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.  

Some Thoughts On Putin’s Miscalculation

Today was Saturday and the weather was decidedly perfect. As a result, I spent the afternoon on the golf course. In between bunker shots and missed 3-foot putts I found myself thinking about Vladimir Putin and his pre-war assessment of the Russian armed forces. Given that the war in Ukraine has gone on for over a year it is safe to assume Putin’s faith in his nation’s military power was severely misplaced and underestimated. Russia’s military has an extensive history of long being a paper tiger at the beginning of a conflict. World War I is perhaps the greatest example of a wide disconnect between the false expectations of Russia’s leadership and the terrible condition of its military leading to national ruin. Whether the ‘special military operation’ continuing in Ukraine leads to a similar result remains to be seen.

What is not commonly realized by the public is that Putin is not alone in his miscalculation. A host of national leaders over the last century or two have believed the military power of their respective nations to be far greater than it really was. France in May 1940 presents a rather astonishing case study of political miscalculations of military power leading to disaster. On paper France’s military matched up very well with the armed forces of Germany. In reality, however, French ground and air forces were marred by a number of issues ranging from readiness to the lack of a doctrine applicable to modern (at the time) war. France’s political leaders were rather anti-war did not give the French military adequate attention through the early and mid-1930s. By the time of Munich in 1938 when it became clear rearmament needed to be a priority, it was too late.  

At the present time, it is unclear if Putin can salvage victory from the jaws of defeat. In February, 2022 had Russia’s ground and air forces operated as well as its commanders had claimed, the war would not have lasted longer than a few weeks. Now the war is well into its second year with no end in sight and the consequences of Putin’s miscalculation continue to grow by the week.

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.

The Coming Ukrainian Counteroffensive

Anticipation for the long-expected Ukrainian counteroffensive is increasing with each passing day. To be fair, the coming counteroffensive must be one of the worst-kept secrets in military history. The Ukrainian government has made no sincere effort to conceal their plans to retake areas of the homeland currently held by Russian forces. Statements are made in broad terms though, and very few details emerge. The ones that do, however, are analyzed to death by journalists, military experts and of course, by the legions of OSINT amateurs on social media. There is growing speculation that behind the scenes some Western leaders are not entirely convinced Ukraine’s counteroffensive will live up to the growing expectations. In fact, there is increasing concern in some Western capital cities about how negatively a failed counteroffensive could affect the constant stream of money and material from Europe and the United States east to Kiev.

On the flip side, the Russians know what is coming and should be preparing. The critical variable now is timing. Will a counteroffensive start in late April or early May? Or will it not kick off until late May or early June? Every passing day gives the Russian military and government more time to prepare. After Ukrainian forces successfully secured positions on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River on Sunday, there was widespread speculation that this signaled the start of the counteroffensive. Now, some two days later, it appears this was not the case.

Where Ukraine enjoys a seemingly limitless stream of Western weapons and ammunition, Russia is not so fortunate. Manpower and material shortages have caused problems for Russian units now in Ukraine. How problematic these shortages are remains to be seen. There does not appear to be an issue in Bakhmut where Russian forces are said to be concentrating for a new assault on Ukrainian positions.

Counteroffensive or not, the fighting around Bakhmut does not look to be diminishing any time soon. Both sides appear determined to maintain the stalemate or bring about a victory at any cost.