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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 306: Air base hit in Russia 600 km behind the lines once again

Blasts were heard at Russia’s Engels air base 600 km from Ukraine for the second time this month. Russia to supply Iran with 24 Su-35 aircraft. Ukraine says it destroyed a Russian HQ in Kherson Oblast. Russian forces will “likely struggle to maintain the pace of their offensive operations in the Bakhmut area.” The US is trying to find ways to reduce Ukraine’s dependence on high rates of artillery fire. “Putin has already lost the war, like Hitler in 1943,” the European Commission vice president says. Russian officials are planning to take children from Horlivka, Donetsk to Belarus, possibly as a scheme to deport Ukrainian children.

Daily overview — Summary report, December 26


The operational update regarding the Russian invasion by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of 06.00 26.12.2022, supplemented by its [18:00 assessment]:

“Over the past 24 hours, the enemy launched 1 air and 5 missile strikes, carried out more than 40 attacks from rocket salvo systems.

Situation in Ukraine. December 24, 2022. Source: ISW.

Units of the Défense Forces of Ukraine repelled the attacks of the occupiers in the areas of Novoselivske, Stelmakhivka, Ploschanka, Nevske, and Chervonpopivka in the Luhansk region and Vesele, Yakovlivka, Soledar, Bakhmutske, Pidgorodne, Bakhmut, Kurdyumivka, Mayorsk, Vodiane, Krasnohorivka, and Mariinka in the Donetsk region.

In the Volyn, Poliske, Siversk, and Slobozhansk directions, the situation remains without significant changes, the enemy maintains a military presence along the state border, no signs of the formation of enemy offensive groups have been detected.

  • In the Siversky direction, enemy shelling was recorded in the areas of Vyntorivka, Manukhivka, Ryzhivka, and Vorozhba settlements of the Sumy region.
  • In the Slobozhansk direction, areas of the settlements of Strelecha, Starytsia, Zemlianka, Ustinivka, Vilkhuvatka, Chugunivka, Novomlynsk and Kamianka of the Kharkiv region were hit by mortar and artillery fire.
  • On the Kupiansk and Lymansk directions, the enemy inflicted fire damage in the areas of more than 25 settlements. Among them – Dvorichna, Kislivka, Kotlyarivka, and Berestivka in Kharkiv Oblast; Stelmakhivka, Ploshanka, Dibrova, and Chervonopivka in Luhansk Oblast and Yampolivka and Torske in Donetsk Oblast.
  • On the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, the enemy fired at the positions of our troops in the areas of more than 20 settlements. In particular, these are Spirne, Berestovka, Yakovlivka, Soledar, Bakhmut, Opytne, Ozaryanivka, New York, Avdiivka, Krasnohorivka and Mariinka of the Donetsk region.
  • In the Novopavlivsk direction, Vugledar, Velyka Novosilka, and Vremivka of the Donetsk region were affected by the fire.
  • iÏn the Zaporizhzhia direction, more than 25 settlements were shelled. Among them are Gulyaipole, Chervone, Stepove, Mali Shcherbaki, Shcherbaki, and Charivne of the Zaporizhzhia region and Nikopol – Dnipropetrovsk region.
  • In the Kherson direction, the enemy continues artillery shelling of populated areas along the right bank of the Dnipro River. The civil infrastructure of the settlements of Respublikanets, Tyaginka, Zelenivka, Inzhenerne, Antonivka, Sadove, and Veletenske of the Kherson region and the city of Kherson were damaged.

The enemy continues to suffer losses. For example, in the city of Starobilsk, Luhansk region, in the military hospital equipped by the occupiers, about 50 seriously wounded enemy servicemen have recently been delivered. In the city of Horlivka, Donetsk region, due to the lack of donor blood, all employees of medical institutions were obliged to donate blood according to the established schedule.

{The damage to the invaders’ manpower and equipment in the previous days has been confirmed. So, in the Donetsk oblast, 4 self-propelled artillery systems 2C7 “Pion” were destroyed. And in the Zabaryne district of the Kherson oblast, the headquarters of the occupiers was hit, where a meeting of officers of the southern military district of the armed forces of the russian federation was held. As a result, up to 70 servicemen were injured. The number of dead is being clarified.]

Aviation of the Defense Forces during the past 24 hours struck 5 areas of concentration of personnel and OVT of the occupiers.

Units of the missile forces and artillery hit 9 control points, 2 manpower concentration areas, and 2 other important enemy objects.

Military updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Christmas miracle: Russian MiG on fire in Belarus, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Belaruski Hajun [an independent Belarusian military monitoring media outlet] on Telegram. “On 25 December, a Russian MiG-31K aircraft, which can carry Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles, was burning on the territory of the Belarusian airfield in the settlement of Machulishchy. It is reported that the jet is out of commission and will not be able to fly in the near future.

On 25 December, an air-raid siren blared throughout Ukraine two times in the course of the day. At the same time, an Il-76 A-50U long-range radar tracking plane Sergey Atayants, as well as a fighter aircraft and a MiG-31K of the Russian Air Force, which can carry Kinzhal missiles, [took off from] Machulishchy, Belarus.”

Russia’s MiG-31K aircraft knocked out of action after catching fire in Belarus – Belarusian OSINT group

Armed Forces of Ukraine strike Russian HQ in Kherson where officer meeting was held, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “On 24 December, the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit the Russian headquarters in the area of Zabaryne, Kherson Oblast, where an officers’ meeting was held; up to 70 invaders were wounded.”

Blasts heard at Russia’s Engels air base, Ukrinform reports. “Explosions have been heard at a strategic military air base in Engels, Russia. That’s according to Russian Telegram channels, Ukrinform reports.

Engels airfield, a siren can be heard. Before that, there were explosions (two explosions according to initial information), the report said. Russia uses the airfield for massive missile attacks on Ukraine. Russian Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers are stationed there.”

Russian airbase in Saratov’s Engels under attack again: Russia claims “Ukrainian” UAV downed but three troops killed

Three killed from falling drone wreckage at Russian military base in Saratov – Defence Ministry, Reuters reports. “Three military personnel were killed as a result of wreckage from a Ukrainian drone falling on a military base in Russia’s Saratov region, Russian agencies reported citing the country’s defence ministry.

On December 26, at about 01:35 Moscow time, a Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down at low altitude while approaching the Engels military airfield in the Saratov region,” the Russian Defence Ministry [claimed]. The ministry added that aviation equipment was not damaged.”

Belarus says Russia-deployed Iskander missile systems ready for use, Reuters reports. “The Iskander tactical missile systems and the S-400 air defence systems that Russia has deployed to Belarus are fully prepared to perform their intended tasks, a senior Belarusian defence ministry official said on Sunday. […]

It is not clear how many of the Iskander systems – which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons – have been deployed to Belarus after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in June that Moscow would supply Minsk with them and the air defence systems.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 24 hours):

  • Russian forces have largely focused on constructing defensive positions along many sections of the front line in Ukraine since October. This includes laying additional fields of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, almost certainly going beyond Russian doctrinal guidelines.
  • Minefields only present an effective obstacle for trained troops if covered by observation and fire. A major challenge for the Russian forces will likely be a shortage of surveillance assets and trained personnel to effectively monitor large areas of the new minefields.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Monday 26 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 102600 (+550),
  • Tanks – 3016 (+5),
  • Armored combat vehicles – 6017 (+7),
  • Artillery systems – 1996 (+5),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 418 (+0),
  • Air defence means – 212 (+0),
  • Aircraft – 283 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 267 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 4647 (+12),
  • Vessels/boats – 16 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 1707 (+1),
  • 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, Avdiivka, and Bakhmut directions.

Russia lost 620 troops, 5 tanks, 16 armored vehicles on Dec 24 – Ukraine’s General Staff

Russians lost thousands of soldiers at Bakhmut, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Serhii Haidai, Head of Luhansk Oblast Military Administration. “As for Bakhmut, it is no longer even a strategic military plan, although there is such a thing, but a rather symbolic matter, which the Kremlin regime loves very much.

Plus, the Kadyrovites [the Chechen forces led by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and fighting as part of the Russian army -ed.] and Wagnerites [and inmates recruited by Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the founder of the Wagner Group private military company -ed.] want to prove themselves and show ‘the bunker grandpa’[Putin] that they are capable of something. But so far, they are losing thousands of their soldiers, who stay there for life.”

Putin still tells tales of 99.9% of Russians “ready to put everything on the line for Motherland”, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the vast majority of Russians are ready to “put everything on the line” for the sake of their country.

It simply reassures me once again that Russia is a special country. And special people live here. According to him, this is allegedly confirmed throughout the entire history of Russia’s existence, and once again today.”

Duma prepares higher taxation for Russians who left country (which is ironic in view of Putin’s claim above), Reuters reports. “Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, said the Russian lower house of parliament was preparing a law to introduce higher taxation for people who have left the country, as many have since the war in Ukraine began in February. It is right to cancel preferences for those who have left the Russian Federation and to introduce an increased tax rate for them, Volodin wrote on the Telegram messaging app. We are working on appropriate changes to the legislation.

The number of Russians who have left since the start of the war is unclear. By early October, some local media had reported that as many as 700,000 had fled following the September announcement of a mobilisation drive to call up as many as 300,000 to fight. The government rejected that figure at the time.”


Russians hold people at Vasylivka checkpoint, Zaporizhzhia Oblast for ten days, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol. “The Ruscists made a reservation out of the occupied territories and are holding people hostage. For the last 10 days, the Russians have not released residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts leaving towards the city of Zaporizhzhia through Vasylivka checkpoint.

According to the mayor, over the course of 10 months, the occupiers intensified terror and made evacuation difficult; they artificially created thousands of queues at checkpoints and introduced a system of special travel passes, for which it was necessary to wait up to a month at the occupation commandant’s office.

A month ago, the invaders stopped releasing men fit for military service, and now they are not releasing even children, women, and the elderly. For people who want to drive through, the invaders offer to leave their cars and go to Zaporizhzhia on foot. The occupiers note that the road is closed until January 15.”

Third of Ukrainians now celebrate Christmas on 25 December, not 7 January

More than 15M tonnes of grain exported from Ukrainian ports – Turkish defense minister, Ukrinform reports. “Thanks to the work of the Joint Coordination Center established in Istanbul, more than 15 million tonnes of food were safely sent from Ukrainian ports to countries in need. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said this during a trip to Gaziantep province, Ukrinform reports, citing DHA.

On November 17 in Istanbul, Ukraine, the United Nations and Türkiye agreed to extend the Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports (the Black Sea Grain Initiative) for another 120 days. The initiative was launched on July 22, and the first vessel with Ukrainian grain left the port of Odesa on August 1.”

Russian invasion made Ukraine stronger – mayor of strategic city Mykolaiv

Russian Army destroys church in Kherson Oblast, Euromaidan Press reports. “Attacks of Russian troops which target religious buildings in Ukraine violate international laws, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Christmas Day on 25 December.

The only Kyselivka village (Kherson Oblast) church was fully destroyed by Russian shelling. The Hague Convention IV protects religious buildings during hostilities, but for Russian war criminals there is no God, nor any respect for religion, the minister wrote on Twitter.”

Two hospitals hit in Russia’s deadly attack on Kherson, Ukrinform reports, citing by Kherson Regional Military Administration Head, Yaroslav Yanushevych. “Two hospitals were hit in Russia’s deadly attack on the city of Kherson yesterday. Fortunately, no casualties were reported.

Rashists continue to attack hospitals in the Kherson region. These are deliberate terrorist attacks on the facilities providing aid to civilians. Yesterday, the enemy struck two health facilities in Kherson, Yanushevych wrote.”

450 children were killed, 867 children injured – the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of period 16-23 December. 3,126 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 337 of them are destroyed fully. 56,330 crimes of aggression and war crimes, and 18,404 crimes against national security were registered.


Bolting random weapons on random chassis, the Ukrainian army proves its ingenuity … and desperation, Forbes reported on 19 December. “A slightly odd-looking Ukrainian infantry fighting vehicle, churning through the cold mud that’s typical of Ukraine’s early winters, tells a profound story. One of desperation. And improvisation. The Ukrainian military and its supporting industry for months have been taking bits and pieces of wrecked armored vehicles and combining them with museum-quality antique weapons and even pickup trucks. The result is a dizzying array of improvised armour, rocket-launchers and air-defense systems. Each the military equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

Some obviously work just fine. Some probably don’t. All are indicative of Ukrainian ingenuity. But they also underscore vexing shortages in the Ukrainian arsenal—shortages that Ukraine’s foreign allies are unwilling or unable to fill as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its 10th month. […]

Despite the shortfall, Ukraine’s NATO allies have donated just a few hundred IFVs—all of them BMPs. Ukraine hasn’t received a single non-Soviet IFV from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or any other ally.

Instead, NATO countries have sent to Ukraine a thousand lightly-armed APCs—M-113s, mostly—that each can carry a squad of infantry but generally lack turrets and cannons. They can carry, but they can’t fight. Yes, the M-113 is fast and reliable. But all those APCs filling in for IFVs could represent risk for Ukrainian heavy brigades—and likely explain the enduring demand for Frankenstein fighting vehicles.

It’s safe to assume that, if the Ukrainians were getting hundreds of second-hand M-2s from the Americans or Marders from the Germans, they wouldn’t bother welding BMP turrets to PRP-3/4 hulls. But those M-2s and Marders aren’t forthcoming—and it’s difficult to explain why. Many NATO armies are in the process of replacing their older IFVs with new designs or, owing to post-Cold War force-structure cuts, are sitting on huge reserves of idle IFVs.

NATO countries seem to be answering a logistical impulse. They want to equip the Ukrainian army with the fewest possible different vehicles. By that rationale, it’s better for the United States and Germany both to offer up M-113s than for the Americans and Germans separately to pledge M-2s and Marders. One supply chain versus two.

But in the case of armored vehicles, that logistical standardization comes at the cost of combat capability. Ask Ukrainian commanders which trade-off they favor. They might not always ask for simpler logistics. If simplicity were their priority, they wouldn’t be bolting random rockets and guns onto whatever wheeled or tracked chassis they can get their hands on.”

ImageThe military balance 10 months into the full-scale war, reported by Volodymyr Dacenko, analyst and a columnist in Forbes Ukraine. This is a comparison of the available military power of Ukraine and Russia (according to open-source data). Although the mobilization did not go well in Russia, the Russians managed to saturate the front line and complicate the advance of the Armed Forces. The new mobilized who arrive at the front are already better prepared than the first batches. They are, however, equally poorly equipped

In general, the gap between Ukraine and Russia in military power is gradually decreasing. This is a consequence of disparity in battlefield losses, Russian defense industries limited ability to replace equipment lost due to sanctions, and not least, because of Western-supplied defense aid to Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukraine has received a high number of war trophies. Russia is the main supplier of heavy weapons to Ukraine (at least tanks and armored vehicles).

While Russia’s “generosity” is welcome, Ukraine needs more modern weapons. Most heavy weapons received from Western partners (and Russia) are Soviet legacy systems. The parity in technology helps turn the war into a war of attrition rather than modern, manoeuvre warfare. Russia cannot be defeated by numbers, but by quality. Ukraine needs a technological advantage to succeed. Introducing the American M-60 and M-1 Abrams or the German Leopard-1 and Leopard-2 would give Ukraine an advantage on the battlefield.

Russia has been forced to change its tactics several times. Initially, Russia attempted a “Blitzkrieg” using heavy armoured vehicles. This summer, they abandoned their traditional Battalion Tactical Group concept and began using groups of armoured vehicles and infantry for attacks. Now, the assault is mainly carried out by infantry units supported by artillery (as in World War I).

Ukraine, on the contrary, uses more armoured vehicles during its counter-offensive. It is, however, lacking both armoured vehicles and main battle tanks in the numbers needed to breakthrough and rout Russian forces.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, recently stated that Ukraine needs 300 tanks, approximately 700 infantry fighting vehicles, and 500 howitzers to be able to achieve the next major objective.

Artillery is becoming a problem for Russia. Considering the tens of millions of old Soviet shells, Russia will not run out of artillery ammunition anytime soon. According to Volodymyr Dacenko, they are, however, running out of ammunition for the attack at a distance of more than 20 km.

Presently, Ukraine is probably dominating at range between 20-80 km, while Russia dominates ranges below and beyond. Ukrainian supplies of 155mm shells and GMLRS are, however, limited. It needs longer-range capabilities to destroy the Russians’ logistics nodes in the rear. The destruction of Russian logistics is one of the main premises for both preserving lives and military capabilities as well as conducting counteroffensive.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister convinced that it’s only matter of time till Ukraine receives all necessary weapons, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is convinced that Ukraine will eventually receive all the weapons it needs from its partners. This is my impression. If we sum up all the behind-the-scenes conversations, not just in Washington, D.C., but also in other countries, the conclusion is this: all the necessary weapons will be made available, it’s only a matter of time.

Why cannot the weapons be provided immediately? There are psychological, logistical, and political reasons. But we have to work with all these barriers, and we will. It is not just a matter of reluctance.

The supply of any weapon is a very complex technical and logistics operation, we are dealing with all of these details jointly with colleagues from other government agencies… I have a definite feeling, a finger-tips feeling so to say, that the matter of weapons supply has no taboos. And the best testament to that are the Patriots [air-defence systems].”

Support for Ukraine’s energy sector from international partners reached almost $1.5B, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. “Assistance to the energy sector from partners is gaining momentum. We have almost $1.5 billion in declared support. Additional equipment is arriving every day to repair damaged infrastructure. More than 200 cargoes of energy equipment have already arrived, the report said.

Shmyhal recalled that the state would allocate UAH 150 million to small and medium-sized entrepreneurs for investment projects in the field of energy saving and energy supply. Also, last week the Government of Ukraine allocated UAH 400 million to businesses as part of the eRobota project.”

New developments

  1. Ukraine will create its own Christmas miracle, Zelenskyy says in defiant message, Reuters reports. “Ukrainians will create their own miracle this Christmas by showing they remain unbowed despite Russian attacks that have plunged millions into darkness, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a defiant message on Saturday. Speaking 10 months to the day since Russian launched a war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions more, Zelenskyy said that while freedom came at a high price, slavery would cost even more.”
  2. Putin boasts that situation with war in Ukraine “not as dangerous” for Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing  RIA Novosti and RBC. “Putin’s response when asked whether Russia is approaching a dangerous point in the war against Ukraine: “Well, I don’t think it’s that dangerous.” The Russian president alleged once again that, by attacking Ukraine, he was acting the right way, defending the national interests, the interests of citizens and people, and that there was simply no other choice. […] At the same time, […] alleged that he was ready to negotiate on acceptable terms with all the participants in this process, but this is a matter for Ukraine and the West to consider.
  3. Putin says Russia ready to negotiate over Ukraine, Kyiv says Moscow doesn’t want talks, Reuters reports. “We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are, Putin told Rossiya 1 state television. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Putin needed to return to reality and acknowledge it was Russia which did not want talks. “Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,” the adviser, Mykhailo Podoliak, tweeted. Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.”
  4. Russia to supply Iran with 24 Su-35 aircraft – i24NEWS, Euromaidan Press reports. “Russia will soon supply Iran with a full squadron of advanced Sukhoy Su-35 multirole fighter jets, the Israeli-based news television channel i24NEWS reported referring to unnamed Western intelligence sources who monitor security deals between Iran and Russia. It will apparently be 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, originally produced for Egypt under a deal that was torpedoed by the United States. The Russians were looking for buyers for the unsold surplus, and it looks like Tehran will be getting those planes very soon. According to an intelligence report, Iranian pilots are already training on these planes, i24NEWS says.”


  1. On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Saturday 24 December:

Ukrainian Counteroffensives Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)

Russian forces continued to conduct limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Kreminna-Svatove line on December 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Andriivka, Luhansk Oblast (15km west of Svatove). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults in the direction of Stelmakhivka (16km northwest of Svatove) and in the direction of Nadiia (16km west of Svatove). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces have transitioned from offensive operations to positional battles near Dvorichna (55km northwest of Svatove). Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults in the direction of Makiivka (23km northwest of Kreminna) and in the area of Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna) and that there are positional battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the vicinity of Ploshchanka (17km northwest of Kreminna). One Russian milblogger claimed on December 23 that Russian forces are now at a distance close enough to Makiivka to effectively use small-arms fire against Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces also conducted assaults in the direction of Yampolivka, Donetsk Oblast (17km west of Kreminna) and near Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted an assault in the vicinity of Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna).

Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian rear areas on December 24. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck Polovynkyne, Luhansk Oblast (56km southeast of Svatove) with HIMARS rockets. Social media sources posted footage indicating that Ukrainian forces reportedly struck an unspecified warehouse in Polovynkyne.

Russian forces’ rate of advance in the Bakhmut area has likely slowed in recent days, although it is too early to assess whether the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut has culminated. Russian milbloggers acknowledged that Ukrainian forces in the Bakhmut area have managed to slightly slow down the pace of the Russian advance around Bakhmut and its surrounding settlements, with one claiming that Ukrainian forces pushed back elements of the Wagner Group to positions they held days ago. Ukrainian social media sources previously claimed that Ukrainian forces completely pushed Russian forces out of the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut around December 21. ISW has also assessed that Russian forces made slightly fewer overall advances in the Bakhmut area in November and December combined as compared to the month of October.

Russian forces will likely struggle to maintain the pace of their offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and may seek to initiate a tactical or operational pause. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported on December 24 that Russian forces currently lack the necessary stockpile of artillery munitions to support large-scale offensive operations and that sustaining defensive operations along the lengthy frontline in Ukraine requires the Russian military to expend a significant number of shells and rockets daily. The Ukrainian Joint Forces Task Force released an interview on December 24 with a Ukrainian servicemember in the Bakhmut area detailing that Russian forces have been conducting an extremely high pace of assaults on Ukrainian positions in the area with little corresponding progress. The Wagner Group’s reported heavy losses in the Bakhmut area in recent weeks have also likely strained Russian forces’ current operational capabilities in the area.

The Russian military’s personnel and munitions constraints will likely prevent it from maintaining the current high pace of offensive operations in the Bakhmut area in the near-term. Russian forces previously allocated significant resources in a meat-grinder effort to seize Severodonesk and Lysychansk in spring–summer 2022. Russian forces culminated after capturing Lysychansk in early July and failed to capture neighboring Siversk to the east or Sloviansk to the northeast. The Russian military’s fixation with conducting a highly attritional campaign to achieve the tactical objectives of capturing Severdonetsk and Lysychansk ultimately undermined the Russian military’s ability to achieve its larger operational objective to envelop Ukrainian forces in a cauldron along the E40 highway and eventually drive to Donetsk Oblast’s western administrative borders. Russia’s relentless and costly push on Bakhmut may also degrade Russia’s ability to pursue long-term objectives in the Donbas theater.

Russian siloviki may be setting information conditions to justify the nationalization of oligarchs’ resources to sponsor Russia’s war effort. Wagner financier Yeveniy Prigozhin attended the funeral of a deceased Wagner Group mercenary in St. Petersburg on December 24, where he stated that Russia needs to confiscate luxury possessions and accommodations from elites who ignore or do not support the war effort out of fear of losing their privileged lifestyles. Prigozhin added that these affluent individuals support a vision where ”Western curators” dominate Russia in return for the sponsorship of their lifestyles and compared today’s Russian oligarchy to Ukraine’s or to 1990s Russia. Prigozhin ignited a scandal regarding the burial of the Wagner serviceman in recent weeks to push his political objectives — such as the legalization of Wagner in Russia — and his statements advocating redistribution of wealth at the funeral gained significant traction on the Russian internet. Wagner-affiliated milbloggers widely supported Prigozhin’s criticism of Russian officials and praised his support for the war effort. Prigozhin may be using such populist proposals to elevate his authority in Russian society or influence a return of stricter nationalization measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also indirectly attacked Russian oligarchs on December 22, however, stating that Russians who drain Russia’s money from abroad and do not have a connection with the country “represent a danger” to Russia. Putin claimed that while the vast majority of Russian businessmen are patriots, there are some who do not share the sentiment. Putin concluded that “everyone strives not only to stay, to live and work in Russia but to work for the benefit of our country.” Putin previously nationalized big businesses in the early 2000s to consolidate his authoritarian kleptocracy and may be attempting leverage nationalization to coerce elites to support his war in Ukraine or seize their property to fund military expenses.

Ukrainian intelligence continues to suggest that the Russian military is not following proper command structures or procedures. Chief of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Kyrylo Budanov stated that Prigozhin formed an alliance with the Commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin. Budanov noted that both Prigozhin and Surovikin are rivals of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, and that Prigozhin used the alliance to his advantage to receive heavy weapons from Russian Armed Forces for Wagner forces. The allocation of military resources should in principle rest with the Minister of Defense rather than the theater commander, although Surovikin could have the authority to make transfers once equipment enters the theater. The Prigozhin–Surovikin alliance is plausible given that Prigozhin had previously praised Surovikin for his efforts to save the collapsing Soviet Union.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces will likely struggle to maintain the pace of their offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and may seek to initiate a tactical or operational pause.
  • Russian siloviki may be setting information conditions to justify the nationalization of oligarchs’ resources to sponsor Russia’s war effort.
  • Ukrainian intelligence continues to suggest that the Russian military is not following proper command structures or procedures.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Kreminna-Svatove line.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
  • Russian SPETSNAZ are likely reconnoitering the Dnipro River delta to study Ukrainian defenses in right bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian forces struck a residential area of Kherson City with a Grad multiple launch rocket system, killing at least 10 and injuring 55.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church — a Kremlin-affiliated institution — asked the Kremlin for a mobilization exemption for its clergy, despite avidly supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
  • Russian officials are planning to take children from Horlivka, Donetsk to Belarus, possibly as a scheme to deport Ukrainian children.
  • ISW introduced a new section in the update to track daily observed indicators and counter-indicators consistent with the current assessed most dangerous course of action – a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus.“

Putin has already lost the war, like Hitler in 1943 – European Commission vice president, Euromaidan Press reports. “Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the same position as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1943 – when he already lost the war, but it was far from over.

Russia is now a total pariah internationally. The sanctions bite hard – dare I say that. The war costs a lot of money. And Putin has already lost. He was mistaken about the resistance of the Ukrainians. That’s because no one dares tell him the whole truth anymore, including about the state of his army, which was cannibalized by corrupt officers.

But Hitler had already lost the war at the end of 1943, and it lasted another two years. Putin can cause a lot of mess for a very long time. Hence the bombing of the energy infrastructure, with the aim of plunging people into such misery that millions come to Europe. He uses energy and migration as a weapon against us, because he knows that we are vulnerable on those two points and can be played apart, in the hope that the political forces in which he has invested for years will gain more political power in the member states, he said, speaking to Nieuwsblad.

Mr. Timmermans also told what is needed to defeat Russia: as Putin invaded Ukraine after the EU’s weak reaction to the occupation of Crimea the only way to go is to keep strong and support Ukraine:

The only thing that will lead to a change of course in Moscow is the realization that the West is not giving up – no matter what it is doing on the ground. Once Putin and Lavrov start to think that there are cracks in the front, they can hold on even longer. We must keep ranks closed, form a front with the Americans and continue to support Ukraine financially and militarily. And if more refugees arrive, we have to receive them properly again. So far I don’t see any cracks. Even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban now joins financial support for Ukraine.”

Ukrainian forces used Russian soldiers’ ‘panicked’ cell phone calls to pinpoint their locations and pick them off, report says, Insider reports. “Russian soldiers in Ukraine made worried calls home as their efforts in Ukraine faltered — but their loved ones weren’t the only ones listening. Ukrainian forces used the cell phone calls made by Russian soldiers to locate them and wipe the troops out in large numbers, according to an investigation published by The New York Times that details Russia’s blunders throughout the war.

We listened to the Russian soldiers as they panicked and called their friends and relatives, a Ukrainian official who leads the efforts to intercept the phone calls told The Times. They used ordinary phones to make decisions about their further moves.

Ukrainian authorities who monitor cell networks for criminal activity noticed that a large number of calls were being placed from foreign phone numbers in an area along the Ukraine and Belarus border. The officials deduced the unusual uptick in foreign numbers on the Ukrainian network were likely Russian soldiers.

Ukraine deployed teams of women to follow the soldiers’ calls and alert the Ukrainian military, which would carry out attacks using the information. We understood where the enemy was, what numbers they were using, the Ukrainian official told The Times. At one point, Ukrainian forces used both the cell phone calls and a TikTok video to locate a unit of Chechen soldiers outside of Kyiv. Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told The Times the unit’s location was confirmed only 40 minutes after the video was uploaded. Ukrainian forces then struck them with three missiles.

Ukrainian officials have frequently intercepted phone calls made by Russian soldiers since the invasion 10 months ago. Audio of the calls obtained by various outlets have captured Russian soldiers complaining about being unprepared and unorganized and hoping they would get injured so they could be sent home. In new audio published by The Times, soldiers could be heard complaining about Russian President Vladimir Putin and saying they are being treated like cannon fodder.”

Putin may use Iranian missiles and drones to destroy Patriot system – media, Ukrinform reports, citing Forbes. “Putin may ultimately use Iranian-supplied weaponry and Iranian tactics in any attempt he makes to eliminate Ukraine’s Patriot. Specifically, he might try and replicate a combat-tested strategy used by the Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition during the Yemen war, the article says.

It adds that that strategy saw the Houthis use their Qasef-1 loitering munitions, a variant of the Iranian Ababil-2, against the coalition’s Patriots. The munitions were programmed with open-source GPS coordinates of the Patriot positions, which they used to target their radars. Once they neutralized those radars, the Houthis would fire SRBMs, many of them also based on Iranian designs, without worrying about the Patriots successfully intercepting them.

If the Ukrainian Patriot is fixed in place in Kyiv, which is very likely, Russia may launch an unprecedented number of Shaheds in swarm attacks directed against its radar and bombard the area with SRBMs to ensure the destruction of that battery. By doing so, Moscow would signal that its attacks are unstoppable despite the efforts of the US and its allies to build up and enhance Ukraine’s air defenses, Forbes said.

At the same time, the media outlet draws attention to the fact that Washington has never suggested that supplying the Patriot will constitute a so-called game-changer in this war. The delivery is much more symbolic of continued American resolve to support Ukraine. However, its destruction could likewise prove symbolic for Putin, who may conclude that launching a major operation to destroy it would be a worthy endeavor purely for the propaganda value, the article reads.”

Iran unwilling to give Russia ballistic missiles – Ukraine’s intel chief

  1. Consequences and what to do?

Trying to find ways to improve outcomes and reduce Ukraine’s dependence on high rates of artillery fire, by Michael Kofman, Director, Russia Studies at CNA. “The US is trying to find ways to improve outcomes and reduce Ukraine’s dependence on high rates of arty fire. Less attrition, more manoeuvre.

Training to do combined arms at company/battalion level is good in and of itself, but it won’t necessarily solve this problem. I have no doubt Ukraine can learn combined arms manoeuvre and saw elements of this at Kharkiv. However, without the US Air Force air superiority, US logistics, C4ISR, etc it’s a bit hard to ‘fight like Americans.’ How well would we do without airpower?

More importantly, it misses the fact that attrition is what enabled manoeuvre in Ukraine offensives. Against a well-prepared defence, with sufficient density of forces, it wasn’t nearly as successful, and casualties were high. This is why Kherson was so difficult compared to Kharkiv/Lyman. Ukraine way of war depends on fires, exploited by manoeuvre. It is a successor military to the Soviet military, which was artillery centric, and in that respect is much closer to the Russian military than our own.

You have to work with what has proven successful for your partners. Deep strike, precision, better ISR, can help improve Ukraine performance. My bias is that I’m wary of seeing a solution that implies trying to turn that military more into us. That said, there’s no easy answer here. The US is not optimized to support a protracted artillery-driven war in Europe. Folks can also judge for themselves, looking at the history how good we are at converting other militaries to fighting more like Americans.’

Hans Petter Midttun’s assessment

In recent months, several articles have painted a picture of President Putin as ill-advised, increasingly paranoid, and surrounded by pro-war hawks.

The Times article “Inside Putin’s bunker: how he kept the plan to invade Ukraine secret” argued that President Putting “remained in lockdown” after Moscow officially emerged from lockdown on June 9, 2020. He would continue to be extremely cautious to the point of paranoia about the virus two years later. As a result, Putin’s personal contact which for years had been limited to a small group of no more than three dozen insiders, shrunk even further.

In the seclusion and inaccessibility of his Covid bunker, surrounded by ideologues and sycophants, Putin developed a deep belief that Russian domination over Ukraine must be restored, according to former Kommersant newspaper political editor Mikhail Zygar.

Or as the CIA’s Burns would put it in April 2022, Putin’s risk appetite has grown as his grip on Russia has tightened. His circle of advisers has narrowed and in that small circle, it has never been career-enhancing to question his judgment or his almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia’s sphere of influence.

Over two years in isolation, Putin developed a longstanding enthusiasm for historical theorising, which would culminate in an essay on Russia and Ukraine published in July 2021. The essay, according to one senior state TV executive, was entirely [Putin’s] own work… the result of much research and deep thought”.

Not only had the group of insiders shrunk but the “most deluded and the most ideologically driven members of Putin’s entourage were on the inside, while those with the most detailed real-world knowledge were on the outside.”

The Wall Street Journal article “Putin, Isolated and Distrustful, Leans on Handful of Hard-Line Advisers” portrayed Putin in a similar manner. US officials have described his closest allies as even more hard-line than the authoritarian leader himself. He found himself “isolated and distrustful at the pinnacle of a power structure designed to reinforce his belligerent worldview and shelter him from discouraging news”.

Putin’s “circle of advisers narrowed and in that small circle, it has never been career-enhancing to question his judgment or his almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia’s influence.

It is claimed that Putin became increasingly paranoid as the circle tightened.

The president increasingly speaks of Russia in near-religious terms, as a 1,000-year-old civilization waging a holy struggle that will right historical wrongs and elevate him into a pantheon of conquering czarist leaders such as Peter the Great.”

His situational awareness has been questioned since the very start of the full-scale invasion. According to the WSJ article, Putin has long refused to use the internet for fear of digital surveillance, making him extremely reliant on briefing documents compiled by ideologically aligned advisers. Battlefield updates can take several days to reach him, leaving them often out of date. While he has attempted to improve his access to information, including reaching out to the pro-war milbloggers, he “remains surrounded by an administration that caters to his conviction that Russia will succeed, despite the mounting human and economic sacrifices.”

Attempts to present him with a more balanced assessment of the real situation are allegedly stopped by his staff.

The two articles paint a highly worrisome picture of a president without a flawed grasp of reality, a distorted perception of Russian history and historical rights, surrounded and advised by a small group of ideologically driven pro-war hawks. He is sometimes described as paranoid, a quality that probably comes with the job description of most autocracies.

I find the description of the flawed command structure, the limited flow of information, the lack of trust, balanced information, critical thinking, and situational awareness, extremely important. That is without a doubt, a critical Russian vulnerability that will help speed up its demise.

The concerns about President Putin’s state of mind, however, do not come across as convincing.

Acknowledging that psychology is a highly dynamic field and that a personality might change over time, the articles had one common weakness: Their starting point is (more or less) aligned with the start of the full-scale war.

They leave out the events leading up to the war in 2014, including President Putin’s strategic narratives. His messaging has remained near constant since 2007. His Ukraine obsession has been a part of his strategic thinking since his infamous Munich Security Conference speech.

The Russian full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022 was by no means a starting point but a “logical” consequence of 15 years of violations of international law and an increasingly more aggressive Russian Foreign Policy.

Its violations of international law until 24 February include its attack on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, war crimes in Syria, attempted coup in Montenegro, the downing of MH-17, closure of the Kerch Strait, blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and the attack on its navy, restrictions on international freedom of navigation, terrorist attacks and not least, its hybrid war against both Ukraine as well as the NATO and EU member states. The latter includes repeated interference in elections and referendums, energy war, information war, cyber-attacks, liquidations, political manipulation, and more.

The invasion was not a result of a rash decision, but a carefully, calculated process resulting from years of actively undermining Ukraine and testing Western resolve. The Russian misinterpretation of the West is first of all an indication of failed NATO and EU diplomacy and their failure to respond resolutely to 15 years of Russian provocations. The ultimatum served to the USA and NATO on 17 December, while being utterly unrealistic, served as a climax of years of Russian diplomacy, demands and threats.

Its failure to read Ukraine correctly, however, is probably more complex. It’s a reflection of Russia’s perception of Ukraine as a “little brother”, otherwise described as arrogance. It is probably also a consequence of both its own disinformation and wishful thinking, resulting from the notion of ”historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians“. Putin’s essay on the subject from July 2021 only summarised views he had conveyed for years already.

I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”

Underestimating Ukrainian resolve and resistance was also a result of the previously described failings: a flawed Russian command structure, staff reinforcing Putin’s own thinking, a limited flow of information, a lack of trust, balanced information, critical thinking, and situational awareness. But there is probably also a darker and more ominous element to it. What happened in Kherson – the oblast that on paper should have been the easiest to defend but where the gate was left open – might have also served as a clue to their expectations as to what would happen in other sectors.

Reviewing the last 15 years – the invasion is nothing, but a continuation of a policy set in motion years ago. Even the inner circle consists of people who have been a part of the continuity.

When it happened, it was not a sign of an unstable or unhinged president. It was the sign of a predetermined, strategic leader who had patiently built the military capability needed, undermined his victim and tested his opponent …and still got it wrong for failing to build a leadership culture allowing for critical thinking, falling victim to his own distorted information and history and not least, failing to understand the extent systematic corruption and theft had destroyed Russia from within.

Aggressive? Frustrated? Disappointed? Very much so. Sane? Most likely. Stupid? Not at all. F’cked? Big time.

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