November 6, 7:30 p.m. ET
Click on here to view the ISW’s interactive map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This map is updated daily alongside the static maps present in this report.
The ISW is releasing an abbreviated campaign update today, November 6. This report discusses the recent reduction in nuclear threats by key Kremlin figures and the likely role of Russian military leaders and the international community in instigating this change, as well as the risks of other Russian nuclear sabers. rattling.
In early November, top Kremlin officials began to collectively defuse their rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons. The Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) issued a statement on “the prevention of nuclear war” on November 2, stating that Russia “is strictly and consistently guided by the assumption of the inadmissibility of nuclear war in which there can be no winners”. , and which must never be unleashed. The Russian MFA has also stated that it is committed to the reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 27 that Russia did not need to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and claimed that Russia had never discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons, merely “referring to statements made by the leaders of Western countries”. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev has also increasingly downplayed the fiery nuclear rhetoric he used throughout October and is now focused on promoting Russian unity in the war in Ukraine.
Putin and top Kremlin officials had increased their references to the use of nuclear weapons since Putin’s annexation speech on September 30 and throughout October, likely to pressure Ukraine to quit. ‘she negotiates and reduce Western support in Kyiv. Putin made several general references to nuclear weapons in his September 30 speech, but avoided directly threatening the use of nuclear weapons. Putin’s rhetoric during that speech and throughout October was consistent with his previous nuclear threats and failed to generate the degree of fear within the Ukrainian government that the Kremlin likely anticipated. The head of Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), Kyrylo Budanov, said on October 24 that the Russian nuclear threat had remained at the same level even before the start of the war. The Kremlin also stepped up its nuclear rhetoric after Russian military failures in Kharkiv Oblast and during Ukrainian counter-offensives in Lyman and northern Kherson Oblast in early October. The Kremlin likely continued its thinly veiled nuclear threats to deflect its military and mobilization problems and to intimidate Ukraine’s Western partners.
The shift in Kremlin rhetoric indicates that senior Russian military commanders and Kremlin elements are likely aware to some degree of the enormous costs for what little operational gain Russia would incur from using nuclear weapons against Ukraine. or NATO. The New York Times, citing senior US officials, reported that senior Russian defense officials discussed the terms of nuclear use amid growing nuclear narratives in mid-October. The meeting would not have involved Putin. Putin’s illegal September 30 annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts, many of which are not occupied by Russian forces, likely over-complicated existing Russian military doctrine. Russian nuclear doctrine clearly authorizes the use of nuclear weapons in response to “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in danger”, which the Kremlin could possibly apply to Ukrainian advances towards so-called “Russian” territory in Ukraine. All current front lines are on claimed Russian territory, and Putin has not publicly defined what now constitutes an attack on Russian territory. It is possible that senior Russian military officials are also confused about the application of Putin’s annexation order to existing military doctrine. ISW previously reported that Putin’s annexation order was likely a polarizing issue that sparked a rift within the Kremlin, creating pro-war and pro-negotiation factions. US officials also noted that they had observed no indicators that Russia had moved its nuclear weapons or taken any preparatory steps to prepare for a strike.
Kremlin-run television shows still air the occasional nuclear threat, which is common in Russia’s jingoist national news space. For example, the Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Defense Andrey Kartapolov briefly discussed nuclear threats on Russian state television on November 5 despite the general softening of the Kremlin’s rhetoric. Russian state television (along with some populist figures) has already amplified nuclear threats ahead of Russia’s military failures in the fall, and their rhetorical flourishes should not be taken as indicators of the Kremlin’s official position. Figures such as the late Russian ultra-nationalist and then leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky made regular and outlandish nuclear threats on Russian state broadcasts for years, even threatening to drop a “small” nuclear bomb. on the residence of the Ukrainian president at the time. Petro Poroshenko in 2018. The Russian milblogger community largely did not interact with these nuclear narratives and continued to criticize this Russian military command for its conventional battlefield failures. Russian propagandists will continue to make these threats in order to remind domestic audiences of Russia’s might in the midst of obvious military failures on the front lines.
The Kremlin has likely privately clarified its de-escalation nuclear policy with the United States and its allies. US and allied officials reported that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had been in contact with Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in an effort to reduce the risk of nuclear use. Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrey Kelin also noted on October 26 that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had made several calls to his counterparts, apparently assuring them that Russia was not interested in use nuclear weapons in war. China may also have played a role in pressuring the Kremlin to reduce its nuclear threats. Chinese President Xi Jinping said Nov. 4 that “the international community should…jointly oppose the use or threat of using nuclear weapons, advocate that nuclear weapons should not be used, and that wars nuclear should not be carried out, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis in Eurasia. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe likely voiced a similar idea to Shoigu during a call Oct. 26.
The Kremlin could lead future nuclear rhetorical maneuvers in an effort to induce the United States and its allies to pressure Ukraine to negotiate; the Kremlin will be unable to directly force Kyiv to negotiate through the nuclear threat. The ISW continues to assess that Russian nuclear use in Ukraine remains unlikely and that the Kremlin is taking steps to defuse its nuclear rhetoric. The Kremlin’s nuclear threats have not undermined Ukraine’s political and societal will to continue opposing the Russian invasion. As the ISW wrote on September 30, “Ukraine and its international donors have made it clear that they will not accept negotiations at gunpoint and will not waive the sovereign right of the Ukraine on its territories”. The United States and its allies must not undermine Ukraine’s continued commitment to reclaiming all Russian-occupied territory and to ending Russia’s genocidal invasion.
Key changes in the military operations underway on November 6:
- Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed on November 6 that the Wagner Group was establishing training and management centers for local “people’s militias” in Kursk and Belgorod oblasts.
- Russian milbloggers have amplified reports that the Russian 155e The Naval Infantry Brigade suffered heavy casualties in the recent offensive push towards Pavlivka, Donetsk Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continued their counter-offensive operations in the direction of Svatove and Kreminna.
- Russian opposition sources reported that Ukrainian shelling near Makiivka in Luhansk Oblast could have killed up to 500 mobilized Russian servicemen in one day.
- Russian forces continued to establish defensive positions on the western (right) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian forces continued their interdiction campaign against Russian logistics in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian forces carried out ground attacks near Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Vuhledar. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces broke through Ukrainian defenses near Bakhmut, made marginal gains south of Avdiivka, and remained impaled near Pavliivka in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian personnel repaired two external power lines at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on November 5, resuming the ZNPP’s power supply after shelling knocked out the facility on November 3.
- Russian occupation officials continued to invoke the threat of a Ukrainian strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant as justification for the continued forced displacement of civilians in Kherson Oblast.
- Russian occupation officials continued to forcibly transfer Ukrainian children from occupied Ukraine to Russia under the guise of “holiday” programs.
- Russian forces continued to struggle with internal resistance and poor supply of ongoing mobilization efforts.