Russian forces have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive in Luhansk Oblast. The pace of Russian operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line in western Luhansk Oblast has increased markedly over the past week, and Russian sources are widely reporting that conventional Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian defensive lines and making marginal advances along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border, particularly northwest of Svatove near Kupyansk and west of Kreminna. Geolocated combat footage has confirmed Russian gains in the Dvorichne area northwest of Svatove. Russian military command additionally appears to have fully committed elements of several conventional divisions to decisive offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line, as ISW previously reported. Elements of several regiments of the 144th and 3rd Motor Rifle Division (20th Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) and a regiment of the 90th Tank Division (Central Military District), supported by elements of the 76th Airborne Division and unspecified Southern Military District elements, are conducting offensive operations along the entire Svatove-Kreminna line and are reportedly advancing against Ukrainian defenses.
The commitment of significant elements of at least three major Russian divisions to offensive operations in this sector indicates the Russian offensive has begun, even if Ukrainian forces are so far preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains. The Russian offensive likely has not yet reached its full tempo; Russian command has not yet committed elements of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division (1st Guards Tank Army, Western Military District), which deployed to Luhansk Oblast in January after deploying to Belarus. Russian forces are gradually beginning an offensive, but its success is not inherent or predetermined. While Russian forces in Luhansk Oblast now have the initiative (in that Russian forces are setting the terms of battle, ending the period of Ukrainian initiative from August 2022), the full commitment of these forces could lead to their eventual culmination along the Svatove-Kreminna line without achieving their objectives of capturing all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. That culmination would likely provide a window of opportunity for Ukrainian forces to exploit with their own counteroffensive.
Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia command reportedly assumed control over a Russian artillery battalion, likely in support of an effort to strengthen degraded DNR forces ahead of an imminent Russian offensive. A Russian source published a video appeal from mobilized personnel of the 640th howitzer battalion from Saratov Oblast on February 8 in which they stated that Russian military officials sent them to join DNR units and that DNR commanders are now trying to transfer them to infantry assault units. ISW has not previously observed Russian personnel subordinated to a DNR formation and this claim, if true, would suggest that Russian forces may be reinforcing degraded DNR formations with mobilized personnel from Russia itself because DNR formations are unable to replenish losses themselves. The reported subordination of Russian military personnel to DNR formations may portend a Russian effort to prepare DNR formations for an expanded role in their zone of responsibility along the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and the transfer of remaining conventional Russian forces from this area to the Bakhmut area and Luhansk Oblast, where Russian forces are conducting an increased pace of offensive operations.
The reported subordination of Russian mobilized personnel to DNR formations could also suggest that Russian military command may be continuing efforts to integrate ad hoc DNR and Luhansk People‘s Republic (LNR) formations into the Russian Armed Forces, but will likely face significant difficulties. The Russian Southern Military District formally controls the armed forces of the DNR and LNR through the 1st and 2nd Army Corps, respectively. However, many DNR and LNR formations remain ad hoc units and are not fully integrated into Russian MoD structures. ISW previously assessed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appears to be rushing to integrate irregular conventional forces into a more traditional structure and may be creating new formations from DNR/LNR units in support of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s proposals to create new maneuver divisions. Russian forces would likely need to temporarily remove these irregular forces from frontline positions to integrate them into new Russian formations, a prospect that would not be operationally sound ahead of increased Russan offensive operations in Ukraine. Russian officials therefore may be attempting to gradually integrate these irregular formations through subordinating mobilized personnel under them without disrupting the command structures and existing personnel operating at front line positions. The mobilized personnel of the 640th howitzer battalion claimed that DNR command is retraining assault units for artillery purposes yet still committing their artillery battalion to infantry roles, indicating a breakdown in command and the proper utilization of personnel among DNR formations. The Russian MoD will likely struggle to correct the poor effectiveness of DNR/LNR forces through the rapid integration of Russian personnel.
Russian officials continue to propose measures to prepare Russia’s military industry for a protracted war in Ukraine while also likely setting further conditions for sanctions evasion. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stated on February 8 that the Russian government will subsidize investment projects for the modernization of enterprises operating in the interests of the Russian military and will allocate significant funds for manufacturing new military equipment. Mishustin also stated that the Russian government would extend benefits to Russian entrepreneurs who support the Russian military, including extended payment periods on rented federal property. The Kremlin likely intends these measures to augment its overarching effort to gradually prepare Russia’s military industry for a protracted war in Ukraine while avoiding a wider economic mobilization that would create further domestic economic disruptions and corresponding discontent.
Russian officials also likely proposed these measures in coordination with a recent decree excluding Russian officials from requirements to list income declarations and proposals to repeal federal procurement procedures. The Kremlin may be creating a system of subsidies and benefits designed to have little oversight or accounting. This lack of oversight and accounting would likely allow Russian firms to better evade international sanctions regimes targeting Russia’s military industry. The United Kingdom announced a new list of sanctioned entities on February 8 focused on Russia’s military industry. ISW previously reported that 82% of Iranian-made drones downed in Ukraine had chips, semiconductors, and other components from the United States, suggesting that Russia and Iran are likely exploiting loopholes to transfer Western-produced arms components to Russia via proxy actors. The Kremlin’s effort to prepare the Russian military industry for a protracted war in Ukraine in part relies on the ability of Russian military industry to have consistent access to multiple secure supply chains of key foreign components that it otherwise cannot produce.
- Russian forces have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive in Luhansk Oblast.
- The commitment of significant elements of at least three major Russian divisions to offensive operations in this sector indicates the Russian offensive has begun, even if Ukrainian forces are so far preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains.
- Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia command reportedly assumed control over a Russian artillery battalion, likely in support of an effort to strengthen degraded DNR forces ahead of an imminent Russian offensive.
- The reported subordination of Russian mobilized personnel to DNR formations could also suggest that Russian military command may be continuing efforts to integrate ad hoc DNR and Luhansk People‘s Republic (LNR) formations into the Russian Armed Forces, but will likely face significant difficulties.
- Russian officials continue to propose measures to prepare Russia’s military industry for a protracted war in Ukraine while also likely setting further conditions for sanctions evasion.
- Russian forces continued offensive actions northwest of Svatove and intensified offensive operations near Kreminna.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area and western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continue small-scale skirmishes and reconnaissance activity in the Dnipro River delta and on the Kinburn Spit.
- The Wagner Group is reportedly resorting to more coercive tactics in its prison recruitment campaign, possibly in response to the campaign’s declining effectiveness.