The Iranian regime failed to suppress demonstrations in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on January 6. Protesters participated in anti-regime demonstrations in Zahedan after prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continued to criticize the regime in his weekly Friday prayer sermon. Abdol Hamid condemned Iranian leadership for extracting forced confessions from protesters and suggested that some Iranian officials were unlawfully behaving as though they possessed supreme religious authority. Abdol Hamid additionally maintained that demonstrations would continue in spite of mass arrests.
Russian officials and milbloggers largely did not react to the US announcement of more than $3.75 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine, further highlighting that the Kremlin and the Russian information space selectively choose when to portray Western military assistance as an escalation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on January 6 that the assistance would provide Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air missiles, and ammunition. Russian officials and milbloggers scarcely reacted to the latest announcement of military assistance, even though the Kremlin most recently portrayed the transfer of purely defensive Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine as an escalation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russian forces will conduct a 36-hour ceasefire between January 6 and January 7 in observance of Orthodox Christmas celebrations is likely an information operation intended to damage Ukraine’s reputation. Putin instructed Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to initiate a ceasefire from 1200 January 6 to 2400 January 7 along the “entire line of contact between parties in Ukraine” and called on Ukraine to accept the ceasefire to allow “a large number of citizens of citizens professing Orthodoxy” to attend services on the day of Orthodox Christmas. Putin’s announcement was ostensibly in response to an appeal by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (head of the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church) for a temporary ceasefire in observance of Christmas Eve and the Day of the Nativity of Christ. Ukrainian and Western officials, including US President Joe Biden, immediately highlighted the hypocrisy of the ceasefire announcement and emphasized that Russian forces continued striking Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure on December 25—when many Orthodox Ukrainians celebrate Christmas—and New Year’s.
Regime officials and entities are endorsing an expansive, collective-punishment model to implement mandatory veiling laws as anti-regime demonstrations enter their fourth consecutive month. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stressed the importance of the hijab on January 5. Vahidi confirmed reports that the regime began issuing texts warning unveiled women drivers to adhere to hijab laws and described veiling as a “legal issue” and core component of the Islamic Republic’s religious values. The judiciary has additionally submitted for review a draft bill that would replace Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code, which outlines the consequences for failing to adhere to the state-imposed hijab law, within the past several days.
Protester umbrella organizations appear to disagree on the timing of the upcoming planned protests. Protest coordinators from the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union have called for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on January 6-8 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shooting down of a Ukrainian civilian airplane. Other protest groups, such as those allegedly aligned with the Iranian Neighborhood United Front, have called for demonstrations only on January 8 (the Iranian Neighborhood United Front published a statement that it claimed its members signed, but not all members have confirmed their alignment with this umbrella organization thus far). This divergence suggests that the emergence of different umbrella organizations vying for the allegiance of local groups may have created a fault line within the protest movement. Such disunity could indicate that different protest leaders are competing for influence within the movement, as CTP previously argued.
The Russian milblogger information space continues to seize on official responses to the Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian base in Makiivka to criticize endemic issues in the Russian military apparatus. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) released an official response to the strike on January 4 and attributed it to the "presence and mass use by personnel, contrary to prohibitions, of mobile telephones within range of enemy weapons systems." The Russian MoD also claimed that the death toll of the strike is now 89, including a deputy regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bachurin. The clear attempt by the Russian MoD to blame the strike on individual mobilized servicemen, as ISW assessed the Russian MoD would likely do on January 2, drew immediate ire from Russian milbloggers. One milblogger emphasized that it is "extremely wrong to make mobile phones guilty for strikes" and concluded that "it is not cell phones and their owners that are to blame, but the negligence of the commanders." Several milbloggers noted that the use of cell phones on the frontline in the 21st century is inevitable and that efforts to crack down on their use are futile. The milblogger critique of the Russian MoD largely converged on the incompetence of Russian military command, with many asserting that the Russian military leadership has no understanding of the basic realities faced by Russian soldiers on the frontline and is seeking to shift the blame for its own command failures on the "faceless masses" of Russian mobilized recruits.
The organizational structure of the protest movement is continuing to evolve and morph as its leaders try to cohere the movement. Several different umbrella organizations for the smaller protest groups have emerged in recent months. These umbrella organizations include the Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) and the similarly named Iranian Neighborhood United Front (INUF), among others. The INYU and INUF have both circulated lists of their members in recent days, highlighting how some protest groups belong to both umbrella organizations, and other protest groups belong to only one. This apparent disunity may indicate that different protest leaders are vying for influence within the movement. This possibly internal struggle is a somewhat natural consequence of the growing cohesion within the protest movement. It does not mean that the protest movement is irrevocably divided but is a challenge protest leaders must overcome.
Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a series of instructions for Russian agencies and high-level officials on January 2 likely to address criticisms of the Kremlin’s treatment of military personnel and portray the Kremlin as an involved war-time apparatus. These instructions are ostensibly an effort to address grievances voiced by mothers of servicemen during a highly staged November 25 meeting with Putin. The 11 instructions direct several high-ranking members of the Russian government—including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin—and government agencies (including the Russian Ministry of Defense) to collaborate with other agencies and non-government organizations to generate a list of recommendations for addressing and improving supply, benefits, and healthcare processes for military personnel. Putin instructed the Ministry of Culture to assist the nongovernmental organization “Committee of the Fatherland Warrior’s Families” to help create documentaries and other material to showcase the “courage and heroism” of Russian forces in Ukraine and to screen domestic documentaries to “fight against the spread of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist ideology.” These instructions are unlikely to generate significant changes and will likely take significant time to implement.
The Iranian state security services have intensified their protest crackdown and social oppression in recent days. Security forces have substantially increased their presence in some cities, such as Javanroud and Semirom, according to social media users, after significant protests occurred there on December 31. The Khuzestan Neighborhood Youth similarly reported that security forces disrupted electricity and telephone lines and shot at citizens in Izeh on January 1. The regime has escalated efforts to reimpose social control as well. Security forces have arrested two reformist journalists in recent days and resumed using surveillance cameras to identify women not properly adhering to the mandatory hijab law in cars.
Ukrainian air defenses reportedly intercepted all drones from two consecutive nights of Russian drone strike attacks against Ukraine on December 31 – January 2. Ukraine’s air force reported on January 1 that Ukrainian air defense forces shot down all 45 Russian Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that Russia fired at Ukraine on New Year's Eve. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesman Yuriy Ignat stated on January 1 that Ukrainian forces used the US-provided NASAMS air defense system to shoot down these drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 2 that Ukrainian forces intercepted all 39 Shahed-136 drones launched against Ukraine between the night of January 1 and 2. The Ukrainian General Staff again reported on January 2 that Ukrainian forces shot down all 27 Shahed-136 drones that Russian forces launched against Ukraine on January 2, though it is unclear if this figure includes the previously reported intercepts from the night between January 1 and 2. Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Vadym Skibitsky reiterated on January 1 that Russian forces only have enough cruise missiles to conduct two to three more large-scale missile attacks against Ukraine.