Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 3, 2023
Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, George Barros, Madison Williams, and Frederick W. Kagan
January 3, 6:45 pm ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a series of instructions for Russian agencies and high-level officials on January 2 likely to address criticisms of the Kremlin’s treatment of military personnel and portray the Kremlin as an involved war-time apparatus. These instructions are ostensibly an effort to address grievances voiced by mothers of servicemen during a highly staged November 25 meeting with Putin. The 11 instructions direct several high-ranking members of the Russian government—including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin—and government agencies (including the Russian Ministry of Defense) to collaborate with other agencies and non-government organizations to generate a list of recommendations for addressing and improving supply, benefits, and healthcare processes for military personnel. Putin instructed the Ministry of Culture to assist the nongovernmental organization “Committee of the Fatherland Warrior’s Families” to help create documentaries and other material to showcase the “courage and heroism” of Russian forces in Ukraine and to screen domestic documentaries to “fight against the spread of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist ideology.” These instructions are unlikely to generate significant changes and will likely take significant time to implement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia is using a variety of social schemes to justify the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. In his annual New Year's speech, Putin thanked Russians for their efforts to send children from occupied Ukrainian territory on “holidays.” ISW has previously reported instances of Russian officials using the guise of “holidays” and vacation schemes to justify the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea. Putin’s list of instructions also directs Russian Commissioner for the Rights of the Child Maria Lvova-Belova and the occupation heads of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts to "take additional measures to identify minors...left without parental care” in occupied areas to provide them with ”state social assistance” and ”social support.” The Kremlin may seek to use this social benefit scheme to tabulate the names of children it deems to be orphans to identify children for deportation to Russia and potentially open avenues for their adoption into Russian families. ISW continues to note that the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families may constitute a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Systemic failures in Russia’s force generation apparatus continue to plague personnel capabilities to the detriment of Russian operational capacity in Ukraine. Russian milbloggers claimed on January 3 that the Russian military has sent recently mobilized personnel trained as artillerymen and tankers following their mobilizations to infantry divisions in Ukraine with no formal infantry training. Although the use of personnel in non-infantry branches in infantry roles is not unusual, the Russian military’s practice in this case is likely very problematic. The Russian Armed Forces devoted too little time to training mobilized personnel for use in the branches they had previously served in before sending them to the front lines. They certainly did not have time to train them in additional specialties.
Russian forces have suffered significant losses of artillery systems and armored vehicles in operations in Ukraine since the start of partial mobilization in September of 2022, and, therefore, likely have excess personnel trained in the use of specific military equipment. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhii Cherevaty reported that Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are currently firing artillery shells at roughly one-third the rate of the summer of 2022. The reduced rate of Russian artillery fire is likely a result of the depletion of ammunition stocks, given reports that Russian forces are deliberately transferring ammunition from one sector of the front to another. Putting poorly-trained artillerymen into infantry units without training them for infantry combat operations will likely make them little more than cannon fodder.
Degraded Russian military personnel capabilities will likely further exacerbate Russian milblogger criticism of Russian force generation efforts and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). One Russian milblogger argued that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s proposals to create five new artillery divisions and the recent creation of an artillery division in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) 2nd Army Corps will be a waste of personnel and artillery munitions if the Russian MoD continues to train these personnel in just an artillery capacity without infantry training. Another Russian milblogger argued inaccurately that putting a tanker or an artilleryman in service as a simple infantryman is a war crime that even Soviet commanders did not commit in the most difficult months of the Second World War in 1941. (It certainly is not any sort of crime to allocate individuals with certain specialties to perform different roles and missions in war, and tankers and gunners in all armies at war have sometimes fought as infantry when their systems were destroyed or unavailable.) The Russian milblogger compared the current situation to a similar incident in 2015 when the Russian deployment of an artillery unit as infantry in the operation to capture Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, led to the death of 80 percent of the unit to argue that Russian commanders who make such decisions should face criminal prosecution. Russian milbloggers have routinely criticized the Russian MoD for the poor conduct of partial mobilization and will likely continue to do so as Russian force generation efforts produce degraded personnel capabilities that will likely further constrain the Russian military’s ability to achieve any operational success in Ukraine. The hyperbole of milblogger criticism of the MoD’s personnel practices highlights the ever-increasing hostility toward and skepticism of the MoD among elements of the milblogger community.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin attempted to justify the Wagner Group’s lack of progress in Bakhmut, partially supporting ISW’s assessment that Russian forces in Bakhmut are culminating. Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti amplified a December 31 interview with Prigozhin on January 3 in which Prigozhin stated that Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut are unable to break through Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut. Prigozhin stated that Wagner's offensive operations in Bakhmut are highly attritional because each house in Bakhmut is a “fortress,” that Ukrainians have defensive lines every 10 meters, and that Russian forces must clear building-by-building. This is a significant inflection for Prigozhin and the first time he has framed Wagner forces in Bakhmut as making effectively no gains. Prigozhin previously stated in October 2022 that Wagner forces operating in the Bakhmut area advance 100–200 meters a day. The Wagner Group conducted information operations to assert that Wagner Group forces exclusively made gains in Bakhmut without the assistance of other Russian elements in December.
Prigozhin is likely setting information conditions to blame Wagner Group's failure to take Bakhmut on the Russian Ministry of Defense or the Russian industrial base. Wagner Group soldiers told Prigozhin that they were unable to break through Ukrainian lines in Bakhmut due to insufficient armored vehicles, ammunition, and 100mm shell supplies during a likely scripted segment in the clip. This statement seeks to absolve the Wagner Group and Prigozhin of personal responsibility by attributing their failure to capture Bakhmut to the larger Russian resource allocation problems that Russian and Ukrainian sources have been increasingly discussing since late December.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a series of instructions for Russian agencies and high-level officials likely aimed at appeasing widespread criticisms of the provisioning and payment of benefits to Russian military personnel and propagandizing the war.
- Putin confirmed that Russia is using a variety of social schemes to justify the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.
- Systemic failures in Russia’s force generation efforts continue to plague Russian personnel capabilities to the detriment of Russian operational capacity in Ukraine.
- Degraded Russian military personnel capabilities will likely further exacerbate Russian milblogger criticism of Russian force generation efforts and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin attempted to justify the Wagner Group’s lack of progress in Bakhmut, partially supporting ISW’s assessment that Russian forces in Bakhmut are culminating.
- Russian forces continued limited counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line as Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian military logistics in Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and may be reinforcing their grouping in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces have reportedly established positions on the Velikiy Potemkinsky Island in the Dnipro River delta as of January 2.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that promises additional benefits to Russian forces personnel and Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) who defend the Russian-Ukrainian border.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
- Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
- Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
- Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
- Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
- Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
- Activities in Russian-occupied Areas
Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)
Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)
Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on January 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Stelmakhivka (16km northwest of Svatove), Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna), Ploshchanka (17km northwest of Kreminna), and Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna). Geolocated footage posted on January 3 shows Russian forces operating 1km north of Bilohorivka, indicating that Russian forces have made marginal advances around the settlement. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces used thermobaric artillery systems, a high-value military district-level asset, to strike Ukrainian forces in the Kreminna area. The Russian military’s use of a military district-level asset in the Kreminna area indicates that Russian forces are likely continuing to prioritize operations along the Kreminna-Svatove line amidst the Russian military’s potential preparation for a decisive effort in Luhansk Oblast.
Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian military logistics in Luhansk Oblast. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhii Cherevaty reported on January 3 that Ukrainian forces destroyed Russian ammunition field warehouses and a fuel and lubricants storage area in the Svatove direction.
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on January 3. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Rozdolivka (18km northeast), Soledar (10km northeast), and Krasna Hora (5km northeast); and south of Bakhmut near Kurdyumivka (12km southwest) and Klishchiivka (6km southwest). A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group forces launched an assault toward Krasna Hora and are continuing attempts to push north towards Bakhmut from positions near Klishchiivka, Ozeryanivka (14km southwest of Bakhmut), and Opytne (3km south of Bakhmut). Geolocated combat footage shows Ukrainian strikes on Russian vehicles and infantry elements north of Soledar, indicating that Russian forces have established positions in this area.
Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area on January 3. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian troops conducted assaults near Avdiivka (just north of Donetsk City) and Marinka (on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian troops also attacked Ukrainian fortifications along the western outskirts of Donetsk City near Krasnohorivka and attempted to push on Nevelske and Pervomaiske. Another Russian source reported that elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 9th Regiment are advancing toward Avdiivka and fighting in small groups to avoid personnel losses. Russian sources continued to claim that street fighting is ongoing in Marinka.
Russian forces may be reinforcing their grouping in western Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian General Staff noted on January 3 that Russian forces are strengthening their grouping in the Novopavlivka direction (the operational direction used to refer to the area southwest of Donetsk City) at the expense of units transferred from the Kherson direction. This statement is consistent with ISW’s previous observations that Russian forces are continuing to reinforce positions throughout eastern Ukraine with elements previously deployed to Kherson Oblast. Geolocated footage posted on January 3 shows Ukrainian artillery stopping a Russian infantry rotation near Pavlivka (40km southwest of Donetsk City). Russian forces continued routine artillery fire in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Ukrainian forces claimed they established positions on the Velykyi Potomkin Island in the Dnipro River delta southwest of Kherson City as of January 2. Geolocated footage shows that Ukrainian forces reached the northeastern part of the island as of January 2, and some social media users claimed that Ukrainian forces captured parts or all of the island. Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated on January 3 that ”there is information” that Ukrainian forces have captured the island but there is currently no official confirmation. Geolocated footage posted on January 2 shows that Russian forces still operate in other areas of the delta. A Russian milblogger claimed that the island remains a contested zone and that reports of Ukrainian forces capturing the island are a Ukrainian information operation.
Ukrainian forces continued to target Russian force concentrations in the rear areas of southern Ukraine. Geolocated footage posted on January 2 shows the destroyed “Gran Prix” stud farm complex in Oleshky, Kherson Oblast following a Ukrainian strike. A Russian soldier had previously posted a picture of himself standing in front of the complex’s logo, a violation of operational security principles that likely aided Ukrainian troops in targeting the strike. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian force concentration in Chukalivka, Kherson Oblast (35km southwest of Kherson City on the T2216 highway) on December 31, killing and wounding 500 Russian military personnel. Russian milbloggers denied reports of the strike. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian force concentration in Fedorivka (likely referring to a settlement along either the E58 or R47 highways in eastern Kherson Oblast) on January 1 and are still determining Russian casualties. A Ukrainian source reported that Ukrainian forces struck Russian forces in Chaplynka, Kherson Oblast (69km south of the Dnipro River on the T2202 Nova Kakhovka-Armiansk highway). Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claimed on January 3 that Ukrainian forces shelled a hospital in Tokmak, and geolocated footage shows damage to a medical facility where Russian forces reportedly had positions. Russian sources reported that Russian air defenses shot down likely Ukrainian drones over Sevastopol and Dzhankoi, Crimea, on January 2 and 3.
Ukrainian officials stated that Russian occupation officials are working to strengthen their administrative control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). The Ukrainian Resistance Center warned on January 3 that Russian occupation officials plan to appoint Dmitry Minyaev, a Rosenergoatom (a subsidiary of Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom) special security services official, as the ZNPP deputy director for physical protection and regime issues sometime in January 2023.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that promises additional benefits to Russian forces personnel and Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) special police on January 3. Putin signed a decree that promises a 5-million-ruble (about $69,000) payout to the families of medically-discharged or killed-in-action Russian personnel who served in border regions—including occupied Ukrainian territories—since February 24. The decree also promises a 3-million-ruble payment (about $41,000) to those serving in border regions who were injured during service. These payouts are likely a Kremlin attempt to mitigate milblogger criticism of the underfunding of the Russian border guard service.
Russian military officials continue to find sneaky means to continue mobilization. The Central Bank of the Russian Federation ordered its branches on December 27, 2022, to send mobilization summonses to all “male debtors” in their system and to present the male debtors with service contracts. The official Central Bank of the Russian Federation letter advised employees to threaten police intervention should any of the male debtors resist or refuse to accept the summonses, but reassured employees that the risk of participating in mobilization recruitment efforts is "minimal.” A Russian source reported on January 2, 2023, that the military registration and enlistment office in Krasnodar Krai sent a letter to a local enterprise demanding that 20 of its employees go to a "45-day military training camp.” The source assesses that this is likely a mobilization scheme.
The Kremlin continues to expand the legal framework for mobilizing residents of occupied territories. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on December 30, 2022, that suspended the previous age limits for mobilization in occupied territories until at least 2026 and promised higher ranks to those who have previously served in the Russian forces or law enforcement. ISW previously assessed that Putin has heavily drained the pool of available combat-ready reservists. This decree is likely a desperate attempt to expand the pool of those eligible for mobilization.
Russian forces may be falsifying the death certificates of Russian personnel killed in action in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) shared intercepted audio on January 2 of a Russian servicemember claiming that the Russian forces have been falsifying death certificates for Russian soldiers by falsely claiming that Russian personnel who died in Ukraine died in Belgorod Oblast instead. ISW is unable to verify this Russian servicemember’s claim.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Ukrainian officials in formerly occupied areas continue to unearth Russian torture chambers. The Kherson Oblast Police reported on January 3 that Ukrainian police officers discovered a Russian torture chamber in the basement of the main police department building of Kherson Oblast in Kherson City. Kherson Police stated that officers found objects indicating that Russian forces conducted torture and interrogations in the chamber and held retired law enforcement officers, those identified to hold pro-Ukrainian sentiments, and ordinary Kherson citizens who refused to cooperate with Russian occupation officials there. Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU) reported that SBU personnel discovered a torture chamber in the liberated village of Oleksandrivka in Horokhiv Hromada, Mykolaiv Oblast. The SBU reported that Russian forces tortured residents whom they deemed to be uncooperative using suffocation, beatings, and electric shocks. This is a direct violation of the laws of armed conflict and Article III of the Geneva Convention.
Russian officials are continuing efforts to deport children to Russia under the guise of cultural programs. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation administration head Yevheniy Balitsky stated on January 3 that the occupation Ministry for Youth Policy, under the purview of the Russian federal project “We Are Together,” plans to take children and families of participants in the conflict to Moscow to attend “The Nutcracker.” Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) head Leonid Pasechnik stated on January 2 that Russian occupation officials sent 44 children from occupied Luhansk Oblast to Moscow for the New Year holiday through the cultural program “Moscow - Open City.” It is unclear whether and under what circumstances these children and their families will return to Ukraine. ISW has previously assessed that Russian officials are conducting a deliberate depopulation campaign in occupied territories and notes that forced deportation of children is a potential violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as a constituent element of a broader ethnic cleansing campaign.
ISW will continue to report daily observed indicators consistent with the current assessed most dangerous course of action (MDCOA): a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine possibly aimed at Kyiv.
ISW’s December 15 MDCOA warning forecast about a potential Russian offensive against northern Ukraine in winter 2023 remains a worst-case scenario within the forecast cone. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as low, but possible, and the risk of Belarusian direct involvement as very low. This new section in the daily update is not in itself a forecast or assessment. It lays out the daily observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly. Our assessment that the MDCOA remains unlikely has not changed. We will update this header if the assessment changes.
Observed indicators for the MDCOA in the past 24 hours:
- Nothing significant to report.
Observed ambiguous indicators for MDCOA in the past 24 hours:
- Nothing significant to report.
Observed counter-indicators for the MDCOA in the past 48 hours:
- The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 3.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
 http://www.kremlin dot ru/acts/assignments/orders/70322
 https://armyinform.com dot ua/2023/01/03/sposterigayetsya-stijka-tendencziya-do-vynyknennya-v-rosiyan-deficzytu-snaryadiv-ta-riznyh-naboyiv-sergij-cherevatyj/
 https://armyinform.com dot ua/2023/01/03/pvk-vagner-sergij-cherevatyj/
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 https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/03/rosiyany-prodovzhuyut-zvozyty-svij-personal-na-zaes/
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