February 15, 2023

Sitrep for February 13-14 (as of 01:00 p.m.) 

Mediazona [an independent Russian media outlet], together with the BBC News Russian and volunteers, has published a new summary of the number of Russian losses in the war with Ukraine. With 1555 people added to the list since Jan. 27, it has been the largest increase for the entire time of calculations. The confirmed death toll of mobilized soldiers on Feb. 12 was 1,082, while on Feb. 3, there were 924 killed mobilized soldiers on the list.

The sharp increase in the number of KIAs is additional indirect evidence that the Russian offensive has begun.

Thanks to our subscribers, CIT got a video from the Morskoye [Naval] Cemetery in Vladivostok, showing a huge number of fresh graves (with lots of funeral wreaths from the Ministry of Defense and St. Andrew's flags), apparently, of Russian paratroopers and marines buried there.

It is important to note that, contrary to Politico's article, the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the RuAF has not actually ceased to exist. The Brigade sustained heavy losses even during the fighting for Pavlivka, however, as in the case of the Russian Airborne Forces units, its ranks are constantly replenished with mobilized soldiers. The combat effectiveness of such units is decreasing since the arriving mobilized soldiers are much less prepared and motivated. Nevertheless, both paratroopers and marines continue to take part in combat activities, however, they are not as effective as they used to be.

In addition, we should not forget that the 40th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet, the operational and combat tactical unit “Kaskad” [Cascade] (former separatist unit), the 35th and 36th Motorized Rifle Brigades and some units of the 3rd Army Corps, including the “Alga” Battalion from the Russia’s constituent republic of Tatarstan, also participate in the fighting near Vuhledar besides the 155th Brigade. All of them also suffer heavy losses.

A representative of the 68th Separate Jaeger Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fighting near Vuhledar gave an interview with the Nastoyaschee Vremya [Current Time] TV channel. He said that Russian forces are not attacking at the moment because they do not have either people or vehicles. This is a highly controversial claim. As a rule, such offensives take place in the following sequence. At first, a local offensive begins (when a column goes on an assault). It is followed by a pause (when preparing for a new assault takes place). Then it's time for a new offensive followed, again, by a pause. Such pauses can last up to a week.

There is new evidence that marines have been replenished with sailors. While in captivity, midshipman of the Russian Pacific Fleet‘s 114th Surface Vessel Brigade from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Aleksey Pentegov said that he had been transferred to a naval infantry brigade and sent to Vuhledar. According to him, this is a one-way ticket.

One of the marines from the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade told the 7x7 news outlet that after the advance, there were presumably only 8 men left in the 3rd Air Assault Brigade — the rest were either killed or captured. The losses by the brigade are estimated to be around 500 servicemen. Notably, witnesses tend to overestimate the scale of losses due to the effects of combat and the death of comrades on their perception.

In addition, according to him, officers openly speak about attitudes toward their men: you can only leave the combat zone as “two hundred” (killed) or “three hundred” (wounded). At the same time, the unit is made up of 80-90% mobilized soldiers.

Furthermore, this marine confirms that the advance on Vuhledar started on Jan. 23.

Wives and mothers of mobilized soldiers continue publishing videos with complaints about broken promises concerning assignment away from the frontlines, sending of untrained troops to the front as ground assault groups, and lack of rest and troop rotation. Notably, they now proclaim at the beginning of each video that “This video does not intend to discredit the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”.

Ksenia Churmanova (BBC) and Andrey Zakharov (former BBC employee) published an investigation of ties between the Geremeev family and factories in Mariupol. Wider audiences will recognize the name thanks to Ruslan Geremeev, a law enforcement officer in Russia’s constituent republic of Chechnya, presumed to be one of the organizers of the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

It became known that the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol was registered to Valid Korchagin (a relative of Ruslan Geremeyev, who changed his last name), who in late January became a co-owner of a legal entity from Makiivka that operates the works. Korchagin-Geremeyev is most likely a nominal owner (i.e., he owns the enterprise only formally), and the profits go directly to Kadyrov's [Chechen leader] treasury. It was also suggested that this was a gift for active participation in the occupation of Mariupol, although, in fact, Kadyrov's soldiers were only actively promoting themselves by shooting staged videos.

It is possible that observing these processes of dividing the spoils, Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] also hopes to create a striking PR image of the Wagner Group to obtain some assets in Bakhmut or Soledar subsequently.

Pro-Russian military correspondent Aleksandr Yaremchuk from RIA FAN [Internet news agency linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin] wrote in his Telegram channel that a Su-24 bomber belonging to the Wagner Group, on board of which Prigozhin had previously recorded an address to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was shot down over Bakhmut. Later, the Fighterbomber Telegram channel denied this information, but some time later, the hit on that plane was confirmed by Prigozhin himself (we are not sure how sincere he was).

The New York Times published an article dedicated to the “Freedom of Russia Legion”. It claims that the Legion is being coordinated by Ukrainian officers, but the local units have some degree of freedom. A large number of photos have been published, some of them are claimed to be taken at a training range near Kyiv, and the others were taken somewhere on the eastern frontline (it’s hard to discern them visually).

In our opinion, a big mistake made by Michael Schwirtz (the author of this article) is that he did not mention at all that the sheer fact of the “Freedom of Russia Legion’s” existence is being questioned. However, a lot of different media sources, e.g., BBC News Russian, mentioned it in the retelling of the aforementioned article.

Also, for anyone familiar with weapons, the words of one of the soldiers quoted in the article would seem very strange. “It’s better than a Kalashnikov,” he said of the M16. “I’ve fired about 1,000 rounds and haven’t had any problems yet.”

Taken all around, the article did not convince us that the “Freedom of Russia Legion” truly exists and operates on the frontline.

On Feb. 4, it became known that marine veteran Pete Reed, a US volunteer who helped to evacuate the civilians from Bakhmut, had been killed near Bakhmut. This illustrates that the information about losses becomes known anyway. In a similar way, in 2015–2016, when the existence of the Wagner Group was vehemently denied, we learned about the deaths of specific mercenaries and shared their biographies. The aforementioned “Legion” does not suffer any losses whatsoever.

A photo of Vuhledar dated Feb. 12 was published. It shows that only scorched earth remained in the place of the Mykilski Dachi in the northern part of the town.

The Dossier Center [an independent Russian investigative media outlet] published an investigation about the so-called Putin's armored train. Since moving Russian troops to the border with Ukraine in 2021, Putin has practically stopped traveling by air and switched to a special train. The cars of the “armored train” can be distinguished from the regular ones by special communication devices on the roof, “Grand Service Express” markings, and three-axle wagon bogies. Regular passenger cars have two axles.

The Proekt independent Russian investigative media outlet expanded this investigation, in which it confirmed that Putin started using an armored train and alleged that special secret railway tracks and separate stations were built near Putin's residences in Valdai, Novo-Ogaryovo, and Sochi.

Nevertheless, Putin's movements to distant regions of Russia still can be tracked through open sources, for example, by following Limousine Carriers:  Il-76 aircraft from the 223d and 224th Air Force units of the Ministry of Defense transport Federal Protective Service employees and limousines to the place of Putin’s visit one day before the event. By tracking their movements, one can conclude that Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev will arrive there the next day. In addition, when Putin travels to Russian regions, not St. Petersburg or Moscow, a special communications aircraft usually circles above the place where he is located, which is easy to track by services like Flightradar. Thus, there are still ways to track Putin's movements via open sources.

Today, another Ramstein Format meeting is being held at NATO’s Headquarters in Brussels. Discussions are planned, including aircraft supply, but we do not expect any promises of aircraft deliveries in the near future.

The Financial Times, citing U.S. officials, reports that NATO’s allies prioritize shipments of air defenses because aircraft are not as effective in confronting the Russian Aerospace Forces as air defense systems. In our opinion, this is a misunderstanding of Ukraine's need for aircraft. They are now needed by Ukraine not to shoot down Russian aircraft but to carry high-precision weapons like long-range missiles and gliding bombs.

Politico reports that the issue of supplying long-range ATACMS missiles is currently not being considered, not only because of fears of escalation but also because the available stockpiles are sufficient only for the needs of the US Army, and their transfer could harm the country's defensive capabilities.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. officials are warning Kyiv of Russia's upcoming spring offensive, in which Ukrainian forces would need to maximize their effort in the war zone as it could become a critical moment to change the trajectory of the war. In our opinion, this message should be reversed: Ukraine should be telling the West that upcoming Russia's spring offensive represents a potential tipping point in the course of the war, so there is an immediate need to supply more [military] aid and further expand its range.

Western officials, answering journalists' questions about the supply of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, emphasized that given the ongoing artillery nature of the war, it is best to focus on the manufacturing of artillery shells, the supply of self-propelled guns, and howitzers. We expect that today's meeting will result in a commitment to supply more 155mm shells, probably another batch of Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shells, and additional howitzers.