February 26

Sitrep for Feb. 23-26, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

Russian forces continue to attack the village of Robotyne on the Zaporizhzhia axis. Although pro-Russian Telegram channels reported last week that Russian troops were occupying positions in the center of Robotyne, in reality, Ukrainian forces are still preventing them from gaining a foothold. In one of these assault attempts, the Russian Armed Forces lost two infantry fighting vehicles and were subsequently dislodged from the village by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, supported by drones.

The situation in the Avdiivka direction continues to develop. The RuAF have occupied the village of Lastochkyne, located north-west of Avdiivka. A video shows Russian soldiers moving through the village with apparent ease. In addition, the RuAF have entered Sieverne (south of Lastochkyne) and Stepove (north of Lastochkyne). It is anticipated that their next move will be westward, capturing Tonenke, Orlivka and ultimately reaching Berdychi. This is due to the fact that the AFU is currently gradually retreating to more advantageous positions, dictated by elevated terrain where Umanske, Semenivka and Berdychi are located, along with water barriers ahead of these settlements. Prior to retreating to these heights, the AFU will likely try to delay the enemy's advance, allowing them time to prepare fortifications.

The AFU’s 47th Mechanized Brigade published a video of an Abrams tank firing at enemy positions in the area of Berdychi. This visual evidence is notable as it marks the first direct confirmation of the presence of these tanks on the frontline.

We anticipate that, given the challenges faced by the Ukrainian forces due to ammunition shortages, the RuAF will strive to seize the opportunity and make significant advances in as many directions as possible.

In the Bakhmut direction, Russian forces have advanced towards the village of Ivanivske, situated to the west of Bakhmut and in close proximity to the strategically important town of Chasiv Yar. Notably, on Feb. 25, in this vicinity, another documented case of a Russian military crime occurred—marking the fourth instance of prisoners of war being executed since Feb. 7. As previously reported, video evidence indicated that the order to execute Ukrainian soldiers was given by a commanding officer.

Subsequently, two more video recordings of POW executions have emerged. The first, dated Feb. 18, captures an incident northeast of Vesyoloye and Rozdolivka in the Donetsk region.

The second recording, dated Feb. 20, documents an execution near Robotyne.

Hence, a disturbing trend of PoW extrajudicial executions appears to be emerging, particularly within the Donetsk region. We anticipate that this may evolve into a sustained pattern, influenced by various factors. A significant portion of the RuAF is composed of former convicts, Russian soldiers face serious supply shortages, limited leave opportunities and virtually no prospects for rotation. Meanwhile, endless "meat grinder" battles continue, and commanding officers enforce discipline through violence. All of this adversely affects the morale of soldiers, leading to their exasperation.

According to some assumptions, the order not to take prisoners may have been officially issued at a high level, yet we believe that such decisions could also have been made autonomously by individual frontline commanders.

It is also worth noting that in some cases, when Ukrainian soldiers are taken prisoner, they are subjected to abuse. A vivid example of this is the actions of a commander from the 76th Airborne Assault Division with the call sign "Executioner," who, among other things, is known to carry out mock executions, shooting over the heads of captives. It is worth remembering that Russian paratroopers from this division have stood out both by their cruelty towards civilians in the Kyiv region and by the executions of prisoners of war on the Zaporizhzhia axis.

Shura Burtin from the Swiss media Reportagen investigated the situation in Ukrainian society and the armed forces in Kyiv, Kramatorsk and Kharkiv from September to October 2023. He described a growing rift in society, where many people in the rear are weary of the ongoing war, while sometimes soldiers themselves feel despair and a desire for the war to end one way or the other.

It is worth noting that such a situation has been observed on both sides of the frontline.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the evening of Feb. 23, another Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft was shot down near the village of Trudovaya Armenia in the Krasnodar region. Video footage of the incident captured the aircraft deploying flares, as well as Russian air defense systems firing anti-air missiles, and what appeared to be the interception of a missile aimed at the A-50. Many pro-Russian bloggers, based on this video, began to speculate that the Beriev had been hit by a Russian missile.

There is a prevailing belief that Ukraine does not possess missiles capable of striking aircraft at distances of 250 km [155 mi] from the frontline. The Patriot system, just like the AMRAAM missiles that could be supplied along with F-16 fighter jets, have ranges of only up to 160 km [100 mi]. However, Soviet-era S-200 SAM systems are capable of tracking targets the size of IL-76, which the A-50 is based on, at up to 300 km [185 mi] and engaging them at around 250 km. Moreover, sources from Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate have confirmed that the aircraft was hit with an S-200 system.

Another theory suggests that Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, after intercepting an S-200 missile, for some reason then targeted the A-50. We are not yet capable of determining whether this version is plausible or not. Contrary to claims by the pro-Russian Telegram channel Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Aerospace Forces] that missiles and aircraft appear identical on S-400 radar screens, more detailed information about the targets the system is tracking does appear on other screens inside the system’s command module. Furthermore, after hitting an enemy missile, the remaining SAMs still in the air are supposed to self-destruct automatically or, at the very least, at the operator’s command.

Ultimately, we believe that the likeliest scenario is that the A-50 was indeed intercepted by a missile launched from a Ukrainian S-200 system.

The exact number of operational A-50 AEW&C aircraft in the Russian Aerospace Forces remains unknown. Previous reports indicated that there were only three A-50s and six upgraded A-50Us in the fleet. However, some sources suggest that most of them are inoperable and have been cannibalized for parts. Similarly, it remains unclear whether it is possible to manufacture new A-50s under the current regime of sanctions.

In addition to the loss of a scarce aircraft, it is also important that the entire crew of an A-50, consisting of 10 people, has been lost for the second time (training new specialists takes a lot of time). At the time of writing this sitrep, an obituary was published for the navigator of the aircraft, Aleksandr Provalov. His name is on the crew list posted on the Dos’ye Shpiona [Spy Dossier] Telegram channel. It should also be noted that the morale of the crew of the replacement A-50 aircraft for that area will be extremely negatively affected not only by the fact that the two previous aircraft were shot down, but also that, according to some pro-Russian sources, it happened due to an error made by Russian air defense operators.

AWACS aircraft near the frontline are valuable for their ability to track enemy aircraft, missiles and air defense. This is especially important in the context of launches of glide bombs with Universal Gliding and Correction Module (UMPK), since, in order to achieve maximum flight range, they are launched from a high altitude, which makes bombers vulnerable. A-50 aircraft, in turn, monitor the skies and provide them additional safety. The lack of early airborne warning will likely negatively impact the actions of bomber aircraft in SAM-dense environments.

On Feb. 23, Ukrainian drones hit the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant, causing a small explosion and subsequent fire, which was quickly extinguished. There were no casualties. Yurii Butusov, Ukrainian journalist and editor-in-chief of the censor.net.ua website, later published footage of the launch of one of the drones that attacked the factory, identifying it as the Lyutyi [Fierce] kamikaze drone. It is claimed that the target of the attack was the installation responsible for the primary cooling of untreated coke gas: had it been destroyed, it would have led to a prolonged shutdown of the production process. However, apparently, the intended outcome was not achieved.

Plant officials have stated that it was not affiliated with the defense industry. However, the Agentstvo.Novosti [Agency News] Telegram channel discovered that there was still a connection, albeit indirect: for example, the plant supplies steel for the production of gun barrels. As far as we know, this is the first attack on this metallurgical plant.

Russian and Ukrainian Personnel Losses, Two Years On

Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] and Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet], using excess mortality data from the National Probate Registry, attempted to assess Russia's losses over the first two years of the full-scale invasion. According to the journalists' calculations, as of Jan. 1, 2024, the actual losses on the Russian side amounted to approximately 75,000 killed: with the number most likely in the range of 66,000 to 88,000. This estimate does not include individuals over 50 years old, soldiers from the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, as well as those missing in action. Additionally, as of Dec. 29, 2023, the deaths of 40,600 Russian soldiers had been confirmed through obituaries.

If the average rate of increase in losses is extrapolated to estimate the number of fatalities as of today, Russia could have lost around 83,000 people killed. As of Feb. 22, the deaths of over 45,000 military personnel have been confirmed. We find this research to be thorough and consider the obtained estimate to be rather conservative.

According to Olga Ivshina, a BBC News Russian correspondent, the total losses of pro-Russian forces in fatalities could exceed 113,000 people, including about 23,000 from the “DPR” and the “LPR.”

Determining the number of severely wounded soldiers unable to return to the frontline after treatment is difficult. We disagree with Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] and estimate that the ratio of severely wounded to those killed is only 0.3-0.4:1. About 10% of injuries result in being unfit for military service, and the ratio of wounded to killed is approximately 3-4:1.

Additionally, journalists from Mediazona and Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet] selectively verified and confirmed data from the anonymous Ukrainian project UALosses, which estimates Ukrainian fatal casualties at 42,000 people. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine the completeness of this database and what proportion of fatal casualties it includes. However, since significantly more data on fatalities is openly and officially published in Ukraine, there are grounds to assume that this number is much closer to reality than the data on Russian losses, which are collected from obituaries by Mediazona and BBC News Russian in collaboration with a team of volunteers.

Thus, Ukrainian losses are undoubtedly much lower than Russian ones, but still of the same order of magnitude. Objective methods do not confirm the ratio of killed Ukrainians to Russians as 1:5, as claimed by Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In particular, he reported that Ukraine's losses in fatalities amounted to 31,000 people, which is also not confirmed by publicly available data.

Taking into account the incompleteness of databases of the fatal casualties collected from open sources, and adding those missing in action, Ukrainian losses can be roughly estimated at 50,000-60,000 people, and Russian losses at approximately 110,000, thus the actual ratio of losses is approximately 1:2.

The New York Times notes that according to the estimates of some American officials, by the summer of 2023, Ukrainian losses already amounted to 70,000 killed and 100,000-120,000 wounded. We consider this data unreliable as such a ratio of killed to wounded is highly unrealistic.

Western Assistance

Negotiations are underway for Australia to hand over all 59 of its Abrams M1A1 tanks to Ukraine, as they are slated to be replaced by upgraded versions.

The UK has pledged £245 million [$320 million] to boost Ukraine’s artillery reserve. This funding will cover the procurement, reactivation of supply chains and production of artillery shells.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has announced that the European Union plans to supply Ukraine with 170,000 artillery rounds by the end of March.

According to a letter from the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, Politico reports that the EU has already provided Ukraine with 355,000 rounds of ammunition over the past year. This figure is expected to rise to 524,000 by the end of March and reach 1,155,000 by the end of the year.

According to Major General Vadym Skybytskyi, Deputy Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Russia produced approximately 2 million 122mm and 152mm rounds of ammunition in 2023. Furthermore, it is reported that Russia has plans to increase its production to 2.7 million rounds in 2024.

According to the Astra Telegram channel, pro-Russian authorities in the "DPR" have started issuing Russian passports to the remaining civilian residents of Avdiivka. As previously noted by political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann, such actions have allowed electoral lists to be expanded by several million people. It appears that the Central Election Commission included all known residents of the purportedly annexed regions of Ukraine, although Russia does not fully control any of these regions.

Former Ukrainian MP from the Party of Regions and currently appointed by Russia as the governor of Zaporizhzhia region, Yevhen Balytskyi, openly stated in an interview that the occupying authorities evicted a large number of Ukrainians from their homes when the occupied regions were not yet formally incorporated into the Russian Federation, namely "those who in one way or another did not support the special military operation, insulted the flag, anthem of Russia, and the President of the Russian Federation." The deportation of civilians constitutes a violation of the rules of war and a criminal offense, including under Russian law.

On Feb. 28, at 7:00 p.m. Moscow time, we will be hosting a live broadcast for our supporters on the Patreon platform. The link to the broadcast will be posted on Patreon and in the corresponding Telegram chat.