June 28, 2023

Sitrep for Jun. 27-28, 2023 (as of 08:30 a.m.)

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

On the evening of Jun. 27, Russian forces launched two missile strikes in the Donetsk region. One of them targeted a restaurant in Kramatorsk, while the other hit a target in the village of Bilenke. According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin, the strike on Kramatorsk was carried out with an Iskander ballistic missile (it was initially reported that the restaurant had been hit by modified S-300 air-to-surface missiles). At the time of recording the video sitrep, we were aware of at least 8 deaths (including 3 underage girls) and over 56 injuries (including 3 foreigners). However, as rescue teams continue to sift through the rubble, the number of casualties may still increase (the death toll has already risen to 11 as of this report).

Pro-Russian Telegram channels have claimed that the restaurant had been frequently visited by Ukrainian servicemen. However, one person that had been identified as a “foreign mercenary” by pro-Russian sources has turned out to be a Belgian freelance journalist. He posted a photo from inside the restaurant on social media 20 minutes before the strike. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that there were military personnel inside the restaurant at the time of the strike. Likewise, military personnel using a public eatery does not make it a valid military target. Consequently, this strike is, in our view, undoubtedly a war crime.

Frontline Situation Update 

A video has emerged showing Ukrainian troops raising their flag somewhere on the outskirts of Kurdiumivka, south of Bakhmut. Advances in that direction were recently reported by Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar.

Consequences of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Armed Rebellion

Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, ex-confidant of Vladimir Putin and the owner of the Wagner Group] had arrived in Belarus to stay “for some time at their [the Wagner Group] expense.” The Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Khrenin allegedly does not mind having such a unit as part of the Belarusian Army, primarily to transfer combat experience, which the Belarusian Armed forces lack.

Lukashenka also said that the camp for the Wagner Group mercenaries was not being built, but they had been offered to stay at an abandoned military unit, and the main group was in their camps in Luhansk. He added that, according to Prigozhin, some mercenaries would sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense, so not the entire group would go to Belarus.

On Jun. 27, Putin, speaking to representatives of law enforcement agencies, said that the RuAF had not had to withdraw combat units from positions in the “special military operation” zone. From the fact that the Akhmat unit was thrown to intercept the Wagner Group convoy, it follows that they were not on the frontline. This appears at odds with the statements of the Akhmat unit fighters who claimed to be fighting in the Marinka direction shortly before the rebellion. Presumably, only some commanders were there to record a video report.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) has announced that the criminal case against Prigozhin was closed as all the rebels had stopped any actions directly aimed at committing a crime. According to Valeria Vetoshkina, a lawyer of the Pervy Otdel [First Department] human-rights defense project, Article 31 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, even if a person desists from a crime, their actions shall be defined based on what they have already done, while the body of the crime of armed rebellion (Article 279 of the Criminal Code) does not require dangerous consequences to occur in order to define if the crime has been committed. In any case, Prigozhin is guilty of organizing the rebellion, all the more so because the mercenaries’ actions resulted in more than ten servicemen killed.

Director of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) Viktor Zolotov has announced that Rosgvardia will now have heavy weaponry, including tanks, at their disposal. The predecessor of the National Guard Forces—the Internal Troops of the Ministry for Internal Affairs—had their own tank regiment in the North Caucasus during the Chechen War but the vehicles were later transferred to the 58th Combined Arms Army, and since then the guardsmen have been mainly doing policing.

Member of the State Duma Alexander Khinshtein has stated that the tanks for Rosgvardia would be produced as part of the government procurement process. The Ministry of Defense has decided that the Wagner Group’s vehicles would be transferred to the Russian Armed Forces. We believe that supplies to the frontline will have priority, so it is unlikely that Rosgvardia can get the vehicles in the near future.

Journalists have compared Putin's statements about the Wagner Group at different points in time:

  • On Feb. 8, 2022, he said that Russia had nothing to do with it and that they were invited to Mali by the local authorities;
  • On Jun. 27, 2023, it was revealed that the Wagner Group had been fully financially supported by the state. What is more, last year the Russian state budget allocated over 86 billion rubles [around a billion USD] for salaries and incentive payments, and an additional 110 billion rubles [around 1.3B USD] for insurance payments. The owner of the Concord company (Yevgeny Prigozhin) earned 80 billion rubles [around 930M USD] through Voentorg [army surplus outlet chain] in a year.

The Vyorstka media outlet reports that 29 Russian regions have annual budgets smaller than that of the Wagner Group.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also inconsistent in his statements about the Wagner Group:

  • In Sept. 2021, he stated that the authorities of Mali on their own initiative turned to the Russian so-called private military company for assistance in their fight against terrorists and emphasized that Moscow had nothing to do with any of that.
  • On Jun. 26, 2023, he proclaimed that besides the relations with the Wagner Group, the governments of CAR and Mali have official contacts with the Russian leadership and that the countries requested not to move Russian military personnel working as instructors there.

Pro-Russian journalist Semyon Pegov (a.k.a. WarGonzo) reported that during a closed meeting with media leaders on Jun. 27, Putin thanked those who informationally opposed the rebellion (in fact, the majority of propagandists were expecting guidelines, avoiding unambiguous statements).

Recall that in a recent interview Pegov asked Prigozhin if it was true that Wagner Group mercenaries were not given ammunition out of fear that they would storm the Kremlin and seize power in Russia. Prigozhin replied that it was an interesting thought, but they had not considered it.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has released a report covering the period from Feb. 24, 2022 to May 23, 2023. Cases of illegal detention of civilians by Russian forces were investigated and it was established that since the start of the full-scale invasion, Russia has carried out more than 70 extrajudicial executions of civilians. It is important to note that this number includes only verified cases, while the actual number is much higher.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment 

Germany’s defense concern Rheinmetall announced that it will supply Ukraine with additional 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks on behalf of (and funded by) the government of the Netherlands during 2024. The first tank will be repaired and transferred in January 2024.

The United States has announced a new package of security assistance to Ukraine, amounting to up to $500 million. It is important to note that this weaponry will be directly supplied from the reserves of the US army, meaning it will arrive in Ukraine fairly soon. It will include:

  • Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems;
  • Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • Demolitions munitions, systems for obstacle clearing, and mine clearing equipment;
  • 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds;
  • 30 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles;
  • 25 Stryker armored personnel carriers;
  • Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
  • Javelin anti-armor systems;
  • AT-4 anti-armor systems;
  • Anti-armor rockets;
  • High-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
  • Precision aerial munitions (likely, JDAM);
  • Small arms and over 22 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenades;
  • Thermal imagery systems and night vision devices;
  • Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair;
  • Spare parts, generators, and other field equipment.

In the late spring of 2022, after the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kyiv, we began to notice Grad-1 MLRS on ZIL-131 wheeled chassis, taken from storage, being transported on railway train platforms in Russia from. There have been reports that Ukrainian forces destroyed such a system in the southern part of the frontline.