February 24, 2023

Sitrep for February 23-24 (as of 02:30 p.m.) 

The situation on the frontline

Apparently, the RuAF have concentrated their main efforts north of Bakhmut, where they pursue attack attempts in the direction of Berkhivka and Yahidne.

On Feb. 24, Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, the confidant of Vladimir Putin and owner of the Wagner Group] announced the complete capture of Berkhivka by Wagner Group mercenaries, providing no visual evidence (at the time of the release of the sitrep).

Igor Girkin [Strelkov, former separatist commander and military blogger] expressed indignation that a criminal case had not been initiated on the murder of Igor Mangushev [Russian nationalist fighter], which, in his opinion, was committed by Wagner Group mercenaries.

The names of several more Russian servicemen killed as a result of the strike on Makiivka on Jan. 1 became known. Now there are 120 names on the list made by our team.

In January, mobilized soldiers from the Irkutsk region recorded a video message asking for help, as they were going to be reorganized into assault units and sent to the frontline. On Feb. 22, one of the authors of the video reported that, at first, the mobilized soldiers were reassured, promising that they would not be sent to the assault. However, after some time, they nevertheless were reorganized into assault groups, which were then sent to the frontline. This incident is another example demonstrating the attitude of the Russian command toward the losses among the personnel.

There were photos of a column of Russian military trucks transporting BTR-50P APCs from storage. These APCs, adopted by the Soviet Army in the 1950s, are stored in reserve warehouses, having long since been taken out of service. Now they are apparently being taken to a repair plant to be brought into combat readiness and further sent to the frontline. BTR-50P APCs equipped with a machine gun can carry 12-20 fighters. Their main disadvantage is thin armor. Besides, they have a rather low engine power-to-weight ratio but can still be used for transporting infantry and cargo in the rear. Recommission of such old military vehicles clearly indicates that the RuAF are running out of stocks of BMP-1 IFVs and MT-LB armored multi-purpose tractors.

On Feb. 24, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrived in Ukraine. During his visit, he will likely announce the transfer of the first batch of Leopard 2 tanks from Poland to Ukraine. If this happens, it will be the Polish tanks that arrive in Ukraine first. As far as we know, the training of Ukrainian service members on operating these tanks is still ongoing.

The UK Secretary of State for Defense, Ben Wallace, stated that in the near term, one should not expect transfers of fighter jets from the UK. However, should another country decide to transfer their MiG-29, Su-24, or Su-25 jets to Ukraine, the UK is prepared to supply its aircraft as a replacement.

Greece said that it would not be sending their S-300 SAM  systems to Ukraine despite the request by the US because, allegedly, it would lower Greece’s own defensive capability.

The Pentagon announced a new $2 billion package of security assistance for Ukraine. The package is part of the long-term Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, i.e., the actual deliveries will take some time. The capabilities in this package include the following:

  • additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • additional 155mm artillery rounds;
  • munitions for laser-guided rocket systems;
  • CyberLux K8, Switchblade 600, Altius-600, and Jump 20 UAS (the latter two are small recon drones);
  • counter-UAS and electronic warfare detection equipment;
  • mine clearing equipment;
  • secure communications support equipment;
  • funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.

Marat Khusnullin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia for Construction and Regional Policy, has announced by the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that all lanes of the Crimean bridge are fully open to car traffic 39 days ahead of schedule, and now the bridge is fully operational.

Financial Times has described how Vladimir Putin started the war in Ukraine and planned to conduct it. He abandoned the idea of a nuclear strike on Ukraine because this would not benefit Russia in any way.

According to the FT, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was the first of Russian civilian officials to learn last-minute that Putin was planning a full-scale invasion. The article highlights that during Putin’s meeting with Russian businessmen, one of them asked Lavrov how it was possible for the president to plan the invasion in such a narrow circle. Lavrov replied that the president had “three advisors: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great.”

According to the Financial Times, after the capture of Kyiv, it was planned to put   Viktor Medvedchuk [pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician and a personal friend of Putin] at the head of Ukraine. Medvedchuk's appointment was to be legitimized in the video message of the former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014.

After the start of the full-scale invasion, as reported in the article, Putin's inner circle has noticeably narrowed, and his confidants have become even more afraid to tell him the truth about the losses and problems on the front line. Probably due to the lack of objective information, the president sincerely believed in a quick victory. Putin’s tactic at this time is based on his determination to fight longer than the West can help Ukraine.

We believe that with a probability of 90%, given the current rate of Western aid to Ukraine, the war will not end this calendar year. Only in late spring — early summer Western tanks and infantry fighting vehicles with crews will be ready for Ukraine to be able to launch an offensive. Unfortunately, there is a war of attrition going on. The side with more resources, strength, stamina, and patience will win it.

The estimates of confirmed Russian casualties tracked by Mediazona [an independent Russian media outlet] and the BBC Russian Service, along with a team of volunteers, have been updated. To date, according to obituaries, they have counted 15,136 names of those killed in the war in Ukraine. This is more than the official data on the losses of Soviet forces during the 10 years of the war in Afghanistan. According to the reports, during the war in Afghanistan, the USSR suffered the following losses: the army — 14,427 people, the KGB [Committee for State Security] — 576 people, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs — 28 people, a total of 15,031 people. In the first Chechen war, the official losses of the federal forces amounted to 4,103 people, and according to a 2005 statistical study, more than 5,500 people. In the second Chechen war, the losses of federal forces officially amounted to 4,572 people killed.

If we apply the formula we mentioned in one of our previous sitreps to the journalists' data, our conservative estimate (we will not publish the upper estimate in the future to avoid it being quoted in the media as our only estimate) would be at least 40,000 killed and 120,000 wounded in the invasion.

What is happening now is a complete catastrophe for the Russian Army. As of Feb. 24, 2022, according to Sergei Shoigu [Russia’s Defense Minister], the Russian Army had 168 battalion tactical groups, about 800 people each, totaling 130,000 people. It would be incorrect to assume that our estimate of 160,000 killed and wounded means that every Russian soldier who participated in the invasion at its beginning was somehow affected since, for example, a soldier who was three times wounded and then killed would be included in the statistics four times. Nevertheless, this number can be used as a guide to understanding the scale of losses. It vividly demonstrates the inevitability of mobilization, and the pace of losses now leads to the unavoidability of its second wave.

It is important to understand the fact that the most “elite” combat-ready units suffered the most losses because they were the first to be sent into battle. Now they are replenished by unmotivated and, most commonly, poorly trained mobilized soldiers and cease to be the best. Therefore, we see that the 40th and 155th Naval Infantry Brigades and the 14th Special Forces Brigade have been fighting for a month (since Jan. 24) near Vuhledar and not only didn’t advance but, on the contrary, were thrown back to positions between Pavlivka and Mykilske, which they occupied about a year ago.

The use of BTR-50P armored personnel carriers and T-62 tanks by Russian forces shows that the RuAF is running out of more modern vehicles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed the Ukrainian Armed Forces were allegedly preparing to invade so-called Transnistria [the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, an unrecognized breakaway state that is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova], and in case of such a provocation, Russian forces were ready to respond accordingly. We find this statement untrue and even ridiculous.

The likelihood that Russian troops stationed in “Transnistria” will attack Ukraine is also considered negligible, as it would be a suicidal attack.

One of the revelations of the past year was the condition of the armies of European countries and, to some extent, of the United States: the stocks of vehicles and ammunition turned out to be insufficient, and the vehicles themselves were often not combat-ready.