September 26, 2023
Ukraine Invasion Updates
This page collects the Critical Threats Project (CTP) and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) updates on the invasion of Ukraine. In late February 2022, CTP and ISW began publishing daily synthetic products covering key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. These Ukraine Conflict Updates replaced the “Indicators and Thresholds for Russian Military Operations in Ukraine and/or Belarus,” which we maintained from November 12, 2021, through February 17, 2022.
This list also includes prominent warning alerts that CTP and ISW launched outside the crisis update structure. These products addressed critical inflection points as they occurred.
- Maps on Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine and Main Russian Maneuver Axes
- Recent Updates
- February 2022 - July 2023 Updates
- Related Reads
Maps on Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine and Main Russian Maneuver Axes
This interactive map complements the static daily control-of-terrain maps that CTP and ISW produce with high-fidelity and, where possible, street level assessments of the war in Ukraine.
Click here to access the archive of interactive time-lapse maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These maps complement the static control-of-terrain maps that produced daily by showing a dynamic frontline.
The Critical Threats Project and the Institute for the Study of War are publishing a summary of the methodology of our map for those who would like to learn more about the tradecraft for mapping conventional military operations from the open source.
Previous versions of these static maps are available in our past publications.
Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea on the night of December 4 to 5. Ukrainian media reported on December 5, citing sources in the Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) and Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), that GUR and SBU elements struck a Russian military oil terminal in Feodosia, a Nebo-M radar system near Baherove (13km west of Kerch), and a helicopter landing pad, P-18 Terek radar system, and a Baikal-1M anti-aircraft missile control system in unspecified areas of Crimea. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian air defenses, electronic warfare (EW) systems, and small-arms fire downed up to 35 Ukrainian drones near Baherove, Feodosia, Cape Chauda, and over the Sea of Azov but did not say that any Ukrainian drones struck their intended targets. Another group of Russian sources, including Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo, claimed that Russian air defenses downed up to 41 Ukrainian drones over northern Crimea and the Sea of Azov and claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to strike Russian air defense systems and fuel storage facilities. Ukrainian forces have been conducting an interdiction campaign against Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea, primarily Black Sea Fleet assets, since June 2023 to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian operations in southern Ukraine.
Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine on the night of December 4 and 5. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 17 Shahed-136/-131 drones from Kursk Oblast and Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai, and six S-300 missiles at targets in Ukraine and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 of the drones. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that the Russian missiles targeted civilian objects in Donetsk and Kherson oblasts. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian drones struck civilian residences and infrastructure in Lviv Oblast and Izyum and Chuhuiv raions, Kharkiv Oblast.
The Russian State Duma will reportedly consider a proposed bill that would recognize the Sea of Azov as an internal Russian body of water, likely setting conditions to coerce recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied Crimea and Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Donetsk oblasts. Russian State Duma Deputy representing occupied Crimea Mikhail Sheremet stated on December 5 that the Duma will try to adopt a proposed bill that would formally designate the Sea of Azov as an internal water of Russia by the end of 2023. Russia and Ukraine signed and ratified a treaty in 2003 and 2004 that included stipulations that the Sea of Azov is a historically internal water of both Russia and Ukraine and that vessels flying Ukrainian or Russian flags in the Sea of Azov enjoy freedom of navigation. The Ukrainian Rada denounced the treaty in February 2023, stating that Russia had violated the stipulation that all issues concerning the Sea of Azov should be resolved by peaceful, bilateral means and that the treaty’s authorization of Russian warships to freely navigate the sea posed a threat to Ukrainian national security. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in June 2023 that also denounced the treaty, claiming that Ukraine lost its status as a littoral state of the Sea of Azov when Russia (illegally) annexed Donetsk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts in 2022. The proposed bill likely portends a series of corresponding Russian administrative measures that would require maritime traffic en route to or from ports on the Sea of Azov to formally recognize the sea as a Russian internal body of water and, therefore, to de facto recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories.
Russian opposition party Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky advocated for a ceasefire in Ukraine as part of his presidential bid on December 5 likely in an attempt to distinguish himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and give voice to Russians who support a ceasefire. Yavlinsky stated in an interview with Russian state outlet RBK published on December 5 that he believes that it is in Russia’s interest to sign a ceasefire agreement with Ukraine as quickly as possible. Yavlinsky expressed doubt that recent Russian surveys claiming to show that Russians support the war in Ukraine are true given the scale of Russian propaganda, which he believes has created a widespread sense of fear in Russia in the past year and a half. Yavlinsky stated that he is currently collecting the signatures needed to run in the 2024 presidential election and explained that his sequential presidential platform includes signing a ceasefire and exchanging prisoners of war (POWs) with Ukraine first, releasing political prisoners in Russia second, and beginning to reform the Russian judicial system third. Yavlinsky advocated against Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the full-scale invasion in 2022 and called for Russia to withdraw from the war in Syria during his 2018 presidential campaign. Yavlinksy likely believes that these anti-war positions and the call for a ceasefire are the most direct way to oppose Putin and to garner support from the public. Recent Russian opinion polls indicate that more Russians support a withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine than do not and that a majority of Russians believe that Russia should begin peace negotiations with Ukraine.
The Kremlin may be strategically allowing Yavlinsky to criticize the Russian government in order to preserve its veneer of electoral legitimacy and to delegitimize possible support for a ceasefire among factions in the Kremlin. A Russian insider source claimed on December 4 that Yavlinsky made an agreement with the Russian Presidential Administration that if he were allowed to participate in the 2024 presidential elections, he would criticize the Ukrainian government, especially Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The insider source claimed that the Presidential Administration is not against “moderate” criticisms of Russia’s war in Ukraine as this can demonstrate that there is a “pluralism of opinions” in Russian presidential elections. The insider source claimed that the Kremlin would allow Yavlinsky to garner no more than one to 1.5 percent of the vote in the election, which is consistent with Yavlinsky’s results in the 2018 presidential elections. Yavlinsky stated in the RBK interview that Russian authorities have sentenced or are investigating other members of the Yabloko party but that this occurs only at the regional level and that he is unsure why the federal government has not shut down Yabloko. The Kremlin is likely refraining from punishing Yavlinsky and Yabloko at the federal level so as to maintain its carefully crafted façade of opposition, democracy, and electoral legitimacy. The Kremlin is also likely allowing Yavlinsky to widely promote the idea of a ceasefire in a state media outlet so as to associate the idea with the “opposition,” thereby likely deterring factions within the Kremlin that may want to freeze the frontline in Ukraine from publicly or privately voicing their opinions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the benefits that migrants provide to the Russian economy, while promoting ongoing efforts to Russify migrants in Russia and citizens of post-Soviet countries at the Russian Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights meeting on December 4. Putin stated that Russian economic demands, including a labor shortage, largely shape policy regarding migrants and noted that Russia must maintain an “ethnocultural balance.” Putin criticized migrants for creating “ethnic enclaves” in Russian cities and failing to register with the Russian military after they acquire Russian citizenship. Putin also stressed that migrants must be linguistically and culturally prepared to work in Russia and must abide by Russian traditions and laws. Putin claimed that 20 to 50 percent of children of migrants have a low level of Russian language proficiency or do not speak Russian at all and noted the Russian government is creating special programs and classes for these children to study the Russian language and integrate into the Russian educational system. Putin also noted that Russia is working with Central Asian and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries to establish Russian schools and teach the Russian language in these countries. The Russian government has continually promoted opening Russian and Russian-speaking schools and universities in post-Soviet countries and has criticized countries for promoting the use of their indigenous languages in educational institutions. Russia likely uses these educational programs and institutions in Russia and abroad to promote Russian narratives and foster a Russian identity among youth.
Russian milblogger and Russian Human Rights Council member Alexander Kots criticized the Russian government for failing to help ethnic Russian citizens of Central Asian countries receive Russian citizenship while granting Russian citizenship to ethnically Central Asian citizens of Central Asian countries. Kots praised the Russian government for granting citizenship to foreigners who served in the Russian military, however. Kots further commended Russian State Duma Deputy Alexander Khinshtein for successfully requesting that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) grant Uzbek citizen Alexander Babkov temporary asylum in Russia with the future prospect of obtaining Russian citizenship. Babkov, an ethnic Russian from Uzbekistan who allegedly fought in the Wagner Group near Bakhmut and Soledar, reportedly faced deportation to Uzbekistan in January 2024 and feared subsequent imprisonment. An Uzbek court sentenced an Uzbek citizen to prison for fighting in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) military from 2014–2015, and a Kazakh court sentenced a Kazakh citizen who reportedly served in Wagner to prison on charges of mercenarism. Khinshtein’s intervention on Babkov’s behalf may be a response to increasing calls for the Russian government to protect ethnic Russians abroad, particularly those who served in the Russian military.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudia Arabia on December 6 and will host Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Russia on December 7 — a bout of diplomatic outreach likely focused on strengthening Russia’s position with Gulf States while continuing to solidify the deepening Russian–Iranian security partnership. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov stated on December 5 that Putin will exchange views on bilateral relations, international agendas, and regional agendas during his meetings with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Peskov responded to a question about Russian, Saudi, and Emirati oil cooperation and stated that discussions will occur within the OPEC+ framework. OPEC+ members recently agreed on November 30 to cut oil output in early 2024 to stabilize oil prices. Russian Presidential Assistant Yuri Ushakov stated that Putin intends to discuss the Palestinian–Israeli conflict; the war in Ukraine; and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan during his meetings in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Kremlin likely aims to use cooperation on oil output and diplomatic engagement on the Israel–Hamas war and other regional conflicts to strengthen engagement with Gulf States while balancing potential Saudi and Emirati concerns about Russia’s increasing reliance on its security partnership with Iran. Peskov and Ushakov stated that Putin will meet with Raisi on December 7, and the Iranian state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency stated that Putin and Raisi will also discuss the situation in Palestine. Ushakov announced that Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) intend to sign a cooperation agreement by the end of 2023, likely to facilitate and expand Iran’s role in Russian sanctions evasion schemes and in the supply of weapons and critical components to Russia.
Armenia appears to be effectively abstaining from participation in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The Spokesperson for the Armenian Parliament Chairman, Tsovinar Khachatryan, confirmed on December 5 that Armenia will not send a representative to the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Moscow on December 19. The CSTO Parliamentary Assembly meeting represents the fourth consecutive high-profile CSTO event or exercise that Armenia has abstained from amid the backdrop of deteriorating Russian–Armenian relations. Armenia did not participate in the CSTO Collective Security Council session in Minsk, Belarus on November 23; the CSTO’s summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 13; or the CSTO “Indestructible Brotherhood-2023" exercises in Belarus in early October. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Mnatsakan Safaryan reiterated on November 23 that Armenia is not considering leaving the CSTO or discussing the withdrawal of Russia‘s 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, Armenia. CSTO Secretary General Imangali Tasmagambetov stated on November 20 that Armenia asked the CSTO to remove provisions on assistance to Armenia from the agenda of the CSTO summit in Minsk. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated in October that Armenia is currently in the process of diversifying its security partnerships, and Armenia signed a military cooperation agreement with France on October 23.
The Kremlin continues to intensify censorship efforts, targeting prominent Russian messaging and social media app Telegram. A Moscow court fined Russian communications company Telegram Messenger Inc. four million rubles ($44,300) on December 5 for refusing to remove prohibited information at the request of Russian federal censor Roskomnadzor. Moscow’s Tagansky Court previously fined Telegram four million rubles for failing to remove false information about the Russian Armed Forces and information aimed at destabilizing Russia on November 21, 2023. These fines are likely a mild punishment for Telegram rather than a concerted effort by Russian authorities to shut down the app.
- Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea on the night of December 4 to 5.
- Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drone strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine on the night of December 4 and 5.
- The Russian State Duma will reportedly consider a proposed bill that would recognize the Sea of Azov as an internal Russian body of water, likely setting conditions to coerce recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of occupied Crimea and Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Donetsk oblasts.
- Russian opposition party Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky advocated for a ceasefire in Ukraine as part of his presidential bid likely in an attempt to distinguish himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and give voice to Russians who support a ceasefire.
- The Kremlin may be strategically allowing Yavlinsky to criticize the Russian government in order to preserve its veneer of electoral legitimacy and to delegitimize possible support for a ceasefire among factions in the Kremlin.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the benefits that migrants provide to the Russian economy, while promoting ongoing efforts to Russify migrants in Russia and citizens of post-Soviet countries.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudia Arabia on December 6 and will host Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Russia on December 7- a bout of diplomatic outreach likely focused on strengthening Russia’s position with Gulf States while continuing to solidify the deepening Russian-Iranian security partnership.
- Armenia appears to be effectively abstaining from participation in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
- The Kremlin continues to intensify censorship efforts, targeting prominent Russian messaging and social media app Telegram.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast but did not make any confirmed advances.
- Russian forces are reportedly quickly sending poorly trained convict recruits to reinforce assaults elements in Ukraine.
- Russian occupation authorities are reportedly intensifying their seizure of Ukrainian property in occupied Berdyansk, Donetsk Oblast.
Russia continues to reckon with the economic ramifications of labor shortages partially resulting from the war in Ukraine. Russian state media outlets reported on December 4 that Russian consulting company Yakov and Partners has recorded increased labor shortages in domestic production that will likely grow to a deficit of two to four million workers by 2030, 90 percent of whom are likely to be semi-skilled workers in critical industries. Yakov and Partners noted that this supply shortage will place upward pressure on workers’ wages that will outpace GDP growth and make Russian companies even less attractive to foreign investment. Russian outlet RBK cited Russian economic experts who stated that this problem can only be resolved through improved interactions between Russian businesses and the state, including through dedicated programs to repatriate Russians who fled the country due to the war and programs to attract "highly-qualified" migrants from other countries. ISW previously assessed that Russia continues to face shortages in both skilled and unskilled labor, a problem that is further compounded by the Kremlin's inconsistent and often inflammatory messaging about Russians who fled Russia because of the war and against migrant workers within Russia. The Russian economy will likely continue to grapple with the Kremlin's competing desires to bolster Russia's force generation and industrial capacity while simultaneously disenfranchising key labor groups, which is likely to lead to continued concerns over Russian economic output and potential resulting social grievances.
Russian forces launched a series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on the night of December 3 to 4. Ukrainian military sources reported that Russian forces launched 23 Shahed-131/136 from Cape Chauda in occupied Crimea and one Kh-59 cruise missile from occupied Kherson Oblast and stated that Ukrainian forces shot down 18 Shaheds and the Kh-59 missile. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that the Russian military has increased its production of Shahed drones, which are likely to be the main systems that Russian forces will use to target Ukrainian energy infrastructure throughout winter 2023-2024. Ihnat also reported that Russian forces are increasing their "strategic stockpile" of missiles.
Ukraine's Western partners continue efforts to provide Ukraine with military and economic support. German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall announced on December 3 that it won a contract to provide Ukraine with €142 million worth of 155mm artillery rounds, which Germany will deliver to Ukraine in 2025. Rheinmetall stated that it will deliver around 40,000 rounds to Ukraine from a separate order in 2024. British outlet The Times highlighted Ukraine's use of British-provided Martlet lightweight missiles to deter a large-scale Russian Shahed drone strike on Kyiv City in late November 2023. The Times noted that the British Army trained Ukrainian operators on Martlet systems in the UK earlier this year. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov additionally met with his Belgian counterpart, Ludivine Dedonder, on December 4 to further develop the bilateral Ukrainian-Belgian relationship, particularly in regard to building out Ukraine's defense industrial base with Belgian support. Head of the Ukrainian President's Office Andriy Yermak spoke with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about the upcoming Ukrainian-American conference on arms production that will take place on December 6 and 7 in Washington, DC.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed deepening Belarusian-Chinese relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China on December 4. Lukashenko stated that the “historical increase in the level of [Belarusian-Chinese] relations” has created an impetus for further deepening bilateral cooperation. Lukashenko reiterated Belarus’ role as a “reliable” partner to China and expressed support for the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Chinese Community of a Common Destiny concept. Lukashenko and Xi discussed strengthening strategic and economic cooperation, and their meeting reportedly lasted three times longer than planned. Xi stated that he opposes unspecified external interference in Belarusian internal affairs and expressed support for strengthening cooperation with Belarus through the UN and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Chinese news outlet Xinhua stated that Lukashenko and Xi “exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis.“ Lukashenko and Xi signed several documents promoting industrial, technical, and scientific cooperation that may have facilitated Russian sanctions evasion by channeling Chinese aid to Russia through Belarus during Lukashenko’s previous visit to China in March 2023.
Kremlin-backed United Russia State Duma deputies and Federation Council senators proposed a bill to introduce criminal punishments for leaking personal data, likely as part of ongoing efforts to control the Russian information space ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections. The United Russia legislators proposed a bill that would allow Russian authorities to sentence individuals to up to four years in prison for storing, transferring, or collecting personal data “obtained illegally,” and up to five years if the information contains unspecified “special categories of data” or personal biometric data. The bill also stipulates that Russian authorities could punish someone with up to six years in prison for ”illegal use of personal data for selfish interest” and could punish someone with up to eight years in prison and a two million ruble (about $21,850) fine for transferring ”illegally acquired” personal data abroad. Russian opposition outlet Agentstvo Novosti reported that the bill’s definition of personal data includes an individual’s first name, surname, patronymic, address, phone number, address, and email. Agentstvo Novosti noted that the bill’s implementation would criminalize database analysis – one of the few tools left to independent Russian investigative journalists. The Russian government has been prosecuting Russian internet service companies Yandex and Google under laws about illegal storing of personal data of Russian users likely to gain further control over internet companies operating in Russia to better track Russians’ personal information and online data ahead of the Russian 2024 presidential election. The bill is also likely part of ongoing Russian government efforts to restrict Russian citizens’ access to information on the internet and the activities of opposition figures and media outlets.
The Kremlin likely continues efforts to insert itself into power vacuums in several African countries as Wagner Group elements continue to operate in the Central African Republic (CAR). Nigerien state media stated that Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Nigerien junta Defense Minister Lieutenant General Salifou Modi signed a document strengthening defense cooperation on December 4 after meeting on December 3 in Niamey, Niger. Reuters reported on December 4 that the Nigerien junta also revoked its military partnership with the European Union (EU), further isolating post-coup Niger from the EU. Yevkurov previously met with Malian junta head Assimi Goita, Malian junta Defense Minister Sadio Camara, and Modi on September 16 and with Burkinabe junta head Ibrahim Traore on September 1. Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali previously created the Alliance of Sahel States, a collective defense pact, on September 16, following Yevkurov's visits with the junta heads in September. A French open-source intelligence project assessed on December 4 that Russia is using two structures – the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)-controlled ”Africa Corps” and the newly formed, pseudo local media outlet called “African Initiative” that employs former Wagner Group fighters – to establish a foothold in Burkina Faso. ISW previously reported that the Russian MoD has begun to publicly recruit for the ”Africa Corps,” which is aimed at subsuming Wagner operations in Africa after the MoD made failed attempts to directly recruit former Wagner personnel. The New York Times also reported on November 26 that Wagner maintains a major presence in the Central African Republic (CAR) and controls the largest gold mine and over 1,000 personnel in the country, including personnel likely working as security for CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera and other senior personnel running the Russia House cultural center in Bangui. The Kremlin is likely attempting to expand Russian MoD-controlled “Africa Corps” operations in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, as well as to expand Russian information operations on the continent in part to counter Wagner operations in the CAR.
Voronezh Oblast Governor Alexander Gusev confirmed on December 4 the death of Russian 14th Army Corps Deputy Commander Major General Vladimir Zavadsky in Ukraine. Various Russian and Ukrainian sources claimed on November 28 and 29 that Zavadsky died after stepping on a mine in Kherson Oblast on November 28.
- Russia continues to reckon with the economic ramifications of labor shortages partially resulting from the war in Ukraine.
- Ukraine's Western partners continue efforts to provide Ukraine with military and economic support.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed deepening Belarusian-Chinese relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China on December 4.
- Kremlin-backed United Russia State Duma deputies and Federation Council senators proposed a bill to introduce criminal punishments for leaking personal data, likely as part of ongoing efforts to control the Russian information space ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections.
- The Kremlin likely continues efforts to insert itself into power vacuums in several African countries as Wagner Group elements continue to operate in the Central African Republic (CAR).
- Voronezh Oblast Governor Alexander Gusev confirmed on December 4 the death of Russian 14th Army Corps Deputy Commander Major General Vladimir Zavadsky in Ukraine.
- Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas on December 4.
- Select Russian Duma deputies appear to be at odds over the issue of extending Russian conscript service.
- Russian Presidental Administration Head for Domestic Policy Andrei Yarin reportedly visited occupied Ukraine as part of ongoing efforts to legitimize Russian authority over occupied Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree is likely a formal recognition of the Russian military’s current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel. Putin signed a decree on December 1 increasing the official end strength of the Russian military from 2.039 million personnel to 2.209 million personnel and total Russian combat personnel from 1.15 million to 1.32 million. The increase of 170,000 Russian combat personnel between Putin’s previous August 25, 2022 decree and the December 1, 2023 decree is likely a formal acknowledgement of a net increase of 170,000 combat personnel between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023, and not a call to immediately increase the current number of combat personnel by an additional 170,000. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev claimed on November 9 that the Russian military has recruited 410,000 contract, volunteer, and conscripted military personnel since January 1, 2023, then later claimed on December 1 that the Russian military has recruited over 452,000 personnel since January 1, 2023. The Russian government announced in September 2022 that the Russian military would mobilize 300,000 personnel under Putin’s partial mobilization decree. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on November 29 that Russian forces have suffered over 300,000 casualties (killed and wounded personnel) in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Ongoing widespread crypto-mobilization efforts (such as volunteer recruitment and the coercion of migrants into the Russian military), partial mobilization, the number of Russian personnel concluding military service, and Russian casualties in Ukraine plausibly account for a net 170,000-combat personnel increase between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023. Putin’s December 1, 2023 decree is thus likely establishing 2.209 million personnel as the new official end strength rather than ordering a significant new increase in the total size of the Russian military.
Ukrainian air defense coverage along the front line is reportedly incentivizing Russian forces to rely more heavily on remote strikes with glide bombs. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun stated on December 3 that Ukrainian forces shoot down Russian attack helicopters, such as Ka-52 and Mi-24 helicopters, as soon as they enter the range of Ukrainian air defense systems. Shtupun stated that this Ukrainian air defense capability has prompted Russian forces to use Su-35 and Su-34 attack aircraft to launch remote strikes with glide bombs from 50 to 70 kilometers behind the line of combat engagement. Russian forces effectively used helicopters to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast in summer 2023 but decreased the use of rotary wing aircraft following the downing of Ka-52 helicopters in the area in mid-August 2023. Shtupun’s statements are consistent with these observations as well as with the increased Russian use of glide bombs throughout the frontline, particularly in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated on December 3 that Ukrainian air defenses are similarly prompting Russian forces to increase their use of KAB glide bombs because FAB glide bombs require Russian aircraft to fly within range of Ukrainian air defenses. Ihnat added that KAB bombs are inaccurate and that Russian forces therefore launch a large number of the glide bombs to strike Ukrainian targets. Ihnat stated that Russian aviation launches about 100 glide bombs on average at Ukrainian targets along the front line each day and stated that Ukraine needs long-range air defense systems and F-16 fighter jets to counter the current Russian aviation threat.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported that Russian air defense systems are also constraining Ukrainian operations along the front, specifically Russian SA-15 TOR short-range surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs). The UK MoD reported that Russian forces use the SA-15 SAMs to provide cover for Russian ground forces at the front line and have effectively employed them to counter Ukrainian drone operations.
Ukrainian officials appealed to international organizations to investigate video footage published on December 2 showing Russian forces killing surrendering and reportedly unarmed Ukrainian soldiers. A Russian source published footage on December 2 showing Russian forces shooting two Ukrainian soldiers after they surrendered near Stepove (3km northwest of Avdiivka). Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations to investigate this violation of international law, and Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun stated on December 3 that Ukrainian authorities will give the evidence of the war crime to the appropriate international institutions. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office stated that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has begun a pre-trial investigation for criminal proceedings for violations of the Ukrainian Criminal Code. A few Russian milbloggers dismissed the video and the accusations against the Russian forces. Attacking soldiers recognized as hors de combat, specifically including those who have clearly expressed an intention to surrender, is a violation of Article 41 of the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.
Russian forces launched a series of missile and drone strikes on the night of December 2 and 3. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 12 Shahed drones from Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Krasnodar Krai, and one Kh-59 missile from Belgorod Oblast and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 of the drones over Mykolaiv and Khmelnytskyi oblasts as well as the Kh-59 missile. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that Russian forces launched the drones in waves. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian aviation, drones, missiles, and artillery struck a Ukrainian command post in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast; fuel depots near Myrhorod, Poltava Oblast and Khmelnytskyi City; and an ammunition depot in Mykolaiv Oblast.
The Russian government is likely continuing attempts to censor relatives of mobilized Russian military personnel on social media out of concern about their protests’ possible negative effect on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s still unannounced 2024 presidential campaign. BBC Russia reported on December 3 that online bots using fake names and profile pictures accused the relatives of mobilized Russian personnel in their “Way Home” Telegram channel of having connections to imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. The “Way Home” group previously issued a manifesto on November 27 calling for the return of mobilized personnel and an end to “indefinite” mobilization. Relatives of mobilized personnel have also repeatedly appealed to the Russian government and military for the release of their relatives from military service and for better treatment of mobilized servicemen in the Russian military, and the Russian government has made efforts to censor these demands and complaints and prevent relatives of mobilized personnel from protesting publicly. Putin‘s presidential campaign will reportedly not focus on the war in Ukraine, and the Kremlin likely considers the relatives of mobilized personnel to be a social group that may pose one of the greatest threats to his campaign.
A prominent Russian milblogger claimed to have given a “masterclass” to press heads and communications personnel at Russian stated-owned defense conglomerate Rostec, likely in support of an effort that allows the Russian government to normalize the war without directly involving the Kremlin. The Rybar Telegram channel claimed that its founder, Mikhail Zvinchuk, gave the “masterclass,” which involved an analysis of 23 Telegram accounts of Russian enterprises and a discussion on the importance of Telegram and other social media to achieve results. Zvinchuk recommended that Rostec increase coverage of its production processes, modernize its approaches to publicizing their products, and humanize the corporation. Many of Rostec’s subsidiaries are involved in the Russian Ministry of Defense’s efforts to ramp up DIB production to support Russia’s long war effort in Ukraine. Rostec and its subsidiaries using Telegram to promote DIB products would help normalize the revitalization of Russia’s DIB and the Russian long war effort to the Russian public without directly attributing this normalization to the Kremlin. The Kremlin has consistently failed to bring Russian society to a wartime footing and is unlikely to do so in the near term as the Kremlin reportedly seeks to downplay the war as it prepares for the 2024 Russian presidential elections.
The milblogger’s “masterclass” represents an avenue by which the Kremlin can further benefit from milbloggers and shows how possible financial incentives could temper milbloggers’ criticisms of the Russian leadership. The Kremlin has sought to appeal to select milbloggers, including Rybar, and Zvinchuk is the only prominent Russian milblogger to receive a state award from Russian President Vladimir Putin for war reporting. The Kremlin has consistently struggled to conduct effective information operations inside Russia since the start of the full-scale invasion and may seek to use more milbloggers to help improve the Kremlin’s conduct of its information operations directed at domestic audiences. Rybar publishes calls for donations multiple times per week and has also advertised companies affiliated with Russian Presidential Administration First Deputy Head Sergei Kiriyenko and Russian media. ISW previously assessed that milbloggers’ reliance on advertisements for an income provides a financial incentive to refrain from criticizing the Kremlin as attempted censorship and legal issues may deter advertisement deals. Consultations with Russian officials on public messaging and information operations could become an additional source of income for select milbloggers, which would likely lead to further self-censorship.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree is likely a formal recognition of the Russian military’s current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel.
- Ukrainian air defense coverage along the front line is reportedly incentivizing Russian forces to rely more heavily on remote strikes with glide bombs.
- Ukrainian officials appealed to international organizations to investigate video footage published on December 2 showing Russian forces killing surrendering and reportedly unarmed Ukrainian soldiers.
- Russian forces launched a series of missile and drone strikes on the night of December 2 and 3.
- The Russian government is likely continuing attempts to censor relatives of mobilized Russian military personnel on social media out of concern about their protests’ possible negative effect on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s still unannounced 2024 presidential campaign.
- A prominent Russian milblogger claimed to have given a “masterclass” to press heads and communications personnel at Russian stated-owned defense conglomerate Rostec, likely in support of an effort that allows the Russian government to normalize the war without directly involving the Kremlin.
- The milblogger’s “masterclass” represents an avenue by which the Kremlin can further benefit from milbloggers and shows how possible financial incentives could temper milbloggers’ criticisms of the Russian leadership.
- Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Avdiivka.
- Russia continues to use the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to indoctrinate Russian children into Russian nationalism and set conditions for long-term force generation efforts.
- Russian occupation officials continue to strengthen the Kremlin-backed United Russia party in occupied Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections.
Poor weather conditions continue to slow the pace of Ukrainian and Russian combat operations across the entire frontline but have not completely halted them. Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo stated that Russian forces actively use aviation in the Bakhmut direction when the weather permits it. Fityo added that weather does not significantly affect Russian artillery fire in the Bakhmut direction. Russian milbloggers, claimed on December 1 that strong winds near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast prevented Russian forces from using drones and artillery over the past two days, however. A Russian milblogger claimed that although light rain allows Russian forces to conduct aerial reconnaissance near Verbove (9km east of Robotyne) the muddy terrain makes it challenging for infantry and wheeled vehicles to advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The milblogger added that Russian forces can only move on tracked vehicles and that Ukrainian forces continue intense artillery fire despite the poor weather conditions in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov amplified footage on December 2 that shows muddy roads on the Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove line in western Zaporizhia Oblast and claimed that these conditions have practically immobilized Ukrainian wheeled vehicles, forcing Ukrainian troops to conduct infantry-only attacks. Rogov amplified additional footage showing an infestation of rats and mice in a Ukrainian trench in Zaporizhia Oblast, which he claimed was the result of the cold weather in the region.
Russian forces launched another series of Shahed 136/131 drone and missile strikes targeting southern Ukraine overnight on December 1-2. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 11 Shahed drones from Cape Chauda in occupied Crimea and a Kh-59 cruise missile from the airspace over occupied Zaporizhia Oblast. The Ukrainian military officials reported that Ukrainian forces shot down 10 Shahed drones over Odesa Oblast and the Kh-59 cruise missile over Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that a Russian Shahed drone struck an unspecified infrastructure object in Odesa Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian Shahed drones targeted the Chornomorsk and Kiliya ports in Odesa Oblast. The milblogger added that Russian forces also conducted missile strikes, including at least one Iskander ballistic missile strike, in Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia oblasts. ISW cannot verify the milblogger’s claims.
Ukrainian and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials reported that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) completely disconnected from all external power sources for five and a half hours on the night of December 1 to 2, marking the plant’s eighth complete black out — all under Russian occupation. The Ukrainian Energy Ministry and the IAEA reported on December 2 that the ZNPP lost connection with both of its operable external power lines from 0230 to around 0800 local time on December 2. The ZNPP, during the black out, automatically switched to diesel generators to cool its reactors and power essential functions. The IAEA reported that the power loss disrupted the coolant pumps of reactor no. 4 and that the ZNPP is currently bringing the reactor back to a hot shutdown state to continue generating steam for ZNPP operations and provide heat for Enerhodar. Ukrainian nuclear energy operator Energoatom President Petro Kotin stated that Russia is not interested in the safety of the ZNPP, as evidenced by Russian authorities' failure to follow the norms and rules of nuclear and radiation safety. The IAEA stated that an external grid failure far away from the ZNPP caused the power failure. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated that this most recent power outage is “yet another reminder” about the plant’s precarious nuclear safety and security situation.
The ZNPP’s complete power outage occurred as Russia continued longstanding efforts to compel the IAEA and the international community to normalize Russia’s occupation of the ZNPP. Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom claimed on December 2 that Rosatom Head Alexey Likhachev and Grossi agreed on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) Climate Conference to hold full-scale consultations about the safety and security of the ZNPP in early 2024. Neither the IAEA nor Grossi have confirmed Rosatom’s claim of future consultations as of this publication.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three third party entities involved in the transport of Russian crude oil above the G7 price cap. OFAC announced on December 1 that it imposed sanctions on two United Arab Emirates-based and one Liberian-based shipping companies that own vessels that carried Russian crude oil above $70 barrel after the G7’s $60 price cap took effect in December 2022. Russia relies on a “shadow fleet” of oil tankers without insurance from Western countries to skirt the G7’s price cap on Russian crude oil and petroleum products.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) signaled that it likely intends to continue relying on crypto-mobilization recruitment schemes for any potential increase in the size of the Russian military. The Russian MoD responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree increasing the size of the Russian military and stated that the Russian military is implementing the increase in stages “on account of citizens who express a desire to perform military service under a contract.” This language may refer to volunteers, whom the MoD has courted through a widespread crypto-mobilization effort in Russia, and suggests that the MoD may use volunteer recruitment for long-term force generation. The MoD clarified that Putin’s decree does not portend a significant increase in the number of conscripted Russians nor a second wave of mobilization. Putin‘s decree, which formally increased the size of the Russian military from 2.039 million personnel to 2.209 million personnel and total Russian combat personnel from 1.15 million to 1.32 million, is likely an official acknowledgment of the actual end strength of the Russian military and not an order for an immediate increase. Partial mobilization, ongoing widespread crypto-mobilization efforts, the number of Russian personnel concluding military service, and Russian casualties in Ukraine can plausibly account for the net gain of 170,000 Russian combat personnel between the August 22 decree on the size of the Russian military and the December 1 decree.
The Kremlin’s policy towards the role of migrants in bolstering Russia’s industrial capacity continues to be inconsistent. Kremlin newswire TASS reported on December 2 that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) is preparing a bill that will require Russian authorities to fingerprint and identify foreigners immediately upon entry to Russia and again upon exit. Russian MVD Migration Affairs Head Valentina Kazakova previously stated that Russian officials will begin a trial run of fingerprinting and photographing migrants arriving at Moscow airports. Russia already fingerprints and photographs migrants, although not immediately upon entry. These new measures are not unusual immigration and travel policies but are notable in this case because they are likely a part of a wider set of anti-migration policies. A Russian economic news aggregator claimed on December 2 that the Russian government has set a quota of 155,900 visa permits for skilled migrant workers in 2024, a 32,000 increase from 2023. The economic news aggregator claimed that the Russian government is sending invitations and work permits to migrant workers, primarily those working in mining and construction. This reported increase in migrant workers is at odds with a series of federal and regional policies in Russia that restrict migrants’ prospects for work. The Kremlin increasingly appears to be pursuing mutually exclusive goals of relying on migrants to strengthen Russia’s strained industrial capacity while also pursuing force generation efforts and politically motivated anti-migration policies that reduce migrants’ ability to augment Russia’s labor force.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s November 30 threat against Moldova may have emboldened certain pro-Russian actors to attempt to sow political instability and division in Moldova. The pro-Russian head of Moldova’s Gagauzia region, Yevgenia Gutsul, claimed on December 1 that Moldovan state energy company Moldovagaz blocked Gagauzia from receiving gas from a Turkish supplier that the pro-Russian Gagauzia regional government had negotiated outside of state contracts. Gutsul claimed that Moldovagaz sells gas at a higher price per cubic meter than the Turkish partner and accused Moldova of ignoring Gaguazia’s calls to provide its residents with cheap gas for the upcoming winter. Moldovan President Maia Sandu notably denied Gutsul’s request for a spot in her cabinet on November 13 because Gutsul is a member of the banned Shor political party, which Russia used to promote pro-Russian interests and political instability in Moldova until the Moldovan Constitutional Court banned the party in June 2023. Shor Party head Ilhan Shor used the party to spark protests in September 2022-June 2023 ultimately aimed at toppling the current Moldovan government. Moldovagaz Head Vadim Ceban stated that Moldovagaz does not have the physical or legal ability to block gas supplies at the Gagauzia border and that Moldovagaz has not received the necessary documentation to switch Gagauzia’s natural gas suppliers. Sandu stripped Moldovan Party of Regions head Alexander Kalinin of his Moldovan citizenship on November 27 due to his extensive support of the Russian war in Ukraine, and Kalinin announced efforts on December 1 to recruit Moldovan volunteers to fight alongside the Russian military in Ukraine. Russia conducted a likely campaign to destabilize Moldova in early 2023, and Russia may seek to revamp these efforts to distract international attention from the war in Ukraine.
- Poor weather conditions continue to slow the pace of Ukrainian and Russian combat operations across the entire frontline but have not completely halted them.
- Russian forces launched another series of Shahed 136/131 drone and missile strikes targeting southern Ukraine overnight on December 1-2.
- Ukrainian and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials reported that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) completely disconnected from all external power sources for five and a half hours on the night of December 1 to 2, marking the plant’s eighth complete black out - all under Russian occupation.
- The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three third party entities involved in the transport of Russian crude oil above the G7 price cap.
- The Russia Ministry of Defense (MoD) signaled that it likely intends to continue relying on crypto-mobilization recruitment schemes for any potential increase in the size of the Russian military.
- The Kremlin’s policy towards the role of migrants in bolstering Russia’s industrial capacity continues to be inconsistent.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s November 30 threat against Moldova may have emboldened certain pro-Russian actors to attempt to sow political instability and division in Moldova.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Avdiivka.
- Radio Svoboda’s “Schemes” and “Systems” investigative projects published a joint investigation on December 1 detailing how the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU) created the “Redut” private military company (PMC) to recruit thousands of Russians for irregular combat service in Ukraine.
- Ukrainian partisans reportedly conducted a partisan attack against Russian military personnel in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, on December 1.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi signaled intent to increase Ukrainian defenses and fortifications around the Ukrainian theater, but notably did not include Zaporizhia Oblast in discussions of ongoing and future defensive measures. Zelensky stated on November 30 that Ukrainian forces will strengthen their fortifications in all critical directions of the front, including the Kupyansk-Lyman line, oblasts in northern and western Ukraine, and Kherson Oblast, but particularly emphasized the Avdiivka and Marinka directions and other areas of Donetsk Oblast. Zelensky additionally met with various Ukrainian operational group commanders and discussed Ukrainian defensive operations in the Avdiivka and Marinka directions. Zaluzhnyi spoke with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Brown to discuss Russian offensive operations in the Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka directions. Zelensky’s and Zaluzhnyi's statements notably identified the areas of the front where Ukrainian forces are chiefly focusing on defensive operations such as the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border line (between Kupyansk and Lyman), most of Donetsk Oblast (likely in reference to Bakhmut and the Avdiivka-Donetsk City axis) and Kherson Oblast, but notably did not mention the Zaporizhia Oblast axis—suggesting that Ukrainian forces have not gone over to the defensive in this area. These statements generally accord with ISW's assessment that Russian forces have been trying to regain the theater-level initiative in Ukraine since at least mid-November by conducting several simultaneous offensive operations in the areas where Ukrainian forces have transitioned to chiefly defensive actions. In a separate interview with AP on December 1, Zelensky warned that in addition to the impacts that winter weather conditions are likely to have on the frontline, Russia will likely resume an intense air campaign against critical Ukrainian infrastructure.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu continues to falsely characterize Russian offensive efforts in Ukraine as part of an “active defense” in an effort to temper expectations about the Russian military’s ability to achieve operationally significant objectives. Shoigu stated on December 1 during a conference call with Russian military leadership that Russian forces are conducting an “active defense” in Ukraine and are capturing more advantageous positions in every operational direction. Shoigu distinguished the 15th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Combined Arms Army, Central Military District), 114th Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st Donetsk Peoples Republic [DNR] Army Corps), and the 4th and 123rd Motorized Rifle Brigades (both of the 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic [LNR] Army Corps) for their service. All of these elements are reportedly or likely operating in areas where Russian forces are conducting offensive operations in eastern Ukraine and not defending against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast. Shoigu and Putin both previously called Russian offensive operations to capture Avdiivka an “active defense” following the failure of the first Russian mechanized push to achieve significant tactical gains in early October 2023. Russian forces launched two subsequent large-scale pushes to capture Avdiivka since early October 2023 and continue a high tempo of attritional infantry assaults around the settlement. Russian officials’ characterization of these offensives as being part of an “active defense” is intentionally misleading. Ukrainian forces have never conducted offensive operations at scale in the Avdiivka area since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and Avdiivka has been a famously static Ukrainian defensive position since 2014. The Russian leadership has nevertheless continued to falsely frame operations around Avdiivka as an “active defense” likely to recontextualize the lack of any major Russian progress around Avdivka despite over two months of large-scale Russian attacks there.
The Russian military command would have to pursue an identifiable operational objective if it acknowledged the operations to capture Avdiivka as an offensive effort. The “active defense” framing, therefore, allows the Russian military leadership to declare success as long as Russian forces prevent Ukrainian forces from making any significant gains, an entirely achievable objective considering that Ukrainian forces are not conducting and never have conducted counteroffensive operations in the area. The Russian command’s "defensive" framing of the offensive effort around Avdiivka as well as localized offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine suggests that it lacks confidence in the Russian military's ability to translate tactical gains into operationally significant advances. Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently concerned about decreasing Russian support for the war ahead of the 2024 Russian Presidential elections, has likely chosen to downplay the scale of Russian operations to the Russian public. The increasing disconnect between heavy Russian losses in these offensive efforts and the Russian command’s framing of these operations may nevertheless fuel discontent in the wider Russian information space.
Ukrainian intelligence reportedly damaged another train along a section of the Baikal-Amur Railway on December 1 in an apparent effort to degrade Russian logistics in the Russian Far East. Ukrainian media reported that Ukrainian intelligence sources stated that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) conducted a special operation that damaged another train carrying fuel as it passed over a bridge along an unspecified part of the northern bypass of the Baikal-Amur Railway. The SBU reportedly planned the operation to coincide with the expected rerouting of train traffic following the November 30 explosions in the Severomuysky Tunnel that disrupted a section of the East Siberian Railway in the Republic of Buryatia and damaged a fuel train, which Ukrainian media also connected to the SBU. Russian sources claimed that the explosions on December 1 also occurred in the Republic of Buryatia and that six fuel tanks were completely or partially damaged. Russian outlet Baza reported that travel is still blocked through the Severomuysky tunnel. Ukrainian media reported that Ukrainian intelligence observed the Russian military using the railway to transfer equipment and supplies, although there are no indications that the December 1 explosions damaged the bridge along the Baikal-Amur Railway and will cause long-term disruptions. The Baikal-Amur Railway and the Eastern Siberian Railway are the two major railways in the Russian Far East and connect Russia to China and North Korea, on which Russia is increasingly relying on for economic and military support to sustain its war effort in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin officially changed the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on December 1, removing several members and appointing a prominent anti-opposition media figure. Putin signed a decree on December 1 that officially removed Russian lawyers Genri Reznik and Shota Gorgadze, Novaya Gazeta journalist Leonid Nikitinsky, North Caucasus-based missing person's peacekeeping mission head Alexander Mukomolov, and Independent Expert Legal Counsel head Mara Polyakov. Neither the text of the decree nor the Russian media offered explanations for the removal of the aforementioned HRC members. The decree also notably nominates "public figure" Alexander Ionov to the HRC, along with several other Russian civil society figures. Russian opposition media noted that Ionov has been a member of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service since 2021 and that Ionov lodged successful appeals against Russian opposition outlets Meduza and The Bell, after which the Russian Ministry of Justice designated the outlets as "foreign agents." The US Treasury has sanctioned Ionov since July 2022 for his role in supporting "the Kremlin's global negative influence operations and election interference efforts." Putin last changed the composition of the HRC in November 2022, which ISW assessed was an effort to stifle domestic opposition and give prominence to figures who propagate the Kremlin's major informational lines.
Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that a second group of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arrived in Chechnya on December 1, possibly partially funded by his daughter’s “Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization. NOTE: A version of this text appears in ISW-CTP's December 1 Iran Update. Kadyrov published footage claiming to show 116 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip, including 60 children, arriving in Chechnya and claimed that it is Chechnya’s “moral duty” to help the civilians of the Gaza Strip. Kadyrov claimed that his daughter and head of the Grozny City Hall Preschool Education Department, Khadizhat Kadyrova, provided the children gifts through the “Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization. Kadyrov announced Kadyrova‘s patronage of the organization in a Telegram post on November 11, encouraging his followers to purchase crafts made by Chechen preschoolers to fund humanitarian aid for Palestinian Muslims. Regional outlet Caucasian Knot reported on November 15 that the organization raised more than 68 million rubles to purchase aid for Palestinians. Caucasian Knot reported on November 16, citing unnamed Chechen government officials, that Kadyrov pressured Chechen officials to spend up to a third of their monthly salaries buying crafts from the ”Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization. Chechnya’s Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Development stated on November 18 that fundraisers for the organization are taking place “in all corners” of Chechnya. ISW cannot independently verify this footage or any of Kadyrov’s claims, however. But if true, Kadyrov may be using the funds from this organization to at least partially finance the relocation of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip, an effort that could help Kadyrov in his quest to balance his desire to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the need to appeal to his own Chechen constituency. Kadyrov posted footage on November 29 purportedly showing an initial group of 50 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arriving in Chechnya. Kadyrov’s claims and the alleged work of the “Children of Chechnya-Children of Palestine” organization reflect the Kremlin’s shift to a much more anti-Israel positions in the Israel-Hamas war.
Russian milbloggers claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)’s disproportionate allocation of drones among frontline units and poorly-executed grassroots drone production campaigns are impacting frontline unit effectiveness. Russian milbloggers complained on December 1 that some decentralized grassroots campaigns aimed at arming Russian frontline units with new drones are failing to design battlefield-effective drones, sometimes developing “toys” instead of weapons. The milbloggers complained that Russian drone manufacturers base the development of new drones on stylized and cinematic battlefield footage of Russian kamikaze drones striking Ukrainian equipment, resulting in these ineffective “toy” drones that can produce cinematic effects but struggle to further tactical objectives. The milbloggers claimed that the strikes that such footage depicts are often “pretty” but ineffective, and claimed that Russian frontline units must conduct such strikes and produce such footage for the Russian MoD and grassroots drone manufacturers to continue allocating drones to those units. These complaints are indicative of the struggles that the Russian MoD and other states with a highly centralized system face when implementing and integrating technological advances onto the battlefield. ISW has observed no indications that these frontline drone struggles have significantly impacted Russian military capabilities in Ukraine. The Russian milbloggers largely appear to focus on reiterating common complaints about the MoD prioritizing idealized lies that obfuscate harsh battlefield realities at the expense of Russian military personnel. One milblogger claimed that the worst impact of these ineffective drones was that their ineffectiveness threatened frontline Russian soldiers.
Russian sources complained that Russian soldiers' continued use of personal electronics and messaging apps in frontline areas is jeopardizing Russian operational security (OPSEC). A prominent pro-Russian "hacktivist" released an alleged Ukrainian intelligence report on November 30 that shows Ukrainian intercepts of Russian personal communications from one day on one sector of the front. The Russian source complained that this alleged report is relatively small compared to other such reports the source has obtained and complained that all WhatsApp and other messages that Russian military personnel send end up in Ukrainian interceptions, including documents, conversation screenshots, and media files. One Russian milblogger responded to this post and claimed that neither warnings nor "detailed lectures" on the dangers of using WhatsApp and SMS systems in combat areas appear to affect Russian soldiers’ communication habits. The source concluded that "WhatsApp is killing" Russian personnel and that commanders need to crack down on Russian personnel’s use of these applications. Another milblogger responded that Russian soldiers' use of WhatsApp informs Ukraine where Russian forces are going to attack. Russian units have continually struggled with proper adherence to OPSEC principles in key frontline and rear areas throughout the war thus far, particularly pertaining to personal cellphone use in combat areas. The Russian military command largely blamed Russian cellphone use for a devastating Ukrainian strike on a concentration area in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast, on New Year's Eve 2022, and it appears as though the Russian command has largely failed to remedy such issues over the course of the past year.
Russian forces conducted another missile and drone strike against Ukraine on the night of November 30-December 1. The Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Russian forces launched 25 Shahed 131/136 drones and two Kh-59 missiles primarily targeting areas in eastern and southern Ukraine and that Ukrainian forces downed 18 of the drones and one of the missiles.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi signaled intent to increase Ukrainian defenses and fortifications around the Ukrainian theater, but notably did not include Zaporizhia Oblast in discussions of ongoing and future defensive measures.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu continues to falsely characterize Russian offensive efforts in Ukraine as part of an “active defense” in an effort to temper expectations about the Russian military’s ability to achieve operationally significant objectives.
- Ukrainian intelligence reportedly damaged another train along a section of the Baikal-Amur Railway on December 1 in an apparent effort to degrade Russian logistics in the Russian Far East.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin officially changed the composition of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on December 1, removing several members and appointing a prominent anti-opposition media figure.
- Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that a second group of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip arrived in Chechnya on December 1, possibly partially funded by his daughter’s “Children of Chechnya - Children of Palestine” organization.
- Russian milbloggers claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)’s disproportionate allocation of drones among frontline units and poorly-executed grassroots drone production campaigns are impacting frontline unit effectiveness.
- Russian sources complained that Russian soldiers' continued use of personal electronics and messaging apps in frontline areas is jeopardizing Russian operational security (OPSEC).
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.
- Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev claimed on December 1 that the Russian military has recruited over 452,000 personnel between January 1 and December 1, 2023.
- Russian occupation officials continue to set conditions for the deportation of Ukrainians to Russia under various vacation schemes.
- November 2023
- October 2023
- September 2023
- August 2023
- July 2023
- June 2023
- May 2023
- April 2023
- March 2023
- February 2023
- January 2023
- December 2022
- November 2022
- October 2022
- September 2022
- August 2022
- July 2022
- June 2022
- May 2022
- April 2022
- March 2022
- February 2022
In the winter of 2021-2022, CTP and ISW launched a forecast series in response to the Russian military build-up on Ukraine's border. The reports in this series are listed below. CTP and ISW have also maintained this indicators document with daily information on the crisis through February 17, 2022.
January 27, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the crisis he created by mobilizing a large military force around Ukraine to achieve two major objectives: first, advancing and possibly completing his efforts to regain effective control of Ukraine itself, and second, fragmenting and neutralizing the NATO alliance. Russian military preparations can support a massive invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and south that could give Putin physical control of Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, allowing him to dictate terms that would accomplish the first objective. Such an invasion, however, might undermine his efforts to achieve the second objective because it could rally the NATO alliance around the need to respond to such a dramatic act of aggression. An invasion would also entail significant risks and definite high costs. A Russian military action centered around limited military operations in southern and southeastern Ukraine coupled with a brief but widespread and intense air and missile campaign could better position Putin to achieve both aims as well as reduce the likely costs and risks to Russia.
December 11, 2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing a military force on and near Ukraine’s borders large enough to conduct a full-scale invasion. Western intelligence agencies have reportedly intercepted Russian military plans to do so by early February. Visible Russian military activities and these plans so clearly support preparations for an invasion that it seems obvious that Putin really might invade if his demands are not met.
Putin is rarely so obvious, however, and a massive Russian invasion of Ukraine would mark a fundamental transformation of the approach he has taken for two decades to advance his interests and respond to threats. We cannot dismiss the possibility that such a transformation has occurred. The United States, NATO, and Ukraine must seriously consider the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and prepare military, diplomatic, and economic measures to deter and respond to that threat.
December 10, 2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing a large force near the Ukrainian border and reportedly has a military plan to invade and conquer most of unoccupied Ukraine. Western leaders are rightly taking the threat of such an invasion very seriously, and we cannot dismiss the possibility that Putin will order his military to execute it. However, the close look at what such an invasion would entail presented in this report and the risks and costs Putin would have to accept in ordering it leads us to forecast that he is very unlikely to launch an invasion of unoccupied Ukraine this winter. Putin is much more likely to send Russian forces into Belarus and possibly overtly into Russian-occupied Donbas. He might launch a limited incursion into unoccupied southeastern Ukraine that falls short of a full-scale invasion.
A full-scale Russian invasion of unoccupied Ukraine would be by far the largest, boldest, and riskiest military operation Moscow has launched since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. It would be far more complex than the US wars against Iraq in 1991 or 2003. It would be a marked departure from the approaches Putin has relied on since 2015, and a major step-change in his willingness to use Russian conventional military power overtly. It would cost Russia enormous sums of money and likely many thousands of casualties and destroyed vehicles and aircraft. Even in victory, such an invasion would impose on Russian President Vladimir Putin the requirement to reconstruct Ukraine and then establish a new government and security forces there more suitable for his objectives.