Introduction & Updates in National Landscape
The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a year.
In January, the Russian army went on the offensive, seeking to seize the strategic initiative. The focus is now on the town of Bakhmut, which the Russian army is covering from the north and south.
After 11 months of war and nearly four months of relentless Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy sector, the country’s electric grid comes nearer to collapsing each day.
After a series of difficult negotiations, Ukraine’s Western allies have changed their approach to military assistance, deciding to start supplying tanks and long-range missiles and no longer ruling out the prospect of fighter jets. The German government has approved the delivery by a private arms maker of its old Leopard 1 tanks to Kyiv. Also, Germany has announced it will provide Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv’s troops. Other countries, including USA, will deliver more tanks to Ukraine, but it’s still unclear how many.
In response, Russia has stepped up its offensive. According to experts, an active phase of a Russian offensive is possible in spring or early summer 2023, while at present, there are occasionally successful attempts to break through Ukrainian defenses in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya directions. The minimum objective is to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack, which has been attempted in the Luhansk direction and is expected in the Zaporizhzhya direction, where Russia has therefore tried to take the initiative first and reduced its risks.
The West assumes Russia is preparing for decisive battles and intends to provide Ukraine with new weapons. The time factor is of great importance now because if the West hesitates, it will be very difficult to resist Russian expansion. Therefore, some military experts do not rule out that the Russian Armed Forces could take decisive action in Ukraine in the coming months, ahead of Western arms deliveries and training of the Ukrainian military in their use.
Moscow installs air defense equipment on rooftops.
Harsh decisions have been taken against human rights groups and centers that were formed in one way or another during the Soviet period and which played an important role in anti-Soviet activities. For example, the Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group, which originated and operated during the Soviet era. The Sakharov Centre in Moscow was also stripped of its premises, and the Andrei Sakharov Foundation was placed on the list of undesirable organizations. Also, at a meeting with veterans and residents of the besieged Leningrad, Putin supported the idea of returning several works by Soviet classics, including Fadeev, Simonov, and Ostrovsky, to the compulsory school curriculum.
An expected trend has been a further deterioration of relations between Russia and the Baltic states. The Russian authorities have decided to reduce diplomatic relations with Estonia to chargé d’affaires ad interim, causing Estonia’s ambassador to Russia, M. Laidre, to leave Moscow until 7 February 2023.
Transnational Activities & Group Interactions
In January, the involvement of Serbian volunteers on the side of the Russian army in Ukraine was widely discussed. It became known that a small organization of Serbian and Russian nationalists, which runs a Telegram channel called “Evil Eagles” (Zlые ОрлоVи), might be involved. A video of a Serbian volunteer with the call sign “Tom” was posted on the channel. Serbian volunteers allegedly joined the Sudoplatov Battalion.
Far-right activists from another pan-Slavic organization, RUSOV, claim to be joining the Sudoplatov battalion. At the moment, there are about 100 RUSOV comrades in the combat zone, and their number is constantly increasing. In the near future, at least a platoon (30 people) of RUSOV associates will be formed in the Sudoplatov battalion alone.
RUSOV leader Andrei “Viking” Rodionov made a video with Serbian volunteers Dunay and Savoy.
Politico published a text saying that Russia allegedly used Wagner to fight “anti-Putin sentiment and protect the government’s mining interests with troops and weapons.” The Wagner PMC is also alleged to have stationed people in Belgrade and announced the official opening of the center in Serbia in early December. Since then, it has launched influence operations to counter “actions against Putin’s regime by elements of the Russian diaspora.” The text refers to the Russian-Serbian Cultural Centre Orly linked to a Telegram channel called “Evil Eagles.”
An explanation followed. Aleksandr Lysov, the head of the Eagles, honestly admitted that he had signed a cooperation agreement with the PMC Wagner Centre. However, his center is not a branch of the PMC. PMC Wagner has never been present in Serbia and has had no contact with the country. This was stated by the founder of the company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in response to a question from the journalist of Voice of America” about the activities of PMCs in Serbia.
On 14 January, graffiti appeared in Belgrade dedicated to the Wagner PMC. On the night of 15 January, local antifascists painted over it. RUSOV claimed it was painted by their friendly associates in Serbia from the People’s patrol.
Denis Gariev, commander of the Imperial Legion volunteer unit, recorded a podcast for the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Battle of Bakhmut nears tipping point as Russia intensifies offensive https://www.ft.com/content/0bfe39c1-6d68-4e72-9fe2-9f54b7efa2bd
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Denis Gariev – Imperial Legion squad leader