Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a press conference on the status of the war on February 7, likely in an attempt to posture the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) as an effective and involved leadership apparatus as the Russian military prepares for a renewed major offensive in Ukraine. Shoigu claimed that Russian forces are successfully developing operations near Bakhmut and Vuhledar and claimed that Russian troops have recently taken control of Soledar, Klishchiivka, Pidhorodne, Krasnopolivka, Blahodatne, and Mykolaivka in the Bakhmut area and Lobkove in Zaporizhia Oblast. Shoigu likely held this press conference in order to create the guise of formality and legitimacy for the Russian MoD as it continues efforts to reform the Russian military, prepare for a renewed offensive, and set conditions for prolonged operations in Ukraine. ISW has previously noted that Russian officials are preparing for an imminent Russian offensive in Ukraine in the coming months, and that these preparations are also happening on the strategic level with Russian command structures.
Russian military command may be rushing to launch a large-scale offensive operation to conquer Donetsk Oblast in an unrealistic timeframe and likely without sufficient combat power. The UK MoD assessed on February 7 that Russia has highly likely been attempting to launch a major offensive operation to reach the Donetsk Oblast administrative borders since early January 2023 but had only been able to gain several hundred meters of territory per week. The UK MoD attributed such a slow pace to Russian munitions shortages and a lack of maneuver units that are necessary for a successful and rapid offensive. The UK MoD noted that Russia is unlikely to build up the combat power necessary to substantially affect the outcome of the war while Russian military command continues to demand for unrealistic and sweeping advances. ISW similarly assessed on January 28 that Russian leadership may be once again planning a decisive offensive based on erroneous assumptions about Russian military capabilities and likely lacks the combat power necessary to sustain more than one major offensive operation. ISW also observed the Kremlin signaling preparations for an early 2023 offensive in December but assessed that the time and space relationship may hinder Russian rapid and large-scale advance aspirations as Ukraine heads into a muddy spring season unsuitable for maneuver warfare.
The Russian nationalist information space is continuing to express worry over Russia’s inability to sustain a rapid and multi-pronged decisive offensive operation on a deadline. One prominent milblogger warned that Russian forces should not fall into the trap of attempting to start numerous offensive operations like they did in spring 2022 but instead focus on gradual advances that would generate high casualties among Ukrainian forces. The milblogger added that Russian military command should prioritize tiring Ukrainian forces and disrupting their logistics rather than conducting a frontal assault. Another milblogger stated that Russia still needs to create a breakthrough force and reject its current tactic of launching small, localized offensives that waste Russian combat on “capturing fields.” ISW previously assessed that Russian efforts to conduct spoiling attacks and to fix Ukrainian forces further undermine the sustainability of a major offensive.
Russian state energy company Gazprom may be creating its own private security force, likely in an effort to normalize state-affiliated paramilitary groups and undermine private military companies (PMCs). The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on February 7 that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin privately authorized Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Nafta to establish a 70 percent stake in its own private security company under a law on the safety of fuel and energy complex assets. While it is not inherently unusual for state and private energy companies to establish private security forces to protect their assets, the GUR noted that the creation of this PMC aligns with ongoing tensions between the Kremlin and Wagner Group PMC financier Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russia may use these Gazprom security forces for purposes other than protecting Russian energy assets.
The Kremlin may be considering implementing some demands previously voiced by Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin to build rapport with other nationalist figures who advocated for similar policies. Head of the Russian State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption Vasily Piskarev is reportedly preparing amendments to the Russian Criminal Code to include provisions against discreditation of individuals who participated in combat operations and volunteer detachments that assist the Russian Armed Forces during the war in Ukraine. Russian state media credited Prigozhin as the initiator of the amendment, and the provision will likely include Wagner mercenaries whom the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) repeatedly labeled as “volunteers.” The largest Russia media holding company, Gazprom Media, is reportedly planning to ban its media outlets (which include Russian federal TV channels) from publishing content on YouTube. Russian outlets also speculated that Gazprom Media’s bans may be connected to efforts to block YouTube in Russia — another initiative that Prigozhin advocated for since late 2022. Both provisions, if authorized, do not legalize Wagner or elevate Prigozhin’s coveted political authority in Russia. However, those provisions appeal to the broader nationalist and milblogger communities who had been calling for stricter limitations on Western media in Russia and for the Kremlin’s recognition of volunteers — which include proxy armed formations, volunteer battalions, and the Russian Combat Reserve (BARS).
The Russian State Duma further formalized the institution of social benefit schemes in occupied territories of Ukraine in order to further consolidate administrative control of occupied areas. State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin stated on February 7 that the Duma adopted the first reading of four bills on the legislative integration of social rights of the residents of occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts. The bills define the minimum level of income, pension payments, sick leave, pregnancy and childcare benefits, and social support for veterans and the disabled and notably allows residents to submit documents to apply for social benefits in Ukrainian without a notarized translation into Russia. The Duma bills represent the highest level of legislative integration of social benefit schemes thus far, having previously been defined and advertised in local forms by individual occupation officials. ISW continues to assess that such social benefit measures are a method of consolidating administrative control of occupied areas, as residents of occupied areas are forced to interact with Russian-controlled administrative organs to receive necessary payments. The Duma bills codify and formalize these practices are part of the Russian legislative code.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is likely attempting to posture the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) as an effective and involved leadership apparatus as the Russian military prepares for a renewed major offensive in Ukraine.
- Russian military command may be rushing to launch a large-scale offensive operation to conquer Donetsk Oblast in an unrealistic timeframe and likely without sufficient combat power.
- The Russian nationalist information space is continuing to express worry over Russia’s inability to sustain a rapid and multi-pronged decisive offensive operation on a deadline.
- Russian state energy company Gazprom may be creating its own private security force, likely in an effort to normalize state-affiliated paramilitary groups and undermine non-state private military companies (PMCs).
- The Kremlin may be implementing some demands previously voiced by Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin to build rapport with other nationalist figures who advocated for similar policies.
- The Russian State Duma further formalized the institution of social benefit schemes in occupied territories of Ukraine in order to further consolidate administrative control of occupied areas.
- Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks near Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut.
- Russian forces did not make confirmed territorial gains on the southern axis.
- Russian officials appear to be investing in railway infrastructure to increase the efficiency of military logistics.
- The Russian MoD is reportedly proposing a bill to allow all military personnel, including conscripts, to voluntarily participate in Russian peacekeeping missions.