Institute for the Study of War

28 Jan. 2023

 Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Layne Philipson, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 27, 7:40 ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Kremlin insiders reportedly told Bloomberg that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing a new offensive to regain the initiative that may begin as early as February or March 2023. Russian officials, Kremlin advisors, and other unspecified knowledgeable figures who spoke on condition of anonymity reportedly told Bloomberg that Putin seeks to conduct a new major offensive and that he believes that Russia’s tolerance to accept causalities will allow Russia to win the war in the long run despite Russian failures so far.[1] This report is consistent with ISW’s current assessment and forecast that the Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action—most likely in Luhansk Oblast—in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine’s current string of operational successes.[2] ISW previously assessed that the decisive strategic action in Luhansk Oblast could be either a major offensive or a Russian defensive operation to defeat and exploit a Ukrainian counteroffensive.[3]

Recent limited Russian ground attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast may be intended to disperse Ukrainian forces and set conditions for an offensive in Luhansk.[4] Russia is redeploying elements of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division from Belarus to Luhansk Oblast.[5] This recent development suggests that the planned Russian offensive referenced in the Bloomberg report is most likely aimed at Luhansk Oblast though it could also occur in the Vuhledar area in western Donetsk. This new offensive is extremely unlikely to target northern Ukraine from Belarus. There continues to be no indication that Russian forces are forming strike groups in Belarus; Russian elements in Belarus are largely using Belarusian infrastructure and training capacity for training rotations.[6] Russian milbloggers are also increasingly writing off the notion of a second attack against Kyiv as an information operation and are suggesting that the most likely target for a Russian offensive would be in eastern Ukraine or neighboring Kharkiv Oblast.[7]

The Kremlin confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is issuing preemptive pardons for convicts who serve in Russian operations in Ukraine. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on January 27 that he cannot provide additional information about presidential decrees on pardons because they are protected by "various classifications of secrecy."[8] Peskov’s statement confirms that Putin has been issuing preemptive presidential pardons to convicts, the majority of whom are likely recruited into the ranks of the Wagner Group. Russian Human Rights Council member Eva Merkacheva stated in early January that convicts recruited by Wagner are pardoned before their release from penal colonies.[9] ISW previously assessed that these preemptive presidential pardons may be driving further recruitment within penal colonies and likely empower Wagner to operate with greater impunity in the theater.[10]

A visual investigation by a Russian opposition outlet confirmed that Russian authorities are deporting children from occupied Kherson Oblast to occupied Crimea. Russian opposition outlet Verstka examined photos posted to an "Adoption in Moscow Oblast" website that showed 14 children aged two to five from Kherson Oblast at the Yolochka orphanage in Simferopol, occupied Crimea.[11] Verstka noted that the Yolochka orphanage is subordinate to the Crimean Ministry of Health and specializes in the care of children with nervous system issues, mental and behavioral disorders, hearing and vision problems, and HIV.[12] The Yolochka orphanage’s official work mandate provides for the education of its children with "patriotism and citizenship" on the grounds that "Crimea is located in the south of Russia" and the generation of "awareness of oneself as a citizen of multinational Russia."[13] Russian outlet RIA Novosti reported on Yolochka in 2020 and stated that children under Yolochka’s care were severely malnourished and neglected by orphanage leadership, prompting the intervention of the former Kremlin-appointed Commissioner on Children’s Rights Anna Kuznetsova (the predecessor of current Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova).[14] Verstka’s investigation confirms that elements of the Russian occupation infrastructure in occupied areas of Ukraine are actively involved in the deportation and handling of Ukrainian children, as ISW has previously assessed.[15] Head of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi reiterated on January 27 that Russia is consistently in violation of "the fundamental principles of child protection" by putting Ukrainian children up for adoption.[16]

Russian officials denied the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report of explosions at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on January 26, without accusing Ukrainian forces of being responsible for these explosions. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi reported on January 26 that IAEA observers at the ZNPP informed him about explosions and detonations near the facility that indicated nearby military activity.[17] The reference to military activity is notable as the IAEA routinely fails to comment on the Russian military’s activities on and near the ZNPP. Russian officials claimed that no explosions occurred near the plant and that the IAEA observers likely heard sounds of an artillery duel a considerable distance from the ZNPP.[18] Zaporizhia Oblast Occupation Deputy Vladimir Rogov claimed that the IAEA was playing a political role to support Ukraine and amplified Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Head Sergey Naryshkin’s claim that Ukrainian forces are using nuclear power plants throughout Ukraine to store military equipment.[19] The fact that Russian officials did not frame the event as a Ukrainian provocative shelling of the plant diverges from the routine Russian response to reports of explosions near the ZNPP. Russian officials will likely continue to use interactions with the IAEA to push for it to recognize its ownership of the ZNPP, and de facto recognize its illegal annexation of Zaporizhia Oblast.

The Russian military command is likely attempting to restrict milbloggers’ frontline coverage to regain control over the Russian information space ahead of a possible new offensive. Alexander Kots—a member of the Russian Human Rights Commission under Russian President Vladimir Putin and a prominent milblogger—stated that there are rumors that Russian authorities will require war correspondents to wear bright blue press vests to identify themselves as journalists in the combat zone.[20] Kots and other milbloggers criticized the rumored decision, claiming that high-visibility vests will only help Ukrainian forces deliberately target war correspondents embedded in Russian units.[21] Some milbloggers even admitted that they have been hiding their "PRESS" labels for years and noted that this allowed hundreds of war correspondents to independently work on the frontlines without anyone’s formal orders.[22] The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) First Deputy Information Minister Danil Bezsonov also argued that generals who are introducing these regulations should be responsible for each war correspondent’s death after making them an easily visible target on the ground.[23] One milblogger accused the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of deliberately introducing new bureaucratic requirements that will limit the milbloggers’ ability to operate on the frontlines.[24]

These plans for restrictions—if they exist—are likely a part of the Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov’s efforts to professionalize the Russian Armed Forces. ISW previously reported that Russian milbloggers and nationalist figures had criticized the regulations introduced by the Russian military command requiring servicemen of Russian conventional forces to shave and banning them from using personal vehicles and cell phones on the frontlines.[25] Gerasimov and the Russian MoD are likely attempting to formalize guidance for embedded reporters in Russian units, which is a standard practice in professional militaries aimed at maintaining operational security on the frontlines. The Russian milbloggers’ reaction is likely rooted in their fear that these press vests are little more than a Russian MoD ruse to strip the milbloggers of their independence from Russian government oversight given that they will likely need to undergo complex bureaucratic procedures to receive the Russian MoD’s permission to operate on the front lines to acquire the vests.

The Russian military command may also be attempting to resurrect its previously unsuccessful censorship efforts targeting the critical milblogger community. ISW previously reported that the Russian MoD conducted several unsuccessful attempts to promote self-censorship among milbloggers from different nationalist factions—including Wagner-affiliated milbloggers—in summer and fall 2022.[26] Russian military command also previously attempted to promote self-censorship among milbloggers by pushing the narrative that Russian milbloggers have been violating Russian operational security by uploading combat footage or revealing Russian positions online.[27] It is unclear if Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting these restrictions given that he had been appeasing pro-war milbloggers by meeting with them, allowing them to autonomously operate on the frontlines, and tolerating their criticisms.[28] The Kremlin is also continuing to integrate some select milbloggers by offering to let them host TV shows on Russian state broadcasters.[29] The Russian MoD may be conducting its own line of effort to silence the milbloggers independent of Putin. ISW will continue to monitor to see if Putin overrules the Russian MoD’s efforts to silence milbloggers.

The Russian MoD’s effort to restrict embedded milbloggers in conventional units will not silence all milblogger criticism online, however. A Russian milblogger observed that restrictive measures such as government-distributed press vests will further solidify Wagner Group as the dominant source of independent frontline information since Wagner will not abide by such restrictions. The Russian MoD’s tactic to suppress information from the frontlines would create a vacuum in the information space for Wagner-affiliated milbloggers, who have a significantly stronger distaste for the Russian MoD, to fill. Russia’s use of unconventional military formations will also undermine the effectiveness of such regulations.

Key Takeaways

  • Kremlin insiders reportedly told Bloomberg that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing a new offensive to regain the initiative that may begin as early as February or March 2023.
  • The Kremlin confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is issuing preemptive pardons for convicts who serve in Russian operations in Ukraine.  
  • A visual investigation by a Russian opposition outlet confirmed that Russian authorities are deporting children from occupied Kherson Oblast to occupied Crimea.
  • Russian officials denied reported explosions near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on January 26.
  • The Russian military command is likely attempting to restrict mibloggers’ frontline coverage to regain control over the Russian information space ahead of the new offensive. These restrictions—if planned—are likely a part of the Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov’s efforts to professionalize the Russian Armed Forces.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna on January 26 and January 27.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, on the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources did not report that Russian forces continued localized offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 27.
  • Russian officials claimed that the conscription age will not change in the upcoming 2023 spring conscription cycle.
  • Russian occupation authorities are continuing to intensify efforts to integrate occupied territories into the Russian legal and administrative structures.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian forces reportedly conducted a reconnaissance-in-force operation in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast on January 27. A milblogger claimed that Russian forces broke through Ukrainian defenses near Ternova (38km northeast of Kharkiv City) penetrating 500 meters deep.[30]

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna on January 26 and January 27. Secretary of the General Council of United Russia Andrey Turchak claimed that Kreminna is the most challenging segment of the frontline due to Ukrainian attempts to break through Russian defensive lines following his reported visit to the area on January 26.[31] Turchak also claimed that Russian airborne forces are maintaining defenses in the Kreminna direction. A Russian milblogger claimed on January 26 that the 254th Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment (144th Motorized Rifle Division, 20th Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) repelled Ukrainian assaults and exchanged fire at a distance of 50-100 meters from Ukrainian forces near Kreminna.[32] The Ukrainian General Staff stated on January 27 that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Ploshchanka (16km northwest of Kreminna), Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), and Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna).[33]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on January 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamyanske (30km northeast) and Paraskoviivka (6km north); and southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka (6km southwest).[34] Geolocated footage shows Ukrainian artillery striking a Russian crossing on the Bakhmutivka River just northwest of Sil, indicating that Russian forces have advanced northwest of Soledar up to about this point.[35] Ukrainian sources also confirmed that Russian troops captured Krasnopolivka (just northwest of Soledar) and Dvorichchia (just southwest of Soledar).[36] A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters in the Soledar area are trying to push through Ukrainian defenses near Blahodatne (directly west of Soledar).[37] Geolocated combat footage shows Ukrainian troops engaging Wagner Group fighters in the Miasokombinat suburb of northeastern Bakhmut, indicating that Wagner continues to incrementally advance within Bakhmut itself.[38] A Russian milblogger also claimed that fighting is ongoing on the southern outskirts of Paraskoviivka.[39] Russian sources additionally claimed that Wagner forces southwest of Bakhmut in the Klishchiivka area are trying to push northwest toward Ivanivske to cut the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway.[40]

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 27. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Vodyane and Nevelske and on the southwestern outskirts near Marinka.[41] Geolocated footage from January 14 shows that Russian forces have advanced within Vodyane.[42] Russian sources claimed that Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces captured Vodyane on January 26.[43] Geolocated footage of Russian infantry positions shows that Russian troops have also marginally advanced in Pisky, also on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City.[44] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian troops fighting in western Marinka seized the initiative.[45]

Russian forces conducted a ground attack in western Donetsk Oblast on January 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack on Vuhledar, 30km southwest of Donetsk City.[46] Geolocated combat footage suggests that Russian troops captured Mykilske, on the southeastern outskirts of Vuhledar.[47] Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Advisor Yan Gagin claimed that fierce battles are ongoing on the outskirts of Vuhledar and that Russian troops have entrenched themselves on the southeastern and eastern outskirts of the settlement.[48] Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), reported that the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade and other Eastern Military District and DNR elements are operating in the area.[49] Social media footage shows Russian troops firing on Vuhledar with a TOS-1A Thermobaric artillery system.[50] The use of a military district-level artillery asset suggests that the Russian command may be prioritizing advances in the Vuhledar area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces are redeploying from Bakhmut to defend Vuhledar.[51]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian sources did not report that Russian forces continued localized offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 27. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces launched localized offensives along the line of contact in Zaporizhia Oblast in previous days and captured several settlements.[52] ISW has not seen any visual confirmation that Russian forces have captured any settlements in the area and continues to assess that Russian sources likely made these claims to distract from the lack of progress in the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut.[53] The lack of reporting on localized Russian offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast suggests that these operations were likely limited in scope.

Russian forces continued routine artillery and MLRS strikes west of Hulyaipole and in Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts on January 27.[54] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued to strike Kherson City.[55]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Russian officials claimed that the conscription age will not change in the upcoming 2023 spring conscription cycle. The St. Petersburg Oblast administration published a draft resolution on January 26 about the conscription of its citizens from April to July of 2023 that states that the age of conscription remains between 18 and 27 years of age.[56] Russian Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Kartapolov stated on January 26 that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has no reason to adopt a new conscription age increase for the upcoming spring conscription cycle.[57] Kartapolov had stated on January 11 that Russian officials could raise the upper threshold for the conscription age to 30 years of age in the 2023 spring conscription cycle.[58] Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu initially proposed increasing the conscription age bracket to 21 to 30 years of age at the annual Russian MoD Board meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 21, 2022.[59]

High-ranking Russian figures continue to criticize Russian citizens who fled the country to avoid mobilization. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church) gave a speech to the Russian State Duma on January 26 and stated that Russian citizens who fled the country out of fears about mobilization likely did so because of "false values imported from outside" of Russia and that they need spiritual help.[60] Patriarch Kirill pointed to the flight of Russian citizens in response to mobilization as evidence that the Russian government needs to adopt education standards that emphasize "patriotism."[61] Patriarch Kirill recently called on the Russian government to exclude Orthodox priests from mobilization efforts and military service, revealing that even Kremlin-affiliated institutions find the prospects of further mobilization unpopular.[62]

Russian officials proposed a bill that would allow Russian authorities to allocate confiscated property for defense purposes. The Russian government proposed a bill on January 27 that would allow Russian officials to send light industry goods confiscated in cases of administrative offenses to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.[63] The Russian Federal Property Management Agency reportedly destroys these confiscated goods according to the existing administrative code.[64]  Russian outlet RBK reported on January 17 that the Russian government's commission on legislative activities approved the bill after the Russian Ministry of Finance initially proposed it.[65] This change to the administrative code will likely not produce enough new materials to notably offset the Russian MoD‘s systemic problems in provisioning Russian forces in Ukraine.

Ukrainian intelligence reported that Russian forces are experiencing significant shortages of junior commanders in frontline units in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Andriy Chernyak reported on January 27 that Russian forces have approximately 40 percent of junior commander positions in units on the frontline unfilled.[66] Chernyak stated that these vacancies in platoon and company commanders contribute to Russian units conducting assaults without command and proper interaction between formations.[67] A Russian milblogger argued on January 27 that many Russian military commanders continue to face bureaucratic challenges that stymie the Russian military’s ability to address problems and train new personnel.[68] Russian force generation efforts since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have likely failed to produce enough adequately trained personnel who could fill these vacancies, many of which are likely the result of high casualties. ISW has previously reported that an independent open-source investigation found that Russian officers represent a sizeable portion of confirmed Russian military deaths in Ukraine.[69]

Ukrainian sources reported that the Wagner Group is attempting to recruit deported Ukrainian prisoners from occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 27 that Russian occupation officials deported 3,500 prisoners from Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts to Russian-occupied Crimea, where the Wagner Group is currently trying to recruit them.[70]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation authorities are continuing to intensify efforts to integrate occupied territories into Russian legal and administrative structures. Kherson Occupation Head Vladimir Saldo signed a decree on January 24 that replaces the Civil-Military Administration of Kherson Oblast with the legal name of Kherson Oblast Administration, claiming that the measure will begin normalization efforts during "peacetime."[71] Saldo claimed that the decree brings occupied Kherson Oblast authorities and other government bodies in line with Russian legislation in accordance with the Russian Federal Law "On the General Principles of Organization of Public Power in the Subject of the Russian Federation." The decree recognizes occupied Kherson Oblast as a federal subject (region) of Russia with a structure of executive authority that includes the Kherson Oblast Governor (Saldo), ministries, departments, services, and other departments.[72] Saldo published a list of employment opportunities in the Kherson Oblast Administration on January 27, suggesting that Russian occupation authorities continue to struggle with recruiting and maintaining a sufficient pro-Russian workforce in occupied territories.[73] Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) Head Leonid Pasechnik claimed on January 27 that LNR officials submitted a draft law to the Russian Ministry of Trade to transfer occupied Luhansk Oblast to the Moscow time zone, which is one hour ahead of Ukraine time and does not participate in daylight savings time.[74]

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to close Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Christian communities and establish the Kremlin-affiliated Moscow Patriarch Orthodox Church as the dominant religion in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation head Yevgeny Balitsky claimed on January 27 that he visited Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill in Moscow following Kirill’s invitation.[75] Balitsky claimed that he and Patriarch Kirill discussed issues of church-state relations, the functioning of churches in the region, and the changes in spiritual lives in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast.[76]  ISW reported on January 26 that Russian occupation officials in Zaporizhia Oblast are attempting to establish the Kremlin-affiliated Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church as the dominant faith in the region.[77]

Significant activity in Belarus (ISW assesses it very unlikely that Russian or Belarusian forces will attack northern Ukraine in early 2023 and has thus restructured this section of the update to orient away from the previous most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a Russian offensive against northern Ukraine to report on significant activity in Belarus. ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.)

There is still no indication that Russian forces are forming a strike group in Belarus as of January 27. The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 27.[78]

The Russian military is expanding its air force presence in Belarus. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on January 27 that Russian and Belarusian air elements continue deploying to Belarusian airfields under the rubric of continued joint tactical flight exercises.[79] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian units continue training in Belarus and that Russia is increasing its aviation forces in Belarus under the guise of joint exercises.[80]

Some Belarusian elements are practicing river crossing exercises. The Belarusian MoD reported on January 27 that unspecified Belarusian sapper elements conducted a pontoon bridge river crossing exercise on the Neman River in Grodno, Belarus.[81]  The Belarusian MoD reported on January 26 that elements of the Belarusian 38th Separate Guards Airborne Assault Brigade conducted a river crossing exercise in BTR-82A in an unspecified location.[82] 

Belarusian mechanized forces continue conducting exercises across Belarus. The Belarusian MoD reported on January 27 that unspecified elements of the Belarusian 339th Separate Mechanized Battalion conducted unspecified combat training tasks at the Uruchcha Training Ground near Minsk, Belarus.[83] The Belarusian MoD also reported that an unspecified mechanized battalion of the Belarusian 11th Separate Mechanized Brigade deployed to an unspecified area for a combat readiness test. Unspecified elements of the Belarusian 6th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade conducted BMP-2 and small arms live fire exercises at the Gozhsky Training Ground in Grodno, Belarus, on January 26.[84] 

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update. 


[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-27/russian-president-putin-plans-new-offensive-in-ukraine-as-he-girds-for-long-war

[2] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023

[3] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[4] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023

[5] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023

[6] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023 

[7] https://t.me/atomiccherry/537

[8] https://tass dot ru/obschestvo/16900187

[9] https://ria dot ru/20230109/zaklyuchennye-1843702450.html

[10] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011123

[11] https://verstka dot media/rossijskie-vlasti-vyvezli-ne-menee-14-sirot-iz-hersona/; https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/27/verstka-nashla-14-detey-sirot-vyvezennyh-iz-hersona-v-krymskom-dome-rebenka-elochka

[12] https://verstka dot media/rossijskie-vlasti-vyvezli-ne-menee-14-sirot-iz-hersona/; https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/27/verstka-nashla-14-detey-sirot-vyvezennyh-iz-hersona-v-krymskom-dome-rebenka-elochka

[13] http://elochka-dom dot ru/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B1%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B0%D1%8F-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%BC%D0%B0.pdf

[14] https://ria dot ru/20200904/siroty-1576702715.html

[15] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-26; https://isw.pub/UkrWar111622; https://isw.pub/UkrWar111222; https://isw.pub/UkrWar102622; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignAugust23

[16] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/un-refugee-chief-russia-violating-principles-child-protection-ukraine-2023-01-27/

[17] https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/update-144-iaea-director-general-statement-on-situation-in-ukraine

[18] https://tass dot ru/politika/16897115 ; https://t.me/vrogov/7361 ;

[19] https://t.me/vrogov/7364

[20] https://t.me/sashakots/38247

[21] https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21662; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21661; https://t.me/sashakots/38247; https://t.me/sashakots/38241; https://t.me/rybar/43022; https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3221

[22] https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3221; deaths https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21662

[23] https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21662

[24] https://t.me/rybar/43022  

[25] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-18-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-16-2023

[26] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-10; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-9; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-14

[27] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-10; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-9

[28] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-20; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-2; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-9

[29] https://t.me/rybar/43020

[30] https://t.me/rybar/43043

[31] https://t.me/turchak_andrey/981; https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/727

[32] https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10638

[33] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl

[34] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl

 

[35] https://twitter.com/strategicbakery/status/1618836852546605057?cxt=HHwWgsDQlcviofcsAAAA

[36] https://defence.org dot ua/dailybrief/2023-01-23/

[37] https://t.me/rybar/43048

[38] https://twitter.com/Danspiun/status/1618747116180099074?s=20&t=NaL9vzfkTd-fCyuzrecMHw; https://t.me/generalmarsel/666

[39] https://t.me/rybar/43048; https://t.me/rybar/43041

[40] https://t.me/wargonzo/10542; https://t.me/rybar/43048

[41] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl

[42] https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618961410008158208; https://twitter.com/PaulJawin/status/1618160098693775361

[43] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-26-2023

[44] https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618961435291418625; https://twitter.com/operativno_ZSU/status/1618687440843313152; https://twitter.com/DondrasNikola/status/1618698316040249344; https://twitter.com/GeoConfirmed/status/1619011483446415360?s=20&t=GVSvCBnYAze7LX256mofCQ; https://twitter.com/operativno_ZSU/status/1618687440843313152?s=20&t=GVSvCBnYAze7LX256mofCQ

 

[45]  https://t.me/wargonzo/10542

[46] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl

 

[47] https://twitter.com/Militarylandnet/status/1618899994731503617?cxt=HHwWgoDTjfm9vvcsAAAA; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618961421286641664; https://twitter.com/TheDeadDistrict/status/1618666984597786624; https://twitter.com/blinzka/status/1618679569837395982; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618961425946542080; https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/1618884830258954240; https://t.me/supernova_plus/16997

[48] https://t.me/readovkanews/51485; https://tass dot ru/politika/16900769; https://t.me/wargonzo/10542

[49] https://t.me/mod_russia/23786; https://t.me/rybar/43042; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618961421286641664; https://twitter.com/TheDeadDistrict/status/1618666984597786624; https://twitter.com/blinzka/status/1618679569837395982

 

[50] https://t.me/voin_dv/1479; https://t.me/grey_zone/16846; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76529; https://t.me/sashakots/38276; https://t.me/epoddubny/14686; https://t.me/milinfolive/96112

[51] https://t.me/kommunist/15246; https://ria dot ru/20230127/ugledar-1847808096.html?in=t; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7108

[52] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-26-2023 ; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023 ; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023 ; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023

[53] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023

[54] https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/2308 ;  https://t.me/vilkul/2632 ; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16231 ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0G7wQu2kU31YWADEYbMoAbNH3rYyUMF7niukC6CwqHajSnDsCABAVsxu6TFxPDNNRl ;  https://t.me/hueviyherson/33711 ;

[55] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl ;

[56] https://www.gov.spb. dot ru/static/writable/documents/2023/01/26/%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%82_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BD%D0%B0_2023.doc

[57] https:www.interfax dot ru/russia/883327

[58] https://www.pnp dot ru/social/povyshat-prizyvnoy-vozrast-khotyat-nachat-uzhe-v-etom-godu.html

[59] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122122

[60] http://www.patriarchia dot ru/db/text/5999511.html

[61] http://www.patriarchia dot ru/db/text/5999511.html

[62] https://glavcom dot ua/ru/news/mobilizatsija-popov-patriarkh-kirill-vymalivaet-u-putina-poblazhku-897366.html ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar122422

[63] https://sozd.duma dot gov.ru/bill/285558-8

[64] https://www.rbc dot ru/economics/17/01/2023/63c53ad39a7947d8d5c0ed18  ; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/27/pravitelstvo-predlozhilo-peredavat-minoborony-konfiskovannye-odezhdu-i-obuv-v-kachestve-gumanitarnoy-pomoschi

[65] https://www.rbc dot ru/economics/17/01/2023/63c53ad39a7947d8d5c0ed18

[66] https://www.facebook.com/DefenceIntelligenceofUkraine/posts/pfbid07BC1987tSeJMozA3XA9xGC6mqYHv9iBSNhDVASV7T25xCV35zcNLzE9E1ZBfgDyfl; https://www.rbc dot ua/rus/news/rosiyi-brakue-molodshih-komandiriv-gur-rozpovili-1674809440.html

[67] https://www.facebook.com/DefenceIntelligenceofUkraine/posts/pfbid07BC1987tSeJMozA3XA9xGC6mqYHv9iBSNhDVASV7T25xCV35zcNLzE9E1ZBfgDyfl; https://www.rbc dot ua/rus/news/rosiyi-brakue-molodshih-komandiriv-gur-rozpovili-1674809440.html

[68] https://t.me/rybar/43036

[69] https://isw.pub/UkrWar120922

[70] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/27/okupanty-vyvezly-z-tot-35-tys-uvyaznenyh/

[71] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/336

[72] ttps://t.me/SALDO_VGA/336

[73] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/337

[74] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/726

[75] https://t.me/BalitskyEV/741

[76] https://t.me/BalitskyEV/741

[77] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-26-2023

[78] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0G7wQu2kU31YWADEYbMoAbNH3rYyUMF7niukC6CwqHajSnDsCABAVsxu6TFxPDNNRl

[79] https://t.me/modmilby/22113

[80] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02SigVEdFgPxmkDeZVCUtu7JTLTYFyEqv7V6ViQagfoew524tcKvdcDWsz6PV7iSVUl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0G7wQu2kU31YWADEYbMoAbNH3rYyUMF7niukC6CwqHajSnDsCABAVsxu6TFxPDNNRl

[81] https://t.me/modmilby/22138

[82] https://t.me/modmilby/22107

[83] https://t.me/modmilby/22122

[84] https://t.me/modmilby/22092

 

28 Jan. 2023

  Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Carl, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 27, 2023, 4:30 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Contributors: Anya Caraiani

The Critical Threats Project will not be collecting on or publishing updates about protest activity in Iran on January 28 or 29.  Updates will resume on January 30.

An armed individual shot and killed the security chief of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and injured two guards on January 27. The gunman penetrated the embassy building and opened fire on personnel with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Iranian officials have since arrested the attacker and identified him as 53-year-old Yasin Hossein Zadeh.[1] Iranian media described the event as an “armed attack” and reported that Hossein Zadeh was motivated by “personal and family problems,” citing a dispute between embassy personnel and Hossein Zadeh’s wife in March or April 2022.[2] Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the incident a “terrorist attack” and accused Iranian officials of failing to take action against prior threats made against Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran.[3] The Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Minister Jeyhun Bayramov announced the evacuation of the embassy on January 27.[4] President Ebrahim Raisi called for a comprehensive investigation into the attack, and Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani warned Iranian media outlets against circulating speculative reports of the attack.[5] Supreme National Security Council-affiliated Nour News separately published a tweet stating that the attack should not damage ties between Baku and Tehran.[6]

Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan appointed a new commander for the LEC Tehran provincial unit several hours after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy. Radan seemingly demoted Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi, who has held the role since 2017, and replaced him with Brigadier General Abbas Ali Mohammadian, who served as the LEC Tehran city intelligence chief from 2008-2018 and the LEC Alborz provincial commander since 2017. The UK sanctioned Mohammadian in November 2022 for his role in violently suppressing anti-regime protests in Karaj, Alborz Province.[7] It is not clear whether the embassy attack prompted Mohammadian’s appointment. Radan may have replaced Rahimi regardless of the embassy attack as Radan installs trusted officers to key security positions. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Radan as law enforcement commander on January 7.[8]

Protest organizations and coordinators have blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy, although there is currently no evidence to corroborate these claims.[9]  Protest groups may be circulating this narrative to support their efforts to persuade the international community to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) released a statement on January 26 emphasizing the importance of external outreach and using legal frameworks to present the crimes of the regime to the international community, as CTP previously reported.[10] 

The US Justice Department announced on January 27 the arrest of three individuals in connection with a plot to assassinate prominent Iranian-American journalist and regime critic Masih Alinejad.[11] The three arrested individuals face murder-for-hire and money laundering charges and are members of an Eastern European crime organization. The US Justice Department claimed that an unidentified individual in Iran directed the group. Iranian agents previously tried to kidnap Alinejad in 2021.[12]

Key Takeaways.

  • An armed individual shot and killed the security chief of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and injured two guards on January 27.
  • Iranian Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan appointed a new commander for the LEC Tehran provincial unit several hours after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy.
  • Protest organizations and coordinators have blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy, although there is currently no evidence to corroborate these claims.
  • The US Justice Department announced on January 27 the arrest of three individuals in connection with a plot to assassinate prominent Iranian-American journalist and regime critic Masih Alinejad.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid inspired protests during his Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 27 as he has done weekly since September 2022.
  • Protest coordinators published recruitment messages on social media on January 27.

Protest activity

At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces on January 27. CTP assesses with high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[13]

  • Size: Medium to Large
  • Notes: Anti-regime protesters gathered near the Makki Grand Mosque following prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid’s Friday prayer sermon.

Izeh, Khuzestan Province[14]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Mourners
  • Notes: 40-day commemoration ceremony

CTP assesses with low confidence that one protest occurred in the following location:

Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[15]

  • Size: Undetermined

Protest coordinators and organizations circulated calls for demonstrations and/or strikes on the following days:

January 30[16]

  • Type: Gathering to celebrate a pre-Islamic holiday called “Sadeh.” One prominent protest organization framed the event as a demonstration of pan-Iranian unity.
  • Location: Countrywide

Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid inspired protests during his Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 27 as he has done weekly since September 2022. Abdol Hamid repeated his regular criticisms of the regime but seemed to temper his rhetoric slightly more than usual.[17] Abdol Hamid has previously suggested that he is negotiating with the regime over his demands.[18] He is likely using his sermons to send certain messages to the Iranian authorities with whom he is negotiating. His sermon generated significant demonstrations in Zahedan, despite his slightly more measured rhetoric.

Security forces did not conduct any visible crackdown on the protests in Zahedan, despite the heightened security presence there.[19] The regime may seek to use these security forces to deter Abdol Hamid from becoming emboldened further and to collect information on local protesters. Iranian security leaders may seek to avoid using these security forces for a violent crackdown to minimize the risk of fueling protests further. The weekly demonstrations in Zahedan began in response to security forces violently suppressing protesters in Zahedan on September 30, 2022, in an event that has become known as ”bloody Friday.”[20]

Protest coordinators published recruitment messages on social media on January 27. The Esfahan Neighborhood Youth tweeted on January 27 that the regime has killed, injured, and arrested several of their members and announced that the group is accepting candidates for local field leaders, social media and graphic designers, and reporters and content producers.[21] The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) group similarly encouraged ”militant groups from various neighborhoods and cities across the country” who aligned with the INYU’s mission statement to join their efforts in overthrowing the regime.[22] This messaging aligns with the INYU’s previously stated objective of ”building cohesion and cooperation among military groups inside Iran.[23] It is unclear with which militant groups the INYU may engage, and cooperation with certain anti-regime actors may ultimately undermine its efforts to gain widespread support among the Iranian public.

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

There was nothing significant to report.

 


[1] https://www.etemadonline.com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%DB%8C-9/593835-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%DB%8C%D9%86-%D9%87%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%A7%DA%A9%D9%88

[2] https://www.irna.ir/news/85011131/%D8%A2%D8%AE%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AC%D8%B2%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%B1%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%AB%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1 ; https://www.irna.ir/news/85011184/%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%B1%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%87%D9%85%D9%87-%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86 ; https://www.irna.ir/news/85011215/%D9%86%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%AB%D9%87-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D9%88-%DA%A9%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%B1 ; https://www.irna.ir/news/85010929/%DA%A9%D9%86%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7 ; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/gunman-kills-security-chief-at-azerbaijan-embassy-in-iran/2023/01/27/d39aebaa-9e13-11ed-93e0-38551e88239c_story.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/gunman-kills-security-chief-at-azerbaijan-embassy-in-iran/2023/01/27/d39aebaa-9e13-11ed-93e0-38551e88239c_story.html ; https://apnews.com/article/iran-politics-azerbaijan-government-fires-4c9c54dc12677ff47fe48acd84291337

[4] https://apnews.com/article/iran-politics-azerbaijan-government-fires-4c9c54dc12677ff47fe48acd84291337

[5] https://www.irna.ir/news/85011184/%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%B1%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%87%D9%85%D9%87-%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86 ; https://www.irna.ir/news/85010929/%DA%A9%D9%86%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AC%D9%85%D9%87%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D8%B0%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D8%B4%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%A7

[6] https://twitter.com/nournews_ir/status/1618952861764976641?s=20&t=k1PM5DJmKlr4BXBFuFIcHg

[7] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1117167/Notice_Iran__Human_Rights__141122.pdf

[8] http://www.leader dot ir/fa/content/26235

[9] https://twitter.com/Mahsa_Nika2217/status/1618978214218711040?s=20&t=k18zsJvpX8lml-gpUY-lxA ; https://twitter.com/Javanan_gilan/status/1618922299536842752?s=20&t=I4CR01sPWLUDRuTkM6H9vA ; https://twitter.com/Javanan_mashhad/status/1618982441787748352?s=20&t=MVwWYotpQ1rTEXCtsOVwcw

[10] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-26-2023

[11] https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-charges-and-new-arrest-connection-assassination-plot-directed

[12] https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/27/politics/justice-department-masih-alinejad/index.html

[13] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1619003230389944326?cxt=HHwWjIDS2Ya37fcsAAAA

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618965111888318464?cxt=HHwWgMDU3aGM3PcsAAAA

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618945021809668096?cxt=HHwWgMDR_e760vcsAAAA

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618943804312260610?cxt=HHwWhMDQ9f-z0vcsAAAA

[14] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618997625520541697?cxt=HHwWgsDSlefw6vcsAAAA

https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1618918692703674371?cxt=HHwWhoC97af-xvcsAAAA

https://twitter.com/ICHRI/status/1619077951168856065?s=20&t=UxzmN8tEW91Y-iajNxUn5A

[15] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618920617608364033?cxt=HHwWgoDSwa3ux_csAAAA

[16] https://twitter.com/iran_javanan/status/1618702434918109184?s=20&t=y8Q-XIXM_YQuQnO_I6Z0Xw

[17] https://abdolhamid dot net/persian/2023/01/27/13334/

[18] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-12

[19] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-26-2023

[20] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-october-6

[21] https://twitter.com/javanane_Esf_/status/1618904801403871235?s=20&t=I4CR01sPWLUDRuTkM6H9vA

[22] https://twitter.com/UYI_fa/status/1618903663963144192?s=20&t=g7ihMSLOJaV3iKaXcMo3RA

[23] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-13-2023


 

27 Jan. 2023

Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Layne Philipson, Nicole Wolkov, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 26, 9 pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Russian forces launched another massive series of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine on January 26. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valery Zaluzhnyi stated that Russian forces launched 55 air- and sea-based missiles, including Kh-101, Kh-555, Kh-47, and Kh-95 Kalibr and Kinzhal missiles at Ukraine from Tu-95, Su-35, and MiG-31K aircraft from the waters of the Black Sea.[1] Ukrainian air defense shot down 47 of the 55 missiles and all 24 Shahed 136 and 131 drones.[2] Several missiles struck critical infrastructure in Vinnytsia and Odesa oblasts.[3] Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov notably reported that Russian forces had 90 Iranian-made drones remaining as of January 7.[4] Russian forces have enough drones for only a few more large-scale strikes unless they have received or will soon receive a new shipment of drones from Iran. Russian Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on January 23 to expand bilateral cooperation efforts, conversations that may have included discussions on the provision of Iranian-made weapons systems to Russia.[5]

A recent altercation between Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and former Russian officer Igor Girkin is exposing a new domain for competition among Russian nationalist groups for political influence in Russia. Girkin accused Prigozhin on January 25 of deliberately misconstruing his criticism of Prigozhin’s political aspirations and exploitation of the information space as an attack on Wagner forces fighting in Ukraine.[6] Girkin claimed that Wagner-affiliated outlet RiaFan’s interview with an unnamed Wagner commander who blamed Girkin for abandoning positions in Donbas in 2014 was an effort to anonymously discredit him.[7] Girkin also accused Prigozhin of continuing to commit Wagner forces to support operations in Syria and African countries instead of deploying his mercenaries to win the war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin replied that he does not have political ambitions and stated that his team attempted to bribe Girkin in an effort to silence his criticism of Wagner forces which could have led to the imprisonment of his fighters for illegal mercenary activity.[8] Prigozhin also made a point of exaggerating his authority by claiming that he cannot withdraw Wagner from Africa because he “made a promise to several presidents” that he will “defend them,” claimed that Wagner “de-facto” won the Syrian war, and noted that Wagner was kicked out of Donbas in 2015.[9] Prigozhin reiterated that he founded, controls, and sponsors Wagner and sarcastically invited Girkin to join one of Wagner’s assault units in occupied Luhansk Oblast, which Girkin stated he would do if Prigozhin sent him a serious invitation.[10] Prigozhin further demeaned Girkin by stating that Wagner does not send out invitations and stated that Girkin would not be effective on the frontlines because he is only interested in promoting himself for financial benefit.[11]

Prigozhin and Girkin – both critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conduct of the war – are likely competing for influence and patronage among pro-war politicians disillusioned with the progress of the war. ISW assessed on October 4 that the Russian nationalists are split among three distinct groups that pursue different objectives while unilaterally criticizing the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD): Russian or proxy veterans, nationalists with their own private forces, and Russian milbloggers and war correspondents.[12] Girkin represents the veteran faction due to his connections with veteran organizations such as the All-Russian Officers Assembly, while Prigozhin is a self-proclaimed nationalist with access to a parallel military structure.[13] While both have avidly denied their political aspirations in Russia, they have continued to criticize the Russian MoD and the Kremlin in an effort to boost their prominence in Russian society against the backdrop of Russian military failures.[14] Prigozhin and Girkin are likely competing for favor with the same pro-war nationalist patronage networks within the Kremlin that are represented by outspoken nationalist politicians. Prigozhin, for example, is engaging members of the A Just Russia – For Truth Party and nationalist-leaning Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin to legalize Wagner mercenaries in Russia.[15] Girkin had broken with many officials with strong nationalist rhetoric like Volodin, however, and may be frustrated that he is unable to attain the same political power that he exerted in 2014 during the occupation of Crimea, and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[16]

Prigozhin’s attack on Girkin may benefit Putin, however. Prigozhin is very prominent in the Russian information space, and many milbloggers accused Girkin of lacking combat experience and cowardice in response to this exchange.[17] Prigozhin may have attempted to undermine Girkin to gain influence in the nationalist space while simultaneously but not necessarily intentionally discrediting one of the most prominent Putin critics.

Prigozhin is likely attempting to maximize his influence to avoid Girkin’s fate. The Kremlin had seemingly rid itself of Girkin after his militants retreated from Slovyansk and following his involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.[18] Girkin was removed from the position of Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in August 2014 and has not resurrected his influence within the Kremlin since then. Prigozhin, however, is trying to build a support base within the Kremlin and in Russian society to solidify his presence in Russian domestic affairs even as Wagner struggles on the battlefield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued his campaign against critical and opposition voices by cracking down on several major opposition media outlets while continuing to platform highly critical Russian milbloggers. Putin signed a law on January 25 designating several major Russian language media and investigative outlets, including MeduzaImportant StoriesBellingcatThe Bell, and The Insider as undesirable organizations within Russia, outlawing the publication, distribution, or financial support of the organizations and their publications.[19] The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office claimed that the activities of Meduza and other outlets threaten the “foundations of the constitutional order and security” of Russia.[20] Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin had notably called for the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to censor Meduza in July 2022, claiming that the outlet deliberately spread false information to split Russian society.[21] Putin has failed, however, to rein in highly critical Russian nationalist milbloggers who have long criticized and undermined the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), Kremlin, and even Putin himself, as ISW has previously reported.[22] Putin likely hopes to cultivate a group of loyal milbloggers to undermine other rising opponents, such as Prigozhin and Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov.[23]

The United States Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting the Wagner Group’s global support network, likely in response to the Wagner Group’s renewed efforts to support its operations outside of Ukraine. The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 16 entities that support the Wagner Group’s military operations as sanctioned entities including a Russian-based technology firm, a Chinese-based satellite imagery company, a Central African Republic security company controlled by the Wagner Group, a United Arab Emirates-based aviation firm, and several Russian nationals.[24] OFAC redesignated the Wagner Group as a significant transnational criminal organization and cited its role in Russian operations in Ukraine and its involvement in serious criminal activity in the Central African Republic and Mali.[25] The announcement of secondary sanctions on specified entities outside of Russia and the focus on the Wagner Group’s activities in the Sahel suggests that the US Treasury Department is in part trying to constrain the Wagner Group’s likely renewed focus on conducting operations outside of Ukraine. The Wagner Group has likely renewed efforts to increase security capacity building and counterterrorism roles in African countries, roles that the Wagner Group had focused heavily on before committing serious resources to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[26]

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces launched another massive series of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine on January 26.
  • A recent altercation between Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and former Russian officer Igor Girkin is exposing a new domain for competition among Russian nationalist groups for political influence in Russia against the backdrop of Russian military failures in Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued his campaign against critical and opposition voices by cracking down on several major opposition media outlets.
  • The United States Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting the Wagner Group’s global support network, likely in response to the Wagner Group’s renewed efforts to reinvigorate its operations outside of Ukraine.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces relaunched counteroffensive operations near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, on the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and in the Vuhledar area.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast are not conducting offensive operations at the size or scale necessary for a full-scale offensive.
  • Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continued to conduct limited and localized ground attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • The Wagner Group likely experienced significant losses in attritional offensive operations in eastern Ukraine over the past few months.
  • Russian occupation officials are reportedly continuing to “nationalize” property and close places of worship belonging to the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Christian communities in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast in an effort to establish the Kremlin-affiliated Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church as the dominant faith in the region.

 
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops relaunched counteroffensive operations near Kreminna on January 26. A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces launched offensive operations against 144th Motorized Rifle Division (20th Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) positions near Kreminna on the night of January 25.[27] The milblogger claimed that the 144th Motorized Rifle Division repelled the attack and forced Ukrainian troops to retreat to their original positions, but that Ukrainian troops re-initiated attempts to attack Russian positions from the direction of Torske (14km west of Kreminna) on the morning of January 26.[28] Russian sources posted footage reportedly of Russian strikes on Ukrainian positions near Kreminna.[29] Geolocated combat footage posted by the Luhansk People‘s Republic (LNR) 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade originally posted on January 12 allegedly shows LNR forces shelling a Ukrainian vehicle in a forest area near Kreminna.[30] The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces carried out a limited ground attack in Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna).[31]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on January 26. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamyanske (30km northeast), Blahodatne (8km northeast), Spirne (27km northeast), and Rozdolivka (15km northeast); and south of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka (7km southwest).[32] Geolocated footage posted on January 25 shows that Russian forces have made incremental advances on the southeastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[33] Russian milbloggers continued to discuss fighting within Bakhmut itself.[34] Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty reported that Russian forces conducted 39 combat clashes in one day in the Bakhmut direction and that Russian forces lost almost an entire battalion in combat clashes on January 25 alone.[35] Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force noted that the Wagner Group is using small unit tactics and squad-sized assault detachments of four to five people to attack and infiltrate urban areas of Bakhmut.[36]

Russian forces continued ground attacks on the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 26. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack on Marinka, on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City.[37] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are continuing to fight for the western part of Marinka.[38] Another Russian milblogger claimed that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 1st Motorized Rifle Brigade took control of Vodiane, on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City.[39] The Russian milblogger noted that DNR forces are exhausted from fighting different battles on this axis and that they are lacking manpower to hold territory or pursue further advances near Donetsk City.[40]

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on January 26. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops attacked Vuhledar and Pavlivka, about 30km southwest of Donetsk City.[41] Russian sources widely claimed that Russian troops interdicted the Pokrovske-Vuhledar highway, although there is no one clear highway that runs from Pokrovske (75km northwest of Vulhedar) to Vuhledar, which likely means that Russian sources are claiming control of a segment of the T0509 Velyka Novoselivka-Pavlivka highway that runs just south of Vuhledar.[42] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces broke through Ukrainian defenses on the southern outskirts of Vuhledar and gained positions in Vuhledar itself.[43] A video taken by Ukrainian troops in the Vuhledar area shows heavy smoke near Vuhledar, and a Ukrainian soldier stated that Russian forces are actively storming the settlement.[44] Several Russian sources emphasized that Russian forces still do not control all of Vuhledar but that heavy fighting is underway.[45]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Ukrainian officials reported on January 26 that Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast are not conducting offensive operations at the size or scale necessary for a full-scale offensive, supporting ISW’s previous assessment.[46] Head of the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavriisk Direction Defense Forces Yevhen Yerin stated that Russian forces have not massed a powerful enough strike group to conduct an offensive in the Zaporizhia direction but warned that Russian forces have somewhat strengthened their manpower presence in Zaporizhia Oblast at the cost of other units and directions of advance.[47] Yerin noted that the Russian troops continue to conduct ground attacks with 10-person (squad-sized) formations and to fire on Ukrainian forces with tube and rocket artillery.[48] Yerin also stated that Russian forces may intend to fix Ukrainian forces along the Zaporizhia Oblast frontline. These efforts are inconsistent with the continuing Russian information operation of an ongoing and successful Russian offensive in Zaporizhia Oblast.[49]

Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continued to conduct limited and localized ground attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 26. Russian milbloggers, including one who has been proven to have fabricated false information about the situation on the front lines, claimed that Russian and Ukrainian forces fought near Shcherbaky, Mali Shcherbaky, Novodanylivka, and Novopokrovka.[50] A Russian milblogger characterized Russian offensive operations in the area as a “positional offensive” and claimed that the front line has not changed, supporting ISW’s prior assessment that the pace and effectiveness of claimed Russian ground attacks in the area are low.[51]  Russian and Ukrainian sources continued to report that Russian forces shelled areas that Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov previously claimed Russian forces control, including Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachka, Novoandriivka, Kamianske and Bilohirya.[52]

Several Russian milbloggers continued to warn of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Zaporizhia direction, indicating that ongoing ground attacks in this area, and the accompanying information operation, are likely aimed at spoiling Ukrainian efforts. Rogov continued to claim that Ukrainian forces are preparing for a decisive effort against Melitopol and Berdyansk in the coming months, but that Russian battlefield successes will reduce Ukrainian forces’ capability to conduct this effort.[53] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces went into full combat readiness for a resumed Russian offensive in the Kamianske-Stepove area near Orikhiv, indicating continued concern over Ukrainian actions on this front.[54]  Another Russian milblogger who has been proven to have fabricated false information about the situation on the front lines claimed that Ukrainian forces are preparing for active hostilities and transported a column of armored vehicles towards Kamianske on the eastern bank of the Kakhovka Reservoir.[55]

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to conduct another landing in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast on January 26. Russian milbloggers, including one who has previously fabricated information, claimed that Russian artillery fire prevented Ukrainian forces from landing near Kakhovka or Dnipriany overnight on January 25-26.[56] Ukrainian forces conducted a successful raid near Kakhovka on January 23-24, as ISW has previously reported.[57]

Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to restore Russian logistics lines through Crimea into southern Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts. Occupation authorities announced on January 26 that authorities restored the third of four total bridge spans needed to repair the Kerch Strait road bridge, and plan to install the fourth span on January 31.[58] Russian occupation authorities maintain that they will finish restoring the Kerch Strait road bridge in March 2023.[59]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Official Ukrainian sources continue to report that Russian officials are preparing for a second wave of mobilization. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 26 that Russian officials in occupied Crimea are conducting preparatory measures for a new wave of mobilization and are requiring all state and private institutions in Crimea to submit lists of employees for mobilization to military recruitment offices by January 29.[60] Official Ukrainian sources have reported in the past month that Russian officials have been preparing for a second wave of mobilization and have forecasted dates for when Russian officials will conduct various mobilization efforts.[61] It is likely that Russian officials are receiving orders to prepare the Russian military recruitment apparatus for a second wave of mobilization, and Ukrainian officials may be basing their forecasts on these orders.  A CNN report from January 25 suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin has likely not decided when to start another mobilization wave and that he intends to conduct one discreetly to avoid further domestic backlash.[62] Previous Ukrainian forecasts may have been off because Putin keeps pushing back his decision to issue orders to begin mobilization processes or possibly even make the decision due to his concern about the Russian public’s reaction.

Ukrainian officials continue to report that Russian forces are forcibly mobilizing residents in violation of international law. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hana Malyar reported on January 26 that Russian forces are continuing to forcibly mobilize residents in occupied territories and intentionally sending these Ukrainians to frontline positions without proper provisions and training.[63] Malyar reported that Russian servicemembers routinely assault and harass these forcibly mobilized Ukrainians.[64] Article 51 of the Geneva convention prohibits an occupying power from compelling protected civilian non-combatants from serving in its armed or auxiliary forces.[65] The systemic impressment of Ukrainian residents from occupied territories into the Russian Armed Forces also likely produces formations with substandard combat effectiveness that lack cohesion with other Russian formations. The Russian military may be engaging in this substandard force generation effort to decrease the Ukrainian population in occupied territories and support a likely deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign.[66]

The Wagner Group likely experienced significant losses in attritional offensive operations in eastern Ukraine over the past few months. The New York Times and Reuters both published investigative reports on a Wagner Group-operated cemetery in Bakinskaya, Krasnodar Krai on January 26 that indicate that the Wagner Group has buried a significant number of personnel at the site in the previous months.[67] Satellite imagery reportedly shows a burial plot at the site expanding by a factor of seven between November 24, 2022, and January 24, 2023, and Reuters journalists who visited the burial ground reported that there were around 200 graves at the site and that there were almost no remaining available plots.[68] The Wagner Group began using the burial site after it reportedly ran out of space at a Wagner-affiliated chapel in the nearby town of Goryachy Klyuch, which The New York Times reported had 882 burial compartments.[69] The two burial sites may hold 1,000 dead Wagner Group personnel, a good portion of whom likely died in the Wagner Group’s operations around Bakhmut. The majority of the Wagner Group personnel buried at these sites were reportedly prisoners, a result of the Wagner Group‘s overwhelming reliance on prison recruitment and its operational use of these personnel in costly assaults.[70] The high number of casualties is likely constraining the Wagner Group’s ability to continue offensive operations at a high pace and will likely prompt further prison recruitment efforts.

The Russian military continues to engage in unconventional force generation efforts that are likely degrading the effectiveness of the conventional Russian military. Russian and social media sources amplified footage purporting to show a reconnaissance group of the 106th Guards Airborne Division of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) operating in eastern Ukraine that is completely comprised of personnel from a football hooligans club.[71] A Russian milblogger claimed that the formation is one of the most motivated and combat-ready Russian formations in Ukraine.[72] The report that the VDV, historically considered among the most elite of conventional Russian forces, staffed an entire unit with likely untrained and poorly disciplined personnel suggests that premier conventional Russian forces have experienced such significant losses in Ukraine that they have had to resort to unconventional recruitment efforts.

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation officials are reportedly continuing to “nationalize” property and close places of worship belonging to the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Christian communities in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast in an effort to establish Kremlin-affiliated Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church as the dominant faith in the region. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 26 that Russian occupation officials seized the building of an Evangelical church in Melitopol and noted that Russians are persecuting representatives of confessions other than the Kremlin-backed Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church.[73] The center also reported that the Russian Association for the Protection of Religious Freedom, which is sponsored by grants from Russian President Vladimir Putin, is responsible for “integrating” occupied Ukrainian churches into the “Russian sociocultural space” by seizing their property and places of worship.[74] The Ukrainian Community of Evangelical Baptist Christians also announced that Russian occupation authorities closed two houses of prayer in Berdyansk belonging to the community on January 22 and January 23.[75] The community had previously reported that Russian occupation authorities closed a Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Christian church in Chkalove, occupied Zaporizhia Oblast, during evening prayer in late September.[76] Ukrainian news outlets reported that armed Russian military personnel interrupted the service of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church “Blahodat” in Melitopol in early September, arresting two pastors.[77] Ukrainian outlets added that Russian forces announced the ”nationalization” of the church, accused worshipers of cooperating with the US and demanded and received their passport information.[78]

Russian officials are formalizing the establishment of penal colonies in occupied areas. A Russian government decree dated January 23 provides for the opening of 27 penal colonies throughout occupied Ukraine—13 in Donetsk Oblast, seven in Luhansk Oblast, three in Kherson Oblast, and three in Zaporizhia Oblast.[79] Russian officials may use these penal colonies to expand social control in occupied territories by threatening residents with imprisonment for pro-Ukrainian and partisan activities. Russian authorities may alternatively seek to use these penal colonies to consolidate a mobilization resource in occupied areas. Ukrainian sources have recently reported on Russian efforts to forcibly mobilized Ukrainian prisoners in Russian prisons.[80] The establishment of prisons in occupied areas may be part of the same line of effort.

Russian officials and occupation authorities are continuing efforts to integrate Ukrainian schools into the Russian education apparatus. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claimed on January 26 that a bill on educational integration into the Russian system that passed its first reading would recognize degrees and titles obtained in occupied territories as valid in Russia.[81] Rogov claimed that the bill will provide temporary credentials to schools valid until January 2, 2026. Rogov also claimed that the bill will exempt teachers in occupied territories from certification requirements until September 1, 2024.[82]

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to consolidate administrative control of occupied territories. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Internal Ministry claimed on January 26 that four more subdivisions of the LNR Internal Affairs Ministry’s Migration Service Department began accepting documents to obtain Russian passports in four districts of occupied Luhansk Oblast.[83] The LNR Interior Ministry also announced on January 26 that it is seeking residents in occupied Luhansk Oblast to serve in LNR Interior Ministry bodies.[84]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicate an attack from Belarus is more likely:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

  • Russian and Belarusian forces continued joint tactical flight exercises on January 26.[85]

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 26.[86]
  • Ukrainian Air Force Command Spokesperson Yuri Ihnat stated on January 26 that joint Belarusian and Russian aviation exercises are intended to generate psychological pressure and do not pose a threat from the northern direction.[87]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.


[1] https://www.facebook.com/CinCAFU/posts/pfbid0kSgCB6CCtjqWeDFJ2oMEzxqw4SPEd9FJfenjLR81Z9JLJ4nusQ2YBzBPu1EziCpPl

[2] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid04J6g1ojcCP4MqX7BvSGCQzQ1ny6xGeWyAZukuaDfaLG48GU323nfydKVEbXnRosQl; https://www.facebook.com/CinCAFU/posts/pfbid0kSgCB6CCtjqWeDFJ2oMEzxqw4SPEd9FJfenjLR81Z9JLJ4nusQ2YBzBPu1EziCpPl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0TbuENRqwZBdqfozymY4XhjggLcMFnv8KQqr11Db9SsaQPS1WTHPnYeafXkztUH6yl; https://t.me/kyivoda/8125; https://t.me/VA_Kyiv/726; https://t.me/kyivoda/8122; https://t.me/VA_Kyiv/722; https://ua.korrespondent dot net/ukraine/4556697-politsiia-pokazala-zbytu-na-kyivschyni-raketu-kh-55

[3] https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1425699164912683; https://t.me/militarymediacenter/964; https://t.me/vinnytskaODA/8152; https://t.me/vinnytskaODA/8151; https://t.me/odeskaODA/1116; https://t.me/Bratchuk_Sergey/27991

[4] https://isw.pub/UkrWar010723

[5] https://isw.pub/UkrWar012323

[6] https://t.me/strelkovii/3802

[7] https://t.me/strelkovii/3803; https://t.me/strelkovii/3802; https://t.me/strelkovii/3805

[8] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/348

[9] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/348

[10] https://t.me/strelkovii/3810

[11] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/350; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/352

[12] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-4

[13] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-23

[14] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-16-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-22-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-18-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-11-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-20; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-14-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-1; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-25; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-10-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-1; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-28

[15] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/355; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-19

[16] https://t.me/strelkovii/3289; https://t.me/strelkovii/3288

[17] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18849; https://t.me/rlz_the_kraken/56063 ;  . https://t.me/rlz_the_kraken/56068 ; https://t.me/rlz_the_kraken/56052 ; https://t.me/anatoly_nesmiyan/7279; https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18761

[18] https://www.rosbalt dot ru/ukraina/2014/07/07/1289266.html; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/17/three-men-found-guilty-of-murdering-298-people-in-flight-mh17-bombing

[19] https://meduza dot io/short/2023/01/26/rossiyskaya-vlast-pytaetsya-unichtozhit-nezavisimye-media-ob-yavlyaya-ih-nezhelatelnymi-no-u-vlasti-nichego-ne-poluchaetsya; https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-64410978

[20] https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/883376

[21] https://t.me/Prigozhin_hat_1551; https://kommersant dot ru/doc/5470781

[22] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-9; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-7; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-10; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/putin-track-disappoint-multiple-competing-factions-russia; https://isw.pub/UkrWar012123; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011823; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011623; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011323

[23] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011323

[24] https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1220

[25] https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1220

[26] https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/09/russias-wagner-group-ramping-up-operations-outside-of-ukraine-u-s-warns-00076859

[27] https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10624

[28] https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10624

[29] https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10626; https://t.me/rusich_army/7406; https://t.me/milinfolive/96064; https://t.me/milinfolive/96066; https://t.me/milinfolive/96067

[30] https://twitter.com/Danspiun/status/1618639206666088449?s=20&t=ii9y1cE0bMP2J46o0pawUw

[31] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[32] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[33] https://www.tiktok.com/@skala_battalion/video/7192718873869798662?_r=1&_t=8ZKrzwrdje9; https://twitter.com/klinger66/status/1618410185248354304

[34] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76447; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76473  

[35] https://armyinform.com dot ua/2023/01/26/v-rajoni-bahmuta-vorog-vtrachaye-shhodnya-bataljon-ubytymy-sergij-cherevatyj/; https://t.me/militarymediacenter/966

[36] https://www.facebook.com/easternforces/posts/pfbid0JZh8ud7jNxTovFoET3ZqPTDsn7U4pTmjs7qiQnxxo8LoRcd4JusyZ5VHisYoC9kel

[37] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[38] https://t.me/rybar/43005  

[39] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44725

[40] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44725

[41] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[42] https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10342; https://ria dot ru/20230126/ugledar-1847551459.html; https://t.me/epoddubny/14677; https://t.me/readovkanews/51426; https://t.me/readovkanews/51442

[43] https://t.me/rybar/43005; https://t.me/readovkanews/51393

[44] https://t.me/karymat/1505; https://twitter.com/cryogenicbreez/status/1618292917927546884; https://twitter.com/klinger66/status/1618554808423845890

[45] https://t.me/readovkanews/51442; https://t.me/nm_dnr/9782; https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18853 ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76422; https://t.me/aleksandr_skif/2563; https://t.me/aleksandr_skif/2563

[46] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023

[47] https://armyinform.com dot ua/2023/01/26/vorog-ne-stvoryv-potuzhnogo-udarnogo-ugrupovannya-dlya-nastupu-na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-yevgen-yerin/; https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/26/sytuacziya-na-tavrijskomu-napryamku-zalyshayetsya-stabilno-skladnoyu-yevgenij-yerin/

[48] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/26/sytuacziya-na-tavrijskomu-napryamku-zalyshayetsya-stabilno-skladnoyu-yevgenij-yerin/

[49] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-22-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-21-2023

[50] https://t.me/wargonzo/10530; https://t.me/rybar/43005

[51] https://t.me/rybar/42997; https://t.me/rybar/43005; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023

[52] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16207; https://t.me/rybar/42999

[53] https://t.me/vrogov/7348

[54] https://t.me/rybar/43005

[55] https://t.me/wargonzo/10530

[56] https://t.me/wargonzo/10530; https://t.me/vrogov/7345; https://t.me/readovkanews/51389

[57] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-25-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023

[58] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76456; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44736

[59] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76456

[60] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[61] https://isw.pub/UkrWar123022 ; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-9-2023 ; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-7-2023 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar12312022

[62] https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/24/politics/ukraine-shift-tactics-bakhmut/index.html

[63] https://t.me/annamaliar/525

[64] https://t.me/annamaliar/525

[65] https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/ihl-treaties/gciv-1949/article-51

[66] https://isw.pub/RusCampaignOct15

[67] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/ukraine-crisis-russia-graves-wagner/ ; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/24/world/europe/wagner-group-cemetery-russia-ukraine.html?unlocked_article_code=aRTi2kuw5QtMPqJ_6Z6wmwKwDZZ_QgK73I6u8gb3489Z6uArJEWim8V0DgIcxXYr_eJtTPF7ad9Jzr6m6g1Clr_urVJXFGbBlA9taQkUbxVbZcfnIz8qUPMfXKv1x4TIyenlE6Os6IMhccaNaNP7EwK4i2iDo94LHnl9UDoz3Y3saLCRq_c5uNPCiQRxGI-BMHe6S5htRzktuiYVE501i7JWzH2v71CR3VqrBmYpBZ2A4WqDrFsUZFkkdK7wZnYtqDpVwW4qZBYqGf5vnAkAmE_uUEjEXG_wguds7tQpmSDbdjzbJ-KoRxudh_UNfCtWxq7lxb-GxfdXo0-37x3aqA8-n6dDWstTf3PrLei188msYUE&smid=share-url

[68] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/ukraine-crisis-russia-graves-wagner/

[69] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/ukraine-crisis-russia-graves-wagner/ ; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/24/world/europe/wagner-group-cemetery-russia-ukraine.html?unlocked_article_code=aRTi2kuw5QtMPqJ_6Z6wmwKwDZZ_QgK73I6u8gb3489Z6uArJEWim8V0DgIcxXYr_eJtTPF7ad9Jzr6m6g1Clr_urVJXFGbBlA9taQkUbxVbZcfnIz8qUPMfXKv1x4TIyenlE6Os6IMhccaNaNP7EwK4i2iDo94LHnl9UDoz3Y3saLCRq_c5uNPCiQRxGI-BMHe6S5htRzktuiYVE501i7JWzH2v71CR3VqrBmYpBZ2A4WqDrFsUZFkkdK7wZnYtqDpVwW4qZBYqGf5vnAkAmE_uUEjEXG_wguds7tQpmSDbdjzbJ-KoRxudh_UNfCtWxq7lxb-GxfdXo0-37x3aqA8-n6dDWstTf3PrLei188msYUE&smid=share-url

[70] https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/ukraine-crisis-russia-graves-wagner/ ; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/24/world/europe/wagner-group-cemetery-russia-ukraine.html?unlocked_article_code=aRTi2kuw5QtMPqJ_6Z6wmwKwDZZ_QgK73I6u8gb3489Z6uArJEWim8V0DgIcxXYr_eJtTPF7ad9Jzr6m6g1Clr_urVJXFGbBlA9taQkUbxVbZcfnIz8qUPMfXKv1x4TIyenlE6Os6IMhccaNaNP7EwK4i2iDo94LHnl9UDoz3Y3saLCRq_c5uNPCiQRxGI-BMHe6S5htRzktuiYVE501i7JWzH2v71CR3VqrBmYpBZ2A4WqDrFsUZFkkdK7wZnYtqDpVwW4qZBYqGf5vnAkAmE_uUEjEXG_wguds7tQpmSDbdjzbJ-KoRxudh_UNfCtWxq7lxb-GxfdXo0-37x3aqA8-n6dDWstTf3PrLei188msYUE&smid=share-url ; https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-russias-wagner-group-bought-north-korean-weapons-ukraine-war-2022-12-22/ ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar122222

[71] https://t.me/Oleg_Blokhin/58571; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10633; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44739; https://t.me/SonOfMonarchy/8716; https://t.me/MedvedevVesti/12841 ; https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1618663837548572674?s=20&t=8VQgd7fsc5CgKcfeOIAyTw; https://vk dot com/milinfolive?w=wall-124751034_6374; https://t.me/Oleg_Blokhin/58571; https://t.me/Oleg_Blokhin/58574

[72] https://t.me/Oleg_Blokhin/58571;

[73] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/26/rosiyany-peresliduyut-protestantski-konfesiyi-na-tot/

[74] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2022/12/26/okupanty-hochut-zachystyty-tot-vid-nepidkontrolnyh-kremlyu-czerkov/

[75] https://slovoproslovo dot info/okupanti-rf-zakrili-dvi-baptistski-tserkvi-u-berdyansku/; https://www.facebook.com/BaptistsofUkraine/posts/pfbid02mqGnefvpSMPW5tZho9YCP9qqHjiV6pwCL7pc7LWGeV7c4WbdDRNgzgwGRZtKHEPSl

[76] https://slovoproslovo dot info/okupanti-zakrili-dim-molitvi-baptistiv-v-okupovaniy-chastini-zaporizkoi-oblasti/

[77] https://slovoproslovo dot info/u-melitopoli-okupanti-uvirvalisya-do-tserkvi-pryamo-pid-chas-bogosluzhinnya-pastori-areshtovani/

[78] https://slovoproslovo dot info/u-melitopoli-okupanti-uvirvalisya-do-tserkvi-pryamo-pid-chas-bogosluzhinnya-pastori-areshtovani/

[79] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/26/okupanty-planuyut-vidkryty-oficzijni-vyaznyczi-na-tot/; http://publication dot pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202301240007?index=0&rangeSize=1

[80] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[81] https://t.me/vrogov/7355

[82] https://t.me/vrogov/7355

[83] https://t.me/mvdlnr_official/2371

[84] https://telegra dot ph/Rovenkovskij-GOVD-MVD-LNR-obyavlyaet-nabor-na-sluzhbu-01-26

[85] https://t.me/modmilby/22080; https://t.me/modmilby/22079

[86] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0pvGZ6qCVdKhxgsJfSVia59DETX6HCZWeCYZoZ5cXnE7iJAiMKNKed5GZfVKpcVCJl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0RYCxpJex4U2knbQUNpnXgYjAQa71UqhtLPcgFX7UcUZLhBnzs7dsoXb6yMX1wm7Kl

[87] https://t.me/militarymediacenter/968; https://armyinform.com dot ua/2023/01/26/manevry-rosijskoyi-aviacziyi-u-bilorusi-nesut-psyhologichnyj-tysk-rechnyk-povitryanyh-syl/

27 Jan. 2023

Annika Ganzeveld, Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Johanna Moore and Frederick W. Kagan

January 26, 2023, 4:30 pm ET 

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Contributors: Anya Caraiani and James Motamed

Ongoing disruptions to Iran’s energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution. Semi-official ISNA reported on January 26 that the city of Tehran has introduced “emergency ambulance buses” to transport citizens affected by dangerous air pollution levels.[1] Iranian media outlets have also reported school closures in various cities due to air pollution in recent days.[2] This pollution may be caused by power plants burning low-grade fuel due to shortages of more refined products.

Iran’s ongoing energy crisis could both impede and trigger further protests. An unusually harsh winter and high air pollution levels may explain why protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks. This crisis may increase frustration among the population and precipitate new unrest, on the other hand. The first known protest inspired by natural gas shortages during the Mahsa Amini protest wave occurred in Torbat-e Jam on January 16, as CTP previously reported.[3] Petrochemical workers across Iran have also protested against poor living conditions in recent days.[4] The regime’s inability to resolve this crisis may drive frustrated citizens to challenge the regime despite harsh natural conditions.

Iranian officials had hoped to benefit from a harsh winter in Europe and a mild winter in Iran, but have instead suffered from the inverse weather pattern.[5]

The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) is apparently trying to cooperate with foreign governments and possibly the Iranian diaspora to isolate the regime internationally. The INYU released a statement on January 26 emphasizing the importance of external outreach and using legal frameworks to present the crimes of the regime to the international community.[6] The INYU also claimed that the protest movement has had several achievements internationally, such as facilitating the UN removal of Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women, the European Parliament call on the EU to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, and the US de-prioritization of the nuclear talks. The INYU previously described the protest movement as entering a new period characterized by external outreach, insurgent activity, and greater centralization and cohesion within the movement, as CTP previously reported on January 13.[7]

Such external outreach could be an effective means of generating support for the Iranian people against the regime within the international community. Ukrainian citizens have played a similarly essential role in defending their country and establishing broad international support through person-to-person engagement since the Russian invasion. Ukrainians have used decentralized and informal networks to help drive and maintain international support for Ukraine.

Security forces have reportedly maintained their heightened presence around Zahedan, Sistan, and Baluchistan Province, likely in preparation for the weekly Friday sermon from prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid.[8] Abdol Hamid criticized the “intensification of the security atmosphere” on January 25, as CTP previously reported.[9] Some social media accounts reported military helicopters flying above some smaller towns outside Iranshahr, Sistan, and Baluchistan Province as well.[10] It is unclear in what direction the helicopters were headed.

Key Takeaways

  • Ongoing disruptions to Iranian energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution.
  • The Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) is apparently trying to cooperate with foreign governments and possibly the Iranian diaspora to isolate the regime internationally.
  • Security forces have reportedly maintained their heightened presence around Zahedan, Sistan, and Baluchistan Province, likely in preparation for the weekly Friday sermon from prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Shiraz City Governor Lotfollah Shibani announced on January 26 that local merchants are required to deny services to unveiled women.
  • Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi blamed the Mahsa Amini protest movement on a cultural schism between Iranian youth and the values of the Islamic Republic on January 26.
  • Iranian media circulated a survey demonstrating limited domestic engagement with regime-endorsed social media outlets on January 26.
  • Protesters gathered outside the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, and Diwaniyah to protest ongoing economic crises.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on January 26. CTP assesses with moderate confidence that one protest occurred in the following location:

Izeh, Khuzestan Province[11]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Mourners
  • Notes: 40-day commemoration ceremony

CTP assesses with low confidence that one protest occurred in the following location:

Tehran City, Tehran Province[12]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Workers
  • Notes: Gathered in front of the Education Ministry to demonstrate against low wages

Protest coordinators and organizations circulated calls for demonstrations and/or strikes on the following days:

January 27[13]

  • Type: Demonstrations in solidarity with oppressed Iranian Baloch.
  • Location: Countrywide

Shiraz City Governor Lotfollah Shibani announced on January 26 that local merchants are required to deny services to unveiled women. He warned that the regime recently closed a dentist’s office due to the presence of unveiled staff and patients. Shibani’s announcement reflects Iranian authorities’ efforts to resume mass enforcement of the mandatory hijab law. The regime has refocused on enforcing widespread adherence to the hijab requirement in recent weeks after briefly and informally relaxing such restrictions in late 2022, as CTP previously assessed.[14]

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi blamed the Mahsa Amini protest movement on a cultural schism between Iranian youth and the values of the Islamic Republic on January 26. Vahidi claimed that arrested protesters exhibited a “disconnection from spirituality and God” and blamed Western media outlets for exacerbating this disconnection. Vahidi additionally stressed the importance of prayer in safeguarding the regime, quoting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[15] Iranian leadership has endorsed greater indoctrination efforts to resolve public frustrations within the past several weeks, as CTP has previously reported.[16]

Iranian media circulated a survey demonstrating limited domestic engagement with regime-endorsed social media outlets on January 26. Only one percent of survey respondents stated that they had replaced foreign-based messaging applications with indigenously-made platforms.[17] Regime authorities have long sought to replace Western social media platforms with Iranian alternatives to crack down on domestic dissent and expand cyber monitoring of the Iranian population. 

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

Protesters gathered outside the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, and Diwaniyah to protest ongoing economic crises.[18] Protesters demanded a stabilized exchange rate between the Iraqi dinar and US dollar, banking system reforms, and oversight measures to prevent corruption.[19] The Iraqi Dinar exchange rate increased to 1,460.50 IQD to 1 USD on January 26 following several weeks of fluctuation.[20] Iran-backed proxies and pro-Iranian media have attributed the currency devaluation to sanctions the US Treasury placed on several private Iraqi banks that have restricted dollars flowing into Iran.[21]


[1] https://www dot isna dot ir/news/1401110604632/%D9%88%DB%8C%D8%AF%DB%8C%D9%88-%D8%A7%DA%AF%D8%B1-%D9%86%D9%81%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%DA%AF%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%88%D8%B3-%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%B1%DA%98%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%B3%D8%AA

[2] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85005527/%D8%AA%D8%BA%DB%8C%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AA-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%88-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B7%DB%8C%D9%84%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AE%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B3-%D9%82%D8%B2%D9%88%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%BE%DB%8C-%D8%A2%D9%84%D9%88%D8%AF%DA%AF%DB%8C

[3] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-16-2023

[4] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-23-2023

[5] https://observers.france24.com/en/middle-east/20230125-iran-gas-shortage-electricity-blackouts-power-harsh-winter ; https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Iran-Offers-To-Help-Europe-With-Oil-And-Gas-Deliveries-This-Winter.html

[6] https://t.me/fa_UYI/81

[7] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-13-2023

[8] https://twitter.com/1500tasvir/status/1618625525622386689?s=20&t=jcYRZVCmMpLb1LYHpwspFQ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618634746908807168?cxt=HHwWgMDU6b7uxfYsAAAA

[9] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-25-2023

[10] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618636501755236358?cxt=HHwWjMDQudHUxvYsAAAA; https://twitter.com/haalvsh/status/1618592756091486208?s=20&t=jcYRZVCmMpLb1LYHpwspFQ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618525177134084098?s=20&t=QI7w8PLwkE_LV425c4iW1w

[11] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618615530155577345?cxt=HHwWgsDU7faPvfYsAAAA ; https://twitter.com/javanan_Kh/status/1618606487424897025?s=20&t=BVILc3g1ejvs35U38kR7Uw ; https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1618627204195450888?s=20&t=BVILc3g1ejvs35U38kR7Uw

[12] https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1618596239527841792?s=20&t=JZ9xKobAnlPYGNp5ariRKA

[13] https://twitter.com/javanane_zhdn/status/1618202946277371910?s=20&t=YZJWokykB5J0oIwz_rKYvA

[14] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-10-2023

[15] https://diyarmirza.ir/1401/11/%D9%85%D8%B4%DA%A9%D9%84-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%AA%E2%80%8C%D8%B4%D8%AF%DA%AF%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%BA%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%AE%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%8C-%D9%82%D8%B7/

[16] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-december-31

[17] https://t.co/SYLSirjQB3

[18] https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1618163718889824262

[19] https://www(dot)alaraby.co.uk/economy/%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%80%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%88%D9%82%D9%81-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B1

[20] https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/article-729103

https://www.forbes.com/advisor/money-transfer/currency-converter/iqd-usd/

[21] https://www.voanews.com/a/iraqi-pm-replaces-central-bank-governor-over-currency-drop/6929845.html

 
26 Jan. 2023

Authors: Liam Karr, Kathryn Tyson, and Peter Mills

Data Cutoff: January 25, 2023, at 10 a.m.

Key Takeaways:

Somalia. Al Shabaab continued a wave of suicide attacks against Somali forces, including its first major tactical victory in central Somalia, where it overran a base used by US-trained special forces. These attacks are retaliation against a months-long Somali Federal Government (SFG)–led effort to oust al Shabaab from its positions in central Somalia. The SFG may open a second front against al Shabaab in southern Somalia, but this effort faces more hurdles than the central Somalia campaign.

Sahel. Malign actors are exploiting security vacuums left by the French withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso. Al Qaeda–affiliated Jama’a Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen (JNIM) has emerged as the only viable security partner for Tuareg communities facing Islamic State violence in northeastern Mali. This situation forces communities to partner with JNIM in self-defense, solidifying the groups’ influence across northeastern Mali. JNIM is also active in Burkina Faso, where the country’s military leaders recently ended a military deal with France and are seeking partnership with the Russian Wagner Group. Wagner’s presence will increase violence against Burkinabe civilians, to the benefit of Salafi-jihadi groups—as it has in Mali since Wagner arrived in 2021.

Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is increasingly taking control over terrain in Pakistan since ending a cease-fire with the government in November 2022. The TTP announced organizational changes in December 2022 to facilitate increased governance activities. TTP militants also attempted to collect taxes in Pakistan for the first time in over a year in late January.

Assessments:

Somalia. Al Shabaab continued a wave of suicide attacks against the SFG in retaliation for the ongoing SFG-led offensive in central Somalia. The group notched this counteroffensive’s first major tactical success on January 20, overrunning a Somali base in the Galgudud region.[1] This attack included the group’s seventh use of a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device since January 4.[2] The attack targeted a US-trained Danab special forces forward operating base in Gal’ad, a key crossroads town linking two district capitals: El Dheere, which SFG forces recently recaptured, and El Bur, which al Shabaab controls. The al Shabaab attack likely aimed to prevent further SFG advances towards El Bur. Somali officials claimed to repel the attack with US drone support, but Somali troops officially withdrew toward the Galgudud–Middle Shabelle regional border on January 21, indicating Somali forces sustained significant losses and could not hold the base.[3] US-supported Somali forces in neighboring Mudug region have since intensified efforts to clear al Shabaab havens in the Harardhere district to prevent al Shabaab from launching a similar attack on Harardhere town.[4]

Al Shabaab also launched a suicide attack targeting the mayor’s headquarters in Mogadishu on January 22.[5] The group has besieged several high-value targets in Mogadishu since September as part of another campaign in retaliation for the central Somalia offensive.[6]

Figure 1. Somali Forces Contest al Shabaab Support Zones in Central Somalia

Source: Liam Karr.

The SFG may open a second front against al Shabaab in southern Somalia. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and officials in South West State (SWS) touted plans to escalate operations on January 18.[7] The statements came amid several days of reconciliation meetings between the incumbent SWS president and SWS opposition groups.[8] This timing indicates the various stakeholders may have reached an agreement that will free more security forces and clan militias to participate in an offensive against al Shabaab. Somali federal and state forces also seized a crossroads town in the Lower Jubba region on January 21, claiming they will use it as a launching pad for future operations in Lower Jubba’s Afmadow district.[9] The SFG may have deployed Danab special forces and Eritrean-trained special forces to the area, which further indicates impending offensive operations.[10] If true, this would be the first time the SFG has used its new Eritrea-trained soldiers since they began returning to Somalia in December 2022 after a highly controversial multiyear training mission.[11]

Clan dynamics in southern Somalia could limit the scope and success of an offensive. Cooperation between the federal government, local militias, and civilians has underpinned the SFG’s advances in central Somalia. This relationship stems from several factors, including specific al Shabaab attacks that alienated these clans and President Mohamud’s clan ties to the area.[12] The absence of these factors makes local support less assured in southern Somalia. The lack of local support could limit the reach of a southern Somalia offensive. It could also decrease the government’s ability to sustain its presence in rural areas in the absence of local militias’ intelligence, communications, and military support.[13]

Sahel. Al Qaeda–affiliated militants are capitalizing on the security vacuum in northeastern Mali to expand and strengthen their ties with vulnerable communities. Several Daoussak Tuareg leaders from northeastern Mali’s Ménaka region pledged allegiance to JNIM, al Qaeda’s branch in the Sahel, on January 21.[14] The pledges formalized a relationship that has grown since the 2022 French withdrawal. Fighters from the Islamic State Greater Sahara Province (ISGS) have regularly attacked Daoussak communities for several years. JNIM had previously attempted to negotiate with ISGS on behalf of the Daoussak in 2017, but Daoussak militias began working more closely with French forces that were conducting counter-ISGS operations.[15] The 2022 French drawdown allowed ISGS to escalate retaliatory massacres against now-vulnerable Daoussak communities.[16]  

JNIM moved to present itself as a security partner and rekindle its ties with Daoussak communities as ISGS attacks approached traditionally JNIM-dominated areas of Ménaka throughout 2022.[17] JNIM and Daoussak militia groups eventually launched likely coordinated offensives into ISGS-dominated areas of Ménaka that led to widespread fighting, especially between JNIM and ISGS, in late 2022.[18]

Figure 2. Salafi-Jihadi and Militia Activity in Northeastern Mali

Source: Liam Karr.

The recent Tuareg leader pledges to JNIM underscore that JNIM will increase its influence across northeastern Mali as it emerges as the only viable security partner for many northeastern communities. The pledges reportedly took place in Inekar, which is much further south in the Ménaka region than JNIM’s prior strongholds.[19] JNIM Emir Iyad ag Ghali was also present during the pledges and had reportedly traveled around the Ménaka region for several weeks prior.[20] Ag Ghali’s travel highlights JNIM’s increased freedom of movement since the end of the French Operation Barkhane.

Anti-French juntas ruling Mali and Burkina Faso purse partnerships with Russian Wagner Group mercenaries. The juntas seek out Wagner to provide regime security and support without conditions, respond to widespread anti-French sentiment, and nominally replace Western support that is legally and politically constrained after military coups.[21] Wagner and Russia benefit economically from access to natural resources, markets for weapons, and opportunities to evade sanctions.[22]

Wagner Group arrived in Mali in November 2021 and has deployed to several regions alongside Malian troops in 2022.[23] Wagner has increased the amount of violence against civilians in the country, including committing collective punishment massacres in numerous villages.[24] These human rights abuses provide Salafi-jihadi groups with a free recruitment tool by driving vulnerable citizens to partner with the militants for protection.[25]

Wagner is now prepared to enter Burkina Faso in the coming months and may have already sent some personnel to the country in late December 2022.[26] The Burkinabe junta renounced its military agreement with the French on January 18, giving the nearly 400 French soldiers in the country one month to withdraw.[27] France was already reportedly planning to announce a drawdown beginning in February, but the junta’s move to expedite their departure could allow it to more quickly bring Wagner mercenaries into the country.[28] Wagner will likely increase violence against Burkinabe civilians to the benefit of Salafi-jihadi groups, much like it has in Mali.

Figure 3. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa

Source: Kathryn Tyson.

Pakistan. The TTP is increasingly taking de facto control over terrain in Pakistan since it ended a cease-fire with the Pakistani government in November 2022. The TTP began efforts to exert control over populations before ending the cease-fire and has escalated these efforts since, including making organizational changes to facilitate a governance effort. The TTP announced new regional appointments for TTP leaders across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan in February 2022.[29] The TTP announced appointments for new TTP ministries in December 2022, including ministries for politics, judiciary affairs, and education, indicating the TTP seeks to expand and formalize its governing structures.[30] The TTP also attempted to collect taxes from civilians in Yarak in northwestern Pakistan on January 24 for the first time in over a year, signaling an increasingly bold expansion of its extortion activities.[31]

Figure 4. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Central and South Asia

Source: Kathryn Tyson.

Middle East. There have been no significant updates from this region in the past week.

Figure 5. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in the Middle East

Source: Kathryn Tyson.

Other Updates:

Afghanistan: A Jamestown Foundation report by Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai claimed China is providing Blowfish unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) to the Taliban government.[32] The Blowfish A1 is a helicopter UCAV that carries a small payload of 12 kilograms, equivalent to several small mortar rounds, and is reportedly capable of operating autonomously or under operator control. The Critical Threats Project and Institute for the Study of War have not confirmed that the Taliban have acquired these drones or their potential source. The Taliban government has prioritized investing in maintaining its air force capability. China may have decided to supply this equipment to the Taliban government following recent Islamic State Khorasan Province attacks targeting Chinese nationals and assets in Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Sunni sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) attacked in Pakistan on January 22 for the first time since 2016.[33] An unspecified number of LeJ militants fired on Pakistani paramilitary forces and killed two officials in Mastung city in Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan, within the group’s historical area of operations.[34] The attack comes after LeJ released a statement announcing the group’s reemergence and threatening attacks in September 2022.[35]

 


[1] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-january-20-2023 

[2] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/salafi-jihadi-movement-weekly-update-january-18-2023

[3] https://www.africom.mil/pressrelease/35119/somali-us-forces-engage-insurgents-in-support-of-the-federal-government-of-somaliahttps://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-january-20-2023; https://www.caasimada dot net/xog-ciidamada-dowladda-oo-isaga-soo-baxay-degmada-galcad

[4] https://www.radiodalsan dot com/wararka-idaacadda/madaxweyne-qoorqoor-iyo-saraakiisha-ciidamada-oo-kulan-ka-yeeshay-amniga-xarardheere; https://www.caasimada dot net/weerar-lagu-qaaday-saldhig-ay-ku-sugnaayeen-shabaab-oo-xubno-badan-lagu-dilay; https://www.africom.mil/pressrelease/35122/somali-us-forces-engage-insurgents-in-support-of-the-federal-government-of-somaliahttps://twitter.com/sntvnews1/status/1618202637291388938?s=20&t=ah7KL9t79bJBvWpLRjPY5g

[5] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-january-23-2023

[6] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/al-qaeda-global-tracker/salafi-jihadi-global-tracker-al-shabaab-besieges-hotel-near-somali-presidential-complexhttps://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/africa-file/africa-file-hayat-hotel-siege-challenges-somali-federal-governments-counterterrorism-strategy

[7] https://www.caasimada dot net/xasan-sheekh-oo-shaaciyey-halka-laga-billaabayo-wajiga-labaad-ee-dagaalka-shabaab; https://radiorisaala dot com/lafta-gareen-oo-sheegay-in-bil-gudaheed-al-shabaab-uga-saarayaan-degaannada-koofur-galbeed

[8] https://puntlandpost dot net/2023/01/21/koonfur-galbeed-oo-diiday-qorshayaal-uu-madaxweyne-xasan-sheekh-ula-tegay; https://www.caasimada dot net/sawirro-xasan-oo-kulan-gaar-ah-la-yeeshay-golaha-wasiirada-k-galbeed-farayna-laba-arrin; https://www.caasimada dot net/daawo-afhayeenka-odayaasha-k-galbeed-oo-baaq-soo-saaray-kadib-goaankii-laftagareen

[9] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-january-23-2023

[10] https://www.caasimada dot net/xog-kun-ka-mid-ah-askarta-lagu-soo-tababaray-dalka-eritrea-oo-la-geynayo; https://radiorisaala dot com/faah-faahin-kasoo-baxeysa-dagaal-ka-dhacay-duleedka-magaalada-kismaayo

[11] https://www.voanews.com/a/first-batch-of-somali-troops-trained-in-eritrea-arrives-home-/6885944.html

[12] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/africa-file/africa-file-clan-uprising-bolsters-anti-al-shabaab-offensive-in-central-somalia

[13] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/salafi-jihadi-movement-weekly-update-january-18-2023

[14] SITE Intelligence Group, “JNIM Photo Report Displays Local Malian Tribes Pledging Allegiance to Group in Ménaka,” January 23, 2023, available by subscription at www.siteintelgroup.com

[15] https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-end-of-the-sahelian-anomaly-how-the-global-conflict-between-the-islamic-state-and-al-qaida-finally-came-to-west-africahttps://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/02/tuareg-militias-battle-islamic-state-loyal-militants-in-northern-mali.php

[16] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/27/mali-coordinated-massacres-islamist-armed-groups

[17] https://twitter.com/SimNasr/status/1547626334817423360?s=20&t=Pw-ALqrIi0oF3RHm8cMn_whttps://twitter.com/SimNasr/status/1547669737559117825?s=20&t=Pw-ALqrIi0oF3RHm8cMn_w

[18] https://twitter.com/MENASTREAM/status/1603644029098684416?s=20&t=cTxUfhQ_1G2xvGUOrmUzpA; https://maliactu dot net/mali-5-terroristes-neutralises-dans-un-combat-avec-le-msa-d-a-tamalat-nord; https://twitter.com/Mont_Marcus_G/status/1583820713060106242; SITE Intelligence Group, “JNIM Claims Killing 112 IS Fighters in Infographic Covering December 2022 Ops,” January 5, 2023, available by subscription at www.siteintelgroup.com 

[19] https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20230123-mali-iyad-ag-ghaly-recrute-et-s-affiche-dans-la-r%C3%A9gion-de-m%C3%A9naka

[20] https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20230123-mali-iyad-ag-ghaly-recrute-et-s-affiche-dans-la-r%C3%A9gion-de-m%C3%A9naka

[21] https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/analysis/anti-french-sentiment-west-africa-reflection-authoritarian-confrontation-collective-westhttps://www.reuters.com/world/africa/us-terminates-burkina-faso-agoa-trade-preference-program-ustr-2023-01-02

[22] https://www.fpri.org/article/2022/03/the-wagner-groups-playbook-in-africa-mali

[23] https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/africa-file/africa-file-wagner-group-deployment-to-mali-threatens-counterterrorism-effortshttps://www.reuters.com/world/german-troops-spot-russian-forces-mali-french-pull-out-document-2022-08-16

[24] https://www.csis.org/analysis/massacres-executions-and-falsified-graves-wagner-groups-mounting-humanitarian-cost-mali

[25] https://www.csis.org/analysis/massacres-executions-and-falsified-graves-wagner-groups-mounting-humanitarian-cost-malihttps://ctc.westpoint.edu/how-the-wagner-group-is-aggravating-the-jihadi-threat-in-the-sahel

[26] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1406554/politique/des-mercenaires-de-wagner-ont-ils-debarque-au-burkina-fasohttps://www.voanews.com/a/ghana-says-burkina-faso-paid-russian-mercenaries-with-mine-/6878119.htmlhttps://t.me/rybar/42195

[27] https://www.politico.eu/article/jean-emmanuel-ouedraogo-burkina-faso-france-french-troops-withdrawal

[28] https://www.africaintelligence.com/west-africa/2023/01/04/french-diplomatic-operations-face-turbulent-times-in-ouagadougou,109878443-art

[29] https://twitter.com/ihsantipu/status/1496167694353190915?s=21

[30] https://twitter.com/khorasandiary/status/1608885785985683457

[31] https://twitter.com/khorasandiary/status/1617766519764832256https://www.rferl.org/a/pakistan-taliban-return-extortion/32044957.htmlhttps://twitter.com/Natsecjeff/status/1617787035443691520

[32] https://jamestown.org/program/after-the-kabul-hotel-attack-the-taliban-and-china-confront-security-challenges-in-afghanistan

[33] https://twitter.com/IftikharFirdous/status/1617242170125172737

[34] https://twitter.com/ShabbirTuri/status/1617236041953579008

[35] https://twitter.com/Natsecjeff/status/1571459353080745989


 

26 Jan. 2023

  

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Kateryna Stepanenko, Layne Philipson, Grace Mappes, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 25, 9:45pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Russian forces may be engaging in limited spoiling attacks across most of the frontline in Ukraine in order to disperse and distract Ukrainian forces and set conditions to launch a decisive offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast. Russian forces have re-initiated offensive operations, namely limited ground attacks, on two main sectors of the front in the past few days—in central Zaporizhia Oblast along Kamianske-Mali Shcherbaky-Mala Tokmachka line and in the Vuhledar area of western Donetsk Oblast.[1] Ukrainian officials have noted that these attacks are conducted by small squad-sized assault groups of 10 to 15 people and are aimed at dispersing Ukrainian defensive lines.[2] The size and nature of these attacks suggest that they are more likely spoiling attacks that seek to distract and pin Ukrainian forces against discrete areas of the front than a concerted effort to relaunch offensive operations to gain ground in the central Zaporizhia and western Donetsk directions.

These limited attacks are notably ongoing as the pace of Russian operations around Bakhmut, led by the Wagner Group, seems to be decreasing. Following the Russian capture of Soledar in mid-January, the attacks on Bakhmut and surrounding settlements have apparently dropped off, suggesting that the Russian offensive operation to take Bakhmut may be culminating. The Wagner Group has failed to deliver on its promise of securing Bakhmut and has been unable to progress beyond minor tactical gains in Soledar and other surrounding small settlements. Russian military leadership may have, therefore, decided to de-prioritize operations around Bakhmut after recognizing the low likelihood that Wagner will actually be able to take the settlement. As ISW has previously suggested, Russian sources may be pushing the narratives of claimed Russian offensive operations in central Zaporizhia and western Donetsk Oblast in order to inflate the Russian information space with positive narratives that compensate for abject failures around Bakhmut.[3] Both the information space effects and the attacks themselves may be intended to distract focus from the lack of gains in Bakhmut and draw Ukrainian forces to the areas in question.

The Russian military appears to be shifting its focus towards conventional forces and away from the non-traditional force structure of the Wagner Group, potentially in preparation for a decisive effort in Luhansk Oblast. On the strategic level, certain changes to Russian command reflect a gradual transition away from reliance on unconventional force groupings such as Wagner and towards supporting and empowering conventional Russian elements. The recent appointment of Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov to overall theater command of Russian forces in Ukraine (and subsequent demotion of Wagner Group favorite Army General Sergey Surovikin) suggests that Russian military leadership is increasingly looking to the traditional and conventional military establishment that Gerasimov represents and leads. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has similarly engaged in efforts to reform and standardize the conventional military in line with Gerasimov’s appointment.[4] Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be empowering Gerasimov to take steps that undermine Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and the unconventional force structure he represents.[5] The shift toward conventional forces is also increasingly apparent on the operational and tactical levels. Various conventional elements (namely from the 3rd Motor Rifle Division and Airborne Forces) have been arrayed across the Svatove-Kreminna line in Luhansk Oblast and are notably not supporting Wagner Group operations around Bakhmut, indicating that Russian military leadership may be allocating conventional forces to what they regard as a more promising axis of advance.[6] Ukrainian intelligence relatedly noted that elements of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District have withdrawn from Belarus and partially deployed to Luhansk Oblast.[7]

The array of conventional forces across the Luhansk Oblast frontline suggests that Russian forces may be preparing for a decisive effort in this sector, supported by limited spoiling attacks elsewhere on the frontline to distract and disperse Ukrainian forces. ISW has previously discussed indicators of a potential decisive Russian effort in Luhansk Oblast.[8] Taken in tandem with a variety of intelligence statements that Russia is preparing for an imminent offensive operation in the coming months, it is likely that a decisive effort in Luhansk Oblast would be an offensive one.[9] The most probable course of a Russian offensive action in Luhansk Oblast would be premised on launching an attack along the Svatove-Kreminna line, supported by critical ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that run into major logistics hubs in Luhansk City and Starobilsk, in order to reach the Luhansk Oblast administrative border and complete the capture of the remaining part of Luhansk Oblast that is still Ukrainian-controlled. Russian forces may hope to recapture critical ground in northern Donetsk Oblast around Lyman and use the Svatove-Kreminna line to launch further attacks into western Kharkiv and/or northern Donetsk Oblasts. Russian forces are exceedingly unlikely to be able to gain substantial ground on this axis even if they do launch a successful offensive operation on this sector, however.

The Kremlin and Russian milbloggers attempted to play down the Western provision of tanks to Ukraine, indicating that they likely find these systems threatening to Russian prospects. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on January 25 that the Western provision of Abrams and Leopard tanks to Ukraine is "quite a failure … in terms of technological aspects" and that there is a "clear overestimation of the potential that [these tanks] will add" to Ukrainian forces.[10] Some Russian milbloggers likely sought to reassure their domestic audiences by claiming that these systems do not pose a significant threat and that previous Western systems like HIMARS are a far more serious threat.[11] The Kremlin and Russian milbloggers previously framed the Western provision of purely defensive Patriot missile systems as a serious escalation between Russia and the West.[12] The fact that the Kremlin and Russian milbloggers did not frame the provision of armored vehicles that could actually aid future Ukrainian counteroffensive operations as escalatory suggests that the Kremlin and the Russian information space continue to selectively choose which systems to frame as an escalation. The Kremlin and Russian milbloggers seem more concerned in this case with calming potential fears of the impact of Western commitments to supply Ukraine with tanks than with feeding the escalation narrative in the West. The Kremlin and its allies are right to be concerned about these new Western commitments, which allow Ukrainian commanders to plan against replacements for tank losses they could expect in counter-offensive operations that might be launched even before the Western tanks begin to arrive.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces may be engaging in limited spoiling attacks across most of the frontline in Ukraine in order to disperse and distract Ukrainian fronts and launch a decisive offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast.
  • The Russian military appears to be shifting its focus toward conventional forces deployed to Luhansk Oblast and away from the non-traditional force structure of the Wagner Group and its focus on Bakhmut.
  • The Kremlin and Russian milbloggers attempted to downplay the Western provision of tanks to Ukraine, indicating that they likely find these systems threatening to Russian prospects.
  • Russian forces claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations near Svatove as Russian forces continued limited ground attacks near Kreminna.
  • Ukrainian forces have likely made advances around Kreminna.
  • Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Ukrainian forces withdrew from Soledar.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City area. Russian forces reportedly continued localized offensive operations near Vuhledar.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct small-scale ground attacks across the Zaporizhia Oblast front line, likely to attempt to fix Ukrainian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian milbloggers are divided over the veracity of Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov’s ongoing, overblown information operation.
  • The Kremlin is attempting to downplay new restrictions on crossing the Russian border, likely in an effort to contain panic within Russian society about a likely second mobilization wave.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin may be attempting to conduct another wave of mobilization discreetly out of concern for undermining his support among Russians.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive actions near Svatove on January 25. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces suppressed Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups near Vilshana (44km northwest of Svatove) and Berestove (44km northwest of Svatove) in Kharkiv Oblast, and Novoselivske, Luhansk Oblast (14km northwest of Svatove).[13] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are concentrating forces in Kupyansk and Dvorchina to conduct further offensive operations near Svatove, although ISW does not make assessments about specific future Ukrainian operations.[14] Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik claimed that fighting near Novoselivske continues and that Russian forces routinely destroy Ukrainian manpower concentrations in the area.[15]

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions near Kreminna. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 25 that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast (12km southeast of Kreminna).[16] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces dislodged Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups south of Kreminna and gained a foothold near the Siverskyi Donets River.[17] Another milblogger posted footage on January 25 of BARS (Russian Combat Reserve of the Country) personnel performing a combat mission in the Kreminna area and claimed that they were under constant Ukrainian sniper fire.[18]

Ukrainian forces have likely made advances around Kreminna as of January 25. Combat footage published on January 23 and geolocated on January 24 shows Ukrainian forces ambushing a Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) convoy east of Dibrova on an unspecified date.[19]  The footage indicates that Ukrainian forces have likely made advances west of Dibrova. Other geolocated combat footage posted on January 23 and January 24 indicates that Ukrainian forces have also likely made advances south of Kreminna.[20] Ukrainian forces additionally conducted a HIMARS strike on Kreminna and Rubizhne in Luhansk Oblast on January 25.[21]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Ukrainian officials acknowledged on January 25 that Ukrainian forces withdrew from Soledar and claimed that the frontline northeast of Bakhmut stabilized. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Ukrainian forces withdrew from Soledar on an unspecified date after successfully exhausting Russian forces in the area and preventing a systematic Russian breakthrough into Ukrainian rear areas.[22]  ISW previously assessed that Russian forces likely captured the settlement on January 11, and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian joint forces seized the settlement on January 12.[23] Russian forces are continuing to launch assaults near Soledar, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Rozdolivka (18km northeast of Bakhmut) and Krasna Hora (7km north of Bakhmut).[24] A Russian milblogger who has been confirmed to report demonstrably false information on Russian operations claimed that Wagner Group fighters conducted an assault from Pidhorodne (5km northeast of Bakhmut) in the direction of Yahidne (4km north of Bakhmut) and that Russian forces attempted to attack near Spirne (29km northeast of Bakhmut).[25]

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on January 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut.[26] Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the Bakhmut area remains the epicenter of combat operations and that Russian forces continue to conduct daily assaults in the direction of the city.[27] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces only conducted assaults on three settlements in the wider Bakhmut area, which is markedly less than in previous days.[28] Geolocated footage published on January 24 likely indicates that Russian forces have advanced west of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut).[29] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters advanced north of Klishchiivka and attempted to advance from the settlement towards Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut).[30] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are conducting offensive operations in the direction of Ivanivske intending to cut the T0504 highway that connects Bakhmut and Kostyantynivka.[31]

Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Donetsk City-Avdiivka area on January 25. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Novobakhmutivka (14km northeast of Avdiivka), Krasnohorivka (23km southwest of Avdiivka), and Marinka (32km southwest of Avdiivka).[32] A Russian milblogger, who has previously reported demonstrably false information, claimed that Russian forces also conducted an assault in the direction of Pervomaiske (12km southwest of Avdiivka).[33]

Russian forces reportedly continued localized offensive operations near Vuhledar (28km southwest of Donetsk City) on January 25. A Ukrainian military officer reported that Russian elements of the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades of the Pacific Fleet attempted to advance north of Pavlivka (32km southwest of Donetsk City) and west of Mykilske (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[34] Some Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces pushed Ukrainian forces out of positions south of  Vuhledar and advanced to the southern outskirts of the settlement.[35] Another prominent Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 7th operational tactical formation advanced southeast of Vuhledar, and that positional battles are ongoing near the settlement.[36]  Russian milbloggers also amplified a Russian claim that unspecified Russian units conducted a raid near Vuhledar on the night of January 24 to 25.[37] ISW has still not observed any visual confirmation that Russian forces are conducting offensive operations in the Vuhledar area. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may be conducting localized offensives in western Donetsk and Zaporizhia oblasts to distract from the lack of progress in the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut.[38] Russian forces may also be conducting localized offensive operations in the Vuhledar area as part of a series of spoiling attacks aimed at constraining possible future Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian forces continued to conduct small-scale ground attacks across the Zaporizhia Oblast frontline on January 25, likely to attempt to disperse Ukrainian defensive positions in Zaporizhia Oblast. Spokesperson for Ukraine's Southern Defense Forces Natalya Humenyuk stated on January 25 that Russian forces are conducting limited attacks with 10- to 15-person groups to undermine Ukrainian defenses and disperse Ukrainian forces across the front line.[39] Humenyuk also stated that Russian forces are transferring additional reserves to this axis due to heavy losses. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian ground attack near Charivne, approximately 70km southeast of Zaporizhzia City.[40] Zaporizhia Oblast occupation head Vladimir Rogov claimed that Russian forces seized several unspecified settlements along the Malynivka-Chervone and Malynivka-Charvine lines near Hulyaipole but did not provide any evidence to back his claims.[41] A Russian milblogger, who has previously been proven to have fabricated false information about the frontline, claimed that Russian forces conducted an attack near Novodanylivka but noted that Russian forces are making little progress.[42] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that unspecified elements of the Russian "eastern" group of forces gained unspecified "more advantageous" positions in the Zaporizhia direction.[43] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces have still not taken Kamianske (about 35km south of Zaporizhzhia City) despite forcing Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the settlement.[44] A Russian milblogger posted UAV footage of empty trenches in a small settlement, which the milblogger claimed is Kamianske but there is no geolocated data that would confirm this claim.[45]

Russian milbloggers are divided over the veracity of Rogov’s likely exaggerated territorial claims along the Zaporizhia frontline. Rogov claimed on January 25 that Russian forces launched a "pre-emptive strike" against Ukrainian forces, who were preparing to launch their own offensive operations towards Berdyansk.[46] Some Russian milbloggers amplified Rogov’s claim, and one milblogger even claimed that the supposed pre-emptive strike allowed Russian forces to regain battlefield initiative.[47] ISW has observed no indications that Russian forces have launched a large-scale offensive operation that is successful enough for Russian forces to regain the initiative on the frontlines. ISW previously observed footage that shows Russian small groups conducting limited ground attacks in an open field, however.[48] Other Russian milbloggers have indicated that Russian forces have conducted only limited attacks and made only marginal advances.[49] Igor Girkin, a former Russian militant commander and prominent critical voice in the Russian milblogger information space claimed that there is no available data to indicate that Russian forces continued their offensive in Zaporizhia Oblast past the first day of the claimed offensive.[50] Another Russian milblogger claimed that battles along the Zaporizhia Oblast front line have become positional in nature.[51] Russian and Ukrainian sources continued to report that Russian forces shelled areas that Rogov previously claimed that Russian forces had captured, including Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Novoandriivka, Shcherbaky, and Kamianske.[52]

Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to skirmish across the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. Geolocated footage from the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) confirms that Ukrainian forces landed near Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, during an overnight raid on January 23-24.[53] This raid indicates that Russian forces may not have full control over the entire eastern shoreline of the Dnipro River. The Russian MoD acknowledged the raid on January 25.[54] One Russian milblogger downplayed Ukrainian forces’ ability to cross the Dnipro River while another criticized Russian forces for allowing Ukrainian forces to cross the river.[55] Humenyuk stated that Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups, in turn, continue to try to gain positions on the Potemkin islands in the Dnipro River Delta in hopes of monitoring Ukrainian forces on the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River.[56]  Humenyuk added that even if Russian forces improve their ability to monitor Ukrainian forces, they still have limited capacity to carry out precision strikes on important military infrastructure.

Russian forces continued to target the Kherson City area on January 25. Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan reported that Russian forces struck Kherson City with incendiary munitions.[57] Turkish outlet NTV reported that Russian shelling hit the Turkish ship Tuzla in the Kherson City port overnight on January 24-25, starting a fire.[58] NTV reported that no one was aboard the ship at the time of the fire. Reuters reported that the Tuzla has been stuck at port in Kherson City since February 2022.[59]

Ukrainian sources claimed that Russian air defenses activated off the coast of northern Crimea in Karkinitsky Bay on January 25.[60] The target of the air defense missile is unclear.

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

The Kremlin is attempting to downplay new restrictions on crossing the Russian border, likely to contain panic over a potential second mobilization wave. Head of the Russian State Duma Committee on Transport and Infrastructure Development Yevgeny Moskvichev prepared amendments to the Russian law on crossing the Russian border for drivers on January 25.[61] Moskvichev originally stated that these amendments will require all drivers to reserve a date and time to cross the border between March 1, 2023, and March 1, 2024, via a government information system.[62] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed on January 24 that the Kremlin is not considering any restrictions on the movement of Russian citizens from Russia following Moskvichev’s announcement, and Moskvichev later clarified that such reservations will only apply to commercial drivers.[63] The Kremlin may have attempted to retract or obfuscate its originally stated vision for the border crossing in response to Russian concern over movement limitations. ISW previously reported that Russian officials established several mobile military recruitment centers on Russian borders during the first wave of mobilization, and will likely use the premise of vehicle registration to obtain information about men of military age attempting to flee the country.[64]

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be attempting to discreetly conduct another wave of mobilization to retain his domestic support base. US and Western officials told CNN that Putin is planning to discreetly mobilize as many as 200,000 men because he is aware that the previous announcement of "partial mobilization" was very unpopular in Russia.[65] The officials noted that the Kremlin even conducted domestic polling to gauge Russians’ perception of mobilization. The Kremlin, however, likely wasted the funds spent on such polling: over 700,000 men fleeing Russia during the first wave of mobilization should have been a sufficient indicator of Russians’ willingness to be mobilized to fight in this war.[66] The officials also added that Putin likely had not made up his mind yet on when to start the "silent mobilization."

Putin is also trying to regulate the Russian information space in preparation for protracted war or ahead of mobilization. Putin signed a decree amending the Russian fundamentals on state cultural policy to include provisions to protect society from "external ideological values and the expansion of destructive and psychological influences."[67] The amendment states that the Kremlin is introducing new measures to defend Russian "historic truths" such as Russian language against many "unfriendly states" and organizations that seek to undermine Russia’s "cultural sovereignty."[68] Putin will likely use this decree to further impose censorship on Western outlets and raise domestic support for the Russian war effort. A prominent Russian nationalist figure noted that the Russian population, however, still lacks insights into the goals of the Russian war in Ukraine.[69]

Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing to use his connections with the Russian State Duma to legitimate Wagner mercenaries in Russia through legislative means. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin instructed the Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrey Kartapolov and Security and Countering Corruption Committee Chairman Vasily Piskarev on January 24 to urgently study a proposal introducing criminal liability for "discrediting combatants," which Prigozhin submitted to him earlier in the day.[70] ISW previously reported that Prigozhin’s appeal to Volodin on January 24 called for the Russian government to criminally punish individuals who discredit all participants of the Russian "special military operation" in Ukraine, specifically including recruited convicts and volunteers operating within Wagner units.[71] Volodin also stated that all who "defend" Russia, including members of the Wagner Group, are heroes. Prigozhin’s appeals to nationalist sentiments are unlikely to convince Putin to legalize Wagner at this point, however, given that Putin has been demonstratively siding with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)—an institution that Prigozhin frequently criticizes to promote his own forces.[72]

Prigozhin is also continuing his efforts to morally justify the recruitment of prisoners to Russian society and explain away the lack of professionalism within the Wagner Group. Prigozhin responded to a media request about the release of Alexander Tyutin—a murderer previously sentenced to 23 years in prison who completed his contract with Wagner and returned to Russia.[73] Prigozhin stated that Wagner’s philosophy on recruiting prisoners relies on an observation that Russians would rather see a prisoner die in the war than their relatives.[74] He also claimed that if a murderer survives the war he is no longer a killer, but rather a warrior. Prigozhin’s observation is an implicit criticism of Russian complacency with the Kremlin’s force generation efforts as long as they do not impact people’s families. Wagner is also reportedly recruiting deported Ukrainian citizens who are imprisoned in Russian colonies. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 25 that Wagner is recruiting Ukrainian prisoners in Krasnodar Krai, while also continuing to call up Russian prisoners with serious criminal offenses to participate in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[75]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to integrate occupied territories into the Russian legal and economic systems. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Head Leonid Pasechnik stated on January 25 that he is prioritizing deeper integration into the Russian socio-economic apparatus by ensuring free access of all citizens to all types of state and municipal services and efficient re-registration of documents to receive state support.[76] Pasechnik stated that the Multifunctional Center for Provision of State and Municipal Services (MFC) opened branches in nine occupied Luhansk Oblast settlements on January 25.[77] Pasechnik claimed that all residents in occupied Luhansk Oblast can visit an MFC location to request taxpayer identification numbers (TIN) and maternity capital certificates and regist as an entrepreneur.[78] Pasechnik also claimed that MFCs will begin registering citizens’ places of residence and issuing Russian passports, real estate registrations, and insurance numbers (SNILS) on January 30, 2023.[79] Pasechnik claimed that MFCs will accept documents to provide monthly allowances for the birth and upbringing of a child, as well as a monthly payment for the birth or adoption of a first child.[80]

Russian occupation authorities continue to face administrative issues in maintaining an adequate workforce to staff enterprises in occupied territories. Ukrainian nuclear operating enterprise Energoatom reported on January 25 that Russian occupation authorities are trying to recruit 150 Belarusian engineers to help staff the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) as Ukrainian workers continue refusing to cooperate with occupation officials in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.[81] Ukrainian Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov stated on January 25 that Russian forces are importing doctors from Russia to mitigate manpower shortages in hospitals as Ukrainian doctors and hospital staff continue resisting Russian occupation efforts.[82] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 25 that Russian occupation authorities are closing down three mines in Donetsk Oblast due to a lack of miners, outdated equipment, and non-profitability.[83] The center also reported that Russian occupation authorities "privatized" several mines in Donetsk Oblast, claiming that they had found private investors to operate the mines.[84]

Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing filtration efforts in occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center stated on January 25 that Russian forces deported all residents of occupied-Nechaeve, Kherson Oblast, to southern Ukraine as Russian forces and occupation authorities set up their personnel in the empty homes.[85] The Ukrainian Resistance Center also reported on January 25 that Russian forces and occupation authorities are confiscating all boats and water vessels from locals residing along the Dnipro River coastline in Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast.[86] The Ukrainian Resistance Center stated that Russian forces are authorized to shoot any civilian who attempts to move toward the coastal area in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.[87]

Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing passportization efforts in occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 25 that Russian occupation authorities in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, intend to fire all employees of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) enterprises who have not obtained a Russian passport by March 1, 2023.[88] Ukrainian Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov stated on January 25 that Russian occupation authorities are intensifying pressure on Melitopol residents to obtain a Russian passport, emphasizing that passporitzation efforts ensure that residents in occupied territories can be mobilized to join the Russian Armed Forces.[89] The Ukrainian Resistance Center stated on January 25 that Russian occupation authorities promised to pay deported residents of Nechaeve, Kherson Oblast, 10,000 rubles (~$144) if they obtain a Russian passport.[90] 

Russian occupation authorities are continuing infrastructure projects to further connectivity between occupied territories and Russia. Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo claimed on January 25 that a regular bus service will resume in occupied-Kherson Oblast as Ukrainians who had previously "evacuated" from the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River are farmers who are returning to fields.[91] Saldo also claimed that design and service operations are underway to construct a new highway that will run from occupied territories to Rostov, Russia.[92] Saldo claimed that the second stage of the highway project will run from Henichesk, Kherson Oblast, to Moscow, Russia.[93] ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin is likely attempting to build a new ground line of communication (GLOC) along the Azov Sea coast under the guise of civilian infrastructure construction in an effort to avoid Ukrainian HIMARS strikes.[94]

Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing to raid and seize private property in an effort to identify pro-Ukrainians and partisans in occupied territories. LNR Internal Ministry claimed on January 25 that the occupation police force seized a cache of weapons in Svatove, Luhansk Oblast, and warned that acquiring, storing, and holding firearms is punishable by up to five years in prison.[95] A Russian source posted possibly staged video footage on January 25 showing Russian security forces, possibly Chechens, seizing a cache of weapons after raiding a residential neighborhood in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.[96] 

Russian officials are likely growing increasingly distrustful of Russian-appointed occupation authorities in occupied territories. Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated on January 25 that Russian officials appointed an unnamed Republic of Tatarstan Deputy Prime Minister—likely Deputy Prime Minister Yevgeny Varakin who curated "humanitarian" aid to Lysychansk from Tatarstan—as the Deputy of Lysychansk occupation administration in Luhansk Oblast.[97] Haidai also stated on January 25 that Russian officials were unable to staff the Severodonetsk occupation administration in the summer, 2022, due to a lack of suitable collaborators.[98]

Russian officials and occupation authorities continued to consolidate administrative control of occupied territories on January 25. LNR Head Leonid Pasechnik announced that Karachay-Cherkess has taken patronage of the Starobilsk district of Luhansk Oblast following a meeting with Karachay-Cherkess Head Rashid Temrezov on January 25.[99] Pasechnik highlighted the value of securing ties with Russian regions to ensure the provision of housing and communal services, roads, schools, agriculture, and production in occupied territories.[100]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicate an attack from Belarus is more likely:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

  • The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that the Belarusian Security Council State Secretariat conducted a combat readiness check of Belarusian formations that are part of the regional group of forces (RGF), specifically the 6th Separate Mechanized Brigade.[101]
  • Russian and Belarusian aviation units continued joint tactical flight exercises as part of the RGF on January 25.[102] Joint flight crews carried out exercises to practice suppressing air defense, defeat control points, strike concentration areas, cover strike groups, and conduct aerial reconnaissance.[103] The Belarusian MoD announced that Chief of the Belarusian General Staff Major General Viktor Gulevich arrived at the Ruzhany training ground on January 25 to monitor these exercises.[104]

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 25.[105]
  • Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skibitsky stated that there are 5,800 Russian servicemembers on the territory of Belarus as of January 25.[106] Independent imagery analysis of Russian forces in Belarus in late December showed around 10,000 personnel, so Skibitsky‘s statement marks a significant decrease in the Russian force grouping in Belarus over the course of the last month.[107] Skibitsky also reported that the Russian 2nd Motor Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District moved out of Belarus and into Russia, with some elements deploying to Luhansk Oblast.[108] The overall decrease in Russian presence in Belarus, including elements of an elite mechanized force, suggests that an attack from Belarus is increasingly unlikely.

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update. 


[1] https://isw.pub/UkrWar012423; https://isw.pub/UkrWar012323; https://tass dot ru/politika/16878467; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl; https://twitter.com/Tatarigami_UA/status/1618265372670713856; https://twitter.com/kyivindependent/status/1618361554206097408?s=46&t=WkCC9zq02a0gR1bmp9qLkA

[2] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/25/sytuacziya-na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-kontrolovana-vorog-zaznaye-vtrat/; https://twitter.com/kyivindependent/status/1618361554206097408?s=46&t=WkCC9zq02a0gR1bmp9qLkA

[3] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023

[4] https://isw.pub/UkrWar012223; https://isw.pub/UkrWar01192023; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011523; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011123

[5] https://isw.pub/UkrWar012223; https://isw.pub/UkrWar01192023; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011523; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011123

[6] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18759; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10580; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10558; https://t.me/rybar/42711; https://t.me/grey_zone/16771; https://t.me/milchronicles/1497; https://t.me/pavlokyrylenko_donoda/6312; https://t.me/mod_russia/23501  

[7] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/na-terytorii-bilorusi-perebuvaiut-maizhe-6000-rosiiskykh-viiskovykh.html

[8] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122822

[9] https://gur.gov dot ua/content/vesna-ta-pochatok-lita-budut-vyrishalnymy-u-viini.html; https://rus.delfi dot ee/statja/120130892/general-ukrainskoy-razvedki-esli-by-zapadnye-vrachi-ne-podderzhivali-zhizn-putina-voyna-by-uzhe-zakonchilas?preview=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpZCI6IjEyMDEzMDg5MiIsImlhdCI6MTY3NDQ1NzU3OSwiZXhwIjoxNjc0NTQzOTc5fQ.J0jj4LRsAymstOVhWFV053PreBadyuIQbibLoCkDsVk

[10] https://tass dot ru/politika/16879679

[11] https://t.me/notes_veterans/7636 ; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44723 ; https://t.me/sashakots/38230

[12] https://isw.pub/UkrWar010623 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar122822 ;

[13] https://t.me/mod_russia/23753

[14] https://t.me/rybar/42979

[15] https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10324; https://t.me/swodki/219262

[16] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl  

[17]https://t.me/rybar/42979

[18] https://t.me/russkiy_opolchenec/35677

[19] https://twitter.com/GeoConfirmed/status/1617997283001536514?s=20&t=maB5y5WCUyKIwETgVv3ViQ; https://twitter.com/geopoliticabra/status/1617633310410412032?s=20&t=maB5y5WCUyKIwETgVv3ViQ; https://t.me/voenacher/38245

[20] https://twitter.com/EerikMatero/status/1617795818643419136?s=20&t=XV0fry-ZpJB-0s5nOiu7RA; http://tvzvezda dot ru/news/2023124825-FEN49.html; https://t.me/russian_airborne/89; https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1617640006386069504

[21] https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10326; https://t.me/LPR_JCCC/7994; https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10318 ; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618264845639626763?s=20&t=vWl5jknFot8mdkU_nr7WVQ; https://twitter.com/samotniyskhid/status/1618256839795408897?s=20&t=vWl5jknFot8mdkU_nr7WVQ ; https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1618247084028891136?cxt=HHwWgMDUpcXJlfUsAAAA ; https://t.me/kommunist/15186

[22] https://suspilne dot media/365918-bundestag-rozglane-nadanna-zsu-tankiv-leopard-ssa-shilautsa-do-peredaci-ukraini-abrams-336-den-vijni-onlajn/

[23] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011223 ; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-13-2023

[24] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[25] https://t.me/wargonzo/10501; https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/rosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom/; https://twitter.com/fdov21/status/1617975788623761408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1617975788623761408%7Ctwgr%5E50bb9f40049644ea5ee18fefc19ed5de7a0941e7%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsprotyv.mod.gov.ua%2F2023%2F01%2F25%2Frosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom%2F; https://t.me/ChDambiev/21888; https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1617499928372334599?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1617499928372334599%7Ctwgr%5E50bb9f40049644ea5ee18fefc19ed5de7a0941e7%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsprotyv.mod.gov.ua%2F2023%2F01%2F25%2Frosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom%2F; https://t.me/wargonzo/10469

[26] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[27] https://www.facebook.com/easternforces/posts/pfbid02qxzH34HvXYCsjqeDD4iWSDz575zywN8cBqegLPsQF3nX5gFXBdF5DfBdEjYMHGXMl

[28] ttps://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[29] https://t.me/robert_magyar/374; https://twitter.com/fdov21/status/1618027435324506112?s=20&t=8A9zVI7KBKaWkOE5qDafCQ  

[30] https://t.me/wargonzo/10501 ; https://t.me/rusich_army/7395

[31] https://t.me/wargonzo/10501

[32] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[33] https://t.me/wargonzo/10501; https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/rosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom/; https://twitter.com/fdov21/status/1617975788623761408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1617975788623761408%7Ctwgr%5E50bb9f40049644ea5ee18fefc19ed5de7a0941e7%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsprotyv.mod.gov.ua%2F2023%2F01%2F25%2Frosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom%2F; https://t.me/ChDambiev/21888; https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1617499928372334599?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1617499928372334599%7Ctwgr%5E50bb9f40049644ea5ee18fefc19ed5de7a0941e7%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsprotyv.mod.gov.ua%2F2023%2F01%2F25%2Frosiyany-znimayut-postanovchi-video-boyiv-pid-bahmutom%2F; https://t.me/wargonzo/10469

 

[34] https://twitter.com/Tatarigami_UA/status/1618265372670713856

[35] https://t.me/aleksandr_skif/2562 ; https://t.me/milinfolive/96032

[36] https://t.me/rybar/42982

[37] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44706 ;https://t.me/rybar/42970; https://t.me/voin_dv/1453

[38] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023

[39] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/25/sytuacziya-na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-kontrolovana-vorog-zaznaye-vtrat/

[40] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[41] https://t.me/readovkanews/51327; https://tass dot ru/politika/16878467

[42] https://t.me/wargonzo/10501

[43] https://t.me/mod_russia/23753

[44] https://t.me/rybar/42959

[45] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76349

[46] https://t.me/readovkanews/51327;

[47] https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7097; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7095; https://t.me/readovkanews/51349; https://t.me/epoddubny/14664

[48] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[49] https://t.me/rybar/42959; https://t.me/wargonzo/10501; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44704; https://t.me/strelkovii/3796; https://t.me/milchronicles/1503

[50] https://t.me/strelkovii/3796;

[51] https://t.me/rybar/42959

[52] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0JQ5hnZ4TqqFWLcXx35dv2g2RoScWRcpqstAei4KPomdJ9qANjzSfXRc9NFUfUTSGl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl; https://t.me/wargonzo/10501; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16191; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16189

[53] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGhWzORNZIo&t=156s; https://twitter.com/devil_n_details/status/1618069866451435520?s=20&t=ocT86RV1VSt3qSYPVIXO0w; https://twitter.com/bayraktar_1love/status/1617977014673362945?s=20&t=YonJPRe9SCYxTMfJvdPr-Q; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1618212571403931648?s=20&t=pbWu8JUMrrYtts5P0m31hg; https://twitter.com/SerDer_Daniels/status/1617983035248619520?s=20&t=pbWu8JUMrrYtts5P0m31hg;

[54] https://t.me/mod_russia/23753; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023

[55] https://t.me/grey_zone/16804; https://t.me/readovkanews/51317

[56] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/25/sytuacziya-na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-kontrolovana-vorog-zaznaye-vtrat/

[57] https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid0dmrUr1HNmPzHnT7vAsKbpmRQfYD5biLrNtfZSQqiPF559GdEuANngAiiow5diFLJl

[58] https://www.ntv dot com.tr/dunya/ukraynada-turk-gemisi-vuruldu,dpQTHAWMQ0m-p7fUX3HBGg

[59] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/missile-hit-turkish-owned-ship-ukraines-kherson-port-video-sources-2023-01-25/

[60] https://twitter.com/RoksolanaKrim/status/1618209868183396356; https://telegraf dot com.ua/mestnyiy/2023-01-25/5776748-moshchnye-vzryvy-progremeli-v-krymu-v-rayone-aerodroma-rf-dym-chto-izvestno

[61] https://t.me/tass_agency/177786

[62] https://t.me/tass_agency/177786

[63] https://t.me/meduzalive/77476

[64] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-september-27

[65] https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/24/politics/ukraine-shift-tactics-bakhmut/index.html

[66] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-7; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-28

[67] http://publication dot pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202301250004?index=5&rangeSize=1

[68] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/25/putin-vnes-izmeneniya-v-osnovy-gosudarstvennoy-kulturnoy-politiki-teper-v-ee-zadachi-vhodit-zaschita-obschestva-ot-vneshney-ideyno-tsennostnoy-ekspansii

[69] https://t.me/strelkovii/3793

[70] http://duma.gov dot ru/news/56246/

[71] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-24-2023

[72] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-22-2023

[73] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/335

[74] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/335

[75] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl

[76] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/719

[77] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/719

[78] glava_lnr_info

[79] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/719

[80] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/719

[81] https://t.me/energoatom_ua/11647

[82] https://t.me/ivan_fedorov_melitopol/1255

[83] https://sprotyv dot mod.gov.ua/2023/01/25/okupanty-zakryly-shahtu-im-zasyadka/

[84] https://sprotyv dot mod.gov.ua/2023/01/25/okupanty-zakryly-shahtu-im-zasyadka/

[85] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/rosiyany-prymusovo-deportuvaly-selo-v-hersonskij-oblasti/

[86] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/na-hersonshhyni-okupanty-vyluchyly-v-misczevogo-naselennya-plavzasoby/

[87] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/na-hersonshhyni-okupanty-vyluchyly-v-misczevogo-naselennya-plavzasoby/

[88] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0JQ5hnZ4TqqFWLcXx35dv2g2RoScWRcpqstAei4KPomdJ9qANjzSfXRc9NFUfUTSGl

[89] https://t.me/ivan_fedorov_melitopol/1256

[90] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/25/rosiyany-prymusovo-deportuvaly-selo-v-hersonskij-oblasti/

[91] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/333

[92] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/333

[93] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/333

[94] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-28; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-2

[95] https://t.me/mvdlnr_official/2364

[96] https://t.me/svarschiki/7089

[97] https://t.me/luhanskaVTSA/8164; https://www.tatar-inform dot ru/news/my-zakrepleny-kak-respublika-v-tatarstane-naznacili-otvetstvennogo-za-pomoshh-lisicanku-5880892; https://www.tatar-inform dot ru/news/evgenii-varakin-stal-zamestitelem-premer-ministra-tatarstana-5880871

[98] https://t.me/luhanskaVTSA/8164; https://suspilne dot media/365972-zastupnik-premer-ministra-tatarstanu-stav-zastupnikom-okupacijnoi-administracii-v-lisicansku/

[99] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/715

[100] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/715

[101] https://twitter.com/MarQs__/status/1618232566783553536
https://t.me/modmilby/22054; https://t.me/modmilby/22012

[102] https://t.me/modmilby/22011;

[103] https://t.me/modmilby/22011

[104] https://t.me/modmilby/22027 ; https://t.me/modmilby/22053

[105] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02MrUsmE6jyBwrzjckoL9FiLsfYqTZet8uo7GgBWkJzgpUFPrJqHZ2DG9AExqmFNPNl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0JQ5hnZ4TqqFWLcXx35dv2g2RoScWRcpqstAei4KPomdJ9qANjzSfXRc9NFUfUTSGl

[106] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/na-terytorii-bilorusi-perebuvaiut-maizhe-6000-rosiiskykh-viiskovykh.html

[107] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-24; https://henryschlottman.substack.com/p/the-current-probability-of-a-russian

[108] https://gur dot gov.ua/content/na-terytorii-bilorusi-perebuvaiut-maizhe-6000-rosiiskykh-viiskovykh.html

 

26 Jan. 2023

Nicholas Carl, Annika Ganzeveld, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Amin Soltani, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 25, 2023, 6:00 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Grievances related to deteriorating economic conditions and essential service provision have generated most protest activity in Iran in recent days. Petrochemical and telecommunication workers and retirees have held several small-scale demonstrations throughout Iran since January 22, as CTP has previously reported.[1] CTP has also documented electricity cuts and natural gas shortages across the country.[2] The regime, particularly the Raisi administration, has appeared unable to meaningfully address these issues thus far.

These poor internal conditions will likely stoke anti-regime frustrations and could reignite the protest movement in the months and years ahead. The protest movement has largely culminated at present, as CTP previously argued, but this culmination does not mean that the anti-regime movement has ended, nor does it mean that the regime has meaningfully addressed the root causes of the movement. The protesters likely retain their anger and frustrations toward the regime. The conditions for a strong and vibrant anti-regime movement thus remain.

The pro-Pahlavi Mashhad Neighborhood Youth urged protesters to continue their struggle against the regime on January 25.[3] The Mashhad group called on protesters to “conduct at least one operation [against the regime] each night,” such as attacking IRGC and Basij facilities and seminaries or producing anti-regime graffiti. The Mashhad group also advised protesters to “redo plans” and “identify your strengths and weaknesses.” CTP has not observed significant support for the Pahlavi family in its coverage of the protests.

Key Takeaways

  • Grievances related to deteriorating economic conditions and essential service provision have generated most protest activity in Iran in recent days.
  • The pro-Pahlavi Mashhad Neighborhood Youth urged protesters to continue their struggle against the regime on January 25.
  • At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid criticized the “intensification of security atmosphere” on January 25, referencing the reported increase of security forces in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • The Supreme Economic Coordination Council (SECC) convened on January 25 to discuss stabilizing the Iranian rial and operations at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
  • Iranian media outlets reported a ten-minute internet outage.
  • Artesh Southwestern Regional Headquarters Commander Brigadier General Hamzeh Bidadi announced the confiscation of smuggled arms near Abadan, Khuzestan Province.
  • Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan stated that the LEC is prioritizing expanding Iran’s “security umbrella” during a meeting in Khorasan Razavi Province.
  • IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri met with newly appointed Law Enforcement Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan.
  • Anti-regime Black Reward hacker group leaked documents on January 25 suggesting that the regime permitted the Imam Sadegh University to engage in cryptocurrency activities, despite ongoing Iranian cryptocurrency restrictions.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces on January 25. CTP assesses with moderate confidence that one protest occurred in the following location:

Karaj, Alborz Province[4]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Families of prisoners sentenced to death
  • Location: Gathered in front of a local prison. It is unclear if the prisoners were arrested in connection to the Mahsa Amini protest movement.

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Bandar-e Imam Khomeini, Khuzestan Province[5]

  • Size: Undetermined
  • Demographic: Petrochemical workers
  • Notes: Strike and protest

Bandar-e Mahshar, Khuzestan Province[6]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Petrochemical workers
  • Notes: Strike and protest

Protest coordinators and organizations circulated calls for demonstrations and/or strikes on the following days:

January 27[7]

  • Type: Demonstrations in solidarity with oppressed Iranian Baloch.
  • Location: Countrywide

Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid criticized the “intensification of security atmosphere” on January 25, referencing the reported increase of security forces in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[8] Security forces have conducted large-scale arrests and established security checkpoints around the city in recent weeks, as CTP previously reported.[9] Abdol Hamid added in his tweet that mass arresting citizens is stoking public frustration.

The Supreme Economic Coordination Council (SECC) convened on January 25 to discuss stabilizing the Iranian rial and operations at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The SECC is Iran’s “economic war room” to mitigate sanctions and reach decisions on macroeconomic policies.[10] The council approved the Central Bank of Iran’s (CBI) request for increased control over the value of the Iranian rial and inflation rates.[11] Iranian media outlets framed the approval as a restoration of the CBI’s authority following the regime‘s decision to limit the bank’s control over currency markets under the Rouhani administration.[12] The SECC separately discussed financing operations at the Bushehr plant.

Artesh Southwestern Regional Headquarters Commander Brigadier General Hamzeh Bidadi announced on January 25 the confiscation of smuggled arms near Abadan, Khuzestan Province. Bibadi stated that the confiscated weapons, which included 10 Kalashnikov rifles and 89 Colt guns, are “usually used in riots for killing and attacking police and security officers."[13] The Artesh making this announcement is noteworthy given that the IRGC and LEC are typically responsible for similar seizures.

Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan stated that the LEC is prioritizing expanding Iran’s “security umbrella” during a meeting in Khorasan Razavi Province on January 25. Radan also emphasized the importance of developing an “intelligent police,” possibly hinting that the LEC should adopt new technologies and techniques to thwart internal unrest.[14]

IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri met with newly appointed Law Enforcement Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan on January 25. Tangsiri offered support to the LEC Coast Guard, especially regarding combating the smuggling of goods, fuel, and livestock.[15] The specific forms of assistance the IRGC Navy could provide could include surveillance, general training, weapons, drones, and naval infantry, although the readout of the meeting offered no concrete indications about what kind of support Tangsiri and Radan discussed.

Anti-regime Black Reward hacker group leaked documents on January 25 suggesting that the regime permitted the Imam Sadegh University to engage in cryptocurrency activities, despite ongoing Iranian cryptocurrency restrictions. The group previously hacked and defaced the university’s website on January 20, as CTP previously reported.[16] The leaked documents suggested that the regime permitted the university to conduct cryptocurrency mining at various garment factories in unspecified locations within Khorasan Razavi Province, despite ongoing cryptocurrency bans aimed at reducing strain on the Iranian electrical grid.[17] CTP cannot corroborate the veracity of this document and such items should be viewed with skepticism.

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

There was nothing significant to report.


[1] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-22-2023; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-23-2023; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-24-2023

[2]

[3] https://twitter.com/Javanan_mashhad/status/1618176699669286912

[4] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1618264436283969537?s=20&t=ydYTMT9_bPOtgaF7SqHISw ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1618306089392431104?s=20&t=WvVmYTwSUAK89Y0mvpDOgw ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1618264987998343170?s=20&t=WvVmYTwSUAK89Y0mvpDOgw ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1618298406602170368?s=20&t=WvVmYTwSUAK89Y0mvpDOgw

[5] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1618223064088707074?s=20&t=xjHxjYsz2gcMa93F-roU3w ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1618280244472938496?s=20&t=Vw8qcp5w8Jv0fJgoG0Rvvg

[6] https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1618286438713376769?cxt=HHwWgoC-xaS8p_UsAAAA

[7] https://twitter.com/javanane_zhdn/status/1618202946277371910?s=20&t=YZJWokykB5J0oIwz_rKYvA

[8] https://twitter.com/AbdolhamidNet/status/1618319451933507585?s=20&t=nnIEkGbA9781NQMqKdu0KA

[9] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-19-2023

[10] https://www.radiofarda.com/a/iran-khamenei-economy-council/30275360.html

[11] https://president.ir/fa/142105

 

[12] https://ecoiran.com/%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%DA%A9-%D8%A8%DB%8C%D9%85%D9%87-151/28059-%D8%A7%D8%AE%D8%AA%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA-%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%DA%A9-%D9%85%D8%B1%DA%A9%D8%B2%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B2%DA%AF%D8%B4%D8%AA

 

[13] https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/569175/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AF-%D9%82%D8%A7%DA%86%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD-%D8%AC%D9%86%DA%AF%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%B2%E2%80%8C%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%B2%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%86%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%85-%D8%B4%D8%AF

[14] https://www irna ir/news/85009673/%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86-%DA%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%B4-%DA%86%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%87%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA-%D9%BE%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA

[15] https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14011105000058/دیدار-فرمانده-نیروی-دریایی-سپاه-با-فرمانده-فراجا-سردار-تنگسیری-پلیس

[16] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-20

[17] https://www.radiofarda.com/amp/balck-reward-imam-sadeq/32238005.html

 

 
25 Jan. 2023

Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 24, 9:30 pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

A coalition of NATO member states reportedly will send Ukraine modern main battle tanks. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 24 that US President Joe Biden is preparing to send "a significant number" of Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine and that the White House may announce the delivery as soon as January 25.[1] German newspaper Der Spiegel reported on January 24 that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to deliver at least one tank company (14 tanks) of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine in an unspecified time frame.[2] Poland likely will send Ukraine Leopard 2 tanks following Germany’s decision. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak stated on January 24 that Poland formally requested Germany grant permission to transfer Poland’s Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated that Berlin would not interfere if Poland wanted to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.[3] British officials confirmed on January 16 that the United Kingdom would send Ukraine 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.[4] French President Emmanuel Macron stated he would not rule out the possibility of France sending Ukraine Leclerc tanks on January 22.[5]

Western states’ provision of main battle tanks to Ukraine will help enable Ukraine to conduct mechanized warfare to defeat the Russian military and liberate Ukrainian territory. ISW previously assessed that the West has contributed to Ukraine’s inability to take advantage of having pinned Russian forces in Bakhmut by slow-rolling or withholding weapons systems and supplies essential for large-scale counteroffensive operations.[6] Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny previously emphasized in December 2022 that Ukraine needs 300 main battle tanks (among other weapon systems) to enable Ukrainian counteroffensives.[7]

Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov continued efforts to portray himself and the traditional Russian military command structure as the true defenders of Russia. Gerasimov reiterated on January 23 that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s plan to develop Russian forces’ ability to respond to "new threats to the military security" of Russia, and Gerasimov accused Ukraine and NATO states of aiming to threaten Russia.[8] Gerasimov invoked the Russian General Staff’s historical role in guiding and protecting Russia through several military crises, including the Great Patriotic War (World War II). Gerasimov claimed that "modern Russia has never known such a level and intensity of hostilities" and heavily implied that the current war in Ukraine presents the greatest threat to Russia since the Great Patriotic War, therefore necessitating the leadership and protection of the Russian General Staff under Gerasimov’s leadership. Gerasimov’s framing of the war and the General Staff’s ongoing revitalization efforts within the historical context of the Great Patriotic War is part of the continued campaign to counter the growing power and influence of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov, and their respective paramilitary structures, all of which threaten Gerasimov and the Russian General Staff as ISW has previously reported.[9] It also continues Putin’s efforts to reframe the current struggle as an effort like the Great Patriotic War to justify protracted demands for sacrifice and mobilization by the Russian people.[10] 

Russian outlet RBK claimed on January 23 that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appointed Colonel General Sergey Kuzovlev as the Southern Military District (SMD) commander and Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov as the Western Military District (WMD) commander.[11] RBK claimed that Nikiforov replaced Kuzovlev as WMD commander after Kuzovlev held the position from December 13, 2022, to January 23, 2023.[12] The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) appointed Kuzovlev WMD Commander in late October of 2022.[13]  RBK claimed that the Russian MoD had appointed Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov as WMD commander in October of 2022, however.[14] The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on December 26, 2022, that Nikiforov left his position as Chief of Staff of the Eastern Military District (EMD) to replace  Kuzovlev as a part of the internal power struggles between Wagner Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, Shoigu, and Gerasimov.[15] Nikiforov previously commanded Wagner Group fighters in Ukraine as commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army in 2014 and may have connections to Prigozhin.[16]  The conflicting reporting on the WMD and SMD command suggests that military district command dynamics remain opaque, indicating that the Russian military is struggling to institute sound command structures and maintain traditional command

Key Takeaways

  • A coalition of NATO member states reportedly will send Ukraine modern main battle tanks.
  • Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov continued efforts to portray himself and the traditional Russian military command structure as the true defenders of Russia.
  • Russian outlet RBK claimed on January 23 that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appointed Colonel General Sergey Kuzovlev as the Southern Military District (SMD) commander and Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov as the Western Military District (WMD) commander.
  • Russian forces continued limited counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City area. Russian forces made marginal territorial gains near Bakhmut.
  • Russian sources claimed, likely to distract from the lack of progress in Bakhmut, that Russian forces launched an offensive around Vuhledar.
  • Russian forces likely continued to conduct limited and localized ground attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast but likely did not make territorial gains, further undermining Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov’s prior territorial claims.
  • Ukrainian special forces conducted a raid across the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast on January 23-24.
  • Russian authorities are likely continuing efforts to mobilize ethnic minorities to fight in Ukraine.
  • Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) is reportedly increasing the production of drones and loitering munitions.
  • Ukrainian partisans targeted a member of the Zaporizhia occupation administration.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian forces continued limited counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line, and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna on January 24.  The Ukrainian General Staff reported that it that Russian forces continue to deploy many mobilized personnel to the frontline in Luhansk Oblast.[17] A Russian milblogger claimed that battles are ongoing near Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove), where Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting for control of the N-26 highway that leads to Svatove.[18] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are trying to hold positions near Novoselivske and push Russian forces out of the area to resume counteroffensive operations in the direction of Svatove.[19] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces attempted to advance towards Stelmakhivka (16km west of Svatove).[20] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Chervonopopivka (6km north of Kreminna).[21] A BARS (Russian Combat Reserve of the Country) commander claimed that Ukrainian forces are continuing to use small groups to attempt to gain positions in the forests around Kreminna and conduct infantry assaults toward Kreminna from the south.[22] Russian and social media sources amplified footage of Russian Airborne forces (VDV) operating near Kreminna, including footage showing the 76th Guards Air Assault Division defending against a Ukrainian assault on an unspecified date near Hryhorivka (11km south of Kreminna).[23]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on January 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut itself; within 22km northeast of Bakhmut near Bilohorivka, Rozdolivka, Sil, and Krasna Hora; and 7km southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka.[24] Geolocated footage posted on January 23 likely indicates that Russian forces have advanced west of Pidhorodne (5km northeast of Bakhmut) and that they control the settlement.[25]  Geolocated footage posted on January 23 indicates that Russian forces have likely made marginal advances in the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[26]The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Territorial Defense reiterated claims that Russian forces captured Dvorichchia (12km north of Bakhmut) and Krasnopolivka (15km northeast of Bakhmut) as of January 23, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation to corroborate these claims.[27] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters are attacking in the direction of Vesele (20km northeast of Bakhmut), Mykolaivka (17km northeast of Bakhmut), and north of Blahodatne (12km northeast of Bakhmut).[28] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces entered the southeastern part of Paraskoviivka (9km north of Bakhmut), although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of this advance.[29]  Another Russian milblogger claimed that Wager Group fighters continued attempts to advance in the southern, northern, and eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[30] Geolocated footage published on January 23 shows Russian forces south of Bakhmut and west of Klishchiivka and likely indicates that Russian forces control the settlement.[31] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are attempting to advance toward Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut) and conducted an assault near Predtechyne (15km southwest of Bakhmut) to cut a section of the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway.[32]

Russian sources continue to falsely claim that Russian forces are cutting off Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut as of January 24. DNR Head Denis Pushilin claimed that Ukrainian forces only control one road into Bakhmut after the Russian capture of Klishchiivka gave Russian forces operational control over the majority of the GLOCs in the Bakhmut area.[33] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are able to completely interdict Ukrainian forces on the M03 highway between Pidhorodne, Paraskoviivka, and Krasna Hora as of January 20 and on the T0504 highway between Ivanivske and Bakhmut as of January 22.[34] The Russian milblogger claimed that the T0504 highway between Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut is Ukrainian forces’ last remaining GLOC into Bakhmut that Russian forces are not fully interdicting.[35] Another Russian source had previously claimed that Russian forces could completely interdict all Ukrainian GLOCs into Bakhmut as of December 1, 2022.[36] Russian sources are likely amplifying the claim that Russian forces can interdict the majority of Ukrainian GLOCs into Bakhmut to present recent tactical advances as operationally significant and to combat assessments that the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut is likely culminating. ISW continues to assess that Russian forces have not cut the majority of Ukrainian GLOCs into Bakhmut. These GLOCs have been within the range of Russian tube artillery for months; recent Russian tactical gains around Soledar and Klishchiivka have not granted Russian forces new capability to interdict these GLOCs beyond what already possessed.

Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area on January 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Novobakhmutivka (14km northeast of Avdiivka) and within 32km southwest of Avdiivka near Krasnohorivka, Vodyane, and Marinka.[37] Geolocated footage published on January 17 and 23 indicates that Russian forces have likely advanced into the outskirts of Vodyane (7km southwest of Avdiivka).[38] A Russian milblogger claimed that the DNR "Somalia" Battalion occupied unspecified high ground near Vodyane and pushed Ukrainian forces out of the settlement.[39] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian Special Forces and the DNR "Sparta" Battalion captured Vodyane and cleared the settlement, although ISW still cannot independently verify that Russian forces have captured the settlement.[40] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces also conducted an assault in the direction of Pervomaiske (12km southwest of Avdiivka).[41] Ukrainian forces conducted a HIMARS strike against Russian railroad infrastructure in Ilovaisk (14km east of Donetsk City) on the night of January 23 to 24.[42]

Russian sources widely claimed that Russian forces launched an offensive around Vuhledar (28km southwest of Donetsk City) on January 24. The claim was likely meant to generate positive narratives to distract from the lack of progress in Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers claimed that elements of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet broke through Ukrainian defenses in the Vuhledar area and advanced north of Pavlivka (32km southwest of Avdiivka) and west of Mykilske (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[43] Many Russian milbloggers amplified Vostok Battalion Commander Alexander Khodakovsky’s claim that the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade took part in the operations, but Khodakovsky edited his initial post, removing references to specific Russian units.[44] DNR First Deputy Information Officer Danil Bezsonov claimed that the DNR "Kaskad" battalion also participated in offensive operations in the Vuhledar area.[45] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces are continuing offensive operations towards Vuhledar and also near Velyka Novosilka (55km southwest of Donetsk City).[46]  ISW has not observed any footage indicating that Russian forces have launched a localized offensive in the Vuhledar area as of January 25. Russian sources likely intend to repeat a similar ongoing effort in Zaporizhia Oblast, where Russian sources have circulated claims of localized Russian advances without any confirmation to distract from the fact that Russian forces have not made any operationally significant gains around Bakhmut.[47] Whether Russian forces are conducting localized offensive operations near Vuhledar or Russian sources are exaggerating Russian activity on this sector of the front, the Russian effort is likely focused on supporting this information operation and does not portend a resumption of a Russian offensive in western Donetsk Oblast. The 155th Naval Infantry Brigade was previously badly degraded during offensive operations in the Vuhledar area in November 2022 and is unlikely to have the capacity to relaunch a new offensive on this sector of the front.[48]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian forces likely continued to conduct limited and localized ground attacks in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 24. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces continued offensive operations at a slow pace but disagreed on whether elements of the Russian 58th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District made marginal territorial gains after attacking Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, and the Novoandriivka-Novodanylivka line, or Ukrainian forces successfully repelled the attacks.[49] Another Russian source claimed that Russian forces gained positions along the Malynivka-Chervone line southeast of Hulyaipole.[50] A Russian source claimed that Russian forces made marginal gains along the bank of the Kakhovka Reservoir but claimed that Russian forces had not advanced into Kamianske despite claiming to have forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the village.[51] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces transferred 450 wounded personnel to a hospital in Dniprorudne, Zaporizhia Oblast, (within 30km of the purported frontline) following unspecified battles with Ukrainian forces, supporting Russian reports that there has been combat in the Zaporizhia sector recently.[52]

Russian and Ukrainian reporting indicated that Russian forces likely did not make territorial gains on January 24, further undermining Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov’s prior territorial claims. A milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces maintain positions in the vicinity of settlements that Rogov previously claimed Russian forces had captured, including Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, and Bilohirya.[53] The milblogger also claimed that Russian forces shelled Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, and Novoandriivka, all encompassed in Rogov’s earlier claims.[54] Another milblogger characterized the purported Russian "offensive" in Zaporizhia Oblast as "unhurried," suggesting that any Russian ground attacks on this axis occur at a slow rate of advance similar to Russian ground attacks around Soledar and Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast.[55] These Russian reports support Ukrainian official reporting about military activity in this sector. The Ukrainian General Staff and the Zaporizhia Oblast Military Administration continued to report that Russian forces shelled all six settlements that Rogov previously claimed as Russian-controlled: Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Novoandriivka, Bilohirya, Mali Shcherbaky, and Shcherbaky.[56] The continued undermining of Rogov’s territorial claims further supports ISW’s prior assessment that Rogov and other Russian sources conducted an information operation to distract from Russian forces’ lack of promised progress near Bakhmut.[57]

Ukrainian Special Forces conducted a raid across the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast on January 23-24. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) posted footage on January 24 showing Ukrainian Special Forces conducting a night raid in the vicinity of Nova Kakhovka on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River.[58] GUR reported that Ukrainian forces discovered a Russian forward deployment point and destroyed a Russian command post during the raid. Russian milbloggers claimed on January 24 that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian attempt to land on east (left) bank Kherson Oblast near Kakhovka.[59] The milbloggers likely significantly exaggerated their claims of Ukrainian losses, likely in a further attempt to distract from the lack of Russian progress on the axis. One milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a reconnaissance mission for a future attempt to establish a bridgehead on the east bank of the Kherson River and warned that Ukrainian activity in the area will likely escalate in the near future.[60]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Russian authorities are likely continuing efforts to mobilize ethnic minorities to fight in Ukraine. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on January 22 that Russian border guards are preventing Kyrgyz migrants from leaving Russia and telling migrants that their names are on mobilization lists.[61] RFERL’s report comes a week after Head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, proposed the mobilization of all migrants who received Russian passports.[62] The Ukrainian Resistance Center noted on January 24 that the policy of mobilizing migrants might feasibly extend to forcibly deported Ukrainians who are now living in Russia and were forced to acquire Russian citizenship.[63] ISW previously reported on Russian military authorities’ efforts to place the burden of mobilization on ethnic minority enclaves.[64]

Russian and Ukrainian sources continue to discuss various forms of ongoing covert mobilization in Russian and occupied Ukrainian territory. A local Stavropol Krai media outlet reported on January 20 that several people received summonses to appear at military enlistment offices within a week to "clarify" their personal data.[65] Ukrainian sources also stated that Russian authorities are continuing covert mobilization in occupied Crimea and are now sending mobilization summonses to IT and economic sector workers who previously held deferments.[66] The Russian Ministry for Digital Development similarly announced on January 19 that IT employees who meet certain criteria will be eligible to apply for draft deferrals, suggesting that certain Russian industries are continuing efforts to preserve their workforce in the face of mobilization by expanding deferment opportunities.[67]

Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) is reportedly increasing the production of drones and loitering munitions. Deputy Chairperson of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kalashnikov Concern production plant on January 24 and announced that the Russian DIB is expanding its supply of reconnaissance and attack drones and loitering munitions to support operations in Ukraine.[68] Medvedev’s claimed that the increase in drone and munition production disproves those who say Russia is running out of these assets and reported that the Russian DIB will be able to produce everything needed for operations in Ukraine in 2023.[69] Russian President Vladimir Putin previously complained that there is a lack of production of military supplies such as reconnaissance drones and called on his ministers to issue quicker state defense procurement contracts.[70] Russian officials have recently undertaken a line of effort to reinvigorate the Russian DIB to address Putin’s appeals and the demands of troops in Ukraine.[71]

CNN reported on January 24 that it received a Ukrainian military intelligence document detailing Wagner’s tactics in Ukraine.[72] The intelligence document highlights the role of convict-based squad-sized assault groups of 12 or fewer that are followed by more experienced fighters with higher-quality equipment.[73] CNN emphasized that Wagner’s success relies on the fact that it poses an outsized threat in close quarters due to the sheer number of convicts being hurled at a small area and whose deaths ultimately do not matter to Russian society.[74] ISW has previously reported on Wagner’s use of a model relying on tactical attrition of convicts to support and drive its operations.[75]

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to bolster the reputation of Wagner’s convict force and attritional operational model. Prigozhin submitted an appeal to Russian State Duma Chairperson Vyacheslav Volodin on January 24 to introduce an article to the Russian Criminal Code that would "prohibit public actions discrediting" volunteers and convicts and disseminating information on "their past offenses."[76]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Ukrainian partisans targeted a member of the Zaporizhia occupation administration on January 24. Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian partisans blew up the car of Valentina Mamai, a pro-Russian collaborator, entrepreneur, and member of the Zaporizhia occupation council, in Berdyansk with an improvised explosive device (IED).[77] Russian law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Emergency Situations are reportedly working at the site of the explosion and investigating it as a case of terrorism and extremism.[78] Russian occupation authorities in Berdyansk will likely escalate law enforcement crackdowns against perceived partisans in response to the incident.

Russian security authorities are continuing to target Crimean Tatar communities in occupied Crimea. Russian-backed head of the Crimean occupation administration, Sergey Aksyonov, claimed that law enforcement detained six individuals on suspicion of their affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (a pan-Islamist political organization that has historically been active in Central Asia and in Crimea amongst the Crimean Tatar community and that is banned in Russia).[79] The Crimean Solidarity human rights NGO stated that the Russian Federal State Security Service (FSB) conducted arbitrary raids on Crimean Tatar households in Dzankoi in the early hours of the morning on January 24 and are detaining six individuals in unknown locations.[80] Russian security services have historically targeted Crimean Tatar communities to consolidate social control of occupied Crimea and frame anti-Russian sentiment as extremist or terrorist activity by affiliating it with Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia.[81]

Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin appointed a new head of the Mariupol occupation administration in an effort to solidify administrative control of a major occupied city in Donetsk Oblast. Pushilin signed a decree on January 24 appointing Oleg Morgun, previous head of the Novoazovsk raion, to be head of Mariupol.[82] Russian media reported that Morgun replaced Konstantin Ivashchenko, although Pushilin’s decree did not mention how or why Ivashchenko was replaced.[83]  Ukrainian advisor to the Mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, suggested that Pushilin is trying to cater to Russian authorities by replacing DNR-affiliated officials with Russian-affiliated officials.[84] Pushilin likely made this change to consolidate administrative control of Mariupol and align DNR leadership with Russian authorities in order to ensure better funding for his administration’s activities in Mariupol.[85]

Russian occupation authorities are continuing efforts to consolidate social, economic, and bureaucratic control of occupied territories through instituting various "standard of living" projects. Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded on January 24 that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin expedite a range of measures to improve the living standards in occupied areas of Ukraine and emphasized that funds have already been allocated for these purposes.[86] Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo claimed that Putin ordered the Kherson occupation administration to bring 85% of the roads in Kherson Oblast to an appropriate "normative" state by 2027 and allocated 10 billion rubles (about $144,446) to this project.[87] Luhansk People’s Republic Head Leonid Pasechnik outlined efforts by the LNR’s Ministry of Construction and Housing to prepare for a "Housing and Urban Environment" construction competition.[88] Pasechnik also noted that Russian officials from Tyumen Oblast have taken over a project to overhaul control of hospitals in Sorokyne, Luhansk Oblast.[89] DNR Head Denis Pushilin similarly announced that Russian officials from Rostov Oblast are constructing a pipeline to bring water from Rostov Oblast to occupied Donetsk Oblast.[90] Such infrastructure projects are likely intended to present the occupation administrations as productive and effective while generating a reliance on Russian infrastructure and social and economic services.

Russian occupation authorities continue measures to erase Ukrainian identity and instill pro-Russian ideals into the social sphere of occupied areas. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 24 that Russian forces in occupied Luhansk Oblast are seizing books related to Ukrainian history and identity on a large scale.[91] Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov stated that Russian forces are removing Ukrainian literature from bookstores and libraries and replacing them with Russian literature.[92]

Russian occupation authorities are taking measures to build out local election infrastructure in occupied areas. A Russian opposition outlet reported, citing internal Kremlin sources, that the Russian Presidential Administration’s election bloc is preparing for elections for oblast parliaments and municipal councils in occupied areas of Ukraine.[93] The article noted that the Kremlin hopes to hold local elections in September 2023 in line with Russia‘s Unified Voting day to saturate occupation administrations with pro-Russian collaborators.[94] Putin likely hopes to use local elections to create the veneer of legal legitimacy to Russia’s occupation of regions of Ukraine by presenting the local population as engaged in the electoral process and willing to vote for pro-Russian politicians.

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicate an attack from Belarus is more likely:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

  • Russian milblogger Boris Rozhin reported on January 24 that the Belarusian military officially opened unspecified Belarusian long-term military storage warehouses and began providing unspecified vehicles for combat coordination activities for the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV).[95] Russian forces may be using these vehicles for training in Belarus or may transport them to Russia to support combat operations in Ukraine. Belarus reportedly has been sending artillery ammunition from Belarusian ammunition depots to Russia since summer 2022.[96]
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree for the Belarusian annual spring conscription cycle on January 24. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense reported that Lukashenko signed a decree on January 24 to conscript Belarusian reservists in February and March 2023.[97] This is activity is consistent with the usual Belarusian spring conscription cycle and does not indicate a Russian offensive against Ukraine from Belarus is any more likely. Lukashenko historically signs similar decrees in January or February each year. [98]

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 24.[99]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update. 


[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/poland-formally-requests-german-permission-to-send-tanks-to-ukraine-11674558492

[2] https://www.spiegel dot de/politik/deutschland/krieg-in-der-ukraine-deutschland-schickt-leopard-panzer-a-e2dde871-88d0-4cf5-8aae-482d58fd850f

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/01/23/germany-poland-leopard-tanks-ukraine/; https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-does-not-rule-out-sending-leclerc-tanks-ukraine-macron-2023-01-22/; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/24/world/europe/germany-ukraine-tanks.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2023/jan/16/uk-confirms-it-will-send-squadron-of-challenger-2-tanks-to-ukraine-video; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/16/ukraine-will-need-more-tanks-if-it-is-to-make-breakthrough; https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2023/01/challenger-2-tanks-to-ukraine/

[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/france-does-not-rule-out-sending-leclerc-tanks-ukraine-macron-2023-01-22/; https://news.yahoo.com/macron-does-not-rule-supply-181812094.html

[6] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-21-2023

[7] https://en.interfax.com dot ua/news/general/879537.html

[8] https://aif dot ru/society/army/glava_genshtaba_takogo_urovnya_deystviy_sovremmennaya_rossiya_ne_znala

[9] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-11-2023

[10] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011823 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar012023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023

[11] https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/23/01/2023/63cec90a9a7947978567094d

[12] https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/23/01/2023/63cec90a9a7947978567094d

[13] https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1608719126658162688/photo/1   

[14] https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/23/01/2023/63cec90a9a7947978567094d

[15] https://gur.gov [dot] ua/content/okupanty-pryznachyly-novoho-komanduvacha-zakhidnoho-vo-chetvertoho-z-pochatku-povnomasshtabnoi-ahresii.html  

[16] https://ssu.gov dot ua/ua/news/1/category/2/view/6157#.VgWQkX3a.dpbs; https://old.defence-ua dot com/index.php/home-page/7606-sbu-vstanovyla-prychetnist-kremlya-do-zbyttya-ukrayinskoho-viyskovo-transportnoho-litaka-il-76; https://mil.in dot ua/uk/sbu-poimenno-vstanovylo-vbyvcz-ukrayinskyh-desantnykiv-ta-lotchykiv/

[17] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql

[18] https://t.me/wargonzo/10485

[19] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76265  

[20] https://t.me/wargonzo/10485

[21] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql

[22] https://t.me/russkiy_opolchenec/35664

[23] https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1617640006386069504?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q; https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1617779670396833793?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q; https://twitter.com/EerikMatero/status/1617795818643419136?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q;
https://twitter.com/Danspiun/status/1617946577880088576  ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76222  ; https://t.me/voenacher/38245  

[24] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql

[25] https://twitter.com/fdov21/status/1617659791563948034?s=20&t=ZF9cAq4pcShwEQc5T0sJRw; https://t.me/robert_magyar/372;  https://twitter.com/GeoConfirmed/status/1617939913173008384?s=20&t=yji_CuwrSTawgDRT-x356w

[26] https://twitter.com/klinger66/status/1617701414364672000?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q; https://twitter.com/bigSAC10/status/1617678320325529600?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q

[27] https://t.me/TRO_DPR/11164

[28] https://t.me/brussinf/5600 ; https://t.me/wargonzo/10485

[29] https://t.me/brussinf/5600

[30] https://t.me/brussinf/5600

[31] https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/1617671245763608576?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q; https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/1617671404983562241?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q; https://t.me/in_factum/9372; https://twitter.com/wildwildmapper/status/1617639187511144449?s=20&t=8KDrsfRmOYQau0I_kdWTfw; https://twitter.com/GeoConfirmed/status/1617931493686509569?s=20&t=Zhq0an9dInfASzBJo2KhJw; https://twitter.com/bigSAC10/status/1617639881945264128?s=20&t=t0n9ee6zv0ZaLwAR_NKsTA;

[32] https://t.me/wargonzo/10485 ; https://t.me/rybar/42937  

[33] https://tass.ru/politika/16868193

[34] https://t.me/milchronicles/1501

[35] https://t.me/milchronicles/1501

[36] https://t.me/readovkanews/47978

[37] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql

[38] https://t.me/lost_warinua/26957  ; https://twitter.com/Ukrainene/status/1617802704440659970?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q

[39] https://t.me/rybar/42948  

[40] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44690

[41] https://t.me/wargonzo/10485

[42]  https://t.me/rybar/42940  ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76233 ; https://t.me/russkiy_opolchenec/35666; https://twitter.com/2MMisery/status/1617862737253793793?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Qhttps://twitter.com/am_misfit/status/1617806175348879360?s=20&t=c3U_GsNKq8mccBUCg8pA6Q

[43] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76259 ; https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18815 ; https://t.me/rybar/42950  ; https://t.me/wargonzo/10497 ; https://t.me/aleksandr_skif/2560

[44] https://t.me/wargonzo/10497 ; https://t.me/aleksandr_skif/2560 ; https://t.me/epoddubny/14648 ;

[45] https://t.me/obtf_kaskad/1425; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21612

[46] https://t.me/smotri_z/10455 ; https://t.me/rybar/42937  ; https://t.me/rybar/42950  

[47] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023

[48] https://isw.pub/UkrWar111522; https://isw.pub/UkrWar110622

[49] https://t.me/wargonzo/10485; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76245; https://t.me/rybar/42950  

[50] https://t.me/rybar/42950

[51] https://t.me/rybar/42937

[52] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02nduPNGeBVQMR2K9cQcMWxz9sudq51tugyuyZPAjW3i7EDFqwJrQJB3mnrdybjXWYl

[53] https://t.me/rybar/42950

[54] https://t.me/rybar/42940

[55] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76257

[56] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02nduPNGeBVQMR2K9cQcMWxz9sudq51tugyuyZPAjW3i7EDFqwJrQJB3mnrdybjXWYl; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16164; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql

[57] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-23-2023

[58] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGhWzORNZIo

[59] https://t.me/kommunist/15174; https://t.me/epoddubny/14647; https://t.me/russkiy_opolchenec/35668; https://t.me/kommunist/15175; https://t.me/readovkanews/51269; https://t.me/strelkovii/3790

[60] https://t.me/strelkovii/3790

[61] https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-workers-russian-citizenship-fight-ukraine/32233764.html

[62] https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-workers-russian-citizenship-fight-ukraine/32233764.html

[63] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/24/kreml-gotuye-fundament-dlya-mobilizacziyi-deportovanyh-ukrayincziv/

[64] https://isw.pub/RusCampaignJuly18; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignJuly24; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignOct5

[65] https://newstracker dot ru/news/2023-01-20/zhiteli-stavropolya-rasskazali-o-poluchenii-novyh-povestok-iz-voenkomata-2642137

[66] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/24/v-krymu-okupanty-znimayut-mobilizaczijnu-bron-z-ekonomistiv-ta-it-fahivcziv/; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02nduPNGeBVQMR2K9cQcMWxz9sudq51tugyuyZPAjW3i7EDFqwJrQJB3mnrdybjXWYl

[67] https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-21-23; https://t.me/military_ombudsmen/806; https://t.me/mintsifry/1756

[68] https://t.me/readovkanews/51286 ; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/16872633 ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76267

[69] https://t.me/readovkanews/51286 ; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/16872633 ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76267

[70] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011523; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-12-2023

[71] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[72] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/01/23/europe/russia-wagner-tactics-report-ukraine-intl/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0BTxtBBU_qF0Rb6mYneNwV7knBnoItBd7sjKJTCUFvXnB6-Fj8KBTG_QY

[73] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/01/23/europe/russia-wagner-tactics-report-ukraine-intl/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0BTxtBBU_qF0Rb6mYneNwV7knBnoItBd7sjKJTCUFvXnB6-Fj8KBTG_QY

[74] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/01/23/europe/russia-wagner-tactics-report-ukraine-intl/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0BTxtBBU_qF0Rb6mYneNwV7knBnoItBd7sjKJTCUFvXnB6-Fj8KBTG_QY

[75] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-19

[76] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/331; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/332; https://mobile.twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1617920025293377542; https://news dot ru/society/prigozhin-prizval-volodina-zapretit-negativnye-posty-o-dobrovolcah-svo/

[77] https://twitter.com/bayraktar_1love/status/1617906755580878848?s=20&t=Y1QZddI_OHFPBIFbsDavkQ; https://t.me/mrplsprotyv/6386; https://t.me/andriyshTime/6127; https://t.me/Bratchuk_Sergey/27795; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44694; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76283; https://t.me/readovkanews/51288; https://t.me/readovkanews/51289;

[78] https://t.me/mrplsprotyv/6386; https://t.me/andriyshTime/6127  

[79] https://t.me/Aksenov82/2046  ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76266 ; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76268

[80] https://www.facebook.com/crimeansolidarity/posts/pfbid026GL8671WAAkHSu4Jh3FarWWeE35QiMoXw9osSSqPUF1vFu9vWVwWJT4xvvYDSs2kl

[81] https://kyivindependent.com/national/in-the-shadow-of-war-kremlin-continues-terrorizing-crimean-tatars; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignAugust17

[82] https//denis-pushilin  dot ru/doc/ukazy/Ukaz_15_23012023 dot pdf

 

[83] https://t.me/readovkanews/51261

[84] https://t.me/andriyshTime/6109

[85] https://t.me/andriyshTime/6109

[86] https://tass dot ru/obschestvo/16872737

[87] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/328

[88] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/709  

[89] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/711  

[90] https://t.me/pushilindenis/3112  

[91] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/24/rosiyany-vyluchayut-ukrayinski-knygy-na-tot/; https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/22/sprotyv-propagandi-oglyad-brehni-rosiyan-za-tyzhden/

[92] https://t.me/ivan_fedorov_melitopol/1248

[93] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/24/oni-podderzhivayut-spetsoperatsiyu-i-za-eto-budut-voznagrazhdeny

[94] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/24/oni-podderzhivayut-spetsoperatsiyu-i-za-eto-budut-voznagrazhdeny

[95] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76263 

[96] https://mil.in dot ua/en/news/ammunition-began-to-be-exported-from-belarus-to-russia/; https://www.ukrinform dot net/rubric-ato/3515934-belarus-sends-about-20-railcars-with-ammunition-to-russia-general-staff.html; https://kyivindependent dot com/news-feed/belarus-has-provided-russia-with-65-000-metric-tons-of-ammunition-since-march; https://www.pravda.com dot ua/eng/news/2022/06/27/7354850/; https://www.kyivpost dot com/post/144

[97] https://t.me/modmilby/22010

[98] https://sputnik dot by/20180118/prezident-podpisal-ukaz-o-vesennem-prizyve-1033102087.html; https://pravo dot by/novosti/novosti-pravo-by/2021/february/59805/; https://volkovysk dot by/society/lukashenko-podpisal-ukaz-o-vesennem-prizyve-2020.html; https://1prof dot by/news/v-strane/vesennij-prizyv-v-armiju-kogda-nachalsya-i-skolko-prodlitsya/; https://www.sb dot by/articles/lukashenko-podpisal-ukaz-ob-uvolnenii-v-zapas-i-prizyv-na-voennuyu-sluzhbu.html; https://newsbel dot by/01/28/ukaz-prezidenta-nachinaetsya-vesennij-prizyv-2017-goda/; http://factmil dot com/news/12_02_2016_v_vs_belarusi_objavlen_vesennij_prizyv/2016-02-12-5949

[99] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02kAWdBQKCP2uwM7vxuqUDGhwoUynCSC5dzzeFDpffLfvZpNAcM7tvtxgazwUuFBfql ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02nduPNGeBVQMR2K9cQcMWxz9sudq51tugyuyZPAjW3i7EDFqwJrQJB3mnrdybjXWYl

 

25 Jan. 2023

Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Dana Alexander Gray, Annika Ganzeveld, Nicholas Carl, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 24, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Syrian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ali Mahmoud Abbas discussed deepening military cooperation with senior Iranian officials in Tehran on January 24. Abbas met with President Ebrahim Raisi, Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami. Salami stressed the importance of strengthening Iranian-Syrian military cooperation and stated that the IRGC is prepared to provide the Syrian armed forces with unspecified cyber, information, and electronic warfare capabilities.[1] Abbas stated that Syria should play a more active role in the so-called “Axis of Resistance” and endorsed greater cooperation during his meetings.[2] Abbas previously discussed improving bilateral economic and defense ties in a meeting with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri on January 24, at which Bagheri called for joint military exercises between Iran and Syria.[3] Salami’s meeting with Abbas suggests that the IRGC may participate in such exercises.

Iran likely seeks to consolidate its military influence in Syria, especially as Russia reportedly decreases its military footprint there. The Kremlin has reportedly drawn down its forces in Syria within the past year to send reinforcements to Ukraine, leaving a vacuum for Iranian and Iranian-backed forces to fill.[4] Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in May 2022, allegedly to discuss transferring Russian positions to Iran and its proxies.[5] The regime may seek to further leverage a decreased Russian military presence in Syria by offering the Assad regime equipment and support that Russia cannot provide due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Parliamentarian Ahmad Alireza Beygi suggested impeaching Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi for the Law Enforcement Command’s (LEC) brutal suppression of protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province in September 2022. Iranian authorities violently cracked down on anti-regime demonstrations in Zahedan on September 30, 2022, killing over 80 protesters.[6] Beygi implied that Khamenei wants the Raisi administration to remove Vahidi, although his comments more likely reflect his own opinion.[7] Beygi previously criticized the LEC’s crackdown in Zahedan in October 2022 and accused the LEC of generating mistrust.[8] Beygi had also called on the Armed Forces General Staff to “reconsider the management and structure of the LEC” on a later date in October 2022.[9] It is unclear whether any of Beygi’s calls will generate traction among other lawmakers.

Beygi previously served as the law enforcement commander for Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, and Esfahan provinces from 1994 to 2004 and Fars province from 2004 to 2006, although he has previously criticized the regime’s protest suppression. Beygi additionally called to impeach former Interior Minister Abdol Reza Rahmani Fazli under the Rouhani administration in April 2021, stating that Fazli’s hands were “stained in blood” due to his involvement in suppressing the 2019 Aban protests.[10]

Key Takeaways

  • Syrian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ali Mahmoud Abbas discussed deepening military cooperation with senior Iranian officials in Tehran. Iran likely seeks to consolidate its military influence in Syria, especially as Russia reportedly decreases its military footprint there.
  • Parliamentarian Ahmad Alireza Beygi suggested impeaching Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi for the Law Enforcement Command’s (LEC) brutal suppression of protests in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province in September 2022.
  • At least three protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • Unidentified individuals shot and killed two LEC officers and wounded a third in Bampour, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 24.
  • Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei criticized on January 24 regime-imposed internet restrictions aimed at preventing cheating on the national university entrance exam.
  • Parliamentarian Abbas Moghtadaei criticized Information Communications and Technology (ICT) Minister Isah Zareh Pour over Iran Telecommunications Company employee benefits in an open-parliament session.
  • The Iranian Supreme Court appeared to reverse a decision to grant clemency to arrested protester Mohammad Ghobadlou.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least three protests occurred in two cities across two provinces in Iran on January 24. CTP assesses with moderate confidence that protests occurred in the following location:

Tehran City, Tehran Province[11]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Families of prisoners sentenced to death

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Marivan, Kurdistan Province[12]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: City residents
  • Notes: Reportedly demonstrating against water quality in the city. No available footage of protest. It is unclear if this event meets CTP’s protest thresholds.

Tehran City, Tehran Province[13]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Tehran University Students
  • Notes: Sit-in, no available footage of protest. It is unclear if this event meets CTP’s protest thresholds.

Unidentified individuals shot and killed two LEC officers and wounded a third in Bampour, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 24. The gunmen killed Major Mokhtar Momeni and Third Lieutenant Abouzer Omidvar. LEC Sistan and Baluchistan Provincial Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ghanbari promised to identify and arrest the individuals.[14]

Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei criticized on January 24 regime-imposed internet restrictions aimed at preventing cheating on the national university entrance exam. Iranian authorities imposed mobile internet disruptions to preempt cheating on countrywide tests on January 19.[15] Ejei stated that the disruptions created ”significant issues” for the Iranian population--an implicit criticism of ongoing internet restrictions imposed by the regime to preempt and crack down on anti-regime protests.

Parliamentarian Abbas Moghtadaei criticized Information Communications and Technology (ICT) Minister Isah Zareh Pour over Iran Telecommunications Company employee benefits in an open-parliament session on January 24.[16] Zareh Pour claimed that the ICT Ministry could not intervene because the Iran Telecommunications Company was privatized in 2008. Parliament condemned Zareh Pour’s answers in an official vote.[17] Retired telecommunications workers coordinated countrywide protests on January 23 over late benefit payments, as CTP previously reported.[18] Parliamentarians previously began impeachment proceedings against Zahreh Pour in July 2021, although these proceedings did not culminate in an impeachment vote.[19]

The Iranian Supreme Court appeared to reverse a decision to grant clemency to arrested protester Mohammad Ghobadlou. A judiciary media official announced on January 23 that news outlets had incorrectly reported that the court accepted Ghobadlou’s appeal.[20] Ghobadlou’s lawyer said the Supreme Court accepted his client’s appeal of his death sentence for murder but upheld his death sentence for “corruption on earth,” a charge punishable by death, on January 24.[21]

This is not the first time that the Supreme Court has change its ruling on Ghobadlou’s case. The Supreme Court initially retracted a statement that it had accepted Ghobadlou’s appeal on December 24, 2022, as CTP reported.[22] A criminal court likely sentenced Ghobadlou to death for murder while a Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death for “corruption on earth.” The Supreme Court’s apparent indecision may reflect a schism within the judiciary over how to execute the regime’s response to the Mahsa Amini protest movement.

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

See topline text.


[1] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/11/04/2842211/سردار-سلامی-آماده-انتقال-تجربیات-در-حوزه-های-جنگ-الکترونیک-و-نبرد-اطلاعاتی-به-سوریه-هستیم ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85008312/سردار-سلامی-آماده-کمک-به-نیروهای-مسلح-سوریه-در-ابعاد-و-زمینه-های

[2] https://defapress.ir/fa/news/568868/%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%A2%D8%B4%D8%AA%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%AD%D8%B6%D9%88%D8%B1-%D9%86%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B9-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B4%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%84%DA%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%AE%D8%A7%DA%A9-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%AD%DA%A9%D9%88%D9%85-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%DA%A9%D9%86%DB%8C%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%AF%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%87-%D8%B3%D8%B7%D8%AD-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7-%D9%88-%D9%87%D9%85%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C%E2%80%8C-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A7-%DA%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%B4-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D8%AF%D9%87%DB%8C%D9%85

[3] https://isna dot ir/xdNc8q ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85007428/تاکید-ایران-و-سوریه-بر-برگزاری-رزمایش-مشترک-نظامی

[4] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/russia-and-iran-double-down-on-their-strategic-partnership ; https://aawsat.com/home/article/3599111/%d9%85%d8%b9%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%b6%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b3%d9%88%d8%b1%d9%8a%d9%88%d9%86-%d9%8a%d8%aa%d8%ad%d8%af%d8%ab%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b9%d9%86-%c2%ab%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%b3%d8%ad%d8%a7%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%b1%d9%88%d8%b3%d9%8a%d8%a9%c2%bb

[5] https://www.timesofisrael.com/damascus-air-base-iranian-warehouse-said-hit-in-alleged-israeli-strikes-overnight/

[6] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/10/iran-at-least-82-baluchi-protesters-and-bystanders-killed-in-bloody-crackdown/

[7] https://www dot etemadonline dot com/tiny/news-593080

[8] https://www dot hamshahrionline dot ir/news/716442/%D9%86%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%B4%DA%A9%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87

[9] https://www dot hamshahrionline dot ir/news/716442/%D9%86%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%B4%DA%A9%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87

[10] https://old dot iranintl iran com/en/iran/iran-lawmaker-accuses-minister-having-blood-his-hands

[11] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617915429216829444?s=20&t=Hp6plO6MxeyTck3Xb43NeQ ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617892890079813632?s=20&t=Hp6plO6MxeyTck3Xb43NeQ ; https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1617956098312671234?s=20&t=Hp6plO6MxeyTck3Xb43NeQ ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617967715683106824?s=20&t=Hp6plO6MxeyTck3Xb43NeQ

[12] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617792490349924352?s=20&t=Ss-GVraaok-rkjd3MsAeLw ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617838823626493956?s=20&t=cdvIUli43v2uMRLGecCnRw

[13] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617934231749152769?s=20&t=Ss-GVraaok-rkjd3MsAeLw ; https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617955868108066835?s=20&t=H3Z-MrYYxQgd78FisL52hQ ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617894166805069824?s=20&t=H3Z-MrYYxQgd78FisL52hQ

[14] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/11/04/2841977/شهادت-2-مأمور-پلیس-در-حمله-اشرار-به-گشت-انتظامی-بمپور

[15] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-19-2023

[16] https://isna dot ir/xdNckd

[17] https://isna dot ir/xdNcnv

[18] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-23-2023

[19] https://www.zoomit dot ir/tech-iran/384318-minister-of-ict-impeachment/

[20] https://twitter.com/FarahaniReports/status/1617541901594554376

[21] https://www.etemadonline dot com/tiny/news-593313

[22] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-december-24

 

 
24 Jan. 2023

Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Dana Alexander Gray, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Nicholas Carl, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 23, 2023, 5:15 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Protest activity in Iran increased on January 23, particularly among current petrochemical employees and retired education and telecommunications workers, suggesting some degree of coordination among workers. This protest activity is the most that CTP has recorded since January 8.[1] Protesters reportedly gathered to demonstrate against delayed payments, benefits, and the impact of mounting inflation. CTP previously observed seven protests among a similar demographic—currently employed petrochemical employees—on January 17.[2] The worker-led demonstrations on January 17 and 23 suggest that these groups have the networks required to generate protests despite the regime’s continued crackdown on protest groups throughout the past several months. These worker groups could play an increasingly prominent role in coordinating protests as economic conditions in Iran worsen.[3] The Iranian rial reached a record low--selling for as much as 447,500 rials for one US dollar—on January 23.[4]

Parliament approved the outlines of the annual budget bill on January 22, allocating greater funds to the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to improve efforts to impose social control.[5] IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that the bill will include a 43 percent increase in funding for the LEC, a one-percent decrease from what Raisi proposed on January 11.[6] It is unclear whether Parliament approved similar increases in funding for other state security services. President Ebrahim Raisi proposed substantial increases in funding to the IRGC, Artesh, and Intelligence and Security Ministry on January 11, as CTP previously reported.[7]

The net increase in real purchasing power of this budget expansion is also unclear given the high rate of inflation in Iran. The Statistical Center of Iran estimated that the average inflation rate for the first nine months of the Persian calendar year (March 2022–March 2023) hit 45 percent overall.[8] Such a sharp increase in the prices of certain goods, in addition to the continued depreciation of the Iranian rial against other currencies, may negate the impact of some of the budgetary increases. Parliament will likely amend the budget before approving it as well, meaning these allocations could still change significantly.

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity in Iran increased on January 23, particularly among current petrochemical employees and retired education and telecommunications workers, suggesting some degree of coordination among workers.
  • Parliament approved the outlines of the annual budget bill on January 22, allocating greater funds to the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to improve efforts to impose social control.
  • An IRGC-affiliated news outlet speculated that Iran may receive advanced Russian attack helicopters under an Iranian-Russo military co-production agreement.
  • Information and Communications Technology Minister Isah Zareh Pour announced on January 21 that the regime will soon lift internet restrictions on some foreign platforms.
  • Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas met with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri in Tehran to discuss bilateral economic and military cooperation.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least 12 protests occurred in 11 cities across 11 provinces in Iran on January 23. CTP assesses with moderate to high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Ardabil City, Ardabil Province[9]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment and benefits

Shahr-e Kord, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province[10]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment and benefits

Rasht, Gilan Province[11]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment and benefits

Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province[12]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment and benefits

Bandar-e Imam Khomeini, Khuzestan Province[13]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Petrochemical workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delayed payments and benefits

Tehran City, Tehran Province[14]

  • Size: Medium
  • Demographic: Retired teachers
  • Location: In front of the Education Ministry
  • Notes: Demonstrated against low wages and the impact of inflation upon livelihood

Tehran City, Tehran Province[15]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Esfahan City, Esfahan Province[16]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits. No footage documenting purported protest.

Kermanshah City, Kermanshah Province[17]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits. No footage documenting purported protest. Social media users suggested that protest activity occurred in Kermanshah city, but it is unclear if this occurred in another city within Kermanshah Province.

Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province[18]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits. No footage documenting purported protest.

Khorramabad, Lorestan Province[19]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits. No footage documenting purported protest.

Yazd City, Yazd Province[20]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Retired telecommunications workers
  • Notes: Demonstrated against delay in payment claimed and benefits. No footage documenting purported protest.

Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Ghomi met with Afghan Taliban Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to discuss Helmand River water rights on January 22.[21] Ghomi’s visit follows reports of water shortages in the Iranian border town of Torbat-e Jam, Khorasan Razavi Province on January 18, highlighting the water-shortage problem even though Torbat-e Jam likely does not receive water from the Helmand River.[22] Torbat-e Jam additionally witnessed protests sparked by gasoline shortages on January 16, as CTP previously reported.[23] Iranian officials may increasingly seek to pressure Taliban officials to improve Iranian access to water from Afghan rivers to preempt further unrest, although the Taliban is facing similar water shortages and is unlikely to make significant concessions on this front.[24]

Information and Communications Technology Minister Isah Zareh Pour announced on January 21 that the regime will soon lift internet restrictions on some foreign platforms but will continue to restrict WhatsApp and Instagram.[25] Zareh Pour separately claimed that 16 million Iranians have joined the regime-backed messaging platform Eitaa within the past three months in a likely attempt to promote further domestic use.[26] Iranian authorities have long sought to replace Western social media platforms with indigenous alternatives to reduce public reliance on foreign networking services and expand cyber monitoring of the Iranian population.[27]

An IRGC-affiliated news outlet speculated that Iran may receive advanced Russian attack helicopters under an Russo-Iranian military co-production agreement. Tasnim News Agency published an article arguing that a Russo-Iranian helicopter co-production agreement would let Iran purchase Mi-28 and Ka-52 attack helicopters. The IRGC currently flies Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters and American AH-1J Cobra attack helicopters, the purchases of which precede the 1979 Iranian Revolution.[28] The IRGC could use modern attack helicopters to intimidate and disperse anti-regime protesters or conduct cross-border raids against anti-regime militants. A Russo-Iranian co-production agreement might additionally allow Iran to service its helicopter fleet without relying on Russia for spare parts depending on the details. IRGC-affiliated media have previously predicted Iran would receive Su-35 fighter aircraft before any official announcements, as CTP previously reported.[29]

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas met with Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri in Tehran to discuss bilateral economic and military cooperation. Bagheri and Abbas called for joint military exercises between Iran and Syria and condemned Israeli military action in Syrian territory. It is unclear whether the Artesh or IRGC would participate in such services. Bagheri praised Syria for resisting alleged foreign conspiracies to destroy the Syrian state.[30]


[1] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-8

[2] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-17

[3] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-20

[4] www.bonbast dot com

[5] https://www.iranintl.com/en/202301226798

[6] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-11-2023 ; https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/11/02/2840997/افزایش-43-درصدی-سهم-فراجا-در-لایحه-بودجه-پیشنهادی-1402

[7] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-11-2023

[8] https://www.voanews.com/a/iran-s-inflation-rate-topped-48-in-december/6903564.html

[9] https://twitter.com/Kolbarnews/status/1617462415959941120?s=20&t=iyuwM04ZUlBgxDbGFpm-Vg ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617454642769858560?s=20&t=iyuwM04ZUlBgxDbGFpm-Vg

[10] https://twitter.com/IranIntl/status/1617460651491721216?s=20&t=eV6oNUNfDku-LbnZDvlypQ ; https://twitter.com/ManotoNews/status/1617441666641858563?s=20&t=eV6oNUNfDku-LbnZDvlypQ ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617450631064690688?s=20&t=eV6oNUNfDku-LbnZDvlypQ ; https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617474593433997312?s=20&t=eV6oNUNfDku-LbnZDvlypQ

[11] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617450050652876801?s=20&t=ynTFpJue7usUFvlI0Ag8Rg ; https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617447704518434817?s=20&t=ynTFpJue7usUFvlI0Ag8Rg ; https://twitter.com/ManotoNews/status/1617447642086408192?s=20&t=ynTFpJue7usUFvlI0Ag8Rg

[12] https://twitter.com/Kolbarnews/status/1617450866276982784?s=20&t=awJhUm-b9acGfh9k7nY0fw ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617449057793753090?s=20&t=awJhUm-b9acGfh9k7nY0fw

[13] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617611457054801923?s=20&t=nerWivTBFgMQTP-uT9kTCw

[14] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617535837620822018?s=20&t=mBCP3ffF0nNGxEH8MWLMHA ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617537160365879298?s=20&t=2M0-Vp9gyMc_h2YBy0tycQ ; https://twitter.com/IranIntl/status/1617505481332854784?s=20&t=BTIhEUvbtilB-6cy50uK2Q ; https://twitter.com/ManotoNews/status/1617528540240699393?s=20&t=oTnESBIX79BPqDMM8_bz9A ; https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1617585016963227648?s=20&t=oTnESBIX79BPqDMM8_bz9A ; https://twitter.com/indypersian/status/1617558903088201740?s=20&t=oTnESBIX79BPqDMM8_bz9A

[15] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617500261026603011?s=20&t=r4UrjDtKA7YkD7UN21eg1w ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617516319175475200?s=20&t=LVIRKAU6YqaTb5vmelaNHw ; https://twitter.com/VOAfarsi/status/1617582685953589253?s=20&t=LVIRKAU6YqaTb5vmelaNHw

[16] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617459941727420418?s=20&t=ZHdvJm-PO2dkW6HcGE6Oug

[17] https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1617498731821113346?s=20&t=tQO8kzWXpYSE02xKHJW5wg ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617495704468873227?s=20&t=QDVoVei-Y9Hcg8JajzhAYA ;

[18] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617475661312188417?s=20&t=YEwTyORQ_dIBMlhMSaMmAw

[19] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617458059336617985?s=20&t=MctDcLWuLNXNp0bg3SFFAA

[20] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617458231063859202?s=20&t=QDVoVei-Y9Hcg8JajzhAYA

[21] https://www dot mizan dot news/4606329/%d8%af%db%8c%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%b1-%da%a9%d8%a7%d8%b8%d9%85%db%8c-%d9%82%d9%85%db%8c-%d8%a8%d8%a7-%d9%85%d8%aa%d9%82%db%8c/

https://www dot pashtovoa dot com/a/qomi-to-supply-water-from-the-helmand-sea-to-iran-motaghi-we-are-facing-water-shortage/6929705.html?withmediaplayer=1

[22] https://t dot co/LffXvjUKrU

[23] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-16-2023

[24] https://www.pashtovoa.com/a/qomi-to-supply-water-from-the-helmand-sea-to-iran-motaghi-we-are-facing-water-shortage/6929705.html?withmediaplayer=1 ; https://twitter.com/SamriBackup/status/1551094801528922113?s=20&t=bktgkfhjJy2KL-kMEFFcqg

[25] https://www dot isna dot ir/news/1401110100218/%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%B9-%D9%81%DB%8C%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AE%DB%8C-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C%D8%B3-%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%AD%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%AF-%D8%B4%D8%AF%D9%87-%D8%B7%DB%8C-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B2%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A2%DB%8C%D9%86%D8%AF%D9%87

[26] https://twitter.com/Entekhab_News/status/1617555907327434752

[27] https://www.criticalthreats.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Whatever-it-takes-to-end-it.pdf

[28] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/11/02/2840386/میل28-و-کاموف52-در-سبد-خرید-بالگرد-از-روسیه-گمانه-زنی-درباره-خریدهای-تسلیحاتی-ایران

[29] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-december-9

[30] https://isna dot ir/xdNc8q ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85007428/تاکید-ایران-و-سوریه-بر-برگزاری-رزمایش-مشترک-نظامی

24 Jan. 2023

Karolina Hird, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Layne Philipson, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 23, 9:45pm ET 

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Ukrainian intelligence assessed that Russian forces are preparing for an offensive effort in the spring or early summer of 2023, partially confirming ISW’s standing assessment that Russian troops may undertake a decisive action in the coming months. Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skibitsky stated on January 20 that the spring and early summer of 2023 will be decisive in the war and confirmed that the GUR has observed indicators that Russian troops are regrouping in preparation for a “big offensive” in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.[1] Skibitsky also reiterated that Russian forces are unlikely to launch an attack from Belarus or in southern Ukraine.[2] ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may be preparing for a decisive effort (of either offensive or defensive nature) in Luhansk Oblast and observed a redeployment of conventional forces such as Airborne (VDV) elements to the Svatove-Kreminna axis after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson Oblast.[3] ISW also maintains that it is highly unlikely that Russian forces are planning to relaunch a new offensive on northern Ukraine from the direction of Belarus.[4] Skibitsky’s assessments largely support ISW’s running forecasts of Russian intentions in the first half of 2023 and underscore the continued need for Western partner support to ensure that Ukraine does not lose the initiative to a renewed Russian offensive operation.

The Wagner Group’s outsized reliance on recruitment from penal colonies appears to be having increasing ramifications on Wagner’s combat capability. Head of the independent Russian human rights organization “Rus Sidyashchaya” (Russia Behind Bars) Olga Romanova claimed on January 23 that out of the assessed 50,000 prisoners that Wagner has recruited, only 10,000 are fighting on frontlines in Ukraine due to high casualty, surrender, and desertion rates.[5] ISW cannot independently confirm these figures, but they are very plausible considering Wagner’s model of using convicts as cannon fodder in highly attritional offensive operations.[6] The model Wagner has reportedly been using of retaining its highly trained long-serving mercenaries as leadership and Special Forces–type elements on top of a mass of untrained convicts also lends itself to high combat losses, surrenders, and desertions. The Wagner Group aim of reducing casualties among its non-convict mercenaries likely undermines its ability to retain and use effectively its large mass of convicts at scale and over time. ISW has previously reported on instances of relatives of Wagner group fighters receiving empty coffins after being told their loves ones died in Ukraine, suggesting that Wagner lacks the basic administrative and bureaucratic infrastructure to track and present its own losses, adding further credibility to the “Rus Sidyashchaya” estimate.[7]

Russia continues to deepen military and economic relations with Iran in an effort to engage in mutually beneficial sanctions evasion. NOTE: A version of this item appeared in the Critical Threats Project (CTP)’s Iran Crisis Update.[8] Russian Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin met with Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on January 23 to expand bilateral cooperation efforts.[9] Ghalibaf noted that Moscow and Tehran should strive to strengthen ties in the banking, energy, and commodity-trading sectors in the face of American sanctions, which Volodin credited for bringing the two countries closer together.[10] Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) sources additionally speculated on further military cooperation efforts between Tehran and Moscow. IRGC-affiliated outlet Tasnim News published an editorial arguing that a Russo-Iranian joint production deal could allow Iran to receive Russian Mi-28 and Ka-52 attack helicopters.[11] Both Tehran and Moscow are likely looking to these agreements to mitigate the pressure of sanctions levied against them by the US.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian intelligence assessed that Russian forces are preparing for an offensive effort in the spring or early summer of 2023, partially confirming ISW’s standing assessment that Russian troops may undertake a decisive action in the coming months.
  • The Wagner Group’s outsized reliance on recruitment from penal colonies appears to be having increasing ramifications on Wagner’s combat capability.
  • Russia continues to deepen military and economic relations with Iran in an effort to engage in mutually beneficial sanctions evasion.
  • Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Ukrainian forces struck Russian concentration areas in occupied Luhansk Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut and on the western outskirts of Donetsk City.
  • Russian forces likely conducted a failed offensive operation in Zaporizhia Oblast in the last 72 hours.
  • Russian forces have not made any confirmed territorial gains in Zaporizhia Oblast despite one Russian occupation official’s continued claims. The occupation official may be pushing a narrative of Russian tactical successes in Zaporizhia Oblast to generate positive narratives to distract Russians from the lack of promised progress in Bakhmut.
  • The Kremlin’s efforts to professionalize the Russian Armed Forces are continuing to generate criticism among supporters of new Russian parallel military structures.
  • Russian officials and occupation authorities continue efforts to integrate occupied territories into Russian social, administrative, and political systems and crack down on partisan dissent in occupied areas.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort)
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions northwest of Svatove on January 22 and 23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Stelmakhivka (15km west of Svatove) and Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove) on January 22 and 23.[12] Geolocated combat footage posted on January 22 shows Russian forces conducting a “human wave” style assault on Ukrainian positions near Novoselivske.[13] Russian milbloggers claimed that heavy fighting is ongoing in Novoselivske, where Ukrainian forces are trying to advance eastward towards Kuzemivka (15km northwest of Svatove).[14]

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions around Kreminna on January 22 and 23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks towards Terny (15km west of Kreminna) and towards the Serebrianka forest area (10km southwest of Kreminna) on January 22.[15] Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Ambassador to Russia Rodion Miroshnik claimed that Russian forces near Kreminna hold positions within 50 to 200 meters of Ukrainian forces.[16] Geolocated footage posted on January 21 shows that Russian forces hold positions southwest of Ploshchanka (15km northwest of Kreminna) near the Zhuravka gully.[17] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces were active along the Ploshchanka-Makiivka line northwest of Kreminna throughout the day on January 22 and claimed that elements of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) captured three Ukrainian strongholds in unspecified areas near Kreminna.[18] Geolocated combat footage from January 20 shows Ukrainian troops recapturing positions near Bilohorivka about 10km south of Kreminna.[19]

Ukrainian forces conducted HIMARS strikes on Russian concentration areas in Luhansk Oblast on January 22 and 23. The LNR People’s Militia claimed that Ukrainian troops struck Kadiivka (50km west of Luhansk City at the nexus of the T0504 and T1317 highways) on January 22.[20] Ukrainian Odesa Oblast military administration spokesperson Serhiy Bratchuk noted that one strike targeted a machine-repair plant that Chechen forces were using as a hospital.[21] LNR sources additionally claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a HIMARS strike on an electrical substation between Zolote and Pervomaiske (about 50km northwest of Luhansk City on January 23.[22]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut on January 22 and 23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamianske (30km northeast), Bilohorivka (20km northeast), Krasna Hora (5km north), Vyimka (23km northeast), Rozdolivka (15km northeast), and Paraskoviivka (8km north); and west of Bakhmut near Stupochky (10km west of Bakhmut) between January 22 and 23.[23] Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group forces are operating southwest of Bakhmut in the Klishchiivka area in order to push towards Ivanivsk and cut the Ukrainian T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut ground line of communication (GLOC).[24] The Ukrainian State Border Guards Service reiterated that Ukrainian forces control the majority of Bakhmut itself and are conducting successful counterattacks to regain lost positions in the area.[25] A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group forces are advancing in urban areas on the eastern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut.[26] Geolocated combat footage posted on January 22 confirms that Russian troops have occupied the northern part of Opytne on the southern outskirts of Bakhmut.[27]

Russian forces continued ground attacks on the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 22 and 23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported Russian assaults on Novobakhmutivka (20km north of Donetsk), Pervomaiske, and Vodiane (both of the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City), and Marinka (on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City) between January 22 and 23.[28] Geolocated combat footage posted on January 20 shows Russian troops have made marginal advances east of Vodiane.[29] A Russian milblogger posted footage of Russian soldiers of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division of the 8th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District conducting assault actions in the Marinka direction on January 23.[30] Russian milbloggers continued to claim that Russian forces are fighting for control of the western part of Marinka.[31]

Russian forces did not conduct any claimed or confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk or eastern Zaporizhia oblasts on January 22 or 23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops are conducting defensive operations in this area.[32] Russian forces continued routine fire along the line of contact southwest of Donetsk City and in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast throughout January 22 and 23.[33]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian forces likely conducted a failed offensive operation in Zaporizhia Oblast in the last 72 hours. Russian forces have not made any confirmed territorial gains despite one Russian occupation official’s continued claims. The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed on January 23 that Russian forces conducted offensive actions in the Zaporizhia direction on January 20 and 21 near Mali Shcherbaky but did not specify whether Russian forces made territorial gains.[34] It is unclear if this operation is ongoing as of this publication. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on January 22 that unspecified Eastern Military District (EMD) elements captured more favorable positions during offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast but provided no further details.[35] Zaporizhia Oblast occupation deputy Vladimir Rogov, who initiated an unsubstantiated string of claims on January 20 that Russian forces captured several settlements in Zaporizhia Oblast, claimed that Russian forces captured Kamianske (about 30km south of Zaporizhzhia City on the bank of the Dnipro River) on January 23.[36] Rogov previously claimed that Russian forces captured Mali Shcherbaky, Shcherbaky, and Novoandriivka, Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachka, and Bilohirya on January 20.[37]

Russian sources contradict Rogov’s claims, indicating that Russian forces likely have not made territorial gains on the Zaporizhia frontline as of January 23. There is no open-source evidence supporting Rogov’s claims as of this publication. Available geolocated visual evidence from January 21 to 22 shows squad-sized Russian elements fighting in fields about 2–3 km south of Novodanylivka and Mali Shcherbaky.[38] A prominent Russian milblogger reported on January 23 that Ukrainian forces regrouped and maintained the Mali Shcherbaky-Shcherbaky-Novoandriivka-Novodanylivka line as of January 23.[39] Other Russian milbloggers reported that Russian forces transitioned to shelling targets along the Zaporizhia frontline — including settlements Rogov claimed Russian forces captured — on January 23 after an attempted Russian offensive on January 22, suggesting the Russian offensive was unsuccessful.[40] The Ukrainian Zaporizhia Military Administration reported on January 23 that Russian forces shelled several villages that Rogov claimed Russian forces captured.[41] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces in the Zaporizhia area of operations conducted defensive operations on January 23.[42] A senior Ukrainian military spokesman stated that Russian forces in southern Ukraine are not conducting large-scale offensive operations and have not made any sustained tactical gains on January 22.[43]

Rogov may be pushing a narrative of Russian tactical successes in Zaporizhia Oblast to generate positive narratives to distract Russians from the lack of promised progress in Bakhmut. Rogov’s claims have resonated well throughout the Russian language information space and have received wide circulation in mainstream Russian state-owned wires like TASS and amongst Russian milbloggers on Telegram.[44] Many Russian milbloggers exaggerated the importance of Soledar and claimed that Russian forces’ tactical advance in Soledar foreshadowed Russian forces’ encirclement of Bakhmut.[45] Russian forces have not made significant gains near Bakhmut despite advancing in Soledar in mid-January, and an imminent Russian encirclement or capture of Bakhmut remains unlikely. The discrepancies between the high expectations set by Russian information operations on Bakhmut and Russian forces’ inability to achieve them quickly represents a current vulnerability in the Russian information space that Rogov may be attempting to cover.

Russian and Ukrainian reconnaissance elements are likely skirmishing on the islands of the Dnipro River Delta south of Kherson City. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed a commandeered civilian boat carrying a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group that attempted to deploy to the Potemkin Islands on January 23.[46] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces defeated Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups that attempted to capture Belohrudove and Velyky Potemkin islands on January 21.[47]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

The Kremlin’s efforts to professionalize the Russian Armed Forces are continuing to generate criticism among supporters of new Russian parallel military structures. The UK Ministry of Defense reported that Chief of Russian General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, is attempting to improve deployed troops’ grooming standards and day-to-day discipline in his new role as the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine.[48] ISW previously assessed that seemingly trivial affairs such as grooming are actually significant as they are a metric for the ability of a military unit’s professionalism and overall ability to follow commanders’ orders.[49] Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin weighed in on the ongoing debate on grooming on January 23, stating that he fully supports Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s disapproval of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) orders for Russian servicemen to shave facial hair.[50] Prigozhin claimed that his convict forces are fighting better than Russian conventional “guards” (honorary titles that designate elite forces) units that follow standardized grooming procedures. Prigozhin then proposed that the Russian government adopt a law to criminalize “glamorization of the army” — another attempt to assert that Prigozhin’s Wagner forces are more effective than the conventional Russian military under corrupt MoD management.[51] Wagner-affiliated milbloggers amplified Prigozhin’s statement. Prigozhin is likely attempting to undermine the authority of the Russian MoD’s orders within the domestic information space which will likely further degrade discipline, professionalism, and effectiveness of the conventional Russian military.[52] The heated debate over grooming standards in the Russian military has taken on an absurd life of its own out of all proportion to its importance.

The Russian MoD has been reportedly recruiting prisoners as part of its force-generation campaign in Fall 2022. Russian independent outlet Vazhnye Istorii reported that Russian MoD officials recruited about 100 prisoners into the “Storm” battalion in late September and early October.[53] Wagner, in turn, is continuing to produce recruitment advertisements to reinforce its units’ primacy using segments from state TV broadcasts about Wagner operations in Ukraine as bait.[54]

Kremlin officials continued to issue contradictory statements regarding a potential imminent wave of mobilization. Russian State Duma member (and member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization working group) Dmitry Gusev stated that mobilized servicemen will be able to return home only when the war ends or when Putin issues an order ending mobilization. Gusev also stated that mobilized servicemen will rotate, implying that some may go home or at least back to non-combat stations for a time while others take their places in the line.[55] Another Russian parliamentarian, General Viktor Sobolev, claimed that he is confident that the Kremlin will not declare the second wave of mobilization and has definitively completed its partial mobilization.[56] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov continued to claim that the call-up portion of the partial mobilization decree had been completed, while other unnamed provisions are still active.[57] Peskov likely referred to the Kremlin’s inability to legally terminate the mobilization order without demobilizing all the mobilized reservists in accordance with Russian law, as the same order authorizes the call-ups and the retention of mobilized personnel with the military.[58] The Kremlin’s consistent need to publicly address the topic of partial mobilization indicates an ongoing concern for managing the Russian public’s expectations regarding Kremlin’s force-generation efforts. The Kremlin may appreciate the complexity the law introduces, on the other hand, since the requirement to keep the order in place to keep mobilized reservists with the active force also allows the MoD to continue crypto-mobilization and more limited call-ups.

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian officials and occupation authorities continue efforts to integrate occupied territories into Russian administrative and political systems. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 23 that Russian officials are looking for pro-Russia collaborators to help them stage elections in anticipation of Russia’s Unified Voting Day for local, gubernatorial, and federal elections in Russia scheduled for September 9–11, 2023.[59] The Ukrainian Resistance Center stated that Russian officials will create district, territorial, and precinct election commissions in occupied Ukraine by an unspecified time in the “near future.”[60]

Ukrainian partisans may have conducted an IED attack in Mariupol on January 20. Local Mariupol news outlet Mariupol Resistance reported that Ukrainian partisans planted an IED in the car of Russian military officials after having studied their behavior and schedules.[61] Mariupol Resistance noted that Russian forces immediately removed traces of the destroyed car and will likely issue a statement that the car exploded due to demining efforts and not a partisan attack.[62] Russian sources did not report any partisan activity in Mariupol since January 20.

Russian forces continued raiding private homes in a likely effort to identify partisans and pro-Ukrainian citizens in occupied territories on January 22-23. The Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Internal Ministry claimed on January 23 that Russian forces seized a building reportedly holding weapons and ammunition in the Slovyanoserbsk area of Luhansk Oblast.[63] Zaporizhia Oblast Occupation Deputy Vladimir Rogov claimed on January 22 that Russian forces discovered a cache of weapons, ammunition, and Ukrainian uniforms in an abandoned house in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast.[64]

Russian forces continue to commandeer healthcare resources and increase the strain on military and civilian medical systems in occupied regions of Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 23 that Russian forces transferred approximately 150 wounded Russian servicemen to a civilian hospital in Dniprorudne, Zaporizhia Oblast.[65] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 23 that Russian forces are importing doctors from Russian to staff additional hospitals in Sevastopol, Crimea, due to insufficient medical infrastructure to treat wounded Russian servicemen in Zaporizhia Oblast.[66] The Ukrainian General Staff stated on January 23 that all Russian servicemen seriously wounded in Kherson Oblast remain concentrated in hospitals in Kherson Oblast and that only a small number receive treatment in Crimea.[67] Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan also stated on January 22 that Russian forces seized a kindergarten to house wounded Russian servicemen in occupied-Kherson Oblast.[68]

Russian occupation authorities are intensifying efforts to brainwash Ukrainian children as a means to consolidate societal control in occupied territories. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 23 that Russian occupation authorities developed a 10-year Russification plan to brainwash Ukrainian youth as surveys demonstrate that children in southern Ukraine do not support the Russian occupation.[69] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian Young Army Cadets National Movement (Yunarmia) Deputy Chief Viktor Kaurov held a meeting with occupation authorities of Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts, developing a plan to increase the emphasis on the role of Russia in the Second World War, make regular performances of “special military operation veterans” in schools, and to increase Russian patriotic content in schools.[70]

Russian occupation authorities are intensifying efforts to depict the success of Russian-imposed social schemes in occupied areas. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Head Leonid Pasechnik stated on January 23 that Russian officials provided the first certificate for obtaining maternity capital in occupied territories after Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the measure at a meeting with the Russian Council for Strategic Development and National Projects on December 15, 2022.[71] Pasechnik caveated the program on January 23 by emphasizing that applicants must have Russian passports and live in LNR territory to receive the maternity capital and a single child allowance.[72] Kherson Occupation Administration Head Vladimir Saldo stated on January 22 that Russian occupation authorities are granting preferential loans and subsidies to support local Kherson Oblast farmers repair infrastructure and maximize their production capabilities.[73]

Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to integrate occupied territories into the Russian legal system. Russian sources stated on January 23 that Russian officials appointed Major General Oleg Fedorovich Bolomozhnov to lead the Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in occupied-Donetsk Oblast.[74] Russian sources emphasized that the FSB operates in occupied territories in accordance with the Russian constitution, as well as Russian laws and regulatory standards.[75]

Russian occupation authorities continue to make life unbearable in occupied territories. Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated on January 22 that Russian occupation authorities are withholding electricity from Ukrainians until they accept energy contracts with Russian companies.[76] The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 22 that Russian occupation authorities looted the Skadovsk Central Hospital in Skadovsk, Kherson Oblast.[77]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates an attack from Belarus is more likely:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 23.[78]
  • Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Vadym Skibitsky stated that a new Russian attack against Kyiv through Belarus is unlikely and that Russian and Ukrainian forces will conduct their decisive efforts in eastern Ukraine.[79]
  • Major General of the Ukrainian State Security Service reserve Viktor Yahun stated on January 23 that there is “definitely no danger from Belarus” at this time.[80] Yahun stated that a mild winter and beaver damming has flooded wetlands in the Pripyat marshes in Volyn, Zhytomyr, and Rivne oblasts, making Russian mechanized maneuver through the area impossible.[81]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.


[1] https://gur.gov dot ua/content/vesna-ta-pochatok-lita-budut-vyrishalnymy-u-viini.html; https://rus.delfi dot ee/statja/120130892/general-ukrainskoy-razvedki-esli-by-zapadnye-vrachi-ne-podderzhivali-zhizn-putina-voyna-by-uzhe-zakonchilas?preview=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpZCI6IjEyMDEzMDg5MiIsImlhdCI6MTY3NDQ1NzU3OSwiZXhwIjoxNjc0NTQzOTc5fQ.J0jj4LRsAymstOVhWFV053PreBadyuIQbibLoCkDsVk

[2] https://gur.gov dot ua/content/vesna-ta-pochatok-lita-budut-vyrishalnymy-u-viini.html; https://rus.delfi dot ee/statja/120130892/general-ukrainskoy-razvedki-esli-by-zapadnye-vrachi-ne-podderzhivali-zhizn-putina-voyna-by-uzhe-zakonchilas?preview=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpZCI6IjEyMDEzMDg5MiIsImlhdCI6MTY3NDQ1NzU3OSwiZXhwIjoxNjc0NTQzOTc5fQ.J0jj4LRsAymstOVhWFV053PreBadyuIQbibLoCkDsVk

[3] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122822

[4] https://isw.pub/UkrWar121522

[5] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/23/rus-sidyaschaya-iz-50-tysyach-zaklyuchennyh-zaverbovannyh-chvk-vagnera-na-fronte-ostalis-tolko-10-tysyach-ostalnye-libo-pogibli-libo-dezertirovali

[6] https://isw.pub/UkrWar121922

[7] https://isw.pub/UkrWar012123

[8] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/ctp-iran-crisis-updates?mkt_tok=NDc1LVBCUS05NzEAAAGJgJV4RkE3amFFEHeF-As-Fy40HLPYgi7qbSFkg4HPoAIqib_kzQhzhYP-eK0L4y3jPX82eu2c2ypNjRUuGUIFSvnMQrmLQJj5h2B2uuD9S7Y2hxW3

[9] https://isna dot ir/xdNcgc; https://isna dot ir/xdNcbq; http://duma.gov dot ru/en/news/56223/

[10] https://isna dot ir/xdNcbq

[11] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/11/02/2840386/%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%8428-%D9%88-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%88%D9%8152-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%AF-%D8%AE%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%DA%AF%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B3%DB%8C%D9%87-%DA%AF%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%B2%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%87-%D8%AE%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%AF%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D8%B3%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86

[12] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl

[13] https://twitter.com/bigSAC10/status/1617241554124513282?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://t.me/riamelitopol/80985; https://twitter.com/bigSAC10/status/1617241554124513282?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/neonhandrail/status/1617415590154756096?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q

[14] https://t.me/wargonzo/10459; https://t.me/rybar/42925; https://t.me/wargonzo/10472

[15] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl

[16] https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10283

[17] https://twitter.com/blinzka/status/1616874942888288256; https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1616859099055923202

[18] https://t.me/milinfolive/95909; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76168; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10607; https://t.me/grey_zone/16771

[19] https://twitter.com/Danspiun/status/1616798948236091398; https://twitter.com/PauliusZaleckas/status/1616480896147939329; https://twitter.com/PaulJawin/status/1616455452102955010

[20] https://t.me/millnr/10033; https://t.me/kommunist/15127 ; https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10278 ; https://t.me/LPR_JCCC/7960; https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1617137697956532224?s=20&t=W8sGj6s_0BTkTpC8OjZrSA

[21] https://t.me/Bratchuk_Sergey/27582; https://t.me/serhiy_hayday/9237?single

[22] https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1617521120038776832?s=20&t=t6JM-ZkhiXO_Umh3hQaR1w; https://twitter.com/neonhandrail/status/1617553438753329152?s=20&t=t6JM-ZkhiXO_Umh3hQaR1w; https://twitter.com/neonhandrail/status/1617563097459478528?s=20&t=vl1FLi5NDu3UmnsMxg5d7A; https://t.me/kommunist/15145; https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10304’; https://t.me/millnr/10036; https://t.me/LPR_JCCC/7974

[23] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R

[24] https://t.me/wargonzo/10459; https://t.me/rybar/42926

[25] https://t.me/DPSUkr/9176; :https://twitter.com/Noobieshunta_/status/1617426263672778752?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/small10space/status/1617424084006227970?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q

[26] https://t.me/rybar/42926

[27] https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1617501425470242816?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/SerDer_Daniels/status/1617182634760601604?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q

[28] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R

[29] https://twitter.com/PaulJawin/status/1616368096633327616; https://twitter.com/neonhandrail/status/1616896740313141248

[30] GRAPHIC https://t.me/grey_zone/16773

[31] https://t.me/wargonzo/10459; https://t.me/dva_majors/8092; https://t.me/wargonzo/10472

[32] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl

[33] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R; https://t.me/pavlokyrylenko_donoda/6361; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02CTjt2cZbkBwLjgS7avy9XrLCpZB8rkiYmu9whqMbdRizVhY2B5wCs8ENYmUkp6dsl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl; https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16133

[34] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl

[35] https://t.me/mod_russia/23673 ; https://t.me/mod_russia/23674

[36] https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/16862213; https://t.me/strelkovii/3780; https://voennoedelo dot com/posts/id37475-cxr3ncaokg1pvldv47ae

[37] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[38] https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1617501462019325952?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1616842031204114433?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1617501459335053313?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/Andrii_L1983/status/1617143698415910912?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1617152179210518530?s=20&t=-eGWQgRxefqsXe9l0ukO9Q

[39] https://t.me/rybar/42932

[40] https://t.me/wargonzo/10472; https://t.me/wargonzo/10472

[41] https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16156; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl

[42] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl

[43] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/22/na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-vorog-aktyvnyh-masshtabnyh-dij-ne-zdijsnyuye-yevgen-yerin/

[44] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023; https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/16862213; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/75963; https://t.me/vrogov/7224; https://t.me/rybar/42855

[45] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-7-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-12-2023

[46] https://www.facebook.com/okPivden/posts/pfbid0PGiWBMPtwwSSzZ2pU3VvqP4FVitB8hHoFYn4niEvRw5wgm5BEBhEBgnKRRCwyvfVl

[47] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76065

[48] https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1617416147913031681

[49] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023

[50] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/321; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[51] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/321

[52] https://t.me/grey_zone/16765

[53] https://storage dot googleapis.com/istories/news/2022/10/11/minoboroni-rossii-teper-tozhe-verbuet-zekov-na-front/index.html

[54] https://t.me/wagner_employment/11

[55] https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-20-21; https://t.me/astrapress/19637; https://ura.news/news/1052620019

[56] https://news dot ru/vlast/poedem-vse-v-gosdume-rasskazali-kogda-otsrochki-perestanut-rabotat/

[57] https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/881821; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/23/dmitriy-peskov-ukaz-putina-o-mobilizatsii-prodolzhaet-deystvovat-poskolku-pomimo-prizyva-v-armiyu-on-vklyuchaet-i-drugie-meropriyatiya

[58] https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/881821; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/23/dmitriy-peskov-ukaz-putina-o-mobilizatsii-prodolzhaet-deystvovat-poskolku-pomimo-prizyva-v-armiyu-on-vklyuchaet-i-drugie-meropriyatiya

[59] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/23/rosiyany-shukayut-kolaborantiv-na-tot-dlya-provedennya-vyboriv-u-2023-roczi/

[60] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/23/rosiyany-shukayut-kolaborantiv-na-tot-dlya-provedennya-vyboriv-u-2023-roczi/

[61] https://t.me/mrplsprotyv/6289; https://t.me/andriyshTime/6092

[62] https://t.me/mrplsprotyv/6289

[63] https://t.me/mvdlnr_official/2357

[64] https://t.me/vrogov/7272; https://t.me/readovkanews/51169; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44633

[65] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R

[66] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/23/rosiyany-rozgortayut-dodatkovi-shpytali-cherez-velyki-vtraty-na-zaporizkomu-napryamku/

[67] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl

[68] https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid02hg2RRZt4dULuAgHysXa3AKnK2eQmSTquNg84YP3rBBScRR1Vwnbi92eNNk4rERvMl?__cft__[0]=AZVJ14rOhoSwoijRdpWQLk-Ilo7O3mIw4J-C0uDLgr_hnwdAUFbaxrgzQJjnC1vVypxIgJCzHWYIhYVLAMSoNVVKBbwL0xg-rU6KeEI93bzcGo1_AEyWfq0xLoRoHxuF36UQM4nL-HqOnfZdyxyRgvLo&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

[69] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/23/rosiyany-rozrobyly-programu-z-rusyfikacziyi-ukrayinskoyi-molodi-na-10-rokiv/

[70] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/23/rosiyany-rozrobyly-programu-z-rusyfikacziyi-ukrayinskoyi-molodi-na-10-rokiv/

[71] http://kremlin dot ru/events/president/news/70086

[72] https://t.me/glava_lnr_info/705

[73] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/324

[74] https://t.me/TRO_DPR/11142; https://t.me/kommunist/15151; https://t.me/milinfolive/95913

[75] https://t.me/TRO_DPR/11142; https://t.me/kommunist/15151; https://t.me/milinfolive/95913

[76] https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid02hg2RRZt4dULuAgHysXa3AKnK2eQmSTquNg84YP3rBBScRR1Vwnbi92eNNk4rERvMl?__cft__[0]=AZVJ14rOhoSwoijRdpWQLk-Ilo7O3mIw4J-C0uDLgr_hnwdAUFbaxrgzQJjnC1vVypxIgJCzHWYIhYVLAMSoNVVKBbwL0xg-rU6KeEI93bzcGo1_AEyWfq0xLoRoHxuF36UQM4nL-HqOnfZdyxyRgvLo&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

[77] https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/22/rosiyany-rozikraly-likarnyu-v-skadovsku/

[78] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02HvT2AMJ21sPxb3RUX1bDWi1fDmA8D9gzyvLpCZ4bw7TzFVPVseFq4xQVxN288eRLl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/512508014395615?__tn__=-R

[79] https://gur.gov dot ua/content/vesna-ta-pochatok-lita-budut-vyrishalnymy-u-viini.html; https://rus.delfi dot ee/statja/120130892/general-ukrainskoy-razvedki-esli-by-zapadnye-vrachi-ne-podderzhivali-zhizn-putina-voyna-by-uzhe-zakonchilas?preview=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpZCI6IjEyMDEzMDg5MiIsImlhdCI6MTY3NDQ1NzU3OSwiZXhwIjoxNjc0NTQzOTc5fQ.J0jj4LRsAymstOVhWFV053PreBadyuIQbibLoCkDsVk

[80] https://suspilne dot media/364234-pogoda-geopolitika-ta-bobri-general-zapasu-sbu-rozpoviv-so-uskladnue-nastup-z-bilorusi/; https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-swamps-make-attack-belarus-unlikely-now-2023-01-12/

[81] https://suspilne dot media/364234-pogoda-geopolitika-ta-bobri-general-zapasu-sbu-rozpoviv-so-uskladnue-nastup-z-bilorusi/; https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-swamps-make-attack-belarus-unlikely-now-2023-01-12/

23 Jan. 2023

Kateryna Stepanenko and Frederick W. Kagan

January 22, 8:30 pm ET

 

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

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 the Kremlin’s 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] The Russian MoD announced large-scale reforms to expand and reconstitute the Russian Armed Forces on January 17.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 

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.[11]  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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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 Severodonetsk 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.[15] Wagner forces assisted other Russian troops in the Battle of Severodonetsk, serving as the main assault forces alongside Rosgvardia elements in late June 2022.[16] Wagner forces shifted their focus to Bakhmut in early July 2022 while simultaneously reinforcing their units with recruited prisoners.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

Russia’s pushes on Severodonetsk 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.[20] 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.[21] 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 Severodonetsk.

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.[22] 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.[23] Prigozhin had likely expected that further criticism of the Russian MoD and even Putin’s presidential administration would earn him a position near Putin.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27] Wagner Group is also likely relying on the Russian MoD’s logistical support and maintenance functions for its aviation and heavy military equipment.[28] 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.[29] Prigozhin had likely believed in his own exaggerated view of the quality and importance of his largely convict 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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

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 hammer and tongs and had even begun to come after Putin himself.[34] 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.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37]
  • Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on January 22.[38] Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces struck an industrial facility in Kadiivka, Luhansk Oblast with HIMARS rockets.[39]
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and the Donetsk City-Avdiivka areas.[40]
  • Russian sources claimed on January 22 that Russian forces continued offensive operations in two directions in Zaporizhia Oblast, with their main efforts focusing on Hulyaipole and Orikhiv.[41] 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 Zaporizhia direction.[42]
  • Russian occupation authorities continued commandeering civilian infrastructure in occupied territories at the expense of civilian health and safety on January 22.[43]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates an attack from Belarus is more likely:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative Andriy Yusov stated that there is currently no threat of a Russian offensive operation from Belarus, and that the GUR has not observed a grouping and readiness of Russian forces in Belarus that would allow for such an operation.[44]
  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 22.[45]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-26; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-24

[2] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[3] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[4] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[5] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023

[6] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-9

[7] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-26; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-24

[8] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-16-2023

[9] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-13-2023

[10] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-13-2023

[11] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[12] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-20

[13] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-16-2023

[14]https://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Offensive%20Campaign%20Assessment%2C%20December%2019%20PDF_0.pdf; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-29

[15] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-17https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-20https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-9; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-4

[16] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-23; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-21

[17] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-3; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-september-14

[18] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-august-14

[19] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-9https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-24; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-22

[20] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-20; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-august-21

[21] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-volunteer-units-and-battalions

[22] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-25

[23] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-3

[24] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-18-2023

[25] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-24; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-27

[26] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023; https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1616323761392812033/photo/1

[27] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023

[28] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[29] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[30] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-24https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-18; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023

[31] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-19-2023

[32] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-19-2023

[33] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-22; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-14

[34] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-20https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-18-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-5

[35] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-november-14

[36] https://t.me/vv_volodin/597

[37] https://t.me/dva_majors/8092https://t.me/strelkovii/3775https://t.me/strelkovii/3776https://t.me/atomiccherry/536https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18538https://t.me/atomiccherry/534https://t.me/atomiccherry/535https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18538https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18537; https://t.me/strelkovii/3777 

[38]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl ; https://t.me/wargonzo/10459 ; https://t.me/dva_majors/8092

[39] https://t.me/millnr/10033; https://t.me/kommunist/15127 ; https://t.me/miroshnik_r/10278 ; https://t.me/LPR_JCCC/7960; https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1617137697956532224?s=20&t=W8sGj6s_0BTkTpC8OjZrSA

[40]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl ; https://t.me/mod_russia/23673 ; https://t.me/dva_majors/8092 ; https://t.me/wargonzo/10459 ;

[41] https://t.me/ZA_FROHT/12207;%20https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1616856663549509632https://t.me/dva_majors/8092

[42] https://armyinform dot com.ua/2023/01/22/na-zaporizkomu-napryamku-vorog-aktyvnyh-masshtabnyh-dij-ne-zdijsnyuye-yevgen-yerin/

[43]https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid02hg2RRZt4dULuAgHysXa3AKnK2eQmSTquNg84YP3rBBScRR1Vwnbi92eNNk4rERvMl?__cft__[0]=AZVJ14rOhoSwoijRdpWQLk-Ilo7O3mIw4J-C0uDLgr_hnwdAUFbaxrgzQJjnC1vVypxIgJCzHWYIhYVLAMSoNVVKBbwL0xg-rU6KeEI93bzcGo1_AEyWfq0xLoRoHxuF36UQM4nL-HqOnfZdyxyRgvLo&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R; https://sprotyv.mod dot gov.ua/2023/01/22/rosiyany-rozikraly-likarnyu-v-skadovsku/

[44] https://gur.gov dot ua/content/nahnitannia-temy-zahrozy-napadu-na-ukrainu-z-boku-bilorusi-ie-rosiiskoiu-informatsiino-psykholohichnoiu-operatsiieiu.html

[45]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid08ChxivyMXVJsysidBZxpoPftcsQVPJE5hnoVEmYU1pwibCSFE4qibWPsV4Cu2vknl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02CTjt2cZbkBwLjgS7avy9XrLCpZB8rkiYmu9whqMbdRizVhY2B5wCs8ENYmUkp6dsl

 

 
23 Jan. 2023
Nicholas Carl and Frederick W. Kagan
January 22, 2023, 5:00 pm ET
 
The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.
 
CTP is publishing an abbreviated version of our daily updates on Saturdays and Sundays. We will revert to publishing full updates on Saturdays and Sundays if the situation in Iran changes significantly enough to warrant more comprehensive coverage. We will continue to document and map protest activity throughout Iran daily in these updates.
 
At least four protests occurred in three cities across two provinces in Iran on January 22. CTP assesses with low confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:
 
Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province[1]
  • Size: Small
  • Notes: Gathering in front of local government building over economic complaints
 
Shoush, Khuzestan Province[2]
  • Size: Small
  • Notes: Retirees demonstrate over complaints regarding social security benefits
 
Tehran City, Tehran Province[3]
  • Size: Small
  • Notes: Ekbatan neighborhood
 
Tehran City, Tehran Province[4]
  • Size: Small
  • Regime Repression: Deployment of LEC Special Units
  • Notes: Gathering in front of judicial building over economic complaints
 
 
 

[1] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617192292028407808
[2] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617097144258666497
[3] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617265486084849667
[4] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1617094749302788096; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617178837875408897; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1617178553900040192
 
22 Jan. 2023

Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Angela Howard, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 21, 7:45 pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

The Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut is likely a strategically sound effort despite its costs for Ukraine. While the costs associated with Ukraine’s continued defense of Bakhmut are significant and likely include opportunity costs related to potential Ukrainian counter-offensive operations elsewhere, Ukraine would also have paid a significant price for allowing Russian troops to take Bakhmut easily. Bakhmut itself is not operationally or strategically significant but had Russian troops taken it relatively rapidly and cheaply they could have hoped to expand operations in ways that could have forced Ukraine to construct hasty defensive positions in less favorable terrain.  One must also not dismiss the seemingly “political” calculus of committing to the defense of Bakhmut lightly—Russian forces occupy more than 100,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory including multiple Ukrainian cities and are inflicting atrocities on Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas.  It is not unreasonable for political and military leaders to weigh these factors in determining whether to hold or cede particular population concentrations.  Americans have not had to make such choices since 1865 and should not be quick to scorn considerations that would be very real to them were American cities facing such threats.

Ukrainian forces have previously employed a similar gradual attrition model to compel Russian operations in certain areas to culminate after months of suffering high personnel and equipment losses in pursuit of marginal tactical gains. Russian troops spent months attempting to grind through effective Ukrainian defenses in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the early summer of 2022 and captured Lysychansk only after a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal from the area.[1] The capture of Lysychansk and the Luhansk Oblast administrative border, however, quickly proved to be operationally insignificant for Russian forces, and the ultimate result of the Ukrainian defense of the area was the forced culmination of the Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast, leading to the overall stagnation of Russian offensive operations in Donbas in the summer and fall of 2022. Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut will likely contribute to a similar result—Russian forces have been funneling manpower and equipment into the area since May 2022 and have yet to achieve any operationally significant advances that seriously threaten the Ukrainian defense of the area. ISW continues to re-evaluate its assessment that the Russian offensive on Bakhmut may be culminating but continues to assess that Ukrainian forces are effectively pinning Russian troops, equipment, and overall operational focus on Bakhmut, thus inhibiting Russia’s ability to pursue offensives elsewhere in the theater.

The West has contributed to Ukraine’s inability to take advantage of having pinned Russian forces in Bakhmut by slow-rolling or withholding weapons systems and supplies essential for large-scale counteroffensive operations.

Milblogger discourse surrounding the reported replacement of Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky with Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich as commander of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) has further emphasized the fracture between two main groups within the Russian MoD—the pro-Gerasimov camp, comprised of those who represent the conventional MoD establishment, and milblogger favorites who are less aligned with the MoD institution. A prominent milblogger announced Teplinsky’s replacement on January 20, triggering a wave of discontent among other milbloggers who voiced their confusion and concern over the situation.[2] Several milbloggers questioned why the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) would replace a well-respected career VDV commander with an “academic” with no combat experience.[3] One milblogger remarked that the Russian MoD has now “removed” two of the “key” commanders of Russian operations in Ukraine—Teplinsky and former theater commander Army General Sergey Surovikin (although Surovikin was merely demoted to a lower command position rather than removed from office).[4] Several milbloggers claimed that Teplinsky was dismissed following a disagreement with the Russian General Staff, most likely meaning the Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, regarding the use of Russian paratroopers for planned offensive operations.[5] The staunch milblogger criticism of a move that was likely orchestrated by Gerasimov suggests that the Russian information space is increasingly viewing changes made within the Russian MoD in a binary with the pro-Gerasimov camp on one hand and those perceived as milblogger favorites on the other.

The milblogger discourse on this issue additionally offers insight into internal Russian MoD dynamics that may have led to Teplinsky’s removal. The suggestion that Teplinsky was removed following an argument with the General Staff over the use of paratroopers in offensive operations suggests that Teplinsky may have resisted Gerasimov’s desires to use VDV forces to support operations in the Bakhmut area, where Russian offensive operations are largely focused. ISW previously observed that VDV forces took high losses in the early phases of the war and were likely held in reserve following the Russian withdrawal from the right (west) bank of Kherson Oblast in the fall of 2022. Teplinsky could have resisted committing VDV units to highly attritional offensive efforts in Donetsk Oblast that have been largely led by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group on the grounds that traditional motorized rifle or tank units would have been more appropriate or for more purely parochial reasons.[6] He may have resigned or been fired over the disagreement. Gerasimov likely seeks to weaken the significant airborne mafia that has long protected the airborne troops (which are a separate service from the ground forces in Russia) from policies and reforms that applied to the ground forces by replacing Teplinsky with Makarevich, a ground forces officer with no VDV experience.[7] Milblogger discussion of this reported interaction suggests that Gerasimov is increasingly seeking to commit conventional Russian elements, including VDV elements, to operations in Ukraine, and the resulting pushback from the Russian information space indicates that his campaign to do so will not be well received.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched a series of information operations aimed at portraying himself as a sacrificial hero of Russia in a crusade against petty and corrupt Russian authorities. Prigozhin’s personal press service on January 21 amplified a letter from the family of a deceased Wagner PMC soldier that contrasted “indifferent” local officials, who did not help with the funeral of their son, with Prigozhin, who listens to their appeals.[8] The letter referred to Prigozhin as “the only Person [sic] who is not indifferent to the fate of the Defender of Russia and his family.”[9]  Prigozhin also responded to reports that the Mayoral Office of Kamyshlovsky Raion, Sverdlovsk Oblast denied a Wagner Group fighter a funeral with honors with the claim that “we,” likely showing solidarity with “the common man,” will “deal with this scum” and “pull their children by the nostrils” to participate in the war in Ukraine.[10] These statements set Prigozhin at odds with unpopular Russian officials who operate under a different set of rules from the majority of Russians and increase his appeal as a “hero” of the voiceless. They also support Prigozhin’s ongoing campaign to gain legal recognition – primarily in the forms of recognition and funerary honors for Wagner PMC soldiers – for Wagner PMC, as private military companies remain illegal in Russia.[11] Prigozhin is falsely portraying himself and Wagner Group as moral entities that will continue their moral acts despite prosecution. Prigozhin claimed on January 20 that he would not mind if someone brought a criminal case against him because he would be able to participate in Wagner PMC from prison and that international fighters seek out Wagner due to the “call of their conscience.”[12]

Prigozhin is simultaneously building his domestic power base and reputation as a significant international actor in an effort that is both fueled by and further fuels his information operations against the Russian government. Wagner-affiliated news outlet RIAFAN published staged footage of Wagner forces placing the bodies of supposed Ukrainian soldiers into coffins to send back to Ukraine, and Prigozhin claimed that he advocated sending 20 truckloads of bodies to Ukraine in a likely attempt to humanize Wagner Group and portray Wagner fighters as honorable while portraying Wagner Group as willing and able to act in place of the Russian state to return war dead to the opposing side.[13] Some Russian milbloggers notably amplified this narrative of human and honorable Wagner fighters, while another accused Wagner of staging the whole scene.[14] Prigozhin’s press service challenged US Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby to name the war crimes Wagner Group has committed in response to the US Treasury designation of Wagner as a transnational criminal organization.[15] Prigozhin even claimed that the US designation of Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization “finally” indicates that the US and Wagner Group are “colleagues,” implying that the US is also a transnational criminal organization.[16] Wagner Group continues to operate militia training centers in Kursk and Belgorod oblasts in a likely effort to provide military support for regions that the Russian MoD supposedly neglects to defend, although neither faces any risk against which Wagner Group could defend.[17]

The Sun reported that US intelligence estimates total Russian military casualties in Ukraine as 188,000 as of January 20, suggesting a possible 47,000 Russians killed in action in less than a year of fighting.[18] The historical ratio of wounded to killed in war is 3:1, suggesting that Russian casualties in Ukraine thus far are close to the total US deaths in the Vietnam War.[19] The US National Archives estimates that the total US battle deaths in Vietnam is roughly 58,000 across eight years of fighting.[20] Soviet forces suffered 15,000 deaths across nine years of war in Afghanistan, a threshold that the UK Ministry of Defense assessed Russian casualties surpassed in May 2022 after just three months of hostilities.[21]

Key Takeaways

  • The Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut is likely a strategically sound effort despite its costs for Ukraine.
  • Milblogger discourse surrounding the reported replacement of Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky with Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich as commander of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) has further emphasized the fracture between two main groups within the Russian MoD—the pro-Gerasimov camp, comprised of those who represent the conventional MoD establishment, and milblogger favorites who are less aligned with the MoD institution. The milblogger discourse on this issue additionally offers insight into internal Russian MoD dynamics that may have led to Teplinsky’s removal.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has launched a series of information operations aimed at portraying himself as a sacrificial hero of Russia in a crusade against petty and corrupt Russian authorities.
  • The Sun reported that US intelligence estimates total Russian military casualties in Ukraine as 188,000 as of January 20, suggesting a possible 47,000 Russians killed in action in less than a year of fighting.
  • Russian forces conducted a small ground reconnaissance into northeastern Sumy Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks around Bakhmut and west of Donetsk City. Russian forces are likely making incremental gains around Bakhmut.
  • Available open-source evidence as of January 21 indicates that Zaporizhia Oblast Russian occupation official Vladimir Rogov’s January 20 claims of a major territorial capture are likely part of a Russian information operation.
  • Complaints from Russian milbloggers indicate that Russian forces continue to rely on cell phones and non-secure civilian technologies for core military functions – serious breaches of operational security (OPSEC).
  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

ISW’s most dangerous course of action warning forecast about a potential major Russian offensive against northern Ukraine from Belarus appears increasingly unlikely. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as very low. ISW will continue reporting observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly.
  • Nothing significant to report.
  • The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 21 that the Belarusian Ministry of Defense extended the Belarusian military’s ongoing comprehensive readiness checks to January 30.[74] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces are deploying unspecified territorial defense forces to Belarus, likely for training.[75]
  • The Belarusian Ministry of Defense reported that Russian and Belarusian pilots continued conducting joint tactical flight exercises, likely as part of the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV) on January 21.[76] The Belarusian Ministry of Defense announced that these exercises are occurring at all Belarusian airfields.[77]
  • Belarusian elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. Elements of a mechanized battalion of the Belarusian 120th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade conducted exercises at a training ground near Barysaw on January 21.[78]
  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 21.[79] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian units continue training in Belarus.[80]

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1161927654489265
https://twitter.com/PaulJawin/status/1616732176892022784 ; https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1616753938463854592 ; https://t.me/khartiia/173; https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1616754281348235264?s=20&t=8bq59bcaOP7Oi7LniL_pgw; https://twitter.com/NOELreports/status/1616564613948100641
https://twitter.com/EerikMatero/status/1616569548529958912  
https://twitter.com/TelfordHistoric/status/1616552255595098113
x

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian forces conducted a small ground reconnaissance into northeastern Sumy Oblast on January 20. Sumy Oblast Head Dmytro Zhivytsky reported that a 6-person Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group (DRG) attempted to move from Russia to the Yunakiv hromada of northeastern Sumy Oblast.[22]  Ukrainian troops reportedly repelled the effort.[23]

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on January 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack near Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove).[24] A Russian soldier deployed near Svatove reported a Ukrainian artillery strike on a command post in the area on January 20.[25] Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai additionally reported heavy fighting near Kreminna and that Russian forces are pulling reserves to the area to compensate for continued losses.[26] The Ukrainian General Staff reported Russian attacks in the Kreminna area near Ploshchanka (15km northwest of Kreminna) and Chervonopopivka (5km north of Kreminna).[27] Geolocated footage posted by the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) People’s Militia shows Russian forces fighting near Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna).[28] The video claims that fighting is ongoing on both banks of the Siverskyi Donets River, which runs through the area.[29]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut and likely continued making incremental gains on January 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; north of Bakhmut near Bilohorivka (20km northeast), Rozdolivka (17km northeast), Yasyukivka (15km north), Krasna Hora (5km north), and Yahidne (4km north); and west of Bakhmut near Predtechyne (18km southwest).[30] The Ukrainian General Staff report suggests that Russian forces may have advanced into the western part of Sil (northeast of Bakhmut) to attack toward Yasyukivka and that Russian forces may have also advanced southwest of Bakhmut in the Klishchiivka-Kurdiumivka area to launch attacks on Predtechyne. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) additionally claimed that Russian troops took control of Dvorichchia (8km northeast of Bakhmut), and Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters captured Krasnopolivka (12km northeast of Bakhmut).[31] Geolocated footage shows that Russian forces have made incremental advances in southern Klishchiivka (about 8km southwest of Bakhmut) and on the southeastern outskirts of Bakhmut itself.[32] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are trying to move from Dyliivka to Bila Hora (about 20km southwest of Bakhmut), likely in an effort to cut the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway.[33]

Russian forces continued ground attacks on the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 21. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near Vodiane (on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City) and Marinka (on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City).[34]  Geolocated footage posted on January 20 shows Ukrainian troops firing on Russian positions under the Pervomaiske bridge on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City.[35] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces continue to fight for the western part of Marinka.[36] A Russian milblogger reported that Russian forces conducted a ground attack near Novosilka, but this attack is not confirmed.[37] Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the Avdiivka-Donesk City line of contact and in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts.[38]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Available open-source evidence as of January 21 indicates that Zaporizhia Oblast Russian occupation official Vladimir Rogov’s January 20 claims of a major territorial capture are likely part of a Russian information operation.  The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) did not claim that Russian forces seized new territory in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 21, instead claiming that unspecified elements of the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD) gained unspecified positions along more “advantageous lines” in Zaporizhia Oblast, which undermines claims of significant territorial gains as the MoD would have likely echoed Rogov’s claims if the MoD considered his claims plausible.[39]  A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that the Orikhiv area is calm with some Russian reconnaissance group activity on January 21 and indicated that Stepove, Novoandriivka, Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachka, and Bilohirya remain contested, not Russian-controlled as Rogov claimed on January 20.[40] Another milblogger claimed that Russian forces attacked Stepne and Mala Tokmachka and shelled areas including Bilohirya on January 21.[41] Ukrainian official sources reported on January 21 that Russian forces shelled near Maly Shcherbaky, Shcherbaky, Novoandriivka, Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachka,  and Bilohirya, all six settlements that Rogov claimed Russian forces seized on January 20.[42] Rogov also claimed that Russian Pacific Fleet Naval Infantry units are intensifying unspecified offensive operations in the Hulyaipole area, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting Rogov’s claim.[43] Rogov is likely running his own information operation to artificially inflate Russian battlefield successes in Zaporizhia Oblast, contrary to the Russian MoD’s own informational goals for the axis, for some reason.

Russian forces continued routine fire against areas in west (right) bank Kherson Oblast and Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts on January 21.[44] Russian sources reported that Russian tanks continue to fire against areas in the Dnipro River Delta.[45] Ukrainian forces continued striking Russian forces in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast, including Oleshky, Hola Prystan, Kozachi Laheri, Nova Zburivka, Tavriisk, and Kakhovka.[46]

Russian occupation authorities may be struggling to assert administrative control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 21 that Russian occupation authorities are unable to start or operate any of the ZNPP’s reactors because Ukrainian staff refuse to cooperate with occupation authorities.[47] Russian nuclear energy operator Rosenergoatom Advisor Renat Karchaa claimed that Ukrainian authorities are attempting to recruit or coerce ZNPP personnel into acting on behalf of Ukrainian interests, similar to Ukrainian reports of Russian occupation authorities’ tactics to coerce Ukrainian ZNPP personnel into cooperation.[48] Karchaa’s claim may be an attempt to explain the lack of Russian progress to restart the ZNPP and connect it to the Russian power grid. There is currently no indication that Russian occupation authorities are struggling to maintain physical control over the ZNPP and the surrounding area. The Ukrainian Resistance Center also reported that Russian forces continue to militarize the ZNPP by erecting fortifications and other military structures on ZNPP grounds.[49]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Complaints from Russian milbloggers indicate that Russian forces continue to rely on cell phones and non-secure civilian technologies for core military functions—serious breaches of operational security (OPSEC).[50] Several milbloggers criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for attempting to restrict the use of cell phones and Telegram and accused military leadership of being out of touch with the value of technology in modern warfare.[51] Fundamental OPSEC practices prohibit soldiers‘ use of insecure personal devices for military functions. However, the inability of the Russian MoD to provide, integrate, or generate support for secure, effective military alternatives indicates the inadequacy of the Russian military industry and the Russian MoD. Milblogger critiques of fundamental OPSEC practices indicate significant discipline issues and a disconnect between Russian commanders, Russian MoD policy, and the common soldier. Separate milblogger criticism of MoD efforts to place responsibility for military failures - such as the January 1 Ukrainian strike against a Russian Base in Makiivka - on poorly disciplined troops who use personal devices has likely further decreased the legitimacy of the Russian MoD’s OPSEC policies among many Russian soldiers to the detriment of Russian forces OPSEC and overall effectiveness.[52] Ongoing discussions within the Russian nationalist community suggest that Russian officials are losing credibility among line soldiers and failing to dispel even basic OPSEC myths.[53] The Russian military’s reliance on a scrambled blend of hastily-trained mobilized forces, convicts, volunteers, and militia groups with inconsistent command structures is likely contributing to the decline in professionalism in the Russian military.

Russian milbloggers continue to call attention to Russian command and control failures due to the appointment of newly mobilized civilians to leadership roles.[54] A milblogger claimed on January 21 that such “completely incompetent” officers command platoons exclusively of mobilized soldiers.[55] The milblogger questioned why Russian forces would even bother creating new units of mobilized men at all while existent conventional units remain understaffed and suffer continued losses.[56] The milblogger claimed that Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) forces attempted to create units comprised entirely of mobilized soldiers months before Russian forces did so and that these units’ poor performance demonstrated the failure of such an idea.[57] Russian milbloggers correctly assessed that Russian reliance on poorly trained, newly-mobilized recruits for command positions, as opposed to drawing commanders from Russia’s diminished officer cadre or promoting experienced soldiers and NCOs to NCO and command positions, severely hinders the effectiveness of mobilized forces. The inexperience of mobilized soldiers serving in command positions likely contributed to the poor decisions that enabled a highly destructive Ukrainian strike on a Russian base in Makiivka on January 1, as ISW has previously reported.[58]

Russian authorities continue efforts to revitalize Russia’s weak defense industrial base (DIB). A mainstream Russian news agency reported on January 21 that Omsk Oblast is launching a six-month training program for defense enterprise specialists to expedite the traditional two-year college process.[59] Labor shortages, lack of planning, and endemic corruption will likely continue to hobble efforts to reinvigorate Russia’s DIB, as ISW has previously reported.[60]

Some Russian minority communities continue limited resistance to official mobilization efforts. A Russian Telegram channel posted on January 21 a video of a Tuvan woman requesting that Russian authorities spare the men of Tuva Republic from mobilization due to the already small size of the Tuvan ethnic group.[61]

Russian forces may be mobilizing emergency service employees in occupied territories to replenish manpower losses. The Ukrainian Resistance Center and Head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Haidai reported on January 21 that Russian forces mobilized employees of the Luhansk People’s Republic Ministry of Emergency Situations in occupied Alchevsk, Luhansk Oblast.[62]

Russian authorities continue attempts to streamline mobilization procedures for a likely second wave of mobilization and to address bureaucratic challenges to mobilization efforts.[63] A Russian opposition news source reported on January 20 that the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka Ministry of Emergency Situations held exercises on January 12 to streamline procedures for processing mobilized soldiers.[64] A Krasnoyarsk Krai news source claimed on January 20 that Russian authorities responded to public outcry and officially dismissed mobilized soldiers that authorities had deemed unfit for service but continued to pay and hold in readiness for three months.[65] Russian officials continue to spread confusion with contradictory responses to debates over mobilization exemptions for fathers of three or more children, fathers of children with disabilities, and only children of retired parents.[66]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian forces continue to commandeer healthcare resources and increase strain on military and civilian medical systems in occupied regions of Ukraine.[67] The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 21 that Russian forces placed over 300 wounded soldiers in the Starobilsk City Hospital in Luhansk Oblast.[68] Ukrainian officials noted that Russian forces continue to deprioritize the treatment of civilians while exacerbating medical shortages by replacing Ukrainian doctors.[69] Russian-led forces are attempting to recruit to make good deficiencies in medical personnel. A Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel posted a special recruitment link for those interested in medical specialties on January 21.[70]

Russian occupation authorities continue legal and financial efforts to legitimize their regimes and Russian governance. Head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Haidai stated on January 21 that Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) officials held two pseudo-votes to adopt a law on referendums and form an “election commission.” A Russian news source reported that Russian majority state-owned bank Sberbank placed ATMs in Sevastopol, Simferopol, Yalta, and Opolzneve, Crimea on January 21.[71]

Russian occupation authorities continue to use coercive measures to strengthen control over civilians in occupied areas. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 21 that Russian occupation authorities are creating a database of civilian residences and weaponizing electricity cuts.[72] Ukrainian Zaporizhia Oblast Head Oleksandr Starukh stated on January 21 that Russian forces have faked the “deportation” (likely referring to propaganda “evacuations”) of civilians and are instead detaining them in basements.[73]

ISW will continue to report daily observed Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus.

Observed significant military activities in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicate an attack from Belarus is more likely:

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that is ambiguous:

Observed significant military activity in Belarus in the past 24 hours that indicates that an attack from Belarus remains unlikely:

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update. 

[1] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122422; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignJuly4; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignJuly3; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-2

[2] https://t.me/kremlin_sekret/9681; https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1616488761251987466?s=20&t=ivCL7G1dlfl45IA1DJ3bVQ; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7069; https://vk dot com/wall-200391_308291?w=wall-200391_308291; https://t.me/readovkanews/50613

[3] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44615; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7069; https://t.me/grey_zone/16736; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44618

[4] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44615

[5] https://t.me/grey_zone/16736; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44618

[6] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122822; https://isw.pub/RusCampaignOct3

[7] https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44615; https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Ground%20Forces%20OOB_ISW%20CTP_0.pdf

[8] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/317

[9] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/317

[10] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/309; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/310

[11] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-8-2023; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/174; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/172; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/171; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/169; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/170; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/167; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/168; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/165; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/166; https://t.me/grey_zone/16255 

[12] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/302

[13] https://riafan dot ru/23857321-voenkor_simonov_pokazal_protsess_otpravki_na_rodinu_tel_soldat_vsu_pogibshih_v_boyah_za_soledar

[14] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76017; https://t.me/rlz_the_kraken/55974; https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18486

[15] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/315; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/314

[16] https://t.me/concordgroup_official/305

[17] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/75994

[18] https://www.the-sun.com/news/7188155/russia-war-deaths-ukraine-188000/

[19] https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/2007/MR638.pdf

[20] https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics#:~:text=April%2029%2C%202008.-,The%20Vietnam%20Conflict%20Extract%20Data%20File%20of%20the%20Defense%20Casualty,casualties%20of%20the%20Vietnam%20War.

[21] https://www.britannica.com/event/Soviet-invasion-of-Afghanistan; https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1528598748112330754

[22] https://t.me/Zhyvytskyy/7291

[23] https://t.me/Zhyvytskyy/7291

[24] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[25] https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1616655483233832962; https://t.me/karkuschaZ/299; https://t.me/karkuschaZ/301

[26] https://t.me/luhanskaVTSA/8094; https://t.me/serhiy_hayday/9219

[27] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[28] https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1616754423468027908

[29] https://twitter.com/GirkinGirkin/status/1616754423468027908

[30] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[31] https://t.me/mod_russia/23636; https://t.me/readovkanews/51137; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76054; https://t.me/voenkorKotenok/44617; https://t.me/milinfolive/95850; https://t.me/brussinf/5586; https://tass dot ru/armiya-i-opk/16853595 https://t.me/mod_russia/23636

[32] https://twitter.com/blinzka/status/1616747022547124227

[33]    https://t.me/wargonzo/10441

[34] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[35] https://t.me/supernova_plus/16779

[36] https://t.me/wargonzo/10441

[37] https://t.me/wargonzo/10441

[38] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl; https://t.me/wargonzo/10441; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl

[39] https://t.me/mod_russia/23636

[40] https://t.me/rybar/42889; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[41] https://t.me/wargonzo/10441

[42] https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16124; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[43] https://t.me/vrogov/7256

[44] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl; https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid02GMUbR4KZ1BARWnewNhDbRCgjTyo3PYSQPgVWhZD2tMq11xbLKmu1ij5Kc1tB12uPl; https://t.me/mykolaivskaODA/4095; https://t.me/dnipropetrovskaODA/3088; https://t.me/vilkul/2599; https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/2251; https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/2247

[45] https://t.me/rusich_army/7337; https://t.me/kommunist/15113; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21553

[46] https://t.me/readovkanews/51108; https://t.me/wargonzo/10441

[47] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/21/rosiyany-ne-mozhut-zapustyty-v-robotu-zhodnogo-energobloku-tymchasovo-okupovanoyi-zaes/

[48] https://t.me/readovkanews/51102; https://t.me/epoddubny/14620; https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-business-153cc4ffe3a9eede8f852d22abd5ed01

[49] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/21/rosiyany-ne-mozhut-zapustyty-v-robotu-zhodnogo-energobloku-tymchasovo-okupovanoyi-zaes/

[50] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18740; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21555; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10598; https://t.me/rusich_army/7339

[51] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18740; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21555; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10598; https://t.me/notes_veterans/7575; https://t.me/rusich_army/7339  

[52] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-17-2023

[53] https://t.me/rybar/42398; https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18740; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21555; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10598; https://t.me/rusich_army/7339

[54] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18737; https://t.me/sashakots/38178; https://t.me/juchkovsky/3282

[55] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18737

[56] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18737

[57] https://t.me/vladlentatarsky/18737

[58] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-4-2023

[59] https://t.me/gubernator_burkov/1877; https://t.me/readovkanews/51122

[60] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-10; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[61] https://t.me/kavkaz_front/4482; https://twitter.com/666_mancer/status/1616806425036214273?s=20&t=8bq59bcaOP7Oi7LniL_pgw

[62] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/21/okupanty-mobilizuyut-praczivnykiv-dsns-na-tot/; https://t.me/luhanskaVTSA/8091

[63] https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-19-20; https://t.me/news_sirena/10010; https://t.me/chtddd/59862; https://t.me/svobodnieslova/1255

[64] https://t.me/svobodnieslova/1255; https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-19-20

[65] https://ngs24 dot ru/text/health/2023/01/20/71990033/; https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-19-20; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-20-2023

[66] https://twitter.com/CITeam_ru/status/1616546320776396800; https://www.kommersant dot ru/doc/5774925; https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/20/01/2023/63ca67ba9a7947f9370ad1c1?from=from_main_3; https://notes.citeam.org/mobilization-jan-19-20; https://t.me/bbbreaking/146040;

[67]https://t.me/andriyshTime/6067; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[68] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[69] https://t.me/andriyshTime/6067; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[70] https://t.me/grey_zone/16735

[71] https://t.me/readovkanews/51111; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/76023

[72]https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl

[73] https://t.me/zoda_gov_ua/16125

[74] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl

[75] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl

[76] https://t.me/modmilby/21943; https://t.me/modmilby/21944; https://t.me/modmilby/21945

[77] https://t.me/modmilby/21943

[78] https://t.me/modmilby/21946

[79] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

[80] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02GJkEqzTBo77785ipQ1duf6ZWzk8tkxJ1RLsqbr3NajJvGirWT2f7qgoUoM59ANNRl; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Hiyt6bmUrraXhpLSKA7gdcVqQjcwH71LayjqRzjSq7fWb6urtXVqHwhfxWLecpffl

 

21 Jan. 2023

Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, George Barros, Layne Philipson, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 20, 8:00 pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov continues to frame Chechen fighters’ involvement in the war in Ukraine on distinctly religious grounds, thereby building out his reputation and the reputation of his power base. Kadyrov responded to the recent list of guidelines for grooming standards in the Russian army and noted that a majority of Chechen fighters wear beards in accordance with the Sunnah, and additionally claimed that his Chechen fighters have been responsible for major gains in Mariupol, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk.[1] Kadyrov questioned the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD)’s justifications for these guidelines and said they would demoralize fighters who are "waging a holy war."[2] Kadyrov additionally amplified a sermon given by Chechen theologian Magomed Khitanaev on January 20 that claimed that the "special military operation" in Ukraine is aimed at eradicating Ukranian "satanism."[3] Kadyrov has repeatedly justified Chechen fighters’ involvement in the war on distinctly religious grounds, thus presenting himself as the protector of Muslim fighters and bridging the gap between Chechen forces and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s framing of the war on religious and moral grounds.[4]

Kadyrov also notably posted footage on January 20 of a group of Chechen theologians completing their training at the Russian Special Forces University in Grozny, Chechnya, and noted that over 300 qadis (magistrates and judges who implement sharia law) and imams are planning to undergo similar training and deploy into Ukraine.[5] The fact that Chechen qadis will supposedly be embedded in Chechen units that deploy to Ukraine is noteworthy—qadis typically serve a judicial role in criminal and civil matters, and their presence in Ukraine may suggest that Kadyrov intends Chechen forces to serve a basic governance function in occupied areas. ISW has previously reported on Kadyrov’s efforts to position himself and his Chechen powerbase as a parallel and complementary structure to the conventional Russian armed forces.[6] Kadyrov may hope to use qadis and imams in Ukraine to set social conditions for the long-term resettlement of Muslim populations from the Caucasus in occupied areas of Ukraine, although there is no independent evidence of any such plans. ISW has previously reported on Kadyrov’s efforts to import Chechen elements to Ukraine to fill administrative and law enforcement roles in occupied territories for similar purposes.[7]

The Wagner Group appears to be struggling to present itself as an effective parallel military structure, thus increasingly proving to be a parasitic paramilitary entity. Russian opposition outlet TV Dozdh reported on January 20 that a woman whose husband reportedly died fighting with Wagner in Ukraine received her husband’s sealed coffin, death certificate, and a medal of honor and buried what she thought was her husband before finding out that he was alive and in Ukrainian custody.[8] TV Dozdh claimed that it has collected many such stories and that Wagner representatives have essentially intimidated family members into not checking coffins to confirm the deaths of their relatives.[9] Moscow Duma deputy Evgeny Stupin relatedly noted appeals he has received from constituents claiming that once their relatives signed contracts with Wagner and deployed to Ukraine, they ceased to hear from their relatives entirely.[10] These reports suggest that Wagner lacks basic administrative organs to maintain records of individual servicemen and communicate properly with authorities. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin ironically has gone to great lengths to criticize the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) establishment, which he has accused of being inept in precisely these ways.

The Wagner Group may additionally be relying on the Russian MoD for the use of military assets on the frontline. A prominent Wagner Group-affiliated Russian milblogger posted an infographic on January 20 reportedly showing the array of military assets that Wagner is using around Bakhmut, including a TOS-1A thermobaric artillery system (typically a military district-level asset), various self-propelled guns and mortar systems, several armored vehicles, and an Su-25 aircraft.[11] The use of these assets, particularly aviation assets such as the Su-25, suggests that Wagner is working with the Russian MoD to access and operate these systems. While Wagner servicemen can feasibly operate these systems independently, they likely continue to rely on the MoD for logistical support and maintenance functions. Taken in tandem with reports of pervasive administrative and communication failures within Wagner’s ranks, the use of MoD equipment suggests that Wagner is functioning more as a parasite attached to the Russian armed forces than as the entirely self-contained, parastatal organization that Prigozhin tries to present it as being.

US intelligence confirmed the rivalry between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Wagner Group on January 20. National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby stated that a rift is forming between Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian MoD officials as a result of an ongoing competition between conventional Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine.[12] Kirby added that Wagner "is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries" with its 50,000-strong group of forces in Ukraine consisting of 40,000 convicts and 10,000 contractors.[13] ISW continues to monitor the progression of the Wagner-Russian MoD conflict in the information space, with the Russian MoD again deliberately avoiding directly acknowledging Wagner troops’ participation in a claimed capture of Klishchiivka, Donetsk Oblast, on January 19.[14]

Prigozhin’s quest for legal recognition of Wagner Group may also trigger some factionalization within the Russian government—whether he intentionally sets out to do so or not. Chairman of the Russian socialist Just Russia—For the Truth party Sergey Mironov published a picture of himself with a Wagner sledgehammer that he said was a gift from Prigozhin.[15] Prigozhin had engraved the settlement names of Bakhmut and Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, likely to support his ongoing effort to advertise his forces as victors of the Battle for Soledar. Mironov also responded to a comment from a social media user asking if he intended to use this sledgehammer in combat, sarcastically implying that he is already on the front lines and in the trenches at his current position.[16] Mironov’s actions could suggest that he is a member of the pro-war faction that Prigozhin had previously referenced in his rants and may be advocating for the legalization of Wagner in Russia. Mironov had an exchange with a different commenter who had asked him to define Wagner and how the Kremlin regulates the group, to which he responded that the commenter was too late to the conversation.[17] That social media user, in turn, interpreted Mironov’s response as disregarding the Russian Criminal Code provisions against illegal military structures such as private military companies.[18] ISW previously reported that Prigozhin used Mironov’s likeness in his advertisements for the Wagner Center in St. Petersburg and is likely attempting to expand his group of backers within the Kremlin to support his commercial interests.[19]

The Kremlin is likely intensifying its efforts to present Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an existential war to set informational conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine. Russian and social media sources circulated images on January 19 and 20 showing Russian officials installing air defense systems on the roof of the Russian Ministry of Defense building in Moscow and elsewhere near the city.[20] Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the images, and State Duma Deputy Yevgeny Lebedev called them fake.[21] Some Russian milbloggers responded to these images with satisfaction that Moscow residents would finally be aware that Russia is involved in a "difficult war" in Ukraine.[22] The Kremlin likely deployed the air defense systems in Moscow to generate inflammatory images that portray the war as more threatening to the Russian public. It is unlikely, however, that the Kremlin believes that Ukraine would target Moscow and it likely engaged in this ostentatious play to support intensifying information operations to prepare the Russian domestic information space for a protracted war in Ukraine and further sacrifices.[23] This demonstration is also likely a part of the emerging information operation to contextualize the war in Ukraine in the Russian mythos of the Great Patriotic War, which is likely meant to increase Russian support for the war effort and further mobilization by absurdly portraying Ukraine as threatening Moscow and the rest of the Russian heartland in a way to the way Nazi Germany did during its invasion of the Soviet Union.[24]

Prominent Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Russian Commander of the Airborne Forces, Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, with First Deputy Head of the Russian General Staff Academy, Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich, on January 20.[25] A prominent Russian news source initially claimed on January 13 that Teplinsky was only on a temporary leave and denied milblogger reports about Teplinsky‘s dismissal.[26] Some milbloggers complained that Makarevich is the least suitable candidate to command the Russian Airborne Forces and called for Putin to instead appoint Colonel Vadim Pankov, current commander of the 45th Separate Guards Spetsnaz Brigade.[27] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has not yet confirmed Teplinsky’s dismissal nor confirmed Makarevich’s appointment. Teplinsky replaced former Commander of the Russian Airborne Forces, Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, in mid-June 2022, as ISW previously reported.[28] Teplinsky visited rear areas in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast in late December.[29]

The Kremlin continues to promote information operations threatening escalation over Western military assistance to Ukraine. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on January 20 that if Western defense ministers decided to provide Ukraine with heavy tanks at their meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, then this would only "add problems for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people."[30] The Kremlin seeks to undermine Western willingness to offer aid to Ukraine by stoking fears of an escalation, whether between Russia and the West or of the war in Ukraine itself, that Russia cannot execute.[31] The Kremlin will likely continue to respond to Western conversations about further military assistance to Ukraine with vague threats of escalation that have no corresponding action.

Russian President Valdimir Putin fired Russian Security Council Assistant Secretary Alexei Pavlov on January 20, likely in response to Pavlov’s antisemitic comments in Fall 2022. Pavlov had served as a subordinate to Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev since 2009. The Kremlin’s newswire TASS reported that Pavlov’s dismissal was in connection with his receiving a new unspecified position but did not provide the timeline for his next appointment.[32] Pavlov’s dismissal, however, likely relates to his highly publicized comments regarding the need to "desatanize" Ukraine in a Moscow government-owned outlet Argumenty I Fakty in October 2022.[33] Pavlov stated that there is a need for "desatanization" because there are many religious cults in Ukraine following Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity in 2014, such as the Hassidic Jews. Pavlov’s antisemitic statement ignited criticism from Russian Hassidic Rabbi Berel Luzar and forced Patrushev to issue an apology promising that he would take appropriate measures to discipline the author of the piece.[34] It is unclear why Patrushev or Putin would have waited this long to take action. 

Key Takeaways

  • Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov continues to frame Chechen fighters’ involvement in the war in Ukraine on distinctly religious grounds, thereby building out his reputation and the reputation of his power base.
  • The Wagner Group appears to be struggling to present itself as an effective parallel military structure, thus increasingly proving to be a parasitic paramilitary entity.
  • US intelligence confirmed the rivalry between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Wagner Group on which ISW has long reported.
  • Prigozhin’s quest for legal recognition of the Wagner Group may also trigger further factionalization within the Russian government.
  • The Kremlin continues to engage in demonstrative public actions aimed at setting informational conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine.
  • Russian Telegram sources claimed that Putin dismissed Russian Commander of the Airborne Forces Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, but these reports remain unconfirmed.
  • The Kremlin continues to promote information operations threatening escalation over Western military assistance to Ukraine in order to weaken Western support.
  • Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued offensive operations near Svatove and Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations across the Donetsk Oblast front line. Russian sources continued to falsely claim that Russian forces are close to encircling Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces in Zaporizhia Oblast are still likely preparing for a defensive operation in the long term despite recent claims of territorial gains.
  • Russian officials and sources continue to indicate that mobilization measures are ongoing despite numerous claims that mobilization has officially concluded.
  • Russian officials and occupation authorities continue deporting Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to Russia.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

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

Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued offensive operations near Svatove on January 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Novoselivkse (15km northwest of Svatove).[35] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near neighboring Kuzemivka (15km northwest of Svatove) and that Russian forces are in a dangerous position as they have no other settlements to fall back to in the immediate area.[36] Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Minister Vitaly Kiselev published footage on January 20 of Russian forces using thermobaric artillery systems against a Ukrainian position near Novoselivske.[37] The use of a military district-level asset indicates that Russian forces may be prioritizing the frontline north of Svatove. A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the 6th Tank Regiment of the 90th Tank Division of the Central Military District have been operating in the Svatove area since late October 2022.[38]

Russian and Ukrainian forces also reportedly continued offensive operations near Kreminna on January 20. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces tried to advance from near Zhytlivka (2km north of Kreminna) toward Terny, Donetsk Oblast (17km west of Kreminna).[39] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces continued attempts to reach Kreminna from the south and that fighting is intensifying around the settlement.[40] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces also repelled a Russian assault near Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna).[41] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that unspecified Central Military District (CMD) elements are operating in the Kreminna area.[42]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on January 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut itself, within 32km north of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamiankse, Krasnopolivka, Soledar, and Krasna Hora; and within 16km southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske and Dyliivka.[43] Geolocated footage published on January 19 indicates that Russian forces have likely captured the eastern part of Sil (15km north of Bakhmut).[44] A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group fighters conducted an assault near Blahodatne (12km north of Bakhmut) and continued attempts to advance in the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[45] German outlet Der Spiegel reported that the German Intelligence Service has intelligence that indicates that Ukrainian forces are losing a three-digit number of soldiers every day in the Bakhmut area.[46] Fighting in the Bakhmut area continues to be highly attritional for Russian forces as well. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Territorial Defense claimed that Russian forces captured Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut) on January 20, following Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claim that Wagner Group fighters captured the settlement on January 19.[47] The Russian MoD referred to Wagner Group fighters once again as "volunteers of assault detachments" likely to downplay the Wagner Group’s role in tactical advances while also shielding itself from previous criticism that it does not acknowledge the Wagner Group’s involvement in such claimed advances.[48]

Russian sources continue to falsely assert that Russian forces are close to encircling Bakhmut. DNR Head Denis Pushilin stated on January 20 that Wagner Group fighters are close to starting the operational encirclement of Bakhmut following Russian tactical advances in Soledar and supposedly in Klishchiiivka.[49] Russian forces have still not cut any major Ukrainian ground lines of communications (GLOCs) into Bakhmut from Siversk, Slovyansk, and Kostyantynivka. Russian forces would need to cut the majority of these GLOCs and advance further around Bakhmut to even begin an operational encirclement of the city. Russian forces are unlikely to achieve an operational encirclement in the near term as recent offensives to capture small settlements of little tactical significance have likely further degraded Russian manpower and equipment in the area. ISW continues to assess that the Russian offensive to capture Bakhmut is likely culminating due to the Russian military’s increasingly degraded operational capabilities in the area.[50]

Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Donetsk City-Avdiivka area on January 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults within 32km southwest of Avdiivka near Vodyane, Marinka, and Pobieda.[51] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian and Ukrainian forces are continuing positional battles within Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka).[52] Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted an assault near Paraskoviivka (36km southwest of Avdiivka).[53]

Russian forces conducted a limited ground assault in western Donetsk Oblast on January 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Novosilka (65km southwest of Donetsk City) in western Donetsk Oblast.[54] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the line of contact in Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia Oblasts.[55]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Russian forces in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast are still likely preparing for a defensive operation in the long term despite recent claims of territorial gains. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made territorial gains in Zaporizhia Oblast on January 20. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and several Russian milbloggers claimed that unspecified elements of the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD) seized Lobokove, 25km southwest of Orikhiv.[56] Russian milbloggers claimed that unspecified elements of the 5th Combined Arms Army of the EMD and the 58th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District (SMD) also seized Maly Shcherbaky, Shcherbaky, and Novoandriivka southwest of Orikhiv, and Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachka, and Bilohirya to the southeast of Orikhiv to enable direct ground attacks against the settlement from multiple sides.[57] Prominent Russian nationalist media outlet Tsargrad reported that the claims are unverified.[58] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks near Stepove (20km southwest of Orikhiv) and Mala Tokmachka (7km southeast of Orikhiv), contrary to the Russian claims.[59] A milblogger reposted January 19 battle footage from the Ukrainian General Staff showing a platoon-sized (30 people) group of Russian forces from the 58th Combined Arms Army conducting a ground attack in Zaporizhia Oblast.[60] The milblogger criticized Russian military command for allowing Russian forces to attempt a ground attack without heavy weapons or armored vehicle support, suggesting that Russian forces currently lack or are unwilling to dedicate the equipment necessary to sustain a prolonged offensive in Zaporizhia Oblast.[61] Another milblogger claimed that Russian forces may have conducted the localized attack to locate Ukrainian defensive positions for an upcoming offensive but conceded that Russian forces are only able to conduct limited operations with their current amounts of ammunition and manpower.[62]

Russian milbloggers circulated pictures on January 20 of a destroyed Russian S-400 air defense system in Ilyne, Zaporizhia Oblast from fall 2022, the first confirmed combat loss of a Russian S-400 system in Ukraine.[63] ISW has previously observed Russian S-400 air defense systems in northern Crimea, but not in Zaporizhia Oblast or other occupied Ukrainian territories.[64] One milblogger falsely claimed that Ilyne was out of Ukrainian HIMARS or HARM missile range.[65] Ilyne is 55km from the current front line, and Ukrainian HIMARS have a range of up to 80km (50 miles).[66]

Russian forces continued routine fire against areas in west (right) bank Kherson Oblast and Mykolaiv Oblast on January 20.[67] Ukrainian officials stated that Russian forces did not shell areas in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast for the fifth time in six months.[68]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Russian officials and sources continue to indicate that mobilization measures are ongoing, despite numerous claims that Russian mobilization has officially concluded. Pskov Oblast deputy Artur Gayduk submitted a request for Russian President Vladimir Putin to issue an order officially ending mobilization, to which the Russian Presidential Administration stated that Putin’s initial partial mobilization decree continues to be in force.[69] Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that the initial mobilization order continues to be in force due to a "legal feature" and urged Russians to focus on Putin’s statements on mobilization and not on the legal technicalities of the continued force of the mobilization order.[70] A local Telegram channel additionally reported on continued covert mobilization practices in Perm Krai and stated that military enlistment offices are quietly sending five to seven people to training centers every week in order to replenish mobilized detachments without sowing panic in the local population by conducting mass mobilizations.[71] Another Russian source reported that Ural Federal University appointed university officials in late December to be responsible for the distribution of mobilization summonses to students and employees in the mobilization reserve, indicating that the university’s infrastructure is continuing covert mobilization measures.[72]

Russian mobilization authorities continue to face bureaucratic challenges to force generation efforts. A Russian military correspondent posted interview footage on January 20 of volunteers of the Chebarkul-based 6th Tank Regiment of the 90th Tank Division of the Central Military District operating in the Svatove area of Luhansk Oblast.[73] The volunteers reportedly arrived in the combat zone in October and received a 9,000-ruble payment (approximately $131) in October and a 19,000-ruble (approximately $287) in November but have not received their promised salaries beyond the two payments.[74] The volunteers apparently have not received their payments because their documents claim they are still at training grounds in Chebarkul, which also means they cannot be registered as injured or dead in action because their deployment is not officially recognized.[75] A Russian media outlet reported on the case of 31 mobilized recruits from Krasnodar Krai who have been classified as unfit for service but are still receiving 180,000-ruble per month salaries because the Russian military bureaucracy does not know how to cancel their mobilization orders or handle the situation.[76]

The Kremlin is continuing its efforts to reinvigorate its defense industrial base (DIB) under unrealistic timelines, while also attempting to bypass Western-imposed sanctions. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on January 18 called on Russian officials to send all missing material and technical means that Russian Armed Forces needed in 2022 to the frontlines by no later than February 2023.[77] Mishutin added that government officials need to promptly take all relevant management decisions to supply Russian troops, mirroring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent orders to improve the Russian DIB within a month to supply Russian forces in both the near and the long term.[78] The Kremlin also continues to find loopholes to avoid sanctions to sustain Russia‘s DIB by using Russian state nuclear power company, Rosatom, to procure raw materials for sanctioned enterprises. Ukrainian intelligence shared a letter reportedly from Rosatom dated October 2022 with The Washington Post indicating that the company—which presents itself as a "civilian entity"—had been working to supply Russia’s military industry with components, technology, and raw materials for missile fuel.[79] The Washington Post reported that Rosatom managed to avoid sanctions given its widespread involvement in nuclear power plants globally and control over supplies.

The Kremlin is trying to expand the authority of the Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard) likely in an effort to strengthen its control over segments of Russian enterprises and private military companies (PMCs) amidst the preparations for protracted war. Parliamentarians of the United Russia and the New People parties introduced a bill on January 20 that would allow Rosgvardia to send its elements to government agencies and companies.[80] Other Russian security structures already have such permissions, and Rosgvardia will be tasked with protecting important state facilities and special cargo, overseeing state control over the circulation of weapons and PMCs, and participating in a fight "against terrorism, extremism, and many others." The Kremlin may use Rosgvardia to establish control over lower-level government officials—such as military recruitment officers—or to monitor the workflow of DIB companies. The Kremlin may also be establishing future provisions to regulate PMCs such as the Wagner Group.[81]

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian officials and occupation authorities continue deporting Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to Russia. Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova stated on January 20 that teenagers from Mariupol traveled to Moscow as part of the "Teenagers for Russia"—an organization that reportedly encourages personal development and self-determination in Russia’s teenage population.[82] A Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Telegram channel reported on January 20 that Russian occupation authorities have deported 138 Ukrainian children to occupied Crimea, amplifying unspecified Crimean officials’ claims that the children will not return to their homes in Kherson Oblast.[83] The Telegram channel noted that Russian occupation authorities claimed they returned 18 previously deported Ukrainian children to Kherson but that this claim is not verified. [84]

Russian forces and occupation authorities are continuing to seize and repurpose civilian infrastructure for military purposes in occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 20 that Russian forces continue to use the network of civilian healthcare facilities in occupied territories to treat wounded servicemen.[85] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces established a field hospital on the territory of a maternity ward in Novopskov, Luhansk Oblast, to treat over 300 wounded Wagner servicemen.[86] Ukrainian Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov stated on January 20 that Russian forces are overfilling civilian hospitals with wounded Russian servicemen as they continue to face significant losses along the frontline in Zaporizhia Oblast.[87] Ukrainian Kherson Oblast Military Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated on January 20 that Russian forces are looting private homes and training in residential buildings in Kherson Oblast.[88]

Russian occupation authorities continue to face logistical issues in maintaining a sufficient pro-Russia workforce at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Ukrainian nuclear operating enterprise Energoatom reported on January 20 that Russian occupation authorities are struggling to recruit the highly-trained engineers necessary to operate the ZNPP as Ukrainian employees continue to refuse to sign work contracts with Rosatom.[89] Energoatom also stated on January 20 that Russian occupation forces are building fortifications around power units and the dry storage of spent nuclear fuel at the ZNPP, continuing to disregard civilian and nuclear safety in occupied territories.[90]

Russian occupation authorities are continuing to restrict civilian movement in occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian occupation authorities will require Melitopol residents to obtain passes from a military commandant’s office to pass checkpoints in Melitopol starting March 1.[91] This may be part of a Russian effort to crack down on partisan activities in Melitopol.[92] Luhansk Oblast authorities stated on January 20 that Russian forces continue to block the entrances to and exits from settlements in occupied Luhansk Oblast, emphasizing that Russian occupation authorities require certificates of work to enter Lysychansk and Rubizhne.[93]

Russian occupation authorities continue to intensify evacuation and passporitization measures for Ukrainian "evacuees." The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on January 20 that Russian officials have deported more than two million Ukrainian citizens to the Russian Federation since February 24, 2022.[94] Kherson Occupation Administration Head Vladimir Saldo thanked officials in occupied Crimea for accepting 30,000 evacuated residents of Kherson Oblast as of January 20.[95]

ISW will continue to report daily observed indicators consistent with the current assessed most dangerous course of action (MDCOA): a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine possibly aimed at Kyiv.

ISW’s MDCOA warning forecast about a potential Russian offensive against northern Ukraine in fall 2023 remains a worst-case scenario within the forecast cone. ISW currently assesses the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus as low, but possible, and the risk of Belarusian direct involvement as very low. This new section in the daily update is not in itself a forecast or assessment. It lays out the daily observed indicators we are using to refine our assessments and forecasts, which we expect to update regularly. Our assessment that the MDCOA remains unlikely has not changed. We will update this header if the assessment changes.

Observed indicators for the MDCOA in the past 24 hours:

  • Nothing significant to report.

Observed ambiguous indicators for MDCOA in the past 24 hours:

  • The Belarusian Ministry of Defense reported that Russian and Belarusian pilots continued conducting joint tactical flight exercises as part of the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV) on January 20.[96] The Belarusian Ministry of Defense announced that these exercises are occurring at the Ruzhany and Machulishchi airfields.[97]
  • Belarusian elements continue conducting exercises in Belarus. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense announced that unspecified elements of the Belarusian 6th Separate Guards Mechanized Brigade and 11th Separate Mechanized Brigade conducted unspecified tasks in an unspecified location as part of a joint combat coordination with the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Forces (RGV) on January 20.[98] The Belarusian Ministry of Defense also reported that elements of the Belarusian 103rd Airborne Brigade conducted tactical live-fire exercises at the Losvido Training Ground.[99]

Observed counter-indicators for the MDCOA in the past 24 hours:

  • The Ukrainian General Staff reiterated that it has not observed Russian forces in Belarus forming a strike group as of January 20.[100] The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian units continue training in Belarus and that Russia is increasing its aviation forces in Belarus under the guise of joint exercises.[101]

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update. 


[1] https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/3285

[2] https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/3285

[3] https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/3286

[4] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-october-29;

[5] https://t.me/RKadyrov_95/3287

[6] https://isw.pub/UkrWar121722;

[7] https://isw.pub/UkrWar1201022

[8] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/20/dozhd-chvk-vagnera-vozvraschaet-pustye-groby-rodstvennikam-byvshih-zaklyuchennyh-pogibshih-v-ukraine

[9] https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/20/dozhd-chvk-vagnera-vozvraschaet-pustye-groby-rodstvennikam-byvshih-zaklyuchennyh-pogibshih-v-ukraine

[10] https://t.me/evstupin/3484

[11] https://t.me/brussinf/5583

[12] https://www.c-span.org/video/?525475-1/white-house-wagner-group-rival-power-center-russian-defense-ministry&live&vod

[13] https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/20/white-house-sanctions-russias-wagner-group-00078807

[14] https://t.me/mod_russia/23592

[15] https://twitter.com/mironov_ru/status/1616323559009443841

[16] https://twitter.com/mironov_ru/status/1616447515712262144

[17] https://twitter.com/Alexey__Kovalev/status/1616340048466567169

[18] https://twitter.com/Alexey__Kovalev/status/1616348417265135616

[19] https://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Offensive%20Campaign%20Assessment%2C%20December%2019%20PDF_0.pdf; https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-20

[20] https://t.me/rybar/42857 ; https://meduza dot io/feature/2023/01/20/na-kryshah-domov-v-tsentre-moskvy-zametili-sistemy-pvo-na-vopros-chto-eto-takoe-v-kremle-ne-otvetili; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1616411102786584577; https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1616411098265300992; https://t.me/notes_veterans/7551; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10582 ; https://t.me/milinfolive/95785

[21] https://www.rbc dot ru/politics/20/01/2023/63ca60259a7947f5b14e2e79 ; https://govoritmoskva dot ru/news/349001/

[22] https://t.me/notes_veterans/7551; https://t.me/vysokygovorit/10582

[23] https://isw.pub/UkrWar011723 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011823 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar122722 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar122122

[24] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-18-2023

[25] https://vk dot com/wall-200391_308291?w=wall-200391_308291; https://t.me/kremlin_sekret/9681; https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21527; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7069; https://bloknot dot ru/obshhestvo/universal-ny-j-soldat-chto-izvestno-ob-olege-makareviche-kotorogo-nazy-vayut-novy-m-komanduyushhem-vdv-i-pochemu-mihail-teplinskij-otpravlen-v-otstavku-1043133.html

[26] https://t.me/readovkanews/50613

[27] https://t.me/NeoficialniyBeZsonoV/21527; https://t.me/Sladkov_plus/7069; https://war-proekt dot media/base/person/pankov-vadim-ivanovich/

[28] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-17; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-june-21

[29] https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1607627690466492417; https://t.me/rusich_army/6956; https://t.me/wargonzo/10072; https://t.me/wargonzo/10060; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/73812

[30] https://tass dot ru/politika/16846367

[31] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-19-2023

[32] https://tass dot ru/politika/16848253

[33] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/20/putin-uvolil-pomoschnika-sekretarya-sovbeza-rf-alekseya-pavlova-on-napisal-statyu-o-desatanizatsii-ukrainy-za-kotoruyu-prishlos-izvinyatsya-patrushevu; https://aif dot ru/society/religion/chto_varyat_v_vedminom_kotle_na_ukraine_nabrali_silu_neoyazycheskie_kulty

[34] https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/20/putin-uvolil-pomoschnika-sekretarya-sovbeza-rf-alekseya-pavlova-on-napisal-statyu-o-desatanizatsii-ukrainy-za-kotoruyu-prishlos-izvinyatsya-patrushevu

[35] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol 

[36] https://t.me/wargonzo/10417

 

[37] https://t.me/kommunist/15090

 

 

[38] https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3185

[39] https://t.me/wargonzo/10417  

[40] https://t.me/rybar/42846

 

[41] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[42] https://t.me/mod_russia/23592

[43] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[44] https://twitter.com/auditor_ya/status/1616411071958368259; https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/1616135104224428039

[45] https://t.me/wargonzo/10417

[46] https://www.spiegel dot de/ausland/russland-ukraine-news-am-freitag-britische-geheimdienste-bis-zu-50-000-wagner-soeldner-in-der-ukraine-a-be2408e1-6e72-4325-bc06-29d76e0c4d5e;

[47] https://t.me/TRO_DPR/11092 ; https://t.me/mod_russia/23592 ; https://t.me/concordgroup_official/293

[48] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-19-2023 ; https://isw.pub/UkrWar011323

[49] https://tass dot ru/politika/16849879

 

[50] https://isw.pub/UkrWar122822

[51] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[52] https://t.me/rybar/42855

[53] https://t.me/wargonzo/10417

[54] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[55] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Rfr6fPUCu8CffCB4mU7n55nzCPGZT2pFpkYuMsLySAaG3Q8RNLfyfPHE8hpLsWBKl ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[56] https://t.me/mod_russia/23592https://t.me/rybar/42855https://t.me/epoddubny/14615; https://t.me/boris_rozhin/75943

[57] https://t.me/boris_rozhin/75963; https://t.me/vrogov/7224; https://t.me/wargonzo/10417; https://t.me/rybar/42855

[58] https://zp.tsargrad dot tv/news/na-zaporozhe-zhdut-podtverzhdenija-informacii-o-vzjatii-shesti-naselennyh-punktov_708146

[59] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[60] https://t.me/grey_zone/16718; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/videos/582273603237919/

[61] https://t.me/grey_zone/16718

[62] https://t.me/strelkovii/3764

[63] https://t.me/rybar/42858; https://t.me/milinfolive/95805

[64] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-23; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-24; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-august-29; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-september-1

[65] https://t.me/rybar/42858

[66] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-62512681

[67] https://t.me/mykolaivskaODA/4085; https://t.me/rybar/42850; https://t.me/khersonskaODA/3188; https://t.me/hueviyherson/33278; https://t.me/Bratchuk_Sergey/27471; https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid025N8EVpQdMs2dxaUP9gW8EuV51iY6hH3DawLipfVDtzhu1kDcj6oFoE8iwu2bwMsDl?__cft__[0]=AZWV0viXfWBnZbHr59pl7od0nr3Vc9xlgBspBFfB-0BsVU8kWy5Wiu0G39di02MPijD0zCf09HC9aZXQ5pihmon8vujuqUW4vHljPxqcxCK8ByuwKsb62lJNjdhMYccuXZcx1f876mnlTxfyxKZLBPJR&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[68] https://t.me/dnipropetrovskaODA/3086; https://t.me/vilkul/2593; https://t.me/Yevtushenko_E/2232

[69] https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/881570

[70] https://www.interfax dot ru/russia/881570

[71] https://t.me/perm36/9312

[72] https://t.me/news_sirena/9952

[73] https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3185; https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18452

[74] https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3185; https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18452

[75] https://t.me/harry_homolsky/3185; https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/18452

[76] https://t.me/bazabazon/15457

[77] https://www.gazeta dot ru/army/news/2023/01/18/19516459.shtml

[78] https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-15-2023; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-12-2023

[79] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/01/20/rosatom-ukraine-war-effort-sanctions/

[80] https://t.me/Hinshtein/3365; https://meduza dot io/news/2023/01/20/v-gosdumu-vnesli-zakonoproekt-kotoryy-pozvolit-rosgvardii-prikomandirovyvat-svoih-sotrudnikov-v-lyubye-organizatsii-i-uchrezhdeniya; https://sozd.duma.gov dot ru/bill/281054-8

[81] https://t.me/Hinshtein/3365

[82] https://t.me/malvovabelova/1011; https://rospodros dot ru/about

[83] https://t.me/hueviyherson/33243

[84] https://t.me/hueviyherson/33243

[85] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[86] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol

[87] https://t.me/ivan_fedorov_melitopol/1228

[88] https://www.facebook.com/sergey.khlan/posts/pfbid025N8EVpQdMs2dxaUP9gW8EuV51iY6hH3DawLipfVDtzhu1kDcj6oFoE8iwu2bwMsDl

[89] https://t.me/energoatom_ua/1158; https://t.me/energoatom_ua/11586

[90] https://t.me/energoatom_ua/1158; https://t.me/energoatom_ua/11586

[91] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Rfr6fPUCu8CffCB4mU7n55nzCPGZT2pFpkYuMsLySAaG3Q8RNLfyfPHE8hpLsWBKl

[92] https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/032e50755305481a88f421b6543e3295; https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/interactive-map-and-assessment-verified-ukrainian-partisan-attacks-against-russian

[93] https://t.me/luhanskaVTSA/8077

[94] https://sprotyv.mod.gov dot ua/2023/01/20/deportovanym-ukrayinczyam-rozdadut-rosijski-pasporty/

[95] https://t.me/SALDO_VGA/321

[96] https://t.me/modmilby/21895

[97] https://t.me/modmilby/21895

[98] https://t.me/modmilby/21899; https://t.me/modmilby/21900

[99] https://t.me/modmilby/21927

[100] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Rfr6fPUCu8CffCB4mU7n55nzCPGZT2pFpkYuMsLySAaG3Q8RNLfyfPHE8hpLsWBKl

[101] https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid0gimJtXxxnhUKXytpXnMGXLhSzr9MNShZqZbGHuzfVd7HVrzrxAgcSVXvqXcUUWAol ; https://www.facebook.com/GeneralStaff.ua/posts/pfbid02Rfr6fPUCu8CffCB4mU7n55nzCPGZT2pFpkYuMsLySAaG3Q8RNLfyfPHE8hpLsWBKl

 

21 Jan. 2023

Nicholas Carl, Zachary Coles, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Frederick W. Kagan

January 20, 2023, 5:30 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

The protest movement that began with the Iranian regime killing of Mahsa Amini has likely culminated for the most part. Protest activity has gradually decreased since December 2022, and protester organizers again failed to generate turnout on January 20 despite their heavily circulated calls for countrywide demonstrations. American military doctrine defines culmination as the “point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offensive or defensive,” and “when a force cannot continue the attack and must assume a defensive posture or execute an operational pause.”[1] CTP analogizes that definition to the protest movement, using the term “culminated” rather than “ended” to reflect its assessment that conditions for a strong and vibrant anti-regime movement remain and that protests or other forms of anti-regime activity will likely resume at some point within the coming months.

Some components of the protest movement still retain their momentum. The protest movement has always consisted of a wide range of demographics and socio-economic strata, each of which has played a unique role in this wave of demonstrations and strikes. One such group consists of the Sunni communities in Golestan Province and Sistan and Baluchistan Province that continue to demonstrate every Friday. Demonstrators continue to gather in large numbers in Zahedan in particular.[2]

Mass protests could resume rapidly in the weeks and months ahead. Several factors, such as increasingly inclement weather and protester exhaustion, have likely caused this movement to culminate. These factors are temporary and will subside with time. The regime’s brutality did not outright quell the movement but has rather entrenched popular frustrations toward the regime throughout Iran, especially among the youth, as well as generating a wide array of new and deep grievances. CTP has reportedly extensively on how the state security services have killed and injured protesters and abused and tortured those it has arrested.[3] These victims include children. Iranian authorities have thus alienated significant portions of their population, which will likely harbor anger and resentment toward the regime for years, if not decades.

The protest movement has likely altered the trajectory of Iran’s political and internal security permanently even if most of the movement has indeed culminated. Every major protest wave in the history of the Islamic Republic has had such an effect to some extent. Iran has never simply returned to its previous state after each wave. This movement especially has generated a long-lasting impact that makes returning to the status quo of pre-September 2022 Iran extraordinarily unlikely. Protest coordinators have used this movement to cohere and organize the anti-regime movement in Iran and have begun establishing the networks and infrastructure to stage a protracted struggle against the regime. CTP has previously argued that some components of this movement have reached the threshold necessary to be considered a latent and incipient insurgency, which will likely continue its efforts to undermine the regime.[4] 

It is especially noteworthy that most of the movement has culminated with protest organizations still in place and active online, even if they are for the moment unable to generate protest turnout. The regime has clearly failed to disrupt, infiltrate, or take down a number of prominent anti-regime organizers. The regime has also failed to gain control of cyberspace despite decades of effort or to prevent online groups from reaching the Iranian people.

Neither did the regime make any real concessions to address core protester grievances. It has doubled down on hijab laws and instituted a technology-powered surveillance system of enforcement as well as requirements on private institutions to enforce its oppression of Iranian women and girls.[5] It has not only failed to address economic grievances but in fact has brought the country to a significantly worse economic state than it was in when the movement began.

All the conditions remain present for the resumption of significant anti-regime activity, possibly including the renewal of major protest activity, at any time, particularly if the regime provides a spark in the form of some other heinous act such as the killing of Mahsa Amini.

Key Takeaways

  • The protest movement that began with the Iranian regime killing of Mahsa Amini has likely culminated for the most part although it could re-emerge in this or another form in the coming weeks or months.
  • At least five protests occurred in five cities across two provinces.
  • Prominent Sunni clerics Moulana Abdol Hamid and Mohammad Hossein Gargij criticized the regime in public speeches.
  • Anti-regime Black Reward hacker group defaced and hacked the website of Imam Sadegh University.
  • Likely Iranian-backed militants conducted a kamikaze drone attack on the Al-Tanf base, which houses US troops, in southeastern Syria.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least five protests occurred in five cities across two provinces on January 20. CTP assesses with moderate to high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

 

Galikash, Golestan Province[6]

  • Size: Small
  • Notes: Protesters gathered to express support for Sunni cleric Moulana Gargij in front of his home.

Gorgan, Golestan Province[7]

  • Size: Small
  • Regime Repression: Security forces prevented mourners from gathering at Aida’s grave and arrested reportedly arrested several individuals
  • Notes: 40-day commemoration ceremony for protest martyr Aida Rostami

Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[8]

  • Size: Medium to large
  • Regime Repression: Internet disruptions
  • Notes: Protests precede prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon. Makki Mosque officials reportedly identified and seized an IRGC-affiliated actor recording protesters’ faces. LEC personnel reportedly searched all persons entering the city.

CTP assesses with low confidence that protests took place in the following locations:

Khash, Sistan and Baluchistan Province[9]

  • Size: Small

Rask, Sistan and Baluchistan province[10]

  • Size: Undetermined

Prominent Sunni clerics Moulana Abdol Hamid and Mohammad Hossein Gargij criticized the regime in public speeches on January 20. Abdol Hamid stated that “eighty- and ninety-year-olds" are incapable of making decisions for Iranian youth during his Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[11] Gargij stated that a government that ignores its people does not deserve to rule.[12] Gargij spoke to a gathering of protesters outside his home in Galikash, Golestan Province. These protesters were expressing support for Gargij, who the regime has barred from organizing prayers and placed under house arrest.[13] Gargij has continued to give Friday sermons during this period despite the regime efforts to silence him.[14] Abdol Hamid’s and Gargij’s continued criticisms thus reflect how regime efforts to suppress these criticisms from prominent Sunni clerics have backfired and generated greater unrest against the political establishment.

Anti-regime Black Reward hacker group defaced and hacked the website of Imam Sadegh University on January 20.[15] The group posted an image of a woman holding a burning hijab on the front page. The group also claimed that it will soon share files that it retrieved from the university website. Black Reward has previously hacked the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency and published internal documents from both.[16]

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

Likely Iranian-backed militants conducted a kamikaze drone attack on the Al-Tanf base, which houses US troops, in southeastern Syria on January 20.[17] US-led Coalition Forces shot down two drones, and one struck the base, injuring two Syrian personnel. Iranian-backed militants have increasingly attacked al Tanf in recent years, including from Iraq. Likely Kataib Hezbollah militants conducted a drone attack on Al-Tanf base from Jurf al Sakhar, Babil Province, Iraq on August 15, 2022.[18]


[1] https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN18010-ADP_3-0-000-WEB-2.pdf

[2] https://twitter.com/farzinkadkhodae/status/1616402155644289024?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg

[3] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-november-21; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-november-25

[4] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-november-17

[5] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-december-23 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-7-2023

[6] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1616393808601649153?s=20&t=i5Yz2PVCj_6gjloGFRWrDQ ; https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1616475611429470216?s=20&t=DVlRASqLtsJ3ku3R7N1QTw ; https://twitter.com/iranwire/status/1616378679516356609?s=20&t=DVlRASqLtsJ3ku3R7N1QTw ; https://twitter.com/hra_news/status/1616489538255261697?s=20&t=DVlRASqLtsJ3ku3R7N1QTw

[7] https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1616495460457320468?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg

[8] https://twitter.com/1500tasvir/status/1616364769270808579?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/farzinkadkhodae/status/1616370846934700033?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/balochcampaign/status/1616388970367127552?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/farzinkadkhodae/status/1616402155644289024?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/farzinkadkhodae/status/1616396803183890432?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/haalvsh/status/1616392109132779520?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg ; https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1616382390049599489?s=20&t=bJEZN9hL6kBoC9ofQFVt8A ; https://twitter.com/farzinkadkhodae/status/1616540666418397204

 

[9] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616541240639557632?s=20&t=tnyr2A01sPrfgd4PiN8TNQ

[10] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616379201195544577?s=20&t=2U72vvUGj3oH4DWKxqpLWg

[11] https://abdolhamid dot net/persian/2023/01/20/13310; https://www.radiofardacom/a/molavi-abdolhamid/32232142.html

[12] https://www.iranintl.com/202301206480

[13] https://www.iranintl.com/202301206480

[14] https://www.independentpersian.com/node/298176/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9%DB%8C/%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%B6%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%88%D9%84%D9%88%DB%8C-%DA%AF%D8%B1%DA%AF%DB%8C%D8%AC-%D9%88-%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%85-%DA%AF%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86

[15] https://twitter.com/dr_abdolmalekihttps://www.radiofarda.com/a/32042577.html

[16] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-october-23; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-november-30

[17] https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/3273013/multiple-drone-attack-on-coalition-outpost-in-syria/

https://t.me/Tura313/37724

https://t.me/Tura313/37724

https://t.me/Tura313/37726

https://t.me/Tura313/37725

https://t.me/Tura313/37727

https://t.me/sabreenS1/68819

https://t.me/Tura313/37729

[18] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/kataib-hezbollahs-role-august-15-al-tanf-attack

 

 
20 Jan. 2023

 


Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore, and Frederick W. Kagan
January 19, 2023, 7:00 pm ET

The Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Crisis Updates via email, please subscribe here.

The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid. Social media users continued to document a heightened security presence in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province ahead of Abdol Hamid’s weekly Friday prayer sermon and protests throughout the city. Security personnel within the past several days have reportedly blocked all roads leading to Zahedan, established new checkpoints restricting movement into the city, and detained custodians of the mosque where Abdol Hamid delivers his sermons.[1] Social media users have additionally reported mass arrests and internet restrictions.[2] Uncorroborated reports claim that the regime also deployed to the Zahedan airport security forces not normally assigned to the airport, alleging that Iranian officials had lost confidence in the local Basij members formerly entrusted with securing the airport.[3] CTP cannot verify this report. An advisor to Abdol Hamid attributed the intensified security environment in Zahedan to LEC Commander Ali Reza Radan, whom Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed on January 7.[4] CTP previously assessed that Khamenei likely appointed Radan, a hardline member of the IRGC with extensive experience in crushing political dissent, as law enforcement commander partly due to dissatisfaction with the LEC’s response to the Mahsa Amini protest movement.[5]

A provincial Sistan and Baluchistan intelligence unit separately announced on January 19 that it had dismantled two Islamic State-affiliated groups within the province.[6] It is possible that the regime may seek to coopt reports of extremism in Sistan and Baluchistan in attempt to justify the violent suppression of acts of anti-regime defiance throughout the province.

Protest organizations and coordinators seemingly failed to increase protest activity on January 19. Protest groups had widely issued calls for nation-wide demonstrations on January 19 and 20, as CTP previously reported.[7] CTP recorded no significant upticks in anti-regime protests on January 19, however. Protest activity may still surge on January 20 in a pattern similar to January 8, wherein anti-regime demonstrations notably increased in scale and size on the final day of a three-day call to protest.[8] This pattern may suggest that protest organizations intentionally failed to generate turnout on January 19 in attempt to obfuscate their organizational efforts and confuse security personnel. Calls for protests are also likely straining the bandwidth of security forces regardless of protest turnout. The regime reportedly deployed the Law Enforcement Command (LEC)’s Special Forces Unit—which is chiefly tasked with suppressing unrest—in Tehran in attempt to discourage protests on January 19, and security personnel have heavily securitized Zahedan in anticipation of unrest on January 20, as discussed in the preceding paragraph.[9]

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian regime is likely escalating against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid.
  • Protest organizations and coordinators seemingly failed to increase protest activity on January 19.
  • At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces.
  • The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Union (EU) and EU member states to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization on January 19.
  • Netblocks and social media users reported mobile internet disruptions in a manner consistent with announced preventative measures aimed at preventing cheating on the Iranian university entrance exam.
  • Tehran universities threatened and took disciplinary action against unveiled students.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • A Katai’b Hezbollah-affiliated group claimed that it targeted a US logistics convoy using improvised explosive devices.

Anti-Regime Protests

At least two protests occurred in two cities across two provinces on January 19. CTP assesses with moderate to high confidence that protests occurred in the following locations:

Izeh, Khuzestan Province[10]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Mourners
  • Protest Type: 40-day commemoration ceremony
  • Notes: Pro-Pahlavi slogans

Dehgolan, Kurdistan Province[11]

  • Size: Medium
  • Demographic: Mourners
  • Protest Type: 40-day commemoration ceremony
 

Protest coordinators and organizations have circulated calls for demonstrations and strikes on the following days:

January 20[12]

  • Type: Demonstrations
  • Location: Countrywide

The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Union (EU) and EU member states to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization on January 19. The resolution additionally condemned the regime’s violent suppression of ongoing, anti-retime protests and advocated for expanded sanctions on Iranian officials and entities responsible for human rights violations, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi, and Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. European parliamentarians also endorsed further “restrictive measures” against the regime to hinder Iran’s efforts to provide unmanned aerial vehicles and surface-to-surface missiles to Russia.[13] This resolution is non-binding for EU member states, although Reuters reported that the EU will add 37 entities to its sanctions against Iran on January 23, citing inside sources.[14] Iranian officials and the most senior military body within the regime, the Armed Forces General Staff, separately warned the EU against pursing further sanctions on the IRGC on January 19.[15]

Netblocks and social media users reported mobile internet disruptions in a manner consistent with announced preventative measures aimed at preventing cheating on the Iranian university entrance exam.[16] Social media users reported three to four-and-a-half hours of mobile internet disruptions on January 19. It is unclear how widespread the internet restrictions were, although reports suggest that disruptions are ongoing in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[17] The regime’s internet outages failed to prevent cheating on the national exam however; Iranian media confirmed that unknown actors had leaked the test questions prior to the exam on January 19.[18]

Tehran universities threatened and took disciplinary action against unveiled students. Tehran University President Mohammad Moghimi announced that female students who refused to veil would face “disciplinary action.”[19] Several social media outlets additionally reported that unveiled students were barred from taking an examination at the University of Culture and Art in Tehran on January 19.[20] CTP has previously argued that the regime may end or reduce the morality patrol but will likely use other means to enforce the mandatory hijab law and isolate unveiled women.[21]

Axis of Resistance and Regional Developments

President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 19. Regime-affiliated outlets reported that Putin and Raisi discussed Syria, bilateral energy, and transport cooperation.[22] Raisi recently spoke with Putin on January 11, as CTP previously reported.

A Katai’b Hezbollah-affiliated group claimed that it targeted a US logistics convoy using improvised explosive devices (IED) on January 19.[23] Muqawamat al-Duwaliyah, the International Resistance Faction, media cell released a statement claiming that it had carried out the IED attack in Yusufiyah, Baghdad Province. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had previously given an interview to the Wall Street Journal on January 15 expressing hope that US troops would remain stationed in Iraq.[24] IRGC Quds Force Commander Ismail Ghaani visited Baghdad on January 16 and met with senior Shia Coordination Framework officials and proxy militias.[25] Muqawamat al-Duwaliyah's statement was circulated on proxy media platforms, suggesting that the claim may have been directed towards a domestic Iraqi audience rather than intended as a threat to the US.

 


[1] https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1616104316149895171?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA ; https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1616132136486027302?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA ; https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1615799955569971208?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA

[2] https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1615799955569971208?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA

[3] https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1616074265828233216?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA

[4] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-7-2023 ; https://www.radiofarda.com/a/iran-zahedan-molavi-abdolhamid-abdolmajid-moradzehi/32230593.html ; https://www.radiofarda.com/a/prevent-gathering-protest-sistan-baluchestan-iran/32230066.html

[5] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-7-2023

[6] https://www.irna.ir/news/85003839/%DB%B2-%D8%AA%DB%8C%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88-%D8%A8%D9%84%D9%88%DA%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B4%DB%8C-%D8%B4%D8%AF

[7] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-16-2023

[8] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-8

[9] https://twitter.com/INTELonIRAN/status/1616092395959103489?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA ; https://twitter.com/1500tasvir_en/status/1616104316149895171?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA

[10] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616088757303709698 ; https://twitter.com/iranwire/status/1616114118339051527?s=20&t=K7a6ReQTsjYXpLzq8Z7sRQ ; https://twitter.com/etelaf10/status/1616100213051068419?s=20&t=K7a6ReQTsjYXpLzq8Z7sRQ ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616072907083649025?s=20&t=K7a6ReQTsjYXpLzq8Z7sRQ

[11] https://twitter.com/RadioFarda_/status/1616044478019633155?s=20&t=SmCDNrjEacqS19n9UeO2NA ; https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN/status/1616072845972410371?s=20&t=SmCDNrjEacqS19n9UeO2NA ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616045356072017925 ; https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616046509375782914

[12] https://twitter.com/Javanan_gilan/status/1613173107316908032?s=20&t=oZsy55H_foM3VXhy__9xNA

[13] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20230113IPR66652/parliament-calls-for-more-sanctions-against-iranian-regime

[14] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-18-2023 ; https://www.jpost.com/international/article-729066

[15] https://defapress.ir/fa/news/568059/%D9%87%D8%B4%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%AF%DA%A9%D9%84-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%BE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%BE%D8%A7 ; https://www.entekhab.ir/fa/news/711501/%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%DA%AF%D8%B1%D9%81%D8%AA%D9%86-%D8%B3%D9%BE%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%84%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA-%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%E2%80%8C%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%B3%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D9%82%D8%B7%D8%B9%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D9%85%D8%AB%D9%84-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%87-%D9%88-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B4%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%87-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A7-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%AA-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B7%D9%82%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%BE%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AE%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AF-%D9%85%DB%8C%E2%80%8C%DA%A9%D9%86%DB%8C%D9%85

[16] https://twitter.com/netblocks/status/1616043593957019650?s=20&t=UPM6SBfZDu8N3LLt01wpUg ; https://twitter.com/CloudflareRadar/status/1616061427948699648?s=20&t=UPM6SBfZDu8N3LLt01wpUg

[17] https://twitter.com/TheDrIman/status/1616210140784459779?s=20&t=u2mllrE_BLzkzDqXkiKqwA

[18] https://t.co/M74HdMuq0p

[19] https://www dot radiofarda dot com/a/tehran-university-imposes-new-rules-regarding-compulsory-hijab/32231012.html

[20] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1616127300986343424

[21] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-7-2023

[22] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85003792/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%DA%AF%D9%81%D8%AA-%D9%88%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%81%D9%86%DB%8C-%D9%BE%D9%88%D8%AA%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%B1%D8%A6%DB%8C%D8%B3%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%DA%A9%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D8%B2-%DB%B1%DB%B0-%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B2

[23] https://t.me/Tura313/37647

https://t.me/sabreenS1/68520

https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1615837816675606535

[24] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iraqi-prime-minister-supports-indefinite-u-s-troop-presence-11673785302

[25] https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1615040031793549312

 

20 Jan. 2023

 


George Barros, Riley Bailey, Kateryna Stepanenko, Madison Williams, Layne Philipson, and Frederick W. Kagan
January 19, 8:30 pm ET 

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

Senior Kremlin officials continue holding high-level meetings with Belarusian national leadership – activity that could be setting conditions for a Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus, although not necessarily and not in the coming weeks. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin discussed unspecified bilateral military cooperation, the implementation of unspecified strategic deterrence measures, and “progress in preparing” the joint Russian-Belarusian Regional Grouping of Troops (RGV) in a January 19 phone call.[1] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk and discussed an unspecified Russo-Belarusian “shared vision” for Russia’s war in Ukraine on January 19.[2] Lavrov and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergey Aleinik discussed how Russia and Belarus can defeat an ongoing Western hybrid war against the states and signed an unspecified memorandum of cooperation on “ensuring biological security.”[3] This memorandum could be a leading indicator of the intensification of an existing Russian information operation falsely accusing Ukraine of developing chemical and biochemical weapons in alleged US-funded biolabs in Ukraine that was part of the Kremlin‘s pretext for the February 2022 invasion.[4]

The most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) of a new Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus in early 2023 seems less likely given current Russian military activity in Belarus. A new MDCOA of an attack from Belarus in late 2023 seems more likely. Russian forces currently deployed in Belarus are undergoing training rotations and redeploying to fight in eastern Ukraine.[5] There are no observed indicators that Russian forces in Belarus have the command and control structures necessary for the winter or spring 2023 attack against Ukraine about which Ukrainian issued warnings in late 2022.[6] It seems more likely that Russian forces may be setting conditions for a new MDCOA of attacking Ukraine from Belarus in late 2023 given recent Ukrainian intelligence reports that Russia and Belarus plan to conduct major exercises (Zapad 2023 and Union Shield 2023), likely in September 2023.[7] ISW is thus adjusting its forecast; the current assessed MDCOA is a Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarusian territory in late 2023. This is not simply a deferment of the timeframe for the previous MDCOA. It is an entirely new MDCOA given that it would occur in different circumstances. Russia will have completed the Autumn 2022 annual conscription cycle and be well into the Spring 2023 cycle, on the one hand, and may well have completed one or more additional reserve call-ups by Autumn 2023. A delayed timeline for this COA could allow Russia’s military industry to gear up sufficiently to provide a greater proportion of the necessary materiel for a renewed invasion from Belarus than Russia can provide this winter. ISW continues to assess that a Russian attack against Belarus remains a highly unlikely scenario in the forecast cone this winter and unlikely but more plausible in Autumn 2023.

Russia’s nationalist military bloggers continue to criticize the idea of Russian forces attacking Ukraine from Belarus. Russian milbloggers continue to react negatively every time the idea of Russian forces attacking Ukraine from Belarus resurfaces. One milblogger stated that it is a bad idea for Russia to significantly expand the front from Belarus because Russian forces’ battlefield performance improved after compressing the front following Russia’s withdrawal from upper Kherson.[8] This milblogger stated that Russian forces do not have the capability to project deep into Ukraine along multiple axes of advance as Russia attempted to do in early 2022 and advocated that Russia prioritize reestablishing a strong conventional military capable of fighting NATO.[9]

Lavrov attacked the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), underscoring the infeasibility of the Kremlin supporting a third Minsk-type agreement. Lavrov accused NATO and the European Union of using the OSCE against Russia and falsely claimed that the OSCE agreed to the Minsk agreements (the failed ceasefire accords that the Kremlin coerced Ukraine into accepting in 2014-2015, which stipulated major political concessions undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty) only to buy time to prepare for a war against Russia.[10] Lavrov accused unspecified OSCE Special Monitoring Mission staff in Ukraine of aiding Ukraine in conducting military operations against civilians in Donbas.[11]

The OSCE was a key neutral party in implementing the first two Minsk agreements in 2014 and 2015. Lavrov’s attack against the OSCE indicates Moscow’s unwillingness to engage in the future serious cooperation with the OSCE that would be necessary for another Minsk Accords-style ceasefire.[12] Lavrov’s attack may also be an attempt to justify Russian forces’ reported illegal commandeering of OSCE off-road vehicles to support Russian combat operations in Luhansk Oblast.[13]

Lukashenko continues to balance against the Kremlin by framing Belarus as a sovereign state within the Russia-dominated Union State. Lukashenko’s readout of his meeting with Lavrov stated that he and Lavrov identified unspecified areas of cooperation to “preserve the sovereignty of the two countries in all respects.”[14] This rhetoric is consistent with Lukashenko's longstanding efforts to avoid ceding Belarusian sovereignty to the Kremlin-dominated Union State structure.[15]

The Kremlin is intensifying its information operation to promote a false narrative that the war will escalate if Ukraine receives weapons capable of striking Russian forces in occupied Crimea. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded on January 19 to a New York Times report that US officials are considering providing Kyiv with weapons capable of striking Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea and southern Ukraine.[16] Peskov stated that Western provisions of long-range weapons to Ukraine that can threaten Russian forces in Crimea will bring ”the conflict to a new qualitive level, which will not go well for global and pan-European security.”[17] Peskov added that even the discussion of providing such weapons is ”potentially extremely dangerous,” but then noted that Ukraine already has weapons that it uses to strike occupied territories in Ukraine. Crimea is legally Ukrainian territory and Ukraine is within its rights under the laws and norms of armed conflict to strikes Russian military targets in Crimea. It would be within its rights under international law and norms to attack targets in Russia as well, as the invading country retains no right to sanctuary for military targets within its own territory.

Peskov’s threats are part of a Russian information operation designed to discourage Western support to Ukraine and do not correspond to Russia’s actual capabilities to escalate against the West. Kremlin officials have made similar threats regarding select Western security assistance in the past and will likely continue to do so in the future. Russia forces, however, do not have the capacity to escalate their conventional war effort in Ukraine and certainly are not capable of conducting successful conventional military operations against the West and NATO in their current state. Russia has severely weakened its military posture against NATO by deploying military units and equipment – including air defense systems  – away from NATO and to Ukraine and suffering horrific losses in men and materiel.[18] The Kremlin never assessed that it could defeat NATO in a conventional war, moreover, an assessment that was at the heart of its hybrid warfare doctrine.[19] The Kremlin seeks to minimize Western military aid to Ukraine by stoking fears of an escalation Russia cannot execute. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s theory of victory likely depends on Putin’s will to force his people to fight outlasting the West’s willingness to support Ukraine over time.[20] 

The Kremlin is also very unlikely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and extraordinarily unlikely to use them against the West despite consistently leaning on tired nuclear escalation threats. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, in response to NATO Command’s planned January 20 meeting in Germany, stated on January 19 that Western officials do not understand that the “loss of a nuclear power in a conventional war can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war.”[21] Medvedev argued that ”nuclear powers [like the Russian Federation] have not lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”[22] Medvedev routinely makes hyperbolic and inflammatory comments, including threats of nuclear escalation, in support of Russian information operations that aim to weaken Western support for Ukraine and that are out of touch with actual Kremlin positions regarding the war in Ukraine.[23] Medvedev’s consistently inflammatory rhetoric may suggest that the Kremlin has encouraged him to promote extremist rhetoric that aims to frighten and deter the West from giving further military aid to Ukraine over fears of escalation with Russia or that he is simply continuing a pattern of extremist rhetorical freelancing. ISW continues to assess that Russian officials have no intention of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine or elsewhere, and certainly not in response to the provision of individual weapons systems.[24]

Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly siding with the adversaries of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, likely in an ongoing effort to degrade Prigozhin’s influence in Russia. Putin met on January 18, 2023 with St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov – one of Prigozhin's overt enemies – for the first time since early March 2022 to discuss St. Petersburg’s role in the Russian war effort.[25] Beglov stated that his administration formed three volunteer battalions that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine under the Russian Western Military District (WMD). ISW previously reported that Prigozhin had launched an intensive campaign petitioning Russian State Duma officials to remove Beglov from his office and had even called on the Russian Prosecutor General’s office to investigate Beglov for treason for failing to adequately support the Russian war effort.[26] Prigozhin-affiliated outlets also published exposés on Beglov over summer 2022, claiming that Beglov deliberately impeded the advertising efforts for recruitment into the three local volunteer battalions.[27] Prigozhin had also suggested that he assisted Beglov in campaigning for the governor role – claiming that he had made Beglov’s career and made several proposals to improve his administration.

Putin’s demonstrative meeting with Beglov and their specific discussion of Beglov’s contribution to the war effort directly challenges Prigozhin’s ongoing effort to assert his own authority over Beglov and St. Petersburg. Putin had also recently reappointed Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, former commander of the Central Military District (CMD) as the Chief of Staff of the Russian Ground Forces despite Lapin receiving significant criticism from the siloviki faction of which Prigozhin is a prominent member.[28] Putin had also doubled down on the official rhetoric that only Russian forces contributed to the capture of Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, rejecting Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner forces had accomplished the tactical victory.[29] Putin is likely attempting to reduce Prigozhin’s prominence in favor of the re-emerging professional Russian military and Russian government officials.

Prigozhin nevertheless continues to use claims about the Wagner Group’s tactical success to elevate his position, likely deepening a conflict with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for influence in the Russian information space. Prigozhin claimed on January 19 that Wagner Group elements captured Klishchiivka, Donetsk Oblast, and emphasized that Wagner Group forces were exclusively responsible for the tactical advances south of Bakhmut.[30] This statement is the first time Prigozhin has personally broken news of a purported Russian tactical success and likely supports Prigozhin‘s effort to promote himself as an independently successful wartime leader.[31] Russian sources largely responded to Prigozhin’s claim as if it were an official confirmation that Russian forces took the settlement.[32]

Prigozhin’s announcement generated widespread conversation among Russian milbloggers about the operational significance of the Russian capture of the settlement.[33] The Russian MoD’s announcement concerning the capture of Sil, Donetsk Oblast near Soledar on January 18 generated far less conversation and excitement amongst Russian milbloggers.[34] The Russian Ministry of Defense previously tried to downplay the Wagner Group’s involvement in the capture of neighboring Sil by referring to Wagner Group fighters as ”volunteers of assault detachments” on January 18.[35] The Russian MoD has started to use more specific language for Russian units in its reporting on Russian operations likely in order to claim more responsibility for tactical advances and minimize Prigozhin’s ability to claim that Wagner Group forces are the only Russian forces that are able to secure tactical advances in Ukraine.[36] The Kremlin is likely aware that Prigozhin‘s recent use of the Wagner Group’s tactical success has had a greater effect in the Russian information space than its own efforts to portray the Russian military as an effective fighting force.

Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov reportedly declared that the Wagner Group does not belong in the structure of the Russian Armed Forces. Gerasimov allegedly responded to Moscow City Duma parliamentarian Yevgeny Stupin’s inquiry on the status of the Wagner Group and its “operational interaction” with the Russian Armed Forces in an official letter, dated December 29, 2022, that Stupin shared on his Telegram on January 19.[37] Stupin stated that he had received numerous complaints from his constituents who have relatives serving in Wagner detachments that they are unable to contact officials that would connect them with their family members on the frontlines. Gerasimov stated in the letter that “the organization [Stupin] referred to as PMC Wagner does not belong to the structure of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” and that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is not responsible for Wagner servicemen[38].” Stupin asserted that the letter is real, although ISW has no independent verification of his claim.

Clear evidence indicates that Wagner Group has operated under the direction of the Russian chain of command[39]. A Bellingcat investigation found that Wagner founder Dmitry Utkin reported to current Western Military District Commander Lieutenant General Evgeny [40] – among other Russian military intelligence officials – when Nikiforov was the Chief of Staff of the Russian 58th Combined Arms Army in 2015. The Russian Ministry of Defense recently claimed on January 13 that Russian forces worked with the Wagner Group to capture [41]. ISW assesses that Gerasimov’s apparent letter is, at the very least, another pointed effort by the Russian government to undermine Prigozhin’s influence. Its release at this time is noteworthy in this respect. Gerasimov was appointed overall commander of the Russian war effort in Ukraine on January 11, for one thing, and Stupin’s publication of the nearly month-old correspondence comes in the midst of a concerted Kremlin campaign to clip Prigozhin’s wings, on the other.[42]

Key Takeaways 

  • Senior Kremlin officials continue holding high-level meetings with Belarusian national leadership – activity that could be setting conditions for a Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus, although not necessarily and not in the coming weeks.
  • A new Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus in early 2023 seems less likely given current Russian military activity in Belarus, although an attack from Belarus in late 2023 seems more plausible.
  • Ultranationalist Russian milbloggers continue to criticize the idea of Russian forces attacking Ukraine from Belarus.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attacked the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), underscoring the infeasibility of the Kremlin supporting a third Minsk-type agreement.
  • Lukashenko continues to balance against the Kremlin by framing Belarus as sovereign state within the Russian-dominated Union State.
  • The Kremlin continues to falsely promote a narrative that the war will escalate if Ukraine receives weapons with the capability to strike Russian forces in occupied Crimea.
  • An extremist Kremlin ally reintroduced nuclear escalation rhetoric aimed at scaring Western policymakers away providing additional military aid to Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly siding with the enemies of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, likely in an ongoing effort to reduce Prigozhin’s influence in Russia.
  • Prigozhin’s continued use of the Wagner Group’s claimed tactical success to elevate his position is likely deepening a conflict with the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) for influence in the Russian information space.
  • Russian Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov may have officially declared that the Wagner Group does not belong in the structure of the Russian Armed Forces and that the Russian military does not collaborate with Wagner despite ample evidence to the contrary.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly continued counteroffensive operations near Svatove, and Russian forces conducted limited counterattacks near Kreminna.
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces captured Klishchiivka amidst ongoing Russian offensive operations around Soledar, Bakhmut, and Avdiivka.
  • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces conducted localized offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Russian officials are reportedly continuing to prepare for a second wave of mobilization.
  • Ukrainian partisans may have conducted an IED attack in Zaporizhia Oblast.