May 23, 2024

Week 114 of Putin’s elegant sashay to Kiev looks a lot like the last month. There were very few political developments in the conflict, and none of them were particularly noteworthy.

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The two combatants are in something of a race. The intensity of Russian attacks, particularly those in the now-reduced Avdiivka Salient, indicates significant political pressure to gain ground and do it fast. Some observers think the Russian Army wants to deliver something big for Victory Day on May 9. Quite honestly, we heard the same thing last year. I don’t have very much regard for Russian strategic or operational planning at this point. Still, we were told back in February that the increased OPTEMPO by the Russians was intended to give Putin a present of sorts to coincide with his reelection. In fact, this year, Victory Day events have been canceled in several areas, and a traditional event, the “Immortal Regiment march,” that honors war dead, has been suppressed for fear that it will focus attention on the 400k Russian dead and wounded from the Ukraine war.

I think the move smacks of a bit of desperation on the part of the Kremlin. I think the Russians see one last opportunity to knock Ukraine out of the war before military aid becomes regularized and Ukraine gets its own house to support a war effort. While the Ukrainian arms industry is beginning to hit its stride, the national government has shown a reluctance to put the nation on a war footing. For instance, the most recent conscription law established a draft registration system, but the draft eligibility age is 25 years and older. This is nuts. If the Russian Army can achieve an operational breakthrough and ramble through the Ukrainian rear areas, the shock could lead to the end of Western support and even the removal of Zelensky as president. If they can’t do that, they face the prospect of a long-term war that Russia is not economically or militarily capable of winning.

Here are some of my past updates. 

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

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Putin’s War, Week 111. Russian Offensive Grounds to a Halt and Ukrainian Refinery Attacks Pause

Putin’s War, Week 110.

Putin’s War, Week 109. Russian Offensive Jammed Up While Ukraine Funding Logjam Breaks

Putin’s War, Week 108. Moscow Under Attack and Congress’s Struggles Continue

Putin’s War, Week 107. Macron Goes for the Jugular, Johnson Goes for Broke, and Scholz Goes for a Drink

Putin’s War, Week 106. Putin Faces Reelection, Nuland is Out, and the Czechs Find Artillery Ammunition 

Putin’s War, Week 105. Sweden Prepares to Be Heard

Putin’s War, Week 104. Second Anniversary of the 72-Hour Special Military Operation

For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

Politico-Strategic Level

Terror Attacks Continue

There are a lot of videos of Russian attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine every week. I only pull those that are outside the norm. This is one. It is a missile cluster munition attack on a civilian area of Odesa.

Operational Level

Multiple foreign sources and Ukrainian officials say the Russians are making a major push to change the battlefield dynamic before Western aid starts to flow.

Combat engagements continue at a high level, as do artillery attacks. However, the number of airstrikes has dropped to about 60% of those executed during the first week of April.

The Ukrainians are also candid about the stress this attack has placed on the frontline troops. Last week, we saw how a misstep can nearly result in disaster in an environment of constant attacks. To his credit, General Syrskyi is giving up real estate for the sake of force preservation rather than issuing an analog to Stalin’s Order 227 or any number of Hitler’s “Führerbefehl” and forbidding retreat. While withdrawing is always painful and the cause of despair to partisans on X, formerly known as Twitter, the distances relinquished are small. So long as the Ukrainian Army maintains cohesion, they pose no serious risk to the integrity of the frontline.

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Combat Operations

New Counter-Drone Measures

The war against drones is, at its bottom line, one of cost-effectiveness. Using a MANPADS to shoot down a drone is simply not sustainable in the long run because drones are exponentially cheaper and more plentiful. This has left both sides searching for solutions. On the front lines, frequency jamming seems to be the most popular, though if the enemy can’t use the frequency, neither can you. There has been a resurgence in gun systems, including the appearance of the trusty 12-gauge to take on FPV drones.

Among the solutions is using a low-speed, high-maneuverability flight trainer. Here, a Yak-52 trainer intercepts a Russian Orlan-10 drone near Odesa. The Yak-52 is reportedly equipped with an external pod holding a light machinegun.

The Ukrainians aren’t the only ones trying to come to grips with the drone problem. The Russians seem to be focusing on drone vs. drone combat as their preferred solution.

Counter Early Warning Radar Campaign Continues

Last week, the extended-range version of ATACMS made its debut, taking out a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile site and two radar systems. Two weeks ago, the Ukrainians struck a Russian strategic radar system. 

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More ATACMS

Sunday, ATACMS hit a Russian air defense base on Cape Tarkhanut in Occupied Crimea. This same site was the target of an amphibious raid in August.


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


This is a continuation of the Ukrainian campaign against Russian air defense assets.

Northern Front

Kharkiv

Kupyansk-Svatove

The lines in this area remain static, with some positional gains on both sides. Of note is that the Russian OPTEMPO has ticked up noticeably in the last week.

Donbas

Bahkmut-Klishchiivka-Andriivka

Chasiv Yar remains a focal point of Russian efforts, though the tempo of attacks has dropped dramatically from two weeks ago. The Russian focus seems to be to try to take territory on both sides of the city and force a Ukrainian evacuation. So far, that plan has not been successful. The map below is a great example of what “drawing big red arrows on a map” looks like. The arrows represent about 50km or several years’ worth of progress at the current Russian rate of advance.

Avdiivka

Last week, the big tactical story was the penetration of the Ukrainian defensive line at Ocheretyne. The Ukrainians were able to stop forward movement by the Russians, but the Russians are in the process of consolidating their positions. I expect to see the Ukrainians withdraw forces south of the penetration. By the way, the operations officer’s Bible is FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics. In the operations field, words have very specific meanings. A penetration and a breakthrough are related but not the same. Guard, protect, and defend are very different things. I say this because the “OSINT” accounts covering the war seem to think operational terms are like using synonyms. Breaking the enemy’s front line is a penetration. That penetration doesn’t become a breakthrough unless there are follow-on forces, supported by a logistics train, to permit exploitation.

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Southern Front

Zaporizhzhia

Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

Fighting continues in this area at a lower level than in the Kharkiv and Donbas areas. Both sides made some positional gains. There is a flurry of pro-Russian reporting that Robotyne has been taken based on an image of a Russian soldier holding a flag at a site claimed to be Robotyne.

This is probably the sleeper battle in the overall Russian offensive effort. If the Ukrainians can be pushed out of the Robotyne salient, then there will be political damage from losing all the ground gained in last summer’s offense. Added to that is the actual damage of pushing Ukrainian artillery out of range of the Russian rail net that supplies the Surovikin Line.

Kherson

Krynky

Ukraine continues to take control of more of the left bank of the Dnieper. There was a brisk fight over an island—well, a tidal flat—in which Ukraine prevailed. The bridgehead around Krynky seems secure. I continue to consider this an economy of force operation with a mission of freezing Russian forces in Occupied Kherson and keeping them out of the fighting in other areas.

Google Translate says the tweet reads:

Ukrainian troops have completely recaptured the island of Nestryga on the Dnipro River in the Kherson region. The battle for Krynky has been going on every day for several months now. Yesterday Russian forces attacked Krynky 5 times with helicopter support. That suggests Ukraine has run out of anti-aircraft weapons. The brutal politicians in Washington are responsible for this, both parties, 1 causing the war and the other obstructing not to help.

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Rear Areas

Russia

Kushchevskaya Airbase

The Russians claim to have destroyed 66 Ukrainian drones in this attack. There is verified damage to one Su-35. The main target of the attack appears to have been the weapons storage areas.

The wreckage of Russian knock-off JDAM kits is visible here.

Ryazan Oil Refinery

This is the second attack on the Ryazan refinery in as many months. It is located about 300 miles from Ukrainian lines.

What’s Next

As I’ve posted for several weeks, the Russian offensive has a timetable and objective. As it progresses, I go back to a previous post where I theorized that the Russians were hammering everywhere to see if they could make something happen. This dovetails with the idea posited by people with access to much better information than I have that the Russians are trying to break the Ukrainian Army before the latest round of US-EU support finds its way to the front lines.

We can expect to see more of the same as the Russians try to capitalize on the penetration of Ukrainian lines northwest of Avdiivka. I think the offensive around Chasiv Yar has reached a culminating point. The uptick in activity at the northern end of the line of contact may be the Russian forces there doing their part…or it might be something bigger in the making. Right now, I tend to think it is nothing to worry about.

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The more the analyst caste predicts a year of stalemate after the Russian offensive runs its course, the more I’m inclined to stick with my view that, politically, Ukraine can’t afford to hunker down and play defense. I think it has to do something, not on the scale of last year, but something to show it can still put points on the board.

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