Ukrainian air defenses reportedly intercepted all drones from two consecutive nights of Russian drone strike attacks against Ukraine on December 31 – January 2. Ukraine’s air force reported on January 1 that Ukrainian air defense forces shot down all 45 Russian Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that Russia fired at Ukraine on New Year’s Eve. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesman Yuriy Ignat stated on January 1 that Ukrainian forces used the US-provided NASAMS air defense system to shoot down these drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 2 that Ukrainian forces intercepted all 39 Shahed-136 drones launched against Ukraine between the night of January 1 and 2. The Ukrainian General Staff again reported on January 2 that Ukrainian forces shot down all 27 Shahed-136 drones that Russian forces launched against Ukraine on January 2, though it is unclear if this figure includes the previously reported intercepts from the night between January 1 and 2. Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Vadym Skibitsky reiterated on January 1 that Russian forces only have enough cruise missiles to conduct two to three more large-scale missile attacks against Ukraine.
Russia’s air and missile campaign against Ukraine is likely not generating the Kremlin’s desired information effects among Russia’s nationalists. Russian forces conducted a cruise missile strike against an object in Khmelnytskyi Oblast — reportedly a base of the Ukrainian 8th Separate Special Forces Regiment — on December 31. A Russian milblogger stated that the strike, while well-executed and a good information operation, is too little too late. The blogger argued that Russia needed to systematically conduct such strikes earlier on in the war, that the strike should have had follow-up strikes to ensure maximum damage, and that the timing of this strike was inopportune since Ukrainian elements were unlikely to be at the base on New Year’s Eve. The blogger noted that this was not the first time that Russian forces failed to deliver effective strikes due to an absence of secondary strikes and that Russia should generally be more thorough in its destruction.
A devastating Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast, on December 31 generated significant criticism of Russian military leadership in the Russian information space. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that a Ukrainian precision strike on a Russian manpower and military equipment concentration point in Makiivka destroyed up to 10 pieces of equipment but did not release an official casualty number as of January 2. The Department of Strategic Communications of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stated on January 1 that the strike killed 400 mobilized personnel and injured 300. Geolocated footage published on January 1 also placed the aftermath of the strike at the Vocational School No. 19, fewer than 13km east of the frontline. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) acknowledged the strike, claiming that four of the six rockets killed 63 Russian servicemen. Samara Oblast Governor Dmitry Azarov confirmed that among the deceased servicemen are residents of the oblast, and some Russian sources claimed that 600 servicemen of a mobilization regiment were in the school building at the time of the strike. Some milbloggers claimed that the death count was about 110, with over 100 wounded personnel.
The Russian MoD is likely attempting to deflect the blame for its poor operational security (OPSEC) onto Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officials and mobilized forces. DNR law enforcement officials told Russian state wires that the strike occurred when Russian servicemen violated operational security by using personal cell phones, allowing Ukrainian forces to conduct a precision strike at the base. Kremlin-leaning outlets and some milbloggers amplified the claim, stating that Russian forces should not underestimate the Ukrainian ability to exploit poor OPSEC practices on the frontlines and called on the Kremlin to introduce stricter guidelines on cell phone use among servicemen. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Deputy Interior Minister Vitaly Kiselyov amplified milblogger reports that military commanders are demanding the resignation of DNR Head Denis Pushilin. Some DNR public officials have also called for the punishment of the official who had decided to use the school. The Russian MoD may have deliberately relied on the DNR officials to blame OPSEC violations on mobilized servicemen for the attack in an effort to make the DNR the responsible party.
The Russian MoD’s vague acknowledgment of the strike generated criticism towards the Russian military command, however. Wagner-affiliated milbloggers stated that Russian military command had made it easy for the Ukrainian forces to strike several hundred servicemen in one location, calling the DNR explanation of cell phone usage a “lie.” A former Russian officer had also stated that Russian forces stored ammunition in the school’s basement, enabling the devastating strike. Other milbloggers stated that the Russian command witnessed similar strikes throughout the past 11 months but were “criminally negligent” and failed to disperse the Russian forces quartered in Makiivka into smaller groups further in the rear. Several milbloggers referred to a Putin statement about the necessity for the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to take accountability and listen to criticism on December 21 while calling on the Kremlin to punish the commander responsible for the OPSEC failures. Wagner financier and avid critic of the Russian military command, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, offered an uncharacteristic and vague comment about the situation — stating that he could not reveal how Wagner prevents similar OPSEC problems. ISW previously reported on two other instances of mass milblogger criticism: the failed Russian river crossing in Bilohorivka in May 2022 and the botched Russian offensive operation on Pavlivka in October 2022.
Such profound military failures will continue to complicate Putin’s efforts to appease the Russian pro-war community and retain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space. Russian sources claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military and the Investigative Committee to investigate the incident in Makiivka by January 6. Putin’s inability to address the criticism and fix the flaws in Russia’s military campaign may undermine his credibility as a hands-on war leader.
- Ukrainian air defenses reportedly intercepted all drones from two consecutive nights of Russian drone strike attacks against Ukraine on December 31 – January 2.
- Russia’s air and missile campaign against Ukraine is likely not generating the Kremlin’s desired information effects among Russia’s nationalists.
- A devastating Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian base in Makiivka, Donetsk Oblast, on December 31 generated significant criticism of Russian military leadership in the Russian information space.
- The Russian MoD is likely attempting to deflect the blame for its poor operational security (OPSEC) onto Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officials and mobilized personnel.
- Russian sources responded lukewarmly to Russian President Vladmir Putin’s staged New Year’s address, while Russian milbloggers lauded Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s appearances on the frontlines over the New Year’s holidays.
- Russian forces continued to carry out unsuccessful attempts to improve their tactical positions northwest of Svatove after reportedly conducting a tactical pause.
- The Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies reported that Russian forces are continuing to deploy personnel on the Kharkiv-Siversk frontline.
- Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces are redeploying along the eastern axis while struggling to maintain their pace of artillery strikes.
- Russian forces attempted limited offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast and continued efforts to reinforce defensive structures.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to extend financial promises made to Russian soldiers as Ukrainian officials continue to warn of an impending wave of Russian mobilization.