Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Karolina Hird, Madison Williams, Yekaterina Klepanchuk, Nicholas Carl, and Frederick W. Kagan
November 22, 8:30 ET
Click here to see ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
The Kremlin appears to be setting information conditions for a false-flag attack in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, likely in an effort to regain public support for the war in Ukraine. Kremlin propagandists have begun hypothesizing that Ukrainian forces seek to invade Belgorod Oblast, and other Russian sources noted that Russian forces need to regain control over Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, to minimize the threat of a Ukrainian attack. These claims have long circulated within the milblogger community, which had criticized the Russian military command for abandoning buffer positions in Vovchansk in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast following the Russian withdrawal from the region in September. Russian milbloggers have also intensified their calls for Russia to regain liberated territories in Kharkiv Oblast on November 22, stating that such preemptive measures will stop Ukrainians from carrying out assault operations in the Kupyansk and Vovchansk directions. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov also published footage showcasing the construction of the Zasechnaya Line fortifications on the Ukraine-Belgorod Oblast border. Wagner Group financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin clarified that Wagner is building the Zasechnaya Line after having changed its name from Wagner Line because “many people in [Russia] do not like the activity of private military company Wagner.” Private military companies are illegal in Russia.
Russian claims of an imminent Ukrainian attack on Belgorod Oblast are absurd and only aim to scare the general public to support the war. Ukraine has no strategic interest in invading Russia and no ability to do so at such a scale. Ukrainian forces are continuing to liberate occupied settlements in western Luhansk Oblast following their victory in northern Kharkiv Oblast. Support for Russia’s nonsensical invasion is declining among Russian residents of border regions and the rest of the country as a result of mobilization and military failures. Russian opposition outlets reported that relatives of mobilized men have ignited protests in 15 Russian regions since the end of October, with the most notable ones taking place in regions bordering Ukraine. A Russian opposition outlet, Meduza, citing two unnamed sources close to the Kremlin, reported that the Russian Presidential Administration carried out an internal survey in different regions where many expressed apathy toward the war. While ISW cannot independently verify Meduza’s report, emerging calls for demobilization among relatives of mobilized men suggest that Russian propaganda is ineffective in countering the real-life consequences of the war on the society.
These ridiculous speculations about a fantastical Ukrainian invasion of Russia may also be part of the Kremlin’s effort to acknowledge and appease the Russian pro-war nationalist community. Russian milbloggers have repeatedly accused the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of failing to defend Russia, including the newly annexed territories. The Kremlin, however, will unlikely be able to reinvade Kharkiv Oblast as demanded by these nationalist figures.
Prigozhin is also using fearmongering about a fictitious Ukrainian invasion threat and the construction of the Zasechnaya Line to solidify his power in Russian border regions and Russia. Belgorod Oblast officials previously halted the construction of the Wagner Line, and the line’s rebranding alongside other Prigozhin projects in St. Petersburg and Kursk Oblast signifies that he will continue to establish himself in Russia while ostensibly supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
The Russian military has significantly depleted its arsenal of high-precision missiles but will likely still be able to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure at scale in the near term. Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov released figures on November 22 detailing that the Russian military has only 119 Iskanders missiles, 13 percent of its initial February 2022 arsenal. Reznikov’s figures also show that Russian forces have significantly depleted other key high-precision weapons systems with only 229 Kalibr missiles (45 percent of the initial February 2022 stock), 150 Kh-155 missiles (50 percent of the initial February 2022 stock), and 120 Kh-22/32 missiles (32 percent of the initial February 2022 stock) remaining. Reznikov’s figures show that Russian forces have substantially depleted stocks of 3M-55 “Onyx”, S-300, Kh-101, Kh-35, and Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles as well.
Ukrenergo head Volodymyr Kudrytsky stated on November 22 that Russian forces have damaged almost all thermal power plants, large hydropower plants, and Ukrenergo hub substations in Ukraine. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stated on November 18 that more than half of the Ukrainian power grid has failed as a result of Russian missile strikes. DTEK CEO Maxim Tymchenko urged Ukrainians to leave the country, if possible, on November 19 to ease demand on the Ukrainian power grid, and YASNO CEO Serhiy Kovalenko stated on November 21 that regular power outages will likely last at least until the end of March 2023. Russian forces will likely be able to continue to reduce the overall capacity of Ukrainian critical infrastructure in the near term given the current state of the Ukrainian power grid. The depletion of the Russian military’s high-precision missile arsenal will likely prevent it from conducting missile strikes at a high pace, however. ISW continues to assess that the Russian military will fail to achieve its goal of degrading the Ukrainian will to fight through its coordinated campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.
The Russian military is likely experiencing problems in replenishing its arsenal of high-precision weapons systems. Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ignat stated on November 21 that Russia is experiencing problems with the supply of Iranian missiles to the Russian Federation. Ignat speculated that diplomatic resources, negotiations, or other countries’ influence may have impacted Iran’s ability or willingness to supply Russia with ballistic missiles. ISW has previously assessed that Russia is increasingly dependent on Iran for the provision of high-precision weapons systems. Ignat also reported that Russia lacks the necessary components produced abroad to support the manufacturing of the number of missiles it needs for its campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure. Reznikov stated that Russia manufactured 120 Kalibr and Kh-101 missiles and 360 Kh-35 missiles since February 2022, allowing the Russian military to partially offset the heavy use of these weapons systems in massive strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. Russia likely significantly strained the existing capacity of its military industry in producing these missiles.
Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko has traveled to Iran to discuss economic cooperation and possibly security ties. Golovchenko met with Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and will likely meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in the coming days. Golovchenko’s visit to Tehran follows the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence reporting on November 17 that Iran may help Belarus produce artillery shells.
Russian military movements suggest that Russian forces are likely reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia and western Donetsk oblasts. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on November 22 that Chechen and Wagner Group formations deployed to Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, and that Russian forces are regrouping individual units in the area of Molchansk, Zaporizhia Oblast (just northeast of Melitopol). Social media sources posted images on November 21 showing Russian trucks and vehicles in Melitopol moving from the south to the north throughout November. Geolocated images show Russian military vehicles moving through Bezimenne and Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast carrying a notable amount of military equipment. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have begun reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast with personnel from Kherson Oblast and mobilized personnel. Russian forces may be reinforcing positions in eastern Zaporizhia and western Donetsk oblasts to prepare for perceived threats of future Ukrainian operations or to support the effort to restart the Donetsk offensive.
We do not report in detail on Russian war crimes because those activities are well-covered in Western media and do not directly affect the military operations we are assessing and forecasting. We will continue to evaluate and report on the effects of these criminal activities on the Ukrainian military and population and specifically on combat in Ukrainian urban areas. We utterly condemn these Russian violations of the laws of armed conflict, Geneva Conventions, and humanity even though we do not describe them in these reports.
Ukrainian Counteroffensives (Ukrainian efforts to liberate Russian-occupied territories)
Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)
Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line on November 22. Ukrainian officials reported that bad weather continues to slow down Russian operations on the Svatove-Kreminna line. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that Russian artillery units repelled Ukrainian forces attempting to advance in the direction of Novoselivske (23km northwest of Svatove). Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Administration stated that Russian forces conducted defensive operations and continued artillery fire in the areas of Novoselivske, Stelmakhivka, Ploshchanka, and Makiivka, all west of the N26 and R66 highways. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian assault near Stelmakhivka (16km northwest of Svatove), while the Russian MoD claimed that Russian forces stopped a Ukrainian attempt to seize the settlement. Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Deputy Interior Minister Vitaly Kiselev shared video footage purporting to show the aftermath of a Ukrainian attempted offensive near Orlianka (22km east of Kupyansk). A Russian source claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian assault on Kuzemivka (13km northwest of Svatove), and Ukrainian attacks in the direction of Holykove (17km north of Kreminna) and Chervonopopivka (6km northwest of Kreminna). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the line of contact in eastern Kharkiv and western Luhansk oblasts.
Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian assaults west of Lysychansk. Luhansk Oblast Administration Head Serhiy Haidai reported that Ukrainian forces repel Russian attacks on Bilohorivka (15km northwest of Lysychansk) daily. A Russian source claimed that Russian forces are highly active in the vicinity of Verkhnokamianka (17km southwest of Lysychansk) and stated that Ukrainian forces are firing artillery at Russian equipment in this area.
Russian Main Effort—Eastern Ukraine
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions on November 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults on Bakhmut; within 30km northeast of Bakhmut near Spirne, Bilohorivka, Yakovlivka, and Soledar; and within 4km south of Bakhmut near Opytne. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults within 8km northeast of Avdiivka near Kamianka and Vesele, and within 37km southwest of Avdiivka near Pervomaiske, Krasnohorivka, Marinka, and Novomykhailivka. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia posted a video on November 22 purporting to show the 100th Brigade of the DNR People’s Militia conducting an assault near Ukrainian positions within 16km southwest of Avdiivka, near Nevelske. Several Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made advances in Marinka and that Ukrainian forces suffered heavy losses and are slowly retreating from positions in the city. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces have also cut two of three supply roads into Marinka. A Russian source claimed on November 21 that Russian aviation regularly strikes the positions of Ukrainian forces in Marinka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian advances in the area of Marinka are slow because the surrounding landscape is mainly comprised of open fields with little cover.
Russian forces conducted defensive operations in western Donetsk on November 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are defending captured lines in western Donetsk Oblast. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian counterattacks on Russian positions in Pavlivka (53km southwest of Donetsk City) on November 20 and 21. A Georgia-based open-source intelligence group suggested that Russian forces may be waiting for drier weather to restart offensive operations in the directions of Hulyaipole, Vuhledar, and Marinka. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces continued routine indirect fire along the line of contact in eastern Zaporizhia and Donetsk oblasts.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Note: ISW will report on activities in Kherson Oblast as part of the Southern Axis in this and subsequent updates. Ukraine’s counteroffensive in right-bank Kherson Oblast has accomplished its stated objectives, so ISW will not present a Southern Ukraine counteroffensive section until Ukrainian forces resume counteroffensives in southern Ukraine.
Russian forces continued conducting defensive measures and establishing fortifications in Kherson Oblast south of the Dnipro River on November 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces also continued to shell Ukrainian positions on the right (west) bank of the Dnipro River. A Russian source claimed that Russian artillery repelled a Ukrainian reconnaissance group that attempted to cross the Dnipro River by boat, but did not provide any evidence for this claim. Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security also reported that Ukrainian forces are continuing to carry out unspecified operations on the Kinburn Spit, but specified that Russian forces are still holding positions at the spit. Russian forces continued routine shelling in Southern Ukraine on November 22.
The Russian MoD continued to accuse Ukraine of provoking a man-made disaster at Zaporizhzia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 22. The Russian MOD accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the ZNPP on November 21, stating that Ukraine threatened to stage a catastrophe at the ZNPP. The Russian MoD and another Russian source claimed that Russian forces destroyed the Ukrainian artillery systems in Marhanets, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, that were responsible for the shelling of ZNPP. Dnipropetrovsk Oblast officials reported that Russian forces shelled Marhanets and surrounding settlements from the direction of Enerhodar on November 22. ISW has previously assessed that these accusations are likely a continuation of Russian information and false-flag operations to consolidate control of the plant and an effort to portray Russian control of ZNPP as an essential condition for avoiding a man-made nuclear or radiological disaster. Some Russian sources speculated that Russian occupation authorities will hand over the ZNPP to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ukrainian authorities due to the perceived increased instability at ZNPP. The Kremlin will likely continue to assert control over the ZNPP as a tool for international leverage, however.
Crimean occupation officials demonstrated heightened unease on November 22, likely over Ukrainian strikes on Russian GLOCs on the peninsula and ongoing military operations on the Kinburn Spit. Russian sources shared footage of Russian air defenses activating on November 22, claiming that Russian forces shot down multiple Ukrainian drones over Crimea. Crimea occupation head Sergey Aksyonov subsequently announced that Crimea is raising its terrorist threat level to high (yellow) until at least December 7. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian authorities are preparing for an evacuation of administration officials and military equipment in Armyansk (about 100km southeast of Kherson City) due to the threat of Ukrainian strikes on northern Crimea. A milblogger even claimed that he helped conduct the evacuation, while another milblogger claimed that women and children are already evacuating from Armyansk. Aksyonov denied evacuation claims, and some milbloggers claimed that Armyansk occupation authorities conducted evacuation exercises. ISW is unable to confirm the veracity of these claims. The Ukrainian Resistance Center also reported that Russian forces are planning to expand a road on the Arabat Spit (45km from Dzhankoy) to transfer military equipment in an effort to relocate the GLOC from Armyansk. ISW assesses that Ukrainian forces are unable to conduct an immediate attack on Armyansk, but these claims likely indicate that Russian authorities are exhibiting a level of worry close to panic.
Mobilization and Force Generation Efforts (Russian objective: Expand combat power without conducting general mobilization)
The Kremlin continues to deflect mobilization concerns onto the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD). Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on November 22 that the Kremlin is not discussing the possibility of a new mobilization wave but noted that he is “unable to speak for the Russian MoD.” Lower-end Kremlin officials are also beginning to address the Kremlin regarding the duration of mobilization and its problems. A member of the Yabloko party of the Karelia legislative assembly, Emilia Slabunova, recorded a video appeal with another parliamentarian demanding that Russian President Vladimir Putin issue a decree legally announcing the end of mobilization. Yabloko members added that Russian officials are continuing to mobilize men regardless of Putin’s, the Russian MoD’s, and Peskov’s announcements regarding the end of mobilization. Putin is unlikely to issue such an order, however, since ending the mobilization period officially would require demobilizing servicemen in accordance with the Russian mobilization law. Putin is also unlikely to sign a decree that specifies that Russia will not mobilize additional men while maintaining already-mobilized men on the frontlines because the Kremlin is interested in continuing its crypto mobilization campaign.
Russian recruitment officials are continuing to carry out crypto mobilization procedures in Russia and occupied Ukrainian territories. Wagner Group financier Yevheny Prigozhin subtly implied that he “was near” Kuzbass, Kemerovo Oblast, when responding to a question about prisoner recruitment in the region. Prigozhin later shared a video response reportedly from Kuzbass Wagner recruits claiming that they are currently undergoing training. Zaporizhia Oblast occupation head Yevgeniy Balitsky published footage of the ”Sudoplatov” volunteer battalion in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast that had reportedly recruited residents of Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts, Crimea, the Urals, and unspecified Russian regions.
The Kremlin continues its efforts to lure more men into service by promising unsustainable financial incentives that will have a long-term effect on the Russian economy. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stated that participation in the “special military operation” in Ukraine counts as double the length of service, which will double the normal pension payments for veterans. The Kremlin will likely face significant long-term economic challenges if it decides to uphold its pension provisions in the future, while consistently failing to pay Russian servicemen in the present. Russian sources reported that mobilized men from Sverdlovsk Oblast continued to complain of the lack of monthly payments. A pro-Kremlin source shared an account of a wife of a contract serviceman from Smolensk Oblast noting that her husband had not received his one-time enlistment bonus.
Russian Armed Forces are unable to properly train or provide for all mobilized men, triggering social tensions within Russian society. Mishustin announced on November 22 that the Russian Coordination Council approved the simplified procurement of war supplies for nine security services including Rosgvardia, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. While this provision aims to prioritize security services in repairing military equipment or allow for faster procurement of weapons, it is unlikely to resolve supply shortages triggered by Western sanctions and Russian industrial-military complex problems. Nizhny Novgorod Oblast’s Security Department Head Natalia Cherepanova stated that mobilized men from Nizhny Novgorod stationed in Kursk Oblast do not have enough equipment to enter the combat zone. Samara Oblast airsoft instructors also stepped in to train mobilized men. A Russia-based Council of Mothers and Wives movement demanded a meeting with Putin over mobilization and conscription concerns and demanded demobilization.
The Russian Armed Forces are continuing to suffer losses among personnel due to poor training, lack of equipment, and diminishing morale. A Russian investigative outlet, 7x7 – Horizontal Russia, reported that at least 39 mobilized Russian men have died before reaching the frontlines due to health problems and suicide. Other opposition outlets, citing Primorsky Krai mobilized men, stated that only 19 men out of 120 belonging to the 155th Separate Guards Marine Brigade survived the battle for Pavlivka. The Guardian reported that Kherson City locals also noted that Russian forces constantly burned dead Russian servicemen at a landfill, which has likely had negative impacts on Russian morale. Mobilized servicemen continued to show poor discipline as video footage from Yurga, Kemerovo Oblast showed mobilized men fighting with locals at a cafe.
Activity in Russian-occupied Areas (Russian objective: consolidate administrative control of occupied and annexed areas; forcibly integrate Ukrainian civilians into Russian sociocultural, economic, military, and governance systems)
Russian occupation officials continued measures to strengthen law enforcement and repress local populations of occupied areas on November 22. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Russian forces in the Melitopol area of Zaporizhia Oblast are searching private garages on the grounds of searching for partisan affiliation and that Russian officials in Luhansk Oblast are arbitrarily detaining citizens under suspicion of harboring pro-Ukrainian sympathies. The Ukrainian Resistance Center also reported that Russian officials seek to create a “police state” in occupied Ukraine and noted that over 52,000 Russian law enforcement personnel are now on occupied territory, with more on the way. This figure is likely reflective of continued anxiety amongst occupation officials regarding the threat of Ukrainian counteroffensive advances and partisan challenges to occupation regimes.
Russian sources continue to tout the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families on November 22. A Russian milblogger circulated the fifth part of a Russian documentary series following the adoption of three children from Snizhne, Donetsk Oblast into a Russian family. As ISW previously noted, This documentary series being circulated by Russian sources clearly depicts Ukrainian children being adopted into Russian families, which may constitute a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and be part of a wider ethnic cleansing campaign. This documentary campaign is likely intended to propagate informational conditions to normalize the forced assimilation of Ukrainian children into Russian society.
Russian politicians continue to foster relationships with occupied areas of Ukraine to oversee the bureaucratic, administrative, and economic assimilation of these areas into the Russian Federation. Russian Deputy Prime Minister for Construction and Regional Development met with Kherson Oblast occupation Head Vladimir Saldo on November 22 to discuss the restoration of infrastructure, roads, and the economy in occupied Kherson Oblast. First Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Sergei Kiriyenko met with Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head Denis Pushilin to visit state institutions in occupied Donetsk Oblast. Occupation officials likely hope to leverage relationships with Russian politicians to lend legitimacy to their administrative efforts.
Note: ISW does not receive any classified material from any source, uses only publicly available information, and draws extensively on Russian, Ukrainian, and Western reporting and social media as well as commercially available satellite imagery and other geospatial data as the basis for these reports. References to all sources used are provided in the endnotes of each update.
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