Protest activity may increase on December 5-7. An increasingly wide range of protest coordinators and organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations on these days. These organizers include neighborhood youth groups and Shirin—a Persian-language social media account that previously tweeted a political manifesto calling for the establishment of a democratic, secular Iranian republic. Protest activity did not surge during the last planned demonstrations on November 24-26, however, possibly due to poor coordination.
Russian efforts around Bakhmut indicate that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance. Russian forces have continually expended combat strength on small settlements around Bakhmut since the end of May; in the following six months, they have only secured gains on the order of a few kilometers at a time. As ISW has previously observed, Russian efforts to advance on Bakhmut have resulted in the continued attrition of Russian manpower and equipment, pinning troops on relatively insignificant settlements for weeks and months at a time. This pattern of operations closely resembles the previous Russian effort to take Severodonetsk and Lysychansk earlier in the war. As ISW assessed throughout June and July of this year, Ukrainian forces essentially allowed Russian troops to concentrate efforts on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, two cities near the Luhansk Oblast border of limited operational and strategic significance, in order to capitalize on the continued degradation of Russian manpower and equipment over the course of months of grinding combat. Russian troops eventually captured Lysychansk and Severodonetsk and reached the Luhansk Oblast border, but that tactical success translated to negligible operational benefit as the Russian offensive in the east then culminated. Russian efforts in this area have remained largely stalled along the lines that they reached in early July. Even if Russian troops continue to advance toward and within Bakhmut, and even if they force a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal from the city (as was the case in Lysychansk), Bakhmut itself offers them little operational benefit. The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding, and attrition-based combat around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage that the Russians can obtain from taking Bakhmut. Russian offensives around Bakhmut, on the other hand, are consuming a significant proportion of Russia’s available combat power, potentially facilitating continued Ukrainian counteroffensives elsewhere.
Some Iranian protesters celebrated the US victory over Iran in the World Cup on November 29. Iranians in Alborz, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and Tehran provinces, among other locations, cheered and gathered during and after the match in opposition to the Iranian national team. Some reportedly launched fireworks in Saghez, Kurdistan Province after the American team scored a goal. CTP cannot assess how widespread this sentiment may be among Iranian protesters, but the reported celebrations indicate how politicized the Iranian national soccer team has become among at least some protesters. Iranian citizens cheering a US victory over Iran underscores the depth of popular frustration against the regime.
Russian forces made marginal gains around Bakhmut on November 29, but Russian forces remain unlikely to have advanced at the tempo that Russian sources claimed. Geolocated footage shows that Russian forces made marginal advances southeast of Bakhmut but ISW remains unable to confirm most other claimed gains around Bakhmut made since November 27. Some Russian milbloggers made unsubstantiated claims that Russian forces broke through the Ukrainian defensive line south of Bakhmut along the T0513 highway to advance towards Chasiv Yar, which would cut one of two remaining main Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Bakhmut, but such claims are likely part of a continuing Russian information operation and are premature, as ISW has previously assessed. ISW continues to assess that the degraded Russian forces around Bakhmut are unlikely to place Bakhmut under threat of imminent encirclement rapidly.
The Afghan Taliban has moved swiftly to consolidate control over Afghanistan and eliminate any opposition to its rule since the August 2021 collapse of the Afghan Republic. The Taliban claim to rule all of Afghanistan for the first time in 40 years. Armed groups opposed to the Taliban remain active in the country, however. Anti-Taliban groups fall into two main categories: Islamic State–aligned groups and non–Salafi-jihadi resistance groups.
Recent claims of Russian gains around Bakhmut on November 27 and 28 do not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut. Geolocated imagery shows that Russian forces likely captured Ozarianivka (a village about 15km southwest of Bakhmut) around November 27 and 28. Multiple Russian sources claimed that Russian forces also captured Kurdiumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut), Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut), Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut), Zelenopillia (13km south of Bakhmut), Pidhorodne (5km northeast of Bakhmut) and Spirne (30km northeast of Bakhmut) with the intention of encircling Bakhmut from the south and east. There is no open-source evidence supporting these claims at this time. Russian sources have notably propagated spurious claims regarding gains around Bakhmut as part of a continued information operation since October, and recent unsubstantiated territorial claims may be part of this continued information operation. However, even if Russian forces have indeed succeeded in taking control of settlements south of Bakhmut, these gains do not threaten the critical T0513 (Bakhmut-Siversk) and T0504 (Bakhmut-Kostyantynivka) routes that serve as major Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut. There is also a network of smaller village roads that connect to Bakhmut via the city’s northwest. The claimed Russian positions closest to Bakhmut in Klishchiivka and Pidhorodne lead directly into prepared Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut and its western and northern satellite villages. Russian forces in Klishchiivka, in order to advance any further, would have to cross three kilometers of fields with little cover and concealment. Russian troops, in their current degraded state, are likely unable to be able to accomplish this task quickly. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin himself observed in October that Wagner forces operating in the Bakhmut area advance only 100–200 meters a day. Russian claimed advances around Bakhmut over the course of November 27 and 28 are thus unlikely to generate operational-level effects and certainly not quickly.
Social media users circulated calls for protests following the US-Iran world cup match on November 29 although it is unclear to what extent these demonstrations will materialize. Some protest organization groups and other prominent social media users circulated calls for protests on November 29, possibly in an attempt to coopt or challenge pro-regime celebrations on city streets. Some social media users disagreed with the November 29 call to protests and highlighted pre-organized protests scheduled for December 5-7. Another anti-regime social media user circulated ways to support the protest movement until demonstrations resume on December 5, further suggesting that protesters remain focused on unrest planned for December 5-7. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj protest organization similarly alluded to requiring more time to reinforce its organizational capabilities and supplies before protests resume on December 5, as CTP previously reported. Recent social media activity from groups purporting to be protest organizations suggest diverging approaches to coordinating unrest, one of which calls for large crowds and emphasizes continuous protest activity, the other of which seemingly requires more time and preparation. This rhetorical schism could indicate that protest organization groups remain primarily local and lack a coherent, nation-wide structure.
Iranian protest organization groups may be reinforcing their organizational capabilities as protest activity entered a relative lull over the past several days. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj issued a statement on November 26 suggesting that nation-wide calls for protests on November 24-26, which failed to significantly increase protest turnout, were poorly coordinated. The group stated that it had endorsed calls for protests on these dates but was not responsible for organizing them. Its statement suggested, in fact, that at least one such call that was attributed to it was a fake.
The Russian military clearly assesses that Ukrainian forces could cross the Dnipro River and conduct counter-offensive operations in eastern Kherson Oblast, possibly threatening all of the critical ground lines of communications (GLOCs) from Crimea to the mainland. Russian forces have been digging trench lines and concentration areas in eastern Kherson since early October 2022 in obvious preparation for the withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River and Kherson City. Russian troops are preparing either to defend in depth or to conduct operational or strategic delay operations. Russian forces clearly do not expect to be able to prevent Ukrainian forces from getting across the river, nor are the Russians prioritizing defensive positions to stop such a crossing. The Russian military is setting conditions for a protracted defense in eastern Kherson Oblast that could allow the establishment of a solid Ukrainian lodgment on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. The assessment that follows examines the Russian defensive laydown and evaluates the expectations for the flow of operations likely guiding that laydown exclusively. This assessment makes no effort to determine whether Ukrainian forces intend to cross or are capable of crossing the Dnipro River in this region and offers no forecast about whether or not they will make any such attempt.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly rejected the possibility of compromise or reform to placate the ongoing protests on November 26. Khamenei reiterated his hard line on the protests and his accusation that foreign actors incited the unrest. He ended his speech with a Quranic verse that social media users interpreted as further affirmation that he will not make concessions. Khamenei made these remarks in a meeting with Basij members and lauded their role in protest suppression.