Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • There have been no changes of tactical or operational significance across this front over the last week, with just a single reported territorial change to the Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) in Kharkiv Oblast, with the UAF reportedly taking Kyslivka to the northwest of Svatove.
  • 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 continue to conduct limited counter-attacks and spoiling attacks near Bilohorivka (Luhansk Oblast) and to the southwest of Svatove at Ploschanka. 
  • Russia continues to hold the defensive line along the P-66/Aidar river using forward positions manned by mobilised soldiers (‘mobiks’). The RFAF have had sufficient time to prepare defences in depth and sew considerable minefields, all intended to slow UAF manoeuvre and prevent any breakthroughs. The RFAF continue to dig an extensive anti-tank trench/ditch network throughout Luhansk Oblast.

Thread showing imagery and analysis of the RFAF defensive digging in Luhansk. Source: @scil_int

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 whilst there have been some limited gains to the north and south of Bakhmut, the RFAF has not managed to encircle or isolate the town.
  • Russian forces continue to assault Bakhmutske and Soledar without making any breakthroughs, and fighting is reportedly ongoing in Opytne on the main southern road into Bakhmut. The UAF have reported that the Russians are sustaining between 50 and 100 casualties per day fighting in this area.
  • Wagner Private Military Contractor (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. 
  • North of Donetsk and Avdiivka, the RFAF reportedly conducted reconnaissance in force westwards against Krasnohorivka, likely seeking to identify a northern approach to Avdiivka or a vulnerability in UAF lines that would allow the town to be isolated.

Drone footage reportedly showing the destruction in Bakhmut. Source: @Biz_Ukraine_Mag

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 river banks. 
  • There has been no additional reporting of UAF operations on or near the Kinburn Spit/Peninsula. 
  • On 3 December footage was released reportedly showing a UAF reconnaissance unit planting a Ukrainian flag on the left bank of the Dnipro, just south of Kherson.

Video reportedly showing Carson reconnaissance unit of the UAF raising a flag on the left bank of the Dnipro near Kherson. Source: @EuromaidanPress 

  • Russia continues with defensive preparations along major Ground Lines of Communication (GLoCs) in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, as well as the northern approaches to occupied Crimea.

Strategic/Political

  • There has been no change in the Russian presence at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, denied online claims that Russia was going to withdraw forces from, or transfer control of the ZNPP to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This was in response to claims on 2 December by the head of the IAEA that there had been progress in negotiations regarding the safety and operation of the plant.

Reporting regarding the IAEA request and Russian response regarding the ZNPP. Source: @PamelaFalk

  • Russia continues to strike Ukrainian energy infrastructure across the country – with attacks against targets in Kyiv, Odesa, Vinnytsia, and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts. The strikes were carried out using sea- and ground-launched missiles on 5 December and the UAF claim to have shot down 60 out of more than 70 fired.
  • Also on 5 December, there were explosions at two Russian air bases deep within the Russian Federation. The explosions were reportedly caused by UAVs and happened at Engels-2 in Saratov Oblast and Dyagilevo in the central city of Ryazan. Russian statements claim three soldiers were killed and one aircraft (a Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’) “lightly damaged” in Dyagilevo by falling debris after Air Defences (AD) shot down the drone. The Russians claimed the Ukrainians used a Soviet-era drone for the attacks and played down the effectiveness. Engels-2 is only 160 miles from Moscow. Moscow is approximately 290 miles from the Ukrainian border at its closest point. 
  • Engels-2 is used by Russian strategic aviation, a part of their nuclear deterrent. It is one of the few remaining bases in Russia capable of servicing and operating the strategic bomber fleet, including Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers. Both Tu-160 and Tu-95 have previously been used to strike targets in Ukraine.

Post describing the UAV strikes on Engels and Dyagilevo airbases. Source: @traviakers

Satellite image reportedly of Engels airbase showing damage to a Tu-95MS Strategic Bomber. Source: @EuromaidanPress

  • A third strike was carried out on 6 December, and the Governor of Kursk Oblast also stated that a drone had struck Kursk Airfield and reportedly set fire to an oil storage tank. There were no claimed fatalities in this attack. The Ukrainians have not made any official statements claiming responsibility for the attack, but several news reports refer to statements from anonymous Ukrainian officials that their forces were responsible for the strikes.

So What?

  • On the Kharkiv/northern Luhansk front, it is highly likely that the RFAF intend to slow down the UAF and prevent them from gaining momentum. This slowing also provides additional time for the RFAF to identify and react to threats – time that is much needed due to the cumbersome Russian command structure and difficulty in coordinating fires.
  • It is highly likely that the RFAF/Wagner Group/Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) militiamen are suffering heavy casualties trying to break into Bakhmut. However, it is likely difficult to quantify accurately (as evidenced by the 100% margin of error in the UAF claim). It is likely that the losses are predominantly incurred by Wagner PMC members, particularly the poorly trained and recently recruited prisoners, who are reportedly used as ‘storm troops’ against the deliberate and well-sited UAF defences. 
  • It is likely that the UAF will continue to clear and consolidate positions on the right bank of the Dnipro in Kherson Oblast prior to conducting any other offensive operations. It is likely that these forces have also been depleted by the redeployment of units to Bakhmut and other defensive positions in Donetsk Oblast. The longer offensive activity is delayed, the greater time the RFAF will have to prepare defences against future UAF offensives, but coincidentally allows the UAF more time to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence to support targeting efforts. 
  • Despite the successes of Ukrainian AD, it is likely that even the few missiles that do penetrate and strike energy infrastructure are having a tangible effect. It is likely to cause additional unplanned blackouts as Ukraine struggles to repair the network of transformers and distribution points, as well as power generation facilities themselves. Blackouts and subsequent failures in telecommunications and heating will almost certainly be unable to break the will of the Ukrainian people and force the government to negotiate with Russia.
  • Ukrainian strikes against airbases deep in the Russian interior are demonstrative of a previously unreported (and likely unused) capability to strike strategic targets in Russia. It is likely that the UAF used adapted Soviet-era target drones (either a Tu-141 or Tu-143) for the strikes and that they have more in their inventory. The bases were likely targeted for a multitude of reasons;
    • Engels is home to strategic bombers which have been used in strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure. Disrupting aircraft at this location could reduce the number of threat axes for Ukrainian AD to face, at least temporarily. The week prior to the strikes, Ukrainian military intelligence highlighted that cruise missiles and aircraft were being prepared to conduct mass strikes from the base. 
    • The attacks at such prominent locations, which should theoretically have some of the best AD coverage in the Russian Federation, are likely to assist in undermining the Russian public’s confidence in the military.
    • Exposing weakness within the Russian Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) network of AD will likely reduce the interest of other nations wishing to acquire Russian systems. It is also humiliating for the Russian military on the international stage. 
    • It is likely that Russia will need to reposition A2AD assets to ensure key military and infrastructure locations are covered, which would reduce assets available to deploy to the front and support the invasion of Ukraine. 
    • Protection of bases that house the Russian Strategic Nuclear Deterrent will likely be prioritised. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a significant reduction in the number of air bases capable of servicing and operating strategic strike aircraft such as the Tu-95 ‘Bear’, Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ and Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’, therefore it is challenging for Russia to disperse the valuable aircraft whilst maintaining operational effect.

What Next?

It is likely that Russia will continue to deploy forces to defend the GLOCs linking the Russian Federation with occupied Luhansk Oblast whilst additional defensive preparations are made further south. Spoiling attacks are likely degrading Russian combat power at the cost of time and momentum for the Ukrainians. As greater numbers of mobilised Russian personnel receive improved training prior to their deployment, it is a realistic possibility that as reinforcements arrive the Russians will prove difficult to dislodge over winter.  

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. 

Wagner PMC units supported by the RFAF and DPR/Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) militia units are almost certain to continue assaults against the defensive positions and urban areas surrounding Bakhmut as shaping activity for a subsequent clearance. Conditions for the break-in at Bakhmut are unlikely to be met within the next seven days. It is likely that RFAF artillery will seek to interdict UAF logistic resupply and battlefield casualty replacements on their approach to Bakhmut in order to win the battle of attrition that is currently ongoing. It is a realistic possibility that the RFAF will reinforce this axis 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. 

It is highly likely that Russian strikes against Ukrainian electrical infrastructure will continue, in spite of the strikes against strategic airfields. Ukraine is unlikely to have the capability for massed long-range strikes and is unlikely to be able to destroy or cripple a meaningful proportion of the Russian VKS bomber force. It is a realistic possibility that Russia will redeploy elements of its A2AD network to ensure coverage of strategic military airfields, this will reduce coverage of other infrastructure and sites due to the limited number of assets available. If Russia redeploys AD units from Ukraine, this will create opportunities for increased air support to Ukrainian offensive activity. It is also likely that the failure of the AD will lead to internal disruption within the senior leadership of the Russian AD command as the blame is apportioned by President Putin. It is a realistic possibility that this will also increase differences in opinion between Russian mil-bloggers and the Russian Ministry of Defence – and create additional doubt on how the war is being run among the Russian population.


DONBAS, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 05: Ukrainian servicemen fire artillery shells at the frontline of Donbas, Ukraine on December 05, 2022. / Narciso Contreras