February 9

Sitrep for Feb. 7-9, 2024 (as of 8:30 a.m. UTC+3)

General Oleksandr Syrskyi has assumed the role of the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Currently, it remains unknown who will succeed him in his previous position, taking on the role of the new commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces. Typically, in such situations, the chief of staff is temporarily appointed to carry out the duties. Additionally, there is uncertainty regarding the appointment of the new Chief of the General Staff of the AFU in place of General Serhiy Shaptala. Prior to the resignation of General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, there were news reports suggesting that he and his entire team, including Shaptala and other generals, would leave their positions.

Changes in the command of the AFU were reportedly discussed by Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi. During the discussion, Zelenskyy thanked Zaluzhnyi for defending Ukraine over the last two years and requested that he "remain on the team"—the exact meaning of this request remains unclear. Additionally, Zelenskyy has awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine to Zaluzhnyi.

Originally, Syrskyi graduated from the Moscow Higher Military Command School; however, later, he pursued contemporary Ukrainian military education. He graduated with honors from the Ukrainian Academy of the Armed Forces and the National Defense University of Ukraine. Since the onset of the Russian-Ukrainian War in 2014, he held the position of the First Deputy Chief of the Main Command Center of the AFU, responsible for cooperation with NATO and reforming the military to the alliance’s standards.

Despite the fact that General Syrskyi's battle tactics reflect his hierarchical Soviet training, his operational flexibility differentiates his approach from that of Russian generals, according to some Western analysts as reported by The Economist in August 2023. He preaches NATO principles of decentralized command, learned during a stint in Brussels in 2013, where he met representatives of the alliance to discuss how to modernize the AFU. Furthermore, it was at Syrskyi's initiative and under his supervision that a new system of military force management and reserve force training, similar to NATO practices, was introduced in the AFU. This system radically differs from the one inherited from the Soviet Army.

In 2015, Syrskyi held the position of a deputy commander of the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In this role, he coordinated combat operations and the withdrawal of troops after the AFU were defeated near Debaltseve.

Despite all the criticism of Syrskyi from many Ukrainian analysts and his unpopularity among the soldiers of the AFU due to the heavy losses in the battles for Bakhmut and Soledar, the merits of the new commander are not denied. Among these merits is the defense of Kyiv at the very beginning of the full-scale invasion. It is worth noting that, starting around Feb. 15, 2022, President Zelenskyy and other officials publicly stated that they saw no signs of an impending Russian invasion, yet it later turned out that they were preparing for it, trying to prevent panic among the population. This preparation, as well as the offensive in the Kharkiv region in fall 2022, is attributed to Syrskyi's merits. Despite this, we agree with those who remind us that the war was at a different stage at that time.

We remain concerned that the decision regarding the complex situation in Avdiivka may become politically motivated. In our opinion, the AFU should already be considering organizing rearguard actions. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that immediately after the controversial decision to dismiss Zaluzhnyi, retreating from Avdiivka may be seen as politically disadvantageous by the Ukrainian leadership. Comments by Mykhailo Podolyak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, raise concerns about a political decision to maintain control of Avdiivka for as long as possible. This concern is particularly fueled by Podolyak's statement that preventing stalemate at the frontline, which “negatively affects public sentiment,” is one of the reasons for changing the AFU's commander-in-chief.

According to rumors, one of the reasons for the conflict between Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy was the commander-in-chief's desire to make decisions guided only by military necessity.

The further development of the situation also depends on appointments to other top military leadership roles in Ukraine and on how much ground commanders trust the decisions of the new commander-in-chief following the change.

Fighting in the Avdiivka direction persists without any significant changes since our previous sitrep; however, as previously mentioned, Ukrainian forces are facing a gradually deteriorating situation.

According to Ukrainian journalist Yurii Butusov, in the past four weeks, Russian forces have dropped more than 600 air-dropped bombs on Avdiivka, averaging approximately 20 bombs per day. Despite the intense fighting, civilians continue to stay in the town, resulting in many of them becoming victims of the war.

Similar to the situation around Avdiivka, the village of Novomykhailivka in the south of the Donetsk region is facing a gradual encirclement. A video showing an attack on Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of the village has been released. The attack was carried out by the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade of the RuAF. There is concern that, should Novomykhailivka fall, Russian forces might advance towards the town of Kostiantynivka and further to Vuhledar, in coordination with Russian units advancing from the direction of the already seized Marinka.

The Washington Post visited the city of Kramatorsk and interviewed Ukrainian soldiers. According to two Ukrainian commanders, the AFU are experiencing a serious shortage of personnel. One of the battalions reportedly has fewer than 40 infantrymen, significantly below the required 200, while another unit's companies are staffed at around 35% of the necessary number. As a result, ammunition and personnel shortages are significantly affecting the frontline situation, particularly in the Donetsk region.

The Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] continues its work on adopting a bill that would tighten conscription rules—thus far, no decree has been issued for a new wave of mobilization in Ukraine. The proposed legislation seeks to establish a three-year maximum service term for mobilized soldiers. It is worth noting that one of the backers of this initiative was General Zaluzhnyi, who stated that significant reinforcements were necessary in order for the AFU to achieve its military objectives.

Interestingly, many Russian pro-war commentators have mocked the tightening of Ukraine's mobilization rules, despite Russia having implemented similar measures, which they previously deemed necessary.

Contrary to official Russian statements, troop availability within the RuAF remains critical. The Russian Ministry of Defense has recently proposed a bill increasing the maximum age limit for mobilized soldiers to 65 years, thereby aligning it with the age limit in effect for contract soldiers, except for senior officers. Previously, the cap for mobilized soldiers was set at 50 years, however it has now been adjusted to 55 years, the same as the limit for soldiers in the reserve. The introduction of this legislation underscores the ongoing challenges faced by the RuAF in maintaining adequate troop levels.

In Russia, discussions persist regarding the potential escalation on the frontline ahead of the "elections" in March 2024. Within military circles, rumors are circulating suggesting that Putin may aim for a significant victory, leading to speculation about a new large-scale offensive targeting the city of Kharkiv or an attempt to ford the Dnipro River and seize the city of Kherson. Despite these speculations, we do not believe that Russia will initiate a new offensive in the near future. Such an action would require not only a large-scale mobilization but also significant time to train recently mobilized personnel. However, there is no doubt that if Avdiivka were to be captured before the elections, it would likely be presented as a major achievement by the RuAF.

Popular pro-Russian milblogger Kirill Fyodorov has posted a drone video captioned "RuAF assault troops are capturing Ukrainian positions near Alabaster Pond east of Klishchiivka," showing Russian soldiers apparently shooting surrendered Ukrainian prisoners of war. In the audio track, a voice, presumably that of the commander of these soldiers (referring to them as "my four"), repeatedly orders to "not take prisoners" and "shoot them all." This suggests that the extrajudicial execution is likely a result of a command order rather than the initiative of individual soldiers. We speculate that this video was recently filmed, as the frontline currently runs approximately through these areas.

Western Assistance

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has stated that Ukraine could receive the first disbursements from the promised €50 billion as early as March.

In the United States, efforts to pass legislation including aid for Ukraine continue to face obstacles. However, there has been a comment from Douglas R. Bush, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology at the US Department of Defense, who presented a graph showing the planned production rate of artillery shells. By the end of the year, it is expected to reach a level of 70,000 155mm shells manufactured per month.

Ukrainian and Russian Strikes

On the morning of Feb. 7, the RuAF launched a missile attack on the city of Kyiv. Four people were killed and another 40 were injured. Additionally, three more people sustained injuries in the Kyiv region.

At the site of one of the strikes, debris marked 3M22 Zircon was found. This is the latest Russian anti-ship missile, which Putin called hypersonic, although there is no reliable evidence of this. This development is so secret that there are not even reference photographs of it; only a tentative schematic representation exists. It is known that the Zircon missile is no slower than the P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship missile and has a longer range. Ukrainian sources claim the missile was fired using a ground-based launcher from the area of Crimea and assess its performance as a cross between the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile and the P-800 Oniks cruise missile. It is too early to judge the possibility of its interception by a Patriot SAM system.

It is also worth noting that the RuAF used not only S-300 air-defense system missiles but also a number of DPRK-made Hwasong-11Ga (KN-23) ballistic missiles, targeting the city of Kharkiv on the morning of Feb. 7 and the town of Selydove, Donetsk region, on the night of Feb. 8.

Even before these attacks, on the night of Feb. 7, at a meeting of the UN Security Council, US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood stated that, according to US data, Russia had already used at least nine North Korean-made missiles against Ukraine. This significantly exceeds the known number of Ukrainian attacks with ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles. So far, two strikes with the latter have been recorded—on airfields in Berdiansk and Luhansk.

On the night of Feb. 9, a Ukrainian UAV attacked the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region, causing a fire. This plant had already been attacked by drones at the beginning and end of May 2023.

On the evening of Feb. 7, a massive explosion occurred at the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant in Udmurtia [Russia's constituent republic]. Local authorities claim there were no "socially significant incidents" in the region, and the explosion was related to "planned tests of rocket engines." However, we have not seen comments from local residents confirming the routine nature of such explosions. Additionally, in our view, the video shows a fire cloud too large for planned tests.

A ship carrying grain departed from a Ukrainian port, destined as humanitarian aid to Nigeria. This serves as further evidence that, despite Russian efforts, Ukrainian unmanned surface vessels and anti-ship missiles have prevented the blockade of Ukrainian ports.

On Feb. 8, another POW exchange took place: 100 POWs returned to the Ukrainian side, including defenders of the Azovstal Steel Factory in Mariupol, and 100 POWs returned to the Russian side.

On Feb. 6, a farewell ceremony was held in Volgodonsk for Anton Kudinov, an 18-year-old graduate of a Rostov orphan boarding school who was killed in the war in Ukraine. Immediately after graduating in August 2023, Anton signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense. Orphans, entitled to housing upon graduation, often join the army, lured by the promise of priority in the housing queue.

The Mozhem Ob'yasnit [We Can Explain] Telegram channel has published an investigation into Aleksandr Pelevin, who appears to be an informant for the Federal Security Service (FSB) or the Ministry of Internal Affairs' General Directorate for Countering Extremism, known as "Center E." For years, he has been attending opposition rallies under the guise of being a journalist from Kommersant or the Main Events news agency. Observations and conversations suggest he systematically files denunciations.

On March 17, during the elections, the "Noon Against Putin" action is planned. If you intend to participate and encounter Pelevin at a polling station, it is advised to ignore him and avoid any interaction.