September 5, 2023

Sitrep for Sept. 4–5, 2023 (as of 9 a.m.)

Frontline Situation Update

Despite fighting raging on in both the Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia directions, neither side has made any further progress. After analyzing the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s briefing, BBC News Russian journalists have likewise concluded that there have been very few, if any, changes on the frontline.

We previously reported that, according to the US State Department spokesman John Kirby, Russia is planning to negotiate a deal with North Korea for the purchase of artillery rounds. It is likely that it is with this task in hand that Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang at the end of July.

The New York Times has published a new article claiming that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un will meet in the coming days in Vladivostok. According to their sources, Putin expects to secure the agreement for the supply of artillery shells and anti-tank missiles, while Kim seeks to receive advanced technologies for satellites and nuclear submarines. It is unclear if Russia is ready to provide these. It is worth noting that earlier reports pointed to a possible delivery of BM-21 Grad MLRS rockets to the Wagner Group from North Korea.

Additionally, Russia is said to have proposed holding joint naval drills with North Korea and China (despite the weakness of the North Korean navy).

On Sept. 4, a sabotage and reconnaissance group made a new raid into the Bryansk region. The Russian Volunteer Corps has published a post taking responsibility for the raid and claiming they killed two border guards while crossing the Russian border and were able to retreat without losses. At the same time, the Baza Telegram channel reported (probably citing its law enforcement sources) that the MoD had repelled this infiltration attempt and the sabotage and reconnaissance group retreated, suffering losses (Baza acknowledged that a border guard had been killed). Several photos of the saboteurs’ weapons and ammunition found at the site of the clash were also published.

It is worth noting that the aforementioned post by the Russian Volunteer Corps contains two obituaries of Russian border guards killed on Aug. 16 and Aug. 22 respectively, and photos of saboteurs next to a nature reserve sign, taken during their sortie on Aug. 16 (the date was determined when comparing this photo with the footage from the cameras of the Russian Volunteer Corps fighters killed during that raid).

We still do not see any military significance in these incursions. The Russian Armed Forces are not redeploying troops to reinforce the border. The Akhmat unit, stationed near the border, does not have the capacity to significantly impact the situation.

Shoigu officially confirmed previous speculations about the cancellation of the Zapad-2023 [West-2023] strategic exercises. He stated to journalists that this year, the "exercises" are taking place directly on the frontlines.

A fake order attributed to Shoigu regarding a new mobilization draft (calling up 200,000 people by Nov. 1) has been circulating online. The Sota media outlet noted several discrepancies compared to genuine orders, such as the use of "military commissioners" instead of "military commissars," and the line break before the word "order." Although the font and formatting appear convincing, we can list several more signs of falsification:

  • The order does not specify the reference to the List of information of the Armed Forces [an addendum to the Ministry of Defense’s Order on secrecy] that would warrant marking it as "for official use" (FOU).
  • The order number and date are handwritten, whereas they should either be typed or appear as scanned copies of the original.
  • It claims that control over the execution of the order is entrusted to the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the General Staff of the RuAF. However, this agency is expected to directly execute the order, and it is another department that is supposed to handle control.

Ksenia Sobchak [Russian public figure, journalist and the daughter of Putin's one-time boss] published a photograph of General Sergei Surovikin [ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces, Deputy Commander (and former Commander) of Russia's Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine] with his wife. Former editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station Alexei Venediktov commented on it, stating that Surovikin is free, on vacation, and under the orders of the Ministry of Defense of Russia. This is the first photo of Surovikin since Yevgeny Prigozhin’s [deceased owner of the Wagner Group] rebellion.

We continue to believe that there is no compelling visual evidence of JDAM use to this day, and we do not consider the post with the video and the corresponding caption from the Ukrainian soldier Robert Brovdi [call sign Madyar] as such. Russian FAB bombs with UMPK [Universal Gliding and Correction Module] have been captured on video, including approaching their targets with deployed 'wings,' and we would like to see similar evidence for JDAM.

Russian milblogger Andrey "Murz" Morozov published a series of posts about the current situation of the RuAF on the frontline. Firstly, he described that due to the widespread use of small-range drones (e.g. DJI Mavic civilian aerial reconnaissance drones) near the line of contact, Russian troops can hardly establish proper forward trench shelters because they would be attacked by Ukrainian artillery during construction. Therefore, Russian soldiers at forward positions have to rely on small trenches and periodically change positions to make it more difficult for enemy drones to locate them. It is worth noting that colder weather can seriously affect the soldiers' condition due to difficulties in insulating trenches, however, colder temperatures will also pose problems for aerial reconnaissance, as drone battery capacity will decrease.

Secondly, Murz reported that arriving political officers have noticed a tough situation with desertion and low morale among personnel.They instructed that propaganda materials are to be distributed at the frontline, initially suggesting placing them in every trench shelter and later just in tree lines. Such a futile order is unlikely to be executed, as political officers are unlikely to conduct checks at forward positions—it is too dangerous. Even supplying food and ammunition to the frontline can be challenging and needs to be done once every few days. This situation once again illustrates that generating reports for command is much more important than shedding light on the true state of affairs.

In another post, Murz described the structure of losses on both sides based on the experience of former units of the "DPR" army. In his opinion, at the moment, the losses of the RuAF are comparable to losses of the AFU in terms of the number of casualties, and they are quite substantial, even though this contradicts military theory, which suggests that the defending side should incur fewer losses. While the AFU takes care of its commanders, ensuring normal radio communication with forward positions, observation, and the ability to adjust fire using drones, in the RuAF, officers often have to be at forward positions and personally engage in combat to oversee the execution of orders. Additionally, a significant portion of experienced Russian commanders became unavailable early in the full-scale invasion, and they were replaced by less experienced and less trained officers, sometimes even draftees.

In the article Perseverance and Adaptation: Ukraine’s Counteroffensive at Three Months by military analysts Michael Kofman [senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] and Rob Lee [senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute], written after their trip to Ukraine, maps depicting the AFU advances during the current offensive in both the Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut directions were published. This article also addresses issues such as the inadequate training of Ukrainian soldiers and the prolonged supplies of Western military equipment. The main conclusion, however, is that everyone needs to prepare for a protracted war: "Western countries need to be clear-eyed about the fact that this will be a long war. Taken together, Western industrial and military potential greatly exceeds Russia’s, but without the political will, potential alone will not translate into results." This idea has already been discussed many times, including in our sitreps.