Military

Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • Ukrainian forces reported that Russian assaults pushing southwest of Kreminna continued, with reports by the Ukrainian General Staff stating Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) are strengthening their groupings in the Kreminna area. Footage published on 10 February claims to show RFAF elements of the 98th Guards Airborne Division in the Kreminna area.
  • Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) noted increased shelling on their positions further north along the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) from Svatove, in Hryanykivka and Dvorichne. However, there has still not been any major offensive/counter-offensive action by either the RFAF or UAF other than the skirmishes seen previously over the last month. Some Ukrainian and Russian sources have reported fighting northwest of Svatove, in the direction of Kupyansk.

Footage purportedly showing elements of the 98th Guards Airbourne Division near Kreminna. Source: @Danispun.

So What?

  • It should be noted that it was elements of the 98th Guards Airborne Division who failed to seize Kyiv at the beginning of the conflict having been almost eliminated in Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast in March 2022. It is possible that since the early stages of the conflict, and the Division’s subsequent defeats, units have been undergoing training in either Russia or Belarus since the last round of mobilisation in September 2022. However, it is likely that the Division or large parts thereof are no longer constituted of professional/contract soldiers and are therefore no longer the elite units they were once known to be.
  • Increased shelling is likely indicative of increased Russian artillery assets in the build up to the spring offensive. Whilst there has been wide speculation in the media regarding the Russian spring offensive, and there notably has been some increase in RFAF offensive activity in the Luhansk Oblast comparatively to the last few weeks, it still has not yet amounted to a significant increase in activity. Hryanykivka and Dvorichne, which were noted to have seen increased shelling are locations of successful counter-offensives by the UAF. It is likely that the increase in shelling is two-fold, to prevent UAF counterattacks from pushing RFAF east (which would likely be an institutional embarrassment before a major offensive) and shaping activity to prevent the UAF from establishing more defences and to ensure logistic nodes are functional.
  • The limited reporting of ground combat in this area of northern Luhansk is likely to be an indicator of positional battles designed to test UAF defensive lines, possibly as part of shaping activity for a new offensive axis. The RFAF also frequently conduct reconnaissance-in-force to identify opportunities and plot UAF defensive positions for future targeting.
  • Pro-Russian mil-bloggers have begun to be openly critical of the lack of RFAF capability and swift advances at the somewhat stagnated progress in the Luhansk Oblast, and the successful UAF counter-offensives in neighbouring Kharkiv. The last reporting period noted the information operations of RFAF activity in Luhansk Oblast and premature or unrealistic claims of success. This has highly likely been noticed by pro-Russian mil-bloggers given the UAF counter information operations on social media. This possibly has the potential to affect RFAF morale and future recruitment/mobilisation, or for a clampdown on Russian mil-bloggers as the Kremlin seeks to own the narrative on upcoming offensives and successes.

Widely re-shared footage of purported Russian Airbourne troops, showing lack of training and situational awareness. Source: @Warmonitors.

East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort – seizure and occupation of all of Donetsk Oblast).

  • The UAF reported there are up to 50 attacks per day against their defences in Bakhmut; however, there are still no notable RFAF gains during this reporting period. There have been conflicting reports about the RFAF occupation of Krasna Hora, 10km to the north, where fighting had intensified during the past week, although geolocated imagery does show Wagner fighters on the approach to the town.
  • The RFAF and Wagner forces reported near Ivaniske and fighting towards Chasiv Yar have, on the contrary, slowed their advances this reporting period.
  • In Vuhledar, geo-located footage and news outlets have confirmed the RFAF loss of almost an entire brigade’s combat power. Russia’s Pacific Fleet 155th Naval Infantry Brigade had been reported to have comprised of 5,000 marines and command staff, losing 150-300 marines per day either killed, wounded, or captured. Reportedly, the brigade had been on its third complete iteration of troops, due to the level of attrition it has experienced over the last year.
  • Despite the reported RFAF losses in Vuhledar, President Putin continues to publicly stand by the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) as RFAF continue to suffer catastrophic casualties. Putin commented on Russian state TV that the Russian "naval infantry is working as it should right now" and that the Pacific and Northern fleets are "heroically fighting". There has also been reporting of the RFAF concentrating additional mobilised forces near Mariupol, which may be committed to “double down” on this axis.

Two Russian T-80BV tanks destroyed as a result of Ukrainian anti-tank mines in quick succession near Vuhledar. Source: @UAWeapons.

So What?

  • Limited RFAF gains in Bakhmut are highly likely to be a result of deploying inexperienced and untrained soldiers, combined with exhaustion and lack of reinforcements. This is likely due to the prioritisation in Krasna Hora 10km north. Although reports over this reporting period have suggested successful Russian occupation, it is conflicting, with Wagner having made small gains within the town more likely. Given that only two weeks ago Wagner forces took Blahadotne which is less that 5km to the north (of Krasna Hora), Russian priorities regarding fronts in localised offensives ebb and flow. This has also been seen over the last week at Ivaniske to the south of Bakhmut and the continued effort to encircle and isolate Bakhmut. Where the Russian offensive in Ivaniske was initially fairly constant, a pause in gains since 10 February likely indicates the reprioritisation of Krasna Hora in order to deny UAF access to the M03 running northwest to Slovyansk; which would be the next likely city on the Russian avenue of approach. It is highly likely that pressure on all three fronts concurrently would hasten a UAF withdrawal from Bakhmut, yet it is also highly likely that the Russians are unable to sustain major co-ordinated offensives with the forces currently present, thus dragging it out further. It also gives weight to the assessment that the RFAF main effort will be shifting to the remaining parts of the Luhansk Oblast, in order to re-occupy areas lost to the UAF as a result of counteroffensives.
  • The flat open fields around Vuhledar and neighbouring Mykilske have been heavily mined by the UAF, which has been catastrophic for RFAF mobility, where geo-located footage has seen armoured vehicles transiting cross-country repeatedly struck. It is likely that the units of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade are staffed by mobilised personnel, as indicated by their low level of training and tactical awareness. These minefields combined with a mild winter have restricted cross-country mobility and canalized the RFAF into using armoured columns along metalled Main Supply Routes (MSRs), and as previously observed in the conflict, this makes them easier to target. This method of approach almost certainly caused the concentration of armoured vehicles easily geo-located by UAF drones and subsequently targeted with UAF artillery. This has been seen before early in the conflict, and thus has invited criticism from pro-Russian mil-bloggers, who have been drawing tactical comparisons to the failures seen previously, accusing the RFAF of being unable to learn from its mistakes and train troops appropriately.
  • Although the Russian MoD has likely been purposefully silent regarding RFAF losses in Vuhledar, it is likely that Putin is overly supportive and giving an optimistic description of the Vuhledar frontline to sustain the narrative of an imminent and sweeping major Russian offensive in Donetsk Oblast. Putin’s publicised support for the Vuhledar axis as a successful offensive axis would likely garner support within Russia to reinforce it with more forces or recommit forces from elsewhere. The 80th Motorised Rifle Brigade will possibly be re-tasked from Kherson Oblast; it is a specialised ‘elite’ unit reported to be only 75km from Vuhledar. Their repositioning, and the possible deployment of additional forces to Mariupol, lend weight to the assessment that the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts will not be the priority for the spring offensive and that the ongoing offensive in Vuhledar is a more significant front than previously acknowledged publicly by the Russian MoD.

South – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Black Sea Coast Area of Operations

  • RFAF skirmishes have occurred against the UAF in Zaliznychne, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, which were subsequently repelled. No offensive operations have occurred in Kherson Oblast over this reporting period; however, shelling by RFAF into Kherson has continued. (NO CHANGE)
  • Russian forces have further bolstered defensive fortifications in central Zaporizhia Oblast - particularly in Tarasivka (about 26km southwest of Zaliznychne) and extended a stretch of fortifications on the Orikhiv-Vasylivka line south of Zaporizhzhia city.

So What?

  • The shelling of Kherson city is still targeting civilian areas and UAF concentrations whilst also allowing RFAF to continue defensive preparations and conduct reconnaissance-in-force to probe for weaknesses in the UAF line. There is still likely a reprioritisation of conventional high explosive munitions to the RFAF main effort in Donetsk Oblast, and no intent in the short term to follow up shelling with offensive manoeuvre. (NO CHANGE)
  • The RFAF are likely expanding the construction of defensive lines and deploying personnel to Zaporizhzhia Oblasts out of concern for UAF counteroffensives, despite maintaining an operational focus on offensives in Donbas. It is likely that the RFAF anticipate a future UAF offensive pushing due south from the front lines in Zaporizhia all the way to the Black Sea Coast to isolate forces deployed in Kherson and on the Crimean Peninsula.

What Next (Next 7 Days)?

Given the incremental gains seen on multiple fronts in the Donetsk Oblast, previous assessments regarding main efforts for the next seven days remain extant. The RFAF/Wagner attempt to encircle Bakhmut and the surrounding towns is almost certain to continue. It is a realistic possibility that the UAF will conduct a phased withdrawal from Bakhmut within the next seven days to preserve combat power and reinforce the next defensive line to the north and west towards Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. However, it is likely that Vuhledar will be reinforced to undo the embarrassment faced with the loss of 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, and to quell Russian mil-blogger criticism before negative reporting gains traction in mainstream Russian media. It is likely that over the next reporting period, RFAF and Wagner focus between Ivaniske (south of Bakhmut) and Krasna Hora (north of Bakhmut) will change dependant on factors such as ability to penetrate UAF defences and maintain RFAF logistic nodes. It is still likely that Russian occupation of Bakhmut up to the Bakhmutovka river will suffice, given that complete occupation of Bakhmut is unlikely to be necessary; pressure in the surrounding area may lead to the isolation of the UAF and force either a surrender or rout. However, as has been seen this week in Krasna Hora, Wagner are quick to claim success for a partial occupation, and success in information operations is likely the main effort to ensure support for Russia at home.

Although the UAF have reported new Russian units operating in the Luhansk Oblast and localised skirmishes have continued; it remains unlikely that new concurrent RFAF offensives will take place further north along the FLET. RFAF bombardment and indirect fire will highly likely continue as it seeks to set the conditions against the UAF for the probable planned offensive and deter any UAF probing of RFAF defences. Additionally in the next seven days, it is likely that a gradual increase in RFAF offensive activity in the north will force the UAF to re-task troops destined for the defence of Donetsk Oblast. Whilst there is widespread speculation regarding the timing of a Russian spring offensive, 24 February is a symbolic date, and one which may be forced upon the RFAF by their political leaders. It is likely that the RFAF will continue to focus on Bakhmut and its surrounding areas, as well as Vuhledar, to maintain pressure on the UAF and ensure Russia retains the limited momentum and initiative they have achieved over the past fortnight.

It is still unlikely that there will be any significant offensive commencing in Kherson or Zaporizhia Oblasts within the next week. It is likely that RFAF bolstering of defences will continue in anticipation of UAF counter offensives, as well as the continuation of reconnaissance in force to probe the UAF defensive line and identify concentrations of troops as well as artillery firing points/manoeuvre areas. (NO CHANGE)

KHARKIV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 10: DONBASS, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 10: A Ukrainian tank moves on a street as the strikes continue on the Donbass frontline