Ukraine withdraws from strongpoint on Avdiivka's outskirts

The Zenit strongpoint, located southeast of Avdiivka, has been a crucial defensive position for Ukrainian forces since the beginning of Russian aggression in 2014. Originally established as an air defense complex during Soviet times, Zenit played a vital role in preventing advances toward Avdiivka from the south. However, on February 16, General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi announced the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the Zenit strongpoint, citing the challenging situation in the front-line city.

Avdiivka has experienced heightened attacks from Russian forces since October 2023, with an apparent aim to encircle and capture the city. Tarnavskyi, who commands the Tavria group of forces, explained that the decision to withdraw from Zenit was made "in order to preserve personnel and improve the operational situation." He emphasized that the occupation of these positions did not provide the enemy with a strategic advantage and did not alter the overall defense operations in Avdiivka.

The general stated that the decision to withdraw came after months of fighting, and the move was made when it was no longer effective in restraining and destroying the enemy. Tarnavskyi acknowledged the difficult and controlled situation in Avdiivka, with fierce fighting reported within the city. Units in the most heavily attacked areas were being reinforced with additional troops, and the Third Assault Brigade was urgently redeployed to Avdiivka as the situation became "extremely critical."

Despite the challenges, Tarnavskyi asserted that troop management remained stable and effective, and additional resources, including ammunition, had been allocated to units in the region. Avdiivka, situated only a few kilometers from Russian-occupied Donetsk, has suffered extensive damage due to heavy fighting, leaving the city largely in ruins. The withdrawal from Zenit reflects the dynamic and challenging nature of the conflict, with military decisions being made to adapt to the evolving situation on the ground.

Zelensky: 'Obviously Navalny was killed by Putin'

The reported death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has stirred strong reactions, particularly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. At a press conference in Germany, Zelensky expressed a belief that Navalny was killed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, linking it to the fate of thousands who have suffered similar fates. He emphasized the need to hold Putin accountable for his actions, stating that it is a clear sign that Putin must be forced to "lose everything."

Navalny's reported death in prison has sparked international concern. The circumstances, including his alleged loss of consciousness and inability to be revived, have raised questions. Navalny had been serving a 2.5-year prison sentence since 2021 and a separate 9-year sentence on fraud charges since 2022. Additionally, he was sentenced to 19 years in a maximum-security prison in August 2023 on extremism charges related to the creation of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The cases against Navalny have been widely criticized as politically motivated and fabricated by international human rights organizations and governments. Navalny had previously been poisoned in Russia in 2020, with German doctors confirming that he had been exposed to a Novichok nerve agent, a chemical weapon produced by the Russian government.

U.S. President Joe Biden had previously warned of "devastating consequences for Russia" if Navalny were to die in prison. The circumstances surrounding Navalny's death and the broader implications for Russia's actions and international relations are likely to be closely monitored and scrutinized by the global community.

Russia has already fired 24 North Korean-made ballistic missiles on Ukraine

The reported use of at least 24 North Korean-made ballistic missiles, likely Kn-23/24, by Russia during missile attacks on Ukraine is a significant development. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin provided details on these attacks, stating that between December 30, 2023, and February 7, 2024, Russia launched at least 12 attacks on seven Ukrainian oblasts with these missiles. The affected regions include Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv (three attacks), Kharkiv (two attacks), as well as towns and villages in Kirovohrad, Poltava, Donetsk, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. These attacks resulted in 14 civilian deaths and more than 70 injuries.

The most substantial missile attack occurred on February 7, 2024, targeting three cities: Kyiv (one missile), Pavlohrad, and Kharkiv (two missiles each). Notably, no strikes on specific targets were recorded in these cases. The strike with the highest civilian casualties occurred on January 2, 2024, in Kharkiv, where three people were killed, and 64 were injured in an attack on the city center.

Kostin explained that the Central Armaments Research Institute of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and the Interagency Working Group of the Prosecutor General's Office confirmed the origin of the missiles through detailed analysis of impact sites and debris. The missiles bear different markings and symbols that suggest their Korean origin. Additionally, they exhibit larger diameters than similar models of Russian and Soviet origin.

Preliminary analysis indicates that these missiles contain high explosive warheads with a capacity of 500-1,000 kg in TNT equivalent, with the possibility of using a combined warhead. The maximum range of these missiles is up to 650 km. According to Kostin, preliminary data points to the missiles being launched from the territory of Voronezh Oblast in Russia.

The accuracy of these missiles raises concerns, as only two out of 24 missiles are reported to have relatively accurate hits, while the rest exploded in the air or hit residential areas in Kharkiv at considerable distances from each other. The use of North Korean-made ballistic missiles in the conflict adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Zelensky on American aid: "I hope US stays on track"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his ongoing hope for positive support from the United States Congress during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. Responding to a question about the ability of Germany and other European countries to compensate for the absence of U.S. support for Ukraine, Zelenskyy stated:

"I hope the United States of America stays on track. I believe that the majority of the population supports Ukraine – and rightly so, given that we are defending not only Ukraine but all of Europe and our shared values. At least, those are the signals I constantly receive from the president, his administration, and representatives of both parties."

While acknowledging the presence of some radical voices and "hotheads" in U.S. politics, Zelenskyy expressed optimism and hoped for a pragmatic American approach, particularly considering the shared goal of safeguarding global security. Despite potential difficulties in the U.S. House and Congress due to ongoing elections, Zelenskyy expects a pragmatic approach to prevail in recognizing the significance of Ukraine's role in global security.

However, Zelenskyy also acknowledged the existence of risks, especially concerning pressure and the electoral process. In the event of any challenges with U.S. aid, he emphasized Ukraine's reliance on the European Union's full support, stating, "We are not just counting on Germany – we are counting on the European Union."

Zelenskyy's comments underscore the importance of international support for Ukraine and his hope for continued backing from both the United States and the European Union amid geopolitical challenges and potential risks.