Hudson Institute

Ukraine Military Situation Report | January 3

Senior Fellow (Non-Resident)
Air Defence Ukrainian servicemen, who took part in the defence operations during recent attacks on Kyiv, prepare their weapons near Kyiv on January 3, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Deadly air strikes hit residential buildings in Ukraine on January 2, 2024, in an escalation of aerial attacks that killed five people and 130 wounded. (Photo by Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP) (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian air defense servicemen prepare their weapons near Kyiv on January 3, 2024. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Below Hudson Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu offers a military situation report about the war in Ukraine.

Executive Summary

The Russian military has been pounding Ukrainian infrastructure and population centers at a high tempo since mid-December 2023, unleashing mixed strike packages of various missiles and Iran-designed loitering munitions. 

Russian forces are also pushing hard for Avdiivka, achieving tactical gains in the absence of adequate military assistance from Kyiv’s Western partners.

The large number of Shahed loitering munitions in Russia’s air and missile attacks suggests that the joint Iran-Russia drone plant in Tatarstan has likely gained initial production capacity, boosting Russia’s ability to terrorize Ukrainian population centers. 

The Ukrainian air defense network has scored important kills in the southern sector, indicating a shift in the architecture of its surface-to-air missile systems. 

1. No Room for Complacency in 2024: The Hostile Axis Grows More Dangerous 

As of the final week of December 2023, Ukrainian sources claim that Russian personnel losses in Ukraine number around 360,000. The Russian military has also lost some 6,000 main battle tanks, around 11,000 armored personnel carriers, a large number of infantry fighting vehicles, and about 8,500 pieces of artillery. According to the United Kingdom’s Defense Intelligence, Russia’s average per-day casualty rate rose by nearly 300 troops from 2022 to 2023. London’s military assessment suggests that it would take five to ten years for the Kremlin to replenish its armed forces. 

Nonetheless, the state of the war is more worrying than it may seem at first glance for Ukraine and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners. The conflict has accelerated the Russian Federation’s transformation into a highly militarized state, ruled by Soviet-era spy chiefs who can mobilize and conscript hundreds of thousands of combatants from a pool of military-aged males that numbers in the millions. Putin’s Russia, despite its battlefield losses, currently fields some 244,000 personnel on Ukrainian soil, a force larger than the military of every NATO member state except the United States, Poland, and Turkey. 

Despite the pronounced ethnic imbalance in Russia’s fighting forces, its Caucasus regions show no signs of ethnic uprising. In a closed information landscape, average Russian citizens cannot fully grasp the situation into which the Kremlin has placed them. Worse, Russia has deepened its defense ties with many of the West’s most dangerous adversaries, especially Iran and North Korea. The lifelines thrown to Moscow from Tehran and Pyongyang have helped the Russian military sustain its artillery usage levels and long-range strike capabilities.

Moreover, Russia’s menacing military partnerships not only threaten Ukraine. They also aid the capability development programs of hostile nations that partner with Moscow. Tehran’s Su-35 super-maneuverable fighter and S-400 strategic surface-to-air missile (SAM) system procurement efforts shed light on what might lie ahead. 

In the meantime, Belarus is fast becoming a Russian garrison state, reportedly hosting the Kremlin’s tactical nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Wagner private military company is nowhere close to being eliminated. Instead, the legacy of Yevgeny Prigozhin has been split between the National Guard (Rosgvardya) and the Ministry of Defense, with no decline in its posture in Africa. 

With these dynamics in play, 2024 will likely be more dangerous than 2023. There is no room for complacency among Ukraine’s NATO allies.

2. Battlefield Update

One interesting development observed on the battlefield over the last several weeks has been the rise of infectious diseases, including “mouse fever.” Spread by rodents and potentially by rat bites, the illness induces severe vomiting and kidney pain, and ophthalmological symptoms such as bleeding eyes—and has reportedly caused terror among Russian troops. 

Otherwise, the battlefield geometry has remained static, with the exception of Russian tactical gains against the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the area of Avdiivka and near Siversky. In late December 2023, Russia’s main assault remained focused on the eastern and southeastern sectors in a push to capture the remainder of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The situation on the battlefield has reached a deadlock along most axes of assault, with Moscow’s long war strategy potentially turning the tide in its favor. 

The Russian high command has also intensified its destructive air and missile salvos. Per official Ukrainian reports, Russian attacks launched from Crimea and Krasnodar have employed Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions at a high tempo, sometimes involving more than 100 kamikaze drones in one effort. This suggests that the joint Iran-Russia drone production plant in Tatarstan is likely active. 

December 27 and 28 saw Russia hit Ukraine with two particularly large-scale missile and kamikaze drone salvos. The Ukrainian Air Force announced an interception rate of 70 percent, lower than its usual rate, potentially suggesting that its air defenses are struggling in the face of mixed strike packages. Russia’s Kh-22 air-launched anti-ship missile—dubbed the “carrier killer”—and S-300 air defense missiles modified for land attack have proven extremely dangerous, due to the former’s velocity and the latter’s quasi-ballistic trajectory. Since the outset of the war, the Ukrainian military reportedly has been unable to score a single kill on the Russian Kh-22

Ukrainian official announcements suggest that the Russian aerial assault of December 28 targeted multiple locales, including Kyiv, Odesa, Dnipro, and Kharkiv. The Kinzhal aeroballistic missile, probably released from Mig-31 interceptor aircraft, joined the package. New Year’s Eve also witnessed heavy Russian pounding of civilian targets in Ukraine, especially in Kyiv. 

On the southern front, Ukrainian gains around Robotyne remained mostly intact, despite a tangible increase in Russian offensive actions there during recent weeks. The Ukrainian bridgeheads along the Dnipro have also held, but these footholds remain merely tactical gains. 

3. The Ukrainian Military Scores Important Kills

In early December 2023, Ukrainian air defenses downed a Russian Su-24M frontline bomber aircraft in the Black Sea region, near Snake Island. This critical interception, which took place some 20 miles off the Odesa coastline, presaged a change in Ukraine’s air defense posture, hinting at an increased use of its SAM assets in the southern sector. 

Ukraine implemented this change toward the end of 2023, targeting high-value platforms in the hope of bleeding the Russian war machine. Ukrainian forces downed several Russian combat aircraft, including the Su-30SM and at least three Sukhoi-34s. Patriot air and missile defense systems reportedly played critical roles in these engagements. Previously, the Ukrainians had amassed their Western-transferred SAM systems over Russia’s Bryansk region, but it seems the Ukrainian General Staff is now using the south for a concept of operations (CONOPS) involving air defense systems ambush.

Ukraine’s successful strike on Russian naval assets in occupied Crimea marked another high-value notch on Kyiv’s scorecard over the Christmas period. On December 25, Ukraine struck a Russian Ropucha-class landing ship docked at Feodosia port, marking a significant hit to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, which uses landing vessels as logistics platforms to augment its combat-deployed formations in the area.

The Ukrainian military also reportedly pounded the Russian city of Belgorod in late December, though Kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility for the strikes. Ukraine’s ability to punch back against Russian air and missile strikes remains indispensable to its war effort. 

4. Defense Technological Developments Loom Large on Both Sides 

Kyiv’s intention to produce approximately one million first-person view (FPV) drones in 2024 signifies a major expansion of its robotic warfare arsenal. With their round-the-clock strike roles against targets of opportunity in a large battleground with multiple sectors, FPV drones have already had a profound effect on the conflict’s dynamics. These assets support the Ukrainian way of warfighting, which is centered on small infantry unit tactics due to the practical difficulties of launching large-scale mechanized assaults. It remains to be seen whether Ukraine has sufficient funds to meet its production goals for FPV drones. 

Amid intensifying Russian missile and drone assaults on critical infrastructure, Ukraine’s production facilities could also become a target of Russian strikes at any moment, jeopardizing investment and production. Besides the FPV drones, Ukraine’s electronic warfare (EW) industry—particularly its jamming technologies and anti-interference solutions—also merits attention. 

Russian defense producers are also investing heavily in EW-resistant systems, with a notable example being ZALA’s new kamikaze drone Product-55. Besides heavily investing in EW-related assets, Moscow is also trying out new concepts of employment (CONEMP). One example that portends the merger of conventional systems and EW technologies is Russia’s first-time use of Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) equipped with thermal decoys—potentially to counter Ukrainian air defenses. 

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