November 27, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia has ’no clear war aims’ in Ukraine, Russian critics say

Institute for the Study of War

A cyclone in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine caused infrastructure damage in many areas of coastal southern Russia and occupied Ukraine and is impacting the tempo of military operations along the frontline in Ukraine, but has notably not stopped military activity entirely. Russian sources posted images and footage of the impact of the cyclone on civilian and transportation infrastructure in coastal areas of Krasnodar Krai, including near Sochi, Anapa, Gelendzhik, Novorossiysk, and Taupse. Ukrainian and Russian sources also noted that coastal areas of occupied Crimea, occupied Kherson Oblast, and much of Odesa Oblast were heavily impacted by heavy snow and high winds, leaving large swaths of the population without electricity. The Ukrainian Navy and Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command notably reported that dangerous weather in the Black Sea forced Russia to return all of its naval vessels and missile carriers to their base points. A prominent Russian milblogger warned that the threat of mines in the Black Sea will increase for both military and civilian vessels in the coming days because the storm has broken boom nets and dispersed minefields, causing mines to drift throughout the northwestern Black Sea. Several sources also reported that the storm damaged rail lines in coastal areas, which may have logistical ramifications for Russian forces in occupied Crimea and southern Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and several Russian milbloggers stated that Russia must maintain active operations in Ukraine and expressed worry over the prospect of further Western military support to Ukraine, though some milbloggers additionally expressed increased discontent with the perceived lack of articulated Russian war aims and stated Russia must clarify its war aims before discussing any pause or end to the war. Lavrov claimed on November 27 that the West is currently trying to “freeze” the war to gain time and rearm Ukraine for future attacks on Russia. Several Russian milbloggers similarly claimed that any “truce” or pause in the war will only benefit Ukraine and allow Ukrainian forces to rest, refit, and relaunch offensive operations. One prominent critical milblogger claimed that a pause in the war will allow Ukraine to conduct a “Minsk-3,” alluding to the previous Minsk agreements that temporarily paused large-scale combat operations in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 but ultimately allowed Russia to prepare for the full-scale invasion in 2022. The critical milblogger also observed that any discussions regarding pauses or negotiations in the war will be particularly harmful to Russia because Russia has failed to clearly define war aims or conditions necessary for a Russian victory. The milblogger noted that the lack of a clear definition for victory has caused internal destabilization within Russia. Other Russian milbloggers noted that Ukraine still controls several territories that Russia has claimed to have (illegally) annexed, arguing that Russia should not see any negotiations until or unless Russia can capture the rest of the four occupied oblasts (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts), as well as Odesa and Mykolaiv oblasts.

Key Takeaways:

  • A cyclone in the Black Sea and southern Ukraine caused infrastructure damage in many areas of coastal southern Russia and occupied Ukraine and is impacting the tempo of military operations along the frontline in Ukraine, but has notably not stopped military activity entirely.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and several Russian milbloggers stated that Russia must maintain active operations in Ukraine and expressed worry over the prospect of further Western military support to Ukraine. 
  • Some milbloggers additionally expressed increased discontent with the perceived lack of articulated Russian war aims and stated Russia must clarify its war aims before discussing any pause or end to the war.
  • Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov stated that the Kremlin has activated a network of sleeper agents in Ukraine in the past few months to destabilize Ukrainian society.
  • Russia’s attempt to artificially create a migrant crisis at the Finnish border appears to be failing due to Finnish authorities’ swift response.
  • The Kremlin appears to be shifting responsibility for potential future austerity measures onto Russian occupation heads and the heads of four select Russian republics.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and did not make confirmed advances. 
  • Deputy Commander of the Russian Navy Lieutenant General Viktor Astapov confirmed on November 27 that the Russian navy is reorganizing naval infantry brigades into divisions in order to increase their combat capabilities.
  • Likely Ukrainian partisans continue to target Russian occupation elements throughout occupied Ukraine.
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