December 28, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces advance near Avdiivka, Ukrainian forces advance near Bakhmut

Institute for the Study of War

The New York Times (NYT) published an oped by a member of its editorial board calling for Ukraine to engage in negotiations with and cede territory to Russia after reports emerged that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using backchannels and intermediaries to signal his interest in a ceasefire. The oped largely ignores near-constant Kremlin public signaling of Russia’s continued maximalist goals in Ukraine. The oped argues that Ukraine should not “pass up” this opportunity to possibly achieve a ceasefire despite the fact that there are multiple reasons to believe that Putin’s pro-ceasefire signaling may not be sincere, such as Putin’s demonstrated untrustworthiness and the possibility that he may intend to use time spent on prolonged negotiations to his political and military benefit. The piece argues that Ukraine does not need to regain all its territory to emerge victorious from the war, but that a “strong, independent, prosperous, and secure” Western-oriented Ukraine is also a victory. The piece appeals to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to engage in ceasefire negotiations and not see negotiations as a defeat, implicitly blaming Zelensky – not Putin – for the absence of serious negotiations.

The oped’s argument implicitly relies on the assumption that Putin’s reported backchannel communications more accurately reflect Putin’s thoughts and desires than his – and other Kremlin officials’ – constant public rhetoric. Kremlin rhetoric to both international and domestic audiences has repeatedly indicated that Russia is not interested in negotiating with Ukraine or the West in good faith and intends to achieve its maximalist objectives in Ukraine – which are completely incompatible with a strong, independent, or secure Ukraine that is a part of the West. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev gave an interview to Russian state outlet RIA Novosti on December 28, for example, in which he responded to a question about the possibility of negotiations in 2024 by stating that the war will continue and that Russia’s goals in Ukraine remain the “disarmament of Ukrainian troops” (alternative wording for the long-standing Russian demand for Ukraine’s “demilitarization”) and ” the rejection by the current Ukrainian state of the ideology of neo-Nazism (alternative wording for the Kremlin’s repeated demands for Ukraine’s “denazification”). Medvedev re-emphasized that the war would continue until Russia achieves regime change in Ukraine and also claimed that Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, and Kyiv (none of which Russia currently occupies) are “Russian cities” and complained that they are still marked as Ukrainian cities on maps. Medvedev’s comments reinforce copious other indications that Russia intends to annex or militarily occupy territory beyond the current line of contact and beyond the four (illegally) annexed oblasts and Crimea. Medvedev also claimed that Russia has always been open to negotiations with Ukraine and that negotiations can continue up until the “complete defeat and capitulation” of Ukraine – in line with ISW’s long-standing assessment that Russia does not intend to engage in serious negotiations with Ukraine in good faith and that Russia’s maximalist objectives, which are tantamount to Ukrainian and Western surrender, are unchanged. The Ukrainian government, on the other hand, has consistently been working on its 10-point peace plan, and Zelensky stated on December 19 that Ukraine is preparing to be able to present the peace formula to Russia in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  • The New York Times (NYT) published an oped by a member of its editorial board calling for Ukraine to engage in negotiations with and cede territory to Russia after reports emerged that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using backchannels and intermediaries to signal his interest in a ceasefire. The oped largely ignores near-constant Kremlin public signaling of Russia’s continued maximalist goals in Ukraine.
  • Russia has officially deployed a battalion formed of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) to the frontline in Ukraine, further confirming a myriad of apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Convention on POWs.
  • Recent incidents of apparent Russian violations of the Geneva Convention on POWs likely implicate elements of the now notorious 76th Guards Air Assault (VDV) Division in the abuse of POWs.
  • The Russian military command will reportedly disband the “Kaskad” operational combat tactical formation of the Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DNR) Internal Affairs Ministry (MVD) by December 31, 2023, likely as part of Russia’s ongoing force formalization campaign.
  • Ukrainian military officials revealed that Russian forces launched about 7,400 missiles and 3,900 Shahed drone strikes against Ukraine since launching the full-scale invasion.
  • Russian mines continue to threaten civilian vessels in the Black Sea but will likely not deter civilian vessel usage of the Black Sea Humanitarian Corridor.
  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced a $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine on December 27.
  • Imprisoned Russian ultranationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin acknowledged the end of his presidential campaign after failing to register with the Russian Central Elections Committee (CEC) on December 27.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) rewarded prominent Russian milbloggers for their contribution to the “military-patriotic” and “military-political” sphere, mirroring previous Kremlin efforts to pander to and co-opt to the wider Russian milblogger community.
  • Ukrainian forces made a confirmed advance near Bakhmut, likely within the past week.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances northwest of Avdiivka, near Marinka, and south of Hulyaipole.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on December 28 that Russia has over 640,000 contract servicemen (kontrakniki), the first Russian announcement about the number of kontrakniki in the Russian Armed Forces since the start of the full-scale invasion.
  • Russian occupation officials continue to deport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of medical necessity, despite an apparently growing number of cases of highly infectious diseases being transmitted among Ukrainian children en route to Russia.

For full report:  

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-28-2023 

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