April 1

Sitrep for March 29-April 1, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Russian Armed Forces launched an unusually massive mechanized attack, in a break from their recent combat practices. A column consisting of 36 tanks and 12 infantry fighting vehicles tried to advance in the Pokrovsk (Avdiivka) direction. During the attempt to break through from the village of Tonenke to the villages of Umanske and Yasnobrodivka, 12 tanks and 8 IFVs were lost. In the previous sitrep, we reported on the transfer of armored vehicles, manpower, fuel trucks and other auxiliary military equipment by the RuAF along the Stakhanov (Kadiivka)-Pervomaisk-Popasna sector of the front, suggesting an upcoming offensive towards the town of Chasiv Yar. However, the offensive began a little further south and has yet to achieve significant success. Nevertheless, further offensive attempts are likely to continue.

We believe that the above-mentioned military vehicles could have been part of the column heading towards the city of Alchevsk in the Bakhmut direction. At the same time, the appearance of KAMAZ pontoon vehicles, the transfer of which was noted by Ukrainian serviceman Artyom Koryakin, seems more fitting in the context of an attack in the Pokrovsk direction, as there is a water barrier between the captured Orlivka and the town of Semenivka, which is currently under the RuAF attack.

The attack on Semenivka was reported by mobilized soldiers from the “DPR” in a recent video message. Instead of being tasked with retaining positions in Orlivka as promised, they were ordered to storm the aforementioned settlement. Following another assault wave, only 15 survivors remained, who refused to undertake a new suicide attack without support. They recorded and published a video requesting assistance.

Requests for assistance have notably decreased compared to previous months—the posting of video appeals was heavily discouraged by commanding officers in 2023. We do not rule out that Russian draftees could have been among the soldiers covering their faces in the video. This practice is not uncommon, as Russian mobilized soldiers have been frequently attached to units from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics as reinforcements. Moreover, there are fewer draftees from the “DPR” on the frontline, as a significant portion of them were killed in “meat assaults” after the mobilization that began in February 2022.

According to Artem Lysohor, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, forced mobilization of men born between 1994 and 2006 is starting in the occupied territories of the region. In fact, what Lysohor is talking about is regular conscription. Despite Chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] Andrey Kartapolov previously stating that conscription would not be carried out in the “recently annexed” territories, the head of the “LPR” Leonid Pasechnik signed orders to form daft boards and initiate conscription in the spring of 2023.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

Russia's ongoing attacks on the Ukrainian power grid, as reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense, involve strikes by Russian long-range missiles and UAVs on Ukrainian energy infrastructure and gas production facilities. The stated goal is to disrupt weapon and military equipment production. However, the efficacy of such attacks appears dubious. Restoring the power supply to defense enterprises is likely to be relatively swift, while the damage to civilian infrastructure far outweighs the military benefits of these attacks. Furthermore, it is worth noting that most weapons supplied to Ukraine come from other countries.

According to Ukrenergo [transmission system operator of Ukraine], the strikes on the night of March 31 targeted energy facilities, including high-voltage substations in the southern part of the country. The Donbas Fuel and Energy Company (DTEK) reported that the latest series of Russian airstrikes had disabled 80% of the company’s generating capacity. Considering that DTEK generates a quarter of the country’s electricity, a fifth of Ukraine’s total generation powers are now likely disabled. Repairing the damaged and destroyed infrastructure could take months, with the total cost estimated to be close to $500 million. On March 29, Russia targeted the Kremenchuk Hydroelectric Power Station with Iskander ballistic missiles, as well as a nearby substation, resulting in a generator being taken offline.

According to Centerenergo [a major electric and thermal energy-producing company in central and eastern Ukraine], the Zmiivska Thermal Power Plant in the Kharkiv region was completely destroyed by Russian strikes on March 22, leading to lasting power outages. Additionally, on March 30, Russian strikes led to power outages in several towns in the Odesa region.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has stated that Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Moldova and Hungary had started exporting electricity to compensate for power shortages on the Ukrainian grid.

Ukrainian media reported that the strikes on Kharkiv had been conducted with KAB bombs. It is important to note that in Ukrainian terminology, “KAB'' refers to various guided bombs, including FABs with Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPK) and Universal Inter-Branch Gliding Munitions (UMPB), whereas Russia uses the appellation for a different class of air-dropped bombs. Strikes on civilian targets do not affect the frontline and are, in essence, part of a terror campaign directed against civilian populations. These bombs are launched from Russian territory, and their numbers are unlikely to decrease in the near term, as Russian military production facilities are reportedly managing to produce the corresponding quantity of UMPK and UMPB kits to allow for the conversion of the vast number of bombs still in Russian arsenals. It is also worth noting that the increased frequency of airstrikes on Ukraine has also led to an increased number of accidental releases of air ordnance in the Belgorod region.

Another video of a Lancet kamikaze drone flying in an unconventional manner, with periodic changes in altitude, has appeared: it attacked an Abrams tank in the Pokrovsk(Avdiivka) direction. This confirms our theory that the loitering munition has likely been pre-programmed to effectuate evading maneuvers to avoid being shot down, including by small arms, when approaching its target.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service 

Putin signed a decree initiating the spring regular conscription campaign: it begins on April 1 and will last until July 15. Contrary to expectations associated with expanding age limits, the conscription plan increased by only 3,000 people, totaling 150,000 (it is worth noting that the spring conscription is always larger than the fall one). The current conscription campaign will be the first to include men aged 18 to 30; there will be exceptions for those who turned 27 before the end of 2023 and who managed to discharge to the reserves, as well as those already in the reserves at ages 28 and 29. It is possible that the conscription plan has not changed yet due to these legal limitations, however, the expected percentage of its fulfillment will likely be increased.

Conscripts are dying in the border areas of the Belgorod and Kursk regions. They also face moral and physical pressure in military units to sign contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense. According to some estimates, such methods help to convert up to a third of conscripts to contract soldiers. Recently, we reported how in the last five months in the village of Perevalne, Crimea, where the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade is based, at least three conscripts were driven to suicide or died from beatings.

Western Assistance

SĂ©bastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces of France, in an interview with La Tribune, announced that the French army is transitioning from the VAB to the Griffon armored personnel carriers. Old APCs, some of which were produced 40 years ago, will reportedly be transferred to Ukraine throughout 2024 and early 2025. Among the hundreds of VABs in possession of the French army, a number of vehicles are still suitable for combat operations, and any means of mechanization (no matter how old) are better than none at all. France will also supply Ukraine with additional anti-aircraft missiles for SAMP/T systems.

It should be pointed out that the problem of storing old hardware is quite widespread. For example, in early 2023, Spain was unable to deliver Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine because all of them turned out to be unrestorable. A few months ago, the US Army also conducted an inventory of some storage facilities and found that much of the combat equipment was being stored in improper conditions and was unfit for use.

Pro-Russian war correspondent and propagandist Evgeniy Poddubny has published a video in which, as he claims, Russian forces destroy a railway bridge in the town of Kurakhove in the Donetsk region, west of the town of Marinka, using BM-27 Uragan MLRS. Most likely however, a more accurate munition, such as the 9M544 Tornado-S MLRS, was used to destroy such a small target. It is not clear whether the destruction of the bridge will have a major impact on Ukrainian logistics, since Ukraine has an extensive network of railways.

Ukrainian military sources have published a video in which they purportedly use French AASM Hammer air launched cruise missiles. We have already mentioned the delivery of such missiles and possible evidence of their use. The video was taken in the village of Krynky, on the left bank of the Dnipro. It shows Russian soldiers take something from a white vehicle and carry it to a semi-destroyed building which is then struck with what could be an AASM Hammer air launched cruise missile. The quality of the video does not make it possible to reliably identify the munition used. There is a possibility of it being a JDAM, although it has been some time since their delivery was last reported.

The Ukrainian Telegram channel Polkovnyk Henshtabu [Colonel of the General Staff] known for publishing exclusive photos of wreckage from various missiles and air-dropped bombs, has showed an X-55SM missile equipped with a nuclear warhead simulator shot down in the night of March 31 in the Rivne region, as well as the R-27 air-to-air missile that shot it down.

The German division of the MBDA concern suspended the production of Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles due to a lack of orders as early as 2020. Company representative Thomas Gottschild explained that in such situations, suppliers of components and raw materials also typically halt production, as they cannot afford to keep unused production lines operational. Moreover, according to Gottschild, the law prohibits the production of missiles for storage, only for specific orders. Therefore, upon receiving new orders for missiles, resuming their production will take significant time, as it will first be necessary to resume all supply chains or find alternative sources of raw materials.

The Czech President Petr Pavel stated that negotiations for the purchase of 1 million artillery shells for Ukraine have been successful, and the first batches are expected to arrive in April.

As we have already reported, on March 18, Putin announced the completion of the construction of the Rostov-Donetsk-Mariupol-Berdiansk railway. On March 31, Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, confirmed that Russia had almost completed the construction process of the railway line running through the southern occupied territories. According to him, this poses a serious problem, but Ukrainian forces expect to cope with it. Indeed, destroying the land section of the railway will be much easier than interrupting supplies via the Crimean Bridge. However, the damaged section can be restored relatively quickly—potentially faster than the repairs made to the Crimean Bridge following previous explosions.

Sergei Shoigu, Russia's Minister of Defense, visited defense enterprises in the Altai region [Russia’s federal subject]. In contrast to all previous triumphant reports, this time, during a conversation with the director of one of the enterprises, he expressed dissatisfaction with the lengthy expertise in project delivery and construction of new workshops. Additionally, Shoigu raised concerns about the delay in putting purchased machines into operation, noting that only three technicians were working on them. Notably, boxes marked VMG-M-1 (detonators for high-explosive fragmentation grenades) and MRV-U (detonators for BM-21 Grad MLRS rockets) were noticed in the video. It can be assumed that after the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack and subsequent intimidations of migrants in Russia, difficulties with labor for the construction of new plant buildings are expected to increase. On March 30, the Ministry of Labor of Tajikistan announced an outflow of labor migrants from Russia after the terrorist attack, with more people returning to the country than leaving.

In the Pskov region, a suspect has been arrested for the murder and rape of an 11-year-old girl. According to investigators, on Jan. 1, the man, while intoxicated, met the girl, took her to an abandoned building, strangled her and left the settlement the next day. The girl's body was found on Feb. 25, almost two months later. The man was detained after attempting to leave for the war in Ukraine. He signed a contract, after which he was sent to training in the Kursk region, where he had to undergo tests. His data matched the DNA samples of the murder suspect of the girl.

A new exchange of bodies of soldiers killed in combat has occurred. State Duma member Shamsail Saraliev stated that 29 bodies were returned to the Russian side, while the Ukrainian side reports receiving 121 bodies. Such an unequal exchange is quite unusual.

Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] and BBC News Russian have published another update on their tally of Russia's losses in the war with Ukraine, conducted using open data in collaboration with a team of volunteers. The list of confirmed Russian losses now exceeds 49,000 names. Journalists note that recently, the number of deaths among convicts and volunteer fighters has been significantly higher than among mobilized soldiers.

On April 1, 2022, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv region began. Volodymyr Zelenskyy honored the memory of Ukrainians who had been killed during the 33-day occupation of the region. During the occupation, over 9,000 war crimes were committed in the Bucha district, and over 1,400 civilians were killed, including 37 children.

Meanwhile, Russian law enforcement continues to deny the war crimes committed by Russian soldiers and initiates criminal cases on charges related to "fake news" for comments about Russian atrocities in Bucha. In mid-March, such a comment, made in 2022, became the reason for initiating a criminal case against Mikhail Zygar [Russian journalist and writer].

We have no doubt that many more investigations similar to the reports by The New York Times, for which the authors were awarded the 2023 Pulitzer Prize, will be released. Our team takes pride in its modest contribution to one of these investigations.

The Insider, Spiegel and CBSNews have published a joint investigation into the actions of Russian intelligence officers against US diplomats, officials and counterintelligence agents. According to their findings, the Havana Syndrome experienced by them—characterized by unexplained health issues such as ringing in the ears, sensations of vibration and pressure in the head, and dizziness—is believed to be the result of exposure to a certain weapon. This weapon was allegedly used by GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] personnel from military unit 29155, which is also notorious for the poisoning incidents involving Novichok.

On March 29, near the urban settlement of Yelan in the Volgograd region, a flying object crashed. While local residents initially believed it to be a downed Ukrainian drone, we suggest it resembles more closely a Russian air-launched cruise missile, such as the Kh-101. For instance, the cylindrical object found near the tail wreckage bears a striking resemblance to its jet engine.

On March 31, a Russian Kh-101 missile crashed near the town of Krasnoarmeysk in the Saratov region. Once again, local residents mistook it for a downed Ukrainian drone.