Putin's War, Week 122. Zelensky Scores, Putin Flops, and Crimea Under Fire

CREDIT: Photo by David Peinado//pexels.com

We're now 855 days into Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempted Anschluss with the rogue province of Ukraine, and time to take store of where we are and where we may be going.

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Over the last week, Ukraine has had a series of diplomatic successes even as the shooting war has become static. I cover these happenings — EU accession talks, the EU finally agreeing to use Russian assets to help Ukraine, forcing Hungary to stop blocking aid to Ukraine by NATO and the EU, and the indictment of Russian officials on war crimes charges — in another post.


BACKGROUND: Zelensky Chalks Up Four Major Political Wins and It Is Only Tuesday


We can add two other political wins for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to that list. Ukraine negotiated a 10-year security pact with the EU, just like the one it has negotiated with the US and 16 other countries.


RELATED: US Signs 10-Year Security Agreement With Ukraine at G7 Summit


It also achieved a major victory at the European Court of Human Rights: Russia Committed Human Rights Violations in Crimea, European Court Finds

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Russia and its proxy security forces in Crimea have committed multiple human rights violations during its decade-long occupation of the Ukrainian territory.

In a case brought by the government of Ukraine, the court found evidence of the unlawful persecution and detention of those who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as the systemic repression of ethnic and religious minorities in Crimea. The evidence presented to the court painted a picture of a region under the tight grip of Moscow’s authoritarian control, where any criticism is harshly punished and accountability is nonexistent for the politically connected.

The ruling from Europe’s most important human rights court, based on a case first brought in 2014, was a reminder that the region remains contested. It remains legally part of Ukraine, with deep historical and cultural ties, despite the Kremlin’s coordinated campaign to obliterate that identity under the occupation.

Russia is also systematically obliterating Ukraine's historical patrimony. In what is nearly an homage to Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," the Russians have torn down the 2,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, the "Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora," and put up a cheesy outdoor theater.

 

I'm sure a lot of Putin's fans will pooh-pooh the ICC arrest warrants (Putin has one of these) and the ECHR judgment, but they exist independently of the war. This makes it more difficult for countries not called North Korea to deal with Russia. And these rulings and their impact will exist after the war draws to an end.

Putin attempted to break out of his diplomatic isolation by visiting North Korea (the first country that any nation trying to break out of diplomatic isolation visits) and Vietnam. As I posted, the gambit hasn't worked out all that well. 


RELATED:

North Korea Promises to Send Troops and Workers to Support Russia in Ukraine

Putin's Visit to North Korea and Vietnam May Have Done Him More Harm Than Good

Game Changer: Russia Signs Mutual Defense Treaty With North Korea


In a bid to bully the easily bullied Jake Sullivan into restricting, Russia is making a big stink about some civilian deaths caused by Russian air defense shooting down a Urkainian ATACMS (American-made) over a crowded beach. Unlike previous threats of dire consequences, this one seems to have been ignored by everyone.


BACKGROUND: Russia Blames US for Damage Caused by Ukrainian-Fired Missile Shot Down by Russia


The war in Ukraine surfaced briefly in the Biden-Trump debate last night. I'm not sure Biden can find Ukraine on a map, and I'm sure Trump does not have a plan for ending the war that is deeper than a couple of bumper stickers. The hopeful message was the quickness with which Trump declared that Putin's "peace plan" was unacceptable. 

And a final nugget for the "Zowie, OMG, it's World War III" crowd, the Biden defense department may authorize civilian contractors to work in Ukraine to repair equipment.

I'm not clear if that is one step above or below advisors and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Here are some of my past updates.

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

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

Housecleaning Continues, Part 1

The Defense Ministry's re-ordering after Sergei Shoigu's departure continues. I have covered this in other posts on this site.


BACKGROUND:

The Purge of Russia's Defense Ministry Spreads – RedState

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

 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


This is the newest round.

What is notable is that the replacements are all Putin loyalists and not brought in by the new Defense Minister. 

This indicates that Belousov is on a short leash and has no remit to reform the Defense Ministry.

Housecleaning Continues, Part 2

Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB directorate charged with intelligence gathering in the former Soviet Republics, will retire. Allegedly, he is blamed for giving Putin bad information that led him to think the Ukraine invasion force would meet little resistance (I was also told NATO fooled Putin into attacking Ukraine). His removal will coincide with his reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

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It is sort of amazing that the man responsible for such an epic and possibly regime-ending blunder could survive over two years...but then I look at our own Intelligence Community.

As a note, some strongly argue that this is the first step in removing geriatrics from the FSB. I have to confess to not being sufficiently familiar with Kremlin politics to evaluate that claim. Read the whole thread.

New NATO Secretary General

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be NATO's new Secretary General, replacing Norway's Jens Stoltenberg. Rutte will most likely do a good job strengthening NATO internally and nudging everyone toward the 2%-of-GDP spending target. At this point, I would have preferred just about anyone from Poland, the Baltic States, or Czechia, but you go with the secretary general you have, not the one you want. Read the whole thread.

By the way, when Donald Trump inevitably takes credit for increased defense spending by NATO members, it was Russian threats and violence that accomplished that, not Trump's threats.

North Korea Sending Troops to Ukraine

Read the whole story at North Korea Promises to Send Troops and Workers to Support Russia in Ukraine.

Not Sure This Is Going to Work

For more on Malofeev, follow the link.

Debate Over Strikes on Russian Refineries

Foreign Policy has an interesting article debating the efficacy of Ukrainian drone strikes. It is a former Gazprom executive responding to a May Foreign Policy article making the case for refinery attacks by arguing that a) the strikes don't matter and b) that even if they did matter they may lead to ESCALATiON!!1! and Russia attacking Ukraine's energy grid which he goes on to admit they are already doing. I find the argument to be tiresome and disingenuous. The Gazprom guy conflates, I think deliberately, oil production with gasoline/diesel/distillates production. He ignores that the attacks are destroying equipment that Russia must import clandestinely. His big lie about Russian attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid would make Goebbels or Stalin grin. Enjoy.

Russian Fire Provides Insight on the Russian Economy

An office building near Moscow caught fire Monday. At least eight people died including two who were caught on video leaping to their deaths to avoid burning alive. But there is more to the story. 

Russia Takes the Helm of the UN Security Council

On July 1, Russia becomes president of the UN Security Council. I'm sure it will be lit.

They're Satanists, I Tell You

It's another episode of a Russian political talk show for your enjoyment. I think he comments on my Ukraine posts.

Operational Level

The frontlines are relatively stable. The Ukrainians seem to have prioritized demolishing the Russian "buffer zone" in the Kharkiv region and deterring an attack from Russia into Ukraine's Sumy Oblast. The pro-Russian commenters always talk about the "breakthroughs" and "cauldrons" created by the ever-victorious Russian Army. The maps tell a different story. The front has barely changed over the course of Ukaine's Summer Offensive and Russia's Winter Offensive.

The pace of Russian ground attacks picked up and reached an intensity on par with the height of the Russian Winter Offensive. However, all attacks are not equal. The attacks are smaller. The number of Russian airstrikes continues to decline. I think this reflects the effect I posted about a couple of weeks ago of attrition by sanctions. The same shortage of spare parts that devastated Russian commercial air traffic probably hit the Russian Air Force. The last major Russian missile attack was on June 2, so we are now overdue for one, according to the established pattern. In a change from the past six months, Ukrainian Telegram channels report that Ukrainian artillery is at parity or better with Russian artillery in volume of fire.

One of the most significant operational events over the last week is the revelation that Ukraine has basically closed Sevastopol to maritime traffic by mining the approaches. It turns out that the same technology that has driven the Russian Black Sea Fleet out of Crimea can deliver mines.

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The Russians built a system of barriers at the entrance to Sevastopol Bay to keep out Ukrainian suicide drones. Faced with this, the Ukrainians adapted their drones to drop anti-ship mines in the channels.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the effort has been successful (How Ukraine’s Naval Drones Turned the Tide in the Battle of the Black Sea). Ironically, one of the ships damaged by Ukrainian mines was a Russian mine countermeasures ship.

Zelensky Fires Another General

Last week, I posted about Zelensky cashiering a general linked to two major battlefield disasters. This week, he fired another one for being a typical Soviet/Russian general who was careless, if not downright disdainful, of the lives of his men. In this case, the removal was the result of complaints from tactical units.

A prominent Ukrainian officer this week accused a top commander of incompetence, blaming him for “thousands” of casualties in a rare public criticism from within the military that reflects growing discontent among the troops as Russia has advanced on the battlefield.

Maj. Bohdan Krotevych, the chief of staff of the influential Azov Brigade, filed a request to Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation concerning “a military general who in my opinion has killed more Ukrainian soldiers than any Russian general,” he wrote Monday in a post on Telegram.

Within hours, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he had replaced Lt. Gen. Yuriy Sodol as Ukraine’s Joint Forces’ commander. Sodol is also in charge of the ground forces for the critical section of the front stretching across the eastern Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, and is expected to be removed from that post as well.

The incident is the latest in a series of military leadership shake-ups this year amid Ukraine’s struggles along the 600-mile front line. Sodol had been in the post for just four months after he was installed by Ukrainian military chief Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, whom Zelensky only appointed to the top position earlier this year.

This is the complaint that caused Sodol's removal.

Sodol was the mastermind behind the crossing of the Dnieper River, which had no visible operational impact — Russia moved troops from that area to other fronts, showing that the operation had no effect on Russian operations. Both sides suffer from having sprung from the Red Army. Command slots are allocated by political considerations and membership in the right "good ol' boy" network. Favored officers are pulled into higher headquarters, and less favored officers have combat commands. Zelensky has to break this command-by-clique system down because I'm not sure the Ukrainian military is capable of doing it on its own.

Russian Satellite Center Destroyed

Ordinarily, I'd post this in the "Crimea" section of the update, but it is so significant that it deserves more attention because it has an impact that will ripple through all Russian military operations. Monday, Ukraine fire a volley of eight ATACMS at a Russian Space Tracking and Communications Center at Yevpatoriya, Occupied Crimea.

This will interfere with Russia's ability to gather satellite imagery and other information.

Pay to Slay

The Russian military is relying on large bonuses to attract sufficient recruits so the government can avoid increasing conscription and the economic dislocation and possible social unrest that will result. At today's exchange rate, 100 rubles is $1.13. The bonus for advancing one kilometer is 50,000 rubles or about $567. The Russian Winter Offensive had gains of one kilometer is only a handful of places.

More Russian Redployments to Ukraine

Last week, I posted about Russian troops being transferred from the Russo-Finnish frontier and the Russian Far East to combat in Ukraine. We can now add surface-to-air missiles from the disputed Kuril Islands to that tally.

Prisoner of War Exchange

The 53d swap of prisoners of war took place involving 90 prisoners on each side. The UAE is serving as the broker.

Kharkiv and Odesa Hit by Russian Airstrike

The Russian military said this was a mistake; they were aiming at a police hospital in the same area. I am not making that up. For my vatnik readers, hospitals, whether military or civilian, are not lawful targets.

There is no word on what they mistook the grocery chain warehouse in Odesa for.

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Nearing Collapse

If you are triggered by human brutality, don't watch this video

Three Russian soldiers are on the move. The context is unclear, but it seems to be Russian troops retreating from Verbove in Zaporzhzhia. The Number Two man is hit by an FPV. What follows will probably become a metaphor for the Russian experience in Ukraine.

I have a book somewhere in my library that describes Soviet "tank riders" in World War II. These were soldiers who were assigned to go into battle riding on Soviet tanks. This wasn't a pick-up gig; it was their full-time assignment. The Allied officer observing them noted that they had abandoned any veneer of civilized behavior. They were cruel and merciless to friend and foe, totally reckless in the attack, and wildly undisciplined in camp. The casual way this shooting is done gives the impression that these men don't care if they live or die. They won't change when they get home.

On the Other Hand

When medical care isn't a priority, maybe a bullet in the head doesn't look all that daunting.

1917 Looming?

So many of these stories are emerging from the Russian forces on the Belgorod-Kharkiv border that even if they aren't individually true, they indicate an army on the verge of collapse.

Starlink Saga Continues

I've posted several times on Elon Musk's Starlink selling internet terminals to the Russian military. Musk got a lot of praise early in the war for making Starlink available for free to the Ukrainian military. Then, we found that Starlink had geofenced Crimea, so Starlink data couldn't be used for weapons guidance. But they didn't do the same thing to Ukraine, so the Russians could use it to attack Ukrainian targets. We also found Starlink's claims it didn't sell to Russia to be "parsimonious with the truth" as an authorized Chinese Starlink reseller openly advertised Starlink terminals in Russia. Now, there is more evidence that Starlink has fairly widespread use in the Russian military.


BACKGROUND:

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

Putin's War, Week 103. Avdiivka Abandoned

Putin's War, Week 105. Sweden Prepares to Be Heard – RedState

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


More Patriots Headed to Ukraine

For those keeping track, Spain is one of the countries which cause JD Vance to lose his crap over it having Patriot missile deliveries delayed. For more information on this numbskullery, read my analysis in Putin's War, Week 121. Putin Threatens, Zelensky Negotiates, and the White House Sends Lots of Missiles.

The big deal shaping up is this one.

These systems have already been retired, and so they are available immediately. If all eight fire units are sent to Ukraine, that will more than double the number currently defending Ukrainian cities.

Ammunition Update

This is one of the tangible results of Putin's War. The American defense industrial base was utterly devastated in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. The residual manufacturing capability barely kept up with maintaining US stockpiles. Putin's War showed that in a sh**-kicker with a near-peer competitor, we simply could not produce enough ammunition for sustained combat. Thankfully, we have the time to fix this and other defense industrial issues at our leisure and not while we're fighting China.

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What is most amusing is that it seems that some of the contributions to the Czech project to round up 155mm artillery ammunition came from Russia's ally, Serbia.

Russian Tank Attrition

Russia has suffered an unprecedented level of attrition in its tank inventory. The question is whether its industrial base can stop the death spiral. This is an interesting look at the situation. Read the whole thread.

New Weapons

Hawkeye Self-Propelled 105mm Howitzer

The Army announced it has sent the prototype 105 mm Hawkeye Mobile Howitzer System to Ukraine for testing and evaluation. This move is the first of its kind and raises the unanswered questions of whether military or contractor personnel are with the equipment and, if not, how reliable the evaluation is.

“We recently put a 105 mm system into Ukraine. We shipped it in April and trained for two weeks,” Evans stated. “That system is destined to be one of the first soft recoil systems in combat. It’s going into combat to test on live targets.”

The Hawkeye Mobile Howitzer is known for its high mobility and versatility. It can be transported by various means, including transport aircraft, helicopters, and can even be air-dropped. The platform’s stability is ensured by four hydraulic stabilizers, allowing for horizontal aiming of 180 degrees and vertical aiming from -5 to +72 degrees. The system is designed for a crew of four, but can be operated by just two if necessary.

 

Arash Drone

Russian use of the Arash 2 in Ukraine has been confirmed. It has a reported strike range of up to 2,000 km and carries a 150 kg warhead. It is a larger and more capable version of the original Arash drone, with a wingspan of up to 4 meters and a length of 4.5 meters.

 

Combat Operations

Ukrainian Air Force Increases Activity

This is a JDAM strike on a Russian base camp on the left bank of the Dnieper in Zaporizhzhia. We are seeing an increased number of video clips of Ukrainian airstrikes.

Ukrainian Counterattack in Kharkiv Area

This is a Ukrainian assault team clearing a Russian position somewhere in the Kharkiv area. What is notable is that the ground forces seem to be guided by someone monitoring the situation by drone. While this does give an increased level of situational awareness, there is a downside. It is much easier to take risks when you don't have skin in the game. 

Wastage

This 4-minute video gives you an idea of the losses the Russians took to move a few kilometers west of Avdiivka. Note that the only operational vehicles encountered are civilian ones; all armored vehicles are immobilized or destroyed.

Update on the Yeysk Strike

Last week, I posted about a strike on the Russian airbase at Yeysk in Krasnodar Krai. I, like many others, assumed the target was the strike aircraft based there. 


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


As it turns out, the target was a facility used to train Shahed-136 drone operators and a storage facility for the drones.

As you can see, the barracks and storage building were pretty well thrashed.

Artillery in Action

Ukrainian Tank Corps Graduation

My long suspicion has been that the stories on the old age and decrepitude of Ukrainian soldiers have been wildly overstated as part of a Russian information operation. Because if grandpa is kicking your first team's ass, what does it say about you? This class photo of new armor officers in the Ukrainian Army reinforces my gut feeling because while the class is older than a new crop of US Army second lieutenants, it isn't middle-aged-to-elderly like a lot of social media accounts claim.

More on the "Turtle Tanks"

Last week, I took retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan to task for his favorable review of the Russian "turtle tanks." This is a video of an evaluation of one of those captured tanks.

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It isn't a wunderwaffen. It is a tank stripped of its combat power and pressed into service as a battle taxi.

Nothing Except a Battle Lost...

...be half so melancholy as a battle won — Duke of Wellington

I'm not sure where this fits on the won-lost spectrum but it is ugly.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Close Encounter of the Worst Kind

This action takes in the Kharkiv area. As the clip starts, three Russian assault troops are moving down a trench toward the bottom of the screen. They have just passed a branch off the main trench to the left. From the trench layout, I think the Russian lines are to the left. At 0:01, you see a Ukrainian soldier emerge from the bypassed branch and engage the Russian team from the rear. A close-up of the engagement starts at 0:16.

Drone Air-to-Air Combat

In the first video, the Ukrainian drone wins. In the second video, a Russian air defense drone employs a detachable net to capture a Ukrainian drone.

This engagement has something of a Neanderthal air to it. A Ukrainian Mavic drone with a stick, yes, a stick, dangling beneath it knocks down a Russian Mavic drone.

Strike on Drone Ground Crew

This video is from a Ukrainian drone unit that has searched for and located a Russian drone ground station in a house. The full video is over 14 minutes. This clip has English subtitles.

This video is the same kind of target but in the Kharkiv area of operations.

Bradley vs. FPV Drone

This is a Bradley IFV defending itself from a drone. The shells fired by the Bradley probably cost more than the drone, but that was better than losing the Bradley.

Unclear on the Concept

When a lane is marked through a minefield, a driver has every reason to assume it is cleared. In the Russian Army, that is not always a smart move. The video starts with a BMP variant and cope cage approaching dead tank and Chinese-made Desertcross ATV. aka HummXi, presumably the victims of antitank mines. To the right is another HummXi and a team of Russian soldiers. A lane is marked with tape between the destroyed tank and HummXi. At 0:08 a Russian soldier motions the BMP into the marked lane. At 0:15, the BMP crew discovers whatever the hand movements and marked lane mean, they don't mean it is free of mines.

Paying Attention

I've posted many times on the stupid economics of using very expensive missiles to destroy very cheap drones. Once I said that every squad needed a good birddog and a guy with a 12-gauge to detect and engage FPV drones. As it turns out, I wasn't alone in thinking that. Read the whole thread.

“The use of different types of guns in this capacity in Ukraine has accelerated the demand we get for our shotguns to be sold in a counter-drone configuration – we’ve received a lot of request for information for this from NATO countries,” Mauro Della Costanza, head of sales at Benelli’s defense division, told Defense News at the Eurosatory trade show here.

The company supplies shotguns combined with special drone ammunition, which are already in use with the French and Italian armed forces. Dubbed the ALDA round, short for anti-light drone ammunition, this type of projectile is dedicated to shooting down moving targets such as small drones, weighing less than 25 kilograms, at distances between 80 and 120 meters.

If You Shoot at the King

Last week, I posted video of a Russian Russian fighter firing an air-to-air missile at a drone and a Strela-10 (NATO terminology: SA-13 "Gopher") firing at reconnaissance drones and missing. Is it bad equipment, poor training, bad luck, or something we don't know about?


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


Why Not to Ride on an IFV

Russian infantry on a BMP targeted by an FPV.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

Lyptsy-Vovchansk

Ukraine is making progress in this area via small-scale counterattacks.

Forbes reports that the Russians are retreating from Vovchansk, but this story has no geolocated confirmation. It meshes with reports from the last two weeks of the Russian line in Vovchansk disintegrating.

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Donbas

The front line remained stable despite a surge in the number of Russian ground attacks in this area.

Chasiv Yar

Russian attacks continue, but the front line remains stable.

Avdiivka

The Russian Army continues to make small gains in this area.

Attacks in Southern Donetsk Broken Up

Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

Russian attacks continue but the line is stable.

Kherson

Russian forces continue to attack this area, but the front lines have not changed.

Rear Areas

Russia

Equipment and Ammunition Dump, Kursk Oblast

This dump was probably located less than 20 kilometers from the Ukrainian border for it to comply with White House rules on striking targets in Russia.

Rostov-Mariupol Railway

The ATESH partisan group claimed responsibility for destroying a relay cabinet on the Rostov-to-Mairupol railway. This kind of attack isn't sexy, but it shuts down an entire segment of the line until the destroyed gear is replaced.

Belgorod Rail Yards

Ammunition Depot, Olkhovatka, Voronezh Oblast

Chemical Products Plant, Redkino, Tver Oblast

What's Next

It is pretty clear that Ukraine is focused on reducing the Russian buffer zone in Kharkiv. That, I think, happens sooner rather than later. All indications are that the units there are either heavily salted with former deserters and other unreliables or they are burned-out shells of units that were mauled in other areas of operation. As I noted, Forbes is reporting the beginning of a collapse of Russian forces in Vovchansk. If that happens, it will be very difficult to isolate the contagion.

The long game Ukraine is playing against Crimea is coming to a climax. By employing USV capable of delivering anti-ship mines, seaborne resupply of the Russian Army in Crimea will be significantly reduced. Then, all Crimea military forces and civilian population will be dependent upon one railway line across the Kerch Strait Bridge.

By shaking up his command structure, I think Zelensky is getting rid of some of the Soviet influence in his military. It is easy to see another crop of officers rising free of Ukraine's Soviet heritage and more in tune with the "follow me" ethos of combat leaders in the West.

All said, I think Ukraine came through a very difficult winter in much better shape than one might have anticipate,d and it has put in place systems to support an expansion of its military.

I still think the Ukrainian Army can't afford to take a summer off. It will execute an offensive operation somewhere. That may be in the Kharkiv area, but the Russians look like they are trying to forestall that possibility by collapsing. The most likely area, in my view, is in western Zaporizhzhia with the objective of severing rail traffic between Crimea and Donbas. If that is successful, Crimea is not defensible and Putin will have some hard decisions to make.

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