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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 16

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Key Takeaways

  • Russian sources and proxy officials are flagrantly touting the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families.
  • Ukrainian sources continued to clarify the damage caused by the massive November 15 Russian missile strike across Ukraine.
  • The Russian information space largely followed the official Kremlin framing of the missile strike on Polish territory as a Western provocation.
  • Wagner Group financer Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing to establish himself as a central figure in the pro-war ultranationalist community likely in pursuit of ambitious political goals.
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the directions of Svatove and Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian forces and logistics nodes in southern Ukraine.
  • Multiple reports indicate that the morale and psychological state of Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts are exceedingly low.
  • Russian officials continued their efforts to replace proxy officials in occupied territories with Russian officials, forcibly relocate residents, and integrate occupied areas with Russia.

Russian sources and proxy officials are flagrantly touting the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families. Prominent Russian milbloggers began circulating a multi-part documentary series on November 9 featuring several Ukrainian children from Donbas after being adopted into Russian families.[1] The documentary series claims that Russian officials have evacuated over 150,000 children from Donbas in 2022 alone.[2] It is unclear exactly how Russian sources are calculating this figure, and Ukrainian officials previously estimated this number to be 6,000 to 8,000.[3] Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov additionally stated he is working with Russian Federation Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova to bring “difficult teenagers” from various Russian regions and occupied Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts to Chechnya to engage in “preventative work” and “military-patriotic education.”[4] Lvova-Belova has continually advocated for deportations and adoptions of Ukrainian children and herself adopted a child from Mariupol.[5] Forced adoption programs and the deportation of children under the guise of vacation and rehabilitation schemes likely form the backbone of a massive Russian depopulation campaign that may amount to a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and constitute a wider ethnic cleansing effort, as ISW has previously reported.[6]

Ukrainian sources continued to clarify the damage caused by the massive November 15 Russian missile strike across Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff stated on November 16 that Russian forces launched over 90 Kh-101 and Kalibr cruise missiles and 11 drones over the course of November 15 and targeted critical infrastructure in a number of oblasts.[7] Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Ukrainian air defense and ground forces shot down 75 missiles and 10 Shahed-136 drones.[8] US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted on November 16 that the US-provided National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles.[9] As ISW previously reported, Russian forces likely used a substantial portion of their high-precision weapon systems in the November 15 attack.[10]

The Russian information space largely followed the official Kremlin framing of the missile strike on Polish territory as a Western provocation. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated on November 16 that Ukrainian and other foreign officials’ statements about Russian missiles in connection with the strike on Polish territory constitute a “deliberate provocation with the aim of escalating the situation.”[11] Russian Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev accused the West of moving closer to world war by waging a hybrid attack against Russia following the strike on Polish territory.[12]  Russian milbloggers widely accused Western and Ukrainian officials of trying to falsely blame Russia for the strike in order to justify increased support to Ukraine and further escalation in Eastern Europe.[13] Some Russian sources also asserted that Ukrainian and Western officials were trying to use the incident to either pressure Russia to end its coordinated missile campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure or to justify sending “better” air defenses to Ukraine.[14] The Russian milbloggers’ support of the Kremlin framing of the strike as a Western provocation is to be expected of a Russian information space that widely views the conflict in Ukraine as a Western operation aimed at degrading Russia as a regional and global power.

Wagner financer Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing to establish himself as a central figure in the pro-war ultranationalist community, likely in pursuit of ambitious political goals. Russian opposition media outlet Meduza reported on November 16 that two sources close to the Kremlin stated that Prigozhin is thinking about creating a “conservative movement” that may become a political party.[15] Meduza’s sources reported that Prigozhin has established an information campaign of constant anti-elite rhetoric modeled after jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s social media campaign against Russian corruption, but to a very different effect.[16] Meduza’s sources reported that Prigozhin intends to simultaneously use the anti-elite social media campaign to cast himself as a populist figure while currying favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin by intimidating elites that may be viewed as insufficiently loyal to Putin.[17] ISW has previously reported that Prigozhin is attempting to appeal to a constituency in Russia that is both interested in Russia’s claimed national superiority and Soviet brutalist strength and opposed to Russian elite corruption.[18] Prigozhin has previously denied that he is attempting to cast himself as a politician or that he intends to create a political party or movement.[19] ISW has previously reported that Prigozhin is also pursuing the creation of parallel military structures to advance his influence in the ultranationalist pro-war community.[20] Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Andriy Chernyak reported on November 15 that Prigozhin initially began constructing parallel military structures to suppress potential uprisings in Russia but capitalized upon the Kremlin’s need for more capable forces in Russia’s offensive campaign in Ukraine.[21] ISW has previously assessed that Prigozhin’s personal army serves his own personal political goals first and the Russian war effort in Ukraine second.[22] Prigozhin will likely continue efforts to establish parallel military structures and form an anti-elite campaign to cement himself as the central figure of an ultranationalist pro-war political movement in Russia.

See the full report here. 

The post ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 16 appeared first on Kyiv Post.

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