March 20

Sitrep for March 18-20, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Some have speculated that the Russian Armed Forces might redeploy some of their troops to the Russia-Ukraine border in response to the increasing number of raids conducted in Russian border regions. This could potentially weaken Russian forces along a section of the frontline, which the Armed Forces of Ukraine could, in turn, exploit by striking at weakened defenses. However, the frontline has remained stable thus far, and it is actually the Russian side that is currently making gains. Thus, if the goal of the raids into Russian territory was to distract troops from the frontline, it appears to have failed, for now.

Both pro-Russian (WarGonzo) and Ukrainian (DeepState) sources report minor advances by the Russian side. According to DeepState, Russian forces have slightly advanced towards Orlivka in the Pokrovsk/Avdiivka direction, with the village having now nearly fallen under Russian control.

The RuAF have also made small progress west of Verbove on the Zaporizhzhia axis.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has released footage of an attack on Ukrainian positions in the Bakhmut direction. The video shows a BMD infantry fighting vehicle transporting Russian paratroopers to a forest line and providing support fire, while the paratroopers storm Ukrainian fortifications and engage enemy infantry. In this case, Russian soldiers were able to secure footholds and overcome defensive positions. However, these types of attacks often end with decimated assault groups, armored vehicles blown up by mines and struck by FPV drones, and infantry suppressed by Bradley IFV fire and drone strikes. We estimate that for every unsuccessful attack reported by Ukrainian Telegram channels, there is one successful attack publicized by the Russian MoD. In some instances, such as the attack on Robotyne, the Russian side only releases video of the initial stages of the attack, with Ukrainian sources filling the gaps on how it actually ended.

Western Assistance

During the latest Ramstein format meeting, new statements from Ukraine's allies regarding the provision of military aid emerged. Belgium announced a new military aid package totaling €412 million [$448 million], primarily consisting of artillery ammunition. The timeline for its arrival in Ukraine remains uncertain, as some ammunition will be sourced from Belgium's own reserves, while the rest will be ordered from manufacturers or procured from their stocks. Additionally, Belgium will supply 300 Lynx armored fighting vehicles and three mine-clearing engineering vehicles.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the allocation of a new aid package to Ukraine worth €500 million [$544 million]. It will include:

  • 10,000 artillery ammunition from Bundeswehr stocks (time-efficient deliveries can be expected);
  • 100,000 155mm artillery shells through production orders (delivery to commence this year);
  • funding for the purchase of 180,000 artillery shells as part of the "Czech initiative" (deliveries are scheduled to start as early as this summer);
  • 100 light protected infantry vehicles;
  • 100 logistical vehicles;
  • spare parts for weapon systems already delivered;
  • medical supplies.

Finland also announced the allocation of €30 million [$33 million] as part of the Czech-led initiative for the supply of artillery ammunition. Thus far, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, France and Belgium have joined this initiative. It is worth noting that a total of €1.5 billion [$1.6 billion] is planned to be raised through this effort. We believe that Putin's militaristic statements have spurred neighboring countries bordering Russia to become even more interested in providing urgent military assistance to Ukraine.

Michael Kofman’s Study Trip to Ukraine

American military analyst Michael Kofman, Director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, recently visited Ukraine. During his field study trip, he engaged in discussions with Ukrainian military personnel, assessed the current situation and drew conclusions regarding the prospects for the war in 2024. We have provided commentary on his key points from his Twitter (X.com) thread and podcast.

Ukraine’s Main Challenges

  • Ukraine’s main challenges are manpower, fortifications and ammunition, which are interrelated issues.
    Even the most sophisticated fortification structures are ineffective in war without a sufficient number of trained soldiers, while the absence of ammunition leads to excessive manpower losses.
  • At the same time, mobilization requires resourcing. Western assistance and Ukrainian manpower issues are connected. Ukraine needs funding and training support. However, the lead times to resolve manpower issues are significantly longer than those required to ship ammunition if the supplemental is approved. Based on past experiences, this process typically takes at least three months.
    Specifically, delays in the US approval of assistance directly impact the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter aircraft: reports indicate that the next group of pilots will only begin training at the end of summer.
  • A plan to build nationwide fortifications is being implemented, with a vision of multiple lines and a system of defensive positions/fortified points. The immediate challenge is weak secondary positions behind the forward lines being held by troops at the front.

Air-Dropped Bombs

  • At this point Russia’s fire advantage of 5:1 to 6:1 is significant but not yet decisive. The growing problem is a higher rate of glide bomb employment by the Russian Air Force, averaging from 30 to 40 per day on parts of the front and from increasingly longer ranges (from 40-55 km to 60 km+ [25-37+ mi]).
  • Glide bombs are fairly inaccurate, but destructive. They are not a form of close air support. However, they suppress units, destroy buildings and fortifications. One of the reasons the AFU was pressed from Avdiivka was the concentrated volume of UMPK [Universal Gliding and Correction Module] strikes by the Russian Air Force.
    Direct fire support near the frontline is provided by aircraft and helicopters, which launch missiles and drop air bombs. The mass of explosives delivered is crucial: while most of a missile's composition is its engine, fuel and control elements, the FAB (OFAB) essentially serves as the warhead, which accounts for its significant blast effect.

Russia’s Main Challenges

  • The primary limiting factor for Russia is not ammunition or manpower but likely equipment and capacity to employ forces at scale (quality). Russian forces can ill afford to throw away an army’s worth of equipment for an offensive like Avdiivka given their replacement rate. Most of the Russian equipment comes out of storage, slowly eating through its Soviet legacy. Although new production is increasing, it is unlikely to exceed 20% of replacements. Hence, Russian forces could face growing equipment challenges in 2025-2026 (depending on losses). Russian forces in some cases are employing T-54/55 tanks or MT-LB multi-purpose armored vehicles for battle taxis to deploy troops in assaults due to a lack of BMP infantry fighting vehicles or more suitable equipment.
  • Conserving equipment for Russia means a destruction-centered approach, leveraging fire advantage and pursuing small group infantry assaults. This yields incremental gains, but unlikely to generate major breakthroughs.
    From our perspective, the RuAF advancements in certain directions, such as near the village of Verbove on the Zaporizhzhia axis, could have been significantly enhanced with more active and extensive use of armored vehicles.
  • With such tactics Russian forces have been unable to breakthrough in areas where they should be able to advance more easily. However, larger offensives, akin to the initial Avdiivka assault, are likely coming this summer and in the fall.


  • Ukraine’s ability to intercept Russian long-range drones is improving, based on a network of sensors, electronic warfare systems and mobile defense groups which, according to sources, now intercept over 40% of such strikes. Cheap forms of strike are steadily being countered by cheap forms of intercept.
  • Ukraine is scaling up production of FPV drones, to exceed 1 million this year. But basic FPVs are readily countered by EW. The contest is therefore increasingly moving from quantitative to qualitative dimensions. Drone units are differentiated by skill and integration, and elite unit performance is not reflective of the entire front.

Developments for 2024

  • With Western support, a stabilized AFU could hold this year against Russian offensives. This presumes fortifications are established (currently in progress), Ukraine has funding and ammunition support, and the manpower problem is addressed by Kyiv in the coming months.
  • An expanded strike campaign should be part of the strategy for 2024. It is a cost effective way to create challenges for Russia. Strikes against Russian energy infrastructure are one example of such a campaign.
  • If Ukraine can hold through 2024, Russia's current advantage in this war does not necessarily increase, or become decisive, but instead can decrease over time.
  • However, if difficult political choices are not made in the coming months, Russian advantages will mount. The risk of a Russian breakthrough in the second half of the year rises dramatically. Consequently, along with political will, time is a factor.

In summary, while maintaining a defensive stance, Ukraine needs to promptly secure financial assistance from Western allies to facilitate a new wave of mobilization, form new units, train selected military personnel in Europe and prepare additional military equipment and ammunition. Given that European partners intend to increase their production to over 1 million artillery rounds annually by the end of 2024, conditions for planning large-scale offensives and de-occupation of currently occupied territories will become more favorable next year.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, representing South Carolina, has arrived in Kyiv. During the negotiations, Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasized that it is critically important for Ukraine that the decision of the US Congress on the allocation of a new package of financial assistance be made as soon as possible. In response, Senator Graham acknowledged the US's commitment to supporting Ukraine but highlighted domestic priorities. He indicated that resolving border issues might not occur before the elections, yet he expressed optimism about reaching a compromise solution addressing border security while continuing support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Furthermore, Graham reiterated his endorsement of Donald Trump's proposal to assist Ukraine through loans.

Putin has stated that the railway from Rostov-on-Don to Donetsk, Mariupol and Berdiansk is already constructed, with plans for a future extension to Sevastopol, providing a land alternative to the Crimean Bridge. Evidence of construction has been observed since fall 2023; however, neither independent researchers nor Petro Andryushchenko, Advisor to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, who initially announced the beginning of constructions, have reported signs of completion yet.

On March 15, in the village of Kokhany, situated in the occupied area of the Kherson region, the bodies of three local residents were discovered with gunshot wounds to the head. The circumstances of the incident strongly resemble an extrajudicial execution. Subsequently, two Russian servicemen, who had previous convictions, were apprehended on suspicion of their involvement in this crime.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

Oleksandr Prokudin, the Head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, reported that on March 18, three local residents were killed as a result of strikes on populated areas within the Kherson region.

On the night of March 19, Russian forces launched an attack on the town of Selydove in the Donetsk region, reportedly using two modified S-300 surface-to-air missiles. This resulted in four people sustaining injuries of varying severity.

In the occupied city of Horlivka, a 15-year-old teenager found an anti-personnel mine on the street and attempted to dismantle it. The mine detonated, leading to the teenager's death.

According to the Sumy Regional Military Administration, over the past week, Russia has dropped more than 200 air bombs on the region.

Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense Lieutenant General Ivan Havriliuk reported that since the beginning of 2024, the Russian Aerospace Forces have used over 3,500 bombs on Ukrainian territory, averaging about 45 per day. This figure is 16 times higher than in 2023.

On March 17, the AFU struck the village of Nikolskoe in the Belgorod region with rocket projectiles equipped with cluster munition warheads. However, no potential military targets were identified near the geolocation of the impact site.

A video was also published from the nearby village of Oktyabrsky, demonstrating the explosions from cluster munitions. Based on the video evidence showing that the operator was looking south, and Nikolskoe is located east of Oktyabrsky, we concluded that these are different strikes, and in this case, the cluster munition exploded over Oktyabrsky itself.

The unexploded submunitions found were identified as part of Polish BM-21FK Feniks rockets, which had been previously used for strikes on the Belgorod region in February 2024. According to some sources, the range of high-explosive fragmentation munitions of the Feniks/Feniks-Z family is more than 40 km, and the Status-6 analyst on X.com claims the maximum range of cluster rockets to be around 32 km due to worse aerodynamics and a heavier warhead.

On the afternoon of March 18, the Russian village of Nikolskoe was once again hit. A direct strike destroyed a home, killing four people and injuring four others, including one child.

On the morning of March 19, the AFU hit the village of Razumnoe, allegedly with RM-70 Vampire MLRS. According to preliminary information, three people were injured, including a 14-year-old teenager.

The indiscriminate use of weapons in residential areas such as these incidents may negatively influence the decisions of Western officials regarding the allocation of ammunition to Ukraine.

We find the version suggesting that recent strikes on residential buildings are caused by Russian air defense systems altering the trajectory of rockets aimed at military facilities, leading them to land in populated areas, to be implausible. This skepticism arises primarily from the observed normal detonations of cluster munitions, which typically do not occur during interceptions.

Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, confirmed that the intelligence agency assists the “Russian Volunteer Corps,” the “Freedom of Russia Legion,” and the “Sibir Battalion” in their operations.

The strategic goal of the raids conducted by Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups remains unclear.

The independent researcher Naalsio published an estimation of identified military vehicles and equipment lost or damaged during Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups’ raids as of Monday: the Ukrainian side lost seven completely destroyed vehicles, while the Russian side lost four. An additional six Ukrainian military vehicles were abandoned. Thus, assuming that the objective of the raids is to inflict significant damage and destroy a considerable amount of Russian vehicles and ammunition, it appears that this objective has not been achieved.