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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 3

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Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian forces reportedly reached the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River across from Kherson City.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron amplified Russian information operations about the need for NATO to consider “security guarantees” to be given to Russia during putative negotiations in a televised interview on December 3.
  • Conditions in eastern Ukraine are likely becoming more conducive to a higher pace of operations as winter sets in.
  • The Russian and Belarusian Ministers of Defense met in Minsk likely to further strengthen bilateral security ties between Russia and Belarus.
  • Ukrainian forces likely continue to advance northwest of Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area, and in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts.
  • Russian authorities reportedly evacuated Russian collaborators from Oleshky.
  • The Russian National Guard’s (Rosgvardia) Organizational and Staff Department confirmed that mobilization continues despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the formal end of partial mobilization on October 31.
  • Russian authorities are continuing to use judicial measures to consolidate administrative control of occupied territories.

Ukrainian forces reportedly reached the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River across from Kherson City. The Ukrainian “Carlson” volunteer special air intelligence unit posted footage on December 3 of Ukrainian servicemen traversing the Dnipro River in boats, reaching a wooden marina-like structure on the east bank, and raising a Ukrainian flag on a tower near the shore.[1] Special Unit “Carlson” reported that this is the first instance of a Ukrainian flag flying over the east bank of the Dnipro River and emphasized this operation will provide a springboard for subsequent Ukrainian operations on the east bank.[2] If confirmed, this limited Ukrainian incursion onto the east bank could open avenues for Ukrainian forces to begin to operate on the east bank. As ISW has previously reported, observed Russian fortifications on the left bank indicate Russian forces are anticipating Ukrainian offensive actions on the east bank and have been constructing defensive lines south of the Dnipro River.[3] The establishment of positions along the eastern riverbank will likely set conditions for future Ukrainian offensive operations into occupied Kherson Oblast if Ukrainian troops choose to pursue this line of advance in the south.

French President Emmanuel Macron amplified Russian information operations about the West’s need to discuss Russian “security guarantees” in a televised interview on December 3.[4] Macron stated that the West should consider how to address Russian security guarantees if President Vladimir Putin agrees to negotiations about ending the war in Ukraine: “That topic will be part of the topics for peace, so we need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table.”[5] ISW has extensively documented how the Kremlin demanded “security guarantees” and declared  “lines” as part of the ultimatum it presented the US and NATO before launching the February 2022 invasion.[6] Russia’s demanded security guarantees entail partially dismantling NATO by returning NATO to its 1997 borders and grants Russia a veto on future NATO expansion by demanding NATO suspend its “Open Door” policy.[7]  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to these precise demands on December 1, as ISW previously reported.[8]  The Russian demand for supposed “security guarantees” is part of a larger Russian information operation that portrays NATO as having provoked the 2022 Russian invasion by threatening Russia. The security guarantees that Ukraine, NATO, and the rest of Europe would accept from Russia following the Kremlin’s unprovoked and brutal war of conquest against Ukraine might be a more appropriate topic of conversation for Western leaders considering negotiations with Moscow.

Independent Russian polling data indicates that Russian citizens still support Russia’s military operations in Ukraine despite growing war weariness over the past six months. Independent Russian polling organization Levada Center found that 74 percent of Russians support Russian forces’ actions in the war in Ukraine in a November poll published on December 2.[9] The poll found that 42 percent of respondents “strongly support” and 32 percent “somewhat support” Russian forces’ actions in Ukraine.[10] The poll also found that only 41 percent of respondents favored Russia continuing military operations in Ukraine, however, whereas 53 percent said that Russia should begin peace negotiations.[11] Levada Center polling between July and November 2022 shows small but consistent erosion in support for the war among Russians.[12] Levada Center findings are similar to a reported internal Kremlin-commissioned poll from November that found that 55 percent of Russians favor peace talks with Ukraine and only 25 percent favor continuing the war.[13]

Both polls indicate that a shrinking but still significant portion of Russian citizens support—and are even enthusiastic about—continuing the war in Ukraine despite Russian military failures. Russian morale and political support for the war will likely further degrade with time if current trends hold. The longer the war continues to produce Russian casualties while Ukrainian forces gain ground the more the socio-political dynamics will likely continue to turn against the Kremlin. An operational pause under the guise of peace negotiations could alleviate growing political pressure on the Kremlin and allow Russia to reconstitute its forces for subsequent renewed offensive operations.

Conditions in eastern Ukraine are reportedly becoming more conducive for a higher pace of operations as winter sets in. A Russian milblogger claimed on December 3 that the ground has frozen along the Kreminna-Svatove line and that he expects that Ukrainian forces will likely increase the pace of their counteroffensive operations in the area as a result.[14] Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai also stated on December 2 that weather is finally changing on the Kreminna-Svatove line and that he expects that Ukrainian forces will soon be able to improve their counter-offensive maneuver operations as mud in the area fully freezes.[15] ISW has previously assessed that the overall pace of operations is likely to increase in the coming weeks as consistent cold weather allows the ground to freeze throughout the theater, especially in eastern Ukraine where operations on both sides have been bogged down by heavy mud.[16] Neither Russians nor Ukrainians will likely suspend offensive operations in one of the most optimal times of year for mechanized maneuver warfare in this region.

The Russian and Belarusian Ministers of Defense met in Minsk likely to further strengthen bilateral security ties between Russia and Belarus. Russian Minister of Defense Army General Sergei Shoigu met with Belarusian Minister of Defense Major General Viktor Khrenin and signed amendments to the Agreement on the Joint Provision of Regional Security in the Military Sphere.[17] Shoigu also met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during which Lukashenko stated that Belarusian and Russian forces continue to train together on Belarusian territory so that the “Union State [can] repel any aggression.[18] Shoigu likely met with Khrenin and Lukashenko in an attempt to place pressure on Belarus to further support Russia’s offensive campaign in Ukraine. ISW has previously assessed that Belarus is highly unlikely to enter the war in Ukraine due to domestic factors that constrain Lukashenko’s willingness to do so.[19]

Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri reportedly met with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin in Tehran on December 3.[20] The two discussed unspecified military cooperation, according to official readouts from Iranian state media. They may have discussed the sale of Iranian drones and missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine. Bagheri is Iran’s chief of defense and is responsible for military policy and strategic guidance. The meeting has not been reported in Russian media as of this writing.

See the full report here.

The post ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 3 appeared first on Kyiv Post.

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