Putin's War, Week 121. Putin Threatens, Zelensky Negotiates, and the White House Sends Lots of Missiles

CREDIT: Stenbocki Maja via Flickr

Welcome to my weekly update on Putin's war of conquest in Ukraine.

There are three major themes this week. First, over 90 countries participated in an international peace conference in Switzerland last weekend. I'd intended to post the details here, but in writing it, I discovered there was a lot going on, so you can read the full story here.

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BACKGROUND: The Ukraine Peace Summit Ends With Agreement on What a Final Peace Will Look Like


There was discussion of Putin's bizarre demand last Friday that Ukraine capitulate as a precondition to entering into negotiations. My sense is that Putin's "do what I say or I'll nuke you" schtick is beyond its shelf life.


BACKGROUND: Putin Delivers Ultimatum to Ukraine and the West


Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited North Korea and then Vietnam. During his visit to North Korea, he entered into a mutual defense treaty with North Korea.


BACKGROUND: Game Changer: Russia Signs Mutual Defense Treaty With North Korea


This resulted in the South Korean government announcing that it was reconsidering its policy of not supplying Ukraine with weapons., which drew the expected threats from Putin during a press conference in Hanoi.


BACKGROUND: Putin Threatens South Korea With Something They Won't Like If It Helps Ukraine


Third, the White House is slowly giving ground to reality on its policies of providing arms to Ukraine and how those arms can be used. The first crack appeared in May, when Ukraine was given the green light by the White House to strike Russian targets in the rear areas behind the incursion into Kharkiv Oblast. 


BACKGROUND: Biden Reverses Course and Permits Limited Ukrainian Strikes Inside of Russia Using American Weapons


This policy seemed to hold firm.

But that changed on Thursday. Ukraine was given authority to strike any Russian area launching attacks into Ukraine. The target of the policy change was the maybe-yes-maybe-no Russian offensive aimed at Ukraine's Sumy Oblast.

From Politico:

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told PBS on Tuesday that the agreement with Ukraine about firing American weapons into Russia extends to “anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side to try to take additional Ukrainian territory.”

Russia has in recent days indicated it may soon move on the northeastern city of Sumy, which is also near the Russian border. If that happens, the policy would apply there as well, Sullivan said.

“This is not about geography. It’s about common sense. If Russia is attacking or about to attack from its territory into Ukraine, it only makes sense to allow Ukraine to hit back against the forces that are hitting it from across the border,” Sullivan said.

Here are some of my past updates:

Putin's War, Week 120. Zelensky Gets Security Agreement With the US and the Repo Man Comes for Russia

Putin's War, Week 119.

Putin's War, Week 118. Ukraine Gets a Green Light From Biden and France Nearly Has 'Boots on the Ground' 

Putin's War, Week 117. Jake Sullivan Under Fire, ATACMS Everywhere, and the Stalemate Continues 

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

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

Priority Given Ukraine For Antiaircraft Missiles

Ukraine has been pressing for more antiaircraft systems to protect its civilian infrastructure and run the occasional "SAMbush" on Russian aircraft. Last week, it looked like Ukraine's pleas were getting a lot of pushback from the Pentagon. While Germany was transferring a Patriot battery to Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin scuppered the planned transfer of a U.S. Patriot battery stationed in Poland to Ukraine.


BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 120. Zelensky Gets Security Agreement With the US and the Repo Man Comes for Russia – RedState


Thursday, the dam broke in some ways.

The United States will suspend the planned export of hundreds of air defense munitions to its allies and partners and redirect them to Ukraine, the White House said Thursday, as Russia continues its assault on the country’s power grid and other vital infrastructure.

Speaking to reporters, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby characterized the decision as “difficult but necessary,” and said it would affect deliveries of Patriot and NASAMS interceptor missiles, principally. Ukraine, he said, faces a “desperate” need.

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Poland, Germany, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland are affected. Romania is contributing a Patriot system from its own active forces.

As a side note, it is getting harder and harder to attribute JD Vance's tweets to the context of playing to the cheap seats in the America First crowd.

The countries not receiving Patriot and NASAMS missiles are not at war and are not likely to be at war. One of the countries that will have their order of missiles delayed is Romania, which just donated a missile system to Ukraine. On the other hand, you have criminal attacks against civilian infrastructure taking place that a steady supply of antiaircraft missiles could mitigate. I can only think of one reason that anyone would think that it makes more sense to send Patriot missiles to Spain or Switzerland than Ukraine, and that is they are in favor of a Russian victory. I can only speculate on the reasons for that motivation, so I won't.

No Meeting For You

As incredible as it seems, Russia, which has invaded two countries, is still a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Romania has refused to admit the Russian delegation.

Repo Man Gives Putin a Sad

The G7 has rolled out its plan to fund Ukraine based on the earnings and interest from frozen Russian assets.


BACKGROUND:

G7 Agrees to Confiscate Russian Assets to Fund Reparations For Putin's War in Ukraine

Putin's War, Week 120. Zelensky Gets Security Agreement With the US and the Repo Man Comes for Russia


Putin isn't happy about it.

It's rather difficult to see how Putin will go about "punishing" anyone. Russia has been effectively severed from the Western economy, and he has de facto appropriated any Western business remaining in Russia. He can get mad, but it is hard to see why that matters or why anyone would care.

Kalashnikov Goes to 12-Hour Shifts, But the Pay Stays the Same

Read the whole thread.

How X Helps Spread Russian Propaganda

Elon Musk's "X" has become a hotbed for spreading Russian propaganda. The most bizarre lies are told without fear of contradiction, and pushback gets you time in the Twitter gulag, if not a suspended account. I did seven days for opining that anyone killing Russians in Ukraine was a "good guy." 

In the latest episode, one of Musk's favored accounts circulated an image of Ukrainian kids, taken from the Facebook page of a military-themed university program, as kids being conscripted. 

For context, this is the Facebook-provided translation.

Today, the Military Institute honored the memory of fallen graduates.

Alexei Chubashev is a graduate of the Department of Military Journalism, Major ZSU, was the author of the legendary project "Recruit. UA was a military correspondent for a long time. On this day two years ago, in the assault of a building in Severodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, he received injuries uncompatible with life.

Oleksandr Marchuk - a graduate of the KNU Military Institute, majoring in "Psychology", senior lieutenant, deputy commander of the moral and psychological support of the tank company 95th OSDSB; died on June 10, 2023 near the settlement Lyman of the Donetsk region.

The fallen soldiers were honored by the Rector of KNU Vladimir Bugrov, Management of the Military Institute, officers, military chaplains, cadets and relatives. Military chaplain of the Institute Sergiy Dmitriyev and other representatives of the clergy read the prayer.

"Heroes don't die", they don't die exactly as long as we keep them in our hearts and in our souls,"-said the rector of knu.

Also in honor of the military journalist Oleksiy Chubashev was opened a memorial plaque near the educational and training complex of the Department of Military Journalism.

Let us remember our heroes.

Glory to Ukraine!

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More of the same.

Some of these women may end up in the Ukrainian military, but Ukraine does not conscript women, and the minimum age of conscription is 27.

As always, we are left with the question of whether these people are on Russia's payroll or mental defectives, and whether it really makes any difference.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Putin and most of his senior commanders are credibly accused of war crimes on the scale of Tokyo, if not Nuremberg, and there are international arrest warrants issued for their apprehension. Now, it seems that Russia is trying to criminalize making an ass of the Russian military. 

An arrest warrant has also been issued for the commander of the Ukrainian Patriot unit that shot down a Russian A-50 AEWC aircraft in February.


BACKGROUND:

Russia Loses Two High Value Aircraft Near Ukraine and the Theories Abound – RedState
Putin's War, Week 120. Zelensky Gets Security Agreement With the US and the Repo Man Comes for Russia – RedState


This does nothing less than criminalize the entire Ukrainian military. Like the annexation of five Ukrainian Oblasts, this is a sure sign that Putin will accept nothing less than victory on the battlefield. 


BACKGROUND:

The New Russian Peace Deal Shows Why Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Isn't Possible Yet

Putin Delivers Ultimatum to Ukraine and the West


Shocked Face

An ethnic Russian academic in Estonia has been convicted of being a Russian intelligence asset.

Russia Will Liberate Guantanamo

Operational Level

The front lines remained static over the last week. Ukrainian forces had some success rolling back Russian advances in Kharkiv. As you'll see below, the Russian troops in this sector are rumored to be low-quality and not very interested in fighting. This is not a shock as Russia is short of trained manpower, and the Kharkiv axis was never anything but a diversion to force Ukraine to commit reserves to stop the advance.

Everyone is keeping a wary eye out on Russian troop movements opposite Ukraine's Sumy Oblast, west of Kharkiv. My gut feeling is that Russia does not have the manpower, fire support, or logistics to open a new front there.

Along the front, the lines remained stable. Both sides made positional gains. Most Ukrainian successes were in the Kharkiv area. Russian successes were mostly in southern Donbas, in the Chasiv Yar and Avdiivka areas. 

Counter Drone Warfare Raises Anxieties

Last week, I posted a video of Ukraine using an FPV suicide drone to knock down a Russian reconnaissance drone. I opined that this was a critical happening because blinding the Russians was key to negating any advantage and protecting critical Ukrainian assets. Engaging rather cheap drones with rather expensive missiles is not cost-effective. Electronic warfare solutions tend to incapacitate drones used by both sides.


BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 120. Zelensky Gets Security Agreement With the US and the Repo Man Comes for Russia – RedState


This Telegram post shows just how seriously the threat is viewed.

3/ "If previously Ukrainians were waiting for supplies of scarce Western missiles for air defense, now they can also use interceptor drones with great effect. FPVs can already fly at speeds of up to 500 km/hour. All our slow-flying drones, including Geran (loitering munition) are at risk."

Read it all.

1917 Waits Impatiently Off Stage

One doesn't know how much to make of these kinds of videos. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army had several cases of "combat refusal," a term used to sugarcoat the more accurate "mutiny." Despite those instances, the Army was never in danger of dissolving.

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For those keeping score, the next step after "combat refusal" is "fragging." 

There are also reports that Russian military police units have been dispatched to the front in the Kharkiv area to deal with indiscipline.

Russia Redeploys Troops to Ukraine

This won't mean anything to those who believe Russia has infinite manpower, but it is significant. Russia has started redeploying forces from the Far East and its northwestern border with NATO to Ukraine. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You can't lose 500,000 men in Ukraine and hope to make up the deficit from conscripts.

EU Pledges to Match Russian Shell Production

The EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton says the EU will match Russian shell production by 2025. True or not true? It's hard to tell because, in my opinion, no one has ever documented Russian shell production in any meaningful way. Even if the EU doesn't reach the goal, they are farther ahead than they were at any time in the last 20 years, and that is important.

Propaganda Team Wiped Out

A Russian "journalist" was severely injured and his cameraman killed when a Ukrainian HIMARS round splashed in the party they were attending.

The Railway That Never Was

There has been a lot of commentary about a new Russian railway from Russia, along the Sea of Azov to Crimea. As it turns out, this railway line doesn't exist. This means that all rail traffic from Russia to the Russian Army in Crimea, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia is dependent on one rail line that runs within missile range of Ukrainian lines, and the small quantities that come over the Sea of Azov and Black Sea on transports and the occasional freight train on the Kerch Strait Bridge.

Read the whole story.

War Crimes Are the New Black

Russian war crimes continue to be documented. Some day, the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

More War Crimes

I touched on this a little last week. The men and women coming out of Russian captivity are increasingly malnourished and brutalized. Russia, a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, does not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit. It has never accounted for its Ukrainian prisoners of war. This series of tweets gives an idea of the standard of care in Russian captivity.

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Replacement Tanks

This is a trainload of replacement tanks headed to the front. They've been fitted with anti-drone "cope cages." They are also T-62 tanks that were last produced in 1975.

Tanks aren't the only antiques showing up on the battlefield. 1960s vintage BRDM-2s were seen in action in Donetsk.

New Weapons

Improved Drones

Early in the war, most drones were commercial-off-the-shelf items jury-rigged to drop a single hand grenade. No longer. This Ukrainian drone can deliver artillery rounds.

MOAB...Russian Style

Russian targeting philosophy has always been that more and bigger is better. While NATO targeteers pondered the radiation effects of nuclear weapons in choosing weapon size, the Soviets went strictly by megatonnage. This is why US nukes got smaller while Soviet nukes got bigger. The Soviets totally ignored all effects except blast. The direct descendant of that philosophy is visible in this colossal bomb.

Combat Operations

Ukraine Breaks Up Company-Sized Attakck

This attack, consisting of several tanks and IFVs, was directed against Pokrovsk in the Avdiivka area of Donetsk. Eight tanks and eight IFVs were destroyed. The vehicles were stopped by mines (0:04) and killed by DPICM (0:15) and drones (0:37).

Heavy Mortar Destroyed

In this video, a Russian 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled heavy mortar and its crew are destroyed by a single HIMARS rocket. The rocket is the M30E1, which relies on 182,000 preformed tungsten fragments for target effect.

Overstated by Half

Ordinarily, I think retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan is one of the more reliable observers of Putin's War. In this case, I have my doubts about his evaluation of the Russian "turtle tanks." These field expedient atrocities burst upon the scene about two months ago. They are basically a tank with an armored "turtle shell" and some rudimentary electronic warfare gear. They are supposed to defeat Ukrainian drones.


BACKGROUND:

Putin's War, Week 113. US Aid Arrives Just in Time and a Russian Attack Nearly Turns Into a Breakthrough – RedState

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


To date, there is no evidence these vehicles have generated any "successful offensive operations," and a lot of video shows they remain very vulnerable to FPV drones. When you factor in the lack of vehicle mobility, the inability to traverse the main gun, and the blinding of the tank's sensors from all aspects except straight ahead, you don't have a wunderwaffen; you have an evolutionary dead end. Likewise, I think the claim that this shows the Russian Army is learning to adapt is laughable. 

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

I Hate It When That Happens

The only thing worse than launching a missile that costs north of $100K at a multi-hundred dollar drone to kill it is when you miss the target. I really don't know how this was even possible, unless the missile was garbage or the pilot suffered a cranial infarction.

Drone Resupply

In this video, a drone is used to move FPV drones to an operator near the front lines.

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Measure and Countermeasure

Watch Where You're Going

The video is an IFV carrying troops on top at the Kharkiv front.

Okay...

I've posted several times on the increasing Russian use of Chinese-made Desertcross ATVs (called a "Humm-Xi") for combat and combat support functions. Now, we've entered the arena of the absurd. 

This two-wheeled tractor is exactly what you find in rural East Asia. It does everything from taking the family to town to plowing the rice paddy, acting as an irrigation pump, and maybe pleasuring the missus.

 Whew!

A missile from a Russian Strela-10 antiaircraft system passes by a Ukrainian reconnaissance drone but fails to detonate.

This goes back to the observation made last week that Russian antiaircraft units have suffered a major decline in performance over the course of the war.

Just When You Think You Are Safe

Here, a Russian bunker is hit by an artillery round.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

Vovchansk-Lyptsi

Ukrainian forces have retaken small amounts of ground in and around Vovchansk. A few days ago, there were stories of several hundred Russian soldiers cut off and encircled. Those stories have abated, so I'm assuming the story was never more substantial than the electrons used to write the posts.

General Yuriy Halushkin Forced to Resign

I've noted that one thing both the Ukrainian and Russian armies have in common is that when senior officers are proven incompetent, they are shuttled off to other jobs. There, the cycle of incompetence is repeated. One such case has been Yuriy Halushkin. He was fired from command of a territorial defense brigade that was caught flat on its ass by the Russians in 2022. From there, he was moved to command the 125th Territorial Defense Brigade on the border between Kharkiv and Belgorod, where the Russian offensive struck six weeks ago.


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


Just like before, his command was caught unprepared and rolled up. He was again fired and the facts and circumstances surrounding that debacle are now the subject of criminal investigation.


BACKGROUND:

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

Putin's War, Week 119. – RedState


Now, we can report that he has resigned from the military. If Ukraine is to prevail on the battlefield, it must be willing to deal ruthlessly with incompetence and not let the pre-war good ol' boy club protect its members.

Strike on Russian Command Post

Either HIMARS or GLSDB did the hard work.

Donbas

Kreminna-Kupyansk

The line remains unchanged. The Russian Army continued small-scale attacks, but no progress was made.

Bahkmut-Klishchiivka-Andriivka-Chasiv Yar

Avdiivka

Russian forces made minor gains. South of Bakhmut, they retook one of the towns Ukraine seized last summer. They do not seem any closer to taking Chasiv Yar than they were two months ago. Farther south on the front west of Avdiivka, the Russian Army made minor advances.

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Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

The lines remain stable with minor positional gains by both sides.

Kherson

Krynky

Fighting continues at the tactical level for positional advantage. The lines remain stable.

Rear Areas

Russia

Morosovsk Airbase, Rostov Oblast

Morosovsk Airbase is about 150 miles from the front lines and is the base for Su-34 strike aircraft. It was hit by a swarm of at least 70 Ukrainian drones. There are reports of several damaged aircraft.

This is the second time this airbase has been hit.


BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 95. The Russian Air Force Takes a Beating as Disease Rips Through the Russian Army – RedState


 

Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov says Ukraine will be back.

Oil Storage Facility, Azov, Rostov Oblast

Yeysk Airbase

A Russian airbase at Yeysk, in Krasnodar Krai region bordering the Sea of Azov, was hit by a Ukrainian drone swarm. There are no reliable reports of damage.

What's Next

If anyone had doubts about the Russian Winter Offensive being over, I think they can put those doubts aside. The number of Russian air and MLRS strikes has dropped to the lowest level in four months. It has been 16 days since the last sizeable Russian missile attack. If we make it to mid-July without another major attack, that will signal something is happening. The volume of ground attacks is up, but the size of those attacks has markedly dropped off.

The Ukrainians now have a breather as the immediate threats to the front's stability have passed. Ammunition and missile supplies are steady and reliable. Overall, the Ukrainian Army is in great shape after a difficult winter.

Russian forces opposite Sumy remain the wild card, but the Biden White House's change in its strike-in-Russia policy should allow Ukraine to interdict any build-up of forces in a way it could not before the Kharkiv offensive.

The absence of images of Ukrainian tanks indicates they are mostly not involved in the day-to-day skirmishes. This implies they are being hoarded somewhere. As I've said for months, I don't think Ukraine can politically afford to hold tight for the remainder of the year. I also don't think they can afford another failed offensive. Look for a smaller operation as an opportunity to show they can take the fight to the Russians. The best target is something in western Zaporizhzhia that threatens the rail lines into Crimea. The second option would be to reduce the Russian "buffer zone" in Kharkiv.

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