Overview:

  • Moscow secretly shipping full-price oil to avoid sanctions, UK says
  • Cyber attack may have knocked out Kremlin’s defense communications for a while
  • As NATO chief meets with US officials, his predecessor visits Kyiv
  • Russians move forward along the Bakhmut front
  • Ukrainian spy service general forecasts Moscow’s plans in South
  • Fierce fighting continues around Donetsk city

Russia allegedly using “shadow fleets” to ship oil and avoid sanctions

There is evidence that Russia is using “shadow tanker fleets” to get around Western oil price sanctions, AFP reported on Tuesday, quoting a watchdog committee made up of UK lawmakers.

A group of the UK’s House of Lords urged the international community to take “decisive action” over the issue, as Britain’s upper chamber called for military support for Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” AFP said.

In 2023, the G7, the European Union, and Australia imposed a price cap on exported Russian oil, with a $60-per-barrel price ceiling on crude, while, AFP suggested, the sanctions lost their “impact once Moscow found new buyers and new tankers to deliver its exports.” But Moscow “has skirted the curb by building so-called ‘shadow fleets’ of tankers and buying old ships while offering its own insurance services,” AFP reported.

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In a December release from the Kyiv School of Economics, in its “Russian oil tracker,” a study estimated that “179 loaded Russian shadow fleet tankers left Russian ports in November 2023.”  It said that, in October 2023, the shadow fleet was responsible for exports of around 2.3 million barrels per day of secretly shipped crude oil.

Kyiv hackers are said to have temporarily knocked out the Kremlin’s comm links with soldiers

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Ukraine said Tuesday that it had carried out a successful cyberattack that knocked out a server used by Russia's defense ministry, the AFP reported Tuesday, temporarily disrupting communications intended for military units. 

“As a result of the cyberattack, the exchange of information between the units of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, which used the indicated server located in Moscow, was stopped,” Ukraine’s military intelligence unit said in a statement, according to the AFP. 

It added that the cyberattack was “ongoing” as of Tuesday evening, as Russian government spokespeople admitted only some “technical problems.”

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Zelensky meets with former NATO chief in Kyiv

President Volodymyr Zelensky met on Tuesday in Kyiv with former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as the Alliance’s current Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, met simultaneously with the US military’s top brass and legislators in Washington.

President Zelensky thanked Rasmussen (NATO chief from 2009-2014, roughly coinciding with the Russian annexation of Crimea) for his “attention to the security and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine,” state news agency Ukrinform reported.

Zelensky stressed the need for bilateral agreements on security commitments, such as has already been signed with the United Kingdom, and ideally in the future with several other countries on such agreements, the negotiations for which are ongoing.

“I am grateful to the group you and [Chief of Staff] Andriy Yermak for your help in drafting the Kyiv Security Compact,” Zelensky said, “I hope to see the result in the nearest future.”

“The Ukrainians are really fighting on behalf of all of us, for freedom and democracy,” Fogh Rasmussen said.

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Intelligence spokesman says Moscow’s goal on the Kupyansk front is the Zherebets River

Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR) Head Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said on Tuesday that Russian forces aim to reach the Zherebets River (along the Kharkiv-Luhansk regional border area) the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported Tuesday, forecasting that Russian forces would fail to achieve these objectives and would likely be “completely exhausted” by the beginning of the spring.

ISW analysts said that Budanov’s statements are “consistent with ISW’s observation that Russian forces have intensified offensive operations along this axis since the beginning of January 2024. Russian forces have recently made tactical gains southeast of Kupyansk along the critical P07 Kupyansk-Svatove route near Krokhmalne and appear to be increasing assaults northwest and west of Krokhmalne towards the Oskil River.”

Operations: Bakhmut

The ISW reported on Tuesday that Russian forces recently advanced southwest of the city of Bakhmut, citing geolocated footage.

The think tank reported that elements of the Russian 102nd Motorized Rifle Regiment (150th Motorized Rifle Division, 8th Combined Arms Army [CAA], Southern Military District [SMD]) appeared to be clearing positions southwest of the city in the suburban dacha area along the T0504 Bakhmut-Ivanivske road.

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A Russian military blogger meanwhile said that Moscow’s forces are also working to gain the upper hand near Bohdanivka (northwest of Bakhmut) and Ivanivske (west of Bakhmut) and have “moved closer to the Siversky-Donets Donbas canal west of Klishchiivka (southwest of Bakhmut).”

Elements of the Russian 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade (14th Army Corps, Northern Fleet), 331st and 299th Airborne (VDV) Regiments (both of the 98th VDV Division), and 83rd Separate Guards VDV Brigade are reportedly operating in the area, the ISW wrote.

Operations: Donetsk City

Moscow’s forces recently conducted an unsuccessful assault southwest of the city of Donetsk amid heightened combat in the surrounding areas, the ISW reported.

Geolocated footage from Tuesday seems to show damaged Russian armored vehicles north and south of Novomykhailivka.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) reported that its units repelled an unsuccessful Russian attack along the Solodke-Kostyantynivka line (about 17 km southwest of Donetsk City and directly southwest of Novomykhailivka) and that Russian forces lost two tanks, six MT-LB armored fighting vehicles, and one BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

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