Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations
- Since the 16 December 2022 there have been very few changes in terms of territorial control. The Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) continue limited offensive operations, likely reconnaissance by fire and reconnaissance in force, to the north of Svatove in a likely attempt to sever Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) lines of logistic resupply and disrupt reinforcement.
- RFAF conducted spoiling attacks near Stelmakhivka and Makiivka, north-west and south-west of Svatove respectively, likely to force UAF withdrawals and reduce UAF artillery coverage of the area.
- There have been no reports of RFAF troop concentrations or formations of combined-armed groupings on the Russian border with Kharkiv Oblast, and it is unlikely that a new front will be opened in the north in the short term.
- The UAF continue to target ammunition storage areas, fuel sites and command posts in Luhansk Oblast in line with their target priority lists – likely as shaping activity for future operations.
- The RFAF operating in Luhansk Oblast attacked west of Severodonetsk towards Bilohorivka (Luhansk Oblast) without success. Russian mil-bloggers claim that the UAF is massing forces to the west of Kreminna for an assault on the city – there is no imagery nor official statements that support or deny this claim.
- Russian mil-bloggers have suggested that the UAF continue to concentrate forces in Kharkiv Oblast in preparation for a renewed offensive towards Svatove and cut resupply routes south into Donetsk Oblast from Russia. Extensive Russian defensive preparations, including dragon’s teeth, earthworks, and minefields likely form a formidable obstacle to UAF advances in this area.
Tweet reportedly showing the UAF using a drone to destroy a Russian ammunition storage site in Svatove on 3 January 2023. Source: @EusromaidanPress
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report documenting UAF efforts near Kreminna in late December 2022. Source: @RFERL
East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort)
- The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing. Since 16 December 22 the pro-Russian forces have been forced to withdraw from parts of eastern Bakhmut and Opytne to the south, but subsequently re-took these areas. It is highly likely that fighting is ongoing in both Opytne and the industrial area on the eastern approach to Bakhmut.
- The Institute for the Study of War reports that pro-Russian forces may have culminated in Bakhmut and are unable to continue co-ordinated attacks in company-sized (or larger) groupings. Instead, small squads are attacking UAF defences without combined-arms support or mutually supporting elements – significantly reducing effectiveness.
- Wagner head Prigozhin reportedly visited troops on the frontline over the New Year. He also conducted interviews with his soldiers and explained that the progress was limited at best due to the UAF turning every house into a ‘fortress’ and having ‘up to 500’ defensive lines in Bakhmut. This, along with inadequate armoured support and limited ammunition resupply from the RFAF have contributed to the lack of progress in Bakhmut in recent weeks.
- South-west of Donetsk at Marinka, the RFAF continue offensive operations, and are reportedly still fighting in the town centre. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on 3 January 2023 that the RFAF are reinforcing this axis to the west and south-west of Donetsk city using troops redeployed from Kherson Oblast.
- On 1 January 2023 the UAF launched a HIMARS strike against a school in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast. The strike reportedly hit an area where mobilised troops were concentrated, alongside an ammunition storage area. Official Russian figures say 89 servicemen were killed (including the unit deputy commander), but other estimates range up to 400 dead among the rubble. The RFAF blamed the incident on mobilised soldiers using their mobile phones and giving the position away, but the Russian mil-blogger space has focussed on the massing of troops within strike range, and their co-location with ammunition as a feature of poor RFAF leadership.
Footage of fighting, reportedly in Bakhmut. Source: @IAPonomarenko
Footage of Wanger PMC reportedly operating in Opytne (south of Bakhmut) in late December 2022. Source: @miladvisor
South – Kherson, Zaporizhia and Black Sea Coast Area of Operations
- There have been no reported territorial changes along the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) in Kherson or Zaporizhia Oblasts.
- Whilst the Ukrainians have stated they are still operating on the Kinburn Spit/Peninsula, Operational Security (OPSEC) prevents the publication of additional detail.
- There is reporting to indicate that both the RFAF and UAF have small groups of forces operating in the various islands within the Dnipro Delta and are both vying for territorial control and calling for fires against enemy positions across the river.
- The UAF continue to target logistics nodes and troop concentrations alongside Command and Control (C2) nodes within occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. On 4 January 2023 the Ukrainian General Staff declared that their missile forces had struck four Russian command points, six concentration areas, and three ammunition depots in the past 24hrs.
- Russia continues with defensive preparations along major Ground Line of Communication (GLoCs) in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, as well as the northern approaches to occupied Crimea. This includes emplacement of anti-tank obstacles such as dragon’s teeth, and the digging of trenches.
Video purportedly showing UAF members raising a Ukrainian flag on Potemkin Island, near Kherson on 3 January 2023. Source: @bayraktar_1love
Tweet geolocating a Ukrainian strike against the Military Commandant’s Office in Vasylivka, Zaporizhia Oblast. Source: @GeoConfirmed
- On 26 December 2022, reports indicate that Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) were used to attack Engels Airbase in Russia for a second time (the first being on 5 December 2022). There is little information available on the damage caused in the strike, but it is thought to be significant. This strike may prompt Russia to move its valuable strategic bomber aircraft further from Ukraine to protect them from future strikes.
Tweet from the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) regarding the second strike against Engels airbase in Russia. Source: @DefenceHQ
- Russia continues to send equipment and soldiers to Belarus, although not in truly significant numbers. Belarus is set to hold joint exercises with the RFAF in the short term. The Ukrainian General Staff have also reported that the ammunition stockpiles that Russia had built up in Belarus prior to the 24 February 2022 offensive were now depleted. Isolated reporting suggested that all Belarusian males aged 18 to 60 were to report to their local military enlistment offices on 4 January 2023; however, there is no reporting to confirm that this activity has happened.
Tweet reporting the bus-station announcement in Belarus for males to report to the enlistment centre. Source: @OneVenus
- The Ukrainian Government has asserted that the Russian Federation will imminently undergo a second wave of mobilisation to improve combat power in Ukraine. On 30 December 2022, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov gave a video address in which he stated that Russia was preparing a new wave of mobilisation and would close the borders within a week.
Kyiv Independent report on Reznikov’s 30 December 2022 address. Source: @KyivIndependent
- On the 31 December 2022 and 1-2 January 2023 Russia attacked Ukrainian electrical infrastructure and also hit residential areas in Kyiv, causing civilian casualties. The UAF claimed it downed almost all the Russian Shahed-136 munitions during both attacks, but even after a successful interception falling warheads can cause damage and casualties. The Ukrainian grid was not reported to be severely affected by the attacks. Russia is reportedly exchanging significant expertise and military technology to Iran in exchange for additional long-range strike weapons, particularly Shahed-136 munitions. There have been no reported uses of Iranian ballistic missiles by the RFAF.
Report describing the UAF interception of Russian strike weapons on 2 January 2023. Source: @AlexKokcharov
- It is highly unlikely that the UAF will conduct a massed frontal assault on Kreminna. Previous offensive operations in the east (Kherson and Kharkiv Oblasts) have seen the UAF avoid directly assaulting urban centres, likely to preserve infrastructure, reduce collateral damage, and to prevent becoming fixed in an attritional battle (as the RFAF have done in Bakhmut).
- The RFAF are likely to continue to reinforce the northern front-line along the P-66 highway near Svatove and Kreminna using newly mobilised troops and by repositioning forces from Kherson. It is likely that the RFAF anticipate a UAF offensive in the area and are seeking to bolster their defensive line and to carry out spoiling attacks. It is a realistic possibility that mobilised soldiers have been trained for other roles (e.g. tank driver or artilleryman) but are being forced into an infantry role through lack of equipment and desperation.
- It is highly unlikely that the Russians are going to abandon their attempts to take Bakhmut despite incurring significant losses and an inability to gain momentum. Prigozhin’s New Year’s eve visit to the trenches and his subsequent excuses for being unable to advance are likely intended to improve Wagner’s (and Prigozhin’s) standing among Russian ultra-nationalists whilst undermining the Russian MoD.
- Whilst the RFAF maintain a presence in Kherson Oblast to harass and disrupt the UAF on the left bank of the Dnipro, it is likely that the bulk of combat-forces (excluding artillery and other supporting assets) have been redeployed to other axes, primarily around Donetsk city and further north near Svatove. Russian commanders likely assume that the UAF will be unable to make a contested crossing of the Dnipro in the short term and therefore have prioritised other lines of operation.
- Attacks against Engels airbase were almost certainly perpetrated by the UAF. It is likely that the attacks are intended to both undermine Russian confidence in their domestic Air Defence (AD) network, and to force the relocation of strategic aviation further from the Ukrainian border, thus increasing the launch range for Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) fired at Ukraine. This in turn reduces the amount of fuel/range available to plot the best routes of ingress using terrain features, and therefore makes the munitions easier to intercept.
- Despite ongoing Belarusian military activity, and the presence of Russian forces in Belarus, it remains highly unlikely that the Belarusian Armed Forces will invade Ukraine. Their demonstration activities, mobilisation rhetoric and cross-training with the RFAF are likely to continue to fix UAF elements and Intelligence Surveillance Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets which could be otherwise deployed further east. Lukashenko is likely to continue to tread a delicate path between overtly currying favour with Putin and committing Belarusian lives to the Ukraine conflict.
- It is unlikely that Russia will overtly call full mobilisation by 7 January 2023. Putin likely realises that such a move would be very unpopular; however, he will also be aware of the increased force requirements to sustain the ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine. It is likely that Putin and the Russian Government will implement more covert means to mobilise eligible personnel, such as using banks to coerce debtors into service, and extending the criteria for eligibility. It is possible that Russia will conduct full mobilisation later this year, possibly in a too-slow response to any major Ukrainian offensive. In preparation for this, it is a realistic possibility that increased monitoring of borders and changes to laws will occur beforehand, potentially in the coming weeks. It is also likely that Russia will increase domestic media control and influence operations to prevent a further migration of fighting aged males who do not wish to mobilise. Ukraine is likely to be propagating the message of impending Russian mobilisation as part of an ongoing information operation. The likely Ukrainian objectives include encouraging Russians to flee their country, and galvanising Western support in the face of a possible increase in Russian manpower.
- It is likely that Russia will continue to acquire Iranian munitions for the foreseeable future. It is still anticipated that Russia will acquire and use Iranian ballistic missiles such as the Fateh-110 in future strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure, and the adapted threat will prove challenging to defend against. This is particularly true as the UAF hone their skills at downing slow-moving low-flying drones and munitions.
The assessment that Russia is unlikely to conduct any offensive activity in Kherson Oblast in the short to medium term remains extant. The focus will highly likely remain on harassing the UAF and preventing a crossing of the Dnipro, whilst freeing up infantry forces to redeploy to Bakhmut/Avdiivka or Svatove. The UAF is likely to continue to target troop concentrations, C2 nodes, and logistic resupply in Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts in order to set conditions for future offensive activity.
It is likely that pro-Russian forces will continue to assault the outskirts of Bakhmut under the cover of significant artillery fire. Although Russia is unlikely to be able to mass forces into coherent units for a decisive action, it is almost certain that Russia will seek to make incremental gains whilst fixing the UAF and preventing redeployment further north to Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts.
Within the next seven days it is highly unlikely either side will make any major offensive moves, and the war will continue to be attritional, positional, and relatively static. Ukrainian partisans are likely to continue to operate in concert with special forces and long-range strikes to target Russian rear areas and high value targets.
It is highly likely that Russian strikes against Ukrainian electrical infrastructure will continue. It is a realistic possibility that the RFAF will use Iranian-sourced ballistic missiles in the short to medium term, likely targeting electrical and other Critical National Infrastructure.
It is a realistic possibility that Belarus will continue to host Russian forces and conduct snap drills in the medium term, without making any attempt to invade Ukraine. It is highly unlikely that the Belarusian military will conduct kinetic activity against Ukraine or any NATO members, whilst it retains its belligerent rhetoric and appeases the Kremlin.
It is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue covert mobilisation measures in the short term, with a realistic possibility of general mobilisation and the closing of borders in the medium term. The Ukrainian government are likely to continue to amplify the fears of the Russian public regarding mobilisation in an ongoing attempt to undermine confidence in the Russian government among the people.