Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual New Year’s Eve address continued to illustrate that Putin is uncertain of his ability to shape the Russian information space and remains focused on justifying the war and its costs to his people. Putin stated that “Russia’s sovereign, independent, and secure future depends only on us, on our strength and determination” and that 2022 “was a year of difficult, necessary decisions, of important steps toward achieving the full sovereignty of Russia and the powerful consolidation of our society.” He added that the events of 2022 “became the milestone that laid the foundation of our new common future, our new true independence.” He continued: “That is what we are fighting for even today, we are defending our people on our own historical territories in the new Russian Federation Subjects [the illegally annexed territories of Ukraine].” This speech continued Putin’s rhetorical claims not only that Russia has historical rights to Ukraine, but also that Russia’s independence and sovereignty depend on regaining control of Ukraine. Putin thereby attempts to cast victory in the war as essential to Russia’s continued existence as an independent state. These comments were likely meant in part to justify the costly war and to appeal to the ultra-nationalist pro-war community that routinely cites the defense of illegally annexed territories as a reason to pursue even more aggressive goals and to pay even higher prices for them in Ukraine. They also indicate, however, that Putin remains unwilling to contemplate a meaningful peaceful resolution of the war he began other than on terms he dictates to Ukraine and the West. Putin is unlikely to accept any lesser outcome unless Ukraine, with the help of its Western supporters, can inflict additional large-scale defeats on Russian forces and liberate considerably more of its occupied land.
Recent comments from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) leaders reflect the ongoing divisions within the regime, and especially the IRGC, over the protests. Brigadier General Hamid Abazari stated on December 30 that some military commanders have “stood against values, the supreme leader, and the regime,” suggesting infighting over how to manage the ongoing unrest. Abazari also criticized officials who have not publicly condemned the protests. Former Basij Organization Chief Brigadier General Gholam Hossein Gheyb Parvar, who is now responsible for organizing and training elite Basij units specialized in protest suppression, echoed Abazari’s criticism on December 31. Iranian media identified Abazari as an adviser to IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami. The IRGC’s public relations wing released a statement on December 31 rejecting Abazari’s remarks and denying that he is an adviser to Salami. The statement said that Abazari was expressing his personal opinion but not using accurate information.
This page is a collection of ISW and CTP's Ukraine War Updates from 2022.
Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid is likely trying to balance his political positions to maximize his domestic support and achieve meaningful reform. The rhetoric that he used in his weekly Friday sermon in Zahedan on December 30 reflected his efforts to appeal to multiple different constituencies. Abdol Hamid regularly criticizes the regime's mistreatment of the Baloch minority but emphasized opposition to Baloch separatism in his sermon. He instead lauded unity among Iranians likely to assuage supporters’ potential concerns that he is stoking societal divisions. Abdol Hamid reiterated his support for women's rights during his sermon but added that he believes that most Iranian women support wearing the hijab, possibly to appeal to more conservative supporters. He finally rejected the notion that he is using his platform for “fame” or “power” but framed himself positively as a political leader. He discussed briefly that he would not imprison political protesters or women protesting the hijab if he had such authority. It is unclear whether Abdol Hamid was referring to a particular accusation that he has a personal agenda. His remarks highlight his efforts to appeal to a broad base of Iranians without unnecessarily alienating a specific constituency.
Russian forces targeted Kyiv using Iranian-made drones on the night of December 29 to 30, a continuation of an increased pace of drone attacks in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air Force Command stated that Russian forces launched 16 Shahed-131 and -136 drones at targets in Ukraine on the night of December 29 to 30 and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down all of them. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces launched seven of the drones at targets in Kyiv and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down all of them, but one of the drones’ munitions hit an administrative building. The Russian drone attacks follow a massive series of Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure on December 29 during which Russian forces launched 23 drones, the majority of which were Shaheds. The Russian military’s use of 39 drones in the past two days, its use of 30 Shahed 131 and -136 drones on the night of December 18 and 19, and its use of 13 Shahed drones on December 14 represent a significant increase in its recent use of these systems in Ukraine. ISW assessed on December 10 that an increased pace of Russian drone attacks may indicate that Russian forces accumulated more Iranian-made drones after a three-week period (November 17 to December 7) of not using them or that Russia received or expected to receive a new shipment of drones from Iran. Russian forces have likely further increased their pace of drone attacks in an effort to sustain their campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure given their likely depleted stock of precision missiles. Ukrainian air defenses have recently proven to be highly effective at shooting down Shahed drones and the Russian military’s use of these systems in attacks against civilian targets in rear areas is having diminishing impacts. The Russian military will likely continue to commit an increased number of these systems to attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine in its misguided attempt to break the Ukrainian will to fight.
Funerals and commemoration ceremonies for killed protesters are continuing to sustain anti-regime activity throughout Iran as demonstrations enter their fifteenth consecutive week. Protest organizations successfully coordinated anti-regime demonstrations across five Iranian provinces on December 28. Six of the seven anti-regime protests that CTP observed on December 28 corresponded with prior protest calls from anti-regime organizations, suggesting that these groups may have assisted in generating turnout. CTP additionally observed estimated crowds of over 100 protesters in three of the seven recorded protests on December 28. Previous anti-regime demonstrations commemorating killed protesters have historically generated higher attendance as well. CTP previously reported that protesters have found secular martyrs around whom to rally and who sustain the momentum of the Mahsa Amini movement. The regime may struggle to preempt further commemoration ceremonies and funerals for such secular martyrs in the coming weeks.
Russian forces conducted another massive series of missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure on December 29. Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces launched 69 cruise missiles and 23 drones at Ukraine and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down 54 of the missiles and at least 11 of the drones. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck targets, primarily infrastructure facilities, in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Donetsk oblasts causing widespread disruptions to energy, heating, and water supplies. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces also struck targets in Sumy, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytsky, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia oblasts. The Belarusian Ministry of Defense claimed that Belarusian air defenses shot down a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile during the wave of Russian strikes and that wreckage fell onto Belarusian territory. It is currently unclear whether Ukrainian air defenses may have been responding to Russian missile launches from Belarusian territory, which Russian forces have used repeatedly in support of their campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
Iranian security officials and entities attempted to declare an end to protest activity on December 28 despite ongoing acts of anti-regime defiance documented throughout the country. The Artesh praised Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian security forces for quelling protests in a December 28 statement commemorating regime-organized counter-protests to the 2009 Green Movement. The Armed Forces General Staff—the most senior military body in Iran—also issued a statement commemorating the 2009 pro-regime counter-protests and claimed that the regime had neutralized the threat of recent anti-regime demonstrations. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami similarly gave a speech claiming that the regime had decisively defeated unrest and accusing the US and Israel of fomenting dissent. Salami acknowledged that protest activity may resume at a later date.
The Russian offensive against Bakhmut is likely culminating as ISW forecasted on December 27. US military doctrine defines culmination as the "point at which a force no longer has the capability to continue its form of operations, offense or defense,” and “when a force cannot continue the attack and must assume a defensive posture or execute an operational pause.” If Russian forces in Bakhmut have indeed culminated, they may nevertheless continue to attack aggressively. Culminated Russian forces may continue to conduct ineffective squad-sized assaults against Bakhmut, though these assaults would be very unlikely to make operationally significant gains.
Some elements of the Iranian regime are increasingly framing the protest movement as an insurgency. Mohsen Heydari—a representative of Khuzestan Province in the Assembly of Experts—stated that the judiciary should convict protesters of baghi (armed insurrection) rather than moharebeh (waging war against God) on December 27. The Assembly of Experts is the regime body constitutionally responsible for selecting the supreme leader. Baghi is a relatively new legal concept that Parliament introduced to the Iranian penal code in 2013.