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Zelensky flies to US for new weapons, Shoigu demands more soldiers, explosions in Kherson. What happened on the front line on December 21?

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Explosions in Kherson

Explosions were heard throughout Kherson on the morning of December 21. Local Telegram channels also reported explosions in the city, which were confirmed by Kherson residents.

No changes were observed in the Zaporizhzhia direction. Reports revealed a Ka-52 Alligator may have been shot down in early December. According to Ukrainian Telegram channels, the Russian helicopter was shot down by its own Pantsir-S1 SAM system; the crew survived.

According to the UK Ministry of Defense, Russian military and Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) forces have made little progress on the eastern edge of Bakhmut over the past week. The ministry suggests that the Russian infantry has gained a foothold in the eastern industrial areas, but has occasionally advanced into the residential area of the city. Street fighting continues. According to pro-Russian “war correspondent” Yevgeny Poddubny, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) continued to prepare for combat in the city's outskirts by digging trenches and building fortifications.

In the Bakhmut direction, according to OSINT analyst Def Mon, AFU units are already 5 km away from Kreminna.

The following equipment was deployed in Belarus, according to military expert Konstantin Mashovets:

  • up to 4 airborne assault battalions of the 38th Separate Airborne Assault Brigade (near the settlements of Uzhovo, Konchitsy, Pinsk, Brest region, as well as near the settlement of Bragin, Gomel region);
  • a combined rapid response unit in the vicinity of of Ivanovo in the Brest region;
  • up to three airborne battalions of the 103rd Independent Airborne Brigade (near the settlements of Lelchitsy and Gomel, Gomel region, as well as at the Berestaisky training ground).

A Belarusian army mobile radio-electronic reconnaissance (REI) team was also recorded operating near the village of Kirov in the Homiel Region.

Entry to three areas of Belarus on the border with Ukraine has been restricted. Entry, temporary stay and movement have all been limited in the border area of Loievski, Braginski and Khoiniki districts of Homiel region near Ukraine. Those who need to be there for work, as well as people living in these areas or visiting close relatives are not subject to these restrictions.

Exchanges of artillery fire

On December 20, the village of Shebekino in Russia's Belgorod region sustained heavy shelling. Electricity and water supply was reportedly lost there. The Russian army’s strike in the Kharkiv region was probably the Shebekino gas processing plant, wrote propagandist Yevgeny Poddubny.

According to Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, shell splinters damaged storage and production facilities in a local industrial zone, along with two vehicles.

On December 21, the 73rd Marine Special Operations Center of the Ukrainian Navy in Ochakiv was hit with a missile strike, according to reports from pro-Russian Telegram channels.

Donetsk was again shelled with BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers (MLRS), local Telegram channels said. Three floors of the Kalinin hospital collapsed as a result of the strikes.

Zelensky visits the US

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Washington. Zelensky’s visit to the US comes after the White House's decision to allocate another $1.85 billion military aid package to Ukraine, of which $1 billion will go to “strengthen Ukraine's air defense” – including the supply of Patriot air defense systems – with the remaining $850 million being allocated towards “security assistance.”

Politico wrote that the Ukrainian leader intended to ask the US for Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers, as well as for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Biden intended to discuss his vision of a “just peace” that should end the conflict in Ukraine, said National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby.

“The President really believes that as we approach winter, as we enter ... a new phase in this war, Mr. Putin's aggression, that this is a good time for the two leaders to sit down face to face and talk,” John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council, told CNN on Wednesday.

“I have no doubt they are going to talk about President Zelensky's notion of a 'just peace' and what that looks like, what are the components of that, and how do we help Ukraine get to that point,» Kirby added.

Weapons, military and special equipment deliveries

The shipment of Patriot surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) is the centerpiece of Ukraine's next military aid package The US intends to supply $1 billion worth of the SAM system from the Pentagon's reserves, as well as $800 million worth of different equipment within the framework of USAI program. The US earlier approved a spending plan that included $45 billion in aid – including military aid – to Ukraine in 2023.

The Insider earlier wrote about the importance of the supply of Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine. The supply of these systems to Ukraine will help strengthen the country's air defense and protect it against ballistic missiles, which Iran intends to supply to Russia. Read more about Patriot SAM systems here.

“[What’s] more interesting is to be purchased/produced,” wrote military columnist Ilya Kramnik. “There's a whole bunch of Soviet ammunition. 45,000 152 mm shells, 20,000 122 mm [shells], 50,000 122 mm Grad rockets, 100,000 125 mm tank rounds, as well as terminals and payment for satellite communications, funding for training, maintenance and support. The source of ammunition in this case is of particular interest. It can be both the military-industrial centers of Eastern Europe, and, for example, Pakistan. As such, we can confirm the confidence of the United States in the AFU’s ability to maintain a certain number of Soviet artillery systems and the Soviet tank fleet in the future.”

Popular Mechanics magazine published an article about Ukraine's use of the American JDAM GPS-based guidance kit, which converts unguided bombs (so-called “dumb bombs”) into precision-guided (“smart”) munitions. “An unknown number of Su-27s and MiG-29s have been modified with the American LAU-118 ordnance rails, which attach to BRU-32 (also American) bomb racks. These racks can accommodate JDAMs,” wrote Popular Mechanics.

Shoigu: Age range for conscription in Russia should be raised to 21-30

At an end-of-year conference of Russia’s top military brass, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed that the age range for military conscription be raised to 21-30.

Under the current system, Russians aged between 18-27 can be called up for mandatory military service – though Shoigu and Putin have repeatedly claimed that conscripts are not being sent to fight in Ukraine.

Shoigu also highlighted the necessity of increasing the strength of the Russian army from 1.15 to 1.5 million people, including 695,000 contract servicemen – a boost of more than 30%. According to military expert Pavel Luzin, Russia simply does not have the necessary number of officers to create such an army.

“In general, all of this seems like the [product] of an inflamed mind. 1.5 million people – where can we get so many officers? And how to manage it all? Even 1.15 million people [the current army size] is a lot, it contradicts both demographic and economic trends, along with the entire evolution of the Soviet and Russian army since 1985. But the increase in numbers on paper is real money – money for combat payments. Payments to the killed and wounded can be made through official payrolls if you want to hide casualties. I wouldn't rule out military service in all these announced repair plants either – there's an acute personnel shortage. But if this were the case, it would be possible to get young guys [to sign contracts] for 2 years of overtime without days off. But this is all my speculation. It's just interesting that since the summer things appear to have changed so much that in addition to the 137,000 on paper another 350,000 people are needed.”

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