March 27

Sitrep for March 25-27, 2024 (as of 9:30 a.m.) UTC+3

Frontline Situation Update

In the Pokrovsk (Avdiivka) direction, on the Berdychi-Orlivka-Tonenkoe sector of the front, contrary to our expectations, Russian forces have failed to occupy the territory up to the cascade of reservoirs, which was anticipated to be the next line of defense for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. At the moment, the Russian Armed Forces have captured the villages of Orlivka and Tonenke, as well as a significant part of the village of Berdychi. However, they have not yet been able to advance towards Umanske and Yasnobrodivka.

In the Bakhmut direction, the RuAF advanced slightly in the southeast of the town of Chasiv Yar and occupied approximately half of Ivanivske. The remaining part of Ivanivske appears to be a “contested area,” although pro-Russian sources have claimed the complete capture of the settlement. At the same time, the advance to the northeast of Chasiv Yar, particularly in the area of the village of Bohdanivka, has slowed down.

A video has emerged showing an unintentional mid-air collision between Ukrainian and Russian kamikaze drones. This incident is likely due to the large number of drones in the airspace above the frontline on the Donetsk axis. There is an obvious need for technologies that can effectively identify all UAVs in a given area, to either shoot them down or avoid flying near them. At the same time, in the Kherson region, Ukrainian forces have increasingly begun to use aerial ramming tactics: upon spotting a Russian drone, usually a fixed-wing type, an AFU kamikaze drone is sent to intercept it.

Information has emerged about a new type of artillery drone developed by Russia. The drone has an integrated system that allows the operator to correct artillery fire in real-time and identify enemy vehicles on a virtual map, resulting in a tool enabling something that resembles “network-centric warfare.” It appears that the drone is equipped with a rangefinder, enabling operators to pinpoint coordinates on a map shared with artillery units.

As we have noted before, despite the obvious advantages of drones, they have not yet been able to fundamentally alter the way wars are fought. Currently, there are neither fully autonomous drones nor electronic warfare countermeasures capable of reliably jamming them. Therefore, drones are, for the time being, a useful auxiliary tool not yet capable of completely replacing artillery.

With the Russian Ministry of Defense recently starting to include reports on the Belgorod direction, we have decided to move fighting in Russian border areas in our sitreps to the section dedicated to the situation on the frontline.

Aleksandr Kots, а pro-Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent, has released a report from the Belgorod region, detailing the "baptism by fire" of the 1009th Motorized Rifle Regiment in clashes against the “Russian Volunteer Corps.” However, in reality, the 1009th Regiment, predominantly composed of mobilized soldiers from the Pskov and Tver regions, had already engaged the Corps in raids back in June 2023. These earlier encounters, particularly during fighting for the town of Novaya Tavolzhanka, resulted in significant losses, including the death of the commanding officer, Colonel Vladimir Kuznetsov. Thus, the regiment underwent the aforementioned "baptism by fire" almost a year ago.

Another example of heavy armored vehicles being brought to the Russia-Ukraine border is a road traffic accident that occurred on March 16 near Belgorod. The driver of a military trailer transporting a T-72B3M tank lost control, causing the vehicle to overturn. Both military personnel in the cabin were killed, and the tank sustained damage. Reports indicate that the tank was being transported to the town of Grayvoron to reinforce a unit fighting against the “Russian Volunteer Corps.” In our opinion, it was being transported from one of the numerous military bases in the Belgorod area.

Meanwhile, we maintain that while some forces covering the rear of the border have been moved closer to it, they are still relatively small in scale. There is no need to transfer a significant portion of reserves, and thus far, these maneuvers have had minimal impact on the frontline. Consequently, the AFU have thus far been unable to exploit the situation, as these raids have not resulted in a weakening of Russian troops on the frontline.

Hypothetical strikes on bridges in the Kherson region are another example of costly yet militarily irrelevant actions. In theory, they could be temporarily disabled using a significant number of missiles. However, to capitalize on this, the AFU would need to advance in this area, which they are currently unable to do.

Crocus City Hall Terrorist Attack

After the terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall, Russian authorities have taken action both to reward people not directly involved with the capture of the terrorists and to punish innocent people who did not take part in the attack. Government officials presented awards to Akhmat unit fighters, who guarded the border in the Bryansk region and allegedly participated in capturing the terrorists, and detained and arrested the Islomov brothers and their father. It is worth noting that it is the Islomovs themselves who came to law enforcement agencies to report that one of the brothers had recently sold the car used by the terrorists to drive to Crocus City Hall and then attempt to escape. According to investigators, the terrorists "involved the Islomov brothers in criminal activity," however, it is unclear why their father was also detained. The reason for the detention of Alisher Kasimov, who rented an apartment to one of the terrorists, is also unclear.

We assume that while being tortured, the terrorists implicated everyone who provided them with any services in Russia.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, in the US, research was conducted on the impact of torture on testimonies. It was discovered that all truthful information was obtained during standard FBI interrogations, and no useful data was obtained during CIA torture sessions; however, verifying this information required significant resources.

There is a risk that the current situation in Russia could lead to people being hesitant to report suspicious individuals for fear that they themselves might be accused of complicity at any moment.

A recent conspiracy theory circulating online alleges that certain concert attendees who wore similar blue clothing acted in a coordinated manner during the terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall. This has led to speculation that they may be intelligence service agents involved in the attack. However, Bellingcat investigator Aric Toler examined the assertion that one of these "men in blue" allegedly later participated in the arrest of the suspects, and showed that the man at the concert was clean-shaven, while the special forces officer involved in the arrest had a beard and a different hairline. Journalists Andrey Zakharov and Maksim Litavrin later identified two concert visitors who aroused suspicion.

The actions of individuals in the hall during the terrorist attack appeared typical. During any kind of emergency some people try to lead and assist, while others follow their commands, some remain in their place in confusion, and others still start to panic. Some onlookers can also begin to film what is happening and move closer, even if it puts them in danger.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

The RuAF continue to launch massive strikes on Ukrainian territory. On March 25, a missile attack hit Kyiv, resulting in at least 10 civilians injured. According to some speculations, the strike was timed to coincide with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Day. Air defenses intercepted two 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missiles, initially reported as four, and their debris fell on uninhabited buildings. As there is no reliable data on the appearance of these missiles publicly available, we can only rely on a marking reading “3M22” found on one of them. The impact site was geolocated near the Kyiv Academy of Decorative and Applied Arts and Design, and the target of the attack was allegedly the building of the former headquarters of the Civil Defense of Ukraine. It is possible that Russian military intelligence identified the building on a map and provided its coordinates for the strike without conducting additional verifications.

Continued attacks on Kharkiv have resulted in a city-wide blackout. According to Ukraine’s national electric utility company Ukrenergo, the restoration of power supply may take a week or even two, provided there are no new attacks on energy facilities. The strikes persisted into the afternoon of March 27.

According to the Financial Times and a study by the Royal Defense Studies Institute, Russia has begun supplying oil directly to the DPRK. Satellite images have revealed North Korean tankers loading at the Vostochny port and arriving at the port of Chongjin. This is a violation of the UN Security Council sanctions introduced in 2017, which limit the supply of oil and petroleum products to the DPRK to 500 thousand barrels per year and oblige each delivery to be coordinated with a special UN commission. Researchers estimate that the volume of oil delivered over several weeks amounts to approximately 125 thousand barrels, which represents a quarter of the permitted annual maximum.

The International Monetary Fund suggests that foreign direct investment in Ukraine will only reach 5% of the country’s GDP by 2026-2027, indicating the projected investment required for the country’s post-war recovery. This implies that the IMF does not expect the war to end in the next two years.

We agree with this forecast and do not anticipate big changes throughout 2024 and early 2025. The European defense industry is currently striving to meet production targets for artillery shells, and the amount of military equipment promised to Ukraine, according to open sources, will not exceed the amount lost. Consequently, Ukraine will not be able to carry out a large-scale offensive until the end of the following winter. Resolving these problems and making further plans is impossible until the US presidential elections in November 2024 and the start of the new US Congress term in January 2025.

Sergey Mazanov, a leading anchor on the Volgograd 1 TV channel, broadcasted the names of individuals who had laid flowers in memory of Alexei Navalny at the monument to victims of political repression in the city. He also displayed their photographs and social media links and disclosed their places of employment.

Danil Kovtun, a 19-year-old conscript from the Stavropol region, has died in Crimea. According to his commanding officers, he shot himself. Shortly after being conscripted, Kovtun was deployed to the village of Perevalne, home to the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade. At some point, and for no apparent reason, he allegedly shot himself in the neck or head. Kovtun's parents dispute this version as their son's face remained intact after death. Despite their concerns, the prosecutor's office has declined to initiate a criminal case. It is worth noting that within the past five months, at least three conscripts from the 126th Brigade have died under various circumstances. Previously, a soldier died due to the "Ulysses Syndrome" and another shot himself in unclear circumstances.