The war. Winter is not supposed to be “cold”

Ukrainians are preparing for the offensive, Putin – for mobilization and further international isolation

The situation at the front

Today, the Ukrainian Defense Forces continue to hold the strategic initiative. They are currently preparing for the next offensive operations: the forces are being built up and regrouped, and fire is being delivered to the areas on the left bank of the Dnieper, which are important for the Russians in terms of command and control and logistic supplies. In addition, defense lines are being strengthened in the most threatening areas – primarily in the Donbas, where the Russians do not stop their attempts to reach the borders of the Donetsk region.

The most likely directions for the next offensives of Ukrainian forces are Melitopol in the country’s south and Svatove in the Luhansk region.

Melitopol is a strategic target for both Ukrainian and Russian forces, as it is the communication hub. The establishment of Ukrainian control over this city will make it possible to eliminate the land corridor between Russia and occupied Crimea. This will also put Russians in a difficult situation on the left bank of the Kherson region and create the preconditions for the further development of the offensive towards Crimea, as well as Mariupol.

In the Lugansk region, Ukrainian forces need to reach the Troitske-Svatove-Kreminna line, which will open up operational space for an attack on Starobilsk. To the south of Svatove, there is a gradual advance of Ukrainian units. It is likely that to stabilize the front in this area, the Russians can relocate part of their units there.

At the moment, it is for sure that the Ukrainian army will be quite active at the front in winter and that there will be no delay on its part. In this context, it is worth mentioning the words of British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who urged the Ukrainian troops to keep pace and continue the rapid attacks on the Russians throughout the winter. “Given the advantage, the Ukrainians have in equipment, training, and quality of their personnel against the demoralized, poorly trained, poorly equipped Russians, it would be in Ukraine’s interest to maintain momentum through the winter,” Wallace said. The words of the British Minister of Defense indicate that he is familiar with the real situation at the front and the potential of Ukrainian forces to conduct offensive operations. In support of the words of its minister, the UK (as well as other partners of Ukraine) continues to provide Ukraine with comprehensive support. Here we can also note the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who recently said that the Alliance is determined to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia for “as long as it takes.”

For their part, Russian troops are now trying to stabilize the front in some areas, while continuing to advance in others, like, for example, in the Donbas. Moreover, in both cases, they do it traditionally for themselves – through the massive use of cannon fodder.

A particularly obvious use of these “tactics” is the Russian attacks on Bakhmut, which have been going on there since the beginning of August. At the same time, their result is that since then the front line there has advanced no more than 50-100 meters. The Russians are attacking in small units supported by several armored vehicles, so the defending Ukrainian forces successfully stop them even on the outskirts of their positions with artillery, mortars, and anti-tank systems. The result of such actions of the Russians is huge losses among them: in some areas – up to 500 were killed. That is, it can be noted again that for all their quantitative superiority over the Ukrainian forces in armaments and military equipment, in planning and conducting operations, the Russians cannot move away from the traditional Soviet approaches: thoughtlessly burning their human resources.

The Russian attacks described above have little chance of success because they are few in number, poorly prepared, and poorly supplied. Despite this, they are being carried out and will not be stopped in the future, because their goals are more political than military. Putin needs to capture some more or less large cities, as this will have significant propaganda value. In addition, according to the Russian military command, constant attacks in the Donbas make it possible to keep most of the Ukrainian forces there and prevent them from being used in offensive operations in other directions.

However, Russian cannon fodder, and, in particular, among the mobilized, is gradually running out. Therefore, to be able to use it again and again, Putin needs to carry out additional waves of mobilization or declare martial law and general mobilization. The fact that Putin has repeatedly stated that “partial mobilization” is completed, does not mean anything. To announce the completion of “partial” mobilization and after a while – the beginning of a general one, worth nothing to him.

However, recording a video message and saying “Arise, Great Country” is one thing, but holding regular mobilization activities with all the problems that have appeared during the first attempt and which have not gone away is an entirely different matter. First, the Russian mobilization system is physically unable to call simultaneously, supply, train, and send to the front more than 75 thousand soldiers. Considering about 23 thousand more of those who can be recruited (in particular, in prisons) by the “Wagner” PMC, the figure is about 100 thousand. That is the maximum that Russia can gather for the war at a time (within 2-3 months).

Secondly, the problems with providing the mobilized with both weapons and clothing are becoming more and more acute. The last question is perhaps even more acute. According to the numerous videos that are recorded by mobilized themselves and their relatives and then published on social media, the mobilized, with whom the Russian army is trying to fill the shortage of personnel on the frontline, are often forced to purchase clothing and even protective equipment at their own expense. Here you can also recall the recent news that North Korea sews winter uniforms, shoes, and underwear for the Russian military.

The third problem is the quality of those mobilized. Those 300,000 who were in the first line and who were mobilized in the first wave had at least some kind of military specialty and some experience of serving in the army. Those who will be recruited during the next wave will be of a completely different quality. Of course, they will perform the function of cannon fodder perfectly, but amid the supplies of increasingly heavy and offensive weapons to Ukraine, as well as the training of the Ukrainian military in NATO member countries, the Russian mobilized will have very little chance of having a significant impact on the strategic situation at the front.

Continuation of energy terror as a coercion tool for negotiations 

Last week, after a short pause, Russia again attacked Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. A total of 70 Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles were fired. 51 of them were shot down by Ukrainian air defense, which is a fairly good result.

Interestingly, during the latest attack, Russia did not use Iranian Shahed drones. This may indicate that the Russians are now running out of their stock. Most likely, they are either waiting for new supplies, or Iran understands the consequences of supplying its drones and is trying to refrain from it. In turn, the Ukrainian General Staff announced the discovery of another training site for Shahed operators in Crimea. Also, according to the preliminary information, Ukraine has attacked it and killed Iranian instructors.

As repeatedly noted, the purpose of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure is to force the Ukrainian leadership to stop offensive operations at the front and negotiate with the Kremlin on its terms. 

Previously, the Kremlin hinted at this opaquely in its rhetoric, but recently it has begun to talk about it openly. In particular, Putin’s press secretary Peskov bluntly stated that “the leadership of Ukraine has every opportunity to bring the situation back to normal, has every opportunity to resolve the situation in such a way as to fulfill the requirements of the Russian side and, accordingly, end all possible suffering among the population.” At the same time, Peskov, like Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, mockingly noted that Russia does not launch missile attacks on social facilities in Ukraine and that all hit targets are related to military potential.

In addition to desire, Russia can still carry out missile terror against Ukraine. As can be seen from an infographic published by Ukrainian Defense Minister Reznikov, as of today, only Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile stockpiles are in critical condition in Russia: despite the production, they have fallen to 13%, which is not enough for reasons of self-defense.

As for the Kalibr, despite shooting almost 400 missiles since February 24, the Russians have been able to manufacture another 120 missiles, and their total stock is another 37% of what they had before February. The situation is similar with the Kh-101 and Kh-35 missiles: the Russians have manufactured almost as many missiles as they have used up, and their stock is another 50% and 41%, respectively.

As for the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, the Russians use them very carefully and immediately restore stocks. Therefore, there are 43 missiles remaining (as it was before).

At the same time, the Russians still have quite a lot of old-style missiles (for example, the Kh-55) and even more missiles for S-300 anti-aircraft systems, which can be used against ground targets.

As for Russia’s ability to replenish its missile stocks, there is an opinion that for this the Russians accumulated a certain stock of the necessary chips on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. In addition, there is information that for the production of weapons they began to use chips from Western-style household appliances, which suddenly began to be purchased in large volumes by Russian allies from the CIS countries. And it is worth mentioning the attempts to circumvent sanctions through third countries.

As for the pace of production, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, from February to November, Russia was able to produce another 120 cruise missiles. That is about 15 missiles per month. Consequently, Russia still retains the ability to produce missiles thanks to components accumulated and purchased in circumvention of sanctions, but in the future, these stocks will run out.

A terrorist state

One of the consequences of Russian missile terrorism against Ukraine is the increased international isolation of Russia. An increasing number of national parliaments and inter-parliamentary organizations are deciding to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism or a terrorist state.

Thus, on November 23, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. On November 21, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly recognized the Russian Federation as a terrorist state and called for the creation of a special court to punish Russian criminals. On October 13, PACE adopted a resolution in support of Ukraine, in which the Russian regime is recognized as a terrorist one. Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands called the political regime in Russia a terrorist in various formulations. The US State Department has not yet officially commented on the plans of Congress to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, noting only that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken should decide on this issue, and that the sanctions already imposed on Russia are almost equivalent to the consequences that the status of a state sponsor of terrorism has.

Although the above mentioned decisions are rather political steps, they still help build pressure on Russia and create the ground for its further isolation and the creation of a mechanism to condemn its crimes.

Igor Fedyk

Head of the South Eastern Europe Section

Igor coordinates the South Eastern Europe Section of the New Geopolitics Research Network. He previously worked as the Head of the Balkan section of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, as well as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of the English-language magazine The Ukrainian Defense Review.

His current research interests are focused on the political, economic and social aspects of the development of the South Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, their interstate and inter-ethnic relations, as well as the relations with third parties (countries not from the region, international organizations), which have an important impact on the situation in the region and in Europe.

He is the author of a number of articles and analyses in various Ukrainian and foreign Media.

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November 2022
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