Ukrainian officials are continuing to warn about Russia’s intention of conducting a decisive offensive operation in Donbas in February and/or March, supporting ISW’s most likely course of action assessment (MLCOA). Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative Andriy Yusov stated on February 1 that Ukraine is on the eve of an active phase of combat that will take place over the next two months. Yusov noted that the poor state of Russian military equipment will force the Russian military command to mass forces to outnumber Ukrainian defenders in order to make gains. Ukrainian Colonel Serhiy Hrabskyi stated that Russia does not have sufficient forces to conduct an attack along the entire 1,500km frontline in Ukraine and will concentrate its efforts on seizing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. A prominent Russian milblogger observed that the prospect of a Russian offensive operation does not appear to be triggering panic among Ukrainian forces, who are continuing to build out their counteroffensive plans. ISW reported on January 31 that Ukrainian military officials reiterated their intent to launch major counteroffensive operations by summer 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may be setting conditions for further Russian cross-border raids into northeastern areas of Ukraine, likely in an effort to further domestic information operations and pin Ukrainian forces against northern border areas. Putin held a meeting on February 1 to discuss the restoration of residential infrastructure in Crimea, Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk oblasts following “shelling by Neo-Nazi formations.” Putin noted that his administration is prioritizing the ending of Ukrainian shelling of border regions, but that this task is “the business of the military department.” Putin’s focus on the supposed danger of Ukrainian shelling of border regions likely serves a two-fold purpose. It furthers an information operation intended to frame the war in Ukraine as an existential threat to Russian citizens in order to generate domestic support for a protracted war. ISW has reported on previous methods by which Russian authorities have engaged in this information operation. Putin may also be setting conditions for escalated cross-border raids in order to distract and disperse Ukrainian forces from critical axes of advance by pinning them to northeastern border areas. ISW continues to assess that a Russian invasion from Belarus is exceedingly unlikely, and the ongoing information operation to pin Ukrainian troops against the northern Ukraine-Belarus border seems to be faltering as Ukrainian officials increasingly assess that this contingency is improbable. The threat of cross-border raids from Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk oblasts into northern and northeastern Ukraine is likely an attempt to force Ukraine to deploy limited elements to these areas to protect against such attacks, thus dispersing Ukrainian troops to an extent in advance of a likely Russian offensive operation in the coming months. ISW has previously reported similar Russian distraction and dispersion operations in Zaporizhia Oblast.
The Kremlin is likely seizing an opportunity to discredit Igor Girkin, a prominent critical voice within the Russian nationalist space and former Russian officer, following his altercation with Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov accused Girkin of cowardice following his decision to retreat from Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast, in July 2014. This is a common criticism Girkin’s enemies direct at him. Solovyov’s remarks echo Prigozhin’s ongoing efforts to attack Girkin across the Russian information space, which ISW assessed was an attempt to undermine Girkin’s patronage networks and influence among Russian ultranationalists. Wagner-affiliated milbloggers also portray Girkin as a coward through shared interviews with individuals claiming to be Girkin’s acquaintances. ISW previously assessed that Prigozhin’s criticism of Girkin will likely benefit the Kremlin, who will seize this opportunity to discredit an avid critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Ukrainian officials are continuing to warn about Russia’s intention of conducting a decisive offensive operation in Donbas in February and/or March, supporting ISW’s most likely course of action assessment (MLCOA).
- Russian President Vladimir Putin may be setting conditions for further Russian cross-border raids into northeastern areas of Ukraine, likely in an effort to further domestic information operations and pin Ukrainian forces against northern border areas.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks northeast and southwest of Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions on the Svatove-Kreminna line on February 1.
- Russian forces are continuing to carry out unsuccessful disruption missions on islands in the Dnipro River delta in Kherson Oblast in an effort to prevent Ukrainian forces from gaining ground on the islands.
- Russian officials plan to propose a moratorium on the public procurement law to simplify spending procedures amid an increasingly costly war effort.
- The Wagner Group’s prison recruitment efforts may have slowed in previous months.
- Crimean partisans may have conducted an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in occupied Crimea on January 30.