On a single December night Russia launched 69 cruise missiles and 23 drones at Ukraine and Ukrainian air defences shot down 54 of the missiles and at least 11 of the drones. Ukrainian sources reported that Russia struck targets, primarily infrastructure facilities, in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Donetsk oblasts causing widespread disruptions to energy, heating, and water supplies.
Russia launched 16 Shahed-131 and -136 drones at targets in Ukraine on the night of December 29 to 30 and Ukrainian air defences shot down the whole lot. Ukrainian officials reported that Russia launched seven of the drones at targets in Kyiv and that all were shot down. One drone fell on an administrative building.
Belarussia shot down a Ukrainian S 300 SAM but this missile probably had missed its target and just carried on flying.
Ukraine’s air force reported on January 1 that Ukrainian air defence forces shot down all 45 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that Russia fired at Ukraine on New Year’s Eve. Ukrainian forces used the US-provided NASAMS air defence system to shoot down these drones. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on January 2 that Ukrainian forces intercepted all 39 Shahed-136 drones launched against Ukraine between the night of January 1 and 2. Ukraine’s intelligence believe Russian forces only have enough cruise missiles to conduct two to three more large-scale missile attacks against Ukraine.
There is quite a lot of squawking from Russia’s EU parrots at present: Russia won’t run out of missiles or men, NATO interventions invariably fail, EU made equipment is so much better than British. I don’t think the Ukrainians buy this but the aim is that American and British politicians swallow it whole. At least one British reporter has already! If Russia is so good at churning out missile, why go to the Iranian Mullah’s for drones? Or the Chinese for massive cyber attacks on America and Britain?
Russia’s answer to the cruise missile shortage is firing S 300 and S 400 SAMs from Belorussia at Kiev – straight up and almost straight down with a two minute flight. Ukraine’s only defence is to hit the launch sites.
ISW estimates of numbers remaining are set out below in an Appendix.
Front Lines and Future Threats
General Gerasimov’s appointment as theatre commander likely advances two Kremlin efforts: an attempt to improve Russian command and control for a decisive military effort in 2023, a political move to strengthen the Russian MoD against challenges from the Russian millbloggers and opinion formers, such as Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, who criticize the Kremlin’s conduct of the war.
Fighting along the main eastern front continues around Soledar and Bakhmut. The former may have been near enough captured. There are many salt mines in the Soledar region and the Russian private army leadership on the ground are partly driven by personal gain.
Russia spent the autumn building defensive lines east of the River Dnipro to stop attacks from the direction of Kherson and further east stop attacks towards the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, indeed, Crimea.
Mobilization appears effectively permanent. Numbers are harder to pin down but let’s take the figure of half a million on face value.
While the Ukrainian’s must take seriously the risk of Russian winter offensives aimed at Kiev, Kharkiv or the Don region, to me – and I have trained hundreds of Royal Engineers and hundreds of soldiers and airmen how to free-fall parachute – that sounds a very large number of people to train properly. Russia’s defence ministry talk of raising another twenty divisions, roughly ten thousand men each. Perhaps the Russians want to emulate Stalin – if you don’t have a weapon, take one from a dead comrade. I do not doubt that the present Kremlin will spend any number of young Russians to save their own skins and life style. I’m not sure – though only through talking to people who know Russia well – whether it’s possible for that to happen without protest in this age of instant communications. Three-quarters of a million young Russian men have fled the country since February last year. Might they have voted with their feet to counter no vote at home?
What about the weather?
Leaving aside the vast quantities of energy spent every hour keeping ski runs and skating rinks open within eyeshot of our house in Switzerland, the Almighty has not smiled on former KGB atheists or at least, not so far. Ukraine has only just experienced lows of -7C. Are the Russians able to mount combined arms attacks between now and spring? The answer is most probably yes but with a huge question mark over their ability to fight real combined arms warfare and therefore the capability to make decisive and lasting impact. A big revue has started in Russia’s defence ministry. Their command system and combat formation structures suffer from serious weaknesses unchallenged for several years although they are trying to switch from brigades back to divisions as the prime battle formation. Whether there’s a logistics machine capable of sustaining large scale attacks for weeks on end is open to doubt. That’s before we add the Ukrainians’ increasing ability to hamstring Russian forces. By this I mean the kind of teamwork between the Ukrainian signals intelligence, who picked up lots of mobile phone traffic at one spot in Makiivka, and their long range rocket artillery who bombarded the location where the phone traffic was coming from. Plus we should add the Ukrainian’s obvious talent for learning at remarkable pace how to use complex modern technology.
Leaving all this aside, America and Britain must stand rock firm on supplying Ukraine and training Ukrainians. France and Germany – probably after serious nudging from Washington – have offered to supply tanks and self-propelled guns. Will anything reach the Ukrainians? I’ll believe it when it’s happened.
America and Britain will supply Abrams and Challenger heavy tanks. Both have a reputation for survival in combat. Only one Challenger was ever lost in battle – to friendly fire. This military aid package looks to me like the core of a battlegroup from which the Ukrainians could build an armoured brigade combat team in US Army speak. Because any tanks, however powerful and mobile, need protection from drones, missiles, artillery and air strikes plus fuel, ammunition and full technical back-up. By summer the Ukrainian’s could possess the kind of force that breaks through any Russian defences and strikes deep, hundreds of kilometres. I suspect the Americans and ourselves have insisted that any such strikes should be aimed at occupied territory only, please, but that gives more than enough scope!
However, my old soldier’s eyebrows jerked skywards when I contemplated the training, supply of spares and ammunition problems – Challenger has a 120mm rifled gun as opposed to the NATO standard smoothbore arming the Abrams and Leopard. British tank crews retain the ability to fire squashhead rounds, tubes of high explosive, as well as discarding sabot rounds, sharp tipped steel bolts which discard their body in flight and penetrate the toughest armour. Challenger with its rifled gun holds the record for knocking out an Iraqi tank with a single shot at 3.3 miles range!
Imagine keeping two, possibly three fleets of the latest tanks on the road. Then add two fleets of armoured infantry carriers to this task. Challenger is the right name! Then add the Poles offer of a company/squadron of Leopard tanks providing Herr Scholz doesn’t block this through his usual diplomatic dithering. Until quite recently Britain’s fleet of tanks was 2,000 strong as opposed to 220 plus today. Some must still be stored? Can’t we put them back on the road and provide Ukraine with a brigade of Challengers while the Americans provide a brigade of Abrams? I have little doubt the Ukrainians will grasp how big-gun tanks with the latest Chobham/Dorchester armour can exploit the shape of the ground to their advantage but there won’t be any shortage of Russians trying to stay alive despite their leaders.
And things can change fast in large scale armoured warfare. I’ve only witnessed one big armoured battle but it lasted 17 days and involved hundreds of tanks on both sides and hundreds of guns—souped-upShermans for Pakistan facing Pattons and British Centurians ( one of my jobs in London was administering the Commonwealth Military Assistance Scheme – the Centurians were sent to fight China until the Pakistanis attacked Indian Kashmir earlier that summer! ) all backed largely by British supplied artillery. The noise and rippling curtain of white light across the Punjab plain were incredible.
Happy New Year
We face huge political watersheds later this year. Will the American public vote for pensioner Presidents a third time? I would have thought American voters are growing pretty tired and jumpy. All those lost and forgotten files hardly inspire confidence in either pensioner’s staff. Will isolation rise from the grave yard of American history? Trump and Biden both ring plenty of loud alarm bells in my memory. Mind, I’m older than both of them!
British politicians and the British people may have more important things to worry about than grieving for the EU, royal soap opera or woke crusades. A vote to escape the new imperial Europe became urgent for me when Baroness Ashton tried to sell Ukraine EU membership, including its rival security alternative to NATO. Merkel followed this with a gas deal that built Putin’s war chest and Putin invaded Crimea in 2014. What was the EU reaction? Self-preservation, anything to keep business as usual with Putin. The gas flowed, the money piles kept rising in Russia.
Have a look at UK Defence Matters edited by David Card (ex V bomber navigator). EU imperial ambition is alive and well today. Britain and Britons need to stand ready to lead, more Boris Johnson and Ben Wallis, less FCDO and Cabinet Office flat-earthers. Dare I add less Blair and Starmer and a bit more Jim Callaghan, George Robertson and indeed, Tony Benn. All stood by their principles.
Appendix: ISW ESTIMATES FOR MISSILES IN THE RUSSIAN STORES
Ukrainian Defence 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 Defence (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 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.