Putin's War, Week 44. Drones Strike Russian Strategic Bomber Base...Again...and Prigozhin Makes His Move

AP Photo/Libkos

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.

Politico-Strategic Level 

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.

Despite the high success rate, anything less than a perfect defensive performance results in significant power outages.

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.


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.


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.

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

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.

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.


Combat Operations 

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.


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.

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.


Their boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, didn’t discipline them. He congratulated them.

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.


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.




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