Germany can transfer 19 out of over 200 Leopard tanks to Ukraine. President Zelenskyy appeals to Ramstein participants to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighters. Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin made uncredible threats of nuclear escalation.
Daily overview — Summary report, January 23, 2023
A map of the approximate situation on the ground in Ukraine as of 00:00 UTC 23/01/23.
There have been no notable changes to control since the last update. pic.twitter.com/GieH3pjsDN
— War Mapper (@War_Mapper) January 23, 2023
The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, January 23, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:
The threat of Russian strikes using land-based, sea-based and air-based missiles and “kamikaze drones” remains high across Ukraine.
During the day, Russian forces launched 4 missiles and 5 air strikes and conducted more than 40 MLRS attacks.
The occupiers attempted unsuccessful offensives on Avdiivka, Lyman, and Zaporizhzhia axes, and continued to attack Ukrainian Defense Forces on the Baknmut axis. Russian forces stay on the defensive on other axes.
Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian Defense Forces repelled attacks in the vicinities of Stelmakhivka and Novoselivske (Luhansk oblast); Vyimka, Rozdolivka, Bilohorivka, Paraskoviivka, Bakhmut, Stupochki, Novobakhmutivka, Pervomaiske, and Mariinka (Donetsk oblast).
- Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: no enemy offensive groups were detected. The vicinities of Sopych, Kharkivka, and Popivka settlements (Sumy oblast); and Veterynarne, Strilecha, Zelene, Pylna, Vovchansk, Novomlynsk, Starytsya and Dvorichna (Kharkiv oblast) suffered mortar and artillery fire.
- Kupiansk axis: Russian forces shelled the vicinities of Petropavlivka, Tabaivka, Synkivka, Krokhmalne, and Kupiansk settlements (Kharkiv oblast); as well as Novoselivske and Stelmakhivka (Luhansk oblast).
- Lyman axis: Makiyivka, Ploshanka, Chervonopivka, Serebryansk forestry and Kuzmyne (Luhansk oblast) suffered enemy shelling.
- Bakhmut axis: the vicinities of 21 settlements came under enemy fire, including Verkhnyokamianske, Krasnopolivka, Zalizne, Bilohorivka, Krasna Hora, Bakhmut, Kurdyumivka, and Mayorsk (Donetsk oblast).
- Avdiivka axis: Avdiivka, Nevels’ke, Pervomaiske, Krasnohorivka, Heorgiivka, and Mariinka came under enemy fire.
- Novopavlivka axis: Russian forces employed artillery and mortars in the vicinities of Bohoyavlenka and Mykils’ke (Donetsk oblast).
- Zaporizhzhia axis: more than 20 settlements came under artillery fire, including, Vilne Pole, Vremivka and Novopil (Donetsk oblast); Hulyaipole, Pavlivka, Novodanilivka, Stepove, Orihiv, Shcherbaki, and Mala Tokmachka (Zaporizhzhia oblast).
- Kherson axis: the vicinities of Dudchany, Ingulets, Havrylivka, Burgunka, Monastyrske, Antonivka settlements, and the city of Kherson suffered MLRS attacks.
Additional Russian troops were deployed to the towns of Vynohradove and Brylivka (Kherson oblast) on January 18 – 21, 2023. The newly arrived personnel is armed with small arms only, bulletproof vests were worn only by a few and no military equipment was noticed.
Russian forces continue to suffer losses. Based on the available information, Dniprorudnyi city hospital (Zaporizhzhia oblast) is full of wounded Russian military. Just recently, about 150x invaders have been delivered to the hospital. At the same time, most of the hospital staff refused to cooperate with the occupiers, thus the occupiers were forced to deploy doctors and other staff from the Russian Federation.
[The adversary continues to suffer losses. Thus, trucks and cars with wounded Russian servicemen arrive daily at the city hospital in Nova Kakhovka (Kherson oblast). The number of eliminated occupants is being finalized.]
During the day, Ukrainian Air Force launched 3 airstrikes on the concentration of enemy troops. 1 enemy “Orlan-10” UAV was shot down.
Ukrainian missile and artillery troops attacked 4 concentrations of Russian troops and 3 ammunition depots.
Russia increases shelling in regions outside Ukraine’s Donbas, Reuters reports. “Russia increased shelling of Ukraine’s eastern regions outside the main front line in the Donbas industrial area, officials from the Zaporizhzhia and Sumy regions said on Saturday. Russia’s defence ministry said a recent offensive had put its army’s units in more advantageous positions along the Zaporizhzhia front line, a claim Ukrainian military officials called an exaggeration. […]
Russia’s attacks seek to overload Ukraine’s defences and deter Kyiv from retaking territory, officials and analysts say. […] Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine, said on the Telegram messaging app. Russia fired on the region 166 times through the day, he said, with 113 attacks aimed at populated areas, killing one civilian. Russia says it does not target civilians.
Countering Moscow’s claim of recent advances, Yevhen Yerin, a military spokesperson in Zaporizhzhia, told the Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne, “At the moment, they have not captured anything. All their attempts have been repulsed and Russian forces have suffered losses.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Russia continues its offensive in Zaporizhzhia, increasingly using aviation. It said 25 settlements in the region were affected by Russian artillery fire on Saturday. Russian forces launched 115 strikes in the Sumy region that borders Russia in Ukraine’s northeast, regional Governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said on Telegram.”
The enemy doesn’t conduct large-scale offensive operations in the Zaporizhzhia section, Ukrinform reports. “As for the situation in the Zaporizhzhia section. Russian forces do not conduct active and large-scale operations, Colonel Yevhen Yerin, head of the Joint Press Center of the Defense Forces of the Tavriya direction, said during the nationwide news telethon.
At the same time, he noted that Russian forces’ regular attempts to assault the positions of the Ukrainian military with small groups of up to ten people are recorded. According to him, the Russian troops had certain successes in some areas, but currently, all positions of the Defense Forces of Ukraine have been restored.
Yerin added that the current situation in the Tavria section still remains difficult. In particular, Russian forces keeps shelling civilian and critical infrastructure. In this context, he emphasized that the main target of Russian troops is civilian infrastructure.”
According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours):
- General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff and newly appointed commander in Ukraine, has likely started his tour with a drive to improve deployed troops’ day-to-day discipline. Since he took command, officers have been attempting to clamp down on non-regulation uniforms, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones, and non-standard haircuts.
- The measures have been met with sceptical feedback. However, some of the greatest derision has been reserved for attempts to improve the standard of troops’ shaving. Officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic described the prioritisation as a ‘farce’ that would ‘hamper the process of destroying the enemy’. Wagner proxy group owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin criticised military leadership, suggesting that, ‘war is the time of the active and courageous, and not of the clean-shaven.’
- The Russian force continues to endure operational deadlock and heavy casualties; Gerasimov’s prioritisation of largely minor regulations is likely to confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia. Along with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, he is increasingly seen as out of touch and focused on presentation over substance.
- On 17 January 2023, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans for major changes to the structure of the armed forces’, to be implemented between 2023 and 2026. This included an increase to 1.5 million personnel – an 11% increase on top of the previously announced expansion to 1.35 million.
- Shoigu also announced the re-establishment of Moscow and Leningrad military districts, a partial return to the Soviet era organisation of forces in Western Russia. A new army corps is to be established in Karelia, near the Finnish border.
- Shoigu’s plans signal that the Russian leadership highly likely assesses that an enhanced conventional military threat will endure for many years beyond the current Ukraine war. However, Russia will highly likely struggle to staff and equip the planned expansion.
Losses of the Russian army
As of Monday 23 January, 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 121480 (+720),
- Tanks – 3150 (+5),
- Armoured combat vehicles – 6276 (+8),
- Artillery systems – 2146 (+2),
- Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 447 (+2),
- Air defence means – 220 (+0),
- Aircraft – 287 (+0),
- Helicopters – 277 (+0),
- Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 4936 (+4),
- Vessels/boats – 18 (+1),
- UAV operational and tactical level – 1894 (+2),
- Special equipment – 193 (+0),
- Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
- Cruise missiles – 749 (+0)
Russian casualties in Ukraine have hit an eye-watering 188,000, according to US intelligence, The Sun reports. Russian casualties in Ukraine have hit an eye-watering 188,000 according to United States intelligence, The Sun can reveal. The Americans also estimate that Vladimir Putin’s invading forces have seen 2,000 of their tanks destroyed or captured […].
The massive new figure of those killed or injured in battle was shared with allies at yesterday’s Western summit to drum up support for Ukraine held at Ramstein Air Base in Southern Germany. It is a significant increase on the publicly estimated 100,000 Russian soldiers killed, wounded, or deserted since last February’s invasion that the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace outlined at the end of last year.
Top US General Mark Milley said Russia has suffered a “tremendous amount of casualties” – but stopped short of revealing the exact figure publicly. Asked about Russian losses he said the toll was now “significantly well over 100,000”.
Ukraine exports 2-3M tonnes of foodstuffs less every month, Ukrinform reports, citing Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Finance, Tax and Customs Policy, Danylo Hetmantsev. “Since October, Ukrainian ports have been forced to work at less than half of their capacity, and the volume of about 2-3 million tonnes is not exported to the world market every month (over 11 million tonnes for October, November, December, and January together), said Hetmantsev.
According to him, almost 120 ships are currently waiting for inspection in the Bosphorus. The average waiting time is from two to five weeks, which lead to losses for cargo owners. However, attempts by the Russian Federation to organize the “Hunger Games” will not stop Ukraine, the deputy stressed.
Hetmantsev reminded that Ukraine plans to provide more than five million people with grain by the end of spring as part of the Grain from Ukraine program, which is designed to prevent famine in African and Asian countries. Thirty donor countries have joined the program. A total amount of contributions has already reached almost $200 million dollars.”
Grain Corridor: Business calls on UN, Türkiye to increase ship inspections, Ukrinform reports, citing EBA website. “The European Business Association has called on the UN and Türkiye to contribute to increasing the number of inspections of vessels loaded with Ukrainian foodstuffs, as well as continuing the grain initiative.
“Business trusts and surely supports the grain initiative and is ready to increase transshipment volumes, however, unfortunately, there are logistical bottlenecks that block Ukrainian exports of agricultural products. In particular, according to the information of the EBA Grain and Oilseed Committee members, in January 2023, the number of inspections of ships arriving to load Ukrainian agricultural products sharply decreased to 2-3 per day. This means that vessel lay-ups will increase and ship owners and grain exporters will incur serious costs for vessel delays,” the statement says.
According to the grain business community of the European Business Association, in order to avoid a large crowding of vessels, as well as to effectively overcome the food crisis, especially in those countries where people suffer from hunger, it is extremely important not to allow delays in the inspections of such vessels. According to experts’ estimates, at least 25 inspections of vessels should be carried out per day for normal operation.
The association mentioned that millions of tonnes of agricultural products remain blocked in Ukraine. Therefore countries that depend on Ukrainian agricultural products cannot receive grain in the required quantity precisely because of the war that the Russian Federation waged on the territory of Ukraine. Accordingly, it is likely that this situation could lead to an increase in food prices and inflation around the world.”
Russians have damaged more than 1,200 cultural infrastructure objects in Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “First of all, we are talking about the preservation of those cultural institutions that were damaged. These are more than 1,200 objects of cultural infrastructure, including more than 500 cultural monuments. It is important for us to preserve them this winter, Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko said during the nationwide news telethon.
At the same time, Tkachenko said that the issue of restoration of damaged or destroyed objects of cultural infrastructure is being discussed with Western partners. When we talk to our colleagues in the West about supporting recovery, they have a question as to how appropriate it is during the war. We say that it is appropriate, the government official emphasized.
He regretted that budget funds could not be used for reconstruction at the moment. However, Tkachenko noted that funds for such purposes come from Western partners and donors, including Ukrainian ones.
As reported, since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, more than 200,000 objects of the cultural heritage of Ukraine have been evacuated to safe places.”
Ukraine can win this year – Ukraine's President Zelenskyy
"We will win anyway, but the pace with which we move toward victory depends on two key factors," Zelenskyy said during the meeting with students of Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.https://t.co/n0Wb32decn pic.twitter.com/HoDckwUJ9w
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 22, 2023
President Zelenskyy appeals to Ramstein participants to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighters, Ukrainska Pravda reported on 20 Jan, citing European Pravda. “I could express my gratitude to you hundreds of times, and it would be absolutely fair and honest, given everything we have already done. However, hundreds of thanks are not hundreds of tanks. Each of us might say thousands of words, but I cannot replace these words with either the guns that are required against Russian artillery or the anti-aircraft missiles that are needed to protect people from Russian air strikes, Zelenskyy said.
According to Zelenskyy, time is still Russia’s weapon. We have to hurry. Time must become our common weapon, the president emphasised.
Zelenskyy concluded his speech at the conference by calling for the next Ramstein meeting to provide longer-range missiles and F-16 fighter jets. It is in your power to guarantee artillery and aircraft that will destroy terror. It is in your power to ensure victory, Zelenskyy said.”
Netherlands would consider helping Ukraine with F-16 fighters, Leopard 2 tanks, NL Times reported on 20 Jan. “The Dutch Cabinet will look into supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if the Kyiv government asks for it. During a parliamentary debate on Thursday, Minister Wopke Hoekstra of Foreign Affairs said the Cabinet would look at such a request with an “open mind.” In Davos, Minister Kajsa Ollongren of Defense also said that the Netherlands is willing to help pay for modern Leopard 2 tanks that other countries send to Ukraine. That is certainly something we are willing to do, she told Bloomberg.
Hoekstra said there are “no taboos” for the delivery of regular equipment. Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66) asked the Cabinet to supply F16s and infantry fighting vehicles to the Ukrainian armed forces. Many fear that Russia will launch another major offensive in the coming months.”
Germany can transfer 19 out of over 200 Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Der Spiegel. “The media obtained a list of all Leopard 2 tanks models that Germany currently has at its disposal. This list was compiled at the beginning of the summer of 2022.
According to the list, the Bundeswehr has a total of 312 Leopard 2 tanks. However, 99 of them were under maintenance as of May 2022, and one tank has already been decommissioned.
In addition, the list includes 212 Leopard 2 models, including various models of the 2A5, 2A6, 2A7 and 2A7V (considered the most modern version). The German army had 53 Leopard 2A7V units as of May 2022.
The news outlet reports that the list also has information regarding particular models that are presumably suitable for transfer to Ukraine. It can be surmised that the Bundeswehr may transfer 19 Leopard 2A5 models. According to the list, they are currently used to simulate enemy forces at the Army’s combat training centre. Military officials state they can do without the 2A5 models, since those units are used for training only, according to Der Spiegel.”
German government will soon decide on delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine – Pistorius, Ukrinform reports, citing Sky News. “German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has said that a decision will soon be made on whether to send German-made tanks to Ukraine.”
Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius plans to visit Ukraine within the next 4 weeks – Bild am Sonntag
The discussion concerning the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine goes on, Pistorius said in his interview with Bild am Sonntag. pic.twitter.com/zNvV2umknt
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 22, 2023
If Germany does not agree to provide Leopards, we will form a smaller coalition – Polish Prime Minister, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Polish news outlet PAP. “In the interview, [Polish Prime Minister Mateusz] Morawiecki was asked for his thoughts on the results of the eighth meeting in the Ramstein format, which for many was a disappointment due to the lack of progress in providing Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.
The Polish Premier replied that he considered Germany’s behaviour unacceptable and did not understand what else needed to happen for Berlin to “open its eyes and start to act in line with the potential of the German state”. He added that if Germany was not ready to do something on its own, it should at least not tie the hands of other allies.
If Germany does not agree to [provide] Leopards, we will build a smaller coalition of states willing to share their modern tanks with Ukraine. We will not just watch Ukraine bleed to death… Ukraine and Europe will win this war – with or without Germany. It is now up to Germany to decide whether they want to join the mission and stop Russian barbarism, or whether they choose to watch in silence and go down in history as those who were on the wrong side, the Polish Prime Minister said.”
France considers supplying Ukraine with tanks – President of France Emmanuel Macron
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 22, 2023
Slovakia will provide Ukraine with a surface-to-air missile system Patriot if Italy supplies Slovakia with SAMP/T anti-aircraft system – Corriere della Sera
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 22, 2023
- Russian parliamentary leader threatens NATO with nuclear weapons that will “destroy” it, Ukrainska Pravda “Vyacheslav Volodin, Head of the Russian State Duma [the lower house of the Russian Parliament – ed.], has threatened NATO countries with nuclear weapons and a “disaster that will destroy them. Arming the Kyiv regime with offensive weapons will lead to a global disaster. If Washington and NATO countries supply Ukraine with weapons that it will use to carry out attacks on peaceful cities and attempt to capture our territories, which it threatens, we will retaliate with more powerful weapons…”
- Medvedev complains that Russia “will struggle” due to Ramstein meeting, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, claimed that “Russia will struggle, and there should be no illusions. The Ramstein meeting and allocation of heavy armament to Kyiv leave no doubt that our enemies will be trying to exhaust us for an indefinite amount of time, or better yet, to destroy us. They do have enough armament. If needed, they will start producing new weapons. So there should be no illusions.»
- Germany, France will continue to support Ukraine together, Ukrinform “Germany and France will continue to support Ukraine in its fight to thwart the victory of Russian imperialism. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President of France Emmanuel Macron made a corresponding statement at the ceremony on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty in Paris on Sunday. President Putin pursues imperial goals, he wants to push the boundaries with force. Ukrainians are paying a terrible price for this. But Putin’s imperialism will not win! We will continue to support Ukraine as long and as much as it takes, the head of the German government promised.”
- Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania urge Germany to send tanks to Ukraine, Reuters “We, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Foreign Ministers, call on Germany to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now, Estonia’s Foreign Minister said on Twitter. This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard. The statement came a day after Germany and Western allies reached no decisionon whether Berlin would agree to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine or permit other countries that have them to do so.”
- Germany won’t keep Poland from sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, in an interview with French television LCI, reports DWand LCI journalist Darius Rochebin on Twitter. “Germany would not oppose it if Poland sends German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.“
- American lawmakers urge US to ship Abrams tanks to Ukraine, Reuters “Michael McCaul, the newly installed Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that “just one” Abrams tank would be enough to prompt allies, notably Germany, to unlock their own tank inventories for the fight against Russia.”
- Macron does not rule out supply of Leclerc tanks to Ukraine at press conference with Scholz, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravdaand Le Figaro. “As for Leclerc, I have asked the Minister of the Armed Forces to work on it. Nothing is ruled out, and it is really being assessed collectively, said the French president.”
- Pro-Kremlin channel Russia Today says France operation closing, Reuters “The French arm of the Russian state-owned RT television network said on Saturday it was shutting down after authorities used European Union sanctions to freeze its bank accounts. Late last February, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Union said it would ban Russia Todayon the grounds it had been spreading disinformation about the war. RT (Russia Today) France appealed the ban but lost.”
- On the war.
The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of January 22, 2023:
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, January 22. This report focuses on the Kremlin’s recent marginalization of the Wagner Group following the culmination of the drive on Bakhmut and its return to reliance on conventional forces on the frontlines and the regular Ministry of Defense (MoD) and General Staff apparatus. The report also analyzes the changing relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and its implications.
Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s star has begun to set after months of apparent rise following his failure to make good on promises of capturing Bakhmut with his own forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin had likely turned to Prigozhin and Prigozhin’s reported ally, Army General Sergey Surovikin, to continue efforts to gain ground and break the will of Ukraine and its Western backers to continue the war after the conventional Russian military had culminated and, indeed, suffered disastrous setbacks. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and General Staff, headed by Sergey Shoigu and Army General Valeriy Gerasimov respectively, had turned their attention to mobilizing Russian reservists and conscripts and setting conditions for improved performance by the conventional Russian military, but they had little hope of achieving anything decisive in the Fall and early Winter of 2022. Putin apparently decided to give Prigozhin and Surovikin a chance to show what they could do with mobilized prisoners, on the one hand, and a brutal air campaign targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure on the other. Both efforts failed, as Prigozhin’s attempts to seize Bakhmut culminated and Surovikin’s air campaign accomplished little more than inflicting suffering on Ukrainian civilians while expending most of Russia’s remaining stocks of precision missiles. Prigozhin seems to have decided in this period that his star really was on the ascendant and that he could challenge Gerasimov and even Shoigu for preeminence in Russian military affairs. Those hopes now seem to have been delusional.
Putin appears to have decided to turn away from relying on Prigozhin and his irregular forces and to put his trust instead in Gerasimov, Shoigu, and the conventional Russian military once more. Putin began to re-centralize control of the war effort under the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) in early December. He gave Gerasimov overall command of the Joint Grouping of Forces in Ukraine on January 11, subordinating Surovikin to Gerasimov along with two other deputies. The Russian MoD announced large-scale reforms to expand and reconstitute the Russian Armed Forces on January 17. Ukrainian intelligence and select Kremlin officials have also reported that Putin is preparing to launch a second wave of reserve mobilization to expand the Russian Armed Forces, and the Russian MoD has been attempting to improve the professionalism of its conventional forces and to test the effectiveness of its chains of command. Such reforms and appointments mark a significant inflection in the Kremlin’s efforts to reconstitute its conventional military and a deemphasis of short-term mitigation efforts such as the use of irregular formations on the frontlines.
Putin’s decision to focus and rely on conventional Russian forces is marginalizing the Wagner Group and the siloviki faction that nevertheless continues to contribute to Russian war efforts in Ukraine. The siloviki faction is a small group of Russian businessmen and leaders with meaningful power bases and parallel military companies and includes individuals such as Prigozhin. Putin’s resubordinating to Gerasimov the Commander of the Aerospace Forces, Surovikin, whose October 8 appointment received widespread support from the siloviki faction, reversed a months-long trend of Putin’s efforts to placate the siloviki. Ukrainian intelligence had previously reported that Prigozhin formed an alliance with Surovikin that enabled Wanger Group to receive heavy weapons from the Russian Armed Forces and that the two together rivaled Shoigu. Surovikin’s demotion has likely disrupted Prigozhin’s ability to exploit his connections within the Russian military command to the benefit of himself and Wagner.
Putin is also attempting to rebuild the Russian MoD’s authority and reputation, both of which had been badly damaged by failures in 2022 and heavily attacked by the siloviki faction for many months. Putin’s turnabout became most evident when he pointedly did not credit Prigozhin or his Wagner forces for the capture of Soledar during a federal TV interview on January 15. The Russian MoD also originally did not recognize Wagner as a participant in the Battle for Soledar, only to vaguely acknowledge Wagner assault units in a follow-up announcement on January 13. Prigozhin and his allies had been fighting to claim credit for gains around Bakhmut and the capture of Soledar for some time, making Putin’s decision to walk back Russian MoD’s acknowledgment of Wagner a major defeat for Prigozhin.
Putin may have felt threatened by Prigozhin’s rise and tactless self-assertion. Putin began to reintroduce himself as an involved wartime leader in December, ostentatiously meeting with his commanders and appearing with troops. Prigozhin did not take the hint, if hint it was, but instead redoubled his efforts to assert himself by advertising the superiority and successes of his own troops. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov may have indirectly accused Prigozhin of deliberately fueling the conflict between the Russian MoD and Wagner in public on January 16, another shot across Prigozhin‘s bow. Putin had also been increasingly integrating State Duma officials whom Prigozhin had been heavily courting, such as Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Andrey Turchak, by appointing them to working groups aimed at addressing issues with mobilization among other things.
Putin likely turned to Prigozhin’s irregular forces to get through the period following the Russian conventional military’s culmination after the reckless and costly push to seize Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Wagner forces have fought in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine since the first days of the war and played important roles in offensive operations such as that to seize Popasna, Luhansk Oblast (40km east of Bakhmut) in April-May 2022. Wagner forces assisted other Russian troops in the Battle of Sievierodonetsk, serving as the main assault forces alongside Rosgvardia elements in late June 2022. Wagner forces shifted their focus to Bakhmut in early July 2022 while simultaneously reinforcing their units with recruited prisoners. Wagner had begun to make some advances in the vicinity of Bakhmut and took the lead for this axis in August 2022, likely relying on arriving convicts. Prigozhin later began the ostentatious construction of a set of fortifications called the Wagner Line throughout Luhansk, Donetsk, and Belgorod oblasts in October 2022 and began training Belgorod and Kursk people’s militias.
Russia’s pushes on Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which followed the unsuccessful Russian drive on Kyiv and the bloody Battle for Mariupol, had consumed much of its offensive combat power in Donbas and southern Ukraine. Russian forces paid dearly to seize the two remaining large cities in Luhansk Oblast and faced a significant troop shortage that prompted Putin to launch volunteer recruitment campaigns throughout the country. Putin had likely allowed Prigozhin to expand his forces with prisoner recruits in an effort to mitigate these personnel shortages and maintain momentum on some select frontlines by unconventional means. Prigozhin may have won Putin over to his idea of recruiting prisoners into Wagner—something the conventional Russian military likely could not have undertaken at that time—due to Wagner’s contributions in seizing Popasna and Sievierodonetsk.
Prigozhin likely imagined that his efforts in Ukraine would continue to lend him military and political power in Russia. Prigozhin’s command over the Bakhmut direction and proximity to Putin likely gave him a false sense that he could use the victory in Bakhmut against the backdrop of Russian MoD’s military failures as a bargaining tool for his own commercial objectives such as the legalization of Wagner mercenary activity in Russia, expanding his political power within the Kremlin, or even displacing the authority of Shoigu. Western officials revealed in October that Prigozhin had harshly criticized the Russian MoD in a private conversation with Putin, claiming that Russian conventional forces were entirely reliant on Wagner forces. Prigozhin had criticized former Commander of the Central Military District (CMD), Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, who was also responsible for the “central” group of forces in Ukraine, and Putin eventually dismissed Lapin. Prigozhin had likely expected that further criticism of the Russian MoD and even Putin’s presidential administration would earn him a position near Putin. The intensification of the Battle for Bakhmut in December and its subsequent culmination may also indicate that Prigozhin tried and failed to outshine the Russian MoD before the start of 2023.
Prigozhin’s recent apparent fall from grace and influence likely reflects the real limitations on his actual power. US and UK intelligence estimated that Prigozhin has approximately 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, of whom 40,000 are convicts and 10,000 contractors. Prigozhin has been relentlessly throwing his fighters into bloody assault operations around Bakhmut at a high cost, while Putin has been conserving and training at least a portion of the men he mobilized into conventional Russian Army units. Wagner Group is also likely relying on the Russian MoD’s logistical support and maintenance functions for its aviation and heavy military equipment. Wagner’s forces are suffering from a lack of basic administrative organs and structures that are preventing Wagner from becoming an effective parallel military structure. Prigozhin had likely believed in his own exaggerated view of the quality and importance of his largely convict-based force and his ability to outperform Russia’s conventional military, as well as his prospects of securing a spot in power nearer Putin. Certainly, his rhetoric and self-presentation had become overbearing and ostentatiously swaggering until things began to go south for him.
Putin had never fully given in to Prigozhin’s recommendations or demands throughout this transitional period and had likely always planned to put Prigozhin back into his place once the Russian conventional military improved enough to bear the burden of continuing the war. Putin had removed Lapin and appointed Surovikin—possibly on the advice of Prigozhin and his allies—but he did not grant most of Prigozhin’s desires. Prigozhin is still demanding that the Kremlin officially recognize the Wagner Group in Russia, even though Russian criminal law prohibits the operation of parallel military and mercenary formations. Putin could have responded to numerous of Prigozhin’s requests and demands over many months and legalized Wagner’s operations in Russia, but he likely did not deem it necessary to weaken the Russian MoD and empower Prigozhin further to sustain a temporary force generation effort. Prigozhin had also called on the Russian State Duma and Prosecutor General’s office to fire and imprison St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov for treason, claiming that Beglov had hindered Russia’s war efforts. Prigozhin’s efforts along these lines went nowhere. Putin, on the other hand, met with Beglov in St. Petersburg on January 18 making clear that Beglov had won this round. Prigozhin has also run into several bureaucratic obstacles when opening his Wagner Center in St. Petersburg and constructing the Wagner Line in Belgorod Oblast, obstacles that Putin could likely have demolished had he so desired.
Putin’s turn on Prigozhin has positive and negative implications for Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. Putin is now marginalizing and distancing himself from a hard-to-control mercenary group composed predominantly of ill-disciplined convicts commanded in the most brutal manner. Prigozhin will likely continue to criticize the Russian MoD and the Kremlin and may even seek to turn the pro-war nationalist faction against Putin. But Prigozhin was already fueling the most extreme pro-war faction that had already been attacking the Russian MoD with hammer and tongs and had even begun to come after Putin himself. Prigozhin’s voice will likely carry less weight if Putin continues his marginalization, especially if Putin can convince the pro-war faction that he remains committed to his original notion of victory and intends to pursue it by more conventional means.
The marginalization of people like Prigozhin, who has had men executed with sledgehammers and hands out Wagner sledgehammers as gifts, is a good thing. The return to prominence and influence of more professional military officers such as Gerasimov likely suggests a reduced likelihood that Putin will give in to the crazier demands of the far-right pro-war faction, possibly in turn further reducing the already-low likelihood of irrational Russian escalations. It can never be good to have people like Prigozhin near the center of power, so any indication that he is receding from power is positive. Prigozhin is not yet gone and will not likely leave Putin’s circle permanently. And he could rise again if Gerasimov and his cronies fail Putin once more. But Prigozhin is, for now, apparently an increasingly spent force in the Kremlin’s inner circles, and that is good.
But the re-emergence of the professional Russian military is also concerning. Prigozhin could never have established a formidable and sustainable national military apparatus. As long as Putin favored Prigozhin’s and others’ irregular approaches to continuing the war Putin postponed the day that Russian could re-establish a powerful conventional military. His re-embrace of Gerasimov and regular order has likely put Russia back on course toward rebuilding its military. NATO would do well to take note of this development as a matter of its own future security, beyond anything it might portend for Ukraine.
Key inflections in ongoing military operations on January 22:
- Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin made uncredible threats of nuclear escalation as part of an ongoing information operation aimed at deterring the Western provision of further military aid to Ukraine. ISW continues to assess that Russia is very unlikely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and extraordinarily unlikely to use them against the West.
- Russian milbloggers on January 22 continued to discuss the potential of a pending major Russian or Ukrainian offensive and speculated as to which areas present the highest priority targets.
- Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on January 22. Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck an industrial facility in Kadiivka, Luhansk Oblast with HIMARS rockets.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and the Donetsk City-Avdiivka areas.
- Russian sources claimed on January 22 that Russian forces continued offensive operations in two directions in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, with their main efforts focusing on Hulyaipole and Orikhiv. Head of the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavrisk Direction Defense Forces Yevhen Yerin stated on January 22 that Russian forces are not conducting large-scale operations in the Zaporizhzhia direction.
Russian occupation authorities continued commandeering civilian infrastructure in occupied territories at the expense of civilian health and safety on January 22.
NSDC Secretary: Russia preparing for offensive, active information measures as its first signs, Ukrinform reports. “Russia is preparing to launch the new offensive, and active information measures intended to intimidate civilians are its first signs. The relevant statement was made by Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Secretary Oleksiy Danilov in his article ‘Putin’s Strategy 2023’ for Ukrainska Pravda.
Danilov believes the Russian leadership did not abandon its maximalist goal of destroying Ukraine. Moscow wants to destroy Ukraine itself as a historical phenomenon: language, history, culture, bearers of Ukrainian identity. Total and absolute genocide. Total war of destruction. The Kremlin knows: otherwise, Russia itself will disappear as an unfinished remnant of the tyranny of the past, a country of evil and violence. To achieve his goal, Putin wants to inflict a military defeat on Ukraine, strategic in nature and consequences, Danilov noted.
In his words, Russian commanders are concentrating resources, bringing up reserves, restoring combat capacity and seeking the most vulnerable areas of the Ukrainian front. According to Danilov, the maximum objective for the Russian military is to break through Ukraine’s defense in operational directions, such as the south of Ukraine, complete the seizure of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, capture Kyiv as ‘Putin’s key fantasy’, and disrupt arms supply routes.
Russia is preparing for the offensive, whose first sign, according to the established tactics, is the implementation of active information measures. Before tanks start firing, poisonous information gases are released, which consist of lies, manipulations, fakes and disinformation, activation of agents of the information front, Danilov stressed.
In his word, Russian forces wants to break the will of Ukrainians and sow distrust in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.[…] According to Danilov, Ukraine in February 2023 is completely different from that in February 2022. Now, the country has unprecedented global support, multibillion aid, and the West is united. Most importantly, there is the Ukrainian spirit of freedom, and the political nation has formed that tasted victory.
At the same time, Danilov believes that it is not yet time to relax, because there are many trials, blood, deaths and hard work ahead. In his words, Russian forces is strong and insidious. Russia still has missiles and tons of ‘military steel’ left. Russian troops are getting smarter, gaining experience and learning from their mistakes.”
Naiev: New units created in Armed Forces of Ukraine to be equipped with new Western equipment, Ukrinform reports. “We need a large number of Western tanks. They are much better than the Soviet models and can help us advance. We are creating new military units. And our next actions will depend on their combat readiness. Therefore, Western assistance is extremely important,” Commander of the Joint Forces, Lieutenant General Serhiy Naiev told CNN.
The Ukrainian military has to train units on the new equipment and integrate it into its existing formations, he noted. The whole unit should be equipped with the same vehicle, so a whole battalion is equipped with Bradley, if we get it, or with Leopards, Naiev said. […]
Defense Minister of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov reported agreements with Poland and Britain to start training missions for Ukrainian crews on Leopard and Challenger tanks, respectively.”
Ukraine’s military leadership to create personnel reserves – Zelenskyy, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Answering the question about replenishing the personnel of the Ukrainian army, Zelenskyy said that the military leadership was instructed to create reserves so that the defenders could restore forces after combat actions. […]
The President noted that he could not disclose the details of the mobilisation processes, but the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief made the relevant decisions, and the commanders are now working on their implementation in their areas.”
Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence sent agent to talks with Russia before 2022 invasion to play for time, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing “Radio Liberty“. “Kуrylo Budanov, Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defence Ministry, has revealed that intelligence officer Denys Kirieiev went to talks in Minsk in order to drag out the negotiations with Russia and buy some time. […]
Since this person [Denys Kirieiev] is now dead, we can say this: the main task that we set for him was to delay the process, to buy time, since Mr Kirieiev personally knew two people from the negotiation process who represented the Russian side.
I can express my subjective opinion. I want to emphasise this once again: the person who deliberately did this [killed Kirieiev – ed.], did it to prevent us from interfering in someone else’s game and delaying this process to allow our Armed Forces of Ukraine, let’s say, to take certain actions to repel Russian forces.
If you remember those events, the situation was close to critical then. I think you should remember that very well. And there was a certain number of people who, let’s just say, did not want Ukraine to win.”
- Consequences and what to do?
The NATO Alliance Is Holding Strong on Ukraine. But Fractures Are Emerging, The New York Times reports. “The allies differ on strategy for the coming year and the more immediate question of what Ukraine needs ahead of a major offensive in the spring. The billions of dollars in new arms for Ukraine announced this month — including British tanks, American fighting vehicles and howitzers from Denmark and Sweden — are testament to President Vladimir V. Putin’s failure to split the NATO allies after nearly a year of war. But small yet significant fractures are getting too big to hide.
The differences are over strategy for the coming year and the more immediate question of what Ukraine needs in the next few months, as both sides in the war prepare for major offensives in the spring. And while most of those debates take place behind closed doors, Britain’s impatience with the current pace of aid and Germany’s refusal to provide Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine broke out into public view this week.
When the new British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, visited Washington this week, he gathered reporters for lunch and made the case that it is possible for Ukraine to score a “victory” in the war this year if the allies move fast to exploit Russia’s weaknesses. Officials in Poland, the Baltic States and Finland have largely agreed with the British assessment.
American officials pushed back, saying it is critical to pace the aid, and not flood Ukraine with equipment its troops cannot yet operate. And they argue that in a world of limited resources, it would be wise to keep something in reserve for what the Pentagon believes will likely be a drawn-out conflict, in which Russia will try to wear Ukraine down with relentless barrages and tactics reminiscent of World War I and II.
On Friday, at the conclusion of a meeting in Germany of the dozens of nations supplying the war effort, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, repeated the assessment he has offered since the fall. “For this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces,” he said. The best that could be hoped for is pressing Russia into a diplomatic negotiation — the way most wars end — though senior American diplomats say they have low expectations that Mr. Putin will enter serious talks.
Then came the more immediate blowup with the German government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, over his refusal to send what many military experts believe could be a decisive weapon in Ukrainian hands: the German-built Leopard 2 tanks.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spent several days trying to persuade the Germans to ship them, or at least allow Poland and other nations that use the tanks to re-export them. But by the time the meeting with scores of allies ended, the German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, reported that no agreement had been reached, although he said they would make a decision as soon as possible. He and Mr. Austin tried to focus on the unity of the effort to confront Russia, rather than the obvious rift over arms. […]
In interviews with American, British and other European officials, including senior military leaders, it is clear that Ukraine is different. Only the Ukrainians are on the line, and no one wants to tell them how to fight a battle in which their forces, the only ones engaged in the daily brutality, have shown both grit and determination. But with both Russia and Ukraine planning fresh offensives, the debate over strategy and arms has reached what the NATO secretary general has called an inflection point. […]
American officials were clearly frustrated after their negotiations with the German government this week. Germany had begun by saying that it would send Leopard tanks, and authorize others to, if the United States sent its M-1 Abrams tank as well. The United States declined, saying the tank is such a gas guzzler — it employs a jet engine — and requires such a supply line to keep running that it would not be useful in Ukraine’s environment. (The officials dodged questions about why a tank so difficult to operate on European battlefields is in the American arsenal.)
The British Challengers and German Leopards are more flexible and easier to run. But in public, Mr. Austin and others avoided criticizing Mr. Scholz, who in their view has managed the biggest reversal of German foreign policy — starting with the suspension of two pipelines bringing gas from Russia — quite skillfully.
Mr. Scholz’s real concern, they suspect, is that he does not believe the world is ready to see German tanks near the borders of Russia, a reminder of the Nazi invasion in World War II. One senior American official said this week that if Mr. Scholz and the German public are worried about that, in these circumstances they are the only ones who are.
While Germany did not say yes to sending Leopard tanks this week, it didn’t say no, either — at least not yet. But Ukraine has a very narrow window of time in which to launch a potentially decisive spring offensive before the Russians do, and the tanks are a key part of that effort. Before that launch, Ukraine has to muster thousands of combat-ready troops, receive new advanced weapons from the West, and train their soldiers in how to use and maintain those arms. Getting all that done would be, according to General Milley, a very, very heavy lift.
That’s why Germany’s delay on approving tanks was so frustrating to Mr. Austin and other top Western officials who had been trying all week to reach an agreement with their German counterparts to provide what Ukraine needs now to wrest back territory. […] Speaking about the current German position, a British official said that London’s commitment to send Challenger tanks was intended to encourage other nations to do likewise, and that the British government still hoped it would. […]
Mr. Austin signaled the calendar is not on Ukraine’s side. “We have a window of opportunity here, between now and the spring,” he said. That’s not a long time.”
Germany is refusing to send tanks to Ukraine. Biden cannot let this stand, The Washington Post Editorial Board argues. “Vladimir Putin launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago not only believing he would quickly subjugate Ukraine but also on the assumption that the Western alliance was too weak and divided to put up a united front to thwart him. Both expectations proved disastrously wrong — until Friday, when Germany’s refusal to approve the transfer of dozens of heavy battle tanks to Ukraine opened the first serious crack in what had been NATO’s solid front. That fissure needs to be quickly patched. Left unresolved, the Kremlin’s dictator is certain to try to exploit it, not only on the battlefield but also in the parallel conflict zone of European public opinion.
In addition to Western sanctions against Russia, which will take an increasing toll on the Russian economy and undercut its resupply of high-tech weapons over time, military aid for Ukraine has been key to Ukraine’s survival and ability to blunt Moscow’s superior numbers of troops on the battlefield. Germany has given Ukraine more military aid than any country but the United States and Britain.
The fact of Germany’s multibillion dollar commitment is testament to the remarkable recalibration in Berlin’s thinking that occurred immediately after Russia’s invasion. Having pursued one decades-long strategy toward Moscow — promoting economic partnerships and codependence based on the premise that such a policy would render a European war unthinkable — Chancellor Olaf Scholz executed an abrupt about-face days after Russian troops and armor flooded into Ukraine. He announced a major long-term increase in German military spending and made clear Berlin would stand with its NATO allies against an unprovoked war of aggression.
That was a credit to what appeared to be a clear-eyed assessment of the existential threat to the Western order posed by Mr. Putin’s brazen assault on a sovereign nation. Mr. Scholz understood clearly that Ukraine’s only “sin” was aspiring to be a fully European nation — democratic, pluralistic, tolerant and modern. And he understood that if Russia were granted impunity after invading a big European country such as Ukraine, smaller European countries were also at risk from Mr. Putin’s imperial fantasies.
But that message has apparently not been fully received by a portion of Germany’s coalition government and its public. Polls suggest that while German support generally for Ukraine remains relatively high — though less so than in other Western countries — it is split almost equally on the question of sending German-made main battle tanks to Ukraine.
Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks, several thousand of which are in the arsenals of its NATO allies around Europe, are the best such options for Ukraine’s use. They are far more numerous than British Challenger 2 tanks, about 14 of which are being delivered to Ukraine, and more suitable for Ukrainian terrain and maintenance abilities than the United States’ top-of-the-line battle tank, the M1 Abrams. Several European countries with Leopards in their arsenals have signaled they are ready to ship them immediately to Ukraine, including NATO members Poland and Denmark, as well as Finland, which has applied to join the alliance. But those shipments must first be approved by Germany, which insisted on a right-to-refusal in its arms sale contracts.
Mr. Scholz is sacrificing sound strategy on the altar of political calculation by wavering in the face of opposition from some political allies and a segment of the German electorate. It is a misjudgment that cannot stand.
Some officials in Berlin have suggested they would send Leopards to Ukraine if the Biden administration goes first, and provides political cover, by sending some US-made Abrams tanks to Kyiv. Washington has so far been reluctant to do that, regarding the gargantuan, gas-guzzling Abrams, which requires constant maintenance, as a poor fit with Ukraine’s terrain and capabilities. That might be an accurate technical assessment.
Yet if sending some Abrams tanks is the key to breaking the impasse on a potentially much greater shipment of Leopards, President Biden should give his assent. He should do so not only to add muscle to Ukraine’s arsenal at what is likely to be a decisive moment in the war, but also to maintain Western resolve and unity in the face of the gravest threat it has faced in more than a generation.
Ukraine, whose own supply of Soviet-made battle tanks has dwindled as the war has dragged on, is in an existential fight. Its struggle is also a crucible for Europe and an assault against the most basic precept on which the Western system rests: the impermissibility of unprovoked wars of aggression. Tanks alone will not win that war. Ukraine also needs large numbers of lighter fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, howitzers, modern air defense systems and a constant resupply of artillery shells, which it has been using at a rate of roughly 3,000 per day. Still, the top Ukrainian military commander has said Ukraine needs 300 Western-made battle tanks, which would be a formidable component in Kyiv’s ability not just to hold its own lines but also to push Russia back from territory it has occupied illegally.
Moscow is gearing up for a major spring offensive, expected to start in the next two months. Ukraine might launch one of its own. What is at stake is not only Ukraine’s survival, but also leadership and clear-eyed thinking in Washington and Berlin. Germany’s hesitation is a critical challenge to Western unity, and Mr. Biden cannot sit pat in the face of it.”
Hans Petter Midttun: Today’s assessment will be published as a separate article. A teaser:
“Both The New York Times and The Washington Post sees the failure to deliver tanks to Ukraine as the first sign of discord within NATO. It is not the first. It is not even the second indication of an Alliance facing internal strife.
I can easily list at least 8 signs of discord.
The German reluctance to provide Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, however, is not the eighth sign of discord. It is only a part of a much larger problem. The eighth sign of discord is the NATO member state’s refusal to deliver any of the tools Ukraine needs to evict the Russian forces from its territory.
While Eastern Europe is giving all they have, Western Europe and the US are not only holding back but are in parts supplying old, low-tech equipment.
Countries in Eastern Europe are already defending their independence and sovereignty. Their line of defence is in eastern Ukraine.
The rest of NATO is not only partly ignoring Ukraine’s call for support but also ignoring the call from NATO members to act to stop a conflict that affects their security.
The bottom line is that NATO is not united. NATO has lost credibility for walking away from past ambitions and not acting according to its previous strategic concept. It’s divided between those who remember occupation and those who do not. It’s split between those who want to defend European security and stability and those who remain uncommitted. It’s divided between east and west, and between those who invest in security and defence and those who have not.
NATO needs to be united in the face of a broader confrontation. Discord leaves it vulnerable to Russia’s effort to split the Alliance and weaken the trans-Atlantic link.