dispatches
May 17

Sitrep for May 15-17, 2024 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

While the main offensive efforts of the Russian Armed Forces remain centered on the Kharkiv axis, the Russian Ministry of Defense unexpectedly announced the capture of Robotyne on the Zaporizhzhia axis. Pro-Russian bloggers promptly refuted this claim, noting that the complete capture of the village is still far from assured. After a year of fighting, Robotyne has been almost completely destroyed, its building in ruins, and its conquest holds no military significance. Previous experiences suggest that Russian forces will need to intensify their attacks in this direction so that the frontline on the ground looks closer to the one in official reports.

On the eastern flank of the Kharkiv axis, the RuAF are still attempting to capture the town of Vovchansk. Given its proximity to the Russian border, at less than 10 km [6 mi], Russian forces could seize it faster than the similarly sized town of Chasiv Yar. However, this remains a distant goal. Despite recent videos showing the destruction of Russian tanks near the Vovchansk meat processing plant and soldiers displaying a Russian flag near a town limit sign, we are yet to see any significant progress. Current reports are unclear on whether Russian forces have managed to gain a foothold in the town.

The proximity of Vovchansk to the border made it impossible to construct a defensive line directly between the town and the border. Consequently, fortifications were built further south of the town. Russia’s ground offensive is accompanied, as has become usual, by extensive artillery and air strikes, progressively reducing the town to rubble. Although Ukrainian authorities have started evacuating Vovchansk, some civilians are likely to refuse to leave until the very last moment, risking becoming casualties of the intensifying attacks.

On the western flank of the Kharkiv axis, the RuAF continue to advance gradually, but the pace of the offensive has slowed down compared to the first days. A video has emerged showing Ukrainian forces repelling a Russian attack near the village of Lyptsi, which Russian forces have not yet reached. Additionally, RuAF attacks towards Lyptsi from the direction of the previously captured village of Lukyantsi have also begun, confirmed by a video filmed on the eastern outskirts of Lukyantsi. As in previous days, the attacks involve mainly infantry, accompanied by a minimal number of armored vehicles.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe Christopher G. Cavoli, commenting on Russia's actions in the Kharkiv region, expressed doubts about the ability of the Russian Army to achieve a strategic breakthrough. According to him, the RuAF lack the necessary troops to conduct a large-scale operation, and do not have "the skill and the capability to do it, to operate at the scale necessary to exploit any breakthrough to strategic advantage." General Cavoli also noted that he does not see the formation of a large number of reserves in Russia. His assessments completely align with ours.

Current attacks on the Kharkiv region involve thousands, not tens of thousands, of military personnel. Additionally, we have not yet seen Russian forces capitalize on the situation to intensify their attacks near the village of Ocheretyne or towards Chasiv Yar. Some Western media still claim that Russia is recruiting 30,000 volunteer fighters per month, but there is no confirmation of this data, and we do not know the source of this information. They may be using an estimate once expressed by the Ukrainian General Staff and drawing incorrect conclusions about supposedly existing reserves in the Russian Army, which would be used for some large-scale summer offensive. In reality, we have not seen any evidence of significant reserves.

The Sumy region also falls under the responsibility of the Group of Troops “North,” and we believe it possible that Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin might initiate similar attacks there. However, this would only further disperse Russian forces and prevent them from achieving any significant results. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for Lapin to simultaneously command both the Leningrad Military District and the Group of Troops “North.” Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, each group of troops has typically been managed by the commander of a corresponding military district.

The Ukrainian delegation in Washington raised the issue of lifting the ban on using US-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory, claiming that this restriction prevented the AFU from launching preemptive strikes on Russian units positioned near the Russia-Ukraine border and preparing to attack. While the AFU regularly shells Belgorod with Eastern European rockets, we argue that it would be more sensible to use these rockets against concentrations of Russian troops in border areas.

A new report has emerged of a Ukrainian drone strike on a civilian vehicle. In the village of Oktyabrsky in the Belgorod region, a loitering munition hit a car carrying a driver and a family of three (mother, father and son). As a result, the woman and child died and the men were injured. Strikes on civilian vehicles, while Russian troops attack the Kharkiv region, seem senseless to us.

Even though the RuAF use public roads to attack Ukrainian territory with BM-21 Grad MLRS, civilian vehicles are not appropriate targets for drone strikes. A video showing rocket launches on a public road, geolocated on the outskirts of Shebekino in the Belgorod region, was published and then deleted by rapper Misha Mavashi.

The head of the Korenevsky district in the Kursk region, which borders the Sumy region of Ukraine, has asked local residents not to wear camouflage attire. We consider this request entirely appropriate, as anyone in camouflage may be perceived as a combatant by the opposing side.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

For two consecutive nights—on May 15 and 16—the AFU launched ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles with cluster munition warheads at the Belbek airfield in Crimea. Ground photographs show destroyed S-400 air defense system vehicles, and MAXAR satellite images from May 16 depict at least three destroyed aircraft, including two Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor attack aircraft and a Sukhoi Su-27 air superiority fighter. Additionally, an old Ukrainian Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter, in non-operational condition since the annexation of Crimea, was damaged in the strikes, and a fuel storage facility was burned. According to various sources, military casualties from the strikes range from two to eleven. It is worth noting that this is the first proven use of the long-range version of the ATACMS tactical ballistic missile. The Belbek airfield, situated approximately 230 km [140 mi] from the city of Kherson, cannot be targeted with shorter-range modifications of these missiles. Consequently, the entire territory of Crimea is now within range, and it is unknown how Russia’s new Minister of Defense Andrey Belousov will respond. One possible option would be to relocate aircraft from Crimea to airfields in the Krasnodar region, though this could necessitate the use of external fuel tanks to conduct attacks in some cases, resulting in reduced combat loads and additional wear and tear on the aircraft. Another possibility would be the construction of aircraft shelters, an idea that military experts and pro-Russian bloggers have advocated for over the past two years.

On the night of May 17, the AFU launched a massive drone attack on targets in Crimea and on Russian territory. According to the Russian MoD, 102 UAVs were deployed, marking a record number to date, along with unmanned surface vessels. More than 30 drones targeted the port and oil terminal in Novorossiysk. Additionally, a strike hit an oil refinery in the city of Tuapse in the Krasnodar region.

Western Assistance

According to Bloomberg's sources, the US plans to transfer another Patriot air defense battery to Ukraine.

Germany will transfer two Patriot air defense batteries to Ukraine: one at its own expense and the other at the expense of partners in the air defense coalition. Additionally, Lithuania will transfer six AMBER-1800 air surveillance radars.

Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces of France, has announced that France will send a new batch of Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine for the SAMP/T air defense system.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

The spring regular conscription campaign will continue until July 15 in Russia. The human rights organization Shkola Prizyvnika [Conscript School] and the 7x7 online news outlet report that conscripts in the city of Izhevsk are receiving leaflets promoting a so-called "alternative contract military service." Men are being encouraged to sign contracts with promises that they will not be sent to the front and will be allowed to choose their place of service. The leaflets also attempt to mislead recipients by claiming that no combat operations are being conducted on Russian territory. However, it is important to note that, according to constitutional amendments, the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, where combat operations are ongoing, are now officially part of the Russian Federation.

At the military collection point in the city of Krasnodar, approximately two dozen conscripts, who arrived at the draft office seeking to provide evidence of their unfitness for military service, are being forcibly detained. These young men, summoned for follow-up medical examinations, had their documents confiscated upon arrival. They were made to wait for transfer to a military unit and, under threats of physical violence, were forced to change into military uniforms. Relatives of the conscripts who arrived at the collection point were advised to file complaints with the Military Prosecutor's Office. It is worth noting that draft office chiefs or unit commanders find it easier to coerce those who do not resist or assert their rights into signing contracts or sending them on assault missions. Therefore, it is always essential to raise awareness, publish videos and file complaints. Overall, it is advisable to seek legal counsel and explore options to avoid compulsory military service, as individuals may still be deployed to border areas that are frequently under attack even if they do not sign a contract.