December 3, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia deploying more air-launched glide bombs to evade Ukrainian air defense

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree is likely a formal recognition of the Russian military’s current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel. Putin signed a decree on December 1 increasing the official end strength of the Russian military from 2.039 million personnel to 2.209 million personnel and total Russian combat personnel from 1.15 million to 1.32 million. The increase of 170,000 Russian combat personnel between Putin’s previous August 25, 2022 decree and the December 1, 2023 decree is likely a formal acknowledgement of a net increase of 170,000 combat personnel between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023, and not a call to immediately increase the current number of combat personnel by an additional 170,000. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev claimed on November 9 that the Russian military has recruited 410,000 contract, volunteer, and conscripted military personnel since January 1, 2023, then later claimed on December 1 that the Russian military has recruited over 452,000 personnel since January 1, 2023. The Russian government announced in September 2022 that the Russian military would mobilize 300,000 personnel under Putin’s partial mobilization decree. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on November 29 that Russian forces have suffered over 300,000 casualties (killed and wounded personnel) in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Ongoing widespread crypto-mobilization efforts (such as volunteer recruitment and the coercion of migrants into the Russian military), partial mobilization, the number of Russian personnel concluding military service, and Russian casualties in Ukraine plausibly account for a net 170,000-combat personnel increase between August 25, 2022, and December 1, 2023. Putin’s December 1, 2023 decree is thus likely establishing 2.209 million personnel as the new official end strength rather than ordering a significant new increase in the total size of the Russian military.

Ukrainian air defense coverage along the front line is reportedly incentivizing Russian forces to rely more heavily on remote strikes with glide bombs. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun stated on December 3 that Ukrainian forces shoot down Russian attack helicopters, such as Ka-52 and Mi-24 helicopters, as soon as they enter the range of Ukrainian air defense systems. Shtupun stated that this Ukrainian air defense capability has prompted Russian forces to use Su-35 and Su-34 attack aircraft to launch remote strikes with glide bombs from 50 to 70 kilometers behind the line of combat engagement. Russian forces effectively used helicopters to defend against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast in summer 2023 but decreased the use of rotary wing aircraft following the downing of Ka-52 helicopters in the area in mid-August 2023. Shtupun’s statements are consistent with these observations as well as with the increased Russian use of glide bombs throughout the frontline, particularly in southern Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:



  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s December 1 decree is likely a formal recognition of the Russian military’s current end strength and not an order to immediately increase the number of Russian military personnel.
  • Ukrainian air defense coverage along the front line is reportedly incentivizing Russian forces to rely more heavily on remote strikes with glide bombs.
  • Ukrainian officials appealed to international organizations to investigate video footage published on December 2 showing Russian forces killing surrendering and reportedly unarmed Ukrainian soldiers.
  • Russian forces launched a series of missile and drone strikes on the night of December 2 and 3.
  • The Russian government is likely continuing attempts to censor relatives of mobilized Russian military personnel on social media out of concern about their protests’ possible negative effect on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s still unannounced 2024 presidential campaign.
  • A prominent Russian milblogger claimed to have given a “masterclass” to press heads and communications personnel at Russian stated-owned defense conglomerate Rostec, likely in support of an effort that allows the Russian government to normalize the war without directly involving the Kremlin.
  • The milblogger’s “masterclass” represents an avenue by which the Kremlin can further benefit from milbloggers and shows how possible financial incentives could temper milbloggers’ criticisms of the Russian leadership.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Avdiivka. 
  • Russia continues to use the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to indoctrinate Russian children into Russian nationalism and set conditions for long-term force generation efforts.
  • Russian occupation officials continue to strengthen the Kremlin-backed United Russia party in occupied Ukraine ahead of the March 2024 Russian presidential elections.

    For full report: https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-3-2023
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