Russia's massive build-up for an anniversary offensive proceeds. It's preceded by more missile strikes against Ukrainian targets.
Ukraine at D+351: Russia's build-up, Ukraine's targeting.
Russia continues a large build-up of forces in Ukraine's eastern provinces as it apparently prepares for a big offensive on or around the first anniversary of the invasion on February 24th. The Telegraph quotes Ukrainian sources as estimating the assembled Russian forces at 300,000 troops and 2000 tanks.
Any such offensive is currently being preceded by drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian civilian targets, according to the New York Times. The drones have grown increasingly easy for Ukrainian defenders to shoot down Some of the missiles have violated Moldovan and Romanian airspace, Reuters reports.
The situation around Bakhmut.
Russian forces continue to make local advances toward Bakhmut. This morning's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defence says, "Since 7 February 2023, Russian forces have likely made tactical gains in two key sectors. On the northern outskirts of the Donbas town of Bakhmut, Wagner Group forces have pushed 2-3km further west, controlling countryside near the M-03 main route into the town. Russian forces increasingly dominate the northern approaches to Bakhmut. To the south, Russian units have made advances around the western edge of the town of Vuhledar, where they re-launched offensive operations in late January 2023. However, Russian units have likely suffered particularly heavy casualties around Vuhledar as inexperienced units have been committed. Russian troops likely fled and abandoned at least 30 mostly intact armoured vehicles in a single incident after a failed assault."
The Wagner Group's convict alumni.
Mr. Prigozhin may have decided to turn to other sources of employees for his contract mercenary alt-army, but the first cohort of convict-recruits has served out its term and is returning home. The convicts, who for the most part represent the survivors of human-wave attacks in the vicinity of Bakhmut, are being received at home with fear and suspicion, the Guardian reports. That's probably warranted, even under the best of conditions, and frontline service in a mercenary corps is unlikely to have rehabilitated anyone. The Wagner Group is no school of virtue.
Starlink's tepid support for Ukraine.
SpaceX restored connectivity to Ukraine's disrupted networks in the war's earliest days, and did so to considerable acclaim and éclat. The company is now interfering with some of its services to its Ukrainian customer, saying that military uses are outside the scope of what it agreed to. CNN reports that SpaceX president explained, “There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that. There are things that we can do, and have done.” Ukraine used the technology too creatively, she said. “It was never intended to be weaponized. However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.” But as Defense One points out, the pacific words sound like pious malarkey: "But Gwynne Shotwell’s explanation is at odds with Starlink’s role in recent U.S. Army modernization experiments that seek to fire on targets more quickly." Any loss of Starlink support from SpaceX may be offset by direct targeting information from the US military. The Washington Post reports that US forces provide targeting assistance for HIMARS and other US-supplied weapons: "A senior U.S. official — who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue — acknowledged the key American role in the campaign and said the targeting assistance served to ensure accuracy and conserve limited stores of ammunition for maximum effectiveness. The official said Ukraine does not seek approval from the United States on what to strike and routinely targets Russian forces on their own with other weapons. The United States provides coordinates and precise targeting information solely in an advisory role, the official said."