Putin’s War, Week 91. Mud and Snow Beats Fire and Steel, and Tumbleweeds Are Blowing Through Sevastopol – RedState

Putin’s War, Week 91. Mud and Snow Beats Fire and Steel, and Tumbleweeds Are Blowing Through Sevastopol – RedState

Welcome to the post-Thanksgiving edition of the Ukraine Update.

The battlefield in Ukraine continues to be less important than the battlefields in Washington and Brussels. There is no doubt that in the wake of the suboptimal outcome of Ukraine’s Spring Offensive, the “foreign policy realists” are working every lever to make a case for a negotiated end. One of the most odious tales floating about is that Russia offered Ukraine a “deal” in March 2022…we are never told what the deal was because, at that time, Putin was publicly demanding the Ukrainian Army disband and that Ukraine submit itself to “denazification.” Allegedly, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he couldn’t take the deal. How would that be possible? The worst Johnson could do would be to stop sending the small quantity of munitions Britain was sending, and if Zelensky were offered a deal, he wouldn’t need the munitions anyway.

The one thing for sure is that “negotiations” is a code word for surrender. Any Russian offer that does not demand Ukraine cut ties with NATO and the EU, agree to give up five oblasts annexed by Russia and give Moscow a major role in Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy will be a defeat for Putin. In short, there is no common ground available for negotiations to begin.

I don’t agree with everything in this thread, but I think it represents my views on why negotiations, absent a military or political collapse by one of the combatants, are just foreign policy spank bank material.

There is no doubt that American public opinion on Ukraine funding is soft; what is unclear is how important voters. Oddly enough, it is the EU, dragged forward by Poland and the Baltic States, that supports aid to Ukraine. The only outlier is Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who is pretty much alone and impotent on the issue.

On the military side, if Ukraine gets the munitions and materiel needed to stay in the fight, I think it wins. Russia thinks it can outlast Ukraine’s Western partners and force a surrender by Kiev. I think Putin will find out that he’s misjudged the West in the same way he misjudged Ukraine.

Here are some of my past updates. For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

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. Zelensky Is Blindsided by TIME Magazine and the Offensive Gets a Postmortem 

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

Putin’s War, Week 84. Slovakia Stops Ukraine Aid as the Spring Offensive Nears Culminating Point

Putin’s War, Week 83. Zelensky Gets ATACMS From Biden and a Cold Shoulder From McCarthy

Putin’s War, Week 82. Russia Dissed at the UN and the War Moves Toward Rasputitsa

Putin’s War, Week 81

Putin’s War, Week 80. Ukraine’s Offensive Continues Slow Progress as Fingers Are Pointed

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

China to Invest in Crmea Tunnel?

The Washington Post reports that Chinese and Russian “investors,” read that as Putin and Xi are engaged in negotiations to build a tunnel to replace the frequently attacked Kerch Strait Bridge.

Color me skeptical. I don’t see how such a project proceeds while a war is ongoing.

Moldovan President and German Defense Minister Visits Kiev

Russia to Receive Iranian Missiles?

There is a rumor that Iran is considering selling short-range ballistic missiles to Russia.

It would be a high-risk move for Iran to draw down its stockpiles and get actively involved in Putin’s war. This is a sign, among many, that Russia has a severe ammunition shortage of its own, and it has fewer ways of fixing the problem than Ukraine.

Russian Teen Returns From Kidnapping, But Hundreds of Thousands Remain Missing

The return of 16-year-old Bogdan Ermokhin from being kidnapped was good news. But many, many more remain in captivity. According to Russian Presidential Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, over 700,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia and are in the process of being adopted.

While some, like Ermokhin, have made their way home, most will not.

Scrap or Not to Scrap?

What many people don’t know or refuse to understand is that much of the equipment, such as tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, sent to Ukraine is due to be scrapped. When the government sells them to a scrap dealer like the one below, they do so at a nominal fee. I’ve seen advertisements for scrap dealers to buy M-113 armored personnel carriers at $1 each. When the identical vehicles are sent to Ukraine, they are priced at some percentage of book value. So a $1 vehicle, if sold for scrap, could end up being worth tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars when sent to Ukraine under “drawdown” authority.

This is a better look at the field of vehicles awaiting destruction from the tweet above. 

This is not a situation unique to Red River Army Depot. The Biden NSC has decided it would rather scrap serviceable armored vehicles than ship them to Ukraine.

Armenia To Send Weapons to Ukraine

Ordinarily, I’d include this item under “New Weapons,” but this isn’t ordinary.

Armenia is a member of Russia’s faux NATO Collective Security Treaty Organization. That relationship has soured since Azerbaijan thrashed Armneia in a nasty little war this summer as Russia did nothing. Now Armenia is flirting with the West as a security guarantor. To add additional layers to this, Azerbaijan’s major foreign backer is Israel, and Iran helps predominantly Christian Armenia.

All of this shows the tatters Putin’s War has made on Russia’s foreign policy.

Russian Civil Aviation in Crisis

Russian civil aviation suffered its first blow shortly after the start of the war when Western aircraft leasing companies, faced with sanctions, repossessed most of the aircraft in the Russian civil air fleet. Since then, a lack of spare parts has been taking its toll. The strategic impact of this is immense due to Russia’s size. If passengers and cargo shift in large numbers from air to rail or road travel, there will be an economic impact.

Su-27 Defection Hoax

It started out as this post on Telegram:

According to preliminary information, a Ukrainian pilot who went over to our side landed at one of the Russian airfields on a Su-27.
The funniest thing is that this operation was carried out by military bloggers, who have been communicating with this Ukrainian pilot since the beginning of the war and persuaded him to commit this act. Yes, that’s right.

Tomorrow and for another two weeks, Face ID on their IPhone will not work for Khokhly.

Supposedly, a Ukrainian Su-27 pilot had defected to Russia and brought his aircraft along.

The whole story has disappeared. I assume that this was supposed to be a domestic response to the two Russian helicopter pilots who had been flipped by Ukrainian intelligence and defected with their aircraft (Putin’s War, Week 84. Slovakia Stops Ukraine Aid as the Spring Offensive Nears Culminating Point – RedState).

Cannibals on the Loose

Russia Sends Illegal Immigrants to Finland

Russia is attempting to destabilize Finland by creating a migrant stream that passes through Russia and ends up riding new Russian-made bicycles to Finnish border crossings; see Finland Shuts Border Crossings to Stem Wave of Illegal Immigration Originating in Russia.

Finland reacted by closing all but one border crossing with Russia.

Can Motherland Medals Be Far Behind?

Russia entered a demographic death spiral in the 1990s. It isn’t alone. By mid-century, Italians will probably be an ethnic minority in Italy. Germany and Scandinavia aren’t far behind. Russia’s problem is a bit different. It doesn’t have an immigration stream to replace the decreasing number of Russians. The population is just deflating. There are a lot of reasons for the failure of young Russians to form families, but one of the signal reasons that the Russian birth rate is dropping is that abortion is common and has been an acceptable means of birth control for Russian women. The result is that by the time a Russian woman wants to have a child, she may have had several abortions and is infertile. Putin has tried to gradually restrict abortion availability, but the effort is struggling. Even if successful, it only has an effect going forward. 

Operational Level

Intense fighting continues for control of the Adiivka salient, but operations elsewhere have decreased. The answer is that the combatants are exhausted and at that awkward period of Ukrainian weather where they not only have Biblical quantities of mud but also snow.

Chief of Ukrainian Medical Services Fired

President Zelensky dismissed the commander of the Medical Forces, Major General Tetiana Ostashchenko.

This follows devastating reports that the department was buying low-quality Chinese-made tourniquets that would not stop bleeding and that no orders for first aid kits had been placed for 2023.

Cyber Security Officials Sacked

The pattern of Zelensky firing and/or arresting officials accused of corruption continues. These actions are possible because the exigency of wartime circumstances negates any political clout the targets or their patrons have.

Yurii Shchyhol, head of the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIP), and his deputy, Viktor Zhora, were dismissed by the government, senior cabinet official Taras Melnychuk wrote on Telegram.

News of the firings came less than an hour before anti-corruption prosecutors said they were investigating the head and deputy head of the SSSCIP over their alleged roles in a six-person plot to embezzle 62 million UAH ($1.72 million) between 2020 and 2022.

Authorities suspect the officials of buying software at an inflated price from two companies allegedly under their control in a sale that had been closed to other bidders, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau said.

Russia Removes Some Surface-to-Air Missiles from Kaliningrad

 A couple of weeks ago, OSINT accounts using commercially available synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images noticed an abnormal level of Russian transport aircraft cycling through Kaliningrad. An in-depth report by rumored CIA front group Bellingcat indicates that Russia is moving top-of-the-line S-400 missile launchers out of Kaliningrad. It is not certain where they are going, but it doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a plausible answer. Read the whole thread to see what can be learned without using classified sources.

Russian War Correspondent KIA

Russian war correspondent for the Russia-24 television channel Boris Maksudov was killed by Ukrainian artillery in Zaporizhzhia.

Russian Actress KIA

The troops gathered in Occupied Donetsk to celebrate “The Day of Rocket Troops (sometimes called Missile Forces) and Artillery” (a no-s**t Russian holiday). Actress Polina Menshikh headlined the event, where the troops of the 810th Marine Brigade were the guests of honor. And then the uninvited guest arrived: a 200-lb projectile riding a GLMRS rocket.

Over 3200 Russian Officers Confirmed KIA

The known number of Russian officers killed in Ukraine is above 3200. This number is based on newspaper obit, social media posts, etc. In other words, unlike COVID deaths, these are not derived from a statistical model; each dead officer has a name, age, rank, and place of birth.

Each man represents 4-6 years of pre-commissioning training, as well as schooling and experience received on active duty. Because the Russian Army does not have a functioning noncommissioned officers corps as a Western army would understand it, Russian officers are the primary trainers of individual soldiers and units at all levels. This wastage of officers, some killed just a few weeks after being commissioned, has a huge impact on Russian Army tactical proficiency.

New US Ukraine Aid Package Raises Eyebrows

Earlier in the week, the Defense Department announced another drawdown against previously appropriated aid to Ukraine.

You’ll note that among the laundry list is “One High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and additional ammunition.”

The allocation of a single HIMARS got a lot of attention. In January, the US committed to sending Ukraine a new weapon system called the “Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb,” see The Next Ukraine Aid Conference Will Reflect a Change in Western Views on the End Game in Putin’s War. For details on how it works, see Putin’s War, Week 52. US and China Face off, Prigozhin Goes for the Jugular, Mystery Weapon Strikes, and Happy Anniversary.

If true, this places all of Crimea within rocket range. The real question is whether US rules will permit the use against key Russian operational targets inside of recognized Russian territory, like the logistics center at Rostov-on-Don.

About Those North Korean Weapons…

In early September, word leaked out that Russia was starting to buy artillery ammunition from North Korea (Russia Buying Artillery Ammunition From North Korea Was Not on My Bingo Card). Later that month, Putin trundled out to Vladivostok, or whatever the Chinese are calling it this week, to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (Putin’s War, Week 81 ). Rumor had it that North Korea was providing artillery as well as artillery ammunition.

Suspected North Korean artillery has been sighted. They are 1950s-era D-20 howitzers that were produced by the USSR. They are not top quality. Here is one without wheels, and the loader is using a stick for a rammer. The odds of moving that beast are slim.

If you want a deep dive into the artillery question, I recommend this lengthy “X” thread.

Combat Operations

Drone Motherships

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

What Do You Do Now, Ranger?

In this short video, a Russian T-80 tank is hit by an ATGM. You can see the missile just before the strike at 0:19 in the video. All three crewmen make it out of the tank, though at least one seems to be wounded. 

What is noticeable is that nearly two years into the war, the Russian crew filming the action acts like rookies. They know they are in the killing zone because the tank in front blows up. The tank stops. It doesn’t orient the main gun in the direction of the attack. Only after several seconds does the tank back up, but the gun stays oriented forward. 

This is indicative of what I and some commenters have discussed for months. When you burn units out and keep them in the line with a supply of fresh from basic training troops, units can’t learn. Russia hasn’t been in Ukraine for 91 weeks; it has been in Ukraine for one week 91 times.

Destroyed Before Retrieval

While the Ukrainian Army still shows flashes of its origins in the USSR, the war is pushing innovation in equipment and tactics. It is also showcasing the differences between the Russian and Ukrainian Armies. One of the foremost differences is how disabled vehicles are treated. The Ukrainians make a lot of effort to retrieve disabled vehicles and move them to the rear for repair. Poland and Germany have set up facilities in Western Ukraine to repair vehicles and quickly return them to battle. The Russians walk away from the vehicle and recover it later, if at all. 

The Ukrainians are using drones to hunt abandoned vehicles and destroy them before they can be evacuated.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

The Russian Army continued sporadic offensive operations toward Kupiansk without success.

Donbas

The Russian push to eliminate the Adiivka salient continues, with the Russians taking heavy losses. Fighting in other areas was sporadic, without gains by either side.

Bahkmut-Klishchiivka-Andriivka

Combat here has tapered off from the intensity of last month. The Ukrainians gave up the sliver of territory they’d taken east of the railroad outside Klishchiivka but are still holding.

Adiivka

Heavy fighting continues in this area. 

The attacks have not gained measurable ground.

Urozhaine-Vuhledar

The lines in this area remain unchanged.

Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

The lines in this area remain static with sporadic, intense combat.

Deep Battle

Kherson

The situation in the Ukrainian bridgehead across the Dnieper River remains largely unchanged. Ukraine has made small gains around Krynky (just west of Nova Kakhovka on this map). There have been no significant Russian counterattacks.

What the Ukrainian concept of the operation is in this area remains to be seen. It could be a probe or reconnaissance in force. I think we need to look to George Patton’s “rock soup” method. It comes from a story of two hobos asking a woman for a pot of water and a couple of rocks to make a batch of rock soup. They tasted the soup periodically and would make a comment about how much better it would taste with a few potatoes, some carrots, etc. The people who’d gathered to watch the cooking of “rock soup” would offer ingredients. Eventually, the hobos had a pot of stew. In Patton’s words:

In other words, in order to attack, we had to first pretend to reconnoiter, then reinforce the reconnaissance, and finally put on a attack; all depending upon what amount of gasoline and ammunition we could secure.

The main war is being fought to the east. The operation on the Dneiper will ultimately depend on the resources the commander can gather and the Russian reaction. If the Russians seem weak, we could see something major.

Mass Surrender?

I’m always dubious of surrender videos because it is very difficult to establish authenticity.

Russian Airfield Hit

Troop Concentration Hit by Ukrainian Air Force

Ukrainian strike aircraft using GPS-guided JDAMs hit a Russian troop concentration.

Special Forces Headquarters Hit

Rear Areas

Crimea

Air Defense Systems Repositioned

Black Sea Fleet Evacuates Sevastopol

Recent commercial satellite imagery shows the Russian Black Sea Fleet has largely evacuated Sevastopol. This is because of constant attacks by Ukrainian UAVs and USVs and the imminent availability of missiles that could allow Ukraine to strike the port.

Russia

Drone Attacks in Moscow

Early Warning Radar Site Disabled

A Russian early warning radar site in Kursk, some 35 miles from the Ukrainian border, was attacked and disabled by Ukrainian drones.

What’s Next

I think we are at a halt of major operations until the mud solidifies in about a month. Russia will continue to stage large attacks against the Avdiivka salient, but given the correlation of forces and the maturity of the fortifications, I don’t see much happening there other than the Russians killing mediocre infantry. There are two wild cards in play. The Surovikin Line has been breached near Verbove; what is lacking is the capability to reduce the enormous minefields and open an operational gap. The second area is Kherson. In the right set of circumstances, that has the ability to make some major gains. The near evacuation of Sevastopol is a major blow to the Russians as it reduces their power in the southern reaches of the Black Sea, the very area Ukraine needs open for grain exports.

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Originally Posted on: https://redstate.com/streiff/2023/11/24/putins-war-week-91-n2166506
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