Key updates on Feb. 10-11:
- Zelensky appoints 4 new high-level military commanders
- Trump says he would urge Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to NATO countries that fail to meet financial obligations
- Russian military uses Starlink inside Ukraine, intelligence confirms
- Zelensky: Ukraine has downed 359 Shahed drones in 2024
- CNN: Russia recruits 15,000 Nepalis to fight in Ukraine
- Commander: Russia increasingly deploys armored groups to storm Avdiivka
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced four high-level military appointments on Feb. 11, including the commanders of the Ground Forces, Territorial Defense Forces, the Combined Forces, and the Airborne Assault Forces.
The new commander of the Ground Forces is Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk, who has served as deputy defense minister since February 2023. He was the head of the Kyiv Oblast Military Administration in the spring of 2022.
The new commander of the Territorial Defense forces is Major General Ihor Plahuta, who formerly commanded the Separate Presidential Brigade and headed up the southern command of the National Guard out of Odesa.
The new commander of the Airborne Assault Forces is Brigadier General Ihor Skibiuk, who had previously served as the deputy for this post and commanded the 80th Air Assault Brigade.
The Combined Forces will be headed by Lieutenant General Yurii Sodol, former head of Ukraine’s marine corps since 2018.
Zelensky dismissed former Airborne Assault Commander Maksym Myrhorodskyi and former Combined Forces Commander Serhii Naiev.
The appointments are part of Zelensky's long-anticipated reshuffle of Ukraine’s military command, which included the dismissal of Ukraine’s top military commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
Trump says he would urge Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to NATO countries that fail to meet financial obligations
Former U.S. President Donald Trump said on Feb. 10 that if reelected, he would endorse Russia to do "whatever the hell they want" to NATO member countries failing to meet defense spending criteria, in a declaration indicating his disregard for the alliance's collective defense principle.
"NATO was busted until I came along," Trump said at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, CNN reported. "I said, 'Everybody's gonna pay.' They said, 'Well, if we don’t pay, are you still going to protect us?' I said, 'Absolutely not.' They couldn’t believe the answer."
In 2014, NATO allies reached an agreement following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula to cease the reduction in defense spending implemented after the Cold War and aim to allocate 2% of their GDPs to defense by 2024.
Trump recounted a conversation with "the president of a major country" who queried whether the U.S. would defend them if invaded by Russia despite their insufficient contributions.
"No, I would not protect you," Trump recalled telling that president. "In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills."
The White House later Saturday called Trump’s remarks "appalling and unhinged" and touted President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster the alliance.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump unsettled Western allies by suggesting that the U.S., if he were in charge, could forsake its NATO treaty obligations and offer defense assistance solely to nations adhering to the alliance's criteria, which require committing two percent of their gross domestic products to military expenditure.
Russian military uses Starlink inside Ukraine, intelligence confirms
Russia has Starlink terminals and is increasingly using them on the front line in Ukraine, Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed on Feb. 11.
The statement came after multiple media reported that Russian troops have access to Starlink satellite internet in Ukraine.
Along with the confirmation, the military intelligence published a clip from an intercepted phone call, where Russian soldiers allegedly discuss having successfully set up a Starlink terminal. The soldiers are from Russia's 83rd Assault Brigade based in Donetsk Oblast, near Klishchiivka and Andriivka, according to the agency.
Military intelligence spokesman Andrii Yusov told RBC-Ukraine that Russia’s use of Starlink is growing to systemic levels.
While the reports were vague about the consequences of Russia using this technology, Ukrainian service members told Defense One that this will make their lives more difficult.
The reports suggest that Russia started acquiring Starlink terminals months ago. Ukrainian soldiers told journalists or wrote on Twitter that these terminals are being delivered to Russia through intermediaries like Dubai.
Starlink is operated by Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX and has been extensively used for military applications by Ukrainian forces.
Musk has spoken out in favor of a peace deal with Russia and was reported to be growing more amenable to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the right-wing commentators his government sponsors.
In a Feb. 8 post on X, formerly Twitter, SpaceX officials said the company “does not do business of any kind with the Russian Government or its military. Starlink is not active in Russia, meaning service will not work in that country. SpaceX has never sold or marketed Starlink in Russia, nor has it shipped equipment to locations in Russia.”
Multiple Russian companies advertise Starlink terminals for sale. SpaceX said these sales are scams.
SpaceX began providing the Starlink satellite internet system to Ukraine shortly after the Russian full-scale invasion in February 2022.
In June 2023, the Pentagon confirmed that SpaceX had won a contract from the Defense Department to provide Ukraine with Starlink satellite services.
Zelensky: Ukraine has downed 359 Shahed drones in 2024
Ukraine’s air defense downed 359 Shahed kamikaze drones since the beginning of 2024, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Feb. 11.
Russia has been using Iranian-designed Shahed-type loitering munitions to attack Ukrainian cities since September 2022, regularly resulting in casualties among civilians.
“The accuracy of our air defense, the work of the electronic warfare systems, and the support from each of our partners in terms of the sky shield literally save lives,” Zelensky said in his evening address.
The president also said that Ukraine is working to increase the effectiveness of the mobile firing groups and to provide even more regions of Ukraine with electronic warfare systems.
“This is one of the key priorities of the year,” said Zelensky.
The air defense shot down 40 Shahed drones across Ukraine overnight on Feb. 11, the majority of what Russian forces have launched against the country.
The Air Force reported on the morning of Feb. 11 that Russia attacked Ukraine with 45 drones launched from occupied Crimea.
From the onset of the full-scale invasion, the Russian military has utilized occupied Crimea and other occupied territories of Ukraine as launch sites for missiles and other weapons targeting Ukraine.
Anti-aircraft missile units, mobile firing groups, and electronic warfare equipment were involved in repelling the air attack, according to the report.
The drones were destroyed over Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Kirovohrad, Mykolaiv, Cherkasy, Odesa, Dnipro, and Kherson oblasts.
CNN: Russia recruits 15,000 Nepalis to fight in Ukraine
The Russian army recruited 15,000 Nepalis to fight against Ukraine, CNN reported on Feb. 11, citing multiple sources.
As Russian casualties on the battlefield mount, the government in Moscow has announced the recruitment of foreigners into its army for a salary of $2,000 and quickly obtaining Russian citizenship.
Meanwhile, the Nepali government claims only about 200 of its citizens are fighting in Ukraine on the Russian side, with at least 13 having been killed in action and four captured as prisoners of war.
The opposition Nepali lawmaker and former foreign minister, Bimala Rai Paudyal, said that between 14,000 and 15,000 Nepalis are fighting in Ukraine, citing testimony from men returning from the front line.
CNN geolocated two training centers in Russia where Nepalis and other foreigners are training before being deployed to the front line in Ukraine.
Nepal urged the Russian government to stop recruiting Nepalese citizens into its army in December after at least six of its nationals were confirmed killed. The authorities then uncovered a domestic smuggling ring that recruited youths as foreign fighters for the Russian military.
Reuters reported on Jan. 5 that Nepal has halted issuing foreign work permits for its citizens to work in Russia until further notice after growing numbers of Nepalese mercenaries have been reported killed fighting for the Russian army in Ukraine.
The only foreign armies Nepalese law permits its citizens to serve in are the Indian and British armies. The British Brigade of Gurkhas, which has existed for over 200 years, comprises Nepalese fighters.
The U.K.'s Defense Ministry reported in September that Russia was trying to recruit foreigners and migrant workers to avoid announcing another mobilization drive before the presidential elections, which are to be held in March 2024.
Commander: Russia increasingly deploys armored groups to storm Avdiivka
To storm Donetsk Oblast’s Avdiivka, Russia is increasingly deploying armored groups alongside its assault infantry groups, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, the commander of Ukraine's Tavria group fighting on the southeastern front lines, reported on Feb. 11.
"But Ukrainian soldiers steadfastly maintain their defense. They actively destroy the Russian aggressor and capture the fresh forces that have entered the battle," Tarnavskyi wrote on Telegram.
Avdiivka, lying only kilometers away from Russian-occupied Donetsk, has suffered intensified Russian attacks since October 2023 as Moscow's troops aim to encircle and capture the city.
The situation in the area "remains tense but controlled," Tarnavskyi said, adding that Russia’s goal to capture Avdiivka and Novomykhailivka and the territories they lost last summer has not changed.
According to Tarnavskyi, Russia lost 458 troops, 25 units of various military equipment, and 139 drones over the past day.
At the same time, the Russian military also launched 25 airstrikes and two missile strikes, as well as 57 assaults, Tarnavskyi said.
The Tavria group of Ukraine's military is fighting in some of the hottest spots on the front, including the ongoing battle for Avdiivka.