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Military And Security Developments
- BAKHMUT: The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has formally confirmed that Russian forces gained full control of Soledar on the evening of 12 January, in Russia’s first notable (though limited) victory for months. All indicators support Moscow’s claim and it is unlikely that organised Ukrainian resistance remains in the town. The formal announcement follows days of uncertainty as to whether Russian forces had gained full control of the town and conflicting claims from the MoD and Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. On 12 January, Wagner uploaded a Telegram post directly disputing MoD claims that VDV airborne units had participated in the assault on Soledar, reiterating the line that Wagner forces succeeded in taking the town alone. This aligns with our forecast in yesterday’s report; the victory in Soledar is demonstrating and exacerbating factional infighting following the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine (for further analysis and implications, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 12 January).
- BAKHMUT: In a likely tacit confirmation that Russian forces are now in complete control of the town, the Ukrainian General Staff omitted Soledar from the list of settlements its forces had successfully repelled attacks against in its latest reports. The General Staff have also confirmed this morning that their forces have repelled attacks against Rozdolivka, a village 5 miles (7km) north, and Sil’, a kilometre west of Soledar. This indicates that Russian forces have succeeded in pushing north and possibly west of the town. Given the high losses Russian forces have sustained, it remains unclear whether regular Russian and Wagner forces have sufficient strength to capitalise on their tactical victory in Soledar and break through towards Bakhmut. For further analysis on the prospects of a Russian encirclement of Bakhmut following the fall of Soledar, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 10 January.
- DONBAS: The intensity of fighting in recent weeks around Soledar and Bakhmut, and the high casualties both sides have sustained, could well delay both sides’ anticipated spring offensives and counter-offensives. Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov stated in an interview with the BBC today (13 January) that Ukraine must prepare for Russian spring offensives. Particularly noteworthy was his assessment that such offensives are likely to come from areas in eastern and southern Ukraine that are already occupied by Russia, rather than opening up a new front. In this respect, he reinforced our assessment that a renewed invasion from Belarus remains unlikely. Both sides have taken very high casualty rates, and as previously reported, Ukraine has likely committed significant reserves to stabilise the Bakhmut front in recent weeks (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 11 January). As such, if fighting along the Bakhmut line continues at its current intensity, both sides could be forced to commit reserve forces to operations in Donetsk oblast, potentially delaying offensive operations elsewhere.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: There have been few major developments along this front over the last 24-48 hours, with both sides launching limited attacks in an attempt to improve their tactical positioning. Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast Serhiy Haidai reported on 12 January that Ukrainian forces have improved their positioning around Bilohorivka, eight miles (12km) north-west of Lysychansk, and are preventing Russian forces from launching attacks against the town.
- SOUTHERN: Similarly on the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia fronts, there are no notable military developments to report over the last 24 hours.
- Ukraine: Advance in judicial reform marks progress in anti-corruption efforts. On 12 January, the congress of Ukrainian judges appointed the last of eight new members to Ukraine’s High Council of Justice (HCJ), a judicial oversight body. The appointment is a key milestone in Kyiv’s push to reform its judiciary, allowing the HCJ to resume its work overseeing the appointment, dismissal and disciplining of judges. Judicial reform was one of the main recommendations given to Ukraine by the EU when it granted Kyiv candidate member status last year. The reform is set to improve Ukraine-EU relations and the country’s prospects of accession to the bloc in the long term, though European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermanns stated earlier this week that membership would be ‘impossible’ as long as Russian troops are in Ukraine. While there are warnings of a possible pushback against the reform from certain factions, the move represents progress in Ukraine’s fight against corruption and will likely improve transparency and the country’s regulatory framework.
- Russia: Proposal to seize property of emigrants likely indicates further mobilisation. On 13 January, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament the Duma proposed to amend Russia’s criminal code with a clause on property confiscation for Russians who have left the country and subsequently criticised the government. His proposal has gained the support of Andrei Klishas, chairman of the upper-house Federation Council’s constitutional committee. This likely indicates that the proposal has Kremlin’s backing, and it could be formally tabled in the Duma next week. The proposal is the latest attempt to discourage emigration, further complicating options for anti-war Russian nationals seeking to temporarily leave the country. The proposal is also likely an indicator that Moscow is preparing a fresh round of mobilisation in the coming days and weeks, aimed at discouraging a mass exodus of Russians as had been the case following the partial mobilisation decree in September of 2022.
- Europe: Hacktivist group’s ban from GitHub will not cause cyber attacks against NATO to decrease. On 10 January, the software development platform GitHub disabled all accounts belonging to the pro-Russia hacktivist group NoName057(16) following reports by researchers at the cyber security firm SentinelOne. NoName057(16) has been linked to cyber attacks against entities based in NATO countries (including the Polish government in December 2022 and Denmark’s central bank on 10 January), as well as several Ukraine-based targets. The group has reportedly used GitHub to host its code and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) tools. While SentinelOne describes NoName057(16) as technically unsophisticated, its use of public platforms will possibly attract public contributions for financial returns. This will possibly lead to the development of the group’s tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), allowing it to pose a more complex threat. GitHub’s disabling of NoName057(16)’s accounts will likely only slightly decrease public contributions to the group’s activities, as it will almost certainly shift to other public platforms. Similarly, the group will continue to pose a sustained threat to European public and private institutions. In particular, the group is likely to pose moderate threats, including service disruption threats, to websites belonging to Czech presidential candidates throughout the upcoming election on 13-14 January.
- HUMANITARIAN: The Ukrainian and Russian human rights ombudsmen are meeting in Ankara from 12-14 January, amid trilateral discussions with Turkey over the possibility of establishing a humanitarian corridor in Ukraine. This morning (13 January), Ukrainian commissioner for human rights Dmytro Lubinets stated that his government supports President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposal for a humanitarian corridor. Lubinets also confirmed that during initial bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart Tatiana Moskalkova, both sides expressed willingness to resolve numerous outstanding issues, especially improving prisoner exchange mechanisms. However, it remains to be seen whether any progress will be made on the much more substantial and difficult-to-implement proposal of a humanitarian corridor for injured individuals.
- ENERGY: Ukrenergo reported this morning (13 January) that a forecasted rise in temperature across Ukraine this weekend will ease power consumption, though planned energy restrictions will remain in place. In particular, Dnipropetrovsk oblast is scheduled for emergency power cuts throughout 13 January. Given that the last nationwide Russian long-range strikes took place over a week ago, there will be a heightened threat of strikes against energy infrastructure next week, from 16 January. The Ukrainian Air Force warned yesterday (12 January) that Ukraine must be ready due to the threat of missile strikes from Belarus. For further analysis on the threat of strikes, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 9 January
MOBILISATION: Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) today (13 January) stated that according to their latest intelligence, the Kremlin is preparing to expand mobilisation to eventually create an army of some two million service personnel. Yesterday, Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff, Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, also reported that Moscow intends to create at least 20 new divisions this year as part of a wider reform of the Russian military. Hromov nevertheless noted that structural weaknesses, international sanctions and mounting equipment and ammunition shortages have undermined Russia’s force generation capabilities. It, therefore, remains to be seen whether Moscow will be able to implement its planned military reforms and generate capable forces to conduct large-scale manoeuvre operations in Ukraine. In this respect, it is highly notable that President Vladimir Putin publicly berated Russia’s Minister for Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, for the lack of military aircraft contracts in 2023. Putin stated that it is ‘taking too long’ to commission and produce aircraft and ordered him to speed up. Given international sanctions, enduring component shortages and endemic institutional weaknesses and corruption, Putin’s demand to effectively overhaul Russia’s aerospace industry and production capacity ‘within a month’ illustrates the unrealistic expectations Putin places on his subordinates. It also highlights the inherent challenges reforming Russia’s armed forces and military-industrial complex presents. Irrespective of the unrealistic timeframe expectations of the Kremlin, Ukraine’s latest intelligence aligns with our assessment that Moscow is doubling down on a protracted conflict in Ukraine and is attempting to build a sizeable force capable of regaining the initiative on the battlefield. In this respect, further rounds of mobilisation to outfit such a force remain increasingly likely. As previously reported, the GUR has posited 15 January as a possible date for an announcement of a second wave of mobilisation of some 500,000, though this remains to be seen. The GUR has also reported that changes are currently being made in the Russian parliament to the laws regulating mobilisation, though Kyiv did not provide any further details. Nevertheless, this morning (13 January), State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin stated that Russian nationals that criticise the country after fleeing abroad should have their remaining property confiscated by the state. Volodin’s proposed changes to the Criminal Code have now received the backing of the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the Federation Council. This likely indicates that the policy has Kremlin backing and will be officially tabled in the near future, with the State Duma set to reconvene next week. The Russian social media firm VK Group (VKontakte) has now also issued an order that all employees that are based abroad must return to Russia or face dismissal. The order is reportedly due to ongoing (but unconfirmed) work by Russian lawmakers to legally ban remote working, which is ostensibly to safeguard data security. However, VK’s order, together with Volodin’s proposals, clearly form part of a wider effort to apply pressure on émigrés and mitigate the brain drain. The Russian government itself estimates that some 100,000 IT workers have left the country since the February invasion, and further rounds of mobilisation are likely to once again risk a mass exodus of military-aged men. As such, the Kremlin is likely pressing forwards with legal efforts to mitigate and discourage widespread emigration following another possible mobilisation announcement. Therefore, these indicators likely support the above assessment of an expansion of mobilisation at some point in the short term. If the proposed legal changes are implemented, as is likely, they will further complicate the ability of anti-war Russian national staff to temporarily leave Russia without risking serious economic, and potentially criminal, repercussions upon their return to the country.
- BAKHMUT: Heavy fighting continues across the Bakhmut line. While it remains unclear if Russian forces have gained complete control over Soledar, Ukrainian forces are likely continuing to hold their positions on its outskirts. The Russian defence ministry claims that VDV airborne forces have ‘surrounded’ Soledar from the north and south. This would be a notable intervention, if true, given Yevgeny Prigozhin previously emphasised that only his Wagner Group forces were engaged in the assault on Soledar. This possibly reflects the growing infighting between conventional Russian forces under the command of the defence ministry and the Wagner Group (see FORECAST below for further analysis).
- BAKHMUT: Earlier on 12 January, the Ukrainian General Staff refused to estimate what percentage of Soledar remains under Ukrainian control. This likely reflects the confused picture concerning the town at present, but could possibly also be a tacit acknowledgement that Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the town. Russian sources claim that their forces have surrounded the remaining Ukrainian units in the town, but this remains unconfirmed. Elsewhere, an advisor to the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed earlier on 12 January that Russian forces have made ‘serious advances’ in the Bakhmut region, though it remains unclear if these forces have advanced towards Bakhmut town itself over the last 24-48 hours. Geolocated footage published over the last 48 hours indicates that Russian forces have likely made marginal gains around Opytne, located two miles (4km) south of Bakhmut.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: The UK’s Defence Intelligence (DI) reported earlier on 12 January that Russia has almost certainly deployed elements of the 76th Guards Air Landing Division of the VDV airborne forces to reinforce Kreminna. As we previously reported, Russian forces have been steadily redeploying elite VDV forces to eastern Ukraine following the Russian withdrawal from Kherson, where almost all VDV forces were deployed (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 21 November 2022). DI notably reported that VDV commanders are now likely attempting to deploy VDV units according to their doctrinal role, namely elite rapid reaction forces, rather than frontline troops designed to hold ground, as was the case around Kherson.
- SOUTHERN: Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk stated that Russian forces operating in the south of Ukraine have been forced to move the launch points of Shahed-136 drones from Kherson and Crimea to Krasnodar oblast (Russia). The claim, if true, is a further sign of Russia’s concern over Ukraine’s improved strike capabilities. Meanwhile, over the last 24 hours, there were no significant changes along the southern front, with routine shelling by Russian and Ukrainian forces across the Dnieper river in Kherson and ongoing Russian shelling of Ukrainian positions in Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Sicheslav (Dnipropetrovsk oblast).
- BELARUS: Indications suggest that a newly established Belarusian private military company (PMC) called Gardservis has significantly expanded its recruitment and training efforts, and is possibly preparing to deploy in military operations. In an interview with German media outlet DW on 11 January, the defence representative of exiled Belarusian leader Svyatlana Tskihanouskaya, Valeriy Sakhashchyk, stated that his sources have indicated the government-backed Gardservis now likely employs around 1,000 mercenaries and that Belarusian officers of the 5th Special Forces Brigade and members of Wagner Group have been training the group near Minsk over the last six months.
- BELARUS: Gardservis dates back to June 2020, but has significantly expanded its recruitment in recent months with alleged backing from the Kremlin. It remains unlikely that regular Belarusian forces will intervene directly in the war in Ukraine. However, PMCs will provide Minsk with plausible deniability. This aligns with established patterns of recruitment favoured by Russia, namely the use of Wagner Group mercenaries. We previously reported that covert mobilisation and recruitment in Belarus could ultimately prove a source of manpower for Russia (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 14 October 2022). The deployment of Gardservis elements would provide Moscow with a small force to support existing operations. However, it remains to be seen whether they will be deployed abroad or remain in Belarus as a private security force designed to augment President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s existing security forces.
- BELARUS: On 11 January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukraine has not seen any indication of preparations in Belarus to enter the war or support a renewed ground invasion along Ukraine’s northern borders. This aligns with our own assessment that such a move remains unlikely at present. However, in the run-up to the launch of Russia’s anticipated spring offensives, it is highly likely that Moscow and Minsk will at least want to give the impression of military preparations taking place in the latter to keep Ukrainian forces unbalanced and obfuscate where they intend to attack.
- AID: On 11 January, Poland and the UK confirmed that they are planning to send Western-made heavy tanks to Ukraine. Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that Warsaw would provide a company of German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Although London has not disclosed the type or number of tanks it intends to provide, the government will likely supply Ukraine with around a dozen UK-built Challenger 2 tanks. This further highlights the strong Western resolve to ensure Ukraine has the necessary equipment to launch new counter-offensives in 2023. The move will place pressure on other Western governments, most notably Germany, to pledge modern battle tanks to Ukraine.
- TRAINING: US officials confirmed on 10 January that the Pentagon is planning to train Ukrainian troops on the Patriot missile defence system at the Fort Sill facility in Oklahoma (US). Although the move was expected after US President Joe Biden approved the supply of the Patriot system to Ukraine in December 2022, it is yet another sign of the West’s willingness to provide greater levels of support for Ukraine, as well as diminished Western concern over allegations by the Kremlin of Western involvement in the conflict, relative to the beginning of the invasion in February 2022.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
RUSSIA: On 11 January, the Russian defence ministry announced that Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov has been appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine as part of a major overhaul of the Russian command structure. The previous commander of Russia’s Joint Grouping of Forces, Sergei Surovikin, will now serve as Gerasimov’s deputy. Gerasimov’s appointment likely heralds Russian offensives this spring. These are likely to involve over 150,000 mobilised forces attempting to take back the initiative following 2022’s setbacks. However, the reshuffle also points to deep-rooted political infighting which President Vladimir Putin will have to manage carefully in the coming months. It is particularly notable that Russia’s defence ministry officially announced and justified the appointment of Gerasimov; previous command reshuffles have been conducted with almost no transparency or public acknowledgement. According to the ministry, the reshuffle was conducted due to ‘the expansion of the scale of the tasks solved in the course of [the special military operation], the need to organise closer integration between the types and branches of the armed forces, as well as improving the quality of all types of support and the effectiveness of command and control’. It is assessed that Russia’s force integration and command and control (C2) generally improved under Surovikin, who was appointed as the first commander of a unified Russian force in October 2022. As a result, Gerasimov’s appointment has likely been driven more by political, rather than purely military, considerations, reflecting the factional infighting raging throughout Russia’s military and political system. Gerasimov’s appointment constitutes an attempt by the defence ministry to reassert its control over operations in Ukraine. It is also likely aimed at countering the growing influence of figures outside of the ministry’s chain of command, including Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group. Prigozhin and numerous other hard-liners, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and former FSB and DNR officer Igor Strelkov (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 11 January), have repeatedly criticised the defence ministry’s handling of the war effort. In particular, they have regularly slammed Gerasimov’s role as Chief of the General Staff, while praising Surovikin – who has effectively been demoted to serve under Gerasimov. Amid Prigozhin’s growing influence among hardliners and his attempts to present himself as the public face of Russia’s war effort, Gerasimov has likely obtained permission from Putin to curtail Wagner’s oversized role in Ukraine and to reassert the defence ministry’s authority. However, the Wagner Group has remained outside the defence ministry’s jurisdiction throughout the war. Prigozhin enjoys direct access to Putin, which has largely helped him circumvent the established military chain of command. It therefore remains to be seen whether Gerasimov will be able to rein in Wagner forces and ‘organise closer integration between the types and branches of the armed forces’, a likely allusion to Wagner and Chechen forces which operate with significant autonomy. The fact that the defence ministry released a statement on 11 January confirming that fighting was ongoing in Soledar (a direct contradiction to Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner forces had taken the town) illustrates these factional tensions. This power struggle has become increasingly febrile in recent months. As such, the reshuffle risks prompting Prigozhin and other independent Russian military actors to resist Gerasimov’s attempts to centralise the Kremlin’s authority. This would exacerbate the schism that has already undermined Russian military cohesion throughout the war. Nevertheless, if Gerasimov fails to overhaul the Russian war effort and regain the initiative during any offensives which materialise this spring, Putin will likely reshuffle the high command once again, as he has frequently done throughout the war. It will then possibly be down to the hardliners to try and achieve Putin’s objectives, reflecting a back-and-forth power struggle that will do little but stymie meaningful military reform and undermine Russia’s military effectiveness in the longer term.
MILITARY AND SECURITY DEVELOPMENTS
- BAKHMUT: This morning (11 January), Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group which are leading the Russian assault on Soledar, claimed that his forces have taken control of the entire town. If true, this would represent the first notable victory for Russian forces following months of retreat. However, conflicting reporting means this cannot be confirmed, and it remains likely that areas of the key town remain contested as Ukrainian forces commit reserves in an attempt to hold their positions. An image of Prigozhin appearing beside Wagner soldiers has spread across Russian social media this morning, allegedly showing him inside a cave complex that Russian sources claim is the Artyomsol Salt Mine, which Ukrainian forces had previously held. Kyiv has emphatically denied Prigozhin’s claims, and Ukraine’s Strategic Communications Department has sought to frame the images as part of an information operation designed to justify the ‘insane losses’ Wagner forces are sustaining. At time of writing, we cannot confirm.
- BAKHMUT: A CNN interview with a Ukrainian serviceman in the 46th Airmobile Brigade on 10 January described urban fighting in Soledar as ‘critical’, and that his unit is ‘holding on to the last’. The unnamed soldier described the highly chaotic dynamic of the battle for Soledar, where buildings are constantly changing hands and large areas of the town remain contested as neither side truly knows which parts they control. He also stated that ‘no one counts the dead’ due to the extremely high casualty rates Ukrainian forces are sustaining at present. He also indicated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are funnelling reserves into the battle, with his own brigade reportedly ‘renewed by almost half’ of its personnel. This indicates still further the high casualty rates Ukrainian forces are suffering in the town’s defence. The seeming committal of large numbers of Ukrainian reserves to Soledar reinforces our earlier assessment that Kyiv is likely prioritising attempts to hold the Soledar line for as long as possible, though it remains unclear whether Prigozhin’s claims are accurate and that Ukrainian forces have indeed been forced to withdraw.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Ukrainian forces have likely made limited gains northwest of Svatove and Kreminna in recent days. The Ukrainian Centre for Defence Studies has reported that Ukrainian forces captured Pidkuichansk on 8 January, a village 7 miles (11km) northwest of Svatove. If confirmed, this would indicate that Ukrainian forces have made moderate progress along the N-26 highway that runs south into Svatove – the key objective for Ukrainian forces on the Oskil-Kreminna line besides Kreminna.
- SOUTHERN: A Ukrainian military spokesperson has confirmed that Kyiv will only attempt to take control of the entire Kinburn Spit peninsula as part of a general counter-offensive to retake the entirety of Kherson oblast. Military spokesperson Colonel Yevhen Yerin confirmed this morning (11 January) that Russian forces remain in control of the majority of the peninsula. While Ukrainian fire control over the area is preventing large concentrations of Russian ground forces, Yerin acknowledged that the open terrain and Russia’s own fire control means an operation to take the peninsula is inappropriate at this time. He stated that the resources needed to take the Kinburn Spit would be ‘disproportionate’ and outweigh the benefits of such an operation. Yerin’s statement clearly indicates that fighting on the peninsula has reached a stalemate and suggests that Ukrainian forces have failed to establish a suitable beachhead from which to launch subsequent counter-offensive operations, as previously assessed (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 9 January).
- MUNITIONS: Despite the advance on Soledar, US and Ukrainian officials have estimated that the overall quantity of Russian artillery fire is down ‘dramatically’ since its high-water mark in 2022, down as much as 75% in certain sectors of the front. Unnamed sources cited by CNN on 10 January indicate a steady reduction of artillery shells being fired in recent weeks, potentially caused by rationing amid ammunition shortages, as we have previously reported on (Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 3 January). Such ammunition shortages could impact Russian offensive capabilities in the coming months, with Ukrainian intelligence anticipating that shortages will become most acute by March. Wagner leader Prigozhin has frequently claimed shortages of equipment and ammunition are preventing Russia from capturing Bakhmut, and it remains to be seen whether Russian forces will be able to capitalise on advances in Soledar given such possible equipment shortages.
- BELARUS: The Ukrainian General Staff has for the first time since November 2022 left out confirmation in its daily reports that its forces have not observed indicators that Russian and Belarusian forces are building a strike force along the border. The update was missing from both its 10 and 11 January updates, and could therefore suggest that Kyiv has seen signs of the formation of a strike group. However, the UK Defence Intelligence (DI) reported this morning (11 January) that it assesses that ongoing military movements in Belarus are genuine exercises and that Russia’s current units in Belarus are ‘unlikely to constitute a credible offensive force’. This aligns with our existing assessment in recent months, and our assessment has not changed. We will continue monitoring to determine whether Ukrainian intelligence has observed any notable shift to the military balance in southern Belarus.
- GEOPOLITICS: In a 10 January interview for the German outlet DW, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermanns stated that Ukraine will not become a member of the European Union (EU) while Russian troops are located on its territory. This merely reinforces the long-held understanding that EU membership is ‘impossible’ for Ukraine while they are fighting an active war with Russia, and that EU membership remains a long-term goal that is ultimately contingent upon the war resulting in a stable peace of some kind.
RUSSIA: On 10 January, Russian officials confirmed that the former commander of Russia’s Central Grouping of forces in eastern Ukraine, Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, has been appointed Chief of Staff of Russian Ground Forces. The Kremlin dismissed Lapin from his previous role as head of the Central Military District in November 2022, following widespread criticism of his handling of the retreat during the Ukrainian Kharkiv counter-offensive in September 2022 (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 2 November 2022). While the Chief of Staff of Russian Ground Forces is not a command position and is unlikely to see Lapin command troops in Ukraine, his appointment has triggered some notable backlash from certain hardliner and milblogger factions within Russia. However, those traditionally supportive of the Ministry of Defence expressed their support for the appointment. Nevertheless, former FSB and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officer Igor Strelkov (Girkin) openly criticised President Vladimir Putin for the promotion of Lapin, and strongly implied that he would support Putin’s removal. In a series of Telegram posts on 10 January, Strelkov condemned Putin’s appointment of ‘incompetent’ commanders and his refusal to replace officers and officials that have remained in place despite numerous mistakes. He claimed that the countless ‘economic and military failures’ in Ukraine are ultimately due to Putin’s appointments. He also stated that unless Putin changes his personnel strategy, Russia faces certain military defeat in Ukraine, which the capture of ‘small towns and villages’ will do nothing to change – a likely allusion to the battle for Soledar. Despite his implied support for the removal of Putin, Strelkov did state that he is against changing the commander-in-chief during war time. However, this was framed not due to loyalty to Putin, but because he assesses that such a transfer would prove destabilising and trigger a military and civil ‘catastrophe’ in Russia. Strelkov has consistently remained one of the most outspoken and independent commentators on the war who has frequently criticised the Russian war effort and Ministry of Defence. It is likely this independence resulted in his failed attempts to join a Russian or DNR unit in the Donbas late last year, reflecting his exclusion from the various Russian military establishments (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 7 December 2022). However, this is the first time Strelkov has so openly criticised Putin personally, and could set a dangerous precedent for the Kremlin. It should be noted that Strelkov’s criticism is far from universal. Open criticisms of Putin are still extremely rare and his criticism is likely to further fragment the pro-war community. Indeed, Strelkov himself acknowledged that such open criticism could well be ‘suicidal’ on his part. Nevertheless, with over 789,000 followers on Telegram Strelkov remains one of the most influential military commentators in Russia. As such, his open criticism of Putin is therefore highly significant and threatens to represent a major precedent in encouraging or validating other far-right ultranationalist actors critical of the war effort to air anti-Putin sentiment publicly. Depending on the reception to Strelkov’s statements in Russia, the Kremlin is likely to respond in a bid to regain control of the information space, which could extend to increasing censorship over the most independent and critical milbloggers. Indeed, in a Telegram post on 8 January, former President and Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated that the ‘bosses’ (likely meaning the Kremlin) are actively discussing whether to respond to ‘traitors that have gone over to the enemy’ with ‘rule of law or with justice’. Alluding to Soviet ideological censorship during World War Two, Medvedev’s post likely aims at promoting not only self-censorship but could also indicate the Kremlin is considering more active censorship of voices critical of the war effort, which could potentially include far-right ultranationalist critics such as Strelkov. At present, most indicators point to Putin’s position and grip on power remaining very strong, with the vast majority of criticism directed at the Ministry of Defence, rather than the Kremlin. However, open calls for Putin’s removal are unlikely to be tolerated for long if they begin to gain traction and proliferate, even in limited numbers.
US-Canada: Arms deals, military aid for Ukraine underscore co-operation amid geopolitical tensions. The US and Canada announced on 10 January that they will increase arms and military training for Ukraine. The defence deals were finalised at the trilateral North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said that his country will purchase a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) from the US to enhance Ukrainian air defence capabilities. The Pentagon also announced that the US will train around 100 members of the Ukrainian armed forces on how to operate the Patriot missile system at an Oklahoma army base. These developments follow US President Joe Biden’s announcement in December 2022 regarding further military aid for Ukraine. Separately, Canada confirmed that it will purchase American F-35 fighter jets in a USD 14.2 bn deal – Ottawa’s largest investment in its air force in three decades. These significant investments in military aid for Ukraine come amid rising geopolitical tensions in both Europe and Southeast Asia.
- During this monitoring period, pro-Russia cyber operations against Ukrainian targets remained limited. However, researchers at the cyber security firm Mandiant released information on a suspected cyber espionage campaign by the Russian state-linked Turla Group against Ukrainian targets. The campaign began as early as January 2022 and used old cyber infrastructure (re-registering old domains of decade-old malware) to profile targets, launch cyber espionage operations and evade detection until September 2022.
- Meanwhile, pro-Russia hacking groups continue to launch relatively low-level distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) and phishing attacks against pro-Kyiv entities and private companies in other countries, including Denmark, Moldova and Poland.
- The Anonymous hacktivist collective announced large-scale cyber attacks targeting Serbian government entities, officials and websites, dubbed Operation Serbia, over Belgrade’s ties with Moscow. The attacks and a consequent increase in security protocols will likely sustain minor to moderate delays and temporary disruption to Serbian government websites and services in the coming week. There is a realistic possibility that pro-Kyiv cyber threat actors will expand their targeting to government-linked private sector companies in Serbia.
Latest Significant Updates
Pro-Russia groups increase cyber attacks against European private, public entities; Mandiant reveals suspected Turla Group cyber espionage operation against Ukrainian systems
- On 10-11 January, a Twitter account reporting on cyber developments claimed that a Russian hacking group, NoName05716, launched DDoS attacks targeting the Danish banking sector and government. Specific targets reportedly include the Ministry of Finance and Jyske Bank.
- On 7 January, the group also claimed an attack against the Polish logistics and railway company, PKP Cargo.
- On 6 January, reports emerged that a Russian hacking group known as Cold River conducted cyber operations targeting three US nuclear research laboratories between August and September 2022. The group created fake login pages for each institution and sent phishing emails to scientists in an effort to steal passwords and other information. The extent of the success of the operations remains unclear; the US Department of Energy has declined to comment on the matter.
- On 5 January, Moldova’s cyber security regulator announced that government institutions and state services have faced a wave of phishing attacks in recent weeks. The regulator did not disclose the success of the phishing campaigns or any information on the state entities affected. The attacks have not been directly attributed to a specific state or non-state actor.
- On 5 January, researchers at Mandiant revealed that they detected a new cyber espionage campaign in September 2022 targeting unnamed Ukrainian systems. Mandiant suspects that the operation is connected to the Russian government-linked Turla Group. Tracked as UNC4210, the operation re-registered at least three expired ANDROMEDA domains (a malware common in the 2010s) in January 2022. Hackers subsequently profiled victims and installed two additional malware strains (which Turla is known to have used in past campaigns) to conduct reconnaissance and espionage activities on Ukrainian computer systems.
Cyber attacks target Serbian government ministries, officials following Anonymous threats over Russia ties
- On 11 January, a Twitter account claiming to represent Anonymous announced that the group and other pro-Kyiv hacktivist outfits launched a ‘full-scale’ cyber offensive against Serbian government websites. The attacks reportedly took more than 40 websites offline in 72 hours. This follows the group’s statement on 9 January that it had hacked hundreds of email addresses belonging to Serbian government officials.
- On 8 January, the pro-Kyiv self-described ‘vigilante’ group Ghost Security reported cyber attacks against the Russian Lars Accounting web interface, through which users can reportedly access ‘energy consumption data’. The group reportedly accessed, leaked and deleted data from 100 interfaces, ‘some of which were directly related to the front lines’ of the Ukraine conflict.
- On 7 January, the Serbian government announced that at least five separate DDoS attacks targeted the Ministry of Internal Affairs website and IT infrastructure in the last 48 hours. IT experts co-operated with Serbia Telecom personnel to repel the attacks. This follows a cyber attack on 5 January targeting the Serbian defence ministry website, claimed by Anonymous.
During this monitoring period, pro-Russia cyber attacks against Ukrainian targets remained limited. However, the discovery of a suspected long-term cyber espionage campaign carried out by Turla remains on-trend with indications that pro-Russia hacking groups have diversified their tactics. The UNC4210 operation’s use of old cyber infrastructure to profile victims and install additional malware highlights a potential future strategy for evading discovery. However, such operations will require greater technical resources and are therefore likely to be less common. Researchers at Mandiant commented that the operation likely represents Turla’s first campaign targeting Ukrainian organisations since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. More broadly, pro-Russia cyber operations targeting Ukrainian entities are likely to resume in the coming weeks; patterns of cyber activity are often linked to on-the-ground developments in the conflict. Ukrainian state-linked entities, mainly in the defence, security and energy sectors, will remain the principal targets of such operations, which will likely primarily comprise relatively low-level DDoS attacks. Meanwhile, pro-Russia hacking groups will continue to launch attacks targeting pro-Ukraine European governments. During this monitoring period, DDoS attacks claimed by NoName05716 against Polish and Danish private sector and government entities increased. Meanwhile, the announcement by Moldova’s cyber security regulator that government institutions and state services have faced a recent wave of phishing attacks aligns with trends in pro-Russia targeting patterns observed since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. Nevertheless, the relatively low-level attacks have not resulted in significant operational disruption. During this monitoring period, pro-Kyiv cyber campaigns remained broadly consistent with targeting patterns observed in previous weeks. The cyber attacks against Serbian government ministry websites and IT infrastructure closely follow threats made initially by Anonymous in a video addressed to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on 29 December 2022 In the past week, the pro-Kyiv hacktivist group has maintained its criticism of Belgrade’s close ties with Moscow and its failure to align with EU sanctions against Russia. In response to the large-scale DDoS attacks, Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has bolstered security protocols in an effort to protect data. These are likely to temporarily slow ministerial processes and result in occasional interruptions to ministerial web services in the coming days. Likely further DDoS attacks against Serbian government entities will sustain sporadic disruption to services in the coming weeks. There is a realistic possibility that pro-Kyiv cyber threat actors will expand their operations to target government-linked private sector companies in Serbia.
- MILITARY: According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russian forces are currently conducting offensive operations in three directions: towards Bakhmut, Avdiivka – five miles (8km) north of Donetsk city – and Lyman (referring to the Oskil-Kreminna line). Nevertheless, Russia’s principal efforts continue to focus on Bakhmut.
- BAKHMUT: Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces have continued with their assault on Soledar, where Wagner Group forces have likely gained control of most of the town. On 9 January, Ukrainian officials acknowledged recent Russian gains in Soledar, but reiterated that they are not yet in complete control of the settlement. Fighting over the past 24 hours has reached the centre of the town and is now pushing west. However, Ukrainian forces are still reportedly in control of the Artyomsol Salt Mine to the north-west. Notably, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on 9 January that the resilience of Ukrainian forces in Soledar has allowed Ukraine’s Armed Forces to ‘win time’. This likely reflects Kyiv’s intention to cede limited space in exchange for time, enabling Ukrainian forces to shore-up second-layer defences and prevent further Russian breakthroughs.
- BAKHMUT: Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed earlier on 10 January that both Soledar and Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut) are close to being fully taken by Russian forces. Russian sources also claimed on 9 January that their forces have taken the villages of Krasna Hora and Paraskoviivka, both located within 4 miles (6km) of Bakhmut. These claims remain unconfirmed. Although Ukrainian forces have been pushed towards the outskirts of Soledar, it is unclear whether Russian forces have broken through towards the much larger and more defensible Bakhmut to the south-west. Such a breakthrough remains unlikely at present. In its briefing earlier on 10 January, the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continue to repel attacks against Bakhmut. President Zelensky reiterated on 9 January that Ukrainian forces continue to hold out in the embattled urban centre.
- BAKHMUT: Numerous Russian sources have discussed the impending possibility of Russian forces using advances in Soledar to begin surrounding Bakhmut, though this remains unlikely in the short term. If the capture of Krasna Hora and Paraskoviivka is true, this will apply additional pressure on Bakhmut from the north. However, Ukrainian defensive positions continue to hold elsewhere across the Bakhmut line. For an encirclement to be achieved, Russian forces would need to reach the T-0504 and E-40 highways to the north and west of the town. Both roads are key ground lines of communications (GLOCs) for Ukrainian forces. They lie behind several layers of defensive lines, which will likely prevent any rapid Russian gains in the coming days.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: There have been few major developments along this front over the past 24-48 hours, with both sides continuing to launch limited attacks and counter-attacks west of Svatove and Kreminna without inflicting much change to the frontline.
- SOUTHERN: Numerous Russian sources reported on 9 January that large concentrations of Ukrainian forces are forming in western Donetsk oblast near Vuhledar, located around 30 miles (47km) to the south-west of Donetsk city. These Russian sources claim that the build-up is in preparation for renewed counter-offensives along the Zaporizhzhia frontline, as we previously assessed (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 9 January). However, there are few other developments to report across the southern axes, where both sides are primarily focusing on defensive operations along the Dnieper and Zaporizhzhia lines.
- MARITIME: The Admiral Gorshkov, a Russian frigate, is today conducting air defence exercises in the Norwegian Sea as part of its maiden operational deployment to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. The Gorshkov is one of the Russian Navy’s most modern and advanced vessels and is the first ship to carry Tsirkon hypersonic missiles. It is set to transit the English Channel in the coming days. NATO warships and maritime forces will continue monitoring and shadowing the vessel, but its deployment is unlikely to result in an escalation or to play a direct role in the war in Ukraine. See Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 5 January for further analysis.
- BELARUS: On 9 January, senior Pentagon officials stated that Washington DC currently does not assess that Belarus is preparing to enter the war in Ukraine, despite Russian deployments to the country. Aligning with our own assessment, the latest Pentagon briefing stated that current military activity in the country reflects ‘continued training’, rather than preparations for a renewed ground invasion of northern Ukraine. On 8 January, Belarusian sources reported that new Russian units made up of around 30 vehicles arrived at the Belarusian town of Baranovichi. This follows the deployment of between 700-800 additional Russian service personnel to Belarus on 7 January. We will continue to monitor military build-ups in Belarus. At present, Russian deployments are highly likely to represent training and load-sharing given the strain placed on Russian military logistics and training centres.
- NEGOTIATIONS: On 10 January, Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatiana Moskalkova, confirmed her intent to meet with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Lubinets, at a summit in Turkey on 12-14 January. Lubinets also confirmed his intent to attend the meeting. The occasion will mark an important milestone in both sides’ willingness to meet with one another amid existing low-level negotiations which continue to facilitate prisoner exchanges. Meetings between Ukrainian and Russian officials have so far been largely limited to humanitarian issues, which have achieved little beyond prisoner exchanges and the Black Sea Grain Initiative. There is currently little indication that either side is prepared to engage in more substantive negotiations towards peace. Nevertheless, this week’s meeting underlines that back channels remain open and that these channels continue to facilitate opportunities for modest co-operation. It remains to be seen whether the meeting will achieve anything of note.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
MOBILISATION: Reports continue to point to the growing likelihood that Moscow will announce a new wave of mobilisation in the coming days and weeks. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) revised its forecast this week for a possible announcement, which it now anticipates will come on 15 January. GUR spokesperson Vadym Skibitsky maintains that Ukrainian intelligence assesses that Moscow will mobilise a further 500,000 individuals. Earlier this week, Andrei Gurulev, the former Deputy Commander of the Russian Southern Military District and member of the Russian State Duma, called on the authorities to start actively preparing a ‘mobilisation reserve’, despite stating as recently as 4 January that there was no need for new waves of mobilisation in the next six months. The Kremlin has therefore possibly decided to proceed with a second round of mobilisation. In addition, the Ukrainian National Resistance Centre reported on 9 January that the Russian military is compiling lists of individuals from the occupied territories who can be mobilised ‘immediately’ upon graduation, namely those born between 2005-2006. As previously assessed, it remains likely that in the event of a mobilisation announcement, border security will be much tighter than during the highly chaotic partial mobilisation decree in September 2022. This will increase the risk of serious delays, as well as harassment and detainment by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). We will continue to monitor the situation, but for further analysis of the implications of an expansion to mobilisation, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 4 January.
- PEACE NEGOTIATIONS: As forecasted, President Vladimir Putin’s unilateral Orthodox Christmas ceasefire between 6-7 January did not result in any cessation of hostilities. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces continued combat operations at roughly the same tempo as before the declared ceasefire, following Kyiv’s rejection of the proposed truce (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 6 January).
- KRAMATORSK: On 8 January, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed that its forces had conducted a ‘retaliatory operation’ against Ukrainian positions in Kramatorsk in revenge for the lethal Makiivka strike on 31 December (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 3 January). Moscow claims the strike killed some 600 Ukrainian service personnel, but Kyiv has denied this and journalists reporting near Kramatorsk have claimed that the strike struck an empty school. The Russian MoD has frequently over-reported claimed successes and under-reported their casualties throughout the war, so the effectiveness of the strike remains unconfirmed. It is notable, however, that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov felt the need this morning, 9 January, to state that the Kremlin has ‘absolute trust’ in the MoD’s reports, likely reflecting widespread scepticism inside Russia as to the veracity of the claim. Nevertheless, the narrative of the strike fits established patterns of Russian retaliation for Ukrainian battlefield successes and is likely aimed at mollifying Russia’s pro-war hardliners which have heavily criticised the incompetence which resulted in the Makiivka attack.
- BAKHMUT: On 8 January, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Bakhmut and Soledar are holding out against all odds, though reports suggest Russian forces have achieved a limited breakthrough into Soledar. Despite Zelensky’s claims that the overall situation along the Bakhmut line had not changed significantly during the first week of 2023, it does appear that Russian forces have made progress around Soledar. Russian sources have claimed that their forces, primarily Wagner Group units, broke through into the centre of Soledar on the night of 5-6 January, and geolocated footage and other reporting in recent days appears to support this to an extent.
- BAKHMUT: Conflicting footage showing both Wagner and Ukrainian officers near the Artyomsol Salt Mine suggests Ukrainian forces are holding positions along the north-western edge of Soledar. However, the picture remains confused given conflicting reporting. Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty reported on 8 January that Russian forces are not in control of the town and that Russian reports that Ukrainian forces were withdrawing are false. The Ukrainian General Staff this morning, 9 January, also claimed that their forces have successfully repelled attacks against both Bakhmut and Soledar over the last 24 hours. In addition, Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officials this morning claimed that their forces had taken the village of Bakhmutske, a key settlement 6 miles (10km) northeast of Bakhmut and just south of Soledar, which if true would further consolidate Russian progress on the southern and eastern outskirts of Soledar. Given the confused picture on the ground, it remains to be seen if and when Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Soledar and establish new lines along the T-0513 highway, though Zelensky’s statement on 8 January suggests Kyiv is likely to continue holding the line for as long as possible.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: In contrast to the Bakhmut line, the overall pattern of activity remains on-trend, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces launching limited offensive operations around Kupiansk, Svatove and Kreminna. It is unlikely that any of the attacks launched over the weekend of 7-8 January resulted in shifts to the frontline. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Resistance Centre notably reported on 7 January that Russian forces have brought forward engineering and sapper units to Svatove, which they claim are reconnoitring an unnamed local reservoir (likely somewhere along the Krasna River) to potentially blow a dam to slow Ukrainian advances. Russian forces have attempted such operations in the past, most notably the failed attack on Pechenihy Reservoir along the Siverskyi Donets River in September 2022 during the Kharkiv counter-offensive (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 21 September 2022).
- SOUTHERN: On 8 January, Ukraine’s Operational Command South provided an update on the military situation on the Kinburn Spit, stating that it ‘remains difficult’. Spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk reported that Ukrainian military operations are ongoing, but that neither side fully controls the peninsula. Humeniuk confirmed that a 25-mile (40km) by 7-mile (12km) section of the peninsula remains the ‘demarcation line’ where fighting is ongoing. However, in a notable admission, she stated that the goal of the Ukrainian operation on the peninsula is now the ‘destruction of the enemy’ rather than taking territory. This could indicate that Ukrainian forces are struggling to consolidate a bridgehead from where to launch larger counter-offensives aimed at repelling Russian forces from Kinburn, which in turn would ease the pressure on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and limit Russian options for launching artillery and drone strikes.
- SOUTHERN: In a related development, the head of the Russian occupation movement ‘We Are With Russia’ Vladimir Rogov warned this morning, 9 January, that a sharp drop in the water level of the Dnieper River has increased the threat of Ukrainian attacks along its banks. The de facto spokesperson for the Russian occupation of southern Ukraine claimed that low water levels will provide favourable conditions for crossing the river when the water freezes. He further stated that while he does not anticipate the Ukrainians necessarily making such an attempt, Russian forces must be prepared for the possibility.
- ZAPORIZHZHIA: Rogov also drew attention to similar conditions along the Zaporizhzhia frontline, where similarly low water levels and freezing rivers could provide opportunities for Ukrainian counter-attacks. In line with this, UK Defence Intelligence (DI) reported on 8 January that Russian forces have strengthened their defensive fortifications across central Zaporizhzhia oblast, particularly around Vasilyvka and Orikhiv. As we have previously assessed, such preparations are likely in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive, but it remains to be seen whether an attempt to retake Melitopol and threaten the land corridor to Crimea will form part of the upcoming spring offensive announced by Kyiv last week (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 5 January). Nevertheless, the condition of Russian morale along the Zaporizhzhia front likely remains weak, with the Ukrainian General Staff reporting on 8 January that Russian national guard Rosgvardia forces shot six soldiers on 5 January after signalling their intention to surrender to Ukrainian forces near Chystopillia, 15 miles (24km) south-west of Orikhiv.
- AID: The German Economy Minister Robert Habeck stated on 8 January that transfers of German Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine ‘cannot be ruled out’. The statement days after the agreement to supply 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine by April, which we previously assessed would set conditions for the provision of NATO main battle tanks to Ukraine in the coming months (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 6 January). Momentum for such transfers continues to grow, with the Chairman of the Finnish Defence Committee Antii Hakkianan stating on 7 January that Helsinki is ready to provide their own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, under the condition that ‘Europe gives the green light’.
- ENERGY: On 8 January, Ukraine’s electricity operator Ukrenergo confirmed that power restrictions have once again been put in place nationwide amid a sharp increase in energy consumption. Deteriorating temperatures, which fell to around -7C over the weekend of 7-8 January, have driven demand and placed additional strain on the power grid. For further analysis of the likelihood of further waves of strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure, see the FORECAST below.
- BELARUS: Russia and Belarus will conduct joint air force exercises between 15 January and 1 February, and while they are likely to proceed without incident, we will continue to monitor for any triggers, warnings and indicators of escalation.
- MOBILISATION: On 7 January, exiled opposition politician Pavel Latushko stated that Belarus may soon introduce its own partial mobilisation, stating that preparations for such an order have largely been completed. Citing unnamed sources in Minsk, Latushkov reported that employees of Belarus’ internal affairs agencies have been forced to surrender their passports, which Latushkov claims would prevent their leaving Belarus in the event of mobilisation. Ukrainian intelligence has previously anticipated Moscow will announce a new wave of mobilisation this month, wherein a Belarusian mobilisation was also possible (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 4 January). While this has not yet happened, a further round of Russian mobilisation at least remains likely at some point in the coming weeks and months. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov took pains during a press conference this morning, 9 January, to downplay speculation following the dissemination of Telegram messages reporting further mobilisation efforts in recent days.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections and Ukrainian Victory Scenarios and Implications reports.
MUNITIONS: Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on 6 January updated Kyiv’s estimates of Russia’s remaining stocks of long-range precision missiles, reporting that Moscow has used around 81% of its strategic and 19% of its tactical missile stocks. This follows the previous update provided by Reznikov on 22 November 2022. Current stocks are estimated to include:
- 92 Iskandr 9M723 ballistic missiles (representing 11% of its pre-invasion stockpile)
- 52 Isakndr 9M728/9M739 ballistic missiles (44%)
- 53 Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ‘hypersonic’ (air-launched Iskandr ballistic) missiles (84%, notably up from 43 estimated in November)
- 59 sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles (9%)
- 326 3M-55 Onyx cruise missiles (69%)
- 6,672 S-300 air-defence missiles (83%)
- 118 Kh-101, Kh-555/55SM (16%)
- 162 Kh-22/32 cruise missiles (44%, notably up from 120 estimated in November)
Reznikov also reported that since February 2022, Russia has produced an additional: 290 Kh-101 and Kh-555/55SM missiles; 150 Kalibr; 36 Iskandr 9M723; 20 Iskandr 9M728/9M729; and 20 Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ‘hypersonic’ missiles. In addition, Reznikov reported that Russia has used 88% of Shaed-131 and -136 kamikaze drones, leaving an estimated 160 units until the next batch of drones arrives from Iran. Notably, the Ukrainian National Security Council secretary Oleksiy Danilov reported on 8 January that Russia is planning to begin domestic production of these Iranian drones inside Russia. If successfully implemented, this will boost drone stock numbers in the medium term, but Russia will remain reliant upon shipments from Iran to sustain kamikaze wave attacks over the coming weeks. Despite the high expenditure of high-precision missiles, Russian forces will likely be able to continue long-range strikes across Ukraine through the winter, though domestic production is likely still insufficient to allow Moscow to markedly increase the tempo of strikes. Following the higher tempo of strikes over the Christmas period, it is likely that the pattern will return to one large-scale wave of nationwide strikes every one to two weeks to ration stocks of strategic munitions.
Armenia: Anti-Russian protests against military base in Gyumri are unlikely to turn violent. On 8 January, the police detained dozens of Armenian nationalist activists for blocking the entrance to a Russian military base in Gyumri (Shirak province). The activists were protesting against the perceived inaction of Russia’s peacekeepers in the face of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor. The blockade has cut off Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia since 12 December 2022. The protesters are demanding for Russian peacekeepers to be replaced by an international force and have urged the Armenian government to leave the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). The protest reflects growing public anger at perceptions of Russian inaction amid rising tensions with Azerbaijan. Further peaceful protests against Russian-affiliated bodies in Armenia are likely in the coming weeks. However, these are unlikely to turn violent.
Azerbaijan: Revenue boosts from EU energy deal will encourage Eurasian divergence from Russia. According to the latest data from Azerbaijan’s State Customs Committee, revenues from oil and gas exports in the first 11 months of 2022 were 2.2 times higher than over the same period in 2021. The data show that Azerbaijan collected USD 33.6bn from oil and gas exports; this amounts to 92.6% of the country’s total revenues during that period, reaffirming its overwhelming dependence on energy exports. The boost comes after an energy deal was signed with the EU in July 2022 to reduce the latter’s reliance on Russian gas. According to the terms of the deal, Azerbaijan will increase exports to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor to 20 bn cubic meters annually by 2027. Western sanctions imposed on Russia are boosting other Eurasian states’ revenues, as they are quickly becoming alternative energy suppliers for Europe. However, growing demand for hydrocarbons will likely reduce the scope for economic diversification in the medium term. (Source: Sibylline)
13 Jan 23. Russia’s illegal and inhumane assault against Ukraine’s civilian population continues: UK statement to the OSCE. Ambassador Neil Bush condemns Russia’s continued attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine. Thank you Mr. Chair. My statement today will once again focus on Russia’s attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine. On Thursday 29 December, Russia subjected Ukraine to a massive bombardment, one of the largest seen since the invasion began and lasting five hours. Once again, in a repeat of a sickening pattern, Russia targeted civilians and energy infrastructure – killing three and wounding many more. A mere 36 hours later on the 31st December, as Ukrainians prepared to welcome in the New Year, Russia’s illegal and inhumane assault against Ukraine’s civilian population continued.
The last day of 2022 saw more loss of innocent Ukrainian lives, with dozens injured and homes, schools, a children’s hospital and a hotel damaged. According to Foreign Minister Kuleba, Russia did not even pretend to attack so-called legitimate targets; these strikes were aimed at civilian areas, seeking to pummel Ukraine’s population into submission as they celebrated the New Year. There is zero justification for this – none whatsoever.
There is an obvious path out of this senseless invasion. Ukraine has been clear that it seeks a diplomatic end to the war. An end that begins by stopping all Russian attacks against Ukrainian civilians and critical infrastructure, and the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine.
Mr Chair, Russia portrays itself as the party of peace and Ukraine as the aggressor. This is absurd. It was Russia that illegally annexed Crimea in 2014; it was Russia that fuelled war in the Donbas for the last 8 years; and it was Russia that swept aside the principles of the UN Charter and of this organisation, when Putin launched his full-scale invasion last February. Russia’s armed forces are killing and maiming the people of Ukraine – and deliberately trying to deprive them of heat, light and water in the depths of winter. President Putin’s declaration of a ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas was a transparently cynical ploy to prop up his reputation at home. Russia’s claims of being interested in peace would be laughable if its actions were not so horrific.
Russia’s destructive and illegal war aims in Ukraine have not changed as we move into 2023. Putin still seeks the complete subjugation of Ukraine; the erasure of Ukrainian history and culture; and the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratic government and institutions. However, the UK’s aims have not changed either. Our support for Ukraine – a free, sovereign and democratic Ukraine – remains steadfast as ever. Our admiration of the incredible courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people grows daily. Our belief in the principles of the UN Charter and of the OSCE remains unshakeable. In his first call of 2023 with President Zelenskyy, my Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK’s long-term support for Ukraine – throughout this year and beyond. We will not falter in the face of tyranny and aggression. We will not abandon our friends.
Russia is alone on the world stage, isolated and facing a bleak future as it pursues a failing war based on the irrational decisions of one man. President Putin’s New Year speech was grim and hostile. In contrast, President Zelenskyy’s message was filled with hope and unity. As the New Year was ushered in, addressing the people of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy declared, “We fight as one team – the whole country, all our regions”. The UK is proud to stand with and support that team. We are with the whole country, we are with all the regions and we will be with them when Ukraine’s victory is realised. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
16 Jan 23. Russia-Belarus begin joint military exercises, sparking fear in Kyiv of new offensive.
- Russia-Belarus conduct joint air drills Jan. 16-Feb. 1
- Minsk says drills defensive, Kyiv fears new offensive
- Russia used Belarus as springboard for Ukraine invasion
- At least 30 dead after Russian strike on apartment
- Dnipro mayor says little hope of finding more survivors
Russia and Belarus began joint military exercises on Monday, which have triggered fears in Kyiv and the West that Moscow could use its ally to launch a new ground offensive in Ukraine.
Russia used its neighbour Belarus as a springboard for its invasion of Ukraine last February.
The two allies will conduct air force drills from Jan. 16-Feb. 1 using all Belarus military airfields and began joint army exercises involving a “mechanised brigade subdivision” on Monday, the Belarusian defence ministry said.
Minsk says the air drills are defensive and it will not enter the war.
“We’re maintaining restraint and patience, keeping our gunpowder dry,” said Pavel Muraveyko, first deputy state secretary of Belarusian Security Council, according to a post on the Belarusian defence ministry’s Telegram app on Sunday.
Muraveyko said the situation on the country’s southern border with Ukraine was “not very calm” and that Ukraine has been “provoking” Belarus.
“We are ready for any provocative actions on the part of Ukraine,” he said.
Moscow denies that it has been pressuring Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to take a more active role in the conflict in Ukraine.
Ukraine has continuously warned of possible attacks from Belarus and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week that the country must be ready at its border with Belarus.
Belarus has conducted numerous military exercises since the invasion began, both on its own and jointly with Russia. Together with Moscow, Minsk has also been bolstering the drills with weaponry and military equipment.
Unofficial Telegram military monitoring channels have been reporting a series of fighters, helicopters and military transport planes coming to Belarus since the start of the year – eight fighters and four cargo planes on Sunday alone.
Reuters was not able to verify the reports. The Belarusian defence ministry said only that “units” of Russia’s air forces have been arriving in Belarus.
LITTLE HOPE OF MORE SURVIVORS
Ukraine saw little hope of pulling any more survivors from the rubble of an apartment block in the city of Dnipro on Sunday, a day after the building was hit during a major Russian missile attack, with dozens of people expected to have died.
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said on Monday that 35 people were confirmed dead so far and the fate of 35 more residents remained unknown.
“The search for people underneath the rubble continues,” Reznichenko said on the Telegram messaging app.
Ukraine’s Air Force said the apartment block was struck by a Russian Kh-22 missile, which is known to be inaccurate and that Ukraine lacks the air defences to shoot down. The Soviet-era missile was developed during the Cold War to destroy warships.
Moscow has been pounding Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with missiles and drones since October, causing sweeping blackouts and disruptions to central heating and running water.
In his nightly address after the Dnipro strike, Zelenskiy called on Western allies to supply more weapons to end “Russian terror” and attacks on civilian targets.
On Saturday, Britain followed France and Poland with promises of further weapons, saying it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks as well as other advanced artillery support in the coming weeks.
The first despatch of Western-made tanks to Ukraine is likely to be viewed by Moscow as escalation of the conflict. The Russian Embassy in London said the tanks would drag out the confrontation.
Russia’s invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has already killed thousands, displaced millions and turned many cities into rubble.
WAVES OF MISSILES
In Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region – the focal point of Russia’s drive to capture more territory – Ukraine’s forces were battling around the small salt-mining town of Soledar.
Russian forces claimed to have taken control of the town, but Ukraine insisted on Sunday that its forces were battling to hold the town, with street fighting raging and Russian forces advancing from various directions.
“Put simply, THE BATTLE CONTINUES,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on the Telegram messaging app. “Everything else is unverified information.”
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it was highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces still held positions within Soledar itself.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces morning report on Monday detailed another wave of more than 55 Russian missile and rocket attacks in the past 24 hours.
It said 25 settlements in the Bakhmut area, including the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut itself, were hit, along with various targets, including civilian infrastructure, in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson regions.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in the town.
12 Jan 23. US General Says U.S. Values Allies’ Assistance to Ukraine. The U.S. respects the sovereign decisions of NATO and other allied nations regarding their security assistance to Ukraine, the Pentagon press secretary said. “We’re absolutely supportive of any type of defense capabilities that our international allies and partners can provide to Ukraine to include tanks,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing today.
The U.S. has agreed to provide Ukraine with Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and there are discussions among NATO nations about delivering tanks, as well.
“Part of the equation that goes into that is the ability to train on this equipment, sustain it and maintain it. … We certainly are supportive of any type of capability that will give the Ukrainians an advantage on the battlefield,” he said, adding that these are discussions the Defense Department has on an ongoing basis with allies and will be included in next week’s meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group.
The U.S. has supplied Ukraine with a large share of much-needed security assistance.
But Ryder stressed that “we’re not going to do anything that’s going to prevent us from being able to meet our national security requirements. The Department of Defense is working very closely with industry to identify what our needs and our requirements are. And we’re confident that given the robust industrial base that we have, that we’ll be able to work through those challenges and make sure that we can replenish our stocks, in addition to working closely with our allies and partners around the world on the same problem set.”
Separately, Ryder said he’s seen press reports on discussions in South Korea to develop its own nuclear arms capability to counter North Korea.
That’s a decision South Korea will have to make, but U.S. policy is focused on complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Ryder said.
“I’m working, as always, with our , Japanese and other allies in the region to preserve security, stability and, importantly, to deter aggression from countries like North Korea. We have nearly 30,000 U.S. forces stationed in South Korea alone that are focused on supporting and defending our allies. So, our commitment towards this end remains ironclad,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
13 Jan 23. Ukraine says its forces hold out against Russia in battle for Soledar.
15 children among those trapped in Soledar’s ruins
- Russian mercenaries claim to have captured mining town
- Ukraine says it is holding out; Moscow has not claimed victory
Ukraine said its troops were holding out against pro-Moscow forces in the eastern salt mining town of Soledar as more than 500 civilians including children were trapped there.
In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday thanked two units in Soledar that he said “are holding their positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy.” He did not give more details.
Zelenskiy said he and senior Ukrainian commanders analysed the need for reinforcements in Soledar and nearby towns in the eastern industrial area known as the Donbas and next steps for the coming days.
Russia’s ultra-nationalist contract militia Wagner Group, run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, claimed to have taken Soledar after intense fighting that it said left the town strewn with Ukrainian dead.
Moscow however, has held off officially proclaiming a victory, which would be its first significant gain in six months.
“At the moment, there are still some small pockets of resistance in Soledar,” Andrei Bayevsky, a Russian-installed local politician, said in an online broadcast.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation.
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian state TV that 559 civilians remained in Soledar, including 15 children, and could not be evacuated from the community that had a pre-war population of about 10,000.
Drone footage obtained by Reuters of a medical evacuation from Soledar by Ukrainian soldiers showed deserted streets where just a few ruined buildings remained standing, amid blasted trees and smouldering rubble.
A 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier, positioned outside Soledar, said: “The situation is difficult but stable. We’re holding back the enemy … we’re fighting back.”
U.S. officials questioned the importance of a Russian victory in Soledar even if that were true.
Soledar lies less than 10 km (6 miles) northeast of the city of Bakhmut where fighting has raged for months in one of the war’s bloodiest battles – dubbed the “meat grinder”.
“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House, “and it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down.”
Oleksandr Kovalenko, an analyst at Ukraine’s Information Resistance Military-political group, said the battle for Soledar had eased the pressure on the more strategic town of Bakhmut.
“Soledar has already fulfilled its main role — drawing off
a large amount of Russian resources and destroying them.” he said on the nv.ua media website.
Kovalenko said Soledar’s cavernous salt mines could prove lucrative for Russia, if its forces succeeded in taking the town.
He said Ukrainian forces controlled the southwest and centre of Soledar, but warned that “maintaining that control comes at a cost of human lives”.
ALLEGED WAR CRIMES
Moscow’s February invasion of Ukraine, the biggest land war in Europe since World War Two, has resulted in more than 50,000 reports of alleged war crimes, said Ukraine’s top war crimes prosecutor Yuriy Belousov.
The reports of alleged torture by pro-Moscow forces include electric shocks to genitals and other parts of the body, beatings, various forms of suffocation and sexual violence.
Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to protect the security of Russia and denies committing war crimes or targeting civilians. Moscow in turn accuses Ukraine of war crimes and the West of ignoring them.
The United Nations in November said it had found evidence that both sides had tortured prisoners of war.
Kremlin-watchers were examining Russia’s latest switch of battlefield leadership, a day after Valery Gerasimov, chief of the military’s general staff, was unexpectedly given direct command of the invasion.
The previous commander of three months’ standing, Army General Sergei Surovikin, was effectively demoted to become one of Gerasimov’s three deputies.
Moscow explained the decision – at least the third abrupt change of top commander in the 11-month conflict – as a response to the campaign’s growing importance.
Across Ukraine, the front lines have barely budged since Russia’s last big retreat in the south two months ago. Kyiv hopes heavy armour from Western allies will allow it to resume advances.
Western countries have started to offer Kyiv advanced weaponry like the sophisticated U.S. Patriot missile system. The United States, Germany and France last week pledged armoured fighting vehicles and Ukraine’s latest requests have focused on battle tanks.
Polish President Andrzej Duda promised Ukraine 14 German-made Leopard battle tanks. Zelenskiy told Polish state-run broadcaster TVP Info that this could pave the way for other countries to do the same. Britain is considering sending tanks.
Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, saying Kyiv’s ties with the West threatened Russia’s security. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war to seize territory. (Source: Reuters)
13 Jan 23. Olaf Scholz is under growing international pressure to make a momentous decision: whether or not to give the green light for German battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine. Berlin’s western allies have been turning the screws on the German leader as Kyiv pleads for more weapons to consolidate its gains against Russia and recapture occupied territory as the war approaches its first anniversary. Public statements by leading German ministers in recent days suggest that the government’s position is shifting. But Scholz, who is the ultimate decision maker, has yet to indicate a change of heart. The German chancellor wields huge influence not only because of the military and political ramifications of a decision by Europe’s most populous nation and largest economy to dispatch its own tanks to Ukraine. He also has authority to approve or veto the re-export of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks that are used by 13 armies across Europe. Yet Scholz, known for his cautious style, has for months voiced hesitancy about supplying tanks even as the Green and liberal partners in his three-way coalition have grown bolder in their support for doing so. “Germany should . . . not stand in the way if other countries decide to support Ukraine, regardless of whatever decision Germany itself makes,” Green economy minister Robert Habeck said on Thursday. While Scholz last year promised a “sea change” in Germany’s defence and security policy in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his neighbour, that shift has appeared slow to Kyiv and its most vocal allies in Europe including Poland and the Baltic nations. “It’s always a similar pattern: First they say ‘no,’ then they fiercely defend their decision, only to say ‘yes’ in the end,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said this week. “We are still trying to understand why the German government is doing this to itself.” Senior figures in Scholz’s Social Democratic party (SPD) deny that the chancellor is too hesitant. “I don’t see it as dithering,” Michael Roth, head of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, told German radio on Friday. “He is proceeding cautiously, in a way that takes account of the fact that [German] society is split on this issue.”
There were, he said, “no clear majorities” in favour of sending tanks to Ukraine. The German leader has repeatedly voiced concern over his country being perceived as escalating the conflict and provoking Putin, who has hinted he could resort to nuclear weapons. Recent polls suggest a majority of Germans are opposed to supplying Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks. Scholz is not helped by the political baggage of his SPD, which has a long history of pacifism and a record of promoting closer ties with Russia. However, Rolf Mützenich, head of the party’s parliamentary group, said on Thursday that when it came to sending battle tanks to Ukraine, “there are no red lines”. The German leader’s position on sending weapons to Ukraine has shifted since the start of the war. Initially he refused to send any heavy arms at all, saying his country would not “go it alone”. But then Berlin began to deliver armoured vehicles, self-propelled howitzers and air defence systems. Last week he and Joe Biden, the US president, announced they would deliver infantry fighting vehicles: the US-made Bradley and German-made Marder. The move came a day after French president Emmanuel Macron said France would provide AMX-10 armoured vehicles — considered by some military analysts as “light tanks” — to Ukrainian forces. In an apparent attempt to up the pressure on Berlin, Britain announced this week that it was working on plans to send a small number of Challenger 2 tanks to Kyiv. Poland’s president Andrzej Duda also announced plans to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine’s army “as part of the building of an international coalition” — a step that would only be possible with German approval. A spokesman for Scholz said on Thursday that Berlin had not yet received a formal request to re-export German-made tanks. US officials remain more cautious.
While they have said that they are discussing the prospect of sending tanks to Ukraine, such a move does not seem imminent. Some view German-made Leopards as a better option for Kyiv because they are lighter and easier to maintain than American-made Abrams. Recommended War in Ukraine Ukrainian troops to travel to US for Patriot missile training Yet Scholz may only be able to act on tanks if he can do so in lock-step with the Americans. “He needs the cover of a nuclear power,” said Jana Puglierin, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “A European consortium might not be enough for him.” Scholz’s reluctance has both confounded and angered his critics. Roderich Kiesewetter, a member of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee from the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), accused the chancellor of surrounding himself with “Russia romantics” who “want to sacrifice Ukraine”. Kiesewetter welcomed the statements from Warsaw and London and called on Berlin to “finally rethink its position” on tanks, adding: “We’ve been far too cautious.” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the Free Democratic party (FDP) chair of the Bundestag’s defence committee and a prominent Russia hawk, suggested that the SPD leadership had misunderstood the meaning of pacifism. “If you see the aggression of Russia and you see how brutal the fighting against Ukraine is, it’s not un-pacifist if you try to protect yourself.” The “terrible” destruction inflicted by German tanks on the Soviet Union — which included Ukraine — in the second world war still cast a long shadow in her country, she said. But history, she argued, could be used to make a positive case for sending tanks. “You could . . . say that German tanks, German soldiers were a nightmare for the Ukrainian people in the second world war, and now this materiel is not a nightmare any more — it’s to help Ukraine.” (Source: FT.com)
13 Jan 23. Belarus may join Ukraine invasion if ‘invaded’, says Russia .
Chosen by us to get you up to speed at a glance
A Russian foreign ministry official has said that Belarus may enter the conflict in Ukraine if Kyiv decides to “invade” either country.
“From a legal point of view, the use of military force by the Kyiv regime or the invasion of the territory of Belarus or Russia by the armed forces of Ukraine are sufficient grounds for a collective response,” foreign ministry official Aleksey Polishchuk told the TASS news agency.
He added, however, that it was up to the leaders of the two countries whether they would make that decision.
It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his country must “be ready” at its border with Belarus, but that he so far only saw “powerful statements” coming from his neighbour. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
12 Jan 23. Why Putin’s command shake-up is doomed to fail. Putin’s generals cannot answer the key questions he faces – nor can they silence the critics of his stuttering invasion. Vladimir Putin’s decision to put Gen. Valery Gerasimov in overall command of Russia’s war on Ukraine – only three months after putting Gen. Sergei Surovikin in the same chair – is only the latest iteration of the Kremlin’s command-and-control structure. None of those changes, however, have made much difference to Russia’s military fortunes, and this one is unlikely to buck that trend.
For the first seven months of the war, there was no one in overall command of the campaign, perhaps because no one in Moscow expected the fighting to last long enough to need an overall commander.
The appointment in October of Surovikin – the man most notoriously responsible for the humanitarian disaster Russia helped unleash in Syria – was seen as a signal both that Moscow was imposing order, and that that order would be bloody.
Gerasimov, of course, is most closely associated in Western minds with the so-called ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’, which holds that modern wars are not only won on the battlefield and with kinetic weapons.
Some may thus fear that his appointment signals a turn towards cyber warfare and other ‘hybrid’ tactics, including attacks on Ukraine’s Western supporters.
In truth, these moves mean less than they might seem. Yes, Surovikin has pursued a concerted assault on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, in a cynical attempt to freeze Ukrainians into submission.
And yes, there is reason to worry that Russia’s hybrid and cyber weapons – which have been largely quiet – may be brought more aggressively to bear.
But Surovikin will remain second-in-command to Gerasimov, who, as chief of the general staff, was already Surovikin’s boss.
And the decisions about how to prosecute this war, and whom to target, rest with the one man to whom both Surovikin and Gerasimov answer: Vladimir Putin.
The questions Putin faces – how long to keep pounding Ukrainian civilians, whether to take the war more directly to the West, how many new Russian troops to call up, or whether to call it a day – are not questions that his generals can answer.
They cannot produce for him game-changing tactics or weapons systems capable of breaking Ukraine’s resilience, new experienced officers to run the front line, or a new army to throw into battle.
Nor can they silence the critics, including the mercenary CEO Evgeny Prigozhin and a cadre of nationalist media influencers, whose calls for accountability are climbing steadily up the military and political hierarchy.
“Every Russian general must receive at least one opportunity to fail in Ukraine,” Kyiv’s Ministry of Defence tweeted in response to Gerasimov’s appointment.
The problem for Putin, though, is that when he runs out of generals, those failures will rest with him. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
12 Jan 23. Lithuania and Poland to continue providing military aid for Ukraine. Lithuania will soon be delivering L70 short-range zenith guns and ammunition to Ukraine. Lithuania and Poland have confirmed that they will provide additional military assistance to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their battle against the Russian invasion.
The announcement comes as the Presidents of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine came together during the Second Summit of the Lublin Triangle in Lviv, Ukraine, on 11 January.
According to a statement released by the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the country will soon provide L70 short-range zenith guns and ammunition to Ukraine.
The Lithuanian State Defence Council has also claimed that the country will continue to provide military assistance packages to Ukraine, with support from its defence industry partners.
Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defence has also spared €40m from its budget to make financial contributions under international initiatives and foundations for arms procurement and for training Ukrainian soldiers.
The country has also assured that it will continue its efforts to replenish and repair the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ equipment.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said: “95% of Lithuanians are in favour of humanitarian aid and 70% of the population have donated money and material goods to Ukraine. In 2022, Lithuania granted €660m in aid to Ukraine, including €240m in military assistance. Lithuania will continue providing support until victory.”
Following the trilateral summit, Polish President Andrzej Duda confirmed the transfer of Leopard II main battle tanks to Ukraine during a press conference.
Duda said: “They will be provided within the coalition, because you know that it is necessary to obtain certain official consents. But first, we need to build an international coalition, and we have decided to form this international coalition.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy added: “We expect a joint decision. One state cannot help us with ‘Leopards’, because we are fighting against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation.”
12 Jan 23. Russia changes commander again in Ukraine as battle for Soledar rages.
- Wagner contract militia claims total control of Soledar
- Says area littered with corpses of Ukrainian soldiers
- Zelenskiy mocks claims, says battle for Soledar continuing
Moscow named a new commander for its invasion of Ukraine while Russian private military firm Wagner Group said its capture of the salt mining town Soledar in eastern Ukraine was complete, though the Ukrainian military said the battle was not over.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday appointed Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as overall commander for what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, now in its 11th month.
The change effectively demoted General Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed only in October to lead the invasion and oversaw heavy attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said his forces had captured all of Soledar and killed about 500 Ukrainian soldiers after heavy fighting.
“I want to confirm the complete liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar,” Prigozhin said in a statement.
“The whole city is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.
U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Wednesday he could not corroborate reports that Soledar was in Russian hands.
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian state TV that 559 civilians remain in Soledar, including 15 children, and it was impossible to evacuate them due to ongoing fighting. The town had a pre-war population of around 10,500.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation in Soledar.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy mocked previous Wagner claims to have seized part of Soledar but made no immediate comment on the latest assertions.
“The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that part of our town of Soledar … is some sort of a Russian possession,” Zelenskiy said in a video address. “But fighting continues.”
In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian military general staff said Russian forces were suffering heavy losses as they tried to take Soledar and sever Ukrainian supply lines.
In its Thursday morning roundup of reports from the frontlines, the Ukraine military command mentioned tanks and artillery in the Soledar area, but offered no other details.
Russia has struggled to cement control over the town, which would be Russia’s most substantial gain since August after a series of retreats before Ukrainian counter-offensives in the east and south.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the situation in Soledar was “approaching that of critical”.
“The Ukrainian armed forces are holding their positions. About one half of the town is under our control. Fierce fighting is going on near the town centre,” he said on YouTube.
However, Zhdanov told Ukrainian television that if Russian forces seized Soledar or nearby Bakhmut it would be more a political victory than military.
“There is more politics than war here,” said Zhdanov.
“The Russians, if they take one of these towns, will try to put the event on par with capturing Berlin and they will use it for propaganda purposes as much for the outside market as for domestic consumption,” he said.
“Inside Russia, it will give them the opportunity to lift the spirits of conscripts and society as a whole. To unite them all…”
Ukraine’s military command said Thursday that Russia was recruiting former soldiers and law enforcement officers to join paramilitary units in Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
RUSSIAN MILITARY ‘FALL GUY’
A Russian Defence Ministry statement said its latest command reshuffle was meant to improve contacts between military branches and the effectiveness of the command structure.
One prominent military blogger who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar said Surovikin was being made the fall guy for recent Russian military debacles. Those included a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers over New Year’s.
Surovikin was ordered to head the campaign after Ukrainian offensives turned the tide of the war and drew attention to poor training, equipment and morale among Russian forces.
If pro-Russian forces succeed in taking Soledar, it would be a stepping stone in Moscow’s thrust to capture Ukraine’s eastern Donbas industrial region. The town would be a base to attack the nearby city of Bakhmut, a supply line hub in eastern Ukraine, where defenders have held out for months.
Before Wagner’s latest statement, the Kremlin stopped short of claiming victory and acknowledged heavy casualties.
“Let’s not rush, let’s wait for official statements. There is a positive dynamic in progress,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
A Reuters photographer who reached the outskirts of Soledar in recent days said many residents had fled the town in perishing cold. Smoke could be seen rising over the town and the incoming artillery fire was relentless, she said.
Earlier, Russian state news agency RIA said Wagner had taken over Soledar’s salt mines and a photograph on the militia’s Telegram channel appeared to show Prigozhin and his fighters inside a mine.
Wagner separately said its forces found the body of one of two British voluntary aid workers reported missing in eastern Ukraine. It did not give the name of the dead man. A photo appeared to show passports bearing the names of Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry, the two missing workers.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying Kyiv’s close ties with the West and ambitions to join NATO threatened its security. Kyiv and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to seize territory in a neighbour it once dominated within the former Soviet Union. (Source: Reuters)
11 Jan 23. Ukraine stages war games near Belarus amid fears of Russian assault. The crackle of gunfire and roar of armoured vehicles reverberated around sleepy west Ukrainian towns near the Belarusian border on Wednesday as Kyiv’s forces trained for the threat of a fresh assault across a new front in the north.
Ukraine fears Russia could build up forces on the territory of its ally Belarus before striking in the northwest or even try to drive towards Kyiv as it did when it invaded last February.
By reopening a northern front, Russia would stretch Kyiv’s forces, which have been focused for months on battles raging in the east and south, forcing it to divert troops to the north.
Colonel Roman Voloschuk of the 104th Territorial Defence brigade sought to project strength on the sidelines of military drills in three secret locations in Ukraine’s northwest.
“They can try, but we’re ready for them. We’ve prepared, every turn and every junction has been dug up. There will be colossal resistance from every building,” he told Reuters.
Soldiers from his territorial defence unit, one of hundreds of militias raised shortly before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, said they were well prepared to face down any new threat.
“They will get their comeuppance… we are waiting for them,” said Artur Horodniuk, a 28-year-old machine gunner.
Anticipating what kind of attack Ukraine may face, Kyiv’s troops on Wednesday practised urban warfare, firing assault rifles, driving armoured vehicles and freeing hostages.
In another exercise in the snowbound countryside, troops practised ambushing and destroying reconnaissance groups, a feature of the first Russian assault from Belarus that Moscow abandoned early last April.
Voloschuk said the mild winter so far would help defence efforts as it had left river levels higher than usual and many of his soldiers were battle-hardened from last year’s fighting.
Despite bringing colossal pressure onto the eastern town of Soledar in recent days, Russian forces have appeared on the back foot on the battlefield for months and a sudden assault from Belarus would mark an astonishing change of dynamic.
Konrad Muzyka, head of defence analysis firm Rochan Consulting, said a slow buildup of Russian forces could be observed in Belarus, but it was much smaller than the force which piled into northern Ukraine last February.
Nevertheless, a Russian offensive was possible and a push into west Ukraine could jeopardise supply lines of weapons from Europe, he added.
Serhiy Nayev, commander of Ukraine’s Joint Forces, said Ukraine had enough troops to defend the current threat and would match any increases on the other side of the border if needed.
“At present, the balance of forces and equipment between our side and the enemy is not in favour of the enemy,” he said.
Local Ukrainian commanders said there were 15,000 Russian troops in Belarus — too few to launch a major offensive.
There has been a slew of military activity for months in Belarus, ranging from joint exercises to the establishment of a joint regional Belarusian-Russian military force.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in December in a rare trip to Minsk, prompting speculation it preceded an attack on Ukraine, possibly with the direct involvement of the Belarusian army, even though Minsk has said it will not enter the war.
Muzyka put the chances of Belarus joining on Russia’s side at 50-50, noting the intensity of the military training exercises there was the highest since the Cold War. Belarus could send 100,000 – 200,000 conscripts to the war, but its dated equipment would not provide new capabilities, he added.
Despite talking up the danger in comments last month, Ukrainian general Nayev now downplayed the threat of a new offensive from across the border. “We do not see an increase in the presence of Russian troops on Belarusian territory,” he said, but he added anything was possible in future. (Source: Reuters)
11 Jan 23. Russia appoints top soldier Gerasimov to oversee Ukraine campaign.
- Gerasimov to oversee military campaign in Ukraine
- Latest reshuffle follows more battlefield setbacks
- Gerasimov has been target of Russian pro-war critics
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu appointed Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov on Wednesday to oversee the military campaign in Ukraine, in the latest shake-up of Moscow’s military leadership.
Gerasimov, like Shoigu, has faced sharp criticism from Russia’s hawkish military bloggers for multiple setbacks on the battlefield and Moscow’s failure to secure victory in a campaign the Kremlin had expected to take just a short time.
In a statement, the defence ministry said Shoigu had appointed Gerasimov as commander of the combined forces group for the “special military operation” in Ukraine. It is the most senior position among Russia’s battlefield generals.
Only last October, Russia had put Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media for his reputed ruthlessness, in overall charge of Ukraine operations following a series of counter-offensives by Ukrainian forces that turned the tide of the conflict.
Surovikin will now stay on as a deputy of Gerasimov, the defence ministry said.
The changes are designed to increase the effectiveness of military operations in Ukraine, it said, more than 10 months into a campaign in which tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides as well as Ukrainian civilians have been killed.
“The increase in the level of leadership of the special military operation is connected with the expansion in the scale of tasks … the need to organise closer contact between different branches of the armed forces and improve the quality … and effectiveness of the management of Russian forces,” the ministry statement said.
Russian pro-war commentators were not impressed.
“The sum does not change, just by changing the places of its parts,” wrote one prominent military blogger who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar.
He said Surovikin, a veteran of Russian campaigns in Chechnya and Syria, was being made the fall guy for a series of recent Russian military failures, including a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks in the town of Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers, including conscripts, at New Year.
Military analyst Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said on Twitter that Gerasimov’s appointment reasserted the defence ministry’s position in the conduct of the war.
“I don’t think this is because Surovikin is viewed as a failure. (It is) certainly possible that this was driven by political reasons. As the unified commander in Ukraine, Surovikin was becoming very powerful and was likely bypassing Shoigu/Gerasimov when talking to Putin,” Lee said.
Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov noted on Telegram that the move followed the transfer of another top general, Alexander Lapin, to the role of land forces chief on Tuesday.
“All this moving of the same individuals from one chair to another, at the height of military hostilities, may say whatever you like but not that ‘everything is going according to plan'”, Gallyamov said.
Russian and Ukrainian forces were engaged in intense fighting on Wednesday over the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, a stepping stone in Moscow’s push to capture the entire Donbas region. The Russians appeared to have the upper hand. (Source: Reuters)
11 Jan 23. Russia’s top military officer takes reins of Ukraine campaign. Russia’s defence ministry appointed the country’s highest ranking military officer, Valery Gerasimov, as the new leader of its forces in Ukraine, replacing Sergey Surovikin after just four months in the job.
Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the general staff and the country’s deputy defence minister, will take over as leader of the Joint Forces Group in the zone of the “special military operation”, the official name Moscow gives to its invasion of Ukraine, which has entered its 11th month.
The defence ministry said in a statement this constituted a “raising of the status of the leadership” of the military force in Ukraine.
It is “associated with the expansion of the scale of tasks to be accomplished in the course of the operation, the need to organise closer co-operation between branches and services of the Armed Forces, and the increase in the quality of all types of support and the effectiveness of troop (force) grouping management,” the ministry said.
Surovikin, known for leading Russian battlefield operations in Syria, was appointed to the job in early October. He will now be Gerasimov’s deputy, the ministry said.
Ground forces commander Oleg Salyukov and Alexei Kim, the current deputy chief of the general staff, have also been appointed Gerasimov’s deputies. (Source: FT.com)
10 Jan 23. Canada to buy U.S.-built surface-to-air missiles for Ukraine. Canada will buy a U.S.-made National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) for Ukraine, a statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said after a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Mexico City on Tuesday. Trudeau and Biden are being hosted by Mexico for a North American leaders’ meeting and Trudeau told Biden about the purchase during separate discussions the two had on supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“This is the first Canadian donation of an air defense system to Ukraine,” Defense Minister Anita Anand said on Twitter after the announcement.
Air defense systems are Ukraine’s top priority, she said her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, told her in a phone conversation held earlier on Tuesday. The NASAMS is a short- to medium-range ground-based air defense system that protects against drone, missile, and aircraft attack, Anand said. The donation has a value of about C$406m ($302.6m), and is in addition to the C$500m Canada promised to Ukraine in November, according to a defense ministry statement. Since February, Canada has committed more than C$1bn in military assistance to Ukraine.
Trudeau and Biden also “discussed their shared commitment to the defense of North America, including Canada’s acquisition of F-35 fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force,” according to the statement from the prime minister’s office. Canada finalized a deal to buy 88 F-35 fighter jets from U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin Corp on Monday in a C$19bn project to replace its aging fleet of fighter aircraft. ($1 = 1.3419 Canadian dollars) (Source: Reuters)
10 Jan 23. Amid Ukraine war, Putin’s top brass promise a stronger military.
- Military must learn from Ukraine, Syria experiences – Shoigu
- Says Russia to continue developing its nuclear forces
- Aerospace technology also cited as key priority
- Shoigu facing nationalist criticism over setbacks in Ukraine
President Vladimir Putin’s defence minister vowed on Tuesday to build a deeper arsenal of weapons, bolster aviation technology to better evade air defences and improve drone production after a series of battlefield humiliations in Ukraine.
Since Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, the once mighty army of a former superpower has been repeatedly outwitted and outmaneuvered by the smaller Ukrainian army, which is supported by the United States and its European allies.
The conflict has turned into a grinding war of attrition that has killed and wounded tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides as well as Ukrainian civilians, though there is no end in sight and both sides are re-arming as fast as they can.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told top generals that to renew the army they would have to take account of the experience of fighting in the Syrian civil war – where Russia intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad – and in Ukraine.
“We need to constantly analyse and systematise the experience of our groups’ actions in Ukraine and Syria, and on that basis to draw up training programmes for personnel and plans for the supply of military equipment,” Shoigu said.
Putin, after meeting the mothers of dead soldiers, ordered Shoigu on Jan. 2 to prepare a report on how military units are supplied, with details about weapons and equipment as well as proposals on how to improve the defence ministry’s work.
Shoigu said Russia would continue to develop its nuclear triad of ballistic missiles, submarines and strategic bombers because such weapons were “the main guarantee of its sovereignty”.
On conventional weapons, Shoigu gave a remarkably frank analysis of where Russia needed to improve.
Nationalist critics of Shoigu have repeatedly asked why Russia failed to establish air superiority in Ukraine, why top generals made such grave tactical mistakes and why Russian soldiers were sent into battle without the right equipment, intelligence or even medical kits.
Shoigu said Russia would pay particular attention to the air force, build up its overall strike capabilities and improve command, communication and training.
Russia will “increase the combat capabilities of the aerospace forces – both in terms of the work of fighters and bombers in areas where modern air defence systems are in operation, and in terms of improving unmanned aerial vehicles”.
“Our immediate plans are to expand the arsenals of modern strike weapons,” he said. “We need to improve the management and communication system.”
Shoigu also said the military commissariats, which are responsible for drafting soldiers, needed to be modernised.
After Putin ordered on Sept. 21 what he cast as a “partial mobilisation”, Russia’s first since World War Two, around 300,000 additional men were drafted, though several hundred thousand more Russian men fled abroad to avoid being called up.
“It is necessary to digitalise databases, establish interaction with local and regional authorities, as well as industry,” Shoigu said of the commissariats. (Source: Google/Reuters)
10 Jan 23. The war in Ukraine is costing Russia more than it generated from record oil and gas revenues, with the country’s budget gap widening significantly in 2022. The public deficit for last year was Rbs3.35tn ($48bn) or 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product, according to finance minister Anton Siluanov. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Moscow had predicted a budget surplus of 1 per cent and in December it forecast a deficit of 2 per cent. This official admission of worsening public finances comes despite record oil and gas revenues as a result of persistently high energy prices and Moscow’s ability to redirect its oil exports to Asia. In 2022, revenues grew 10 per cent year on year but overall spending skyrocketed 26 per cent. Budget spending details for 2022 are not available publicly as the finance ministry classified them in June because of “the US, the EU and other unfriendly countries’ pressure on Russia”. Renaissance Capital economist Sofya Donets said: “We do not understand the costs’ distribution, but we can assume that they largely went to the military financing. In September, planned spending increased by Rbs2tn [$28.7bn] compared with summer estimates.
And then in December, it increased by the same number again.” Moscow covered the deficit by redirecting money from Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, state borrowing and a one-time windfall tax on Gazprom, the state gas monopoly. “We have fulfilled all our planned tasks despite the geopolitical situation, restrictions and sanctions,” Siluanov said at a government meeting on Thursday. “We have increased the spending . . . and this money was primarily used to support people.” Siluanov mentioned increased pensions and a prolonged subsidised mortgage programme but did not discuss the war. “We have also decided to finance some of the 2023 expenses in 2022 in order to sustain a stable budgeting process.” The minister also said that a 2.3 per cent deficit estimate includes transfers to social security and other non-budget funds, which did not receive some payments because of respite granted to businesses by president Vladimir Putin. Russia’s conservative fiscal policies have helped to stabilise its fiscal position. But western sanctions that come into full effect this year will put more strain on the country’s budget financing. The Urals, Russia’s flagship crude blend, is trading below $40, significantly lower than the $70 set up in its budget law for 2023. (Source: FT.com)
10 Jan 23. Ukrainian Troops Headed to U.S. for Patriot Missile Training. Weeks after announcing that the U.S. would send one Patriot air defense battery and associated munitions to Ukraine, a Pentagon official said Ukrainian soldiers will come to the U.S. to train on the Patriot system so they’ll be ready to use it when it’s delivered.
“Training for Ukrainian forces on the Patriot air defense system will begin as soon as next week at Fort Sill, Oklahoma,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said today. “The training will prepare approximately 90 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to operate, maintain and sustain the defensive system over a training course expected to last several months.”
In the past few months, the Russians have increased their aerial bombardment of Ukraine, Ryder said, and the Patriot will help the Ukrainians stand up to that assault.
“The Patriot will contribute to the air defense capabilities that Ukraine already has,” he said. “It’s something that will enable them to take down … ballistic missiles, adversary aircraft; really up to them on how they employ it. But this is part of a broader effort by the United States and the international community to provide Ukraine with the air defense capabilities that it needs to defend its population and its armed forces.”
Fort Sill is home to the schoolhouse where the Army trains its soldiers and service members from allied and partner nations on using the Patriot system. Now, Ukrainian soldiers will train there, as well.
Ryder said training for those Ukrainian soldiers will include classroom work, hands-on training with the Patriot systems, as well as a simulation lab. It will also focus on what the Ukrainians will need once they are back home.
“The training will be tailored to provide relevant tactics, techniques and procedures based on the battlefield conditions in Ukraine to enable them to employ that to maximum effect once they are back in Ukraine,” Ryder said.
Since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $24.2 bn in security assistance. That assistance has included ammunition, vehicles, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems, small arms, artillery, air defense systems, anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems.
Next week, Ryder said, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley will travel to Germany to host another meeting of the Ukraine contact group of international defense chiefs. Ryder said the group has helped identify, synchronize and ensure delivery of the capabilities the Ukrainians have needed to defend against Russian aggression.
“The secretary looks forward to meeting with defense leaders from the approximately 50 nations this important group dedicated to Ukraine self-defense,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
09 Jan 23. UK willing to send battle tanks to Ukraine as British aid workers go missing. Rishi Sunak supportive of Challenger II supply that could provide Volodymr Zelensky with a ‘knockout punch.’
Britain is considering becoming the first country to send Western tanks to Ukraine in what would be a major stepping up of international support.
Defence sources said the UK could supply Volodymr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, with Challenger II – the British Army’s main battle tank – to encourage other Western allies to follow suit and stop the war.
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is understood to be supportive of efforts to send British tanks to Ukraine and spoke to Mr Zelensky last week.
The move would bust the taboo that has prevented Western allies from sending modern tanks for fear of escalating the conflict with Russia since Ukraine was invaded in February last year.
Challenger II tanks would “provide the punch needed to knock the Russians out of Ukraine”, one former senior officer said.
It came as news broke that two British aid workers have gone missing in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region amid some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28, disappeared last week while helping to evacuate citizens near Soledar, close to the frontline city of Bakhmut.
Russians were “literally walking on the corpses of their own soldiers” in Soledar where Ukrainians “courageously defend every metre of their native land”, said Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, on Monday.
Mr Zelensky has spent months begging for Western-made tanks, air defence systems and fighter jets to press home Ukraine’s hard-won advantages in the battle for its survival.
The Ukrainian leader said he and Mr Sunak had made “concrete decisions” to “intensify our efforts to bring victory closer this year” after the call between the two leaders. A squadron of 12 Challenger II tanks could be sent from the Army’s stock of almost 200.
Challenger II’s Chobham and Dorchester armour – the exact composition of which is graded secret – will enable the vehicles to survive direct hits from Russian T-72s, which would be outmatched by the superior British tank.
A defence source told The Telegraph that no final decision over increased British support had yet been taken, but that discussions on the issue have been going on “for weeks”.
France, Germany and the US have all promised in recent days to send Kyiv powerful armoured vehicles, but the Challenger II would be the first Western, rather than Soviet, main battle tanks sent.
Britain faced criticism for falling behind its allies last week after Paris and Berlin promised lighter, wheeled combat vehicles.
‘A good precedent’
Last Friday, the US pledged a further $3bn in military aid for Ukraine, which included 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. On the same day, Berlin promised to send 40 Marder vehicles, marking a significant upgrade in firepower for Kyiv’s troops.
The Marder and Bradley vehicles lack the firepower and protection of main battle tanks, but the move was seen as a watershed moment. Earlier in the week, France said it would send Ukraine an unspecified number of AMX-10 armoured combat vehicles.
German-made Leopard II tanks, in service with several Nato allies, including Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain and soon-to-join Finland have been high on Kyiv’s wish list for months.
Poland and Finland are thought to be happy to supply their Leopard II tanks to Ukraine, but require the approval of Germany, the holder of the export licence.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has been reluctant to provide permission while other countries are unwilling to supply heavy armour, in case the move is seen as too confrontational. It is hoped that if Britain sends Challengers, Berlin could be convinced to do the same.
“It will be a good precedent to demonstrate [to] others – to Germany first of all, with their Leopards … and Abrams from the United States,” a Ukrainian source told Sky News.
Robert Habeck, the German economy minister, said on Monday that the country had no plans to send Kyiv its Leopard II tanks, but that it could not be ruled out in the future.
Last week James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain was open to sending Ukraine tanks and “will continue to evolve our support” as Kyiv readies “the next phase of their self-defence”.
The remarks were a shift in the Government’s position, with Number 10 previously being in lockstep with other Nato allies in being reluctant to supply heavy armoured vehicles. Any pledge by the UK could be made at the next meeting of the US-led Ramstein Contact Group of international supporters of Ukraine, due next week.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer in the Royal Tank Regiment, said: “Tanks are best used for ‘shock action’, where their firepower and movement can dislocate and rout an enemy.
“I suspect that the very impressive Ukrainian army will show the Russians a thing or two about tank warfare if we give them modern Western tanks. Combined with the armoured fighting vehicles the US and the French have already offered, this force could provide the punch needed to knock the Russians out of Ukraine.”
The Kremlin has said supplying Ukraine with armoured vehicles would “prolong the suffering” of the Ukrainian people and “not change anything”.
Meanwhile, Nato and the EU are seeking to ramp up cooperation in response to Russia’s invasion, a joint declaration seen by AFP on Monday said.
The two Brussels-based organisations have been looking to improve coordination for years, despite fears in some quarters that efforts to bolster the EU’s role in defence could undermine the US-led alliance.
“As the security threats and challenges we are confronted with are evolving in scope and magnitude, we will take our partnership to the next level,” said the statement, expected to be released by top Nato and EU officials on Tuesday.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “supporting the families of two British men who have gone missing in Ukraine”. The two volunteers were last seen on Jan 6.
Ukrainian police said they had received reports that the men, who are “citizens of Great Britain”, had disappeared at around 5.15pm local time on Monday. The two are believed to have been helping civilians evacuate while under fire from Russian forces.
Mr Bagshaw’s parents said their son had travelled to Ukraine to “assist the people, believing it to be the morally right thing to do”.
09 Jan 23. Italy’s Ukraine arms supply decision delayed until February – paper. Italy will not take a decision on the supply of new arms to Ukraine until February due to political tensions, cost considerations and military shortages, newspaper la Repubblica reported on Monday.
Two weeks ago Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Rome was considering supplying air defences after a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in which she reaffirmed her government’s “full support” for Ukraine. Shortly afterwards, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto struck a cautious tone on whether Italy would be able to supply Ukraine with air defence systems. Citing unspecified sources, la Repubblica reported that Meloni, who is a firm supporter of Kyiv, is facing resistance on the approval of a decree to send arms to Ukraine from her right-wing allies Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.
Both politicians have longstanding ties with Moscow.
But sources from their respective political parties – Salvini’s League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – on Monday denied having any problems with the decree.
Another issue holding back the decision is concern about depriving the Italian army of air defence systems, la Repubblica wrote, as two of its five missile batteries are already committed to Kuwait and Slovakia.
The third concern, according to the daily, is the cost of the arms that are supposed to be sent to Kyiv.
Zelenskiy is pressing Ukraine’s Western allies to step up military aid to help counter Russian missile and drone strikes on civilian infrastructure.
Under former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Italy sent five aid packages to Kyiv including military supplies, and Meloni’s government, installed in October, has been working for weeks on a possible sixth delivery.
Crosetto and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani’s press offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Source: Reuters)
08 Jan 23. Olaf Scholz under pressure to release Leopard II tanks to Ukraine after Poland and Finland pledge. Pressure is building on Germany to release Leopard II tanks to Ukraine after Finland and Poland pledged to send Europe’s most fearsome tank to fight the Russian army.
Germany manufactures Leopard II tanks and also holds the export licence for them, meaning Berlin must approve any shipment of the tanks to Ukraine or elsewhere.
After both the Finnish and Polish governments signalled their desire to send Leopard II vehicles to Ukraine, Lars Klingbeil, a German MP and part of the ruling coalition, said the government wouldn’t be bounced into a deal and that no countries “were yet delivering heavy battle tanks” to Ukraine.
Guy Verhofstadt, a high-profile MEP and a former Belgian prime minister, said that pressure was building on Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, to approve a deal.
“There is nowhere for the German Government to hide. Mr Scholz must act to authorise Leopard tanks to Ukraine, as the European Parliament has requested,” he said.
The Leopard II tank is one of the most feared tanks in the world because of its high mobility and armour. Analysts have said that it would give Ukraine an edge in battles as it outclasses Russia’s T-72 tanks and is close to being the world’s “gold standard” tank.
Earlier this week, France and Germany pledged to send fighting infantry vehicles to Ukraine as well as a Patriot air defence system but analysts have said Ukraine requires the Leopard II tanks to defeat Russia.
Earlier this week, Volodymyr Zelensky pressed for Western tanks to be handed over to Ukraine.
“There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with western-type tanks,” said the Ukrainian president.
Mr Scholz has previously allowed Leopard II tanks to be given to countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic to replace Soviet-era T-72 tanks they gave to Ukraine earlier in the war.
But Slawomir Debski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that European governments effectively now had to wait for permission from Mr Scholz before they could supply Ukraine with Leopard II tanks.
“Germany has to green light it and that would mean that they cannot stand by while other allies supply Ukraine with German tanks,” he said. “That’s the reason why Scholz has been blocking the idea so far.”
The Leopard range of tanks was first developed in the 1970s in Germany by the Munich-based manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and is now widely used by European armies, although not by the British Army,
It was specially designed to combat Russia’s T-72 tanks on the wide open plains of eastern Europe and it quickly gained a reputation for being both tough and destructive. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
09 Jan 23. Fighting Remains Tough in Ukraine. While the battle lines between the Russian invaders and Ukrainian defenders have not shifted much, fighting in the Donbas region has been savage, a senior military official said today.
The fighting around the Bakhmut sector in the Donetsk region has obliterated the area with tens of thousands of artillery rounds impacting throughout the area.
The Russians are pushing against the Ukrainian military trying to push them back from that region. News reports from the region show many civilians fleeing the area.
The region is one place in Ukraine where Russia is pushing. “What I would say is that in terms of how the battlefield looks, not significant adjustments to the battlefield, quite honestly, over the last couple of weeks,” the military official said.
There are three Russian, Kalibr cruise missile-capable ships in the Black Sea, and the airspace over Ukraine remains contested.
The official said Ukrainians have done wonders in amalgamating various air defense capabilities from many different countries to build an integrated air defense system. Officials noted last week that the system shot down every unmanned aerial vehicle that aimed to attack Kyiv.
The official also talked of the momentum behind international donor nations. The United States will provide Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine. Germany and France are also providing armored vehicles, and the Netherlands and the U. S. are refurbishing T-72 tanks.
In addition, the U.S. and other partner nations will train Ukrainian units in combined arms operations. “What it really does is it demonstrates this continued commitment by NATO,” the official said, adding that the actions are proof that the commitment to help Ukraine has not wavered.
“That equipment is one thing, using the equipment is another,” he said. “So, you’ve seen, you’ve seen again many of our allies, but, you know, step forward to offer some additional collective training as it relates to the use of that equipment. This gives Ukrainians an opportunity to continue to work on what they’ve been doing over the past 10 years — adjusting the way they fight to a more of a combined arms effort.”
(Source: US DoD)
09 Jan 23. Russia has “almost certainly used” its Su-57 Felon new-generation fighter in its war against Ukraine, according to an assessment from the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD). While the assertion is not backed up by any irrefutable publicly available evidence, it’s not the first time that it’s been claimed that Russia’s most advanced fighter jet has been playing some kind of a role in the war.
In its latest Defense Intelligence update today, the U.K. MOD focuses exclusively on the Su-57 as part of its regular situation report on the war in Ukraine.
The sources upon which the U.K. MOD’s evaluation is based are not disclosed, but the ministry states that the Su-57 has very likely been employed in combat “since at least June 2022.” Interestingly, unconfirmed claims of the Felon being used in the conflict have actually been surfacing since before that date, most notably in a report from Russia’s state-run TASS news agency last May. Citing an unnamed “defense industry source,” the Tass report claimed that “the use of Su-57 aircraft in Ukraine began two to three weeks after the start of the special operation” — as the invasion of Ukraine is described by the Kremlin.
“These missions have likely been limited to flying over Russian territory, launching long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine,” today’s U.K. MOD assessment continues. This would go a long way to explaining why there is currently no open-source confirmation of Su-57s operating over Ukraine itself. It would also fit in with the kind of missions that have been flown by other Russian fighters with long-range armament, namely the Su-35S Flanker and the MiG-31BM Foxhound, which you can read more about here.
On its Twitter channel, the U.K. MOD also provides an example of a “commercially available” satellite image, dated December 25, showing five Felons at the Russian airbase at Akhtubinsk, near Astrakhan, in southern Russia. The accompanying information notes that the base is home to the 929th Flight Test Center and that “this is the only known Felon base,” meaning that “these aircraft have likely been involved in operations against Ukraine.” (Source: News Now/https://www.thedrive.com/)
09 Jan 23. UK weighs supplying Ukraine with Challenger 2 tanks. Deal would be first time a western country has provided Kyiv with modern heavy battle tanks. Britain is assessing the merits of supplying Ukraine with tanks to help the country’s armed forces fight Russia’s invasion, according to two defence sources familiar with the situation. If a deal is done to supply Ukraine with the British Army’s Challenger 2 tanks, it would be the first time a western country has provided Ukraine with modern heavy battle tanks. Other allies are weighing western tank deliveries. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at the weekend he was “in negotiations aimed at creating a broader coalition of countries” to deliver western tanks to Kyiv. Jakob Kumoch, an adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said Warsaw was prepared to provide “a dozen” of its German-built Leopard 2 tanks. Most analysts think the Leopard 2 is better suited for Ukraine’s needs than the Challenger, which is operated only by the UK and Oman. Thirteen European armies operate the Leopard 2, creating a larger pool of tanks, training and maintenance facilities for Kyiv to draw on. Western policy towards sending armoured attack vehicles, including tanks, was not being centrally co-ordinated, one western official said, but rather being formed through bilateral conversations between capitals and with decisions taken by individual countries having a domino effect. If the UK were to send Challenger tanks, US M1 Abrams and German-made Leopard tanks would be likely to follow, the official added. Britain has so far committed £2.3bn in military aid to Ukraine and supplied thousands of anti-tank weapons, artillery systems and missiles since Russia launched its full-scale invasion almost a year ago. No final decision on whether to proceed with supplying the tanks had been taken, one of the people familiar with the UK discussions cautioned. Concerns remain about the complexity of the tanks and whether the Ukrainian military would be able to operate them. “There is no point in sending them something that they can’t use,” said one of the people. German chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far refused to provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, fearing it could drag Nato into a war with Russia. He has said Berlin will not act unilaterally. France last week agreed to supply Kyiv with an unspecified number of AMX-10 “tank killer” armoured vehicles, which French officials and some analysts designate as a light tank. A US-led group of about 50 nations that are delivering military aid to Ukraine, including the UK, is due to hold its next meeting on January 20. Any announcements on supplies of new equipment could be made then, according to Sky News, which first reported news of the UK’s potential provision of Challenger 2 tanks. The UK’s ministry of defence declined to comment specifically but said the government had “committed to match or exceed last year’s funding for military aid to Ukraine in 2023, and . . . will continue to build on recent donations with training and further gifting of equipment”. “We have provided over 200 armoured vehicles to Ukraine to date — including Stormer vehicles armed with Starstreak missiles,” it said in a statement on Monday. Downing Street said: “We don’t get into setting out in advance what sort of support we may or may not be providing. “The UK has been leading in the provision of equipment and vehicles and has been playing a facilitating role in this regard.” (Source: FT.com)
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