Recent Russian gains in Soledar do not portend an imminent encirclement of Bakhmut, contrary to claims made by Russian sources. Even at the most generous interpretation of Russian milblogger narratives, which claim that Russian forces are fighting on the outskirts of Razdolivka (about 6km northwest of Soledar), Russian forces are still far from being within striking distance of an operational encirclement of Bakhmut. In order to effectively cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) into Bakhmut, Russian forces would have to establish control of the T0513 Siversk-Bakhmut highway (currently 7km west of the furthest point of confirmed Russian advances in the Soledar area) and reach the E40 Slovyansk-Bakhmut highway (13km from the furthest point of confirmed Russian advance in the Soledar area) at least. Considering that the recent rate of gains in this area has been on the order of a few hundred meters a day, at most, it is highly unlikely that Russian forces will be successful in cohering a mechanized push towards these GLOCs and move towards encircling Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut would still have GLOCs available even if the Russians cut the E40, moreover, making the entire discussion of an encirclement at this point bizarre.
Russia continues to weaponize religion to perpetuate long-standing information operations and discredit Ukraine. Russian milbloggers responded to footage posted on January 7 of uniformed Ukrainian servicemen attending Orthodox Christmas services at the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra and decried it as a reprisal and open war on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP). Several milbloggers referred to the footage as evidence that the Lavra has been “captured” by “heretics and schismatics.” The milblogger vitriol at the footage of Christmas services at the Lavra follows the decision by the Ukrainian government to take back control of the main cathedral of the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra from the UOC MP and allow the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to hold Orthodox Christmas services at the Lavra on January 7. The Russian response to the Ukrainian government’s decision to transfer control of the Lavra to the OCU exemplifies Moscow’s continued weaponization of religion in order to frame Ukraine as evil and position Russia as the protector of Orthodox Christian values, as ISW has previously reported.
The Ukrainian government has not disrupted the ability of observers to celebrate Orthodox Christmas in Ukraine. Russian milbloggers falsely presented the legal transfer of the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra from the UOC MP, which the Ukrainian government maintains has explicit links to the Kremlin and has provided material and spiritual support to the Russian war in Ukraine, to the OCU as an attack on the ability of observers of Orthodox tradition to celebrate Christmas. Orthodox services continued through Ukraine, including in the Kyiv-Perchesk Lavra, throughout the course of the day on January 7. The Ukrainian government position that elements of the UOC MP, from which Kyiv removed control of the Lavra, is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued association with the Russian Orthodox Church. In his speech on Orthodox Christmas, Putin thanked the ROC for its continued support for Russian troops in Ukraine. Ukraine is not suppressing the religious liberties of Orthodox Christians, contrary to the Russian information operation, and is instead taking the steps it deems necessary to distance Ukrainian cultural heritage from religious elements it asserts are linked to the Kremlin and its conduct of the war.
Russian forces reportedly continue to deplete their missile arsenal but will likely continue to be able to threaten Ukrainian critical infrastructure and civilians at scale in the near term. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov published an infographic on January 6 detailing that Russian forces have expended roughly 81 percent of their strategic missile stocks and 19 percent of their tactical missile stocks. Reznikov reported that Russian forces reportedly have remaining of their pre-war and post-invasion production stocks:
92 Iskander 9M723 missiles (11 percent),
52 Iskander 9M728/9M729 missiles (44 percent),
118 Kh-101 and Kh-555/55SM missiles (16 percent),
162 Kh-22/32 missiles (44 percent),
53 Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles (84 percent), and
59 sea-based Kalibr missiles (9 percent).
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated that it would never run out of sea-based Kalibr missiles while conducting a massive series of missile strikes on December 29, 2022. Russian forces last used sea-based Kalibr missiles in Ukraine during their ninth large-scale series of missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure on December 16. Although the Russian military’s tactical missile stock is less expended, S-300 and 3M-55 Onyx missiles are less precise systems than Russian strategic missiles, which is likely why Russian forces have not used these systems extensively in large-scale missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
Reznikov reported that Russia has managed to produce since the February 2022 invasion:
290 Kh-101 and Kh-555/55SM missiles (65 percent of the pre-war stock),
150 Kalibr missiles (30 percent of the pre-war stock),
36 Iskander 9M723 missiles (5 percent of the pre-war stock),
20 Iskander 9M728/9M729 missiles (20 percent of the pre-war stock),
and 20 Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles (47 percent of the pre-war stock).
The Russian production of strategic missiles since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in comparison to the Russian military’s pre-war stock highlights that Russia has not mobilized its military industry to support Russian military operations in Ukraine. A country would normally increase the production of missile, rocket, and other weapons systems and munitions before embarking on a major war and would normally put its military industry on a war footing once the war began. Russia has done neither. Putin’s failure to mobilize Russian industry to support the Russian war effort in Ukraine may result from fears that further economic disruptions could produce further domestic discontent in Russia because Western sanctions regimes have placed significant constraints on Russian military industry, or because of inherent limitations of Russian industry and military industry—or some combination of these factors. The current level of the Russian military’s depletion of strategic missile systems may constrain how often and at what scale Russian forces conduct future massive series of missile strikes in Ukraine, but Russian forces will be able to continue their campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure at scale in the near term and threaten the lives of Ukrainian civilians.
Russian forces have also reportedly depleted their arsenal of Iranian-made drones following an increased pace of drone attacks in Ukraine in the past month. Russian forces have reportedly expended 88 percent of their stock of the Shahed-131 and –136 drones that they have so far received from Iran, with only 90 Iranian-made drones remaining according to Reznikov. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces increased their use of Shahed drones in attacks on Ukraine over the past month in order to maintain the pace of their campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure without further depleting their more valuable missile stocks. Russia’s contract with Iran reportedly stipulates that Iran will send an additional 1,000 Shahed drones to Russia. Russian forces will likely be able to conduct only a handful of massive drone attacks in Ukraine in the near term until Russia receives from Iran another delivery of drones, which reportedly come in batches of 200 to 300.
- Recent Russian gains in Soledar do not portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.
- Russia continues to weaponize religion to perpetuate long-standing information operations and discredit Ukraine.
- Russian forces reportedly continue to deplete their missile arsenal and stock of Iranian-made drones but will likely continue to threaten Ukrainian infrastructure at scale in the near term.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian forces made marginal confirmed advances in Soledar amid continuing Russian offensive operations around Bakhmut and along the western outskirts of Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continue efforts to establish further control over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
- Ukrainian and European officials continue to warn that Russia is preparing for an imminent second wave of mobilization.
- Russian occupation authorities continue to transport Ukrainian children to Russian territory under the guise of medical rehabilitation schemes.