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The War of Putin Enters its 18th Week

Welcome back.

Let's take a look at the state of affairs one month into Vladimir Putin's 72 hour Special Military Operation against Ukraine.

Strategic Level

Big takeaways from the NATO Summit:

NATO members have arranged to start providing Ukraine with offensive arms. This is an enormous deviation from the norm. When NATO decided to provide the HIMARS as well as MLRS to Ukraine, the two sides also agreed that they would arm the rockets with a capability that wouldn't directly target Russian populations. My bet is that the actual manifestation will be a few hundred German Leopard 2A4 tanks that are currently stored. They're not up to standards for the Abrams, Leopard 2A7, and Challenger 2, but they are competitive with Russian tanks that crossed the border in February, and will be superior to the T-62s that are beginning to be used for replacement in Russian units. It is possible to predict that the transfer to Ukraine of the modernized MiG as well as Sukhoi fighters that dished out the vapors of March and April will not be too far off.

NATO/EU is working towards establishing the transit route for Ukrainian grain that passes through Poland in order to get rid of Russia's blockade in Black Sea. It's not an easy process, but like Western Europe seeking out new gas and oil sources the process could last for a long time.

The most important news is that Sweden and Finland will be joining NATO. There is speculation that Bulgaria may be against it due to the fact that it receives 70% of its gas supply from Russia. It would be a high-risk decision for the Bulgarian government should it choose to make the move.

Joe Biden, the UK's Johnson, French President Macron as well as the German's Scholz have all stated the following: 1.) that the conflict is expected to last a long time, 2.) it is crucial to ensure that Russia does not gain territory through the conflict, and 3.) the three countries will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Ukraine remains in a position to free its territory from invading Russians. Talking about it is one thing; convincing voters who are economically challenged is quite another.

Discussion of imposing Ukraine to sign a negative peace accord is now the sole domain of people who, for no reason, decided to declare that Russia was the aggrieved one which must be soothed.

Both actions and rhetoric convey the impression that Russia is struggling but can be defeated.

The Russian government-which doesn't comprise those in the Russian Duma/Federal Assembly who can speak of things is at least as bizarre as any other idea Maxine Waters comes up with-has retracted the threat of nuclear Armageddon. Putin has said he will give Belarus nuke-capable missiles (just an aside that these are an option that Russia was willing to drop after the INF agreement was signed). Belarus president Lukashenko has requested Russia to develop nuclear weapons. It is important to monitor this; however, it doesn't appear to be all that likely. I'm certain that Putin and Lukashenko do not want Poland to acquire nuclear-capable missiles.

Operational Level

It's important to keep in mind the current situation. 

In spite of the awe-inspiring reports, the situation remains generally unaltered. This map, provided by the Institute for the Study of War which shows the front line is still unchanged. There are some adjustments; we'll get to an area of Russian action in Donbas within a few minutes; however, there aren't any significant changes.

New weapons are in use

The US approved transport of truck-powered Harpoon missiles in Ukraine. They are acknowledged as having sunk a vessel by the sea, Vasily Bekh.

HIMARS makes its debut.

Ukraine receives a massive injection of top-of-the line NATO tube artillery as well as rocket artillery. The German Panzerhaubitze 2000, French CAESAR, US M-109 and M777 as well as The Polish Krab are only some of the systems that are being used. Maintaining a polyglot grouping of weapons is difficult for anyone. I believe that the higher echelon maintenance is being carried out by contractors of foreign nationals who are employed by the billions of dollars flowing through the war.

A few hundred Ukrainians have been taught to utilize the new artillery systems in Germany and in the UK, more are being trained.

The first prisoners from Mariupol were exchanged.

The city of Mariupol was destroyed in May; more than 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers were taken into Russian custody. The majority of them were part of the Azov battalion, which Russians as well as their travelers branded as “Nazis.” The negotiated surrender agreement stipulated that they would be released. They are returning to Ukraine.

Terror has become an arsenal.

Last week a mall in Kremenchuk was hit by a Russian cruise missile. A cruise missile indicates it was the planned location of the missile.

This isn't a singular event. Each week, a number of civilian targets, far from the front line and military installations, are struck with Russian missiles. It is evident that terror is now the standard tactic of Russia.

Russian generals are still dismissed.

The chaos continues to rage within Russian line of commands in Ukraine.

It's difficult to know what's going on without having a clear understanding of the context. Do we have the case of a “give me results, now!” situation? Or are the incompetent and politically-connected generals being eliminated? Could this be an example of the German Army during 1945? Or, the American Army following Kasserine? I'm not sure.

In this mix is that the arrival of HIMARS has given the Ukrainians the capability of targeting headquarters that are out of the reach of artillery tubes as well as the high rate of mortality of the most senior Russian officers due to the unique characteristics of this army's organization.

Ukrainian prisoners condemned to death by the Donetsk court.

Ukraine is home to as many as 3000 foreign volunteers who are part of the ranks of the Territorial Defence Forces, a section within the Ukrainian military. They all took an oath, and they have all met the conditions in the UN Convention on the use of mercenaries. They are among the most experienced in the Ukrainian Army. Two Britons and one Moroccan were arrested. Russia does not have a death penalty, therefore they were handed over to the Donetsk “Republic” kangaroo court.

Two Americans have been arrested and the exact same fate is likely to await them.

Snake Island:

The introduction of modern artillery as well as Harpoon anti-ship missiles have rendered Snake Island untenable. Today it was announced that the Russians declared that they would be leaving Snake Island in an act of “goodwill gesture” to open the way for shipping Ukrainian grain. The reason Snake Island would have to be abandoned in order to achieve this –not firing at civilian vessels, would serve the same purpose, is anyone's guess.

As I noted in a previous post on this subject, anti-ship missiles are located on Snake Island, assuming they are used in conjunction with air defense systems of a credible nature will make Ukraine's remaining Black Sea frontage, particularly Odesa and the Danube estuary, inaccessible to Russia's navy.

Kherson:

There has been a lot of movement on the south-facing front. The maps indicate that there is evidence that the Ukrainian Army is making small but constant gains. This map comes from the Institute for the Study of War.

The Ukrainians are currently just 6 miles away from Kherson City. Within Kherson City, assassinations of collaborators as well as the killing of off duty Russian soldiers are now commonplace. I am not sure Ukraine is planning to strike the city since it's an extremely high-risk and manpower-intensive operation. Instead, I'd look for a Ukrainian offensive in the north that targets the border with Kherson as well as Melitopol. The primary goal is Nove Kharkova that is situated on the communication line and controls the aqueduct which is responsible for providing Crimea with the majority of the water that is potable.

Kharkiv:

Kharkiv is essentially static. Both sides gained a small amount, however none appear to be sustainable long-term. The main goal of Ukraine here is to drive Russian artillery from the area of Kharkiv and to eliminate forces that might be deployed in Donetsk to protect this region as part of an economic force operation.

My expectation is this: it will continue to be a backwater.

Donetsk:

The theater of operations in question is receiving the greatest attention due to the fact that it is the sole one in which the Russians have had some successes. The media requires an explanation of the horse race to tell their narratives. The Putin supporters would like to use it as proof of the inevitable victory for Russia. 

Following a series of high-profile catastrophes and a number of high-profile disasters, the Russians appear to be moving to dismounted operations aided by massive artillery attacks. The Ukrainians have been fighting a fervent defense, but are trading terrain in exchange for preservation of force. Australian General Mick Ryan's perspective is, I believe, the right one.

There is no doubt that casualties have been very high for both parties. The Ukrainians don't seem to have the fighting power to stop the Russian advance, and the Russians do not have the logistical system to sustain a swift offensive, or the soldiers to carry it out. It's not a crucial fight on either side…unless one side or the other loses. What was the Russian advance of Rommel's panzers in France from 1940? Perhaps it was that it was the Battle of the Bulge?

Prognosis

The war is currently at an impasse for the time being. I haven't published anything on the conflict because I haven't observed any significant changes in the fundamental dynamics. Making predictions based upon combat operations on a daily basis is like political analysts who create new predictions each time they take a poll.

The actual battle is in the shadows. The Ukrainians have declared the conscription process in March. With a shortened training schedule, the units that were formed earlier will be able to make their debut in the near future. The Russians have also been experiencing problems with manpower. The daily bulletin of the UK Defence Ministry says that there are combat refusals and desertions occurring, however they appear to be caused by intercepted calls. It is believed that Russian veterans are given three-month contracts that allow them to serve in Ukraine. So far I'm not convinced.

My view is that the key aspect is that more advanced versions have replaced Ukrainian equipment. It is also true that the Russians are digging through the war stockpile. In a war that lasts for a long time, this could be crucial.

There is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine is at risk of moral, political, or military demise.

But, I have seen indications that Russia is seeking an exit. I believe Russia is focused on Donetsk due to its desire to control the boundaries that separate Luhansk and Donetsk and is calling for an end to the war to secure the gains. If Ukraine is determined to keep fighting the war, it may create some political tensions within NATO/EU.

My assumption is that we'll be seeing more of this up until August, then the new round will begin with different armies that started the war.

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