Putin's War, Week 58. All Dressed up and No Place to Go

AP Photo/Libkos

One of the truisms of combat operations is that nothing happens as fast as you want until it starts happening a lot faster than you’d want. I think that is where we find ourselves 407 days into Vladimir Putin’s bold, lightning-quick stroke of strategic derring-do to topple the Kiev government.


The combat remains intense in a couple of places, though even that has backed off from where it was a month ago. Ukraine continues to absorb units formed at training facilities in Germany, Poland, and the UK, which are now outfitted with modern tank and armored vehicles that technically overmatch anything Russia can field.

As we wait for the bell to ring for the next round, enjoy my recent updates on the war.

Putin’s War, Week 57. Waiting for Godot.

Putin’s War, Week 56. Putin Indicted for War Crimes, Xi Visits Moscow, and Sevastopol Attacked for a Third Time

Putin’s War, Week 55. Russia Drops US Recon Drone, Ukraine Suffers From ‘Loose Lips’ as It Doubles Down on Bakhmut

Putin’s War, Week 54. More NordStream Melodrama, Russia Shows Diplomatic Weakness, and the Bakhmut Flipflop

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

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

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

Prominent Prigozhin Ally Assassinated

Pro-Kremlin Telegram personality and ally of Wagner Group chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin, Vladlen Tatarsky, was blown up in a St. Petersburg cafe.

Tatarsky was a frequent visitor to the frontlines and prone to saying the quiet part of Putin’s strategy out loud.

There are a lot of suspects. But, just like in the case of Daria Dugina, the rush to blame Ukraine (Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive) sounds a bit contrived. Ukraine burning down its own sleeper cells to kill people that don’t matter to Ukraine, and maybe not to Russia, has never made sense. A more plausible theory is intramural thuggery between factions of the Russian government.

I think the proper interpretation of this is a warning to Prigozhin that his public feud with the Russian general staff has gone on long enough.

Russian Energy Oligarch Becomes 40th Russian Oligarch to Die Mysteriously Since War Started

Igor Shkurko, deputy general director of the Siberian energy company Yakutskenergo, was found dead in his cell. He was being held on bribery charges. This is entirely normal. If you want the full body count, The Sun has a great infographic on the subject.

Finland Joins NATO

On Tuesday, Finland became an official member of NATO; see Finland Joining NATO Marks a Political and Military Disaster for Russia and Putin. Just four years ago, over 70 percent of Finns opposed joining the North Atlantic Alliance. I wonder what could’ve happened to make them change their minds since then?

Just a flashback to remind you how profoundly stupid (or bought) the pro-Russia social media accounts are.

Senior Russian Commander Dismissed

The Russian commander of all forces in the Eastern Sector has been fired. He was appointed commander in August, and the announcement was made public in February, along with his promotion to colonel-general.

The rumor on Russian Telegram is that the proximate cause was his ill-starred attack on Vuhledar (see Putin’s War, Week 50. The Calm Before the Storm) that cost the Russian military two marine brigades, a battalion of tanks, and three battalions of other vehicles.

I’m all in favor of firing incompetents whenever they poke their heads up. And, if the history of this war is any guide, the Russian military was full of them. That said, there are better techniques than replacing a commander on the eve of an anticipated enemy offensive. Backstop him with a proven deputy commander and chief of staff, for instance, because firing the guy at the top is going to cause a negative impact on the organization until the new guy can impose his will.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Gains Control of Key Religious Sites

One of the big lies pushed by Putin’s fanbois is that the Zelensky government is shutting down the Orthodox Church. The fact is that the Ukrainian government owns the historic churches and religious shrines in that country. The Kremlin-operated Ukrainian Orthodox Church had occupied the sites and used the pulpit to encourage Ukrainians to cooperate with the Russian invaders. Here are Ukrainian Orthodox Chuch priests refusing to allow a Ukrainian soldier to be buried on hallowed ground.

I cover the conflict between the two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and the treason of the Moscow-based one in three of my updates: 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 46. Putin Shakes up the Army Command, Prigozhin Shows How It’s Done, and Western Tanks for Ukraine Are on the Way, and Putin’s War, Week 50. The Calm Before the Storm.


That church, headquartered in Moscow, was effectively banned. However, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headquartered in Kiev has been given the right to occupy those properties.

As I’ve said before, a war initiated by Moscow under the guise of “protecting Russians” in Ukraine has succeeded in making the Russian language and culture radioactive where it once was respected. There is no program initiated by Zelensky’s government that could have been as successful as the plan dreamed up in Moscow.

Putin Gets Dragged on State Television

This is a truly amazing video clip. Media personality Boris Nadeshdin compares Vladimir Putin with a “sinister copy” of Czar Nicholas I.

Now, Putin’s regime is a lot like a hall of mirrors, so you’re never quite sure about what’s going on. Either Putin is using Nadezhdin as a cat’s paw to smoke out dissent, or someone with enough clout to make him bulletproof is backing him.

Putin’s Press Appearance Flops

There is more to the story, though the salient point remains the same. Seventeen new ambassadors had their credentials accepted in this ceremony. Among them are US Ambassador Lynn Tracy and EU Ambassador Roland Gallagher. The ambassadors had to remain 60 feet from Putin due to “sanitary restrictions.” It seems like the “von Stauffenberg table” has been replaced by the “von Stauffenberg greeting.” During his greeting, he berated Tracy and Gallagher for their support of Ukraine.

In the end, Putin pauses, obviously expecting some support for his fevered tongue-lashing of the US and EU ambassadors from lackeys and the other ambassadors. There is dead silence.

None of this is usual for how ambassadors are accepted or how Putin is treated at the end of a speech.

Lithuania Places More Restrictions on Russian Citizens

As I’ve pointed out before, the one thing this war has accomplished is to destroy Russian influence throughout Europe. Russian language media in countries bordering Russia has been shut down. Travel by Russian citizens is difficult, if not impossible. Russian cultural institutions are being squeezed. The use of Russian is declining. This is just another restriction placed on a resident alien population that is perceived to be disloyal.


Operational Level

Everyone is waiting for Ukraine’s offensive. Based on the number and intensity of artillery attacks, there is evidence that both sides are husbanding artillery ammunition and that Ukraine is beginning to increase HIMARS strikes on rear-area Russian troop concentrations, communications centers, and supply dumps.

All of that is plausible, but you know what else was plausible? Operation Fortitude.

Mud continues to be a major obstacle to both sides. Off-road maneuver is nearly impossible. I think the ground drying will have as great an impact on the timing of Ukraine’s offensive as moon phase and high tide had on choosing the date for D-Day.

Rheinmetall Opens New Maintenance Sites

New Weapons
T-12 Anti-tank Gun

This beast entered service in 1951. They have been pulled out of depots and sighted in Ukraine. It matches reports of 1950s vintage T-55 tanks spotted en route to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 56. Putin Indicted for War Crimes, Xi Visits Moscow, and Sevastopol Attacked for a Third Time.

M-58 Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC)

The transfer of this piece of equipment to Ukraine was announced a few weeks ago, but now we see it in theater.

This shoots a 100-meter line of explosive cord. When the cord detonates, it will create a lane, 8 meters wide and 100 meters long, free of mines.

Polish M120 “RAK” Self-Propelled 120mm Mortar
Poland has transferred 24 of its M120 self-propelled mortars to Ukraine. These will provide immediate fire support to Ukrainian mechanized and armor units.
AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Air Defense System

A few months ago, the US government announced it was transferring the Avenger air defense system to Ukraine. The system is a radar, two four-missile Stinger pods, and a radar-controlled .50-caliber machine gun on an HMMWV. This kind of vehicle is critical for defending artillery and armor from drone attacks and clearing the skies over a combat operation of reconnaissance drones.


Here it is on a live-fire range. The .50-caliber fires at 1:30, and the missile shot is at 2:42.

Combat Operations
Russian Tank Demolished By ATGM, What Happens Next is the Shocker

An enormous quantity of video has emerged from Putin’s War documenting the war at all levels. This is from the point of view of a Russian tank commander. His vehicle is the third, following a BMP and another tank.

At 0:02, if you move the video frame by frame, you’ll see a top-attack ATGM enter the field of view from the left and slam into the tank. It promptly brews up. But the best is yet to come. At 0:17, a man of steel emerges from the smoke of the burning tank, to the left of the bore evacuator on the gun tube. This is the tank commander who was blown out of his hatch. At 0:19, he exits stage left, probably searching for clean underwear. The tank with the cameraman begins backing up, but the four mph reverse speed won’t be a lot of help if someone wants to shoot at them. At it backs up, we see the tank commander again, lying on the ground (0:24). He leaps to his feet and resumes his flight. At 0:32, a pair of figures appear on top of the tank. One, coming out of the TC’s hatch, is the gunner. The other, popping up from the front deck, is the driver. We last see them un-assing the tank to the left.

Some are claiming this is a Javelin ATGM attack, probably based on its top attack profile. I think it is more likely an NLAW because the Javelin’s warhead is 19 pounds, whereas the NLAW’s is only four pounds. What we’ve seen over the past year is that any hit by a Javelin results in an immediate explosion of the onboard ammunition supply.

Russia Counter Battery Radar Destroyed by Suicide Drone

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
Searchlights Make a Comeback

Searchlights were a mainstay of air defense operations until the late 1950s. At least one searchlight company was deployed to Vietnam. Using drones in nighttime swarm attacks has brought the tactic of combining searchlights and anti-aircraft guns back into fashion.

Tactical Principles Demonstrated

In small unit tactics, you can accomplish a task in infinite ways, but you have a fairly rigid set of principles that you deviate from at extreme risk. Planning, Reconnaissance, Security, and Control are non-negotiable — along with Rogers’ Rangers Standing Order Number One: “Don’t forget nothing.” In this video clip, you see a Ukrainian unit seemingly violate all of those principles as they clear a Russian trench.


The Least Preferred Technique

In my time in the infantry, it was not uncommon for a small unit leader who’d really f***ed up a mission to be told in his, yes, his, critique, “Well, that was a technique, perhaps the least preferred technique, but it was a technique.”

Here we have two clips of the same engagement. In the first clip (apologies for the soundtrack), a Ukrainian tank charges an occupied trench and blazes away at point-blank range with its main gun.

In the second, the tank realizes it is just moving mud with the main gun rounds and goes to the tried and true tank vs. trench tactic of crushing the defenders. Either the gearbox on the tank is not working well, or the driver is an idiot because instead of a pivot steer on the trench, the tank laboriously goes back and forth, nearly getting stuck in the process.

While there is no doubting the courage of the tank crew, some real questions can be raised about their common sense.

Sometimes You Just Have To Call Bullsh**

Stories that seem designed to take advantage of the credulous and illiterate on both sides are continuously popping up. A couple of weeks ago, one of the commenters on the update demanded that I “explain” a vapid column from Gateway Pundit declaring that Bakhmut was totally surrounded and 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers cut off. It was an obvious lie, but someone fell for it. I’m tentatively putting this story in the same category. There is no evidence this story is accurate, and it is unthinkable that, given the ferocity of the combat in Wagner Group’s zone of action, we would not have seen female corpses and prisoners by now.

Northern Front


Donbas remains the primary area of combat operations. There are two towns that have become focal points: Bakhmut and Avdiivka. Both towns are large salients in the Russian frontline, and the Russians seem determined to reduce them. The Ukrainians seem just as determined to hold them. This map gives you an idea of the lay of the land.

Putin's War, Week 58. All Dressed up and No Place to Go

Bakhmut still holds. This is despite what I was assured of last week by a commenter quoting the noted military authority at Gateway Pundit, Paul Serran, who copied a Russian press release. Rest assured, I do get things wrong, but I don’t get them wrong by copying some press officer’s work.

As you can see from this animation, Russia is making steady gains but not enough to force a withdrawal.

I think this Russian attack has reached its culmination point; that is, it no longer has the combat power to make significant progress. The Ukrainians seem to see the battle turning in their favor.


In this audio from Wagner Group chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin, he seems to agree.


As I’ve said before, this battle is now a psychological rather than a military event. The symbolism of possessing a city that has seen so much combat is the objective, not any operational advantage that the city brings to the winner.

Southern Front


Another Collaborator Targeted

Maxim Zubaren, a member of the Russian collaborationist government in Zaphorizhzhia and mayor of Akimovka (or Yakymivka), was targeted for assassination by Ukrainian partisans and/or special operations forces.


Rear Areas

Ukrainian Drone Attacks Russian Recruiting Station

These attacks have minimal military impact but significant psychological effects.

What’s Next?

We wait. As we get closer to the kickoff time, we’ll see a significant increase in Ukrainian activities to shut down Russian communications and air defense systems. Expect more partisan activities in Occupied Ukraine. Expect more attacks on targets in the Russian borderlands. As I discussed above, the men and equipment seem to be on hand for Ukrainian offensive operations; the main consideration appears to be the biblical quantity of mud created as the Ukrainian winter comes.


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