Putin’s War, Week 39. The Battle of the Generators

If on February 24, 2022, someone had told me I’d still be writing about Putin’s War in Ukraine 275 days later, I’d have laughed in their face. And yet, here I am.

The changes in the front lines have been minuscule, but there are areas where the fighting is heating up.

Politico-Strategic Level

Train Service Returns Between Kiev and Kherson

In the physical prosecution of the war, this is probably not a big deal. But, as Napoleon noted, in war, “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Reestablishing a rail link from Kiev to Kherson, the only oblast capital city captured by the Russians gave a major morale boost to the Ukrainians. The symbolism of the reunification couldn’t be missed.


Germany has been one of the most reluctant European countries regarding support for Ukraine. Their aid has been “defensive” in nature and slow in coming. When Portugal wished to transfer some obsolescent Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine (I mean “obsolescent” compared to Western main battle tanks because even obsolescent Western tanks have technical parity with the best Russian tanks), Germany balked.

Part of the reluctance was undoubtedly linked to the cash cow that was the Nordstream gas pipelines. However, part seems to be that the Germans were stump-broke by the Russians in World War II, and something about that experience has prevented the German psyche from seeing the Russian Army as the pathetic, Third World trash that it is.

Boris Johnson created some waves last week when, in an interview, he said that the Germans initially favored a Russian victory in Ukraine. The anticipation of that interview seems to have prodded Putin’s most prominent protector, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, into action.

What is significant about these actions is that they are laying down markers. Scholz is setting the withdrawal of Russian forces to status quo ante February 24 as the precondition for negotiations. This is effectively demanding that Putin acknowledge defeat. The subtext is that Ukrainian “neutrality” is off the table. Scrapping a long-running “dialog” between Germany and Russia is a sign, like the nationalization of Gazprom’s German subsidiary (see Putin’s War, Week 38. The Lines Clarify and Everyone Is Getting Ready for the Next Phase), that the Russo-German relationship has been permanently changed.

Fake Nukes

This war has been full of head-scratchers. Russia has been engaged in cyclical blitzes of Ukrainian heat, water, and electrical utilities for a couple of months. A week ago, an older, nuclear-capable Russian cruise missile, the Kh-55 carrying a simulated nuclear warhead, crashed at Dnipro.

The idea that the Russians would fire a dud “decoy” missile seems dumb. The Russians are trying to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses, so sending a decoy makes no sense if the missile could carry a conventional warhead. It also makes no sense unless there is something in the radar signature that would draw the attention of multiple surface-to-air missiles. The dummy nuke doesn’t appear to have any threat attached to it, as the Russians haven’t mentioned it, and Dnipro is not a city that would rate a nuclear strike. Guesses?


Belarus seems to have become a weekly topic. Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko plays a Renfield to Putin’s Dracula. He’s a relentless toadie who hopes his attachment to his master will give him immortal glory (SPOILER ALERT. Renfield ends up with a broken neck). At various times, Lukashenko has seemed on the cusp of wading into the war only to pull back. Belarus is training “mobilized” Russians and permits airstrikes against Ukraine to be launched from Russian-occupied airbases in Belarus. In my last update, I covered Ukraine demolishing bridges, building fences, and laying minefields on their border with Belarus. Finally, that message seems to have sunk in.

If Belarus intervenes in the war in an active way, I fully expect the Poles to react militarily. Belarus, under Lukashenko, is a bad actor with no allies except Russia. Now that no one is afraid of Russia, Lukashenko is riding a tiger of a restive population and a puppeteer who has less use for him by the day.

North Korea

The North Korean government has been trafficking its citizens as slave labor for decades (interactive map). Russia is the second largest user of North Korean labor after Communist China. Given the totality of the situation, it is hard to see what function this accomplishes other than as a way of the Kremlin currying more favor with Pyongyang. Russia is using North Korean ammunition and winter uniforms in Ukraine, and renting North Korean labor strikes me as a way of keeping Li’l Kim and his henchmen happy.

EU Parliament Labels Russia a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

As a practical matter, this has little significance. The EU Parliament doesn’t have a process for sanctioning “state sponsors of terrorism.” Instead, it relies on action by the European Commission in Brussels to do the heavy lifting, which the European Commission rarely does. Nevertheless, the fact that the EU Parliament took this step is significant as it is another signal that the EU is decoupling from Russia in a way that will be very difficult to repair.

FSB Mistakes Airsoft Group for Ukrainian Partisans

Read the whole thread.

Remember when the FSB showed Sim cards when they claimed they had arrested a bunch of Nazis?

Only the best men.

Coming Soon to a Russian Simp’s Twitter Feed

This convoy of military vehicles sporting the Ukrainian flag was seen in Tver, about 110 miles northeast of Moscow. I’m sure we’ll see them in a future video offering on a Russian Telegram channel.

Kremlin Imposes Official Censorship of War Coverage

If you need more signs that things are not going well with Putin’s War, this is one to consider.

Considering that nearly half of Russians 24 and under and over a third of those aged 25-39 use a VPN to evade Moscow’s controls on what they can view on the internet, I’m not sure how successful this policy will be.

Russia and Iran Agree On Drone Production Deal

This is hardly a shock. As I reported in the last update, the Iranian drones have components from several countries, including the US and Israel. I’m not sure how Russia will manage this project.

Ukrainian Special Forces Kill Iranian Military Advisors

It is a poorly kept secret that Iran has sent drone operators along with its drones. They are operating from inside Crimea. In early October, reports were that a Ukrainian drone attack had killed some of the operators. The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Danilov has reported that Ukrainian SOF killed Iranian military advisors in Crimea. The article is not specific, but I suspect they are technicians supporting drone operations.

War of the Generators

I touched on this in past updates. The Russian operational position sucks from basically any angle you wish to consider. In response, the Russians have initiated an operation to deprive Ukraine of electricity, heat, and running water. The concept seems to be that the Ukrainian population if made sufficiently miserable, can force the Zelensky government to the negotiating table from a position of weakness.

You can see the impact this is having.

The EU is trying to fill the gap with portable generators, but portable generators can’t power cities. Ukraine’s allies are providing replacement generation, transmission, and distribution equipment. The challenge is to repair damage and protect the repaired infrastructure from the next wave of missiles.

Very few systems work in a vacuum, and electricity is no exception. Ukraine supplied the electrical power of many of its neighbors. Moldova, in particular, is largely dependent upon Ukrainian power. So the Russian attack on Ukrainian infrastructure is being felt there.

Pipelines carrying Russian gas also pass through Ukraine and are powered by Ukrainian electricity.

The flow of Western air defense systems attrits about 80% of every Russian missile attack. That’s great, but 20% still get through. More air defense systems are on the way, and as the Ukrainian become more familiar with Russian attacks, their defenses will become more effective. European equipment can keep the Ukrainian grid somewhat functional.

Ultimately, this is a contest between the number of missiles Russia is willing to shoot, and that number is not infinite, and the will of the Ukrainian people.

Historically, targeting civilian populations has had the opposite effect of cowing them into submission. I don’t see any reason why this will turn out differently.

Operational Level

Like last week, I’m dropping most maps because nothing has changed. A lot of Russian Telegram sites portray gains of a few dozen meters as though they are breakthroughs. What they fail to report is that nearly all gains by both sides are relinquished after a few hours or days.

New Weapons

British Brimstone Upgrade

Britain transferred the first ground-based Brimstone missiles to Ukraine in May. They are similar to the US Hellfire and can be fired in a volley against a target array, with each missile seeking its own target.

Turkish TRLG-230 Multiple Launch Rocket System

The Turks have supplied some number of TRLG-230 MLRS to Ukraine. The TRLG-230 is similar in some respects to the US M270 MLRS and HIMARS.

SH-3 Sea King Helicopter

Britain is retiring its fleet of SH-3 Sea King anti-submarine helicopters. Some of them are headed to Ukraine. I suspect they will all end there either as operational aircraft or spares. The Sea King is primarily used in the anti-submarine mission but can carry 26 troops or 15 stretchers. This is just another instance of more capable Western equipment replacing the Russian equipment Ukraine had relied upon.

Another Naval Drone Attack

A month ago, the Ukrainians attacked Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in port using naval drones; Ukraine Carries out Extensive Drone Attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Sevastopol Homeport. A second such attack has now been carried out against ships at the Transneft oil terminal in Novorossiysk, Russia. As a result, tankers have stopped entering the port.

Prisoner Exchange

The numbers are smaller than those I covered in the last update, but they continue.

Combat Operations

Kherson/Zaporizhzhia Area of Operations

I’m compressing the combat operations part of the update this week. While a lot of slugging is going on in Kherson and Donbas, I’m not convinced that it is leading to anything. As I said last week, the center of gravity of the entire war has swung to Kherson/Zaporizhzhia. A successful Ukrainian offensive towards Melitopol will force the evacuation of the remainder of occupied Kherson because it can’t be supplied. From last week:

I’ve written before about the danger posed by a Ukrainian offensive on the Tomak-Melitopol axis in Zaporizhzhia. It looks like the Russians see what a lot of other folks and I see.

Last update, the Russians were preparing positions around Melitopol. This week, via commercial satellite imagery, we see a series of defensive lines being developed along the E58 highway from Melitopol to Nova Kakhovka.

I don’t have the imagery, so I can’t make inferences, but it looks like the line is situated to prevent any Ukrainian breakthrough towards Melitopol from threatening Crimea. Does this imply that Russia is preparing to sacrifice the area north of the defensive line and conduct a planned retrograde operation from the existing front line? Because the Russians don’t have enough troops to man the current front and simultaneously defend the line, they are building. If they don’t, then should a breakthrough take place, the odds of being able to stop a retreat fast enough to man the defensive line are pretty slim.

As the defense line is being built, Russian military equipment is moving north from Mariupol to the front.

What’s Next?

Both sides are paused, waiting for a temperature drop to freeze the gloppy mud of the rasputitsa.

When the ground becomes trafficable, then the operational tempo picks up again. The army best able to fight in the cold and under austere conditions wins. I think this favors the Ukrainians, who are more motivated, disciplined, and equipped. My gut is that the weather will kill or put out of action more Russians than the Ukrainians.

Everything is pointing to a major offensive by the Ukrainians aiming at Mariupol. At this point, I can’t guess the timing. What I’m not afraid to say is that when the offensive kicks off, the Russians will not have the combat power or the tactical flexibility to stop it. The challenge for the Ukrainians, one they haven’t handled as adroitly as the tactical part of the equation, is producing the logistical means for sustaining their tactical successes.



About Author

You may also like


Delusional Nikki Haley Implies She is Going to Run Against Trump, Says ‘I’ve Never Lost an Election and I’m Not Going to Start Now’

  • November 21, 2022
Delusional Nikki Haley Implies She is Going to Run Against Trump, Says ‘I’ve Never Lost an Election and I’m Not

Add Amoxicillin to the Things in Critically Short Supply Saga

  • November 21, 2022
I have a dear friend, a single mom heroically raising three boys. As if that isn’t enough reason to provide