We’re less than 60 days away from the first anniversary of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and not a lot of progress is being made on the front lines. But, as I’ve said several times, an absence of progress on the Forward Edge of the Battle Area doesn’t necessarily equate to no progress.
As always, we’ll start with big picture stuff and work our way down.
Russian Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure
In what has become a weekly happening, Russia unleashed a large-scale missile attack aimed at civilian targets in areas that had no relationship to the combat area.
The @KpsZSU reports that on 29 December 69 missiles, including some S-300, and 11 Shahed drones were used in the latest massive attack.
— Mattia Nelles (@mattia_n) December 29, 2022
Despite the high success rate, anything less than a perfect defensive performance results in significant power outages.
⚠️ Confirmed: Metrics show a decline in connectivity in multiple regions of #Ukraine amid a major Russian missile attack impacting energy infrastructure; 69 missiles tracked today, emergency power shutdowns instated per authorities 📉
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) December 29, 2022
As I’ve said before, no historical evidence indicates targeting a civilian population does anything but unify the targeted civilians against their attackers. Practically, this kind of operation will inevitably result in Ukraine targeting the Russian power grid and other targets inside of Russia (Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With). But, unlike Ukraine, Russia will get no help in restoring theirs.
Ukraine Hits Russian Strategic Bomber Base…Again
Three weeks ago, the Ukrainians used so-called “kamikaze” drones to attack two Russian strategic bomber bases deep inside of Russia, see The War in Ukraine Heats up as Drones Attack Russian Airbase Only 100 Miles From Moscow. Christmas night, they made a return visit.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) December 25, 2022
Air alarm sounds in Engels' pic.twitter.com/OwbfAFqUTn
— NOËL 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) December 25, 2022
Engels airbase in Russia was attacked by a drone again last night.
It's a second attack on this airfield in a month. Airfield is located about 700km from 🇺🇦 border.
This means 🇷🇺 air defense systems are not that good – no radars picked up the drone and it wasn't shot down. pic.twitter.com/poi2MR4FA9
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 26, 2022
The Russian Defense Ministry confirms that 3 Russian soldiers were killed in the Ukraine drone strike on the Engels Military Air Base in Saratov, Russia.
Will be interesting to find out exactly how many Russian strategic bombers were destroyed. pic.twitter.com/xQoUK9FKD8
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 26, 2022
For obvious reasons, the Russians aren’t talking about damage to aircraft and facilities. I think there is one metric we can rely upon. The Russian missile attacks on the Ukrainian power grid have been, for the most part, happening on Monday nights. This attack on Engels was on Sunday, and the next Russian missile attack took place Thursday. The same pattern followed the last strike on Engels airbase.
No one is quite sure of what device the Ukrainians are using. After the last attack, there was a lot of talk that it was a modified Soviet-era Tu-141 reconnaissance drone.
DEEP STRIKE: @Euan_MacDonald has posted this video from Russia’s Engels Airbase. Recorded just prior to UKR’s ‘drone' strike, a jet engine can plainly be heard passing. It is increasingly likely that UKR used a modified ex-Soviet Tu-141 reconnaissance drone in this attack. https://t.co/zpxQr0Dr7g
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 5, 2022
Since then, real and imagined experts have had vigorous discussions. This is way outside my area of expertise, but I will make three observations. First, they are effective. Second, the Ukrainians are building or modifying them one at a time. Third, Russian air traffic control really stinks.
Russia Barters for Iranian Missiles
Russia is acquiring suicide drones from Iran, and there have been reports, covered in these updates, that Iran is transferring short-range ballistic missiles to Russia. So the question of how Iran is getting paid has now been answered.
What the hell have russians been buying? Cost of a Su-35 is around $43m (Google tells me). 24 of them are worth $1 Billion. A Shahed-136 drone costs $20K. From what I've read, the biggest number of drones purchased was quoted as about 1500 which is $30m. What's the discrepancy??
— Yngvar (@UXMarksTheSpot) December 25, 2022
The Iranians received these aircraft before frontline Russian Air Force units did. That, in my opinion, tells you what you need to know about how short Russia is in cash and how much they need Iran’s weapons.
I’m Sure It Is All a Coincidence
A new wave of mysterious deaths of Russian high-ranking officials:
24/12: Alexander Buzakov, 66- General Director of military shipyard
25/12: Alexey Maslov, 69- former Commander-in-Chief of Ground Forces of Russia
24/12: Pavel Antonov, 65- one of the richest deputies in Russia pic.twitter.com/CFkLPUOAL2
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) December 26, 2022
If it’s Thursday, another top Russian murderedhttps://t.co/KsOMOx1zpG
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) December 29, 2022
I don’t know if this is a quiet purge or a statistical anomaly, but it is interesting.
German Intelligence Officer Busted for Spying for Russia
German counterintelligence arrested a German signals officer on charges of spying for Russia.
A German intelligence officer held on suspicion of spying for Russia had access to sensitive information about the Ukraine war and knowledge of how it was collected by the U.S. and its allies https://t.co/gVSR4VgGH0
— Bojan Pancevski (@bopanc) December 28, 2022
My gut feeling is after the tenure of Stasi alumna Angela Merkel and now her successor, the communist sympathizer Olaf Scholz that, the German military and intelligence services are probably riddled with Russian and Chinese assets. So I’d expect more of this to happen in the near future.
Ukraine Loses Special Forces Unit
Ukrainian Special Forces have made a solid name for themselves in this war. Unlike video games, in real life, there is no reloading a saved game. Frequently, bad luck plays a role. For example, the SEALs in Operation Red Wings and British SAS team Bravo Two Zero were both compromised by local herdsmen. This team was conducting a reconnaissance in the target area, and someone stepped on a landmine. This brought down security forces on the survivors.
4 Ukrainian soldiers were killed yesterday while on a sabotage mission in Bryansk, Russia.
Their location was exposed after a mine exploded near a high-value Russian target.
They were all carrying explosives with them.
Bohdan, 19 pic.twitter.com/EJgJs7ECDq
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 27, 2022
Today, in the #Bryansk region of #Russia, four fighters of the #Ukraine forces were killed, who were engaged in sabotage activities behind enemy lines.
Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) published videos and photos of those killed (only 2 photos here).
— Boba123 (@Boba12340769066) December 27, 2022
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
I’ve posted quite a bit on the use of drones in Ukraine and the rise of suicide drones. Russia and Ukraine release videos of suicide drone attacks from time to time. This comes from the Ukrainian Army. If your Mom ever nagged you about closing the doors behind you, now you know she was looking into the future.
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) December 27, 2022
A lot of skirmishing and reconnaissance in force by the Ukrainians is taking place around Svatove and Kreminna. These were two critical transportation nodes that nearly fell to the Ukrainians during their counteroffensive in September.
The activity described in this tweet is the same activity that has occurred before any Russian retreat.
Russian occupiers are stealing everything they can from the residents of Kreminna in Luhansk region.
Military command of Russian invasion forces has moved from Kreminna to Rubizhne.
Past reports indicate Ukrainian defenders are in Zhytlivka, Dibrova and the Serebryanka Forest. pic.twitter.com/QIn5Fjpg9N
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) December 26, 2022
I think the Russians will evacuate Kreminna within the next two weeks. My assessment is that if Kreminna falls, Svatove falls shortly afterward.
The struggle around Bakhmut continues though some of the intensity is missing. At Bakhmut, the Wagner Group is doing the lion’s share of the fighting and dying on the Russian side. Last week, one of the Wagner groups released a profanity-laced video blaming the Russian military command for all the problems at the front.
Wagner mercenaries call Russian MoD's Chief of Staff "piece of shit" on camera. "You are a piece of shit ..where are the shells? We have no shells anymore here [at Bahmut]".
Prigozhin says he has "nothing to say about this video", essentially endorsing the attack on Gerassimov. pic.twitter.com/wObdezaHmZ
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) December 26, 2022
Their boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, didn’t discipline them. He congratulated them.
On the same day Wagnerites put out the video calling the MoD’s chief of staff a “faggot” and “the devil”, Prigozhin arrived to Bakhmut to show that he, unlike Gerassimov, is brave and caring. https://t.co/57UoCv8KOz pic.twitter.com/5jtWR3w47P
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) December 26, 2022
Both videos, in my view, underscore a palace power struggle underway. The Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and Russian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov have a strained relationship with Putin right now. Prigozhin seems to be trying to supplant them in terms of influence on Putin.
As I posted in the last update, the Russians are having a problem operating in a hostile information environment. Last week it was a birthday party of a senior officer in Donetsk, Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War. This week it is a command staff meeting.
The AFU hit an army level command post in Kheson region.
RU Officers from the 36th CAA, units: 37th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, 75th Control Brigade, 26th NBC Protection Regiment
— Def Mon (@DefMon3) December 30, 2022
Outside of the long-occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, the areas are riddled with informers and special operations elements. Ukraine not only has a formidable electronic warfare capability, it has access to resources from all of NATO to track cell phone locations. As attrition reduces institutional knowledge, expect to see more reports of headquarters targeted by rockets and artillery.