March 11

Sitrep for March 8-11, 2024 (as of 8:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Avdiivka direction (some researchers now refer to it as the Pokrovsk direction, with the town of Pokrovsk being a vital logistics hub west of Avdiivka) continues to witness the most intense and heavy fighting since the beginning of the war.

In recent days, Russian forces have entered the eastern outskirts of the village of Berdychi, establishing a foothold that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have yet to dislodge. The village of Orlivka remains partially contested, but the situation around Tonenke has changed. According to pro-Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov (a.k.a. Wargonzo), Russian forces entered the village from the north, creating the conditions for a subsequent encirclement of Ukrainian forces, as confirmed by the DeepState project. It is plausible that the 3rd Separate Assault and 47th Separate Mechanized Brigades of the AFU fighting in this area will try to relieve the remaining Ukrainian troops in Tonenke.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of March 9, Ukrainian drones attacked the PJSC Beriev Aircraft Company plant near Taganrog, Rostov region. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the interception of 47 UAVs, with 41 of them being shot down, making this attack one of the most massive in scale to date. The plant is known for repairing, modernizing, and, according to some sources, producing A-50 AEW&C aircraft. Satellite images indicate damage to the hangar roof as a result of the attack. Previous images from the Skhemy [Schemes] project (part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) showed an A-50 AEW&C aircraft parked near the hangar on Feb. 29. However, in imagery from March 8 and March 9, the A-50 AEW&C aircraft is absent, raising uncertainty about its presence on the airfield during the operation. It might have been parked inside the hangar or flown away. Reference photos of the hangar's interior suggest that if there was an aircraft inside, it likely did not suffer significant damage. It is also worth noting that Taganrog, like the attacked plant, is located within the range of Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG cruise missiles. However, due to restrictions on the use of Western weapons, Russia remains unafraid to station such valuable aircraft in the Rostov region.

On March 10, a significant fire erupted in an industrial area near Pulkovo Airport in Saint Petersburg. The fire coincided with the reported shooting down of a Ukrainian drone in the Tosnensky district, leading to temporary flight restrictions at the airport. According to the Fontanka media outlet, the fire was successfully extinguished a day later, preventing it from spreading to the Yuzhnaya oil depot. The Investigative Committee and the Leningrad Region Prosecutor's Office have stated that the fire originated because of a faulty wire.

Successful Ukrainian attacks in the Black Sea have reportedly resulted in the resignation of the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov. Fontanka reports that Aleksandr Moiseyev, the Chief of Staff of the Northern Fleet, has been appointed the acting commander-in-chief. Previously, the Northern Fleet held the status of the fifth military district within the Joint Strategic Command. With recent changes, dividing the Western Military District into Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, the Northern Fleet has become part of the latter.

We believe that personnel changes in the Russian Navy will not make much difference regarding the attacks on the Black Sea Fleet.

According to the General Staff of the AFU, Russian Navy ships have not gone on combat duty in the Black Sea after the sinking of the Sergey Kotov Project 22160 patrol ship on March 5. This underscores the effectiveness of attacks by unmanned surface vessels.

In connection with these attacks, some pro-Russian bloggers have suggested the installation of anti-torpedo nets on ships, similar to practices during the First World War. In our opinion, such nets are unlikely to provide complete protection. While the first attacking unmanned surface vessel might spend its charge on destroying the protective net, subsequent ones could still hit the ship.

A significant number of unmanned surface vessels could disable the Crimean Bridge only if one of its supports sustained substantial damage; otherwise, as in previous instances, the bridge could be repaired in a relatively short amount of time. In a recent New York Times article, Pentagon officials purportedly advised Ukraine to focus on long-range strikes in 2024, which could further jeopardize the security of Crimea.

Russia continues to develop analogs to Western weapons transferred to Ukraine. Following the adaptation of air-dropped bombs with Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPK), similar to JDAM kits, there is now an equivalent to the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb: the previously unmentioned Universal Inter-Branch Gliding Munition (UMPB) D-30SN, apparently already in service with the Ground Forces. It is reported that it comprises a FAB-250 bomb (likely a FAB-500M-62) placed on a 30 cm [12 in] tube propelled by a rocket and launched from 300 mm [12 in] Tornado-S or Smerch MLRS. Additionally, the UMPB can be launched from an aircraft, acting as a regular guided bomb, without the need for a rocket component. The Ukrainian Polkovnyk Henshtabu [Colonel of the General Staff] Telegram channel also stated that the UMPB, like other munitions, uses a controlled reception pattern antenna, enhancing its resistance to electronic warfare, which we discussed in the previous sitrep, allowing the UMPB to counter Ukrainian EW countermeasures effectively.

According to the pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant], an AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel ground surveillance radar from a NASAMS surface-to-air missile system was destroyed by a Lancet drone strike in the Kherson region. Nearby, launching stations or their decoys were observed. The video shows a rotating antenna hit by a drone. However, it is impossible to confirm whether it was a real radar or a dummy version, as there is no secondary detonation when hitting ground surveillance radars in either case.

Russian forces apparently struck two vehicles from a MIM-104 Patriot SAM system with a missile launched by the 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system near the town of Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region. This is the first such case—previously, the Russian MoD claimed to have destroyed a Patriot SAM system, but it turned out a four-axle 15t mil. gl. MULTI truck on a MAN chassis, resembling the Patriot, was hit. Videos recently released show similar vehicles. At least two four-axle trucks are visible before the strike, while post-strike footage reveals the distinctive burnt-out cabin of a military MAN chassis. It could be assumed that the secondary detonation occurred because the MULTI trucks were carrying artillery ammunition. However, the composition of the convoy and its proximity to Pokrovsk suggest these were indeed vehicles from the Patriot system.

Interestingly, the Russian MoD initially claimed to have hit an S-300 SAM system.

It is worth noting that this area, the most intense part of the frontline, previously saw the first hit on HIMARS MLRS. The success of two Russian strikes, 40 and 50 km [24 and 31 mi] away from the frontline, may stem from a shortage of ammunition for short and medium-range SAM systems like Buk and Tor, which Russian UAVs use for reconnaissance in the Ukrainian rear. All of this, in turn, is a consequence of the halt in US aid to Ukraine.

Moreover, the increased losses of Ukrainian air defense forces may be attributed to the strategic necessity to protect the AFU rear, including Pokrovsk, which is vulnerable to attacks with air bombs equipped with UMPKs. Defending against such threats is more practical when in close proximity. Another possible explanation is the reaction of Russian forces to successful air defense systems operations.

On March 8, a Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft of the AFU was shot down near Pokrovsk. This was confirmed by the obituary for the pilot, Major Andriy Tkachenko.

BBC News Russian and Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet], together with a team of volunteers, have updated their figures of Russian losses in the war. Currently, the deaths of 46,678 Russian soldiers have been confirmed. Over the past two weeks, the names of an additional 1,555 soldiers have been added to the list. This surge in numbers represents one of the highest growth rates in over two years of the war and is comparable to the figures recorded last winter during the massive offensive by Russian forces. The increase in casualties may be associated with the intense fighting that took place during the storming of Avdiivka.

According to NBC News sources, some Republicans, including the House Speaker Mike Johnson and Chairs of several committees, are drafting an aid package for Ukraine in the form of a loan, with frozen Russian assets to be used as collateral. The seized Russian assets in the USA are estimated to be between $40 and $60 billion. Earlier, Senator Lindsey Graham credited former President Donald Trump with the idea to give Ukraine a loan. It is worth remembering that not too long ago Trump blocked the $60 billion Ukraine aid package.

The Sun correspondents have visited a training ground where Ukrainian tank drivers are being trained to operate Challenger 2 tanks. Out of 14 tanks provided in 2023, only 7 are currently still combat worthy. One of the tanks was destroyed in September by a Lancet UAV after one of its tracks had been torn off by a mine explosion and another one was assigned to a training unit in Ukraine. Five more tanks broke down and are awaiting repairs. Due to logistic difficulties, it takes months to deliver spare parts from the UK and there is a shortage of qualified mechanics to keep the vehicles operational. According to Ukrainian tank crews, apart from all the above, the tank’s heavy weight is its key disadvantage because as expected, the vehicles keep getting stuck in mud.

Continuing the discussion on the role of tanks in the current war, it is worth noting that should Ukraine succeed in manufacturing a significant quantity of mine-clearing vehicles, tanks could be deployed for demining operations. Previously, Ukraine had already modified old Soviet tanks for this specific purpose.

In our previous sitrep, we incorrectly dated last year's video showing the AFU's deployment of an M101 105mm self-propelled howitzer. However, a recent New York Times article featured a photo of this howitzer in use in the Avdiivka direction in February, affirming our conclusion about its deployment by Ukrainian forces.

As previously reported, during a Standing Committee on Local Self-Government meeting in the Krasnoyarsk City Council on Feb. 14, Krasnoyarsk City Council member Vyacheslav Dyukov stated that in the past year, mainly "alcoholics, homeless and down-and-out persons, convicts, and so on" had been recruited as contract soldiers. He later apologized for his comments, but was still expelled from the United Russia party [Putin’s ruling party]. On Feb. 16, Dyukov announced that he was going to the war in Ukraine, where he would serve as a surgeon, but on March 9, he returned, stating that the humanitarian mission and all the tasks assigned for his trip had been completed. This is a typical situation where officials are sent to the frontline to atone for past behaviors or comments.

In October 2023, the Tatarstan Business Online newspaper published an article in which officials' statements confirmed our observations regarding the competition for volunteer fighters between regions. One of the local officials stated that due to its large population, the region is among the leaders in terms of absolute recruitment numbers, but lags behind other regions in relative terms. The main reason for this is the systematic recruitment of volunteer fighters from Russia’s constituent Republic of Tatarstan by other regions. In this regard, Head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov has introduced a one-time sign-up bonus of 305,000 rubles [$3,350] as an additional support measure. This bonus is granted to mobilized and conscripted soldiers from Tatarstan who switched to contract service between Aug. 31 and Dec. 31, 2023. Thanks to this measure, the region will be able to include to its count of contract soldiers not only new recruits from the civilian population, but also those who have already served as conscripts or were mobilized. Therefore, when regional authorities claim to have fulfilled, for instance, 70% of the plan for recruiting contract soldiers, it will actually mean that significantly fewer volunteer fighters have been sent to the war, because part of this plan has been "fulfilled" by individuals who were already serving on the frontline. On March 11, it was announced that those who sign a contract by March 25 will have their payment increased to 400,000 rubles [$4,410].