On a day when Russia claimed Ukrainian forces unsuccessfully attacked an oil pumping station about 20 miles northwest of the border in Bryansk Oblast, authorities in Moscow announced they have resettled nearly 4,000 residents of Belgorod Oblast due to ongoing attacks inside that region of Russia. And they are considering resettling some residents of the country's Bryansk and Kursk oblasts for the same reason.
The Russian state-own Transneft petroleum pipeline company reported that “an attempt was made to shell the oil pumping station of the Druzhba oil pipeline” on Tuesday, the official state RIA Novosti news agency reported Wednesday on its Telegram channel. “Ammunition released from Ukraine fell into a field in the Novozybkovsky district of the Bryansk region.”
RIA Novosti did not say what weapon was used, but the pro-Russian “Two Majors” Telegram channel was among several claiming it was carried out by a Ukrainian Tochka-U, or SS-21 Scarab tactical ballistic missile. They have a range of 75 miles.
The Druzhba pipeline is a key artery of oil supply from Russia to Europe, according to OilPrice.com, with two branches – a northern one via Belarus to Belarus, Poland, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania, and a southern one passing through Ukraine and sending oil to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia.
In addition to attacking Novozybkovsky, “the Armed Forces of Ukraine” struck “the village of Lomakovka," Bryansk Oblast Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on his Telegram channel Tuesday, adding that “17 households received various types of damage” in that town about a mile from the Ukrainian border.
"Fortunately, there were no casualties," Bogomaz wrote. "As a result of the shelling, households, a monument to those who died during the Great Patriotic War, and a shop building were damaged. Currently, the power supply is partially disrupted in the village. Emergency and emergency services are on site."
So far, there have been no images or videos to emerge from these most recent claims of a Ukrainian cross-border attack. The War Zone could not independently verify the attacks or the tactical ballistic missile claim. But we have been reporting for months about such attacks that Ukraine has carried out. They have been deep into Russia, at airbases most likely struck by drones some 300 miles from the border, but many more were closer to its borders. This includes a presumed hit by Tochka-U that came down on a rail line near the town of Novyi Oskol in Belgorod Oblast, about 26 miles northeast of the border, in October.
Last month, Bogomaz claimed on his Telegram channel that a "Ukrainian drone attack was carried out this morning on the Klimovsky district," Reuters reported at the time. "As a result of the strike, a power supply facility was damaged."
And in July, the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group posted a video of an attack in that oblast by a U.S.-supplied Switchblade 300 loitering munition, believed to be the first such attack of this all-out war.
But most notably, the use of improvised 'Alibaba' kamikaze drones that first appeared in June of last year have been a scourge for Russian air defenses.
There have also been a series of sabotage attacks and raids inside Russia by Ukrainian special operations forces, like the Shaman Battalion, which we profiled here. Ammunition storage sites have been especially targeted inside Russia as well.
During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Marat Khusnullin announced the 3,700 residents of Belgorod Oblast have been “resettled due to the shelling of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the official Russian TASS news agency reported on its Telegram channel.
It will cost 9.4 billion rubles ($134 million) to restore the area, Khusnullin told Putin.
He added that residents of border regions of the Kursk and Bryansk oblasts “need to be resettled due to shelling by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which directly threaten their lives,” according to TASS.
During the meeting, Putin made several points, according to TASS.
- Limiting the very possibility of shelling by Ukrainians of the border regions of the Russian Federation is a priority task;
- It is necessary to repair or compensate for the loss due to shelling by Ukraine of houses and property in the border regions of the Russian Federation;
- Preferential mortgages at 2% in new regions of the Russian Federation should serve the development of construction, increase the pace of restoration of cities and towns;
- The state will always help those who are in trouble so that people are not left alone with problems;
- Assistance to citizens should not get stuck in bureaucracy.
While there is a strong propaganda component to Putin's discussion today about the problems caused by Ukrainian cross-border strikes, clearly Russia is very concerned about the security of its border areas as the conflict grinds on.
Regardless, if Ukraine makes significant strides to recapture additional border areas, attacks are likely to only increase and traditional artillery barrages could become a very big problem for Russia, as well.
Claims of the latest strike inside Russia and the resettlement of residents come a day after Reuters reported that a planned $2 billion military aid package for Ukraine is expected to include the first provision of the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB).
Wednesday evening, a senior U.S. defense official confirmed that to The War Zone.
As we noted yesterday, the recently developed GLSDB, an adaptation of the widely used air-launched Small Diameter Bomb, or SDB, has not previously found a customer but would provide a significant boost to Ukraine’s capacity to strike in Russian rear areas. The GLSDB has a range of around 94 miles, or 150 kilometers.
You can read more about how it could help Ukraine in our deep dive here.
Neither Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, nor John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, would confirm that the GLSDB will be included in a future package when contacted by The War Zone on Wednesday.
"We won't speculate on future security assistance packages, including what may or may not be under consideration, until an official announcement is made," Ryder said. "We have no security assistance announcements to make today."
Provision of the GLSDB would represent another incremental change in U.S. policy toward arming Ukraine.
The U.S. to date has been reluctant to provide Ukraine with long-range weapons, like the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile, which has a range of nearly 200 miles. American officials have so far denied those requests for fear the missiles could be used to strike targets deeper inside Russia proper, which they worry could lead the Kremlin to seek to further escalate the situation in Ukraine or to retaliate more directly against the United States and its NATO allies.
When asked if long-range attacks like the one claimed by Russia today factors into decisions to arm Ukraine, Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, on Wednesday summed up previous statements made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as Ryder.
"Ukraine has repeatedly committed to employ U.S.-provided weapons responsibly and strategically when needed to counter Russian aggression, and we are confident that will continue to be the case,” he told The War Zone Wednesday afternoon.
Regardless, any damage that Russia has suffered in the full-on war it launched pales in comparison to the tremendous destruction Moscow has visited across Ukraine since Feb. 24, 2022.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.
On the battlefield, a combined assault of Russian military and Wagner mercenary forces continues to attempt to encircle the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, and while there is fighting in the city limits, Ukrainian troops still control it.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to make incremental gains across the Donbas.
Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- The introduction of Russian conventional forces to the Bakhmut frontline has offset the culmination of the Wagner Group’s offensive and retained the initiative for Russian operations around the city. ISW's December 27 forecast that the Russian offensive against Bakhmut was culminating was inaccurate.
- ISW does not forecast the imminent fall of Bakhmut, and it is extraordinarily unlikely that Russian forces will be able to conduct a surprise encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut.
- Russian military command is overestimating Russian military capabilities to advance rapidly in Donetsk Oblast and in the theater.
- Russian conventional forces may be replacing expended Wagner PMC forces by relocating them from Bakhmut to the Zaporizhia Oblast front line.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may be attempting to fully supplant Wagner forces near Bakhmut to frame the traditional Russian military command structure as the sole victor around Bakhmut, assuming Russian forces take the city.
- Ukrainian officials continue to support ISW’s assessment that an imminent Russian offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action (MLCOA) and further suggested that Ukrainian forces plan to launch a larger counteroffensive.
- Prominent Russian milbloggers continue to expose Russian military failures in Ukraine through increasingly public and elevated platforms.
- Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on January 31.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Donetsk Oblast front line.
- Russian forces are unlikely to benefit significantly elsewhere in eastern Ukraine from their localized offensive around Vuhledar.
- Russian forces are likely prioritizing sabotage and reconnaissance activities over territorial gains in southern Ukraine.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday announced it imposed full blocking sanctions against 22 individuals and entities across multiple countries related to a sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex.
"Today’s action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14024, are part of the U.S. strategy to methodically and intensively target sanctions evasion efforts around the globe, close down key backfilling channels, expose facilitators and enablers, and limit Russia’s access to revenue needed to wage its brutal war in Ukraine," the department said. "Over the last year, [the] Treasury has sanctioned over 100 individuals and entities engaging in activity to circumvent international sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia."
Belarus said on Wednesday that its armed forces were now in autonomous control of Russian-supplied nuclear-capable Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems, known in the West as SS-26 Stone after completing training in Russia as well as exercises on home soil, Reuters reported. The War Zone reported on the emerging plan to arm Belarus with Iskander-Ms back in June.
The missiles are capable of hitting targets at a range of about 300 miles.
Ground Master flash: France has agreed to send the air defense system, made by Thales, to Ukraine.
French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu and his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov "met at the Thales site in Limours, south of Paris, to sign a contract for the delivery of a complete short-range air defense system, including a Ground Master 200 radar, to help protect Ukraine," according to the company.
A British-donated Stormer HVM air defense system was spotted cruising near the hotly contested city of Vugledar in Donetsk Oblast.
Last month, we told you that Ukraine's state-run arms industry conglomerate Ukroboronprom announced the start of new domestic production of 82mm mortar projectiles, with NATO assistance. Now they are showing up on the battlefield, as you can see in this video below.
Ukraine's state security service, the SBU, accused Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the ex-head of the Ministry of Defense department, with embezzling over UAH 100 million [$2.71 million] in state funds, Ukraine’s state security service announced Wednesday on its Telegram channel
“According to the investigation materials, this official purchased almost 3,000 bulletproof vests for more than UAH 100 million for the Armed Forces. However, according to several independent examinations, these products do not meet the requirements of class IV body armor and cannot adequately protect Ukrainian soldiers.”
The SBU also said on Wednesday that it had broken up a prostitution ring run by immigration officials, part of a drive to crush corrupt practices and meet Western standards on eliminating graft, Reuters reported.
According to Reuters:
The SBU said the ring had been headed by officials of the Migration Department of the national police, normally responsible for safeguarding the interests of displaced people.
It showed pictures of uniformed officers raiding a building and holding several men in a room as well as large sums of cash and pictures of young women seated on sofas in an apartment.
"These senior officials oversaw a broad 'protection' scheme for prostitution in Kyiv and in other regions," the SBU statement said. The operation generated monthly income equivalent to more than $1.3 million, it said.
The scheme preyed on women aged 18-30 "in a vulnerable emotional state", with victims sent to clients inside Ukraine and abroad. Charges ranged from $20 to $270 for services.
In a nightly video address, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the security services for their "quick reaction to these shameful developments."
News of today's actions by SBU comes amid a growing corruption scandal in Ukraine. And it comes a day after the U.S. State Department announced that leaders from the Offices of Inspector General for the Defense Department (DoD), State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) returned last week from a joint trip to Ukraine, Germany and Poland.
There they continued their examination of how Kyiv is handling more than $113 billion in U.S. aid provided for its fight against Russia.
The State Department announcement offered no indication of any findings but said that officials engaged with counterparts in Ukraine and met with U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command, the Security Assistance Group–Ukraine, and International Donation Coordination Center officials.
There are more signs that the repair work to the Kerch Bridge - Putin's prized $4 billion link between Russia and the Crimean peninsula it's occupied since 2014 damaged in an Oct. 8 attack - is getting closer to being finished. Ruptly News shared video of the restoration underway, declaring that the work "nears completion."
And finally, mortars, artillery, drones, armor and bullets are apparently not the only dangers facing Russian troops in Ukraine.
Bad drivers seem to be as well.
That's it for now. We will update this story if there is anything major to add.
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