December 1, 2023

Sitrep for Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 2023 (as of 8 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The Russian Armed Forces continue to attack Avdiivka with small assault groups. Videos captured in foggy conditions show Russian soldiers walking near the frontline, seemingly unfazed by the threat of drone strikes. One video shows that not a single tree has been left unscathed from the fighting in that sector of the front(previously identified as the Bakhmut direction in the initial post). Another video sheds light on the extent of losses on the Russian side: in the fog, soldiers searching for a wounded comrade unintentionally capture a significant number of bodies on the ground, indicating substantial casualties.

New video addresses are surfacing with complaints about challenges in obtaining medical care and documentation for injuries. This problem primarily affects ex-convicts recruited into Storm-Z units.

There have been no significant advances on either the Avdiivka direction or the Kherson axes, but the fighting persists.

Drone Manufacturing 

In two articles dedicated to the production of FPV drones in Ukraine, Forbes Ukraine delves into the challenges preventing the country from scaling up production.

According to Aleksandr Kvyatkovsky, a board member of the Aerorazvedka public organization, the AFU currently have only 10% to 20% of the drones that they need. He estimates that there are around a hundred small and medium-sized drone manufacturers in Ukraine, while major producers number no more than a dozen, with the majority being private companies that do not showcase their developments to the public.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that Ukraine has to compete with Russia on the global market for drone parts and components from China. Moreover, components purchased by Ukraine have to be transported through the European Union, further complicating logistics.

It is worth noting that organizations gathering donations for the AFU typically procure civilian drones, such as the DJI Mavic or Matrice, equipped with thermal imaging or night vision devices. These drones offer excellent optics and flight stability, making them valuable for aerial reconnaissance and artillery fire correction. However, they are more vulnerable to electronic warfare than FPV drones, and are too expensive to be converted into kamikaze drones.

In mid-February 2023, the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers exempted drone imports from duties and VAT. According to Georgiy Tskhakaya, an advisor to the Minister of Digital Transformation, it is now becoming necessary to also exempt parts and components from import duties to maintain the competitiveness of Ukrainian manufacturers. However, this remains to be implemented.

Another problem for Ukraine is the shortage of personnel working in drone assembly. It is estimated that an engineer assembles an average of 50 drones per month, while a company, depending on its size, produces from 200 to 1,000 drones monthly. In total, about 50,000 drones are manufactured each month. However, the AFU require 200,000 drones per month. Russia is reportedly well ahead of Ukraine in drone production.

We believe that this problem could be addressed by establishing a high-capacity assembly line, either in one of Ukraine's neighboring European countries or in Kyiv, which is better protected by air defense than other cities.

Western Assistance

It has come to light that the deliveries of Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bombs promised to Ukraine have been postponed until the first half of 2024. According to Reuters sources, Boeing will deliver the GLSDB to the US Government in late December, after which the military will test them on HIMARS MLRS for several months before they can be dispatched to Ukraine.

This confirms the key message expressed in a recent The Economist article, that Putin’s biggest asset is Europe’s lack of strategic vision, as well as their indecisiveness and high degree of bureaucratization.

The Greek Kathimerini newspaper reports that the United States is currently negotiating with Greece for the procurement of artillery shells for the Ukrainian Army. The proposed acquisition includes:

  • 50,000 105mm rounds;
  • 20,000 155mm rounds;
  • 5,000 203mm rounds.

While the quantities of the first two types of ammunition may not be significant in the broader context of the ongoing war, the delivery of 203mm rounds could play a crucial role in supporting the AFU. These projectiles are intended for US-made M110 self-propelled howitzers but are compatible with Soviet-era Ukrainian 2S7 Pion self-propelled cannons. This compatibility can be traced back to World War I when the United Kingdom supplied the BL 8-inch Mark VI howitzers and ammunition to its allies, including Russia and the United States. In the 1930s, both the USSR and the USA developed new guns and 203mm projectiles that remained compatible with existing weaponry. This collaborative approach persisted into the Cold War era with the continued development of new generations of weapons of this caliber.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

According to our rough estimate, between 120,000 and 150,000 new contract soldiers could be recruited into the RuAF in 2023, including those attracted by the MoD’s aggressive advertising campaign, as well as conscripts who were persuaded or forced into signing contracts. Our estimate, though approximate, is derived from an analysis of officials' plans and public statements regarding the successes of the contract military service recruitment campaigns. Reports indicate that only 25-30% of the targeted number of contract soldiers (400,000 soldiers by the end of 2023) have been recruited. Unfortunately, since only a few regions provided specific figures, the total number of contract soldiers had to be extrapolated.

According to human rights activists, between 10 and 20% of conscripts become contract soldiers. Considering the total number of conscripts, this percentage can be roughly translated to 20-50 thousand soldiers.

We consider our estimate to be quite plausible, drawing comparisons, among other factors, with past mobilization efforts where it was indeed possible to draft 300,000 men in a short period of time, as evidenced by activity in training grounds and centers. However, even mobilization did not lead to a breakthrough, and only stabilized the front. That is why we do not expect that sending an additional 100-150 thousand contract soldiers to the front will enable a large-scale offensive.

Following the vote conducted during the 28th Conference of the States Parties to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia received only 65 votes out of the required minimum of 66 and lost its seat on the OPCW Executive Council. The OPCW is responsible for facilitating the effective implementation of and compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, allowing it to determine the use of chemical weapons in specific instances. However, it lacks the authority to assign blame for any given chemical attack.

It is worth noting that in 2017, Russia blocked an extension of the Joint Investigative Mechanism between the UN and the OPCW in the UN Security Council. This mechanism had previously determined that the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad was responsible for using chlorine and sarin in attacks on territories controlled by opposition forces. At that time, it was in Russia's best interest that OPCW experts could only confirm the use of chemical weapons, enabling Russia to assert that the rebels, and not Assad's regime, were responsible. Subsequently, tensions between Russia and many OPCW member states persisted during the poisoning scandals involving the Skripals and Navalny.

Russia's current loss of its seat on the Executive Council coincides with reports of the poisoning of Ukraine's Main Intelligence Directorate staff.

In the Saratov region, a truck was detained for attempting to smuggle a consignment of engines for BMP-1 or BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles (military items requiring export authorization from the Russian Ministry of Defense) from Russia to Kazakhstan.

Earlier incidents were observed involving attempts to import military goods in the opposite direction, from Ukraine to Russia. For example, in early November, a former Ukrainian pre-trial detention center official tried to export Mil Mi-8 helicopters spare parts, including gas turbine engines and navigation equipment.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On Nov. 28, the Russian MoD published a video reportedly showing the launch of 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles by Russian military ships located in the Black Sea. However, our team questions the timeliness of this video, as it appears to showcase a calm and quiet sea, contradicting reports of a storm in the Black Sea the previous week.

Conversely, on the same day, Ukraine’s national police reported a Russian strike on the village of Stepnohirsk in the Zaporizhzhia region with 9M728 Iskander-K missiles and 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles. The intended target of this attack remains unknown. The pre-war population of Stepnohirsk was 4,500 people, however, it is possible that Ukrainian forces are stationed there due to its proximity to the line of contact.

The renewed use of Kalibr cruise missiles, not seen for some time, raises concerns. There have been speculations that the Russian Army has been accumulating these missiles, possibly intending to use them in large-scale winter attacks on Ukraine's power grid and other strategic targets. Given the long-range capability of Kalibr cruise missiles, they can be used even despite the withdrawal of Black Sea Fleet ships from Sevastopol Bay.

During the night of Nov. 30, Russian forces launched a strike on ground targets in Pokrovsk, Novohrodivka and Myrnohrad in the Donetsk region, using six modified S-300 surface-to-air missiles. In Pokrovsk, a residential neighborhood was hit, resulting in injuries to five people, including two teenagers and a 6-month-old baby. In Novohrodivka, an entire section of an apartment building was completely destroyed, resulting in a 62-year-old man killed, and five more people injured. Subsequently, the body of another victim was recovered from the rubble. At present, there is information about two other fatalities and ten injuries. Rescue efforts are ongoing, with three more people, including one child, possibly still under the rubble.

On the morning of Nov. 28, Ukrainian forces attacked the village of Yuvileine in the occupied part of the Kherson region. The attack, reportedly conducted using HIMARS MLRS, resulted in the destruction of the so-called Russian Novokakhovsky department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to reports, four Russian police officers were confirmed killed (although some sources mention 5), and 17 others sustained injuries.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels released a video from the Dovhyntseve airfield in the Dnipropetrovsk region (previously mentioned in an attack on Sept. 11), showing a Lancet loitering munition striking a relatively realistic mock-up of a Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft.

Photos of a T-90M Proryv [Breakthrough] tank equipped with a cope cage for UAV protection have been published. Notably, the cope cage is positioned so low that it could hinder the crew's evacuation. Although crew hatches are incorporated in the design, the photographer notes that a projectile hit might displace the cope cage, potentially trapping everyone in the turret.

In his Nov. 28 post, providing an overview of the frontline situation, Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets reported the deployment of Storm-V units in the Avdiivka direction to reinforce 41st Combined Arms Army units.

Subsequently, a video surfaced, filmed by the Azov Brigade, wherein a captured soldier, identified as an ex-convict serving as a rifleman in the 2nd V company of the 6th tank regiment of the 90th Tank Division, reveals disturbing information. The POW mentioned a disturbing incident where two soldiers, who refused to partake in a human wave attack, were reportedly executed on the spot with shots to their heads (statements by POWs should be taken with caution).

Currently, there is uncertainty regarding the distinction between Storm-Z and Storm-V units. One could assume that "Z" designates an affiliation with the Group of Troops "West," which uses the letter Z in its marking and where the first units composed of ex-convicts emerged. Following this logic, Storm-V could signify ex-convict units belonging to the Eastern Military District, which uses the letter V in its markings. However, the 41th Combined Arms Army and the 90th Tank Division are part of the Central Military District, identified by the letter O.