Sitrep for May 23–24 (as of 09:00 a.m.)
On May 23, Belgorod was attacked with drones. Reportedly, at least four aircraft-type UAVs that flew in from the Kharkiv region of Ukraine were shot down over the Belgorod region of Russia by air defense forces. Another drone dropped an explosive device on the road in Belgorod, damaging a civilian car. At first, eyewitnesses thought that the vehicle had run over a mine.
According to Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine currently has the basic amount of weapons and other equipment for the counteroffensive, which will begin in the near future.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the frontline again; this time he arrived at the Vuhledar — Marinka defense line. His visit was timed to coincide with the Day of the Marine Corps of the Naval Forces of the AFU on May 23.
The pro-Russian Telegram channel Helicopterpilot confirmed the loss of a Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter over the Black Sea near Odesa, reported that the information about the downing of a Mil Mi-8 and a Mil Mi-24 was fake, and also hinted at the loss of a Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopter (attaching a photo of this helicopter and a caption about the loss of comrades-in-arms). Our team found an obituary for the Ka-52 pilot Aleksey Volchkov, who was killed on May 22; the co-pilot must have also been killed, but there is no confirmation of this fact yet.
Deliveries of Western Military Equipment
Germany has delivered an additional package of military assistance to Ukraine. It includes:
- a TRML-4D air defense radar system;
- 2 Biber armored bridge-laying vehicles;
- 3 robotic mine-clearing systems;
- 54 Vector reconnaissance drones;
- 8 anti-drone systems;
- 6 armored vehicles for the border guard service;
- an electronic warfare system;
- 34 pickup trucks;
- over 20 trucks, minibuses, SUVs, and trailers.
Pentagon representatives clarified that F-16 fighter jets deliveries are a long term objective, and are not intended for upcoming offensive operations. Whether the deliveries will be made at the end of 2023 or in a few years is still unknown.
Also, information emerged affirming that the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets will take place in Poland.
Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army Valerii Zaluzhnyi and Commander of United States European Command General Christopher G. Cavoli discussed the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and their ammunition in the context of strengthening the Ukrainian air defense. It appears that the discussions focused on supply of air-to-air missiles.
The US State Department clarified on a separate occasion that there are currently no plans for the delivery of ATACMS missiles.
Saboteurs Breakthrough into the Belgorod Region
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation Igor Konashenkov mentioned the raid conducted by the Russian Volunteer Corps during the official briefing and showed footage of strikes on the column of saboteurs captured by drones, as well as their destroyed vehicles near the Grayvoron checkpoint on the border between Russia and Ukraine.
The photographs show two M1224 MaxxPro MRAP vehicles, three HMMWVs (two armored vehicles and a pickup), a KrAZ Cobra armored vehicle and a Dzik-2 infantry mobility vehicle. One of the photos shows the body of a deceased person near a burnt-out vehicle. Some of the vehicles were destroyed, while others were captured by the Russian side. It is possible that the vehicles shown were abandoned by the saboteurs in different locations, and that Russian forces moved everything to the checkpoint to stage a dramatic picture and also rendered damage to the vehicles.
An important issue is that Western equipment was used during this raid, which the Ukrainian side had previously promised not to use on Russian territory. Pentagon representatives have stated that the United States is monitoring reports that the Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group that infiltrated the Belgorod region used US military vehicles. They also clarified that the United States did not approve the transfer of these vehicles to a "third party," and Ukraine did not request such permission. The term "third party" refers to certain Russian guerrillas who, according to some Ukrainian officials, carried out this raid.
This incident may weaken support for Ukraine in the West, particularly among officials who express doubts about the advisability of providing assistance to Ukraine on such a large scale.
A photo of General Aleksandr Lapin next to a captured International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP has been published, along with a video allegedly showing him overseeing (or rather simulating the overseeing of) a mopping-up operation. It is also reported that General Lapin has been appointed responsible for the operation to counter the saboteurs, and given the general's reputation, it will be quite easy to make him a scapegoat, blaming him for allowing enemy breakthroughs into Russian territory.
A video has emerged allegedly showing killed saboteurs. It depicts the bodies of six individuals in military uniforms, but without any military insignia. However, in the Russian Volunteer Corps video, all the participants in the raid have different chevrons and identifying patches made of yellow tape.
Novaya Gazeta Europe [independent Russian newspaper], citing sources in the Russian Armed Forces, reports that motorized rifle forces (about 3,200 fighters and 20 military vehicles), army special forces (about 1,000 personnel and 40 military vehicles), as well as Alpha and Vympel Federal Security Service (FSB) special forces, have been redeployed to the Belgorod region. This is not a very large number of troops in the scale of not only the whole front but also the forces operating in individual directions. Therefore, if the goal of the operation was to divert a significant number of Russian forces from the front and put the Armed Forces of Ukraine in a more advantageous position for the future counteroffensive, it has not been achieved. For this, the saboteurs would need to remain in the Belgorod region, consolidate their positions, and engage in prolonged and heavy fighting. However, since war correspondents are showing videos of destroyed vehicles at the Grayvoron checkpoint, we know that everything has been mopped-up in that area up to the border.
We still think that one should not expect a major mechanized offensive by Ukraine into the territory of Russia, therefore we suppose that the Russian Ministry of Defense would return most of the transferred additional forces to their original locations within a week or two. However, we expect to see additional border reinforcement with National Guard and FSB forces.
The Baza Telegram channel and the Kommersant newspaper claim that, on May 22, Ukrainian forces were hitting the Belgorod region with Uragan MLRS rockets, which Ukraine has almost run out of, according to our estimate. It is reported that three rockets hit a military unit at noon, resulting in three servicemen dead and four more injured with fragments. Later, another three munitions hit Grayvoron, having damaged the town administration building and injured two persons, including the deputy head of administration.
The counter-terrorism operation, declared by Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, lasted for about 24 hours and was terminated on the evening of May 23.
Gladkov told that saboteurs killed a resident of Kozinka village, with no details reported. That was the only civilian killed. Also, a woman died of heart failure during the evacuation. Gladkov also posted photographs of destroyed private houses in the Belgorod region and told that residents of the town of Grayvoron and the village of Golovchino had already returned to their homes and residents of Gora-Podol, Glotovo and Kozinka would be returned shortly in an organized manner.
The Zapiski Veterana [Veteran’s Notes] Telegram channel has raised numerous questions about the recent sabotage operation. One particular question caught our attention, "Why do civilians still reside in villages located within one kilometer from the border with Ukraine, effectively on the frontline, which was the reason why artillery and aircraft could not fire on the enemy?" We have already asked this question many times.
The Vyorstka media outlet journalists studied data from Google Trends and found out that since the start of the sabotage attack, queries about the Belgorod region have risen sharply and exceeded those about Bakhmut by two times. Thus, news about this raid really succeeded in overturning the news agenda and distracting the attention of most people from the capture of Bakhmut (contrary to the popular notion that this was inexpedient due to the small strategic importance of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian leadership received a large number of "inconvenient" questions).
In Novosibirsk, a suspect in a rape of two schoolgirls was detained. It is stated that the suspect Sergey was a mercenary of the Wagner Group; after the end of the contract he returned home to Novosibirsk and committed these crimes. He has already confessed to what he did.
Photos of the wreckage of a drone shot down by Russian soldiers in the Zaporizhzhia region have surfaced. All researchers identify it as a Russian Orlan-10 UAV, so it was shot down as a result of friendly fire. Telegram channels that boasted about the destruction of that UAV, including the one of Dmitry Rogozin [Russian nationalist politician and former Director General of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos], soon deleted their posts.
Photos of Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine were published.