On Thursday, February 24, Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of its southwestern neighbor Ukraine.
The action marked a significant escalation between the countries, which have been in a state of conflict since 2014 when Russia first supported an invasion of the eastern Donbas region and annexed the coastal peninsula of Crimea. Russia’s invasion marks the most significant warfare seen in Europe since World War 2.
According to the Kremlin, the invasion is merely a “special military operation” aimed at “denazifying” and “demilitarizing” Ukraine.
Here is The Debrief’s update of the conflict as of the morning of March 7.
Current Military Situation
In light of having an initial overwhelming net advantage in combat strength, Russia’s prospects of achieving its military goals in Ukraine continue to hang in the balance.
Over the weekend, Russia did not appear to record any noteworthy progress along its axes of attack. On the contrary, reports indicate the Russian military suffered several losses in the last 48 hours.
On March 7, the General Staff for the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced that 11 Russian aircraft had been shot down in the past 48 hours. Visual evidence, including photos and videos provided by officials or Ukrainian citizens, appeared to confirm 9 of the Russian aircraft losses, including 5 fighter planes and 4 helicopters, and one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Evidence also suggests 7 pilots of downed aircraft were taken prisoner.
Russia likewise said they had shot down 7 Ukrainian aircraft over the weekend. However, The Debrief has not found any evidence to substantiate these claims.
Ukrainian forces said they conducted a counter-offensive against Russian troops northwest of Kharkiv. Head of the Kharkiv Military Administration, Oleh Syniehubov, said Ukrainian troops had pushed Russian troops all the way back to Ukraine’s border with Russia from the direction of Sumy.
The Debrief cannot independently confirm these claims. However, evidence does suggest Ukraine’s counter-offensive inflicted some measurable damage on Russian lines. Videos posted online showing Ukrainian troops capturing over 30 pieces of Russian equipment near Kharkiv.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces appeared to have successfully ambushed a Russian armored column advancing towards Mykolayiv. Graphic videos appearing on social media, allegedly taken near Mykolayiv, show numerous pieces of destroyed Russian equipment and soldiers’ bodies strewn about.
Overnight on March 6, Russian forces unleashed heavy artillery fire on Mykolaiv. However, the extent of damage is unknown at the time of publication. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said they were trying to contain multiple fires at residential buildings in the city roughly 298 miles south of Kyiv.
On March 5 and 6, Russian forces surrounding the port city of Mariupol allegedly agreed to a temporary ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of food and medical supplies. However, on both days, shortly after the truce was supposed to take effect, Russian forces reportedly continued to launch artillery attacks against the city.
“Due to the fact that the Russian side does not adhere to the silence regime and continued shelling both Mariupol itself and its surroundings, for security reasons, all Mariupol residents are asked to disperse and proceed to shelters,” read a statement by Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko on March 5.
In its state media, the Kremlin denied violating ceasefire terms, instead accusing Ukraine of being responsible for the continued shelling.
Home to roughly 400,000 people, the besieged Mariupol has endured days of heavy, indiscriminate shelling. Citizens trapped in the city are reported without power, heat, water, with food supplies running low.
So far, Russian forces have seemed content inflicting damage from afar rather than trying to directly confront the city’s defenders on the ground. “Their goal is to choke the city and place it under an unbearable stress,” said Mayor Boichenko
On March 7, Russian officials said another temporary ceasefire would take effect to establish humanitarian corridors, this time for the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, and Mariupol. At the time of publication, it is unknown whether this third attempt at a humanitarian ceasefire will be successful.
Some have suggested Russia’s ceasefire agreements were merely a ruse to try and inflict more casualties on exposed citizens trying to flee the city. Assessing the overall situation, The Debrief concludes it is equally as likely that Russia lacks the command, control, and communication channels to effectively enforce a ceasefire.
Along its northern axes, Russian forces made little progress towards their goal of encircling the capital city of Kyiv in the past 48 hours.
An estimated 18 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTG) -comprising roughly 10,000 to 14,000 soldiers, 600 infantry fighting vehicles, and 150-200 tanks – have been primarily stalled on their western advance.
As of the morning of March 7, the closest Russian forces have come on their western advance appears to be the Bucha and Hostomel regions, approximately 20 miles from Kyiv’s city center. Reports indicate that Russian troops have been trying to advance towards Bilohorodka, roughly 12 miles from the center of Kyiv. This move is likely to try and establish a closer bridgehead and facilitate the western encirclement of Ukraine’s capital.
Over the weekend, Russian forces shelled a bridge and rail line in Irpin that was being used to evacuate civilians out of Kyiv. Eight civilians reportedly died in the attacks, including four members of one family.
In the last 48 hours, Russia’s movement along the northeastern axis, east of Kyiv, was primarily confined to small probing attacks near Nizhyn and Priluky.
The Ukrainian General Staff reports that as many as 23 Russian BTGs – comprising roughly 14,000 to 18,000 soldiers, 900 infantry fighting vehicles, and 200-250 tanks – are concentrated west and northwest of Kharkiv. Having been unable to seize Sumy, Chernihiv, and Kharkiv, Russian forces may be attempting to bypass these major northeastern cities to make an eastern push towards Kyiv.
The move to bypass Ukraine’s major northeastern towns to concentrate on Kyiv would be a risky undertaking by the Russian military. In addition to demonstrating limited success against Ukraine’s defense-in-depth, it would place Russia’s already beleaguered supply lines in a highly precarious position.
Along the northeastern advance, Russia has appeared to make decent progress since the start of the invasion. However, The Debrief assesses that this is likely a result of Ukrainian defenses allowing Russian troops to move uncontested through the rural flat regions, opting to instead engage the lumbering columns of armor and mechanized infantry in urban areas where the terrain is to their advantage.
So far, Ukraine has made excellent use of highly mobile, platoon, and squad size forces to ambush Russian columns, wreaking havoc with Javelin and NLAW portable anti-tank missiles.
The U.S.-made FGM-148 Javelin missile used by Ukrainian troops uses an automatic infrared guidance system that allows a user to immediately seek cover after launch, or “fire-and-forget.” The Javelin can defeat most modern tanks thanks to its HEAT warhead, designed to target the top of armored vehicles, where the armor is thinnest.
Some have said the Javelin has enjoyed a 93% success rate in targeted engagements in Ukraine. While The Debrief cannot confirm this figure, it is evident that Ukraine’s use of Javelin and its Anglo-Swedish counterpart, the “Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon (NLAW), has been a decisive factor in Ukraine’s successful defense.
As of March 7, The Ukrainian General Staff reports approximately 11,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during the invasion. While this staggering figure is likely higher than the actual number of Russian losses, U.S. defense officials tell The Debrief, it is highly likely that Russian troop deaths are indeed in the 9,000 to 10,000 range.
One reason for the high number of deaths could be due to the composition of Russia’s battalion tactical groups (BTG). Few professional medical-evacuation (medevac) and field medic units are attached to BTGs. This inability to treat wounded soldiers in the field or quickly get them to advanced care leads to increased deaths due to wounds.
For comparison, the survival rate for wounded soldiers during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 92%, according to the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
As of March 7, the open-source intelligence site Oryx has confirmed 861 pieces of Russian military equipment have been destroyed, damaged, or captured. On the Ukrainian side, 248 pieces of equipment have been lost so far.
Russia’s Primary Axes of Advance
Main Effort—Kyiv Axis: Aside from using stand-off artillery and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to target towns west of the capital, there were no significant movements along Russia’s western Kyiv axis over the weekend.
The Debrief assesses that the lull in the ground offensive for the past several days is likely due to Russia needing to consolidate, refit, and resupply forces before attempting to encircle Kyiv.
Based on the logistical issues seen so far, The Debrief cannot predict when Russia might resume offensive operations towards Kyiv. It is likewise unclear if the Russian military presently has enough available combat power in the area to successfully complete an offensive to encircle Kyiv.
At approximately 1pm (Ukraine), Kyiv mayor Vitalii Klitschko claimed heavy fighting was going on northwest of Kyiv. “With extreme rage, the enemy is destroying Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel, Irpin. They deliberately kill civilians,” The Kyiv Independent quoted Klitschko.
The Debrief did not see any evidence suggesting a major Russian ground offensive was underway in northwest Kyiv at the time of publication. Instead, Mayor Klitschko’s comments are likely referencing Russian artillery shelling, which indeed has been intense in the areas of Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel, and Irpin the past few days.
Northeastern Axis: Russia likewise engaged in minimal offensive operations along its northeastern axis. So far, the Russian military has been unable to seize the major cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.
There are some indications that Russian troops might attempt to divert some of their forces to bypass the major northeastern cities towards encircling Kyiv from the east. However, it is unlikely that Russia has enough available combat power to attempt such a maneuver right now.
At present, there aren’t any indications that Russia is prepared to attempt a large-scale ground offensive into Chernihiv, Sumy, or Kharkiv. Instead, throughout the weekend and into the morning of March 7, Russia’s offensive operations have primarily consisted of missile and artillery strikes and aerial bombardments against these populated areas.
Crimea Axis: Russian forces continue to completely encircle the port city of Mariupol. Rather than advancing, Russia continues to be content bombarding Mariupol with airstrikes and artillery in hopes of forcing the city to surrender. The likelihood of civilian casualties in Mariupol remains exceptionally high.
On March 5, Ukrainian forces conducted a counter-attack near Mariupol, destroying several Russian vehicles. However, the counter-attack did not appear to materially alter contact lines or open up any significant hope for a breakthrough to Mariupol.
On March 5, Three Russian BTGs of the 7th Airborne Division attacked toward Mykolayiv. However, The Ukrainian General Staff reported this advance was successfully repulsed. Videos and images posted online showing destroyed Russian military armor seem to confirm these reports.
Russia continues to occupy the port city of Kherson. However, numerous videos posted online show occupation forces are having to contend with extensive civil protest and discontent from the city’s populace.
VIDEO: Ukrainian Residents of Kherson don't seem to be taking to their new-found Russian occupation all that well. 🤣 Note: That is a Russian BTR, being driven by Russian soldiers that the person waving the Ukrainian flag is riding on. pic.twitter.com/0DIIrWiQPr
So far, Russia has not made any significant attempts towards Ukraine’s last major port city of Odesa. Reports online have indicated Russia has a large amphibious landing force off the coast, potentially in preparation for an assault on Odesa. However, the Debrief has not seen any evidence confirming an amphibious landing is imminent. Russia will likely want to seize Mykolayiv before attempting an assault on Odesa.
Donbas Axis: Russian military and proxy forces on the Donbas axis continue to hold the Donbas line, focusing offensive attacks on Mariupol from the east.
Two Russian BTGs are reportedly advancing southeast near the Northern Donets River. However, there is no indication these forces have successfully made any significant progress.
Immediate Situations To Watch
Russian forces will continue to try and maneuver from the west and east to encircle the capital city of Kyiv.
While the situation remains very fluid, several indications suggest Russia does not currently have enough combat power in the area to successfully achieve its primary goal of encircling Kyiv. Russia will likely require more troops and better logical lines to achieve a breakthrough to the capital.
Instead of any significant moves on the ground, in the next 24-28 hours, Russia will likely continue to use area weapons, including artillery, missile strikes, and aerial bombardments, against the vital Ukrainian cities of Sumy, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Mykolayiv, and Chernihiv. The potential for civilian casualties in these cities will be exceptionally high.
The Kremlin has begun making claims that they’ve found evidence that Ukraine was in the process of trying to manufacture nuclear weapons. On March 6, Russian state media, without evidence, said Ukraine was close to building a plutonium-based “dirty bomb.” The source of this information was attributed to an unnamed “representative of a competent body.”
Over the weekend, additional smaller online “news” sites linked to the Russian intelligence services began resharing previously used propaganda that the United States was manufacturing and testing biological weapons in Ukraine. These claims were likewise made without any evidence and attributed to unnamed officials of unknown Russian agencies.
According to the Russian independent human-rights organization OVD-Info, 5,133 Russians were arrested at anti-war protests in 72 cities across Russia on March 6. The anti-war protests came just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law saying anyone sharing “false” information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could face up to 15 years in prison.
OVD-Info reports 13,499 Russians have been arrested for anti-war protests since the invasion began on February 24. The human-rights site makes an updated list of names of people confirmed to have been detained publicly available.
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet at the border in Belarus at 4:00 pm for the third round of peace negotiations. However, prospects for a diplomatic solution to end Russia’s invasion are relatively low.
So far, Putin has not demonstrated any willingness to de-escalate with Ukraine or the international community.
On the contrary, in the face of stiffer than expected Ukrainian resistance, circumstantial evidence suggests Putin is laying the groundwork to escalate the conflict.
Open-source images suggest Russia has already begun moving more troops and equipment from its far-east regions towards Ukraine. Even still, based on how things have gone thus far, Putin is likely considering the possibility of mass mobilization of reserve forces and conscription to achieve his objectives in Ukraine.
Largely overlooked by the bombs falling on Ukraine, on Sunday, March 6, Putin signed a law that would allow the Kremlin to confiscate the assets of civil servants- as well as their families, including minor children – deemed “corrupt.” The law likely serves as both a threat to any officials who might oppose Putin and as a revenue stream to bolster Putin’s war chest.
Things are still very much in flux. However, recent moves inside the Kremlin, coupled with Putin’s steadfast commitment to conquer Ukraine, cause the balance of probabilities to frighteningly inch closer towards Russia adopting a “total war” mindset.
Nevertheless, in a weekend meeting with Russian flight attendants, Putin said, “The operation in Ukraine is proceeding according to the schedule planned by the General Staff.”
Putin likewise echoed the Kremlin’s previous statements that Russia “had not carried out any strikes against any civilian targets.” A demonstrably false claim based on an abundance of images, videos, and information coming out of Ukraine.
Note: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an ongoing military conflict. Events on the battlefield are highly dynamic and can quickly change. Be sure to follow The Debrief on Twitter, @DebriefMedia, or The Debrief’s Tim McMillan @LtTimMcMillan, where we will provide updated information on the conflict.