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Russo-Ukrainain War. Day 358: 6,000 Ukrainian children taken to Russia for ‘re-education’

Russo-Ukrainain War. Day 358: 6,000 Ukrainian children taken to Russia for ‘re-education’
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Bodies of 27 dead civilians found in de-occupied Snihurivka. The US-backed report says Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children for ‘re-education.’ NATO countries boost munitions output, pledge 48 Leopard 2 tanks for Kyiv.

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Daily overview — Summary report, February 16

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, February 16, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. February 15, 2023. Source ISW.

 

Despite significant losses, the adversary does not abandon its intentions to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. To that end, the invaders’ main focus continues to be the offensive operations on Kup’yans’k, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Shakhtars’ke axes.

During the day of February 15, the adversary launched 17x air strikes. In addition, the enemy launched 28x MLRS attacks at the civilian infrastructure of Pokrovsk (Donetsk oblasts) and Kherson oblasts. The attacks killed and wounded civilians, almost destroyed a residential high-riser building, and a hospital in Beryslav was shelled again.

[Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: no signs of the formation of adversary offensive groups were found. Certain units of the armed forces of the republic of belarus and the armed forces forces of the russian federation continue their missions in the areas bordering Ukraine. Russian troops continue their combat training at the training grounds of the republic of belarus.]

The threat of further russian air and missile strikes across Ukraine remains high.

Kharkiv Battle Map. February 15, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: no signs of the formation of adversary offensive groups were found. Certain units of the armed forces of the republic of belarus and the armed forces forces of the russian federation continue their missions in the areas bordering Ukraine. Russian troops continue their combat training at the training grounds of the republic of belarus. At the same time, the adversary does not stop mortar and artillery shelling of the positions of Ukrainian units, as well as settlements near the line of contact. The vicinities of settlements of Yanzhulivka (Chernihiv oblast), Rozhkovychi, Tovstodubove, Bilokopytove, Vovkivka, Volfyne, Basivka (Sumy oblast), Hraniv, Krasne, Vovchans’k, Zemlyanky, Rublene, Krasne Pershe, Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, and Kreidyanka (Kharkiv oblast) came under enemy fire. The occupiers attacked Naumivka (Sumy oblast), Hraniv, and Udy (Kharkiv oblast) with army aircraft from the territory of the russian federation.
  • Kup’yans’k and Lyman axes: the adversary fired tanks, mortars, and artillery at more than 15x settlements, including Krokhmal’ne, Cherneshchyna (Kharkiv oblast), Novojehorivka, Makiivka, Stel’makhivka, Nevs’ke, and Chervonopopivka (Luhansk oblast), Terny, Novoselivka, Spirne, Rozdolivka, and Stepove (Donetsk oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. February 15, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: the enemy fired mortars and artillery at the vicinities of more than 15x settlements, including Mykolaivka, Vasyukivka, Bilohorivka, Vesele, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Stupochky, Kurdyumivka, Druzhba, and Maiors’k.
  • Avdiivka and Shakhtars’ke axes: the vicinities of 14x settlements, including Vodyane, Pervomais’ke, Nevel’s’ke, Krasnohorivka, Mar’inka, Pobjeda, Mykil’s’ke, Vuhledar, Novoukrainka, Prechystivka, and Zolota Nyva (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with tanks, mortars, and artillery.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. February 15, 2023. Source ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia axis: the enemy shelled the vicinities of more than 15x settlements, including Temyrivka, Malynivka, Chervone, Charivne, Huliaipilske, Bilohir’ya, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Orikhiv, and Zaporizke (Zaporizhzhia oblast).
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. February 15, 2023. Source ISW.
  • Kherson axis: enemy artillery fire hit Kherson and the vicinities of more than 10x settlements, including Zolota Balka, Havrylivka, Kachkarivka, Zmiivka, Beryslav, Vesele, L’vove, Tyahyntsi, Berehove (Kherson oblast), and Ochakiv (Mykolaiv oblast).

[The occupiers established military hospital on the premises of surgical department of Starobil’s’k city hospital (Luhansk oblast) to treat gravely wounded russian soldiers. The surgical building is completely closed to civilians. As of February 11, the arrival of about 20 military trucks with wounded russians has been reported.]

[In Nova Kakhovka (Kherson oblast), occupants are searching private estates of local residents to seize waterborne platforms, which are then used for sabotage and provocations.]

During the day of February 15, Ukrainian Air Force launched 11x air strikes on the concentrations of russian troops and military equipment, and 5x air strikes on the positions of anti-aircraft missile systems.

At the same time, our defenders on the eastern front destroyed 1x russian Ka-52 attack helicopter.

During the day of February 15, Ukrainian missile and artillery units hit 1x command post of the enemy, 3x concentrations of troops, and 2x ammunition depots.

Military Updates

About 6 Russian balloons spotted over Kyiv, most of them shot down, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of Kyiv City Military Administration (KCMA). “Preliminary, about six enemy air targets were detected in Kyiv’s airspace. According to the information that is being clarified, these were balloons that move in space, affected by the wind. All the air targets were hit by air defence systems. Most of these probes were shot down.

Kyiv City Military Administration reports that the balloons could have carried angular reflectors and reconnaissance equipment. The purpose of launching the balloons, according to the KCMA, was to detect and deplete Ukrainian air defence systems.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • On 09 February 2023, Deputy Security Council Chairman Dmitry Medvedev called for an increase in Russian tank production while visiting the Omsk Transport Machine Construction plant. This follows several public comments by President Putin urging the defence industry to better support the ’special military operation’.
  • In a televised meeting on 12 January 2023, Putin castigated Denis Manturov, the deputy prime minister with responsibility for the defence industry, for ‘fooling around’; one of the president’s strongest public outbursts since the invasion.
  • Senior Russian leaders are likely aware that the state’s military industrial output is becoming a critical weakness, exacerbated by the strategic and operational miscalculation of invading Ukraine. Production is almost certainly falling short of the Russian MoD’s demands to resource the Ukraine campaign and restore its longer-term defence requirements.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Thursday 16 February, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the invasion to the present day:

  • Personnel – about 139770 (+690),
  • Tanks – 3290 (+4),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6507 (+7),
  • Artillery systems – 2303 (+4),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 466 (+0),
  • Air defence means – 236 (+2),
  • Aircraft – 298 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 286 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5161 (+6),
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2011 (+0),
  • Special equipment – 219 (+1),
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
  • Cruise missiles – 857 (+0)

97% of Russian army estimated to be in Ukraine – UK Defence Secretary, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing BBC Radio 4. “UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has stated that almost the entire Russian army is estimated to be in Ukraine. While commenting on Moscow’s offensive strategy, Wallace said that Russia has not been able to amass a single force to punch through Ukraine’s defences. Rather, we’ve just seen an effort to advance. That has come at a huge cost to the Russian army. We now estimate 97% of the Russian army, the whole Russian army, is in Ukraine,” Wallace said. […]

If 97% of the Russian army is now committed to Ukraine, with an attrition rate very, very high, and potentially their combat effectiveness depleted by 40%, and nearly two thirds of their tanks destroyed or broken, that has a direct impact on the security of Europe, he declared. I think what Russia is doing in trying to advance, it’s doing in a sort of human way, almost First World War levels of attrition and with success rates of a matter of metres rather than kilometres, Wallace pointed out.

Wallace goes on to say that the biggest unknown is what happens when you have Russian leaders who either have a gap in reality or no regard for human life of [Russia’s] own“.

Wagner Group’s units lost up to 80% of their personnel in Donbas, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Hanna Maliar, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defence. “The enemy’s offensive is ongoing in [Ukraine’s] east. The attacks are taking place around the clock. The situation is tense. Yes, it’s hard for our [troops]. You can see for yourself what kind of war Russia is waging. However, our soldiers are preventing the enemy from accomplishing their goals and inflicting very serious losses.

In particular, losses amount to up to 80% of personnel in some assault units of the Wagner PMC [private military company] and units of the 2nd Army Corps. Evacuation of those killed and wounded by the hostiles is limited or not carried out at all. […]

An increasing number of Russian soldiers are realising that their commanders are inadequately assessing the situation on the battlefield, as evidenced by the intensive use of so-called ‘suicide squads’, i.e., units staffed by insufficiently trained conscripted personnel who suffer heavy combat and sanitary losses every day, she reported.

After losing an eighth of their helicopters, Russian attack regiments are switching up their tactics, Forbes reports. “They’re digging in at their front-line bases to protect against Ukrainian drone strikes, artillery barrages and sabotage. And they purportedly are combining different helicopter models in the same flights—banking on the ’copters countermeasures to provide overlapping defenses against Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles.

The Russian air force’s 11 attack helicopter brigades and regiments—together operating around 100 Kamov Ka-52s, 80 Mil Mi-28s and 150 Mil Mi-24s—have had a hard war. Those 330 helicopters in the current inventory are what’s left after the Ukrainians shot down at least 30 Ka-52s, 11 Mi-28s and 11 Mi-24s starting last February. An eighth of the pre-war force.”

Russia have lost up to 50% of its new tanks in the war, BBC reports. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has issued a new detailed report on the balance of military forces in the world. About 50% of the Russian pre-war number of the T-72B and T-72B3M and many T-80 tanks have been destroyed. Due to the destruction of a significant part of new machines, Russian forces often switch to older models.

Russia suffers largest losses since start of this disgraceful war, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Andrii Yusov, representative of Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “We are now seeing an extreme escalation, serious events in the east, of course, around Bakhmut, [and] other directions [like] Vuhledar. Actually, nothing has changed, there are desperate attempts to occupy Ukraine’s Donbas by the end of March. Such were Putin’s instructions to [Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery] Gerasimov, but those dates don’t mean anything; they won’t succeed. Ukrainian Donbas is holding on, and Bakhmut is holding on.

Despite the fact that this is no longer the world’s second army, the enemy has a significant mobilisation reserve… Yes, they are often poorly armed and poorly trained, but there are many of them. But this does not stop the Ukrainian defence forces; there are appropriate plans and mechanisms for responding to all challenges.”

Humanitarian 

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Russia hits Pokrovsk with missiles, number of injured grows to 12, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Pavlo Kyrylenko, Head of Donetsk Oblast Military Administration. “Russian forces carried out a missile attack on the city of Pokrovsk in Donetsk Oblast on 15 February that damaged an apartment building. There are people injured, and a search-and-rescue operation is ongoing.”

In Lviv region, Russia strikes critical infrastructure facility – Regional Administration, Ukrinform reports. “During the air raid alert announced throughout Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, February 16, a critical infrastructure object was hit in Lviv region. This was stated by the head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration, Maksym Kozytskyi.”

Ukraine calls on UN, Türkiye to prevent Russia from obstructing grain deal, Reuters reports. “Ukraine appealed on Wednesday to the United Nations and Türkiye to press Russia to immediately stop hindering Ukrainian grain shipments that supply millions of people and not to use the food as a weapon. […] Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of delaying inspections of ships carrying Ukrainian agricultural goods, leading to reduced shipments and losses for traders. Russia has previously denied the accusations, saying it is meeting all its obligations under the grain export deal.

Two top Ukrainian officials said in a joint statement that Ukraine is deeply concerned about the destructive actions of Russia, which result in the delay of the work of the grain corridor and obstructing the Black Sea Grain Initiative in general. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Russia intentionally slowed down the inspections, demanded unregulated documentation and looked for groundless reasons to stop the inspection.

Such a destructive Russian policy has resulted in a systematic decrease of the freight turnover within the Grain Initiative, the ministers said, noting that the world did not receive 10 million tonnes of Ukrainian food in the last three months.

The Ukrainian officials said Russia at the same time increased uncontrolled traffic volume through its Azov and Black Sea ports. Inspections of these vessels in the Bosporus are not held. All that makes it possible for Russia to use its commercial vessels for receiving military goods in order to continue the war against Ukraine, the ministers said.

Russia said this week that it would be inappropriate to extend the Black Sea grain deal unless sanctions affecting its agricultural exports are lifted and other issues are resolved. The agreement was extended by a further 120 days in November and is up for renewal again next month, but Russia has signalled that it is unhappy with some aspects of the deal and asked for sanctions affecting its agricultural exports to be lifted.

Russia’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by Western sanctions, but Moscow says blocks on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a “barrier” to it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers.”

US-backed report says Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children for ‘re-education’, Reuters reports. “Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children – likely many more – in sites in Russian-held Crimea and Russia whose primary purpose appears to be political re-education, according to a US-backed report published on Tuesday.

The report said Yale University researchers had identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a “large-scale systematic network” operated by Moscow since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The children included those with parents or clear familial guardianship, those Russia deemed orphans, others who were in the care of Ukrainian state institutions before the invasion and those whose custody was unclear or uncertain due to the war, it said. The primary purpose of the camp facilities we’ve identified appears to be political re-education, Nathaniel Raymond, one of the researchers, said in a briefing to reporters.”

Bodies of 27 dead civilians found in de-occupied Snihurivka, Ukrinform reports, citing Dmytro Kazak, head of the Mykolaiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office. “The bodies of 27 dead civilians were found in de-occupied Snihurivka. All of them have signs of violent death, in particular, bullet wounds, explosive injuries, etc. Criminal proceedings have been initiated, individuals involved in these crimes are being established, Kazak said.

At the same time, he emphasized that no mass burial sites were found in the city, as it was in Bucha, Kyiv region. All the bodies were buried in individual graves. As reported, the city of Snihurivka in Mykolaiv region was under Russian occupation for more than eight months.”

Russia illegally keeping 181 Ukrainian political prisoners in Crimea, Ukrinform reports, citing the president’s representative office in Crimea. “Repressions and criminal prosecutions of our citizens in occupied Crimea are becoming more and more brutal… According to information available to the representative office, the Russian Federation is illegally keeping 181 political prisoners, 116 of them are Crimean Tatars. Of the total number of illegally detained individuals, 40 are being held in pre-trial detention centers awaiting a ‘sentence’, 123 have already received a ‘sentence’ and imprisoned, 18 are without status, the report says.

The representative office noted that 33 illegally imprisoned citizens of Ukraine are from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, from where they were illegally taken to occupied Crimea. However, the exact number of displaced prisoners is unknown, because the occupation administrations mostly do not confirm that Ukrainian citizens are being held in the pre-trial detention center of the occupied peninsula.”

Support

More Assistance to Ukraine and Increased Deterrence: Stoltenberg on Agreements of NATO Defence Ministers, European Pravda reports. “NATO defence minister agreed on Wednesday to increase support for Ukraine, strengthen their own deterrents and develop measures to protect vital infrastructure. […] I welcome new commitments to back (Ukraine) from the NATO members, including new supplies with heavy equipment and military training. Ukraine has a window of opportunity to change the balance of power. Time is of the essence, he said, without mentioning what kind of assistance he meant.

At the same time, Stoltenberg has specified that some NATO members agree to new contributions to the Comprehensive NATO aid package, which funds food, medicine, fuel, anti-drone systems and pontoon bridges to Ukraine.

In addition, NATO Secretary General pointed out, it was agreed to increase the “specialised support” of Alliance partners – Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina – to build their defence capabilities and interoperability with NATO.

As for strengthening NATO’s deterrence, it is new political leadership for defence planning that will reflect the challenges posed by Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, terrorism, and China’s actions.

NATO have also agreed to increase the manufacturing of weapons that are exhausting at war in Ukraine, by revising their target indicators and adopting a multinational project on creating NATO ammunition depots and developing ground air defence. Separately, Stoltenberg mentioned the safety of vital infrastructure, recalling the sabotage of the “Nord Streams” in the Baltic Sea. For this purpose, a soon-to-be-created vital infrastructure coordination point will interact with the private sector to strengthen the protection of such facilities. […]

As reported, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that the Alliance’s priority now is not Ukraine’s membership but helping it to win the full-scale war against Russia.”

NATO countries boost munitions output, pledge 48 Leopard 2 tanks for Kyiv, Reuters reports. “NATO countries are ramping up production of artillery munitions as Ukraine is burning through shells much faster than the West can make them, the alliance said on Wednesday amid pledges to deliver at least 48 Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

Things are happening, but … we need to step up even more, because there is a big need out there to provide Ukraine with ammunition,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after a two-day meeting of alliance defence ministers in Brussels.

He noted countries like the United States, France, Germany and Norway had signed contracts for munitions that would enable NATO members to replenish their own stocks but also keep supplying Kyiv, which has ceded ground to an escalating Russian offensive.”

Lloyd Austin listed weapons Ukraine to be supplied with in anticipation of its spring offensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Interfax-Ukraine. “Lloyd Austin, the Minister of Defence of the USA, stated that the members of the Contact Group for the Defence of Ukraine are united and filled with determination to continue supporting Ukraine, and believe in Ukraine’s success during the spring offensive. We see that the Russian Federation is deploying new troops on the battlefield. What Ukraine wants to do right now is to set conditions at the front in its favour. We expect Russia’s new offensive in the spring.

This is why together with our partners from the Contact Group we are working tirelessly so that Ukraine has the advantage in armoured vehicles in order to produce a desirable effect at the front. […] We demonstrated with our joint efforts that we are eager to support Ukraine and its independence for as long as needed. We will continue taking decisive measures, Austin assured the public. […]

Austin emphasised that Ukraine’s allies will continue to make efforts to supply Ukraine with everything it needs: This is why we discussed the synchronisation of our efforts. The Head of the Pentagon reported that the members of the Contact Group have made a decision to supply Ukraine with: the Bradley and Abrams tanks – from the US, the Challenger tanks – from Great Britain, modernised tanks – from the US, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, and the T-72 tanks – from Poland.

Military aid also includes important steps from Canada, Germany, Spain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal concerning the supply of Leopard tanks. Today we heard about the supply of powerful air defence systems. France and Italy will jointly supply Ukraine with an air defence system. France also announced its cooperation with Australia in the production of the 155 calibre shells. […]

He added that the members of the Contact Group are united and filled with determination to continue working in order to guarantee Ukraine’s security. After the Ramstein meeting in Brussels Lloyd Austin reported that he has no news concerning supplying Ukraine with combat jets.

440 units of the US military equipment intended for Ukraine spotted in German port, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Nordsee Zeitung. “A large quantity of American military equipment was spotted in the German port of Bremerhaven, likely intended for Ukraine. On the Arc Integrity transport vessel, the US Army delivered 60 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Bremerhaven. They are a part of the US military aid package. On Monday, 13 February, 440 military vehicles could be seen from above at the port used by the US Army. […]

The Bradley vehicles are being transported to the American military base in Mannheim, Germany. It is expected that the Ukrainian soldiers will be trained there. During the unloading of the ferry, Stryker armoured vehicles, Avenger vehicles and anti-aircraft missile systems were seen.”

Netherlands to supply Leopard 2 tank ammunition, spare parts to Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “The Netherlands will join the international ‘tank coalition’ and hand over Leopard 2 tank ammunition and spare parts to Ukraine, as well as contribute to training programmes for the Ukrainian military. The relevant statement was made by Minister of Defence of the Netherlands Kajsa Ollongren, an Ukrinform correspondent reports, referring to Telegraaf.

It doesn’t make much sense to just deliver the tanks. We have to deliver a complete package. In addition to training Ukrainian soldiers, there is a need for ammunition and spare parts. Within the tank coalition, the Netherlands is the only country without tanks, but we have offered help with training in addition to ammunition and spare parts. Together we can deliver what Ukraine needs, Ollongren said

Swedish Prime Minister comments on possibility of providing Ukraine with Gripen fighter jets, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has not ruled out a future decision to provide Ukraine with combat aircraft but noted that such assistance would require an international coalition. […]

In this context, he mentioned that Sweden has applied for NATO membership together with Finland. We have a specific situation, so we need a cautious approach. We will do everything we can to support Ukraine, but we will not do anything that could endanger our ability to defend ourselves, he added.”

New Developments 

  1. UN to mark Russia invasion of Ukraine anniversary by urging ‘just peace’, ReutersMarking one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, the UN General Assembly will vote next week on a draft resolution stressing “the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in line with the founding United Nations Charter. It again demands Moscow withdraw its troops and calls for a halt to hostilities. The 193-member General Assembly is likely to vote next Thursday after two days of speeches by dozens of states to mark the Feb. 24 anniversary of the start of the war.”
  2. NATO Secretary General: Ukraine’s NATO membership is not priority, victory is, European PravdaNATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg notes that the Alliance’s priority now is not Ukraine’s membership but helping it to win the full-scale war against Russia. […] As for Ukraine, NATO’s position has not changed. We have said more than once that Ukraine will join the Alliance. But now, we focus on guaranteeing Ukraine’s victory in the war. The only way for Ukraine’s NATO integration is to ensure it prevails as a sovereign state, Stoltenberg noted. He underlines that NATO allies are focused on ensuring that Ukraine obtains the weapons, supplies, and ammunition it needs to oust the Russian invaders.”
  3. German defence minister backs raising NATO spending goal, ReutersGermany’s defence minister said he was in favour of raising NATO’s military spending target, as allies gathered in Brussels on Wednesday for talks on whether defence expenditures of 2% of GDP are sufficient with a war raging in Ukraine. […] I think moving towards the 2% target alone will not be enough, it can only be the basis for further steps, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said when he arrived for the talks at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.”
  4. Defence Minister to preserve his position thanks to President’s decision, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Guardian. “Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, said that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the decision to leave him in office after the recent corruption scandal in the ministry.”
  5. EU debates 11 bln euro worth of trade curbs in new Russia sanctions, ReutersRepresentatives of the 27 European Union countries meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss a new batch of sanctions against Russia, which the head of the bloc’s executive said could cost 11 billion euros ($11.8 bln) in lost trade. The bloc is expected to agree new sanctions to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, but the specific proposals must yet win the unanimous backing of all EU member states.”
  6. EU to sanction Iran entities involved in Russian war in Ukraine – Von der Leyen, ReutersEuropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the EU will propose sanctions targeting for the first time Iranian economic operators involved in the Russian war in Ukraine. For the first time we are also proposing to sanction Iranian entities including those linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Von der Leyen told European lawmakers in Strasbourg.”
  7. EU sues Poland over violations of EU law by Constitutional Tribunal, ReutersThe European Commission sued Poland on Wednesday in the EU’s top court over violations of EU law by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and its case law, the Commission said in a statement. The lawsuit is part of a wider clash between the European Union and the eurosceptic and nationalist government that has been running Poland since 2015 over the rule of law, which has already resulted in the suspension of EU fundsfor Warsaw. The Commission’s move on Wednesday was triggered by rulings by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal from July and October 2021 that provisions of EU Treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, expressly challenging the primacy of EU law over national law.”reports.

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  February 15, 2022:

Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in northern Kharkiv Oblast on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian attack near Hryanykivka, Kharkiv Oblast. […] Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty stated on February 15 that Russian forces currently are not conducting ground attacks in Kharkiv Oblast but are shelling.

Russian forces conducted ground attacks on the Kreminna and Svatove line on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks against Nevske, Kreminna, and Bilohorivka in Luhansk Oblast. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces made tactical gains near Ploshchanka and attacked in the direction of Zarichne and Nevske and that episodic fighting continues near Yampolivka and the Balka Zhuravka gully. Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated on February 15 that Russian forces are accumulating equipment and personnel in an unspecified area in the Luhansk Oblast area.

Russian sources may have made tactical gains in the forested areas near Dibrova on February 15. […] Multiple Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced 2-3 kilometers from Kreminna in the Dibrova forests and posted pictures of trenches in the forests that Russian forces reportedly recaptured.

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on February 15. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty reported that there were at least 25 combat engagements between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut area in the past 24 hours. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut itself as well as Fedorivka (18km north) and Ivanivske (6km west). A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters tried to advance in the direction of Vesele (19km northeast of Bakhmut) and successfully advanced towards Rozdolivka (18km north of Bakhmut). Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Ukrainian forces likely hold positions on the western outskirts of Krasna Hora (6km north of Bakhmut). Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters advanced in the southwestern outskirts of Paraskoviivka (8km north of Bakhmut) and that they have encircled Ukrainian forces in the settlement, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims. Geolocated footage published on February 14 indicates that Russian forces likely secured marginal advances in the northeastern outskirts of Bakhmut. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters conducted assaults on Bakhmut’s outskirts from Blahodatne (10km north of Bakhmut), Krasna Hora, and the Stupky area of Bakhmut. Wagner Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin stated that he expects Wagner Group fighters to encircle Bakhmut by March or April but acknowledged that several factors including the Western provision of weapons could delay Bakhmut’s encirclement. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces have cut off a section of the E40 highway from Bakhmut to Sloviansk and that Ukrainian forces now must use a network of country roads to supply their grouping in Bakhmut from the north. ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Russian forces reaching any section of the E40 that is needed to interdict the Ukrainian ground line of communication (GLOC) between Bakhmut and Sloviansk. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces counterattacked near Ivanivske and are freely moving along the T0504 highway between Kostyantynivka and Bakhmut.

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults within 32km southwest of Avdiivka near Vodyane, Pervomaiske, Marinka, Pobieda, and Novomykhailivka. Geolocated footage published on February 13 indicates that Russian forces advanced into Novobakhmutivka (13km northeast of Avdiivka) and likely captured the settlement. A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 11th Regiment of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia captured elevated positions near Novoselivka Druha (9km northeast of Avdiivka). Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Russian forces have likely secured marginal advances in northwest Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces changed tactics around Marinka and are now conducting assaults on the settlement from the north and the south in an attempt to compel Ukrainian forces to withdraw from their positions in the western part of the settlement. This change in tactics is unlikely to be any more effective than previous Russian efforts to capture Marinka.

Russian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) and Prechystivka (40km southwest of Donetsk City). Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Ukrainian forces likely pushed back Russian forces from positions south and southeast of Vuhledar. A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades of the Pacific Fleet, the 29th Combined Arms Army of the Eastern Military District, the 3rd Army Corps, and the DNR “Kaskad “ Battalion are continuing to conduct offensive operations around Vuhledar, but that open terrain around the settlement is making Russian advances difficult.

Russia’s inability to regenerate expended mechanized vehicles in the short term further restricts Russian maneuver warfare capabilities. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported that Russia lost about 50 percent of its T-72B and T-72B3M tanks and many T-80 tanks, forcing Russian forces to rely on older equipment. Wallace noted that two-thirds of Russia’s tanks are destroyed or unusable. The UK Ministry of Defense assessed that the Kremlin likely recognizes that Russia’s low industrial output is a “critical weakness,” and that Russian production is not meeting the Kremlin’s long-term requirements. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, for example, called for increased production of weapons and modern tanks on February 9. The Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) noted that Russia is still capable of producing large quantities of small arms, missiles, and tanks but that its defense industry base (DIB) will continue to struggle to offset the effects of Western sanctions. The NIS added that Russia will also need to undergo an extensive effort to set up new production lines and will need time to recruit and train workers. Some Russian defense firms continue to complain that they do not have sufficient personnel to support the intensified industrial effort, while Russian pro-war milbloggers noted that Russia needs to immediately embark on modernization and personnel recruitment efforts to solve issues with tank production. Such measures are unlikely to increase the Russian defense industry’s capacity to produce tanks rapidly and at scale, and would certainly not do so in time to affect the outcome of the current Russian offensive or of a Ukrainian counter-offensive launched in the coming months. The timely Western provisions of tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine would further offset Russia’s ability to conduct mechanized warfare as Russia struggles to restart its defense production in the immediate term. Ukraine likely continues to have a window of opportunity to initiate large-scale counteroffensives over the next few months, but its ability to do so likely rests heavily on the speed and scale at which the West provides it the necessary materiel, particularly tanks and armored vehicles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce measures for further escalation of the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives, or any other significant policy in his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21. The Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly to the Russian State Duma and Federation Council is an annual speech introduced to the Russian constitution in February 1994 that is roughly equivalent to the US President’s annual State of the Union Address. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 15 that Russian federal television channels will set aside an hour to broadcast Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly on February 21. […] Putin has delivered unimpressive addresses in recent months to mark symbolic anniversaries and dates and likely scheduled his postponed address to coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR/LNR). Putin will likely repackage Russian measures to integrate occupied territories into the Russian Federation as a novel achievement.

Russian military failures in Ukraine continue to deny Putin the ability to present military success to the Russian public. The Russian military has not achieved significant operational success in Ukraine since the capture of Sievierodonetsk in July 2022. Ukrainian forces have liberated almost 18,000 square kilometers of territory since then. Putin may have scheduled the address to the federal assembly in the expectation that Russian forces would secure at least a tactical success in the Bakhmut area, although Russian forces have only gained about 500 square kilometers in the Bakhmut area in intensive campaigning since July 4, 2022, while suffering extravagant casualties. Putin could announce the start of a subsequent mobilization wave, although most indicators and assessments suggest that he will not do so at this time. ISW, along with UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace, assesses that the Russian military has already committed a significant number of its available formations to intensified offensive operations in Ukraine and that the lack of large uncommitted reserves will likely prevent Putin from announcing the start of an entirely new large-scale offensive effort. Putin will likely continue to deliver insignificant public addresses as the absence of Russian military success in Ukraine deprives him of the opportunity to claim or convincingly promise a victory of any significance. The stubborn Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut itself, despite the cost in Ukrainian lives and materiel, would prevent Putin from even claiming that Russia has secured that city on the war’s anniversary, a claim that could give Putin, the Russian military, and the Russian public renewed hope of winning and possibly increase the Kremlin’s willingness to demand more of its people to press on.

The Kremlin continues to pursue efforts to censor dissent through societal intimidation tactics. Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko proposed on February 15 that federal communication supervisor Roskomnadzor publish a list of Telegram channels that are hostile to Russia and label such channels with icons indicating this status. The Kremlin is unable to force Telegram to introduce these icons and is seemingly unwilling to block Telegram, which pro-Russian milbloggers use heavily to speak to the Russian people. The list is likely meant instead to intimidate the Russian public into refraining from engaging with content that the Kremlin deems to be dangerous to Russian security. The Kremlin is likely to include independent media, Western sources, and opposition outlets on the list. The Kremlin is highly unlikely to use the measure to target milbloggers, even those critical of the Russian military or the Kremlin itself, as they continue to appeal to the ultra-nationalist pro-war community that is their audience.

A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed on February 15 that Iran and Russia were creating and sharing technology on high-precision bombs, missiles for UAVs, and attack aircraft. The milblogger alleged that Russia has agreed to purchase over 100,000 Iranian artillery and mortar rounds and especially 152mm rounds. Rybar stated that Iran possesses large stocks of 122mm shells for D-30 howitzers and BM-21 Grad Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). The milblogger suggested that Russia could employ Iranian proxies and partners in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and other unnamed countries to fight in Ukraine.

Key Takeaways

  • Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russia’s inability to reconstruct spent mechanized material in the short term further restricts the Russian military’s mechanized maneuver warfare capabilities.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce measures for further escalation of the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives, or any other significant policy in his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations northwest of Svatove and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, along the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources implied that Ukrainian forces may hold positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, although ISW has not observed any confirmation of the claim.
  • The Kremlin continues to fund its war efforts in Ukraine from regional budgets.

The Russian government continues to further integrate occupied territories into Russian governance structures.“

Western reporting indicates that there continue to be Western concerns about Ukraine’s determination to hold Bakhmut, The Institute for the Study of War reports. “The Washington Post also reported that US defense planners assess that Ukrainian forces are unable to simultaneously defend Bakhmut and launch a spring counteroffensive and have urged Ukraine to prioritize the spring counteroffensive over defending Bakhmut. 

ISW continues to assess that Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut is likely a strategically sound effort despite its costs for Ukraine. Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut has forced the Kremlin to expend much of the Wagner Group as a force and commit high-value Russian airborne forces to sustain attritional advances. Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut has degraded significant Russian forces and will likely set favorable conditions for a future Ukrainian counter-offensive. Had Russian troops taken Bakhmut without significant Ukrainian resistance they could have hoped to expand operations in ways that could have forced Ukraine to construct hasty defensive positions in less favorable terrain.

Therefore, Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut and undertaking an effort to set conditions for a counteroffensive are likely complementary, not mutually exclusive, activities considering that Russian forces would have continued their offensive beyond Bakhmut had Ukraine yielded the city earlier.”

Britain at OSCE: Putin has limited options to sustain war on Ukraine, Ukrinform reports.  “Russia is now suffering its worst losses in Ukraine since the invasion, while Putin has limited options to sustain his war, but he can still withdraw troops and stop the senseless sacrifice of thousands of Russians. That’s according to a statement by Ian Stubbs, the Senior Military Advisor at the UK Delegation to the OSCE, who spoke at the Security Cooperation Forum in Vienna on Wednesday.

Over the past two weeks, Russia has reportedly suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion of Ukraine. Russian military leaders have now likely deployed the vast majority of the reservists called up under the so-called “partial mobilization” and Wagner announced on 09 February that it had halted its prisoner recruitment scheme, he said.

According to a British official, the options for Putin and his military leaders to sustain their war of choice appear to be limited: continue to deplete their forces; scale back their objectives; or conduct a further form of mobilization. But there is another option: Putin could end this war now, withdraw all Russian forces from Ukrainian sovereign territory, and in doing so, stop his needless sacrifice of thousands more ordinary Russian people, Stubbs added.

He emphasized that providing Ukraine with the support it needs to defend itself and push Russia out of its sovereign territory is the swiftest and only path to a just and lasting peace. Against this background, the diplomat recalled that the Joint British-Ukrainian Declaration signed on February 8 reaffirmed our countries’ commitment to stand side by side in the face of Russia’s aggression. […]

Earlier it was reported that in the battles of Soledar alone, Russia lost more soldiers than in the two Chechnya wars.”

Ukraine war shows urgency of military artificial intelligence, Reuters reports. “Ukraine’s effective use of artificial intelligence (AI) to target Russian forces has pushed the technology onto the agenda of military and political leaders around the world, the CEO of US software firm Palantir  said on Wednesday. Speaking at the first international summit on responsible military use of AI, CEO Alex Karp said use of AI in war has moved from a “highly erudite ethics discussion” to a top concern since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.

This has now shifted to: your ability to identify the right technology and implement it will determine what happens on the battlefield, he said. One of the major things we need to do in the West, is realise this lesson is completely understood by China and Russia.

Karp has previously said that Planatir is “responsible for most of the targeting in Ukraine”, with the company citing the examples of tanks and artillery. It has marketed its software as a way to quickly determine resources to deploy, taking in feeds from satellites and social media to visualise an army’s positions.”

Ukrainian intelligence works with people very close to Putin, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Andrii Cherniak, representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU), in an interview with the Greek news outlet Iefimerida. “[DIU] is working with people from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close circle. […]

Cherniak has said that not many Russian officials are cooperating with Ukrainian Defence Intelligence out of friendly feelings towards Ukraine. However, according to him, there are many people in Putin’s circle that do not support the current Russian policy with regard to Ukraine, including the full-scale war. […] Cherniak believes that these people are not ready for any coup d’état in the Russian Federation, but if he [Putin] loses power, they will destroy him“.

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