RileySENTINEL: Ukraine Report

Weekly Security & Geopolitical Reporting and Analysis on the Ukraine Conflict

UA/RU Conflict

Publish Date: 13MAR2024
Security & Geopolitical Analyst: MF
Contributing Authors: CT, MSO, ML

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Over the past 7 days, a series of significant events have taken place that are directly or indirectly linked to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. These developments have captured the attention of both regional and global audiences:

  • The French President has stated that he is prepared to send troops to Ukraine if Russia advances towards Kyiv or Odesa

  • French defense companies are planning to establish production facilities in Ukraine

  • Allies collect funding to purchase 800, 000 shells for Ukraine

  • The UK has pledged $416 million to purchase 10, 000 drones for Ukraine

  • The Governor of Kharkiv Oblast announced a mandatory evacuation near Kupiansk

  • Ukraine's former commander-in-chief has been appointed as ambassador to the UK

  • France is negotiating the transfer of weapons from Arab countries to Ukraine

  • House Republicans consider loan program for some Ukraine aid

  • China's special representative for Eurasian affairs visited Kyiv

  • Estonian Foreign Minister announces imminent signing of security agreement with Ukraine

  • The Polish parliament is calling on the European Commission to ban agricultural goods from Russia and Belarus

  • Zelensky arrived in Turkey and met with Erdogan on March 8th

  • White House expects to send more ATACMS to Ukraine

  • Luxembourg supports Czech initiative to purchase shells for Ukraine from outside the EU

Threat Mapping Updates

Mapping Analysis

As March unfolds, Russians are continuing to apply pressure along the entire frontline. Their attacks have intensified on six fronts, with the most active being the Novopavlivka front. On March 9 alone, there were 63 clashes, eight missile attacks, and 107 airstrikes reported. Ukrainian positions were targeted 113 times by multiple-launch rocket systems. Furthermore, airstrikes hit the settlements of Sumy, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, as well as the city of Kherson. Artillery shelling affected 140 settlements in Chernihiv, Luhansk, Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts. According to Ukrainian sources, significant pressure was also exerted around Marinka and throughout the Donbas region, with a potential offensive expected to occur in the Kupiansk direction. Ukrainian soldiers in the area report that small Russian assault groups are constantly working to identify weak spots for potential breakthroughs. The same probability exists regarding Chasiv Yar. Heavy fighting has also been reported in the area near the villages of Synkivka, just over 10 km northeast of Kupiansk, and Tabaivka in the past 7 days. According to ISW, geolocated footage indicates that Russia has made recent advances west of Avdiivka, including near Orlivka and Tonenke. Additionally, they marginally advanced in Heorhiivka west of Donetsk and gained territory in the southern outskirts of Krasnohorivka and north of Pobieda. Russian forces have also reportedly advanced northwest of Bakhmut near Bohdanivka-Kalynivka and west of Bakhmut near Ivanivske-Stupochky, as well as gained territory east of Robotyne and northwest of Verbove. Some advances were also reported in the Luhansk region northeast of Kupyansk, while positional fighting continued along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line. Furthermore, the Russians have continued to heavily utilize drones during attacks. On March 7, they targeted the Kharkiv Oblast by striking the State Emergency Services training ground in a night attack. In the days that followed, drone attacks were launched on Kryvyi Rih and Odesa. Over the last 10 days, Russians have successfully destroyed 3 Abrams tanks, 3 HIMARS, 8 Bradleys, and a portion of a Patriot battery acquired by the Ukrainian Army from allies. On March 12, they allegedly prevented incursions from Ukraine in the Belgorod region, when Ukrainian armed groups reportedly launched cross-border raids.

During the past week, in addition to repelling multiple and constant Russian attacks, the Ukrainian Army has primarily focused on strengthening its fortifications. One of their most significant defensive structures is established on the right (west) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian military officials claim that it is equipped in such a way that the enemy will not be able to approach them. This is important to note, considering that Ukrainian forces continue to expand their bridgehead on the eastern (left) bank of the Dnipro, where they are constantly under attack from artillery pressure, various types of drones, and, for the first time in 10 days, by guided bombs deployed from a tactical airplane. Improvements to the trenches have also been implemented in Donetsk. While effective defense lines have been established in other sectors of the front, they were not constructed in time in the area around Avdiivka due to planning issues and shortages. According to the latest reports, Ukraine's military may now have to establish these defenses while fending off Russian attacks, significantly increasing the difficulty of this endeavor. On the other hand, despite being outgunned, short on critical supplies, and facing a Russian advance from less-than-formidable defensive positions, Ukrainian troops still manage to inflict heavy losses on the enemy. Many of their attacks are focused on targeting Russia's rear and Crimea. For instance, on March 7, Ukrainians successfully targeted the Russian Severstal steel and mining company in Vologda Oblast using a drone. Two days later, they conducted a massive drone attack, utilizing at least 47 drones, targeting Belgorod, Kursk Region, Volgograd, and Rostov Region, including an aircraft factory in Taganrog. On March 10, they targeted the Leningrad region. On March 12, Ukraine separately pounded targets in Moscow, Leningrad, Belgorod, Kursk, Bryansk, Tula, and Oryol with at least 25 drones and nine rockets. This attack set a major oil refinery on fire at Lukoil's NORSI refinery. After downing multiple Russian aircraft in the last couple of weeks, in addition to targeting energy facilities, the focus has now shifted to aircraft factories. In this regard, on March 8, a Ukrainian military official claimed that there are still no signs of Russian A-50 aircraft in the Sea of Azov and other fronts. They also noted that Russians have significantly reduced the number of strikes with aerial guided bombs after experiencing large losses in aircraft. One more likely reason for this is the Ukrainian air forces' ability to attack Russian aircraft from a distance of over 150 kilometers. In addition to successfully targeting Russian air capacities, Ukrainians have also inflicted heavy losses on Russia's Crimean fleet since the beginning of the invasion. According to Ukrainian Navy officials, the achievements of the Ukrainian Defense Forces in neutralizing Russian naval assets far exceed public knowledge and surpass what has been officially published.

Priority Updates

  • The French President has stated that he is prepared to send troops to Ukraine if Russia advances towards Kyiv or Odesa

    French President Emmanuel Macron met with parliamentary parties on March 7. During the meeting, Macron expressed openness to the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine, as reported by the French newspaper L’Independant. Fabien Roussel, a representative of the French Communist Party, stated after the meeting that “Macron mentioned a scenario that could trigger the intervention of French troops: the advancement of the front towards Odesa or Kyiv.” He added that Macron showed maps to parliamentarians depicting potential directions of Russian troop strikes in Ukraine. After the meeting, Jordan Bardella of the far-right National Rally party pointed out that "there are no restrictions or red lines" in Macron's approach.

  • French defense companies are planning to establish production facilities in Ukraine

    Three French defense companies are set to establish partnerships with Ukrainian companies to manufacture military equipment in Ukraine, as announced by Sébastien Lecornu, the Minister of the Armed Forces of France. Lecornu mentioned that these partnerships will focus on the drone and ground equipment sectors. "We plan to produce spare parts in Ukraine, and potentially even ammunition. Our goal is to have the initial production facilities operational by this summer," stated Lecornu.

  • Allies collects funding to purchase 800, 000 shells for Ukraine

    Czech President Petr Pavel announced on March 7 that following Norway's participation in the Czech-led initiative to purchase 800, 000 artillery shells for Ukraine, the necessary funds were raised, as reported by Czech outlet CT24. Prague initiated its military aid effort in February, identifying 500, 000 155mm shells and 300, 000 122mm shells located outside Europe that could be sent to Ukraine once the funds were allocated to the initiative. Pavel mentioned that 18 countries took part in the Czech-led allied initiative, and he anticipated that Ukraine would receive the ammunition within weeks. However, a day later, Czech National Security Advisor Tomáš Pojar, who coordinates the ammunition procurement project, stated that the international community has only funded a third of the 800, 000 shells promised for Ukraine. "Mr. President was probably referring to the first delivery; we have not yet covered the entire initiative," Tomáš Pojar told reporters. Subsequently, the country's Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, also confirmed the news about the incomplete project. "So far, we have raised enough funds to purchase the initial batch of 300, 000 artillery shells," he announced on his social media.

  • The UK has pledged $416 million to purchase 10, 000 drones for Ukraine

    Defense Secretary Grant Shapps announced on March 7 that the U. K. will allocate 325 million pounds ($416 million) to purchase over 10, 000 "cutting-edge" drones for Ukraine. This newly announced aid will supplement the 200-million-pound ($256 million) drone package unveiled in January during U. K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s visit to Kyiv. Shapps made the announcement following a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov during his visit to Kyiv on March 7. The majority of the drones will be highly effective first-person view (FPV) drones. The package will also include 1, 000 one-way attack drones, researched and developed in the U. K., as well as surveillance and maritime drones. Shapps said that more than 100 million pounds ($128 million) from this aid package will be spent on Ukraine’s maritime capabilities, allowing Kyiv to "continue to turn the tide in the Black Sea."

  • The Governor of Kharkiv Oblast announced a mandatory evacuation near Kupiansk

    On March 7, Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov announced that local authorities would conduct a mandatory evacuation of residents living in communities near Kupiansk. Syniehubov stated that all residents from 57 settlements will be evacuated.

  • Ukraine's former commander-in-chief has been appointed as ambassador to the UK

    Ukraine has appointed Valerii Zaluzhnyi as its new envoy to the United Kingdom, a month after he was removed from his position as the country’s military commander-in-chief. The foreign ministry stated on March 7 that "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine sent a request to the British side for an agreement." Ukraine has not had an ambassador in the UK since President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed former envoy Vadym Prystaiko in July 2023 after he publicly criticized the leader.

  • France is negotiating the transfer of weapons from Arab countries to Ukraine

    France is in negotiations with Arab countries to repatriate French weapons that were previously sold, with the intention of transferring them to Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron made this announcement during a press conference. Macron stated that France will cease supplying ammunition and artillery systems to Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to focus on supporting Ukraine. Instead, the French government is in talks with these countries to retrieve the equipment they had previously provided and redirect it to Ukraine. Additionally, Macron mentioned that the governments of France, Germany, and Italy are also in discussions regarding the return of weapons that had been accumulated by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia over the years. He emphasized that prioritizing the replenishment of the French army's arsenal and the delivery of weapons to Ukraine would be a key focus for France.

  • House Republicans consider loan program for some Ukraine aid

    House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and the chairmen of key House committees dealing with national security are collaborating to develop their own Ukraine aid package. This alternative is aimed at passing Congress without alienating conservatives who oppose further funding for the war-torn country. While the plans are still in their early stages and not fully developed, according to three sources who spoke to NBC News, Republicans supportive of aid for Ukraine are gearing up to address the legislation promptly after Congress resolves another government shutdown deadline on March 22. Delaying any further could potentially postpone the passage of crucial aid for Ukraine into April, especially with a planned two-week congressional recess at the end of March, as mentioned by two sources.

Political Developments

  • China's special representative for Eurasian affairs visited Kyiv

    Li Hui, China's special representative for Eurasian affairs, visited Kyiv on March 7 for a meeting with Ukrainian officials, as reported by the Ukrainian President's Office. The Chinese envoy's visit was part of his second tour to Europe aimed at promoting a political settlement of Russia's full-scale invasion based on an agreement reached during a phone call between President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in April 2023.

  • Estonian Foreign Minister announces imminent signing of security agreement with Ukraine

    Estonia plans to sign a bilateral agreement on security guarantees under the Group of Seven (G7) Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine, as announced by Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna on March 8 during a joint press conference in Vilnius. Since the start of the all-out war in 2022, Estonia has been one of the leading military donors to Ukraine in terms of GDP share.

  • The Polish parliament is calling on the European Commission to ban agricultural goods from Russia and Belarus

    The lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, adopted a resolution on March 8 urging the European Commission to block imports of Russian and Belarusian food and agricultural produce to the EU. Ukraine suggested to Poland that calling on the European Commission to impose sanctions on Russian agricultural goods could be a solution to the ongoing blockade led by Polish farmers. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk previously stated that Poland would request the EU to ban Russian and Belarusian agricultural products and foodstuffs. The resolution highlights that imports of Russian and Belarusian products contribute significantly to the budgets of these states and could potentially support the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.

  • Zelensky arrived in Turkey and met with Erdogan on March 8th

    President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Turkey on March 8 to meet his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Among the topics the Ukrainian and Turkish leaders are planning to discuss are Ukraine's peace formula, the safety of navigation in the Black Sea, as well as the release of Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia, the President's Office said. This is Zelensky’s second visit to Turkey since Russia launched its full-scale invasion against Ukraine. Additionally, during Zelensky's visit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose NATO-member country has sought to balance its close relations with both Ukraine and Russia, offered to host a peace summit between the two countries. Erdogan, who has repeatedly discussed brokering a peace deal, said at a news conference in Istanbul following his meeting with Zelensky that he hoped Russia would be on board with Turkey's offer.

  • White House is expects to send more ATACMS to Ukraine

    The U. S. is planning to send a number of additional Army Tactical Missile Systems to Ukraine as part of a new $300 million package of military aid, according to two U. S. officials familiar with the discussions. Additionally, Kyiv will receive older Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel (APAM) missiles, which are a previous version of the long-range ATACMS, as stated by one of the officials. The officials were granted anonymity to speak ahead of an announcement.

  • Luxembourg supports Czech initiative to purchase shells for Ukraine from outside the EU

    Luxembourg has joined the Czech initiative to purchase artillery ammunition for Ukraine outside the EU. The Minister of Defense of Luxembourg, Yuriko Backes, made this announcement.

Analysis of Priority & Political Updates

The global show of support for Ukraine has significant political ramifications on both regional and international levels. The backing from various nations underscores the complexity of the conflict and its implications for global security dynamics. As countries vocally condemn Russia's actions and express solidarity with Ukraine, diplomatic tensions rise, potentially leading to shifts in alliances and geopolitical strategies.

The United States and its NATO allies have been particularly vocal in their support for Ukraine, signaling a unified stance against Russian aggression and a commitment to upholding international norms and territorial integrity. This collective stance amplifies diplomatic pressure on Russia, potentially leading to sanctions and other punitive measures.

Furthermore, the global support for Ukraine underscores the importance of international law and norms in addressing conflicts and maintaining a rules-based international order. It serves as a reminder that actions violating sovereignty and territorial integrity are met with widespread condemnation and potential consequences, thus influencing the calculus of nations engaged in such activities.

The political impact of global support for Ukraine extends beyond the immediate conflict, potentially affecting broader diplomatic relations and regional stability. The unity of nations in support of Ukraine could embolden other nations to rally against aggression and assert their interests through international cooperation. However, it also raises the stakes of the conflict, increasing the potential for escalation and necessitating careful diplomatic navigation to prevent a wider crisis.

Conflict Zone Updates

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated that constant upgrading of weaponry and military technology is a crucial factor for success. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) has unveiled the first new-generation naval drone named after Avdiivka. The naval drone for the Security Service of Ukraine was constructed under the UNITED24 initiative. With the help of volunteers, financial institutions, and ordinary citizens, over UAH 320 million was raised to build 35 of these naval drones. The SSU shared that the naval drone is equipped with its own reusable weapons, which can assist cost-effective drones in completing missions. They did not disclose the specific type of weapons installed on this new generation of naval drones. However, the operators of the drone have noted that it will target not only maritime facilities. It is also reported that the new drone is more maneuverable, capable of delivering almost a ton of explosives over a distance of more than 1000 kilometers. The drone uses Starlink for communication, and the satellite communication operator Kymeta provides another backup communication channel. In this regard, it is worth noting that the effectiveness of naval drones was so significant that Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, was recently replaced by Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev. This replacement comes amidst reports that around 20% of the RF Black Sea Fleet has been damaged or destroyed since December 2023. The SSU used drones to strike the Crimean Bridge and targeted a total of 11 ships in the Russian Black Sea Fleet. According to the Chief of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence, the attacks on Russian ships are part of the preparation for a major operation in Crimea. He explained, "All this was in preparation for a major operation in Crimea, a way of checking that our understanding of ways to get in and out of there is correct. It’s also beneficial for the people who have endured 10 years under Russian occupation." 

In addition to upgrading their offensive capabilities, Ukrainians are also enhancing their defenses. As mentioned earlier, they are very focused on improving trenches along the defense lines, which span a length of 2, 000 kilometers According to reports, the trenches have been widened and deepened to allow for more maneuvering space between equipment or to transport the wounded on stretchers. They have been expanded from 1. 5 meters by 80 centimeters to 2 meters deep and 1 meter wide, with an additional half-meter parapet added on top. Geotextile, mesh, boards, and bars are used in the construction process. As per the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense's explanation, the firing points are lined with wooden boards, and the exits feature smooth height transitions to prevent injuries during quick movements. The blocked area is approximately 2 meters and 30 centimeters high, with a sturdy frame, transverse longitudinal beams, and two logs. One coil contains half a meter of soil, while the second coil holds the same amount. Everything is masked, and a well is dug at each entrance and exit to collect water and prevent it from flowing into the blocked area. Considering the possibility of a new Russian offensive with the arrival of warm weather, the high-quality construction and efficiency of trenches are of utmost importance.

The Russian military has also continued to enhance its military capabilities, especially in the realm of drone technology. According to Ukrainian military sources, the Russians have recently begun experimenting with FPV drones equipped with advanced communications. On March 7, the Ukrainian military discovered a surviving Russian FPV drone with a unique design on the battlefield. In addition to the warhead, it carried a wire coil of unknown purpose. It was later established that the mystery device was a spool of fiber optic cable attached to a commercial Chinese-made optical transceiver used for high-speed communications. The markings on the spool showed it held 10,813 meters (6.7 miles) of cable. This was confirmed by Serhii Flesh, a Ukrainian military expert in the field of radio technologies, who stated that a Russian FPV drone was flying towards a target with a 10-kilometer-long coil of thin fiber optic cable. The use of wired communication in drone control offers a significant advantage, making the drone invulnerable to both its own and enemy electronic warfare. Thanks to the wire, the drone operator can maintain a constant, uninterrupted high-quality video signal, greatly enhancing the accuracy and effectiveness of the strike. Additionally, the "radio horizon" phenomenon that causes connection loss during the final meters of flight disappears. While it is uncertain at which stage Russia's development of drones of this type stands, the fact remains that their first prototypes have been introduced on the front lines.

It should be noted that in addition to upgrading their drone technology, the Russians are also continuously utilizing various types of chemical weaponry on the battlefield, with the intensity increasing in the last couple of weeks. According to Ukrainian military sources, since the start of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, Russian forces have attacked the Ukrainian Defense Forces 1, 068 times using ammunition containing various poisonous chemical substances.

Air Raid Frequency Updates

In the field, having accurate and up-to-date information about air raid alerts is crucial for the safety and efficiency of personnel. Understanding the frequency, duration, and location of these alerts provides valuable insight that can significantly impact decision-making on the ground. Armed with this knowledge, personnel can plan their movements more strategically, avoiding high-risk areas during times of increased alert activity. With the help of this vital information, they can ensure safer operations while maximizing their resources effectively. 

By analyzing the available information from March 7 to March 13, several key points can be observed:

  • In contrast to the previous week, when the highest peak of air raid alerts occurred at 7 PM, this week saw the highest peak at 8 AM, followed by another at 6 PM.

  • Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that the majority of Air Raid Alerts typically lasted less than 30 minutes, with a total of 266 occurrences. It was rare to encounter Air Raid Alerts that lasted between 2. 5 and 3 hours, which only occurred 13 times.

  • Moreover, there has been a slight shift in the pattern of eventful days for Air Raid Alerts compared to the previous period. In the previous reporting period, Tuesday had the highest frequency of Air Raid Alerts. However, recent data from the past week reveals a noticeable change. Monday emerged as the most eventful day, with 94 occurrences, closely followed by Wednesday and Tuesday, with 93 and 88, respectively. In contrast, Saturday had the lowest frequency, with only 60 reported Air Raid Alerts. 

  • Finally, it was discovered that the Kharkiv region had the highest concentration of Air Raid Alerts, totaling 70 occurrences. In contrast, the Zakarpattia region had a minimal number of air raid alerts, with only 3 occurrences recorded.

Analysis of Conflict Development

Recent updates in the Ukraine conflict suggest potential shifts in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), which could have far-reaching implications for the conflict's trajectory in the near future. Reports indicate a notable increase in hybrid warfare tactics, including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns targeting both military and civilian infrastructure. This suggests an evolving strategy to undermine Ukraine's stability beyond traditional battlefield engagements.

Leadership changes have also emerged as a significant development. New announcements indicate a reshuffling of top military personnel, potentially signifying adjustments in strategic direction. Such changes may lead to alterations in operational tactics and coordination among different units. Furthermore, the influx of foreign fighters, equipment, and military advisors on both sides has the potential to introduce novel combat techniques, potentially escalating the conflict's intensity.

In terms of equipment and infrastructure developments, recent reports suggest the deployment of advanced weapon systems, including long-range artillery and anti-ship missiles, which could alter the dynamics of engagements and complicate defensive strategies. Additionally, developments in electronic warfare capabilities have the potential to disrupt communication and surveillance systems, further shaping the battlespace.

In the coming weeks and months, the conflict's course could be influenced by these developments. A mix of traditional and hybrid tactics might lead to an increasingly complex battlefield, with information warfare playing a more prominent role. Leadership changes could either introduce more aggressive approaches or open doors to diplomatic solutions. As both sides incorporate advanced weaponry and tactics, the potential for more intense and unpredictable confrontations could reshape the conflict's trajectory.

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