Russia and Ukraine exchange missile strikes, Russia's hitting cities, Ukraine's hitting barracks.
Ukraine at D+312: Shortages and deep strikes.
Russian strikes continued against Ukrainian civilian targets over the New Year holiday. Moscow says the strikes were intended to disrupt Ukrainian drone production, but Kyiv says the missiles fell on residential neighborhoods. Ukrainian authorities claim that large numbers of drones were shot down by air defenses, AP reports, but a number got through and found their targets.
Ukraine uses HIMARS against Russian rear areas.
A HIMARS fire mission destroyed a large building used as barracks by Russian forces, the New York Times reports. Russia's Defense Ministry says sixty-three troops died in the strike against the military facility in Makiivka, a city in the occupied Donetsk oblast. Ukrainian officials put the death toll at over four-hundred, and the larger figure appears to have received some corroboration from nominal separatists sympathetic to Russia. Even the lower, official Russian, figure represents the special military operation's largest admitted loss of life in a single combat incident.
A large fraction, perhaps a majority, of the dead were new recruits, called up in the partial mobilization, and it appears that liberal cellphone use by Russian troops provided decisive target indicators to Ukrainian forces. The Telegraph reports that "Officials in Russia-controlled Donetsk on Monday appeared to blame the Russian victims for giving away their location through mobile phone data. They said the Ukrainian army had been able to detect an unusual 'activity of the mobile network and location of the subscribers'."
There have been many expressions of outrage over the attack in Russia. The anger is directed not so much against Ukraine, but against Russian commanders who concentrated large numbers of unprotected, poorly concealed troops within range of Ukrainian artillery.
For its part, Ukraine predicts that more strikes will be carried out against targets well behind Russian lines, and specifically into both Russia and occupied Crimea. Kyiv made similar predictions after recent strikes against Russia's Engels Air Base.
Details of recent fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) describes the stakes in current fighting over the P66 highway north of Kreminna. "Over the last five days, Russian and Ukrainian forces have probably been fighting for control of the P66 highway, north of the Russian-held Luhansk Oblast town of Kremina. The P66 is a key supply route for the northern section of Russia’s Donbas front from the Belgorod region of Russia. Its use has been disrupted by Ukrainian artillery since October, but if Ukraine were able to secure the route, it would highly likely further undermine Russia’s defence of Kremina."
This morning the MoD assessed the Russian campaign against Bakhmut as for the most part exhausted. "In mid-December, Russian military and Wagner proxy forces likely increased the frequency of their infantry assaults around the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut. However, many of these operations were poorly supported. Over the last ten days, Ukraine has committed significant reinforcements to defend the sector and the frequency of Russian assaults have likely reduced from the peak in mid-December. Both sides have suffered high casualties. Russian offensive operations in the area are now likely being conducted at only platoon or section level. It is unlikely Russia will achieve a significant breakthrough near Bakhmut in the coming weeks."
Russian shortages: ordnance and troops.
The Russian army has now drawn down stocks of artillery ammunition it had stored in Belarus, as the Telegraph reports mounting evidence that Russia has been expending ammunition faster than it can be replaced.
Personnel losses are also proving more difficult to redress. The mercenary Wagner Group's alt-army has gained considerable notoriety for its recruitment of convicts from Russian prisoners (they're promised remission of their sentences if they serve successfully at the front, and death if they desert), but not all the convicts are proving reliable soldiers. The Telegraph describes an ongoing manhunt around Rostov-on-Don for six convict-deserters from a nearby Wagner Group training facility.
Among the more serious losses are being sustained by junior officers. An essay by military analyst Jan Kallberg assesses those losses as especially significant:
"Open-source researchers at Killed in Ukraine have confirmed 800-plus Russian senior lieutenants and captains KIA. When the loss of wounded in action (WIA) is added, it is likely that half of all competent ground-fighting company commanders in the Russian force in Ukraine are either KIA or WIA. Russia may be running out of missiles, but these can be bought and manufactured; what they are more certainly lacking is able tactical leaders."
Poland warns of increased Russian offensive cyber activity.
The government of Poland (specifically, the Government Plenipotentiary for the Security of Information Space of the Republic of Poland) warned over the weekend that Russian cyberattacks against third-party countries that have supported Ukraine during Russia's war can be expected to increase. As one would expect, the statement draws particular attention to the Russian threat to Poland in cyberspace. "Since the beginning of the Russian invasion against Ukraine Poland has been a constant target of the Kremlin’s hybrid actions, including attacks in cyberspace," Polish authorities said. "Recently this hostile activity has intensified. This is the consequence of our commitment to help Ukraine but also of the fact that Poland is strongly advocating in the international arena for providing help to Kyiv. Through hostile operations in cyberspace Russia wants to exert pressure on Poland, as a frontline country and a key Ukraine’s ally on the NATO eastern flank."
The Russian target list is expansive, covering a range of sectors, and hacktivist auxiliaries continue to play a significant role in the Russian offensive. "Both public administration domains and private companies, the media and ordinary users become the target of hacker attacks. Entities from strategic sectors, such as energy or armaments, are particularly at risk. Some of these hostile campaigns can be linked directly to the activities of pro-Russian hacking groups."
The motivation is retaliatory. "Such incidents in cyberspace are retaliatory actions typical of Russia, which are a response to steps taken by other countries, that are unfavorable and inconvenient for the Russian Federation. Hacker groups linked to the Kremlin use ransomware, dDos and phishing attacks, and the goal of hostile actions coincides with the goals of a hybrid attack: destabilization, intimidation and sowing chaos."