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Military And Security Developments
Moldova: Pro-Russian protest financing crackdown will continue as anti-government rallies increase. Moldovan law enforcement announced on 10 March that officers were conducting searches ahead of a pro-Russian opposition rally scheduled for 12 March. On 9 March, the authorities carried out several searches to crack down on the pro-Russian Șor party, which is financing protestors to rally against the pro-Western government. According to Moldova’s Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office, three individuals were detained, with cash seized from the cars of the party’s so-called couriers, as well as lists with contact details of people who were to receive money for attending protests. Anti-government rallies backed by the Șor party have increased in recent weeks, and form a key component of an ongoing Russian destabilisation campaign aiming to undermine government stability. As evidence suggests that the Șor party monetarily supports demonstrators, Chișinău is likely to continue clamping down on the financing of protestors due to the financial incentive for recruitment, with the next large-scale protest expected on 12 March (see Sibylline Situation Update Brief – 8 March 2023).
Georgia: Calls for fresh elections will further undermine government stability. On 10 March, Georgia’s parliament officially withdrew the Russian-style foreign agent bill that triggered three days of intense protests escalating into clashes with the riot police. Despite the withdrawal, pro-EU civil society NGOs and opposition parties announced that protests would continue on 10 March, calling for the resignation of the Georgian Dream government and fresh elections. Aligning with Russia’s foreign agent law, the proposed law would have increased governance and operational risks on civil society organisations and media companies benefiting from Western funding. However, the controversial bill has deepened political tensions over the country’s relationship with the West, with international and opposition actors criticising the Eurosceptic stance of Georgian Dream, precipitating the current uptick in protests. While fresh elections remain unlikely given Georgian Dream’s dominance in parliament, the opposition will likely seek to capitalise on the surge of pro-EU sentiment as the call for new elections will represent a flashpoint for future domestic unrest.
- BAKHMUT: Russian forces appear to have temporarily paused tactical operations in central Bakhmut as regular Russian forces reinforce Wagner Group positions ahead of further assaults. Wagner Group assaults into central Bakhmut have seemingly temporarily stopped – likely due to the need to conduct clearing operations in eastern Bakhmut and the physical barrier presented by the Bakhmutka River to further Wagner advances into the centre. This likely forms part of a temporary tactical pause, with Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty, Spokesperson for Ukraine’s Eastern Grouping of Forces, reporting on 9 March that the Russians are deploying larger numbers of airborne (VDV) and mechanised units to reinforce Wagner positions in Bakhmut.
- BAKHMUT: Amid a temporary tactical pause, Russian forces are currently prioritising advances north-west of Bakhmut where Ukrainian defences are likely less entrenched than in the city centre. Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has claimed that on 9 March Russian forces completely captured the village of Dubovo-Vasylivka, four miles (7km) northwest of Bakhmut. This claim is supported by geolocated footage. The Ukrainian General Staff have reported a large number of attacks northwest of Bakhmut in recent days, with Russian forces seemingly prioritising progress in this direction as forces in Bakhmut consolidate and prepare for further frontal assaults. Former FSB and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) also claimed on 9 March that Russian forces had also captured Orikhovo-Vasylivka, seven miles (12km) north-west of Bakhmut. While unconfirmed, if this is accurate it would indicate that Russian forces have made even further progress to the north-west and are successfully consolidating stretches of the M-03 (E-40) highway that leads towards Sloviansk. While such advances are unlikely to directly impact the encirclement of Bakhmut, they will set conditions for further Russian advances towards Kramatorsk/Sloviansk.
- BAKHMUT: Despite the tightening Russian encirclement, additional Ukrainian reinforcements to the area will provide limited opportunities for Ukrainian counter-attacks. A retired Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) People’s Militia officer reported on 10 March that Ukrainian forces are concentrating to the north-west and south-west of Bakhmut, which he assesses are capable of both defensive and offensive operations. This may reflect President Zelensky’s order to reinforce Bakhmut earlier this week, but also raises the prospect of Ukrainian preparations for counter-attacks. On 9 March, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Denis Pushilin claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted a counter-attack at an unspecified location near Bakhmut but allegedly failed. Ukrainian forces have likely strengthened their defensive positions around Khromove, less than two miles (3km) west of Bakhmut railway station, and operations to the north or south remain possible in an attempt to strengthen Ukrainian defences. This is particularly likely as the commander of Ukraine’s Ground Forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, stated on 9 March that the importance of holding the town ‘is only increasing’.
- DONETSK: Earlier this month on 5 March, the Ukrainian General Staff claimed that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had ordered the Commander of the Eastern Military District Colonel General Rustam Muradov to take Vuhledar at any cost. Following Shoigu’s visit to the frontlines this week, Muradov is now likely under significant political pressure to restart offensive operations. However, the scale of Russian losses during the failed attempt to take Vuhledar in February has likely severely degraded Muradov’s ability to deliver on operational orders set by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or the Kremlin. There are indications that Russian forces are potentially preparing for further advances against Vuhledar, including appeals from units for reinforcements and ammunition. However, further attempts to take Vuhledar are only likely to drain further Russian resources as Moscow continues to prioritise attacking Ukraine’s strongest rather than weakest points. For further analysis, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 13 February 2023.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Nothing significant to report.
- SOUTHERN: Vladimir Rogov, the head of the Russian occupation movement ‘We Are With Russia’, claimed on 10 March that the ongoing fortification of Russian defensive positions on the Zaporizhzhia axis will allow Russian forces to counter the Ukrainian spring counter-offensive. Rogov and many other Russian sources consider a counter-offensive towards the Sea of Azov a realistic possibility in the coming months. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated on 10 March that Ukraine’s spring counter-offensive will likely begin in two months, but did not specify where such a counter-offensive will fall.
- STRIKES: Following yesterday’s report, the Ukrainian General Staff confirmed that Russia launched 95 missiles of various types during the 9 March strikes, up from 81 as previously reported. Notably, the number of interceptions remains 34, indicating an even more successful Russian attack that made use of various types of systems, including Kinzhal ‘hypersonic’ ballistic missiles, to circumvent and overwhelm Ukrainian air defences.
- STRIKES: UK Defence Intelligence assessed this morning (10 March) that the intervals between strikes are likely growing due to Russia’s need to stockpile a critical mass of newly produced missiles before it can launch a large enough strike to credibly overwhelm Ukrainian air defences. This change in targeting practice will likely reduce the overall number of Russian strikes moving forward, but will likely increase the lethality and effectiveness of strikes. This in turn means that stocks of Ukrainian air defence munitions will remain the single most important issue that will determine whether the threat environment in Kyiv and other major cities remains stable, improves or deteriorates over the next six months (see Sibylline Special Report: A Year of War in Ukraine, Scenarios for the Year Ahead – 24 February 2023).
- SANCTIONS: On 9 March, the Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO) task force announced that it has blocked or frozen over USD 58 billion of Russian assets since 24 February 2022. REPO, which is comprised of France, Germany, the UK, US and EC, as well as other Western allies, said it has also seized or frozen luxury assets and real estate that is owned, held or controlled by sanctioned Russians. In a statement relating to the EU’s 10th sanctions package on 15 February, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen disclosed that member states intend to set up an overview of all frozen assets of the Russian central bank held in the EU for the possible use for funding Ukraine’s reconstruction. Last November, the European Commission suggested creating a structure to manage the EUR 300 billion of frozen Russian central bank assets and EUR 19 billion of Russian oligarch money. However, officials said only the proceeds could go to Kyiv. If REPO were to propose using the funds for Ukraine’s reconstruction, it would likely struggle with implementing the initiative due to various practical legal reasons.
- AID: On 9 March, Slovakia’s Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad announced that Bratislava and Warsaw are prepared to send MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky said on 9 March that the possible supply of fighter jets to Kyiv would mean the direct participation of NATO in the conflict. However, Moscow has stated this before about other weapons systems, which have subsequently been delivered. On 7 March, the US rejected Poland’s offer to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, which signals that Washington would likely not approve such military aid in the immediate future – but the option remains open for later in 2023. Ukraine’s allies have so far refused to supply Kyiv with Western fighter jets due to concerns of escalating tensions with Moscow and that Ukrainian pilots could use the aircraft to strike within Russian territory.
- SECURITY: On 9 March, the head of Ukraine’s Presidential Office Andriy Yermak said that Kyiv may receive security guarantees from allies at the next NATO summit this summer, which will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania, in mid-July. While Yermak did not specify which states will be guarantors, it is likely that France, Germany, Poland, the UK, US and other NATO member states will be signatories. Yermak’s remarks come after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the West is ready to consider offering Kyiv security guarantees but only in ‘peaceful times’. While it remains unlikely that Kyiv would receive any major security guarantees from NATO in the short term, the meeting could set out potential options for more robust security guarantees which could be offered in the future during or after peace negotiations.
- PARTISANS: On 9 March, an unnamed group claiming to be ‘fighters against the Putin regime’ published a video appeal from Kursk oblast calling on Russians to stop working over the next two weeks and undertake sabotage operations. The individuals posted a video of themselves in military uniform outside the Russian village of Plekhovo, less than one mile (2km) north of the Ukrainian border. This is the latest direct appeal from what appears to be pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters after the Bryansk raid by the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 3 March 2023). The group claims it is preparing something over the next two weeks and has ‘gifts’ to encourage Russians to work with them.
- BELARUS: Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) warned on 9 March that Russian forces could be preparing a ‘large-scale provocation’ on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The GUR has claimed that prominent ultranationalist Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov is preparing to arrive in Belarus in order to cover the alleged provocation with a live broadcast. The GUR has provided no further details, and while a major military intervention or escalation remains unlikely given Russia and Belarus’ limited offensive capability, the risk of border provocations, cross-border artillery or drone incidents or false-flag raids remains a credible threat. However, Ukrainian intelligence has also frequently warned of such imminent operations which have not materialised. Additionally, given the Ukrainian information operation that set conditions for the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) raid into Bryansk oblast last week, it remains a realistic possibility that this is also a Ukrainian information operation.
- NUCLEAR: On 10 March, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow and Washington remain in contact over the New START nuclear deal, despite Russia having suspended its participation in the agreement in February. Although Ryabkov said that he had no expectations for significant progress from contact between the US and Russia, it signals that the two states are still in contact over the treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that can be deployed and provides for joint monitoring. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the halt in participation on 21 February but stated that the suspension of inspections does not equate to a full withdrawal from the treaty and that Russia will not expand or test its nuclear arsenal ‘first’ (in reference to Washington). Given the suspension of joint monitoring, both sides will struggle to confirm compliance with the treaty.
SABOTAGE: The EU is set to publish its new maritime security strategy today (10 March), which sets out plans to increase joint European naval patrols to protect critical maritime infrastructure and combat mounting Russian reconnaissance activity. EU environmental and oceans commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who is overseeing the strategy, also called for greater intelligence sharing and use of satellite monitoring to counter Russian activity. Various European governments have identified suspicious activity in the North Sea following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline in September 2022, and while culpability for the attacks remains unclear, Russia clearly retains significant capabilities to interfere and threaten European maritime infrastructure. Offshore windfarms, undersea cables as well as floating gas storage and regasification units (FSRUs) are all possible targets, though rising EU and NATO cooperation and naval patrols will aim to increase resiliency.
- BAKHMUT: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on 8 March that Bakhmut could potentially fall ‘in the coming days’, but assessed that the fall of the town would not mark a major turning point in the war. Russian forces continue to increase pressure on Ukrainian positions from the north, east and south of the town, but further confirmed advances remain limited following the Ukrainian withdrawal from east of the Bakhmutka River. Geolocated footage published on 8 March suggests that Ukrainian forces have repaired a bridge which Russian forces had previously hit that connects Bakhmut to the village of Chasiv Yar, five miles (8km) west of Bakhmut. While Russian forces continue to tighten the perimeter around Bakhmut, the O0506 and N-32 highway remain the only roads in and out of the town not under direct Russian control. While both remain under Russian fire control, the installation of what appears to be a temporary bridge near Chasiv Yar will improve Ukrainian logistics in supporting the remaining forces inside Bakhmut for the time being. However, this is not a long-term solution to the growing vulnerabilities of its ground lines of communication (GLOCs).
- BAKHMUT: Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin suggested on 8 March that the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been utilising Wagner forces to bear the burden of casualties sustained during attritional urban fighting, but may thereafter cast off the PMC to allow regular Russian forces to continue the offensive. The MoD has very likely been seeking to curtail Wagner’s influence; expending the PMC’s personnel in highly attritional urban fighting in what could prove both a Pyrrhic victory for the group and an effective way to constrain Prigozhin’s influence and reassert the authority of the MoD. However, regular Russian units are already committed to the Bakhmut front, including airborne VDV units, and are also likely taking heavy losses.
- BAKHMUT: There is currently little to indicate that Russia has an effective reserve of regular forces it can subsequently commit to capitalise on the capture of Bakhmut. In this respect, former FSB and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) also assessed on 8 March that following the capture of Bakhmut, Russia’s winter offensive will stall and ‘come to naught’. This further underlines the tactical insignificance of Bakhmut in contrast to the high costs of its capture.
- DONETSK: Nothing significant to report.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Nothing significant to report.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- PMCs: Russian milbloggers claimed on 8 March that Gazprom Neft is currently forming a new volunteer group for deployment in Ukraine, reflecting the growing normalisation of private military companies (PMCs) and paramilitary forces in Russia. In early February, Moscow granted Gazprom Neft approval to establish a private security organisation (and technically not a PMC as originally reported). This came alongside other reports of the expansion of the Belarusian PMC Gardservis (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 8 February 2023). Notably, the reported Gazprom Neft volunteer group is currently recruiting in Donetsk city, where extremely lucrative salaries are reportedly attracting significant interest, given that the company is offering salaries over double that offered by Wagner Group. It remains unclear to what extent Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller or Chairman Viktor Zubkov are personally involved in the new volunteer group. However, the move to establish a rival de facto PMC to Wagner Group is likely an effort to funnel Gazprom funds – the largest state-owned corporation in Russia – directly into supporting the war effort, mitigate Russia’s manpower shortages and possibly further undermine Prigozhin’s influence.
- STRIKES: Overnight on 9 March, Russian forces launched one of the most extensive nationwide strikes in months, including 81 missiles of various types and eight Iranian Shahed-136/131 drones. Missiles struck targets in several regions of Ukraine, including Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Vinnytsia and Zhytomyr. Ukrainian General Staff has reported that Ukrainian air defence intercepted 34 of the 48 Kh-101/Kh-555 and Kalbir cruise missiles fired, as well as four out of eight Shahed-136/131 drones. Notably, Russian forces used a large array of different weapons systems during this strike which seemingly successfully penetrated Ukrainian air defences, including: six Kh-22 ‘Burya’ cruise missiles and six ‘hypersonic’ Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ‘Dagger’ cruise missiles (in reality air-launched Iskandr ballistic missiles). Ukrainian air defences are currently unable to intercept Kinzhal missiles, and this morning’s attack is the first time such a large number of those missiles have been fired at Ukraine in a single attack.
- STRIKES: In our anniversary special report, we assessed that the intervals between strikes are likely to increase in Q1-Q2 of 2023 given reducing reserve stocks of missiles. The Ukrainian analytical centre ‘Price of the State’ estimated that Russian forces have spent over USD 7.5bn on 821 missiles fired at Ukraine since October 2022, including between USD 438-581m on strikes conducted this morning alone. POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
- ENERGY: On 9 March, Volodymyr Kudrytsky, the Board Chairman of Ukraine’s state electricity grid operator Ukrenergo, said that power had been limited in a number of regions following Russia’s heavy missile strikes that morning. He said that the power system continues to operate, but there are damages in many regions. Prior to this morning’s strikes, Ukrenergo said on 8 March that no energy deficits had been recorded over the previous 25 days, though today’s strikes have triggered blackouts for the first time in weeks. Ukrenergo also said that it has extra reserves due to increased renewable energy sources, indicating growing resilience within the Ukrainian energy system amid the decreasing frequency of Russian strikes. Kudrytsky also said that energy imports, which had been used to balance supplies in January-February, are currently used minimally.
- NUCLEAR: Ukraine’s nuclear energy company Energoatom stated on 8 March that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) has been ‘completely disconnected’ from Ukraine’s power grid as a result of shelling. While the plant is now running on backup generators, this is not the first time the plant has been disconnected and is unlikely to pose a significant risk to the plant’s critical functions if power is restored in the coming days – as it frequently has been during previous disconnections. According to Energoatom, the plant has enough backup fuel for 10 days. All other Ukrainian nuclear power plants have also now temporarily shut down due to the ongoing threat of missile strikes, and so the reduction of power output will exacerbate short-term blackouts caused by the latest round of Russian strikes.
- AID: On 8 March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg revealed that member states have supplied Ukraine with EUR 150bn in aid since the full-scale invasion began last year. According to Stoltenberg, this sum includes EUR 65 bbn in military aid. On the same day, EU defence ministers agreed to supply Kyiv with EUR1bn worth of ammunition from their stocks, with the immediate delivery to be reimbursed from the European Peace Facility defence fund. In a statement on 7 March, the German government also reported that it had delivered two additional Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine, as well as two more border protection vehicles and six mobile antenna systems. The recent aid commitments indicate that Western allies are boosting their efforts to supply Kyiv with much-needed ammunition and other military equipment to support its fighting on the frontlines, as well as support future counter-offensives.
- MOLDOVA: On 9 March, the Transnistrian Ministry of State Security claimed it had thwarted an assassination attempt on Vadim Krasnoselsky, the de facto head of the Moldovan breakaway region. According to Transnistrian officials, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) gave instructions for the attack and the materials to be used were allegedly made in Ukraine. Other Transnistrian prosecutors have also alleged that the assailants had been preparing a terror attack in Tiraspol, which was intended to target other officials and civilians. While these allegations cannot be verified, Russia has stepped up its destabilisation campaign in Moldova. On 23 February, Moscow alleged that Kyiv intends to stage a false-flag operation in Transnistria as a pretext for an invasion, and claims such as the alleged assassination attempt are likely part of Moscow’s overall destabilisation campaign. Further border provocations, false-flag ‘terror attacks’ and assassinations are all probable but are unlikely to precipitate a Russian military escalation.
- SABOTAGE: A spokesperson for the US National Security Council on 8 March denied that US intelligence had assessed that a pro-Ukrainian group had sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines, following unconfirmed reports in the New York Times earlier this week. As we assessed yesterday, the alleged revelations relating to the sabotage remain unconfirmed and heavily reliant upon unconfirmed and unnamed officials.
OFFENSIVES: The US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines assessed that the Kremlin is likely to commit to fighting a prolonged war to achieve its strategic objectives, ‘even if it takes years’. The assessment of the annual threat assessment report of the US intelligence community, presented by Haines, largely aligns with our own; namely that the war in Ukraine is likely to transition into a protracted attritional conflict, with the Kremlin believing that time is ultimately on its side. Nevertheless, Haines assessed that given Russia’s high casualty and equipment loss rates, Moscow is unlikely to be able to sustain even its currently modest levels of offensive capabilities without further rounds of mobilisation and ammunition imports from third parties. The Kremlin is therefore likely to have recognised its limited short-term military capabilities by committing to a longer-term strategy to secure its strategic objectives in Ukraine. Haines furthermore assessed that Russia ‘may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy’ given these weaknesses. However, she also noted that Ukraine’s own potential for a spring counter-offensive may prove limited by the extent to which Ukrainian forces have had to draw on their reserves and equipment to defend against the ongoing Russian offensives – likely alluding to concerns over the cost-benefit calculus of the decision to hold Bakhmut despite the growing costs of such an operation (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 7 March 2023). Haines also stated that Russia ‘probably does not want a direct military conflict with US and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur’. Observations by US officials that Russian leaders have so far avoided escalating the conflict beyond the borders of Ukraine reflect our assessment that direct conflict spillover with NATO remains highly unlikely given Russia’s ever-diminishing military capabilities. Nord Stream sabotage investigation will likely raise tensions within NATO, possibly reduce public support for Ukraine military aid. An investigation by US intelligence officials, reported by media outlets on 8 March, has found that a pro-Ukraine non-state group is potentially responsible for conducting the attack against the Nord Stream pipeline in late September 2022. However, there is no indication that the group allegedly responsible is linked to the Ukrainian government. The Biden administration is reportedly concerned about the impacts on NATO and Germany’s support for Ukraine if the hypothesis is confirmed. Recently, support for Ukraine among the US public has declined. A January 2022 poll by Pew found that 26% of Americans feel the US is providing too much support for Ukraine. An ongoing House oversight investigation into possible aid misappropriation will possibly raise public disapproval further. The investigation underscores the continued scrutiny of US support and military aid and raises the risk of regional tension escalation, which could undermine unified support for Ukraine within NATO.
- BAKHMUT: Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has today (8 March) claimed Russian forces are now in control of the eastern sections of Bakhmut – a claim which is likely accurate following the apparent partial Ukrainian withdrawal from east of the Bakhmutka River this week. Prigozhin also notably claimed that Russian forces have killed 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut throughout February alone. While we cannot confirm this figure, Ukrainian forces have been taking high casualties – though likely closer to a five-to-one ratio in favour of the Ukrainian defence. Nevertheless, as the Ukrainians continue defending the city, Russian forces are steadily encroaching into the town centre, with unconfirmed reports of incremental Russian gains from the north and south-west over the last 48 hours further increasing pressure on Ukraine’s vulnerable ground lines of communication (GLOCs).
- BAKHMUT: On 7 March, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the Russian capture of Bakhmut would provide an ‘open road’ for Russian forces to advance on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Geographically the capture of Bakhmut would open up opportunities for further advances southwest along the N-32 towards Kostiantynivka and north-west along the M-03 (E-40) towards Sloviansk. However, as we have previously assessed it remains unlikely that Russian forces will have the capability to launch such offensive operations in the immediate aftermath of any capture of Bakhmut. Russian forces have committed significant resources and personnel to the attritional battle for Bakhmut. This has likely degraded many offensive units and drained Russian reserves, limiting the scope for Russian forces to translate a fairly limited tactical victory in Bakhmut to an operational campaign to take northern Donetsk oblast. This is particularly unlikely due to Russia’s Luhansk offensive to the north continuing to stall and Russian forces’ switch away from the manoeuvre Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) concept towards infantry-dominated ‘assault detachments’ focused on urban warfare. This provides significantly less scope and capability to undertake large-scale manoeuvre operations.
- DONETSK: Russian sources have continued to claim limited advances west of Donetsk city, particularly around Avdiivka, but any advances remain unconfirmed and are unlikely to be significant. Fighting remains heavy along various sections of the Donetsk line, including around Vuhledar, but Russian forces are failing to make any major progress along a part of the frontline that has remained virtually static over the last ten months.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: According to the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serihy Haidai, Russian forces have largely paused offensive operations along the Oskil-Kreminna line, largely to replenish reserves in the area. While Haidai reported that the Luhansk line remains stable, earlier this week he also reported an intensification of Russian attacks west of Kreminna. This could indicate that Russian forces are prioritising operations west of Kreminna, while temporarily winding down operations elsewhere along the Oskil-Kreminna line, where they have achieved little progress over the last two months. Nevertheless, Russian milbloggers published geolocated footage on 7 March showing Russian forces allegedly capturing Ukrainian positions northwest of Kreminna, likely near Ploshchanka, 12 miles (19km) north-west of Kreminna. However, this has not been confirmed. With limited progress made on the Oskil-Kreminna front, further depletion of mechanised forces will significantly hinder Russian forces’ capacity to increase the intensity of the offensive in the area.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- BELARUS: On 7 March the Belarusian security services (the KGB) claimed that Polish intelligence agents were involved in the drone strike on a Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft on 26 February. The KGB alleges that agents from among the ‘so-called fugitive Belarusians’ (referring to exiled Belarusian activists) who had been recruited by Polish intelligence services were involved in preparations for the attack. Minsk has already alleged that a detained individual involved in the attack was a Russian citizen recruited by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The allegations moderately increase the risk of retaliation from Minsk against Ukraine, but it is unlikely that the event will trigger Belarus to enter the war. Additionally, while Minsk is likely to use allegations of Polish involvement to further justify domestic repression and bellicose rhetoric, it is unlikely to trigger an imminent escalation between Belarus and NATO.
- AID: Speaking at an informal meeting of defence ministers on 8 March, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said that Brussels must provide Ukraine ammunition quickly from existing stocks. Borrell said that the bloc is ready to finance EUR1bn for the transfer of existing ammunition. The remarks come after reports on 2 March indicated that funds from the European Peace Facility will be used to purchase shells for Ukraine after the EU suggested reimbursing states that provided much-needed ammunition to plug Kyiv’s shortages. In another development, Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on 7 March that ten more German-made Leopard 2 tanks will arrive in Ukraine this week, indicating that Ukraine is slowly taking delivery of Western tanks amid its efforts to generate fresh armoured battalions to support future counter-offensive operations.
- NEGOTIATIONS: On 7 March, Russia exchanged 130 Ukrainian prisoners-of-war (POWs) for 90 Russian POWs. The Ukrainian State Border Service reported that the majority of the soldiers released had fought in Mariupol, with 71 of those having defended the Azovstal steel plant. The latest prisoner swap comes as UN Secretary-General António Guterres is in Kyiv on 8 March to discuss the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The deal is due to expire on 18 March. Russia has given indications that it may stall or back out of the deal, while a senior Ukrainian government source claimed that Kyiv had begun holding consultations with partners on extending the deal, without holding direct talks with Moscow. The exchange of POWs shows that lower-level negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are continuing even if direct talks on the grain deal are reportedly not yet taking place.
SABOTAGE: On 7 March, the New York Times (NYT) and several German newspapers published claims that an investigation had identified links between the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022 to an unidentified ‘pro-Ukrainian’ group. According to German investigators cited by the articles, the operation was carried out by a team of six individuals of unknown nationality, given they allegedly used forged passports. The team allegedly departed the German port of Rostock on 6 September 2022, using a yacht rented from a Polish-based company, which was reportedly owned by two Ukrainians. Aside from citing unnamed Western officials and reports about the yacht allegedly used, the investigations have provided little definitive (and verifiable) evidence to support their claims, and so much remains unclear.
While the investigation claims various links to Ukraine, it stated that it is unable to identify who ordered the sabotage operation. German investigators still acknowledge that it remains possible that the operation could have been a false-flag, with traces possibly ‘deliberately laid’ to point to Ukraine as the culprit. However, US intelligence officials have also reportedly reviewed alleged evidence, finding that those behind the sabotage are most likely Ukrainian or Russians opposed to President Vladimir Putin but do not specify any given group or individuals. The NYT stated that investigators have found no evidence of involvement by the Ukrainian government, while Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak and the Ministry of Defence have affirmed that Kyiv was ‘absolutely not involved’ in the sabotage operation. The British newspaper The Times furthermore claimed on 8 March that Western intelligence agencies have known ‘for months’ that a Ukrainian ‘private venture’ had been behind the attack, but that they have not disclosed the individual’s identities to protect Ukraine and prevent a row with Germany.
It should be noted that before the Nord Stream incident, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed on 22 September 2022 that it had prevented Ukrainian special forces from sabotaging an unnamed ‘oil and gas complex’ in the Black Sea – likely the TurkStream pipeline. While we cannot confirm this, and we assessed at the time that this was likely propaganda, it remains possible that Ukrainian special forces or private security forces were involved in preparing such underwater sabotage capabilities. However, Kyiv has denied this. In the immediate aftermath of the Nord Stream sabotage, we assessed that Moscow would most likely blame Ukrainian operatives for the attack, if it was indeed a Russian false-flag operation.
However, the official Russian response to the revelations further complicates the issue, given that Moscow is rejecting rather than supporting the alleged findings. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed on 8 March that the alleged findings of the reports are a coordinated media campaign to spread misinformation designed to ‘divert attention’ away from the perpetrators of the attack. While Peskov did not specify who these alleged perpetrators were, Russian state media has been publishing opinion pieces rejecting the links identified to Ukraine, arguing instead that such investigative findings are designed to distract from US-NATO involvement. Moscow has previously accused both the British Royal Navy and US intelligence of conducting the sabotage. The Kremlin is therefore seemingly doubling down on their line that ‘Anglo-Saxon powers’ were behind the incident, supported by previous allegations by US investigative journalist Seymour.
While no definitive evidence has been provided, the most significant implication of these reports will be the impact they have on German (and wider European) public support for Ukraine. Even if Ukrainian culpability is not confirmed, perceptions of Ukrainian involvement in an attack on European critical infrastructure, which directly led to the spike in energy prices in 2022, are highly likely to undermine public support for Ukraine. Germany has already seen the most consistent anti-war protests in Europe, particularly in the eastern Bundesländer (states) where Ukrainian refugees have occasionally been targets of political violence. There is a realistic possibility that there will be a slight uptick in this trend in the coming months.
Further anti-war protests are increasingly likely across Europe following yesterday’s reports. The EU is currently in talks to ramp up ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, and these alleged revelations are unlikely to threaten such short-term weapons programmes. However, if further allegations or evidence around the Nord Stream sabotage emerges, amplified by Russian information operations, anti-Ukrainian sentiment will likely grow across Europe, particularly in Germany but also in countries such as the Czech Republic. As such, agreeing such ambitious aid packages in the future will likely be increasingly difficult for the EU, which will reinforce concerns in Kyiv over Europe’s long-term ability and willingness to support Ukraine in an attritional war that could last years.
Latest Significant Updates
Pro-Russia cyber groups sustain low-level DDoS targeting of Italy, Serbia and the US
- On March 7, pro-Russian hacktivist collective, Killnet, launched a campaign on automotive and arms manufacturer Rheinmetall, targeting several sites in multiple countries including in Australia.
- On 6 March, pro-Russia hacktivist group Noname05716 targeted Italy’s telecommunications company, TIM, and the website of Italy’s Supreme Judicial Council with a DDoS attack.
- On 5 March, the pro-Russia hacktivist groups, Russian Clay, Noname05716, and Cyber Cat conducted DDoS attacks against various entities including one of Europe’s largest transport companies, Vlantana.
- On 4 March, the pro-Russia hacktivist group, We are Russian Hackers, allegedly launched a DDoS attack on several US medical centres in Arizona, California, Connecticut, and Michigan.
- On 2 March, the pro-Russia hacktivist group, the Cyber Army of Russia targeted Serbia with DDoS attacks.
Pro-Kyiv hacking groups increase targeting of Russian financial organisations and Russian communication broadcasting companies
- On 7 March, the pro-Kyiv groups, IT Army of Ukraine and hacker collective Anonymous launched a DDoS attack against Russian banks, Sberbank and Tinkoff, preventing the banks’ customers from using their debit cards.
- Between 6 and 2 March, the pro-Kyiv Italian sect of Anonymous, AnonSecIta, targeted various companies belonging to Vladimir Potanin, a Russian oligarch, via DDoS attacks. The affected companies include:
o Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Resort (Resort built in Sochi for Winter Olympics)
o TCS Group (Cyprus-based company that engages in banking, insurance, furniture, and asset management)
o Rosbank (main Russian bank)
o Hermitage Private Banking (provides asset management services)
o Rosbank Insurance (provides insurance products)
o Rosbank Auto (a company that finances car purchases)
o RB Capital Asset Management (provide services for mutual funds and individual savings plans)
- On 4 March, the pro-Kyiv group, IT Army of Ukraine conducted a DDoS attack on the Russian hotel and house booking service, TVIL, and Russian TV provider Tricolor TV.
- On 3 March, the pro-Kyiv group, IT Army of Ukraine conducted a DDoS attack on several Russian financial payment websites.
Pro-Russia cyber attacks against European targets continued during this monitoring period. Several pro-Russia hacktivist groups continued to focus their DDoS campaigns on Italian, Polish, US, and other European governments, communications, healthcare, and transport sectors. Other pro-Russia hacktivists began targeting Serbia, despite the country maintaining a relatively neutral stance towards Russia following the invasion and abstaining from imposing sanctions on Russia. Pro-Russian hacktivist group, National Hackers of Russia publicly disclosed that they are planning to instigate evacuations of Lithuanian government buildings by emailing physical threats and conducting cyber attacks that trigger physical alarms to force employees out of the buildings. The alleged plans would aim to disrupt government employees from conducting their normal operations, which would allow the threat group to then attempt DDoS and other attacks on government infrastructure. This group has used this tactic towards Lithuania several times since early February 2023, however, the impact from these threats has been minimal and it is unclear if any evacuations have occurred.
Several pro-Russian threat actors including Russian Clay and Cyber Cat are attempting to use DDoS ransom tactics against their DDoS targets, likely in an effort to make an illicit profit for themselves or potentially to aid the Russian government in their military efforts. This was observed in a Cyber Cat DDoS attack in Poland where Cyber Cat stated that they would stop the DDoS if a ransom of USD 350 was paid. It is unclear if Polish organisations paid the ransom. This highlights a shift in pro-Russian groups towards being financially motivated in their attacks in conjunction with being politically motivated, however it is likely they will revert back to DDoS attacks without ransoms if they face a refusal of ransom payments.
During this monitoring period, we observed the IT Army of Ukraine conduct an unannounced DDoS attack on Russian customs, which resulted in system failure in the electronic declaration process and blocking of the cargo-clearance procedure. This unannounced attack means there is a realistic possibility that pro-Kyiv threat groups will shift some of their efforts to focus on high-value sectors like shipping and customs in an attempt to disrupt Russian ability to import key supplies.
DDoS attacks by pro-Kyiv Anonymous affiliate, AnonSecIta continued against businesses owned by a Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin during this monitoring period. The attacks focused on Potanin’s Russian businesses in the banking sector that are believed to contribute to the funding of Russia and its ongoing military invasion of Ukraine. These operations are highly likely to continue against Russian entities as the Ukraine war continues.
The Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, submitted official requests to gaming businesses to ban the sales of the Atomic Heart game. He stated that the organisations behind the game should not portray the Russian government in a positive light, and that the game is a “new level of Russian digital propaganda” that uses the gaming industry to boost support for Russia from individuals globally. This official request to the gaming industry is likely to trigger similar official requests to other games and their creators that may be set in Russia or be seen to portray Russia in a positive light, as the war continues.
Ukraine: UN chief’s visit to Kyiv signals attempt to renew grain deal ahead of deadline. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is in Kyiv on 8 March to discuss the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to a senior Ukrainian government source, Kyiv has started online discussions with partners (likely referring to the UN and Ankara) on extending the deal, but without holding direct talks with Moscow. As the BSGI was brokered by the UN and Turkey, Guterres’ visit likely serves as a push ahead of the 18 March renewal date. Russia has stated that it will only agree to extend the agreement if the interests of its agricultural and fertiliser producers are considered, signalling that Moscow may stall or block the extension. Although Russia has repeatedly voiced grievances with the deal, Moscow approved the last renewal. A failure to extend the agreement by the deadline would likely result in increased global food prices, which would most significantly impact Africa and the Middle East.
- BAKHMUT: President Volodymyr Zelensky on 6 March stated that Ukrainian forces will not withdraw from Bakhmut, ordering additional reinforcements to shore up the defence of the town. Zelensky’s statement followed a meeting with Ukraine’s senior military command, including Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny, where all commanders reportedly decided not to withdraw from the town. The meeting came after the German outlet Bild on 6 March cited unnamed officials within the Ukrainian government that Zelensky and Zaluzhny had disagreed on various issues, including the withdrawal from Bakhmut – which Zaluzhny allegedly recommended several weeks ago.
- BAKHMUT: This aligns with our own assessment from early February that the decision to defend Bakhmut rather than withdraw was and continues to be driven more by political than purely military considerations (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 6 February 2023). While Zaluzhny and Zelensky have now officially reached a ‘consensus’ on the continued defence of the town, there are credible concerns around the cost-benefit analysis for Ukrainian forces particularly relating to force preservation. Bakhmut remains a largely insignificant operational objective, the capture or defence of which is unlikely to change the course of the war for either side. Instead, the ongoing battle for Bakhmut has become highly symbolic for both sides, with Ukraine’s refusal to abandon what is a less-than-ideal defensive position indicative of the political resonance of the battle.
- BAKHMUT: NATO estimates that Russian forces are losing five times as many soldiers in Bakhmut as Ukrainian forces. However, despite this favourable attacker-defender ratio, serious questions remain over when and if the costs of a continued defence of Bakhmut will begin to outweigh the benefits for Ukraine, given that they are also taking very high casualties and losing highly-experienced personnel.
- BAKHMUT: Russian sources, including Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) head Denis Pushilin, have claimed that Russian forces are now in control of between 40-50% of the town, though the precise area of control cannot be confirmed. Geolocated footage from 6 March indicates that Russian forces have taken the T-34 monument in eastern Bakhmut, further indicating that Ukrainian forces have conducted the first part of a phased withdrawal from the city to strengthen the town’s defences. While Wagner Group and regular Russian forces are now pushing west towards the city centre, UK Defence Intelligence assessed today (7 March) that Ukrainian forces have ‘likely stabilised’ their defensive perimeter following Russian attacks from the north. While the Ukrainian High Command has decided to continue the defence of Bakhmut despite the increasing costs, the phased withdrawal from positions east of the Bakhmutka River will likely in the short term at least increase the resilience of Ukraine’s defensive positions in the city centre.
- DONETSK: On this axis, Russian forces are currently focused on ground operations west of Donetsk city, but Ukrainian defences are preventing any meaningful advances or breakthroughs. Ukrainian spokesperson for the Tavriisk Direction Defence Forces, Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi reported earlier this week that Russian forces have deployed the reconstituted 200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade and committed it to offensive operations west of Donetsk. However, the overall order of battle on this axis is dominated by highly degraded units that have likely been reconstituted by poorly trained reservists. Despite continued assaults against Vuhledar and Avdiivka, Russian forces have suffered significant losses on this axis that have achieved almost no advances or secured any tactical advantage.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Over the past 48 hours Russia has continued offensive operations along the Oskil-Kreminna front, without any reported progress. Ukrainian Luhansk authorities reported that Russian forces conducted limited but largely unsuccessful ground attacks on 5 and 6 March around 33 miles (54km) northwest of Svatove. Over the same period near Kremmina, the Ukrainian General staff reported that Russian operations ten miles (17km) north and six miles (10km) south of the city failed to achieve any advances, and given the lack of claims from Russian milbloggers this likely reflects the overall stalling of the front at present.
- SOUTHERN: Russian shelling of Kherson has led Ukrainian authorities to reiterate calls for civilians to evacuate the city, but the overall pattern of military activity does not indicate a significant shift in threat level. Geolocated footage indicates that on 6 March Russian forces stepped up shelling against Ukrainian positions, including reconnaissance positions seven miles (11km) south-west of the city. There is no indication that Russian forces successfully dislodged the Ukrainian unit from its positions. Despite the moderate intensification of artillery strikes, Russian forces’ current priority along the southern axis is strengthening defensive positions in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in preparation for a potential Ukrainian spring counter-offensive. In recent days, several Russian milbloggers have continued to discuss the perceived vulnerabilities of Russian positions along the Zaporizhzhia line. Zaporizhzhia oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claimed on 6 March that Ukrainians are concentrating troops and equipment for an offensive towards the Sea of Azov in late March or early April, and while Rogov has made such claims before, the Russian information space is becoming increasingly concerned over the growing vulnerability of this front.
- ECONOMY: Russia’s federal budget deficit widened to USD 34bn for the first two months of 2023, meaning that the shortfall has already almost hit Moscow’s annual target of around USD 39bn. According to data published by the Ministry of Finance on 6 March, oil and gas revenues fell by 46% in January-February compared with the same period in 2022, while spending was 51.5% higher in the first two months of 2023. This indicates that Western sanctions on Russian oil, introduced in December, as well as Moscow’s decision to halt most of its natural gas exports to Europe in the second half of 2022, are undermining Russia’s revenue streams. Meanwhile, on 6 March, Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy lowered its GDP growth forecast for 2023 to 1% from 3.2%, based on the assessment that the war will continue beyond the middle of the year. However, Deputy Minister of Economy Oleksiy Sobolev said that inflation is gradually declining, providing a modestly positive outlook for Kyiv despite the conflict’s continued damage to the national economy.
- CORRUPTION: On 6 March, Semen Kryvonos was appointed as director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). Kyiv has boosted efforts to clamp down on corruption recently, including nationwide raids and investigations into government officials and oligarchs on 1 February. Although Kryvonos’ appointment is intended to signal that Kyiv is making headway on fighting corruption, his track record on corruption remains ambiguous, with previous questions around disparities in assets and income. Kryvonos is also reported to have links to officials within Zelensky’s Office, potentially contravening requirements for the NABU to be politically neutral and independent from government – though the extent of these connections remains unclear. Regardless of these issues with Kryvonos’ appointment, Kyiv’s determination to ensure continued Western support during the conflict will sustain its commitment to anti-corruption efforts, increasing the likelihood of further reforms.
- GRAIN: Kyiv has started online discussions with partners on extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, without direct negotiations with Russia. According to a senior Ukrainian government source familiar with the talks, Ukraine has not held negotiations with Russia, but it was understood that Ukraine’s partners (likely meaning the UN and Turkey) were talking to Moscow. The remarks come as the grain deal is due to expire on 18 March. Russia has repeatedly voiced dissatisfaction with the initiative, largely pertaining to sanctions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries, stating that they are a ‘barrier’ to its grain and fertiliser exports. Although Moscow has stated that the deal can only be renewed if these issues are addressed, it approved the previous extension. Ukraine’s decision to speak with partners without holding discussions with Russia likely indicates that Kyiv is pre-empting Moscow stalling or blocking the initiative’s renewal. If an agreement is not brokered by the deadline, there is a realistic possibility that global food prices will increase, affecting Africa and the Middle East most acutely.
BELARUS: This morning (7 March), Belarusian security services reported they had detained an individual allegedly involved in the drone attack against a Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft outside Minsk on 26 February (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 27 February). According to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the individual was a Russian citizen whom the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) recruited. At time of writing, Kyiv has yet to respond to the allegations. Since Minsk has claimed a clear link between the alleged partisan attack and Ukrainian intelligence, the risk of retaliatory escalation will increase moderately; Lukashenka has previously stated that Belarus will only intervene in the war if it is directly attacked.
It nevertheless remains unlikely that this would trigger a Belarusian entry into the war in and of itself. However, given the overall uptick in Ukrainian special operations inside Russia (and potentially Belarus) in recent weeks, retaliatory special operations or border raids/skirmishes remain a realistic possibility in the coming days. Just yesterday (6 March), Ukrainian intelligence confirmed that the so-called KRAKEN special forces unit destroyed a surveillance tower in Bryansk oblast, Russia, with kamikaze drones. Given Ukraine is clearly increasing its cross-border operations, the Kremlin will look to respond to what it is framing as ‘terrorist attacks’ – even though these are attacks on legitimate military targets.
Russia: Ban on Russian Transparency International underscores worsening governance and corruption risks. On 6 March, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office announced that Transparency International has been added to the list of undesirable organisations because the organisation allegedly threatens the constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation. As a result, the anti-corruption NGO is legally compelled to dissolve itself, and any individual cooperating with the NGO runs the risk of being prosecuted. The move follows the bans issued earlier this year targeting the liberal platform Free Russia Forum and the independent news outlet Meduza. The increasing list of undesirable organisations highlights the tightening grip of government on civil society, independent media outlets and NGOs with foreign connections. Ultimately, with the ban on Transparency International operations, the absence of an independent anti-corruption watchdog will worsen corruption and overall governance conditions in Russia.
Ukraine: Government appoints new anti-corruption official; independence issues threaten to undermine international confidence. On 6 March, Semen Kryvonos was appointed as director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). Kyiv has boosted efforts to clamp down on corruption recently, including nationwide raids and investigations into government officials and oligarchs. Although Kryvonos’ appointment is intended to signal that Kyiv is making headway on fighting corruption, his track record on corruption remains ambiguous, with previous questions about his assets not matching his official income. Kryvonos is also reported to have links to officials close to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Office, which could contradict the law that the head of NABU must be politically neutral and independent from the government. The existing allegations against Kryvonos raise questions around the independence of his appointment, but given Kyiv remains determined to root out corruption to ensure Western support for the war continues, further anti-corruption reforms are likely.
- BAKHMUT: As we anticipated last week, Ukrainian forces have likely begun a phased fighting withdrawal from Bakhmut. While we cannot confirm the extent to which Kyiv has decided to withdraw from the town, indications including geolocated footage suggest that Ukrainian forces are likely conducting or preparing for a withdrawal from sectors of eastern Bakhmut east of the Bakhmutka River. A key bridge spanning the river in the north-eastern section of the town has reportedly been dropped by Ukrainian forces, which likely aims at slowing Russian advances into the central and western sections of the town. However, Wagner Group forces pressing from the north will continue to pose the most serious threat to Ukrainian forces defending the town.
- BAKHMUT: Spokesperson for Ukraine’s Eastern Grouping of Forces Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty nevertheless stated on 6 March that Ukrainian forces are still able to deliver ammunition, food and medicine to the frontline in central Bakhmut and conduct medical evacuations. Last week, Ukrainian officials stated that Ukrainian forces have fortified the area west of Bakhmut, which they state could prevent Russian forces from rapidly consolidating control over the town if a Ukrainian withdrawal took place.
- BAKHMUT: Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin this morning (6 March) warned that if personnel and ammunition shortages worsened, Wagner forces would be unable to hold their current positions, which would threaten to collapse the entire Bakhmut frontline. Prigozhin also claimed that reservists which had meant to deploy to Bakhmut have been unexpectedly diverted elsewhere and that bureaucracy or ‘betrayal’ may be causing ammunition shortages. Prigozhin has frequently complained about ammunition shortages and alleged bureaucracy as part of an ongoing feud between himself and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Given the slow but steady Russian advances around Bakhmut, it remains a realistic possibility that Prigozhin’s statement is an attempt to undermine the MoD and indirectly threaten to withdraw his forces if he does not receive suitable institutional backing from Moscow. It remains highly unlikely that Wagner would withdraw their forces, but the implied threat likely speaks to Prigozhin’s weakening position amid the MoD’s reassertion of their authority over Wagner forces. Notably, Prigozhin’s comments come as Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has been visiting the occupied territories, including a visit to Mariupol on 5 March.
- BAKHMUT: Despite steady advances around Bakhmut, it remains unclear if Russian forces will be able to capitalise upon and consolidate the seizure of Bakhmut amid possible opportunities for Ukrainian counter-attacks. A number of prominent Russian milbloggers and hardliners have in recent days raised questions around Russia’s ability to capitalise on the capture of Bakhmut to launch fresh offensives, or even defend successfully against future Ukrainian counter-offensives. On 3 March, the commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR)’s Vostok Battalion Alexander Khodakovsky stated that Russian forces have gotten ‘carried away by Bakhmut and Vuhledar’, and that the tactical success around Bakhmut may be eclipsed by the costs of such a costly victory. The costly offensive against the operationally insignificant town of Bakhmut is likely to open up new vulnerabilities in the Russian frontline, which will in turn provide opportunities for Ukrainian forces to mount counter-offensives, which exhausted Russian forces will be less able to repel effectively.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Russian advances along the Oskil-Kreminna line remain limited, despite slow gains reported southwest of Svatove and in the direction of Kupiansk. Although Russian forces are at shelling distance from Kupiansk, justifying the Ukrainian authorities’ decision to evacuate vulnerable citizens, the advances made towards the city do not indicate that Russian forces have the capability to launch ground attacks at the city in the short term. On 4 March, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian offensives around Kreminna have failed, with several Russian ground attacks repelled by Ukrainian forces. On 3 March, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serhiy Haidai reported that failure to progress around Kreminna has forced Russian forces to resort to deploying heavy equipment, such as BMPT Terminators urban warfare armoured fighting vehicles. Overall, Russian forces are failing to generate momentum on this axis, which the deployment of advanced weapons platforms such as the Terminators is unlikely to radically alter in the short term.
- SOUTHERN: On 4 March, the Ukrainian General Staff continued to assess that Russian forces are setting conditions to launch an offensive by strengthening their defensive positions in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. While the Russian priority at present remains defensive, there is a realistic possibility that Russian forces are preparing a supplementary offensive along the Zaporizhzhia-Kherson axis. However, in recent weeks there have been limited indications of a substantial troop build-up along this front. Reports of deployments of Wagner Group forces to the Zaporizhzhia front in particular are potential indicators that Russian forces are not prioritising preparations along the southern front, given exhausted Wagner units from Donetsk oblast are likely replacing fresher units that had been stationed along the Zaporizhzhia line.
- STRIKES: On 6 March, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat emphasised that Ukraine needs modern fighter jets to counter the threat posed by Russia’s recent use of UPAB-1500B gliding bombs in Ukraine’s Chernihiv oblast. Equipped with an inertial and satellite navigation system, the new Russian gliding bomb can target highly protected ground and surface objects, and represents a new capability only recently deployed in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ihnat also reported that Ukrainian air defence intercepted 13 out of the 15 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia overnight on 6 March. In a separate but notable development, the Russian governor of Belgorod Vyacheslav Gladkov oblast reported that three Ukrainian missiles were shot down over the city of Novy Oskol on 6 March. While Kyiv has not confirmed, the attack could reflect an increase in Ukraine’s willingness to target Russian soil following the Bryansk raid last week.
- BELARUS: On 5 March, Belarusian human rights centre Viasna reported that the country’s security services (the KGB) are conducting raids and arresting individuals in the Minsk region after partisans allegedly attacked a Russian aircraft near the capital. According to Viasna, individuals are being taken to the KGB pre-trial detention centre after the searches. The crackdowns indicate that Belarusian officials are on high alert, with wider reports in late February indicating that authorities have increased border checks on people leaving the country following the reported attack – increasing the risk of further border closures disrupting supply chains into the EU. Individuals that are known to authorities for having previously expressed anti-government sentiment will be at a higher risk of arbitrary detention in response to further escalation and ‘terrorist attacks’. While there is a risk posed to foreign nationals, Belarusian dissidents will be most vulnerable to detention.
- CHINA: An unnamed European official claims that Beijing is angry with Moscow following US public statements that it has identified discussions over arms sales. In a report published by The Economist on 2 March, China allegedly wanted any prospective military support to remain a secret. The allegations run counter to Beijing’s repeated claims that it does not intend to send lethal aid to Russia for use in Ukraine, as well as cast doubts on the sincerity of its peace plan that has been criticised by several Western leaders (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 24 February 2023). A decision to send lethal aid to Russia would mark a significant shift in the war with major implications for Chinese supply chains, given Washington and its allies would likely impose a broad sanctions package against Beijing that targets its technology and defence sectors.
- AID: Kyiv’s ambassador to London Vadym Prystaiko announced on 4 March that the UK has doubled the number of Challenger 2 tanks that it is pledging to Ukraine, from 14 to 28. The announcement comes after UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated that the original 14 tanks to be delivered may arrive in Ukraine in the spring and that London could provide more depending on the UK’s own defence needs. Following the expected delays in both Leopard 2 and Abrams main battle tanks from European states and the US, expanding the number of Challenger 2s will likely aid Ukraine’s current efforts to generate fresh armoured battalions ahead of its planned late spring/early summer counter-offensive.
- NEGOTIATIONS: In an interview aired on 5 March, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that only Russian President Vladimir Putin can end the war in Ukraine. Scholz added that the Russian leader must withdraw troops from Ukrainian territory and that this would be the basis for discussions. The German chancellor also said that the West is ready to consider offering Kyiv security guarantees but only in ‘peaceful times’. Scholz’ comments come after reports that London, Berlin and Paris had offered Kyiv a rapprochement agreement with NATO which would provide Ukraine greater access to Western military equipment. However, such a deal would require a resumption of negotiations with Moscow. Ukraine is unlikely to return to peace talks with Russia at present, especially if negotiations would include ceding territory, though discussion of security guarantees underscores the West’s long-term commitments to Ukrainian security.
- BORDERS: Speaking on 3 March, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that measures will be taken to prevent future border incursions from Ukraine after the Ukraine-based Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) claimed it had crossed the border into Bryansk oblast in Russia. Peskov stated that an investigation will be carried out and noted that Moscow does not yet plan to change martial law readiness levels in the regions bordering Ukraine following the attack. However, this does not eliminate the possibility that martial law conditions will be strengthened in the future. Russian authorities are likely to boost their presence in the bordering region and step-up counter-intelligence screening across the country. For further analysis, see the FORECAST below.
ATTACKS: On 6 March, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed it had foiled an assassination attempt on the sanctioned Russian bbnaire and owner of nationalist broadcaster Tsargrad Konstantin Malofeyev. The FSB has claimed that ‘Ukrainian special forces’ had planted a car bomb under the oligarch’s vehicle. The operation had allegedly been coordinated by Denis Nikitin (real name Kapustin) under the oversight of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU). Nikitin is the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), the group that claimed responsibility for the Bryansk raid on 2 March. Nikitin claimed on 3 March that Kyiv had sanctioned the Bryansk raid, and while Kyiv has not confirmed this, it remains highly likely. While we cannot confirm RDK or Ukrainian involvement in the alleged assassination plot, Ukraine’s previous involvement in the assassination of ultranationalist Daria Dugina means this is a realistic possibility. This particularly given that Malofeyev is a particularly prominent far-right ultranationalist like the Dugin family (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 22 August 2022). Nevertheless, the attribution of the plot to Nikitin likely reflects Russian efforts to begin framing him as the face of alleged Ukrainian-backed ‘neo-Nazism’. As assessed last week, the Bryansk raid has provided Russian propagandists with a major opportunity to exploit Nikitin’s alleged neo-Nazi connections to justify the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. As such, pro-Russian dis- and mis-information operations are likely to increase across the globe in a bid to capitalise on the issue and frame Kyiv as supporting neo-Nazi terror attacks. Russian state media have in recent days been claiming that the RDK has links to the UK via the Azov Battalion, alleging that London had direct involvement in organising the Bryansk raid. Such alleged connections will likely set conditions for Moscow to accuse London and Washington D.C. (the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon powers’) of being state sponsors of terrorism, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 9 February 2023). The Kremlin has consistently attempted to frame the war in Ukraine as an operation to ensure domestic security inside Russia. While the Bryansk attack did provide an opportunity to justify a change to the status of the ‘special military operation’, it is notable that Moscow has not done so. President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Russian Security Council on 3 March, but nothing of major significance was reported in the official readout of the meeting. While the failure of the Kremlin to use this opportunity has triggered some backlash from hardliners, the decision likely reflects the Kremlin’s determination not to declare a state of emergency or formal state of war for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, as assessed above (see BORDERS), the risk of increasing martial law readiness levels in oblasts neighbouring Ukraine has increased following the Bryansk raid.
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Border shootout underscores volatile security environment in Nagorno-Karabakh; incident will further complicate peace process. On 5 March, five security personnel were killed in a clash between ethnic Armenian police and Azerbaijani soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh. Authorities claimed an Azerbaijani sabotage group shot three police officers during an ambush. Baku rejected the claim, suggesting that two Azerbaijani soldiers died in an attempt to stop a vehicle from smuggling weapons into the breakaway region. Tensions have been steadily rising in the region amid the three-month-long blockade of the Lachin Corridor. The refusal of Russian peacekeepers to intervene is driving the risk of further clashes or a resumption of Azerbaijani offensive operations later this year. The border clash will further complicate ongoing peace negotiations between both parties, underlining the volatile security environment in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
Belarus: Crackdown following partisan drone strike will increase risk of arbitrary detention. On 5 March, Belarusian human rights centre, Viasna, reported that the country’s security services (KGB) are arresting individuals in the Minsk region after partisans allegedly attacked a Russian aircraft near the capital. The crackdown suggests that Belarusian officials are on high alert, coming on the back of previous reports in late February indicating that authorities have increased border checks following the reported attack – increasing the risk of border closures that could disrupt supply chains. Individuals that are known to authorities for having previously expressed anti-government sentiment will be at a higher risk of arbitrary detention. While there is a risk to foreign nationals, Belarusian dissidents will continue to be most vulnerable. (Source: Sibylline)
10 Mar 23. Elite Ukrainian troops push Russia back from vital Bakhmut supply route. Ukrainian paratroopers defending Bakhmut say they have pushed Russian forces back from the crucial road being used to defend the embattled eastern town. Speaking to Radio Free Europe, a soldier named Nikolai described how Russian troops at one stage had got within 700 metres of the road linking Bakhmut to the Ukrainian-held town of Chasiv Yar, about eight miles to the west.
“Then they were closest to the highway – 700 meters. Now the distance is about two kilometers, maybe more,” he said.
The road is the last way for Ukraine to resupply its troops in Bakhmut, which has been under assault by Russian mercenaries and conventional forces for months.
Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top advisor, said on Thursday that Ukraine was “holding on” in Bakhmut, amid reports Kyiv’s forces were withdrawing from the town. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
10 Mar 23. Ukraine scorns Russian missile strikes on civilians, defence of Bakhmut holds.
- Ukraine says nine killed in Russian missile strikes
- Moscow deploys hypersonic Kinzhal missiles
- Kyiv says 10 regions hit, US calls attacks ‘devastating’
Russia’s first missile blitz on Ukrainian cities in weeks was met with defiance and disgust over the targeting of civilians, while Ukrainian forces defending the eastern town of Bakhmut continued to thwart Russian attempts to break through.
The pre-dawn barrage on Thursday killed at least nine civilians and cut electricity supplies in several cities, but there was relief that the risk of a catastrophic meltdown at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was averted as power was restored after a temporary disconnection from the Ukrainian grid.
Ukraine said its air defences shot down many drones and missiles during the wave of attacks, but said the Russian forces also fired six Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles, which they have no way to stop.
Moscow confirmed it had used hypersonic Kinzhal – Russian for dagger – missiles in Thursday’s attack.
The mass strikes on targets far from the front were the first such wave since mid-February, breaking a lull in the air campaign against Ukraine’s civil infrastructure that Russia launched five months ago.
“The occupiers can only terrorise civilians. That’s all they can do,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “But it won’t help them. They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they have done.”
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. Its defence ministry said it had carried out a “massive retaliatory strike” as payback for a cross-border raid last week, and claimed to have hit all its intended targets, destroying drone bases, disrupting railways and damaging facilities that make and repair arms.
The missiles killed villagers in the western Lviv region, and closer to the frontline in the central Dnipro region, while Russian artillery also killed at least three people in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
Moscow says such hits are intended to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight. Kyiv says the air strikes have no military purpose and aim to harm and intimidate civilians, a war crime.
In Kyiv, a woman stood outside her shattered apartment, holding a toddler in her arms while venting her anger with Russia in the aftermath of the attack.
“How can they do this? How is this possible? They are not humans,” said Liudmyla, 58, after a night in which the air sirens sounded for seven hours.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that the failure of Russian intelligence to identify military targets and led to a “Plan B – demoralising the population”.
“That is why they hit energy infrastructure, the weakest point, electricity, heating, water,” Zhdanov said in a YouTube presentation.
“And they seem unable to change their strategy with the notion that – whether they make hits or not – sooner or later the people will say ‘enough, we give up.’ But that won’t happen.”
The White House said that the barrage was “devastating” to see and Washington would continue to provide Ukraine with air defence capabilities.
But, Russia is believed to have a few dozen Kinzhals, which fly many times faster than the speed of sound and are built to carry nuclear warheads with a range of more than 2,000 km (1,200 miles). In his speeches, President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the Kinzhal as a weapon for which the transatlantic NATO alliance backing Kyiv has no answer.
The missile attacks briefly knocked out power to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, severing it from the grid and forcing it onto emergency diesel power to prevent a meltdown. It was later reconnected to Ukraine’s energy grid, operator Ukrenergo said.
The plant, which Russia has held since capturing it early in the war, is near the front line and both sides have warned in the past of a potential for disaster. Moscow said it was safe.
U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi made an impassioned appeal for a protection zone around the plant.
“Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out,” Grossi told the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
UKRAINE FIGHTS ON AT BAKHMUT
On the battlefield, the week has seen an apparent shift as Ukraine has decided to fight on in Bakhmut, a town that has borne the brunt of a Russian winter offensive in the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Moscow says Bakhmut is important as a step to securing the surrounding Donbas region, a major war aim. The West says the ruined city has little value and Russian forces are sacrificing lives to give Putin his only victory since sending hundreds of thousands of reservists into battle at the end of last year.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner private army which has led the fighting in Bakhmut, said on Wednesday his forces controlled all of the city east of a river through it.
Giving an update on the situation there, the Ukrainian military analyst Zhdanov, said defenders had foiled Russian attempts to completely surround Bakhmut from the west, and the frontline on the southern side had held for several days, while the enemy had made some headway in villages to the north.
Moscow, which claims to have annexed a fifth of Ukraine, says it launched its “special military operation” a year ago to combat a security threat. Kyiv and the West call it an unprovoked war to subdue an independent state. (Source: Reuters)
09 Mar 23. Slovak defence minister says time to decide on sending MiG-29s to Ukraine. Slovakia must make a decision on sending MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Thursday, referring to a fleet of 11 that were retired last summer, not all of them in operational condition.
“I think it is time to make a decision,” Nad said on Facebook. “People are dying in Ukraine, we can really help them, there is no room for Slovak politicking.”
Nad said he had spoken to Poland’s defence minister at a European Union meeting on Wednesday and was told Warsaw would agree to a joint process to hand over MiG-29 jets to Ukraine.
Western countries that have provided Ukraine with arms have so far declined to send fighter jets. Poland has said it would be willing to send war planes in a coalition of countries.
On Thursday, the head of the president’s office, Pawel Szrot, told Radio Puls the number of aircraft would be less than the 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks Poland has promised to deliver to Ukraine.
“It will certainly not correspond to the number of Leopards transferred. We will certainly do it in a broader international coalition,” Szrot said.
Countries along the NATO military alliance’s eastern flank, like Poland and Slovakia, have been strong backers of Ukraine since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
Warsaw’s commitment to its neighbour has been important in persuading European allies to donate heavy weapons to Ukraine, including tanks, a move opposed by several governments, including Germany, until recently.
Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said last month the country could start discussions on delivering planes after Kyiv officially asked for them.
Heger’s government is ruling in a caretaker capacity until early elections set for September, and Nad has said he was prepared to involve parliament in deciding on the jets plan.
09 Mar 23. Loss of ‘Mainstay’ hampering Russo-Belarusian air activity, says UK MoD. The loss of the airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) capability provided by the Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay’ is hampering joint Russian and Belarusian air activity, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has determined.
In its latest intelligence update posted on 9 March, the MoD said that the A-50U that was previously reported as attacked by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at Maschulishchy Air Base (also known as Minsk-Machulishche Air Base) in Belarus on 26 February had been flown out of theatre for repairs, and that its loss was affecting ongoing air operations.
“On 7 March, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko confirmed that one of Russia’s small fleet of A-50U ‘Mainstay-D’ airborne early warning and control aircraft deployed in Belarus had been damaged. The aircraft was almost certainly attacked by a small uncrewed air system. The ‘Mainstay’ has likely now been moved to a repair facility at Taganrog in Russia. The transit flight reportedly took place at a lower-than-usual altitude, likely because of damage to the pressurised cabin. (Source: Janes)
09 Mar 23. On EU, Ukraine borders, Belarus special forces are ‘ready.’ Belarusian special forces troops have been conducting drills on the border with Ukraine and Poland, raising concerns over a potential intervention in Ukraine. The drills were part of a tightly controlled press tour of the 38th Separate Guards Air Assault Brigade. Vadim Lukashevich, deputy commander of the Special Operations Forces of Belarus, said the troops were “ready to fulfill any tasks, including the most difficult ones if we have to”. Belarus is hosting an undeclared number of Russian soldiers but Lukashenko has promised not to send his own forces over the southern border to Ukraine. He has repeatedly said that Minsk should be ready for any turn of events. Belarus, which retains much of its Soviet legacy and institutions, has been closed to foreign media, particularly after historic anti-government demonstrations in 2020. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has hosted an unknown number of Russian troops but has pledged not to send his own forces to Ukraine. Lukashenko, who has ruled for almost three decades, has repeatedly said that Minsk should be prepared for any turn of events. (Source: SOFX.com)
09 Mar 23 Russian missiles strike Ukrainian cities as ground battle rages in Bakhmut.
- Missiles rain down across the country
- Mercenary chief: Russians hold part of bombed-out city
- Smoke billows over Bakhmut, buildings burn
- EU agrees to push ahead on joint arms buying to help Kyiv
Russian missiles struck cities across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, the Black Sea port of Odesa and the second city of Kharkiv early on Thursday, while Ukrainian defenders repelled fierce assaults on the beleaguered town of Bakhmut.
The missiles hit a wide arc of targets, including cities stretching from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions were registered in the southwestern part of the town and rescue services were on their way. Some residents reported power cuts.
The governor of Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, said on Telegram that a mass missile attack had hit an energy facility in the port city, cutting power. Residential areas had also been hit.
Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synehubov said the city and region had been hit by 15 strikes, with targets including infrastructure. Other strikes were reported in the central city of Dnipro and regions throughout the country.
Late on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said its forces had managed to push back intense Russian attacks on the eastern mining town of Bakhmut, despite a Russian claim of control of its eastern half.
As one of the bloodiest battles of the year-long war ground on in the town’s ruins, Ukrainian defenders – who last week appeared to be preparing for a tactical retreat – remained defiant.
“The enemy continued its attacks and has shown no sign of a letup in storming the city of Bakhmut,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Facebook. “Our defenders repelled attacks on Bakhmut and on surrounding communities.”
Ukrainian military and political leaders now speak of hanging on to positions and inflicting as many casualties as possible on the Russians to grind down their fighting capability.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Wednesday that the battle for Bakhmut and the surrounding Donbas region was “our first priority”.
In a separate interview with CNN, he said: “We think that in the Donbas direction Russia has started its offensive. This is the offensive. This is what it looks like: a slow aggression, because they don’t have enough strength and forces.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, said his fighters had captured the eastern part of Bakhmut. If true, Russian forces would control nearly half the city in a costly pursuit of their first big victory in several months.
“Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of Wagner,” Prigozhin said on the Telegram messaging app.
The river bisects Bakhmut, on the edge of Ukraine’s Donetsk province that is already largely under Russian occupation. The town centre is on the west side of the river. (Source: Reuters)
08 Mar 23. This is the only way Russia can make big territorial gains in Ukraine, says US intelligence agency
Director of National Intelligence says beleaguered military lacks ammunition and troops necessary to sustain its current level of fighting
Russia will need to begin a mandatory mobilisation and receive a flood of weapons from China if it is to make any major territorial gains in Ukraine this year, according to a new US intelligence assessment.
Avril Haines, US Director of National Intelligence, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the beleaguered Russian military lacked the ammunition and troops necessary to sustain its current level of fighting and may be forced to shift to a hold-and-defend strategy, dragging out the war.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, “appears to be focused on more modest military objectives now”, said Ms Haines, appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee as officials released their annual threat assessment report.
“If Russia does not initiate a mandatory mobilisation and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain the current level of offensive operations in the coming months,” she said.
“And consequently, they may fully shift to holding and defending territories they occupy.”
After major setbacks and large battlefield losses, “in short, we do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains”, Ms Haines told the Senate hearing.
Nevertheless, she added that Putin “most likely calculates that time works in his favour”.
The leader likely believes that prolonging the war, with intermittent pauses in fighting, “may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russian strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years”.
Moscow’s military power is now significantly constrained by troop losses and arms depletion that is exacerbated by trade restrictions and sanctions placed by the US and allies, she noted.
Ms Haines, reporting on the sum of views in the broad US intelligence community, said that one year after invading Ukraine but failing in his primary goals for the operation, Putin now probably has a better understanding of the limitations of his forces.
The threat assessment report notes that Russia wants to avoid direct conflict with the US, but setbacks in Ukraine could prompt Moscow to escalate the war.
“There is real potential for Russia’s military failures in the war to hurt Putin’s domestic standing and thereby trigger additional escalatory actions by Russia in an effort to win back public support,” the report said. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
08 Mar 23. US Army is moving to get tanks to Ukraine ‘as quickly as possible.’ The U.S. Army is already executing on a plan to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the Army’s acquisition chief said Wednesday.
The Pentagon announced early this year it would send General Dynamics Land Systems-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Since then, Defense Department officials have said they were weighing a variety of options, including building new tanks or drawing existing older tanks from U.S. inventory.
But speaking at a webcast hosted by Defense News, Doug Bush said Wednesday the Army already has a plan. “We’re executing it,” he said. “We just can’t talk about the details.”
Late last month, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Army would not be able to get tanks to Ukraine for at least months and quite possibly not before the end of this year.
“There are longer timelines involved, but I think there are options that are less than two years, less than a year-and-a-half,” she said.
Sending tanks to Ukraine is not a simple process, Bush said.
“It’s not just sending a tank,” he said. “A tank by itself is not a military capability, you have to send the whole package. That includes ammunition, vehicles to maintain it, fuel, you have to do the training on the system so that it can be sustained in combat.”
Making the effort more complex, “we have to prepare equipment to go in a way that doesn’t impact readiness of U.S. Army units and it doesn’t affect deliveries of equipment to other allies, who we are also working to fulfill their order for M1 Abrams tanks,” Bush said.
The Pentagon is not yet ready to announce a timeline for delivering Abrams to Ukraine, he added, and likely will never announce an “exact” schedule. “We don’t want to give the Russians certainty about when something’s going to arrive, but efforts are underway to do it as quickly as possible,” Bush said. (Source: Defense News)
07 Mar 23. Russia remains a ‘very capable’ cyber adversary, Nakasone says. U.S. Cyber Command is keeping a close watch on digital activity in the Russia-Ukraine war that may coincide with a springtime renewal of military operations, according to the organization’s leader, Gen. Paul Nakasone. Nakasone, who oversees both CYBERCOM and the National Security Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 7 that his teams are monitoring the situation in Ukraine “very carefully,” noting that Russia remains a “very capable adversary.”
“By no means is this done, in terms of the Russia-Ukraine situation,” Nakasone said, responding to questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. “So, as Russia looks at armaments coming into the country, as Russia looks at different support, how do they react?”
The war in Eastern Europe kicked off Feb. 24, 2022, when Moscow launched a surprise incursion across the border into Ukraine, seeking to topple the government in Kyiv.
The invasion was preceded by a flurry of cyberattacks, including one on Viasat, a California company, meant to cripple command and control networks. The hack had no effect on Viasat’s government customers.
One year later, as winter gives way to spring, the thawed militaries are expected to launch new offensives. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in February said Russian moves — with “thousands of more troops” — were already underway.
Exactly how additional digital belligerence might buttress such campaigns, Nakasone did not say. He did, however, acknowledge that Russian troops “have been very active in Ukraine, in terms of conducting a number of cyberattacks, including destructive and disruptive attacks.”
The CyberPeace Institute, a Switzerland-based nongovernmental organization, cataloged in 2022 more than 50 discrete assaults on Ukrainian critical infrastructure and civilian systems.
Government leaders and analysts have feared similar attacks stateside. While they have yet to come to fruition, Nakasone said U.S. vigilance has not diminished. CYBERCOM is charged with defending U.S. networks and coordinating military strikes in the digital domain.
“We continue to work very tightly with our other partners within the U.S. government, [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency], FBI, to ensure that our U.S. critical infrastructure is protected, and NATO, in general, to ensure that they’re aware of the tradecraft that the Russians might use,” Nakasone said.
U.S. defense officials consider Russia a near-peer national security threat, alongside the longer-term hazards posed by China.
Neal Higgins, the deputy national cyber director for national cybersecurity, in June warned Russia may become more cyber aggressive as fighting drags on.
Cyber tools, Higgins said at the time, could be “used divide our allies and to dilute international resolve against” Russian efforts. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
07 Mar 23. Poland says it will send 10 more Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine this week. Poland will send 10 more German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine this week, the Polish defence minister said on Tuesday.
“Four (tanks) are already in Ukraine, another 10 will go to Ukraine this week,” Mariusz Blaszczak told a news conference. Poland has promised to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks in total.
Blaszczak was heading to a meeting of European Union defence ministers in Stockholm on Tuesday to discuss the security of Europe and support for Ukraine.
“We are also scheduled for talks with Boris Pistrius, the German defence minister. The basic issue we will talk about is the low availability of spare parts for Leopard tanks,” Blaszczak said.
This problem could be solved primarily by the German arms industry and Poland is also ready to produce such parts, he added.
“We are ready to launch a service hub in Poland, which will deal with the repair and service of Leopard tanks delivered to Ukraine,” Blaszczak said. (Source: Reuters)
08 Mar 23. EU haggles over more ammunition for Ukraine — and itself. A year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the scale of the latter is dawning on the EU. Context: The war has exposed Europe’s woeful defence shortcomings. Supporting Kyiv has drained weapons stockpiles and the continent’s arms factories cannot produce enough to meet current demand, let alone replenish inventories. Fixing that was on the menu last night as EU defence ministers dined in Stockholm. Practical measures will be discussed in a series of meetings today. The focus is on artillery shells: how to urgently get more to Ukraine and then manufacture more for Europe’s own future needs. The first is a straightforward question of cash. Estonia has proposed a voluntary fund of €4bn to buy 1mn shells. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign and security chief, is offering the ministers €1bn from the bloc’s joint weapons fund. Those haggling for more will probably realise that the longer they argue, the longer Ukraine will wait. The second is more complex. EU capitals are reluctant to give more to Ukraine without guarantees that their armouries will be restocked. Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, says there are 15 companies in 11 EU countries that manufacture 155mm artillery shells. His task today is to get the 27 ministers to agree on how to scale them up. Breton yesterday confirmed that the commission thinks EU budget money can be used, suggesting a fund for part-financing joint defence projects could be repurposed to deal “immediately and directly with [defence] companies.” In addition, Breton wants the EU-controlled European Investment Bank to tweak its rules and pump cash into the defence industry. Both ideas are controversial, with resistance both in national capitals and inside the commission. The EU’s governing treaties ban funds from being used for armament. But those pushing the idea inside the commission say that, first, it would fund industry and not weapons directly, and second, well, desperate needs call for desperate measures. It’s not lost on military planners that if Russia is fighting an artillery war against Ukraine, it would probably use similar tactics in a possible war with an EU state. “We will do what we believe we have to do,” Breton said yesterday. “It will probably be a game-changer.” Chart du jour: Cash piles A huge jump in Belgian liabilities to Russian banks is just one intriguing data clue in this investigation by Martin Sandbu into the “shadow reserves” of Moscow’s unsanctioned cash pile. Tragic questions Italy’s tough-on-migration prime minister Giorgia Meloni is wrestling with the reality of dealing with the issue in practice, facing intense scrutiny over the deaths of dozens of people off the Italian coast — and whether the tragedy could have been prevented, writes Amy Kazmin. Context: A wooden boat carrying some 200 people fleeing Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere smashed against rocks just 40 metres from shore on February 26. Seventy-two people, including 28 children, are confirmed drowned, with others still missing. Though Italian authorities were alerted to the incoming boat, they did not intercept it. Meloni, who has vowed to stop migrants arriving in Italy without permission, has previously insisted that the government is not to blame and has done what it could. But her government is facing mounting accusations that the authorities deliberately failed to rescue the doomed passengers. Questions abound over the exact chain of events in the hours between when the boat was first spotted and when it broke apart, and why the coastguard was not dispatched to rescue the imperilled. Meloni is holding a cabinet meeting tomorrow near the site of the deadly shipwreck. Whether this can calm the anguish is unclear. In the coastal town in Calabria where the disaster took place, thousands of people, led by the local Catholic priest and imam, marched to shore carrying a wooden cross fashioned out of the planks of the fishing boat to honour the victims. Among those who drowned was a prominent Afghan journalist, Torpekai Amarkhel, who worked for years with the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. She died along with her husband and children. Others include Shahida Raza, a former member of Pakistan’s women’s field hockey team and single mother of a disabled son. At its meeting tomorrow, the cabinet is expected to reaffirm its determination to crack down on human trafficking, which Meloni says is the only way to prevent such tragedies. (Source: FT.com)
07 Mar 23. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has doubled down on defending Bakhmut despite earlier signals of a withdrawal from the eastern city that is almost surrounded by Russian troops. In an overnight video address, Zelenskyy said he had met his top generals who had “unanimously” advised “do not withdraw but reinforce”. It is unusual for the president to cite the advice of his top commanders. His intervention comes amid reports of concerns among western officials, analysts and some Ukrainian troops at the frontline about the merits of holding on to the city despite the costs. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that a retreat from Bakhmut should not be seen as an “operational or strategic setback”. Zelenskyy said that he had ordered General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, “to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut”. “There is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned,” Zelenskyy added. The battle for the city, known among Ukrainian troops as “Fortress Bakhmut”, has lasted almost nine months, one of the most grinding stand-offs since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The largely bombed-out city has been assailed by Russian troops from its east, north and south. “The Ukrainian defence of Bakhmut continues to degrade forces on both sides,” the UK’s defence ministry said on Twitter on Tuesday. Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, said that taking control of Bakhmut would allow his troops to “continue an offensive” into the Ukrainian defences, according to Interfax. He estimated that Ukrainian casualties grew 40 per cent in February to 11,000. Ukraine’s general staff on Tuesday said 1,060 Russian soldiers had been killed along all front lines since February 24. The claims could not be independently verified. Capturing Bakhmut, one of the last of several major cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region not under Russian occupation, would give Putin his first major battlefield victory since his forces captured the nearby sister cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk early last summer. Recommended Gideon Rachman China has a fateful choice to make on Ukraine Ukraine counter-attacked last autumn twice to retake areas in the north-east as well as the southern city of Kherson. But Russian forces still occupy eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, accounting for just under 20 per cent of its territory. Austin’s comments about a Ukrainian retreat echoed suggestions by some western officials and experts that Kyiv should pull out to preserve its forces ahead of its own planned counter-offensive. That push is expected after the arrival this spring of fresh western weaponry, including modern tanks from Nato countries. But Ukrainian officials and experts have said their continued defence of Bakhmut is eroding Russia’s military firepower. They say Russian losses in the battle have far exceeded Ukraine’s. Zelenskyy’s national security chief Oleksiy Danilov on Friday said the casualties had been “one to seven in our favour”. “We are destroying the occupier everywhere — wherever it yields results for Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said in his video address. “Bakhmut has yielded and is yielding one of the greatest results during this war.” (Source: FT.com)
06 Mar 23. Ukraine seeks US cluster bombs to adapt for drone use, lawmakers say. Ukraine has broadened a request for controversial cluster bombs from the United States to include a weapon that it wants to cannibalize to drop the anti-armor bomblets it contains on Russian forces from drones, according to two U.S. lawmakers.
Kyiv has urged members of Congress to press the White House to approve sending the weapons but it is by no means certain that the Biden administration will sign off on that. Cluster munitions, banned by more than 120 countries, normally release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area, threatening civilians.
Ukraine is seeking the MK-20, an air-delivered cluster bomb, to release its individual explosives from drones, said U.S. Representatives Jason Crow and Adam Smith, who both serve on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. That is in addition to 155 mm artillery cluster shells that Ukraine already has requested, they said.
They said Ukrainian officials urged U.S. lawmakers at last month’s Munich Security Conference to press for White House approval.
Ukraine hopes cluster munitions will give it an edge in the grinding fight against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has said publicly that it wants U.S. cluster munitions. The petition for MK-20s – also known as CBU-100s – has not been reported previously.
The Ukrainian Embassy referred Reuters to the defense ministry in Kyiv, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A National Security Council spokesperson said that while Ukraine and the White House “closely coordinate” on military aid, she had no “new capabilities to announce.”
FIGHTING THE “HUMAN WAVE”
Ukraine wants the artillery rounds – the Dual-Purpose Conventional Improved Munitions (DPICM) – to halt the kinds of “human wave” attacks that Russia has mounted in its months-long drive to overrun the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut, the lawmakers said.
Each shell disperses 88 submunitions.
The MK-20 is delivered by aircraft. It opens in mid-flight, releasing more than 240 dart-like submunitions, or bomblets.
The Ukrainian military believes these submunitions “have better armor-piercing capability” than the weapons it has been dropping from drones, said Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Ukraine, battling an enemy with more manpower and weaponry, has used drones extensively for surveillance and for dropping explosives on Russian forces.
Crow, a Democrat and U.S. Army veteran, said he might support giving the MK-20 with assurances that Ukrainians would remove the bomblets and “use them in a non-cluster employment.”
Textron Systems Corporation stopped producing MK-20s in 2016 after the United States halted sales to Saudi Arabia but a congressional aide said there are more than 1 m of them in U.S. military stockpiles.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also participated in last month’s conference, confirmed that Ukrainian officials in Munich urged U.S. lawmakers to press the White House to provide Kyiv with cluster munitions. He said he would do so this week.
The congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukrainian officials also privately have been lobbying lawmakers in Washington to press for White House approval.
“That’s not going to happen,” Smith said, referring to Biden administration signoff.
Since the start of the conflict Ukraine has asked for – and largely received – weapons that the U.S. initially refused, including HIMARS missile launchers, Patriot air defense batteries and Abrams tanks. But cluster munitions could be a step too far for the administration and some in Congress.
Opponents argue that when bomblets scatter they can maim and kill civilians and have high failure rates, with duds posing a danger for years after a conflict ends.
A 2008 pact prohibiting the production, use and stockpiling of cluster munitions has been adopted by 123 countries, including most of NATO’s 28 members. The United States, Russia and Ukraine have declined to join.
Giving the Ukrainians “a banned weapon would undermine their moral authority in a way that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin would exploit,” said Tom Malinowski, a former congressman who served as the top State Department human rights official.
But there is some support in Congress. The congressional aide said most Republicans “are fairly amenable” to Ukraine’s requests.
“This is a war where (the Ukrainians) are outmanned,” Graham told Reuters. “And cluster munitions really are pretty lethal to mass formations as well as armor. In the areas where they are going to use this stuff there are no civilians.”
A 2009 law bans exports of U.S. cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than 1 percent, which covers virtually all of the U.S. military stockpile. U.S. President Joe Biden can waive the prohibition.
Ukrainian and Russian forces both have used such weapons since Russia first seized Ukrainian territory in 2014, according to news reports and human rights groups.
The U.S. Army is spending more than $6 m a year to decommission 155 mm cluster artillery shells and other older munitions, according to budget documents
Providing DCIPMs would ease shortages of other kinds of 155 mm shells that Washington has been shipping to Kyiv in massive quantities, the congressional aide said.
Crow said he opposed providing the DCIPMs to Ukraine because of the high failure rate of the bomblets, which would worsen Ukraine’s already massive unexploded ordnance problem.
The State Department says that some 174,000 square-kilometers of territory – nearly one-third of Ukraine – are contaminated by landmines or other “explosive remnants of war.” (Source: Reuters)
07 Mar 23. ‘Dangerously low’ UK ammunition stocks put Ukraine’s resupply at risk. Defence committee warns of ‘wake-up call for the West’ after learning that munitions stockpile could take a decade to replenish
Britain’s ammunition stocks are at “dangerously low levels” amid support for Ukraine, the Defence Select Committee has warned.
Rebuilding the country’s dwindling stockpile of munitions in the wake of the conflict could take at least a decade, putting UK national security at risk, the MPs warned.
The Commons Defence Committee said the process for buying weapons is “not fit for purpose” and urged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to cut the time needed to restore stockpiles.
In a new report released on Tuesday, the committee said: “It is clear that the UK and its Nato allies have allowed ammunition stockpiles to dwindle to dangerously low levels.
“Whilst Russia is also facing the diminution of its stockpiles, other adversaries are able to maintain and potentially increase their own.
“This inability to replenish UK stockpiles therefore puts at risk not just our ability to resupply Ukraine but also to counter any threat to our own security.”
‘Hollowing out’ and ‘unfunding’
It comes as defence is set to get a funding boost in the upcoming Budget, with Rishi Sunak confirming the increase during a trip to the US at the weekend.
Speaking at a defence conference in London on Monday, Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said he was “pretty confident” the MoD would be supported in next week’s Budget, but that the “real battle to come” would be the departmental spending negotiations for the rest of the decade, due to start around 2024.
He said the Government would need to “send a strong signal” that, from the middle of the decade, “defence will just have a greater share than it has traditionally done.”
Mr Wallace also warned that European defence forces had suffered decades of “hollowing out”.
He said: “The 30 years of hollowing out was the product of [successive] No 10s unfunding and military chiefs going along for the ride”.
“Ultimately the person who paid the price was the hollowed out forces.”
It comes after Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, urged Western allies in February to step up production, warning that Ukraine was using munitions faster than their supporters were able to supply them.
Last month, Thomas Gassilloud, a leading French MP, warned there were concerns in his country that Britain had given weapons to Ukraine from its own supplies, leaving its forces depleted.
The defence committee report said it was essential that the UK’s defence industrial capacity was both “resilient and scalable” if it was to be able to ramp up production.
“The MoD produced a strategy aimed at improving the way that it engages with industry and allies almost two years ago and yet we have been told it will take at least a decade to replenish (and then increase to a sustainable level) UK ammunition stockpiles,” the MPs said.
“We therefore recommend that the department produce an action plan of how it intends to grow defence industrial capacity and reduce the time taken to replenish UK stockpiles.
“The Minister for Defence Procurement told us that funding had been granted to the MoD in the Autumn Statement to both replenish and then increase UK ammunition stockpiles. However, this was projected to take over a decade.”
Tobias Ellwood, the committee’s chairman, said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be a wake-up call for the West. Safety, security and democracy are hard won and easily lost.
“A powerful, resilient Armed Forces, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies overseas, is the best deterrent against aggression.”
06 Mar 23. Double the Challenger tanks for Ukraine? British MoD says no.
Britain is to double the number of main battle tanks it is sending to bolster the Ukrainian defenses, the country’s ambassador in London said in a interview with Europe’s Radio Liberty.
But the British Ministry of Defence has rowed back on any suggestion Challenger 2 numbers heading for the Ukraine are to be doubled from 14 to 28 – at least for now.
The MoD has previously signaled they are open to increasing the numbers of Challengers destined for Ukraine, but said Mar. 4 there are currently no plans to do so.
Britain announced it was donating Challenger 2s in January in a move that proved a catalyst for reluctant NATO allies to get off the fence and make similar offers.
Several allies led by Germany, at least in terms of numbers, are donating Leopard 2 tanks.
The U.S. has also pledged to deliver 31 M1 Abrams tanks, although they won’t be delivered until late this year.
Vadim Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador here, told listeners to Radio Liberty the deal to double Challenger 2 deliveries had been struck during a recent visit to the UK by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“If we were promised 14 tanks, then as a result of President Zelensky’s visit, that number will double,” Prystaiko was quoted as saying.
Zelensky, alongside British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, visited Ukrainian troops training on the Challenger 2 at a facility in Dorset , South West England in early February.
Sunak has previously promised British tanks would start arriving in the Ukraine by the end of March.
Doubling tank deliveries from the U.K. would likely spark further concern that some British military capabilities are being adversely impacted by the donation of weapons to the Ukraine.
The British are the second-biggest weapons supplier to the Ukraine after the U.S., having dispatched thousands of anti-armor and anti-air missiles, long-range artillery and a plethora of other military equipment.
The drawdown of weapons at a time of when British stockpiles are low anyway prompted Gen. Sir Patrick Sanders, the British Army’s chief of the General Staff, to tell soldiers in a memo recently that delivery of weapons to the Ukraine would leave the military “temporarily weaker.”
Challenger 2 numbers are likely one of the weapons Sanders had in mind, with the numbers of the aging tank being operationally available recently called into question by lawmakers.
The UK Challenger 2 inventory stands at 227 tanks.
A £800m ($963m) deal with Rheinmetall BAE Systems sealed in 2021 will see just 148 of those updated to a new Challenger 3 standard, which includes a new turret with a 120-millimeter smoothbore gun replacing the current rifled weapon, new sensors, Rafael’s Trophy active protection system, and other improvements.
Challenger numbers have tanked considerably in recent years. But as part of a wider review of British military requirements in the wake of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, there may be a rethink on the amount needed.
The review is expected to be published in the next few weeks, after the government’s Spring budget is rolled out March 15.
Prospects for an increase in defense spending by the government are maybe a little brighter after months of arm wrestling between Defence Secretary Ben Wallace one side and the Prime Minister and the chancellor on the other. They had argued over the need for a budget rise for the military – not least due to rampant inflation and the weakness of the pound sterling.
The size of the hit on defense funding was made apparent by Wallace late last year when he told the parliamentary Defence Committee that the inflationary and foreign exchange pressures on his budget for the next two years stood at a whopping £8 bbn.
For weeks the media have been reporting the MoD were losing the battle for additional funds to help rebuild a military capability hollowed out by years of government underspending on defense.
One media outlet reported an unnamed senior U.S. general privately telling Wallace the British Army is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.
The Sunday Times on March 5 reported that Sunak will announce a multibbn-pound rise in spending when he visits U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington next weekend.
The newspaper reported unnamed insiders saying the rise would be worth “several billion pounds” over the next two years, but significantly less than the £10bn Wallace has been fighting for, particularly to rebuild the Army. (Source: Defense News)
05 Mar 23. Russia and Ukraine rapidly accelerate C-UAS capabilities in face of new drone threats. At the start of 2023 the next phase of the drone/counter-drone war began in earnest in Ukraine. With new, more lethal, loitering munitions being deployed by both sides, new, more capable counter-UAS systems have also been sent into battle (See also box: “Western allies ramp up supplies of counter-UAS equipment to Ukraine”)
The start of the year saw a wave of Russian drone strikes against Ukrainian civil targets followed by a wave of Ukrainian drone strikes against targets in in southern and western Russia. These attacks were another catalyst in the process of both sides rapidly increasing the number and effectiveness of their C-UAS capabilities.
During the last few months of 2022, new more lethal drones began appearing on the battlefield. As previously reported, many Ukrainian counter drone systems proved inadequate in dealing with Russian loitering munitions such as the Zala/Kalashnikov Lancet-3 or Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drones.
But a large number of these Shahed drones have been shot down. According to a report from the UK’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI): “The Ukrainians claim a success rate of between 50% and 70% in defending against them – (but) they have still inflicted considerable damage, even with their relatively small warheads. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conceded their effectiveness in his 21 December speech to the US Congress, where he said that ‘Iranian deadly drones, sent to Russia in [their] hundreds, became a threat to our critical infrastructure’.”
“Kamikaze drones have become a real headache for Ukrainian troops….,” according to Belgian C-UAS analyst Tim de Zitter posting on Linkedin. “Because the drone is guided to the target using tactical reconnaissance such as Orlan-30 or Zala, it is very difficult to detect the approaching Lancet or Kub in advance, and it is also challenging to jam the radio control channel because at the final stage, it is already controlled by an inertial system.”
And according to a blog by C-UAS company Droneshield. “Smaller drones can be used in four ways in warfare: precise payload delivery (such as dropping explosives or kamikaze attacks), surveillance (scouting out enemy positions to send a mortar or otherwise coordinate an attack), nuisance/loitering and cyber/hacking (using proximity to enemy networks to hack in via a drone, and degrade/infiltrate the networks).”
For Russia, ramping up battlefield C-UAS capabilities has meant changing the focus away from large-scale air defence units to developing a new generation of more mobile systems aimed specifically at targeting small drones.
At the start of January, it was reported that: “mass production of new electronic warfare and anti-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems will start in the next couple of months,” in Russia. “Within one to two months it is planned to complete state tests and switch to mass production of a fundamentally new generation of aviation and ground electronic warfare and combat UAVs.” Russian state-owned defence enterprise Rostec said on Telegram.
What kind of new C-UAS weapons will these be?
It is clear that Russia has quickly developed and produced new ranges of lightweight C-UAS systems capable of engaging small commercial drones, some of which were on display at the recent IDEX exhibition.
For example, Russian firm St Petersburg’s PPSh Laboratory has recently unveiled the LPD-802 electronic warfare gun. According to a November TASS report: “Currently, the LPD-802 drone jammer is undergoing all the required tests. The LPD-802 has its interior design completely renewed and features smaller dimensions, which is vital in its operation. Compared to the LPD-801 model, the LPD-802 boasts enhanced power and an extra jamming frequency band to suppress American drones.”
SVD and SVD-S sniper rifles are now equipped with thermal imaging sights and portable laser devices to target small drones at a distance of 300-700m and Russia’s Military Thought magazine in January carried an article which hinted at the development of a new universal remotely controlled combat module (RSWM) with an automatic guidance system and tactical augmented reality goggles, specifically to tackle the threat of small drones. The new system would integrate remote control, automatic aiming, microwave detection, tracking and suppression, via a low-power laser and MANPADS, all within a common mission management module.
For its part, Ukraine has seen a rapid escalation in C-UAS equipment supplies over the last few months (see: “Western allies ramp up supplies of counter-UAS equipment to Ukraine”). These new, more capable systems are taking a heavy toll on Russian drone attacks.
In a November 2022 Stimson Center on-line seminar, “Ukraine and the Future of Air Warfare.” Samuel Bendett, a Russia studies expert from the CNA policy centre said he’s seen figures from 60-90 percent of these drone attacks destroyed through accurate C-UAS counter-measures, but all it takes its for one of these UAVs to make it through to take out power plants, water distribution systems and other civilian infrastructure. It is unlikely that Russia yet worked out how to use drones with an artificial intelligence, according to a report of the proceedings “such that they coordinate with each other through machine intelligence, but they are sometimes used in “swarms” that make targeting a challenge – although a better word is “mass”, rather than “swarms.”
According to the RUSI report – “On 30 November, the spokesman of the Ukraine Armed Forces (AFU) claimed that out of 400 Iranian Shahed UAVs launched to date, 340 (85%) were shot down.”
In Ukraine latest mass attacks of kamikaze drones are slowly being countered by more numerous and effective current generation C-UAS systems – though considerably more systems will be needed to counter the upcoming Spring offensive and protect civilian infrastructure from more lethal drone attacks.
But the next problem is to develop C-UAS capabilities which can effectively deal with more organised swarms of drones, coordinated through AI, which would present both sides with a new, considerable C-UAS challenge.
Western allies ramp up supplies of counter-UAS equipment to Ukraine
The following is a list of some of the main supplies of C-UAS systems to Ukraine from its allies. The list is not exhaustive and based on information supplied in the public domain. However, it gives some indication of the increase in the number and sophistication of the counter-UAS systems deployed in the country.
- In 2022 the German government sent around 50 Gepard mobile units and latterly five Diehl IRIS-T SLM air defence systems
- In April 2022 a Slovakian S-300 anti-aircraft radar and missile battery was reportedly sent to Ukraine
- During 2022 the US government authorised sending 1,400 Stinger short-range shoulder-fired missiles to Ukraine.
- In 2022 Edgesource Corporation donated approximately USD2 m in Windtalker™ C-sUAS equipment and the centralized Dowding™ common operating platform” to the Ukrainian Army.
- In 2022 six Stormer HVM air defence systems were delivered to Ukraine from the UK
- In May 2022 Fortem Technologies announced a new, smaller portable counter-UAS system had been developed in in direct response to the crisis in Ukraine and supplied to units there.
- In May 2022, it was reported DroneShield C-UAS units were being sent to Ukraine
- In June 2022 Lithuania was reported to be supplying Ukraine with 110 C-UAS weapons by Lithuania’s NT Service
- In June 2022 Blighter Surveillance Systems reported it was supplying a significant number of its A422 radars to Ukraine
- In October 2022 Poland’s Advanced Protection Systems reported it had supplied its SKYctrl counter drone systems to armed forces in Ukraine.
- In November 2022 The U.S. Army awarded a USD1.2 bbn contract to Raytheon Technologies for six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) for Ukraine.
- Within the 2022 Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative 12 Blue Halo Titan C-UAS systems were delivered
- In January 2023 HENSOLDT reported was supplying two more of its TRML-4D radars to strengthen Ukraine’s air defence system; four of the units were reportedly delivered to Ukraine in 2022.
- In January 2023 the US Defense department announced it has awarded L3Harris USD40 m contract for VAMPIRE counter drone weapons for export to Ukraine.
- In February 2023 a contract was signed between the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces and Thales provides for the delivery of a complete short-range air defence system.
For more information
Ukraine War Shows Importance of Counter-UAS, Air Defense, Distributed Ops to Air Warfare
03 Mar 23. Issues with the Army’s Europe-based equipment trigger readiness alarms. Army equipment issued from pre-positioned stock sites immediately after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine did not meet maintenance standards, the Pentagon’s Inspector General stated in a report released this week.
The Inspector General evaluated how Army Sustainment Command and the 405th Army Field Support Brigade maintained and accounted for its pre-positioned equipment stock in Europe, according to the report. When war broke out last February, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division was deployed to Eastern Europe and received thousands of pieces of equipment from a stock site in Germany.
“The 405 AFSB quickly issued [the Army pre-positioned stock site in Germany] equipment to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team,” the report said. “Some equipment issued from [the Army pre-positioned stock site in Germany] was non‑Fully Mission Capable, and we found that the 405 AFSB can improve its equipment maintenance and coordination processes.”
The day after Russia invaded, the Pentagon committed to deploying 7,000 troops to Eastern Europe. As part of that deployment, the Army for the first time in history issued equipment from the German pre-positioned stock site to troops deployed to Europe’s Eastern flank.
Investigators found that maintenance requirements while in storage at the pre-positioned stock site did not meet Army standards, nor were the procedures on equipment use made clear upon issue, according to the report.
The 405 AFSB and 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team prepared for deployment “without coordinated procedures and timelines to prepare and issue equipment” from the site in Germany, the report found.
Army Sustainment Command did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this publication.
Among recommendations included in the report, investigators suggested “maintenance processes to track the mission capability of [pre-positioned stock] equipment, ways to exercise equipment, a checklist to help deploying units coordinate during rapid deployments, and requirements to configure equipment for transport and for combat.”
Other recommendations dealt with clarifying inventory maintenance requirements and providing guidance to personnel to support troop surges in the future. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
06 Mar 23. Australian Company Reveals Cardboard Spy Drone for Ukraine.
SYPAQ Systems will be delivering sovereign Australian autonomous systems to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces thanks to investment from the Department of Defence.
Following the announcement in July 2022 that Defence would be providing further funds to purchase much-needed defence technology and equipment for Ukraine, SYPAQ Systems has been able to manufacture its Corvo Precision Payload Delivery System (PPDS) drones for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Developed in Melbourne in partnership with Army and under a $1.1 m Defence Innovation Hub contract, the Corvo PPDS is a low cost, expendable drone for the delivery of supplies and equipment into areas traditional logistics capabilities cannot reach.
Also known as the ‘cardboard plane’, the PPDS comes flat-packed and can launch, fly up to 120 km and land by itself, providing true autonomy and removing the cognitive load on the soldier during operation.
Following feedback from end-users in Ukraine, the system has also been adapted for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
PPDS is being manufactured at SYPAQ’s Defence Autonomy Centre of Excellence in Fisherman’s Bend, Melbourne, using components from SYPAQ’s Australian supply chain.
Quotes attributable to SYPAQ CEO Amanda Holt: “It is an honour to be supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
PPDS is an Australian capability that will help the Ukrainian people defend their country, and is proof of the world-leading autonomous systems capabilities in Australian industry.
This capability is the result of an innovation journey with Army and the Defence Innovation Hub, and demonstrates the importance of collaboration between Defence and industry on capability development. (Source: UAS VISION)
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