December 22, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces make confirmed advances near Bakhmut and near Avdiivka

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian officials continue to warn that Russia maintains its maximalist objectives and additional goals for territorial conquest in Ukraine, despite recent comments made by Western officials suggesting that Russia is already defeated. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on December 22 that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has lost Ukraine altogether” and can “no longer achieve its war goals,” which is a “major strategic defeat.” Stoltenberg also cautioned against expectations in the West of a rapid end to the war. Stoltenberg’s comments echo comments made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on December 20, wherein Blinken stated that Russia has already failed to achieve its principal objective of erasing and subsuming Ukraine. Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Major General Vadym Skibitskyi, however, also stated on December 22 that even if Russia failed to achieve its operational-strategic objectives in 2023, Putin will simply shift Russia’s objectives to the next year, suggesting that it is premature to talk about Russia’s complete failure in the war thus far. Skibitsky’s statement is consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russia continues to pursue Putin’s maximalist goals in Ukraine and that the current failure of Russian operations in Ukraine thus far is not a permanent condition. A Russian source seized on Blinken’s comment and similar statements made by Western officials to propagate the narrative that these comments aim to justify reducing Western support for Ukraine. Russian information space actors will likely continue to exploit Western statements regarding the failure of Russian operations in 2023 and falsely frame such statements as indicators that Western leaders intend to stop supporting Ukraine. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian officials continue to warn that Russia maintains its maximalist objectives and additional goals for territorial conquest in Ukraine, despite recent comments made by Western officials suggesting that Russia is already defeated.
  • Ukraine will very likely receive the first batch of F-16s before the end of 2023.
  • The Russia Aerospace Forces (VKS) reportedly lost three Su-34 attack aircraft in southern Ukraine between December 21-22.
  • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) named Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close ally and Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, as the individual responsible for the assassination of Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin.
  • The Kremlin continues to position itself as a neutral arbitrator in the Israel-Hamas war despite its recent increasing anti-Israel rhetoric.
  • US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on December 22 granting the US Treasury Department the authority to impose sanctions on banks and other financial institutions that facilitate Russian sanctions evasion.
  • Russian officials continue to downplay deteriorating Russian-Armenian relations, possibly as part of a concerted campaign to improve the bilateral relationship amid concerns about Russia’s waning influence in the South Caucasus.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances northeast and southwest of Bakhmut and southwest of Avdiivka and continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact.
  • A Ukrainian intelligence official reported that Russian forces are intensifying force generation efforts to keep pace with the rate of Russian losses in Ukraine so that they can sustain ongoing offensive operations along the front.
  • Kremlin-appointment Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova outlined new social support measures meant to further integrate occupied Zaporizhia Oblast into Russia during a working visit to the occupied oblast on December 22.
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