Putin's War, Week 46. Putin Shakes up the Army Command, Prigozhin Shows How It's Done, and Western Tanks for Ukraine Are on the Way

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It’s that time again. We’re going into Week 46 of the war brought on by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The overarching theme this week is national and international politics. That is not to say nothing is happening on the ground. On the contrary, a lot is happening, just none yielding visible results. In my view, if the ongoing Russian offensive operation in Bakhmut-Soledar were wildly successful, they would only produce about six miles of territorial gain and no avenue for exploitation.


On that cheery note, let’s get started.

Politico-Strategic Level

Christmas Ceasefire

In the last update (Putin’s War, Week 45: Putin Declares a Cease Fire, Zelensky Gets Putin’s Terms for Peace, and if You’re Fighting a War, Leave Your Cell Phone Home), I posted about Putin ordering the Russian Army to observe a 36-hour unilateral–pay attention, Rus-bots–unilateral ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas. The Ukrainians declined to participate, potentially handing Putin a propaganda victory. This played out pretty much as expected. The Russians launched air raids across Ukraine and kicked off a significant offensive effort in Donbas on Christmas Day.

This is why Ukraine and its Western partners would be utter morons to agree to any kind of ceasefire with the Russians that doesn’t involve Russian troops evacuating Ukrainian territory under the protection of UN peacekeepers.

Putin at Christmas

The official video of Putin observing a solitary vigil at the altar doesn’t scream enthusiasm or religious fervor.


As I’ve noted before, the one definitive accomplishment of Putin’s invasion has been to supercharge Ukrainian nationalism. One of the key elements of that has been dismantling the Moscow-owned Ukrainian Orthodox Church in favor of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. One of the more dishonest claims made by Putin’s backers is that the Ukrainian government has outlawed the Orthodox faith in Ukraine. That isn’t true, but the church based in Kiev has achieved the status of the church that represents the Ukrainian people.

Invaders who expect to be met by cheering crowds are frequently disappointed in the outcome.

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) Careens Toward Dissolution

As the USSR collapsed, the Russian ruling clique sought to maintain its world power status by creating a series of Potemkin “international” organizations that did nothing but make Moscow feel like it was important. The last vestiges are the Eurasian Economic Union, a dwarfish version of the EU, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO), a bizarre and dysfunctional copy of NATO where the member states periodically attack one another.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war. Armenia appealed to Moscow for help from the CTSO. Crickets. Azerbaijan overmatches Armenia in every measure of national power, plus Azerbaijan is a close ally of Turkey. If Russia did try to send CTSO aid, it risked bringing the Turks into the conflict with ramifications for the war in Ukraine.

If that wasn’t enough, Russia also has a defense treaty with…Azerbaijan.


Small wonder that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declined to participate in this year’s major CTSO military exercise, “Indestructible Brotherhood.”

Given the lack of military power shown by Russia over the last year in Ukraine and its refusal to aid a CTSO ally under attack, it is easy to see the CTSO members making more substantial plans for their national defense.

New Round of Mobilization Brewing?

Given the structure of Russia’s military that does not include an equivalent to the Reserve forces found in most Western countries, I am deeply skeptical that this will happen in any meaningful way. How this many mobiks can be clothed, fed, housed, armed, trained, and transported is a mystery. I definitely don’t see how they can be converted to combat power in time for a spring offensive.

Contributions to Ukrainian Defense

While the US remains the most significant single contributor to Ukrainian defense, it is helpful to see what other countries are doing. As one might expect, the leaders are those with the most to fear from a Russian victory.

Cyber Warfare

This war has shown that Russia is not the cyber warfare powerhouse it was portrayed as. While capable, the Ukrainians have managed to neutralize Russia’s impact on critical systems and launch their own attacks.

Russian Rail System Under Stress

The Russian Army is designed to operate near rail lines. One of the first signals that the Russian Army’s logistics system was failing was when civilian trucks and other vehicles were commandeered in Russia and shipped to Ukraine.

Now we’re seeing a variation on that theme with rail cars.

If you are a logistician, you may need a nice strong shot of something over 100 proof after seeing how the ordnance is secured for shipping.

Analysis of Russian Talking Points

I thought I’d make this into a bingo card to use in the comments section.

Joking aside, if you are on social media, you realize the success this messaging has had with parts of the American right.

Everyone Is Worried About Ammunition

This is the first week since about October that Ukraine has not faced a large-scale missile attack. Some of it may be due to Russia relocating its strategic bomber fleet to the Far East as a defense against Ukrainian drone attacks. Part of it, probably, is that Russia has run down its cruise missile stockpiles to the point that it doesn’t feel comfortable shooting them just to turn out the lights in some Ukrainian city.

There is also a problem with artillery ammunition.

I’d suspect that the dropoff is due as much to Russian artillery tubes wearing out — US artillery tubes go back to depot maintenance at around 10,000 rounds, and the Russians have been firing about 20,000 rounds daily for about 300 days. Still, the consumption rate, the losses to Ukrainian interdiction strikes, and the transit time from storage facilities in Russia to the front all combine to cause the reduced rate of fire reported.

The Russians are not alone in worrying about this.

The Secretary of the Navy “revised and extended” his remarks later (view thread). Still, he deserves credit for highlighting, in the face of political pressure, the fact that the Department of Defense has, for decades, cut our ability to produce ammunition in favor of multi-billion dollar weapon systems.

The question is which side can prevail in the long run. Last week, I posted about Ukraine bringing its ammunition production back online. US facilities are ramping up production, though not with the alacrity one would have hoped. On the other hand, the Czechs are massively expanding their facilities.

Depot maintenance facilities are being stood up in Poland to refurbish worn-out artillery.

We don’t know what the Russians are doing, but my bet is on the capitalists in a war of production.

Black Sea Fleet Surge

No one is quite sure what to make of the Russian Black Sea Fleet surging from its homeport of Novorossiysk. So, we’ll keep an eye on that in the coming week.

Russia Changes Commanders in Ukraine, part 97

On October 8, General Sergey Surovikin, commander of Russian Aerospace Forces, was named commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine. He oversaw the stabilization of the front, in the wake of Ukraine’s September offensive and the evacuation of Russian troops in Kherson Oblast from the right bank of the Dnieper River.

Surovikin is being demoted and replaced as commander by Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Surovikin, along with Colonel General Oleg Salyukov (formerly Commander-in-Chief of Russian Ground Forces) and Colonel General Alexei Kim (Gerasimov’s deputy on the General Staff), will serve as a troika of deputies to Gerasimov.

No replacement has been announced for Gerasimov, so the assumption is that he will continue as Chief of the General Staff.

This all has a deja vu quality, as Gerasimov was put in charge of operations in Ukraine back in April; see Russian Army in Ukraine Undergoing Major Command Shake-Up, Sources Say. Then, just like now, he was dual-hatted as commander in Ukraine while keeping the powerful post as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

There are a lot of ways to read what is going on, and military competence has nothing to do with any of them. Surovikin had gained the confidence of the Russian Army in Ukraine and had the support of the seemingly influential circle of Russian milbloggers on Telegram. Gerasimov doesn’t. On the other hand, Wagner Group chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin had praised Surovikin and talked smack about Gerasimov and associates.


This is one of the more thoughtful takes on the situation. Take time to read the whole thread.

What is certain is that the rapid changes in command will do nothing to help the Russian Army get better. If military efficiency was the concern, then giving Surovikin a single deputy commander and a chief of staff that he could not fire would have been a better play. I think the thread by Dara Massicot is closer to what is happening. Surovikin and Prigozhin getting along was seen as too much of a threat to the apparatchiks on the General Staff.

The three deputies are ominous in their own right. If we assume that each of the deputies commands a slice of the battlespace, Surovikin will retain command of the South (Kherson and Zaporizhzhia), and Kim will take command of (Donbas and Kharkiv). Salyukov may take the role of actual commander in the theater, leaving Gerasimov in charge in name only. Perhaps Salyukov is slotted to command the inflow of men for the “spring offensive” Russian Telegram keeps talking about. There is another intriguing possibility. The long-awaited second front from Belarus may be on the verge of opening.

Russian equipment has been flowing into Belarus, as have Russian troops. Just three weeks ago, Putin paid a visit to Belarus (Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War). It is widely assumed that Putin tried to convince Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko to open a second front against Ukraine. Salyukov’s appointment may be a signal that will happen.

Is Pentagon playing up the rift between Wagner and Russian Army?

Wagner Group head Prigozhin has made no secret of the fact that he considers the Russian Army command to be less than competent. So, it is hard to see this statement from the Pentagon as anything other than an attempt to sow discord among the Russian High Command, Putin, and Prigozhin.

The Manliness Award Goes To…

Things have been tense on the Ukraine-Belarus border since the invasion. Ukraine has laid extensive minefields, erected obstacle belts, and demolished bridges to make any invasion from Belarus more costly. Apparently, they are also intimidating Belarus border guards.

Operational Level

This was the first iteration of the update where there was a significant merging of Politico-Strategic and Operational activities. Feel free to disagree with how I’ve grouped them.

New Weapons

Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS)

Several updates ago, I featured this weapon system (Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive), and it has finally arrived. This system uses the plentiful Hydra 70mm Folding Fin Aerial Rocket, a standard Vietnam-era weapon, particularly for attack helicopters, mated with a laser guidance system. This is the kind of weapon needed to create a defensive shield from Russian drones–rather than using very cheap rockets–instead of much more expensive MANPADS.

Sea Sparrow

The US Navy RIM-7 Sea Sparrow point defense missiles have been sent to Ukraine to increase its air defense network. The RIM-7 has been around forever and has recently been upgraded to the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM).


What makes this transfer really intriguing is that the missile will be fired from the Russian Buk Transporter, Erector, Launcher, and Radar (TELAR) system already in use by Ukraine. The Poles and Ukrainians, along with Raytheon, have jointly solved the system integration problems. This means there is no need for a training period. The Ukrainians have already adapted the AGM-88 anti-radar missile to be fired from MiG and Sukhoi aircraft.

M109 Paladin

Several allied nations have sent the M109 self-propelled howitzer to Ukraine. This marks the first delivery from the US. As we have hundreds of these parked in depots, it has significant implications for arming Ukraine.

More Patriot Missiles and First-Rate Training

A month ago, the Biden Defense Department announced it was transferring a small number of Patriot anti-missile systems to Ukraine in response to Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities (Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With). Since then, the Germans have also committed to donating a Patriot system.

The US is sending Ukrainian Patriot crewmen to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for training.

Fort Sill is a world-class training facility, and I suspect that, as the use of the Patriot in Ukraine will be its combat debut against a (sorta) peer competitor, they want the Ukrainian crews to be at the top of their game.

Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles

The US announced sending 50 M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) to Ukraine. But they are sending them along with a battalion’s worth of soldiers trained to fight with them.

The Bradley is a beast. It is fast and maneuverable. It has a superb optics/thermal imaging suite. It provides great protection for the dismount element, and the vehicle armaments, a 25mm Bushmaster chaingun, M-240 coaxial machinegun, and two TOW missiles, can kill anything on the battlefield.

The fact that we are training a battalion instead of training Bradley drivers and gunners ensures they will be used the way they should be.

Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Germany has agreed to send an unspecified number of Marder IFVs to Ukraine.

The Marder is not in the same class (IMO) as the Bradley, but it is better than any IFV used by either side in Ukraine.

Tanks, Tanks, Tanks

In a meeting, earlier this week between the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania (the Lublin Triangle), Poland’s President announced that he would transfer a “company” of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. No one is sure if he was referring to a NATO company (14 tanks) or a Russian company (10 tanks), but that is immaterial to the firestorm it set off. Finland immediately agreed to match the Polish contribution. The catch is that Rheinmetall, a German company, manufactures the tanks, and when they were purchased, they came with an End User Certificate (EUC) in which the recipient promises to not sell or transfer the vehicle to a third party without the consent of the country of manufacture. This is to restrict international arms deals.

Germany’s reaction has been a) we haven’t received a request from Poland, so we don’t have anything to say about it, and b) it is illegal for Poland to move on this unless Germany agrees. German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz apparently lives in fear of doing something that will make the Russians mad and cost Germany money. Increasingly, though, I think he holds a weak hand. For one thing, if Poland does the transfer, what options are really open to Germany? Economic sanctions against a fellow EU and NATO member? Refuse to sell weapons to Poland, when Poland is already divesting itself of German military equipment? Carry out a false-flag operation at Gleiwitz and send in the Wehrmacht? Poland transferring the tanks while Germany screams would probably work in Poland’s favor and accelerate the decline of Germany’s political power in the EU. In fact, Scholtz’s own coalition is encouraging approval.


Britain is fairly sure to send a small number of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.

I don’t think the US will send M1 Abrams tanks because they are fuel gluttons, and it isn’t clear that Ukraine could logistically support them.

The Leopard 2 and the Challenger 2 are a generation or more advanced than any tank currently in Ukraine. Combined with the Bradley and Marder and the formidable array of Western tube and rocket artillery systems, they would give Ukraine the offensive punch it has lacked. If Ukraine could put together the LOGPAC capability to sustain an armored offensive, it would completely change the nature of this war.

Combat Operations

Suicide Drones

Suicide drones are commonplace in the Urkaine battlespace. They range from pretty large ones, like the Iranian Shahed-132 favored by Russia, to smallish, loitering suicide drones like the US Switchblade and the Russian Lancet. This is the effect of a Lancet on a Ukrainian tank. “ERA” is “explosive reactive armor.”

Russian Telegram accounts are crowded with video of Lancets attacking Ukrainian equipment, particularly artillery, and claiming destruction. The munitions are deadly against thin-skinned vehicles, but they seem to be much less effective against armored vehicles of all classes.

Don’t Try This at Home

This is a Ukrainian tank storming a Russian trench line.

While I’ll give the tank crew credit for guts, this is not a military operation. A singleton tank has no business careening about the battlefield, sowing havoc. It should be supported by mechanized infantry. With just a little bit of bad luck, someone in the trenches could’ve had one of the crap-ton of anti-tank guided missiles that proliferate the battlefield. When all of this carnage was over, the Russians still held the trench line, and at some point, the Ukrainians will have to do this again. This is why the US Army is training Bradley battalions, not just Bradley crews, has the potential to change the way this war is fought.


The only significant combat news comes from Donbas.

For several months the Russian Army, or I should say the Wagner Group, has been trying to take the fortified city of Bakhmut with no success. In my last update, I featured a video clip by Wagner Group chief Prigozhin saying that Bakhmut would be virtually impossible to take. Since then, Wagner has focused its attacks a few kilometers north in the town of Soledar. Here is a map showing the placement of the cities and a situation report. The base map can be found at the link. Larger versions of the insets can be found below.

The situation is very much in flux. The Russians have claimed Soledar as captured just about every day for a couple of weeks. However, more and more evidence does indicate that Russia now possesses most of that city.

What follows next is not talking down a hard-fought win for Wagner Group. The fall of Soledar doesn’t mean anything more than that. It doesn’t portend a more significant advance. It remains to be seen if Wagner can hold onto the real estate it has gained. I think the significance of the fighting here is political, not tactical. Just to the west of Soledar-Bakhmut is a ridgeline that is already fortified that overlooks a water obstacle. A complete collapse of the Ukrainian Army in this sector will yield about six miles of gain before the Russians have to do it again.


Prigozhin’s Wagner Group fighters did the fighting and dying in Soledar-Bakhmut. Prigozhin visited the front lines here around Christmas and was there while the fighting was going on. He was there for the victory, too.

There is evidence that Prigozhin’s visit to the salt mines was staged, but that is beside the point. He was closer to the front than Gerasimov.

When the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Russian paratroopers were carrying the weight, Prigozhin responded.

(More color commentary on the whole story here and here.)

Keep in mind this all comes as the professional military is flailing about in Ukraine. While none of this, in my view, makes sense if Soledar-Bakhmut is a tactical objective. It makes a great deal of sense if Prigozhin is trying to show Putin that progress can be made with the right leadership…and that leadership is not available in his military. Or, if we want to play multi-dimensional chess, this is Putin and his old crony “Putin’s Chef” teaming up to shame the military into decisive action.

What’s Next?

There is a lot of talk on Russian Telegram channels about a Russian winter offensive. It is difficult to see how the Russians will pull this off, if that is the plan. Training, arming, feeding, and transporting a quarter million conscripts and pushing them into battle under leaders they don’t know is not a task I think the Russian Army is up to. I’m still looking for one Ukrainian offensive over frozen ground (my guess is in northern Luhansk around Svatove), a halt for spring rain and thaw, and then a major drive in April to set the stage to end this war. This will be led by Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 tanks and Bradley IFVs in Zaporizhzhia on an axis from Tokmak to Melitopol.


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