Russo Ukrainian War. Day 304: G7 to support Ukraine for as long as it takes

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Russia begins demolition of bombed Mariupol theatre where 600 were killed by the Russian airstrike. Senate backs plan to use money from seized Russian assets to aid Ukraine. G7 to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Daily overview — Summary report, December 24

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, December 24, 2022 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Situation in Ukraine. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW.

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“[Russian forces continue to focus their effort on conducting offensive actions in the Lyman, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka areas. On Kupiansk – trying to improve the tactical position. On Novopavlivsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – it is being defended.]

[Russian forces have increased the volume of railway transport of personnel, military equipment and ammunition to the areas of hostilities.]

Over the past 24 hours, the Russian occupiers have launched 3 missile and 10 air strikes, in particular, on civilian infrastructure in the Donetsk region. In addition, Russian forces launched 62 MLRS attacks, as a result of which civilian objects in the city of Kherson were damaged, and there were victims among the civilian population.

Units of the Defence Forces of Ukraine repelled the attacks of the occupiers in the areas of the settlements of Andriyivka in the Luhansk region and Yampolivka, Rozdolivka, Bakhmutske, Bakhmut, Severnye, New York, Krasnohorivka, Vodyane and Maryinka in Donetsk region.

No signs of the formation of offensive groups of Russian forces were detected in the Volyn and Polissya directions. [The occupiers plan to deploy a field hospital on the territory of Belarus.]

  • In the Siverskyi direction, Russian forces shelled the area of the village of Hirka, Sumy region, with mortars.
Kharkiv Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Kharkiv Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • In the Slobozhanskyi direction, areas of the settlements of Guryiv, Veterinarne, Kudiivka, Hoptivka, Staritsa, Ogirtseve, Vovchansk, Ambarne, Novomlynsk and Dvorichna in Kharkiv region were hit by mortar and artillery fire.
  • In the Kupyansk direction, Russian forces fired tanks, mortars and artillery in the areas of Kislivka, Kotlyarivka, Tabaivka, Krokhmalny of Kharkiv region and Novoselivka, Stelmakhivka and Myasozharivka of Luhansk region.
  • In the Lyman direction, Makiyivka, Ploschanka, Chervonopivka, Terny and Dibrova in the Luhansk region came under fire.
Donetsk Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Donetsk Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • In the Bakhmut direction, Russian forces shelled the areas of twenty-five settlements with tanks, mortars, artillery and MLRS. Among them are Spirne, Berestov, Soledar, Bakhmut, Klishchiivka, Chasiv Yar, Stupochki, Bila Gora, Diliivka and Opytne of the Donetsk region.
  • In the Avdiivka direction, shelling was recorded near Kamianka, Avdiyivka, Vesely, Vodyanyi, Pervomaiskyi, Nevelskyi, Krasnohorivka, Georgiivka, Maryinka, and Novomykhailivka in the Donetsk region. Russian forces also carried out an airstrike near Avdiivka.
  • In the Novopavlivsk direction, Vugledar, Prechistivka and Velyka Novosilka in Donetsk region came under artillery fire.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW. ~

Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. December 23, 2022. Source: ISW.

  • In the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, more than fifty settlements were shelled by rocket and barrel artillery. Among them are Vremivka, Malynyvka, Dorozhnyanka, Mala Tokmachka in the Zaporizhzhia region and Kherson, Havrylivka, Novodmytrivka, Burgunka, Inzhenerne and Chornobiivka in the Kherson region.

Due to the significant losses of Russian troops, the occupation authorities continue to repurpose Luhansk region hospitals into military hospitals. This is what happened to local medical facilities in Bilovodsk and Markivka.

On December 19, in the city of Starobilsk, about 100 wounded enemy servicemen were brought to the surgical department of the district hospital, which is equipped as a military hospital.

Russian forces continue to suffer losses. On December 22, in the Zaporizhzhia region, the Defense Forces destroyed 2 artillery systems with ammunition. More than 70 enemy servicemen were wounded. Information on liquidated occupiers is being clarified.

[To strengthen administrative and police measures in the temporarily occupied territory of the Zaporizhzhia oblast, about 500 servicemen from the Russian guard arrived in the city of Berdyansk.]

During the day, Ukrainian aviation carried out 13 strikes on the areas of concentration of personnel and anti-aircraft missiles and struck the positions of the Russian anti-aircraft missile complex.

The downing of 9 enemy UAVs of various types was confirmed.

Units of missile troops and artillery of the Defense Forces of Ukraine hit 2 control points, 2 ammunition depots and 11 areas of concentration of the invaders’ manpower.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst. ~

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Russia brought Kalibr carriers into the Black Sea for the first time since the massive bombardment of 16 December, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainian Navy.  “[Eleven] enemy [warships] are currently on combat duty in the Black Sea; [three] of them carry Kalibr missiles on board, with a total salvo of [twenty] missiles. Two more Russian ships are currently in the Sea of Azov. 

Russia keeps nine ships in the Mediterranean Sea on combat duty; five of them carry Kalibr missiles on board with a total salvo of 72 missiles. 

On 23 December, air alarms sounded in most of Ukraine’s regions, except the country’s west. Previously, interlocutors of the Ukrainska Pravda from intelligence services reported that Russia will probably carry out another massive missile attack on Ukraine on 22 or 23 December.”

Ukraine’s forces destroy enemy HQ, taking out a group of “Kadyrovites” near Tokmak, Ukrinform reports, citing the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ StratCom Force. “Outside Tokmak in Zaporizhzhia region, the Headquarters of the Russian occupation forces was hit by the Ukrainian precision strike. A group of Kadyrov’s troops is believed to have been at the location at the moment.”

Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group sneak into Ukraine, Sumy territorial defence engage in combat, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “The Territorial Defence Forces of Sumy Oblast destroyed a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group that crossed the state border of Ukraine on the morning of 22 December.”

Russian invaders’ car blown up in centre of Melitopol, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “An explosion occurred in the centre of Russian-captured Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, in the afternoon of 23 December. A car of Russian invaders was blown up.

There is a resistance movement in Melitopol and other territories of the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast that is trying to blow up bridges that the Russian forces use to transport weapons and collaborators.”

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

  • Russia has augmented its force in Ukraine with tens of thousands of reservists since October. Despite the easing of its immediate personnel shortages, a shortage of munitions highly likely remains the key limiting factor on Russian offensive operations.
  • Russia has likely limited its long-range missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure to around once a week due to the limited availability of cruise missiles. Similarly, Russia is unlikely to have increased its stockpile of artillery munitions enough to enable large-scale offensive operations.
  • A vulnerability of Russia’s current operational design is that even just sustaining defensive operations along its lengthy front line requires a significant daily expenditure of shells and rockets
  • On 21 December, President Putin was presented with plans to expand the Russian military by around 30% to 1.5 million personnel. It isn’t clear when this level would be achieved.
  • Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shigou explained that the expansion would involve at least two brigades in north-western Russia growing to divisional strength. He cited the supposed threat from Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO.
  • This constitutes one of the first insights into how Russia aspires to adapt its forces to the long-term strategic challenges resulting from its invasion of Ukraine. It remains unclear how Russia will find the recruits to complete such an expansion at a time when its forces are under unprecedented pressure in Ukraine.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Saturday 24 December, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the invasion to the present day:

  • Personnel – about 101430 (+480),
  • Tanks – 3006 (+1),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 5994 (+8),
  • Artillery systems – 1988 (+4),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 418 (+4),
  • Air defence means – 212 (+0),
  • Aircraft – 283 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 267 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 4627 (+5),
  • Vessels/boats – 16 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 1706 (+8),
  • Special equipment – 178 (+0),
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
  • Cruise missiles – 653 (+0)

Russian enemy suffered the greatest losses (of the last day) in the Kupiansk, Avdiyivka and Bakhmut directions.

Russia deploys Tor anti-aircraft missile systems to Belarus, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Belarus. “A batch of Tor-M2K anti-aircraft missile systems has been transferred to Belarus, the country’s Ministry of Defence reported. The batch of weapons was received within the framework of the existing intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation between Belarus and Russia. These systems will be transferred to the major military units and bases for which they are intended in the coming days.”

The US says Russia’s Wagner Group bought North Korean weapons for the Ukraine war, Reuters reports. “The private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a sign of the group’s expanding role in that conflict, the White House said on Thursday. […] John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said Wagner was searching around the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine.

We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment. Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner, he told reporters.

The United States estimates that Wagner has 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons, Kirby said.”

Russian pro-Kremlin media outlets forbidden to post anything on mobilisation, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Moscow Times. “Russian media outlets have been forbidden from spreading anything regarding the mobilisation, even if they come from the State Duma or the Federation Council [the lower and the upper chamber of the Federal Assembly, the Russian parliament – ed.]. Two sources from the pro-Kremlin media outlets have informed The Moscow Times of this.”

According to the outlet, an unofficial order came from the administration of the Russian president just before the New Year’s holidays.”

The medical institutions in the occupied territories are overfilled with wounded Russians, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Hanna Maliar, Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine, says that medical institutions in the occupied territories are overloaded with wounded Russian soldiers.

Medical institutions in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine are overloaded and unable to cope with the large number of wounded servicemen of the Russian occupation forces. A significant number of them die while waiting for priority medical care, due both to a lack of medical staff, necessary medical equipment, and medicines.

Entire Russian battalion from Crimea refuses to fight in Ukraine, UAWire reported on 20 December. “The reconnaissance battalion of the Russian army, stationed in the annexed Crimea, refused to take part in hostilities in Ukraine, reported the Telegram channel ASTRA, citing an order to issue a strong warning to the battalion commander. From the document published by the news outlet, it follows that the battalion commander was reprimanded for a low level of work with personnel.

They refused because there are very large losses. They don’t want to die in vain, said one of the relatives of the soldier who signed the waiver report. According to relatives, the battalion is part of the 127th reconnaissance brigade of the military unit 67606. These special forces unit of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was formed in the second half of 2014 in Sevastopol. The battalion is fully staffed with contract service soldiers. […]

Earlier, ASTRA reported that there are seven detention centres for those Russian soldiers who refused to fight. They are located in the occupied Ukrainian territories: in Zaitseve, Perevalsk, Rubizhne and Kreminna, Luhansk region, as well as in Zavitne Bazhannya, Dokuchaievsk and Staromlynivka of the Donetsk region. According to the news outlet, about 300 mobilized Russians were held in Zaitseve alone in November.”

Losses of the Russian Army. Source General Staff of Ukraine. ~

Losses of the Russian Army. Source General Staff of Ukraine.

Humanitarian 

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1606399850953703425

Lies and missiles continue to terrorise Ukrainian civilians, EUvsDisinfo reports. “Russia continues to terrorise Ukraine’s civilian population with missile attacks against civilian infrastructure to make lives intolerable during the harsh winter months and to force them to leave their homes. At the same time, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem is proactively targeting possible recipient countries of additional Ukrainian refugees in the West as well as in Central Asia.

The disinformation bombardment includes narratives claiming that Ukrainians are not welcome or that those already residing in these countries should leave. The manipulated information includes false YouTube advertisements and altered pictures of graffiti in major European urban areas (see the earlier Myth Detector’s debunk). The intent is to create a false impression that locals in recipient countries are calling for Ukrainians to leave or that they see support for Ukraine as a burden.

Lies like these attempt to stoke fear and intolerance toward Ukrainians in targeted countries across Europe. They also try to erode popular support for Ukraine in the West, which is necessary to back up governments’ military and financial assistance to Ukraine. Moreover, Kremlin propagandists want to persuade Ukrainians that Western support for them is waning.

These narratives are a part of cynical and sinister Kremlin campaign to harm Ukrainians physically and mentally – physically through destroying homes and infrastructure for electricity, heat, and water, and mentally through smashing Ukrainian hopes and resilience. It is disinformation woven into the fabric of psychological warfare. Total war per the modern Kremlin playbook.”

[EUvsDisinfo is the flagship project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. It was established in 2015 to better forecast, address, and respond to the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns affecting the European Union, its Member States, and countries in the shared neighbourhood. As of today, the database contains 14,749 disinformation cases, many of which, unfortunately, are too often retold by Western media.]

Millions of refugees from Ukraine have crossed borders into neighbouring countries, and many more have been forced to move inside the country. The escalation of conflict in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance the UNHCR reports. As of 20 December:

Individual refugees from Ukraine recorded across Europe: 7,863,339
Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia 2,407,368
Other European countries 2,585,789
Russian Federation, Belarus 2,870,182
Refugees from Ukraine registered for Temporary Protection or similar national protection schemes in Europe: 4,862,561
Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia 2,398,959
Other European countries 2,463,602
Border crossings from Ukraine (since 24 February 2022): 16,595,007
Border crossings to Ukraine (since 28 February 2022): 8,711,402

 

OHCHR recorded 17,595 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of 20 December. 6,826 were killed (including 428 children) and 10,769 injured (including 790 children).

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1606154885191405568

Environmental

The Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region says the shelling of the nuclear plant has almost stopped, Reuters reports. “The top Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region said on Friday that shelling of the Russian-controlled nuclear power plant there had “almost stopped”. Speaking on Russian state television, Russian-installed regional governor Yevgeny Balitsky said that Russian troops would not leave the nuclear power station and that it would never return to Ukrainian control.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest, was captured by Russian forces in March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine. The plant remains near the frontlines and has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is attempting to broker an agreement around the plant’s security, proposing to create a safe zone around it. Russian officials on Thursday heralded progress in talks with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi in Moscow.

Legal 

Russia begins demolition of bombed Mariupol theatre, Reuters reports. Russian authorities in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol have begun demolishing most of the city’s drama theatre, where Ukrainian authorities say hundreds died in an air bombardment in March. Ukrainian officials denounced the demolition as a bid to cover up the deaths in the March 16 bombardment and wipe out Ukrainian culture.

AP evidence points to 600 dead in the Mariupol theatre airstrike. An Associated Press investigation in May found evidence that the attack was “far deadlier than estimated, killing closer to 600 people inside and outside the building. That’s almost double the death toll cited so far, and many survivors put the number even higher.”

Senate backs plan to use money from seized Russian assets to aid Ukraine, The Washington Post reports. “The Senate unanimously backed a plan to use certain confiscated Russian assets to aid Ukraine in its war with Russia. The United States and other countries targeted Russia and its oligarchs with a host of diplomatic and economic sanctions as punishment after it invaded its neighboring country in February. But US law limited how money from those assets could be used, according to lawmakers. […]

President Biden supported using proceeds from seized Russian assets to help Ukraine and is expected to sign the spending package into law. The Senate’s action comes one day after Biden, joined by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House, announced a new $1.85 billion security assistance package for Ukraine. […]

Rep Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who sponsored the effort in the House, said it makes sense to use assets from friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuild Ukraine. It’s what common sense and justice demand — making Putin’s enablers pay to help rebuild the country he’s destroying, Malinowski told The Washington Post. I hope the law encourages the Justice Department to redouble its kleptocrat asset seizure efforts, and our European allies to follow suit.”

Ukraine’s parallel war on corruption to unlock door to West, Reuters reports. “To an outsider, it may seem an unlikely time for Ukraine to double down on the battle against corruption, as missiles rain down on cities and citizens fight for their lives. […] Every week, there are one or two big developments plus seven or eight smaller ones that are still important, said legal expert Vadym Valko, who monitors the work of anti-corruption authorities in Ukraine, which is fighting to rid itself of oligarchs and strengthen its vulnerable institutions. […] The drive is deemed urgent enough for the government to devote resources to, even during Russia’s invasion.

Indeed, anti-corruption agencies flag their work almost daily in a flurry of statements and social media posts. In November alone, they reported having launched investigations into 44 new criminal cases, issued 17 notices of suspicion to people being investigated and sent six indictments to court. In 2022, prosecutors have filed at least 109 indictments in 42 cases, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) told Reuters, adding that 25 convictions had been handed down.

The work can’t wait, according to the people interviewed, because curbing endemic corruption is key to reassuring Western partners preparing to send tens of billions of dollars of aid that will be needed to rebuild the country in coming years.

It would also be crucial, they say, to winning a status that guarantees Ukraine’s long-term security from any future aggression: membership of the European Union, which says getting on top of graft is a must for candidacy talks to begin. It’s extraordinarily important right now for Ukraine to demonstrate itself as a predictable partner, said Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, first deputy head of the parliamentary committee on anti-corruption policy, referring to Western donors.

In reality, there are two wars going on in Ukraine at once: an open one with Russia, and another with the post-Soviet corrupt past that’s happening within.”

450 children were killed, 868 children injured, 13,613 deported by foe forces, and 331 reported missing – the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of December 24. 3,126 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 337 of them are destroyed fully.

Support

US aid to Ukraine an ‘investment’ in global security, Zelenskyy says, Military Times reports. “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that against all odds Ukraine still stands, as he paid a defiant wartime visit to Washington to thank US leaders and ordinary Americans for their support in fighting off Russia’s invasion. He pledged there would be no compromises in trying to bring an end to the war.

Delivering an impassioned address to Congress aimed at sustaining support for his country’s defense, Zelenskyy called the tens of billions of dollars in US military and economic assistance over the past year vital to Ukraine’s efforts to beat back Russia and appealed for even more in the future.

Your money is not charity, he sought to reassure both those in the room and those watching at home. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handled in the most responsible way.”

US spent 5% of its military budget to destroy half of Russia’s capability with the help of Ukraine — CEPA, Euromaidan Press reports. “The new analysis of The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) by Timothy Ash proves the US support for Ukraine is extremely cost-effective. Spending relatively tiny amount of money, the US helped to destroy already half of Russian’s military capability.

US spending of 5.6% of its defense budget to destroy nearly half of Russia’s conventional military capability seems like an absolutely incredible investment,” the analysis reads.

Altogether, the Biden administration received Congressional approval for $40bn in aid for Ukraine for 2022 and has requested an additional $37.7bn for 2022. More than half of this aid has been earmarked for defense. These sums pale into insignificance when set against a total US defense budget of $715bn for 2022.”

The Netherlands earmarks €2.5 billion for support to Ukraine in 2023, The Government of the Netherlands wrote in a statement. “In the coming year Ukraine will continue to need considerable international support. Russia’s war in Ukraine is still ongoing, and has turned into a war of attrition. Ukraine’s armed forces continue fighting every day for the freedom, security and prosperity of their country, and thus for that of Europe as a whole. The Dutch government’s decision to earmark funding now sends a clear message of undiminished solidarity with the people of Ukraine, who can count on predictable Dutch support for as long as it takes.

Military aid will be drawn from the Netherlands’ own stocks and purchased from commercial suppliers. The Netherlands is committed to coordinating and collaborating with other countries and the defence industry. This should enhance the effectiveness of arms shipments for Ukraine’s armed forces while limiting the impact on our own.

The aid for essential reconstruction activities is intended for infrastructure repairs (especially energy infrastructure), hospitals, housing, agriculture and demining. The government is also providing humanitarian aid and support for the rule of law, human rights and accountability. The amount set aside for Ukraine is on top of the liquidity support totalling €18 billion being channelled via the EU and the cost of refugee reception in the Netherlands.”

Denmark allocates funds to purchase weapons for Ukraine, Mil.in.ua reports, citing the Ministry of Defense of Denmark. “The Danish government and parliament made a decision to allocate funds to purchase additional weapons for Ukraine. Denmark will allocate 300 million DKK, which is equal to approximately $43 million.

Ukraine’s struggle for freedom is also ours. That is why the government, together with the parties in the parliament, decided to allocate another 300 million DKK to Ukraine. The government will continue providing financial, military, and humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians,” Danish Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen emphasized.

These funds will be provided from the country’s Ministry of Defense budget and will be transferred to the British-led International Fund for Ukraine.”

UK to give Ukraine $500M through World Bank project, Ukrinform reports, citing the Ukrainian Finance Ministry’s press service. “The United Kingdom will provide Ukraine with $500 million through a World Bank project to pay social assistance to families with children and pay salaries to employees of state-owned higher education institutions.”

New Developments 

  1. Zelenskyy’s team to present peace formula in February, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Wall Street Journal. “According to the WSJ, Zelenskyy’s team is currently fleshing out the plan. They aim to present their ideas on or around the first anniversary of Russia’s 24 February invasion, according to European and Ukrainian diplomats. […]Kyiv wants to prepare for potential peace talks by achieving military victories. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has discussedthe Ukrainian peace formula with his US counterpart Joe Biden, and the American leader supported the idea of holding a peace summit.”
  2. Kremlin explains Putin’s words about imminent end of war, Ukrainska PravdaOn 22 December, Vladimir Putin, the President of the aggressor country, stated that Russia allegedly wants to end the warin Ukraine as soon as possible, but wants to avoid great losses. “There are no previous contacts regarding it [negotiations – ed.]. Of course, any conflict ends at the negotiating table. It is primarily about ending the special military operation [the official term used by Russians to describe the ongoing war with Ukraine – ed.] as soon as possible by achieving the goals that the Russian Federation sets for itself”, Dmirty Perskov, Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation said].”
  3. Putin tells Russian defence industry to up its game for Ukraine war, ReutersPresident Vladimir Putin on Friday told Russia’s defence industry chiefs to up their game to ensure that the Russian army quickly got all the weapons, equipment and military hardware it needed to fight in Ukraine. Putin, who has cast Russia’s war in Ukraine as part of an historic effort to push back against what he says is excessive Western influence over global affairs, made the comments during a visit to Tula, a centre for arms manufacturing.”
  4. Charles Michel supports suspension of Russia’s membership in UNSC, UkrinformPresident of the European Council, Charles Michel, advocates the development of a mechanism that would lead to having Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council suspended over its aggression against Ukraine.”
  5. Kremlin believes that Russia “substantially demilitarised” Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RIA Novosti, quoting Dmirty Perskov, Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation. “The Russian authorities believe that they have already “significantly advanced” on the path of demilitarisation, which they called one of the goals of the war against Ukraine.”
  6. G7 to support Ukraine for as long as it takes – statement, UkrinformThe G7 countries have pledged to continue to support Ukraine, strengthen sanctions against Russia and, if necessary, against Belarus, as well as work to bring Russian criminals to justice. G7 members recalled that indiscriminate attacks, as well as attacks on the civilian population or civilian objects constitute a war crime,” according to a statement posted on the website of the German Foreign Ministry, which chaired the group in 2022. The statement also contains a warning to Minsk: “Any further active participation in the Russian illegal war of aggression would run counter to the will and aspirations of the Belarusian people. If the Belarusian authorities more directly involve Belarus in Russia’s war, the G7 will impose overwhelming additional costs on the regime.”
  7. Russia says it may cut oil output up to 7% over price cap, ReutersRussia may cut oil output by 5%-7% in early 2023, as it responds to price caps on its crude and refined products, and halt sales to the countries that support them, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told state television on Friday. Detailing for the first time the Russian response to the price caps introduced by the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Novak said the cuts could reach 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd).”
  8. Germany arrests intelligence service employee suspected of spying for Russia, ReutersGerman authorities said on Thursday they had arrested an employee of its foreign intelligence service (BND) on suspicion of sharing state secrets with Russia this year and thereby committing treason.”
  9. IMF believes Russia loses European gas market for good, UkrinformRussia has lost what was left of access to the European gas market because Europe finally understood that Russian gas is a tool of war rather than an economic one. That’s according to Alternative Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Vladyslav Rashkovan. He recalled that Ukraine had since 2014 warned European partners that this is a weapon, not an economic tool. Rashkovan also emphasized that the sanctions imposed on Russian Federation are effective, and that in the long term, Russia has no economic prospects.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  December 23, 2022:

Moscow has been setting conditions for a new most dangerous course of action (MDCOA)–a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine possibly aimed at Kyiv–since at least October 2022. This MDCOA could be a Russian information operation or could reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actual intentions. Currently available indicators are ambivalent—some verified evidence of a Russian buildup in Belarus makes more sense as part of preparations for a renewed offensive than as part of ongoing exercises and training practices, but there remains no evidence that Moscow is actively preparing a strike force in Belarus. Concern about the possibility that Putin might pursue this MDCOA is certainly not merely a Ukrainian information operation intended to pressure the West into supplying Kyiv with more weapons, as some Western analysts have suggested. ISW continues to assess that a renewed large-scale Russian invasion from Belarus is unlikely this winter, but it is a possibility that must be taken seriously.

Prominent Russian pro-war milbloggers are amplifying the possibility of the MDCOA over the winter-spring period. Former Russian military commander Igor Girkin, a prominent critical voice in the Russian milblogger space, responded to ongoing discussions within the Russian information space on December 23 about Russia’s capacity to renew an assault on northwestern Ukraine from Belarus to sever ground lines of communication (GLOCs) between Kyiv and Europe. Girkin broke the MDCOA into two possible sub-courses of action: Russia can invade from Belarus in an effort to capture territory or could alternatively conduct a diversionary operation to draw Ukrainian forces from other parts of the theater. Girkin argued that the Russian military could not effectively conduct an offensive operation to capture territory, but that a diversionary operation to support a Russian offensive elsewhere in Ukraine would make military sense. Girkin also pointed out that public discourse about this MDCOA had spread throughout the Russian-language internet and noted that other prominent milbloggers have hypothesized different scenarios for the MDCOA.

Some milbloggers have been speculating about the likelihood of a renewed Russian attack on northern Ukraine since at least October 2022. Prominent Russian Telegram channel Rybar, whose author is currently part of Putin’s mobilization working group, stated on October 20 that there were rumors of an “imminent” Russian offensive operation on Lviv, Volyn, Kyiv, Chernihiv, or Kharkiv. Another milblogger claimed on October 20 that joint forces in Belarus are too small to attack Kyiv but stated that he would not object if Russian forces attacked Chernihiv City.

Putin’s upcoming meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg on December 26-27 will advance the Russian information operation around the MDCOA even if it does not directly support preparations for it. Lukashenko’s office announced that Putin and Lukashenko will meet during a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) heads of state meeting in St. Petersburg on December 26-27. This meeting will advance the Kremlin’s existing information operation about the MDCOA, as Putin’s December 19 visit to Minsk did, given the growing Russian military presence in Belarus.

The Russian military continues to trip limited indicators for the MCDOA, reinforcing an information operation designed to establish the plausibility of the MDCOA or actual preparations for executing the MDCOA. The Russian Ministry of Defense ostentatiously announced on November 24 that it has a field hospital in Belarus. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on December 23 that Russian forces are planning to deploy at least one more field hospital in Belarus. Field hospitals are not necessary for training exercises and could indicate preparation for combat operations. The appearance of field hospitals in Belarus in early 2022 was among the final indicators observed before Russia commenced its full-scale invasion. Russia continues to deploy forces to Belarus under the rubric of training. Some Russian T-90 tanks, reportedly deployed to Belarus in late December 2022, were observed with winter camouflage. Equipping tanks with winter camouflage is not wholly necessary for training activity and could indicate preparation for actual winter combat operations. The deployment of field hospitals and repainting tanks could also be parts of an information operation.

The Russian military has been much more clearly setting conditions for an offensive in northwestern Luhansk Oblast, however. The Ukrainian General Staff reported observing an increased volume of railway transport of personnel, military equipment, and ammunition to combat areas on December 23. Geolocated footage published on December 23 also shows a train loaded with Russian T-90M and T-62M tanks heading toward Luhansk Oblast from Rostov Oblast. ISW previously observed Russian forces transferring elite airborne troops and other elements that previously operated in the Kherson and Kharkiv directions to Luhansk Oblast. The Kremlin continues to prioritize committing mobilized men to stabilize the Svatove-Kremina line over other areas of the front such as Bakhmut, Avdiivka, or western Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces are unlikely to attack across the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast after just withdrawing from western Kherson, and Russian mining and fortification efforts in Zaporizhzhia Oblast indicate that Russian forces do not seek to conduct an offensive there. The Kremlin could also attempt a spoiling attack on southeastern Kharkiv Oblast from Luhansk Oblast to regain lost territories west of the Oskil River. It is far from clear whether Russian forces would be able to effectively conduct such an operation since the terrain advantages the Ukrainian defenders and Russian offensive capabilities are very limited.

The Russian military may nevertheless attempt to conduct a diversionary attack on the ground or in the information space against northern Ukraine, likely in an effort to divert Ukrainian forces from defending in Donbas or in conjunction with an offensive in Luhansk or, less plausibly, elsewhere. Chief of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Kyrylo Budanov stated on December 23 that Russia is trying to divert Ukrainian forces from the southeast by setting up a feint in Belarus, noting that military activity in Belarus is an element of a disinformation campaign. The success of the Russian diversionary attack, however, relies on Russia’s ability to convince Ukraine of the plausibility of the threat of a deeper offensive operation. Ukrainian military officials continue to indicate that Ukrainian forces are prepared to defend their northern borders, and Ukraine’s fierce defenses around Bakhmut demonstrate that Ukrainian forces can hold off much larger numbers of Russian attackers.

ISW’s December 15 MDCOA warning forecast about a potential Russian offensive against northern Ukraine in winter 2023 remains a worst-case scenario within the forecast cone. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as low, but possible. Belarusian forces remain extremely unlikely to invade Ukraine without a Russian strike force. Ukrainian military officials noted that Russia had not created strike groups in Belarus. Russian milbloggers also note that Russia has not fixed fundamental flaws in its military campaign such as the lack of new equipment, poor leadership, and insufficient forces to sustain a successful offensive operation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reportedly preparing to present a peace plan in February 2023, which may be timed to exploit a failed Russian winter offensive. The Wall Street Journal, citing Ukrainian and European diplomats, reported on December 22 that Zelensky’s team is planning to present an unspecified peace plan in February 2023. Zelensky laid out a 10-point peace plan at the G20 summit in November 2022 that requires Russia to make concessions, including withdrawing all its troops from Ukraine and respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under international law. Zelensky may be preparing to present this peace plan around an anticipated failed Russian military offensive in early 2023.

The Kremlin continues to deflect criticism about Russia’s military failures in Ukraine by rhetorically narrowing the definitions of its initial war objectives without formally changing them. When asked about the Russian invasion’s progress, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Russian forces achieved “significant progress” in its war objective of “demilitarization” of Ukraine on December 23. Girkin lambasted Peskov’s response, sarcastically noting that Ukraine’s armed forces increased from about 250,000 personnel before the war to 700,000 personnel today and that Ukrainian forces are now equipped with advanced Western anti-tank ground missiles, precision artillery, and other systems that Ukraine did not have before Russia’s invasion. ISW continues to assess that Russia’s maximalist war objectives have not changed despite Peskov’s floundering to save face with the Kremlin’s Russian domestic audience.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s renewed public appearances likely indicate that he has become more concerned about his popularity and image in Russia. Putin has been seemingly making more public appearances in Russian cities and more frequently delivering vague statements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in recent days compared to his marked absence from public activity outside the Kremlin throughout the first ten months of the war. […]. Such appearances are likely a part of the Kremlin’s effort to present Putin as a wartime leader and regain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space as Russia heads into the second year of the war. Putin consistently relied on in-person appearances throughout his rule, which helped him to create an image of an all-seeing and ever-present ruler. […] 

Key Takeaways

  • ISW assesses that the Kremlin has been setting conditions for a new most dangerous course of action (MDCOA)—a renewed offensive from Belarus possibly aimed at Kyiv—since at least October 2022. The Kremlin may be conducting an information operation or may actually be preparing for this MDCOA, which ISW continues to assess to be unlikely but possible.
  • Prominent Russian pro-war milbloggers are amplifying the possibility of the MDCOA over the winter-spring period.
  • The Russian military continues to trip indicators for the MCDOA, reinforcing an information operation designed to establish the plausibility of the MDCOA or preparations to execute it.
  • The Russian military has more clearly been setting conditions for an offensive in northwestern Luhansk Oblast.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reportedly preparing to present a peace plan in February 2023, which could be timed to exploit a failed Russian winter offensive.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s renewed public appearances likely indicate that he has become more concerned about his popularity and image in Russia.
  • Russian forces conducted at least two reconnaissance-in-force operations in northern and northeastern Ukraine on December 22-23.
  • Ukrainian forces likely made tactical gains east and south of Bakhmut City over the past 72 hours.
  • Russian forces are continuing to establish defensive positions in left-bank Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts and are conducting defensive operations in southern Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin is intensifying its censorship efforts to silence concerns over an expansion of the Russian Armed Forces and a second mobilization wave.

Ukrainian partisans continued to target Russian officials in occupied territories.“

Threat of invasion from Belarus low, says Ukraine Spy Chief, The New York Times reports. “The director of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said on Friday that Russia was trying to convince Ukraine to divert soldiers from the combat zone in the southeast with a flurry of military activity to the north in Belarus, dismissing the activity as routine manoeuvres or feints intended to confuse. These are all elements of disinformation campaigns, he said. […]

For weeks, Russia has bolstered its military bases in Belarus with conscripts and moved troops by rail to and from, raising concerns that it might be planning a second invasion of Ukraine from the north. While the threat of a renewed Russian invasion from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus is not imminent, Mr. Budanov said, it still cannot be ruled out. It would be wrong to discount this possibility, he added, but also wrong to say we have any data confirming it exists.

Yet, longer-term risks linger, Mr. Budanov acknowledged, and other Ukrainian officials had pointed out in a series of interviews earlier this month the risk of an escalation during the winter months. But Mr. Budanov’s comments were the most concrete yet in specifying that no intelligence now points to an imminent threat from Belarus.

None of the Russian troops are arrayed in assault formations, he said. Training camps for Russian soldiers are filled with newly mobilized civilians who, after completing training, are sent to fight in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. The training sites lack sufficient armoured vehicles in mechanically working order to stage an attack, he said.

Russia’s military has tried to raise alarms in the Ukrainian army by loading soldiers on trains that chug toward Belarus’s border with Ukraine, he said. The Soviet Union employed similar tactics during World War II, sending soldiers on useless train rides to imitate attacks or retreats. In Belarus, one train loaded with Russian soldiers stopped recently for half a day near Ukraine’s border, then returned with all the soldiers aboard, Mr. Budanov said, calling it a “carousel.”

Similarly, he said, Russia’s cross-border artillery shelling into the Sumy and Kharkiv regions of northeastern Ukraine, which has killed and wounded dozens of people, is not a harbinger of an immediate threat of a repeat invasion. Russian military units are not assembled for an attack and cannot be formed in one day.

In the southeast in the Donbas region, Mr. Budanov said, the political ambitions of the leader of a Russian mercenary army called the Wagner Group have partly dictated strategy on the Russian side. The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider, has made a crusade of capturing the city of Bakhmut to upstage rival commanders in the Russian regular army, Mr. Budanov said. Wagner coordinates with the army but is the primary force in the Bakhmut front.

A Russian general appointed in September as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, has aligned with Mr. Prigozhin in a rivalry with the Russian minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, Mr. Budanov said. There is only an ideological and media question here, he said of the fierce assault on Bakhmut. That is a reason Wagner units are trying so fanatically to capture this town. They need to show they are a force, and they can do what the Russian army could not. We see that clearly and understand.

While capturing Bakhmut is not considered strategically important, it would improve Russia’s position in the east by opening roads to other Donbas cities still under Ukrainian control, he said. […]

The alliance of Mr. Prigozhin and General Surovikin has led to the transfer of heavy weaponry from the army to the units of Wagner, expanding the organization’s role in the war, Mr. Budanov said. Wagner mercenaries had earlier fought in Syria and Africa. The group calls itself a private military company.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is now fought in two largely separate arenas: the ground battles in the south and east, and a contest between Ukraine’s air defense systems and Russian cruise missiles and drones aimed at electrical infrastructure.

Since October, Russia has fired volleys of missiles and drones at Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in intervals of roughly a week to 10 days, Mr. Budanov said, with an average scale of about 75 missiles in each volley. The drones have been supplied largely by Iran, and Mr. Budanov said Russia is also counting on Tehran to replenish its missile arsenal.

To persuade Iran to support this effort, Russia has offered scientific know-how to Iran’s military industry, Mr. Budanov said, describing the geopolitical tie between Russia and Iran that has emerged during the war in Ukraine. But it only goes so far, he said. Iran has so far declined to support Russia with transfers of ballistic missiles, a risk Ukrainian officials had raised alarms about previously.

Iran is not hurrying to do this, for understandable reasons, because as soon as Russia fires the first missiles the sanctions pressure will grow on Iran, Mr. Budanov said. Under a contract reached over the summer, Russia acquired 1,700 so-called Shahed exploding drones from Iran, Mr. Budanov said. They are delivered in tranches.

So far, Russia has fired about 540 of the drones, he said, in tactical strikes along the front line and in barrages aimed at power plants, pylons for transmission lines and electrical substations. Most of the small, delta-wing flying bombs are shot down before reaching their targets. But they are also cheap. In Iran, Mr. Budanov said, the manufacturing cost is about $7,000 per unit, though it is unclear how much Iran actually charged Russia for the weapons.”

 

  1. Consequences and what to do? 

Zelenskyy Announces Main Tasks for Diplomats for Next Year, European Pravda reports. “The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has announced the main tasks for Ukrainian diplomats, which they should accomplish next year.

  1. To start negotiations on Ukraine’s EU accession.
  2. Prepare for the planned NATO summit and ensure specific results of this summit for Ukraine.
  3. Updated defence and security needs.
  4. Restoration of the Ukrainian energy system and the implementation of the Fast Recovery Plan.
  5. New sanction packages against Russia.
  6. Work on the tribunal regarding the crime of aggression and the responsibility of war criminals.
  7. Find and freeze the assets of Russia and persons associated with the terrorist state on the territory of the host countries.
  8. “Supporting our people not just as much as you can, but much more.”

Work to ensure that our people return to Ukraine and all their rights and legitimate interests in their countries of residence are satisfied. Ukrainian identity, Ukrainian cultural, educational, informational, and social needs must be satisfied, Zelenskyy said.”

Poll: 78% of Ukrainians see any compromises to end war unacceptable, Ukrinform reports. “Some 78% of respondents in the survey “Post-war future of Ukraine,” run by the Kharkiv Institute of Social Research, believe Ukraine should not go for any compromises with Russia in order to end the war. Andriy Chernousov, a leading expert with the organization, announced this during the presentation of the survey results at Ukrinform.

One of the first and main issues that is of great concern to us, to many, is the ability of Ukraine to return all temporarily occupied, or, as they say, captured territories. The vast majority of Ukrainians, 89%, believe that it will definitely happen, Chernousov said.

Are there any compromises you are willing to accept in order to achieve peace? 78% of Ukrainians say there is no need to make any compromises, the expert noted.

When asked what the victory of Ukraine in the war personally means for them, 57% answered: the return to the 1991 borders, 21% will consider it a victory when Ukraine becomes a recognized leader in Eastern Europe. According to the survey, for 8% of respondents, victory is the return to the borders as of February 24, 2022, and for another 8% – disintegration of Russia into several states.”

Military-technical assistance to Ukraine – an assessment of its short- and medium-term needs, the executive summary of a PISM report published 20 December. “Western military aid has played a key role in Ukraine’s ability to preserve its independence, but it is still insufficient to break Russia’s offensive potential, to recapture Russian-held territory, or even to stop Russia’s next possible offensives—in short, to end the war. Ukraine cannot rely on its own defence industry, a great part of which has been destroyed. For these reasons, it is necessary to increase both the scale and scope of Western military support for Ukraine, which should include more NATO-standard weapons than before.

Although the situation on the battlefield became more favourable for Ukraine in autumn 2022, Russia still has an advantage in terms of quantity and reserves of armament. Without breaking the Russian offensive potential, which would bring a conclusion to the war on terms favourable to Ukraine, there is no chance for changing Russia’s strategic ambitions and calculus. Russia will attempt to regain the military initiative, as confirmed by its “partial mobilisation” and placing industry on a war footing.

To date, the course of the war has confirmed that the results at the strategic and tactical levels depend on the appropriate concentration and use of heavy conventional weapons. The six essential types of these capabilities are: heavy barrel and rocket artillery, armoured and motorised troops, longer-range missiles, air power, drones (UAVs) and loitering munitions, and air-defence systems. So far, Ukraine has serious gaps in each category, and this asymmetry persists despite Russia’s high losses.

Most barriers to providing military assistance to Ukraine are, above all, political in nature. Ukraine’s partners differ in their strategic calculations, scope, scale, and determination to provide assistance. Objectively, obstacles to aid stem from limited reserves of armaments and ammunition and decades-long policies of reducing the production capacity of Western defence industries.

In general, the first step for providing military aid to Ukraine is clarifying capability gaps, that is, the disparity with Russia. The next step is to analyse available options for supplying weapons and ammunition. One can consider eastern options (Soviet-made or compatible systems), STANAG options (NATO-standard weapons), and asymmetric options (systems that are not equal to a given capability but make it possible to counter it, for example, anti-tank guided missiles as a partial solution to the issue of Russian numerical superiority in tanks, at the same time substituting for the lack of Western tanks). A third step, especially for Ukraine’s neighbouring partners, could be to use the support of NATO forces and means, or accelerated individual modernisation efforts, to fill the gaps created by the transfer of their weapons to Ukraine.

In most of the capability gaps analysed, there are severe limitations to further pursue the eastern options, due to the rapidly depleting reserves of Soviet systems or ammunition in NATO countries. At the same time, asymmetric options must be considered as interim or complementary solutions in the absence of a willingness by some of Ukraine’s partners to supply weapons analogous to Russia’s. Therefore, the most desirable and effective capabilities that can be offered to Ukraine are systems identified in this report as STANAG options, which are produced in NATO countries or by pro-Western Asian states.

Within a few months of the war, Ukraine’s heavy artillery almost fully transitioned from Soviet-era systems to howitzers, HIMARS, MLRS launchers, and STANAG ammunition. Moreover, Ukraine already relies almost entirely on Western drones and loitering munitions and on access to commercial drones. A similar transition will also be necessary in Ukraine’s armoured and motorised forces, longer-range guided missiles, air force, and air defence systems.

Ukraine’s current artillery capabilities are based on several post-Soviet systems and at least 9-10 different NATO howitzer models. Weakness of such a “patchwork” of systems calls for a gradual rationalisation of assistance to Ukraine, for example the creation of simple and continuous logistics chains, the formation of units using the same standardised systems, and maintaining assistance from smaller groups of states that have supplied identical systems. Such rationalisation would be advisable in 2023-2024 for the majority of other STANAG options, which would also increase the interoperability of Ukrainian forces with NATO in the post-war perspective.

Due to probable exhaustion of T-72 tank reserves in Europe in 2023, Ukraine may need to switch to NATO tank models, such as the American M-60 and M-1 Abrams or the German Leopard-1 and Leopard-2. Existing NATO and non-NATO reserves of M-113 armoured personnel carriers also make it possible to fully outfit Ukraine’s land forces with them. Even with positive decisions on tank deliveries, Ukraine will still need a continuous supply of anti-tank missiles, especially of the Javelin or TOW type.

Russia has an overwhelming advantage over Ukraine in ballistic and cruise missiles. Currently, Ukraine does not have the capability to strike Russian targets at more than 100-120 km, apart from the selective and improvised use of long-range drones. In 2023-2024, it is necessary to continue supplying Ukraine with HARM anti-radar and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Urgent and binding arrangements between the US and Ukraine are also needed for the possible delivery of ATACMS ballistic missiles with a range of 300 km.

Ukraine faces the full degradation of its air force, which is based on MiG-29 and Su-27 multi-role aircraft, as early as in 2023. This requires its transition to a new fleet of aircraft, such as American F-16s or Swedish Gripens. Postponing this decision beyond 2024 will create a dangerous capability gap on the Ukrainian side. There are fewer problems with supplying Ukraine with post-Soviet transport and attack helicopters from Central Europe, so the full transition of this fleet to Western systems can be carried out at a later date.

Ukraine’s air defence is responsible for inflicting relatively high losses on Russia’s air force, but in this area eastern options are running out, too. Therefore, in 2023 it will be necessary to build a new network of radars and air interceptor launchers for Ukraine, based on NASAMS, HAWK, and IRIS-T systems. Also during 2023 there is a need to finish studies on the new architecture of Ukraine’s longer-range, integrated air and missile defence, preferably based on Patriot or SAMP-T systems.

NATO’s attention should focus on the capability gaps emerging in some Central European members due to their delivery of weapons to Ukraine. The cost and scale of their accelerated armed forces’ modernisation to fill national gaps are now so high that they require support from Western Europeans and the US NATO’s forces and systems on the Eastern Flank must support credible deterrence and defence posture, which to now relies mainly on US efforts. Only synchronised military aid to Ukraine and reinforcement of NATO’s Eastern Flank countries will ensure the complete failure of Russia’s plans in Europe.”

 

Hans Petter Midttun: Today it is exactly 10 months since Russia turned a low-intensity hybrid conflict into a full-scale war. It is also 2 months short of 9 years since the hybrid war started.

For ten months we have witnessed atrocities and brutality not seen since Word War 2. Once again, an autocracy is waging war in Europe. Russia has started an unjust and unprovoked war against Ukraine to deny it the right to exist. A neighbour state has turned into a State Sponsor of Terrorism. It is committing crimes against humanity. War crimes are being committed at an unprecedented scale and scope in the middle of Europe. Millions have been forced to flee or become refugees in their own country as Ukraine is slowly being destroyed. Russia is using winter to inflict even more suffering on a population already suffering from its brutality.

For ten years we have sat idle watching peace turn into a low-intensity and later, a full-scale war. We have failed to respond resolutely to the hybrid war Russia has been waging against Europe for years. We have allowed Russia to undermine the very international laws and institutions that are the foundation of our security, stability and prosperity. International law and conventions have been cast aside. Russia has turned truth into lies.

It has left us ample time to reflect on the fragility of democracy when it is taken for granted. We have been allowed to ask ourselves who will protect democracy, international law, shared values, and principles when democratic countries fail to act.

But it has also allowed us to question the Western strategy. Are the chosen strategy serving our interests?

We are exposed to a “tsunami of ripple effects” from the war which has raised costs of living, food and energy insecurity, spreading famine, recession, inflation and ever-increasing interest rates, increase the likelihood of social unrest, increased extremism, riots globally, and ultimately the potential fall of governments.

Europe is experiencing the biggest refugee crisis since WW2. The international security architecture is being dismantled and the international organisations meant to unite us are being discredited. NATO is being deterred from acting according to its (late) strategic concept.

Since 24 February, the Heads of State have stressed that Ukraine is not a NATO member and, therefore, not eligible for collective defence. They have also strenuously argued that military intervention in Ukraine is not an option for the risk of a broader confrontation. They have simultaneously and collectively failed to mention NATO’s second essential core task “Crisis management” and their commitment to “actively employ an appropriate mix of those political and military tools to help manage developing crises that have the potential to affect Alliance security, before they escalate into conflicts; to stop ongoing conflicts where they affect Alliance security

In September 2021 the European Parliament stated that the European member states – most of which are also members of NATO – are exposed to a Russian Hybrid War. It presented a comprehensive list of Russian aggressions to substantiate the claim, many of which also took place in the US.

What many describe as “grey zone operations below the threshold of war” must be interpreted in the words of General Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. In March 2013 he argued that “in terms of the scale of the casualties and destruction, the catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences, such new-type conflicts are comparable with the consequences of any real war.”

It must not least be seen in context with the realities on the ground. Russia is still conducting a Hybrid War in Ukraine. On 24 February it only entered a new phase. We witnessed a horizontal escalation as Russia made military power its main effort, turning the non-military means into a supporting role. The non-military means, however, are very much in use trying to both undermine Western support for Ukraine as well as undermine the economic foundation for a free and independent Ukrainian state.

It’s the same aggressor, with the same strategic aim and objectives, using the exact same tools as it has used for nearly nine years. Only the balance between the military and non-military means being employed have shifted.

What started off as a low-intensity war has turned into a full-scale war. The EU is experiencing the very same war Ukraine experienced until 24 February 2022.

If NATO was to agree with the EU assessment it would be forced to acknowledge that the Alliance is already involved in a broader confrontation. Russia’s threat assessments, strategic documents and signalling, including its ultimatums from 17 December, its ongoing influence operations and energy war further highlights the dire situation.

If NATO acknowledge that it is exposed to a Russian Hybrid War, the following questions need to be asked: Why hasn’t NATO triggered article 5? Why isn’t it defending its security and stability alongside Ukraine?

In the meantime, we need to ask why the EU is exposed to a Russian Hybrid War and NATO is not?

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