September 29, 2023

Sitrep for Sept. 27–29, 2023 (as of 11:30 a.m.)

Early morning on Sept. 29, a Ukrainian drone dropped two explosive devices on an electrical substation in the Kursk region, causing one of the transformers to catch fire and leading to an electrical blackout in five settlements and a hospital.

Sources of the Ukrainian news portal UNIAN in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed that it was a Ukrainian attack and that the substation was used to power certain military facilities.

Fighting has continued over the past week, but there has been little progress on either side.

The New York Times published an article analyzing the changes on the frontline. It explains that over the past year, both sides have made almost no progress, despite the stated large-scale goals (the Russian Federation intended to completely conquer the Donbas, and Ukraine intended to cut the land corridor to Crimea). At the same time, advances made during the month of August turned out to be the smallest in the 18 months since the beginning of the war. The NYT based its analysis on the reports published by the Institute for the Study of War through to the end of summer. If we compare the entire territory captured by the Russian Armed Forces and the entire territory liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the difference will be roughly equal to the area of Kyiv. However, we find that it is wrong to measure the success of a military campaign solely in square kilometers.

Sir Antony David Radakin, Chief of the Defense Staff of the UK Army, emphasized the necessity to revise short-term expectations for the Ukrainian offensive as the situation remains very difficult.

The NYT article also raises the problem of Ukraine’s Western partners’ possible reaction to a protracted war and the lack of large-scale successes. We still see no reason for this kind of concern, at least in the short term. These past few days, the US Congress rejected two amendments aimed at  canceling or reducing the volume of military assistance to Ukraine. Furthermore, should the situation with the government shutdown repeat itself, an exception will likely be made for military assistance to Ukraine, to ensure that domestic political processes do not harm the AFU.

We are noting a change in the RuAF’s approach to the deployment of ammunition storage facilities and armored vehicles. Now, both ammunition and vehicles are usually brought by rail to their final unloading point either in Crimea (e.g., in Dzhankoy) or in eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk region. Then, the trains are unloaded in the dark, when they are more difficult to track using reconnaissance drones or satellites. After that, equipment and ammunition are transported to many small storage facilities near the frontline. Ukrainian milblogger Tatarigami notes that such tactics have become a serious problem for Ukrainian forces: although the AFU now have new long-range weapons, it remains a question whether they should hit small depots with the limited number of missiles that they have. Perhaps this problem can be solved with the help of drones (with a good level of reconnaissance, they can attack depots, flying behind the frontline) and ATACMS missiles with cluster warheads, which could prove effective striking large logistics hubs in Crimea, where trains are unloaded.

Should the Ukrainian side successfully disrupt the supply route through the Crimean Bridge at some point, Russian forces in southern Ukraine would find themselves in a precarious situation. To avoid such a scenario, Russia has initiated the construction of a new railway that will connect the cities of Mariupol, Volnovakha and Donetsk with the Russian region of Rostov. The beginning of bridge construction over the Kalmius River near Staromarivka in the Donetsk region was reported by Petro Andryushchenko, Advisor to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol. The construction site has also been noticed in satellite images. Analysts have noted that the new railway line, leading toward Novoselivka, starts in the Malovodne area, where it merges with an old line heading to Mariupol. Key stations on this route will include Mariupol, Malovodne, Burne and Kuteinykove in the Donetsk region. This line then connects with the Russian railway.

It is worth noting that Russian forces had previously planned to push back the AFU during their winter offensive in the Vuhledar direction to restore the railway branch leading from Volnovakha, however, they did not succeed in doing so. Now, they have opted to construct a new branch further away from the frontline. Nevertheless, it is likely to remain within the reach of HIMARS MLRS, and Ukrainian forces may well try to disrupt its construction.

Russian forces are also attempting to impede the supply routes of Ukrainian forces and have been targeting bridges. For instance, a video has been released showing a Russian airstrike on a bridge over the Oskil River in the town of Kupiansk with a Kh-38 short range air to surface missile, as well as another bridge to the south of the city.

Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu recently toured arms manufacturing facilities, showcasing the production of Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPK). The TV report also highlighted the manufacturing of experimental high-precisions missiles with a range of 120 km (75 mi).

A recent TikTok video has surfaced, allegedly depicting Russian soldiers unpacking tank shells without explosives, which had just been delivered to their unit. Russian military blogger Andrey “Murz'' Morozov presented several arguments supporting the video’s authenticity, specifically pointing out the new Russian plastic seal caps visible on the shells. However, he also mentioned the absence of markings on the projectiles. While we find the video to be plausible, the lack of markings raises a number of questions. Extracting explosives from tank shells for the sole purpose of creating a staged video would be challenging without specialized equipment. Similarly, it appears unlikely that the masterminds of such an elaborate hoax would omit inscribing and displaying the markings typically found on these shells. Additionally, upon examining the body of the 3OF26 projectile with the screw-on head, also known as the transition sleeve, it becomes evident that these shells are designed to contain RDX explosives, which are pressed into the projectile casing, as opposed to TNT, which can be melted down and poured out. In conclusion, we believe that these might actually be defective projectiles that accidentally found their way to the frontline.

Western Assistance

The Wall Street Journal has published an article on why Germany is stalling the delivery of long-range Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles to Ukraine. It is believed that government agencies have agreed to send them to Ukraine but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is holding off the process because of concerns they would require German technicians to operate on the ground, which could drag Berlin closer to a direct confrontation with Russia.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh has said that the US started English language training for several Ukrainian pilots who will consequently be trained to fly American F-16 fighter aircraft. In late August, it was reported that the language training would take place in September and the training of pilots would begin in October. Now, however, it is obvious that the training has been put off at least by one month.

At a closed-door meeting, Bulgarian lawmakers voted in favor of supplying Ukraine with defective surface-to-air missiles for the Russian-made S-300 SAM systems. Military experts had explained that the missiles cannot be repaired in Bulgaria, but that Ukraine had the needed facilities to fix them or use them for spare parts.

In previous sitreps, we questioned whether crew members could have been on board the Minsk large landing ship and the Rostov-on-Don submarine during the missile strike on the Sevmorzavod shipyard in Sevastopol. The Insider [independent Russian investigative media outlet] noticed a news article on the website of the Saint Petersburg Club of Submariners and Navy Veterans, which reported that members of the submarine's crew were injured during the missile strike on the Sevastopol shipyard. Additionally, a serviceman who served in the Navy wrote to us and explained that in the Russian Navy, at least half of the crew typically remains on board even during repairs in dry docks. However, we have not seen obituaries for those who were killed in this attack so far.

In the Kyivskyi district of Donetsk, a faulty cluster bomb fell, with all of its submunitions apparently failing to detonate.

Vladimir Putin met with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and a former commander of the Wagner Group, Andrey “Sedoy” Troshev. During the conversation, Putin instructed Troshev to organize voluntary units and emphasized that all individuals who fought for Russia, regardless of their status, should have equal rights and receive equal compensations. Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Troshev is already working in the Russian Ministry of Defense (his transition to the MoD was reported back in mid-July).

Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar arrived in Moscow and met with Putin and Shoigu to discuss “the situation in Libya and the region as a whole.” The visit is likely related to the dissolution of the Wagner Group whose services the Field Marshall used to employ to assist his army in combat.

An IL-62M plane belonging to the Russian Ministry of Defense that often carries official delegations departed for North Korea. This is likely connected to discussions about North Korean arms shipments to Russia (a visit to North Korea by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is planned for October).

In September 2022, a 70-year-old Yuzhnoye Butovo [Moscow suburb] woman saw her 51-year-old son off to the “special military operation” zone. Since mid-August, 2023, he has not been heard from. According to the Ostorozhno, Moskva [Beware Moscow] Telegram channel, a masked man informed her via video chat that her son was in Ukrainian captivity, showed him to her, and suggested she throw a Molotov cocktail into a draft office to assist her son’s return home. In response, the retiree called the police.