February 26, 2024

Institue for the Study of War:  Russian forces make confirmed gains in Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka

Institute for the Study of War

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) — with the LMD taking over most of the territory previously under the NF and the MMD taking over most of the territory previously under the Western Military District (WMD). 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. The inclusion of both the occupied and un-occupied parts of Ukrainian territory further suggests that Russia maintains maximalist objectives in Ukraine and seeks to fully absorb all five of these Ukrainian territories into the Russian Federation.

The formal transfer of regions previously under the responsibility of the Northern Fleet is likely part of a wider Russian effort to re-establish military district commands as the primary headquarters for the Russian ground forces while reassigning naval assets to the Russian Navy, as ISW previously reported. Russian state media reported in November 2023 that naval assets of all five of Russia’s fleets — the Northern, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea fleets and the Caspian Flotilla — may return to direct subordination to the Russian Navy, while the ground, aviation, and air defense assets of the fleets will be allocated to military district commands. This information is still unconfirmed, but it appears that the Russian military is trying to reconsolidate ground forces and assets under military districts while consolidating naval forces and assets under the Russian naval chain of command.

The re-creation of the MMD and LMD supports the parallel objectives of consolidating control over Russian operations in Ukraine in the short-to-medium term and preparing for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO in the long term. The February 26 decree officially disbands the WMD, which the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) formed in 2010 by merging the MMD and LMD. The WMD previously covered the Russian border with northeastern Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States, which stretched the WMD’s strategic focus between overseeing Russian operations in Ukraine following the 2022 full-scale invasion and posturing against NATO. The re-separation of the WMD into the MMD and LMD, therefore, is a direct remedy to this issue. The LMD will now run along NATO’s northeastern border, and the MMD will border northeastern Ukraine and Poland, which will allow Russia to simultaneously posture against NATO and streamline command and control (C2) for the war in Ukraine. Putin previously claimed that it was necessary to create the LMD after Finland joined NATO in 2023, signaling the Kremlin’s clear intent to use the LMD to posture against NATO.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sweden will join NATO following Hungary’s formal approval of Sweden’s accession bid on February 26.
  • 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.
  • The formal transfer of regions previously under the responsibility of the Northern Fleet is likely part of a wider Russian effort to re-establish military district commands as the primary headquarters for the Russian ground forces while reassigning naval assets to the Russian Navy, as ISW previously reported.
  • The re-creation of the MMD and LMD supports the parallel objectives of consolidating control over Russian operations in Ukraine in the short-to-medium term and preparing for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO in the long term.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 25 that Russia is preparing a new offensive that will start in late May or summer 2024, consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces have regained the theater-wide initiative and will be able to pursue offensive operations when and where they choose as long as they hold the initiative.
  • Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov is continuing a recent campaign to engage with Russian military personnel following the Russian capture of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast and reportedly visited a command post of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) in Ukraine.
  • Over 20 heads of state, including 15 European Union (EU) leaders met in Paris on February 26 to discuss ramping up ammunition supplies to Ukraine.
  • Germany announced a new military aid package to Ukraine on February 26.
  • Transnistrian sources reportedly told Russian independent outlet Verstka that Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, is not planning to ask to join Russia during the Congress of Deputies in Tiraspol on February 28.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed gains near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • Russia reportedly imported almost 450 million euros (about $488 million) worth of sanctioned “sensitive” European goods, including weapons technology, between January and September 2023.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-february-26-2024

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