Welcome back to the latest iteration of the Putin’s War updates. When I started these over a year ago, I never dreamed this might be a career.
The doom and gloom emanating from official Washington that dominated the conversation a week ago may not have aged terribly well. After some dogged fighting, the Ukrainian Army breached the security zone and first defensive belt of the Surovikin Line in a place that makes the second defensive belt very difficult to defend. The Russian offensive in the Kharkiv area has petered out as men, ammunition, and fuel have been sent to shore up what seems to be a crumbling defensive line in the south.
The Ukrainians have carried out strikes at numerous targets inside of Russia and inflicted losses at two Russian airbases. While not decisive, it does force the Russians to place antiaircraft and antimissile defenses in places that should be secure. More importantly, it makes it impossible to sell a “we are winning the war” narrative when explosive drones are blowing up very expensive airplanes and bouncing off Moscow skyscrapers.
Lest one of my trolls accuse me of a “victory is just around the corner” mentality, I can assure you that is not the case. As Clausewitz observed, war is a continuation of “political intercourse” by other means. Ending the war is a political, not a military, problem. Victory is defined in world capitals, not on the battlefield. What the Ukrainian Armed Forces are showing is that in planning, leadership, and execution, they are overmatching the Russians. Whether that leads to victory and what that victory looks like remains to be seen.
Here are some of my past updates. For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.
Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones
Putin’s War, Week 77. The Ruble Nosedives, a Breakthrough Looms, and Crimea Faces Isolation
Putin’s War, Week 76. Russia Shut out of Peace Conference and Its Black Sea Gambit Backfires
Putin’s War, Week 75. Putin Cucked, Moscow Droned Again, and the Industrial War Hits High Gear
Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army
Putin’s War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine’s Offense Continues to Grind Away
Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity
Putin’s War, Week 71. The Fighters Go to Their Corners
Putin’s War, Week 70. The Reckoning for the Wagner Revolt Continues
Putin’s War, Week 69. As CNN Reports the Ukrainians Have Stalled the First Breakthrough Happens
Putin’s War, Week 68. The Offensive Develops, Cracks Emerge, and Never Forget the Enemy Has a Vote
Putin’s War, Week 65. G7 Calls for War Crimes Trials and Reparations, F-16 Pilots Start Training, and Russia Is Invaded
Many more are available at this link.
Putin Skips G20 Summit
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin skipped out on attending the BRICS summit in South Africa for fear of provoking an international crisis should someone attempt to enforce the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant on him. He’s also skipping the G20 Summit in New Delhi on September 10. India is not a member of the ICC and would have no obligation to put him in flexicuffs and ship him off to the Hague, but he probably doesn’t want images of him being shunned and humiliated streamed back to Russia right now.
Russia Cancels Major Military Exercise
Everyone is anticipating that Russia will cancel Zapad-2023, a major multi-nation military exercise scheduled for September.
Sauce for the Goose, etc., etc.
Ukraine has upped the ante in their attacks on targets inside of Russia (Russian Cities Hit and One Airbase Thrashed as Russia Comes Under Intense Ukrainian Attack), and those attacks are continuing.
There is no word on what the targets or results were but the fact that they are continuing is important to Ukraine’s ultimate victory. This problem will only grow for the Russians at time goes on.
The Russians retaliated with a volley of 44 missiles/drones. Ukrainian air defense intercepted all but one.
Ukrainian air space might very well be the most heavily defended airspace in the world and by now Ukrainian air defense officers may be the best. The downside of playing defense is that you have to bat 1.000. The only way this stops is if Ukraine starts striking targets in major Russian cities and the Russians call off their terror campaign.
The bottom line is that the Ukrainian drone attacks on targets in Russian cities show that Jake Sullivan getting the Hershey squirts at the thought of escalation is more of a reflection of his lack of guts than Russian intentions or capabilities.
Greece Cancels Russian Missile Maintenance Contract
In 2015, Greece created a crisis in NATO by buying antiaircraft missiles from Russia. This week, Greece canceled the maintenance contract for the systems. These systems seem headed to Ukraine.
According to Greek media:
As a result, these mentioned systems could soon be removed from service, as the available spare parts will only last for a few months due to their limited quantity and the government’s refusal to fulfill the existing contract.
In total, the Greek army and air force possess 21 self-propelled Tor-M1 SAMs and 38 self-propelled Osa-AKM systems with a maximum firing range of 10-12 km.
The contract for the continued support of these systems in the coming years amounts to over 102 million euros. The material asserts that these SAMs will likely be transferred to Ukraine through third countries, and the decision taken is purely political.
Russian Foreign Policy Continues to Succeed
Russia, especially under Putin, has attempted to position itself as the defender of the Russian diaspora. One of the reasons Putin gave for his criminal invasion of Ukraine was to protect the Russian minority in Russian-occupied Ukraine. Putin’s heavy-handed methods seem to have had just the opposite effect. And his demonstrated powerlessness in Ukraine has given even small nations the nerve to do things that they would not have dared do just five years ago.
Russia’s lack of diplomatic power has also led to its overseas intelligence operations being devastated.
Russia went into this war a second-tier power. It’s going to come out of it with the political and military clout of Burkina Faso…with nukes.
Ukrainian Hackers Celebrate Independence Day
August 24 is Ukraine’s Independence Day, to celebrate Ukrainian hackers accessed CCTV systems in Russia. Hilarity ensued.
For years, Russia has portrayed its cyberwar capability as the best on the planet. Nearly everyone, me included, expected Ukraine’s networks of all types to be totally dominated by Russian cyberattacks. That hasn’t materialized. As I noted a couple of months ago, while Russia’s ability to hack Ukrainian networks isn’t all that great, Ukraine has shown solid results, Putin’s War, Week 62. Kremlin Droned, Russia Dissed by Friends and Allies, and Ukraine’s Offensive Takes Shape.
Russia’s Painstaking Investigation of the Prigozhin Plane Explosion
Investigating the crash of Prigozhin’s private jet is sort of a waste of time when the cause is known. At least the Russians aren’t bothering to pretend and wasting people’s time.
As if to underscore the point, Russia has blocked Brazil from participating despite protocol requiring that the country of manufacture be involved.
The End of Wagner Group
The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin seems to spell the end of the Wagner Group. Wagner fighters loyal to Prigozhin who went to Belarus have mostly been sent home. Wagner’s competitors, such as Redut, are being given control of Wagner’s business interests in Africa. A Wagner spokesman is encouraging remaining fighters to seek “temporary or permanent employment.”
There are still PMCs in Russia, but they are all on a tight leash from the Defense Ministry. None of them have the ability to set their own policy the way Wagner did. They will be minor adjuncts to the Russian Army, they will not have a high-profile mission like Prigozhin’s offensives in Soledar and Bakhmut.
Boris Johnson Writes Prigozhin’s Obit
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the pages of the Daily Mail to write an obituary of Prigozhin. It is pure Boris Johnson.
Yevgeny Prigozhin did not have long to work out who had killed him. But he had long enough. He must have twigged.
It can’t have been more than a few seconds between the explosion aboard the otherwise reliable Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet, and the moment the Russian thug blacked out in his vertiginous acceleration to earth; and yet in that instant I am certain that he knew with perfect clarity what had happened.
He knew whose hidden hand was sending him 28,000 ft down, to be immolated with the rest of his Wagner group companions in a fireball in the countryside of the Tver region north of Moscow — and then on downwards, of course, for the shade of Prigozhin: down, down to Hades and the Tartarean pit below.
Read it all: BORIS JOHNSON: That tumbling plane, and Prigozhin’s televised immolation, are the ultimate proof there can never be a negotiated peace with Putin in Ukraine.
We’ve previously encountered the Russian Volunteer Corps, a group of Russian expatriates fighting for Ukraine, during their incursions into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast; see Putin’s War, Week 65. G7 Calls for War Crimes Trials and Reparations, F-16 Pilots Start Training, and Russia Is Invaded, Russia Evacuates Nuclear Weapons Stockpile as ‘Dissident’ Invasion of Russia Continues, and Putin’s War, Weeks 66 and 67. The Offensive Starts. Now that force is recruiting former Wagner fighters. I think this is more trolling than a legitimate expectation, but it is still a worthy effort.
No Place to Hide
Acting on an international arrest warrant, Finnish police have detained Yan Petrokovsky. Petrokovsky, a Russian national and one of the leaders of Russian freebooters who showed up during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Donbas, was a leader in Russian fascist and nationalist circles and left a trail of war crimes behind him in Ukraine. Looking forward to seeing him in a labor camp.
Taking Out the Trash
The war in Ukraine has opened the door to corruption by local defense contractors and probably to defense contractors in other countries. Last week this scandal happened.
The public announcement was a day after President Zelensky proposed legislation making defense contracting shenanigans a form of treason.
It is sort of difficult to believe the publication of the field jacket scandal wasn’t timed to strengthen the case for upping the ante on defense procurement and other corruption. Part of the corruption, maybe the biggest part, Zelensky is after is the brisk trade in medical exemptions from conscription that allow Ukrainian men to go abroad for “medical treatment.”
Not everyone in Ukraine is a fan of making corruption a crime that is investigated by internal security forces, but I’d submit that Zelensky’s audience on this is not “good government” types in Kiev. It is people in Brussels.
Sabotage In Poland
There were several news stories last week about a cyberattack directed at Poland. Russian cyberattacks hit Poland all the time, so that would hardly be newsworthy. What is called a cyberattack isn’t really that, but it is much more dangerous and targeted.
Poland is Ukraine’s gateway to the West. Poland’s railroads are indispensable in supplying Ukraine with the ammunition and equipment needed to sustain its war effort. So far, Russia has backed away from striking Ukraine-bound supplies inside Poland. This may be a sign that the desperate nature of the Russian situation in Ukraine is forcing actions that were previously off-limits.
Sabotage in Belarus
Your guess about what is going on here is as good as mine. I hope it is part of an effort to destabilize the Lukashenko regime, but it could be an aggressive component of Ukraine’s efforts to ensure Russia can’t use Belarus to open a second front in the war.
I Got Nothing
Scenes to Ponder
To its Western sycophants, Russia tries to portray itself as some bastion of conservative Christianity and a defender of Western Civilization. The facts are quite different. Moscow has the largest Muslim population of any European (with Russia, I use the term advisedly) capital. The CIA estimates that as much as 15% of Russia’s total population is Muslim.
Operations in Ukraine are nearing a critical point. Over the last week, Ukrainian forces have pushed their way through the first Russian defensive belt and are starting operations against the second belt. I was discussing this with a friend over the last week, and he reminded me that when the US Army hit the Westwall/Siegfried Line, it took from September 19, 1944, to December 16, 1944, to break through it in the American sector. That was the Battle of the Huertgen Forest. In many ways, this is much more analogous to what is happening in Ukraine than any lessons the Gulf War has to offer. The US Army didn’t have air superiority. They didn’t have mine-clearing equipment. The enemy was in hardened positions. But, once the wall was breached in a few places, the whole wall collapsed.
The rate of Russian voluntary surrenders of Russian soldiers is climbing, leading some prominent Ukrainian officials to speculate about a coming collapse.
Other unverified reporting suggests that discipline is evaporating in some units. Former RedState contributor and head honcho at his own site, Mike Ford, and I were discussing this earlier.
Many observers were bouncing from perceived crisis to perceived crisis, such as the “artillery famine” some Ukrainian soldiers were complaining about and missed what we’ve been discussing here. In preparation for the offensive, Ukraine shifted its priority of artillery fires from frontline trenches to 1) counterbattery fires that introduced the term “genocide of artillery;” see Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army, 2) killing and suppressing Russian radar and jamming devices, 3) killing antiaircraft systems to permit Ukrainian helicopters and jets to operate, 4) systematically attack supply depots containing fuel and ammunition no matter the size, and 5) interdicting supply lines, particularly those from Crimea to the Southern Front (Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones). These actions have made the slow grind through Russian lines possible without a prohibitive expenditure of manpower.
The severity of the situation is obvious to everyone but the Douglas Macgregor types. Even Russian milbloggers are talking about it in Telegram posts.
In the south, the Russians have reacted to the breach of the “Surovikin Line” by redeploying their reserves from other areas to prevent a catastrophic penetration.
Meanwhile they are backfilling the vacant positions with newly mobilized men.
I’d half expected to see the Army try to ignore the impact of unmanned aerial systems on warfare. From high-tech reconnaissance drones to low-tech loitering munitions to no-tech grenade droppers, drones have dominated the Ukraine battlespace. The fact that the Army has published this manual means that drones will be integrated into wargames, real and simulated, and our troops will learn to operate in a drone-infested environment, and maybe our Defense industry will come up with countermeasures that cost less than the drones.
The burn rate of ammunition by the Ukrainian Army is on par with the burn rate of the US Army in Europe in 1944. About a dozen nations are currently providing Ukraine with the ammunition needed to fight the war. The Ukrainian defense industry is beginning to shake off the effects of the last year of war and start producing ammunition that NATO partners can’t produce, 122mm ammunition for Soviet/Russian artillery.
Help From Switzerland
While the Swiss might be monumentally unhelpful when it comes to providing guns and ammunition, they have weighed in on the non-lethal side of the ledger. The Swiss government is sending a remote mine-clearing vehicle to Ukraine.
The entire aid package amounts to CHF 1.2 million. It includes a caterpillar vehicle that can destroy or detonate anti-personnel mines, a truck trailer and a spare parts package for three years. In addition, the Ukrainian authorities will be trained on site by experts from the DIGGER Foundation. Switzerland’s contribution is aimed at making humanitarian demining in Ukraine safer and more effective.
Convoy Under Fire
Drones Attack Trenches
Any infantryman should be thinking twice about how to dig a trench or fighting position in this environment.
Our 59th brigade Drone guys doing work.
Also they have great taste in music too, not T Swift taste, but still good. pic.twitter.com/xvM2UsZSjS
— Ryan O’Leary (@IhateTrenches) August 30, 2023
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
The Importance of Drivers’ Training
Situational Awareness is a Key Survival Skill
Here there are two Ukrainian soldiers holding a position (lower left) in the face of a Russian attack Their advantage is that they were getting information about enemy movements from a drone.
Attack on a Trench Line
This is a combined drone and Go-Pro view of a trench-clearing operation.
Close Encounter of the Worst Kind
By far, one of the most challenging scenarios a small unit leader can encounter running head-on into a similar enemy force at close distance. In this video, the Ukrainians are approaching from the left, the Russians from the right. I think the overhead drone sending a warning was the only reason the two forces didn’t walk by each other. Were I a lane grader at a combat leaders’ course, I’d send both leaders off to sit in the Porta-John for a half-hour to contemplate their ineptitude.
The Northern Front has returned to inactivity after a short-lived Russian offensive a couple of weeks ago. There were claims by some Ukrainian sources that Russian had concentrated over 100,000 troops in this area. There is nothing in Ukraine’s actions that indicate they believe that, so you probably shouldn’t either. There are reports that I mentioned at the top of this section that the Russians are sending newly formed units to hold this line in this sector. Sort of like the American Army did in the Ardennes in 1944.
The key terrain here continues to be Klishchiivka which controls the high ground overlooking Bakhmut. It has been the scene of attacks and counterattacks, but it looks like Ukraine has gained the upper hand there. Ordinarily, one would expect the Russians to evacuate Bakhmut if Klishchiivka falls because it will be virtually impossible to resupply the forces there. But Bakhmut is not an ordinary place, so I expect this to grind on as the real war is fought elsewhere.
Two weeks ago, it looked like the Ukrainians might have found a soft spot in the Russian lines at Urozhaine. That offensive reached a culmination point outside Urozhaine and has stabilized. Some progress is noted as the Russians withdraw to more defensible terrain in some places. To orient you, Urozhaine is at the tip of the Ukrainian salient pushing south to the east of Vuldehar.
The Southern Front is where the action is. The Ukrainian Army has punched a hole through the Surovikin Line near Verbove. More telling is that the Russian authorities are starting to crack down on anyone not toeing the line.
The ground between Robotyne and Verbove has developed as the breakout route of the Ukrainian Army. The first fortification belt of the Surovikin Line has been breached around Verbove and is in the process of being reduced. The Ukrainian Army is in contact along the second fortification belt.
This is a fairly, in my opinion, conservative view of the situation courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War. The orange color delineates contested areas. Most other reports show the orange slash toward Verbove to carry down to the fortification belt to the south. There are reports that the Ukrainians have taken the western edge of Verbove.
Progress into the direction of #Verbove has been confirmed by Petrenko including the breaking through the Surovikin line. The west of Verbove went into the grey zone.
All quiet promising and will allow AFU to penetrate the trenches from the flanks. pic.twitter.com/yFvPvuRytO
— J. Suter / SwissDataInformation (@JSuter4) August 31, 2023
A lot of pro-Russian sites make fun of the small size of Robotyne and Verbove, but it isn’t the towns that are strategic. The towns are located on a ridge approximately 350-400 feet higher than the critical rail and road hub of Tokmak less than 30 miles away. This will allow sensor and optical observation deep behind Russian lines and allow an effective 24-hour interdiction campaign against Russian lines of communication. It will also dominate the next belts of the Surovikin line and allow direct observation into and behind those fortifications making them problematic to hold.
Finally, there is this. The lines here are held by mobilized men backstopped by VDV (Russian airborne) troops as a mobile reserve. If this story true, the morale of the men in the trenches is extremely brittle and it is a matter to time until they break.
Chechen Barracks Obliterated
Rats From a Sinking Ship
When last years’ Ukrainian offensive struck, one of the leading indicators that things were not going well was members of the quisling governments packing their bags after discovering urgent business elsewhere. This is happening now.
Russian Collaborators Attacked
The local office of Dmitry Medvedev’s “United Russia” party was attacked by a Ukrainian drone.
The Ukrainian bridgehead across the Dnieper is still in place and continues to grow. At present, it is an annoyance to the Russians.
Where it becomes a danger is when a substantive breach is made in the Surovikin Line, probably at Robotyne/Verbove, and troops have to be sent as reinforcements from those now holding positions opposite the bridgehead. In that chaos, Ukraine can throw ribbon bridges across a much-reduced Dnieper River and open another axis of attack to support the main attack farther east.
Dnieper Island Fiasco
The “bonds of affection” between leaders and led in the Russian Army don’t seem particularly strong.
Read the whole story here: Dnipro Island Ambush: Russian Forces Stranded as Command Abandons Them.
Crimea Is Now Part of the Battlespace
This seems to publicly state what has been obvious for some time.
Tuesday night, Ukrainian UAV and USV were used in a combined attack on Sevastopol. There doesn’t seem to be any damage, but it did cause excitement.
Cardboard-f***ing-Drones? Are You Sh***ing Me?
Saturday night, Ukrainian special forces struck a Russian airbase in Kursk with a drone swarm attack consisting of 16 weapons. The Russians lost four S8-30 strike aircraft, a MiG-29 fighter, and all or part of three antiaircraft missile systems.
This is the kicker.
Apparently, the Ukrainians used a unique cardboard “Precision Payload Delivery System” made by the Australian company SYPAQ.
Read more here. The implications of that are hard to overstate. A proliferation of extremely cheap, radar-resistant suicide drones requires a rethinking of a lot of things.
Bryansk Hit Again
In my post from last night, I covered the drone attack on an electronics facility and oil depot in Bryansk that happened Tuesday night; see Russian Cities Hit and One Airbase Thrashed as Russia Comes Under Intense Ukrainian Attack. Last night the drones were back. There are no reports on what was attacked or the results.
The next two or three weeks will tell us a lot about what is going to happen. If the operation at Robotyne/Verbove does not culminate and the Ukrainians begin an advance in the direction of Tokmak, the offensive will have largely succeeded. This kind of penetration will force the Russians from the security area and probably the first defensive belt of the Surovikin line because those features have been outflanked, and the forces manning them are in danger of being cut off.
When Tokmak is brought under direct observation, the Russian supply situation to the west will reach a critical point. With those achievements in hand, I think the US will release ATACMS both to bring the war to a close and as a bargaining chip to get Ukraine to back off attacks on targets in Russia.