Here we are, thirteen months into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I think it is safe to say that the Russian Winter Offensive has petered out. The Russians seemed to have tried to attack on three different axes and, as a result, could not muster the combat power necessary to succeed anywhere. This is much the same problem the Russians created for themselves in the original invasion plan. On the Ukrainian side, pieces are falling into place on paper. Poland and Slovakia will transfer 40 MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. For the history on that, read Biden Junta Duplicity Revealed After Poland Declares MiGs for Ukraine Are Ready to Go and Did Blinken Put Poland Outside NATO Protection if It Transfers New Fighter Aircraft to Ukraine? Ukrainian Patriot crews are finishing their training, and those systems should be in operation within the month. Ukrainian battalions are finishing their training on Marder, Bradley, and CV-90. Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 crews are also completing their training.
Here are links to my most recent updates.
Many more are available at this link.
Putin Indicted for War Crimes
Friday, the International Criminal Court indicted Vladimir Putin for a war crime. They held him personally responsible for the deportation and forced adoption of over 10,000 Ukrainian children. While the odds of seeing Putin in leg irons and an orange jumpsuit are slim, though the thought is amusing, Putin having an ICC indictment will make any negotiated settlement very difficult. YMMV on how you feel about that. For details, read International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Vladimir Putin.
China’s Xi Meets Russia’s Putin
China’s President-for-Life Xi Jinping and Russia’s President-for-Life Vladimir Putin met face-to-face Tuesday.
Official negotiations between putin and Xi Jinping have begun in the Kremlin. pic.twitter.com/KCJb42kEK0
— Maria Drutska 🇺🇦 (@maria_drutska) March 21, 2023
No major announcement of Chinese aid came out of the meeting. Instead, the agreements signed covered generic topics. Notably, China did not pledge military assistance to Russia.
This image captures the subtext (you have to love PhotoShop).
PUTIN 🇷🇺- XI 🇨🇳 MEETING
Putin attempting to persuade Xi. pic.twitter.com/yHbT9wOiXq
— Jason Jay Smart (@officejjsmart) March 20, 2023
Xi represents an arguably ascendant superpower. On the other hand, Putin presides over a nation in economic and social decline and desperately needs military assistance from China.
Zelensky Visits Bakhmut…Again
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the front lines near Bakhmut.
Together with President @ZelenskyyUa and the team visited Bakhmut frontline today. It is a great honor for me to be here, next to our heroic warriors 🇺🇦.
The President awarded military. Briefed of the current situation. Bakhmut is standing. Defense forces hold the city. pic.twitter.com/38yN3GWTWJ
— Andriy Yermak (@AndriyYermak) March 22, 2023
This is his second visit to this meatgrinder (Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War). This visit is very significant as it links his personal credibility with his demand that the Ukrainian military hold the city (Putin’s War, Week 55. Russia Drops US Recon Drone, Ukraine Suffers From ‘Loose Lips’ as It Doubles Down on Bakhmut).
Zelensky’s visit points to three conclusions about the fighting there. First, he’s confident of the loyalty of his military command and their ability to keep the operation secret. This is a far cry from the Ukrainian command structure in February 2022, which was rotten with Russian sympathizers and hirelings. Second, the Russian intelligence capability can’t keep track of the movements of Ukraine’s president, even when he’s on the front lines. Third, the Ukrainians seem very confident that Russia’s ability to take Bakhmut and control movement around it is on the wane.
Putin Visits Ukraine and Brings His Own Random Citizens
While President Zelensky was at the front in Bakhmut, Putin paid a visit to occupied and illegally annexed Crimea.
A visibly limping Putin arrived in occupied Crimea
Russian sources report Putin's visit to Sevastopol to «celebrate» the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea
Which, by the way, will be one of the items on Putin's list of accusations at The Hague Court. pic.twitter.com/XPJDGqvT9e
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) March 18, 2023
The fact that the same people show up in the crowd is to be expected. The Sun has a good story on how the same handful of “faces in the crowd” is in every crowd scene involving Putin.
Who'd be surpised?! The "local residents" meeting eith Putin in temporarily occupied Mariupol. As expected, most of them (if not all) are the Federal Protective Service (FSO) officers. pic.twitter.com/V6qE0gy0qo
— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) March 19, 2023
The War on Ukrainian Cities Continues
The Russian military launched a medium-sized attack against Odesa Tuesday night. Ukrainian air defenses went two for two on the Kh-59 cruise missiles and 16 for 21 on Iranian-built suicide drones. There is no word on what systems were used to defend Odesa.
The Ukrainian Air Force says that Russia launched 21 Shahed/ Geran drones last night from Bryansk and two Kh-59 missiles were launched from Russian Su-35S fighters from the Black Sea, which were shot down over Odesa.https://t.co/0u1splBPHWhttps://t.co/G8MFZe9cNH pic.twitter.com/e2ABuhanIO
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 22, 2023
As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the handful of Russian weapons that leak through do a lot of damage. The Tuesday attack was aimed at civilian residential areas and resulted in killed and wounded noncombatants. If the US Patriot air defense systems are pushed far enough forward, they can make Ukraine free and occupied and a swath of the Black Sea a no-fly zone for Russian aircraft. Ultimately, the Ukrainians must target the Russian units launching the missiles to make the attacks stop.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Gives Medal to Drone-Collision Pilot
Last week, the Russian Air Force took down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone on a reconnaissance mission over international waters; see
The Black Sea Drone Incident Doesn’t Mean Escalation Unless the Russians Want It. The pilot was called to Moscow and presented a medal by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He definitely does not have the “Top Gun” vibe about him.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu awarded SU-27 fighter pilot who collided the US MQ-9 Reaper with the Order for Courage pic.twitter.com/hmJXf4H6qN
— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) March 22, 2023
Russia Whings About Ukrainian Tank Ammunition
Over the weekend, the British Defense Ministry said it will transfer depleted uranium (DU) tank ammunition to Ukraine along with the Challenger 2 tanks it is sending.
NEW — Britain supplying depleted uranium rounds to Ukraine
British tanks gifted to Ukraine will come equipped with controversial depleted uranium rounds, it has emerged.https://t.co/y4PriNiZnr
— Declassified UK (@declassifiedUK) March 21, 2023
Russia promptly lost its sh**.
The nuclear conflict is getting closer: Putin and Shoigu commented on the supply of British shells with uranium to Ukraine
Putin: If Britain supplies shells with depleted uranium to Ukraine, the Russian Federation will be forced to react. pic.twitter.com/itUsZBEK83
— ConstanZe 🕊 (@Constanze2022) March 21, 2023
So did Putin’s mini-me, Belarusian oligarch Aleksandr Lukashenko.
CASUAL NUCLEAR CLOUD WARNING: If Britain sends Ukraine depleted uranium ammunition, as it plans to do – then Russia may use ACTUAL uranium weapons – President of Belarus, Lukashenko warns.
For the slow thinkers out there – that means nuclear war. Don't do it, people!… pic.twitter.com/210GW47cIW
— dana (@dana916) March 22, 2023
Just some facts here. Russian tanks carry DU rounds as part of their basic load. It is unimaginable that after a year of warfare, they haven’t been fired or scattered across the landscape after a tank explosion. The key word is “depleted.” Uranium is used because it is extraordinarily dense, and an APFSDS round with a DU long-rod penetrator (that was my nickname back in the day) can easily (put that in quotes) defeat any known armor on the battlefield.
There have been a lot of smokescreens thrown up about cancer risk (if you are in a vehicle hit by one, cancer is a problem you wish you had) and environmental contamination, but the real objection is that DU ammunition works; it especially works on the obsolescent trash the Russians are sending out to occupied Ukraine.
If Russia really wants to protect its tanks, then NSC Spokesman John Kirby has the solution.
Kirby: Depleted Uranium Is "Commonplace Munition," If Russia Is Worried About Their Tanks, Move Them Out Of Ukraine pic.twitter.com/IARMGsZmju
— AlexandruC4 (@AlexandruC4) March 22, 2023
Russian Foreign Ministry Lectures Moldova on Its Language
Last week, Moldova began the process of changing its official language to Romanian rather than “Moldovan.” This is not the big deal it may seem because Moldovan is Romanian and has been used synonymously in government documents since independence in 1991. The Moldovan language was just an accent or dialect of Romanian until the breakup of the Soviet Union and the retreating Soviet empire left behind a stink bomb to prevent Moldova from reuniting with Romania…which is where it belongs. The Russians have used the language issue (as they have in Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus) to create tension between ethnic groups. One of the outcomes of the “civil war” in Moldova is that the Russian-run Potemkin republic of Transnistria writes “Moldovan” in the Cyrillic alphabet, which was very rare until the Soviets imposed it in 1924.
Predictably, the Russians are not happy.
"Romanian foreign minister Bogdan Aurescu said the Moldovan language has never existed & was artificially created during the USSR
Mr Aurescu didn’t always exist either, but he was eventually created. Is it possible to call him an "artificial construct"?
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) March 22, 2023
She also said that "the Moldovan language is older than the Romanian language,” and that the former is now “officially preserved only in Transnistria”
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) March 22, 2023
Historically, this is gibberish, but the actual game here is trying to a) keep Transnistria alive and b) Moldova out of Western Europe.
I’ll call this new because it is new to the theater of operations, but the 1950s vintage T-55 is not new chronologically. Trains carrying T-55s from their storage depots in Russia into Ukraine have been spotted. If they run, they will be a credible assault gun. But, facing a modern tank or Infantry Fighting Vehicle, they are death traps.
— RoINTEL (@RoINTEL) March 22, 2023
An enemy bullet hits a Ukrainian soldier from the 71 Separate Jaeger Brigade in the head while clearing trenches but his helmet saves him and the hero continues clearing.
Glory to the heroes 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/siUBetdGat
— International Observers Ukraine (@INTobservers) March 17, 2023
I think the consensus is developing that the Russian attempt to take Bakhmut is in its final stages. The number of Russian attacks is down, as is the number of artillery rounds fired. It may have succeeded in forcing Ukraine to commit reserves it would have liked to hold back for its own offensive to save the city. As I’ve said many times, in my view, the best move for the Ukrainians was to abandon Bakhmut for more defensible ground. Once the fight had gone on for months, it created a logic of its own where holding Bakhmut became important just because it was thought to be important.
I’m usually hesitant to run items like this, but this one seems significant.
Another Russian source says the Ukrainian aviation was active during the recent fighting in Zaporizhzia Oblast. Interesting that spetsnaz units are used to defend Russian lines.https://t.co/GqsIDcZ7Up pic.twitter.com/wrkewCH8h4
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 22, 2023
If Ukrainian aviation was active in this area, it implies a shortage of Russian air defense assets. As this is the area of operations that I think is most likely the focal point of a Ukrainian spring offensive, it indicates the Ukrainians have devoted time and energy to making the operational environment more permissive. Using Spetsnaz troops in the front lines is not a good use of trained troops. I’ve never encountered anyone in the SOF community who regarded Spetsnaz goons as particularly elite, but compared with the mobiks comprising most of the Russian Army, they are a lot better. This use of the best manpower for pedestrian and high-attrition tasks mirrors the use of VDV, Russian airborne troops, on the frontlines in Bakhmut.
Sevastopol Naval Base Hit Again
Tuesday night, the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in occupied Crimea was hit by another drone attack from the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Footage showing the successful kinetic strikes in Sevastopol from this morning.
— WhereisRussiaToday (@WhereisRussia) March 22, 2023
It is reported that at night Sevastopol, Crimea was attacked by air drones and sea drones. pic.twitter.com/orem30XAqp
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) March 22, 2023
This is not the first time a drone attack has hit this naval facility; see Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport.
Ukrainian Special Operations Target Russian Cruise Missiles En Route
On Saturday, a huge explosion rocked the Russian rail terminal in Dzhankoi, occupied Crimea.
The relative large attack of Dzhankoi in Russian-occupied Crimea clearly involves some “moped” drones. The noise quite obvious.
— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) March 20, 2023
According to reports, the target was a Russian freight train carrying a resupply of 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles to the Black Sea Fleet. These have been the mainstay of Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian cities and the power grid. The attack was attributed to Ukrainian SOF using suicide drones, like the US Switchblade.
Russia Seeks Contractors to Build Crimea Fortifications
According to several reports, Russia is constructing fortified belts across the Crimea Peninsula and is looking for civilian contractors.
Interesting thread on Russian fortifications construction which does involve a large number of civilian contractors.
Ads are out for work in northern Crimea. https://t.co/FAe19iqGQw
— The Lookout (@The_Lookout_N) March 20, 2023
I’m including this map to give an idea of why a Ukrainian recapture of Crimea is not all that improbable and why fortifications don’t make a lot of difference.
All supplies and personnel coming into Crimea must come across the Kerch Strait Bridge from Russia (Tama-to-Bagerovo on the map) or come from Russia through Donbas to Solone Ozero (misspelled on this map). Severing one of those lines makes holding Crimea very difficult. Cutting them both makes Russia retaining the territory impossible. Any article you read that claims a Ukrainian attack on Crimea would require an amphibious assault or a massive attack is written by a cretin.
Dzhankoy was chosen for the attack not by chance – all railway branches of Crimea converge there
Disabling this node will paralyze both the supply of the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian Armed Forces in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. pic.twitter.com/HMcQmF9rHa
— Feher_Junior (@Feher_Junior) March 20, 2023
Russian Partisans Claim Responsibility for FSB HQ Attack
Last update, I covered a fire at the FSB headquarters in Rostov-on-Don responsible for control of the Russia-Ukaine border(see Putin’s War, Week 55. Russia Drops US Recon Drone, Ukraine Suffers From ‘Loose Lips’ as It Doubles Down on Bakhmut). Wednesday, a Russian partisan group called “Black Bridge” stepped forward to claim credit. There is no doubt that pro-Ukraine partisan groups do operate in Russia and Belarus; the degree to which this is an actual claim of responsibility or someone playing the French Resistance and claiming responsibility is up to interpretation.
⚡A Russian partisan group called Chyorny Most (Black Bridge) has claimed responsibility for a fire in an FSB compound in Rostov-on-Don that killed at least four people and injured five others on March 16. https://t.co/8BqsHALctz
— Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (@RFERL) March 22, 2023
The Russian offensive is over; now it is Ukraine’s turn. As I said in the introduction, a lot of pieces are falling into place in favor of Ukraine. New equipment and trained soldiers are about to enter the battlespace in numbers sufficient to make a difference if used en masse.
The question in my mind is whether the Ukrainians can overcome the vestiges of the Soviet top-down command structure — and the parochial flip side that says everyone gets a little bit of the new stuff — and put together a combined arms operation. Or are we going to see singleton Leopards and Challengers doing their own thing with no infantry support? Will an armored attack on the ground follow up artillery and airstrikes? Or will it just be pilots and gun bunnies amusing themselves? See my update from last week for more on this tendency. And if the Ukrainians can pull together a combined arms offensive operation, can they run the logistics necessary to keep it moving instead of being a “one-and-done” affair?
The answers to those questions will decide whether we see this war come to a conclusion on the ground by next winter or if it leads to a cease-fire so both sides can prepare for more war.