Ukraine Conflict Updates

 




This page collects ISW and CTP's updates on the conflict in Ukraine. In late February 2022, ISW began publishing daily synthetic products covering key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. These Ukraine Conflict Updates replaced ISW’s previous “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” which we maintained from November 12, 2021, through February 17, 2022.

This list also includes prominent warning alerts that ISW and CTP launched beyond our daily Ukraine Conflict Updates. These products addressed critical inflection points as they occurred.

Click here to see our collection of reports from 2023.

Click here to see our collection of reports from 2022.

Click here to see ISW's interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map complements the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW daily produces with high-fidelity and, where possible, street-level assessments of the war in Ukraine.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will add new time-lapses to our archive on a monthly basis. This high-definition interactive map is resource-intensive. The performance and speed of the map correlate with the strength of your hardware.

Click here to read about the methodology behind ISW and CTP's mapping of this conflict. 



 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 27, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 27, 2024, 9:15pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on February 27. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 28 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area. Russian forces temporarily decreased their tempo of operations as they cleared Avdiivka following the Russian seizure of the settlement on February 17, but have since resumed a relatively high tempo of assaults further west and northwest of Avdiivka.[1] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhovyi stated on February 27 that Russian forces have recently increased the size of their assault groups in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) from small squad-sized groups to platoon-sized and even company-sized groups.[2] Russian forces are currently focusing assaults west of Avdiivka in the direction of Berdychi, Orlivka, and Tonenke, where Ukrainian forces established immediate defensive positions to cover their withdrawal from Avdiivka and to receive oncoming Russian offensive operations.[3] Lykhovyi and Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces have stabilized their defensive lines along the Tonenke-Orlivka-Berdychi line as of February 27.[4] Ukrainian military observers characterized Ukrainian fortifications west of Avdiivka as “disappointing” and ”problematic,” however.[5] Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold defensive positions immediately west of Avdiivka and forecasted that Ukrainian forces will concentrate on a defensive line further west that Ukrainian forces began constructing in November 2023.[6]

Russian forces are likely continuing attempts to advance in order to deprive Ukrainian forces of the respite that would allow Ukraine to establish a more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive line in the immediate vicinity of Avdiivka. The seizure of Avdiivka has allowed Russian forces to press on positions that Ukrainian forces have manned for a shorter period than Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka or further west, and Russian forces are likely sustaining a high operational tempo to try to exploit this tactical opportunity. Russian forces may be able to seize settlements immediately west and northwest of Avdiivka in the coming weeks, but terrain and water features further west of Avdiivka, particularly the body of water that runs between Berdychi-Semenivka-Orlivka, will likely slow the already relatively slow rate of Russian advances in the area. This difficult terrain will likely constrain further Russian tactical gains and allow Ukrainian forces to establish prepared defensive positions that will likely prompt the eventual culmination of the current Russian offensive effort in the area at least until or unless the Russians reinforce their attacking elements.[7]

Russian forces are likely attempting to create an operational maneuver force for the exploitation of recent Russian advances in the Avdiivka direction. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on February 27 that Russian forces have formally transferred responsibility for the Donetsk City-Avdiivka axis to the Russian Central Grouping of Forces and formally transferred the Central Grouping of Forces’ previous area of responsibility (AOR) in the Lyman direction to Russia’s Western Grouping of Forces.[8] Russia’s Western Grouping of Forces (likely comprised almost entirely of elements of the Western Military District [WMD]) assumed responsibility for at least a portion of the Lyman direction in late fall and early winter 2023 after the Russian command transferred the bulk of the committed formations of the Central Grouping of Forces (primarily comprised of elements of the Central Military District [CMD]) to the offensive effort to seize Avdiivka in October 2023.[9] Russian officials have recently praised the Central Grouping of Forces for the seizure of Avdiivka and have notably highlighted CMD Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev and increasingly identified the Avdiivka direction as the AOR of the Central Grouping of Forces.[10] The Russian command may have decided to codify the de facto command structure that has existed in the Avdiivka area since late Fall 2023 to explicitly establish a maneuver force intended to exploit recent Russian advances in the area. The Avdiivka-Donetsk axis is a relatively narrower AOR compared to the AORs of other Russian force groupings in Ukraine, and this focused responsibility suggests that the Russian military command likely intends for CMD elements to continue offensive efforts in the Avdiivka area in the near and medium term.

The Russian command likely hopes that the reorganization of command structures will establish more cohesive Russian grouping of forces throughout the theater in Ukraine. Russian forces recently reorganized the command structure of the Russian grouping of forces in southern Ukraine, abolishing an unnamed grouping of forces that defended against the Ukrainian summer 2023 counteroffensive and distributing its elements between the Russian “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces (AOR in Kherson Oblast and western Zaporzihia Oblast) and the Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces (AOR in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and western Donetsk Oblast).[11] The Russian Western Grouping of Forces has launched an ongoing multi-axis offensive operation along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border and has designed elements of that operation based on its control over a cohesive force grouping along a wide AOR.[12] Mashovets noted that the transfer of the Avdiivka-Donetsk City axis to the Central Grouping of Forces bisects the Russian Southern Grouping of Forces, which previously had responsibility for the frontline from the Bakhmut direction through the Marinka direction.[13] It is unclear if this bisection will generate further command and control (C2) difficulties for Russian forces near Bakhmut and west and southwest of Donetsk City beyond the pervasive C2 issues that Russian forces already face writ large in Ukraine.[14] This apparent Russian reorganization effort suggests that the Russian command may be attempting to implement lessons it has learned about organizing command structures in areas in which it intends to prioritize offensive efforts as the more cohesive Russian groupings of forces are engaged in more concerted or broader offensive efforts.

Recent developments in Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, are unlikely to pose a military threat to Ukraine and will more likely impact Moldova’s European Union (EU) integration prospects. Ukrainian officials stated that Russian drones flew into Moldovan airspace on the night of February 26-27 during a Russian strike series targeting Ukrainian rear areas.[15] The Moldovan Ministry of Defense (MoD), however, denied that any drones flew over Moldova.[16] ISW continues to assess that the Russian forces currently in Transnistria are not capable of posing a meaningful military threat to Ukraine without reinforcements, which Russia has no likely way of bringing to Transnistria rapidly or at scale, and ISW has not observed any clear indications of Russian military preparations to intervene in Transnistria or Moldova more generally.[17] The flight of a drone over Moldovan airspace has more direct implications for Moldovan sovereignty than for Ukrainian security.

ISW is amending its warning forecast in light of continued Transnistrian officials’ statements that the upcoming Congress of Transnistrian Deputies will discuss Moldovan economic policies, likely related to changes to Moldova’s Customs Code that went into effect on January 1, 2024.[18] ISW issued a warning forecast on February 22 and assessed that Transnistrian officials may call for a referendum on annexation to Russia during the Congress of Transnistrian Deputies on February 28 to support Russian hybrid operations intent on politically and socially destabilizing Moldova.[19] The last Congress of Transnistrian Deputies was convened in March 2006, at which Transnistrian deputies decided to hold a referendum on Transnistria’s independence and future subsequent annexation into Russia.[20] The 2006 congress similarly occurred a few weeks after Ukraine imposed new customs regulations on Transnistria.[21] While the referendum received overwhelming popular support in 2006, neither Russia nor Transnistria advanced legal mechanisms for annexation at that time.

Moldova’s path towards EU membership required Moldova to change to its Customs Code to align with EU regulations.[22] Moldova had previously exempted Transnistrian businesses from paying duties to the Moldovan government for Transnistrian imports from and exports to the EU and instead allowed Transnistrian businesses to pay duties to the Transnistrian government.[23] Transnistria responded to the January 2024 changes requiring that Transnistrian businesses pay required duties to the Moldovan government by increasing taxes on about 2,000 Moldovan businesses in Transnistria, but Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselsky stated on February 24 that customs payments to the Transnistrian budget still decreased by 18 percent since the start of 2024.[24]

Major actors in Transnistria have varying economic and political interests. The American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project (CTP) previously assessed that Transnistria is a mafia state run by Viktor Gushan, whose company Sheriff Enterprises controls a majority of the Transnistrian economy and receives large portions of Transnistria’s government spending.[25] Gushan’s businesses have been heavily oriented towards the EU after Moldova signed a trade deal with the EU in 2014 that guaranteed tariff-free access to EU markets. Gushan’s businesses would also benefit from the reestablishment of good Ukrainian-Transnistrian relations, as Transnistria imported and exported most of its goods through Ukraine until Ukraine closed those borders in 2022 due to Russia's full-scale invasion — facts that would give Gushan good reason to oppose Transnistrian annexation into Russia for economic reasons. EU officials have indicated that Moldova could join the EU without Transnistria.[26] Gushan may prefer a Western-oriented Moldova in which Transnistria enjoys special tax exceptions over annexation into Russia or Moldovan EU membership without Transnistria. Moldova, however, is unlikely to reverse its customs code changes given its current commitment to joining the EU. Gushan’s calculus, therefore, is complex, and his preferences are unclear at this time. ISW will provide an update following the Congress of Deputies on February 28.

Russia may also hope to exploit a hybrid play in Transnistria taking advantage of recent developments. Gushan likely competes with the Transnistrian Ministry of State Security (MGB), reportedly a “department” of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) that takes orders from the Kremlin.[27] Citizens of both Russian-influenced regions of Moldova — Transnistria and Gagauzia — notably recently protested Moldova’s new Customs Code.[28] Russia may attempt to exploit domestic opposition to Moldovan policies to sow instability in Moldova and delay Moldova’s accession to the EU.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu continues to highlight recent Russian tactical successes in Ukraine as substantial battlefield victories for political purposes ahead of the upcoming Russian presidential election. Shoigu addressed the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) board on February 27 and reported that Russian forces are continuing efforts to improve their positions in the Donetsk (Avdiivka) and Kupyansk (Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area) directions.[29] Shoigu reported that Russian forces have pushed Ukrainian forces out of Lastochkyne and Sieverne (both west of Avdiivka) and Pobieda (southwest of Donetsk City) and claimed that Russian forces have captured about 327 square kilometers of territory since the beginning of 2024. ISW currently assesses that Russian forces have captured closer to 205 square kilometers since January 1, 2024, and Shoigu likely deliberately overstated Russian territorial gains. Shoigu’s promotion of the Russian capture of very small settlements of limited tactical significance suggests that the Russian MoD is trying to emphasize even such small gains to present an image of a constantly advancing Russian military. All three of the settlements that Shoigu chose to prominently highlight are comprised of small semi-urban areas spanning a few blocks, so Russian forces’ capture of these settlements was a very tactical endeavor. ISW recently assessed that the Russian MoD is likely trying to play up recent tactical gains to generate positive informational effects before the March 2024 presidential election.[30]

Shoigu additionally highlighted Russia’s Central and Eastern Military Districts (CMD and EMD) to posture against supposed anti-Russian activity in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.[31] Shoigu discussed security challenges emanating from Central Asia, specifically highlighting threats from Afghanistan, a purported increase in the number of Islamic State fighters in the region, and the spread of “radical ideology and subversive activities” targeted at the southern borders of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Shoigu claimed that the CMD will focus efforts on responding to various “crisis situations” in the Central Asian region through military exercises with CSTO member states. Shoigu also emphasized that the CMD is equipped with Iskander-M ballistic missiles and Tornado-G MLRS systems. Iskander-M and Tornado-Gs are not weapons systems particularly appropriate for responding to terrorist threats. Shoigu was more likely highlighting the capabilities of the CMD in this region to posture and project the impression of Russian military power and tacitly to threaten retaliation in the case of any perceived anti-Russian activities in this region. Shoigu also accused the US of fomenting tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and claimed that the EMD is increasing its combat capabilities in response to rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and around Taiwan. Shoigu also likely intended to project the image of Russian military might into the Indo-Pacific and tacitly threaten the US for its own efforts in this region while also supporting efforts to portray itself as an equal Indo-Pacific security partner for China. The bulk of CMD and EMD personnel, commanders, and military district-level assets are currently heavily committed in Ukraine, and the Russian military command may feel this vulnerability in Russia’s ability to protect its southern and eastern flanks or play the role that the Kremlin desires to play in the geopolitics of both regions.

Ukrainian forces have reportedly shot down two Russian Su-34s on February 27, the tenth downed Russian military aircraft within roughly as many days. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces downed two Russian Su-34 fighter jets on February 27, at least one of which was downed in eastern Ukraine.[32] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated on February 21 that Ukrainian forces have downed seven Russian Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets since February 16.[33] The February 27 Su-34 shoot-downs are likely connected with Russian glide bomb strikes in Donetsk Oblast, particularly near Avdiivka as Russian forces use heavy glide bomb strikes in an attempt to exploit gains in the Avdiivka area. Ukraine’s downing of a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft on February 23 has likely constrained Russian strategic reconnaissance capabilities. Ihnat stated that Russian forces have not deployed another A-50 over the Sea of Azov since the downing and have increased their use of aerial reconnaissance drones across the theater to compensate.[34]

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) reported on February 27 that the ongoing Russian information campaign to demoralize Ukrainian society will intensify between March and May 2024.[35] The SBU reported that the information campaign, which they call “Maidan-3," intends to sow panic and discontent among the Ukrainian population and drive a wedge between civilians and military and political leadership. The Ukrainian Presidential Intelligence Committee reported that Russia has spent a total of $1.5 billion on this information campaign (including $250 million on information operations on the Telegram messaging app alone) and noted that this spending is on par with Russia’s spending on conventional military activities. The SBU noted that the information campaign will intensify from March to May 20, 2024 to exploit the Ukrainian political situation and foment distrust in and discontent with the Ukrainian government. The March to May timeline is significant—if Russia had not illegally invaded Ukraine, the Ukrainian presidential election would have been scheduled to occur on March 31, 2024 and May 20, 2024 is the fifth anniversary of Zelensky’s inauguration.[36] Russia appears to be pursuing this extremely costly information campaign to undermine trust in Ukrainian leadership and spread discontent with the aim of weakening Ukrainian society.

Russia likely tested an element of its Sovereign Internet on February 27, likely in an effort to strengthen control over individual aspects of the Russian information space. Russian sources reported several widespread outages of prominent social media platforms on February 27, including Telegram, YouTube, VKontakte (VK), Viber, WhatsApp, and Zoom, and later reported that service has since been restored.[37] Russian sources also reported that Russians were able to access some blocked social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, during the outage.[38] Russian State Duma Committee on Information Policy Deputy Head Anton Tkachev stated that Russian federal censor Roskomnadzor caused the outage while testing and reconfiguring gateways to identify and close “bottlenecks” to prohibited content.[39] BBC Russian Service quoted Russian organization ”Network Freedoms” as saying that Roskomnadzor may have been adjusting settings related to “technical means of countering threats” (TSPU), a set of tools that Russian federal law obligates Russian telecom providers to possess.[40] “Network Freedoms” told BBC Russian Service that Roskomnazdor is developing procedures and training specialists to use TSPU to centrally manage the Russian internet and develop a service on state-affiliated social media network VK to better censor content on the site.[41] Russia is likely attempting to expand this centralization to other social media sites that are active in Russia given the Kremlin’s tensions with other social media platforms. Russia has declared Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp parent company Meta as a “terrorist” organization, and Telegram has refused to comply with some of the Kremlin’s more extensive censorship measures.[42]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area.
  • Russian forces are likely attempting to create an operational maneuver force for the exploitation of recent Russian advances in the Avdiivka direction.
  • The Russian command likely hopes that the reorganization of command structures will establish more cohesive Russian grouping of forces throughout the theater in Ukraine.
  •  Recent developments in Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, are unlikely to pose a military threat to Ukraine and will more likely impact Moldova’s European Union (EU) integration prospects. ISW is amending its warning forecast in light of continued Transnistrian officials’ statements that the upcoming Congress of Transnistrian Deputies will discuss Moldovan economic policies, likely related to changes to Moldova’s Customs Code that went into effect on January 1, 2024.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu continues to highlight recent Russian tactical successes in Ukraine as substantial battlefield victories for political purposes ahead of the upcoming Russian presidential election. Shoigu additionally highlighted Russia’s Central and Eastern Military Districts (CMD and EMD) to posture against supposed anti-Russian activity in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
  • Ukrainian forces have reportedly shot down two Russian Su-34s on February 27, the tenth downed Russian military aircraft within roughly as many days.
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) reported on February 27 that the ongoing Russian information campaign to demoralize Ukrainian society will intensify between March and May 2024.
  • Russia likely tested an element of its Sovereign Internet on February 27, likely in an effort to strengthen control over individual aspects of the Russian information space.
  • Russian forces advanced west of Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements across the theater.
  • A Ukrainian official warned that Russia seeks to ramp up force generation efforts in occupied Ukraine following the formal integration of occupied and claimed Ukrainian territories into the Russian Southern Military District (SMD).
  • Russian authorities are reportedly systematizing the adoption of deported Ukrainian children in Russia.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 26, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 26, 2024, 8pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2:30pm ET on February 26. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 27 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Sweden will join NATO following Hungary’s formal approval of Sweden’s accession bid on February 26.[1] Hungary was the final NATO member that needed to approve Sweden’s bid, but Sweden’s accession to the alliance has been a major sticking point for the Hungarian Parliament and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.[2] Sweden will now become NATO’s 32nd member upon completing official accession procedures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two decrees on February 26 that officially re-establish the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, codifying major Russian military restructuring and reform efforts. Putin signed one decree that deprives Russia’s Northern Fleet (NF) of its status as an “interservice strategic territorial organization” (a joint headquarters in Western military parlance) and transfers the land of the Northwestern Federal Okrug previously under the NF’s command to the newly formed Leningrad Military District (LMD).[3] Putin signed a second decree that formally re-establishes the LMD and the Moscow Military District (MMD) — with the LMD taking over most of the territory previously under the NF and the MMD taking over most of the territory previously under the Western Military District (WMD).[4] The second decree also incorporates occupied Ukraine into the Southern Military District (SMD), notably including all of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts (as well as Crimea, which has been part of the SMD since 2014), not just the parts currently under Russian occupation. The inclusion of both the occupied and un-occupied parts of Ukrainian territory further suggests that Russia maintains maximalist objectives in Ukraine and seeks to fully absorb all five of these Ukrainian territories into the Russian Federation.

The formal transfer of regions previously under the responsibility of the Northern Fleet is likely part of a wider Russian effort to re-establish military district commands as the primary headquarters for the Russian ground forces while reassigning naval assets to the Russian Navy, as ISW previously reported.[5] Russian state media reported in November 2023 that naval assets of all five of Russia’s fleets — the Northern, Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea fleets and the Caspian Flotilla — may return to direct subordination to the Russian Navy, while the ground, aviation, and air defense assets of the fleets will be allocated to military district commands. This information is still unconfirmed, but it appears that the Russian military is trying to reconsolidate ground forces and assets under military districts while consolidating naval forces and assets under the Russian naval chain of command.[6]

The re-creation of the MMD and LMD supports the parallel objectives of consolidating control over Russian operations in Ukraine in the short-to-medium term and preparing for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO in the long term.[7] The February 26 decree officially disbands the WMD, which the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) formed in 2010 by merging the MMD and LMD.[8] The WMD previously covered the Russian border with northeastern Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States, which stretched the WMD’s strategic focus between overseeing Russian operations in Ukraine following the 2022 full-scale invasion and posturing against NATO.[9] The re-separation of the WMD into the MMD and LMD, therefore, is a direct remedy to this issue. The LMD will now run along NATO’s northeastern border, and the MMD will border northeastern Ukraine and Poland, which will allow Russia to simultaneously posture against NATO and streamline command and control (C2) for the war in Ukraine. Putin previously claimed that it was necessary to create the LMD after Finland joined NATO in 2023, signaling the Kremlin’s clear intent to use the LMD to posture against NATO.[10]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 25 that Russia is preparing a new offensive that will start in late May or summer 2024, consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces have regained the theater-wide initiative and will be able to pursue offensive operations when and where they choose as long as they hold the initiative.[11] Zelensky also stated that the Ukrainian military has a clear plan to counter Russian forces. ISW continues to assess that Russian forces regained the initiative across the theater following Ukraine’s summer 2023 counteroffensive and that Russia will likely be able to determine the time, location, and scale of future offensive operations in Ukraine if Ukraine conducts an active defense throughout the theater in 2024, thereby ceding the strategic initiative to Russia. Russian forces will have the ability to maneuver reserve concentrations and determine how and where to allocate resources while forcing Ukraine to respond defensively as long as Russia maintains the strategic initiative. Ukrainian forces could deny Russia these opportunities if Ukrainian forces have enough means to challenge the Russian initiative and pursue their own offensive operations in 2024.

Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov is continuing a recent campaign to engage with Russian military personnel following the Russian capture of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast and reportedly visited a command post of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) in Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) posted footage on February 26 claiming to show Gerasimov visiting a 58th CAA command post in Ukraine, hearing reports about the operational situation, and presenting medals to Russian servicemen.[12] The 58th CAA is currently pursuing offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast, so the MoD video suggests that Gerasimov visited a command post somewhere in the Zaporizhia Oblast direction. The Russian MoD published footage showing Gerasimov awarding Russian soldiers after the capture of Avdiivka on February 21, which is notably the first public depiction of Gerasimov serving his command duties since December 29.[13] Gerasimov fired former 58th CAA Commander Major General Ivan Popov in July 2023 following reports that Popov bypassed Gerasimov’s command and directly appealed to the Kremlin to complain about Gerasimov’s refusal to rotate 58th CAA troops away from the frontline for rest and reconstitution while they were defending against Ukraine’s summer 2023 counteroffensive push in Zaporizhia Oblast.[14] Gerasimov likely visited the 58th CAA command post in part to rebuild his relationship with 58th CAA lower-level commanders and servicemembers following Popov’s firing and the criticism it generated of Gerasimov.[15] Gerasimov also appears to be engaged in a campaign to present himself as an effective and interested chief of the General Staff, and his recent public appearances on areas of the front where Russian forces are making tactical gains are likely part of this effort to bolster his public image.

Over 20 heads of state, including 15 European Union (EU) leaders met in Paris on February 26 to discuss ramping up ammunition supplies to Ukraine.[16] French President Emmanuel Macron organized the conference and announced the creation of a new coalition to supply Ukraine with longer-range missiles and munitions.[17] Macron also stated that France “will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war” and that European states should prepare for possible Russian escalations in the coming years.[18] Estonian Prime Minister Kaya Kallas stated that Estonia is providing long-term military aid to Ukraine worth 0.25 percent of Estonia’s GDP through 2028 and called on Ukraine’s other supporters to make similar commitments.[19]

Germany announced a new military aid package to Ukraine on February 26. The new military aid package includes 14,000 155mm artillery shells, 10 Vector recon drones, four WISENT-1 mine-clearing machines, and other equipment.[20] German outlet Der Spiegel reported on February 26 that the Bundeswehr’s Ukraine Situation Center Head, Major General Christian Freuding, stated that Germany is looking “all over the world” for artillery ammunition to provide to Ukraine.[21] Unspecified insider sources told Der Spiegel that Germany is engaged in “discreet negotiations” to obtain Indian artillery rounds through intermediaries and that “similar negotiations” may be possible with Arab countries.

Transnistrian sources reportedly told Russian independent outlet Verstka that Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, is not planning to ask to join Russia during the Congress of Deputies in Tiraspol on February 28. Two unnamed sources close to Transnistrian authorities told Verstka that the Congress of Deputies will not discuss integration with Russia and instead focus on discussing economic pressure from Moldova, without taking any “sudden steps.”[22] A source involved in preparing for Russian presidential elections in Transnistria claimed that Transnistria did not receive any tasks from the Kremlin aside from preparations for presidential elections. Verstka observed that Transnistrian foreign policy department head Vitaly Ignatiev “cooled off” many speculations about Transnistria’s possible request to join Russia after claiming on a local TV broadcast that the purpose of the congress is to bring to attention Moldova’s latest “economic pressure” on Transnistria. The Moldovan Bureau for Reintegration stated on February 22 that “there is no reason to believe that the situation in [Transnistria] could deteriorate” in response to public discourse regarding the Congress of Deputies in Tiraspol.[23] Ukrainian officials similarly stated that the possibility of a Russian ground attack on Ukraine from Transnistria is low.[24] ISW issued a warning forecast on February 22 and assessed that Transnistrian officials may call for a referendum on annexation to Russia to support Russian hybrid operations intent on politically and socially destabilizing Moldova.[25] It remains noteworthy that Transnistrian authorities have suddenly ordered the convening of the Congress of Deputies for the first time since that body authorized referenda on joining Moldova (that failed) and on seeking Russian annexation (that passed) in 2006. ISW amends its warning in light of these reports, however, and will continue to monitor the situation in Transnistria closely.

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Sweden will join NATO following Hungary’s formal approval of Sweden’s accession bid on February 26.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two decrees on February 26 that officially re-establish the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, codifying major Russian military restructuring and reform efforts.
  • The formal transfer of regions previously under the responsibility of the Northern Fleet is likely part of a wider Russian effort to re-establish military district commands as the primary headquarters for the Russian ground forces while reassigning naval assets to the Russian Navy, as ISW previously reported.
  • The re-creation of the MMD and LMD supports the parallel objectives of consolidating control over Russian operations in Ukraine in the short-to-medium term and preparing for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO in the long term.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 25 that Russia is preparing a new offensive that will start in late May or summer 2024, consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces have regained the theater-wide initiative and will be able to pursue offensive operations when and where they choose as long as they hold the initiative.
  • Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov is continuing a recent campaign to engage with Russian military personnel following the Russian capture of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast and reportedly visited a command post of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) in Ukraine.
  • Over 20 heads of state, including 15 European Union (EU) leaders met in Paris on February 26 to discuss ramping up ammunition supplies to Ukraine.
  • Germany announced a new military aid package to Ukraine on February 26.
  • Transnistrian sources reportedly told Russian independent outlet Verstka that Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, is not planning to ask to join Russia during the Congress of Deputies in Tiraspol on February 28.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed gains near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • Russia reportedly imported almost 450 million euros (about $488 million) worth of sanctioned “sensitive” European goods, including weapons technology, between January and September 2023.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 25, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 25, 2024, 4:30pm ET 

Russian officials and state media largely refrained from publicly discussing the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely in an effort to avoid addressing Russia’s failure to achieve its stated war aims at significant human costs. Russian opposition outlet Agentstvo Novosti reported on February 25 that Russian state TV channels Rossiya 1 and Channel One (Perviy Kanal) and Gazprom Media-owned TV channel NTV did not mention the two-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in broadcasts on February 24.[1] Agentstvo Novosti stated that Russian political commentator Mikhail Leontev noted in a February 24 broadcast of the “Vremya” program on Channel One that it was the two-year anniversary of the start of the war but did not offer further statements on the topic. ISW observed minimal discussion by Russian government officials on the two-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24.

Russian officials and state-run and state-affiliated TV channels likely refrained from commenting on the two-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion to avoid drawing attention to Russia’s failures to achieve its stated strategic goals in Ukraine and its more immediate goals of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, while also suffering high personnel losses. A recent Russian opinion poll indicated that Russian sentiments about the war in Ukraine have largely remained unchanged in recent months and that most Russians are largely apathetic to the war, though most do not support a second wave of mobilization.[2] Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian government officials likely refrained from highlighting the second anniversary of Russia‘s full-scale invasion in an effort to maintain public apathy toward the war that, in part, allows Russian officials to continue the war without significant public backlash. ISW continues to assess that Putin is likely aware that a second mobilization wave would be widely unpopular and is concerned that such a measure would generate widespread discontent.[3] Putin may, however, become less concerned about public sentiment after his reelection in March 2024 and determine that Russian force generation requirements outweigh the risks of widespread domestic discontent.

Ukrainian officials discussed Ukraine’s goals and priorities for 2024 on February 25 and highlighted the need for continued Ukrainian innovation and Western aid to accomplish Ukraine’s objectives. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated that Ukraine is doing everything “possible and impossible” to make a breakthrough along the frontline and that Ukraine has an undisclosed plan for 2024 that will not only bring “hope” but also yield tangible results.[4] Umerov and Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi visited several Ukrainian command posts in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and other directions and noted the importance of protecting Ukrainian personnel from Russian drone and air strikes in certain areas of the front.[5] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that Ukraine hopes to further reduce Russia’s advantage in battlefield artillery systems, currently estimated to be at a 6 to 1 advantage, ahead of future Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.[6] Zelensky warned that Ukraine could continue to lose territory meter by meter if Ukraine does not receive and produce additional artillery systems.[7] Ukrainian Deputy Commander-in-Chief Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi highlighted Ukraine’s newly-formed Unmanned Systems Force as an important next step in Ukraine’s war effort that is intended to improve Ukrainian efficiency, systematization, and analysis of drone use.[8] Sukharevskyi reiterated that Ukrainian forces are not trying to use drones to replace artillery systems, but rather as additional weapons to defeat the Russian military.[9] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Ukraine needs significant volumes of long-range weapons from Ukraine‘s Western allies, and Zelensky expressed confidence in Western provisions of long-range weapons.[10] Umerov noted that there is a critical difference between the allocation and provision of Western aid to Ukraine, and Budanov added that Russia and Ukraine are currently competing to see who will get the “upper hand” on the battlefield.[11] Several Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky, highlighted plans to hold the first Ukrainian Peace Formula Summit in Switzerland this year and emphasized the importance of further developing Ukraine’s partnership with NATO in 2024.[12]

Drone footage posted on February 25 shows Russian forces committing apparent war crimes near Bakhmut. The footage shows Russian forces executing nine Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) who had just surrendered near Ivanivske (on the outskirts of Bakhmut).[13] The execution of POWs is a violation of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of POWs.[14] The February 25 footage is the fourth such instance of video evidence showing Russian forces executing Ukrainian POWs in the past two weeks alone.[15]

The Russian information space continues to be highly sensitive to the recent losses of A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft, suggesting that the issue of deploying and defending these aircraft is of great concern. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Ukrainian forces prepared the operation to shoot down the A-50 for two weeks.[16] Budanov stated that Russia has six more A-50s left and cryptically suggested that another A-50 will “fall” and force Russia to stop sortieing the planes “round-the-clock." A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces reported “to the top” (likely meaning to Russian high command) that a Ukrainian Patriot missile shot down the A-50, but the milblogger and others expressed doubt that this version of events was true and criticized the “systemic” problem of Russian personnel only thinking of themselves and their careers out of “self-preservation.”[17] Ukrainian media previously reported that sources in the Ukrainian GUR stated that Ukraine downed the A-50 with modified S-200 systems.[18] Another Russian milblogger claimed that the loss of a second Russian A-50 this winter is problematic as Russia already had a shortage of these aircraft before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[19] The milblogger claimed that Russia will not be able to modernize many A-50s into A-50Us for a number of unspecified technical and organizational reasons and offered possible alternatives, including creating inferior “ersatz” airborne and early warning control systems (AWACS) or purchasing similar aircraft from China.

Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Russia has not received any long-range missiles from Iran as of February 25.[20] Reuters reported on February 21, citing alleged Iranian sources, that Iran provided Russia hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) in early January 2024.[21] ISW has not yet observed visual evidence of Russian forces using Iranian missiles in Ukraine but has frequently observed increased Russo-Iranian military cooperation over the backdrop of the war.[22]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian officials and state media largely refrained from publicly discussing the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely in an effort to avoid addressing Russia’s failure to achieve its stated war aims at significant human costs.
  • Russian officials and state-run and state-affiliated TV channels likely refrained from commenting on the two-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion to avoid drawing attention to Russia’s failures to achieve its stated strategic goals in Ukraine and its more immediate goals of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, while also suffering high personnel losses.
  • Ukrainian officials discussed Ukraine’s goals and priorities for 2024 on February 25 and highlighted the need for continued Ukrainian innovation and Western aid to accomplish Ukraine’s objectives.
  • Drone footage posted on February 25 shows Russian forces committing apparent war crimes near Bakhmut.
  • The Russian information space continues to be highly sensitive to the recent losses of A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft, suggesting that the issue of deploying and defending these aircraft is of great concern.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Russia has not received any long-range missiles from Iran as of February 25.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Krynky amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 25.
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to recruit Ukrainian citizens in occupied Ukraine into the Russian military.
  • Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets stated on February 25 that Russia is holding over 28,000 Ukrainian citizens captive in Russian prisons.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 24, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Ukraine continues to defend against Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s attempt to destroy Ukrainian statehood and identity despite growing difficulties two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Two years ago Russia launched a full-scale war of conquest to overthrow the Ukrainian government and forcibly install a pro-Russian regime firmly under Moscow’s control. Russian forces drove on Kyiv from several directions and struck at Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol, and other Ukrainian cities. Russian President Vladimir Putin expected Ukrainians to welcome his forces or flee. Instead, Ukrainians fought for their freedom. They stopped the Russian drives on Kyiv and Kharkiv cities, stopped the Russian advance on Mykolayiv and Odesa cities, and fought Putin’s troops to a standstill along the rest of the line. Then, armed with experience, courage, determination, and growing Western aid, Ukraine struck back. Ukrainian forces drove the Russians from Kyiv and away from Kharkiv and liberated large swathes of territory in northeastern Ukraine. They liberated Kherson City and forced Russian forces off the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River. They ended the threat to Ukraine’s existence for the time. 

But the Russians did not abandon their war aims or slacken their military operations. They remained in control of areas strategically and economically vital to Ukraine’s survival and of millions of Ukrainians whom they are subjecting to brutal Russification campaigns and deportation schemes.[1] The Russians launched a missile and drone campaign against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and cities that continues to this day.[2] The Russians then ground through the eastern city of Bakhmut, taking losses so devastating that they prompted an armed rebellion against Moscow.[3] The Russians also prepared themselves for the expected Ukrainian 2023 counteroffensive. The excessive hopes for that counteroffensive were not met. The war assumed a positional character, and the expected US assistance has been held up.

The situation today is grave, but it is far from hopeless. Russian forces have regained the initiative across the theater and are attacking and making gains. Those gains thus far are very limited and extremely costly. More Russian soldiers have likely died to seize Avdiivka than died in the entire Soviet-Afghan war.[4] Ukrainians are weary and worried that American military assistance will cease, but they continue to fight with determination, ingenuity, and skill. Ukraine’s air defenders are dropping Russian planes from the sky while Ukrainian drone- and missile operators sink Russian ships.[5] And Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for their positions against Russian “meat assaults” using drones in novel ways as well as the artillery, tanks, and traditional weapons of war available to them. The Ukrainian Air Force will receive its first F-16s in the coming months, and Ukraine’s European allies are racing to make good deficiencies in other war materiel.[6] American military assistance remains essential—only the United States has the resources to give Ukraine right now what Ukraine most needs.[7] If the United States, in the end, withholds that aid, then the situation can become very grave indeed.

But the war is far from over. Ukraine has not lost and there is no reason for Ukraine to lose. Russians are adapting for a long war effort in Ukraine, but they are not the Red Army hordes wrapped in the triumphant banners of World War II victories that Putin and his propagandists pretend them to be.[8] The Russian military suffers from many flaws that Ukraine has learned to exploit.[9] And the combined economic power of Ukraine’s allies is many times that of Russia.  

Putin remains a deadly threat to NATO as well as to Ukraine, however. The Kremlin has been setting conditions to conduct hybrid warfare operations in the Baltic States and Finland for months and is currently engaged in such operations against Moldova.[10] Putin’s aims remain the destruction of NATO as an effective alliance, the breaking of the tie between the United States and Europe, and the construction of a new global order in which Russia’s voice and power are dominant.[11] The interests of America, Europe, and America’s allies in Asia and around the world are inextricably tied with helping Ukraine defeat Russia.[12]

Ukraine’s European and Canadian partners commemorated the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion by committing additional aid to Ukraine and discussing Ukraine’s integration into the European Union (EU). European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that the European Commission will provide the framework for negotiations of Ukraine's EU accession in mid-March 2024.[13] Von der Leyen also stated that the EU will provide the first tranche of 4.5 billion euros (about $4.8 billion) of unspecified aid to Ukraine in March as part of the EU’s recently announced support package of 50 billion euros (about $54 billion) for 2024-2027. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that the EU plans to deliver almost 170,000 rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine by the end of March.[14] Kuleba stated that Spain is preparing a new military aid package for Ukraine that will include ammunition.[15] The United Kingdom (UK) announced that it will spend £245 million (about $310 million) throughout 2024 to procure and invigorate supply chains to produce ammunition for Ukraine.[16] The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) and UK-based Cook Defense Systems signed contracts to provide tracks for tanks and armored vehicles to aid Ukraine in restoring damaged vehicles. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Miloni signed a security cooperation agreement in which Italy stated that it will continue to provide assistance to Ukraine over 10 years.[17] Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also signed a 10-year security cooperation agreement in which Canada allocated three billion Canadian dollars (about $2.2 billion) in financial and defense aid to Ukraine in 2024.[18]

Russian opposition media estimated that upwards of 75,000 Russian personnel have died in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.[19] Russian opposition outlets Meduza and Mediazona published a joint report on February 24 wherein they compared Mediazona’s ongoing count of confirmed Russian deaths with the Russian Register of Inheritance Cases (RND) and mortality data from the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) to estimate the number of Russian military deaths in Ukraine.[20] Meduza and Mediazona estimated that 66,000 to 88,000 Russian personnel have died in the war between February 2022 and December 2023.[21] Meduza and Mediazona extrapolated the current monthly rate of Russian military deaths in Ukraine to January and February 2024 and estimated that roughly 83,000 Russian personnel may have died since the start of the full-scale invasion.[22] Meduza and Mediazona noted that Russian military deaths in Ukraine began to steadily increase following the start of localized Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in October 2023 and added that Russian volunteers have made up the majority of the deaths since mid-2023.[23] US intelligence assessed in December 2023 that Russian forces had suffered 315,000 casualties in Ukraine since February 2022.[24] Meduza’s and Mediazona’s estimate is consistent with this US assessment, assuming a standard three to one wounded-to-killed casualty rate for Russian forces in Ukraine.

Russian forces are currently sustaining offensive operations in Ukraine despite these heavy losses by relying on crypto-mobilization efforts.[25] Russia is generating new forces roughly at a rate equivalent to current Russian losses, which allows Russian forces to consistently reinforce attacking units and regularly conduct operational-level rotations.[26] It is unclear if Russia would be able to sustain offensive operations in the same way at a higher operational tempo that would generate even greater losses, however.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to highlight Russian Central Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev and Russia’s seizure of Avdiivka. The Russian MoD published footage on February 24 of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu meeting with Mordvichev to discuss the Russian capture of Avdiivka at a Russian Central Grouping of Forces command post in occupied Ukraine.[27] Mordvichev claimed that Russian forces pushed Ukrainian forces back by over 10 kilometers during the Russian operation to seize Avdiivka.[28] Russian President Vladimir Putin noted on the evening of February 17 that Russian forces captured Avdiivka under Mordvichev’s leadership, and the Russian MoD published footage on February 21 of Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov meeting with Mordvichev to discuss plans for future Russian operations in the Avdiivka direction.[29]

Mordvichev highlighted Russian technological and tactical adaptations in the Russian seizure of Avdiivka in a likely effort to address persistent criticisms of Russian forces in Ukraine. Mordvichev told Shoigu that the effectiveness of Russian forces’ reconnaissance-strike complex (RSC) and reconnaissance-fire complex (RFC) has “increased significantly.”[30] A Russian RSC system is “designed for the coordinated employment of high-precision, long-range weapons linked to real-time intelligence data and precise targeting provided to a fused intelligence and fire-direction center,“ and the Russian RFC is the RSC’s tactical equivalent using tactical fire systems such as tube artillery, tactical drones, and short-range rockets.[31] Russian forces have yet to employ an operational-level RSC system at scale in Ukraine, however, and Mordvichev is likely applying the operational concept of the RSC alongside the RFC to Russian tactical operations in Avdiivka. ISW has consistently observed reports that Russian forces combine widespread drone reconnaissance data in order to conduct artillery, aviation, and loitering munition strikes. ISW assessed that Russian forces temporarily established limited and localized air superiority during the final days of the Russian seizure of Avdiivka.[32] Mordvichev notably did not highlight Russian glide bomb strikes, although Mordvichev may consider glide bomb strikes as part of the “RSC and RFC.” Shoigu emphasized the importance of drones and stated that the Russian MoD plans to equip Russian forces with drones “controlled using artificial intelligence,” likely referring to lethal autonomous systems. Mordvichev likely sought to manage expectations about future Russian offensive efforts while highlighting these alleged Russian adaptations and claimed that Ukrainian forces near Avdiivka have not decreased their intensity of indirect fire.[33] Mordvichev’s comment diverges from the triumphalist commentary of other Russian officials, who have seized on Ukrainian ammunition shortages to highlight Russian success in Ukraine and attempt to weaken Ukrainian morale.[34]

Senior Russian military officials likely are attempting to deflect responsibility for high-profile apparent Russian war crimes away from themselves and onto mid- and low-level Russian commanders. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published footage of Russian Central Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev reporting to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russian forces captured about 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Avdiivka.[35] Shoigu emphasized the need for Russian forces to treat POWs humanely “as [Russian forces] have always done” to Mordvichev and other Russian officers. Shoigu, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, is likely concerned about international repercussions for his subordinates’ actions regarding apparent Russian war crimes and may have explicitly addressed Ukrainian POWs given recent international attention on Russian atrocities in Ukraine.[36]

A recent Russian opinion poll indicates that Russian sentiments about the war in Ukraine have largely remained unchanged in recent months, but notably suggests that another mobilization wave would be widely unpopular. Independent Russian opposition polling organization Chronicles stated on February 24 that data from a survey conducted between January 23 and 29 indicates that respondents who are “consistent” supporters of the war – Russians who expressed support for the war, do not support a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without Russia having achieved its war aims, and think that Russia should prioritize military spending – increased from 12 percent to 17 percent between October 2023 and January 2024.[37] Chronicles previously observed a significant decrease in staunch war support between its October 2023 survey and an earlier poll in February 2023 that found that 22 percent of Russians were “consistent“ war supporters.[38] Chronicles added that the proportion of ”consistent” peace supporters – Russians who expressed opposite positions on the three survey questions –  has largely remained the same at 19 percent of respondents in January 2024 compared to 20 percent in February 2023.[39] Chronicles’ observations that staunch pro-war and anti-war sentiments comprise a minority of Russian opinion are consistent with other recent independent Russian survey data that suggest that most Russians are largely apathetic to Russia’s war in Ukraine.[40]

Chronicles’ most recent poll also shows that 29 percent of respondents support demobilizing personnel mobilized through Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 2022 partial mobilization decree, 26 percent favor the current state of Russian force generation efforts, and 17 percent support a new mobilization wave.[41] Chronicles added that even the majority of “consistent” war supporters support the status quo regarding mobilization at 34 percent and that only 22 percent of these respondents support another mobilization wave.[42] Putin attempted to address concerns about a new mobilization wave during his “Direct Line” event on December 14, 2023, stressing that there is no need for a subsequent mobilization wave due to the success of ongoing Russian crypto-mobilization efforts.[43] Putin is likely aware that a second mobilization wave would be widely unpopular and likely remains concerned that such a measure would generate widespread discontent. Putin may nevertheless determine in the future that force generation requirements in Ukraine outweigh the risks of domestic discontent, and he may become less concerned about public sentiment after his assured reelection in March 2024.

Ukrainian special services conducted a drone strike on one of Russia’s largest metallurgical plants on the night of February 23-24. Ukrainian outlet Suspilne reported that sources stated that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) organized a drone strike on the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant (NLMK) in Lipetsk and that damage will stop production at the plant for a long time.[44] Lipetsk Oblast Governor Igor Artamonov claimed that Russian forces intercepted two drones in Lipetsk Oblast and that the plant’s operations were not significantly affected.[45] An NLMK representative claimed that the plant does not supply products to Russian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, likely in an attempt to downplay the extent of NLMK’s involvement in fulfilling contracts for the Russian government and defense industrial base (DIB).[46] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported in July 2023 that NLMK won contracts to supply steel to the Izumrud plant in Vladivostok, which the Russian Federal Agency for State Property Management controls and which produces artillery control systems, drone engines, and systems for dropping explosives from drones.[47] RFE/RL also reported that NLMK supplied steel to state-owned enterprises involved in the production of nuclear weapons from 2014 to at least 2019.[48] Vladimir Lisin owns NLMK and is one of Russia’s top three richest oligarchs.[49]

Ukrainian reporting indicated that the A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft shootdown on February 23 temporarily halted Russian aviation operations elsewhere in the theater. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Russian forces ordered five Su-35 fighter aircraft to terminate ongoing combat missions following the A-50's destruction and that some of these missions included conducting airstrikes near recently captured Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.[50] Ukrainian media reported that sources in Ukrainian security services also stated that Ukrainian forces shot down the aircraft with a modernized S-200 air defense system and that all 10 crewmembers of the Russian A-50 died in the crash.[51]

Russian information space actors continued responding to the February 23 A-50 shootdown and largely denied that Ukraine is responsible for the downing of any recent Russian aircraft. Russian milbloggers continued to claim on February 23 and 24 that Russian forces were responsible for shooting down the A-50, but offered many different theories about the shootdown. One prominent milblogger claimed that Russian authorities are investigating a Russian S-400 crew for shooting down the A-50 while trying to intercept Ukrainian missiles targeting the A-50.[52] Another milblogger claimed that a Russian air defense crew purposefully targeted the A-50.[53] Other milbloggers continued to claim that Ukrainian forces could not have shot down the A-50 because the aircraft was out of range of Western-provided Patriot air defense systems and complained that Russian air defenders are so systemically incompetent that they shot down five of their aircraft in February 2024.[54] A prominent Wagner Group-affiliated milblogger dissented, however, expressing disbelief that Russian air defenses are so incompetent as to have shot down so many Russian aircraft in such a short period and attributed the shootdown to Ukrainian forces instead.[55]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukraine continues to defend against Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s attempt to destroy Ukrainian statehood and identity despite growing difficulties two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
  • Ukraine’s European and Canadian partners commemorated the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion by committing additional aid to Ukraine and discussing Ukraine’s integration into the European Union (EU).
  • Russian opposition media estimated that upwards of 75,000 Russian personnel have died in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to highlight Russian Central Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev and Russia’s seizure of Avdiivka.
  • Mordvichev highlighted Russian technological and tactical adaptations in the Russian seizure of Avdiivka in a likely effort to address persistent criticisms of Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • Senior Russian military officials likely are attempting to deflect responsibility for high-profile apparent Russian war crimes away from themselves and onto mid- and low-level Russian commanders.
  • A recent Russian opinion poll indicates that Russian sentiments about the war in Ukraine have largely remained unchanged in recent months, but notably suggests that another mobilization wave would be widely unpopular.
  • Ukrainian special services conducted a drone strike on one of Russia’s largest metallurgical plants on the night of February 23-24.
  • Ukrainian reporting indicated that the A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft shot down on February 23 temporarily halted Russian aviation operations elsewhere in the theater.
  • Russian information space actors continued responding to the February 23 A-50 shootdown and largely denied that Ukraine is responsible for the downing of any recent Russian aircraft.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 24.
  • Indian authorities have asked Russian authorities for the “early discharge” of Indian citizens fighting for Russia in Ukraine.
  • The Russian government continues efforts to support infrastructure and logistics development in occupied Ukraine likely to support the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) and solidify Russian control over occupied areas.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 23, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan 

February 23, 2024, 6:30pm ET

Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft on the night of February 23 – the second such aircraft shot down in 2024. Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk and the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian A-50 near Yeysk, Krasnodar Krai over the Sea of Azov Coast.[1] Footage posted on February 23 shows a fixed-winged aircraft falling, and geolocated footage shows a significant fire with secondary detonations near the Trudovaya Farm northwest of Staroderevyankovskaya, Kanevskoy Raion in northern Krasnodar Krai (northeast of Primorsko-Akhtarsk).[2] Additional footage posted on February 23 shows mangled aircraft parts, and it is very unlikely that Russian forces will be able to repair the A-50 or that the crew survived the crash.[3] Krasnodar Krai authorities reported that an unspecified Russian aircraft crashed near the Trudovaya Farm but did not specify a cause.[4] Ukrainian officials have previously reported that Russian forces use the A-50 aircraft to coordinate Russian air and air defense activity.[5] The destruction of the Russian A-50 aircraft in mid-January led to a temporary reduction in tactical Russian aviation activity over the Sea of Azov.[6]

Russian ultranationalists are increasingly attributing the shootdown of Russian aircraft to Russian rather than Ukrainian air defenses. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces mistakenly shot down their own A-50 aircraft and accused the Russian military of systemic issues that it must fix to avoid further friendly fire incidents.[7] One milblogger noted that A-50 aircraft and its highly specialized crew are scarce resources for Russia that it cannot easily replace.[8] The milbloggers specifically denied Ukrainian and Russian reporting that Ukrainian forces shot down the A-50 on February 23 and connected this shootdown to their prior denials that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the A-50 and Il-22 shootdowns on January 15.[9] The milbloggers have also attributed recent Ukrainian downings of Russian Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets to friendly air defense fire and criticized reports attributing them to Ukraine.[10] Russian milbloggers may be refusing to attribute any successes to Ukrainian forces as part of wider efforts in the Russian information space to demoralize Ukrainians and convince Russians that victory is assured. Recent Kremlin rhetoric has focused on portraying Russia as able to outlast Ukraine’s willingness and ability to fight, including outlasting Western military support for Ukraine, and Russian milbloggers‘ consistent claims of ineffective Ukrainian air defenses and other battlefield capabilities are congruent with this disinformation campaign.[11] Ukrainian shootdowns of Russian strategic-level aircraft, especially twice within mere weeks of each other, severely undermine this Russian narrative. The milbloggers’ enthusiasm for attributing staggering incompetence to Russia’s own air defenders—the only possible explanation for multiple instances of friendly fire taking down the aircraft helping coordinate the air defenders themselves--is odd.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces are planning future counteroffensive operations, although delays in Western security assistance will likely continue to generate uncertainty and constraints on these operations. Zelensky stated in an interview with Fox News published on February 22 that Ukrainian forces will prepare for new counteroffensive operations in 2024 but that their primary objective is to continue defending Ukrainian territory.[12] Zelensky acknowledged that materiel shortages are complicating ongoing Ukrainian operations, particularly in eastern Ukraine.[13] ABC News reported on February 22 that US officials assess that Ukrainian forces will begin to face critical shortages of ammunition and air defense missiles in late March 2024 and that these shortages will become increasingly significant through the spring and summer of 2024.[14] Materiel shortages are likely forcing Ukrainian forces to husband materiel, and delays in Western security assistance will likely continue to create uncertainty in Ukrainian operational plans and restrictions on preparations for future counteroffensive operations.[15] ISW continues to assess that it would be problematic for Ukraine to cede the theater-wide initiative to Russia for longer than is necessary, however, as Ukraine would risk consuming resources it had hoped to conserve for counteroffensive operations on efforts to stop continued Russian attacks.[16] Continued delays in security assistance and persisting materiel shortages may force Ukrainian forces to make tough decisions about how to allocate resources between potential operationally significant counteroffensive operations and ongoing efforts to hold ground, however.

Ukraine-based open-source organization Frontelligence Insight reported on February 22 that Russian forces are storing missiles and ammunition in previously abandoned facilities near the Russo-Ukrainian border and in occupied Ukraine to shorten and bolster Russian logistics lines.[17] Frontelligence Insight reported that satellite imagery shows that Russian forces began storing S-300 missiles, artillery shells, and possibly multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) ammunition at a previously abandoned farm in Voronezh Oblast in late July 2023. Frontelligence Insight stated that the facility is roughly 50 kilometers from the Russo-Ukrainian border and likely serves as a supply facility for Russian air defense units operating in the area. Frontelligence Insight reported that Russian forces have been actively repurposing facilities near the border and in occupied Ukraine since 2022 in order to create more robust and decentralized logistics lines and that improved Russian logistics will support Russian efforts to counter large Ukrainian offensive operations in 2025. Ukrainian forces have previously used Western-provided HIMARS to strike Russian ammunition depots and interdict Russian ground lines of communications (GLOCs) in occupied Ukraine to set favorable conditions for the Kharkiv counteroffensive in September 2022 and force Russian forces to withdraw from west (right) bank Kherson Oblast in November 2022.[18] These Ukrainian strikes forced Russian forces to array their logistics assets further from the frontline to the detriment of frontline forces, and Ukrainian forces would likely be able to achieve a similar effect with sufficient quantities of weapons systems capable of striking military assets deeper in occupied Ukraine and Russia.[19] Ukrainian officials have repeatedly promised to abide by Western governments’ wishes that Ukraine not use Western-provided systems against military targets in Russia’s internationally-recognized territory.[20]

Ukrainian officials stated that the probability of a Russian ground attack on Ukraine from Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, is low following reports that Transnistrian authorities may call for or organize a referendum on annexation to Russia on February 28. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk stated on February 23 that claims that Transnistrian authorities will call for Russian annexation are intended to “shake up” the information space and create socio-political tension.[21] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Andriy Yusov stated on February 22 that information that Transnistrian authorities will call for Russian annexation is “unconfirmed.”[22] Humenyuk stated that Russian forces conducted missile strikes against Odesa City on the night of February 22 to 23 to place additional pressure on the region and the ongoing “stormy situation” in Moldova and that Ukrainian forces have not observed any military activity in Transnistria that could threaten Ukraine.[23] ISW has not observed any indications suggesting that the limited Russian force grouping in Transnistria may attempt to conduct ground operations that could threaten Ukraine, and ISW does not assess that that force grouping is capable of launching a meaningful ground operation against Ukraine. ISW issued a warning forecast on February 22 and assessed that Transnistrian officials may call for a referendum on annexation to Russia to support Russian hybrid operations intent on politically and socially destabilizing Moldova.[24] ISW’s warning reflects threats to Moldova’s stability rather than Ukraine’s military situation.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that Armenia “essentially” froze its participation in the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) against the backdrop of deteriorating Russian-Armenian relations. Pashinyan stated in a February 22 interview with French outlet France 24 that Armenia “essentially” froze its participation in the CSTO because the CSTO “failed to fulfill its obligations in the field of security” to Armenia, particularly in 2021 and 2022.[25] ISW previously observed that Armenia appeared to be effectively abstaining from participation in the CSTO after Pashinyan and Armenian representatives did not attend several consecutive CSTO events in mid to late 2023.[26] Pashinyan reiterated the importance of the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration that founded the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and recognized the territorial integrity of its 11 signatories, including Russia and Ukraine. Pashinyan stated that ”what is happening in Ukraine is a violation of the Alma-Ata Declaration” and that Armenia is ”seriously concerned.” Pashinyan responded to reports of Russian military police at the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, Armenia detaining a Russian citizen for desertion in December 2023.[27] Pashinyan stated that Armenian authorities are investigating the incident and that Armenia ”cannot tolerate illegal actions on [its] territory.” Kremlin newswire TASS claimed that Pashinyan “suspended” Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, despite Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s statement that Armenia had not sent an official notification of its suspension of CSTO membership.[28] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) rejected Pashinyan’s statement that the CSTO has failed to fulfill its obligations to Armenia and criticized Armenia for inviting observers from the European Union (EU) instead of the CSTO to Armenia, likely referencing the recent increase in EU observers on the Armenian side of the Armenian-Azerbaijan border.[29] Several Russian milbloggers criticized Pashinyan’s policies and blamed him for deteriorating Armenian-Russian relations.[30]

The US, United Kingdom (UK), Canada, and the European Union (EU) announced new sanctions packages aimed at constraining Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. The US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it is sanctioning almost 300 individuals and entities and 500 targets to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[31] OFAC placed sanctions on Russian financial infrastructure supporting the Russian war effort and on Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces (MODAFL) for its role in supplying components for the Russian drone production facility in Alabuga, Republic of Tatarstan.[32] OFAC also placed sanctions on 26 third-country entities and individuals in 11 countries, including China, Serbia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).[33] The UK announced 50 new sanctions measures against elements of Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB), Russian importers and manufacturers of machine tools, and oil traders and shipping management firms that have facilitated the transfer of Russian oil below the G7’s price cap.[34] Canada announced sanctions against 10 individuals and 153 entities primarily associated with Russia’s DIB.[35]

The EU adopted its 13th sanctions package that includes sanctions designations against 106 individuals and 88 entities also primarily from Russia’s DIB.[36] The 13th EU sanctions package against Russia places sanctions on 10 Russian entities and individuals involved in the shipping of armaments from North Korea to Russia, a Russian individual and entity heavily involved in sanctions evasion, and 15 individuals and two entities involved in the forced transfer, deportation, and military indoctrination of Ukrainian children.[37] The EU is also placing sanctions on third-country companies that have assisted Russia’s DIB, including four Chinese companies and one company each from Kazakhstan, India, Serbia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.[38]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft on the night of February 23 – the second such aircraft shot down in 2024.
  • Russian ultranationalists are increasingly attributing the shootdown of Russian aircraft to Russian rather than Ukrainian air defenses.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces are planning future counteroffensive operations, although delays in Western security assistance will likely continue to generate uncertainty and constraints on these operations.
  • Ukraine-based open-source organization Frontelligence Insight reported on February 22 that Russian forces are storing missiles and ammunition in previously abandoned facilities near the Russo-Ukrainian border and in occupied Ukraine to shorten and bolster Russian logistics lines.
  • Ukrainian officials stated that the probability of a Russian ground attack on Ukraine from Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, is low following reports that Transnistrian authorities may call for or organize a referendum on annexation to Russia on February 28.
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that Armenia “essentially” froze its participation in the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) against the backdrop of deteriorating Russian-Armenian relations.
  • The US, United Kingdom (UK), Canada, and the European Union (EU) announced new sanctions packages aimed at constraining Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna, and Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Donetsk City.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on February 23 that international sanctions are degrading the quality of Russian missiles amid continued Russian efforts to increase missile production.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) provided additional details on February 22 about the forced deportation of Ukrainian children from Ukraine to Belarus.

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 22, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 22, 2024, 8:15pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2:00pm ET on February 22. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 23 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would likely have to seize Kyiv sooner or later while identifying Russia’s possible further territorial objectives in Ukraine. Medvedev responded in an interview published on February 22 to a question asking if there will “still be any part of Ukraine left that [Russia] will consider as a legitimate state, whose borders [Russia] will be ready to recognize.”[1] Medvedev stated that Russia must “ensure its interests” by achieving the goals of the “special military operation” as laid out by Russian President Vladimir Putin – referring to Russian demands for Ukraine’s “demilitarization,” “denazification,” and neutrality. Medvedev reiterated Russia’s intention of changing the in Ukraine, stating that the Ukrainian government “must fall, it must be destroyed, it must not remain in this world.” Medvedev claimed that Russia must create a “protective cordon” in order to protect against “encroachments on [Russia’s] lands,” including shelling and active offensive operations. Medvedev stated that he does not know where Russia should “stop” but that Russia “probably” must seize and occupy Kyiv “if not now then after some time.” Medvedev claimed that Kyiv is historically a “Russian” city from where “international” threats to Russia’s existence currently originate. Medvedev also labeled Odesa a historical “Russian” city. Putin similarly emphasized on January 31 the idea of a “demilitarized” or “sanitary” zone in Ukraine.[2] ISW previously assessed that Putin’s statements about creating a “protective” zone in which Russia’s claimed and actual territories are out of Ukrainian firing range actually mean that Russia cannot accept the existence of any independent Ukraine with the ability to defend itself.[3] Medvedev, however, also claimed that “if ... something remains of Ukraine,” then it “probably” has a low chance of survival and reiterated his previous comments about a possible Ukrainian rump state in Lviv Oblast while alluding to the fact that this area was Polish territory earlier in history.[4] Medvedev’s comments continue to indicate that the Kremlin has returned to its domestic narrative that Russia is fighting the war to “liberate its historic lands.”[5]

Medvedev’s mention of Russia’s possible intentions to occupy Odesa may be worth noting in light of recent developments in the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova, the southern tip of which is about 50 kilometers from the city. Transnistrian authorities recently announced that the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies is planning to meet on February 28.[6] ISW forecasts that deputies may initiate a new referendum seeking annexation by Russia or propose or demand action on a 2006 referendum that called for Transnistria’s annexation by Russia.[7] ISW has not observed clear indications of Russian military preparations to intervene in Transnistria or Moldova more generally, and Russian military intervention would be challenging for Moscow since Moldova and Transnistria are landlocked and accessible only through Romanian or Ukrainian territory.[8]

Medvedev also described Russian plans to repress Ukrainian citizens in occupied Ukraine. Medvedev claimed that Ukrainian citizens in occupied Ukraine who “harm” (vredyat) Russia in must be “exposed and punished, sent to Siberia ... for re-education in forced labor camps.”[9] Stalin-era show trials and repressions starting in the 1920s and 1930s similarly targeted saboteurs (vrediteli), particularly in the agricultural sphere.[10] Medvedev’s usage of Stalin-era purge rhetoric is significant. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation governor Yevgeny Balitsky also openly discussed – and attempted to defend – the illegal Russian occupation policies, including the forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens who oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and possibly even alluded to Russian occupation forces’ summary executions of Ukrainian citizens.[11]

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders and Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov on February 21 and 22. Putin attended the “Games of the Future” in Kazan alongside Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon.[12] Putin also met with Minnikhanov and former head of Tatarstan Mintimer Shamaiev to discuss the construction of a new unspecified research and development center in Sibur, Tatarstan.[13] CTP-ISW previously reported that Minnikhanov visited Iran, likely to discuss Russo-Iranian defense industrial and military cooperation.[14] Minnikhanov’s visit was particularly noteworthy given his trip to the Esfahan Province, where several prominent Iranian defense industrial and military sites are located and considering that Iran is helping to construct a military drone manufacturing facility in the “Alabuga” Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Tatarstan. Minnikhanov also has previous ties to authorities in Gagauzia, a pro-Russia autonomous region of Moldova (although separate from Transnistria), which is notable given ISW’s February 22 warning forecast about a possible Russian hybrid operation against Moldova.[15]

Ukrainian forces conducted another successful strike against a Russian training ground in occupied Kherson Oblast on February 21 and likely inflected significant casualties. Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk reported on February 22 that a Ukrainian strike killed nearly 60 Russian servicemen at a Russian training ground in occupied Podo-Kalynivka, Kherson Oblast.[16] Humenyuk stated that the targeted Russian assault groups were training to conduct operations near Krynky.[17] Footage published on February 21 shows the strike, which reportedly killed members of the Russian 328th Airborne Assault (VDV) Regiment (104th VDV Division), 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet), and 81st Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (likely a reconstituted Soviet-era unit).[18] Russian milbloggers criticized the Russian command for conducting training exercises within the range of Ukrainian drones and HIMARS systems and advocated for updated training policies that account for the threat of Ukrainian strike systems and better protect Russian servicemen.[19] Some Russian milbloggers noted that this strike follows the February 20 Ukrainian HIMARS strikes against a Russian training ground near Volnovakha, Donetsk Oblast, which reportedly killed “dozens” of Russian military personnel.[20]

Ukraine’s European and Western allies continue to ramp up their support for Ukraine. The Danish Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced a new military aid package for Ukraine on February 22 valued at 1.7 billion Danish kroner ($228 million). This package includes 15,000 155mm shells jointly produced with the Czech Republic, air defense materiel and ammunition, mine clearance equipment, drones, radar, and communication equipment.[21] Denmark also signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement with Ukraine.[22] UK Defense Minister Grant Shapps announced that the UK is sending 200 Brimstone anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.[23] New Zealand also announced a new aid package for Ukraine valued at 25.9 million NZD ($15.4 million), including humanitarian aid and funding for other international funds that support Ukraine’s weapons acquisition, recovery, and reconstruction.[24] The German Bundestag approved additional military support to Ukraine, including unspecified long-range weapons systems and ammunition, but rejected a bill that called for Germany to provide Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine.[25]

Russian opposition outlet Proekt reported on February 22 that the Russian government has subjected at least 116,000 Russians to criminal and administrative charges since the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fourth term in office in 2018.[26] Proekt reported that Russian authorities pursued criminal charges against 11,442 people for politically motivated charges, including extremism, justifying terrorism, discrediting the Russian military, and spreading “fake” information about Russia’s war in Ukraine in 2018-2023.[27] Proekt noted that Russian authorities brought administrative charges against an additional 105,000 people for charges related to speech, conscience, and assembly, including at protests.[28] Proekt reported that Russian authorities initiated 5,829 cases for crimes against the state in this time period, including espionage, disclosure of state secrets, cooperation with foreign organizations, and for refusing to participate in the war in Ukraine.[29] Proekt’s partner organization Agenstvo Novosti noted that Russian authorities have tried 329 people for disclosing state secrets since 2018, more than the Soviet Union did during the entirety of the Cold War.[30] Proekt reported that Russian authorities have tried over 13,000 people under criminal statues introduced due to the war in Ukraine, including spreading fake information and discrediting the Russian military, including roughly 4,500 military personnel punished for new articles related to conduct in the military or on the battlefield.[31] Proekt reported that Russian authorities have pursued over 600,000 cases for insubordination against, insulting, and violence against Russian government officials and over 159,000 cases for violating pandemic restrictions in this timeframe.[32] While it is likely that some and even many of these cases are legitimate, the Kremlin has increasingly weaponized the Russian criminal justice system to crack down on domestic dissent against the war and Putin’s autocratic rule to consolidate control over domestic Russian society.[33] Proekt noted that the number of political repression-related cases initiated has sharply increased since 2022 and that many of the cases are dubious, either due to officials’ obfuscation of the criminal case itself or because they are prosecutions of a fake or overblown crime to cover up another misdeed.[34]

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 22 that the Kremlin does not regard Russian military correspondents (voyenkory) and milbloggers as participants of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, shortly after the suicide of a prominent Russian milblogger on February 21. Peskov stated that it would be wrong to linearly equate voyenkory to Russian servicemen fighting in Ukraine because they do not bear arms.[35] Peskov implied that Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a similar opinion and noted that Russian military correspondents' contributions to the war effort should be acknowledged in their own distinct category, despite the fact that many Russian milbloggers do in fact bear arms and engage in combat operations, among other tasks that military personnel perform.[36] Peskov’s statement follows the Russian information space‘s widespread discussion of the suicide of Russian serviceman and independent milblogger Andrei Morozov (alias Boytsovskiy Kot Murz).[37] Morozov served in the Russian 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic’s [LNR] Army Corps) while simultaneously maintaining a Telegram channel with over 100,000 followers — where he avidly criticized the Russian military command and senior Russian political figures — and coordinating aid provisions to Russian frontline forces. Morozov blamed the Russian military command and propagandists for triggering his decision to commit suicide after an abusive Russian military commander ordered him to delete his reports about high Russian personnel losses around Avdiivka. The timing of Peskov’s remarks is notable and may reflect a broader Kremlin campaign to consolidate a monopoly over the Russian military correspondent and milblogger community. The Kremlin has been increasingly collaborating with voyenkory who work as frontline correspondents, and ISW observed an increase in reports about persecutions against milbloggers who perform humanitarian or combat operations in addition to maintaining Telegram channels.[38] Russian officials have previously threatened to restrict certain milbloggers from reporting on the frontlines unless they possess Kremlin-issued “press” vests, and the Kremlin may be attempting to eliminate the independent class of milbloggers and replace them with Kremlin-affiliated voyenkory.[39]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would likely have to seize Kyiv sooner or later while identifying Russia’s possible further territorial objectives in Ukraine.
  • Medvedev’s mention of Russia’s possible intentions to occupy Odesa may be worth noting in light of recent developments in the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova, the southern tip of which is about 50 kilometers from the city.
  • Medvedev also described Russian plans to repress Ukrainian citizens in occupied Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders and Republic of Tatarstan Head Rustam Minnikhanov on February 21 and 22.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted another successful strike against a Russian training ground in occupied Kherson Oblast on February 21 and likely inflected significant casualties.
  • Ukraine’s European and Western allies continue to ramp up their support for Ukraine.
  • Russian opposition outlet Proekt reported on February 22 that the Russian government has subjected at least 116,000 Russians to criminal and administrative charges since the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fourth term in office in 2018.
  • Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on February 22 that the Kremlin does not regard Russian military correspondents (voyenkory) and milbloggers as participants of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, shortly after the suicide of a prominent Russian milblogger on February 21.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
  • A Russian insider source claimed that Russian officials have postponed creating Rosgvardia’s 1st Volunteer Corps from remaining Wagner Group detachments because of an ongoing rotation of former Wagner personnel in Africa.
  • Russia continues to export its state policies on systemic religious persecution to occupied Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 21, 2024

Click here to read the full report 

Kateryna Stepanenko, Christina Harward, Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, George Barros, Amin Soltani, Alexandra Braverman, Brian Carter, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 21, 2024, 8:30pm ET 

Prominent independent Russian milblogger Andrei Morozov reportedly committed suicide on February 21 after refusing the Russian military command’s orders to delete his reports about high Russian casualty rates around Avdiivka.[1] Morozov (also known under the alias Boytsovskiy Kot Murz) was a sergeant in the Russian 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic’s [LNR] Army Corps) and an avid critic of the Russian military command and the Ministry of Defense (MoD). Morozov published a lengthy suicide note in which he stated that an unnamed Russian colonel ordered him on February 20 to remove his February 19 report that claimed that 16,000 Russian personnel died in combat during Russian offensive operations in Avdiivka.[2] The colonel reportedly threatened to cut off ammunition and military equipment supplies to Morozov’s unit if he did not delete his reports about the Russian military’s heavy losses in seizing Avdiivka and told Morozov that he would not be able to change the current situation on the battlefield and that only presidential elections could trigger some changes. Morozov claimed that the colonel was likely following orders from the Russian military command, political leadership, and Russian propagandists such as Vladimir Solovyov, who had sought to eliminate Morozov even prior to full-scale invasion. Morozov proclaimed that he tried to expose the truth about Russian battlefield realities and could no longer serve under this abusive colonel who assumed command over a “decapitated” brigade operating on a critical frontline and whose poor leadership made the situation worse for Russian forces. Morozov also implied that Russian authorities may have conspired to murder or arrest him and noted that he no longer saw the point in continuing his under-resourced fight against the incompetent Russian military bureaucracy.

Morozov used his suicide note to further discuss Russian military failures in Avdiivka and Donetsk Oblast. Morozov accused Russian generals of wastefully sacrificing thousands of servicemen to advance their military careers and implied that most Russian journalists lie about battlefield realities. Morozov also observed that the Russian military command had been increasingly using mobilized personnel as barrier forces (specialized units that shoot their own forces who retreat or refuse to attack) and amplified a formal complaint from a mobilized Russian serviceman of the 1487th Regiment (a mobilized unit under the command of the 1st Donetsk People’s Republic’s [DNR] Army Corps), which the Russian military prosecutor’s office rejected in early February. The mobilized serviceman complained that the 1487th Regiment was reduced to less than 30 percent of its strength due to the regiment’s lack of reinforcements and rotations since the regiment’s deployment in mid-January 2023.[3] The serviceman added that the commander of the 1st Army Corps, nicknamed “Krym” (Crimea), transferred 300 servicemen from the 1487th Regiment to the command of the Russian “Veterany” private military company (PMC) in November 2023 – most of whom died or were injured in the Avdiivka direction. The mobilized serviceman accused the “Veterany” PMC – which is reportedly staffed with convicts, drug addicts, and looters – of using mobilized personnel as barrier troops and refraining from participating in assaults. The mobilized serviceman added that his battalion completely lacked grenade launchers, mortars, and vehicles necessary for offensive operations. The mobilized serviceman also observed that Russian military medical staff refused to treat shellshocked servicemen and sent them back to the frontlines without medical examinations and that these issues systematically plague other Russian units.

The Russian information space, apart from select Russian propagandists and Kremlin-controlled milbloggers, largely mourned Morozov’s death and blamed various military and political actors for his demise. Russian propagandist Yuliya Vityazeva implied that Morozov’s suicide was the fault of his friends who failed to help him and are using his death to throw shade at the Russian MoD to profit off social media attention.[4] One Kremlin-affiliated milblogger acknowledged Morozov’s humanitarian aid contributions to the Russian military but noted that Morozov’s criticism of the Russian military command was so extremely negative that it helped Ukraine.[5] The milblogger added that it is unfortunate that Russia’s enemies and “hostile” Telegram channel networks will use the news of Morozov’s death to overshadow the Russian capture of Avdiivka. Wagner Group-affiliated milbloggers accused Solovyov and other propagandists of persecuting Morozov and mocking his death.[6] Supporters of the imprisoned Russian officer and ardent critic of the Russian military command, Igor Girkin, also condemned Morozov’s harassment and highlighted his years-long commitment to supplying Russian forces with equipment and exposing Russian military failures.[7] Several milbloggers blamed Morozov’s suicide on Russia’s inability to value and internalize different opinions in pursuit of the common goal.[8]

Morozov’s reported suicide will likely further the Kremlin’s and the Russian MoD’s efforts to consolidate a monopoly over the Russian information space. Morozov was one of the few remaining independent ultranationalist milbloggers who openly criticized the Russian military command and government after the Kremlin and the Russian MoD began to consolidate control over prominent Russian milbloggers in July 2023. Morozov, for example, previously warned about severely degraded Russian forces that were around Izyum, Kharkiv Oblast, in May-June 2022 – months prior to a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area in September 2022.[9] Russian officials have been increasingly targeting radical milbloggers and have arrested several milbloggers who have expressed critiques similar to Morozov’s complaints.[10] ISW observed that many Russian milbloggers have drastically suppressed their critiques against Russian military command since the failed Wagner mutiny and reported pressure against Morozov may encourage more critical milbloggers to refrain from discussing Russian military failures. The Kremlin began an effort to co-opt pliant milbloggers in November 2022.[11]

A Ukrainian official denied a recent New York Times (NYT) report that Russian forces may have captured “hundreds” of Ukrainian soldiers during Ukraine’s withdrawal from Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.[12] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhovyi acknowledged on February 21 that Russian forces did capture some Ukrainian soldiers during Ukrainian forces’ withdrawal from Avdiivka, but stated that reports about “hundreds” of Ukrainian soldiers being taken prisoner or otherwise being unaccounted for are false.[13] Lykhovyi suggested that the NYT’s February 20 report is an extension of Russian information operations aimed at demoralizing the Ukrainian military and noted that Russian propagandists would have shared footage of large numbers of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) if Russia had actually captured that many Ukrainian soldiers. Lykhovyi noted that Russian media widely shared footage of large numbers of Ukrainian POWs after Russian forces seized Azovstal in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast in 2022.[14] ISW recently noted that “unaccounted for” personnel include those killed, wounded, and missing in action as well as captured, and ISW has still not observed any open-source evidence of Russian forces taking large numbers of Ukrainian forces prisoner.[15] ISW will continue to monitor the information space for evidence and will adjust its assessment as more evidence becomes available.

Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov claimed that Russian forces seized Avdiivka within a “fairly short time.” The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published footage on February 21 of Gerasimov presenting state awards to Russian servicemen who distinguished themselves during the seizure of Avdiivka and meeting with Russian Central Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev to discuss plans for future Russian operations in the Avdiivka direction.[16] This video is Gerasimov’s first public appearance since December 29, 2023.[17] Gerasimov stated during his briefing with Mordvichev that Russian forces seized Avdiivka “in a fairly short time” that was preceded by a “long period of preparation.”[18] Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu similarly attempted to downplay heavy Russian losses and the difficulty of seizing of Avdiivka during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 20, portraying the seizure of Avdiivka as an astounding success with minimal losses despite the fact that the four-month-long operation resulted in an estimated 16,000 to 47,000 Russian personnel losses.[19] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated on February 21 that Russian forces lost 212 tanks in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) between January 1 and February 20, and a significant portion of Russian tank losses in the Tavriisk direction are likely the result of the Russian operation of seize Avdiivka.[20] Russian Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Goremykin also presented state awards to members of the Russian 90th Tank Division (41st Combined Arms Army, Central Military District) for their role in the seizure of Avdiivka.[21] Putin credited elements of the 90th Tank Division with seizing Avdiivka under Mordvichev’s leadership on February 17.[22]

A Ukrainian HIMARS strike against an undefended Russian training ground near occupied Volnovakha, Donetsk Oblast likely inflicted significant casualties, triggering a point of neuralgia for the Russian ultranationalist milblogger community. Ukrainian forces struck the Trudivske Training Ground east of Volnovakha on February 20, where at least three companies of the Russian 36th Motorized Rifle Brigade (29th Combined Arms Army, Eastern Military District) had been training.[23] BBC Russian Service reported that the strike killed “dozens” of Russian military personnel and may have killed up to 60 personnel, which is consistent with publicly available photos reportedly documenting the aftermath of the strike.[24] Zabaykalsky Krai Head Aleksandr Osipov, where the 36th Motorized Rifle Brigade is based, claimed that reports of over 60 dead from the strike are “exaggerated.”[25] Russian ultranationalist milbloggers reiterated their standard complaints about poor Russian decision-making following the strike, criticizing the Russian military command for concentrating Russian military personnel in a near-rear area despite suffering the consequences of previous Ukrainian strikes against Russian military concentrations within Ukrainian strike range.[26]

Zaporizhia Oblast occupation governor Yevgeny Balitsky openly admitted that Russian authorities are forcibly deporting Ukrainian citizens who oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or “insult” Russia and possibly alluded to Russian occupation forces’ summarily executing Ukrainian citizens. Balitsky stated in an interview published on February 20 that Russian occupation authorities “expelled a large number of families...who did not support the ‘special military operation’” or who “insulted” Russia, including the Russian flag, anthem, or [Russian President Vladimir Putin].”[27] Balitsky justified these activities, which would constitute war crimes, claiming that the forcible deportation of Ukrainian families was for their own benefit, as occupation authorities would have had to “deal” with them in an even “harsher” way in the future, or other pro-Russian citizens would have killed them. Balitsky stated that occupation authorities “gave [the deported families] the opportunity to leave” but deported some by force after “giving them a water bottle” at the border. Balitsky also stated that occupation authorities had to make some “extremely harsh decisions that [he] will not be talking about” – a possible allusion to Russian occupation forces conducting summary executions of Ukrainian citizens. ISW has extensively reported on Russia’s forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens, including children, and continues to assess that Russia is attempting to eliminate the Ukrainian language, culture, history, ethnicity, and identity, including through activities that appear to violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[28] Balitsky’s statements about Russian deportations of Ukrainian citizens critical of the Russian occupation indicate that Russian deportation campaigns in part intend to Russify populations in occupied Ukraine through coercion and fear. Balitsky’s willingness to openly discuss – and even defend – Russian occupation authorities’ unlawful treatment of Ukrainian citizens in a publicized interview highlights the extent to which Russian authorities are supporting and promoting such policies.

Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January.[29] The three unspecified Iranian sources said that Iran provided roughly 400 SRBMs to Russia, including the Fateh-110 and the Zolfaghar. The sources said that Iran has sent at least four SRBM shipments to Russia since Iran and Russia concluded a missile sale agreement in late 2023. One Iranian official said that Iran will continue to ship missiles to Russia because Iran is “allowed to export weapons to any country” it wishes, given the October 2023 expiration of UN missile restrictions on Iran under UNSC Resolution 2231. UNSC Resolution 2231 suspended nuclear-related UN sanctions and established sunset dates for missile and other arms-related sanctions on Iran. A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger said on February 21 that Iran began missile shipments to Russia in early January, following the UN missile restrictions expiration.[30]

Iran’s arms sales to Russia are part of Iran’s efforts to generate revenue to support its deteriorating economy.[31] CTP-ISW previously assessed that Iran could seek to acquire cash from Russia in return for supplying Russia with missiles.[32] The Prana Network hacker group published documents on February 4 alleging that Russia is paying Iran roughly $4.5 billion per year to import the Iranian Shahed series drones.[33] Iran’s provision of these missile systems could improve Russia’s ability to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed on February 21 that the acquisition of Iranian missile systems enables Russian forces to hit “remote Ukrainian targets.”[34] The Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat said on February 21 that possible Russian acquisition of the ballistic missiles is a “serious threat for Ukraine.”[35] This Russo-Iranian military exchange is part of the deepening military and security relationship between the two states that CTP has covered extensively.[36] The expansion of these ties accelerated especially after Iran began providing military support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.[37]

Russian authorities detained a dual US-Russian citizen in Yekaterinburg on suspicion of raising money for the Ukrainian war effort.[38] Kremlin newswire TASS released footage of the woman in Russian custody, and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) described the woman as a 33-year-old resident of Los Angeles, California.[39] Western media reported on February 21 that the woman’s name is Ksenia Khavana and that Russian authorities may have detained Khavana for donating $51 to a Ukrainian-American 501(c)(3) charity on February 24, 2022.[40]

Key Takeaways:

  • Prominent independent Russian milblogger Andrei Morozov reportedly committed suicide on February 21 after refusing the Russian military command’s orders to delete his reports about high Russian casualty rates around Avdiivka.
  • A Ukrainian official denied a recent New York Times (NYT) report that Russian forces may have captured “hundreds” of Ukrainian soldiers during Ukraine’s withdrawal from Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov claimed that Russian forces seized Avdiivka within a “fairly short time.”
  • A Ukrainian HIMARS strike against an undefended Russian training ground near occupied Volnovakha, Donetsk Oblast likely inflicted significant casualties, triggering a point of neuralgia for the Russian ultranationalist milblogger community.
  • Zaporizhia Oblast occupation governor Yevgeny Balitsky openly admitted that Russian authorities are forcibly deporting Ukrainian citizens who oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or “insult” Russia and possibly alluded to Russian occupation forces’ summarily executing Ukrainian citizens.
  • Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January.
  • Russian authorities detained a dual US-Russian citizen in Yekaterinburg on suspicion of raising money for the Ukrainian war effort.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Avdiivka, Donetsk City, Robotyne, and Krynky.
  • Belarusian and Kazakh companies are reportedly helping Russia circumvent international sanctions intended to deprive the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) of Western components and machines.
  • Russian occupation administrations continue to foster patronage networks with Russian federal subjects.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 20, 2024

click here to read the full report

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 20, 2024, 8:45pm 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.

Click here to see ISW’s 3D control of terrain topographic map of Ukraine. Use of a computer (not a mobile device) is strongly recommended for using this data-heavy tool.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2pm ET on February 20. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 21 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukraine has been defending itself against illegal Russian military intervention and aggression for 10 years.[1] Russia violated its commitments to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and began its now decade-long military intervention in Ukraine on February 20, 2014 when Russian soldiers without identifying insignia (also known colloquially as “little green men” and, under international law, as illegal combatants), deployed to Crimea.[2] The deployment of these Russian soldiers out of uniform followed months of protests in Ukraine against pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU) that the Ukrainian Rada had approved.[3] The Yanukovych government killed and otherwise abused peaceful Ukrainian protestors, leading to an organized protest movement calling for Yanukovych’s resignation. This Ukrainian movement — the Euromaidan Movement — culminated in Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity during which the Rada voted to oust Yanukovych who then fled to Russia with the Kremlin’s aid. Russian President Vladimir Putin viewed these events as intolerable and launched a hybrid war against Ukraine as the Euromaidan Movement was still underway with the goal of reestablishing Russian control over all of Ukraine.  Russia’s military intervention in Crimea and the Donbas in 2014 violated numerous Russian international commitments to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Russia’s recognition of Ukraine as an independent state in 1991 and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia specifically committed not to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.[4]

Russia’s grand strategic objective of regaining control of Ukraine has remained unchanged in the decade since its illegal intervention in Ukraine began. Russia’s overarching strategic objective in Ukraine, as first manifested in the 2014 invasion of Crimea and the Donbas, has been and remains the destruction of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the re-establishment of a pro-Russian Ukrainian government subservient to Moscow’s direction. Russia began immediate efforts to dismantle and eradicate Ukrainian identity in Crimea, consolidate its military presence on the peninsula, and forcibly integrate Crimea into the Russian Federation along multiple avenues, all while promoting a parallel political subversion campaign to destroy Ukraine’s ability to resist dominant Russian influence.[5] 

Russia worked hard to obfuscate its grand strategic objectives of regaining control of Ukraine between 2014 and the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022. The Kremlin successfully employed disinformation to obfuscate Russia’s objectives in Ukraine for many Western leaders. Putin learned valuable lessons from the way the West responded to Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine and tailored Russia’s information operations to mask his grand strategic intent towards Ukraine in the years leading up to the 2022 full-scale invasion. Putin succeeded in convincing many Western leaders that Russia had limited objectives in Ukraine: that Moscow only sought control over Crimea, or that Russia sought only to occupy parts of eastern Ukraine, for example.[6] Russia also obfuscated its true intentions in Ukraine by promulgating the lie that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were aimed at preventing NATO expansion. The Euromaidan Movement and the Revolution of Dignity were never about NATO — they were about Ukraine’s desire to associate with the EU. In the years between 2014 and 2022, however, Russia managed to pollute the global information space with the fallacy that pro-NATO policies in Ukraine forced Russia’s hand. While the mechanisms Russia uses to cloak its intentions in Ukraine have adapted and evolved in the past decade, Russia’s grand strategic objectives of controlling Ukraine and denying Ukrainians their right to choose their own future have persisted and likely will not change until Russia is defeated.  The Kremlin continues information operations to persuade Western audiences and leaders that Russia has limited objectives in Ukraine in order to fuel calls for negotiations on terms that would destroy Ukraine’s independence and damage the West.

Russian military intelligence is reportedly learning from its failures in recent years and has renewed efforts against NATO states.[7] The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a report on February 20 arguing that Russian special services aim to expand their capacity in several ways that pose strategic threats to NATO members, including rebuilding their recruitment, training, and support apparatus to better infiltrate European countries; adopting the Wagner Group’s former functions and pursuing aggressive partnerships with African countries to supplant Western partnerships; and using Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov to significantly expand Russian influence among Chechen and Muslim populations in Europe and the Middle East to ultimately subvert Western interests.[8] RUSI noted that Russian intelligence services have suffered a slew of intelligence failures in the past several years, including the Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) botched poisoning of now-deceased opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the FSB’s overconfident assessment of Russian military capabilities ahead of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the mass expulsion of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) operatives from embassies across the globe, and Bellingcat’s exposure of the Russian Main Military Intelligence Directorate’s (GRU) Unit 29155’s failed poisoning of defected Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal.[9] RUSI noted that the GRU reformed Unit 29155 and formed a “Service for Special Activities” to increase operational security and data security and is beginning to recruit individuals with no military experience to make it harder for the West to identify them.[10] RUSI reported that Russian Presidential Administration Deputy Head Sergei Kiriyenko is in charge of creating “special committees” to run information operations against the West, an assessment that is consistent with previous reporting from the Washington Post about purported Kremlin documents outlining Kiriyenko’s roll in wide-scale disinformation campaigns.[11]

The Ukrainian Center for Combating Disinformation similarly reported on February 20 that Russian special services have significantly increased their operations in NATO member states and Ukraine as part of large-scale disinformation efforts aimed at demoralizing the Ukrainian military.[12] Estonian Security Police, for example, reported that Estonian security services have detained 10 people for participating in alleged Russian special services activity in Estonia between December 2023 and February 2024.[13] Such subversive control tactics likely support the Kremlin’s near- and medium-term goals of spoiling Western military assistance to Ukraine and rebuilding intelligence capacities in support of long-term objectives against NATO states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu preened themselves on the Russian seizure of Avdiivka. Shoigu briefed Putin about the seizure of Avdiivka and the wider Russian war effort in Ukraine in a February 20 meeting during which Putin and Shoigu both amplified an information operation that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) began on February 19 that aims to sow resentment and distrust against the Ukrainian command for an allegedly chaotic Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka.[14] Shoigu used the briefing and a subsequent interview with Kremlin newswire TASS to portray the five month long attritional Russian offensive operation to seize Avdiivka as an astounding success with minimal losses, despite the fact that Ukrainian and Russian estimates place Russian losses in the fight for Avdiivka between 16,000 and 47,000.[15] Shoigu argued that the Russian operation to seize Avdiivka was an operational success because Ukrainian forces had long fortified the settlement, but Shoigu did not claim that the seizure of the settlement would provide any specific operational benefits — as he recently claimed about the Russian seizure of other small settlements in Donetsk Oblast.[16] Shoigu also claimed that Russian forces conducted up to 450 high-precision airstrikes per day during the last days of the Russian effort to seize Avdiivka.[17] ISW assesses that Russian forces likely established temporary limited and localized air superiority during this time, and Shoigu is likely attempting to portray this temporary period as a persisting Russian capability.[18] Putin’s and Shoigu’s attempts to establish the seizure of Avdiivka as a major battlefield victory within the Russian information space likely aim to portray the Russian war effort in Ukraine as increasingly successful and portray Putin as a competent wartime president ahead of his assured reelection in March 2024.[19] The Kremlin’s efforts to highlight Russian success in Avdiivka also mutually supports increasing Russian efforts to use the seizure of the settlement to generate panic in the Ukrainian information space and weaken Ukrainian morale.[20]

Shoigu also claimed that Russian forces completely seized Krynky in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast, although available open-source visual evidence and Ukrainian and Russian reporting suggests that Ukrainian forces maintain their limited bridgehead in the area. Shoigu claimed during his briefing with Putin that Russian forces cleared Krynky, although Putin claimed that Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) and “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky told him that a handful of Ukrainian personnel remained in the settlement.[21] Shoigu refuted Teplinsky’s claim and portrayed Russian efforts to eliminate the bridgehead as a successfully completed effort and praised unspecified VDV elements and the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade as distinguished units for their role in the operation, a typical Kremlin accolade following the Russian seizure of a tactical objective.[22] ISW has not observed any visual evidence of recent notable Russian advances near the limited Ukrainian bridgehead in and near Krynky as of the time of this publication, and Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk reported that Ukrainian forces continue to gradually expand their bridgehead in the area.[23] Russian milbloggers claimed that regular positional fighting continued near Krynky on February 19 and 20 and did not note any Russian success in the area.[24]

The Kremlin likely prematurely claimed the Russian seizure of Krynky to reinforce its desired informational effects ahead of the March 2024 presidential election, although the Kremlin is likely setting expectations that the Russian military may fail to meet. Humenyuk identified Russian efforts to eliminate the Ukrainian bridgehead as a Russian effort to achieve informational objective ahead of the Russian presidential election, and Shoigu framed the Russian effort in east bank Kherson Oblast as similar to the seizure of Avdiivka.[25] Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have destroyed up to 3,500 Ukrainian personnel in east bank Kherson Oblast since the start of larger-than-usual Ukrainian ground operations in the area in October 2023.[26] Shoigu called the alleged Russian seizure of Krynky the official end of the Summer 2023 Ukrainian counteroffensive.[27] The Kremlin notably has delayed acknowledging the Russian seizure of the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine, likely out of potential concerns about Russian capabilities to advance, and Shoigu likely formally announced the “end” of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to publicly highlight that Russia has the initiative.[28] The Kremlin’s willingness to rhetorically address the tempo and initiative of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine may be due to increasing Kremlin confidence about Russian prospects and a conscious effort to support Kremlin narratives about the war as the presidential elections approach. The Kremlin may increasingly claim battlefield victories in Ukraine without full assurances of Russian tactical and operational success to support informational efforts that simultaneously glorify Putin and demoralize Ukraine, although such increasing rhetorical confidence may create expectations in the Russian information space that the Russian military cannot meet. Chechen Akhmat Spetsnaz Commander Apty Alaudinov notably claimed that he expects that Russian forces will successfully complete Putin’s Special Military Operation by September 2024, a forecast that is extremely implausible.[29]

The New York Times (NYT) reported that the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka may have left hundreds of Ukrainian personnel “unaccounted” for. The NYT reported on February 20, citing two Ukrainian soldiers, that about 850 to 1,000 Ukrainian personnel “appear to have been captured or are unaccounted for” following the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka.[30] The NYT reported that unspecified senior Western officials stated that the range of apparent Ukrainian personnel losses “seemed accurate.” The NYT reported that some unnamed Western officials stated that Ukrainian forces failed to conduct an orderly withdrawal from Avdiivka on February 16 and 17, which resulted in an apparent "significant number of soldiers captured.” Personnel who are “unaccounted for” include those killed in action, wounded in action, missing in action, and captured. ISW has not yet observed open-source visual evidence of massive Ukrainian personnel losses or the Russian captures of Ukrainian prisoners at such a scale, and the Russian information space customarily displays such evidence when it has it. The lack of open-source evidence does not demonstrate that the NYT’s report is false, however, and ISW continues to monitor the information space for evidence on which to base an assessment of the outcome of the Ukrainian withdrawal. The Kyiv Independent reported on February 20 that some Ukrainian forces conducted a disorderly withdrawal from the Zenit strongpoint south of Avdiivka and experienced high losses.[31] ISW has observed that this Ukrainian position was the only identified tactically encircled position at the time of the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka.

Ukrainian officials launched an investigation into additional apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war (POWs) in Zaporizhia Oblast.[32] The Ukrainian Prosecutor General stated on February 20 that it launched an investigation into footage published on February 20 showing Russian forces executing three Ukrainian POWs near Robotyne on February 18.[33] The killing of POWs violates Article III of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs.[34] The Ukrainian Prosecutor General previously launched investigations into footage showing a Russian execution of Ukrainian POWs and Russian soldiers using Ukrainian POWs as human shields near Robotyne in December 2023.[35] ISW has recently reported on several such apparent war crimes in Zaporizhia and Donetsk oblasts.[36]  Russian President Vladimir Putin made a point of remarking on Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian POWs on February 20, claimed that Russia holds POWs in accordance with international conventions, and declared that Russian forces must act in the same way in Avdiivka, likely in an attempt to deflect responsibility for high-profile apparent Russian war crimes away from himself. Putin is likely concerned about international repercussions for his subordinates’ actions.[37] The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March 2023, which has likely impeded his ability to travel internationally, and Putin may have explicitly addressed Ukrainian POWs given recent international attention on Russian atrocities in Ukraine in order to protect himself against another such international legal ruling against him.[38]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukraine has been defending itself against illegal Russian military intervention and aggression for 10 years.
  • Russia’s grand strategic objective of regaining control of Ukraine has remained unchanged in the decade since its illegal intervention in Ukraine began.
  • Russia worked hard to obfuscate its grand strategic objectives of regaining control of Ukraine between 2014 and the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022.
  • Russian military intelligence is reportedly learning from its failures in recent years and has renewed efforts against NATO states.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu preened themselves on the Russian seizure of Avdiivka.
  • Shoigu also claimed that Russian forces completely seized Krynky in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast, although available open-source visual evidence and Ukrainian and Russian reporting suggests that Ukrainian forces maintain their limited bridgehead in the area.
  • The Kremlin likely prematurely claimed the Russian seizure of Krynky to reinforce its desired informational effects ahead of the March 2024 presidential election, although the Kremlin is likely setting expectations that the Russian military may fail to meet.
  • The New York Times (NYT) reported that the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka may have left hundreds of Ukrainian personnel “unaccounted” for.
  • Ukrainian officials launched an investigation into additional apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war (POWs) in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian forces made a confirmed advance west of Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • The Kremlin continues to promote Russia’s efforts to expand its defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Zaporizhia Oblast occupation authorities are expanding public services provision in occupied parts of the oblast to consolidate bureaucratic control and generate dependencies on the occupation administration.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 19, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 19, 2024, 7:15pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on February 19. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 20 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian actors conducted a cyber operation regarding Russia’s seizure of Avdiivka, likely aimed at generating panic in the Ukrainian information space and weakening Ukrainian morale. Ukraine’s State Special Communication Service reported on February 18 that Russian actors hacked well-known Ukrainian media outlets and posted fake information on their social media channels.[1] Ukrainian outlets Ukrainska Pravda, Apostrophe, Liga.net, and Telegraf reported on February 18 that their social media accounts were hacked and that hackers posted disinformation, specifically about the alleged widespread destruction of Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka.[2] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued new claims about the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka on February 19 aimed at sowing resentment and distrust against the Ukrainian command, and other Russian sources amplified this information operation.[3]

The tempo of Russian offensive operations near Avdiivka has reportedly dramatically slowed following the Russian seizure of Avdiivka. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy reported on February 19 that the number of Russian attacks in the Avdiivka direction significantly decreased in the past day and that Russian forces are currently regrouping and conducting clearing operations in Avdiivka.[4] Lykhoviy noted that Russian shelling and aviation activity has also significantly decreased in the area.[5] Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces have withdrawn to a new line of defense, which Ukrainian forces previously prepared in advance and fortified at “several levels.”[6] Russian forces will likely have to conduct an operational pause before resuming significant offensive operations in the Avdiivka direction or will have to transfer additional reinforcements from other sectors of the front to the area to prevent operations near Avdiivka from culminating. Russian forces have reserves available for such reinforcement in other sectors, but ISW has observed no indication that the Russian command is moving those reserves toward Avdiivka at this time. Lykhoviy and Ukrainian Khortytsia Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash, on the contrary, stated that the Russian command will likely transfer Russian forces accumulated around Avdiivka to other, unspecified areas of the frontline in the near future.[7] Yevlash stated that it will likely take Russian forces at least a week to transfer units from Avdiivka into battle in unspecified frontline areas.[8] ISW has not yet observed any indications of how Russian forces will choose to allocate their manpower currently deployed to the Avdiivka area.

Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down two more Russian fighter aircraft, a Su-34 and a Su-35S, in eastern Ukraine on the morning of February 19.[9] Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the Russian aircraft were striking Ukrainian positions with glide bombs when Ukrainian air defenses destroyed the planes.[10] Ukrainian forces also shot down two Su-34s and one Su-35 over Donetsk Oblast on February 17 and another Su-34 in eastern Ukraine on February 18.[11] Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localized air superiority during the final days of their offensive operation to seize Avdiivka, but Ukrainian air defenders appear to be challenging Russian air operations in eastern Ukraine once again.[12]

The White House is reportedly considering the provision of long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine in the event that Congress passes security assistance for Ukraine. NBC News reported on February 19 that two US officials stated that the White House is working to provide Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles in one of the first packages of military aid to Ukraine if Congress approves funding for further security assistance to Ukraine.[13] The US previously provided Ukraine with a limited number of a different type of ATACMS missile that have a shorter range.[14] Ukraine conducted successful ATACMS strikes in October 2023 but did not have enough supplies to sustain a strike campaign with ATACMS that could have presented operational challenges for Russian forces in Ukraine, particularly for Russian aviation operations and for the storage and supply of ammunition.[15] NBC News reported that the US officials also stated that the US has artillery systems and ammunition prepared for immediate transfer to Ukraine if Congress approves funding for US security assistance to Ukraine.[16] Ukrainian long-range strike capabilities allow Ukrainian forces to degrade Russian logistics at depth, and sufficient artillery systems and ammunition are crucial for effective Ukrainian counterbattery fire.

The Russian government eased the requirements for “compatriots” living abroad to apply to resettle in Russia. The Russian government announced on February 17 that it will no longer require "compatriots” abroad to prove their Russian-language proficiency when applying for resettlement in Russia if the individual is a Russian citizen permanently residing abroad; an individual who previously renounced Russian citizenship; an individual who was born or permanently resided in the Soviet Union and had Soviet citizenship; or an individual who has relatives who were born or permanently resided on territory formerly part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire.[17] The Russian government stated that the changes in the requirements for resettlement in Russia follow a January 1, 2024, Russian presidential decree to “support compatriots from unfriendly countries.” The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that the Russkiy Mir — purposefully vaguely defined as including ethnic Russians, Russian language-speakers, and any territory and people formerly ruled by the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire — includes Ukrainians and that Russia’s invasions of Ukraine were allegedly in defense of “compatriots abroad” in Ukraine.[18] Russian President Vladimir Putin further expanded the definition of the Russian World in a speech in late November 2023 to include “those who consider themselves carriers of the Russian language, history, and culture regardless of their national or religious affiliation.”[19] Putin’s stated goals of “uniting” and maintaining control over the Russkiy Mir is part of Russia’s larger imperialist ambitions, and Russia may continue to enact measures in accordance with the purposefully broad Russian World framework to manufacture territorial claims against neighboring states, including NATO members.

Emirati banks reportedly began to limit some transactions with Russian entities and close Russian citizens’ accounts in September 2023 due to the risk of Western secondary sanctions. Russian outlet Vedomosti reported on February 19 that three businesspeople working in the UAE and a representative of the Russian “Delovaya Rossiya” organization stated that banks in the UAE are not accepting deposits from or making payments to Russian entities and are closing accounts of companies whose owners are Russian citizens for unclear reasons.[20] Vedomosti reported that one of the sources stated that the “purges” began in September 2023. A source close to the Russian Cabinet of Ministers reportedly stated that the Russian government is aware of the problem but considers it “not critical and solvable.” Vedomosti sources indicated that the problems with the banks can be solved, for example by using local connections and avoiding any connections with entities under Western sanctions. Bloomberg reported in November 2023 that Emirati banks increasingly faced US pressure and began to work to prevent sanctions evasion by rejecting Russian firms.[21] At least two state-owned Chinese banks reportedly ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients in January 2024 and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities with ties to the Russian defense industry.[22] Turkish banks have also reportedly started to close Russian companies’ accounts.[23]

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated that Armenia does not support Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine against the backdrop of deteriorating Russian–Armenian relations. Pashinyan stated on February 19 at the Munich Security Conference that “Armenia is not Russia’s ally in the matter of Ukraine.”[24] Pashinyan highlighted the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration that founded the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and recognized the territorial integrity of its 11 signatories, including Russia and Ukraine.[25] Kremlin officials and mouthpieces have increasingly promoted narratives about Russia’s alleged continued influence in Armenia and criticized Pashinyan’s policies.[26]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian actors conducted a cyber operation regarding Russia’s seizure of Avdiivka, likely aimed at generating panic in the Ukrainian information space and weakening Ukrainian morale.
  • The tempo of Russian offensive operations near Avdiivka has reportedly dramatically slowed following the Russian seizure of Avdiivka.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down two more Russian fighter aircraft, a Su-34 and a Su-35S, in eastern Ukraine on the morning of February 19.
  • The White House is reportedly considering the provision of long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine in the event that Congress passes security assistance for Ukraine.
  • The Russian government eased the requirements for “compatriots” living abroad to apply to resettle in Russia.
  • Emirati banks reportedly began to limit some transactions with Russian entities and close Russian citizens’ accounts in September 2023 due to the risk of Western secondary sanctions.
  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated that Armenia does not support Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine against the backdrop of deteriorating Russian-Armenian relations.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Donetsk City and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitri Medvedev claimed on February 19 that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has recruited more than 53,000 military personnel since January 1, 2024.
  • Russian authorities have reportedly returned Ukrainian children in occupied Ukraine and Russia to relatives in Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 18, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Karolina Hird, Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan


February 18, 2024, 8pm ET


Ukrainian forces will likely be able to establish new defensive lines not far beyond Avdiivka, which will likely prompt the culmination of the Russian offensive in this area. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on February 18 that elements of the Russian Central Grouping of Forces completely captured Avdiivka, advancing 8.6 kilometers in depth in the area, and that Russian forces continue offensive operations to capture additional territory in Donetsk Oblast.[1] Several Russian milbloggers claimed on February 18 that Ukrainian forces lack well prepared defensive positions west of Avdiivka and that Russian forces will be able to advance further into western Donetsk Oblast behind “panicked” and “disorganized” Ukrainian forces withdrawing from Avdiivka.[2] ISW has still not observed footage of disorderly Ukrainian withdrawals to support these Russian claims and would expect to observe such footage if the withdrawal was disorderly on a large scale given the normal patterns of Russian sources with access to such material. One Russian milblogger claimed that a large-scale collapse of the Avdiivka front is “unlikely” as Ukrainian forces withdraw to prepared defensive lines, however, indicating that the Russian understanding (or presentation) of Ukrainian defensive capabilities on this sector of the front differs from source to source.[3]

Available imagery, which ISW will not present or describe in greater detail at this time to preserve Ukrainian operational security, does not support claims that Ukrainian forces lack prepared defensive positions west of Avdiivka. The Ukrainian command also recently committed fresh units to the Avdiivka front to counterattack advancing Russian forces and provide an evacuation corridor for Ukrainian units withdrawing from Avdiivka.[4] These newly committed units are likely able to establish and hold defensive positions against Russian forces, degraded by their assaults on the town, west of Avdiivka. Russian forces, which have suffered high personnel and equipment losses in seizing Avdiivka, will likely culminate when they come up against relatively fresher Ukrainian units manning prepared defensive positions.

Delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine are likely helping Russia launch opportunistic offensive operations along several sectors of the frontline in order to place pressure on Ukrainian forces along multiple axes. Russian forces are currently conducting at least three offensive efforts—along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border, particularly in the directions of Kupyansk and Lyman; in and around Avdiivka; and near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast. After the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka and the subsequent Russian claim of control over the entirety of Avdiivka, ISW and several Ukrainian and Western sources assessed that delays in Western security assistance, namely artillery ammunition and critical air defense systems, inhibited Ukrainian troops from defending against Russian advances in Avdiivka.[5] Critical Ukrainian shortages in Western-provided equipment and fears of the complete the cessation of US military aid have forced Ukrainian troops to husband materiel along the entire front, which has likely encouraged Russian forces to exploit the situation and launch limited offensive operations outside of the Avdiivka area, which they have done along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area since early January 2024 and in western Zaporizhia Oblast over the past 48 hours. These Russian offensive efforts will likely hinder Ukrainian forces from preparing personnel and materiel for renewed counteroffensive operations, emphasizing the operational disadvantages that Ukraine will suffer if it simply digs in and attempts to defend for the rest of 2024 as some Western states and analysts advocate.[6]

Russian forces are likely seeking to take advantage of two windows of opportunity with the recent initiation of their simultaneous offensive operations—the period before the upcoming spring thaw and the nuanced dynamics of Western aid provision. Ukraine is heading into its rasputitsa season, the Spring period in which the frozen winter ground thaws and makes mechanized movement more difficult throughout the theater, thereby slowing (but notably not entirely stopping) offensive operations along the frontline. Some Russian milbloggers are already reporting that mud in southern Ukraine is inhibiting Ukrainian forces from bringing new reserves to Zaporizhia Oblast to reinforce against Russian offensive efforts, and these conditions will also likely slow Russian offensive momentum as the weather continues to warm.[7] Russian forces are likely trying to secure tactical advances throughout the theater while the terrain and weather generally favor offensive movement in order to exhaust and attrit defending Ukrainian forces as well as to secure favorable positions for future operations before the rasputitsa begins in earnest. The Russian military command, furthermore, likely realizes that security assistance from Ukraine’s European partners, particularly promised European deliveries of artillery ammunition, will begin to have effects in the medium term, likely before Fall 2024, and is trying to take advantage of Ukraine’s current shell hunger to pressure Ukrainian troops throughout the theater while Ukraine experiences a relative (but likely temporary) artillery disadvantage.[8] The eventual provision of more European security assistance to Ukraine, however, will not fill the gap in critical equipment that the full cessation of US military assistance would create, particularly with advanced air defense systems such as Patriot surface-to-air missiles. The scaling-up of European security assistance is necessary but not sufficient for Ukrainian forces to stabilize the front, let alone to regain the initiative in areas where Russian forces are pressing.

The Russian capture of Avdiivka after four months of intensified offensive operations exemplifies the way that Russian forces pursue offensive operations that do not necessarily set conditions for wider operational gains but still force Ukraine to commit manpower and materiel to defensive operations. Russian forces have been fighting near Avdiivka for most of the full-scale invasion thus far and intensified operations to capture the city in mid-October 2023.[9] In the subsequent four months since October, Russian forces managed to advance nearly nine kilometers in Avdiivka according to Russian estimates.[10] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated on February 18 that during this four month period, Russian forces lost over 47,000 personnel, 364 tanks, 248 artillery systems, 748 armored fighting vehicles, and five aircraft.[11] Russian forces were also unable to complete a full operational encirclement of Avdiivka within that four-month window, and Ukrainian forces appear to have been able to withdraw in mainly good order. A Russian milblogger and volunteer with the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic Army Corps [LNR AC]) remarked on the rate of Russian losses compared with the territory gained on February 17, suggesting that even some Russian sources are cognizant of the extremely high price these limited Russian gains have cost.[12] The milblogger claimed that Russian forces suffered 16,000 “irretrievable losses” (likely those killed in action, whereas Tarnavskyi’s estimate may have also included wounded) in the Avdiivka direction since October 2023.[13] The milblogger also sardonically noted that the tank regiments and tank divisions that were operating near Avdiivka “distinguished” themselves by advancing a few kilometers in four months and taking massive personnel losses.[14] By contrast, according to the milblogger, Ukrainian forces suffered far fewer losses and were able to withdraw to prepared defensive positions mostly on their own terms, meaning that exhausted and attrited Russian forces will now have to once again fight Ukrainian troops on new lines. Russian forces succeeded in drawing Ukrainian forces to Avdiivka and away from other areas of the front and forcing Ukrainians to use up already limited Ukrainian stores of critical equipment but did so without securing major operational gains. This outcome is likely to recur in ongoing offensive operations on the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border line and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

Russian forces have not yet demonstrated an ability to secure operationally significant gains or conduct rapid mechanized maneuver across large swaths of territory, and the capture of Avdiivka should not be taken as demonstrating this capability. ISW distinguishes between tactical gains, relevant at the tactical level of war in the near vicinity of the fighting, and operational gains which are significant at the operational level of war and affect large sectors of the entire front line. When ISW assesses that a given advance has or has not made “operationally significant” gains we are referring to this distinction. Since the intensification of Russian offensive efforts in Avdiivka in October 2023, Russian forces managed to traverse fewer than 10 kilometers through and around Avdiivka. Avdiivka is nearly 60 kilometers from the Donetsk Oblast border, however. Russian forces would need to conduct widespread and competent cross-country maneuvers to reach the borders of the oblast in a period of less than years and would have to go even further and through more fortified territory to reach the Slovyansk-Kramatorsk area in northern Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces have not displayed the capability to conduct such maneuvers, either near Avdiivka or in any other sector of the front. Russian offensive efforts to take Kupyansk could plausibly force Ukrainians to the left bank of the Oskil River, but Russian forces in this area have remained largely impaled on small tactical positions in the Kupyansk direction for months.[15] Russian offensive efforts south of Orikhiv are unlikely to advance past Orikhiv itself or even to reach Orikhiv quickly, given the climatological challenges discussed above.

Ukrainian officials are investigating two instances of apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war (POWs) in occupied Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office reported that it is investigating footage published on February 18 showing Russian forces executing six injured Ukrainian POWs near Avdiivka and footage showing Russian forces executing two Ukrainian POWs near Vesele (northwest of Bakhmut).[16] The killing of POWs violates Article III of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs.[17]

Russian milbloggers criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for failing to recognize 1st Donetsk People’s Republic Army Corps (DNR AC) Commander Lieutenant General Sergei Milchakov and the “Veterany” Assault Brigade (Volunteer Corps) for aiding in the Russian capture of Avdiivka, highlighting continued tension between Russian regular and irregular forces. A prominent Russian milblogger complained that Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Russian Central Grouping of Forces commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev for capturing Avdiivka, but not Milchakov, who the milblogger claimed has led the 1st DNR AC since its previous commander’s death in Popasna, Luhansk Oblast.[18] Russian milbloggers also complained that Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not credit the “Veterany” Assault Brigade with the Russian capture of Avdiivka, although noted that the Russian MoD later edited its statement to credit the “Veterany” Assault Brigade.[19] The Russian MoD may have edited its statement to credit the ”Veterany” Assault Brigade in an effort to prevent wider complaints from spreading in the Russian ultranationalist information space and appeal to Russian volunteer servicemen (dobrovoltsy). Tension between Russian regular and irregular forces – especially the 1st DNR Army Corps and DNR-affiliated formations – has continued throughout the war despite, and likely in part because of, ongoing Russian efforts to formalize irregular formations.[20]

The Washington Post reported that the Kremlin has been orchestrating a large-scale effort to spread disinformation in the Ukrainian media since January 2023, corroborating recent Ukrainian official reports about Russian information operations that use fake Telegram channels to infiltrate the Ukrainian information space.[21] The Washington Post reported on February 16 that it gained access to more than 100 Kremlin documents obtained by unspecified European intelligence services that show that the Kremlin has been overseeing Russian troll farms that use social media and fake news articles on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to penetrate Ukrainian media and promote various Kremlin narratives. These narratives include claims about exaggerated Ukrainian losses and how the West intends to replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, among many others. Russian First Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Kiriyenko reportedly tasked a team of Kremlin officials and political strategists, including Kiriyenko’s deputy, Alexander Kharichev, who is reportedly known for “fixing” Russian elections to produce the Kremlin’s desired outcome, to oversee these efforts in January 2023. The Washington Post reported that Russian trolls were producing over 1,300 texts and 37,000 comments on Ukrainian social media every week by March 2023. The documents reportedly indicate that Kiriyenko identified the effort’s four key objectives at a meeting in January 2023: discrediting Ukrainian military and political leadership, splitting the Ukrainian elite, demoralizing the Ukrainian military, and disorienting the Ukrainian population. The documents reportedly showed that officials at nearly weekly meetings highlighted some of the fake posts in Ukrainian media that garnered high numbers of views, including a post alleging that the Ukrainian state is not helping the families of killed Ukrainian military personnel, which received two million views, and a post claiming that former Ukrainian commander-in-chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi could become the next Ukrainian president, which received 4.3 million views. Kiriyenko also reportedly tasked another deputy, Tatyana Matveeva, to oversee a similar effort aimed at spreading disinformation and fake news in European information spaces, including in France and Germany, and the team overseeing the information operations in the Ukrainian media tried to reuse the disinformation spread in European media, including allegations that Zelensky is involved in military procurement corruption schemes.[22] The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation reported on December 21, 2023, that Russian actors planned to promote several information operations aimed at degrading Ukrainian morale through a network of fake Telegram channels disguised as official accounts of Ukrainian regional officials and military brigades that would promote several narratives, including those about alleged divisions between Ukrainian political and military leadership and allegations of Ukrainian government corruption.[23]

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced on February 18 that Denmark is donating its “entire artillery” to Ukraine.[24] The Danish government had not issued an official statement with details of the announcement at the time of this writing, and it is unclear if Denmark will give Ukraine all of its artillery guns, all of its artillery ammunition stocks, or both.

The US is reportedly turning to India and China to engage Russia about Russia’s reported intent to launch an unspecified anti-satellite nuclear weapon into space. The New York Times (NYT) reported on February 17 that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the Munich Security Conference about the possibility of Russia deploying a nuclear weapon into space that would, if detonated, disrupt American, Chinese, and Indian satellites and affect global communications systems. Blinken reportedly urged Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the matter. The NYT reported that Wang reiterated the importance of the peaceful use of outer space for China. The NYT stated that US officials agree that if Russia deployed a nuclear weapon into orbit in space, Russia would likely not detonate it but would keep it in low orbit as a deterrence measure. Reuters reported on February 15, however, that analysts following Russian space programs indicated that Russia is likely trying to deploy a nuclear powered-device to carry out attacks against satellites and not a weapon with a nuclear warhead.[25] Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with Wang on February 17 to discuss Chinese-Ukrainian trade and the need for stable peace in Ukraine, suggesting that China is hesitant to support Russia‘s war in Ukraine at the level Russia desires, as ISW continues to assess.[26]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces will likely be able to establish new defensive lines not far beyond Avdiivka, which will likely prompt the culmination of the Russian offensive in this area.
  • Delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine are likely helping Russia launch opportunistic offensive operations along several sectors of the frontline in order to place pressure on Ukrainian forces along multiple axes.
  • Russian forces are likely seeking to take advantage of two windows of opportunity with the recent initiation of their simultaneous offensive operations—the period before the upcoming spring thaw and the nuanced dynamics of Western aid provision.
  • The Russian capture of Avdiivka after four months of intensified offensive operations exemplifies the way that Russian forces pursue offensive operations that do not necessarily set conditions for wider operational gains but still force Ukraine to commit manpower and materiel to defensive operations.
  • Russian forces have not yet demonstrated an ability to secure operationally significant gains or conduct rapid mechanized maneuver across large swaths of territory, and the capture of Avdiivka should not be taken as demonstrating this capability.
  • Ukrainian officials are investigating two instances of apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war (POWs) in occupied Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian milbloggers criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for failing to recognize 1st Donetsk People’s Republic Army Corps (DNR AC) Commander Lieutenant General Sergei Milchakov and the “Veterany” Assault Brigade (Volunteer Corps) for aiding in the Russian capture of Avdiivka, highlighting continued tension between Russian regular and irregular forces.
  • The Washington Post reported that the Kremlin has been orchestrating a large-scale effort to spread disinformation in the Ukrainian media since January 2023, corroborating recent Ukrainian official reports about Russian information operations that use fake Telegram channels to infiltrate the Ukrainian information space.
  • Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced on February 18 that Denmark is donating its “entire artillery” to Ukraine.
  • The US is reportedly turning to India and China to engage Russia about Russia’s reported intent to launch an unspecified anti-satellite nuclear weapon into space.
  • Russian forces recently made a confirmed advance in western Zaporizhia amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 18.
  • Russian occupation officials continue to use educational programs as means of Russifying occupied Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 17, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Angelica Evans, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 17, 2024, 7:10pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 3:40pm ET on February 17. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 18 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have established “full control” over Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast as Russian forces continued to advance in the settlement on February 17, and Ukrainian forces have likely withdrawn from Avdiivka. Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the evening of February 17 that elements of the Russian Central Grouping of Forces are completing the capture of Avdiivka and clearing areas where Shoigu claimed Russian forces had trapped Ukrainian forces.[1] Putin credited the 30th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]); 35th, 55th, and 74th Motorized Rifle Brigades (all of the 41st CAA, CMD); 1st, 9th, and 114th Motorized Rifle Brigades and 1454th Motorized Rifle Regiment and 10th Tank Regiment (all of the 1st Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] Army Corps [AC]); and the 6th, 80th, and 239th Tank Regiments (all of the 90th Tank Division, 41st CAA, CMD) for capturing Avdiivka under the leadership of Russian Center Group of Forces commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev.[2]

Geolocated footage published on February 17 shows that Russian forces advanced into northern Avdiivka along the railway line, in the eastern part of the Avdiivka Coke Plant, and in the industrial area near the Avdiivka quarry in northeastern Avdiivka.[3] Additional geolocated footage shows that Russian forces advanced into central Avdiivka from the south and captured the City Administration and Palace of Culture buildings.[4] Russian milbloggers largely claimed that Russian forces captured most of Avdiivka except for some of the western outskirts and advanced up to Lastochkyne (west of Avdiivka), though some prominent milbloggers claimed that pockets of Ukrainian forces remain in the western part of the Avdiivka Coke Plant, in the Khimik Microraion in southwestern Avdiivka, and in the residential area in southeastern Avdiivka.[5]

Ukrainian officials indicated that Ukrainian forces inflicted heavy losses on Russian forces during the defense of and withdrawal from Avdiivka — the Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Press Service reported that Ukrainian forces inflicted losses of 20,018 personnel, 199 tanks, and 481 armored combat vehicles in the Tavriisk direction (from Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) between January 1 and February 15, with the majority of those losses inflicted near Avdiivka.[6] A Ukrainian soldier reportedly operating near Avdiivka stated that Russian forces lost hundreds of personnel just on February 17 and suffered massive losses on February 16.[7] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that some Ukrainian forces were captured during the withdrawal from Avdiivka but that the withdrawal largely occurred according to plan and that Russian forces did not complete their intended encirclement of Ukrainian forces.[8]

Russian sources largely characterized the Ukrainian withdrawal as disorganized and costly and claimed that Russian forces managed to encircle large Ukrainian groups in Avdiivka, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting these Russian claims. Russian ultranationalist milbloggers largely amplified the same few videos of a handful of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) captured near Avdiivka to claim that Russian forces managed to surround large groups of Ukrainian forces in the settlement.[9] Russian milbloggers also claimed that Ukrainian forces suffered exorbitant losses in Avdiivka due to a disorderly withdrawal, and Shoigu similarly claimed that Ukrainian forces lost over 1,500 personnel in the past 24 hours.[10] Russian milbloggers usually publish and heavily amplify footage of the capture of Ukrainian POWs and footage of war dead during battles of high informational importance, and the footage that Russian milbloggers have amplified thus far is not consistent with Russian claims about Ukrainian casualties and the capture of Ukrainian POWs.[11] The Russian milbloggers also amplified limited footage of a handful of Ukrainian personnel withdrawing under fire to support claims that the withdrawal was disorganized, but this footage alone does not indicate that there were large chaotic Ukrainian withdrawals.[12] Some milbloggers also amplified footage showing Ukrainian forces walking freely in the open while withdrawing.[13]

The lack of footage supporting Russian claims that the withdrawal was not orderly or that Russian forces took many Ukrainian POWs does not by itself disprove the Russian claims, but this lack of such footage is very unusual for the information environment when Russian forces capture a settlement. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) publishes extensive drone footage of areas in which the 1st DNR Army Corps operates, including the Avdiivka area, and Russian forces tend to publicize extensive Ukrainian losses to demonstrate the scale of their success.[14] Though the current Russian information space does not glorify battlefield horrors as much as Wagner Group affiliated sources did during the captures of Soledar and Bakhmut in winter and spring 2023, Avdiivka is such a prominent area of the front that the lack of filming or amplifying footage of such events is unusual if those events occurred as claimed.[15]

Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localized air superiority and were able to provide ground troops with close air support during the final days of their offensive operation to capture Avdiivka, likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine. The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade operating near Avdiivka stated on February 17 that Russian forces launched 60 KAB glide bombs at Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka over the past day, and a Ukrainian soldier operating in the area stated that Russian forces launched up to 500 glide bombs at Avdiivka in recent days.[16] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces conducted 73 airstrikes in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) on February 14, a record number, as Russian forces intensified their tactical turning movement in Avdiivka.[17] A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed on February 17 that Russian forces launched 250 FAB glide bombs at one specific area in Avdiivka alone in the past 48 hours.[18] Russian sources widely credited the Russian use of glide bombs with allowing Russian forces to overcome Ukrainian defenses in Avdiivka, and some Russian milbloggers asserted that Russian forces have air superiority in the area.[19]

Russian forces have gradually increased their use of glide bombs throughout the theater since early 2023, but the recent mass use of glide bombs in Avdiivka is the first time that Russian aviation has used these bombs at scale to provide close air support to advancing infantry troops.[20] A Russian Storm-Z instructor claimed that Russian forces have previously struggled to conduct mass airstrikes in close air support operations and expressed hope that Russian aviation operations in Avdiivka will herald a change in Russian operations elsewhere along the frontline.[21] The Russian ability to conduct these mass strikes for several days in the most active part of the frontline suggests that Ukrainian forces were not able to deny them access to the airspace around Avdiivka, and Russian forces likely leveraged this temporary localized air superiority to facilitate the capture of much of the settlement.

Delays in Western security assistance may lead to further significant constraints on Ukrainian air defenses that could allow Russian forces to replicate the close air support that facilitated Russian advances in Avdiivka at scale in Ukraine. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated on February 17 that one of the main lessons learned from the defense of Avdiivka is that Ukrainian forces need modern air defense systems to prevent Russian forces from using glide bombs.[22] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Ukrainian air defenses need to shoot down the Russian Su-34 and Su-35 attack aircraft that launch the glide bombs in order to stop the strikes.[23] Glide bombs have a range up to 70 kilometers, and Russian forces widely began using the glide bombs in an effort to allow tactical aircraft to conduct strikes from further behind the frontline in order to minimize Russian fixed and rotary wing losses in Ukraine.[24] Ukrainian forces need large numbers of air defense systems that can effectively target Russian aircraft at these ranges. Ukrainian officials have stressed that Ukraine is facing a “critical shortage” of air defense missiles, and the New York Times reported on February 9 that American officials assess that Ukrainian air defense missile stocks will run out in March 2024 without further replenishment by Western security assistance.[25]

Limited effective air defense systems, dwindling air defense missiles stocks, and continued Russian missile and drone strikes against rear population centers are likely forcing Ukraine to make difficult choices about what areas of the frontline receive air defense coverage.[26] Recurring temporary localized and limited Russian air superiority would likely allow Russian forces to more aggressively pursue operational advances along the frontline. Widespread interrupted air superiority would allow Russian forces to conduct routine large-scale aviation operations and bomb Ukrainian cities beyond the frontline to devastating effect.

Ukrainian forces reportedly shot down three Russian fighter aircraft—two Su-34s and one Su-35—over Donetsk Oblast on February 17, likely having committed scarce air defense assets to help cover the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated that Ukrainian forces shot all three of the aircraft down while they were sortied to conduct glide bomb strikes.[27] Russian sources largely disputed the shootdowns, but claims diverged between various Russian milbloggers. Some Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian sources are lying about the shootdowns, others claimed that the Su-34s returned to their base, but the fate of the Su-35 is unclear, and some others claimed that Russian forces accidentally shot down the Su-35 in a friendly fire incident.[28] Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk posted Cospas-Sarat satellite data, however, that apparently shows the locations of the downed planes.[29] Ukrainian forces possess the capabilities to shoot down such high-value aviation assets when modern air defense systems and missiles are available and may have used those systems during the critical period of the withdrawal of Ukrainian ground forces from Avdiivka.[30]

Russian authorities arrested several hundred demonstrators on February 17 amid slightly larger demonstrations responding to imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s death. Russian opposition news outlets reported that Russian law enforcement has detained at least 350 people in over 30 Russian cities as crowds gathered to lay flowers in honor of Navalny over the last two days, including an estimated 230 people on February 17 alone.[31] Russian opposition sources also published footage of unspecified Russian actors picking up flowers laid at the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow City and other temporary memorials to Navalny throughout Russia on the night of February 16 to 17, attempting to erase any evidence of previous demonstrations.[32] Russian authorities seemed to tolerate smaller public gatherings immediately following the announcement of Navalny’s death but appeared less tolerant of and engaged in more concerted efforts to suppress the second day of larger demonstrations.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced on February 17 that the US sent $500,000 of forfeited Russian funds to Estonia to repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.[33] The DoJ reported that the US acquired the funds after breaking up an illegal procurement network attempting to import US-made high-precision machine tools to Russia.[34] US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monavo stated that this announcement demonstrates the resolve of the US and Estonia in cutting off Russia’s access to critical Western technology.[35]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have established “full control” over Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast as Russian forces continued to advance in the settlement on February 17, and Ukrainian forces have likely withdrawn from Avdiivka.
  • Russian sources largely characterized the Ukrainian withdrawal as disorganized and costly and claimed that Russian forces managed to encircle large Ukrainian groups in Avdiivka, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting these Russian claims.
  • Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localized air superiority and were able to provide ground troops with close air support during the final days of their offensive operation to capture Avdiivka, likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine.
  • Delays in Western security assistance may lead to further significant constraints on Ukrainian air defenses that could allow Russian forces to replicate the close air support that facilitated Russian advances in Avdiivka at scale in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly shot down three Russian fighter aircraft—two Su-34s and one Su-35—over Donetsk Oblast on February 17, likely having committed scarce air defense assets to help cover the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka.
  • Russian authorities arrested several hundred demonstrators on February 17 amid slightly larger demonstrations responding to imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s death.
  • The US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced on February 17 that the US sent $500,000 of forfeited Russian funds to Estonia to repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhia Oblast
  • Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to propagandize and militarize Ukrainian youth in occupied areas.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 16, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Christina Harward, and Frederick W. Kagan 

February 16, 2024, 8:00pm ET

Ukrainian forces have begun to withdraw from Avdiivka, and Russian forces appear to be focused on complicating or preventing a complete Ukrainian withdrawal. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated early in the morning Ukrainian time on February 17 that he ordered Ukrainian forces within Avdiivka to withdraw to more favorable defensive positions in order to avoid encirclement and save the lives of Ukrainian personnel.[1] Syrskyi’s announcement comes after several confirmed Russian advances on the outskirts of Avdiivka in the past 24 hoursGeolocated footage published on February 16 indicates that Russian forces advanced further south along Hrushevskoho Street on Avdiivka’s western outskirts and south of the Avdiivka Coke Plant in northwestern Avdiivka, made marginal gains in dacha areas in northeastern Avdiivka, and captured the Avdiivka City Park in central Avdiivka.[2] The Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces acknowledged earlier on February 16 that Ukrainian forces withdrew from an established fortified position south of Avdiivka and that Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from unspecified positions to new prepared defensive positions.[3] Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces are transferring reinforcements to the area to stabilize the situation and further degrade attacking Russian forces.[4] It is normal practice to bring in reinforcements to function as a receiving force that can allow withdrawing units to reconstitute behind prepared defensive positions. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces are withdrawing en masse and that Ukrainian withdrawals are becoming increasingly chaotic and costly.[5] ISW has not observed any visual evidence of large or chaotic Ukrainian withdrawals, however, and the continued marginal rate of Russian advance in and around Avdiivka suggests that Ukrainian forces are currently conducting a relatively controlled withdrawal from Avdiivka.

Russian sources claimed that Russian forces also advanced in eastern Avdiivka, up to the southwestern outskirts of Avdiivka, further south along Hrushevskoho Street, and west of Avdiivka in the direction of dirt roads that Ukrainian forces are using to supply positions in eastern and southern Avdiivka.[6] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are close to cutting or have already cut one dirt road connecting Avdiivka with Lastochkyne (west of Avdiivka).[7] Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are close to encircling the remaining Ukrainian forces within central, eastern, and southern Avdiivka, with one Russian milblogger claiming that little more than a kilometer separates the Russian positions on the western outskirts of Avdiivka and the Russian positions in southern Avdiivka.[8] ISW currently assesses that roughly three and a half kilometers separate Russian advances in these two areas based on available visual evidence. Russian milbloggers claimed that up to 5,000 Ukrainian personnel remain in Avdiivka and are effectively trapped in the settlement, but Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces have not encircled any Ukrainian units in Avdiivka as of 1300 on February 16.[9] Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that Russian forces are determined to prevent Ukrainian forces from withdrawing from Avdiivka in an organized manner.[10]

Ukrainian forces may have to conduct counterattacks to conduct an orderly withdrawal from Avdivika, and Russian efforts to complicate or prevent a Ukrainian withdrawal may become increasingly attritional. Ukrainian forces may have to stabilize the frontline by counterattacking in the area where Russian forces are trying to close the encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka in order to conduct an orderly withdrawal. A Ukrainian brigade that recently redeployed to conduct counterattacks within Avdiivka stated on February 16 that it has recently helped Ukrainian forces render elements of the Russian 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade (41st Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]) and the 114th Motorized Rifle Brigade (Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR], 1st Army Corps [AC]) combat ineffective.[11] Further Russian gains within Avdiivka aimed at complicating the Ukrainian withdrawal and Ukrainian counterattacks covering withdrawing Ukrainian forces will likely result in further Russian losses. Russian forces would likely struggle to advance west of Avdiivka towards secondary prepared positions to which Ukrainian forces are withdrawing and would likely suffer considerable losses if they decided to frontally attack these Ukrainian positions across open fields. Russian forces likely aim to complicate or prevent the Ukrainian withdrawal in hopes of inflicting operationally significant losses on Ukrainian forces in the area, since the capture of Avdiivka itself would not offer any operationally significant benefits or avenues for operationally significant advances.[12]

Germany and France both signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine on February 16. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a long-term bilateral security agreement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on February 16 providing for bilateral cooperation in the military, political, financial, and humanitarian spheres until 2034.[13] The agreement also states that Germany will provide over €7 billion ($7.5 billion) in military aid to Ukraine in 2024, including a €1.1 billion ($1 billion) aid package that is currently being prepared and will include 36 howitzers, 120 thousand artillery shells (including 50,000 155mm artillery rounds), two Skynex air defense systems, missiles for the IRIS-T air-to-air missile system, 66 armored personnel carriers (APCs), several mine-clearing vehicles, and various reconnaissance drone models.[14] Zelensky also met with German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to discuss the launch of joint weapons production.[15] Zelensky later met with French President Emmanuel Macron to sign a bilateral security agreement and reported that France will provide Ukraine €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in military assistance over the course of 2024.[16]

NATO officials are increasingly warning that Russia poses a significant threat to NATO’s security. The Financial Times (FT) reported on February 16 that recent new assessments of Russia’s military capabilities and potential threats to NATO states have led Western leaders to recognize Russia’s continued military potential and to increase defense investment.[17] FT quoted unnamed British military intelligence officials who warned that Russia’s aggressive intent has persisted and that Russian air and naval assets are still ”largely intact” while Russian land forces have been degraded in Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been badly degraded by Ukrainian strikes, but most of the Russian Navy is stationed outside the Black Sea. FT noted that most Western officials expect that Russia would be able to reconstitute its forces ”within five to six years” (it is unclear if the officials are referring to 2030 or to a period starting with the end of the war, whenever that is) despite suffering major losses in Ukraine. This observation is consistent with ISW’s previous assessment that an end to the war on Russia’s terms would allow Russian forces to reconstitute rapidly and restore capabilities that Russia could use to attack NATO states.[18] Several European defense officials quoted by FT emphasized that there is a ”credible threat” that Russia could attack a NATO country in as few as three to five years. NATO officials’ increased warnings about the current state of the Russian threat align with ISW’s assessment that a Russia that emerges victorious in Ukraine poses a considerable threat to NATO and European security and that the West’s continued support for Ukraine to prevent Russian victory is therefore imperative for NATO‘s, and America’s, vital security interests.[19]

Independent Russian survey data suggests that most Russians are largely apathetic towards Russia’s war in Ukraine, particularly Russians who have not personally lost family members in Ukraine and are thus able to avoid thinking about the war entirely. Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on February 16 that independent Russian sociological data suggests the overwhelming majority of Russians have come to view the war as a background event that does not affect their daily lives.[20] Verstka stated that most Russians avoid thinking about or discussing the war unless they personally experience the loss of a family member.[21] Verstka reported that Russians who have lost loved ones and are suffering as a result of the war are the ”silent majority” and do not make efforts to influence the general mood of Russian society.[22] Verstka noted that there is growing discontent among the family members of mobilized and contact servicemen still serving in Ukraine, but that Russians largely view the concept of ”victory” in Ukraine as a benefit for the Russian government and do not expect any personal benefits from Russia’s war in Ukraine.[23] The New York Times reported on February 15 that the Pentagon estimates that Russia has suffered roughly 60,000 personnel killed and another 300,000 personnel wounded during fighting in Ukraine since February 2022.[24] Russian President Vladimir Putin recently met with family members of deceased Russian servicemen and may be using such meetings to cater to the sizable constituency of people affected by personnel losses in Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 presidential election.[25] Verstka’s findings, along with reports about how Russian officials deal with the deaths of servicemembers, suggest that Russian society has largely accepted and internalized the war and that individual instances of resistance to the war are siloed and not transmitted amongst wider communities.

The Russian reaction to the reported death of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny on February 16 was relatively muted. The Federal Penitentiary Service of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, where Navalny had been imprisoned, stated on February 16 that Navalny died at the penal colony after going on a walk and feeling unwell.[26] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated that the Kremlin did not know anything about Navalny’s death and that Putin is aware of the death, though Putin has yet to comment about Navalny.[27] Other senior Russian officials expressed anger at accusations that the Kremlin was somehow involved in Navalny’s death and called for people to wait for the results of an investigation into the death and the results of the autopsy.[28] Russians across the country laid flowers and held minor demonstrations near memorials for political prisoners, but Russian law enforcement largely prevented demonstrations from growing too large, and the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office warned against participating in an alleged planned large demonstration.[29] A few Russian ultranationalist milbloggers reiterated Kremlin lines criticizing Western accusations of Russian involvement in Navalny’s death.[30] A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Navalny’s death is unimportant compared to the current situation in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, and another milblogger claimed that it was a significant mistake for Russia to imprison Navalny and “let him die there” ahead of the March 2024 presidential election.[31] The Russian Strelkov (Igor Girkin) Movement (RDS) expressed fear that Navalny’s death in Russian state custody and the detention of many other opposition figures in state custody could leave no one to lead a domestic resistance movement should Russia go to war directly against Western states.[32] Girkin’s wife Miroslava Reginskaya expressed concern for Girkin himself but claimed that his health is good.[33]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces have begun to withdraw from Avdiivka, and Russian forces appear to be focused on complicating or preventing a complete Ukrainian withdrawal.
  • Ukrainian forces may have to conduct counterattacks to conduct an orderly withdrawal from Avdivika, and Russian efforts to complicate or prevent a Ukrainian withdrawal may become increasingly attritional.
  • Germany and France both signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine on February 16.
  • NATO officials are increasingly warning that Russia poses a significant threat to NATO’s security.
  • Independent Russian survey data suggests that most Russians are largely apathetic towards Russia’s war in Ukraine, particularly Russians who have not personally lost family members in Ukraine and are thus able to avoid thinking about the war entirely.
  • The Russian reaction to the reported death of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny on February 16 was relatively muted.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, northwest of Bakhmut, and near Avdiivka.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to posture himself as an involved and effective wartime leader.
  • Russian-controlled courts in occupied Ukraine continue to pass harsh sentences on Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs).


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 15, 2024, 8:35pm ET 

Russian forces are conducting a tactical turning movement through Avdiivka likely to create conditions that would force Ukrainian troops to withdraw from their positions in the settlement. Ukrainian forces have yet to fully withdraw from the settlement and continue to prevent Russian forces from making gains that are more significant than the current incremental Russian advances. Geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Russian forces recently advanced to the southern outskirts of the Avdiivka Coke Plant in northwestern Avdiivka.[1] Additional geolocated footage published on February 15 indicates that Russian forces captured a Ukrainian fortified position south of Avdiivka that has long been a Russian sub-tactical objective, and Russian milbloggers widely claimed that Russian forces effectively encircled nearby Ukrainian positions south of Avdiivka.[2] Recently geolocated Russian advances indicate that Russian forces have cut the last road in Avdiivka connecting southern and northern Avdiivka, but Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy stated that Ukrainian forces are currently using prepared secondary ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to supply Ukrainian forces in southern and eastern Avdiivka.[3] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces made further advances west of Avdiivka in an effort to cut dirt roads that Ukrainian forces are using to supply positions in Avdiivka from Lastochkyne and Sieverne (both west of Avdiivka), although ISW has not yet observed any confirmation of these claimed Russian advances.[4] Lykhoviy acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are withdrawing from unspecified positions in the Avdiivka area but stated that Ukrainian forces also continue to recapture some unspecified positions from Russian forces.[5] The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade previously deployed to the Bakhmut area stated on February 15 that elements of the brigade redeployed to Avdiivka and are counterattacking Russian positions within the settlement.[6] Russian forces may be able to complete the envelopment of some Ukrainian forces if the Ukrainian forces do not withdraw or conduct successful counterattacks.

The Russian offensive effort to capture Avdiivka underscores the Russian military’s inability to conduct a successful operational envelopment or encirclement in Ukraine. Russian forces initially attempted to operationally encircle Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka at the start of the localized offensive effort in October 2023, but gradually shifted towards fighting through the settlement in a turning movement after failing to conduct the rapid maneuver required for envelopment or encirclement.[7] An operational encirclement is a maneuver in which attacking forces completely surround and then destroy an enemy grouping of forces. An operational envelopment is a maneuver wherein attacking forces aim to avoid an enemy’s principal defenses to seize objectives behind those defenses that allow the attacking forces to destroy the defenders in their current positions.[8] Russian forces have achieved neither in Avdiivka and have notably repeatedly failed to conduct operations to envelop or encircle Ukrainian forces throughout the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[9] Russian forces instead have conducted a turning movement in Avdiivka, as they did with their capture of Bakhmut in spring 2023, wherein Russian forces have only sought to avoid Ukraine’s principle defensive positions to facilitate tactical gains but have not pursued the wider destruction of a Ukrainian force grouping.[10] The repeated Russian inability to conduct successful operational-level envelopments or encirclements suggests that the Russian military will likely continue to advance through gradual minor tactical advances instead of through these wider maneuvers that could lead to more rapid advances or the destruction of large groups of Ukrainian forces.

The potential Russian capture of Avdiivka would not be operationally significant and would likely only offer the Kremlin immediate informational and political victories. Russian forces have been conducting offensive operations to capture Avdiivka since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Avdiivka has been a notable Ukrainian strongpoint defensive position since the Russian invasion in 2014.[11] Russian forces began a localized offensive operation to capture Avdiivka in October 2023 and only recently began to make tactical progress through the settlement after months of costly infantry assaults and waves of mass mechanized attacks.[12] Avdiivka is a small settlement with a pre-war population of roughly 31,000 people and offers Russian forces limited avenues for future advance.[13] (Bakhmut had a pre-invasion population of 70,000 people, in comparison.) Ukrainian forces have long fortified many of the surrounding settlements, which Russian forces are also struggling to capture, and subsequent Ukrainian positions west and north of Avdiivka are likely similarly fortified.[14] The nearest relatively large settlements in the area are at least 30 kilometers west of Avdiivka, and Russian forces have not shown that they can conduct the rapid mechanized forward movement that would be required to reach these settlements in the near or even medium-term.[15] Russian forces have expended a considerable amount of manpower and materiel on their effort to capture Avdiivka and will likely need to engage in a prolonged period of consolidation, reconstitution, and rest before attempting a further concerted offensive effort in the area.[16] Russian forces would be highly unlikely to make rapid operationally significant advances from Avdiivka if they captured the settlement, and the potential Russian capture of Avdiivka at most would set conditions for further limited tactical gains.

The potential capture of Avdiivka would give the Kremlin a battlefield victory, however tactical, to promote to a domestic audience ahead of the Russian presidential election in March 2024. The Kremlin has reportedly increasingly desired any battlefield victory ahead of the presidential elections and has reportedly set objectives in Ukraine specifically to generate informational effects.[17] Russian ultranationalists, specifically those with ties to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), have long argued that the capture of Avdiivka would push Ukrainian forces out of strike range of Donetsk City and thereby secure the regional center of occupied Donetsk Oblast.[18] Ukrainian forces would be able to continue to strike Russian targets in near rear areas in the vicinity of Donetsk City, both with indirect fire and long-range strike capabilities, regardless of the Russian capture of Avdiivka. Putin will nevertheless likely attempt to sell the potential capture of Avdiivka as a significant victory cementing control over occupied Donetsk City to the Russian ultranationalist community and the wider Russian public.

The Russian command reportedly reorganized the command structures of the Russian grouping of forces in southern Ukraine. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on February 15 that the Russian command dissolved the “Zaporizhia” Grouping of Forces (the unnamed Russian grouping of forces that has been responsible for western Zaporizhia Oblast since at least the start of the Ukrainian summer 2023 counteroffensive) and transferred elements of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) (Southern Military District) to the “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces under the command of Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) and ”Dnepr” Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky.[19] Elements of the 58th CAA were primarily responsible for manning Russian defensive lines in western Zaporizhia Oblast during the Ukrainian counteroffensive alongside elements of the Russian 7th and 76th VDV Divisions and has since conducted limited counterattacks in the area.[20] ISW has observed indications that the Russian command may view western Zaporizhia Oblast and Kherson Oblast as a single operational axis, and subordinating the 58th CAA to the “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces may be an effort to bring the existing battlefield command structures in line with this vision.[21] Mashovets reported that the Russian command also transferred elements of the 5th, 35th, and 36th CAAs (Eastern Military District), which have generally been responsible for Russian operations in Zaporizhia Oblast and the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area alongside Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) units and various other Russian units, from the “Zaporizhia“ Grouping of Forces to the Eastern Grouping of Forces.[22]

Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy stated on February 14 that Russian forces are amassing a large grouping of forces in the Orikhiv direction, possibly in preparation for renewed offensive efforts in western Zaporizhia Oblast.[23] Lykhoviy stated that the Russian grouping in the Orikhiv direction is comparable in size to the Russian grouping around Avdiivka, which Lykhoviy recently estimated is comprised of roughly 50,000 personnel.[24] ISW has not observed recent indicators that Russian forces intend to imminently renew offensive efforts in western Zaporizhia Oblast, although the Russian command is likely interested in efforts to retake territory that Ukrainian forces captured during the summer 2023 counteroffensive.

Russian forces conducted a relatively larger series of missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of February 14 to 15. The Ukrainian Air Force reported on February 15 that Russian forces launched 12 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles from aircraft based at Engels air base; six Iskander-M ballistic missiles from Voronezh Oblast; two Kalibr cruise missiles from Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai; four Kh-59 guided missiles from occupied Zaporizhia Oblast and Kursk Oblast; and two S-300 guided missiles from Belgorod Oblast at targets in Ukraine.[25] Ukrainian air defenses destroyed a total of 13 missiles, including 8 Kh-101/555/55 missiles, one Iskander-M missile, two Kaliber missiles, and two Kh-59 missiles.[26] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuri Ihnat noted that Russian forces have recently not been using many Kalibr missiles, possibly due to issues transporting Kalibrs or unspecified technical issues with the missiles.[27] Ukrainian officials stated that Russian forces launched over 10 missiles at Lviv Oblast, striking an infrastructure facility in Lviv City, and conducted another missile strike on Selydove, Donetsk Oblast.[28] Ukrainian officials reported that Russian missiles also damaged civilian infrastructure and residential buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Khmelnytskyi, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia oblasts and struck a warehouse in Myrnohrad, Poltava Oblast.[29]

Ukrainian security forces reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against an oil depot in Kursk Oblast. Ukrainian outlet Suspilne reported on February 14 that the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) conducted a successful drone strike on the Polyova Oil Depot, and Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoit stated that a Ukrainian drone strike caused a fire at the oil depot.[30] Russian sources published footage of explosions at the oil depot and reported that the strike caused at least two oil tanks filled with diesel fuel to catch fire.[31] This is the fifth successful Ukrainian drone strike against Russian oil infrastructure in the past month.[32]

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to elaborate on an amorphous ideology for Russia to support geopolitical confrontation with the West by attempting to portray Russia as the leader of an international anti-Nazi movement. Putin told Kremlin journalist Pavel Zarubin in an interview on February 14 that “many countries” are supporting an ideology of “the exclusivity of some nations (народ) over others” and that such an ideology is the root of Nazism.[33] Putin claimed that Russia should begin promoting ”anti-fascist and anti-Nazi" work and propaganda at a global level and that such work would not be effective at the state level.[34] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin may be intensifying portrayals of an alleged Nazi and fascist West in an attempt to posture for international audiences, particularly those not aligned with the West.[35] Putin continues to fail to clearly define what comprises this ”anti-fascist and anti-Nazi" ideology and instead solely frames his anti-Western position as the basis for his envisioned ideological confrontation with the West. Putin’s stated goals of “uniting” and maintaining control over the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) – purposefully vaguely defined as ethnic Russians, Russian language-speakers, and any territory and people formerly colonized by the Soviet Union and Russian Empire – is part of Russia’s larger imperialist ambitions and unrelated to alleged interests in combatting fabricated modern Nazism. Putin is attempting to further both the Russian World framework to justify the war in Ukraine and Russia’s larger imperialistic objectives and the portrayal of Russia as a leader in the international fight against alleged Western Nazism simultaneously but not congruently.

Putin intentionally misrepresented a statement from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an attempt to promote pseudo-history aimed at denying Ukrainian statehood. Putin purposefully misrepresented Blinken’s statement about his Jewish great-grandfather fleeing the Russian Empire due to pogroms.[36] Putin claimed that Blinken’s great-grandfather was from Poltava Oblast and lived in and left Kyiv City, thus demonstrating, according to Putin, Blinken’s recognition that these areas of Ukraine are “primordially Russian territory.” Putin and other senior Russian officials have routinely misrepresented Western officials’ statements to further Russian information operations.[37]

Russian sources claimed that the Russian military officially removed Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov and replaced him with the BSF’s Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk.[38] A Ukrainian strike on the Russian BSF headquarters in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea in September 2023 likely killed Sokolov.[39] A Russian milblogger claimed that Sokolov, who had been BSF commander since September 2022, prohibited the BSF from installing non-standard devices on vessels for detecting maritime drones and other technologically advanced equipment and claimed that the BSF lost about 20 precent of its strength under Sokolov’s command.[40] Ukrainian Navy Spokesperson Captain Third Rank Dmytro Pletenchuk reported that the BSF had almost 80 pieces of naval combat equipment at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 of which 30 to 35 were “heavily armed.”[41] Pletenchuk stated that Ukrainian forces have “destroyed” 26 naval combat pieces as of February 15, 2023, and “seriously damaged” another 15. Pletenchuk also stated that the Russian coast guard (subordinate to the Russian Federal Security Service [FSB]) has up to 20 various vessels.

Select members of the US-led coalition the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (also known as the Ramstein format) formally launched an air defense coalition and agreed to form a drone coalition and demining coalition to support Ukraine following the group’s 19th meeting in Brussels on February 14. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu signed an agreement to create the Air and Missile Coalition to support Ukraine’s air defense capabilities, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov added that Germany, France, and the United States will lead the coalition of 15 states.[42] Latvia and eight countries, including Ukraine, signed a letter of intent to join the Drone Coalition that aims to deliver one million first person view (FPV) drones to Ukraine.[43] The Latvian MoD announced that Latvia plans to spend at least 10 million euro (about $10.8 million) over the next year to bring the coalition to the next level, and UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps announced that Ukraine will receive “thousands” of drones from the UK.[44] Shapps also announced that the UK will co-lead the coalition with Latvia. The Lithuanian MoD also announced that it signed a protocol of intent to create a Demining Coalition with 20 other countries, and Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas announced that Lithuania will lead the Demining Coalition with Iceland and will transfer armored personnel carriers to the Ukrainian military and allocate 1.2 million euros (nearly $1.3 million) to NATO’s demining support program for Ukraine.[45] Anusauskas also announced that Lithuania joined the French-led Artillery Coalition, which was launched in Paris on January 18 and will make its first contribution to the coalition by providing 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine on an unspecified date.

European officials also announced additional aid to Ukraine during the Ramstein format. Pistorius announced that Germany recently pledged to transfer 100 million euros worth of military equipment to Ukraine, including small drone bombs, 77 MULTI 1A1 trucks, medical equipment, spare parts for various weapons systems, and equipment repairs.[46] Anusauskas announced that Lithuania will also provide Ukraine with unspecified drones and anti-drone systems as part of its participation in the Drone Coalition and will also deliver another batch of winter equipment to Ukraine. Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles announced that Spain is preparing to transfer another batch of an unspecified number of M113 armored personnel carriers, personnel transport vehicles, other vehicles, anti-aircraft defense systems, and other materiel to Ukraine.[47] Ukrainian military officials stated that Ukraine’s partners discussed the need to provide Ukraine with long-range weapons and logistics for the transfer of the F-16 fighter aircraft.[48]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO and Ukraine will create a joint analysis, training, and education center in Poland following the meetings of NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels on February 15.[49] Stoltenberg stated that NATO will open the center in Bydgoszcz, Poland, which will allow Ukrainian forces to share their combat experience with NATO and train alongside their allied counterparts. Stoltenberg also stated that NATO had negotiated contracts with ammunition manufacturers worth $10 billion and that NATO needs to come out of peace time ammunition production to replenish NATO stocks and support Ukraine.[50] Stoltenberg added that European NATO members for the first time will collectively invest a total of $380 billion on defense in 2024, which constitutes two percent of all NATO members’ collective GDP.[51]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces are conducting a tactical turning movement through Avdiika likely to create conditions that would force Ukrainian troops to withdraw from their positions in the settlement. Ukrainian forces have yet to fully withdraw from the settlement and continue to prevent Russian forces from making gains that are more significant than the current incremental Russian advances.
  • The Russian offensive effort to capture Avdiivka underscores the Russian military’s inability to conduct a successful operational envelopment or encirclement in Ukraine.
  • The potential Russian capture of Avdiivka would not be operationally significant and would likely only offer the Kremlin immediate informational and political victories.
  • The Russian command reportedly reorganized the command structures of the Russian grouping of forces in southern Ukraine.
  • Russian forces conducted a relatively larger series of missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of February 14 to 15.
  • Ukrainian security forces reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against an oil depot in Kursk Oblast.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to elaborate on an amorphous ideology for Russia to support geopolitical confrontation with the West by attempting to portray Russia as the leader of an international anti-Nazi movement.
  • Putin intentionally misrepresented a statement from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an attempt to promote pseudo-history aimed at denying Ukrainian statehood.
  • Russian sources claimed that the Russian military officially removed Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) Commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov and replaced him with the BSF’s Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk.
  • Select members of the US-led coalition the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (also known as the Ramstein format) formally launched an air defense coalition and agreed to form a drone coalition and demining coalition to support Ukraine following the group’s 19th meeting in Brussels on February 14.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO and Ukraine will create a joint analysis, training, and education center in Poland following the meetings of NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels on February 15.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kupyansk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Uralvagonzavod plant in Sverdlovsk Oblast, one of Russia’s largest tank producers, on February 15 to promote Russian efforts to expand Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Head of Ukraine’s nuclear operating enterprise Energoatom Petro Kotin stated that the situation at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) is becoming more dangerous due to Russian activity near and at the plant.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 14, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 14, 2024, 7:50pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:30pm ET on February 14. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 15 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukrainian forces successfully sank another Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) landing ship in the Black Sea off the southern coast of occupied Crimea on the night of February 13 to 14. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) published footage on February 14 showing Ukrainian maritime drones striking the Caesar Kunikov Ropucha-class landing ship off the coast of occupied Alupka, Crimea.[1] The GUR reported that maritime drone strikes caused the ship to sink and stated that Russian search and rescue operations were not successful. The GUR stated that the Caesar Kunikov was the largest amphibious landing ship of its project 775 type. Ukrainian forces have destroyed or damaged at least five BSF landing ships since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.[2] Ukrainian Navy Spokesperson Captain Third Rank Dmytro Pletenchuk stated that only five of 13 BSF landing ships that Russia had at the start of the full-scale invasion remain “in service” and that “four ships are under repair, four are destroyed, and five are still in the ranks.”[3] Ukrainian strikes damaging and sinking BSF landing ships further reduce Russia’s ability to conduct amphibious operations, although ISW continues to assess that Russia is unlikely to conduct an amphibious landing operation in Ukraine since Russian naval infantry are deployed across Ukraine and a Ukrainian strike campaign in summer and fall 2023 successfully sequestered the BSF to the eastern part of the Black Sea.[4]

Ukraine reportedly continues efforts to offset Russian advantages in manpower and materiel by using more advanced systems and equipment, although continued delays in Western security assistance will undermine these efforts. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ivan Havrylyuk stated in an interview published on February 14 that Ukraine cannot compete with Russia in the number of artillery shells, tanks, and soldiers that Russia can generate but that Ukraine can achieve an advantage on the battlefield by using high-tech weapons.[5] Havrylyuk stated that Ukrainian forces have proven that a well-trained army with more advanced weapons can defeat an enemy with numerical superiority in manpower and equipment.[6] Havrylyuk argued that Ukrainian forces have superior strike capabilities that have previously allowed Ukraine to degrade Russian logistics and combat capabilities.[7] Havrylyuk stressed that Ukraine only has these superior capabilities when it has enough long-range high-precision munitions and enough ammunition for Western-provided artillery systems that have longer ranges and better accuracy than Russian artillery systems.[8] Havrylyuk specifically highlighted Ukrainian efforts to integrate strike drone capabilities throughout the Ukrainian Armed Forces at scale and noted that Ukraine aims to gradually increase the proportion of machines to people on the battlefield.[9]

Havrylyuk acknowledged that Ukrainian progress in expanding drone operations does not replace Ukraine’s need for advanced artillery systems and other long-range capabilities, however. Havrylyuk stated that the war in Ukraine demonstrates that artillery plays a key role on the battlefield and noted that Ukrainian MLRS and artillery units have caused the majority of Russia’s losses in Ukraine.[10] Havrylyuk stated that drones have certain advantages over artillery, specifically in cost, but are more susceptible to external factors such as Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems and natural factors, likely referencing weather.[11] The drones that Ukrainian forces currently possess are not able to generate certain battlefield effects that artillery can achieve, such as the destruction of field fortifications, and most Ukrainian drones cannot reliably destroy Russian armored vehicles as artillery can. Havrylyuk argued that Ukraine needs to focus on combined operations using drones and artillery systems to increase the accuracy of Ukrainian fires and conserve artillery ammunition.[12] Ukraine’s ability to conduct such combined operations currently relies on Western provisions of artillery shells, and Havrylyuk acknowledged that shell shortages continue to affect Ukrainian capabilities and force Ukraine to adjust operational plans.[13]

Russia is similarly pursuing battlefield advantages through technological innovation despite its focus on generating manpower and materiel in greater mass than Ukraine. Russia has gradually expanded its defense industrial base (DIB), sourced critical equipment and ammunition from abroad, and established a crypto-mobilization apparatus that has allowed the Russian military to deploy more personnel and materiel in Ukraine than Ukrainian forces.[14] Havrylyuk stated that Russia is focused on advantages in the quantity of military materiel, although this Russian focus on mass has not precluded Russia from pursuing select technological adaptations.[15] Russian forces have particularly focused on deploying EW systems along the frontline and are likewise attempting to expand the use of drones at scale in Ukraine.[16] Russia has not conducted a general mobilization of manpower and materiel and remains unlikely to do so, currently limiting the mass that the Russian military can bring to bear in Ukraine.[17] It remains unclear how much further Russia can mobilize its DIB and generate new forces without taking significant and possibly unpopular actions given Russia’s persistent economic and human capital constraints.[18] ISW has previously assessed that if the Russians retain the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine for a long time they may prioritize force generation efforts over the requirements of their current offensive efforts, and the Russian command could also use such prioritization to focus more heavily on technological innovation and adaptation at scale.[19] There are no indications that the Russian command intends to adopt such an approach, however.

Havrylyuk’s description of the Ukrainian effort to pursue advantages through the use of more advanced systems echoes former Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi’s strategy of using technological adaptation and innovation to offset Russian numerical advantages in Ukraine, seize the theater-wide initiative, and restore maneuver to the battlefield.[20] The Russians could in principle also attempt such an approach, but Ukraine appears to be pursuing it in a much more deliberate and concerted effort than Russia. Ukraine is revitalizing its DIB in order to produce and sustain many of these advanced systems on its own or in direct partnership with other countries and to integrate them into Ukrainian tactics, and a premature end to Western security assistance would cede to Russian forces operational advantages before Ukraine could achieve such self-sufficiency.[21] The Ukrainian ability to see such a strategy to fruition is dependent on continued Western support that allows Ukrainian forces to maintain battlefield advantages while providing Ukraine with new advantages over Russian mass.

Russian authorities may be generating enough new forces to sustain losses generated by the current tempo of their offensive operations in Ukraine through 2025. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reported on February 13 that the Russian military continues to grow despite taking significant casualties in Ukraine and that Russian military recruiters are currently meeting almost 85 percent of their quotas for contract recruits.[22] ISW previously assessed that Russian forces may be suffering losses along the frontline in Ukraine at a rate close to Russia’s current force-generation rate.[23] RUSI assessed that Russian forces will likely have the manpower and materiel to be able to maintain a steady tempo of assaults throughout 2024 despite the fact that Russian forces’ quality is unlikely to increase as long as Ukrainian forces can maintain a sufficient level of attrition across the theater.[24] RUSI noted that Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian assaults and attrit Russian forces is highly dependent on continued Western assistance to Ukraine, which is consistent with ISW‘s ongoing assessment that the collapse of Western aid at this time would eventually lead to the collapse of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and hold off the Russian military.[25] It is unclear if Russia’s ongoing force-generation campaigns would be able to make up for additional losses that Russian forces would sustain by intensifying offensive operations.

RUSI additionally reported that Russian forces typically engage in localized tactical assaults until they have lost up to 30 percent of their manpower, after which they are rotated out and reconstituted.[26] Losses of 30 percent are extremely high. Most units become combat ineffective after taking much lower losses. The Russians are therefore likely fighting their units past the point at which they have become combat ineffective before rotating them out for reconstitution. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on January 11 that Russian forces withdraw their units to rear areas when they are at 50 percent or less of their intended end strength and return them to the front following recovery and replenishment.[27] The Russian command’s willingness to allow a unit to be severely degraded to between 50 and 70 percent of the unit’s end strength significantly impacts the unit’s combat effectiveness. This approach to force management likely explains the observable pattern of Russian operations on the ground. Localized assaults continue until they stall out, whereupon offensive operations pause while the command rotates and replenishes degraded units. ISW has observed this pattern in the Kupyansk and Lyman directions since January 2024.[28] Russia can likely sustain this approach for a long time but cannot accelerate its progress as long as Ukraine has the materiel necessary to conduct effective defensive operations. Successful Russian operational-level offensives in Ukraine will likely require the Russian command to commit relatively combat effective and well-equipped units and formations to offensive operations at scale, something the Kremlin has generally been unable or unwilling to do.[29]

The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (VLA) stated that the Russian military’s ongoing restructuring and expansion effort aims to intensify Russian military posturing against Finland and the wider NATO alliance. The VLA reported on February 13 that the Russian military is forming the Leningrad Military District (LMD) and Moscow Military District (MMD) in order to posture against Finland and NATO while also attempting to “partially strengthen its units” in the Baltic region as the war in Ukraine continues.[30] Russian formations garrisoned near the Baltics, such as the 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) and 76th Airborne (VDV) Division, are currently heavily committed to combat operations in Ukraine.[31] Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have indicated that the Russian military is reforming the LMD to prepare for a potential future conventional war against NATO.[32] The VLA’s assessment that the Russian military may be attempting to use these reforms to strengthen its forces along NATO’s flank is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russia may be arranging military assets in a way to posture along the border with NATO members in the mid-to-long term.[33] The VLA stated that about 19,000 Russian forces were stationed in the direction of Estonia before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and that the Russian military may double the number of personnel and armored vehicles and increase the number of tanks and artillery systems near the Estonian border when Russia begins to feel confident about the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Russia would likely use an increased military presence on NATO’s eastern flank to intensify threats against NATO to further Russia’s long-term goal of weakening and containing the alliance.[34]

The Kremlin is conducting information operations against Moldova very similar to those that the Kremlin used before its invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, likely to set conditions to justify possible future Russian escalation against Moldova. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov answered a question after his speech to the Russian State Duma on February 14 about the Transnistria conflict and falsely alleged that the United States and European Union (EU) control the Moldovan government.[35] Lavrov claimed that the West stopped the 5+2 negotiating process in the Transnistria conflict. The 5+2 process included Russia, Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as mediators and the EU and US as observers. Lavrov claimed that Russia will “do everything” to resume the 5+2 process. Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian stated on January 28 that Moldova would not return to the 5+2 process as long as Russian-Ukrainian relations did not improve and Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.[36] Lavrov claimed that there are about 200,000 Russian citizens in Transnistria and that Russia is “concerned about their fate” and “will not allow them to become victims of another Western adventure.”[37] Lavrov further alleged that Moldova decided not to give state budget subsidies to regions such as Gagauzia that oppose Moldovan integration with the EU. Lavrov compared Moldovan actions concerning Gagauzia to the way the West “refused” to give former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych time to review Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU in 2013. Lavrov claimed that the West is issuing similar “ultimatums” to Chisinau about EU integration.

The Kremlin previously accused Ukraine of abandoning and disregarding the Minsk Agreements, which established the post-2014 armistice following the first Russian invasion of Ukraine and involved Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE with France and Germany as mediators, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has regularly claimed that Ukraine’s alleged violations of the Minsk Agreements “forced” Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022.[38] The Kremlin has also used the idea of protecting its “compatriots abroad” to justify the fact that Russian troops have occupied Transnistria since 1992 as well as Russia's full-scale invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.[39] The Kremlin has also accused the US of orchestrating the protests that erupted after Yanukovych’s withdrawal from the Association Agreement with the EU in 2013 and claimed that the alleged subsequent US-backed “coup” forced Russia to invade Crimea and begin military operations in Donbas in 2014 to protect those that “opposed the coup” and Russian “compatriots abroad.”[40]

ISW continues to assess that Kremlin officials and mouthpieces have been attempting to set information conditions to justify possible Russian efforts to destabilize Moldova and prevent its integration into the West, and the fact that Lavrov furthered these narratives — and added additional allegations — suggests that the Kremlin is orchestrating these wider efforts in the information space.[41] Other officials from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), including MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, have previously claimed that Moldovan authorities are trying to economically “strangle” Transnistria, are preventing a diplomatic solution to the Transnistria conflict, and face widespread domestic discontent towards Moldovan government policies.[42] A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger has recently seized on the Transnistria issue to consistently promote similar Kremlin narratives as well as claims that Moldova is “militarizing” in order to “forcefully reintegrate” Transnistria into Moldova — an effort for which Russia, the milblogger claimed, must prepare.[43] Moldovan authorities recently accused Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria of conducting exercises and using weapons in the Moldovan security zone in violation of the OSCE Joint Control Commission (JCC) protocols.[44] The timing of a possible Russian hybrid operation in Moldova is unclear, but the Kremlin is setting informational conditions to make it possible soon.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg stated on February 14 that NATO does not see any immediate threat of military attacks on a NATO member but noted that there is a “constant risk” of hybrid attacks. Stoltenberg stated that NATO is working to improve intelligence, intelligence sharing, and collaboration with civil society to combat hybrid threats.[45] ISW has recently observed Kremlin actors, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, setting informational conditions to justify possible Russian hybrid attacks on Moldova as well as the Baltic states, Denmark, and Finland.[46]

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov denied recent Western reports that Russia recently proposed freezing the conflict in Ukraine.[47] Peskov called Western reporting on the supposed proposal “untrue” and claimed that US involvement in Ukraine will not change the war’s course and that Russia will continue the war until all its goals are achieved.[48] Reuters reported on February 13, citing unnamed Russian sources, that the US rejected a ceasefire proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin in late 2023 or early 2024.[49] An unnamed US source denied any official contact with Russia and reiterated that the US will not engage in peace negotiations with Russia that do not involve Ukraine.[50] ISW has yet to observe evidence that Russian officials are interested in good-faith peace negotiations with Ukraine but continues to observe signals that Russia may be open to bilateral discussions leading to the US abandonment of Ukraine.[51] Russian officials recently blamed the US for the absence of constructive peace negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of ongoing Kremlin efforts to frame the West as the only meaningful negotiating partner in Ukraine and convince the West to accept the Kremlin’s premise that Ukraine has no independent agency.[52] Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (VLA) Director General Kaupo Rosin stated on February 14 that the Kremlin is pushing the false narrative that Russia is interested in peace negotiations in the West in order to undermine Western military support for Ukraine.[53] ISW previously assessed that Russian statements suggesting that Russia is or always has been interested in peace negotiations are very likely efforts to feign interest to prompt preemptive Western concessions regarding Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.[54]

Russia reportedly is developing a space-based anti-satellite weapon. US House Intelligence Committee Chair Michael Turner stated on February 14 that he made information about a “serious national security threat” available to all members of Congress and called on US President Joe Biden to declassify all information relating to the threat.[55] Western media reported that two sources stated that the intelligence concerns Russia’s desire to put an anti-satellite nuclear weapon into space to use against satellites, not to launch a nuclear weapon onto Earth.[56] The New York Times (NYT) reported that US officials said that the new intelligence was serious but that Russia is still developing the capability and has not deployed it yet.[57] NYT reported that the possible Russian capability does not pose an urgent threat to the US, Ukraine, or America’s European allies. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on February 9 that the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) launched a Soyuz-2.1v launch vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome with an unspecified classified payload “in the interests of the Russian Ministry of Defense.”[58]

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Ukrainian forces successfully sank another Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) landing ship in the Black Sea off the southern coast of occupied Crimea on the night of February 13 to 14.
  • Ukraine reportedly continues efforts to offset Russian advantages in manpower and materiel by using more advanced systems and equipment, although continued delays in Western security assistance will undermine these efforts.
  • Russia is similarly pursuing battlefield advantages through technological innovation despite its focus on generating manpower and materiel in greater mass than Ukraine.
  • Russian authorities may be generating enough new forces to sustain losses generated by the current tempo of their offensive operations in Ukraine through 2025.
  • The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (VLA) stated that the Russian military’s ongoing restructuring and expansion effort aims to intensify Russian military posturing against Finland and the wider NATO alliance.
  • The Kremlin is conducting information operations against Moldova very similar to those that the Kremlin used before its invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, likely to set conditions to justify possible future Russian escalation against Moldova.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg stated on February 14 that NATO does not see any immediate threat of military attacks on a NATO member but noted that there is a “constant risk” of hybrid attacks.
  • Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov denied recent Western reports that Russia recently proposed freezing the conflict in Ukraine.
  • Russia reportedly is developing space-based anti-satellite weapon.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Marinka, and Krynky amid continued positional fighting along the entire line of contact on February 14.
  • Russia continues efforts to expand its defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to militarize and culturally indoctrinate youth and students in occupied Ukraine into Russian identity and ideology.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 13, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Grace Mappes, Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 13, 2024, 7:10pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:00pm ET on February 13. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 14 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

The US Senate passed a supplemental appropriations bill that would provide roughly $60 billion of security assistance to Ukraine, the vast majority of which would go to US companies and personnel. The Senate passed a $95.3 billion aid package for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, $60.6 billion of which is for Ukraine, by a 70-29 vote on February 13.[1] Roughly 16 percent of the Ukraine-related appropriations in the bill would go directly to support the Ukrainian government and economy whereas the remaining 84 percent of the appropriations are specifically marked for US manufacturers and US or allied government entities supporting Ukraine.[2]

Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported that Russian forces are attempting to restore maneuver to the battlefield through Soviet deep battle theory but are struggling with implementing Soviet deep battle so far due to current Ukrainian capabilities. Mashovets stated that Russian forces are attempting to implement Soviet deep battle theory for operational planning to rapidly break through Ukrainian defenses but are failing to achieve the effects of Soviet deep battle operations.[3] Deep battle theory is a product of Soviet operational art developed in the 1920s and 1930s that was designed to restore maneuver to battlefield after World War I by engaging the enemy on multiple fronts and in depth at the tactical and operational levels by attacking enemy assets at all echelons with artillery, airstrikes, and attacks against the enemy’s rear in concert with frontal attacks to penetrate the enemy’s defensive lines.[4] Deep battle theory also posits that successful operational design includes sequenced plans for successive operations to prevent the defender from re-establishing coherent defensive positions following a penetration and its exploitation.[5] Deep battle theory’s key operational tenets are still valid in modern war, and the Russian military could restore maneuver to the battlefield and overcome Ukrainian defenses if it could successfully plan and execute operationally sound campaigns using deep battle theory. Ukrainian forces could also use deep battle theory to restore maneuver to the battlefield to their advantage if their Western supporters properly resourced them.

Mashovets, however, noted that Russian forces’ current limited capabilities, specifically in conducting effective counterbattery fire, striking targets at operational depth, concealing force concentrations from the enemy, and combating Ukrainian technological parity, are preventing Russian forces from achieving the operational level surprise necessary to break through Ukrainian lines and conduct deep battle operations.[6] Mashovets stated that the Russian military command is failing to implement certain technological innovations into operational planning, including remote mine laying; large scale drone operations; command-and-control; and communications using modern technology.[7]

The current Ukrainian battlefield capabilities that are denying Russian forces the ability to restore maneuver to the battlefield on Russian terms largely depend on the provision of Western military assistance in key systems, many of which only the US can provide at scale. Ukrainian forces currently have advantages in counterbattery technology and medium-to-long-range strike capabilities due to Western-provided military assistance.[8] Western states have provided NATO 155mm artillery systems and ammunition capable of striking targets at longer ranges than Soviet equipment, and superior counterbattery radar systems that have provided Ukrainian forces with targeting advantages.[9] Western-provided medium- and long-range systems including HIMARS, ATACMS, and Storm Shadow/SCALP missiles have enabled Ukrainian forces to achieve the significant impacts of liberating west bank Kherson Oblast and severely degrading the Russian Black Sea Fleet, among others.[10] Western provided air defense systems have denied Russian forces the air superiority necessary to safely operate aircraft to support Russian offensive operations, including hypothetical deep battle operations.[11]

Ukrainian forces will not be able to retain these advantages and deny Russian forces the ability to restore maneuver to the battlefield on Russian terms without further assistance from the United States and its partner countries in the near and medium term. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials have previously touted their hopes of outlasting Western security assistance to Ukraine on the battlefield, and Russian forces are attempting to develop technology to adapt to current Ukrainian capabilities.[12] Mashovets noted that the Russian military command is learning and currently demonstrating greater operational flexibility than earlier in the war, including by establishing new artillery batteries to increase fire capabilities, bolstering intelligence capabilities, using disinformation to feed false intelligence on Russian force movements, and fragmenting the movements of its larger formations.[13] Mashovets stated that Russian forces are also actively developing their own technology to counter Ukrainian capabilities and develop their own capabilities, including electronic warfare (EW) systems, sea drones, combat control systems.[14] Ukraine will lose its current battlefield advantages if Western states, particularly the United States, prematurely cease security assistance to Ukraine before Ukraine’s ongoing defense industrial base (DIB) revitalization efforts render its DIB largely self-sufficient.[15] If the US cuts off military aid now Russian forces may regain battlefield capabilities necessary to restore maneuver to the battlefield on Russian terms and would place Russia in a much better position militarily in the medium to long term.

Russian sources are purposefully exaggerating Ukrainian casualties in a Russian strike near Selydove, Donetsk Oblast on February 13.[16] Other Russian sources claimed that the strike caused far fewer casualties and published footage purportedly of a Russian strike against Tsukuryne (just south of Selydove) that is not consistent with the high number of casualties that other Russian sources claimed.[17] Ukrainian military officials reported on February 13 that Russian sources began purposefully spreading disinformation about Ukrainian losses after the Russian strike near Selydove and stated that Russian forces conducted a multiple rocket launch system (MLRS) strike against Tsukuryne, Donetsk Oblast on February 13 that damaged civilian infrastructure but did not cause any casualties.[18] Kremlin newswire TASS amplified a claim from an alleged unofficial Telegram channel of a Ukrainian brigade confirming Ukrainian personnel losses in the strike.[19] This unofficial Telegram channel later denied its initial claim.[20] The official Ukrainian brigade’s Facebook page has not published anything regarding the purported strike at the time of this publication.[21] The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation reported in December 2023 that Russian actors planned to promote information operations aimed at degrading Ukrainian morale through a network of fake Telegram channels disguised as official accounts of Ukrainian regional officials and military brigades.[22]

The Kremlin appears to be asserting the right to enforce Russian Federation law on officials of governments in NATO member states over actions taken in the performance of their official duties within the territories of their own countries. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) have put dozens of government officials from NATO countries on Russia’s wanted list because of alleged violations of Russian federal law committed outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. Russian opposition outlet Mediazona stated on February 13 that it gained access to the MVD’s wanted list and that the Russian MVD put Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop, Latvian Justice Minister Inese Libina-Egnere, Latvian Finance Minister Arvils Aseradens, Latvian Agricultural Minister Armands Krauze, and former Latvian Interior Minister Marija Golubeva on the wanted list for allegedly destroying Soviet monuments in Estonia and Latvia — which Kremlin newswire TASS confirmed.[23] Mediazona stated that 59 Lithuanian Seimas deputies, 15 Riga municipal deputies, Lithuanian Mayor of Klaipeda Arvydas Vaitkus, Vaitkus’s deputy, 13 members of the Klaipeda city council, six deputies of the Vilnius city council, Polish Mayor of Walbrzych Roman Szelemey, and Polish Deputy Minister of State Assets Karol Rabenda also appear on the Russian MVD’s wanted list in connection with the destruction of Soviet monuments in the Baltic states and Poland.[24] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated the Baltic officials are wanted for “hostile actions against historical memory and Russia.”[25] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed that Kallas is “actively pursuing a policy of demolishing monuments and mocking the memory of Soviet soldiers” and that she must be held accountable for “blasphemy.”[26] Zakharova called on Russian law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations “within the framework of their powers and responsibilities in accordance with the legislation of Russia.” Zakharova claimed that the officials must “answer for their crimes” and that “this is just the beginning.”[27]

Article 243 of the Russian Criminal Code states that the destruction or damage of cultural heritage sites and monuments is punishable by up to six years in prison.[28] Russia, however, does not have the legal authority to prosecute foreign citizens for allegedly violating Russian laws in foreign states. Russia has notably used the issue of Soviet monuments to justify hybrid warfare tactics against NATO countries in the past when Russia launched large-scale cyberattacks against Estonia in 2007 after Estonia moved a Soviet World War II war memorial and the remains of Soviet soldiers from central Tallinn to the Tallinn Defense Cemetery.[29] Although it is unclear if the Russian government had planned to publicize its inclusion of the European officials on the list before Mediazona disclosed this information, this may be part of ongoing Russian effort to set informational conditions justifying possible Russian escalations against NATO states in the future, as ISW has extensively reported.[30] The Kremlin has also invoked narratives related to the historical memory of World War II to justify and sustain its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[31]

US sanctions are reportedly constraining Russian efforts to skirt the G7 oil cap amid continued indications that India may be rethinking its growing position as a customer of Russian oil. Bloomberg reported on February 13 that at least 21 of the 50 oil tankers that the US has sanctioned since October 2023 for carrying Russian crude oil priced above the G7’s $60 price cap have stopped transporting Russian oil and petroleum products.[32] Bloomberg also reported that in the past two months roughly half of 14 idling oil tankers carrying Russian oil to India have since turned around from their destination without unloading.[33] Indian government sources have recently reportedly stated that India wants to distance itself from Russia due to the war in Ukraine, limiting Russia’s ability to provide India with munitions.[34] Increased energy exports to Indo-pacific states, primarily India and China, and widespread Russian efforts to skirt the G7 price cap through a fleet of oil tankers with obscure ownership and insurance allowed Russia to significantly increase oil revenues in 2023.[35] Russia relied on oil revenues to buoy federal budgets amid increased spending on its war in Ukraine in 2023, and effective US sanctions and Indian reconsiderations of its trade relationship with Russia may complicate this effort in 2024.[36]

Key Takeaways:

  • The US Senate passed a supplemental appropriations bill that would provide roughly $60 billion of security assistance to Ukraine, the vast majority of which would go to US companies and personnel.
  • Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported that Russian forces are attempting to restore maneuver to the battlefield through Soviet deep battle theory but are struggling with implementing Soviet deep battle so far due to current Ukrainian capabilities.
  • The current Ukrainian battlefield capabilities that are denying Russian forces the ability to restore maneuver to the battlefield on Russian terms largely depend on the provision of Western military assistance in key systems, many of which only the US can provide at scale.
  • Ukrainian forces will not be able to retain these advantages and deny Russian forces the ability to restore maneuver to the battlefield on Russian terms without further assistance from the United States and its partner countries in the near and medium term.
  • Russian sources are purposefully exaggerating Ukrainian casualties in a Russian strike near Selydove, Donetsk Oblast on February 13.
  • The Kremlin appears to be asserting the right to enforce Russian Federation law on officials of governments in NATO member states over actions taken in the performance of their official duties within the territories of their own countries.
  • US sanctions are reportedly constraining Russian efforts to skirt the G7 oil cap amid continued indications that India may be rethinking its growing position as a customer of Russian oil.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • The British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank stated on February 12 that Russia is likely able to sustain its current rate of vehicle losses for at least two to three years by producing new vehicles and reactivating vehicles from storage.
  • The Kremlin continues efforts to solidify control of occupied Ukraine through institutionalizing social benefits and services.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because these 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 the Ukrainian population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports. 

  • Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate main efforts)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and encircle northern Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis
  • Russian Air, Missile, and Drone Campaign
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Russian Technological Adaptations
  • Activities in Russian-occupied areas
  • Ukrainian Defense Industrial Base Efforts
  • Russian Information Operations and Narratives
  • Significant Activity in Belarus

Russian Main Effort – Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1 – Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and push westward into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)

Russian forces recently advanced west of Kreminna amid continued positional fighting on the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on February 13. Geolocated footage published on February 12 shows that Russian forces recently advanced in a field east of Torske (west of Kreminna).[37] A Russian milblogger claimed on February 12 that Russian forces advanced 300 meters further into eastern Bilohorivka (south of Kreminna) and seized a segment of the Shypylivka-Bilohorivka road, but ISW has not observed visual confirmation of this claim.[38] Positional fighting continued on February 13 northeast of Kupyansk near Synkivka and Lake Lyman; southeast of Kupyansk near Tymkivka and Tabaivka; northwest of Kreminna near Nevske; west of Kreminna near Terny and Yampolivka; and near Bilohorivka.[39]

Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2 – Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces reportedly advanced west of Bakhmut amid continued positional fighting in the area on February 13. The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade operating in the Bakhmut area stated that Russian forces are partially advancing near Bohdanivka (northwest of Bakhmut) and are capturing whole windbreaks or forest areas near the settlement.[40] The Ukrainian spokesperson stated that Russian milbloggers are falsely claiming that Russian forces have advanced within two kilometers of Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut).[41] Russian milbloggers claimed on February 12 and 13 that elements of the 98th Airborne (VDV) Division, including elements of its 331st VDV Regiment, advanced towards Bohdanivka, west of the O0506 (Khromove-Chasiv Yar) highway, and towards Ivanivske (west of Bakhmut).[42] Positional fighting continued northeast of Bakhmut near Bilohorivka and Vesele, northwest of Bakhmut near Bohdanivka, west of Bakhmut near Ivanivske, southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka and Andriivka, and south of Bakhmut near Shumy and Pivdenne.[43] Elements of the Russian 83rd VDV Brigade and the 106th VDV Division are reportedly operating in the Bakhmut direction.[44]

Russian forces reportedly continued to advance within Avdiivka amid continued positional fighting in the area on February 13. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced in northern and central Avdiivka and on the southeastern and southern outskirts of the settlement, although ISW has not yet observed confirmation of further Russian gains within Avdiivka.[45] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced west of Avdiivka near Lastochkyne and southwest of Avdiivka near Pervomaiske, but ISW has not observed confirmation of these claims either.[46] Positional fighting continued within and near Avdiivka, west of Avdiivka near Tonenke, and southwest of Avdiivka near Nevelske and Pervomaiske.[47] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces are intensifying assaults in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) and conducted their highest number of air and artillery strikes in the area since the start of 2024.[48] Russian milbloggers claimed on February 13 that Russian forces conducted up to 60 glide bomb strikes on Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka over the past day.[49] Elements of the Russian 1st “Slavic” Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st Donetsk Peoples Republic [DNR] Army Corps [AC]) are reportedly operating in the Avdiivka direction.[50]

Positional engagements continued west and southwest of Donetsk City on February 13. Russian and Ukrainian sources stated that positional fighting continued west of Donetsk City near Heorhiivka and southwest of Donetsk City near Pobieda and Novomykhailivka.[51] Elements of the Russian 238th Artillery Brigade (8th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) and the 5th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st DNR AC) are reportedly operating near Heorhiivka and elements of the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade (Russian General Staff’s Main Directorate [GRU]) and the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet) are reportedly operating near Novomykhailivka.[52]

Russian Supporting Effort – Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Positional engagements continued in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on February 13 but there were no confirmed changes to the frontline. Russian and Ukrainian sources stated that Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked south of Prechystivka (southeast of Velyka Novosilka) and north of Pryyutne (southwest of Velyka Novosilka).[53] Elements of the Russian 29th Combined Arms Army (Eastern Military District) reportedly continue to operate in the Vuhledar direction (east of Velyka Novosilka).[54]

Russian forces recently advanced in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid continued positional engagements on February 13. Geolocated footage published on February 12 indicates that Russian forces recently advanced west of Robotyne.[55] Russian and Ukrainian sources stated that positional engagements continued near Robotyne, northeast of Robotyne near Mala Tokmachka and Novoprokovka, east of Robotyne near Verbove, and south of Robotyne near Novoprokopivka.[56] Elements of the Russian 71st Motorized Rifle Regiment (42nd Motorized Rifle Division, 58th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District) reportedly continue to operate near Robotyne.[57]

Positional engagements continued in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast near Krynky.[58] Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk stated that Russian Storm-Z, Naval Infantry, Airborne (VDV), and mobilized units conduct two-to-three assaults in left bank Kherson Oblast per day.[59] Humenyuk also reported that Russian forces are increasingly using first-person view (FPV) drones in assaults in left bank Kherson Oblast and that Russian assault units lose up to 70 percent of their personnel in such attacks.

Russian Air, Missile, and Drone Campaign (Russian Objective: Target Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure in the rear and on the frontline)

Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of February 12 to 13. The Ukrainian Air Force reported on February 13 that Russian forces launched 23 Shahed-136/131 drones from Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai, and occupied Cape Chauda, Crimea, and that Ukrainian forces destroyed 16 Shaheds in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts.[60] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian Kh-59 missile near Odesa City and that Russian forces struck Kirovohrad Oblast with a likely Iskander-K missile.[61] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Ukrainian forces are using a large number of foreign air defense systems in parallel with Soviet-era S-300 and Buk-M1 air defense systems.[62] Ihnat stated that foreign air defense systems, such as NASAMS, IRIS-T, and Patriot systems, should become the basis of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella.[63]

Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

The British International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank stated on February 12 that Russia is likely able to sustain its current rate of vehicle losses for at least two to three years by producing new vehicles and reactivating vehicles from storage.[64] IISS estimated that Russia has lost over 3,000 armored fighting vehicles in 2023 and close to 8,000 armored fighting vehicles since February 2022. IISS stated that Russia likely reactivated at least 1,180 main battle tanks and about 2,470 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers pulled from storage in 2023. IISS stated that Russia has 10 Central Tank Reserve Bases, at least 37 mixed equipment and armaments storage bases, and at least 12 artillery storage bases. Ukrainian military analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko stated on February 11 that Russia’s reported tank production numbers in recent years largely reflect restored and modernized tanks drawn from storage rather than new production.[65]

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian government to address issues related to Russian military personnel, likely as part of Putin’s continued efforts to portray himself as an involved, caring, wartime leader before the March 2024 presidential election. Putin ordered the Russian government to change the process of examining injured miliary personnel who fought in Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) militias and military formations since May 2014 and to analyze existing frameworks for providing benefits and payment to Russian military personnel.[66]

Russia is trying to nationalize certain defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises. Russian news outlet Kommersant reported on February 13 that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office filed a lawsuit with the Sverdlovsk Oblast Arbitration Court to seize the shares of three industrial enterprises of the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant, claiming that the privatization of these enterprises from 1993 to 1999 was illegal and required the Russian government’s permission.[67] The Prosecutor General’s Office claimed that residents of unspecified “unfriendly” states control the enterprises and that the enterprises export products at a reduced cost to the US, France, and the United Kingdom (UK). Kommersant reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that the enterprises are Russia’s largest producers of ferroalloys specifically for high-quality steel for military equipment, heat-resistant aircraft engines, weapon barrels, and armor-piercing projectiles.

Russian Technological Adaptations (Russian objective: Introduce technological innovations to optimize systems for use in Ukraine)

Nothing significant to report.

Ukrainian Defense Industrial Efforts (Ukrainian objective: Develop its defense industrial base to become more self-sufficient in cooperation with US, European, and international partners)

Ukraine continues efforts to domestically produce drones. Ukrainian Prime Minster Denys Shmyhal stated on February 13 that Ukraine has about 200 private drone production companies.[68] Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov stated on February 12 that Ukraine allocated about $2.5 million in grants to military tech startups in 2023 and that Ukraine is set to increase this amount by tenfold in 2024.[69]

Ukraine reportedly created a nationwide electronic warfare (EW) system that can disrupt Russian drones’ satellite navigation.[70] The “Pokrova” system reportedly jams navigation systems, like the Russian GLONASS, with “spoofing,” causing the drones to relay an incorrect location. Ukrainian forces have reportedly used spoofing to down Russian drones at a short range, but Pokrova works on a larger scale. Forbes stated that Ukrainian forces may already be using Pokrova to down Russian Shahed drones.[71]

Activities in Russian-occupied areas (Russian objective: Consolidate administrative control of annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian citizens into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

The Kremlin continues efforts to solidify control of occupied Ukraine through institutionalizing social benefits and services. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a list of instructions on February 12 instructing the Russian government to ensure the extension of preferential mortgage lending programs in occupied Ukraine, to develop health infrastructure in occupied territories through offering medical workers from Russia money, and to guarantee insurance payments to volunteers operating in occupied Ukraine.[72] These instructions notably aim to attract Russian citizens, businesses, and volunteers to occupied Ukraine, likely to permanently change Ukraine’s demographics. These measures support longstanding Russian efforts to establish economic and social control over occupied territories while also likely supporting Russian repopulation efforts that seek to bring ethnic Russians to occupied Ukraine as part of the Kremlin’s ethnic cleansing campaign.[73]

Russian Information Operations and Narratives

US-sanctioned pro-Kremlin Moldovan politician Ilan Shor reiterated boilerplate claims that the US intends to directly interfere in Moldovan politics by finding a “replacement” for current Moldovan President Maia Sandu.[74] Shor is likely attempting to further a common Russian information operation aimed at portraying any perceived pro-Western political sentiment in post-Soviet countries as Western-manufactured and not endogenously generated.

Significant activity in Belarus (Russian efforts to increase its military presence in Belarus and further integrate Belarus into Russian-favorable frameworks and Wagner Group activity in Belarus)

Nothing significant to report.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 12, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Karolina Hird, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

February 12, 2024, 6:10pm 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.

Click here to see ISW’s 3D control of terrain topographic map of Ukraine. Use of a computer (not a mobile device) is strongly recommended for using this data-heavy tool.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:15pm ET on February 12. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 13 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that elements of Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Russian drone operators at the Shayrat Air Base in Syria.[1] The GUR stated that LH and IRGC trainers are training Russian operators how to use Shahed-136/-131, Ababil-3, and Qods Raab 85 drones and that LH commander Kamal Abu Sadiq is heading the training effort. Iranian-backed militias and Russian forces are located at Shayrat Air Base, which is the second largest Iranian air base in Syria’s Homs Province after the Tiyas T-4 Air Base.[2] The IRGC and LH previously conducted training for Russian forces on Iranian-made drones at the Russian-controlled Palmyra Military Airport, also in Homs Province.[3] The Israeli Air Force notably struck Shayrat Air Base and other Syrian army Iranian-backed militia sites throughout Homs Province on February 7.[4] The GUR report suggests that Russian forces are expanding drone training to Shayrat Air Base utilizing existing Russian military infrastructure and leveraging relationships with LH and other Iranian-backed militant groups.

The Russian State Duma is considering a bill to restrict actors that the Russian government designates as “undesirable” from entering Russia, likely as part of ongoing efforts to censor opposition media outlets and dismantle ties between Russia and foreign and international non-governmental organizations. Russian State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption Head Vasily Piskarev announced on February 12 that he and other Duma deputies submitted a bill that would allow the Russian government to designate foreign organizations whose founders or participants are allegedly affiliated with foreign governments as “undesirable.”[5] The bill would also prohibit foreign and stateless individuals who are involved in such “undesirable” organizations from entering Russia.[6] This bill will likely prohibit journalists from Russian opposition outlets based outside of Russia and foreign outlets with Russian-language services (such as the UK’s BBC and Germany‘s Deutsche Welle, among others) from entering Russia, thereby restricting their ability to report on domestic Russian affairs, and will likely further block the work of international and foreign non-governmental organizations in Russia. Russian authorities can also bring criminal charges and revoke acquired Russian citizenship from individuals found guilty of participating in a designated “undesirable” organization.[7] Piskarev recently announced that the Duma is considering another bill that will ban Russian citizens and companies from advertising on platforms owned by organizations designated as “foreign agents,” likely in an effort to use financial coercion to censor Russian opposition media and critical Russian ultranationalist milbloggers.[8] ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin has been attempting to consolidate control over and stifle dissent in the Russian information space ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential election, although this bill will likely severely restrict opposition media operations in Russia for the long term.

Boris Nadezhdin, the only openly anti-war Russian presidential candidate, filed two lawsuits in the Russian Supreme Court challenging the Russian Central Election Commission’s (CEC) refusal to register him as a candidate as the Kremlin continues efforts to suppress popular opposition while trying to preserve the veneer of legitimacy of Russian presidential elections. Nadezhdin filed lawsuits with the Supreme Court challenging the technicalities the CEC used to deny his registration in the presidential election.[9] Nadezhdin stated that he will likely file a third lawsuit against the CEC before February 16.[10] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin may have reversed its decision to allow Nadezhdin to run after Nadezhdin demonstrated that he might win too many votes for the Kremlin to credibly portray Putin as winning the election by the Kremlin-desired margin, and by extension frame Putin’s reelection as an overwhelming referendum on his war effort.[11] The CEC is unlikely to reverse its decision. The Russian Ministry of Justice included the Russian Election Monitor, a European non-governmental organization (NGO) that publishes expert analyses on Russian elections and observations from independent civilian election observers in Russia, on the list of “undesirable” NGOs in Russia.[12] Chairperson of the State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption Vasily Piskarev justified the “undesirable” designation, claiming that a group of unnamed Polish, French, and German “Russophobe” politicians formed the Russian Election Monitor to “prepare foreign audiences to recognize the presidential elections in Russia as illegitimate.”[13]

The European Union (EU) is beginning to take concrete steps towards possibly using frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine. The European Council adopted a decision and regulation stating that central securities depositaries (CSDs) holding more than one million euros ($1.07 million) in assets from the Russian Central Bank must separate any profits generated from the primary accounts.[14] The European Council stated that this decision could allow the European Council to decide to support Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction using these profits in the future. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba “welcomed” the European Council‘s decision and called for further “ambitious” and “prompt” steps towards using revenues from frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine.[15]

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that elements of Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Russian drone operators at the Shayrat Air Base in Syria.
  • The Russian State Duma is considering a bill to restrict actors that the Russian government designates as “undesirable” from entering Russia, likely as part of ongoing efforts to censor opposition media outlets and dismantle ties between Russia and foreign and international non-governmental organizations.
  • Boris Nadezhdin, the only openly anti-war Russian presidential candidate, filed two lawsuits in the Russian Supreme Court challenging the Russian Central Election Commission’s (CEC) refusal to register him as a candidate as the Kremlin continues efforts to suppress popular opposition while trying to preserve the veneer of legitimacy of Russian presidential elections.
  • The European Union (EU) is beginning to take concrete steps towards possibly using frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Donetsk City and in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kupyansk and Kreminna.
  • South Korean news outlet Yonhap News Agency reported on February 12 that North Korea has developed 240mm guided multiple rocket launcher system (MLRS) mortar that North Korea may export to Russia.
  • Russian authorities continue to use youth engagement programs to Russify Ukrainian youth.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 11, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 11, 2024, 6:35pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:15pm ET on February 11. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 12 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavlyuk as Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander, replacing current Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi.[1] Zelensky also made several other service head appointments on February 11. Zelensky appointed Lieutenant General Yuriy Sodol as Joint Forces Commander replacing Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev.[2] Zelensky appointed Brigadier General Ihor Skybyuk Air Assault Forces Commander replacing Major General Maksym Myrhorodskyi.[3] Zelensky appointed Major General Ihor Plahuta Territorial Defense Forces Commander replacing Major General Anatoliy Barhylevych, who was appointed Chief of the Ukrainian General Staff on February 10.[4]

Russian forces appear to have constructed a 30-kilometer-long barrier dubbed the “tsar train” in occupied Donetsk Oblast, possibly to serve as a defensive line against future Ukrainian assaults. Satellite imagery dated May 10, 2023, and February 6 and 10, 2024 shows that Russian forces constructed a long line of train cars stretching from occupied Olenivka (south of Donetsk City) to Volnovakha (southeast of Vuhledar and north of Mariupol) over the past nine months.[5] A Ukrainian source reported on February 11 that Russian forces have assembled more than 2,100 freight cars into a 30-kilometer-long train.[6] The source reported that Russian forces began assembling the train in July 2023 and suggested that Russian forces intend to use the train as a defensive line against future Ukrainian assaults.[7] The railway line between Olenivka and Volnovakha is roughly six kilometers from ISW’s current assessed frontline southeast of Novomykhailivka at its closest point and is in an area of the front that was relatively inactive when Russian forces reportedly began construction.[8] Russian forces have recently made marginal territorial gains in this area.[9] The Russians could have assembled the train for other purposes as well.

Ukrainian military observers indicated that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is not as productive as Russian authorities portray it to be, but that the Russian DIB is still capable of sustaining Russia’s war effort. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets reported on February 11 that the Russian Security Council’s own DIB production data for 2023 indicates that the Russian DIB reached a peak output in September 2023 that was 38.9 percent higher than its average 2022 monthly output and has steadily declined in the following months.[10] Mashovets stated that the Russian DIB is struggling to compensate for moderately- and highly-skilled labor shortages and Russia’s inability to obtain the necessary industrial production equipment, spare parts, and servicing to sustain the pace and breadth of DIB production efforts.[11] Mashovets noted that Chinese companies in particular are less willing to provide Russia with equipment and spare parts, as ISW previously reported, and that Russia purchased many industrial production systems from Western states before the full-scale invasion but that Western companies are now unwilling to service or supply parts for these machines due to sanctions.[12]

Ukrainian military analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko stated that Russia’s reported tank production numbers in recent years largely reflect restored and modernized tanks drawn from storage rather than new production.[13] Kovalenko stated that Uralvagonzavod, Russia’s primary tank manufacturer, can produce roughly 60-70 T-90 tanks per year under perfect conditions and assessed that Uralvagonzavod is likely only producing between three and six new T-90 tanks per month.[14] Kovalenko noted that tank manufacturers Uralvagonzavod, Omsktransmash, and the 103rd Armored Tank Repair Plant in Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai are primarily focused on restoring, repairing, and modernizing Russian tanks and that Uralvagonzavod is the only manufacturer producing new tanks.[15] Kovalenko stated that Russia is only modernizing T-54/55 and T-62 tanks and assessed that these may be Russia’s main battle tanks in the future. Kovalenko added that Russian manufacturers very rarely modernize T-72 and T-80 tanks. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitri Medvedev previously stated that Russian forces received 1,600 tanks in 2023, and Kovalenko attributed this number primarily to restored and modernized rather than serially produced tanks.[16]

Russia’s current limited DIB production capacity and insufficient serial tank production lines are not guarantees that Russia will struggle to produce enough materiel to sustain its war effort at its current pace or in the long term. Russia’s ability to modernize and use tanks retrieved from storage still gives Russian forces an advantage on the battlefield in the overall number of available tanks. Mashovets noted that some newly-produced tanks such as the T-14 Armada are poorly produced whereas older tanks such as T-72s (which Russia actively repairs) are more reliable.[17] Russia has consistently attempted to adapt to the limitations resulting from Western sanctions and to circumvent sanctions and will persist in these efforts. Russia’s DIB may struggle in the near term and increasing sanctions evasion measures and partnerships with states including China and North Korea may help compensate for existing DIB shortcomings in the medium to long term.[18]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavlyuk as Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander, replacing current Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi.
  • Russian forces appear to have constructed a 30-kilometer-long barrier dubbed the “tsar train” in occupied Donetsk Oblast, possibly to serve as a defensive line against future Ukrainian assaults.
  • Ukrainian military observers indicated that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is not as productive as Russian authorities portray it to be, but that the Russian DIB is still capable of sustaining Russia’s war effort.
  • Russia’s current limited DIB production capacity and insufficient serial tank production lines are not guarantees that Russia will struggle to produce enough materiel to sustain its war effort at its current pace or in the long term.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhia Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • CNN reported on February 11 that Russia has recruited as many as 15,000 Nepalis to fight in Ukraine, many of whom complained about poor conditions and lack of adequate training before their deployment to the most active frontlines in Ukraine.
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to solidify social control over youth and students in occupied Ukraine and to culturally indoctrinate them into Russian identity and ideology.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 10, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Riley Bailey, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 10, 2024, 6:10pm 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.

Click here to see ISW’s 3D control of terrain topographic map of Ukraine. Use of a computer (not a mobile device) is strongly recommended for using this data-heavy tool.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:15pm ET on February 10 ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 11 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Delays in Western security assistance may lead to significant Ukrainian air defense missile shortages that could allow Russian forces to bomb Ukrainian forces or even front-line cities more aggressively. The New York Times reported on February 9 that American officials assess that Ukrainian air defense missile stocks will run out in March 2024 without further replenishment by Western security assistance.[1] Ukrainian officials have recently warned that Ukraine is facing a “critical shortage” of air defense missiles as delays in Western aid continue to force Ukraine to husband materiel.[2] Russian forces have routinely pressured Ukraine’s limited air defense umbrella through missile and drone strikes integrating Iranian and North Korean weapons with Russian systems against rear Ukrainian areas in an effort to force Ukrainian forces to expend air defense missiles and to draw and fix Ukrainian air defense systems away from the frontline.[3] Ukrainian forces previously shot down tactical Russian aircraft in Kherson Oblast in December 2023, which had a temporary chilling effect on Russian aviation support for Russian ground operations throughout the theater.[4] Ukrainian forces also shot down a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft on January 14 which similarly led to a temporary decrease in Russian aviation operations over the Sea of Azov.[5] The intensification of the Russian strike campaign in recent weeks likely further pressured Ukraine’s air defense umbrella and may have forced Ukraine to redeploy air defenses that were previously able to place constraints on Russian tactical aviation operating along the front and in the Russian rear.

Russian aviation reportedly intensified operations supporting Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in January 2024, particularly near Avdiivka, suggesting that limited Ukrainian air defense missile stocks may be giving Russian aviation more opportunities to attack.[6] Critical Ukrainian shortages of air defense missiles could permit Russian forces to operate aircraft, especially manned aircraft that generally carry heavier payloads, closer to and beyond the current frontline in Ukraine at scale. The Russian military has yet to conduct consistent large-scale aviation operations supporting Russian ground offensives in Ukraine, and the intensification of Russian aviation operations at scale would represent a significant threat to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Major General Anatoliy Barhylevych as Chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, replacing Lieutenant General Serhiy Shaptala.[7] Zelensky noted on February 10 that Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi recommended Barhylevych, and Syrskyi congratulated Barhylevych on his appointment.[8] Zelensky appointed Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief responsible for unmanned systems and Colonel Andriy Lebedenko as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief responsible for innovation.[9] Zelensky also appointed Brigadier General Volodymyr Horbatiuk as the Deputy Chief of the General Staff responsible for operations, planning, and management; Brigadier General Oleksii Shevchenko as the Deputy Chief of the General Staff responsible for logistics; and Brigadier General Mykhailo Drapatyi as the Deputy Chief of the General Staff responsible for training.[10]

Russian drone footage published on February 9 showed Russian forces executing Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Klishchiivka in the Bakhmut direction.[11] The footage shows a Russian soldier executing an unarmed Ukrainian prisoner surrendering with his hands raised and killing a second Ukrainian prisoner after throwing a grenade into a dugout. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has started a pre-trial investigation and criminal proceedings. Attacking soldiers recognized as hors de combat, specifically including those who have clearly expressed an intention to surrender, is a violation of Article 41 of the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict.[12] Similar previous footage has shown Russian forces executing Ukrainian POWs near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast and near Stepove in the Avdiivka direction in December 2023.[13] The Russian Southern Grouping of Forces is responsible for the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, and a separate unnamed Russian grouping of forces is responsible for western Zaporizhia Oblast, indicating that the practice of executing Ukrainian POWs is not limited to a single sector of the front or an area under one Russian grouping of forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated several Kremlin narratives aimed at justifying Russia’s war in Ukraine and threatening the West at a ceremony honoring Diplomats’ Day on February 10. Putin claimed that one of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) priorities is to “unite the multinational and multi-confessional Russian World (Russkiy Mir) by supporting [Russia’s] compatriots abroad.”[14] The Kremlin had repeatedly claimed that the Russian World, which is vaguely defined as including ethnic Russians and Russian speakers abroad, includes Ukrainians and that Russia’s invasions of Ukraine were allegedly in the defense of “compatriots abroad” in Ukraine.[15] Putin’s calls for the unification of the multinational and multi-confessional Russian World are at odds with Russian authorities’ actual persecution of ethnic groups and religions, including some Christian sects, in Russia and occupied Ukraine.[16] Kremlin officials and mouthpieces have also recently invoked the idea of Russia’s “compatriots abroad” and intensified rhetorical attacks surrounding Soviet historical monuments in neighboring states to set information conditions to justify possible future Russian aggression abroad.[17] Putin’s speech indicates that these efforts will likely remain a Kremlin priority going forward.

Lavrov also spoke on Diplomat’s Day and reiterated Kremlin narratives about the emergence of a new multipolar world.[18] Lavrov continued to sharply criticize the West for trying to “impose an unjust unipolar neocolonial model” on the world. Lavrov claimed that the West objects to Russia’s support of the principles of international law, especially the principle of the sovereign equality of states, despite the fact that Russia has repeatedly undermined and attacked Ukraine‘s independence, statehood, and sovereignty, all of which it specifically guaranteed in 1991 and 1994.[19]  ISW previously observed Kremlin attempts to appeal to wider audiences that likely do not identify with the ideology of the Russian World, and Lavrov’s statements are likely intended for an international audience, especially in those countries that Lavrov listed as having growing ties with Russia, including Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela as well as Iran and North Korea.[20]

Kremlin mouthpieces reiterated ongoing Russian narratives blaming the West, specifically the United States, for the absence of constructive peace negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite numerous Russian statements indicating that Russia is not interested in good-faith peace negotiations with Ukraine. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov claimed on February 10 that the Kremlin has not seen any indications of America’s desire or political will for peace negotiations with Russia.[21] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Maria Zakharova similarly claimed that the prospects of dialogue between Russia and the US depend entirely on American willingness to negotiate “on the basis of mutual respect.”[22] Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin also reiterated Kremlin claims that the West does not want peace in Ukraine and wants to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia.[23] Peskov’s and Zakharova’s emphasis on negotiations with the United States are part of ongoing Kremlin efforts to frame the West as the only meaningful negotiating partner in Ukraine in order to convince the West to accept the Kremlin’s premise that Ukraine has no independent agency and to gain concessions from the West that undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to further the long-standing Kremlin information operation that falsely asserts that Russia is interested in a negotiated end to its war in Ukraine during a February 8 interview but instead illustrated throughout the interview that Russia has no interest in good faith negotiations, as ISW continues to assess.[24] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly signaled and at times openly stated that Russia has not abandoned its maximalist objectives in Ukraine, which ISW assesses amount to full Ukrainian and Western capitulation.[25]

The Russian State Duma is considering a bill aimed at further censoring actors designated as “foreign agents,” likely aimed at censoring dissent from opposition media outlets and prominent information space voices. Head of the Russian State Duma Commission on Investigations of Foreign Interference in Internal Affairs Vitaly Piskarev stated on February 10 that the Duma has prepared and is considering a bill that will ban Russian citizens and companies from advertising on platforms owned by entities designated as “foreign agents.”[26] Russian State Duma Chairperson Vyacheslav Volodin added that Russia should prevent foreign agents from earning any income in Russia.[27] This bill will heavily impact Russian opposition media sources, many of which are legally designated as foreign agents. These media outlets may have to shutter their operations or move primary operations outside of Russia to maintain their sources of income, which may impact their ability to reliably report on news in Russia. Other information space actors, such as opposition-leaning media outlets without the foreign agent label or fringe ultranationalist milbloggers who rely on advertising revenue from their Telegram channels, may further self-censor their content to avoid earning the foreign agent designation and maintain sources of income. The Kremlin is notably cracking down on dissent in and consolidating control over the Russian information space ahead of the March 2024 elections, and this bill likely aims to severely restrict opposition media sources while reinforcing pressures to self-censor in the Russian information space

Key Takeaways:

  • Delays in Western security assistance may lead to significant Ukrainian air defense missile shortages that could allow Russian forces to bomb Ukrainian forces or even front-line cities more aggressively.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Major General Anatoliy Barhylevych as Chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, replacing Lieutenant General Serhiy Shaptala
  • Russian drone footage published on February 9 showed Russian forces executing Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Klishchiivka in the Bakhmut direction.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated several Kremlin narratives aimed at justifying Russia’s war in Ukraine and threatening the West at a ceremony honoring Diplomats’ Day on February 10.
  • Kremlin mouthpieces reiterated ongoing Russian narratives blaming the West, specifically the United States, for the absence of constructive peace negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite numerous Russian statements indicating that Russia is not interested in good-faith peace negotiations with Ukraine.
  •  The Russian State Duma is considering a bill aimed at further censoring actors designated as “foreign agents,” likely aimed at censoring dissent from opposition media outlets and prominent information space voices.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Avdiivka.
  • The relatives of mobilized Russian soldiers continue to protest throughout Russia despite previous Kremlin efforts to censor similar protests and suppress any possible resurgence of a broader social movement in support of mobilized Russian soldiers.
  • Russian and occupation officials continue to set conditions for the deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine through educational and extracurricular schemes.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 9, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 9, 2024, 6:40pm ET

The Russian online community noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer any new information in his interview with American media personality Tucker Carlson and simply repeated longstanding Kremlin talking points about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine for American audiences. Prominent Russian milbloggers claimed that Putin did not say anything new and framed the interview as a Russian attempt to infiltrate Western mainstream media rather than to make any fundamentally new arguments or to address Russian audiences.[1] One milblogger claimed that Putin’s interview aimed to promote Russian foreign policy to Americans who are actively engaged on social media and explained Putin’s repetition of tired Kremlin talking points as a summary of Russia’s justifications for its invasion of Ukraine for American voters.[2] Sources close to the Russian Presidential Administration similarly told Russian opposition outlet Meduza that Putin’s interview was not designed for a Russian audience and that the Kremlin intended to generate informational effects and hysteria in the West.[3] One of Meduza’s interlocutors added that the interview’s secondary objective was to show Russian domestic audiences that Putin can still shape global discourse based on the popularity of the interview but did not offer an assessment of Putin’s success in this regard.

Kremlin sources focused on presenting the interview as a massively successful and popular Russian effort to shape the information environment in the West and claimed that the interview demonstrated that Putin is an influential world leader. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that American interest in Putin’s interview was “undeniable” and that the Kremlin is interested in the reaction to the interview abroad as it continues to prioritize observing the domestic response to the interview.[4] Russian occupation officials celebrated a claim that the interview surpassed 60 million views and claimed that the world is increasingly interested in Putin’s opinion and his ”truths.”[5]

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev noted that Putin told the Western world in the most thorough and detailed way why Ukraine did not exist, does not exist, and will not exist.[6] Medvedev’s description of Putin’s interview further demonstrates that Russia has not abandoned its maximalist goals of eradicating Ukrainian statehood and that Putin does not intend to negotiate with Ukraine on any terms short of these goals.

Delays in Western aid appear to be exacerbating Ukraine’s current artillery shortages and could impact Ukraine’s long-term war effort. The Financial Times (FT) reported on February 9 that Ukraine is struggling with artillery shortages amid delayed US aid and Europe’s anticipated failure to meet its March 2024 deadline of providing one million artillery shells to Ukraine.[7] An unnamed senior US military official told FT that delayed US aid risks creating an “air bubble” or a “gap in the hose” of Western aid to Ukraine and leaving Ukraine without Western aid for an unspecified period of time.[8] The official stated that the Pentagon is particularly concerned about Ukraine’s ability to maintain its air defense systems and ammunition supplies, and a senior European diplomat warned that it will be difficult for Ukraine to even maintain its current positions without Western materiel.[9] ISW continues to assess that the collapse of Western aid to Ukraine would likely lead to the eventual collapse of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and hold off the Russian military and could allow Russian forces to push all the way to western Ukraine closer to the borders of NATO member states.[10] Another European official expressed concern over Europe’s ability to substitute the volume of assistance that the US previously provided to Ukraine.[11] Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova told Bloomberg on February 8 that Ukraine is facing a ”critical shortage” in military equipment, particularly missiles and interceptors.[12] Ukrainian military officials recently warned that Ukraine is rationing air defense equipment and ammunition while attempting to adapt and respond to large-scale Russian drone and missile strikes.[13]

Newly appointed Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi identified several of his goals as commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Syrskyi stated that his primary agenda is to set clear and detailed plans for the Ukrainian command as well as to facilitate the quick distribution and delivery of necessary materiel to combat units deployed throughout the theater.[14] Syrskyi stated that he intends to balance between having Ukrainian forces conduct combat missions and building Ukraine’s combat power by restoring and training Ukrainian units.[15] Syrskyi added that the introduction of new technical solutions and the implementation of lessons learned from successful modern combat experience, specifically with drones and electronic warfare (EW) systems, is a path towards Ukrainian victory, echoing themes from former Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi’s recent focus on using technological innovation and adaptation to offset Russian forces‘ numerical advantages.[16] Syrskyi further discussed these goals at a meeting with Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov on February 9 in which the two discussed plans for improving logistics and the quality of training for Ukrainian forces in 2024.[17]

Ukrainian actors reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against two oil refineries in Krasnodar Krai on February 9. Ukrainian outlet Suspilne, citing its internal sources in the Ukrainian security service (SBU), reported that SBU drones struck the Ilsky and Afipsky oil refineries in Krasnodar Krai on February 9.[18] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Ukraine launched two drones at Krasnodar Krai, but claimed that Russian air defense intercepted the drones, despite footage showing a fire at the Ilsky oil refinery following apparent drone impacts.[19] SBU sources additionally reported that the SBU conducted a drone strike against the Lukoil refinery in Volgograd Oblast on February 3.[20] Russian outlet Kommersant reported on February 6 that Russian refineries had to marginally reduce their output due to damage caused by Ukrainian drone strikes, and the Kommersant investigation found that Russian refinery output reduced by 4 percent in January 2024 compared to January 2023 and by 1.4 percent in January 2024 compared to December 2023.[21] While the reduction in refinery percentage is not large, it is noteworthy that Ukraine is able to achieve such asymmetrical effects against infrastructure that supports the Russian war effort using a few drones per strike on such high-value targets.

Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces are increasing their use of illegal chemical weapons in Ukraine, in an apparent violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Russia is a signatory.[22] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that the Ukrainian military has recorded 815 Russian attacks with ammunition equipped with toxic chemicals since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 229 of which occurred in January 2024 alone.[23] Ukrainian Tavriisk Group Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi noted that Russian forces are increasingly conducting chemical attacks in the Tavriisk operational direction (from Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast).[24] Ukrainian military officials stated that Russian forces most often use K-51 grenades, RGR 60mm irritant hand grenades, and RGO Soviet-era defensive fragmentation hand grenades, likely filled with either chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS) gas or chloropicrin (PS).[25] Both CS gas and PS are considered riot control agents (RCAs), or irritant chemical compounds that are not necessarily lethal but have extremely irritating and harmful effects, especially when inhaled.[26] The CWC - which Russia ratified in 1997 - bans the use of RCAs in warfare.[27] The Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade recently acknowledged in a now-deleted post that elements of the brigade deliberately used K-51 grenades with CS gas on Ukrainian positions near Krynky in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.[28]

Bloomberg reported on February 9 that Ukraine is considering economic reforms in order to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the event that the US Congress continues to block crucial aid.[29] Bloomberg reported that Ukrainian officials will propose a plan to IMF officials in Kyiv next week to expand Ukraine’s domestic bond sales, raise taxes, and cut federal spending. Ukrainian officials hope to assure the IMF that Ukraine can pay back its $15.6 billion IMF loan without additional Western aid.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Russian online community noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer any new information in his interview with American media personality Tucker Carlson and simply repeated longstanding Kremlin talking points about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine for American audiences.
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev noted that Putin told the Western world in the most thorough and detailed way why Ukraine did not exist, does not exist, and will not exist.
  • Delays in Western aid appear to be exacerbating Ukraine’s current artillery shortages and could impact Ukraine’s long-term war effort.
  • Newly appointed Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi identified several of his goals as commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
  • Ukrainian actors reportedly conducted a successful drone strike against two oil refineries in Krasnodar Krai on February 9.
  • Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces are increasing their use of illegal chemical weapons in Ukraine, in an apparent violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Russia is a signatory.
  • Bloomberg reported on February 9 that Ukraine is considering economic reforms in order to secure funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the event that the US Congress continues to block crucial aid.
  • Russian forces advanced near Kreminna, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the frontline.
  • Russian paramilitary organization Novorossiya Aid Coordination Center (KCPN) is training drone operators in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast near Krynky.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to prepare for the upcoming Russian presidential elections by creating the appearance of popular support for Russian Vladimir Putin in occupied areas of Ukraine.
 

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 8, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 8, 2024, 10:45pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1pm ET (excluding toplines covering Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin) on February 8. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 9 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to use an interview with American media personality Tucker Carlson published on February 8 to present to a wider Western audience a long-standing Kremlin information operation that falsely asserts that Russia is interested in a negotiated end to its war in Ukraine.[1] Putin illustrated throughout the interview that Russia has no interest in meaningful or legitimate negotiations, however, and that Putin still seeks to destroy Ukraine as a state. Putin also displayed his overarching hostility towards the West and falsely accused the West of forcing Russia to attack Ukraine. Putin repeatedly stressed that Russia is open to negotiations in order to falsely frame Russia as a reasonable actor and “Western ruling elites” as the main obstruction to a negotiation.[2] Putin also repeatedly reiterated a Russian information operation alleging that Western officials coerced Ukraine to reject an agreement favorable to Russia during negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul in March 2022.[3] Western leaders, in fact, offered to help President Volodymyr Zelensky escape Kyiv in the days immediately following the invasion, and Zelensky responded that he needed “ammunition, not a ride.”[4]

The Kremlin routinely frames the West as the only meaningful negotiating party in Ukraine as part of its effort to gain Western acceptance of its premise that Ukraine has no independent agency in order to secure concessions from the West on Ukraine’s behalf that undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and destroy Ukraine’s territorial integrity.[5] The Kremlin has periodically intensified this information operation feigning interest in negotiations to seize on actual Western interest in a negotiated settlement to undermine Western support for Ukraine and degrade Western efforts to send more security assistance to Ukraine.[6] Putin and the Kremlin have intensified rhetoric in recent weeks indicating that Russia continues to pursue maximalist objectives in Ukraine that ISW assesses would amount to full Ukrainian and Western capitulation.[7] ISW continues to assess that Putin’s negotiating position has not changed: He still seeks the destruction of Ukraine and seeks to use an armistice to set favorable condition for the Russian military to launch a subsequent more successful war against Ukraine. 

Putin also attempted to use the interview to absurdly reframe Russia as the wronged party and not the initiator of Russia’s unprovoked war of conquest against Ukraine. Putin falsely claimed that Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” started the war in Ukraine in 2014 and that Russia’s full-scale invasion is an attempt to bring that war to an end.[8] Putin repeated tired Russian rhetoric presenting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbas in 2014 and its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 as a defensive campaign aimed at protecting Russian people and the Russia nation. This ongoing information operation is meant to obfuscate the obvious fact that Russia launched a war of aggression against its neighbor in 2022 in order to confuse Western memories of what actually happened. Putin’s revisionism also aims to bolster long-standing Kremlin narratives justifying his maximalist goals in Ukraine.

Putin continued attempts to justify Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 as responses to Ukraine’s and the West’s actions in order to defend his long-standing calls for regime change in Kyiv and Ukraine’s “demilitarization,” “denazification,” and “neutrality.” Putin falsely claimed that a US-backed “coup” in Ukraine in 2014 forced Russia to invade Crimea and begin military operations in Donbas in 2014.[9] Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine initiated a military operation in the Donbas starting in 2014 and that Ukraine failed to implement the Minsk Agreements establishing the armistice that Putin broke in February 2022. Putin accused NATO of exploiting Ukraine in order to build military bases in Ukraine under the guise of training the Ukrainian military. There have not been and still are no NATO military bases in Ukraine. These narratives are aimed at buttressing Putin’s long-standing calls for Ukraine’s “demilitarization,” which are likely aimed at stripping Ukraine of the means to defend itself and allowing Russia to impose its will upon Ukraine through force whenever the Kremlin so chooses. Putin also reiterated that one of Russia’s war aims is to “denazify” Ukraine. Putin defined “denazification” as the prohibition of all neo-Nazi movements in Ukraine and the removal of people who support Nazi ideology. Putin specifically highlighted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as an alleged supporter of Nazi ideology, further indication that Putin’s calls for Ukraine's “denazification” are in fact demands for the removal of the current elected Ukrainian government and its replacement with one acceptable to the Kremlin, as ISW has long assessed.[10] Putin continued to call for Ukrainian “neutrality”  and argued that Russia cannot trust any NATO statements about the alliance not allowing Ukraine to become a member.[11] Putin continued to claim that NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Declaration, which promised Ukraine and Georgia paths to membership but took no concrete steps towards opening such paths, violated Ukraine’s 1991 Declaration of Independence that declared that Ukraine is a neutral state. The Russian Federation, however, had committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine,” which include Crimea and Donbas, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in exchange for Ukraine’s return of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia.[12] The Budapest Memorandum guarantees Ukraine all sovereign rights, which include the right for Ukraine to choose its own alignment.

Putin continued to propagate pseudo-history in an effort to deny Ukrainian statehood and nationhood. Putin reiterated long-standing Russian information operations to deny the existence of Ukrainian statehood and identity. Putin claimed that Ukrainians fundamentally do not exist as a nation and that Ukrainians are truly Russians whom various political actors reinvented as Ukrainians to erode Russia’s ability to control Russia’s borderlands with other Eastern and Central European powers. Putin rewrote centuries of history to this effect. Putin has routinely denied Ukrainian sovereignty, statehood, and identity in order to frame Russia’s full-scale invasion as an attempt to return historically Russian lands to Russia and as a humanitarian effort to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers whom Russia calls “compatriots abroad.”[13] Putin has also regularly and intentionally misused the definition of “ethnic Russian” to erroneously include Ukrainians in order to promote the larger concept of the wider Russian World (Russkiy Mir) to justify Russia’s maximalist claims over Ukraine and its people and its larger imperialist ambitions.[14] None of Putin’s rewriting of history justifies Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The borders of every state in the world have changed over time. International law, which Putin claims to seek to uphold, requires the recognition by all states of each other’s sovereign rights in their territories as recognized by other sovereign states. The Russian Federation has explicitly recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty over its current international borders twice—in 1991 and in 1994. Accepting Putin’s argument for Russia’s right to redesign Ukraine’s borders to his liking by force is an invitation to all powerful states with historical grievances to attack and seize the lands of their neighbors that they covet.

Putin also reiterated a quasi-realist world view that defines weakening the West and dismantling NATO as pre-requisites for the Russian-led multipolar world he desires to create. Putin consistently framed NATO’s expansion and existence as threatening to Russia and any future Russian- and Chinese-led global order.[15] Putin claimed that world affairs develop according to “inherent laws” that have not changed throughout history wherein a country grows and becomes large and powerful before leaving the international stage without the prestige it once had. Putin implicitly analogized the current Western-led world order with the Mongol and Roman empires, which he presented as examples of hegemonic powers that were eventually conquered by other rising powers. Putin stated that while it took several hundreds of years for the Roman Empire to fall apart, current processes of change are happening at a faster rate. Putin is increasingly invoking a purposefully broad, vague, and pseudo-realist conception of Russian sovereignty to normalize wars of conquest and justify Russian goals to impose Putin’s will in Ukraine and beyond.[16] Putin has long made demands of NATO that would recreate the alliance into a structure that could not resist future Russian military aggression, whether that be campaigns of conquest or efforts to establish Russian control over countries the Kremlin deems to be within Russia’s sphere of influence.[17]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced General Valerii Zaluzhnyi with Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief on February 8, as part of wider military leadership changes.[18] Such changes are normal for states engaged in a protracted war. Zelensky stated that he is also considering Ukrainian Brigadier General Andrii Hnatov (current Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of the Southern Operational Command), Brigadier General Mykhailo Draptayi (former commander of the Kherson Group of Forces), Brigadier General Ihor Skybiuk (current deputy commander of the Airborne Assault Forces), Colonel Pavlo Palisa (current commander of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade) and Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi (current commander of the 59th Motorized Infantry Brigade) for leadership positions in the Ukrainian military.[19]  Zelensky, Zaluzhnyi, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov all acknowledged that the war has dramatically changed between 2022 and 2024 and that new approaches and strategies are necessary.[20] Zelensky stated that he offered Zaluzhnyi an unspecified position on the “management team” for the Ukrainian Armed Forces but did not clarify if Zaluzhnyi accepted.[21] Advisor to the Head of the Ukrainian President's Office Mykhaylo Podolyak stated that Zelensky decided to conduct a “systemic renewal of the leadership” of the Ukrainian military, including the commander-in-chief, in order to review the Ukrainian military’s actions in the past year, prevent stagnation on the front, find new functional and technological solutions that will allow Ukraine to maintain and develop the battlefield initiative, and begin the process of reforming the management of the Ukrainian military.[22] Command changes are normal for a state fighting a war over several years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a routine phone call on February 8 that underscored China’s hesitance to support Russia’s desired bilateral Russo–Sino relationship while Russia forges deeper partnerships with Iran and North Korea. Putin and Xi exchanged views on the geopolitical situations surrounding Ukraine, Taiwan, and the Middle East and reiterated their commitments to further bilateral trade and foreign policy cooperation.[23] Putin and Xi also reportedly criticized US interference in the internal affairs of other countries and US policies aimed at containing Russia and China.[24] Russian media coverage of the conversation continued efforts to portray Russian-Chinese relations as steadfast and at their “best period in history” despite recent Chinese attempts to avoid fully committing to a “no limits” partnership with Russia in the face of Western sanctions.[25] Bloomberg reported on January 16 that at least two state-owned Chinese banks ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities with ties to the Russian defense industry after the US authorized secondary sanctions against financial institutions in December 2023.[26] The Kremlin has recently signaled increased rhetorical support for and economic cooperation with Iran and North Korea as its dependence on both countries for drones, missiles, and ammunition grows.[27] Iran has consistently supplied Russian forces with Shahed-136/-131 drones throughout the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and North Korea recently began supplying Russia with domestically produced ballistic missiles and artillery ammunition.[28]

Ukrainian and Russian forces conducted a one-to-one prisoner of war (POW) exchange on February 8. Ukrainian and Russian military officials stated that Russia and Ukraine exchanged 100 Ukrainian POWs for 100 Russian POWs.[29] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) helped to facilitate the POW exchange.[30]

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it recently conducted a cyberattack against the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) preventing Russian forces from automatically operating an unspecified number of likely first-person view (FPV) drones. The GUR reported on February 8 that GUR hackers disabled Russian MoD servers that allowed Russian forces to automatically and remotely control Chinese-brand drones, forcing Russian forces to operate the drones manually.[31] The GUR did not specify the number of drones that the GUR cyberattack affected. ISW has recently observed an increase in reported Ukrainian cyberattacks against Russian targets but has not yet observed Russian sources discussing the aftermath and effects of these attacks.[32]

The Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) refused to register Boris Nadezhdin, the only anti-war Russian presidential candidate, for the March 2024 presidential election likely due to his larger-than-anticipated popularity.[33] The CEC stated that it refused to register Nadezhdin due to the high percentage of alleged fraudulent signatures that he collected in his bid to register as a presidential candidate.[34] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin could have chosen to allow Nadezhdin to run so that Putin could turn his assured reelection into a quasi-referendum on Russia‘s war in Ukraine, but the Kremlin may have reversed course on letting Nadezhdin participate after Nadezhdin  demonstrated that he might gain too many votes.[35] The Kremlin likely waited to use the CEC’s valid-signature requirement to end Nadezhdin’s campaign in order to continue promoting the masquerade that Russia conducts free and fair elections.

The CEC has approved four presidential candidates to run in the March 2024 election, and CEC Chairperson Ella Pamfilova stated on February 8 that they would be the only four candidates on the ballot.[36] Russians will nominally have a choice to vote for Putin or other controlled opposition candidates: Russian Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Leonid Slutsky, Communist Party member Nikolai Kharitonov, and New People Party member Vladislav Davankov.[37] Putin’s controlled reelection is certain and will likely occur by a predetermined large margin.

Some Russian and Ukrainian sources claimed that Russian forces are using Starlink in occupied Ukraine.[38] A Ukrainian-language source claimed that Russian forces purchased Starlink access via Dubai, United Arab Emirates.[39] ISW cannot independently confirm any of these claims. Starlink stated that its operator aerospace company SpaceX does not do business of any kind with the Russian government or Russian military and has never shipped, marketed, or sold Starlink’s services or equipment to Russia.[40] Starlink stated that it does not operate in Dubai and “has not authorized any third-party intermediaries, resellers or distributors of any kind to sell Starlink in Dubai.”[41]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to use an interview with American media personality Tucker Carlson published on February 8 to present to a wider Western audience a long-standing Kremlin information operation that falsely asserts that Russia is interested in a negotiated end to its war in Ukraine. Putin illustrated throughout the interview that Russia has no interest in meaningful or legitimate negotiations, however, and that Putin still seeks to destroy Ukraine as a state. Putin also displayed his overarching hostility towards the West and falsely accused the West of forcing Russia to attack Ukraine.
  • Putin also attempted to use the interview to absurdly reframe Russia as the wronged party and not the initiator of Russia’s unprovoked war of conquest against Ukraine.
  • Putin continued attempts to justify Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 as responses to Ukraine’s and the West’s actions in order to defend his long-standing calls for regime change in Kyiv and Ukraine’s “demilitarization” “denazification,” and “neutrality.”
  • Putin continued to propagate pseudo-history in an effort to deny Ukrainian statehood and nationhood.
  • Putin also reiterated a quasi-realist world view that defines weakening the West and dismantling NATO as pre-requisites for the Russian-led multipolar world he desires to create.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced General Valerii Zaluzhnyi with Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief on February 8, as part of wider military leadership changes. Such changes are normal for states engaged in a protracted war.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a routine phone call on February 8 that underscored China’s hesitance to support Russia’s desired bilateral Russo-Sino relationship while Russia forges deeper partnerships with Iran and North Korea.
  • Ukrainian and Russian forces conducted a one-to-one prisoner of war (POW) exchange on February 8.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it recently conducted a cyberattack against the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) preventing Russian forces from automatically operating an unspecified number of likely first-person view (FPV) drones.
  • The Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) refused to register Boris Nadezhdin, the only anti-war Russian presidential candidate, for the March 2024 presidential election likely due to his larger-than-anticipated popularity.
  • Some Russian and Ukrainian sources claimed that Russian forces are using Starlink in occupied Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City amid continued positional fighting along the entire line of contact on February 8.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) proposed a draft bill on February 8 to establish a single maximum age for contract service personnel (kontraktniki) during a period of partial mobilization, martial law, or wartime.
  • Russian authorities are likely setting conditions to falsify voting results in occupied Ukraine in the March 2024 presidential election.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 7, 2024

Click here to read the full assessment

Karolina Hird, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 7, 2024, 8:10pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on February 7. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 8 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian forces conducted the second largest combined drone and missile strike of 2024 on the morning of February 7. Ukrainian military sources stated that Russian forces launched 64 drones and missiles at Ukraine: 20 Shahed 136/131 drones; 29 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles; four Kh-22 cruise missiles; three Kalibr cruise missiles; three Iskander-M ballistic missiles; and five S-300 surface-to-air missiles.[1] Ukrainian air defenses destroyed 44 of 64 targets: 26 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles; three Kalibr cruise missiles; and 15 Shahed-131/131 drones.[2] The Kyiv City Administration reported that Russian forces launched at least two dozen of the Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles at Kyiv City and damaged residential infrastructure in several neighborhoods.[3] Ukrainian sources additionally stated that Russian forces hit Kharkiv City with S-300 surface-to-air missiles and Kh-22 cruise missiles and confirmed that two missiles that struck Kharkiv City were North Korean-provided Kn-23 (Hwasong-11 Ga) missiles.[4] Ukrainian outlet Suspilne reported that its sources in Ukrainian law enforcement suggested that Russian forces may have additionally launched 3M22 Zircon ship-launched hypersonic cruise missiles at Kyiv City but that they are still working to confirm this information.[5]

The February 7 strike package is emblematic of the constant air domain offense-defense innovation-adaptation race in which Russia and Ukraine are engaged. Ukrainian air defense managed to shoot down the majority of the Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles and Shahed drones, which may suggest that Russian forces fired the Kh-101 series missiles and Shaheds in order to distract Ukrainian air defense. Ukrainian forces did not shoot down any of the Kh-22 cruise missiles, Iskander-M ballistic missiles, or S-300 surface-to-air missiles, by contrast. Russian forces may have specifically designed this strike package to distract Ukrainian air defense with the Kh-101s and Shahed combination with the intention of helping the other missiles make it through to their intended targets. The unconfirmed reports of 3M22 Zircon strikes are also noteworthy as Zircons are typically fired from naval vessels at other vessels or coastal targets, so Russian forces may have had to adapt the Zircon launchers to strike targets so far inland.[6] Russian forces additionally appear to have integrated North Korean missiles into their strike packages, which may have been harder for Ukrainian forces to detect and shoot down. ISW has previously assessed that Russia is experimenting with the strike packages it can launch at Ukraine to achieve the maximum desired effect, and that Ukraine in return continues efforts to adapt and respond to new Russian strike packages.[7]

Russia targeted Kyiv City during the February 7 strike for the third time thus far in 2024, notably coinciding with EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell’s visit to Kyiv.[8] Borrell arrived in Kyiv on February 6 to discuss EU military aid and continued support to Ukraine.[9] Russia has previously targeted Kyiv City during high-level foreign visits, such as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s visit in April 2022.[10] The US is also, of course, currently engaged in critical discussions over continued military aid to Ukraine, and Russia has frequently timed such massive missile strikes with international aid discussions to deter continued Western support for Ukraine.[11] Russia likely therefore purposefully conducted this strike series and targeted Kyiv City to achieve informational effects in the EU and the collective West apart from any objectives it was intended to achieve in Ukraine.

Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev continued his nuclear saber-rattling rhetoric likely aimed in part at deterring Western aid to Ukraine. Medvedev claimed on February 7 that Russia has repeatedly “underscored” that it’s “plans” do not include any conflict “with NATO and EU member states.”[12] Kremlin officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, have recently and consistently rhetorically threatened NATO member states, and Kremlin-affiliated actors appear to be attempting to sow instability and set information conditions for possible future Russian aggressive actions against various European states.[13] Medvedev stated that NATO’s military budget and population are significantly larger than Russia’s, so that if a war were to break out between Russia and NATO, Russia would have to respond “asymmetrically” by using “ballistic and cruise missiles carrying special warheads” — referring to nuclear warheads — resulting in an “apocalypse.” Medvedev posted these claims on his English language X (formerly Twitter) channel and Russian language Telegram channel, suggesting that his statements are meant for both an international and domestic audience. Kremlin officials and pundits have consistently threatened to use nuclear weapons against NATO members, and ISW continues to assess that this nuclear rhetoric is aimed at deterring Western aid to Ukraine.[14] Medvedev‘s statements about NATO’s larger size and military budget relative to Russia are likely aimed at domestically promoting Kremlin narratives that NATO — and the West generally — poses an existential threat to Russia — a claim the Kremlin has used to try to justify its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[15]

The Russian Federation Council approved a bill on February 7 that allows the Russian government to confiscate property from individuals convicted of spreading “fake” information about the Russian military, likely as part of ongoing censorship efforts to limit criticisms of Russia’s war effort ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential election.[16] The bill also allows Russian authorities to confiscate property from individuals found guilty of calling for terrorist or extremist activities and advocating for sanctions against Russia.[17] ISW previously observed increasing complaints from the relatives of mobilized Russian servicemen concerning the Russian military’s mistreatment of mobilized personnel, and continues to assess that the Kremlin likely wants to silence concerned relatives to maintain appearances of wide support for the war ahead of the presidential election.[18]

Yandex NV — the Dutch holding company of Russian internet technology company Yandex — announced that it will sell all of its Russian assets for 475 billion rubles (about $5.2 billion) to a purchasing consortium consisting of five Russian companies. Yandex stated in a press release published on February 5 that the purchasing consortium will pay at least half of the considerations in cash using Chinese yuan.[19] Yandex NV will maintain no businesses in Russia but will continue to hold four international businesses. The New York Times (NYT) reported that Yandex NV made 95 percent of its revenues between January and September 2023 in Russia.[20] ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin is likely nationalizing Yandex in order to strengthen control over the Russian information space, especially in preparation for the March 2024 Russian presidential election.[21]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces conducted the second largest combined drone and missile strike of 2024 on the morning of February 7. The February 7 strike package is emblematic of the constant air domain offense-defense innovation-adaptation race in which Russia and Ukraine are engaged
  • Russia targeted Kyiv City during the February 7 strike for the third time thus far in 2024, notably coinciding with EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell’s visit to Kyiv. 
  • Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev continued his nuclear saber-rattling rhetoric likely aimed in part at deterring Western aid to Ukraine.
  • The Russian Federation Council approved a bill on February 7 that allows the Russian government to confiscate property from individuals convicted of spreading “fake” information about the Russian military, likely as part of ongoing censorship efforts to limit criticisms of Russia’s war effort ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential election.
  • Yandex NV — the Dutch holding company of Russian internet technology company Yandex — announced that it will sell all of its Russian assets for 475 billion rubles (about $5.2 billion) to a purchasing consortium consisting of five Russian companies.
  • Russian forces made confirmed gains west of Horlivka and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) stated on February 7 that Russia is mobilizing citizens from Syria who come to Russia under the guise of security guard jobs at oil refineries.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to militarize Ukrainian children and youth in occupied Ukraine.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 6, 2024 

Click here to read the full report.

Nicole Wolkov, Christina Harward, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, George Barros, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 6, 2024, 9:30pm ET 

America’s European and Asian allies have significantly ramped up their efforts to support Ukraine. European Council President Charles Michel stated on February 6 that the European Council and Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the creation of a new single dedicated instrument – the Ukraine Facility – to pool the EU’s recently announced support package of 50 billion euros (about $54 billion) for Ukraine for 2024-2027.[1] European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that the EU aims to start payments to the Ukraine Facility in March 2024.[2] German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall stated on February 5 that it plans to send tens of thousands of 155mm artillery shells, dozens of Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 25 Leopard 1A5 tanks, and an unspecified number of Skynex air defense systems to Ukraine in 2024.[3] South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) stated on February 6 that it plans to sign a contract with ammunition producer Poongsan in 2024 to mass produce 155mm shells that have an extended range of 60 kilometers.[4] South Korea reportedly began indirectly supplying artillery shells to Ukraine in early 2023, and these shells may go to European allies for indirect transfer to Ukraine.[5]

The EU and its member states have made available 138 billion euros (about $148.5 billion) - including its recently announced support package of 50 billion euros (about $54 billion) - to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.[6] In comparison, the US has appropriated $113 billion to Ukraine since the full-scale invasion, of which over $75 billion was directly allocated to Ukraine for humanitarian, financial, and military support.[7] The US government allocated the other $38 billion to security assistance-related funding, which the US government spent largely in the US and on US companies or personnel.[8]

As European partners continue to increase their support for Ukraine, US aid provision in the near to medium-term remains vital to help Ukraine build its defense industrial base (DIB). ISW continues to assess that the US will not need to send large security assistance packages to Ukraine indefinitely if Ukraine successfully continues to actively pursue measures aimed at domestically producing its own weapons, building bilateral and international defense industrial partnerships, and creating industrial joint ventures with Western enterprises aimed at co-producing defense materials.[9] The US will need to continue supporting Ukraine for several years as Ukraine builds its own DIB, but Ukraine’s international security requirements will decrease in the long run as it builds out its own capabilities to become self-sufficient. The ultimate success of Ukraine's efforts to build its DIB, however, depends on Ukraine’s ability to liberate strategically vital areas currently occupied by Russian forces. US and partner military aid to Ukraine in the near term therefore continues to be crucial as the US remains the main source of sufficiently large quantities of essential military equipment, such as M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, advanced air defense systems such as Patriots, and long-range strike systems - equipment which previous US aid packages prioritized.[10]

The US Army plans to significantly increase US domestic production of 155mm artillery shells and shell components for Ukraine in 2024 and 2025, should the proposed Congressional supplemental appropriations bill pass. US Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Doug Bush stated on February 5 that the US Army aims to double the US monthly production of 155mm artillery shells from 28,000 shells per month in October 2023 to about 60,000 shells per month in October 2024.[11] Bush stated that the US Army is on track to increase production capacity to 80,000 shells per month using current funding but that additional funding must be appropriated by Congress for it to reach the target production rate of 100,000 shells per month by October 2025. Bush stated that the construction of a new factory in Texas, which will “have an entirely new way” of using technology to make artillery shells, will contribute to the Army’s increased production goals. Bush noted that US shell production in part depends on US domestic production of explosive materials. Bush stated that the proposed supplemental bill includes $600 million for increasing the production of explosives at the Holsten Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee from five million pounds of explosives a year to 13 million pounds.[12] The proposed bill would also include $93 million to reestablish the production of M6 propellant (used to fire artillery shells but no longer in production in the US) at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia, and $650 million would go to constructing a facility (likely also at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant) to domestically produce TNT, which the US currently does not produce. Bush stated that the proposed bill also includes $14 million to construct and recommission a black powder explosive production line in Louisiana. Such investments in US manufacturing are necessary to help support US strategic readiness by rebuilding America’s atrophied defense industrial base, separate and apart from the need to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Russian authorities are reportedly paying Iran roughly $4.5 billion per year to import Iranian Shahed drones to use in Ukraine. A group of hackers from a hacking organization called the Prana Network claimed to have hacked into the servers of purported Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) front company Sahara Thunder on February 4 and published the costs per drone that Russia purchases from Iran.[13] The leaked documents suggest that Russia pays $193,000 per Shahed-136 drone in batches of 6,000 drones, which would total about $1.1 billion for all 6,000 Shahed-136 drones.[14] Russia reportedly pays $1.4 million per unit for one type of Shahed-238 drone and plans to purchase 677 of these upgraded Shahed drones per year, which would total about $947 million.[15] Another type of Shahed-238 reportedly cost about $900,000 per drone, and Russia reportedly plans to purchase 2,310 per year for just under $2.1 billion.[16] The documents claimed that the reconnaissance and attack Shahed-107 drones cost $460,000 each and that Russia plans to purchase 2,310, which would total about $1.5 billion.[17] A Russian milblogger justified the high cost due to the risk that Iran assumes by selling these drones to Russia and noted that the documents indicate that Russia plans to further localize production of Shaheds in Russia, which will reduce acquisition costs over time.[18] ISW is unable to confirm the authenticity of the purported leaked documents, but a milblogger’s claim that the documents refer to Iran as a ”friendly country” and refer to the Shahed drones in code as ”boats” is consistent with previously observed language about Iran and Iranian drone production in Russia.[19] Russian forces routinely use Shahed drones, which serve as both loitering munitions and as decoys to distract Ukrainian air defenses, and the massive expenditure on such systems is noteworthy.

Russia is reportedly unfreezing North Korean assets and helping North Korea evade international sanctions in exchange for missiles and artillery ammunition for Russia to use in Ukraine. The New York Times (NYT) reported on February 6 that unnamed “US-allied” intelligence officials told the NYT that Russia unfroze $9 million of $30 million worth of North Korean assets in an unspecified Russian financial institution, which the intelligence officials assess North Korea will use to buy crude oil.[20] The intelligence official stated that a North Korean front company recently opened a new account at a Russian bank in Russian-occupied South Ossetia that North Korea may use to evade UN sanctions. An unnamed senior US government official told the NYT that Russia is likely unfreezing North Korean assets and helping North Korea evade international sanctions in exchange for North Korean weapons transfers to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Russia in September 2023 and met with North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in January 2024.[21] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated that North Korea delivered one million rounds of artillery ammunition to Russia from September to November 2023, and US officials have stated that Russian forces have launched at least nine North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine.[22] ISW continues to assess that Russia may be open to financial, technological, and defense cooperation with North Korea in return for the provision of artillery ammunition and ballistic missiles to use in Ukraine.[23] North Korea would also benefit from this cooperation by collecting technical data from its weapons’ performance in Ukraine to use in North Korean research and development among other things.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev emphasized on February 6 that Russia needs to protect its strategic facilities as Russian authorities continue to voice concerns about external and internal threats to Russian infrastructure.[24] Patrushev held a meeting on Russian national security issues in the Ural Federal Okrug on February 6 and emphasized that Russia needs to increase efforts to prevent and respond to natural and man-made emergencies in the okrug, including strengthening counterterrorism protections of “critical and potentially dangerous facilities” and “hazardous production facilities,” both of which very likely include Russian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, non-defense industrial enterprises, ports, and other logistics objects. Patrushev emphasized increasing onsite security, Russia’s investigative capacity, and awareness of threats to these facilities.[25] Patrushev stated that Russian authorities prevented 23 “terrorist attacks” against objects in the Urals in 2023 but that criminals conducted nine attacks.[26] Patrushev claimed that Ukrainian actors increasingly seek to recruit saboteurs in Russia to conduct these attacks.[27] Other Russian authorities continued to warn of prospective Ukrainian attacks against Russian infrastructure; the Russian Administration of Baltic Sea Ports announced on February 6 that it has introduced a high alert regime for Vyborg, Primorsk, Ust-Luga, and Vysotsk in Leningrad Oblast due to the threat of Ukrainian drone strikes against port infrastructure.[28]

The Kremlin continues to set informational conditions for possible hybrid provocations against the Baltic states and Georgia. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian charges d’affaires to Moscow on February 6 due to an alleged “lack of a proper response” to repeated Russian requests for Baltic authorities to “provide security” to Russian nationals voting in the upcoming March 2024 Russian presidential election from abroad in Baltic capitals.[29] Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova emphasized that any disruptions at Russian polling stations in Baltic nations will cause “serious protest among Russians“ living in Baltic countries because such disruptions would violate the constitutional rights of Russian nationals to vote in Russian elections. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov similarly claimed on February 5 that Western governments have launched “Russophobic” influence campaigns aimed at Russian embassies, consulates, and similar assets abroad and warned that Western provocations abroad increase when polling stations open for Russians to vote in foreign countries.[30] Lavrov’s and Zakharova’s statements are likely aimed at setting informational conditions to frame essentially any action on the part of foreign authorities, including Baltic states, regarding the Russian presidential election as a direct attack on Russian nationals living in Baltic states. The Kremlin frequently invokes the concept of “compatriots abroad” to claim special privileges for Russian nationals living outside of Russia and to set informational conditions for provocations in the countries where Russian “compatriots” live.[31] The weaponization of the Russian presidential election will allow the Kremlin to stage informational provocations against Baltic governments, which fits into the Kremlin’s wider hybrid influence playbook. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili also stated on February 6 that Russia has launched a “new hybrid war against Georgia, for which it is using all forms and weapons,” referencing Russian naval basing projects in the port of Ochamchire, Russian-occupied Abkhazia, and other provocations in the Georgian territories that Russia has occupied since 2008.[32] Hybrid influence campaigns such as information operations surrounding Russian elections in the Baltics and provocations in occupied regions of Georgia destabilize Russia’s neighbors.

Russian-Israeli relations are likely to continue to decline against the backdrop of Russia’s increasingly anti-Israel stance on the Israel-Hamas war. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) publicly criticized and summoned new Israeli Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin over an interview she gave with Russian outlet Kommersant published on February 4.[33] Halperin stated that it took Russia
“some time” to publicly condemn the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, expressed her dissatisfaction at Russian government officials meeting with Hamas officials in January 2024 and questioned why Russia has not included Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations banned in Russia.[34] The Russian MFA claimed that Halperin gave “distorted interpretations and unacceptable assessments” of Russian foreign and domestic policy.[35] The Russian MFA’s public criticism and subsequent summoning of Halperin are indicative of the continued deterioration of Russian-Israeli relations, amid Russia’s increasingly anti-Israel position on the Israel-Hamas war.[36]

Key Takeaways:

  • America’s European and Asian allies have significantly ramped up their efforts to support Ukraine. As European partners continue to increase their support for Ukraine, US aid provision in the near to medium-term remains vital to help Ukraine build its defense industrial base (DIB).
  • The US Army plans to significantly increase US domestic production of 155mm artillery shells and shell components for Ukraine in 2024 and 2025, should the proposed Congressional supplemental appropriations bill pass.
  • Russian authorities are reportedly paying Iran roughly $4.5 billion per year to import Iranian Shahed drones to use in Ukraine.
  • Russia is reportedly unfreezing North Korean assets and helping North Korea evade international sanctions in exchange for missiles and artillery ammunition for Russia to use in Ukraine.
  • Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev emphasized on February 6 that Russia needs to protect its strategic facilities as Russian authorities continue to voice concerns about external and internal threats to Russian infrastructure.
  • The Kremlin continues to set informational conditions for possible hybrid provocations against the Baltic states and Georgia.
  • Russian-Israeli relations are likely continuing to decline against the backdrop of Russia’s increasingly anti-Israel stance on the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and southwest of Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • Russian authorities are reportedly paying roughly $4.5 billion per year to import Iranian Shahed drones to use in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) continues efforts to integrate occupied Ukraine into Russia and to seek international recognition of Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 5, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, George Barros, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 5, 2024, 8:40pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1pm ET on February 5. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 6 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

US Senate negotiators unveiled their proposed supplemental appropriations bill on February 4 that — if passed — would provide roughly $60 billion of security assistance for Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of which would go to American companies and US and allied militaries. The bill provides three main packages of assistance to Ukraine totaling $48.83 billion: $19.85 billion for replenishing weapons and equipment from the US Department of Defense (DoD) inventory; $13.8 billion for the purchase of weapons and munitions for Ukraine from US manufacturers; and $14.8 billion for continued US support to Ukraine through military training, intelligence sharing, and other support activities.[1] The appropriations bill provides that funds can go to foreign countries that have provided support to Ukraine at the request of the US, but the vast majority of the aid — if approved — would go to US companies and US or allied government entities supporting Ukraine.[2] Roughly 16 percent of the Ukraine-related appropriations in the bill would go directly to Ukraine, including $7.85 billion of direct budget support for the Ukrainian government and $1.58 billion for efforts to build a self-reliant Ukrainian economy amid the ongoing Russian invasion.[3] The appropriations bill also provides $1.6 billion in foreign military financing, which must be used to purchase goods and services from the US, to address Ukraine’s and other US partners’ air defense, artillery, maritime security, and maintenance requirements.[4] The appropriations bill provides smaller packages of $300 million to help Ukraine promote the rule of law and protect its borders and $100 million to support demining, counterterrorism, and nonproliferation programs.[5] The bill provides $8 million for the DoD Inspector General to exercise oversight over US security assistance to Ukraine.[6]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 4 that Ukraine needs to replace a “series of state leaders” across the Ukrainian government who are “not just in a single sector” such as the Ukrainian military.[7] Zelensky responded to a question from Italian outlet Rai News about reports that he may intend to replace Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi by stating that he is considering changing multiple “state leaders” and emphasized that this effort involves replacing multiple unspecified individuals, not just “a single person.”[8] Zelensky emphasized the importance of Ukrainian morale, as the Ukrainian leadership “cannot be discouraged” and must maintain the “right positive energy” in order to win the war.

The Kremlin is intensifying rhetoric pushing for the hypothetical partition of Ukraine by seizing on innocuous and unrelated topics, likely in an attempt to normalize the partition narrative in Western discussions about Ukraine. Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev claimed on February 5 that purported European plans to construct a railway line from Spain to Lviv City are evidence of the West’s acknowledgement that Lviv City would be “the new capital of Ukraine within the borders of [Lviv Oblast],” presumably following the end of Russia’s war in Ukraine.[9] The plan, notably, has nothing to do with Ukrainian borders or an end state to the war in Ukraine and is an independent European infrastructure project. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials have recently reignited the narrative framing the invasion of Ukraine as an historically justified imperial conquest and proposed to a largely Russian-speaking audience in December 2023 that Russia and European powers could partition Ukraine and leave it as “sovereign” rump state within the borders of Lviv Oblast, comments that subsequently gained some attention from a few right-wing nationalist Central European politicians.[10] Medvedev notably posted his February 5 claims on his English-language X (formerly Twitter) account and not on his Russian-language Telegram account, suggesting that his statement was intended for an international audience as opposed to a Russian domestic audience. Medvedev’s statement furthers the Russian information operation that erroneously portrays Ukraine as an artificially constructed state, likely in an effort to reduce Western military support for Ukraine and normalize Western discussions that push Ukraine to cede much of its territory and people to Russia as a legitimate way to end the war. ISW continues to assess that Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains his maximalist objectives in Ukraine, which are tantamount to complete Ukrainian and Western capitulation.[11]

Russian ultranationalists continue to support the Kremlin’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine and reject the notion that negotiations would lead to a lasting end to the war. Deputy Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Main Directorate of Rosgvardia, Commander of its special rapid response and riot police (OMON and SOBR), and prominent Russian milblogger Alexander Khodakovsky claimed that a “truce” would not result in peace and that “achieving lasting peace is only possible through war and the victory” of either Russia or Ukraine.[12] Khodakovsky also claimed that the current period of positional warfare hinders Russian forces from exhausting Ukrainian forces along the entire frontline and argued that Russian forces need to pressure Ukrainian forces and compel Ukraine to commit more resources to battle along the entire frontline. Khodakovsky’s zero-sum framing of the war is indicative of the wider Russian ultranationalist support for the Kremlin’s maximalist objectives of a complete Ukrainian and Western defeat. This zero-sum framing is also incompatible with any serious negotiations for an armistice or lasting peace.

Delays in Western security assistance continue to exacerbate Ukraine’s shell shortage and undermine Ukraine’s ability to use high-value Western counterbattery systems. Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko stated on February 5 that Russian forces intensified their rate of artillery strikes by nearly 25 percent over the last week and shelled Ukraine over 1,500 times, targeting over 570 settlements.[13] The New York Times reported on February 4 that, by contrast, Ukrainian forces in critical areas of the front, such as Avdiivka, are increasingly rationing shells and can therefore only target masses of advancing Russian soldiers, noting that Russian forces have apparently adapted and are now advancing in smaller groups that are harder for Ukrainian artillery to strike.[14] Ukrainian military analyst and retired Colonel Petro Chernyk noted that Ukrainian forces possess relatively better counterbattery capabilities writ large than Russian forces, particularly because they have American AN/TPQ-36, -48, and -50 radars and the German COBRA radar system.[15] Counterbattery radars are effective in that they detect incoming fire and calculate its point of origin so that artillery forces can conduct return fire — for which artillery forces require sufficient artillery ammunition, however. A lack of artillery ammunition thus severely degrades counterbattery systems: AN/TPQ, COBRA, and other Western counterbattery systems are only as effective as the number of shells that Ukrainian forces have at their disposal to pursue the targets that counterbattery radars identify. ISW previously reported that Russian forces are benefitting from the combined dynamic of Ukraine’s ammunition shortage and its subsequent inability to conduct sufficient counterbattery warfare, and this dynamic is likely to become more acute as Ukraine’s period of shell shortages protracts.[16]

The Kremlin may not allow Boris Nadezhdin, the only anti-war Russian presidential candidate, to run in the March 2024 presidential election due to Nadezhdin’s larger-than-anticipated popularity. A Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) working group claimed on February 5 that 15 percent of the signatures that Nadezhdin collected to register as an election candidate were fraudulent and that the CEC recommends not registering him as a candidate.[17] Nadezhdin stated in response to the CEC’s announcement that his campaign plans to collect the 4,500 valid signatures he needs to run and that he will appeal to the Russian Supreme Court if the CEC refuses to register him as a presidential candidate.[18] Nadezhdin previously claimed to have submitted 200,000 signatures to the Russian CEC on January 31.[19] Russian presidential candidates sponsored by political parties need to submit 100,000 signatures with additional regional requirements in order to run in the presidential election, and no more than five percent of the total submitted signatures can be fraudulent.[20] The CEC stated that it will announce its final decision on February 7, but the CEC is unlikely to allow Nadezhdin to run.[21]

Nadezhdin previously stated that he believes the CEC will have to allow him to run in the March 2024 presidential election due to his widespread popularity and that he wanted as many uncontestable signatures as possible so the CEC could not disqualify him. ISW assessed on January 23 that the Kremlin may intend to use the March 2024 election as an unofficial referendum on Russia’s war in Ukraine by allowing Nadezhdin to run in an election that portrays Russian President Vladimir Putin (and by extension his war in Ukraine) as overwhelmingly popular, but the CEC’s February 5 announcement suggests that the Kremlin may have backtracked from this plan out of concern that Nadezhdin might gain too many votes and reduce Putin’s margin of victory below levels the Kremlin is willing to accept.[22] The CEC’s valid signature requirement is the logical mechanism for ending Nadezhdin’s presidential campaign whether or not the Kremlin was initially willing to tolerate the campaign.

Russian officials and sources have increasingly censored and sought to discredit Nadezhdin after Nadezhdin’s campaign gained significant notoriety while collecting signatures.[23] Russian CEC Deputy Chairperson Nikolai Bulaev claimed on February 2 that Nadezhdin’s campaign collected dozens of signatures of deceased Russians and questioned the integrity of the Nadezhdin campaign.[24] Russian opposition outlet Novaya Gazeta recently reported that Nadezhdin’s campaign struggled to find a printing house to print copies of Nadezhdin’s campaign newsletter, citing a source within the campaign.[25] Nadezhdin previously claimed that Russian state television attempted to censor him and his campaign.[26] A Russian ultranationalist milblogger cryptically suggested on January 30 that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) would “meet” with Nadezhdin prior to the election, implying that the FSB would interrogate or imprison him.[27]

The Kremlin is reportedly nationalizing private enterprises in Russia quietly. Russian opposition outlet Meduza published an investigation on February 5 detailing how the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office uses three main schemes to seize and nationalize assets from Russians despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assurances that there will not be nationalization in Russia.[28] Meduza found that Russian courts pursue one scheme through challenging cases regarding the privatization of certain companies that were subject to the widespread privatization efforts of the 1990s. The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly utilizes this scheme to claim that regional authorities exceeded their powers by privatizing a given company and to demand that it be returned to the state. Meduza reported that the second scheme is to deem owners of private enterprises “foreign investors,” which allows Russian authorities to seize the assets of the private enterprise owners more easily under Russian foreign investment laws.[29] The final avenue for nationalization, according to Meduza, is when the Prosecutor General’s Office seizes assets from defendants accused of corruption or fraud, charges that courts reportedly used more frequently in 2023.[30] ISW has previously observed Russian courts expanding the prosecution of certain cases to broadly suppress dissent, and the Russian Prosecutor General may be employing a similar prosecution strategy as it pertains to property law in order to nationalize private assets using corruption, fraud, and foreign investment laws.[31]

Key Takeaways:

  • US Senate negotiators unveiled their proposed supplemental appropriations bill on February 4 that — if passed — would provide roughly $60 billion of security assistance for Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of which would go to American companies and US and allied militaries.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 4 that Ukraine needs to replace a “series of state leaders” across the Ukrainian government who are “not just in a single sector” such as the Ukrainian military.
  • The Kremlin is intensifying rhetoric pushing for the hypothetical partition of Ukraine by seizing on innocuous and unrelated topics, likely in an attempt to normalize the partition narrative in Western discussions about Ukraine.
  • Delays in Western security assistance continue to exacerbate Ukraine’s shell shortage and undermine Ukraine’s ability to use high-value Western counterbattery systems.
  • The Kremlin may not allow Boris Nadezhdin, the only anti-war Russian presidential candidate, to run in the March 2024 presidential election due to Nadezhdin’s larger-than-anticipated popularity.
  • The Kremlin is reportedly nationalizing private enterprises in Russia quietly.
  • Russian forces made confirmed gains near Kupyansk, Kreminna, Avdiivka, and northeast of Bakhmut amid continued positional fighting along the entire frontline.
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) may expand the list of courses available to women at the FSB Academy.
  • Russian occupation administrations continue efforts to indoctrinate Ukrainian children into Russian culture and nationalism through patronage networks with Russian federal subjects (regions).

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 4, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 4, 2024, 6:45pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on February 4. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 5 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russia's reported reserve concentrations throughout Ukraine largely align with Russia’s assessed priorities along the front, although they are not necessarily indicative of future Russian operations. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that Russian forces currently have 17 regiments, 16 battalions, and two regiment-battalion level tactical detachments in reserve.[1] Mashovets stated that there are about 60,000-62,000 total Russian personnel in reserve units, but Russian forces have only equipped about 20,000 tactical and operational-tactical level reserve personnel with weapons and equipment. Mashovets stated that Russia’s reserves are concentrated in the greatest numbers in the operational zone of the Southern Grouping of Forces, followed by the Western Grouping of Forces, Dnepr Grouping of Forces, the Zaporizhia Grouping of Forces, the Eastern Grouping of Forces, and the Central Grouping of Forces. The Southern Grouping of Forces is responsible for the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, and Mashovets noted that the reserve concentration in this area aligns with the areas where Russian forces are concentrating their offensive efforts. Mashovets observed that it is not surprising that the Dnepr Grouping of Forces — which operates in occupied Kherson Oblast — has the third highest number of reserves given that Russian forces may be concerned over a Ukrainian threat in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian officials have recently indicated that Russian forces have more than 70,000 personnel on the east bank of the Dnipro River in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts, but that many are concentrated deeper in the rear.[2] The Dnipro Grouping of Forces’ reserves would likely be able to easily move to the Zaporizhia direction if circumstances so required. Mashovets assessed that the Central Grouping of Forces, which is responsible for the Lyman direction, has the lowest concentration of reserves due to its smaller operational zone that requires fewer troops.[3] ISW additionally assesses that the Central Grouping of Forces has a lower concentration of reserves because Russian operations in the Lyman direction are likely meant to support the Western Grouping of Forces’ operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove line, as ISW will soon outline in an upcoming operational analysis of the Russian offensive on the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis. Russian forces will be able to move their reserve concentrations freely between different sectors of the front as long as Russia holds the strategic initiative across the theater. ISW continues to assess that an active Ukrainian defense throughout the theater in 2024 would cede the strategic initiative to Russia allowing Moscow to determine where, when, and at what scale fighting occurs in Ukraine and to allocate Russian resources appropriately while forcing Ukraine to respond.[4] Ukraine would be able to deny Russia this ability, however, if Ukraine were able to contest the initiative.

The Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is unlikely able to fully support Russia’s reserve manpower despite Russia’s ability to sustain its current tempo of operations and ongoing efforts to expand the Russian DIB. Mashovets stated that the operational and strategic reserves are generally not combat-ready, yet the Russian command tends to view its reserve component as a “bottomless barrel.”[5] Mashovets stated that the Russian DIB is able to produce about 250-300 “new and thoroughly modernized” tanks per year. Mashovets stated that Russian forces can also overhaul about 250-300 tanks that have been in long-term storage or sustained battlefield damage per year. Mashovets stated that the situation is similar for armored combat vehicles, suggesting that the Russian DIB can more or less cover Russian forces’ annual vehicle losses. Mashovets stated that the Russian DIB, however, cannot produce enough materiel to equip large Russian reserves should the need suddenly arise. The Latvian Defense Ministry’s State Secretary Janis Garisons stated on December 13 that Russia can “produce and repair” about 100-150 tanks per month.[6] Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev claimed in March 2023 that Russia’s DIB could produce 1,500 main battle tanks in 2023, which suggests an average production of 125 tanks per month.[7] Even with these higher estimates the Russian DIB remains unlikely able to support a larger mobilization of manpower and would likely need to expand dramatically to support larger offensive operations that would require the use of more manpower reserves. ISW continues to assess that Russia would have the opportunity to expand its DIB and amass resources if it maintains the theater-wide initiative throughout 2024 although not likely to an extent sufficient to supply great masses of mobilized reservists or conscripts this year.[8]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontline near Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast and the Ukrainian Eastern Air Command in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on February 4. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi and Ukrainian Commander of the Zaporizhia Group of Forces Brigadier General Volodymyr Horbatyuk reported to Zelensky about Ukrainian defensive operations in the Avdiivka direction, the situation near Robotyne and other areas of the front, and the arrangement of Ukrainian defensive lines.[9] Zelensky also visited the Ukrainian Eastern Air Command and discussed measures to strengthen mobile fire groups and electronic warfare (EW) systems to repel Russian drone strikes, the use of Western and hybrid (Western-Ukrainian) air defense systems, and prospects for strengthening the capabilities of Ukrainian Eastern air defense groups.[10]

Russian milbloggers continued to criticize Russian authorities’ failure to properly equip Russian forces with drones and electronic warfare (EW) systems in response to a recent unsuccessful Russian mechanized assault near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast. Russian milbloggers claimed on February 4 that Russian drone production is poorly managed, limiting Russia’s ability to innovate.[11] One milblogger claimed that poor management leads to unjustified Russian losses and will be the “scourge” of Russia’s victory against Ukraine.[12] Moscow Duma Deputy Andrei Medvedev previously criticized Russia’s mass production of drones as leading to the production of a large number of drones that lack the technological adaptations necessary to compete with Ukrainian drones on the battlefield.[13] Another Russian milblogger responded to the January 30 footage of Ukrainian drones striking advancing Russian armored vehicles and tanks near Novomykhailivka by claiming that it was “negligent” for Russian commanders to allow Russian armored vehicles to go into battle without proper EW equipment.[14] The milblogger claimed that Russian forces should “abandon” the idea of deep mechanized breakthroughs until Russian forces are adequately equipped with EW systems and should conduct small infantry-led assaults with drone support in the meantime.[15] Russian milbloggers have recently fixated on this event as indicative of the Russian military’s struggle to innovate and break out of the current positional warfare in Ukraine.[16]

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to face the authoritarian’s dilemma, whereby his authoritarian regime is itself systematically preventing him from receiving accurate information about military-political realities in Russia. A prominent Russian milblogger — who previously appeared on state media outlets and was temporarily detained in March 2022 — published a rant accusing the Russian bureaucracy and the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of deliberately withholding information from Putin, likely in response to recent Russian propagandists’ efforts to conceal Russian military failures near Novomykhailivka.[17] The milblogger claimed that Russia has a culture in which local authorities closely work with regional media outlets to censor and conceal from the Kremlin any negative reports. The milblogger argued that Putin created a consultative civil society institution called the Russian Civic Chamber in 2004 whose members would monitor local governments' activities in order to provide negative, but accurate, information “to the top,” but the chamber failed to do so because the chamber’s representatives decided to remain silent — just like the officials that they were elected to monitor. The milblogger observed that Putin then created the All-Russian People’s Front in 2011 to target the same problem and that the initiative was successful until representatives began to follow in the Russian Civic Chamber’s footsteps. The milblogger argued that the Russian MoD engages in similar, secretive efforts to those of regional officials to conceal its failures from Putin and resents voices that undermine these efforts. The milblogger stated that the Russian MoD made it nearly impossible for milbloggers and government officials to visit frontlines and claimed that there are rumors that the Russian military command deploys generals to Syria if they start to have frequent communication with Putin. The milblogger argued that the Kremlin can only see honest discussions about Russia’s battlefield realities from the milblogger and volunteer accounts outlined in its media monitoring reports and noted that the lack of transparency is a systematic problem among Russian government structures. The milblogger later forecasted that bureaucrats will attempt to block Telegram and arrest milbloggers following the Russian presidential election in March 2024 in response to another milblogger’s observation that Russian Telegram channels remain the only source of constructive opposition in Russia.[18]

Putin’s recent efforts to address milbloggers’ concerns over Russian drone shortages and failures to repel Ukrainian forces from east (left) bank Kherson Oblast indicate that he continues to see value in having milbloggers serve as a constructive opposition that checks Russian government and military officials.[19] Putin’s past creations of the All-Russian People’s Front and the Russian Civic Chamber, and his relatively lenient treatment of milbloggers throughout the full-scale invasion, indicate that he is unlikely to decisively censor the milblogger and volunteer communities because he likely values the ability to check on his government. Putin is unlikely to pursue a mass censorship campaign against milbloggers on his own unless select factions within the Kremlin successfully convince him that milbloggers pose an immediate threat to his regime’s stability. Kremlin officials appear to have been successful in convincing Putin to eliminate and neutralize some milbloggers and information space actors such as former Russian officer Igor Girkin and media networks affiliated with Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. Kremlin officials, however, have likely been unsuccessful in turning Putin against a vast community of milbloggers that criticizes the bureaucracy while avidly supporting Putin and his war effort in Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia's reported reserve concentrations throughout Ukraine largely align with Russia’s assessed priorities along the front, although they are not necessarily indicative of future Russian operations.
  • The Russian defense industrial base (DIB) is unlikely able to fully support Russia’s reserve manpower despite Russia’s ability to sustain its current tempo of operations and ongoing efforts to expand the Russian DIB.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontline near Robotyne, Zaporizhia Oblast and the Ukrainian Eastern Air Command in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on February 4.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to criticize Russian authorities’ failure to properly equip Russian forces with drones and electronic warfare (EW) systems in response to a recent unsuccessful Russian mechanized assault near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to face the authoritarian’s dilemma, whereby his authoritarian regime is itself systematically preventing him from receiving accurate information about military-political realities in Russia.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • Kremlin newswire TASS reported on February 4 that Vladimir Oblast will be a patron of the new Knyaz Pozharsky Borei-A class nuclear submarine.
  • Ukrainian officials continue international efforts aimed at returning Ukrainian citizens whom Russian authorities illegally deported to Russia.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 3, 2024 

Click here to read the full report 

Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Fredrick W. Kagan

February 3, 2024, 7:50pm ET 

The Kremlin is doubling down on its support for Iran as the US conducts strikes to preempt attacks by Iranian-back proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen against American and other targets. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) condemned the US retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed militia positions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on February 3.[1] The US launched a series of retaliatory airstrikes against targets in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on February 2 and 3 following a January 28 drone strike by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia that killed three US servicemembers in northeastern Jordan.[2] Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova condemned the strikes as a “blatant act of American-British aggression” and claimed that they demonstrate US policy’s “aggressive nature” and “complete disregard for international law.”[3] Zakharova claimed that the US airstrikes are “specifically designed” to further inflame the conflict in the Middle East.[4] Zakharova criticized the United Kingdom (UK) for participating in the strike and claimed that the UK “has yet to answer” for its “zeal” in supporting provocative US policy.[5] Russian state media reported extensively on the strike’s aftermath and amplified Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian state reporting and condemnations of the strike.[6] Russia requested a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting in connection with the US strikes, which is scheduled for February 5.[7] Russia frequently weaponizes its invocation of international law to undermine legitimate US activities in the Middle East.

The Kremlin censored a protest by wives of mobilized soldiers in Moscow on February 3 likely to suppress any possible resurgence of a broader social movement in support of Russian soldiers and against the regime. Members of the Russian “Way Home” social movement laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow before holding a protest at the nearby Manezhnaya Square to commemorate the 500th day since Russian President Vladimir Putin began partial mobilization in September 2022.[8] Russian state media outlets largely did not cover the protest but did report that the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office warned against attending an unspecified protest in Moscow on February 3, very likely referring to the Way Home protest.[9] Russian opposition media outlets covered the protest in detail, however, estimating that roughly 200 people attended, and reported that Moscow police detained 27 individuals, most of whom were Russian and foreign journalists.[10] The opposition outlets reported that authorities later released the detained individuals without charges and that some of the Way Home members protested outside of the police station for the release of all detained individuals.[11] Russian police allowed Way Home protestors to later go to Putin’s campaign headquarters and handwrite appeals to Putin to bring mobilized personnel home, but the headquarters only allowed small groups of demonstrators inside and severely limited media access. Russian law enforcement likely deliberately detained journalists rather than protestors to limit reporting of the event while depriving the Way Home organization of a platform on which to martyr itself in the information space over the arrests of its members.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Soviet leadership experienced first-hand the influence that social movements of relatives of Russian soldiers wielded, and the Kremlin likely aims to preemptively censor and discredit similar movements before they could garner similar influence. Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov criticized the Way Home protests on February 3, accusing the wives of lacking the authority to advocate on behalf of frontline Russian soldiers because they are wives of soldiers, not mothers of soldiers, and asked to hear from the “husbands” instead.[12] (One of the main concerns of relatives is that mobilized Russian soldiers consistently lack the ability to communicate with relatives back home and go missing).[13] Solovyov asked whether the “husbands” authorized their wives to advocate on their behalf and asked whether this movement was “another Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers.”[14] The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (later renamed the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers) was founded in 1989 and advocated for better treatment of Soviet conscripts who were enduring poor living standards and violence — most notably suffering from dedovshchina, the ritual hazing of conscripts using physical and sexual violence — during peacetime in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[15] The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers also called for greater transparency within the Soviet military, particularly regarding deaths in the Afghanistan and Chechen wars as well as in peacetime, whereas the Soviet government desired to censor both the deaths and mothers’ movement.[16] The mothers’ movement leveraged public displays of grief and other tactics to pressure Soviet officials into disclosing the number of peacetime military deaths, which exceeded the number of Soviet casualties in Afghanistan in the 1980s.[17] The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was so effective that it forced the Soviet military to make sweeping changes in the 1990s, including removing and prosecuting corrupt military commanders and officials in the military prosecutor’s office.[18] The legacy of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers represents the societal destabilization possible from a failed Soviet attempt at complete censorship, and Solovyov’s evocation of this specific organization indicates the depth of the Kremlin’s fear of similar movements only a few decades later.[19]

Putin may have learned from the Soviet Union’s prior failure to completely censor soldiers’ relatives and changed tactics, instead using limited censorship and discreditation to keep these movements from building momentum. The Kremlin has censored other relatives’ movements in support of Russian mobilized personnel since September 2022 and has more recently targeted the Way Home movement in December 2023 and January 2024.[20] Russian authorities compelled the Council of Wives and Mothers, founded in September 2022, to stop operating after designating it as a foreign agent in May 2023 after likely threatening criminal prosecution against its founder in December 2022.[21] Russian opposition outlets reported in late January 2024 that Russian authorities attempted to hack the social media accounts of Way Home members and that Russian law enforcement harassed members at prior demonstrations, both likely to discourage members from continuing their activism.[22] Other Russian sources, including ultranationalist milbloggers, have spread claims that Ukrainian special agents run the Way Home movement or that its leadership is otherwise corrupt.[23] While the degree of social influence that the Way Home movement or other similar Russian movements may hold is unclear, the extent and complexity of the Kremlin’s efforts to limit the rise of relatives’ movements in support of Russian soldiers underscores the Kremlin’s desperation to shut down these movements, particularly ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections and as it prepares for a long-term war effort.

Russian milbloggers continued to fixate on a recent unsuccessful Russian mechanized assault near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast and highlight divisions it caused within the Russian information space, which are indicative of wider issues with the Russian military’s ability to adapt in Ukraine. A Russian milblogger claimed on February 3 that “true patriots” responded to the January 30 footage of the unsuccessful assault with criticism and disappointment.[24] The milblogger criticized “traitors and sellouts,” including experts who frequent Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov’s TV show, who responded to the footage by falsely claiming that Russian forces have adequate supplies of electronic warfare (EW) systems and radios to repel Ukrainian first-person vision (FPV) drones.[25] The milblogger, citing personal conversations with frontline Russian personnel, claimed that such propagandists’ claims are not true and that Russian frontline commanders consider donated radio stations more valuable than state-provided tanks and infantry fighting vehicles due to radio equipment shortages.[26] Several milbloggers lamented that the Russian “high office” (likely the Russian high command) is unlikely to read milbloggers’ concerns about Ukrainian drone use and warned that many Russian personnel will die because of Ukrainian drone superiority on the frontline, calling the issue ”one of [Russia’s] biggest problems at the moment.”[27] Russian milbloggers’ willingness to continually fixate on this particular event is notable, as the milbloggers’ concern over Russian forces’ failure to adapt is apparently greater than their concern for their own personal safety given the arrests of several critical information space voices and milbloggers in 2023.[28]

Moscow Duma Deputy Andrei Medvedev praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 2 comment about drones being the Russian forces’ “Achilles’ heel” and claimed that Putin’s comment shows Putin’s awareness of what is happening on the front and that he has an understanding of modern warfare.[29] Medvedev claimed that Putin’s acknowledgment of Ukrainian drone superiority proves that Putin is not afraid to discuss Russia’s “problems” and “mistakes” and that Putin does not believe that constructive criticism of Russian operations in Ukraine is wrong or will prevent a Russian victory of Ukraine.[30] Several Russian milbloggers have seized on the discourse surrounding the January 30 footage of the unsuccessful Russian assault on Novomykhailivka to argue that Russian sources should not have to censor constructive criticism of the Russian military.[31] Putin’s February 2 statement appears supportive of the milbloggers’ argument against self-censorship. Putin has previously signaled his sensitivity to concern about Russian operations in Ukraine among Russian milbloggers, including during his “Direct Line” forum on December 14 when Putin singled out the tactical and operational situation in Krynky in the east bank of Kherson Oblast, an area of the front that Russian milbloggers have previously fixated on.[32] Putin’s statement suggests that there may be concern within the Russian military and political leadership about the Russian military’s ability to adapt and restore maneuver to the battlefield.

Ukrainian actors conducted a drone strike against the Lukoil oil refinery in Volgograd Oblast on February 3. Ukrainian outlet Suspilne and BBC Russia Service cited internal sources in the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) who claimed that the SBU conducted the strike.[33] A source in Kyiv told Reuters that Ukraine used two attack drones to execute the strike.[34] A fire resulting from the strike apparently spread up to 300 square meters at the Lukoil refinery, which Russian emergency services extinguished.[35] Lukoil’s Volgograd refinery is one of the largest in Russia and the largest in the Russian Southern Federal District.[36] Russian officials obliquely reported on the strike, claiming that “falling debris” from a drone strike that Russian air defense repelled fell on the refinery and caused the fire.[37] A Russian milblogger criticized Russian authorities for not admitting that Ukrainian drones struck the refinery and called for massive retaliatory strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure to damage Ukraine’s battlefield prospects and dissuade Western investment in Ukrainian critical industries.[38]

Ukrainian strikes reportedly temporarily slowed Russia’s production of Lancet loitering munitions. Forbes, citing Ukraine-based OSINT group Molfar, reported on February 1 that a “well-targeted” Ukrainian strike may have hit the Zagorsk Optical-Mechanical Plant (ZOMZ) near Moscow in August 2023.[39] Forbes noted that Russian state media denied that explosions at ZOMZ were the result of a drone strike, despite eyewitness reports to the contrary. Ukrainian military analyst Dmytro Snehyrev assessed that ZOMZ may have been producing camera lenses or optical devices for ZALA Aerospace’s Lancet loitering munitions.[40] Forbes stated that following the August 2023 incident at ZOMZ, Lancet production was “slashed,” which is noteworthy because Lancets use several imported components that should in theory be unaffected by explosions at ZOMZ. The Forbes investigation concluded that Ukraine may have conducted the strike against ZOMZ, impacting the factory's ability to produce unique domestic components for Lancets, thereby leading to a temporary decrease in Lancet production, which is now on the rise again as of January 2024.

Russian state media confirmed the appointment of two new officials to senior positions in military-adjacent civilian organizations. The Russian Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation, and Navy of Russia (DOSAAF) confirmed on February 2 that it unanimously elected Army General Alexander Dvornikov (former Southern Military District commander and failed Russian theater commander in Ukraine from April-May 2022) as DOSAAF’s new chairperson.[41] DOSAAF also noted that it determined its new strategic goals, defined as increasing the number of trained conscripts and developing a training system for drone operators and other specialists.[42] ISW previously reported rumors of Dvornikov’s appointment on January 30.[43] DOSAAF is a Soviet relic that funds and promotes military service for Russian youth through military-patriotic programming and military skills programs and sends representatives to military draft boards to allocate conscripts with specific skills into specific military roles.[44] Dvornikov’s selection to head DOSAAF suggests that the Russian military leadership may be setting conditions to reconstitute a conscript recruitment pipeline using DOSAAF’s educational and recruitment infrastructure. Kremlin newswire TASS also reported on February 3 that Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Russian Minister of Labor and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov with Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service Head Yuriy Chikhanchin as head of the Kremlin-run “Defenders of the Fatherland” Foundation.[45] The “Defenders of the Fatherland” foundation provides government support to Russian veterans and helps provide rehabilitation and social support to wounded veterans and their families.[46]

In accordance with its policy against speculating about future Ukrainian actions, ISW is not covering reported leaks concerning possible changes in the Ukrainian command structure. ISW will continue to report official statements by Ukrainian government officials and organizations as they are made.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Kremlin is doubling down on its support for Iran as the US conducts strikes to preempt attacks by Iranian-back proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen against American and other targets.
  • The Kremlin censored a protest by wives of mobilized soldiers in Moscow on February 3 likely to suppress any possible resurgence of a broader social movement in support of Russian soldiers and against the regime.
  • Soviet leadership experienced first-hand the influence that social movements of relatives of Russian soldiers wielded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Kremlin likely aims to preemptively censor and discredit similar movements before they can garner similar influence.
  • Putin may have learned from the Soviet Union’s prior failure to completely censor soldiers’ relatives and changed tactics, instead using limited censorship and discreditation to keep these movements from building momentum.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to fixate on a recent unsuccessful Russian mechanized assault near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast and highlight divisions it caused within the Russian information space, which are indicative of wider issues with the Russian military’s ability to adapt in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian actors conducted a drone strike against the Lukoil oil refinery in Volgograd Oblast on February 3.
  • Ukrainian strikes reportedly temporarily slowed Russia’s production of Lancet loitering munitions.
  • Russian state media confirmed the appointment of two new officials to senior positions in military-adjacent civilian organizations.
  • Russian forces made confirm advances near Bakhmut amid continued positional engagements along the frontline.
  • Russian soldiers imprisoned for refusing to fight in Ukraine are reportedly dying in Russian detention.
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to militarize Ukrainian youth through the school system.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 2, 2024

Click here to read the full report 

Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Fredrick W. Kagan 

Russian President Vladimir Putin evoked a wide Russian social and economic mobilization reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War during a February 2 speech despite the fact that Russia is undertaking a far more gradual but nonetheless effective mobilization of its defense industrial base (DIB). Putin attended the “Everything for Victory” event at the Tulatochmash plant in Tula Oblast on February 2 and promoted Russian efforts to expand its DIB to an audience of 600 representatives of various professions from across Russia.[1] “Everything for Victory” is a Soviet-era slogan that Soviet authorities first used during the Russian Civil War and then extensively during the Second World War to promote the widespread mobilization of Soviet industry and society.[2] Putin stated that defense industrial workers in Tula Oblast are currently working under this slogan just as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did.[3] Putin asserted that modern Russian defense industrial workers have proven themselves worthy of these ”ancestors,” who won the industrial battle against Nazi Germany and Europe‘s defense industry to create the Soviet victory of 1945.[4] Putin followed his Soviet predecessors in ignoring the critical role the US defense industry played in facilitating the Soviet victory through the Lend-Lease program. The Kremlin has previously appealed to the mythos of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to reassure the Russian public that the Russin war effort will bring to bear overwhelming manpower and materiel for victory in Ukraine as the Soviet Union did for the Red Army against Nazi Germany.[5] Putin’s allusion to the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War does not necessarily indicate that he intends to bring Russia to such a wartime footing, although he may be engaging in such rhetorical overtures to gauge domestic reactions and prepare the Russian public for a wider economic or military mobilization. 

 

Putin claimed that Russia’s DIB is significantly expanding and sufficiently supporting the war effort in Ukraine. Putin claimed that 6,000 Russian enterprises and 3.5 million workers are part of Russia’s DIB and that 10,000 more enterprises are connected to the DIB in auxiliary or supporting roles.[6] Putin stated that in the previous 16 months, Russia’s DIB has created 520,000 new jobs; has increased the production of armored protection for personnel by a factor of 2.5; and has increased the production of armored vehicles and other equipment for combined arms warfare by an unspecified percentage.[7] Putin claimed that Russian enterprises are fulfilling the entirety of the state defense order and that the Kremlin significantly increased and fully funded the 2024 state defense order.[8] Putin also repeatedly stressed that Russia is expanding its DIB with technological innovation and adaptation as a priority, alleging that all of Russia’s latest weapons are superior to weapons produced by NATO countries.[9] Putin added that whoever is quicker to find new ways to suppress their enemy’s means of destruction, reconnaissance, and suppression will win, echoing sentiments that Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi expressed in his February 1 essay detailing a strategy to seek advantage over the Russian military through technological innovation and adaptation.[10]

 

Russia has been gradually mobilizing its DIB in an effort to fulfill operational requirements in Ukraine without causing widespread disruptions to Russia’s already beleaguered economy.[11] This effort, while well below total mobilization, has addressed many Russian requirements for sustaining Russian operations in Ukraine.[12] The Russian effort has achieved this effect in part through Russia’s ability to procure equipment from its partners and retool Russia’s economy for military production purposes.[13] Russia has yet to expand its DIB to the point where it will be able to stop relying on partner countries to source critical materiel, however. It remains unclear how much further Russia can mobilize its DIB without taking significant and possibly unpopular actions given Russia’s persistent economic and human capital constraints. The longer Russia maintains the battlefield initiative in Ukraine, however, the more the Russian military will have the option to tailor operations to optimize Russia’s production and consumption of certain materiel in a sustainable and scalable way. Retaining the battlefield initiative may also allow the Kremlin to choose to expand Russia’s DIB over conducting a large-scale offensive effort that would require substantial materiel.

 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on February 2 that Russian forces retain the “strategic initiative” along the entire frontline in Ukraine, a notable departure from Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian operations as “active defense.”[14] Shoigu claimed during a conference call with the Russian military leadership that Russian forces are advancing and improving their positions along the frontline.[15] Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on January 16 that Russian forces “completely” have the initiative in Ukraine following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive.[16] Shoigu and Putin consistently downplayed localized Russian offensive operations in October and December 2023, characterizing Russian operations in Ukraine as “active defense.”[17] ISW assessed at that time that Russian authorities may have been attempting to temper expectations about the Russian military’s ability to make operationally significant advances, particularly around Avdiivka where Russian forces launched a localized offensive in October 2023.[18] Putin’s and Shoigu’s rhetorical shift suggests that Russian authorities may be gaining confidence in the Russian military’s ability to achieve operationally significant advances. Russian authorities could also be rhetorically posturing ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections. ISW continues to assess that Russian forces have regained the initiative throughout most of the Ukrainian theater but have not seized the battlefield initiative in Kherson Oblast.[19]

 

Open-source investigations indicate that Russian forces are benefitting from Ukraine’s ammunition shortage and inability to conduct sufficient counterbattery warfare. Ukraine-based open-source organization Frontelligence Insight stated on February 1 that Russian forces previously established stationary artillery firing positions for long periods of time from late 2022 to early 2023 when ammunition shortages limited Ukrainian counterbattery warfare capabilities.[20] Frontelligence stated that Russian forces began to concentrate their artillery in a similar way in January 2024, suggesting that Ukrainian forces are again running low on artillery ammunition. Frontelligence stated that Ukrainian forces can sometimes strike Russian artillery but overall lack adequate ammunition for effective counterbattery fire. Frontelligence stated that the lack of Ukrainian counterbattery fire allows Russian artillery to largely destroy settlements, making it nearly impossible for Ukrainian forces to defend the settlements. Frontelligence stated that many of Ukraine’s FPV drones lack the range to strike the numerous Russian artillery pieces deployed 15 to 24 kilometers from the frontline. Western and Ukrainian officials have recently highlighted Ukraine’s need for artillery ammunition.[21] ISW continues to assess that artillery shortages and delays in Western security assistance will create uncertainty in Ukrainian operational plans and likely prompt Ukrainian forces to husband materiel, which may force Ukrainian forces to make tough decisions about prioritizing certain sectors of the front over sectors where limited territorial setbacks are least damaging.[22]

 

US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated on February 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly indicated that he has not changed his aims to capture and subjugate Ukraine. Miller dismissed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s January 31 suggestion of creating a “demilitarized zone” in Ukraine as disingenuous during a press conference on February 1.[23] Miller stated that it would be “kind of tough” to have a demilitarized zone in Ukraine when Russian forces continue to operate in Ukraine and that Putin has made it clear over and over again” that he has not abandoned his maximalist objects in Ukraine, which ISW assesses are tantamount to complete Ukrainian and Western capitulation. Miller stated that if Russia “really wanted to show interest” in a demilitarized zone in Ukraine, it should begin by demilitarizing the areas of occupied Ukraine where there are currently Russian forces.[24] Putin emphasized the idea of a ”demilitarized” or ”buffer zone” during a meeting on January 31 and stated that Russian forces’ most important goal across the theater is pushing the frontline deeper into Ukraine to place Russian territory – including occupied Ukraine – out of the range of Ukrainian frontline artillery systems and Western-provided long-range systems.[25]

 

Russian milbloggers and ultranationalist figures continue to present themselves as impartial and constructive critics of the Russian military in juxtaposition to official Kremlin sources in the Russian information space. A prominent Russian milblogger claimed on February 2 that Russian authorities should amend the Russian Criminal Code to punish Russian citizens and military personnel who “misinform [Russian] authorities and military command.” Former Roscosmos (Russian space agency) head and Zaporizhia Oblast occupation senator Dmitry Rogozin announced in response that he will prepare a bill to amend the Russian Criminal Code.[26] Russian milbloggers have frequently criticized Russian battlefield commanders for lying to the Russian military command, including by submitting inaccurately positive reports to their superiors, resulting in the Russian military command flaunting false or premature claims of success while routinely committing Russian forces to costly assaults.[27] Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov accused Russian milbloggers on February 2 of highlighting Russian battlefield losses and shortcomings by amplifying footage published on January 30 showing Ukrainian forces destroying a company-sized column of advancing Russian vehicles and tanks near Novomykhailivka, Donetsk Oblast.[28] Several Russian milbloggers criticized Solovyov in response, advocating for milbloggers to be allowed to share constructive criticism of Russian operations in Ukraine in order to prevent unnecessary deaths.[29] The Kremlin has actively censored some Russian milbloggers in recent months for criticizing Russian operations in Ukraine, likely to encourage and enforce self-censorship among Russian sources.[30]

 

Kremlin affiliates reportedly launched an information campaign wherein prominent social media influencers promote the Russian Orthodox Church. A Russian insider source claimed on February 1 that a recent uptick of young and rich Russian social media influencers promoting the Russian Orthodox Church, its head Patriarch Kirill, and related symbols is part of a dedicated campaign by Igor Sechin, head of the Russian state oil company Rosneft, and former Rosneft Head Eduard Khudainatov, both of whom are affiliated with Russian President Vladimir Putin.[31] Sechin is reportedly Putin’s ”de facto deputy” and reportedly leads a Kremlin faction that clashes with a faction led by Russian Security Council Secretary Dmitry Patrushev.[32] A dedicated social media campaign by a Kremlin faction member, if reports are true, aimed at promoting conservative ideals through the Russian Orthodox Church may be an attempt to forward Putin’s ”Year of the Family” ideology and curry favor with Putin. The Kremlin may also seek to promote the Russian Orthodox Church to Russian youth and young adults to increase its broader control over Russian society. The Kremlin has been using the Russian Orthodox Church to consolidate control over occupied Ukraine and eliminate Ukrainian culture and identity in occupied areas.[33]

 

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin evoked a wide Russian social and economic mobilization reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War during a February 2 speech despite the fact that Russia is undertaking a far more gradual but nonetheless effective mobilization of its defense industrial base (DIB).
  •  Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on February 2 that Russian forces retain the “strategic initiative” along the entire frontline in Ukraine, a notable departure from Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian operations as “active defense.”
  • Open-source investigations indicate that Russian forces are benefitting from Ukraine’s ammunition shortage and inability to conduct sufficient counterbattery warfare.
  • US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated on February 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly indicated that he has not changed his aims to capture and subjugate Ukraine.
  • Russian milbloggers and ultranationalist figures continue to present themselves as impartial and constructive critics of the Russian military in juxtaposition to official Kremlin sources in the Russian information space.
  • Kremlin affiliates reportedly launched an information campaign wherein prominent social media influencers promote the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 2.
  • Russian outlet Izvestiya stated on February 2, citing sources within the Russian military, that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is forming air defense units as part of assault units to defend Russian infantry against Ukrainian drones, frontline air strikes, and shelling.
  • Ukrainian and Canadian officials announced a new coalition to return Ukrainian children from Russia to Ukraine.

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 1, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Grace Mappes, and George Barros

February 1, 2024, 7:40pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1pm ET on February 1. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the February 2 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW added a new section on Russian air, missile, and drone campaign to track Russian efforts to target Ukrainian rear and frontline areas, grow its drone and missile arsenals, and adapt its strike packages.

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi presented an overarching strategy to seize the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine and retain it to facilitate Ukrainian battlefield victories despite Russia’s numerical advantages in manpower and materiel. Zaluzhnyi’s strategy aims to offset Ukraine’s existing challenges and pursue advantages over the Russian military through widespread technological innovation and adaptation. The Ukrainian Armed Forces published an essay on February 1 by Zaluzhnyi titled “On the Modern Design of Military Operations in the Russo-Ukrainian War: In the Fight for the Initiative,” wherein Zaluzhnyi argued that the requirements for any given war are unique and that these requirements dictate a unique strategy for victory.[1] Zaluzhnyi identified “decisive conditions” for Ukraine to conduct successful operations, which include achieving absolute air superiority to enable effective Ukrainian fires, logistics, and reconnaissance; seizing the initiative by denying Russian forces the ability to conduct offensive or defensive operations; increasing Ukrainian mobility while limiting Russian mobility; securing safe access to unspecified key lines and important terrain; and denying Russian forces any opportunities to recapture lost positions and increase Russian operational efforts. The decisive conditions that Zaluzhnyi highlighted would effectively give Ukrainian forces the theater-wide initiative and set conditions for Ukraine to conduct operationally significant defensive and offensive operations. Zaluzhnyi argued that the rapid development of new technology changes the means by which Ukraine can achieve these “decisive conditions” and that Ukrainian forces cannot use conventional methods to achieve these conditions given Russia’s superior ability to mobilize men. Zaluzhnyi argued that new technological means, such as drones, unmanned systems, systems integration, and other advanced technological systems can allow Ukrainian forces to maximize their combat potential using fewer resources and inflict maximum damage on Russian forces.

Zaluzhnyi argued that Ukrainian limitations and geopolitical challenges are incentivizing Ukraine to pursue the development and institutionalization of these new means. Zaluzhnyi stated that an “unstable political situation around Ukraine” has led to reduced international military support for Ukraine, that Russia will likely try to provoke other conflicts to further draw the West’s attention away from Ukraine, and that Ukraine’s partners have depleted their missile and artillery ammunition stocks without the means to rapidly produce these weapons. Zaluzhnyi argued that ineffective sanctions allow the defense industrial bases (DIBs) of Russia and its partners to support a positional war of attrition that benefits Russia over Ukraine and that Russia has a significant advantage over Ukraine in the mobilization of human resources. Zaluzhnyi further highlighted imperfect Ukrainian regulatory frameworks to expand Ukraine’s DIB, although Ukrainian officials are increasingly prioritizing efforts to remedy this issue.[2] Zaluzhnyi notably concluded that the uncertain nature of the war in Ukraine makes it difficult for Ukraine’s allies to determine specific security assistance priorities for Ukraine.[3] Zaluzhnyi stated that the “main option for gaining an advantage is to master the entire arsenal of relatively cheap, new, and extremely effective and rapidly developing assets.” Zaluzhnyi specifically highlighted unmanned systems as an area where Ukraine can leverage new capabilities since they can provide continuous situational awareness, support round-the-clock fire and strikes in real-time, provide real-time intelligence, and produce accurate targeting information for strikes on the frontline and in rear areas.

Zaluzhnyi called on Ukraine to introduce a new “philosophy” for the preparation and conduct of military operations that would allow Ukrainian forces to cohesively employ these new methods in pursuit of a cohesive objective. Zaluzhnyi stated that new technological means will also expand the types of operations Ukraine can conduct in support of the war, which may include operations to reduce Russia’s economic potential, operations aimed at Russia’s complete isolation and exhaustion, robotic search and strike operations, robotic operations to control a crisis area, psychological operations, and defensive “contactless” operations. Zaluzhnyi also called on Ukrainian forces to systematically advance separate lines of effort to generate “necessary effects” in developing a coherent “digital field”; controlling the radio-electronic (the cyber-electromagnetic domain) situation along the frontline; combining attacks with unmanned and cyber assets; and improving logistics. Zaluzhnyi specifically suggested that retooling operations to integrate unmanned systems may allow Ukrainian forces to conserve personnel, weapons, and equipment while inflicting massive strikes on Russian military assets and infrastructure.

Zaluzhnyi called on Ukraine to overhaul its war effort to create “a completely new state system of technological reequipment" to master new assets and their operation. Zaluzhnyi advocated for Ukraine to retool state systems to support Ukrainian research, development, scientific support, production and maintenance, personnel training and the generalization of combat experience, the employment of forces, flexible financing, and logistics in order to prioritize the development and employment of rapidly developing technology. Zaluzhnyi added that Ukraine could create the system he envisions, with a sufficient volume of production, within five months. Zaluzhnyi concluded that this new system, alongside a new approach to military operations, can enable Ukraine to stop Russia’s current aggression and protect Ukraine in the future.

Ukrainian forces successfully struck and sunk a Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessel in the Black Sea near occupied Crimea on the night of January 31 to February 1. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) published footage on February 1 showing Ukrainian maritime drones striking the Ivanovets Tarantul-class corvette (41st Missile Boat Brigade) near Lake Donuzlav in occupied Crimea.[4] The Ukrainian Navy reported that the sinking of the Ivanovets is a significant loss to the BSF since the BSF has only three ships of its project 1241.1 (Tarantul) class and noted that Ukrainian forces previously damaged a project 1239 Bora-class corvette in the 41st Missile Boat Brigade.[5] The Ukrainian Navy stated that the Ivanovets is usually staffed with 40 personnel, and the GUR stated that Russian search and rescue operations were unsuccessful.[6] ISW continues to assess that successful Ukrainian strikes on BSF vessels and infrastructure have limited the BSF’s ability to operate in the western part of the Black Sea.[7] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces launched 12 Western-provided SCALP or Storm Shadow missiles against occupied Crimea on the night of January 31 to February 1.[8] The milblogger claimed that Russian forces downed five missiles near Belbek Air Base in occupied Sevastopol and six missiles over Yana Kapu, Hvardiske, and northwest of Sevastopol and that one missile struck the ground near Belbek Air Base but did not damage it.[9] Neither Ukrainian nor Russian officials confirmed these claims. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that the January 31 Ukrainian strikes on Belbek Air Base damaged “several objects” but noted that Ukrainian authorities need more satellite imagery to confirm what objects Ukrainian forces struck.[10]

Russian milbloggers continued to voice frustrations about Russian forces’ continued tactical blunders during offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast. Several Russian milbloggers criticized the Russian military command on January 31 and February 1 for failing to account for the “[drone] factor” when planning tactical assaults in response to footage posted on January 30 showing Ukrainian forces striking a column of advancing Russian vehicles and tanks near Novomykhailivka.[11] A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger noted that Ukrainian minefields are canalizing Russian routes but argued that the Russian military command still needs to stop attacking in mechanized columns due to consistently taking high equipment losses.[12] The milblogger also criticized the Russian command for failing to account for Ukrainian drone operations and to equip Russian armored vehicles with electronic warfare (EW) systems to counter Ukrainian drones.[13] Another Russian milblogger questioned how Russian commanders can fail to account for Ukrainian drones in attack plans and afford to lose so much equipment and manpower, accusing the Russian commanders of “complete stupidity and incompetence.”[14] Other Russian milbloggers seized on the discourse to advocate for continued domestic support for drone and EW production in Russia and to argue that Russian sources should not have to censor themselves if they have constructive criticism for Russian commanders.[15] The Russian military command has actively censored some Russian milbloggers in recent months for criticizing the military likely to encourage and enforce self-censorship among other Russian milbloggers.[16]

Russian milbloggers have previously argued that Russian forces need to improve their planning and coordination at the tactical and operational levels to break out of the current positional warfare in Ukraine.[17] Russian forces in Ukraine have proven capable of successfully learning lessons and adapting while conducting defensive operations and have shown limited offensive adaptation on certain sectors of the front.[18] Russian forces conducted a series of unsuccessful mechanized assaults near Avdiivka in October 2023 after analogous costly mechanized assaults along several different axes over the course of 2022 and 2023, and the recent footage of similar unsuccessful mechanized assaults near Novomykhailivka from January 30, 2024 suggests that Russian forces’ success in adapting their tactical planning and execution of assaults varies by unit-to-unit or commander-to-commander, however.[19]

The European Union (EU) unanimously approved a financial support package for Ukraine for 2024 – 2027. European Council President Charles Michel announced on February 1 that all 27 EU member states approved a support package for Ukraine worth 50 billion euros (about $54 billion), including 33 billion euros (about $35.8 billion) of loans and 17 billion euros (about $18.4 billion) in “non-repayable support” that could potentially come from frozen Russian assets.[20] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that continued EU financial support will strengthen Ukraine’s long-term economic stability.[21]

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell stated that the European Union (EU) will not be able to send the promised one million shells to Ukraine by March 2024, but is planning to fulfill this promise by the end of 2024. Borrell stated on February 1 that the EU delivered 330,000 rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine between March 2023 and January 2024 and that he expects the EU to deliver a total of 524,000 rounds by March 2024.[22] Borrell stated that the EU plans to deliver an additional 630,000 shells to Ukraine by the end of 2024. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that the European defense industrial base (DIB) has increased its production by 40 percent over an unspecified time frame and that the EU member states are working to deliver munitions to Ukraine by drawing from national stockpiles, concluding new orders, or redirecting other orders.[23] Von der Leyen stated that the European Commission will soon present a new defense and industrial strategy that will create greater coherence and coordination throughout the EU from planning to procurement. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated in an interview with CNN that ammunition is “one of the most decisive factors” in the war and that the quantity of rounds is more important than quality.[24]

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov appointed another one of his children to a senior position in the Chechen government as of January 31. Kadyrov appointed his 24-year-old daughter Khadizhat Kadyrova as First Deputy Head of the Chechen Republic Head’s Administration from her prior post leading the Grozny City Department of Preschool Education.[25] Kadyrov previously appointed his now-26-year-old daughter Aishat Kadyrova and 17-year-old-son Adam Kadyrov to similarly senior positions.[26]

In accordance with its policy against speculating about future Ukrainian actions, ISW is not covering reported leaks concerning possible changes in the Ukrainian command structure. ISW will continue to report official statements by Ukrainian government officials and organizations as they are made.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi presented an overarching strategy to seize the theater-wide initiative in Ukraine and retain it to facilitate Ukrainian battlefield victories despite Russia’s numerical advantages in manpower and materiel. Zaluzhnyi’s strategy aims to offset Ukraine’s existing challenges and pursue advantages over the Russian military through widespread technological innovation and adaptation.
  • Ukrainian forces successfully struck and sunk a Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) vessel in the Black Sea near occupied Crimea on the night of January 31 to February 1.
  • Russian milbloggers continued to voice frustrations about Russian forces’ continued tactical blunders during offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • The European Union (EU) unanimously approved a financial support package for Ukraine for 2024 ­­– 2027.
  • EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell stated that the European Union (EU) will not be able to send the promised one million shells to Ukraine by March 2024, but is planning to fulfill this promise by the end of 2024.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov appointed another one of his children to a senior position in the Chechen government as of January 31.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kupyansk, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 1.
  • Turkish banks have reportedly started closing Russian companies’ accounts due to the threat of US secondary sanctions.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted Russian plans to integrate occupied territories of Ukraine into Russia over the next six years.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 31, 2024  

Click here to read the full report.

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 31, 2024, 8:05pm ET 

Ukrainian forces struck Russian targets in the vicinity of Belbek airfield in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea on January 31. Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk amplified geolocated footage on January 31 showing a Ukrainian strike near the Belbek airfield and thanked Ukrainian forces for striking targets in occupied Crimea.[1] Additional geolocated footage published on January 31 shows large smoke plumes rising from the airfield.[2] ISW has yet to observe evidence indicating what Russian targets Ukrainian forces struck at or near the airfield. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces intercepted 20 Ukrainian missiles, 17 reportedly on the approaches to Sevastopol and three reportedly elsewhere over occupied Crimea.[3] The Russian MoD claimed that missile fragments fell in Lyubimivka (northwest of Sevastopol), and Sevastopol occupation governor Mikhail Razvozhaev claimed that missile fragments damaged buildings along Fedorivska Street and the “Ust-Belbek” garden association, both in the vicinity of the Belbek airfield.[4] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces used Storm Shadow cruise missiles in the strikes.[5] Ukrainian forces recently repeatedly targeted the Saky airfield (north of Sevastopol) as part of a multi-day strike campaign against Russian targets in occupied Crimea in early January 2024.[6] Ukrainian forces previously conducted a more extensive strike campaign against Russian military infrastructure and Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets in the summer of 2023 that pushed Russian naval assets largely out of the western part of the Black Sea and that aimed to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for defensive operations in southern Ukraine.[7]

Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on his maximalist and purposefully vague territorial objectives in Ukraine on January 31. Putin stated during a meeting with his election “proxies” that pushing the current frontline deeper into Ukraine is the most important goal for Russian forces across the theater.[8] Putin emphasized the idea of a “demilitarized” or “sanitary” zone in Ukraine that he claimed would place Russian territory – including occupied Ukraine – out of range of both frontline artillery systems and Western-provided long-range systems. Putin’s stated goal of pushing the front line so that Russia’s claimed and actual territories are outside of Ukrainian firing range is a vague goal that is actually unattainable as long as there is an independent Ukraine with any ability to fight. Putin would likely annex any Ukrainian territories Russia managed to capture in pursuit of this supposed objective (particularly in the four oblasts Russia has already claimed to have annexed but only partially controls), thus bringing the new Russian territories into range of Ukrainian systems in whatever remains of an independent Ukraine. A Russian nationalist milblogger expanded on this dilemma, noting that Russia would also have to capture Mykolaiv and Odesa cities to eliminate the threat of Ukrainian long range strikes against occupied Crimea and that Russian forces would need to capture the Slovyansk-Kramatorsk line in Donetsk Oblast to relieve the current front line.[9] The milblogger notably suggested even further territorial expansion by asking whether Russia wants Slovyansk to ”bear the fate of an eternally frontline city.”[10] Putin’s January 31 statements do not represent significant inflections in Russia’s stated war aims or actual military capabilities but are rather likely intended to capitalize on existing narratives in Western media that could block short and long term Western military assistance to Ukraine and compel the West to negotiate with Russia on Russian terms.

Putin also included Kharkiv City, which he has previously described as “Russian,” in this hypothesized demilitarized zone, likely to capitalize on discussions surrounding the unlikely possibility of a Russian offensive effort along Kharkiv Oblast’s northern border from Belgorod Oblast.[11] Putin may intend to amplify these discussions to divert Ukrainian attention away from the ongoing Russian offensive operation along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast axis, but ISW continues to assess that Russian forces in Belgorod Oblast can conduct only tactical-level actions that would serve as feints to draw and fix Ukrainian forces along the border.[12] Putin is also likely trying to appeal to resurgent calls from Russian ultranationalists to create a ”buffer zone” between Kharkiv and Belgorod oblasts to push Ukrainian MLRS and artillery away from the international border with Belgorod Oblast. Putin previously claimed that he would consider creating such a “buffer zone” during widespread discontent about limited cross border raids by pro-Ukraine forces into Belgorod Oblast in summer 2023, but the Russian military has yet to take any actions that suggest that Putin has seriously considered these calls.[13]

Putin also highlighted the Russian offensive effort near Avdiivka likely to portray that effort as successful to domestic Russian audiences and to further justify the Russian war in Ukraine.[14] Putin claimed that the “Veterany” Assault Brigade (Volunteer Assault Corps) fought ahead of regular Russian forces, broke through Ukrainian lines, and captured 19 houses near Avdiivka, which Putin characterized as one of the most important areas of the frontline. Putin stated that the “Veterany” Brigade “fights properly” and should be “educating young people.” Putin also reiterated boilerplate narratives that the Russian war in Ukraine is a struggle for Russian sovereignty that is purging Russian society of those who are against this sovereignty, thus unifying Russian society.[15]

Ukrainian and Russian forces conducted a prisoner-of-war (POW) exchange on January 31, exchanging 195 Russian POWs for 207 Ukrainian POWs.[16] Ukrainian officials reported that this was the 50th POW exchange, presumably since the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.[17] Russian and Ukrainian officials stated that the United Arab Emirates helped facilitate the POW exchange.[18] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate Spokesperson Andriy Yusov stated that the POWs on the preliminary list for the POW exchange planned for January 24 and later canceled due to the Il-76 crash in Belgorod Oblast were not part of the January 31 POW exchange.[19]

The European Union (EU) will reportedly fall short of its promise to provide Ukraine with one million artillery shells by March 1, 2024, as European leaders call on EU member states to intensify deliveries of ammunition to Ukraine. Bloomberg reported on January 31 that Western diplomats stated that EU partners will only deliver 600,000 artillery shells to Ukraine by the March 1, 2024 deadline.[20] European Union (EU) Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated on January 20 that the EU will have the capacity to produce one million shells per year by March or April 2024 and will ensure that it delivers the “majority” of the shells to Ukraine.[21] German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Danish Prime Minister Metter Frederiksen, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged that the EU fell short of its promise to deliver one million shells to Ukraine by March 2024 in a letter published by the Financial Times on January 31.[22] The letter noted that new orders for artillery ammunition will not reach the battlefield in Ukraine until 2025 and urged the EU to find ways to accelerate the delivery of promised shells to Ukraine, either through provisions of existing stocks or through joint procurement efforts.[23]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian-Chinese relations are at their “best period in their history” in a January 31 call with Chinese Defense Minister Admiral Dong Jun. Shoigu claimed that Russian-Chinese military cooperation is steadily developing and that the Russian and Chinese militaries regularly conduct operational and combat training exercises.[24] Shoigu claimed that Russian and Chinese defense and security cooperation has helped “reduce the potential for conflict.”[25] Shoigu and Dong emphasized a desire to increase Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation, and Dong reported that China provided unspecified “support” to Russia in the war in Ukraine despite continued US and European pressure.[26] Dong also stated that the US and Europe will not be able to interfere with ”normal Russian-Chinese cooperation.”[27] Dong’s statement is a more overt rhetorical expression of Chinese support for Russia than statements from previous meetings between senior Russian and Chinese officials. Dong’s rhetorical support for Russia is likely primarily posturing against the West. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev recently made inflammatory comments about Japan likely in an effort to demonstrate Russia’s support of China’s opposition to the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific.[28] ISW continues to assess that China is unwilling to establish the no-limits bilateral partnership with Russia that Russia desires.[29]

Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continued rhetorical efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and to set information conditions to justify future Russian aggression against Moldova. Moldovan and Ukrainian officials reiterated on January 29 and 30 that Moldova and Ukraine are committed to resolving the Transnistrian conflict through diplomatic means and dialogue with Transnistria.[30] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger, who has recently fixated on the Moldovan-Transnistrian conflict, continued to claim that Moldova is engaging in military actions that threaten Transnistria, likely as part of efforts to justify future Russian aggression in the area as necessary to protect Transnistria.[31] The milblogger also responded to Ukrainian and Moldovan official statements, claiming that Moldova is only “verbally” interested in diplomatic solutions to the Transnistria conflict and is instead trying to use its economic policies to “blackmail” Transnistria. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed on January 31 that Moldova is economically “strangling” regions in Moldova that do not agree with the Moldovan government’s policies – likely referring to both Transnistria and Gagauzia, whose leaders have reportedly complained about Moldovan economic policies recently.[32] Zakharova claimed that the Moldovan government is using increased “Russophobic rhetoric” to divert attention from Moldova’s internal socio-economic and political problems.[33] Another Russian milblogger largely mirrored Zakharova‘s claims, alleging that the Moldovan government is blaming Russia for Moldova’s socio-economic problems.[34] Kremlin narratives about alleged socio-economic issues in Moldova are likely aimed at promoting the idea that Moldova’s moves towards Western integration, particularly with the European Union (EU), are hurting Moldova’s economy and generating discontent among its population.

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it recently conducted a cyberattack on a Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) communications server. The GUR reported on January 30 that GUR hackers successfully hacked a Russian MoD server used to exchange information between Russian units. The GUR reported that Russia has installed the software on this server on various other strategic objects including military objects and that the GUR’s cyber operation is ongoing.[35] ISW has recently observed an increase in reported Ukrainian cyberattacks against Russian targets.[36]

Estonian Defense Forces Commander General Martin Herem stated that Russia may be behind recent GPS jamming in the Baltic region.[37] Bloomberg reported on January 31 that Herem stated that Russia may be “learning and testing” its jamming capabilities against the backdrop of the risk of future conflict with NATO. Bloomberg stated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) previously confirmed the presence of Russian electronic warfare (EW) units in Kaliningrad Oblast, and Herem stated that Russia may also jam signals from ships in the Baltic Sea. Swedish Lieutenant Colonel Joakim Paasikivi previously stated that he believes that high GPS interference levels in December 2023 and January 2024 are a result of "Russian influence activities or so-called hybrid warfare."[38]

The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers approved and submitted an updated version of a draft law on mobilization to the Verkhovna Rada on January 30.[39] The Verkhovna Rada withdrew the previous version of the draft law on mobilization for revisions on January 11 after discussions between Ukrainian legislators and political and military leadership.[40] The updated version of the draft law has not amended key provisions concerning the lowering of the mobilization age from 27 to 25 years of age, the discharge of servicemen after 36 months of service, and an effort to systematize Ukrainian mobilization infrastructure.[41] Deputy Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Digital Transformation Oleksandr Fedienko stated on January 31 that the Verkhovna Rada will likely consider the updated second draft law no earlier than March 2024.[42]

In accordance with its policy against speculating about future Ukrainian actions, ISW is not covering reported leaks concerning possible changes in the Ukrainian command structure. ISW will continue to report official statements by Ukrainian government officials and organizations as they are made.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces struck Russian targets in the vicinity of Belbek airfield in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea on January 31.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin doubled down on his maximalist and purposefully vague territorial objectives in Ukraine on January 31.
  • Ukrainian and Russian forces conducted a prisoner-of-war (POW) exchange on January 31, exchanging 195 Russian POWs for 207 Ukrainian POWs.
  • The European Union (EU) will reportedly fall short of its promise to provide Ukraine with one million artillery shells by March 1, 2024, as European leaders call on EU member states to intensify deliveries of ammunition to Ukraine.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian-Chinese relations are at their “best period in their history” in a January 31 call with Chinese Defense Minister Admiral Dong Jun.
  • Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continued rhetorical efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and to set information conditions to justify future Russian aggression against Moldova.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it recently conducted a cyberattack on a Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) communications server.
  • Estonian Defense Forces Commander General Martin Herem stated that Russia may be behind recent GPS jamming in the Baltic region.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, and southwest of Donetsk City amid positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 31.
  • Russian forces reportedly formed a “secret” battalion of penal recruits to conduct offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast but are reportedly disbanding the battalion.
  • Russian and occupation officials continue efforts to erase Ukrainian cultural and ethnic identity in occupied territories.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 30, 2024 

Click here to read the full report.

Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, Christina Harward, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 30, 2024, 7:15pm ET 

The anticipated Russian 2024 winter-spring offensive effort is underway in the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated on January 30 that the Russian offensive in Ukraine is currently ongoing and that Russian forces aim to reach the Zherebets River (in the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area) and the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[1] Budanov forecasted that Russian forces would fail to achieve these objectives, however, and would likely be “completely exhausted” by the beginning of the spring.[2] Budanov’s statements are consistent with ISW’s observation that Russian forces have intensified offensive operations along this axis since the beginning of January 2024.[3] Russian forces have recently made tactical gains southeast of Kupyansk along the critical P07 Kupyansk-Svatove route near Krokhmalne and appear to be increasing assaults northwest and west of Krokhmalne towards the Oskil River.[4] Russian forces will likely be able to secure additional tactical-level gains in the Kupyansk area but are unlikely to be able to translate these tactical gains into wider mechanized maneuvers needed for operationally significant advances that could capture more territory in Kharkiv Oblast and push to the Luhansk and Donetsk oblast administrative borders.[5] ISW has observed that elements of the Western Military District’s 1st Guards Tank Army and 6th Combined Arms Army are active in the Kupyansk area and have been able to pursue infantry-led frontal assaults but have not shown the capacity to conduct large-scale mechanized maneuver since they were deployed to this axis over a year ago. ISW will soon publish a more detailed operational analysis of the situation on this Kharkiv-Luhansk axis.[6]

Ukrainian officials continued to deny rumors about the purported dismissal of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Ukrainian Presidential Press Secretary Serhii Nykyforov stated on January 29 that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not dismiss Zaluzhnyi.[7]

Russian forces appear to be continuing to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to which Russia is a signatory. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun reported on January 30 that Russian forces are using chemical weapons against Ukrainian positions in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast).[8] Shtupun noted that Russian forces conducted at least five strikes using likely K-51 grenades carrying chloropicrin on January 29 alone. Chloropicrin is primarily used as a soil fumigant that can be fatal when inhaled, and it is sometimes classified as a riot control agent (RCA) due to its harmful and irritant effects.[9] The CWC prohibits the use of RCAs in warfare.[10]

Russian Army General Alexander Dvornikov was reportedly appointed the new chairperson of the Russian Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation, and Navy of Russia (DOSAAF).[11] Dvornikov had been the commander of the Southern Military District and the first overall theater commander in Ukraine from April to May 2022, and Russian President Vladimir Putin had sidelined Dvornikov without officially firing him following Dvornikov‘s failure to capture Donbas by May 2022.[12] Dvornikov was reportedly serving as an advisor to the Almaz-Antey Aerospace Concern as of October 2023.[13] Dvornikov’s newest appointment demonstrates Putin’s preference for rotating his failed generals through positions that are peripheral to combat duty as opposed to outright dismissing them.[14] DOSAAF is a Soviet-era youth movement that promotes military skills and has likely supported Russian youth education aimed at Russifying youth in occupied Ukraine.[15] Russian sources claimed that Dvornikov will need to "resuscitate" the "long-suffering" DOSAAF organization, and Dvornikov’s appointment may indicate increased Kremlin attention to military-patriotic youth education.[16]

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev made offensive and inflammatory comments about Japan while asserting Russia’s rights to the disputed Kuril Islands, likely as part of wider Kremlin efforts to demonstrate Russia’s support of China against the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated on January 30 that Japanese sanctions against Russia and support for Ukraine will continue but that Japan is interested in resolving its territorial issues with Russia and signing a peace treaty.[17] Japan never signed a formal peace treaty with the Soviet Union after the end of World War II. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev responded to Kishida’s statement and claimed that the disputed Kuril Islands are Russian and that the “territorial question” between Russia and Japan about the islands is “closed“ according to Russia’s constitution – referring to amendments to Russia’s constitution in 2020 that banned territorial concessions.[18] Medvedev claimed that Russia will “actively” develop the Kuril Islands and that their “strategic role” will grow as Russia stations new weapons there.[19] Russia has been installing military infrastructure on the Kuril Islands since at least 2015.[20] Medvedev used highly offensive language to imply that Russia would not negotiate with Japan about the islands and to criticize Japan’s relations with the United States.[21] Medvedev posted these comments on his English-language X (formerly Twitter) account as opposed to his Russian-language Telegram channel, suggesting that his objective was specifically to offend Japan in the English-speaking world and posture aggressively towards the US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific. The Russian Pacific Fleet also conducted an anti-submarine exercise in the South China Sea on January 29.[22] Medvedev’s claims and the Pacific Fleet exercises are likely aimed at demonstrating that Russia is a strong Pacific power that supports China against the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific, as the Kremlin has routinely stressed in the past.[23]

Senior Russian officials may be intensifying their attempts to frame and justify Russia’s long term war effort in Ukraine as an existential geopolitical confrontation with the West by explicitly equating the United States with the Nazis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated at an international ambassadorial roundtable on “solving the situation in Ukraine” on January 30 that “Napoleon, Hitler, and now the US” have found a new way to attack Russia.[24] Lavrov quoted Nazi Reichskommissar (literally “imperial commissar”--the Nazi occupation governor) for Ukraine Erich Koch stating that “Ukraine is for [the Third Reich] only an object of exploitation... and that the population must be used as a second-class people in solving military problems” and claimed that the West today is fighting the war against Russia through Ukraine “with only the goal outlined by Reichskommissar Koch.”[25] Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials have recently started framing the war as an existential geopolitical conflict against an alleged modern Nazi movement in the West, though Lavrov’s claim that the West is pursuing the same goals and methods as a specified Nazi official is the most explicit framing yet.[26] ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin may have decided that the narrative that Russia and other countries are fighting a geopolitical Western “Nazi” force is a more effective immediate narrative than Putin's attempt to appeal to ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in territories formerly colonized by the Soviet Union and Russian Empire with the “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) ideology.[27] The Russkiy Mir framework is purposefully based on amorphous ethnic identities that are not universally agreed upon and that are at odds with Russia’s multi-ethnic composition. Lavrov’s intensification of portrayals of the United States and West as alleged Nazi actors at an international event is also noteworthy and may suggest that the Kremlin views the Nazi narrative as potentially more successful as a posturing tool with international audiences, particularly those that are not aligned with the United States and the West.

Russian opposition sources suggested that widespread internet outages in Russia on January 30 may be the result of Russian efforts to establish the “sovereign internet” system. Russian media reported that several major Russian entities experienced outages on January 30, including but not limited to Russian telecommunications giants Yandex, Megafon, MTS, Rostelecom, and Beeline; banks VTB, Sberbank, Alfabank; consumer goods companies Avito, Wildberries, Ozon, and Lamoda; and the social media site VK.[28] The Russian Ministry of Digital Transformation reported that a technical issue with the global Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) caused the outage with .ru domains and that authorities have since restored service to users on Russia’s National Domain Name System.[29] Russian anti-censorship organization Net Freedoms Project and other opposition outlets noted that Russia has been trying to establish its “sovereign internet” system and connected the DNSSEC failure with attempts to transfer all Russian internet users to a Russian national domain name system (DNS) server separate from the global internet.[30] The Russian “sovereign internet” law, which came into force in November 2019, aims to create an independent Russian internet system protected from external actors and obliges Russian internet service providers to possess the technological means to counter these threats, and the Russian government will likely coopt this technology to increase surveillance and censorship in the Russian information space.[31]

The Kremlin has been intensifying efforts to consolidate control over the Russian information space in advance of the March 2024 Russian presidential election, and these efforts support the development of the “sovereign internet” system. Russian state newswire TASS reported that social media site Telegram experienced an outage on January 18; telecom operator Beeline experienced an outage on January 19; and YouTube experienced outages in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, and Rostov-on-Don on January 23.[32] Russian state censor Roskomnadzor tested blocking all major messaging platforms in the Russian Far East on January 23, and Russian opposition outlet SOTA reported that Roskomnadzor blocked internet access in the Republic of Sakha on January 24 to stymie unrest following an ethnically motivated murder.[33] The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office reported on January 8 that it blocked over 200,000 internet resources for allegedly promoting “fakes” and for “discrediting” the Russian military and that it prepared a bill allowing Roskomnadzor to rapidly block information that fails to comply with Russian censorship laws.[34] The Kremlin is also replacing blocked sites with its own analogs; Russian Wikipedia replacement “Ruviki” left beta testing as of January 15 and internet giant Yandex took an additional step to separate its Russian entity from its international entity on January 23.[35]

Key Takeaways:

  • The anticipated Russian 2024 winter-spring offensive effort is underway in the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border area.
  • Ukrainian officials continued to deny rumors about the purported dismissal of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
  • Russian forces appear to be continuing to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Russia is signatory.
  • Russian Army General Alexander Dvornikov was reportedly appointed the new chairperson of the Russian Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation, and Navy of Russia (DOSAAF).
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev made offensive and inflammatory comments about Japan while asserting Russia’s rights to the disputed Kuril Islands, likely as part of wider Kremlin efforts to demonstrate Russia’s support of China against the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Senior Russian officials may be intensifying their attempts to frame and justify Russia’s long term war effort in Ukraine as an existential geopolitical confrontation with the West by explicitly equating the US with the Nazis.
  • Russian opposition sources suggested that widespread internet outages in Russia on January 30 may be the result of Russian efforts to establish the “sovereign internet” system.
  • The Kremlin has been intensifying efforts to consolidate control over the Russian information space in advance of the March 2024 Russian presidential election, and these efforts support the development of the “sovereign internet” system.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Horlivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 30.
  • The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) can produce at least 100 main battle tanks per month and is therefore able to replace battlefield losses, allowing Russian forces to continue their current tempo of operations “for the foreseeable future.”
  • Russian authorities are planning to increase the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia in 2024.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 29, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 29, 2024, 5:45pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:00pm ET on January 29. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 30 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW added a new section on Russian air, missile, and drone campaign to track Russian efforts to target Ukrainian rear and frontline areas, grow its drone and missile arsenals, and adapt its strike packages.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) denied rumors about the purported resignation or dismissal of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi on January 29.[1] Ukrainian People’s Deputy Oleksii Honcharenko claimed on January 29 that “Zaluzhnyi announced his resignation, but there is no decree yet.”[2] Former Ukrainian People’s Deputy Boryslav Bereza claimed that the Ukrainian Presidential Office “dismissed” Zaluzhnyi.[3] Western media amplified Honcharenko’s and Bereza’s posts, and Russian sources and state media outlets also picked up claims of Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal or resignation.[4] The Ukrainian MoD apparently responded to the rumors by saying “no, this is not true,” but has not yet offered additional information on the situation as of the time of this writing.[5] ISW cannot independently confirm rumors about Zaluzhnyi‘s dismissal or resignation at this time. Russian sources are seizing on rumors of Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal or resignation to further several information operations about domestic Ukrainian affairs they have been conducting for some time.[6] Veteran Russian propagandist and RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan emphasized that whether or not reports of Zaluzhnyi’s removal are true, “chaos ... is useful to [Russia].”[7]

Russia may be retooling aspects of its air defense umbrella in deep rear areas amid continued Ukrainian drone strikes within Russia. Russian outlet Kommersant reported on January 29 that the Russian Ministry of Digital Development ordered Russian authorities in Leningrad, Novgorod, and Pskov oblasts to block 4G LTE internet connection until January 30 so that Russian officials can “fine-tune” anti-drone and air defense systems.[8] Leningrad, Novgorod, and Pskov oblasts previously announced disruptions to 4G LTE internet services from January 25 to January 30 in connection with technical adjustments to the “radio frequency spectrum.”[9] One of Kommersant’s sources stated that Voronezh Oblast is conducting similar efforts that have been “planned at the federal level” and that many other unspecified Russian federal subjects are pursuing these efforts at different paces.[10]

Kommersant stated that Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems and mobile internet providers both operate on frequencies permitted by the Russian State Commission on Radio Frequencies (SCRF), and Kommersant’s source stated that indiscriminate EW use can interfere with mobile data.[11] It is unclear what impact internet operations may have on the reorientation of EW systems or the deployment of new capabilities and vice versa. It is equally possible that Russian forces may be testing new EW capabilities and preemptively turned off internet services to avoid sudden disruptions. Russian officials may also be limiting access to the internet to conceal the movement of conventional air defense systems within Russia after Ukrainian drone strikes in Leningrad Oblast on January 18 and January 21 suggested that Russian air defenses in northwestern Russia may be ill-deployed to defend against drones launched from Ukraine.[12] Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Mikhail Yevraev claimed on January 29 that Russian EW systems downed a Ukrainian drone targeting the Slavneft-Yanos oil refinery in Yaroslavl Oblast.[13] Russian sources amplified images of the downed drown at the refinery and claimed that it did not cause any damage.[14] Kommersant’s source stated that they believe that the timing of the internet disruptions is also associated with security for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing trip to St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast.[15]

Russia appears to be fueling and seizing on neo-imperialist and nationalist sentiments in Europe in order to drive wedges between Ukraine and its western neighbors. Right-wing Hungarian politician and Our Homeland Movement party leader Laszlo Toroczkai stated on January 27 that Hungary should claim Ukraine’s Zakarpattia Oblast in the event of a Ukrainian defeat in the war.[16] Right-wing Romanian politician and Alliance for the Union of Romanians party leader Claudiu Tarziu emphasized on January 29 that Romania needs to “reintegrate” areas of Ukraine neighboring Romania where Romanian populations lived in order to maintain sovereignty.[17] Russian sources amplified Toroczkai’s and Tarziu’s statements and emphasized these ultranationalist Romanian and Hungarian claims to Ukrainian territory.[18] Russia previously proposed the idea of a “partitioned Ukraine” between Russia and the West prior to the full-scale invasion.[19] Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials reignited this narrative in December 2023 by claiming that Ukraine has historical “territorial disputes” with Poland, Romania, and Hungary but could maintain its “sovereignty” if the whole country is comprised of the borders of Lviv Oblast.[20] The Russian ultranationalist framework of the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) concept appears to have gained traction among nationalist European factions as applied to their own nationalist ideologies, and Russian information space actors likely seek to leverage this ideological bent to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its European neighbors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed a series of economic and technological agreements on January 29 advancing the Kremlin’s efforts to further integrate Belarus into the Union State structure. Putin and Lukashenko approved three agreements on the implementation of the Union State Treaty, joint scientific and technological development, and the coordination of both countries’ foreign policies during a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State in St. Petersburg.[21] Putin reiterated claims that Russians and Belarusians are “fraternal peoples,” united by a common history and values.[22] Lukashenko highlighted Russian and Belarusian cooperation in Africa, claiming that he coordinated his December 2023 trips to various African countries with Putin, and stated that Russia and Belarus have not yet resolved the issue of creating common markets for gas, oil, and petroleum products under the Union State framework.[23] Lukashenko has previously resisted the Kremlin’s efforts to further integrate Belarus into the Union State, but the fallout of the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion, which Lukashenko reportedly played a role in mediating, and the death of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin may have hindered Lukashenko’s ability to resist further Union State integration efforts.[24]

Key Takeaways:

 

  • The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) denied rumors about the purported resignation or dismissal of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi on January 29.
  • Russia may be retooling aspects of its air defense umbrella in deep rear areas amid continued Ukrainian drone strikes within Russia.
  • Russia appears to be fueling and seizing on neo-imperialist and nationalist sentiments in Europe in order to drive wedges between Ukraine and its western neighbors.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed a series of economic and technological agreements on January 29 advancing the Kremlin’s efforts to further integrate Belarus into the Union State structure.
  • Russian forces recently advanced near Kreminna and Avdiivka and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area.
  • Russia reportedly deployed more Rosgvardia troops to occupied Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential election.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 28, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 28, 2024, 8:30pm ET 

Note: ISW added a new section on Russian air, missile, and drone campaigns to track Russian efforts to target Ukrainian rear and frontline areas, grow its drone and missile arsenals, and adapt its strike packages.

Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continue to set information conditions to destabilize Moldova, likely as part of efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and the West among other objectives. Alexei Polishchuk, the director of the Second Department of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Countries at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), claimed in an interview with Kremlin newswire TASS published on January 28 that Moldova has begun to “destroy its ties” with CIS member states and the Russia-led CIS organization as a whole and that there are rumors that Moldova plans to leave the CIS by the end of 2024.[1] Polishchuk claimed that this decision would not benefit Moldovan interests or citizens and would be unprofitable for the Moldovan economy. Polishchuk also claimed that the settlement of the Transnistria issue in Moldova is in a “deep crisis” and that Moldova’s economic pressure on Transnistria since the beginning of 2024 has “further delayed” any solution.[2] Polishchuk claimed that Russia is ready to fix deteriorating relations between Moldova and Transnistria “as a mediator and guarantor” to the settlement.[3] Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian stated on January 28 that Moldova would not return to the 5+2 Transnistria negotiating process that included Russia as long as Russian-Ukrainian relations do not improve and Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.[4]

A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger, who has recently fixated on the Moldova-Transnistria conflict, continued to highlight alleged discontent in Moldova’s breakaway and autonomous regions. The milblogger claimed that about 50,000 people in Transnistria participated in a rally protesting against Moldovan economic pressure on Transnistria on January 24.[5] The milblogger also stated that Sergei Ibrishim, the Head of the Main Directorate of Agro-Industrial Complex of Gagauzia, sent a request recently to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for Russia to send fertilizer to Gagauzia as humanitarian aid.[6] Ibrishim also reportedly claimed that Gagauzia’s agricultural producers are unable to sell their products to Russia after Moldova’s decision in July 2023 to leave the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly and asked Lavrov to abolish excise taxes and customs duties for Russian imports from Gagauzia.[7] Polishchuk’s and the milblogger’s comments are likely aimed at dissuading Moldova from leaving the CIS and Russia’s wider sphere of influence, setting information conditions to create economic discontent within Moldova, and posturing Russia as an economic and security guarantor in Moldova.

Russia notably accused Ukraine of abandoning and disregarding the Minsk Agreements that had largely frozen the conflict after Russia’s 2014 invasion in the lead up to Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Russia may be setting information conditions to make similar claims against Moldova.[8] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin is likely setting information conditions to justify future Russian aggression in Moldova under the guise of protecting its “compatriots abroad” and the “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) - concepts that are purposely based on vague definitions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in foreign countries.[9] Russia may attempt to justify its aggression or destabilization efforts in Moldova by claiming that Transnistrian residents are in danger due to Moldova’s alleged abandonment of the Transnistria settlement process. ISW recently observed suggestions that the Kremlin may be turning to rhetorical narratives that appeal to a wider audience beyond the “Russian World.”[10]

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin reiterated that the Kremlin is not interested in any settlements short of the complete destruction and eradication of the Ukrainian state, likely in an ongoing effort to justify the long-term and costly Russian war effort to domestic audiences. Naryshkin told Kremlin journalist Pavel Zarubin during a televised “impromptu” interview on January 28 that the Ukrainian state and government have “a very sad fate” and that “Russia will not stop halfway,” presumably in its efforts to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.[11] Naryshkin made a similar statement on January 27 during the opening of a memorial to the Soviet victims of Nazi genocide in Leningrad Oblast, claiming that “Russia will not stop halfway” in its fight with the current followers of Nazi ideology.[12] The similarity of both statements suggests that Naryshkin may be using pre-approved Kremlin rhetoric to signal to Russian citizens that the Kremlin is not open to negotiating with Ukraine or compromising in any settlement of the war Russia started, despite recent Western reports to the contrary.[13] Russian officials have consistently reiterated Russia‘s commitment to its maximalist objectives in Ukraine - which are tantamount to complete Ukrainian and Western capitulation- and statements by Russian officials suggesting that Russia is or has always been interested in peace negotiations with Ukraine are very likely efforts to feign interest to prompt preemptive Western concessions regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.[14]  

Naryshkin was notably involved in setting domestic information conditions in the lead-up to the 2022 Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including furthering Russian claims that perceived Ukrainian aggression prompted by Ukraine’s Western ‘puppet masters’ forced Russia to invade Ukraine and claims that the Ukrainian government is comparable to Nazi Germany.[15] Russian President Vladimir Putin ostentatiously humiliated Naryshkin during a televised Russian Security Council meeting on February 22, 2022, demanding that Naryshkin “speak plainly” when Naryshkin declared his support for the independence of occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[16] Putin likely humiliated Naryshkin in February 2022 due to Naryshkin‘s failure to set the informational conditions to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the Russian domestic and international information spaces that Putin desired. Naryshkin’s return to the Russian information space to further the perception of the Kremlin’s commitment to the war in Ukraine could indicate that Putin has given Naryshkin another chance to prove his ability to set informational conditions, this time setting conditions domestically for a long war effort. If this hypothesis is correct, then Naryshkin will presumably be determined not to disappoint Putin again. Zarubin has also previously been involved in a number of Kremlin informational efforts, including filming and conducting interviews wherein Putin threatened Finland and the wider NATO alliance and attempted to portray himself as a gracious leader who cares about the well-being of Russian military personnel and an effective Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armed forces.[17]

The Kremlin also continues to frame and justify a long-term Russian war effort as part of an existential geopolitical confrontation with the West and Nazism. Alexei Polishchuk, the director of the Second Department of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Countries at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), also stated during his interview with TASS that “the West incited neo-Nazi sentiments in Ukraine” and “made [Ukraine] anti-Russia.”[18] Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Naryshkin, and Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin during the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the siege of Leningrad on January 27 claimed that Russia is fighting “Nazis” in Ukraine and that a number of Western countries have adopted Nazi ideology.[19] Polishchuk‘s claim that the West incited “neo-Nazi” ideals in Ukraine is likely part of the same coordinated Kremlin informational effort intended to justify geopolitical confrontation with the West and suggests that the Kremlin may increasingly label any perceived adversary and possibly the entire West as “Nazi.”[20] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin may have decided that the simple narrative that Russia and other states are fighting a geopolitical “Nazi” force is a more effective immediate narrative than Putin’s attempt to appeal to Russian citizens and Russian speakers in the territory of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire with the ideology of the ”Russian World” (Russkiy Mir), which is based on purposefully amorphous ethnic identities that are not agreed upon and that are at odds with Russia’s multi-ethnic composition.[21] Polishchuk also reiterated long-standing Russian claims that the West controls Ukraine and that Russia has “always remained” open to peace negotiations.[22]

Ukrainian Navy Commander Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s ability to technologically adapt and develop as Russian forces continue to adapt to Ukrainian operations in a January 27 Sky News interview.[23] Neizhpapa’s statement is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces are adapting and learning on certain sectors of the front.[24] Neizhpapa also reiterated the Ukrainian assertion that Ukrainian forces should be able to use Western-provided systems to strike legitimate military targets in Russia.[25] Neizhpapa stated that the Ukrainian Navy would be “very happy” to accept two UK Type 23 frigates that the UK is considering decommissioning due to a shortage of sailors.[26] The Turkish government announced on January 2 that it would not allow the UK to transport two mine hunting ships to Ukraine via the Turkish Straits citing Article 19 of the Montreux Convention Regulating the Regime of the Turkish Straits, which stipulates that “vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers shall not...pass through the Straits.” Turkey would likely continue to use the Montreux Convention to prevent the UK from potentially transferring these two frigates through the Turkish Straits to Ukraine.[27] Turkey has used the Montreux Convention to deny access to Russian warships wishing to pass through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits since February 28, 2022, to Ukraine’s benefit.[28]

The Kremlin will likely use the withdrawals of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to continue efforts to expand Russian influence in Francophone Africa. The Malian, Burkinabe, and Nigerien juntas announced their immediate withdrawals from ECOWAS in a joint statement on January 28.[29] ECOWAS stated that it had not received “any direct formal notification” from Mali, Burkina Faso, or Niger about their intent to withdraw.[30] Kremlin newswire TASS cited the frustration of these states with ECOWAS’ ”Western influence” as a reason for their withdrawal.[31] Russian milbloggers also celebrated the announcement as evidence of rapidly decreasing French influence in the Sahel.[32] The first contingent of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)-controlled Africa Corps reportedly arrived in Burkina Faso on January 24, and Kremlin officials recently met with Chadian junta officials in Moscow.[33] ISW continues to assess that Russia is attempting to expand its influence in western and central Africa, particularly focusing on Francophone African countries in the Sahel.[34]

Unnamed Indian government sources stated that India wants to distance itself from Russia, its largest arms supplier, because the war in Ukraine has limited Russia’s ability to provide India with munitions.[35] The unnamed Indian government sources told Reuters in a January 28 article that India will act carefully in order to avoid pushing Russia closer to China.[36]  Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation’s Russia expert Nandan Unnikrishnan told Reuters that India is unlikely to sign “any major military deal” with Russia because it would cross a red line with the United States.[37] Indian government-run think tank Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses Eurasia expert Svasti Rao stated that the war in Ukraine has caused India to question Russia’s ability to supply India with spare parts.[38] ISW has routinely observed reports that Russia continues to face challenges repairing aircraft and other equipment and has not been able to produce missiles and artillery ammunition at pre-war levels for its own forces to use, making it highly unlikely that Russia will be able to export military equipment to India or its other customers at pre-war levels any time soon.[39]  Russian President Vladimir Putin recently highlighted Russian-Indian economic and military-technical cooperation in a meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar likely in an effort to emphasize positive Russian-Indian relations amid Russian concerns that India is attempting to diversify its defense partners.[40]

Key Takeaways:

  • Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continue to set information conditions to destabilize Moldova, likely as part of efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and the West among other objectives.
  • Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin reiterated that the Kremlin is not interested in any settlements short of the complete destruction and eradication of the Ukrainian state, likely in an ongoing effort to justify the long-term and costly Russian war effort to domestic audiences.
  • The Kremlin also continues to frame and justify a long-term Russian war effort as part of an existential geopolitical confrontation with the West and Nazism.
  • Ukrainian Navy Commander Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s ability to technologically adapt and develop as Russian forces continue to adapt to Ukrainian operations in a January 27 Sky News interview.
  • The Kremlin will likely use the withdrawals of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to continue efforts to expand Russian influence in Francophone Africa.
  • Unnamed Indian government sources stated that India wants to distance itself from Russia, its largest arms supplier, because the war in Ukraine has limited Russia’s ability to provide India with munitions.
  • Russian forces recently advanced near Kreminna and Avdiivka amid continued positional fighting throughout the theater.
  • A Russian source claimed that Rosgvardia is forming the 1st Volunteer Corps with remaining Wagner Group personnel and newly recruited volunteers (dobrovoltsy) following the Kremlin adoption of the law allowing Rosgvardia to form its own volunteer formations in December 2023.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated on January 28 that Ukraine and Russia will conduct a prisoner of war (POW) exchange in the near future.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 27, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 27, 2024, 5:55pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:30pm ET on January 27. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 28 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and Kremlin officials claimed that Russia is in an existential geopolitical conflict with an alleged modern Nazi movement that extends beyond Ukraine while marking the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the siege of Leningrad. Putin attended the opening of a memorial to the Soviet victims of Nazi genocide in Leningrad Oblast on January 27 and focused heavily on long-standing claims that Russia is fighting “Nazis” in Ukraine.[1] Putin also asserted that select countries have adopted Nazi ideology and methods and tied this assertion to a number of European states promoting “Russophobia as a state policy.”[2] Putin declared that Russia will ”do everything to suppress and finally exterminate Nazism” and cast Russia as pursuing the ”aspirations of millions of people...all over the planet for true freedom, justice, peace, and security.”[3] Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko also attended the ceremony and stated that Belarus and Russia ”are again faced with the question of the right to life of our civilization and the preservation of ancestral...[and] cultural values.”[4] Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin stated that Russia will not stop halfway in its fight against current Nazi followers, and Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin explicitly stated that “fascist ideology is becoming the norm...for leaders of NATO states” and specifically accused US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of sponsoring genocide in Ukraine.[5] Volodin framed this alleged growing fascist movement as a “dangerous path that could lead to a new world war.”[6]

Nazi Germany besieged Leningrad for over two years during the Second World War, causing the deaths of roughly 1.5 million Soviet citizens. Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952, and his grandfather was seriously wounded while defending the city. Putin likely sought to leverage his known if unstated personal connection with the siege and the emotional appeal of one of the most dramatic moments in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to expand his overall ideological framing of the conflict with the West to which he has committed Russia.

Putin has long tried to construct an ideology for Russia that he can use to support a geopolitical confrontation with the West reminiscent of the Cold War, and the Kremlin may increasingly use existing rhetoric about fighting Nazism to support this effort. The Kremlin has called for “denazification” in Ukraine as a thinly veiled demand for regime change and has used information operations about Ukrainian “Nazis” to wrap its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in the mythos of the Great Patriotic War.[7] Russian officials have previously applied the label of “Nazism” to Western states and actors outside Ukraine, although Putin’s, Lukashenko’s, Naryshkin’s, and Volodin’s likely coordinated rhetoric on January 27 suggest that the Kremlin may increasingly label any perceived adversary and possibly the entire West as “Nazi.”[8] The Kremlin may have decided that the simple narrative that Russia and other states are fighting a geopolitical Nazi force is a more effective immediate narrative line than Putin’s attempt to appeal to Russian citizens and Russian speakers in the territory of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire with the ideology of the “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir), which is based on purposefully amorphous ethnic identities that are not agreed upon and that are at odds with Russia’s multi-ethnic composition.[9]

Lukashenko’s participation in this rhetorical posturing suggests that the Kremlin and Lukashenko may believe that this narrative is also easier to coordinate than the Kremlin’s appeals to ethnic Russians and the Russkiy Mir. The Kremlin has increasingly sought to cast Russia as a main actor within the “world majority,” which it has defined as “a civilizational and cultural community that objectively opposes” the West (using the word “objectively” in an echo of the Soviet Union’s Communist ideology).[10] The Kremlin’s overtures to non-Western states have yet to acknowledge that these states have cultural, ideological, and political differences and that many of these states are likely unwilling to involve themselves in Russian appeals to the Russkiy Mir. The Kremlin may hope that “fighting fascism” will be an easier rhetorical line to coordinate with desired partners within this fictitious “world majority.”

Putin specifically accused the Baltic states of adopting “Nazism,” likely as part of continued Kremlin efforts to set information conditions for future Russian aggression against NATO members.[11] Putin alleged that the Baltic states have declared thousands of people living there “subhuman,” are “depriving“ them of their “most basic rights,” and are subjecting them to “persecution.”[12] Although Putin did not specifically claim that the Baltic states are “persecuting” Russians or Russian speakers, Kremlin officials have routinely accused Baltic governments of having “neo-Nazi” policies and of oppressing Russians and Russian speakers.[13] The Kremlin has historically used its concept of “compatriots abroad,” which vaguely includes ethnic Russians and Russian speakers of other ethnicities, to justify Russian aggression in neighboring states.[14] ISW continues to assess that Kremlin officials and mouthpieces may be attempting to set information conditions for possible future Russian aggression in the Baltic states – and other NATO members, such as Finland – under the guise of protecting Russia’s “compatriots abroad.”[15] The Kremlin may also use the pretext of protecting people from alleged “Nazi” policies in the future.

Myanmar banks reportedly connected to the Russian System for the Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) banking system, a Russian analogue for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking system. Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov stated on January 27 that Myanmar banks recently connected to SPFS, which will allow Russian and Myanmar businesses to freely buy and sell products.[16] Russia began developing its SPFS banking system in 2014, following US threats to disconnect Russia from SWIFT in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, and roughly 20 countries have joined SPFS in the past 10 years.[17] The Washington Post reported that internal Russian Security Council documents show that Kremlin officials are working to undermine the dollar’s role as a world reserve currency and hope to work with China to create a new financial system to bypass Western dominance of global financial transactions.[18] Unnamed European security officials told the Washington Post that it is unclear if China has any real interest in this effort.[19]

Russian forces conducted a limited series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on January 26 and 27. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces struck civilian infrastructure in Myrnohrad and Novohrodivka in Donetsk Oblast and Antonivka, Kherson Oblast with nine S-300 missiles and in Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast with an Iskander-M missile on January 26 and 27.[20] The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Ukrainian forces shot down all four Shahed-136/131 drones that Russian forces launched at Ukraine on January 27.[21] Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk stated on January 26 that Ukrainian forces are improving and strengthening their ability to counter Russian drone adaptations, including adaptations for Shahed drones.[22]

Russian authorities are likely blocking communications in the Sakha Republic for the fourth consecutive day following January 24 protests in support of a Russian citizen allegedly murdered by a naturalized Russian citizen from Tajikistan. Local Sakha Republic outlets reported on January 27 that disruptions to WhatsApp and Telegram services continue following reported outages on the night of January 24.[23] The local news outlets also noted that Sakha Republic Digital Development Deputy Minister Andrei Suslov stated on January 24 that Russian federal censor Roskomnadzor‘s “preventative work” created communication disruptions, but that no officials have since commented on continued disruptions as of January 27.[24] Former Yakutsk Mayor Sardana Avksenteva and Sakha Party of Business Head Vitaly Obedin stated that all internet connection and communication has slowed, creating difficulties for online commerce and digital document organization.[25] Russian authorities are likely attempting to preemptively stifle a potential resurgence in protests and “strengthen public safety and crime prevention measures” in accordance with Sakha Republic Head Aisen Nikolayev’s orders following the protests.[26] Russian sources notably did not report similar widespread communication outages during or following several days of protest in Bashkortostan.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and Kremlin officials claimed that Russia is in an existential geopolitical conflict with an alleged modern Nazi movement that extends beyond Ukraine while marking the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the siege of Leningrad.
  • Putin has long tried to construct an ideology for Russia that he can use to support a geopolitical confrontation with the West reminiscent of the Cold War, and the Kremlin may increasingly use existing rhetoric about fighting Nazism to support this effort.
  • Putin specifically accused the Baltic states of adopting “Nazism,” likely as part of continued Kremlin efforts to set information conditions for future Russian aggression against NATO members.
  • Myanmar banks reportedly connected to the Russian System for the Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) banking system, a Russian analogue for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking system.
  • Russian forces conducted a limited series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on January 26 and 27.
  • Russian authorities are likely blocking communications in the Sakha Republic for the fourth consecutive day following January 24 protests in support of a Russian citizen allegedly murdered by a naturalized Russian citizen from Tajikistan.
  • Russian forces made recent confirmed advances near Kupyansk, Kreminna, and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 27.
  • UK outlet the Telegraph reported on January 26, citing an unnamed Western official, that Russia is spending roughly 40 percent of its GDP on the war in Ukraine, more than Russian national spending on health and education.
  • Russian federal subjects continue to establish patronage networks with occupied areas of Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 26, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 26, 2024, 8:10pm ET

The Kremlin and US officials rejected rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations amid continued indications from the Kremlin that Russia seeks nothing less than full Ukrainian and Western capitulation. Bloomberg reported on January 25 that two unspecified sources close to the Kremlin stated that Putin signaled to senior US officials through indirect channels that Putin is open to negotiations, including those that would provide “security arrangements” for Ukraine.[1] Bloomberg reported that an unidentified intermediary “conveyed signals” to US officials in December 2023 that Putin may be willing to drop his insistence on Ukraine’s “neutral status” and even may ultimately abandon his opposition to Ukraine’s NATO accession.[2] This report may refer to the same supposed backchannel communications reported by the New York Times in late December 2023 about Putin’s supposed interest in a ceasefire.[3] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov denied Bloomberg’s report on January 26, stating that reports about Russian readiness to give up its demands that Ukraine not join NATO are ”incorrect“ and “untrue.“[4] Bloomberg reported that US National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated that US officials are not aware of these alleged overtures, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated on January 19 that he does not see any indication that Putin is serious about looking for a way to end the fighting in Ukraine.[5] 

Putin and Kremlin officials have increasingly stressed in recent weeks that Russia has no interest in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith, that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine remain the same, and that Putin continues to pursue his overarching objective to weaken and dismantle NATO.[6]  Former White House Official Fiona Hill told Bloomberg on January 26 that Russian actors want the West to create the idea of such a channel in order to scare Ukraine and frame the US as the only other relevant actor in Ukraine besides Russia.[7] Kremlin officials routinely frame the Russian war in Ukraine as a struggle against the West in order to deny Ukraine’s agency in potential negotiations and to set conditions that seek to convince the West to ignore centering Ukraine’s interests in any negotiations.[8]

Russian demands for Ukrainian “neutrality” and a moratorium on NATO expansion have always been and continue to be one of Putin’s central justifications for his invasion of Ukraine, and any hypothetical concession on these demands would represent a major strategic and rhetorical retreat on Putin’s behalf that Putin is extremely unlikely to be considering at this time. Russian calls for Ukrainian “neutrality” are demands that Ukraine amend its constitution to remove commitments to seeking NATO membership and to commit itself permanently not to join NATO or the European Union (EU).[9] Demands for this ”neutral status” are a nested goal within Putin’s decades-long effort to demand changes to the NATO alliance that would weaken the alliance to the point where it would be unable to deter or defeat future Russian aggression in eastern Europe.[10] Putin has long highlighted a permanent moratorium on NATO expansion as one of those goals, which would require a change in NATO’s charter that would, in turn, require a new treaty between member states and effectively grant Russia a veto over future NATO membership.[11] Any Kremlin concessions on these demands would also amount to a significant Russian defeat, as Putin has increasingly used public appearances to reiterate that the invasion’s initial objectives remain the same and to frame the war in Ukraine as a larger geopolitical confrontation with the collective West.[12] These concessions would also be inconsistent with the Kremlin’s apparent growing public confidence about Russian prospects in Ukraine and the attainability of Putin’s maximalist war objectives.[13] Putin is highly unlikely to offer these concessions as he will not stop pursuing his objective to control Ukraine and weaken NATO, barring a decisive defeat.[14]

Russian actors may be feigning interest in offering concessions on Ukraine’s place in Western institutions in an effort to prompt preemptive Western concessions on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Reports about Putin’s openness to negotiations through back channels have not mentioned Russian openness to relinquishing any occupied Ukrainian territory. Russian officials continue to indicate that Putin’s maximalist objectives do not exclude Russia’s annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories or additional territorial conquests in Ukraine.[15] Ukraine’s accession into the EU and NATO are long processes that would not unfold in the immediate aftermath of any negotiated ceasefire, and Russia may seek to temporarily feign acquiescing on these demands to more immediately solidify control of occupied territories. ISW continues to assess that any ceasefire would benefit Russia, giving it time to reconstitute and regroup for future offensive campaigns in pursuit of the same maximalist objectives and further territorial conquest in Ukraine.[16] There is no reason to assess that Putin would not renege on any commitment to permit Ukraine to integrate into Western political, economic, and military institutions as long as the Russian military can pursue his objectives to prevent Ukraine from doing so. Putin has already violated Russia’s previous commitments not to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea, made in 1991 and 1994.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated boilerplate Kremlin narratives that blame Ukraine for the war while also highlighting Russian forces in the Soledar direction. Putin continued to claim on January 26 during a meeting with students at the St. Petersburg State Maritime Technical University who fought in the war in Ukraine that Ukraine “refused” to implement the Minsk Agreements, Ukraine committed “genocide” against Russians in “[Russia’s] historical territories” in Ukraine, and the West “deceived” Russia multiple times by expanding NATO – all of which he claimed forced Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022.[17] Putin’s comments continue to indicate that the Kremlin is framing NATO expansion and Ukraine‘s existence as an independent, sovereign state as existential threats to Russia that Russia must eliminate with force. Putin further falsely claimed that Russia’s full-scale invasion was a “response to [Ukraine’s] use of armed force” after Ukraine ”started the war in Donbas in 2014” and that Russia had to “protect [its] interests.”

Putin highlighted Russian forces fighting in the Soledar direction in Ukraine during a conversation with a veteran who reportedly fought in the area. Putin claimed that Ukrainian forces are unsuccessfully counterattacking from all sides in the Soledar direction and that Russian forces are advancing ”almost every day, little by little.” Putin claimed that Russian units in the area work ”harmoniously [and] confidently.” The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published footage of elements of the 106th Airborne (VDV) Division participating in the capture of Vesele in the Soledar direction on January 18, and Putin was likely trying to keep attention on recent Russian successes in the area.[18] Putin’s comment that units in the Soledar direction are ”harmonious” is also possibly an attempt to suppress recent claims of mistreatment within the 106th Division’s 119th VDV Regiment and the subsequent allegations that a faction of Putin’s inner circle organized these public claims of mistreatment as part of an ongoing ”clan war” with another Kremlin faction.[19]

The circumstances of the January 24 crash of a Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft in Belgorod Oblast remain unclear. Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Russia is attempting to use the Il-76 crash to reduce Western support for Ukraine and noted that Russia has not provided any new evidence from the crash site.[20] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Andriy Yusov stated that Russian authorities rejected the creation of an international commission to investigate the circumstances of the crash.[21] Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Russian allegations that Ukrainian authorities knew about the presence of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) on the Il-76 aircraft prior to shooting the plane down and stated that the Russian Investigative Committee will publicize all details of the crash in the coming days.[22] The Russian Investigative Committee stated that its preliminary investigation confirmed initial reports that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile launched from Liptsy, Kharkiv Oblast, downed the aircraft, and Russian media reported that investigators are decrypting the Il-76’s black boxes.[23] UN Deputy Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo stated on January 25 that the UN cannot verify Russian or Ukrainian reports about the circumstances of the Il-76 crash.[24]

The European Union (EU) will provide Ukraine with an additional five billion euros to meet “urgent military needs” in the near future. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell announced on January 26 that EU member states should reach an agreement to provide an additional five billion euros ($5.4 billion) from the European Peace Fund to Ukraine in the coming days.[25] Borrell added that the EU will discuss the use of frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine before the next EU Council on Foreign Affairs meeting in early 2024. The 50 billion euros would reportedly be dispensed over 2024-2027.[26]

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence and subsume previous Wagner Group operations in Africa. The Russian MoD-controlled Africa Corps stated on January 26 that a Russian MoD delegation arrived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.[27] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that the MoD delegation will discuss the rights and powers of the Russian military contingent in Burkina Faso and future cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia.[28] The milblogger claimed that Burkina Faso will likely become the “main coordination center” between Sahel Alliance members Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali and that the formalization of Russia’s military presence in the Sahel suggests that this relationship will likely last for years.[29] The milblogger also claimed that Russian media is also operating in Burkina Faso to “compete with French media” and “create a loyal information space.”[30]

The Russian Officers’ Union for International Security (OUIS) Director Alexander Ivanov told Kremlin newswire TASS that several hundred Russian military personnel in the Central African Republic (CAR) would be “sufficient and effective.”[31] Ivanov claimed that such a Russian military contingent would strengthen Russia’s position in CAR and the region and would show that cooperation between CAR and Russia is ”of a strategic long-term nature.” Ivanov labeled previous claims by a CAR presidential advisor that the Russian military base in CAR could accommodate 10,000 personnel “a clear exaggeration.”[32] Russian Ambassador to CAR Alexander Bikantov told Russian outlet RIA Novosti that the creation of a Russian military base in CAR will protect CAR’s national sovereignty.[33] Bikantov stated that the Russian and Central African Republic MoDs are discussing the base’s location and have yet to determine the timing of the Russian military contingent’s arrival and the number of Russian personnel. The US Treasury Department sanctioned OUIS and Ivanov on January 26, 2023 for acting as a Wagner Group front company operating in CAR, and Ivanov’s statements to Russian state media about future Russian MoD forces in CAR suggest that the Russian MoD has been successful in co-opting some former Wagner Group structures in CAR.[34]

Russia reportedly imported $1.7 billion worth of advanced microchips and semiconductors in 2023, primarily from the West, skirting Western sanctions intended to deprive Russia of such technology. Bloomberg reported on January 25 that classified Russian customs service data shows that Russia imported over one billion dollars worth of advanced US and European-produced chips and that more than half of the semiconductors and integrated circuits that Russia imported in early 2023 were manufactured in the US and Europe.[35] Bloomberg’s report does not definitively indicate whether Western companies violated sanctions or provide identities of the likely intermediaries that trafficked the technology to Russia. Russia reportedly imported $2.5 billion worth of Western-made microchips and semiconductors in 2022 and Russia’s demand for this technology would have likely increased during 2023, given Russia’s ongoing efforts to expand its military equipment and weapons production capabilities, particularly for drone and missile production.[36] Western sanctions are likely the driving force behind Russia’s decreased import of microchips and semiconductors despite ongoing Russian efforts to evade such sanctions. ISW previously assessed that China, Iran, Belarus, and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member states have likely been heavily involved in various Russian sanctions evasion schemes.[37]

Key Takeaways:

  • The Kremlin and US officials rejected rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations amid continued indications from the Kremlin that Russia seeks nothing less than full Ukrainian and Western capitulation.
  • Russian demands for Ukrainian “neutrality” and a moratorium on NATO expansion have always been and continue to be one of Putin’s central justifications for his invasion of Ukraine, and any hypothetical concession on these demands would represent a major strategic and rhetorical retreat on Putin’s behalf that Putin is extremely unlikely to be considering at this time.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated boilerplate Kremlin narratives that blame Ukraine for the war while also highlighting Russian forces in the Soledar direction.
  • The circumstances of the January 24 crash of a Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft in Belgorod Oblast remain unclear.
  • The European Union (EU) will provide Ukraine with an additional five billion euros to meet “urgent military needs” in the near future.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence and subsume previous Wagner Group operations in Africa.
  • Russia reportedly imported $1.7 billion worth of advanced microchips and semiconductors in 2023, primarily from the West, skirting Western sanctions intended to deprive Russia of such technology.
  • Russian forces advanced near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements throughout the theater.
  • Elements of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s alleged personal private military company (PMC) may have deployed to Ukraine.
  • Russian opposition media reported on January 26 that Viktor Filonov, a Russian soldier in the 234th Airborne Regiment (76th VDV Division) serving in Ukraine, adopted a Ukrainian child from occupied Donetsk Oblast.

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 25, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Christina Harward, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 25, 2024, 9pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2:00pm ET on January 25. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 26 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukrainian and Russian authorities opened criminal investigations into the January 24 Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft crash in Belgorod Oblast. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) announced on January 25 that it opened an investigation to clarify the circumstances of the crash, and the Russian Investigative Committee stated that it opened a criminal case on charges of “terrorism” in connection with the Il-76 crash after claiming that an initial investigation determined that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile downed the aircraft.[1] Ukrainian and Western media reported that the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an emergency meeting to discuss the Il-76 crash at Russia’s request on the evening of January 25 after Russian sources claimed that France rejected Russia’s request for the meeting in France’s capacity as rotating UNSC Chair.[2] Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets warned that Russia intends to co-opt the Il-76 crash to destabilize Ukraine domestically and reduce Western support Ukraine.[3] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Andriy Yusov noted that Russia has not provided any evidence of Russian claims that Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) were on the aircraft.[4] Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairperson Andrei Kartapolov claimed that Russian authorities gave Ukraine a 15-minute warning before the Il-76 aircraft entered the area where it was shot down.[5] Ukrainian officials continue to deny that they received a written or verbal Russia request to secure the air space around Belgorod City, however.[6] A Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger insinuated that Russia should not provide any data from the crash site or evidence of the claimed presence of Ukrainian POWs on the aircraft because the international community has previously dismissed Russian evidence, referring to the international investigation into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian-backed proxies in occupied Donetsk Oblast[7] Kartapolov stated that Russia will continue POW exchanges because Russia ”cannot abandon [its] guys,” a notable reversal from Karatpolov’s calls for all POW exchanges to pause indefinitely immediately following the[8] ISW continues to offer no assessment of the circumstances of the Il-76 crash at this time and cannot independently verify Russian or Ukrainian statements on the incident.

Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 24 to 25. Ukrainian military officials reported on January 25 that Russian forces launched 14 Shahed-136/131 drones from Krasnodar Krai and occupied Crimea, four S-300 missiles from Belgorod Oblast, and another S-300 missile from occupied Donetsk Oblast.[9] Ukrainian air defenses destroyed 11 Shaheds.[10] Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian air defenses also intercepted a Kh-59 missile over Mykolaiv Oblast.[11] Ukrainian officials reported that Russian drones struck an enterprise in Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and an industrial facility and residential buildings in Odesa City, and that Russian S-300 missiles struck civilian targets in Rohan, Kharkiv Oblast and Druzhkivka, Donetsk Oblast.[12]

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) reportedly conducted a successful drone strike on a Rosneft oil refinery in Tuapse, Krasnodar Krai on the night of January 24 to 25. Ukrainian outlet Suspilne reported on January 25, citing an unspecified source, that the SBU conducted a drone strike on the refinery and that Ukraine will continue to target economically and militarily important objects in Russia.[13] Geolocated footage published on January 24 shows a fire at the Rosneft oil refinery in Tuapse, and additional footage reportedly shows drones operating in the area before and after residents reported explosions at the refinery.[14] Russian sources claimed on January 25 that the refinery had 112 tons of gasoline and 200 tons of fuel oil at the time of the strike.[15] Russian milbloggers claimed that the SBU strike shows that Ukrainian forces are not ”suckers” and that rear areas are not ”safe place[s]” in modern war.[16]

Russian forces are reportedly increasing their use of chemical weapons in Ukraine in continued apparent violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is party. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Center for the Research of Trophy and Prospective Weapons and Military Equipment of the Ukrainian General Staff Captain Andrii Rudyk stated on January 25 that Russian forces began using RG-VO grenades with chloroacetophenone, a type of tear gas used for riot control (also known as a Riot Control Agent [RCA]), in December 2023 and that Ukrainian officials observed 81 instances of Russian forces using the RG-VO grenades in December 2023.[17] The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 13 that Russian forces began using a new type of special gas grenade containing CS gas (2-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile – also an RCA) on December 14 and that Russian forces have used chemical weapons at least 51 times in the first two weeks of 2024.[18] The Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade previously acknowledged on December 22 that the brigade deliberately uses chemical weapons by dropping K-51 grenades with CS gas from drones onto Ukrainian positions near Krynky in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast.[19] Rudyk stated that the RG-VO grenades can kill personnel in a dugout or an enclosed room within five minutes and that a study found that a recently used Russian RG-VO grenade was manufactured in an unspecified but likely Russian factory in 2023.[20] Rudyk added that Russia may be trying to gauge international reactions to the Russian use of chemical weapons in Ukraine in order to expand the type of weapons Russian forces are using.[21] Russia is party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the use of RCAs as a method of warfare.[22]

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that Russia’s war in Ukraine is “directed against the very existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state.”[23] Scholz stated at a press conference with Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico on January 24 that Russian President Vladimir Putin “can end this war at any time” and warned that “if Ukrainians stop defending themselves, it will be the end of Ukraine.” Scholz warned against accepting the idea that the lack of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine is prolonging the war, noting that there was “no shortage of discussions” in the run-up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Kremlin officials continue to indicate that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives — which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender — remain unchanged.[24]

Russian authorities issued prison sentences in a number of high-profile cases on January 25, including that of imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former officer Igor Girkin. A Moscow court sentenced Girkin to four years in prison on “calls for extremism” charges and banned Girkin from administering websites for three years.[25] Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) “Vostok” Battalion Commander Alexander Khodakovsky stated that despite his disagreements with Girkin, he “would prefer to see him free” and noted Girkin’s “significance for events in Donbas.”[26] A volunteer in a Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) brigade similarly claimed that his personal issues with Girkin “in no way undid everything [Girkin] did.”[27] A Russian milblogger claimed that there is something “wrong” with the fact that one of the Russian Spring leaders in Donbas from 2014 is in prison and not fighting on the front.[28]

The Second Western District Military Court in St. Petersburg sentenced Daria Trepova to 27 years in prison on charges of commissioning a terrorist attack, illegally trafficking explosive devices, and forging documents in the case of the assassination of Russian milblogger Maksim Fomin (Vladlen Tatarsky).[29] Moscow Duma Deputy Andrei Medvedev claimed that this verdict is a “precedent” that will guide future sentences and that will make “many who want to work with [Ukraine]...wonder if it is worth it.”[30] Kremlin newswire TASS stated that the Izmailovsky Court of Moscow sentenced former Penza Oblast Governor Ivan Belozertsev to 12 years in a maximum-security prison colony for taking bribes worth more than 30 million rubles (about $337,000) from former Russian Senator Boris Shpigel.[31] The court also sentenced Shpigel to 11 years.[32]

The Kremlin is reportedly no longer offering pardons to convict recruits and is significantly changing the terms of their service, likely in response to the reduction of the pool of convicts suitable for recruitment into Russian force generation efforts. The BBC reported that Russian officials likely ended recruitment into “Storm-Z” units in August 2023 and began recruiting convicts into “Storm-V” units based on new contract terms in September 2023.[33] Russian officials previously recruited convicts through promises of pardons and six-month contracts, and “Storm-V” units reportedly provide no promise of pardon or even parole and extend convicts’ contracts indefinitely until the end of the war.[34] Russian officials likely extended the contracts on the basis of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order as the Russian military does for mobilized personnel. The BBC reported that Russian military registration and enlistment offices formally release convict recruits in a procedure that is no longer legally equivalent to “parole/conditional release,” suggesting that convict recruits are legally still considered prisoners.[35] Russia has heavily relied on convict recruits to maintain a level of force generation that is roughly equivalent to Russian losses in Ukraine, and which is likely helping enable Russian forces to conduct regular operational-level rotations.[36] Russian officials reported that as of October 2023 the Russian prison population was 266,000 people — a notable reduction of 54,000 prisoners from January 2023.[37] The loss of convict recruits to attritional assaults in Ukraine and the relatively short terms of their service contracts may have prompted the Kremlin to enact more restrictive terms of service in order to retain more convict recruits at the front in Ukraine. The contract terms for service in new “Storm-V” units are far less attractive and may dampen efforts to recruit convicts, although Russian officials have routinely used coercive measures to force convicts to sign contracts.[38]

Russian officials may have also changed the status of convict recruits in order to relieve force generation burdens on the Russian federal budget. Russian opposition outlet Vazhnye Istorii reported on January 25 that Storm-Z personnel addressed a letter to Putin asking him to resolve a widespread lack of promised payments, payments for injuries, and documents on the expungement of criminal records for Storm-Z personnel.[39] Vazhnye Istorii reported that a response from a Russian military prosecutor’s office to a Storm-Z fighter stated that Putin’s recent decree promising single payments in cases of injury or death do not apply to Storm-Z fighters.[40]

A Russian insider source claimed that the Russian military command recently replaced the Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) and appointed a new SMD Chief of Staff, although ISW cannot confirm this claim. The Russian insider source, who has previously provided accurate reports regarding several other Russian command changes, claimed on January 25 that the Russian command appointed 8th Combined Arms Army Commander (CAA) Colonel General Gennady Anashkin as SMD Chief of Staff and replaced SMD Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Aleksey Zavizion with Lieutenant General Andrey Sychevoy.[41] The change in command positions within the SMD is particularly notable given that several formations of the SMD, particularly elements of the 8th CAA, are committed to ongoing localized offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast.[42] Changes in command do not necessarily translate to battlefield effects, although such changes may present temporary challenges to Russian command and control (C2). The Russian Command previously dismissed Sychevoy as Western Grouping of Forces Commander in late August 2022, following the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast, and from an unspecified command position in October 2023 and replaced Zavizion as Chief of Staff of the Western Military District (WMD) in late June 2022.[43]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian and Russian authorities opened criminal investigations into the January 24 Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft crash in Belgorod Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 24 to 25.
  • The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) reportedly conducted a successful drone strike on a Rosneft oil refinery in Tuapse, Krasnodar Krai on the night of January 24 to 25.
  • Russian forces are reportedly increasing their use of chemical weapons in Ukraine in continued apparent violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is party.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that Russia’s war in Ukraine is “directed against the very existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state.”
  • Russian authorities issued prison sentences in a number of high-profile cases on January 25, including that of imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former officer Igor Girkin.
  • The Kremlin is reportedly no longer offering pardons to convict recruits and is significantly changing the terms of their service, likely in response to the reduction of the pool of convicts suitable for recruitment into Russian force generation efforts.
  • A Russian insider source claimed that the Russian military command recently replaced the Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) and appointed a new SMD Chief of Staff, although ISW cannot confirm this claim.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 25.
  • Bloomberg reported on January 24 that labor shortages in Russia have increased wages in civilian sectors enough to compete with relatively lucrative military salaries, likely making military service even less appealing to Russian citizens.
  • Crimean occupation head Sergei Aksyonov signed a decree on January 25 that introduces a “special regime” for entry and exit between occupied Crimea and occupied Kherson Oblast reportedly in an effort to “localize threats to the security of the population and military and other facilities” in occupied Crimea.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 24, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 24, 2024, 8:20pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on January 24. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 25 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

A Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft crashed in Belgorod Oblast on January 24. Geolocated footage posted by various Russian sources shows the Il-76 crashing in Yablonovo, Belgorod Oblast (about 50km northeast of Belgorod City).[1] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that the Il-76 was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) and was en route to a pre-arranged POW exchange at the Kolotylivka border-crossing checkpoint between Russian and Ukraine.[2] The Russian MoD accused Ukraine of hitting the plane with two unspecified missiles, killing the 65 POWs, six Russian crew members, and three Russian military personnel.[3] Senior Russian propagandist and Editor-in-Chief of state-controlled outlet RT Margarita Simonyan published a list of the names of the Ukrainian POWs supposedly on the flight, but several Russian and Ukrainian sources noted that at least one of the alleged POWs had already been exchanged in a previous POW swap on January 3.[4] Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets and the Ukrainian Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, immediately responded to the incident by emphasizing that Ukraine is investigating the crash and urged audiences not to draw premature conclusions about the crash based on unconfirmed reporting.[5] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Spokesperson Andriy Yusov confirmed that a POW exchange was scheduled to take place on January 24 but that the exchange was no longer taking place and that GUR is investigating the circumstances of the crash.[6] GUR later stated that Ukraine “does not have reliable and comprehensive information about who exactly was on board the plane.”[7] The Ukrainian General Staff did not directly respond to the incident but emphasized that Russia has conducted 19 missile strikes against Kharkiv Oblast from Belgorod Oblast over the past week and stressed that Ukraine “will continue to take measures to destroy means of delivery” and “control the airspace” in the Kharkiv-Belgorod border area.[8] Ukrainian outlet Ukrainska Pravda, citing unspecified sources in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, claimed that the Il-76 was transporting S-300 air-defense missiles, which Russian forces frequently use in strikes against ground targets in Kharkiv Oblast.[9] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in his nightly address on January 24 that Ukraine is working to establish “all clear facts” and that GUR is looking into “the fate of all prisoners.” ISW offers no assessment of the circumstances of the Il-76 crash at this time and cannot independently verify Russian or Ukrainian statements on the incident.

Russian information space actors are seizing on the Il-76 crash to sow domestic discontent in Ukraine and undermine Western will to continue giving military support to Ukraine. Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairperson Andrei Kartapolov claimed that Ukraine deliberately shot down the Il-76 knowing that it contained Ukrainian POWs and called for all POW exchanges to pause indefinitely.[10] Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukrainian “internal political struggles” of contributing to the crash.[11] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is currently in New York for UN Security Council (UNSC) meetings, called for an urgent UNSC meeting to address the crash and accused Ukraine of terrorism.[12] Such Russian accusations are meant in part to sow discontent in Ukraine and galvanize distrust of the Ukrainian government, which is consistent with several other Russian information efforts aimed at weakening Ukraine domestically.[13] POW exchanges are a sensitive issue in both Russia and Ukraine, and rhetorical invocations of POWs predictably elicit emotional responses. Russian officials additionally made unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine struck the Il-76 with US- or German-provided missile systems, likely in an attempt to discourage Ukraine’s Western partners from providing Ukraine with critical air defense systems necessary for Ukraine’s continued defense.[14]

Russian law enforcement authorities are codifying xenophobic profiling methods suggesting that migrants are predisposed to criminal activity against the backdrop of continued conflicts between Russian citizens and naturalized migrants. Russian outlet RTVI reported on January 24 that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) published a “criminogenic index” detailing which countries’ migrants committed the most crimes in Russia in response to a request from Russian State Duma Deputy Mikhail Matveev to determine if “immigrants from certain countries have criminal characteristics.”[15] The MVD report found that crimes committed by migrants from “neighboring countries” declined between 2013 and 2019 but have increased since 2019.[16] The MVD report also found that citizens of Uzbekistan committed 40 percent of all crimes committed by foreigners from “neighboring countries” between January 2022 and May 2023. Uzbek citizens likely account for the highest percentage of crimes because there are more migrants from Uzbekistan in Russia than migrants from other Central Asian and South Caucasus countries.[17] Matveev stated that the MVD’s report excludes migrants with naturalized Russian citizenship, implying that migrants commit more crimes than reflected in the MVD’s official findings.[18] Russian Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin similarly claimed in September 2023 that the number of serious crimes that foreign citizens committed in Russia increased by 32 percent from 2022 to 2023.[19] Russian authorities’ deliberate attempts to highlight migrant crimes and portray migrants as a danger to Russian society are likely part of an ongoing effort to appease the pro-war Russian ultranationalist community that also routinely expresses xenophobia toward migrant and diaspora communities and to coerce migrants into Russian military service by limiting work opportunities in Russia.

Sakha Republic Head Aisen Nikolaev and other Russian sources claimed that unspecified foreign actors may have incited protests in Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, after a naturalized citizen from Tajikistan allegedly murdered a Russian citizen.[20] Nikolaev suggested that foreign agents may have encouraged these protests to incite conflict and divide Russian society.[21] Nikolaev instructed Sakha Republic authorities to monitor migrants and investigate the circumstances under which the murder suspect obtained Russian citizenship.[22] Nikolaev’s response of both condemning the protests as externally conceived and maintaining a harsh stance against a naturalized Russian citizen likely reflects the wider struggle Russian ultranationalists continue to face in attempting to portray non-ethnic Russian diaspora communities as an internal threat to Russian society while the Kremlin continues to portray Russia as a harmonious multiethnic society.

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Ukrainian hackers recently conducted cyberattacks on Russian intelligence and communications infrastructure. The GUR reported on January 24 that Ukrainian hackers conducted a successful cyberattack against the Russian “Planet” Scientific Research Center of Space Hydrometeorology's Far East branch, specifically targeting the center’s database, servers, and supercomputers.[23] The GUR reported that the attack destroyed a database that received and processed satellite data and contributed to products for over 50 Russian government agencies, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), General Staff, and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The GUR noted that the database contained two petabytes (two million gigabytes) of data potentially worth over $10 million. The GUR reported that the attack also rendered the center’s supercomputers inoperable and unable to be completely restored and brought down the center’s servers and physical infrastructure. The GUR stated that the attack will leave dozens of unspecified strategic defense companies without “critically important information” for a long time. The GUR reported on January 23 that unspecified “cyber volunteers” attacked Russian internet provider Akado-telecom, which services the Russian Presidential Administration, Federal Security Service (FSB), Federal Protective Service, Moscow Oblast governing bodies, Russian state-owned bank Sberbank, and others, causing a large-scale internet failure on January 21 and 22.[24]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated during the 18th Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany that recent Russian missile strikes against Ukraine underscore the need to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses. Stoltenberg noted on January 23 that NATO has already transferred a variety of air defense systems to Ukraine, including Patriots, IRIS-T, and NASAMS, and that NATO is supplying Ukraine with additional demining equipment, winter equipment, and fuel as part of its Comprehensive Assistance Package.[25] Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) Press and Information Department Head Illarion Pavlyuk stated that Ukrainian and Western officials discussed increasing the supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine, including adapting Western anti-aircraft missiles to Soviet-era launch platforms and expanding the production and supply of ammunition and artillery systems to Ukraine.[26] ISW previously assessed that Russian forces likely continue to experiment with new strike packages with different means of penetrating Ukrainian air defenses and to pressure Ukrainian air defense deployments following recent Ukrainian adaptations to prior Russian strike packages.[27] ISW continues to assess that Western provisions of air defense systems and missiles remain crucial in defending Ukraine‘s growing defense industrial base (DIB) against Russian strikes.[28]

Russian and Chadian officials met in Moscow on January 24, suggesting that Chad may be the Kremlin’s next target among former French colonies on the African continent. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chadian junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby to discuss counterterrorism efforts in Chad and announced an upcoming agreement expanding Russian–Chadian cooperation.[29] Russian Deputy Defense Ministers Colonel General Alexander Fomin and Colonel General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov also met with Chadian Minister of the Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs, and War Victims Dago Yacouba to discuss bilateral military and military-technical cooperation and regional security.[30] Fomin and Yevkurov previously met with Nigerien National Defense Minister Major General Saliufou Modi.[31] ISW previously reported that Russia and the Central African Republic (CAR) are in negotiations to construct a Russian military base in CAR.[32] Russia appears to be attempting to expand its involvement with and influence on authoritarian regimes in western and central Africa, particularly focusing on former French colonies in the Sahel such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) controlled Africa Corps published photos on January 24 claiming to show Africa Corps personnel arriving in Burkina Faso.[33] The Africa Corps claimed that 100 Russian personnel will perform executive protection and conduct counterterrorism operations in Burkina Faso and that another 200 personnel will arrive in the country in the near future.[34] ISW previously reported that the Kremlin is likely attempting to expand Russia’s influence in Africa through the Russian MoD and the MoD-controlled Africa Corps and assessed that the Kremlin is likely attempting to expand the Africa Corps’ operations in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali.[35] The Kremlin may also eventually set conditions to expand the Africa Corps’ operations in Chad, given January 24 Russian–Chadian government meetings.

NATO announced on January 24 that the Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises have started and will run until May 31, 2024.[36] NATO reported that the exercises will occur in the High North, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe.[37] ISW continues to assess that Russia will attempt to misrepresent these exercises as a threat against Russia despite the exercises’ defensive nature in response to real Russian aggression against Ukraine and overt Russian threats to NATO states.[38]

Key Takeaways:

 

  • A Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft crashed in Belgorod Oblast on January 24.
  • Russian information space actors are seizing on the Il-76 crash to sow domestic discontent in Ukraine and undermine Western will to continue giving military support to Ukraine.
  • Russian law enforcement authorities are codifying xenophobic profiling methods suggesting that migrants are predisposed to criminal activity against the backdrop of continued conflicts between Russian citizens and naturalized migrants.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Ukrainian hackers recently conducted cyberattacks on Russian intelligence and communications infrastructure.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated during the 18th Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany that recent Russian missile strikes against Ukraine underscore the need to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses.
  • Russian and Chadian officials met in Moscow on January 24, suggesting that Chad may be the Kremlin’s next target among former French colonies on the African continent.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) controlled Africa Corps published photos on January 24 claiming to show Africa Corps personnel arriving in Burkina Faso.
  • NATO announced on January 24 that the Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises have started and will run until May 31, 2024.
  • Positional engagements continued throughout the theater.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues efforts to bolster the reputation of Chechen forces.
  • Russian occupation authorities are setting conditions to coerce voter turnout in the upcoming March 2024 presidential elections.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 23, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 23, 2024, 8pm ET 

Western states reiterated their support for Ukraine and their commitment to the development of Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB) at the 18th Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on January 23. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated that Belgium plans to provide Ukraine with 611 million euros (about $663.4 million) worth of military aid in 2024.[1] US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated that the US believes that Ukraine is appropriately using military aid and stated that the United States continues to monitor and account for US security assistance delivered to Ukraine. Austin stated explicitly that the US has seen “no credible evidence of the misuse or illicit diversion of American equipment provided to Ukraine.”[2] The US Department of Defense (DoD) Office of the Inspector General published a report on January 11 that stated that the failure to document certain aid provided to Ukraine in a timely manner was largely due to DoD limitations but that did not suggest that any of the material air had been misappropriated.[3] Austin reiterated US support for strengthening Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB).[4] Umerov stated that Ukraine is ready to co-invest in technologies and joint production with interested companies in order to facilitate breakthroughs on the battlefield with ”innovation and significant technological progress.”[5] Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) Press and Information Department Head Illarion Pavlyuk stated that Ukraine and unspecified officials discussed ways to increase weapons and ammunition production, the creation of an artillery production coalition, and the development of Ukraine’s air force and air defenses.[6]

NATO concluded contracts on January 23 for the purchase of over 200,000 artillery shells, likely either to allow NATO to send additional aid to Ukraine or to replenish NATO stockpiles. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and General Manager of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency Stacy Cummings signed contracts, reportedly with French company Nexter and German company Junghans Defense, on January 23 for the purchase of about 220,000 155mm artillery shells worth $1.2 billion.[7] Stoltenberg stated that the war in Ukraine has become a “battle for ammunition,” so it is important that NATO refill its stocks as the alliance continues to support Ukraine. It is unclear if the contracts are meant to allow NATO to send additional ammunition to Ukraine or to fill NATO’s own ammunition stockpiles. Western security assistance remains vital for Ukraine as any slow reduction or sudden collapse of Western aid will very likely eliminate Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and could lead to the Russian military capturing significantly more territory in Ukraine, bringing Russian forward bases closer to the borders of NATO member states.[8] The replenishment of NATO stockpiles is also an important endeavor, as ISW also continues to assess that NATO rearmament is necessary to deter - and if necessary defeat - any future Russian attack on NATO’s eastern flank, given that Kremlin officials have increasingly threatened NATO member states, and Kremlin-affiliated actors appear to be attempting to sow instability and set information conditions for possible future aggressive Russian actions against NATO members and other post-Soviet states.[9]

Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are struggling to compensate for Ukrainian drone and rear-area strikes at the level necessary to break out of positional warfare. A prominent Russian milblogger stated on January 23 that Russian forces need to figure out how to break out of positional warfare but that Russian forces are unable to concentrate in numbers sufficient to break through Ukrainian lines because Ukrainian forces strike all force concentrations larger than a battalion.[10] The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces target Russian force concentrations even in near rear areas. The milblogger reported that Ukrainian forces still target small Russian groups of one-to-two infantry companies and of 10 armored vehicles with drone strikes, preventing Russian forces from even reaching Ukrainian forward defensive lines. The milblogger complained that Russian forces’ only solution thus far has been to attack with 10-20 dismounted infantrymen with armored vehicles supporting at an “extreme” distance behind the infantry. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger responded in agreement with the first milblogger, claiming that Ukrainian technological advancements have made it difficult for Russian forces to concentrate several divisions in a discrete geographic area without Ukrainian forces detecting the force concentration.[11] The milblogger emphasized that Russian forces need to both obtain indirect fire superiority over Ukrainian forces and overhaul Russian command-and-control (C2) to break out of positional warfare. The milblogger stressed that Russian forces on the frontline need to be able to quickly communicate to minimize the time between spotting and striking a target and that this change will only occur with a significant change in C2 processes.

The characteristics and problems of positional warfare that Russian milbloggers have identified in recent discussions overlap with many systemic issues in the Russian military that the milbloggers have been complaining about for a long time.[12] Russian milbloggers have complained generally about poor Russian C2 as it pertains to indirect fire, the attrition of Russian forces through unproductive “meat assaults” against Ukrainian positions, poor tactical and operational planning, and the struggle to counter Ukrainian drone operations on the front line and in near rear areas.[13] There are currently no indications that the Russian military command has materially improved on any of these identified issues at the operational level necessary to break through a positional front in one or more areas of the theater. Russian forces have recently proven themselves capable of making marginal tactical advances during intensified offensive efforts even with these systemic issues, however, particularly near Kupyansk in Kharkiv Oblast and Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast.[14]

Russian forces conducted a series of missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 22-23 with a new strike package likely meant to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched four S-300/S-400 ground-to-air missiles, 15 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles, eight Kh-22 cruise missiles, 12 Iskander ballistic missiles, and five Kh-59/Kh-31 missiles and that Ukrainian forces shot down all of the Kh-101/555/55 missiles, five Iskander missiles, and two Kh-59 missiles.[15] Ukrainian officials stated that Russian forces struck Kharkiv, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Sumy oblasts.[16] This strike package is notably the first time in recent months that a large Russian missile strike series has not included Shahed-136/131 drones, which Russian forces have often used in an effort to overwhelm Ukrainian air defense systems.[17] A Russian source posted footage on January 23 purporting to show a Russian missile releasing decoy flares mid-air, and similar footage emerged of a Russian Kh-101 during a Russian strike in late December 2023.[18] This strike package may have utilized decoys in place of Shahed drones in order to experiment with the effectiveness of using such decoys and preserving Shaheds for other purposes. Ukrainian forces appear to have recently adapted to new Russian strike packages, and Russian forces are likely continuing to experiment with new strike packages with different means of penetrating Ukrainian air defenses and force Ukraine to deploy air defense systems to certain locations.[19] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Russian forces primarily launched ballistic missiles on January 22-23 and that Ukraine needs additional means to protect against these missiles.[20] ISW continues to assess that Russia is likely attempting to acquire more ballistic missiles from abroad, including from Iran and North Korea, because ballistic missiles may be more successful in striking Ukrainian targets in some circumstances.[21]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Palestinian National Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki as part of efforts to deepen Russian relations with Middle Eastern actors. Lavrov met with Abdollahian and emphasized strengthening mutually beneficial Russian-Iranian cooperation.[22] Both officials reiterated their support for an “early ceasefire” in Gaza.[23] Lavrov and Abdollahian discussed unspecified agreements that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi made during Raisi’s December 2023 visit to Moscow.[24] Lavrov also reiterated Russian support for an “early end to the bloodshed” and “the resumption of the Middle East settlement process” in a meeting with al Maliki.[25]  

The Kremlin’s domestic policy focus on the “Year of the Family” in 2024 is likely in part meant to address Russia’s ongoing demographic crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on January 23 officially defining families with three of more children as “large families” and establishing various social support measures for “large families.”[26] Putin also emphasized that the family is the center of Russian “traditional values,” echoing his previous statements on the importance of Russian families from his annual New Year’s Eve address on December 31, 2023.[27] The Kremlin’s focus on 2024 as the “Year of the Family” is likely meant to provide an ideological underpinning to Russian efforts to increase Russian birthrates and remedy Russian demographic issues. Russia has been reckoning with a demographic crisis since the beginning of the 1990s due to declining birthrates, an aging population, low life expectancy (particularly amongst males of working age), and high emigration levels.[28] Russia’s war in Ukraine has also impacted some aspects of Russian demographics, particularly as men of reproductive and working age are the main Russian demographic fighting in Ukraine. Between 800 to 900 thousand Russians additionally fled the country after the start of the war in February 2022, including up to 700 thousand after Putin’s partial mobilization order in September 2022.[29] A demographic forecast from the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) in October 2023 notably forecasted that Russia's population will decrease to 138.77 million people by January 1, 2046 and that the rate of natural population decline will exceed 600,000 people per year between 2024-2032, slowing to 400,000 people per year from 2032-2046.[30] Social support measures for families with three or more children and other pro-natalist policies incentivize Russian women to have more children in order to receive payouts and other benefits from the Russian state, which the Kremlin likely hopes will gradually increase the birth rate in coming generations and slow down the overall pace of Russian population decline.

The Russian Baltic Fleet is conducting a coastal missile exercise likely to posture against ongoing NATO Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises. The Russian Baltic Fleet’s Press Service reported on January 23 that Russian Bastion coastal missile defense system crews conducted electronic launches of Onyx missiles against mock adversary ships in the Gulf of Finland and also conducted camouflage and anti-sabotage exercises.[31] About 50 Russian military personnel participated in the exercises and used 10 pieces of specialized military equipment.[32] Russian officials often portray NATO exercises as escalatory against Russia despite routinely threatening NATO member states, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) called the NATO Steadfast Defender exercises “increasingly provocative and aggressive” after NATO announced the exercises in September 2023.[33] Russia’s Baltic Fleet exercises are likely part of Russia’s wider effort to posture against the wider NATO alliance in preparation for potential future conflict with NATO, as ISW has previously assessed.[34]

The Kremlin may intend to use the 2024 Russian presidential election as a referendum on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian opposition politician and presidential candidate Boris Nadezhdin, who Russian opposition outlet Verstka and BBC’s Russian Service described as the only Russian presidential candidate who opposes the Russian war in Ukraine, stated to Verstka in an interview published on January 23 that he believes that the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) will have to register him as a candidate due to his broad support among the Russian public.[35] Nadezhdin stated to Verstka that his campaign is collecting signatures in support of his candidacy at a growing rate of 7,000 signatures per day but that he struggles to campaign and collect signatures. Nadezhdin’s campaign announced on January 23 that Nadezhdin collected over 100,000 signatures - the amount the Russian CEC requires to register an independent candidate in the elections - but that these 100,000 signatures are thus far insufficient for the CEC’s requirements.[36] The Russian CEC additionally requires that prospective presidential candidates submit signatures from over half of Russia’s federal subjects (regions) by January 25 and that no more than 2,500 signatures from any one federal subject can count towards the 100,000 total.[37] Russian opposition outlet Meduza reported, citing an interlocutor in Nadezhdin’s campaign, that some of the collected signatures are considered “imperfect” or ”defective” and that Nadezhdin wants “perfect” signatures that the Russian CEC cannot contest.[38]

A Russian insider source claimed that the Kremlin has developed a mechanism to funnel all opposition votes to Nadezhdin, which will account for opposition votes to give voters the semblance of choice while ultimately ensuring the reelection of Russian President Vladimir Putin.[39] The insider source claimed that the Kremlin will pay off Nadezhdin in exchange for funneling opposition votes. Nadezhdin claimed to Verstka that his struggles to campaign, including censorship on Russian state television, show that he is not a “Kremlin puppet” despite his prior affiliations with the current presidential administration.[40] BBC Russian Service noted on January 22 that Nadezhdin’s campaign initially struggled for attention but that he gained prominence in recent days, resulting in an influx in signatures.[41] The Kremlin may decide to allow Nadezhdin to run as an anti-war candidate to use frame Putin’s inevitable resurrection as a positive referendum on the war in Ukraine as the Kremlin seeks to prepare for a long-term war effort.

The Russian legal system is expanding the prosecution of extortion cases to broadly suppress sources of dissent. Russian government-affiliated outlet Lenta posted an investigation on January 23 detailing how Russian courts are increasingly using Article 163 of the Russian Criminal Code—the article defining extortion—to target various media organizations for perceived dissent.[42] Lenta reported that Russian legal experts see the extortion law as a “rubber law,” a deliberately vague law that can have flexible interpretations and that courts can cross-apply to civil cases that they would not typically try under criminal extortion laws.[43] The most severe sentence for extortion can exceed the sentence for murder in some cases.[44] Lenta noted that employees of media and public relations companies and journalists are the most vulnerable to the expanded prosecution of extortion cases and reported that Russian courts initiated 19 extortion cases against journalists and bloggers in 2022-2023 alone.[45] A prominent Russian insider source noted that Russian courts continue to “churn out criminal cases” using a “vicious” interpretation of Russian extortion law.[46] ISW has previously reported on similar Russian legislative manipulations aimed at repressing domestic dissent by introducing a fear of criminal liability to cases that would typically be tried on a civil basis.[47]

Key Takeaways:

  • Western states reiterated their support for Ukraine and their commitment to the development of Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB) at the 18th Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on January 23.
  • NATO concluded contracts on January 23 for the purchase over 200,000 artillery shells, likely either to allow NATO to send additional aid to Ukraine or to replenish NATO stockpiles.
  • Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are struggling to compensate for Ukrainian drone and rear-area strikes at the level necessary to break out of positional warfare.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 22-23 with a new strike package likely meant to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Palestinian National Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki as part of efforts to deepen Russian relations with Middle Eastern actors.
  • The Kremlin’s domestic policy focus on the “Year of the Family” in 2024 is likely in part meant to address Russia’s ongoing demographic crisis.
  • The Russian Baltic Fleet is conducting a coastal missile exercise likely to posture against ongoing NATO Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises.
  • The Kremlin may intend to use the 2024 Russian presidential election as a referendum on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • The Russian legal system is expanding the prosecution of extortion cases to broadly suppress sources of dissent.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 23.
  • Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) government chairperson Yevgeny Solntsev announced on January 23 that a branch of the Russian Nakhimov Naval School in occupied Mariupol will start instructing its first cadets on September 1, 2024.
  • Russian occupation authorities are likely deliberately misrepresenting population statistics in occupied areas to encourage people to relocated to occupied settlements.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 22, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 22, 2024, 6:45pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:40pm ET on January 22. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 23 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russia continues to weaponize its position on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to propagate several long-standing Russian information operations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke at a UNSC meeting, which Russia convened, on January 22 and blamed the West for the lack of negotiations, claiming that Russia has always been “ready for negotiations.”[1] Lavrov clarified, however, that Russia is only interested in negotiations that result in the removal of the current Ukrainian government from power, confirming that Russia still officially seeks regime change in Ukraine.[2] Lavrov continued to deny Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, falsely claiming that the Ukrainian people have no interests in the war against Russia and that the West has pushed Ukraine to continue the war.[3] Lavrov advised the West to understand that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ”peace formula” is a “path to nowhere,” claiming that the “sooner [the West] realizes this, the better it will be for both Ukraine and the West.”[4] Lavrov also claimed that “if Ukraine stops fighting, hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainian lives would be saved.[5] Lavrov previously made similar comments, suggesting that the Kremlin believes that Russia will be able to occupy more territory as the war continues and that this course of the war will increasingly weaken Ukraine’s negotiating position.[6]

Lavrov denied Russia’s responsibility for fears that Russia may attack NATO in the future, ignoring the recent Kremlin official statements that have prompted those fears. Lavrov falsely claimed that the West promotes the idea that Russia will attack the Baltic states, Poland, and Finland in the future as a way to “extort money” from Western states for aid to Ukraine.[7] Kremlin officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, have sustained consistent threatening rhetoric directed against NATO member states, and Kremlin-affiliated actors appear to be attempting to sow instability and set information conditions for possible future aggressive Russian actions against NATO members and other post-Soviet states.[8] Lavrov also blamed Ukrainian forces for conducting strikes on Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, which the Kremlin used to support Russian justifications for its war of conquest in Ukraine.[9] Lavrov recently claimed that Ukrainian forces are using Western-supplied weapons to strike civilian targets, including in alleged strikes against occupied Donetsk City on January 21, for example.[10] Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), made similar claims on January 21.[11] The New York Times reported on January 21 that it could not independently confirm the actors behind the strike on Donetsk City, and the press service of the Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces stated on January 21 that forces under the control of the Tavriisk Group of Forces did not conduct the strikes.[12] Lavrov also attempted to downplay the various war crimes and crimes against humanity that Russian occupation forces and occupation administrators are conducting in Ukraine, claiming that Ukrainians and Russians “live in peace and harmony” in occupied Crimea and other Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories.[13] Lavrov claimed that “Russians and Ukrainians will live exactly like brothers and good neighbors” after Russia achieves its goals in the war in Ukraine — which ISW continues to assess are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender.[14] ISW has routinely documented how Russian forces and occupation administrations have been engaging in large-scale and deliberate ethnic cleansing campaigns; forcibly and illegally deport Ukrainians, including children, to Russia; and are systematically working to eliminate the Ukrainian language, culture, history, and ethnicity in areas that Russian forces occupy.[15]

ISW previously assessed that Russia aims to reinforce the primacy of the UN and to link as many international efforts to the UN as possible in order to capitalize on Russia’s permanent UNSC seat and veto power.[16] Russia’s request for the January 22 UNSC meeting to discuss arms supplies to Ukraine and Lavrov’s use of this meeting to promote various Kremlin information operations is likely an attempt to legitimize these Kremlin narratives, promote them on a global stage, and convince Ukraine’s international partners to stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Kyiv on January 22 and announced a new Polish defense package for Ukraine.[17] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Tusk for the new Polish defense package and noted that he and Tusk discussed possibilities for the future production of weapons.[18] Zelensky stated that the package includes a Polish loan for large-scale Ukrainian weapons purchases, but Tusk and Zelensky did not specify additional details about security assistance package provisions or the overall value of the package.[19] Tusk later stated that Poland joined the Group of Seven (G7) declaration of support for Ukraine and noted that Poland will appoint a commissioner to oversee Polish involvement in Ukrainian reconstruction efforts.[20]

Footage purportedly showing an altercation between a Russian soldier and Chechen “Akhmat-Vostok” forces in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, reignited criticism of Chechen forces for their lack of contributions to Russian military operations in Ukraine. Footage widely circulated on January 22 purportedly shows Chechen “Akhmat-Vostok” Battalion commander Vakha Khambulatov and other “Akhmat-Vostok” Battalion personnel threatening to kill a Russian soldier at a checkpoint in occupied Melitopol after the Russian soldier stated that Khambulatov had invalid identification documents.[21] Russian milbloggers criticized the Chechen personnel for having “too clean uniforms and too clean cars” and complained that these personnel receive the same state salary and social benefits as frontline Russian Airborne (VDV) forces despite contributing less to Russian military operations.[22] A Russian milblogger claimed that this is the fifth altercation between Russian and Chechen military personnel in rear areas.[23] Russian sources have previously criticized Chechen forces for conducting performative actions in Belgorod Oblast after all-Russian pro-Ukrainian forces raided the area, for posturing themselves as a response force during the Wagner Group rebellion in June 2023, and for exaggerating their supposed frontline combat contributions around Bakhmut in July 2023.[24] Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov has routinely attempted to curry favor with the Kremlin and promote his domestic power through emphasizing Chechnya’s contributions to the war in Ukraine, and continued criticism against Chechen forces in Ukraine may degrade the influence Kadyrov has gained through this effort.

An investigation by a Russian opposition outlet suggests that Russian elites may have accepted and internalized the domestic consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian opposition outlet Verstka, citing unnamed interlocutors amongst Russian elites, reported that Russian elites are increasingly complaining that vacations in Russia and abroad in “friendly countries” are becoming more expensive.[25] Verstka’s interlocutor noted that many Russian elites who work in military and government affairs want a quick end to the war on the condition that Ukraine recognizes Russia’s illegal annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts, and that elites desire Russia to ”finish off” Ukraine so that Russia can go about planning for a new future isolated from Europe. Verstka cited Russian political scientist Ilya Grashchenkov noting that the upcoming March 2024 Russian presidential election is not galvanizing Russian political elites as the Presidential Administration had hoped because most Russian elites view the outcome of the elections as pre-determined, and do not anticipate much change to their status as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s re-election. Grashchenkov noted that “new” elites who came into power as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have realized that they will be unable to gain more influence and “old” elites understand they have limited political control. Verstka summarized the sentiments of Russian elites as “apathetic,” which suggests that many Russian elites have internalized and accepted the social ramifications of the war. ISW has previously reported on Russian public opinion polls that similarly show a substantial degree of domestic internalization of the war’s consequences and support for the war.[26]

Russian officials and information space actors are attempting to further rhetorically justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by misrepresenting a decree that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed on January 22 concerning discrimination against ethnic Ukrainians in Russia. Zelensky signed a decree titled “On the Territories of the Russian Federation Historically Inhabited by Ukrainians,” which accurately stated that Russia has systematically oppressed and continues to oppress Ukrainians living in Russia and eroding their national identity, including on lands historically inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians in modern day Russia’s Krasnodar Krai and Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Kursk, and Rostov oblasts.[27] The decree instructs the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers to develop an action plan for preserving Ukrainian national identity in Russia, documenting the history of Russia’s oppression of its Ukrainian communities, countering disinformation about the history of Ukrainians in Russia, and disseminating materials about Ukrainian national state formations in different historical periods. Zelensky’s decree does not establish any territorial demands upon Russia, as select Russian ultranationalists falsely claimed.[28]

Russian officials purposefully misrepresented the decree to further justify Russia’s full-scale invasion and made further genocidal appeals to the destruction of Ukrainian statehood and ethnic identity. Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoyt called the decree a blatant distortion of history and argued that it shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin was correct to invade Ukraine.[29] Starovoyt’s response suggests that Russian officials and actors may continue to misrepresent the decree as an ex post facto casus belli to falsely assert that Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was defensive in nature. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev responded to the decree and reiterated longstanding Kremlin rhetoric that aims to erase Ukrainian ethnic identity by asserting that ethnic Ukrainians are ethnically Russian.[30] Medvedev also stated that “Malorossiya” (Little Russia) is part of Russia — a pseudo-historical Kremlin talking point that Russian officials routinely invoke to deny Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty.[31] The Kremlin has repeatedly used the concept of “compatriots abroad,” which includes ethnic Russian and Russian speakers of other ethnicities, to justify the war in Ukraine and aggression in other neighboring states, and Russian officials and ultranationalists may be primed to view legitimate appeals to protecting compatriots abroad as similar pretexts for aggressive actions.[32]

Russia has historically had a policy to Russify ethnic minorities living within Russian territory, and Zelensky’s decree coincides with wider Russian animus towards non-ethnic Russians within Russia that extends far beyond ethnic Ukrainian communities.[33] The Russian ultranationalist community continues to seize on incidents involving migrants and non-ethnic Russians to express growing hostility towards diaspora communities and non-ethnic Russian minorities within Russia.[34] Russian officials and ultranationalists may attempt to frame states’ legitimate concerns about growing Russian domestic animus towards their diaspora communities and Russia's history of discriminatory policies as anti-Russian and inherently escalatory.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia continues to weaponize its position on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to propagate several long-standing Russian information operations.
  • Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Kyiv on January 22 and announced a new Polish defense package for Ukraine.
  • Footage purportedly showing an altercation between a Russian soldier and Chechen “Akhmat-Vostok” forces in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, reignited criticism of Chechen forces for their lack of contributions to Russian military operations in Ukraine.
  • An investigation by a Russian opposition outlet suggests that Russian elites may have accepted and internalized the domestic consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • Russian officials and information space actors are attempting to further rhetorically justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by misrepresenting a decree that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed on January 22 concerning discrimination against ethnic Ukrainians in Russia. Zelensky’s decree does not establish any territorial demands upon Russia, as select Russian ultranationalists falsely claimed.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances south of Avdiivka and west of Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire frontline.
  • Kyrgyzstan issued a statement against Russia’s continued practice of targeting naturalized migrants as part of ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts.
  • Russian federal subjects continue to establish ties with areas of occupied Ukraine.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 21, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Angelica Evans, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 21, 2024, 3:55pm 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.

Click here to see ISW’s 3D control of terrain topographic map  of Ukraine. Use of a computer (not a mobile device) is strongly recommended for using this data-heavy tool.

Click here to access ISW’s archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain map that ISW produces daily by showing a dynamic frontline. ISW will update this time-lapse map archive monthly.

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:45pm ET on January 21. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 22 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment

Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against targets in Leningrad and Tula oblasts, where repeated Ukrainian drone strikes may fix Russian short-range air defense systems defending potentially significant targets along expected flight routes. Ukrainian media, citing unnamed sources within Ukrainian special services, reported that Ukrainian forces conducted drone strikes against the Shcheglovsky Val Plant in Tula City, Tula Oblast and the “Novateka” plant and gas terminal near the port of Ust-Luga, Leningrad Oblast on the night of January 20 to 21.[1] The Shcheglovsky Val Plant reportedly manufactures Pantsir-S and Pantsir-S1 air defense systems, and the Ust-Luga complex reportedly processes stable gas condensate into light and heavy naphtha, diesel, kerosene, and naval fuel.[2] Russian sources amplified footage claiming to show explosions in Tula City and Ust-Luga, presumably the results of successful Ukrainian strikes.[3] Geolocated footage published on January 20 shows additional explosions over Smolensk City, indicating possible Ukrainian strikes in the area.[4] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian air defenses destroyed five drones over Tula, Oryol, and Smolensk oblasts.[5] Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted a successful drone strike on Russian military facilities in Leningrad Oblast on January 18.[6]

A Russian insider source claimed on January 21 that Russian air defense coverage over Leningrad Oblast is poor and indicated that Russian air defenses in Leningrad Oblast are likely not arrayed to defend against strikes from the south.[7] Russian air defense systems in Leningrad Oblast are most likely positioned to defend against strikes from the northwest and west, as Russia has historically arrayed its air defense in the area to defend against hypothetical NATO attacks.[8] The Russian military is currently reforming the Leningrad Military District (LMD) with the expressed intent to prepare for a potential future conventional war against NATO and may be arranging military assets in a way to posture along the border with NATO members.[9] Ukrainian strikes in Leningrad Oblast may prompt Russian forces to reposition short-range air defense systems along expected flight routes of Ukrainian drones to defend potential targets of strategic value. Russian forces using short-range systems such as the Pantsir may not be able to cover all important potential targets in Leningrad Oblast without bringing additional systems into the area, and continued Ukrainian strikes in deep rear areas in Russia may thus increase pressure on Russia’s air defenses overall.

Moldovan authorities accused Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria of numerous violations, including the improper use of drones, while conducting exercises in late December 2023, prompting an information attack by a pro-Kremlin mouthpiece. Members of the Moldovan delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Joint Control Commission (JCC) demanded during a JCC meeting on January 18 that the JCC conduct an investigation into Russian peacekeepers for using small arms, drones, and imitation weapons during an exercise allegedly repelling a sabotage attack on the peacekeepers’ outpost in the Moldovan security zone on December 22, 2023.[10] The Moldovan authorities stated that the Russian peacekeeping forces’ presence and use of these weapons inside the security zone violates JCC protocols and that the Russian peacekeeping forces had not properly disclosed some of these weapons and drones as part of their arsenal. A prominent, Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed in response on January 21 that Moldovan authorities have been increasingly pressuring Russian-backed breakaway republic Transnistria by calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers and through economic pressure.[11] The milblogger claimed that the Moldovan government imposed “double” duties on Transnistrian businesses that amount to roughly $16 million over an unspecified timeframe and that will raise the cost of living in Transnistria. Recent changes to the Moldovan Customs Code require Transnistrian businesses to pay import customs duties to the Moldovan government, whereas previously Transnistrian businesses only paid duties to the Transnistrian government.[12] The milblogger claimed that this pressure supports the “forceful reintegration” of Transnistria into Moldova and that Russia should prepare for further escalation, reminiscent of recent accusations from Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselsky.[13] The Kremlin-affiliated milblogger’s claims and Krasnoselsky’s accusations are likely part of an information operation aimed at destabilizing Moldova, which borders NATO member Romania, and justifying any future Russian escalation in the region.[14]

Russia is likely intensifying relations with North Korea as part of an effort to procure more artillery ammunition from abroad amid Russian munition shortages. The North Korean Foreign Ministry stated on January 20 that Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his willingness to visit North Korea “at an early date” (presumably in 2024) during his recent meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in Moscow.[15] Putin last visited North Korea in 2000, and his renewed interest in deepening Russian–North Korean relations is likely part of increasing Russian efforts to procure munitions from abroad.[16] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov stated in a January 21 interview that North Korea provided a “significant amount of artillery ammunition,” which allowed Russia to “breathe a little.”[17] Budanov suggested that Russian forces would likely experience operationally significant artillery ammunition shortages without North Korean–provided ammunition.[18] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated that North Korea delivered one million rounds of artillery ammunition to Russia from September to November 2023 and that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) can produce in total two million rounds of 122mm and 152mm shells annually, which resulted in a deficit of 500,000 shells in 2023 and will likely result in a similar deficit in 2024.[19]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against targets in Leningrad and Tula oblasts, where repeated Ukrainian drone strikes may fix Russian short-range air defense systems defending potentially significant targets along expected flight routes.
  • Moldovan authorities accused Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria of numerous violations, including the improper use of drones, while conducting exercises in late December 2023, prompting an information attack by a pro-Kremlin mouthpiece.
  • Russia is likely intensifying relations with North Korea as part of an effort to procure more artillery ammunition from abroad amid Russian munition shortages.
  • Russian forces advanced near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the front.
  • Russian opposition outlet Mobilization News reported on January 21 that likely Russian military commanders are mistreating troops at a training ground in Volgograd Oblast.
  • Russian federal subjects continue to foster patronage networks in occupied Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 20, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 20, 2024, 4:15pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:45pm ET on January 20. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 21 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW has added a new section on Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) efforts to the daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment to track the development of Ukraine’s DIB and the international support for Ukraine’s DIB efforts. ISW will be publishing its assessments in this section based on public announcements, media reporting, and official statements.

Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claimed that Russia supports the “unconditional equality” and “sovereignty” of all states in a January 20 letter to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, contradicting Russia’s official position on its war in Ukraine and its wider imperial ambitions. Putin claimed that Russia rejects “neocolonialist ambitions, double standards, as well as forceful pressure, dictatorship, and blackmail as a means of achieving foreign policy and foreign economic goals.”[1] Russian officials have routinely denied Ukraine’s sovereignty and refused to treat it as an equal. The Kremlin rejects Ukrainian statehood and nationhood by incorporating Ukraine into the ideological and geographic conception of the Russian World (Russkiy Mir), which includes any Russian speakers and ”carriers of Russian history and culture“ as “compatriots“ and includes all of the former territories of Kyivan Rus, the Kingdom of Muscovy, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the contemporary Russian Federation.”[2] Russia uses the framework of “Russkiy Mir” to justify Russian imperialist expansion and the subjugation of independent, sovereign states and their peoples within a pseudo-cultural and historical context. Russian officials have routinely justified the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by claiming that Russia aims to protect its “compatriots” abroad, again rejecting Ukraine‘s sovereignty.[3] Russia also continues to trivialize the sovereignty of other post-Soviet countries and has been setting information conditions to escalate tensions in the Baltics and Moldova under the guise of protecting its “compatriots” abroad.[4] Russia has been in violation of its own commitments to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “inviolability of borders” and its agreement to center relations with Ukraine on ”non-use of force or threat of force” and “non-interference in internal affairs” undertaken in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum since its initial invasion in 2014.[5] Putin's false claims that Russia respects “equality” and “sovereignty” are likely intended to cater to states that the Kremlin desires to pull into its wider sphere of influence, much as it initially intended to do with Ukraine before the initial 2014 invasion.

Russian Ambassador to Denmark Vladimir Barbin threatened Denmark, a founding member of NATO, on January 20 in response to a recent US-Danish agreement allowing US forces access to military bases in Denmark. Barbin claimed during an interview with Russian news outlet RIA Novosti that the December 2023 US-Danish agreement “creates new challenges” for Russia’s security in the Baltic Sea region and stated that Russia will determine the “necessary responses" to such actions.[6] The US and Denmark signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement on December 21, 2023, allowing the US to permanently station forces and equipment at military bases in Denmark.[7] Barbin called the agreement a “deliberate course towards further degradation of the military-political situation in the region under the slogans of containing and intimidating Russia.“[8] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger previously claimed that Finland is becoming a ”second Ukraine” in response to a similar US-Finnish agreement.[9] Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have recently threatened Finland, and the Kremlin’s threats against a founding member of NATO that shares no borders with Russia is a notable challenge to the wider alliance.[10] Russian threats made towards a founding member of NATO also undermine Russia’s longstanding information operation that its aggressive actions are in response to NATO expansion.[11]

Russian energy exports to China significantly increased in 2023 amid increasing Russian reliance on oil revenues to manage the fiscal burdens of the war in Ukraine. Kremlin newswire TASS amplified data from the Chinese General Customs Administration on January 20 that shows a 24 percent increase in Russian crude oil exports to China from 2022 to 2023 and a 23 percent increase in Russian exports of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG).[12] TASS noted that Russia became China’s largest oil supplier in 2023.[13] Increased Russian energy exports to Indo-Pacific states, primarily India and China, and widespread Russian efforts to skirt the G7 price cap on Russian crude oil and petroleum products allowed Russia to significantly increase oil revenues in 2023.[14]

European Union (EU) Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated on January 20 that the EU will have the capacity to produce 1.3 to 1.4 million artillery shells by the end of 2024 and will ensure that it delivers the “majority” of the shells to Ukraine.[15] Breton stated that the EU will be able to produce one million shells per year by March or April 2024 and intends to “significantly” increase its shell production capacity in 2025.[16] NATO announced on January 19 that it plans to announce a major unspecified investment in artillery ammunition on January 23.[17]

A poll conducted by independent analytical platform VoxUkraine found that 63 percent of Ukrainians who left the country because of Russia’s invasion had returned by July-August 2023.[18] The poll also found that 64 percent of respondents who have not yet returned to Ukraine do have plans to return and that 27 percent will return to Ukraine. At the same time, the war continues as long as there are suitable housing and employment opportunities.[19] As many as 6.2 million Ukrainians are living abroad due to the war, according to various international estimates.[20]

Russian forces conducted a limited series of strikes against Ukraine on January 20 amid continued Russian efforts to test and pressure Ukrainian air defenses. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched seven Shahed-136/131 drones from Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai, and three S-300 missiles from occupied Luhansk Oblast.[21] Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces intercepted four of the drones and that the S-300 missiles struck Novohrodivka, Donetsk Oblast.[22] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that recent Russian strike series have attempted to overload Ukrainian air defenses and that Russian forces continue to launch drones and missiles in ways designed to avoid, penetrate, and degrade limited Ukrainian air defense capabilities.[23] Russian forces will likely continue to adapt missile and drone strike packages in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses and place pressure on Ukrainian air defense deployments.[24] Ihnat acknowledged that Ukrainian forces have concentrated a considerable amount of air defense near Kyiv to defend against regular Russian strikes and that it will be difficult for Ukrainian forces to disperse these systems as Russia’s strike campaign continues.[25]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claimed that Russia supports the “unconditional equality” and “sovereignty” of all states in a January 20 letter to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, contradicting Russia’s official position on its war in Ukraine and its wider imperial ambitions.
  • Russian Ambassador to Denmark Vladimir Barbin threatened Denmark, a founding member of NATO, on January 20 in response to a recent US-Danish agreement allowing US forces access to military bases in Denmark.
  • Russian energy exports to China significantly increased in 2023 amid increasing Russian reliance on oil revenues to manage the fiscal burdens of the war in Ukraine.
  • European Union (EU) Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated on January 20 that the EU will have the capacity to produce 1.3 to 1.4 million artillery shells by the end of 2024 and will ensure that it delivers the “majority” of the shells to Ukraine.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the front.
  • A Russian Storm-Z instructor claimed on January 16 that Rosgvardia personnel operating in occupied Ukraine have systematic issues with equipment and weapons storage.
  • Occupation authorities continue preparations for the March 2024 Russian presidential election.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 19, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 19, 2024, 8:15pm ET


Russia is conducting an information operation to misrepresent NATO’s defensive "Steadfast Defender 2024" exercises – a response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Russian threats directed towards NATO members - as provocative. NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises begin this week and will continue through May 2024.[1] NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Chris Cavoli stated on January 18 that 90,000 personnel from all 31 NATO member states and Sweden will participate in "Steadfast Defender."[2] The exercises will reportedly include over 50 ships; over 80 fighter jets, helicopters, and drones; and at least 1,100 combat vehicles, including 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles.[3] Cavoli stated that NATO ”will demonstrate its ability to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic area via trans-Atlantic movement of forces from North America...during a simulated emerging conflict scenario against a near-peer adversary.”[4] Chair of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Rob Bauer stated on January 18 that NATO must prepare for a conflict with Russia as NATO cannot take peace as ”a given” and must ”expect the unexpected.”[5] German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius stated on January 19 that Germany must consider that Putin may try to attack a NATO member in five to eight years, given threats from the Kremlin ”almost every day.”[6]

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) responded to the initial announcement of the Steadfast Defender exercises in September 2023 and misleadingly claimed that NATO exercises have been increasingly provocative and aggressive in nature.[7] The Russian MFA claimed that NATO is continuing a ”demonstration of force” on Russia’s ”doorstep.” The Russian MFA claimed that Russia had regularly proposed de-escalation initiatives to NATO, called for NATO to abandon its provocative actions, and transferred Russian military exercises to the country’s interior. Russian sources claimed that NATO is using exercises to “wind up“ and incite the Baltic states to prepare for war with Russia and characterized such exercises as a "series of provocations."[8] Yulia Zhdanova, a member of the Russian delegation at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 1066th plenary meeting, similarly claimed on January 17 that NATO exercises on the Russian and Belarusian borders ”provoke a game of nerves” and ”compress the spring of escalation even more.”[9] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger dismissed Pistorius’ comments about a possible future Russian attack on NATO, claiming that European officials regularly make statements about the ”concept of the ’Russian threat’” and that few Germans actually agree with these statements.[10] The milblogger implied that the German government is attempting to artificially create a threat from Russia that doesn’t actually exist by paying experts to ”say the right words.”

The Russian information operation aimed at painting defensive NATO actions in response to real Russian aggression on NATO’s eastern flank as provocative seeks to deflect from recent aggressive Russian rhetoric and behavior towards NATO. Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently threatened Finland and the wider NATO alliance.[11] Putin identified the West as Russia’s “enemy” and implied that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in order to defeat the West.[12] Kremlin officials and Kremlin-affiliated actors have also repeatedly attempted to set information conditions for future aggressive action against NATO member states and their neighbors.[13] Russian electronic warfare (EW) exercises in Kaliningrad may have caused unprecedently high levels of GPS jamming across northern and central Poland and the southern Baltic region on December 25-27, 2023 and January 10 and 16, 2024.[14] ISW continues to assess that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022 not to defend Russia against a nonexistent threat from NATO but rather to weaken and ultimately destroy NATO – a goal he still pursues.[15]

Russian forces will be able to determine the location, tempo, and operational requirements of fighting in Ukraine if Ukraine commits itself to defensive operations throughout 2024 as some US officials are reportedly pressing Kyiv to do. The Financial Times (FT) reported on January 19 that US officials are advocating for Ukraine to take a more “conservative” operational approach focused on holding current territory and generating materiel and forces in 2024 for future counteroffensive operations in 2025.[16] One US official reportedly argued that a strategy of “active defense” would allow Ukraine to build out operational requirements and prepare for a counteroffensive in 2025.[17] US military doctrine defines an active defense as the ”employment of limited offensive action and counterattacks to deny a contested area or position to the enemy.”[18] Ukrainian officials have stated that Ukrainian forces are conducting active defensive operations in areas where Russian forces are engaged in localized offensive efforts.[19] An active defense throughout the theater, however, would require routine and widespread Ukrainian counterattacks and therefore still demand that Ukrainian forces commit considerable offensive capabilities to the front. FT reported that US officials believe that Ukrainian forces still could opportunistically exploit weak spots in the Russian defense while conducting a theater-wide active defense.[20] Limited opportunistic counterattacks - especially when not resourced adequately- are unlikely to result in gains commensurate with the resources they will inevitably consume, however.

A theater-wide defensive posture would cede the strategic initiative to Russia and permit Russia to launch major attacks at times of its choosing, forcing Ukraine to burn scarce resources it would supposedly be generating during a period of “active defense.” Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk stated to FT that focusing on defense without any offensive component would be ”a mistake of historic proportions” for Ukraine as it would hand Russian President Vladimir Putin the initiative and allow Putin to double down on ongoing efforts to convince the West and the rest of the world that Ukraine cannot win the war.[21] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov similarly stated that Ukrainian forces need to continue to press Russian forces, particularly through operations that target Russian logistics in occupied Crimea.[22] A Ukrainian ”active defense” into 2025 would cede the theater-wide initiative to Russian forces for at least a year and possibly longer, allowing the Russian command to determine where, when, and at what scale fighting occurs over that period. This extended period of theater initiative would also give the Russian command significant control over determining what resources both Ukrainian and Russian forces must bring to bear. The Russian command would therefore have an ample operational window to conduct a series of campaigns of differing intensities across the theater in Ukraine that could be specifically designed to constrain and degrade critical Ukrainian operational capacities needed for a future counter-offensive.

Offensive and defensive operations place similar requirements and constraints on Ukrainian materiel and personnel, and Ukrainian defensive operations do not necessarily present Ukraine with more opportunities to husband materiel and expand reserves for future counteroffensive operations. Russian and Ukrainian forces rely on the same weapons and equipment to conduct both defensive and offensive operations. Equipment such as armored vehicles, artillery, and drones are just as critical for defending positions as they are for capturing positions. Defensive operations do not eliminate manpower requirements or losses, moreover, as holding positions and counterattacking can produce significant force requirements and losses, particularly when the aggressor can set the terms of battle each time. The stability of a defensive line relies in part on the ability of defending forces to conduct sufficient rotations, rapidly reinforce weakened sectors of the frontline, establish physical fortifications, and when necessary, conduct orderly withdrawals from threatened positions, all of which require significant resources and a significant amount of committed and immediately available manpower. Offensive operations have required more materiel and manpower than defensive operations in Ukraine as in most wars, but both Russian and Ukrainian forces have regularly suffered significant losses on the defensive as well.[23]

Just as defensive operations do not guarantee that Ukraine will be able to amass resources for future counteroffensives, offensive operations do not necessarily preclude Russia from continuing efforts to build out stockpiles of equipment and establish operational reserves. ISW currently assesses that the tempo of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing crypto-mobilization campaign is enabling Russian forces to conduct regular operational-level rotations but that Russian forces are unlikely to be able to rapidly establish operational reserves.[24] Russian forces have recently expended considerable amounts of equipment on failed offensive efforts in eastern Ukraine and are currently consuming artillery ammunition far faster than Russia’s gradually mobilized defense industrial base (DIB) can produce.[25] Ukrainian officials have indicated that Russian forces are funneling newly produced weapons and ammunition to the frontline for immediate use and not for expanding stockpiles for future operations.[26] These constraints on Russian materiel and manpower are not inevitable characteristics of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine, however. Russian forces could ease these constraints while still conducting offensive operations if the Russian command changed the intensity or tactics of these operations, intensified force generation efforts, or significantly expanded efforts to mobilize Russia’s DIB. Granting Russia a year or more of holding the theater-wide initiative would allow the Russian command to choose freely between prioritizing its own offensive efforts and operational requirements, amassing its own resources for future use, and forcing Ukraine to expend the resources Kyiv would be seeking to amass for future Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.

Russian forces will likely choose to conduct localized offensive operations as well as larger offensive efforts throughout the theater in order to force Ukraine to commit scarce materiel and manpower to defensive efforts. Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo stated on January 19 that the entire eastern front from Kupyansk to Bakhmut is active and reported intensified Russian assaults in the Kupyansk-Lyman and Bakhmut directions.[27] Fityo warned that while Ukrainian forces are destroying Russian tanks and armored vehicles, Russian forces have “a large reserve of resources.“[28] Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that Russian forces have recently ”switched to the offensive” in certain areas of the Lyman direction, particularly west of Svatove and west and southwest of Kreminna.[29] Mashovets noted that Russian forces are likely preparing for larger-scale actions in the Lyman direction in the near future.[30] A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger also claimed that Russian forces have begun a ”massive offensive” in the Kupyansk-Lyman direction.[31] ISW previously assessed that Russian forces may intensify efforts to capture Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast in the coming weeks.[32] Russian sources have repeatedly acknowledged Russia’s intent to continue active operations throughout Ukraine intended to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.[33]

FT also reported, citing unspecified Ukrainian officials, that Russian forces are planning to conduct a large-scale offensive in Ukraine in the summer of 2024 and will attempt to capture the rest of the four illegally annexed oblasts (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts).[34] FT’s unspecified Ukrainian sources did not rule out the possibility of Russian forces attempting to recapture Kharkiv of Kyiv cities.[35] German outlet BILD reported similar Russian plans on December 14, 2023, and ISW noted at the time that Russia’s reported plans for the war are generally consistent with ongoing localized offensive operations in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[36] Russian offensive operations in Ukraine will likely not have to achieve significant territorial advances to force Ukraine to expend valuable and limited resources on defensive efforts. Ukrainian forces will likely be unable to husband materiel and personnel while defending against Russian offensive operations, localized or large-scale, that are meant to prevent them from doing so. Ukraine would risk consuming resources it hoped to conserve for its own counteroffensive operations in efforts to stop continuing Russian attacks, likely while losing ground, if it went over to the strategic defensive as some US officials are apparently recommending. The side in war that holds the initiative generally has the advantage, and it is unwise to suggest that Ukraine should cede that advantage to Russia for longer than is absolutely necessary.

US officials reportedly assess that Ukraine will have to fight a long war and continue efforts to secure as much security assistance as possible for Ukraine before 2025 while expecting that positional fighting may continue in Ukraine until 2026. CNN reported on January 19 that US President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines met with US lawmakers on January 17 to urge lawmakers to support additional security assistance to Ukraine.[37] Biden Administration officials highlighted air defense systems and artillery ammunition as key Ukrainian capabilities that could be depleted without additional US aid, ending Ukraine‘s ability to conduct long-range strikes against occupied Crimea and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.[38] An unspecified US official told CNN that getting as much aid to Ukraine approved as possible before 2025 is “on the minds of a lot of folks.“[39] CNN reported that unspecified US intelligence officials assess that the war will last at least two more years, with some assessing there may be up to five years of fighting. CNN reported that unspecified US officials do not believe that a short-term ”drop-off” in US assistance to Ukraine will have a major battlefield impact, but that a long-term lack of US assistance could allow Russia to regain momentum by stockpiling weapons produced domestically and by Iran and North Korea, however.[40] ISW continues to assess that the positional war in Ukraine is not a stable stalemate and could be tipped in either direction by decisions made in the West and Russia and that the collapse of Western aid to Ukraine would likely lead to the eventual collapse of Ukraine’s ability to hold off the Russian military and significant Russian advances further west, likely all the way to the western Ukrainian border with NATO member states.[41]

Russia is trying to mend its relationship with South Korea to mitigate the impacts of its growing reliance on North Korea. Russian Ambassador to South Korea Georgy Zinoviev stated on January 18 that Russia would "welcome" South Korea into the circle of Russia’s “friendly countries” and suggested that South Korean businesses should invest in the restoration of occupied Donbas.[42] Zinoviev claimed that South Korea does not want to see Russia strategically defeated in Ukraine and warned South Korea against supplying military aid to Ukraine. Zinoviev also falsely claimed that Russian-North Korean cooperation is not violating any international sanctions. Recent direct signaling from South Korean officials suggests that South Korea is increasingly at odds with the Kremlin, particularly due to growing Russian cooperation with Pyongyang. South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol stated on September 17, 2023 that Seoul believes that Russian and North Korean military-technical agreements may violate UN Security Council sanctions, and South Korean officials have recently warned that North Korea is increasing weapons and ammunition transfers to Russia.[43] Ukraine-based open-source organization Frontelligence Insight published a report on January 19 mapping the logistics routes along which North Korea is transferring ammunition to Russia for use in Ukraine, highlighting the dramatic impact of North Korean ammunition deliveries on the Russian war effort.[44] Continued Russian cooperation with North Korea is likely further driving South Korea away from Russia, and the Kremlin likely fears the impacts of these shifting dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.

Protests in support of an imprisoned prominent Bashkort activist continued in the Republic of Bashkortostan, but Kremlin mouthpieces denied reports that the protests are significant in scale. Russian opposition sources reported that anywhere from “hundreds” to 1,500 supporters of imprisoned Bashkort activist Fail Alysnov protested in Bashkhortostan’s capital Ufa on January 19 and that Russian Special Purpose Mobile Units (OMON) detained at least 10 demonstrators.[45] Russian authorities sentenced Alysnov to four years imprisonment on January 11 for "inciting hatred" and publicized the ruling on January 17, prompting mass protests outside the courthouse in Baymak, Bashkortostan.[46] Footage published on January 19 shows dozens to hundreds of Alysnov’s supporters demonstrating in the center of Ufa, and footage published later in the day suggests that the protests concluded for the day.[47] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed on January 19 that there were no mass riots in Bashkortostan and that local law enforcement is handling ”individual” local demonstrations.[48] A Russian political blogger, who reported on the initial protests and denounced Alysnov as a ”separatist” with ”neo-fascist” values, claimed that no more than 50 people protested in Ufa and that half had dispersed by midday – a claim inconsistent with footage of the actual protests.[49]

The Russian government continues efforts to codify legal oversight of the activities of migrants living in Russia. The Russian Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan for the State Concept of Migration Policy, which the Russian government will implement throughout 2024-2025.[50] The action plan includes six sections that address the entry of foreign citizens to Russian territory; the assimilation of foreigners into Russian society; the free movement of students, scientific personnel, and teaching staff between Russia and other countries; and the prevention of violations to Russian migration laws.[51] The action plan also requires the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and Federal Security Service (FSB) to submit proposals by March 20, 2024 to the Cabinet of Ministers on how to strengthen punishments for foreigners who violate Russian laws.[52] The plan also includes several provisions to facilitate the integration of migrants into Russia's domestic sphere including Russian language proficiency assessments and assimilation courses to help foreigners internalize Russian "traditional spiritual and moral values."[53] Migrants will also have to create a "digital profile" by the end of 2024, which will allow the Russian government to track arrivals of those coming from countries that have a visa-free entry regime with Russia, as well as to expand the collection of biometric data of foreigners who arrive at Moscow airports.[54] ISW previously assessed that Russia was using similar digital surveillance technologies to expand its societal control toolkit during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and it appears that the Kremlin is applying such surveillance and control measures to monitor the activities of foreigners in Russia.[55] The Kremlin likely seeks to quickly enact this action plan in order to gain more oversight over foreigners and manage growing tensions with some migrant communities within Russia.[56]

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree allocating funds for the search, registration, and legal protection of Russian property abroad, which includes property in former territories of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.[57] The decree directs the Russian Presidential Administration’s Foreign Property Management Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) with power and funds to search for, register, and legally protect “property,” though the exact parameters of what constitutes current or historical Russian property are unclear. The Kremlin may use the “protection” of its claimed property in countries outside of its internationally recognized borders to forward soft power mechanisms in post-Soviet and neighboring states ultimately aimed at internal destabilization.[58] A prominent milblogger responded to the decree by implausibly calling for Russia to start enacting the law in "Alaska" and throughout a significant portion of eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.[59]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russia is conducting an information operation to misrepresent NATO’s defensive Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises – a response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Russian threats directed towards NATO members - as provocative.
  • Russian forces will be able to determine the location, tempo, and operational requirements of fighting in Ukraine if Ukraine commits itself to defensive operations throughout 2024 as some US officials are reportedly pressing Kyiv to do.
  • US officials reportedly assess that Ukraine will have to fight a long war and continue efforts to secure as much security assistance as possible for Ukraine before 2025 while expecting that positional fighting may continue in Ukraine until 2026.
  • Russia is trying to mend its relationship with South Korea to mitigate the impacts of its growing reliance on North Korea.
  • Protests in support of an imprisoned prominent Bashkort activist continued in the Republic of Bashkortostan, but Kremlin mouthpieces denied reports that the protests are significant in scale.
  • The Russian government continues efforts to codify legal oversight of the activities of migrants living in Russia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree allocating funds for the search, registration, and legal protection of Russian property abroad, which includes property in former territories of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances southeast of Kupyansk, and Ukrainian forces recently regained positions southeast of Kupyansk amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact.
  • The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) “Vostok” Battalion stated on January 19 that it will resume fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine when the period of positional fighting ends and will “continue to serve” after the war, presumably subordinated to Rosgvardia.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to leverage the provision of social benefits and healthcare to augment passportization efforts in occupied Ukraine.

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 18, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 18, 2024, 7:30pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:00pm ET on January 18. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 19 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW has added a new section on Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) efforts to the daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment to track the development of Ukraine’s DIB and the international support for Ukraine’s DIB efforts. ISW will be publishing its assessments in this section based on public announcements, media reporting, and official statements.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine remain unchanged and that Russia is not interested in negotiations with Ukraine or the West. Lavrov stated at a press conference on January 18 that Russia “will achieve the goals of its ‘special military operation’ consistently and persistently.”[1] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) readout of this speech included a link to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24, 2022 speech in which Putin outlined Russia’s goals of “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” Ukraine and his demand that NATO commit not to admit new members – goals which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender.[2] Lavrov reiterated that these goals are unchanged, claiming that “serious” talks about the “realistic” conditions for ending the war “presuppose [Ukraine’s] renunciation of Nazi ideology, Nazi rhetoric, racism towards everything Russian, and entry into NATO.”[3] Lavrov attempted to justify these conditions as necessary for preserving the Ukrainian people’s independence and identity, despite the fact that ISW has routinely documented how Russian forces and occupation officials have been engaging in large-scale and deliberate ethnic cleansing campaigns and efforts to eliminate the Ukrainian language, culture, history, and ethnicity in areas that Russian forces occupy.[4] Lavrov also denied Ukraine’s agency as a sovereign state, claiming that “it is not Ukraine that will decide when to stop and start talking [with Russia] seriously” about the end of the conflict, but that it is the West that will make this decision. Lavrov dismissed a question about recent media publications about the possibility of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, stating that “rumors are just that - rumors.” Lavrov claimed that the West – not Russia – is to blame for the absence of negotiations and threateningly stated that “those [in the West] who refuse [to negotiate] must understand that the longer they wait, the harder it will be to negotiate” and that “there is no hope that Russia will be ’defeated.’” Lavrov made similar statements on December 15, 2023, suggesting that the Kremlin believes that the longer the war continues, the more territory Russia will be able to occupy, and that the course of the war will increasingly weaken Ukraine’s negotiating position.[5]

Lavrov also claimed that support of the war has unified the Russian people and strengthened Russian identity. Lavrov claimed that the war contributed to the “cleansing of people who do not feel involved in” ethnic Russian history and culture and the history and culture of the Russian state.[6] Lavrov claimed that some of these people left Russia at the beginning of the war, but that an “overwhelming part of [Russian] society came together in an unprecedented way.” Lavrov's statements are meant to frame Russian society as unified around the war, despite heavy Kremlin efforts to crack down on any dissent and disproportionately amplify factions who support the war. Lavrov’s statements also indicate that the Kremlin continues to lack a unified position about the return to Russia of those citizens who previously left, as some Kremlin officials, including Putin, have celebrated the trend of Russians returning from abroad, whereas others have publicly threatened them.[7]

The battlespace in Ukraine continues to be the center of the technological offense-defense race between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on January 18 that Russian forces "learn quickly enough" and have completely adapted the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile compared to the model that Russia used in 2022.[8] Skibitsky stated that new Kh-101s are equipped with an active electronic warfare (EW) system and "thermal traps" to prevent the missiles from emitting trackable heat signatures.[9] Skibitsky noted that Ukrainian forces need to innovate and adapt in response to Russian adaptations to "prevent the loss of territories."[10] The GUR assessment of Russian technological innovation in the air domain is consistent with ISW's previous observations that Russian forces are adapting their methods and means for conducting strikes on Ukraine, and that Ukraine in turn must adapt and innovate with Western support to respond to such strikes.[11] Moscow Duma Deputy Andrei Medvedev identified similar adaptation-response dynamics in a January 18 post where he discussed the use of drones by both Russian and Ukrainian forces.[12] Medvedev stated that Russia has opted for the mass production of drones, leading to the production of large numbers of drones that lack the technological adaptations needed to compete with Ukrainian drones based on battlefield experience. Medvedev noted that Ukrainian forces are constantly improving their drones and warned that constant Ukrainian innovation may eventually make Russian mass-produced drones ineffective. Medvedev's discussion of the importance of constant technological adaptation and innovation on the battlefield emphasizes ISW's assessment that Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in a technological and tactical offense-defense race.[13]

Recent widespread GPS disruptions across Poland and the Baltic region are prompting speculation about the potential operation of Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems in the region. Polish outlet Radio Zet cited data from the GPSJAM GPS interference tracking site on January 16 that showed unprecedentedly high levels of GPS jamming across northern and eastern Poland, including across Warsaw and as far south as Łódź.[14] GPSJAM data also shows similarly high levels of GPS jamming across the southern Baltic Sea and northwestern and central Poland between December 25-27, 2023, and on January 10, 2024.[15] Polish media outlets suggested that the December 2023 outages may have been caused either by unspecified NATO military exercises in the Baltic region or could be linked to recent Russian EW tests in the Kaliningrad region.[16] Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) opened a case into the disturbances on January 12 in light of Russian Baltic Fleet EW exercises.[17] Swedish Lieutenant Colonel Joakim Paasikivi stated on January 6 that he believes that recent GPS interference levels are a result of "Russian influence activities or so-called hybrid warfare," and noted that Russia has previously interfered with GPS signals in northern Europe to protect Russian activities in Murmansk Oblast or disrupt NATO exercises.[18] Russian media reported that elements of the Russian Baltic Fleet have been training with the Borisoglebsk-2 EW system in Kaliningrad Oblast since mid-December 2023, which some sources linked to the disturbances.[19] ISW cannot independently verify the cause of the GPS jamming levels at this time, but the suggestion that Russian EW capabilities in Kaliningrad Oblast could so significantly impact Poland and the Baltic region is notable.

The French Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 18 that it launched an “artillery coalition” to strengthen support for Ukraine amid continued Ukrainian statements that Russian forces in Ukraine have superior artillery capabilities.[20] The French MoD stated that it launched the “Artillery for Ukraine” coalition – one of five "capability" coalitions within the Contact Group for the Defense of Ukraine, which also include coalitions that aim to help support Ukraine with air defense, armored vehicles, air force capabilities, and maritime security.[21] The French MoD stated the “artillery coalition,” which France will co-chair with the US, will provide Ukrainian forces with artillery capabilities in the short term and aims to build out Ukrainian artillery capabilities in the long term through industrial partnerships.[22] French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu also announced that France will deliver six Caesar artillery systems to Ukraine in the coming weeks and supply 50 AASM Hammer glide bombs to Ukraine per month starting in January 2024.[23] Lecornu stated that France can produce 72 Caesar artillery systems for Ukraine in 2024 and will spend 50 million euros ($54.3 million) to finance the production of 12 of the Caesar systems, but that France will need partner support to finance the 60 other systems.[24]

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated that ammunition shortages are an urgent problem for Ukrainian forces and that Russian efforts to expand Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) have enabled Russian forces to launch tens of thousands of artillery projectiles at Ukrainian positions every day.[25] Umerov stated that Russian artillery fire exceeds Ukrainian artillery fire at ratios between five-to-one and ten-to-one depending on the sector of the front and combat intensity.[26] Ukrainian officials have previously indicated that a combination of artillery ammunition shortages and delays in the provision of Western security assistance is likely causing Ukrainian forces to husband materiel.[27] Umerov stated that improved artillery capabilities are a key necessity for winning the war and that Ukraine is pursuing efforts to expand shell production.[28] Ukraine is also currently expanding its production of first-person view (FPV) drones to offset the impacts of artillery ammunition shortages with the goal of producing one million FPV drones in 2024.[29]

Ukrainian partisans and satellite imagery confirmed that Ukrainian strikes against occupied Crimea in late December 2023 sank a Russian Tarantul-class corvette near Sevastopol. The Crimean-based “Atesh” Ukrainian partisan group reported on January 18 that it discovered a sunken Tarantul-class corvette in Hrafska Bay, Sevastopol, and satellite imagery of the Atesh-provided coordinates confirms that the corvette sank between December 28 and 31, 2023.[30] Russian and Crimean occupation officials claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian air and naval drone strikes against Sevastopol on December 28 and 30, 2023.[31] This confirmation of a previously unaccounted-for successful Ukrainian strike indicates that Ukraine‘s recent strike campaign against occupied Crimea may have been more successful than has been confirmed thus far by open sources.[32] Ukrainian forces previously conducted a successful strike campaign against Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets in summer 2023 that forced Russian forces to move ships away from its main base in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea.[33]

The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reportedly conducted a successful drone strike on Russian military facilities in Leningrad Oblast on January 18. A source within the GUR told Ukrainian outlet Suspilne on January 18 that there were confirmed strikes against unspecified targets in Leningrad Oblast and noted that Russian military facilities in St. Petersburg are “within reach” of Ukrainian forces.[34] Russian media stated that Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems suppressed two Ukrainian drones over the Gulf of Finland and that Russian forces shot down a third Ukrainian drone near the St. Petersburg oil terminal.[35] A Russian source claimed that this is the first attempted Ukrainian strike on Leningrad Oblast in the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[36] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that it intercepted one drone over Leningrad Oblast in the early morning hours of January 18.[37]

Russian forces conducted a series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 17 to 18. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Russian forces launched 33 Shahed-136/131 drones at unspecified targets throughout Ukraine and two S-300 ground-to-air missiles in the direction of Kharkiv Oblast.[38] Ukrainian air defenses downed 22 Shaheds and an unspecified number of Shaheds did not strike their intended targets.[39] Ukrainian Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration Head Oleh Synehubov reported that Russian S-300 missiles struck Chuhuiv in Kharkiv Oblast.[40]

The European Union (EU) Parliament voted to endorse another step in a rule of law procedure that could eventually suspend Hungary’s voting rights after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed an EU vote for further military assistance to Ukraine. The EU Parliament endorsed both a condemnation of Orban’s recent veto of assistance to Ukraine and a nonbinding resolution that calls on EU member states to “take action and to determine whether Hungary has committed serious and persistent breaches of EU values” in accordance with the EU’s rule of law framework.[41] The EU rule of law framework establishes a three-step process, including an assessment, recommendation, and follow-up monitoring, to determine and prevent any threats to the rule of law in the EU.[42] The EU notably declared in 2022 that it can no longer consider Hungary a ”full democracy” but rather a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy,” as Hungary’s ”respect for democratic norms and standards is absent.”[43] Reuters noted that a possible deprivation of Hungary‘s EU voting rights through this procedure in accordance with EU Treaty Article 7 is unlikely to occur quickly and that the EU vote aims to pressure Orban ahead of the EU leaders’ summit on February 1, which will include discussions for further assistance to Ukraine.[44]

Russia and the Central African Republic (CAR) are in negotiations regarding Russian military basing in CAR. Russian Ambassador to CAR Alexander Bikantov stated that Russia’s and CAR’s defense ministries are discussing the creation of a Russian military base in CAR and are currently selecting the base’s location.[45] Russian outlet RBK reported that the Russian Embassy in CAR stated that Russian and Central African officials have not yet finalized the size of the potential Russian contingent in CAR or the date of its arrival.[46] Kremlin-backed outlet Africa Initiative reported on January 16 that CAR Presidential Advisor Fidel Ngouandika stated that CAR wants Russia to build a military base in the country and that CAR’s government has “already provided a site in Beringo, 80km from Bangui, where there is an international airport.”[47] The site in Beringo reportedly can accommodate up to 10,000 personnel.[48] The Kremlin continues efforts to expand Russia‘s influence in Africa through the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) controlled Africa Corps and is likely attempting to expand the Africa Corps’ operations in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and CAR.[49] The Russian military’s apparent ability to negotiate deploying expeditionary forces to the CAR indicates that Russia has offset some of the acute manpower shortages that the Russian military experienced in 2022 and 2023. The Russian military hastily redeployed forces from Russia’s (small) foreign bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Armenia, and Syria, to Russia in 2022, likely in response to acute personnel shortages from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[50]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine remain unchanged and that Russia is not interested in negotiations with Ukraine or the West.
  • The battlespace in Ukraine continues to be the center of the technological offense-defense race between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
  • Recent widespread GPS disruptions across Poland and the Baltic region are prompting speculation about the potential operation of Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems in the region.
  • The French Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 18 that it launched an “artillery coalition” to strengthen support for Ukraine amid continued Ukrainian statements that Russian forces in Ukraine have superior artillery capabilities.
  • Ukrainian partisans and satellite imagery confirmed that Ukrainian strikes against occupied Crimea in late December 2023 sank a Russian Tarantul-class corvette near Sevastopol.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reportedly conducted a successful drone strike on Russian military facilities in Leningrad Oblast on January 18.
  • The European Union (EU) Parliament voted to endorse another step in a rule of law procedure that could eventually suspend Hungary’s voting rights after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed an EU vote for further military assistance to Ukraine.
  • Russia and the Central African Republic (CAR) are in negotiations regarding Russian military basing in CAR.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the front.
  • Russian officials continue to target naturalized migrants as part of ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to restore logistics infrastructure in occupied Ukraine. 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 17, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 17, 2024, 8pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:30pm ET on January 17. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 18 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW has added a new section on Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) efforts to the daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment to track the development of Ukraine’s DIB and the international support for Ukraine’s DIB efforts. ISW will be publishing its assessments in this section based on public announcements, media reporting, and official statements.

A Ukrainian intelligence official reported that Russian forces lack the necessary operational reserves to conduct simultaneous offensive efforts in more than one direction in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi reported on January 17 that Russia does not have enough reserves to conduct large-scale offensive operations in several directions at the same time.[1] Skibitskyi stated that it is impossible for Russian forces to conduct strategically or operationally significant offensive operations without “powerful” reserves and implied that Russia does not have such reserves.[2] Skibitskyi noted that mobilization measures are ongoing in Russia, likely referring to the current Russian crypto-mobilization campaign that relies heavily on volunteer recruitment and the coercive mobilization of convicts and migrants.[3] It is unclear if Russia’s ongoing crypto-mobilization campaign has provided or would be able to provide the increased number of personnel that an intensified Russian offensive effort would require. Skibitskyi reported on January 15 that Russia recruits about 30,000 personnel per month, which the Russian military uses to replenish losses and form reserve regiments, and that Russia would need to conduct “mobilization” (likely referring to another “partial mobilization” like Russia conducted in September 2022 or a large-scale general mobilization) to establish a “powerful strategic reserve.”[4] Skibitskyi’s statements suggest that although the Russian military is able to generate enough manpower to conduct routine operational-level rotations in Ukraine, Russian forces may not necessarily be able to generate manpower at a rate that would allow Russian forces to quickly re-establish the operational reserves necessary for simultaneous offensive efforts in several directions.[5]

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on January 17 that the elimination of Ukrainian statehood and independence remains one of Russia’s core war aims. Medvedev claimed that “the presence of an independent state on historical Russian territories” is a “constant reason for the resumption of hostilities” and that Ukraine’s very existence as an independent state is therefore “mortally dangerous” for Ukrainians.[6] Medvedev claimed that an independent Ukraine will never be a legitimate state regardless of who leads the government and that a future conflict for Ukrainian territory is inevitable whether or not it is a new conflict or the continuation of the current Russian war in Ukraine.[7] Medvedev’s January 17 statement is one of many recent signals from senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, that Putin and the Kremlin have no interest in good-faith negotiations with Ukraine and that Putin’s maximalist war aims in Ukraine remain unchanged.[8] Medvedev attempted to portray Russia’s commitment to these maximalist objectives as unwavering by claiming that Ukrainian accession to the European Union (EU) or NATO will not prevent future conflict.[9] Medvedev notably did not define what he considers to be historical Russian territories, but Putin has defined historical Russian lands as the territory of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union.[10] Medvedev’s opacity may be intentional, as the Kremlin’s loosely defined concept of “historical Russian territories” allows the Kremlin to pursue expansionist objectives wherever and whenever it so determines in a broad area including Central Asia, the Caucuses and parts of Eastern Europe.[11] Medvedev’s emphasis on the destruction of any Ukrainian state on these “historical Russian territories” could indicate that some actors in the Kremlin prioritize expansionist objectives over the identified objective of regime change under calls for the “de-nazification” of Ukraine.

Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes largely targeting Odesa and Kharkiv cities on the night of January 16 to 17. The Ukrainian Air Force stated that Russian forces launched two S-300 missiles from Belgorod Oblast towards Kharkiv City and 20 Shahed-136/-131 drones from Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai and that Ukrainian forces shot down 19 of the drones over Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kirovohrad oblasts.[12] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that Russian drones largely targeted Odesa City.[13] Ukrainian officials reported that Russian drones and missiles damaged residential buildings in Odesa and Kharkiv cities.[14]

Ukraine successfully employed a Ukrainian-refurbished hybrid air defense system (FrankenSAM) for the first time. Ukrainian Minister of Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin stated on January 17 that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian Shahed drone with a hybrid air defense system — referring to the so-called FrankenSAM systems that merge advanced Western air defense missiles with modified Soviet launchers or other missile launchers — for the first time.[15] Kamyshin noted that the full development of Ukraine’s own air defenses will take years, so Ukraine is creating home-made air defense systems using Soviet components and Western missiles. ISW continues to assess that Western provisions of air defense systems and missiles remain crucial as Ukraine develops its defense industrial base (DIB).[16] Kamyshin also stated that Ukraine has doubled its ammunition production for NATO-caliber artillery systems.[17] Ukraine began domestically producing 155mm shells, which are a NATO-standard used by Western-supplied guns that Ukraine’s defense industrial base (DIB) had never produced before, no later than September 2023.[18]

Germany and France announced additional military assistance to Ukraine on January 16. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on January 16 that Germany will provide Ukraine with military goods worth more than seven billion euros (roughly $7.62 billion) in 2024.[19] The German government announced that the aid package includes ammunition for Leopard tanks, armored personnel carriers, reconnaissance drones, and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.[20] Germany provided 5.4 billion euros ($5.89 billion) worth of military assistance to Ukraine in 2023.[21] French President Emmanuel Macron announced on January 16 that he would finalize a bilateral security agreement with Kyiv during a visit to Ukraine in February 2024.[22] Macron also stated that France will send 40 SCALP long-range missiles and “several hundred” unspecified bombs to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Western officials highlighted Ukraine’s battlefield successes at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16 and 17. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted that Ukraine has opened a corridor to export grain in the Black Sea, weakened the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF), and liberated more than half of its territory that Russian forces captured since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion.[23] Sullivan also highlighted Ukraine’s efforts to develop its own defense industrial base (DIB).[24] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia is unlikely in the near future — in line with ISW’s long-standing assessment that Russia is not interested in engaging in meaningful, good-faith negotiations with Ukraine.[25] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Ghanan President Nana Akufo-Addo and called on them to support Ukraine’s peace formula.[26] Zelensky also met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and discussed bilateral relations, the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine, and Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (EU).[27]

The Russian ultranationalist community will likely concretize xenophobia and insecurities about Russia’s ethnic composition as key shared principles within the community in 2024, as Russian ultranationalists continue to seize on incidents involving migrants and non-ethnic Russian groups to call for anti-migrant policies and express growing hostility towards non-ethnic Russians in Russia. Russian information space actors within the ultranationalist milblogger community have increasingly fixated on singular incidents that implicate migrant communities in acts of violence or resistance in 2023 and have weaponized this rhetoric to call on Russian officials to more widely mobilize migrants to fight in Ukraine, curtail migrants’ access to social and economic opportunities, and substantively change Russia’s existing migration policies.[28] Russian ultranationalists have also increasingly advocated for ethnic Russians to receive more domestic power in Russia and continue to promote hyper-nationalist ideologies that are generating domestic tensions between ethnic minority communities and ethnic Russians.[29] s may malign the nominal rights to autonomy that many non-ethnic Russian communities have through their respective federal Russian republics and are likely to react harshly to discussions centering on the political, economic, and social concerns of non-ethnic Russians.[30]

The Kremlin’s ongoing attempt to court the Russian ultranationalist community will likely generate increasing friction between the Kremlin’s desired rhetoric and policies concerning migration and interethnic relations and those of Russian ultranationalists. Russian officials appear to have tolerated or even endorsed ultranationalists’ increasing anti-migration rhetoric since it likely generated social pressures that have augmented Russian efforts to coerce migrants into military service in Ukraine.[31] The Kremlin now appears to be struggling to reconcile efforts to increase Russian industrial capacity while also coercing migrants into military service and disincentivizing them from working in Russia.[32] Any efforts to appease Russian ultranationalists will likely only exacerbate inconsistent and contradictory Kremlin policies concerning migrants. Hostility towards non-ethnic Russians in Russia directly contradicts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to promote the concept of a wider and ethnically inclusive “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) that encompasses non-ethnic Russians in both modern Russia and the former territory of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire.[33] The Kremlin continues to rely on the ultranationalist community in its effort to solidify pro-war sentiments, hyper-nationalism, Russian orthodoxy, and “traditional” social values as core tenets of the Russian state.[34] The Kremlin will likely struggle to balance these parallel efforts as Russian ultranationalists display increasing animus to non-ethnic Russians in Russia and in neighboring countries.

Significant protests erupted in Baymak, Bashkortostan Republic, following a Russian court’s guilty verdict for a prominent Bashkort activist, prompting a swift Russian government response as well as backlash from the Russian ultranationalist community. Bashkortostan’s Baymaksky Court found prominent Bashkort activist Fail Alsynov guilty on January 11 of inciting ethnic hatred and sentenced him to four years in prison, which the court announced publicly on January 17 following a closed-door trial.[35] Alsynov allegedly gave a speech on April 28, 2023, that insulted ethnic groups from the Caucasus.[36] Hundreds of Alsynov’s supporters had gathered at the courthouse ahead of his January 17 verdict announcement, and protests involving hundreds to thousands of supporters lasted for hours following the verdict. Some Russian opposition sources reported that 2,000-5,000 people protested in support of Alsynov and that responding Russian authorities detained anywhere from five to several dozen protestors.[37] The reported scale of the Baymak protest appears comparable to if not larger than that of the antisemitic riots in Dagestan in October 2023.[38] Footage shows Russian riot police using tear gas and stun grenades to dispel the protestors, two of whom Russian police beat with batons and 20-40 of whom sought medical attention following the protests.[39] Russian law enforcement reportedly detained around 20-40 protestors, and Alsynov’s supporters negotiated with Russian law enforcement to cease protests for the day in exchange for the release of the detained protestors.[40] The protests have dispersed as of this publication, though it is unclear whether activists are planning for further protests on subsequent days. Hundreds to thousands of activists gathered outside the Baymaksky Court in the days leading up to the public announcement of Alsynov’s sentence, suggesting that the size of the protests on January 17 was not necessarily spontaneous.[41]

Russian authorities appear to be better equipped to handle the Bashkortostan protests than the October 2023 Dagestan protests. The Russian Investigative Committee announced on January 17 that it is opening a criminal investigation into the protest for the organization of and participation in “mass riots” and for the use of violence against authorities.[42] Multiple Telegram channels that the Bashkort activists reportedly used to coordinate and spread news of the protest became temporarily unavailable on January 17, a possible Russian government censorship attempt to limit the protest from growing or spreading.[43] The Russian ultranationalist community latched onto the Bashkortostan protest in anger despite the swift government response. Some criticized Alsynov’s supporters as “extremists” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who only aim to separate Bashkortostan from Russia.[44] Others amplified footage of military personnel in Bashkortostan’s “Minigali Shaimuratov” Battalion disavowing the protesters and Alsynov as “traitors,” “extremists,” and “separatists.”[45] The Russian government and Bashkort military personnel’s swift response suggest that the Russian government may intensify efforts to ensure that non-ethnic Russian communities support the war in Ukraine. Russian sources’ characterization of the protesters as “separatists” organized by outside forces suggests that Russian ultranationalists will continue to label any notable unrest from non-ethnic Russians as a hybrid warfare attack against Russia.[46]

Widespread Russian milblogger complaints about an Uzbek community leader in Russia prompted the Russian Investigative Committee to open a criminal investigation, suggesting that the Russian government may feel increasing pressure to respond to milblogger demands as the ultranationalist information space coalesces around xenophobic and anti-migrant ideals. The Russian Investigative Committee announced on January 17 that it opened a criminal investigation into Interregional Uzbek Community "Vatandosh" President Usman Baratov for a social media post allegedly “insulting the participants of the special military operation” after unspecified Russian military correspondents appealed to Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin.[47] Russian ultranationalist milbloggers widely criticized Baratov’s social media posts and called for Baratov to leave Russia.[48] The Investigative Committee’s swift response to milbloggers’ requests may prompt them to make future demands of the Russian government. The Investigative Committee’s prompt announcement also suggests that the Russian government is monitoring and potentially responding to demands of the Russian ultranationalist community — a subsection of the Russian information space that it routinely attempts to cultivate and co-opt to advance government narratives. Russian milbloggers also widely criticized an allegedly naturalized Russian citizen of Azeri ethnicity against whom the Investigative Committee opened a case for “attempted murder and incitement of hatred based on ethnicity” on January 17.[49] Russian milbloggers increasingly fixate on crimes that non-ethnic Russians reportedly commit, and some milbloggers have claimed that unspecified non-ethnic Russian diasporas control entire sectors of the Russian economy.[50] The Russian ultranationalist community’s framing of non-ethnic Russian diaspora communities as an internal threat to Russian security and economic interests are irreconcilable with the Kremlin’s portrayal of Russia as a harmonious multiethnic society. The Russian ultranationalist community may increasingly pressure the Russian government to take actions against migrant and non-ethnic Russian diaspora communities, which may exacerbate the fracture between the ultranationalist community and the government.

The Russian military command continues to convict Russian officers in cases associated with Ukrainian strikes as part of a likely effort to improve discipline across the Russian military. Moscow’s Second Western District Military Court sentenced the former head of Rosgvardia’s maritime department, Colonel Sergei Volkov, to six years in prison on January 16 for allegedly supplying low-quality radar systems to protect the Kerch Strait Bridge in occupied Crimea and a gas pipeline from Krasnodar Krai to occupied Crimea from Ukrainian drone strikes.[51] The court found Volkov guilty of “abuse of office with grave consequences” for his participation in a 400 million ruble ($4.5 million) corruption scheme involving the acquisition of two radar systems that Volkov reportedly knew could not properly defend against Ukrainian drones.[52] The Second Western District Military Court convicted two Russian air defense officers on December 6, 2023, for negligence in failing to prevent a Ukrainian strike on Russian territory.[53] Russian authorities also previously detained the commander of the 1st Special Purpose Air and Missile Defense Army on corruption and bribery charges, likely for failing to prevent drone strikes against Moscow City in July and August 2023.[54] The Russian military command likely intends to set a precedent across the Russian military concerning possible punishment for failures to defend against Ukrainian strikes — particularly strikes against high-value targets — regardless of whether the cases explicitly allege that these officers violated Russian rules of combat duty or tangentially associate the officers’ dereliction of duties with corruption schemes.[55] The Russian command likely hopes that these precedents will improve discipline writ large among Russian forces in Ukraine, although ISW has not observed such an effect.

The Kremlin continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence in Africa through the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the MoD-controlled Africa Corps. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that the Russian military is forming squads of “military instructors” to deploy to African countries, likely referring to the Africa Corps, and that Russia is recruiting these squads in Russia and occupied Ukraine, particularly in Crimea.[56] ISW previously reported that the Africa Corps aims to subsume the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa after the Russian MoD failed to directly recruit former Wagner personnel.[57] Russian officials have routinely referred to Wagner personnel operating in Africa as “military instructors” and “advisors” since 2018 despite Wagner’s combat roles in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.[58] The GUR reported that Russia is particularly focused on recruiting Russian reservists who specialized in maintaining air defense systems, former sailors, and other specialists and that Russian reservists are attracted to this opportunity due to high salaries and the hope of avoiding fighting in Ukraine.[59] ISW has previously observed the Africa Corps advertising “high salaries” beginning at 110,000 rubles ($1,240) but stipulating that interested applicants who are currently fighting in the war in Ukraine cannot transfer to serve in the Africa Corps.[60] The Russian MoD announced on January 17 that Russian Deputy Defense Ministers Colonel General Alexander Fomin and Colonel General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov met with Nigerien National Defense Minister Major General Salifou Modi to discuss bilateral military and military-technical cooperation.[61] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin is likely attempting to expand the Africa Corps’ operations in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali.[62]

The threat of US secondary sanctions is reportedly having a large-scale effect on Turkish–Russian financial ties. Russian outlet Kommersant stated on January 17 that Turkish banks have “universally” begun to refuse to work with Russian banks.[63] Kommersant reported that sources indicated that Turkish banks’ fear of secondary sanctions sharply increased after the United States authorized secondary sanctions on financial institutions on December 22, 2023, that facilitate Russian sanctions evasion and support the Russian war effort in Ukraine. Bloomberg reported on January 16 that at least two state-owned Chinese banks ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities tied to the Russian defense industry following the US’ December 2022 secondary sanctions authorization.[64]

The Russian government likely continues efforts to gain access to data on Russian citizens. Kremlin newswire TASS stated on January 17 that a Moscow court fined Amazon Cloud Services more than 200 million rubles (about $2,256,400) for not having a representative office in Russia.[65] Russian law stipulates that Russian authorities can fine entities that operate in Russia without opening a branch or representative office in Russia a penalty amounting to one-fifteenth to one-tenth of their total revenue for the year. Russia previously fined Google for a similar law that requires foreign internet-based services to localize databases of Russian users as of July 1, 2021.[66] Russia also previously fined Yandex for failing to adhere to Russian laws regarding the disclosure of users’ personal data to the Russian government.[67]

Key Takeaways:

 

  • A Ukrainian intelligence official reported that Russian forces lack the necessary operational reserves to conduct simultaneous offensive efforts in more than one direction in Ukraine.
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on January 17 that the elimination of Ukrainian statehood and independence remains one of Russia’s core war aims.
  • Ukraine successfully employed a Ukrainian-refurbished hybrid air defense system (FrankenSAM) for the first time.
  • Germany and France announced additional military assistance to Ukraine on January 16.
  • The Russian ultranationalist community will likely concretize xenophobia and insecurities about Russia’s ethnic composition as key shared principles within the community in 2024, as Russian ultranationalists continue to seize on incidents involving migrants and non-ethnic Russian groups to call for anti-migrant policies and express growing hostility towards non-ethnic Russians in Russia.
  • The Kremlin’s ongoing attempt to court the Russian ultranationalist community will likely generate increasing friction between the Kremlin’s desired rhetoric and policies concerning migration and interethnic relations and those of Russian ultranationalists.
  • Significant protests erupted in Baymak, Bashkortostan Republic, following a Russian court’s guilty verdict for a prominent Bashkort activist, prompting a swift Russian government response as well as backlash from the Russian ultranationalist community.
  • Widespread Russian milblogger complaints about an Uzbek community leader in Russia prompted the Russian Investigative Committee to open a criminal investigation, suggesting that the Russian government may feel increasing pressure to respond to milblogger demands as the ultranationalist information space coalesces around xenophobic and anti-migrant ideals.
  • The Russian military command continues to convict Russian officers in cases associated with Ukrainian strikes as part of a likely effort to improve discipline across the Russian military.
  • The Kremlin continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence in Africa through the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the MoD-controlled Africa Corps.
  • The threat of US secondary sanctions is reportedly having a large-scale effect on Turkish-Russian financial ties.
  • Positional engagements continued along the entire line of contact on January 17.
  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence (GUR) Representative Andriy Yusov confirmed that Russian authorities are increasing the size of the Rosgvardia contingent in occupied Ukraine to strengthen occupational control.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 16, 2024 

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 16, 2024, 7:00pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:45pm ET on January 16. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 17 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW has added a new section on Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) efforts to the daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment to track the development of Ukraine’s DIB and the international support for Ukraine’s DIB efforts. ISW will be publishing its assessments in this section based on public announcements, media reporting, and official statements.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to demonstrate that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine – which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender – remain unchanged. Putin claimed on January 16 during a meeting with Russian municipal heads that “Ukrainian statehood may suffer an irreparable, very serious blow” if the current battlefield situation continues.[1] Putin also reiterated Kremlin allegations of the prevalence of Nazism in Ukraine and claimed that ”such people...cannot win.”[2] Russia’s continued calls for Ukraine’s “denazification” are thinly veiled demands for the removal of the elected Ukrainian government and its replacement with a government acceptable to the Kremlin.[3] Putin reiterated the Kremlin narrative that Ukraine – not Russia – is to blame for the absence of negotiations, claiming that Ukraine’s “peace formula” is actually a continuation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on negotiating with Russia and amounts to “prohibitive demands” on the negotiation process.[4] Putin claimed that any negotiation process is an “attempt to encourage [Russia] to abandon gains [it] has made in the past year and a half” and that this is “impossible.”[5]

The Kremlin appears to lack a consistent framing for current Russian offensive operations to present to the Russian public, despite the fact that Putin appears to be – at times – using his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian military as part of his election campaign.[6] Putin declared that Russian forces “completely” have the initiative in Ukraine following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive.[7] This is a notable departure from Putin‘s claim on December 14, 2023, that almost all Russian forces are in “the active stage of action” and from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine as an “active defense.”[8] ISW continues to assess that Russian forces have regained the initiative throughout most of the Ukrainian theater but have not seized the battlefield initiative in Kherson Oblast.[9]

Russian President Vladimir Putin notably amplified a longstanding Kremlin effort to set information conditions for future escalations against the Baltic countries, likely as part of his wider effort to weaken NATO. Putin claimed on January 16 that Latvia and other Baltic states are “throwing [ethnic] Russian people” out of their countries and that this situation “directly affects [Russia’s] security.”[10] Previous changes to Latvia’s immigration law stipulated that Russian citizens’ permanent residence permits would become invalid in September 2023 and that Russian citizens would need to follow the general procedure for obtaining EU permanent residence status in Latvia, including passing a Latvian language exam, by November 30, 2023.[11] The Latvian Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs stated in December 2023 that Latvia would deport about 1,200 Russian citizens who failed to apply for a new residence permit by the deadline.[12] Putin has long employed an expansive definition of Russia’s sovereignty and trivialized the sovereignty of former Soviet republics, and Russia has long claimed that it has the right to protect its “compatriots abroad,” including ethnic Russians and Russian speakers beyond Russia’s borders.[13] ISW has not observed any indication that a Russian attack against the Baltics is imminent or likely, but Putin may be setting information conditions for future aggressive Russian actions abroad under the pretext of protecting its “compatriots.” Putin recently threatened Finland in mid-December 2023 and reiterated a world view illustrating that he continues to pursue demanded changes to the NATO alliance that would amount to dismantling it.[14]

Putin subsequently tied alleged security threats to Russia in Eastern Europe to NATO’s “Open Door Policy,” a core principle of the alliance enshrined in its charter that allows it the discretion to admit new members. Putin claimed that NATO “open[ed] the doors to Ukraine and Georgia” in 2008 – referring to the Bucharest Declaration in which NATO promised Ukraine and Georgia paths to membership but took no concrete steps towards opening such paths – and claimed that this declaration went against Ukraine’s 1991 Declaration of Independence that stated that Ukraine is a neutral state.[15] Putin did not mention that the Russian Federation committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine,” which included Crimea and occupied Donbas, in 1994 in exchange for Ukraine’s return of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia.[16] Sovereignty includes the right of self-determination. Putin claimed that NATO’s 2008 declaration “completely changed the situation in Eastern Europe” and affected Russia’s security. ISW previously assessed that Putin did not invade Ukraine in 2022 to defend Russia against a threat from NATO but rather to weaken and ultimately destroy NATO – a goal he still pursues.[17] The Kremlin and Kremlin-affiliated actors have recently promoted information operations and conducted hybrid warfare tactics aimed at destabilizing NATO and may now be setting information conditions for possible future aggressive Russian actions against NATO countries and their neighbors.[18]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated the importance of defeating Russia in Ukraine at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16. Zelensky emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not change – referring to Putin’s maximalist war aims – and noted that all attempts to restore peace have failed two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion and 10 years since the illegal annexation of Crimea.[19] Zelensky stated that the Ukrainian military is holding Putin back and that it is better to defeat Russia on the battlefield now than later. Zelensky’s statements are consistent with ISW’s longstanding assessment that the Kremlin is very unlikely to engage in good faith, meaningful peace negotiations.[20] European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that Ukraine needs steady funding and supplies of weapons through 2024 and beyond in order to defend and reclaim its territory, indicating that Europe will continue to play an increasingly active role in supporting Ukraine.[21] Von der Leyen stated that Ukraine can win the war but that the West needs to expand Ukraine’s capabilities.[22] Von der Leyen emphasized Ukraine’s successes throughout the war thus far: “Russia has lost roughly half of its military capabilities,” and Ukraine has recaptured half of the territory that Russian forces captured after the full-scale invasion, pushed back the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), and opened a grain corridor in the Black Sea.

Zelensky continued bilateral meetings with world leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16. Zelensky discussed US-Ukraine defense cooperation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian strikes and NATO summit preparations with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the battlefield situation and Ukraine’s defense needs with Luxembourg Prime Minister Luc Frieden, and Ukrainian operations in and corridors through the Black Sea with business representatives.[23] Zelensky also met with Singaporean President Tharman Shanmugaratnam and invited Shanmugaratnam to join the Ukrainian peace formula and global peace summit.[24]

Russian tactical aviation operations are reportedly decreasing near the Sea of Azov, and Russian aviation capabilities may be degraded after Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and caused severe damage to a Russian Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14. Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated on January 16 that Russian tactical aviation presence over the Sea of Azov is currently at a lower level “than ever before.”[25] Ihnat stated that the A-50 and Il-20 aircraft helped Russian forces detect air targets at a range of up to 600 kilometers and transmitted information to Russian control points in Ukraine in real time.[26] Ihnat stated that this monitoring allowed Russian tactical aviation to see Ukrainian aircraft from afar and increased the effectiveness of tactical aviation operations.[27] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Russian forces only had three A-50 and six modernized A-50U aircraft in service before January 14, 2024, and Ihnat stated that the destruction of one of these few aircraft would reduce Russian operational capabilities to some extent.[28] Ihnat stated that severe damage to the Il-22 aircraft rendered the aircraft inoperable but that Russian forces would likely replace both the destroyed A-50 and damaged Il-22 aircraft.[29] Ihnat clarified that the destruction of these aircraft will not impact the intensity of Russian missile and drone strikes since Russian forces program these missiles and drones with specified routes and targets from ground positions.[30] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on January 16 that Ukraine must gain air superiority just as it gained superiority in the Black Sea following strikes on Russian naval assets in occupied Crimea.[31]

At least two state-owned Chinese banks reportedly ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities with ties to the Russian defense industry. Bloomberg reported on January 16 that people familiar with the matter stated that at least two People’s Republic of China (PRC)-owned banks ordered reviews of international transactions with Russian clients after the United States authorized secondary sanctions on financial institutions that facilitate Russian sanctions evasion and support the Russian war effort in Ukraine on December 22, 2023.[32] Bloomberg’s sources stated that these Chinese banks are auditing clients’ business registrations, authorized beneficiaries, and ultimate controllers to determine whether the clients are Russian, conduct business in Russia, or transfer critical items to Russia through a third country.[33] Bloomberg’s sources stated that these banks will sever ties with these clients, regardless of the currency or location of the transactions.[34] Bloomberg reported that the PRC’s four largest state-owned banks have a history of complying with previous US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.[35] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov refused to comment on Bloomberg’s reporting on January 16.[36] Russia has relied on Chinese entities for dual-use goods for use in Ukraine and for component parts in Russian military equipment.[37] ISW previously assessed that China has likely been heavily involved in various Russian sanctions evasion schemes, but it appears that US secondary sanctions may be threatening enough to force China to abandon many of these schemes.[38] The reported Chinese reaction to the US secondary sanctions further indicates that China has reservations concerning the Kremlin’s desired “no limits partnership” between the two states.[39]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui for North Korea’s support for Russia in the war during Choe’s official state visit to Moscow on January 16.[40] Lavrov highlighted his visit to Pyongyang in October 2023 and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Russia in September 2023 as “only the beginning” to comprehensively developing relations between Russia and North Korea.[41] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated that Lavrov and Choe met with Putin to discuss new unspecified Russian-North Korean agreements.[42] Russia is likely advancing efforts to procure ammunition and ballistic missiles from abroad amid reported Russian ammunition shortages and missile production constraints. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi reported that North Korea delivered one million rounds of artillery ammunition to Russia from September to November 2023, and Western and Ukrainian officials have stated that Russian forces have launched at least one North Korean ballistic missile against Ukraine.[43]

The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on its second reading to digitalize Ukrainian military records on January 16.[44] The law will improve the register for mobilized personnel, conscripts, and reservists and introduce the possibility of creating a digital military accounting document.[45] The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the draft law will also create an electronic services portal for military personnel and conscripts.[46] The Ukrainian MoD also stated that the draft law will allow Ukraine to strengthen its cyber defense, expand its access to unspecified allies' intelligence, develop and deploy new combat systems, and place its IT systems for military cloud storage in NATO member states, thereby allowing Ukrainian air defense systems currently protecting national data centers to cover military and civilian infrastructure.[47]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to demonstrate that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine – which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender – remain unchanged.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin notably amplified a longstanding Kremlin effort to set information conditions for future escalations against Baltic countries, likely as part of his wider effort to weaken NATO.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated the importance of defeating Russia in Ukraine at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16.
  • Russian tactical aviation operations are reportedly decreasing near the Sea of Azov, and Russian aviation capabilities may be degraded after Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and caused severe damage to a Russian Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14.
  • At least two state-owned Chinese banks reportedly ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities with ties to the Russian defense industry.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui for North Korea’s support for Russia in the war during Choe’s official state visit to Moscow on January 16.
  • The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on its second reading to digitalize Ukrainian military records on January 16.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Bakhmut as positional engagements continued along the entire frontline.
  • Russian State Duma deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) proposed a bill on January 16 that would create a legal status for volunteers of the Russian war in Ukraine that would grant them compensation in case of injury or death.
  • Russian occupation officials from occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Donetsk oblasts attended a meeting of Russian municipal representatives in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 16.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 15, 2024, 9:00pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2:30pm ET on January 15. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 16 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Note: ISW has added a new section on Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) efforts to the daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment to track the development of Ukraine’s DIB and the international support for Ukraine’s DIB efforts. ISW will be publishing its assessments in this section based on public announcements, media reporting, and official statements.

Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and severely damaged an Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14.[1] Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi posted flight tracking footage indicating that Ukrainian forces struck the A-50 and Il-22 over the Sea of Azov.[2] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Ukrainian forces were able to hit two targets while initially targeting the A-50.[3] Ihnat stated that the Ukrainian strike forced the Il-22 to land in Anapa, that the Il-22 is likely irreparable, and that there were wounded and dead among its crew. Ukrainian and Russian sources posted a photo of the damaged Il-22 at the airfield in Russia.[4] Ukrainian military officials, including Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Colonel Nataliya Humenyuk, stated that the A-50 directed Russian strikes against Ukrainian targets, such as air defense systems and aviation.[5] Humenyuk stated that the destruction of the A-50 will at least postpone future Russian missile strikes on Ukraine.[6] Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on January 3 that Russia began constant sorties of A-50 aircraft due to the threat of Ukrainian strikes against Russian military infrastructure in Crimea, including Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets.[7] Valery Romanenko, a leading researcher at the Ukrainian State Aviation Museum of the National Aviation University, stated that the loss of the A-50 and members of its crew is “very painful” for Russia since a large part of the A-50's crew is highly specialized and must undergo several years of training.[8] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command stated that Russia had only three A-50s in service out of a total of six prior to this strike.[9]

The Russian information space largely denied that Ukrainian forces struck the A-50 aircraft and instead strangely claimed that the aircraft was destroyed by friendly fire from Russian air defenses.[10] The A-50 is used to coordinate Russian air and possibly air defense activity, and the claim that Russian air defenses shot down the A-50 would amount to a calamitous failure on the part of Russian forces, if true. A Russian source that focuses on Russian aviation blamed Russian commanders who lack the proper background required for their positions.[11] The current commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Colonel General Viktor Afzalov, has an extensive background in Russian air defense operations.[12] Whether his lack of experience as a pilot poses any problems for Russian air operations, which is questionable, his experience as an air defender should have been appropriate to ensure that Russian forces do not shoot down their own airborne control aircraft. A Russian insider source claiming to be an employee of an unspecified Russian security structure claimed that unspecified Russian actors created a “duck” (a Russian term for a false claim) about how Russian forces shot down the A-50 to reassure Russian pilots that missions over the Black Sea and Sea of Azov are still safe and that human error was the cause of the incident.[13] It is unclear why Russian pilots should be more comfortable with the idea that their ground-based air defenders are so incompetent. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that he did not have any information about the downed aircraft and recommended that journalists clarify information about this with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).[14] The Russian MoD has not made an official statement about the incidents as of this publication.

A senior Ukrainian intelligence official confirmed that Russian forces can generate forces at a rate equal to Russian monthly personnel losses, which is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces are able to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated that Russia recruits about 30,000 personnel per month, which the Russian military uses to replenish losses and form reserve regiments.[15] Ukrainian military analyst Colonel Petro Chernyk similarly assessed that Russia is able to replace about 25,000 to 27,000 personnel per month and has a small ready professional reserve of mechanized, naval infantry, and airborne (VDV) assault units staffed at 10 to 15 percent of its total capacity.[16] Skibitskyi and Chernyk’s figures are consistent with the ISW’s assessment that Russian forces can conduct operational level rotations in most sectors of the frontline.[17] Chernyk stated that Russia has between 1.5 million and seven million people in its general mobilizable reserve (“personnel mobilization resource” or zapas) composed of men that could be mobilized regardless of prior military experience, as distinct from the far smaller ready and professional reserve (“personnel mobilization reserve“) that should, in theory, be more militarily proficient on mobilization.[18] Skibitskyi stated Russia is highly unlikely to conduct any form of official mobilization prior to the March 2024 Russian presidential election.[19] Skibitskyi reported that Russia would need to conduct “mobilization” (likely referring to large-scale mobilization) to establish a “powerful strategic reserve.”[20] Skibitskyi stated that it is too early to comment on whether Russia intends to conduct “mobilization” after the March 2024 Russian presidential election, however.[21]

Skibitskyi indicated that international sanctions are constraining Russian missile and drone production as Russian forces likely continue to adapt their missile and drone strike packages in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. Skibitskyi stated that recent Russian strikes have targeted Ukrainian defense industrial base (DIB) enterprises, military headquarters, and military control systems and units on the frontline, consistent with ISW’s observations.[22] Skibitskyi reported that Russian forces have recently started launching Shahed drones against frontline areas, whereas Russian forces previously used Shahed drones to target rear DIB enterprises.[23] ISW observed Russian forces using Shahed drones to target frontline areas starting in late December 2023, and Ukrainian forces intercepted a lower number of drones likely due to lower levels of Ukrainian air defense coverage or air defense coverage not optimized for intercepting drones near the frontline.[24] Skibitskyi noted that Russia can produce about 330 to 350 Shahed drones per month but that these numbers largely depend on Russia’s ability to acquire electronic components such as microchips and circuits abroad.[25] Skibitskyi reported that Russia is using Chinese-made engines in Shahed drones.[26] Skibitskyi also stated that Russian forces had not included Kh-101 or Kalibr cruise missiles in strike series since mid-September 2023 likely as part of efforts to build  up a missile reserve.[27] Skibitskyi reported that the Russian DIB may be able to produce 115 to 130 missiles suitable for strategic strikes against Ukraine per month but that the actual monthly production output varies because Kh-47 Kinzhal ballistic missiles and Kh-101 and Kalibr cruise missiles require many foreign components blocked under international sanctions.[28] Skibitskyi stated that Russia is unable to produce analogues of these foreign components domestically. ISW has assessed that Russia is likely attempting to acquire more ballistic missiles from abroad because ballistic missiles may be more successful in striking Ukrainian targets in some circumstances.[29] Russia may also be intensifying efforts to source ballistic missiles from abroad due to increased difficulties in the Russian domestic production of Kh-47 Kinzhal ballistic missiles. Skibitskyi reported that Russia can produce Kh-31, Kh-34, Kh-29, and Kh-59 air-to-air missiles using mainly domestic components and that Russian forces use Kh-31 and Kh-59 missiles to target Ukrainian air defense systems and radar stations during large strike series.[30]

German outlet BILD reported on classified German documents describing a hypothetical scenario to prepare for a possible future conflict between NATO and Russia. Developing such scenarios, which are usually classified, is a normal task for professional military staff. BILD reported on January 14 that it obtained classified documents from the German Ministry of Defense (MoD) that outline “Alliance Defense 2025,” a scenario of a possible “path to conflict” between Russia and NATO that begins in February 2024.[31] BILD stated that the hypothetical scenario includes Russia’s movement of troops and equipment to Kaliningrad Oblast amid claims of an impending NATO attack and artificial Russian-created “border conflicts” and “riots” in states near the Suwalki Gap. A German MoD spokesperson accurately told BILD that “considering different scenarios, even if they are extremely unlikely, is part of everyday military business, especially training.”

Germany’s reported consideration of paths to a possible future conflict with Russia is not unwarranted given recent Russian threats towards NATO and the possibility of faltering Western aid to Ukraine. Russian officials and milbloggers largely dismissed the BILD report as rumors.[32] Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, have recently and consistently threatened NATO, and Kremlin-affiliated actors appear to be attempting to sow instability and set information conditions for possible future aggressive Russian actions against NATO member states and their neighbors, although not on anything like the timeline suggested by the scenario BILD described.[33] ISW continues to assess that Western aid to Ukraine remains crucial as Ukraine’s inability to hold off the Russian military could allow Russian forces to push all the way to western Ukraine along the border with NATO states, which would very likely present NATO with challenging and expensive new defense requirements.[34]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Switzerland on January 15 to discuss aspects of the Ukrainian peace plan and support for Ukraine with global leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum from January 15 to 19. The World Economic Forum opened in Davos, Switzerland, on January 15, and Zelensky stated that he will hold bilateral meetings with representatives of NATO and European Union (EU) countries.[35] Zelensky stated that Ukraine and Switzerland have begun preparations for the Global Peace Summit that could be held in Switzerland and that he wants China to be part of these discussions.[36] Ukrainian Presidential Office Head Andriy Yermak stated that the Ukrainian delegation to Davos met regarding five aspects of the Ukrainian peace plan: the withdrawal of Russian forces to Ukraine, Russian accountability for its violations of international law, environmental security, prevention of escalation and recurrence of war, and confirmation of the end of the war.[37] Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov proposed on January 14 to create an international working group of defense ministers and national security advisors about a Russian military withdrawal from Ukraine.[38] The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice announced that Ukraine and Switzerland signed a joint communique on January 15 agreeing that Ukrainian security is an inseparable part of regional and global security and that the international community’s goal is to end the war and overcome the crises that the war caused.[39]

Ukrainian and Swiss officials also discussed reconstruction and repatriation efforts. Zelensky met with Swiss President Viola Amherd and various factional representatives of the Swiss Federal Assembly on January 15 about Swiss support for Ukraine, reconstruction efforts, and the Ukrainian peace plan.[40] Amherd announced that Switzerland will provide 1.5 billion francs ($1.75 billion) for Ukrainian reconstruction efforts in 2025-2028.[41] Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets stated in Davos on January 14 that 517 Ukrainian children and 2,828 adults, including 150 civilians, have returned to Ukraine from Russia and called on the international community to help return all Ukrainians to Ukraine.[42]

A North Korean delegation including North Korean Foreign Minister Choi Song Hui arrived in Moscow on January 14 for an official state visit to Russia on January 15 to 17.[43] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated that Choi will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 16.[44] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Russia intends to develop a partnership with North Korea in “all areas” and that the Kremlin expects Lavrov’s and Choi’s negotiations to be fruitful.[45] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated that Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) cannot produce enough artillery ammunition to sustain Russia’s pace of fire and that North Korea delivered one million rounds of artillery ammunition to Russia in September-November 2023.[46]

Russia and Iran are preparing to sign a Grand Interstate Treaty to further develop Russian-Iranian military-technological cooperation.[47] Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Defense and Iranian Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani reportedly discussed bilateral military and military-technical cooperation during a phone call on January 15, and both sides are reportedly preparing to sign the Grand Interstate Treaty within an unspecified timeframe.[48] Both sides emphasized their commitment to the fundamental principles of Russian-Iranian relations – including unconditional respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – which will be confirmed in the upcoming Grand Interstate Treaty. Shoigu noted that Moscow and Tehran are consistently increasing their cooperation in the interest of building a “truly equal multipolar world.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov similarly spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian about the progress of the new interstate agreement and a number of bilateral cooperation topics involving trade, economy, transport, and logistics during a phone call on January 15.[49] Lavrov and Abdollahian reiterated that Russia and Iran are preparing to codify different fundamental principles of Russian-Iranian relations in the new Grand Interstate Treaty.[50] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated in an interview published on January 15 that Iran wants to increase military-technical cooperation with Russia and hopes to acquire Su-34 fighter aircraft, training aircraft, and radar stations.[51]

The Kremlin is intensifying censorship measures to limit criticism of the Russian war effort in Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 presidential election. Russian State Duma deputies from the ruling United Russia party proposed a draft bill that would allow the Russian government to confiscate property from individuals convicted of spreading “fake” information about the Russian military.[52] Russian opposition media sources reported on Russian investigations and arrests for allegedly spreading “fake” information about the Russian military, including specific cases targeting an opposition journalist and the wife of a mobilized individual.[53] The relatives of Russian mobilized personnel have increasingly complained about the Russian military’s treatment of mobilized personnel, and the Kremlin likely wants to silence concerned relatives to maintain good appearances ahead of the presidential election, as ISW has previously assessed.[54]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and severely damaged an Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14.
  • A senior Ukrainian intelligence official confirmed that Russian forces can generate forces at a rate equal to Russian monthly personnel losses, which is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces are able to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine.
  • Skibitskyi indicated that international sanctions are constraining Russian missile and drone production as Russian forces likely continue to adapt their missile and drone strike packages in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses.
  • German outlet BILD reported on classified German documents describing a hypothetical scenario to prepare for a possible future conflict between NATO and Russia. Developing such scenarios, which are usually classified, is a normal task for professional military staffs.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Switzerland on January 15 to discuss aspects of the Ukrainian peace plan and support for Ukraine with global leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum from January 15 to 19.
  • A North Korean delegation including North Korean Foreign Minister Choi Song Hui arrived in Moscow on January 14 for an official state visit to Russia on January 15 to 17.
  • Russia and Iran are preparing to sign a Grand Interstate Treaty to further develop Russian-Iranian military-technological cooperation.
  • The Kremlin is intensifying censorship measures to limit criticism of the Russian war effort in Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 presidential election.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances west of Donetsk City and near Krynky amid continued positional fighting along the entire line of contact.
  • The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) is reportedly forming a women’s drone operating detachment.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) stated that Ukrainian resistance forces detonated a Russian military UAZ Patriot vehicle in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, injuring four Russian personnel and killing an unspecified number of personnel.


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 14, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 14, 2024, 5:30 pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1:30pm ET on January 14. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 15 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are preparing to launch a new offensive in the coming weeks once the ground freezes in eastern and southern Ukraine. Russian literary critic and alternative historian Sergey Pereslegin claimed on January 12 that Russian forces will launch a large-scale offensive effort in Ukraine sometime between January 12 and February 2 after the ground freezes and likely after Ukrainian forces grow “exhausted” of defending their positions in Avdiivka and east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.[1] Pereslegin claimed that Russians should be more concerned about Russia launching its offensive at the wrong time or making the same “mistakes” that Ukraine made during its 2023 counteroffensive than of a renewed Ukrainian offensive effort in 2024.[2] Pereslegin also expressed concern that Russia does not have enough manpower to conduct the large-scale offensive effort he is anticipating.[3] A prominent Russian milblogger claimed on January 14 that the number of Russian military personnel on the frontline allows Russian forces to conduct localized tactical maneuvers but is unlikely to support operationally significant ”breakthroughs.”[4] The milblogger claimed that freezing weather is impacting Russian and Ukrainian ground activity and artillery and drone systems throughout the front, particularly in the Kherson direction.[5] A Russian milblogger claimed on January 12 that freezing weather conditions are preventing Russian forces from conducting ground operations and advancing north of Verbove in western Zaporizhia Oblast.[6] The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command reported that Russian aviation is unable to operate in southern Ukraine due to freezing weather conditions.[7] Former Roscosmos (Russian space agency) head and ultranationalist figure Dmitry Rogozin claimed on January 14 that the frontline in western Zaporizhia Oblast is “buzzing like a bee hive” due to the large number of Ukrainian drones operating, however.[8] Rogozin claimed that Ukrainian forces devote half a dozen drones to striking each valuable target in western Zaporizhia Oblast and that intense Ukrainian drone use is complicating Russian personnel rotations.[9] ISW previously assessed that freezing temperatures in Ukraine are likely currently constraining operations along the front but will likely create more favorable terrain for mechanized maneuver warfare as the ground freezes in the coming weeks.[10] ISW continues to assess that Russian forces will likely try to sustain or intensify localized offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine in an attempt to seize and retain the initiative regardless of winter weather and terrain conditions.[11] ISW also assesses, however, that Russian forces will be unable to make operationally significant breakthroughs.

Russian forces likely continue to experiment and adapt their missile and drone strike packages against Ukraine in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces have recently been launching strikes against Ukraine using a variety of missile types, including hypersonic Kh-47 Kinzhal ballistic missiles.[12] The milblogger claimed that Russian forces launched unspecified air decoys and Shahed drones in order to overwhelm Ukrainian air defense systems so that Russian forces could conduct successful missile strikes.[13] ISW has observed Russian forces experimenting with various combinations of drone and missile strikes in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defense systems as Ukrainian forces have adapted to Russian strike patterns.[14] ISW previously assessed that Russia may be intensifying efforts to source ballistic missiles from abroad because ballistic missiles may be more successful in striking targets in Ukraine in some circumstances.[15] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated on January 14 that sanctions are likely reducing the quality of Russian missiles.[16] The reported decrease in quality of Russian missiles may further hinder Russia’s ability to conduct successful strike series against Ukraine.

Representatives from 83 countries met to discuss the implementation of Ukraine’s Peace Formula on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 14.[17] Ukrainian Presidential Administration Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak also met with Romanian State Secretary Julian Fota to discuss bilateral security guarantees pursuant to the G7’s July 2023 joint declaration of support for Ukraine, making Romania the 9th country to begin bilateral security negotiations with Ukraine.[18] Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and Yermak noted the importance of involving China in peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.[19] Cassis argued that the West “must find a way to include Russia” in the peace process and stated that “there will be no peace if Russia does not have its say.”[20] It is unclear what Cassis meant by the call for Russia to “have its say.” ISW has long assessed that Putin does not intend to negotiate with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s goals in Ukraine — which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender — remain unchanged.[21]

The Kremlin continues to undertake measures to undermine the Republic of Tatarstan’s autonomy within the Russian Federation and cultural heritage despite the republic’s sacrifices on behalf of the Russian war in Ukraine. Russian Tatar activist and political scientist Ruslan Aisin reported that Russian officials cut funding for the state program for preservation, study, and development of Tatarstan’s state languages by 12.5 percent in 2023.[22] Aisin stated that officials originally planned to spend 126.8 million rubles (around $1.4 million) on the program but cut the funding by 15.8 million rubles (about $180,000). Aisin argued that these cuts are likely related to the Kremlin’s efforts to finance the war effort in Ukraine and undermine Tatarstan’s identity. Aisin observed that Tatarstan backed away from its state policy on strengthening its identity alongside the country-wide Russian identity in the fall of 2023 and argued that the Kremlin likely had seen an opportunity to save money on Tatarstan’s efforts to preserve its culture, language, and identity. Aisin also implied that the Kremlin is favoring an all-Russian identity. The Kremlin directed Tatarstan officials in January 2023 to abolish the title of the republic’s president and refer to Tatarstan’s leader as “glava” (regional head).[23] Tatarstan has been supporting the Russian war effort by forming and financing the recruitment of regional volunteer battalions, some of which suffered tremendous losses on the battlefield in 2022 and 2023.[24] BBC’s Russian Service and independent Russian outlet Mediazona also confirmed that at least 922 servicemen from Tatarstan died in Ukraine — a number that is likely significantly higher — as of January 11.[25]

The Russian Investigative Committee will officially open a case into the fire that destroyed a large Wildberries warehouse in St. Petersburg. Russian Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin ordered the Investigative Committee to look into the fire and investigate Wildberries managers for abuse of power and violations of fire safety compliance rules.[26] St. Petersburg–based outlet Fontanka reported that Wildberries has been unable to establish contact with at least 66 employees who were at the warehouse during the fire.[27] Russian authorities have otherwise not offered additional information about the circumstances of the fire, which some Russian sources suggested may have broken out the day after a fight between migrant workers and a subsequent mobilization raid on the warehouse.[28]

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are preparing to launch a new offensive in the coming weeks once the ground freezes in eastern and southern Ukraine.
  • Russian forces likely continue to experiment and adapt their missile and drone strike packages against Ukraine in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses.
  • Representatives from 83 countries met to discuss the implementation of Ukraine’s Peace Formula on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 14.
  • The Kremlin continues to undertake measures to undermine the Republic of Tatarstan’s autonomy within the Russian Federation and cultural heritage despite the republic’s sacrifices on behalf of the Russian war in Ukraine.
  • The Russian Investigative Committee will officially open a case into the fire that destroyed a large Wildberries warehouse in St. Petersburg.
  • Positional engagements continued along the Kupyansk-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast.
  • Moscow-based international exhibition-forum “Russia” opened the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) “Army of Children” exhibit on January 14 to educate children about the military and careers in the Russian Armed Forces.
  • Swedish Defense Materiel Administration announced on January 14 that it had signed an agreement with Nordic Ammunition Company (Nammo) to increase the production and deliveries of 155mm artillery ammunition to support Ukraine’s needs.
  • The Kremlin is funding select non-profit organizations operating in occupied areas that propagate Kremlin social narratives.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 13, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 13, 2024, 5:00pm ET 

A recent video appeal by a Serbian mercenary addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed discussions about an ongoing “clan war” within the Kremlin and the Russian information space against the backdrop of the Russian presidential campaign. Serbian sniper Dejan Beric (also known as “Deka”)  – who has reportedly fought with Russian forces in Ukraine since Russia’s initial invasion in 2014, conducts Russian mercenary recruitment in Serbia, and became a member Putin’s election team – published a video appeal on January 8 wherein he accused military commanders of the Russian 119th Guards Airborne (VDV) Regiment (106th Guards VDV Division) of mistreating Serbian mercenaries in the “Wolves” (Volki) detachment.[1] Elements of the 119th Guards VDV Regiment are currently operating on Bakhmut’s southern flank near Klishchiivka.[2] Beric claimed that commanders of the 119th VDV Regiment forced Serbian mercenaries to conduct an assault without sufficient weapons, which prompted the entire detachment to refuse to continue attacks and demand a transfer to the nearby Chechen “Akhmat” Spetsnaz units.[3] Beric stated that Russian military officials and police declared that the Serbian mercenaries were deserters and war criminals, disarmed them, pushed them out of their trenches, and forced them to admit that they were spies.

A Russian political insider source – who routinely discusses specific details of Russian political and military command changes – claimed that Beric’s appeal is a direct indication that a “clan war” has broken out among some Russian strongmen (siloviki) within Putin’s inner circles.[4] The source claimed that Beric’s appeal is likely a part of widely discussed informational attacks against a group of Russian milbloggers who are independent and openly critical of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and that these informational attacks are part of an organized campaign against VDV commanders and their patrons. The source claimed that Beric’s appeal was part of a retaliatory attack executed on behalf of Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev’s and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s respective factions within the Kremlin against the faction of Igor Sechin – Putin’s “de facto deputy” and CEO of Russian state oil company Rosneft. The source specified that Tula Oblast Governor Alexei Dyumin is an active member of Sechin’s faction and the patron of the 106th VDV Division and assessed that the Beric’s public attack against 119th VDV Regiment’s command was likely an attempt to undermine Dyumin, 106th VDV Division Commander Major General Vladimir Seliverstov, and Russian VDV and “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky. Dyumin, Teplinsky, and Seliverstov have previously been involved in feuds with the Russian MoD and affiliated themselves with the Wagner Group and opposition to Shoigu.[5] The source implied that Sechin’s faction launched public attacks on Patrushev’s faction by amplifying problems with Russian egg supplies, which had been inadequately handled by Russian Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev – who is also Patrushev’s son.[6] Shoigu’s faction had also faced similar public attacks on its inability to deal with the collapse of the communal infrastructure in Moscow Oblast and problems with the Defenders of Fatherland Foundation. Putin notably recently obliquely criticized Dmitry Patrushev and Shoigu for their respective failures.[7] The source implied that factions are attempting to discredit each other in Putin’s eyes to ensure that they can secure new positions within the Kremlin following the presidential election. Another insider source claimed that First Deputy of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU) Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev approved Beric’s appeal to bring Putin’s attention to the lack of supplies within the military amidst rumors about Alekseyev’s dismissal.[8]

In-fighting and factional dynamics within the Kremlin are not new phenomena and do not indicate the imminent collapse of Putin’s regime, particularly because power verticals are the foundation of Putin's regime. ISW has routinely assessed that Putin deliberately creates an environment in which officials within his inner circle must compete for his favor, largely to ensure that his lieutenants remain loyal to him and his regime.[9] ISW also observed that Putin has an affinity for rotating officials and military commanders instead of outright dismissing them to prevent any single individual from amassing too much political influence and to maintain support among competing factions.[10] Putin is unlikely to change this system and eliminate these power verticals as they serve as a foundation of his rule. ISW has also observed numerous instances of Russian officials and commanders using the Russian information space to attract Putin’s attention, discredit an opposing faction, and influence changes within Putin’s inner circle.[11] Such factional feuds have notable but not dispositive battlefield effects. They can damage cohesion between Russian forces and demoralize Russian personnel but are unlikely to lead to mass conflict within the Russian ranks or wider society. A Russian “Storm-Z” assault unit instructor observed in response to Beric’s appeal that numerous Russian detachments and units are facing problems similar to those experienced by the Serbian mercenaries and implied that the Russian military has systematic issues that are prevalent outside of factional dynamics.[12] Permanent friction among the different factions that play roles in Putin’s war in Ukraine can impede Russia’s decision-making, however, and limit the Kremlin’s ability to bring coherence and efficiency to the Russian military.

Russian forces launched a medium-sized drone, missile, and air attack against Ukraine on the night of January 12-13 using a strike package similar to the recent Russian strike packages. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 40 long-range munitions at Ukraine from various directions—seven S-300/S-400 anti-aircraft missiles from Belgorod Oblast; three Shahed-131/131 drones from Kursk Oblast; six Kh-47 “Kinzhal” aero-ballistic (ostensibly hypersonic) missiles from six MiG-31K aircraft over Tambov Oblast; up to 12 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles from 11 Tu-95MS strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea; six Kh-22 cruise missiles from Tu-22M3 bombers over Bryansk Oblast; two Kh-31P anti-radar missiles from two Su-35 bombers over occupied Kherson Oblast; and four Kh-59 cruise missiles from two Su-34 bombers over Bryansk Oblast.[13] Ukraine’s Air Force Command reported that Ukrainian air defense destroyed seven Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles and one Kh-59 cruise missile.[14] Ukrainian military officials notably stated that Ukrainian forces also disabled over 20 of the missiles using “active countermeasures by means of electronic warfare,” which may be an inflection in Ukrainian electronic warfare capabilities that are normally credited with disabling Russian drones but not missile systems.[15] ISW previously assessed that Russia’s ongoing strike campaign against Ukraine, and Ukrainian adaptations to counter new Russian strike packages, is part of a wider tactical and technological offense-defense race between long-range strike and air defense capabilities.[16] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat noted that the Russian strike package used on January 13 was similar to the strike package that Russian forces used on January 8 and in previous recent strikes—suggesting that Ukrainian forces may be able to discern patterns in recurring Russian strike packages and innovate and adapt accordingly.[17]

Russian forces are reportedly increasingly using chemical weapons in Ukraine in continued apparent violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a party. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces have used chemical weapons 626 times since the beginning of the full-scale invasion and have used them at least 51 times so far in 2024.[18] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces currently launch chemical weapons at Ukrainian positions up to 10 times a day and that Russian forces typically use drones to drop K-51 grenades filled with irritant CS gas (2-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile), a type of tear gas used for riot control (also known as a Riot Control Agent [RCA]), onto Ukrainian positions.[19] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces used a new type of special gas grenade containing CS gas against Ukrainian positions on December 14, 2023.[20] The Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade previously acknowledged on December 22 that the brigade deliberately uses chemical weapons by dropping K-51 grenades from drones onto Ukrainian positions near Krynky in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast.[21] Russia is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the use of RCAs as a method of warfare.[22]

A fire destroyed a large warehouse in St. Petersburg belonging to Russia’s largest online retailer Wildberries on January 12.[23] Russian sources claimed that on the night of January 10 to 11 a mass fight broke out between migrant workers at the facility and that this prompted Russian authorities to conduct a raid on the warehouse, during which several migrants received military summonses.[24] Russian law enforcement recently detained 700 migrants at a Wildberries warehouse in Moscow Oblast and issued some military summonses in November 2023.[25] Russian authorities have consistently conducted raids on migrant communities to issue military summonses to naturalized migrants and coerce other migrants into military service.[26] Wildberries appears to be a notable target for these mobilization raids, and the company has previously admitted that such raids have interrupted their operations.[27]

Key Takeaways:

  • A recent video appeal by a Serbian mercenary addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed discussions about an ongoing “clan war” within the Kremlin and the Russian information space against the backdrop of the Russian presidential campaign.
  • In-fighting and factional dynamics within the Kremlin are not new phenomena and do not indicate the imminent collapse of Putin’s regime, particularly because power verticals are the foundation of Putin's regime.
  • Russian forces launched a medium-sized drone, missile, and air attack against Ukraine on the night of January 12-13 using a strike package similar to recent Russian strike packages.
  • Russian forces are reportedly increasingly using chemical weapons in Ukraine in continued apparent violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a party.
  • A fire destroyed a large warehouse in St. Petersburg belonging to Russia’s largest online retailer Wildberries on January 12.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire front line.
  • Russian forces may be forming air assault brigades within combined arms ground formations as part of ongoing large-scale military reforms.
  • Russian officials continue to fund social projects in occupied Ukraine in an effort to integrate these territories further into Russia and create the veneer of an active civil society in occupied areas.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 12, 2024

Click here to read the full report with maps

Angelica Evans, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 12, 2024, 5:45pm ET

Ukraine and the United Kingdom (UK) signed an agreement on bilateral security guarantees pursuant to the G7’s July 2023 joint declaration of support for Ukraine. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on January 12 and signed the UK-Ukraine Agreement on Security Cooperation.[1] The agreement covers joint efforts supporting Ukraine’s future accession to NATO, including comprehensive assistance to Ukraine to protect and restore its territorial integrity, preventing new Russian aggression against Ukraine, and supporting Ukraine’s integration into certain Western institutions.[2] The agreement also states that the UK government will work with its domestic defense industrial base (DIB) to help develop Ukraine’s own DIB. The UK is the first country to sign a final agreement with Ukraine on the basis of the G7’s July 2023 joint declaration of support for Ukraine, and at least 24 non-G7 countries have joined the declaration.[3]

Sunak also announced a military assistance package valued at 2.5 billion GBP (roughly $3.19 billion), which includes long-range missiles, air defense components, artillery ammunition, and maritime security provisions, and at least 200 million GBP of this package is specifically allocated to producing and procuring drones, most of which the UK expects to produce.[4] Sunak also announced an additional 18 million GBP to support frontline humanitarian efforts and fortify Ukraine’s energy infrastructure against Russian strikes. Sunak reiterated the UK’s commitment to long-term support for Ukraine and stated that the new UK-Ukraine security pact will last ”100 years or more.”[5]

US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby stated on January 11 that the US has suspended security assistance to Ukraine and will not resume sending aid to Ukraine until the US Congress approves funding.[6] Kirby stated that the US provided the last package of aid to Ukraine that the US had enough funding for, which was a $250 million security assistance package announced on December 27, 2023.[7]

Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to produce one million first-person view (FPV) drones in 2024.[8] Fedorov stated on January 12 that the number of Ukrainian enterprises producing drones increased to from seven to 200 between 2022 and the end of 2023.[9] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on December 19, 2023, that Ukraine plans to produce one million drones and expand artillery production in 2024.[10] Production of a million drones per year requires a monthly average production of more than 83,000 FPV drones per month, and Ukraine already produced 50,000 FPV drones per month as of December 2023.[11]

Pentagon Spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated on January 11 that there is no credible evidence of the illegal diversion of US-provided advanced conventional weapons to Ukraine.[12] Ryder stated that the US has given Ukraine unprecedented access to information regarding US-provided equipment and that Ukraine fully understands and supports the US need to report on defense articles that are accountable to Department of Defense (DoD) standards.[13] The US DoD Office of the Inspector General published a report earlier on January 11 that stated that DoD limitations were largely responsible for a failure to properly document certain US-provided military assistance to Ukraine.[14] The DoD Office of the Inspector General report stated that it was not responsible for determining whether US defense articles allocated to Ukraine have been misappropriated and did not attempt to do so.[15]

The US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced on January 11 sanctions against several Russian entities reportedly involved in the transfer of North Korean ballistic missiles to Russia.[16] OFAC announced sanctions against one (1) employee of the Russian state-owned cargo transport service 224th Flight Unit State Airlines, a weapons testing facility called Ashuluk Firing Range in Astrakhan Oblast, and Russian defense manufacturer Vladimirovka Advanced Weapons and Research Complex in Astrakhan Oblast.[17] Western and Ukrainian officials have previously reported that Russian forces have launched at least one ballistic missile acquired from North Korea at Ukraine.[18]

Actors in the Russia-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria may be setting information conditions for a possible false-flag operation in Transnistria as part of wider Kremlin efforts to destabilize Moldova. The Transnistrian Ministry of State Security (MGB) issued a press release on January 12 claiming that Moldovan special forces are training “special combat groups” of more than 60 people to destroy critical facilities, sabotage military installations, and capture or destroy senior Transnistrian officials and law enforcement officers.[19] ISW previously reported that the MGB is a Russian-dominated organization that is commonly understood to be a ”department of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)” that likely takes orders directly from Moscow.[20] The MGB and Transnistrian officials have previously made similar, less escalatory claims likely also as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to set informational conditions aimed at destabilizing Moldova and justifying any future Russian campaigns in the region by framing Russia as a protector of allegedly threatened Russian-language speakers in Moldova.[21]

Russian occupation officials appear to be deliberately censoring information about Ukrainian children whom Russian authorities have illegally removed to occupied Crimea. Reuters special report published on January 11 details how Russian occupation officials and Russian authorities facilitate the removal and deportation of Ukrainian children from orphanages and children's homes under the direct guidance of Kremlin-appointed Children's Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova.[22] Reuters found that Lvova-Belova personally visited a children's home in occupied Henichesk, Kherson Oblast, in early 2023 and encouraged Ukrainian children, many of whom were separated from their parents due to the war or other circumstances but are not officially orphans, to obtain Russian passports so that Russian families can adopt the children.[23] Reuters also identified Crimea occupation head Sergey Aksyonov as directly involved in removing Ukrainian children from Kherson Oblast to children's homes in Crimea, consistent with ISW's assessment about the involvement of Russian occupation authorities in the removal and deportation process.[24] According to Reuters, an unspecified Crimean occupation official stated that all information about Ukrainian orphans in Crimea is "strictly confidential" on Aksyonov’s direct order and that all requests about children are immediately reported to the occupation administration. The suggestion that Russian occupation authorities are deliberately trying to hide information about Ukrainian children from the public is notable—it indicates that Russian authorities are uninterested in repatriating these children, which undermines the Russian information operations that the removal and deportation of children is a temporary humanitarian endeavor and that Russia's ultimate interest is in returning these children to their homes and families.[25]

Imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin accused the Kremlin of hesitating to conduct operationally significant offensive operations in Ukraine or a new wave of mobilization in Russia as Ukraine “build[s] up [its] strength” for a future counteroffensive effort. Russian milblogger and serviceman Mikhail Polynkov published a letter reportedly written by Girkin on December 8, 2023 to his Telegram channel on January 11 wherein Girkin claimed that Russia currently has “no plans” for a broad offensive in Ukraine and that Russia’s war in Ukraine is developing according to a “very bad” scenario.[26] Girkin writes that the Kremlin’s unwillingness to conduct a new wave of mobilization in Russia is prompting the Russian military to fill “holes” in its units with convicts and contract servicemen (kontraktniki). Girkin claimed that most of the reported 452,000 servicemen who enrolled in the Russian military in 2023 are already serving in Ukraine or “will not get there at all,” meaning that without a new wave of mobilization in spring 2024, Russia will not have the manpower required to conduct operationally significant offensive operations later this year. Girkin claimed that the Russian military and the Kremlin are choosing to “wait” until Ukraine ”falls apart” or agrees to peace negotiations, while the Ukrainian military is receiving foreign aid and building up strength for future counteroffensive efforts. Girkin warned that Ukraine’s ability to learn lessons on the battlefield may make its next counteroffensive operation more successful while the Russian military is still led by “the same morons” who insist on conducting costly frontal infantry assaults to capture settlements.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukraine and the United Kingdom (UK) signed an agreement on bilateral security guarantees pursuant to the G7’s July 2023 joint declaration of support for Ukraine.
  • US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby stated on January 11 that the US has suspended security assistance to Ukraine and will not resume sending aid to Ukraine until the US Congress approves funding.
  • Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov expressed confidence in Ukraine’s ability to produce one million first-person view (FPV) drones in 2024.
  • Pentagon Spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated on January 11 that there is no credible evidence of the illegal diversion of US-provided advanced conventional weapons to Ukraine.
  • The US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced on January 11 sanctions against several Russian entities reportedly involved in the transfer of North Korean ballistic missiles to Russia.
  • Actors in the Russia-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria may be setting information conditions for a possible false-flag operation in Transnistria as part of wider Kremlin efforts to destabilize Moldova.
  • Russian occupation officials appear to be deliberately censoring information about Ukrainian children whom Russian authorities have illegally removed to occupied Crimea.
  • Imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin accused the Kremlin of hesitating to conduct operationally significant offensive operations in Ukraine or a new wave of mobilization in Russia as Ukraine “build[s] up [its] strength” for a future counteroffensive effort.
  • Russian forces made confirmed marginal advances northeast of Bakhmut, northwest of Avdiivka, southwest of Donetsk City, west of Verbove, and in (east) left bank Kherson Oblast amid continued positional fighting along the entire front.
  • The Russian State Duma will consider a draft law allowing foreigners with a criminal record to serve in the Russian Armed Forces.
  • Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko confirmed that Russian authorities have deported over 2,100 Ukrainians, including 500 children, to Russia for medical reasons in 2023.

 


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 11, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 11, 2024, 7:25pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 1pm ET on January 11. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 12 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

The reported concentration of the Russian military’s entire combat-capable ground force in Ukraine and ongoing Russian force generation efforts appear to allow Russian forces to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated on January 11 that Russian forces have 462,000 personnel in Ukraine and that this represents the entire land component of the Russian military.[1] Skibitskyi stated that most Russian units in Ukraine are manned at between 92 and 95 percent of their intended end strength and that the size of the Russian grouping in Ukraine allows Russian forces to conduct rotations throughout the theater.[2] Skibitskyi stated that Russian forces withdraw units that are at 50 percent or less of their intended end strength to rear areas and return them to the front following recovery and replenishment.[3] Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev stated on January 11 that the Russian military has successfully replenished Russian forces in Ukraine through an ongoing crypto-mobilization effort that generated over 500,000 new personnel in 2023.[4]

ISW previously observed routine Russian struggles to conduct operational level rotations from the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 through Ukraine’s summer 2023 counteroffensive.[5] The apparent Russian ability to generate forces at a rate equal to Russian losses likely provides Russian forces the ability to replenish units that the Russian command has withdrawn from the line due to degradation and later return these replenished units to the front.[6] Russian forces maintain the initiative throughout eastern Ukraine, and the absence of Ukrainian counteroffensive operations likely removes pressure on operational deployments that had previously partially restrained the Russians‘ ability to conduct rotations.[7] Russian forces have not seized the battlefield initiative in Kherson Oblast, however, and appear to be degrading units and formations operating near the Ukrainian bridgehead on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River without making apparent efforts to conduct operational level rotations (although they do appear to conduct tactical-level rotations).[8] Russian forces have conducted several regroupings during localized offensive operations in the Avdiivka, Bakhmut, Lyman, and Kupyansk directions since early October 2023, which likely provided Russian forces time to conduct the rotations Skibitskyi described.[9] ISW has not observed widespread Russian complaints about a lack of rotations throughout the theater since summer 2023, and the overall tempo of Russian operations is consistent with Skibitskyi’s reporting.[10]

Russia’s ability to conduct operational level rotations will likely allow Russian forces to maintain the overall tempo of their localized offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in the near term, but it is unclear if Russian forces will be able to conduct effective rotations in the long term or in the event of intensified Russian offensive efforts or a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive operation. Russian operational rotations in principle mitigate the degradation of attacking Russian forces that over time could cause Russian offensive efforts to culminate. Several other operational factors have previously contributed to the culmination of Russian offensive efforts in Ukraine, but constraints on available manpower and combat effective formations have often been a primary factor.[11] Russian forces are largely conducting infantry-heavy assaults in Ukraine with assault groups that do not necessarily require large amounts of equipment or high levels of training.[12] The Russian force generation apparatus appears to be replenishing losses in Ukraine with poorly trained and relatively combat ineffective personnel whom the Russian command has deemed to be sufficient for routine attritional frontal assaults.[13] These assaults have yet to result in more than marginal Russian gains in Ukraine since early October 2023, and it is unlikely that Russian forces can continue them indefinitely in a way that will allow the Russians to convert tactical successes into operationally significant results. Successful Russian operational-level offensives in Ukraine will require the Russian command to commit relatively combat effective and well-equipped units and formations to offensive operations at scale, and it is unclear if replenishment through these Russian operational rotations will suffice to maintain these units’ combat capabilities. Overall Russian combat capabilities in Ukraine may still degrade over time, therefore, despite the rotations, hindering the Russian military’s ability to sustain several significant offensive operations at once.

The Russian military may also incur losses greater than Russia’s ability to generate new forces if the Russian command decides to intensify offensive efforts in Ukraine, thereby limiting the manpower available to replenish degraded units and formations. The intensification of Russian offensive efforts would commit more elements to the frontline and place pressure on the number of available forces that could assume control over a degraded unit’s area of responsibility while that unit underwent rest and restoration. It is unclear if the current Russian crypto-mobilization campaign, which relies heavily on volunteer recruitment and the coercive mobilization of convicts and migrants, would be able to provide the increased number of personnel required to conduct rotations during an intensified Russian offensive effort.[14]

Ukrainian intelligence reported that Russian efforts to expand Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) have yet to fulfill operational requirements in Ukraine and that munitions shortages will continue to prompt Russia to source supplies from abroad. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi stated that the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) can produce two million rounds of 122mm and 152mm shells annually, which resulted in a deficit of 500,000 shells in 2023 and will likely result in a similar deficit in 2024.[15] Skibitskyi stated that Russia plans to increase its ammunition production in 2024 but lacks the necessary components, qualified personnel, and production capabilities.[16] Skibitskyi noted that Russia has previously purchased shells from Belarus, Iran, and North Korea and assessed that Russia will likely seek to procure additional shells from abroad in 2024 and beyond.[17] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on January 11 that Russia will use any "pause” or temporary ceasefire agreement to stockpile drones, artillery, and missiles and address its large materiel shortages ahead of future aggression against Ukraine.[18] Zelensky added that Russia is currently negotiating the acquisition of additional missiles and ammunition from other countries and noted that Russia has already received more than one million shells from North Korea.[19] Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin also confirmed recent Western reports that Russian forces have already launched at least one North Korean missile against Ukraine.[20]

Politico, citing a report by the Kyiv School of Economics and Yermak-McFaul International Working Group on Russian Sanctions, reported on January 11 that despite Western sanctions, Russia imported $8.77 billion worth of goods and components necessary to produce missiles, drones, armored vehicles, and other military equipment between January and October 2023.[21] The report states that Russia’s capacity to manufacture missiles and drones appears to have increased in 2023 despite Western sanctions, and Politico stated that Russia increased its production of missiles to 115 per month by the end of 2023.[22]  The report noted that sanctions have strained Russia’s supply chains and have caused “unparalleled losses” in Russia’s overall production of military aviation and equipment, however.[23]

Ukrainian and Western sources have previously reported on Russia‘s sanctions evasion schemes to acquire foreign components and noted that Russia’s reliance on foreign components has constrained Russia’s domestic production of aircraft, missiles, and drones.[24] An unnamed Russian drone manufacturer also drew Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attention to the fact that a “large percentage” of electronics, particularly drones, produced in Russia require foreign components during a campaign event in Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District on January 11, prompting Putin to acknowledge the importance of this issue and the need to address Russia’s reliance on foreign components.[25] ISW previously assessed that Russia’s current missile and drone reserves and production rates likely do not allow Russian forces to conduct regular large-scale missile strikes, but likely do allow for more consistent drone strikes due to Russia’s ability to produce drones at a much higher rate (roughly 1,400 Shahed-136/131 drones between February and October 2023).[26] The Russian government is likely attempting to develop domestic substitutions for foreign components to sustain and even increase its domestic drone and missile production despite Western sanctions.

Freezing temperatures in Ukraine are likely constraining operations along the front but will likely create more favorable terrain for mechanized maneuver warfare as the ground freezes in the coming weeks. The deputy commander of a Ukrainian brigade operating in the Kupyansk direction stated that Russian forces are using fewer loitering munitions in the Kupyansk direction due to cold weather.[27] Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Captain First Rank Nataliya Humenyuk stated on January 11 that Russian forces did not launch as many drones against Ukraine in the past two nights because ice can freeze drones.[28] A Ukrainian officer in a brigade operating near Bakhmut stated on January 10 that the temperature drops to –18 Celsius (about –1 Fahrenheit) at night, making it “impossible” for personnel to stay at observation posts for more than a few hours.[29] The officer reported that the intensity of Russian infantry assaults decreased in the Bakhmut direction likely due to the freezing temperatures.[30] The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the freezing temperatures coupled with the potential for deep snow may limit maneuverability but that the frozen ground will improve “cross-country movement” throughout January and into February.[31] ISW continues to assess that Russian forces will likely try to sustain or intensify localized offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine in an attempt to seize and retain the initiative regardless of winter weather and terrain conditions.

Latvia and Estonia announced new military aid packages to Ukraine on January 11. Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics stated that Latvia will provide a new aid package to Ukraine, which includes howitzers, 155mm ammunition, anti-tank weapons, rockets, grenades, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters, drones, and other equipment.[32] Estonian President Alar Karis stated that Estonia will provide a military aid package worth 1.2 billion euros (about $1.32 billion) in 2024 to 2027, amounting to 0.25 percent of Estonia’s annual GDP.[33] The Ukrainian Ministry of Strategic Industry and the Estonian Defense and Aerospace Industry Association signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at supporting the development and production of drones and electronic warfare systems.[34]

Russia may be setting information conditions for future escalations against Latvia by threatening to punish Latvia for closing a likely base of Russian informational influence in Latvia. The Latvian parliament adopted a bill on January 11 to transfer the “Moscow House” business and cultural center in Riga, owned by the Russian government, to Latvian state ownership in order to “guarantee Latvia’s security.”[35] The Latvian parliament reported that the Russian government has been using the “Moscow House” to support Russian influence operations in Latvia.[36] The Russian Embassy in Latvia responded to the transfer by claiming that this “hostility” will result in ”serious consequences.”[37] The Russian Embassy in Latvia also accused the Latvian government of systematically oppressing “Russian speakers“ in Latvia due to a recent Latvian law requiring Russian citizens with Latvian residence permits to pass a Latvian language exam.[38] The Russian accusation likely deliberately equates all Russian speakers in Latvia with Russian citizens residing in Latvia in an attempt to exacerbate tensions between local Russian speakers and ethnic Russians and Latvian speakers. Russian officials have been increasingly asserting Russia’s right to protect “compatriots abroad,” intentionally loosely defined as ethnic Russians and Russian speakers and not limited to Russian citizens. Russia may be setting conditions aimed at destabilizing Latvia by exacerbating linguistic tensions and framing itself as a protector of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.

European Commission (EC) Defense Industry Spokesperson Johanna Bernsel clarified on January 11 that European Union (EU) member states will be able to produce a million shells per year by spring 2024 but that the delivery of the shells to Ukraine will depend on individual member states.[39] Bernsel stated that there are no updates on whether EU member states will deliver the promised one million artillery shells to Ukraine by spring 2024. EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated on January 10 that the EU will be able to supply Ukraine with the one million artillery shells by spring 2024.[40]

The US Department of Defense (DoD) Office of the Inspector General published a report on January 11 that states that the failure to document certain aid provided to Ukraine in a timely manner is largely due to DoD limitations but that does not suggest that any of the material aid has been misappropriated.[41] The report stated that the DoD’s Office of Defense Cooperation–Ukraine (ODC-Ukraine) failed to adequately inventory defense articles within the 90 days required by law due to manpower shortages, the absence of protocols for maintaining a monitoring database in a hostile environment until December 2022, and a lack of internal controls for validating data in the database. DoD Inspector General Robert Storch noted that this report does not mean that these inventories are “not there” or “not being used,“ and the report noted that Ukrainian forces do provide “raw” numbers to the ODC-Ukraine and that Ukraine is working to implement a system better utilizing the serial numbers.[42] The report also stated that Ukraine has conducted inventories that have not been uploaded to the designated database.[43] The report noted that while the DoD’s delinquency rate – the rate of US-provided defense articles for Ukraine not properly documented within 90 days of arrival – is still not in compliance with federal regulations, revised protocols for both the DoD and Ukrainian personnel contributed to an improved delinquency rate from February 10, 2023 to June 2, 2023. The report noted that the “diversion” of US military assistance from the Ukrainian military is outside the scope of its report, and that the report offers no evidence that any of the US defense articles allocated to Ukraine have been misused.

The DoD Office of the Inspector General’s report places the onus for ensuring compliance with the DoD’s reporting standards on the ODC-Ukraine, and Ukraine’s struggle to implement these standards appears to be related to manpower and logistics issues rather than malign intent.[44] The Office of the Inspector General’s report noted that Ukrainian personnel only have 10 barcode scanners to record serial numbers - none of which are on the front line - and that Ukrainian personnel sometimes struggle to report losses within the required 90 days due to the serial numbers becoming lost or unreadable from use and battle damage. The report also stated that Ukraine occasionally did not provide written reports of losses in a timely manner due to a difference between Ukraine’s and the DoD’s loss classification standards. The report noted that ODC-Ukraine lacks enough personnel at logistics hubs to ensure compliance with DoD reporting standards due to significant personnel limitations.

Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk announced on January 11 that the Verkhovna Rada withdrew a draft law on mobilization for revisions after discussions between Ukrainian legislators and political and military leadership.[45] Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is prepared to introduce a new version of the draft law that accounts for various unspecified proposals and emphasized the importance of rotations and leave for Ukrainian servicemen.[46] ISW previously reported on several provisions made in the now returned draft law, and it is currently unclear what provisions will be made in the new version.[47]

A Ukrainian official indicated that the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) may struggle to compensate for the loss of base infrastructure after allocating naval assets away from the BSF’s main base of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea.[48] Ukrainian Navy Commander Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa stated to Ukrainska Pravda in an interview published on January 11 that the Russian naval base in Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai, is a poorer base than Sevastopol due to its vulnerability to poor weather conditions and a lack of nearby airfields, large repair facilities, or weapons storage facilities. Neizhpapa noted that Ukrainian strikes have forced Russian forces to reduce their use of Sevastopol as a main naval base, as ISW has recently observed.[49] Neizhpapa stated that Ukrainian strikes are compelling Russian forces to disperse their naval assets to ports in Novorossisyk and in Russian-backed separatist Abkhazia and that Russian forces are also reducing their use of the port of Feodosia, Crimea.[50]

Key Takeaways:

  • The reported concentration of the Russian military’s entire combat-capable ground force in Ukraine and ongoing Russian force generation efforts appear to allow Russian forces to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s ability to conduct operational level rotations will likely allow Russian forces to maintain the overall tempo of their localized offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in the near term, but it is unclear if Russian forces will be able to conduct effective rotations in the long term or in the event of intensified Russian offensive efforts or a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive operation.
  • Ukrainian intelligence reported that Russian efforts to expand Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) have yet to fulfill operational requirements in Ukraine and that munitions shortages will continue to prompt Russia to source supplies from abroad.
  • Freezing temperatures in Ukraine are likely constraining operations along the front but will likely create more favorable terrain for mechanized maneuver warfare as the ground freezes in the coming weeks.
  • Latvia and Estonia announced new military aid packages to Ukraine on January 11.
  • Russia may be setting information conditions for future escalations against Latvia by threatening to punish Latvia for closing a likely base of Russian informational influence in Latvia.
  • European Commission (EC) Defense Industry Spokesperson Johanna Bernsel clarified on January 11 that European Union (EU) member states will be able to produce a million shells per year by spring 2024 but that the delivery of the shells to Ukraine will depend on individual member states.
  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) Office of the Inspector General published a report on January 11 that states that the failure to document certain aid provided to Ukraine in a timely manner is largely due to DoD limitations but that does not suggest that any of the material aid has been misappropriated.
  • Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk announced on January 11 that the Verkhovna Rada withdrew a draft law on mobilization for revisions after discussions between Ukrainian legislators and political and military leadership.
  • A Ukrainian official indicated that the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) may struggle to compensate for the loss of base infrastructure after allocating naval assets away from the BSF’s main base of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea.
  • Ukrainian and Russian forces continued positional engagements along the entire front.
  • Kremlin newswire TASS reported on January 10 that Russian forces will deploy additional aircraft and vessels and increase the production of hypersonic Kinzhal and Zircon missiles in 2024.
  • The Belarusian Ministry of Emergency Situations stated on January 10 that it sponsored a trip for 35 Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to Mogilev for the New Year holiday during which soldiers taught children “the basics of life safety” and how to behave in “extreme situations.”


Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 10, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 10, 2024, 6:55pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:30pm ET on January 10. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 11 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

The Kremlin’s effort to use the mythos of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to prepare the Russian public for a long war in Ukraine is at odds with Russia’s current level of mobilization and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetorical attempts to reassure Russians that the war will not have lasting domestic impacts. St. Petersburg outlet Fontanka published an interview with Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Kartapolov on January 9 wherein Kartapolov stated that even in the “victorious years of 1944 to 1945” the Soviet forces faced difficulties, prompting the interviewer to ask Kartapolov if Russia was now figuratively in 1944-1945 (i.e. nearing the end of the war in Ukraine).[1] Kartapolov attempted to expand the erroneous analogy between the Soviets’ fight against Nazi Germany and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by claiming that Russia is currently figuratively somewhere in December 1943 and moving into 1944.[2] The Soviet military launched a series of successful offensive operations following its defensive victory at the battle of Kursk in July 1943 and by December 1943 had reached the banks of the Dnipro River and Kyiv in Ukraine. Kartapolov explained his logic by claiming that Ukrainian forces failed in the summer 2023 counteroffensive in Zaporizhia Oblast in a way similar to Nazi Germany’s losses in battles in 1943.[3] Kartapolov’s analogy makes little sense, particularly given the fact that the Russian forces have not gained notable ground in recent months as the Soviet forces did in the months before December 1943.[4] The interviewer asked Kartapolov if his analogy suggests that Russia’s war in Ukraine will end in 2024, forcing Kartapolov to admit that Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Second World War cannot be literally compared.[5] Kartapolov nevertheless continued to use allusions to the Second World War to claim that the Russian military would continue the war in Ukraine until it installed a “banner over the Reichstag” (i.e. complete victory in Ukraine that achieves all of Putin’s maximalist objectives).[6]

Kartapolov also alluded to the Second World War in response to a question about demobilization for Russian servicemen called up during Russia’s partial mobilization by arguing that mobilized Soviet personnel did not go home in 1942 just because they had been fighting for a year.[7] Kartapolov characterized Russian calls for demobilization as part of operations by Ukrainian and Western intelligence services.[8] The interviewer pushed back against Kartapolov’s allusion and stated that the entire Soviet Union was mobilized during the Second World War whereas only one percent of the Russian population is mobilized today (likely referencing Putin’s December 1 decree alleging that the Russian military has a total of 2.039 million personnel, 1.32 million of whom are combat personnel on a population of roughly 145 million).[9] The interviewer argued that either Russian officials should mobilize the entire country or mobilized personnel unwilling to sign contracts should be able to conclude their military service.[10] Kartapolov responded by reiterating the Kremlin’s rhetorical line that there is no need for general mobilization now or in the near future.[11]

This exchange prominently highlights the disconnect between Russian force generation efforts and efforts to gradually mobilize Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and the Kremlin’s routine rhetorical reliance on the mythos of the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet Union mobilized roughly 34.5 million people during the Second World War, including roughly 35 percent of its male population, and committed almost the entirety of Soviet industry not destroyed by Nazi Germany to the war effort.[12] The Russian leadership continues to indicate a deep desire to avoid a wider mobilization and continues efforts to gradually mobilize Russia’s DIB in a way that is less disruptive to the Russian economy.[13] Kartapolov was likely attempting to promote a victorious portrayal of events in Ukraine while arguing that the Russian public should be prepared for a longer war effort. The Kremlin has routinely relied on allusions to the Second World War to try to achieve this effect throughout the war in Ukraine.[14]

Kremlin rhetoric casting Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a long total war for national survival also undermines Putin’s efforts to reassure Russians about the domestic impacts of the war and assuage discontent about the Russian state’s expectations for Russian service. Putin met with residents in Anadyr, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, on January 10 and attempted to reassure residents that there are no issues with material or financial support for Russian servicemembers in Ukraine.[15] Putin also promised residents that Russian personnel should have a right to receive leave for a six-month period in which they received no leave as well as for the next six-month period.[16] Putin’s focus on providing promised leave is notably at odds with Kartapolov’s description of a war effort reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s in the Second World War, during which soldiers did not get regular leave. Putin and the Kremlin have routinely tried to assuage Russian concerns that the war in Ukraine will have long term economic impacts, and appeals to Russian economic anxiety appear to be a major aspect of Putin’s 2024 presidential campaign.[17] Kartapolov may be purposefully promoting longer-term Kremlin messaging that Putin and other higher-ranking Kremlin officials may want to avoid during Putin’s presidential campaign. There is no indication that erroneous Russian comparisons between the war in Ukraine and the Second World War reflect an intent within the Kremlin to bring Russia to a wartime footing remotely reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s full-scale mobilization during the Second World War. Constant Kremlin allusions to World War II are meant in part to create the entirely false impression that Russia today can sweep aside its enemies relying on mass and weight of overwhelming manpower and materiel as the Red Army supposedly did to Nazi Germany.

The Kremlin may be instructing actors in the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria to set information conditions for a possible false-flag operation in Transnistria as part of wider Kremlin efforts to destabilize Moldova. The Transnistrian Ministry of State Security (MGB) issued a press release on January 10 claiming that an “incident” occurred on January 7 during which “two Transnistrian citizens were transferred to the territory of Ukraine” but that authorities are clarifying the circumstances of the “incident.”[18] The MGB is a Russian-dominated organization that is commonly understood to be a “department of the Russian FSB (Federal Security Service)” that likely takes orders directly from Moscow.[19] Kremlin newswire TASS published an interview with Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselsky on January 9 wherein he claimed that Moldova’s “militarization” threatens Transnistria, blamed Moldova for halting negotiations with Transnistria, and emphasized Transnistria’s “extensive” cooperation agreements with Russia.[20] Krasnoselsky’s interview was likely part of efforts to set information conditions aimed at destabilizing Moldova and justifying any future Russian campaigns in the region.[21] The MGB’s January 10 press release is likely also part of such Kremlin efforts.

The Kremlin may attempt to use false flag operations in Transnistria as an effort to claim that Russia must protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated on January 10 that it summoned the Moldovan Ambassador to Russia to protest Moldova’s “unfriendly actions,” including the “politically motivated persecution of Russian and Russian-language media” and “cases of discrimination against Russian citizens entering Moldova.”[22] The Russian MFA threateningly stated that if such actions continue, “the Russian side reserves the right to take additional retaliatory measures.” The Russian MFA also claimed that there are media reports that Moldova plans to assist NATO in training Ukrainian forces on Moldovan territory, which would amount to Moldova’s “direct involvement” in hostilities on the side of Ukraine. Kremlin officials have recently intensified references to “compatriots abroad” and the “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir), concepts that Russia often uses to justify its right to defend ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers beyond its borders.[23] Russia notably used similar justifications when it militarily intervened on behalf of separatist Transnistria in 1992.[24]

The Kremlin likely attempted to set information conditions for a possible false-flag operation in Transnistria in April 2022 and February 2023 but failed in part for economic reasons.[25] CTP previously assessed that the Kremlin was unable to draw Transnistria into its war in Ukraine at the time because Transnistrian businesses – notably those of Moldovan-Russian businessman Viktor Gushan, who effectively controls Transnistria’s government and a large part of its economy – benefited from ties with the West and Ukraine.[26] The EU’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement with Moldova allowed Transnistrian businesses registered in Moldova to enjoy tariff-free access to EU markets as long as they followed Moldovan custom checks.[27] Recent changes to the Moldovan Customs Code that require Transnistrian businesses to pay import customs duties to Moldova may have disrupted these benefits.[28] Moldova has also indicated in recent months its willingness to initially join the EU without Transnistria, which would further deprive Transnistrian businesses of special access to EU markets.[29]

The Kremlin may also be reviving its efforts to leverage Transnistria to create instability in Moldova in order to undermine Ukrainian grain exports along the western coast of the Black Sea. Reuters reported on January 10 that Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta recorded 36 million metric tons of shipped grain in 2023 – a record high - and that about 40 percent of these shipments consisted of Ukrainian grain.[30] ISW previously assessed that Ukrainian strikes against Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets forced Russian naval operating patterns to change and forced the BSF to move some ships away from its main base in occupied Sevastopol in western Crimea.[31] Ukrainian strikes against BSF assets have also successfully facilitated the civilian use of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain corridor as international support for the corridor continues to increase despite Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and military threats against it. The Kremlin may view a false flag operation in Transnistria as an alternative way to deter countries from participating in Ukraine’s grain corridor despite Russia’s weakened presence in the western Black Sea.

Iran has reportedly developed a new Shahed drone for Russian forces to use against Ukraine and is “close” to providing Russia with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and systems. An unspecified security source told Sky News in an article published on January 10 that Iran has developed an “explosive and reconnaissance” Shahed-107 drone and has offered “a few units” to Russia for over $2 million.[32] The source stated that the Shahed-107 has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers and has a video livestream transmitter.[33] ISW recently observed reports that Russian forces had launched a new Shahed model, the Shahed-238, which is different from the Shahed-107, against Ukraine.[34] Sky News’ source also stated that Russia is expecting to receive surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and systems from Iran ”sometime soon.”[35] US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby reported on January 4 that Russian officials continue efforts to buy ballistic missiles from Iran.[36] ISW assessed that Russia may be intensifying efforts to source ballistic missiles from abroad because these missiles appear more effective at striking targets in Ukraine in some circumstances.[37] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian discussed the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, trade cooperation, the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway in Iran, and the Israel-Hamas war among other topics in a January 9 phone call.[38]

European Union (EU) Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated that the EU will be able to supply Ukraine with one million shells by spring 2024.[39] Breton stated that the EU will need to reduce its ammunition exports to non-EU countries and ensure that EU countries pressure their defense industries to increase production.[40] Breton stated that it is “extremely important” for the EU to have the same weapons production capacity as Russia and that the EU could reach this goal within 18 months to two years.[41] CBC News reported on January 9 that Canada has yet to deliver the NASAMS air defense system that it pledged to send to Ukraine in January 2023.[42] CBC News also reported that one of the two companies building the NASAMS system claimed that it does not have a Canadian contract for the system.[43] Ukrainian military officials recently noted that Ukraine has a shortage of anti-aircraft guided missiles after several recent large Russian missile and drone strikes.[44] Ukrainian forces also reportedly face artillery ammunition shortages on the frontline.[45]

Lithuania announced a new long-term military aid package to Ukraine worth 200 million euros (about $220 million) on January 10.[46] The World Bank reported that Lithuania’s GDP in 2022 totaled $70.97 billion indicating that this long-term military aid package is equivalent to 0.3 percent of Lithuania’s total GDP.[47] The Kiel Institute for the World Economy reported that Lithuania’s total bilateral aid to Ukraine totaled 1.4 percent of its GDP as of October 31, 2023.[48] US aid to Ukraine amounted to roughly 0.3 percent of US GDP as of October 2023.[49] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met on January 10 with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who reaffirmed Lithuania’s support for Ukraine joining NATO and stated that Lithuania is forming a “demining coalition” to support Ukraine.[50] The Ukrainian Ministry of Strategic Industry and the Lithuanian Defense and Security Industry Association also signed a memorandum of understanding to support joint defense industry projects.[51] Ukrainian state-owned defense enterprise Ukroboronprom signed letters of intent with Lithuanian technology and defense companies RSI Europe, Brolis Semiconductors, DMEXS, and NT Service.[52]

The very characteristics that make the Russian ultranationalist milblogger community popular – its perceived independence from and willingness to criticize the Russian government – likely continue to complicate the Kremlin’s efforts to co-opt the community as Kremlin mouthpieces. A group of Russian milbloggers, led by a prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger, publicized efforts allegedly backed by Russian authorities to censor a smaller group of milbloggers who have criticized Russian operations in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.[53] The milbloggers claimed that Russian authorities are attempting to censor any milbloggers and military correspondents who are critical of the Russian military and Russian operations in Ukraine.[54] The Kremlin-affiliated milblogger, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) have previously awarded, also claimed that unspecified Russian officials highlighted his January 9 post about command and communications issues in east bank Kherson Oblast as an example of ”discrediting” Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky and the Russian Armed Forces.[55] Russian authorities have previously used the criminal charge of discreditation of the Russian Armed Forces to imprison other critical actors within the Russian information space, although it is unclear if the Kremlin is willing to use this charge against an affiliated and decorated milblogger.[56]

ISW has previously observed a concerted Kremlin campaign following the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion in June 2023 and the death of Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin in August 2023 to establish more control of the Russian information space that largely achieved the intended effect of reducing public criticism of how the Russian military is conducting the war in Ukraine.[57] ISW previously assessed that prominent Russian milbloggers likely have a monetary incentive to regularly report information about the war in Ukraine that is uncritical of Russian authorities and Russian milbloggers may benefit from calling attention to censorship efforts targeting their channel, real or otherwise, to dispel the idea that they have become Kremlin mouthpieces.[58]

Russian insider sources continue to discuss the reported removal of First Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, who was reportedly in charge of the Russian “Volunteer Corps” that was intended to replace the Wagner Group in Ukraine. A Russian insider source claimed on January 10 that Alekseyev continues to fulfill his duties in an unspecified position overseeing unspecified GRU operations in Ukraine.[59] The insider source claimed that Alekseyev has accumulated a lot of control and “compromising evidence” against Russian authorities during his time in the GRU and that the Kremlin has not formally removed Alekseyev due to concerns that Alekseyev’s removal could provoke an “uncontrollable” conflict within the Russian military and GRU.[60] The insider source reiterated claims that Major General Denis Barylo “leads” the Russian “Volunteer Corps.”[61] Another Russian insider source claimed on January 8 that Russian officials forced Alekseyev to resign in fall 2023.[62]

Key Takeaways:

  • The Kremlin’s effort to use the mythos of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to prepare the Russian public for a long war in Ukraine is at odds with Russia’s current level of mobilization and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetorical attempts to reassure Russians that the war will not have lasting domestic impacts.
  • The Kremlin may be instructing actors in the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria to set information conditions for a possible false-flag operation in Transnistria as part of wider Kremlin efforts to destabilize Moldova.
  • The Kremlin may also be reviving its efforts to leverage Transnistria to create instability in Moldova in order to undermine Ukrainian grain exports along the western coast of the Black Sea.
  • Iran has reportedly developed a new Shahed drone for Russian forces to use against Ukraine and is “close” to providing Russia with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and systems.
  • European Union (EU) Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stated that the EU will be able to supply Ukraine with one million shells by spring 2024.
  • Lithuania announced a new long-term military aid package to Ukraine worth 200 million euros (about $220 million) on January 10.
  • The very characteristics that make the Russian ultranationalist milblogger community popular – its perceived independence from and willingness to criticize the Russian government – likely continue to complicate the Kremlin’s efforts to co-opt the community as Kremlin mouthpieces.
  • Russian insider sources continue to discuss the reported removal of First Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, who was reportedly in charge of the Russian “Volunteer Corps” that was intended to replace the Wagner Group in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces advanced southwest of Bakhmut and Donetsk City and in the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast amid continued positional engagements along the entire front.
  • Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov stated on January 10 that the Russian military plans to reorganize the five existing naval infantry brigades of Russia’s fleets into naval infantry divisions and the Caspian Flotilla’s naval infantry regiment into a naval infantry brigade in the medium-term.
  • Russian authorities continue to deport prisoners from prisons in occupied Ukraine to Russia and are likely using penal colonies as part of widespread efforts to collect data on Ukrainian citizens.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 9, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 9, 2024, 7:35pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:10pm ET on January 9. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 10 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

A Ukrainian public opinion survey on Ukrainian attitudes towards the Ukrainian government and military indicates that Ukrainian society overwhelmingly supports Ukraine’s military and its leadership while experiencing tensions typical in a society fighting an existential defensive war. The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) published a survey on December 18, 2023, that it conducted between November 29 and December 9, 2023, that shows that 96 percent of respondents support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, 88 percent trust Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and 66 percent trust Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.[1] 84 percent of respondents in a previous KMIS poll conducted in December 2022 expressed trust in Zelensky, and trust in many Ukrainian institutions experienced a similar decline between December 2022 and 2023 – an unsurprising development given the protracted war.[2] The Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the Ukrainian National Police, and Ukrainian volunteers did not see similar decreases in polled public trust during this time.[3]

Ukrainian sentiments in December 2022 were likely more optimistic than in November and December 2023 because Ukrainian forces had recently liberated large portions of occupied territory in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts during successful counteroffensive operations in the fall of 2022. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive operations in 2022 liberated the strategic regional capital city of Kherson, pushed the frontline away from several major Ukrainian population centers, and turned these cities into near rear and rear areas, which may have allowed more Ukrainians to focus on domestic issues of local governance throughout 2023 instead of the imminent existential threat of Russian military activity and occupation they faced in 2022.

The KMIS poll also shows that the majority of respondents support both Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi and that only 15 percent held polarized opinions supporting one and not the other.[4] Russian sources have widely promoted Kremlin information operations alleging a serious rift between Ukrainian military and civilian leadership and have routinely attempted to portray domestic issues in Ukraine as significantly undermining the Ukrainian will to fight.[5] These Russian information operations aim to break Ukrainians‘ trust in their leadership and weaken Ukrainian morale while also decreasing Western support for Ukraine by falsely portraying Ukrainian society as demoralized and divided. The KMIS poll suggests that these Russian information operations are far from reality and that the Russian offensive campaign in Ukraine remains highly unlikely to break Ukrainian support for Ukraine‘s military and civilian leadership and the Ukrainian will to fight.

A new independent poll from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found that Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains strong domestic support for his regime and his war in Ukraine, despite relatively poor economic conditions and living standards in Russia.[6] The NORC poll surveyed 1,046 Russian adults living in the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied Crimea using data from Russian mobile service providers.[7] The poll found that 67 percent of participants approve of how Putin has conducted foreign policy and 58 percent approve of his domestic policy, but that 66 percent plan to vote for Putin in the upcoming March 2024 Presidential Election.[8] Putin's relatively high ratings appear to persevere even though the NORC poll found that Russians are unhappy with rising prices causing a general decline in living conditions.[9] The NORC poll also noted that 63 percent of participants support the war in Ukraine and that 64 percent of respondents see the war as a "civilizational struggle between Russia and the West."[10]  This result contrasts with other recent independent Russian polling that showed decreased support for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[11]

Russian ultranationalist vitriolic responses to gender integration in the Ukrainian military highlight Russia's ongoing shift towards a cultural-ideological worldview that seeks to restore rigid and traditional gender roles and exposes gaps between Russia and Ukraine's respective abilities to mobilize their societies. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov stated on January 8 that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) purchased 50,000 sets of uniforms specifically for female servicemembers for the first time.[12] Several ultranationalist Russian milbloggers inaccurately took Umerov's statement to mean that Ukraine would be conscripting women, with one saying that the purchase of uniforms for women means "the time has come for everyone to think," and another milblogger claiming that Ukraine is now preparing to "exterminate" 50,000 Ukrainian women.[13] Ukraine has not been conscripting women, and neither current law nor proposed bills provide for conscripting Ukrainian women.[14] Women have been volunteering to serve in the Ukrainian military, and Umerov's statement instead reflects recent Ukrainian efforts to further increase gender integration in the Ukrainian Armed Forces by developing uniforms and body armor suited to the unique needs of female servicemembers.[15]

The negative Russian responses illuminate not only the ongoing Russian information operation designed to undermine Ukrainians’ will to fight, but also the archaic and misogynistic views shaping the worldviews of Russia’s leadership and the ultranationalist community.  They also reflect the Russians’ ongoing failure to understand exactly how broadly and deeply Ukrainian society has mobilized to defend against the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported in October 2023 that nearly 43,000 female servicemembers are serving in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, a 21 percent increase in female servicemembers from 2021.[16] The Ukrainian Military Media Center and Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Nataliia Kalmykova stated that over 5,000 female servicemembers were actively serving in frontline combat zones as of November 2023.[17]

By contrast, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in March 2023 that 1,100 Russian women were serving in frontline combat positions of the 39,000 Russian women serving in the Russian Armed Forces, mostly in non-combat roles such as combat medics and cooks.[18]  Russian opposition media began reporting in 2023 that Russian authorities were increasingly relying on mass forced recruitment of women from penal colonies to fill force generation requirements, suggesting that recruitment of women in Russia takes place on a much more coercive basis than the voluntarism of Ukraine’s female servicemembers.[19] Kremlin officials and Kremlin mouthpieces have recently emphasized the importance of instilling and concretizing traditional gender roles and family values as a fundamental part of Russian domestic policy, with Russian officials calling for the institution of large families with a working father and a stay-at-home mother.[20] Russian President Vladimir Putin defined 2024 as the "Year of the Family" during his New Year's Eve address and has recently placed great weight on the role of Russian women as performing their expected role of "motherhood."[21] The increasing Russian social reliance on traditional gender roles, as defined and encouraged by the state, is likely heavily impacting Russian social expectations for women to fight in the military, thereby impacting Russia's ability to mobilize a significant portion of society, whereas Ukrainian society continues to be galvanized by a popular desire to defend Ukraine strong enough to bring so many Ukrainian women near and onto the battlefield of their own accord.

Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat reported that Ukraine has a shortage of anti-aircraft guided missiles after several recent large Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine.[22] Ihnat stated that Ukraine has rationed air defense equipment and ammunition and has used a considerable amount of Ukraine’s existing air defense missile stockpile in defending against the past three large series of Russian strikes.[23] US Administration officials reported on January 8 that they met with leaders from venture capital firms and technology and defense industries to discuss providing Ukraine with US systems and equipment.[24] The meetings reportedly focused on providing Ukraine with drones, demining equipment, and means to counter Russian drones.[25]  

Russian sources continue to complain about persistent command and communication problems that degrade Russian combat capability in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast. A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Russian commanders have less frequently ordered units to conduct attritional assaults in the past two months since Airborne Forces (VDV) Commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky replaced Colonel General Oleg Makarevich as the commander of the Russian “Dnepr” Grouping of Forces.[26] The milblogger claimed that many problems have persisted and worsened in this area, however. Russian forces operating near Krynky are reportedly unable to target Ukrainian aircraft and helicopters because the Russian command does not give them timely permission to shoot targets down.[27] Russian commanders also reportedly take several hours to approve artillery strikes and require units to send target coordinates and video or photo confirmation of targets before approving strikes.[28] The milblogger also claimed that Russian forces do not have enough electronic warfare (EW) systems to combat the number of Ukrainian drones operating in the area.[29] Another milblogger called on Russian forces to stop moving equipment to Krynky and nearby areas because Ukrainian forces destroy up to 90 percent of Russian equipment there.[30] Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that elements of the 17th Tank Regiment (70th Motorized Rifle Division, 18th Combined Arms Army, Southern Military District), reportedly deployed southeast of Krynky, are literally “burning with desire“ to conduct heavily attritional attacks, suggesting that the command of this regiment is still relying on attritional frontal assaults as a favored attack tactic.[31] Russian forces, especially elements of the 104th Airborne (VDV) Division, have reportedly suffered significant losses in operations near Krynky.[32] ISW has consistently observed Russian complaints of inadequate command, inter- and intra-unit coordination, air defense, fire support, and EW since November 2023 but continues to assess that these reported tactical problems do not always translate into significant operational effects.[33]

Russian sources are reviving longstanding calls for a large-scale Russian offensive operation in Kharkiv Oblast to create a “buffer zone” with Belgorod Oblast despite the Russian military’s likely inability to conduct an operation to seize significant territory in Kharkiv Oblast in the near term. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated on January 9 that Russian forces will do everything to prevent Ukrainian indirect fire in Belgorod Oblast.[34] Russian sources seized on Peskov’s comments to call on Russian forces to create a “buffer zone” up to 15 kilometers in depth in Kharkiv Oblast to push Ukrainian MLRS and artillery away from the international border with Belgorod Oblast.[35] Russian ultranationalists routinely called for a similar operation in summer 2023 amid widespread discontent about limited cross-border raids by pro-Ukrainian forces into Belgorod Oblast.[36] A Russian incursion 15 kilometers in depth and several hundred kilometers in width would be a massive operational undertaking that would require a grouping of forces far larger and significantly better resourced than what Russian forces currently have concentrated along the entire international border with Ukraine, least of all in Belgorod Oblast.[37] ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may intensify efforts to capture Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, in the coming weeks and that the Russian grouping in the Kupyansk direction appears more well-suited to conduct an intensified offensive effort than elsewhere in Ukraine or along the international border.[38] The Russian military is likely currently able to conduct only tactical-level actions into Kharkiv Oblast from Belgorod Oblast, which at most would serve as feints to draw and fix Ukrainian forces away from a possible Russian operational effort in the Kupyansk direction.

Recent Kremlin and Russian media rhetoric aimed at threatening Moldova likely continues to embolden pro-Russian separatist leaders in Moldova to attempt to sow political instability and division in Moldova. Vadim Krasnoselsky, the president of the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria, claimed in an interview with Kremlin newswire TASS published on January 9 that Moldova’s increased military budget, joint exercises with NATO, and military subsidies and supplies from European states are evidence of Moldova’s “militarization,” which threatens Transnistria.[39] Krasnoselsky claimed that Transnistria does not threaten Moldova and dismissed the idea that Moldova’s force generation efforts stem from a desire to defend itself, despite the fact that Russian troops have occupied Transnistria since 1992 after the Russian Federation intervened on behalf of separatist Transnistria on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking populations.[40] Krasnoselsky also affirmed in 2018 his commitment to ensuring that Transnistria eventually becomes part of Russia.[41] Krasnoselsky claimed that Moldova “treacherously attacked [Transnistria’s] peaceful cities in the past” and has committed ”massive” human rights violations. Krasnoselsky blamed Moldova for stopping dialogue with Transnistria and abandoning previously reached agreements. Krasnoselsky claimed that Moldova is “consistently following the path of escalation” and threateningly stated that Moldova “bears the responsibility for further inevitable consequences.” ISW previously assessed that Russia is setting information conditions aimed at destabilizing Moldova and justifying any future campaigns by framing Russia as a protector of allegedly threatened Russian-language speakers in Moldova--an approach that closely parallels debunked Russian narratives used to justify the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.[42]

Krasnoselsky's anger with a recent change to the Moldovan Customs Code likely motivated him to further the Kremlin’s efforts to set such information conditions and sow instability in Moldova. CTP has previously assessed that Krasnoselsky is closely related to Moldovan-Russian businessman Viktor Gushan, who effectively controls Transnistria’s government and a large part of its economy.[43] The Kremlin likely conducted a false flag operation in April 2022 intended to draw Transnistria into its invasion of Ukraine, but ultimately failed to win Gushan‘s support as Gushan‘s businesses benefited from ties to the West and Ukraine.[44]  Moldova passed a new Customs Code in March 2023 that went into effect on January 1, 2024, and requires companies in Transnistria to pay import customs duties to Moldova.[45] Krasnoselsky claimed on January 5 that the change came as a “surprise” to Transnistria.[46] Moldovan investigative journalists reported in 2020 that two Transnistrian companies tied to Gushan’s Sheriff Enterprises imported cigarettes worth about $22 million to Transnistria without paying taxes.[47] Krasnoselsky claimed on January 9 to TASS that Moldova’s introduction of duties starting January 1, 2024, is an “unreasonable” policy that violates the trade agreement between Transnistria and the EU and that Moldova is pushing Moldovan-Transnistrian relations towards “greater confrontation.”[48] Krasnoselsky highlighted that Transnistria is striving to build direct communication with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and emphasized Transnistria’s “extensive” bilateral cooperation frameworks with Russia as means to ”help avoid risks provoked by” Moldova’s policy.[49]

Bloomberg reported that officials from Ukraine, the Group of Seven (G7) countries, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other unspecified countries held a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 16 to build support for Ukrainian conditions to negotiate with Russia.[50] Unspecified individuals familiar with the meeting told Bloomberg in an article published on January 9 that officials from China, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not attend the meeting, although Brazil submitted a written statement.

Key Takeaways:

  • A Ukrainian public opinion survey on Ukrainian attitudes towards the Ukrainian government and military indicates that Ukrainian society overwhelmingly supports Ukraine’s military and its leadership while experiencing tensions typical in a society fighting an existential defensive war.
  • A new independent poll from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found that Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains strong domestic support for his regime and his war in Ukraine, despite relatively poor economic conditions and living standards in Russia.
  • Russian ultranationalist vitriolic responses to gender integration in the Ukrainian military highlight Russia's ongoing shift towards a cultural-ideological worldview that seeks to restore rigid and traditional gender roles and exposes gaps between Russia and Ukraine's respective abilities to mobilize their own societies.
  • Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat reported that Ukraine has a shortage of anti-aircraft guided missiles after several recent large Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine.
  • Russian sources continue to complain about persistent command and communication problems that degrade Russian combat capability in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian sources are reviving longstanding calls for a large-scale Russian offensive operation in Kharkiv Oblast to create a “buffer zone” with Belgorod Oblast despite the Russian military’s likely inability to conduct an operation to seize significant territory in Kharkiv Oblast in the near term.
  • Recent Kremlin and Russian media rhetoric aimed at threatening Moldova likely continues to embolden pro-Russian separatist leaders in Moldova to attempt to sow political instability and division in Moldova.
  • Bloomberg reported that officials from Ukraine, the Group of Seven (G7) countries, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other unspecified countries held a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 16 to build support for Ukrainian conditions to negotiate with Russia.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances southwest of Donetsk City, and positional engagements continued along the entire frontline.
  • The Russian military is reportedly abusing Serbian nationals whom Russian officials have recruited to serve in Russian formations in Ukraine.
  • Russian occupation officials continue the systematic oppression of residents of occupied Crimea using law enforcement and administrative means.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 8, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Christina Harward, Nicole Wolkov, Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 8, 2024, 6:30pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:30pm ET on January 8. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 9 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukrainian officials highlighted the need for more air defense systems after another large series of Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 7 to 8. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched a total of 59 missiles and drones against Ukraine including: eight Shahed-136/-131 drones; seven S-300/400 missiles; four Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles; 24 Kh-101/555/55 and eight Kh-22 cruise missiles; six Iskander-M ballistic missiles; and two Kh-31P air guided missiles.[1] Ukrainian military officials reported that the Russian strikes targeted critical and civilian infrastructure, and military facilities in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, and Khmelnytskyi oblasts and that Ukrainian forces downed all eight Shaheds and 18 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles.[2] Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat reported that the percentage of Russian air targets that Ukrainian forces shot down on the night of January 7 to 8 did not change in comparison to previous, more intense Russian strikes, but that Ukraine needs to intercept more Russian missiles and drones given the large number of such systems that Russia regularly launches.[3] Ihnat stated that only “specific means,” such as Patriot air defense systems, can down ballistic missiles and that Ukrainian forces have yet to down a Kh-22 cruise missile.[4] Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in a virtual address to Sweden’s annual national Society and Defense Conference on January 8 that Ukraine needs to strengthen its air defense capabilities at the front to better protect Ukrainian positions against Russian strikes and in the rear to protect civilians.[5] Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces have intercepted over 70 percent of the over 500 Russian missiles and drones launched over the past “several days” thanks to air defenses systems from Western partners but that this current interception rate is insufficient.[6] Zelensky stated that Russian forces will lose their power on the battlefield if Russian forces lose air superiority.[7]

Western provisions of air defense systems and missiles remains crucial for Ukraine as Russian forces attempt to adapt to current Ukrainian air defense capabilities and as Ukraine develops its defense industrial base (DIB). ISW assessed that Russian and Ukrainian forces are currently engaged in a tactical and technological offensive-defense race wherein both sides are constantly experimenting and adapting their long-range strikes and air defenses.[8] The continued and increased Western provision of air defense systems and missiles to Ukraine is crucial as Russian forces continue to experiment with new ways to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses. The inclusion of Western-provided air defense systems into Ukraine’s air defense umbrella has been essential to Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian missiles, particularly ballistic missiles.[9] Western air defense systems and air defense missile provisions to Ukraine in the near- and medium-term are also essential to protecting Ukraine’s growing DIB as Russian forces continue to target Ukrainian industrial facilities.[10] US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller called the provision of US aid to Ukraine “critical” on January 4 because Ukraine is not yet able to defend itself but noted that US aid will not need to continue at previous levels because Ukraine is working to expand its DIB to “stand on its own feet.”[11]

Ukrainian forces are adapting to battlefield difficulties from equipment shortages but are struggling to completely compensate for artillery ammunition shortages and insufficient electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on January 8 that Ukrainian forces are struggling with artillery ammunition shortages on the frontline but that Ukrainian forces are using first person view (FPV) drones to compensate for these shortages until Ukraine receives more ammunition.[12] Ukrainian soldiers near Robotyne, western Zaporizhia Oblast told the WSJ that they are able to strike small Russian vehicles and soldiers transporting supplies with FPV drones and hinder Russian logistics, but that the FPV drones carry smaller payloads so that Ukrainian forces cannot use them to strike Russian field fortifications as they can with artillery. The New York Times (NYT) reported on January 7 that Ukrainian forces, particularly in western Zaporizhia Oblast, are struggling to overcome difficulties due to Russian ground attacks, FPV drone strikes, and EW capabilities.[13] A Ukrainian deputy battalion commander told NYT that Ukrainian morale is “all right” but that the soldiers are “physically exhausted.” The Financial Times (FT) reported on January 7 that Russian forces have an advantage in EW and are prioritizing the production of strike drones and reiterated the importance of bolstering Ukraine’s EW capabilities to counter Russian drones and missiles.[14] FT noted that Ukraine has heavily invested in its EW capabilities since the start of the full-scale invasion but that Russian forces retain the upper hand due to Russia’s pre-war EW capabilities.

Russian authorities are reportedly illegally deporting Ukrainian civilians to Russia and holding them in penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers without charges, investigations, trials, access to lawyers, or designated release dates. The BBC’s Russian Service reported on January 8 that Russian authorities have detained thousands of Ukrainian civilians in penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers in Russia and occupied Ukraine for “opposing the ‘special military operation.’”[15] BBC’s Russian Service reported that Russian authorities are holding the Ukrainian civilians without formal records of their detention, without initiating criminal or administrative cases, and without ongoing investigations, so the detainees do not “formally” exist in the Russian penitentiary system and have no access to lawyers. The BBC’s Russian Service reported that some former Ukrainian civilian detainees stated that Russian authorities treated them “like subhumans” and tortured them. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reportedly responded to a request about one of the detained civilians, stating that Russian authorities are holding the detainee in accordance with “the requirements of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.” The BBC noted that the Geneva Convention prohibits the taking of civilian hostages who are non-combatants.[16] The BBC reported that there is currently no mechanism in international law for the release of civilians from captivity, and the Geneva Convention only allows for POWs to be exchanged for other POWs.[17] The BBC’s Russian Service stated that the work of third parties, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that recently helped mediate a prisoner exchange that included the return of Ukrainian civilians, have proven vital for the return of the civilian detainees. The Ukrainian Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories stated that there were 4,337 Ukrainians in Russian captivity as of November 2023, including 763 civilians, but the BBC noted that these numbers rely on data from the Red Cross, which does not always have access to places where Russian authorities hold Ukrainian civilians, including detention centers and penal colonies in occupied territories.[18] Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights Dmitry Lubinets stated that about 25,000 Ukrainian civilians are missing and that Russian forces may have kidnapped a significant number of the missing individuals.[19] The BBC quoted the Ukrainian “Find Ours” project as estimating that there may be about 7,500 Ukrainian civilians unlawfully detained in Russia and occupied Ukraine.[20] The BBC’s Russian Service stated that Russian and Ukrainian human rights activists have identified more than 30 penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers in which Ukrainian civilians have been reportedly detained.[21]

A Russian insider source claimed that Russian officials dismissed First Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, who was reportedly in charge of the Russian “Volunteer Corps” that was intended to replace the Wagner Group. A Russian insider source, which has previously provided accurate information about Russian command changes, claimed in response to a source reportedly affiliated with Russian authorities (siloviki), that Russian officials forced Alekseyev to resign in fall 2023.[22] The siloviki-affiliated source originally claimed that Alekseyev’s irregular armed formation, the “Volunteer Corps,” was facing similar equipment and shell shortages that Wagner experienced in early 2023.[23] The siloviki-affiliated source claimed that almost all units of the “Volunteer Corps” have been experiencing an acute shortage of fuel and lubricants for the past two months, especially on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka frontlines. The siloviki-affiliated source added that the “Volunteer Corps” is struggling with these shortages even though it was integrated into the GRU organizational structure under the 462nd Special Purpose Training Center. The siloviki-affiliated source claimed that Alekseyev is assuring his subordinates that such shortages are temporary and that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is delaying weapon and supply provisions to the “Volunteer Corps” - in a similar fashion to his prior efforts to calm now-deceased Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin in the spring of 2023. A Russian political blogger (who has an audience of 150,000 followers) argued that the Russian MoD likely is not intentionally failing to provide military equipment and supplies to the Russian “Volunteer Corps” since that irregular formation cannot pose the same political threat to the Kremlin as Wagner and Prigozhin’s mutiny did in June 2023.[24] The blogger argued that the reported shell shortages indicate potential systematic supply shortages across all Russian forces or more likely suggest that the Russian MoD is withholding ammunition from certain units whose functions it deems to be “less relevant.” The blogger observed that elements of the Russian “Volunteer Corps” are primarily engaged in infantry assaults and that Russia is conserving means, such as the use of aircraft, in certain directions.

ISW cannot confirm either Alekseyev’s dismissal in fall 2023 or the reports of shell shortages disproportionately affecting the Russian “Volunteer Corps.” ISW last observed reports of Alekseyev awarding servicemen of the Russian “Hispaniola” Soccer Fan Volunteer Reconnaissance and Assault Brigade on November 30, 2023.[25] BBC’s Russian Service reported that Alekseyev was present during the negotiations with Prigozhin after his mutiny, and Radio Liberty reported that Wagner channels referred to Alekseyev as “one of the founders” of Wagner.[26] Alekseyev also accompanied Prigozhin around the Russian Southern Military District (SMD) headquarters in Rostov-on-Don during the mutiny and later recorded a video of himself asking Prigozhin to stop the mutiny.[27] BBC’s Russian Service reported that Alekseyev was one of the main managers of all “volunteer” irregular formations – including the Redut private military company (PMC).

Russian authorities continue efforts to consolidate control over the Russian information space ahead of the March presidential elections. Kremlin newswire ТASS stated on January 8 that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Digital Development, and Russian federal information monitoring service Roskomnadzor prepared a bill on the rapid blocking of illegal content on the internet using a specialized information system.[28] The Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it sent 555 demands to Roskomnadzor to block “fakes” that “discredit” the Russian Armed Forces and Russian authorities in 2023 and that Russian authorities deleted or blocked over 69,000 internet resources.[29] The Prosecutor General’s Office stated that the topics of these “fakes” included the war in Ukraine, decisions made by government authorities, and violations of the electoral process during the September 2023 elections.

Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on January 8 that recent polling shows decreased domestic support for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections. Verstka, citing polling data from independent Russian opposition polling organizations Chronicles and the Public Sociology Laboratory and unspecified Kremlin sources, reported that the percentage of Russians who support Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine “without achieving the [war] goals” exceeded the percentage of Russians who support continuing the war for the first time at the end of 2023.[30] An unnamed source with reported connections to the Russian Presidential Administration told Verstka that fewer than 50 percent of respondents in a recent Kremlin-sponsored poll supported the continuation of Russia‘s war in Ukraine while more than 30 percent are in favor of peace negotiations.[31] Verstka stated that decreased support for the war has not yet led to a vocal anti-war political movement due to continued domestic political support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, however.[32] Chronicles stated on November 30, 2023, that data from its October 17–22, 2023 telephone survey indicates that respondents who are “consistent” supporters of the war – those who expressed support for the war, do not support the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine unless Russia achieves its war aims, and think that Russia should prioritize military spending – decreased from 22 percent to 12 percent between February 2023 and October 2023.[33] Chronicles stated that 40 percent of respondents supported a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without Russia having achieved its war aims and that this number has remained consistent at about 39 to 40 percent throughout 2023.[34] Independent Russian polling organization Levada Center reported on October 31, 2023, that 55 percent of respondents believe that Russia should begin peace negotiations while 38 percent favor continuing to conduct the war, noting that these numbers have largely remained consistent since July 2023.[35] The Levada Center released a poll on December 5, 2023, that showed that the Russian public continues to have questions about the end and outcome of the war as well as mobilization and prospects for peace consistent with increased domestic support for a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine and peace negotiations.[36]

Russian government and media officials recently have died, possibly under mysterious circumstances. Russian authorities found the editor-in-chief of the online editorial office of the Kuban branch of the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), Zoya Konovalova, and her husband dead in Krasnodar Krai on January 6, and the cause of death is reportedly poisoning.[37] Many Russian milbloggers and war correspondents are associated with VGTRK.[38] Vladimir Egorov, the deputy chairman of the Tobolsk City Duma and member of the United Russia party, died on December 27, 2023, after falling from a third-story window in his home.[39] A Russian source claimed that the most likely cause of death was a heart problem.[40] Russian news outlet RBK stated that Egorov was sentenced to correctional labor in 2016 for not collecting rent from businessmen after leasing municipal land, but the charges were dropped due to the statute of limitations.[41]

A Russian state media outlet confirmed that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained three officers of its Directorate “M” in connection with a high-profile bribery scheme. Kremlin newswire TASS cited Russian law enforcement agencies on January 8 as reporting the detention of FSB officer Alexander Ushakov and house arrests of officers Alexei Tsaryev and Sergei Manyshkin for accepting bribes totaling over five billion rubles ($55.6 million) and other unspecified crimes.[42] TASS’s report confirms part of a claim from a Russian insider source on November 28, 2023, that the FSB detained an ”Ushakov,” two unspecified Directorate “M” officers, and two unspecified Directorate “T” officers in connection with a five-billion ruble bribery case.[43] TASS reported that the FSB’s Directorate “M” is responsible for counterintelligence and combating corruption in various Russian government and law enforcement agencies, including the Russian Supreme Court, Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), Ministry of Justice, and Investigative Committee.[44]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian officials highlighted the need for more air defense systems after another large series of Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 7 to 8.
  • Western provisions of air defense systems and missiles remains crucial for Ukraine as Russian forces attempt to adapt to current Ukrainian air defense capabilities and as Ukraine develops its defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Ukrainian forces are adapting to battlefield difficulties from equipment shortages but are struggling to completely compensate for artillery ammunition shortages and insufficient electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.
  • Russian authorities are reportedly illegally deporting Ukrainian civilians to Russia and holding them in penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers without charges, investigations, trials, access to lawyers, or designated release dates.
  • A Russian insider source claimed that Russian officials dismissed First Deputy Head of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), Lieutenant General Vladimir Alekseyev, who was reportedly in charge of the Russian “Volunteer Corps” that was intended to replace the Wagner Group.
  • ISW cannot confirm either Alekseyev’s dismissal in fall 2023 or the reports of shell shortages disproportionately affecting the Russian “Volunteer Corps.”
  • Russian authorities continue efforts to consolidate control over the Russian information space ahead of the March presidential elections.
  • Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on January 8 that recent polling shows decreased domestic support for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections.
  • Russian government and media officials recently have died, possibly under mysterious circumstances.
  • A Russian state media outlet confirmed that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained three officers of its Directorate “M” in connection with a high-profile bribery scheme.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Donetsk City and Verbove, and positional engagements continued along the entire line of contact.
  • The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 8 that there are more than 450,000 Russian military personnel in Ukraine as of December 2023.
  • Russia continues to forcibly deport children from occupied Ukraine under the guise of vacations.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 7, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Nicole Wolkov, Christina Harward, Angelica Evans, Kateryna Stepanenko, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 7, 2024, 5:45pm ET 

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 2:00pm ET on January 7. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 8 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to court Russian servicemen and their families ahead of the March 2024 presidential election during a meeting with family members of deceased Russian servicemen on January 6. Putin met with family members of Russian servicemen who died in Ukraine at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.[1] Putin highlighted the heroism of the deceased Russian servicemen who “defend[ed] the interests of [Russia].” Putin repeatedly reiterated the Russian government’s support for the families of Russian servicemen and delegated responsibility for the continuous support of these families to Russian officials at all levels throughout Russia. Putin has recently attended similar events during which he presented himself as a gracious leader who cares about the well-being of Russian military personnel and paraded his power to fulfill servicemen's requests and deal with issues.[2] Putin is likely using these recurring, publicized meetings as part of his election campaign, as Russian servicemen and their family members comprise a sizable constituency, and their public support for Putin is vital for the Kremlin’s ability to present the Russian population as largely in support of the war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin appears to have chosen the families that attended Putin’s meeting carefully, likely to minimize the risk that they might say or ask inconvenient things.[3] The Kremlin has shown itself to be sensitive to recent public complaints from family members of Russian servicemen and is continuing its efforts to censor these complaints in the public domain.[4] Russian opposition outlet Agentstvo Novosti stated on January 7 that the relatives of five deceased Russian servicemen attended the meeting and that many of those relatives themselves have ties to the Russian government and military.[5] Agentstvo Novosti stated that attendees included a former Rosgvardia serviceman’s widow, who currently serves as the head of the Committee of Families of Soldiers of the Fatherland in Balashikha and advisor to the head of Balashikha; the widow of a Russian serviceman, who currently works as the head of the Tambov branch of the Kremlin-created Defenders of the Fatherland Foundation; and family members of the former rector of the church at the headquarters of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, who previously participated in conflicts in Chechnya and Syria and was known as the “paratroopers’ priest.” Agentstvo Novosti stated that all five deceased servicemen whose families attended the meeting posthumously received the Hero of Russia and Order of Courage awards and that two of the children present had also attended an event with Putin on November 4 in Moscow. The Kremlin practice of carefully selecting those who attend public events with Putin and sometimes having the same individuals appear at multiple events seems to be standard Kremlin practice, however.[6] Putin similarly misrepresented a meeting with 18 hand-picked women holding influential positions in the Russian political sphere as an open discussion with mothers of mobilized personnel on November 25, 2022.[7]

Head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stated that Russia cannot reject Russian citizens who “understand they made a mistake” by fleeing Russia after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and now want to return home. Kirill stated during an interview with TASS CEO Andrei Kondrashov on January 7 that it is not necessary to reject “sinners if they repent” and referenced the biblical story of the prodigal son, in which, Kirill observed, a son wrongs his father by demanding his inheritance early to go out into the world, only to return home after squandering his wealth and opportunity.[8] Russian President Vladimir Putin called the trend of Russians returning from abroad “very good” and “very important” during a speech on September 12, 2023.[9] Russian State Duma Chairperson Vyacheslav Volodin had publicly threatened returning Russians in October and November 2023, however, openly contradicting the Kremlin’s position.[10] Kirill’s comment is more in line with the Kremlin’s position and indicates that the Kremlin may be more successfully coordinating its narrative regarding returning Russians ahead of the March 2024 presidential election.[11]

Kirill also emphasized the role of “spiritual strength” and “revival” in Russia’s claimed success in Ukraine, echoing Putin’s January 6 emphasis on the importance of Russian Orthodoxy and Russia’s other “traditional” and “fraternal” faiths (Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism) to Russian society.[12] The Russian government has used the 2016 “Yarovaya Law” to prosecute any religious organizations and churches in Russia, including Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, that are not members of the four “fraternal” faiths.[13] Kirill denied Western reports that the Russian Orthodox Church carries out Russian state policy abroad, despite sending Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban a holiday greeting on January 7.[14] Putin added on January 6 that the Russian government “helps... but does not interfere in the affairs” of the Russian Orthodox Church and claimed that the Russian Orthodox Church “wants to be separate from the state.”[15] ISW has previously reported on the Russian Orthodox Church’s role in solidifying the Kremlin’s control over occupied Ukraine through a systematic campaign of religious persecution against other faith communities and punishing members of the Russian Orthodox Church who do not support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[16]

Two Russian government officials defended migrants’ continued presence in Russia amid ongoing migrant crackdowns, generating heavy milblogger criticism and indicating that the Russian government likely still lacks a unified policy toward migrants in Russia. Russian Presidential Commissioner for the Protection of Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov stated on January 7 that Russian fears that migrants are taking Russian jobs are “completely unfounded” and claimed that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) statistics show that Russian citizens commit many more crimes than migrants.[17] Russian outlet Kommersant reported that foreign citizens committed two percent of the total number of crimes in Russia from January to November 2023 citing MVD statistics.[18] Russian milbloggers heavily criticized Titov’s statements, called him out of touch with ordinary Russian life, and accused him of wanting to replace the ethnic Russian population of Russia with migrants.[19] Another milblogger claimed that unspecified ”specific diasporas” control entire sectors of the Russian economy and claimed that many migrants who receive Russian citizenship commit crimes and therefore, are not reflected in the low statistic of crimes committed by foreigners in Russia.[20] Russian milbloggers also attacked the Nizhny Tagil (Sverdlovsk Oblast) Police Department Deputy Head Colonel Taras Bulgakov for claiming that people “made a big deal out of nothing” regarding a December 29 incident wherein two migrant teenagers beat a presumably ethnically Russian child in Nizhny Tagil.[21] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian authorities should send Bulgakov to fight in Ukraine and claimed that migrants pose a counterintelligence threat since Russia‘s largest tank production factory, Uralvagonzavod, is in Nizhny Tagil.[22]

Titov’s statement attempting to dispel fears of migrants’ involvement in the Russian economy is likely part of an effort to build Russian public support for continued reliance on migrant labor to offset domestic labor shortages induced by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia reportedly faced a domestic labor shortage of about 4.8 million people in 2023, likely including both skilled and unskilled labor.[23] ISW continues to assess that the Russian government is pursuing competing and incoherent efforts to coerce migrants into the Russian military, leverage them to offset Russian labor shortages caused by the war, and restrict them from working in Russia, in part, to appease the xenophobic pro-war Russian ultranationalist community. Titov’s statements defending migrants’ contributions to the Russian economy likely reflect the view of the parts of the Russian government that seek to sustain the Russian economy through migrant labor. Russian military and security elements - particularly the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), MVD, Rosgvardia, Investigative Committee, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) — appear to be spearheading efforts to coerce migrants into the Russian military. These Russian government organs have consistently conducted raids on migrant communities to issue military summonses to naturalized migrants, recruited migrants from migrant detention facilities, offered Russian citizenship in exchange for military service, and advertised Russian military contract service in Central Asian languages.[24] The MVD has also submitted laws to the Russian government aimed at restricting migrant labor, likely to coerce them into military service.[25]

Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 6 to 7. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 28 Shahed-136/131 drones and three S-300 missiles and that Ukrainian forces destroyed 21 of the Shahed drones over Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, Vinnytsia, and Cherkasy oblasts.[26] Ukrainian officials reported that Russian S-300 missiles struck a civilian building in Rivne, Donetsk Oblast on the evening of January 6, killing 12 people including five children.[27] US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink stated that the strike is a reminder of the daily reality of Russian strikes across Ukraine.[28]

Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat refuted media reports that the Danish Ministry of Defense (MoD) is delaying its first delivery of six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for up to six months.[29] Ihnat stated that there are no official announcements on the Danish MoD’s websites that would confirm the claimed delays in F-16 provisions. Ihnat urged Ukrainians to only trust official sources and noted that this is a “sensitive” topic for Ukraine given that Ukrainian pilots are undergoing F-16 training in extremely fast time frames.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to court Russian servicemen and their families ahead of the March 2024 presidential election during a meeting with family members of deceased Russian servicemen on January 6.
  • Head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stated that Russia cannot reject Russian citizens who “understand they made a mistake” by fleeing Russia after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and now want to return home.
  • Two Russian government officials defended migrants’ continued presence in Russia amid ongoing migrant crackdowns, generating heavy milblogger criticism and indicating that the Russian government likely still lacks a unified policy toward migrants in Russia.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of January 6 to 7.
  • Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat refuted media reports that the Danish Ministry of Defense (MoD) is delaying its first delivery of six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for up to six months.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances west and southwest of Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the front.
  • Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on January 7 that Russia has pushed back the deadline for the establishment of the new Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts (MMD and LMD) for at least the second time due to weapons and personnel shortages and bureaucratic issues.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on January 4 that will allow Russia to forcibly grant citizenship to deported Ukrainian children.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 6, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 6, 2024, time 3:50pm ET

Note: The data cut-off for this product was 12:00pm ET on January 6. ISW will cover subsequent reports in the January 7 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment.

Ukrainian forces are conducting a multi-day strike campaign against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea and have successfully struck several targets throughout the peninsula. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck an administrative building at the Russian airfield in occupied Saky, Crimea with up to four Storm Shadow cruise missiles on the night of January 5 to 6.[1] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces destroyed five Ukrainian drones and four missiles over the Black Sea and Crimea on the night of January 5 to 6 and six Ukrainian Neptune missiles over the northwestern Black Sea on January 6.[2] Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk thanked Ukrainian pilots for successfully striking targets at the Saky airfield but did not specify if he was referring to Ukrainian strikes on January 4, 5, or 6.[3] Oleshchuk posted satellite imagery showing the target of the reported successful Ukrainian strike at the Saky airfield, although ISW is currently unable to identify what the target was.[4] The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) stated on January 6 that the GUR, Ukrainian Air Force, and Ukrainian forces conducted a complex special operation that struck Russian radar positions at the Saky airfield and an equipment depot near Hryshyne (60km northeast of Yevpatoria) on January 4.[5] GUR posted satellite imagery showing damage to the Russian ammunition depot near Hryshyne.[6] Ukrainian officials and sources have reported that Ukrainian forces have also struck an air defense radar system and a communications center in Yevpatoria responsible for coordinating Russian air defense operations in occupied Crimea, ammunition warehouses near Pervomaiske (82km north of Simferopol), and a Russian command post near Sevastopol in strikes since January 4.[7] Ukrainian and Russian reporting indicates that Ukrainian missiles and drones are penetrating Russian air defenses in occupied Crimea and have successfully struck some intended targets.

A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are conducting strikes aimed at degrading the Russian air defense umbrella over occupied Crimea.[8] ISW will not assess the intent of the current Ukrainian strike campaign against Russian rear areas in occupied Crimea at this time. Ukrainian forces conducted a strike campaign against Russian military infrastructure, headquarters, logistics routes, and Black Sea Fleet (BSF) assets in summer 2023 that pushed Russian naval operations out of the western part of the Black Sea and that aimed to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for defensive operations in southern Ukraine.[9]

A Russian milblogger argued that Russian forces need to improve planning and coordination at the tactical and operational levels so that Russian offensive operations can break out of the current positional warfare in Ukraine.[10] The milblogger stated that Russian forces should not concentrate the attacking formations – especially mechanized units – in the intended directions of attack due to the threat of Ukrainian strikes against large force accumulations. The milblogger stated that Russian forces must precede any breakthrough with preparatory artillery fire against both the objective that Russian forces are attacking and Ukrainian artillery firing positions in a wider area within range of the objective. The milblogger emphasized the importance of coordinating the actions of various units, including allocating individual artillery units to cover certain sectors of the front and allocating some ammunition for preparing the battlefield while reserving ammunition for after the assault has begun. The milblogger noted that the attacking Russian units need to maintain uninterrupted communications and be able quickly to exchange intelligence data – coordination that the Russian military units on multiple fronts have struggled with in recent months, as ISW has frequently reported.[11] The milblogger observed that the Russian military command must understand and incorporate the battlefield geography and the array of Ukrainian forces and defenses in the area into battle plans.[12] ISW has not observed any indication that Russian forces have improved their ability to plan and coordinate offensive operations given the ongoing costly and disorderly Russian offensive effort near Avdiivka. Russian forces in Ukraine have proven capable of successfully adapting limited aspects of their operations or defensive efforts in certain sectors of the front, however.[13]  It is unclear if the Russian command will be able to improve tactical and operational coordination across larger sectors of the front as the milblogger called for.

Western provision of air defense systems and missiles to Ukraine in the near- and medium-term remain crucial for Ukraine’s development of a defense industrial base (DIB) that can sustain Ukraine’s war effort against Russia in the long term. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ivan Havrylyuk stated on January 6 that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) completed the approvals process for about 15 new types of weapons and military equipment, including robotic systems, drones, electronic warfare (EW) systems, engineering equipment, a modernized armored fighting vehicle, and anti-tank guided missiles systems and ammunition, to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the first week of 2024.[14] This approvals process allows the Ukrainian MoD to make agreements with defense manufacturers and to issue the weapons to the Ukrainian military. Havrylyuk stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces completed the approvals process for more than 200 types of domestically produced weapons and military equipment in 2023.

US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller stated on January 4 that the provision of US aid remains “critical” because Ukraine is not yet able to defend itself but will not need to continue at current levels because Ukraine is working to expand its defense industry to be able to “stand on its own feet.”[15] ISW previously assessed that recent large-scale Russian strikes targeted Ukrainian industrial facilities in an effort to degrade Ukraine’s ability to develop its DIB and sustain its war effort against Russia.[16] The configuration of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella, including Western-provided air defense systems, in targeted areas have proven vital to Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian missiles, particularly ballistic missiles.[17] Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi stated on January 2 that Patriot systems enabled Ukrainian forces to down a record number of 10 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles during Russian strikes on January 1-2.[18] The New York Times (NYT) reported on January 6 that White House and Pentagon officials warned that the US will soon be unable to supply Ukraine with Patriot air defense missiles, however.[19]

The Danish Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 6 that it is delaying its first delivery of six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for up to six months.[20] Danish officials previously stated that Denmark would deliver F-16s to Ukraine around the start of 2024, and a recent Estonian MoD strategy document identified Denmark as committed to delivering F-16s to Ukraine before the end of 2023.[21]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian forces are conducting a multi-day strike campaign against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea and have successfully struck several targets throughout the peninsula.
  • A Russian milblogger argued that Russian forces need to improve planning and coordination at the tactical and operational levels so that Russian offensive operations can break out of the current positional warfare in Ukraine.
  • Western provision of air defense systems and missiles to Ukraine in the near- and medium-term remain crucial for Ukraine’s development of a defense industrial base (DIB) that can sustain Ukraine’s war effort against Russia in the long-term.
  • The Danish Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 6 that it is delaying its first delivery of six F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for up to six months.
  • Russian and Ukrainian forces continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on January 6.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues efforts to incentivize service with the Russian military by advertising support for housing.
  • Russian occupation authorities are struggling to provide basic services to residents of occupied areas of Ukraine.

 

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 5, 2024

Click Here to Read the Full Report 

Nicole Wolkov, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Karolina Hird, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 5, 2024, 7:30pm ET

Correction: ISW inaccurately stated that Google's 4.6 billion ruble fine from a Moscow court is equivalent to $50.3 billion. The fine is actually equivalent to $50.3 million.

Russian forces may intensify efforts to capture Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, in the coming weeks and have a grouping of forces in the area that appears to be less degraded than Russian groupings responsible for offensive efforts elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces appear to have conditions conducive to intensifying operations in the Kupyansk direction (Kharkiv-Luhansk oblast area) with the intent of making territorial gains in areas that are more operationally significant than other areas that Russian forces are currently attempting to seize. Ukrainian officials have stated that Russian forces aim to capture Kupyansk and Borova (35km west of Svatove) during winter 2024.[1] Russian seizure of those towns would likely force Ukrainian forces off the east bank of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast and set conditions for future Russian offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line. The tempo of Russian operations in the Kupyansk direction and the apparent configuration of Russian forces in occupied Luhansk and Kharkiv oblasts overall does not indicate an impending Russian offensive effort along the entire Kupyansk-Lyman line (Kharkiv-Luhansk-northeastern Donetsk oblast area), similar to the failed Russian offensive effort in northeastern Ukraine in winter-spring 2023. Russian forces likely have not accumulated enough forces in Belgorod Oblast to support launching large-scale offensive operations elsewhere in northern or northeastern Kharkiv Oblast as of this writing.[2]

Ukrainian officials have not publicly reported any sudden buildup of Russian forces in the Kupyansk direction indicating that a large-scale offensive to advance to the Oskil River is imminent. Russian forces appear to have gradually reconstituted units badly degraded during the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September 2022 and Russia’s failed winter-spring 2023 offensive, and the Russian command likely intends these relatively well-rested and reconstituted units to intensify localized offensive operations that Russian forces started in the area in October 2023.[3] Russian forces operating in the Kupyansk direction appear not yet to have committed a substantial force to current offensive operations in the area and thus have been able to sustain localized ground attacks without suffering losses similar to those that Russian forces have suffered in operations around Avdiivka and in southern Ukraine.[4] Russian forces operating in the Kupyansk direction, comprised largely of the 1st Guards Tank Army (GTA) and 6th Combined Arms Army (CAA) (both of the Western Military District [WMD]), have not heavily participated in large offensive operations since the culmination of the Russian winter-spring 2023 offensive in April 2023.[5] 1st GTA and 6th CAA elements have likely reconstituted to a considerable degree through the incorporation of manpower generated by Russia’s September 2022 partial mobilization and continued crypto-mobilization efforts.[6] Russian forces may be deploying new forces to the Kupyansk direction at a rate roughly equal to Russian losses in the area as they have done throughout Ukraine, although these elements are likely poorly trained Storm-Z and Storm-V assault detachments and not more combat-effective regular elements of the 6th CAA and 1st GTA.[7] These elements likely do not need to reconstitute their kit to full doctrinal end strength to support new offensive operations because current Russian offensive operations in the Kupyansk direction rely heavily on dismounted infantry assaults and only sporadically use small mechanized assaults.[8] Russian regular forces in the Kupyansk direction are drawn primarily from the Western Military District and thus benefit from a degree of organizational coherence unlike Russian forces in other parts of Ukraine, which are often thrown together from various military districts and airborne (VDV) units.[9] The relative coherence of the WMD force grouping in the Kupyansk direction likely generates relatively more effective command and control (C2) among these forces, although it remains unclear if these WMD elements are able to conduct large-scale assaults that would be significantly more effective than the disorganized and costly Russian offensive operations around Avdiivka.

UK outlet the Telegraph reported on January 4 that an unspecified source ”close“ to the Ukrainian military stated that Russian forces may conduct a ”ground offensive” as early as January 15.[10] Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo responded to the Telegraph article on January 5 and stated that the Ukrainian military has not observed a change in the composition of Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast or in Russia bordering Kharkiv Oblast and that Russian forces continue offensive operations near Synkivka with the aim of capturing Kupyansk.[11] Ukrainian Kharkiv Oblast Head Oleh Synehubov also responded to the Telegraph noting that Russian forces are not concentrating in Kharkiv Oblast in preparation for a large-scale offensive and that the intensity of Russian attacks in the Kupyansk direction has decreased in the past three days due to bad weather conditions.[12] Synehubov noted that Russian forces are using the slower tempo of operations caused by poor weather conditions to deploy reinforcements to the frontline and to train and coordinate units.[13] Fityo and Synehubov’s comments are consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces may intensify offensive operations, though not launch a full-scale offensive operation, with the existing grouping of forces in the Kupyansk direction. Russian forces may have conducted a gradual buildup of forces since Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian military concentrated over 100,000 personnel in the Kupyansk and Lyman directions as of October 2023.[14]

Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted a series of drone and missile strikes against Russian targets in occupied Crimea and Krasnodar Krai on the night of January 4 to 5. The Ukrainian Armed Forces Center for Strategic Communications (StratCom) stated on January 5 that Ukrainian forces struck Russian ammunition warehouses near Pervomaiske (82km north of Simferopol) in occupied Crimea.[15] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces downed 36 Ukrainian drones over Crimea, a drone in Krasnodar Krai, and a Ukrainian Neptune missile in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.[16] Saky occupation head Aleksandr Ovdyenko claimed that Russian forces successfully repelled a large Ukrainian drone attack along the Saky-Yevpatoria coast on the evening of January 4.[17] Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian drones and missiles targeted Yevpatoria, the Russian airfield in Saky, the Kerch Strait Bridge, and Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai.[18] ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Ukrainian strikes hitting Russian targets on the night of January 4 to 5. These Ukrainian strikes follow Ukrainian strikes near Uyutne (west of Yevpatoria) and Yevpatoria on January 4, which reportedly struck at least one Russian command post.[19] The Ukrainian Crimean-based ”Atesh” partisan group claimed that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian air defense radar system and a communications center in Yevpatoria responsible for coordinating Russian air defense operations in occupied Crimea on January 4.[20]

Russian forces conducted Shahed 131/136 drone