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Putin Strikes Back: Russian Military Back on Offense in Ukraine?

Russian TOS-1 MLRS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian TOS-1. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The winter in Ukraine has slowed down operations for both sides. However, that might change soon.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that the Russian military might attempt to launch a large-scale offensive in the early months of the next year.

Incoming Russian Offensive?

According to Ukrainian Military Intelligence, there are indications that the Russian forces are gearing up for a major offensive operation in early 2023. Ukrainian intelligence officials cite Moscow’s partial mobilization, conscription announcement, and relocation of heavy weaponry close to the frontlines as evidence of the incoming Russian offensive.

The Russian high command is amassing forces and also waiting for the ground to freeze so that tanks and other armored vehicles can move easier.

The Russian forces have fought in the winter before. Moscow, after all, launched the invasion right at the end of the winter, on February 24. But that didn’t go well.

During the first weeks of the war, the Russian military displayed an inability to operate in open country—and the situation of the Russian arsenal hasn’t only gotten worse since then. Russian forces were restricted on the Ukrainian roads and suffered because of it.

Probably the best example of this was the miles-long Russian armored column that was heading to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The Ukrainian defenders were able to conduct small-scale ambushes and delay the Russians, inflicting heavy casualties along the way.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin needs some victories in Ukraine. At the start of the war,

the Russian objectives were unlimited—capture the whole country and overthrow the Ukrainian government. But those objectives seem a world away now, and the Kremlin has had to revise its goals in Ukraine. Right now, the stated Russian goals in the war are to capture the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson provinces and ensure the “security” of the population there. Moscow currently controls approximately 20 percent of the pre-2014 internationally recognized boundaries of Ukraine.

The Assessment in Ukraine

The Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based think tank that has been doing some incredible work on the conflict, assessed that the Russian forces might seek to attack in the near future.

“ISW continues to assess that Russian forces seek to complete the capture of the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, and potential future offensives in western Donetsk Oblast may be intended to complement ongoing offensive drives on the western outskirts of Donetsk City and around Bakhmut to accomplish this wider territorial objective,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed.

But despite the Russian aspirations for a large-scale offensive in the next weeks, the Russian military hasn’t been making the right moves to create the conditions for success.

If Moscow doesn’t revise its strategic and tactical approaches to the war, then any offensive will meet the same fate as those in the past. Any offensives, moreover, will meet the fierce resistance of a battle-hardened Ukrainian military.

“However, despite the potential for new offensive operations, ISW continues to assess that Russian combat capability remains degraded and that Russian troops are highly unlikely to be able to take strategically-significant territory in the coming months,” the Institute for the Study of War added.

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.