Kremlin preparing new major offensive in Ukraine, believes ISW
Ukrainian soldiers near the front line near Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, January 23, 2023 (Photo:REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)
Russia is likely preparing to conduct “a decisive strategic action” in Luhansk Oblast or in the area of Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast in the next six months, in order to regain the initiative in its full-scale war against Ukraine, the U.S. Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a recent assessment of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Jan. 27.
Kremlin insiders reportedly told Bloomberg that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin plans to renew his offensive campaign against Ukraine as soon as in February or March 2023, to regain the initiative after a string of losses.
The ISW clarified that “decisive strategic action” could mean both a new offensive and a defensive operation in response to a Ukrainian counteroffensive, while recent limited Russian ground attacks in Zaporizhzhya Oblast may be intended to disperse Ukrainian troops to set conditions for offensive actions in the Luhansk direction. Russia is currently redeploying elements of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division from Belarus to Luhansk Oblast.
“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,” the ISW wrote.
Meanwhile, an assault in the north of Ukraine from Belarus is extremely unlikely, the ISW has reckoned. There are no signs of the strike groups necessary for such an operation forming in Belarus, while the military training facilities there are used by the Russians mostly for rotation.
The Instituted noted that even Russian military bloggers are increasingly writing off the notion of a second attack against Kyiv as “an information operation,” while the eastern part of Ukraine or neighboring Kharkiv Oblast is considered the most likely target.
At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) “may be conducting its own line of effort to silence the milbloggers independent of Putin,” though it is unclear whether Putin himself supports these efforts, ISW experts write.
“The Russian MoD’s effort to restrict embedded milbloggers in conventional units will not silence all milblogger criticism online, however,” the ISW said.
“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.”
Other key takeaways:
- The Kremlin confirmed that Putin is issuing preemptive pardons for convicts who serve in Russian operations in Ukraine.
- A Russian opposition outlet’s investigation confirmed that Russian authorities are deporting children from occupied Kherson Oblast to occupied Crimea.
- Russian officials denied reported explosions near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on Jan. 26.
- Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27.
- Invaders continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, on the western outskirts of the city of Donetsk, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian sources did not report that Russian forces continued localized offensive operations in Zaporizhzhya Oblast on Jan. 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.
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