October 2, 2023

Sitrep for Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2023 (as of 8 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

According to reports from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, combat intensity has increased dramatically: the number of engagements per day has almost doubled—44 and 38 per day on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, compared to about 20 in the previous days. The most intense fighting continues on the Zaporizhzhia axis near the villages of Robotyne, Verbove and Novoprokopivka, and the Bakhmut axis near the settlements of Andriivka, Klishchiivka and Kurdiumivka.

Rumors are once again circulating in pro-Russian Telegram channels regarding an increasing shortage of ammunition in the Russian artillery: limits have been set for the number of shells fired per day, forcing artillery crews to conserve them in order to be able to shoot at advancing Ukrainian forces. This has led to an absence of timely support for counterattacking Russian soldiers.

On the other hand, Semyon Pegov (the WarGonzo Telegram channel) often talks about Russian counterattacks supported by artillery in the South Donetsk direction and about attacks occurring after softening up the enemy in the Bakhmut direction. However, we find that Pegov often tends to toe the official line(for example, in 2021, after a scandal erupted involving Chechen fighters at the Red Beret exam, Pegov published posts confirming the official position that no violations had occurred).

A Ukrainian soldier, after analyzing the situation on the frontline in the area of Novoprokopivka, has shown a Russian Armed Forces strongpoint with a complex system of trenches, dugouts, and in some cases, even tunnel-like covered passages with hidden exits into forest lines. All of this significantly complicates the Ukrainian advance in this direction. Additionally, it can be seen from the photo that the entire area is covered with shell craters.

(Pro-Russian sources note that Ukrainian artillery actively shells even small groups of enemy personnel).

On Sept. 30, Russian forces struck a Ukrainian ammunition storage facility near the city of Vinnytsia. This has been confirmed by satellite images from NASA's FIRMS, which show fire hotspots at one of the AFU storage sites.

The Fighterbomber Telegram channel recently released a video purportedly showing a strike carried out with a FAB-1500 M54 bomb equipped with a Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK). There had been hints that Russian forces were able to adapt the UMPK to the FAB-1500, and that they had started using them in combat operations. However, we discovered that the video in question was actually published on Sept. 19, and showed a FAB-500 bomb equipped with a UMPK hitting its target. The complete footage shows a Ukrainian M109 self-propelled howitzer emerging from an underground bunker, firing from a position carelessly close to it, and retreating back to cover. Shortly thereafter, the entrance to the bunker is struck by a Russian gliding bomb.

On Sept. 30, reports of a downed Russian Sukhoi Su-35S fighter jet near the town of Tokmak, in the Zaporizhzhia region, began to emerge. Photographs from the site displayed debris and the charred fuselage of an aircraft in the middle of a field, while a video, presumably capturing the moment the jet was hit in the night sky, circulated online. At this moment, most sources from both sides seem to agree that the Su-35 was likely shot down by a Russian air defense system. This is not an unprecedented occurrence, and many now speculate that the Russian Aerospace Forces might be experiencing issues with their Identification Friend or Foe system. Although we cannot confirm that the incident occurred because of an IFF malfunction, in our view, these types of friendly fire accidents are bound to happen in such close proximity to the front line.

A Russian reconnaissance drone filmed an attack on a Ukrainian train carrying military equipment geolocated northeast of the city of Zaporizhzhia (the Russian Ministry of Defense claims that the strike was carried out in the Mykolaiv region and that there were armored vehicles on the train). The video appears to capture the airburst explosion of a missile, which suggests a significant part of the equipment might have been damaged by fragments. The nearest Russian positions are approximately 40 km from the strike site.

On Sept. 30, a pro-Russian Telegram channel reported a strike on a bridge over the Shaitanka River in the southern part of the village of Velyka Novosilka in the South Donetsk direction, as a result of which the bridge was seriously damaged. Additionally, on Oct. 1, a nearby bridge over the Mokri Yaly River was also hit. Ukrainian crossings have already been targeted by the RuAF, which may indicate some change in the approach to combat operations by the Russian Army. However, we do not consider these attacks to be a sign of an impending Russian offensive.

On Oct. 1, many pro-Wagner Telegram channels commemorated Yevgeny Prigozhin [deceased owner of the Wagner Group] and Dmitry Utkin, as 40 days have passed since their death, by synchronously publishing previously unreleased fragments of videos filmed in Africa.

At the end of the video, special emphasis is placed on the current commander of the Wagner Group, Anton “Lotus” Yelizarov. The video seems to have been published in response to Putin’s meeting with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and another commander of the Wagner Group Andrey “Sedoy” Troshev, who left the group after Prigozhin's armed rebellion. Thus, the Wagner Group appears to be divided into one part, which went under the leadership of the Ministry of Defense, headed by Troshev, and another, independent from the Ministry of Defense, under the leadership of Yelizarov. It is currently unknown where each of them will operate.

In addition, the video shows a number of Dmitry Utkin’s tattoos with Nazi symbols.

Western Assistance

In early May, the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention included the Hungarian OTP Bank in its list of international “sponsors of war.” In response, Hungary blocked the next European Peace Facility military assistance tranche to Ukraine. In September, NACP “temporarily” suspended the Hungarian bank and several Greek companies from the “sponsors of war” list, so as to prevent the blockage of a new EU package of sanctions against Russia. According to Ukrainian officials, the temporary suspension will become permanent only when Hungary and Greece meet Ukrainian conditions, in particular, when they completely stop cooperation with Russia. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry responded by saying that unless the OTP-Bank is permanently excluded from the list, Hungary would refuse to unblock the tranche.

It is worth noting that the EPF, which was set up in 2021, is an off-budget instrument aimed at enhancing EU policies. Its 2021-2027 budget amounts to nearly €8 billion and each member-country has a representative in the fund’s governing committee.

In order to avoid a government shutdown, the US Congress has adopted a short-term budget for 45 days without new military aid to Ukraine. Therefore, it is unlikely that more American aid to Ukraine will be announced in the near future.

Additionally, the Ukraine Lend-Lease Act has expired with the end of fiscal year. It has never been used and assistance was given gratuitously as part of different programs.

The Fighterbomber Telegram channel has published a satellite image of the Engels airbase in the Saratov region, which shows bombers painted on the tarmac next to the real ones. However, it is easy to distinguish two-dimensional airplanes from three-dimensional ones both from drones and satellite images.

France has allocated another military aid package to Ukraine. It includes 8 engineering robots, 6 CAESAR self-propelled howitzers and 8 self-propelled ferries.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service 

We believe that there will not be a new wave of mobilization this year, as the fall regular conscription campaign has begun in Russia. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 130,000 people are planned to be called up for regular biannual conscription. Data on the conscription plan from certain regions confirm this number. For example, in the Vladimir region (where 1% of Russia's population lives), 1,300 people are planned to be conscripted.

The first Deputy Governor of the Vladimir region Dmitry Lyzlov stated that conscripts will not be sent to the war in Ukraine, and will serve only on Russian territory, and there is not any connection between compulsory service in the army or the navy and deployment to the "special military operation" zone. We see a contradiction here since, according to Russian legislation, the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions are "recognized" as Russian territories.

Many governors are encouraging conscripts to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense. In particular, Governor of the Vladimir region Aleksandr Avdeyev promised to add a one-time bonus to conscripts who signed contracts with the MoD of 100,000 rubles [$1,000].

The Dovod independent Russian media outlet noted that the government of the Vladimir region had stopped providing even approximate numbers of volunteer soldiers going to war, while continuing to publish videos of farewell ceremonies. Based on photos and videos, journalists have estimated that in September 2023, the Vladimir region sent about 150 contract soldiers to the war, a significantly lower number than in previous months (273 in July and 271 in August). These figures contradict Dmitry Medvedev’s [Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council] statements that the recruitment rate of volunteer fighters had increased significantly.

The Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don refused to compensate a Russian National Guard officer for injuries received during the war in Ukraine. The court argued that since he received his mortar bomb injuries as a result of the actions of Russian artillerymen, they did not qualify as combat related injuries. The ruling was upheld by an appellate court.