- The Kremlin directly responded to Russian rumors of a second wave of mobilization in an apparent effort to manage growing societal concern and recentralize information about the war with the Russian government and its authorized outlets, but there are several indicators that Russia still intends to conduct a second wave of mobilization.
- Igor Girkin, a former Russian militant commander and prominent critical voice in the Russian milblogger information space, returned to Telegram following a nearly two-month stint in Ukraine and used his return to offer a vitriolic first-hand account of the situation on the frontlines.
- Ukrainian forces likely made recent gains in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast, and Russian forces conducted limited attacks and defended against Ukrainian counteroffensive actions.
- Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks near Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made marginal territorial advances near Bakhmut, but Russian forces have not succeeded in their efforts to surround the city.
- Russian authorities are very likely conducting an information operation to convince Russians of the security and integrity of the Kerch Strait Bridge following repairs to the bridge span.
- Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Maria Zakharova denied rumors on December 5 that Russia is preparing to withdraw from or transfer control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) to another actor.
- Russian occupation authorities continued to strengthen security measures in occupied territories.
The Kremlin directly responded to Russian rumors of a second wave of mobilization in an apparent effort to manage growing societal concern and recentralize information about the war with the Russian government and its authorized outlets. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov on December 6 urged Russians to rely on communications from the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the president and to ignore the “provocative messages” published on social media platforms such as Telegram regarding a second wave of mobilization. Peskov’s statement is likely aimed at discrediting the growing influence of both Russian opposition and pro-war Telegram channels that have been consistently reporting on indicators of the Kremlin’s intention to resume mobilization in 2023. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also increasing measures to prevent mobilized men and their families from complaining about mobilization problems. Putin, for example, signed a law banning rallies in government buildings, universities, schools, hospitals, ports, train stations, churches, and airports—likely to suppress riots and protests among mobilized men and their families.
The Kremlin seems to be departing from the limited war messaging it has been using to reduce concerns among the general Russian public about the war, likely in an effort to condition the public for future mobilization waves. Belgorod and Kursk oblasts have announced the formation of territorial defense units, exposing many civilians to the war under the absurd premise of the threat of a Ukrainian ground assault on Russia’s border regions. ISW previously reported that Kremlin propagandists have started propounding similar implausible theories about a Ukrainian ground threat to Russian territory. Moscow officials even plastered advertisements for the special military operation throughout the city, which ISW has previously observed only in remote cities and settlements during the summer of 2022 amidst Russia’s volunteer recruitment campaigns. However, these information conditions are likely insufficient to convince the Russian population at large of the necessity for additional mobilization given the underwhelming response to volunteer recruitment advertisement efforts over the summer. The Kremlin risks further harming its credibility by announcing mobilization that has been predicted by unofficial sources but not discussed by Russian officials. Russian officials face major challenges balancing Russian force generation needs, which require the enthusiastic support of the milblogger community, and control of the Russian information space.
Putin’s decision to order a second wave of mobilization, general mobilization, or even announce a formal declaration of war with Ukraine will not fix the inherent constraints on Russian military power available for the war in Ukraine in the short term. The Russian MoD can only simultaneously train about 130,000 conscripts during a bi-annual conscription cycle in peacetime and has struggled painfully to prepare a larger number of mobilized men over a shorter period. The Ukrainian Commander of the Ground Forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, noted that Russian mobilized men who are now arriving at the frontlines are better trained than those mobilized men who had arrived at the frontlines immediately after Putin’s partial mobilization order on September 21. The Kremlin took almost three months to prepare some of these units, while it prematurely committed other ill-prepared and poorly supplied mobilized elements to the frontlines. The Kremlin’s sham announcement of the end of mobilization call-ups on October 28 is also an indicator that the Russian MoD acknowledges that it lacks the capacity to sustain reserve mobilization and conscription simultaneously. The Kremlin’s force generation efforts remain contingent on its ability to invest time and supplies into its personnel, requirements that are badly at odds with the Kremlin’s lack of long-term strategic planning.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian militant commander and prominent critical voice in the Russian milblogger information space, returned to Telegram following a nearly two-month stint in Ukraine and used his return to offer a vitriolic first-hand account of the situation on the frontlines. Girkin posted on Telegram on December 6 to speak on his experiences in Ukraine for the first time since he announced he was leaving to join the Russian army to fight in Ukraine in October. Girkin detailed his multiple and unsuccessful efforts to register and join various units and contentious interactions with Russian and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commanders and noted that he finally joined a DNR battalion illegally, which allowed him to deploy to the Svatove area in Luhansk Oblast. Girkin concluded that based on his experience on the frontline, it is clear that Russian forces are suffering from a “crisis of strategic planning” due to the fact that troops are relying only on tactical inertia and not cohering around a wider strategic goal. Girkin also noted that the Kremlin will be unsuccessful in igniting protests in Ukraine with its missile campaign against critical energy infrastructure, further noting that winter weather will not stop Ukrainian forces from advancing. Several other prominent milbloggers amplified Girkin’s story and conclusions, emphasizing Girkin’s past leadership role in hostilities in Donbas in 2014. This scathing critique of the Russian military leadership from one of the most vocal and well-known figureheads of the hyper-nationalist information space, who has now reportedly acquired first-hand experiences of the nuances of frontline life, is likely to exacerbate tension between Russian military leadership and milbloggers and may reignite fragmentation within the ultra-nationalist community itself.
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