Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment: January 5, 2024

January 5, 2024 - ISW Press

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,

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 4, 2024

January 4, 2024 - ISW Press

Ukrainian military officials reported that Ukrainian forces struck at least one Russian military target in occupied Crimea, while Russian officials and milbloggers claimed that the Ukrainian strike was unsuccessful. Ukrainian Armed Forces Center for Strategic Communications (StratCom) stated on January 4 that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian command post near Sevastopol in the afternoon. Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk implied that Ukrainian strikes against Sevastopol and Yevpatoria may have targeted the locations of Russian military leaders. Oleshchuk also amplified footage of a smoke plume geolocated to the eastern outskirts of Uyutne and a report by a Crimean source, which stated that a projectile reportedly struck a Russian air defense unit near Uyutne (just west of Yevpatoria). The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces shot down 10 Ukrainian missiles over Crimea. Russian sources, including the MoD and Sevastopol occupation governor Mikhail Razvozhaev, claimed that Russian air defenses repelled the Ukrainian strike.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 3, 2024

January 3, 2024 - ISW Press

Russia and Ukraine conducted a prisoner of war (POW) exchange on January 3 in what was the largest POW exchange of the war to date and the first official POW exchange since August 2023. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that over 200 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians returned to Ukraine from Russian captivity, including personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, National Guard, Navy, and State Border Guard Service. Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets later clarified that 230 Ukrainian personnel returned to Ukraine in the 49th POW exchange since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Lubinets and Zelensky noted that many of the Ukrainian POWs fought and were captured on Snake Island and in Mariupol, suggesting that these soldiers had been in Russian captivity for nearly two years. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), in turn, stated that 248 Russian military personnel returned to Russia as part of the exchange, and notably thanked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for its role in mediating the exchange. Russian sources disagreed on the exact number of Ukrainians returned in the exchange, with some claiming that it was 173 and others claiming that it was "up to 230." Russian milbloggers generally praised the Russian MoD for securing the return of a greater ratio of Russian POWs to Ukrainian POWs, which Russian sources claimed was long overdue following a deeply unpopular POW exchange in September 2022 that swapped 215 Ukrainian POWs, including captured leaders of the Azov Regiment whom Russia had initially pledged to imprison at least until the end of the war, for 55 Russian POWs and political prisoners including Putin’s personal friend, pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvechuk.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 2, 2024

January 2, 2024 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin identified the West as Russia’s “enemy” and implied that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in order to defeat the West. Putin responded to a Russian serviceman’s question about Western aid to Ukraine during a meeting at a military hospital in Moscow Oblast on January 1, stating that Russia’s issue is not necessarily that the West is aiding Ukraine, but rather that the West is Russia's "enemy." Putin added that “Ukraine by itself is not an enemy for [Russia],” but that Western-based actors “who want to destroy Russian statehood” and achieve the “strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield” are Russia’s enemies. Putin claimed that Western elites are trying to break Russia into five parts and are trying to do so using Ukraine, but that the situation on the frontlines is changing and that Russia will “deal with the [West] faster” than the West can deal with Russia on the battlefields in Ukraine. Putin added that the problem is not in Western aid deliveries to Ukraine and noted that Ukraine has already been “completely destroyed,” that there is “nothing left” of the country, and that it “exists only on handouts.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 31, 2023

December 31, 2023 - ISW Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual New Year's address on December 31 to concretize Russian ideological priorities for 2024, notably omitting any mentions of the war in Ukraine and instead focusing on setting ideological conditions for the upcoming year. In stark contrast to last year's New Year's address, wherein Putin addressed the nation at the headquarters of the Southern Military District surrounded by uniformed military personnel and talked explicitly about Russia's goals in Ukraine, Putin's 2023 address shows him standing alone against the backdrop of the Kremlin, without a single mention of the "special military operation." Putin instead opted to very briefly thank Russian military personnel for fighting for "truth and justice," and otherwise focused on emphasizing Russian national unity. Putin also stated that 2024 will be the "Year of the Family," emphasizing that the Russian family is the backbone of "the multinational people of Russia," and that Russia is "one big country, one big family."

The Lands Ukraine Must Liberate

December 31, 2023 - ISW Press

A Ukraine strong enough to deter and defeat any future Russian aggression with an economy strong enough to prosper without large amounts of foreign aid is the only outcome of Russia’s war that the United States and the West should accept. Trusting Russian promises of good behavior would be foolish. Leaving Ukraine’s economy badly damaged would create a long-term and large drain on Western finances. Discussions about pressing Ukraine to trade land the Russians now occupy for a ceasefire or armistice have garnered attention recently, based on rumors of Kremlin interest in negotiations of some sort. These discussions have thus far largely focused on the supposed intransigence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who, it is argued, must be pressed to accept that Ukraine must cede some of its territory. That argument ignores the question that should be central to any such discussion: what are the concrete military, economic, and financial consequences that these territorial sacrifices would have for Ukraine’s long-term security and economic viability or for the future financial burden they would impose on the supporters of an independent Ukraine? The serious evaluation of this question shows that there are real military and economic reasons for Ukraine to try to liberate all of the territory Russia now occupies and that, in any event, the current lines cannot be the basis for any settlement remotely acceptable to Ukraine or the West.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 30, 2023

December 30, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted a large series of strikes against targets in Russia on the night of December 29 to 30 and on December 30. Ukrainian security sources told Western and Ukrainian media that Ukrainian forces launched more than 70 drones on the night of December 29 to 30 at Russian military infrastructure and defense industrial facilities near Moscow, Belgorod, Tula, Tver, and Bryansk cities. The Ukrainian security sources reportedly characterized these strikes as a response to the Russian strikes on December 29, which was the largest series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces intercepted 32 Ukrainian drones in Bryansk, Orel, Kursk, and Moscow oblasts on the night of December 29 to 30. The discrepancy between these Russian and Ukrainian figures may suggest that Ukrainian forces struck many of their intended targets, as Ukrainian security sources suggested to Western and Ukrainian media.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 29, 2023

December 29, 2023 - ISW Press

Russian forces conducted the largest series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion on the morning of December 29. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 36 Shahed-136/131 drones and over 120 missiles of various sizes at industrial and military facilities and critical infrastructure in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa cities and Sumy, Cherkasy, and Mykolaiv oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched a total of 160 projectiles at Ukraine and that Ukrainian forces downed 27 Shaheds and 88 Kh-101, Kh-555, and Kh-55 missiles. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian forces first launched the 36 Shahed drones from the northern, southeastern, and western directions in the early hours of December 29. Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian strategic aircraft and bombers later launched at least 90 Kh-101, Kh-555, and Kh-55 cruise missiles and eight Kh-22 and Kh-32 missiles. Russian forces also struck Kharkiv City with modified S-300 air defense missiles and launched a total of 14 S-300, S-400, and Iskander-M ballistic missiles from occupied Crimea and Russia. Zaluzhnyi reported that Russian forces also launched five Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles, four Kh-31P anti-radar missiles, and one Kh-59 cruise missile at unspecified targets in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that Russian forces struck civilian infrastructure such as a maternity hospital, educational institutions, a shopping center, a commercial warehouse, and residential buildings in cities throughout Ukraine.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 28, 2023

December 28, 2023 - ISW Press

The New York Times (NYT) published an oped by a member of its editorial board calling for Ukraine to engage in negotiations with and cede territory to Russia after reports emerged that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using backchannels and intermediaries to signal his interest in a ceasefire. The oped largely ignores near-constant Kremlin public signaling of Russia’s continued maximalist goals in Ukraine. The oped argues that Ukraine should not “pass up” this opportunity to possibly achieve a ceasefire despite the fact that there are multiple reasons to believe that Putin’s pro-ceasefire signaling may not be sincere, such as Putin’s demonstrated untrustworthiness and the possibility that he may intend to use time spent on prolonged negotiations to his political and military benefit. The piece argues that Ukraine does not need to regain all its territory to emerge victorious from the war, but that a “strong, independent, prosperous, and secure” Western-oriented Ukraine is also a victory. The piece appeals to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to engage in ceasefire negotiations and not see negotiations as a defeat, implicitly blaming Zelensky – not Putin – for the absence of serious negotiations.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 27, 2023

December 27, 2023 - ISW Press

Ukrainian drone footage published on December 27 showed another Russian execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The geolocated video shows Russian servicemen shooting three Ukrainian soldiers whom Russian forces captured in a tree line west of Verbove (east of Robotyne). The video later depicts one Russian soldier shooting an already dead Ukrainian serviceman again at close range. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General‘s Office announced that it opened an investigation into Russian forces violating the laws and customs of war in addition to premeditated murder. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office stated this incident occurred on an unspecified date in December 2023. ISW previously reported observing drone footage of Russian servicemen using Ukrainian POWs as human shields near Robotyne on December 13. The killing of POWs violates Article III of the Geneva Convention on the laws of armed conflict.