Russian troops have stepped up their offensives in adverse weather conditions to seize the initiative before the Russian presidential election, whereas the Ukrainian Defence Forces are consolidating their positions where they have not been engaged in counterattacks.
Source: Institute for the Study of War (ISW)
Details: Russian troops likely launched offensive operations in many parts of the contact line during the harshest weather conditions of the autumn-winter season in an attempt to seize and retain the initiative before the presidential elections in Russia in March 2024.
The Ukrainian forces have repeatedly stated that Russian troops are engaged in offensive operations along most of the contact line in Ukraine, including along the border of Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts, near the town of Bakhmut and towards the town of Avdiivka, and are launching persistent ground attacks in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
The current fighting pace on the battlefield in Ukraine is broadly in line with ISW's assessment that Russian forces have been seeking to regain the initiative on the ground since at least mid-November 2023.
Recent official statements by the Ukrainian military also indicate that the Russian army has managed to seize the initiative along the border of Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts, near Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk route. In contrast, Ukrainian forces are holding the initiative in crucial areas of Ukraine's south, as evidenced by persistent Ukrainian counterattacks in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and a sustained, larger-than-usual Ukrainian presence on the left (eastern) part of Kherson Oblast.
The fact that the Russians sought to seize the initiative and undertake offensive operations in early to mid-November 2023, in the harshest weather conditions, instead of waiting for severe frosts, proves they are being pressured.
Analysts suggest that the Russian command sought to provoke a climax to the Ukrainian counteroffensive or to ensure that Ukrainian forces would not be able to resume it early this winter. However, the timing of events reveals that Kyiv decided to considerably curtail its counteroffensive efforts on its own initiative before the Russian offensive began.
The institute notes that it remains unclear whether the current Russian offensive operations will pave the way for Russian troops to achieve operationally relevant success anytime soon.
Meanwhile, analysts say Russian forces are not amassing idle reserves to prepare for larger-scale winter operations.
In contrast, the Ukrainian army seems to be using this period of adverse weather conditions and ongoing Russian offensive operations to establish and reinforce defensive positions in those frontline areas where they have not been involved in counteroffensive operations, preserving personnel and resources for future offensives.
To quote the ISW’s Key Takeaways on 9 December:
- Russian forces have likely committed to offensive operations in multiple sectors of the front during a period of the most challenging weather of the autumn-winter season in an effort to seize and retain the initiative prior to the Russian presidential elections in March 2024.
- Ukrainian forces, by contrast, appear to be using this period of challenging weather and ongoing Russian offensive operations to establish and consolidate defensive positions along the parts of the frontline where they have not been conducting counteroffensive operations, thereby conserving manpower and resources for future offensive efforts.
- The establishment of local defensive positions in areas Kyiv is not prioritising for current or imminent counteroffensive operations is a prudent step and not an indication that Ukraine has abandoned all plans for future counteroffensives.
- The Kremlin-backed United Russia party is spearheading Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nomination as an independent candidate in the 2024 Russian presidential election, and Putin’s re-election campaign initiatives group includes people with a variety of backgrounds and constituencies to create the image of widespread support for Putin’s presidency.
- Multiple Russian political opposition figures have reportedly developed a common campaign strategy for the upcoming presidential campaign cycle aimed at compelling Putin to address topics he seeks to avoid and revealing the breadth of Russian opposition against Putin.
- Select Russian military bloggers (milbloggers) accused the Armenian government of promoting Russophobic policies that inspire violence against Russian media figures in Armenia on 9 December.
- The European Union (EU) will allow member states to restrict Russian gas imports in an effort to restrain Russian petroleum revenues.
- Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umierov highlighted Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts and preparations for the arrival of F-16 fighter jets in the near future on 9 December.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast and advanced near Kreminna.
- Relatives of mobilised Russian military personnel continued to appeal to the Russian government for the return of their relatives from the war in Ukraine.
- The Russian Ministry of Culture continues to orchestrate efforts to Russify Ukrainian children and facilitate their deportation to Russia.