Putin’s War in Ukraine is entering its 47th week. The progress on the ground, for either side, is measured in yards and buckets of blood. Both sides fought themselves to a standstill during the fall fighting that saw Russia lose most of its gains from the initial days of its invasion. Now they are getting ready for the next round. What I hope to do with this update is bring to your attention a lot of things missed by our mainstream press and try, based on my experience, to put them into context. For reference, these are some of my previous updates.
Many more are available at this link.
Gerasimov in the Hot Seat
Last week I posted on the command shakeup in the Russian Army in Ukraine. The former theater commander, Sergei Surovikin, was demoted to serve as one of a triumvirate of deputies to the new commander Valery Gerasimov. This is the second time that Gerasimov has been put in charge of the war, and he’s shown a survival instinct and Teflon coating that would make the sleaziest politician jealous. However, that may be coming to an end.
Ukraine's military intelligence reports that Putin tasked Gerasimov with the occupation of the entirety of Donbas by March. Which makes this the second March in a row by which Ukrainian territories should have been occupied
— UkraineWorld (@ukraine_world) January 16, 2023
What we don’t know is how accurate this statement is. It comports with what we are hearing on Russian Telegram that Russia plans on a major offensive in March. It could also be leaked by Gerasimov’s enemies because the chance of Russia occupying the geographical borders of Donbas is nil.
According to reports, Gerasimov has come out of the chute like a Slavic Patton.
Or, an out-of-touch, micromanaging squad leader, YMMV.
General #Gerasimov issued orders to the entire Russian army:
1) Phones & tablets banned. Soldiers complain this will prohibit use of drones.
2) Non-army vehicles banned. Civilian vehicles have been used because of vehicle shortage.
3) Beards banned. Everyone must be clean-shaven. pic.twitter.com/eddmSwrLcd
— Igor Sushko (@igorsushko) January 17, 2023
Nearly all drones in both armies are civilian specs and require a cell phone or tablet to operate. He’s obviously going to have to walk back his order on that issue, and walking back your orders is not helpful when you’re taking over a wounded, non-performing outfit like the Russian Army in Ukraine.
A Russian Spring Offensive?
Russian Telegram accounts are ablaze, predicting that Russia will launch an all-in end the war offensive in March. This has been echoed in some of the stories about Gerasimov taking the reins in Ukraine. The online account is that Russia has clandestinely mobilized over 500,000 soldiers, and in March, Ukraine will be caught in a hammer-and-anvil attack. The Ukrainian Army will be frozen in place by an offensive in Donbas as the strike force slices in from Belarus and cuts Ukraine’s lines of communication with Poland.
This may very well be the plan. In fact, we could very well see the war expand to include Belarus; this is something I’ve posted about on several occasions (see Belarus Prepares to Join Russia’s Unprovoked Assault on Ukraine and Belarus Withdraws Ambassador as Ukraine Warns of Impending Attack From Belarus, for instance). Only a month ago, Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid an unprecedented joint visit to Minsk, the most likely purpose of which was to convince Belarus thug Aleksandr Lukashenko to open a second front (Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War). But, as Mike Tyson says, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” In this case, the fist will belong to “Reality.”
If you want to read more on the alleged Russian plan to end the war, you can find it in the thread below.
This is alarmist messaging and generally an irresponsible thing to just put out there.
The numbers and assessment on the Russian forces in Belarus is off.
— George Barros (@georgewbarros) January 17, 2023
I’m agnostic on the ability of Russia to raise a half-million-man army in secrecy. I do not think Russia can clothe, train, equip, form into units, and effectively employ that number of men when they’ve demonstrated their inability to do so with a fraction of that number. Moreover, as the HIMARS strikes on Russian troop concentrations show Russia’s ability to mass those troops before any offensive is problematic.
Ramstein Summit Marks a Watershed in Western Aid
Back in April, 40 donor nations pledged to meet at the US-leased facility at Ramstein Airbase in Germany to coordinate aid to Ukraine. This was the hint that the West was serious about supporting Ukraine’s struggle for independence (see 40 Nations Meet at Ramstein to Coordinate Ukraine Aid and Further Integrate Ukraine Into NATO). The January meeting, scheduled for January 20, promises to be big because it is the first meeting where the equipment is victory-oriented, not just don’t-lose-the-war-oriented. See my preview of tomorrow’s meeting at The Next Ukraine Aid Conference Will Reflect a Change in Western Views on the End Game in Putin’s War.
8th Ramstein summit next Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. Marked change from 7th last Nov.
🇬🇧 Chieftan tanks, 🇫🇷 AMX 10-RC, 🇩🇪 Marders, 🇺🇸 Bradley. 🇫🇮, 🇵🇱 desire to send Leopards. Patriots already.
Moscow can’t ignore magnitude strategic impact shift vs. zek deaths for 1 small town. https://t.co/NmNQ7WoaG9
— Leo Strauss – also on the usual other places (@DrLeoStrauss) January 13, 2023
US Army Begins Maneuver Training for Ukrainian Units
The US Army is beginning intensive training of Ukrainian forces in combined arms operations. This has been previously announced, but now it is officially happening.
General Milley arrives in Germany to observe U.S. combined arms training for 500 Ukrainian troops as the U.S. begins expanded training of Ukrainian forces for large-scale combat. https://t.co/qD6OUTnhxn
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) January 16, 2023
This is the critical step in ending the war. Video after video shows that the Ukrainian Army has elan and personal bravery out the wazoo (see my last update for an example). What it lacks is the ability to orchestrate indirect fires with infantry, armor, and other supporting arms. So a tank, to use last week’s post as an example, penetrates a Russian trench line. Alone, with no artillery or mortar support. There is no infantry available to follow up on that success. There is no armor reserve available to enlarge the penetration.
Britain Donates Challenger 2 Tanks
The UK’s Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace formally announced that Britain would provide Ukraine with one squadron — or 14 — Challenger 2 tanks along with other equipment.
In December I told the House that I was “developing options” to respond to Russia’s continued aggression in a “calibrated and determined manner”. Today I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success.
- A squadron of Challenger 2 tanks with armoured recovery and repair vehicles.
- We will donate AS90 guns to Ukraine. This comprises a battery of eight guns at high readiness and two further batteries at varying states of readiness. This donation will not impact our existing AS90 commitment to Estonia.
- Hundreds more armoured and protected vehicles will also be sent including Bulldog.
- A manoeuvre support package, including minefield breaching and bridging capabilities worth £28 million.
- Dozens more uncrewed aerial systems worth £20 million to support Ukrainian artillery.
- Another 100,000 artillery rounds; on top of the 100,000 rounds already delivered.
- Hundreds more sophisticated missiles including GMLRS rockets, Starstreak air defence missiles, and medium range air defence missiles.
- An equipment support package of spares to refurbish up to a hundred Ukrainian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.
This announcement was important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it breaks the logjam created by the German policy of refusing to allow any nation to transfer Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless someone else went first. The “someone else” roster was limited to the US, UK, and France. The UK’s Challenger 2 was the best candidate. Now there is more pressure on Berlin to stop
cockblocking obstructing everyone else, and get with the program.
Some have scoffed at the transfer of 14 tanks, but they will allow the Ukrainians to learn how we fight and maintain them. Combined with the Bradley battalion starting training in Germany, they will make a mechanized infantry task force that will be the premier striking force in the war zone. We can count on more Challengers being on the way.
Wagner Deserter Asks for Political Asylum
The war in Ukraine has raised the profile of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group PMC to stratospheric heights. It is doing all the heavy lifting in the Bakhmut meatgrinder and is making the only territorial gains.
A man identified as a “Wagner commander,” Andrei Medvedev, has asked for political asylum in Norway. He seems to have been the commander of the late lamented Evgeny Nuzhin, who was executed by sledgehammer for deserting to the Ukrainians who traded him back in a prisoner of war exchange; see Putin’s War, Week 38. The Lines Clarify and Everyone Is Getting Ready for the Next Phase.
“There was a risk they would grab me and kill me, shoot me or do something worse — death by sledgehammer.”
A man who says he defected from Russian paramilitary group Wagner has dramatically fled to Norway – and offered to testify in a war crimes trial.https://t.co/j2JJ7VGzbe
— max seddon (@maxseddon) January 16, 2023
Medvedev, according to reports, is offering to testify to war crimes investigators. How all this came to pass is anyone’s guess. If he’s real, Medvedev obviously has a lot of clout to get out of combat and travel abroad. If he is legit, what he has to say is not going to aid his old boss in the power struggle underway in the Kremlin, which may explain how he ended up in Norway.
Serbian President Leaves the Russian Reservation
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has been Putin’s most loyal catchfart in Europe, even beyond Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholtz. Vucic has actively promoted Russian talking points and seems to be an adherent to Putin’s pre-1914 dream of “pan-Slavism.” So when he says something entirely at odds with Putin, you have to sit up and take notice.
“We, from the very beginning, said that we were not able and we could not support Russia’s invasion against Ukraine,” Vucic said at his residence in the Serbian capital. “For us, Crimea is Ukraine, Donbas is Ukraine — and it’ll remain so.” https://t.co/BSreN5qmqr
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) January 18, 2023
Disavowing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the “special military operation” will get him stricken from the Kremlin Christmas card list.
It doesn’t stop there.
The untold story of the Wagner Group’s operations in Ukraine is its willingness to kill as many of its troops as necessary to do what Prigozhin wants. Low-end estimates of Wagner Group’s losses in Bakhmut-Soledar exceed 4,000 dead. That would reflect the number of men assigned to all the infantry companies in a US infantry division. Its appetite for manpower is voracious. Some sources claim the Russian prison population has dropped by 25,000 since the autumn due to Wagner’s recruiting drives.
Wagner doesn’t just recruit from Russia. It recruits in the Balkans, particularly Serbia. One of Putin’s very few “out” allies is Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, is demanding that Wagner stop.
"Russia should halt its efforts to recruit Serbs to fight alongside its Wagner paramilitary group in Ukraine, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said."https://t.co/8wOVwiOtnm
— Justin Coleman (@DemopJ) January 17, 2023
His position is very understandable. He doesn’t want young Serbian men raised on a diet of Russian supremacy to end up ground to mush on some Ukrainian battlefield. The real question is, does anyone care?
Russian Missile Attacks Continue
Over the weekend, Russia launched its weekly attack on Ukrainian population centers and infrastructure. It was much smaller than usual; only 38 missiles were fired compared to the 70-100 in the past. Most of them were intercepted.
In total 18 cruise missiles and 7 guided missiles launched from Su-35 fighters over the Black Sea were shot down. In addition, Russia fired 5 X-22 cruise missiles, it was one of them that hit a multi-story building in Dnipro. In total, 25 out of 38 missiles were shot down pic.twitter.com/xUXFEME7Wx
— NOËL 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) January 14, 2023
That was cold comfort to those at ground zero of the missiles that were not intercepted. The city of Dnipro was particularly hard hit.
An iconic and tragic footage of the Russian terrorist attack in Dnipro. There are no words! 🇭🇺❤️🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/MIZl1XuuF0
— Dénes Törteli 🇪🇺🇭🇺🇺🇦 (@DenesTorteli) January 16, 2023
The silver lining of this attack was Russian media yukking it up over noncombatants, mostly women and children, being killed in what can only be described as a terror attack. At some point, the Russian government must realize that this behavior does more to solidify Western support for Ukraine than any dozen speeches by President Zelensky.
Russia celebrates yesterday's terrorist attack on the Ukrainian city Dnipro. Give Ukraine what it needs to stop this terrorist state! Tanks, F-16s, ATACMS pic.twitter.com/A8rD6uhvzQ
— Paul Massaro (@apmassaro3) January 15, 2023
As Western air defense systems flow into Ukraine and Russia runs down its stocks of cruise missiles, I fear this is the new normal. Critical infrastructure is an increasingly hard target. When Patriot arrives, cities like Lviv, Kiev, and Odesa will be off-limits to missile strikes. We can look forward to more attacks against mid-sized cities because they can be hit, and pain can be inflicted. I don’t think Russia is trying to destroy civilian morale with the attacks; it is just trying to terrorize the people.
I’m afraid we might see Russia changing its terror bombing tactics.
Attacks upon vital civilian infrastructure in Ukraine are not bringing about the desired effect, so they might start directly targeting large residential blocks, demolishing several houses at a time.
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) January 16, 2023
Deportation of the civilian population is a war crime that sent Nazis to the gallows. In Russia, they call it Tuesday. The Ukrainians are now being hit with the same policy inflicted on the Volga Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles, and Crimea Tatars.
ISW states that Russia has now added systematic ethnic cleansing to its list of genocidal crimes in Ukraine by forcibly resttling 100K Ukrainians to Russia's far East. See paragraph: "Activity in Russian-occupied Areas" #UkraineRussiaWar https://t.co/f46lMlJVd5
— Klaus Eriksen (@Fireblade577) January 13, 2023
More Decoupling from Russia
As I’ve repeatedly noted, one of the side effects of this invasion is eliminating Russian influence in Ukraine. Since the war started, the number of people speaking Ukrainian as a first language has increased, and a social stigma has attached to speaking Russian. That will not end when the war is over. Ukraine is rediscovering Ukrainian historical figures. Historical trade routes that ran through Russia have been severed by war but reconstructed going west. There hasn’t been train service between Romania and Ukraine for nearly 20 years.
Maramures express: Ukraine launches first train to Romania after 17-year pause
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 18, 2023
When this war ends, Russia will have created a Westward looking Ukraine that wants nothing to do with Russia or Russians. Winning.
Kremlin Allows Dissenting Voices on Propaganda Network
This show on the “TV Center” television channel, Russia’s number four network, is interesting because it labels the “special military operation” a failure.
Wow. I can’t believe the Kremlin allowed this to be broadcast. How do you explain it? https://t.co/fFLMSdQrD6
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) January 17, 2023
This isn’t news to sane people, but it might be an eye-opener to the Rusbots, who believe everything is going according to the Master Strategist Putin’s master plan.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t read a whole lot into it. For propaganda to be effective, it must be somewhat anchored in reality. Claiming that all military objectives are being achieved when they obviously aren’t damages the ability of the Kremlin to shape public opinion. This kind of discussion gives the illusion the Putin regime is being truthful. The quote below is from Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy (Brookings Institute).
Criticizing bureaucrats for inefficiency is fine, but don’t try to make a case for ending the war. It won’t work out well for you.
Russia Solves Its Defense Labor Shortage
Like the West, Russia has been struggling with a shortage of labor to work in defense factories. I’m not sure how well this will work out, but it is a stark admission that a problem exists.
UK INTEL/ RUSSIAN INDUSTRY: With volunteer workers in short supply, RU will use convict labor to meet tank production quotas. In 2017, Putin re-introduced ‘hard labor’ as a specific criminal punishment. Russia’s 400,000 prisoners are now seen as a human ‘resource’. pic.twitter.com/QE33eoXRlf
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) January 14, 2023
Russia Provides 0% of Germany’s Natural Gas
What many pro-Russian commenters said could never happen has, in fact, happened.
— Simon Kuestenmacher (@simongerman600) January 15, 2023
The Monthly “Putin is Retiring/Putin is Terminally Ill” Rumor
The answer to any of the “he’s retiring” rumors is, “where is he going to go and what is he going to do?”
“Putin is flustered by the rise of Yevgeny Prigozhin, an owner of the Wagner mercenaries”
“Putin's whole apparatus is scared Prigozhin will come after them,” adding "Putin might not be reelected… He would fake the outcome, but it’s a risk to the system”https://t.co/crUvCs9Zyp
— Jason Jay Smart (@officejjsmart) January 15, 2023
There isn’t much to report regarding real estate changing hands. The war seems to be at a halt as both sides are more occupied with training and equipping their forces than fighting.
There was a bit of panic when the Russians canceled a planned prisoner swap.
Russia's last minute cancellation of the prisoner exchange deals a blow to the only consistent area of diplomacy with Ukraine
It also coincided with Russia's strikes on Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv
— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) January 14, 2023
Then the story broke that a large-scale swap was being planned.
Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets and his Russian counterpart are working on a major POWs swap involving 1000 people. Turkish government offering to mediate and establish a humanitarian corridor in Istanbul for POWs exchanges. https://t.co/miBTZB2Uw6
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) January 16, 2023
I’m not sure how to read what is going on with the prisoner swaps. The Russians haven’t had any reticence about killing Ukrainian civilians or prisoners of war. No one here is doing something for nothing; otherwise, this one aspect of Ukraine-Russia diplomacy wouldn’t continue, particularly because the exchange of prisoners is a sore point with Putin’s most dedicated supporters.
Black Sea Fleet Surge Explained
In the last update, I posted about the unexplained surge of the Black Sea Fleet from its homeport of Novorossiysk. The UK Ministry of Defense has assessed that it was in response to an intelligence warning of a Ukrainian strike. As Ukraine has hit the Russian Navy in port with sea drones twice, it was not an unfounded fear.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 14 January 2023
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/rplsUvpx6O
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) January 14, 2023
The Ammunition War Continues
Both sides continue to fire artillery ammunition at rates exceeding manufacturing capabilities. My gut feeling is that the Russians are in much worse shape than Ukraine because 2022 vintage artillery rounds are in use; this indicates they have burned through most of their stockpiles. Russia also has to choose how much ammonia feedstock it devotes to fertilizer, which is not a sanctioned export, and how much to commit to ammunition. This is not to say things are not tight for Ukraine and its allies. US ammunition plants are struggling to add production lines and workers. But the reservoirs of 155mm artillery ammunition are deep.
The "Pentagon and the Israelis reached an agreement to move about 300,000 155-millimeter shells [from a stockpile of American ammunition in Israel], Israeli and American officials said." https://t.co/wRo8OAA9xS
— Franz-Stefan Gady (@HoansSolo) January 18, 2023
Drones have become a critical weapon system for both sides. They are versatile and effective and present the defender with a significant problem. They typically require a missile costing in the low six-figure range to bring down a multi-hundred dollar drone. What they have done is give a new lease on life to weapons that are obsolescent, if not outright obsolete. For example, the ZSU-23-2, a twin-barrel 23mm autocannon that entered service as an antiaircraft weapon in 1960, had been relegated to use against ground targets because it doesn’t have radar or automatic aiming. Without those two things, a gun system can’t engage fast movers. But it can cost-effectively engage drones. Here is one in action against a Russian Lancet loitering suicide drone.
— Walter Report 🇺🇦 (@walter_report) January 15, 2023
Prigozhin Visits Wagner Fighters at the Front
I don’t want to turn this into all-Wagner-all-the-time, but Prigozhin is a public relations animal. His reports from the front and lauding the bravery of his men are in stark contrast with the behavior of the Russian command structure.
2/ "I came here to present medals to the guys who took Soledar. This is the man who commanded the capture of Soledar. He liberated it in two weeks. Soledar was clamped in a pincer, then divided into parts.
— ChrisO_wiki (@ChrisO_wiki) January 15, 2023
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
You may have seen this video of a Ukrainian drone jury-rigged to rescue a drone downed behind enemy lines.
Ukrainian drone rescuing another drone out of enemy territory. pic.twitter.com/EcGaTdLis4
— WorldOnAlert (@worldonalert) December 22, 2022
The same skill set that comes up with a rescue plan can also devise something else. The backstory here is that a Russian unit observed by a reconnaissance drone was taken under artillery fire and retreated. The drone operator saw that the Russians had left an encrypted tactical radio behind.
Besides dropping grenades on enemy heads, what else can a soldier do with his quadcopter on the frontline? He can capture enemy digital radios. This is a video of the 54th #Ukrainian Brigade. #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/toqKNHCBSv
— Viktor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) January 17, 2023
Allegedly, this radio was used to eavesdrop on Russian communications and plan countermeasures for Russian operations.
The struggle around Soledar and Bakhmut continues. The Russians have gained some ground, about three miles in the last six weeks, around Soledar in an attempt to outflank Bakhmut from the north; see my previous week’s update for the maps.
This says a great deal about Russia's ability to restore service of the railway half of the Kerch Straits Bridge.
Or, rather, Russia's lack of ability to do so.👇 https://t.co/gW9kGvSIiL
— Trent Telenko (@TrentTelenko) January 12, 2023
I don’t know that Russia has the capability to establish and sustain a Sea Line of Communications between Russia and Mariupol. With Ukraine receiving strike munitions that place Mariupol within rocket artillery, as the tweet says, it speaks to a realization that they may never be able to repair the Kerch Strait Bridge.
Kherson city was in great shape when the Russians retreated. Unfortunately, it is within artillery range of the Russian Army. Earlier in the week, the Russians fired incendiary munitions into the residential areas.
Horrifying footage from Kherson. Russia is using incendiary ammunition pic.twitter.com/gbYy4mnpck
— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) January 18, 2023
I Hate It When That Happens…
This is the kind of story that is easy to make fun of, but it carries a larger message.
In the Russian Army, the commissioned officers, in this case, a platoon commander, are the primary trainers of the soldiers under their command. They are the authority. Ammunition, particularly explosives, needs to be stored safely. The fact that sympathetic detonations followed the initial explosion indicates that this is not the case. Explosives shouldn’t be handled indoors. The takeaway from this incident, assuming it wasn’t a deliberate insider attack like that carried out on 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division headquarters in 2003, is the lack of competence, concern for safety, and discipline needed to make this accident happen.
Russian media report that in the Belgorod region, a platoon commander blew up a grenade at a Russian base, after which a fire started in the building and the ammunition lying in it detonated. Three Russian soldiers died, sixteen were wounded, and eight more are still missing.
— NOËL 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) January 15, 2023
The big news is the new combat vehicles being introduced into the Ukrainian Army along with the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb System that will place all of the combat theater within range of Ukrainian precision fires. My prognosis from last week, and the week before, stands. I’m looking for a winter offensive in the north around Sotove-Kreminna to try to unhinge the Russian right flank. Then, in the spring, look for the newly trained Bradley battalion with Challenger 2 tanks to make an appearance in Zaporizhzhia with the objective of severing the only rail line connecting Russia with Crimea.