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Wagner PMC and Russia’s MoD quarrel over Sil, Brovary helicopter crash kills 14. What happened on the front line on January 18?

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Vladimir Putin's decision to increase the size of the armed forces to 1.5 million troops indicates that he is preparing Russia for a protracted war in Ukraine, reported the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW). According to the ISW, Russian forces may now be preparing for an offensive in the Luhansk region.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed that the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) is currently mounting assault operations near Soledar under the cover of artillery. The focus has now shifted to the battles for Krasna Hora and Paraskoviivka, wrote Boris Rozhin, an expert of the propagandist pro-Russian “Center for Military and Political Journalism.”

Former US Navy Seal and military analyst Chuck Pfarrer believes that the main goal of Russia's actions in Soledar was to cut the Bakhmut highway, “but the effort failed.” Ukrainian forces maintained control of the vital T-05-13 highway west of Soledar and continued to hold Russian forces short of the railway station at Blahodatne. Pfarrer's January 18 analysis was accompanied with the following map.

The Russian military is currently continuing its attempts to cut off access to the highway.

The War Mapper project claimed that the situation around Bakhmut has not changed since yesterday.

Wagner Group and Russia’s Ministry of Defense quarrel over Sil

On January 18, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that it had seized control of Sil in the Donetsk region. The report said that the settlement had been occupied by “volunteer assault detachments with the fire support of operational and tactical and army aviation, missile troops and artillery of the Southern Military District.” However, two days prior to the announcement, on January 16, Telegram channels linked to the Wagner Group reported the capture of Sil by Wagner units. On January 17, Denis Pushilin, the acting head of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) reported that Sil had come under Russian military control.

Ukraine has not confirmed that the Wagner PMC or Russian servicemen occupied Sil. In a summary on the morning of January 18, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) General Staff reported that multiple attacks on Sil were repelled.

Sil is an important transport node on a direct route between Bakhmut and Siversk and is administratively part of the town of Soledar. Fighting in the area has continued since the summer of 2022, and intensified during the winter. On January 11, one of the founders of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, reported the complete “liberation” of Soledar by the mercenary group. Ukraine reported that battles for Soledar were ongoing. Russia’s Ministry of Defense made separate statements about Soledar a few days later – without mentioning the PMC.

Helicopter crash in Brovary

On the morning of January 18, a helicopter carrying a leadership team of Ukraine’s interior ministry crashed near a kindergarten and residential block in the city of Brovary in the Kyiv region. Ukrainian National Police confirmed that Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky, First Deputy Minister Yevhen Yenin and Secretary of State Yurii Lubkovych were among the dead.

The head of Ukraine’s National Police, Ihor Klymenko, was appointed Acting Minister of Internal Affairs following Monastyrskyi's death, said the country's Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal. The helicopter crew – commander Oleksandr Vasylenko, pilot Kostiantyn Kovalenko, and flight mechanic Ivan Kasyanov – was also killed in the crash.

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service reported 14 dead, including two children. A further 25 people were injured, including 11 children, according to the agency.

According to one of the kindergarten teachers cited by Ukrainian outlet, the incident occurred when the children were being brought in by their parents in the morning. If the helicopter had crashed later, the woman said, there could have been more casualties among the children.

A representative of the AFU Air Force, Yurii Ignat, said that the crashed helicopter was a Eurocopter Super Puma, which was transferred to Ukraine from France. In a Facebook post, National Police head Ihor Klymenko added that the helicopter belonged to Ukraine's State Emergency Service.

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said that three possible causes of the crash were being considered: sabotage, equipment malfunction, and the violation of safety rules. Later, during a video address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the helicopter crash was a direct result of the war itself.

“This is not an accident, this is war. It is not only on the battlefield. There are no more accidents, all this is the result of war. Missiles hitting our people, civilians, dead children. Somebody can spread the information that ‘they didn't aim at civilians, but wanted to hit the energy infrastructure, it just happened that way’ or something else. But these are nothing more than unnecessary words. All this – every person and every death – is the result of the war,” Zelensky said.

Arms shipments to Ukraine

The United States is withdrawing 155mm shells from its bases in Israel and South Korea to help Ukraine meet its need for artillery ammunition, according to a report by The New York Times. The United States has so far sent or pledged to send Ukraine just over one million 155-millimeter shells, the story said. Israeli and American officials said that about half of the 300,000 rounds destined for Ukraine have already been shipped to Europe and will subsequently be delivered through Poland.

Israeli officials cited in the article stressed that Israel had not changed its policy of not providing Ukraine with lethal weapons and rather was acceding to an American decision to use its own ammunition as it saw fit. The South Korean government, in turn, did not want artillery shells marked R.O.K. (Republic of Korea) appearing in Ukraine in violation of South Korean arms export rules. Following a compromise, artillery shells from the Korean stockpile will be sent to replenish US stockpiles elsewhere.

The Canadian government continued to provide military assistance to Ukraine – during a briefing in Kyiv, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that Canada will donate 200 armoured vehicles worth $90 million to Ukraine as part of a new aid package. The shipment will include the Roshel Senator Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), which is capable of carrying 12 fighters and providing them with fire support in combat.

Attack on Russian training camp

A training camp for Russia’s mobilized troops and volunteers was attacked by kamikaze drones, according to photos published by the soldiers on Telegram. They claimed that seven Ukrainian UAVs flew more than 100 km from the line of contact, and some of the drones were shot down by Russian air defense systems, while the rest fell to the ground “without causing significant damage.”

The servicemen claimed that the launch could not have been closer than 10 km from the line of contact, indicating the drones covered close to 110 km before reaching the camp.

A Telegram post from one of the servicemen read:

“Personally, I haven’t heard of these [drones] and haven’t encountered them previously. Having carried out a brief analysis of the components, we can make several conclusions: a) The components of this UAV (this is a combat drone, after all) can be found freely available on the Internet, and their prices aren't too high either. b) The part that I couldn’t find online is the GNSS unit from the company Antcom, which is based in the city of Torrance, California. That means this module was supplied to the manufacturer directly. Thus I can conclude that these aren’t drones hand-made by enthusiasts, but rather assembled at a factory and delivered as [part of] another aid package. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that the detonator has inscriptions in English (after all, they could've used old Soviet electric detonators).”

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