March 15

Sitrep for March 13-15, 2024 (as of 9:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Despite the fact that the frontline has indeed stabilized, as noted by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the shortage of anti-aircraft missiles in the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces remains an area of concern. On March 13, a Russian drone tracked a forward arming and refueling point where Ukrainian Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters were stationed near Novopavlivka, Dnipropetrovsk region. Shortly after their location was discovered, the helicopters were first struck with cluster munitions, followed by direct missile hits that destroyed two of them in succession. The 12th Separate Army Aviation Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine confirmed the loss of both helicopters and the deaths of two military personnel.

The FARP was located approximately 50 km [30 mi] from the frontline—indicating that Russian drones are still able to freely operate over Ukrainian-controlled territory. This incident raises questions about the placement of military equipment in open areas within reach of enemy aerial reconnaissance assets. We concur with the assessment of Ukrainian military expert Serhii “Flash” Beskrestnov, who stated that even though defending against Russian drones currently remains a challenge, it is crucial to more actively utilize radio electronic reconnaissance means to monitor activity on frequencies used by enemy drones. The Ukrainian military has reportedly already deployed such detection measures in the past.

Although the kill chain in the Russian Army could have been shortened (in some cases, there is relatively little time between target detection and strikes, however it is premature to talk about a stable shortening of this chain), the time available would have been sufficient for helicopters to relocate if Ukrainian military personnel had timely noticed that they were tracked by enemy drones. As seen in the video footage, one of the helicopters managed to leave the area before the strike. The initial frames show three helicopters on the ground with rotating blades, while at the time of the strike, there were only two of them with engines off.

Ukrainian journalist Yurii Butusov confirmed that the strike on the MIM-104 Patriot SAM on March 9 near the town of Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region had indeed destroyed a SAM system and not a truck carrying ammunition. As a result of this strike by three missiles launched from a 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system, two launchers were destroyed, nine soldiers were killed, while the radar set and the control station suffered minimal damage. It is also claimed that the vehicles were awaiting orders to relocate.

The Polkovnyk Henshtabu [Colonel of the General Staff] Telegram channel published photos of Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munition debris, among which a basic CCTV camera is visible. Opinions on its purpose vary. According to one version, it was mounted to confirm hits. According to another, it was used for simultaneous reconnaissance, as besides the camera, the drone is also equipped with a modem with a Ukrainian SIM card, allowing video to be transmitted back to an operator.

Ukrainian Sabotage and Reconnaissance Group Raids on Russian Soil

The situation with Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group raids into the territory of the Belgorod and Kursk regions continues to evolve.

Video footage released by the Russian Ministry of Defense shows bodies of killed and wounded participants of the raids in the Belgorod region. According to our assessment, more than 10 fighters may have been killed. Despite this, these numbers do not fully correspond with official statements regarding significant losses among the saboteurs. Nevertheless, the visual evidence of casualties resulting from the raids into Russian territory is now apparent.

During our discussion, our team concluded that if the saboteurs had indeed been massing in Russian territory over the past few days, we would likely continue to receive evidence of their presence. However, the prolonged period of calm suggests that the sabotage and reconnaissance groups may have withdrawn to replenish their ammunition supplies and relocate to different areas.

The previous statement that fighters from the "Freedom of Russia Legion'' had gained a foothold in Tyotkino of the Kursk region was geolocated by the Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel and determined to have been filmed in the neighboring Ukrainian village of Ryzhevka, located 300 meters from Tyotkino. There was no confirmation to support the claims that at the time of the pre-recorded video's publication, the saboteurs had already taken control of Tyotkino.

The “Russian Volunteer Corps” released an address to the residents of the Belgorod and Kursk regions, in which the Corps’ commander Denis Nikitin (Kapustin) stated that since the regional authorities had not responded to demands to evacuate the civilian population, residents should evacuate themselves. Nikitin warned that an attack on military facilities in these regions would commence an hour and a half after the publication of the appeal.

The appeal raises several valid concerns. Firstly, it is unrealistic to assume that the entire population of the border areas of Russia is subscribed to the Corps' Telegram channel, making it unlikely that everyone would receive the message in time. Secondly, even if residents were notified promptly, it would be impossible to organize and execute an evacuation of two entire regions within an hour and a half.

On March 14, mass shelling of the Belgorod region indeed commenced, resulting in the death of the driver of a moving Suzuki Jimny car due to a direct hit by a rocket projectile. Agentstvo.Novosti analyzed the impact site and the possible trajectory of the projectile. They suggested that the intended target may have been an oil depot nearby, which the projectile did not reach, possibly intercepted by air defenses, as claimed by the region's authorities. However, we cannot definitively confirm this claim. Upon reviewing the video footage, there were no indisputable signs of air defense activity, and there are no available photos of the projectile fragments.

Fragments from another rocket projectile explosion damaged a moving Nissan Juke, causing the car to overturn and fall into a ditch, resulting in the death of the woman driving it.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, Governor of the Belgorod region, spoke of the successful operation of air defense systems and six injured individuals. He also showed the impact of projectiles on civilian objects, including another car hit by fragments, and presented photos of a fragment of a tail assembly belonging to a 122mm rocket projectile.

When the projectile hit the regional narcological dispensary, it pierced through the roof and between the 6th and 5th floors, significantly damaging the building. There is currently no information about casualties. It is worth noting that strikes on medical facilities, including military hospitals, constitute war crimes.

Additionally, four residents of Grayvoron and three residents of the village of Belovskoye were injured, including two children.

On the evening of March 14, the “Russian Volunteer Corps” announced a ceasefire from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. to organize a humanitarian corridor. They reported that more than 600 civilian cars took advantage of this ceasefire period.

On the morning of March 15, strikes on Belgorod resumed. Rocket projectiles hit a sports ground and the courtyard of a multi-story residential building, and local Telegram channels reported air defense activity. We did not find any signs of military facilities near the impact sites. The use of indiscriminate weapons such as MLRS in residential areas constitutes a war crime. Given the intensification of hostilities, on the morning of March 15, the “Russian Volunteer Corps,” the “Freedom of Russia Legion” and the “Sibir Battalion” called on local residents to remain in shelters and announced a humanitarian corridor for those wishing to evacuate on the night of March 15-16.

Reports of a sabotage and reconnaissance group landing via helicopters near the village of Kozinka seem unlikely to us. Gladkov took advantage of the temporary cessation of shelling to journey to the Grayvoronsky district, where he observed considerable destruction in the village of Kozinka. According to him, combat operations on the evening of March 14 were already taking place only on Ukrainian territory. He also reported the evacuation of residents from bordering settlements.

Based on the evidence of destroyed, damaged and abandoned military equipment observed on both sides, it appears that the sizes of the forces engaged by the belligerents are relatively modest, which is consistent with what would be expected given the scale of the clashes. It is plausible to speculate that in each of the four main points of attack, there are at least dozens of soldiers and several armored vehicles engaged in the fighting. Therefore, the total estimated number of soldiers involved in the clashes could be up to 200.

The past two years' experience shows that Russian authorities did not perceive the threat of sabotage attacks seriously and relied primarily on their aircraft to counter them, without deploying additional ground forces to border regions. We do not anticipate this incident to prompt any significant changes in tactics. However, unlike the situation near the village of Krynky, where the AFU have air defense systems on the right bank of the Dnipro, it is impossible to establish a similar bridgehead in the Belgorod region due to the unimpeded operation of the Russian Air Force in this area.

According to preliminary data, at least four Rosgvardia [the Russian National Guard] servicemen were killed near the village of Nezhegol, and four others were wounded. Additionally, during a drone attack on the Federal Security Service (FSB) administration building in Belgorod, three department employees were injured. It is worth noting that initial reports of this strike published by TASS [Russian state-owned news agency] and Belgorod media, were subsequently deleted.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of March 14, Russian forces launched seven modified S-300 and S-400 air defense system missiles targeting the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, as well as one Kh-59 missile targeting the Poltava region.

On the evening of March 14, a loitering munition hit a residential apartment building in the Vinnytsia region, resulting in the deaths of two people and injuring three others.

On the morning of March 13, three projectiles, presumably launched using a HIMARS MLRS, hit a military training ground near the village of Tryokhizbenka in the occupied territory of the Luhansk region. According to preliminary data, at least 10 Russian servicemen were killed in this incident.

Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has emphasized the urgency of securing new support for Ukraine, stating that the outcome of the war is expected to be determined within the next few months. Borrell highlighted concerns about the possibility of a major Russian offensive in the coming summer, and stressed that Ukraine cannot afford to wait until the outcome of the next US elections. However, it should be noted that the RuAF appear to lack sufficient reserves for such an offensive.

Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets has reported that the 27th Motorized Rifle Division is being formed based on the 21st Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade from the 2nd Guards Combined Arms Army of the Central Military District. However, there has not been any objective confirmation of this information yet. It is possible that, at this stage, the division exists only on paper as part of plans of the Russian Ministry of Defense. It is also conceivable that the division may not be formed based on the 21st Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, but instead use the Totskoye training ground, to which the brigade belongs.

Considering the current rate of recruitment of volunteer fighters and accounting for the fact that some new contract soldiers may join other units to compensate for losses, it is plausible that a division comprising 8,000 to 15,000 personnel could be formed by the summer. However, it is worth noting that a single division may not be sufficient for a large-scale offensive operation.

Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories, independent Russian investigative media outlet] has reported that Russian regions are still competing to offer the highest sign-up bonus to individuals who sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense. In the Moscow region, this sign-up bonus has been raised to 805,000 rubles [$8,840].

Ammunition purchased from non-EU countries at the Czech initiative may arrive in Ukraine as early as June, according to Tomáš Pojar, Czech National Security Advisor.

Three-day presidential elections started in Russia on March 15. It is worth noting that the Noon Against Putin action announced by Alexei Navalny’s team is scheduled to take place on Sunday, March 17.