Current military situation in Ukraine crisis, mid-January 2023
This article belongs to my series of the articles regarding Ukraine crisis and its ramifications from different viewpoints. I have analyzed this military topic in several articles on my website, like that of January 4, 2023, that of December 15, 2022, that of November 30, 2022, and that of November 15, 2022.
Events on the frontlines, ground operations, January 1 – 15, 2023
On 1 January, 2023, Russian air campaign was resumed and strikes were seen also on hotels and other accommodation buildings used by foreign military servicemen and mercenaries in Ukraine. Russia resumed strikes also on 2. and 3. January, obviously indicating a prolonged campaign.
After Russia’s unilaterally called Christmas ceasefire (Jan. 6-8), on January 9, the headquarters of the DPR Defense Ministry officially confirmed that the Russian armed forces took control of the village of Bakhmutskoye located on the outskirts of Soledar. After the end of the mop up operation in the village, Russian fighters advanced along the road and entered Soledar, which was and is one of the key points of defense of the AFU in the East of Ukraine. The city is home to Europe’s largest salt production facility.
Soledar was taken over by Russian troops in 9-13, January 2023. The active phase of fighting for Soledar lasted more than four months but it took the Wagner Group just over two weeks to take the city directly, a mopping-up of the city is ended now. On January 9, the head of the Wagner PMC Yevgeny Prigozhin said that the battle for the city administration building is currently ongoing in the very center of Soledar.
On January 11, the city of Soledar, has been taken under control by units of Russia’s Wagner private military company and Russia’s military said that its airborne troops have blocked Soledar from the north and south, while warplanes are striking Ukrainian strongholds and assault forces are engaged in urban fighting.
The capture of Soledar is a key objective for the Russian military in a larger campaign to take control of the strategic city of Bakhmut. The strategic importance of Soledar is debated but its capture is significant for two reasons. First, it would allow Russian forces to inch closer to the regional city of Bakhmut. Russia could use access to Soledar’s deep, city-like network of salt mine tunnels to penetrate Ukrainian-controlled territory. Secondly, invading forces would be able to strike Ukrainian supply lines.
The brisk advance of Russian troops in the Bakhmut-Soledar area likely forced the Ukrainian military to delay any offensive operations and transfer additional forces from the southern regions to the Donbass front lines.
Ukraine officials resume denying the losses and retreating from Soledar, although all evidence from the battleground confirm the Russian control over Soledar. They insist that “heavy fighting is continuing”. While Western pundits and media still continue to insist that Ukraine is winning the war, the facts on the ground in Soledar and Bakhmut tell a different story. Western narrative is that “Putin and his government have been weakened” and Russia’s military “has suffered disastrous losses of trained manpower and equipment” but the real situation seems to be just the opposite.
After a couple of months of relentless grinding, Russia is on the brink of destroying the Ukrainian forces hanging on to Bakhmut – Soledar defense line, where heated battles are going along. Battles are raging also up north, in the Kupyansk area and in the Krasny Liman area, where losses of AFU amount up to 100-150 troops daily.
On January 12, Ukrainian sources told that hospitals in a number of Ukrainian cities are overflowing with wounded troops from the town of Soledar. Several military and other experts have assessed that the Ukrainian army suffered colossal losses in Soledar. Since last summer 2022, losses may amount up to 20 battalions (about 20.000 servicemen) and those losses are irreparable. Solely, from 9 to 12 January, Ukraine’s troop losses were up to 700 soldiers and staggering over 300 armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and other heavy weapons. Russian electronic warfare (EW) forces and capabilities knocked out the enemy’s command and control systems and thwarted Ukrainian drone attacks.
Following the taking of Soledar, rather serious forces will become available for Artyomovsk (called Bakhmut in Ukraine). Both Soledar and Artyomovsk are keys to Kramatorsk and the further advance, including Slavyansk. By controlling Soledar, the Russians can cut off some of the most important supply routes for the Ukrainian forces. Another important factor is the weakening of Western narrative about a possible “Ukrainian victory” or “counter offensive.
In the current conditions, the town of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) seems to be the next point of the AFU defense in the region that will collapse. At the same time, the collapse of the Ukrainian defense around Soledar and Bakhmut significantly complicates situation for Kiev’s units deployed in the town of Siversk (east of Slovyansk). The Russian advance in this direction will remain a permanent threat that would limit the maneuver of AFU forces.
On January 14, Russia launched the first massive air attack on military and energy infrastructure facilities in Ukraine in 2023. According to the Ukrainian officials, the 12th massive missile attack resulted in the damage to the following energy infrastructure facilities: generation facilities and high-voltage infrastructure facilities in regions: Kiev, Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Zaporozhye and Kharkiv. As a result, emergency shutdowns have been applied in a number of regions in order to reduce the effects of impacts.
According to General Zaluzhny of AFU, Russia has made about 28 launches of cruise missiles of various bases and 5 launches of guided aircraft missiles. The first strikes of Russian missiles took place in Kiev and other cities of central and northern Ukrainian regions at about 10 am local time. According to local reports, the Kiev CHPP-3 and CHPP-5, as well as an industrial enterprise in the Goloseevsky district, were targeted.
The air alert in these regions was announced after the missiles hit their targets. According to the press officer of the AFU Air Force, Russian forces first used ballistic missiles for the attack. The second wave of Kalibr missile strikes was recorded in several hours. According to Ukrainian sources, the number of missiles significantly exceeded that claimed by the military officials. As during the previous recent massive strikes, Russian forces used false air targets (decoys) in order to identify the positions of the Ukrainian air defense systems. This allowed to neutralize the Ukrainian air defense means until the moment of the approach of cruise missiles.
Some statistics of mid-January 2023
Based on the public data (RMOD, SouthFront, VT, ML, others), it seems that the first five days of January, before Russia’s unilaterally called Christmas ceasefire (Jan. 6-8), have been very destructive to AFU and its allies. Similar pace continued up to mid-January.
Destroyed AFU hardware, up to January 15: UAVs 97, counterbattery warfare radars 18, tanks and IFVs 176, MLRS 28 (from which 4xHIMARS), heavy field artillery (cannons, howitzers, mortars) 79 (from which 14xM-777), aircraft 18. In these 15 days of January AFU troop losses amount up to 3500 servicemen (excl. Soledar), from which eliminated foreign mercenaries are up to 400.
Ukraine and Russia agree on a common fact – Russia is fighting NATO
Finally, Russia and Ukraine have publicly agreed on a fundamental and important issue: who are the fighting parties in Ukraine.
During an interview with a Ukrainian TV station Oleksii Reznikov, the defense minister of Ukraine, answered that the Ukraine has “already become a de facto member of the NATO alliance.” The interview, given four days ago, is available on Youtube. English language subtitles can be generated by autotranslate. The sentence pictured above comes at about 1:25 minutes in. Later (at about 11.05 min) there are more interesting statements.
“At the NATO Summit in Madrid” in June 2022, “it was clearly delineated that over the coming decade, the main threat to the alliance would be the Russian Federation. Today Ukraine is eliminating this threat. We are carrying out NATO’s mission today. They aren’t shedding their blood. We’re shedding ours. That’s why they’re required to supply us with weapons,” Reznikov said. Kiev is defending the entire civilized world, the entire West from the Russians, he said.
Reznikov expressed “absolute” certainty in Ukraine’s entry into NATO, saying he was “convinced that this is an absolutely realistic possibility… Of course they won’t accept this political decision via consensus before our victory. This is clear. But after the victory, after all this ends and some kind of peace arrives, NATO countries, first and foremost, will be interested in the construction of this security architecture.
Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov’s description of the Ukrainian-NATO relationship perfectly aligns with dictionary definition of a proxy. The objectively existing military-strategic dynamics of the Ukrainian conflict coupled with Reznikov’s candid admission therefore leave no doubt about the fact that Ukraine is a NATO proxy by definition.
What appears to have happened is that Reznikov lost his cool after becoming frustrated that NATO isn’t giving Kiev all the weapons that it demands. This emotional reaction to the pressure that’s being put upon his side by NATO’s military-industrial limitations, which the New York Times reported upon in late November and therefore can no longer be denied by the MSM, caused him to finally crack.
The New Cold War is not between “democracies and dictatorships” like Western mainstream media (MSM) falsely claim but between the US-led West camp and the China-Russia jointly-led BRICS & SCO & Global South, which aim to new global currency system and new economic world order. The top proxy war between these de facto blocs is the Ukrainian conflict, the outcome of which will determine whether the US can reverse its declining unipolar hegemony or if the Multipolar World Order is inevitable.
These unprecedented stakes explain why such an astronomical sum of US taxpayer funds has already been expended on perpetuating this proxy war that otherwise would have ended sometime last spring had NATO not rushed to its proxy’s rescue. The approximately $100 billion spent so far obviously has not been sufficient for dislodging Russia from the territory that Ukraine claims as its own, which suggests that the West might accept the fait accompli of Moscow’s victory and thus explains why Reznikov is panicking.
While Reznikov publicly admitted that Ukraine is a NATO proxy in the hopes of guilting his patrons into complying but he also unwittingly humiliated its propagandists and discredited their “official narrative”.
Reuters reports Jan. 10, that the Russian government agrees with the core of Reznikov’s view. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev is seen by diplomats as one of the major hardline influences on Putin, who has promised Russian victory in Ukraine.
“The events in Ukraine are not a clash between Moscow and Kyiv – this is a military confrontation between Russia and NATO, and above all the United States and Britain,” Patrushev told the Argumenti i Fakti newspaper in an interview. “The Westerners’ plans are to continue to pull Russia apart and eventually just erase it from the political map of the world,” Patrushev said.
Asked about Patrushev’s remarks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said NATO and the United States were part of the Ukraine conflict.
“De facto they have already become an indirect party to this conflict, pumping Ukraine with weapons, technologies, intelligence information and so on,” Peskov told a news briefing.
As both sides now seem to agree on the real participants of the conflict, it can be assumed that they will later also come to an agreement about its outcome. However, that will still take a while.
Ukraine received Western military aid of around $48.5 billion since February 24, 2022, which is practically equal to Russia’s 2022 defense budget and exceeds the Ukrainian budget by almost three times. The overall aid (financial, humanitarian, military), received by the Kiev government from western countries and international organizations since the start of Russia’s special operation, is estimated at more than $150.8 billion in Ukraine, according to official statements of donor countries and media reports. Therefore, total Western aid to Ukraine exceeded the Ukrainian budget (estimated by $55.5 billion) by almost three times.
The problem is that the only way the Ukraine can survive is through Western (mainly US) subsidies of over $300 million a day. The Ukraine is on life support. This is likely killing the West or rather the West is killing itself, because this money will never be paid back and every day that passes is another $300 million that will never be paid back.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier that “military potential and capacities of nearly all principal NATO members are currently being actively used” against Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Russia was fighting in Ukraine not against Kiev forces but rather against the entire “collective West.”
On January 11, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that his country will supply Ukraine with German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks. “A company of Leopard tanks will be handed over as part of coalition building,” Duda said during a visit to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. A tank company typically includes 10-14 tanks.
The Polish military possess around 247 Leopard 2 tanks of different versions. However, the transfer must be part of a larger effort by a group of allies. Poland will not be able to supply Ukraine with some of its Leopard 2s without the approval of Germany, which has so far refused to transfer such tanks to Kiev forces. Poland will likely opt to supply Ukraine with some of its older Leopard 2s in order not to compromise its own military capabilities.
In mid-January, the UK government announced that UK is to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine in weeks ahead and encourage allies to ramp up weapons supplies to Kiev in the next few weeks. About 30 large AS90 self-propelled howitzers are expected to follow. The UK will begin training the Ukrainian Armed Forces to use the tanks and guns in the coming days, the press release said.
Gerasimov appointed commander of Russian group of forces in Ukraine operation
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu made new appointments in the military command of the special military operation in Ukraine, the Defense Ministry reported on Wednesday, January 11. The new appointments are related to the broader scope of tasks and the need of closer coordination between all military branches and services, it said. In October last year, Shoigu appointed General Surovikin as commander of Russia’s integrated group of forces in the special military operation in Ukraine. Surovikin has also been commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces since 2017.
The key statements of the ministry were:
Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov has been appointed as commander of the integrated group of troops (forces) and his deputies are:
Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces Army General Sergey Surovikin,
Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces Army General Oleg Salyukov, and
Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Colonel-General Alexey Kim
“The higher level of military command in the special military operation is related to the broader scope of missions tackled in its course and the need to organize closer coordination between military branches and services of the armed forces and also the increased quality of all types of logistics support and efficiency in command and control of the groups of troops (forces)”
Next day, January 12, the Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s ground forces, General Oleg Salyukov, made a working trip to Belarus, where at one of the training grounds he heard reports by the commanders of Russia’s military units on progress in combat coordination and cohesion within the joint regional group of forces and look into the personnel’s accommodation and other conditions, the Defense Ministry told the media on Thursday.
In western media arose immediately speculations of these arrangements, what’s behind: Latest reshuffle follows more battlefield setbacks; Gerasimov has been target of Russian pro-war critics; Surovikin was removed/sidelined; President Vladimir Putin has replaced the commander leading his forces in Ukraine just three months after he handed him the job; this was driven by political reasons; the move followed the transfer of another top general, Alexander Lapin, to the role of land forces chief; various conspiracy theories and political plotting in Moscow etc.
All the above is a misinterpretation of a simple practical naming change. Neither was Surovikin pushed aside or demoted nor was Gerasimov promoted to a new job. Surovikin will continue to run the theater force in Ukraine. Gerasimov is his chief like before. This move did not change command responsibilities but lifted the importance of the whole operation by making it the highest military commander’s priority.
Moreover, this streamlines organizational functioning and allows Surovikin to focus more on activities of Aerospace Forces (which was seen rapidly, on Jan. 14). Letting Surovikin focus on the “Aerospace Forces” means that Russian air and space operations are likely to kick into overdrive. Until now, the Russian Air Force has played mainly a supportive role in the battles during the last 11 months. It can be expected that the use of heavy strategic bombers will increase substantially. Putting Gerasimov in charge of the Joint Group of Forces is a clear signal that the command task going forward is going to be more complex and comprehensive.
The new organization is clear and direct now:
It is worth to notice that this appointment decision was made parallel with Soledar takeover and announcement of NATO countries to supply more tanks and other heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Some points to think over
The main headache for the NATO & Ukraine now is that it is impossible to predict, what the Russians will do next. In the next few days, they will have to mop up the neighborhood of Soledar, then rotate troops and give them some rest. But after that, it is difficult to predict, where the Russians will push next. Possible operative options for Russia might be:
- The Russians will seek the develop their success locally in various places of the front line
- The Russians will launch their much announced “Big Offensive”
- The Russians will continue to hold and grind more KIA/MIA into the ground
Despite the false statements about Ukrainian victories, Kiev is worried about the possibility of a Russian offensive from the territory of Belarus. In the north of the country, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are mining the roads and strengthening new military positions. The possibility of opening of new fronts, the Russian successes in Soledar, as well as personnel changes in the top command of the Russian forces in Ukraine can serve as signals of the upcoming new phase of hostilities.
Anyway, the increased offensive activities and operations of Russian Forces along the front lines, indicate that the Russian winter operation is actually going.
Couple more relevant pieces of intelligence seem to be interesting and worth to notice. January 11, Russian Navy ships and submarines left their base at Novorossiysk, in the Black Sea, en-masse. This is highly unusual and may indicate ongoing operations.
At the same time, Russia is continuing to build up its military forces in Belarus. Personnel, weapons, military and special equipment of the Russian armed forces will continue to arrive in Belarus. Over the weekend, the Belarussian Ministry of Defense announced that a significant tactical flight exercise between Belarussian and Russian forces would take place from late January to early February.
The Chechens troops have been rather invisible lately. They may be out there somewhere in substantial numbers but have not yet been operationally deployed in force. Are they gearing up for a new offensive?
From Ukrainian point of view, the situation is critical: the Bakhmut/Soledar line of defense has been breaching, the Kramatorsk/Slovyansk line should be reinforced but there are limited numbers of trained troops.
At the same time, they have to pay attention, if the Russians are going to launch an amphibious/aerial assault on Odessa. Then there is the build-up in Belarus. Belarus and Russia have assembled enough ground and air forces to pose a credible threat to Kiev.
Where will Russia strike? That is why Gerasimov has assumed overall command of these Joint Forces. He could use feints by forces in the North and South to pin down Ukrainian troops and launch a major attack from the East. Or he could order full attacks from the North, South and East. He has other options as well.
Russia, like any poker player, is hiding its cards and only showing Ukraine, what it wants them to see. Is Russia going to go all in or will it continue grinding?
All these viewpoints together are telling that something BIG is in the making, something that may end the war effectively.
As in the previous articles of this series, from November 30, 2022 on, I am sketching some obvious trajectories and main consequences, in the case Russia is winning in the Ukrainian war. In this article, the focus is on military prospects and issues in the context of great power relations.
Based on this and previous articles, I have to say that neither NATO nor the US appear able to sustain the quantity of weapons that have been delivered to Ukraine in 2022 and which enabled Ukrainian successful counteroffensives in autumn.
This equipment pool has largely been destroyed by Russia and despite Ukraine’s insistence on its need for more tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery and air defense, it will be late and in insufficient quantities to have a game changing impact on the battlefield. Likewise, the casualty rates sustained by Ukraine, which have reached more than 1,000 men per day, far exceed its ability to mobilize and train replacements.
Russia, on the other hand, is in the process of finalizing a mobilization of more than 300,000 men who appear to be equipped with the most advanced weapons systems in the Russian arsenal. When these forces arrive in full on the battlefield, sometime by the end of January, Ukraine will face huge troubles. This harsh reality predicts bad times for the future of Ukraine. Furthermore, coupled with the annexation by Russia of more than 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory and infrastructure, damage is approaching $1 trillion (a foreign bank expert estimate).
The above text indicates very clearly that Russia will be the great winner in this war and despite all possible support, supply and aid of NATO, the US, the EU and the west in general, the result of the war will likely be a crushing defeat to the west. However, the final outcome is depending on which stage of escalation ladders the west is willing (and capable) to step up.
The year 2023 appears to be shaping up as a year of continued violent confrontation leading to a decisive Russian military victory. Russia’s victory in the Ukraine war will massively strengthen the political, economic and military position of Russia and China worldwide but especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Moreover, the process of dollar collapse will accelerate, when the Russian military victory is materialized.