Russia likely preparing for offensive in Ukraine in coming months, says ISW

31 January, 11:44 AM
Ukrainian military in the Bakhmut area (Photo:REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Ukrainian military in the Bakhmut area (Photo:REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Western, Ukrainian, and Russian sources continue to indicate that Russia is preparing to launch an offensive in Ukraine in the coming months, U.S. think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its Ukraine report on Jan. 30.

The ISW noted NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg’s statement on Jan. 30 that there are no indications that Russia is preparing to negotiate for peace – rather, all indicators point to the opposite.

Stoltenberg said Russia might mobilize upwards of 200,000 men, and is continuing to acquire weapons and ammunition through increased domestic production and partnerships with authoritarian states such as Iran and North Korea.

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Stoltenberg also emphasized that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin retains his maximalist goals in Ukraine – the complete conquest of the country.

In turn, Head of the Council of Reservists of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Ivan Tymochko, relatedly stated that Russian forces are strengthening their grouping in Donbas as part of an anticipated offensive, and noted that Russian forces will need to launch an offensive due to increasing domestic pressure for victory.

According to ISW analysts, Stoltenberg’s and Tymochko’s statements support ISW’s previous forecast that Russian forces are setting conditions to launch an offensive effort, likely in Luhansk Oblast, in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Russian milbloggers are also setting conditions in the Russian information space in anticipation of a Russian offensive. They have amplified a statement by a Russian Telegram channel that the current pace and nature of Russian operations indicate the main forces that are to carry out the anticipated offensive and promised breakthrough have not yet “entered the battle.”

At the same time, ISW stressed that Russia and Iran continued efforts to deepen economic ties. Iranian state media reported that Iran and Russia established direct financial communication channels between Iranian banks and more than 800 Russian banks on Jan. 29.

Iranian Central Bank Deputy Governor Mohsen Karami announced that Iranian and Russian banks have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on financial messaging, effective immediately. Karami added that Iranian banks abroad were also included in the MoU and would be able to exchange standard banking messages with Russian banks.

ISW experts believe that Iranian officials and state-affiliated media outlets framed the MoU as a means to circumvent Western sanctions on Iran and Russia and compared the messaging system to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which serves as the world’s largest financial messaging system.

Other key takeaways by ISW analysts:

  • Russian forces continued ground attacks to regain lost positions west of Kreminna as Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations northwest of Svatove;
  • Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian troop concentrations in rear areas in Luhansk Oblast;
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line;
  • Russian forces continued to make marginal territorial gains near Bakhmut;
  • Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in Zaporizhzhya Oblast;
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continued measures to professionalize the Russian military even as it faces a continued backlash against these measures;
  • Russian forces and occupation authorities continue to target Crimean Tatars in an effort to associate anti-Russia sentiment with extremist or terrorist activity.

Map of combat operations: the battle for Bakhmut, battles in the Donbass and in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, in the south and in the north-east of Ukraine

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