Day 358 of the Invasion of Ukraine: NATO does not expect a Major Spring Offensive and describes the War as a Stalemate
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Prigozhin: We will not capture Bakhmut before March or April
The boss of the Russian paramilitary group "Wagner" has calculated that the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the fighting in the eastern part of the country, will not be captured by Moscow before March or April, reports AFP.
Yevgeny Prigozhin believed that Russia's slow progress was due in particular to the "monstrous military bureaucracy".
"To capture Bakhmut, you must cut off all supply routes," he said in videos posted on Telegram on the night of Wednesday, February 15, versus Thursday, February 16.
"I think we would have captured Bakhmut if it weren't for this monstrous military bureaucracy and if they didn't interfere with us every day," Prigozhin says in another video of his press service.
????Prigozhyn declares Russians shouldn't downplay the enemy by saying Bakhmut is "surrounded", his best guess is encircelemnt will happen in March-April now, although new weapon deliveries will have a significant impact in this estimation. pic.twitter.com/G52ePria5o— Dmitri (@wartranslated) February 15, 2023
According to him, the fact that "Wagner" can no longer recruit prisoners to go to the front in exchange for amnesty represents a "blood loss" for his organization.
The group has been leading the offensive against Bakhmut for months at the cost of very heavy losses. It recruited a large number of prisoners to go fight in Ukraine, AFP recalls.
Lukashenko: Belarus will not attack Ukraine if we are not attacked
Belarus will "under no circumstances" send troops to Ukraine unless the country is attacked, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday.
"We are peaceful people, we know what war is and we don't want war," he said at a press conference at the Independence Palace in Minsk attended by reporters from selected news agencies, CNN reported.
"In no case will we send our troops to Ukraine, unless you intend to commit aggression against Belarus," Lukashenko added. "But don't forget that Russia is our ally - legally, morally and politically."
Lukashenko also said that Russia "never asked him" to start a joint war in Ukraine.
Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two countries maintain a joint array of military forces.
Russia used the territory of Belarus as one of the entry points for its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Joint military exercises over the past year have fueled fears that Belarusian troops could join Russia's forces in Ukraine, but Lukashenko has repeatedly dismissed speculation that his troops would join the fighting in Ukraine.
Russian balloons have been shot down over Kyiv
Six Russian balloons were spotted over Kyiv and most of them were shot down, authorities in Kyiv said. They are believed to have been fitted with intelligence equipment.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said Russia would likely use balloons to keep out reconnaissance drones. Ukraine dawned today with sirens. Authorities in Kyiv reported Russian missile attacks in various parts of the country.
One person died and several were injured. There were strikes against targets near Lviv, in the Dnipropetrovsk region and in Kirovgrad. Russian forces fired 32 cruise missiles at Ukraine, eight of which were Kalibr.
Ukraine reported a Russian missile attack
Russian forces fired 32 cruise missiles, eight of which were Kalibr, at Ukraine last night. Strategic aviation and drones were also used, Ukrainian news agencies specify.
One person was killed and several were injured in rocket attacks in Dnipropetrovsk region. A site of critical infrastructure in the Lviv Region was hit. A fire broke out and was extinguished.
Six people died in the fighting in the Donetsk region during the past 24 hours, 13 were injured.
Ukraine's air defenses have shot down 16 of 36 Russian missiles fired overnight Thursday, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valery Zaluzhnyi, said on Telegram, Bloomberg reported.
The missiles were fired from strategic bombers near Kursk and the Caspian Sea in Russia, as well as from fighter jets near the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol and from ships in the Black Sea.
The missiles hit the northern and western parts of the country, as well as the Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovograd regions, said the head of the Ukrainian president's office, Andriy Yermak.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen arrived in Kyiv, the first high-level visit by an Israeli official to Ukraine since the invasion, Israeli media reported. He is expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Cohen will visit Bucha, Babin Yar and mark the reopening of the Israeli embassy, the Jerusalem Post reported. "Over the past year, Israel has stood by the Ukrainian people and by Ukraine," the Israeli foreign minister said.
This spring should feel like Ukraine is moving toward victory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, referring to the country's defense force training, arms supplies and strategic initiative in the war.
Zelensky: Ukraine must move toward victory this spring
“This spring, it should be felt that Ukraine is moving towards victory,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address.
President Zelensky specified that this refers to the preparation of the country's defense forces, the supply of weapons and the strategic initiative in the war:
"All attempts by Russia to regain the initiative must be crushed, and I am confident that we will achieve this. Our task is to make it so that the enemy has less and less desire to keep the Ukrainian territories under occupation."
Among the goals discussed is the economic recovery of Ukraine. “The government is preparing new significant steps to deregulate the Ukrainian economy and create jobs,” the Ukrainian president said.
Ukraine's state-owned arms company Ukroboronprom said it has begun joint production of artillery shells with a central European NATO member state and that it plans to develop and produce other weapons and military equipment with allied countries.
A critical infrastructure facility in the Lviv region was attacked last night. A fire broke out and was extinguished. There are no reports of casualties or injuries. Earlier, Russian forces shelled four municipalities in Sumy region.
Kyiv has denied claims of a Russian breach in Luhansk
The situation on the front in Ukraine continues to be difficult. Shortly after Moscow announced it had achieved a breakthrough in Ukrainian defenses in Luhansk, Kyiv denied the claim. The Ukrainian authorities admitted that Russia is amassing heavy weapons in the region, but added that they are maintaining their positions.
However, Ukraine claims that massive Russian shelling continues and that changes in the military's strategic positions are required. President Zelensky even stated that they are working to "guarantee victory already in the spring".
ISW: Putin is unlikely to announce a new mobilization on February 21
Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce "measures to further escalate the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives or other major policy in his planned address to the Federal Assembly on February 21."
This was announced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in today's analysis of the development of the conflict.
Putin will address the upper and lower houses of the Russian parliament next week, days before the anniversary of the war.
Russian equipment and manpower are likely "significantly depleted", ISW experts suggest.
An update posted on its website also said that "Russia's costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves needed to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine."
“The war is at a stalemate, we do not expect a major spring offensive,” according to NATO
Russia's war against Ukraine, which began a year ago, is in a stalemate phase and shows no signs of ending in 2023.
Russian offensives are imminent or have already begun in places, but they will be local and with tactical objectives. We are unlikely to see any large-scale operation that will lead to strategic results.
Vladimir Putin has not given up on any of his strategic goals in the war, although he has lost at least 140,000 soldiers killed and wounded so far.
This is part of NATO's assessment of the current situation in Europe's biggest, bloodiest and most destructive conflict since World War II. It was shared in Brussels by a high-ranking official of the alliance with a group of Bulgarian journalists.
It should not be forgotten that for Putin the subjugation of Ukraine is not the main goal. For him, it is just a territory for operations, while he considers the USA, NATO, the West to be a real threat. If Ukraine falls, the military threat from Russia will fall on us, which is why we must help the Ukrainians in every way: militarily, financially and with mental support, the source added.
"Ukrainians are fighting our war," the representative said three times to emphasize the importance of what was happening.
The massive resources the Russian military is throwing into strikes on energy and civilian infrastructure, as well as the step-by-step offensive against Bakhmut with mercenaries and the army, and the sacrifice of thousands in the failed attacks in the Vuhledar region, only show the Kremlin's determination to achieve its goal, even when the price is so high for the Russians.
In Russia, they have a weakness for symbolic achievements for the sake of some date, and this partly explains the focused pressure on Bakhmut, but it is a city of no strategic importance to the outcome of the war. It is the same with Vuhledar, where in recent weeks the Russians have given the biggest casualties of the last 12 months. At the same time, we see that there are many cases of individual towns and villages passing from one hand to another.
Russia is experiencing shortages - at times acute - of munitions and other resources, and has therefore had to resort to mercenary recruitment, mobilization of non-combatants and purchases from Iran. Therefore, I would be careful with the use of expressions like "the Russian spring offensive". We are not talking about some frontal, large-scale, well-organized and conducted operation, but about offensive actions limited in time, size and results, the source emphasized.
It will be the same from the Ukrainian side - they don't want to miss the initiative, the moment, the chance to attack. But again - they won't have a large-scale operation in the spring either. Both countries need to organize themselves in a new way. This is what we see and expect to be the development in the coming weeks, with factors such as what the weather will be like, whether and how many troops will be sent to certain areas of the front, and whether Russian combat aircraft will be used, which are in good shape, will influence the assessment and forecasts.
When we have a stalemate, the question is who wins from the time it lasts. And the answer is that, in my opinion, even though the Ukrainians need weeks to learn how to use Western weaponry, the Russians rather win, the source explained.
Bulgarian media "Dnevnik" asked for an explanation of the situation with the promises of Western tanks for Ukraine, what it would achieve with several dozen such machines, and that with delivery dates stretched to the end of the year.
There is a bit more media hype surrounding the tanks, the NATO representative replied. In addition to firepower, the tanks provide protection for the Ukrainians - it's not the same as fighting in a jeep, the source added. His words can also be interpreted as an indirect confirmation that Ukraine is experiencing an acute shortage of armored vehicles of any kind.
The military in the West may advise that we should help Ukraine in every possible way, but the decision for this is up to the politicians, added the source at a time when the defense ministers of the alliance were meeting at the NATO headquarters. I think the creation of coalitions to send tanks and the support for them is very good and probably the process could have started earlier, but more importantly we took this path.
Ammunition is a serious problem and it must be understood that the industry is not capable of producing large quantities quickly. And here the important thing is the presence of political will for this. But I assure you that the synchronization of effects for the defense industry - to restore and strengthen its capabilities and accelerate production - is done here at NATO headquarters.
We can say that we are in a war of logistics, a logistical race for what we can produce and deliver to the front. Putin spends a lot, but he has also accumulated a lot. And you've heard the phrase "Quantity is quality".
Among the questions "Dnevnik" asked was about the alliance's view of the role of Belarus. The answer is that there are currently no signs that the authorities in Minsk are actively engaged in the war.
We see joint aviation exercises, we know that they are actively training along the border, and this makes the Ukrainians take this into account and send parts and equipment there, because they cannot leave Northern Ukraine without troops.
Alexander Lukashenko creates a dilemma with his actions, but although NATO intelligence does not see him actively engaging in war, he will not stop proposing new military exercises, he will not break with Putin. The authorities in Minsk offered him ammunition, but did not increase production.
Russia has lost nearly half of its modern tanks in Ukraine
In a year of war, Russia has lost about half of its modern tanks. That's according to a report by Britain's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), seen by publications such as Spiegel and the Guardian, a small part of which is also available online in the institute's free chapter and assessment of the world's armed forces leadership , Military Balance 2023.
A total of 38% of the tanks that Russia had before February 24 last year were lost - from 2,927 to 1,800. Conversely, the Ukrainian ones increased (from 858 to 953) both because of the captured Russians and because of those delivered so far (from Soviet times) from the West.
According to the report, since the beginning of the war, Russia has lost about 50% of the pre-war number of T-72B and T-72B3M tanks, as well as a large number of T-80s. These are some of the most modern machines in the Russian arsenal, but due to heavy losses, the Russian army is forced to use older equipment that is returned to service from warehouses.
"Political and military failure for Russia"
The data is based largely on open access information from drones, satellites and the battlefield. A particularly large part of the tanks were lost in the failed advance to Kyiv, and the Russian military expected to be welcomed in Ukraine. Dozens of tanks are also said to have been lost in the offensive against Vuhledar in the Donetsk region, a video of which appeared among pro-military channels on Telegram and sparked anger against the military leadership.
The assessment of more serious losses of tanks - and also of armored vehicles - is not new, as such data appeared as early as April. Later, for example, during the retreat of Russian forces from the Kharkiv region, many units remained in Ukrainian hands. Similar calculations were made by the analytical project Oryx, according to which, however, the losses are greater: since the beginning of the war, more than 1,700 tanks have been lost, of which 1,020 were destroyed, another 550 - in the Ukrainian army, and the rest may be seriously damaged.
"Russia's actions over the past year have raised questions not only about the competence of its political and senior military leadership, but also about the cohesion of its command," said John Chipman, who heads the think tank. "There are reports of internal conflicts and the dismissal of military leaders, and Russia's leadership has turned to the Wagner group to supplement weakened ground forces."
He calls the war so far still a "political and military failure for Russia," including because of ammunition problems despite efforts to modernize the army.
Russian tanks remain much more than Ukrainian
However, Russia still has older tanks - nearly 5,000 - which it does not yet use, and this would allow it to pursue a strategy of attrition against Ukraine for some time.
In addition, IISS data indicates that Kyiv’s modern tanks are only half the number that Moscow has. Ukraine is hoping for several hundred Western tanks and the same number of armored vehicles, but the ones promised to it so far are several times less, of which only a small part may reach the front in the coming weeks.
Examples of Russia's adaptation on the battlefield are also given (for example, through cooperation with Iran and "Wagner"), but it is pointed out that Moscow continues to rely on "the military strategy of the 20th century." for inspiration.
This is different from Ukraine, where with Western 155mm guns and missile systems its artillery is being transformed and increased its range with much more accurate projectiles, Kyiv is adapting to the war, for example with decentralization of command and improved communications.
The report also reported that Russian aviation losses were 6-8 percent of pre-war levels, but 10-15 percent among some models such as the Su-24M bombers. The introduction also mentions that Russia failed to achieve the desired air superiority and relied especially early on cruise missile attacks, which depleted its reserves, and this is the reason why it turned to Iran for so-called kamikaze drones (barrage munitions). .
Europe's center of gravity is shifting
It is also said that the invasion increased the sense of threat in Poland; as a result, "Warsaw is accelerating its plans to increase its armored vehicles and artillery, beyond the existing objectives of increasing air and naval power."
Moreover, Europe's strategic center of gravity has shifted even further to the north and east, the introduction says.
Examples are given of Germany's defense fund (€100 billion; the debate over the provision of tanks is also said to have cut other key supplies to Kiev from Berlin) and the joining of the group of European countries ordering fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets from the United states, along with Poland and Finland. The latter and Sweden "almost certainly" will join NATO in 2023, a decision made only after Russia invaded Ukraine.
At the same time, Eastern Europe is undergoing accelerated modernization of its inventory while providing old Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine and buying Western equipment itself.
Politico: Putin faces defeat in his gas war with Europe
There is more bad news for Vladimir Putin. According to a new European Commission estimate seen by Politico, Europe is on track to survive the winter with more than half of its vital gas storage reserves.
This means that despite the Russian president's efforts to freeze Europe by cutting gas supplies, EU economies will survive the coldest months without serious damage. Europe looks set to start next winter in a strong position to do the same.
A few months ago there were fears of power shortages this winter caused by disruptions in Russian gas pipeline supplies.
But the combination of mild weather, increased imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a big drop in gas consumption means that more than 50 bcm of gas will remain in storage by the end of March, according to the Commission's analysis.
A senior European Commission official attributes Europe's success in securing gas supplies to a combination of planning and luck.
"A lot of the success is due to the unusually mild weather conditions and China not being in the market (due to Covid-19 restrictions)," the official said. "But demand reduction, storage policy and infrastructure work have helped significantly."
Ending the winter heating season with such robust reserves - more than 50% of the EU's total storage capacity of around 100 bcm - removes any lingering fears of short-term gas shortages. It also eases concerns about Europe's energy security next winter.
The positive data underpins the more optimistic outlook presented by EU leaders in recent days. Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on Tuesday that Europe had "won the first battle" in the "energy war" with Russia.
EU storage facilities ended last winter only about 20% full. Brussels ordered them to be topped up to 80% before this winter, forcing hugely expensive LNG purchases from European buyers to replace the amounts of gas lost from Russian pipelines.
The price of wholesale gas rose to record levels during the storage filling season, with severe consequences for household bills, business energy costs and the competitiveness of European industry. The price reached its highest value of over 335 euros per megawatt hour in August.
Gas prices have since fallen to just over €50 per megawatt hour amid easing supply concerns. The EU has a new target - by November 2023 to refill 90% of gas storages. This effort will now require fewer purchases of LNG on the international market than could be made if reserves were more severely depleted.
"The expected high storage level of over 50% [at] the end of this winter season will be a strong starting point for 2023/24, with less than 40% needed to be filled (compared to a tough starting point of around 20 % in storage at the end of the winter season in 2022," the Commission's assessment said.
Analysts at the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services think tank said this week that replenishing storage this year could prove to be "just as difficult a challenge as last year." They predict that the EU already has "more than enough import capacity to meet the challenge".
Five new floating terminals for liquefied natural gas have been built throughout the EU, providing additional capacity for the import of 30 billion cubic meters of gas, and more will be commissioned this year and next.
However, the EU's ability to fill storage to the new 90% target before next winter is likely to depend on continued reductions in gas consumption.
Brussels set member states a voluntary target to reduce gas consumption by 15% from August last year. According to the Commission's latest figures, gas consumption actually fell by more than 20% between August and December. This is partly due to efficiency measures, but also as a result of consumers responding to much higher prices by using less energy.
The 15% target, which expires on March 31, may need to be extended to avoid a resurgence in gas demand when prices fall. EU energy ministers will discuss this issue at two upcoming meetings in February and March.
Russian MP: We have demilitarized Ukraine 100%
We have demilitarized Ukraine 100%.
This was announced by the Russian MP Alexey Zhuravlev on the broadcast of a propaganda program on the state television "Rossiya 1".
"We have already fulfilled some of the objectives of the special military operation that we set for ourselves. We have even exceeded them. We have carried out 100% demilitarization of Ukraine. There is no longer any Ukrainian weaponry there. Moreover, all the weapons that were provided by the Soviet Union (to the countries from the former Eastern Bloc) was delivered to Ukraine - we demilitarized it again".
We can only speculate whether by "demilitarization" Putin meant the killing of hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers. Little attention is paid to the fact that, despite the start of the large-scale offensive, the Russian army has clearly limited its artillery fire.
This has led some experts to suggest that Russia has reached a worrying low in its own reserves. Or in the words of Zhuravlev - Russia has "demilitarized" itself.
But the deputy is not finished.
"Now we are starting to demilitarize NATO, huh? Because there is no other weapon left there. It turns out that before we were chronically behind, and now we are chronically ahead. Of course, we will also fulfill the other goals of the special military operation," he assured.
Russian MP Alexei Zhuravlyov declares that Ukraine has already been 100% demilitarised and that Russia is on its way to achieving the other aims of the "special military operation"— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) February 15, 2023
He has some trouble pronouncing the word "demilitarise" though pic.twitter.com/WJhuU7xK5C
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