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Military And Security Developments
- TRIGGERS: Today is the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Russia has set conditions for various possible false-flag operations and intensification of long-range strikes over the next 24-48 hours. As previously assessed, the key threat to business operations will be cruise and ballistic missile strikes, but as of time of writing no strikes have so far been launched. It remains a realistic possibility that Moscow will wait until this evening or delay strikes further due to the heightened status of Ukrainian air defences today. However, Moscow has also set conditions for potential false-flag operations along not only the Transnistrian border, but also along the Chernihiv oblast border in north-eastern Ukraine.
- BELARUS: On 23 February, Ukraine’s Northern Operational Command claimed that Russian convoys with personnel dressed in Ukrainian-looking uniforms were moving close to the international border of Chernihiv oblast, near the international border with Belarus. Kyiv claims that these Russian forces were preparing a false-flag operation which will blame Ukraine for violating the territorial integrity of an unnamed country (clearly Belarus). Such an operation could be used by Moscow to pressure Belarus to formally enter the war, and would notably follow President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s statement on 16 February that Belarus would enter the war in support of Russia if Ukraine attacked its territory (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 16 February 2023).
- BELARUS: If such a false-flag operation is launched, it would likely be aimed at feeding into wider narratives that justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rather than indicate an imminent move to march on Kyiv. Our assessment remains unchanged in this regard, that both Russia and Belarus do not retain a force that could pose a credible threat to the capital, and therefore a serious offensive is highly unlikely. Cross-border shelling and provocations do, by contrast, remain a realistic possibility, as previously assessed. In the same vein as a possible escalation in Transnistria to mark the anniversary, such a false-flag operation would likely partly aim at convincing Russian (and Belarusian) domestic audiences that Kyiv continues to pose a threat to Russian speakers everywhere.
- BAKHMUT: Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on 24 February that his forces had taken the village of Berkhivka, two miles (4km) northwest of Bakhmut, as Russian forces continue to make incremental gains around the town. While unconfirmed, Wagner forces have been pushing steadily southwards from the M-03 (E-40) highway to the north of Bakhmut, while other Russian sources have claimed in the last 24 hours that their forces are also increasing pressure to the west and south of Bakhmut.
- DONETSK: On 23 February, Ukrainian spokesperson for the Tavriisk Direction Defence Forces, Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, reported that Russian forces have stepped up their attacks in the Avdiivka and Vuhledar directions. He claimed that Russian forces had conducted over 40 ground assaults in both areas during an undefined timeframe, using assault groups of between 10-15 personnel, but claimed all these attacks were successfully repelled. Dymtrashkivskyi claimed that Russian forces lost significant numbers of armoured vehicles during these operations, though geolocated footage published in recent days indicates the Russians have made marginal advances around Novobakhmutivka, eight miles (13km) northeast of Avdiivka. The Ukrainian General Staff have claimed that elements of Russia’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet are refusing to take part in offensive operations due to their heavy losses – but we cannot confirm this.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serhiy Haidai reported on 23 February that fighting along the Kreminna line has eased in recent days given Russian forces are taking heavy losses. Operations west of Kreminna nevertheless remain the focus for Russian forces on this axis, but they are failing to generate any momentum, with numerous other sources and indicators suggesting that recent Russian assaults elsewhere on the Oskil-Kreminna line have been successfully repelled by Ukrainian forces.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- STRIKES: Ahead of a potential intensification of long-range strikes, Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian General Staff Oleksiy Hromov reported that Russian forces have carried out almost 5,000 missile strikes and 3,000 airstrikes over the last year. Russia has also reportedly launched over 1,000 drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure.
- UN: The General Assembly of the UN approved a resolution on 23 February calling on Russian troops to leave Ukraine immediately and to end all hostilities. The resolution gained 141 votes, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky describing it as a ‘powerful signal of unflagging global support for Ukraine.’ Seven nations voted against it – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, Mali, Eritrea and Nicaragua, which have close military ties with Moscow. China, India and Iran were among the 32 nations which abstained. On 24 February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the nation to mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. In a separate statement, the Ukrainian president stated that 2023 will be the year of Kyiv’s victory and prefigures Ukrainian plans to launch its counter-offensives later this year to push Russian forces back towards the pre-2022 line of contact. Several foreign leaders released statements to mark the anniversary, with both France and the United Kingdom rearming their support for Ukraine.
- SANCTIONS: The West has announced new rounds of sanctions designed to undermine Moscow’s war effort. On 24 February, the UK announced export bans on ‘every item’ Russia has used on the battlefield, such as aircraft parts, radio equipment and electronic components. The new embargoes also include import bans of iron and steel products processed in third countries. The White House has also stated that it will list nearly 90 Russian and third-country companies for engaging in sanctions evasion and backfill activities in support of Russia’s defence sector. The listings aim to prohibit targeted companies from purchasing items such as semiconductors. Washington stated that it will also increase tariffs on Russian metals, minerals and chemical products worth approximately USD 2.8 m to Moscow. According to diplomatic sources, the EU reportedly failed to agree on a new set of sanctions against Russia on 23 February. Representatives of EU member states were due to meet at 0900hrs (GMT) on 24 February to finalise the deal according to insiders, but the failure to agree by the anniversary deadline underlines enduring policy disagreements within the bloc on a range of Russia-related issues.
- AID: US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth stated on 23 February that the 31 Abrams main battle tanks Washington D.C. pledged to provide Ukraine may not arrive in the country this year. The statement marks a blow to Ukraine’s hopes of generating two additional armoured battalions for its planned summer counter-offensives in 2023. Washington D.C. had previously indicated that given the lack of reserve stocks of the more advanced M1A2 variants pledged to Ukraine, delivery would take ‘months’. This latest update indicates that the complexity of supplying such tanks together with their logistical support systems is taking longer than initially anticipated. Other delays relating to the supply of Leopard 2s will also likely extend Ukraine’s planned timeline for fresh battalions to support counter-offensive operations in the first half of 2023. Spain and Sweden confirmed on 23 February that they are considering Leopard 2 transfers. In the meantime, large numbers of older Leopard 1s will still likely provide Kyiv with a notable boost to its tank fleet.
- AID: In a related development, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace reiterated that Britain will not send Typhoon jets to Ukraine ‘in the short term’, due to logistical and training complexities. Nevertheless, London has confirmed that it stands ready to supply its jets to European allies to in turn re-export Soviet-era fighters to Ukraine. The UK likely remains the country most willing to announce fighter jet transfers, and so a shift in UK policy will likely be needed before momentum towards transfers of F-16s, for example, builds amongst other Ukraine partners. In the meantime, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 23 February called on other G7 countries to supply Ukraine with longer-range weapons. The US is set to announce a substantial USD 2 bn military aid package later today (24 February).
- CHINA: On 23 February Der Spiegel cited unnamed sources that claim Russia and China are close to signing a deal with Xi’an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology to sell kamikaze drones to Moscow. The company has this morning (24 February) denied that it has any commercial dealings with Russia. The first 100 ZT-180 prototypes are allegedly due to arrive in Russia as early as April. The ZT-180 drone will reportedly be of a similar design to the Iranian-produced Shahed-136 and carry a warhead of between 35-50kg. Part of the deal reportedly involves providing Russia with technical blueprints to enable it to produce 100 of said drones per month domestically thereafter. China continues to deny it is considering lethal aid to Russia, and the threat of secondary sanctions is looming large in Beijing’s decision-making following US warnings last week (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 23 February 2023).
- CHINA: While the Chinese company in question is a private business and not a state-controlled enterprise, it reportedly has ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The US has previously confirmed that it makes no distinction between private and state-controlled entities in this respect, and given the ZT-180 drones would reportedly be similar to Shahed-136s, China could not claim such drones were commercial. If further intelligence is released that indicates Beijing is moving forward with supporting clandestine, private sector or open state-backed military hardware exports to Russia, the credibility of Beijing’s recently announced 12-point position paper is likely to be further undermined (see FORECAST below).
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
NEGOTIATIONS: Today (24 February) marks the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and to mark the date Beijing has outlined its position on the war in a 12-point plan. The plan calls for the sovereignty of all countries to be respected, a ceasefire and peace talks, among other items, but provides no details as to how such a ceasefire could be achieved. The proposal urged an end to sanctions not backed by the UN Security Council, where Moscow holds a veto. The plan also fails to acknowledge Moscow’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and includes criticism of the West by calling for the abandonment of a ‘Cold War mentality’. Kyiv’s envoy to Beijing noted that while the proposal was ‘a good sign’, Beijing needed to do more to pressure Moscow to end the war. Kyiv’s ten-point peace plan was published on 15 November 2022 and unsurprisingly diverts from China’s own rather vague plan on the key issue of a Russian withdrawal from occupied territory (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 15 November 2022). Ultimately, China’s 12 points do not indicate any shift in Chinese policy on the war, but merely confirm Beijing’s existing stance. Given all indicators continue to point to both sides continuing the war for the foreseeable future, China’s 12 points are highly unlikely to result in any change on the ground in Ukraine or influence the trajectory of peace negotiations – which remains one of our least likely scenarios for the next six months. The peace plan comes amid growing speculation, led by undisclosed US intelligence, that Beijing is considering supplying lethal aid to Russia. The timing of the allegations published by Der Spiegel yesterday (see CHINA above) undermines the 12 points and China’s nominal neutrality in the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this morning criticised China in relation to these growing allegations. He claimed that China ‘doesn’t have much credibility’ on the issue of facilitating peace talks due to its refusal to condemn the invasion. Ultimately, China’s more neutral position on this issue would likely make it better suited to influencing Moscow to negotiate. However, the potential provision of weapons to Russia will undermine China’s position in Kyiv, though negotiations remain a remote prospect at present in any case.
- STRIKES: Tomorrow (24 February) marks the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and as we have been assessing, an escalation in Russia’s long-range strikes is highly likely in the coming hours and days. Kyiv yesterday (22 February) confirmed that it is stepping up security protocols across the country this week ‘in connection with the possible escalation of hostilities’ by Russia, including increased patrols in population centres where crowds could gather. Notably, today (23 February) is Defender’s Day in Russia, also known as Men’s Day, and given its symbolic importance to Moscow could see escalation today as well as during the formal anniversary tomorrow. For further analysis of what we can expect during the anniversary, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 16 February 2023. For other escalation trigger points beyond strikes, see the FORECAST below.
- OFFENSIVE: Head of Ukraine’s military intelligence (GUR), Kyrylo Budanov, stated on 22 February that Russia’s ongoing offensive is almost ‘unnoticeable’ amid increasing artillery rationing. He stated that Russian forces are prioritising assaults against Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Lyman (west of Kreminna) by rationing the expenditure of shells at all other points of the frontline – Ukraine has previously estimated that Russian forces have reduced the weight of fire from 60,000 shells per day in the spring and summer of 2022 to around 20,000 shells per day in late December 2022. Budanov has estimated that Russian stocks of artillery shells have decreased to just 30% of the total number of shells, presumably referring to pre-invasion stockpiles. Such ammunition rationing and shortages (particularly of 152mm (D-20) artillery) will only reinforce the importance of possible Chinese lethal aid to Russia this year (see CHINA below).
- STRIKES: Budanov also estimated that Russia currently produces around 22 Kalibr cruise missiles per month, as well as between 15-20 Kh-101s. For context, during its strikes on 10 February, Russian forces fired 71 cruise missiles (including 28 Kalibr and 43 Kh-101/Kh-555s), representing well over the monthly production of these missiles in a single salvo (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 10 February 2023). If Budanov’s production estimates are accurate, in the months ahead Russia is likely to increase the intervals between long-range strikes to keep pace with production and dwindling stockpiles.
- BAKHMUT: Geolocated footage has indicated that Russian forces are continuing to make incremental advances north of Bakhmut along the M-03 (E-40) highway. Additional unconfirmed reports maintain that Wagner Group forces have entrenched themselves in Berkhivka, two miles (4km) northwest of Bakhmut. Other Russian sources, including PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, have continued to report that Wagner is pushing south into Yahidne, just over a mile (1.6km) north of Bakhmut’s northernmost suburbs, but we cannot confirm this. Some Russian forces claimed on 22 February that Ukrainian forces conducted a limited counter-attack against Wagner forces along the south-western section of the Bakhmut line, south of Ivanivske, three miles (4km) west of Bakhmut. If Ukrainian forces have managed to launch a counter-attack along this section, this would indicate that Russian forces are likely conserving ammunition and preserving force west of Bakhmut to maintain operational tempo further north.
- DONETSK: Ukrainian sources have reported that on 22 February Russian forces stepped up offensive operations around Avdiivka, four miles (7km) north of Donetsk International Airport (DOK), but have so far achieved little. Fighting also continues south of Vuhledar, but despite Russian efforts to make progress, the Ukrainian defence continues to hold and inflict heavy casualties on the Russians.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Russian forces continue to launch reconnaissance-in-force operations near Kupiansk, with more intense operations focused further south, west of Kreminna. Various Russian sources have claimed that Russian forces have made some advances in the forests west of Kreminna over the last 48 hours, but this cannot be confirmed given conflicting reports from the Ukrainian General Staff and other sources that claim they are successfully repelling such attacks. Russian efforts to advance west of Kreminna towards Lyman are likely to continue intensifying, but whether they will succeed in achieving even a limited breakthrough in the coming days remains unclear.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- RHETORIC: During a rally at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day on 22 February, President Putin addressed a large crowd and stated that ‘a battle is going on for [Russia’s] historical frontiers, for [Russian] people’. Putin’s short four-minute speech ultimately aligned with established Kremlin propaganda and provided no further detail about the war effort or Russia’s objectives in Ukraine. However, it clearly reflects the crystallisation of Russian imperialist ambitions prefaced around the restitution of undefined ‘historical lands’ – something that could equally apply to other parts of the former Soviet Union or Russian Empire.
- CHINA: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration is considering publishing intelligence it claims will prove Beijing is considering whether to supply lethal aid to Russia. Last week during the Munich Security Conference, the US issued warnings to China not to send weapons to Russia given their latest intelligence, stating that Beijing is ‘nearing a red line’ on the issue. On 22 February the Pentagon reiterated by saying that there ‘will be consequences for China’ if it goes ahead. The warnings come amid foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to Moscow, during which both sides have emphasised close diplomatic and economic ties. Beijing has expressly denied the US claims amid ongoing concerns in Beijing around the risk of secondary sanctions, and the US threat to disclose the intelligence is clearly aimed at deterring a decision to supply weapons.
- CHINA: Any move by China to supply Russia with weapons would mark a substantial policy shift away from official neutrality in the war, and would risk triggering US backlash that could ultimately undermine its economic and diplomatic interests. However, it is likely in Beijing’s medium-term strategic interests to support Russia and prolong the war, given that it will keep the US distracted and divert their capabilities. Supplying weaponry to Moscow would nevertheless inevitably result in continued short-term economic turbulence caused by the war, but more importantly, pose a credible threat of secondary sanctions. While the balloon spying incident earlier this month and rising tensions over Taiwan could mean Beijing is now considering a more active role in supporting the Russian war effort to offset Western arms shipments to Ukraine, supplying such weapons remains unlikely in the short term.
- NUCLEAR: On 23 February, President Vladimir Putin announced plans to deploy new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) this year, following Russia’s suspension of the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty earlier this week. The announcement notably follows a reported failed test of the Sarmat missile on 20 February (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 22 February). Putin has called for the strengthening of Russia’s nuclear triad and has also announced plans to expand production of sea-launched Tsirkon and Kinzhal ‘hypersonic’ missiles (the latter of which in reality is just an air-launched Iskandr ballistic missile). As previously anticipated, Russia is likely to increase its nuclear rhetoric and posturing during periods of heightened tensions, and the expansion of Russia’s nuclear arsenal will remain a long-term project.
- AID: UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated on 23 February that 14 Challenger 2 tanks committed to Ukraine may arrive in the spring and that the UK could well provide more tanks depending on the UK’s own defence needs. Wallace also assessed that Russia is ‘running effectively a meat grinder for an army’ as the Russian spring offensive continues to make little progress. Wallace stated that over 188,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and that the war could last another year. In addition, on 22 February Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that he believes Kyiv will become a NATO member in the future and that providing long-range weapons would give Ukraine a decisive advantage on the battlefield. Discussion of Kyiv’s future membership in NATO and continued deliveries of advanced weaponry in the medium term is likely to remain a key trigger point for Russia as intense fighting continues in eastern Ukraine.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
MOLDOVA: On 23 February, Moscow alleged that Ukrainian forces are preparing an armed provocation against Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, where two heavily degraded Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) are stationed, comprising a maximum of 1,500 personnel. The Russian Ministry of Defence alleged that as a pretext for a Ukrainian invasion of the region, Kyiv plans to stage ‘an offensive of Russian troops’ from Transnistria, utilising its own forces dressed in Russian uniforms, including elements from the Azov Battalion. The MoD noted that Moscow is ready to respond to changes in the situation. While the veracity of the MoD’s allegations is questionable, on 21 February Russian President Vladimir Putin annulled a 2012 decree that underpinned Russia’s commitments to Chișinău’s sovereignty in resolving the future of Transnistria. The decree also included provisions around Russia’s implementation of New START nuclear arms limitations agreements, which Moscow suspended earlier this week. As such, the revocation of the ‘obsolete’ decree likely also reflects a wider recalibration of Russian foreign policy this week, but its timing is highly unlikely to be coincidental given Moscow has been ramping up its destabilisation campaign in Moldova this month. One of Moscow’s fundamental justifications for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine was to protect Russian-speaking minorities from Ukrainian ‘neo-Nazis’. Moscow’s latest allegations are likely partly aimed at convincing Russian domestic audiences that Kyiv continues to pose a threat to Russian speakers everywhere – particularly given Moscow’s failure to achieve its maximalist objectives despite significant economic and military cost. This week in the run-up to the anniversary, Moscow has ramped up its rhetoric and thrown out a large number of serious allegations, posing several avenues for limited escalation. These include that the US has been involved in facilitating Ukrainian attacks deep inside Russia; that Ukraine is actively preparing to stage a radiological dirty bomb incident at a nuclear facility; and now that Ukrainian forces are preparing a false-flag provocation against Transnistria. As such, this may be just one avenue the Russians could take to increase pressure on Moldova, Kyiv and the West during the anniversary period. In a similar vein to the situation on the Belarusian border, our assessment remains that the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria (OGRF) is insufficient to seriously threaten a ground invasion of Moldova or still less western Ukraine. However, the additional 8 BTGs of the separatist Transnistrian Armed Forces could provide a capable force with which to stage provocations along the border. Chisinau’s efforts in 2022 to block the rotation of Russian troops to the region have furthermore meant that Russia is having serious difficulty in resupplying its forces in the region, which remains geographically isolated from Russia. If the Russians were to initiate any major escalation, they would not be able to effectively resupply their forces and as such, it remains less likely that Moscow intends to trigger a military intervention. A Ukrainian invasion of Transnistria remains a much more credible military threat in terms of capability, which will likely add credence to Russia’s allegations. However, it is important to note that we have seen little indication that Ukraine is massing forces around Transnistria to launch an offensive against the region. Nevertheless, border provocations and false-flag ‘terror attacks’ are increasingly likely in the coming days, alongside drone flights, cross-border shelling, bomb scares and ‘stray’ missiles landing in Moldovan territory. There is also increased scope for domestic instability inside Moldova-proper. The country’s pro-Russian former president Igor Dodon has aligned with Moscow’s message, warning that Ukrainian military action towards Transnistria would be perceived as aggression against Moldova. This is likely to further exacerbate polarisation inside Moldova and increases the risk of further anti-government protests by the pro-Russian Sor party in the days and weeks ahead. For further analysis of Russia’s capabilities and influence in Moldova/Transnistria, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 22 July 2022, and for its ongoing destabilisation campaign, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 13 February 2023.
Latest Significant Updates
Several new pro-Russia cyber groups announced that they will target Ukraine, as well as countries which support Ukraine; other pro-Russia hacktivists have shifted their target set to include Australia
- On 22 February, the pro-Russia sect of Anonymous (Anonymous Sudan) targeted several Danish airports with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
- On 21 February, the pro-Russia hacktivist group Noname05716 targeted both Italy and France with DDoS attacks.
- On 20 February, Anonymous Sudan became an official member of Killnet; it targeted Sweden’s energy sector with DDoS attacks.
- On 19 February, a new pro-Russia hacktivist group, Furious Russian Hackers, claimed to have leaked sensitive NATO documents.
- On 18 February, the pro-Russia hacktivist groups Killnet and UserSec launched DDoS attacks against the US Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center and Union Pacific, a US freight-hauling railroad operator.
- On 17 February, the pro-Russia hacktivist group Lira allegedly targeted Ukraine’s train ticket systems with a DDoS attack.
- On 16 February, Anonymous Russia and Killnet launched DDoS attacks against German and French airports, as well as the Central Japan Railway Company. In addition, the pro-Russia hacktivist group Phoenix defaced two Australian websites in the same period.
Pro-Kyiv hacking groups sustained attacks against Russian-controlled businesses; attacks targeting Russian communications and transport firms have increased amid the run-up to the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
- On 22 February, an unknown threat actor hacked radio stations in Russia and triggered air raid sirens in various parts of the country.
- On 21 February, the pro-Kyiv hacktivist group GhostSec shut down Russian, Belarusian and Serbian satellite receivers.
- Between 15 and 20 February, the pro-Kyiv Italian sect of Anonymous, AnonSecIta, targeted various companies belonging to Vladimir Potanin (a Russian oligarch) with DDoS attacks. The affected companies include:
o NTPO LLC (a firm which runs canteen services for Norilsk Combine and its subsidiaries)
o PJSC Polyus (Russia’s largest gold mining company)
o Norilsk Nickel SSC (a department providing assistance and services for enterprises in the Norilsk Nickel Group)
o Gipronickel (an engineering firm which designs and builds machinery for Norilsk Nickel)
o Norilsk Nickel Polar Division (a department within the Norilsk Nickel industrial conglomerate)
o Pechengastroy (a firm which provides maintenance work in mining and metallurgy)
o NN-Service (a hotel and motel company in Norilsk)
- On 20 February, the IT Army of Ukraine, a pro-Kyiv group, targeted Russian businesses, disrupting the operations of amoCRM, MoeDelo (My Case) and Service Plus; it also disrupted online services run by Gazprom.
- On 18 February, a user affiliated with Anonymous alleged to have compromised the Russian television network Skynet KTV after stealing credentials to obtain access to its systems.
- On 17 February, Anonymous stated that it had hacked Rostelecom, a Russian digital services provider, and that it had compromised part of the network.
- On 15 February, the IT Army of Ukraine shared access to the corporate network of PayTrans, the IT company which services payments for Moscow’s regular and medium-capacity metro system.
Pro-Russia cyber attacks against Ukrainian and European targets were sustained during this monitoring period. Several pro-Russia hacktivist groups continued to focus their DDoS campaigns on Sweden while other groups began targeting Australian websites. This highlights a shift in targeting to include countries outside NATO and the EU.
Elsewhere, several new pro-Russia hacktivist groups have emerged. Furious Russian Hackers, UserSec, Russian Clay and Lira claimed that they breached NATO and stole sensitive documents. However, there are many NATO documents which are already available to the public; it is therefore possible that the groups simply redistributed unclassified material. This would suggest that their capabilities are at a low level.
Anonymous Sudan announced that it officially became a member of Killnet and that it is supporting pro-Russia operations. It alleges to have targeted Swedish organisations with DDoS attacks, shifting its focus to the energy and financial sectors. It also announced its intent to cause outages prior to conducting attacks on 19 February.
The National Hackers of Russia group announced that it will maintain operations against Lithuania. The group released a short manifesto in which it claimed responsibility for multiple evacuations at public sector facilities. It stated that it will begin targeting state network infrastructure. It threatened to conduct more cyber attacks if Lithuania keeps supporting Ukraine. While the capabilities of groups like the National Hackers of Russia appear to be low level (they mostly comprise DDoS campaigns and the triggering of alarms at targeted facilities), these hacktivists will possibly expand their capabilities and campaigns to conduct more sophisticated attacks.
Amid the run-up to the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, pro-Kyiv threat actors will likely maintain DDoS attacks against Russian infrastructure, similar to the disruption of the live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on 21 February. Such attacks will possibly coincide with other disruptive and defacement campaigns directed towards Russian communications, media and other services.
During this monitoring period, we observed an increase in cyber operations by pro-Ukraine groups compared with the previous week, including by GhostSec, Anonymous and the IT Army of Ukraine. GhostSec alleged to have shut down Russian, Belarusian and Serbian satellite receivers, while other pro-Ukraine hacktivist groups claimed to have disrupted communications providers, transport companies, media organisations and banking payment software services. Pro-Kyiv threat actors are possibly preparing for (and beginning to engage in) a larger, widescale campaign that will coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
DDoS attacks by the pro-Kyiv Anonymous affiliate AnonSecIta continued to target businesses owned by the Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin during this monitoring period, as they have for the past three weeks. The attacks focused on Potanin’s businesses in the mining, R&D and hotel sectors which are believed to have contributed to the funding of Russia and its ongoing war in Ukraine. Pro-Kyiv cyber operations will likely continue against Russian entities as the war in Ukraine continues.
- BAKHMUT: Geolocated footage published in recent days has confirmed that Russian forces succeeded last week in cutting off the M-03 (E-40) highway north-west of Bakhmut, a key step in closing the encirclement of the town. Russian sources also claim that their forces broke through Ukrainian positions near Yahidne, just over a mile (1.6km) north of Bakhmut’s northernmost suburbs. They also claim that Wagner Group forces are now approaching the AZOM metal processing plant in northern Bakhmut. If true, these advances would indicate that Wagner forces are attempting to penetrate central Bakhmut from the north and to push north-west to enclose the encirclement. It is notable that Russian sources have not reported on any advances to Bakhmut’s south-west in recent days; this possibly indicates that Russian efforts are currently focused to the north, where incremental advances have been made compared to the relatively static front south of Ivanivske, less than three miles (4km) west of Bakhmut.
- DONETSK: Ongoing Russian operations to the west and south-west of Donetsk city have yielded only marginal advances in recent weeks, including south of Vuhledar and in Marinka. Nevertheless, former FSB and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) reported on 21 February that Ukrainian forces launched a ‘quick and successful’ counter-attack north of Avdiivka, located four miles (7km) north of Donetsk International Airport (DOK). They reportedly regained lost positions near Vesele. While this remains unconfirmed, the reports indicate that much of this front remains contested and that Russian forces have been struggling to generate any momentum in recent weeks or months.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Russian operations north-west of Svatove and Kreminna continue to yield only limited advances as Ukrainian defences continue to hold across the Luhansk axis. Beyond Ukrainian General Staff reports of their forces successfully repelling various Russian ground assaults and isolated reports of Russian forces repelling a limited Ukrainian counter-attack near Hryanykivka, located ten miles (16km) north-east of Kupiansk, there are few notable developments to report.
- SOUTHERN: The Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported on 21 February that Russian forces have deployed increasing numbers of Wagner Group forces (together with various battalions of Ossetian and Dagestani forces) across unspecified areas of Zaporizhzhia oblast. While this remains unconfirmed, there have been wider indicators suggesting that Wagner forces, many of whom are clearly exhausted following weeks of relentless assaults against Bakhmut, have been redeployed to Zaporizhzhia. This indicates that Russian forces are possibly cycling fresher units out of Zaporizhzhia to support offensives in the Donbas, and that a substantial offensive along the Zaporizhzhia axis is less likely in the short term.
- WAGNER GROUP: The private military company’s (PMC’s) leader Yevgeny Prigozhin explicitly accused the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of deliberately depriving his forces of ammunition, which he equated with ‘high treason’. Prigozhin’s statement marks the latest escalation in his increasingly bitter feud with the MoD as Gerasimov continues to make headway in curbing the influence of the Wagner Group and to centralise command and control systems in Ukraine. Infighting will likely become increasingly acrimonious, which will in turn further undermine unit cohesion. In particular, this will likely delay Russian advances around Bakhmut. Prigozhin has already stated that ‘monstrous bureaucracy’ at the MoD means Russian forces will only be able to take Bakhmut by March or April. For further analysis, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 21 February 2023.
- CHINA: Beijing’s top diplomat Wang Yi will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 February following a session with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. At the meeting with Lavrov, Wang reaffirmed the strong nature of Beijing-Moscow relations and said that he expects their ties to reach a ‘new consensus’. Reports also suggest that Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet Putin in a few months. Insiders familiar with the plan claim that the meeting will be part of a push for multi-party peace talks relating to Ukraine. However, Western hopes for meaningful discussions are decreasing after Washington DC accused China of considering supplying Russia with lethal weapons to use in Ukraine (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 20 February 2023). Further meetings between Chinese and Russian officials are likely to worsen the deteriorating relations between China and the US. At the same time, increased co-operation on various fronts between Moscow and Beijing will likely continue in 2023, including possible indirect Chinese support for Russia’s war effort. This will increase the risk of secondary sanctions.
- MOLDOVA: On 22 February, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu stated that while Chișinău does not believe there is a risk of military action on Moldova’s borders in the short term, Russian hybrid subversion remains a threat. Popescu accused pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Șor of continuing to cause unrest in Moldova and called on the EU to sanction him. The remarks come after Șor’s party organised anti-government protests on 19 February. Popescu’s comments align with our assessment that while the risk of Russian military intervention is low, destabilisation attempts remain a more likely threat. On 21 February, US President Joe Biden met with Sandu and offered ‘strong support’ to bolster Moldova’s political and economic resilience amid the ongoing Russian destabilisation campaign. While the EU and US have pledged support for Chișinău, Moldova is a non-NATO and non-EU member state; it will therefore remain the most vulnerable country outside Ukraine to conflict spillover risks and Russian destabilisation efforts in 2023.
- NUCLEAR: According to unnamed US officials cited by CNN, Russia attempted to test launch a Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) around 20 February; the launch reportedly failed. Russia apparently warned the US of the planned launch under deconfliction arrangements. The timing of the test was notable, given that it coincided with the visit of President Biden to Kyiv. However, it is likely that the launch was arranged prior to Biden’s surprise visit. Nuclear and other weapons testing will continue to form an important part of Russia’s arsenal during periods of escalation and heightened tensions; Putin’s suspension of the New START treaty – which the Russian Federation Council formally approved on 22 February – has established conditions for further nuclear rhetoric and testing.
- AID: On 21 February, the Republican Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul stated that momentum in Washington DC is shifting towards sending Kyiv long-range missiles and fighter jets, following a US delegation’s visit to Kyiv. While the Biden administration has so far not committed to any such transfers, growing bipartisan support in Congress will offer the US president greater scope for providing more advanced systems later in 2023, even as US public support for weapons transfers to Ukraine decreases. According to a recent AP-NORC Center poll, support among US respondents for providing weapons to Ukraine decreased from 60% in May 2022 to 48% in January 2023. Western support for Ukraine will remain vital to Ukraine’s ability not only to defend itself against Russia, but also to facilitate counter-offensives to push the Russians back. Despite short-term bipartisan support in Congress, Biden will possibly face increasing congressional challenges to his aid packages if public support for arms transfers continues to dip; many argue that the US (and the wider West) cannot support Ukraine indefinitely.
DIPLOMACY: Following his surprise visit to Kyiv, US President Joe Biden delivered a speech in Warsaw (Poland) on 21 February ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Aside from reaffirming Washington DC’s support for Ukraine, Biden stated that the US, the G7 and their partners have taken ‘historic commitments’ to resolve global food shortages caused by the disruption to grain exports which have impacted developing nations most significantly. The US president also announced that First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Africa to bring attention to the issue. These developments come ahead of the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which expires on 18 March. Biden also announced that Washington DC and its partners will disclose additional sanctions this week, with US Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo stating on 21 February that the US and its allies will impose export controls on Moscow in the coming days.
Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allegations on 21 February that the West started the war in Ukraine, Biden asserted that the US and Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia, and that the West is not plotting to attack Russia. Biden asserted that Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. In response, the former president and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated on 22 February that Russia risks being torn apart if it stops the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine before victory is achieved. The Kremlin has repeatedly framed the war as an existential struggle with the West and is amplifying the long-held view that the West is actively trying to break up the Russian Federation.
During President Putin’s speech to Parliament on 21 February, he provided no outline for how Russia intends to win the war in Ukraine. He merely confirmed the need for Russia to continue fighting indefinitely until victory is somehow achieved. Medvedev’s and Putin’s comments clearly underline Moscow’s readiness to fight a protracted war in the absence of any definitive and publicly laid out plan, timeframe or indeed capability to end the war quickly. If Russia’s spring offensive fails to generate any military breakthroughs, it is likely that the Kremlin will further amplify the narrative that anything short of victory in Ukraine will result in the collapse of the Russian Federation; it will also likely call on the Russian people to sacrifice even more to sustain the war effort for the foreseeable future.
Moldova: Country likely to remain most vulnerable state to possible spill-over of Russia-Ukraine conflict despite US reassurances . On 21 February, President Joe Biden met with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Poland, where the US offered ‘strong support’ to bolster Moldova’s political and economic resilience amid an ongoing Russian destabilisation campaign. Moldova’s Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu also called on the EU to impose sanctions on the head of the country’s pro-Russian Sor party that organised the 19 February anti-government protests, which came directly after Sandu’s warnings of Russian efforts to destabilise her pro-western government. Notably, Popescu stated that his government does not see the risk of a ‘military scenario’ along the Transnistrian border in the immediate future but warned of hybrid threats designed to destabilise the government. While the EU and US have shown strong support for Chisinau, as a non-NATO and non-EU country, Moldova will remain the most vulnerable state outside of Ukraine to a possible spill-over of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Europe: Proposed EU sanctions watchdog would increase regulatory burden, improve enforcement. The Netherlands has put forward a proposal supported by more than a dozen EU member states to establish a centralised EU sanctions watchdog. The proposal was made due to concerns over widespread sanctions evasion. According to the proposal, companies would be obliged to include end-clauses in contracts to ensure that their goods are not supplied to Russia’s military. This would increase the need for firms to conduct enhanced supply chain due diligence. The proposed watchdog would also closely monitor trade flows and sectors in which the risk of sanctions circumvention is high. It would also seek to improve sanctions enforcement among member states. Some member states, such as Cyprus or Hungary, are likely to resist attempts to grant the body meaningful powers.
- BAKHMUT: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on 20 February that Ukrainian forces will continue to defend Bakhmut, but ‘not at any cost’. Zelensky previously asserted that Ukrainian forces will not withdraw from Bakhmut, though this latest statement likely acknowledges the eventual need to withdraw if Russian forces maintain their current tempo (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 6 February 2023). Kyiv likely has no intention of allowing the encirclement of large numbers of its troops, though it remains unclear when and if a withdrawal will take place given the current slow pace of the Russian advances. Nevertheless, Russian forces continue to make incremental gains to the north and south of the town. Following the Russian seizure of Paraskoviivka, which the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed on 20 February, Wagner Group and regular Russian forces are reportedly now moving towards Berkhivk and Yahidne, two settlements located to the north-west of Bakhmut across the M-03 (E-40) highway, in a bid to tighten the growing encirclement of the town.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: The Ukrainian General Staff continues to report that its forces are successfully repelling Russian ground assaults in the Luhansk-Kharkiv border region, and that Russian progress remains very slow. A Russian source claimed on 20 February that Ukrainian forces have called for the evacuation of civilians from Kupiansk in anticipation of surrendering the town, though this remains unconfirmed (and unlikely) at this stage. While Russian forces are continuing offensive operations, they are currently unable to break through or even push back the Ukrainians. This comes despite the ostensible deployment of additional forces, including airborne VDV elements, to reinforce operations west of Kreminna and Svatove in particular.
- SOUTHERN: Ukrainian adviser Petro Andryushchenko claimed on 20 February that Russian forces are currently concentrating near Orikhiv, located 30 miles (49km) south-east of Zaporizhzhia. He assessed that around 15 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) will likely be deployed there by 24 February. While we cannot confirm this build-up, we previously assessed that a supplementary offensive along the Zaporizhzhia axis is a realistic possibility if Russian forces have sufficient reserves (though it remains unclear whether this condition has been met). Andryushchenko maintains that Russian forces are preparing for an offensive to the south-west of Orikhiv, and that such an attack is possibly aimed at drawing away Ukrainian forces to ease pressure on the principal Donbas front.
- WAGNER GROUP: The group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on 20 February that the Russian military has ceased providing his forces with artillery ammunition due to its ‘complicated relationships’ with unnamed officials. As we previously assessed, artillery shortages are possibly a genuine issue for Wagner forces. However, given the steady rate of advances around Bakhmut, it is highly unlikely that Wagner forces are operating without artillery support. Instead, it is more likely that Prigozhin is railing against the possible loss of Wagner’s ability to operate independent artillery units and its subsequent reliance on regular Russian artillery units outside Wagner’s operational control. This is likely as much a product of factional infighting as genuine artillery shortages.
- COMMAND: As we forecast in January following his appointment as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov is clearly making progress in centralising all elements of the Russian military coalition under MoD command. This includes not only reigning in Wagner but also the full integration of the paramilitary 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR/LNR). Notable backlash was sparked this week following accusations that paramilitary commanders are being dismissed and replaced by career officers from the regular army. While such efforts to centralise the command and control system will likely improve Russia’s overall performance in Ukraine in the long-term, it is clearly causing major friction at the front in the meantime. This is likely undermining unit cohesion and therefore the overall Russian offensive.
- BELARUS: On 20 February, Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced that he has ordered the creation of a new territorial defence force. Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin stated that this new force will aim to station between 100,000-150,000 ‘volunteers’ across the country and to ensure that as many people as possible can ‘handle a weapon’ so as to respond to ‘armed aggression’. The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance for 2022 estimated that Belarus’ professional military comprises around 48,000 troops and 12,000 state border personnel. As such, this new territorial defence force would represent a significant increase in the overall size of Belarus’ military, though major questions remain around the ability of Minsk to effectively train and attract such large numbers of ‘volunteers’ without crypto mobilisation.
- BELARUS: In a related development, the Ukrainian military has in recent days held exercises in the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone near the Belarusian border in preparation for any offensive conducted by Belarus. We maintain that it remains unlikely that Russian and/or Belarusian forces will launch a genuine offensive from Belarus towards Kyiv in the short term. However, the formation of the new ‘territorial defence force’ is a key indicator which we will continue monitoring to assess whether this risk will change in the coming months.
- BELARUS: Earlier on 21 February, the independent Russian outlet Meduza reported that journalists around the world have received an internal Russian strategic plan allegedly outlining Moscow’s interests in Belarus over the next ten years. While we cannot confirm the veracity of the document cited, the plan was allegedly compiled by various Russian state departments in 2021, including the presidential administration and the FSB; it reportedly outlines Russian ambitions to gain full control over Belarusian state organs by 2030. The plan is partitioned into short-term (up until 2022), medium-term (until 2025) and long-term (2030) goals regarding various sectors of Belarusian society; one goal focuses on introducing a simplified procedure for issuing Russian passports to citizens in Belarus ‘in order to create a layer of Russians interested in integration’. ‘Passportisation’ has been a key tactic of Russia in recent years to shore-up its influence and control over neighbouring regions – including in Ukraine and Georgia. Steps towards the integration of Belarus into Russia under the Union State is clearly making progress. The developments come in the wake of a meeting between Lukashenka and Putin earlier this week.
- NEGOTIATIONS: The team of prominent jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released a statement on 20 February calling for the restoration of the 1991 borders between Russia and Ukraine and the payment of reparations by Moscow for the war. The team’s intervention is particularly notable given that Navalny himself previously supported the annexation of Crimea (which remains overwhelmingly popular in Russia, in contrast to the ‘special military operation’ launched in February 2022). Although he is a staunch Kremlin critic, Navalny has previously sought to avoid alienating large sections of Russian society by aligning with many broadly nationalistic policies. However, the latest announcement by his team has expressly underscored that ‘Russia is suffering a military defeat’ in Ukraine and effectively called for a total restart of Russia’s relations with the West. Despite the intervention, Navalny’s ability to influence public opinion and generate meaningful opposition to the war remains limited. He is in jail, his most prominent supporters are in exile and harsh repression at home combined with widespread apathy is severely constraining the ability of activists to galvanise the population for the time being.
- SABOTAGE: On 20 February, the Dutch intelligence services publicly warned that in recent months Russia has tried to obtain intelligence in preparation for acts of sabotage against critical infrastructure in the North Sea. Notably, the head of the Dutch military intelligence (MVID) General Jan Swillen stated that Russia has attempted to map how offshore wind farms in the North Sea function. The Dutch agencies noted that Russia had engaged in activities indicative of preparations to sabotage undersea internet cables, wind farms and gas pipelines. In response, the country will enhance its reconnaissance capacities around offshore farms in the Dutch portion of the North Sea.
- SABOTAGE: Russian sabotage remains the greatest immediate hard security threat to European energy security; plausibly deniable hybrid operations will remain an enduring threat across the Artic, North and Baltic seas in particular throughout 2023. It remains a realistic possibility that Moscow will launch such hybrid operations in response to major developments and periods of escalation – particularly if public opinion starts to favour the narrative that the US sabotaged Nord Stream on 26 September 2022. Any such action will also possibly come amid Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO. For further analysis on the vulnerabilities of European maritime infrastructure and Russian capabilities, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 28 September 2022.
NUCLEAR: Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a major speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly on 21 February. Aside from reiterating on-trend accusations that the West started the war, the most notable announcement was that Russia will suspend its participation in the New START treaty – the last remaining nuclear arms reduction treaty between Washington DC and Moscow. The initiative caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads which the two states can deploy. The suspension of inspection regimes will make it difficult for either side to verify continued compliance with the treaty. Given the very limited trust between Washington DC and Moscow, this will possibly lead to an increase in overall nuclear activity and arms production in the coming years. Putin stated that the suspension of inspection regimes does not equate to a full withdrawal from the treaty, and that Moscow will not expand or test its nuclear arsenal ‘first’ (in reference to the US). Nevertheless, Putin stated that Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom must ensure the country’s readiness to test a nuclear weapon if necessary – a clear reminder that such tests remain possible during future periods of heightened tensions, as we have previously assessed. Another key element of the speech was Putin’s accusation that the West has been directly involved in Ukrainian attacks against key Russian strategic bases deep inside Russian territory. He provided no evidence for this claim. However, the allegation clearly reflects the escalatory potential of future transfers of long-range weapon systems by NATO states to Ukraine. This will remain a key escalation trigger point throughout 2023. Elsewhere in his speech, Putin dismissed the impact of international sanctions and noted that Moscow’s economy only shrunk by 2.2% in 2022, despite forecasts that it would crash following the invasion. Putin also announced that the Kremlin will increase reconstruction efforts and the development of the recently annexed Ukrainian regions. Estimates from December 2022 suggest that the total amount of documented damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure as a result of Russia’s invasion is around USD 137.8bn. Amid the growing public deficit and skyrocketing military spending, reconstructing the four regions will likely remain a lower priority in the short to medium term for Moscow than sustaining the war effort.
President Putin is set to address a rally on 22 February in Moscow; traffic across the city centre will be severely restricted between 21 and 22 February during the event.
Burkina Faso: High casualty events likely to increase risks to government stability. On 20 February, the military confirmed that unidentified jihadists killed at least 51 soldiers in an ambush in Oudalan province, in the northern Sahel region on 17 February. Both al-Qaeda and IS-aligned groups are active in this region. The incident marks one of the highest reported death tolls in a single attack in years of conflict with Jihadist groups. Previous mass casualty events have driven significant unrest within the armed forces, with military coups in January and September 2022 driven by allegations that the government was failing to contain jihadist violence. There is a possibility that civil society groups will organise protests in Ouagadougou in response to the violence, including those calling for the military to finalise agreements with Russia for greater assistance. Such demonstrations would likely also include anti-French elements driving threats to street-level French business assets. Further such incidents will exacerbate divisions in the military, raising threats to government stability.
Europe: Potential Russian sabotage remains principal threat to European energy security. On 20 February, Dutch intelligence services publicly warned that in recent months Russia has tried to obtain intelligence in preparation for acts of sabotage against critical infrastructure in the North Sea. The head of Dutch military intelligence (MVID) General Jan Swillen stated that Russia had attempted to map how offshore wind farms in the North Sea function. The Dutch agencies noted Russia had engaged in activities indicative of a preparation to sabotage internet cables, wind farms and gas pipelines. In response, the country will enhance its reconnaissance capacity around offshore farms in the Dutch portion of the North Sea. As we have previously assessed, Russian sabotage remains the greatest immediate threat to European energy security. Moscow could carry out a sabotage attack in the event of an escalation in the war in Ukraine.
Ukraine: Multi-year IMF support programme will improve macro-economic indicators and long-term reconstruction efforts. On 20 February, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal held a meeting with the head of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva amid negotiations for a multi-year macro-economic support programme. The meeting occurred after the IMF reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine setting conditions for a fund-supported programme. Valued at USD 15bn, the support programme would include immediate financial assistance and assistance for structural reforms designed to underpin post-war reconstruction. The IMF praised the government’s submission of draft tax laws and the Ministry of Finance’s efforts to tackle arrears. The disbursement of such a large support plan will likely contribute to stabilising Ukraine’s economy and prompt additional donations from international actors, increasing the long-term outlook for reconstruction opportunities across Ukraine.
Georgia: Ruling party will support Russian-style foreign agent law, raising governance risks for NGOs. On 20 February, the spokesperson of the ruling party Georgian Dream party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, announced that they would support a Russian-style ‘foreign agents’ law. The committee’s speaker on legal issues has rejected the opposing MP’s request to involve the committee on human rights and European integration while President Salome Zurabishvili refused to sign the bill, believing it contravenes with Georgia’s efforts to integrate the EU. However, the ruling majority has enough votes to pass the law. The proposed law requires comprehensive financial revenue and expense declarations from those classified as ‘foreign agents.’ The draft defines an agent of foreign influence as an entity that receives more than 20% of its income from a foreign entity. The Russian-style law is now likely to be approved by the parliament, which will increase governance and financial risks for entities such as media companies and NGOs that benefit from Western financing.
US: Secretary of State suggests China may provide lethal support to Russia; comments likely to exacerbate bilateral tensions. According to comments reportedly made to a member of the press on 18 February during the Munich Security Conference, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that new intelligence has suggested that China could provide lethal support to Russia in its war against Ukraine. Beijing has denied media reports indicating that Russia has requested military equipment. The comments follow reports that Chinese firms are sending non-lethal aid to Russia (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 24 January 2023). They also come as the US government plans to enhance stricter enforcement against firms facilitating Russian sanctions evasion. Blinken’s comments are likely to exacerbate tensions with the Chinese government. Heightened sanctions enforcement will likewise increase scrutiny of financial institutions and firms outside of Europe, signalling rising reputational and sanctions risks for any associated with Russian entities.
- OFFENSIVES: The Russian offensive across Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts continues to make little progress as Russian forces struggle to gain momentum and set conditions for breakthroughs. ISW notably assessed on 19 February that Russia likely lacks sufficient uncommitted reserves to significantly increase the tempo and intensity of the offensive along the Luhansk axis. However, it should be noted that Russia likely does still retain some mobilised reserves that have yet to be committed to either support the Donbas offensives or open up a supplementary offensive elsewhere – as we have previously assessed.
- BORDERS: On 19 February former FSB and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) reported that Russian forces had crossed the international border and entered Kharkiv oblast, taking one or two border settlements. Strelkov also stated that border skirmishes along the Sumy/Belgorod-Kursk border region have intensified, though he did not provide any further information. Any Russian incursion across the border remains unconfirmed and the Ukrainian General Staff has as of yet not reported on any Russian offensive operations in northern Kharkiv oblast along the border. Given that the Russian assaults in the Donbas are currently achieving only limited results, pressure on Russian commanders to open up a supplementary front north of Kharkiv to draw off Ukrainian forces is likely growing. Whether such attacks remain limited, spoiling operations or have transitioned into a much more intensive offensive effort remains unclear.
- OFFENSIVES: On 18 February, Ukrainian spokesperson for the Tavriisk Direction Defence Forces, Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, claimed that Russian forces likely do not have the combat potential to launch large-scale offensives across Donetsk oblast, and are already losing momentum. Dmytrashkivskyi also claimed that Russian motorised rifle units currently engaged in offensive operations have insufficient equipment and lack armoured vehicle support. This echoes ongoing claims by Wagner Group personnel that their units lack artillery in particular. While Russia has so far failed to make meaningful headway during its offensive, pressure on Ukrainian forces continues to mount. Russian forces are set to sustain the current intensity over the coming weeks in a bid to steadily dislodge Ukrainian positions around not only Bakhmut but also across northern Luhansk oblast.
- BAKHMUT: Geolocated footage published in recent days indicates that Russian forces are making slow but steady progress towards Bakhmut town centre. Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that on 17 February his forces, likely supported by Russian regular units, seized the village of Paraskoviivka, three miles (5km) north of Bakhmut near Krasna Hora. Geolocated footage indicates that Russian forces are likely conducting clearing operations in the settlement, but it remains unclear whether Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the western outskirts yet. If the capture of Paraskoviivka is confirmed, this will further strengthen Russian control over the northern suburbs of Bakhmut, and likely allow further Russian advances towards the M-03 (E-40) highway to the west. However, despite such incremental progress, Russian forces are not yet in a position to enclose the encirclement of Bakhmut, despite various claims made by Russian sources over the last 48-72 hours.
- DONETSK: President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed on 19 February that Ukrainian forces are ‘inflicting extremely tangible losses’ on Russian units around Vuhledar, which Russian forces have been assaulting unsuccessfully for a number of weeks. UK Defence Intelligence furthermore assessed this morning (20 February) that the previously elite 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades, which have been attacking Vuhledar, have taken very high losses and are now likely combat ineffective. The wider Russian offensives west and south-west of Donetsk city continue to stall, with very few notable advances to report on in recent weeks.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has claimed that their forces took the village of Hryanykivka over the weekend, less than a mile southwest of Dovrichne where Russian forces have been intensifying assaults over the last week. However, the Ukrainian General Staff reported this morning (20 February) that its forces have repelled Russian attacks against Hryanykivka, meaning the area likely remains contested. Further south, Russian forces are continuing to assault Ukrainian positions west of Svatove and Kreminna, but progress likely remains slow. Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serhiy Haidai reported on 18 February that Russian forces are focusing their efforts west of Kreminna, but have not made any advances. Over the last 48 hours, fighting has also intensified across the Siverskyi Donets River around Bilohorivka, eight miles (12km) north-west of Lysychansk, but any Russian advances remain unconfirmed at present.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- STRIKES: On 18 February, Russian forces launched further small-scale long-range missile strikes. Russian forces launched 16 missiles striking residential areas in Khmelnytsky and Kryvyi Rih though two of four Kalibr cruise missiles were intercepted by Ukrainian air defences. Notably, the Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat assessed that Russian forces are using new tactics to avoid air defences. The missiles over the weekend flew low to the ground, allowing them to be concealed along the Dniester and Southern Buh rivers and therefore avoid radar detection. Ihnat also reiterated that missiles are now being increasingly fired at night, as part of wider experimentation to minimise the likelihood of Ukrainian air defences identifying and then interdicting them. We previously assessed that further lower-intensity missile strikes were likely in the run-up to the 24 February anniversary, as Russian forces continue to test defences and experiment with new tactics to maximise the lethality of upcoming strikes to mark the anniversary.
- NUCLEAR: During the strikes on 18 February, two missiles reportedly flew ‘dangerously close’ to the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. The Russian outlet Readovka also notably claimed that a Russian missile successfully hit a 750kw switchgear of the Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP), though this remains unconfirmed. Readovka furthermore called for Russian ‘retaliatory strikes’ against the electrical infrastructure that supports Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, which would aim at triggering emergency shutdowns of the plants. While the report itself does not indicate that Moscow intends to do so, the systematic targeting of infrastructure that supports nuclear plants (rather than striking the reactors and buildings themselves) remains a realistic possibility during the anniversary strike campaign.
- NUCLEAR: On 19 February, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) alleged that Ukraine continues to prepare a ‘large-scale provocation’ at a nuclear power plant in order to accuse Russia of violating the Convention on Nuclear Safety. The MoD furthermore alleged that several containers of radioactive substances have been delivered to Ukraine from an unnamed EU state, which will allegedly be used to cause localised contamination. Moscow has provided no evidence of the allegedly planned Ukrainian radiological false-flag operation – with the claim notably coinciding with the Munich Security Conference. We have previously assessed that during periods of increased tensions and/or failing Russian offensives Moscow will likely ramp up nuclear rhetoric as part of a wider strategic deterrence campaign. Nuclear false-flag operations will remain an enduring threat throughout this conflict, and triggering emergency shutdowns of the plants could be aimed at causing cascading impacts across the energy grid on or around 24 February. For further analysis of the risks of a nuclear incident in Ukraine.
- SANCTIONS: On 18 February, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that China is considering sending weapons and ammunition to Russia for use in Ukraine, signalling deepening military ties between Beijing and Moscow while raising tensions between China and the US. Blinken’s remarks come as Beijing’s foreign minister Wang Yi is due in Moscow on 20 February for discussions on a potential peace settlement; though arms deals are likely also to be considered behind closed doors. In January, the US sanctioned a Chinese company for allegedly providing satellite imagery of Ukraine to support the Russian mercenary Wagner Group. Armaments from Beijing would likely boost Russia’s military campaign while Russia struggles to ramp up weaponry production as a result of western sanctions. Should China provide weaponry to Russia, secondary sanctions on Beijing are highly probable, which would pose further compliance and policy risks for foreign firms conducting business with sanctioned Chinese entities.
- AID: EU member states are likely to agree on a joint ammunition purchase deal to secure firepower for Ukraine. Foreign ministers are expected to discuss the plan in Brussels on 20 February, which is hoped will prove more efficient than individual countries placing orders themselves. Under the proposal, launched by Estonia, EU member states will invest around EUR 4 bn (USD 4.3 bn) to jointly acquire a m rounds of ammunition. The Netherlands and Romania have tentatively backed the proposal. The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell stated that Russia is currently firing over 50,000 artillery rounds a day and that Ukraine needs to be on an equal level. He noted that while Kyiv has artillery pieces, its forces lack ammunition in sufficient quantities to sustain the weight of fire needed to match the Russians. If approved, the deal will improve the procurement process and encourage European arms firms to invest in increasing production capabilities. However, while Ukraine’s need for ammunition in the immediate and short term remains acute, as Russia continues its Donbas offensive, the timeframe for the ramping of up Europe’s military-industrial production is likely to prove a longer-term project that will in the meantime continue to place growing strains on reserve stocks across NATO.
- BELARUS: During a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the latter confirmed that the two countries have now implemented 80% of the 28 Union State programmes. Lukashenka in particular stated that programmes on tax and customs integration had been implemented – something Minsk had previously stalled and resisted, likely reflecting a notable concession by Lukashenka to Moscow. The Union State is a nominal union between Russia and Belarus, and despite Lukashenka’s continued resistance to full integration, progress has clearly been made and will further align Moscow and Minsk on administrative as well as military issues. Nevertheless, progress on the Union State is unlikely to alter the trajectory of Belarus’ involvement in the war in the short to medium term – we continue to assess that Belarus’ direct military intervention in the war remains unlikely.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
DIPLOMACY: On 20 February, US President Joe Biden landed in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv where he met his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in a surprise visit ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The White House posted a statement noting that Biden will announce another delivery of critical equipment for Ukraine’s war effort, including ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars. The new military aid package is believed to be worth USD 500 m. Biden is also expected to announce additional sanctions against Russian individuals and companies that are supporting Moscow’s military campaign.
Biden’s visit ahead of the anniversary on 24 February is the highest profile visit of a Western leader since the invasion began almost a year ago, and sends a strong signal to Ukraine and Moscow that Washington remains steadfast in providing support to Kyiv over the medium term. At time of writing, Biden is understood to have left Kyiv – likely en route to Poland where he was originally intending to visit before unveiling the surprise visit to Ukraine. It remains unlikely that Russia would have launched strikes at Kyiv during Biden’s visit given Moscow’s desire to avoid a major escalation with Washington D.C., but follow-up strikes remain possible in the aftermath of his visit in a bid to showcase Russian capability and continue its reconnaissance and testing of Ukrainian air defences ahead of 24 February.
US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv at around 0900hrs (local time) on 20 February. He has met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and toured several high-profile areas of the capital. In prepared remarks, he has likewise reiterated US support for Ukraine and announced new deliveries of military equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars.
- President Biden is the most high-profile Western official to visit Kyiv since the start of the conflict in 2022. Russian military forces have targeted the city while official visits are being conducted on at least one occasion, during a visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in April 2022.
- Biden’s visit comes as US Republican lawmakers increasingly call for the administration to begin to support negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Peace negotiations remain unlikely, however, lower-level talks have led to relatively minor prisoner exchanges in the past weeks.
- The visit also comes four days before the one-year anniversary of the war, as Ukraine attempts to push back Russia’s ‘spring offensive’ campaign which has begun in the country’s east. Ukrainian forces are likely to be under political pressure to deprive the Kremlin of a symbolic (if operationally limited) victory ahead of the anniversary.
The risk of Russian missile strikes while Biden is in the city is low. Air raids sirens were heard in several areas of Kyiv during President Biden’s initial tour of St Michael’s Cathedral in the city centre. It is unclear if any munitions hit the city. There have been some suggestions that the air raid sirens were triggered by jets taking off in neighbouring Belarus. Nevertheless, Biden’s presence in the area is likely to deter any further strikes in the short term. This is largely due to the risk of munitions impacting the US delegation, which would significantly escalate the conflict. It is unlikely that novel military aid will significantly impact military operations in eastern Ukraine in the short term. The details of the new US military aid package – valued at around USD 500 m – are expected to be announced on 21 January. There have been no suggestions that the package will include high-profile weaponry such as fighter planes. Separately, other likely measures such as sanctions are unlikely to have a tangible impact on Russia’s war effort in the coming months. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Feb 23. Russia – Scenarios For The Year Ahead.
- After a year of fighting, the Russo-Ukrainian war is showing few signs of ending soon. The war has evolved into an attritional conflict, with both sides persisting on their respective war aims.
- Our base case scenario is that the war transitions into a semi-stable attritional conflict over the next 6-12 months, with neither side ready to consider compromises to end the fighting until military options have been exhausted. The continuation of Western aid will prove vital to Kyiv’s long-term prospects.
- A detailed analysis of Russian strike patterns has shown that Fridays are the most dangerous day for long-range strikes against critical infrastructure, while Sundays face comparatively less risk.
- Stocks of Ukrainian air defence munitions will remain the single most important issue that will determine whether the threat environment in Kyiv and other major cities remains stable, improves or deteriorates over the next six months, given that shortages would allow greater use of Russian airpower.
The Russian war machine has proven itself incapable of rapidly achieving the objectives set by President Vladimir Putin in February 2022. However, despite numerous military setbacks, including the withdrawal from Kyiv in April, the Kharkiv counter-offensive in September and the withdrawal from Kherson in November, the Kremlin has not abandoned its ultimate military and political objectives in Ukraine. These include: incorporating ‘historic’ Russian lands into the Russian Federation; ensuring Ukraine cannot join NATO; and ‘demilitarising’ and ‘denazifying’ Ukraine. The fierce Ukrainian defence and degraded Russian military capabilities mean these maximalist objectives are highly unlikely to be achieved in the short term, as Kyiv itself sets conditions for the liberation of all occupied territories this year.
All indicators point to the Kremlin persisting in a protracted, attritional war in Ukraine, with Putin under continuing pressure from hardliners to deliver on Moscow’s maximalist war goals. In his speech to the Russian parliament on 21 February, Putin provided no outline for how Russia intends to win the war in Ukraine, and merely confirmed the need for Russia to continue fighting indefinitely until victory is achieved. Russia’s ultimate strategy in Ukraine appears to be aimed at slowly diminishing Ukrainian manpower, exhausting their reserves and steadily eroding Western support over the medium-to-long term. The war is therefore highly unlikely to end in 2023.
The likelihood of meaningful peace talks and a definitive ceasefire is among the least likely scenarios over the next six months. Since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Kyiv has hardened its stance, with Ukrainian military successes in Kharkiv and Kherson reinforcing the government’s unwillingness to enter negotiations to end the war before all occupied territories are liberated. Kyiv’s rejection of President Vladimir Putin’s unilateral Orthodox Christmas ceasefire on 6-7 January illustrated Ukraine’s determination to continue pressing their military advantage, with Kyiv currently planning for its own spring or early summer counter-offensive. This will aim to push the Russians back as close to the pre-2022 line as possible.
Western support remains critical to Ukraine’s medium-to-long term prospects in the war. The supply of Western main battle tanks could provide Ukraine with an opportunity to launch its own counter-offensive in Q2 of 2023. Any reduction of weapon transfers and financial assistance will severely constrain Kyiv’s ability to launch counter-offensive operations or defend against Russian attacks. Western allies are concerned about a growing military-industrial production gap and the impact weapon transfers are having on their own defence capabilities. It is not certain that the West will be able or willing to support Ukraine indefinitely. Public support for an attritional conflict lasting years may also diminish, impacting government policy over the next 6-12 months.
UK Defence Intelligence estimates Russian casualties as of February 2023 stand at between 175-200,000 casualties, including 40-60,000 killed. For comparison, the Soviet Union suffered around 15,000 casualties in total during nine years of war in Afghanistan. However, despite the already high casualty rates and heavy losses of equipment, Moscow appears prepared to lose additional troops as it persists in a protracted, attritional war. There is no sign of domestic backlash in Russia against the growing casualty rates that could threaten the Kremlin’s ability to continue the war. Further rounds of mobilisation are therefore likely in Q1-Q2 of 2023 to sustain Russia’s war effort. (Source: Sibylline)
24 Feb 23. Russia says forces pressing attack along Ukraine’s Donetsk front. Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday that its forces continued to attack along the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, claiming to have killed up to 240 Ukrainian soldiers over the past 24 hours.
“The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation continue to conduct a special military operation,” the defence ministry said in a daily briefing on the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“In the Donetsk direction, units of the Southern Group of Forces inflicted a comprehensive fire attack on accumulations of the enemy’s manpower and equipment along the entire line of contact.”
Reuters was not able to independently verify the defence ministry’s claim.
The last weeks have seen Russia mount infantry assaults across frozen ground in battles described by both sides as the bloodiest of the war. Ukraine said on Thursday that its forces had repelled Russian assaults along the front line. (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 23. Biden Administration Announces Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine. One year ago today, Russia launched an unprovoked and indefensible full-scale invasion of its peaceful and democratic neighbor Ukraine. One year on, the commitment of the United States, together with some 50 countries who have rallied to rush urgently needed assistance to Ukraine, has only strengthened.
Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) is announcing a new security assistance package to reaffirm the steadfast support of the United States for Ukraine’s brave defenders and strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses. This package, which totals $2 bn, is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) as part of our commitment to Ukraine’s long-term security.
Specifically, the United States is committing additional Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and counter-UAS and electronic warfare detection equipment, as well as critical ammunition stocks for artillery and precision fires capabilities that will bolster Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian aggression.
Capabilities in this security assistance package include:
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
- Additional 155mm artillery rounds;
- Munitions for laser-guided rocket systems;
- CyberLux K8 UAS;
- Switchblade 600 UAS;
- Altius-600 UAS;
- Jump 20 UAS;
- Counter-UAS and electronic warfare detection equipment;
- Mine clearing equipment;
- Secure communications support equipment;
- Funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.
Unlike Presidential Drawdown, USAI is an authority under which the United States procures capabilities rather than delivering equipment that is drawn down from DoD stocks. This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional capabilities to Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with capabilities to meet its immediate battlefield needs and longer-term security assistance requirements for as long as it takes. (Source: US DoD)
24 Feb 23. Statement by the North Atlantic Council marking one year of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The NATO Invitees associate themselves with this Statement.
- As we solemnly mark one year of Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades, we as Allies reaffirm our solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defence of their nation, their land, and our shared values. We pay tribute to the lives lost, and we deplore the tragic human suffering and destruction, including of Ukraine’s residential areas and civilian and energy infrastructure, caused by Russia’s illegal war.
- We are further stepping up political and practical support to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s invasion, and will maintain our support for as long as necessary to help Ukraine prevail. In this context, NATO will continue to coordinate closely with relevant stakeholders, including international organisations, in particular the EU, as well as like-minded countries. We remain resolute in supporting Ukraine’s long-term efforts to secure its free and democratic future. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. We fully support Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defence and to choose its own security arrangements.
- Russia bears full responsibility for this war, a blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter. Russia’s actions disregard OSCE principles and commitments and gravely undermine international security and stability and the rules-based international order. While we have called on Russia to engage constructively in credible negotiations with Ukraine, Russia has not shown any genuine openness to a just and lasting peace. We remain determined to maintain coordinated international pressure on Russia. We also condemn all those, including Belarus, who are actively facilitating Russia’s war. There can be no impunity for Russian war crimes and other atrocities. All those responsible must be held accountable for abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, particularly against Ukraine’s civilian population and including the deportation of children and conflict-related sexual violence. Russia must immediately stop this war and withdraw all of its military forces from Ukraine in line with the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted on 23 February 2023 and other relevant Resolutions of the UN General Assembly.
- Russia’s war also threatens global security. Russia’s energy blackmail, its impact on global food supplies, its malign hybrid activities, its worldwide disinformation campaign, and its irresponsible nuclear rhetoric demonstrate clearly Russia’s disregard for international norms and the welfare of bns of people around the world.
- We will continue to strive for peace, security, and stability in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO is a defensive Alliance. We are significantly strengthening our deterrence and defence posture, and we remain ready to defend every inch of Allied territory in line with our 360-degree approach against all threats and challenges. Our commitment to the Washington Treaty, including Article 5, is iron-clad. NATO is stronger and more united than ever. We have welcomed the choice of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO’s Open Door policy. We will continue to strengthen our partnership with Ukraine as it advances its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We are also further strengthening our other partnerships, including by assisting those countries most exposed to Russia’s malign influence.
- Russia’s efforts to break the resolve of the brave people of Ukraine are failing. One year on, Ukrainians are fighting valiantly for freedom and independence. We stand with them.
24 Feb 23. China says it is not aware of drone purchase talks between Russia and Chinese company. China’s foreign ministry said on Friday it is not aware of reports about talks between Russia and a Chinese company for the purchase of drones.
“There has been a large volume, too much disinformation spread about China on this point. We should be vigilant about the intentions behind this,” ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing.
“I also want to emphasise that China on the export of military products has always held a cautious and responsible attitude, not selling military products to conflict areas or warring parties.”
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German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday, without citing specific sources, that Russia was in talks with a Chinese manufacturer about buying 100 drones, with a delivery date of April.
24 Feb 23. Polish Leopard tanks are already in Ukraine, defence minister says. Poland has delivered its first Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the country’s president and its defence minister told a meeting of the National Security Council on Friday.
Officials did not give details on the number of tanks delivered to Kyiv at this stage, but Poland has earlier pledged that a company of Leopard tanks would be handed to Ukraine as part of coalition building.
“The prime minister couldn’t be here, he went to Kyiv to bring Leopard tanks which are the first batch delivered to Ukraine,” President Andrzej Duda said in his opening remarks at the meeting in Warsaw. (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 23. The Czech Republic sends tens of billions worth of heavy military support to Ukraine. During the first year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the central European nation provided various packages, including heavy military support for Ukraine. The Czech Republic has reportedly spent CZK 10bn ($4.5bn) on military training and equipment, which has been provided directly to Ukraine, amid ongoing efforts to rearm the embattled country with necessary military support to help it defend itself against the ongoing Russian aggression.
The Czech Republic government officially announced on their government website that roughly one-third of the material came from the Czech Army, and Czech defence companies supplied the rest. The government also sent another CZK 30bn ($13.4bn) worth of material to Ukraine based on license issues to Czech military equipment and ammunition manufacturers.
According to the government statement, armaments, including tanks, missiles, and large-calibre ammunition rounds, were delivered throughout the year.
The Czech Republic also delivered military aid through combat and armoured vehicles, combat helicopters, and STRELA anti-aircraft systems.
The Czech Republic has increased military support for Ukraine after Russia launched a ‘military operation’ on the country. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has now entered its second year.
The Czech Republic donated artillery ammunition to Ukraine even before the Russian aggression. The central European country provided more than 89 tanks, 226 combat and armoured vehicles and 38 howitzers to support Ukraine by cooperating with state and commercial entities.
Petr Fiala said in the Prime Minister’s address: “We clearly knew from the very first moment – perhaps thanks to our own historical experience – that we had to stand up for Ukraine. And we did it – not only the government but the whole country, and it makes me truly proud.
“We were the first country to supply Ukraine with helicopters, tanks, howitzers, rocket launchers and infantry fighting vehicles. The first delivery of heavy equipment to Ukraine organised by us arrived merely fourteen days into the invasion. We have led by example, showing others that it was possible.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, the US has provided more military aid to the embattled nation than any other country. The Czech Republic also received financial assistance from the USA to purchase military equipment to modernise its army for almost CZK 7 bn.
“Allies and foreign partners are aware of our clear position and willingness to help Ukraine, which allowed us to receive adequate compensation for the equipment donated to Ukraine. The USA gave us Viper and Venom helicopters, Germany gave us Leopard tanks.” The Prime Minister quoted.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Ukraine has been receiving weaponry from several Nato member countries. As this war continues, the Czech Republic Government will continue the flow of tens of billions worth of further supplies in the coming year. (Source: army-technology.com)
24 Feb 23. University of Bath political, defence and security experts available for analysis on first anniversary of Ukraine War.
For the past 12 months, University of Bath political, security and defence experts Dr Patrick Bury, Dr Stephen Hall and Professor David Galbreath have been following developments in Ukraine and Russia closely, providing their reflections and analysis for UK and international media on a daily basis.
Patrick, David and Stephen can be available for additional news and features interviews today and tomorrow (Friday 24 February) to coincide with the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Life on the battlefield: Dr Patrick Bury
Patrick’s research focuses on warfare and counterterrorism. As a former British Army infantry Captain and NATO analyst he has over two decades’ experience working in the security sector as a practitioner, analyst and academic. He is also a UK Future Leaders Fellow.
Reflecting on the past year, he said: “What’s the last year of war taught us? There are many things, but to my mind probably the most important is that despite all the new – and old – technologies used so far in this war, the will to fight and cohesion is paramount. The Ukrainian will to defend their homeland against an invading Russian onslaught proved decisive in the early stages of the war, buying time for western support and the expansion of their military forces.
“Strategically, while Russia opted for an ill-conceived coup de main to decapitate the Kyiv government, Ukraine prudently recognised that it could afford to trade space for time, ceding ground and allowing Russian formations to pass by before targeting their logistics.”
From Moscow and Kyiv: Dr Stephen Hall
Stephen’s research focuses on post-Soviet politics, in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and authoritarianism. His upcoming book will address the issue of authoritarian learning in the post-Soviet space, investigating how autocracies best survival practices.
He said: “The Russian reaction to the war has been muted at both public and elite levels. While there have been few protests, conscription offices have gone up in flames. While public opinion polls claim that most Russians support the war, they don’t show the high refusal rate, or acknowledge that Russians know which answer to give.
“The economic situation is likely to continue to deteriorate. While regime modernisers have worked hard steering the economy through sanctions, the Russian economy will suffer. Sanctions are a blunt tool, which only the West has implemented. However, Russia’s economy was pointed towards Europe, and it will take time to re-calibrate it towards Asia. Russia is selling oil and gas to new partners but at significant discounts, so resource revenues are lower, and an overdependence on China is likely.
“Ukraine is also hurting economically having been decimated by war and reliant on Western military and financial aid. However, Ukraine has one thing Russia lacks, which is spirit, epitomised by the two leaders.”
Geopolitics of War: Prof David Galbreath
David is Professor of International Security. His expertise spans defence and war studies with a particular focus on how science and technology influences doctrine, concepts, and tactics.
He said: “Russia is keen to hold out long enough to the point that Western resolve begins to falter. While officially NATO looks solid in its commitment to support the defence of Ukraine, there are alternative views, particularly in but not limited to the United States, that either see that their countries should not be arming a conflict or are sympathetic to Russia in the war. Ukraine is likely to be able to continue to defend itself as long as Western support remains solid. Should that support begin to falter, Ukraine is more likely to need to compromise with uncertain and untrustworthy adversary.”
24 Feb 23. Australia sending drones to Ukraine, imposes more sanctions on Russia. Australian government said on Friday it would send more drones to Ukraine to aid its fight against Russia on the anniversary of the invasion, and imposed new targeted financial sanctions against 90 Russian individuals and 40 entities.
The latest targets include Russian ministers overseeing energy, resources and industry sectors, and key players in defence including arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern, aviation firm Tupolev and submarine developer Admiralty Shipyards.
“We continue to stand with Ukraine,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a statement. “(The uncrewed aerial systems) provide a battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”
He did not specify how many drones would be shipped, the models involved, and whether they would be armed.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops on both sides are believed to have died and millions forced to flee since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, which he calls a “special military operation” to rid its neighbour of extremists, a year ago.
Putin talked up Russia’s nuclear arsenal on the eve of the war’s anniversary, while the United States and NATO accused China of considering supplying arms to Russia, a strategic partner of Beijing. China dismissed the accusation.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told ABC television that she would urge China to take steps to de-escalate the conflict.
Australia, one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the West’s support for Ukraine, has been supplying aid, ammunition and defence equipment and has banned exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia.
Since the conflict began, Australia has provided around A$500m ($340m) in military support to Ukraine. It has also deployed soldiers to Britain to help train Ukrainian troops there and has sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities. The United States will announce new sanctions against Russia on Friday, the White House said, when President Joe Biden virtually meets G7 leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.($1 = 1.4680 Australian dollars) (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 23. New sanctions ban every item Russia is using on the battlefield.
The Foreign Secretary announced a new package of sanctions, including export bans on every item Ukraine has found Russia using on the battlefield to date.
- new sanctions ban export of every item Ukraine has found Russia using on the battlefield to date
- UK sanctions on Russia top 1,500 as FCDO targets 92 individuals and entities, including those connected to Rosatom
- Putin’s closest allies also sanctioned, including his former Chief of Security and the CEO of Nord Stream 2
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has today (24 February) announced a new package of internationally co-ordinated sanctions and trade measures, including export bans on every item Russia has been found using on the battlefield to date.
Included in the hundreds of goods are aircraft parts, radio equipment, and electronic components that can be used by the Russian military industrial complex, including in the production of UAVs.
Military intelligence has shown that a shortage of components in Russia as a result of sanctions is already likely affecting their ability to produce equipment for export, such as armoured vehicles, attack helicopters and air defence systems. As a result, it is highly likely that Russia’s role as a reliable arms exporter and their military-industrial complex are being undermined by international sanctions. Today’s measures will damage them further, undermining Putin’s military machine which is already having to mobilise soviet-era tanks and harvest freezers for low-grade chips.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Ukrainians are turning the tide on Russia, but they cannot do it alone. That is why we must do more to help Ukraine win. Today we are sanctioning the elites who run Putin’s key industries and committing to prohibit the export to Russia of every item Russia has been found using on the battlefield.”
Also sanctioned today are senior executives at Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, plus executives from Russia’s 2 largest defence companies, 4 banks, and other Russian elites.
Rosatom has deep connections to the Russian military-industrial complex, including through Alexander Novak, who is both a member of the supervisory board and the Deputy Prime Minister in Putin’s administration.
The state-owned firm has reportedly been supplying arms manufacturers with the technology and materials needed to resupply Russia’s front line, including to defence firms that are under sanctions.
Four banks, including MTS, are also being sanctioned as part of today’s package. This will further isolate Russia from the international financial system and help the UK and partners to prevent circumvention.
Today’s designations also target the individuals and entities at the heart of Putin’s military-industrial complex, including:
- 34 executives connected to Russia’s 2 largest defence companies Rostec, Russia’s multibillion state owned defence conglomerate, and Almaz-Antey Corporation, a state owned Russian company specialising in producing surface to air missiles and firearms for aircrafts
- 6 Russian entities involved in the manufacture or repair of military equipment for Russia’s armed forces, including aviation and navy
- 5 senior Iranian executives in Qods Aviation Industry, the company manufacturing the drones used in Ukraine, which demonstrates our commitment to continue to pressure third countries supplying Russia’s military
The UK is also announcing new major trade measures, undermining Russia’s military machine and cutting at Putin’s finances. Alongside banning exports of products found used by Russia on the battlefield, the UK will also ban the import of 140 goods including iron and steel products processed in third countries.
Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “Trade sanctions are working. UK goods imports from Russia have fallen by 99%, since before the invasion, and goods exports to Russia have fallen by nearly 80%. Working together with our G7 international partners, the Department for Business and Trade is delivering sanctions to further erode Putin’s capabilities to wage war against Ukraine. We will back Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
The UK has also announced that it will be extending existing measures against Crimea, and non-government controlled territory in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, to target Russian controlled areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, restricting their access to UK trade and finance.
Today’s measures also increase pressure on the Russian elite. This includes sanctions on:
- Mattias Warnig: a close friend of Putin’s, the CEO of Nord Stream 2, and previously a member of the boards of Russian energy companies Transneft and Rosneft
- Lyubov Kabaeva: mother of former Russian gymnast and Duma Deputy Alina Kabaeva who allegedly has a close personal relationship with Putin. The Kabaeva family reportedly own ms of pounds’ worth of property in Russia
- Alexei Dyumin: formerly Putin’s chief security guard who played a key role in the annexation of Crimea. Dyumin has been actively involved in supporting the Russian military in Ukraine, including launching and facilitating a drone training school for Russian troops
- Alexei Kozak: son of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Putin ally Dmitry Kozak
- 20 executives of Gazprom and Aeroflot, including Gazprom Chairman and former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and 2 current Russian ministers
Today’s new measures come as the Foreign Secretary travels to the UN, where he will urge the international community to support Ukraine as long as it takes, 1 year on from the start of Russia’s illegal full scale invasion. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
24 Feb 23. NATO and EU react reservedly to Chinese ceasefire proposal for Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday reacted reservedly to a Chinese proposal for a ceasefire in Ukraine, saying Beijing did not have a lot of credibility as a mediator.
“China doesn’t have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” he told reporters in Tallinn, adding Beijing had signed an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin only days before the invasion.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said China had not shared a peace plan but some principles.
“You have to see them against a specific backdrop, and that is the backdrop that China has already taken sides by signing, for example, an unlimited friendship right before the invasion,” she noted.
“So we will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the backdrop that China has taken sides,” she added.
24 Feb 23. Denmark ‘open’ to delivering F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine – minister. Denmark is “open” to the idea of sending fighter jets to Ukraine to help its war effort against the Russian invasion, the Danish defence minister said on Friday, according to state broadcaster DR.
“I won’t rule out that at some point it may be necessary to look at the contribution of fighter jets,” acting Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said.
The Danish air force has purchased 77 F-16 jets since the 1970s, according to the armed forces. Around 30 of them are currently in operation, according to local media reports.
Ukraine has this year asked Western allies for more advanced weapons including fighter jets.
Western countries that have provided Ukraine with arms have so far refused to send fighter jets or long-range weapons capable of striking deep inside Russia. (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 23. Britain is confident China wants Ukraine conflict resolved – defence secretary. British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the notion that China could supply arms to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would not help resolve the conflict, an outcome he was confident China wanted.
“It can’t help the peace if China effectively supplies the one nation that has broken the international law on the sovereignty of Ukraine and been inflicting war crimes,” Wallace told Sky News on Friday when asked about reports China could supply weapons to Russia.
“But I’m also confident that China is pretty clear that it wants this (war) to stop,” he added
Britain is willing to provide security or “backfill” fighter jets to any country that wants to send Russian or Soviet-era planes to Ukraine, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday.
Britain has sent ammunition and weapons to Ukraine and is currently training its troops to use British tanks, but it has baulked at suggestions from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that it should also send fighter jets.
Wallace said one way for countries to quickly help Ukraine would be for those with MIG-29 or SU-24 jets to donate them to Kyiv.
“If they wish to donate, we could use our fighter jets as a backfill and provide security for them as a result, or indeed to backfill to allow them to have their own capability because they are already configured to fight in a NATO way, where of course Ukraine isn’t,” he told Times Radio.
Wallace said he was unsure if any country was willing to do that yet. (Source: Reuters)
24 Feb 23. Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Marking One Year Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. One year ago today, Russia launched an unprovoked and indefensible invasion of its peaceful and democratic neighbor Ukraine—a cruel war of choice that has killed thousands of innocent Ukrainians, forced millions more from their homes, left countless Ukrainians wounded or traumatized, and inflicted tragedy and terror on a sovereign U.N. member state.
Today’s solemn anniversary is an opportunity for all who believe in freedom, rules, and sovereignty to recommit ourselves to supporting Ukraine’s brave defenders for the long haul—and to recall that the stakes of Russia’s war stretch far beyond Ukraine.
The United States has rallied the world to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable. Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States has committed more than $32bn in game-changing security assistance to Ukraine over the past year. This includes more than 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; more than 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems; 232 howitzers and more than two million rounds of artillery ammunition; 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammunition; a Patriot air-defense battery; eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and other key air-defense capabilities; 109 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles; 31 Abrams tanks; and 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers. We have done all this with bipartisan backing in Congress and with the proud support of the American people.
The United States has also rallied nations of goodwill from around the planet to condemn Russia’s aggression and rush urgently needed assistance to Ukraine. The engine of our efforts is the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, an extraordinary coalition of some 50 countries that I convene regularly to coordinate support to Ukraine’s defenders. Our allies and partners in the Contact Group have committed more than $20bn in security assistance to Ukraine, including hundreds of tanks, thousands of other armored vehicles, vital air-defense systems, hundreds of artillery systems, and other crucial capabilities.
In response to the most urgent danger to European security since the end of World War II, we have moved swiftly with our allies to further unify and strengthen NATO. The Alliance has bolstered its defenses on the Eastern Flank. Meanwhile, the United States has deployed or extended more than 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe and forward-stationed the first permanent U.S. forces on NATO’s Eastern Flank. NATO is more united than ever, and the U.S. commitment to defend every inch of allied territory remains ironclad.
One year into a war of aggression waged by a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, our allies and partners worldwide stand united and resolute. Putin’s reckless, illegal war is not just an all-out assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and a historic threat to European security. It is also a direct attack on the system of rules, institutions, and laws that the world built at such great cost after World War II—a system that rejects aggression and respects the rights of all countries, big and small.
Putin thought that Ukraine’s defenses would collapse, that America’s resolve would falter, and that the world would look the other way. He was wrong. One year later, Ukraine’s brave defenders have not wavered, and neither has our commitment to support them for as long as it takes.
Despite the Kremlin’s campaign of cruelty, the people of Ukraine have shown stunning bravery, skill, and fortitude. Today and every day, we stand by the courageous Ukrainians fighting to defend their country, and we mourn with those who have lost their loved ones in Moscow’s monstrous and unnecessary war.
Difficult times may lie ahead, but let us remain clear-eyed about what is at stake in Ukraine. And let us remain united in purpose and in action—and steadfast in our commitment to ensure that a world of rules and rights is not replaced by one of tyranny and turmoil. (Source: US DoD)
24 Feb 23. France accelerates ammunition production. French Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu unveiled an action plan to accelerate ammunition production and relocate strategic activities during a meeting with defence industry representatives on 22 February. The war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in the relocation of stocks and production sites, according to the French Ministry of Armed Forces. Lecornu described Eurenco’s decision – announced by the company on 22 February – to increase its production capacity for large-calibre propellants (mainly for 155 mm ammunition), and to relocate it to France as “historic”. EUR50 m (USD53 m) of the EUR60 m investment in this effort will be self-financed by Eurenco, with the aim to produce 1,200 tonnes of propellants for 500,000 modular charges a year, starting in the first half of 2025. This will be done by expanding Eurenco’s production line in Bergerac, with the company also planning to increase its production capacity in other sites in Europe. (Source: Janes)
24 Feb 23. Clandestine UK Program Developed 3D-Printed ‘Suicide’ Drone For Ukraine. In an until-now secretive program, the United Kingdom has rapidly developed and flight-tested a number of “complex” drones that would be suitable for use by Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. While it’s unclear which of any of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in question were ultimately selected for supply to Ukraine, it’s obvious that a range of different capabilities was explored in the process, including surveillance drones and, most intriguingly, what is described as a “3D-printed delta-wing ‘suicide’ drone.” Some details of the rapid development program were recently revealed by QinetiQ, the U.K.-based defense technology company that works closely with the U.K. Ministry of Defense, especially on experimental projects and novel technologies. The drone program originated in the Future Capability Group — part of the defense ministry’s Defense Equipment and Support (DE&S) branch — which, in turn, engaged QinetiQ.
A statement from QinetiQ doesn’t confirm when the program actually took place, while an uncaptioned accompanying photo shows a small drone with swept wing and tail fin, apparently powered by a pair of micro-turbine engines, and possibly 3D-printed. The suggestion is that this is one of the prototypes from the program, but that also remains unconfirmed for now. On both counts, we have approached the company to find out more.
The aim of the program was to “provide recommendations for uncrewed aircraft systems that could be deployed readily by the Ukrainian military” and was part of a wider U.K. government effort, known as KINDRED, that’s assessing what kinds of weapons and equipment could potentially be introduced to service by Ukraine in the space of just four months.
Within “a few weeks,” according to QinetiQ, it was determined that the drone program would be run from the company’s sprawling MOD Boscombe Down test site, in southwest England. Here, efforts were made to set up a safe and effective “sandbox window” test environment on the airfield.
But while KINDRED explores potential new defense equipment for Ukraine that can be brought to the front line within four months, the drone program was run on a much more demanding timeline. Within just three weeks, the QinetiQ-led team was to demonstrate a series of new drones and related technology to senior U.K. Ministry of Defense officials, during a two-day event. This would include “flying experimental UAS and EW [electronic warfare] testing.”
Ultimately, the defense ministry officials observed equipment, systems, and technologies from five different companies that were demonstrated at Boscombe Down. According to QinetiQ, the test projects “included C2 [command and control] and sensor payload[s] as well as VTOL [vertical takeoff and landing] UAS and a unique 3D-printed delta-wing ‘suicide’ drone.” No details of other projects were disclosed and the companies involved have not been named.
We do know, however, that there was close involvement from a range of U.K. defense organizations and units, including the Royal Air Force (RAF) Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), the Royal Navy, the RAF’s No. 56 Squadron, Royal Artillery, Defense Science and Technology Laboratories (DSTL), U.K. Strategic Command, and the British Army HQ, as well as the Future Capability Group and DE&S.
As well as flight tests of at least some of the rapidly developed drones, the trials also included experiments on the ground, and use was also made of Boscombe Down’s anechoic test facility, which can be used to assess how test specimens respond to radio-frequency energy, as well as providing a controlled environment to see how electronic systems and emissions interact with one another. The anechoic chamber was also used to expose the test specimens to command link jamming, an important consideration in Ukraine considering Russia’s widespread use of offensive electronic warfare. (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive)
23 Feb 23. European efforts to arm Ukraine with western tanks have edged forward after Finland pledged to supply combat vehicles to the war-torn country and Poland said 14 of its Leopard 2A4s would cross the border “in a few days”. But Berlin said countries that had previously promised to send Ukraine some of the more advanced German-made tanks were continuing to hesitate. Spain said it planned to send six older 2A4 tanks to Kyiv, but in an illustration of the obstacles involved in getting Ukraine the military equipment it needs, Madrid confirmed they would have to undergo extensive repairs before they can be delivered. Last year, Spain’s defence minister said the country’s German-made Leopards, which had been mothballed in a warehouse since 2012, were in an “absolutely deplorable” state. They had been drained of oil and were missing key parts, including their batteries. During a visit to Kyiv on Thursday, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said Madrid would “send six leopards and over the next few weeks we will see if we can scale up from 6 to 10”. Other countries are moving ahead more quickly. In an interview with the Financial Times, the head of Poland’s national security bureau said the country would be sending 14 Leopard tanks into Ukraine “in a few days”, alongside four Canadian tanks that were transported to Poland this month. “It’s possible that they will leave the [Polish] border at the end of the week,” said Jacek Siewiera.
Last month, chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would send 14 Leopard 2A6s to bolster Kyiv’s war effort and would allow other countries with stocks of the German-made tanks to export them to Ukraine. Berlin said the plan was to create two tank battalions of Leopard 2s, which equates to about 62 tanks. One, formed by Germany, would be made up of the more advanced Leopard 2A6s, and one, formed by Poland, would consist of older Leopard 2AFs. But progress has been painfully slow. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, Scholz admonished Germany’s allies for failing to live up to their pledges to deliver tanks to Ukraine having spent months urging Berlin to act. However, there are now signs that European countries are beginning to pick up the pace. Recommended Free LunchMartin Sandbu If you want peace in Ukraine, double down on (economic) war Premium content On Thursday, the Finnish defence ministry announced it would be sending Ukraine three Leopard 2 tanks suitable for mine clearing as well as training soldiers to use them, part of a new package of military aid worth €160mn. There had been hopes in Berlin that Helsinki might make a larger contribution — it has about 200 Leopard 2 tanks in total. But Finnish president Sauli Niinistö said recently that Finland’s contribution would be relatively small in view of its long — 1,340km — border with Russia and the fact that it was the only country with Leopards that was not a Nato member. Sweden’s defence minister Pål Jonson said Stockholm was also open to sending some of its Leopards to Ukraine. “We are in close dialogue above all with Germany about it,” he told the TT news agency. But the pledges so far have been met with a degree of disappointment in Berlin. Other than Germany, Portugal is the only European country to have agreed to send the advanced Leopard 2A6s, with a commitment to supply three of the tanks. Spain has 239 Leopard 2A6s but has no plans to give any of them to Ukraine, saying it needed them for its own defence. Poland has had more success with its joint battalion of 2AFs. Spain is supplying six, Norway eight and Canada four to add to the 14 Warsaw is providing. But plans to provide Leopard 2A4s have been complicated by the dire shortage of spare parts and ammunition for the older tank. It has not been in service with the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, for at least 20 years and German arms manufacturers no longer support the model. Boris Pistorius, the German defence minister, expressed frustration at the lack of donations from other countries with stocks of newer Leopards. “Obviously there are some nations who just preferred to hide behind Germany,” he said at an event at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. “It’s easy to say we would if you let us, and when we let them, they didn’t.” (Source: FT.com)
21 Feb 23. Most Latin American countries have rejected a recent proposal by the US to begin direct defence equipment deliveries to Ukraine.
- Most Latin American countries have rejected a recent proposal by the US to begin direct defence equipment deliveries to Ukraine.
- This non-interventionist approach is unlikely to shift in the medium term.
- The current stance of non-interventionist countries will increase the risk of targeted sanctions against domestic firms therein.
- It will also raise reputational concerns for large firms which continue to deal with Russian entities.
Most countries in Latin America recently rejected a US proposal from 19 January to donate existing Russian-made military kits to Ukraine in exchange for modern US weaponry. The rejection came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attempted to influence Argentina, Brazil and Chile during a recent diplomatic tour to secure regional support for Ukraine. All three countries dismissed suggestions that they would contribute any offensive weaponry, reiterating that they support de-escalation. The pushback comes amid an uptick in Russian and Chinese diplomatic interest and investment in the region, increasing the likelihood that the US and the EU will resort to measures like sanctions to deter encroachment by Beijing and Moscow.
Since the 1950s, Latin American countries have adopted a relatively homogenous foreign policy approach to resist foreign influence inside the continent. In particular, this strategy was used to deter US and Soviet military influence during the Cold War. Separately, several large economies have experienced significant supply-side shocks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as seen in the spike in price volatility to agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilisers). These market shocks, combined with the rollback of Covid-related aid, have increased political instability in the region. As such, there is little incentive for many Latin American states to support the continuation of the war. These factors, a history of uniform foreign policy and regional macroeconomic shocks suggest that current foreign policy trends in Latin America are unlikely to change in the medium term.
The US and the EU have expanded their use of sanctions against individuals and entities since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. The US in particular has combined sanctions with export controls, import restrictions, tariffs and foreign investment reviews. In Latin America, the largest targets for both US and EU sanctions in the past year have been Nicaragua and Venezuela, which have publicly stated their support for the Russian war effort. In the event that either country lends tangible support for the Russian military or wider financial system, it is likely that both the US and the EU will continue to expand their sanctions regime. Targets would likely include government or military officials, as well as entities providing sources of revenue. In Venezuela, this would possibly include novel small- to medium-sized oil and gas firms, which have undergone significant growth in recent years following the exodus of oil majors from the country. In Nicaragua, entities such as the Military Social Welfare Institute (IPSM) – which is a shareholder of several large firms operating in the country – would also possibly be targeted.
One of the most important developing trends in the wider sanctions strategy employed by the US and the EU is the targeting of third parties aiding the Russian war effort. This increases the likelihood that Latin American companies which continue to deal with Russia will be targeted by the US and/or the EU in the near term. Companies likely to be at a higher risk include defence equipment and dual-use goods manufacturers. Finance and banking firms lending services to Russian individuals will also be at a higher risk.
Activist groups have increasingly reported on relationships maintained by large firms or entities with both Russia and Belarus. The stated aim of these groups is to force companies to break ties with Russia to deprive Moscow of any financial gain from these relationships, thereby diminishing its capability to wage war. Most targeted firms are located in either the US or Europe, though there is no evidence to suggest that these groups will not expand their scope to investigate other large firms in separate jurisdictions. Several companies singled out by these groups have been boycotted and directly targeted by protest activity. According to a list by the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, among the most high-profile firms which continue to engage in operations in Russia are two Mexican entities rated as ‘digging in’ (the worst possible grade on the list). (Source: Sibylline)
22 Feb 23. Swiss neutrality in question as arming Ukraine debate goes on.
With centuries of armed neutrality at stake, a pro-Ukraine shift in the public has pressured Switzerland’s Government to end a ban on exports of Swiss weapons and form alliances with European countries in supporting Ukraine. No alliances as neutrality blocks exports
Senior Swiss officials have indicated that they are reassessing the scope of Switzerland’s neutrality, considering growing pressure for Swiss arms to be legally allowed to be re-exported to conflict zones amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Switzerland upholds a position of armed neutrality, meaning it cannot form alliances with any country in the case of war. Thus, only the required capabilities for self-defence and internal protection are furnished.
Madeline Wild, associate defence analyst, commented: “Switzerland’s neutral position on the global stage means that the majority of equipment acquired by the armed forces is more aimed at self-defence rather than offensive capabilities.”
Switzerland’s European neighbours have attempted to transfer Swiss-made weaponry and military hardware to Kyiv, causing criticism towards Switzerland, which is under pressure for blocking requests for shipments of ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks or armoured vehicles to Ukraine.
To justify this decision, the Swiss Government argued that it could not export weapons to countries involved in international armed conflicts under national law. Fabian Maienfisch, deputy head of communications and media spokesperson at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, claimed: “Switzerland is firmly committed to peace and security and to supporting the people of Ukraine, but always in strict compliance with the law of neutrality, in keeping with its humanitarian tradition.”
Buyers of Swiss arms are legally prevented from re-exporting them, a restriction that some representing the country’s large weapons industry is now hurting trade. Many weaponry and military hardware manufacturing companies have seen profits rise from the exports of weapons to Ukraine from many western countries.
Jean-Marc Rickli, head of global and emerging risks at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told Army Technology when asked if the Alpine nation was just as much on the side of Russia as Ukraine by not providing military support, “Switzerland having decided to abide by economic sanctions against Russia, is bound by the law of neutrality not to discriminate belligerents and therefore has to reciprocate towards Ukraine, i.e. not providing war material to Ukraine.”
Talks are in motion
Thierry Burkart, leader of the centre-right Free Democratic Party, has submitted a motion to the Government to allow arms re-exports to countries with similar democratic values to Switzerland.
Jean-Marc Rickli continued: “The modification currently discussed in the Parliament would allow certain countries that share the same democratic values and human rights protection as Switzerland and who share a similar export control regime as Switzerland to lift the re-export ban after five years if they commit to not re-export to a country at war except if that country is using its right of self-defence as allowed by the UN Charter.”
Members of the Swiss Parliament have pushed for talks on the freeing up of weapon exports. Maienfisch stated that the legal situation regarding arms exports to Ukraine and Russia was clear. “Concerning the re-exports of war material of Swiss origin, the Swiss Parliament has taken up this issue and is currently discussing several proposals concerning the adaptation of the legal framework. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO cannot comment on these ongoing discussions.”
According to GlobalData’s “Switzerland Defense Market 2022-2027 report”, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent deterioration of wider European security has driven Swiss military and Government officials to seek increased defence expenditure and military rapprochement with international allies, as the decision to impose economic sanctions on Russian assets has resulted in a heightened sense of unease throughout the country. (Source: army-technology.com)
21 Feb 23. Biden: ‘Ukraine Will Never Be a Victory for Russia. Never.’
After an unprecedented visit to Ukraine, President Joe Biden told a Warsaw crowd that “brutality will never grind down the will of a free Ukraine. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never.”
Biden spoke in Poland just days before the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The action is the largest land war in Europe since the end of World War II. The United States and its NATO allies have united to defend NATO territory and support Ukraine as it battles to ensure its own survival.
In February 2022 many expected Ukraine to fall quickly to the Russian onslaught. The Russians had more forces and more equipment. Putin launched the forces in attacks designed to decapitate the leadership of Ukraine by taking the capital city of Kyiv.
Experts expected Kyiv to fall quickly. “Well, I’ve just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report Kyiv stands strong,” Biden said in Warsaw. “Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall and, most importantly, stands free.”
The president said Ukraine has been tested by the Russian invasion, but it isn’t the only nation being tested. “The whole world faced a test for the ages,” he said. “Europe was being tested. America was being tested, NATO is being tested, all democracies are being tested.”
The test entailed how these world leaders would respond to Russia’s aggression. Would they be united or fragmented? Would they be strong or weak? “One year later, we know the answer: We did respond. We would be strong. We would be united. And the world would not look the other way,” Biden said.
It’s simple. If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine. That’s why together, we’re making sure Ukraine could defend itself.”
Putin has misjudged almost everything about the invasion of Ukraine. “He thought NATO would fracture, divide,” Biden said. “Instead, NATO is more united and more unified … than ever before.” In fact, Putin’s invasion caused Sweden and Finland to join the alliance.
“One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition,” the president said. “But he still doubts our conviction. He doubts our staying power. He doubts our continued support for Ukraine. He doubts whether NATO can remain unified. But there should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.”
The world must remain united in its condemnation of the Russian invasion. Biden said that autocrats cannot be appeased but opposed. “Autocrats only understand one word — no, no, no,” he said. “No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future.”
Biden has called the Russian invasion “an unprovoked war.” Others have called it an “unnecessary conflict.” The president said it was never a necessity, “It’s a tragedy. President Putin chose this war. Every day that the war continues is his choice. He could end the war with a word.
“It’s simple,” he continued. “If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine. That’s why together, we’re making sure Ukraine could defend itself.”
The United States has assembled a worldwide coalition of more than 50 nations to get critical weapons and supplies to Ukraine. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group meets to ensure Ukrainian fighters get what they need when it will be the most beneficial. This effort includes equipment, but also the training needed to make that equipment effective.
Biden praised the nations involved saying they have provided air defense systems. Artillery, anti-armor weapons, ammunition and more. “The European Union, and its member states, have stepped up with an unprecedented commitment to Ukraine, not just security assistance, but economic and humanitarian refugee assistance and so much more,” he said.
Russia is under sanctions and more will be announced, Biden said. “We’ll hold accountable those who are responsible for this war and will seek justice for the war crimes and crimes against humanity continuing to be committed by the Russians,” he said.
The president is clear-eyed about the commitment to Ukraine. “The defense of freedom is not the work of a day or a year,” he said. “It’s always difficult. It’s always important. As Ukraine continues to defend itself against the Russian onslaught and launch counter offensives of its own, there will continue to be hard and very bitter days, victories and tragedies.”
The president spoke to the people of Russia assuring them that the United States and the nations of Europe did not seek this war, nor do they seek to destroy or control Russia. “The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said today,” he said. “And ms of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy.” (Source: US DoD)
20 Feb 23. Biden Administration Announces Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine. Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) announces the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs. This authorization includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and Howitzers that Ukraine is using to defend their country as well as more Javelins, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars. This is the Biden Administration’s thirty-second drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021 and it is valued at up to $460 m.
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
- Additional 155mm artillery rounds;
- Additional 120mm mortar rounds;
- Four air surveillance radars;
- Additional Javelin anti-armor systems;
- Approximately 2,000 anti-armor rockets;
- Four Bradley Infantry Fire Support Team vehicles;
- Two tactical vehicles to recover equipment;
- Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
- Demolition munitions;
- Night vision devices;
- Tactical secure communications systems;
- Medical supplies;
- Spare parts and other field equipment.
To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities. (Source: US DoD)
20 Feb 23. Ukraine’s M1 Abrams tanks could come from US stockpiles, official says. The Biden administration may change course and use presidential drawdown authority to provide tanks to Ukraine, suggested Stanley Brown, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the bureau of political-military affairs.
Nearly a month after announcing its decision to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the United States is still deciding which version is best and whether it will pull those vehicles from existing stockpiles or have them produced, according to a top US State Department official.
When Washington announced in late January that it was sending 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv, it said those vehicles would be M1A2s and that the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative would be used to acquire them. That suggested the vehicles would be procured, rather than pulled from US stocks as part of presidential drawdown authority, a different mechanism to supply arms to Ukraine. However, that decision has not actually been finalized, according to Stanley Brown, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
“They potentially could be a combination of built and out of stockpiles,” he said during an interview with Breaking Defense on the sidelines of IDEX 2023 in the United Arab Emirates.
“We have Abrams in the inventory. We have different versions of Abrams, some older…, and I don’t know what specific ones that Ukraine will ultimately get,” he separately added. Brown said it is not clear when a final decision will be made or when those tanks may arrive in Ukraine.
Such a move could potentially speed up the delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, in part, because the US should have all the equipment for two US Army armored brigades — including about 87 late-model M1A2 tanks each — already on the continent, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army forces in Europe, estimated last month.
“If the administration had the sense of urgency to help Ukraine win, then they’d bring Ukrainian tank crews and commanders to Poland or Germany to match them up with these tanks for training and then put them on a train to Ukraine to be employed how and where and when the Ukrainian General Staff is ready,” he wrote in a Jan. 26 email to Breaking Defense. “This could all happen within the next two or three months.”
The Pentagon did not immediately respond off-hours to questions about that possible change of course or what prompted it. However, Brown’s comments highlight the evolving calculus inside the Biden Administration around fielding new weapons to Ukrainian forces, showing a unified front with international partners and allies, and striking a balance between existing inventories and production lines.
For example, on Jan. 25 Washington announced it would send Abrams tanks to Ukraine just hours before Berlin said it too would free German-made Leopards for the fight but at a quicker clip.
Although the Biden administration went ahead with that announcement, it declined to disclose details about the plan except to say it would take months as opposed to weeks to get tanks to Ukraine, and those vehicles would not come from units or existing stockpiles. By using the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, it said it would have time to train Ukrainians how to use the vehicles and figure out the in-theater logistics footprint.
“While the deliveries will take some time, because this is a procurement, the United States will begin now to establish a comprehensive training program for their use,” one administration official said at the time. “These tanks are complex systems that require a significant amount of training and maintenance, so [the Department of Defense] is currently working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams.”
Later that day, Assistant Secretary of the US Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Douglas Bush told reporters the service was creating a laundry list of options for Pentagon officials to consider before deciding which way to go.
“There are multiple courses of action, and it’s not just the tanks,” he said. “We have to be able to [deliver] tanks, support equipment, the training, the ammunition, the fuel… It’s really a bigger picture.”
(Source: Breaking Defense.com)
20 Feb 23. Ukrainian company Kvertus “supplying 180 KVS G-6 drone jammers to Ukrainian forces.”
A Linkedin post from counter-UAS specialist Tim De Zitter reports that the Ukrainian company Kvertus Technology has supplied more than 80 of its KVS G-6 long range anti-drone jammers to Ukranian forces, with over 100 on order. The report is based on a June 2022 video.
“The weapon, manufactured in the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, has a range of up to three kilometers, or around 1.8 miles, and can operate for up to 30 minutes at a time, according to the company,” a Ukrainian source was quoted in the article. “Once disconnected, the drone loses coordination and either lands where it is jammed or is blown away by the wind. Ukrainian forces can then take the drone and read its data to gain valuable information about it, such as where it came from and any images it might have taken.”
The devices are reported to cost USD12,000 each.
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20 Feb 23. Turkey has denied exporting technology products with military applications to Russia in the face of increasing US pressure for Ankara to curtail its ties to Moscow. Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at a press conference in Ankara alongside US secretary of state Antony Blinken that it was “not true that products such as electronics . . . used in the defence industry are exported by us to Russia”. The remarks came just weeks after a senior US Treasury official travelled to Turkey to urge businesses there to avoid transacting with Russian companies subject to sanctions and not to sell products that can be used in Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. “If our US or EU allies have information and documents at hand, we want them to give those to us. And if there has been any violation in these matters, we will do what is necessary,” Çavuşoğlu said on Monday. Turkey, a Nato member, does not participate in international sanctions against Russia, something that has prompted consternation in many western capitals. The country’s trade with Russia boomed last year, but Çavuşoğlu said that was due in part to higher prices for Russian energy imports. So-called dual use products, typically electronics that appear benign but which contain components such as chips that can have military applications, have become a point of concern for western powers keen to disrupt Moscow’s ability to manufacture military equipment. “Turkish businesses and banks should . . . take extra precaution(s) to avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers that could be used by the Russian military-industrial complex,” Brian Nelson, US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Turkish bankers in Istanbul on February 3. “The marked rise over the past year in non-essential Turkish exports or re-exports to Russia makes the Turkish private sector particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks,” he said. Businesses that get caught dealing with entities under sanctions or breaching US and European curbs risk being cut off from a swath of the international financial system. In September, several Turkish banks halted their use of a Russian payments system after pressure from Washington. Also on Monday, Çavuşoğlu reiterated Turkey’s resistance to Sweden joining Nato. He urged international partners to convince Stockholm to take more actions to meet Turkey’s demands, while saying that Finland may be treated differently. Both Nordic countries are seeking to join Nato to protect themselves from future Russian aggression. Sweden said it would distance itself from several Kurdish groups at the behest of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan claims these groups have close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ party, which is recognised by the EU and US as a terrorist organisation. But Turkey has pushed for further measures, including the deportation of Bülent Keneş, a journalist accused by Turkey of playing a role in the 2016 coup attempt. Sweden’s Supreme Court last year rejected the extradition request, ruling that Keneş risked persecution for his political views in Turkey and Stockholm has said it can go no further in making concessions to Ankara. Recommended Person in the News Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Turkey’s president confronts disaster Blinken said he remained confident that both Sweden and Finland would ultimately be allowed to join the alliance. He also expressed solidarity over this month’s huge earthquake that killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey and neighbouring Syria. Blinken said the US would provide $185mn to help the Turkish relief effort, up from a previous commitment of $85mn. He added that President Joe Biden’s administration was supportive of Turkey’s plans to modernise its fleet of F-16 fighter jets and that the White House had made it clear to Congress that this was an important issue. The US pulled Turkey from its advanced F-35 fighter jet programme in 2019 after Erdoğan purchased the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow. Tensions between the two Nato allies have remained fraught in recent years both over Turkey’s relations with Russia and Erdoğan’s tilt towards more authoritarian rule. (Source: FT.com)
18 Feb 23. EU aims to team up with defence industry to speed up ammunition output. The European Union aims to join forces with the bloc’s defence industry to speed up and scale up the production of ammunition badly needed on the battlefield in Ukraine and to replenish military stocks at home, its chief said on Saturday.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested the bloc should do what it did during the pandemic to prepare for the large-scale production of a COVID vaccine.
“We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that give the defence industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver,” she said.
Von der Leyen underlined that the bloc could not wait for months and years to be able to replenish its own military stocks or send munitions such as 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine.
“It is now the time, really, to speed up the production, and to scale up the production of standardized products that Ukraine needs desperately, for example standardized ammunition,” she said. (Source: Google/Reuters)
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