November 3, 2023

Sitrep for Nov. 1–3, 2023 (as of 7:30 a.m.)

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed in its Oct. 31 daily briefing that an M198 howitzer had been destroyed somewhere on the Donetsk axis. However, this particular howitzer is not part of the arsenal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We have previously emphasized that Ukraine’s Western allies should have supplied not only titanium-bodied M777 howitzers, but also the older and heavier steel M198s. Regrettably, these howitzers were never delivered. While confusing an M777 with an M198 is quite challenging due to their distinct carriage designs, it is not the first instance of the Russian MoD claiming to have destroyed an M198 howitzer, the previous occurrence being on Sept. 10 on the Zaporizhzhia axis.

The Russian Armed Forces have continued shelling frontline settlements in the Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions throughout the week. The Kherson region bore the brunt of the attacks. Moreover, there has been a rise in reports of people encountering PFM-1 “Butterfly” mines.

On Oct. 31, Ukrainian forces reportedly struck the Donetsk Budyonnivskyi district railway station using BM-27 Uragan missiles equipped with cluster munition warheads. The strike resulted in several fuel tank cars catching fire. Video of the aftermath of the strike shows damage consistent with cluster munition on the train cars and railway tracks. Likewise, extensive fire damage is clearly visible on satellite images of the station. Pro-Russian sources claim that a second strike was carried out an hour after the initial one, followed by a third a few minutes later. By that time, first responders and journalists had arrived on the scene. As a result, one emergency service worker and one civilian were killed, and 15 people were injured.

Such an indiscriminate use of weapons could be considered a war crime. Additionally, the other explosions are unlikely to have been due to the explosion of ammunition on the ground. In such a scenario, secondary detonations would have rippled throughout all of the ammunition transported on the train.

On Oct. 29, videos featuring burnt Russian military vehicles were published. The footage shows, among other vehicles, UAZ Bukhanka off-road minivans and a KAMAZ or Ural truck. According to the Serditaya Chuvashia [Angry Chuvashia] Telegram channel, on Oct. 29, a column of the 1st Battalion of the 1251st Motorized Rifle Regiment, consisting of Chuvash mobilized soldiers, came under attack, resulting in casualties that ranged from 60 to 120 military personnel killed and wounded. The Idel.Realii online media outlet [part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] confirmed the information about the attack on the unit's column and also reported the death of commander Vladislav Matuzas, referring to him as the Atal volunteer battalion commander. In response, Matuzas published a video refuting his death and dismissing claims of significant casualties in the attack as fake but without specifying the actual number of losses.

While examining reports of this attack, we did not find any confirmation of a large number of casualties (only the cameraman's words), and there were no bodies visible in the videos published online. This could mean either that the bodies had been removed or that most of the soldiers had left their vehicles before the fire fully erupted. (Idel.Realii claims that they have a video with dead bodies at their disposal, but the soldiers who sent it have requested that this graphic content not be published.)

The Economist has published an interview with General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, as well as his essay and an article summarizing its key points. The essay provides a fairly detailed analysis of the current stage of the war, addressing topics such as Russian air superiority, the challenges posed by minefields and the effectiveness of Russian electronic warfare along the frontline. General Zaluzhnyi notes that the conflict is evolving into a more protracted, positional phase due to the abundance of modern weaponry available to both sides. This extended duration of the war is particularly advantageous for Russia, as it provides time to replenish both equipment and personnel.

Zaluzhnyi also asserted that the Russian military aircraft fleet, including helicopters, had incurred losses roughly equivalent to the number of aircraft in 13 air regiments or brigades, citing the supply of various air defense systems to Ukraine as a contributing factor for these high figures.

However, we find this estimate to be excessive. Even taking into account the fact that air regiments come in different sizes, they generally include several dozen aircraft. According to the Oryx project, there are 224 visually confirmed destroyed and damaged Russian jets and helicopters, which corresponds to approximately 6-7 air regiments.

Regarding Russian minefields, Zaluzhnyi emphasized their extensive scale, highlighting that even Western mine-clearing equipment provided to Ukraine has proven inadequate for addressing this issue. He pointed out two primary challenges. First, when AFU engineering units begin mine-clearing operations, Russian artillery and aircraft, including drones, immediately launch attacks. Second, when a minefield is breached, Russians are able to quickly restore it, using engineering systems of remote mine-laying such as Zemledeliye, which has an effective range of 15 km.

General Zaluzhnyi also addressed the increasing effectiveness of Russian EW systems along the frontline. For example, previously, the Ukrainian side actively used high-precision Excalibur artillery shells to target Russian artillery. However, their efficacy has notably waned over time due to the sensitivity of their GPS-based targeting system to electronic warfare interference, resulting in a loss of precision.

This was corroborated by a video from Nov. 1, showing a GMLRS missile striking a couple dozen meters away from the position of Russian soldiers preparing to launch a drone. Such an inaccuracy can most likely be attributed to the impact of EW equipment.

Zaluzhnyi also highlighted Russia's active use of new electronic warfare assets, including systems like the Pole-21. In one of our recent sitreps, we discussed the reported near-miss of a JDAM air-dropped bomb strike that nearly hit the antennas of a Pole-21 EW system. This near-miss may also result from the operation of EW equipment.

General Zaluzhnyi emphasized that Russian EW poses a great challenge to the AFU. Since the first invasion in 2014, Russian leadership has paid great attention to its development, establishing a separate branch of the armed forces, developing and implementing a range of new systems. As a result, the RuAF is now better equipped to counter precision weapon strikes compared to the Ukrainian forces. Despite the relative weakness of Russia's air defense systems and the Ukrainian drones' ability to launch successful attacks, Russia has established a multi-layered defense on the frontline, particularly in the Kupiansk and Bakhmut directions, using systems that constantly change their positions. This is corroborated by a documentary about the Azov Brigade, which we have previously covered.

In this essay, Chief Commander Zaluzhnyi appears to be addressing the Western audience and explaining the reasons behind the limited success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, despite the considerable quantity of ammunition and weaponry provided. He also demonstrates that, despite all the challenges, the Ukrainian command has a strategic plan for transitioning from a protracted positional war to a more maneuver-based phase, similar to the events during the Kharkiv offensive operation in the fall of 2022. However, achieving this transition requires the adoption of new technologies and weaponry, the supply of which may take a considerable amount of time.

The article mentions that Ukraine has limited capabilities to train reserves on their own territory, since the RuAF have the ability to launch missile and air strikes on training centers and training grounds. Therefore, it is necessary to expand partnerships with European countries and employ new methods for training soldiers.

The article also corroborates the observations made by many analysts regarding Russia's use of Lancet loitering munitions for counter-battery fire, often in conjunction with reconnaissance UAVs.

Furthermore, the article outlines several of Zaluzhnyi’s prospective ideas related to the use of interceptor drones and addressing minefields. However, specific actions and most concrete plans are not disclosed, primarily due to security considerations.

In previous sitreps, we have already covered the supply of North Korean munitions to Russia. On Nov. 1, a South Korean lawmaker, citing intelligence he received, stated to Bloomberg that over 1 million artillery munitions had been supplied from North Korea to Russia.

According to South Korean intelligence, North Korea supplied Russia with short-range ballistic missiles, anti-tank missiles, MANPADS, small arms, handheld grenade launchers and mortars. These claims appear dubious to us. North Korean ballistic missiles are not compatible with Russian launch systems, and using them would require soldiers to be trained from scratch. Moreover, the delivery of such systems cannot go unnoticed since they cannot be hidden in containers. In addition, the benefits of such supplies are limited because North Korea has only slightly more of these missiles than Russia, and the political risks are much higher compared to supplying artillery ammunition. The statements regarding the supply of MANPADS, small arms and handheld grenade launchers also raise questions, as the Russian military already possesses an ample quantity of such weapons.

In recent days, there have been numerous news stories concerning the fate of the Wagner Group, which, in our opinion, has ceased to exist as a single separate entity (mercenaries who ever fought as part of the Group are joining various military and paramilitary forces). As a result, its different parts (each of which calls itself the Wagner Group) issue contradictory statements: some report that the Wagner Group joined the Akhmat unit, others claim that it joined Rosgvardia [the Russian National Guard] as a separate unit, and recruitment centers have already begun their work. At the same time, State Duma member [lower house of Russia's Federal Assembly] Alexander Khinshtein, associated with General Viktor Zolotov [the Director of Rosgvardia], states that the Wagner Group joining Rosgvardia is out of the question.

The Wall Street Journal has looked into the management of Russian paramilitary forces that will replace the Wagner Group in Africa. This “direction” will be headed by Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and Andrey Averyanov, the former commander of military unit No. 29155 of the General Directorate General Staff, which engages in sabotage around the world, will be his subordinate. Averyanov will have two “PMCs” under his command: the Redut PMC, headed by Konstantin Mirzayants, and the Convoy PMC, led by Konstantin Pikalov who previously commanded Wagner Group operations in the Central African Republic, and is assumed to have stayed there. At the end of August and in September, Yevkurov visited Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali and the Central African Republic, with Averyanov and Mirzayants seen traveling with him. Reportedly, the new PMCs will be financed by Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg [Russian oligarchs and billionaire businessmen]. We do not know on what basis this assumption was made. In our opinion, these structures are very different from the Wagner Group, since they are not independent entities, but rather “brands” within the GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation].

Furthermore, the same newspaper, citing American officials with access to intelligence data, claims that the Wagner Group intends to transfer a Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system to Hezbollah. Russia has been actively collaborating with this Shiite group since the operation in Syria in 2015. While fighting in Syria and Libya, the Wagner Group did indeed possess Pantsir-S1 systems. However, after Prigozhin's rebellion, all the Pantsirs were supposed to be transferred to the Ministry of Defense. It is likely that Major General Andrey Averyanov is genuinely planning to supply air defense systems to Hezbollah, using the no-longer-existing Wagner Group as a cover, or this could be disinformation aimed at escalating tensions with the U.S. in the Middle East.

It was expected that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah would make a speech on Nov. 3 in which he was to announce that the group would join the war with Israel. However, in his address, Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah supported Hamas and helped it by building up tension in the north, though at this stage it did not intend to actively engage in hostilities.

Western Assistance

According to BulgarianMilitary.com, Ukrainian marines have received the last of the 40 AMX-10RC armored vehicles earlier promised by France. These vehicles were notices at the first stage of the Ukrainian offensive but then disappeared from the news.

The Financial Times published an article describing Ukraine's preparations for the upcoming winter season with respect to its energy infrastructure. At a critical electricity grid substation in northern Ukraine, a wall of concrete blocks has been erected to protect transformers. Nearby, another substation is encircled by gabions, which are cylinder cages filled with rocks or sand to provide protection against bullets and projectile fragments. Across the country, sandbags and cage roofs are being installed to protect hundreds of small targets that could be taken out in a single strike and trigger a massive blackout. Infrastructure elements that do not need ventilation have been relocated underground. Nevertheless, Ukrainian officials are cautioning that in the event of large-scale attacks, power outages could once again become a possibility.

Germany has announced a new military aid package for Ukraine, which includes:

  • 16 armored personnel carriers;
  • 2 TRML-4D air surveillance radar systems;
  • 7 Primoco ONE reconnaissance drones;
  • 2 AMPS self-protection systems for helicopters;
  • 5 unmanned surface vessels;
  • 10,000 safety glasses;
  • 32 SatCom terminals;
  • 5 8x8 HX81 truck tractor trains and 4 semi-trailers;
  • 12 MAN TGS trucks;
  • 30 000 winter clothing sets;
  • 1 PCB printer (a printer designed for printing circuit boards, and it is likely used in the production of loitering munitions).

A photograph has emerged, revealing the charred remains of a Ukrainian Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jet at the Kulbakino airfield near Mykolaiv, which came under attack at the end of September. This photo unequivocally confirms that it was a genuine aircraft that sustained damage, not a mock-up.

Satellite images of Sevastopol have been published, revealing that all equipment and structures on the deck of the Minsk landing ship have been removed before it was taken out of the dry dock. The current repairs appear to have only aimed at fixing the holes in the hull to put the ship back in the water and make the dock available for other vessels, as it is unlikely that Minsk can be salvaged. Meanwhile, the Rostov-on-Don submarine remains concealed under camouflage netting, and there are no apparent changes visible in the satellite images.

The Biden administration is about to announce a military aid package valued at $425 million as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which involves production orders, rather than deliveries from US Army reserve stockpiles. It will include missiles for NASAMS air defense systems, various types of ammunition and laser-guided anti-drone weapons, likely Vampire systems. Notably, the package will not include ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles. Currently, the Biden administration has slightly over $5 billion available for military aid, a figure that emerged from the recalculation of equipment costs, including amortization.

The US House of Representatives, where the Republican Party holds the majority, approved an aid package to Israel without provisions for Ukraine. However, in the Senate, where the Democrats have a majority, the proposal was declined, and they are in the process of preparing their own aid package. This forthcoming package is set to encompass military assistance for both Israel and Ukraine, in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.