May 26, 2023

Sitrep for May 25–26 (as of 8:30 a.m.)

Strikes on the Territories of Ukraine and Russia

On the night of May 26, the occupied city of Berdiansk was hit. Multiple explosions can be heard in the video footage. The Ukrainian Berdiansk City Military Administration reports hitting a Russian S-300 SAM system, but there is currently no confirmation of this.

Also, Kyiv was attacked with cruise missiles. According to the Kyiv City Military Administration, all the missiles were intercepted. Debris from a cruise missile or a drone fell on a shopping center and civilian vehicles; there are no casualties or significant damage.

On the same night, residents of Dnipro recorded sounds resembling those of cruise missiles as well as the sounds of powerful explosions. It is not reported whether the missiles were intercepted by air defense or if any damage was caused.

On the morning of May 26, Krasnodar was attacked by drones. Photographs show smoke rising from the city center. In a video recorded by a local resident, a drone of unusual design (with a canard wing configuration) that we failed to identify can be seen flying. The technical building of the MTS mobile operator was damaged as the drone debris fell on it, exploding after impact. The initial target of this attack is unknown. Photographs of shattered windows in a residential building and a video capturing the moment of a second explosion were also published.

Governor of the Rostov region Vasily Golubev reports that a Russian air defense system shot down a Ukrainian missile in the vicinity of the town of Morozovsk, Rostov region (approximately 150 km from the border with the Luhansk region). A video shows a flying object with a trailing fiery trail, more characteristic of a meteor than that of a combat missile.

According to the Governor of the Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov, a drone dropped explosives in the village of Oktyabrsky, Belgorodsky district. There were no casualties, however, windows of the rural administration building were shattered, and the facade and roof were damaged.

A new prisoner exchange has taken place: 106 servicemen were returned to the Ukrainian side, including 8 officers and 98 soldiers and sergeants, as well as the bodies of 3 killed individuals: an American citizen, a Turkish citizen and a Ukrainian citizen. The deceased American, Nicholas Maimer, was a former US soldier who had come to Ukraine after the start of the full-scale invasion and joined the 125th Separate Battalion of the 114th Territorial Defense Brigade.

Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] published a video of the exchange in which he addresses the Ukrainian prisoners of war, urging them not to participate in further combat operations and threatening to kill them should they be captured again. He also mentioned that Maimer was killed in combat, and added that the body of the Turkish citizen was found under the rubble of a house, allegedly, alongside documents belonging to another Turkish citizen whose body has not been found. Additionally, Prigozhin shot a video showing the return of servicemen captured by Ukraine: most of them were “militiamen” from the “Luhansk People’s Republic”, others were fighters from the Russian National Guard from Russia’s constituent Republic of Ingushetia, the Akhmat battalion [loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov], the Naval Infantry, a military unit from Kaliningrad, as well as the Wagner Group. It has been reported that the freshly liberated soldiers can now look forward to a chat with military counterintelligence representatives in the near future.

The exchange may indirectly confirm the partial withdrawal of the Wagner Group from Bakhmut, since the issue of moving POWs has to be resolved when withdrawing from positions: they are either to be taken deep into Russian-controlled territories or to be exchanged.

The place of exchange was geolocated on the road between Bakhmut and Ivanivske.

The DeepState Ukrainian project marks Bakhmut as completely captured on its map including those areas that representatives of the Ukrainian side claim to be still held by the AFU. RIA Novosti [Russian state-owned news agency] published a video entitled "Liberated Artyomovsk" showing the almost completely destroyed town. There is still no confirmation of the complete capture of Bakhmut or evidence to the contrary.

Yesterday the AFU reportedly noted that the Russian Army had begun to withdraw their forces, at least from the flanks of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin stated that in accordance with the decree of the President of Russia, some fighters and commanders of the Wagner Group were awarded Hero of Russia medals (the names and number of those awarded remain secret), and added that new lists are now being formed to reward the personnel of the Wagner Group.

Ukrainian sources posted an illustrative photo of a Wagner Group mercenary with a corresponding patch and a star similar to the star of the Hero of Russia, but with a light-colored ribbon (not in the colors of the Russian flag). This is the highest award of the Wagner Group — "Platinum Star", which is awarded to ordinary fighters for special merits, and to commanders — only posthumously, if they were killed with a weapon in hand.

Ukrainian Telegram channels have published a video recorded from an unmanned surface vessel (USV) attacking the Yuriy Ivanov class (Project 18280) SIGINT intelligence vessel Ivan Khurs of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The video cuts off just a few meters before reaching the ship's hull, so the outcome of the attack remains unknown. Intercepting the USV safely at such close proximity to the ship seems unlikely. We will only learn the factual outcome when photos or videos of the damaged ship at sea or undergoing repairs are released, or if the ship appears intact and undamaged. As far as we know, these unmanned vessels often carry FAB-250 bombs capable of inflicting significant damage to a military vessel. According to Ukrainian sources, the attack was successful. Russian sources, on the other hand, report that a ship resembling the Ivan Khurs was spotted near Sevastopol, although it is possible that observers may have mistaken a minesweeper for it.

It has been revealed that the cause of the smoke at Melitopol Airport on May 25 was a Russian Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack aircraft which had been attacked by an anti-aircraft missile system. The aircraft managed to make an emergency crash landing (a photo showing serious damage to the tail section and engine area was published, but it turned out to be dated a year back).

UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace met with Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov in Kyiv. During the meeting, he signed a photograph featuring a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber with a suspended Storm Shadow missile, with the inscription: "To all the brave 'few' who risk all to the glory of Ukraine." This is likely a reference to Winston Churchill's famous phrase spoken on Aug. 20, 1940: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," regarding the Royal Air Force fighters that halted the bombings of Great Britain.

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has announced that the long-awaited Archer self-propelled gun systems will arrive in the country in summer. They are considered the most advanced and the most automated 155mm artillery systems.

A video of a Ukrainian military exercise has been published showing soldiers learning to breach concrete pyramids in Challenger tanks. A bulldozer blade is attached to the front of the tank pushing the pyramid to breach the obstacle. This way of dealing with such pyramids has two downsides: firstly, the blade reduces the speed of the tank, making it more vulnerable to ATGMs, and secondly, landmines will also be deployed in the area where the pyramids are placed.

Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to call such concrete pyramids pillars or dragon’s teeth, as the former must be embedded (hollowed) into the ground, and the latter must be attached to an underground concrete foundation that holds them in place. But in this case, the pyramids are just placed on the surface.

The first results of the Ramstein format meeting held on May 25 became public. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin thanked the Netherlands and Denmark for their decision to spearhead the program of training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighters. He also said that Norway, Belgium, Portugal, and Poland offered to participate in the program.

According to Minister of Defense of Spain Margarita Robles, Spain will send four more Leopard 2A4 tanks (in addition to the six delivered earlier), as well as a number of M113 armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.

Minister for National Defense of Lithuania Arvydas Anušauskas promised to supply Ukraine with anti-drone equipment, munitions, and food rations, and stressed the importance of training Ukrainian soldiers.

At the end of the meeting, Lloyd Austin stated that in total, the countries comprising the Ukraine Defense Contact Group had pledged to provide military aid of nearly $65 billion to Ukraine. As anticipated, no additional aid package from the US has been announced, apart from the one disclosed on May 21.

Sweden has granted permission for Ukrainian pilots to start training on Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft, although no scheduled deliveries have been announced yet. It is worth noting that while the Gripen fighter has lower maintenance costs compared to the General Dynamics F-16 fighting aircraft, the latter is more favorable in terms of the availability of spare parts.

Certain journalists and Telegram channels have misinterpreted the article by The Wall Street Journal regarding the supply of ammunition from South Korea to the United States. They have mistakenly reported that South Korea had allegedly entered into a secret agreement with the United States to directly supply artillery shells to Ukraine. However, as we previously stated in mid-April, South Korea is not ready to directly supply weapons to Ukraine. Instead, South Korea has reached an agreement with the United States, whereby the US would purchase artillery ammunition from South Korea and store it in mobilization reserve warehouses as compensation for the shells that the US Army would provide to Ukraine. In essence, it creates a kind of circular exchange scheme.

We are skeptical about the defense capabilities of the Russian forces on the frontline, even taking into account that over the past months they have built many strong fortifications in the south and east of Ukraine. Any fortifications are useless without trained soldiers. It is not impossible that we could witness repeating situations like the ones we currently observe in the areas of Klischiivka, Kurdiumivka, and Berhivka, where, according to Prigozhin, Russian soldiers flee from their positions upon arrival of Ukrainian forces.