Ukraine Project

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 29, 2024

Ukrainian officials are reportedly concerned about the possibility of significant Russian territorial gains in summer 2024 in the event of continued delays in Western security assistance. Bloomberg reported that internal Ukrainian assessments state that Russian advances along the frontline could gain significant momentum by summer 2024 unless Ukraine’s partners increase provisions of artillery ammunition. Bloomberg reported that sources close to Ukrainian leadership stated that Ukraine expects Russian forces to decide between continuing their current focus on gradual tactical advances and preparing for a larger breakthrough attempt in summer 2024 depending on the results of current Russian offensive operations. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 25 that Russian forces are preparing for a new offensive effort that will start in late May or summer 2024.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 28, 2024

Pro-Russian Moldovan breakaway region Transnistria held the Seventh Congress of Transnistrian Deputies on February 28 and adopted a series of decisions that likely aim to provide the Kremlin with justifications for a wide range of possible escalatory actions against Moldova — actions the Kremlin can pursue both immediately and over the long-term. The Congress of Transnistrian Deputies adopted seven decisions, including a request to the Russian State Duma and Federation Council for Russian “defense” of Transnistria in response to alleged increasing pressures from Moldova. Transnistrian officials specifically used “zashchita” (защита), a word that means both “defense” and “protection” in their request, likely to set conditions for the Kremlin to interpret “defense” in a military sense if it so chooses.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 27, 2024

Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area. Russian forces temporarily decreased their tempo of operations as they cleared Avdiivka following the Russian seizure of the settlement on February 17, but have since resumed a relatively high tempo of assaults further west and northwest of Avdiivka.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 26, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two decrees on February 26 that officially re-establish the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, codifying major Russian military restructuring and reform efforts. Putin signed one decree that deprives Russia’s Northern Fleet (NF) of its status as an “interservice strategic territorial organization” (a joint headquarters in Western military parlance) and transfers the land of the Northwestern Federal Okrug previously under the NF’s command to the newly formed Leningrad Military District (LMD). Putin signed a second decree that formally re-establishes the LMD and the Moscow Military District (MMD). The second decree also incorporates occupied Ukraine into the Southern Military District (SMD), notably including all of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts (as well as Crimea, which has been part of the SMD since 2014), not just the parts currently under Russian occupation.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 25, 2024

Russian officials and state media largely refrained from publicly discussing the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely in an effort to avoid addressing Russia’s failure to achieve its stated war aims at significant human costs. Russian opposition outlet Agentstvo Novosti reported on February 25 that Russian state TV channels Rossiya 1 and Channel One (Perviy Kanal) and Gazprom Media-owned TV channel NTV did not mention the two-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in broadcasts on February 24.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 24, 2024

Ukraine continues to defend against Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s attempt to destroy Ukrainian statehood and identity despite growing difficulties two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Two years ago Russia launched a full-scale war of conquest to overthrow the Ukrainian government and forcibly install a pro-Russian regime firmly under Moscow’s control. Russian forces drove on Kyiv from several directions and struck at Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol, and other Ukrainian cities. Russian President Vladimir Putin expected Ukrainians to welcome his forces or flee. Instead, Ukrainians fought for their freedom. They stopped the Russian drives on Kyiv and Kharkiv cities, stopped the Russian advance on Mykolayiv and Odesa cities, and fought Putin’s troops to a standstill along the rest of the line. Then, armed with experience, courage, determination, and growing Western aid, Ukraine struck back. Ukrainian forces drove the Russians from Kyiv and away from Kharkiv and liberated large swathes of territory in northeastern Ukraine. They liberated Kherson City and forced Russian forces off the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River. They ended the threat to Ukraine’s existence for the time.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 22, 2024

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would likely have to seize Kyiv sooner or later while identifying Russia’s possible further territorial objectives in Ukraine. Medvedev responded in an interview published on February 22 to a question asking if there will “still be any part of Ukraine left that [Russia] will consider as a legitimate state, whose borders [Russia] will be ready to recognize.” Medvedev stated that Russia must “ensure its interests” by achieving the goals of the “special military operation” as laid out by Russian President Vladimir Putin – referring to Russian demands for Ukraine’s “demilitarization,” “denazification,” and neutrality. Medvedev reiterated Russia’s intention of changing the government in Ukraine, stating that the Ukrainian government “must fall, it must be destroyed, it must not remain in this world.” Medvedev claimed that Russia must create a “protective cordon” in order to protect against “encroachments on [Russia’s] lands,” including shelling and active offensive operations. Medvedev stated that he does not know where Russia should “stop” but that Russia “probably” must seize and occupy Kyiv “if not now then after some time.”

WARNING: Transnistria May Organize a Referendum on Annexation to Russia to Support Russian Hybrid Operation Against Moldova

The pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria may call for or organize a referendum on Transnistria’s annexation to Russia at a recently announced Transnistrian Congress of Deputies planned for February 28. The pretext for such a call would be the purported need to protect Russian citizens and “compatriots” in Transnistria from threats from Moldova or NATO or both. Russian President Vladimir Putin could, in the most dangerous course of action, declare Russia’s annexation of Transnistria during his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 29, although that appears unlikely. Putin will more likely welcome whatever action the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies takes and offer observations on the situation. ISW offers this assessment as a warning for a high-impact event of indetermined probability. Moldovan government officials state that the situation in Moldova is unlikely to worsen as of February 22.