Putin's War, Week 123. F-16s Wait in the Wings, More Weapons Arrive, and the Momentum Shifts

Image by Stockgiu via Freepik

As Week 123 of Putin's rampage through Ukraine and again we stop to take stock of the situation.

The week's big news is that the US has released another $2.3 billion in security assistance. This aid package comes in the form of $150 million in Presidential Drawdown Authority and $2.2 billion in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding. This money was appropriated by Congress earlier in the year. As is the practice, this tranche of security assistance covers equipment and munitions in stock that are transferred to Ukraine. The funding backfills the drawdown or is used to purchase weapons, equipment, and munitions from US manufacturers. It is not money transferred to Ukraine.

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At the same time, European NATO pledged €40 billion in military aid. Please take a close look at the numbers. I caught some flack in the comments to my Wednesday post on Trump's plan to end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours by saying that we didn't have the clout to impose a solution without getting Europe's buy-in.

Hungarian President Viktor Orban celebrated his ascension to the rotating presidency of the European Union by visiting Kiev. This was a bit of a surprise as Orban is fairly openly allied with Russia on foreign and domestic policy. The alliance is so open that Hungary may be stripped of EU voting rights. Unsurprisingly, Orban encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider accepting Russia's ceasefire offer. In Orban's view, a ceasefire must precede any negotiations, and Zelensky's peace plan is just too complicated.


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


Putin's current offer involves abject surrender as a precondition for any talks, which means Ukraine will probably not accept it.


BACKGROUND: Is Trump's Pledge to End the War in Ukraine in 24-Hours Real or Just Campaign Hyperbole?


His efforts were appreciated where they count.

Other than that one stinkbomb, the meeting seems to have gone well. Orban committed Hungary to supporting the modernization of the Ukrainian economy; Ukraine and Hungary plan to sign an international cooperation agreement; Hungary intends to help Ukraine during its presidency of the EU Council; and Zelensky and Orban agreed to open the first school for Ukrainian-speaking children in Hungary. It was the usual political bumf. That said, Orban made a definite effort to establish himself as something more than Putin's sockpuppet. 

Just as Orban became the new president of the EU, so, too, did other high positions in the European bureaucracy change. One of the most interesting ones was the selection of Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as vice president of the European Commission and the EU's equivalent of foreign minister. As prime minister, she was undaunting in her efforts to eradicate Russian subversion and in her support for Ukraine. They have made her the subject of a full-blown Kremlin-orchestrated smear campaign.

 "Ms Kallas (...) has not demonstrated any diplomatic inclinations so far and is well known in our country for her absolutely intransigent and sometimes even rabidly Russophobic remarks. Therefore, we do not think that European diplomacy will act in any way to normalise relations [with Russia].

The prospects for relations between Moscow and Brussels are poor," Peskov told reporters on Friday, commenting on Kallas' appointment.

Here are some of my past updates.

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

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

Putin's War, Week 114. Russia Races Against Time As Ukraine Tries to Hold On

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

Putin's War, Week 112. Ukraine Funding Passes and ATACMS Hit Crimea

For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

Politico-Strategic Level

Former Deputy Defense Minister Defects?

There are a lot of rumors swirling about former Deputy Defense Minister Tatyana Shevtsova. She was fired in May in the aftermath of the removal of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.


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


All reporting on the story is sourced from low-readership East European media. We'll keep an eye on this to see what develops. If people of this level begin fleeing Russia, that is what the FBI calls a clue.

The Pressure on Biden to Allow Strikes in Russia Increases

If you want the one reason that Russia sees no reason to negotiate an end to the war it started, that reason would be Joe Biden. The moronic and obtuse policies his national security cabal has pursued in Ukraine have increased the body count and destruction for no greater reason than to provide material for a graduate seminar on "avoiding escalation." Notice I don't blame Biden directly. After last Thursday's debate, I don't think Biden is in control of his bowel movements, much less our defense and foreign policy.


RELATED: Inject Into My Veins: Visibly Stunned Chuck Todd Admits What Biden's Critics Have Said About Him Is True


It was only after an international outcry that the Biden White House finally backed off its prohibition on Ukraine using US-manufactured weapons to strike military targets in Russia.


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


That policy allowed Russia to mass troops and equipment to open up a new front north of Kharkiv.

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RELATED: Biden White House Establishes Sanctuaries for Russian Forces Attacking Ukraine; Does This Sound Familiar?


Now Russia is lobbing glide bombs into civilian areas of Kharkiv City, and the airbases from which those attacks are launched are again off limits to attack. 

Pressure is being applied on the White House, and I think, ultimately, any facility participating in attacks on Ukraine will be declared within bounds.

NATO Raises Profile in Ukraine

Norway Restricts Land Sales in Contested Territory on Russian Border

I've posted several times on what I think is Putin's territorial ambitions, see Putin's Threats to Sweden and Finland Are Much More Real Than They Are Being Given Credit For, and Did a Quickly Deleted Essay in Russian Media Explain What Vladimir Putin Wants Russia to Gain From the Ukraine Invasion? As recently as June, the Kremlin took action to unilaterally change its borders with Finland and some of the Baltic States, see What's Up With Putin's Russia Trying to Redraw Its Borders With Finland and the Baltic States?

One of the areas open to Russian expansion is Norway's Svalbard archipelago. In response to that threat, Norway has now instituted restrictions on land ownership there.

Norway said on Monday it had demanded the owner of a private property on the Arctic Svalbard islands obtain the government's consent before selling the property, over concerns national security interests could be jeopardised through a sale.

The company AS Kulspids, which owns Soere Fagerfjord in Svalbard, must obtain consent from the ministry of trade, industry and fisheries before negotiating a sale of the property, the Norwegian government said in a statement.

The Nordic country in late May said it planned to increase its control of Svalbard, as security concerns and climate change impact the Arctic archipelago.

The Nordic nation has long been concerned that tensions between western countries on the one hand, and with Russia or China on the other, could spill over to the vast outpost because of the archipelago's strategic position and of growing interest in the Arctic's valuable oil, gas and shipping routes.

Armenia to Attend NATO Summit

For those keeping score, Armenia is a member of Russia's pseudo-NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Maltreatment of Prisoners of War

In the last update, I provided some before/after pictures of Ukrainian troops exchanged out of Russian prisoner-of-war camps. This is a bit of a long read, but it is worth it to understand the way Russia treats prisoners once they are away from the front lines.

Can't Improve On This Tweet

Russian Television Personality Calls for Destruction of Ukraine

In this episode, Yulia Vityazeva, a Ukrainian who moved to Russia in 2015 and a regular on Vladimir Solovyov's semi-official " Evening with Solovyov" program, calls for the total destruction of Ukraine as a nation. Why is this important? This program is an extraordinary barometer of Kremlin thinking, giving insight into Putin's intentions. Secondly, it sets the agenda for the public. This kind of statement does not prepare Russia for any end of the war that is not an unconditional surrender by Ukraine.

Russian Duma Declares War on Childlessness

European Russia is in a demographic death spiral. Putin has created various tax breaks to encourage families to have children, but with no success. The Duma has grown tired of carrots and wants to use sticks. It has declared war on "extremist childfree ideology."

Demining Task Force in the Black Sea

This is just another indication of Russia's increasing relevance in the Black Sea. Ukraine has broken Russia's blockade of Ukraine's remaining ports and continues grain exports, and it has driven the Black Sea Fleet from Crimea. Now Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey have joined forces to clear Black Sea shipping lanes of Russian mines.

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Snake Island, A Year After

A year ago, Ukrainian commandos liberated Snake Island after Ukrainian missiles had made the place a living hell for the garrison. This is some just-released video of the assault. I can't tell you how it warmed my heart to see the troops in the helicopters carrying their weapons muzzle down.


RELATED:

Ukraine's Attacks on Snake Island Hint That Russia's Black Sea Fleet's Influence on the War May Be Over – RedState

Putin's War, Week 18. Snake Island, Prisoner Exchanges, Calculated Terror, and the War in Donbas – RedState


Peak Russia

A naked man is thumping two old ladies. No one cares.

Operational Level

Ukraine seems to have finally brought some sort of order to its mobilization system.

According to reports, this has enabled Ukraine to create 14 new brigades. What that means in terms of manpower is anyone's guess. But they are expanding their army at a rate that their supply chain is findning difficult to support as everything is focused on supply troops on the line of contact.

The problem of equipping new brigades is small change when compared to the struggle to man them. This problem will sort itself out.

The operational outlook is a mixed bag. Ukraine is showing some offensive moves in the area of the Russian incursion into Kharkiv Oblast, pushing the Russians back. They are also having success in the Kreminna area in northern Luhansk. The Russians are still focused on Chasiv Yar in central Donetsk and are having some success. Whether this is due to offensive prowess or the Ukrainian command adopting a Fabian approach by trading land for time and Russian casualties is unclear. 

If Ukraine has an area of concern, it is the area evacuated after the fall of Avdiivka, where the Russian Army has racked up a steady stream of small advances. Unlike Chasiv Yar, if a breakthrough happens in this area and it has the follow-on echelons of forces and logistics to support it, this could turn pear-shaped very quickly for Ukraine.

Cumulatively, the Russian Army has gained 19 mi2 during its Winter Offensive.

The amount of territory controlled by Russia is about the same as it was controlled in October 2022.

Russian missile strikes have fallen off the scale. The previous pattern was one major attack, by that I mean over 30 missiles, every 30 days or so. If the current drought holds up for another week or two, we are looking at a very significant happening. The number of Russian airstrikes is also declining. As I've said before, I attribute that to a shortage of spare parts reducing sorties. I imagine about a third of Russian fighters are probably in the process of being cannibalized for parts.

The OPTEMPO of Russian ground attacks remains high, but the size of the attacks remains small.

My assessment is that we are starting to see a shift in the initiative on the battlefield. Ukraine is beginning to claw back territory in small operations rather than being totally on the defensive. Russia's ability to create significant offensive action is receding.

More Patriots

The Department of Defense has announced a $5.3 billion contract for Patriot missiles.

More ATACMS

Officer Casualties

A lot of ink is spilled on competing casualty estimates in both armies. If you read Douglas Macgregor or David Sacks, you'd be excused for believing the entire male population of Ukraine has been wiped out two or three times. One number we have with some degree of certainty is the number of Russian officers killed because most of those deaths are announced in local Russian media or on social media. The number of officers killed has particular importance because the Russian Army does not have a professional NCO corps. Their officers are the primary trainers of units and the primary combat leaders. Keep in mind that this number is a floor, not a ceiling. Many deaths have not been announced or cataloged.

Nadia Goes to War

Having been successful in emptying the Russian prison system for use in Ukraine, the Russians are now working on the women's prisons.

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Well, Don't Get Wounded...

If you thought the VA was messed up, you have to read the whole thread to really appreciate what is going on.

From a Russian Defector

More and more of these stories are surfacing. Taking into consideration that the people telling the story have a vested interest in making the Russian Army look bad, there is a consistency between the stories and the other information we have. We've known for nearly two years that Russian mobiks have to provide most of their own gear. We know that the Russian training base has been hollowed out by sending experienced trainers to Ukraine and replacing them with over-age retirees. We've known for quite a while that the Russian logistics system is under pressure and not equipped to supply equipment to combat units and keep up with the demands of equipping new soldiers. Read the whole thread and make your own judgment.

Another defector, this one from Russia's Baltic Fleet has surfaced. He is an ethnic Ukrainian recruited by Ukraine's military intelligence (HUR). If you recall, Ukrainian intelligence also recruited a Russian helicopter pilot to defect in August 2023.


BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones – RedState


He is taking responsibility for a fire that severely damaged the Buyan-class guided missile corvette Sherpukhov in April.

Cholera and Typhus Outbreaks

There are multiple reports of cholera and typhus outbreaks in the Russian Army. The root cause seems to be a logistics system that is incapable of providing fresh water or evacuating corpses.

According to his information, every soldier of the criminal army of the Russian Federation is given 18 liters of water every 2 weeks in plastic containers.

Commanders receive an order to issue subordinates 1.5 liters of water per day, but in this case, the allocated volumes will be enough for a maximum of 4 days.

The Russian occupiers suffer from thirst and are forced to drink water from rivers and wells, primitively filtering it with cloth.

I can't imagine expecting troops to fight while limiting them to a little more than 1.5 quarts of water per day. This will not sustain a soldier in combat. Drinking local water can be hazardous. Once, in a pinch, I filled my canteen with water from a stream below the paddy line near Bumfuk, South Korea. Unlike the Russians, I had iodine tablets and used enough to make my thyroid do (metaphorical) jumping jacks.

Some of the problems have been caused by Russia blowing up the Nova Kakhovka Dam, which contaminated water supplies on the Russian-occupied left bank of the Dnieper River.


RELATED: Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka Dam Is Blown up Unleashing Widespread Flooding


More Ukrainian Cities Bombed

North Korea doesn't share the same concerns about its weapons being used in terror attacks that we do about attacking military targets.

New Weapons

F-16s Finally Arrive

The first group of F-16s will be delivered to Ukraine from the Netherlands in July. They will initially be employed to engage Russian cruise missiles over Ukrainian territory. However, it isn't difficult to see part of that mission being counter-air against the Russian strike fighters that launch some of those missiles.

Combat Operations

The End of Motorcycles?

I've posted several times on the emergence of motorcycles and Chinese-made Desertcross 1000 ATVs as assault vehicles. I'm a skeptic. I haven't seen video of a Ukrainian battlefield where you can use the full speed of the vehicles. I've seen no evidence that the Russians have the tactical skill to coordinate a vehicular assault with an artillery barrage. While defenders can hear and see them coming, the troops on the motorcycles and ATVs have limited situational awareness.

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BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 112. Ukraine Funding Passes and ATACMS Hit Crimea – RedState

RELATED:

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 118. Ukraine Gets a Green Light From Biden and France Nearly Has 'Boots on the Ground' – RedState

Putin's War, Week 119. – RedState


I'm getting more and more confident in my judgment. There are about two dozen motorcycles stacked up around this burned-out track.

Even so, more and more motorcycles are being issued to Russian forces probably to make up for the massive losses of armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.

But nope does spring eternal.

Glide Bomb Malfunctions

The Russians began using glide bombs a few months ago, and these do a lot of the work that artillery did in the past to reduce Ukrainian strongpoints. They have also replaced missiles as the preferred tool for hitting population centers within striking range of attack aircraft. They also seem to drop on Russian territory with some regularity.

Reports attribute these accidents to a failure in the kits, though, truth be known, pilot competence probably plays a role. The fact remains that no matter how much this upsets the people on the ground, the failures don't represent a large percentage of strikes and, more importantly, no one cares.

“A certain percentage of Russian bombs is defective. This problem has existed since they started using these UMPK kits and it’s not being fundamentally solved. We think these accidental releases are caused by the unreliability of these kits, something that does not seem to bother the Air Force,” Ruslan Leviev, a military expert with the Conflict Intelligence Group that has been tracking Russian military activities in Ukraine since 2014, said in a recent front line update.

“According to our estimates, only a fraction of these bombs fail, so it doesn’t affect the practical effectiveness of this weapon, no matter how cynical that may sound,” Leviev said. “Unlike Western high-precision bombs, the UMPK kits are produced relatively cheaply and in large quantities, using civilian electronics, where reliability requirements are much lower.”

Based on statements from the Ukrainians about the numbers of bombs launched and the tallies from Astra about misfires, the CIT estimated a failure rate of 4 to 6 percent.

Ukrainian Air Bases Hit By Iskander

This is what happens when you let Russian recon drones mope around overhead. One Su-57 was destroyed, and an undetermined number were damaged to some degree.

In this video, a Ukrainian helicopter base was clobbered. The Ukrainians claim no helicopters were destroyed but it is a safe bet that some were damaged. Note there is no Russian post-strike video.

This kind of sloppiness is difficult to understand in the context of protecting critical assets, but it is endemic on both sides.

FPV Strikes on Antiaircraft Systems

There has been an uptick in the number of videos showing Ukrainian attacks on Russian antiaircraft systems. This shows eight attacks: four TOR-M2 SAMs, three Pantsyr-S1, and one BUK. There is no information on the location or timing of the attacks.

Oldie But Goodie

Images appeared sometime in 2023 of Luhansk People's Republic/Dontesk People's Republic militias being issued M1891 Mosin-Nagant rifles. Like the M1903 Springfield, the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield, and the KAR98, the Mosin-Nagant is a classic bolt-action rifle, but it doesn't have a place on the modern battlefield — or so one would think.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Drone vs. Drone

I've posted a few times on engagements between Ukrainian and Russian UAVs.We've seen nets dropped, sticks lowered into rotors, and ramming attacks. In this video, a Ukrainian FPV chases down a Russian Lancet loitering munition and is detonated.

Drone Operators Targeted

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Nine members of a Russian drone operation team were tracked to their base camp and attacked by FPV drones.

The operators of a Russian SuperCam drone are caught in the open.

This highlights the war fought between drone operators that isn't given the coverage that it should receive.

Minelaying by Aerial Drone

This is a Ukrainian aerial drone lifting an antitank mine to place it behind Russian lines.

HIMARS Strike on Russian Drone Unit

FPV Hunts Down Self-Propelled Howitzer

The target is a Russian 2S18 Msta-S self-propelled 152mm howitzer. As an aside, the reason I use so many Ukrainian drone videos is because Russian videos are always from the FPV and end before impact. The Ukrainians usually provide context via reconnaissance imagery so you can see what happened.

Tank vs Tank

Heal!! Heal!!

A Ukrainian drone attacks a Russian stretcher team while they are evacuating a casualty. Religions have been founded on less than this.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

Ukrainian forces are making small tactical gains throughout this area. There is no indication of another feared Russian incursion west into Sumy Oblast.

Lyptsy-Vovchansk

Ukrainian forces continue to have success in pushing back the Russian Army in this area. This is where the Ukrainian Air Force is most active and where the Russian Army is the weakest.

Donbas

Kreminna-Svatove

Ukrainian forces advanced in several places in this area.

Bahkmut-Klishchiivka-Andriivka

The most significant Russian activity is their offensive directed at Chasiv Yar. The Russian Army made some advances here, and the Ukrainian Army seems to be giving ground. Absent a collapse of the Ukrainian defenses, I still don't see how taking this city is more than a propaganda victory. The Russians don't have the resources to turn this into a breakout or the logistics base to support a breakout if it did materialize.

Avdiivka

The area of the former Avdiivka Salient continues to be the softest spot on the Ukrainian front. The description of "significant tactical gains" includes a footnote stating that the gains are only now being geolocated.

Airstrike on North Suburb of Bakhmut

This attack was carried out by Ukrainian strike aircraft using French-made "Hammeer" standoff bombs. Note that Ukrainian strike aircraft operate more freely in Donbas than in the past and play a larger role in operations.


RELATED: Putin's War, Week 106. Putin Faces Reelection, Nuland is Out, and the Czechs Find Artillery Ammunition – RedState


Ukrainian Tank Clears Russian Strongpoint in North Donbas

A singleton Ukrainian tank brings smoke on Russian defenders. 

Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

The lines in this area remain stable.

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Kherson

Krynky

The front in this area is stable.

Amphibious Movement Gone Awry

Here, a Ukrainian drone attacks five Russian troops, fleeing a disabled boat (lower) left.

Russian Soldiers Abandon Positions

A forest fire swept through Russian lines.

Rear Areas

Crimea

Cyber Attack

Shahed Warehouse, Cape Fiolent

Russia

Vehicle Interdiction in Belgorod Oblast

The Russians are complaining about Ukrainian drones hitting civilian vehicles in Belgorod Oblast. Belgorod is the area from which Russian troops are supplied on the Kharkiv front. The Russians are trying to create an analogy between their air and missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and random civilian vehicles, though not necessarily carrying civilian passengers or cargo. Most vehicles used by the Russian military are civilian and clearly marked as in military use. Using drones to shut down highway traffic is legitimate and sure to cause difficulties on the front lines.

Swarm Attack

There are no reports on outcomes or specific targets.

Military Base, Kursk Oblast

What's Next

Not a lot has changed since last week other than the Ukrainian Air Force showing its fangs more often. We can expect the Ukrainian Army to try to capitalize on the modest success it has achieved on the Russian border in Kharkiv and in northern Luhansk in the Kreminna area. The Russians will continue bashing away at Chasiv Yar, but I can't see much coming from that. Russia's chance for a real success is in the Avdiivka area. There, they have gained ground that is not measured with a micrometer.

The arrival of F-16s in July, even if they merely fly Combat Air Patrols to shield cities from missile attacks, will affect the deployment of Ukraine's air defense system. It will allow Patriots and NASAMs to be pushed out, contesting more Russian-controlled airspace and restricting the Russian Air Force's ability to support operations.

Again, I believe we can expect a limited Ukrainian offensive before the autumn rains start. It is a political necessity to show success on the battlefield, particularly with the likelihood that Biden will not survive the election (metaphorically and figuratively). I'm not sure I believe any longer that an offensive to reduce the Russian incursion into Kharkiv will serve that purpose. I still look for an attack focused on further isolating Russian troops in Occupied Kherson and Crimea.

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