Putin's War, Week 14. Advanced Artillery, a Missing General, and a Grind With No Visible End

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

It has been a couple of weeks since I last updated the combat operations and political machinations of Putin’s War, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As we’re now 98 days into the 4-blitzkrieg assault to fell the Zelensky government, let’s review the first 90 days of Putin’s War.


Foreign weaponry continues to arrive in the combat theater. The US M-777 towed howitzer with its improved 155mm ammunition is making itself felt. In addition, the French-built CAESAR self-propelled 155mm howitzer has just been fielded. US trainers have trained several hundred Ukrainian soldiers in Germany to man the M-777 systems. The French are providing training for the CAESAR crews in France.

The first image of lost equipment donated to Ukraine has appeared. This is an Australian Bushmaster MRAP equivalent in Donbas.

What is notable is that the Russians have been unable to interdict the flow of Western weapons and have yet even attempted to attack any air or ground resupply effort into Ukraine.

The United States has decided to furnish Ukraine with an indeterminate number of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

HIMARS not only outranges any other artillery system in use in Putin’s War, it is a quantum leap in technology.

The equivalent Russian rocket launcher requires a fire direction center, it is reloaded by hand, and it can fire about one volley per hour. The HIMARS self-locates and computes its own firing solutions to engage targets. The entire rocket pod is replaced during a reloading process that takes about five minutes. For reasons I can’t fathom, a lot of pro-Putin accounts claim that Russian systems are superior. They aren’t. I take it back. I know why they do it; they know the people reading them for anything other than entertainment value are stupid.


Denmark is giving Ukraine land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Warning, the video has some of the worst music ever recorded. That is not my fault.

Alexander Dvornikov, the general handpicked by Russian President Vladimir Putin to run the entire war, has disappeared.

No replacement has been announced. However, this does dovetail with what we were told in May about Putin and the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, personally running the war (Vladimir Putin Decides He Is a Better General Than His Generals and Takes the Reins in Ukraine).

On the political side, Henry Kissinger, following the strategy he imposed on Vietnam in 1975, went on record suggesting that Ukraine should give Russia what it wants. I think the “Ukraine needs to settle for whatever crumbs Russia wants to dole out” train has left the station, but, as I’ll discuss below, it could become an issue in the next few months.

There is also a hint of a political realignment in NATO, with Eastern Europe pulling away from looking to Germany and France for leadership.

Combat Operations Overview

Weeks ago, I identified the critical theaters of operations for the war as I see them, see Ukraine’s Future Depends on These Three Fights That Russia Must Win. One of those must-win battles has concluded, that is the razing of Mariupol (Mariupol Surrenders to the Russian Army After Epic 82-Day Siege). This is the situation as of today. The map is for representational purposes only, as I’m not necessarily in agreement with the analysis (I think using “cauldron” as a military term makes you sound like a poseur, but whatever). While there is some fairly stiff fighting underway between Kharkiv and the Russian border, I think that my earlier analysis still holds. Russia has two fights it must win to achieve something that looks like a win in Ukraine.



Credit: Critical Threats on Twitter.


The Kharkiv theater has taken some of the pressure off the Donbas theater. Russia has pulled troops from the developing pincer attack based in Izyum (this is, you recall, the location of the headquarters that the Ukrainians shelled that may have wounded General Gerasimov) to react to the Ukrainian advance (Mysterious Ammunition Dump Explosion Rocks Russia and Did Ukraine Nearly Kill Russia’s Top Military Officer?). I don’t see this theater developing as a significant effort for Ukraine, but the Russians can’t ignore what is happening there. Barring the unforeseen, the Russians will be forced back upon their Vovchansk-Kupiansk-Izyum line of communication. When HIMARS arrives, that line of communications will no longer be tenable.

Credit: Critical Threats on Twitter.


At the last update, the Kherson was pretty quiet. In fact, as late as this past weekend, the Russians were focused on digging multiple defensive lines as both sides exchanged artillery fire. Around Sunday, the Ukrainians kicked off a limited offensive north of Kherson. The Russian lines in that area have been stretched thin to provide troops for the main Russian effort in Donbas. The Ukrainians have forced a river crossing at Davydiv Brid despite the Russians damaging the bridge there.

Credit: Critical Threats on Twitter.

What I see developing is a main effort from Davydiv Brid to Nova Kakhovka. The fighting north of Davydiv Brid will freeze Russian reinforcements in place, as will the pressure directed at Kherson. This main effort is important for two reasons. First, with their river crossing, the Ukrainians sit astride one of the major supply routes for all Russian forces north of the Kherson-Nova Kakhovka line. If Nova Kakhovka falls, everything north of the Kherson-Nova Kakhovka line will find itself without food, fuel, or ammunition and will have to fall back. Second, Davydiv Brid and Nova Kakhovka are linked by a major highway. Ukraine may have adopted the tactical flexibility of good Western armies, but its logistic tail is very much in the Soviet model. That major highway will be the Main Supply Route (MSR) for the Ukrainian offensive.


As I noted above, Russia seems to have stripped this theater of operations down to the bare bones to provide troops for Donbas. If the Ukrainian advance gains any steam, whoever is commanding the Russian army in Ukraine will have to make some difficult choices about reinforcing Kherson or continuing to push in Donbas.


Russia has had success in Donbas over the past two weeks, though in a peculiarly Russian way. They seem to have put aside the attacks by armored vehicles in favor of pulverizing the Ukrainian lines with artillery and advancing on foot. I think this assessment gets it right.

Credit: British Defense Ministry on Twitter.

Important things to note. Even though the Russian advance has been steady, it has been limited to less than a kilometer a day. Usually, the advances have been closer to 500 meters. The fighting has been brutal.

The Russians are not attempting a textbook breakthrough operation; rather, they are fighting to control all of Luhansk Oblast. I pointed out very early in this offensive that I thought a breakthrough unlikely because the rivers in the area, and there are several, run north-south, as do the highways. Moving east requires multiple river crossings, and it requires the construction of an east-west highway or rail line to supply the forces on that axis. It also requires Russia to have a logistics capacity that it simply does not possess.

Credit: Critical Threats on Twitter.


All things being equal, I think the advantage still lies with Ukraine. Outside of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, the Western consensus is that Russia must be visibly defeated, and donations of money and equipment reflect that belief. But things aren’t always equal.

In my opinion, Russia is rapidly adjusting its war aims. In February, Putin vowed to liberate Ukraine from the rule of “nazis and drug addicts,”  disband the Ukrainian armed forces, force the recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and the annexation of Crimea by Kiev, and prevent Ukraine from joining a military alliance. In April, those goals were expanded to seizing Ukraine’s coastal areas and linking up with the Russian puppet state in Transnistria (Putin Decides to Widen the War With Ukraine to Achieve His Objectives). None of that is going to happen. What Putin might do, however, is seize the whole of Luhansk and Donetsk, conduct a fake referendum to annex occupied portions of Kherson Oblast and Zaporizhzhia Oblast (Russia Is Creating Facts on the Ground to Support Annexing Eastern Ukraine), declare “mission accomplished” and play the victim if Ukraine continues the war. At that time, Henry Kissinger’s desire to give away other people’s countries and freedom may have more clout.


This will come down to who wants to win the most as time goes on. The most conservative estimates have about 30,000 Russian dead. That would imply an additional 50-60,000 wounded. Ukrainian President Zelensky admits that his army is losing 100 or so dead each day.

The wastage of equipment has been horrendous.

There are more and more stories is the men conscripted in Luhansk and Donetsk refusing to fight outside their home territory.

Russia is avoiding a full-blown mobilization or conscription effort by scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. Keep in mind, Russia does not have a reserve component like our National Guard or Reserve. Their reserve is anyone who served, ever. And now they are going to that pool.


The missing piece to this is the Ukrainian manpower situation. Ukraine introduced universal conscription very early in the war. We’ve seen some video of new units in training. However, this is not a fast process if you care about the soldiers. I had the experience of raising a company from scratch. After receiving 125 soldiers with 12 weeks of basic and infantry training, it still took four months of intense training to arrive at the point where the Army considered us ready for deployment. The longer Ukraine can hold these new units in training, the lower the body count will be. I think we are probably a month away from seeing new Ukrainian battalions entering the fray in large numbers. There have been sporadic reports of low morale in some Ukrainian units. I don’t have doubts about that. The question is will they stay and defend their homeland despite crappy conditions.

Again, barring the unforeseen, I see the Russian Donbas offensive running out of steam in the next week. I think we can also predict that clawing back the lost Donbas territory to have a lower priority for Ukraine than liberating Kherson, Mariupol, and the other cities along the Black Sea under occupation by the Russians. This is critical as preventing Putin from creating a fake claim on that territory has to be a strategic imperative for the Ukrainian government. If Western aid continues at current levels, the best Russia can hope for is returning to status quo ante.


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