December 9, 2022

Institute for the Study of War: Russia sets up position on island in the Dnipro River

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to discuss negotiations with Ukraine as a means of separating Ukraine from its Western supporters by portraying Kyiv as unwilling to compromise or even to engage in serious talks. During a news conference at the Eurasian Economic Union summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on December 9, Putin clarified his December 7 statements wherein he suggested that Russia was preparing for a “lengthy” war and stated that he meant the settlement process would be protracted. Putin emphasized that the settlement process will be challenging and take time, and that all participants will need to agree with realities on the ground in Ukraine (by which he presumably means recognizing Russian control of any territories it has annexed), but that at the end of the day, Russia is open to negotiations. Putin also criticized statements made by former German chancellor Angela Merkel that the 2014 Minsk Agreements were an attempt to “buy time for Ukraine” and accused Merkel and the West of propagating distrust in negotiating future settlements. Putin remarked that based on this understanding of the Minsk Agreements, perhaps Russia should have begun military operations earlier. Despite the constant employment of adversarial rhetoric regarding the settlement process, Putin continued to claim that Russia remains open to the possibility of negotiations.

Putin has consistently weaponized invocations of the negotiation process to isolate Ukraine from partner support by framing Ukraine as refusing concessions and likely seeks to use any ceasefire and negotiation window to allow Russian troops time to reconstitute and relaunch operations, thus depriving Ukraine of the initiative. A ceasefire agreement that occurs soon enough to allow Russian forces to rest and refit this winter is extremely unlikely, however. Negotiating a protracted, theater-wide ceasefire takes time. Russia and Ukraine are extremely far apart on the terms of any such agreement, and it is almost impossible to imagine a ceasefire being agreed to, let alone implemented, for some months, which would deprive Russia of the opportunity to pause Ukrainian winter counter-offensives and reset before spring.

Putin may be overly optimistic about the prospects for a more immediate cessation of hostilities, but that is also unlikely given his rhetoric as well as statements by Ukrainian leaders and the West, of which he is well aware. It is more likely that Putin is fanning discussions of a ceasefire primarily as part of an information operation designed to expand cleavages between Ukraine and its backers by portraying Kyiv as unwilling to talk. Putin is likely secondarily setting conditions for actual negotiations sometime in 2023, presumably after Russian forces have secured more of the territory he claims to have annexed.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to discuss negotiations with Ukraine as a means of separating Ukraine from its Western supporters by portraying Kyiv as unwilling to compromise or even to talk seriously.
  • Putin’s positioning in the Russian information space continues to oscillate between supporting the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and backing the nationalist and pro-war milblogger community.
  • An independent open-source investigation by the BBC’s Russia service and independent Russia outlet Mediazona found that members of Russian national republics deploy to Ukraine at disproportionately higher rates than ethnically Russian oblasts, but that ethnic Russians are dying at a rate proportional to their representation in the Russian Federation population, contrary to previous ISW assessments.
  • Russian officials strengthened existing legislation to stifle domestic dissent.
  • Senior US officials stated that Russia is providing an unprecedented level of military and technical support to Iran in exchange for Iranian-made weapons systems.
  • Russian forces established defensive lines near Svatove, and Russian and Ukrainian forces conducted ground attacks near Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
  • Russian forces may have established positions on an island west of Kherson City in the Dnipro River.
  • Ukrainian forces’ interdiction campaign against Russian military assets and logistics hubs in southern Ukraine has likely degraded Russian forces, their logistics lines, and broader Russian morale.
  • Putin doubled down on claims that Russia will not conduct a second wave of mobilization amidst persistent concerns within Russian society.
  • Russian occupation authorities continued to strengthen physical, legal, and social control over occupied territories.

(For full report: 

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-9     )

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