Putin's War, Week 61. Xi Calls, Prigozhin Sounds El Degüello, and Surprise Attacks at Sevastopol, Kherson, and (Maybe) St. Petersburg

Disabled 2S19 Msta self-propelled gun, somewhere in Ukraine.

Week 61 of Putin’s War didn’t see a lot of battlefield action — YMMV if you were there — but there were a lot of moving parts. The call from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Chinese Junfa Xi Jinping drew a lot of attention. The Russian Navy’s Black Sea homeport of Sevastopol was attacked for the fourth time. Something kinetic — we’re not sure what — happened at the Pushkin military airfield outside of St. Petersburg. The Ukrainian Army carried out a surprise, nearly a stealth, river crossing in Kherson Oblast. And some open-source intelligence reports indicate that the Russian Army is stretched very thin in Ukraine.


We continue to wait for the Ukrainian spring offensive as we can see the last gasp of Russia’s winter offensive play out in Donbas.

Here are some of my previous updates to enjoy.

Putin’s War, Week 60. Leaked Documents, a Russian Troll Exposed, and More Pieces Fall Into Place

Putin’s War, Week 59. Russia Goes ISIS and Waiting for General Mud to Take a Break

Putin’s War, Week 58. All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

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

Xi and Zelensky Talk

China’s Xi Jinping has been trying to position himself as the peacemaker who will end Putin’s War in Ukraine. Though China is supplying Russia with non-lethal aid, it has stopped short of selling arms to Putin. Wednesday, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky initiated a call to Xi.

The readouts issued by Kiev and Beijing are Delphic. China says it “will neither watch the fire from afar, nor add fuel to the flames, let alone exploit the situation for profit.” It also said, “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity is the political foundation of China-Ukraine relations.” Zelensky made a play for China’s support of the Black Sea Grain Deal and to pressure Russia to end the war. China will send an envoy to Ukraine to “assist” in negotiations.

My guess is that not much more is going to come from this beyond China’s PR campaign to increase its international status at the expense of the EU and the US.

A Church? Or an Arm of the FSB?

This issue keeps coming up in some circles on the right who want to paint Putin’s War in Ukraine as a struggle between the patriotic, Christian conservatives (this would be Russia) and atheistic, Nazi, though possibly Jewish-controlled globalists (Ukraine). One of the cases that never seems to go away is the Ukrainian government’s decision to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is portrayed as a ban on the dominant form of Christianity in Ukraine. The truth is quite a bit different. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Kiev) is healthy and active and is now in possession of the historical buildings owned by the Ukrainian government. The Moscow-owned Ukrainian Orthodox Church was targeted because of its overt support of the Russian invasion.


US Military Observers in Ukraine?

This article is making the rounds.

This is one of those ideas that gets an “A” for effort and an “F” for judgment.

Military observers have been a feature of nearly every war, except the World War variety, since the US Civil War. For example, both Pershing and MacArthur were US military observers during the Russo-Japanese War. No doubt, embedding people in Ukrainian units would provide a lot of very useful, real-time feedback and insights into how military operations are conducted and the performance of NATO…and Russian…equipment under field conditions.

On the other hand, after seeing the way a lot of people got their panties all wet and wadded over 14, count ’em, 14 US Special Forces soldiers attached to the Kiev embassy to track US weapons deliveries (Putin’s War, Week 59. Russia Goes ISIS and Waiting for General Mud to Take a Break), there would be brain matter splashed on computer monitors across the nation at the thought of sending official observers. Twice the Russians have pushed out stories about secret NATO command and control facilities being bombed with the death of dozens of NATO generals who actually run the war. Few things could better play into the Russian narrative of “we’re fighting NATO, not Ukraine” better than US military observers embedded in Ukrainian headquarters.

Kremlincide Exceeds Arkancide as a Cause of Death

We’ve covered the story of the “unusual” number of suicides among Russian oligarchs and senior political figures since Putin’s War started; see 6 Russian Oligarchs Commit Suicide in Mysterious Outbreak of Epstein Syndrome, Defenestration ‘Suicides’ up Under Vladimir Putin—Coincidence or Something Else?, and The Bodies of Russian Oil Oligarchs Keep Piling Up—Tally Now up to 8 Since January Now we have two more this past week. This is entirely normal.

Operational Level

Russia Army Without a Reserve?

I’m skeptical of any attempt to give a granular look at the armies on either side. While some OPSEC sloppiness exists, both sides are good about keeping unit locations and strength. The folks at the Institute for the Study of War, whose work I respect, have developed what they feel is an accurate representation of the location of all known Russian Army units. While I can’t vouch for its accuracy, it tells a grim story if it is a remote approximation of the truth. Nearly all Russian units identified since the invasion began are deployed along the line of contact with the Ukrainian Army. Only two of 12 Combined Arms Armies (roughly a US division) are not accounted for. If this is the size of the Russian operational reserve available to respond to a Ukrainian offensive, it is woefully inadequate. Read the thread.



Weather and its effects on men, mobility, and equipment is one of the primary planning considerations for any military operation. This is definitely the case in Ukraine, where the soil becomes an impassable semi-liquid during the season known as rasputitsa (Russian) or bezdorizhzhia (Ukrainian).

From these videos, we can see that the season is in full force, but it is definitely abating. When the soil can bear the trauma of hundreds of tracked vehicles traversing without becoming library-paste, we will probably see the Ukrainian spring offensive begin.

Prisoner Exchanges

Prisoner exchanges remain one of the few areas where Russia and Ukraine maintain any semblance of diplomatic contact. This week 44 more Ukrainians returned home. No one on either side seems to care about the number of Russians in the exchange.

Ukrainian General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence, says the two sides are working on a plan to exchange all prisoners.

I don’t know how that works during an ongoing war, but, at least for the Ukrainians, this is a solid deal if it can be made to happen.

Prisoners? What Prisoners?

Not everyone is happy with the prisoner exchanges. Last week, I posted on the Wagner Group’s penchant for beheadings; see Putin’s War, Week 59. Russia Goes ISIS and Waiting for General Mud to Take a Break. Wagner Group honcho Yevgeny Prigozhin seems to have issued a Führerbefehl forbidding the taking of prisoners.

As my friend, Laocoon, mentioned in the comments a couple of weeks ago:

First this sort of thing makes Ukranians not want to surrender to Russians. Alot of Ukranians are going to prefer to die fighting than have their heads sawn off.

It may make the Wagner Group guys feel tough, but it is going to make their job a lot harder and much more dangerous when every Ukrainian soldier fights to the death.

This kind of illegal order, even if made in hyperbole, will come back to haunt Prigozhin one day when he’s no longer useful to whatever regime rules from the Kremlin.

The killing of prisoners by the Russian military is beginning to take on the air of “another day at the office.” The Ukrainians released this phone intercept. As always, take these releases with a grain of salt, but it does comport with what is happening on the battlefield.

Attacks on Civilians

Routine attacks on civilian targets continue to be part of Russia’s military strategy. But, as I’ve said before, they don’t seem to serve any greater purpose than destroying property and killing civilians.


Or maybe it does.

Population Replacement

American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project reports that the Russians are deporting Ukrainians in occupied areas to Russia and resettling those areas with Russians.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar stated on April 26 that Russia is trying to change the ethnic composition of Ukraine by actively conducting a large-scale resettlement of people mainly from poorer and remote regions of Russia into Ukraine.[1] Malyar noted that the most intensive efforts are ongoing in occupied Luhansk Oblast and remarked that Russia is also deporting Ukrainians and forcibly resettling them in Russia.[2] ISW previously reported on specific instances of Russian authorities overseeing the depopulation and repopulation of areas of occupied Ukraine, particularly in occupied Kherson Oblast over the course of 2022. Ukrainian sources remarked in October 2022 that Russian authorities in then-occupied parts of Kherson Oblast deported large groups of Ukrainian residents to Russia under the guise of humanitarian evacuations and then repopulated their homes with Russian soldiers.[3] Russia may hope to import Russians to fill depopulated areas of Ukraine in order to further integrate occupied areas into Russian socially, administratively, politically, and economically, thereby complicating conditions for the reintegration of these territories into Ukraine.

The speed of this creation of facts on the ground seems to be accelerating.

Perhaps the random terror attacks directed at Ukrainian cities are intended to create a refugee stream out of Ukraine to add social stress to European nations while depriving Ukraine of the social capital and manpower needed to fight the war and launch a recovery afterward.

New Weapons
M1 Abrams on the Way to Germany

Russian T-14 Armata

The T-14 is Russia’s “Чудо-оружие” or wunderwaffen. It is supposed to be superior to any tank in the West, but other than breaking down in a Victory Day Parade, no one has ever seen one. The total production run is estimated at less than 100.

Now, according to Russian media, the T-14 is in Ukraine, but its role is limited to providing fire support. Click this tweet to see the vaporware the Armata is equipped with.

Combat Operations

Trench Fighting Northwest of Bakhmut

The omnipresent video devices have given us a view of warfare we’ve never experienced. This video is a Ukrainian defense of a bunker and trench complex northwest of Bakhmut. Here are some things to note. A very small number of people do everything. This has been commented on over the years. During World War II, the rule of thumb was that 10% of fighter pilots did 90% of the killing. There is one point where, without the initiative of the camera-guy, the whole thing could’ve gone pear-shaped. It gives a good feel for the claustrophobia of close combat and the sparse troop density in defensive positions.

Combined Arms Attack

This video was interesting to me because it is the first time I’ve seen something approaching a company-sized combined arms attack. Other than the lack of artillery and mortar support, this is nearly textbook. There is a mix of tanks and APCs. They are dispersed and attacking in line formation instead of the column formation we usually see. Without the full context, it is hard to judge what happens, but it leads to two quick conclusions.

If this is a unit that has trained in Germany or the UK, then it represents a quantum leap in performance over anything we’ve seen in the past. On the other hand, if this unit has grown organically without outside training, the Ukrainian Army is improving its performance at a fantastic rate.

JDAM-ER in Action

Six weeks ago, the US announced it was transferring kits that convert gravity bombs into guided weapons (Putin’s War, Week 54. More NordStream Melodrama, Russia Shows Diplomatic Weakness, and the Bakhmut Flipflop). The kits have a GPS receiver, inertial guidance system, steering mechanism, and wings that allow the bomb to be launched outside the effective range of anti-aircraft systems.

This is the first video of the system in action.

With aggressive employment of longer-ranged air defense systems, this weapon, which is launched from Ukrainian aircraft, makes all Russian installations in Occupied Ukraine vulnerable to attack.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
Don’t Try This at Home

Some Techniques Never Get Old

Northern Front

As always, the big subject in this area is Bakhmut. As of this writing, Bakhmut is still holding. There are advances and retreats by both sides. This interview by Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Bakhmut, is interesting. As always, read with a critical eye.

Southern Front

In something of a surprise move, the Ukrainian Army has forced a 12-mile-wide bridgehead across the Dneipr River.

I have to admit this is sort of a surprise move as a river crossing is a high-risk operation that can be difficult to sustain. I’d assumed that the Ukrainians would run an economy of force operation in this sector, keeping on hand only the bare minimum of troops necessary to prevent the Russians from crossing the river.


This is what I think happened. The Russians have withdrawn from positions on the Dneipr because they are tenable. This has left a large swath of open territory. The Russian defensive belt in Kherson is mostly unfinished. The red dots on this map mark Russian fortifications identified from satellite imagery. The left flank of the defensive belt ends abruptly near the E97 highway.

Putin's War, Week 61. Xi Calls, Prigozhin Sounds El Degüello, and Surprise Attacks at Sevastopol, Kherson, and (Maybe) St. Petersburg
The ISW report detailing the Russian Order of Battle has this to say about Kherson.

This has created a window for an opportunistic operation in the area because the Russians assumed Kherson to be safe from attack as it was across a major river and removed from the main area of operations. As a result, it was sparsely manned and chaotically organized.

If the bridgehead can be sustained and reinforced, it is significant. First, it will require Russia to move troops from other areas to Kherson to shore up the front line. Second, the Russian defensive belts are vulnerable to being outflanked by an attack from the bridgehead because they aren’t anchored on anything. If they are outflanked here, the whole line is in jeopardy.

What we don’t know is if this bridgehead is just a diversion to keep the Russian General Staff occupied instead of focusing on the upcoming Ukrainian offensive or if it is a real lodgement with future potential as a launching pad for offensive operations.

Partisan Operations

Sergey Tvetinsky, who was sent out from the Kremlin to be a baby Gauleiter in Kherson, was killed in an explosion in Nova Kakhovka.

Rear Areas

Sevastopol Attacked Again

The Russian naval base at Sevastopol was hit by another Ukrainian drone attack. Again (see Putin’s War, Week 56. Putin Indicted for War Crimes, Xi Visits Moscow, and Sevastopol Attacked for a Third Time and Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport). There doesn’t seem to have been any damage done, but that isn’t the point. As the saying goes, the Russians must be perfect every time, and the Ukrainians only need to get lucky once.


I Hate it When That Happens

A Russian Su-34 bomber aimed for Kharkiv, Ukraine, and struck Belgorod, Russia. I’m glad I don’t have to explain that to my boss. My colleague Joe Cunningham covered the story in Well, It Looks Like Russia Accidentally Bombed Itself on Thursday, but more details have emerged since then.

The bomb was the Russian knock-off of the US Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). This is a conventional bomb; in this case, it is reported to be the 1100-pound FAB-500 M62) with a kit with GPS, inertial guidance, and folding wings. It converts a weapon that requires the aircraft to be very near the target and which may or may not land close to what you aimed at to one that can be dropped a safe distance away, glide to the target area, and strike with incredible accuracy.


What apparently happened was the Russian Su-34 dropped a pair of glide bombs. The wings didn’t deploy on either. One armed and exploded on impact. The other was a dud. This speaks to either a quality control problem with Russian manufacturing (can you see my shocked face?) or, because there was a 100% failure rate on this sortie, a grave deficiency in the training of the ordnance handlers or pilot. What is unknown is how often this happens, just not over a populated area. The second-order problem is who the f*** thought launching a weapon over a city was a good idea?

Explosions in St. Petersburg

This is one of those stories that leaves you guessing. First, Russian media reported explosions at a military airfield near St. Petersburg. Then crickets.

What’s Next?

If the reports on Russian dispositions are correct, the Russian Army is in a very perilous position. It is trying to prosecute two local offensives, at Bahkmut and Andiivka, as the Ukrainians prepare for their spring offensive. The implication of this is that there is some political objective driving the Russian actions. However, there also doesn’t appear to be a Russian operational reserve to seal off any Ukrainian breaches of the front line.

Using the JDAM-ER opens Russian supply depots and troop concentrations to attack at distances from the front that used to mean safety.

The next move is up to the weather as the wait continues.


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