February 2, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:  Russia claims the strategic initiative along the frontline in Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin evoked a wide Russian social and economic mobilization reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War during a February 2 speech despite the fact that Russia is undertaking a far more gradual but nonetheless effective mobilization of its defense industrial base (DIB). Putin attended the “Everything for Victory” event at the Tulatochmash plant in Tula Oblast on February 2 and promoted Russian efforts to expand its DIB to an audience of 600 representatives of various professions from across Russia. “Everything for Victory” is a Soviet-era slogan that Soviet authorities first used during the Russian Civil War and then extensively during the Second World War to promote the widespread mobilization of Soviet industry and society. Putin stated that defense industrial workers in Tula Oblast are currently working under this slogan just as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did. Putin asserted that modern Russian defense industrial workers have proven themselves worthy of these ”ancestors,” who won the industrial battle against Nazi Germany and Europe‘s defense industry to create the Soviet victory of 1945. Putin followed his Soviet predecessors in ignoring the critical role the US defense industry played in facilitating the Soviet victory through the Lend-Lease program. The Kremlin has previously appealed to the mythos of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to reassure the Russian public that the Russin war effort will bring to bear overwhelming manpower and materiel for victory in Ukraine as the Soviet Union did for the Red Army against Nazi Germany. Putin’s allusion to the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War does not necessarily indicate that he intends to bring Russia to such a wartime footing, although he may be engaging in such rhetorical overtures to gauge domestic reactions and prepare the Russian public for a wider economic or military mobilization.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on February 2 that Russian forces retain the “strategic initiative” along the entire frontline in Ukraine, a notable departure from Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian operations as “active defense.” Shoigu claimed during a conference call with the Russian military leadership that Russian forces are advancing and improving their positions along the frontline. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on January 16 that Russian forces “completely” have the initiative in Ukraine following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive. Shoigu and Putin consistently downplayed localized Russian offensive operations in October and December 2023, characterizing Russian operations in Ukraine as “active defense.” ISW assessed at that time that Russian authorities may have been attempting to temper expectations about the Russian military’s ability to make operationally significant advances, particularly around Avdiivka where Russian forces launched a localized offensive in October 2023. Putin’s and Shoigu’s rhetorical shift suggests that Russian authorities may be gaining confidence in the Russian military’s ability to achieve operationally significant advances. Russian authorities could also be rhetorically posturing ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections. 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.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin evoked a wide Russian social and economic mobilization reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s total mobilization during the Second World War during a February 2 speech despite the fact that Russia is undertaking a far more gradual but nonetheless effective mobilization of its defense industrial base (DIB).
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on February 2 that Russian forces retain the “strategic initiative” along the entire frontline in Ukraine, a notable departure from Shoigu’s previous characterization of Russian operations as “active defense.”
  • Open-source investigations indicate that Russian forces are benefitting from Ukraine’s ammunition shortage and inability to conduct sufficient counterbattery warfare.
  • US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated on February 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly indicated that he has not changed his aims to capture and subjugate Ukraine.
  • Russian milbloggers and ultranationalist figures continue to present themselves as impartial and constructive critics of the Russian military in juxtaposition to official Kremlin sources in the Russian information space.
  • Kremlin affiliates reportedly launched an information campaign wherein prominent social media influencers promote the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on February 2.
  • Russian outlet Izvestiya stated on February 2, citing sources within the Russian military, that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is forming air defense units as part of assault units to defend Russian infantry against Ukrainian drones, frontline air strikes, and shelling.
  • Ukrainian and Canadian officials announced a new coalition to return Ukrainian children from Russia to Ukraine.

    Full report:  https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-february-2-2024 
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