November 17, 2023

Sitrep for Nov. 15-17, 2023 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

More and more videos depicting the onset of the muddy season, and muddy trenches, are starting to emerge.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Drone Maker has described a new tactic employed in an ambush with the help of FPV drones: a Ukrainian drone hid atop an abandoned or disabled vehicle, waiting for the return of Russian soldiers, and detonated once they approached the vehicle. Circumventing these drone attacks is exceedingly challenging, with the only parry likely being the widespread use of “drone detectors.”

Fighting continues on the Kherson axis. A video has surfaced showing Ukrainian drones destroying a Russian T-62M 2022 model tank, equipped with a thermal camera and additional reactive armor. This type of tank was previously only scarcely seen on the frontline, except for one video from last August; however, they have lately been appearing in increasing numbers in the rear of the front, suggesting they are being sent as reinforcements on the Kherson axis.

Pro-Russian military blogger Andrey "Murz" Morozov, commenting on the opinion that the entire Russian Group of Troops "Dnepr" cannot dislodge two enemy companies from the bridgehead, reminds that the Ukrainian grouping operates on the left bank of the Dnipro with active fire support from the right bank. This support makes it challenging for Russian troops to resist. The recent appointment of General Mikhail Teplinsky in place of General Oleg Makarevich, as expected, has not resulted in any significant changes.

In the Avdiivka direction, fighting has commenced on the outskirts of the Avdiivka Coke Plant. A video depicting a Ukrainian drone attack on a Russian fortification near the plant and the spoil tip has been geolocated. Given that the Avdiivka Coke Plant is well-fortified, no significant change in the situation is anticipated in the near future. There is a possibility that Russian forces might attempt to raze the plant to the ground, though there is currently no evidence of such airstrikes.

In the interview referenced in the previous sitrep, Mykola Melnyk reported that Russian forces used remote mining directly during combat on the Zaporizhzhia axis—a tactic not previously documented.

Renowned Western military analysts Rob Lee, Michael Kofman, Konrad Muzyka and Franz-Stefan Gady, have visited Ukraine once again. Gady, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, published a thread with preliminary findings from the trip. Here are some key points:

  • While the morale among the Armed Forces of Ukraine remains high, exhaustion among troops and the impact of attrition on materiel are visible.
  • FPV drones play a crucial and irreplaceable role in combat.
  • The war is still artillery-centric, and both sides currently face the challenge of ammunition shortages.
  • Tanks and other heavy equipment are essential for Ukraine to sustain its offensive.
  • Armor and protected mobility, such as armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, remain crucial for any sort of ground operation. No ground assault can happen without mechanized support.
  • The importance of Starlink for the shortening of kill-chains and pervasive ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) remains very high. (It is worth noting that the Russian Armed Forces face significant challenges in this regard, often hindering strikes against mobile targets — CIT).
  • Along with the growing deployment of FPV drones, the importance of electronic warfare is also increasing (for instance, evacuating immobilized equipment becomes nearly impossible without EW — CIT).

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Abrams tanks have not been able to have a significant impact on the situation on the frontline because there simply are not enough of them. Just like some pro-Russian bloggers, we are surprised by this statement, since so far, we have not seen these tanks on the battlefield. Additionally, Abrams tanks can hardly be expected to become a game changer, since they are just tanks similar to Leopard, T-72, T-80 or other tanks.

According to Samuel Bendett, an advisor to the Center for Naval Analyses, Russian officer-cadet training academies are emphasizing programs for FPV drone instructors. This field became a priority as early as September 2022, after the Dronnitsa-2022 All-Russian Combat Drone Operators’ Convention. As an example, he cites a Russian TASS news agency article about the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School organizing courses for military school instructors who wish to become FPV-drone trainers.

Another video of a Lancet loitering munition with an explosively formed penetrator warhead has emerged. This time, it targeted an M777 howitzer. One can see a blast accompanied by two fireballs. The video was recorded by the Russian Black Hussars unit which published the previous video featuring a Lancet drone.

In October, in an interview with the Ukrainska Pravda online media outlet, Andriy Biletsky, commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade of the AFU, described Lancet drones as a major problem for the Ukrainian forces, as no efficient means to counteract them have yet been developed. The key advantage of these drones is their low cost, sufficiently high accuracy and their ability to target most artillery systems. According to Biletsky, the Russian side estimates that up to one third of all sorties are successful.

It is worth noting that the Lancet drone creator Alexander Zakharov is still not under British sanctions and owns property in London. The US imposed sanctions on the Zakharov family on Nov. 2.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of Nov. 16, a fire broke out on the premises of a military unit near the village of Kotluban in the Volgograd region. According to reports, a small arms ammunition storage facility was hit by a drone, resulting in secondary detonations, forcing the evacuation of 630 people. Satellite images from NASA's FIRMS do not show traces of a large-scale fire. However, this may be attributed to the fact that in colder temperatures, such images are less accurate. While in the summer, combat activities and strikes on ammunition depots often lead to more extensive fires that spread to surrounding vegetation, in cloudy, rainy fall weather, fires do not spread as much, making it more challenging for satellites to detect them.

On the night of Nov. 15, the town of Selydove in the Donetsk region (west of Donetsk and south of the city of Kramatorsk) was reportedly struck by four S-300 surface-to air missiles. Consequently, eight apartment buildings suffered damage, with the riser blocks of flats in one of them collapsing. Additionally, 17 residential houses were affected, resulting in four fatalities and three injuries.

On Nov. 15, Russian forces struck the Komyshuvakha district of the Zaporizhzhia region. According to Ukrainian authorities, when rescuers arrived at the scene to clear the rubble, a second strike occurred. As a result, two employees of the State Emergency Service were killed, and three more rescuers, along with four civilians, sustained injuries.

In addition, on Nov. 15, former People's Deputy of Ukraine Ihor Mosiychuk reported on a new strike on the village of Zarichne (formerly Dymytrove), Zaporizhzhia region (the previous strike hit a lineup of the AFU 128th Mountain Assault Brigade on the Day of Ukrainian Missile Forces and Artillery). The pro-Russian Telegram channel Wrong Side published a video of the strike claiming the headquarters of the 115th Mechanized Brigade of the AFU were hit. Additionally, the pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] noted that a second strike was conducted while the rubble was being cleared.

A joint investigation by the Swiss publication SWI swissinfo.ch and Dossier Center [independent Russian investigative media outlet] delved into the ways through which Western computer chips find their way into Russia, ultimately being used in the production of military equipment. The investigation focuses on components discovered by Ukrainian military personnel in various Russian drones, including Lancets. Notably, these components encompassed Swiss computer chips manufactured in 2023, despite the long-standing prohibition on the export of dual-use goods. The investigation revealed that such computer chips could have been extracted from electric scooters, robot vacuums, or construction equipment. Remarkably, these chips did not directly reach Russia but traversed a complex route through four intermediary companies. A Turkish firm acquired them in Norway (originating from the German manufacturer), forwarding them through China to Kazakhstan, and finally reaching Russia.

To counter such schemes, some companies are refusing to supply their products to Eurasian Economic Union countries. However, it is becoming evident that this measure did not prove effective, resulting in Russia acquiring computer chips at a significantly higher cost.

The article further explores how Russia uses corruption schemes to avoid restrictions on supplying trucks to the Ministry of Defense.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin announced that the city has fulfilled its 2023 contract soldier recruitment plan ahead of schedule. If he is to be believed, more than 22,000 individuals have enlisted since the beginning of the year.

Our team has published a note showing that the pace of contract soldier recruitment is falling behind the data regularly announced by Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council, and the recruitment plan is far from being fulfilled. For instance, during a closed-door meeting of officials held in September, a military commissar reported that Yakutia had recruited about 30% of the plan. Similarly, in Tolyatti, during a meeting with employees of a company, an official stated that of a target of 2,000 recruits, just over 250 (12.5%) had been recruited.

In the past two weeks alone, at least five regions have dramatically increased existing sign-on bonuses for individuals who opt for signing a contract with the MoD. We believe that officials implement such measures with the aim of surpassing their counterparts in other regions and to avoid ending up at the bottom of the KPI list.

In previous sitreps, we have already covered the picket organized by mobilized soldiers’ family members in Moscow and authorities rejecting their requests to hold rallies in various regions. In at least two regions—the Kemerovo region and the Krasnoyarsk region—police visited the homes of women participating in chat groups discussing such actions. They warned the women about the consequences of participating in unauthorized rallies, forcing them to unlock their phones and reveal what Telegram channels they followed.

Furthermore, Olga Katz, who authored an appeal demanding the demobilization of soldiers currently in Ukraine, received a response from the Presidential Administration and decided to refrain from sending the same appeal to the State Duma [lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia], as she no longer sees any point in it. In its response, the Presidential Administration stated that a dismissal from military service is only possible after the completion of the war.

The administration of City Hospital No. 4 in Ulan-Ude [capital of Buryatia Constituent Republic of Russia], issued a press release stating that starting from 2024, the equipment and personnel of medical evacuation services in the Far Eastern Federal District will be reassigned to assist the military in the combat zone. The replacement of medevacs is planned through the "optimization of logistics." While we are not experts in this field, it remains unclear to us how such a reassignment is feasible, considering that many remote populated areas are not accessible by road year-round.

The Economist has published a new study of the Ukrainian counteroffensive using satellite images. By comparing satellite images from FIRMS and Sentinel 1 with the map of the combat zone, journalists have confirmed that fires generally coincide with the frontline. Furthermore, based on data from the Institute for the Study of War, The Economist has generated a chart showing the shift in control over contested territory between opposing forces. This chart affirms that currently, neither side holds a distinct advantage, and that the situation has reached a stalemate.