February 24, 2023

Sitrep for February 22-23 (as of 02:30 p.m.) 

On Feb. 23, explosions were heard in Odesa and Kyiv, where an air defense system shot down an aerostat used as a decoy target. Details are yet unknown.

The strike on Makiivka on Feb. 22 was confirmed. It is claimed that the target was a healthcare center; there are no reports of casualties.

The strike on Debaltseve on the evening of Feb. 21 was also confirmed. The Lokomotiv sports complex was damaged; no casualties were reported.

On Feb. 23, an air defense system's work was reported in Mariupol.

In addition, on Feb. 23, Donetsk was hit. A large crater can be seen in photos taken near a music college building. Local authorities, as they always do in such cases, claim that it was a HIMARS MLRS strike.

Note that in all of these incidents, the absence of casualties may refer to the absence of civilian casualties. Usually, you can only learn about killed military personnel by checking obituaries.

On Feb. 23, a Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft crashed in the Belgorod region. A pilot managed to eject but sustained injuries incompatible with life. It is claimed that the crash was caused by a technical malfunction, but details are still unknown. We should note that an ejection from an aircraft flying at a low altitude due to enemy air defense activity (in this case, Ukrainian) is very dangerous — a parachute may not have time to unfold.

The situation on the frontline

In recent days, fighting in the Kreminna direction has intensified with renewed vigor. A large number of videos have been published attesting to this. One of them shows how Ukrainian soldiers hit Russian tanks, including the latest T-90M tanks, which were on their way to the breakthrough. Another video shows an American Oshkosh M1070 tank transporter of the AFU transporting a seized T-90M tank (which looks practically undamaged). There are already known cases of the use of such trophies by the AFU.

Over the past few days, Russian forces have advanced several hundred meters near Dibrova, where fierce fighting continues, as evidenced, in particular, by new obituaries. Maksim Toropov of the 31st Guards Airborne Regiment was killed on Feb. 15 near the village of Dibrova.

On the first anniversary of the start of the full-scale invasion, the Russian authorities will likely try to announce the capture of Bakhmut (Artyomovsk, as it is called in some pro-Russian sources), but the town will clearly not have been actually captured by this time.

North of Bakhmut, Russian forces are trying to attack in the direction of the settlements of Berkhivka and Yahidne and are also trying to expand the bridgehead from Mykolaivka towards Fedorivka in order to launch an offensive on Siversk.

On the northern outskirts of Bakhmut, combat activities continue in the single-family residential neighborhood, where the 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the AFU is fighting.

To the south of Bakhmut, the AFU hold the defense along the Siverskyi Donets — Donbas Canal. In recent days, there have been many videos showing Ukrainian servicemen fighting Wagner Group mercenaries or Ukrainian tanks firing at forest lines along the canal.

Therefore, there are no expectations for the complete capture of Bakhmut in the coming days.

The Moscow Times [an independent English-language and Russian-language online newspaper] published an important story citing morgue workers and an unnamed source from the authorities of one of the regions of the Russian Federation, reporting that morgues in Russian regions received directions to “limit” the daily release of bodies of soldiers killed in Ukraine to relatives in order to prevent panic and avoid creating a buzz in media and social networks. As an example, there is an unofficial decree in North Ossetia [constituent republic of Russia] to “release no more than two bodies per day.”

As a reminder, in a CIT article covering the strike on Makiivka on Jan. 1, we mentioned that there was a possibility of intentional delay in identifying victims and releasing their bodies to relatives in order to avoid drawing excessive attention to the incident and to obscure the true number of victims. Earlier, we reported on a similar practice of covering up heavy losses of Wagner Group mercenaries occurring in a single event in Syria.

One more victim, who earlier was listed as missing in action, was identified — Pavel Rodionov, a resident of Syzran. That raises the total number of confirmed victims of the strike in Makiivka to 117.

The commander of the 1st battalion of the Azov Regiment, Oleh Mudrak, who took part in the defense of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol and spent several months in Russian captivity, has died. It’s being reported that the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

As it turns out, the first official report about the 1st Army Corps of the “DPR People’s Militia” and the 2nd Army Corps of the “LPR People’s Militia” joining the Russian Armed Forces was published on Dec. 31, 2022. At the same time, Putin presented them with battle colors.

The pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone confirmed the use of Tochka-U missiles by the Russian Armed Forces due to the lack of ammunition for Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems and noted the low accuracy of these missiles due to both the characteristics of the system itself and poor intelligence. The post explicitly states that inaccurate strikes can be attributed to enemy weapons.

On Feb. 23, Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day. On this occasion, some regional authorities decided to congratulate the widows of the killed in the war in a peculiar way. The widows of the draftees from Vladivostok were presented with sausages, the widows from the Orenburg region — with congratulatory certificates, and the widows from the Kaliningrad region — with a special holiday issue of the Vestnik of Baltiysk [Bulletin of Baltiysk] newspaper.

On Feb. 20, Russia reportedly carried out a test of an RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to have failed around the time US President Joe Biden was in Ukraine.

According to the Kommersant newspaper, some edits were made to the text of Vladimir Putin's address to the Federal Assembly the night before. Abbas Gallyamov [political analyst and former speechwriter for President Putin] believes that a section about Russia's suspension of participation in the New START [СНВ-III] Treaty was added, while Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] editor-in-chief Sergey Smirnov sees the unsuccessful missile test as a logical explanation for why Putin's address did not mention the Sarmat missile (the aforementioned section may have replaced the mention of the new weapon). The rally concert in the Luzhniki Stadium (according to the Moscow police, more than 200 thousand people took part in it) could also be timed to coincide with the missile test, which was never announced.

Vladimir Putin’s video congratulation on the Defender of the Fatherland Day, in which he claimed that the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile will be fielded this year, can be accounted as another indirect evidence that Vladimir Putin planned to mention Sarmat in his address to the Federal Assembly.

Pavel Podvig, a Senior Researcher in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, made a comment to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and answered several questions regarding the New START Treaty.

The VChK-OGPU Telegram channel [the name is a reference to the VCHK and OGPU, which were the intelligence and state security service and secret police organizations in the early Soviet Union] has posted photos and documents showing that at least a part of the frontline ammunition supplies belongs to category 2  (which means that the designated service life has expired and ammunition that belongs to this category should not be used in peacetime) or even category 3 (unusable beyond repair). We do not know how widespread the occurrence is and what portion of ammunition belongs to the unusable categories. It is possible that the shell hunger in the Russian Army is related to the fact that a lot of ammunition belongs to category 2, and the available capacities of both ammunition and maintenance depots are insufficient to fit them to combat in due time.

Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] has stated that the necessary documents are signed, and munition shipping for the Wagner Group has begun.

Citing Margarita Robles [Minister of Defense of Spain], Europa Press agency informs that Spain will soon send six Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine. According to Margarita Robles, the tanks are already undergoing repairs, and Spain will be able to put even more tanks into operation.

We now have pictures of dummies of HIMARS MLRS and M777 howitzers, which are used by the Ukrainian military as decoys.

In yesterday's sitrep, we mentioned a UH-60 Black Hawk utility military helicopter supplied to Ukraine. It is unlikely that only one or two such helicopters will be supplied due to the high relative costs of training pilots and mechanics and organizing warehousing for spare parts. Black Hawk helicopters do not offer better protection against radar-guided missiles that can target helicopters far from the frontlines, compared to Soviet-type helicopters, and are not used to transport VIPs close to the frontlines, where Western systems against MANPADS [man-portable air defense systems] could have potentially come in handy. Therefore, it is not very likely that these will be used to transport VIPs in order to avoid a tragedy like the recent crash of a helicopter carrying the entire leadership of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

It is possible that NATO countries simply do not have any more combat-ready Mil Mi-8 (Mil Mi-17) helicopters (and third-world countries do not want to give them back), so going forward, Black Hawk helicopters will be regularly supplied to Ukraine, and what we see now is just the first batch. This is not the first time we have learned about the supply of a military vehicle after the fact: previously, the same happened to armored personnel carriers and various howitzers.