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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 368: Biden says Ukraine “doesn’t need” F-16 jets

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 368: Biden says Ukraine “doesn’t need” F-16 jets

Biden says Ukraine “doesn’t need” F-16 jets. Russian occupation forces step up Crimea defenses. Zelenskyy believes Putin will be killed by his inner circle.

Daily overview — Summary report, February 26

The situation in Ukraine. February 25, 2023. Source: ISW.

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, February 26, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:


The Russian Federation is focusing its main efforts on the offensive operations on Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Shakhtarske axes. Yesterday, Ukrainian defenders repelled 71 adversary attacks on the above axes.

Russian forces do not cease aerial reconnaissance to spot for fire. The invaders launched 14 missiles and 19 air strikes. The occupant forces launched 57 MLRS attacks. The shelling caused civilian casualties. There is a major threat of further missile strikes across Ukraine.

Kharkiv Battle Map. February 25, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: no signs of the formation of the occupiers’ offensive groups were found. Russian forces shelled the vicinities of settlements of Horodyshche (Chernihiv oblast), Popivka, Stukalivka, Pavlivka, Hyrine (Sumy oblast), Starytsya, Varvarivka, Vovchans’k, Vil’cha, Ohirtseve, and Bolohivka (Kharkiv oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. February 25, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Kupiansk and Lyman axes: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives near Ploshchanka, Nevs’ke, Kreminna, Dibrova, Bilohorivka, Spirne, Rozdolivka, Fedorivka, Vasyukivka, and in the vicinity of Serebryans’ke forestry. The invaders fired artillery near Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, Hryanykivka, Kup’yans’k, Kyslivka, Tabaivka, Berestove (Kharkiv oblast), and Makiivka, Nevs’ke, Dibrova, and Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast).
  • Bakhmut axis: the adversary keeps attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops. Enemy offensives were unsuccessful near the settlements of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Berkhivka, Yahidne, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, and Pivnichne (Donetsk oblast). The vicinities of 22 settlements came under fire, including Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Berkhivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Stupochky, Kurdyumivka, Ozaryanivka, and New York (Donetsk oblast). The adversary launched 1 missile strike on the civilian infrastructure of the city of Kostyantynivka.
  • Avdiivka and Shakhtarske axes: the adversary was on the offensive in the vicinities of settlements of Nevel’s’ke, Krasnohorivka, Avdiivka, Sjeverne, Vodyane, Mar’inka, Novomykhailivka, and Vuhledar – to no success. Among others, Avdiivka, Orlivka, Vodyane, Netaylove, Hostre, Heorhiivka, Mar’inka, Novomykhailivka, Vuhledar, and Prechystivka (Donetsk oblast) were hit.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. February 25, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary is defending. The invaders continue to shell the vicinities of settlements at the line of contact. In particular, Vremivka, Novopil’ (Donetsk oblast), Ol’hivs’ke, Malynivka, Hulyaipole, Orikhiv, Bilohir’ya (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Marhanets’, Nikopol’ (Dnipro oblast), Zmiivka, Kherson, Novoberyslav, Beryslav, Antonivka, Kizomys (Kherson oblast), and Matrosivka (Mykolaiv oblast) were shelled by Russian forces.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. February 25, 2023. Source: ISW.

Russian occupants are reinforcing defences of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea, in particular, building fortifications. 150 Russian conscripts have arrived from Chelyabinsk oblast (Russia) to perform the construction work.

Due to fears of de-occupation of Ukrainian territories, the so-called city prosecutor of Horlivka (Donetsk oblast) has resigned and is preparing to evacuate to the territory of the Russian Federation.

[In the temporarily occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts, Russian occupants are increasing pressure on the civilian residents and conducting searches of homes. According to reports, Russians have set up a torture chamber in the town of Vasylivka (Zaporizhzhia oblast) where pro-Ukrainian citizens are being held.]

[Starting March 1, 2023, all units of the so-called “law enforcement agencies” in Donetsk oblast will be operating under Russian law. Due to this, the dismissal of servicemen of the 1st Army Corps (Horlivka), which has reached the end of their military service terms, has been announced.]

During February 25, Ukrainian Air Force launched 12 air strikes on the concentrations of personnel and military equipment of the occupiers. Ukrainian defenders also shot down 3 enemy unmanned aerial vehicles of various types: Orlan-10, Supercam S350, and Lancet-3.

Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 1 command post, 2 concentrations of the adversary manpower, 1 radar station, 1 electronic warfare station, and 2 other important enemy targets.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

For the first time in several days, Russia deploys a Kalibr missile carrier in the Black Sea, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Nataliia Humeniuk, head of the joint press centre of the Defence Forces of Ukraine’s south and Ukrainian Navy. “A missile carrier was added last night, the situation remains quite stable. Now there are 9 ships in the Black Sea, they have doubled their ship grouping since yesterday. This may indicate that further expansion of the ship’s grouping is being prepared. One missile carrier, a frigate, is equipped with combat-ready eight Kalibr-type missiles.”

Ukraine downs over 650 missiles, and 610 drones since September, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukraine’s Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleschuk, who spoke with ArmyInform. “Since September 11, over 650 enemy cruise missiles and more than 610 Iranian-made strike drones have been destroyed, he noted.

According to Oleschuk, the Air Force received from its Western partners’ anti-aircraft missile systems NASAMS, IRIS-T, Crotale, as well as anti-aircraft self-propelled guns Gepard, and is currently waiting to receive Patriot and SAMP/T-MAMBA. However, he noted, this assistance is not enough.

We need more hi-tech modern weapons that will help us quickly restore control over the sky and free it from the presence of aerial terrorists. Our allies know what Ukraine, in particular the Air Force, specifically needs. These are modern multi-purpose aircraft and medium and long-range air defense systems, the lieutenant general added.”

Russian occupation forces step up Crimea defences, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “The General Staff has reported that Russian occupation forces are stepping up their defence of Crimea; in particular, they are building new defence fortifications on the peninsula. Around 150 Russian conscripts from Chelyabinsk Oblast (Russia) were deployed to Crimea in order to carry out a range of engineering tasks.”

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

  • Imagery shows concentrated Russian vehicle losses in the Vuhledar sector of Donetsk Oblast. These vehicles were likely elements of Russia’s 155th Naval Infantry (NI) Brigade which has been at the forefront of recent costly offensives. NI is seen as an elite infantry force within the Russian military.
  • Unlike the similarly prestigious airborne infantry (VDV), NI has not deployed as a single large formation in Ukraine. Instead, individual units have been attached to Ground Forces-dominated Groups of Forces. As such, NI has been tasked with some of the toughest tactical missions in the war and has suffered extremely high casualties.
  • The supposedly enhanced capability of NI brigades has now almost certainly been significantly degraded because it has been backfilled with inexperienced mobilised personnel. This lack of experience is almost certainly exacerbating Russian officers’ tendency to micromanage, which in turn reduces operational agility. There is a realistic possibility that degraded NI units will again be committed to new assaults near Vuhledar.
  • There have not been any reports of Iranian one-way-attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA-UAVs) being used in Ukraine since around 15 February 2023.
  • Prior to this, Ukrainian armed forces reported shooting down at least 24 Shahed-136 OWA-UAVs between late January and early February 2023; and scores were destroyed in the first few days of the year.
  • This lack of OWA-UAV deployments likely indicates that Russia has run down its current stock. Russia will likely seek a resupply. Although the weapons do not have a good record in destroying their intended targets, Russia likely sees them as useful decoys which can divert Ukrainian air defences from more effective Russian cruise missiles..

Losses of the Russian army 

Losses of Russian Army. Source General Staff of Ukraine.

As of Sunday 26 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 148130 (+660)
  • Tanks – 3381 (+6)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6615 (+6)
  • Artillery systems – 2380 (+7)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 475 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 247 (+0)
  • Aircraft – 299 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 288 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5242 (+7)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2037 (+2)
  • Special equipment – 230 (+0)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 873 (+0)

Russia deploys Special Forces to deter deserters from front, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainian General Staff. “Russia has sent 200 police officers from the Akhmat Special Operations Regiment to the Bakhmut front, where intense fighting continues, in order to deter deserters.”

CIA director says China is considering providing lethal weapons to Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing William Burns in an interview with CBS News. “William Burns, Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, has confirmed that the Chinese government is considering providing Russia with lethal weapons for the war against Ukraine, although a final decision has yet to be made. We’re confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment [to Russia].

Burns emphasised that China has not yet made the decision to transfer lethal aid to Russia, and shed light on the logic behind the Biden administration’s decision to make this intelligence public. We also don’t see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don’t see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment, Burns said. And that’s why, I think, Secretary Blinken and the president have thought it important to make very clear what the consequences of that would be as well.

Burns noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ensuing worldwide response, has been of particular interest to Xi. There’s no foreign leader who’s watched more carefully Vladimir Putin’s experience in Ukraine, the evolution of the war, than Xi Jinping has, said Burns. I think, in many ways, he’s been unsettled and sobered by what he’s seen.”


Ukraine has more than UAH 150B to restore housing, critical infrastructure – Shmyhal, Ukrinform reports. “Ukraine currently has more than UAH 150 billion for the reconstruction of housing and critical infrastructure. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this in an interview with Forbes Ukraine. During the Ukraine-EU summit, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, pledged EUR 1 billion [over UAH 39 billion] for the rapid reconstruction program. If we summarize everything, we currently have more than UAH 150 billion. This is the amount that the Ukrainian market can use to restore housing and critical infrastructure, Shmyhal said.

He said that as part of the rapid recovery program, the government sets the following priorities: recovery of power generation and power grids – $5.8 billion; demining of territories – $0.4 billion; reconstruction of damaged housing – $3.2 billion, reconstruction of critical infrastructure – $5.7 billion, and economic recovery – programs for small and medium-sized businesses (including “eRobota” and the 5/7/9% loan program) – $3.8 billion.”


The toxic legacy of the Ukraine war, The UN Environment Program reports. “It has been one year since the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. The war has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and caused widespread environmental damage. A preliminary monitoring of the conflict in Ukraine undertaken last year by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners points to a toxic legacy for generations to come.

The full range and severity of consequences will require verification and assessment, although thousands of possible incidents of air, water and land pollution and the degradation of ecosystems, including risks to neighbouring countries, have already been identified.

UNEP, the environment authority within the UN system, is supporting the Government of Ukraine on remote environmental impact monitoring and is preparing to undertake field-level impact assessments – expected to be a colossal task given the scale and geographical spread of reported incidents. […] The organization conducted an initial scoping visit to Ukraine in 2022, in support of the UN Resident Coordinator and at the request of Ukrainian authorities and is mobilizing more support to help assess the broad range of environmental impacts.

The mapping and initial screening of environmental hazards only serves to confirm that war is quite literally toxic, said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. The first priority is for this senseless destruction to end now. The environment is about people: it’s about livelihoods, public health, clean air and water, and basic food systems. It’s about a safe future for Ukrainians and their neighbours, and further damage must not be done. Ukraine will then need huge international support to assess, mitigate and remediate the damage across the country, and alleviate risks to the wider region, she added.

Millions of displaced Ukrainians need a safe and healthy environment to come home to if they are expected to be able to pick up their lives. As soon as the fighting ends, and it must end soon, a colossal clean-up operation must be supported, said Lubrani, the UN’s Resident Coordinator in Ukraine.

According to UNEP and partner data, the conflict has seen damage across many regions of the country, with incidents at nuclear power plants and facilities, energy infrastructure, including oil storage tankers, oil refineries, drilling platforms and gas facilities and distribution pipelines, mines and industrial sites and agro-processing facilities. The result has been multiple air pollution incidents and potentially serious contamination of ground and surface waters.

Water infrastructure, including pumping stations, purification plants and sewage facilities, has also suffered significant damage, and multiple industrial facilities, warehouses and factories have been damaged, some storing a range of hazardous substances ranging from solvents to ammonia and plastics.

Hazardous substances have also been released from explosions in agro-industrial storage facilities, including fertilizer and nitric acid plants. There are also reports of the targeting of several large livestock farms, where livestock carcasses pose a further public health risk.

In many urban areas the clean-up of destroyed housing will bring its own challenges, with debris likely to be mixed with hazardous materials, particularly asbestos. Satellite imagery has also shown a significant increase of fires in various nature reserves and protected areas, as well as forested areas. Furthermore, pollution from the extensive use of weapons including in populated areas and the large volumes of military waste, including destroyed military vehicles, creates a major clean-up challenge.”

“Re-education camps” and age change: human rights activist recounts how Russians abduct children, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Kateryna Rashevska, expert at the Regional Centre for Human Rights. “I cannot guarantee that they [Russians – ed.] are doing this all the time. However, we have detected cases when they changed the children’s personal information, for instance, while transferring them to the so-called ‘reeducation camps’ in order not to be obliged to get an approval from parents. They have practically added years to their age and then taken them to Crimea. A child was kept there without a possibility to go back, as he/she was no longer a child, as per their documents. Freedom of movement was unlawfully restricted by the Russian Federation. There are also very young children who cannot remember their real names because of trauma they suffered. 

Kateryna Rashevska has spoken about Russian “reeducation camps” that are “camps of Russification, militarisation and indoctrination”, so to say. There are seven of such camps on the Crimean peninsula, and 43 more in Russia. In some of them, there were children, taken without their parents’ permission and with forged documents. There were also situations when about 200 children were brought and accommodated in the ‘camps’, Rashevska said. […]

Rashevska has pointed out that such misrepresentation of the information occurs pretty often, and children’s personal details are changed not just during the adoption process. According to the human rights activist, registers that were in the temporarily occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as well as the information that the occupiers stole from orphanages in newly occupied territories, are synchronised with the federal database about orphans of the Russian Federation. 

Kateryna Rashevska has highlighted that Ukraine will need to make enormous efforts in order to identify such children, find families that took them and repatriate the children back to Ukraine. […] Ukraine has succeeded in identifying 16,000 of the deported children. In 2022, 400 children were sent to Russian families; this information is available on the Children of War portal. 

We need to try and develop a single legal mechanism to get such children back. We cannot wait for a year or two, or till the end of the war, as some children are already reaching the age of 18, and it means that boys can be called up to the Russian army, Rashevska stressed. In addition, human rights activists have found out that the Russians take children with an excuse of “clinical examination” that means medical intervention by the Russian doctors.“


Biden says Ukraine “doesn’t need” F-16 jets now, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing ABC News. “US President Joe Biden said on the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion that he has ruled out “for now” sending American fighter jets to Ukraine. No, he doesn’t need F-16s now,” Biden said when asked whether he thought President Zelenskyy needed the jets right now. […]

Asked whether his statement meant Ukraine would never receive the jets, Biden said there was no way to know exactly what the Ukrainian defence would require in the future, but that there is no basis upon which there is a rationale, according to our military now, to provide F-16s. I am ruling it out for now, Biden said.

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, said that the F-16 jets that Ukraine has requested are not “the key capability” for the country’s current needs, which are a counteroffensive against Russian forces.”

Canada pledges more tanks to Ukraine, imposes new Russia sanctions, Reuters reports. “Canada is sending four more Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and is imposing new Russia-related sanctions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, marking the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Friday.

The delivery would bring to eight the total number of Leopard 2 tanks Canada has pledged to Ukraine. Canada will also provide an armored recovery vehicle and over 5,000 rounds of 155 mm ammunition to help Ukraine in its defense against Russia.

The new sanctions target 129 individuals and 63 entities including Russian deputy prime ministers and other officials, Trudeau told reporters in Toronto.”

Croatia prepares to send 14 Mi-8 helicopters to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, citing sources. “Croatia is planning to provide Ukraine with 14 Mi-8 helicopters, which have been taken out of its army’s service. Jutarnji list reported that 12 Mi-8MTB-1 and two Mi-8T helicopters have been taken out of the Croatian Armed Forces’ service. The marking is currently being removed from the helicopters, which are being repaired at the Aeronautical Technical Center in Velika Gorica.

Jutarnji list said the helicopters might be ready to be transported to Ukraine in around 10 days. Journalists reported that seven of the helicopters will be partially disassembled and delivered by land, and the other seven will be flown to Poland.

The Croatian government has yet to confirm the information about providing Mi-8 helicopters to Ukraine. Information about military aid to Ukraine has been classified by the government as being closed to public access.”

€14 million raised in Lithuania to buy radars for Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing LRT. “Fundraising campaign Radarom!, launched for buying electric warfare stations for Ukraine, ended in Lithuania. In total, €14 million were raised, it is possible to purchase 14 radars with this sum.”

PM Shmyhal outlines details of macro-financial assistance from partners, Ukrinform reports. “This year, the budget deficit is $38 billion. An $18 billion macro-financial assistance package from the European Union has already been announced. We expect to receive $10 billion from the United States by September. We have an agreement with Norway on the disbursement of $7.5 billion over five years. This year, we expect $1.5 billion from Canada. There are also agreements on smaller amounts with other countries,” Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal told Forbes Ukraine in an interview.

The Prime Minister noted that Ukraine had attracted more than $31 billion in external grants and loans – 38% and 62%, respectively – last year. Now, taking into account all agreements, about $5 billion more is needed to cover the budget deficit. We plan to attract this sum from the IMF, negotiations have already started, Shmyhal said.

UAH 17 billion is on a special account of the State Fund for Elimination of the Consequences of Russian Aggression, the Prime Minister added. According to him, this is the money that was confiscated from the subsidiaries of Russian Prominvestbank and MR Bank and transferred by the Deposit Guarantee Fund. During the year, the Fund will also receive a profit from the National Bank in the amount of UAH 35.5 billion.

$1.5 billion will be disbursed by the USA, the package has already been approved by Congress. Separately, the United States has allocated $0.8 billion for the reconstruction of the energy infrastructure, Shmyhal said. Moreover, the United States provided a gas-fired power plant worth about $18 million and several powerful generators.”

New Developments 

  1. S. warns UN not to be fooled by calls for unconditional truce in Ukraine, Reuters reports. “US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the United Nations Security Council on Friday that it should not be fooled by calls for a temporary or unconditional ceasefire in Ukraine, saying a “just and durable” peace cannot allow Russia to rest and rearm. […] Blinken’s warning to the council came just hours after China called for a comprehensive ceasefire as part of a 12-point planon the war that was largely a reiteration of its approach since Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation.” Any peace that legitimizes Russia’s seizure of land by force will weaken the (UN) Charter and send a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they can invade countries and get away with it, Blinken said.”
  2. Zelenskyy believes Putin will be killed by his own inner circle, Ukrainska PravdaVolodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, is convinced that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will sooner or later be killed by his own inner circle. […] Zelenskyy believes that Putin is behaving like Hitler during the Second World War, and he will not be forgiven either by Ukrainians or by other nations.”
  3. Russia halts pipeline oil to Poland says refiner PKN Orlen, Reuters  “Russia has halted supplies of oil to Poland via the Druzhba pipeline, PKN Orlen’s CEO said on Saturday, adding that the Polish refiner would tap other sources to plug the gap. The halt in supplies via the pipeline – which has been exempted from European Union sanctions imposed on Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine – came a day after Poland deliveredits first Leopard tanks to Ukraine.”
  4. ‘Not rational’ for China to negotiate outcome of Ukraine war, Biden says, Reuters “US President Joe Biden told ABC News in an interview on Friday that the idea China would be negotiating the outcome of the Ukraine war was not rational, following the release of Beijing’s peace plan for the conflict. […] I’ve seen nothing in the plan that would indicate that there is something that would be beneficial to anyone other than Russia, if the Chinese plan were followed. The idea that China is going to be negotiating the outcome of a war that’s a totally unjust war for Ukraine is just not rational.”
  5. German Chancellor criticises China’s “peace initiative”, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Welt. “German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has criticised China’s “peace plan” to settle Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the document does not mention the withdrawal of the Russian army. At the same time, Scholz called the mention in China’s proposals of preventing the use of nuclear weapons surprisingly correct. As the German chancellor stated, the fact that there cannot be a Russian-style dictator’s peace remains unchanged. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin should realise this, he added.”
  6. New EU sanctions against Russia: restrictions on modern technology to concern Iranian drone manufacturers, Ukrainska PravdaThe new European Union sanctions against Russia cover exports worth EUR 11.4 billion and include restrictions on sensitive dual-use technologies and advanced technologies that contribute to Russia’s military capabilities and technological advancements.[…] The restrictions include additional electronic components used in Russian weapons systems [drones, missiles, helicopters, other vehicles], as well as bans on specific rare elements and military thermal imaging devices. In addition, 96 organisations linked to the Russian military-industrial complex were added to the sanctions list, bringing the total number of military end-users included in the list to 506.”
  7. G20 meeting ends without joint communique: Russia and China disagree on wording used for Russian war, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “India, which holds this year’s G20 presidency, has postedthe final document itself. It includes parts of the declaration of the G20 Summit that took place in November 2022 in Bali. India has also pointed out that all participants agreed on paragraphs 3 and 4, except for Russia and China. Paragraph 3 mentions the UN resolutions that condemn the Russian aggression against Ukraine and demand to withdraw troops of the Russian Federation from the territory of Ukraine urgently and unconditionally.”
  8. Hungary signals fresh delay in Finland, Sweden NATO approval, ReutersHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff signalled on Saturday a possible further delay in Budapest’s ratification of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, saying a vote may take place only in the second half of March. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the transatlantic defence pact after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But all 30 NATO members need to back the applications and Sweden has faced objections from Türkiye for harbouring what Ankara considers to be members of terrorist groups.”


  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  February 25, 2022:

Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks northwest of Svatove on February 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted an unsuccessful offensive action near Masyutivka (51km northwest of Svatove). Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai stated that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian forces attempting to advance with heavy equipment in the Svatove area. Geolocated footage posted on February 24 shows Ukrainian forces shelling Russian infantry in Dzherelne (15km west of Svatove). A BARS (Russian Combat Reserve) unit claimed that Russian forces disrupted a Ukrainian counterattack near Stelmakhivka (15km west of Svatove).   

Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks in the Kreminna area on February 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), and in the Serebrianska forest area (10km south of Kreminna). Haidai claimed that Russian forces suffered heavy losses in an assault near Kreminna with 70 killed in action and about 70 wounded in the course of a three-company assault. A Russian milblogger posted footage on February 25 purportedly showing elements of the 98th Guards Airborne Division operating in the Kreminna direction.

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on February 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut), Berkhivka (4km north of Bakhmut), Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut), and Pivnichne (21km southwest of Bakhmut). Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner Group fighters captured Yahidne (2km north of Bakhmut) and posted a picture of Wagner fighters posing near the settlement’s welcome sign that was later geolocated, indicating that Wagner fighters likely captured the settlement. Russian sources continued to claim that Wagner fighters captured Berkhivka and completed clearing the settlement, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims. Russian sources provided conflicting claims about Russian gains near Dubovo-Vasylivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut), with Zaporizhzhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claiming that Wagner fighters captured the settlement and a prominent milblogger claiming that Russian forces only entered the settlement. Another prominent Russian milblogger claimed that fighting was ongoing on the outskirts of Dubovo-Vasylivka. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces destroyed a dam north of Bakhmut and flooded the Stupky area of Bakhmut in order to slow Russian advances from the north, although ISW has seen no visual evidence of these claims. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner fighters conducted assaults near Zaliznianske (11km north of Bakhmut), Vasyukivka (14km north of Bakhmut), Rozdolivka (17km northeast of Bakhmut), and Fedorivka (18km north of Bakhmut). Geolocated footage published on February 24 indicates that Russian forces likely made marginal advances in eastern Bakhmut. The Ukrainian Border Guards Service reported that the Russians have committed their most combat-ready forces to Bakhmut and that there are many Wagner Group convict personnel around the city. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced in the southern part of Bakhmut and that Wagner fighters conducted ground attacks near Chasiv Yar (12km west of Bakhmut) and Dyliivka (15km southwest of Bakhmut).

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on February 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Avdiivka and within 36km southwest of Avdiivka near Vodyane, Pervomaiske, Nevelske, Marinka, and Novomykhailivka. Geolocated footage published on February 25 indicates that Russian forces likely made marginal advances southwest of Avdiivka and near Pobieda (32km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced towards Pobieda and conducted assaults on the southern and northern outskirts of Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). Another Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) “Somalia” Battalion advanced towards Avdiivka from Opytne (3km southwest of Avdiivka) and that Russian forces surrounded a Ukrainian stronghold between Pervomaiske (12km southwest of Avdiivka) and Vodyane (8km southwest of Avdiivka). Representative of the Ukrainian Tavriisk operational direction Oleksiy Dmytrashkivyskyi reported that Russian forces also conducted attacks near Krasnohorivka, although it is unclear if it is the settlement 22km southwest of Avdiivka or the one 9km north of Avdiivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that the DNR 11th Motorized Rifle Regiment (now the 114th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Division) broke through Ukrainian defenses near Novobakhmutivka (13km northeast of Avdiivka) and advanced up to the Krasnohorivka north of Avdiivka.

Russian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast on February 25. Dmytrashkivyskyi reported that Russian forces conducted attacks near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City). Dmytrashkivyskyi reported that Russian forces have not changed their tactics around Vuhledar but that lately there has been an increase in Russian forces conducting assaults without armored support and even some instances of armored personnel carriers driving infantry to the frontline for dismounted assaults and then withdrawing. Dymtrashkivsykyi reported that the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades of the Pacific Fleet have merged into one brigade because of significant losses in the Vuhledar area and that Russian forces deployed a Rosgvardia special rapid response unit to prevent these personnel from rioting and refusing to fight. Dymtrashkivyskyi also reported that Russian forces transferred an unspecified number of personnel by bus from Melitopol to the area to replenish the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades. ISW has previously reported that 43 buses of Wagner fighters arrived in Melitopol possibly representing one or two battalions’ worth of personnel, and Russian forces may have since transferred these Wagner personnel to the Vuhledar area. ISW has not observed any visual confirmation of Wagner fighters operating in the Vuhledar area, and Russian forces could also have transferred mobilized personnel to replenish the severely degraded naval infantry formations. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces still hold positions in the dacha areas near Vuhledar and continue to inflict heavy losses on Ukrainian forces. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted an assault near Prechystivka (35km southwest of Donetsk City) but failed to break through Ukrainian defenses.

UK, French, and German officials are reportedly preparing a NATO-Ukraine pact that falls far short of the protections Ukraine would receive from NATO membership and appears to reflect a desire to press Ukraine to accept a negotiated settlement on unfavorable terms. The Wall Street Journal reported that the exact provisions of the pact are undecided, but the officials indicated that the pact will provide advanced military equipment, arms, and ammunition to Ukraine, but not Article V protection or a commitment to station NATO forces in Ukraine—falling short of Ukraine’s aspirations for full NATO membership. The officials stated that the pact aims to provision Ukraine so that Ukrainian forces can conduct a counteroffensive that brings Russia to the negotiating table and deter any future Russian aggression. The Wall Street Journal noted that these officials expressed reservations about the West’s ability to sustain a prolonged war effort, the high casualty count that Ukraine would sustain in such a prolonged war, and Ukrainian forces’ ability to completely recapture long-occupied territories like Crimea, however. The Wall Street Journal contrasted these officials’ private reservations with US President Joe Biden’s public statements of support—which did not mention peace negotiations—and with Central and Eastern European leaders’ concerns that premature peace negotiations would encourage further Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin has given no indication that he is willing to compromise on his stated maximalist goals, which include Ukraine’s “neutrality” and demilitarization—as well as de facto regime change in Kyiv, as ISW has consistently reported.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, possibly to assist Russia and China in sanctions evasion amidst reports that China is seriously considering sending Russia lethal aid. Lukashenko announced plans to visit China from February 28 to March 2 and to meet with Xi Jinping likely to sign agreements on trade, investment, large-scale joint projects, and other matters. Lukashenko also plans to meet with top Chinese officials and the heads of Chinese corporations. Lukashenko’s announcement of his planned visit coincides with reporting from CNN and The Washington Post that senior US officials assess that China is seriously considering selling combat drones, personal weapons, and 122mm and 152mm artillery shells to Russia. Russian and Chinese officials have also reportedly developed plans for the shipment of drones to Russia under falsified shipping documents to avoid international sanctions measures. China may seek to use agreements with Belarus to obfuscate violations of sanctions.

US President Joe Biden rejected China’s 12-point peace plan as Russian sources continue to capitalize on the announcement of the plan to vilify the West and Ukraine. Biden stated that the Chinese peace plan is only beneficial for Russia and that it would make no sense for China to participate in negotiations on the war in Ukraine. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) head Denis Pushilin argued that China’s peace plan is a fundamentally different approach to the war in Ukraine from the West’s as the West demands the fulfillment of preconditions while exacerbating the conflict through supporting Ukraine. Pushilin nevertheless also rejected the Chinese plan because it would prevent Russia from achieving its maximalist goals in Ukraine.  Russian officials and propagandists continue to assert that Western aid that helps Ukraine resist Russia’s illegal invasion protracts the war and to ignore the role that Russia’s determined pursuit of its maximalist aims plays in prolonging the conflict.

Lukashenko breathed new life into the Kremlin’s Transnistria information operation by falsely claiming that opening a Transnistrian front would be in the West’s interests. Lukashenko claimed that Ukraine would suffer high casualties if it opened a second front to the war, but that the West aims to defeat both Russia and Russian-occupied Transnistria and bring Moldova closer to the West. Lukashenko’s statements support the Kremlin’s broader information operation that paints Russia as being at war with the West rather than with Ukraine. Lukashenko embroidered on the Russian government’s statements warning of a supposed Ukrainian provocation along the Ukraine-Transnistria border by adding the unfounded assertion that the West desires a conflict in Moldova. The Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute has previously assessed that the Kremlin likely conducted a false flag operation against the Transnistrian occupation Ministry of Defense (MoD) in April 2022 in order to blame Ukraine for the attacks and draw Transnistria into the war, a goal that the Kremlin has so far failed to accomplish.

Russian authorities detained more than 50 people at anti-war demonstrations in 14 Russian cities on February 24. Independent Russian outlet OVD-Info reported that police detained at least 54 people for anti-war demonstrations at which they picketed, laid flowers, and wrote messages in the snow. The arrests suggest that the protests were far more limited in scale than they had been earlier in the war, since Russian authorities detained 1,800 people on the first day of the war and almost 5,000 on March 6, 2022. Russian milblogger Anatoly Nesmiyan claimed that Russian authorities only arrested 18 people at an anti-war demonstration on February 25 in St. Petersburg compared to 500 on February 25, 2022. The protests are noteworthy for having occurred at all rather than because of their size given the intense pressure the Kremlin has put on all public opposition to the war, including the criminalization of criticism of the war’s conduct, of military officials, and of the Kremlin itself.

Wagner Group Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and his supporters criticized Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu over his son-in-law Alexei Stolyarov’s alleged Instagram “likes” of anti-war posts. Independent Russian-language opposition news outlet Meduza reported that Stolyarov denied liking posts by anti-war journalist Yuri Dud and claimed that screenshots circulating social media were photoshopped. Prigozhin added to the criticism of Stolyarov saying “bring [Stolyarov] to me. I will train him for six weeks” and claiming that he could help Stolyarov improve by sending him into combat. A pro-Wagner milblogger called for Shoigu’s removal over his association with his son-in-law.

Key Takeaways

  • UK, French, and German officials are reportedly preparing a NATO-Ukraine pact that falls far short of the protections Ukraine would receive from NATO membership and appears to reflect a desire to press Ukraine to accept a negotiated settlement on unfavorable terms.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, possibly to assist Russia and China in sanctions evasion amidst reports that China is seriously considering sending Russia lethal aid.
  • US President Joe Biden rejected China’s 12-point peace plan as Russian sources continue to capitalize on the announcement of the plan to vilify the West and Ukraine.
  • Lukashenko breathed new life into the Kremlin’s Transnistria information operation by falsely claiming that opening a Transnistrian front would be in the West’s interests.
  • Russian authorities detained more than 50 people at anti-war demonstrations in 14 Russian cities on February 24.
  • Wagner Group Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and his supporters criticized Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu over his son-in-law Alexei Stolyarov’s alleged Instagram “likes” of anti-war posts.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks northwest of Svatove and near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces made marginal territorial gains around Bakhmut and Avdiivka and continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
  • Russian forces continue to struggle to conduct effective combat operations on the Zaporizhzhia Oblast front line.
  • Russian forces are continuing to suffer significant losses on the battlefield prompting some milbloggers to criticize the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for failing to recognize the scale of the casualties.

Russian authorities are exploiting Ukrainian children from Mariupol as propaganda to falsely portray Russia as the savior of occupied areas.

Intel official comments on Ukraine counteroffensive goals, Ukrinform reports. “The Ukrainian Army will be ready to launch a counteroffensive as early as this spring with one of its strategic goals being to cut Russia’s access to Crimea. This was stated by the Deputy Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, Vadym Skibitskyi, Ukrinform reports with reference to DW.

I believe we will be ready for a counteroffensive this spring, he said, adding that the specific timing depends on a number of factors, including the supply of Western weapons. In an interview with the Funke Group, Skibitsky clarified that one of the strategic goals will be an attempt to drive a wedge into the Russian front in the south between Crimea and Russia’s mainland.

As noted, GUR’s deputy chief did not rule out that Ukraine would strike arms depots on Russian soil, including in Belgorod region. Attacks on Ukraine are launched from there. This poses a threat, for example, to Kharkiv, the official explained. The goal of the counteroffensive is to liberate all occupied territories of Ukraine, including Crimea, Skibitskyi emphasized. We will stop only after we restore the country within the borders of 1991. It should be recalled that Skibitskyi earlier said the Armed Forces are ready for any scenarios during the spring-summer campaign, which he believes will be extremely difficult.”

What the West must do now to help Ukraine win the war, Time reports. “Ukraine’s heroic resistance against the first year of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine and Russian defeats continue to stun the world, but the outcome of the war remains in doubt. Ukraine achieved striking successes in 2022 through smart operational planning, the effective use of large-scale Western support, and the enduring will of the Ukrainian people. Ukraine has defeated Russia’s initial invasion, conducted several successful counteroffensives, and inflicted devastating losses on the Russian military. When Putin launched his full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, few predicted the magnitude of Ukraine’s successes one year on.

We cannot yet assume a Ukrainian victory, however, and do not know how this war will end. We cannot say that Putin has lost strategically (despite endemic Russian tactical incompetence and repeated operational failures) simply because he has not yet won. Ukraine has inflicted devastating battlefield defeats on Russian forces. The Russian military will struggle to replace its substantial losses for years to come. Ukraine is poised to conduct further counteroffensives in 2023 after the ongoing Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast culminates. Western unity behind Ukraine remains high, and Putin has lost ground in the global information space. Nonetheless, the Russian military remains dangerous, Putin’s objectives have not changed, and even a partial Russian victory would be crippling for Ukraine. […]

Ukraine is fully capable of defeating Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression and eliminating Russia’s military ability to conquer Ukraine, however, and the US and its partners must help Ukraine do so. Russian forces did not withdraw from Kyiv, right bank Kherson Oblast, or Kharkiv Oblast because the Kremlin changed its objectives—they withdrew because Ukrainian forces forced them out. In 2014, the Kremlin intended to capture six regions in Ukraine as part of the Novorossiya project and failed not because Putin’s goals changed, but because Ukraine stopped Russia. The West will not be able to change Putin’s intent, but it can enable Ukraine to further curtail his capability to wage war against Ukraine. A satisfactory end to the war—a lasting conclusion that will secure Ukrainian territory and sovereignty and harden Ukraine against future Russian aggression—is achievable with sustained and substantial Western support.

Enabling Ukraine to defeat Russia’s invasion is both a moral imperative and an essential US national security interest.

At the core of the issue, Ukraine is simply in the moral and legal right. Putin is waging an unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine, and Kyiv’s insistence on regaining control of its internationally recognized borders is the normal position of a state defending itself against a war of conquest, not an absolutist demand. Vice President Kamala Harris stated on February 18 that the US assesses Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as ISW has long assessed. Russian forces seek to implement Putin’s bogus order to “denazify” Ukraine through the process of “filtration” – in practice, the targeted killing of anyone Russian forces perceive as a threat. The massacres in Bucha and the discovery of mass graves in Izium are the most notable examples but are not outliers.

Enabling a decisive Ukrainian victory is furthermore an essential US national interest from every angle, as is increasingly broadly accepted in the US. America’s vital economic interdependence with Europe and obligations through the NATO alliance—which are essential to US national security and prosperity—necessitate defeating threats to European security such as the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine must additionally retake specific areas under Russian occupation to ensure its long-term security and economic viability—both of which are in US interests. NATO’s security would be materially enhanced by Ukrainian forces liberating Crimea. Further Russian military losses in Ukraine will diminish Russia’s already severely depleted ability to conventionally threaten NATO or project power internationally.

The Kremlin’s objectives in Ukraine will not change, and Russian forces will use any territory secured before a premature ceasefire as starting points for further aggression against Ukraine. Any Russian invasion of Ukraine, now or in the future, will inevitably harm Europe, endanger NATO, and entail the risk of a conventional or nuclear escalation. The US must not kick the problem down the road by accepting or worse pushing for a temporary ceasefire that would stop the current fighting while raising the risks of a renewed Russian invasion. The US should instead enable Ukraine to comprehensively defeat the current Russian invasion and harden itself against further Russian aggression.

The current Russian invasion of Ukraine could conceivably end in one of three ways in the medium-term of 2023 or 2024:

1) Putin achieves his maximalist objective of controlling Ukraine through some combination of direct territorial conquest and/or imposing regime change on a rump Ukrainian state. This outcome is incredibly unlikely in 2023 or 2024 unless something surprising and catastrophic occurs.

2) Ukraine successfully convinces Putin to abandon his current invasion by liberating occupied territory and further degrading the Russian conventional military. Ukraine intends to and can win a complete victory, and the West can—and should—assist Ukraine in doing so through timely, sustained, and lasting support. This victory and the reclamation of Ukraine’s international borders would not permanently end the Russian threat to Ukraine, but would defeat the greatest Russian threat to date and cripple Russian military power, enabling Ukraine to harden itself against any renewed Russian aggression in the coming decades.

3) Russia and Ukraine sign a ceasefire agreement, enabling the Kremlin to secure a significant but indecisive victory and returning the conflict in Ukraine to a static phase like that from 2015 to 2022, though on terms far more advantageous to Russia. The frontlines established by any ceasefire would set conditions for not only negotiations and reconstruction, but more importantly for any renewed Russian invasion, as ISW has repeatedly argued. The Kremlin has repeatedly violated ceasefires in Syria and Ukraine and uses temporary ceasefires as a deliberate tool. Any forecasts or policy recommendations that claim to focus on strictly the “final” outcome of a ceasefire or armistice, ignoring any intermediate violations of the ceasefire, ignore the Kremlin’s likely course of action – wherein pauses to reconstitute Russian forces and divide the Kremlin’s opponents are a deliberate part of Russian campaign design. Furthermore, stopping large scale fighting by forcing Ukraine into concessions would (temporarily) halt large scale fighting but would not stop the killing, leaving Ukrainians trapped behind enemy lines unable to defend themselves and likely enabling Russian forces to concentrate on filtration and further occupation measures.

The war could alternatively—and most likely without timely and sustained Western support to Ukraine—protract for several years, an outcome not in Ukrainian or US interests and only advantageous to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin is belatedly preparing Russia’s defense industrial base for a protracted, large scale war. Putin explicitly stated on December 7 that the “special military operation” in Ukraine will be “lengthy,” and reiterated his commitment to a long war in Ukraine during his February 21 speech to Russian parliament. The Kremlin began taking steps in December 2022 to belatedly mobilize the Russian defense industrial base to support a prolonged war, centralizing control of production and increasing desired output. Western intelligence agencies have recently noted the Kremlin increasingly recognizes that Russia’s low industrial output is a ”critical weakness,” and while Russia can likely produce large quantities of small arms, missiles and tanks, it will struggle to replace high-end equipment and offset the effects of Western sanctions. Russia remains unable to increase its industrial capacity quickly, certainly not in time to affect the outcome of the current Russian offensive or the likely Ukrainian spring counteroffensive, but the Kremlin can and will begin to rectify its mobilization and industrial challenges over the coming years.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced several intended sweeping changes to Russian force structure in January 2023 to prepare the Russian military for large scale, sustained conventional warfare. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on January 17 that he will implement sweeping reforms (first publicly proposed in late December 2022) from 2023-2026. These intended changes include increasing the size of the Russian military from 1.35 to 1.5 million; forming 12 new maneuver divisions (almost certainly based on existing brigades); and increasing the number of training grounds and specialists. Russia can nominally form new divisions, but it remains unclear if Russia can generate enough personnel to fully staff them to their on-paper end strengths amid an ongoing war. However, the Russian military could generate large-scale rapid change in military capacity if Putin is willing to put Russia on a war footing for several years and redirect large portions of the federal budget—which he is likely willing to do. These reforms and expansions will not affect the war in Ukraine materially for many months but could change the correlation of forces going into 2024 and could establish conditions for a much more formidable Russian military threat to its neighbors, including NATO states, in the coming years.

Ukraine’s currently advantageous correlation of forces against Russia will diminish in a protracted war as the Kremlin rebuilds its military capabilities. Ukraine is on aggregate less able to replace combat losses due to its smaller manpower base. Ukraine’s current leverage is driven by full Ukrainian mobilization on one hand, and Putin’s failure to fully mobilize on the other. As the Kremlin belatedly and with great difficulty moves to a wartime footing, however, the Russian military can begin to reconstitute itself as Ukrainian forces take further losses. Ukrainian national will remains high, and the Ukrainian military maintains universal support. However, this support could diminish over time as the immediate threat of full defeat further recedes. Western support for Ukraine will drop off over the long term, as Western unity drifts and other future crises take up international attention and resources. While we should not take this forecast as a given and the West should sustain support for Ukraine as long as necessary to ensure a Ukrainian victory, the relative correlation of forces will very likely shift in Russia’s favor during a protracted war—raising not only Russia’s chances of victory in Ukraine, but reviving Russia’s ability to conventionally threaten NATO.

The US has seemingly decided on a policy in part optimized to avoid the least likely scenario—a near-term Russian conventional escalation against NATO or the use of nuclear weapons—which ignores the long-term, more dangerous risk of allowing the Kremlin to reconstitute its forces and fight a protracted war.

The risk of a Russian conventional escalation against NATO or a regional expansion of the war is currently near its lowest point—which was likely October 2022, immediately following Ukraine’s successfully counteroffensives and before Russia began reconstituting its forces. […] The Kremlin additionally remains extraordinarily unlikely to use nuclear weapons either in Ukraine or against NATO. Putin’s implicit and explicit nuclear threats (and withdrawal from the New START treaty) are aimed at intimidating both Ukraine and the West and are highly unlikely to presage the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine or NATO. […] The Kremlin is even less likely to directly use nuclear weapons against the US and NATO. This risk will always exist if nuclear weapons exist, but there is no reason to believe that strategic deterrence has failed. Putin’s stated red lines for nuclear weapons use have already been crossed several times over without any Russian nuclear escalation, and Putin remains a cautious decision maker, as ISW has previously argued. […]

Basing US policy on the assumption that the US can never run the risk of nuclear escalation with any actor makes the US fully self-deterring and subordinates national security policy to any actor with nuclear weapons, with disastrous ramifications for global security. Arguments that the West should coerce Ukraine into negotiations with the Kremlin to avoid the risk of Putin using nuclear weapons to stave off defeat ignore the endpoint of their own logic. The assumption that Putin would rather end the world than concede defeat in his conventional war in Ukraine presupposes he is an insane, suicidal leader. If that is the case, how does Ukraine (and the West) negotiate a durable peace with a madman? The argument that the US should not help Ukraine regain its territory as it might lead to nuclear annihilation means that there is nothing to do but surrender Ukraine and anything else Putin wants—not to mention the ramifications for relations with China. Furthermore, this policy would encourage every predator and revisionist state without nuclear weapons to obtain them as rapidly as possible. A world in which any nuclear armed power is empowered to secure, without resistance, their objectives due to a self-deterring US foreign policy is not preferrable to accepting the extraordinarily small risk that Putin will engage in nuclear suicide.

It is therefore in the interests of the US to enable Ukraine to secure a lasting defeat of Russia’s invasion—and possible to do so with timely and decisive aid.

The West has reason to be satisfied with many aspects of its support for Ukraine. Western support to Ukraine has inarguably been essential to Ukraine’s survival. Western advising and support in the years leading up to Russia’s 2022 invasion helped the Ukrainian military resist Russia’s initial offensive. Western systems such as the Javelin antitank missile help repulse the Russian drive on Kyiv, and the coalition provision of Soviet-era weapons systems and munitions kept Ukraine fighting throughout the spring and summer. The delivery of more advanced system, most notably HIMARS, facilitated Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kherson and Kharkiv Oblasts, and the provision of armored vehicles will enable future counter-offensives. The Western unity that has enabled this support is striking, and Putin fundamentally underestimated the scale of international support for Ukraine his invasion would provoke.

However, the West cannot be complacent or self-congratulatory. Western reluctance to provide substantial and reliable streams of higher end systems to Ukraine has limited Ukraine’s ability to conduct large-scale counteroffensives. The West’s ebb-and-flow support—providing aid reactively and in response to perceived Russian actions—was sufficient (though far from optimal) for the initial Ukrainian defense in the early months of the invasion. This approach has not been and never will be sufficient for Ukrainian forces to conduct the major counter-offensive operations necessary both for Ukraine to liberate its territory and for the US to secure its national security interests. Western forecasts that the war is entering a period of “stalemate” ignore the fact that the West’s piecemeal support for Ukraine is a key factor in delaying Ukrainian counteroffensives. The US and NATO would never supply their own forces in this manner, and Ukraine is likely struggling to plan for further counteroffensive operations due to delays and oscillations in Western support. Kyiv is understandably cautious about planning for and conducting major operations before knowing it will have the munitions, equipment, and replacements necessary to not only begin but sustain them as well. Recent Western commitments to provide tanks and other armored vehicles to Ukraine for further counteroffensive operations are important, but the delays in providing such systems likely cost Ukraine a window of opportunity for a counteroffensive this winter.

One year on, Ukraine needs further timely and sustained support to win this war. Enabling Ukraine to defeat Russia is essential for Ukrainian security, European prosperity, and global stability. Ukraine can win this war, but time is of the essence. The longer Russia has to reconstitute its forces and wear down Western unity, the greater the risks of escalation become. A Kremlin favorable ceasefire would only temporarily pause Russia’s attacks, and reduce the chances of Ukraine hardening itself against lasting Russian aggression. The US and its partners cannot slow roll further aid to Ukraine and must ensure Ukraine receives timely and lasting support to enable the Ukrainian counteroffensives necessary to liberate Ukraine’s territory and destroy Russia’s military power. Ukraine’s spirited defence has inspired the world—we must not self-deter from enabling Ukraine to finish the job and defeat Putin’s invasion.”


  1. Consequences and what to do?

Protest in Berlin over arming Ukraine against Russia draws thousands, Reuters reports. “A demonstration against supplying Ukraine with weapons for war with Russia attracted 10,000 people on Saturday, drawing criticism from top German government officials and a large police presence to maintain order.

Organised by a prominent left-wing German politician, the protest comes a day after the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which drew promises of more weapons from western allies, fresh sanctions against Russia and shows of support for Kyiv across the globe.”


Hans Petter Midttun: The op-ed “What the West must do now to help Ukraine win the war” is highly recommended reading. I agree with the great majority of its assessments and recommendations.

It has, however, one big flaw. It depicts the war as a Russian war against Ukraine only. It is not. It never was. The Russian attack against Ukraine was always a part of its wider confrontation against the West. It is a war meant to secure Russian great power status on the same level as the USA and China. It has already told NATO to withdraw to its 1997 borders, implying that everything east of that line is part of its sphere of interest.

The short version is that it is only concerned about NATO’s so-called “eastern expansion” in the sense that it hinders a Russian western expansion. It is ironic that the “eastern expansion” has stuck in the mind of so many given the reality: It is a Russian-created narrative created as a consequence of neighbour countries seeking protection from Russian aggressions in the West.

The tittle should have read: “What the West must do now to win the war”. It is not Ukraine’s war. It is a war against the EU, NATO and Ukraine which should have triggered NATO to act according to its late strategic concept. As repeatedly stressed, NATO was not obliged to defend Ukraine, but it was obliged to defend itself in Ukraine.

Make no mistake: The tremendous defence support from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, and The Czech Republic, are first of all a part of their first line of defence. Their primary focus is to ensure that Russia is not victorious, dramatically changing the security situation along their border and raising the risk of future aggressions.

Their efforts are a part of the collective support of 54 countries. NATO, however, is not leading an effort it is obliged to uphold. Stopping a war that affects the security and stability of its member states.

This is why I also partly disagree with the op-ed’s assessment of western support before 24 February.

“The West has reason to be satisfied with many aspects of its support for Ukraine. Western support to Ukraine has inarguably been essential to Ukraine’s survival. Western advising and support in the years leading up to Russia’s 2022 invasion helped the Ukrainian military resist Russia’s initial offensive. Western systems such as the Javelin antitank missile help repulse the Russian drive on Kyiv.”

During the first 8 years of the war, the West – the USA, Europe and NATO – denied Ukraine the opportunity to rebuild and modernise its armed forces and consequently, deter the full-scale invasion that followed. No lethal aid was provided before the spring of 2018. Export restrictions were quoted to explain why requests for technology transfer and procurement of weapons were denied. Ukraine’s requests for lethal aid were rejected for 8 years. If we had acknowledged that Russia started a war to be victorious, we should have helped Ukraine re-establish deterrence. We did not, thereby signalling a lack of commitment.

The denial – or the West’s lack of will and ability to act resolutely against the war starting in 2014 – might have helped convince President Putin that the USA and Europe were not committed to defending Ukraine. As NATO decided to walk back on its core essential task number 2 – crisis management – and reduce its level of ambitions in the face of an aggressive Russian Federation, Putin might have concluded that Ukraine was open for grabs.

The perception was probably strengthened by a strongly divided USA, weakened transatlantic links post-Trump, discord within the EU, and European failure to invest in security and defence lack of investment. The fact that Putin has friends within both NATO and the EU helped convince him that 2022 offered a unique strategic window of opportunity.

Western response to the Russian full-scale invasion is first of all a testimony to failed diplomacy and our policy of too little, too late.

While the incremental and slow support afterwards has been crucial important, it is still only one out of several extraordinary efforts and failures that helped stop and evict Russian forces around Kyiv. Ukrainian artillery and armour probably destroyed more manpower and equipment than the short-range western weapons that arrived the last two weeks before the full-scale invasion. The Russian collapse – or rather its many structural and fundamental problems experienced during the initial phase – played an equally crucial role in their defeat. Its failure to establish air superiority was probably its most important failure. The response by the Ukrainian civil society played yet again a decisive role in defeating the Russian forces.

It is crucially important that we recognise the war as a broader confrontation and acknowledge both the Russian hybrid war against both Ukraine and the West, as well as the Russian strategic messaging. That would help the West recognise Ukraine’s extraordinary military efforts as a crucial part of the defence of Europa. It will commit NATO members to do more and to speed up the flow of weapons and ammunition. It would increase the scope and scale of the weapons the countries would be willing to supply.  It would not least, provide the West with the impetus needed to mobilise society and the defence industry.

Equally important, the acknowledgement would help the West develop a clear strategy and end-state. It would put an effective stop to the notion that Ukraine should be pressed to accept a negotiated settlement on unfavourable terms

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