We are 26.5 weeks into Vladimir Putin's three-day cakewalk to Kiev. I haven't been here for a while because not a lot has occurred when you're not in the trenches of Donbas trying to get to the other side of an artillery assault.
Today's big news is what could appear to be the result of a Ukrainian offensive that is developing inside Kherson Oblast. We'll discuss that later after the preliminary discussions.
The Politico-Strategic Level
A great deal of action is taking place at this point. However, it's more beneficial to view the whole picture to gain a better understanding of the current situation.
On the evening of Saturday, August 20th, an explosion destroyed the car of Aleksandr Dugin. Westerners have never ever heard of Dugin. Many Russians haven’t either. However, Dugin was a militant nationalist who claimed that he had the ears of Vladimir Putin and took credit as the brains behind his involvement in the Russian military invasion in Ukraine.
In the wreckage of the Moscow street, the police found the remains of not only Alexandr Dugin, but of his child, Darya Dugin. She had followed in her father's footsteps and was an active pro-war propagandist and also ran an online disinformation website.
There was a lot of excitement. Within minutes, the FSB declared that the culprits included Ukrainian special forces personnel who had been escaping to Estonia. The FSB also claimed that they booked an apartment at the same address Darya in the last month and were following her all over Moscow in a completely discreet Mini Cooper. The suspects were said to be women from the Azov battalion, which Russia has classified as an “terrorist” group. Since this is Russia, it's like you're running around an amusement park. The ID that the FSB made which was later discovered by the assassin has been reconstructed as a Photoshop-based attempt.
The piece de résistance was Darya's funeral.
There was plenty of crying from people who believed this was an “escalation” and it would cause Russia to launch a new and unknown response (when you're shooting cruise missiles at the midst of apartment blocks it's difficult to come up with a reason to bring this up to 11). The one question nobody could answer was the reason why someone would take the time to target one of the daughters of an unpopular criminal in Moscow. If Ukraine had sent a hit squad they could have executed just as well as an untrained and angry Babushka.
The story is predictable, and it is gone. The smart money suggests that this is something to do with commercial disputes or an obscure power struggle rather than Ukraine.
EU battles over Russian travel ban.
A large portion of the EU is calling to ban tourist visas for Russians. The main voices in opposition include France as well as Germany. The argument is that the conflict that is raging in Ukraine is not merely Putin's conflict; it's an all-Russian war that is waged by Russians. For as long as this conflict continues, Russians should not be permitted to reside or travel within the EU. Certain countries have unilaterally imposed an unconstitutional travel ban on Russians but the EU in general is likely to not. In the future, the EU will not give Russians preference when it comes to visa applications and this will decrease the amount of Russian visitors and also increase time it takes to obtain visas.
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
A high-quality version of the game is playing on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNP). The ZNP is under the control of Russia who tried to remove the power plant from Ukraine's grid and to send electricity to Crimea. The result was power pylons being destroyed by Ukrainian militants, and the ZNP being completely removed from the grid for some time, possibly leading to a disaster similar to that of Fukushima. The IAEA demanded control of the plant and Russia declined. It appears that the IAEA could be in the area.
Money, money, money.
It is reported that the Biden White House has approved an additional installment of $3 billion worth of economic and defense aid. This brings the total aid for Ukraine up to $13.5 billion since the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
New weapons are in use.
One of the most interesting new weapons included in the Ukraine aid package is the Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment known as VAMPIRE. It utilizes the 2.75-inch (70mm) Hydra rocket typically found on the AH-64 Apache or AH-1(insert your preferred variant below) Cobra. It can be mounted in virtually any utility truck and is capable of carrying out precise engagements of ground targets drones, rotary-wing, and fixed-wing aircraft. Although I believe this is one I would not want to explore. The system provides anti-drone coverage of Ukrainian units as well as critical assets. In this current conflict, this is an important issue.
This week, an interesting story was discovered on Russian-focused social media sites. Images surfaced showing the wreckage from the AGM-88 HARM, a High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile also known as HARM.
HARM was designed specifically to block radars for air defense. It usually secures itself to hostile air defense systems once “painted” by radar. However, it's not simply any anti-radiation missile. It comes with a lock-on-jam feature which focuses on electronic warfare jammers. If you believe that turning away from your radar would help your life, you're mistaken. If HARM is unable to transmit signals it's got a GPS and an inertial guidance system built into the device that can lock to the position of the radar emitter that is targeted.
The news shocked many people from both sides because nobody knew the US and Ukrainian technicians had collaborated to convert the AGM-88 to, what we believe, MiG-29 fighters. The fact that is known is that the launch of the HARM has slowed down the Russian S-300 system and allowed the skies to be opened up to the Ukrainian Air Force.
A new theater opened to fight Russian troops in Crimea.There isn't any consensus as to what the motives behind this attack were. I don't believe in an SOF attack as it does not seem plausible. There are reports that ATACMS, which is a ballistic missile launched from the HIMARS as well as MLRS platforms employed, however I'm not sure ATACMS is located in Ukraine.
Drone strikes have also been conducted at targets located in Sevastopol. This suggests that Ukrainian SOF are operating fairly without restriction within Crimea.
Kharkiv along with Donbas
Like my previous post, the frontlines between the two zones are mostly the same. The Russians have made a few modest gains in Donbas but these are measured in many hundreds of yards.
Over the past two weeks, Ukrainian artillery have smashed Russian C3I and logistics nodes. I won't continue to bore you with video of ammo dumps exploding and logistics nodes; take a look at my last update.
To comprehend what's happening, let's take a look at the stage of operations.
The key ground is called that of the Dnipro (Dneiper) River. The majority of the battle zone that is occupied by the Russians is located north of Dnipro. The entire Russian forces north of Dnipro depend on reinforcements and supplies which are required to come from one of two places: Crimea (off from the southern map) as well as Donbas (off on the maps to the east). There are four bridges to choose from. The enormous Antonivsky Bridge, the bridge that is connected with the dam in Nova Kakhovka, and the railway bridge at Prydniprovs'ke crossing the Dnipro. Additionally, a bridge connects to the Inhulets River at Dar'yivka.
The bridges are inaccessible and all travel across the Dnipro is by ferry. A pontoon bridge that is one-kilometer length is in construction near the Antonivsky Bridge. The bottom line is that each Russian unit located north along the Dnipro is served by a ferry. There are multiple reports that state it is the case that the Russian headquarters in Kherson is moving to the south of the Dnipro. This makes strategic sense, but is not a good idea under the circumstances.
Ukraine has been broadcasting and head-faking an offensive in this region for the past two months. It is believed that the Russians are responding by removing units from Donbas and shifting into defensive positions to the north of Dnipro.
To add to the feeling of anxiety, Ukrainian partisans or special forces have killed co-conspirators.
The day before, Ukraine launched ground assaults following an intense overnight artillery barrage. The army made rapid gains of more than six miles.
This could be or may be of no significance. At this point, it's difficult to determine whether this is an actual “shaping operation” intended to create the conditions for an offensive, or whether it's an opportunity small-scale offensive that is designed to bring down injuries and bring new troops to the fight and draw Russian attention, while the actual attack is aimed at Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
What I believe is the reason there's a high chance of tangible benefits for Ukraine is the fact that the battlefield has a geographical isolation. Supplies and reinforcements are challenging to relocate. Pontoon bridges won't be able to handle the load of downed bridges, and they are vulnerable to attack, too. The destruction of Russian ammunition dumps inside the theater will mean that Russian artillery won't be able to offer the massive fire support that it offered in Donbas.
We have yet to observe Ukrainian capability to integrate artillery, infantry, and armor. I would guess that many of the troops that are going to battle are fresh off the field of training and are being sanguinized for the first time. We aren't sure what they'll do. What happens in the coming few months can give us more insight into the direction of the conflict.