May 15

Sitrep for May 13-15, 2024 (as of 9 a.m.) UTC+3

Frontline Situation Update

The Russian offensive on the Kharkiv axis continues. According to pro-Russian sources, such as WarGonzo [war correspondent Semyon Pegov], the Russian Armed Forces are already engaged in fighting near the village of Lyptsi and on the outskirts of the town of Vovchansk. However, the Ukrainian Telegram channel DeepState has so far only confirmed attempts to gain a foothold on the northern outskirts of Vovchansk. According to DeepState, Russian forces have partially captured the village of Hlyboke on the western flank of the offensive, and they are still some distance away from Lyptsi.

In addition, the RuAF have taken control of the village of Buhruvatka on the eastern flank of the Kharkiv axis, which has been corroborated by video footage of a mortar attack on Russian infantry and by Ukrainian sources.

There is an ongoing discussion in Ukrainian society about whether there were enough fortifications built in the Kharkiv region, for which significant funds were allocated. Some contend that construction work was not completed everywhere.

The Frontelligence Insight team, founded by Ukrainian military analyst Tatarigami, has studied satellite images and published those related to the areas of the Kharkiv region that have already been captured. Researchers found trenches on the western flank, near the village of Krasne, some of which were built by Russian forces in 2022 when they occupied this territory. On the eastern flank near Vovchansk, however, the area appears to be much less fortified. Analysts have concluded that the presence or absence of fortifications has had little impact on the pace of the offensive.

Researchers from Frontelligence Insight also noted that the Ukrainian command was aware of impending attacks, with Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR), stating that the offensive began as the agency had predicted. While it is too early to tell how the Russians managed to advance at such a rapid pace, it is already evident that the RuAF, contrary to our expectations, have now moved beyond the contested area, where they encountered only little resistance. These developments have led researchers to consider that Ukraine’s shortfalls lie not only in an insufficient number of fortifications, but also in the Ukrainian command’s incomplete understanding of the capabilities and preparedness of its military units. This, in turn, led to an ineffective allocation of resources. Similarly, while the shortage of ammunition and other Western aid also certainly played a role, it was not the primary cause of the current situation on the ground.

The independent ex-Oryx researcher Naalsio has begun tallying military vehicle losses on the Kharkiv front. The Russian side has so far lost five BMP-2 IFVs and had an IMR-2 engineering vehicle damaged. Meanwhile, Ukraine lost a T-64BV tank, two Bohdana 155mm wheeled self-propelled howitzers, a Buk-M1 SAM vehicle, a YPR-765 APC and a RAK-12 MLRS mounted on a HMMWV chassis.

Videos of Russian attacks, such as those filmed on the outskirts of Vovchansk, mostly show infantry progressing with virtually no armored vehicles. A video of an FPV kamikaze drone hitting a Russian tank within the town was later published. It remains unclear why the Ukrainian side does not engage these infantry groups with artillery or rocket fire, especially with cluster munitions. At the same time, in the summaries on strikes on civilian infrastructure from CIT, our volunteers have noted the use of Western cluster munitions (confirmed by photographs) on the Petrovskyi district of the city of Donetsk, which reportedly resulted in the deaths of two people.

Several days have passed since the beginning of the offensive on the Kharkiv region, allowing us to draw preliminary conclusions. Although it was widely assumed to be a diversionary maneuver aimed at increasing pressure on the Donetsk axis, the frontline has remained stationary both near the town of Chasiv Yar (for more than a week) and near the village of Ocheretyne (from May 9). This raises the question of whether these attacks are diverting not only Ukrainian but also Russian forces. For instance, over the past days, the Russian side could have tried to capture the Kanal neighborhood, develop an offensive in the area of Ocheretyne, or at least seize more territory near the villages of Yasnobrodivka and Netailove in the Pokrovsk direction. However, final conclusions regarding the results of the current RuAF offensive can only be drawn after at least another week.

We do not share the opinion of some Western media outlets that claim that the offensive on the Kharkiv axis is capable of turning the tide of this war. Even if the RuAF manage to achieve significant success within a few months and, for example, approach Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, taking advantage of the personnel shortage in the AFU, this will not lead not to the collapse of the frontline, let alone the capitulation of Ukraine.

On the "Meduza. What Happened" podcast, economist Aleksandr Kolyandr and The Bell journalist Pyotr Mironenko shared certain details of the biography of Russia’s new Minister of Defense Andrey Belousov and suggested how he could potentially influence the course of the war in his new role. According to them, this appointment is not good news for Ukraine because Belousov is ideologically very close to Putin. He is known as a rather stern individual who readily engages in conflicts, including with various Russian oligarchs. For example, in 2018, he attempted to seize 500 billion rubles [$5 billion] of "excess profits" in the form of additional taxes from the mining and metallurgical industry.

His vision is that the economy serves the state. In other words, the economy is subordinated to the state rather than vice versa, with the state and its goals, particularly in times of war, dictating economic priorities and resource allocation to meet military demands within existing constraints. Additionally, it is known that Belousov has long shown keen interest in drones. Under his leadership, it is expected that resources in the area of UAV production will be allocated more effectively, and there will be stricter scrutiny to ensure that cheap Chinese drones with altered logos cannot be passed off as the latest domestic developments.

At the moment, it is unclear how capable he is of implementing the necessary reforms, tackling corruption in the army, replacing certain officials in the Ministry of Defense and the military-industrial complex, and ensuring that his orders are carried out by subordinates. It is worth noting that large systems, including both the army and the military-industrial complex, are inert and strongly resistant to innovation, posing significant challenges to any attempts at change.

Belousov’s main task at the moment is to ensure that the economy and war efforts function seamlessly together. Based on the recent discharges and arrests of high-ranking MoD officials, it can be assumed that Russian authorities have finally realized that resources are limited and the war is dragging on for a long time, thus, it is necessary to increase efficiency and integrate military needs into the economy. It is worth noting that European and US sanctions imposed in the last two years were intended to exert economic pressure on Russia. Therefore, Belousov's appointment can also be seen as a response to the need to implement relevant countermeasures.

The Astra Telegram channel reports that on May 13, a strike on an air defense base on Mount Ai-Petri in Crimea killed the commander of a military unit. There have been many strikes on air defense facilities in Crimea in the past month, and while this report seems credible, we have not seen any independent confirmations yet.

Additionally, on the night of May 15, a strike on the Belbek military airfield in Crimea and air defense systems stationed there was confirmed by NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) satellite data. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber, associated with the Russian Air and Space Force, has reported casualties and injuries.

On May 13, in the Kursk region, Ukrainian FPV drones attacked two civilian vehicles with no signs of military affiliation. As a result of this attack, a woman was killed and three more people sustained injuries.

Western Assistance

Spain is set to deliver ten Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The aid package, which will be ready by June 30, will include not only the tanks but also artillery ammunition, machine guns, armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft systems and weapon stations for UAV defense.

It is worth noting that following the news of four Russian aircraft being shot down in the Bryansk region on May 13, 2023, with Patriot surface-to-air missiles, the German government expressed dissatisfaction with the use of Western weapons against targets on Russian territory. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced the supply of another Patriot system. It remains unknown whether this refers to a single launcher or an entire battery, and whether it is the same system whose supply was announced a month ago.

Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen has announced that F-16 fighter aircraft will arrive in Ukraine in the coming months.

As previously mentioned, Ukraine will receive a rather old modification of the F-16 fighter jet, equipped with radars with limited ranges, which will restrict their use as air defense platforms.  However, if Ukraine receives long-range air-to-air missiles capable of autonomously detecting and engaging targets, this will significantly increase the aircraft's capabilities.

We have published our analysis of the military vehicles featured in Victory Day parades across Russia.