Putin's War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry's Employees Join the Russian Army

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It is Week 74 of Russia’s glorious blitzkrieg through Ukraine, and things are beginning to happen on the ground. They aren’t happening fast enough for some folks in DC, but it’s easy to encourage speed if you aren’t the guy tiptoeing through a minefield. Yesterday, the New York Times announced that Urkaine’s big push had started.


If the names “Tokmak” and “Melitopol” look familiar, they should. I’ve been saying that would be the direction of attack for a while (Putin’s War, Week 33. Mobilization Muddle, a New Era in Air-to-Air Combat Begins, and Another Lull Before a Storm).

My gut is that the war is coming to a decision point in several different areas. Militarily, the Russian Army in Ukraine is in terrible shape. The structure of the Russian Army uses its commissioned officers as primary trainers and leaders rather than the long-serving noncommissioned officers, that is, sergeants and petty officers, that you find in the West. The best of Russia’s officer corps was dead a year ago. Young men commissioned into the Russian Army in May are already dying in large numbers.

There is a finite amount of punishment any Army can take, and I think the Russian Army is getting close to the red zone.

Diplomatically, Russia is much more isolated than the Soviet Union ever was. The nations that associate with Russia are other pariah states. The fake economic and collective security organizations that it formed as a counterbalance to the EU and NATO are falling apart. As you’ll see below, Putin has now made his daily schedule a state secret after doing the same to Russian economic data. Even if Putin can find a way to let go of this tar baby (can I still say that?), it is difficult to see how he survives as Russia’s president. And without a man like Putin used to be, it is hard to see how centrifugal force, but in particular the political Black Hole that is China, doesn’t pull the “Russian Federation” apart.

That’s all the cheerfulness I can handle for right now.

Here are some of my past updates.

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

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

Top Secret Putin

Russia has started classifying Putin’s itinerary. I suspect this has to do with the seismic effects in the Kremlin of the Wagner mutiny and Putin’s failure — or inability — to punish Prigozhin and his lieutenants. Earlier this year, Russia stopped publishing much of its economic data and classified it as a “state secret.” There is only one reason for this sudden change, Putin is no longer quite as secure in his position as he was.


Shoigu in North Korea

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is in North Korea. It is widely suspected that he’s there to try to convince North Korea to part with its stocks of artillery ammunition.

Even if you don’t like Russia and would just as soon see it cut up into condo complexes for Syrian refugees, this is still pathetic. I hope they gave Shoigu a commemorative napkin to wipe his chin after that performance.

Neither the visit nor what happened during the visit paint a positive picture of Russia’s condition.

China Supplies Military Gear to Russia

We’ve known that Chinese companies were sending military supplies to Russia for quite a while. What wasn’t fully understood was the scope of the trade. So far, China is not supplying weaponry or ammunition.

Russia has imported more than $100 million-worth of drones from China so far this year — 30 times more than Ukraine. And Chinese exports of ceramics, a component used in body armor, increased by 69 percent to Russia to more than $225 million, while dropping by 61 percent to Ukraine to a mere $5 million, Chinese and Ukrainian customs data show.

“What is very clear is that China, for all its claims that it is a neutral actor, is in fact supporting Russia’s positions in this war,” said Helena Legarda, a lead analyst specializing in Chinese defense and foreign policy at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a Berlin think tank.

Romania Joins G7 Security Guarantees for Ukraine

During the NATO summit in Vilnius, the G7 agreed to provide security guarantees to Ukraine as a bridge to NATO membership; see NATO Summit Highlights NATO Unity on Ukraine but Also Reveals Divisions. Now Romania has joined the group. While Romania is not a superpower, it shares a long border along the Danube River with Ukraine.

Mine Clearance Commitment

Japan and Croatia have joined Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States in assisting Ukraine in de-mining and removing unexploded ordnance from some 67,000 square miles of its territory.

Weapons Security

One of the constant complaints of those opposing military aid to Ukraine to defend its borders and independence is that the weaponry is stolen or diverted to criminal enterprises. Early in the war, CBS tried to push that line of attack by conflating the theft of non-lethal aid with weapons theft; see CBS Pulls Fatally Flawed Documentary ‘Arming Ukraine’ From Circulation. As the aid process matured, small numbers of US military personnel were assigned the task of monitoring the transfer and distribution of NATO weapons and ammunition (The Pentagon Sends Weapons Security Inspectors to Ukraine, if You Thought Those Opposing Aid to Ukraine Were Happy, Think Again). The same people complaining about the loss of weapons quickly morphed into whining about “boots on the ground,” but whatever.

A Pentagon report obtained by CNN confirms that controlling weapon distribution during a war is challenging, and some small arms have been stolen but thanks to the work of Ukrainian security forces, most of that weaponry has been recovered.

Will Kill for Market Share

Russia seems to be experimenting with a new form of feudalism where private companies and government agencies are given a quota of soldiers to raise from their workforce. Even the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has been tasked with supplying a certain number of employees to the Army. This marks the first time Western brands have had to do the same. Unsurprisingly, companies that have decided to remain active in Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine are complying.

Reliable Sources

Because of the amount of propaganda generated by both sides, it is a challenge to decide what to believe. Russian milbloggers seem to have adopted the practice of relying upon reports by the Ukrainian general staff for their updates. It would be great if the pro-Russian Westerners on social media had the same intellectual honesty.

Russia Miffed About Cluster Munitions

Russia is having a sad over US cluster munitions used by Ukrainian forces; US Releases Cluster Munitions to Ukraine in Stopgap Effort to Aid Ukraine’s Offensive.

Zakharova believes that the Kiev regime “keeps practicing criminal terror.” She recalled that on Saturday afternoon, as a result of the Ukrainian armed forces’ strike with cluster munitions on journalists of the Izvestia multimedia information center and RIA Novosti news agency, one journalist was killed and three more wounded.

“Everything indicates that the attack on the group of journalists was not carried out by chance. The correspondents were collecting information for a report on how the Kiev regime’s militants pound the populated localities in the Zaporozhye Region using cluster munitions banned in many countries. Those are supplied to Kiev by the United States,” she said.

“Washington, along with London and Paris that send long-range missiles to Zelensky’s regime, merely pay lip service voicing concern for the safety of journalists, while in fact they are sponsors of terrorists,” Zakharova said.

According to the diplomat, there are no illusions that international organizations will prefer, as they have already done in similar cases, “to turn a blind eye to this heinous crime, which, in fact, makes them involved in Kyiv’s terrorist lawlessness.”

She is referring to the death of RIA Novosti propagandist Rostislav Zhuravlev and the severe injuries inflicted upon several of his colleagues.

I think we need to take the risk of being held responsible when the Russians start being concerned about their terror attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Deep Thoughts

Nikolai Patrushev is secretary of Russia’s Security Council, a close adviser of Putin, a Russian imperialist, and one of the prime movers of the annexation of Crimea and the 2014 and 2022 Russian invasions of Ukraine. Here he channels the same propaganda we’ve heard from MEChA and the Reconquista movement in California and the American Southwest. This kind of rhetoric from Patrushev and other Putin confidants should be a clue that this war ends only by crushing the Russian military in Ukraine.

Attacks on Odesa

Last week Russia officially withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative; Russia Kills the Black Sea Grain Initiative but Can It Make It Stick? It celebrated the event with a series of large-scale missile attacks on the port city of Odesa launched from Russian ships in the Black Sea.

In addition to the port and grain storage facilities, the Russians targeted the Transfiguration (Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy) Cathedral for destruction. Odesa was targeted, in my opinion, for three reasons. It was a symbolic target to emphasize the end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative; damaging Odesa would make restarting the grain deal more difficult, and Odesa is not covered by the layered air defense network that protects Kiev and other major cities.

Romania Nearly Attacked

Some targets the Russians struck in Odesa were less than a quarter mile from the Romanian port city of Reni. This was a ballsy move by the Russians, considering the gross inaccuracy of their weapons. The sheer recklessness of the action marks it as a “brush back” pitch by the Russians. This may have factored into Romania’s decision to join the G7 in giving security guarantees to Ukraine the next day.


Taking out the Trash

I’m in the minority on this, at least on social media, but I think Ukraine is doing a creditable job of cleaning up the corruption that became endemic under the rule of the post-Soviet governments and eradicating Russian Fifth Columnists. The oligarchs that emerged post-independence are now in exile, and their empires broke up. The drive towards EU and NATO membership has inspired more effort at transparency. And the existential war Ukraine is involved in has removed most, if not all, the institutional and political barriers to rooting out corruption.

Russian Television on the Odessa Strike

This is just a part of my series of translations of mainstream Russian television shows that give you a flavor of what Russian citizens hear from state-run media.

Russia Trolls Germany on Telegram

The German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is making some in-roads in the former East Germany. It is populist and is skeptical of German policy favoring Ukraine. Russia is trying to capitalize on this by running a video on Telegram that is supposedly an AfD advertisement.

Well-known Russian actors play the characters.



The @200_Zoka Twitter feed is one of the most prolific of the openly pro-Russian accounts. A couple of days ago, it went dark. It’s nearly impossible to tell what, if anything, this means, but as noted below, this is not the first time this has happened. The last time was after the fall of Kherson.

Here is more information on the account holder.

Wagner Group Wants to Invade Poland

Last week I posted about Putin’s rant on Poland’s territorial ambitions for parts of Ukraine and all of Belarus; see Putin Makes Wild Claim That Poland Plans to Invade Ukraine and Belarus, Threatens War. Over the weekend, Belarus Grand Poobah Aleksandr Lukashenko visited his master in the Kremlin. During that visit, he said the Wagner troops exiled from Russia to Belarus are agitating to invade Poland. According to Duma Deputy Andrey Kartapolov, the Wagner troops will seize the Suwalki Gap, now part of Lithuania and Poland, opening a direct land route from Russia to Kaliningrad.

File this under bluster. The Wagner troops are marginally trained thugs. They don’t have the combat power to take on Lithuania or Poland, even if backed by the whole Belarusian military.

Operational Level

New Fortifications

Russia continues to expand and improve its fortification belts. If you aren’t paying attention, it looks impressive. The real question is, why is Russia building more fortifications if they think they can hold the ones they already have? And then there is the problem of manning the fortifications. Germany’s Siegfried Line, a much more impressive defensive system, fell with little effort because the Germans didn’t have the troops to garrison the fortifications and fight the war. I think Russia has the same problem.


A Genocide of Artillery

This is something that I’ve discussed before, shaping operations. A lot of Ukrainian front-line units complain about a lack of artillery support because the artillery is focused on eliminating Russian tube and rocket artillery, electronic warfare assets, headquarters, and supply dumps. This creates the opportunity for real progress on the front lines.

The Making of a Fake

Social media like Twitter and Telegram is a virtual battlefield when it comes to Putin’s War. There is a lot of fake video circulating, mostly on the Russian side. Here is a discussion of the work of a guy who goes by Rudenko. His videos are usually close combat scenes featuring many dead Ukrainians.

Open for Business

After a brief falling out that jeopardized the operation (Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity), the German-Polish joint venture to repair Ukrainian armored vehicles is open for business. All of Ukraine’s Leopard tanks damaged during the offensive have been recovered; this repair depot guarantees they will return to action in the near future.

New Weapons
Gepard Ammunition

The Gepard promises to provide a cost-effective solution to the threat posed by Russia’s observation and suicide drone fleet, but the sticking point has been ammunition. Nearly all the Gepard ammunition was manufactured by Switzerland’s defense giant Oerlikon. Under international agreements, exporting Oerlikon-manufactured ammunition to Ukraine required the approval of the Swiss government. This has not been forthcoming. Now Rheinmetall has stepped up.

DIY Air Defense

Last week Rheinmetall announced it would open a tank factory in Ukraine (Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity). The Russians threatened to attack the plant. Rheinmetall says it isn’t worried as it can handle air defense for its facility.

New Russian Ammunition

While a lot of people are obsessing over the ability of NATO to supply Ukraine with artillery ammunition, they are overlooking that the West has more artillery ammunition factories than Russia and significantly higher output. As I posted above, the Russian Defense Minister is passing around the hat in North Korea to try to get more ammunition. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have started finding Burmese ammunition. Not one is sure how it got there. There probably isn’t enough to make any difference, but it gives an idea of the desperation in the Russian logistics chain.

Combat Operations

I make this point regularly because it is important. The time Western militaries have spent building extreme crew protection into their vehicles is paying off. If any Russian-designed vehicle had encountered this sh**storm, nothing would have remained of the crew but hair, teeth, and eyeballs.

Dead Journo

This is the event that has the Russian government upset over US cluster munitions.

Rostislav Zhuralev is a reporter for RIA Novosti. He was a combatant during the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine. This time around, as a correspondent, he frequently accompanied Russian military units and engaged in combat himself. When he was killed, he was with a group of Russian war correspondents filming a Russian rocket launcher in action.


Another Russian Telegram Star KIA

Last week I posted about Mikhail Luchin, known on Telegram as “Misha in Donbas,” who 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.

This week there is another name on the wall. “Daniil” is the admin of the Telegram channel “karlssonnews.” He had about 43,000 followers and was reported KIA near Klischiivka.

Ukrainian Air Base Attacked

The major Ukrainian air base at Starokostiantyniv in Western Ukraine was attacked on Tuesday night. It is the home of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade that flies the Su-24 strike fighters used to deliver Storm Shadow missiles. This may have some relationship to the success of recent Ukrainian attacks using Storm Shadow. It is not the first time the base has been attacked, but it is the first time it has been attacked this year. Previous attacks were on March 6, April 13, and June 25, 2022.

There is no word on damage to the base.

War on Helicopters

The Russian Ka-52 gunship has shown itself to be a formidable foe. After a slow start, Ukraine is now task organizing air defense with maneuver units to provide some protection.

While the helicopter mentioned above was a victim of the British Stormer antiaircraft system (see Putin’s War. Week 21. New Weapons Change the Battlefield in Ukraine’s Favor but Are They Stronger Than European Cowardice and Stupidity?), the gunships have other enemies. Because of the long time of flight of the manually guided ATGMs, the Ka-52 has to hover while the missile is in flight. This makes it a target. Here is a Ka-52 getting killed by a Ukrainian anti-tank missile. There is nothing new here. During the Cold War, the gunnery tables for tank crew qualification (Table VII, I think, but some tanker will tell me if I’m wrong) included the front silhouette of a Mi-24 gunship in the target array.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

I don’t know the context of what is going on here, so I’ll suspend judgment. It could be the most f***ed-up ambush ever, or it could be a Ukrainian unit developing a hasty defense and facing a sudden Russian counterattack from an unexpected direction.

  • 0:00 A Russian BMP with troops riding on top (because they know better than to ride inside any Russian troop carrier) approaches from the left at high speed.
  • 0:04 The Ukrainians fire an anti-tank weapon of some sort (RPG, AT-4, etc.) at the vehicle.
  • 0:05 The projectile hit the front slope of the vehicle, which, because it didn’t go far enough to arm, ricochets off.
  • 0:07 The BMP enters the kill zone and is engaged with small arms.
  • 0:10 The vehicle commander makes the determination that he can’t drive through the kill zone, so he stops and his dismounts, un-ass the vehicle. By my count, there are about 14 Russian infantry. They are immediately pinned down, in the open, and at point-blank range.
  • 0:26 The vehicle commander has had all the fun he can handle and orders the driver to revere and get the hell out of Dodge. He backs away, leaving most of the dismounts dead or incapacitated, with two Russian soldiers running alongside the vehicle.
  • 0:32 A Russian anti-tank weapon engages the BMP.
  • 0:33 The BMP is hit.

We don’t see what happens next, but if past experience is any clue, the BMP stopped, the crew bailed, and the vehicle blew up.

Other commentary claims that the Russian soldiers are Airborne troops. This took place in Klishchiivka, which is now in Ukrainian hands. More on that below.

Northern Front



As I posted last week, the Russians have an offensive operation running in the Svatove area. The attack yielded some results and pushed a 6-mile salient into the Ukrainian line before it was stopped. There is no evidence the Russian attack is continuing.


Two significant fights are underway in Donbas. I see these as operations to fix Russian forces in position rather than a major offensive thrust. The terrain to the east of the fighting is one ridge and water obstacle after another, making movement very difficult. On the other hand, Russia can’t afford to give up territory it claims to be part of Russia (Putin’s Illegal Annexation of Ukrainian Territory Marks the Beginning of a War Without a Perceivable End) and is damned sure can’t give up Bakhmut, arguably its only victory since March 2022.


Here you can see how the Ukrainians have hammered in the Russian salients above and below Bakhmut. The area to focus on is Klischiivka, to the south of Bakhmut — it is mentioned in two earlier stories in this post. That town is now under Ukrainian control, and the Russians look to be withdrawing to the next defensible line. If so, Bakhmut is on the edge of being encircled.

South of Klishliivka, the Ukrainians have eliminated another Russian salient in the line and have occupied Andriivka.

I don’t look for any major progress here unless the Russians have, as my friend Mike Ford calls it, a “1917 moment.”

Southern Front


This is where the news is today. The Ukrainians have been pushing against Robotyne, at the bottom of the circle drawn on the map, for about a month. They made good progress initially, but when they hit the first Russian defensive belt, things slowed down due to fortifications and intense minefields. In the past few days, the Ukrainians have outflanked the Robotyne strongpoint to the east and breached the obstacle belt. They are also making progress farther east in the direction of Verbove (at the four o’clock position from the circle on the map) and have reached the first obstacle line there.

As an added attraction to frazzled Russian staff officers, the Ukrainians are also making steady progress to the west, where they recaptured the village of Pyatykhatky last week.

As I was writing this, Russian Telegram channels announced that the town of Staromaiorske had fallen to the Ukrainian Army.



The Ukrainians continue to occupy some territory around the Antonovsky Bridge on the left bank of the Dnieper River. The Russians have yet to mount a ground assault against the bridgehead, and the Ukrainians don’t seem to be making any attempt to expand it.

Rear Areas


Storm Shadow




What’s Next?

The Ukrainian Army will continue to work the penetration they have made east of Robotyne. The slaughter of Russian artillery that is underway will go a long way toward preventing the Russians from using artillery-delivered mines that have stopped other Ukrainian advances. There is still a Ukrainian strategic reserve that has disappeared from sight. We could see it burst into action here in the next week as the penetration of the Russian fortification belt continues.

When that exploitation happens, assuming it doesn’t get jammed up by more mines, the Russians defending the first line of fortifications are left with a couple of bad choices: stay and fight it out as they are enveloped from the rear, or pick up a double time and try to beat the Ukrainians to the next fortification belt.

Expect more pushing around Bakhmut, which could fall very rapidly. I don’t think the Ukrainians can not try to regain that city because of its propaganda value, and I think they know the more of Donbas they grab, the more Putin is stuck fighting a war that I don’t think he can win.


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