Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations
- Battles are ongoing north and west of Svatove along the Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) Forward Edge of Own Troops (FLOT), with the Russians conducting spoiling operations (or reconnaissance in force) near Andriivka, Novoselivka, and Stelmakhivka.
- The RFAF operating in Luhansk Oblast counter-attacked lost positions near Kreminna at Chervonopopivka and Zhytlivka, and continued the unsuccessful offensive near Bilohorivka from Rubizhne.
- Russian mil-bloggers have suggested that the Ukrainian Armed Forces (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 from pro-Russian source describing their belief of a major UAF counter-attack near Svatove/Kreminna. Source: @rubar_en
Video reportedly from near Kreminna of Russian and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) forces in action. Video likely shows the first documented use of the BMPT tank-support vehicle in combat. Source: @RALee85
East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort)
- The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing, and at the time of writing initial reports indicate that Wagner Private Military Contractor (PMC) units may be fighting in Opytne and have possibly broken into Bakhmut. This information is unconfirmed.
- Wagner PMC units are reported to continue to use mobilised prisoners to fill their ranks around Bakhmut. There is some limited reporting to suggest this now includes convicted prisoners recruited from prisons in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
- Fighting is ongoing in Soledar and Bakhmutske, and it is likely that the UAF are being forced to slowly withdraw. There has been reporting to indicate a rotation of UAF units on the Bakhmut front; however, conducting a relief-in-place under direct contact and bombardment is challenging, and may result in the temporary loss of some positions/strongholds or a withdrawal to a more concentrated defensive perimeter.
- Both the Russian and Ukrainian side continue to claim to be inflicting large numbers of casualties on each other. This form of highly attritional warfare will inevitably lead to heavy casualties – particularly among poorly-trained Wagner convicts.
- West of Donetsk at Marinka, the RFAF continue offensive operations, and are now reportedly fighting in the town centre. To the south, an RFAF advance from Blahodatne was repelled outside Velyka Novosilka.
Images of UAF members in Soledar. Source: @mikereports
South – Kherson, Zaporizhia and Black Sea Coast Area of Operations
- There have been no reported territorial changes along the FLET in Kherson Oblast, and the two sides continue to shell military locations and settlements on opposite banks of the river, with the Russians aiming to disrupt the Ukrainians, whilst the UAF intend to dislocate RFAF elements from the immediate vicinity of the left bank of the Dnipro.
- There has been no additional reporting of UAF operations on or near the Kinburn Spit/Peninsula.
- The UAF have targeted RFAF Command and Control (C2) centres and equipment concentrations in Russian rear areas in Melitopol, Tokmak, and Huliaipole with precision strikes. One of these strikes in Melitopol on 11 December is claimed to have killed most of the command staff of the Russian 58
- Additionally Ukrainian Partisans/Special Operations Forces damaged two spans of a bridge on the M14/E58 over the Molochna River in Melitopol, likely using explosive charges. The Russian occupation administration stated that the damage to the bridge would not impact on Ground Lines of Communication (GLoCs) between Melitopol and Crimea.
Video reportedly showing the damage caused to a bridge near Melitopol. Source: @Tendar
- Russia continues with defensive preparations along major 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.
Images reportedly showing Russian anti-tank obstacles being emplaced in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Source: @Militarylandnet
- Despite claims of progress regarding the demilitarisation of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supported by French President Macron, it is highly unlikely that Russia intends to withdraw from ZNPP. Russia continues to deny that heavy weapons are stored at the site, and claims that removing small (/all) arms from the site will compromise security. Historic evidence has shown the RFAF to store heavy equipment at (and within) ZNPP.
- The IAEA has however made some progress, and on 13 December declared its intention to have a permanent safety and security monitoring presence at ZNPP.
IAEA statement on the proposed monitoring teams. Source: @iaeaorg
- Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure across the country are ongoing – and despite the UAF’s improving Air Defence (AD) umbrella, continue to significantly disrupt national and regional energy grids.
- Terror strikes against residential and commercial areas also remain extant. During the early hours of 14 December, 13 Shahed-136 drones were launched against Kyiv in the first attack with Iranian loitering munitions in approximately three weeks. The Ukrainian military reported they shot down all 13 of the drones, but it is a realistic possibility at least one drone made it through the AD network functioned in the Shevchenkivskyi district of central Kyiv, on the left bank of the Dnieper River. Drones were also launched against Odesa.
Video reportedly showing one of the Shahed-136 drones shot down over Kyiv on 14 December. Source: @maria_avdv
- The United States (US) is reportedly poised to sign a bill that will approve the provision of additional NASAMS AD missile systems, and also contains the first agreed transfer for Patriot AD Missile systems to Ukraine. President Zelensky has been asking for the advanced Patriot missile system for many months, and may soon have the request granted.
Report from the Associated Press regarding the possible US provision of Patriot SAMs to Ukraine. Source: @AP
- The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) continue to raid properties and places of worship associated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP). On 14 December raids were conducted in Rivne, Volyn, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Lviv, Zhytomyr, and Kherson regions.
- On 13 December, Belarusian President Lukashenko announced more snap readiness drills for the Belarusian Army. Units were deployed from their home bases and conducted drills including river crossings. This included additional activity near the Ukrainian border.
- As the winter sets in and temperatures remain below zero degrees, the ground is likely to harden to the point where manoeuvre is again possible – and the RFAF almost certainly fear a renewed UAF offensive before the end of the year. It is a realistic possibility that the long-range targeting of rear areas in Zaporizhzhia and near Melitopol are being used to both shape the battlespace in the south and draw RFAF reinforcements away from the Kharkiv front.
- It is highly likely that pro-Russian units will continue to make incremental advances in Bakhmut. It is likely that the area has become an important focal point for Wagner head Yevgeniy Prigozhin and therefore despite significant losses PMC forces will continue to press their attacks against Bakhmut and environs. Rotation of UAF defensive units is essential to maintain morale and cohesion; however, it is a realistic possibility that units may be forced to withdraw in order to be replaced. Russian forces will also likely seek to capitalise on the loss of local knowledge that goes with replacing forward units.
- In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, the UAF continues to disrupt Russian logistics and concentrations of forces/C2 nodes. This is initially similar in appearance to the tactics used to force the RFAF from the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kherson Oblast. Partisan attacks against fixed infrastructure targets are likely to force Russian occupation forces to provide a security presence at vulnerable points along major GLoCs in occupied territories, which reduces force availability for frontline duties.
- It is highly unlikely that Russia will withdraw from ZNPP. Russia denies ever having heavy equipment at the plant, despite evidence to the contrary. It is almost certain that Russia would not allow ZNPP to return to the control of Ukraine or connect to the Ukrainian energy grid, as this would undermine Russian strategic strikes which are aimed at depriving Ukraine of power.
- It is a realistic possibility that the US plans to give Patriot AD missile systems to Ukraine are an indicator of the short-term intent for Russia to use probably acquired (but as yet unseen) Iranian ballistic missiles, which are significantly harder to intercept with other AD. Defending against low, slow and noisy Loitering Munitions has completely different requirements to shooting down high-speed ballistic missiles. The addition of Patriot missiles to a layered AD network will be important in mitigating against the Russian strike campaign against infrastructure targets.
- It is highly likely that the ongoing SBU raids against the UOC MP will be portrayed in the Russian information space as religious persecution and further justification for the so-called ‘Special Military Operation’. It is highly likely this will not deter the SBU from further raids aimed at reducing Russian influence operations run through the church.
- Despite increased 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, anti-NATO/anti-Ukraine rhetoric are likely to continue to fix UAF elements and Intelligence Surveillance Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets which could be otherwise deployed further east.
It is likely that there will be no significant change to the Russian posture and intent in Kharkiv Oblast in the short term. It is a realistic possibility that the defences will continue to be reinforced against UAF attack, whilst newly mobilised troops are trained and equipped for a major offensive to clear UAF from northern Luhansk in early 2023 when the ground is more suited to manoeuvre.
The assessment that Russia is unlikely to conduct any offensive activity in Kherson Oblast in the short to medium term is extant. The focus will almost certainly remain on creating defensive depth within occupied territory to prevent UAF advances towards the Crimean Peninsula. Additional engineering work between Russia and Crimea is likely to continue to allow for resupply across a broader range of routes which will potentially frustrate Ukrainian long-range strikes, but this front is unlikely to be a current priority for Russian reinforcement. The UAF are likely to continue to strike at concentrations of forces and logistics nodes, supported in their targeting efforts by partisans. It is likely that there will be a concurrent campaign of assassination against occupation officials as well as disruption of GLoCs to hamper Russian defensive efforts and set conditions for future deliberate offensive operations in the medium term.
It remains a realistic possibility that the RFAF will reinforce the Bakhmut and Avdiivka axes in late December 2022 and early January 2023 using mobilized troops who have gone through a longer and more comprehensive period of training – although it is unlikely this will lead to immediate battlefield success at Bakhmut. Should Bakhmut fall before mid-January 2023, it is a realistic possibility the RFAF will prioritise reinforcement of the northern axis in Kharkiv.
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 term, likely targeting electrical and other Critical National Infrastructure. It is unlikely that the initial deployment of Patriot in small volume will be able to counter any newly acquired Russian capabilities.
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.