June 22, 2024

Without doubt, the dominant theme of the war last week was politics. In the US, our periodic stagger toward a budget by way of continuing resolution has caused a hiccup in the flow of aid to Ukraine. A separate vote on Ukraine aid is supposed to be scheduled in the next few weeks. Last week, I posted briefly on the scuffle between Ukraine and Poland over Ukrainian grain imports. In a spectacular case of an “own goal,” Ukraine sued Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in the World Trade Organization over grain imports amid a hotly contested election in Slovakia. This ensured the leftist, pro-Russia Smer party led by former prime minister Robert Fico as the likely winner. Fico has promised not to “send a single cartridge” to Ukraine. Should Fico succeed in forming a government, this would mark the first time a member of the pro-Ukraine bloc of nations has withdrawn. (Just two notes as I get ready to hit “publish.” Ukraine has now withdrawn the WTO suit, and the president of Slovakia, Zuzana Čaputová, has stopped military aid to Ukraine probably until the new prime minister is known.)

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None of these things means a lot in the macro, but they are troubling signs of what might lie ahead as the war continues. I find myself agreeing with long-time friend and former RedStater Erick Erickson, though we have a different view on what that means.

In my view, there is a tendency on the part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian government to insist on having their cake and eating it, too. By that, I mean they rightfully state that this is an existential struggle for the Ukrainian state that has broad implications for all members of the former Warsaw Pact, but in particular for the Baltic nations. And because of the nature of that struggle, the West and NATO owe Ukraine support out of their own self-interest. This assumption comes across as petulance and arrogance because while their war is a critical event for them, it isn’t seen as the number one priority by the populations of other countries. The second part of the equation is that this myopia leads to decisions that don’t appear all that well thought out. For instance, engaging in a spat over trade with your major supporter while involved in a desperate war doesn’t strike me as a great evolutionary strategy. This is not to say Ukraine is wrong in the argument because they aren’t. But being right at the expense of close relationships with a key ally might not be worth it.

Here are some of my past updates. For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

Putin’s War, Week 83. Zelensky Gets ATACMS From Biden and a Cold Shoulder From McCarthy

Putin’s War, Week 82. Russia Dissed at the UN and the War Moves Toward Rasputitsa

Putin’s War, Week 81

Putin’s War, Week 80. Ukraine’s Offensive Continues Slow Progress as Fingers Are Pointed

Putin’s War, Week 79. Surovikin Line Penetrated as Russia Staggers Toward a ‘1917 Moment’ in Zaporizhzhia

Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones

Putin’s War, Week 77. The Ruble Nosedives, a Breakthrough Looms, and Crimea Faces Isolation

Putin’s War, Week 76. Russia Shut out of Peace Conference and Its Black Sea Gambit Backfires

Putin’s War, Week 75. Putin Cucked, Moscow Droned Again, and the Industrial War Hits High Gear

Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army

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Putin’s War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine’s Offense Continues to Grind Away

Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

Black Sea Fleet Begins Evacuation of Sevastopol

After losing a landing ship and submarine and having a corvette and drydock severely damaged, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has largely evacuated Sevastopol for other Russian Black Sea ports; see Ukrainian Attack on Russian Fleet Leaves One Ship and One Sub Destroyed With No Nuclear War.

Though the evacuated surface combatants and submarines are still in the theater of operations, they now have a longer transit time to their patrol areas. Sevastopol was by far the best-equipped naval base available to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. For instance, the only dry dock available to the fleet is there, and it is damaged. Ships suffering major damage are now either permanently out of action, or if they leave the Black Sea for repairs, they won’t be allowed to return.

Ukrainian Grain Exports Resume

Despite the lack of a new Black Sea Grain Initiative (Russia Kills the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but Can It Make It Stick?), Ukrainian ports have resumed grain exports.

In addition to the Black Sea ports, Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine have agreed on a rail corridor to ship Ukrainian grain from Klaipėda, Lithuania. Greece has offered the use of the ports of Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis for grain shipments.

Some of the success in reopening ports to grain shipments is due to Ukraine closing the western third of the Black Sea to permissive operations by the Russian Navy. 

Drones, air-launched cruise missiles, and shore-based anti-ship missiles make any Russian move to interdict the grain traffic a high-risk endeavor. Because the Russians can’t maintain a blockade (see Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones for the rules under international law), they either have to accept the traffic or engage in operations that could lead to other national actors, like Turkey, the US and the UK, protecting grain shipments.

These Are Not Bond Super Villains

Too often, we think of the Russian government as a borg that is constantly one or two steps ahead of us. I attribute that to a half-century of alarmist academics and rapacious defense contractors hammering us with how far we were behind the Soviet Union. I recall one Soviet Army briefing classified “secret” where the briefing officer tried to convince a bunch of skeptical infantry officers that the Red Army’s portyanki, or foot wrappings, were superior to socks and they were going to beat us because they used them. In this instance, the location of top-secret Russian facilities was erroneously posted online.

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Mystery Party

Celebrations were held in Russia on September 30 to celebrate the annexation of the Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.

Just like some other major celebrations, it seems like many of the attendees were drafted off the streets.

Living in Wonderland

Watching Russian television clips is a hoot. Sometimes, I get the feeling even the anchors don’t believe what they are saying. In this one, they are fluffing life in the enclave of Kaliningrad. The imagery is actually from Poland.

“Indeed, your dancing days are done”

While disabled Ukrainian veterans can count on a multinational network for medical care and rehabilitation, Russian soldiers don’t have that resource. If you are a Russian veteran who served in Wagner Group or one of the quisling units from the Luhansk or Donetsk People’s Republics, you can count on the old adage, “Nothing is too good for the troops, so that’s exactly what they get” being applied to you.

This thread goes into detail on the way disabled Russian veterans are abused by their government. 

This old song that was dusted off and used in antiwar protests in the 60s and 70s seems to capture what the guy in the above image is facing.

Operational Level

Land Bridge to Crimea is in Jeopardy

Behind the talk of “drug addicts” and “nazis” and non-existent agreements not to expand NATO that Putin used to attempt to justify the unjustifiable, one of the reasons for his invasion was to create a so-called “land bridge” from Russia to Crimea. This would entail permanently expropriating four Ukrainian provinces. That was accomplished, at least on paper, in September 2022; see Putin’s Illegal Annexation of Ukrainian Territory Marks the Beginning of a War Without a Perceivable End. The Ukrainian offensive effectively destroyed that bridge. The rail and highway links from Russia to Crimea go through a bottleneck at Tokmak. Some observers, perhaps having played too much Risk, insisted that Ukraine had to dip the roadwheels of a tank into the Sea of Azov to cut the land bridge. In reality, Ukraine needed to establish observed, indirect fire over the rail and highway corridors the Russians must use to resupply their army west of Tokmak.

The line of communication is directly observed by drones and from the high ground the Ukrainians now hold.

Use of this line of communication is still possible, but every convoy will potentially have to run a gauntlet of rocket and artillery fire to reach its destination.

This change of situation has registered on the Russians, and they have started construction of alternative routes.

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These are only effective as long as they can’t be kept under observation and directed fire.

Effectiveness of Ukrainian Antiaircraft Systems

One of the key battles in this war has pitted Ukrainian air defense systems against Russian ballistic and cruise missiles and suicide drones. This “X” thread will give you all the information you could ever want on how that war is going. The critical thing to keep in mind is that this is a lot like playing to “not lose” a football game. You have to be successful 100% of the time in protecting critical infrastructure, or you are not winning the war against missiles.

The charts I find most useful are the number of launches

And the mix of missile versus drone attacks.

Enjoy the thread.

Tank Repair Facility Answers the Call

The first Leopard tanks damaged in action have been repaired and returned to action. The facility is run by the Polish defense contractor Bumarze-Łabędy and is probably in the cluster of plants owned by that company east of Katowice and about 100 miles from Ukraine.

Last week, I posted video of a train loaded with damaged or broken-down Russian armored vehicles heading back to Russia for repair. It is a safe bet that the turn-around time for the Ukrainian vehicles will be a fraction of that of the Russian.

More Defections

A few weeks ago, I posted about the defection of a Russian helicopter pilot along with his helicopter to Ukraine (see Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones and Putin’s War, Week 80. Ukraine’s Offensive Continues Slow Progress as Fingers Are Pointed for details). Now, another pilot has done the same.

When the elites in a military begin to bail out, that’s a sign that a lot is going wrong. In both cases, the pilots were able to bring out their families. I wonder how long it will be until the KGB rulebook is dusted off and the pilots’ families are not allowed out of sight.

The Ukrainians are a bit cagey about this defection. There are unconfirmed rumors that he helped target the Black Sea Fleet headquarters. The fact that he could convince other men to join him should terrify the Russian command structure.

New Weapons

CENTCOM to Send Captured Iranian Arms and Muntions to Ukraine

CENTCOM regularly confiscates thousands of Iranian weapons and hundreds of thousands of rounds of Iranian ammunition each year. I presume this contraband en route to the Houthi puppet state in Yemen is destroyed. CENTCOM will start sending the contraband to Ukraine.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Tech Support

The T-72 has been known to be a piece of junk ever since it was fielded. Its flaws have been captured on video and in great detail since the Ukraine War started. Add a f***ed-up piece of equipment to technology and soldier humor, and you have the makings of a great story. Here, a Ukrainian tanker called the tank factory that makes the T-72 to complain about their product and get help fixing it.

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For anyone who can speak Russian, this is the call.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

Svatove-Kupiansk 

The Russians continue to conduct sporadic attacks in this area. Some of the attacks make small gains, but most don’t. The frontline remains unchanged.

Donbas

Bahkmut-Klishchiivka 

The Ukrainian Army continues to envelop the southern flank of Bakhmut and is in firm control of Klishchiivka. This town is on a plateau overlooking Bakhmut. The area between the dashed red line and solid red line is a “gray zone” that isn’t under firm control of either side but is presumed to be mostly under Russian control.

klishchiivka

Map Credit: Institute for the Study of War interactive map.

Close Call

This is a Russian video of the aftermath of JDAM strike on their headquarters. 

Supply Line Damaged

A Russian missile attack disabled a bridge on a key Ukrainian supply line at Velyka Novosilka.

This is the second Russian attack on a bridge that interdicts a Ukrainian supply line in as many weeks. This bridge supports an axis of advance that looked very promising for three weeks starting with Week 77 and still sees some Ukrainian progress; see Putin’s War, Week 77. The Ruble Nosedives, a Breakthrough Looms, and Crimea Faces Isolation. The other bridge, this one at Senkove (see Putin’s War, Week 83. Zelensky Gets ATACMS From Biden and a Cold Shoulder From McCarthy) in Kharkiv, also targeted an axis of advance that had the potential to develop.

My assessment is that the Russians are trying to shut down potential Ukrainian offensives so they can move more troops to the Verbove area.

…and the Cost

General Fired

Numerous reports claim that General Sychevoi, who oversees the Bakhmut area, has been fired because of the losses suffered due to his orders. The Russian Army has shown itself incapable of firing incompetents (not saying we are much better). We can expect to see this guy recycled and back in command somewhere in the next year.

Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

Robotyne-Verbove 

The going is still slow in this area. Fighting continues in and around Novoprokopivka and Verbove. No exploitation has been made of the penetration of the Surovikin Line southwest of Verbove that I reported last week. The Russians continue to counterattack with no success against this salient. This is what the front line looks like.

verbove10-5

Map Credit: My mashup of ISW (inset) and Andrew Perpetua’s daily map.

I don’t see any sign of the fighting here abating. If my assessment of the bridge attack above is correct, we can expect the Russians to reinforce this area. 

MICLIC in Action

Mines have done more than the Russian military to halt Ukrainian progress. Here, you can see the M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge, or MICLIC, in action. See Putin’s War, Week 58. All Dressed up and No Place to Go for information on the M58. I think this is taken away from the front lines and shows the MICLIC blowing a lane through a minefield that is already under Ukrainian control. The dots on the ground are shell craters.

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Friendly Fire Isn’t

The Russians shot down one of their strike aircraft near Tokmak. I can’t imagine this not becoming more frequent. The airspace available for Russian aircraft is shrinking. Radar installations are high-priority targets. Drones, cruise missiles, and other guided projectiles appear frequently. All it takes is an antiaircraft unit to see what it wants to see (think Iran Air 655 and the USS Vincennes) or for a pilot to mess up identification procedures, and bad things will happen.

Kherson

No ground action was reported in the area other than artillery strikes and some small boat actions. The Ukrainian bridgehead still holds but has not been expanded.

ASRAAM in Action

Nearly two months ago, the Brits announced it was sending a ground-launched version of the  AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 76. Russia Shut out of Peace Conference and Its Black Sea Gambit Backfires. This is the first video of the system in action. Here, it kills an Iranian-made Shahed-131/136 suicide drone that is probably targeting Ukrainian grain export infrastructure.

Rear Areas

Russia

Belgorod

As I’ve noted before, the Ukrainians are stepping up the tempo of their campaign against antiaircraft assets. Knocking out this missile system opens more airspace to Ukrainian Air Force strike aircraft.

Rostov-on-Don

Rostov-on-Don is the center of Russian military activity for the war in Ukraine. A fire destroyed a warehouse containing uniforms, and a partisan group has claimed responsibility.

What’s Next

Expect to see continued small unit action in and around the Novoprokopivka-Verbove salient and south of Bakhmut. The looming critical events are terribly opaque to an observer outside the action. Zelensky’s big task is to keep his coalition together and motivated. To do that, he has to put points up on the board somewhere. I don’t know that this offensive, particularly if it winds down for the rainy season, will do that. The Slovaks have essentially checked out, and the Germans are hedging their bets for future Russian business deals. I don’t think aid from the US is in jeopardy, but if anyone can pull defeat from the jaws of victory, it is Joe Biden and the House GOP caucus.

I keep going back to Mike Ford’s comment of a few weeks ago about a potential “1917 moment” for the Russian Army (see Putin’s War, Week 79. Surovikin Line Penetrated as Russia Staggers Toward a ‘1917 Moment’ in Zaporizhzhia), I can see that happening south of Bakhmut. I can see it happening in the Novoprokopivka-Verbove salient. Each counterattack that US-supplied DPICM clobbers makes the next counterattack less enthusiastic. Each trained soldier lost in one of these senseless assaults is replaced by a socially undesirable dragooned into service from Russia’s Far East.

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Realistically, I think the Ukrainian offensive is approaching its culmination point. The strength may exist for another major effort, but unless some way can be found to push a lot of stuff through dense minefields, a new push isn’t going much farther than the last one.

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