Putin's War, Week 36. Russian Mobilization Ends, Ukrainian Commandos Strike Deep Inside Russia, and What the Heck Is Happening in Kherson?

(AP Photo/Petro Zadorozhnyy)

Welcome to my newest update on Putin’s War in Ukraine. We are now 36 weeks — 254 days — since Russia launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. My last update can be found at Putin’s War, Week 35. The Lull Before the Next Storm. There has been some action, but the crappy weather has slowed things down. Also, both sides are somewhat tired after a punishing summer’s campaigning. I look at this period as the break when the fighters have returned to their corners.


Politico-Strategic Level

Two significant items have been covered outside this update. First, the Pentagon is beefing up the number of weapons inspectors to ensure that weapons allocated to the Ukrainian Army end up there. Naturally, the folks who have been cheering Putin are claiming that this is a nefarious first step towards the US military fighting Russia a la Kennedy’s Special Forces advisors in South Vietnam. I think that is bullsh**, YMMV. If you’re interested, read more at The Pentagon Sends Weapons Security Inspectors to Ukraine; if You Thought Those Opposing Aid to Ukraine Were Happy, Think Again.

The second item is that after Ukraine launched an air-sea drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at anchor in Sevastopol (Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport), Putin declared that Russia was leaving the agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain to be shipped out of the war zone. By Wednesday, he’d backed down (Vladimir Putin Rejoins Ukraine Grain Deal After He Finds No One Cared That He Left).

Russia’s Dirty-Bomb-False-Flag Gambit Fizzles

Last update, one of the major topics was a claim by the Russian government, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, that Ukraine was going to carry out a “dirty bomb” attack on its own territory and then, in best Alex Jones “false flag” tradition, blame Russia for it. The Russians claimed that this was a scheme by Ukraine to draw NATO into the conflict because of the NATO nations downwind, which might be irradiated. An equally plausible alternative is that Russia would detonate the dirty bomb, cry “false flag,” and that would justify Russia using a tactical nuke or five and claiming they were justified. See Russia’s ‘False Flag Dirty Bomb Attack’ Gambit Is Laughed at by Everyone, That Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Do It.

No one bought the story. But, as I reported last week, we know Putin approached China and India with the claim. We don’t know how China reacted, but India was not sympathetic (Putin Ally Shuts Down Russia’s Claim Ukraine Plans to Unleash Dirty Bomb).

The allegation did motivate the International Atomic Energy Agency to send inspectors to the nuclear power plants under Ukrainian control. They reported back that there was no evidence of any missing material for a “dirty bomb.”

Belarus-Ukraine Face-Off Continues

Last update I posted about the low-grade mobilization effort in Belarus and the possibility that Belarus would open a “second front” in the war. I think the danger of this is minimal, but Ukraine has to plan based on capabilities rather than intention, and so the recent belligerence by Belarus has frozen some Ukrainian forces in place.

The two nations are engaged in a war of words.


I’m just re-upping this to remind us that the situation between Belarus and Ukraine is very touchy. The Belarus military is providing training to mobilized Russian reservists because Russia has a shortage of trainers due to the war. Russia wants to draw Belarus into the war to open a “second front” to pin down Ukrainian forces so they can’t be used in the east.

At the same time, Belarus is stripping its own military of tanks and armored fighting vehicles to transfer these to Russia to replace combat losses.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is a savvy enough politician to know his people aren’t terribly interested in getting involved in Putin’s War. If you recall, Belarus had a surge of sabotage attacks on its rail lines in the direction of the Russian border (Belarus Rail Lines Carrying Trains With Supplies for the Russian Army Are Being Hit by Sabotage Attacks). In the past week, some more alleged sabotage activity has surfaced.

Ukrainian Special Forces Raids Airfield in Russia

Mainstream media reports that Ukrainian Special Forces carried out a raid on a Russian airfield at Pskov, some 400 miles from Ukraine…but only 20 from Latvia

Airfields aren’t the hardest targets to hit, and the chances of getting in and out without being detected are excellent. That being said, the Ukrainians are proving adept at conceiving and executing outside-the-box operations that a top-down army like Russia’s, has a hard time anticipating.

Mobilization Ends

I’ve covered the mobilization problems in some detail in previous posts. As I mentioned above, the Russians are trying to overcome their lack of a formal training establishment by using Belarusian Army trainers. The whole issue has turned into a political nightmare for Putin. Last week, Putin formally ended mobilization.


The pain of the men caught up in the process continues.

Even though I’m clearly supportive of Ukraine driving Russia back to the pre-2014 boundaries of that country, I’m also a professional infantry officer and an avid student of warfare. I may be proven wrong on this, or “time will tell,” as one of the more noxious “tankie” accounts says, but I can’t see how Russia feeds and clothes the men it is sending to Ukraine, much less train them and discipline them into cohesive and effective units. They are cannon fodder in the truest sense of the phrase.

ICYMI, last month, the head of Russia’s mobilization program unfortunately “suicided” himself.

Rail Line from Kiev to Chisinau (Moldova) Reopens

Poland Looks East for a Weapons Supplier

Poland cannot get the weapons it wants fast enough from Germany and the United States, so it has turned to South Korea to take up the slack. Of particular interest to Poland is the Chunmoo MLRS, a rough analog to HIMARS. HIMARS, a US-produced system, can’t be manufactured fast enough to meet Poland’s force modernization needs; South Korea doesn’t have that problem. Poland has already bought 190 Korean Black Panther tanks (video below) while waiting for the US to deliver M1 Abrams tanks.


I Hate It When That Happens


Operational Level

Operational Overview
These maps serve two purposes. First, they let you see how the fighting has progressed since February 24, so any subsequent maps can be viewed in context. They also serve as a visual rebuttal to the claim that Russia is gaining ground.

This animation takes you from D-Day through September 24.

This animation begins on August 31 and ends on October 4.

Movement since October 4 has been limited — this is the time of rasputitsa when tracked or wheeled vehicular movement off all-weather roads becomes very challenging — but that may be changing.

New Weapons

No major new weapons systems have been introduced into the theater since the last update. The Department of Defense announced another $400 million in aid from its drawdown authority.

Keep in mind there are a lot of numbers floating about that mean different things. Always keep in mind Authorized (authorized by Congress) ≠ Appropriated (allocated by Congress to an agency) ≠ Obligated (contract signed) ≠ Disbursed (check written). Please read my post; Defense Department Announces Another $625 Million in Ukraine Aid So Let’s Take a Look at DoD IG Report on Ukraine Spending So Far to understand how these numbers fit together…or don’t necessarily fit together.

The US is paying part of the cost of applying major upgrades to Warsaw Pact tanks still held by NATO members who used to be Soviet client states.

Prisoner Exchanges

The Return of “Blocking Units” and Stalin’s Order 227

During the early days of Operation Barbarossa, Soviet troops frequently broke and ran. To stop this, Stalin issued his infamous Order 227, which established “blocking” or “barrier” units and penal battalions. The blocking units were NKVD troops who had the mission of killing anyone retreating. This order has made a reappearance.


Combat Operations


Skirmishing continues in this area of operations. The Ukrainian Army is making very slow progress, but not a lot of effort is being applied. The Ukrainians have obtained control-by-fire of the Svatove-Kreminna highway, making moving troops and supplies to the frontlines much longer and more challenging.

Ukrainian Special Forces and partisans are active in Donbas.


The Russian Army continues with nearly daily assaults in the Bakhmut, Avdivika, and Marinka areas. The frontline remains unchanged. There has been a lot of huffing and puffing on the “tankie” (pro-Russian accounts that follow the war) about Russian gains in those areas. Here are the situation maps from today and two weeks ago via the Institute for the Study of War. Compare the front lines for yourself.

Credit: Institute for the Study of War

What makes this entire slugfest mysterious is “why?” Even if the Russians take the cities they’ve been trying to storm for the last three months; they don’t lead anywhere. They aren’t major road junctions. They don’t control important bridges or river crossings. The best objective I can come up with is that it is an attempt to occupy the historical boundaries of Donetsk. In August, this arguably made sense if Putin intended to call a cease-fire. Now, having lost a lot of Luhansk and with the impending disaster in Kherson, more on that below, it seems senseless. The objectives themselves seem to have taken on a life of their own.

Combat Video



The operations in Kherson are sort of a mystery to outside observers. The Ukrainians have been unusually tight-lipped. This is what we know. We know that most of Russia’s combat power in Ukraine has been committed to this area of operations. And a majority of that power is on the left (if you are facing downstream) bank of the Dnieper. We know that occupied Kherson’s military and civilian command structure has abandoned Kherson City in favor of Skadovsk.

The head of the quisling government in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, says to expect the right bank to be abandoned.


Pre-fab concrete pillboxes (the technical term for these is “targets”) are appearing in several cities in Kherson.

According to analysis of commercial satellite imagery, Russia is constructing three defensive lines on the left bank.

One thing we learn from this is what will not happen. If you recall, in my update two weeks ago (Putin’s War, Week 34. False Flags, Martial Law, and ‘Dammed if You Do and Dammed if You Don’t’), there were claims and counter-claims alleging that Russia or Ukraine was planning to demolish the dam at Nova Kakhovka. This would drain the Dneiper River reservoir making the Dneiper an impassable obstacle. On the flip side, draining the reservoir would put the canal carrying water to most of occupied Crimea out of service.

If those defensive lines are correct, then the flooding from a destroyed dam would flood them and render them useless.

One mysterious move is the Russian Army destroying all the boats on the Dneiper River.

I think Chuck Pfarrer (former SEAL, give him a follow if you use Twitter) is right. Destroying the boats is not to prevent Ukraine from using them; it is to prevent desertion. In addition, those boats would be of use to the Russian Army in supplying its troops.

The partisan and Special Forces activity in Kherson continues.

The temporary bridges used by the Russians to sustain forces on the left bank are under continuous, accurate attack.

If you’ve studied military operations that require evacuating large numbers of forces in contact with the enemy (I’d point to Washington after Second Trenton and the evacuation of Gallipoli), it is obvious that to pull some 30,000 troops and their equipment across two or pontoon bridges that are under rocket attack while holding off an aggressive enemy requires a level of skill, daring and Fingerspitzengefühl that we have not yet witnessed in Russian commanders.


This has led some to claim that Russia intends to hold the right bank and that the highly visible preparation for retreat is a head fake to lure the Ukrainians into a hasty assault.

I think the Russians have to fight it out on the right bank because I can’t see how they can hope to move men, tanks, artillery, trucks, etc., across the Dneiper while in close contact with the Ukrainian Army. If the Russians make that decision, I don’t see how they win because the pontoon bridges can’t support the volume of traffic necessary to support the force in contact.

Looking Forward

Last time I said this:

My assessment is that Russia has ceded initiative on the battlefield to Ukraine;  it is concentrating its efforts on fracturing the NATO-led supporting coalition and creating a populist movement in Europe that blames Ukraine for energy prices.

Ukraine has opportunities to attack; the challenge is picking the right battle and having sufficient men and materiel to penetrate the Russian front lines and create breakthroughs at the operational level, as happened in September (Kharkiv) and October (Kherson). Kherson, I think, will largely take care of itself. The majority of the Russian troops are on the right bank of the Dneipr River and dependent on barges, and frequently attacked pontoon bridges for support. Ukraine has nothing to gain from engaging in street-to-street fighting in Kherson when it can wait and force the Russians to abandon the city and countryside.

In Kharkiv, keep an eye on Svatove. A breakthrough there will probably be focused on Starobilsk. If it succeeds, supplying Russian troops south of that point will be very difficult. Finally, look for something big to happen in Zaporizhzhia on the axis Orikhiv-Tokmak-Melitopol.

I think that still holds. But, somewhere in Kherson today, this happened.



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