Putin's War, Week 116. Russian Offensive Stalls, Ukraine Discovers Wild Weasel, and Blinken Plays Guitar

CREDIT: Office of the President of Ukraine

It's time again for another update of Putin's War in Ukraine. I have to admit that when I started weekly summaries of Putin's War, I never dreamed that it would get to Week 116, yet here we are.


The big story this week is the purge in Russia's Defense Ministry. It started out with one of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's deputies being arrested for corruption. That was followed by Shoigu's "reassignment," three more deputies resigning and another senior Defense official arrested.


Top Aide to Russia's Defense Minister Arrested for Corruption and Maybe Treason. What's Going on?

Putin Sacks Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Shakes Up Russia's Security Council

Three Resignations and a High Profile Arrest Show the Purge of Russia's Defense Ministry Is Gaining Speed

All of this adds up to a period of turmoil, but I think more arrests and resignations are on the horizon. How does this affect the war? It depends on what happens next. I wouldn't count on much in the way of progress. The Russian Defense Ministry is too big, too corrupt, and has too many very important people depending on that corruption as a revenue stream for real change.

There is also an increasing tendency among European NATO to openly discuss what would have been unthinkable two years ago: the employment of military forces to aid Ukraine.

In February, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he would not rule out the idea of using French troops to prevent a Russian victory in Ukraine. From the outbreak of fecal incontinence the statement created, it hit the mark with the Russians, the pro-Russian right, and the "realist" foreign policy mavens. I'm not sure it is needed, but if France thinks the war is important, I certainly support their right to step up. Article 5 of the NATO treaty doesn't mandate military action by other members. 

If Poland and Romania moved their existing missile defense systems closer to the border and declared a Weapons Free status for engaging all missiles and drones, the Russian attacks on Ukrainian population centers like Odesa and Lviv could be stopped, and Ukraine could reduce the airspace it has to defend. As Russia is the master of shooting down passenger aircraft just 'cause (KAL 902, KAL 007, MH17), it is in no position to complain about friendly countries protecting population centers from Russian missiles. The precedent was set when the US, Britain, and other nations shot down Iranian missiles and drones targeting Israel.

Here are some of my past updates.

Putin's War, Week 115. ATACMS Makes a Splash and Russia Opens a New Front

For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

Politico-Strategic Level

More US Aid Delivered

Friday, the US announced a $400 million aid package providing arms and ammunition to Ukraine.

BACKGROUND: U.S. Announces Another $400 Million in Aid for Ukraine21

Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced allocating Ukraine $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing.

24The foreign military financing will be used not only for purchasing weapons from the U.S., but also by Ukraine as it invests in manufacturing its own machinery and weapons, Blinken said. Ukraine will also use some of the funding to purchase weapons from other countries, he said.25

Never Miss a Chance to Make Yourself Look Ridiculous

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kiev on Tuesday to discuss US-Ukraine security issues. While there, he reminded us that the only reason he's considered a serious person is because he's in the zero-gravity company of Jake Sullivan, Lloyd Austin, and their sycophants. As Russian attacks are banging away at the Ukrainian defensive line, Antony (without the "h"), Blinken dropped into a Kyiv nightclub and took the stage to rock out with the band.


The song is Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." I've read that the band understood that Neil Young would join them on stage.

BACKGROUND: SUPER CRINGE: Blinken Joins Ukrainian Band in Kiev to Butcher Neil Young's 'Rockin' in the Free World'

My friend Dave Reaboi is precisely right.

I'm not a John McCain fan, but his speech opposing Blinken's nomination as Obama's deputy secretary of state is epic. He not only faults Blinken for working for Joe Biden but calls him "unqualified" and "dangerous to America."


Slovakia's Fico Narrowly Avoids Assassination

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was gunned down Wednesday after leaving a political meeting. He's in the hospital and will make a full recovery. The shooter was 71-year-old Juraj Cintuala, a poet and erstwhile security guard, as well as a member of an opposition party.

[Slovakia's Interior Minister Matúš] Šutaj Eštok said the police was pursuing only one investigative theory – that the attack was politically motivated.

He said that the suspect told law enforcement officers that he disagreed with Fico’s policies and that he decided to act after the recent presidential election, which saw a Fico ally – Pellegrini – emerge as the winner.

“The reasons (the suspect gave) were the decision to abolish the special prosecutor’s office, the decision to stop supplying military assistance to Ukraine, the reform of public service broadcaster and the dismissal of the judicial council head,” Šutaj Eštok said.

BACKGROUND: BREAKING: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico Wounded in Assassination Attempt

Rheinmetall Still Investing

Rheinmetall's CEO announced Tuesday that his company would open its third joint venture with the Ukrainian defense industry. This one will produce ammunition for the Gepard self-propelled antiaircraft gun that was thought obsolete but is doing yeoman's work against Russian drones. It will also make Skynex air defense guns.

The other two joint ventures are a factory producing Leopard tanks and an equipment repair/rebuild facility.


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

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

No One Left to Lie to (to Coin a Phrase)

It isn't often that you see Dmitry Medvedev's threats of nuclear holocaust mocked on Russian state television.

Colonization Continues

Russia had dumped a lot of money into trying to rebuild the devastated city of Mariupol and has put on a full-court press recruiting Russians to move there. This week, the Russian government began selling off the property of Ukrainians who had fled the city.


Estonia Takes the First Bite

I've posted on the ongoing process in the US and EU to confiscate frozen Russian assets and repurpose them into war reparations. Estonia has made its move.

Operational Level

There were some notable events on the operational front. 

The offensive the Russians launched out of Belgorod Oblast last week seems to have run its course. The Ukrainians gave up some ground on the frontier to fall back on prepared defenses. The mere presence of some 30-35,000 Russian soldiers will require the Ukrainian Army to defend the area, but this offensive is not a threat to the Ukrainian front line. 

BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 115. ATACMS Makes a Splash and Russia Opens a New Front

Not only has this offensive burned out, but the constant hammer blows that threaten to capture Chasiv Yar and breakout in the Avdiivka areas have also dissipated. From this distance, it is impossible to tell why, but my assessment is that the Russians have run through the fuel and ammunition stocks for large-scale operations and need time for their rather primitive logistics system to replenish them. I also think the Russian front-line units have exhausted themselves in about four months of continuous offensive operations.

Second, the Ukrainians are carrying out a campaign against Russian fixed-wing aircraft based in Crimea using ATACMS. They have already driven Russian attack helicopters from the battlefield by attacking their bases, and they are replicating the strategy targeting strike aircraft.

BACKGROUND: Russia Claims US ATACMS Missiles Hit Two Airbases in Occupied Ukraine 

The destruction of air defense radar and surface-to-air missile systems continues. Later in this post, I discuss how Ukrainians are developing their own Wild Weasel program. Taken together — targeting airbases, suppressing radar and air defenses, and training strike aircraft crew to combat the air defenses — the debut of Ukraine's F-16s might be interesting.

The campaign against Russia's oil refining capability continues, and ATACMS has placed depots previously out of range in jeopardy. A major ammunition dump and a gasoline/diesel storage facility were destroyed in the past week.

The War of the Retreads

In May 2022, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky dismissed Territorial Defense Forces commander Brigadier General Yuriy Halushkin. So it was something of a shock to see this announcement:

Quite honestly, the Ukrainian Army seems plagued by the same good-ol' boy network problem as the Russians. Generals aren't sent home; when they are fired, they are sent to another command, where they promptly continue the behavior that got them fired last time. In this case, Halsushkin ended up commanding troops in the sector where the Russians had just launched a major attack.

I see signs that Zelensky is learning that hurt feelings are not something he should be concerned about. However, we need to keep an eye out for where Halushkin surfaces next.

Going to the Source

Ukraine's military intelligence service has publicly identified 31 Russian strategic bomber pilots flying strike missions against Ukrainian cities. This follows a pattern of Ukraine killing Russian officers responsible for missile strikes against Ukraine at locations far removed from the combat zone. In February, Major Oleg Sergeevich Stegachyov was shot at Engels, home of the major airbase for Tu-95 bombers. In July, Russian Navy officer and former submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky was shot multiple times while on his morning run. He was killed in a location that CCTV did not cover. Rzhitsky had previously commanded the Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar based in Sevastopol. Under his command, the Krasnodar frequently launched Kaliber missiles against Ukrainian population centers.



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

Putin's War, Week 102. Zaluzhny Is Out, Syrsky Is In, and the Ukraine Aid Bill Advances

Hard Times in Belgorod

Belgorod can't catch a break. In the past week, it has been hit by failed Russian surface-to-air missiles and the recipient of bombs that fall off Russian strike aircraft at regular intervals.

Here, an apartment building catches a couple of large bombs.

Combat Operations

"They Came on in the Same Old Way..."

This is a mounted attack by two Russian companies, 17 vehicles, including "turtle tanks," near an unremarkable village in southern Donbas called Novomykhailivka. Before retreating, the attack comes under artillery attack, including DPICM (0:19). A turtle tank is hit by an antitank weapon at 0:30. It keeps moving, but the fire coming from the turret ring indicates the crew is probably dead, and the tank is minutes away from entering the turret toss competition. Four tanks, six infantry fighting vehicles, and a recovery vehicle were destroyed before the Russians called it a day.

"...and We Sent Them Back in the Same Old Way"

Turtle Tank Pr0n

Lots of pics of mangled turtle tanks. Click through to X for many more.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Party Like It's 2014

A group of quislings and Russian officers gathered at the Paradise Hotel in Occupied Donetsk to celebrate the anniversary of the 2014 creation of the fake "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk. An unexpected guest arrived.

Don't Hide Behind the Ammo


The Least Preferred Technique

In this video, a Russian infantry fighting vehicle unloads its dismount section; unfortunately, at some point, the track commander becomes disoriented and unloads with the hatches facing Ukrainian firing positions.

Ma Deuce to the Rescue

My colleague Ward Clark recently posted about the awesome M2 Browning Heavy Barrel Machinegun that has been stacking up America's enemies like cordwood for a century.

RELATED: Sunday Gun Day XLII - The M2 Browning, The World's Greatest Heavy Machine Gun

In this video, an M2 engages a Russian squad at point-blank range.

Two thoughts on this. First, the gunner has titanium balls to do this. The M2 is not a close-combat weapon. Second thought: whoever placed this gun needs his ass kicked. The gun is placed facing up a rise, so the gunner can use the mile-plus range of the M2. If you look to the right of the frame, you can see the gun is already outflanked by the time it engages the enemy. As the gunner kills everyone in front, this may not be a big deal. Ideally, he has other people around to back him up, but given the tactical genius of the gun's positioning, I'm not betting on it.

The Wild Weasel Returns

According to several reports, the Ukrainian Air Force has begun flying Wild Weasel missions to suppress Russian air defense radar. 

The tactic requires a pilot to tease the surface-to-air missile site into unlocking its fire control radar. As the radar illuminates the aircraft, it is engaged with an AGM-88 HARM missile that locks onto the radar signal. If the radar site shuts down emissions, the HARM still flies to the last known location of the emitter. This is the kind of "grab them by the 'nads, stab them in the face" combat that requires nerves of steel.

This is an inside-the-cockpit view.

To effectively use the F-16s they will receive in the next two to three months, the Ukrainians must master the SEAD/DEAD mission to open maneuver space. To do that, you must eliminate enemy surveillance radar and air defense systems. The Russians never bothered to develop a doctrine like SEAD/DEAD, and as a result, they never managed to establish air superiority over the battlespace. In fact, they have lost several high-value aircraft deep over Russian territory. If this report is accurate, it is an excellent sign that another link to Ukraine's Soviet past has been broken.

Here is an excellent brief history of the Wild Weasels.


Northern Front


Belgorod Front

This front has been in the news for the last two weeks. At this point, I think we can be confident in saying that the purpose of the attack is to bleed off Ukrainian reserves and weaken the front line. There have been limited armored attacks, and the mass of the attacks does not indicate a major effort. This map shows the front line. The maximum Russian advance is about three miles.



There were a significant number of Russian attacks in this area, and a small amount of ground was gained. The Ukrainian defensive line is stable.




Russian attacks continue in this area, but their size and frequency are reduced from two weeks ago. The Russians made small gains, but the front line appears stable.

Sorokyne Ammunition Dump

ATACMS missiles destroyed a major ammunition dump in Luhansk Oblast.

This attack is intriguing because it is the first use of the unitary warhead version of ATACMS rather than the DPICM warhead. This is significant because hard targets, like the Kerch Bridge, can be attacked with a unitary warhead rather than dispersed bomblets.

This attack is intriguing because it is the first use of the unitary warhead version of ATACMS rather than the DPICM warhead. This is significant because hard targets, like the Kerch Bridge, can be attacked with a unitary warhead rather than dispersed bomblets.

Oil Depot, Rovenky, Luhansk

An ATACMS DPICM strike hit this facility.

At 0:08, you can hear the distinctive audio signature of 950 submunitions rolling across the target, and at 0:17, it sounds like another two missile impacts.

Southern Front


Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

The lines in this area remain static.


The lines remain static in this sector. The ISW folks claim the Russians made minor gains near Krynky. 

Rear Areas


Belbek Airbase

A volley of ATACMS was fired at Belbek Airbase in Occupied Crimea. One MiG-31 and three Su-27s were destroyed. Two S-300/S-400 surface-to-air missile systems were also demolished.

Ai-Petri Mountain


Belbek Airbase, Night 2

Ukraine followed up Wednesday's attack on Belbek Airbase with another on Thursday night. The Thursday attack combined drones with ATACMS, and there is a possibility that Storm Shadow/SCALP EG cruise missiles may have been used. There are reports of two MiG-31 aircraft and an S-300/S4-00 system destroyed. Also wrecked were the base's fuel and lubricants storage area.


Volgograd Oil Refinery

A Ukrainian drone attack hit the Volgograd Oil Refinery.

This same refinery was previously hit in February.

BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 102. Zaluzhny Is Out, Syrsky Is In, and the Ukraine Aid Bill Advances 

What's Next

The Russian Winter-Spring offensive is not definitively over yet, but it definitely shows signs of coming to its culmination point. The number of attacks remains high, but they are on a smaller scale and lacking in armor. The invasion from Belgorod Oblast may very well be over, as Putin is signaling that they have done all they wanted to do.

There is an ongoing drone blitz of installations and facilities on Russia's Black Sea coast that I hope to cover over this weekend. The blitz makes the Black Sea Fleet's backup port of Novorossiysk appear much less than safe. 

On the whole, the Ukrainian front line looks much more stable than it did a week ago. Chasiv Yar no longer seems in danger of falling. The Russians were unable to convert a fouled-up relief-in-place operation from a minor penetration into a tactical breakthrough. Artillery ammunition is reaching Ukrainian guns in increased quantities, and ATACMS is scoring major successes deep in the Russian rear areas. I still believe that the Ukrainians will launch a localized offensive in mid-summer that will focus on cutting the Russian rail lines from Rostov-on-Don to Crimea.

The big question is always the political side of the equation. European NATO is acting much more aggressively, and I think the Russian objective of "neutral" or "neutered" Ukraine is off the table for good. 


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