Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations
- The Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) operating in Luhansk Oblast remain focused on preventing the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) from making significant ground towards Troitske, Svatove, and the P-66 Main Supply Route (MSR). The RFAF are conducting limited counter-attacks and spoiling attacks near Bilohorivka and to the north west of Svatove at Stelmakhivka.
- Manoeuvre remains limited across the Area of Operations (AO) due to rain and deep mud. Whilst this is almost certain to result in increased use of indirect fire assets, resupplying the artillery with ammunition will prove difficult for both sides.
- Russia continues to hold the defensive line along the P-66/Aidar river using forward positions manned by mobilised soldiers (‘mobiks’). Ukrainian reporting indicates that the UAF have advanced to Karmazynivka, which is 14km southeast of Svatove and only 6km from the P-66. These forces are unlikely to be able to advance to cut the P-66 in the immediate term, lest they become isolated or enveloped.
Video showing the muddy conditions in eastern Ukraine. Source: @Sytheruk
East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort)
- The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing. Russia continues offensive operations across a broad sector of the front centred on Bakhmut. Ukrainian reporting concedes that Ozaryanivka to the south of Andriivka has been lost to the Russians, and some Russian Telegram channels are claiming that the RFAF have captured Andriivka itself, although there is no confirmatory imagery or evidence.
- To the west of Donetsk, the RFAF are conducting offensives at settlements along an approximately 50km front from Novobakhmutivka in the north, to Kostyany in the south.
- It is almost certain that both sides continue to take significant losses around Bakhmut and its environs, particularly as the fight moves from shell-scarred open rural areas to demolished suburbs and urban areas. Fighting among the rural-urban interface will be challenging and very resource-intensive and is likely to become attritional in nature.
- Wagner Private Military Contractor (PMC) units are claiming to be the only units making progress around Bakhmut, and their Telegram channels have been indifferent towards the large number of casualties. It is a realistic possibility that Wagner units are using convicts recruited from Russian prisons to assault well-established UAF defensive positions.
Video footage reportedly showing a UAF position near Bakhmut. Source: @INTobservers
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 Zaporizhia Oblast. The RFAF continues to fix, disrupt, and degrade UAF defences around Pavlivka and Vuhledar with artillery, but have not advanced in the area for over a fortnight.
- It remains likely that small pockets of RFAF resistance are operating on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson, conducting delaying actions, setting booby traps, and calling for/adjusting fires onto UAF positions and forces.
Video reportedly showing RFAF-laid tripwires for booby traps in Kherson. Source: @raging545
- Russia’s reinforcement of defensive obstacles and construction of strong points overlooking major Ground Lines of Communications in eastern Kherson Oblast is ongoing, albeit slowly due to conditions. The defences are predominantly orientated to the northwest and the banks of the Dnipro, with three defensive lines between the river and the approach to the Crimean Peninsula. The first line is reportedly manned by conscripts/’mobiks’ whilst the second and third lines are manned by theoretically more professional ‘contract’ soldiers.
Map from the Institute of the Study of War showing Russian defences in Kherson Oblast on the left bank of the Dnipro. Source: @georgewbarros
- Russia continues to shell settlements on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson Oblast from across the river using rocket and tube artillery.
- There are a number of videos circulating on social media of reportedly Russian soldiers reacting slowly/not at all to Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) grenade attacks. A number of commentators have attributed this phenomenon to hypothermia; citing symptoms of moderate hypothermia such as decreased reflexes, apathy, poor judgement, and lowering levels of consciousness or stupor.
Video reportedly showing Russian soldiers failing to properly react to aerial bombing – attributed by the author to hypothermia. Source: @warnerta
- On 28 November, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) conducted two further raids against Russian Orthodox churches – this time in Pochaiv and Ivano-Frankivsk. The SBU claims it seized Russian propaganda materials at these locations. The Russian Orthodox Church has described these raids as an “act of intimidation”.
- There has been no change in the Russian presence at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and on 28 November Russia denied claims made the previous day by the head of the Ukrainian Energy Agency (Energoatom), Petro Kotin, that Russian forces they were going to withdraw and hand control of ZNPP to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
- The Ukrainian Government has reported that the country is currently enduring a 30% energy deficit due to Russian attacks on electrical infrastructure. Replacement transformers and other specialist equipment are required to restore regular power. There have been periodic brownouts/blackouts across the country over the last week. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kubelo has requested more air defence assets and additional transformers from Western donors.
- The difficult conditions and current lack of momentum for both sides in Kharkiv Oblast are likely to prolong the current stalemate, with neither side able to penetrate any distance through opposition lines, nor successfully exploit any breaches or seams. It is likely that a logistics-centric artillery battle will occur until conditions either freeze or dry out sufficiently to be more conducive to manoeuvre.
- It remains likely that mobiks serving in the forward lines of Russian defences are suffering from poor morale and low combat effectiveness. The fear of being illegally imprisoned by contract soldiers should the mobiks retreat is likely to be sufficient to keep the majority at their posts despite the weather and Ukrainian bombardment/attacks. It is a realistic possibility that further waves of Russian mobilisation will need to occur prior to any significant offensive activity due to the degradation of their current force having ‘spent’ the last batch of mobilised personnel shoring up defences.
- Russian attacks against Bakhmut are likely to continue – it appears to have become a fixation for both the Russian high command and the Wagner PMC. It is a realistic possibility that Wagner seeks to demonstrate success where the RFAF is failing to garner additional support for Yevgeny Prigozhin (head of Wagner) and increase his influence with President Putin. The capture of Bakhmut is also essential to achieve a likely Russian Operational Objective – the clearance of the UAF from the entirety of Donetsk Oblast.
- It remains unlikely that the UAF have landed any significant bodies of force across the Dnipro to the Kinburn Peninsula; the ground is unsuitable for mechanised or armoured formations. It is likely the UAF intend to deny the use of the Peninsula and Spit to Russian artillerymen.
- The weather in Ukraine, its impact on operations, and the varying methods of fighting in inclement conditions are all subject to a myriad of factors, including but not limited to:
- Whilst the weather currently is not cold (by Russian and Ukrainian standards), it has been wet and windy, which significantly increases wind chill.
- The apparent lack of resources available to Russian conscripts is almost certain to stretch to winter-specific clothing and equipment, which makes operating effectively even more challenging.
- The hurried training cycle for mobilised personnel has reportedly lacked basics such as rifle shooting, communications, and artillery integration; therefore it is also unlikely to have covered winter survival in any detail (if at all).
- Historic reporting indicates Russian servicemen have also complained about the amount of time spent on the front line with no respite/rotation, and prolonged exposure without an opportunity to get warm and dry also increases the risk of a non-freezing cold injury (NFCI).
- Whilst batteries drain quicker and take longer to charge in the cold, decreased UAV flight times could be counteracted by the increased effectiveness of thermal optics against a cold background and in detecting fires/heaters which have been lit to prevent NFCIs. Use of guided/modern artillery shells will assist in the neutralisation of UAV-identified targets.
- Whilst some Russian nationals are used to operating in cold environments (such as those in the far north or east) – this does not translate to an institutional hardiness or knowledge of winter survival.
- The cold will also affect Ukrainian troops, particularly those who have been recently mobilised and are still trying to crowd-fund additional cold-weather equipment.
- Russia has troops experienced in arctic warfare based alongside the Northern Fleet Command – however a number of these units and equipment were degraded during the initial invasion in February 2022.
- The Russian Orthodox Church is likely to continue its outcry regarding SBU raids on their properties in Ukraine. It is being propagandised as another “Ukro-Nazi” activity by some Russian social media pundits and groups, reportedly to suppress Russian speakers and Russian religion in Ukraine. This angle does not appear to have gained any significant traction among international Christian groups.
- It is highly unlikely that Russia will secede the ZNPP to the IAEA or Ukraine. It is likely that capturing and integrating Ukraine’s nuclear power infrastructure into Russia was one of Moscow’s strategic aims – it is a realistic possibility that the Russians would rather destroy the plant than return it to Ukrainian control in the short term.
- It is highly likely that Russia will continue to target Ukrainian electrical infrastructure faster than it can be repaired or rebuilt. Limitations on spares availability and the vast number of sites that require defence from the air are indicative that this issue will not be resolved quickly and will become worse in the short term – leading to increased civilian casualties. This is unlikely to reduce the Ukrainian will to fight, and may instead galvanise the desire to defeat Russia militarily as quickly as possible. Not only does a lack of power impact the Ukrainian populace, it also significantly hampers industrial production of war materiel and may impact training and mobilisation efforts, as well as Government communications.
It is a realistic possibility that the UAF will continue to conduct offensive operations in the east of Kharkiv Oblast and it remains unlikely that the UAF will be able to cut the P-66 north of Svatove within the next week. Russian losses on the northern front are currently unknown but assessed to be high. It is possible that Russia will increase mobilisation efforts at home and in occupied territories (both overtly and covertly) in order to provide battlefield casualty replacements and create reserves or manoeuvre units for the resumption of offensive activity early next year.
Russia is unlikely to conduct any offensive activity in Kherson Oblast in the short to medium term. The focus is almost certain to remain on creating defences within occupied territory – particularly the north-western approaches to the Crimean Peninsula. Additional engineering work between Russia and Crimea is likely to continue in order to allow for resupply across a broader range of routes which will potentially frustrate Ukrainian long-range strikes.
Wagner PMC units supported by the RFAF are highly likely to continue their slow progress towards Bakhmut. It is likely that their short-term objective is the encirclement of the town – but it will almost certainly need to be cleared fully of UAF prior to shifting the main effort to other axes. Wagner successes will be amplified on Russian social media and milblogger telegram channels, and Prigozhin is likely to continue to comment on the poor performance of the Russian Ministry of Defence whilst currying favour with Putin. It remains unlikely that Bakhmut will be isolated or surrounded within the next week.
It is highly likely that Russia will seek to maintain pressure on Ukrainian electrical infrastructure to both attempts to break the will of the people and reduce Ukraine’s ability to manufacture ammunition, arms, and other war-winning supplies. Increased use of generators is also likely to impact on the availability of petroleum products and fuel, which may become rationed over the next month.