Northeast – Kharkiv and Western Luhansk Area of Operations

  • Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) spoiling attacks/reconnaissance in force continued near Makiivka and Ploschanka to the south of Svatove, but reportedly without success.  
  • There have been no reports of RFAF troop concentrations or formations of combined-armed groupings on the Russian border with Kharkiv Oblast. (NO CHANGE)
  • The Ukrainian Armed Forces (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 UAF are continuing clearance operations in the forest to the south of Kreminna, there has however been no reported change in territorial control.

Video reportedly showing UAF Special Operations Forces fighting the RFAF near Kreminna in Jan 23. Source: @NOELreports

So What?

  • It is unlikely that there will be a significant offensive effort from either side currently, the Russian priority is likely to remain in control of current territories and to disrupt UAF shaping activity and prevent Ukrainian forces from massing for another counter-attack, with minimum losses to their own forces.
  • Ukraine is remains unlikely to commit to a frontal assault against Kreminna or Svatove in the short term. Attempting to dislodge RFAF defenders who have had months to prepare defensive positions. The complexity of urban clearance and inextricably linked high levels of collateral damage are likley to lead to UAF offensives aimed at penetrating and unbalancing the RFAF defensive lines in order to force a withdrawal south or east. This would allow the UAF to avoid becoming sucked into an attritional clearance like the RFAF face in Bakhmut. 
  • Prior to any major UAF offensive it is likley there will need to be a concentrated UAF effort to disrupt RFAF resupply and target ammunition storage areas and hinder pre-planned defensive fires.
  • Due to a lack of force availability and an already-extensive front line, it is highly unlikely that the RFAF will launch another axis of attack into Kharkiv Oblast from Belgorod Oblast.

East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Operational Main Effort).

  • The assessed RFAF main effort to clear Donetsk Oblast of Ukrainian forces is ongoing, with most of the resource going into exploiting the capture of Soledar to set conditions for the planned subsequent capture of Bakhmut. 
  • Soledar was captured over the weekend, with geolocated footage of Wagner PMC soldiers observed at Sil train station to the north-west of the town and confirmed reporting that the pro-Russian forces captured Salt Mine No.7. 
  • Russian forces have also made some ground in the vicinity of Bakhmut. Pro-Russian forces are now reported to be attacking the town from the East. Having largely secured the industrial area on the eastern Main Supply Route (MSR) approaching the town, Russian forces are now attacking parallel to the highway (T-0504) towards the Tavr Meat Plant (N of the highway) and towards the northern edge of the Damba Lake (S of the highway).
  • Whilst the Russian Ministry of Defence (RMoD) lauded it’s rocket forces, combat aviation and airborne forces for the capture of Soledar, Wagner head Prigozhin visited the area to give out awards to his troops for the capture. Initially neither the RMoD nor Wagner group acknowledged each others’ contribution to the capture of Soledar. After some backlash among the mil-blogger community, the RMoD changed it’s statement to describe the victory as a ‘joint’ effort in which Wagner troops contributed to the capture of residential areas. 
  • Opytne, on the southern approach to Bakhmut, has not been reported on in the last 48hrs, but it is likely that fighting is ongoing as the pro-Russian forces attempt to push north into Bakhmut. 
  • Near Avdiivka the RFAF tried unsuccessfully to advance alongside the M-30 highway towards Vodyane and  also Krasnohorivka to the east. 
  • South-west of Donetsk at Marinka heavy fighting is ongoing, although there have not been any reported territorial changes. 
  • Russian offensive operations are ongoing along an approximately 180km front from Svatove in the north to Marinka in the south, the Russian forces have sought to avoid their newly conscripted soldiers becoming decisively engaged; instead preferring to use them in defensive positions. The majority of offensive action is reportedly being undertaken by the forces of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics, as well as BARS-13 (combat reserve) personnel and Wagner-PMC mercenaries.  

Footage reportedly showing Wagner PMC soldiers at Sil Train Station, north-west of Soledar. Source: @miladvisor

Translated interview with Wagner Head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, reportedly in Soledar to give out awards to the soldiers that took the town. Source: @ChrisO_wiki  b  

So What?

  • It is highly likely that the Russian high command will continue to press their assessed main effort to capture Bakhmut, and are likley emboldened by the capture of Soledar. It is a realistic possibility that Wagner forces will need a period of time to complete the clearance of Soledar and to reconstitute before being committed to the assault on Bakhmut – although previous evidence shows that this period of reorganisation is unlikely to be of sufficient length to significantly increase combat effectiveness. 
  • The capture of Soledar does not automatically presage the fall of Bakhmut. It is likley that the UAF withdrew remaining forces in good order from Soledar once it became untenable, and these units are likley forming further defensive lines along the T-0513 road through Krasna Hora and Paraskoviivka on the northern approach to Bakhmut. 
  • It is likley that the RFAF intend to form a ‘cauldron’ (encirclement) around Bakhmut to force the UAF defenders to surrender. Given the experience of the siege of Mariupol, it is highly unlikely that the UAF would surrender; even in the unlikely event that the Russian encirclement/isolation operation is complete and effective.
  • It is likley that lessons learned in the capture of Soledar will be used by the RFAF in Bakhmut (dispersal of forces, small, mutually supporting assault groups, use of darkness, persistence and not giving defenders any respite). 
  • The information space surrounding the capture of Soledar is currently muddled, with vying claims of responsibility for the victory. It is unlikely that the Kremlin will be able to exert control over Russian nationalist mil-bloggers as support for Prigozhin and Wagner PMC continues to increase. Political manoeuvring and personal ambitions likley shape Prigozhin’s activity and propaganda, whilst the RMoD seek to reassert their control of the information domain and their influence of public (Russian) perceptions of the conflict. 
  • The UAF is likely to have planned a deliberate withdrawal from Bakhmut in order to prevent isolation and possible subsequent capture. 
  • Whilst the RFAF have made some (limited) gains on the eastern approach to Bakhmut through the industrial area, the River Bakhmutovka forms another natural barrier running north-south through the town. The lack of reporting emanating from Opytne to the south of Bakhmut is almost certainly indicative of ongoing heavy fighting. 
  • Whist the RFAF are now approaching the town from the south, east and north, there still remains an MSR running west towards Kostyantynivka which allows for resupply and forms a possible withdrawal route along the T-0504 should it be required.
  • Russia is unlikely to send additional reinforcements from Soledar to Vodyane and Marinka further south. It is likley that the RFAF will maintain pressure in these areas, whilst the priority of resupply and effort remains in Bakhmut – likely in the hope of unhinging the UAF defensive line in Donetsk Oblast.

South – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia 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. (NO CHANGE)
  • Ukrainian Operational Command South Spokesperson Natalya Humenyuk stated on January 13 that poor weather conditions around the Kinburn Spit have complicated operations for both the UAF and RFAF operating in the area. 
  • The UAF continue to target logistics nodes and troop concentrations alongside Command and Control (C2) nodes within occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts. Russian forces continue to conduct cross-river counter-battery fires, as well as shelling civilian areas and UAF troop concentration points where identified on the right bank of the Dnipro.  
  • 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. (NO CHANGE)

Footage reportedly showing RFAF Air Defence and explosions in Berdyansk on 15/16 Jan 23. Source: Bayraktar_1love

So What?

  • The RFAF and UAF are likley to continue disruptive shelling of opponents across the Dnipro River. 
  • Whilst the likelihood of a UAF attack in Kherson/Zaporizhia remains low, it is likley that Russian occupation officials will conduct further ‘filtration’ of civilian personnel, strengthen their occupation government roles and structures, recruit/coerce residents into the military, and construct further defensive obstacles in order to protect and cement the illegal Russian claim that these areas are now part of Russia. 
  • It is highly unlikely that either the UAF or RFAF will conduct an opposed river crossing in Kherson to secure more territory in the short to medium term.
  • It is highly likely that Ukrainian partisans and SOF will continue to disrupt Russian movements, ammunition stores, troops concentrations and defensive positions through sabotage or calls-for-fire. It is likely that these groups also assist with the targeting of long-range strikes (predominantly using HIMARS) against RFAF high-value targets. Assassinations of occupation officials are also likely to continue.

What Next? (The week ahead)

It remains highly unlikely that the RFAF will be able to build combined-arms groupings and open another axis in Kharkiv Oblast within the next seven days and beyond. Russia is currently focussed on reinforcing current defensive lines and conducting spoiling attacks in northern/western Luhansk and Kharkiv Oblasts. It is likely that the UAF will continue to resist Russian reconnaissance in force whilst probing defences and simultaneously conducting shaping operations; targeting troop concentrations and ammunition dumps, as well as degrading RFAF artillery to gain (localised) fire superiority. UAF artillerymen are also highly likely to continue to allocate artillery manoeuvre areas which are within range of the P-66 highway north of Svatove to disrupt Russian reinforcement and resupply.

It is highly unlikely that the RFAF will capture/clear Bakhmut in the next 7 days. Following the Russian capture of Soledar it is likley that the forces used in the operation (predominantly Wagner PMC mercenaries, and reportedly RFAF airborne units) will only have a short respite before being sent to Bakhmut. It is likely that within the next week we will see a renewed Russian impetus to encircle Bakhmut. It is a realistic possibility that assault groups in the south and east will continue to fix UAF defensive units and tax UAF logistic resupply, whilst the northern grouping of units from Soledar will seek to push west around the northern edge of the town in order to complete it’s isolation. This is unlikely to occur within the next 7 days, due to likley UAF defensive positions in Krasna Hora and Berkhivka. Whilst the RFAF is currently trying to avoid committing newly trained mobilised personnel, this may become necessary to achieve their objectives in Bakhmut as current Wagner and professional soldiers are likely to be both fatigued and demoralised from the fighting thus far. It remains likely that the RFAF operational Main Effort is the capture and control of Donetsk Oblast in its entirety – capturing Bakhmut is just a step in the right direction. 

It is unlikely that there will be any significant change on the ground in Kherson or Zaporizhia Oblasts within the next week, however strikes against high-value targets are almost certain to continue as opportunities present themselves. Russian occupation and filtration measures are almost certain to continue, as is Ukrainian partisan/SOF activity in response. 

DNIPRO, UKRAINE - JANUARY 15: Firefighters conduct search and rescue operation in the rubbles of destroyed residential building after a Russian missile strike amid Russia-Ukraine war in Dnipro, Ukraine on January 15, 2023. The death toll rose to 14 including a 15-year-old.