Putin's War, Week 53. Zelensky Blows a Big Play, Moscow Dodges a Drone Attack, and Russia's Spring Offensive Fizzles

Putin’s War in Ukraine has been dragging on for over a year now.

Here are links to my most recent updates.

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


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

Anniversary Celebrations

Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of Putin’s short and glorious conquest of Ukraine. The date received recognition across Europe.

The apartment block housing Russian embassy staff was awakened at 4 a.m. by a huge sound system playing air raid sirens and explosions.

The German embassy in Berlin displayed a Russian tank destroyed during the attempted Thunder Run to Kiev. Many of the Russian tanks had the WW II slogan “On to Berlin” painted on the turret. So at least one of them made its destination.


Zelensky Makes an Ass of Himself

On the whole, I think Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has done an extraordinary job as a wartime leader. He put aside the easy way out of catching the first thing headed to Switzerland that February morning a little over a year ago. He has kept his country together politically, economically, and militarily while thrashing the Russians. That said, this week was not a good one for him politically in the United States.

Somehow, Zelensky’s political advisers are misreading the mood in the House and equating the verbal opposition they hear with a political fringe. Part of that is because they read social media where any concern about Ukraine aid is framed as being an opinion only held by “extreme MAGA” Republicans who are loyal to Trump, who is a Russian asset. Astonishingly, no one on his staff told him how this would play with the average American and how his enemies would use it.

I support aid for Ukraine, and this kind of condescending bullsh** makes me want to say, “f*** you, and no, my kids aren’t going fight in Ukraine” (I have two in uniform).

We are helping Ukraine because their success helps stabilize Europe and forwards our national foreign policy. We don’t need to be hectored and lectured about our duty. My colleagues Bochie and Jerry Wilson have thoughts on this, too; see Zelensky Lectures Americans, and You Probably Won’t Like It and Like It or Not, We Have a Stake in the Russia-Ukraine War.

Russian Aircraft Damaged in Belarus

This story is still developing, but this is what is known right now. Saturday, a Russian A-50 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft based at Machulishchi airbase in Belarus was severely damaged or destroyed by an attack of some kind. Causes range from Belarusian partisans or Ukrainian special forces to a Ukrainian drone attack.


Belarus state television dipped into the bag of tricks left over from the USSR to run this broadcast.

This is fairly significant. The A-50 manages airspace in the theater of operations allowing Russian aircraft to respond to Ukrainian sorties and coordinating the missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. Russia has nine of these aircraft. This is the only one supporting Putin’s War. There are many reasons to believe that there are fewer than nine actually operational because the electronics are sanctioned.

The attack is operationally significant and has the psychological impact of impressing upon the Belarusian power structure that their grip on power is not secure.

Putin Stirs Pot in Moldova

“Escalate to de-escalate” is the shorthand for Putin’s nuclear strategy. It means if you find yourself in trouble, you pop a small nuke to show the other side you mean business and try to force a political settlement. It works sort of like Cleavon Little saving the sheriff in Blazing Saddles. I think we’re seeing the political version of that playing out in Moldova. Moldova got the Ukraine treatment from Russia in 1992 when an AstroTurfed “separatist” movement started a civil war, and Russia intervened to protect ethnic Russians and carve out a puppet state called Transnistria.

Russia has been trying to revive the civil war there for months as a way of ratcheting up violence in Eastern Europe to force a larger political settlement that would include Ukraine. Part of that strategy has been to drag Belarus into the war, but that seems to have failed so far.


This will fail, and the crowd’s demographics tell the story. The people are older, they were raised under communism, and many look fondly back at the good old days of the USSR. And there are a significant number of provocateurs in the crowd. This slow-motion coup attempt isn’t going anywhere, and Romania has moved troops to the border in case the Moldovan government needs a hand. Still, it demonstrates how Putin is able to weaponize ethnic Russian populations in any of the nations on Russia’s periphery to cause trouble. Another reason that the Baltic States and Ukraine removing the Russian language from an official status makes a lot of sense.

Russia Hit By Drone Attacks

Ukrainian Drones hit an oil storage facility at Tuapse earlier in the week. Tuapse is near the border with Georgia, across the Black Sea from Ukraine.

Other areas were also hit, and an attack was attempted on Moscow.


Russia Continues Attacks on Ukrainian Infrastructure

The hiatus in major missile attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets and infrastructure continues, but there have been two waves of Iranian Shahed suicide drones launched at those targets. Probably less than 20% of those were able to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses, and because of their smaller warhead, they did much less damage.


The dropoff in attacks and the large-scale replacement of damaged equipment from Western Europe had taken a lot of the stress off the Ukrainian electrical grid.

Operational Level

Prisoner of War Exchange

Prisoner-of-war exchanges remain the only common ground between Ukraine and Russia. This swap of 375 Ukrainians for an undetermined number of Russians is the largest single exchange so far. In most articles, National Guard is used interchangeably with Territorial Defense Forces. If so, these men and women were captured during the first three or four months of the war.

New Weapons

Sweden Provides Tanks

Sweden has agreed to send 10 Swedish versions of the Leopard 2 tank to Ukraine. This brings the total to at least 62 Leopard 2 tanks or two armor battalions.

Training of Leopard 2 crews continues.

New Anti-Aircraft Systems Arrive

In the Week 42 update, I mentioned that Germany was considering sending state-of-the-art close-in air defense systems to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With. They have arrived. These are 35mm cannons that are a generation removed from the Gepard. They make the destruction of drones cost-effective.


Combat Operations

The front lines remain stable. However, there is heavy fighting around Bakhmut and Vuhledar in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, where Putin’s Spring Offensive is supposed to be taking place.

Northern Front


The fight around Bakhmut remains a stalemate, and the information coming out is less than reliable. This map seems to be the best representation of what is happening though you should treat it as more of a narrative than actual fact.

The Russians continue to make slow progress in their attempt to force a withdrawal from Bakhmut. A few days ago, it looked as if a Ukrainian retreat was in the works. Then Zelensky fired the commanding general, and more troops were sent to the area.

I can’t find any information on Major General Moskalyov, and I am just speculating that his relief was linked to the fighting at Bakhmut and the seeming readiness to withdraw. However, I agree that the faster the Ukrainian Army rids itself of senior officers who grew up under the Soviet system, the better.

I believe that both sides would like to stop fighting here and focus on something more productive, but they can’t. Prigozhin has invested his reputation, and quite possibly his life, in succeeding in taking the city. The Ukrainians who have been trying to build an aura of invincibility can’t plausibly explain why they fought for six months to keep this city and suddenly withdrew. Strategically, the city does very little for the Ukrainians and nothing for the Russians. A Russian success in Bakhmut must be followed by a river crossing and an attack up a 300-foot ridge into prepared fortifications.

But egos are involved, and so it goes on.

Southern Front


Putin’s Spring Offensive was launched in the direction of Vuhledar about three weeks ago. The general concept seemed to be to rupture the Ukrainian lines, swing north, outflank Ukrainian fortifications along the Ukraine-Donbas line of contact, and force a general retreat of Ukrainian forces.



That hasn’t worked out all that well.

The Russians remain unable to put together artillery, armor, and infantry into a combined arms attack. This is not to say the Ukrainians can, but they are a lot less bad at it than the Russians. Drone video of this offensive shows repeated, uncoordinated, and unsupported attacks that caused a lot of unnecessary losses of men and equipment.

Rear Areas


There are reports of explosions in Crimea but no reliable information on what caused them. Crimea has been attacked in the past by drones and by pro-Ukraine partisans.

What’s Next?

Training for Ukrainian crews on the Leopard 2 and Bradley is in full swing. If the Ukrainian high command keeps focused on the big picture and waits until all that training is complete, we could see a large offensive operation in late March/April. The thing to watch for is how the Leopards, Challengers, and Bradleys make their first appearance. Will it be as an armored fist? Or will it be in dribs and drabs where their impact will be limited?


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