March 29

Sitrep for March 27-29, 2024 (as of 9:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The “Russian Volunteer Corps” raids into the Russian border regions have not weakened the onslaught of the Russian Armed Forces on the frontline. Over the past week, we have recorded small Russian advances. At the moment, judging by messages in the “Russian Volunteer Corps” Telegram channel, raids on the territory of the Belgorod region have stopped.

Pro-Russian blogger Romanov published two videos filmed in the village of Ivanivske in the Bakhmut direction, which is now half occupied by Russian forces. He notes that their further advancement is complicated by the fact that the dominant heights near the village are under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Thus, emphasizing once more the importance of occupying elevated terrain compared to capturing populated areas.

Ukrainian serviceman Artyom Koryakin reported on his Twitter (X.com) account that Russian forces have recently become more active in transferring military equipment and manpower to the frontline in the Luhansk region. On the Stakhanov (Kadiivka)-Pervomaisk-Popasna sector, many military trawls were seen carrying tanks and various infantry fighting vehicles, columns of fuel trucks and many tractor trucks with Syrian desert color schemes (mostly old Ural trucks). This direction of movement suggests a transfer of forces to the areas of Ivanivske and Chasiv Yar. Apart from these reports, we have not yet seen any other evidence of the transfer of additional forces to this sector of the front, however, we do not dispute that Russia is transferring equipment to that direction, as Chasiv Yar is a fairly important target for the RuAF. At the same time, the purpose of these transfers is still unclear. They could be aimed at strengthening the Russian Army group in this direction or rotating troops.

Western Assistance

F-16 fighter jets have been continuously produced since the 1970s to the present day, resulting in multiple generations of the fighter existing around the world. It has been announced that Ukraine would receive the F-16 Block 20 version of the aircraft developed in the early 1990s, or its equivalent, the Block 15 MLU, an earlier version upgraded to the Block 20 standard. This has been reported in Western media, as well as in coverage of Ukrainian pilot training in NATO countries. A Belgian trainer aircraft has been captured on video, identifiable by a unique number from the common F-16 database. It was originally a Block 15 version, later upgraded to the aforementioned Block 15 MLU, equivalent to Block 20.

According to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Greece is planning to streamline its armed forces, particularly by reducing the variety of aircraft in its inventory. Currently, the Hellenic Air Force operates F-4, Mirage 2000-5, F-16 Block 30, Block 50, Block 52, F-16V and Dassault Rafale aircraft. However, maintaining such a diverse fleet is challenging due to the need for different parts and specialized personnel. The plan appears to be to sell all F-4 Phantom II, Mirage 200-5 and F-16 Block 30 aircraft, while concurrently upgrading F-16 Block 52 fighters to the F-16V (Viper) standard. The accompanying onboard APG-68 ground surveillance radars will also be sold. It has been reported that Ukraine has already expressed interest in purchasing both the F-16 Block 30 aircraft and APG-68 radars. F-16 Block 20 fighters are equipped with the APG-66 radar, capable of detecting airborne targets up to 150 km [90 mi] away. However, this would still leave the Ukrainian Air Force greatly outmatched by the Russian Aerospace Forces, which deploy Russian MiG-31 interceptors and Su-35 air superiority fighters capable of carrying R-37M air-to-air missiles with ranges of up to 400 km [250 mi]. For F-16s to be effective at air defense missions in Ukrainian airspace, they will not only need long-range missiles, but also radar systems with large operational radii, as Russian R-37M missiles might restrict Ukrainian aircraft’s ability to approach the frontline.

On March 27, Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said that Western aircraft will be delivered to Ukraine only in mid-summer, which is significantly later than previously expected.

On March 28, a Russian plane was shot down near Sevastopol. According to the pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force], the aircraft was a Su-27, although it was initially assumed that it was a Su-35. A video recorded by an eyewitness shows the crash of a burning plane; it was reported that the pilot managed to eject. Since Ukraine recently carried out a massive strike on Crimea, we believe that this aircraft was shot down by a Russian air defense system, as opposed to a Ukrainian S-200 SAM system (which previously allegedly shot down Russian Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft). First of all, after the attack on March 24, the Russian air defense systems in the area were probably on high alert, and secondly, the Su-27 is not an important enough target for a Ukrainian long-range missile, especially considering the limited supply of such missiles in Ukraine.

Ukrainian military expert Serhii "Flash" Beskrestnov published a video in which a Russian Lancet loitering munition maneuvers around a target, sharply changing altitude mid-flight. These maneuvers are probably preprogrammed and can be aimed at evading attempts to shoot down the drone with small arms. Some commentators suggest that these are not evasive maneuvers, but a failure of the positioning system. This is the first time we have come across video recordings of such maneuvers; therefore, we cannot yet rule out this hypothesis.

The UN Security Council has failed to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts which monitors sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea due to Russia exercising its right of veto. This does not mean that the sanctions regime is officially canceled, though it will result in the Panel stopping its work.
The news from the UN Security Council came as the NK News and South Korean intelligence reported that another Russian Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy military transport aircraft had arrived in Pyongyang to pick up 15-meter-long cargo likely containing ballistic missiles.

It is worth noting that on Nov. 16, 2017, Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution proposed by the US to extend the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The mechanism consisted of a panel of experts who had powers to investigate and identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, while the OPCW can only confirm the fact of their use. This Russian veto effectively protected the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has in fact used chemical weapons.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

In recent days, Russia has continued its massive missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. During the attacks on Kharkiv, a Universal Inter-Branch Gliding Munition (UMPB) was used, a weapon we had already observed being used in early March. This marked the first instance of the employment of an air-dropped bomb or its derivative in an attack on Kharkiv since 2022.

Currently, Kharkiv remains without power, while Kharkiv’s Thermal Power Plant-5 (one of the largest in Ukraine, supplying energy and warmth to several regions) is practically destroyed. Previously, Russia attacked TPP-5 on Sept. 11, 2022, leaving the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions without electricity for several hours. It was claimed that the attack was related to the start of the Kharkiv counteroffensive on Sept. 6.

According to Herman Halushchenko, Ukraine's Minister of Energy, the goal of the Russian attack on March 22 was a total blackout, with over 150 munitions used simultaneously (compared to up to 100 in attacks from 2022 to 2023). Twelve regions felt the immediate impact, yet the overall energy system is currently stable and functioning.

As a result of strikes, in the 24 hours from the evening of March 27 to the evening of March 28, at least 6 civilians were killed, with another 36 wounded. Specifically, on the evening of March 27, a 12-year-old boy was killed as a result of Russian shelling of the village of Borova in the Kharkiv region.

During the night of March 29, a massive and combined attack continued, with the full scale of the destruction still unknown. Preliminary reports indicate power outages in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Since such damages can be restored within a relatively short period of time, such attacks provide no military advantage and are considered war crimes.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Ukraine expects another significant Russian offensive in May or June 2024. We believe that by that time, Russia will have the capacity to replenish its missile stocks, which have been depleted in the current attacks. Some perceive these attacks as retaliation for the ongoing strikes on Belgorod.

Crocus City Hall Terrorist Attack

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has updated the list of casualties in the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack. As of March 29, the death toll has risen to 144 people. It has been revealed that among the deceased was Colonel Timur Myasnikov, a special forces operative from the GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the RuAF]. He had been fighting in Ukraine, returned home to his family for a few days and attended the concert where he sustained three injuries, ultimately succumbing to them in the hospital.

Investigative journalists have identified the two individuals known as the "men in blue," who are alleged intelligence services operatives. Both of them hail from the Moscow region: one is a physical education teacher, while the other is a construction worker. It is worth noting that in several previous cases, such as the poisoning of the Skripals or Alexei Navalny, some connection to the intelligence services was uncovered, including suspicious individuals registered at addresses associated with the GRU or the Federal Security Service (FSB) in old databases.

On April 1, the Unified Military Recruitment Center will open in Moscow. All conscripts have been detached from local draft offices to alleviate their personnel and assigned to this centralized center. This initiative likely draws inspiration from the successful Multifunctional Public Services Centers in Moscow. It is possible that this practice will be expanded nationwide in the future.

It is worth noting that the promised electronic draft registry and conscript register have not yet been developed, so it is currently unclear what database the Unified Military Recruitment Center will use. If there are plans to establish a separate system specifically for this center, it is unclear how it will be integrated with the unified draft registry. Additionally, it is unclear whether Center personnel will have access to classified information.

In addition, it is worth noting that as of the end of summer 2023, even in Moscow’s draft offices, a large number of documents had not been digitized, and we doubt that the situation has improved over the past six months.

We do observe that the draft offices are overwhelmed with paperwork: they are responsible for organizing conscription, recruiting volunteer fighters, arranging funerals, searching for the missing and communicating with soldiers' families. Therefore, it has been proposed, among other things, to transfer the responsibility for issuing veteran certificates to regular military units.

We do not believe that the establishment of the Unified Military Recruitment Center is directly related to a potential new wave of mobilization, however, we acknowledge that this system could be used in the future to conduct mobilization simultaneously with a regular conscription campaign. Taking into account the complexity of digitizing cases, the timing of such a system's readiness, and the ability to scale Moscow's experience to other regions where few people were mobilized, remain unknown. Therefore, we do not expect significant changes with the opening of this center. We will get a clearer picture on how this spring conscription campaign will be implemented in practice next week.