Pride in the Ukrainian nation and pro-western, pro-EU sentiment have never been stronger – including among ethnic minority Russians. Overall, 89% of respondents in one survey accused Russia of genocide. (Guardian)
If the US, Britain and others had heeded Zelenskiy’s pleas last spring for Nato-guaranteed safe havens or some form of defensive no-fly or air exclusion zones, Ukrainians might have been spared today’s missile hell. It’s not too late to act.
As the war becomes a familiar fact of daily life, and negative fallout spreads, will public support soften further? Pro-Kyiv sentiment in Europe stands at about 57%, according to a Eupinions poll. But that figure is down on the summer – and the “peace camp” is advancing. For example, 60% of Germans favour diplomacy.
In the US, satisfaction over Ukraine’s military successes has led, paradoxically, to complacency – and reduced focus on continuing threats. When Republicans take control in Congress in January, aid may be cut.
In Ukraine itself, in contrast, public attitudes are hardening. Pride in the Ukrainian nation and pro-western, pro-EU sentiment have never been stronger – including among ethnic minority Russians. Overall, 89% of respondents in one survey accused Russia of genocide.
The United States has shipped hundreds of thousands of rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition for Ukraine to fire in the largest barrages on the European continent since World War II and has committed to providing nearly a million of the shells in all from its own inventory and private industry.
Ukrainian forces have also received 155-millimeter shells from countries besides the United States. Some of those shells and propellant charges had not been tested for use in certain howitzers, and the Ukrainian soldiers have found out in combat that some of them can wear out barrels more quickly, according to U.S. military officials.
After the damaged howitzers arrive in Poland, maintenance crews can change out the barrels and make other repairs. Ukrainian officials have said they would like to bring those maintenance sites closer to the front lines, so that the guns can be returned to combat sooner, the U.S. officials and other people said.
The work on the howitzers is overseen by U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, but may soon fall under a new command that will focus on training and equipping Ukrainian troops.
Russian officials may be attempting to counterbalance the influence of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin through the promotion of other parallel military structures. The Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on November 26 that Russian officials appointed a Viktor Yanukovych-linked, pro-Kremlin businessman, Armen Sarkisyan, as the new administrator for prisons in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine and that Sarkisyan intends to use the role to create a new “private military company.” The GUR reported that Sarkisyan modeled his effort to create a new private military company on the Wagner Group’s recruitment of prisoners in the Russian Federation and that Russian-Armenian businessman Samvel Karapetyan is sponsoring the effort. Karapetyan is the owner of Tashir Holding company, a longtime subcontractor for Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. The GUR reported that Sarkisyan’s attempt to create a new private military structure is an attempt to create a counterweight to Prigozhin’s de facto monopoly in the field of Russian private military companies. It is likely that high-ranking Russian officials have approved Sarkisyan’s efforts as private military companies are illegal in Russia.
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov reported that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 25 and claimed that they discussed the participation of Chechen units in the war in Ukraine and the creation of new Russian military and Rosgvardia units comprised of Chechen personnel. ISW has previously reported that Kadyrov routinely promotes his efforts to create Chechen-based parallel military structures. Russian officials may be further promoting Kadyrov’s existing parallel military structures and Sarkisyan’s efforts to create a private military company to counteract the growing influence of Prigozhin, whom ISW has previously assessed uses his own parallel military structures to establish himself as a central figure in the Russian pro-war ultranationalist community.
Russian forces are likely using inert Kh-55 cruise missiles in their massive missile strike campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure, further highlighting the depletion of the Russian military’s high-precision weapons arsenal. The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on November 26 that Russia is likely removing nuclear warheads from aging Kh-55 missiles and launching the missiles without warheads at targets in Ukraine. The UK MoD suggested that Russian forces are likely launching the inert missiles as decoys to divert Ukrainian air defenses. Ukrainian officials have previously reported that since mid-October, Russian forces have extensively used the non-nuclear variant of the missile system, the Kh-555, to conduct strikes on critical Ukrainian infrastructure. The Russian military’s likely use of a more strategic weapon system in the role of a decoy for Ukrainian air defenses corroborates ISW’s previous reporting that the Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles. The use of more strategic weapons systems in support of the campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure suggests that the Russian military is heavily committed to the strike campaign and still mistakenly believes that it can generate strategically significant effects through that campaign.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
Russian tactical, logistical, and equipment failures continue to decrease the morale of Russian troops and drive searches for scapegoats. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) First Deputy Information Minister Danil Bezsonov claimed on November 25 that “the mistakes of military authorities of all levels” forced Russian President Vladimir Putin to order unpopular partial mobilization. Bezsonov alleged that Russian military authorities are relying on the mobilized personnel to correct authorities’ planning mistakes while leaving mobilized soldiers in poor conditions. A prominent Russian milblogger described “extremely outdated equipment” with which mobilized soldiers were photographed during training in Kostroma as “depressing.” Another Russian milblogger lamented the inability of Russian forces to defend against Ukrainian drones without anti-drone systems, thermal imagers, drones, and radio stations. The milblogger blamed wealthy elites for their failure to understand the importance of anti-drone warfare. The Ukrainian General Staff stated on November 26 that Russian authorities continue to struggle to provide logistical support for mobilized soldiers. Russian civilians are reportedly decreasingly willing to support material drives to fill that gap, though civilian collection drives for mobilized soldiers are ongoing.
Actors in the Russian information space have been divided on whether to accept complaints of Russian soldiers as guidance for improvement or to quash them for decreasing faith in Russian military leadership, as ISW has previously reported. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) First Deputy Information Minister Danil Bezsonov argued that mobilized soldiers deserve proper treatment, equipment, weapons, and attention and have the right to complain about a lack of proper equipment on November 25. Bezsonov stated the mobilized do not have the right to complain about spending the night on the floor of a military recruitment office or about harsh conditions on the front.
A Russian source framed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s November 25 creation of an electronic state information resource for information on citizens registered with the military as a resource useful in supporting better provisioning of soldiers fighting Ukraine. The database is projected to begin working on April 1 to coincide with spring conscription.
Russian forces’ continued difficulties providing for soldiers’ medical needs are already hindering the treatment of civilians in Russian-occupied territories. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 26 that Russian forces in Luhansk Oblast have suffered major losses and are increasingly appropriating civilian hospitals in occupied areas for exclusively military use. Civilians in Luhansk Oblast are reportedly facing increased difficulty accessing medical services and finding space in morgues. ISW reported on additional impacts of Russian forces’ growing demand for medical care on November 25.
The Kremlin continues to respond disproportionately to a limited domestic resistance to Russia’s war in Ukraine. A prominent Russian news source reported on November 25 that Russian authorities created three additional police controls and dispatched almost a dozen police and Federal Protective Service personnel (FSO) to patrol the Kremlin walls around the clock after an unidentified individual wrote “no to war” on the wall of the Kremlin. The scale of such a response indicates continued Kremlin concern over domestic resistance and commitment to shaping the domestic information space and/or for the security of the Kremlin itself.