Key Takeaways from the ISW:

  • Russian forces conducted the largest series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion on the morning of December 29.
  • The strike package that Russian forces launched on December 29 appears to be a culmination of several months of Russian experimentation with various drone and missile combinations and efforts to test Ukrainian air defenses.
  • Russia will continue to conduct strikes against Ukraine at scale in an effort to degrade Ukrainian morale and Ukraine’s ability to sustain its war effort against Russia.
  • Current Russian missile and drone reserves and production rates likely do not allow Russian forces to conduct regular large-scale missile strikes, but likely do allow for more consistent drone strikes, which can explain the recent pattern of Russian strike packages.
  • The Kremlin's efforts to sufficiently mobilize Russia's defense industrial base (DIB) in support of its wartime objectives, including large-scale strike series, may been more successful than Western officials previously assessed due in part to Russia’s ability to procure military equipment from its partners and the redistribution of Russia’s resources for military production purposes.
  • Russian forces have likely routinely attempted to draw and fix limited Ukrainian air defense systems away from the front, and the Russian strikes on December 29 follow recent indications that Ukrainian air defenses may be presenting significant challenges to Russian aviation operations along the frontline.
  • Western aid remains vital for Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian strikes, and the end of such aid would likely set conditions for an expanded Russian air campaign In Ukraine.
  • Western leaders largely viewed the massive Russian strike as evidence that Putin’s maximalist goals in Ukraine remain unchanged, in line with ISW’s long-standing assessment that Putin is not genuinely interested in a ceasefire or any sort of negotiated settlement in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces made recent confirmed advances northeast of Bakhmut and south of Avdiivka as positional engagements continued across the entire line of contact.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on December 29 that it has completed Russia’s autumn 2023 conscription cycle, which began on October 1.
  • Russia continues the forced integration of occupied areas of Ukraine into the Russian system using social services and infrastructure restoration projects.

Authors: Christina Harward, Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Karolina Hird, and Frederick W. Kagan.

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