There seem to be some ever increasing “cracks” in the solidarity of the Russian “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. There has been some “internal conflict” between the official authorities (Putin), the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Wagner Group backer Prigozhin. Recently this seems to have “escalated” with claims that the Wagner Group forces were solely responsible for capturing Soledar and Putin stating that the recent successes are due to the Russian military. There have been attempts by Prigozhin to emphasise the role that the Wagner Group plays and criticise the Russian MoD and Putin. The Russian MoD is stressing the role of the military whilst not referring to the Wagner Group at all. This “internal conflict” may develop further and could, potentially, undermine faith in the Russian MoD and Putin himself. The appointment of Gerasimov may be an attempt to restore confidence in the Russian MoD and any successes on the battle front would reinforce this.
Russia needs some successes following the recent Ukrainian successes and this has manifested itself primarily in the East where it seems that the shorter-term Russian objective is to secure Luhansk oblast and at least be able to “claim” a victory. However, at present the battle is indecisive and it would need a major effort from Russia to be able to “claim” this victory. For Ukraine it is key that any Russian successes are minimal and “costly” in terms of personnel and equipment to slow down and prevent any real impetus building up. The potential Russian “main thrust” may come in late January/early February when troops that have been undergoing “training/exercises in Belarus may be deployed to augment and enable such an offensive. However, if the West is able to supply Ukraine with sufficient equipment, in time, to blunt this offensive then this could be a turning point in the armed conflict in terms of a “pause” because Russia would need to mobilise more personnel and re-supply with equipment.
Putin has ordered the “activation” of the Russian industrial “war base” but this will also take time to get up to speed. Critical now is Western supply to Ukraine and the actual time it will take Russia to properly prepare for an offensive. Any repeat of the £failures/defeats” earlier incurred may cause so issue in Russia although Putin seems to be still in control of the information space and able to counter any criticism (will this last…doubtful, if more defeats take place, and there are fewer and fewer Generals to sacrifice – arguably Gerasimov is the last(?)).
Despite all the “best attempts” by Russia to demoralise the Ukrainian people – it is not working. The Ukrainian military keeps demonstrating that even against greater numbers they are capable of inflicting serious losses on the ground. The President has been able to convey that the “battle for Ukraine” is more than just a conflict between Russia and Ukraine but is a “global challenge” from Russia and that Ukraine with the right support and equipment will fight to the last man to preserve its sovereignty and existence. The next few months (3-4) will probably demonstrate whether Russia or Ukraine will gain the upper hand before the ”spring thaw” and another consolidation… then who will likely take the “offensive” will possibly determine many factors for the next 9-12 months. If Ukraine can come through this period, then anything is possible.