October 4, 2023

Sitrep for Oct. 2-4, 2023 (as of 8:30 a.m.) 

Frontline Situation Update

A Ukrainian soldier, member of the Aidar battalion and the author behind the "They Say, Sniper" Telegram channel, has revealed that Russian forces have developed a new and improved way of employing FPV drones. According to him, Russian soldiers first launch an Orlan reconnaissance drone equipped with a relay station (a capability previously reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense). Subsequently, a pair of FPV drones, acting as loitering munitions, take off and hover over a road, waiting for suitable targets, typically Ukrainian transport vehicles, to appear. If no targets are identified before the drones’ batteries deplete, they are redirected to previously scouted secondary targets, such as Ukrainian trenches or fortifications. Shooting these drones down with small arms proves to be exceptionally difficult, leaving AFU soldiers to rely on the drones missing their targets, or jamming them through means of electronic warfare. The effectiveness of jamming, however, is often compromised by the presence of flying Orlan relay stations.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue their attacks around Verbove, near the first "Surovikin line," on the Zaporizhzhia axis. A video has emerged depicting a successful FPV drone attack on a Russian trench occupied by Ukrainian forces. Fierce fighting has been observed around these fortifications in recent weeks. Consequently, it remains premature, in our view, to speak of a full-scale AFU breakthrough of the first "Surovikin line." Instead, the current situation appears to be more of a localized breach in the first Russian line of defense.

Based on the available visual data, neither side currently holds a significant advantage in the ongoing attrition battle. This situation has been analyzed by Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet]. According to their findings, since the beginning of June, the Russian Armed Forces have lost one and a half times more tanks than the AFU, respectively 252 and 152 tanks lost. In September, this ratio remained virtually unchanged, with 45 tanks lost by the RuAF compared to 34 by the AFU. This is attributed to the fact that the RuAF more frequently employ tanks in local counterattacks, leading to more frequent tank losses. Meanwhile, the AFU more often use tanks for indirect fire.

The losses of armored vehicles for the AFU are noticeably higher than those for the RuAF as Russian forces seldom employ them in their counterattacks. At best, they use armored vehicles to provide fire support during offensive actions. In contrast, the AFU consistently employ infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers both for minefield crossing and for maneuvering in open terrain.

Losses of various artillery, mortars, and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems on both sides are roughly equal, although in recent weeks, the Ukrainian side was slightly more successful in suppressing Russian artillery. Since June 4, the AFU have managed to destroy or damage 220 artillery pieces (both tube and rocket artillery), while in September, Russian losses amounted to 51 artillery pieces compared to 39 for the AFU.

Both sides are facing a severe shortage of air defense systems. We regularly draw attention to this issue in Ukraine. Russia’s lack of air defense systems is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in the last month, there have been regular reports of automobile tires being used to protect aircraft or reports of aircraft being drawn on airfield tarmacs, to confuse enemy drone operators. These might indicate a lack of air defense systems to protect airfields (e.g. Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery systems).

Furthermore, recent reports indicate that Russian forces may be forced to conserve ammunition, while the AFU can fire their artillery cannons with fewer restrictions. Nevertheless, this has not yet had a significant impact on the situation on the frontline.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker Project has identified Iranian-made 122mm BM-21 Grad MLRS rockets in a report posted by the Russian MoD. It should be noted that the MoD video does not show any ammunition codes. The RuAF were first observed using Iranian-made rockets back in June, and their reappearance on the battlefield in a new report is unlikely to be the result of a recent visit by a Russian delegation to Iran. So far it is not known what agreements were reached during the visit.

The Ukraine Weapons Tracker Project has identified Iranian-made 122mm BM-21 Grad MLRS rockets in a report posted by the Russian MoD.
The RuAF were first observed using Iranian-made rockets back in June.

A volunteer working for the Oryx project publishes weekly reports on military hardware losses sustained by both sides, a resource we often use in our sitreps. The data from these reports closely aligns with the results of the analysis carried out by Meduza.

At the moment, regular strikes on Russian ammunition storage facilities cannot radically affect the state of Russian defenses. For instance, a strike on a key facility supplying ammunition to an entire sector of the front, that is carried out just prior to a massive offensive operation might have such an effect. However, the RuAF currently use mostly minor armament depots, and combat is confined to mostly trench warfare.

The New York Times and the Institute for the Study of War have published an article stating that Russian forces are allegedly employing an "elastic defense" tactic: they withdraw from certain positions, luring Ukrainian forces in, and then launch counterattacks. We believe that the explanation for the appearance of these kinds of tactics is actually much simpler. Russian military leaders are more focused on creating an impression rather than real military strategy. Therefore, when reports in the press claim that the AFU have liberated another populated area, breached the first line of defense on another section of the front, and so on, they become outraged and task their subordinates with retaking lost positions at any cost. This leads to "meat grinder" situations, subsequent strikes on these positions with Ukrainian cluster munitions and drones, and significant losses among military personnel.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Libertystudied satellite images from the Planet service around the city of Mariupol and discovered that in addition to the previously mentioned railway, Russia is also constructing a highway in this area. Existing roads passing through populated areas are marked in blue on the images, while the new road, marked in red, is situated farther away from them.

In Cheboksary, Andrey Petrov, the head of the city administration office, has been dismissed due to his failure to meet the recruitment target for contract soldiers for the war. Despite advertising campaigns promoting military service and promises of substantial payouts, people remain hesitant to participate in the war.

The Grey Zone Telegram channel made a post marking 40 days since the deaths of Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin. According to the author, four years ago, most Russians were unaware of the existence of the Wagner Group, and those who had heard of it believed that "Wagnerites" were war criminals and mercenaries who fought for whoever paid the most and would commit crimes upon their return home due to post-traumatic stress. The author goes on to conclude that, in their opinion, nothing like that has happened or is happening.

In reality, Wagner Group mercenaries are indeed war criminals, members of illegal armed groups, known for acts such as murders and torture of civilians in Ukraine, Syria and African countries. In our sitreps, we regularly cover the crimes committed by "Wagnerites" returning from the frontlines, and we are confident that they will continue to commit such crimes.

A former Wagner Group mercenary, suspected of killing two women, was detained in the Krasnoyarsk region. According to investigators, he had quarreled with his girlfriend, causing her to stay overnight at her mother’s house. At night, the man came to the house, doused it with gasoline and set it on fire, killing both women.

A Wagner Group mercenary from Lipetsk, who had returned home on leave, is suspected of assaulting his wife and killing her four-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The man was detained and charged with murder of a minor.

Tsyren-Dorzhi Tsyrenzhapov, who was convicted in 2020 of brutally murdering an 18-year-old woman and sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony in Chita, is suspected of a new murder. After serving four years, he enlisted in the war, and has now returned home. We believe he was recruited by the Wagner Group, not the Russian MoD, as former convicts fighting in Storm-Z units under the MoD do not get leaves.

Western Assistance

In our last sitrep, we reported that the US Congress passed a temporary budget for 45 days that does not include funding for military aid to Ukraine. Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon still has another $5 billion at its disposal for military support to Ukraine. Most likely, these are the funds that "emerged" as a result of an accounting error.

Unfortunately, at this point, it is unknown whether the US will still be able to provide non-military aid to Ukraine. Ukrainian budgetary expenditures—for example, pensions payments, salaries for doctors, teachers and other government employees—were funded, in part, by direct American aid.

Additionally, in our last sitrep, we reported about Hungary blocking another tranche of military aid to Ukraine from the European Peace Facility. The Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention stated that after several days of round-the-clock discussions, the Hungarian OTP Bank had made a number of commitments, prompting the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention to exclude it from its list of international sponsors of the war.

The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel noticed that Russia has almost stopped threatening with "red lines" and "strikes against decision-making centers." According to them, throughout the month of September, neither the Kremlin, the Foreign Ministry nor the Ministry of Defense spoke of any "red lines."

A video has emerged showing the AFU launching an S-200 SAM system missile at ground targets. Reportedly, the missile body is the only thing that remains from the original system. The footage shows the separation of the side blocks of the first stage (boosters), visually similar to the so-called Korolev Cross. Due to the specific shape of the nose cones of the blocks, as they fall away from the rocket or missile, the boosters pitch over symmetrically due to aerodynamic forces acting upon them, forming a cross-like shape. Several years ago this design feature led to incorrect conclusions by journalists who suggested that the blocks on the North Korean S-200 SAM system missiles were not properly installed, and that the missile was actually a mock-up.

The Russian MoD published a video report showing Sukhoi Su-25 (Frogfoot) attack aircraft and Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopters lobbing rockets at Ukrainian positions in the Lyman direction. These aircraft are rarely used on the frontline due to the extremely low accuracy of unguided rockets launched with pitch-up maneuvers. The use of high-precision air-dropped bombs with UMPK [Universal Gliding and Correction Module] launched from other types of aircraft is much more effective.

Tomorrow our team will be releasing a new investigation on mobilization in Russia, featuring a substantial amount of unique data. If you are a journalist or an expert and wish to receive embargoed material, please email us at info@citeam.org.