Putin’s War, Week 69. As CNN Reports the Ukrainians Have Stalled the First Breakthrough Happens
This week’s big headline is the media narrative that the Ukrainian offensive is failing.
The beauty of anonymous sources recounted by an unreliable reporter for a cable news outlet that would sell its own mother to a Turkish whoremonger for ratings is you can’t evaluate the claim.
I don’t know if it is true or not, but the story is out there, and I’ll discuss it later in the post.
There were major political shifts over the last week as Sweden stepped up its contribution to Ukraine’s defense, and the US Congress is considering several bills focused on setting the conditions for a Ukrainian military victory with no talk of an “off ramp” for Putin.
Next week there probably will not be an update. I will be in the hospital for part of the week for non-life-threatening but non-trivial surgery.
After much shilly-shallying over the last year, the US Congress is finally taking leadership in turning back Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In the early days, the strategy seemed to be to bleed the Ukrainians into submission. Given the romance that much of State and Defense have had with the idea that Russia could be a useful security partner in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, this was not all that shocking. Slowly the direction under, and I say this in only the most begrudging way, SecDef Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony (no “h”) Blinken have changed to pushing for an outright defeat of Russia. In my view, this is the most realistic view of how to deal with Russia since Ronald Reagan spent them into bankruptcy.
Now Congress is showing some leadership. The following bills have passed and are headed for Joe Biden’s desk. Whether he signs them depends on how much compromising material the Russian FSB has on Joe, James, and Hunter Biden.
H.R. 4175/S. 2003 would confiscate $350 billion in frozen Russian assets and redirect it to rebuilding Ukraine.
H.Res. 332/S.Res. 172 would embrace the military defeat of Russia in Ukraine as US policy.
H.R. 506/S. 416 would designate Wagner Group PMC as a terrorist organization.
H.Res. 154/S.Res. 72 would classify Russia’s occupation of Ukraine as genocidal.
The House has passed H.R. 3979, which declares Russia a terrorist state, and H. Res. 488, which calls on the Biden White House to send ATACMS missiles to Ukraine.
In light of this, I don’t see how Putin’s strategy of “wait the West out” makes a whole lot of sense. But neither did the invasion of Ukraine.
Missile Attack on Kiev
Friday, Kiev was hit by a missile attack. The hardened air defense system destroyed all the incoming missiles. That said. one of the side effects of destroying a missile is that the wreckage has to fall somewhere. When it hits the ground, it may break things and hurt people. The tradeoff is protecting critical assets.
African Leaders’ Peace Mission to Kiev Greeted With Russian Missiles
A delegation of African leaders (South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia, and Uganda), led by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, was in Kiev to discuss a peace proposal when the Russian missile strike hit.
The delegation headed to Moscow the next day after bizarrely insisting that no attack had taken place.
There was no evidence Vladimir Putin took their plan seriously.
Ukrainian recognition of Russian ownership of Crimea.
The disbanding of the Ukrainian Army (his codeword is “demilitarization”).
Ukraine renounces ever applying for NATO membership.
The Ukrainian government of “nazis and drug addicts” be replaced.
Friday, Putin spokesman Dmitry “Porn ‘Stache” Peskov announced one of those goals had been accomplished.
Using this logic, Ukraine could promise never to apply to join NATO if NATO accepted it as a member.
The Face of the Russian Dead
Among the members of the Open Source Intelligence community, there is a group that collates the obituaries of Russian soldiers from newspapers and social media. The BBC has an interesting analysis that shows how the Russian Army has changed since the war started. The deaths captured from open source are just a fraction of the total. I would imagine the data from early in the war is more accurate than the newer data because earlier in the war, more soldiers had someone who cared about them. No matter how the war ends, the implications for what this means to the Russian Army are staggering.
What is even more sad is stuff like this.
Between the war and emigration to avoid transcription, Russia may have lost most of a generation of young men.
After the Destruction of the Kakhovka Dam
The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam stopped any immediate Ukrainian offensive action in that sector, but it opened the way for a brand new axis of advance in late summer.
It is hard to watch the actions of the Russian Armed Forces and credit them with any of the classic military virtues. As volunteers and the Ukrainian military struggled to rescue civilians caught in the flood set off by Russian action, the Russian military attacked the rescuers. This is a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention and happened at such a scale that one can safely rule out rogue elements on the front lines acting alone.
Ukrainian “Biological Warfare” Resurrected by the Russians
There is no word on how the mosquitos have been trained only to attack Russian forces while leaving Ukrainian forces and civilians alone. I suspect this is the setup to obscure a larger story. When the Russians destroyed the Kakhovka Dam (Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam Is Blown up Unleashing Widespread Flooding), they managed to contaminate drinking water in much of the area they occupy in Kherson causing the re-emergence of that quintessential pre-20th century, Third World disease, cholera.
The general scheme of maneuver looks very much like last week. But there is a new twist.
The Ukrainian Army is advancing steadily on two primary axes of advance, Tokmak and Velyka Novosiika. On both axes, they are covering about a kilometer per day using light infantry with some mechanized and armor support. The combat is drone-heavy. Artillery strikes have shifted from the front lines to the direct support artillery, supply points, and troops assembly areas several kilometers behind the line.
The Tokmak Axis is getting interesting because a secondary attack is forming west of the main attack; you can see the small salient with the blue dot just east of the “reservoir.”
Thursday, Russian sources reported the Ukrainian Army had broken through the defensive line at Robotyne.
If this report is accurate, we can expect the Russians to fall back onto the first of their three major defensive belts.
The Ukrainian army is making small gains north and south of Bakhmut. I think this is a secondary effort designed to pin Russian forces down to defend their “prize.”
Last week the Russians launched a series of attacks in the area of Kupiansk. So far, we haven’t seen Russian progress there. My assessment is that this is a spoiling offensive designed to divert Ukrainian assets from their main effort but particularly to draw the Ukrainian forces putting pressure on Bakhmut away.
We have seen a significant change in Russian tactical behavior. In the past, when the Russians lost real estate, they regrouped in new defensive positions. Now we’re seeing any Ukrainian advance being met with an immediate counterattack. This is the same technique developed by the Russians towards the end of Wagner PMC’s involvement in Bakhmut. There is nothing wrong with the tactic, per se. It becomes problematic when fortifications intended to be abandoned are the objective, and your reserve force is limited. It becomes particularly problematic when the counterattacks aren’t successful.
In the case of Robotyne, the Russians did attempt a counterattack to retake outlying fortifications. The attack was well located, on the shoulder of the Ukrainian penetration, but its execution was poor, and it failed.
This goes back to the CNN story. There is evidence that the Russian Army is improving in some things, like drone operations. This counterattack was well-timed and technically correct. That’s because the skills needed for both of those things can be taught in a classroom. Where we do not see learning, and where I’d contend learning is not possible for the Russian Army in the current environment, is tactical proficiency on the battlefield. The attrition of Russian officers and lack of time out of the line for Russian units to train prevents the lessons learned from the last 16 months of warfare from being disseminated and adapted as standard procedures.
The main obstacle slowing the Ukrainians is the hundreds of thousands of artillery-delivered mines that turn any breakthrough into a hard slog through a minefield.
Sweden Okays Transfer of SAAB JAS 39 Gripen Fighters To Ukraine
Sweden is transferring an undeclared number of JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighters to the Ukrainian Air Force. No specific date for the transfer or pilot training has been announced. When combined with the F-16s that are scheduled to enter service this autumn, the ability of the Russian Air Force to operate in the theater of operations will be nearly zero due to superior Ukrainian aircraft and an integrated air defense system.
Now some observers have noticed decoys of Russian air defense systems in transit in what looks like the American southwest.
I’d point out that both Fort Irwin (if they haven’t changed the name of it yet), CA, and Nellis AFB, NV, are sites of very sophisticated training f, facilities. To me, it seems more likely that the decoys are headed to one of those bases for use in an exercise. But who knows? I can’t imagine that the company producing these decoys hasn’t managed to get a contract to make them for Ukraine, though I’d hope we’d ship them by aircraft instead of open train cars.
Here a T-55 was packed with explosives, the laterals locked into position, and it was sent toward Ukrainian lines. The tank hits a mine at 0:10. Then it is hit by an RPG at 1:02…watch for the rocket launch towards the right of the frame, and you can see the projectile in flight. In retrospect, the Ukrainians should’ve left well enough alone. My guess is that the blast caused by the RPG probably killed or wounded most of the people in the trench in front. That white wall you see moving out at 1:03 is air compressed to the point of luminosity, followed by a vacuum that will collapse hollow organs, leaving you stone dead without a mark on you.
#Ukraine The Russian Army sent a T-54/55 VBIED filled with 6 tonnes of TNT at AFU lines near Marinka, Donetsk Oblast.
The attempt failed as the remotely-controlled bomb ran into a mine 100m from the front line, and was then hit by a Ukrainian RPG shot, causing a huge explosion. pic.twitter.com/sXXI57wV7v
We don’t know if this is a new use for an elderly tank or an improvisation by soldiers who said, “No f***ing way am I crawling into that,” as it is the only one we’ve seen so far.
The MaxxPro is Tough
Last week I commented that the engineering devoted to crew survivability was paying huge dividends. Even when vehicles were damaged, we didn’t see the catastrophic fire-and-explosion combination that has become the trademark of Russian armored vehicles. The following sequence is an excellent example of that.
Early in the offensive, the Rusbots made a big deal of this video. In it, a T-72 is pushing a disabled MaxxPro MRAP. The T-72 is hit by a Russian Lancet (0:05). You can see the explosive reactive armor (ERA) activate before the explosion. The tank isn’t damaged. While the twit posting the video says the tank is trying to avoid being hit, the Lancet strike is at the very beginning. It looks like the MaxxPro gets stuck, and then bad stuff happens as the T-72 continues to push.
The incident took place behind Ukrainian lines, so neither vehicle was lost to the Russians, and now we have on-site video of the remains.
The T-72 is repairable, and, what’s more, the MaxxPro looks pretty good, too. This is the type of equipment that builds confidence in soldiers and lets them take more risks knowing there is an excellent chance that even if things go pear-shaped, they will still walk away from it.
This is the standard action-counteraction cycle that characterizes military operations. Something works really well; the enemy develops a counter, in this case, moving anti-aircraft assets up closer to maneuver units, and then what you were doing doesn’t work all that well.
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
Ukrainian Commandos Clear a Strongpoint
In this video, Ukrainian Marine commandos clear a strongpoint behind Russian lines in Zaporishzhia. Note how deep the trenches are, unlike the latrine slit trenches we’ve become accustomed to seeing, and the presence of blast-proof dugouts in the trench.
Great movement and fire control techniques are exhibited, but If you are squeamish, you might want to avoid this video.
Russian milblogger Rybar claims that some of the Russians are unarmed because their weapons are stored in a central location in the strongpoint. That seems truthful if only because it is a very stupid way of doing business that no one would make up.
Russian authorities have declared a curfew in parts of Zaporizhzhia where one axis of the Ukrainian offensive is directed. You’ll recall that the Russians did this in Kharkiv and Kherson shortly before executing a major withdrawal.
A Ukrainian strike, believed to be by a Stormshadow cruise missile, hit a grouping of ammunition storage areas in Rykove, Kherson Oblast. The explosions continued for six hours, and satellite imagery showed the foundations of the buildings in the compounds had been erased.