Ukraine Situation Report | 6 January 2023
Recent events in Ukraine over the Christmas and New Year period have seen daily shelling continue, including a major strike carried out by Ukrainian forces with a high claimed fatality figure in occupied Ukraine. The attack targeted Russian troops in the occupied area of the eastern Donetsk region and is alleged to have killed at least 89 Russian soldiers. Deadly Russian strikes have also been reported throughout Ukraine in the past week, including in the central Zaporizhzhia region. Meanwhile, negotiations and any potential peace discussions have centred around a poorly received offer recently made by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a 36-hour truce coinciding with Russian Orthodox Christmas - observed on 7 January.
The Ukrainian attack reportedly saw eight missiles fired at a Russian military facility and makeshift barracks in the Makiivka area of the partly occupied Donetsk region on New Year’s Day. Of the eight rockets fired by a US-supplied HIMARS rocket system, two were apparently shot down, leaving six to hit their target. Russian officials initially only confirmed 63 Russian troop deaths, before later revising the figure to 89 fatalities, while Ukrainian military officials have claimed that as many as 400 Russian military personnel and conscripts had been killed and some 300 others had also been wounded. Following the attack, the Russian defence ministry has claimed that Ukrainian forces were able to locate and target the building by purportedly tracking Russian troop mobile phone usage.
It's widely assumed that both sides are able to track mobile phones, leading observers to express doubt over whether this adequately serves as a reasonable explanation for the Makiivka attack, as Russian military officials are known to have taken preventative measures against being tracked via these means, with reports previously suggesting newly mobilised Russian conscripts systematically have their phones confiscated upon arrival at military facilities for this very purpose. However, troops retaining mobile phones would be among the least notable of some other major lapses in operational security at the facility, which include the congregation of such a large concentration of troops in one building where ammunition was reportedly also stored – making the facility an obvious and easy target for any modern military equipped with satellite or drone footage capable of gathering troop movement intelligence.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, some 20 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region came under fire earlier this week, leading to the deaths of at least two people, while three others were also wounded. Numerous residential apartment buildings, nurseries, and infrastructure facilities are also understood to have been damaged amid the latest attack. Throughout the last week, intense daily shelling has also led to dozens of casualties in parts of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Luhansk, and Sumy. In Luhansk, Russian forces are also reported to have created a blockade in the Polovynkyne area in response to local residents supporting Ukrainian forces. Power cuts have also continued to impact many major towns and cities in recent weeks, including the capital Kyiv, where almost half of the city was reported to be without power following missile strikes on 29 January.
Russia’s offer of a 36-hour temporary truce to mark the Russian Orthodox Christmas period has been dismissed out of hand by Ukrainian officials. Kyiv has rejected the proposed ceasefire as a tactical ploy to stall advances made by Ukrainian troops on the frontline – particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Ukrainian forces have made considerable progress in recent months. Putin ordered the ceasefire, running from 12:00 Moscow time on Friday 6 January until midnight on Saturday 7 January, in a move which came in response to an apparent call for a Christmas truce by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Thursday. Putin called on Ukraine to reciprocate; however, the call has been met with scepticism, as Kyiv claimed Moscow plans to exploit the ceasefire to bring in more troops. The ceasefire order didn’t specify whether it would apply to both offensive and defensive operations – leaving it unclear if Russian forces would retaliate if Ukrainian troops continued fighting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the offer in a statement delivered on Thursday evening, claiming Moscow’s offer appeared disingenuous after the Kremlin allegedly repeatedly ignored Kyiv’s proposed peace plans, before accusing Putin of wanting to “use Christmas as a cover” to halt Ukrainian advances. Meanwhile, neighbouring Belarus has confirmed the arrival of Russian troops and equipment at Belarussian military bases – lending evidence to Ukraine’s claim the Russian truce may be a misdirection whilst more Russian troops are brought in.
As the conflict in Ukraine enters a new year, military analysts have offered some thoughts on how events on the ground may unfold in 2023, with the general consensus being that Russia’s spring offensive will be key in deciding whether the war might conclude on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, or if it will grind on into 2024. While both sides need an operational pause to recuperate, recover, and replenish lost troop numbers and equipment, it’s claimed that Ukraine appears to potentially be better positioned to maintain the pressure, being more equipped and more highly motivated, as well as being backed by the West. Given this context, any ceasefire is likely to be short and unstable, making a peace agreement unlikely for the time-being.