January 16, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Putin calls again for overthrow of Ukrainian government

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to demonstrate that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine – which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender – remain unchanged. Putin claimed on January 16 during a meeting with Russian municipal heads that “Ukrainian statehood may suffer an irreparable, very serious blow” if the current battlefield situation continues. Putin also reiterated Kremlin allegations of the prevalence of Nazism in Ukraine and claimed that ”such people…cannot win.” Russia’s continued calls for Ukraine’s “denazification” are thinly veiled demands for the removal of the elected Ukrainian government and its replacement with a government acceptable to the Kremlin. Putin reiterated the Kremlin narrative that Ukraine – not Russia – is to blame for the absence of negotiations, claiming that Ukraine’s “peace formula” is actually a continuation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on negotiating with Russia and amounts to “prohibitive demands” on the negotiation process. Putin claimed that any negotiation process is an “attempt to encourage [Russia] to abandon gains [it] has made in the past year and a half” and that this is “impossible.”

The Kremlin appears to lack a consistent framing for current Russian offensive operations to present to the Russian public, despite the fact that Putin appears to be – at times – using his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian military as part of his election campaign. Putin declared that Russian forces “completely” have the initiative in Ukraine following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive. This is a notable departure from Putin‘s claim on December 14, 2023, that almost all Russian forces are in “the active stage of action” and from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine as an “active defense.” ISW continues to assess that Russian forces have regained the initiative throughout most of the Ukrainian theater but have not seized the battlefield initiative in Kherson Oblast.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated the importance of defeating Russia in Ukraine at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16. Zelensky emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not change – referring to Putin’s maximalist war aims – and noted that all attempts to restore peace have failed two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion and 10 years since the illegal annexation of Crimea. Zelensky stated that the Ukrainian military is holding Putin back and that it is better to defeat Russia on the battlefield now than later. Zelensky’s statements are consistent with ISW’s longstanding assessment that the Kremlin is very unlikely to engage in good faith, meaningful peace negotiations. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that Ukraine needs steady funding and supplies of weapons through 2024 and beyond in order to defend and reclaim its territory, indicating that Europe will continue to play an increasingly active role in supporting Ukraine. Von der Leyen stated that Ukraine can win the war but that the West needs to expand Ukraine’s capabilities. Von der Leyen emphasized Ukraine’s successes throughout the war thus far: “Russia has lost roughly half of its military capabilities,” and Ukraine has recaptured half of the territory that Russian forces captured after the full-scale invasion, pushed back the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), and opened a grain corridor in the Black Sea.

Key Takeaways:



  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to demonstrate that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine – which are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender – remain unchanged.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin notably amplified a longstanding Kremlin effort to set information conditions for future escalations against Baltic countries, likely as part of his wider effort to weaken NATO.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated the importance of defeating Russia in Ukraine at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 16.
  • Russian tactical aviation operations are reportedly decreasing near the Sea of Azov, and Russian aviation capabilities may be degraded after Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and caused severe damage to a Russian Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of January 14.
  • At least two state-owned Chinese banks reportedly ordered reviews of their business with Russian clients and will sever ties with sanctioned Russian entities and entities with ties to the Russian defense industry.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui for North Korea’s support for Russia in the war during Choe’s official state visit to Moscow on January 16.
  • The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on its second reading to digitalize Ukrainian military records on January 16.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Bakhmut as positional engagements continued along the entire frontline.
  • Russian State Duma deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) proposed a bill on January 16 that would create a legal status for volunteers of the Russian war in Ukraine that would grant them compensation in case of injury or death.
  • Russian occupation officials from occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Donetsk oblasts attended a meeting of Russian municipal representatives in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 16.

    For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-january-16-2024 
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