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ISW: Russia unlikely to achieve significant breakthroughs during a new offensive in Ukraine’s east, south

Despite their offensive efforts, the ISW suggests that Russian forces may face difficulties in achieving operationally significant breakthroughs in their winter campaign.
A Ukrainian tank on the frontline. Credit: Ukraine’s General Staff

Russian forces will likely try to sustain or intensify offensive operations to seize more territories and retain the initiative throughout eastern Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes. At the same time, ISW also assesses that Russian forces will be unable to make operationally significant breakthroughs.

According to ISW,  Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are preparing to launch a new offensive in the coming weeks once the ground freezes in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russian literary critic and alternative historian Sergey Pereslegin made a claim on January 12, suggesting that Russian forces might initiate a significant offensive in Ukraine sometime between 12 January and 2 February. This move is anticipated to occur after the ground freezes and potentially when Ukrainian forces become fatigued in their defense of positions in Avdiivka and the east bank of Kherson Oblast. Pereslegin also voiced concerns about the timing of Russia’s offensive and the potential for repeating mistakes similar to those made by Ukraine during its 2023 counteroffensive. Additionally, he expressed doubts about Russia having sufficient manpower for the envisaged large-scale offensive.

Freezing weather impacts operations

On 14 January, a prominent Russian milblogger asserted that the current number of Russian military personnel at the frontline enables them to carry out localized tactical maneuvers but may not be sufficient for operationally significant “breakthroughs.” The milblogger also highlighted the adverse effects of freezing weather on both Russian and Ukrainian ground activities, as well as on artillery and drone systems along the frontlines, with a particular impact observed in the Kherson direction.

On 12 January, a Russian milblogger reported that the freezing weather conditions are impeding Russian forces from carrying out ground operations and making advancements north of Verbove in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

According to the Ukrainian Southern Operational Command, Russian aviation is currently unable to operate in southern Ukraine due to severe freezing weather conditions.

On 14 January, former Roscosmos (Russian space agency) head and prominent ultranationalist figure Dmitry Rogozin stated that the frontline in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast is highly active with numerous Ukrainian drones in operation. Rogozin noted that Ukrainian forces deploy approximately half a dozen drones to target each valuable site in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. This intense use of Ukrainian drones is reportedly causing challenges for Russian personnel rotations in the region.

ISW previously assessed that the freezing temperatures in Ukraine may presently limit operations along the front but are expected to create more favorable conditions for mechanized maneuver warfare as the ground freezes in the upcoming weeks. ISW maintains its assessment that Russian forces are likely to persist or increase localized offensive actions in eastern Ukraine, aiming to gain and maintain the initiative regardless of winter weather and terrain conditions.

“ISW also assesses, however, that Russian forces will be unable to make operationally significant breakthroughs,” the ISW report reads.

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