March 4

Sitrep for March 1-4, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Contrary to our expectations, the Russian Armed Forces did not reach the new line of defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine behind the cascade of reservoirs by the beginning of this week. Russian forces still occupy only the southern part of Orlivka, separated from the northern part by a water barrier. Tonenke, located south of Orlivka, is still not captured, and in Berdychi they are engaged in combat operations only on the outskirts of the village.

A new video has surfaced, showing the destruction of an M1 Abrams tank, reportedly in the area of Berdychi. Notably, this is a different tank than the one previously mentioned; in this case, the abandoned tank with a damaged track is targeted by several kamikaze drones.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels have shared photos allegedly showing a mock-up of a US AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel ground surveillance radar, captured in Avdiivka. It is emphasized that this decoy is challenging to distinguish from a real radar, even when viewed closely on the ground. In this regard, it is worth noting that from videos depicting strikes on various military equipment, it is difficult to definitively ascertain whether it was a mock-up or an actual weapon, unless ammunition scatters or explodes after the impact.

In another video recorded in the Avdiivka direction, 31 bodies of Russian soldiers can be seen lying next to an abandoned T-80 tank. Such a large gathering of soldiers on the frontline is unusual; this scene does not appear to be the result of a formation of soldiers having been struck, and assault groups rarely reach these kinds of numbers. The explanation offered by pro-Russian Telegram channels, suggesting that the bodies were being prepared for evacuation, also seems implausible. According to our observations, in such cases, bodies are typically arranged in rows. The most likely scenario, in our view, as initially reported and then deleted by pro-Russian blogger Anatoly Radov, suggests that the AFU had destroyed a tank and an assault group near Stepove with either cluster munitions or by ambushing the unsuspecting soldiers.

Some time later, soldiers from the 47th Separate Mechanized Rifle Brigade of the AFU reported eliminating an assault group from the 15th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the RuAF near the village of Stepove, northwest of Avdiivka. However, the video they published only showed a smaller assault group that had arrived in an armored personnel carrier. After the troops disembarked, the APC attempted to leave the area but was hit by a SMArt 155 artillery projectile with precision-guided submunitions, designed to strike vehicles with an explosively formed penetrator, and then destroyed by an FPV drone. The infantry was then attacked by an approaching Bradley IFV. It is worth noting that the Russian troops were not supported by an infantry fighting vehicle, had no rocket-propelled grenade launchers and, consequently, could not defend against armored vehicles with small arms.

It is possible that such attacks, resulting in significant losses, may stem from a sense of emboldenment that arose among Russian military leadership following the capture of Avdiivka. This analysis is indirectly supported by a piece published by Carnegie Foundation political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya on Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly.

In the Bakhmut direction, the Russian offensive on Ivanivske has intensified, with fighting now occurring within the village. It is worth noting that the aim of this attack is Chasiv Yar, and control over Ivanivske would provide access to this location.

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in sightings of old tanks, such as T-62s, lacking explosive reactive armor or significant upgrades. This suggests that tanks are being withdrawn from storage and promptly deployed to the frontline. While last year, these "bare" tanks were primarily observed in concealed firing positions, recent video recordings increasingly depict both non-modernized tanks, previously unused old armored personnel carriers and MT-LB multi-purpose armored vehicles actively involved in attacks. According to the WarSpotting project, in recent months, the AFU have almost stopped hitting T-72 tanks upgraded in 2016, the number of 2022 T-72s has decreased, and there is an increase in non-upgraded T-72s, as well as T-62s and T-55s. While this data is only based on identified losses, it provides a glimpse into the real situation, albeit not as accurate as desired. While this trend does not imply that Russia is running out of tanks altogether, it suggests that it is facing a shortage of resources and specialists at factories for their modernization and repair. Despite drones successfully targeting both old and new tanks, the presence of modern explosive reactive armor generally increases the crew's chances of survival and evacuation.

Some Telegram channels have drawn attention to new artillery rounds in protective-colored plastic crates. These projectiles have Russian markings painted in brown, and cartridge cases in greenish protective color. This visual resemblance aligns with some Chinese ammunition, and until now, projectiles in these colors have not been seen in the RuAF. However, we do not believe that the mere similarity in color is sufficient evidence to determine the country of origin. Assuming that these projectiles were produced in China for Russia, it raises questions about the unconventional use of colors resembling those commonly found on Chinese projectiles. If these rounds were removed from storage, it is difficult to imagine that markings would be removed before delivery to Russia while preserving the distinctive color associated with Chinese ammunition.

Moreover, in the past two years, Western intelligence agencies have demonstrated high effectiveness in informing the press about military aid shipments to Russia from their allies long before evidence of such shipments appeared in open sources. Thus, we currently lack sufficient information to confirm the hypothesis of Chinese military aid supplies to Russia.

An obituary has been published for Colonel Husayn Musayev, the commander of the Russian 36th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, further confirming the strike by a HIMARS MLRS on a gathering of troops near the village of Trudovske in the Donetsk region on Feb. 20. It was reported that as a result of this strike, 65 people were killed.

An obituary has also been released for Lieutenant Colonel Roman Kozhukhov, the deputy commander of the Russian 155th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade, who was killed in a HIMARS MLRS strike on a gathering of troops in the village of Olenivka in the Donetsk region on Feb. 27. Earlier reports stated that as a result of this strike, 19 military personnel were killed, with 12 others wounded, including Brigade Commander Colonel Mikhail Gudkov.

Satellite images of Sevastopol as of Feb. 28 have been published, showing part of the Black Sea Fleet still stationed in the port. The following have been identified:

  • project 1135M Burevestnik-class guard ship (Krivak II-class missile frigate) Ladnyy or Pytlivyy, equipped with an Osa SAM system;
  • project 18280 Yuriy Ivanov class SIGINT intelligence vessel Ivan Khurs, tasked with the provision of communication and fleet operations control, radio reconnaissance and electronic warfare, and monitoring components of the US Ballistic Missile Defense System. In May 2023, this ship was attacked by Ukrainian unmanned surface vessels but sustained no damage;
  • various minesweepers;
  • project 775 landing ships;
  • project 1124 Albatros-class small anti-submarine ship (anti-submarine corvette);
  • project 22800 Karakurt-class small missile ship (corvette) Tsiklon, which entered service with the Black Sea Fleet in July 2023. It is equipped with 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missile launchers, a Pantsir-M close-in weapon system, and an Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone. It is usually anchored at the entrance to Sevastopol harbor, likely providing defense against Ukrainian UAVs.

Additionally, the images show that the barriers at the harbor entrance, destroyed during a storm in November 2023, have now been restored.

The Rubymar bulk carrier was attacked by Yemeni Houthis in the Red Sea on Feb. 18. After the attack, the ship had been slowly taking in water and sinking, with an expanding oil slick around the vessel. The ship sank completely on March 2. The estimated 21,000 to 41,000 metric tons of fertilizer onboard present a serious environmental risk to the Red Sea.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the morning of March 2 in Saint Petersburg, a drone crashed into a residential building on Piskarevsky Prospekt, resulting in six people seeking medical assistance. There are suggestions that the drone was suppressed by means of electronic warfare and that its intended target could have been the Ruchi oil depot, located 1 km from the crash site, or a drone production plant. It was reported a year ago that a former shopping mall, also approximately 1 km from the affected building, would be converted for drone production.

On the night of March 2, a drone hit a residential building in the city of Odesa, causing an entire section of the building to collapse. Usually, such incidents result in smaller-scale damage, but in this case, the impact was severe. By the evening of March 3, the rescue operation had been completed. Twelve fatalities have been reported, including five children aged 4 and 8 months old, and 3, 8 and 9 years old, and nine injured, including one child. It remains unknown whether there were any military or infrastructure facilities nearby that could have been the target of the attack. We were able to identify only a boiler room approximately half a kilometer from this building.

Western Assistance

Sébastien Lecornu, the Minister of the Armed Forces of France, announced at a meeting of the country's Defense Committee of the National Assembly that France has begun supplying Ukraine with AASM Hammer air launched cruise missiles, for which Ukrainian MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-24M aircraft have already been upgraded. The AASM Hammer—a counterpart to the US JDAM kits or the Russian UMPK—is initially an unguided high-explosive bomb equipped with satellite, laser, radar and inertial guidance systems as well as tail fins, making it highly precise and capable of gliding over long distances. France plans to supply about 50 AASM Hammers per month—a small number compared to Russian UMPK production but very significant in the context of the suspension of JDAM supplies.

A video has been published, allegedly showing the use of an AASM Hammer 250 on the territory of the Avdiivka Coke Plant. We cannot confirm or deny that the explosions shown are the result of using these specific bombs.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

Aleksandr Kots, а pro-Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda war correspondent, has released a report about military wives moving to Donbas to be closer to their husbands. According to this report, all of the men were willing to go to the frontline, with some even expressing eagerness to do so before the mobilization. The wives are enthusiastic about supporting their husbands for as long as it takes and are undeterred by the move from developed cities to practically ruined ones. Notably, the report does not mention wives, mothers and sisters who may be demanding the return of their mobilized family members. In response to criticism, Kots has stated that he did not mean to sweep problems under the carpet and pit those who go to the “special military operation” zone against the wives waiting for their husbands at home.

The Vyorstka media outlet has discovered that individuals sentenced not only to penal colonies but also to corrective labor or restriction of freedom are being recruited for military service. It has identified over a hundred petitions from convicts requesting courts to apply the article on extraordinary circumstances of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation and let them go to the frontline. In these cases, individuals convicted of offenses such as drunk driving, failure to pay alimony or theft are seeking permission to participate in the war.

The Novosibirsk City Hall has requested a list of individuals with unpaid housing and communal services bills from the municipal service management. The deadline for submission was March 1, and the purpose was to assist military commissariats [enlistment offices] in recruiting citizens for contract military service.

Sergey Salmin, the head of the city of Orenburg, has announced that in 2024, orphans who took part in the war with Ukraine will be given priority in receiving housing from the state, even though they are legally entitled to it anyway.

In previous sitreps, we have repeatedly mentioned that Russian regions are competing with each other for volunteer fighters by offering increased payments. Governor of the Tomsk region Vladimir Mazur has recently announced the formation of the Vasyugan unit and offered a sign-up bonus of 600,000 rubles [$6,560] to local residents who commit to a contract.

A former Wagner Group mercenary, Dmitry Efimov, has been arrested in the city of Kirov on suspicion of rape. On the night of Feb. 24, Efimov allegedly raped a 22-year-old woman in someone else's car, and after she managed to escape, he set the car on fire. Efimov had a prior conviction for rape in 2013 and for murder in 2019. While serving time in prison, he entered into a contract with the Wagner Group and was deployed to the frontline. Following the conclusion of his contract, he was granted a presidential pardon.

A court in Saransk has ordered the two-month detention of former Wagner Group mercenary Yakov Paramonov. He is facing charges of rape and sexual violence against a minor. According to investigators, on the evening of Feb. 27, Paramonov allegedly assaulted a 17-year-old schoolgirl at knifepoint. In 2017, Paramonov was sentenced to seven years in a maximum security penal colony for a series of robberies and one act of sexual violence. It is likely that he joined the Wagner Group directly from prison.

On March 1, Russia Today [a Russian state-controlled international news television network] published an audio recording of a meeting of purported German military officers discussing a potential Taurus missile strike on the Crimean Bridge. German political analyst Alex Yusupov confirmed the authenticity of the recording by analyzing the use of jargon, terms, expressions, tone and style.

The recording discusses which topics and questions need to be raised if a decision to transfer Taurus cruise missiles were made: how much time is needed for preparation, and how they will be used. The participants noted that while using these missiles against ammunition storage facilities would be effective, targeting the "eastern bridge," presumably referring to the bridge over the Kerch Strait, with these missiles would be impractical as it would require up to 60 missiles to hit the load-bearing structures.

Yusupov also notes that the translation published by Russian propagandists is of low quality, and the conclusions about planning an attack during the meeting are incorrect. The German Ministry of Defense later confirmed the authenticity of the recording. Presumably, it was made shortly before German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's statement that Germany would not supply Taurus missiles to Ukraine. In light of this leak, German society is concerned about the vulnerability of high-ranking officials' communications.