Two days before Christmas, fighting on the Ukrainian front do not lose intensity. The violent assaults of the Russian army and of the paramilitary group Wagner on Bakhmout, accompanied by the heavy artillery bombardments of Vladimir Putin on the whole of eastern Ukraine, continue unceasingly. Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the United States to solicit military support and armament. His first trip in ten months of conflict outside the national territory. At the same time the Russian President intensified the number of bombardments and increased the number of Russian mobilized and their age, presaging a wave of new trained soldiers by the end of the first quarter of 2023.
Russia focuses its offensive on the Donetsk region
Two days before Christmas, in eastern Ukraine, the Russian armed forces are concentrating most of their energy on taking Donbass, a province claimed and annexed by Vladimir Putin, without even controlling it. On some 815 kilometers of front, the Russian chief of staff Valéri Guerassimov explains that “the main efforts of [leurs] troops are focused on completing the liberation of the territory of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” from pro-Russian separatists.
For months, the Russian army seems to have been bogged down in the Donbass and in the south of the country, chaining defeat after defeat. Vladimir Putin speaks of an “extremely difficult” situation. Despite everything, the departure of the troops is not expected anytime soon. On Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu deemed it “necessary” to increase the number of his army to 1.5 million soldiers and to increase the age limit for military service. A previous decree dating from August already planned to inflate the workforce to 1.15 million soldiers from January 1. For the time being, 150,000 mobilized men are undergoing their initial training in Russian training centers but also in Belarus, the closest ally of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. “We will work to make sure this ends. And the sooner the better, of course,” the Kremlin chief argued at a press conference on Thursday.
Bakhmout, the current epicenter of the conflict
In Bakhmout, the scene of massive Russian and Ukrainian losses, the winter fighting gave way to exhausting trench warfare. So much so that the boss of the paramilitary group Wagner nicknamed it “the slaughterhouse of Bakhmout”. On the spot, the Russian army, in search of a rare strategic victory, carries out very intense offensives without significant breakthroughs on the ground. Ignoring the danger, President Volodymyr Zelensky went on Tuesday as close as possible to the fighting to meet Ukrainian soldiers. “Here in the Donbass, you protect all of Ukraine. It’s not just Bakhmout, it’s the Bakhmout fortress”, he told them, before presenting them with medals and honors.
Later, during his daily online intervention, the Ukrainian head of state supported the effort of his troops: “We will do everything possible and impossible, the expected and the unexpected, so that our heroes have the means to win. In order to achieve the result that all Ukrainians, that all towns and villages on the front line are waiting for”. This visit truly appears as an affront to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who very rarely leaves his palace in the Kremlin.
US equips Ukraine with state-of-the-art Patriot air defense system
Faced with the multiplication of drone attacks, like that of Monday morning on kyiv, the Ukrainian army will be equipped with the latest generation anti-aircraft defense system of the American military forces, called Patriot. The announcement was made on Wednesday during Volodymyr Zelensky’s trip to the United States, his first trip outside Ukraine since the start of the war. This system will make it possible, upon delivery, “to shoot down cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and aircraft at an altitude much higher than that of the defense systems that had been supplied until then”, explained the secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Patriot, known for its efficiency especially in Iraq, does not seem to worry the Russians. “Regarding the Patriot, it’s a fairly old system. It does not work like our S-300 (system). But our opponents assume it’s a defensive weapon. All right, we’ll keep that in mind. And there is always an antidote,” Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
This defense system is part of the new US military aid package of $1.85 billion, including $1 billion in the form of arms donations from US Army stocks and the rest on orders from the United States. defense industry, which implies delays of several months, even several years.
For several weeks, Volodymyr Zelensky had been requesting new systems similar to the Patriot. On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in an interview with TF1 and LCI that in the first quarter of 2023, France should “deliver useful weapons and ammunition again, so that the Ukrainians can defend themselves against the bombings”.
Russia to increase gas exports to China
Since the reduction of its gas exports to Western Europe, Russia is turning towards the East, and in particular China, a large consumer of energy. Vladimir Putin officially launched on Wednesday the exploitation of the Kovykta gas field, a vast deposit located near Lake Baikal, in Siberia, which should make it possible to increase exports to the Middle Kingdom.
The Kovykta field is to supply the Siberian Force 1 gas pipeline, which since the end of 2019 has linked the Tchaïandina field (Yakutia) to northeast China. Moscow is also planning the construction of the Siberian Force 2 gas pipeline from 2024 to supply China via Mongolia. The exploitation of the Kovykta deposit will initiate “a real development dynamic” and signals that a “powerful and strategic industrial complex is being created in eastern Russia”, Vladimir Putin welcomed. Russia aims to reach 20 billion m3 exported each year to China.
The war in Ukraine in infographics on the 303rd day of conflict