Putin's War, Week 48. The Logjam Breaks and the Leopards Are About to Roam the Ukrainian Landscape

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Here we are at Week 48 of Putin’s War, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Like in the last several weeks, not a lot of ground has been gained or lost. Last Friday, some 40 nations met at the monthly Ramstein Ukraine donor’s conference to discuss aid to that country. The results of that conference was increased support and the transfer of several hundred tactical vehicles to the Ukrainian Army.


Be sure to read my last updates.

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

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

Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War

Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

What Up, Moscow?

In the past few days, anti-aircraft systems have been installed in and around Moscow.

Is the Kremlin trying to impress upon the public that the country is at war? Or is there a deeper meaning (read the whole thread)?

Russia Reaches Stage 4 of the 6 Phases of a Big Project

If you’ve been in any larger business or in the government, you’ve run across the totally facetious, yet totally true Six Stages of a Big Project:

1. Wild enthusiasm
2. Dejected disillusionment
3. Panic, hysteria and overtime
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Promotion of non-participants

There is evidence in that official Russia is solidly in Stage 4 and thundering towards Stage 5.

As we know, Putin will not be the guy left standing when the music stops; it is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

Ukraine Hit By Another Russian Missile Barrage

Overnight, Ukrainian cities were hit by another Russian missile barrage. Some 55 missiles, a mixture of cruise missiles launched by strategic bombers and Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drones targeted infrastructure and seemingly random locations in Ukrainian population centers. This is pretty much in line with the Russian strategy of attempting to terrorize and demoralize the Ukrainian people. Presumably, they are doing this for a strategic purpose, but, being Russians, they may be doing it for sh**s-and-grins.


Ukrainian air defenses are becoming more proficient; in this attack, all of the Shahed drones were shot down. The bar graph below reflects missiles fired vs. missiles shot down. The trend line shows the interception rate.

I see this claim made from time to time.

Even though the Kh-55 is “nuclear-capable,” it also has a conventional warhead. I don’t know why you’d fire a missile with a ballast warhead IF you have a live one. Yes, I know we used concrete bombs during Operation NORTHERN WATCH, but that is because we were trying to avoid civilian casualties. There is no evidence that is much of a concern to the Russians. I’m also not sure how radar can sort out the decoys from the real ones and target the decoys, unless it is just a way of increasing the number of targets. Then I go back to the original point: if you have real warheads, I’d think you’d use them and not worry about decoys.

No matter the decoys or the success rate, each Russian attack comes with a cost.

Wagner Group Saga Continues

The Wagner Group private military corporation, run by “Putin’s Chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin, continues to play an outsized role in Ukraine. Mostly because it is the only element of the Russian military effort that has shown any success. The success has been at a frightful price, but convicts, not mobilized citizens, have paid for it.

Earlier this week, the US government designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization, based on it receiving arms and ammunition from North Korea. As I posted (see Russia’s Wagner Group Mercenaries Designated as a Criminal Organization by the US Government) the main impact of this action will be to make the already problematic cooperation between the Russian Army and the Wagner Group even more interesting.

Ukraine Will Receive Western Tanks

The long-running melodrama starring Germany as Hamlet trying to decide to allow the export of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine finally came to an end. Germany will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to match the 14 Challenger 2 tanks transferred by the UK last week (see Putin’s War, Week 47. Gerasimov Shakes Up the Russian Army and the Russian Spring Offensive Looms). When other contributions are counted, Ukraine will acquire about 200 best-in-class tanks by early summer. Poland has already started training Ukrainian tank crews on the Leopard 2.


As I posted yesterday, see Biden Announces Transfer of 31 Abrams Tanks to Ukraine, far from being “escalation,” the Russians are ignoring the transfer. They are even talking about sending a small number of their own T-14 Armata tanks. These were supposed to be Russia’s answer to modern tanks. Here’s one at a Moscow parade…after it had eaten its own gearbox.

This is the take on the most popular Russian talk show.

Israel Still Hedging Its Bets

Israel has been the sole, Western holdout in supplying arms to Ukraine. As I posted earlier, see Putin’s War, Week 33. Mobilization Muddle, a New Era in Air-to-Air Combat Begins, and Another Lull Before a Storm, several countries have sent HAWK missile batteries to Ukraine. The HAWK is still effective, particularly against cruise missiles, drones, and helicopters, but has been replaced by more modern systems. Israel has quite a few of these systems in storage but refuses to release them for transfer.

Switzerland Comes Through

Switzerland has resolutely refused to allow transfer of Swiss-made weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. This may not sound like much, but the German Gepard anti-aircraft system that has demolished the Russian drone threat, uses Swiss-made 35mm Oerlikon ammunition. Brazil had offered tens of thousands or rounds, but Switzerland forbade the transfer. Now, Switzerland is taking steps to break down that barrier.

Pakistan Sends Ammunition to Ukraine

If Russia can turn to the Third World, in the guise of North Korea, for its ammunition, it is only fair that Ukraine do the same.

Not to be too glib about it, but this is where the war will be won or lost. Just as Ukrainian ammunition expenditures exceed the annual production of the US, Russia is firing a lot more artillery ammunition than it can produce. The difference is that there is more NATO 155mm ammunition in ammo dumps around the world than there is Soviet-era 152mm ammunition. Plus, about 20 different countries are producing ammunition for Ukraine, whereas only Russia is producing ammunition for Russia. When they talk about the “tyranny of mathematics,” this is what they mean.


Sergei Lavrov Rolls Out Another Reason for the War

We started out with the invasion of Ukraine being necessary because it was a hotbed of Nazism ruled by Nazis and drug-addicts…and maybe gay Satanists. Now, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and trotted out a new reason that compelled Putin to launch his 72-hour war in Ukraine. The US and UK were going to build a navy base on the Sea of Azov. Why we or the Brits would want a navy base in a body of water where the right to enter is limited and surrounded by Russia is not explained.

New Body Count Estimates

As a rule, I don’t cover this kind of thing because the data available is not reliable. This week, there was a brief exception to that rule. The Norwegian army estimated that the Russians had lost 180,000 KIA/WIA and the Ukrainians about 100,000 KIA/WIA, along with 30,000 civilians killed.

According to participants, US intelligence gave its own estimate at last Friday’s Ramstein meeting (The Next Ukraine Aid Conference Will Reflect a Change in Western Views on the End Game in Putin’s War):

And the war is nowhere near over.

Operational Level

New Weapons

Russian Unmanned Ground Vehicle

We haven’t seen new Russian  weapons systems before now. Dimitry Rogozin, director general of the Russian aerospace consortium Roscosmos, has announced that Russia will send an unmanned ground vehicle to Ukraine.

Rogozin claims the “Marker” vehicle has an integrated drone and autonomously selects its own route to a destination. There is no word on how many of these are available for the war.

Sweden’s CV-90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle

One of the unexpected items dropped into the donation basket at Ramstein was 50 of Sweden’s CV-90 IFVs. These are incredible vehicles that will equip one Ukrainian battalion.

Sweden also confirmed the donation of 12 Archer 155mm howitzer systems. I previewed that system here Putin’s War, Week 37. Kherson Liberated and Winter Comes.


Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle

Also arriving via the Ramstein donor’s conference is the US Stryker. The Stryker is an awesome vehicle that provides amazing speed and maneuverability. It has several different mission-specific models along with amazing crew protection and potent firepower.

Combat Operations

Russian Fortifications Show Where Russia Thinks the Danger Lies

The Russians have been hard at work for months building fortification belts. This map shows where they think the next attack is coming from.

In the north, in Luhansk, they have fortified the current line of contact. There is very little construction in Donbas despite the intense combat. But in Zaporizhzhia, they are digging like naked mole rats. They are also constructing multiple belts leading into Crimea. As I’ve pointed out for weeks, a successful Ukrainian offensive with Melitopol as its operational objective will force the evacuation of all Russian troops west of the city and will place Crimea in a state of siege.

Northern Front


Soledar-Bakhmut Area

The Russians have scored a tactical success in Donbas. After five months of intense combat, Wagner Group troops have officially gained control of the city.

As you can see, the Russians have made minor gains around Bakhmut.

As I’ve written several times, I don’t see the value of either of these battles beyond the propaganda impact. Both sides have spent an incredible amount of blood and steel, but even if Bakhmut falls, the Ukrainians have another defensive line prepared about five miles to the rear. They will just fall back, and the Russians will get to do it all over again.

Not to make excuses, but I think the Ukrainians are fighting an economy of force battle. They are just holding on and exacting casualties…and suffering their own. The Ukrainians are pulling units out of the line to go to Germany for training — one battalion on US Bradleys, one on German Marders, one on Swedish CV-90, and two battalions on US Strykers. They are sending troops to the UK for basic training.

Svatove-Kreminna Area

In northern Donbas, between Svatove and Kreminna, the Ukrainians have successfully carried out some minor operations that I think are shaping operations. That is, the attacks themselves are focused on objectives that will allow a larger operation to take place. Unlike Soledar-Bakhmut, where a Russian breakthrough to the west has to run perpendicular to streams and ridges, a Ukrainian breakthrough to the east finds flat, open ground. I’ve written about this before. For those interested, the thread below covers why I think it is important to watch this area. I’m not in 100% agreement, but she does understand logistics and why a breakthrough here could make the Russian position in northern Donbas tenuous.


FAFO Chronicles

Anastasia Yelsukova, a reporter for the Russian online “news” outlet Readovka, single-handedly disproved the FAFO theory. She only hit level 5 or 6 on the horizontal axis. Still, she scored a solid 10 on the vertical axis proving the FA to FO relationship is logarithmic, not arithmetic, and implying there are FO levels we’ve never previously contemplated.

Yelsukova was reporting from Soledar when the Wagner Group unit she was with came under artillery fire.

She received immediate medical care.

And state-of-the-art evacuation.

Surgeons were able to save her leg, and she’s back in Russia.

Southern Front


The Nonexistent Russian Offensive

Earlier in the week, Russian Telegram and pro-Russian social media were all aflutter with claims of a Russian offensive oriented on Orikhiv

If true, it would be significant (this guy’s analysis shows he’s a total tool, but that is a different issue). The axis Orikhiv-Tokmak-Melitopo remains, in my view, the war-winning operation for Ukraine. If Melitopol is taken, the only rail line from Crimea to Russia and the highway network from Russia to Crimea are severed. This means all Russian troops to the west of Melitopol are out of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, and replacements. For that reason, a preemptive Russian offensive aimed at Orikhiv would be a plausible and uncharacteristically savvy move by the Russian Army.

It turns out there were some localized attacks that gained some ground but couldn’t hold it.


Partisan operations

Valentina Miamai, a pro-Russian activist before the invasion and a member of the quisling government in Zaporizhzhia, was targeted by an IED. Reports differ on her surviving wounds from the blast.


Raid at Nova Khakovka

Ukrainian commandos carried out a raid on a Russian forward command post at Nova Khakovka.

Most sources agreed the raid was successful. A few Russian Telegram accounts claim the Russians foiled the landing and destroyed the raiding group. No imagery has been posted to substantiate that claim. My view is that if the Russian accounts were correct, we’d have seen evidence of that.

What Next?

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I don’t see any reason to change my forecast from the last several weeks. The weather in Ukraine is still unseasonably warm, making off-road mobility difficult.

I think there will be a winter offensive by Ukraine in the Svatove-Kreminna area with a limited objective. When the new tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles, complete with trained crews, come out of Grafenwoehr in late March, I think we’ll see the focus shift south to Melitopol.


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