May 22

Sitrep for May 20–22, 2024 (as of 7 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The frontline has remained unchanged in recent days in the Kharkiv region. While fighting persists, Russian forces have struggled to make significant headway. Although the Russian Armed Forces have occupied part of Vovchansk, according to Roman Semenukha, Deputy Head of the Kharkiv Military Administration, 60% of the town is still under Ukrainian control. However, the reality on the ground is that much of Vovchansk remains contested, making it nearly impossible to determine the exact percentage of territory controlled by each side. Our assessment is that the full capture of the town by Russian forces could still be some ways away.

The Economist has published an article analyzing the situation on the Kharkiv axis. Among other things, it reports, citing sources, that Russian troops initially aimed to reach Kharkiv within 72 hours, advancing along the Travyanske Reservoir to the west and the Siverskyi Donets River to the east, the natural water barriers serving as protection against flanking attacks. The article states that the RuAF had planned to reach, within three days, the village of Borshchova, south of Lyptsi, 15 kilometers [9 mi] from the Saltivskyi district of Kharkiv, to bring them to within artillery range of the city, and on the eastern flank, the village of Pechenihy, 50 kilometers [31 mi] from the Russian border.

We fully share the perspective of the Frontelligence Insight team, founded by Ukrainian military analyst Tatarigami, and question whether such plans ever really existed. In the two years since the start of the full-scale invasion, the Russian military leadership has learned to plan operations more rationally, considering logistics and resource constraints. We also acknowledge that statements about the plans, as described in The Economist article, may have been circulated by political officers, but do not necessarily reflect the actual intentions of the military leadership. Previously, captured Russian soldiers mentioned plans for a rapid advance on the Kharkiv axis.

According to independent researcher Naalsio, from May 15 to May 20, Ukraine lost 10 military vehicles, while Russia lost 3. Since the beginning of the attack on the Kharkiv region, Ukraine has lost a total of 22 military vehicles, compared to Russia's 11. This disparity is due to the weakness of Ukrainian counter-battery warfare, partly caused by the ban on using Western weapons to strike Russian territory. If Ukrainian forces had the capability to carry out precision strikes against Russian artillery, concentrations of military equipment and personnel, the ratio would have been more even.

At a Pentagon briefing, Lloyd Austin was asked about the possibility of using US air defense systems against Russian aircraft striking Ukraine from Russian airspace. While he did not provide a definitive answer, he stated that the US expects such weapons to be used over Ukrainian territory. He also added that the dynamics of air combat are unpredictable, and that he was not ready to speculate on the topic. However, we believe that granting Ukraine  permission to shoot down aircraft over Russian territory is essential to improve the situation on the frontline. Additionally, 13 members of the US Congress have requested the Pentagon to allow Ukraine to attack targets within Russia using American weapons "under certain circumstances."

Victoria Nuland, former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, stated that it is time to provide Ukrainians with more assistance in striking bases inside Russia. It is worth noting that, as a former official, she has significantly more freedom in her statements and may express views that diverge from the official position of the US government.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles confirmed the shipment of the previously announced military aid package to Ukraine. It will include Leopard 2 tanks, Patriot air defense missiles, 155mm projectiles, drone countermeasure systems, as well as surveillance and tracking systems.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense reported that a group of 10 Ukrainian soldiers had completed training on servicing F-16 fighter aircraft.

Commenting on the situation in the Kharkiv region, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that all decisions regarding aid to Ukraine were made a year too late. It is true that assistance is being provided at a very slow rate, which significantly impacts the situation on the frontline. The lack of necessary resources makes it impossible to plan a counteroffensive, let alone operations to reclaim territories.

On May 20, the AFU launched a strike on the Luhansk Interior Ministry Academy in the village of Yuvileine, near the city of Luhansk. Videos of the aftermath show the building was heavily damaged. Leonid Pasechnik, the Head of the so-called LPR, reported that five people were injured and some civilian infrastructure was damaged. According to the Ukrainian side, the building was being used as the headquarters of the Group of Troops "South," and a meeting was taking place there at the time of the strike. The Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy’s Dossier] Telegram channel reported that the strike killed 13 military personnel and injured 26 others. According to two independent sources, Commander of the Southern Military District Colonel General Gennady Anashkin was wounded during the strike. It is also reported that the AFU used SCALP-EG missiles for the strike. It is worth noting that ten days ago we mentioned that France was restoring and handing over to Ukraine SCALP-EG missiles that had been slated for dismantling.

In the previous sitrep, we reported on the missile strike on the port of Sevastopol on the night of May 19. The CyberBoroshno project analyzed satellite images from May 21 and concluded that neither the Project 266M Akvamarin (NATO Natya class) Kovrovets minesweeper nor the Project 22800 Karakurt (NATO Karakurt class) Tsiklon corvette could be observed moored at the pier. However, a Project 23370 rescue boat, intended for underwater technical operations, was visible. Additionally, there were visible damages to the building near which the Tsiklon corvette was docked.

A photo of the sunken ship with a mast sticking out of the water was sent to us. After comparing it with reference photos of various vessels that had been seen at the pier in the days before the strike, we concluded that it belonged to the sunken Tsiklon corvette. Considering the particularly difficult situation for opposition activists in Crimea, we cannot publish this photo for the safety of our source.

During the strike with ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles on the Belbek military airfield in Crimea on May 15, conscript Maksim Speshilov, born in 2002, was killed. An obituary for Speshilov was published by the Kungur Automobile Transport College, from which he graduated in 2023. Since Crimea is not considered part of the "special military operation" zone, his family is unlikely to receive substantial compensation.

In Yekaterinburg, reservists are receiving notices for military training. It is worth noting that such notices, akin to mobilization orders, have been routinely sent out every year, even predating the onset of the full-scale invasion. This practice is standard procedure and does not signify an imminent new wave of mobilization.

Former commander of the 58th Army Ivan Popov has been arrested on charges of fraud. He is accused of illegally selling two thousand tons of metal structures valued at about 100 million rubles [$1.11 million], which were intended for constructing a defense line in the Zaporizhzhia region. Some pro-Russian Telegram channels speculate that this arrest is not a consequence of the ongoing "purge" of Russia’s Ministry of Defense from corrupt officials, but rather an extension of the longstanding conflict between General Popov and General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the RuAF.

It is worth noting that in July 2023, Popov was removed from his position. Subsequently, he published an audio message to his subordinates, revealing various issues within the RuAF and criticizing Russia’s top brass for turning a blind eye to them. Since the Russian Army usually does not discharge generals for misconduct, Popov was sent to Syria.

The occurrence of various reshufflings and reassignments within the structure of the Ministry of Defense following the appointment of Russia’s Minister of Defense, Andrey Belousov, was to be expected. Given Belousov's past experience, it can be assumed that in his new position, he will focus on managerial functions, aligning wartime needs with budgetary constraints, while actual combat operations will be managed by General Gerasimov.

Former auditor of the Accounts Chamber of Russia Oleg Savelyev has been appointed as Belousov's deputy. However, the extent to which economists can earn the trust of the military and force them to carry out the necessary reforms remains unclear at this time.

The impact of Belousov's appointment on the information policy of the MoD is also uncertain. The recent surge in false statements about the capture of various settlements might be linked to concerns among generals who have not yet been accused of corruption. They may be rushing to prove their effectiveness to secure their positions.