February 16

Sitrep for Feb. 14-16, 2024 (as of 8:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

The situation in Avdiivka is rapidly deteriorating for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. On Feb. 15, Russian forces posted a video of a Russian flag being hoisted over the newly captured Ukrainian Zenit fortified area. This defensive position, located to the south of the city at a former air defense site, had been defended by Ukrainian forces until recently. According to DeepState, not all Ukrainian soldiers managed to retreat: some died, while others may have been captured. These conclusions are partly drawn from the accounts of a soldier from the 110th Mechanized Brigade of the AFU fighting in that area. He described a gradually worsening situation over several weeks. Initially, the enemy was attacking only from one side, but soon Russian forces materialized on their left flank, and then their right, eventually nearly encircling the Zenit fortified area. The situation worsened further still when no armored vehicles were sent to evacuate the remaining soldiers. Deciding not to wait for assistance, the 110th Brigade attempted to retreat to Avdiivka and rejoin the main defending force. However, the first group to evacuate came under Russian fire, suffering many killed and wounded. After some time had passed, a second group, including the narrator, managed to break through to Avdiivka with significant losses by taking alternative routes. The situation became so dire that soldiers remaining at the position were ordered via radio to retreat, leaving the wounded behind, as it became impossible for armored vehicles to reach them. According to the narrator, by then, Zenit was solely occupied by injured soldiers.

In scenarios such as this, the main challenge for military command is to correctly assess the situation and retreat in a relatively orderly manner when the opportunity presents itself. However, the decision to withdraw becomes increasingly difficult when perceived as politically unpopular.

Furthermore, footage captured by a drone emerged showing Russian soldiers raising a flag at the main entrance to Avdiivka where Volodymyr Zelenskyy recorded a video on Dec. 29. As a result, the main supply route, Industrialnyi Prospekt, has been cut off, and the Brevno [Log] fortified area, located near the monument at the main entrance to the city, evidently fell under Russian control. The AFU are left with only dirt roads in the southwest part of Avdiivka, the passability and accessibility of which are currently unknown.

In a recent article, The Washington Post reported that some Ukrainian units have begun withdrawing from Avdiivka. However, the use of ambiguous wording makes it unclear whether this refers to main forces or, for example, UAV units, which can operate at some distance from the frontline and therefore typically withdraw first. Other sources have also reported on the possibility of troop withdrawal.

The primary issue contributing to the current dire situation in Avdiivka for the AFU remains the shortage of ammunition. Despite claims in various sources that elite units are involved in the fighting in this direction, mobilized soldiers and former convicts primarily engage in combat from the Russian side. According to the account of a Russian prisoner of war and a former convict, even the special operation to capture the fortified area Tsarska Okhota [Royal Hunt] through the sewer system was conducted by Storm-Z units.

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby commented on the situation on the frontline, stating that due to the actions of the Republicans, what is happening in Avdiivka may repeat itself in other directions since Ukrainian forces are experiencing a significant shortage of ammunition.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of Feb. 15, Ukrainian forces struck an oil storage facility in the Kursk region using drones. Fuel tanks caught fire, but containment measures prevented fuel spillage. Despite being approximately 200 meters from the nearest residential buildings, civilians were unharmed.

During a missile attack on Ukrainian territory on the night of Feb. 15, a crater with a diameter of 10 meters [33 ft] and a depth of 8 meters [26 ft] appeared in the Bucha district of the Kyiv region, damaging vegetation in the surrounding area. The soft sandy soil in the area contributed to the crater's size; had the soil been rocky or frozen, the crater would likely have been smaller. The size of the crater is also influenced by the type of fuse installed on the missile (airburst, instantaneous contact, or delayed fuze). The type of missile responsible for the crater remains unknown. According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attack involved cruise missiles such as the Kh-101, Kh-555, 3M-54Kalibr, two Kh-59 guided missiles and one 9K720 Iskander or KN-23 ballistic missile (distinguishing between the last two remains quite difficult). It is also noted that sea-launched 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from the area of Novorossiysk, confirming our conclusion that attacks against the Black Sea Fleet did not affect Russia’s ability to conduct missile attacks. However, the frequency of 3M-54 Kalibr strikes has decreased due to Russia's shortage of these missiles.

Regarding the unmanned surface vessel strike on the Caesar Kunikov landing ship near Sevastopol, photos showing significant listing to the portside leave no doubt that the ship sank. There is no precise information about the fate of the crew yet, but the fact that at least an hour elapsed between the strike and the sinking makes it likely that some crew members could have been saved.

One possible consequence of the landing ship's loss could be the resignation of Admiral Victor Sokolov, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet. It is worth noting that he assumed this position in August 2022, following the removal of Admiral Igor Osipov, presumably due to the loss of the Moskva guided missile cruiser. Vice Admiral Sergey Pinchuk, the Chief of Staff of the Black Sea Fleet, has been appointed as the acting commander for the time being, but the identity of the new commander remains unknown.

We did not expect that Russian war ships would continue entering the Black Sea, given the fairly high risk of Ukrainian attacks, since the previous attack occurred on Feb. 9 in the southwestern part of the Black Sea.

On Feb. 15, the AFU launched another MLRS strike on the city of Belgorod. According to the MoD, air defenses intercepted 14 RM-70 Vampire projectiles over the Belgorod region. It remains unclear how many projectiles were not intercepted. Cases of destruction and casualties caused by downed rockets or missiles are considered tragic accidents. However, a MLRS strike on residential areas is a war crime. Such weapons are designed to target a large area, besides, their accuracy at such a distance is noticeably reduced.

At the moment, there is information about 7 killed and 18 wounded: one of the rockets hit the area near a shopping center, and another one struck a stadium on the school grounds killing an infant there. Windows were broken in nearby houses. Reportedly, a railroad track was also damaged.

Although this is not the first strike on the city, the authorities, according to some information, have forcibly restored full-time education in the city’s schools.

Based on photographs of the fragments of rockets, we can say that neither Soviet nor Russian rockets were used for the strike. Perhaps those were projectiles of Serbian or Slovak origin, however, we do not know their exact modification.

At the same time, Russia continues to strike the Kharkiv region with modified S-300 air defense system missiles, despite the fact that the Belgorod airport, according to our sources, has ceased to be used for the supply of these missiles. As a result of another strike on the night of Feb. 15 in the town of Chuhuiv, an elderly woman was killed.

On Feb. 14, Russian forces struck a hospital and a residential building in the town of Selydove, Donetsk region. Three people were killed and 12 others were wounded. Pro-Russian bloggers claim that it was not a civilian object but rather a location housing Ukrainian military personnel or a military hospital. They also believe that in the video where a village morgue next to the hospital and a new boiler house are mentioned, a garage with military equipment is visible. We cannot agree with these claims: in the footage from inside the hospital after the strike, we see ordinary senior people, and there is no military equipment visible in the video with the garages. It is worth noting that the Geneva Convention prohibits attacks on any medical facilities, including military hospitals.

As a result of strikes over just one day, from the evening of Feb. 13 to the evening of Feb. 14, at least 14 civilians were killed and another 31 were wounded. Over the following day from Feb. 14 to Feb. 15, at least 16 more civilians were killed and 37 were wounded.

As air defense systems are redeployed from protecting cities to replace those destroyed on the frontline, the situation for residents of the regions near the frontline is likely to continue to deteriorate.

It is worth noting that a week ago in Udmurtia [Russia’s constituent republic], there was an explosion at a plant producing solid-propellant missile engines. According to videos and testimonies from local residents, the incident did not look like the planned tests that local authorities claimed caused the explosion.

A similar incident occurred in the city of Biysk, Altai region: residents of the city heard an explosion near the Altai Federal Scientific and Production Center (which also produces solid-propellant missile engines), but according to local authorities, it was due to planned maintenance work, and there is no cause for concern.

We speculate that both cases are likely not related to sabotage but rather to a lack of adherence to safety protocols: in the Russian defense industry, there is a significant effort to accelerate production, introduce additional shifts and recruit new personnel, while some experienced workers have been called to the frontline during mobilization efforts.

Ukrainian volunteer engineers have started producing a new type of high-explosive fragmentation ammunition for use with UAVs, which should theoretically be quite effective. In previous sitreps, we extensively examined the principles of operation of various combat components, and also demonstrated, using the example of UAZ Bukhanka vans, how high-explosive warheads sometimes prove to be ineffective, whereas high-explosive fragmentation munitions damage the crew and disable vehicles which are unarmored and not shielded with nets and screens.

Western Assistance

Following the latest Ramstein format meeting, partner countries have announced the formation of a new coalition to assist Ukraine in providing UAVs, led by the United Kingdom and Latvia. On Feb. 15, the press service of the British government announced that thousands of drones, including FPV models, will be transferred to Ukraine as part of the program, with a total value of $250 million. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO countries have committed to providing Ukraine with one million drones.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 7, during his visit to Ukraine, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell toured various drone manufacturing factories and stated that Ukraine does not need drones, as he was surprised to learn that Ukraine possesses significant capabilities for producing high-quality drones domestically.

Evidence has emerged of Ukraine’s first use of high precision long range (about 150 km [90 mi]) GLSDB munitions for HIMARS. Fragments of the wings and tail section of an air-dropped GBU-39/B SDB bomb which serves as the warhead for these munitions have been found near the town of Kreminna. It is unknown how many rounds of such munitions have been supplied to Ukraine, although numbers are crucial, since, for quite a while, there has been no new evidence of similar long awaited JDAM air bombs being used. Meanwhile, according to Ukrainian estimates, their Russian counterparts (UMPK) are being produced at a rate of about 1,500 pieces per month and used by the hundreds. Also, there have been very few reports of Ukraine using ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles.

During his meeting with Ukraine’s newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, General Inspector of the Bundeswehr, Gen Carsten Breuer promised short-term military aid to Ukraine amounting to over € 100 million, including:

  • mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs);
  • bombs for arming small drones;
  • 77 MULTI 1A1 cargo vehicles;
  • medical equipment;
  • spare parts kits for various weapons systems.

Conscription, Mobilization and Contract Military Service

Governor of the Rostov region Vasily Golubev has increased the regional sign-up bonus for individuals joining the contract military service with the Ministry of Defense from 200,000 rubles [$2,180] to 500,000 rubles [$5,460]. Earlier, the governor of the Krasnodar region announced a similar increase of the military sign-up bonus to 500,000 rubles [$5,480].

The NGS24.RU local news portal has published a broadcast transcript of the Standing Committee on Local Self-Government meeting in the Krasnoyarsk City Council on Feb. 14. The meeting focused on the implementation of the contract soldier recruitment plan—in 2024, the city needs to recruit 2,000 individuals. Vyacheslav Dyukov, a city council member from the United Russia party [Putin’s ruling party], asked Yury Savchuk, the head of the Zheleznodorozhny district, to explain why his district has one of the worst volunteer fighter recruitment rates. According to Savchuk, in terms of recruitment numbers relative to the overall plan, the district ranks fourth, and the failure to meet the plan is explained by demographics—there are not many people aged 18 to 27 in good physical shape in small residential areas like Zheleznodorozhny and Central. In response, Dyukov acknowledged that over the past year, mainly "alcoholics, homeless and down-and-out persons, convicts, and so on" have been recruited as contract soldiers (he later apologized for that), and there are fewer such people in old central districts than on the periphery. Additionally, according to Savchuk, 58 people from the district's pre-trial detention center went to the frontline in 2023, who were not included in the statistics. He also reported that the administration has begun working with judicial officers to recruit debtors.

We can confirm that there are no queues at the draft offices in Russia of people wishing to sign contracts; people are queuing to receive certificates. Indeed, the main contingent of volunteer fighters consists of debtors, unemployed individuals, and people in other difficult situations who want to solve their problems with the help of large sign-up bonuses for signing contracts. However, even they are not enough, and, as we have repeatedly mentioned, Russian regions are competing with each other, increasing payments.

On Jan. 18, during a Russian Volunteer Corps raid in the Bryansk region, 20-year-old conscript soldier Maksim Chernyshov from Tomsk was killed. The deputy governor of the Tomsk region commented on his death, stating that this is an isolated case. Additionally, he mentioned that he is uncertain about whether the family of the deceased conscript is entitled to any payments since he was killed outside the "special military operation" zone. As anticipated, the sabotage raids did not result in a significant deployment of Russian forces to Russia's border regions.