February 17, 2023

Sitrep for February 16-17 (as of 02:30 p.m.) 

The situation on the frontline

South of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces filmed their loitering munition striking a Russian position. This video was geolocated northwest of Kurdiumivka on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas Canal.

The Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies [security think tank] reported that the AFU began to retreat to the left bank of the Bakhmutka River. On the right bank, there is a smaller part of the town where a single-family residential neighborhood with low-rise buildings is located. There is no independent evidence of the retreat, probably due to the fact that access to Bakhmut for volunteers and journalists is limited.

Some sources began to report that fewer and fewer Wagner Group mercenaries were noticed in the vicinity of Bakhmut, probably due to the fact that now they cannot actively replenish losses in personnel and ammunition.

The commander of the separate aerial reconnaissance group Robert Brovdi [callsign Madyar], reported that the fighting around Bakhmut is less intense during the day, but at night the fighting heats up because the AFU start active offensives as Ukrainian servicemen have the advantage of better gear [thermal imagers, night vision devices, etc.] for combat operations at night.

Artillerymen of the Wagner Group recorded a new appeal to the Ministry of Defense with a request to supply ammunition: shells for 152mm howitzers, 100mm high-explosive fragmentation shells for the MT-12 Rapira anti-tank gun, 125mm high-explosive fragmentation shells for the T-72 tank, and 120mm rounds for the 2B11 mortar.

Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and owner of the Wagner Group] confirmed the authenticity of this video and the relevance of the problem of shell shortage. He also said that he had discussed it with Apti Alaudinov, commander of the Chechen special forces, and that Apti would give mines and shells to the Wagner Group. Later, it turned out that there would be 40 tank shells and 128 mines. Despite all the bureaucratic obstacles, Prigozhin is going to ask officials for ammunition for his mercenaries, even at the risk of being prosecuted for "discrediting the Russian Armed Forces". According to him, "corrupt officials and bureaucrats can ruin even the Wagner PMC."

The shell hunger is observed not only in the Wagner Group but also in the Russian Army in general. Perhaps Prigozhin's behavior has recently shifted the priority to the regular Army. However, back in November, Alexander Kots [pro-Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent] described the story of mobilized soldiers from the 640th Howitzer Division, who were trained as artillerymen for three months, but after arriving at the front, were sent to assault infantry because the battalion lacked guns and shells. Also, a commander of the AFU artillery brigade, which is fighting near Bakhmut, stated that Ukraine and Russia had reached artillery parity. Since there has not been a large-scale increase in ammunition deliveries to Ukraine, this statement means that the number of shells and guns in the Russian Armed Forces has dropped to a level comparable to that of Ukraine.

In the Donetsk direction, fighting continues for Mariinka, one half of which is controlled by Russian forces, while the other half is under the control of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This situation has been going on for many months now. A video of a tank setting up a smoke screen to make it difficult to aim an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) at the tank was filmed from this direction.

Reportedly, Russian forces hit Kharkiv with a S-300 SAM system on the night of Feb. 17. There is no information on the consequences yet.

Head of Ukrenergo [Ukraine electricity transmission system operator] Volodymyr Kudrytsky told Bloomberg that the situation with the shelling of Ukrainian energy infrastructure has stabilized thanks to the strengthening of Ukrainian air defenses. Recovery is happening at about the same pace as destruction, sometimes even faster. However, the direct damage from this shelling is currently measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, while the economic damage is in billions of dollars.

Videos of explosions in the area of Armiansk and Chaplynka appeared on the evening of Feb. 16. An air base used to be there, but it was relocated after Russian forces withdrew from the right bank of the Dnipro.

An order on the participation of Tomsk Pedagogical University in mobilization activities was published on Feb. 9, 2023. The expected time of deployment of reinforcement units is May-June 2023. This may serve as an indirect confirmation that the second wave of mobilization may occur not in February or March but in May-June. It looks suspicious because mobilization is incompatible with the regular biannual conscription campaign, which lasts until the end of June. The system is not designed to work with conscripts and mobilized soldiers at the same time.

The students of Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University are being recruited to help the draft offices “inform citizens” during mobilization.

Yury Shnaider, one of the soldiers who stood behind Vladimir Putin during his 2023 New Year video address, returned to the war and was killed.

Olga Romanova, Executive Director of the Rus’ Sidyashchaya [Russia Behind Bars] civil rights movement, informs that, according to a convict, the Ministry of Defense officials visit penal colonies at random times and without warning to take the convicts to the war without their consent. The special records department and operative department prepare the lists of the convicts eligible for military service and send them to the Ministry of Defense officials. After that, the officials come to the colony and read aloud the names of the convicts whom they will immediately take from the colony. On this basis, Olga Romanova supposes that in this context, it can be said that we are dealing with the mobilization of convicts instead of recruitment.

Eli Cohen, Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel, has visited Kyiv and had a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. During the press conference that followed the meeting, he stated that Israel would secure up to $200 million for healthcare and infrastructure projects in Ukraine and aid in developing a “smart early-warning” air raid system.

The parliament of Norway announced a record-breaking aid package for this Scandinavian country to another state. Norway is donating 75 billion kroner ($7.5 billion) to Kyiv as part of a five-year support package in the form of military and other aid. This decision was backed by all parties in the Norwegian parliament, so the results of the elections in 2025 will not affect the provision of aid.

The first batch of 14 AMX-10RC armored fighting vehicles (“light wheeled tanks”) is sent from France to Ukraine. It is noted that the Ukrainian troops have already been trained to operate these military vehicles. For security reasons, the number of these vehicles planned for delivery is not announced, but one media outlet, citing its sources, reports on 30 vehicles.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel Zapiski Veterana [Veteran’s Notes] reports that a lot of Russian ZALA Lancet loitering munitions was brought to one of the directions. It turned out that, despite the increased production, these drones are little used, since there are not enough training centers to train UAV operators. An indirect confirmation of the increased production of Lancet loitering munitions could be a greater number of videos of successful strikes in December-January compared to previous months (we do not know the number of unsuccessful strikes).

One of the pro-Russian Telegram channels published a video showing Russian soldiers attaching a grenade with tear gas “Cheremukha” [bird cherry] to a drone, which violates the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is not the first time that Russian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists have used grenades with tear gas; we have seen evidence of similar cases in 2014-2015.

Madyar, referenced earlier, published a video in which he shows homemade munitions. We suspect that they may contain tear gas.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense reported that as part of a POW exchange, Russian side received 101 prisoners of war, while according to a representative of the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War,  Ukraine received 100 military servicemen and 1 civilian — deputy mayor of Enerhodar, who was kidnapped almost a year ago. It’s important to note that the deputy mayor is a civilian and not a member of the military, so he was not a prisoner of war but rather a kidnapped person.

The head of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs fired two colonels for refusing to provide asylum to pro-Russian blogger Sergey Vasiliev from Latvia, who reported that he was being prosecuted in Europe for his support of Donbas.

The Latvian Saeima [parliament] adopted an amendment to the law “Supporting Ukrainian civilians”, according to which automobiles confiscated from drunk drivers will be given to the Ukrainian Government. We are not certain of the practical feasibility of this measure.