September 8, 2023

Sitrep for Sept. 7–8, 2023 (as of 9 a.m.)

Kostiantynivka Missile Strike

One competing theory regarding the Sept. 6 Kostiantynivka missile strike hinges on the projectile’s flight path. Some analysts suggest that the missile could have been launched from Russian positions, following a high arc trajectory, before descending vertically on its target in its terminal phase. However, we find that missiles are seldom programmed to follow such trajectories, primarily because a missile spending a large amount of time flying at high altitudes is more easily detected by Ukrainian radars.

We believe that the most conclusive piece of evidence in favor of the missile following a horizontal, rather than vertical, trajectory in its terminal phase is the reflection seen on the blue car, which is almost parallel to the street. Had the missile followed a vertical trajectory, the reflection would have been angled differently, as illustrated in the infographic below.

Some propose the hypothesis that a S-300 surface-to-air missile could have been launched, for example, from Kadiivka (to the northeast of Kostiantynivka), and that while flying, it maneuvered to strike from the northwest. However, we believe that there is not enough evidence to suggest that this type of missile can change course in this manner when striking a target on the ground. Therefore, we find this hypothesis implausible.

Furthermore, missiles like the S-300 surface-to-air missile or the 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile typically create a fairly large crater, however no such crater can be observed at the impact site in Kostiantynivka. Most of the damage was caused by prefabricated fragments and the subsequent fire that broke out after the strike.

In yesterday's sitrep, while analyzing the arguments presented by pro-Russian Telegram channels, we noted similarities between the fireball witnessed in the Kostiantynivka explosion and in AGM-88 HARM missile tests. Based solely on the available video evidence, it is impossible to definitively identify the missile (it is plausible that other types of missile produce similar explosions).

However, it should be noted that the ring of black smoke, which is visible in the first video frame of the explosion, is perpendicular to the missile axis. Prefabricated fragments disperse from the center of the smoke ring following approximately the same axis as the smoke ring, which is true for both the S-300 SAM and the AGM-88 HARM missile. The available video evidence of the explosion allows us to compare the spread of these fragments with the damage on the ground. Marks on the asphalt, cars and building walls form a clear pattern which is also perpendicular to the missile's flight path.

This appears to confirm that the missile was flying from the northwest along a trajectory almost parallel to the ground. Had the missile’s trajectory been vertical instead, the prefabricated fragments would have scattered parallel to the ground, and their impact marks would have formed a circle at the height of the detonation.

Another reason to investigate this strike is that, if the strike occurred by accident due to a malfunction of a Western missile, it may indicate certain problems with either the missiles themselves, which have been stored in Western warehouses for many years, or the missile carriers—Soviet aircraft adapted to carry them. These potential issues must be thoroughly studied and rectified to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies.

We consider this version the most probable, however, we appreciate other viewpoints, and remain open to new elements, such as photo evidence of debris or data from US satellites tracking anti-aircraft missile launches.

Frontline Situation Update

Ukrainian milblogger and former military officer Tatarigami analyzed satellite images and, based on the increased number of shell holes in the area of the village of Verbove for the period from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, concluded that intense fighting was ongoing on the first "Surovikin line." Similarly, Tatarigami established that Ukrainian forces were trying to gain a foothold northeast of Novoprokopivka.

Pro-Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov (a.k.a. WarGonzo) notes that Ukrainian forces have had some success in the area of the city of Kamianske, on the left bank of the former Kakhovka reservoir, and have advanced on the left bank of the Yanchekrak River.

The Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel drew attention to the fact that there have been no frontline video updates by General Igor Konashenkov [Chief spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry] since Sept. 1.

The Economist interviewed Trent Maul, the director of analysis for America’s Defense Intelligence Agency, who "gives Ukrainian forces a "realistic possibility"—intel-speak for 40-50% probability—of breaking the remaining Russian lines (we are not entirely clear what exactly he means here) by the end of the year." The DIA is "moderately confident that if Ukraine can widen the salient around Robotyne, hold its positions and keep ammo flowing in, it will be well placed for a fresh push in 2024." At the same time, the Biden administration says that "Ukraine has around six to seven weeks of combat left before its offensive culminates," and we agree with this time estimate.

Strikes on Ukrainian and Russian Territory

On Sept. 7, Russian forces hit the Kherson region again: one person was killed, and two more were injured. In addition, as a result of strikes on port infrastructure in the Odesa region, two truck drivers were injured. Two more people were injured during strikes on Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk region.

On Sept. 6, a woman and a teenager were injured as a result of cluster munition strikes on the Kuibyshevskyi district of Donetsk. On Sept. 7, Ukrainian forces hit the occupied city of Horlivka, injuring three people.

On the same day, in the occupied town of Oleshky, Kherson region, representatives of security agencies traveling by car were blown up, according to Ukrainian sources. As a result, one Federal Security Service (FSB) officer was killed, his colleague and three servicemen accompanying them were wounded.

Also on Sept. 7, Ukrainian drones attacked the Kremniy EL plant in Bryansk, where a fire broke out in the administrative building. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that the attack was repelled, and the drones were shot down. However, we doubt that the fallen debris could have caused the fire. It is worth noting that this plant produces microelectronics used in various military systems, such as the Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system and the 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system. On Aug. 30, a drone already crashed on the facility premises, resulting in a fire.

A military court has arrested Major General Konstantin Ogienko, the commander of the 1st Special-Purpose Air Defense Army, on charges of receiving a large-scale bribe. It is possible that this case might be used to justify the removal of ex-Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces, Deputy Commander (and former Commander) of Russia's Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin.

Deputy Aleksey Zhuravlyov, commenting on the situation with Surovikin, said that it was "absolutely right to remove him from the leadership of Russian troops." Propagandist Telegram channels are outraged, and Zhuravlev claims that he never said such a statement, calling it fake.

The Vyorstka media outlet analyzed the speeches, media statements and social media comments of gubernatorial candidates in various regions and found that most of them are trying to avoid discussing the war. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin mentions the war the least, while candidates in occupied territories discuss it more frequently than others.

Western Assistance

According to the New York Times, the US presidential administration plans to send a new batch of cluster munitions to Ukraine soon.

Hanno Pevkur, Estonian Minister of Defense, stated that the European Union is ready to double its production of ammunition to aid Ukraine. By the end of this year or the beginning of the next, ammunition production is planned to increase to 600,000 rounds per year.

The US Ambassador to Ukraine has announced that the United States will supply Kyiv with 190 armored military vehicles, apparently Roshel Senator armored personnel carriers, intended for border guards and police forces.

A photograph was published featuring Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, in front of the Mil Mi-8AMTSH helicopter that was captured due to a Russian pilot flying into Ukrainian territory and landing in Poltava.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] tracked the flight of an Il-76TD EP-PUS Iranian transport plane using Flightradar24. It noted that the plane had arrived in Simferopol, Crimea. Previously, this aircraft had flown to Moscow and Russia’s constituent Republic of Tatarstan, where the Alabuga special economic zone is located, known for producing Shahed-136 (Geran-2) loitering munitions.

Over the past 17 months since the start of the full-scale invasion, we have seen little use of Mil Mi-28N (Havoc) attack helicopters. Voyenny Osvedomitel reports that a special helicopter unit has been formed by the Russian Army based on the Mil Mi-28N, focused on countering Ukrainian drones. It is also noted that the upgraded Mil Mi-28NM attack helicopter now features the more modern and long-range 9K121 Vikhr air-launched anti-tank missiles instead of the outdated 9M120 Ataka ATGMs. These Vikhr missiles have been successfully used by Kamov Ka-52 (Hokum B) attack helicopters to combat Ukrainian armored vehicles.