RileySENTINEL: Ukraine Report

Weekly Security & Geopolitical Reporting and Analysis on the Ukraine Conflict

UA/RU Conflict

Publish Date: 05JAN2024
Security & Geopolitical Analyst: MF
Contributing Authors: CT, MSO, ML, VV

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Over the past 7 days, a series of significant events have taken place that are directly or indirectly linked to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. These developments have captured the attention of both regional and global audiences:

  • The frequency of air attacks has increased from both sides

  • Turkey has blocked UK minehunters from entering the Black Sea

  • European nations have joined forces in a $5. 5 billion deal to purchase Patriot missiles

  • Finland has been hit by an 'unprecedented' GPS attack

  • Russia and Ukraine have exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war

  • The Ukrainian Parliament will not consider the government-proposed draft law on mobilization in its original form

  • New conscription laws came into effect in Russia on January 1st

  • Imports of diamonds from Russia to the EU have been banned since January 1, 2024

  • Norway has authorized the direct sales of weapons and defense equipment to Ukraine

  • The NATO-Ukraine Council will convene an extraordinary meeting in response to Russia's large-scale attacks

  • Zelensky has terminated Ukraine's membership in the CIS council on border troops

Threat Mapping Updates

Mapping Analysis

Following the attack where Ukraine targeted a Russian landing ship in Crimea last week, Russia responded with multiple airstrikes across Ukraine, as mentioned in the previous report. These airstrikes targeted nearly every major Ukrainian city. In response, Ukraine retaliated by striking Belgorod, resulting in the loss of at least 24 lives, including three children, and leaving over 100 people injured. According to Russian sources, 37 residential buildings, 453 apartments, three private houses, and several social facilities, including a school and a kindergarten, were also damaged. The Ukrainian forces described the attack as a response to the Russian attack on December 29th. Considering that Ukrainians claim to have launched 70 drones at targets near Moscow, Belgorod, Tula, Tver, and Bryansk, and the Russian Defense Ministry reported intercepting 32 of the Ukrainian drones, it can be concluded that many of the Ukrainian drones successfully hit their intended targets.

In response to the attack, Russia launched another series of airstrikes on the last day of 2023, primarily targeting Kharkiv. Moscow has officially stated that the attack on Kharkiv, including a hotel, was a direct response to Saturday's strikes on Belgorod. Russia's Defense Ministry claimed to have targeted "decision-making centers and military facilities" in Kharkiv. They reported that their strike on the Kharkiv Palace Hotel had resulted in the destruction of individuals from the Main Intelligence Directorate and Ukrainian Armed Forces who were allegedly involved in the "terrorist attack" in Belgorod. However, Ukraine has stated that not a single military facility was targeted. According to a spokesperson from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Russia deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure with the intention of causing maximum damage. The Ukrainian interior ministry has reported damage to 12 blocks of flats, 13 homes, hospitals, a hotel building, a kindergarten, commercial premises, a gas pipeline, and cars. Kharkiv's mayor, Ihor Terekhov, stated on Telegram that these are not military facilities, but rather cafes, residential buildings, and offices. In the southern region of Kherson, the governor has also reported that two people were killed by Russian shelling.

From January 1, 2024, both sides have continued their increased air attacks. Russia deployed Shahed drones to target Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv. On January 1st, the drones were launched in four waves from the Black Sea and Crimea. On January 2nd, they launched attacks on Kyiv using various types of missiles, including the Kinzhal supersonic missiles. In addition, three strikes were carried out on Kharkiv on the same day. This led to a massive explosion when one of the missiles hit the main gas pipeline. As a result, 41 residential buildings were damaged. Ukrainian officials reported that Tuesday's attacks, which targeted major cities including Kharkiv and Kyiv, have caused the death or injury of over 130 people across the country. On the same and the following day, Ukrainians responded by launching a new wave of attacks on both Belgorod and Crimea. On January 3rd, Russia's Defense Ministry announced that its air defense systems successfully intercepted and shot down all 12 missiles launched from Ukraine. Initially, there were no reports of casualties from these attacks. However, the governor of the region has reported that one person was killed, and five others were injured across the border in Belgorod the day before. There have also been reports of explosions in Sevastopol. According to Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor appointed by Moscow, a missile was successfully intercepted over the port, resulting in no casualties, or reported damage. However, on January 4th, attacks continued. Besides Sevastopol, Yevpatoriia was also targeted as part of a special operation carried out by Ukraine's Air Force. According to Ukrainian army officials, a command post of the Russian occupation forces near Sevastopol was hit. It is important to note that due to continuous attacks on Crimea, Russia has been compelled to establish a more permanent basing pattern along the eastern Black Sea coast. According to various reports, in addition to drones, the supply of British Storm Shadow and French Scalp cruise missiles has played a crucial role in Ukraine's favor. These missiles have enabled them to bypass Russian air defenses and conduct precise strikes on intended targets.

Priority Updates

  • Turkey has blocked UK minehunters from entering the Black Sea

    On Tuesday, January 2nd, Turkey made a controversial decision to block two British Sandown-class minehunter ships, Cherkasy and Chernihiv, from entering the Black Sea, citing the Montreux Convention. This move has sparked criticism and confusion, as the UK, not being a combatant in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, is not actually restricted by the terms of the Montreux Convention. In this regard, many in the West believe that Turkey's claim may be a misinterpretation or misapplication of the convention, which raises doubts about the true motives behind this decision in the complex geopolitical landscape of the Black Sea region. However, Turkey claims to have duly informed the allies that the mine-hunting ships, which were donated to Ukraine by the United Kingdom, will not be permitted to pass through the Turkish Straits in order to reach the Black Sea. According to a report from the Directorate of Turkey's Center for Combating Disinformation, the NATO member state will prohibit ships from using the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits as long as the war in Ukraine continues. Additionally, Turkey's plans to establish a minesweeping group have been delayed since at least October.

  • European nations have joined forces in a $5. 5 billion deal to purchase Patriot missiles

    A coalition of European states has jointly ordered up to 1, 000 Patriot air defense missiles in response to a renewed wave of Russian airstrikes on major Ukrainian cities. The purchase is being supported by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, with Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Romania participating. The agency has awarded a $5. 5 billion production and delivery contract for the weapons to COMLOG, a joint venture between MBDA Germany and the American company RTX (formerly known as Raytheon Technologies). According to the agreement, if all options are exercised, the four nations will collectively procure up to 1, 000 Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missiles. However, no delivery timeline has been provided at this time.

  • Finland has been hit by an 'unprecedented' GPS attack

    Reports indicate that disturbances in GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation signals have been observed in certain regions of Finland, NATO's newest member. These disruptions have affected both pilots and motorists and have come after previous incidents that raised suspicions of Russian involvement. However, it is important to note that there is currently no concrete evidence linking Moscow to the incident. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom) has reported that GPS disturbances were detected in eastern and southeastern Finland on Sunday, as reported by Finnish news outlet YLE News. The disruptions were identified on the GPSjam website, and administrator John Wiseman described them as "unprecedented" in terms of the number of aircraft affected and the size of the affected region. Traficom's aviation chief, Jari Pöntinen, reassured that flight safety was not compromised, as planes are equipped with alternative navigation systems. While Pöntinen did not comment on whether Russia was involved, he did mention that such disruptions typically occur near conflict areas. "There have been disturbances in the Baltic Sea near Kaliningrad, in the Black Sea Region, and in the Middle East, such as near Israel," Pöntinen said.

  • Russia and Ukraine have exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war

    On Wednesday, January 3rd, a significant prisoner exchange took place between Russia and Ukraine, marking the largest release of captives since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. Ukrainian authorities reported the return of 230 Ukrainian prisoners of war, which is the first exchange in nearly five months. Russia's Defense Ministry also confirmed the release of 248 Russian servicemen as part of the agreement, which was facilitated by the United Arab Emirates. The 49th exchange during the war is a positive development in the ongoing conflict.

  • The Ukrainian Parliament will not consider the government-proposed draft law on mobilization in its original form

    On January 2nd, senior Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniia Kravchuk confirmed that the Ukrainian Parliament (the Rada) will not consider the government-proposed draft law on mobilization in its original form. This suggests that amendments will be made. The initial proposal, presented on December 25th, included extensive provisions to sanction and restrict the rights of individuals who evade military conscription and registration. These included bans on traveling abroad, limited rights to drive a vehicle and acquire a driving license, refusals of credit or loan agreements, limits on liquidating funds and other valuables, as well as limits on transactions with movable and immovable property. However, Ukraine's human rights ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, stated that such restrictions would contradict the Ukrainian Constitution. As a result, a compromise deal with the Ministry of Defense is understood to have been reached, which will likely serve as the foundation for the future revised mobilization law.

  • New conscription laws came into effect in Russia on January 1st

    On 1 January, a new conscription law came into effect in Russia, raising the upper limit of conscription age from 27 to 30. However, it's important to note that this new law will only apply to the upcoming spring 2024 conscription cycle, which is scheduled to take place between 1 April and 15 July 2024. As a result, Russian men aged between 18 and 30 are now eligible for conscription. It is worth mentioning that according to Russian policy, conscripts are still not deployed to frontline operations in Ukraine.

    Internal sources

Political Developments

  • Imports of diamonds from Russia to the EU have been banned since January 1, 2024

    Effective January 1, a comprehensive ban on direct imports of non-industrial natural and synthetic diamonds, as well as diamond jewelry, from Russia to the European Union has been implemented. Additionally, as part of the 12th package of EU sanctions against Russia, an embargo on Russian diamonds processed in third countries will be enforced from March 1 to September 1, 2024. Furthermore, the 12th sanctions package introduced by the EU includes a more stringent price cap on Russian oil exports to third countries. European companies will now need to provide evidence of their compliance with the price cap imposed by Western countries on oil imports from Russia. Additionally, the list of goods subject to sanctions is expanding. This includes the prohibition of lithium batteries, thermostats, and several categories of chemical products.

  • Norway has authorized the direct sales of weapons and defense equipment to Ukraine

    The Norwegian government has made the decision to authorize direct sales of arms and defense products from its defense industry to Ukraine. According to a report published on the Norwegian government's website, a change in the Norwegian government's policy came into effect on January 1, 2024. Norway's Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, believes that supporting Ukraine is crucial for the security of Norway and Europe. Previously, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced plans to provide Ukraine with additional assistance to strengthen its air defense, financial support for healthcare and education, and funding for increased ammunition production.

  • The NATO-Ukraine Council will convene an extraordinary meeting in response to Russia's large-scale attacks

    The NATO-Ukraine Council will hold an extraordinary meeting in response to Russia's large-scale missile attacks on Ukrainian cities. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba announced on Twitter that NATO has backed Ukraine's request for this meeting. Kuleba also mentioned that one of the main topics for discussion will be enhancing Ukraine's air defense capabilities.

  • Zelensky has terminated Ukraine's membership in the CIS council on border troops

    On January 2, Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky signed a decree to withdraw the country from the 1992 agreement that established the Council of Commanders of Border Troops of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Ukrainian leadership consistently announces the termination of agreements signed with Russia, Belarus, Syria, and other former Soviet republics as part of the CIS.

Analysis of Priority & Political Updates

The global show of support for Ukraine has significant political ramifications on both regional and international levels. The backing from various nations underscores the complexity of the conflict and its implications for global security dynamics. As countries vocally condemn Russia's actions and express solidarity with Ukraine, diplomatic tensions rise, potentially leading to shifts in alliances and geopolitical strategies.

The United States and its NATO allies have been particularly vocal in their support for Ukraine, signaling a unified stance against Russian aggression and a commitment to upholding international norms and territorial integrity. This collective stance amplifies diplomatic pressure on Russia, potentially leading to sanctions and other punitive measures.

Furthermore, the global support for Ukraine underscores the importance of international law and norms in addressing conflicts and maintaining a rules-based international order. It serves as a reminder that actions violating sovereignty and territorial integrity are met with widespread condemnation and potential consequences, thus influencing the calculus of nations engaged in such activities.

The political impact of global support for Ukraine extends beyond the immediate conflict, potentially affecting broader diplomatic relations and regional stability. The unity of nations in support of Ukraine could embolden other nations to rally against aggression and assert their interests through international cooperation. However, it also raises the stakes of the conflict, increasing the potential for escalation and necessitating careful diplomatic navigation to prevent a wider crisis.

Conflict Zone Updates

As the airstrike campaign intensified on both sides, ground fighting persisted, but there were no significant changes in the situation on the field. On the first day of 2024, a total of 56 skirmishes occurred, with assaults taking place on several fronts. Multiple sources have reported that Ukrainian soldiers have successfully repelled Russian attacks on various positions along the contact line. These positions include Kupiansk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Zaporizhzhia.

However, it is important to note that there were some limited gains on both sides. For example, in addition to repelling enemy attacks in various sectors, Ukraine's defense forces made some advancements near Verbove in the Zaporizhzhia region on January 3rd. On the other hand, geolocated footage from January 1st and 2nd confirms that Russian forces have made further advances to the northwest of Bakhmut. Additionally, it has been confirmed that Russian forces have entered the northeastern outskirts of the village of Bohdanikva, which is located approximately four miles (6km) west of Bakhmut. They are also making slow but steady gains in other sectors of the frontline. For example, near Kurdyumivka, which is approximately six miles (10km) southwest of Bakhmut. Geolocated footage from January 2nd also indicates that Russian forces have advanced west of Karmazynivka, located around seven miles (11km) southwest of Svatove, and Ploshchanka, which is nine miles (15km) northwest of Kreminna. However, the overall pace of operations on the north-eastern frontline has remained consistent in recent weeks.

The General Staff of Ukraine has also confirmed that the enemy remains determined to remove Ukrainian units from their positions on the left bank of the Dnipro River. Nevertheless, analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) have stated that Ukrainian forces are holding their stance, and there have been no reported changes on this front line. Both Russian and Ukrainian sources have confirmed ongoing positional fighting on the eastern bank, particularly near the village of Krynky. It has been reported that units from the Russian 810th Marine Brigade (Black Sea Fleet) are operating in this area. However, despite the heavy impact of Russian attacks on Krynky, various sources claim that Ukrainians have successfully achieved local superiority in artillery and drones. According to Forbes, they accomplished this by effectively grounding Russia's drones using radio-jamming techniques. They then utilize their own drones to locate and neutralize Russian howitzers and rocket-launchers. Perhaps that's why Russians are persistent in continuing the development of new and upgraded drone and AV counter-battery radar systems technology. One of the latest examples is the "Izdeliye 55" loitering munition or kamikaze drone, which was unveiled by the Russian-based ZALA Group on January 2nd. It is designed for short-range operations and is claimed to be invulnerable to electronic warfare systems. The "Izdeliye 55" stands out with its four powerful engines and advanced operational features. Unlike its predecessors, it offers a Full HD real-time video feed until the moment of impact, enabling operators to select the most effective angle of approach to the target. Furthermore, the drone can be launched from a specialized container, eliminating the need for additional launch equipment. This significantly enhances the efficiency of deploying the drone in combat scenarios. Regarding radar systems, it is worth noting that Russia has recently introduced the latest 1K148 Yastreb-AV counter-battery radar system as an addition to its artillery units deployed in Ukraine. In addition to the Zoopark-1M system, the main purpose of the Yastreb-AV system is to detect artillery firing positions. Specifically, this radar system, equipped with a phased array antenna, is capable of automatically tracking the trajectory of shells fired by enemy artillery and determining their exact position coordinates.

In terms of other locations, particularly Avdiivka, which holds significant strategic importance in the ongoing conflict, Ukrainian defenders have been successful in holding back the Russian troops thus far. Despite persistent attempts by the Russian forces to encircle the city, the Ukrainian defenders have successfully repelled four attacks near Novobakhmutivka, Stepove, and Avdiivka, as well as another 19 attacks in the areas of Pervomaiske and Nevelske on January 1st. On the following day, both sides confirmed that ongoing positional fights continue northwest of Avdiivka, near Novobakhmutivka, Berdychi, near Avdiivka Coke Plant, and Stepove, southeast of the city near the industrial area. There are also ongoing fights southwest of Avdiivka, near Pervomaiske and Nevelske. No significant changes have been observed in the Zaporizhzhia direction either. However, the operational pause on the Marinka and Shakhtarsk directions may indicate that Russian troops are repositioning for a potential assault on Novomykhailivka and an advance along the O0532 road towards Pobieda – Kostiantynivka.

On the other hand, while Ukrainians are focused on holding the defense line and inflicting damage on the enemy, they are also determined to strike Crimea as much as possible. This is evident through the ongoing attacks and the significant increase in Ukraine's drone production, which has grown by 100 times in 2023 compared to the previous year. Notably, Ukraine has recently launched a massive production of UJ-26 Beaver Kamikaze drones with the main purpose of conducting deep strikes inside enemy territory, but also targeting the Black Sea fleet and Crimea's infrastructure. According to Ukrainian officials, this is due to the perceived threat posed by Russia's "wounded" Black Sea fleet to major Ukrainian cities. Natalia Humenyuk, the head of the Joint Coordination Press Center of the Southern Defense Forces of Ukraine, has reported that Russia recently deployed three vessels with the capability to launch long-range Kalibr cruise missiles into the Black Sea. These vessels include two unnamed Russian submarines and the Admiral Makarov frigate, which have a combined capacity to carry 16 Kalibr missiles. In this regard, it is important to note that Moscow's strategic bombing efforts during the full-scale war have heavily relied on Kalibr-capable vessels firing from the Black Sea. The Ukrainian military expects these vessels to be used more frequently in the coming weeks and months.

Air Raid Frequency Updates

In the field, having accurate and up-to-date information about air raid alerts is crucial for the safety and efficiency of personnel. Understanding the frequency, duration, and location of these alerts provides valuable insight that can significantly impact decision-making on the ground. Armed with this knowledge, personnel can plan their movements more strategically, avoiding high-risk areas during times of increased alert activity. With the help of this vital information, they can ensure safer operations while maximizing their resources effectively. 

By analyzing the available information from December 31 to January 5, several key points can be observed:

  • In contrast to the previous week, where the highest peak of Air Raid Alerts occurred at 11 AM, this week had its highest peak at 2 PM, as well as another peak at 10 AM.

  • Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the majority of Air Raid Alerts typically lasted between 30 minutes and 1 hour, with a total of 130 occurrences. It was rare to encounter Air Raid Alerts that lasted between 2 and 2. 5 hours, which only occurred 44 times.

  • Furthermore, it is worth noting a slight shift in the pattern of eventful days for Air Raid Alerts compared to the previous period. In the previous reporting period, Tuesday had the highest frequency of Air Raid Alerts, closely followed by Friday. However, recent data from the past week reveals a noticeable change. Sunday has now emerged as the most eventful day, with 97 occurrences, followed by Monday and Friday with 93 and 83 occurrences, respectively. Conversely, Wednesday had the lowest frequency, with only 53 reported Air Raid Alerts.

  • Finally, it was discovered that the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions had the highest concentration of Air Raid Alerts, with 47 and 44 incidents, respectively. In contrast, the Zakarpattia and Ivano-Frankivsk regions experienced a minimal number of Air Raid Alerts, with only 8 and 9 recorded occurrences, respectively.

Analysis of Conflict Development

Recent updates in the Ukraine conflict suggest potential shifts in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), which could have far-reaching implications for the conflict's trajectory in the near future. Reports indicate a notable increase in hybrid warfare tactics, including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns targeting both military and civilian infrastructure. This suggests an evolving strategy to undermine Ukraine's stability beyond traditional battlefield engagements.

Leadership changes have also emerged as a significant development. New announcements indicate a reshuffling of top military personnel, potentially signifying adjustments in strategic direction. Such changes may lead to alterations in operational tactics and coordination among different units. Furthermore, the influx of foreign fighters, equipment, and military advisors on both sides has the potential to introduce novel combat techniques, potentially escalating the conflict's intensity.

In terms of equipment and infrastructure developments, recent reports suggest the deployment of advanced weapon systems, including long-range artillery and anti-ship missiles, which could alter the dynamics of engagements and complicate defensive strategies. Additionally, developments in electronic warfare capabilities have the potential to disrupt communication and surveillance systems, further shaping the battlespace.

In the coming weeks and months, the conflict's course could be influenced by these developments. A mix of traditional and hybrid tactics might lead to an increasingly complex battlefield, with information warfare playing a more prominent role. Leadership changes could either introduce more aggressive approaches or open doors to diplomatic solutions. As both sides incorporate advanced weaponry and tactics, the potential for more intense and unpredictable confrontations could reshape the conflict's trajectory.

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