The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine commenced late Monday following missile strikes against military targets in western Ukraine and preparatory artillery fire strikes against Ukrainian forces in the east. Russia has spent the past two weeks reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the Donbas region in preparation for this moment. Ukraine had also resupplied and reinforced its ground forces in the east to the best of Kiev’s ability. These efforts have attracted Russian attention, as was made apparent by the missile attacks on military targets deep in the Ukrainian rear areas like Lviv. Disrupting the flow of war supplies from outside Ukraine has become a high priority for Russia, a lesson learned the hard way earlier in the conflict. The supply routes coming from Poland and other NATO nations into Ukraine are going to be targeted more as the offensive in Donbas is now getting underway.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that a new phase of the war has begun. During an interview with India Today, the diplomat said, “This operation in the east of Ukraine is aimed as it was announced from the very beginning to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.” When he was questioned about the growing rhetoric over nuclear weapons, Lavrov blamed the Ukrainian government, and specifically Volodymyr Zelenskiy for fueling false allegations.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is modifying its forecast for global economic growth over the next 24 months as the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine continue to expand. When the war started in February, 2022, economies around the world hadn’t yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now these recoveries will be hampered by the war, jeopardizing growth in nations mainly across Europe and Asia. Naturally, Russia and Ukraine are feeling the most direct and immediate effects of the war.
In Mariupol, organized Ukrainian resistance in much of the city had ended. Practically speaking, Russian forces now control most of the port city, but with the notable exception of the Azovstal Steelworks, one of Europe’s largest. Ukrainian troops and civilians are now holing up there. The vast complex is now the center of Ukrainian resistance inside of Mariupol. How long it will hold out remains to be seen. However, it could be a prolonged period of time before resistance comes to an end. The Ukrainian troops there are now fighting to protect the lives of civilians who have gathered at the plant. Their presence gives the Ukrainian soldiers there added incentive to continue fighting fiercely for as long as possible.
Lviv was again targeted by Russian missile strikes on Monday. Five ballistic missiles landed within the city limits. City officials claim seven civilians were killed in the attacks. Russia has increased the pressure on Lviv and other military targets in western Ukraine as its forces continue to prepare for a major offensive in the Donbas region.
In the east, Russia seems to be applying the lessons learned in its failed offensive in northern Ukraine as it undertakes preparations for an attack in the east. Russia is moving in heavy artillery, command and control headquarters, and attack helicopters to support the coming operation. Also in the last five days, 11 full-strength battalion tactical groups have arrived in Luhansk and Donetsk.
The United Nations does not foresee a ceasefire on the horizon in Ukraine. Though Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief has indicated he believes one could be possible in the coming weeks. The UN has been working to play a greater role in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and to bring about humanitarian ceasefires honored by both sides.
The situation in eastern Ukraine is becoming clear at the moment, even as the situation in the remainder of the region remains fluid. Around 4 PM local time (Eastern Standard) Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military forces to enter the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and conduct ‘peacekeeping operations.’ According to multiple sources, Russian forces have already begun entering both the LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic). The start of this peacekeeping mission turns Minsk II to ash.
The Ukrainian government has been very slow in responding to what’s developing in the east, but it is imperative that Kiev release a statement soon. Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies are preparing sanctions packages. Latvia is calling for sanctions to be placed on Russia as punishment for the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus. Russia’s moves today are being correctly labeled as an annexation and attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine. Only in a much more overt manner when compared to the Crimea annexation in 2014.
There is some news coming out of Donbas from independent sources, however, this will likely not last. I expect the region to be locked down electronically very soon, limiting the amount of information coming out of there.
As I said before, things are very fluid in the east now so I will probably put up a new update by 8 PM.
Diplomacy may be afforded one final opportunity to prevent war from erupting in Ukraine. US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to meet for a summit meeting to discuss the ‘security and stability’ of Europe. Biden added that he will attend only if an invasion has not happened. The office of French President Emanuel Macron was swift to take credit for the summit idea as well as getting both the US and Russian leaders to agree. Macron has been attempting to shoehorn his way onto centerstage and keep France in the diplomatic limelight for weeks now. It serves his purposes to take credit for brokering a summit and helping to bring about an eleventh-hour peaceful solution to the crisis. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will discuss the summit when they meet on 24 February.
At this point in the crisis, open source intelligence ‘experts’ are tripping over themselves in an attempt to correctly identify from satellite photographs the extent of military deployments near the Ukrainian border. Their ‘analysis’ has flip-flopped severely in recent days. If anything, this crisis is highlighting the limits of OSINT analysts and pointing out their limited value in a fluid, fast-moving situation like this crisis. I realize this is not the first time I’ve broached the topic, yet I felt it was appropriate to mention this evening. It will likely be the last time I mention the OSINT sources who seem to be more interested in picking up followers on social media then they do with providing useful conclusions to the data.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was in Munich on Saturday trying to reinforce Western support for his nation as the prospects of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis grow even dimmer. Zelenskiy was critical of the Western response thus far. He appealed for economic sanctions against Russia to start before the shooting does. He also pointed out that daily predictions of a Russian invasion by US and European leaders only serves to damage Ukraine’s economy, rather than deter Russia. In conclusion, Zelenskiy said no deal should be reached between Russia and the West that does not include his country. US and European officials were uneasy with Zelenskiy’s decision to fly to Munich today. It was feared that his departure from Kiev would be viewed as a window of opportunity, enticing Russia to take action.
Allied Resolve, the military exercise taking place in Belarus is coming to an end. Before the exercise even started, Belarussian government assured a nervous world that Russian forces would be leaving their country as soon as Allied Resolve concluded. Today, Belarus announced Russian forces will not be departing the country after Allied Resolve concludes on 20 February. Government officials in Minsk have denied ever limiting the amount of time Russian troops would be allowed to remain on Belarussian soil.
To be fair, it was apparent from the moment Allied Resolve was announced that the exercise was being launched at least partly to provide cover for the movement of tens of thousands of Russian troops into Belarus. As the exercise continued on, more Russian units continued arriving in the country, tying up highways and railways across much of Belarus in the process. Neither Minsk or Moscow were fooling anyone and it is likely both Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko knew it.
Pro-Russian separatists launched a number of artillery strikes against Ukrainian military positions around the Kiev government-controlled town of Svitlodarsk in eastern Ukraine. Artillery picked up along the length of the line of confrontation in the east, it was heaviest around Svitlodarsk for most of the morning and early afternoon. The rate of fire was nearly twice what it has been in the previous two days and included mortar rounds, artillery shells and RPGs.