February 21

Sitrep for Feb. 19-21, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

There have not been any significant advances by the Russian Armed Forces following the complete capture of Avdiivka, although attacks continue in various directions, notably around the villages of Robotyne and Verbove on the Zaporizhzhia axis. Pro-Russian sources alternately claim successes for the RuAF in Robotyne, only to later deny that a secure foothold has been established.

The pro-Russian Telegram channel WarGonzo, run by war correspondent Semyon Pegov, reports that some Russian forces, no longer needed after the capture of Avdiivka, have now been redeployed to the Bakhmut direction. However, we have yet to see evidence of this. The RuAF are attempting to advance towards the village of Chasiv Yar, launching attacks around Klishchiivka, Ivanivske and Bohdanivka. As previously reported, Chasiv Yar is situated on elevated terrain, posing additional challenges for Russian units attacking from the east.

In a briefing to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has claimed that Avdiivka was captured with minimal losses for the RuAF and maximal losses for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He also stated that the village of Krynky, on the left bank of the Dnipro River, had been mopped up, leaving only a few Ukrainian soldiers barricaded in cellars—a claim refuted by the AFU’s Operational Command South.

In recent days, several instances of flag photo ops have been observed. The latest to date was Russian soldiers briefly entering AFU-controlled territory to plant a flag and take photographs before swiftly retreating to their positions. These maneuvers likely aim to create the illusion of progress on the ground for the Russian military leadership.

The New York Times has released an article summarizing the battle for Avdiivka, citing high-ranking Western officials and Ukrainian military personnel. The article claims that during the retreat from Avdiivka, the Ukrainian Army allegedly lost between 850 and 1000 fighters irretrievably—captured, killed or missing in action. However, based on our decade-long observation of combat operations, we can assert that if such a large number of enemy soldiers had been captured or killed by the Russian military, or at least encircled, they would likely have provided visual evidence, as has occurred repeatedly in the past. For example, in the previous sitrep, we mentioned a video showing casualties in the vicinity of the so-called Zenit fortified area.

On Feb. 20, a strike targeted a gathering of the 36th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the RuAF at a training range in the Volnovakha district. The Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel claims it was the 39th Brigade; however, this contradicts statements by the governor of the Zabaykalsky region [Russia's federal subject]. According to pro-Russian sources, approximately 65 people were killed due to HIMARS MLRS rockets equipped with prefabricated shrapnel. Photographs and videos from the scene show at least 20 bodies, but they do not cover the entire training ground.

Andrey “Murz” Morozov, a Russian military blogger and author of the Nam pishut iz Yaniny [They are writing from Ioannina] Telegram channel, who had fought on the Russian side for many years, reportedly committed suicide. He explained the reasons for his decision in several posts, highlighting a major concern. Morozov pointed out that the Russian military leadership neglects evident issues experienced by the troops, even when these problems are actively discussed within the military community. Moreover, if the authors of such appeals gain fame, they face threats from commanding or law enforcement officers.

Evidently, the MoD is making efforts to suppress requests from military personnel. As a result, few pro-Russian milbloggers are willing to openly address problems at the frontline.

On Feb. 19, the Ukrainian Air Force reported the downing of two more aircraft from the Russian Aerospace Forces: a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber and a Su-35 air-superiority-fighter. Subsequently, it was confirmed that the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet had crashed into the Sea of Azov, resulting in the pilot's reported death. Aleksey Voevoda, a former Russian Aerospace Forces helicopter pilot, initially questioned this statement, but later admitted it might be true, implying that the aircraft might have been brought down by Russian air defense. The pro-Russian Telegram channel Voyenny Osvedomitel [Military Informant] also suggested the possibility of friendly fire.

Recently, pro-Russian sources have frequently claimed that their own air defense systems are responsible for the loss of aircraft, a narrative that has become less credible over time. We are inclined to believe that it is more plausible that the Ukrainian side is, in fact, inflicting losses on Russian aircraft, effectively employing a Patriot SAM system.

Western Assistance

In the Novoazovsk district of the Donetsk region, east of Mariupol, Russian electronic warfare intercepted and brought down a Banshee Jet-80 jet-powered target drone provided by the UK. The drone had been converted into a strike drone, carrying 7 kg of explosives. As mentioned earlier, some skepticism remains about the usefulness of jet-powered drones, but we will see if these new loitering munitions can prove their capabilities.

On Feb. 20, it was announced that Canada will transfer more than 800 SkyRanger R70 drones to Ukraine. This relatively small drone, smaller than the Ukrainian Baba Yaga, which was unknown to us before, can be considered an approximate analog of the DJI Matrice based on its characteristics. It comes equipped with a good camera and is suitable for the reconnaissance of targets and the transport of cargo weighing up to 2 kg.

Sweden has announced a $700 million military aid package for Ukraine. It will include:

  • 10 StridsbĂĄt 90-class fast assault crafts;
  • 20 landing crafts;
  • underwater weapons—mines and torpedoes;
  • RBS 70 (Robotsystem 70) MANPADS;
  • 155mm artillery rounds;
  • BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles;
  • grenade launchers with ammunition, including Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles;
  • hand grenades;
  • medical equipment;
  • ambulances (possibly armored medical vehicles).

Almost $100 million will be allocated for the joint purchase, with Denmark, of CV90 infantry fighting vehicles for Ukraine.

Japan will provide assistance to Ukraine in the amount of $12 billion, with $4.7 billion scheduled for transfer by the end of February. This aid is crucial and timely, given Ukraine's significant budget deficit this year and the need for funds to support potential mobilization efforts.

When comparing the defense budgets of Russia and Ukraine, it is worth noting that Russia will allocate approximately $100 billion for defense this year. Even if the US aid package of $60 billion is fully approved, it would only allow Ukraine to approach Russia's defense expenditure. Considering that Ukraine mainly receives European and US aid, the costs of equipment and ammunition are considerably higher than for Russia. To achieve a comparable military power, Ukraine will require additional resources. Therefore, in our opinion, significant territorial gains should not be expected this year. Instead, the focus should be on preserving soldiers' lives, conserving equipment and ammunition, and constructing defensive structures in areas such as the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia axes.

Just a few days have passed since the last large-scale attack on Belgorod, resulting in civilian casualties. However, full-time education in city's schools resumed on Feb. 19, despite numerous appeals from parents. It is worth noting that many schools in Belgorod lack bomb shelters.

A Russian defector pilot, Maksim Kuzminov, who had hijacked a Mil Mi-8 helicopter and crossed into Ukraine in August 2023, was killed in Spain. The circumstances surrounding the deaths of the other two crew members remain unclear, with Kuzminov claiming they refused to surrender and were subsequently killed. Journalist Andrey Malgin reported that on Feb. 13, after Kuzminov’s murder, Spanish police initially misidentified his identity as he was living under a passport issued with a different name. Surprisingly, the story did not garner the widespread attention expected by the organizers of the murder. Five days later, information about the murder was posted on two propaganda resources posing as foreign press. According to Andrii Yusov, representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine, Kuzminov did not wish to stay in Ukraine and had gone to Spain, inviting his ex-wife to join him.