Russo Ukrainian War. Day 292: An explosion at Wagner Group HQ reported

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

An explosion at Wagner Group HQ reported. All thermal and hydroelectric power plants are damaged after eight waves of missile attacks. Ukraine orders punitive measures on clerics with Moscow links.

Daily overview — Summary report, December 12

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 06.00 am, December 12, 2022 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Situation in Ukraine. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW.

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“Over the past day, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine have repelled attacks by occupiers in the areas of Stelmakhivka, Makiivka, and Serebryansk Forestry of Luhansk oblast, and Verkhnyokamyanske, Bilohorivka, Soledar, Yuryivka, Krasnohorivka, Maryinka, Novomykhailivka, and Vremivka of Donetsk oblast.

In addition, Russian forces carried out 2 missile strikes on the civilian infrastructure of the city of Kostyantynivka, Donetsk oblast, 11 airstrikes on the positions of our troops along the contact line, and also carried out more than 60 MLRS attacks on the civilian infrastructure of the city of Kherson and the positions of our troops.

The threat of strikes with the use of missiles and attack UAVs against the objects of the energy system and critical infrastructure throughout the territory of Ukraine remains.

In the Volyn and Polissya directions, the situation has not changed significantly, and no signs of the formation of enemy offensive groups have been detected.

Kharkiv Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Kharkiv Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • On the Siverskyi and Slobozhanskyi directions, the settlements of Strilecha, Starytsa, Ohirtseve, Hatyshche, Volokhivka, Okhrimivka, Dvorichna, Kamianka in the Kharkiv oblast and Ivanivske in the Donetsk oblast were hit by mortar and artillery fire.
  • On the Kupyansk and Lyman directions, Russian forces shelled the areas of sixteen settlements. Among them – Kislivka, Kotlyarivka, Tabaivka and Berestovka of the Kharkiv oblast; Novoselivske, Stelmakhivka, Pischane, Makiivka and Ploshchanka in the Luhansk oblast and Chervonopopivka, Terny, Yampolivka and Torske in the Donetsk oblast.
Donetsk Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Donetsk Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • In the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, Russian forces fired at the positions of the Defense Forces from tanks, mortars, artillery and MLRS in the areas of twenty-four settlements. These are, in particular, Verkhnokamianske, Bilohorivka, Soledar, Bakhmut, Druzhba, Zalizne, New York, Avdiivka, Opytne, Nevelske, Krasnohorivka and Maryinka of the Donetsk oblast. The occupiers struck with the forces of operational-tactical and army aviation in the areas of Spirne and Bilohorivka.
  • In the Novopavlivsk direction, enemy fire activity was recorded near Novoukrainka, Prechystivka, and Vuhledar in the Donetsk oblast.
  • In the Zaporizhzhia direction, Russian forces shelled the settlements of Vremivka in the Donetsk oblast and Zelene Pole, Novopil, Novodarivka, Malynivka, Hulyaipole, Dorozhnyanka, Hulyaipilske, Charivne and Mali Shcherbaky in the Zaporizhzhia oblast.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. December 11, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • In the Kherson direction, Russian forces shelled the settlements of Red Lighthouse, Lvove, Inzhenerne, Chornobayivka and the city of Kherson.

In violation of International Humanitarian Law, Russian forces continue to use civilians as human shields. In the village of Troitske in the temporarily occupied Luhansk oblast, the Russian occupiers are placing military equipment and setting up firing positions near residential buildings where the civilian population lives.

[Russian occupation leadership continues the forced [“passportification”] of the population of the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. These measures are ongoing in the Melitopol district of the Zaporizhzhia region. Ukrainian hryvnias are gradually withdrawn from the circulation of trade networks, the population is forced to switch to Russian rubles.]

[The occupiers are also trying to financially encourage the local population to collaborate, providing cash assistance to pensioners in the amount of 10,000 rubles and charging a higher salary to loyal local residents who agreed to work in the institutions of the so-called occupying power.]

During the current day, the aviation of the Defense Forces made 14 strikes on the areas of concentration of personnel, weapons and military equipment, as well as a strike on the positions of a Russian anti-aircraft missile complex.

Missile troops and artillery units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine hit 9 control points, 17 personnel concentration areas, an artillery concentration area, and 2 munitions warehouses of the occupiers.“

Military Updates

Explosion at Wagner Group HQ in Kadiivka, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Serhii Haidai, and Kremlin-aligned news outlet TASS. “Serhii Haidai, Head of Luhansk Oblast Military Administration, has reported that there has been an explosion at the Wagner Group headquarters in temporarily occupied Kadiivka. […]And photos have already appeared on the internet, and they are not even hiding that there have been huge losses.

Russian media reported that an explosion occurred on 10 December in a hotel building, which was destroyed, and that rescue workers are clearing away the rubble.

The latest Russian attacks with drones were from the Sea of Azov, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Yurii Ihnat, spokesman of the Air Forces. “Kamikaze drones are being launched from the Sea of Azov now. From the eastern part of the Sea of Azov, Krasnodar Krai. The two last drone attacks were from there.”

Russian invaders intensify military activities in Mariupol and its outskirts, Ukrinform reports. “In the temporarily occupied city of Mariupol and its outskirts, Russian invaders are intensifying military activities. The relevant statement was made by Advisor to Mariupol Mayor Petro Andriushchenko on Telegram. Over the city, all day long, an unusual number of combat helicopters were flying from the Zaporizhzhia direction towards Azovstal steelworks. […] Another convoy of tanks was redeployed from the Manhush district to the Nikopol district last night, Andriushchenko wrote.

In his words, the second camp for the mobilized Russian soldiers was set up in the Mariupol district, on the outskirts of the urban-type settlement of Nova Yalta. The withdrawal of Russian troops from the Berdiansk direction continues. According to Andriushchenko, about 500 Russian invaders are being accommodated near such settlements as Demianivka and Komyshuvate. Right after a successful strike on the occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia region, Andriushchenko added.

A reminder that, due to the absence of heat supply services in houses, social tensions are growing in the temporarily occupied city of Mariupol.”

Another drifting mine defused in the Odesa region, Ukrinform reports. “The defence forces discovered another drifting anti-ship mine off the coast of the Odesa region. A unit of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine promptly defused the dangerous find,” the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine posted on Telegram.

Currently, eight Russian ships are on alert in the Black Sea. There are no missile carriers among them.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • On 8 December 2022, Russian presidential spokesman Dimitry Peskov rearticulated the main goals of the ‘special military operation’. He said that one of Russia’s main objectives was the ‘protection’ of residents of the Donbas and south-eastern Ukraine but claimed there was still much work to be done regarding ‘liberation’ of those territories.
  • Peskov’s comments suggest that Russia’s current minimum political objectives of the war remain unchanged. Russia is likely still aiming to extend control over all of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts. Russian military planners likely still aim to prioritise advancing deeper into Donetsk Oblast.
  • However, Russia’s strategy is currently unlikely to achieve its objectives: it is highly unlikely that the Russian military is currently able to generate an effective striking force capable of retaking these areas. Russian ground forces are unlikely to make operationally significant advances within the next several months.
  • On 5 December 2022, President Putin signed the law on Russia’s Federal Budget. Draft budgets have stated over 9 trillion rubles (US $143bn) will be allocated across defence, security and law enforcement in 2023. This is a significant increase compared to prior years and will represent over 30 per cent of Russia’s entire budget.
  • The budget approved by Putin is likely over-optimistic in its expectation of revenue and spending in 2023. Therefore, other parts of Russia’s budget are likely to come under increasing pressure to support the costs of the war.

Losses of the Russian army 

  • Personnel – about 94760 (+620),
  • Tanks – 2966 (+24),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 5928(+8),
  • Artillery systems – 1929 (+1),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 397 (+0),
  • Air defence means – 211 (+0),
  • Aircraft – 281 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 264 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 4544 (+4),
  • Vessels/boats – 16 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 1617 (+4),
  • Special equipment – 169 (+2),
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
  • Cruise missiles – 592 (+0)

Russia is increasing production of the most powerful means of destruction – Medvedev, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council. “It is much more difficult for us; our enemy has dug in not only in Kyiv province of our native Malorossiya. He [Russian forces of Russia – ed.] is in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a number of other places that have sworn allegiance to modern Nazis. [Malorossiya, literally “Little Russia”, is a geographical and historical term used to describe the modern-day territories of Ukraine, and a term that many Ukrainians consider disparaging, as it indicates imperial Russian culture that suppresses Ukrainian identity – ed.]

Therefore, we are increasing the production of the most powerful means of destruction. Medvedev has stated that the new samples of weapons of the Russian Federation are based “on new principles”, but he has not specified which ones.”

Humanitarian 

Russia drones smash power network in Odesa, Reuters reports. “All non-critical infrastructure in the Ukrainian port of Odesa was without power after Russia used Iranian-made drones to hit two energy facilities, leaving 1.5 million people without power, officials said on Saturday. “The situation in the Odesa region is very difficult,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.”

All thermal and hydroelectric power plants are damaged after eight waves of missile attacks, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Denys Shmyhal, Prime Minister of Ukraine. “There is a significant electricity deficit in Ukraine’s energy system. All thermal and hydroelectric power stations have been damaged; 40% of the high-voltage networks have sustained various levels of damage after eight waves of missile attacks in the country. Each of us must realise that we will go through this winter with significant restrictions on electricity consumption.”

Odesa authorities clarify previous messages on restoring energy facilities and the need to evacuate, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing DTEK Odesa electricity networks and  Odesa Oblast State Administration Department of Utilities and Energy Efficiency Systems. “DTEK Odesa electricity networks, an energy company that produces and distributes electricity in the Oblast, has reported that it will take much longer to restore power facilities in Odesa Oblast than it did after previous Russian missile attacks. The authorities [initially said] that it can take up to two or three months. […] Odesa and almost the entire region remain without electricity. The situation in the energy sector of the Odesa Oblast remains difficult.

Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman for Odesa Oblast Military Administration, [later] explained that the electricity will not be absent for two or three months; the timeframe refers to the duration of restoration work at energy facilities. Speaking about the period of two or three months. We are talking about the complete restoration of high-voltage networks and the corresponding technical equipment. Odesa Oblast Military Administration and the energy industry have joined forces to ensure that electricity reaches the homes of each of our countrymen in the coming days, he wrote on Telegram.

Bratchuk also stated that no representative of the Oblast authorities made any calls for the evacuation of residents from the city of Odesa and the Oblast, and the loose interpretation of the appeal, that Odesa Oblast Department of Utilities and Energy Efficiency posted on the official Facebook page, is considered nothing other than a manifestation of hybrid war by Russian secret services against Ukraine.

Energy facilities in Odesa Oblast sustained significant damage in a Russian  kamikaze drones attack on the night of 10 December, leaving thousands of consumers without electricity supply.”

Hans Petter Midttun: As of Sunday evening, the power supply was partially restored in Odesa and other towns and districts of the region. The dilemmas discussed above, however, reflect the gradual degradation of Ukraine’s electrical grid as the Russian drone and missile attacks continue. Ukraine is likely to face similar and even more fundamental challenges as the Russian attacks continue.

Environmental

Energoatom reports on the shutdown of one of the reactors at a nuclear power plant, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Energoatom, the national nuclear energy company. “[Saturday], one of Energoatom’s thousand-megawatt power units (VVER-1000) was disconnected from the power grid to eliminate a malfunction of the backup protection current transformer. It is noted that the malfunctions were eliminated, and the power unit itself was connected to the power grid on Sunday, 11 December, at 02:43.

The repair of another VVER-1000 power unit, which was damaged as a result of attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure on 23 November 2022, is also being completed. In the coming days, it will also be connected to the power grid, adds Energoatom.

Currently, to meet the needs of the population and the country’s economy, all other power units of domestic nuclear power plants, except for the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, are operating at maximum capacity. Zaporizhzhia NPP, whose switching on is constantly blocked by the Russians, consumes about 100 MW of electricity for its own needs from the Ukrainian energy system.”

Legal 

International legal experts assist Ukraine in sexual violence investigation, Reuters reports. “An international team of legal advisers has been working with local prosecutors in Ukraine’s recaptured city of Kherson in recent days as they began gathering evidence of alleged sexual crimes by Russian forces as part of a full-scale investigation. The visit by a team from Global Rights Compliance, an international legal practice headquartered in The Hague, has not previously been reported. […]

Accusations surfaced soon after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of rape and other abuses across the country, according to accounts Reuters gathered and the U.N. investigative body. […] The scale of the Ukrainian prosecution’s task is daunting, with the number of alleged international crimes running into tens of thousands and as the war in the east and south of the country makes already complex work more difficult and dangerous. […]

Kherson was occupied by Russian forces for months before Ukrainian troops recaptured it in early November, in one of Moscow’s biggest military defeats of the war so far. Some residents who remained during the occupation have described being detained and tortured, repeating allegations made by Ukrainians across territory that has been reclaimed by local forces in recent months.

More than 50,000 alleged incidents of international crimes have been reported by Ukraine’s prosecutor general since Russia’s full-scale invasion. They include hundreds of potential cases of alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression, some of which could be escalated to overseas tribunals like the International Criminal Court (ICC) if they are deemed sufficiently serious. […]

Anna Sosonska, deputy head of Ukraine’s eight-member war crimes unit for sexual violence, told Reuters she would supervise the investigation and look into the possible role of Russian political and military leaders in any crimes. Everywhere where Russian soldiers were based they committed war crimes, they committed sexual violence and they tortured, they murdered, she said. Аccording to the results of this trip, we discovered the facts of conflict-related sexual violence and the information has been entered into the unified register of pre-trial investigations.

Rape can constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions that establish international legal standards for conduct of armed conflicts. Widespread or systematic sexual violence could amount to crimes against humanity, generally seen as more serious, legal specialists said.

Serhii Doroshyn, deputy head of the national police’s Investigation Department in Crimea and Sevastopol, told Reuters the unit had questioned about 70 people so far. Many of them said they had been held at up to 10 detention centres in the Kherson region during Russia’s occupation. He added that more than half said they had been subjected to various forms of sexual violence. There are likely to be many more witnesses, he added.”

Support

Sweden’s defence minister: Assistance to Ukraine is an investment in our common security, Ukrinform reports. “Swedish Defence Minister Pål Jonson has said that assistance to Ukraine is a priority for Sweden.

Ukraine is a priority for Sweden, and Sweden supports Ukraine. I would like to sincerely thank the Armed Forces, who fight not only for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, not only for the territorial integrity of Ukraine but also, of course, for the whole of Europe, Jonson said.”

Mr Scholz, what are you waiting for? Germany must deliver main battle tanks to Ukraine, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO General Secretary argues in Tagesspiegel. “In the last six weeks, Russia has launched more than 1,000 missiles into Ukraine. Their targets have not been military assets but cities and critical infrastructure. Putin is losing on the battlefield, so has opened a new frontline directly targeting the civilian population. He is trying to freeze Ukraine into submission. Addressing the horrific consequences of Russia’s actions is not enough. The western coalition must put a higher cost on Putin’s macabre strategy. We must provide air defence systems, longer range artillery, and battle tanks.

As well as greater military aid, western governments should start laying out a strong set of security guarantees for Ukraine. That is the purpose of the Kyiv Security Compact that I co-authored for President Zelenskyy. The principle is simple, to guarantee its long-term security Ukraine needs a robust enough defence capable of defeating Russia now and deterring aggression in the future.

This is in stark contrast to the approach proposed last week by President Macron. In a television interview, he declared that Russia must be given security guarantees. My message to President Macron is that we have tried this model – it does not work. For the last 30 years, we consistently reached out to Russia to encourage it to be a constructive partner for our continent’s security.

Vladimir Putin’s actions show he has no interest in this proposition and is set on a neo-imperialist course. Any commitments he signed up for would not be worth the paper they were written on. We are in a battle of wills. Vladimir Putin must understand our support for Ukraine will not falter and that his war is futile. Only then will a lasting peace be possible.”

Ukraine negotiates with Germany on the latest supplies of weapons, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Oleksii Makieiev, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, in an interview with Welt am Sonntag.  “We were assured during direct negotiations that there will be more weapons and more ammunition. We will jointly announce which ones at the appropriate time, he said. I don’t want to put diplomatic pressure on the German government, but I want Germany to provide what it has as soon as possible. Because we don’t have any more time to wait for weapons, the ambassador added.

Makieiev said Ukraine needs more anti-aircraft systems, howitzers, Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and ammunition. In addition, we are still talking about the supply of Marder and Leopard tanks. However, the decision on this remains with the German government, the Ukrainian diplomat said. According to the media, the German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has received an order for two Skynex anti-aircraft missile systems for Ukraine.”

EU Council decides on €18 billion package for Ukraine despite Hungary’s veto, Ukrainska Pravda reported Saturday, citing the press service of the EU Council. “Despite a veto by Hungary, the Council of the European Union has reached an agreement on a legislative package that will enable the European Union to provide Ukraine with financial assistance in the amount of €18 billion in 2023. The proposal was adopted by the Council on 10 December through a written procedure and will be submitted to the European Parliament for possible adoption next week.

The package provides for a structural solution to financially support Ukraine in 2023. The amount to be lent to Ukraine in 2023 will be €18 billion, and the loans will have a 10-year grace period. EU member states will cover most of the interest costs from externally assigned revenues. Guarantees for these borrowings will be provided either from the EU budget or by member states, the press service said.

The programme aims to provide short-term financial assistance, funding for Ukraine’s immediate needs, rehabilitation of critical infrastructure, and initial support for sustainable post-war reconstruction, with a view to supporting Ukraine on its path to European integration. Hungary had opposed the EU’s decision to provide Ukraine with the €18 billion aid package.”

New Developments 

  1. Russia and West reach a point of confrontation and we will have to live with this – Peskov, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RIA Novostiand TASS. “Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President’s Press Secretary, has stated that the relationship between Russia and the West has reached the point of confrontation, and [we] will have to live in these conditions.”
  2. War to end through military defeats of Russia, sanctions, internal sabotage – Podoliak, Ukrinform reports, citing Mykhailo Podoliak, the advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. “No need to be scared of post-Putin future. There is only one way to end the war: military defeats of Russia on the battlefield + sanctioned depletion of RU-economy + isolation of Russia on world markets + internal sabotage within RF = Ukraine’s victory and recovery of global security, Podoliak wrote.”
  3. EU to discuss Russia, Iran sanctions, top up of Ukraine arms fund, ReutersEuropean Union foreign ministers will meet on Monday [….]. Foreign ministers will discuss a ninth package of Russia sanctionsthat are set to place almost 200 more individuals and entities on the EU sanctions list. They are also due to review new sanctions on Iranian people and organisations over human rights abuses in Tehran’s crackdown on protesters and the supply of drones to Russia. They will also aim to top up by 2 billion euros a fund member states have used to finance arms purchases for Kyiv, but which has been largely depleted over almost 10 months of the war in Ukraine.
  4. Ukraine gets more US aid as Russia-Iran ties worry West, ReutersThe United States announced new military aid for Ukraine on Friday and vowed to disrupt Russian ties with Iran, which a British envoy said involved Moscow seeking hundreds of ballistic missiles and offering unprecedented military support in return. […] White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Washington was very concerned about the “deepening and burgeoning defence partnership” between Iran and Russia and would work to disrupt that relationship, including on drones.”
  5. Ukraine orders punitive measures on clerics with Moscow links, ReutersUkraine’s top security officials have ordered punitive measures against seven senior clerics, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, part of a crackdown on a branch of the Orthodox Church with longstanding ties to Moscow. The clerics are among Orthodox leaders known to have been sympathetic to Russia’s portrayal of its 10-month-old invasion of Ukraine. […] We are doing everything to ensure that no strings are available to be pulled by the aggressor state that could make Ukrainian society suffer, Zelenskyy said.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  December 11, 2022:

Russian officials consistently conduct information operations suggesting that Belarusian conventional ground forces might join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarusian leaders including Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko sometimes play along with these information operations. The purpose of these efforts is to pin Ukrainian forces at the Belarusian border to prevent them from reinforcing Ukrainian operations elsewhere in the theater. Belarus is extraordinarily unlikely to invade Ukraine in the foreseeable future whatever the course of these information operations. A Belarusian intervention in Ukraine, moreover, would not be able to do more than draw Ukrainian ground forces away from other parts of the theater temporarily given the extremely limited effective combat power at Minsk’s disposal.

The Kremlin’s efforts to pressure Belarus to support the Russian offensive campaign in Ukraine are a part of a long-term effort to cement further control over Belarus. ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin intensified pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to formalize Belarus’ integration into the Union State following the Belarusian 2020 and 2021 protests. Russia particularly sought to establish permanent military basing in Belarus and direct control of the Belarusian military. Russia has routinely tried to leverage its influence over Belarusian security and military affairs to place pressure on Belarus to support its invasion of Ukraine. ISW assessed that Russian Minister of Defense Army General Sergei Shoigu meet with Lukashenko on December 3 to further strengthen bilateral security ties – likely in the context of the Russian-Belarusian Union State – and increase Russian pressure on Belarus to further support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Belarusian regime’s support for the Russian invasion has made Belarus a cobelligerent in the war in Ukraine. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko offered Belarusian territory to Russian forces for the initial staging of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Belarusian territory offered critical ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to the Russian Armed Forces in their failed drive on Kyiv and their subsequent withdrawal from northern Ukraine. ISW has previously assessed that Belarus materially supports Russian offensives in Ukraine and provides Russian forces with secure territory and airspace from which to attack Ukraine with high-precision weapons.

Belarusian support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is likely degrading the Belarusian military’s material capacity to conduct conventional military operations of its own. The Belarusian open-source Hajun Project reported on November 14 that the Belarusian military transferred 122 T-72A tanks to Russian forces, likely under the guise of sending them for modernization work in the Russian Federation. The Hajun Project reported on November 17 that Belarus transferred 211 pieces of military equipment to Russian Armed Forces, including 98 T-72A tanks and 60 BMP-2s. The confirmed transfer of 98 T-72 tanks represents roughly 18 percent of the Belarusian inventory of active main battle tanks, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2021 Military Balance report. […] Belarus lacks capabilities to produce its own armored fighting vehicles making the transfer of this equipment to Russian forces both a current and a likely long-term constraint on Belarusian material capacities commit mechanized forces to the fighting in Ukraine.

Belarus is also likely drawing down its inventory of artillery munitions through munitions transfers to the Russian military. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on December 3 that Belarus has been transferring 122mm and 152mm artillery ammunition to Russian Armed Forces throughout October and November. […] The GUR also reported on October 11 that a train with 492 tons of ammunition from the Belarusian 43rd Missile and Ammunition Storage Arsenal in Gomel arrived at the Kirovske Railway Station in Crimea on an unspecified date.

Belarusian officials are likely trying to conceal the amount of military equipment they are sending to Russia to support its invasion of Ukraine. […] Belarusian authorities may also be attempting to hide the extent of the transfers in order to mitigate the possible backlash against Lukashenko‘s degradation of the country’s military capacity and subservience to Moscow.

The Belarusian military is likely facing constraints on its capacity to train current and new personnel due to its supporting role in Russian force generation efforts. The Belarusian military is continuing to train Russian mobilized military personnel at the 230th Combined Arms Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground in Brest, Belarus and at other training facilities near Mozyr, Gomel, and Mogilev in Belarus as part of the Union States’s Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV). The Belarusian Ministry of Defense reportedly drafted 10,000 conscripts into the Belarusian Armed forces as a part of its autumn conscription campaign, a similar number to those drafted in the autumn cycle in 2021. The Belarusian training of these mobilized Russian servicemembers coincides with the start of the Belarusian military’s academic year. The GUR reported on September 29 that Belarus was preparing to accommodate up to 20,000 mobilized Russian servicemembers. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on November 25 that 12,000 Russian personnel were stationed in Belarus. […]

The Belarusian military likely has a relatively limited capacity to train existing and new personnel. The Belarusian military has only six maneuver brigades and is comprised of roughly 45,000 active personnel split into two command headquarters. The small Belarusian military likely has limited training capacity and infrastructure to support its own force generation efforts. Belarusian military officials are now responsible for training at least two times as many servicemembers as the Belarusian military normally trains. Belarusian support for Russian force generation efforts would likely also constrain it from being able to train more Belarusian military personnel if Lukashenko wished to increase the number of drafted conscripts in the next conscription cycle to prepare for possible losses in combat following a putative Belarusian invasion of Ukraine.

The degradation of the Russian military through devastating losses in Ukraine would also hinder the deployment of Belarusian mechanized forces to fight alongside Russian troops. Belarusian forces should theoretically be able to operate in combined units with Russian mechanized forces. ISW previously assessed that Russia pursued efforts to integrate the Belarusian military into Russian-led structures in joint military exercises and permanent joint combined combat training centers before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian military coordinated with the Russian military in the Zapad-2021 joint exercises in September of 2021 in which Russian and Belarusian units formed joint ”mobile tactical groups” that operated as single military units at the battalion level. These combined units require a high degree of coordination and military training, and therefore Russian and Belarusian forces used elite units in such efforts. Russian units that took part in the joint exercises with Belarusian forces included elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army, the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, the 20th Combined Arms Army, the 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade, and the 106th Guards Airborne Division, all elite units that ISW has assessed have been severely degraded in Ukraine. […] Belarusian forces would likely have to operate together with poorly trained mobilized Russian personnel if they entered the war in Ukraine. The outcome of efforts to form and use such combined units in combat is likely to be poor.

Lukashenko’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russian pressure on Belarus to join the fighting are likely causing friction within the Belarusian military. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on December 7 that soldiers of the Belarusian border service and the Belarusian Armed Forces are increasingly dissatisfied with the activities of the Belarusian military-political leadership due to the threat of Belarus entering the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian sources reported on November 13 that social tensions between Belarusians and Russian forces in Brest Oblast intensified as Russian forces strained local hospitals due to unsanitary conditions at the 230th Combined Arms Obuz-Lesnovsky Training Ground. The GUR reported on November 6 that internal memos from senior Belarusian military officers show numerous complaints from rank-and-file Belarusian servicemen about tensions with Russian mobilized personnel, particularly in relation to derogatory ethnic statements.

Belarusian personnel are certainly aware of the significant losses that Russian forces suffered in Ukraine and likely do not wish to experience the same result.[…] Belarusian units that trained with elite Russian units that have since suffered heavy losses fighting in Ukraine are also likely aware of the extent of the casualties that the Russian army has faced in Ukraine. These Belarusian units likely know that their units and the Belarusian military as a whole would not fare better than Russian units that were far more capable and well-trained.

Elements within the Belarusian military have shown resistance to the idea of entering the war in Ukraine. A Belarusian lieutenant colonel posted a viral video on February 27 in which he called upon Belarusian military personnel to refuse orders if instructed to enter the war in Ukraine. It is likely that some elements of the Belarusian Armed Forces would express reluctance or outright refusal if Lukashenko decided to invade Ukraine.

Lukashenko’s setting of information conditions likely further constrains Belarusian willingness to enter the war. Lukashenko continues to set informational conditions to resist Russian pressure to enter the war in Ukraine by claiming that NATO is preparing to attack Belarus. […]

Belarus is already unlikely to invade Ukraine due to internal dynamics within the country. ISW has previously assessed that Lukashenko does not intend to enter the war in Ukraine due to the possibility of renewed domestic unrest if his security apparatus weakened through participation in a costly war in Ukraine. Lukashenko relied upon elements of the Belarusian Armed Forces in addition to Belarusian security services to quell popular protests against his rule in 2020 and 2021. Committing a substantial amount of that security apparatus to the war in Ukraine would likely leave Lukashenko open to renewed unrest and resistance. Lukashenko is also likely aware that invading Ukraine would undermine his credibility as the leader of a sovereign country as it would be evident that Russia’s effort to secure full control of Belarus had succeeded.

Belarusian entry in the war would at worst force Ukraine to temporarily divert manpower and equipment from current front lines. Ukrainian General Staff Deputy Chief Oleksiy Hromov stated on November 24 that 15,000 Belarusian military personnel, in addition to the 9,000 Russian personnel stationed in Belarus, could theoretically participate in the war with Ukraine. Even if Lukashenko committed a substantially larger number of his forces to an offensive into Ukraine, the Belarusian military would still be a small force that would be unable to achieve any substantial operational success. ISW has previously assessed that a Russian or Belarusian offensive from Belarus would not be able to cut Ukrainian logistical lines to the West without projecting deeper into Ukraine than Russian forces did during the Battle of Kyiv, when Russian forces were at their strongest. A Belarusian invasion could not make such a drive, nor it could it seriously threaten Kyiv. Belarus’ entry into the war would at worst divert Ukrainian forces away from current front lines in eastern Ukraine.

Belarus will continue to help Russia fight its war in Ukraine even though Lukashenko is highly unlikely to send his army to join the fighting. Belarus can offer material to Russia that Russia cannot otherwise source due to international sanctions regimes against the Russian Federation that do not impact Belarus. […]

Key inflections in ongoing military operations on December 11:

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) denied rumors on December 11 that General Valery Gerasimov resigned or was removed from his position as Chief of the General Staff.
  • Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that fighting continues along the Svatove-Kreminna line and near Lyman amidst poor weather conditions.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces transferred over 200 pieces of equipment from the Kherson direction to the Kupyansk direction, and geolocated footage shows Russian T-90 tanks in Luhansk Oblast headed west. A Ukrainian official stated that a larger Russian force grouping does not currently pose a threat.
  • Russian forces made marginal territorial gains around Bakhmut as Russian and Ukrainian sources reported continued fighting in the area. A Ukrainian Armed Forces Eastern Group spokesperson stated that Russian forces changed tactics from using battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to smaller assault groups for offensive actions.
  • Russian and Ukrainian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck Skadovsk, Hola Prystan, Oleshky, and Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, all along major Russian logistics lines.
  • Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces struck a Russian military base in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast. One source claimed that the strike killed up to 200 Russian military personnel.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian occupation authorities intensified forced mobilization measures in occupied Ukraine. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces face shortages of blood for wounded military personnel and are running donor drives in occupied Crimea.
  • A Ukrainian partisan group claimed responsibility for setting fire to a Russian military barracks in Sovietske, Crimea. Ukrainian and Russian officials reported that Russian authorities continued filtration and law enforcement crackdowns in occupied Ukraine.“

Some Russian soldiers in Ukraine unhappy with top brass, Girkin says, Reuters reports. “Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are unhappy with the military top brass and President Vladimir Putin because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger said after visiting the conflict zone. […] In modern Russia, direct public criticism of Putin is rare though nationalist bloggers have been outspoken about the conduct of the war, especially the costly Russian defeats in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in September. Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said there was some discontent with the top brass.

In a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia’s execution of the war, Girkin said the “fish’s head is completely rotten” and that the Russian military needed reform and an intake of competent people who could lead a successful military campaign. Some at the mid-levels of the military, Girkin said, were open about their dissatisfaction with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and even Putin. […] Both Ukraine and Russia say the other side has sustained devastatingly high casualties, though neither give clear data on their own losses. […]

Russia passed laws shortly after the invasion which allow prison terms of up to five years for actions interpreted as discrediting the armed forces, or up to 15 years for disseminating deliberately false information. […]

The West, Girkin said, wanted to foment a revolutionary situation in Russia akin to the February Revolution in 1917 when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated amid popular and elite anger over Russian failures in World War One.

Russia, he said, had a lack of effective tactical missiles and it was unclear if it could produce enough while Russia had failed to establish air superiority due to Ukrainian air defences. Our Ministry of Defence has simply slept through the fact that the whole world has moved to new tactical aviation, he said.”

Putin’s new ‘General Armageddon’ injects discipline and stabilises the Russian army, The Telegraph assess. “Sergey Surovikin is a dangerous adversary for the Ukrainians as he plots to freeze the nation into submission”, writes James Kilner.” The article has been recounted by several media outlets, including The Age:  ‘General Armageddon’ proves to be Russia’s most competent commander so far. The military commander known as “General Armageddon” has stabilised Russia’s front lines in Ukraine since taking over in October and injected discipline into its army, analysts say.

Military experts say General Sergei Surovikin’s organisational abilities and ruthlessness make him a dangerous adversary for the Ukrainian army. He’s probably the most competent commander Russia has put in place so far, said Dara Massicot, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, a US security think tank.

Surovikin took command of the Russian forces in Ukraine just as they were hitting a disorganised and demoralised low. The Kremlin’s army had been routed from Kharkiv in north-east Ukraine, its hold over Kherson in the south was being broken and Western long-range artillery was wrecking its supply lines.

Desperately needing to turn things around, Vladimir Putin promoted Surovikin, a 56-year-old veteran of campaigns in Syria and Chechnya, to overall commander of forces in Ukraine.

His first challenge was to persuade Putin to allow the Russian army to retreat from Kherson, Russia’s most significant conquest of the invasion. During that operation, I saw a few predictions that the withdrawal across the river would end in a Russian forces’ bloodbath. It did not, Massicot said. Since pulling back, Russian soldiers have dug a network of trenches that exploit natural Dnipro River defences and will be difficult for Ukrainian forces to breach.

Surovikin is nicknamed “General Armageddon” because he targeted civilian areas in Syria in 2017 when he was commander of Russian forces backing Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Analysts say he has fallen back on this strategy once again. Russian forces now pound Kherson city daily with artillery and fire hundreds of missiles and drones at civilian infrastructure targets across Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s aim is simple, analysts say: It wants to break civilian morale by forcing the Ukrainian people to cope with temperatures of -20C with no heat or electricity.

It is this ruthlessness and attention to detail that makes Surovikin a tough opponent, said Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general and military analyst. But he also said that like other Russian military commanders, he might find managing the Kremlin and its expectations turn out to be a major problem. [He has not been appointed commander simply to defend what has already been conquered, which he is now doing well. Realistically or not, Putin will expect to become even more aggressive and achieve even more military successes in Ukraine.” Read: that he brings the Russian invasion of Ukraine to a successful conclusion by taking full control of at least the south of the country.]

Regardless of whether it is realistic or not, Putin will expect more aggression and greater military success from his military supremo in Ukraine.”

2. Consequences and what to do? 

Ukraine steps up diplomacy amid fighting, power outages, Reuters reports. “Heavy fighting in the country’s east and south continued unabated, while drone and missile strikes on key power infrastructure, notably in the Black Sea port city of Odesa, kept many Ukrainians in the cold and dark. There are no peace talks and no end in sight to the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two […]. We are constantly working with partners, Zelenskyy said after talking to Biden and the leaders of France and Turkey, adding that he expects some important results next week from a series of international events that will tackle the situation in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold on Monday an online meeting with G7 leaders and the European Union foreign ministers will to try to agree on further sanctions on Russia and Iran and on additional aid or arms deliveries to Ukraine.

While Zelenskyy has held numerous talks with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan since Russian forces invaded in late February, the accumulation of discussions in just one day is not a regular event. […]

Biden “reaffirmed the US commitment to continue providing Ukraine with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance, holding Russia accountable for its war crimes and atrocities, and imposing costs on Russia for its aggression”, the White House said. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Washington’s support for Ukraine’s military and economy – more than $50 billion and counting – would continue “for as long as it takes” and reiterated that ending the war was the single best thing the United States could do for the global economy.

Earlier, Zelenskyy said he held “a very meaningful” conversation with Macron on defence, energy, economy, diplomacy that lasted more than an hour and very specific talks with Erdogan on assuring Ukraine’s grain exports.

Turkey, which acted as a mediator in peace talks in the early months of the war, also worked alongside the United Nations in a grain deal, which opened up Ukrainian ports for exports in July after a six-month de facto Russian blockade. Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader had a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, in which he had called for a quick end to the conflict. […]

Moscow shows no signs of being ready to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and pre-war borders, saying the four regions it claims to have annexed from Ukraine in September are part of Russia forever. The government in Kyiv has ruled out conceding any land to Russia in return for peace.”

 

Hans Petter Midttun: The military experts say General Sergei Surovikin’s organisational abilities and ruthlessness make him a dangerous adversary for the Ukrainian army. He’s probably the most competent commander Russia has put in place so far, said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, a US security think tank.

The assessment is probably accurate. Given the incompetence demonstrated by the Russian generals so far, however, that does not necessarily say much.

In the article “Why did the Russian “Blitzkrieg” fail?” I pointed out that the initial campaign revealed many fundamental shortcomings. These included corruption, brutality, low morale, poor planning, faulty logistics, bad intelligence, lack of coordination between units, over-centralization and a paucity of initiative on the part of junior officers and sergeants.

These factors, as well as command and control problems and poor communication, have drawn senior commanders onto the battlefield to take personal leadership of operations. Russian commanders rarely delegate operational authority to their subordinates. This has both led to disproportionately high losses of high-ranking officers and an inability to respond to setbacks on the battlefield.

Russia also failed to operate according to the principles of war, including Unity of command and Concentration of Efforts. Russia ran its military campaign from Moscow, with no central war commander on the ground. The centralized approach may go a long way to explaining why the Russian war effort has struggled in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

The Russian Air Force lacks the institutional capacity to plan, brief and fly complex air operations at scale. Russia has failed to both execute “the fundamentals of combined-arms fighting,” and to suppress Ukraine’s air defence.

The Ground Forces, suffering from command-and-control challenges, have also been exposed to huge logistical and technical problems. The forces were deployed with insufficient supplies to sustain more than the first days of the war. Russia was unable to resupply the large columns of forces stuck on the outskirts of Kyiv. Already 3 days into the invasions urgent calls for basic supplies were intercepted. A large number of pieces of equipment have been left abounded due to lack of fuel or technical problems. Many bear witness to insufficient maintenance. Equipment brought from long-time storage to replace battle losses has proven to be in an even worse state. According to Ukrainian intelligence, only 4 out of 10 have been found useable.

The partial mobilisation has proven the validity of the assessments. None of the structural problems highlighted above can be quickly fixed. The best General Surovikin can hope for in the short to medium term is to adapt his strategy to realities on the ground. This includes Russia’s dwindling stocks of precision-guided munition and increased dependency on military support from Iran.

Unless he can achieve a strategic surprise – which is unlikely given the superior intelligence available to Ukraine – his options are likely to be limited to exploiting existing Ukrainian vulnerabilities. These includes:

  • Lack of Air Defence, a flaw that will increase if (or when) the Iranian ballistic missiles are employed in theatre.
  • It also includes Ukraine’s lack of a Navy capable of breaking the Russian blockade, slowly suffocating the Ukrainian economy.
  • Lack of long-range strike capability is the third vulnerability as it limits Ukraine’s military options, making the task of defending the Russian-occupied territories less challenging (or evicting the Russian forces harder). That said, Ukrainian ingenuity and its demonstrated ability to develop both UAVs and uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) are slowly reducing the scope and scale of the existing weakness.
  • The Ukrainian energy sector, which has proven itself extremely resilient in light of the 8 waves of missile attacks, is the fourth vulnerability due to lack of connectivity. It is only partially connected to the European electrical grid.
  • And lastly, but also the biggest Ukrainian vulnerability: Western courage, resolve and resilience. The Ukrainian state (not the nation) is presently fundamentally dependent on continuous and comprehensive defence, financial, and humanitarian support. History has shown that this support will not last “forever”. Afghanistan was abandoned after 20 years despite the limited “tsunami of ripple effects” of the war. The Russian war in Europe has soon lasted 10 years, with far-reaching and severe repercussions for the West.

The bottom line is that one qualified, ruthless commander does not fix Russia’s fundamental challenges. He can only add brutality and an already brutal war.

Lately, we have experienced a sort of “stalemate” on the battlefield because weather and ground conditions have changed. Additionally, both Ukraine and Russia have used the last month to reposition the military forces freed after the Russian withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River. I suspect this will change in the upcoming weeks.

As previously argued, the massive Russian attacks on critical civilian infrastructure might prove to be a strategic mistake. The change in strategy has forced the West to act (against its natural inclination to remain disengaged). Russia has been designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by both NATO and the EU, changing the perception of how to proceed.

A diplomatic solution has just become more unlikely as the West does not negotiate with terrorists. It makes war on terrorism.

Western resolve has also strengthened. Sitting idle and watching Russia trying to increase a humanitarian catastrophe into something worse, becomes progressively more difficult.

We might find that they will finally be forced to give Ukraine the tools it needs to defeat Russia and evict its forces from Ukraine. The West has given Ukraine the means to stop (not evict) Russia on land. The next step would be to deny Russia the ability to attack Ukraine from the sky.

The longer we wait, the more likely it becomes that we need to take out that capability before it leaves the airport or launcher deep inside the Russian Federation.

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