Ukraine Update: 1 June, 2023

Russia is blaming Ukraine for the shelling of its territory in the Belgorod oblast area close to the border. The Russian government also claims a number of attempted cross-border raids in the area by Ukrainian soldiers were defeated. There were also reports of an explosion inside the city of Belgorod, likely caused by a drone. There were casualties in that incident, but none were fatal. The violence near the border is being affected by the fog of war, as well as the blanket of disinformation. Despite Russia blaming Ukraine for the shelling and raids, pro-Ukraine paramilitary groups are claiming responsibility for the latest attacks. It remains unclear if Russia truly knows which party is responsible for the attacks and is simply attempting to save face, or if Moscow is still uncertain.

Kiev suffered yet another volley of Russian missiles launched in the pre-dawn hours today. These were SS-26 Stone short range ballistic missiles (often identified by their Russian name Iskander by amateurs in social media). Three people were killed and according to the Ukrainian government, Apartment buildings, hospitals and schools were damaged by missile fragments according to the Ukrainian government. Probably a line of propaganda, but there is no sense talking publicly about military and government targets that might’ve been struck.

In Moldova at a meeting of the European Political Community, British PM Rishi Sunak said Ukraine’s “rightful place” is within NATO. There is increasing pressure, on the surface at least, for NATO to admit Ukraine as a full member despite the realities of the moment. Quite honestly, Sunak and Great Britain are bending over backwards to supply Ukraine with as many average-quality British weapons as possible. In the meantime they continue to strip British military supplies from armor to artillery ammunition. God forbid the Brits find themselves faced with sudden crisis, they could find themselves in need of weapons and ammunition. The same holds true for many other NATO members.

This has not deterred Ukraine from pleading for more weapons, ammunition and money. Volodymyr ‘Oliver Twist’ Zelenskiy was also in Moldova begging for more and chastising the EU and NATO for not doing more. The set of balls on that man is astounding.

I still despise Putin and Russia more than Zelenskiy, but not by as comfortable of a margin as I’d like. Ukraine’s leader is a huckster. NATO should buy him a suit instead of sending him more war supplies and money.

Ukraine Update 21 May, 2023: Bakhmut’s Fate

Volodymir Zelenskiy’s claim that a small section of Bakhmut remains under Ukrainian control is a sailboat of hope braving increasingly heavy seas of factual certainty. By most independent accounts coming out of the Bakhmut area, Ukrainian forces have been ejected from the town. Russian forces and elements of the Wagner Group are in control of Bakhmut. In Hiroshima for the G7 summit meeting, Zelenskiy was faced with having to put the best face possible on the increasingly negative news coming out of Bakhmut. Almost defiantly, Ukraine’s leader has declared the town has not been captured by Russia. As the hours slip by, Ukrainian officials back home are also scrambling to put the best face upon the situation. According to Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, “Our forces have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy … [who] has to defend himself in the part of the city he controls.” Neither Zelenskiy nor his defense officials and general officers would go into detail on their statements.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy also said Sunday that Bakhmut was “only in our hearts,” a curious reference which could be intended to pave the way for bad news in the coming hours and days. If the town is in Russian hands the defeat will reverberate across Ukraine and have a profound effect on Ukrainian morale both on the frontlines and among the population. Meanwhile, with the news from Bakhmut still fresh, US President Joe Biden announced $375 million more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery, and vehicles. Because so far, the billions of dollars in equipment and war material that has already been shipped east just has not been sufficient to stop the Russian advance permanently. Biden’s philosophy is similar to the ‘throw money at a problem to fix it’ mentality so rampant in Washington DC. Only instead of throwing money, Biden’s tossing artillery shells and armored vehicles.  

The Kremlin Drone ‘Attack’

It has been over twenty-four hours since the alleged ‘assassination attempt’/ drone strike on the Kremlin in Moscow. The Russian government is squarely placing blame for the incident on the United States and Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov made the claim on Thursday morning and went on to say retaliation measures are being considered. “Attempts to disown this both in Kiev and in Washington are, of course, absolutely ridiculous,” Peskov said. “We know very well that decisions on such actions and such terrorist attacks are made not in Kyiv, but in Washington.”

The US and Ukrainian governments both deny any sort of involvement in the incident. According to the Russian government, two drones attempted a strike on the residence of Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Defenses allegedly shot both down. Images and video from Tuesday night show one drone exploding close to the dome of the Kremlin. There were no signs of anti-aircraft fire or surface-to-air missiles in the surrounding sky. Analysis of the alleged strike has raised questions ranging from who captured the video footage and why he or she only started filming seconds before the drone impacted, to why the Russian government waited so long after the attack before announcing the news. As far as who launched the drones, there’s no evidence at present to suggest Ukraine, the United States or any other Western nation was responsible, and to be fair, it does not matter at this point.

What happens next is more important. Specifically, what form Russia’s retaliation takes and who it is aimed at.

Russia’s Decision To Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus

NATO’s verbal response to Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was predictable. Alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu labeled it ‘dangerous and provocative.’ She then stated that there has been no change in Russian nuclear posture, meaning there is no need for NATO to adjust its own. The US government’s reply was along similar lines.

On Saturday during a TV interview, Vladimir Putin announced his plan to store tactical nuclear weapons on Belarussian soil. The Russian president pointed out this move will violate no nuclear nonproliferation agreements since Russia will retain control of the warheads. He also compared the decision to how the United States deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe and there are some similarities between the methods. However, the primary difference rests with delivery systems. The US and Russia have aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons in close proximity to the weapon storage sites. But along with this, Russia already has a number of SS-26 Stone (Iskander M to the amateurs) short range ballistic missiles based in Belarus. These missiles can also easily be used as delivery vehicles for tactical nuclear weapons.

It comes as no surprise that Ukraine has been quite vocal on the move, accusing Moscow of making Belarus a ‘nuclear hostage.’ As far as the nuclear threat to Ukraine is concerned though, a limited Russian deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus does not raise the threat posed to Ukraine. Moscow’s decision is aimed more at NATO and the West, intended to serve as message, perhaps, that the continued arming and supplying of Ukraine could hold significant consequences.  

Xi Leaves Moscow

Xi Jinping has left Moscow, bringing an end to a visit which was watched closely from Kiev to Washington. Surprisingly, there appears to be a growing consensus in some media and geopolitical circles that the Xi-Putin meetings will not result in in concrete changes to the Sino-Russian relationship, or China’s position regarding the war in Ukraine. Based on public statements and the slivers of information emanating from behind closed doors these thoughts are nothing beyond the obvious. The real decisions were made behind closed doors between Monday and Thursday and just what they were will only become clear as time goes on.

First off, the strategic relationship between China and Russia is almost certainly now solidified in a junior-senior partner dynamic. As the senior partner, it is in Beijing’s best interests to keep Russia afloat in the war for an extended period of time. Or, as an alternative, press for peace talks resulting in a short-term ceasefire at the very least. China’s peace plan is very popular in the Kremlin but has hardly gained a second look in Kiev or the West. To be blunt, the plan is anything but fair and if agreed to by all parties and implemented, would see Russia keep possession of the territory it has gained so far in the war. Should Ukraine and the West formally reject China’s attempt at playing peacemaker, this opens the door for China to supply Russia with military equipment and material.

More disconcerting, it will also pave the way for China to start laying the foundation for its own geopolitical and military moves in the Western Pacific and beyond.

Author’s Note: Short post today. Free time slipped away a bit. I’m considering starting up a substack for DIRT to have a place where I can post in-depth analysis, while keeping this blog mostly for shorter briefs and updates. I’ll be sure to keep readers in the loop. –Mike