Week 89 of Putin’s three-day Special Military Operation finds us marking time like we were last week. The focus of the war has definitely shifted from Ukraine to the external political realm.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had some good news to shake off the shock of some very unfavorable media coverage last week. European Commission President Ursala von der Leyen visited Zelensky in Kiev to announce that the EU was ready to begin Ukraine’s accession into that organization. This demolished the shibboleth that no movement towards EU membership is possible so long as Ukraine is at war. 

At least as significant as that was the rest of von der Leyen’s message. Moldova would also enter into immediate negotiations for EU membership, and Georgia was given an invitation. What all of those countries have in common is that Russia has made territorial claims on all or part of their territory, and Russia has fought wars with all three.

This hints that at least von der Leyen sees the possibility of a much more muscular EU foreign policy that will limit Russian ambitions. Along the way, the EU will supplant the US as the driving force in NATO.

No matter how the war ends, it has been a geopolitical disaster for Russia. Sweden and Finland have been driven into NATO. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia will have shifted their focus from Moscow to Brussels. NATO will have a more vigorous role in checking Russian imperialism.

Here are some of my past updates. For all my Ukraine War coverage, click here.

Putin’s War, Week 83. Zelensky Gets ATACMS From Biden and a Cold Shoulder From McCarthy

Putin’s War, Week 82. Russia Dissed at the UN and the War Moves Toward Rasputitsa

Putin’s War, Week 81

Putin’s War, Week 80. Ukraine’s Offensive Continues Slow Progress as Fingers Are Pointed

Putin’s War, Week 79. Surovikin Line Penetrated as Russia Staggers Toward a ‘1917 Moment’ in Zaporizhzhia

Putin’s War, Week 78. Prigozhin Crashes, Two Russian Bomber Bases and Moscow Hit by Drones

Putin’s War, Week 77. The Ruble Nosedives, a Breakthrough Looms, and Crimea Faces Isolation

Putin’s War, Week 76. Russia Shut out of Peace Conference and Its Black Sea Gambit Backfires

Putin’s War, Week 75. Putin Cucked, Moscow Droned Again, and the Industrial War Hits High Gear

Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army

Putin’s War, Week 73. Putin Eludes Arrest, Black Sea Grain Initiative Dies, and Ukraine’s Offense Continues to Grind Away

Putin’s War, Week 72. Ukraine Misses NATO Membership but Still Wins and Ground Combat Gains Velocity

Many more are available at this link.

Politico-Strategic Level

Zelensky Challenges Trump

On Meet the Press, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issues an invitation and a challenge to former president Trump.

Zelenskyy doubted Trump’s claim. “Former President Trump said that [in] about 24 hours, that he can manage it and finish the war. For me, what can I say? So he’s very welcome as well. President Biden was here, and he — I think he understood some details which you can understand only being here,” Zelenskyy told NBC News’ Kristen Welker. “So, I invite President Trump.”

“If he can come here, I will need 24 minutes — yes, 24 minutes. Not more. Yes. Not more — 24 minutes to explain [to] President Trump that he can’t manage this war” in that time frame, Zelenskyy said. “He can’t bring peace because of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

Zelenskyy was unsure of whether Trump would have Ukraine’s back if he were to be re-elected, telling Welker: “Really, I don’t know. Really, I don’t know.”

I’m not sure that anyone, including Trump, believes he can settle an 8-year Russian attack on Ukraine in 24 hours. If he thinks he can, he should take Zelensky up on his offer. Assuming his bail conditions allow him to retain a passport.

Cold Water on Negotiations

In the aftermath of Ukraine’s sub-optimal Spring Offensive, more and more nameless “officials” are speaking out in favor of a negotiated settlement. Zelensky has been busy tossing water on the discussion.


The paid Russian social media and Disqus accounts have been clamoring for “peace” ever since the march on Kiev ended in the slaughter of Russia’s elite airborne troops at Hostomel Airport. What none of them can explain is what a negotiated agreement looks like. Their only solution is that Ukraine should give Russia everything that it wants and stop wearing that damned short skirt in front of NATO.

I don’t see the common ground that would allow for anything approaching a peace agreement. Any cease-fire is going to lead to a resumption of hostilities. Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts is not going to be rolled back or acknowledged without a military solution.

Elections Are Off for 2024

Over the past week, President Zelensky has been speaking on the feasibility of holding national elections in March 2024. At one point, it seemed like elections were on due to American pressure.

Yesterday, President Zelensky closed the door on elections.

Predictably, a lot of Russian-bought or rented social media accounts reacted with outrage over postponing elections while the country is at war, and four oblasts are not only Russian-occupied but have been annexed by Russia. Personally, I don’t see how national elections could be organized under the present conditions. Making the whole affair more stupid is that the same people slamming Zelensky over not standing for election aren’t even a little concerned about elections in Russia.

EU Opens Accession Negotiations With Ukraine and Moldova

One major victory just dropped in Zelensky’s lap. European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has recommended opening negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova for the accession into the European Union.

The other news was that it was offering candidate status to Georgia.

More Russian Money Heads to Ukraine

Belgium joins the growing list of EU nations directing confiscated funds from the Russian government and private assets to the support of Ukraine.

Attacks on Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure Resume

Last winter, Russia carried out a very unsuccessful effort to shut down Ukraine’s power and heating grid. Had it been successful, Ukrainian civilians would have faced winter without electricity, heat, or hot water. The attacks failed because of the combination of an influx of replacement generators and transformers and a surge of anti-aircraft weaponry (Putin’s War, Week 39. The Battle of the Generators).


There are signs this campaign against the civilian population is resuming.

The big question is if Ukraine will spare the Russian power grid, which will not have the international coalition to replace destroyed equipment if attacks match those of last winter.

Russia Demands Equipment Back From Customers

This is pretty amazing.

Russia has sought to retrieve parts from defense systems it had exported to countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Belarus and Brazil, as it tries to replenish the enormous stocks of weapons being expended for the war in Ukraine.

Last April, a delegation of Russian officials visiting Cairo asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to give back more than a hundred engines from Russian helicopters that Moscow needed for Ukraine, three people with knowledge of the incident said. Sisi agreed and deliveries of about 150 engines are likely to start next month, say the people.

Reportedly. Russia has made the same demand of Pakistan, Belarus, and Brazil. Here is the article without the paywall.

I’ve reported on the attrition of the Russian attack helicopter fleet (Putin’s War, Week 82. Russia Dissed at the UN and the War Moves Toward Rasputitsa). This ham-handed search for helicopter engines indicates the OPTEMPO is wearing the Russian helicopter force out and that domestic production can’t keep pace with maintenance requirements.

Another Russian Company Conscripts Its Workers

I’ve reported before on private and public companies in Russia conscripting their employees into the Russian Army; see Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears, Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army, and the Roscosmos effort is covered here, Putin’s War, Week 74. The Crack in the Russian Wall Appears and Ben & Jerry’s Employees Join the Russian Army.

Read the whole story.

Operational Level

Combat action mirrored what we saw last week. The Russians pushed hard around Kupiansk and tried to cut off the Ukrainian forces in the Avdiivka salient. They had little to show for it in the way of real estate and lost a lot of men and equipment in the process. But, undeterred, they keep on keeping on. The Ukrainians ferried tanks and infantry fighting vehicles across the Dneiper River to bolster their bridgehead.

I looked at some of the postmortems on the Ukrainian offensive last week. Former commander of US Army Europe, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, weighed in with some of his observations. I know Ben; he spent the night in my house when a group of us did a staff ride of the siege of Harpers Ferry and the battles on South Mountain and at Sharpsburg. I think he makes a strong case for the doom-and-gloomers and the Rus-bots that encourage them to be wrong.


Special Operations Chief Relieved

Major General Viktor Korenko, commander of Ukrainian special operations forces, has been dismissed. There isn’t a lot of information available beyond it being at the order of Defense Minister Rustem Umerov. The head of the armed forces, General Valery Zalushnyi, did not request the relief and made it clear he had no problems with how the special operations forces were used.

There are two possible scenarios. The first is that Khorenko, who has been very successful, was getting “too big for his britches” and becoming difficult to control. The other is that Umerov, who was brought in to stamp out corruption in the defense ministry, found something he didn’t like.

Real? Or Just Another Grift?

Even with the suboptimal close of the Ukrainian Spring Offensive, the Ukrainian Army has still moved close enough to the main rail to interdict trains running west of Mariupol. A couple of weeks ago, the Russians announced they were building a new rail line through Luhansk and Donetsk, along the Sea of Azov, to supply Russian forces in the Southern Front and Crimea.


The kicker is that there is no evidence of construction on the red line. By an enterprising bit of reporting, it was discovered the project is under the control of a Putin crony.

Read the whole story.

The odds of this project being real and not just another way Putin allows his buddies to siphon off money from the treasury are not good.

Estonian Spy Chief: Fighting Will Pick up Because Putin Needs a Visible Victory

He explained that Russia has sustained heavy losses but achieved some tactical success near Avdiivka, aided by relatively dry weather suitable for heavy equipment. However, stiff Ukrainian resistance has kept Russian equipment losses high.

“Nevertheless, Russia will likely continue offensive operations at the current intensity over the coming weeks, with the aim of likely gaining complete control of Avdiivka by the end of this year,” the colonel said. “The capture of Avdiivka, like Bakhmut before it, would be presented as a major military success justifying further aggression towards Luhansk and Donetsk in the eyes of the Russian population,” he added.

Kiviselg noted Russia is interested in Avdiivka to push Ukrainian forces back from Donetsk. “There is also a north-south supply route there, as well as a railway line that Russia uses to resupply its units. Currently, Ukraine is able to affect this railway and these roads not only with missiles but also with artillery fire. This is the tactical advantage that Russia would like to achieve in that area,” he said.

This comports with what we’re seeing on the ground. It also matches the unofficial goal set for the Special Military Operation after the Russians’s disastrous autumn of 2022, which was to conquer 100% of the traditional territory of Luhansk and Donetsk.

New Weapons


The Ukrainian military is using a new Polish-designed drone. This one seems to be undetectable to the most common Russian front-line air defense systems.

This is just part of the measure-countermeasure development curve that is in overdrive because of the importance drones play in this and probably in future wars.

Combat Operations

Lanchester Square Collapse Preview

During World War I, British engineer Frederick Lanchester developed a model based on differential equations to predict the outcome of aerial and ground combat. One of those, Lanchester’s Square Law, is still used in operations research in the military. 

An offshoot of this is known as the Lanchester Square Collapse. This happens when one side is no longer able to replace its losses with trained personnel. As personnel attrition takes hold, the equation collapses because the weapons on one side can no longer perform optimistically. Think of the air battles in New Guinea and the Solomons. Japanese replacement pilots reduced the effectiveness of Japanese aviation, allowing Allied pilots to dominate the battlespace despite using aircraft that were inferior to Japanese aircraft.

This thread shows how the crew survivability of Western vehicles allows the quality of Ukrainian forces to far outstrip the quality of the Russian Army because Ukrainian vehicle crews live and can apply lessons learned in combat and transfer those lessons to new soldiers. 


Virtually every Russian armored vehicle loss is a catastrophic kill that wipes out the crew and, with it, the ability to pass on experience.

The Mind Boggles

Last update I posted about a Russian regiment, newly arrived at the front, that was hit by a HIMARS strike while having an impromptu street party (Putin’s War, Week 88. Zelensky Is Blindsided by TIME Magazine and the Offensive Gets a Postmortem). It seems that an absence of situational awareness, or perhaps seriousness, is not unique to the Russian Army.

A Ukrainian brigade held an awards ceremony about 18 kilometers from the front line. The brigade was hit by a cruise missile strike. What is notable about this is that HIMARS can engage targets in real-time. It takes advance notice to spin up a missile attack. Read the whole thread.

President Zelensky is promising an investigation. 

This kind of stupidity and probably duplicity is why they invented public executions.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

New and innovative, but what does it mean?

This is an interesting theory if true. At this point, the tactic is more of an n=1 assertion than a widespread tactic. As the Russians aren’t making significant gains anywhere, in fact, they aren’t making many gains of any kind; this tactic doesn’t seem to be the game changer the post claims. To me, this smacks of a rationalization of using first-person view (FPV) suicide drones to make up for a lack of artillery or artillery ammunition. Every drone used like this is not used against Ukrainian artillery, armor, or headquarters targets.

No One Knows Enough to Be Smug

Looping back to the measures-countermeasures story, you’ll find a lot of people making global pronouncements on weapons capabilities.

This kind of declaration is not limited to social media. MIT professor Theodore Postol has spent the last 40 years in an extended anti-science jihad against Ronald Reagan’s strategic missile defense plan, mewling, “You can’t hit a bullet with a bullet,” or “What about decoys.” All the while, we’ve seen ballistic missile defense advance and become a workaday, non-exotic weapon system that can effectively engage the most modern missiles (Ukraine Confirms a US-Supplied Patriot Air Defense System Shot Down a Russian Hypersonic Missile).

That’s because ballistic missile defense and counter-electronic warfare operations are engineering problems, not science problems. The solutions are only constrained by human ingenuity.

Northern Front



The Russians continue to bang away in front of Kupiansk without effect. The Ukrainians are not mounting offensive action outside of local counterattacks.

Historic Building Hit by Russian Missile




Combat continues in this area. The Ukrainian Army has stopped offensive operations and is digging in. The Russians have made slight gains in their counterattacks north and south of Bakhmut.


Intense combat continues around Adiivka as the Russians attempt to achieve an encirclement of Ukrainian forces in the salient. The amount of troops and equipment thrown into this fight indicates the Russians are invested in success…or at least inoculating themselves from the charge that they didn’t try hard enough. This lends credence to the statement by Estonian military intelligence chief Colonel Ants Kiviselg that the Russians plan to sever the Adiivka pocket and try to capture Kupiansk before January 1 for political reasons.

The Russians registered minor gains near the northern shoulder of the salient. The gains are measured in meters and may be erased by now.

When you see references to the slag heap or waste heap near the Adiivka Coke Plant, they are talking about this.

Velyka Novosilka-Urozhaine-Vuldehar

This area was big news in August. For several weeks, this looked like it held the potential for a breakthrough, but it wound down; see Putin’s War, Week 79. Surovikin Line Penetrated as Russia Staggers Toward a ‘1917 Moment’ in Zaporizhzhia. This area has become static with minor Ukrainian advances south of Urozhaine.

The significant event in this sector is that Ukraine has begun pulling out the units that have been fighting here for four months to rebuild them and replace them with less well-equipped units.

Southern Front


Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

The site of the Spring Offensive is still the scene of fighting, but much less intense than a month ago. The focus of the Ukrainian effort continues to be south and west of Verbove, where the Surovikin Line has been penetrated. The Russians continue to attack north of Verbove in an attempt to encircle the attack.


There is so little information coming out of this area that one would excused for thinking that something big was in the works.

For instance, the Ukrainians have set up a no-go zone for aircraft covering their bridgehead. This includes missiles and high-powered drone jamming equipment.

For the first time, we’ve seen Ukrainian armor across the Dnieper.

As I’ve pointed out before, Russian fortifications near the river were destroyed when the Russians demolished the Nova Kakhovka Dam. Russian armor and artillery have difficulty operating against the Ukrainian bridgeheads because they must approach the battlespace under observed artillery fire and drone attacks.

Russian Headquarters Demolished

This is the second attack on a Russian headquarters in as many weeks; see Putin’s War, Week 88. Zelensky Is Blindsided by TIME Magazine and the Offensive Gets a Postmortem). It is consistent with the pattern of targeting Russian command and control and logistics centers as well as electronic warfare equipment and artillery while reducing strikes on combat forces.

Kherson Residential Area Attacked


Russia has been devoting more attention to Odesa of late. I’m sure the notional targets are Ukrainian grain elevators and port facilities, but the real purpose seems to be that Russian favorite: terror.


Rear Areas


Russian Ship Severely Damaged

Saturday, the Ukrainian military carried out a complex attack on the Russian Zalyv shipyard at Kerch in Occupied Crimea. The attack involved drones, AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles, and Storm Shadow/SCALP EG cruise missiles. The target was the Project 22800 corvette Askold. The Askold was hit by as many as three cruise missiles. The extent of the damage is unknown, but if economically repairable, it will be out of action for a very long time. 

Strikes against surface combatants like the Askold are critical because most of the cruise missile attacks on Ukraine originate with ships or submarines of the Black Sea Fleet.

What’s Next

We have four places we should be watching in terms of combat operations. Will The Russians succeed in taking Kupiansk and eliminating the Avdiivka salient? I don’t think they will, but if they can succeed in drawing Ukraine’s first-string troops into a protracted fight to protect those places, that gives Russia a win. Those hard-fighting Ukrainian units that carried the weight of the Spring Offensive should be pulled out of the line to train, send troops home on leave, receive and integrate replacements, and get new equipment. If they have to fight all winter, that’s a loss for Ukraine.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Ukrainian offensive effort near Verbove. It is, for sure, much lower-key than in July and August, but the Ukrainians are still pushing. I still agree with Mike Ford that the impact on the morale of the Russian Army due to combat losses and how they are led and supplied is the 800-lb gorilla, or should I say Hillary Clinton, sitting in the corner. 

The great unknown is what in the hell is going on in Kherson. The concentration of weapons systems to deny the airspace to Russian drones and aircraft is significant. That the Ukrainians feel bold enough to raft tanks and IFVs across the Dnieper River is also meaningful.

We still don’t know how Speaker Mike Johnson will treat Ukraine aid. There is about $4 billion in unobligated Ukraine aid available. About 2/3 of that is Foreign Military Sales money, which goes directly to US defense contractors. I think in the end, there will be enough GOP House members plus Democrats to ensure Ukraine aid passes. There is no doubt that it will pass in the Senate.