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700 dead near Bakhmut, Russia names fourth Western District commander since start of war. What happened on the front line on December 27?

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The Russian military continued to focus its efforts on offensives in the Bakhmut and Lyman directions. In Kupiansk, Avdiivka and Zaporizhzhia, Russian forces are attempting to improve the tactical situation. Ukrainian media reports indicated that Russia is on the defensive in the Novopavlivsk and Kherson directions. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that 63 Ukrainian artillery units, as well as manpower and military equipment in 79 areas have been hit by rockets and artillery.

The front line

A video was published on social media depicting soldiers of Ukraine’s 54th separate mechanized brigade pointing to multiple bodies lying on the ground. The video's voice-over, which features obscene language, claims that the unit successfully defeated an attack by the Wagner Group near Bakhmut, allegedly killing 50-60 people. The video was also published by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) General Staff.

The Ukrainian military from this brigade published a video, in which they show trophy weapons obtained from the Russians in the Bakhmut sector. In the video, a Ukrainian soldier claims that each machine gun he shows is “one destroyed enemy.”

British Defence Intelligence has published a statement saying that over the past 48 hours, the Russian military has concentrated its attacks near Bakhmut, as well as Svatove in the Luhansk region. “Russia continues to initiate frequent small-scale assaults in these areas, although little territory has changed hands,” the statement read.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry-affiliated Telegram channel Rybar, the Ukrainian command is transferring reserves to maintain control of the territory, meaning it is too early to talk about an impending Russian success in taking Bakhmut.

“At the same time, the number of losses is increasing every day. Ukrainian formations are spreading information that less than 100 of the 800 [Russian] mobilized soldiers who arrived earlier are still alive.”

The Ukrainian National Guard’s “Omega” special unit released operational footage from the Avdiivka sector. The video shows hits on several Russian BMP-1s and BMP-2s, with Ukrainian forces seen using barraging ammunition and US-made Javelin anti-tank missile systems.

The Russian military shelled civilian infrastructure in Beryslav, Vesele, Sadove, Antonivka and Stanislav in the Kherson region, as well as the city of Kherson itself, according to a brief released by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) General Staff on the morning of December 27.

In the Zaporizhzhia direction, the Russian military shelled more than 15 settlements with tanks, mortars, barrel and rocket artillery, according to Ukrainian media reports. The shelling targeted Novopil in the Donetsk region and Olhivka, Malynivka, Dorozhnianka, Charivne, Bilohiria, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanilivka, Novoandriivka and Mali Scherbaky in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Battles continue to rage for Marinka in the Donetsk region. According to WarGonzo, the Telegram channel of the pro-Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov, Russian troops continued to storm the AFU stronghold.

“No significant progress was made. The Ukrainian garrison is desperately resisting. The Russian army made another attempt to attack another AFU stronghold – in Krasnohorivka. Artillery shelled the town. The Russian army also attacked in the direction of Vodyane. Artillery strikes were launched against a third AFU stronghold in Avdiivka. Ukrainian forces responded by shelling Donetsk, Makiivka, and Yasynuvata.”

According to British intelligence, units of the Russian 1st Guards Tank Army were likely among the Russian troops recently deployed to Belarus. “This formation was likely conducting training before its deployment and is unlikely to have the support units needed to make it combat-ready,” the report said. According to the Telegram channel Belaruski Hayun, fighter training flights continued in Baranovichi in the Brest region.

Russia names fourth commander of Western Military District since start of invasion

Russia has once again changed the commander of its Western Military District, according to a report by Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR). Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov has assumed the post, making him the fifth commander of Russia’s Western Military District since February 2022. Nikiforov has replaced Colonel General Sergei Kuzovlev, who held the post for about a month. According to HUR, General Nikiforov is currently at the command post of the “West” group of forces in Boguchar in the Voronezh region.

Ukrainian intelligence also notes that the formal reason for Kuzovlev's dismissal is the failure to prepare an offensive in Lyman. However, HUR believes that the shake-up is a manifestation of an internal political struggle in Russia's top leadership – a man from the Shoigu-Gerasimov orbit has been replaced with a candidate from the Surovikin-Prigozhin group.

Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov, new commander of Russia's Western Military District
Lieutenant General Yevgeny Nikiforov, new commander of Russia's Western Military District

Nikiforov’s precursors as commanders of the Western Military District were:

  • Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlev – November 2018 to July 2022;
  • Lieutenant General Andrey Ivanovich Sychev – July to August 2022;
  • Lieutenant General Roman Borisovich Berdnikov – August to September 2022;
  • Colonel General Sergei Yurievich Kuzovlev – November to December 2022.

Conflict Intelligence Team analysts noted that the frequent replacements of the command of the Western Military District (“Zapadny Voenny Okrug,” or ZVO) are more likely related to the failures of the Russian army.

“We assume that the new appointment is caused by the restructuring of the ZVO and the return of the Moscow and Leningrad military districts. Also, such a frequent change of commanders of this district may be linked to the failures of its constituent units in different directions, for example, in Kharkiv and Chernihiv.”

New Western District commander gave orders to the co-founder of the Wagner PMC in 2014

Nikiforov is indeed connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin: according to the Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU), Wagner PMC mercenaries took part in the occupation of Donbas in 2014, and obeyed Nikiforov's orders.

On August 22, 2016, Nikiforov was included in a list of those accused of “crimes against the foundations of national security of Ukraine, peace and international law and order” by the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine. Ukraine accused him of causing the crash of a Ukrainian Il-76MD military transport plane delivering ammunition and armored vehicles to the AFU defending Luhansk airport on June 14, 2014. The plane was shot down and crashed near the village of Chervone, 2 km from the runway. Forty-nine people were killed.

In 2019, the SBU reported that Nikiforov gave the order to shoot down the plane. The order was carried out by Prigozhin’s mercenaries, with one of them – Dmitry Utkin with the call sign “Wagner” – being the co-founder of the Wagner PMC.

“The order was given directly by the commander of the 58th Army of the Russian Armed Forces, Major-General Evgeny Nikiforov, who was sent to Donbas to carry out a military invasion and occupation of part of the territory of our sovereign country. The perpetrators of the killing of Ukrainian soldiers, Dmitriy Utkin, Andrey Guralev and Andrey Lebedev, were awarded official state decorations by [Vladimir] Putin after their return to Russia: [more specifically} the Order of Courage.”

Walls to protect aircraft in the Astrakhan region

Pro-Russian sources published pictures copied from the satellite service Planet on December 17 – the pictures show the airfield of the 929th State Flight Test Center in Akhtubinsk in the Astrakhan region. Improvised walls for protecting aircraft can be made out in the published images. Notably, the walls are absent from the photos dated December 5. Coordinates shown on the photo correspond to the location of the Akhtubinsk State Flight Test Center.

The nearest AFU artillery position is located about 670 kilometers (close to 420 miles) away from the Akhtubinsk test flight center.

On December 25, a military airfield in Engels, 700 km (approximately 435 miles) from the nearest AFU artillery position in the Kharkiv region, was bombed for the second time in a month.

OSINTdefender
suggested that a Soviet Tu-141 drone – the only weapon at Ukraine's disposal with such a range – was used for the attack on the airfield.

Arms supplies

Russian military correspondent Alexander Garmaev published a video showing a military officer holding a development by the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Research and Test Center for Robotics – an electromagnetic “Stupor” gun to combat drones. Garmayev reported that the gun was received by the antiaircraft unit of the 5th Tank Brigade, which is deployed in the occupied Donetsk region.

Russia will soon pay Iran for its supply of Shahed-136 (Geran-2) drones by supplying two dozen advanced Su-35 fighters, reported Israel’s Channel 12 citing Western intelligence sources. According to the report, Russia will supply close to 24 fighters originally intended for Egypt. The US persuaded Cairo to reject the deal, and Russia was forced into looking for an alternative buyer for the planes. After Iran began supplying drones to the Russian army, the issue was resolved, according to Telegram channel Moscow Calling. It was these contracts that once interested jailed defense correspondent Ivan Safronov. Safronov was soon accused of treason and sentenced to 22 years in a strict regime penal colony for his publications about future Russian aircraft deliveries to Egypt.

Ukraine continued to receive weapons from the Western countries – in 2022, according to the German publication Manager Magazin, Germany approved the delivery of €2.24 billion worth of weapons to the Ukrainian military. Germany supplied Ukraine with 30 Flakpanzer Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, 14 155 mm Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers, five Mars missile defense systems and one IRIS-T air defense battery.

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