Putin's War, Week 28. The Sitzkrieg Goes Blitzkrieg as Ukraine's Army Moves 50 Kilometers in Two Days

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Week 28 of Putin’s 72-hour destruction of the Nazi regime in Kiev gets underway with a bang. The Ukraine general staff reports that the offensive that kicked off in Kharkiv two days ago has advanced up to 50km (a little more than 30 miles). We’ll look into that claim in a moment, but, as always, we’ll start this off with a stratospheric view. My last update is at Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive.


Politico-Strategic Level

Liz Truss takes the reins in Britain.

Boris Johnson was one of the most staunch supporters Ukraine had in the EU and NATO. Conservative Party leader Liz Truss has replaced him. Truss and her foreign policy team appear to be just as supportive of Ukraine as Johnson and his team.

Germany refuses to do much of anything.

Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) is ready to supply Ukraine with 100 Leopard 2A7 tanks and provide training sessions for soldiers worth 1.55 billion euros. The vehicles are currently in storage as the Bundeswehr doesn’t seem to think it needs artillery or armor. They would overmatch any Russian-built armor on the battlefield and probably defeat most Russian anti-tank weapons. According to German media, Chancellor Scholz has yet even to acknowledge the request by KMW. 

Yet, according to Die Welt, Chancellor Scholz did not react to the offer, and there is no reason to believe his response will be positive. Earlier, Spain offered to ship 100 mothballed Leopard 2A4 to Ukraine, but Germany blocked the delivery. Later the refusal was spun as “oh, those tanks don’t work and it would take too much money to fix them,” but I’m not sure anyone who doesn’t believe in leprechauns believes that story.

Germany has provided a handful of their superb Panzerhaubitze 2000 155mm self-propelled guns (if you’re into artillery pr0n, by all means, read US Artillery Delivered to Ukraine Is More Than Guns, It Is a Game-Winning Change From the Present). They’ve also provided their Gepard Flakpanzer (Putin’s War, Week 19. Political Uncertainty, Lots of New Weapons, and a Replay of the Western Front). Thus far, Germany has shown reluctance to provide Ukraine with aid that could end the war. In the long run, this halfway stance will not endear them either to Russia or the countries supporting Ukraine.

Russian visa bans take effect.

Last update I reported on the intramural skirmish inside the EU over the status given to Russian visa applicants (Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive). Under EU rules, Russian citizens get preferential treatment when they apply for a visa to an EU member in terms of less documentation and an expedited process. Poland and the Baltic States favored a total ban, but most of the EU was unwilling to go along. This week, Poland and the Baltic States announced that on September 19, they would ban Russians from entering their countries directly or via another EU country. To visit Europe, Russians must enter by ground through Finland as there are no air flights between Europe and Russia. The EU seems on track to cease the special treatment given Russian travelers.


Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNP).

The IAEA team visited the ZNP and issued a report asking both sides to create a demilitarized zone around the site.

Don’t look for the situation to change. Right now, there is so much smoke being blown by all parties that it is impossible to evaluate the risk or make an informed guess.

Nordstream shutdown.

Over the weekend, Russia shut down the Nordstream 1 pipeline. The Russians are using this as a tool to coerce the EU to remove the sanctions that everyone knows aren’t working. Gazprom produced an ad trolling Europe.

It remains to be seen if the Armageddon predicted by some materializes. Oil and gas are fungible; unless Russia stops all oil exports, their exports will free up more expensive oil and gas for Europe. Russia’s extraction-based economy needs the income. One thing is for sure; the Germans are no longer laughing at Donald Trump.

Operational Level

As always, I’m going to start with the map showing the situation for the first 90 days of the war. Why you may ask? Because if I don’t, there will be the inevitable comments along the lines of “Russia isn’t really trying yet.”

This next map shows the lines for the first six months of the war.

New Weapons


We’ve known a few 155mm Excalibur artillery rounds were sent to Ukraine a while back. However, new Department of Defense documents show that they are being sent in large numbers.

It is hard to overemphasize what this munition does on a battlefield with counterbattery radar and drones. Read this whole thread for a lot of great detail; I’m posting this pair of tweets because it covers a key artillery concept, CEP. With a standard 155mm round, the CEP is about 50 meters due to variations in barrel wear and the internal and external ballistic factors playing on the round that was fired. That means that hitting within 50 meters is a “direct hit.” With Excalibur, the CEP is five meters.



Norway is sending 350 ground-launched Hellfire missile systems. You’re probably familiar with the Hellfire missile from its use by the Predator drone. It was designed for use by the Apache helicopter and the A-10 against armor targets and has since been modified for ground launch.

Things that make you go WTF: Ammunition edition.

I posted about ammunition supply last week (Russia Buying Artillery Ammunition From North Korea Was Not on My Bingo Card). Ukraine has been getting rid of its Soviet/Russian 152mm and 122mm caliber artillery in favor of NATO 155mm and 105mm weapons. Supplying Ukraine with Russian-compatible ammunition has been a struggle. I found this to be a bit of a shock. Read the whole thread.

Partisan operations.

Ukrainian partisans are becoming more active and aggressive in Russian-occupied areas that are heavily ethnic Ukrainian. This attack took place about 30 miles southwest of Mariupol.

Russia had been planning a Crimea-like “referendum” (Russia Is Creating Facts on the Ground to Support Annexing Eastern Ukraine; flashback Fivethirtyeight.com Explains The Crimea Referendum) in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts. The project was headed by the local apparatchiks of Putin’s United Russia Party. The party’s headquarters in Melitopol was blown up.



Belgorod, Russia.

A major electrical substation in Belgorod, Russia, was hit by an explosion last night, and most of the city is without power. Local authorities claim it was a “fire.”

Belgorod has been hit before (here | here), and these attacks serve to remind Russians on the border with Ukraine how easily they could become part of a combat zone.


A month ago, a major Russian airbase in Crimea was hit by a devastating attack that took out a significant number of aircraft and forced Russia to relocate many aircraft back to Russia. See Airbase in Russian-Occupied Crimea Hit by Devastating Ukrainian Attack. Earlier today, the base was hit again.


A couple of weeks ago, the Ukrainians kicked off a low-grade offensive in the Kherson theater. The Ukrainians telegraphed the operation, including a statement by President Zelensky. The Russians responded by moving troops from other areas. This is the state of play.

The critical point to remember is that everything north of the Dneiper River is cut off from supplies. The road and rail bridges across the Dneiper have been totally destroyed, and all supplies are moved by segments of pontoon bridges acting as barges across the Dneiper. Often this is done under fire.

The strategy in this theater is to keep constant pressure on the front line to force the consumption of ammunition and fuel and wear down the Russian forces. While this is happening, communications nodes, headquarters, and supply dumps are under constant attack from long-range artillery and HIMARS/MLRS. The calculation is that at some point, the Russians will have to collapse their lines to maintain a defense, and once the Russians move from their prepared position, it will be tough for their commanders to stop them. The Ukrainians do not seem to have any intention of attacking Kherson City as the Russians did Mariupol. They are convinced the Russians can be made to evacuate the north bank of the Dneiper because the troops there can’t be supplied.



The Russians have made slight gains in Donbas, but this theater has been largely dormant for months. The changes in that front can be seen on the Kharkiv front map in the next section. Both sides were ground down, and in the middle of the rebuilding process, Russia transferred troops to confront an imminent Ukrainian offensive in Kherson. I think this remains Russia’s Clausewitzian center of gravity. If Russia achieves control of the geographical boundaries of Donetsk and Luhansk, it can claim victory and try and cut a ceasefire deal. If they don’t take that territory, it becomes difficult for them to stop the war by negotiation.


Tuesday, the Ukrainian Army kicked off an offensive in Kharkiv Oblast. I’m on record in several of these updates characterizing this theater of operations as a backwater. All the action has been limited to the Russian frontier and small-scale operations designed to push Russian artillery out of range of Kharkiv City. Tuesday, all of that changed. The day opened with a strong push on the Balakliya-Kupiansk axis.

The attack hit a sector of the front that mainly was Luhansk People’s Republic militia stiffened with a mixture of paratroopers (VDV), riot police (OMON), and riot police SWAT teams (SOBR). There was intensive artillery fire, and the Russian line gave way. In a short period of time, Ukrainian forces breached the forward lines and started overrunning artillery and supply convoys.

The objective appears to be the rail/highway center in Kupyansk, located in the center of the green circle on the map below.

If that town falls, then very little west of the rail lines running south and west of that city is defensible because it can’t be supplied.


To give you an idea of the speed of operations, this was the situation yesterday afternoon.

Right now, the Ukrainian Army is fighting in the town of Hrushvika, some 7 km from Kupyansk.

According to unconfirmed reports on pro-Russian Telegram channels, Ukrainian forces have also appeared at Senkove.

Part of this is due to poor-quality conscripted troops breaking under intense pressure and the theater commander having no reserves available to throw into the gap. Part of it is due to the qualitative superiority of Ukrainian troops. Watch this firefight from the Kharkiv offensive. HMMV-mounted infantry overrun a hamlet held by Russian soldiers. As a side note, we’ve known for a while that a significant portion of the 30,000 or so foreign volunteers in Ukraine was in the Kharkiv area. At around 1:10 in the video, you can hear English-speaking voices calling for more ammunition.

The offensive is being supported by major artillery and anti-aircraft systems.

How long can this be sustained? I have no idea. Right now, the battle for the Ukrainian command staff isn’t with the Russians, it is with getting enough fuel, ammunition, and troops pushed into the gap blown in the Russian line to turn this from an operational penetration into rout and exploitation.



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