Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 28, 2024

January 28, 2024 - ISW Press

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. 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. Polishchuk claimed that Russia is ready to fix deteriorating relations between Moldova and Transnistria “as a mediator and guarantor” to the settlement. 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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 27, 2024

January 27, 2024 - ISW Press

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. 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.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 26, 2024

January 26, 2024 - ISW Press

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 Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 25, 2024

January 25, 2024 - ISW Press

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Ukrainian officials continue to deny that they received a written or verbal Russia request to secure the air space around Belgorod City, however. 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 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 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 Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 24, 2024

January 24, 2024 - ISW Press

A Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft crashed in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, 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). 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 Russia and Ukraine. 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. 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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 23, 2024

January 23, 2024 - ISW Press

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. 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.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 22, 2024

January 22, 2024 - ISW Press

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.” 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. 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. 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.” Lavrov also claimed that “if Ukraine stops fighting, hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainian lives would be saved. 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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 20, 2024

January 20, 2024 - ISW Press

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.” 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.”

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 19, 2024

January 19, 2024 - ISW Press

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.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 18, 2024

January 18, 2024 - ISW Press

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. 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. Skibitsky noted that Ukrainian forces need to innovate and adapt in response to Russian adaptations to "prevent the loss of territories." 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. 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. 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.