Welcome to the last Ukraine Update of the year.
Not a lot of activity took place over the last week with Congress out of town. The Pentagon approved a $250 million aid package to Ukraine. It is billed as “the last” aid package until Congress appropriates more money. That isn’t all that accurate. The Pentagon has about $4.2 billion remaining in Presidential Drawdown Authority. The NDAA authorized $300 million for Ukraine aid. There are enough ways to continue providing Ukraine with needed support via reprogramming existing funds (the way Trump funded a small segment of the border wall) and other existing legislative authority by May-June; a lot of the slack will be out of the system. As I said in my last update, unfortunately, behind our paywall, I think the linkage of Ukraine/Israel military aid to border security is nothing but Failure Theater generated by Speaker Johnson for election-year fundraising.
READ MORE: Putin’s War, Week 95. The Russian Air Force Takes a Beating as Disease Rips Through the Russian Army
The two big items of news over the last week were the Ukrainian Air Force attacking the port of Feodosia in Occupied Crimea and sinking the Ropucha-class Landing Ship, Tank Novocherkassk. That ship was carrying a few thousand tons of ammunition destined for the front, indicating the Russians have stopped using the Kerch Strait Bridge for ammunition shipments.
Putin, who has been rather forgiving of military f**k-ups, took immediate action. He relieved the commanders of the anti-aircraft units defending that sector and reassigned them to assault battalions on the front lines.
NEXT STOP, MEAT GRINDER: Following the sinking of the Russian landing ship Novocherkassk, Putin has ordered the punishment of Crimean air defense forces. It’s reported that commanders will be relieved and sent to the front to serve in assault groups.https://t.co/fXdVXeL4Rq pic.twitter.com/rbUXFfWhNz
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 28, 2023
It reminded me of a scene from Cornelius Ryan’s classic book about the battle for Berlin called “The Last Battle.”
Once during the Polish campaign of 1944 Zhukov had stood with Marshal Konstantin Rokossoviskii and General Pavel Batov, Commander of the Sixth-fifth Army, watching troops advance. Suddenly Zhukov, viewing the scene through binoculars, yelled at Batov: “The corps commander and the commander of the 44th Rifle Division — penal battalion!”
Russia responded to that loss with a Friday night missile bombardment of Ukrainian cities that used over 100 ballistic and cruise missiles.
READ MORE: Massive Fireball Marks the End of A Russian Ship After Ukrainian Missile Attack
Here are some of my past updates. For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.
Putin’s War, Week 95. The Russian Air Force Takes a Beating as Disease Rips Through the Russian Army
Putin’s War, Week 94. Putin Makes Shocker AnnouncementUSnd the War in Washington Goes Into High Gear
Putin’s War, Week 93. General Winter Hits the Brakes, Offensive Postmortems and Funding Fights
Putin’s War, Week 92. Ukraine Gets Its Own Divine Wind and With Friends Like China, Who Needs Enemies
PutiUSWar, Week 91. Mud and Snow Beats Fire and Steel, and TumbleweeUS Are Blowing Through Sevastopol
Putin’s War, Week 90. Grain Corridor Reopens and Russia Hints at Another Major Retreat
Putin’s War, Week 89. Zelensky Gets an EU Invitation, the EU Looks East and the Russians Have a Timetable
Putin’s War, Week 88. TIME Magazine and the Offensive GEUs a Postmortem blindside Zelensky
Putin’s War, Week 87. The Battlefield Shifts to Washington and Brussels
Putin’s War, Week 86. The Very Resistible Force Meets the Immovable Object in Donbas
Putin’s War, Week 85. The Curtain Goes Down on the Ukrainian Offensive and Russia Rolls for a Hard Six
Largest Russian Missile Attack of the War
Friday, Russia launched at least 122 missiles and drones at targets across Ukraine, many think in retaliation for the sinking of a Russian landing ship on Tuesday.
According to Ukrainian Air Force reports, this is how the attack unfolded.
- The attack started with several waves of Iranian-made Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 explosive drones, with a total of 36 drones spotted, launched from the north and southeast, and then moving to western Ukraine.
- At around 3 a.m., 18 Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers took off and reached the launch position at around 6 a.m., firing 90 Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles.
- At around 05 a.m., Russia’s Tu-22M3 long-range bombers launched eight Kh-22/Kh-32 cruise missiles from Kursk Oblast towards Ukraine’s northern and central regions.
- At the same time, Russians attacked Kharkiv City with S-300 surface-to-air missiles, using them in their secondary ground-attack role. A total of 14 ballistic missiles – S-300/S-400/Iskander – targeted various regions of Ukraine, fired from occupied Crimea, and Russia’s Kursk and Belgorod regions.
- At 6:20 a.m., five Russian MiG-31K fighter jets took off and launched five Kh-47M2 Kinzhal aeroballistic missiles from Russia’s Astrakhan region.
- Also, Russia’s Su-35 tactical bombers launched four Kh-31P supersonic anti-radiation missiles and one Kh-59 cruise missile.
This is the breakout of interceptions.
- 87/90 or (96.6%) of X-101 Missiles
- 0/5 or (0%) of Kinzhal Missiles
- 0/14 or (0%) of Ballistic Missiles
- 0/8 or (0%) of Kh-22 Missiles
- 0/5 or (0%) of Kh-31P/Kh-59 Missiles
A reported 36 Shahed drones were part of the attack, and 27 of those were shot down.
The X-101 is a 1970s vintage .5-mach air-launched cruise missile. If it gets near a modern surface-to-air missile, it is dead. The “ballistic missiles” are S-400 or S-300 surface-to-air missiles deployed in a ground attack role.
Here are the results
Dashcam footage of a missile impact in the Ukrainian city of Odesa during massive Russian attack today’s morning. pic.twitter.com/ojTIqxiYsW
— Status-6 (Military & Conflict News) (@Archer83Able) December 29, 2023
This is a video of a damaged Russian rocket landing somewhere in #Kyiv (I believe) that was struck by AFU air defenses and went off course. The out-of-control Russian rocket did cause collateral damage to a civilian area.
I point this out because no matter what Russian… pic.twitter.com/cGouLfP4WA
— OSINT (Uri) 🇺🇸 🇨🇦 🇬🇧 🇺🇦 🇮🇱 (@UKikaski) December 29, 2023
- The attacks were spread over Ukraine. In the far west, Lviv was hit, as were Odesa, Kiev, Dnipro, and Kharkiv.
- None of the attacks appear to have been directed at military targets. Hits were scored on a maternity hospital, shopping mall, educational facilities, residential buildings, and private homes. At least 87 people are known to have been killed or wounded. The attacks included cities with highly developed air defense systems, like Kiev, and other cities with little to no defense. Most of the attacks struck cities relatively close to the front lines.
- Significantly, none of the ships or submarines of the Black Sea Fleet participated in this attack.
- The price tag for the Russians to pull off this one attack was about $750 million.
- This is more likely than not a one-off attack and not the start of a campaign of regular 100+ missile attacks.
You Thought the VA Was Bad
Stories about the neglect of disabled Russian Army veterans abound on social media. The system of care for conscript soldiers varies from area to area, with no care seeming to be the standard. This is the latest edition. Presenting families of soldiers KIA with a bag of potatoes or onions in lieu of the required death gratuity is pretty standard. This is the first story I’ve encountered of a disabled veteran getting that treatment.
A Russian mobilized man was given two buckets of carrots and a bag of onions instead of 3 million rubles for his being wounded.
Oleg Rybkin, a mobilized man from Volgograd region, was denied payment of 3 million rubles ($32,600) after being wounded. Local authorities gave his… pic.twitter.com/n0Wfa4Ky1d
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) December 27, 2023
I Hate It When That Happens…
The Putin-ally and member of the United Russia party, Vladimir Egorov, has died at the age of 46 after an accident involving him falling out the window of his third-floor apartment in the city of Tobolsk
The Russian authorities are investigating what caused his death pic.twitter.com/Zx5t8SKvfH
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 28, 2023
Cope! Cope Harder!
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian Air Force carried out a strike on Feodosia in Occupied Crimea. The attack sank the Ropucha-class Landing Ship, Tank, Novocherkassk; see Putin’s War, Week 95. The Russian Air Force Takes a Beating as Disease Rips Through the Russian Army. Subsequent satellite imagery shows the attack and subsequent explosion not only sank the Novocherkassk but also a training ship and leveled some pier-side warehouses.
2 SUNK: In addition to the landing ship Novocherkassk sunk by the UKR air force on the night of 26 DEC, another vessel is on the harbor bottom. According to reports from Radio Svoboda, the other casualty is identified as the Russian training ship UTS-150. https://t.co/UbC7iSq8sm pic.twitter.com/AxENcjx6AP
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 26, 2023
The first low-resolution @planet satellite images of the Feodosia port, captured on December 26 at 11:25 local time, show that one more vessel (yellow square) is indeed partially sunk following the Ukrainian strike on the ‘Novocherkassk’ landing ship. pic.twitter.com/DY51NpJEMv
— Mark Krutov (@kromark) December 26, 2023
New satellite imagery of the Russian warship struck by Ukraine also shows a destroyed warehouse and other damage to the port. pic.twitter.com/6m2kHwU5V4
— Brady Africk (@bradyafr) December 27, 2023
Initially, it was reported that the ship was being used to store Shahed drones. Reports emerging now say that it contained a significant quantity of ammunition. Given the video evidence of the explosion, this latter explanation rings true.
Updated Causalities and damage from last night’s Ukrainian strike on Feodosia Port
According rosZMI the Russian landing ship Novocherkassk was not carrying Shahed drones but it’s cargo was
4,400x artillery shells
280x BM-21 “Grad” missiles
Anti-aircraft missile system…
— Intelschizo (@Schizointel) December 27, 2023
Russian social media is full of claims that it was all part of a master plan.
Apparently Putin ‘allowed’ the strike on the Russian warship … so he could use it to declare war …??? pic.twitter.com/BKqHTo0LTk
— 🌻 Fertilizer Finder 🌻 (@ManiacMagic1) December 26, 2023
If Putin were going to declare war, he’d have done it by now. If he was going to use the sinking of a ship as an excuse, the Black Sea Fleet has lost at least four other major ships and crickets. Given the number of red lines the West has crossed and the dozens of nuclear threats by Putin’s cronies, it is sort of stunning to find there are people with enough brain power to read that still believe this bluster is real.
Russia Threatens Japan and South Korea
South Korea is a major supplier of 155mm artillery ammunition to Ukraine; see Putin’s War, Week 94. Putin Makes Shocker Announcement and the War in Washington Goes Into High Gear. Last week, Japan sold Patriot missiles to the US. Japan doesn’t allow the transfer of Japanese weapons or weapon components to belligerents, but this lets US allies, like Poland and Germany, transfer US-made missiles to Ukraine while receiving replacements from the US that are backfilled by Japanese production.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova threatened both countries with unspecified “grave consequences,” and warned that Russia’s response might be asymmetrical. Like forcing Russian hookers to return home?
Putin’s loyal red lipstick messenger’s “warnings” of the day.
Deranged Zakharova warned that a move by Japan to hand over Patriot air defence systems to Ukraine will have “grave consequences”.
Zakharova warned that Ukraine could carry out a dangerous provocation with chemical… pic.twitter.com/rNfA3TYQgK
— Yasmina (@yasminalombaert) December 27, 2023
The operational tempo has dropped significantly in the last two weeks. The Russians continue to launch attacks all along the front but with very little success. The Russian Army succeeded in taking the city of Marinka in Donetsk last week. It was much more a propaganda victory and a swan song for the Donetsk People’s Republic militia than of any material consequence. More details are on that below.
More Russian War Crimes
A reconnaissance drone caught a summary execution of three Ukrainian prisoners of war.
💔🤬 Video of Russians shooting captured Ukrainian soldiers of the 117th OMBr…
🙏 Show this to all your friends, politicians and international organizations… pic.twitter.com/z4SAYAChq5
— MAKS 23 👀🇺🇦 (@Maks_NAFO_FELLA) December 27, 2023
The location is between the towns of Robotyne and Verbove in Zaporizhzhia.
After a while, documenting Russian criminality feels futile, but perhaps one day, the commanders of these “men” will stand in the dock somewhere and face justice.
The lines on this front remain stable. This does not imply a lack of offensive action by the Russian Army.
The Russian Army launched a major armored and mechanized infantry assault against Ukrainian positions around Synkiva with suboptimal results. Most of the vehicles are lost to mines. Adding to the problem, the attack was launched at the same place and at the same time as the previous day’s attack, which you can see burned out along the road.
More from the failed Russian mechanized attack near Synkivka. pic.twitter.com/Ee8SrqIsCU
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) December 28, 2023
This area remains stable. The number of Russian attacks has dropped significantly over the last month.
The Russians continue to hammer away at the Avdiivka Salient, but no meaningful progress has been made since early October.
Marinka Falls to Russia
I’m covering this because this has been pimped to the max in the Russo-sphere.On Christmas Day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the liberation of the Donetsk suburb of Marinka. Marinka is located about 20 miles south of the Avdiivka Salient.
Russia: War criminal Defense Minister Shoigu proudly reported the “liberation” of Marinka in Ukraine to war criminal dictator Putin. The remnants of the town of 10,000 looks no different than if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on it. https://t.co/lbPbtroJaF pic.twitter.com/E1xIuC1pNP
— Igor Sushko (@igorsushko) December 25, 2023
Marinka has been on the front line since 2014 and has been under attack since February 2022. Because the soldiers doing the dying were mostly quisling Donetsk separatists, that quisling government has created a stamp to commemorate the occasion.
Let’s look at the map to understand what is being celebrated (courtesy of Andrew Perpetua’s Daily Map Update). The original front line, from 2014, is the solid red line. The capture of Marinka represents about 1 mile of progress.
Any progress is progress, but the DNR militia was obliterated in this fight, and there are no resources available to exploit this “victory,” which, in reality, isn’t terribly exploitable under the best of circumstances.
The Russian Army continues to attack in this sector with the objective of regaining the segments of the Surovikin Line captured by the Ukrainians over the summer.
The Russian Army continues to make small gains, mostly between Robotyne and Verbove. Since this offensive started in early October, the Russians have regained about 2.5 square miles of territory and pushed a maximum of 850 meters beyond the line held in September. The fighting is intense, but it looks much more like jostling for position than the beginning of an offensive.
Just a reminder that the war on Russian supply dumps and lines of communication is at least as important as anything happening on the front line. The entire Russian front is fed by a rail trunk from Rostov-on-Don in the north and Crimea in the south. This disruption of rail traffic directly impacts the Russian Army’s ability to conduct operations.
Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reports that partisans have destroyed the railway bridge near Svitlodolyns’ke for a second time. After it was initially blown up, Russians decided to repair it, after which it was destroyed once again. pic.twitter.com/zYo2CjjqlV
— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) December 28, 2023
There is no discernable movement in this sector.
Marine on Marine
Ukrainian Marines turn back an assault by Russian Marines at the Krynky bridgehead. In what has become a familiar scene from this war, armored vehicles were stopped by a drone attack.
🔥| 🇺🇦Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade continues defending bridgehead in Krynky area, left bank of Kherson region
🇷🇺Russian 810th Marine Brigade with BTR-82As tried to assault but was destroyed by FPV kamikaze drones pic.twitter.com/jvlTYvcR9N
— Cloooud |🇺🇦 (@GloOouD) December 27, 2023
Russia Retaliates For Lost Ship
The Russians wasted no time in retaliating for the loss of their ship to a Ukrainian air strike. They did the most Russian thing ever; they targeted civilian areas of Kherson.
The railway station in #Kherson. Hundreds of civilians waiting for an evacuation train. Russian barbaric attack.
— MFA of Ukraine 🇺🇦 (@MFA_Ukraine) December 26, 2023
Russia hits Kherson rail station, with 140 people waiting for a train
They know what they are doing – punishing Kherson for wanting to be free and coming back to Ukraine after occupation
— Tymofiy Mylovanov (@Mylovanov) December 26, 2023
This is a 3+ minute video posted by the Kherson government. You can view the whole video here: https://t.co/7Io6jhWbB2
This is just the first 140 seconds. It shows the damage of yesterday’s shelling on Chornobaivka. pic.twitter.com/5Tvk9hnyEr
— Andrew Perpetua (@AndrewPerpetua) December 27, 2023
Russians have targeted the humanitarian base in Kherson for the third time, says the Rapid Response Commander of the Red Cross.
“They hit it with precision, using Shahed-type drones. For example, three drones hit our depot. Everything burned down.” pic.twitter.com/y9WrqpsrZM
— Maria Drutska 🇺🇦 (@maria_drutska) December 25, 2023
A drone attack hit a complex of military warehouses.
Detonation of the Russia military Warehouses. A target in Belgorod was hit today. 🔥🚀
🎥 3rd rapid response border command post, 15th mobile border detachment pic.twitter.com/J1ZfSIabyU
— Getty 🇺🇦🇹🇼 (@region776) December 30, 2023
In fairness, only part of Belgorod’s problem was Ukrainian drones.
KARMA: @dutchakdev2 reports that the RU city of Belgorod suffered damage after failed Russian attempts to launch S-300 missiles at Ukraine. Belgorod residential buildings were damaged when several Russian S-300 missiles dropped out of the sky. https://t.co/UFHU9eJrmm pic.twitter.com/MKfoGqkDBo
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 30, 2023
Somehow, Russia thinks bombing civilian targets throughout Ukraine is totally fine, but the same happening to a Russian city is off-limits.
⚡ 🇺🇦🇷🇺 Russia has requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting, condemning Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod. They sent the following message:
“Britain is behind the terrorist attack in Belgorod, which together with the U.S., incited Kyiv to commit these shameful… pic.twitter.com/ohr0zlkJ4C
— Megatron (@Megatron_ron) December 30, 2023
In the words of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
A drone attack hit the “Kremniy EL” microelectronics plant in Bryansk. It is the second-largest producer of microchips in Russia.
It is claimed that the factory of “Kremniy” in Bryansk – one of the largest microelectronics enterprises in Russia – has been hit.
Al flight operations in Bryansk Region have been suspended.
— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) December 29, 2023
Moscow, Tula, and Teva
Other drone attacks were reported in Moscow, Tula, and Teva, but video is not available.
A Russian Tu-22 disappeared from radar over Kursk. Some Russian Telegram channels say a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile shot it down. The distance places the Tu-22 at the extreme range of the Patriot system. A more likely explanation is mechanical failure or friendly fire.
Both sides are in sort of the “duck” stage. There isn’t a lot going on that is visible, but there is a lot of unseen activity involving logistics and training. I would expect both sides to launch offensive operations on some scale around the middle of February for military and political reasons. The anniversary of two years of war will not go unnoticed, and even though Putin’s election will be as free and fair as any election ever held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, or Fulton County, GA, he would like to go to the polls with some sort of visible success. We heard from several sources that he wants to conquer the historic area of Luhansk and Donetsk. The original goal, we were told, was January 1. That seems elusive right now.
The logical point of attack for a new Ukrainian offensive is exactly where the last one took place and where a Russian offensive is currently underway. The fact that the Russians are trying to move forward means they’ve had to lift some of the minefields that stymied the Ukrainians during the summer.
But the big battles will be fought in Washington, where an aid bill will be produced, and in Brussels, where the EU looks more and more willing to assume the leadership role that Joe Biden has relinquished just about everywhere in the world.