March 13

Sitrep for March 11-13, 2024 (as of 8:00 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

In an interview with French journalists, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that the Russian advance has been halted and the situation on the frontline has improved compared to the last three months. This assessment is supported by our observations of the situation on the ground, including developments in the Pokrovsk (Avdiivka) direction.

Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal reported during the Supreme Commander-in-Chief's meeting on the construction of defensive fortifications, consisting of three lines stretching over 2000 km [1242 mi]. Emerging photographs indeed depict fully-fledged fortifications.

Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group raids on Russian soil

On March 12, fighters from Ukrainian volunteer units, including the “Russian Volunteer Corps,” “Freedom of Russia Legion,” and “The Sibir’ Battalion,” breached the Russian-Ukrainian border in the Kursk region near the village of Tyotkino, as well as in several locations in the Belgorod region. Over one hundred individuals might have taken part in the attack. The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel published a map highlighting where infiltrations and shelling took place—the raids were accompanied by tank fire, artillery and mortar strikes.

The Russian Ministry of Defense reported that 234 combatants had been killed, without specifying the number of wounded, as well as seven tanks, three Bradley IFVs and two armored personnel carriers, allegedly preventing the “violation of state borders.” Simultaneously, the Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that their forces managed to eliminate “over 100 enemy personnel, six tanks, a Caesar self-propelled howitzer, 20 armored vehicles and a strong point.” It is perplexing to imagine why a self-propelled howitzer would be involved in this type of attack. It is possible that this last point made its way into the written statement as the “Freedom of Russia Legion” commander Maksimilian Andronikov goes by the callsign “Caesar.” He recently declared in a recorded statement that the “Legion is also going to the elections” to liberate Russians from “poverty, fear and dictatorship.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense published a video purportedly depicting destroyed Ukrainian military equipment. However, upon examination, the footage fails to show any strikes or their aftermath. Instead, the equipment appears abandoned rather than damaged or destroyed. Additionally, another video surfaced showing a border checkpoint engulfed in smoke, with a T-64 tank still operational but missing a track, indicating potential damage from either a mine or a grenade launcher. The video also includes individuals purportedly identified as retreating saboteurs.

Reports indicate that a sabotage group hit a Russian armored personnel carrier in the Kursk region, with the video geolocated in Tyotkino. However, the extent of the damage remains unclear.

Local residents captured on video a tank in the settlement of Gorkovsky in the Grayvoronsky district of the Belgorod region. The flag on it resembles the flag of the "Freedom of Russia Legion," as seen in “Caesar's” [public representative of the “Legion”] video address. We find it implausible that the presence of armored vehicles and fighting within populated areas would incite local residents to join the saboteurs.

According to Governor of the Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov, as a result of the attack, 10 civilians were injured, and one member of the local territorial defense forces was killed. In recent months, there has been no information about the activities of the local territorial defense forces, possibly indicating that they, along with the FSB and conscripts, were guarding the border with Ukraine. Apparently, civilians were injured as a result of shelling and UAV attacks, including near the Belgorod City Hall building.

Although by the evening of March 12, the flow of news about the sabotage and reconnaissance groups had ceased, the "Legion" continues to claim (without supporting evidence) that some of its fighters are still in Tyotkino.

Ivanovo Ilyushin Il-76 crash

On March 12, an Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter crashed in the Ivanovo region. The footage captured the aircraft flying with one engine ablaze, which subsequently detached. Typically, the loss of one engine for such an aircraft should not lead to a crash. However, according to the Kremlin-aligned news outlet Mash, the fire may have originated due to the use of outdated D-30 turbofan engines. These engines are notorious for their susceptibility to turbine rotor metal fatigue, which, over time, can lead to rotor rupture. Shards of the rotor, dispersing as a result of rupture, could have punctured fuel hoses, hydraulics and the fuselage, causing an engine fire. A similar incident, as stated, occurred during a training flight near Ryazan in 2022, resulting in five fatalities and four injuries.

This explanation appears plausible, given the significant operational burden on such transport aircraft in recent years, coupled with a potential decline in maintenance quality due to sanctions and personnel fatigue—repair plant employees often work multiple shifts.

Photos from the crash site of the Il-76 have appeared, accompanied by reports of 16 fatalities with one individual not initially listed as a passenger. Although there are speculations that there might have been operators of Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft on board (A-50 aircraft are based at the airfield in the Ivanovo region), there is yet to be official confirmation. We also see no reason to consider the version implying Ukraine's involvement in the crash.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On March 12, Russian forces attacked the city of Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region. As a result of the strike on a multistoried apartment building, five civilians were killed and at least 44 wounded, including 12 children. In addition, two civilians were killed in the city of Sumy when a UAV hit another multistoried residential building.

The Russian MoD claimed the destruction of another HIMARS MLRS, with video footage showing a strike near a vehicle bearing a strong resemblance to the American MLRS. However, the footage fails to capture the aftermath of the impact or any secondary detonation. Additionally, there are no other vehicles from the squadron visible in the video, leading to speculation that the vehicle in question could be a decoy. Similar decoys have been spotted before and can at times look relatively realistic. It is worth noting that if the system was indeed real, then it most likely was not destroyed but damaged.

Ukrainian drones once again attacked Russian oil infrastructure:

  • on the night of March 12, as a result of a strike on an oil refinery in Kstovo, Nizhny Novgorod region, a large fire broke out;
  • on March 12, an oil depot in the city of Oryol was targeted, leading to an explosion and a strong fire;
  • on March 13 due to a strike on an oil refinery in the city of Ryazan, a fire also started and two people were injured

Additionally, according to a source of RBC-Ukraine in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), on March 13, there was another attack on oil refineries in Kstovo, Nizhny Novgorod region, and in Kirishi, Leningrad region, but without success. Furthermore, in the Rostov region, according to Governor Vasily Golubev, drones fell on the territory of the Novoshakhtinsky oil refining plant.

Two similar videos showing the destruction of a Russian Buk-M1 SAM system have been published. Most likely, two different vehicles were targeted, as opposed to the same one filmed from different angles, but there is no complete certainty yet.

A video has also emerged showing several S-400 SAM system launchers allegedly trying to intercept HIMARS GMLRS. Some of the rockets might not have been intercepted and subsequently hit the area, the extent of damage to the vehicles is currently unknown.

Western Assistance

The European Union plans to transfer the first tranche of profit from frozen Russian assets to Ukraine in July. Russian assets totaling €190 billion are currently blocked in the Euroclear depository, and over the course of two years of war, they have generated a profit of €3.85 billion. It remains unclear whether Ukraine will receive all of these funds or only the profits accrued since the decision to transfer them was made.

Speaking at a conference in Prague commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Czech Republic's NATO accession, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced the discovery of an additional 200 thousand rounds of ammunition for Ukraine. This announcement follows last week's report indicating that the necessary amount for the first batch payment of the previously found 800 thousand rounds had been collected.

The United States has announced a new $300 million military aid package for Ukraine, including:

  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • 105mm and 155mm artillery rounds, including High Explosive and Dual Purpose Improved Cluster Munitions rounds;
  • Stinger anti-aircraft missiles;
  • AT-4 anti-armor systems;
  • Additional rounds of small arms ammunition;
  • Demolitions munitions for obstacle clearing;
  • Spare parts, maintenance and other ancillary equipment.

The Pentagon is asking Congress for $10 billion to compensate for the deficit resulting from the transfer of equipment and weapons to Ukraine. This deficit stems from the price difference between the old equipment transferred to Ukraine and the new equipment purchased to replace it. This amount is provided for in the $60 billion package under negotiation since last year. The uncertainty surrounding this tranche and the existing deficit may be the reason the Pentagon is not rushing to spend the $4.4 billion reserve allocated under the president's authority for the rapid allocation of military resources.

The first six F-16 fighter aircraft will arrive in Ukraine in late spring or early summer. These aircraft will be transferred from Denmark, where 12 Ukrainian pilots are currently undergoing a 10-month training course, expected to be completed by summer. Another 13 Danish aircraft will be delivered between 2024 and 2025. Delivery timelines from other European countries, totaling an estimated 45 units, have yet to be finalized. Approximately 50 Ukrainian engineers have been trained to maintain and repair these aircraft, but since servicing one aircraft requires from 8 to 14 people, several specialists from private defense companies will arrive in Ukraine along with the aircraft.

NK Pro, an online news outlet, analyzed recent satellite images and found that after a month-long pause, containers (presumably with ammunition) are once again accumulating in the port of Najin. The port and Russia's far-east harbors have resumed cargo traffic.

CNN reports that Russia appears on track to produce about 3 million artillery shells annually, according to NATO assessments. The United States and the European Union can only provide Ukraine with about 1.2 million shells per year. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reports that Russia produced 400,000 shells in 2021 and 600,000 in 2022, citing a source in European intelligence. Increasing production by five-fold in such a short period is impossible. We assume that CNN took this number from a report by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI), which assesses the production of artillery projectiles of all calibers, including rockets for MLRS and 122mm rounds for D-30 howitzers and 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers. It is incorrect to compare this estimate, which may be inflated, with Western countries' production of 155mm rounds. In addition, earlier, Vadym Skibitsky, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, estimated the current production of 122mm and 152mm shells at 2 million and planned production for 2024 at 2.7 million. We covered this in our previous sitrep.

Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories, independent Russian investigative media outlet], citing sources, reported that a tax reform is underway in Russia. To address the deficit resulting from military expenditures, the plan includes raising personal income tax from 13% to 15% for those earning more than 1 million rubles [$11,200] per year, and from 15% to 20% for those earning more than 5 million rubles [$55,800] annually. Additionally, there is a proposal to increase corporate income tax from 20% to 25%. Approximately 14% of the country's population, roughly 20 million people, earn incomes exceeding 1 million rubles [$11,200] per year, or more than 83,000 rubles [$930] per month. This group primarily consists of residents of large cities and contract soldiers deployed on the frontline. It remains unclear whether exceptions will be made for them. If this reform is adopted, the budget is projected to increase by 2.5 trillion rubles [$28 billion] per year.