Putin's War, Week 37. Kherson Liberated and Winter Comes

Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Wow. Week 37 is shaping up to be a stunner. We’re 260 days into the three-day de-Nazification of Ukraine, and even though a lot of us have been predicting how the war in Kherson Oblast, on the right bank of the Dneiper River, ends, I don’t think any of us predicted the rapidity with which it has played out. First: SPOILER ALERT.


I’ll talk more about this later in the operational updates.

Politico-Strategic Level

G20 Meeting

The G20 Summit, a group that includes basically every country with a functioning economy plus Russia, is scheduled to take place in Bali on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. All the members will be represented by heads of government or heads of state — except Russia. Vladimir Putin sent his regrets, and Russia will be represented by its oleaginous Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. I’m sure Putin fans will say he’s just too busy mismanaging the war in Ukraine to attend. I think it means something entirely different. This is a sign that Putin realized the stench of his illegal and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine would overshadow any diplomatic moves he would make. It would definitely result in him being confronted by one or more other G20 leaders on the war and the video flashing around the world. Stripping Russia of its prestige could do something that sanctions have had limited success at — that would be nudging Russia toward negotiating an end to the war.

Ukraine President Zelensky will address the G20 by video.


There are a lot of stories floating around that, behind the scenes, the West and NATO are pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate with Russia. Prime among them is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. This is the same Milley who called his Communist Chinese counterpart during the 2020 election and promised he would let him know in advance if the US intended to attack (HUGE: Mark Milley Pledged to the Chinese to Commit Treason in Order to Undermine Donald Trump) and who got a case of the Hershey squirts over “white rage” (SecDef Austin and JCS Chairman Milley Show They Are Completely Devoted to Critical Race Theory at the Expense of Combat Effectiveness).

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made the case in internal meetings that the Ukrainians have achieved about as much as they could reasonably expect on the battlefield before winter sets in and so they should try to cement their gains at the bargaining table, according to officials informed about the discussions.


Zelensky has laid out his preconditions for peace talks, “One more time: restoration of territorial integrity, respect for the U.N. charter, compensation for all material losses caused by the war, punishment for every war criminal and guarantees that this does not happen again.”

In my view, this is what a just end to the war looks like. A big bite can be taken out of the reparations part by confiscating all property owned by Russian companies and sanctioned Russian individuals and selling it. The “guarantees” portion is critical. In 1994, Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum. This document gave promises to honor Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the USSR. Like another agreement signed by Russia, it was only valid so long as it was advantageous to Russia. Unless we want a peace deal to be a breather between wars, it has to be backed by the promise on the part of other nations to come to Ukraine’s defense if they are invaded again.

The loudest voices for forcing Zelensky to the table are foreign policy pundits; there is no indication that anyone important is leaning in that direction. So long as our support to Ukraine isn’t more than a rounding error in the budget, I don’t think any group in Congress can stop our support.

China Tells Russia That Using Nuclear Weapons Is Not Cool

One of the most offered reasons for letting Russia do whatever the hell it wants to do is “they’ve got nukes.” You hear it on Fox News every time Tucker Carlson invites Douglas MacGregor on to make an ass of himself. It happens whenever academics like John Mearsheimer speak or write. The facts say something different. NATO has openly armed Ukraine, Russia has cried and stomped its little feet, but it has been terrified of attacking NATO arms shipments. Ukraine has repeatedly attacked Sevastopol and bases in Crimea, which is supposed to be part of Russia. All that happened was more whimpering. Ukraine has attacked oil and electric facilities inside of Russia. Nothing. Ukraine shipped grain from Odesa when Russia said it couldn’t. Nothing happened. Ukrainian commandos sabotaged several Russian helicopters on a military base deep inside Russia. Nothing.


Despite its obvious weakness, that hasn’t kept Putin’s minions from threatening the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. That threat is finally off the table.

Why would China do this? Because Russia and China are not allies. Russia is a client state of China. Xi doesn’t care if Putin gets his ass kicked in Ukraine because that outcome does not affect him. In fact, he might even think that is the preferable outcome because it would make Russia more dependent upon China for trade and protection.

So if anyone wants to go off in the comments section again about Russia’s nukes, have at it. Everyone now knows that is a bullsh** argument.

South Korea Sells Ammunition to Ukraine

Last update (Putin’s War, Week 36. Russian Mobilization Ends, Ukrainian Commandos Strike Deep Inside Russia, and What the Heck Is Happening in Kherson?), I reported that Poland was turning to South Korea for tanks and multiple rocket launch systems. The Wall Street Journal reports South Korea is selling artillery ammunition to Ukraine via the United States.

North Korea Makes Winter Uniforms for the Russian Army

We reported earlier on North Korea selling ammunition to Russia (Russia Buying Artillery Ammunition From North Korea Was Not on My Bingo Card). Now North Korea is dressing the Russian Army, too.

Turkey Flexes Its Muscle

A week ago, Russia announced it was ending the Russia-Turkey-EU deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain and seed oils. This was in retaliation for the Ukrainian attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet homeport of Sevastopol (Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport). But, much to everyone’s surprise, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided the convoys would continue under the protection of the Turkish Navy. Putin backed down — Vladimir Putin Rejoins Ukraine Grain Deal After He Finds No One Cared That He Left.


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.

New Weapons

Sweden’s Archer 155mm Self-Propelled Gun

The Archer is a cutting-edge self-propelled gun. Most gun operations are automated, reducing the crew to 2-4. The ammunition is in a carousel. This gun, like the French CAESAR and German Panzerhaubitze 2000, gives Ukraine an enormous qualitative superiority over Russian artillery. They also reduce the number of trained artillerymen needed to operate a gun; this makes the Ukrainian Army more flexible in organization,

Swedish Minröjningsor Mine mine-clearing system.

While not as powerful as the vehicle-borne US M58 MICLIC or Russian UR-58P, see below; the Minröjningsor is man-portable and has a lot of potential in the coming fights to break Russian defensive barriers.

IRIS-T Air Defense System

In early October, I profiled the German IRIS-T air defense system, Putin’s War, Week 31. Mobilization, Annexation, and Russian Forces Routed From New ‘Russian’ City. It has finally been fielded and is proving its worth.

About a month ago, Russia shifted from using its stockpile of precision-guided missiles to hit colorable military targets to hitting civilian infrastructure. If the talkers on Russian television are to be believed, Russia’s goal is to ensure that Ukrainians go through the winter without heat, electricity, or water. However, the new wave of Western air defense systems seems to have turned the tide.


Combat Operations

Donbas and Kharkiv

There has been a lot of bloody but operationally inconsequential fighting in this area. Wagner Group mercenaries continue hammering away a trio of cities, Andiivka, Bakhmut, and Pavlivka. This is a graphic summary of operations.

I’m still at a loss to understand the operational concept driving these attacks.


In my last update (see Putin’s War, Week 36. Russian Mobilization Ends, Ukrainian Commandos Strike Deep Inside Russia, and What the Heck Is Happening in Kherson?) I reported on what seemed to be Russian preparations to abandon some 2,000 square miles of occupied territory on the right bank of the Dneiper River. The possibility became a reality on Tuesday when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on television that Russia would do just that (BREAKING. Russian Army Announces It Will Withdraw From 2,000 Square Miles of Ukrainian Territory).

Credit: Chuck Pfarrer of Indications and Warnings

By this morning, organized Russian resistance had disappeared. Crowds were turning out in Kherson to welcome the return of their lawful government.

This has special significance because Kherson is the only provincial capital captured by the Russians (BREAKING: First Major Ukraine City Falls to the Russian Invaders)…yeah, yeah, I know, the attacks on Kiev and Kharkiv were “feints”…and Kherson is one of the provinces annexed by Russia (see Putin’s Illegal Annexation of Ukrainian Territory Marks the Beginning of a War Without a Perceivable End).

What’s Next


First, let’s discuss what is NOT going to happen. As I said weeks ago, Ukraine had no intention of fighting for Kherson street by street; by the same token, it will not launch an attack across the Dneiper into the teeth of fortified positions. Contrary to what some pro-Russian accounts claim, Ukraine has been very frugal with the lives of its men. This past week, they could’ve launched an attack at any time and hastened the Russian departure. They didn’t. They allowed the Russians to withdraw under artillery fire and carried out a bloodless liberation of territory.

Russia must defend the defensive barriers they’ve constructed on the left bank of the Dneiper in strength. If they don’t and the Ukrainians break the line, the road to Crimea is open. The terrain on the right bank is higher than on the left; this makes any Russian counterattack very unlikely. I would look for this line to be garrisoned by a screening force backed up by a mobile armor reserve and a lot of artillery.

The result is that many Ukrainian units have been freed up for use in some other place.

In my view, the new schwerpunkt, the center of gravity, shifts to Zaporizhzhia and the Orikhiv-Tokmak-Melitopol axis.

The right half of the image is a blow-up of the designated area on the left. The heavy orange lines are railroads. The only major east-west highway is the M-14 that runs from Melitopol to Kherson. Bringing the railroad and highway within range of tube artillery effectively cuts all supplies to the Russian forces to the west, including the entirety of Crimea.

On the Russian side, “winter is coming” is the watchword. I think it is supposed to imply that Russians have some inherent advantage fighting in cold weather, the Russo-Finnish War notwithstanding. As I’ve said before, I don’t think that assumption merits serious consideration. The Ukrainian Army is increasingly motorized. Unlike Russian vehicles, heaters in Western armored vehicles, wheeled and tracked, are really good. Motorized and mechanized forces move with ease cross-country.

Russia is facing a grave shortage of winter clothing; Ukraine is getting winter uniforms and equipment from Canada, Finland, and the US.

The UK-led training effort is hitting its stride and generating combat forces. Ukraine is starting to establish leadership schools to sustain its force.


The 300,000 men mobilized by Putin face a winter of cold and deprivation.

I think those expecting the Ukrainians to cease combat operations during the winter are not thinking things through. Ukraine is coming off major operational wins in Kherson and Kharkiv. Their force is getting stronger. They have to keep up the pressure on the Russian Army because the last thing Ukraine needs is a static “Forever War” that eventually forces them to settle at the cost of their sovereignty and territory.


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