Key developments on Feb. 3-4:
- Military intelligence reports assassination attempt on Russian military pilot
- Reshuffling Ukrainian army leadership is up to Zelensky, Sullivan says
- Budanov: Ukraine sunk Russian corvette on Feb. 1 with 6 naval drones
- Zelensky, Syrskyi visit front-line troops
- Military: Russian sabotage group fought off near border in Sumy Oblast
Responding to conflicting reports that President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning to dismiss his army chief, the United States government has told Ukraine it will not get involved in the country’s personnel decisions, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Feb. 4.
“That is not something the U.S. government should be weighing in on one way or another,” Sullivan said. “It’s the sovereign right of Ukraine and the right of the President of Ukraine to make his personnel decisions.”
This stance has been directly communicated to Ukraine, Sullivan added, during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Speculation has swirled for weeks that Zelensky is set to fire his Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, who has served in that role since 2021.
The relationship between the two has increasingly been rumored to be strained, particularly after Nov. 1, when Zaluzhnyi gave an interview to the Economist in which he described a potential “trap” of a prolonged war.
A December 2023 poll found that an overwhelming majority (72%) of Ukrainians would disapprove of Zaluzhnyi’s resignation.
Military intelligence reports assassination attempt on Russian strategic bomber pilot
Oleg Stegachev, the crew commander of a Russian Tu-95 strategic bomber, was shot in the Russian city of Engels, Ukraine's military intelligence reported on Feb. 3.
Russia has regularly used the Engels air base, which is located around 730 kilometers southeast of Moscow and hundreds of kilometers from Ukraine, to attack Ukraine with aircraft carrying cruise missiles.
Stegachev, born in 1983, has served at the Engels air base and has been directly involved in strikes on Ukrainian civilian sites, military intelligence reported on Telegram.
The military intelligence agency is still clarifying whether Stegachev survived the attack.
The military intelligence didn't claim responsibility for the assassination attempt but hinted that it was involved.
“We remind you that retribution awaits all war criminals — we know your names, addresses, car numbers, usual routes and habits,” the agency said.
Meanwhile, Russian pro-war Telegram channels claimed Stegachev “resigned from the military years before Russia's (full-scale) war.”
Budanov says Russian missile corvette derstoryed with 6 naval drones
Intelligence reported on Feb. 1 that it had sunk the Ivanovets, a Tarantul-class Russian corvette that formed part of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, after it sustained “direct hits to its hull” and was irreparably damaged.
According to Budanov, the mission was undertaken by one of the special units, Group 13, using Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatuses (MAGURA) V5 – multi-purpose naval drones that can be used for surveillance, reconnaissance, detecting and eliminating mines, search and rescue missions, and combat.
“As a result of the damage, the ship rolled astern and sank. According to preliminary data, the search and rescue operation conducted by the enemy was not successful,” Budanov told the War Zone media outlet on Feb. 4.
Zelensky visits front-line troops in Zaporizhzhia Oblast
President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Ukraine’s 65th Mechanized Brigade near the front-line town of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on Feb. 4.
Robotyne sits by the a main road toward Russian-occupied Tokmak and further to occupied Melitopol, one of the key logistic hubs for Russian forces in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces liberated Robotyne in late August last year.
Zelensky also awarded troops with Crosses of Military Merit, a presidential award recognizing service people for outstanding personal bravery and courage during combat missions.
“I am greatly honored to be here today. To support you and present awards. Such a difficult, decisive mission rests on your shoulders — to push back the enemy and win this war. I wish you this victory. I wish to do everything to make this victory faster,” said Zelensky.
The day before, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces, visited military units in the Kupiansk sector facing heavy onslaught of Russian forces, the Ground Forces' press service said on social media on Feb. 3.
In the past weeks, Kyiv has been warning that Russia is intensifying attacks around Kupiansk, aiming to encircle and capture this key logistics hub in Kharkiv Oblast.
“The operational situation remains tense... The enemy continues to conduct high-intensity assault operations and is constantly bringing in new supplies,” the report said.
Syrskyi listened to reports of local commanders and discussed possible scenarios of Russian actions, taking into consideration gathered intelligence.
Military: Russian sabotage group fought off near border in Sumy Oblast
Territorial Defense Forces in Sumy Oblast successfully fought off a Russian subversive and reconnaissance group attempting to cross into Ukraine, Lieutenant General Serhii Naiev, responsible for the defense of Ukraine's northern border, reported on Feb. 4.
Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on an armed group of ten people on the outskirts of the town Hlukhiv, close to the border with Russia, at 6.20 p.m. on Feb. 3.
The Russian group split into two, with one group attempting to bypass the Ukrainians from the flank, Naiev reported. But a Ukrainian counter-sabotage team arrived and fired at the enemy, pushing them back from the Ukrainian border after a 90-minute battle.
The other Russian group evacuated the dead and wounded.
As of Feb. 4, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported that Russia has lost 388,750 troops in Ukraine since the beginning of its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
Meanwhile, Mediazona, a Russian independent media outlet, together with BBC Russia, confirmed the names of 43,460 Russian soldiers who had been killed in action in Ukraine.
Although Sumy Oblast was liberated from Russian occupation in spring 2022, it suffers frequent shelling and attacks from Russia. Russian forces shelled Sumy Oblast 76 times in 16 separate attacks throughout Feb. 3, firing at five communities along the border.
On Jan. 27, a Russian reconnaissance and sabotage group staged an attack that killed two civilians.