Putin's War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Greetings and welcome to RedState’s coverage of Week 70 of Vladimir Putin’s three-day jaunt to Kiev. This update is a bonus for me because I hadn’t anticipated being able to write it.*


Without a doubt, the biggest story about Ukraine since the last update is the attempted coup d’etat by, at a minimum, Wagner Group PMC honcho Yevgeny Prigozhin. If the stories emerging are true, that, for instance, Russian security services discovered the incipient plot at least 48 hours before it launched and prevented Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov from being rounded up by Wagner fighters and that the head of the Russian Aerospace Forces General Sergei Surovkin was actively involved, then Vladimir Putin’s grip on power is much more tenuous than anyone dared believe. See all of RedState’s coverage of the coup attempt at Russia Faces Either a Military Mutiny or Coup D’Etat From Wagner PMC Boss Prigozhin, Fighting Against Leadership Underway in Russia: Wagner Group Seizes Buildings in Rostov, Battles Allegedly Erupt in Voronezh, Putin Surfaces With Speech on the Coup Attempt, Prigozhin Responds, and Has Anyone Seen Victoria Nuland? and Russian Coup Update: It Ends With a Whimper as Prigozhin Goes Into Exile but Will Anything Ever Be the Same?

The political and strategic implications of that will rebound about the world for weeks or months to come, but this has made Putin’s War much more difficult for the Russian Army to prosecute and for the Russian nation to sustain. Nothing that happened during the Wagner revolt made Putin or Russia stronger.

Here are some of my past updates.

Putin’s War, Week 69. As CNN Reports the Ukrainians Have Stalled the First Breakthrough Happens

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

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 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

Belarus’ Lukashenko Portrays Himself as Putin’s Savior

.One of the most unlikely happenings in the Wagner revolt was the role played by Belarus’ rotund dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko. Not only did he end up hosting Wagner honcho Pirgozhin in exile and taking custody of the fighters remaining loyal to Prigozhin, Lukashenko claimed credit for brokering the deal.

I have no way of evaluating this claim, but it seems unlikely that Putin will repay this exercise in self-promotion kindly. I suspect this is domestic politics, with Lukashenko trying to increase his popularity with a dissatisfied and restive population as a hungry Poland and Lithuania glare at him.

Russian Attack on Bulgarian Arms Factory?

While Wagner Group was on its Thunder Run toward Moscow, a major Bulgarian ammunition depot exploded. The depot was run by EMKO, a Bulgarian company owned by Emilian Gebrev, and it supplies ammunition to Ukraine.


The Bulgarian government hinted that Russia might be to blame.

I’m not sure anyone wants to find out the answer to the question, so we probably won’t. This would not be the first time Russia has attacked ammunition production facilities in a NATO country; see Poland Expels 45 Russian Spies Posing as Diplomats as Fears of Attacks on Ukraine Supply Route Looms. Also, read the following:

China Open to Ukraine Taking Crimea

One of the most poorly reported aspects of Putin’s War has been Russia’s relationship with China. A whole, in my view, garden industry of fanciful “#DragonBear” commentary has grown up claiming Russia and China are allies, and this alliance, operating under the “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) economic grouping will challenge the US and the EU for economic dominance. Russia is not China’s ally. Russia is a client state. Russia supplies China with raw materials and gets finished products back…this is called a “colonial economy.” So far, China has not supplied arms or ammunition to Russia because it doesn’t want its companies to be hit with sanctions. The reason that China will not be an ally of Russia is because it learned something valuable from the German experience of July 1914. You don’t want to be in a military alliance with a weak and reckless partner. If doubt existed before, the Wagner revolt settled the case.

China has again gone on record supporting Ukraine’s legitimate claim to Crimea. They obliquely did this a few weeks ago (see China’s Peace Proposal for Putin’s War in Ukraine Is Just Internet Trolling). Now the Chinese EU envoy has said so openly.


This position is one of enlightened self-interest by China. Not only does it chalk up some positive marks in the West, but this position also supports China’s claim on Taiwan.

No, Russia and China are not allies. Russia is, at best, a client state that will be thrown under the bus if China can cut a better deal on something important.

An Unfortunate Accident

The day after the Wagner mutiny kicked off, a senior internal security officer in the St. Petersburg region, Lieutenant General Alexander Travnikov, crashed his ATV into an “obstacle” near his home and ended up in the intensive care unit at a hospital.

Wagner Group Hit With US Sanctions

Several front groups and individuals associated with Wagner Group’s African operations have been hit by sanctions.

The question has to be asked, why wait until the coup was over before taking this action?

I think the answer to that question was made quite clear by Vladimir Putin.

The Biden White House knew that Wagner Group was an operating agency of the Kremlin and elected to do nothing about its abuses in Africa for fear of making Putin angry. Once Wagner Groiup was targeted by destruction by the Putin regime, it was safe to act. The second-order question that Congress should investigate is why the Biden White House was afraid to act. And how much money did Joe, Jim, and Hunter Biden make on the deal?

Operational Level


Overall, little has changed over the last three weeks. Ukraine is making steady progress in several areas. Most of the brigades held in reserve for the spring offensive remain out of sight. A maximum of five of the ~16 brigades have been seen in action. There are a lot of stories about how unnamed sources aren’t pleased by the pace of the offensive. I’m sure that in the stripey-pants set, there may be some feeling that way. As an infantryman, I have an aversion to killing off riflemen because someone who is not in danger is in a hurry. The Ukrainian Army is attempting to breach a network of crude defensive belts protected by minefields of a density we have not seen since World War II. Once they clear the preliminary defensive belts, they get to face the more sophisticated ones. What I’m seeing now is a methodical reduction of Russian defenses and the destruction of Russian reserve forces when they counterattack. The one interesting Ukrainian advance that may or may not prove to be significant is a crossing of the Dneiper River downstream from the destroyed Kakhovka Dam (Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam Is Blown up Unleashing Widespread Flooding).

More Brigades in Training

As far as I’m concerned, the project undertaken by NATO to provide basic combat training to Ukrainian recruits has been a game-changer. Not only has it jumpstarted the level of tactical proficiency among Ukrainian troops well above that of their Russian counterparts it shows that Ukraine, unlike Russia, is not feeding its forces into a meatgrinder for the sake of a few meters of mud. A case can be made for saying this training may have kept Ukraine in the fight because their enlistees feel they will have more than a fighting chance of survival. The training received will get raw recruits past their baptism of fire and make a massive difference in survival rates. As this program continues, Ukrainian units will rapidly outstrip the Russian Army in military competence.

Combat Operations

This is the kind of thing that I think we’ll see more of as the Ukrainians become proficient in synchronizing combined arms. Without this synchronization, the sheer volume of Russian mines will stall the Ukrainian offensive until the autumn rains end the fighting season.

Northern Front

The localized Russian offensive west of Lyman, see the uppermost circle on this ISW map, has petered out with no territorial gain.

Ukrainian forces continue to advance north and south of Bakhmut.

My assessment is that a) the Russian offensive in the north has failed to either gain ground or force the Ukrainians to devote troops to defeating it. As we know from the past, this doesn’t mean that the offensive is over; it just means that for it to have hope of success, the Russians will have to reinforce the attack. To do that, they have to deprive some other location of forces. In a situation where Ukraine has numerical superiority, this doesn’t make sense, but neither has anything else the Russian Army has done for the last 16 months.

With the withdrawal of Wagner Group from Bakhmut, I think the Ukrainian offensive above and below the city will eventually succeed and force an evacuation by the Russian Army. I don’t think any Russian Army unit is bloody-minded enough to burn through manpower to hold a symbolic city the way Wagner was happy to do.


Putin's War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues

Southern Front

While Ukraine has gained the most ground on the Zaporizhzhia-Donetsk border, the circle at the right side of the map, I think the area to watch is around Robotyne. This city is on the route between Orikhiv and Tokmak. Tokmak is, in my view, the Clausewitzian schwerpunkt of the campaign. If Tokmak falls, the rail and highway networks that comprise Russia’s “land bridge” from Russia to Crimea will be broken. At that point, the air goes out of Russian defenses west of Tokmak.

A small supporting offensive on the left of the map, near the edge of the former Kakhovka Reservoir, has shown promise.
Putin's War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues

A small supporting offensive on the left of the map, near the edge of the former Kakhovka Reservoir, has shown promise. This could play out in one of two ways. If the Robotyne axis continues to move, the Russians must commit reserves to stop it. At that time, we could see a significant effort around Lobkove, to the left on the map below. We could also see a strong effort made near Lobkove to pull Russian reserves there and then uncork a major push at Robotyne. I think the second is the most likely, but who knows?

Putin's War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues


About the time Wagner Group was shooting down Russian attack helicopters over Voronezh; the Ukrainian Army launched an amphibious raid/reconnaissance-in-force across the marsh left behind after the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam at the destroyed Antonovsky Bridge. The
Antonovsky Bridge is the only major bridge from the left (Russian) side of the Dneiper to the right (Ukrainian) side. In July 2022, the Ukrainian Army dropped the bridge using newly arrived HIMARS rockets (Putin’s War. Week 21. New Weapons Change the Battlefield in Ukraine’s Favor but Are They Stronger Than European Cowardice and Stupidity?) This led directly to Russia’s decision to abandon the right bank of the river.

The bridgehead is represented by the sliver of dark blue at the south end of the Antonovsky Bridge in the map below.

Putin's War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues
Credit: Andrew Perpetua

The bridgehead is small. Right now, it is sustainable because the Kakhovka Dam flood had wiped out Russian defensive positions, and most Russian forces had been pulled back from observation by Ukrainian artillery. The Russians can’t carry out a counterattack to dislodge the bridgehead because the counterattack force would have to cross miles of open territory and attack the teeth of Ukrainian forces on the right bank. What makes this bridgehead seem more than an annoyance is that the Ukrainians have committed a lot of electronic warfare units to shut down Russian drone operations.


If the Ukrainians can expand this bridgehead, they have caused the Russian military command a significant headache. If the Antonovsky Bridge can be repaired, even temporarily, the bridgehead can be expanded, forcing the Russians to divert troops to control the penetration.

With a bit of bad luck, the bridgehead could be wiped out in a day.

Rear Areas

With the “land bridge” in tenuous shape, Russian troops in Crimea and Kherson depend on Crimea’s sealift/rail combination for supplies. Last week this same rail line was hit by partisans.

What’s Next?

I think we’re seeing the outlines of the tactics Ukraine is using for this offensive. They are carving off chunks of occupied terrain. The objective seems to be two-fold. First, attrit Russian frontline forces. There are signs that we can expect a collapse of some Russian units in the next weeks. It won’t be a 1917 collapse, but it will be noticeable. Second, force the Russians to commit reserve forces to regain lost ground and use massed artillery to maul the counterattack.

This will continue until the Ukrainian high command decides they have achieved the metrics needed to assure the forces held in reserve can be committed with an overwhelming chance of success.

The fact that the Ukrainian high command is not letting itself get stampeded into an attack on fully-manned and prepared fortifications shows a degree of confidence in allies and in its plans that is impressive.


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