May 19, 2023

Sitrep for May 18–19 (as of 09:00 a.m.)

The Situation on the Frontline

According to Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin and the owner of the Wagner Group], fighting between the Wagner Group and the AFU in Bakhmut is still going on only in the area of MiG-17 aircraft monument (i.e. where the monument used to be). The area of Yuvileyna Street apparently has been completely mopped-up. Nevertheless, Prigozhin believes that fighting for Bakhmut will not end in the coming days.

The AFU continue their successful local offensive operations on the flanks: to the south-west of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces are advancing in the area of the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas Canal in the direction of Klishchiivka, and to the north of the town, in the area of the village of Sakko and Vanzetti, they forced the Airborne Forces of the RuAF to withdraw from their positions. The Russian Ministry of Defense calls the retreat "taking a more advantageous line of defense," in response to which Prigozhin asks the generals to hold Bakhmut’s flanks for at least a few more days.

Strikes on the Territories of Ukraine and Russia

Reportedly, as a result of the RuAF strike on Kryvyi Rih, industrial facilities were damaged, and two civilians were injured.

Photos showing fragments of missiles that fell in the Darnitskyi district of Kyiv on May 18 were published.

On the same day, in the Belgorod region, the village of Nizhnee Berezovo-Vtoroe, Shebekinsky district, (8.5 km from the border with Ukraine) was hit. As a result, two civilians were killed, and another one was injured. Reportedly, it was a BM-21 Grad MLRS strike.

It is important to note that Russian forces are actively hitting the Kharkiv region, as a result of which, in the border areas of the Belgorod region (where, among other things, a large number of military facilities are located), the likelihood of retaliatory strikes increases significantly. That is why the local civilian population should have been evacuated from there. We also note that emergency workers (medics and rescuers) and officials (including Governor of the Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov) who had arrived at the scene of the incident were aware of the danger of being near the border and wore protective gear: helmets, anti-fragmentation collars and bulletproof vests.

According to Governor of the Kursk region Roman Starovoyt, on May 18, in the village of Glushkovo (8.5 km from the border), a Ukrainian drone dropped a munition on a sports and recreation center (the presence of military personnel nearby is not reported, but such places are often used for military purposes). As a result, two local residents received fragmentation wounds of moderate severity.

On May 17, in the village of Kister, Bryansk region (5 km from the border), a soldier on an ATV crashed into a tree and died; his passenger was hospitalized with injuries. The soldiers who went to help them were blown up by a mine, presumably planted by the Russian Armed Forces, as a result of which they were injured.

In Crimea, slightly south of Simferopol, a railway was blown up, several railcars with grain derailed.

Deliveries of Western Military Equipment

The New York Times, citing a high-ranking Ukrainian official, reports that the United States did not allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on F-16 fighter jets. We believe that this information, based on the words of an anonymous source article, should not be taken seriously.

Pentagon officials say it would take about four months to train Ukrainian pilots to fly fighter jets, not 16 months as it was previously reported. They also do not specify whether they have anything against such training.

The first photos of Slovak-provided MiG-29 fighters with the Ukrainian coat of arms, but still in Slovak camouflage, have been published.

It turned out that the Pentagon has spent $3 billion less on aid to Kyiv than anticipated, as the calculation did not take into account the depreciation of machinery and equipment. Therefore, these "unaccounted" funds can now be allocated for additional supplies.

On May 18, Norway announced that it will transfer eight M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and three ARTHUR counter-battery radars to Ukraine in cooperation with the United Kingdom.

US Department of Defense spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said that the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, damaged during the strike on Kyiv on May 16, was repaired and is now fully operational.

In addition, anonymous Pentagon and Congressional sources for CNN report that in recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have managed to shoot down at least one Russian fighter jet using a Patriot system. We do not yet know if this is related to the incident in the Bryansk region. If yes, then the PAC-3 modification was not used, since its range is around 35 kilometers, and helicopters and planes were shot down at a distance of more than 50 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. We have not seen any other reports of downed fighters in recent days.

The obituaries of the deceased in the crash of four aircraft in the Bryansk region continue to emerge, and at the time of publishing the text version of the sitrep, the number has reached ten. Most of them are under the age of 30.

Telegram channels associated with the Wagner Group have published a text that they refer to as archival material from Kirill Romanovsky, a former correspondent of RIA FAN [Internet news agency linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin] who actively worked with mercenaries in Syria and the CAR and passed away in 2023. We do not have independent confirmation that this text is indeed written by Romanovsky "for the drawer," and only now is being published. Although it appears to us to be highly embellished, we have seen corroborating evidence for many of the mentioned moments when following the war in Syria.

Indeed, it was the Wagner Group who primarily participated in ground operations, while the Russian military acted in a limited capacity. Several months after the start of the operation, we noticed ground actions by a Special Operations Forces unit and later Russian artillery (howitzers and MLRS). This minimal involvement was meant to demonstrate the effectiveness of fighting terrorists, suggesting that the Russian operation in Syria was so successful that the Russian Armed Forces incurred minimal losses, as losses among mercenaries could be concealed.

The text describes events surrounding the battles for Palmyra against ISIS in 2016, involving General Aleksandr Dvornikov, Yevgeny Prigozhin (referred to as "Director" in the text), Wagner Group commander Dmitry Utkin (referred to as "Ninth" in the text), and the commander of Wagner's 1st Attack and Reconnaissance Company with the callsign "Ratibor." Cooperation did not go smoothly from the very beginning: the Russian Army did not provide the Wagner Group with information about the militants’ fortifications, Dvornikov did not allocate munitions for howitzers or helicopters for cover. It is claimed that mercenaries were the ones who established control over Palmyra in 2016, with the Syrian Army and Russian soldiers approaching later (although we are inclined to believe that special forces were indeed involved). However, when Prigozhin asked Putin to award those who participated in the operation with state awards, Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu refused to approve the list — presumably, Putin personally did it later. Relations between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner Group deteriorated from that point onward. Shoigu ordered Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to withdraw the mercenaries from Syria, which was allegedly carried out forcibly on Ilyushin Il-76 military transport aircraft and even in the cargo holds of landing ships without food and water.

We noticed this confrontation around mid-2016, after the initial liberation of Palmyra. The Wagner Group lost air support and began to evacuate the killed and wounded to Russia themselves, using the Syrian Cham Wings airline. All of this occurred two years before the famous battle of Khasham. As far as we know, there was no mass withdrawal of Wagner Group mercenaries from Syria in 2016, but their activity decreased.

The investigation into the leak of classified Pentagon documents that accused a junior US National Guard officer, Jack Teixeira, continues. According to documents presented to the court, he was repeatedly reprimanded and admonished. In particular, in Sept. 2022, his superiors noticed that he was taking away classified intelligence notes and ordered him not to do so again. A month later, in Oct. 2022, a new memo appeared regarding Teixeira that he was "potentially ignoring the order to cease and not resume activities related to in-depth intelligence studies." It is clarified that Teixeira asked "very specific questions" during meetings, after which he was ordered to focus on his work. The third entry, dated Feb. 2023, states that Teixeira was seen looking at information "that had no connection to his primary duties and related to intelligence" and notes that it was not the first reprimand. However, as a result, there were no particular consequences for Teixeira until recently.

In a third reading, the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] approved amendments to Russia's federal constitutional legislation on martial law. If enacted, Putin would be able to issue decrees that authorize the resettlement of residents from the occupied territories in Ukraine to regions where martial law is not declared. In addition, the amendments would allow for administrative detentions for up to 30 days for violation of prohibitions and restrictions imposed by presidential decrees. Changes have also been made to the procedure for conducting elections in areas under martial law. This will enable the Rosgvardia [the National Guard of Russia], the Federal Security Service (FSB) and military men to detain, hold and interrogate civilians in the occupied territory for any reason.

The Politico media outlet, citing anonymous sources in the US administration, reports that the White House is discussing scenarios for the transition of the Russian-Ukrainian war into a frozen conflict, and this outcome is considered increasingly likely. Such a conflict could last for a very long time, similar to the one on the Korean Peninsula. In the White House, some believe this variant may be the most realistic in the prospect, since neither Kyiv nor Moscow is ready to admit defeat and make concessions. A frozen conflict could be a politically acceptable long-term outcome for the United States and other countries that support Ukraine. Meanwhile, as far as we know, there is no significant number of people inside the US Congress inclined towards reducing military aid to Ukraine for now.