Putin's War, Week 63. Chechens Replace Wagner in Bakhmut, Storm Shadow Arrives, and Russia Says 'Family Guy' Is a Meany-Pants

Ukraine Commandos in action. Credit: senivpetro/Freepik

As we finish up Month Fifteen of Vladimir Putin’s splendid little war, let’s take a look at what is going on.

Everyone is waiting for the Ukrainian counteroffensive/Spring Offensive to kick off. There are some hints that things are happening, but a lot of deliberate confusion is being sowed also. The Ukrainians are trying to sell, “we’re destined to win but maybe this offensive won’t do it.” That’s logical. They don’t want to oversell; in fact, they are really selling the theme that if they win big, it will be despite all the nice weaponry the West could’ve provided. But, if they do win big, they want to be able to roll out the “you thought we couldn’t do it” narrative. Quite honestly, if any of three American administrations had played the communications game in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his cabinet are playing this, things could’ve turned out a lot differently.


The Brits have supplied Ukraine with their Storm Shadow cruise missile. This allows Ukraine to hit any facility directly supporting the invasion. I go into detail on that below.

Ukraine has launched a counterattack on the Russian attempt to encircle Bakhmut, which is moving slowly but steadily. Wagner Group has officially evacuated Bakhmut, and Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechens are allegedly taking over that sector of the line.

There is, as always, a lot more to talk about. See some of my previous updates for more great reading.

Putin’s War, Week 62. Kremlin Droned, Russia Dissed by Friends and Allies, and Ukraine’s Offensive Takes Shape

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

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

Storm Shadow Arrives

The major news this week is that the British government has provided, underline “has” not “will,” Ukraine with the Storm Shadow cruise missile. This missile has an unclassified range of nearly 200 miles and carries the same punch as the ATACMS missile Ukraine has been campaigning for and has been told it will not get. This transfer has been hinted at since December. The announcement means that British and Ukrainian engineers have ironed out the problems of mating Storm Shadow to Third World airframes, much as US and Ukrainian engineers have been able to sling a very modern AGM-88 HARM on Fred Flintstone’s MiG-29 (Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive).

What does this mean? It means that Ukraine can strike any target within the war zone and in the Russian borderlands. The strategy the Russians have been using of moving supply dumps and command and control nodes out of HIMARS range just stopped working. It means that surface-to-air missile units defending against Ukrainian air strikes along the Forward Edge of the Battle Area will have to be relocated to protect critical assets deeper inside Russian-occupied territory. Requiring the Ukrainians to use a strike aircraft for launch also means that the usage rate will be reduced, as compared to ATACMS, and give a fig leaf to the whole “escalation” thing that Tony Blinken obsesses about but for which there is no evidence of its existence.

More on the technical aspects of Storm Shadow can be found below.

Zelensky Says Ukraine Needs More Time

While everyone is anticipating the Ukrainian offensive, President Volodymyr Zelensky is saying that Ukraine needs more time to prepare and will not rush its offensive.

I think several things are at work here. First, Zelensky is adding strategic ambiguity to the situation. If you are expecting an imminent offensive, and Russian Telegram Channels and Wagner honcho Yevgeny Prigozhin insists the offensive is already underway, your actions are different than if you merely know one is coming. Second, all the pieces may not be in place for an optimal attack. It serves no purpose to throw away what might be Ukraine’s best hope to restore its international boundaries by adhering to a self-inflicted deadline. Third, Zelensky is also reacting to some of the poor-mouthing of Ukraine’s hopes voiced by anonymous sources in Western media. What he does not want to do is pre-emptively kick off an attack to meet expectations for an early offensive, squander the chance, and build a narrative that Ukraine just isn’t up to the job.


On the other hand, this could be a head fake to cover an imminent attack.

The Underwhelming Might of Putin’s Victory Day

Russia’s Victory Day celebration has come and gone. It was the smallest and most downscale Victory Day celebration ever. Seven Russian regions canceled celebrations out of fear of Ukrainian drone attacks. Moscow’s parade included one tank: a T-34. There were only 51 pieces of equipment in the parade, compared to 131 in 2022 and 187 in 2021.

None of the first-line Russian units, such as Spetsznaz or VDV (airborne), were present. Most of the marching units were cadets from military academies. No World War II veterans shared the stage with Putin — which is entirely understandable since the youngest would probably be a centenarian. Ominously, Putin’s invitees were two superannuated commies; one had supervised the eradication of Ukrainian partisans in the 1950s, and the other had a prominent role in crushing Czechoslovakia in 1968. The speech focused on Russia as a victim. There wasn’t a single threat of nuking anyone.

This was not the parade of a victorious nation.

If you want to see the parade’s highlight, go to 42:31.

Russia Tells “Family Guy” to Stop Being Mean

The Russian government has protested to the producers of the television show Family Guy that they are being mean to Russia.

“The artist has the right to his vision, but this is a deliberately offensive artistic image that has nothing to do with reality. This is a deliberate work against our country. Information warfare through artistic works. They deliberately create an image of Russia as a country where everyone is unhappy with life, drinking, using drugs, taking bribes,” said Chelyabinsk region deputy Yana Lantratova.

This reminds me of how a lot of the American left reacts when anyone has the nerve to show life in parts of urban America.

Diplomatic Slap Fight

At the Black Sea Economic Cooperation conference in Ankara, Turkey, the war in Ukraine played out in the conference center. A Russian delegate was giving an interview when Ukrainian delegation secretary Oleksandr Marikovski photobombed (video bombed?) him with a Ukrainian flag. Marikovski’s Russian counterpart, Valery Stavitsky, walked over and grabbed the flag from his hands. Marikovski caught up with the Russian, recovering the flag and landing some half-assed punches and slaps in the process.

There was a great assist from the unnamed woman in the white blazer, who threw the body check that slowed the Russian down.

Chechens Replace Wagner Group in Bakhmut?

Last week, Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prignozhin went on a verbal rampage, excoriating the perceived lack of support of his men by the Russian high command; see Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin Goes Medieval on Russia’s Military Command Over Lack of Ammunition. This led to a verbal exchange between him and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the puppet regime in the Chechen Republic and a major booster of the Special Military Operation.

In the end, Kadyrov pledged his Chechen troops to relieve Wagner Group of their sector of the front line.


This may just be some sleight of hand. Kadyrov claims he pays better than Wagner Group, so we may see the flag change and the people remain the same. Even so, in my view, it is a sign that the Russian operation to capture Bakhmut has been officially written off. Kadyrov will not have the ability to recruit non-Chechens to fill the ranks. The Chechens have a terrible reputation for brutality towards anyone who is not one of them. Without the ability to recruit prisoners and other trash, Kadyrov’s constituents will be the only troop available to hold Wagner’s sector. So far, he’s kept his men out of the hotspots, and they’ve mainly seen service as “blocking units” (Putin’s War, Week 35. The Lull Before the Next Storm) to prevent Russian troops from retreating and as military police. He’s not going to run them into the Bakhmut meat grinder.

Russian Oligarch Speaks the Truth

I periodically post clips from Russian television to give a flavor of what is happening on the “home front.” This is one of the minor Russian oligarchs, Andrey Kovalev.

Andrey Kovalev is a Russian real estate businessman, a public figure, and chairman of the All-Russian Movement of Entrepreneurs. According to his biography on the movement website, he previously held government positions and was a member of the Moscow City Duma. In 2012, Kovalev was included in the “List of the Kings of Russian Real Estate” by Forbes Russia with an income of $55 million.

His tone is not a lot different than Putin’s Victory Day address.

Putin Insider Lets the Crazy Out

Former FSB head, current Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, and rumored front-runner to succeed Vladimir Putin should that happen, Nikolai Patrushev gave a barnburner of an interview to Izvestia explaining the reasons for the NATO, the Ukraine War, and just about everything else. He ends up with the reason for US interest in Ukraine being an explosion of Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Read the synopsis here, along with a link to the Izvestia article.

You can laugh at this, but consider that Russia’s second most powerful man believes in this enough to say it out loud.

How Do You Say “Dylan Mulvaney” in Russian?

Last week, my colleague Joe Cunningham posted on Russian men suddenly developing gender dysphoria when confronted with the draft. Give it a read.

Monument to the Red Army Taken Down

I’m using the Russian UNESCO Twitter feed for this because the irony is just too delicious.

That was an official act. The unofficial acts were much the same. The Russian Ambassador showed up on Victory Day to place a wreath at the grave of the Red Army soldiers who died in Poland. It didn’t work out all that well.

Operational Level


Preparing to Bug Out?

While it is hard to tell with certainty what is going on, there are some indications that Russian forces are preparing, if not intending, to withdraw from areas of Occupied Ukraine and fall back into Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea, they have illegally occupied since 2014. If you go back to the period before the Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv (September/October) and the Russian evacuation of the right bank of the Dnieper, you see the same thing happening.


Prisoner Exchange

Saturday, 45 Ukrainian prisoners were exchanged for three Russian pilots. This has been portrayed as an example of Russia having a pilot shortage, but I think something much more banal is at work. The pilots are part of Russia’s military elite. Once an opportunity to return even a few from captivity, the Russian military jumped at the chance. If these three pilots, who will have to undergo extensive retraining and security vetting, increase Russia’s combat power, the Russians have larger problems than we’d thought.


New Weapons

Storm Shadow

As I posted at the top of the update, Britain has transferred the Storm Shadow cruise missile to Ukraine. This is an excellent video on the subject.

And Chuck Pfarrer has another of his killer infographics.

RPS-42 Aerial-Surveillance Radar Systems

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t include this under “new weapons,” but given the ubiquity of drones in Ukraine, it seems proper. The RPS-42 is a very short-range radar that can detect rocket, artillery, and mortar fire. It has IFF interrogation capability and can operate while mounted on a vehicle. Saturating critical areas with this radar will place them off limits to drone surveillance and attacks.

HIMARS Jamming?

CNN ran a story last Friday claiming that the Russians were jamming GPS signals used by HIMARS to give it the pinpoint accuracy that has made it so formidable. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m unqualified to assess these claims, and there are plenty of opinions on both sides.

Combat Operations

 Trench Combat

No information on where this took place.

This trench is a case study of how not to build a trench. No zig-zags, no fighting positions, too shallow for protected movement. If this is what the Russian defense belts behind the front line look like, the Russians will not be trying to stop the Ukrainians by using fortifications.

At 0:47, you can see why looking above a trench is a terrible evolutionary strategy.

Behind the Lines

Large numbers of partisans beset both sides. Those on the Ukrainian side caught behind the lines in Occupied Ukraine seem more active and receive assistance from Ukrainian special operations forces in sabotage and assassinations. The Russian simps behind Ukrainian lines tend to be agents-in-place inserted into Ukrainian government and military organizations years ago. They are augmented by low-level people occupied with spotting and reporting on troop movements and weapons systems as well as doing battle damage assessment of Russian artillery and missile strikes. Here are some being rounded up.

Sometimes the people rounded up are more pathetic than nefarious. Here is


“Gonzalo Lira” lives in Kharkiv. He is under house arrest. Last week Ukrainian authorities took him into custody again.

Surrender By Drone Returns

One of the phenomena of the First Gulf War was Iraqi troops surrendering to US drones. This is happening in Ukraine. Note the troop density. This guy is the only soldier for about 100 yards in any direction. I don’t blame him.

Trigger Warning/NSFW

The last video shows a Russian soldier surrendering to a drone. This shows another one driven to despair by a drone. Note the extreme isolation of this man. Was he put here by his chain of command? Or is he a straggler? Anyway, this is a graphic video, so watch it at your discretion.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

 Sniper Dos and Don’ts

Compare and contrast the tactics of a Ukrainian Army sniper and one from Wagner Group. One of these guys has been trained; the other is running off testosterone and stupid pills.

Holding the Line

There has been a lot of discussion of the Russian defensive lines. Much of it is along these lines.

I don’t want to go into a lengthy critique here, but the up-close images we’ve seen of the trenches, or the video I’ve included in this update, don’t show a particularly functional trench system. I’ve discussed this before, Putin’s War, Week 34. False Flags, Martial Law, and ‘Dammed if You Do and Dammed if You Don’t’. A trench line only has to be breached at one place, and the rest of the line can be cleared by attacking it from the rear and flanks. The biggest problem is that a trench system is only useful if manned at adequate levels and a mobile reserve exists to block penetrations. Unless some plan is made for an orderly retreat, forward trenches become cut off and forced to surrender. If you look at the scale of the diagram above, the lines are several miles apart, with no connecting trenches for movement between them. Good luck if you want to hoof it and hope you can outrun a mechanized force spilling through a breach.

This is a great Twitter thread on what NATO doctrine calls for to defend a 30km stretch of fortifications against a peer opponent’s attempt to breach it.

How many troops and how much equipment is needed to hold a defensive line in a peer-level conflict: estimates from a NATO member’s handbook about holding 30km of front against mechanized & tank divisions:

A first trench line to slow down the attack: around 300 troops per km

or 9,000 troops in total. Behind this trench: 600 main battle tanks, 900 infantry fighting vehicles, and 22,000 troops in two lines for a mobile defense. Those 31,000 troops have:
• 180 Spike ATGM launchers
• 900 Panzerfaust 3 launchers
• 240+ 81/120mm mortars

At least 240+ 155m howitzers, and 2x medium range and 3x short range air defense battalions to back these troops up.
In total 54,000 troops should be deployed to hold 30km of front, with an additional 36,000 troops as maneuver reserve if the enemy should be able to break out.

That maneuver reserve needs to have 400 main battle tanks, 600 infantry fighting vehicles, 180 155mm howitzers.

In total 90,000 troops are needed to defend a front of 30km against a peer level enemy, which commits 8 to 10 tank and motor rifle divisions for a major offensive.

For some reason, the tweets won’t display. Follow this link to the whole thread.


Northern Front

Counteroffensive in Bakhmut

Last week Russia carried out a large-scale incendiary attack on Ukrainian positions in Bakhmut.


In retrospect, this may be seen as Russia’s last hurrah in the battle for that city.

Over the last couple of days, Ukraine has launched small-scale counteroffensives on the flanks of the Russian pincer movement (movement in terms of a military maneuver, not actual physical movement), attempting to encircle Bakhmut. Bakhmut, you’ll recall, is the Donbas industrial city that has been under siege by the Russians for over 280 days.

One of the things the pro-Russia “what about Bakhmut?” crowd misses is that when you attempt a double envelopment, you create two salients of your own that are vulnerable to being cut off. The counterattack at the base of the salient is Tactics 101 stuff. Now Russia has to respond to the penetration. First, they have to decide what to do about their troops to the west of the attack, who are now threatened with being cut off. Do they abandon that salient and withdraw to a more defensible line? Or do they double down and try to hold? If they do try to hold, the troops needed to shore up the line have to come from the troops currently trying to take Bakhmut. Or they must be pulled from defensive positions elsewhere, creating another weak spot.

There is video (naturally) of part of this attack. This should concern Russia as much as the attack.

Clips from the attack are interspersed with snippets of Wagner chieftain Prigozhin talking smack about the Russian unit that had its ass handed to it. First, you see armor hitting the treeline and barreling through, stopping long enough to crush holdouts under their tracks (1:55). At 0:53, Ukrainian infantry dismounts and starts clearing the trenches. Russian infantry fighting vehicles are taken under fire by artillery at 1:11. This is the second attack video I’ve seen where infantry and armor work in concert. Note the low troop density in the defensive positions. The next time you read stories woofing about Russian fortifications, keep in mind that they have to fill those trenches with people. The dismounted Ukrainian infantry outnumber the defenders. There are no Russian anti-tank weapons in use.

Southern Front



Population Evacuation
I touched on this above but wanted to highlight it here as this is where most observers expect the Ukrainian counteroffensive to take place. This happened in Kherson and Kharkiv before the last Ukrainian counteroffensives.



Red Cross Warehouse Destroyed

I’ve posted on this subject before. Ever since the Russian campaign against Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure petered out in failure, Russia’s missile attacks have overwhelmingly focused on civilian targets. It happens too frequently for it to be anything other than the intended outcome.

Rear Areas



 Russia Claims a 20+ Drone Swarm Was Defeated

Ukraine has hit Occupied Crimea with drone attacks repeatedly. The Russians claim, with little evidence, that a swarm of over 20 drones was defeated Saturday night. This is the evidence.

Black Sea Fleet Reduces Sevastopol Presence

The Russian Black Sea Fleet has reduced the number of ships stationed in Sevastopol. The most likely reason is the frequency of Ukrainian drone attacks on that facility.



 Russia Claims a Drone Attack Was Foiled

Ivanovo is about 160 miles northeast of Moscow. There is no way to evaluate the accuracy of this claim, but it is a candid admission by the FSB that Ukrainian partisans are operating deep inside Russia.

Propagandist Survives Car Bomb

Zakhar Prilepin, a Russian propagandist for the Ukraine war, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. This is, by my count, three attacks on prominent war supporters.

What’s Next?

I think we’re on the cusp of the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive. I’m still of the opinion that the main thrust of the attack will happen in Zaporizhzhia on the axis Tokmak-Melitopol. After the last week, I think we will see a supporting offensive launched in the direction of Bakhmut to freeze that portion of the Russian line and mobile reserve in place and to stick a thumb in Russia’s eye.

More and more video demonstrates that Ukraine has moved beyond the “one tank, one battle” method of operation we saw so frequently over the last year to a command structure capable of aggressive use of armor and infantry together. I don’t think the Russians have the troop density necessary to defend the fortifications they have constructed. More importantly, I don’t think they can disengage their front-line forces and carry out an orderly retrograde operation when that first fortification belt is breached.

A lot of evidence seems to indicate that the Russians are contemplating a withdrawal to the status quo ante of February 24, 2022. Civilians and occupation government infrastructure are being moved toward Russia and Crimea in a similar pattern to what we saw last fall. Such a move with the Ukrainian offensive falling on mostly empty space could signal that Russia is ready to try to extend the war by other means at the negotiating table.


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