Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023 - Press ISW

The introduction of Russian conventional forces to the Bakhmut frontline has offset the culmination of the Wagner Group’s offensive and retained the initiative for Russian operations around the city. The ISW December 27 forecast that the Russian offensive against Bakhmut was culminating was inaccurate. The Wagner Group offensive culminated, as ISW assessed on January 28, but the Russian command has committed sufficient conventional Russian forces to the effort to reinvigorate it, thus forestalling the overall culmination of the offensive on Bakhmut, which continues. The commander of a Ukrainian unit operating in Bakhmut, Denys Yarolavskyi, confirmed that "super qualified" Russian conventional military troops are now reinforcing Wagner Group private military company (PMC) assault units in an ongoing effort to encircle Bakhmut. Another Ukrainian Bakhmut frontline commander, Volodymyr Nazarenko, also confirmed ISW’s observations that the Russian military command committed Russian airborne troops to the Bakhmut offensive. Russian forces are continuing to conduct offensive operations northeast and southwest of Bakhmut and have secured limited territorial gains since capturing Soledar on January 12.

Iran Crisis Update, January 30, 2023

January 30, 2023 - Press ISW

Israeli combat aircraft conducted three airstrikes against likely Iran-backed militants in eastern Syria on January 29 and January 30. Israeli combat aircraft targeted and destroyed six trucks traveling through al-Hiri, Deir ez-Zour Province shortly after the convoy crossed into Syria from the Iraqi al-Qaim border crossing on January 29. Iranian proxy social media channels posted footage depicting a large fire in al-Hari immediately after the airstrike occurred, indicating that the attack may have detonated precision-guided munitions (PGMs) that Iran-backed militants attempted to conceal in what Iranian state media claimed to be a humanitarian convoy. Iranian state-run Islamic Republic News Agency denied reports that the attack resulted in casualties among IRGC personnel.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 30, 2023

January 30, 2023 - Press ISW

Western, Ukrainian, and Russian sources continue to indicate that Russia is preparing for an imminent offensive, supporting ISW’s assessment that an offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action (MLCOA). NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated on January 30 that there are no indications that Russia is preparing to negotiate for peace and that all indicators point to the opposite. Stoltenberg noted that Russia may mobilize upwards of 200,000 personnel and is continuing to acquire weapons and ammunition through increased domestic production and partnerships with authoritarian states such as Iran and North Korea. Stoltenberg emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin retains his maximalist goals in Ukraine. 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. 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. Russian milbloggers additionally continued to indicate that the Russian information space is setting conditions for and anticipating a Russian offensive. Milbloggers amplified a statement made by a Russian Telegram channel that the current pace and nature of Russian operations indicate that the main forces of the anticipated offensive and promised breakthrough have not yet “entered the battle.” This statement suggests that Russian milbloggers believe that Russian forces have not yet activated the elements required for a decisive offensive effort.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 29, 2023

January 29, 2023 - Press ISW

Delays in the provision to Ukraine of Western long-range fires systems, advanced air defense systems, and tanks have limited Ukraine’s ability to take advantage of opportunities for larger counter-offensive operations presented by flaws and failures in Russian military operations. Western discussions of supposed “stalemate” conditions and the difficulty or impossibility of Ukraine regaining significant portions of the territory Russia seized in 2022 insufficiently account for how Western delays in providing necessary military equipment have exacerbated those problems. Slow authorization and arrival of aid have not been the only factors limiting Ukraine’s ability to launch continued large-scale counter-offensive operations. Factors endogenous to the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian political decision-making have also contributed to delaying counteroffensives. ISW is not prepared to assess that all Ukrainian military decisions have been optimal. (ISW does not, in fact, assess Ukrainian military decision-making in these updates at all. Yet, as historians, we have not observed flawless military decision-making in any war.) But Ukraine does not have a significant domestic military industry to turn to in the absence of Western support. Western hesitancy to supply weapons during wartime took insufficient account of the predictable requirement to shift Ukraine from Soviet to Western systems as soon as the West committed to helping Ukraine fight off Russia's 2022 invasion.

Iran Crisis Update, January 29, 2023

January 29, 2023 - Press ISW

Israel conducted a kamikaze drone attack on a military munitions factory near Esfahan City, Esfahan Province on January 28, according to Western media reports. Israeli agents used at least three explosive-laden quadcopters in the attack, suggesting that they launched the strike from inside Iran rather than a neighboring state because of the range of heavily laden quadcopters. The Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry reportedly uses the targeted facility to produce ballistic missiles and drones. Unidentified sources told Western and Israeli journalists that the strike was ”specific, surgical, and successful” and ”a tremendous success.” The Iranian defense ministry dismissed these reports in a public statement, claiming that Iranian air defenses largely prevented the attack and that the drones caused only minimal damage to the roof of the facility.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 28, 2023

January 28, 2023 - Press ISW

Conventional Russian forces are likely replacing exhausted Wagner Group forces to maintain the offensive in Bakhmut after the Wagner Group’s offensive in Bakhmut culminated with the capture of Soledar around January 12. The Wagner Group’s assault on Bakhmut has likely culminated with its surge on Soledar. Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut have not made significant gains since capturing Soledar around January 12. Conventional Russian units are now participating in fighting in Bakhmut to reinvigorate the Russian offensive there. Combat footage posted on January 20 indicates Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) are operating around Bakhmut as the footage shows a Russian BMD-4M – niche mechanized equipment exclusively used by the VDV. A Russian source reported that Wagner and VDV elements conducted joint operations in Bakhmut on December 27. The Russian Ministry of Defense has been increasingly reporting that Russian VDV are operating in the Bakhmut area since early January 2023, indicating conventional Russian forces are augmenting if not replacing likely culminated Wagner forces in the area.[3] Wagner Group forces - particularly convicts - have taken heavy causalities in Bakhmut since the fall of 2022. One anonymous US official reportedly stated on January 5 that the Wagner Group’s forces have sustained more than 4,100 deaths and 10,000 wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut. Ukrainian officials have maintained that the Russian offensive on Bakhmut has not culminated. ISW has previously assessed that the Russian offensive on Bakhmut was culminating. We continue to assess that the Wagner offensive has culminated, but now assess that the Russians are committing conventional units to continue the fight. The larger Russian effort against Bakhmut has likely thus not culminated.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023 - Press ISW

Kremlin insiders reportedly told Bloomberg that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing a new offensive to regain the initiative that may begin as early as February or March 2023. Russian officials, Kremlin advisors, and other unspecified knowledgeable figures who spoke on condition of anonymity reportedly told Bloomberg that Putin seeks to conduct a new major offensive and that he believes that Russia’s tolerance to accept causalities will allow Russia to win the war in the long run despite Russian failures so far. This report is consistent with ISW’s current assessment and forecast that the Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action—most likely in Luhansk Oblast—in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine’s current string of operational successes. ISW previously assessed that the decisive strategic action in Luhansk Oblast could be either a major offensive or a Russian defensive operation to defeat and exploit a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Iran Crisis Update, January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023 - Press ISW

An armed individual shot and killed the security chief of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran and injured two guards on January 27. The gunman penetrated the embassy building and opened fire on personnel with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Iranian officials have since arrested the attacker and identified him as 53-year-old Yasin Hossein Zadeh. Iranian media described the event as an “armed attack” and reported that Hossein Zadeh was motivated by “personal and family problems,” citing a dispute between embassy personnel and Hossein Zadeh’s wife in March or April 2022. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the incident a “terrorist attack” and accused Iranian officials of failing to take action against prior threats made against Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran. The Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Minister Jeyhun Bayramov announced the evacuation of the embassy on January 27. President Ebrahim Raisi called for a comprehensive investigation into the attack, and Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani warned Iranian media outlets against circulating speculative reports of the attack. Supreme National Security Council-affiliated Nour News separately published a tweet stating that the attack should not damage ties between Baku and Tehran.

Iran Crisis Update, January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023 - Press ISW

Ongoing disruptions to Iran’s energy supplies may be generating severe air pollution. Semi-official ISNA reported on January 26 that the city of Tehran has introduced “emergency ambulance buses” to transport citizens affected by dangerous air pollution levels. Iranian media outlets have also reported school closures in various cities due to air pollution in recent days. This pollution may be caused by power plants burning low-grade fuel due to shortages of more refined products. Iran’s ongoing energy crisis could both impede and trigger further protests. An unusually harsh winter and high air pollution levels may explain why protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks. This crisis may increase frustration among the population and precipitate new unrest, on the other hand. The first known protest inspired by natural gas shortages during the Mahsa Amini protest wave occurred in Torbat-e Jam on January 16, as CTP previously reported. Petrochemical workers across Iran have also protested against poor living conditions in recent days. The regime’s inability to resolve this crisis may drive frustrated citizens to challenge the regime despite harsh natural conditions. Iranian officials had hoped to benefit from a harsh winter in Europe and a mild winter in Iran, but have instead suffered from the inverse weather pattern.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023 - Press ISW

Russian forces launched another massive series of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine on January 26. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valery Zaluzhnyi stated that Russian forces launched 55 air- and sea-based missiles, including Kh-101, Kh-555, Kh-47, and Kh-95 Kalibr and Kinzhal missiles at Ukraine from Tu-95, Su-35, and MiG-31K aircraft from the waters of the Black Sea. Ukrainian air defense shot down 47 of the 55 missiles and all 24 Shahed 136 and 131 drones. Several missiles struck critical infrastructure in Vinnytsia and Odesa oblasts. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov notably reported that Russian forces had 90 Iranian-made drones remaining as of January 7. Russian forces have enough drones for only a few more large-scale strikes unless they have received or will soon receive a new shipment of drones from Iran. Russian Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on January 23 to expand bilateral cooperation efforts, conversations that may have included discussions on the provision of Iranian-made weapons systems to Russia.