February 28

Sitrep for Feb. 26-28, 2024 (as of 9 a.m. UTC+3)

Frontline Situation Update

According to the weather forecast on the frontline, in the coming days in the Donetsk region, temperatures are expected to fluctuate between above 0°Celsius during the day and below 0°Celsius at night, with no precipitation. There are no signs of the onset of the muddy season yet, and it is not expected to commence in the near future due to the absence of rain. It is worth noting that the muddy season will significantly impact not only attacking but also defending forces.

In the Avdiivka direction, the scenario that we reported on in the previous sitrep continues. According to official data, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have withdrawn from the villages of Stepove and Sieverne, which Russian forces recently approached. They are expected to further advance towards Orlivka and Berdychi. However, while the AFU is expected to retreat from Orlivka, the village of Berdychi is likely to become a “contested area” for some time due to the terrain and water barriers.

A video of a burning M1A1SA Abrams tank, which was destroyed for the first time in Ukraine, filmed in the same direction, has emerged. Analyzing the absence of snow on the ground, particularly evident in another video, it can be inferred that the previous footage featuring an Abrams tank in the Berdychi area was recorded at least several weeks ago.

It is worth noting that the risks for a tank on the frontline increase when, as in the above videos, it is used without cover. We believe that the tank that had its ammunition or gunpowder charge on fire is now beyond repair. However, as the muddy season has not yet begun, it is likely to be evacuated. Typically, after drone attack abandoned tanks, dropping munitions into their open hatches, we classify them as destroyed, indicating that they can only be used for parts. It is possible that the Abrams tank was attacked again after the crew was evacuated.

Pro-Russian sources claim a Lancet loitering munition has destroyed a Swedish Archer self-propelled howitzer for the first time. Although footage showing the drone's video interface as it descends onto the howitzer has been published, there is still no video capturing the impact or the aftermath of the strike. Despite the assumption that modern self-propelled artillery systems are largely immune to such attacks, it is conceivable that the howitzer’s position was detected during aerial reconnaissance, possibly by tracking tire marks.

Furthermore, video footage of the first documented destruction of a NASAMS surface-to-air missile launcher has emerged. Positioned on the right bank of the Dnipro River, its reduced mobility, compared to self-propelled systems, rendered it more susceptible to Russian strikes. The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the destruction of the system in its daily briefing.

It is worth noting that since the first delivery of HIMARS MLRS, not a single successful strike against them has been observed. Units sent back to the US for repairs apparently only suffered damage from mines, or other causes, rather than direct hits.

In response to widespread coverage of Ukrainian prisoners of war executions, a staged video was published depicting Ukrainian soldiers allegedly shooting Russians. In the video, individuals in pristine uniforms and with clean weapons shout towards enemy soldiers inside a trench during combat. The people portraying Russian soldiers emerge from a trench with their hands raised, after which the supposed Ukrainian soldiers approach them and shoot at close range. Apart from the cleanliness of the uniforms and weapons, characteristic observed in the AFU only with the "Freedom of Russia Legion," the perfect condition of the trench is strikingly different from those near the frontline. Additionally, real individuals emerging from cover to surrender do so slowly and cautiously, as abrupt actions risk provoking enemy fire. After the "execution," they fall extremely unrealistically, attempting to assume a more comfortable or aesthetic pose, failing to convincingly play their roles.

The Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group Rusich, known for advocating the execution of both PoWs and civilians and killing witnesses of war crimes, recently published a video depicting the execution of Ukrainian soldiers, praising the actions of those doing the shooting. Subsequently, either Russian authorities or law enforcement officers contacted group members, first asking them to remove the post, and then issuing threats. It is noteworthy that earlier, representatives of the Rusich Group had announced they would cease to take part in combat operations until the release of their leader, who was arrested in Finland.

We believe that the Russian authorities are more concerned about the spread of video recordings of PoW executions than the actual occurrences of extrajudicial killings.

Western Assistance

Politico reports that France has lifted its objections to the EU purchasing ammunition for Ukraine from third-country suppliers. It is not yet known whether Greece and Cyprus have also changed their decision and whether Bayraktar drones are still on the procurements list. Also, in his address, French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Russia should not be allowed to prevail, and it is essential for European security that Russia should lose the war.

According to Der Spiegel, Germany is conducting discreet negotiations with India regarding ammunition supplies for Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether this is true and whether the negotiations will be a success.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that Germany will not supply Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles to Ukraine for fear of escalating the conflict, which could lead to the involvement of the Bundeswehr.

An analysis carried out by a German political scientist shows that investing an additional 4% of the GDP into upgrading the country’s defense capability is possible by increasing taxes, reducing social spending or increasing the national debt. All the above is likely to cause discontent in German society.

Germany announced a new military aid package. It includes:

  • 14,000 155mm ammunition rounds;
  • 4 WISENT 1 mine clearing tanks;
  • 3 mobile, remote controlled and protected mine clearing systems;
  • material for explosive ordnance disposal;
  • 10 VECTOR reconnaissance drones with spare parts;
  • 22 anti-drone sensors and jammers;
  • 12 SatCom terminals;
  • 4 border protection vehicles;
  • 10 Bergepanzer 2 armored recovery vehicles (the delivery date is unknown; they are listed in a separate section).

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring project has calculated that at least five Beriev A-50 AEW&C aircraft were spotted in Belarus at different times between Feb. 22, 2022 and March 2, 2023 (they have not appeared in the country since then). Two of the aircraft seen were shot down in February 2024, and another was damaged by partisans on Feb. 26, 2023 at the Machulishchy military airfield and flew to Taganrog for repairs. Thus, according to the previous calculations, Russia still has six working AEW&C aircraft and an unknown number of trained crewmen (in our previous sitrep, we reported that the minimum estimated number of the remaining AEW&C aircraft is two). The remaining aircraft, according to Belarusian Hajun, are barely enough to cover the entire frontline.

Ukraine's Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk reported that two Russian Su-34s were shot down on Feb. 27 and published a photograph of an allegedly burning aircraft visible on a thermal camera. We cannot confirm that the blur on the photo is indeed an aircraft, but given Russian casualty statistics, it is quite plausible. We are awaiting visual confirmation.

In the recent weeks, pro-Russian Telegram channels, such as Fighterbomber [associated with the Russian Air and Space Force] or Aleksey Voevoda’s channel [a Russian Aerospace Forces helicopter pilot with the call sign "Voevoda"] have slowed down in confirming Russian aircraft losses. This may be explained by the fact that they may be experiencing pressure from security forces and are not free to share information.

Mykhailo Podolyak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, asserted that 10 additional Patriot SAM systems could seriously change the situation on the frontline. His words confirm our assessment that recent RuAF ground advances were facilitated by use of powerful air-dropped bombs equipped with Universal Gliding and Correction Modules (UMPK), which can destroy any fortification.

On Feb. 26, the AFU attacked a car with a loitering munition near the line of defensive fortifications close to Pokachevo, a village in the Belgorod region located approximately 5 km from the Ukrainian border. Three people were killed in the strike, while three others received injuries. The governor of the region claims that the car was transporting construction workers. However, the people visible in the video of the incident were wearing camouflage-colored clothes resembling All Weather Protective Combat Uniforms (VKPO) with Russian flag badges. One of them wore a Gorka suit [mountain storm suit], which pro-Russian separatists wore regularly between 2014 and 2022. After their names were revealed, we were able to confirm that at least one of them, Maksim Orzhitskiy, does indeed work in the construction industry. We know nothing of the others, but in any case, we consider the drone operator's actions to be lawful, as it is impossible to distinguish individuals wearing camouflage near defensive fortifications from actual combatants.

Nikolay Nechaev returned home to Perm in November 2023 when his 6-month military service contract ended. He had enlisted in May to leave the penal colony where he had been serving a sentence for robbery, rape and sexual violence. At the end of February 2024, he was detained on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old schoolgirl.

Anton Goroshko from the Saratov region was sentenced to 12 years in a maximum security penal colony in 2020 for the murder of a fellow villager who allegedly intended to report to the police that Goroshko was involved in drug trafficking. While in prison, Goroshko enlisted to go to war and later returned home. On Feb. 24, 2024, he married a police officer, and on the same day, he assaulted two teenagers in an apartment building stairwell. On Feb. 27, Goroshko returned to the front to "atone for his sins."

In Udmurtia [Russia's constituent republic], on Feb. 22, a man threatened a female security guard with a pistol at the entrance to a cottage village. Arriving police officers refused to initiate proceedings, justifying their decision by stating that the man had taken part in the "special military operation."

At a meeting of judges in Russia's constituent republic of Tatarstan, the acting chairman of the Supreme Court of the republic, Eduard Kaminsky, announced that the majority of criminal cases against veterans of the war in Ukraine are being suspended based on their involvement in combat. This basis for suspending cases has been introduced in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings.

On the evening of Feb. 23, in annexed Crimea, war veterans, while intoxicated, got into an altercation with local bar patrons and called for "support" from members of the so-called Medvedi [Bears] 81st Volunteer Brigade. The arriving men, armed with assault rifles, fired shots into the air and assaulted bar patrons under the pretext that someone among them allegedly shouted "Glory to Ukraine!" When it was established that the dispute was domestic in nature, the leadership of the volunteer brigade handed over the instigators of the incident to the police and issued a statement, placing responsibility on the initiators of the conflict and promising to punish their former colleagues.