Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 15, 2023

Riley Bailey, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, Nicole Wolkov, Layne Philipson, Kita Fitzpatrick, and Frederick Kagan

February 15, 7:30 pm 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.

Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC that the UK had not seen the Russian “massing of a single force to punch through in a big offensive” and noted that Russians are now trying to advance in Donbas at a “huge cost.”[1] Wallace estimated that Russia could have committed up to 97 percent of its army to the fight in Ukraine and that its combat effectiveness has decreased by 40 percent due to an “almost First World War level of attrition” that measures Russian advances in meters in human wave attacks. ISW cannot independently confirm Wallace’s estimates, but his observation that Russia lacks sufficient mechanized combat power for a breakthrough aligns with previous ISW assessments that the conventional Russian military must undergo significant reconstitution before regaining the ability to conduct effective maneuver warfare.[2] Wallace’s observations also suggest that Russia does not have untapped combat-ready reserves capable of executing a large-scale offensive, which is also ISW’s assessment.

Russia’s inability to regenerate expended mechanized vehicles in the short term further restricts Russian maneuver warfare capabilities. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported that Russia lost about 50 percent of its T-72B and T-72B3M tanks and many T-80 tanks, forcing Russian forces to rely on older equipment.[3] Wallace noted that two-thirds of Russia’s tanks are destroyed or unusable. The UK Ministry of Defense assessed that the Kremlin likely recognizes that Russia’s low industrial output is a “critical weakness,” and that Russian production is not meeting the Kremlin’s long-term requirements.[4] Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, for example, called for increased production of weapons and modern tanks on February 9.[5] The Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) noted that Russia is still capable of producing large quantities of small arms, missiles, and tanks but that its defense industry base (DIB) will continue to struggle to offset the effects of Western sanctions.[6] The NIS added that Russia will also need to undergo an extensive effort to set up new production lines and will need time to recruit and train workers. Some Russian defense firms continue to complain that they do not have sufficient personnel to support the intensified industrial effort, while Russian pro-war milbloggers noted that Russia needs to immediately embark on modernization and personnel recruitment efforts to solve issues with tank production.[7] Such measures are unlikely to increase the Russian defense industry’s capacity to produce tanks rapidly and at scale, and would certainly not do so in time to affect the outcome of the current Russian offensive or of a Ukrainian counter-offensive launched in the coming months. The timely Western provisions of tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine would further offset Russia’s ability to conduct mechanized warfare as Russia struggles to restart its defense production in the immediate term. Ukraine likely continues to have a window of opportunity to initiate large-scale counteroffensives over the next few months, but its ability to do so likely rests heavily on the speed and scale at which the West provides it the necessary materiel, particularly tanks and armored vehicles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce measures for further escalation of the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives, or any other significant policy in his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21. The Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly to the Russian State Duma and Federation Council is an annual speech introduced to the Russian constitution in February 1994 that is roughly equivalent to the US President’s annual State of the Union Address. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 15 that Russian federal television channels will set aside an hour to broadcast Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly on February 21.[8] Putin postponed his annual address to the Federal Assembly several times in 2022 likely in hopes of eventually using this speech to celebrate sweeping Russian victories in Ukraine but was unable to do so due to the lack of such victories and amidst heightened criticism of the Kremlin’s management of the war.[9] Putin has delivered unimpressive addresses in recent months to mark symbolic anniversaries and dates and likely scheduled his postponed address to coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR/LNR).[10] Putin will likely repackage Russian measures to integrate occupied territories into the Russian Federation as a novel achievement.

Russian military failures in Ukraine continue to deny Putin the ability to present military success to the Russian public. The Russian military has not achieved significant operational success in Ukraine since the capture of Severodonetsk in July 2022. Ukrainian forces have liberated almost 18,000 square kilometers of territory since then. Putin may have scheduled the address to the federal assembly in the expectation that Russian forces would secure at least a tactical success in the Bakhmut area, although Russian forces have only gained about 500 square kilometers in the Bakhmut area in intensive campaigning since July 4, 2022, while suffering extravagant casualties. Putin could announce the start of a subsequent mobilization wave, although most indicators and assessments suggest that he will not do so at this time.[11] ISW, along with UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace, assesses that the Russian military has already committed a significant number of its available formations to intensified offensive operations in Ukraine and that the lack of large uncommitted reserves will likely prevent Putin from announcing the start of an entirely new large-scale offensive effort.[12] Putin will likely continue to deliver insignificant public addresses as the absence of Russian military success in Ukraine deprives him of the opportunity to claim or convincingly promise a victory of any significance. The stubborn Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut itself, despite the cost in Ukrainian lives and materiel, would prevent Putin from even claiming that Russia has secured that city on the war’s anniversary, a claim that could give Putin, the Russian military, and the Russian public renewed hope of winning and possibly increase the Kremlin’s willingness to demand more of its people to press on.

The Kremlin continues to pursue efforts to censor dissent through societal intimidation tactics. Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko proposed on February 15 that federal communication supervisor Roskomnadzor publish a list of Telegram channels that are hostile to Russia and label such channels with icons indicating this status.[13] The Kremlin is unable to force Telegram to introduce these icons and is seemingly unwilling to block Telegram, which pro-Russian milbloggers use heavily to speak to the Russian people. The list is likely meant instead to intimidate the Russian public into refraining from engaging with content that the Kremlin deems to be dangerous to Russian security. The Kremlin is likely to include independent media, Western sources, and opposition outlets on the list. The Kremlin is highly unlikely to use the measure to target milbloggers, even those critical of the Russian military or the Kremlin itself, as they continue to appeal to the ultra-nationalist pro-war community that is their audience.

A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed on February 15 that Iran and Russia were creating and sharing technology on high-precision bombs, missiles for UAVs, and attack aircraft. The milblogger alleged that Russia has agreed to purchase over 100,000 Iranian artillery and mortar rounds and especially 152mm rounds. Rybar stated that Iran possesses large stocks of 122mm shells for D-30 howitzers and BM-21 Grad Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). The milblogger suggested that Russia could employ Iranian proxies and partners in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and other unnamed countries to fight in Ukraine.[14]

Key Takeaways

  • Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russia’s inability to reconstruct spent mechanized material in the short term further restricts the Russian military’s mechanized maneuver warfare capabilities.
  •  Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce measures for further escalation of the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives, or any other significant policy in his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations northwest of Svatove and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, along the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources implied that Ukrainian forces may hold positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, although ISW has not observed any confirmation of the claim.
  • The Kremlin continues to fund its war efforts in Ukraine from regional budgets.
  • The Russian government continues to further integrate occupied territories into Russian governance structures.

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)

ISW continues to assess the current Russian most likely course of action (MLCOA) is an imminent offensive effort in Luhansk Oblast and has therefore adjusted the structure of the daily campaign assessments. We will no longer include the Eastern Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Oblast area as part of Ukrainian counteroffensives and will assess this area as a subordinate part of the Russian main effort in Eastern Ukraine. The assessment of Luhansk Oblast as part of the Russian main effort does not preclude the possibility of continued Ukrainian counteroffensive actions here or anywhere else in theater in the future. ISW will report on Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts as they occur.

Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in northern Kharkiv Oblast on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian attack near Hryanykivka, Kharkiv Oblast.[15] The former deputy interior minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Vitaly Kiselev, claimed on February 15 that Russian forces are clearing Hryanykivka and advancing in the direction of Masyutivka to expel Ukrainian forces from the east side (left bank) of the Oskil River.[16] Kiselev also claimed that Russian forces have mostly expelled Ukrainian forces from near Synkivka in fighting there. ISW is unable to confirm Kiselev’s claims at this time. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty stated on February 15 that Russian forces currently are not conducting ground attacks in Kharkiv Oblast but are shelling.[17]

Russian forces conducted ground attacks on the Kreminna and Svatove line on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks against Nevske, Kreminna, and Bilohorivka in Luhansk Oblast.[18] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces made tactical gains near Ploshchanka and attacked in the direction of Zarichne and Nevske and that episodic fighting continues near Yampolivka and the Balka Zhuravka gully.[19] Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated on February 15 that Russian forces are accumulating equipment and personnel in an unspecified area in the Luhansk Oblast area.[20]

Russian sources may have made tactical gains in the forested areas near Dibrova on February 15. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian artillery elements of the Central Military District defeated Ukrainian forces near Dibrova and other locations.[21] Multiple Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced 2-3 kilometers from Kreminna in the Dibrova forests and posted pictures of trenches in the forests that Russian forces reportedly recaptured.[22]

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 offensive operations around Bakhmut on February 15. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty reported that there were at least 25 combat engagements between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut area in the past 24 hours.[23] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut itself as well as Fedorivka (18km north) and Ivanivske (6km west).[24] A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters tried to advance in the direction of Vesele (19km northeast of Bakhmut) and successfully advanced towards Rozdolivka (18km north of Bakhmut).[25] Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Ukrainian forces likely hold positions on the western outskirts of Krasna Hora (6km north of Bakhmut).[26] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters advanced in the southwestern outskirts of Paraskoviivka (8km north of Bakhmut) and that they have encircled Ukrainian forces in the settlement, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims.[27] Geolocated footage published on February 14 indicates that Russian forces likely secured marginal advances in the northeastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[28] A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters conducted assaults on Bakhmut’s outskirts from Blahodatne (10km north of Bakhmut), Krasna Hora, and the Stupky area of Bakhmut.[29] Wagner Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin stated that he expects Wagner Group fighters to encircle Bakhmut by March or April but acknowledged that several factors including the Western provision of weapons could delay Bakhmut’s encirclement.[30] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces have cut off a section of the E40 highway from Bakhmut to Slovyansk and that Ukrainian forces now must use a network of country roads to supply their grouping in Bakhmut from the north.[31] ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Russian forces reaching any section of the E40 that is needed to interdict the Ukrainian ground line of communication (GLOC) between Bakhmut and Slovyansk. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces counterattacked near Ivanivske and are freely moving along the T0504 highway between Kostyantynivka and Bakhmut.[32]

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults within 32km southwest of Avdiivka near Vodyane, Pervomaiske, Marinka, Pobieda, and Novomykhailivka.[33] Geolocated footage published on February 13 indicates that Russian forces advanced into Novobakhmutivka (13km northeast of Avdiivka) and likely captured the settlement.[34] A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 11th Regiment of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia captured elevated positions near Novoselivka Druha (9km northeast of Avdiivka).[35] Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Russian forces have likely secured marginal advances in northwest Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[36] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces changed tactics around Marinka and are now conducting assaults on the settlement from the north and the south in an attempt to compel Ukrainian forces to withdraw from their positions in the western part of the settlement.[37] This change in tactics is unlikely to be any more effective than previous Russian efforts to capture Marinka.

Russian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast on February 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) and Prechystivka (40km southwest of Donetsk City).[38] Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Ukrainian forces likely pushed back Russian forces from positions south and southeast of Vuhledar.[39] A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades of the Pacific Fleet, the 29th Combined Arms Army of the Eastern Military District, the 3rd Army Corps, and the DNR “Kaskad “ Battalion are continuing to conduct offensive operations around Vuhledar, but that open terrain around the settlement is making Russian advances difficult.[40]

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

Russian sources implied that Ukrainian forces may hold positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. A Russian milblogger amplified footage on February 15 of a correspondent from Russian outlet Izvestia claiming to be one kilometer from Ukrainian positions in an unspecified settlement in the Kakhovka Reservoir area.[41] The correspondent claimed that Russian forces pushed Ukrainian forces out of half of this unspecified settlement during a reconnaissance-in-force operation two weeks ago.[42] Russian and Ukrainian forces are reportedly continuing to engage in reconnaissance activities and small-scale skirmishes in the Dnipro River Delta, although ISW has not observed any confirmation that Ukrainians hold positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.[43]

Russian forces continued routine fire west of Hulyaipole and in Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, and Kherson oblasts.[44] Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City and in the vicinity of Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast.[45]


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


The Kremlin continues to fund its war efforts in Ukraine from regional budgets. Republic of Chechnya Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that the Chechen government provides 1 million rubles (about $13,400) to families of Chechen servicemen killed in action and 500,000 rubles (about $6,700) to Chechen servicemen wounded in Ukraine before the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) provides material assistance.[46] Kadyrov‘s statement was likely intended to either criticize the Russian MoD for lack of timely monetary compensation for Russian servicemen or to encourage recruitment into Chechen units over other Russian units. Republic of Buryatia Deputy Chairman Ivan Alkheev also claimed that his administration allocated 1.9 billion rubles (about $25.6 million) for the war effort, while natural resource extraction companies have contributed about 40 million rubles (about $537,000).[47] These reports, if true, suggest that the Kremlin continues to rely on Russian federal subjects to allocate funds to support the war, which likely places some financial burden on regional governments - especially in ethnic minority republics.


Russian officials and entities are attempting to manipulate Russians into donating money to support the war. Russian opposition outlets published a document dated February 2 from Kabansky Raion Administration in Buryatia, which reportedly requested donations for the war in Ukraine. The document included slogans reminiscent of the Great Patriotic War and promises of victory in return for monetary donations.[48] Russian opposition news outlet Astra reported that a priest from the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Krasnodar City is offering to bless Russian volunteers' supplies for those on the frontline in exchange for monetary compensation and is asking for donations likely for the war effort.[49] The Kremlin has long used the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to promote its regime and will likely continue to exploit worshipers to support the war in Ukraine.

Russian authorities struggle to recruit more military personnel without officially announcing a second wave of mobilization. Kuznetsk (Penza Oblast) Head Sergey Zlatogorsky proposed sending 256 unemployed Kuznetsk residents to join the Russian military and expressed interest in proposing an amendment to the Penza Oblast law that would require unemployed individuals to join the military.[50] Russian regional officials are likely continuing to face challenges in recruiting volunteers, however. Social media footage purportedly shows only a handful of personnel training as part of the Kursk People’s Militia (narodnoe opolcheniye).[51]


Russian officials are trying to downplay brain-drain problems stemming from emigration from Russia and mobilization. Russian Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin claimed that over 60 percent of Russians who left the country have returned and are working at the same enterprises as they had previously.[52] Vladimir Oblast media outlet Dovod, however, reported that defense enterprises in Vladimir Oblast are experiencing personnel shortages and need specialists in over 300 specialties.[53] Dovod claimed that Russian defense plants faced a record shortage of qualified personnel due to mobilization and mass emigration from Russia.[54] Reports of defense industry personnel shortages come at a time when the Kremlin seeks to increase its defense production, which likely impedes the Russian MoD’s efforts to meet its defense production goals in its desired short time period.

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)


The Yale School of Public Health's Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) released a report on February 14 supporting ISW’s ongoing assessment that Russian officials are involved in the systematic reeducation and forced adoption of Ukrainian children in occupied territories.[55] The report states that HRL identified 43 facilities holding at least 6,000 Ukrainian children, the majority focusing on pro-Russian re-education efforts with some forcing children into adoption in Russia.[56] The report states that four of the camps prevented Ukrainian children from returning to Ukraine, supporting ISW assessments that Russian officials are likely trying to relocate children under the guise of recreation schemes.[57] The report details that the Russian federal government is centrally coordinating this effort and that these efforts represent a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[58] ISW assesses that these efforts are likely part of a wider Russian ethnic cleansing campaign in Ukraine.[59]

The Russian government continues to further integrate occupied territories into Russian governance structures. The Russian State Duma adopted a bill in its third reading on February 14 to integrate occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts into the compulsory Russian social insurance system.[60] The Duma announced that the compulsory social insurance will begin operating in occupied territories on March 1, by which time the Russian Pension and Social Insurance Fund will have established territorial offices in occupied territories.[61]

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to intimidate Ukrainian parents into sending their children to Russian schools in occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on February 15 that Russian occupation authorities created “juvenile affairs commissions” to issue fines to Ukrainian parents who educate their children in Ukrainian schools via online learning.[62] The Center also reported that Russian officials are conducting raids to inspect private homes to identify any children who have missed many classes in Russian schools.[63]

Russian federal subjects and occupation authorities continue to formalize patronage-like programs to develop infrastructure in occupied territories. Head of the Zaporizhia Oblast occupation administration Yevheny Balitsky met with Governor of Penza Oblast Oleg Melnichenko on February 15 to discuss Penza Oblast’s support for infrastructure repair operations in occupied Rozivka, Tokmak, and Molochansk, Zaporizhia Oblast.[64] Balitsky thanked Penza Oblast for having already helped restore schools, hospitals, and outpatient clinics in the settlements and noted that Penza Oblast will support occupied Polohy, Zaporizhia Oblast, to repair water supply, apartment buildings, a sports school, and a cultural center in 2023.[65]

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.)


Nothing significant to report.


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.







[5] https://iz dot ru/1467709/2023-02-09/medvedev-prizval-uvelichit-proizvodstvo-vooruzheniia-i-sovremennykh-tankov;


[7]; ;

[8] https://tass dot ru/politika/17057559

[9] ;

[10] ; ;



[13] ; ;




[17] https://armyinform dot



[20] https://suspilne dot media/385856-rosiani-namagautsa-nastupati-na-5-napramkah-konferencia-z-vidbudovi-ukraini-357-den-vijni-tekstovij-onlajn/;



[23] https://armyinform dot




[27] ;




[31] ;

[32] ; ;








[40] ;




[44] ; ; ; ; ;


[45] ; ;


[47] https://www.baikal-daily dot ru/news/15/451061/;;



[50] https://www.penzainform dot ru/news/social/2023/02/14/glava_kuznetcka_predlozhil_otpravit_bezrabotnih_zashishat_rodinu.html;


[52]; https://www.vedomosti dot ru/society/news/2023/02/14/962908-volodin-60-pokinuvshih-rossiyu-vernulis?utm_campaign=vedomosti_public&utm_content=962908-volodin-60-pokinuvshih-rossiyu-vernulis&utm_medium=social&utm_source=telegram_ved;;;



[55] ;



[57] ;



[60] https://digital dot;

[61] https://digital dot;

[62] dot ua/2023/02/15/vorog-pochav-shtrafuvaty-batkiv-ditej-yaki-navchayutsya-v-ukrayinskyh-shkolah/

[63] dot ua/2023/02/15/vorog-pochav-shtrafuvaty-batkiv-ditej-yaki-navchayutsya-v-ukrayinskyh-shkolah/