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar reported that the Eastern Group of the AFU launched an offensive in several directions at the same time: towards Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Bohdanivka, Yahidne, Klishchiivka, and Kurdiumivka, i.e. approximately in the area where the Wagner Group used to operate. Therefore, it is probably there that the effect of Prigozhin's armed rebellion and absence of the military vehicles removed from positions and used by the mercenaries can be most noticeable. In addition, according to Maliar, heavy fighting continues in southern Ukraine, and Russian forces keep holding defensive positions.

Commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade of the AFU Andriy Biletsky reports about the successful mopping-up operation on the right bank of the Siverskyi Donets-Donbas Canal, as a result of which more than 30 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the 57th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade of the RuAF were killed (some sources made a typo claiming three battalions were destroyed).

On Jun. 26, the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a video of a strike allegedly on an AFU strongpoint in the Kupiansk direction. In the video, one can see concrete pyramids, which are usually put far enough in the rear, and not on the line of contact. Geolocation shows that the video was actually filmed not in the Kupiansk direction, but in the Sumy region, 100 meters from the border of Russia and Ukraine. We believe that the video was filmed for reporting purposes as Russian Ministry of Defense officials usually do.

On Jun. 24, Russian soldiers killed two Ukrainian teenagers in Berdiansk: seventeen-year-old Tyhran Ohanesian and, presumably, his classmate Mykyta Khanganov. A video at the link, allegedly made by Tyhran a few seconds before he was killed, shows the boy with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in his hands uttering, "Two for sure. That's it, it's death, guys, goodbye! Glory to Ukraine!" In May, Ohanesian had already been detained by the occupation authorities and accused of preparing an act of sabotage  together with Khanganov in September 2022.  Supposedly, they intended to blow up a section of the Melitopol railroad and thus disrupt the supply of Russian troops. On May 24, the Russian Investigative Committee charged the two teenagers with sabotage. Tyhran was placed in a pre-trial detention center and, according to human rights activists, was beaten and tortured with electricity. After the case was made public, they let him go home but ordered to come in for interrogations every day. Mykyta managed to avoid arrest but was also obliged to come in for questioning every day. On Jun. 15, the European Parliament demanded to release the teenagers and drop charges against them.

What happened on Jun. 24 is still unknown. According to the chairman of the local We are Together with Russia movement, collaborator Volodymyr Rohov, around 7:00 p.m., two "militants" opened fire with assault rifles, but were blocked and eliminated by law enforcement agencies. Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets says the teens "came into battle with the occupiers" and were killed.

Head of the Ukraine Situation Center of the German Ministry of Defense Christian Freuding said that Ukraine has already received 34 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, another 15 units would be transferred in the coming weeks, and additional 30 units were planned to be delivered in cooperation with the United States.

Australia has announced a new package of military assistance to Ukraine worth approximately 110 million Australian dollars (73.5 million US dollars). It will include 28 M113 APCs, 14 special-purpose vehicles, 28 medium trucks, and 14 trailers.

Photos of Leopard 2A6 tanks and Bradley IFVs lost during the initial days of the Ukrainian offensive, have appeared in Ukrainian Telegram channels. It is important to note that the presence of these photos on Ukrainian media platforms indicates that it is safe to be in that location, and therefore, it is possible to evacuate these military vehicles. The images also show many anti-tank mines on both sides of the road, so the damage to the first vehicle in the convoy prevents the others from passing and results in the loss of a significant amount of military vehicles.

A video of a Ukrainian 2S22 Bohdana 155mm wheeled self-propelled howitzer (second model) firing M982 Excalibur high-precision guided artillery shells has been published.

In an interview with Fox News, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov described the ongoing offensive, now in its third week, as more of a set of shaping operations and emphasized that public expectations of it are overheated.