Putin's War, Week 47. Gerasimov Shakes Up the Russian Army and the Russian Spring Offensive Looms

AP Photo/Libkos

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.


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

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

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

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

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.

 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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

This includes:

  • 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.

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.

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.

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.


That was cold comfort to those at ground zero of the missiles that were not intercepted. The city of Dnipro was particularly hard hit.



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.

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.

Forced Resettlement 

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.

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.

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.


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.

Russia Provides 0% of Germany’s Natural Gas

What many pro-Russian commenters said could never happen has, in fact, happened.

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?”

Operational Level 

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. 

Prisoner Exchanges

There was a bit of panic when the Russians canceled a planned prisoner swap.

Then the story broke that a large-scale swap was being planned.

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.


Combat Operations 

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.

 Anti-Drone Operations

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.

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.

 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.

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.

Allegedly, this radio was used to eavesdrop on Russian communications and plan countermeasures for Russian operations.

Northern Front


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.

Southern Front



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.

Rear Area


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.

What’s next

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. 



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