February 19

Sitrep for Feb. 16-19, 2024 (as of 9:30 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Avdiivka has now completely come under Russian control following the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the town. It is worth noting that the territory of the Avdiivka Coke Plant was also abandoned. The current frontline has shifted to the vicinity of the villages of Lastochkyne and Orlivka.

The actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in withdrawing these troops cannot be conclusively assessed at this moment. On the one hand, the experience of battle for the town of Bakhmut seemed to be taken into account, and the 3rd Assault Brigade of the AFU, apparently, was sent to Avdiivka to conduct rearguard actions during the withdrawal of the main forces, and not to try hold the town any further. On the other hand, we see a tragic development of the situation for the fighters of the 110th Mechanized Brigade of the AFU who defended positions in the so-called Zenit fortified area. In our opinion, their evacuation was delayed too much without any particular military necessity, which led to the death of many of them. A dangerous situation for the AFU began to develop there even during the attack on the Tsarska Okhota fortified area, when Russian soldiers managed to gain a foothold not far from the positions near the Zenit, and soon implemented a semi-encirclement of the fortified area.

Previously appearing reports about the high accuracy of air-dropped bombs equipped with the Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK) and the dispatch of certain "elite" forces to Avdiivka were ridiculed by the pro-Russian military correspondent Andrey Filatov. According to him, air-dropped bombs sometimes hit areas near Russian positions, and apparently there were no elite special forces or reconnaissance forces in the Avdiivka direction.

Various estimates of Russian losses during the assault on Avdiivka have emerged. It is undeniable for us that the Russian Armed Forces suffered huge losses over these four months. However, we cannot confirm or refute claims that 17 thousand Russian soldiers were killed and 30 thousand wounded in the capture of Avdiivka, or that irretrievable losses amounted to 16 thousand. Overall, these figures seem exaggerated to us. This is because not every deceased soldier has a publicly available obituary, and the direction on which the deceased soldier fought is not always indicated. Additionally, obituaries often appear no earlier than a month after a soldier's death.

On the Donetsk axis, Russian forces have entered the village of Novomykhailivka in the south of the Donetsk region and are fighting within village limits. The situation in the village is now dire.

On the Zaporizhzhia axis, the RuAF are attempting to storm Ukrainian positions in Robotyne. According to pro-Russian correspondents, Russian troops allegedly have already entered the village. The Ukrainian Armed Forces repelled an attack on Robotyne by a large Russian column, in which a T-54 tank, presumably a 1951 model (without an ejector on the gun barrel), was spotted. Previously, we had not seen such old tanks in offensive actions, which indicates a shortage of modern military vehicles in the RuAF.

According to the Ukrainian Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, a recent exchange has resulted in the return of the bodies of 58 fallen soldiers to Ukraine. There is currently no information on the return of the bodies of Russian soldiers.

On Feb. 17, Ukrainian air defense forces claimed to have shot down three Russian aircraft: two Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers and one Sukhoi Su-35 air-superiority-fighter. At this moment, there is video evidence for the downing of only one of these aircraft, and the fate of the crew remains unknown. Ukraine’s Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk published a map showing the location of four ejection seat emergency beacons (the Cospas-Sarsat system operates on a known frequency, making the coordinates it transmits available to everyone). Meanwhile, the pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] contends that since the start of the full-scale invasion, emergency radios no longer automatically activate and are manually turned on by pilots in voice communication mode only after a rescue helicopter is in sight. At this moment, we cannot confirm or refute any of these claims. Furthermore, by commenting "Nothing new. Business as usual," Fighterbomber implies that the aircraft may have been shot down by Russian air defenses.

On Feb. 18, Oleshchuk reported that another Su-34 had been shot down, though we have yet to see any confirmation of this claim.

Western Assistance

Ukraine has obtained permission to repair M777 howitzers and started doing so on its own territory. However, a significant challenge lies in the fact that these howitzers are made not from steel but from titanium. Consequently, specialized workforce and equipment are required for their repair.

As reported by Politico, citing three EU diplomats, the Munich Security Conference unveiled that the decision to procure artillery rounds for Ukraine from outside the EU was blocked by France, Greece and Cyprus. Speculations suggest this obstruction might be driven by a desire to ensure orders for the defense industries of these countries.

Meanwhile, French diplomats have indicated that their country will consent to the deal should the EU fail to meet its commitment to supply one million rounds to Ukraine. However, it appears doubtful that this commitment will be met, especially with only ten days remaining until March. Notably, France has chosen not to reveal the total amount in euros of its contributions to Ukraine, despite pressure from Germany.

Recent comparative data on the cost of 155mm shells produced in different countries has emerged. The figures stand at approximately $3,000 per unit for the US, $5,000 for European countries and up to $8,000 for the Finnish-Norwegian manufacturer Nammo. The implication is that Ukraine could benefit significantly by receiving more munitions from the US or other countries rather than awaiting the expansion of European production, which involves the production of more expensive shells. Notably, the EU has the option to purchase them from the US without requiring special permission from Congress, which is currently in recess.

Czech President Petr Pavel has disclosed additional information, stating that alongside the previously reported 500 thousand 155mm projectiles, another 300 thousand 122mm projectiles have been discovered. However, funding for their purchase remains unsecured at this time.

During the Munich Conference, a journalist from The Economist highlighted that about 40% of all munitions produced in Europe are still being supplied to third countries, likely referring to deliveries outside the EU based on old contracts. Moreover, it was revealed that not all of the remaining 60% of shells are sent to Ukraine either.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov has confirmed that, within the framework of the Defense Contact Group, Ukraine has initiated the Drone Coalition, composed of Latvia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands.

Additionally, there are reports that France will supply Ukraine with state-of-the-art loitering munitions in the coming weeks. Although the exact details behind these statements are currently unknown to us, it has been claimed that work on these munitions has been ongoing for the past one and a half years.

Additionally, as reported by Bloomberg, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with their allies, are planning to supply Ukraine with thousands of new UAVs equipped with artificial intelligence over the next few months. A distinctive feature of these UAVs is their ability to operate in "swarm" mode, allowing them to communicate with each other to find targets without operator control. However, there is a concern that these drones may not fully meet the current needs of the AFU on the frontline, given the necessity for drones to change frequencies to evade Russian electronic warfare systems. The ideal drones for modern combat operations should be inexpensive, simple and preferably modular, allowing for quick changes in operating frequencies and even some components depending on the situation.

It is plausible that these projects are driven by the interests of their own domestic companies rather than solely addressing operational requirements.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced a long-term military aid package for Ukraine, which includes:

  • 18 PzH 2000 howitzers, to be delivered to Ukraine during 2026 and 2027;
  • 18 RCH 155 self-propelled artillery guns, scheduled for delivery to Ukraine between 2025 and 2027;
  • 120,000 122mm artillery shells to arrive in 2024;
  • 2 Skynex wheeled self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems to be supplied in 2025;
  • 100 missiles for IRIS-T SLS.

The Financial Times has published an article providing insights into the current state of the European defense industry. The accompanying graphs in the article clearly demonstrate a significant trend: countries bordering Russia have sharply increased their defense expenditures since 2022, surpassing the 2% of GDP threshold and thereby meeting NATO requirements. Conversely, countries not bordering Russia, with the exception of the UK, allocate less than 2% of their GDP to defense. Moreover, many of these nations have been reducing their defense expenditures in recent years. This situation raises questions about the validity of Donald Trump's statement expressing reluctance to defend NATO countries from potential invasion if they have not met the designated defense spending targets. The assertion appears somewhat absurd, especially when considering the unlikely prospect of a sudden invasion, such as that of Belgium, for example.

Lieve Mostrey, the CEO of Euroclear, has criticized Belgium's proposal to use frozen Russian assets as collateral to raise loans for Ukraine. She believes that this plan is close to an "indirect seizure" of the assets belonging to the Russian Central Bank and will expose the depository to lawsuits, undermining trust in the European financial system.

Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, stated that Ukrainian prisoners of war in Russian detention facilities have "full sleep, two walks and three meals a day," they are not involved in any work and their daily routine does not differ from that of a recovery center. In fact, we have repeatedly seen evidence (1, 2, 3) that Ukrainians return from Russian captivity having lost as much as 30-40 kg in weight.

In January 2024, Ecuador promised to transfer its existing Soviet equipment to the United States. In response to objections from the Russian side, President Noboa of Ecuador declared that he considered it not military equipment but scrap metal, exempt from such restrictions. In early February, Russia retaliated with a trade war, imposing an embargo on banana imports from Ecuador, citing the alleged presence of the Mediterranean fruit fly in them. On Feb. 16, after meeting with the Russian ambassador, the President of Ecuador reversed his decision on the equipment supplies, and Russia allowed the import of bananas.

According to information from the US Air National Guard, the first group of Ukrainian pilots will complete their training to operate F-16 fighter aircraft as early as May, with subsequent groups completing their training over the summer. Currently, training for 12 pilots has been funded, but the training for the next group cannot begin until Congress approves a new aid package.

Foreign Policy, citing European officials, claims that the first F-16 fighter aircraft may arrive in Ukraine as early as June. This information was confirmed by Lithuanian Minister of Defense Arvydas Anušauskas at the Munich Security Conference.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stated that in response to the murder of Alexei Navalny, each NATO country should commit to training a total of 200,000 Ukrainian soldiers annually. Furthermore, there is a need to double the supply of military vehicles and ammunition, including Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles from Germany. The sanctions regime should be tightened, Russian assets confiscated and used to aid Ukraine, while the US Congress should swiftly pass a financial aid package. We agree that the most effective punishment for Russian authorities for the murder of Navalny would be to provide Ukraine with the fastest and most extensive military assistance possible.