January 17, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine’s continued existence as an independent state is a mortal threat, says top Russian official

Institute for the Study of War

A Ukrainian intelligence official reported that Russian forces lack the necessary operational reserves to conduct simultaneous offensive efforts in more than one direction in Ukraine. Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Deputy Chief Major General Vadym Skibitskyi reported on January 17 that Russia does not have enough reserves to conduct large-scale offensive operations in several directions at the same time. Skibitskyi stated that it is impossible for Russian forces to conduct strategically or operationally significant offensive operations without “powerful” reserves and implied that Russia does not have such reserves. Skibitskyi noted that mobilization measures are ongoing in Russia, likely referring to the current Russian crypto-mobilization campaign that relies heavily on volunteer recruitment and the coercive mobilization of convicts and migrants. It is unclear if Russia’s ongoing crypto-mobilization campaign has provided or would be able to provide the increased number of personnel that an intensified Russian offensive effort would require. Skibitskyi reported on January 15 that Russia recruits about 30,000 personnel per month, which the Russian military uses to replenish losses and form reserve regiments, and that Russia would need to conduct “mobilization” (likely referring to another “partial mobilization” like Russia conducted in September 2022 or a large-scale general mobilization) to establish a “powerful strategic reserve.” Skibitskyi’s statements suggest that although the Russian military is able to generate enough manpower to conduct routine operational-level rotations in Ukraine, Russian forces may not necessarily be able to generate manpower at a rate that would allow Russian forces to quickly re-establish the operational reserves necessary for simultaneous offensive efforts in several directions.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on January 17 that the elimination of Ukrainian statehood and independence remains one of Russia’s core war aims. Medvedev claimed that “the presence of an independent state on historical Russian territories” is a “constant reason for the resumption of hostilities” and that Ukraine’s very existence as an independent state is therefore “mortally dangerous” for Ukrainians. Medvedev claimed that an independent Ukraine will never be a legitimate state regardless of who leads the government and that a future conflict for Ukrainian territory is inevitable whether or not it is a new conflict or the continuation of the current Russian war in Ukraine. Medvedev’s January 17 statement is one of many recent signals from senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, that Putin and the Kremlin have no interest in good-faith negotiations with Ukraine and that Putin’s maximalist war aims in Ukraine remain unchanged. Medvedev attempted to portray Russia’s commitment to these maximalist objectives as unwavering by claiming that Ukrainian accession to the European Union (EU) or NATO will not prevent future conflict. Medvedev notably did not define what he considers to be historical Russian territories, but Putin has defined historical Russian lands as the territory of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Medvedev’s opacity may be intentional, as the Kremlin’s loosely defined concept of “historical Russian territories” allows the Kremlin to pursue expansionist objectives wherever and whenever it so determines in a broad area including Central Asia, the Caucuses and parts of Eastern Europe. Medvedev’s emphasis on the destruction of any Ukrainian state on these “historical Russian territories” could indicate that some actors in the Kremlin prioritize expansionist objectives over the identified objective of regime change under calls for the “de-nazification” of Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:



  • A Ukrainian intelligence official reported that Russian forces lack the necessary operational reserves to conduct simultaneous offensive efforts in more than one direction in Ukraine.
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on January 17 that the elimination of Ukrainian statehood and independence remains one of Russia’s core war aims.
  • Ukraine successfully employed a Ukrainian-refurbished hybrid air defense system (FrankenSAM) for the first time.
  • Germany and France announced additional military assistance to Ukraine on January 16.
  • The Russian ultranationalist community will likely concretize xenophobia and insecurities about Russia’s ethnic composition as key shared principles within the community in 2024, as Russian ultranationalists continue to seize on incidents involving migrants and non-ethnic Russian groups to call for anti-migrant policies and express growing hostility towards non-ethnic Russians in Russia.
  • The Kremlin’s ongoing attempt to court the Russian ultranationalist community will likely generate increasing friction between the Kremlin’s desired rhetoric and policies concerning migration and interethnic relations and those of Russian ultranationalists.
  • Significant protests erupted in Baymak, Bashkortostan Republic, following a Russian court’s guilty verdict for a prominent Bashkort activist, prompting a swift Russian government response as well as backlash from the Russian ultranationalist community.
  • Widespread Russian milblogger complaints about an Uzbek community leader in Russia prompted the Russian Investigative Committee to open a criminal investigation, suggesting that the Russian government may feel increasing pressure to respond to milblogger demands as the ultranationalist information space coalesces around xenophobic and anti-migrant ideals.
  • The Russian military command continues to convict Russian officers in cases associated with Ukrainian strikes as part of a likely effort to improve discipline across the Russian military.
  • The Kremlin continues efforts to expand Russia’s influence in Africa through the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the MoD-controlled Africa Corps.
  • The threat of US secondary sanctions is reportedly having a large-scale effect on Turkish-Russian financial ties.
  • Positional engagements continued along the entire line of contact on January 17.
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