Sitrep for Mar. 25-27 (as of 11:00 a.m.)
The situation on the frontline
There are still practically no changes in the Bakhmut direction. At the moment, the positions around Bakhmut are mainly occupied by Wagner Group mercenaries unable to carry out offensive operations, who only wear down Ukrainian troops remaining in the town.
Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, the confidant of Vladimir Putin and owner of the Wagner Group], who has recently made a number of complaints about the lack of shells and asked Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for support in the Bakhmut direction (since a Ukrainian counteroffensive is expected in April-May), claimed to have reached an agreement with the Russian Ministry of Defense on protecting the flanks of the group besieging Bakhmut.
Pro-Russian sources reported on the resignation of General Rustam Muradov from the post of commander of the Group of Forces “East,” which sustained heavy losses while fighting for Pavlivka in the Vuhledar direction and did not achieve any success. If this news is true, Muradov is likely to have also been removed from the post of commander of the Eastern Military District and transferred to a less significant position. However, significant changes in the strategy of the Russian command in connection with this shift should not be expected.
Regular troops withdrawn from the Bakhmut direction may be operating in the Avdiivka direction. Russian forces managed to move slightly south and north of Avdiivka, having captured Kamianka. The AFU is rumored to have lost their air defense capabilities in this area, which allowed the RuAF to use attack aircraft at medium and high altitudes (some of the AFU air defense systems might have been sent to protect Ukrainian cities).
On Mar. 25, Kramatorsk experienced yet another strike, resulting in significant damage to the building of the Kramatorsk Economic and Humanitarian Institute. In the photos, we found no signs that the building was used for military purposes. No casualties have been reported.
Presumably, a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone filled with explosives reached the Tula region and fell allegedly due to the influence of the electronic warfare system in the city of Kireyevsk (320 km from the border with Ukraine). In the photographs of the aftermath of its fall, a large crater and significant destruction in the surrounding area can be seen. Reportedly, two people got minor injuries as a result of the explosion. The target of the drone remains unknown; however, the cause of its fall could have been not air defense but rather a collision with a tree or power lines, as drones typically fly at the lowest possible altitude in order to penetrate unnoticed deep into Russian territory.
By the way, recently, a series of videos of strikes on Russian R-330ZH Zhitel jamming and radio reconnaissance stations have emerged; however, they have not yet been geolocated.
Deliveries of Western military vehicles
A video from Germany has been published showing the Ukrainian soldiers continuing their training on the Marder IFV. This is one of the most anticipated types of Western weapons.
Ukrainian tank crews have completed their training on Challenger 2 tanks in the UK and have returned to Ukraine. We have not seen any news about the deliveries of these tanks, but it is possible that they are already at the disposal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The Macedonian General Staff approved the transfer of 12 Mil Mi-24 helicopters purchased from Ukraine in 2001 (essentially returning them back); four of them have been upgraded over the past years.
Sota, a Russian independent news outlet, citing its sources, reported that Moscow officials had been instructed to hire 27,000 contract soldiers by the end of this year. Recall that during partial mobilization, they tried to draft as few people from Moscow as possible to avoid hysteria. Some sources even presented this fact as a merit of Sobyanin, the sitting Moscow Mayor, who found a way to draft migrants instead.
The requested number of 27 thousand people seems unrealistic.
Also, journalists obtained a photo of the guidelines with answers to frequently asked questions, which were sent to officials. They contain information on salary and lump-sum payment at the signing of a contract for a period of a year or more.
The commander of the Vostok Brigade, Alexander Khodakovsky, claimed that his unit would be a foundation for the assembly of the Special Forces of the Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia] on the territory of the "DPR."
Yevgeny Prigozhin said that 5,000 ex-convicts recruited by the Wagner Group had returned from the war. According to him, only a small portion of them commit repeated crimes (note that murderers and some other categories of serious offenders had been preferred for the recruitment). We assume that shady agreements might have already been made to cover up such cases.
Vladimir Putin stated that Russia is building a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and plans to complete the construction this summer. In addition, Russia handed over Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems to Belarus and assisted in repurposing 10 Belarusian Air Force aircraft for tactical nuclear weapons use. We consider this a trivial political gesture. Every time American air defense systems appeared in Europe, Russia would always take symbolic responsive action, for instance, deploying Iskander systems in the Kaliningrad region. US officials also say they do not see any redeployments of Russian nuclear forces at the time.
It is worth noting that on Mar. 21 (just four days before the statement), Putin and Xi Jinping signed a document stating that nuclear powers should not deploy nuclear weapons outside their national territories.
Putin also said that the Russian General Staff was forced to impose limits on ammo use. Earlier, according to him, the Russian Armed Forces spent much more ammunition than the Ukrainian Army, while he didn’t want to comment on how rational the decisions made on various levels of the military command were. Of course, this should affect the frontline, but how much will depend on the rigidity of the limits.
On Mar. 24, in the annexed city of Sevastopol, a memorial plaque was unveiled in honor of the 12 sailors of the landing ships Saratov, Caesar Kunikov, and Novocherkassk who were killed during the war with Ukraine in 2022. This became the first official recognition that the landing ship Saratov was lost (it sank in the port of Berdyansk on Mar. 24, 2022, after being seriously damaged by a Ukrainian Tochka-U missile system).
It has been reported that Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Lisitsky of the Russian Armed Forces has died. He is known for violating the agreement and attacking Ukrainian soldiers who were leaving the Ilovaisk encirclement through a "safe” corridor in 2014.