February 2, 2023

Sitrep for February 1-2 (as of 2:00 p.m.)

The situation on the frontline

Intense combat activities are going on in almost every sector of the frontline, excluding one in the Kherson region, but there are practically no changes anywhere except for the Bakhmut direction. On Feb. 1, Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, the confidant of Vladimir Putin and owner of the Wagner Group] announced the capture of the village of Sacco and Vanzetti and published a photo of mercenaries posing near a dilapidated building (it is reported to be the only surviving building in the village). As of 2001, there were three residents living in this village located near the highway connecting Bakhmut and Siversk.

Fighting intensified in the area of Velyka Novosilka in the Vuhledar direction: Russian troops are trying to advance but without success so far.

On the evening of Feb. 1, a residential building in Kramatorsk was hit, according to the Ukrainian side, with a Russian 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system. The building was almost completely destroyed, three (according to other sources, two) people were killed, and 18 were injured.

On the afternoon of Feb. 2, Kramatorsk was hit again, but there are no details of this strike so far. We have no information (yet) if any military facilities are located near the destroyed residential building.

OSINT analyst Def Mon reports that there are approximately 3,000-5,000 (apparently already trained) mobilized soldiers deployed near Mariupol, who make up the reserve of Russian forces. He assumes, with reference to the Head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration Serhiy Haidai [Ukraine], that they will be sent to the frontline to support attacks in the Vuhledar direction soon.

The second group of draftees granted a short leave after spending 3 to 4 months fighting in the war has arrived in the Russian constituent republic of Bashkortostan. The first such group already returned to the front on Jan. 28.

It took almost eleven months since the beginning of the full-scale invasion into Ukraine for Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin to finally declare during a meeting with the President that the residents of the border areas of the Belgorod, Kursk, and Bryansk regions need to be evacuated away from danger posed by Ukrainian artillery. To conduct such an evacuation in the Belgorod region alone, over 9 billion rubles would need to be allocated.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais suggested that despite expectations, Spain would supply Ukraine with 4 to 6 Leopard 2 tanks. Spain’s MInistry of Defense later stated that this wasn't possible because all of its 108 Leopard 2A4 tanks were in a state of disrepair, and Spain was not ready to part with any of its remaining 219 Leopard 2E tanks (Spain’s 2A6+ variant). Instead, 20 M113 armored personnel carriers could be transferred to Ukraine.

Sources of the OLFI media outlet covering Danish defense and security politics report that Denmark is planning to buy up to 20 decommissioned Leopard 1A5 tanks from Germany, repair them within three months, and transfer them to Ukraine.

Norwegian TV 2 channel reports that Norway’s Ministry of Defense is considering the possibility of a transfer to Ukraine of several CV90RWS Multi BK 81mm mortar carriers out of the only 16 it has in service. The downside of mortars of such caliber is that their effective range is smaller than that of 120mm-caliber mortars.

Politico claims that the United States may allow third countries to transfer F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, but at the moment, they are more focused on equipping Ukraine with offensive weapons.

Note that the supply of Ukraine with American aircraft is also important in the context of the supply of GLSDBs, since their warhead, GBU-39 bombs, can be launched from F-16 fighters and Thunderbolt A-10 attack aircraft (which Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov had previously unsuccessfully requested from the USA).

Mediazona [an independent Russian media outlet] published the story of a convict recruited by the Wagner Group who escaped from the front line to Russia. Some details in his story confirm our assumptions and previously received information. For example, all convicts recruited by the Wagner Group have been pardoned. This is important since the pardon cannot be canceled, and in case of some misconduct, without fabrication of a criminal case, only the Wagner Group itself can punish the offender.

Also, the former convict says that during the recruitment, after passing interviews and a lie detector, in addition to petitioning for pardon, they signed a non-disclosure statement. This explains why, in response to requests from relatives, the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia refuses to tell where the convicts are, citing the impossibility of disclosing personal data. In addition, recruited convicts signed papers on who to report of their death and documents stating that they agreed to take part in the “special military operation” and fulfill the tasks of the Russian Ministry of Defense, despite the risk of being killed.

Convicts were trained in a former children's camp in the Luhansk region. According to the article, the training of convicts is similar to the one of mobilized troops (which we also know about from reports): the training took about a week and a half; the convicts were allowed to fire from an assault rifle and that was it.

Since this training camp was close to the front line, when the shelling of positions near the camp started, the convicts began to scatter. The subject of the article also ran away and was able to hitchhike home. A police officer he knew confirmed to him that, according to databases, he had been pardoned and had no unspent convictions. Therefore, now this man lives somewhere in Russia and is trying to hide from the Wagner Group in order not to be caught and punished.

The Vyorstka media outlet reports that the Wagner Group faced the problem of removing bodies from the front line. According to sources in the funeral industry, the dead have to be transported by civilian refrigerators, and orders for transportation are placed on freight exchanges. The Ministry of Defense refuses to assist with transportation due to a conflict with Prigozhin, so the bodies of Wagner Group mercenaries often do not return to their relatives, and they have to bury empty coffins (we have already heard about such cases).

A similar situation occurred in 2016 when a conflict between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense led to loss of aerial support from the Russian Air Force as well as logistical support: when a Wagner Group mercenary was killed, it took over a month for the body to be returned to Russia.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels report that Ukrainian soldiers are supposedly attempting to cover up the presence of foreign volunteers by cutting off heads and hands from dead bodies (while leaving a phone with the body, which contains photos and video recordings of the deceased). However, from the photos offered as evidence, it can be clearly seen that the hands and the head were removed well after the time of death — there’re no blood-stains. This is not the first time that Wagner Group mercenaries have mutilated corpses of Ukrainian soldiers and desecrated bodies of the fallen. As previously reported, last year in Popasna a body of a Ukrainian soldier was found with the head and hands cut-off and mounted on a nearby fence. In that case, it was similarly evident that the decapitation took place well after the time of death, judging by the lack of blood near the body.