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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 387: Russia’s atypical activity spotted in the Black Sea

Article by: Zarina Zabrisky

Russia’s atypical activity spotted in the Black Sea. Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut. Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets.

Daily overview — Summary report, March 17

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, March 17, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. March 16, 2023. Source: ISW.

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Day 387 of the full-scale russian military aggression has begun.
The russian federation does not give up its intentions regarding the occupation of Ukraine, continues to conduct offensive actions, regardless of losses. The enemy is concentrating its main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mar’yinka, and Shakhtars’k axes. During the past day, the enemy launched more than 70x attacks on them.
Over the past day, the enemy launched 5x missile and 18x air strikes, as well as launched 73x attacks from MLRS. As a result of another shelling of Kostyantynivka in Donetsk Oblast, 6x civilians were injured, more than 20x houses, a school and other objects of civil infrastructure were damaged.
The probability of russian missile strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high.
Kharkiv Battle Map. March 16, 2023. Source: ISW.
Volyn’, Polissya, Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the operational situation has not changed significantly, the formation of enemy offensive groups has not been detected. The training of units of the russian occupation forces continues at the training grounds of the republic of belarus. During the day, the enemy shelled the areas of Berylivka, Khrinivka, Yeline and Tymonovichi settlements of Chernihiv Oblast; Starykov, Atynske, Volfine, Stepne, Kindrativka, Pokrovka and Grabovske in Sumy Oblast, as well as more than 20x districts of settlements in Kharkiv Oblast. Among them are Strelecha, Krasne, Morokhovets, Ohirtseve, Mala Vovcha, Milove, Obukhivka, Novomlynsk, Kutkivka and Shevchenkove.
The enemy is trying to break through the defenses of our troops on the Kupiansk and Lyman axes. They led unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Hryanikyvka, Kreminna, Kuzmyne, Verkhnokamianske and Spirne settlements. Conducted artillery shelling of the Dvorichna, Hryanikyvka, and Krokhmalne settlements of the Kharkiv Oblast; Novoselivske, Nevske and Bilogorivka – Luhansk and Spirne and Rozdolivka in Donetsk Oblast.
Donetsk Battle Map. March 16, 2023. Source: ISW.
Bakhmut axis: the enemy does not stop trying to storm the city of Bakhmut. Numerous enemy attacks were repulsed in the areas of Orihovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Ivanovske and Hryhorivka settlements. More than 15x settlements near the contact line were under enemy fire. Among them are Vasyukivka, Zaliznyanske, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Novomarkove, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Predtechine and Oleksandro-Shultyne of the Donetsk Oblast.
Avdiivka, Mar’yinka, and Shakhtars’k axes: the enemy carried out unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Kamianka, Avdiivka, Pervomaiske, Nevelske, and Mar’yinka settlements. On the specified section of the front during the past day, the enemy carried out the most attacks in the Mariinka area – 12x. All of them were repulsed. More than 20 xsettlements, in particular, Paraskoviivka, Novobakhmutivka, Avdiivka, Orlivka, Tonenka, Severne, Pervomaiske, Netaylove, Mar’yinka, Pobyeda, Novomykhailivka, and Vugledar of the Donetsk Oblast, came under enemy fire.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 16, 2023. Source: ISW.
Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the enemy is conducting defensive operations. In particular, Chervone, Charivne, Novodanilivka, Preobrazhenka, Stepove and Novosilka of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast were under fire; Mykhailivka, Novooleksandrivka, Kachkarivka, Mylove, Odradokamyanka, Mykolaivka of the Kherson Oblast and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 16, 2023. Source: ISW.
Forced passporting of the population of the temporarily occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast continues. In particular, in the city of Melitopol, the so-called russian occupation authorities, together with representatives of the russian federal Tax Service, prohibited any payments and settlements to citizens who do not have a registration number of the russian taxpayer’s registration card. It can be obtained only with the presence of a passport of a citizen of the russian federation.
The enemy continues to suffer losses. So, on the territory of the Oleshkiv district hospital of the temporarily occupied territory of the Kherson Oblast, more than 20x seriously injured occupiers were brought for treatment.
During the past 24 hours, the Air Force of the Defense Forces carried out 7x strikes on the concentration areas of the occupiers, and units of missile and artillery forces hit 5x control points, 5x areas of concentration of enemy personnel and military equipment, a warehouse of fuel and lubricants, 2x radar stations, an electronic warfare station and an anti-aircraft complex in a firing position.

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Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

French AMX-10 RC fighting vehicles “have just arrived in Ukraine” – Lecornu. Talking to the Defense Commission of France’s National Assembly on 15 March, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, said that the AMX-10 RC reconnaissance armored vehicles “have just arrived in Ukraine,” Le Figaro reported. “Some have already gone to the front line,” Lecornu said, not specifying the number of vehicles delivered. France promised to supply Ukraine with the AMX-10 vehicles – light “wheeled tanks” – in early January.

Atypical activity and number of Russian navy ships recorded in Black Sea – OpCommand South. Ukrainian defense forces spotted atypical Russian activity in the Black Sea as Russia moved 20 navy ships to sea, aided by many auxiliary fleet vessels. Ukraine’s Southern Defense Forces spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk said it on the national telethon on March 16. “We are carefully monitoring the [Russian] naval group in the Black Sea and the enemy’s actions. Atypical activity and the number of ship grouping were recorded. Currently, there are 20 [naval] units in the Black Sea, including four missile carriers – one of which is underwater – 28 missiles, at most, can be equipped for launch,” she said adding that there also are many auxilliary ships.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • In recent days, Russian and Wagner Group forces have obtained footholds west of the Bakhmutka River in the centre of the contested Donbas town of Bakhmut. Over the preceding week, the river had marked the front line. Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to defend the west of the town.
  • However, more broadly across the front line, Russia is conducting some of the lowest rates of local offensive action that has been seen since at least January 2023. This is most likely because Russian forces have temporarily depleted the deployed formations’ combat power to such an extent that even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable.
  • Russian leaders will likely seek to regenerate the offensive potential of the force once personnel and munition stocks are replenished. In the meantime, commanders will likely be forced to choose between carrying out offensive operations and conducting a credible defence of the full line.

Losses of the Russian army 

Losses of Russian Army. Source: Ministry of Defense.

Humanitarian 

“Freedom is not free. It must be fought for!” Ukraine’s war hero Da Vinci dies in Bakhmut. Da Vinci’s brief but eventful life story is emblematic of Ukraine’s young and determined post-independence generation. Born in rural communities or large cities, most of these under-thirty young men and women took part in the Euromaidan movement of 2014. They did not hesitate to enlist as volunteers, fighters, or paramedics when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“Freedom is not free. It must be fought for!” Ukraine’s war hero Da Vinci dies in Bakhmut

Austria joins coalition of countries supporting creation of tribunal for Russia’s crime of aggression. Austria has joined the coalition of countries supporting the creation of a special tribunal that will persecute Russia for its crime of aggression against Ukraine, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “I’m grateful to Austria for joining the coalition of countries working to establish the Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine. 33 states are already part of the Core Group. As the number grows, so does trust that Russia’s leadership will be held to account,” the foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.

Russia has committed ‘wide range’ of war crimes in Ukraine, UN says. Russian authorities have violated a wide range of international human rights and humanitarian laws in Ukraine, many of which amount to war crimes, the United Nations commission of inquiry stated in a new report. According to the Commission, missile attacks launched by the Russian Army on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure from 10 October 2022 may amount to crimes against humanity.

Man who plotted to kill Ukraine’s defense minister, spy chief at Russia’s behest sentenced to 12 years. A Ukrainian citizen who served in Russia’s proxy “Luhansk People’s Republic” and planned to kill Ukrainian citizens on the orders of Russian special services has been sentenced to 12 years in prison. On March 14, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv announced the verdict for the defendant charged with state treason, preparing assassinations, participating in illegal armed groups, and a terrorist organization.

Environmental

LNG frenzy boosts Russian gas in Europe, not energy security – opinion. European LNG infrastructure expansion is driven by corporate greed, war profiteering, and fossil fuel industry impunity. Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine necessitates gas industry taxation, regulation, and sanctions. Russia’s LNG expansion plans must be halted to meet EU climate targets and ensure peace, climate protection, and energy security.

Support

Sweden to supply eight Archer artillery systems to Ukraine. Sweden wants to give eight Archer artillery pieces and 10 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Dagens Industri reports. “They will give the Ukrainians opportunities to knock out Russian artillery systems,” says Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson. In January, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson announced plans to supply military equipment to Ukraine, including an unspecified number of the Archer self-propelled fully automated 155 mm howitzers.

Latvia to send USD 74 mn in new military assistance to Ukraine. Latvia has allocated over $74 mn for military assistance to Ukraine, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said during a meeting with his Latvian counterpart Krisjanis Karins in Kyiv on 16 March, UkrInform reported. According to Shmyhal, Ukraine has already received military aid from Latvia worth over $318 mn. “With the approval of the new budget, the assistance will reach $392 mn, which is more than 1% of Latvia’s GDP,” he added.

Poland to send Ukraine at least four MiG-29 fighter jets “within the next few days” – Polish President Duda. At a news conference in Warsaw, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda announced that his country would send Ukraine at least four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming days, The Guardian reports. “Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order,” he said adding that the rest are being serviced and prepared for handover. Poland is going to replace the MiG it donates to Ukraine with Korean FA-50s and American F-35s, according to Duda.

The 10th meeting of the Ramstein-format Ukraine Defense Contact Group was held online on 15 March and brought together about 50 nations. In his closing remarks to the meeting, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said: “We will continue to dig deep for new donations, and today we heard updates on our progress and some significant new commitments.”

New Developments

Quisling transporting Russian soldiers and Wagnerites assassinated in occupied Melitopol. Ivan Tkach, a Ukrainian quisling who collaborated with the Russian occupiers in Melitopol, was killed in a car explosion on 14 March, Ukrainska Pravda reported. His Toyota Land Cruiser Prado was destroyed by a self-made explosive device using about 1 kg of explosive in TNT equivalent, according to Vladimir Rogov, another collaborator. According to sources of the media in Ukraine’s security service, when the south-Ukrainian city was just occupied in March 2022, Tkach started collaborating with the Russians and organized the work of city transport in Melitopol. In September, he was appointed to direct the municipal transport enterprise of the city.

Russia planned to take control over Moldova by 2030 – investigation

Assessment 

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-16-2023*

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 15, 2022:

The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) appears to be trying to penetrate the Russian Defense Industrial Base (DIB) in a way that is reminiscent of the KGB’s involvement with the Soviet military establishment. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Center for the Research of Trophy and Prospective Weapons and Military Equipment of the Ukrainian General Staff Andrii Rudyk remarked on March 16 that Ukrainian experts have found FSB markings on many Russian weapons components that Ukrainian forces have destroyed or captured on the battlefield.[1] Rudyk noted that these markings appear not only on equipment such as T-90M tanks, but also on weapons’ microcircuits, and suggested that this means that the FSB conducted an equipment inspection of such weapons and components.[2] Rudyk concluded that this means that the FSB does not trust Russian military leadership and is conducting inspections of Russian equipment accordingly.[3] FSB markings on Russian equipment and weapons components, if confirmed, would have broader implications for the relationship between the FSB, the Russian DIB, and the broader Russian military apparatus. Either FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov has instructed the FSB to conduct these investigations at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or Bortnikov has issued this directive independent of Putin. In either case the FSB appears to be directly inserting itself into the inner workings of the Russian DIB, likely penetrating equipment acquisition and inspection processes. The KGB (the FSB’s predecessor) notably penetrated the Red Army and Soviet defense industry in a similar fashion.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that he received a press question exposing a plot spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to undermine and “neutralize” the Wagner Group. Prigozhin’s press service published a claimed request for comment on March 16 from Russian outlet Nezavisimaya Gazeta asking if Prigozhin was aware of alleged discussions between Putin and Patrushev regarding the future of the Wagner Group.[4] The press comment claims that information on these discussions has recently circulated on Russian and Ukrainian Telegram channels and alleges that Patrushev suggested to Putin that there will be “nothing left” of Wagner in “one and a half to two months.”[5] The post goes on to claim that Patrushev suggested that upon Wagner’s destruction in Ukraine, Prigozhin will try to “unite the former and remaining active Wagner fighters under a far-fetched pretext,” arm them, and “send them to the territory of Russia in order to seize power in the regions bordering Ukraine with a possible advance inland.”[6] The post concludes that Patrushev has already ordered observation and control over the movement of former Wagner fighters and that Putin reportedly agreed with this step and thanked Patrushev for his efforts to “neutralize Wagner in general and Yevgeny Prigozhin in particular.”[7] Prigozhin posted an audio clip in response to the claimed press comment saying that he had not heard about these supposed negotiations or observed speculation on Telegram channels, remarking that Russian special services should work to neutralize threats to Russia regardless of where they come from.[8]

ISW has not observed any information to suggest that these discussions have happened, nor has ISW captured any speculation in the Russian information space about them. Nezivisimaya Gazeta has not published the press comment on its own site, and no record of the comment is visible anywhere other than in references to the post by Prigozhin’s press service. The lack of external confirmation on this subject suggests that Prigozhin has fabricated the alleged plot to further several information operations on behalf of Wagner and his own reputation. First, this exchange clearly identifies Patrushev and possibly the Russian Security Council as enemies of the Wagner Group. Prigozhin appears to be setting careful information conditions to blame Patrushev for Wagner’s failures and potential crackdowns against the group, as well as introducing an invented scenario wherein Wagner poses a direct threat to Russia domestically. This effort appears to be the next evolution of Prigozhin’s campaign against the Russian military establishment, and Patrushev could become Prigozhin’s next target after his concerted informational campaigns against the Russian Ministry of Defense and General Staff.[9]

Western news agencies confirmed on March 16 that Chinese companies have sold rifles, drone parts, and equipment that could be used for military purposes to unidentified Russian entities. Politico cited data provided by customs data aggregator ImportGenius showing that Chinese companies sent equipment including 1,000 assault rifles, 12 shipments of drone parts, and over 12 tons of body armor to unspecified Russian actors between June and December 2022.[10] CNN also reported on March 16 that Ukrainian forces shot down a retrofitted, weaponized commercial Mugin-5 drone produced by a Chinese commercial manufacturer.[11] These sales appear small in scale, concern largely commercial equipment, and — in all but one confirmed case — do not include companies with ties to the Chinese government, according to Politico.[12]

Such Chinese shipments are significant, however, because they could alleviate strain on the overextended Russian defense industrial base (DIB) and circumvent Western attempts to limit Russian access to microchips. ISW has not observed routine Russian small arms shortages, and Russia’s DIB appears capable of producing sufficient quantities of assault rifles. The import of domestically available equipment from China likely enables the Russian DIB to transfer resources — most critically the limited number of skilled Russian defense plant workers — from the production of such goods to the production of military equipment for which Russia has a dire need.[13] Meanwhile, the sale of even commercial drone parts to Russian entities could provide Russia’s DIB with access to valuable microchips vital to the production of sophisticated equipment, which Western sanctions have worked to prevent.[14]

Syrian President Bashar Assad used a staged interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti to amplify notable Russian information operations. Assad told RIA on March 16 that Russian military bases in Syria should receive the “most advanced weapons” to effectively deter threats in response to a question about the deployment of hypersonic missiles.[15] This comment is explicitly in support of the deployment of Russian hypersonic weapons, likely of the Kinzhal variety, to Syria, which is part of a longstanding Russian information operation to strengthen Assad and increase pressure against Türkiye as Ankara considers ratification of Finland and Sweden’s accession into NATO. [16] Assad also notably recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine as a part of Russia.[17]

Polish President Andrzej Duda stated on March 16 that Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets. Polish news outlet Wydarzenia reported that Duda said that Poland will deliver the MiG-29s in the coming four to six weeks.[18] Polish news outlet Rzeczpospolita reported that Duda announced that Poland is servicing an unspecified number of additional MiG-29s for delivery to Ukraine.[19] The Ukrainian Air Force operates MiG-29s and would be able to use them in counteroffensive operations if Ukraine receives them with enough time in advance of its next counteroffensive.

Russia’s redeployment of elements of its “peacekeeping force” from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine is eroding Russia’s influence with Armenia. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of preparing to conduct a new large-scale attack and genocide against ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh at an unspecified future time on March 16.[20] Pashinyan stated that Armenia should appeal to the United Nations Security Council if the Russian Federation is unable to uphold the November 9, 2020, Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire that Moscow helped broker with Azerbaijan.[21] Pashinyan previously accused Russia’s “peacekeeping force” in Nagorno-Karabakh of “not fulfilling its obligation” under this ceasefire in December 2022 after Russian forces failed to secure passage on the only road through the Lachin Corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.[22] Russia’s “peacekeeping force” in Nagorno-Karabakh is very likely understrength. The Russian military redeployed elements of the 15th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade — Russia’s only dedicated peacekeeping brigade — from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine in March 2022.[23] Ukraine’s General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces severely degraded the 15th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, killing about 800 and wounding about 400 soldiers of the brigade’s 1,800 soldiers that deployed to Ukraine as of June 2022.[24] Russia will likely lose military influence in other post-Soviet states since Moscow has redeployed elements of permanently stationed Russian forces from Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan, occupied Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and Tajikistan to fight in Ukraine.[25]

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure the Russian public that the war in Ukraine will not have significant long-term economic consequences, likely as part of the Kremlin’s effort to prepare Russians for a protracted war. Putin delivered a speech at the Congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Moscow on March 16 in which he claimed that the Russian economy has steadily grown in the past eight months following a roughly five percent contraction over the first months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[26] Putin attempted to portray Russia as not being isolated from the international economy by claiming that Russian trade with fast-growing markets has increased at double-digit rates.[27] Putin claimed that the domestic Russian economy will experience sustainable long-term growth and forecasted that Russian industries will significantly grow as they fill niches previously held by Western firms that have left the country and stopped doing business with Russia.[28] Putin suggested that the entire Russian economy will expand in a manner similar to the Russian agricultural sector’s growth following 2014 Western sanctions regimes associated with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.[29] Putin claimed that Russia’s supposed economic resilience has disproven Western analysts who predicted empty store shelves and massive shortages of goods in Russia because of Western sanctions.[30]

Putin’s portrayal of a healthy and resilient Russian economy is at odds with Russia’s issues with sanctions-related supply chain bottlenecks, the Russian defense industrial base’s (DIB) struggle to meet the Russian military’s needs in Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s substantial projected budget deficit problems.[31] Putin likely sought to reassure the Russian public as the Kremlin increasingly signals to Russians that the Kremlin intends to fight a protracted war in Ukraine and implicitly consign the Russian economy to an indefinite period of stringent Western sanctions.[32] The Kremlin also likely sought to reassure the Russian public that war-related production will not detrimentally impact the rest of the Russian economy as Russian officials continue efforts to gradually mobilize more of Russia’s DIB.[33] The Kremlin will likely struggle to not contradict its different informational lines of effort as it attempts to reassure the Russian public about the Russian economy, set informational conditions for a protracted war, and mobilize a wider portion of Russia’s DIB.

Key Takeaways

  • The Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) appears to be trying to penetrate the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) in a way that is reminiscent of the KGB’s involvement with the Soviet military and industrial base.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that he received a press question exposing a plot spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev to undermine and “neutralize” the Wagner Group.
  • Western news agencies confirmed that Chinese companies have sold military and dual-use equipment to unidentified Russian entities. These sales appear small in scale but could alleviate strain on Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and circumvent Western attempts to limit Russian access to microchips.
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad used a staged interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti to amplify notable Russian information operations.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that Poland will give Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets.
  • Russian’s decision to redeploy elements of its “peacekeeping force” from Nagorno-Karabakh to Ukraine is eroding Russia’s influence with Armenia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to reassure the Russian public that the war in Ukraine will not have significant long term economic consequences, likely as part of the Kremlin’s effort to prepare Russians for a protracted war.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka–Donetsk City line and in Western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted localized assaults in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces increased their naval presence in the Black Sea.
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