A Ukrainian soldier walks past graffiti “Bakhmut Loves Ukraine” in the city in the Donetsk region (AP/Libkos)

Monday’s Coverage: Ukrainians Strike Inside Occupied Territory…and Inside Russia — Reports

Map: Institute for the Study of War


US officials say a review of new intelligence suggests that “a pro-Ukrainian group” of Ukrainian or Russian nationals carried out September’s attacks that damaged 3 of 4 Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia to Germany.

The officials say they have no evidence that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky or his senior officials were involved in the operation, or that the attackers were directed by Ukrainian government officials.

The attacks damaged both Nord Stream 1 pipelines and one of two for the recently-completed Nord Stream 2.

Western intelligence officials initially suggested Russia might have been responsible. US officials also privately speculated that the Ukraine Government might have some role. However, the intelligence agencies said, after an inquiry with available evidence, that nothing could be concluded about responsibility.

Nord Stream 2 was finished in September 2021. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on February 26, 2022 — two days after the launch of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — that it would not be operational.

US officials say President Joe Biden and his senior staff did not authorize any mission to destroy the pipelines, and there has been no US involvement.

A senior aide to Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Kyiv was “absolutely not involved” and has no information about what happened.


Ukraine and Russia have exchanged a total of 220 prisoners of war.

Ukraine Presidential Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak tweeted, “We managed to return home 130 of our people – 126 defenders and 4 civilians.”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said 90 Russians had been released.


“Western officials” said Russia has sustained 20,000 to 30,000 killed and wounded in the assault to capture Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

In a press briefing, the officials said the “death rates of Wagner [mercenaries]” has been “significantly higher” than those of Russian conventional forces, which have been estimated at one killed to three wounded.

An official said the Ukrainian losses were “significantly less”.

About 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in Afghanistan between December 1979 and February 1989.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other senior officials were not informed of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine until hours before its launch on February 24, 2022, according to athe Financial Times.

Lavrov was notified in a phone call about 1 a.m. that Putin would declare a “special military operation” on State TV that evening.

Later in the day, oligarchs were gathered for a meeting with Putin. One asked Lavrov how the leader could proceed, given that most Kremlin senior officials, Russia’s economic cabinet, and the business elite did not believe an invasion was possible.

Lavrov responded, “He has three advisors. Ivan the Terrible. Peter the Great. And Catherine the Great.”

At the meeting, “Everyone was completely losing it,” said a participant.

A “former senior Russian official” noted, “The idea was never for hundreds of thousands of people to die. It’s all gone horribly wrong.” With the failure to seize most of Ukraine, let alone the capital Kyiv, Putin is searching for new rationales for his war.

He tells people close to him, “It turns out we were completely unprepared. The army is a mess. Our industry is a mess. But it’s good that we found out about it this way, rather than when Nato invades us.”

Another source summarizes, “Stalin was a villain, but a good manager, because he couldn’t be lied to. But nobody can tell Putin the truth. People who don’t trust anyone start trusting a very small number of people who lie to them.”


A Russian court has sentenced Dmitry Ivanov, the founder of an opposition Telegram channel, to 8 1/2 years in prison on charges of disseminating “fake” information about the Russian military.

Ivanov told the court, “Literally the entire indictment, from the first to the last word, contradicts reality. I subscribe to every word that I wrote a year ago….There can be no question of any sense of guilt in the present case.”

Peace to Ukraine, freedom to Russia! My example should not scare you. We have to do a lot to live in the country we deserve and to end this war.

You must understand that Russia is not Putin. Tens of millions of Russians are against this criminal war….This is a dark moment in our history, but it is always darkest before dawn.


Ukraine is requesting cluster munitions from Washington, say two US Congressmen.

Reps. Jason Crow and Adam Smith, who are both on the House Armed Services Committee, say Kyiv is seeking the MK-20, an air-delivered cluster bomb, to release explosives from drones. Ukraine is also requesting 155 mm artillery cluster shells.

The representatives say Ukrainian officials urged US lawmakers at last month’s Munich Security Conference to press for White House approval.

Ukraine has said publicly that it wants the artillery Dual-Purpose Conventional Improved Munitions to halt “human wave” Russian attacks. Each shell disperses 88 submunitions.

The MK-20, delivered by aircraft, opens in mid-flight to release more than 240 dart-like submunitions.

Rep. Smith said the Ukrainian military assesses that the submunitions “have better armor-piercing capability” than the weapons it has been dropping from drones.

Sen. Lindsey Graham confirmed that Ukrainian officials in Munich urged US lawmakers to press the White House with the request for cluster munitions. He said he would do so this week.


NATO intelligence estimates that Russian forces are losing at least five troops for every Ukrainian defender killed in the battle for Bakhmut.

A NATO official said that despite the favorable ratio, Ukraine was suffering significant losses defending the city.

Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine land forces, said after a visit to Bakhmut on Sunday, “Our defenders inflicted significant losses on the enemy, destroyed a large number of vehicles, forced Wagner’s best assault units to fight and reduced the enemy’s offensive potential.”

The Institute for the Study of War concluded Monday, “The Russian military will likely struggle to maintain any subsequent offensive operations for some months, giving Ukraine a chance to seize the initiative.”


Footage on social media has shown Russian troops killing a Ukrainian prisoner of war.

The clip, circulating on Telegram, showed the captured Ukrainian — later identified as Oleksandr Matsievsky — standing in a shallow trench and smoking a cigarette. He says “Glory to Ukraine” and is then shot with automatic weapons as a voice yells, “Die, bitch”.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for action by the International Criminal Court:

Ukraine Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets confirmed that he has sent the video to “international partners”: “Once again, [Russians] violate Geneva conventions. They will not evade responsibility for their atrocities.”

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin added:

Even war has laws. There are norms of international law that are systematically neglected by the criminal Russian regime. But sooner or later the crime will be punished. All those involved will be held accountable before the law.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy honored the slain POW in a message on Telegram: “Glory to our Hero….Glory to Ukraine.”

He pledged, “We will find the killers.”


Amid the warning of the Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin that the Russian assault on Bakhmut may collapse, the mercenaries are reportedly recruiting pyschiatric patients for frontline service.

Wagner groups on social media announced that a certificate from a psychiatrist is no longer needed for enlistment.

A Moscow Times correspondent, posing as a volunteer, told a Wagner hotline that he was being treated in a psycho-neurological dispensary for a nervous breakdown.

The Wagner recruiter sent a formal instruction with requirements: “Read the instructions, if everything is fine, we are waiting for you.”

Wagner has posted that it does not take men “who are ill with serious illnesses, who interfere with the performance of tasks, who suffer from drug addiction, as well as those who have recovered from hepatitis B or C”.

But recruiters posted on the VKontakte platform that requirements had been altered “to remove unnecessary bureaucracy”.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that Ukrainian defenders will not end their resistance to the 10-month Russian assault on Bakhmut in the east of the country.

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskiy reported on his meeting with commanders:

I told the Chief of Staff to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut. There is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned. There is no Ukrainian trench in which the resilience and heroism of our warriors would be disregarded.

In the meeting, both Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, “spoke in favour of continuing the defensive operation and further strengthening positions in Bakhmut”.

Some analysts have assessed that Ukraine might be preparing for a controlled withdrawal from the city. However, UK military intelligence assesses that Ukraine “likely stabilised their defensive perimeter” last weekend.

Zelenskiy indicated the ongoing value of draining Russia’s manpower and weapons: “Bakhmut has yielded and is yielding one of the greatest results during this war, during the entire battle for Donbas.”

Wagner Group’s Prigozhin: Russian Offensive May Collapse

The city in the Donetsk region, with a pre-war population of about 70,000, lost much of its strategic value after a Ukrainian counter-offensive liberated Kharkiv Province in the northeast and parts of the east in September.

But without a significant victory since July, the Russian political and military leadership have concentrated their resources on overrunning Bakhmut. The attacks have been led by the “cannon fodder” of Wagner Group mercenaries, including pardoned convicts.

The assault has succeeded in taking territory on three sides of Bakhmut. Most routes have been cut except those to the west, and those are being shelled.

However, Ukraine is still able to move forces into Bakhmut, and analysts assess that Russia is unlikely to surround the city in the near-future.

Russia’s heavy loss of armor and other mechanized units have reduced its attacks to infantry assaults. Last weekend, Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin — embroiled in a battle for influence with Russian political and military leaders — warned the offensive could fail because of lack of ammunition.

He wrote on Telegram that Russian frontlines could be broken if his fighters do not get munitions promised in late February: “For now, we are trying to figure out the reason: is it just ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal?”

If Wagner retreats from Bakhmut now, the whole front will collapse. The situation will not be sweet for all military formations protecting Russian interests.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted on Monday that a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal would not be “a significant strategic setback” and would not mean that Russia had regained the initiative in its invasion.

He noted, “The Wagner forces have been a bit more effective than the Russian forces….We have not seen exemplary performance from Russian forces.”