Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Details Russia’s Scaled-Back Goals A Year Later
A year after launching its full-on invasion, Russia’s more focused operation is being effectively countered, a top Ukrainian general says.
On the eve of the one-year mark in its defense against Russia’s full-on invasion, a top Ukrainian general laid out what he perceives as Moscow’s near-term military objectives. They are far less grandiose than when Russian troops first attacked from three directions on Feb. 24, 2022, with the aim of toppling the Zelensky government and seizing control of the country.
"In the near future, it is important for the Kremlin to seize key settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions," Ukrainian Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Gromov, the deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Thursday during a briefing at the Military Media Center in Kyiv.
Russia, he added, aims to capture the entire territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions by the summer. That’s both to hold the territory and to frustrate Ukrainian plans, Gromov said.
"The importance for the Russian Federation of conducting a new wave of offensive[s] is also determined by the desire to disrupt the preparation of the defense forces of Ukraine for their future actions, the supply of weapons to us by partner countries, as well as to protect the land corridor to the temporarily occupied Crimea," Gromov said.
But all that is far easier said than done, Gromov indicated. The capabilities of Russian troops to achieve significant operational success are limited, he said, due to the current shortage of resources, in particular artillery ammunition.
"That is why the Russian Federation continues to look for resources,” Gromov said. “The bet is made both on [their] own military-industrial complex, which has certain limitations, and on some foreign countries.”
To address those shortages, Russia has covertly procured some from North Korea, among other steps taken.
More immediately, Ukrainian troops "nullified" the Russian offensive near Kreminna in Luhansk Oblast, said Gromov, adding that "the situation in the Lyman region [in the Donetsk Oblast] is stable and under control."
The Russians, he said, are “trying to restore the lost position in some areas, but is not succeeding."
Ukrainian troops have “inflicted losses on the enemy and nullified his offensive attempts in the areas of Nevske, Chervopopivka, Kreminna and Bilogorivka."
The fiercest battles have taken place in and around Bakhmut, he said.
“Thousands of occupiers were killed in the battles for Bakhmut,” where the Russians have used ”the most prepared units and units of the regular troops, as well as the assault units of the private military company ‘Wagner’” in an ongoing effort to capture that coal mining town.
"It is in the Bakhmut direction that the most intense battles have been going on for seven months,” Gromov said. “Our soldiers bravely defend their positions.”
The Russian advances are only possible after the destruction of defensive fortifications and the need to preserve the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.
The Russians, on the other hand, don’t care about death tolls.
"The occupiers count the number of those killed in the battles for Bakhmut in the thousands, and they do not consider it advisable to evacuate the mercenaries at all," he said.
Though Ukraine has paid a heavy price to defend itself, its outlook seems far less ominous than it did a year ago at this time. But with Russia amassing hundreds of thousands of more troops, and Russian President Vladimir Putin giving no indication that he has any plans to stop his invasion, there are many challenges ahead for Kyiv.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
For the third day in a row, the Azov Sea port city of Mariupol was rocked by explosions, the Mariupol City Council reported on its Telegram page Thursday.
”Mariupol. Explosions are heard again,” the Mariupol City Council Telegram page said. “Three explosions are reported in the area of the Ilyich plant (Kalmiu district). There is a high probability of hitting the enemy because the sky is clear - there are no traces of the occupation's air defense. After the explosions, the Russian occupiers raised their planes into the air.”
Yesterday, we wrote about the previous two days of explosions, which raised the question of how Ukrainian forces, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, were able to unleash those explosions.
Today, Natalia Humenyuk, spokesperson for Ukraine's Operational Command South, offered a cryptic explanation.
"At this stage, we can only state that remoteness is a very relative concept," she said, according to the Mariupol City Council Telegram channel. "What is considered so remote that it is unreachable, is not always so. The direction of Mariupol is no longer completely unreachable for us."
We have reached out to the command for more details and will update this story with any information provided.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, was equally cryptic in talking about the attacks.
“Periodically what should happen happens – our military destroys Russian terrorists who invaded our city called Mariupol,” he said on Ukrainian television Thursday, according to Ukraine Today.
Danilov emphasized that Ukraine can now strike at the Russian occupiers not only in Mariupol, but also in other occupied cities.
“Distance is not of great importance to us today. Whether it is 100 kilometers, whether it is 150 kilometers or a little more,” he said.
Danilov did not say what Ukrainian troops used to strike Mariupol, located 80 kilometers from the front line.
Those front lines are outside the officially stated range of the precision-guided munitions - that can hit targets out to around 43 miles (70 kilometers) - fired by M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) provided to Ukraine.
However, as some readers have pointed out, an Army slide from 2016 shows the range of those munitions to be as far as 84 kilometers, or about 52 miles. The same slide deck later states the range as 70 kilometers+. The reality is that many factors can go into the employment of a long-range guided weapon like this. Degraded accuracy, unfavorable or inconsistent effects on a target, the inability to hit targets in urban environments or anything but flat terrain, and especially atmospherics are all variables that could factor into extended range shots and the general range figure officially stated. It's also not unheard of for officially disclosed 'brochure' weapons range figures to be slightly less than what is operationally possible. With all this in mind, we've reached out to the Army and Lockheed Martin, the latter of which makes the munitions, for clarity on the M31's range.
A Russian pilot died Thursday after his Su-25 Frogfoot attack jet crashed in Belgorod, Russia, the Russian Baza news agency reported on its Telegram channel.
"After the plane crashed, he managed to eject and was taken to the hospital," Baza reported. "However, the pilot soon died, having received injuries incompatible with life. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported that the cause of the plane crash was a technical malfunction."
We wrote about another Frogfoot crash back in September.
After nearly a year of full-on war, both sides are in dire need of ammunition.
The New York Times on Thursday took a deep dive into an effort to procure munitions for Ukraine to feed its Soviet-era artillery tubes.
"Small towns in Bulgaria, with its large pro-Russian population, might seem unlikely linchpins of Ukraine’s military effort," the paper wrote. "But one year into the war, despite an influx of sophisticated western arms, the Ukrainian military still relies primarily on weapons that fire Soviet-standard munitions. The United States and its NATO allies don’t produce those munitions, and the few countries outside Russia that do are mostly in the former Soviet orbit."
"That has Western countries scrambling to find alternative sources, pouring millions of dollars into workarounds that keep the transactions quiet and avoid political fallout and Russian retaliation. And that brings them to some of the more remote areas of Eastern Europe, like Kostenets, and the small town of Sopot, roughly 50 miles to the northeast, which is home to another state-run arms factory."
It appears that one alternative source for Ukraine's ammunition needs is, once again, Iran.
The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group shared video footage showing Ukrainian soldiers using Iranian-made 125mm OF19 tank ammunition. The group suggests this latest tranche of Iranian ammo was most likely purchased through a third party and then provided to Ukraine.
More Iranian weapons could be on the way to Ukraine if the U.S. opts to send Kyiv thousands of assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small arms ammo, and more seized from smugglers. The story was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. We've asked the Pentagon for more details and will update this report with any information provided.
The Russian military "is engaged in negotiations with Chinese drone manufacturer Xi'an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology over the mass production of kamikaze drones for Russia," the German publication Der Spiegel reported Thursday, citing information it obtained. "The revelations create a new urgency in the debate over possible Chinese military support for Russia."
"Bingo has reportedly agreed to manufacture and test 100 ZT-180 prototype drones before delivering them to the Russian Defense Ministry by April 2023," Der Spiegel reported. "Military experts believe the ZT-180 is capable of carrying a 35- to 50-kilogram warhead."
Those drones could be similar to Iran's Shaheed 136 kamikaze drone, Der Spiegel reported, citing unnamed sources.
Bingo, the publication added, "reportedly plans to deliver components and know-how to Russia so that the country can produce around 100 drones a month on its own."
We've reached out to the Pentagon and White House for comment and will update this story with any information provided.
Australia has pledged to send Ukraine $33 million worth of drones.
"The drones, valued at $33m, are not armed but will help the Ukrainian armed forces monitor Russian troop movements as the war drags on," The Guardian reported Thursday. "This donation brings the total Australian military assistance to Ukraine to $510m, including 90 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, although the delivery schedule remains secret."
Speaking of drones, watch this Ukrainian drone unit operate a domestically made Leleka-100 reconnaissance drone in the Donetsk coal mining city of Bakhmut, which is still being held by Ukrainian forces.
The Liberty Ukraine organization, which raises money to purchase drones for Ukrainian troops, shared a video it says shows those drones in use against Russian forces in Donetsk Oblast. The drones in the video are Mavic 3, the Executive Director of Liberty Ukraine Foundation told The War Zone on Thursday. She could not immediately say how they were armed.
But it appears Ukraine lost a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone to friendly fire over the Kharkiv Oblast, the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group reported Thursday.
"Inside unassuming green containers on an army base in northwestern Germany, battles are being waged. Ukrainian tank gunners lock on to enemy targets that pop up on their monitors, quickly destroying them," the paper reported.
"Those fights are just simulations, but the Ukrainians will soon train on real Leopard 2A6 tanks. And at the end of March, they will be back on the front line, facing off against Russian forces and trained on new equipment."
"The training at a German military base near Munster is part of an effort across Europe to get Ukrainian forces acquainted with the tanks and infantry fighting vehicles they have been promised. But while Berlin had hoped to pull together two Leopard 2 battalions — totaling about 70 tanks — for Ukraine ahead of an anticipated Russian offensive this spring, the West is still short on contributions."
Add Sweden to the list of those countries considering sending Ukraine Leopard tanks.
"Sweden is open to sending some of its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine as the Nordic country prepares to present another package of aid to help the country fight off the Russian invasion," Reuters reported, citing an interview that Defense Minister Pal Jonson gave to local news agency TT.
"Sweden has delivered a string of military and civilian aid packages to Ukraine since the invasion, which Moscow calls a special military operation, began a year ago," Reuters reported.
As part of the international cooperation regarding Leopard tanks, Finland will hand over three Leopard 2 mine-clearing tanks to Ukraine, as well as training related to their use and maintenance, the Finnish government announced Thursday.
Russia claims that vehicle traffic has been completely restored on the Kerch Bridge, Vladimir Putin's prized $4 billion span linking Russia with the Crimean peninsula occupied since 2014. It was severely damaged after an attack on Oct. 8.
"Today builders made a big gift for the Defender of the Fatherland Day," said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin on his Telegram channel. "The restoration of the automobile part of the Crimean bridge has been completed. In just 4.5 months, work was completed that normally takes more than a year."
Khusnullin said that "up to 500 people and 50 pieces of equipment were involved in the construction. Work was carried out around the clock. This made it possible to complete the work ahead of schedule by 39 days, despite the magnitude of the damage and difficult weather conditions: there were storms for 53 days, which reduced the pace of work or completely stopped it."
But the work is not over. In fact, perhaps the most important reconstruction remains.
"At the same time, we are not slowing down the pace of work, because in the coming months we still have to complete the restoration of the railway part of the bridge," Khusnullin said.
Elsewhere in Crimea, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of that nation's Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR), upped his information operations Thursday by apparently hacking into Russian radio stations on the peninsula and broadcasting a message of his own.
"The radio stations Sputnik in Crimea and Vera were hacked in a number of Crimean regions," according to the CrimeanWind Telegram channel.
"Instead of editorial programs, a recorded sidebar was broadcast on behalf of the head of the GUR of Ukraine, Kirill Budanov. The broadcast has now been stopped."
Rihards Kols, chairman of the Latvian Saeima's Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered a message of his own Thursday during the 22nd Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at the Congress Center Hofburg in Vienna, Austria.
After excoriating his colleagues in the room, he turned his ire to the Russians, signing off in Latvian with a very undiplomatic phrase he attributed to the Ukrainian Border Guards who held out against the Russians on Snake Island.
"Russian warship, go fuck yourself," he said, according to Latvian Public Television.
Wagner mercenary organization capo di tutti capi Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a video of himself, kitted out and toting a rifle, claiming to be taken while he was on the front lines near Bakhmut.
Javelin anti-tank missile systems are still proving an effective weapon for Ukrainians on the battlefield, as highlighted by the destruction of a Russian T-64BV tank and MT-LB personnel carrier near Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast
And finally, sometimes, what you see is not what you get.
Such is the case of these inflatable M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, made by a Czech company.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when we have more to report.
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