US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signaled on February 14 that the Ukraine Defense Contact Group’s 54 member states will continue to support Ukraine in the long run. Austin stated that the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (a coalition of 54 states supporting Ukraine’s defense) will “support Ukraine’s fight for freedom over the long haul” and will support Ukraine during a spring counteroffensive. The Washington Post reported on February 13 that the Biden administration will announce a new aid package for Ukraine “in the next week.”
The Washington Post reported that US officials have privately signaled to Ukraine that Western security aid to Ukraine is finite, however. The Washington Post reported on February 13 that an anonymous US government official stated that US government officials are trying to “impress upon [Ukrainian officials] that [the US Government] can’t do anything and everything forever.” The Washington Postalso reported that US officials stated that recent Western aid packages for Ukraine “represent Kyiv’s best chance to decisively change the course of the war.”
Western reporting indicates that there continue to be Western concerns about Ukraine’s determination to hold Bakhmut. The Washington Post also reported that US defense planners assess that Ukrainian forces are unable to simultaneously defend Bakhmut and launch a spring counteroffensive and have urged Ukraine to prioritize the spring counteroffensive over defending Bakhmut. ISW continues to assess that Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut is likely a strategically sound effort despite its costs for Ukraine. Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut has forced the Kremlin to expend much of the Wagner Group as a force and commit high-value Russian airborne forces to sustain attritional advances. Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut has degraded significant Russian forces and will likely set favorable conditions for a future Ukrainian counteroffensive. Had Russian troops taken Bakhmut without significant Ukrainian resistance they could have hoped to expand operations in ways that could have forced Ukraine to construct hasty defensive positions in less favorable terrain. Therefore, Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut and undertaking an effort to set conditions for a counteroffensive are likely complementary, not mutually exclusive, activities considering that Russian forces would have continued their offensive beyond Bakhmut had Ukraine yielded the city earlier.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is reportedly recruiting convicts and mimicking the Wagner Group’s treatment of convicts as cannon fodder. CNN reported that the Russian MoD had been directly recruiting prisoners who deployed to Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, into formations of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) 2nd Army Corps in October 2022. Convicts complained to CNN about gruesome abuses and noted that they suffered heavy casualties after they were ordered to storm Ukrainian defensive positions. CNN also obtained a recording from a deceased convict who feared that the Russian MoD would execute him after he survived an assault on Soledar, though this soldier was killed in action days later anyway. These convicts specified that the Russian MoD recruited them after Wagner Group initially overlooked them, and even accused Russian forces of conducting deliberate friendly fire against the convicts.
- US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signaled on February 14 that the Ukraine Defense Contact Group’s 54 member states will continue to support Ukraine in the long run. The Washington Post reported that US officials have privately signaled to Ukraine that Western security aid to Ukraine is finite, however.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is reportedly recruiting convicts and mimicking the Wagner Group’s treatment of convicts as cannon fodder.
- Russian forces continued offensive actions in the Kupyansk direction and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on February 14.
- Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast or in Kherson, Mykolaiv, or western Zaporizhia oblasts on February 14.
- Russian ground forces on the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia have been reduced to one-fifth of their initial strength numbers before the invasion of Ukraine, supporting ISW’s longtime assessment that the Kremlin is not concerned about a NATO conventional military threat against Russia.
- A Ukrainian and Tatar partisan group reportedly conducted an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a car carrying two Russian military personnel and two Russian special service representatives in Nova Kakhovka on February 10.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may meet on February 17.