Putin's War, Week 52. US and China Face off, Prigozhin Goes for the Jugular, Mystery Weapon Strikes, and Happy Anniversary

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool
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Here we are at the first anniversary of Putin’s War, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.


The major trends remain stable. On the combat side, the front lines remain basically the same though villages and terrain features change hands. In my opinion, the Ukrainians have reduced the tempo of their offensive operations and seem focused on stopping Russian gains. Training continues for Ukrainian units in Poland and Germany on the Leopard 2 tank and the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. However, I don’t expect to see any of those in action until the last half of March at the earliest.

Politically, there is a high level of activity.

Warning, there is one graphic battlefield image included in this post. Talk about providing Ukraine with ATACMS missiles and F-16 fighters seems to have moved from the “should we do this” stage to the “how do we make this happen” phase.

Here are links to my most recent updates.

Putin’s War, Week 51. Russia’s Slow-Mo Offensive Gets Underway

Putin’s War, Week 50. The Calm Before the Storm

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

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… 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

Politico-Strategic Level

As I said above, most of the activity over the last week has been at the politico-strategic level. Biden visited Kiev. The State Department officially accused Russia of crimes against humanity, and China may or may not be in the process of sending arms to Russia.

Joe Biden Visits Ukraine

Monday, Joe Biden visited Ukraine. I’m not a Biden fan, but I have to give him credit for making the trip. Unfortunately, I don’t think his obvious physical and mental decrepitude carried the message his handlers had intended. Moreover, given his son’s deep ties to the post-Soviet corruption in Ukraine, I’m not sure his visit was a great look for a country trying to carry out political and economic reforms. My colleague Bonchie has more at Biden Makes ‘Surprise’ Visit to Ukraine, Immediately Sets Off Multiple Controversies.

Russian television isn’t handling it all that well.

US Declares Russia Had Committed “Crimes Against Humanity” in Ukraine

The US has officially charged that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine.


What makes this significant is that unlike war crimes, which are individual offenses, crimes against humanity, by definition, are part of national policy and occur “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” This charge clearly refers to Russia’s targeting Ukrainian cities with missile and artillery attacks, the deportation of Ukrainian civilians (Putin’s War, Week 47. Gerasimov Shakes Up the Russian Army and the Russian Spring Offensive Looms), and the forced adoption of Ukrainian children (Putin’s War, Week 51. Russia’s Slow-Mo Offensive Gets Underway).

This designation does two things. First, it makes the negotiated peace so beloved of Tucker Carlson guests where Russia takes what it wants very difficult because the resolution of this charge will have to be part of any deal. Second, this stench will stick to Russia for years and severely hinder its ability to rejoin the civilized world if, indeed, Russia has ever been a member.

I have more thoughts on the subject at State Department Rightfully and Finally Accuses Russia of Crimes Against Humanity in Ukraine.

US (Lamely) Calls out China for Thinking About Supplying Russia With Lethal Aid

While at the Munich Security Conference, see above, Secretary of State Antony Blinken jousted with China’s representative, Wang Li, over China sending a spy balloon across North America. At the same time, Wang Li whined about us shooting it down. One sideshow to this scuffle was over China possibly supplying Russia with lethal aid. Read that story at US Threatens to Release Intelligence Showing China Considering Involvement in Putin’s War in Ukraine.

Russian Mole Caught Inside Germany’s Intelligence Agency

A Russian mole and his handler were busted by Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The mole, known only as “Carsten L.” in documents, was pointed out by an unidentified Western intelligence agency as the source of a security breach. The Germans reacted by promoting him. His handler, a Russo-German businessman known as “Arthur E.” seems to have to been arrested by the FBI during a trip to the US and agreed to cooperate with them. When he returned to Germany, he was promptly arrested and flipped on his agent. What was this agent inside of the BND tasked to find? The locations of Ukrainian HIMARS units and the deployment of their Iris-T anti-aircraft units. This speaks to the weakness of operational intelligence available to the Russian Army in Ukraine. Using a deep cover operative to obtain tactical intelligence is inept to the point of treasonous. Read the whole story, translated and no paywall, for your convenience.

King Charles Visits Ukrainian Troops

The UK is one of the two training centers for Ukrainian soldiers. Rather than shoving draftees into the line and letting them sink or swim, they go to the UK for an intensive five-week course in basic combat techniques and small unit operations. The trainers come from 1st Battalion Irish Guards, the UK’s Ranger Regiment, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland.

King Charles visited the training and took the time to speak with some of the Ukrainian soldiers. This kind of visit raises the profile of the training program within the British Army.


Slovak Repair Center Crippled by Bureaucracy

Even the best plans can’t defeat the stupidity and obstinance of an entrenched bureaucracy. Repair centers for Ukrainian equipment have been set up in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. This allows damaged equipment to be evacuated out of the warzone, rebuilt and upgraded by skilled civilian contractors and returned to the battle.

There has been a hiccup in Slovakia where some functionaries in the Slovak government have brought the operation to a screeching halt because Slovakia can’t import arms without some special process, and no one is paying import duties on the damaged weapons. This will get sorted out, but the line between bureaucratic arrogance and enemy action is kind of blurry.


Prigozhin’s Fight with the Russian Military Becomes Ugly

This video has appeared on the Wagner Group Telegram channel. It is four Wagner fighters complaining of being out of large-caliber ammunition. If you’ve followed these updates, you know that Wagner is primarily active around the slaughterhouse that is Bakhmut.

Wagner chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin has authenticated the video.

There are lots of points to consider here. We know the ammunition expenditure by Russian artillery in the Bakhmut area is the lowest since that battle began. As I said in my update last week (Putin’s War, Week 51. Russia’s Slow-Mo Offensive Gets Underway), either ammunition is low, or guns are being moved to other areas of operation. Wagner Group has always had a tenuous relationship with the Ministry of Defense. Given the problematic nature of Russian logistics channels, it isn’t hard to imagine a harried Russian Army logistician telling the war criminals in Wagner to FOAD. Prigozhin also has a habit of letting his subordinates excoriate higher level command in the Russian Army (one of his men called a senior Russian general the Russian equivalent of a “faggot” on a video, and Prigozhin defended him — see Putin’s War, Week 44. Drones Strike Russian Strategic Bomber Base…Again…and Prigozhin Makes His Move).

No matter the reason, this is not a good look.

And Prigozhin has escalated the fight.


If that wasn’t bad enough, Prigozhin has publicly blamed the Russian high command for the deaths of his soldiers in rather graphic terms.

The unblurred image looks like this.

There has been pushback from the Russian high command and some pro-Russian milbloggers that Wagner Group gets the same artillery allocation as everyone else. Prigozhin, naturally, pushbacked against the pushback.

The politics of this are intriguing. In the USSR, the three pillars of the government were the KGB, the Party, and the Red Army. They all ensured that no one pillar became too important. Since the demise of the USSR, the Party has disappeared. The KGB, broken into the FSB (domestic) and SVR (foreign) services, have been discredited. In particular, the FSB (150 FSB Foreign Intelligence Agents and Putin’s Domestic Policy Advisor Purged for Ukraine Fiasco and Trouble in Paradise: Putin Arrests Senior FSB Officers Over Ukraine Fiasco) is blamed for the Ukraine fiasco because it has intelligence responsibility for former Soviet republics. The Army has been revealed to be a clown show. It looks like Prigozhin is trying to move Wagner Group, and himself, into the vacuum.

What is certain is that Prigozhin doesn’t have a suicide fantasy, and whoever is backing him is comfortable taking on the military hierarchy head-on in a public pie-fight. Is his backer Putin? Or someone else?

If I were Prigozhin, I’d stay away from windows in tall buildings — Defenestration ‘Suicides’ up Under Vladimir Putin—Coincidence or Something Else?

Russia May Be Losing Its Battle to Cripple Ukraine’s Electrical Grid

For months, Russia has been targeting Ukraine’s electrical grid. While it has some military benefits, how it is carried out indicates that the real target is Ukraine’s civilian population. Russian television commentators have said as much. However, thanks to improved air defenses and a herculean effort by Europe to replace damaged equipment, it seems like Ukraine may have turned the corner in this fight.

This letter is supported by the decreasing number of missiles Russia is firing at nodes on the electrical grid.

Pause in Russian Attacks on Infrastructure Subside for Now

As I’ve noted before, for about four months, Russia has launched large-scale cruise missile, short-range ballistic missile, and suicide drone attacks on Ukrainian population centers and electrical infrastructure. Given the date’s significance, I was expecting to wake up today to another one. Nothing. We’re now heading into a second week without a major attack. It may or may not be significant, but it is definitely a respite for the civilians under the gun.

North Korea Sucks Up to Putin

I’ve posted before about North Korea’s growing friendship with Russia. North Korea is making winter uniforms for the Russian Army and supplying it with artillery ammunition from its war stocks. Part of the reason may be North Korea’s desire to create distance between itself and China. Part of the reason is obviously cash.

Prison Camp Brutality Claims the Life of Released Prisoner of War

Oleh Mudrak commanded a battalion of the Azov Regiment during their epic defense of the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol (Mariupol Surrenders to the Russian Army After Epic 82-Day Siege). He was released in a prisoner exchange in November but the subhuman conditions imposed upon Ukrainan prisoners by the Russians had taken their toll. This week he died of a heart attack. This kind of calculated brutality is why an international war crimes tribunal must be convened to investigate the actions of Russian political and military leaders.


Operational Level


New Weapons

Akeron MP Anti-Tank Missile

France has sent the Akeron MP anti-tank missile to Ukraine.

The Akereon MP has a maximum range of about 5,000 meters, or five times that of the Javelin and NLAW, and about 30% greater than the BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) missile used by the US. It can fire in command-guided and fire-and-forget modes. It can also be fired at targets that are laser designated by a third party.

The Akeron MP can be fired from the Swedish CV-90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Putin’s War, Week 48. The Logjam Breaks and the Leopards Are About to Roam the Ukrainian Landscape) that has been sent to Ukraine.

We Don’t Know What It Is, but It Is Awesome

For the past couple of days, Mariupol and other cities far behind Russian lines have been hit by multiple attacks. What makes this so interesting is that the strikes are taking place beyond the range of any known Ukrainian weapon system.

In my post on last month’s Ramstein Contact Group meeting, I mentioned that the US had committed to giving Ukraine a weapon system called the “ground-launched small diameter bomb (GLSDB).” See The Next Ukraine Aid Conference Will Reflect a Change in Western Views on the End Game in Putin’s War.

This system mates the M26 rocket system, designed to carry a weapon system we no longer use but had about a half-million of in storage, with the 250-lb airdropped GBU-39 bomb. It is fired from the M-270 MLRS or the HIMARS, which the Ukrainian Army already operates.


As far as anyone knows, this system has not been fielded. So are we witnessing a test of an experimental system? Or is this a new system developed by the Ukrainian weapons industry?

Combat Operations

The big theme to watch in the coming weeks is what Russian milbloggers call “shell hunger.” That is an acute shortage of artillery ammunition. Anecdotally, the Russians must cut back on routine artillery missions for several days to hoard enough ammunition for an attack. If true, the implications of those are significant. It means the Russian spring offensive will not get any more threatening than it is right now. There are complaints from the Ukrainian Army, too. The difference is that several nations are supplying Ukraine with artillery ammunition. The US is ramping up to produce 70,000 rounds per month and, for the first time since maybe the Korean War, is producing ammunition in civilian facilities as well as Army ammunition plants.

What Ukraine has going in its favor is that dozens of nations are contributing to its ammunition stocks, but Russia is the only source of ammunition production for its artillery.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

Drones Join the War in the Trenches

We’ve talked quite a bit about the use of drones in Putin’s War. This is an interesting video clip that shows a drone with jury-rigged grenade-dropping capability assisting Ukrainian infantry in clearing a Russian field fortification. We should have seen this coming as drones have worked their way down the org chart from high-echelon assets to platoon and even squad-level presence.

Video from the Go-Pro War

The volume of video generated by soldiers and drones in this war is unique in the annals of warfare. There is probably no facet of life in combat that hasn’t been documented. This video is from a Ukrainian soldier, probably around Bakhmut. It gives a flavor for the claustrophobic nature of trench fighting.

Northern Front


The situation remains largely unchanged. Russia continues to try to outflank the fortifications at Bakhmut and force a withdrawal. They are making some progress, but the operational tempo seems to have slackened considerably.

It remains the focus of effort by the Wagner Group.

Southern Front


The center of gravity of the Russian spring offensive seems to be in Zaporizhzhia. Last week, the ill-conceived attack near Vuhledar cost the Russians nearly a battalion. Now it is reported that reinforcements are arriving.


This arrival of Wagner Group troops implies that the battles around Bakhmut may be winding down.

What’s Next?

The evidence indicates that the Russian spring offensive is not going anywhere. In Red Army parlance, the correlation of forces is sliding more in favor of Ukraine. Russia is feeling the first bite of ammunition constraints. By the end of March, trained battalions of Leopard 2 tanks and Bradley IFVs will be in action. The debate on tactical missiles like ATACMS and modern aircraft like the F-16 have been settled in principle. The remaining question is the timing.

I don’t think that any action by China will change the tactical situation on the ground. And unless the conflict between Wagner Group and the Russian Army is the most elaborate troll ever dreamed up, their ability to work together is approaching nil.

I had expected a Ukrainian offensive in northern Donbas. However, while it started about a month ago, it seems to have ended despite the mediocre resistance. I would guess this is a function of Ukraine deciding to simply hold the existing front line and marshall troops and materiel for a single offensive that I still believe will aim at Melitopol.


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