Most of the action over the last week has been away from the line of contact between the forces. Fighting continues around Bakhmut that may or may not shape up to be something significant. At this stage of the conflict, I’ve come to the conclusion that Russia is obsessed with winning this battle, even if they immediately withdraw because they desperately need a battlefield success…or at least the Russian military command needs one.
The success of the Ukrainian layered air defense system, capped by Patriot, has been proven in spades this week as it fended off two large and determined Russian missile attacks.
A new Ukrainian brigade equipped with Leopard 2 tanks, CV-90 infantry fighting vehicles, and Archer 155mm artillery has just arrived in country from training in Sweden. These new brigades disappear as soon as they hit Ukrainian soil. In addition, the Ukrainians have stepped up their strikes on logistics areas, air defense systems, communications facilities, troop assembly areas, and headquarters. All of this indicates a shift in focus away from the front lines toward damaging Russia’s capacity to respond to an offensive.
Speaking of soil, the battlespace is rapidly drying and opening the window for offensive action by either side.
1. Soil Moisture Update: 15 May 2023, a #NAFOWeather🧵
I’m “officially” declaring #MudSeason over based on limited rainfall since May 1st & marginal rain forecast in the next 2 weeks. Soil is dry enough to support most vehicles across most of the LoC. https://t.co/DttZF4GRjT
— David Helms (@davidhelms570) May 15, 2023
See some of my previous updates for more great reading.
Putin’s War, Week 63. Chechens Replace Wagner in Bakhmut, Storm Shadow Arrives, and Russia Says ‘Family Guy’ Is a Meany-Pants
Putin’s War, Week 62. Kremlin Droned, Russia Dissed by Friends and Allies, and Ukraine’s Offensive Takes Shape
Putin’s War, Week 61. Xi Calls, Prigozhin Sounds El Degüello, and Surprise Attacks at Sevastopol, Kherson, and (Maybe) St. Petersburg
Putin’s War, Week 60. Leaked Documents, a Russian Troll Exposed, and More Pieces Fall Into Place
Putin’s War, Week 59. Russia Goes ISIS and Waiting for General Mud to Take a Break
Putin’s War, Week 58. All Dressed Up and No Place to Go
Putin’s War, Week 57. Waiting for Godot.
Putin’s War, Week 56. Putin Indicted for War Crimes, Xi Visits Moscow, and Sevastopol Attacked for a Third Time
Putin’s War, Week 55. Russia Drops US Recon Drone, Ukraine Suffers From ‘Loose Lips’ as It Doubles Down on Bakhmut
Putin’s War, Week 54. More NordStream Melodrama, Russia Shows Diplomatic Weakness, and the Bakhmut Flipflop
Putin’s War, Week 53. Zelensky Blows a Big Play, Moscow Dodges a Drone Attack, and Russia’s Spring Offensive Fizzles
Putin’s War, Week 52. US and China Face off, Prigozhin Goes for the Jugular, Mystery Weapon Strikes, and Happy Anniversary
Putin’s War, Week 51. Russia’s Slow-Mo Offensive Gets Underway
Putin’s War, Week 50. The Calm Before the Storm
Putin’s War, Week 49. Waiting for the Russian Offensive
Putin’s War, Week 48. The Logjam Breaks and the Leopards Are About to Roam the Ukrainian Landscape
Putin’s War, Week 47. Gerasimov Shakes Up the Russian Army and the Russian Spring Offensive Looms
Putin’s War, Week 46. Putin Shakes up the Army Command, Prigozhin Shows How It’s Done, and Western Tanks for Ukraine Are on the Way
Putin’s War, Week 45: Putin Declares a Cease Fire, Zelensky Gets Putin’s Terms for Peace, and if You’re Fighting a War, Leave Your Cell Phone Home
Putin’s War, Week 44. Drones Strike Russian Strategic Bomber Base…Again… Prigozhin Makes His Move
Putin’s War, Week 43. Zelensky Visits the Front Lines and Washington, Putin Tries to Push Belarus Into War
Putin’s War, Week 42. Ukraine Gets the Nod to Strike Targets in Russia and Some Tools to Do It With
Many more are available at this link.
Patriot vs. Russian Missiles
One of the major stories since the last update has been the performance of the Patriot missile batteries used by the Ukrainian armed forces. Nearly two weeks ago, Patriot engaged and destroyed a single Russian Kh-47 hypersonic missile (Ukraine Confirms a US-Supplied Patriot Air Defense System Shot Down a Russian Hypersonic Missile). This set off shockwaves because this was a weapon that Putin, himself, had named as being a game changer for Russian conventional forces. Monday, Russia tried to overwhelm the Patriot systems guarding Kiev, firing 18 top-of-the-line missiles, six of them were Kh-47s. All of them were shot down; see Patriot Leaves Skeptics Wordless, Russians Embarrassed, and Kiev Littered With Pieces of Putin’s Wonder Weapons. The Russian Defense Minister Sergei “the Plywood Marshal” Shoigu claimed five Patriot systems were destroyed. However, more reliable reports indicate that one unnamed component may have suffered very minor damage from falling debris and remained in service without repair.
This was the first test of Patriot against multiple missile types, including hypersonic missiles, fired from different locations. It passed the test.
Wednesday night, the Russians were back at work. They targeted four cities with a total of 30 missiles. Just one made it through the air defense system. Only a few were fired at Kiev. No Kh-47s were used.
🔥 Ukraine Air Forces destroyed 29 out of 30 cruise missiles russia attacked Ukraine with tonight, UAF Commander-in-chief Zaluzhnyi reported
🔥2 “Shahed” drones and 2 reconnaissance drones were also shot down. pic.twitter.com/E6EIzh1TPh
— Margo Gontar 🇺🇦 (@MargoGontar) May 18, 2023
Kh-47 Development Team Charged with Treason
I’m sure this is totally not related to anything that has happened in Ukraine.
Developers of Putin’s hypersonic missiles arrested for treason: Armed Forces of Ukraine shot down Kinzhal with Patriot developed in 70s. Putin presented Kinzhal missile as “guaranteed 2 overcome” not only existing but also promising missile defense systems https://t.co/lF2NqiRabI
— Sergiy Kyslytsya 🇺🇦 (@SergiyKyslytsya) May 17, 2023
South Africa Ships Arms to Russia
Most nations, other than Iran and North Korea, have studiously avoided shipping arms to Russia. Now there is a new member of that august company, South Africa. South Africa is a member of the Chinese-dominated developing world trade group BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) that Beijing hopes to create as an alternative power center to Brussels.
HELPING PUTIN: The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has accused Pretoria of providing arms and ammunition to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine. A Russian ship, the Lady R, was loaded at a South African naval base last December. https://t.co/ia2WWBEYe5 pic.twitter.com/yzTJKEihlc
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) May 11, 2023
South Africa’s response is like something Bart Simpson would say, “I didn’t do it, you didn’t see me, you can’t prove it.” They said there is “no record” of arms shipments to Russia and, besides that, the US is sending arms to Ukraine.
Can’t Tell the Players Without a Program
The Russian military in Ukraine has gone through commanders to use a dated metaphor, the way Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands. I’m all in favor of ruthlessly weeding out commanders at the first hint of stupidity or incompetence, so long as you’re trading up and you’re putting the guy you fired on the street. The Russians have established quite a churn in senior leadership ranks, but the guys they fire end up commanding other units. So I’m not sure what they are accomplishing beyond looking tough and causing confusion.
NEW: #Putin’s decision to invade #Ukraine without a clear and doctrinal command structure and his reluctance to appoint an overall theater commander have had lasting effects on the organization of the Russian command in Ukraine.
Tonight’s assessment: https://t.co/IYwos5LUaP pic.twitter.com/xZN8vfb6sV
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) May 1, 2023
Another Useless Treaty Dies
One of the side effects of President George H. W. Bush’s campaign to make sure the USSR’s — and Russia’s — feelings were not hurt over losing the Cold War was to suck up to them in every way possible. Russia was allowed to illegally (in my view) inherit the USSR’s UN Security Council seat. We let Russia become the counterparty to treaties we’d signed with the USSR even when they made zero sense beyond giving the Kremlin a participation trophy. These are slowly but surely going away. President Trump withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty (Treaty Fetishists Go Into Mourning as President Trump Announces the US Will Leave the Open Skies Treaty) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (Trump Announces the US Is Leaving a Treaty Russia Is Violating and You Can Guess What Happened).
Now Vladimir Putin has withdrawn from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that limited the number of troops and types of equipment that NATO and the USSR could have in Europe.
Russian parliament approved the denunciation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).
The Treaty established comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe (from the Atlantic to the Urals) and mandated the destruction of… pic.twitter.com/fD9u2vkMKO
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 16, 2023
I’m not sure anyone cares how many conventional forces Russia has anymore. Plus, the limits work to the disadvantage of NATO. Good riddance.
Japan Treats Wounded Ukrainian Soldiers
Japan has joined the network of nations providing long-term medical care to Ukrainian soldiers wounded in action.
“Japan will accept injured Ukrainian soldiers for medical treatment as part of efforts to support their war-torn homeland in its ongoing battle to defend itself against Russia.” https://t.co/dWo2GeA2pb
— Alexander Lanoszka (@ALanoszka) May 17, 2023
Rheinmetall Opens Joint Venture in Ukraine
The German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall is opening a joint venture in Ukraine. It will provide service and repair to German-made vehicles above the unit echelon of maintenance. More intriguingly, it will “produce selected Rheinmetall products” in Ukraine. Rheinmetall produces any weapon system an army could need,, from artillery to the Leopard tank, the Marder infantry fighting vehicle, and a whole lot more. The “transfer of technology” provision has a lot of implications for Ukraine’s indigenous weapons industry.
-will be domiciled in Ukraine
-comprehensive transfer of technology
-the joint venture is expected to be operational from July 2023
-the maintenance and repair of vehicles delivered by Germany
-intend to jointly produce selected Rheinmetall products in Ukraine https://t.co/PXLvgBtC5R
— Jeff2146🇧🇪 (@Jeff21461) May 13, 2023
Russian Aircraft Downed in “SAM Ambush”
Over the weekend, Russia lost four aircraft to a fairly clever ambush by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. I covered the story when it broke, see Four Russian Aircraft Were Shot Down Over Russia in a Couple of Minutes and No One Is Giving Straight Answers, and not a whole lot more has come to light since then.
Dmitry Medvedev Pines for Lost Lands
If you ever get the urge to believe that Russia can ever be appeased regarding territorial expansion, you should think again. I’ve written on the subject a couple of times (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?) using what Putin and his inner circle have told us their intentions are.
This is former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev using the occasion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron to point out Russia’s territorial claims on the Baltic States and Poland.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has posted a new rant claiming Poland and the Baltic states as occupied Russian land. It is easy to dismiss Medvedev’s ramblings, but similar nonsense from senior Kremlin figures set the stage for the genocidal invasion of Ukraine pic.twitter.com/SMAfAtK9Pa
— Business Ukraine mag (@Biz_Ukraine_Mag) May 17, 2023
When these people tell us what they want to do, we should listen to them.
Russia vs. Eurovision
During the Eurovision 2023 event, a Ukrainian group called Tvorchi was on stage singing their entry (guys, I just write the posts, I don’t write the music or sing, so please don’t blame me for this dross).
If you want a treat, watch Moldova’s 18th-place entry.
Harnessing the power of the sun and the moon, that was Moldova’s Pasha Parfeni! 🌞🇲🇩🌛 #Eurovision pic.twitter.com/mDlmn8ySty
— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision) May 9, 2023
As they were performing, Russian cruise missiles hit their hometown Ternopil.
Ternopil last night. This is the hometown of @TvorchiBand, Ukraine’s Eurovision contestant. The city was bombed by russia while the duo was performing at @Eurovision.
russia has once again shown the world that it is nothing but a terrorist state. pic.twitter.com/UpJe4Fikpd
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) May 14, 2023
They went on to finish 6th of 26.
This epitomizes Russia’s conduct during this war. Its governing principle is senseless, purposeless violence. Ternopil in nowhere near the front lines and nothing of military value was hit. The attack was timed to strike while the hometown band was on stage. Pathetic.
The Clown Gap Widens
This is one of those clips that show Russia’s politicians or media at their best. Yes, we have clowns in our Congress who think Guam will tip over, but rest assured that Russia has mo’ better clowns.
In case you were wondering about the level of insanity in Russia:
Russian MP suggested training aggressive stray dogs and sending them to the “special military operation” zone – to de-mine and carry the wounded. pic.twitter.com/HvW0s3e0Oo
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 17, 2023
In my opinion, we are within a couple of weeks, at most, of Ukraine’s Spring Counteroffensive. As I mentioned earlier, the last fully trained and equipped brigades are coming home from various European training locations. New equipment is arriving, and we see proof that the Ukrainians sent abroad for training have learned their lessons well. We still don’t know how well the new brigades will perform in combat, but video is showing that frontline brigades are changing their Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) to more closely model Western European combined arms operations.
This summary by British Defense Intelligence, I think, underscores the difficulties facing the Russians. They have 200,000 troops to cover 1,200 kilometers of frontage; that is the distance from New York City to Savannah, GA. That is 166 men per kilometer, or one man every six meters. That is a good density, but to achieve it, they can’t have anyone who is not an infantryman. So if those troops are in 70 regiment/brigade equivalents, that means about 140,000 troops are in combat units.
The last bullet is the kicker. Ordinarily, you’d want a reserve to be about one-third the size of your total force. Suddenly you’re left with 93,000 troops to hold the front lines, a density of 77 men per kilometer or one man per 13 meters. This allows the attacker to achieve overwhelming numerical superiority at virtually any point. Positioning the reserve forces so they can stop a breakthrough is an entirely different problem.
Russia only avoids a disaster if Ukraine can’t synchronize its combat forces to punch through the ersatz fortified lines and/or it can’t manage the logistics to sustain an advance.
ADM-160 Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD)
The ADM-160 MALD made its way onto the list of “New Weapons” not by a press release but by pieces of it littering the streets of Russian-occupied Luhansk.
Evidence Of ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy Use By Ukraine Emergeshttps://t.co/uHe13hwKcD
— Tyler Rogoway (@Aviation_Intel) May 13, 2023
DECOYED: Ukraine has employed US-made ADM-160 Miniature Air Launched Decoys in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. ADM-160s may have been used in the recent UKR ‘ambush’ of a pair of Russian Su-35 and Su-34 strike aircraft as well as downing 2 Mi-8 Electronic Warfare helos. pic.twitter.com/yU8fzaFQ7Z
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) May 14, 2023
Here are videos explaining more about what it is and how to use it.
Storm Shadow Arrives
Last update I posted about the British Storm Shadow cruise missile being transferred to Ukraine. This places all Russian military facilities in the theater of operation at risk. This has forced the Russians to relocate logistics and command and control facilities further to the rear. The relocation forces Russian commanders to spend more windshield time during combat operations than they’d like and increases their vulnerability. It also strains the already overstretched Russian truck/tanker fleet by forcing them to spend more time on the road while it hampers the supply status of front-line units.
Russian “command and control has been relocated to hardened structures, or dug into bunkers at brigade and battalion level.” https://t.co/PQO3Jyreg5 pic.twitter.com/6RtaxN0USZ
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) May 15, 2023
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
Storm Shadow and MALD
Storm Shadow and MALD were used for the first time to take out a logistics facility in Luhansk, Occupied Ukraine.
On May 13, Ukraine successfully hit several targets in Luhansk, using a combination of decoy missiles and British missiles, while Russia lost four military air assets near Ukraine’s north in what possibly was an ambush by Ukrainian fighter jetshttps://t.co/Q5EFVSGGiD
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) May 14, 2023
Possible first use of Storm Shadow cruise missiles in Ukraine. A possible plant that was used as reported repair base by Russia was hit in Luhansk city. The target is reportedly out of the range of HIMARS GMLRS munitions. pic.twitter.com/BQcaljZloT
— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) May 12, 2023
As a side benefit, Russian State Duma deputy Viktor Vodolatsky was in Luhansk during the festivities and took the opportunity to go into one of the buildings to inspect the damage, and a wall collapsed on him. His injuries were superficial. Maybe they should make him a Dumbass deputy as well as a Duma deputy.
1/ Yesterday’s Ukrainian attack in Luhansk has provided a painful lesson for Russian State Duma deputy Viktor Vodolatsky, who was reportedly injured when a wall fell on him while he was posing next to it. https://t.co/tWJei5XWiD
— ChrisO_wiki (@ChrisO_wiki) May 13, 2023
This city has captured the imagination of the press because it has resisted Russian attacks for about seven months. The Russians are clearly obsessed with conquering it, perhaps so their online followers who’ve proclaimed Bakhmut captured every day for the last seven months can finally claim to be correct.
There are low-level Ukrainian counterattacks taking place on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut. As this is happening, Russian forces are still pushing forward, house by house, inside the city. You can see the approximate lines of advance indicated by the light blue areas in the bottom third of the map.
Over the previous two days, the Defense Forces in some places advanced on the flanks of Bakhmut at a distance of 350 meters to 2 kilometers, – Speaker of the Eastern Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Cherevaty
At the same time, the invaders continue to focus their… pic.twitter.com/efnnw9XdM6
— Feher_Junior (@Feher_Junior) May 15, 2023
As I mentioned above, it seems like the Russians are fixated on taking all of Bakhmut even if they have to immediately abandon it. In the last week they have been targeting bridges in the Ukrainian rear, bridges they’ve left alone for the last seven months. This indicates the Russians are more concerned about the Ukrainians using the bridges to advance than in saving them for any Russian offensive.
The quisiling Interior Minister of Occupied Luhansk, Igor Kornet, really should’ve skipped that haircut.
An explosion occurred in the center of Luhansk in a barbershop called “The Brothers”. According to Russian media, at least three people were wounded. Among them is the acting “minister of the LPR Interior Ministry” Igor Kornet. pic.twitter.com/lTNEw8yEjy
— News from Ukraine (@uasupport999) May 15, 2023
The train track near Chistenkoe in Occupied Crimea was damaged by an explosion and a train derailed.
In Crimea, there was a diversion on a railroad. IED was detonated at about 8 am near Chistenkoe. 8 wagons derailed. pic.twitter.com/TPVkHqUNDY
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) May 18, 2023
Sabotage in Russia
A train was set on fire in Kazan, Russia.
🔥The footage from the scene of sabotage on the railway in Kazan, russia, where unknown people set fire to four relay boxes at once
It is reported that because of this, the movement of five freight trains was stopped on the railway. They also write that there is no video… pic.twitter.com/qSCEg0oJbw
— ✙ Albina Fella ✙ 🇺🇦🇬🇧🇫🇷🇩🇪🇵🇱🇺🇸🇨🇦🇦🇺 (@albafella1) May 18, 2023
I think the next several days will see Ukraine starting to hit targets that have been out of reach in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the new brigades appear near Bakhmut. This would serve to fix Russian forces in place and possibly get them to commit any local reserve as it would look like this was part of the Spring Counteroffensive. I still believe the main attack will be on the Tokmak-Melitopol axis and the only thing that can slow it down is lack of tactical proficiency by the Ukrainians.