Week 66 of Putin’s War comes to an end, and the waiting continues. The fighting along the line of contact has dramatically diminished. More rain in Ukraine has made off-road mobility problematic.
3/ With substantial predicted rainfall, impact to soil moisture will be significant. Soil is currently dry but predicted rainfall forecast of more than 20 mm will cause soil strength to weaken to “no go” trafficability category (at least for the next 1-2 weeks). pic.twitter.com/E0gbw0Qkwt
— David Helms (@davidhelms570) May 22, 2023
That’s not to say nothing happened. The United States agreed to allow NATO nations to transfer F-16 fighters to Ukraine to replace battle losses and upgrade the Ukrainian Air Force. Don’t be surprised if French Mirage and Swedish Grippen fighters are also in the mix. Switzerland has agreed to sell its stock of Leopard tanks to Germany, which will send them to Ukraine. This is because Switzerland is being very legalistic in its support of Ukraine. A Russian dissident corps supplied by the Ukrainian Army invaded Belgorod Oblast, Russia, forcing the Russians to evacuate a nuclear weapons storage site. And Volodymyr Zelensky was a special guest at the G7 summit, receiving unambiguous support.
Here are some of my past updates.
Putin’s War, Week 64. Patriots Score Big and the Scene Is Set for Offensive Action
Putin’s War, Week 63. Chechens Replace Wagner in Bakhmut, Storm Shadow Arrives, and Russia Says ‘Family Guy’ Is a Meany-Pants
Putin’s War, Week 62. Kremlin Droned, Russia Dissed by Friends and Allies, and Ukraine’s Offensive Takes Shape
Putin’s War, Week 61. Xi Calls, Prigozhin Sounds El Degüello, and Surprise Attacks at Sevastopol, Kherson, and (Maybe) St. Petersburg
Putin’s War, Week 60. Leaked Documents, a Russian Troll Exposed, and More Pieces Fall Into Place
Putin’s War, Week 59. Russia Goes ISIS and Waiting for General Mud to Take a Break
Putin’s War, Week 58. All Dressed Up and No Place to Go
Putin’s War, Week 57. Waiting for Godot.
Putin’s War, Week 56. Putin Indicted for War Crimes, Xi Visits Moscow, and Sevastopol Attacked for a Third Time
Putin’s War, Week 55. Russia Drops US Recon Drone, Ukraine Suffers From ‘Loose Lips’ as It Doubles Down on Bakhmut
Putin’s War, Week 54. More NordStream Melodrama, Russia Shows Diplomatic Weakness, and the Bakhmut Flipflop
Putin’s War, Week 53. Zelensky Blows a Big Play, Moscow Dodges a Drone Attack, and Russia’s Spring Offensive Fizzles
Putin’s War, Week 52. US and China Face off, Prigozhin Goes for the Jugular, Mystery Weapon Strikes, and Happy Anniversary
Putin’s War, Week 51. Russia’s Slow-Mo Offensive Gets Underway
Putin’s War, Week 50. The Calm Before the Storm
Putin’s War, Week 49. Waiting for the Russian Offensive
Putin’s War, Week 48. The Logjam Breaks and the Leopards Are About to Roam the Ukrainian Landscape
Putin’s War, Week 47. Gerasimov Shakes Up the Russian Army and the Russian Spring Offensive Looms
Putin’s War, Week 46. Putin Shakes up the Army Command, Prigozhin Shows How It’s Done, and Western Tanks for Ukraine Are on the Way
Putin’s War, Week 45: Putin Declares a Cease Fire, Zelensky Gets Putin’s Terms for Peace, and if You’re Fighting a War, Leave Your Cell Phone Home
Putin’s War, Week 44. Drones Strike Russian Strategic Bomber Base…Again… Prigozhin Makes His Move
Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War
Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With
Many more are available at this link.
G7 Statement on Ukraine
The G7 summit concluded this week. As a surprise, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was present and addressed the group.
“As long as Russian invaders remain on our land, no one will sit down at the negotiating table with Russia. The colonizer must get out. And the world has enough power to force Russia to restore peace step by step,” Zelenskyy said in his speech at G7 summit https://t.co/gvsJWfAdNq pic.twitter.com/RrPECKK4Eb
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) May 21, 2023
Much to my surprise, the joint statement by the G7 leaders, even Brazil’s Lula da Silva, who avoided being seen with Zelenskypretty much tracks with Zelensky’s speech. Here are excerpts. I encourage you to read the whole statement.
“We underline that a just peace cannot be realized without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment, and this must be included in any call for peace.”
“We commit to continuing our security assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s aggression, tailoring our support to Ukraine’s needs.”
“We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring that Ukraine has the economic support it needs.”
“We remain united in imposing coordinated sanctions and other economic actions to further undermine Russia’s capacity to wage its illegal aggression.”
“In line with the commitment made through the REPO Task Force, we will continue to take measures available within our domestic frameworks to find, restrain, freeze, seize, and, where appropriate, confiscate or forfeit the assets of those individuals and entities that have been sanctioned in connection with Russia’s aggression. We are taking steps to fully map holdings of Russia’s sovereign assets immobilized in our jurisdictions. We reaffirm that, consistent with our respective legal systems, Russia’s sovereign assets in our jurisdictions will remain immobilized until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine.”
“In this context, we reiterate our commitment to holding those responsible to account consistent with international law, including by supporting the efforts of international mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
“We hereby pledge, from Hiroshima, the “symbol of peace”, that G7 members will mobilize all our policy instruments and, together with Ukraine, make every effort to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine as soon as possible.”
Invasion of Russia Winds Down
A few days ago, a Russian corps fighting for Ukraine kicked off an invasion of Belgorod Oblast and gave the Russians a bit of a scare. The operation seems to have ended, and there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of bloodshed on either side. We will see if the operation had the desired effect of forcing Russia to move troops, artillery, and aircraft from the war in Ukraine to defend its borders. Read my post on Russia Evacuates Nuclear Weapons Stockpile as ‘Dissident’ Invasion of Russia Continues.
Training for Ukrainian F-16 Pilots Begins
One of the biggest stories of the last few months was the decision by the United States to permit allied nations to transfer F-16 fighters to Ukraine. Read my post here: US Announces Ukraine Will Get F-16 Fighters as Antony Blinken Takes Control of Policy.
Training Ukrainian pilots, estimated to take four or five months, will start in early June.
Denmark and Netherlands will be the first countries to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters, US SecDef Lloyd Austin announced.
Norway, Belgium, Portugal and Poland also expressed their desire to contribute to the training programme. The US expects more countries to join soon. pic.twitter.com/A4gwmxhdMw
— Status-6 (@Archer83Able) May 25, 2023
Poland Readies to Support a Coup in Belarus
Belarus has been under a lot of pressure from Putin to enter the war and create a second front (Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War). President-for-Life Aleksandr Lukashenko has thus far resisted the effort to send his poorly trained and motivated army against an estimated 50,000 Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces. Lukashenko is also facing political unrest as many Belarusians sympathize with the Ukrainian cause.
The former commander of Poland’s Army, Lieutenant General Waldemar Skrzypczak, a former deputy defense minister, made waves saying the Polish Army was standing by to support a military coup against Lukashenko. (The translation is via browser.)
Poland is preparing for an armed coup in Belarus and participation in its military support, said former Deputy Minister of National Defense General Waldemar Skrzypczak.
“We are preparing for an uprising in Belarus, as it will happen,” Skrzypczak said on thePolsatTV channel.
He clarified that it was a military operation.
“We must be ready to support the troops that will conduct an operation against Lukashenka,” the general said.
He specified that this could happen after the success of the Ukrainian offensive.
As a reminder, Skrzypczak has also correctly claimed that part of Russia is historically Polish; see Former Head of Poland’s Armed Forces Follows Putin’s Example and Says Part of Russia Belongs to Poland.
While making a territorial claim on Russia was a good troll, we should pay close attention to this statement for two reasons. First, the actions of the Polish government over the course of the war give the impression that they care chomping at the bit to have a go at Belarus and Russia. I think Lukashenko’s reluctance to get involved in the war is a direct function of his fear that the Poles would then enter the war. Given the political turmoil in Belarus, this call for a coup could get a positive answer.
More Fallout From Russia’s Kh-47 Fiasco
Last week I posted about three of the development team for one of Putin’s wonder weapons, the Kh-47 hypersonic missile, being arrested for treason; see Putin’s War, Week 64. Patriots Score Big and the Scene Is Set for Offensive Action. This was after that missile that had been puffed up as a weapon that gave Russia military superiority failed miserably in its encounter with the Patriot air defense system. Now there is an update; they’ve been accused of selling secrets to China.
“The director of a top Russian science institute, arrested on suspicion of treason along with two other hypersonic missile technology experts, stands accused of betraying secrets to China”.https://t.co/kaGxUmQ8F9
—Dr. Dan Lomas (@Sandbagger_01) May 24, 2023
This is just the latest in a string of cases of Russian scientists allegedly transferring military secrets to China.
Last year, laser specialistDmitry Kolkerwas arrested in Siberia on treason charges but died two days later of cancer. His lawyer Alexander Fedulov told Reuters last week that Kolker was accused of passing secrets to China, an allegation that the scientist’s family denied.
Alexander Lukanin, a scientist from the Siberian city of Tomsk, was arrested in 2020 on suspicion of passing tech secrets to Beijing, Russian state news agency TASS reported at the time. Last year, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
Valery Mitko, a scientist heading the Arctic Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, was also accused in 2020 of passing secrets to China, where he had travelled regularly to give lectures, TASS said at the time. He died two years later at the age of 81 while under house arrest.
Another Mysterious Death
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Petro Kucherenko died of an unexpected heart attack on a flight home from Cuba.
THE PURGE: @officejjsmart reports that Russian deputy minister Petro Kucherenko died suddenly during a flight returning from Cuba. He’d previously criticized the war in UKR in private conversations. The cause of his death was reported as ‘heart problems’. Kucherenko was 46. https://t.co/dIkEmSTVAH pic.twitter.com/xV9jdI48MV
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) May 22, 2023
According to the New York Post, Kucherenko had made some impolitic statements.
A senior Russian official who reportedly criticized the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine as a “fascist invasion” and lamented the ”degree of brutalization of our state” has died of undisclosed causes after a flight from Cuba.
“‘Save yourself and your family. Leave as soon as possible. You cannot imagine the degree of brutalization of our state. In a year you won’t recognize Russia at all. By leaving you are doing the right thing,’” Super quoted Kucherenko as saying,CNN reported.
Super said he asked Kucherenko if he also wanted to flee, to which, he said, the minister answered: “It is no longer possible to do so. They take away our passports. And there is no such world where they will now be happy with the deputy Russian minister after this fascist invasion.”
Kucherenko also reportedly told the journalist that he was taking “antidepressants and tranquilizers” to cope but that it wasn’t “really helping.”
“It doesn’t help much. I hardly sleep. I feel terrible. We’ve all been taken hostage. Nobody can say anything. Immediately crushed like aphids. Leave soon, Roma. And save everyone,” he allegedly added.
This is another in the unending series of “unexpected” deaths of prominent Russians; see Defenestration ‘Suicides’ up Under Vladimir Putin—Coincidence or Something Else? and 6 Russian Oligarchs Commit Suicide in Mysterious Outbreak of Epstein Syndrome.
Russia Issues Arrest Warrant for Top ICC Prosecutor
Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin; see International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Vladimir Putin. I’m not a huge fan of the ICC, but if the Nuremberg Court was anything other than “victor’s justice,” then Putin’s culpability for “crimes against peace,” (plotting and waging an unprovoked war of aggression), crimes against humanity (the forcible deportation of Ukrainian citizens and removal of children from their parents for adoption by Russians), and war crimes are on par with some of the people who went to the gallows on October 16, 1946.
Russia has countered by issuing its own arrest warrant for the ICC’s top prosecutor.
Russia’s Interior Ministry has declared Karim Khan wanted
The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor issued arrest warrants for Putin and “children’s rights ombudsman” Maria Lvova-Belova in March pic.twitter.com/sEgoeKdNJ9
— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) May 19, 2023
Stalin’s “No Retreat” Order Returns
On July 28, 1942, as the Red Army was disintegrating, Josef Stalin issued Order 227, that criminalized retreat or surrender. Fifteen months into its invasion of Ukraine and facing an imminent Ukrainian offensive, the Russian Army has resurrected an updated version of that order.
Russian soldiers who surrender in Ukraine without grave injuries can be jailed, according to the country’s supreme court. Even when completely surrounded
Should be good for morale https://t.co/lxq1GMXsHm
— Scott Rose (@rprose) May 19, 2023
Welcome to Tbilisi
The Republic of Georgia has just reopened its borders to flights from Russia. The first one got an unexpected welcome from the citizens of the capital.
Protesters are gathered near the arrival at the Tbilisi airport where the first plane from Moscow just landed chanting “Putin Khuylo”.
Plane landed quite far from the airport, far from sight from the entrance. pic.twitter.com/e2JgDUAWUi
— Mariam Nikuradze (@mari_nikuradze) May 19, 2023
Russia Claims the Destruction of Patriot Missiles
In the aftermath of Patriot’s first combat action against a near-peer competitor (Patriot Leaves Skeptics Wordless, Russians Embarassed, and Kiev Littered With Pieces of Putin’s Wonder Weapons), Russia claimed at least five Patriot missile systems had been destroyed. One of the better OSINT guys on Twitter, @DefMon3, has been counting up Russian claims of destruction versus weapons delivery.
According to my research, RU MoD has as of today claimed to have destroyed:
8 Storm Shadow
Sources: https://t.co/2fJyCou4pn pic.twitter.com/uHCF5ssxt6
— Def Mon (@DefMon3) May 19, 2023
None of the Patriot systems in Ukraine has been destroyed.
Also none of the HIMARS – though Russia has claimed 3x as many kills as Ukraine has HIMAR launchers!
(Ukraine does use a lot of decoys)https://t.co/zCR1orT2lf
— Craig Thomler (@craigthomler) May 16, 2023
Both sides inflate the number of losses inflicted upon the enemy. However, the Russians differ from the Ukrainians because they don’t even make a pretense of being serious, and they show what they think of their supporters’ intelligence by putting out numbers that would make Goebbels blush.
Putin Does History
One of the underlying themes of the war in Ukraine is that Vladimir Putin and many like-minded Russians do not believe Ukraine to be a real country. Instead, they see it as an artificial construct carved out of Czarist Russia and given independence without any historical basis. To accentuate this point, Putin gave a short explainer on television to prove his point. It didn’t turn out particularly well.
This is an official Kremlin video and it is totally crazy. Putin justifies his war against Ukraine by finding a (one!) 17th century map in which the Ukrainian lands are marked as a part of Russia. Ukraine didn’t exist at the time, he says. So what?! United States did not exist… pic.twitter.com/MHog18vDXy
— Konstantin Sonin (@k_sonin) May 23, 2023
Chief Judge of 🇷🇺 Constitutional Court brought putin a 17 century map to show 🇺🇦 never existed. Although it has “Ukraine, Pays des Cosaques” on it.
Also, it shows current Sankt Petersburg as Swedish. And Crimea as independent state.#RussiaIsAJoke #StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/1SRzJlkzPO
— olexander scherba🇺🇦 (@olex_scherba) May 23, 2023
Last Week on Russian State Television…
These are clips of talk shows on Russian state television to give you a feel for what is being said there. When reading this, keep in mind these opinions are somewhat scripted and fall within the range of discussion the Kremlin permits. I’d suggest the theme in these shows is to move the Overton Window of acceptable outcomes for the Ukraine War.
“Ukraine now has a really powerful army” – the agenda on Russian propaganda shows is certainly changing. pic.twitter.com/y0IThPdWyv
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 24, 2023
“We haven’t managed to remove the frontlines from Donetsk, how can we talk about strategic defeat of the States?” – the questions Russian propagandists start asking are getting interesting. pic.twitter.com/bXwgximS5j
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 24, 2023
Russian propagandists are demanding a new wave of mobilisation on TV, stating Russia will need 3-4 million people to achieve its goals. They never mention who is going to equip this army, not even discussing if people really want to go and die for nothing. pic.twitter.com/ZZf5LDCuMx
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) May 21, 2023
Mystery of the Massacre of Russian Aircraft Solved?
Ten days ago, the Russians admitted losing two fighter aircraft and two airborne electronic warfare platform helicopters, and 11 airmen in just a few seconds over Bryansk Oblast, Russia; see my coverage at Four Russian Aircraft Were Shot Down Over Russia in a Couple of Minutes and No One Is Giving Straight Answers.
At the time, speculation was that a Ukrainian air defense system had been moved close to the border, and the four aircraft lured into an ambush.
Then this factoid appeared in an unrelated article by Natasha Bertrand of CNN.
New: The Biden admin has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Plus—Ukraine used a Patriot to shoot down at least one Russian fighter jet in recent weeks. https://t.co/Obp5vRd097
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) May 18, 2023
Interest was piqued because there have been zero reports of Patriot shooting down fixed-wing aircraft, but all four Russian aircraft shot down were within range of known Patriot locations.
Ukrainian Forces 🇺🇦 have used the Patriot to intercept at least one faraway Russian Fighter Jet, US Officials told CNN
Patriot is capable of intercepting aircraft 160km away, meaning the Patriot may have been responsible for intercepting 4 Russian Aircraft in Bryansk on May 13th pic.twitter.com/rUw8IMLHhF
— Ukraine Battle Map (@ukraine_map) May 18, 2023
So the search was on to find any reference to downed Russian fighters after the arrival of Patriot. There was only one such case: the downing of four aircraft over Russia. Yesterday, a quasi-official Russian Air Force Telegram channel stated that as a fact.
Russian Air Force affiliated channel Fighterbomber reports that all helicopters and fighter jets downed on May 13 were shot down by a Ukrainian Patriot air defense system and 11 pilots died. That day Russia lost a Su-34, Su-35 & two Mi-8s in Russia’s Bryansk region. pic.twitter.com/QIzVzMn4HK
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) May 24, 2023
Today, it seems like we may have another one to add to that tally.
It is reported that today a Russian Su-25 was shot down in the area of Melitopol, Zaporizhzia region. pic.twitter.com/fPfjiQSwpZ
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) May 25, 2023
If this report is accurate, Patriot is the only Ukrainian air defense system with that range.
The implications of these engagements are very significant. First, it means that Patriot has converted the entire battlespace to a high-threat environment for Russian aircraft.
Drone Attack in the Black Sea?
Yesterday, the Russian Navy announced that the Ivan Khursa Yury Ivanov-class surveillance ship assigned to the Black Sea Fleet, was attacked by three Ukrainian sea-going drones some 80 miles northeast of the entrance to the Bosphorus. Allegedly, the ship was patrolling pipelines to protect them from another nefarious attack by the “Anglo-Saxons;” see Photos Place Russian Submarine Rescue Vehicle and Mini Sub Near Nord Stream Explosion; Sy Hersh Hardest Hit.
BREAKING: Warship Ivan Hurs was attacked by Ukrainian naval drones in the Bosphorus area early this morning. No damage caused – Russia’s Ministry of Defence https://t.co/sX6lNoIhVR pic.twitter.com/6lmEmNdSoE
— Faytux News Δ (@Faightux) May 24, 2023
The Russians claim the attack was foiled and released this video.
Footage of destruction of one of Ukrainian surface unmanned boats that tried to attack Ivan Khurs ship of Russian Navy in Black Sea. pic.twitter.com/u8QgE8EpTC
— ZOKA (@200_zoka) May 24, 2023
There are three problems with the video. First, it isn’t unmanned. If you play the video at full screen, you can see what appears to be a person’s head in the cockpit. Second, the Russians claim the attack occurred at 5:30 a.m. local time. Sunrise in that area is about 5:38 a.m. Beginning Morning Nautical Twilight (BMNT) starts at 4:25 a.m., and Beginning Morning Civil Twilight begins at 5:06 a.m. (See definitions here.). The video is not via night v ision goggles, and the attack was supposed to have happened just before sunrise. While there would have been enough ambient light to see shapes, you couldn’t get this degree of resolution. Third, though the Ukrainians have used unmanned sea-going drones in previous attacks (Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport), those do not resemble the boat in the video. At this point, I’m not sure what we’re seeing in this video, but I’m pretty sure it is not what we’re told it is.
Not to be outdone, the Ukrainians released their video of the alleged attack.
🔥 Video by Defence Intelligence of Ukraine with a naval drone hitting Russian “Ivan Khurs” warship pic.twitter.com/4OsqxcooK1
— Ukrainska Pravda in English (@pravda_eng) May 25, 2023
Real or CGI? I can’t tell you the answer.
In an attempt to dispel the rumors, Russian-affiliated Twitter accounts released images allegedly of Ivan Khurs returning to port.
I will answer about the reconnaissance ship “Ivan Khurs”. He is already in Sevastopol. No damage or complaints from the ship – No.
Republicans, this information will not be shown on your news channels pic.twitter.com/f7qOi7Zb0f
— Olga Mohonko (@ga_mohon) May 25, 2023
Neither image shows the side of the ship allegedly struck by the alleged Ukrainian drone. We have no proof of the date of the video. So they prove nothing beyond a ship alleged to be Ivan Khurs moving under its own power at some point in time.
Absent some more definitive evidence, I’m not sure any of this is real.
Russia’s war on Ukraine’s electrical grid has been covered in several of my updates (see Putin’s War, Week 39. The Battle of the Generators). The strategy had two components. First, inflict suffering on the Ukrainian population by forcing them to spend the winter without heat, and second, deprive Ukraine of income from the sale of electricity. The Russians now seem to have branched out into attacking civilian electrical repair crews. This is a war crime, but this is the Russian military, and that is how it conducts itself.
Update on the death of 3 line workers in Sumy region Three power workers were killed while inspecting a power line. The Russians attacked the electricians’ special vehicle with a drone. RIP https://t.co/vgqz2uxTcK
— Demchenkov Yaroslav (@DemchenkovY) May 19, 2023
Eight Ukrainian officers and 98 enlisted men were exchanged for an undisclosed number of Russians outside Bakhmut. This continues the program of regular exchange of prisoners, which is an anomaly in this war.
106 Ukrainian servicemen were released from the Russian captivity as a result of the latest Ukraine-Russia prisoner exchange near Bakhmut. – Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andrii Yermak.
So far, there were no statements by Russian side regarding this exchange. pic.twitter.com/4k48cfEGTa
— Status-6 (@Archer83Able) May 25, 2023
1st shots after today’s prisoner exchange
106 POws, 8 officers+98 soldiers in the Bakhmut sector, many were considered missinghttps://t.co/mbAs5xpmDrpic.twitter.com/Efz2xGDuWP
welcome home the Heroes 🇺🇦
— battlehex (@battlehex) May 25, 2023
South Korea Sending Ammunition to Ukraine?
Months ago, I reported the South Korean government had agreed to transfer hundreds of thousands of 155mm artillery ammunition to Ukraine. For a lot of reasons, the transfer stalled (see Putin’s War, Week 37. Kherson Liberated and Winter Comes). Now it is reported that ammunition transfers have started.
South Korea is providing artillery rounds for Ukraine, a move that allows the U.S. to delay a decision about whether to supply cluster munitions, which are banned by many countries https://t.co/2JjOUJxVnT
— WSJ Politics (@WSJPolitics) May 25, 2023
I’ve posted on the subject of wear-and-tear on field artillery pieces. Once you fire more than 7,000 rounds +/-, tube wear becomes a problem. The first symptom is that the rounds land consistently short because gas escapes between the round and the tube. The lateral spread increases because the round is not gripping the rifling as it should. Eventually, this can happen.
🇷🇺 152mm 2S33 Msta-SM2 with cracked barrel. https://t.co/RKPZHRPZVC pic.twitter.com/FNR9wjgAVo
— Aloha (@aloha9916) May 19, 2023
Artillery on both sides is suffering from wear. The difference is that Ukraine’s artillery is serviced by workshops outside the combat zone and returned to action. Russia has limited capacity to replace tubes, and it is much more of a logistics challenge for the Russians to do the needed maintenance because their depots are much further away.
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
Here are some combat videos.
The 10th Mountain Assault Brigade shared footage of their assault on Russian positions north of Bakhmut. The AFU is advancing steadily in this area. pic.twitter.com/F6WoqJz6wT
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) May 19, 2023
This one is interesting because you can watch a Javelin fired in top-attack mode (in the treeline right of center at 0.52) and trace its flight until it demolishes a BMP at 0:54.
#Ukraine: A Russian attack formation near Pisky, #Donetsk Oblast, was targeted by the Ukrainian 59th Motorized Brigade- an MT-LB AOC was destroyed after running over anti-tank mines and then a BMP-2 IFV suffered a direct hit from a FGM-148 Javelin. pic.twitter.com/PIXNqJwyKN
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 20, 2023
Russians hid an ammunition storage under the highway next to the Donetsk airport. An Ukrainian drone detected it and the artillery fire turned it into ashes.
Source: https://t.co/03uNuwSj2w#Donetsk #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/5U7u7FxqQp
— (((Tender))) (@Tender) May 21, 2023
This is an interesting development. One of the indicators of where the Ukrainian offensive will hit is the location of the new brigades fresh from training and equipping in Germany, the UK, and Sweden.
📽️Ukrainian command has deployed elements of the newly formed 88th Mechanized Brigade to #Kharkiv Oblast. It’s the first deployment of the Ukrainian brigade since its formation. On the video, brigade’s drone destroys a Russian surveillance system.#UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/SmLSbe8PcH
— MilitaryLand.net (@Militarylandnet) May 24, 2023
In my view, Kharkiv is not a great location for an offensive because it is laced with north-south running rivers with ridges in between. This leads to three possibilities. First, this is a head fake. Sending a new brigade to Kharkiv and making sure it is announced might divert the Russian military’s attention from the most likely axis of attack, Tokmak-to-Melitopol. Second, this indicates the coming Ukrainian offensive may be on two axes, not one. I’m sort of a mass+maneuver guy who doesn’t approve of multiple attacks that can’t support each other. The Russians did that in February 2022, and we see how that ended up. Third, my worse fears have been realized, and the Ukrainian Army has succumbed to a “share the wealth” mindset where everyone gets some of the new brigades instead of consolidating them under one commander.
We’ll see soon enough what this means.
After seven months, the city of Bakhmut is mostly in Russian hands. Most reports indicate a thin strip in the southwest remains under Ukrainian control. While there is no denying that it would have been more favorable to Ukraine if the city had been held, I stand beside my statements over the last seven months that Bakhmut is useless as anything other than a totem. This, by George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War, is mostly where I line up on this.
Retrospective : The seizure of Bakhmut was originally intended to facilitate Russian offensives to attack Slovyansk from multiple directions.
Bakhmut lost its original operational significance in SEP 2022 after Ukrainian forces liberated Izyum.
Insights from @KatStepanenko https://t.co/VLxeWtRAJq pic.twitter.com/5CbM9llxuQ
— George Barros (@georgewbarros) May 24, 2023
I will tell you what it doesn’t mean. This is from tech mogul David Sacksa close friend of Elon Musk and, in my view, a major Russian propagandist. It shows that you can be a billionaire and still be profoundly stupid about a lot of things.
What is the significance of Bakhmut? Here’s what the MSM should be telling you:
1) Regional transport & logistics hub: Bakhmut gives Russia access to key roads and rail. It places larger cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk within easy range of Russian artillery. Hence Zelensky’s earlier comment that the loss of Bakhmut would give the Russians an “open road” to rest of Donetsk.
My first advice would be to recommend that he buy a map and look at it. Bakhmut is not a transportation hub. This is a rail map of Ukraine with Bakhmut marked.
Even if it were a transportation hub, it is on the front lines and within visual observation of the Ukrainian Army. The whole city, including the railyard, has been rubbled. Nothing is going to move through there.
Once you leave Bakhmut, you must cross a water obstacle and climb a 300-meter ridge to go anywhere.
I’m not going to argue with Zelensky’s comments, just point out that Bakhmut doesn’t lead anywhere. Neither Soviansk nor Kramatorsk are within artillery range. Soviansk is over 40 miles away. Kramatorsk is only in range if you park artillery in Bakhmut, which would be a terrible evolutionary strategy.
2) Unique defensive fortifications: Bakhmut’s network of subterranean salt mines and tunnels (100+ miles) contributed to its defensibility. It also provides an underground complex to stockpile weapons, munitions and equipment. Ukraine has other lines of defense but Bakhmut may have been unique.
The underground salt mines are in Soledar, not Bakhmut. If Bakhmut were in any way unique in defensibility, the Russians would have bypassed it and continued moving west rather than losing seven months fighting to control the city.
3) “Fortress Bakhmut”: Bakhmut became a rallying cry for Ukrainian resistance. Zelensky called it “the fortress of our morale” and gave a Bakhmut flag to the US Congress. “The fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom,” he said.
If this is true, the Ukrainian military will start disintegrating, and the war will end in short order. If that doesn’t happen, then it is safe to call this statement bullsh**.
4) “Operation Meat Grinder”: Russia may have used Bakhmut as a trap to lure in Ukrainian troops and generals, causing them massive casualties and imperiling the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Prigozhin videos claiming the Russians were running out of ammo (which were eagerly reported by MSM) may have been part of the trap.
There is no doubt that Bakhmut was a meatgrinder. The unanswered question is who won the war of attrition. Mike Ford and I have had several discussions on this, and our consensus is that Ukraine fought here so long because they were killing a boatload of Russians. Most official Western sources believe the Russians lost many more troops than Ukraine in Bakhmut. YMMV. Drawing any inference between the seven months of fighting in Bakhmut and the upcoming Ukrainian offensive is just pig ignorant. The Russians didn’t lure the Ukrainians in, as Bakhmut was already under Ukrainian control. All evidence indicates that Ukraine used Bakhmut as an economy of force operation. While the fighting was going on in Bakhmut, the Ukrainians carried out two major offensives, in Kharkiv and Kherson. I may be wrong, but I seriously doubt the Ukrainian high command made tactical or strategic decisions based on Prigozhin’s videos.
There is nothing here that I haven’t said in my updates multiple times. Bakhmut was a symbol. It would have been cool if Ukraine had held it, but it is meaningless corpse-littered real estate to both sides.
The Russians have attacked Avdiivka and the surrounding area daily for several months. Those attacks have stopped.
AVDIIVKA AXIS / 1915 UTC 23 MAY/ This TACMAP reflects information promulgated in the 1800 (Kyiv) 23 May briefing of the UKR Gen’l Staff. It is reported that RU conducted no offensive operations in the last 24 hrs. pic.twitter.com/NEU5rsOxhj
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) May 23, 2023
Soledar is a salt-mining city located just north of Bakhmut. The Russians took that city after a prolonged fight back in January; see Putin’s War, Week 48. The Logjam Breaks and the Leopards Are About to Roam the Ukrainian Landscape. The Russians are now laying minefields east of the city between Soledar and the main Russian defensive belt.
1/3 Reliable sources on the ground near Soledar are reporting 🇷🇺 sapper units possible from 107th Seperate Guards Engineer-Sapper battalion, are activly mining roads leading out of Soledar. Several crossroads and fields have been mined with 100’s of AT-62M mines. pic.twitter.com/d8LE3Mxf9F
— NLwartracker (@NLwartracker) May 19, 2023
3/3 In case of retreat of all forces from Soledar, the possibility is that they would fall back all the way to the defensive positions build a few months ago west of Popasna on the border between Luhansk & Donetsk. Time will tell when Soledar is liberated by 🇺🇦.#SlavaUkraïni pic.twitter.com/tDTt6mjGlW
— NLwartracker (@NLwartracker) May 19, 2023
I posted about the arrival of the British Storm Shadow cruise missile in the theater of operations two weeks ago; see Putin’s War, Week 63. Chechens Replace Wagner in Bakhmut, Storm Shadow Arrives, and Russia Says ‘Family Guy’ Is a Meany-Pants. Now we have another example of its use. The target here was a Russian military barracks deep behind the lines in Mariupol. Take all the crowing about casualty numbers with a grain of salt, but Storm Shadow is putting Russian military targets that were previously immune to attack at risk.
Ukraine reportedly used a Storm Shadow missile to strike this large building by the Mariupol Airport, killing more than Russian 100 soldiers & destroying a lot of Russian military gear
Russia sends soldiers to Mariupol, using it as a staging area to supply troops to Bakhmut. pic.twitter.com/rn2avelnH5
— Visegrad 24 (@visegrad24) May 20, 2023
Mariupol telegram channels reported loud explosions in the city. It is rumored that a large number of Russian occupiers bought one-way tickets to hell tonight. 🤞🏻
Immediately after the explosions, ambulances and firetrucks were dispatched to the locations of the explosions.… pic.twitter.com/dYhvKXqZVE
— Natalka (@NatalkaKyiv) May 19, 2023
War Memorial Stolen
I am just putting this out here. I’ve no idea why stealing a World War II tank from a mass grave site in Melitopol makes any sense.
Russians stole a tank from WWII mass grave in occupied Melitopol allegedly for refurbishment in Saint Petersburg. https://t.co/YuzbL5Wd0X
— English Luhansk (@loogunda) May 23, 2023
Derailing trains in Crimea is becoming a frequent occurrence. The only way Russia can combat this is by dedicated railway security units. This, in turn, diverts men needed on the line of contact to rear area security.
🇺🇦 PARTISAN ACTIVITY AGAINST 🇷🇺 OCCUPIERS
Yesterday, a train derailed in Crimea, thus blocking the only way to the port of Sevastopol, which serves as the base for the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation.
Though Russia will quickly begin to repair the damaged area, the… pic.twitter.com/WZXalVEvMw
— Jason Jay Smart (@officejjsmart) May 19, 2023
You’re as tired of reading this as I am writing it. We wait. The rain has pushed a start date for any Ukrainian offensive into early June. Despite the political setback of losing Bakhmut, I still see a very favorable environment for offensive action. Approximately nine new brigades have come home from training in Western Europe. The influx of anti-aircraft systems protects Ukrainian cities and, just as importantly, Ukrainian artillery and mechanized units from Russian observation and drone attacks. Patriot has shown it can reach 50-plus miles into Russian territory and kill aircraft. Storm Shadow is striking headquarters and logistics facilities deep behind the lines.
To be clear, it is more important for the Ukrainians to do this right than tomorrow. If this offensive breaks through Russian defenses, and if handled properly, it can do just that; then political pressure will mount on Putin to call an end to the war. On the other hand, if it fizzles or the Ukrainians try to do too much, they are going to see the second-guessers who are smarting from the transfer of M1, Challenger, and Leopard tanks, HIMARS, F-16s, Storm Shadow, Patriot, etc., to Ukraine regain some influence. If that happens, we are headed towards a frozen conflict of our own making.