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    Content Assessment: The Most Dangerous Course of Action? Russo-Ukrainian War Update (December 19-26, 2022)

    Information - 94%
    Insight - 94%
    Relevance - 93%
    Objectivity - 95%
    Authority - 96%

    94%

    Excellent

    A short percentage-based assessment of the qualitative benefit of the post highlighting the recent Ukraine conflict assessments in maps from the Institute for the Study of War.

    Editor’s Note: The discipline of eDiscovery, which involves the identification, preservation, and analysis of electronic data, is increasingly being used in investigations and litigation relating to war crimes. In the case of the Russo-Ukrainian War, eDiscovery tools and techniques can be used to identify and collect electronic evidence of war crimes, such as emails, social media posts, and other digital communications that may provide valuable insights into the actions of individuals and organizations involved in the conflict. This evidence can then be used in investigations and legal proceedings to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable for their actions. Additionally, eDiscovery can help to efficiently and effectively manage the vast amount of electronic evidence that may be relevant to war crimes cases, allowing investigators and legal teams to quickly and accurately analyze the data to identify key pieces of information. This weekly update may be useful for cybersecurity, information governance, and legal discovery professionals as they consider investigations and litigation resulting from war crimes committed during the war.


    Background Note: One of the most accurate and detailed sources for ongoing updates on the Ukraine crisis is the Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment from the Institute for the Study of War. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is a 501(c)(3) organization and produces strictly non-partisan, non-ideological, fact-based research. ISW seeks to promote an informed understanding of war and military affairs through comprehensive, independent, and accessible open-source research and analysis. ISW’s research is made available to the general public, military practitioners, policymakers, and media members. Providing a daily synthesis of key events related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, ISW updates may benefit investigators and litigators as they follow the business, information technology, and legal trends and trajectories impacted by and stemming from the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

    Assessment and Maps*

    Russo-Ukrainian Conflict Assessments – An Overview in Maps

    General Assessment Background Info 

    • ISW systematically publishes Russian campaign assessments that include maps highlighting the assessed control of terrain in Ukraine and main Russian maneuver axes.
    • These maps augment daily synthetic products that cover key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.

    The Russian Offensive Campaign Assessments

    • December 26, 2022
    • By Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, George Barros, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer to negotiate with Ukraine on December 25, contrary to some reporting. Putin, in a TV interview, stated that he does not think that the war is approaching a “dangerous line” and noted that Russia has no choice but to continue to defend its citizens, before stating that Russia “is ready to negotiate with all parties” involved in the conflict.

    Key Takeaways

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin did not offer to negotiate with Ukraine on December 25 contrary to some reporting.
    • Putin is likely concerned over the lack of support for his war in Ukraine among elites and may be setting information conditions for the nationalization of their property.
    • Ukrainian intelligence reported that a Wagner Group-linked Russian officer was appointed commander of the Russian Western Military District (WMD).
    • Ukrainian strikes on legitimate military targets far in the Russian rear continue to be points of neuralgia for the Russian milblogger community.
    • Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
    • Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian troops are fighting near Kreminna.
    • Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made limited gains northeast of Bakhmut.
    • Russian forces continued ground attacks on the western outskirts of Donetsk City.
    • Ukrainian military officials indicated that Russian forces may be concentrating some unspecified forces for offensive or demonstration operations in Zaporizhia Oblast and that Russian forces are attempting to conduct small-scale reconnaissance-in-force operations to reach right-bank Kherson Oblast.
    • Russian officials and nationalists began to criticize the Kremlin’s lenient migration and passportization policies for Central Asian migrants.
    • Russia is continuing efforts to consolidate control of occupied territories in Ukraine through the manipulation of citizenship procedures.

    Read the complete update.


    No publication based on the observance of Christmas (December 25, 2022)


    • December 24, 2022
    • By Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Madison Williams, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • The Ukrainian intelligence continues to suggest that the Russian military is not following proper command structures or procedures. Chief of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Kyrylo Budanov stated that Prigozhin formed an alliance with the Commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, Army General Sergey Surovikin. Budanov noted that both Prigozhin and Surovikin are rivals of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, and that Prigozhin used the alliance to his advantage to receive heavy weapons from Russian Armed Forces for Wagner forces. The allocation of military resources should in principle rest with the Minister of Defense rather than the theater commander, although Surovikin could have the authority to make transfers once equipment enters the theater. The Prigozhin–Surovikin alliance is plausible given that Prigozhin had previously praised Surovikin for his efforts to save the collapsing Soviet Union.

    Key Takeaways

    • Russian forces will likely struggle to maintain the pace of their offensive operations in the Bakhmut area and may seek to initiate a tactical or operational pause.
    • Russian siloviki may be setting information conditions to justify the nationalization of oligarchs’ resources to sponsor Russia’s war effort.
    • Ukrainian intelligence continues to suggest that the Russian military is not following proper command structures or procedures.
    • Russian forces continued to conduct limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Kreminna-Svatove line.
    • Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
    • Russian SPETSNAZ are likely reconnoitering the Dnipro River delta to study Ukrainian defenses in right bank Kherson Oblast.
    • Russian forces struck a residential area of Kherson City with a Grad multiple launch rocket system, killing at least 10 and injuring 55.
    • The Russian Orthodox Church — a Kremlin-affiliated institution — asked the Kremlin for a mobilization exemption for its clergy, despite avidly supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
    • Russian officials are planning to take children from Horlivka, Donetsk to Belarus, possibly as a scheme to deport Ukrainian children.
    • ISW introduced a new section in the update to track daily observed indicators and counter-indicators consistent with the current assessed most dangerous course of action – a Russian invasion of Ukraine from Belarus.

    Read the complete update.


    • December 23, 2022
    • By Kateryna Stepanenko, George Barros, Layne Phillipson, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • Moscow has been setting conditions for a new most dangerous course of action (MDCOA)–a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine possibly aimed at Kyiv–since at least October 2022. This MDCOA could be a Russian information operation or could reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actual intentions. Currently available indicators are ambivalent—some verified evidence of a Russian buildup in Belarus makes more sense as part of preparations for a renewed offensive than as part of ongoing exercises and training practices, but there remains no evidence that Moscow is actively preparing a strike force in Belarus. Concern about the possibility that Putin might pursue this MDCOA is certainly not merely a Ukrainian information operation intended to pressure the West into supplying Kyiv with more weapons, as some Western analysts have suggested. ISW continues to assess that a renewed large-scale Russian invasion from Belarus is unlikely this winter, but it is a possibility that must be taken seriously.

    Key Takeaways

    • ISW assesses that the Kremlin has been setting conditions for a new most dangerous course of action (MDCOA)—a renewed offensive from Belarus possibly aimed at Kyiv—since at least October 2022. The Kremlin may be conducting an information operation or may actually be preparing for this MDCOA, which ISW continues to assess to be unlikely but possible.
    • Prominent Russian pro-war milbloggers are amplifying the possibility of the MDCOA over the winter-spring period.
    • The Russian military continues to trip indicators for the MCDOA, reinforcing an information operation designed to establish the plausibility of the MDCOA or preparations to execute it.
    • The Russian military has more clearly been setting conditions for an offensive in northwestern Luhansk Oblast.
    • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reportedly preparing to present a peace plan in February 2023, which could be timed to exploit a failed Russian winter offensive.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s renewed public appearances likely indicate that he has become more concerned about his popularity and image in Russia.
    • Russian forces conducted at least two reconnaissance-in-force operations in northern and northeastern Ukraine on December 22-23.
    • Ukrainian forces likely made tactical gains east and south of Bakhmut City over the past 72 hours.
    • Russian forces are continuing to establish defensive positions in left-bank Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts and are conducting defensive operations in southern Ukraine.
    • The Kremlin is intensifying its censorship efforts to silence concerns over an expansion of the Russian Armed Forces and a second mobilization wave.
    • Ukrainian partisans continued to target Russian officials in occupied territories.

    Read the complete update.


    • December 22, 2022
    • By Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Madison Williams, Layne Philipson, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to refuse to treat Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as an equal and sovereign counterpart, further indicating that Putin is not interested in serious negotiations with Ukraine. Putin did not react to Zelensky’s remarks to the United States Congress in Washington, DC on December 22, but instead oriented his December 22 press conference on US and Western influence over Ukraine. Putin reiterated his boilerplate and false claims that the US and Western countries have intervened in Ukraine since the Soviet Union, driving a wedge in the supposed Russian-Ukrainian historic and cultural unity. Such statements are meant to suggest that Ukraine’s 1991 emergence as a sovereign state was a sham. Putin also restated Russia’s maximalist goal of “protecting” the Ukrainian people from their government, implying that Russia intends to force the Kyiv government to capitulate. Putin mentioned Ukraine as a state only to note falsely that Ukraine had barred itself from negotiating with Russia.

    Key Takeaways

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to refuse to treat Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as an equal and sovereign counterpart, further indicating that he is not interested in serious negotiations with Ukraine.
    • Putin’s rhetoric is a part of an ongoing Russian information operation that denies Ukraine’s legitimacy as a sovereign state.
    • Putin amplified an existing Russian information operation designed to decrease Western security assistance for Ukraine.
    • Putin is continuing to absolve himself of responsibility for conducting a protracted war in Ukraine.
    • Russian Chief of General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, attempted to revive a debunked Russian narrative that the Kremlin invaded Ukraine to preempt a fictitious planned Ukrainian attack on Russian-occupied Donbas and Crimea.
    • The Kremlin claimed that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the frontlines in Ukraine for the second time in a week, likely to deflect criticism that Shoigu is not an involved wartime leader.
    • Wagner Financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continues to seek to elevate the importance of the Wagner Group to establish himself as the central figure of Russia’s ultra-nationalist pro-war community.
    • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi held talks with Russian officials on the creation of a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
    • Russian forces continued to conduct limited counterattacks along the Kreminna-Svatove line and Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the Kreminna area.
    • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas.
    • Russian forces are increasing security measures in Kherson Oblast and Crimea out of fear of Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.
    • A senior Russian official denied claims of a second wave of mobilization amidst ongoing crypto-mobilization efforts.
    • Ukrainian partisans continued to target Russian occupation authorities.

    Read the complete update.


    • December 21, 2022
    • By George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Angela Howard, Layne Philipson, Madison Williams, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • The Kremlin intensified its information operation, accusing NATO expansion of presenting a military threat to Russia. Shoigu stated that NATO’s military expansion near Russian borders, including Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership aspirations, necessitates an “appropriate” Russian response to establish a Russian force group in northwestern Russia. Senior Kremlin officials said that the accession of the Nordic states to NATO would not threaten Russia in spring 2022. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would not present an existential threat to Russia in April 2022 and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would not make “much difference” in May 2022.

    Key Takeaways

    • Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu proposed a series of expansive reforms and goals for Russian force generation that Russia is highly unlikely to complete in time to be relevant to the current conflict.
    • Putin and Shoigu reiterated maximalist Russian aims for the war in Ukraine.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin has intensified efforts to make peace with the critical pro-war nationalist community. Russian failures to achieve Putin’s stated goals jeopardize Kremlin efforts to regain control over the domestic narrative and to set conditions for the second year of the war.
    • Russian nuclear rhetoric is most likely an attempt to appease domestic audiences and intimidate Western audiences and not an indicator of preparation to use nuclear weapons.
    • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Washington, DC on December 21. ISW will report on the details of Zelensky’s visit and Russian reactions to the visit on December 22.
    • Russian and Ukrainian forces continued counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
    • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Donetsk City areas.
    • A Ukrainian official confirmed that Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to establish control over the Dnipro delta islands.
    • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu boasted about the growing Russian Young Army Cadets National Movement (Yunarmia) movement.
    • Russian officials intensified law enforcement crackdowns to deter partisan activities and target partisan sympathizers.

    Read the complete update.


    • December 20, 2022
    • By Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, George Barros, Madison Williams, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • Intensifying Russian pressure on Belarus is degrading Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s maneuver room to avoid making concessions to the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long game to reestablish suzerainty over Belarus is making progress separate and apart from Putin’s efforts to get Belarus more actively involved in his invasion of Ukraine. Lukashenko confirmed that Russia “gave” Belarus an unspecified number of S-400 air defense systems during his meeting with Putin in Minsk on December 19, confirming ISW’s 2021 forecast that Russian-made S-400 systems would begin operating in Belarus. Lukashenko had previously rejected S-400 systems operating in Belarus in 2020. Lukashenko is likely delaying acceding to Putin’s larger demands – such as committing Belarusian forces to join the invasion against Ukraine – by making smaller concessions that he has stonewalled for years.  

    Key Takeaways

    • Russian pressure against Belarus is degrading Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s maneuver room to avoid making concessions to the Kremlin.
    • ISW continues to observe indicators consistent with the least likely but most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) of a renewed Russian invasion of northern Ukraine from Belarus.
    • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Bakhmut undermines an ongoing Kremlin information operation to present Russian President Vladimir Putin as an involved war leader.
    • Wagner financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin undercut Putin’s efforts to portray himself as a wartime leader within the Russian information space, possibly inadvertently.
    • The Kremlin’s efforts to improve the reputation of the Russian MoD may have prompted Prigozhin to increase his efforts to legalize Wagner Group in Russia.
    • The Kremlin will likely continue efforts to portray Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) as effective leaders when Putin holds an expanded annual Russian MoD board meeting on December 21.
    • Russian forces conducted limited counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
    • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas.
    • Russian forces are expanding defensive fortifications on the left (east) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
    • A Kremlin official deflected questioning surrounding a Moscow Oblast military recruitment officer’s December 17 claim that Russian authorities will extend the service period for conscript soldiers.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Russian security services intensify their efforts to counter pro-Ukrainian partisan activity.

    Read the complete update.


    • December 19, 2022
    • By Karolina Hird, Kateryna Stepanenko, Grace Mappes, Madison Williams, and Frederick W. Kagan

    Key Development

    • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko likely deflected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to coerce Belarus into further Russian-Belarusian integration concessions during a meeting in Minsk on December 19. Putin and Lukashenko refrained from publicly discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with both leaders noting that Belarus still faces a Western threat. Putin announced that he may consider training Belarusian combat aviation crews for the use of “munitions with special warheads” due to the “escalating” situation on the Union State’s external borders. ISW has previously assessed that Lukashenko uses the rhetoric of defending Belarusian borders against the West and NATO in an effort to avoid participating in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    Key Takeaways

    • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko likely deflected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to coerce Belarus into Russian-Belarusian integration concessions on December 19.
    • Russian forces targeted Kyiv with Shahed-131 and 136 kamikaze drone strikes overnight on December 18-19.
    • Igor Girkin, a former Russian militant commander and prominent critical voice in the Russian milblogger information space, wrote a harsh critique of the Russian military’s overall performance in the war.
    • The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) reportedly clashed with other Russian occupation authorities regarding basic administration procedures, suggesting tensions between the various occupation administrations in Ukraine.
    • The Wagner Group has likely built its offensive model around tactical brutality in order to accommodate for and take advantage of its base of poorly trained and recently recruited convicts.
    • Russian forces continued limited counterattacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line as Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces targeted Russian rear positions in Luhansk Oblast.
    • Russian forces reportedly lost positions south of Bakhmut on December 18 and continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and Donetsk City.
    • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces are pulling back some elements from areas along the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
    • Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin continued efforts to establish the Wagner Group as a legitimate parastatal organization by petitioning notoriously nationalist elements in the Kremlin.
    • Russian occupation authorities continued to restrict movement within occupied territories and employ societal intimidation tactics.

    Read the complete update.


    We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.


    Chronology of Maps from December 19-26, 2022 – Mouseover to Scroll

    Ukraine Conflict Maps - 121922 - 122622

    See the Institute for the Study of War Interactive Map of the Russian Invasion
    Read the latest Ukraine Conflict updates from the Institute for the Study of War 

    * Shared with direct express permission from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).


    About the Institute for the Study of War Research Methodology

    ISW’s research methodology relies on both primary and secondary sources, enabling researchers to develop a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground. In order to analyze military and political developments in any given area, ISW’s research analysts must wholly understand the systems of enemy and friendly forces. They must also understand the population demographics, physical terrain, politics, and history of that area. This lays the analytical foundation for understanding the reasons for particular developments and fulfilling their assigned research objectives. ISW analysts also spend time in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in order to gain a better understanding of the security and political situation and to evaluate the implementation of current strategies and policies. Our researchers compile data and analyze trends, producing a granular analysis of developments in areas of research, producing an accurate, high-resolution, timely, and thorough picture of the situation. ISW’s research methodology guarantees its success and commitment to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations, achieve strategic objectives, and respond to emerging problems that may require the use of American military power.

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    The Institute for the Study of War advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. ISW is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.

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    Additional Reading

    Source: ComplexDiscovery

     

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