February 23

Sitrep for Feb. 21-23, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Emerging video footage suggests Russian forces are still struggling to secure a firm foothold in Avdiivka: heavy armored vehicles entering the town are immediately targeted by Ukrainian kamikaze drones and artillery.

On the Donetsk axis, the Russian Armed Forces have made slight progress south of Marinka, planting a Soviet flag in the ruins of the small village of Pobieda, which lies along the only paved road leading out of Marinka.

Russia’s objective in this direction appears to be the capture of Novomykhailivka, where fighting is already underway on the outskirts of the village, with Russian forces attempting breakthrough from various directions. It is likely Russian forces will next try to advance towards Praskoviivka and Kostiantynivka, and, over the next few months, towards Vuhledar.

On the Zaporizhzhia axis, the RuAF continue their unsuccessful assaults on Ukrainian positions.

As we have repeatedly noted, Russian forces most often resort to leveling Ukrainian cities to the ground to achieve their conquest. The Vazhnyye Istorii [IStories] independent Russian investigative media outlet, in collaboration with the German publication Tagesspiegel and the Vertical 52 project, illustrated this point vividly in their latest investigative report. Utilizing a neural network model to analyze satellite imagery and assess the scale of destruction in three of the most affected occupied cities, they have found that Mariupol had been destroyed by 50%, Sievierodonetsk by 59% and Bakhmut by 71%. However, based on all the visual data available to us, we believe that, from a practical standpoint, Bakhmut is now likely beyond restoration.

It is worth noting that despite recent comments made by Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, Russian soldiers have still not managed to mop up the AFU’s bridgehead in Krynky. They continue to suffer heavy losses in both troops and equipment. Information about the losses is actively published by the Oryx project volunteer Naalsio. For example, a video recently captured Russian soldiers planting their flag in Krynky and then fleeing back to their positions to avoid enemy fire.

The motivation of Russian commanding officers reporting non-existent successes is evident—the desire to receive rewards or promotions. According to the pro-Russian military correspondent Romanov, Oleg Vlasov, the commander of the 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade, was promoted to Major General for the "liberation of Krynky." Earlier, in October 2023, both Vlasov and Colonel Mikhail Gudkov, the commander of the 155th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade, were awarded the title of Heroes of Russia, despite substantial losses in combat on the left bank of the Dnipro River. It is worth noting that the 155th Brigade also participated in an unsuccessful offensive on Vuhledar in the winter of 2023.

New data has emerged regarding the HIMARS MLRS strike on a training ground in the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region, which we reported in the previous sitrep. On Feb. 21, a handwritten list was published containing the names of 68 presumed killed Russian soldiers (3 of them unidentified), along with obituaries for some of them. The Vazhnyye Istorii media outlet, citing a source in this military unit, confirmed that the names on the list indeed belonged to soldiers of the 36th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade. On the same day, Aleksandr Osipov, the Governor of the Zabaykalsky region, contradicted this information by stating that the details about the strike on soldiers from the 36th Brigade are “completely incorrect and greatly exaggerated.” Nevertheless, regional authorities have already declared mourning and canceled some festive events.

A similar incident occurred the very next day in the Kherson region: on Feb. 22, a series of HIMARS GMLRS strikes hit a training ground in the Oleshky Sands national park, located 10-15 km [6-9 mi] from the village of Krynky. According to preliminary information, servicemen of the 328th Air Assault Regiment, the previously mentioned 810th Naval Infantry Brigade and the 81st Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment came under fire. The Dos'ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel, citing sources in the Russian Airborne Troops, reported that 36 paratroopers, including the deputy commander of the 328th Air Assault Regiment Denis Koksharov, were killed and 28 more were injured.

On Feb. 21, the Ukrainian Air Force reported the downing of another Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber of the Russian Aerospace Forces. There has not been confirmation of this fact yet. Meanwhile, on the same day, Vladimir Putin congratulated Russian Aerospace Forces military personnel on the upcoming Defender of the Fatherland Day.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the night of Feb. 23, in the city of Dnipro, eight civilians sustained injuries as a result of a strike on a multi-storey building, presumably conducted with loitering munitions. These are still preliminary figures as the building received significant damage and rescue operations are ongoing.

At the same time, the city of Odesa was also hit by the RuAF. To date, three people are known to have been killed.

According to sources in Iran, Reuters has established that Russia was supplied with approximately 400 Iranian ballistic missiles, including Zolfaghar missiles with a range of 300-700 km. The deal is reported to have been signed at the end of 2023 during Shoigu's visit to Iran, with initial deliveries commencing in January via both the Caspian Sea and air routes. In return, Russia is said to supply Iran with Mil Mi-28 helicopters as well as Sukhoi Su-35 air-superiority-fighters and Yakovlev Yak-130 combat aircraft. Experts suggest that Iranian ballistic missiles are more precise than North Korean ones. According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, only 2 out of 24 North Korean missiles fired against Ukraine have hit their target thus far. We cannot confirm or refute the claims about the precision of these missiles.

Western Assistance

According to NBC News, discussions are underway in the United States regarding the transfer of high-precision ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles to the AFU with a range of up to 300 km. However, even if this proposal is approved, the delivery will be postponed until Congress passes the long-awaited multi-billion US aid package.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that once Ukraine receives its first F-16 fighter aircraft, it will have the right to use them to strike military targets on Russian territory. This includes military transport aircraft that deliver missiles to the city of Voronezh for subsequent strikes on Ukraine. The delivery of the first F-16s is still expected to take place in the summer. However, it is unknown how many air-to-air missiles and other necessary Western munitions Ukraine will receive. Similarly, it should be noted that the Secretary General of NATO does not have the authority to dictate how equipment provided by allied states can be used. The responsibility of setting conditions of employment for such equipment lies with the suppliers and the manufacturer, in this case the United States.

The Government of France has decided to cut down their budgetary expenditures and use some of the funds to provide Ukraine with a military aid package amounting to €3 billion. However, it is still unclear whether part of these funds can be directed towards purchasing the 800,000 rounds of ammunition which the Czech Republic has found outside the EU. Earlier, EU diplomats were quoted as saying that France was one of the countries that had blocked the allocation of funds for these ends.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reports that Greece and Cyprus blocked the allocation of funds for the purchase of ammunition for Ukraine outside the EU because unknown lobbyists had succeeded in including Bayraktar drones in the military aid package, which are manufactured by Turkey. It is our belief that at present Bayraktars do not play any role in the war and it does not make sense to allocate money to purchase them.

Here a parallel can be drawn with our skepticism concerning the news about significant funds being allocated to obtain unknown state-of-the-art Western drones, since some companies may try to make money off this war by supplying hardware and weapons that are inherently unable to make a difference on the frontline.

It has also been reported that Canada is ready to earmark $30 million for the purchase of artillery ammunition found by the Czech Republic for Ukraine. To put it in perspective, according to a source in Ukrainian military structures quoted by the New Voice of Ukraine, the overall cost of the proposed ammunition could amount to approximately $2 billion (this source indicates the ammunition will be produced in South Africa and South Korea).

Simultaneously, the Canadian government did not approve the allocation of $400 million to artillery ammunition manufacturers to finance the expansion of production lines. Officials are uncertain about the long-term demand for the ammunition and the return on this investment.

Victory in this war, that is returning to1991 borders, may take Ukraine several years. A successful local offensive might be possible even this year, provided that financial aid—particularly for mobilization—is secured for Ukraine and that long-range weapons are supplied. However, as already touched upon in the previous sitrep, we believe this year is best spent preserving soldiers’ lives, saving equipment and ammunition, and preparing for future Russian offensive attempts, as Ukraine currently significantly lags behind Russia in terms of financial and technical resources.

At the same time, Russia does not have the forces to achieve significant gains, for example, reaching the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Overall, we see that Russia is solving its problems much more effectively than Ukraine's Western allies, mired in bureaucracy and poor coordination. Therefore, we cannot exclude the possibility that if the conflict is frozen, as in 2015, then in the next few years Russia will rebuild its army and again attack one of its neighbors, and then the United States and European countries will have to spend even more resources to repel Russian aggression.

According to some sources, on Feb. 28, on the eve of Putin's speech before the Federation Council, deputies of the "parliament" of Transnistria are planning to appeal to Putin with a call to accept the region into the Russian Federation. We believe that at the moment, it is impossible to involve Transnistria in the war in Ukraine: it is impossible to transfer troops there by land, sea or air, and the garrison there is too small. Moreover, Russia does not have enough military ressources to break through a land corridor to Transnistria, even if it ignores all other directions. In our estimation, for that to happen, at least twice as many people would be needed than the approximately 550,000 people currently participating in the war on the Russian side. Considering that it would still be necessary to simultaneously hold the current front line, this is completely unfeasible.

Sky News journalists have analyzed statistical reports on the export of various categories of goods from the UK and found that, after the imposition of sanctions, the export of electronics, navigation equipment and heavy machinery products, including aircraft parts, to Russia significantly decreased. However, at the same time, the export of these goods to countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Georgia and Uzbekistan has increased many times over or even by an order of magnitude.

At the Singapore Airshow 2024, the upgraded Israeli Iron Fist active protection system, capable of detecting and shooting down drones that threaten tanks, was showcased. The widespread use of drones has significantly changed the tactics of waging war, so both drones and methods of defense against them will be one of the most important topics for the military industry in the upcoming years.

The Proekt [Project] independent media outlet has released a comprehensive study analyzing criminal and administrative cases brought to courts in Russia from 2018 to 2023. Over six years, more than 116,000 people in Russia were subjected to direct repression, with more than 11,000 prosecuted under criminal statutes and about 105,000 charged with a misdemeanor for their statements and participation in rallies. Thus, under Putin, Russia has convicted more people for "extremism" and criticism of the government than the USSR did for "anti-Soviet activities" under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. This means the scale of Putin’s repression has long surpassed that of all Soviet general secretaries, except for Stalin.

The OVD-Info independent human rights project published statistics on the persecution of Russians for their anti-war stance. In the two years since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, nearly 20,000 people were detained, 8.7 thousand administrative cases were initiated for "discrediting" the Armed Forces, and 848 individuals became defendants in criminal cases in Russia and illegally annexed Crimea. The most common reason for initiating criminal cases was various activities on the Internet.

On Feb. 24, the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we will hold a live stream on the CIT YouTube channel. We are waiting for your questions—please send them to our bot.