Many civilians were killed in Russian strikes over the Orthodox New Year this weekend. Kinetic attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure threaten connectivity.
Ukraine at D+327: Russian missiles strike civilian dwellings.
Russia and Belarus are conducting joint air training, Al Jazeera reports. Official Russian sources characterize the exercises as "defensive." NATO has deployed three AWACS surveillance aircraft forward to Romania, the better to monitor Russian operations in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Russian missile strikes hit civilian targets over the Orthodox New Year.
Russian missile strikes hit residential areas of Ukrainian cities, including Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Lviv, over the weekend, the Telegraph and other sources report. The strikes took place as people celebrated the New Year, which many in Ukraine traditionally observe on January 14th, in accordance with the Julian calendar the Orthodox Churches use for the liturgical year. At least twenty-nine people died in one apartment building in Dnipro, the Washington Post reported soon after the strike; by Monday the AP had placed the death toll at forty. EU officials denounced the Dnipro strike as a war crime. NATO leaders are meeting this week in Berlin to plan further support for Ukraine, Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports, and the unambiguous brutality and impermissible targeting of civilians are, if anything, likely to provide impetus to providing Ukraine with more heavy weapons. (The NATO meetings will proceed without German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, who resigned yesterday in part over controversy related to the perceived slowness of German aid to Ukraine. Presumably an acting successor will represent Germany at the meetings, and the recent increase in German weapons deliveries to Ukraine will continue.)
The strikes represent the first major command decision taken by General Gerasimov after his assumption of direct responsibility for operations in the theater. "Russia’s blatant attack on civilians here — the worst to strike this city since Russia invaded Ukraine last February — came just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed his most senior military officer, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, as the new overseer of his relentless war in Ukraine," the Post writes from Dnipro. "The strike, which coincided with the Orthodox New Year, served as a grim message that Putin’s close confidant is likely to continue the violent missile strikes on civilian targets that have become a hallmark of Russia’s assault."
Business Insider reports that the weapon used against the apartment building was a Soviet-era Kh-22 "Kitchen" anti-shipping missile, which indicates continuing Russian improvisation, adapting naval ordnance ill-suited to land attack for use against large, stationary, civilian targets. The UK's Ministry of Defence this morning assessed what the use of repurposed anti-shipping missiles reveals about Russian long-range strike capability. "On 14 January 2023, Russia resumed long-range missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure, the first in approximately 15 days, launching tens of missiles. As with the previous eight waves of strikes since 11 October 2022, Russia primarily targeted the Ukrainian electricity grid. An AS-4 KITCHEN large anti-ship missile, launched from a Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE medium bomber, highly likely struck a block of flats in Dnipro city which resulted in the death of at least 40 people. Russia falsely implied a Ukrainian air defence missile was responsible. KITCHEN is notoriously inaccurate when used against ground targets as its radar guidance system is poor at differentiating targets in urban areas. Similar weapons have been responsible for other incidents of civilian mass-casualties, including the Kremenchuk shopping centre strike of 27 June 2022. While some missiles such as KITCHEN are unsuitable for precision strike, evidence from the Ukraine war suggests that dysfunction of Russia’s long-range strike capability is more profound. It highly likely struggles to dynamically identify targets, and to access rapid and accurate battle damage assessment."
Fighting continues in Bakhmut, Soledar, and Kreminna.
On the ground, the challenge for both sides, according to the UK's Ministry of Defence, is the maintenance of tactical and operational reserves. "Over the weekend, intense fighting continued in both the Kremina and Bakhmut sectors of the Donbas front. As of 15 January 2023, Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) almost certainly maintained positions in Soledar, north of Bakhmut, in the face of continued Wagner Group assaults. Around Kremina, fighting has been characterised by a complex series of local attacks and counter-attacks in wooded country. However, overall, the UAF continue to gradually advance their front line east on the edge of Kremina town. Over the last six weeks, both Russia and Ukraine have achieved hard-fought but limited gains in different sectors. In these circumstances, a key operational challenge for both sides is to generate formations of uncommitted, capable troops which can exploit the tactical successes to create operational breakthroughs."
Russia's Defense Ministry has claimed to have taken the mining village of Soledar after rebuking the Wagner Group's earlier claims of victory as premature. Kyiv, for its part, says that it continues to hold positions in both Soledar and Bakhmut. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reported Monday that Ukrainian units are still contesting these towns.
Black Sea Fleet sorties from Novorossiysk.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet appears to be dispersing from its major base at Novorossiysk, Saturday's situation report from the UK's Ministry of Defense says. "On 11 January 2023, a group of at least 10 vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) departed the Novorossiysk Naval Facility. Given the type and number of vessels putting to sea at the same time, the activity is likely a fleet dispersal in response to a specific threat to Novorossiysk that Russia believes it has identified." And it appears to be a defensive dispersal, and not an offensive sortie. "It is unlikely that the deployment signifies preparation for unusual maritime-launched cruise-missile strikes. It is highly unlikely that the fleet is preparing for amphibious assault operations. The BSF largely remains fixed by perceived threats from Ukraine, and continues to prioritise force protection over offensive or patrol operations."
Naval News reviews other, a priori possibilities: a drill, a strike mission, or an amphibious operation. But dispersal for force protection seems likeliest. For what it's worth, Pravda, citing military analyst opinion, said late yesterday that the Fleet has left port loaded with Kalibr missiles for an unspecified strike against Ukrainian targets.
The UK stays gung ho about aid to Ukraine. The US expands combined arms training for Ukrainian units.
His Majesty's Government continues its unambiguous public support for Ukraine. Over the weekend the Ministry of Defence drew attention to the amount of "lethal aid" (without any attempt at euphemism) it has delivered and intends to continue to deliver to Ukraine. "Our commitment to Ukraine remains steadfast and we will match or exceed last year’s military support in 2023. The military aid we have donated will help Ukraine defend against air attacks, fight on land, defend their shores, and be equipped for winter," the Ministry tweeted Saturday. Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted Kyiv's acknowledgement and thanks: "A decision has been made:#UAarmy will receive Challenger 2 tanks. This was agreed upon by President @ZelenskyyUA & Prime Minister @RishiSunak. With NATO-style tanks, we will move towards victory much faster. Grateful to His Majesty's Cabinet, especially to my colleague@BWallaceMP."
The US has also announced an expansion of the combined arms training it's providing Ukrainian units at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area in Bavaria. “We want the Ukrainians to have a capability to successfully defend their country,” General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Washington Post. “Ukraine is doing nothing more than defending itself, and they are trying to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine.” Training at Grafenwoehr began Monday. It's expected to begin with squad-level exercises, the AP reports, and then presumably build toward task-force training. Combined arms training integrates armor, infantry, artillery, air defense, intelligence, signal, and engineering organization into a task force capable of conducting a single operation. The Russian army has struggled with combined arms operations since its invasion of Ukraine.
"The special military operation will continue. These tanks are burning and will burn," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday. Since the Challenger tanks he's referring to haven't yet arrived and therefore can't be burning, not yet, anyway, his statement is forward-looking. But Moscow's displeasure with continued NATO assistance to Ukraine is obvious.
Attacks against civilian infrastructure affect Ukraine's grid (and telecommunications).
The Wall Street Journal describes the effect that kinetic destruction is having on Ukraine's power grid, and the way in which it's being felt in terms of network degradation. "Ukraine’s power outages aren’t just putting out the lights. The electricity shortages also affect water supplies, heating systems, manufacturing and the cellular-telephone and internet network, a vital communications link in a nation where fixed-line telephones are uncommon," the Journal writes. Alternative power supplies, both generators and batteries, are being sought, as both Ukrainian and allied sources work to supply them.
Calls in Russia's Duma for an expansion of the conscript pool.
Sunday morning the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) noted a suggestion by a senior Duma member that the upper age limit for the next class of conscripts be extended from 27 to 30. "On 12 January 2023, Andrey Kartapolov, the head of the Russian State Duma Defence Committee, suggested Russia would extend the upper age of routine military conscription from 27 to 30 in time for the Spring 2023 draft. Kartapolov said the move would be intended to enable the previously announced 30% increase in the size of Russia’s forces." The suggestion seems to be a trial balloon for a policy that's probably already been decided. "Last year, President Putin said he supported such a move, and Russian officials are likely sounding out public reactions. There is a realistic possibility that Russian leaders hope a change of age criteria for routine conscription could bolster personnel available to fight in Ukraine while appear[ing] less alarming to the population than announcing another round of the unpopular ‘partial mobilisation’ process."
Meduza's English-language service says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the President backed the notion of increasing the age of conscription to 30. Euromaidan says that President Putin seeks to expand the army to a force of two-million troops. Increasing the conscript pool would be a way of doing so.
Conscription and mobilization provide criminals with phishbait for Russian victims.
TASS reports, citing information provided by Kaspersky, that criminals are using Russian mobilization and conscription plans as an occasion for social engineering attacks against Russian victims. The goal appears to be theft of Telegram accounts. "Scammers steal Telegram user accounts using a phishing mailing list with an offer to get acquainted with a fake list of people who will allegedly be sent for mobilization on February 1-3, 2023, the channel specifies." If the mark follows the link, they'll be directed to a credential-theft site. As Meduza's coverage suggests, the emotions being exploited are anxiety, worry, fear: the phishing messages promise to send you to a site that will let you know whether you or a loved one is on the list of those scheduled to be summoned for military service next month.
Ukraine calls for a "digital United Nations."
“We need the Cyber United Nations, nations united in cyberspace in order to protect ourselves, effectively protect our world for the future, the cyber world, and our real, conventional world,” Yurii Shchyhol, who leads Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection, told POLITICO. “What we really need in this situation is a hub or a venue where we can exchange information, support each other and interact.” The goal of such an organization would be international threat-information sharing and preparation to withstand cyberattacks. The metaphor may be wayward: the United Nations, after all, seeks to include all states, and the proposed organization would of necessity leave those who are bad actors out. The proposal really represents more a gesture in the direction of an alliance than it does a comprehensive global association.