Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 6

Angela Howard, Kateryna Stepanenko, Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Madison Williams, Yekaterina Klepanchuk, and Frederick W. Kagan

December 6, 8:30 pm ET

Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] ISW previously reported that Kremlin propagandists have started propounding similar implausible theories about a Ukrainian ground threat to Russian territory.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] Several other prominent milbloggers amplified Girkin’s story and conclusions, emphasizing Girkin’s past leadership role in hostilities in Donbas in 2014.[13] 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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.

  • Ukrainian Counteroffensives—Eastern Ukraine
  • Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and one supporting effort);
  • Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast
  • Russian Supporting Effort—Southern Axis
  • Russian Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts
  • Activities in Russian-occupied Areas

Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)

Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)

Ukrainian forces have likely made recent gains in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast as part of ongoing counteroffensive operations. The Ukrainian General Staff indicated on December 5 that Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions near Tavylzankha, Bohdanivske, and Lyman Pershyi (all about 50km northwest of Svatove and 15km south of the international border), indicating that Ukrainian troops have likely made limited advances in this area.[14] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) also inadvertently indicated that Ukrainian troops have taken control of Kyslivka (25km northwest of Svatove) by claiming that Russian strikes targeted a Ukrainian command post in Kyslivka on December 5.[15] Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued to attack Russian positions northwest of Svatove between December 5 and 6.[16]

Russian forces continued defending against Ukrainian counteroffensive operations and conducted limited attacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on December 5 and 6. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai reported on December 5 that Russian troops are attempting to hold their positions along the entire Svatove-Kreminna line as they prepare defensive fallback positions in Starobilsk (50km east of the Svatove-Kreminna line).[17] Haidai also noted on December 6 that Russian forces in this area have had adequate time to prepare echeloned defensive lines and have heavily mined the surrounding territory to complicate Ukrainian advances.[18] Russian and Ukrainian sources reported fighting along the Svatove-Kreminna line near Raihorodka (11km southwest of Svatove), Ploshchanka (15km northwest of Kreminna), Chervonopopivka (5km north of Kreminna), Zhytlivka (3km north of Kreminna), and Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna) between December 4 and 6.[19] Russian milbloggers noted that elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army are operating near Svatove.[20]

Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine

Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)

Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut on December 5 and 6, but have been unable to surround the city.[21] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are concentrating on improving their tactical positions around Bakhmut and conducted ground assaults in Bakhmut; north of Bakhmut, in Bilohorivka, Soledar, Berestove, Verkhnokamianske, Bakhmutske, and Andriivka; and south of Bakhmut in Opytne,  Kurdyuimivka, Yakovlivka, and Klishchiivka on December 5 and 6.[22] Ukrainian Spokesperson for the Eastern Group of Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhiy Cherevaty, stated on December 5 that the  Bakhmut area is currently experiencing the most intense battles on the frontline but that Ukrainian forces are holding their defenses and inflicting maximum losses on Russian forces.[23]

Russian sources claimed that Russian troops made marginal gains around Bakhmut on December 5 and 6. Spokesperson for Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Daniil Bezsonov, claimed that Wagner forces are advancing in the Bakhmut area, inflicting major losses on Ukrainian forces.[24] The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks near Kurdyumivka (13km southeast of Bakhmut) on December 6, resulting in heavy Ukrainian losses.[25]  Russian milbloggers claimed on December 5 and 6 that Wagner forces pushed through Ukrainian defenses around Opytne (4km south of Bakhmut) and southeast of Bakhmut and are trying to establish control in the settlement, but Wagner financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin refuted these claims on December 6.[26] Russian milbloggers claimed that the fighting around Soledar (13km northeast of Bakhmut), Bakhmut, and in Opytne, Klishchiivka, and Kurdyumivka (all three within 14km south of Bakhmut) remained fierce on December 6.[27]  Former DNR Security Minister, Alexander Khodakovsky, noted that Russians do not have the advantage of shocking unsuspecting Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut as they had done during the siege of Mariupol in March.[28] Khodakovsky argued that Russian forces are making marginal advances around Bakhmut but noted that the layout of the frontline and Ukraine’s months-long resistance prevents Russian forces from large-scale successes in the Bakhmut direction.[29]

Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area on December 5 and 6. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults on Marinka (30km southwest of Avdiivka), Novomykhailivka (36km southwest of Avdiivka), and Krasnohorivka (about 28km southwest of Avdiivka) on December 5 and 6.[30] The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks in Marinka on December 6 and multiple Russian sources shared video footage purporting to show Russian forces in captured Ukrainian positions in Marinka on December 5 and 6.[31]  A Russian source shared video footage of the 100th Brigade of the DNR People’s Militia in the Nevelske direction, southwest of Avdiivka, on December 6.[32] Ukrainian Donetsk Oblast Head Pavlo Kyrylenko reported that Russian forces shelled Avdiivka on December 5, and Russian sources claimed that Russian forces, including artillerymen of the DNR 1st Army Corps, shelled Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka on December 6.[33] Kyrylenko also reported that Russian forces shelled Kurakhove and Hostre, west of Krasnohorivka, on December 5.[34] The Deputy Interior Minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Vitaly Kiselev, claimed that Russian forces fired on Ukrainian positions in Pervomaiske (about 28km southwest of Avdiivka) and Krasnohorivka on December 5.[35] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued routine shelling along the line of contact in this area.[36]

Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts on December 5 and 6. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted an airstrike near Vuhledar on December 5.[37] The Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian attacks near Volodymyrivka, southeast of Vuhledar, and Novodarivka, on the eastern border of Zaporizhia Oblast, on December 6.[38] Multiple Ukrainian and Russian sources echoed reports that Russian forces shelled Vuhledar on December 5.[39] Kiselev claimed that Russian forces struck Ukrainian concentrations in Zolota Nyva, west of Vuhledar, on December 5.[40] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued intense shelling along the line of contact in western Donetsk and eastern Zaporizhia oblasts.[41]

Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)

Note: ISW will report on activities in Kherson Oblast as part of the Southern Axis in this and subsequent updates. Ukraine’s counteroffensive in right-bank Kherson Oblast has accomplished its stated objectives, so ISW will not present a Southern Ukraine counteroffensive section until Ukrainian forces resume counteroffensives in southern Ukraine.

Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations in eastern Kherson Oblast on December 5 and 6. [42] Russian forces shelled the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River, including Kherson City and its environs.[43] Russian and Ukrainian sources stated that Ukrainian forces shelled areas on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River, including Hola Prystan (11km southwest of Kherson City on the R57 Kherson City-Armyansk highway) and Tavriisk (just east of Nova Kakhovka).[44]

Russian forces continued to target frontline settlements and rear energy infrastructure in southern Ukraine on December 5 and 6. Russian and Ukrainian sources stated that Russian forces targeted infrastructure in Cherkasy, Dnipropetrovsk (including Kryvyi Rih), Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhia (including Zaporizhzhia City) oblasts.[45] Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that Russian forces continued routine shelling along the line of contact west of Hulyaipole, Zaporizhia Oblast, against Nikopol and Marhanets, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, and against Ochakiv, Mykolaiv Oblast on December 5 and 6.[46]

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 Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin announced on December 5 that Russian authorities completed repairs to all four road spans of the Kerch Strait Bridge following an attack on the bridge in September.[47] Russian media outlets and milbloggers circulated footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself driving across the bridge, likely an effort to convince Russians that the bridge is stable and secure enough for Putin and therefore the rest of the populace.[48] Such an effort is likely part of a broader information operation to suppress panic over the prospect of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine that could eventually threaten Russian positions in Crimea and the few logistics lines connecting Crimea and the rest of occupied southern Ukraine.

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.[49] Zakharova also claimed explicitly that Russia is the only safe operator of the ZNPP.[50] Zakharova had responded to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi’s December 2 statement that there had been serious headway in negotiations about establishing a safety and security zone around the ZNPP.[51] However, as ISW has previously reported, Russian media, milbloggers, and low-level occupation officials have long perpetuated rumors of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that could threaten Russian positions at the ZNPP and broader western Zaporizhia Oblast in a way that sets information conditions (intentionally or otherwise) for a potential Russian withdrawal from the ZNPP.[52]  Zakharova’s December 5 statements suggest that Russian forces currently do not plan to withdraw from the ZNPP but may do so if certain conditions—such as secure positions in western Zaporizhia Oblast and de facto IAEA recognition of Russian sovereignty over the plant – are not met. Zakharova’s statement also indicates that the Kremlin’s November 28 denials of the same rumors have failed to quell this narrative.[53]

Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)

Russian officials continue to conduct mobilization and set bureaucratic conditions for a future wave of mobilization despite official attempts to suppress reports of both actions. A Russian news outlet claimed on December 5 that Russian officials are forcing conscripts called up during the autumn conscription wave to register with military commissariats and drafting these conscripts into the army within a day.[54] Prominent Russian and Ukrainian sources asserted that a large-scale wave of Russian mobilization will begin in January of 2023.[55] Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on December 5 that the Russian military, in concert with the Russian Internal Ministry, is taking steps to launch an electronic database by February 2023 to document the personal details of all soldiers and conscripts.[56] This database would expedite Russian mobilization attempts by allowing Russian authorities to monitor the movement of Russian soldiers and conscripts, control access to their finances, and send summons to Russian men virtually.[57] Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov again announced the informal end of partial mobilization on December 3 and defended the informal nature of its end on December 6.[58] A prominent Russian news source reported on December 5 that unspecified authorities in Kostroma Oblast ordered journalists to replace the word “mobilized” with “newly summoned military personnel.”[59]

Russian Senator Andrey Klishas of the ruling United Russia party proposed the Kremlin restrict the ability of Russians who fled the country to avoid mobilization to secure paid work upon returning to Russia on December 5.[60] Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded that the Kremlin is not considering such a step.[61] Meanwhile, Russian administrations and Russian-led administrations in occupied Ukraine continue struggling to cope with labor shortages caused by mobilization. An opposition news source reported on December 3 that several Russian regions face heating challenges due to the mobilization of public utility employees.[62] The Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Administration announced on December 5 that occupation authorities in Donbas are closing mines due and removing equipment from mines to the mobilization of over half their employees.[63]

The Ukraine Resistance Center reported on December 6 that Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) recruiters have begun recruiting prisoners from occupied Ukrainian territories and deploying them to the frontlines without training.[64] ISW has previously reported on Russian difficulties controlling mercenaries recruited from prisons within Russia.[65] The Ukrainian General Staff stated that a group of 21 Russian-led soldiers, including 13 prisoners, stationed in Verkhnyotoretsky Raion, Donetsk Oblast deserted as a group on November 30. Unspecified actors reportedly eliminated all deserters prior to December 5.[66] Wagner PMC officers will almost certainly face equal or greater difficulties controlling prisoners released from occupied Ukraine.

Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)

Russian occupation authorities have increased security measures in occupied territories and intensified searches for partisans. The Ukrainian General Staff stated on December 5 that Russian forces strengthened the local police regime, reinforced the local administrative regime, and introduced a curfew in Skadovsk Raion, Kherson Oblast.[67] Russian forces reportedly entirely prohibit residents from moving between settlements and allow movement within settlements only during the day.[68] The Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Administration reported that Russian officials in Novoaidar, Luhansk Oblast shut off internet access to prevent Ukrainian partisans from reporting Russian forces’ positions to Ukrainian soldiers.[69] Crimean Occupation Administration Head Sergey Aksyonov announced that Crimea will operate under a high (yellow) level of terrorist threat awareness with unspecified enhanced security protocols from December 7 through December 22 despite the continuation of the Crimean winter tourist season.[70] The Ukraine Resistance Center reported on December 6 that a presumed partisan planted explosives at the entrance of a Russian collaborator’s residence in Melitopol which sent the man to the hospital.[71] Zaporizhia Oblast Occupation Administration Deputy Vladimir Rogov claimed that Russian forces discovered a cache of weapons, ammunition, and Ukrainian uniforms in occupied Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast.[72] Ukrainian sources reported Russian looting disguised as searches in garage cooperatives in Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast, detention and coercion of Ukrainians resistant to living in the “Russian world” in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast, and inspections of school curriculums for Ukrainian symbols in occupied Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast.[73]

Ukrainian sources continue to report Russian torture and executions of Ukrainian civilians suspected of supporting Ukrainian forces. A Twitter-based open-source intelligence aggregator amplified reporting that Russian forces executed five Ukrainian civilians following torture.[74] A local Ukrainian Telegram channel stated on December 6 that the Kherson Oblast Prosecutor’s Office identified another building where Russian forces detained and interrogated pro-Ukrainian civilians using physical and psychological techniques along with a list of 112 individuals likely held in the building in the de-occupied area of Kherson Oblast.[75]

Russian occupation authorities apparently are requiring Ukrainian civilians to quarter Russian soldiers. The Ukraine Resistance Center noted on December 5 that Russian forces are struggling to find places to shelter troops in occupied areas of Ukraine and have begun “asking” civilians to provide housing.[76] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that mobilized Russian soldiers have begun quartering in private homes in Starobilsk, Luhansk Oblast.[77] The Ukraine Resistance Center identified instances in Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblast where Russian forces commandeered schools and hospitals to meet soldiers’ housing and medical needs.[78]

Russian occupation authorities throughout occupied Ukraine have marked January 1, 2023, as the end date for circulation of the hryvnia.[79] Authorities will require residents to make payments in rubles from that point forward.[80] 

Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.   

[1] https://www dot


[3] ; https://ria dot ru/20221205/mitingi-1836460791.html

[4] ;; 




[8]; https://armyinform dot
















[23] https://armyinform dot

[24] ;



[27];;;;; ;



[30] ;

[31] ; ; ; ;


[33] ; ; ;


[35] ;

[36] ; ; ;


[38] ;

[39] ; ;


[41] ; ; ; ;




[45];;;;;;; ttps://;;;;;



[48]; ;;

[49] ;

[50] ;

[51] ;





[56] https://gur dot; https://sprotyv dot mod dot

[57] https://gur dot; https://sprotyv dot mod dot

[58] https://tass dot ru/obschestvo/16513295;;;


[60] https://meduza [dot] io/news/2022/12/05/senator-klishas-predlozhil-vvesti-ogranicheniya-dlya-rossiyan-uehavshih-posle-nachala-mobilizatsii




[64] https://sprotyv dot









[73] https://sprotyv dot mod dot;;

[74] *GRAPHIC*


[76] https://sprotyv dot mod dot


[78] https://sprotyv dot mod dot