Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Iran Update, February 28, 2023

Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Carl, Amin Soltani, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 28, 2023, 5:00 pm ET


The Iran Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Contributors: Anya Caraiani and James Motamed

Regime incompetence and mismanagement is driving further protest activity and popular frustration toward the regime and may unite citizens with disparate grievances. The regime is facing several concurrent crises over its mishandling of economic, ecological, and security issues. The regime is continuing to victimize its people with a range of different problems, stoking anti-regime frustration across many different demographics.

CTP recorded 20 protests across 14 provinces on February 28, 18 of which focused on Iran’s deteriorating economic conditions. The extent and scale of these demonstrations supports CTP’s previous assessment that protest activity in Iran is rising and returning to levels not seen since the end of 2022, and economic frustrations are driving much of this unrest.[1] The value of the Iranian rial appreciated slightly to 556,500 against the US dollar on February 28—an improvement from a record low of roughly 600,000 on February 26—following the reported intervention of the Central Bank of Iran to stabilize the currency, although the Raisi administration has not yet articulated a clear policy to meaningfully improve the economy.[2] An Iranian parliamentarian characterized Raisi’s economic strategy as “emotional—not a plan based on science and decisive decisions” on February 28, echoing previous criticisms of Raisi’s cabinet in recent days.[3]



Iranian social media users are framing Iran’s ecological issues as another consequence of regime incompetence in response to the death of a critically endangered 10-month-old Asiatic cheetah cub named Pirouz on February 28.[4] Pirouz, whose name means ”victory,” was a symbol of hope among many Iranian dissidents and featured in Shervin Hajipour’s popular protest song ”Baraye“—the unofficial anthem of the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[5] A senior official at Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization previously stated in late 2022 that the regime did not have ”the time nor money” to care for Pirouz.[6] Iranian leaders have long suppressed and silenced environmental activists due to these leaders’ paranoia and fear of their own population. The regime arrested wildlife conservationists who were monitoring endangered species, including Asiatic cheetah, in January 2018.[7] The regime also reportedly excluded these environmental activists from the mass amnesty that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued on February 5.[8] 

The regime has furthermore failed to protect hundreds of Iranian women going to school in recent months. Hundreds of schoolgirls in at least 10 Iranian cities have experienced poisoning symptoms since late 2022.[9] Victims experience symptoms such as coughing, smelling a “tangerine-like smell,” lethargy, numbness, and shaking.[10] Some victims have been hospitalized.[11] Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan announced on February 28 that the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) is investigating these countrywide incidents of chemical poisoning but noted that it had not yet arrested suspected perpetrators.[12] Some social media users have suggested that religious extremists have perpetrated the attack to dissuade Iranian females from obtaining an education.[13] Victims’ parents protested in Qom and criticized the government response on February 14, as CTP previously reported.[14] The pro-Pahlavi Iranian Neighborhood United Front called for countrywide demonstrations in response to the poisonings.[15]

Iran has intensified efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi state security services in recent days. Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Mohammad Saeed al Abbasi paid an official visit to Tehran on February 25-27, as CTP previously reported, likely to discuss Iran providing arms and military training to Iraq.[16] Iranian leaders may seek to sell basic ground forces equipment that the regime produces domestically, such as ammunition, artillery, and small arms, and provide training to generate much-needed revenue and increase Iranian influence over the Iraqi security forces.  Iranian and Russian officials have discussed in recent weeks cooperating to manufacture helicopters, which Iran could also eventually sell to Iraq.[17] Social media rumors have furthermore reported in recent days that the Iraqi Parliament may soon consider legislation that would further institutionalize the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in the Iraqi security structure.[18] The PMF is a loose umbrella of Shia militias—many of whom Iran directs and materially supports—that operate independently of the Iraqi central government. The draft legislation reportedly permits the PMF to independently pursue arms deals with foreign sellers, although CTP cannot confirm these rumors presently. The parliamentary committee preparing the draft legislation reportedly has ties to the Iran-backed Badr Organization, which Iranian proxy Hadi al Ameri leads.[19] These efforts may be part of a larger Iranian strategy to build a cohesive coalition of proxy and partner militias throughout the region to project strength and pursue strategic objectives. CTP will explore this assessment in greater detail in an upcoming report.

Key Takeaways

  • Regime incompetence and mismanagement is driving further protest activity and popular frustration toward the regime and may unite citizens with disparate grievances.
  • Iran has intensified efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi state security services in recent days.
  • At least 20 protests occurred in 15 cities across 14 provinces on February 28.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported on February 28 that the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) confirmed the discovery of traces of 84-percent enriched uranium--near weapons-grade--at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant in a confidential report circulated among member states.
  • The IRGC Aerospace Force and Artesh Air Defense Force conducted an annual “Velayat Sky Defenders” joint air defense exercises on February 28.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

At least 20 protests occurred in 15 cities across 14 provinces on February 28. CTP assesses with high to moderate confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Karaj, Alborz Province[20]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Civil servant retirees

Shahr-e Kord, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari[21]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Tabriz, East Azerbaijan[22]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Esfahan City, Esfahan Province[23]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Civil servant retirees
  • Chants: “Inept Raisi, go back to the seminary”

Kermanshah City, Kermanshah Province[24]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Civil servant retirees
  • Chants: “Raisi, feel ashamed, leave the country”

Arak, Markazi Province[25]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Civil servant retirees

Tehran City, Tehran Province[26]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Individuals who are owed remittances by Azerbaijan Khodro automobile company
  • Notes: Strike and protests

Tehran City, Tehran Province[27]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: University of Tehran students
  • Notes: Students protested the decision to move all classes to virtual learning after Nowruz

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Ardabil City, Ardabil Province[28]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Esfahan City, Esfahan Province[29]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Esfahan Art University students

Ghazvin City, Ghazvin Province[30]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Rasht, Gilan Province[31]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Ilam City, Ilam Province[32]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Marivan, Kurdistan Province[33]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province[34]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Babol, Mazandaran Province[35]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Tehran City, Tehran Province[36]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Moradabad landowners

Tehran City, Tehran Province[37]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Waste workers
  • Notes: Strike and protest. Pro-Khamenei and Khomeini banners

Yazd City, Yazd Province[38]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retirees

Yazd City, Yazd Province[39]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Steel workers



Protest coordinators and organizations called for anti-regime demonstrations on the following dates:

March 1[40]

  • Notes: Protests against student chemical poisonings, environmental mismanagement, economic corruption, and protester arrests

March 8[41]

  • Location: Countrywide, city centers at 18:00 local time
  • Notes: Commemorating International Women’s Day

March 13-15[42]

  • Location: Countrywide
  • Notes: Coincides with a Zoroastrian fire festival—Chahar Shanbeh Souri—on March 15

Social media accounts reported on February 28 that an individual set themselves aflame in public in Kashmar, Khorasan Razavi Province.[43] The individual was reportedly protesting against the poor economic conditions.

Economic Affairs

The Supreme Economic Coordination Council met to discuss Iran’s economic problems on February 26. The council, which is chaired by President Ebrahim Raisi, Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, emphasized the importance of cross-branch cooperation between the judiciary, parliament, and the Raisi administration to control exchange rates and provide currency for the import of goods.[44] Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi characterized exchange rates as “inaccurate” in the Forex Management Integrated System.[45]

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf publicly denounced Program and Budgeting Organization Head Massoud Mir Kazemi’s allegation that Parliament had increased the yearly fiscal budget by roughly four quadrillion rials (7.142 billion US dollars). Ghalibaf added that “if the budget ceiling goes up, inflation will increase, and disharmony will arise.”[46] It is possible that Iranian leadership is renegotiating the fiscal budget as inflation rates and the depreciation of the rial have reduced Iranian purchasing power. Simply adding to the budget, however, risks fueling inflation and further devaluing the rial, worsening the vicious economic circle.

Nuclear Program

The Wall Street Journal reported on February 28 that the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) confirmed the discovery of traces of 84-percent enriched uranium--near weapons-grade--at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant in a confidential report circulated among member states.[47] The IAEA report stated that the regime experimented with producing weapons-grade uranium at the same time as it had altered the connections between cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow. An unidentified individual connected to the IAEA stated that the amount of 84-percent enriched uranium produced thus far is likely very small. Iran’s stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium has increased to 87.5 kilograms; more than triple the amount the IAEA considers a “significant quantity” of highly enriched uranium (even if not weapons-grade) needed to produce a single compact nuclear explosive.[48] US Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl estimated on February 28 that the Iran could produce enough fissile material for a single traditional nuclear weapon in 12 days.[49]

External Security and Military Affairs

The IRGC Quds Force and Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reportedly cooperated to arrest the commander of the Iranian-backed SAA 47th Hashemiyoun Brigade in Deir ez Zour Province on February 25, ostensibly on drug trafficking and smuggling charges.[50] Syrian media suggested that the newly appointed local Quds Force commander in the province—known by the pseudonym “Hajj Abbas”—had personal disputes with the 47th Brigade commander, who is close to Hajj Abbas’ predecessor, Hajj Askar. The IRGC appointed Hajj Abbas to replace Hajj Askar on February 2, as CTP previously reported.[51] Former Syrian officer Ahmed Rahal claimed that the IRGC dismissed Hajj Askar over his failure to protect Iranian convoys crossing the Iraq-Syria border from Israeli airstrikes. These explanations do not explain the reported redeployment of the 47th Brigade and its replacement by elements of Iran’s Afghan Fatemiyoun units that CTP reported on February 27th.[52]

The LEC Border Guard sent a delegation to the UAE on February 28.[53] Iranian state media reported that the delegation will discuss security cooperation, such as combatting organized crime and smuggling, with its Emirati counterparts.

The IRGC Aerospace Force and Artesh Air Defense Force conducted an annual “Velayat Sky Defenders” joint air defense exercises on February 28. Iranian media circulated images of the Khordad 3 and 15 air defense systems targeting cruise missiles and detecting and intercepting drones.[54] Brigadier General Abbas Faraj Pour, the exercises’ spokesperson, added that the IRGC Aerospace Force and Artesh Air Defense Force additionally participated in cyber warfare training on this date.[55]



[2] bonbast dot com ; ;

[3] ;

[4] ; ;





[9] https://www.entekhab dot ir/0030Vh;








[17] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/en/news/2023/01/17/2838722/russia-ready-for-joint-production-of-cars-copters-with-iran


[19] https://manhom dot com/%D8%B4%D8%AE%D8%B5%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA/%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%84%D9%8A/

[20] ; ;

[21] ; ; ; ;

[22] ; ;

[23]; ;

[24] ; ;

[25] ; ;

[26] ;

[27] ; ;

[28] ;


[30] ;

[31] ;

[32] ;

[33] ;

[34] ;




[38] ;



[41] ; ; ;



[44] https://president dot ir/fa/142613

[45] https://www.isna dot ir/news/1401120805659/%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B1-%DA%86%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%AF





[50] https://eyeofeuphrates dot com/ar/news/2023/02/25/7820



[53] http://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/12/09/2860178

[54]  ; ; ; 



Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 28, 2023

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Nicole Wolkov, Angela Howard, and Frederick W. Kagan
February 28, 6:30pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Russian authorities appear to be escalating their promotion of false flag information operations to distract from their lack of tangible battlefield gains and slow down the provision of Western tanks and other aid in advance of expected Ukrainian counter-offensives. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) accused the “US and its accomplices” on February 28 of planning to carry out a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals.[1]  The Russian MoD relatedly claimed on February 19 that Ukrainian officials are planning false-flag attacks at hazardous radiation facilities in Ukraine to accuse Russian forces of indiscriminately striking such sites.[2] The apparent uptick in fallacious biochemical and nuclear false flag warnings accompanies a concerted Russian false flag information operation accusing Ukraine of preparing for an invasion of Russian-occupied Transnistria, Moldova.[3] Russian President Vladimir Putin also notably re-introduced nuclear rhetoric into the Russian information space during his address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21 when he announced Russia’s intent to suspend participation in START.[4] The recent resurgence of several standard Russian information operations in the form of false flag warnings and tired nuclear threats suggests that Russian officials are increasingly trying to mitigate the informational impacts of a continued lack of Russian battlefield successes as well as to slow down the provision of Western tanks and other equipment in advance of expected Ukrainian counter-offensives. ISW has previously reported on the correlation between Russian information operations and battlefield realities, particularly when Russian forces are failing to take significant ground in offensive operations in Ukraine.[5] The Russian MoD and top Russian officials will likely escalate their engagement with such information operations as the ongoing Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast nears culmination and the opportunities for Ukrainian counter-offensives grow.

A top US defense official supported ISW’s continued assessment that Russia is extraordinarily unlikely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl stated that the US does not assess that Russia will use nuclear weapons during a House Armed Service Committee hearing on American military support for Ukraine on February 28.[6] ISW has assessed that Russian invocations of nuclear threats and nuclear doctrine are part of an information operation meant to discourage Ukraine and the West but do not represent any material Russian intent to employ nuclear weapons.[7]
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Federal Security Service (FSB) board on February 28 and emphasized the role of the FSB in supporting the war in Ukraine in a law enforcement and counterterrorism capacity. Putin lauded the FSB for its direct participation in the war in “non-standard field tasks” such as protection of the Russian border and cracking down on terrorist activities, organized crime, corruption, and extremism.[8] Putin also emphasized that the FSB’s primary purpose is to support the Russian Armed Forces and Rosgvardia in their efforts to accomplish the objectives of the “special military operation” and noted the FSB’s role in preventing incursions of Ukrainian sabotage groups onto Russian territory.[9] Putin has frequently invoked mentions of domestic security, law enforcement, and counterterrorism efforts when speaking about the war in Ukraine in order to portray the war as a threat to Russian internal security and to bring the war closer to his domestic constituency as ISW has previously reported.[10] Putin’s address to the FSB similarly aligns the FSB and its traditional domestic law enforcement and counterterrorism role with Russian military efforts in Ukraine in order to frame Russian victory in the war as necessary for Russia’s domestic security.

The Kremlin is likely attempting to reintroduce a Russian information operation aimed at falsely portraying Russia as being open to negotiations while the collective West refuses to negotiate. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 28 that Russian officials are open to negotiations to end the war in Ukraine but that Ukraine and the West must recognize new “territorial realities” associated with Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied territories in Ukraine.[11] Peskov added that Ukraine also needs to consider Russia’s specific goals in the war in Ukraine to reach a negotiated settlement.[12] These goals include regime change of the Ukrainian government under the rubric of “denazification“ and the elimination of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against future Russian attacks under the rubric of “demilitarization.”[13] Peskov also stated that Russia made serious preparations for security talks before launching the invasion of Ukraine but accused the West of being unreceptive to such talks.[14] Russia’s suggested pre-invasion security talks called for the West to acknowledge a list of “security guarantees” demanding a moratorium on NATO expansion, a ban on the deployment of Western strike weapons near Russia, and the de facto withdrawal of NATO forces to their 1997 posture.[15]

The Kremlin appears to be using Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as a conduit to reengage with this information operation, likely in pursuit of negotiations on favorable terms to Russia and further delays in the West’s provision of critical weapons systems to Ukraine. Lukashenko stated during his official trip to China that Russia is ready to take steps towards a peaceful settlement and that there is a unique opportunity to end the war in Ukraine before Russia puts its economy on a stronger war footing.[16] Lukashenko also blamed the West and the US for coercing Ukrainian officials into rejecting negotiations with Russia.[17] The Kremlin and Lukashenko are likely seizing on China’s release of a 12-point peace plan to reintroduce an existing Russian information operation that the Kremlin used in December 2022. That information campaign centering on Russia’s openness to negotiations aimed to prompt Western officials to offer preemptive concessions and coerce Ukraine to negotiate on Russian terms and likely contributed to the delay in the provision of Western tanks and other equipment essential for the continuation of Ukrainian mechanized counteroffensives.[18] The Kremlin may be reintroducing the negotiations information operation to reduce the effectiveness of future Ukrainian counteroffensives by delaying the provision of essential Western aid and to seek to gain concessions before potential further setbacks in Ukraine.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko may facilitate sanctions evasion schemes between Russia and China during his official trip to Beijing, China from February 28 – March 2. Deutsche Welle reported that Lukashenko will sign a large package of agreements on developing joint projects, trade, economic, investment, humanitarian cooperation, and political cooperation with China during his three-day visit.[19] Lukashenko previously stated that the Belarusian defense industry can produce weapons since Belarus has access to microelectronics, optics, and other component imports from other states.[20] Ukrainian intelligence officials stated that Belarus supplied Russia with artillery ammunition from Belarusian warehouses to support operations in Ukraine.[21] US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns stated on February 25 that the CIA is confident that Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment to Russia.[22] China may clandestinely transfer equipment to Russia via Belarus.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian authorities appear to be escalating their promotion of false flag information operations in an effort to distract from their lack of tangible battlefield gains and slow down the provision of Western tanks and other aid in advance of expected Ukrainian counter-offensives.
  • US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl stated that the US has no indication that Russian forces will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the role of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in supporting the war in Ukraine during an address to the FSB board.
  • The Kremlin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are likely attempting to intensify efforts to falsely portray Russia as open to negotiations to end its war in Ukraine.
  • Lukashenko may facilitate Sino-Russian sanctions evasion schemes during his official trip to Beijing, China from February 28 to March 2.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Svatove and Kreminna and likely made limited advances north of  Kreminna.
  • Russian forces made tactical gains in northern Bakhmut and continued ground attacks around Bakhmut and in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area.
  • Ukrainian officials continue to report potential Russian preparations for renewed offensive operations in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts, though ISW has not observed indicators that Russian forces plan to renew offensive operations in these directions.
  • Armenian authorities detained a Russian citizen in Yerevan for an act of protest against the war in Ukraine committed in Moscow in July 2022.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky enacted a Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council decision to sanction 109 Russian citizens involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children.


We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1—Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1— Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)

Russian sources claimed that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Svatove on February 28. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are engaged in fierce fighting near Novoselivske (14km northwest of Svatove).[23] Another milblogger claimed that assault detachment elements of the 3rd Motorized Rifle Division (20th Guards Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) pushed Ukrainian forces out of unspecified high-ground positions on the Svatove-Kreminna line.[24]

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Kreminna on February 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Kreminna itself, Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna), Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), Ploshchanka (17km northwest of Kreminna), Dibrova (6km southwest of Kreminna), and Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna).[25] A Russian milblogger claimed that while Russian forces in Luhansk Oblast still have the initiative, Russian offensive operations in Luhansk Oblast are unsuccessful, supporting ISW’s previous assessment that the Russian forces’ offensive in Luhansk Oblast lacks sufficient reserves to increase the scale or intensity of the offensive.[26] Geolocated footage published on February 27 showed two Russian tanks firing at Ukrainian positions west of Chervonopopivka (5km north of Kreminna) indicating limited Russian advances.[27] Russian milbloggers claimed that elements of the 254th Motorized Rifle Regiment (144th Motorized Rifle Division, 20th Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) fought near Kreminna.[28]

Ukrainian forces continue to target Russian concentration areas in the rear of Luhansk Oblast. Geolocated footage published on February 28 allegedly shows the aftermath of a Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian ammunition warehouse in Kadiivka.[29]


Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and made tactical gains within Bakhmut on February 28. Wagner Group-affiliated media outlet RIAFAN posted footage on February 27 and 28 showing Wagner fighters walking around northern Bakhmut near the Stupky railway station and “Sady Bakhmuta” garden store, indicating that Wagner has advanced in northern Bakhmut.[30] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; north of Bakhmut near Dubovo-Vasylivka (6km northwest),  Orikhovo-Vasylivka (10km northwest), Berkhkivka (4km north), Yahidne (1km northwest), Vasyukivka (13km northwest), and Bohdanivka (8km northwest); west of Bakhmut near Chasiv Yar (10km west); and southwest of Bakhmut near Bila Hora (15km southwest).[31] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that the situation in Bakhmut is becoming increasingly complicated, and Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky remarked that Wagner is increasingly committing its most prepared assault units to offensives in the area.[32] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner forces are trying to advance on central Bakhmut from the north near the Stupky station and from positions on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[33] A Russian milblogger remarked that Russian troops are attacking towards Bohdanivka in order to threaten the Khromove-Bakhmut route.[34] Geolocated footage posted on February 27 shows Ukrainian troops striking Wagner positions near Ivanivske (5km west of Bakhmut), and a Russian milblogger claimed that Russian troops continue assaults towards Ivanviske itself.[35] Footage taken by a Ukrainian soldier in Chasiv Yar shows heavy incoming fire directed at the settlement, suggesting that Russian forces are continuing to strike areas along the T0504 Kostiantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway.[36]

Russian forces continued ground attacks in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area on February 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions in the Avdiivka area near Kamianka; on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Pervomaiske; Krasnohorivka, and Nevelske; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka and Pervomaiske.[37] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian troops broke through Ukrainian defensive lines in Pobieda and gained new footholds within Marinka.[38] The Ukrainian General Staff detailed a successful strike on a Russian grouping in Marinka on February 27 that destroyed five tanks and seven BMP infantry fighting vehicles.[39]

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on February 28. The Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian troops continued unspecified offensive actions in the western Donetsk Oblast direction.[40] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian naval infantry elements are fighting towards Vuhledar from the Mykliske dacha area and within Vuhledar itself, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Russian troops within Vuhledar.[41] 

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces may be preparing for offensive operations in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are defending in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts but are trying to create conditions that will allow Russian forces to conduct offensives in some unspecified areas of this part of the front.[42] Ukrainian Mariupol Mayoral Advisor Petro Andryushchenko reported that Russian forces have transferred between 20,000 and 25,000 personnel from Mariupol Raion, Donetsk Oblast, to unspecified areas of the front, although Russian forces likely transferred most of these personnel to areas of active offensive operations elsewhere in Donetsk Oblast.[43] Russian forces have conducted infrequent localized attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast in recent months but have not conducted any meaningful offensive activity in Kherson Oblast since withdrawing from the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River in November 2022. ISW has not observed indicators that Russian forces are preparing to resume prolonged offensive activity in Zaporizhia Oblast or any offensive activity in Kherson Oblast.

A Ukrainian official reported that Russian forces are vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes on the Kinburn Spit in Mykolaiv Oblast and may be preparing to withdraw from positions closer to the Dnipro River on the east (left) bank in Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk stated that Russian shelling of Mykolaiv Oblast has become less intense because Russian forces are hesitant to go to the end of the Kinburn Spit to shell Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast and surrounding areas.[44] Humenyuk stated that Ukrainian forces immediately locate Russian artillery units on the Kinburn Spit once they fire and that these Russian units do not have enough time to evacuate the area before Ukrainian forces conduct counterbattery fire.[45] Humenyuk also claimed that Russian forces are shelling Russian-occupied settlements on the east (left) bank in Kherson Oblast to give Russian occupation officials and forces the pretext to conduct evacuations from Oleshky, Skadovsk, and Nova Kakhovka and withdraw closer towards Crimea.[46]

Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to engage in reconnaissance activity and skirmishes in the Dnipro River delta. Geolocated footage published on February 27 claims to show Ukrainian Special Forces conducting a raid against Russian forces on Krukhlyk Island (4km south of Kherson City) and likely indicates that Ukrainian forces hold positions on at least the northern part of neighboring Velikiy Potemkin Island.[47] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian sabotage and reconnaissance occasionally try to move between islands in the Dnipro River in converted civilian vessels and that Ukrainian forces destroyed two of these watercraft on February 28.[48]

Ukrainian forces continue to strike Russian force concentrations and logistics in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian Polohy Mayor Yuriy Konovalenko reported that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian force concentration area in the southern part of Polohy, Zaporizhia Oblast, on February 27.[49] Humenyuk reported that Ukrainian forces do not shell residential areas or critical infrastructure in southern Ukraine and strike Russian forces ensuring that local residents will not be affected.[50]

Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, and Mykolaiv oblasts.[51] Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City, Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast, and Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.[52]


Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Several Russian opposition news sources reported on February 28 that Armenian police detained Russian citizen Nikita Kamensky in Yerevan, Armenia for vandalism, ostensibly because Russian authorities added him to their wanted persons database in December for allegedly painting anti-war slogans on Timiryazevskaya Metro Station, Moscow in July.[53] This arrest demonstrates Russian authorities’ willingness and ability to target Russian citizens abroad in Russia-friendly countries for acts of protest committed previously within Russia. The extension of Russian prosecution efforts and Armenian cooperation are both significant events, though it is noteworthy that Russia and Armenia have an existing extradition treaty.[54] Armenian officials have not yet publicly commented on the potential to extradite Kamensky to Russia.[55]

Russian forces continue to face severe difficulties in replenishing military equipment and ammunition. The Ukrainian General Staff amplified on February 28 a report from Ukraine’s Head of the Center for Trophy Research, Colonel Alexander Zaruba, assessing that Russian purchases of equipment from North Korea and Iran and deployment of outdated Kh-22 missiles indicate that Russia itself cannot meet wartime production needs.[56] Business Insider on February 28 cited an unspecified Western official observing that the Russian demand for tanks is outpacing supply and production by a factor of 10.[57] Russia reportedly loses 150 tanks a month in Ukraine while Russia’s sole tank production factory, UralVagonZavod, produces 20 tanks a month.[58] Business Insider and The Economist noted that 18 Russian factories are refurbishing old tanks and that two more repair plants will soon join the efforts.[59] Business Insider concluded that Russian production remains unlikely to meet demand levels, however.[60] A prominent Russian milblogger on February 28 amplified a report from a Russian soldier on December 9 that Russia has also fallen behind Ukrainian forces in terms of drone production and drone-operator training.[61]

Russian authorities are increasing recruiting efforts targeting foreigners. Russian opposition source Meduza reported on February 27 that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree allowing foreigners to sign one-year military contracts as privates and sergeants, as opposed to the traditional five-year contracts. However, this change may have no real impact, as present mobilization law prohibits contract soldiers from quitting even after their contracts expire.[62]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely using a potentially staged appeal of mobilized soldiers seeking to join Wagner PMC in hopes of improving Wagner PMC’s reputation and appeal to potential recruits.[63] Video footage posted to social media on February 27 shows a group of mobilized Russian soldiers from the dissolved 352nd Motorized Rifle Regiment requesting that Prigozhin help them serve in the Wagner Group rather than in traditional mobilized units.[64] Prigozhin praised the soldiers and stated that he has already asked Russian military authorities to transfer them to a Wagner subgroup.[65]

Some Russians continue limited resistance to the war in Ukraine. A Saint Petersburg local news source reported that a graduate student faces criminal charges for breaking a window at the Vyborg Raion, Saint Petersburg military registration and enlistment office, and painting anti-war slogans in the office on February 26.[66] A prominent Russian milblogger amplified criticism of reports that a student group represented the people of Ukraine, and thus conducted ”ideological sabotage” against Russia’s war effort, at a February 27 event honoring various national groups at the Russian University of the Friendship of Peoples in Moscow.[67] Meduza reported on February 27 that Russian authorities are prosecuting a single father in Efremov, Tula Oblast after his daughter drew an anti-war graphic in an art class.[68] Russian independent media outlets also reported on February 27 that Russian courts extended the sentence of a Moscow resident previously sentenced for an arson attack on a military commissariat and sentenced a Volgograd resident to four years in prison for setting fire to the back room of a military registration and enlistment office on May 15.[69]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky enacted a Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council decision to impose sanctions on Russian officials involved in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children on February 28.[70] The decision imposes sanctions on 109 Russian citizens involved in the deportation and forced adoption of Ukrainian children, including many regional representatives of the Russian Children’s Rights Commission and Human Rights Commission.[71] ISW reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed in a February 16 meeting with Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova that the Kremlin is directly involved in facilitating the deportation and adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families.[72] The decision also imposes sanctions on seven Russian humanitarian and social movement organizations involved in various Russian schemes aiming to deport children.[73] The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office reported on February 28 that Russian officials have forcibly removed 16,000 Ukrainian children from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus and that Ukrainian officials have managed to return 307 of those children to Ukrainian-held territory.[74] Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated on February 27 that Russia’s forced deportation of Ukrainian children is “probably the largest forced deportation in modern history” and a genocidal crime.[75] ISW continues to assess that the forced deportation and adoption of Ukrainian children may constitute a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Russian occupation officials continue efforts to use educational institutions to eradicate Ukrainian identity in occupied territories. Kherson Oblast occupation administration head Vladimir Saldo called on teachers from Russia to teach in Kherson Oblast, specifically Russian history, and stated that his administration intends to shape the educational curriculum with lessons on patriotism and military affairs under the guidance of the Russian Military Historical Society.[76] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation officials in Tokmak, Zaporizhia Oblast are forcing students to write letters to Russian military personnel and attend daily hour-long informational sessions that present the Russian framing of the war in Ukraine.[77]

Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses that a Russian or Belarusian attack into northern Ukraine in early 2023 is extraordinarily unlikely and has thus restructured this section of the update. It will no longer include counter-indicators for such an offensive.

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus, but these are not indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing for an imminent attack on Ukraine from Belarus. ISW will revise this text and its assessment if it observes any unambiguous indicators that Russia or Belarus is preparing to attack northern Ukraine.)

Damage to the Russian Aerospace Forces Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control plane at the Machulishchi Air Base in Minsk, Belarus, remains unclear as of February 28. Satellite imagery taken on February 28 shows the first pictures of the A-50 since Belarusian partisans reportedly attacked it on February 26.[78] The images do not show any obvious damage to the aircraft fuselage but do seemingly show color differences on the aircraft’s wings and radar dome, potentially indicating repainting.[79] Neither Belarusian nor Russian authorities have commented on the reported attack as of this publication. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense reported that Russia’s Aerospace Forces would likely have only six operational A-50s in service if this attack were successful.[80]

Belarusian maneuver elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. Unspecified Belarusian airborne elements—likely of the Belarusian 38th Airborne Brigade – conducted airborne parachute exercises from Il-76 aircraft at the Brest Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on February 28.[81]        

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.









[8] http://en.kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70597

[9] http://en.kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70597


[11] ;

[12] https://tass dot com/politics/1582547


[14] https://tass dot com/politics/1582471

[15] ; https://www.mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/1790809/; https://mid dot ru/ru/foreign_policy/rso/nato/1790818/

[16] https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-sejchas-unikalnyj-moment-chtoby-ostanovit-konflikt-v-ukraine-poka-rossija-ne-postavila-552793-2023/

[17] https://www.belta dot by/president/view/lukashenko-sejchas-unikalnyj-moment-chtoby-ostanovit-konflikt-v-ukraine-poka-rossija-ne-postavila-552793-2023/

[18] ; ; ; ; ;

[19] https://www.dw dot com/ru/lukasenko-pribyl-s-vizitom-v-kitaj/a-64846196











[30] ;;;;;


[32] ; https://suspilne dot media/399023-na-bahmutskomu-napramku-frontu-situacia-uskladnuetsa-zelenskij/; https://suspilne dot media/399485-oleksandr-sirskij-rozpoviv-pro-situaciu-v-bahmuti/












[44] dot ua/2023/02/28/kinburnska-kosa-kvytok-v-odyn-kinecz-dlya-okupanta-nataliya-gumenyuk/

[45] dot ua/2023/02/28/kinburnska-kosa-kvytok-v-odyn-kinecz-dlya-okupanta-nataliya-gumenyuk/

[46] https://suspilne dot media/399500-rosijski-okupanti-ogolosuut-evakuaciu-koli-zbirautsa-tikati-gumenuk-pro-situaciu-na-livoberezzi-hersonsini/ ; https://suspilne dot media/398990-armia-rf-obstrilue-okupovani-naseleni-punkti-hersonsini-sob-vipravdati-svou-vtecu-gumenuk/



[49] https://suspilne dot media/399572-zsu-vlucili-po-rosianah-u-timcasovo-okupovanomu-misti-pologi-na-zaporizzi/

[50] https://suspilne dot media/399500-rosijski-okupanti-ogolosuut-evakuaciu-koli-zbirautsa-tikati-gumenuk-pro-situaciu-na-livoberezzi-hersonsini/

[51] ; ;; ; ; ;

[52] ; ; ; ;

[53] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/02/28/v-erevane-zaderzhali-rossiyanina-podozrevaemogo-po-delu-ob-antivoennyh-nadpisyah-v-moskve; https://www.police dot am/ru/news/view/%D5%BE%D5%A1%D5%B6%D5%A4%D5%A1%D5%AC%D5%A B%D5%A6%D5%B4280223.html;; https://www.themoscowtimes dot com/2023/02/28/armenia-detains-russian-anti-war-activist-at-airport-a80355; https://ovd dot news/express-news/2023/02/28/podozrevaemogo-po-delu-ob-antivoennyh-nadpisyah-v-moskve-zaderzhali-v

[54] https://www.themoscowtimes dot com/2023/02/28/armenia-detains-russian-anti-war-activist-at-airport-a80355

[55] https://www.azatutyun dot am/a/32292266.html











[66] https://www.fontanka dot ru/2023/02/27/72090578/;


[68] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/02/27/shkolnitsa-iz-tulskoy-oblasti-narisovala-antivoennyy-risunok-teper-otets-kotoryy-vospityvaet-ee-odin-figurant-ugolovnogo-dela-o-diskreditatsii-armii


[70] dot ua/news/ukazom-prezydenta-vvedeno-v-diyu-personalni-sankciyi-shchodo-rosiyan-prychetnyh-do-deportaciyi; dot ua/documents/1152023-45957

[71] dot ua/news/ukazom-prezydenta-vvedeno-v-diyu-personalni-sankciyi-shchodo-rosiyan-prychetnyh-do-deportaciyi; dot ua/documents/1152023-45957


[73] dot ua/news/ukazom-prezydenta-vvedeno-v-diyu-personalni-sankciyi-shchodo-rosiyan-prychetnyh-do-deportaciyi; dot ua/documents/1152023-45957

[74] dot ua/2023/02/28/rosiya-nasylno-vyvezla-z-ukrayiny-ponad-16-tysyach-ditej-ofis-genprokurora/

[75] https://www.dw dot com/en/ukraine-calls-transfer-of-children-to-russia-genocidal-crime/a-64835163

[76] ;

[77] https://sprotyv.mod dot