dispatches
June 21

Sitrep for June 19-21, 2024 (as of 9:00 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Hovoryat Snaiper [They Say Sniper] Telegram channel, run by Stanislav "Osman" Bunyatov, a Ukrainian soldier from the 24th Separate Assault Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, along with the pro-Russian "war correspondent" Yury Kotenok, have reported an intensification of fighting in the Toretsk direction, on the Donetsk axis, without providing visual confirmation. Reportedly, the Russian Armed Forces are advancing towards the village of Pivnichne (formerly Kirove until 2016) and the town of Toretsk, with the aim of further advancing towards the town of Kostiantynivka, an important logistics center for Ukrainian forces. It is worth noting that the distance from Toretsk to Kostiantynivka is quite significant. The RuAF could have reached the highway leading to Kostiantynivka much faster by continuing the offensive from the village of Ocheretyne. Therefore, these attacks in the Toretsk direction are unlikely to significantly worsen the situation of the AFU in the near future. At this stage, these offensive actions do not yet appear to be large-scale.

At the beginning of May, we reported on Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets’s theory that, in addition to advancing towards the Pokrovsk-Kostiantynivka highway, Russian forces could launch an attack on Toretsk.

As always in such cases, the Russian offensive is accompanied by strikes on populated areas near this section of the frontline. Strikes on the town of Toretsk and the villages of Pivnichne and Niu York have intensified, resulting in at least one person being killed and two more injured.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] reported the first use of a FAB-3000 air-dropped bomb equipped with a Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK). This bomb allegedly targeted a point of temporary deployment of Ukrainian forces in the village Lyptsi, Kharkiv region, landing just shy of a four-story building. However, the video evidence does not clearly identify the type of munition used, which could have been a FAB-3000, ODAB-1500 or FAB-1500 air-dropped bomb. It is worth noting that while FAB-500 UMPK gliding bombs are most commonly used by the RuAF, air strikes with FAB-1500 and ODAB-1500 equipped with UMPKs have also been reported. Additionally, the development of a glide module for the FAB-3000 bomb was noted back in March. Fighterbomber expressed doubts about the effectiveness of using such heavy bombs, pointing out that a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber aircraft is capable of carrying one 3,000kg [6,600 lbs] bomb or two to three 1,500kg [3,300 lbs] bombs, increasing the likelihood of hitting the target. There are few targets that require a three-ton bomb; they are suitable for destroying bridges but are excessively powerful for striking relatively small buildings. Thus, the development of a UMPK for such a large air-dropped bomb appears to be primarily a PR project.

Russian FAB air-dropped bombs equipped with UMPKs continue to frequently fall on territories controlled by Russia. Over the past four months, the Astra Telegram channel has counted 103 accidental releases of these bombs in the Belgorod region and in occupied territories. According to our calculations, 111 out of the 119 known accidentally released air-dropped bombs have fallen in the Belgorod region. This indicates that FAB-3000 bombs with UMPKs could also potentially fall in this area.

Recent days have seen significant attention focused on Putin's visit to North Korea and the signing of a bilateral security agreement between Russia and the DPRK. Under the agreement, the two countries agreed that if one were attacked, the other would "immediately provide military and other assistance to the best of its ability."

The RuAF have been regularly using artillery ammunition from North Korea. Reports have previously indicated that nearly a million shells had been transferred to Russia. However, it is worth noting that there have been no recent reports of ballistic missile strikes involving North Korean weaponry.

In our opinion, one substantial way North Korea could aid Russia is by supplying artillery barrels. The production of barrels in the Russian Federation is unable to keep pace with the rate of wear, often leading to the "cannibalization" of military equipment stored in mobilization warehouses—a situation highlighted by research as early as September 2023. Since Russia has not participated in high-intensity armed conflicts in recent decades, there was no need to increase the production of artillery barrels. Repurposing civilian production for their manufacture is impossible because it requires specialized machine tools.

Originally, there were four factories in Russia that produced artillery barrels:

  • The Yurga Machine-Building Plant, which went bankrupt in 2021;
  • The Barrikady Production Association in Volgograd, which, as of 2019, produced barrels from metal blanks made by the Krasny Oktyabr plant;
  • Plant No. 9 in Yekaterinburg, which primarily produces tank guns rather than, for example, barrels for howitzers;
  • The Motovilikha Plant, according to a February report, does not produce long barrels suitable for 2A36 Giatsint-B field guns and 2S5 Giatsint-S self-propelled guns (the barrels for 2S7 Pion self-propelled cannons are even longer).

We believe that machine tools at the last three plants are capable of producing barrels of shorter length suitable for tanks and most Russian artillery systems, unlike the longer barrels required for Pions and Giatsints. The aforementioned machine tools are available in North Korea, suggesting a potential agreement between the two countries for barrel supply to Russia. However, the production cycle spans more than six months.

Additionally, the RuAF are facing an increasingly severe shortage of tanks. Meanwhile, North Korea possesses old Soviet tanks like the T-62 and T-55, which were transferred 35 to 60 years ago. The current condition of these tanks is unknown. Later, North Korea began producing its own modified versions of Soviet tanks. It remains unclear whether North Korea is capable of transferring these tanks to Russia.

The New York Times suggests that Russia could provide North Korea with technology to enhance its nuclear weapons’ capabilities, enabling them to penetrate US missile defense systems and strike targets in New York City or Washington, DC. These assertions are based on the erroneous belief that North Korea cannot achieve these capabilities independently and would not pose a threat to the United States without external assistance.

However, experts specializing in North Korea, such as Jeffrey Lewis, contend that the DPRK has already developed the Hwasong-17 ICBM, capable of reaching the US mainland. Experts estimated their number to be more than ten units as of April 2022.

Many commentators mistakenly assume that the technologies needed to penetrate missile defense systems are highly sophisticated and involve artificial intelligence or fifth-generation fighter jets. In fact, many of these technologies were developed over 50 years ago.

Once a missile exits the atmosphere and enters space, it jettisons its nose cone, deploying a mix of light and heavy decoys. Light decoys can be understood as cone-shaped balloons made of foil-coated plastic film, resembling warheads. Dozens of these "balloons" are equipped with pyrotechnic charges and, when deployed, appear as real warheads on missile defense radars. However, after the real warhead re-enters the atmosphere, the light decoys remain in space. Heavy decoys, on the other hand, are mock warheads that closely mimic real warheads in terms of radar signature and flight trajectory. Therefore, instead of detecting a single missile launch, missile systems will see about 100 decoys in space and roughly ten after re-entry. If 10 or 15 missiles are launched simultaneously, identifying real warheads becomes incredibly difficult, making it unlikely that all can be intercepted.

Different parts of the world perceive different threats in the agreement between Russia and North Korea: Europe and Ukraine fear that North Korea could transfer additional projectiles and weapons to Russia, while the US is concerned that Russia might share technologies used in aircraft and surface-to-air missiles with North Korea.

It can be assumed that Putin's visit to North Korea is related to Western countries recently granting Ukraine permission to use their weapons against targets on Russian territory. He may be concerned that after the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft, combat operations could extend to Russian territory. Therefore, Putin may seek to secure the support of a strong ally in this context.

According to Yonhap [South Korean news agency], a spokesman for the South Korean president has announced that the country will review its policy on restricting arms supplies to Ukraine. National Security Advisor Chang Ho-jin has also made similar statements. It is worth noting that previously, South Korea had directly supplied Ukraine only with humanitarian aid and non-lethal military items, such as body armor. South Korea was also indirectly involved in the supply of artillery ammunition by transferring its own projectiles to the US to compensate for those sent to Ukraine.

We do not expect that Putin's visit to Vietnam will lead to the start of arms supplies to Russia. Unlike North Korea, Vietnam is not in international isolation, and helping Russia could negatively affect it.

On June 4, a photo depicting debris from a Shahed-136 [Geran-2] loitering munition with the number Y2110 was published. Just 15 days later, on June 19, debris bearing the number Y2474 was discovered, suggesting a total of 350 units could have been deployed within this period. The wide range of serial numbers in such a short timeframe suggests that these munitions may belong to different production batches. However, it also raises the possibility of an increased overall production volume. Previously, we estimated a monthly production of 400 units, but now it could have risen to 700 or more. However, it should be noted that, based on the reports from the Ukrainian Air Force about interceptions, we do not see a significant increase in the number of launched and intercepted Shaheds.

Ukrainian UAV attacks on Russian oil refining infrastructure continue. On the night of June 20, fires broke out at an oil depot in the village of Enem in Adygea [Russia’s constituent republic] after drone strikes, as well as at an oil depot in the Rasskazovsky district of the Tambov region (confirmed by ground photos, videos and satellite images). Additionally, the fire at the oil storage facility in the town of Azov in the Rostov region, which began on the night of June 18, lasted several days. The fire was finally extinguished on the morning of June 21.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a statement from the administration of President Joe Biden, reports that Ukraine will receive priority in the supply of missiles for Patriot and NASAMS surface-to-air defense systems. Deliveries of these anti-aircraft missiles will be delayed for the UAE and South Korea, but not for Taiwan and Israel. It is unclear why Ukraine cannot receive a similar priority for F-16 pilot training.

On June 20, Russia’s Minister of Defense Andrey Belousov twice stated the necessity to prepare rear infrastructure for the return of soldiers from the war in Ukraine. Since one of these statements was made during an inspection of a construction site in a military town of the 155th Brigade, the first phase of which is only set to be completed by Dec. 1, 2025, it is believed that he is not referring to a short-term return for leave or rotation but to general plans for the distant future.

Nina Ostanina, Chair of the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] Committee on Family Affairs, has called for law enforcement to begin supervising former convicts returning from the war. This statement follows the brutal murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in the Kemerovo region, committed by Andrey Bykov, a Storm Unit fighter. In response to Ostanina's proposal, representatives from the State Duma Committee on Security argued that additional regulations were unnecessary. Deputy Chair Ernest Valeev stated that supervision over individuals released from incarceration is already adequately regulated. However, this assertion does not align with reality, as ex-convicts who have been pardoned are not subjected to administrative supervision. There have also been several cases where former convicts returning from the war have committed unlawful acts without police intervention, purportedly because they were participants in a "special military operation." State Duma member Andrey Alshevskikh has argued against supervising these individuals, stating that their participation in combat operations should absolve them of further scrutiny under the laws of wartime.