Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov credited Western security assistance for empowering Ukrainian forces to liberate half of the territory that Russia occupied since February 24, 2022. Umerov credited Western security assistance for previous Ukrainian counteroffensive success during an interview with Fox News on December 5 and stated that the Ukrainian forces have a plan for 2024. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on November 8 that the Ukrainian forces have planned for several paths of future advance in 2024 to liberate more of the occupied territories. ISW continues to assess that Ukraine must liberate strategically vital areas still under Russian occupation to ensure Ukraine’s long-term security and economic viability. Umerov also stated that Ukraine plans to conduct all calculations for procurement, acquisition, planning, and operations according to NATO standards and that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) first priority is Ukraine’s accession to NATO. The adoption of NATO standards throughout the Ukrainian military and defense establishment will facilitate NATO oversight of current and future Western security assistance to Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted successful drone strikes against Russian military targets in occupied Crimea on the night of December 4 to 5. Ukrainian media reported on December 5, citing sources in the Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) and Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), that GUR and SBU elements struck a Russian military oil terminal in Feodosia, a Nebo-M radar system near Baherove (13km west of Kerch), and a helicopter landing pad, P-18 Terek radar system, and a Baikal-1M anti-aircraft missile control system in unspecified areas of Crimea. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), claimed that Russian air defenses, electronic warfare (EW) systems, and small-arms fire downed up to 35 Ukrainian drones near Baherove, Feodosia, Cape Chauda, and over the Sea of Azov but did not say that any Ukrainian drones struck their intended targets. Another group of Russian sources, including Kherson Oblast occupation head Vladimir Saldo, claimed that Russian air defenses downed up to 41 Ukrainian drones over northern Crimea and the Sea of Azov and claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to strike Russian air defense systems and fuel storage facilities.
Russia continues to reckon with the economic ramifications of labor shortages partially resulting from the war in Ukraine. Russian state media outlets reported on December 4 that Russian consulting company Yakov and Partners has recorded increased labor shortages in domestic production that will likely grow to a deficit of two to four million workers by 2030, 90 percent of whom are likely to be semi-skilled workers in critical industries. Yakov and Partners noted that this supply shortage will place upward pressure on workers’ wages that will outpace GDP growth and make Russian companies even less attractive to foreign investment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree is likely a formal recognition of the Russian military’s current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel. Putin signed a decree on December 1 increasing the official end strength of the Russian military from 2.039 million personnel to 2.209 million personnel and total Russian combat personnel from 1.15 million to 1.32 million. The increase of 170,000 Russian combat personnel between Putin’s previous August 25, 2022 decree and the December 1, 2023 decree is likely a formal acknowledgement of a net increase of 170,000 combat personnel between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023, and not a call to immediately increase the current number of combat personnel by an additional 170,000. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev claimed on November 9 that the Russian military has recruited 410,000 contract, volunteer, and conscripted military personnel since January 1, 2023, then later claimed on December 1 that the Russian military has recruited over 452,000 personnel since January 1, 2023.The Russian government announced in September 2022 that the Russian military would mobilize 300,000 personnel under Putin’s partial mobilization decree. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on November 29 that Russian forces have suffered over 300,000 casualties (killed and wounded personnel) in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.Ongoing widespread crypto-mobilization efforts (such as volunteer recruitment and the coercion of migrants into the Russian military), partial mobilization, the number of Russian personnel concluding military service, and Russian casualties in Ukraine plausibly account for a net 170,000-combat personnel increase between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023. Putin’s December 1, 2023 decree is thus likely establishing 2.209 million personnel as the new official end strength rather than ordering a significant new increase in the total size of the Russian military.
Poor weather conditions continue to slow the pace of Ukrainian and Russian combat operations across the entire frontline but have not completely halted them. Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo stated that Russian forces actively use aviation in the Bakhmut direction when the weather permits it. Fityo added that weather does not significantly affect Russian artillery fire in the Bakhmut direction. Russian milbloggers, claimed on December 1 that strong winds near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast prevented Russian forces from using drones and artillery over the past two days, however. A Russian milblogger claimed that although light rain allows Russian forces to conduct aerial reconnaissance near Verbove (9km east of Robotyne) the muddy terrain makes it challenging for infantry and wheeled vehicles to advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast. The milblogger added that Russian forces can only move on tracked vehicles and that Ukrainian forces continue intense artillery fire despite the poor weather conditions in western Zaporizhia Oblast. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov amplified footage on December 2 that shows muddy roads on the Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove line in western Zaporizhia Oblast and claimed that these conditions have practically immobilized Ukrainian wheeled vehicles, forcing Ukrainian troops to conduct infantry-only attacks. Rogov amplified additional footage showing an infestation of rats and mice in a Ukrainian trench in Zaporizhia Oblast, which he claimed was the result of the cold weather in the region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi signaled intent to increase Ukrainian defenses and fortifications around the Ukrainian theater, but notably did not include Zaporizhia Oblast in discussions of ongoing and future defensive measures. Zelensky stated on November 30 that Ukrainian forces will strengthen their fortifications in all critical directions of the front, including the Kupyansk-Lyman line, oblasts in northern and western Ukraine, and Kherson Oblast, but particularly emphasized the Avdiivka and Marinka directions and other areas of Donetsk Oblast.
A recent Russian opinion poll indicates that the number of Russians who fully support the war in Ukraine has almost halved since February 2023 and that more Russians support a withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine than do not. Independent Russian opposition polling organization Chronicles stated that data from its October 17-22, 2023, telephone survey indicates that respondents who are “consistent” supporters of the war - those who expressed support for the war, do not support a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without Russia having achieved its war aims, and think that Russia should prioritize military spending - decreased from 22 percent to 12 percent between February 2023 and October 2023. Chronicles stated that 40 percent of respondents supported a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine without Russia having achieved its war aims, and that this number has remained consistent at about 39 to 40 percent throughout 2023. Chronicles stated that 33 percent of respondents did not support a Russian withdrawal and favored a continuation of the war and noted that this number has been consistently decreasing from 47 percent in February 2023 and 39 percent in July 2023. Recent polling by the independent Russian polling organization Levada Center published on October 31 indicated that 55 percent of respondents believed that Russia should begin peace negotiations whereas 38 percent favored continuing the war.
The apparent Russian failure to establish a cohesive command structure among forces defending on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast continues to degrade Russian morale and combat capabilities. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 29 that elements of the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet) operating near Krynky (30km northeast of Kherson City and 2km from the Dnipro River) are refusing to conduct assaults on Ukrainian positions due to a lack of artillery coordination, tactical intelligence transmission, and proper communication about the location of Russian minefields. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that maps of the Russian minefields are classified and that Russian commanders have not properly coordinated with assault units about the locations of these minefields, leading to 50 casualties among elements of the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade in the last month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated a two-part conception of Russian identity in a speech on November 28: a “Russian nation” – claimed to include Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians – at the center of Russian identity; and a wider “Russian world” including other non-East Slavic ethnicities in both modern Russia and the former territory of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire.
A cyclone in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine caused infrastructure damage in many areas of coastal southern Russia and occupied Ukraine and is impacting the tempo of military operations along the frontline in Ukraine, but has notably not stopped military activity entirely. Despite the challenging weather conditions, both Russian and Ukrainian forces are continuing ground attacks throughout Ukraine, albeit at a slightly slower pace due to snow and resulting poor visibility. Russian milbloggers noted that heavy snow and winds have reduced visibility and complicated aerial reconnaissance and artillery correction in the Kherson direction, but noted that Ukrainian forces have taken advantage of low visibility conditions to consolidate positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. Challenging winter conditions will force both sides to rely more heavily on infantry-led ground attacks in the absence of aerial reconnaissance and artillery correction capabilities.