Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away

Welcome to the Ukraine War Update. This is how things stand on Day 512 of Vladimir Putin’s three-day blitzkrieg.

The big news this week was mostly political. Putin had to beg off meeting with the heads of state of an organization he aspires to lead rather than face arrest as a war criminal. The Black Sea Grain Initiative ended…or at least this iteration ended. The International Olympic Committee announced it would not allow athletes from Russia or Belarus to participate as members of national teams. Tactically, the Ukrainians continue to look like the Minnesota Vikings circa the mid-1970s. They are grinding out small gains and holding them.


Here are some of my past updates.

Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity

Putin’s War, Week 71. The Fighters Go to Their Corners

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

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

Politico-Strategic Level

Putin Has to Choose Between BRICS and Jail

The top political news is Russian President Vladimir Putin canceling a trip to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) heads of state meeting rather than risk arrest as a war criminal. You can read my post on this fiasco at Vladimir Putin Cancels Trip to BRICS Summit Because of ICC Arrest Warrant. The fact that the South African government, when forced to choose between membership in the ICC and hosting Putin, chose ICC membership. This is not the act of a nation looking to create a new international order.

Black Sea Grain Initiative Is Done…for Now

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, the UN-sponsored program that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported to the Third World, ended at midnight Wednesday. It was bookended by Russian missile strikes on port infrastructure in Odesa.

We need to look at this as the opening move in the negotiations for the next round of the grain deal, not as its ending; see Russia Kills the Black Sea Grain Initiative but Can It Make It Stick?


When the volley of Russian missiles struck Odessa overnight, one hit the Chinese consulate.

NATO Defense Expenditures

The defense expenditures of our NATO allies have been a bone of contention for years, but it really came to the forefront of the national conversation under President Trump. There is no doubt that a large number of NATO members are freeloaders. For years Germany has used its NATO budget to improve ports, railways, and highways because NATO forces would have to use them in case of war. In the meantime, the Bundeswehr, Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine have been driven into the dirt by neglect. This chart lets you know at a glance who are serious allies and who aren’t.


Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away

F-16 Project Continues on Track

Ukraine has been campaigning for over a year for modern fighter and attack aircraft. The last piece has fallen into place. Now it is only a matter of time until the first F-16s operate in Ukrainian airspace.

Crimean Bridge

A USV attack heavily damaged the only direct connection between Crimea and Russia; see Russia’s Bridge to Crimea Heavily Damaged…Again…by Ukrainian Attack. The railway bridge still operates, but vehicular traffic is single-tracked on one lane. The entire Russian war effort in Crimea and Kherson depends on the Kerch Strait Bridge and a single highway and rail line following the coast of the Sea of Azov.

No Matter Where You Go, Russians are Disliked

Instead of the invasion of Ukraine bolstering Russian power and prestige, it has resulted in both being devastated. This poll by Gallup shows how Russia’s image has been thrashed by its criminal behavior in Ukraine. These views of Russia directly impact the ability of the Russian government to carry out diplomacy, and when the war ends, it will make it more difficult for Russia and Russian companies to find foreign investment. When you add this to the abandonment of Russian culture by the Russian diaspora in Eastern and Central Europe and the creation of a Ukrainian national identity, this war will have to go down as one of the major strategic disasters in modern history.

Did I Mention the Rejection of Russian Cultural Influence?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused a renaissance of interest in Ukrainian language, history, and culture. It has also caused a rejection of all things Russian.

It is a solid bet that other Ukrainian cities will follow suit and impose similar restrictions.

No Olympics for Russia and Belarus

Just to reiterate my point above, the IOC will not allow Russia and Belarus to compete in the 2024 games. The athletes from those countries can compete under a neutral, i.e., white flag.

South Korea’s President Visits Ukraine Bearing Gifts

South Korea hasn’t been a big player in assisting Ukraine. It has provided non-lethal aid such as helmets, and in May, it “loaned” the US 155mm artillery ammunition that was subsequently given to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 65. G7 Calls for War Crimes Trials and Reparations, F-16 Pilots Start Training, and Russia Is Invaded. On Saturday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol visited Kiev and offered to underwrite de-mining efforts and to help rebuild schools. He also visited Poland and inked a $13.7 billion arms deal plus an agreement to manufacture Korean-designed equipment in Poland. With the visit to Kiev put in context with the billions of dollars Poland has spent on South Korean military equipment, it is an indicator that South Korea is establishing itself as a power player in Eastern Europe.


Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Update

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant remains on the front lines of the battle area. Earlier in the month, Ukraine accused Russia of planning to demolish the reactor, and Russia accused Ukraine of plotting a “false flag” attack to blame Russia, see BREAKING. Russia and Ukraine Accuse Each Other of Planning an Attack Tonight on Europe’s Largest Nuclear Reactor. IAEA inspectors are on the scene and have reported no signs of preparations for destruction.


Prisoners of War

I’ve often noted that the only functioning diplomatic interaction between Russia and Ukraine is their prisoner exchange cartel. Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainians have tried to make their treatment of Russian prisoners in custody a public relations item. Ukraine allows the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisoner-of-war camps, a major difference from Russia. This is not to say war crimes don’t occur; they do. That is not unique to this war. A post-World War Il study by the British Army found that surrenders attempted after an exchange of small arms fire were rarely accepted.

Compare and contrast the health of these men with the videos of released Ukrainian prisoners and their conditions with those in Russian PW camps.

WTF I Mean wt-f***ing-f?

I don’t know anything about this guy other than he works for a Russian funded “think tank” and seems to be rather stupid. Sadly, he has a lot of influence with a particular slice of online conservatism.

He probably thinks he’s doing some kind of troll-by-sarcasm, but the fact that you can’t tell his sarcasm from his usual fare should make anyone listening to him reconsider.

Propaganda Videos

As the amount of video covering combat operations grows, so does the effort by both sides to manipulate it. Both sides use video for propaganda though the methodology differs. The Ukrainians swamp social media with video to give the impression of inevitable victory. The Russians tend to edit one piece of video in several different ways. This is an example of that technique.

Russian Telegram Star Killed in Action

Mikhail Luchin, known on Telegram as “Misha in Donbas,’ was killed in action near Bakhmut. Luchin was a drone operator and commander of a drone unit. He had about 22,000 followers on his Telegram account, where he posted combat action videos.

He was also famous for raising money online to buy drones for his unit, only to have his account hacked and cleaned out. The hackers used the money to buy dildos which they shipped to the unit.

Take It With a Grain of Salt

I do my best not to cover the who’s-up-who’s-down stories about the Kremlin or the Russian high command because  Here is a collection of stories that merit our attention.

“The Ukrainian army could not break through our ranks at the front but our senior chief hit us from the rear, viciously beheading the army at the most difficult and intense moment,” he said in an audio message posted on Telegram on Wednesday.

“The senior chiefs apparently sensed some kind of danger from me and quickly concocted an order from the defence minister in just one day and got rid of me. I await my fate.”

Maj Gen Popov is the first senior Russian army commander to be sacked for insubordination since the beginning of the war.

I covered Popov’s ouster last week in Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity.

In the next story, a former FSB colonel is arrested for running a Telegram channel that specializes in threatening to release embarrassing information on members of Russia’s elite.

According to BRIEF, Polyakov was in charge of Department 2 of the FSB Service for Moscow and the Moscow Region, with culture, education, sports, and healthcare under his purview. His employees were reportedly involved in administrating Telegram channels.
The Telegram channel also indicated that he may have been involved in working to discredit the head of the FSB of Moscow and the Moscow Region, Aleksey Dorofeev.

The relief of Popov mentioned above seems to have set off a cascade of removals of any senior officer tempted to buck Moscow’s orders or complain about the support of the war effort. It is rumored that Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky, commander of all Russian Airborne forces, might be the next to go. It is also rumored that many Airborne officers will refuse to fight if that happens.

Videos like these, where soldiers and families are openly complaining about the conditions of service on Russian Telegram channels, are becoming common. Note that many don’t bother to wear a mask.

Cringey McCringeface

I lived through disco music, so I know cringe. This is cringe.

Operational Level

Operational Concept

Fighting continues in four areas. The Russians continue to attack in Kharkiv (see Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity) and have gained a small amount of real estate. This operation strikes me as a spoiling attack to pull Ukrainian reinforcements from the main effort to shore up defenses. The Russian offensive in Kharkiv is by far the easiest area for the Russians to supply because of its proximity to the Russian border.

The Ukrainians continue attacking north and south of Bakhmut and are making slow but steady progress. The fighting farther south around Avdiivka/Marinka is indecisive. Both sides have had gains and losses. The Ukrainians are progressing in the three areas they are attacking in Zaporizhzhia.

I think former SEAL platoon commander Chuck Pfarrer has this right. I’d add that I think the Bakhmut experience taught the Russians that any Ukrainian advance has to be met with a full-blown counterattack. They require reserves to be moved and assembled and present a target to Ukrainian artillery before they can be used. The constant movement wears out men and machines and exposes them to attack. One of the reasons Popov was fired was because he demanded his units be taken out of the line and given time to rest and refit.

The Butcher’s Bill

The butcher’s bill was a term used in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail for the number of casualties after an engagement. Thanks to a Russian Telegram channel affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group PMC, we have an idea of the butcher’s bill for Wagner’s victory in Bakhmut.

Of a total strength of 78,000 men, 62,000 (79%) were casualties. Of the 40,000 wounded, 25,000 (60%) have returned to duty. This amounts to 37,000 men (47%) dead or invalided out. In the words of Pyrrhus of Epirus, “Another such victory and I am undone.”

Ukraine Begins Using US-Supplied Cluster Munitions

A week ago, the US released cluster munitions to Ukraine in the guise of 155mm Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions artillery rounds. The decision stirred up a contrived controversy notable for its dishonesty and the memory-holing of Russia’s use of cluster munitions since Day One of the war; see US Releases Cluster Munitions to Ukraine in Stopgap Effort to Aid Ukraine’s Offensive. Now that ammunition is in use.


Pentagon Announces New Aid Package

New Ammunition Supplier

Even though Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev is pro-Russian and reluctant to help Ukraine, the old adage of “money talks and bullish** walks” is as true in Bulgaria as anywhere else.

For those keeping score, this brings the number of nations producing artillery ammunition for Ukraine other than the United States to 10.

  • Belgium: BAES (Belgium Advanced Engineering Solutions)
  • Czech Republic: Explosia
  • France: Nexter
  • Germany: Rheinmetall
  • Italy: OTO Melara
  • Netherlands: NAMMO
  • Poland: Huta Stalowa Wola
  • Portugal: Expal
  • Spain: Expal
  • United Kingdom: BAE Systems

Last week BAE announced an eight-fold increase in ammunition production. Rheinmetall is activating mothballed ammunition plants. The US is bringing new ammunition plants online.

Which brings me to this nonsense.

Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away

Ukraine has more modern artillery systems than Russia. Russia not only does not have “10 times the ammunition” but is it engaged in an industrial battle to produce both artillery and ammunition that, in my view, it has no more hope of winning today than it did when it tried to match Ronaldus Magnus dollar for dollar in the late 1980s.

New Weapons
Russian JDAM

We’ve known the Russians had an equivalent to our Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), but this is the first concrete evidence it is being used in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Production Steps Up

Ukraine had an arms industry in its infancy when the war broke out. For most of its history, Ukraine focused on repairs and upgrades to Soviet equipment, but it also had home-grown artillery, anti-ship missile, and short-range ballistic missiles in production. Now some parts of the Ukrainian defense industry seem to be hitting their stride.

The Great HAWK Roundup

Last October, I posted on Spain transferring a batter of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. They were obsolescent and in storage awaiting demilitarization (Putin’s War, Week 33. Mobilization Muddle, a New Era in Air-to-Air Combat Begins, and Another Lull Before a Storm). As it turns out, they are effective against virtually all Russian aircraft and missiles. And there are lots of them in storage with US allies. Now the US is in the process of repurchasing them and shipping them to Ukraine.

Fresh Out of Storage

There have been a lot of horror stories about the condition of Russian equipment coming out of storage depots. Tanks had been stripped of optics and engine parts for sale on the black market. Tires were dry-rotted. And on and on. This is another example.

Combat Operations

Here is a collection of some of the better combat action footage.


This is one of the more amazing pieces of video I’ve seen. A Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle was hit by a Russian sabot round…and drove away.

This is why you don’t use a very expensive missile to engage a small and very cheap quadrocopter.

Switchblade Back Brief

This is a good article on the US-produced Switchblade suicide drone.

What If a Plane Crashes in the Water and No One Gives a Rip?

It is increasingly difficult to watch the actions of Russians…anywhere…and not come away with the feeling that they are the product of a gravely wounded society. Monday, a Russian Su-25 crashed into the ocean off the Russian seaside resort of Yeysk on the Sea of Azov. The pilot ejected (see 0:05 in the video) and made a safe water landing. No one came to rescue him. He struggled for eight minutes and drowned.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

This is a good example of the type of combined arms operation needed for Ukraine to succeed. My interpretation is that the manual clearing of the minefield occurs after a breach. In the SOSR mnemonic (Suppress enemy fire, Obscure the point of the breach, Seize the far side of the obstacle, Reduce the obstacle), this is the “Reduce the obstacle” stage.

This is a good article on how Ukraine deals with the extensive minefield the Russians have laid.

Northern Front

This infographic on the fighting near Kupiansk shows why I think this is a spoiling attack. Kupiansk is a critical supply node for the Ukrainian Army, so it has to be defended. If you look a the topography in front of the Russian direction of attack you’ll see a river overlooked by a dominant hill mass. It is hard to see how the Russians generate the combat power necessary to carry that hill mass and put Kupiansk in jeopardy.

Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away



The Ukrainian Army continues to push north and south of the city, but the main effort is clearly in the south.

Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away


The fighting in this area is often fierce but without decisive results by either side. This also has the appearance of a spoiling offensive by the Russians. The last thing the Ukrainians need at this point is to lose the Avdiivka salient and they will be forced to push fresh troops into the fighting here and away from the main effort.

Putin's War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine's Offense Continues to Grind Away
CREDIT: ISW Interactive Map

Southern Front


The main fighting is on the outskirts of the town of Robotyne on the Orikhiv-Tokmak-Melitopol axis where Ukrainian troops are trying to breach the first Russian obstacle belt. The progress is very slow. I think we will see a penetration here in the next two weeks and then we will learn a lot. The ferocity of the Russian defense here leads me to believe the succeeding lines of defense are either lightly manned or without troops. If that is the case, then we could witness a race between the two armies to the next defensive line.


Volunteers for Deportation Recruited

A similar offer was made in Kherson before the Russians evacuated the area.


The Ukrainians continue to occupy a bridgehead on the left bank of Dnieper in the area of the now-destroyed Antonovsky Bridge. There is the potential for a supporting attack here if the Russian defenses in Zaporizhzhia begin to come unglued. Otherwise, this bridgehead pins down Russian forces who otherwise would be available as reinforcements.

Rear Areas



Pro-Ukrainian Chechen fighters ambush a Russian supply truck in Belgorod Oblast, Russia.

Airfield Attack

The Dyagilevo airfield has been hit (The War in Ukraine Heats up as Drones Attack Russian Airbase Only 100 Miles From Moscow) before with greater effect. But pinprick strikes deep inside Russia have a psychological impact that far exceeds the damage they cause (Putin’s War Comes Home as Kremlin Is Hit by Drone Attack).

What’s Next?

The Ukrainians have dropped an OPSEC wall around their operations that is very different from just a few months ago when it seemed like every Ukrainian unit was posting combat videos. What we see right now is largely what they want us to see. The most significant evidence of this new security regime is that we still don’t know the whereabouts of nine trained armor and mechanized brigades, including the one equipped with Challenger 2 tanks.

Based on what I’m inferring is the Ukrainian operational concept, we can expect to see continued pressure south of Bakhmut. This looks to be the secondary focus of the Ukrainian offensive, and I think a breakthrough south of the city is very likely, given the chaos in the Russian chain of command in the area. Pressure will continue around Robotyne to breach the first Russian defensive belt, and the Ukrainians will try to turn that into an exploitation.


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