Ukraine Situation Report: Missile Landed Near Zelensky And Greek Prime Minister In Odesa

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis were reportedly in the vicinity of a Russian missile strike on the Ukrainian port city of Odesa yesterday. The Greek prime minister described the incident, which came during a scheduled visit to Ukraine, seen in the photo at the top of this story, as “intense.” The timing, location, and weapon used in the strike have led some to propose that it was a decapitation attempt by Russia.

The Russian attack on port infrastructure in Odesa on Wednesday killed five people and left an unspecified number of wounded, according to the Ukrainian Navy.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Odesa came under attack from Russian Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), one of which may have landed as close as 220 yards from the two leaders. Iskander-Ms are among Russia’s most advanced standoff weapons and have dwindled in number, and their use has become far more limited than early on in the war. They can also make it to their targets much faster than their cruise missile counterparts and hit far harder once they arrive.

“We heard the sound of sirens and explosions that took place near us,” said Mitsotakis, who was holding talks with Zelensky. “We did not have time to get to a shelter. It is a very intense experience,” Mitsotakis added.

Spokesperson Dmytro Pletenchuk confirmed that the Odesa strike came as the Greek delegation was visiting the port with Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader has hosted a succession of different foreign officials since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022, as Kyiv seeks to secure continued support from its allies.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said today that Russia did not target Zelensky’s delegation in the missile attack yesterday. Some Ukrainian officials have raised questions about this, however, with Ihor Zhovkva, a Ukrainian diplomatic adviser, telling CNN that a deliberate Russian missile strike remained a possibility.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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To the battlefield next. A top Ukrainian commander says that Kyiv’s forces will soon stabilize the situation on the front lines, with plans to establish units that will be able to launch new counteroffensive actions later this year. Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces since February 11, said that work was underway to withdraw military units and restore their combat potential. In the past, President Zelensky has said that he expects Russia to try and launch a new offensive this spring or summer.

Reports from Ukrainian officials suggest that Russia has been struggling to capitalize on taking the salient city of Avdiivka in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. Avdiivka fell into Russian hands after a bloody five-month campaign, but Ukrainian military spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy told national television on Wednesday that Russian forces were unable to gain new ground near the city.

Instead, Russian Forces are now apparently focusing on an area to the south of Avdiivka, near the village of Novomykhailivka.

Maksym Zhorin, a Ukrainian commander in the area, added said Russian forces were having difficulty making headway, with one of their latest targets being the village of Orlivka.

“They are constantly attempting to advance and make progress wherever possible,” Zhorin said. “Despite significant losses, they persist in launching assaults, both day and night.”

Today saw NATO welcome its 32nd and latest member, with a delegation from Sweden arriving in Washington, D.C., to formalize the Nordic country’s accession. Sweden’s decision to join the alliance was driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but had been delayed by resistance from both Hungary and Turkey.

The delegation in Washington includes Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom. They will hand over the final NATO accession documents to U.S. representatives in the coming days.

While Ukraine harbors long-standing aspirations to join NATO, the idea is of course strongly resisted by Russia.

In his latest threat as regards Ukrainian membership of the military alliance, President Vladimir Putin warned that “If Ukraine joins NATO, you won’t even have time to blink your eye when you execute Article 5.” This is a very pointed reference to the provision that if one NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take appropriate action.

Russia also reacted angrily to NATO’s Exercise Nordic Response 2024, which began earlier this week, and which is the first to involve Finland — and now Sweden — as regular member nations.

Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s security council secretary and a close ally of President Putin, said today that the NATO maneuvers look like a rehearsal for an armed confrontation with Russia, according to a report from Reuters.

Lasting almost two weeks, Nordic Response 2024 involves around 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations is taking place in the northern regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden and includes cross-border operations in the Arctic Circle.

Patrushev claimed that the exercise, which is due to run until March 14, was destabilizing and was raising tensions between Moscow and the West.

While predictable, the Kremlin’s criticism of the exercise comes as senior Russian military officials are increasingly warning that the Ukraine conflict could spiral into a full-scale war in Europe.

In an article for the Russian Ministry of Defense’s Military Thought publication, Colonel-General Vladimir Zarudnitsky, head of the Military Academy of the General Staff, said that the likelihood of Russia becoming involved in a new conflict with the West is increasing “significantly,” according to a report from Reuters.

“The possibility of an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine — from the expansion of participants in ‘proxy forces’ used for military confrontation with Russia to a large-scale war in Europe — cannot be ruled out,” Zarudnitsky said, in comments that were published by the RIA Novosti state news agency.

“The main source of military threats to our state is the anti-Russian policy of the United States and its allies, who are conducting a new type of hybrid warfare in order to weaken Russia in every possible way, limit its sovereignty and destroy its territorial integrity,” he was quoted as saying.

“The likelihood of our state being purposefully drawn into new military conflicts is significantly increasing.”

Providing a boost to NATO in the Baltic region and along its eastern frontier is the first of two Saab 340 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft purchased from the Swedish company by Poland.

Polish officials confirmed yesterday that the first of these two aircraft had arrived in the country, where it will undergo an acceptance process before being handed over to the Polish Armed Forces.

The Saab 340s are equipped with Erieye AESA radar. Reflecting the urgency of the requirement, these two aircraft were bought secondhand from former United Arab Emirates (and before that Swedish) stocks, and the first was officially presented to Poland last September, two months after the order was signed. Delivery of the second aircraft to Poland is due this year. The Saab 340s are just one aspect of a much larger plan to provide persistent aerial surveillance over Poland and across its border, which will include radar-equipped aerostats, which you can read all about here.

A rift is emerging between the Czech Republic and its neighbor Slovakia, resulting from the close relations the latter is sharing with Russia. Both NATO members, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have traditionally close ties themselves, and historically made up the former Czechoslovakia.

The Czech Republic has announced it is suspending intergovernmental consultations with Slovakia, apparently in response to its neighbor’s shift away from Western policy on supporting Ukraine to a more pro-Russian stance.

In particular, there has been concern in Prague about the recent meeting between Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in Turkey.

“There is no disguising that there are differences of opinion on several very important issues. We consider the meeting between the Slovak foreign minister and the Russian foreign minister to be problematic,” the Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said yesterday.

Russian state media reports that a fire broke out today at the Higher Tank Training College in the city of Kazan in southwest Russia. The military education facility is where future tank commanders and crew learn their skills.

Videos posted on social media showed grey smoke billowing into the sky from the academy, with local news agencies reporting that fire crews were on site to deal with the blaze.

According to the Interfax news agency, nobody was hurt in the incident.

The cause of the blaze has not been announced, but fires and explosions have been a regular occurrence at different facilities across Russia since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In the last 24 hours, there have been reports of apparent Ukrainian attacks behind Russian lines, including the killing of a Russian election official in the Russian-occupied city of Berdiansk on Wednesday with a car bomb.

Meanwhile, Kyiv launched a drone assault on a metal plant in Russia’s Kursk region. Reportedly, two drones struck the Mikhailovsky GOK iron ore refinery, resulting in an industrial fuel tank exploding. This was apparently one of three metal plants struck by Ukrainian drones today alone, with other facilities being targeted in the Cherepovets and Lipetsk regions.

The persistent threat of sabotage in Russia is also reflected in reports that the Federal Security Service, or FSB shot dead a man alleged to have been planning “an act of terrorism” on behalf of Ukraine. The man, a Belarusian, was gunned down in the northern Russian region of Karelia, according to the RIA Novosti state news agency.

The FSB said it had “seized weapons and an improvised explosive device” after the shootout.

The security service claimed that the man — named Nikolai Alekseev, according to unconfirmed reports — had intended to blow up an administrative building in the city of Olonets, around 155 miles from the Finnish border.

“During the arrest, the criminal opened fire from a firearm at special services officers and was neutralized during the clash,” the FSB said.

The FSB claims that the improvised explosive device was made using a plastic explosive manufactured in the United Kingdom and had a U.S.-made detonator.

Details are emerging about the apparent co-opting of Indian nationals by Russia to fight in its war in Ukraine. This comes as the Indian Embassy in Moscow confirms the death of one of its citizens after they were recruited by the Russian Armed Forces.

The Indian Embassy did not reveal details of the death of Mohammed Afsan, but said it was in contact with his family and Russian authorities and “will make efforts to send his mortal remains to India.”

Afsan’s brother had told AFP last month that his brother had been missing for nearly two months. He had last been heard from when he made a call to his family from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, explaining that he’d been deployed to the front lines in Ukraine.

While Afsan is the first death confirmed by Indian authorities among its citizens serving with the Russian military, another Indian said to be working as a “security helper” was killed in a Ukrainian airstrike in February.

AFP reported last month that several Indian recruits had revealed that they had been lured into fighting for the Russians after being promised high salaries and a Russian passport. While they had expected to be given non-combatant roles, they were quickly trained to use assault rifles and other weapons and then sent to Ukraine.

Last month the Indian Foreign Ministry said it was trying to secure discharges for around 20 Indian nationals “stuck” in the Russian Armed Forces.

With the full-scale invasion of Ukraine now having passed the two-year mark, Moscow is increasingly struggling to fill its ranks. As a result, it has turned to penal battalions as well as trying to recruit soldiers from other countries.

One of the most dramatic and brutal pieces of video to have emerged from the battlefield is this footage, showing the demise of Russian soldiers driving a UAZ-469 light utility vehicle — apparently over a mine. The explosion sends troops flying through the air while on fire. Viewer discretion is advised.

The former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, is in line for a new position as ambassador to the United Kingdom — one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies in the war with Russia.

Zaluzhnyi was removed from his job as the head of the Armed Forces last month, apparently the result of a growing rift between him and President Zelensky as well as broader issues within the defense ministry, including corruption scandals.

A signature weapon from the first months of the war, the Ukrainian-operated Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone is now only rarely seen. This is likely due to the combined effects of heavy attrition as well as more limited operations by the surviving examples in the face of Russian (and even, on occasion, Ukrainian) ground-based air defenses. The photo below purportedly shows one of the remaining TB2s, at a Ukrainian airfield sometime this winter.

Wannabe Ukrainian drone operators can now also practice their gaming skills with a new video game, Death from Above, in which players employ Ukrainian drones against the Russian military. Developed as a crowd-funded project, a portion of the profits go to Ukrainian organizations that provide non-offensive aid to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Videos showing real-life Ukrainian drone operators delivering explosives with unerring accuracy have been a recurring feature of the conflict. The next video is one of the best examples we’ve seen, and the footage is of unusually good quality, too.

The drone operator’s target is an abandoned Russian T-72B3 tank, purportedly somewhere in the eastern Donetsk region, and the Ukrainian drone drops a U.S.-made M67 hand grenade. The resulting detonation causes a spectacular ammunition cookoff.

Recent imagery from the eastern front has shown the U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles in the thick of the action. Another American-made fighting vehicle, the M1126 Stryker, also shouldn’t be forgotten. The next video shows a column of Strykers, apparently operated by a Ukrainian airborne unit, moving down a typically muddy winter road.

As we observed even before the first Strykers arrived in Ukraine, these wheeled vehicles “may have a tough time in the muddy slop conditions of Ukraine, known as rasputitsa, as temperatures continue to fluctuate around the freezing mark.”

The actions of Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels have been gaining much attention of late, as they take a steady toll on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Playing an unsung role on the battlefield, meanwhile, are Ukraine’s uncrewed ground vehicles, like this example, which was apparently picked off by a Russian drone before it could reach its target. The unusual three-axle arrangement, with interleaving wheels, is noteworthy.

That’s it for now.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.