The Kremlin did not comment on the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely because Russia has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives and has not made significant territorial gains since July 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration made no statements relating to the anniversary even though Putin has made numerous public appearances over the past three days. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev made inflammatory claims that Russia will win the war and reiterated that it is vital for Russia to achieve its goals to “push back the borders that threaten [Russia] as far as possible, even if they are the borders of Poland.” ISW has previously assessed that the Kremlin has been using Medvedev to sustain information campaigns targeting Western military support for Ukraine and to deflect attention from Russia’s military failures. Medvedev’s statements highlight the fact that the Kremlin is continuing to pursue its unrealistic maximalist goals even though it has no meaningful successes to offer the Russian people after a year of costly war in Ukraine.
Select Russian milbloggers commented on the Kremlin’s silence on the first anniversary of the war. Russian former officer and an avid Kremlin critic Igor Girkin criticized Medvedev’s statements as delusional and lamented the fact that no one remembers the severe losses Russian airborne troops suffered during the fight for Hostomel Airfield near Kyiv on February 24, 2022. Girkin claimed that he had long been forecasting that Russia had embarked upon a protracted and exhausting war. He noted that it is very difficult to defeat a state that receives external support using Russia’s unmotivated forces, absent civil society, and strong brainwashing. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger attempted to downplay Russia’s military failures expressing thanks that the war revealed shortcomings but distress at the high price paid in Russian blood. The milblogger also amplified the Kremlin’s false narrative that the war was necessary to stop supposed Ukrainian “aggression” in Donbas. The milblogger’s statements closely mirror comments made by unnamed Kremlin-affiliated officials to Financial Times who noted that Putin will try to frame Russia’s catastrophic military failures as a necessary learning experience that Russia will use to prepare for future supposed NATO aggression against Russia that Putin purportedly fears.
A Russian source capitalized on China’s release of a 12-point peace plan to inaccurately portray China as supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a document on February 24 titled “China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis” that called for Ukraine and Russia to respect each other’s sovereignty, cease hostilities, resume peace talks, reduce strategic risks, and cease unilateral sanctions. Advisor to the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) head Rodion Miroshnik falsely asserted that China’s peace plan insinuated that Ukraine and the West are the aggressors, supporting Russia’s framing of the war. China’s release of the vague peace plan is likely in support of an ongoing effort balance between supporting Russia and retaining access to European markets by portraying China as a disinterested third-party mediator. The Chinese peace plan is unlikely to be a serious blueprint for a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine.
US intelligence reportedly assesses that China is seriously considering sending weapons to Russia amidst continued pressure from Western sanctions regimes on Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB). CNN reported on February 24 that sources familiar with the intelligence stated that Chinese officials have not made a final decision on the provision of lethal aid but are discussing the price and scope of the supply of attack drones and ammunition with Russian officials. Senior US officials reportedly assess that recent intelligence suggests that China is leaning toward providing the equipment to Russia, although based on a bilateral arms sales agreement and not as security assistance. German outlet Der Spiegel reported on February 23 that Russian officials are engaged in negotiations with Chinese drone manufacturer Xi’an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology for the mass production and delivery of 100 ZT-180 drones to Russian forces by April. Der Spiegel reported that the ZT-180 drone can carry a 35-50kg warhead, suggesting that these drones may be a dual-use technology that Russian forces are seeking to acquire for reconnaissance purposes and not just as loitering munitions or high-precision weapons systems. Russian and Chinese officials have reportedly developed plans for the shipment of the drones to Russia under falsified shipping documents labeling the equipment as replacement parts for civil aviation.
Russian officials are likely seeking support from Chinese defense manufacturers due to restrictions that international sanctions regimes have placed on Russia’s defense industry. The United Kingdom (UK) government and the US Department of Treasury both announced new sanctions and export ban measures on February 24 specifically targeting industries, entities, and individuals supporting Russian military capabilities. The UK government stated that its new package of export bans aims to block the export of every item that Russia uses on the battlefield in Ukraine and that its new sanctions package would target senior executives of Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, executives of Russian defense firms, six entities involved in the repair of Russian military equipment, four Russian banks, and Russian elite figures. The US Department of Treasury stated that Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and 83 entities, 30 of which are reportedly third-country entities and individuals that help Russia evade existing sanctions measures. Intensified Western sanctions regimes will likely continue to constrain Russia’s ability to acquire the technology and materiel to maintain a defense industrial base necessary for supporting its war effort in Ukraine.
Western governments made a variety of statements on the provision of military aid to Ukraine on February 24. Polish President Andzej Duda reported that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki delivered the first batch of Leopards to Ukraine as part of the international “tank coalition.” Conversely, US Army Minister Christine Wormuth stated that it could take the United States more than a year to deliver M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine due to the production and modernization timeline associated with such tank variants. US National Security Advisory Jake Sullivan stated on February 24 that Russia has already lost its war in Ukraine, but that the provision of F-16 fighter jets, which the Ukrainian government has consistently asked the West for, “are not the key capability” that Ukraine currently needs. Sullivan remarked that the provision of F-16s is not a question of the short-term and instead a question of long-term defensive capabilities. As ISW has previously assessed, the West’s material support for Ukraine, particularly the provision of main battle tanks and other critical systems, is essential to enable Ukraine to conduct successful mechanized counteroffensives to liberate Ukrainian people and territory. Continued Western support for Ukraine is crucial to enabling Ukraine to regain the initiative and reengage in successive counteroffensive operations in the near future.
The Kremlin escalated its information conditions-setting for a possible false-flag operation in Russian-occupied Transnistria, Moldova. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) made a second claim on February 23 that Ukrainian forces are intensifying preparations to invade Transnistria following its first such claim earlier in the day. The MoD emphasized that the claimed Ukrainian plan poses a significant threat to the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Transnistria. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed on February 24 that Russia will consider any action that threatens Transnistrian security as an attack against Russia. The Kremlin may instead aim to destabilize Moldova, however. Some Russian milbloggers amplified the Kremlin’s rhetoric by claiming that the situation along the Ukrainian-Transnistrian border is becoming increasingly tense. Moldovan officials continued to deny Russian claims on February 24, characterizing the claims as “aggressive disinformation” or “a psychological operation.”
- The Kremlin did not comment on the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely because Russia has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives and has not made significant territorial gains since July 2022.
- A Russian source capitalized on China’s release of a 12-point peace plan to inaccurately portray China as supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.
- US intelligence reportedly continues to assess that China is seriously considering sending lethal aid to Russia amid continued pressure from Western sanctions regimes on Russia’s defense industrial base.
- Western governments made a variety of statements on the provision of military aid to Ukraine on February 24.
- The Kremlin escalated its information condition-setting for a possible false-flag operation in occupied Transnistria, Moldova.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks northwest of Svatove and near Kreminna.
- Russian sources confirmed that Russian forces have split certain Airborne (VDV) force formations across at least two axes of advance.
- Russian forces made marginal territorial gains around Bakhmut and continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
- Ukrainian officials suggested that Russian forces may feel insecure in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
- Russian authorities continue measures to expand the capacity of Russian peacekeepers.
- Russian sources likely attempted to shift the blame for scandals associated with Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commanders to the conventional Russian military.
- Ukrainian partisans likely blew up a railway segment near Poshtove, Crimea.