September 15, 2023

Sitrep for Sept. 13–15, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

In recent days, pro-Russian Telegram channels have started posting numerous alarming, and at times panic-inducing, messages about the possible loss of the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka in the Bakhmut direction, located south of the town of Bakhmut.

On Sept. 14, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Hanna Maliar, announced the liberation of Andriivka. However, the claim was later refuted by the Telegram channel belonging to the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Maliar subsequently corrected her initial post.

Nevertheless, on Sept. 15, the General Staff of the AFU declared, in its morning report, that its “defense forces had retaken the control of Andriivka.” In our opinion, Andriivka has indeed now been recaptured by the AFU.

We consider it likely that, in the coming days, news will emerge of the liberation of Klishchiivka.

In our opinion, if servicemen can move safely around a settlement, without rushing from cover to cover to avoid enemy fire, then the settlement can be considered to be under their control.

Some pro-Russian Telegram channels might be getting excessively panicky due to reports that units, sent to forward positions, sometimes made an unauthorized decision to leave and withdraw to the rear. However, such reports do not mean that all Russian forces have retreated along the frontline.

The liberation of Andriivka was important for the AFU in order to occupy tactical heights located in this area, thus taking advantageous firing positions and gaining a foothold for further advances towards the villages of Opytne, Ivanhrad and Vesela Dolyna to encircle Russian positions in Bakhmut. Additionally, the AFU is cutting off the supply route used by Russian forces along the road to the city of Horlivka.

The AFU are still advancing only south of Bakhmut. Meanwhile, to the north of the town in the area of Soledar, they are using FPV kamikaze drones to strike Russian positions.

On the Zaporizhzhia axis, in the area of the village of Kopani, west of Robotyne, heaps of planks can be seen next to Russian trenches. It is interesting to note that some analysts seem to think that the Russian Armed Forces will use them to build a kind of fence, as a part of their fortifications. In our view, these planks will most likely be used to strengthen the walls of the trenches (revetment) in anticipation of worsening weather conditions.

Strikes on Ukrainian Territory

On the night of Sept. 13, Ukrainian forces reportedly launched an attack on the Sevmorzavod shipyard in Sevastopol using Storm Shadow missiles, according to Western sources. As far as we know, the United Kingdom, which supplied these missiles to Ukraine, did not prohibit their use against Crimea and Russian territory. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the attack involved ten cruise missiles, seven of which were successfully intercepted. It is also reported that unmanned surface vessels participated in the combined attack on Sevastopol. The dry docks were hit, resulting in damage to the Minsk landing ship and the Rostov-on-Don submarine.

Eyewitnesses captured a large fire that broke out after the strike. New satellite images of the site indicate that both docks were indeed hit. Based on footage published the next morning, it appears that the Minsk landing ship was completely destroyed and cannot be restored. There is no visual evidence regarding the submarine, but the Institute for the Study of War claims it was also completely destroyed.

It seems that a significant portion of the damage was caused not by the missile strike itself but by the ensuing fire. Despite assurances from the Ministry of Defense, even pro-Russian sources are casting doubts about the possibility of a full restoration. It is also possible that the dry docks themselves were damaged, and their restoration may require the removal of remaining parts of the landing ship and the submarine.

Russia had not lost submarines in combat since World War II, making this attack a significant blow to the country's prestige.

Official reports indicate that 24 employees of the Sevmorzavod ship repair facility were injured while unofficial sources suggest that 26 were injured and 2 killed. Sevmorzavod is unquestionably a legitimate military target.

Additionally, on the night of Sept. 13, Russian forces launched attacks with loitering munitions on Ukrainian ports along the Danube—Reni and Izmail. This resulted in trucks catching fire and damage to port infrastructure, with seven drivers injured.

News has emerged  that one of the Russian drones flew 14 km deep into Romania's territory during the attack. This may have occurred due to a guidance system malfunction. Romanian authorities, like the EU, have limited their response to expressing protests to Russian representatives.

However, Romanian authorities are taking steps to protect the population: local authorities have been permitted to build concrete shelters in areas bordering Ukraine.

On the morning of Sept. 14, Ukrainian fixed-winged drones attacked Crimea. The drones involved could have been Chinese Mugin UAVs or, judging by eyewitness videos, different drones with a similar twin-fin design. All 11 drones were allegedly shot down over Yevpatoria. Apparently, the goal of the attack was to identify Russian air defense systems and their radars. UNIAN Ukrainian news portal sources in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Ukrainian Navy claim that some of the drones hit the radars and antennas of an air defense complex before Neptune cruise missiles hit an air defense complex located near Yevpatoria, causing a large-scale explosion. According to some sources, the complex that was hit was an S-300 SAM system, according to others—an S-400 SAM system (we are unable to precisely identify which system was hit as it is challenging to visually tell them apart). We also note that emerging statements about $1.2 billion worth of damages are not entirely accurate, since this is the cost of the entire air defense system while only part of it was destroyed.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty studied Planet satellite images and found a large area of burnt grass indirectly confirming a hit on ground surveillance radars and a destroyed missile launcher (this finding was reported by Ukrainian milblogger Tatarigami). It turned out that this is the same area where, in the summer of 2022, some tourists accidentally stumbled upon an air defense battery revealing its position. Later, instead of moving it somewhere else, Russian forces deployed another air defense battery nearby.

The destruction of this air defense system in Crimea could weaken the defenses on an entire section of the frontline as Crimea is one of the main logistics centers housing many critical military facilities.

In addition, last night, Crimea was once again attacked by maritime surface drones, which were reportedly destroyed by the Vasily Bykov patrol ship, according to a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

On Sept. 13, Ukrainian forces launched a missile strike on Donetsk using AGM-88 HARM missiles. Photographs of missile fragments near residential buildings with traces of prefabricated fragments were published. It was also noted that the missiles’ warranty expired in 1996.

As a result of the attack on Donetsk on Sept. 12, one person was killed, and another was injured.

On Sept. 13, Russian forces shelled the village of Otradokamianka in the Kherson region, leaving three people injured. On the night of Sept. 14, the RuAF targeted Novodmytrivka, where a 6-year-old child was killed, and five others sustained injuries.

Following these events, the military administration of the Kherson region announced the evacuation of families with children from areas that are constantly under attack, although this evacuation will not be mandatory.

On Sept. 14, Ukrainian forces shelled the Kursk region, while in the border village of Tyotkino, a distillery driver was killed.

Two weeks ago, we reported that barges were placed near the Crimean Bridge to install boom barriers between them in an effort to protect the bridge against maritime surface drone strikes. A video has now surfaced, taken by a passenger on a passing train on which anchored barges can be seen. The poor video quality does not allow us to determine whether there are any boom barriers between the barges.

The New York Times has published an article stating that Russia has managed to increase its tank production to 200 tanks per year. We consider this estimate to be realistic. In March 2023, while observing the scale of shipments of new T-90M tanks from UralVagonZavod [Russian state-owned machine-building company], we estimated that Russia was producing approximately 20 tanks per month.

However, we cannot confirm the increase in ammunition production to 2 million units per year due to insufficient data.

New US sanctions will now target companies mentioned in the investigation by the Vyorstka media outlet about the import of sanctioned goods.

Western Assistance

Sweden's military-industrial complex has increased its production from one "armored vehicle" per week to one per day. The specific type of vehicles being referred to is not specified, but an illustration accompanying the article shows a CV90 infantry fighting vehicle.

Germany has sent a new military aid package to Ukraine. It includes the following:

  • 20 Marder 1A3 infantry fighting vehicles;
  • 3,000 155mm artillery rounds;
  • two WISENT 1 mine clearing tanks and other material for explosive ordnance disposal (from Bundeswehr and  industry stocks);
  • 1 Satcom surveillance system;
  • 20 RQ-35 HEIDRUN reconnaissance drones;
  • 2 mobile antenna mast systems;
  • 10 drone detection systems;
  • 10 8x8 HX81 truck tractor trains and semi-trailers;
  • 9 vehicles (trucks, minibusses and all-terrain vehicles);
  • 5 8x8 load-handling trucks;
  • 3 ambulances;
  • 1.5 million rounds of small arms ammunition.

Ukrainian pilots will soon arrive in the United States, where, according to the head of the US Air National Guard Lieutenant General Michael Loh, they will study English for a month, and then learn to fly fighter jets over a three to nine months period, depending on their skill level.

In addition, Ukrainian pilots have also completed a briefing and training exercises in Sweden, which allowed them to make test flights on the JAS-39 Gripen aircraft and simulators. Presumably, Ukraine seeks to acquire 14-16 such fighter jets.

When asked whether Russia would help North Korea build satellites, Vladimir Putin responded that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to the Vostochny spaceport due to his country's pronounced interest in rocket technology and to accelerate the development of its space program. Thus, it appears that Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov's statement regarding cooperation in healthcare and education may not have been entirely accurate. On the other hand, the assumption about the transfer of reconnaissance satellite technology was likely correct.

Recently, as mentioned in a recent CIT Mobilization Summary, many Russian companies have resumed an active search for mobilization work specialists. We do not attribute this to a potential new wave of mobilization, but to the tightening legislation in the military registration domain. Repeated demands directed towards high command from the relatives of mobilized soldiers to conduct rotation have not achieved any result yet, and we are skeptical that this could trigger a new wave of mobilization.

One of Igor Strelkov's (Girkin) [former separatist commander and military blogger] supporters, who came to show support during the court hearing for the extension of the arrest, told a reporter that when he visits Sievierodonetsk, local elderly women ask him, "Sonny, have you joined us? Have you liberated us... from what, tell us! From food? From water? From electricity? What have you liberated us from?" However, new residents find themselves at a loss for words and are mostly left embarrassed by the situation.

On Sept. 14, the administrator of a Wagner Group family member chat announced the closure of the group's offices in various regions, leaving only one branch in the Krasnodar region. Mercenaries are promised to receive all due payments. It has also become known that the construction company formerly owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin [deceased owner of the Wagner Group] was transferred to a 78-year-old labor veteran.

The dismantling of the Wagner Group's camp in the village of Tsel in the Republic of Belarus continues. According to satellite imagery analyzed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists, at least 101 large military tents were dismantled over 23 days in August, and an additional 60 were removed in the following days through Sept. 9.

A photograph, presumably of General Sergey Surovikin [ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces, Deputy Commander (and former Commander) of Russia's Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine], has been published. Pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov claims it was taken in Algeria, which is the largest buyer of Russian weapons in Africa.

Furthermore, there are rumors that Surovikin has been appointed as the chairman of the CIS Coordination Committee on Air Defense.

Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet] has reported that a spyware program known as Pegasus, commonly employed by Western intelligence services, was installed on the iPhone of its publisher, Galina Timchenko. One of the ways to safeguard against such attacks is to regularly update your phone’s operating system and other software. Additionally, the latest versions of iOS feature a special Lockdown mode that, while it somewhat restricts the device’s functionality, offers nearly 100% protection against such attacks.

Access Now, an organization dedicated to protecting digital rights worldwide, has confirmed the installation of Pegasus on Timchenko's phone. They have issued a statement regarding the potential perpetrators behind this attack and have recommended actions that governments should take to protect journalists from unlawful surveillance.