CTP recorded no protests in Iran on January 11, 2023 for the first time since September 16, 2022. Protest turnout has steadily declined since December 2022. It is possible, however, that some protests occurred on January 11 that CTP did not record. The information space has become increasingly muddy since the beginning of the protest movement, partly due to expanding regime censorship. Protesters have increasingly taken to the streets without their cellphones in recent weeks as well, which may be limiting the amount of information available in the open-source environment.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on January 11 that Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov will take over as theater commander as part of a major reshuffle of the Russian command structure for the war in Ukraine. The Russian MoD officially announced Gerasimov as Commander of the Joint Grouping of Forces and named three deputies under Gerasimov’s command: previous theater commander in Ukraine from October 8 to January 11 Army General Sergei Surovikin, Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces; Army General Oleg Salyukov, Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces; and Colonel General Alexei Kim, Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff. Surovikin has served as commander of the Aerospace Forces since October 2017 and commanded the "Southern" group of forces in Ukraine from June to October 2022, before his appointment as overall theater commander. Salyukov has served as commander-in-chief of the Russian Ground Forces since 2014, and Kim has served as Deputy Chief of the General Staff since September 2022 following several positions in Russian military higher education institutions.
The Iranian regime is refocusing on enforcing widespread adherence to the mandatory hijab law after briefly and informally relaxing such restrictions in previous months. Women in Iran have increasingly gone out in public without a hijab in recent months, according to some media reports. But the regime has taken several actions in recent days indicating preparations to resume mass enforcement. Iranian state media reported on January 10 that Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has ordered the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to impose the hijab requirement “decisively.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan—an architect of the morality patrol—as the new law enforcement commander on January 7. The LEC resumed using surveillance cameras to identify women not properly adhering to the hijab requirement in their cars on January 2 as well. Regime officials may see an opportunity to again enforce the hijab requirement as protest turnout has decreased in recent weeks and security personnel have likely regained some bandwidth. Iranian authorities may be particularly eager to resume widespread adherence to the mandatory hijab law to promote to the public the impression that the unrest has receded.
Russian media reported on January 10 that Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, former commander of the Central Military District (CMD) and Russian forces in eastern Kharkiv and northern Donetsk oblasts, has been appointed Chief of Staff of the Russian Ground Forces. Russian outlet URA, citing unidentified Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) sources, reported that Lapin took over from Colonel General Vasily Tonkoshkurov as Chief of Staff of the Russian Ground Forces on January 9. It is unclear why Tonkoshkurov was removed from this position and what his next role will be. While official Kremlin and MoD sources have not confirmed the claim, it was widely circulated and responded to as fact among military commentators in the Russian information space. Lapin’s appointment is notably to the position of Chief of Staff of the Russian Ground Forces (also known as the Russian Army), not the Russian Armed Forces as a whole. Army General Valery Gerasimov likely remains Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The Chief of Staff of the Russian Army is not a frontline command position, and while Lapin’s specific duties (in the currently fragmented Russian command structure) are unclear, he is unlikely to directly command troops in Ukraine.
Protest coordinators and organizations may have successfully deterred the judiciary from executing two arrested protesters in Iran on January 9. Social media accounts reported that the judiciary transferred these two protesters to solitary confinement at the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj with imminent plans to execute them. Citizens gathered outside the prison in the early morning hours of January 9 after protest organizers called for snap demonstrations there. The regime later denied that it planned to execute the protesters on January 9 but defended the death sentences. Persian-language social media accounts asserted that the snap demonstrations prevented the regime from conducting the executions. CTP cannot confirm whether the snap demonstrations actually delayed the executions, but their perceived success may encourage protest groups to organize additional gatherings outside prisons where arrested protesters are held.
Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to use reports of Wagner Group success in Soledar to bolster the Wagner Group’s reputation as an effective fighting force. Wagner Group forces claimed to capture territory within Soledar over the past few days, and many Russian sources have discussed the gains as indicators that Wagner Group forces may soon encircle Bakhmut. Combat footage widely circulated on social media on January 9 shows Wagner Group fighters engaging in fierce small arms combat near the city administration building in central Soledar. Several Russian milbloggers remarked on January 8 and 9 that Wagner Group forces are responsible for block-by-block advances in Soledar and other critical settlements northeast of Bakhmut, as well as within Bakhmut. Prigozhin emphasized on January 9 that “exclusively” Wagner Group units are taking ground in Soledar, and noted that Wagner fighters are currently engaged in “fierce battles for the city administration building.” Prigozhin will continue to use both confirmed and fabricated Wagner Group success in Soledar and Bakhmut to promote the Wagner Group as the only Russian force in Ukraine capable of securing tangible gains, as ISW has previously reported.
Protest activity increased significantly on January 8—in line with the calls from protest organizers for countrywide demonstrations to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane. These protests are the most that CTP has reported in a single day since December 5, 2022. Protests have seen reduced turnout in recent weeks, likely in part due to the discordant messaging and internal fissures within the protest movement. But protest coordinators and organizations aligned at least in their calls for countrywide demonstrations on January 8, demonstrating that they can still generate substantial turnout, especially when their messaging is coherent and consistent.
ISW is publishing an abbreviated campaign update today, January 8. This report discusses the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) attempts to claim that Russian forces responded to the December 31 Ukrainian strike on Russian positions in Makiivka; the Russian MoD’s use of a grievance-and-retaliation framework and the resulting creation of negative feedback loops in the pro-war Russian information space; Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s potential attempts to financially exploit Ukrainian natural resources around Bakhmut; and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense’s (UK MoD) assessment that Russian forces may be preparing for Ukrainian counteroffensive actions along the Zaporizhia and Luhansk oblast frontlines.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to empower hardline security figures to enforce his uncompromising position toward the protests and mandatory hijab law. Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan as law enforcement commander on January 7. Radan will thus head the Law Enforcement Command (LEC)—Iran’s national police force and first line of defense against protests. Khamenei called on Radan to provide public security, improve LEC capabilities, properly compensate LEC employees, and train specialized police units for different security missions.
Recent Russian gains in Soledar do not portend an imminent encirclement of Bakhmut, contrary to claims made by Russian sources. Even at the most generous interpretation of Russian milblogger narratives, which claim that Russian forces are fighting on the outskirts of Razdolivka (about 6km northwest of Soledar), Russian forces are still far from being within striking distance of an operational encirclement of Bakhmut. In order to effectively cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut, Russian forces would have to establish control of the T0513 Siversk-Bakhmut highway (currently 7km west of the furthest point of confirmed Russian advances in the Soledar area) and reach the E40 Slovyansk-Bakhmut highway (13km from the furthest point of confirmed Russian advance in the Soledar area) at least. Considering that the recent rate of gains in this area has been on the order of a few hundred meters a day, at most, it is highly unlikely that Russian forces will be successful in cohering a mechanized push towards these GLOCs and move towards encircling Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut would still have GLOCs available even if the Russians cut the E40, moreover, making the entire discussion of an encirclement at this point bizarre.