Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Isn’t Building Up Airpower Near Border Kyiv Says

Ukrainian officials are downplaying the idea that Russia is gathering combat aircraft near the border for a major operation across their country.

There is no accumulation of enemy aircraft on the borders of Ukraine, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Col. Yuri Ignat told reporters Monday at the Ukrainian Media Center. 

“It is impossible to bring aviation to the borders, because aviation requires airfields,” Ignat said. “Where they were, there they are.” 

The Russian Air Force, he added, has spread some 700 aircraft over “the same 40 airfields as a year ago.”

That includes airfields in Belarus, occupied Crimea, territory in eastern Ukraine still held by Russians and Russia proper, Ignat said.

Ignat’s comments Monday largely echo those made last week by Andrii Yusov, spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR).

“We have information about the presence of approximately 450 tactical aircraft and about 300 helicopters, half of them attack helicopters,” Yusov told the Kyiv Post.

“They are placed mainly on the territory of the Russian Federation at least 200 kilometers from the border, concentrated in different locations but outside our fire range,” Yusov said.

As we have written about before, airbases deep inside Russia, as well as in occupied Crimea, have been attacked by Ukrainian drones in the past, but in a highly limited manner.

Ukraine’s latest military security threat assessments do not indicate Russia plans to use these aircraft all at once in a mass aerial attack, but they could be used to support the Kremlin’s objectives in eastern Ukraine, Yusov told the Kyiv Post.

“These forces can primarily be used in the Donbas,” he said. “An [aerial] attack on Kyiv is unlikely.”

 “Russia’s offensive in the east is continuing, and this is the implementation of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s plan to seize the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by the end of March.”

Days earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin offered a similar assessment at a press conference following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

“In terms of whether or not Russia is massing its aircraft for some massive aerial attack, we don’t currently see that,” he said. “We do know that Russia has a substantial number of aircraft in its inventory and a lot of capability and that’s why we need to do everything that we can to get Ukraine as much air defense capability as we possibly can.”

Pushing large amounts of tactical airpower over or beyond the front lines and into territory Ukraine controls would be very dangerous for Russian aircrews as the surface-to-air missile and general air defense overlay along those lines is highly dense on both sides. This is why Russian tactical airpower has been either relegated to very low-level operations deep in the heart of the MANPADS and short-range air defenses envelope or at much higher altitudes far from the front lines, relying on long-range weaponry alone. It may be possible that Russia would try to force some sort of a breakthrough in this regard, but they would likely lose massive amounts of aircrew and equipment in such an attempt.

While Kyiv is not expecting a massive air operation, officials there are anticipating new waves of Russian attacks from missiles and drones, across the country in the coming days to mark two important dates on the calendar, Ignat said.

“Russia can intimidate, but there are also our official statements by the military and political leadership of the state, which have emphasized more than once that possible provocations are being prepared,” said Ignat. 

Feb. 23 is a “sacred date” for the Russians, the “Day of the Defender of the Fatherland” or, as it used to be called, “Day of the Soviet Army and Navy,” he said. 

And of course, the next day, Feb. 24, “is the anniversary of the invasion of our land,” said Ignat. “We can expect several waves of those attacks in these two days. The enemy obviously always does this, uses dates – the day before or on the date itself.”

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

The biggest news of the day took place in Kyiv, where U.S. President Joe Biden made his first visit since Russia launched its all-out war nearly a year ago.

You can read more about that and the planning needed to pull it off in our coverage here.

In conjunction with that visit, the U.S. announced a new tranche of aid to Ukraine, highlighted by the provision of four Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) variants. These Bradleys have a laser range finder/designator, computers, and communications systems designed to coordinate fire from multiple platforms onto multiple targets. As such, they could be a major force multiplier on a battlefield that is dominated by artillery. You can read more about that here.

When Biden visited Ukraine, an air raid siren went off as he strolled through Kyiv with Zelensky.

That was followed seconds later, The Associated Press noted, by alarms from mobile phone apps wailing from people’s pockets.

Those alarms are voiced by “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill – a huge supporter of Ukraine – and his Luke Skywalker voice urged people to take cover, warning: “Don’t be careless. Your overconfidence is your weakness.”

While most of the fiercest fighting continues to take place in Donbas, especially in and around Bahkmut in Donetsk Oblast, there are indications of skirmishes taking place in the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia oblasts as well.

Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

  • Member of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, Fedir Venislavskyi, stated that Russian forces have already deployed all their combat-ready units to the frontlines in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts as well as parts of Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces crossed the Russian border into Kharkiv Oblast and occupied unspecified border settlements.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations northwest of Svatove and near Kreminna.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces are strengthening frontline positions west and northwest of Kreminna.
  • Russian forces likely secured marginal gains in the northern suburbs of Bakhmut and in the eastern outskirts of the city. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that degraded Wagner Group formations are narrowing the scope of their offensives in the Bakhmut area due to a lack of forces.
  • Russian forces reportedly continued offensive operations along the western outskirts of Donetsk city and around Vuhledar.
  • Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted a localized ground attack near Novodanylivka, Zaporizhia Oblast and amplified footage showing Wagner Group fighters arriving in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast.

In an interview with the German publication Die Welt, Zelensky on Monday warned China from supporting Russia.

“For us, it is important that China does not support the Russian Federation in this war. In fact, I would like it to be on our side,” he told Die Welt. “At the moment, however, I don’t think it’s possible.”

“But I do see an opportunity for China to make a pragmatic assessment of what is happening here,” he added. “Because if China allies itself with Russia, there will be a world war, and I do think that China is aware of that.”

Russia has brought more troops to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine and has blocked the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency from conducting a scheduled rotation of its inspectors at the facility, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing Ukrainian authorities.

The plant, Europe’s largest, was occupied by Russian forces in March, raising concerns about a potential nuclear disaster.

“Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, said on Monday that Russia was housing 600 newly mobilized troops in a bomb shelter at the plant. It also said that Russian forces had placed a machine-gun position on top of a power unit, erected roadblocks and built fortifications near power units and a storage area for spent nuclear fuel,” the newspaper reported.

As if Russian troops weren’t presenting enough of a threat to the plant, it appears the Russian draining of the Kakhova dam on the Dnipro River could lower water levels near the plant enough to affect cooling.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday announced a new $5.5 billion financial aid for Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. Kishida will also mark the first anniversary of the war by hosting an online Group of Seven summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

While the German-made Leopard 2 tanks promised to Ukraine have yet to arrive, Russians are already planning ways to destroy them, as you can see in this video from the pro-Russian Rybar Telegram channel.

The Leopards are getting closer though. Ukrainian troops fired their first shot from a 2A6 variant during training in Germany.

Those may take a while to get to Ukraine, but troops often find older Soviet-era tanks an effective weapon, as you can see in this video below.

And speaking of training, Ukrainian troops training in the U.K. got a special visit on Monday, from King Charles III.

Tanks get the attention, but infantry fighting vehicles rack up the kills too, as you can see in this video below of a Ukrainian BMP-2 firing at Russians near Bakhmut.

Seeing all the publicity generated by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenary group, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov says he too will get into the game to compete with Prigozhin.

“I seriously plan to compete with our dear BROTHER Evgeny Prigozhin and create a private military company,” he said Feb. 19 on his Telegram channel. “I think everything will work out.”

Speaking of Prigozhin, all is apparently not well in his world. His Telegram channel posted a seven-minute audio recording of him complaining about being forced to grovel for ammunition.

Over a century after World War I ended, trench warfare remains horrific, as you can see (and hear) in this video below.

Ukraine’s Snipex Alligator anti-material 14.5mm rifle is a devastating weapon in its own right, but watch this Ukrainian soldier use it with a suppressor.

Ukrainians continue to find ways of using captured Russian weapons, including loading U.S.-provided 120mm mortar rounds into captured Russian Nona-SVK and Nona-K mortars now in Ukrainian hands.

The U.S. just announced it was providing another batch of those rounds to Ukraine, which brings the total to more than 175,000.

First Person View-controlled drones are becoming the go-to for Ukrainians as makeshift loitering munitions for use against vehicles, as you can see in this video below.

As the video below shows, a Ukrainian Mavic 3 drone drops munitions into the hatch of an abandoned Russian BMP-2, which then goes boom.

And finally, she goes by the callsign “Witch” and is the bane of Russians on the front lines.

Watch her talk about an idea she had to put MK19 grenade launchers onto the back of pickups.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when we have more to report.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.