November 15, 2023

Sitrep for Nov. 13-15, 2023 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

As we highlighted in our Monday sitrep, the onset of the muddy season is now evident on the frontline, as illustrated by a recent video from the Zaporizhzhia axis showing a Ukrainian pickup truck struggling to navigate through deep mud. The muddy season poses a significant threat to vehicles near the frontline, as getting stuck in the mud can quickly draw the attention of enemy reconnaissance UAVs, leading to FPV drone or artillery strikes. Consequently, it is now increasingly imperative to quickly abandon vehicles mired in sludge, while recovering immobilized equipment using armored recovery vehicles is likely to prove unfeasible.

On the Kherson axis, low-intensity combat persists, with both sides intermittently claiming successes—either repelling the other from positions around the village of Krynky or securing new ground.

Some sources suggest that the transfer of armored vehicles across the Dnipro indicates that Ukraine has been successful in establishing a logistical throughway across the river. However, we find these statements to be unsubstantiated. So far, there has only been confirmation of two armored vehicles crossing the river, one of which has already been destroyed, and the critical challenge of reliably supplying a large forward group on the left bank of the river remains unresolved.

In the Avdiivka direction, fighting is also continuing with varying degrees of success: on one day, the Russian Armed Forces enter Stepove to the west of Avdiivka, on another day, the Armed Forces of Ukraine drive them out. It is worth noting that about three weeks ago, we already wrote that the narrowing of the supply route to Avdiivka from 9 to 7 km should not be a cause for concern.

RuAF attempts to capture Avdiivka and drive Ukrainian forces out of the left bank of the Dnipro resulted in massive artillery shelling and strikes with Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK) glide bombs on these areas. There are most likely no undamaged residential buildings left in Krynky, and Rybar, a prominent pro-Russian Telegram channel, claims that a decision has been made to raze AFU fortifications in the Khimik neighborhood of Avdiivka to the ground.

The RuAF are reported to be using chemical weapons in the Bakhmut direction again. We are not talking here of lethal toxic substances such as sarin—a video posted by the Russian side shows a UAV dropping K-51 grenades with tear gas on Ukrainian positions. After the gas has dispersed in the trench, fragmentation grenades are dropped on fleeing AFU soldiers. It is worth noting that such ammunition is prohibited from being used in combat.

Sabotage Acts

Recent successful operations conducted by the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense against the Russian Black Sea Fleet have, as stated by Dmytro Pletenchuk, the Spokesman for the Ukrainian Navy, resulted in a noticeable reduction in the use of 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles. The vessels carrying these missiles had to be relocated to Novorossiysk, while all the logistical support for the fleet's operations remained in Crimea.

Consequently, the flight time of such missiles to targets in Ukraine will be longer, thereby increasing the likelihood of interception by the AFU. However, it is worth noting that Russia employs not only Kalibr cruise missiles but also Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munitions and air-to-ground rockets for attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Furthermore, Ukrainian forces are limited to deploying their own unmanned surface vessels to strike targets in the port of Novorossiysk, as there is still a ban on using Western weapons to strike Russian territory.

The Investigative Committee of Russia initiated a criminal case under the charge of "act of terror" due to the fire at the gunpowder factory in Kotovsk, Tambov region, on the night of Nov. 11. This suggests that the ignition was not caused by technical reasons. We believe the fire might have started after a strike by a Ukrainian drone. On the morning of Nov. 14, as reported by the Baza Telegram channel, there was a new attack on the same plant: a drone fell on its territory, causing a small fire that was quickly extinguished.

On the night of Nov. 14, the Bryansk chemical plant manufacturing explosives sustained a drone attack. No casualties or major damage have been reported so far. A previous attack on the same plant occurred on the night of Oct. 13 and was also unsuccessful. Drones carrying small payloads are incapable of inflicting significant damage, however, there is a chance they could hit storage areas containing flammable or explosive substances, leading to their ignition or detonation.

Western Assistance

In late May, the Pentagon announced a $118 million contract with an American company to supply Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns by the end of May 2024.

On Nov.13, the Dutch De Telegraaf, citing its sources, reported that under this contract, 60 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns which the Netherlands had sold to Jordan between 2014 and 2016 for $28 million will be bought back and supplied to Ukraine. It is not quite clear what has caused such a significant difference in cost. Hopefully, it is not merely an overvaluation due to an increased demand for weapons around the world, and part of this difference will be allocated for the purchase of ammunition for these SPAAGs.

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

  • 10 Leopard 1A5 tanks;
  • 14 Bandvagn 206 (BV206) tracked all-terrain vehicles;
  • 5 Warthog all terrain tracked ambulances;
  • 1,020 155mm artillery rounds;
  • 1 WISENT 1 mine-clearing tank;
  • 10 VECTOR reconnaissance drones;
  • 14 GO12 ground surveillance radars;
  • 3 border protection vehicles;
  • 4 8x8 HX81 truck tractor trains and 4 semi-trailers;
  • 16 Zetros trucks;
  • 13 MAN TGS trucks;
  • 3 other vehicles;
  • 1.4 million rounds of ammunition for firearms;
  • 10,000 safety glasses.

Le Figaro newspaper reported that French authorities have decided to reassess the value of aid supplied to Ukraine. Previously, the assessment of used equipment took into account their book value, including depreciation. However, the new calculation method is based on the cost of modern equivalents that will replace the transferred equipment. As a result, the aid package, initially valued at 1.7 billion euros, has now been revised to a total of 3.6 billion euros.

During a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius officially acknowledged that the objective of supplying one million shells to Ukraine by March 2024 will not be achieved. As we previously reported, only a third of the planned deliveries have been fulfilled, posing a risk of missing the deadline.

We still consider it a problem that various media outlets generate inflated expectations among a significant part of societies supporting Ukraine around the world. For example, the UNIAN Ukrainian news portal baselessly reported Ukrainian pilots had started flying F-16 fighter aircraft, while, in reality, a NATO training center has just now opened in Romania, and the training of Ukrainian pilots is scheduled to begin in December. These overly optimistic expectations lead to disappointment when processes are prolonged, or counteroffensive goals are not achieved.

The Economist, citing US officials, claims that at least 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in this war, and up to 120,000 have been wounded. In early August, our rough estimate based on indirect data ranged from 40,000 to 50,000 KIAs and 170,000 to 180,000 WIAs. While the suggested number of 70,000 KIAs seems inflated to us, but still within the realm of possibility, the ratio of killed to wounded (1 to 1.7) presented by The Economist is entirely implausible (this ratio, if true, would be worse than during the First and Second World Wars). With the modern level of medical development, the ratio should be at least 3-4 or more wounded for every soldier killed.

In August, the New York Times, also citing unnamed US officials, released even more improbable data on Russian losses: 120,000 killed and 170,000-180,000 wounded.

The Ukrainian online media outlet Censor.NET released an interview with Mykola Melnyk, who is the commander of one of the companies of the AFU 47th Brigade. This brigade, trained in the West, has been fighting on the Zaporizhzhia axis since the beginning of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. In the interview, Melnyk praises the training process and emphasizes that no effort or resources were spared in training, including time, ammunition or equipment. However, he also discusses some challenges, such as being initially trained as a reconnaissance unit and later as a mechanized unit. Additionally, during training, the type of equipment they were being trained on changed several times. Many Ukrainians also had overinflated expectations regarding Western armored vehicles. Moreover, the plan for the offensive was largely based on the assumption that Russian soldiers would start fleeing as soon as they encountered superior Western military equipment. According to Melnyk, to gain advantage, the Ukrainian side needs to improve cooperation between military branches, acquire more aircraft and anti-aircraft defense systems to counter Russian helicopters, in addition to making some "personnel changes." He mentions that the AFU is already preparing for another offensive next year.

The Federation Council [upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia] is preparing to toughen penalties for evading mobilization and will provide legal grounds for the prosecution of anyone involved in "inciting others to evade mobilization." This move may be linked to the recent protests organized by mobilized soldiers’ family members.

Sergey Hadzhikurbanov, one of the organizers of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya [a Russian journalist and human rights activist, who reported on political and social events in Russia, in particular, the Second Chechen War], has reportedly been released prematurely from prison and has joined the war. His original sentence, however, was supposed to end in 2034. In 2022, he signed a contract with, allegedly, the Wagner Group, and after six months of service, was granted a pardon. Subsequently, he extended his contract with the Ministry of Defense.

Putin has exempted Vladislav Kanyus, the murderer of 23-year-old student Vera Pekhteleva, from paying compensation for moral damage to the victim's family. Kanyus was sentenced to 17 years, but spent less than six months in a maximum security penal colony.

While investigating the recruitment of new contract soldiers, we have received information that some soldiers undergoing statutory military service, and who sign contracts, receive regional payments. We assume they are subsequently included in that region's contract recruitment report. Please feel free to email us if you have any information on this topic.

On Nov. 14, a video depicting the corporal punishment of Russian soldiers, whom we believe are from the Storm-Z unit, surfaced online. This punishment appears to be related to the soldiers being under the influence of drugs during an attack, which resulted in the deaths of their fellow servicemen. We find this information credible, and it is not an isolated incident. Since the Ministry of Defense began recruiting convicts in January 2023, we have observed complaints about the undisciplined and challenging-to-control behavior of ex-convicts, along with other evidence of such incidents (see our joint October article with Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories, independent Russian investigative media outlet] about torture "pits" for violators on the territory of Russian military training grounds).