March 24, 2023

Sitrep for Mar. 23-24 (as of 11:00 a.m.) 

The situation on the frontline

OSINT analyst Def Mon, whose posts and maps we rely on when compiling our sitreps, reports that in recent days he has found almost no significant information on changes in the frontline.

The only change he noted was a slight advance of Russian forces in the direction of Bila Hora south of Bakhmut on the opposite side of the town from the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas Canal. This is confirmed by reports on repulsed attacks in the area of Oleksandro-Shultyne village (slightly west of Bila Hora) in the summaries of the General Staff of the AFU. For the rest, the frontline in the Bakhmut direction remains stable, with the heaviest fighting taking place in the north of Bakhmut and on its southern outskirts.

In the Avdiivka direction, the frontline has not changed either. Def Mon does not share assumptions that Avdiivka is attacked in order to divert the AFU from other directions: in his opinion, Russian forces are trying to attack in different directions, hoping that they will be able to break through the Ukrainian defenses at least somewhere, and Russia needs to capture Avdiivka in order to secure Donetsk, which is a major logistics hub.

It is unclear whether Wagner Group mercenaries are actually the only units to remain in the Bakhmut direction, while regular troops were transferred to other directions (e.g., to Avdiivka). Perhaps, the statements that pro-Russian forces around Bakhmut have begun to lose steam are not far off from the truth. We should also mention that for all the time since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, not much attention has been paid to Avdiivka. At the same time, a rather dangerous situation for the AFU is developing in Avdiivka now due to the small number of supply routes to the town. We do not rule out that the offensive pace in the Avdiivka direction may increase sharply if regular troops, such as paratroopers, are deployed there.

Strikes on the territory of Ukraine

Russian Su-35 fighter jets reportedly fired missiles at targets in the Odesa region from the airspace over the Black Sea on the evening of Mar. 23. Two Kh-59 guided air-to-surface missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defense forces.

In the early hours of Mar. 24, the city of Kryvyi Rih was hit by Iranian-made loitering munitions. Two drones were shot down by air defense systems, and five drones successfully reached their targets (what kind of targets these were is not specified); no injuries have been reported.

Western equipment delivery updates

Spain plans to send six Leopard tanks to Ukraine next week, most likely via Poland.

Slovakia reportedly delivered the first four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The report that it will take 8–9 months for the US to send the decommissioned Abrams M1A1 tanks to Ukraine is surprising to us because removing from storage, repairing, or even upgrading these tanks (modifying or removing secret equipment) should hardly take this long.

This photo shows Iranian unguided aircraft rockets used on a Mil Mi-17 helicopter. A batch of these helicopters had previously been bought by the US for Afghanistan. We are convinced that these rockets weren’t captured in the Gulf of Oman because Yemen’s Houthi rebels don’t have anything to fire these rockets from. Therefore, we conclude that the rockets were purchased from Iran using some complicated scheme involving a third country.

The Swedish Parliament has approved the supply of the Archer self-propelled gun system to Ukraine, which has been discussed for more than a month, as well as Leopard 2 tanks, HAWK air defense systems, and ammunition for all these weapons. In total, the military aid package is estimated at $630 million.

A photo of a PT-91 Twardy tank has been published. As alleged, it was taken at a training ground in the western part of Ukraine. It was reported earlier that more than 200 tanks had been delivered last year; however, we have not seen any evidence of their presence on the frontline so far.

Petr Pavel, President of the Czech Republic, said that his country had exhausted its resources to help Ukraine. The Czech Republic could provide Ukraine with ammunition and air defense systems. However, there is not enough workforce to produce them.

Dmitry Medvedev [Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council] gave a talk at a working group meeting at the Military Industrial Commission, where he recited Stalin's letter to the industrial officials, thus hinting at the possible consequences for those factories and industries that do not support the “special military operation.” He also said that this year additional 1,500 tanks will be produced. Medvedev called Russian T-90M tanks the best in the world. Due to the lack of tank battles during this war, it is difficult to judge which tanks have superiority on the battlefield. As we repeatedly discussed, even the newest vehicles with excellent performance on the battlefield can, for many reasons, lose all their advantages.

Moreover, Medvedev called the HIMARS MLRS quite a worthy weapon, yet he thinks Russia has weapons that are no worse, which have the same or better accuracy and effective range. Indeed, the Russian Armed Forces have a similar weapon which is the Tornado-S MLRS. It uses 300mm 9M544 rockets with a firing range of 120 km. However, the use of long-range precision weapons requires good intelligence, and Russia has problems with it. The Tornado-S MLRS has already been used during the current invasion, but we believe that its strikes do not change the course of hostilities. The role of the Tornado-S MLRS for Russia in this war cannot be compared with the one of the HIMARS MLRS for Ukraine since the latter changed the situation significantly and complicated the logistics for Russian forces.

A few days ago, Russian military ships in Sevastopol were again attacked with surface naval drones. Unfortunately, it is impossible to assert anything based on the available video due to its poor quality.

The Kursk region has allocated more than 3 billion rubles for the construction of fortifications (firing points and bunkers) that can protect against enemy ground attacks but not against strikes with mortar bombs, shells, or drones. At the same time, none of the Ukrainian officials have ever stated their intention to attack Russia’s territory. It should be noted that the amount of 3 billion rubles is approximately one-third of the region's healthcare budget (10.2 billion rubles) and exceeds the amount allocated for housing and utilities (2.9 billion rubles).

Bloomberg claims that Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] is allegedly going to scale back Wagner Group’s operations in Ukraine and shift focus back to Africa. At the same time, in Novosibirsk, advertising for recruitment into the Wagner Group appeared on television. We are skeptical of Prigozhin’s pullout from Ukraine. Even if the Ministry of Defense wanted to get rid of him, the Russian Army is experiencing a serious lack of manpower, while Wagner Group mercenaries aid with this problem to an extent.

A mobilized citizen of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Maksim Shelest, went AWOL to avoid being deployed to Ukraine. In early March, he was sentenced to 5 years of a suspended sentence on the grounds of desertion, but after entry of judgment into legal force, he was mobilized again. In all appearances, a tendency is forming: the court sentences refuseniks with suspended sentences with the intent of coercing them to go to the war under the threat of a second criminal case and double jail time.

Ilya Yashin, currently imprisoned Russian opposition politician, has published a story about Sergei Vedel, a former policeman from the Moscow Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. After the “special military operation” had started, he called his relatives in Ukraine, discussed the events, and spoke negatively on the matter of the war. Last March, he became one of the first people accused of spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military. The prosecution stated in court that Vedel’s phone was wiretapped by a police officer, thus making that officer the audience of the private conversation who experienced “anxiety, fear and the feeling of insecurity.” According to the prosecution, this fact turned the private phone conversation into a public statement.

An author of a fairly popular Twitter account, James Vasquez, calls himself a former American soldier fighting in the International Legion of Ukraine. He has posted many photos and videos from the places of recent hostilities, being dressed in uniform and with weapons in his hands. However, some well-known people who helped and are helping the Ukrainian Army said that, in reality, Vasquez did not have a contract with either the Ukrainian Army or with any volunteer battalion and that he had allegedly used the donations collected for the Ukrainian Army to create a construction company. We highlight this news to demonstrate that there are not so few people who try to portray themselves as combatants.