Ukraine Situation Report: Assessing The Possibility Of A New Russian Offensive On Kyiv
Although Ukrainian officials claim a new Russian offensive on Kyiv looms, is it even possible and to what end?
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with top generals late this week ahead of a planned trip to Belarus as Ukrainian concerns persist about a renewed offensive emanating from that country, in particular, aimed at Kyiv.
However, while it continues to monitor Russian movements in Belarus, the White House is reportedly skeptical of Moscow’s ability to mount such an attack with limited ammunition supplies and degraded capabilities.
Putin met with Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine Gen. Sergey Surovikin at the Joint Forces Headquarters on December 16 in a possible prelude to his planned Belarus trip to meet his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.
The Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyofWar) has a deep dive into this planned meeting and its implications for greater Moscow-Minsk ties and the war on the far side of the Pripyat Marshes. Most likely, Putin will press for further integration of the two countries that have increasingly become one and the same, particularly since the 2021-2022 buildup of Russian troops before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Another campaign against Kyiv is of course a worst-case scenario, but the meeting and its surrounding noise is more likely designed to keep Ukraine convinced that an attack from Belarus is possible at any time.
Ukraine’s worries of a new Kyiv offensive may well be a mix of both actual concern and its continued masterclass in information warfare. For a country fighting for its life, it’s better to sound the worst possible alarm in hopes that means even greater support. It just makes sense.
But Russia has used up an immense amount of seasoned manpower, ammunition, vehicles, and other supplies in its nearly 10-month-long war. It seems somewhat unlikely that Russia, or Russia and Belarus together, could mount a strategically successful operation against Kyiv, which has been further hardened against such attack since the war began.
Russia failed spectacularly at taking the capital of Ukraine with the full might of its at the time fresh fighting force. Doing it again severely degraded would be hard to comprehend. In addition, Russia has had major trouble holding ground in the east and south it had won early on, losing huge swathes of it in recent months. The idea that they would be able to take the capital and hold it while also meeting demands elsewhere on the battlefield is highly questionable.
That's not to say that a feint couldn't take place in an attempt to pull critical Ukrainian resources off the front lines.
Another possibility is some sort of push from Belarus from the western part of its border with Ukraine. The terrain is more difficult, any element of surprise would be non-existent, and such an operation would be right under the noses of NATO surveillance assets. This would make Ukraine's job of punishing such an action far easier. It would also likely lead to even more military support for Ukraine, due to its proximity to NATO's borders.
Once again, this could happen, even on a smaller scale, just as a feint or even a sacrificial actual operation aimed at pulling resources away from the south and east. Any real operation there with actual aims beyond that would be focused on trying to interdict the supply lines that run from NATO member countries into Ukraine. A tall order considering Russia's capabilities and the basic geography of the region.
Once again, the threat alone of such an operation, especially paired with a military buildup of significant scale, could keep Ukrainian forces tied down near the border and thus potentially making its front-line presence thinner. More specifically, the threat from Belarus could limit the number of troops Ukraine could mass for operations to break Russia’s new defensive lines holding the Donbas, southern Ukraine, and ultimately Crimea.
What Russia has is manpower, albeit poorly equipped and poorly trained, which could be used to take advantage of any redistribution of Ukrainian forces from the front. At the very least it could stymie Ukraine's ability to retake more territory, especially Crimea, in the not so distant future. Still, this is a pretty desperate and flimsy strategy that Ukraine would likely overcome.
Intelligence will play an absolutely critical role in assessing what is real and what isn't in terms of Russian intent along Ukraine's northern border. The better the intelligence, the more Ukraine can maximize its forces along the active front.
And we must caveat this analysis with the reality that anything is possible at this point. Russia has acted in bizarre and self defeating ways throughout this conflict, so it is possible that they throw massive amounts of lives and equipment at Kyiv again, for whatever purpose, regardless of how illogical it may seem.
Before we head into the latest coverage from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
The latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense noted a subtle shift in tactics in Russian attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure. While many previous waves of Iranian-supplied drones were launched from occupied Crimea, those used in the latest December 16 attack were launched primarily from the Krasnodar region in southern Russia.
The update attributed this change to concerns after recent Ukrainian attacks on Russian forces in Crimea, as well as Krasnodar being much closer to where Russia receives the drones from Iran. That said, given Ukraine’s recent long-range attacks against Russian bomber bases, Krasnodar is well within reach.
The December 16 attack, while blunted by air defenses, continued the Russian siege on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed 60 missiles were shot down in the raid. One of the missiles overflew former President Petro Poroshenko, who led the country as the war in the Donbas unfolded in 2014 and later took up arms in 2022, at his position in the field.
The threat of future Iranian ballistic missile deliveries still looms large over the attacks only days after the reported U.S. plan to supply Kyiv with MIM-104 Patriot air defense systems broke cover. The strikes also left behind further missile wreckage like this ruined Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile.
We wrote about Russia’s widespread use of these cruise missiles, which have some stealthy features, alongside their Cold War-era cousins the Kh-55 (AS-15 “Kent”) here. Parallel to the reported Patriot transfer to Ukraine, Greece has reportedly pledged to give its own Russian-made S-300PMU-1 (NATO: SA-20 “Gargoyle”) systems to Ukraine in exchange for replacement Patriots.
The ongoing battle for Bakhmut is still the most intense fighting along the frontline from the Russian border to the Dnieper River line. Video from the Georgian Legion gives an idea of the splintered hellscape where they are facing off against Wagner Group mercenaries.
The Russians are burning through tanks as part of their lone remaining offensive on Bakhmut, with reportedly staggering losses to Ukrainian forces.
Artillery remains the name of the game with both sides fighting from dug-in positions, but new video shows the trenches offer little protection from above. Drone footage shows the town itself is in unbelievably cratered ruins typical of this war’s unforgiving urban warfare.
Just as important is keeping artillery sufficiently mobile to avoid counter-battery fire, or in this case, a Russian Lancet loitering munition. An undated video shows a Lancet diving on and destroying a Ukrainian M777 155mm howitzer in the field.
There’s also new footage of Ukrainian PzH2000 self-propelled howitzers moving across frosty eastern Ukraine and putting rounds downrange with a textbook shoot-and-scoot mission. We also have a view from inside a formerly Lithuanian self-propelled 120mm mortar carrier variant of the M113.
Video also showed renewed use of 9M22S Grad 122mm incendiary rockets over Bakhmut.
Russian forces have reportedly built a light protective shield over nuclear waste storage at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The report from Reuters stated a more robust shield will be built, as the current screen protects only against light shelling and drones.
Elsewhere on the frontline, we have a clip of a Ukrainian-operated YPR-765 APC tanking a hit from a Russian rocket-propelled grenade and belting out .50-caliber rounds in return fire.
There’s also a new improvised multiple-launched rocket system (MLRS) in the form of an 80mm rocket pod mounted on the back of a Humvee.
Lastly and on a lighter note, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted the delivery of a large humanitarian aid package received from South Korea including generators, medical equipment, vaccines and cancer treatment drugs.
We will continue to update this story until we state otherwise.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org