Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 6, 2023
Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Layne Philipson, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan
January 6, 8:45 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 officials and milbloggers largely did not react to the US announcement of more than $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine, further highlighting that the Kremlin and the Russian information space selectively choose when to portray Western military assistance as an escalation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on January 6 that the assistance would provide Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air missiles, and ammunition. Russian officials and milbloggers scarcely reacted to the latest announcement of military assistance, even though the Kremlin most recently portrayed the transfer of purely defensive Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine as an escalation.
The lack of Russian reaction to the US announcement of military assistance that Ukrainian forces could use to support counteroffensive operations supports ISW’s previous assessment that the Kremlin is more concerned with its information operations and the effect that Western military aid can have on specific Russian military operations in Ukraine than with any particular weapons systems, red lines, or the supposed Russian fears of putative Ukrainian offensive actions against the Russian Federation itself using Western systems. The Kremlin selectively responds to Western military shipments and assistance to Ukraine to support information operations that aim to frame Ukraine as lacking sovereignty and to weaken Western willingness to provide further military assistance by stoking fears of Russian escalation. The Kremlin and the Russian information space will likely seize upon future Western military aid that they believe can support these information operations rather than as a reflection of any actual Kremin red lines or specific concerns about the potential threat Western weapons systems may pose. ISW has previously noted that these observations are worth considering in the context of the Western discussion of providing Ukraine with Western tanks, long-range attack systems, and other capabilities.
Russian officials and milbloggers continued to respond negatively to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January 5 ceasefire announcement as hostilities continued in Ukraine on January 6. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin remarked that a ceasefire does not mean that Russian troops will stop responding to "provocations by Ukrainian troops," or else Russian forces run the risk of affording Ukraine the opportunity to improve their positions in critical areas of the front. Pushilin’s statement was an implicit criticism of the ceasefire announcement and exemplifies the fact that the announcement was poorly received by Russian military leaders. Former commander of militants in Donbas in 2014 and prominent milblogger Igor Girkin called the ceasefire "a bold and decisive step towards defeat and surrender" for Russian forces and criticized Russian leadership for failing to learn from the outcomes of previous ceasefires over the last eight years. Other prominent milbloggers seized on the ceasefire announcement to criticize the Kremlin’s conduct of the war and accuse Russian leadership of directly placing Russian soldiers in harm’s way. The ceasefire announcement will likely continue to serve as a point of neuralgia for voices in the information space that have historically enjoyed a mutually reinforcing relationship with Putin.
While many voices in the Russian information space strongly criticized the ceasefire announcement, certain hardline elements seized on Putin’s statement to continue to propagate the narrative that Putin is a protector of religious values and morals. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated on January 6 that Putin offered "the hand to Christian mercy" to Ukraine and that Ukraine rejected it because Ukraine lacks faith. Commander of the Chechen Akhmat Special Forces, Apti Alaudinov, responded to the ceasefire with glowing praise for Putin, whom he called a "true believing Christian," noted that Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam, and accused Ukrainian "Satanism" of being the reason why Kyiv refused to accept the truce. Alaudinov‘s praise of the ceasefire on religious grounds is part of a specific and long-running Kremlin information operation that seeks to cater to various religious minority groups in the Russian Armed Forces by framing Ukraine as an immoral enemy whose lack of faith transcends offends Christians and Muslims alike.
Prominent Russian milbloggers continued to use their platforms to advocate for the eradication of Ukrainian cultural and ethnic identity. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commander Alexander Khodakovsky claimed on January 6 that Russia and Ukraine share a "common gene pool" and "spiritual space" that Ukraine is destroying as the war continues. Khodakovsky’s statement is a clear rejection of the Ukrainian people as sovereign and distinct from Russia. Similarly, another prominent milblogger claimed that the idea of a Ukrainian ethnicity has never existed and was manufactured by Ukrainian "nationalists." The milblogger invoked the concept of "Malorossiya"- the imperial Russian ideation of Ukrainian territory as entirely part of and subordinate to Russia. Another Russian war correspondent amplified the pre-February 24 fiction that Ukraine is oppressing Russian speakers and claimed that the war must continue in order to restore the Russian language to the "territory of the soon-to-be-former Ukraine." These prominent and widely followed voices in the Russian information space continue to openly advocate for the dehumanization and destruction of the Ukrainian people. So long as the Kremlin continues to provide space for such voices as it ruthlessly censors views that stray from its own information lines, the intent behind Putin’s war remains clear.
- Russian officials and milbloggers largely did not react to the US announcement of more than $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine.
- Russian officials and milbloggers continued to respond negatively to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January 5 ceasefire announcement as hostilities continued in Ukraine on January 6.
- Certain hardline elements of the Russian information space seized on Putin’s statement to propagate the narrative that Putin is a protector of religious values.
- Prominent Russian milbloggers continue to use their platforms to advocate for the eradication of Ukrainian cultural and ethnic identity.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Kreminna and Svatove.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made gains in Soledar as Russian offensive operations continued around Bakhmut and the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area.
- Russian authorities and military leaders continue to face backlash for their responses to the December 31 Ukrainian strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing to target Ukrainian children to consolidate social control in occupied territories.
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 and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Svatove on January 6. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted a limited ground attack near Stelmakhivka (15km northwest of Svatove). A Russian milblogger claimed that both Russian and Ukrainian troops are conducting positional battles in the Svatove direction and that Ukrainian troops unsuccessfully attacked Russian positions near Kuzemivka (13km northwest of Svatove). Russian milbloggers also indicated that elements of the Western Military District—particularly the 27th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 1st Guards Tank Army and 3rd Motor Rifle Division of the 20th Combined Arms Army—are active near Svatove.
Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Kreminna on January 6. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna) and Ploshchanka (16km northwest of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger indicated that elements of the 752nd Guards Motor Rifle Regiment of the 3rd Motor Rifle Division of the 20th Combined Arms Army are fighting near Makiivka. Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted several unsuccessful counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Balka Zhuravka River that runs between Ploshchanka and Kreminna. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups are active southwest of Kreminna between Serebrianka and Hryhorivka. Russian sources continued to claim that Russian forces are fighting for Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna).
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 sources claimed that Russian forces made gains in Soledar on January 6. Several milbloggers reported that Wagner Group forces stormed Bakhmutske (10km northeast of Bakhmut and just south of Soledar) on the night of January 5 to 6 and broke through to the center of Soledar. One milblogger posted footage of a Wagner Group fighter reportedly in the center of Soledar, although the fighter says that it is too early to say that they have captured Soledar entirely. One milblogger claimed that Russian troops advanced as far as Krasnopillia, 4km northwest of Soledar, and that the Ukrainian grouping in Bakhmut is under threat of encirclement as a result. ISW has not yet observed visual information that corroborates these Russian claims. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin notably emphasized that exclusively Wagner troops are responsible for these claimed gains, but that discussion of the total capture of Soledar is premature. Prigozhin continues to position himself and Wagner Group forces as the sole actors responsible for gains in the Bakhmut area, as ISW has previously noted.
Ukrainian troops continued to defend positions northeast and south of Bakhmut on January 6. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Spirne (30km northeast), Soledar, Krasna Hora (5km north); and south of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka (7km southwest) and Kurdyumivka (13km southwest). The Ukrainian State Border Guards Service emphasized that Ukrainian forces neutralized a Russian grenade launch point in the Bakhmut direction to prevent preparations for another Russian counterattack in the area. Russian milbloggers continued to discuss fighting to the south and northeast of Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued offensive operations along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 6. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian troops attacked near Pervomaiske (on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City) and Marinka and Pobieda (on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City). A Russian milblogger also reported fighting northwest of Donetsk City near Nevelske and southwest of Donetsk City near Novomykhailivka. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia posted graphic video footage reportedly of the aftermath of an attack by the DNR 5th Brigade on a Ukrainian grouping in Marinka. Milbloggers amplified the footage to highlight the intensity of operations in Marinka.
Russian forces did not conduct any claimed or confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk or eastern Zaporizhia oblasts on January 6 and continued routine shelling along the line of contact in this area. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) highlighted the use of thermobaric artillery systems in western Donetsk Oblast, indicating that Russian forces may be employing this military district-level asset to prioritize operations in this area.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted operations on the Kinburn Spit in Mykolaiv Oblast and hold positions on an island in the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast on January 6. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are currently conducting reconnaissance activities in the area of the Kinburn Spit. Another Russian milblogger amplified footage on January 6 reportedly of Russian Spetsnaz units firing on Ukrainian positions on Velyki Potemkin Island southwest of Kherson City in the Dnipro River delta. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces maintain positions on the island on January 5. Russian sources used footage posted on January 5 to claim that Russian forces captured the island, but later geolocation of the footage shows that Russian forces were actually operating south of Velyki Potemkin Island on the right bank of the Konka River near Kardashynka, Kherson Oblast (9km south of Kherson City).
Ukrainian forces continue to strike Russian positions in rear areas of southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces struck Russian forces in Havrylivka Druha, Kherson Oblast on January 5, seriously injuring 100 Russian servicemembers. Russian milbloggers claimed on January 6 that Ukrainian forces shelled Oleshky and Kakhovka in Kherson Oblast as well as Tokmak and Dorozhnianka in Zaporizhia Oblast. A Kherson Oblast Telegram channel amplified local reports on January 6 that residents heard explosions in the vicinity of Radensk, Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian Berdyansk Head Viktoria Halitsyna reported on January 6 that residents heard 11 explosions in Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast.
Russian forces continued routine artillery strikes west of Hulyaipole, on the right bank of the Dnipro River in Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson oblasts, and in Mykolaiv Oblast. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City, Beryslav, Nikopol, and Ochakiv.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian authorities and military leaders continue to face backlash for their responses to the December 31 Ukrainian strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast. Samara Oblast residents wrote a petition demanding that Russian authorities publish the list of the service members killed in the strike, after Samara Oblast Governor Dmitry Azarov confirmed on January 2 that mobilized personnel from Samara Oblast died in the strike. A mobilized Russian servicemember who survived the strike in Makiivka posted a video on January 3 in which he argues that the commanders of the Russian battalion and regiment involved in the strike are responsible for the incident. ISW assesses that the Russian information space continues to seize upon the Ukrainian strike in Makiivka to criticize endemic issues in the Russian military apparatus.
Official Ukrainian sources continue to report that Russian forces and occupation officials are preparing for another wave of mobilization in occupied Ukrainian territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 6 that occupation employees of military recruitment offices in Donetsk City started collecting information about residents who are 17 years old for military registration on January 1. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 6 that Russian forces are taking body armor away from occupation civil servants to provide the armor to personnel mobilized in the next wave. The Resistance Center reported that Russian occupation military recruitment offices in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast presented a plan to mobilize 2,000 residents from the city and that Russian forces have increased patrols in the city to prevent residents from evading the new wave of mobilization.
Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues to expand his parallel military structures. Kadyrov claimed on January 6 that over 9,000 fighters have trained at the Special Forces (Spetsnaz) University in Gudermes, Chechnya. The facility offers a two-week accelerated tactical training course to volunteers who later deploy to Ukraine alongside Russian forces. It is unclear in what capacity and with what Russian military formations volunteer graduates of the facility are currently serving in Ukraine. ISW assesses that Kadyrov routinely promotes his efforts to create Chechen-based parallel military structures to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin and expand his political and military influence.
Russian military volunteer formations are reportedly struggling with accessing provisions and equipment. A BARS-13 (Russian Combat Reserve) affiliated source stated on January 5 that the BARS-14 Battalion formed of BARS-13 volunteers needs financial support to acquire winter uniforms, generators, gas stoves, and other basic supplies. The BARS-13 affiliated source claimed that the BARS-14 Battalion is currently serving in a difficult sector of the Svatove front in Luhansk Oblast. The Russian Military launched the initiative to create Russian Combat Army Reserves in the fall of 2021 and aimed to recruit 100,000 volunteers, but largely failed to do so prior to the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. These BARS formations have recently been active in Luhansk Oblast along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
Tensions between parastatal and conventional Russian forces in Ukraine may be increasing. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 6 that conventional Russian mobilized personnel are increasingly upset that Wagner Group personnel and Chechen forces have priority in accommodations and in receiving ammunition and other military equipment. ISW previously assessed that the Russian military’s reliance on both conventional and parastatal forces such as the Wagner Group and Chechen units will likely continue to damage combat capability. Heightened tensions between these conventional and parastatal forces would likely further degrade Russian forces’ combat capabilities in Ukraine.
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)
Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing to target Ukrainian children to consolidate social control of occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 6 that Russian forces are taking Ukrainian children to Moscow, Rostov, and other large Russian cities en masse to celebrate the New Year and take part in holiday events to convince them that life in the Russian Federation is better than in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Resistance Center also reported on January 6 that Russian medical personnel escorted the children from Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, to participate in holiday events in Rostov Oblast, Russia. Ukrainian Mariupol Mayoral Advisor Petro Andryushenko stated on January 6 that security guards dressed in Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) police uniforms are continuing to search the bags of students in Mariupol schools in a likely effort to seize items related to Ukrainian heritage.
Russian occupation authorities continued to intensify law enforcement measures in occupied territories on January 6. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 6 that Russian occupation authorities intensified administrative and counterintelligence operations in Starobilsk, Luhansk Oblast, after successful Ukrainian strikes in surrounding areas. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported on January 6 that Russian occupation authorities are checking the phones of Starobilsk residents, paying particular attention to those with contacts who are subscribed to Ukrainian telecommunications operators.
Russian occupation authorities continued measures to control movement in occupied territories on January 6. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov stated on January 6 that the occupation administration has begun to issue passes allowing vehicles to travel in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast. Rogov stated on January 6 that any resident seeking a pass must visit a Russian military commandant office in Melitopol, Berdyansk, Tokmak, or Vasylivka and provide passports and vehicle documents. Rogov stated on January 6 that these passes will soon be mandatory for unimpeded movement within Zaporizhia Oblast.
Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to ban the circulation of the Ukrainian hryvnia from occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 6 that Russian occupation authorities are threatening to seize money and goods associated with the hryvnia when raiding trade houses in Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast.
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:
- Russia deployed more armored elements to Belarus on January 6. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) posted photos on January 6 showing that Russia deployed at least one train with military equipment, including armored personnel carriers and trucks, to Baranovichi, Belarus.The Belarusian MoD claims that these Russian elements will conduct combat exercises with Belarusian forces as part of the combined Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV). Independent Belarusian monitoring organization the Hajun Project reported that three trains with Russian equipment arrived in Belarus on January 6. One train reportedly arrived in Baranavichy from the Kantemirovka train station in Boguchar, Voronezh and two other trains arrived in Baranavichy and Slonim from unspecified locations in Russia. The Russian train from Boguchar may have transported elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army that were previously operating in Luhansk Oblast. OSINT analysts on social media identified likely elements of the 15th Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army at the 230th Combined Arms Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on January 6.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko paid an ostentatious visit to Russian and Belarusian troops at the 230th Combined Arms Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus, on January 6. Lukashenko’s visit was likely part of a standing Russian information operation designed to convince Ukraine and the West that Russia will attack Ukraine from Belarus again given he emphasized the Russian deployments.
- Deputy Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Zhuk stated on January 6 that the combined Russian-Belarusian RGV is ready to defend the Union State. Zhuk stated that one of the Belarusian and Russian objectives is to have a unified tactical training for Russian and Belarusian forces. Zhuk stated that Russian and Belarusian elements below the battalion level will continue training in summer 2023 and that Russia and Belarus will conduct a joint command staff exercise to support the quadrennial Russian-Belarusian "Union Shield -2023" exercise. Russian and Belarusian elements may possibly exercise as combined battalions or combined platoons in these exercises.
Observed counter-indicators for the MDCOA in the past 24 hours:
- The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 6.
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.
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