Putin's War, Week 68. The Offensive Develops, Cracks Emerge, and Never Forget the Enemy Has a Vote

Ukraine Army patrol. Credit Senivpetro via Freepik

The Ukraine Spring Offensive is off to a solid start. It doesn’t look like what a lot of people were hoping for but war is not a video game. Ukraine has moved about ten kilometers forward in three different areas. While they are having success, they are also having teething pains in blending infantry, armor, artillery, and air defense into a combined arms package rather than letting everybody do his own thing.


Here are some of my past updates.

Putin’s War, Weeks 66 and 67. The Offensive Starts

Putin’s War, Week 65. G7 Calls for War Crimes Trials and Reparations, F-16 Pilots Start Training, and Russia Is Invaded

Putin’s War, Week 64. Patriots Score Big and the Scene Is Set for Offensive Action

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

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

Raytheon Increases Patriot Production

The Wall Street Journal reports that Raytheon is increasing production of the Patriot missile to 12 systems per year. The buried lede is that Ukrainian engineers worked with Raytheon to modify the software to permit the interception of Russia’s Khinzal hypersonic missiles; see Ukraine Confirms a US-Supplied Patriot Air Defense System Shot Down a Russian Hypersonic Missile, Patriot Leaves Skeptics Wordless, Russians Embarrassed, and Kiev Littered With Pieces of Putin’s Wonder Weapons and Putin’s War, Week 64. Patriots Score Big and the Scene Is Set for Offensive Action.

Raytheon Technologies, the Patriot’s main contractor, is increasing production to 12 a year and plans to deliver five more to Ukraine by the end of next year, said Chief Executive Greg Hayes.

“We have been very surprised at its effectiveness,” said Hayes of the Patriot, which he said alongside other air-defense systems has intercepted as many as 90% of incoming threats in Ukraine. He said Ukraine has tweaked the Patriot’s software to enable it to track and destroy hypersonic missiles flying twice as fast as it was designed for. Yaremenko said officers in Ukraine’s partner countries have told him, “We are learning from you right now.”

The article doesn’t mention how many the US is currently producing.

A recurring theme in this war is the decrepit state of the US defense manufacturing base. Instead of griping about the equivalent of a rounding error in the Defense budget that we are contributing to Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression, we should be giving thanks that we aren’t discovering these lessons when fighting China.

Kazakhstan Shuns St. Petersburg Economic Summit

The 2023 interaction of the St. Petersburg Economic Summit (slogan: We’re like Davos but with cheaper hookers) has kicked off. The attendance is underwhelming. Brazil’s president has declined. So has the prime minister of India, the president of Egympte, the prime minister of Armenia, the president of the World Bank, the UN Secretary-General, the president of the European Commission, and, well, the line goes on. China sent the head of its space agency. Burundi sent a delegation headed by its first lady. Finally, the only head of state on the guest list, Kazakhstan President Tokayev, sent his regrets.


As I’ve noted over the past year, the Potemkin economic (Eurasian Economic Community) and security (Collective Security Treaty Organization) frameworks Russia has tried to assemble as a counterbalance to the EU and NATO have fizzled. The St. Petersburg Economic Summit seems headed for the same fate as Russia becomes a pariah in the diplomatic and economic arenas.

The End of a Wonderful Friendship

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have been friends for over a decade. They vacationed together, and Shoigu was one of Putin’s closest confidants. That friendship seems to be on the wane. I can’t blame Putin. Shoigu and his minions squandered billions of dollars allocated to reform and modernize the Russian Army. The fruit of their corruption litters the Ukrainian countryside.

The War Between the Defense Ministery and Wagner PMC Continues

Last update, I reported on claims by Wagner PMC that the Russian Army had mined Wagner’s withdrawal routes from Bakhmut and fired on their convoys leaving the city. Wagner even abducted a Russian lieutenant colonel and had him “confess” on camera, sporting contusions and a broken nose, that he had ordered the action and personally fired on a Wagner truck.

Now we’re back with more.

The Russian Defense Ministry requires all PMC members to sign an enlistment contract with the Russian Armed Forces. Wagner, alone, is refusing. This ends Wagner’s problematic contributions to the Ukraine War.

Wagner Chieftain Yevgeny Prigozhin took time to record a message demanding the summary execution of Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Launches Trial Anvil

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev periodically crawls out to test the diplomatic waters. Last week was the idea that Russia was willing to stop the war if it could have a “buffer zone” inside Ukraine.

Medvedev said, “Taking into account the enemy’s decisions to supply the Kiev regime with weapons with an even longer range, this line should pass in the area of Lviv.” For your reference, Lviv is marked on the map below. This was a profoundly unserious comment by an increasingly buffoonish figure.

History Surfaces

A week ago, the Russian military (in my opinion) detonated explosives planted in the Kakhovka Dam, setting off massive flooding (see Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam Is Blown up Unleashing Widespread Flooding). As the reservoir drained, remains of soldiers killed in the marshes during the Battle of the Dnieper were revealed.


Putin Hosts Russian Milbloggers

If you read my updates, you’ll see I frequently rely on reporting from Russian Telegram channels. These channels are run by Russian milbloggers. Tuesday, Putin hosted them at the Kremlin (full transcript of the meeting is here). Not a whole lot came out of it in terms of news, but what is interesting is Putin recognizing that he needs public engagement while at the same time giving a quasi-official status to a lot of people who’ve been highly critical of the Defense Ministry and the conduct of the war.

Putin’s Political Muse Has Ideas

We’ve talked about Aleksander Dugin before. He’s widely considered to be Putin’s political theoretician, and his daughter was assassinated in a rather bizarre episode 42 weeks ago; see Putin’s War. Week 26: A Bizarre Assassination in Moscow, a Nuclear Power Plant Held Hostage, and Ukraine Launches (Maybe) Its First Offensive. While the concept of creating an event or series of events elsewhere to divert Ukrainian political and military attention from the fight is not without merit, his suggestions have a “Last Days in the Bunker” vibe about them. They are either totally impractical (an amphibious assault on Odesa?) or require power that the Kremlin just does not have (an uprising in Lviv). Keep in mind that this man is part of Putin’s innermost circle of confidants, and he is pushing this out for public consumption.

Russian Television Tells It Like It Is

Periodically, I post clips from mainstream Russian television programs to give a feel for how the war in Ukraine is being packaged for the homefront.

“Bigger Than WW II”

Needed: “A Couple or Three Million Chinese Soldiers”

Operational Level

The major offensive that we’ve been waiting for has kicked off. Before I dig into that, let me cover a couple of other stories.

Prisoner Exchanges

Ukraine received two officers and 93 enlisted men for an undisclosed number of Russians. This brings the total of exchanged Ukrainian prisoners to 2526.


These exchanges may be coming to an end as the Russians have put 22 defenders of the Azovstal mill in Melitopol on trial in Rostov-on-Don. The trials are very strange as the leaders of the Azovstal defenders have been released to Turkish custody (Vladimir Putin Agrees to Swap 215 Ukrainian PWs Including Foreign Volunteers, for 55 Russians. What’s up With That?).

More Attacks on Ukrainian Civilians

The ferocity of the attacks on civilian targets experienced in May has diminished, but the attacks continue. The focus of the attacks seems to have shifted from heavily defended cities like Kiev to cities with fewer defenses. In Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian air defenses destroyed most of the incoming missiles, but anything less than perfection is also something of a defeat.


The offensive launched with existing Ukrainian units moving forward on a broad front. There are three identifiable areas of effort, but at this point, I can’t call any of them the main effort. I suspect that effort will be on the Tokmak Axis. Geolocated Ukrainian advances are shown in light blue. The red triangles are Russian fortifications, keeping in mind most of those are not manned.

Base map credit: Institute for the Study of War.

Thus far, only three of the newly trained brigades have been identified.

The operational concept seems to be to push forward on three axes of advance, force the Russians to commit their reserve to prevent a breakthrough, and then launch a coordinated attack to breach the Russian obstacle belts.

The Ukrainians have enjoyed steady advances of about 10 kilometers everywhere. This is not to say they haven’t had problems, but so far, none of the Russian counterattacks that have materialized have caused either a halt or a loss of ground.

As the front line pushes ahead, the Ukrainians are attacking artillery, air defense, electronic warfare assets, supply dumps, communications nodes, and headquarters deep behind the front.

The Ukrainians have lost a few of the German Leopards and US Bradleys. It is unclear right now how many of the vehicles can be repaired. What is very clear is that the crews of the stricken vehicles are walking away from what would’ve been a catastrophic kill had they been in a Russian-made vehicle of the same type.

What is unusual about this offensive is that very little video is coming from the Ukrainian side, and what the Russians are releasing is video of the same engagements or vehicles from different angles and claiming they are different.

What has piqued my curiosity are images like this. This is a Russian 152mm 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled gun. It has a range of just over 15 miles. In a defensive scenario, one would expect to find them at least 10 miles behind the front line. It is a high-value artillery piece. It is always possible that it was broken down or lost and stumbled onto Ukrainian troops. But the dearth of video and imagery makes me wonder if the Ukrainian penetration in some areas is substantially deeper than we think.


As I said, this isn’t about the Ukrainians getting everything their way. Russian attack helicopters have been unusually aggressive and racking up kills on Ukrainian vehicles from standoff ranges of up to eight kilometers. The Ukrainians do not seem to be doing a great job of moving air defense forward with their advancing units. Russian drones have been striking targets that should be under an air defense umbrella. The Ukrainians are working to limit drone damage, but progress will be slow until a defensive solution is fielded to protect high-value vehicles from drone attacks.

These are the early days; hopefully, some of these hard lessons are being learned.

In this series of images, the Ukrainians tried to force their way through a minefield and ended up losing three mine-clearing tanks,

This area was eventually taken, so the vehicles were recovered and may be repairable, but it is one of those things that didn’t have to happen.

An even larger clusterf*** happened here.

This represents the loss of approximately an armor/mechanized infantry company. Based on the damage, the best theory is that they were caught in a minefield dropped on them by Russian rockets. None of the vehicles are catastrophic kills, and most will be repaired. That said, this was a fiasco that hopefully has some teaching value.

And disturbing drone video appeared that showed “barrier troops” in action. During WW II, barrier troops were NKVD units placed behind the combatants to execute anyone trying to retreat.

New Weapons

Back in Week 33, I posted on the Spanish Air Force pulling some aging HAWK missiles out of storage and shipping them to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 33. Mobilization Muddle, a New Era in Air-to-Air Combat Begins, and Another Lull Before a Storm. The most recent Ramstein contact group meeting announcement says we are doing the same thing. I’m sure there will be the “Oh, noooo, we’ve run out of equipment just like Colonel MacGregor said we would” point of view. I think the more likely scenario is that we’ve discovered that the HAWK can take on nearly any Russian missile threat, and cleaning them out of war stocks lets the shelves be filled up with modern equipment.

Combat Operations

Thomas Theiner, @noclador on Twitter, echoes the same fears I have voiced to you for the past several weeks. There is no doubt the Ukrainian soldier is courageous and capable. There is much more doubt about the competence of battalion and brigade-level commanders and their staff.


I don’t know how the Ukrainian Army operates. We know for certain there is no penalty for failure in the Russian Army for officers. The best services are brutal and unforgiving for errors that reflect poor planning, control, and a failure to anticipate. Voltaire’s famous, “In this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others,” comes from the execution of Admiral John Byng for “not having done his utmost.” Unless the Ukrainian high command is willing to start shooting (figuratively) officers for not doing their best, like sending tanks and mechanized infantry against an entrenched enemy without artillery or air defense support, no matter how popular they are, then it will not improve.

We’ve also learned that the engineering, testing, and money that has gone into making Western military vehicles extremely safe for their crew has been worth it. Had these been Russian vehicles, there would’ve been nothing left by hair, teeth, and eyeballs.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

This officially released video by the Ukrainian Army high command shows the aggressiveness needed to take on fieldwork. Again, I’d point out that doing this without artillery support and, given the drone threat, a Stinger team is a suboptimal way to get things done.

Northern Front

Every army has its self-important “Colonel Blimps.” When I was a company commander, we quietly referred to our brigade commander as “Courtney Massengale.” I’ve you’ve read the book or watched Sam Elliott in the mini-series, you know the reference. One of Russia’s best held up a unit moving to the front so they could hear a barn-burner speech by him. It was all caught on drone video. Ukrainian drone video.

Southern Front



Adam Delimkhanov, a crony of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was wounded during an artillery strike at a Black Sea recreation center.

Lieutenant Colonel Roman Venevitin, who was roughed up by Wagner PMC fighters, says they were betrayed.

Partisan Operations



Told You So

In my post on the Kakhovka Dam destruction, I pointed out that one obvious side effect was that the forces held in place to defend against an unlikely Ukrainian river crossing were now free to be better used; see Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam Is Blown up Unleashing Widespread Flooding. So what happened?

Rear Areas

“Team Building Session” Hit By Artillery Fire

Partisan Activity

What’s Next?

To the surprise of many, Ukaine led off their offensive with units that were already on the front lines or in immediate reserve. We can look for a continuation in the series of attacks and steady progress. The Ukrainians will attempt to attrit critical Russian assets and wear down their front-line strength to make them either commit their reserve or break it into smaller pieces to plug holes in the line. The Russians will devote their effort to locating and targeting the Ukrainian operational reserve. As they’ve shown so far, the Russians can, via artillery-delivered mines, freeze reserve units in place and seal off penetrations before they can be exploited if they know what is happening.

Ben Hodges, former US Army Europe commander and who I know personally, has a solid take on the early appearance of the Leopard tanks.

The big question for me is if the Ukrainians have the leadership at battalion and brigade level to pull off a major penetration. The second-order question is if those battalion and brigade staffs have the ingenuity and aggressiveness to create a combined arms assault, or will each combat arm continue to do its own thing?


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