May 15, 2023

Sitrep for May 12–15 (as of 10:00 a.m.)

The Situation on the Frontline

In our opinion, it can be stated that Ukraine has now begun full-fledged preparations for a large-scale counteroffensive.

Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] has published a long video in which he speaks in detail and shows on a map what the Wagner Group’s action plan in the Donetsk region was, what was achieved and how the situation will develop in the future.

After the complete capture of Bakhmut, it was planned to “align” the frontline along the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas Canal, advance along the roads to Sloviansk and Siversk in order to protect the flanks of the Russian forces located in Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. However, these tasks could not be completed, since the Wagner Group was cut off from the main method of recruiting. At the same time, the Russian forces, which were supposed to hold the flanks in the Bakhmut direction, lost important positions.

During the offensive towards the Berkhivske Reservoir, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have occupied tactical heights, which make it possible to plan a further offensive and the encirclement of Bakhmut. Russian forces were able to hold Berkhivka itself, but Prigozhin does not consider this important. On the flank, where Ukrainian forces recently put the 72nd Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces to flight, the AFU also took control over several tactical heights near Ivanivske, which will allow them to build up a direction of further attack towards Khromove and Berkhivka and push Russian forces even further away from the road leading to Chasiv Yar through Khromove. Then, according to Prigozhin, Ukrainian forces plan to advance towards the road from Bakhmut to Sloviansk, attack from Siversk, and also towards Klishchiivka and Kurdiumivka. If these attacks are successful, the AFU will be able to actually encircle Bakhmut, and then proceed to the offensive towards Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk.

It is important to note that, having taken the commanding height, the AFU get a good overview of the area, even if conducting aerial reconnaissance is not possible (e.g. in bad weather or due to the effective operation of electronic warfare systems).

Prigozhin contrasts the actions of Russian and Ukrainian military leaders and emphasizes that Russian military officials are striving to trap the enemy in "pockets" and pay much more attention to capturing or holding settlements than tactical heights, natural barriers and other strategically important places. We attribute this to the fact that the system of negative selection that has developed in the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation prevents proactive people determined to change the foundations from advancing in the service. In addition, Prigozhin singles out Sergey Surovikin among other generals claiming he would have achieved much greater success in military operations if his subordinates had sufficient competencies and followed his orders. At the same time, Ukrainian military leaders proceed gradually and tend to occupy the most strategically important objects, so their plans, according to Prigozhin, are more effective.

Finnish analyst Emil Kastehelmi noted that if the AFU pushed back Russian forces further in the area of Klishchiivka and Ivanivske, they would be able, firstly, to cut the supply line, thus making Russian forces retreat, and secondly, to secure the road T0504 leading through Ivanivske to Kostiantynivka (let us recall that there is a detour not far from the blown up bridge).

In an interview with Bild, Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, confirmed that current combat activities in Bakhmut are part of preparation for the counteroffensive.

The Incidents with Russian Aircraft in the Bryansk region

On May 13, in the Klintsovsky district of the Bryansk region (about 50 km from the border with Ukraine), the Russian Air and Space Forces suffered the most serious loss since March 2022. According to pro-Russian sources, four aircraft were lost at once: two fighter jets and two helicopters. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has not officially recognized this fact yet.

At first, there was a report that a Mil Mi-8 helicopter had crashed in Klintsy. According to local authorities, the engine caught fire due to a technical malfunction, but later a video appeared showing that a missile had hit the helicopter. Later, it became known that another Mil Mi-8 helicopter had crashed in Suretsky Muravey village.

Subsequently, information appeared about the crash of a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber and a video showing the wreckage presumably of this aircraft, as well as reports of the downing of a Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet.

The Helicopterpilot Telegram channel reported that the downed helicopter was a Mil Mi-8 of the MTPR-1 modification, equipped with a system of electronic warfare (or reconnaissance) and intended for detecting and suppressing enemy air defenses.

According to pro-Russian sources, the Mil Mi-8 MTPR-1 helicopter was covering the actions of a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter, which was supposed to launch a gliding bomb (it is necessary to fly at a high altitude to do this). The Sukhoi Su-35 was supposed to cover this fighter from the air while the second Mil Mi-8 was supposed to pick up the crew of the aircraft or helicopter in case they were shot down by the enemy. However, as reported, all four aircraft were shot down and all their crews — nine people — were killed.

There are several versions of the reasons for their crash. We consider the least plausible version to be that a group of saboteurs shot them down using MANPADS. To penetrate 50 kilometers deep into Russian territory with at least four man-portable air defense systems, shoot down four aircraft, and leave unnoticed seems to us an impossible task. In addition, the holes visible in the photos of the wreckage of the Mil Mi-8 helicopter's rotor were made by prefabricated fragments of a large missile warhead, not by the warhead of a MANPADS.

Another version suggests friendly fire from Russian air defense systems. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] indirectly suggests that the "friend-or-foe" radar systems in Russia are not functioning well and speculates that they could have mistakenly targeted their own aircraft. The channel also reports that these four aircraft were shot down within a two-minute timeframe (although we have not found confirmation of this from other sources). The type of weapon used to shoot them down could potentially be determined by analyzing the recovered fragments, but Fighterbomber believes that if they were indeed shot down by Russian air defense systems, the authorities would be interested in concealing this information. While we cannot completely rule out this version, we consider it unlikely. It is possible to mistakenly shoot down one's own aircraft, as we have seen in the past, but shooting down two aircraft within a few minutes would be highly unusual, and shooting down four aircraft (if indeed that many were shot down) would be almost impossible. During the time required for targeting and shooting down an aircraft, someone should have reacted and intervened to stop the incident.

Another possible version is the use of AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. There have been previous reports of possible deliveries of such missiles, although we have not seen evidence to confirm this. This version appears to be plausible to us, but not the most probable, as an attacking fighter aircraft would likely be detected in advance by the radar systems of an enemy aircraft.

In our opinion, the most likely version is an ambush by long-range surface-to-air missile systems, for example, an S-300 SAM system. If you move around at night and stop during the day, camouflaging yourself in the forest and not disclosing yourself by using a radar, then such systems can be brought very close to the border. After receiving a signal (from other radars or from the US intelligence) that an air group is approaching, you can turn on the radar, quickly strike at all the targets and leave. It is important to note that, as we have seen in recent months, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were running out of S-300 missiles, as a result of which the value of launchers was declining. Accordingly, even the loss of such a launcher with several Russian aircraft shot down looks like a fairly beneficial “exchange.”

We believe that this event also signals large-scale actions in preparation for the Ukrainian counteroffensive. In the absence of effective air defense, an advancing mechanized column is vulnerable from the air. Starting from January, we see how the Russian Air Force "becomes insolent," flies farther and actively uses air-dropped bombs, including ones with UMPK [Universal Gliding and Correction Module, a Russian analogue of the JDAM]. With such an operation, the Armed Forces of Ukraine could make it clear to Russian pilots that they are vulnerable, and they should stay away from the frontline.


On May 12, Ukrainian forces attacked Luhansk with Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles. ADM-160B MALD decoy missiles were used to distract air defense systems; at least one of the decoy missiles was not intercepted by air defense and fell, crashing into a building.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces of Ukraine attacked the Polipak and Milam enterprises; the buildings were seriously damaged. The Defense Ministry reports that civilians were wounded, but some local sources claim there were no wounded.

It is reported that in Kramatorsk (127 km to Luhansk), locals spotted an aircraft launching missiles.

On the morning of May 13, the old building of the Academy of Internal Affairs in Luhansk was hit.

Since Luhansk is quite far away (more than 100 km) from the line of contact, various versions had been put forward by different sources before the fragments of the Storm Shadow missile were found on May 13. It is not known for certain how the Armed Forces of Ukraine launch British cruise missiles; most likely, Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter aircraft were adapted for this purpose. If Ukraine received such missiles in sufficient quantities, then we can expect a great effect from their use.

Reportedly, on May 15, the territory of the former Luhansk Higher Military Aviation School of Navigators was hit most likely also with Storm Shadow missiles.

On May 13, Ukrainian forces attacked a target in Klishchiivka (southwest of Bakhmut). The Ukrainian side claims that as a result of this strike, the deputy commander of the 2nd Army Corps for military-political work and the commander and chief of staff of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade were killed, and another deputy commander of this brigade was wounded. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the death of the commander of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade, Colonel Vyacheslav Makarov, and the deputy commander of the 2nd Army Corps for military-political work, Yevgeny Brovko (who became known for receiving the banner from Putin's hands, when the 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the separatists became part of the RuAF).

The pro-Russian military correspondent Kotenok reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are trying to hit Russian advanced command posts along almost the entire frontline. Destroying warehouses, command posts and killings of commanders often precede a massive counteroffensive.

On the night of May 13, Russians attacked a warehouse near the village of Hruzevytsia, Khmelnytskyi region. According to a number of pro-Russian military correspondents, the attack targeted the 649th aviation ammunition depot. A video taken in 2010 shows that this depot mainly stored large Soviet-made air-dropped bombs. An enterprise of Ukraine's state-owned defense holding Ukroboronprom, whose duties since 2012 included ammunition disposal, was located nearby. Most likely, the explosion was caused by the detonation of the Soviet-made ammunition we mentioned above. It would be unwise of Ukraine to store modern Western equipment nearby, since this facility has long been known to Russian forces.

Russian forces launched a missile attack on Ternopil on May 13, causing a warehouse with humanitarian aid to burn down.

On May 13, Russian forces also attacked Kostiantynivka (southwest of Bakhmut), killing two people and wounding eleven. It is stated that the attack was carried out using a Smerch MLRS. Last time we saw the Smerch MLRS being used was about a month ago.

On the same day, the Kuibyshevskyi district of Donetsk was attacked: two people were killed, and three were injured.

Further details surrounding the interception of the Kinzhal missile that happened on May 4 have emerged. According to two anonymous US officials, Russian forces detected the radar signal from the Patriot SAM system and intended to destroy it by a Kinzhal missile. However, Ukrainian anti-aircraft personnel fired several interceptor missiles from the Patriot system "at different angles" and shot down the Kinzhal missile, which was considered invincible because it flies faster than anti-aircraft missiles. Theoretically, shooting interceptor missiles from a direction opposite to the target’s flight path increases the chances of intercepting the target, which explains what happened in this case.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

Germany has announced a new military aid package worth 2.7 billion euros. It will include:

  • 20 Marder IFVs;
  • 30 Leopard 1A5 tanks;
  • 4 IRIS-T-SLM systems;
  • 200 drones;
  • 100 armored vehicles;
  • 15 Gepard SPAAGs;
  • 100 logistics vehicles;
  • artillery ammunition.

This announcement coincided with Zelenskyy's visit to Germany and serves as an important signal that European allies continue to believe in Ukraine's victory, and arms supplies will not cease even if the Ukrainian advances during the counteroffensive are modest.

A photo of a British Sea King helicopter in the livery of the Ukrainian Air Force has emerged. The transfer of these helicopters, decommissioned from the British Army, was reported last year.

CIT volunteers analyzed photographs of military vehicles participating in Victory Day parades in various Russian cities. One of our main conclusions is that its numbers have indeed noticeably decreased, not only compared to the years before the full-scale invasion, but also to the parades in 2022.