February 21, 2023

Sitrep for February 20-21 (as of 02:00 p.m.) 

US President Joe Biden made a trip to Kyiv from Poland by train on Monday, Feb. 20. Biden and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Mykhailivska [Saint Michael's] Square in Old Kyiv to honor the memory of the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred.

The visit was not announced in advance. Moreover, the State Department officially denied rumors about it, arguing that only a trip to Poland was in the President's plans. It is reported that a few hours before the visit the State Department warned the Russian side in order to prevent incidents. This is the first visit to Ukraine by an incumbent US president in the last 15 years.

In his speech, Biden mentioned, “Together [with allies], we’ve committed nearly 700 tanks, and thousands of armored vehicles, 1,000 artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition, more than 50 advanced launch rocket systems, anti-ship and air defense systems, all to defend Ukraine”. It is not completely clear what tanks exactly he was talking about.

During the visit a new $500 million aid package was also promised. It will include:

  • artillery ammunition;
  • anti-tank systems;
  • additional ammunition for HIMARS MLRS;
  • 155mm artillery rounds and 120mm mortar rounds;
  • 4 air surveillance radars;
  • additional Javelin anti-armor systems;
  • about 2 thousand anti-armor rockets;
  • 4 Bradley infantry fire support team vehicles;
  • 2 tactical vehicles to recover equipment;
  • Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
  • night vision devices;
  • tactical secure communications systems;
  • medical supplies;
  • spare parts, and other field equipment.

Let us emphasize that the aid package included not the Bradley IFV but the special Bradley Fire Support Team Vehicle, or the M7 BFIST variant. In fact, it is more of an artillery reconnaissance vehicle with a laser designator in place of a TOW [missile package], and the room to carry computers and radio equipment designed to coordinate fire from multiple platforms onto multiple targets, which, as stated, can indicate targets for precision-guided munitions at a distance of up to 20 kilometers in the presence of line of sight (exceeding the flight range of civilian aerial reconnaissance drones such as DJI Mavic).

The situation on the frontline

In the Bakhmut direction, Russian forces were able to cross the M-03 highway connecting Bakhmut and Sloviansk and attacked the village of Berkhivka. Now it can already be stated that all three main supply routes for Bakhmut have been actually cut off.

Apparently, the Russian command received an order to accelerate the pace of the offensive, so that the complete capture of Bakhmut could be announced by the first anniversary of the start of the full-scale invasion. British intelligence claims that such a statement might be made even if the town is not actually captured. However, in any case, we can soon expect Ukrainian troops to retreat in order to preserve their personnel.

In the Avdiivka direction, Russian troops managed to capture the village of Novobakhmutivka. Attacks in this direction are probably intended to encircle Avdiivka and cut it off from supply routes for subsequent capture.

On Feb. 17, a man was detained in Moscow with grenades, fuses, and knives. At first, the man introduced himself as a mercenary of the Wagner Group, who had come on vacation. The Astra Telegram channel later found out that, according to the criminal case file, he appeared to be a laborer who had worked in Luhansk. It is possible that investigators were instructed to remove the reference to the Wagner Group.

Simultaneously with President Biden's visit, a delegation from Israel came to Kyiv. Following that meeting, Israel promised to supply Ukraine with "missile defense systems." However, these will most likely not be missile launchers but missile early warning systems.

While commenting on the situation with the Wagner Group's shell hunger on the frontline, Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and owner of the Wagner Group] said that no one has any understanding of the origin of certain limits that allegedly prevent them from obtaining the necessary amount of ammunition. Everyone is passing the buck  upstairs and suggesting that Prigozhin should go "apologize and take the blame." This is probably about an ongoing confrontation between the top leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry and Yevgeny Prigozhin. According to him, the Wagner Group gets ammunition with the help of "good generals," in other words, those who are on its side. We assume that these could be Generals Sergey Surovikin and Rustam Muradov because, from internal documents of the Wagner Group that came into our possession last summer, we learned that even before the full-scale invasion, they received the Wagner Group's "Trench Cross" corporate award, apparently for helping mercenaries in Syria.

A video of another Prigozhin’s speech in a penal colony appeared. The date of recording is unknown, but we assume that the video is old, because the Wagner Group has already stopped recruiting convicts. In this video, Prigozhin says that the Wagner Group is a “military organized crime group” and that it is outside the law. The Group has its own code, which differs from the laws of Russia. The ideal candidate for the Wagner Group, he says, should be the one who has beaten up an official or a police officer, since the Group needs criminal talents. First of all, they are in search of those who have been imprisoned for a murder, brigandage, or burglary with long sentences. According to Prigozhin, the prospects for war are “not the best,” because, contrary to the expectations of many, the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not get scared away. He also said that the Wagner Group has a training and even an "exam", during which one group of recruits digs into the ground, while another one fires  real weapons at them, and that the losses during such an exam can reach up to 1%.

In our sitrep of Feb. 17, we published a link to a video of the commander of the separate aerial reconnaissance group Robert Brovdi [callsign Madyar], who showed homemade munitions. We suspected then that they might have contained tear gas. A new video has appeared in which he said that the fridge was not in working order and was used as a cabinet. Madyar spoke about specific munitions and explained what their marking meant. Judging by the sound, there is neither gas nor liquid inside the shells, but some solid substance.

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a new $5.5 billion financial aid package for Ukraine.

Photos of the unloading of another batch of Bradley IFVs, MaxxPro MRAPs, as well as a Chinook helicopter with removed rotors have been published, and the latter is currently a mystery to us (there was no report of such a delivery).

A video, allegedly taken at the Novosibirsk airport, has emerged. It shows dozens of temporary wooden caskets with death certificates issued in the so-called DPR. This suggests the arrival of yet another batch of soldiers killed in the war. We have no doubts that the Russian Armed Forces have been tasked with taking control of Bakhmut by the first anniversary of the invasion at any price; therefore, we expect an increase in losses in the coming days.

It took Russian authorities a year to realize that a man who spends significant time fighting at the frontline gets tired, loses combat readiness (even if not wounded), and needs a rest. Putin’s proposal on granting leaves to military service members, voiced during his address to the Federal Assembly, is a valid mitigation but we do not know how effective it will be in practice. It is possible that the first leaves will only be granted at the end of August, half a year after today’s address. Nor do we know whether soldiers would be allowed to spend their leaves at home or would only be rotated into the captured territory behind the frontline giving them less of an opportunity to evade further military service.