January 9, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces make confirmed advances south of of Donetsk City

Institute for the Study of War

A Ukrainian public opinion survey on Ukrainian attitudes towards the Ukrainian government and military indicates that Ukrainian society overwhelmingly supports Ukraine’s military and its leadership while experiencing tensions typical in a society fighting an existential defensive war. The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) published a survey on December 18, 2023, that it conducted between November 29 and December 9, 2023, that shows that 96 percent of respondents support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, 88 percent trust Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and 66 percent trust Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 84 percent of respondents in a previous KMIS poll conducted in December 2022 expressed trust in Zelensky, and trust in many Ukrainian institutions experienced a similar decline between December 2022 and 2023 – an unsurprising development given the protracted war. The Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the Ukrainian National Police, and Ukrainian volunteers did not see similar decreases in polled public trust during this time.

Ukrainian sentiments in December 2022 were likely more optimistic than in November and December 2023 because Ukrainian forces had recently liberated large portions of occupied territory in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts during successful counteroffensive operations in the fall of 2022. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive operations in 2022 liberated the strategic regional capital city of Kherson, pushed the frontline away from several major Ukrainian population centers, and turned these cities into near rear and rear areas, which may have allowed more Ukrainians to focus on domestic issues of local governance throughout 2023 instead of the imminent existential threat of Russian military activity and occupation they faced in 2022.

The KMIS poll also shows that the majority of respondents support both Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi and that only 15 percent held polarized opinions supporting one and not the other. Russian sources have widely promoted Kremlin information operations alleging a serious rift between Ukrainian military and civilian leadership and have routinely attempted to portray domestic issues in Ukraine as significantly undermining the Ukrainian will to fight. These Russian information operations aim to break Ukrainians‘ trust in their leadership and weaken Ukrainian morale while also decreasing Western support for Ukraine by falsely portraying Ukrainian society as demoralized and divided. The KMIS poll suggests that these Russian information operations are far from reality and that the Russian offensive campaign in Ukraine remains highly unlikely to break Ukrainian support for Ukraine‘s military and civilian leadership and the Ukrainian will to fight.

Key Takeaways:

  • A Ukrainian public opinion survey on Ukrainian attitudes towards the Ukrainian government and military indicates that Ukrainian society overwhelmingly supports Ukraine’s military and its leadership while experiencing tensions typical in a society fighting an existential defensive war.
  • A new independent poll from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found that Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains strong domestic support for his regime and his war in Ukraine, despite relatively poor economic conditions and living standards in Russia.
  • Russian ultranationalist vitriolic responses to gender integration in the Ukrainian military highlight Russia’s ongoing shift towards a cultural-ideological worldview that seeks to restore rigid and traditional gender roles and exposes gaps between Russia and Ukraine’s respective abilities to mobilize their own societies.
  • Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat reported that Ukraine has a shortage of anti-aircraft guided missiles after several recent large Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine.
  • Russian sources continue to complain about persistent command and communication problems that degrade Russian combat capability in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Russian sources are reviving longstanding calls for a large-scale Russian offensive operation in Kharkiv Oblast to create a “buffer zone” with Belgorod Oblast despite the Russian military’s likely inability to conduct an operation to seize significant territory in Kharkiv Oblast in the near term.
  • Recent Kremlin and Russian media rhetoric aimed at threatening Moldova likely continues to embolden pro-Russian separatist leaders in Moldova to attempt to sow political instability and division in Moldova.
  • Bloomberg reported that officials from Ukraine, the Group of Seven (G7) countries, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other unspecified countries held a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 16 to build support for Ukrainian conditions to negotiate with Russia.
  • Russian forces made confirmed advances southwest of Donetsk City, and positional engagements continued along the entire frontline.
  • The Russian military is reportedly abusing Serbian nationals whom Russian officials have recruited to serve in Russian formations in Ukraine.
  • Russian occupation officials continue the systematic oppression of residents of occupied Crimea using law enforcement and administrative means.
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