Putin's War, Week 49. Waiting for the Russian Offensive.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Politico-Strategic Level

Week 49 of Putin’s War looked a lot like the last six weeks. Both sides have carried out limited operations. The Ukrainians have focused on northern Donbas between the cities of Svatove and Kreminna. The Russians have focused on southern Donbas, particularly the city of Bakhmut. Both sides have made limited gains.


The real action is behind the scenes. Russia is mobilizing men and pushing them into Ukraine. There are rumors that Russia plans a “decisive” offensive in Donbas before April. Ukraine is training thousands of troops in other countries as well as receiving new weaponry and is anticipated to start its offensive in the same time frame.

Be sure to read my last updates.

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

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.

Russian Television Hacked…Again

One of the many areas of underperformance of the Russian military has been cyber operations. Most analysts expected Russia to dominate cyberspace. It hasn’t turned out that way. Ukraine has periodically hacked into Russian television to broadcast statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, among other things. They’ve done it again, and the Russians, who can’t bring themselves to credit the Ukrainians with any abilities, blame the US.

Ukraine’s Arms Industry Produces Artillery

Before the war, Ukraine had a solid domestic arms industry that mostly modified existing Russian crap and produced ammunition. Ukraine’s ammunition production is back online. Now they are starting to crank out domestic 155mm self-propelled howitzers. See Putin’s War, Week 40. Winter Is Coming, and It Is Looking Like Finland in 1939 for more details.


Russian Media Discusses a Way Out of Western Sanctions

I toss these clips in every once in a while to demonstrate that we are not dealing with a functioning society in Russia. Keep in mind everything that is said has the imprimatur of Putin and his inner circle. Here the hosts dispassionately discuss whether Russia should adopt the Cuban, Iranian, or North Korean economic models as it looks more like Venezuela and Zimbabwe every day.

Germany Builds Missile Defense Network for Ukraine

Russian attacks on civilian population centers and infrastructure have been the Kremlin’s calling card in this war. While the attacks on electric and water infrastructure might arguably have a military purpose, the way the Russians have carried out the attacks — that is, away from the line of contact — and the way Russian officials and media figures have boasted that they intended to ensure Ukraine’s civilian population spent the winter very cold and in the dark indicate that the attacks are war crimes.

The West slowly added to Ukraine’s air defense capability until, finally, Patriot missile systems were transferred. This announcement that Germany has undertaken to design and install an integrated air defense network in Ukraine is great news.

Australia Joins the UK’s Training Program

The UK has trained about 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers in basic soldier skills and individual combat tactics at its bases in Britain. Australia is now sending training cadre to assist with the program.

EU Doubles the Number of Ukrainian Soldiers to Receive Training

Most attention is focused on weaponry and money, but the strategic advantage to Ukraine will be superior training. As noted above, the UK runs an aggressive training program, imparting basic combat skills to Ukrainian soldiers. Likewise, the EU is running its own mission, and now it has announced it will double its output.


The US is focusing on training battalion-sized units in combat operations.

All the training takes place outside Ukraine, giving the troops a breather.

Wagner Group Recruits US Veterans

Wagner Group, the mercenary organization/criminal enterprise run by Putin crony Yevgeny Prigozhin has created a high profile for itself in this war and earned a deserved reputation for brutality. Having siphoned off the available prison population in Russia, it is now casting it’s net wider to appeal to disaffected US military veterans.

The over-the-top imagery and script and the voice-over with a Russian accent left me unsure whether it was real or some kind of meta prank. However, the consensus among those who study this stuff is that it is real.

Weapons Repair Facilities in Poland

Every time there is mention of a new weapon system heading to Ukraine, the same people chime in with, “oh, no, that means ‘boots on the ground'” or something like that. The assertion is that the Ukrainians are too dumb to repair vehicles and equipment, so US military personnel must be on the front lines doing maintenance. The Ukrainians have shown a remarkable ability to keep their equipment running, but they are getting help from repair facilities in Poland. I don’t know how “secret” a facility is if the Wall Street Journal is given access, but I’d bet there are more like this, and before the Leopard, Challenger, and Abrams tanks arrive, more such facilities will be built and staffed with local hires and foreign contractors.

Operational Level

Over the last month, the Russians have focused on Southern Donbas and the area around Bakhmut. They have registered small gains there. As I’ve said for the last couple of months, it is unclear what success here brings them. The terrain is a washboard of north-south ridges and streams that lends itself to defense. The difficulty the Russians have in putting together a coherent combat operation indicates that even if the Ukrainians break and run, which is not likely, the Russian gain will be significantly under ten miles.


More on that in a moment. Here is what else is happening.

New Weapons

France is supplying state-of-the-art Ground Master 200 radars to protect Ukrainian facilities and combat forces from Russian drones.

M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles

The M2 Bradley was promised at the last Ramstein conference. Here they are loading onto a commercial roll-on-roll-off ship in Charleston, SC.

They are NOT headed to Ukraine; they are headed to the US maneuver training center at Grafenwoehr, Germany. There they will be married with the troops who will use them. They’ll be trained on the operations and maintenance of the vehicle and how to use them as a fighting force.

First M1 Tank Destroyed in Combat

Just joking. But that is what Russian propagandists are putting out. The image is an Abrams tank in Iraq. It couldn’t be moved, so it was destroyed by friendly fire. The Abrams tank will arrive in Ukraine in the last half of 2023…maybe.

Ukraine Gets Drone Interceptors

The one big lesson this war has delivered is that drones are no longer a toy or something used by higher headquarters. They are needed at every echelon for planning, tactical reconnaissance, and combat missions. The problem facing both sides is developing effective countermeasures. Using a missile costing over $250,000 to knock down a $1,000 drone is not sustainable. So we’ve seen weapons systems on the way out, like the German Gepard, become essential because they use relatively cheap ammunition.

Ukraine is now using a US-made drone interceptor to combat Russian drones.




Combat Operations

The thread below shows control of Ukrainian territory by month. The Russians started the war controlling about 6% of Ukraine. The high water mark was in late summer when Russia controlled nearly a quarter of the country. The autumn offensive knocked that back to 16%, which is where we remain. The Russian gains have been exclusively in the area of operations near Bakhmut in southern Donbas. The 0.1% gain in January has brought Wagner chieftain Prigozhin major headlines, but it has been at least as bloody, in terms of the size of the contending armies, as the First Battle of the Somme…and just about as meaningful.

Northern Front


As I said earlier, the word is that Russia will attempt a “decisive” offensive in Donbas, probably in March. Ukrainian intelligence estimates that there are 320,000 Russian troops in Ukraine. The original Russian invasion force was about 150,000. I’m agnostic on the 320,000 number. That is a lot of Russians to cram into a relatively small space. Given the tenuous ground line of communications from occupied Ukraine to Russia, it is a lot of soldiers to feed and supply. Ukraine has an interest in maximizing the Russian threat in its communications with Western media. I agree the Russians are trying to mass forces and further stipulate that the area of effort will be Donbas.

Yesterday, Kramatorsk, a city in free Donetsk, was hit by a Russian missile strike.


It may be the typical Russian terror attack, or it might be the start of something else.

Credit to LiveUAMap.com for the image.

Let’s assume that the “decisive” offensive has the objective of bringing under Russian control all the land within the boundaries of the annexed oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. This is something that is more of an operational objective than a strategic one. Still, if you are Vladimir Putin and trying to let go of this tar-baby, then this could serve as a “win” that would permit Russia to declare a unilateral cessation of offensive operations along the line of contact and go for the “frozen conflict” solution.

At the lower right side of the map, you can see Bakhmut and the ongoing Russian offensive to outflank that city and force the Ukrainian Army to withdraw. The intensity of the attacks at and around Bakhmut could be because that area is designated as the base of the March offensive.

If the “decisive” offensive was on an axis following the M-03 aimed at Sloviansk and, in the upper left, Liman, it could force a Ukrainian withdrawal from all areas to the west of that line. Hitting Kramatorsk, in that context, could have a purpose. If the city is rubbled, the road and rail lines that could bring reinforcements are blocked. It would still be a war crime, but at least an understandable one.

If there is a Russian offensive in the works, this, in my view, is the logical course of action. My doubts are based on the terrain and the coordination of effort the Russians would have to pull together to make that work remain. Still, if I were a staff officer told to plan an offensive or join one of Wagner Group’s assault battalions, this would be my plan.

At the same time, Ukraine is conducting a series of offensive operations at Svatove-Kreminna; they are along the pink line at the top of the map. These operations, if successful, unhinge the northern flank of Russian forces in Donbas. As a result, the Russians are sending reinforcements there. This, in my view, is one of those operations where the main objective is keeping the enemy off balance, but if things break the right way, you open the gate to a larger victory.

Southern Front


While the Russians are getting their offensive ready, the Ukrainians are doing the same. I hold fast to my belief that the Ukrainian offensive will be focused on Melitopol. If Melitopol falls, the Russians must evacuate all forces to the west because they can no longer be supplied.

Since the destruction of the Kerch Strait bridge, nearly 100% of all supplies for the Russian army have come down the road and rail trunks that pass through Melitopol. As most of Crimea’s potable water comes from the dam at Nova Khakovka, if Melitopol falls, the ability of the Russians to retain control of Crimea becomes problematic.


Russia is doing here what Ukraine is doing in northern Donbas. They have been conducting minor offensive operations between, in the above map, Orkhiv and the Dneiper Reservoir. These attacks force Ukraine to respond, diverting attention from future operations. Unlike the Ukrainians, these spoiling attacks are meaningless even if they succeed because there is nowhere to go.

What’s Next?

My estimate remains unchanged. The Ukrainians will attack in the direction of Melitopol. I think the offensive will take place in March and feature the Bradley IFVs and Leopard tanks now entering Ukrainian service. The Russian offensive may materialize. However, I have my doubts that the Russians can mass the forces needed that the supply dumps to sustain operations within the range of Ukrainian artillery. I do not doubt that we’ll see some kind of a significant attempt coming out of the Bakhmut area, but I don’t see how it gets off the ground and makes significant progress.


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