May 13

Sitrep for May 10-13, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Contrary to our expectations, Putin has replaced the Russian Minister of Defense. He has proposed Andrey Belousov [former First Deputy Prime Minister] for this position, suggesting Sergei Shoigu for the post of Secretary of the Security Council, replacing Nikolai Patrushev, whose new position is still unknown. According to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s decision to appoint a civilian official as Minister of Defense was motivated by the need to introduce innovations and to better integrate the wartime economy into the country’s overall economy. Currently, the Ministry of Defense’s budget accounts for 6.7% of GDP and is approaching the spending level of the mid-1980s. Perhaps, Belousov's appointment is intended to make the ministry more economically efficient.

As of now, we do not yet have any predictions on how Belousov’s appointment will affect the course of the war. The main question now is whether General Valery Gerasimov will continue to serve as Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.

Residential Building Collapse in Belgorod

On May 12, an entire section of the house 55A on Shchorsa Street, on the outskirts of Belgorod, collapsed as a result of an explosion caused by a currently unidentified munition hitting the building. As of the morning of May 13, 15 people have been confirmed dead and more than 30 injured, with 16 individuals rescued from the rubble.

Having studied and analyzed all of the available visual data, we have concluded with a high degree of confidence that the building was hit from the northeast. We are inclined to believe that the collapse of the section occurred either as a result of a Russian air-defense missile or as a result of an accidental release of a high-explosive air-dropped bomb with a Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK). The official version of the Russian Ministry of Defense, stating that the cause of the explosion was the fall of debris from a downed Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missile, which would have had to change its trajectory so as to strike from the outside of the building, seems unlikely to us. In addition, the use of these missiles has not been recorded for a long time (despite the Russian MoD constantly reporting Tochka-U interceptions, we have not seen evidence of their use since November 2023).

Judging by the location of the building, the collapsed section was in the part of the building where the entrances are located on the street side, rather than facing the courtyard. This is evidenced by the absence of a patterned concrete lattice covering the staircase. Comparing videos taken from the courtyard and the street side, it becomes evident that in the former case, the window and balcony glazing was practically undamaged, whereas in the latter, there is not a single intact pane of glass. Additionally, the blast wave knocked out many window frames, which fell inside the apartments. This is confirmed by a video showing the aftermath of the explosion filmed in an adjacent section of the building. Furthermore, based on these videos and the city map, it appears that the garages are located on the outer side. In some frames, their doors can be seen, warped by the blast wave that came from the direction of the building.

The video from a CCTV camera on a neighboring building captured the moment of the explosion from within the courtyard. Despite the low quality, it can be assumed that before the main explosion, a split second before the fire appeared, a fragment of the balcony came off the building, indirectly indicating that some projectile hit the building from the street side.

All of this leads us to think that the strike on the building came from the northeast, while the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are to the southeast.

The exact type of munition responsible for such extensive destruction remains unclear at this time. Given the direction of the strike, one of the likeliest scenarios is a large surface-to-air missile striking the building, such as an S-300 SAM. The distinctive pattern of dispersion of its prefabricated shrapnel may not be readily visible due to the large amount of rubble. Moreover, there have already been numerous instances of surface-to-air missiles malfunctioning: on May 11, a missile launched from a Pantsir-S air defense system unexpectedly plummeted to the ground shortly after launch and detonated on impact. Similar incidents are known to have occurred with S-300 missiles. It is worth noting that even Patriot SAM system missiles can malfunction, although such occurrences are relatively rare.

We believe it possible for a surface-to-air missile warhead to provide enough explosive force for a section of a building to collapse. We have previously observed the partial destruction of small brick houses, as well as the upper floors of the University of Kharkiv and a residential building in Chuhuiv, from SAM strikes, while the entrance of a building in Odesa was destroyed by a Shahed-136 loitering munition, carrying a smaller warhead than surface-to-air missiles.

In support of the SAM scenario are reports that the AFU were attacking the city of Belgorod on May 12, with eyewitness video capturing Russian air defenses in action on that day.

Another scenario could be the accidental release of a FAB-250 or FAB-500 bomb equipped with a UMPK. It has been documented that accidental releases of air bombs over the region of Belgorod are not uncommon, and there is little doubt that the explosive power of a high-explosive air bomb would be enough to destroy an entire section of a building. Likewise, the use of glide bombs in the Kharkiv region was also reported shortly before the explosion.

It is currently not possible to identify the exact type of munition that hit the building, however, it is highly likely that the collapse of the residential building occurred due to actions initiated by the Russian side. Commenting on the various versions involving a Russian munition, the pro-Russian Voyna s feykami [War against fakes] Telegram channel has changed its description of the location of the collapsed entrance and the geolocation of the strike several times. This suggests an attempt to prevent its readers from considering the possibility of Russian involvement.

Frontline Situation Update

On May 10, Russian forces attacked the border areas of the Kharkiv region. These offensive actions have a number of similarities with the beginning of a full-scale invasion e.g. the evacuation of civilians, frequent missile launches and volleys of rockets. However, the scale of these two events is not comparable. We have not seen columns of armored vehicles moving towards Kharkiv, nor any other signs of a large-scale offensive. The current actions of the RuAF are more reminiscent of the "Russian Volunteer Corps" raids into Russian border regions. Yet, Russian forces are more likely to try to gain a foothold rather than return to Russian territory any time soon. Since the area closest to the border is contested, i.e. practically not controlled by either side, it is possible to arrange a sort of a PR action, advancing several kilometers deep into enemy territory with small forces, occupying border villages and then retreating. Which is what raids are.

According to Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets, the penetration depth was 3.5 to 4 km [2.2 to 2.5 mi]; according to other sources it is up to 5 km [3.1 mi].

Governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov stated that the Russian group that launched its offensive in Kharkiv’s direction does not pose a threat to the city as its forces are only sufficient for provocations.

Ukrainian military analyst Tatarigami asserts that the capture of the villages of Strilecha, Krasne, Pylna and Borysivka in the border zone was expected, with the aim of the Russian maneuver being to divert some Ukrainian forces from the Donetsk axis and to create panic in Ukrainian society. These villages were quickly captured precisely because they are located in the contested area, while the main Ukrainian fortifications are further away from the border.

One researcher lists units of the 11th and 44th Army Corps as participating in the offensive in the Kharkiv region. It is worth noting that the 44th Army Corps began to be formed only this year, thus, we assume that its actual strength is less than the standard. We are also unaware of the staffing level of the 11th Army Corps. Based on our extremely approximate estimate, up to 10,000 people may be involved in the attack on the Kharkiv axis, which is insufficient for a large-scale offensive. Even capturing Vovchansk may prove to be a challenging task: its pre-war population is 17,000 people and the town is divided by a river into two parts, which also complicates its storming.

According to DeepState, on the western flank, where the RuAF have occupied Strilecha and Pylna and are attacking the villages of Morokhovets and Zelene, the objective is to capture the villages of Lyptsi and Slobozhanske. Russian infantry is moving in this direction bypassing the water barrier. This attack occurred almost without any armored vehicles—several infantry fighting vehicles were destroyed on their way to Pylna even on Russian territory. On the eastern flank, the RuAF are advancing towards Vovchansk: the town is under heavy strikes and the evacuation of civilians is underway. There is also unconfirmed information about the capture of the village of Hatyshche.

Ukrainian journalist Yurii Butusov notes the slow pace of Russian advancement: the RuAF do not attempt to break through with large forces at any specific narrow point but instead exert pressure across a wide front and selectively concentrate forces to attack specific Ukrainian defense posts, testing the density of Ukrainian defenses. It is worth noting that the main defensive line is located approximately 15 km [9 mi] from Vovchansk, but there are separate strongpoints ahead of it. Additionally, every populated area potentially serves as a strongpoint, as residential buildings can be used as fortifications. According to Butusov, there is currently no threat of an attack on Kharkiv since the RuAF are still far away, advancing slowly, and their forces are limited. The further progression of the RuAF will depend on the seriousness of the losses they suffer in the current battles in the border areas of the Kharkiv region. Butusov believes that since the RuAF have the ability to bring reserves in this direction, the offensive must not be underestimated.

Most researchers agree that we are not witnessing a large-scale breakthrough or there is no threat to Kharkiv: the advancement of Russian forces is minor, maneuvers are slow, and only infantry and a small number of armored vehicles are used. We believe that there will be no real attempts to advance on Kharkiv and it is reasonable to expect that the RuAF will try to hold on to this small strip of border territory. Since infantry advances without armored vehicles are ineffective, we assess the likelihood of significant breakthroughs in this direction as very low. It is also worth noting that the Group of Troops "Center" is commanded by Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, who is better known for his love of publicity than combat prowess.

We have sketched out a presumed Russian attack plan. The settlements already captured are marked in red, while blue indicates water obstacles that can be used for defense against flank attacks. On the western flank, the Travyanske Reservoir serves as such an obstacle, and beneath its cover, Russian forces could seize the village of Hlyboka and advance towards the village of Lyptsi. Following the capture of Lyptsi and the village of Slobozhanske, using the Murom Reservoir, the Russian Army could turn east towards the town of Rubizhne and then north, linking up with the eastern flank. An assault on the town of Vovchansk is underway on that flank, with the Siverskyi Donets River acting as a natural barrier. This plan appears overly ambitious for this relatively small Russian contingent, thus we expect a slow advance, similar to what happened in the Pokrovsk/Avdiivka direction—without major breakthroughs, but with significant losses of equipment and manpower.

The RuAF have begun striking bridges behind Ukrainian lines to complicate the supply of the AFU and facilitate the advance of Russian forces: bridges over the Vovcha River near the village of Vovchanski Khutory and near the village of Zybyne, as well as the bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River near the village of Staryi Saltiv.

Overall, our opinion on the situation in the Kharkiv region remains unchanged and coincides with our assessment of the possibility of an attack on the Kyiv region: a full-scale offensive on Kyiv, as well as on Kharkiv, is not feasible. Contrary to the words of Oleksandr Pavliuk, Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, in an interview with The Economist, stating that Russia has not abandoned plans to capture Kyiv, we believe that Russia will not have sufficient resources for this in the coming years. At the same time, we cannot completely rule out that the leadership of the RuAF may try to transfer some troops to Belarus to start a new attack on the north of the Kyiv region. However, in this case, it is unlikely that Russian troops will be able to advance far and pose a threat to Kyiv, as such a maneuver will most likely only lead to the capture of a few border villages.

On May 11, the AFU struck the Paradise restaurant in Donetsk near the site of a motor rally celebrating the tenth anniversary of the "DPR." According to occupation authorities, a restaurant’s employee and two visitors were killed, and another eight people were injured. Meanwhile, the Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel reports that the bodies of four RuAF officers have been identified, including one major, two of whom served in a unit of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff. It is also possible that more senior officers were present at the event—this will only be known for certain if obituaries appear.

On May 10, Ukrainian forces struck an oil depot in Rovenky in the occupied part of the Luhansk region. The fire was confirmed by video footage from the scene, as well as by NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS). This oil depot is located in a populated area, close to residential districts, and as a result of the strike, four people were killed and 11 others were injured. Photos of submunitions indicate that the strike was carried out by an ATACMS tactical ballistic missile with a cluster munition warhead. It is worth noting that the use of indiscriminate (non-precision) weapons for military purposes in residential areas is prohibited.

Western Assistance

The US State Department has approved an urgent sale to Ukraine of three HIMARS MLRS with a total value of $30 million. This purchase is not included in the agreed US aid packages and will be paid for by the German government.

France will transfer SCALP-EG cruise missiles to Ukraine, which were originally slated for dismantling. Instead of being destroyed within the next three months as originally planned, these missiles are being refurbished and tested according to a simplified scheme before being sent to Ukraine. Deliveries of these refurbished missiles will not compromise France's defense capabilities and will be four times cheaper.

The CIT team analyzed military parades held on May 9 in various Russian cities (we will publish the full article tomorrow on our Telegram channel). As we mentioned in the previous sitrep, it is completely incorrect to draw conclusions about the material and technical situation in the Russian Army based on the military vehicles presented at the parade in Moscow. Just like last year, the main parade on Red Square was modest and without tracked vehicles, except for a museum T-34 tank. The number of cities where the parade was canceled or held without military equipment has hardly changed (15 in 2024 and 14 in 2023).

The number of equipment increased from 50 to 60 units only due to combat armored vehicles and armored cars, and overall the number of units of weapons and military equipment has hardly changed: 912 this year and 910 in 2023. Thus, the trend of reducing the number of equipment at parades, observed in 2023 and especially in 2022, is no longer evident. It is likely that the equipment used in the parades was sourced from the home bases of military units, training centers and military academies. We expect that next year the trend will continue and we will see a slight reduction in the number of types of equipment, while the overall number of used equipment will remain the same due to an increase in the proportion of simpler-to-produce armored vehicles. Despite the fact that the 80th anniversary of the victory may bring changes to the Moscow parade, we do not expect any noticeable change in the scale of parades across the country.