Ukraine Quarterly Digest: October–December 2022
The government of Ukraine continued its effective counteroffensive operations in the fourth quarter of 2022. President Zelensky conducted his first international visit since the invasion, meeting his U.S. counterpart and delivering a stirring address to Congress.
Of all the war-related irritations, massive and frequent Russian air attacks on the energy infrastructure had significant results in the last quarter of 2022, causing power shortages and blackouts around the country and disruptions of other basic services, such as the water supply and internet connections.
Despite the power cutoffs related to attacks on the energy infrastructure and other war-related miseries, Ukrainians remained optimistic about the country's future and confident of victory.
1. ROLLOUT OF THE WAR
General Developments during October–December
During the fourth quarter of 2022, the Ukrainian army held back Russian forces along 2,350 miles of lines of conflict, including the 930 miles of the active front line as of the end of the year. The risk of a new full-scale invasion and an attempt to seize Kyiv remained. Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny stated that Russians were arming and training about 200,000 new soldiers for an attack on the capital. Other Ukrainian officials said that January or February could be a potential date for another attempt on Kyiv. But as of the end of 2022, only half as many Russian soldiers were stationed along that part of the Ukrainian border as during the February 24 invasion. The number of Russian sabotage-reconnaissance groups has increased along the borders with Russia and Belarus.
In October, the Ukrainian army advanced both in the South and East of the country with effective counteroffensive operations. In late November and continuing into December, Russian forces were still trying to attack in only two directions, Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk oblast. Bakhmut saw the bloodiest fighting but the grueling struggle there did not result in any change for either side.
Failing on the battlefields, Russia intensified air attacks on the rear, targeting civilian infrastructure, especially energy generation facilities. Facing a shortage of missiles, Russia turned to using more kamikaze drones, artillery, and S-300 missile systems (surface-to-air missiles, in NATO reporting designated SA-10 Grumbles), redesigned to conduct surface-to-surface operations; the redesigned systems are not accurate and are effective only at short distances. From September 11 to the end of 2022, Ukrainian air defense forces shot down almost a thousand missiles and kamikaze drones. Some of the missiles fell in Poland and Moldova, prompting ongoing investigations of each such incident.
In the fourth quarter of 2022, the Ukrainian army continued successful counteroffensive operations, liberating territories. In early October the army took control of the city of Lyman, a significant battlefield area in the Donbas. On October 11, Uranian forces entered Kherson city, which had been under occupation since March, and dozens of other settlements on the right bank of the Dnipro River close to Kherson. By the end of 2022 the Ukrainian army was advancingin Luhansk oblast.
In general, as of the end of 2022, the Ukrainian army had liberated more than half the occupied cities and settlements that had been taken earlier by Russian forces. At the end of 2022, 14 percent of Ukrainian territory remained under Russian control.
POW exchanges continued on a regular basis. As of the end of 2022, almost 1,500 Ukrainian prisoners had been exchanged, about 3,400 were still imprisoned, and about 15,000 were listed as missing.
According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, from the start of the invasion to the end of 2022, the Russian army lost 106,000 soldiers. The Russian forces have lost more heavy weapons and airplanes than were prepared to invade Ukraine in February 2022. According to official sources, the Ukrainian army lost somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 soldiers as of December.
Attacks Deeper into Russia and Annexed Territories
In the last quarter of the year, the Ukrainian army numerous times effectively struck Russian military bases in the occupied territories, including the Crimean Peninsula, and conducted air strikes deep into Russia (which were never officially recognized by Kyiv).
In early October, an explosion caused a partial collapse of the Kerch Bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, and the damage was not fully repaired by the end of 2022. The bridge is critical to Russian military logistics as it provides a supply route for Russia’s war on Ukraine. Kyiv did not officially comment much on the outbreak and did not take responsibility for it other than in veiled statements, such as attributing the “accident” to tensions between Russian military elites. The Kremlin blamed Kyiv for the explosion.
In late October, unmanned surface vehicles hit Russian military ships in the Black Sea, including the fleet flagship Admiral Makarov, which the Kremlin was using in its war against Ukraine. Some media reported that the water drones had been produced in Ukraine. Russia said that the drones were of UK origin.
Later, the Ukrainian army mounted a few attacks on Russian military bases in Crimea, with drones damaging or outright destroying military planes. In December, Ukrainian drones twiceattacked Russian airfields hundreds of kilometers inside the Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian bombers were located and damaged. Ukraine’s drone strikes show Russia it has “no safe zones,” and will complicate logistics for air attacks on Ukraine.
Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure
In 93 percent of cases, Russian missiles have targeted civilian and critical infrastructure since the invasion. Agrarian businesses and facilities, civilian ships, cultural sites, more than 300 educational facilities, the German consulate in Kyiv, hospitals and medical warehouses, markets and fueling stations, and water dams have all been targeted, and this is far from a complete list. Izium city, in Kharkiv oblast, liberated in September, was 80 percent destroyed. Three million hectares of forests and 20 percent of protected areas were damaged in the course of the Russian invasion and hostilities.
Energy Terrorism and Other Attacks on Critical Infrastructure
In addition to attacks on civilian infrastructure in general, energy facilities became the key targets of Russian attacks in the last quarter of 2022. The chief reason for Russia’s pivot to destroying energy infrastructure seven months after the invasion was probably the lack of battlefield success, in conjunction with Ukraine’s effective counteroffensive operations. Attacks on the power system are a formidable way to apply psychological pressure to the citizenry. Ukraine had to pull its air defense systems from the front lines to protect its power infrastructure across a larger territory.
After the first big air attack over power infrastructure in September in the country's East, the power sector became a key target for Russian air missiles, drones, and S-300 systems. On October 10–11, Russia carried out the most massive missile and drone attack to date. In general, by the end of 2022, Russia had conducted eleven massive air attacks and dozens of smaller-scale attacks that focused on the energy facilities of specific parts of cities.
The October 10–11attacks immediately affected the power system: the electricity-producing and distributing capacity was critically reduced, which meant demand could not be met. As a result, Ukraine had to suspend electricity exports to neighboring European states indefinitely. The whole country experienced rolling blackouts owing to a lack of power. More than half of the power system was damaged by the end of 2022.
All thermal and hydropower plants were struck and damaged. Ukraine’s energy companies did their best to organize the distribution of reserve supplies quickly, but fresh attacks kept happening, making the situation with the energy supply unstable and unpredictable. In some cases, even large cities with millions of inhabitants experienced shortages lasting 24–72 hours, affecting water supply, centralized heating, and connection services.
At least twice during these attacks, Ukrainian nuclear power plants lost connection to the grid, posing nuclear safety risks. In November, oil transit to Europe was suspended because of power shortages after a massive air strike. Gas production and distribution facilities, main gas pipelines, and heat production and distribution systems, water supply systems, and water dams in some regions were affected by the attacks.
The situation in Kherson when the Ukrainian army liberated it was especially difficult. Russian forces in the course of fleeing the city had exploded power and communication infrastructure and mined objects, which significantly reduced the provision of basic services in the city. The Kherson power facilities came under attack again after services were restored.
Russian Information and Psychological Operations
Attacks on the energy infrastructure were accompanied by false-information operations, primarily carried out in social media. For example, internet bots spread false reports that the nationwide power cutoffs were unrelated to infrastructure damage and that electricity was being exported to Europe, making it seem as though the government wanted to increase exports and profits at the expense of domestic consumption.
Bots also spread misinformation about anticipated blackouts, fake reports on Ukrainian losses at the front and Russian army successes, and falsehoods such as claims that foreign embassies were leaving Kyiv in anticipation of an effective Russian attack.
The Security Service of Ukraine has uncovered and blocked some of the networks of bots being used by the Russian secret services to spread misinformation.
Belarus continued attracting the attention of Ukraine’s army and citizenry with worrisome if vague threats that it could attack. All the major military units in Belarus are now engaged in putting pressure on Ukraine by conducting training exercises near the border simulating an attack from Belarusian territory. Several times in December, military convoys made their way to the Ukrainian border, then turned back.
Though Aleksandr Lukashenko appears unwilling to commit Belarusian forces to the war, the country has continued to provide bases and territory from which Russian forces can launch attacks on Ukraine. As part of the buildup, Russia sent Belarus mobilized servicemen and military vehicles, drone bombers, and ammunition. Iranian instructors arrived in Belarus to teach how to launch drones. For its part, Belarus has sent tanks to Russia to aid in the ground war against Ukraine. Belarusian workers repair Russian weapons and vehicles, and the Belarusian army conducts air intelligence. The two countries conducted joint drills in Belarus during the last three months of 2022, with an extension into early 2023, and approved a joint army deployment.
In October, Lukashenko de facto confirmed the country’s participation in Russia’s war against Ukraine, but only in terms of providing aid to the Russian army, omitting to mention the air attacks on Ukraine launched from Belarusian sites. In October, after a two-month hiatus, missiles and drones launched from Belarus were again involved in attacks on Ukraine.
In October, Minsk started blaming Ukraine for provocations. President Zelensky responded with a proposal to locate an international monitoring mission at the border, and Belarus treated this suggestion as an invitation to third parties to get involved in the war. In late December the Belarusian Defense Ministry said its forces had downed an S-300 Ukrainian missile, assuming it could be a “Ukrainian provocation.”
According to Ukrainian intelligence services, there was no evidence that Minsk was planning to participate in Russian attack from Belarus in the short term, but an attack in the future could not be ruled out. The Ukrainian army said that the construction of fortifications along the Belarusian border was complete and that the situation was under control.
Russia’s Position on the War
Despite losses and lack of progress on the battlefield, as of the end of 2022, the Russian elites had not seemed to change their attitude to the war and plans to take control over Ukraine. The Kremlin claimed that Ukraine and the West wanted to destroy Russia. Instead, Moscow may be preparing for a long military conflict, though it says Russia has made significant progress toward “demilitarizing” Ukraine. Dmitrii Medvedev, the former Russian president and now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and a leading voice of war, was still referring to Kyiv as a Russian city and threatening to take it back.
At the same time, Vladimir Putin lowered the degree of nuclear blackmailing he was engaged in, saying that Russia did not need a nuclear attack on Ukraine either militarily or politically.
The Kremlin tried to find a new narrative to mobilize Russian society to support the war, leveraging a religious concept for this purpose. It accused Ukraine of widespread Satanism, and said Vladimir Putin had been “chosen” as key exorcist. As is conventional by now, Moscow continued to push ridiculous diversions, claiming, for example, that Ukraine was using military “combat mosquitoes” and appealing to the UN to investigate this development.
The Kremlin and Russian president Vladimir Putin personally recognized the attacks on Ukraine’s energy and other critical infrastructure but viewed them as a way to pressure Kyiv into negotiations. Medvedev said that Russia considered bridges, roads, energy facilities, and Ukrainian political elites as legitimate targets in the war.
Positions Regarding Peace Negotiations
Moscow’s position on negotiations changed a few times. However, the Kremlin is not ready to cede control of the territories it formally, and illegally, annexed in late September–October, even though parts of those territories have since been liberated from Russian control by the Ukrainian army. In early October, President Zelensky approved a decree formally declaring the prospect of any Ukrainian talks with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin "impossible," but leaving the door open to talks with Russia. Later Kyiv stated that the key precondition for the negotiations was an immediate cessation of hostilities and the full withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.
Dirty Nuclear Bomb Speculations
In October, Russian officials started spreading the fiction that Ukraine was preparing to make and use a dirty nuclear bomb. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu called his Western counterparts to promote the message, while Vladimir Putin did the same with officials of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
These speculations were floated to undermine support for Ukraine; but it is also likely that Russia was preparing to conduct a false flag operation with a dirty bomb and needed a pretext for blaming Ukraine. The U.S., UK, and French governments rejected Russia’s transparently false allegations in a joint statement. After an inspection, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported no signs of “dirty bomb” work at Ukrainian nuclear sites.
The Situation with the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant
Russia continued to control the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP), the largest in Europe, using it as a military base and increasing the likelihood of a nuclear accident. Russia registered the Zaporizhzhia NPP as under Russian ownership. Russian servicemen and personnel continued kidnapping and detaining Ukrainian personnel. In late December, the Russian state nuclear power company Rosatom was still holding talks with the IAEA about establishing a safe zone around the Zaporizhzhia NPP.
2. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
In mid-November the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for Russia to pay war reparations to Ukraine. Ninety-four countries favored the measure. Fourteen nations, including China and Iran, voted against it, and some seventy-three countries abstained. Russia refused to recognize the resolution.
The European Parliament with its vote declared Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Likewise, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has designated the Russian Federation and its regime as terrorist, named Russia the most direct threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and called for the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.
During the last three months of 2022, a few more countries recognized the Holodomor (the Great Famine) of 1932–1933 as a genocide against Ukrainian people organized by the Kremlin regime. Among these were Romania, Moldova, Ireland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The European Parliament voted for the same decision.
Official U.S. and EU representatives condemned Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, describing them as particularly heinous and war crimes. Different countries started sending Ukraine spare parts and equipment to help restore the power supply as quickly as possible. The G7 decided to focus on helping Ukraine protect the energy grid and boosting the country’s air defense systems.
Relations with the United States
The United States continued to be the key supporter and aid provider to Ukraine during the war. A number of top-ranking officials from the CIA, Department of State, and the White House visited Kyiv to demonstrate and discuss support for Ukraine.
President Zelensky made his first foreign visit since the Russian invasion to the United States to meet President Joseph Biden and give a speech before the U.S. Congress. The United States took the opportunity of the meeting to announce an additional $1.85 billion in military assistance for Ukraine
Relations with the EU and Other European States
In December, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to the people of Ukraine, represented by the president. The award was also a message that Europe is standing with Ukraine, whose people are fighting not just a war of independence but also a war of values. The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually by the European Parliament to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
European leaders and politicians continued paying visits to Kyiv, demonstrating and discussing support for Ukraine in its battle with Russia. In the fourth quarter of 2022, among those who traveled to Kyiv were Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (with a further promise of support for Ukraine) and later German Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala (who signed agreements on supporting Ukraine and participating in its postwar recovery), Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos for talks in support of Kyiv, the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (who has pledged £50 million in defense aid to Ukraine to counter Russian aerial attacks), Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo (who signed a declaration supporting Ukraine’s bid to join NATO), and, on November 26, the prime ministers of Lithuania, Poland, and Belgium and the Hungarian president Katalin Novak.
Besides these national representatives, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson (who discussed support for Ukraine’s energy systems as they face unprecedented Russian attacks) and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis (who discussed emergency financial support and plans for 2023) also visited Kyiv and President Zelensky.
On his way home from the United States, President Zelensky stopped in Poland to meet President Andrzej Duda. The Polish Senate had earlier recognized Russia as a “state that supports terrorism and employs the means of terror.”
Terrorizing Ukrainian Embassies
In late November, an employee of the Ukrainian embassy to Spain was injured when a parcel exploded. Subsequently at least seventeen Ukrainian embassies and consular offices received parcels containing bombs or the body parts of animal carcasses, such as the eyes of cows and pigs; a few more packages were intercepted by police before delivery. Similar packages were sent to the Spanish prime minister, to a company sending weapons to Ukraine, and to an airfield in Madrid.
These packages were posted from Germany, where factitious letters appearing to have been sent by the Ukrainian embassy were also found, urging fighters to go to Ukraine. Kyiv accused Russia of responsibility for these parcels and missive.
Continued Tensions with Iran
According to Ukrainian and Western intelligence data, Iran continued supplying Shahed-136 drones, the so-called “kamikaze drones,” to Russia during the fourth quarter of the year. Both countries signed a deal on a ballistic missile supply, but Iran has not sent these missiles because of possible consequences. Kyiv officially charged Tehran with complicity in Russia's crimes against Ukraine and appealed to the EU to impose sanctions against Iran.
In early October, Tehran denied providing the drones and the Kremlin denied using them. But shortly thereafter Moscow acknowledged using them and Tehran acknowledged sending shipments of small numbers of drones to Russia before the invasion began. None of this addressed the fact that hundreds of these drones were used in attacks on Ukraine in the fourth quarter.
Kyiv requested the UN examine some downed drones to determine their country of origin. The Kremlin threatened to reassess cooperation with UN secretary-general António Guterres if he sent experts to Ukraine to inspect drones that Western powers believe were made in Iran and used by Moscow in violation of a UN resolution.
In November, Tehran and Kyiv representatives met to discuss the issue; the results of the meeting were not made public. On December 22, the day after Zelensky’s speech to the U.S. Congress, in which Iran-origin drones were mentioned as problematic and in violation of international agreements, Tehran condemned Zelensky for his criticisms of Iran before the U.S. Congress and his “rude remarks.” Iranian Foreign Ministry Nasser Kanaani spokesman said that Iran “has always respected the territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine.”
Developments in the Grain Export Agreement
As the UN, NATO, and the EU urged Russia not to block the grain deal, Ukraine and Turkey agreed to resume exports without regard to Russia’s position. Initially, Russia did not recognize the deal was valid without its participation, but it soon pulled back from this position, saying it had received certain guarantees. Kyiv said it had not made new commitments to Russia beyond the terms of the grain deal.
MH17 Court Ruling
On November 17, the Hague District Court in the Netherlands ruled on the Russian Federation’s responsibility under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international conventions concerning the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, holding a Russia-backed group accountable.
For years, manipulating accounts to disseminate fake news, Russia had sought to shift responsibility for shooting down the aircraft to Ukraine. The Hague decision is also important in light of the crimes Russia now commits in Ukraine. Kyiv reacted to the court’s ruling by noting that the verdicts of the court in the matter marked a remarkable moment in regard to upholding justice and the inevitability of punishment for the commission of crimes.
Other Aspects of Relations with Russia
In late 2022, Ukraine officially appealed (again) to the global community with a call to remove Russia from the UN and the UN Security Council. The formal reason was that the Russian Federation in 1991 had taken over the seat of a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Soviet Union, bypassing the procedures defined by the UN Charter in doing so. President Zelensky and Ukraine’s foreign minister have repeatedly demanded during the war that Russia be excluded from the body but are unable to get over the single-veto hurdle, which veto is routinely exercised by Russia (even as Russian bombs fall) and China.
Earlier the Ukrainian parliament had called on the international community to support the self-determination of Russia's indigenous peoples, branded Chechnya Russian-occupied, and recognized the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Ukraine introduced sanctions against Yevgeny Prigozhin, the financier of the Wagner Group, who participated in the war; some of the key Russian propagandists inciting hatred; and oligarchs who—like Oleg Deripaska—support Kremlin.
3. INTERNAL AFFAIRS
Evolution of the Economic Situation
Because of the war, Ukraine’s economy contracted by almost a third in 2022, the biggest annual drop in over thirty years. According to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s total losses because of the war as of the end of 2022 amounted to $700 billion. In early June, the losses had amounted to $350 billion. Thus the last six months of the year brought no economic stability
In addition, the war has affected employment: according to government assessments, there are 2.6 million unemployed; officially, the number of the unemployed is eight times greater than available positions. On surveys, more than 60 percent of respondents have noted the worsening economic condition of their families. The situation is exacerbated by the power supply interruptions from Russia-launched drone attacks on Ukraine’s urban infrastructure: since October, power losses have affected small businesses and big industrial producers alike. As a result, the open-position figure was 5–23 percent lower than it would have been had power continued to be reliable.
Nationalization of Strategic Companies
The government took control of five big industrial companies of strategic importance, operating in the oil sector and machinery sector. Some of these were owned by the oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and Viacheslav Bohuslaiev, the head of Motor Sich company, a global industrial engines producer. Bohuslaiev was accused of supplying military equipment to Russia. President Zelenskyy did not exclude similar decisions in the future on nationalizing companies during the war.
The Energy Situation
Despite the massive Russian attacks on the energy infrastructure, the Kremlin did not achieve its goals: it did not succeed in destroying the power supply or in bringing Ukrainians to their knees, though they experience frequent power cutoffs and in some cases multiday blackouts.
Attacks on energy facilities pose a risk to getting through the winter safely and avoiding humanitarian disasters. As 2022 drew to a close, the situation was eased by the warm weather. The government and local authorities started preparing so-called resilience points, sites with heat, electricity, and internet connections to help people survive during power outages in winter. Government, enterprises, citizens, and organizations have been importing diesel generators to provide reserve power during shortages and blackouts. As well, generators and spare parts have been sent by foreign donors to help Ukrainian companies running out of stock.
Because of the attacks, according to President Zelensky, Ukraine needs two billion cubic meters of gas and electricity, worth €800 million.
In early October the governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, Kyrylo Shevchenko, resigned, citing health issues. President Zelenskyy nominated Andriy Pyshnyi, a new central bank chief, to the position, which was later approved by the parliament. Pyshnyi, an ally of the president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, had previously served as CEO of the state-owned Oshchadbank.
A few days after Shevchenko’s resignation, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office announced that he was suspected of embezzlement when he ran the state-owned Ukrgazbank before being appointed to the central bank, and declared him wanted, as Shevchenko had left the country. Shevchenko said he had faced political pressure after an old embezzlement case against him was revived immediately after his departure, and denied any wrongdoing.
In late October, the government accepted the resignation of the state-owned Naftogaz’s CEO, Yuriy Vitrenko, which was widely expected. Naftogaz is the biggest Ukrainian company and a prominent actor in Ukraine’s gas and energy markets. The government appointed Oleksiy Chernyshov, minister of Communities and Territories Development in Ukraine, to the Naftogaz position; Chernyshov, an entrepreneur with interests in telecommunications, real estate, infrastructure, and investment banking, resigned his ministerial position on accepting the Naftogaz position.
4. PROGRESS IN REFORMS AND SUCCESS STORIES
Liquidation of the Odious Kyiv District Administrative Court
In mid-December, President Zelensky signed the law liquidating the Kyiv District Administrative Court, earlier passed by the parliament. Zelensky sent the bill to the parliament in mid-2021. The judiciary reforms of 2017 required liquidation of the court as the court’s judges were found to have acted corruptly in numerous decisions. The court’s chairman, Pavlo Vovk, came under investigation. A few days prior to Zelensky’s signing the law the United States had introduced personal sanctions against Vovk for significant corruption.
The Law on Amending How Constitutional Court Members Are Selected
In mid-December, President Zelensky signed a law to improve procedures for selecting candidates for judgeships on the Constitutional Court of Ukraine on a competitive basis. This law too had earlier been passed by the parliament. To improve the competitive selection of candidate justices and to introduce an effective antideadlock mechanism, the Venice Commission had proposed adding a seventh member to the international quota. The European Commission representative expressed hope that the law would be amended to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.
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The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more