Friday, 24 March 2023 03:16

What to know after Day 393 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Ukrainian special forces getting military targets from CIA satellite – Times

Soldiers of Ukraine’s ‘Thor’ special operations group are using satellite data provided by the CIA to choose targets when conducting drone strikes against Russian forces, the unit’s commander told The Times.

The 27-man group, which is formally a police special operations unit, functions independently from the Ukrainian army and works in close collaboration with the country's military intelligence, the GUR, which provides them with ammunition and intel. According to The Times, the unit has complete license to select its missions, where it barracks and when it fights.

The unit’s commander, whose name is said to also be Thor, claims he uses a special application on a tablet that is synced to a CIA satellite to select potential targets for their attacks.

“We select targets in the program, and targets can be placed there both by the CIA satellite and by our own satellite, which our volunteers pay for. Information is collected from all kinds of sources there. We choose, then we arrive and conduct our own reconnaissance,” Thor told the outlet.

Another member of the group told the Times that Thor also intentionally uses drones to maim – rather than kill – Russian servicemen. “These ones are to wound the Russians,” Aleksander, 30, told The Times as he armed a 3D-printed drone with mining explosives. “Take an arm or a leg, he will be a burden on the state forever,” he said.

According to the Times, all members of Thor are veterans of Ukraine’s 2014 military operation against anti-Kiev rebels in the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Both territories, along with the Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions, were incorporated into Russia last year following public referendums.

Moscow has long accused the US and its allies of being directly involved in the Ukraine conflict and essentially waging a “proxy war” against Russia by continuing to provide Kiev’s forces with increasingly advanced weaponry, ammunition and intelligence.

** Russian forces wipe out Ukrainian army’s fuel depot in Zaporozhye area

Russian forces destroyed a Ukrainian army’s fuel depot in the Zaporozhye Region over the past day during the special military operation in Ukraine, Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov reported on Thursday.

"In the area of the settlement of Zaliznichnoye in the Zaporozhye Region, a depot storing fuel and lubricants of the Ukrainian army’s 65th mechanized brigade was destroyed," the spokesman said.

In the past 24 hours, operational/tactical and army aviation, missile troops and artillery of the Russian group of forces struck 76 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions, manpower and equipment in 114 areas, the general specified.

Battles in Kupyansk direction

Russian forces destroyed roughly 70 Ukrainian troops in the Kupyansk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the Kupyansk direction, aircraft and artillery of the western battlegroup struck the Ukrainian army units near the settlements of Artyomovka in the Lugansk People’s Republic, Dvurechnaya and Berestovoye in the Kharkov Region," the spokesman said.

The strikes eliminated enemy manpower and equipment, the general said.

"The enemy’s total losses amounted to 70 Ukrainian personnel, an infantry fighting vehicle, two pickup trucks, a Grad multiple rocket launcher, and also a US-made M777 artillery system," Konashenkov reported.

Battles in Krasny Liman direction

Russian forces eliminated over 80 Ukrainian troops in the Krasny Liman area in the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the Krasny Liman direction, assault and army aviation aircraft, artillery and units of the battlegroup Center inflicted damage on the enemy manpower and equipment in areas near the settlements of Chervonaya Dibrova in the Lugansk People’s Republic, Yampolovka and Terny in the Donetsk People’s Republic in their active operations," the spokesman said.

Over 80 Ukrainian personnel, two armored vehicles, three pickup trucks and a D-30 howitzer were destroyed in that area in the past 24 hours, the general specified.

Battles in Donetsk direction

Russian forces destroyed over 250 Ukrainian troops in their advance in the Donetsk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the Donetsk direction, over 250 Ukrainian personnel, six tanks, five armored combat vehicles, seven motor vehicles and a D-20 howitzer were destroyed in the past 24 hours as a result of active operations by units and artillery of the southern battlegroup," the spokesman said.

Also, an ammunition depot of the Ukrainian army’s 53rd mechanized brigade was obliterated near the community of Lastochkino, the general added.

Battles in southern Donetsk and Zaporozhye directions

Russian forces destroyed roughly 50 Ukrainian troops and two howitzers in the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhye areas over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

In the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhye directions, aircraft and artillery of the battlegroup East struck the Ukrainian army units near the communities of Ugledar and Novomikhailovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic, the spokesman specified.

"The enemy’s losses totaled as many as 50 Ukrainian personnel, a pickup truck, three motor vehicles, and also D-20 and D-30 howitzers in those directions," the general said.

Battles in Kherson direction

Russian forces destroyed Ukrainian manpower and equipment in the Kherson area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the Kherson direction, as many as 15 Ukrainian personnel and five motor vehicles were destroyed in the past 24 hours as a result of damage inflicted by firepower," the spokesman said.

Russia’s Aerospace Forces down Ukrainian Su-24 frontline bomber

Russian combat aircraft shot down a Ukrainian Su-24 frontline bomber in the Kharkov Region over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"Fighter aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Su-24 plane near the settlement of Boguslavka in the Kharkov Region," the spokesman said.

Russian air defenses intercept five US-made HIMARS rockets

Russian air defense forces destroyed 16 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles and intercepted five rockets of the US-made HIMARS multiple launch rocket system over the past day, Konashenkov reported.

"In the past 24 hours, air defense capabilities intercepted five rockets of the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system. In addition, they destroyed 16 unmanned aerial vehicles near the settlements of Zaliman and Kremennaya in the Lugansk People’s Republic, Vladimirovka, Vasilevka and Pavlovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic, Berestovoye and Lozovaya in the Kharkov Region and Alyoshki in the Kherson Region," the spokesman said.

In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 404 Ukrainian combat aircraft, 224 helicopters, 3,544 unmanned aerial vehicles, 414 surface-to-air missile systems, 8,384 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 1,071 multiple rocket launchers, 4,415 field artillery guns and mortars and 9,073 special military motor vehicles since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, Konashenkov reported.


Ukraine prepares counteroffensive as Russia's assault on Bakhmut flags

Ukrainian troops, on the defensive for four months, will soon launch a counterassault as Russia's huge winter offensive weakens without capturing the eastern city of Bakhmut, Ukraine's top ground forces commander said.

The remarks on Thursday were the strongest indication yet from Kyiv that it is close to shifting tactics, having absorbed Russia's onslaught through a brutal winter.

Russia's Wagner mercenaries "are losing considerable strength and are running out of steam", Kyiv's ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a social media post.

"Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk," he said, listing Ukrainian counteroffensives last year that recaptured swathes of land.

There was no immediate response from Moscow to suggestions its forces in Bakhmut were losing momentum, but Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin issued statements in recent days, warning of a Ukrainian counterassault.

On Monday, Prigozhin published a letter to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, saying Ukraine aimed to cut off Wagner's forces from Russia's regular troops.

Reuters journalists near the front line north of Bakhmut saw signs consistent with the claim that the Russian offensive in the area could be waning. At a Ukrainian-held village west of Soledar, on Bakhmut's northern outskirts, the intensity of the Russian bombardment noticeably lessened from two days earlier.

"It was really hot here a week ago, but in the last three days it has been more quiet," said a Ukrainian soldier who used the call sign "Kamin", or "Stone".

"We can see this in the enemy's air strikes. If before there were five-six air raids in a day, today we had only one helicopter attack," said the soldier.


A slowdown by Russia in Bakhmut could mean Moscow is diverting its troops and resources to other areas. Britain said on Thursday that Russian troops had made gains further north this month, partially regaining control over the approaches to the town of Kreminna. Intense battles were also under way further south.

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Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov agreed with that assessment. He said on YouTube that Russia's attacks on Bakhmut were decreasing, and it was shifting its efforts south to the town of Avdiivka.

Moscow's forces have become more active in areas to the north in the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions as well as central Zaporizhzhia and southern Kherson regions, he said.

Any shift in momentum in Bakhmut, if confirmed, would be remarkable given the city's symbolic importance as the focus of Russia's offensive, and the scale of the losses on both sides there in Europe's bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Europe on Thursday to increase and speed up its supply of weapons and impose additional sanctions on Russia, warning the war could otherwise drag on for years.

"If Europe waits, the evil may have time to regroup and prepare for years of war. It is in your power to prevent this," a clearly frustrated Zelenskiy said in a video address to European Union leaders, delivered from a train.

In particular, he reiterated demands for long-range missiles, ammunition and modern aircraft, and said the EU needed to speed up the process to grant Ukraine membership.

At the EU summit, leaders approved a plan agreed by foreign ministers on Monday to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year. They also discussed global food security and sanctions on Russia.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said that the EU would work to find Ukrainian children deported to Russia and press for their return. She said 16,200 children have been deported and only 300 returned to Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin a week ago for the forcible removal of Ukrainian children.


"It is a horrible reminder of the darkest times of our history... to deport children. This is a war crime," von der Leyen said.

On the ground in Ukraine, front lines have largely been frozen since November. Ukraine had looked likely to pull out of Bakhmut weeks ago but decided to fight on.

Zelenskiy had earlier on Thursday continued a tour of frontline provinces, visiting the Kherson region in the south a day after meeting troops near Bakhmut. A video showed him meeting residents in Posad Pokrovske, a bombed-out village on the former Kherson front line recaptured in Ukraine's last big advance last year.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what it calls a "special military operation", claiming Kyiv's ties to the West were a security threat. Since then, tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides have been killed.

Russia has destroyed Ukrainian cities and set millions of people to flight. It claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine. Kyiv and the West call the war an unprovoked assault to subdue an independent country.



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