Putin's War, Week 102. Zaluzhny Is Out, Syrsky Is In, and the Ukraine Aid Bill Advances

71ee9720 f254 4c52 9ba3 ac53296315fb

Welcome to the bleated update on Putin’s War.

The big news was the firing of Ukrainian commander-in-chief General Valerii Zaluzhny and his replacement with General Olexsandr Syrsky, commander of Ukrainian ground forces. This replacement has been rumored for a while and was first announced, then unannounced, two weeks ago.

READ: Putin’s War, Week 101. How to Not Fire Your Commanding General and the EU Approves Massive Aid Package

Even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appointed Zalushny in July 2021, the two men were never close, and there have been obvious tensions for months. I think Eliot Cohen writing in The Atlantic has it about right.

One need not pick sides in a dispute like this. Zaluzhny is a heroic figure who had the second-most-difficult job in the world for the past two years; his boss, however, had the most difficult job, and is continuing to do it. One hopes that if the general were asked to take another position by the president, he would do so, and that, if not, he will not make McClellan’s mistake and enter politics. In 1864, that served neither McClellan nor the country well, and it failed. Other Civil War generals fired by Lincoln—Major General Joseph Hooker, for one—set an example of soldierly discipline by swallowing their pride and taking a lesser position.

Generals invariably get more glory than politicians; they also subordinate themselves to them. That is part of the deal that military service in a wartime democracy entails. In the end, however, the subordination is indispensable, because in a functioning liberal democracy, supreme command is firmly in the hands of civilian authority.

Peter Feaver, a scholar of civil-military relations, likes to remind those who care about these issues that “civilians have the right to be wrong.” That is true, but one may also add that, not infrequently, they instead exercise the right to be correct.

And the graveyard is full of indispensable men.

Zaluzhny has rock star status among the online Ukrainian partisans. But Zelensky’s list of goals hints that he was dissatisfied by more than Zaluzhny’s press clippings. Read all of Mick Ryan’s thread for more insights.

I’ll add one of my own observations. The best trained and equipped brigades in the Ukrainian Army were so dispersed when the Spring Offensive began that they had little to no impact. Too often, armies, even ours, fall into the trap of ensuring everybody has a little bit of the newest equipment. I think Zaluzhny could not resist the internal demands that the best units were parcelled out equally rather than held as a cohesive force. I’m not saying that would’ve changed anything, but the failure to do so hinted at a commander who was unwilling to crack the whip.

General Syrsky has, as the Brits would say, some blots on his ledger. He was responsible for holding Bakhmut and got the rap for burning through manpower Soviet-style. Without being inside the command post, knowing exactly what happened is impossible. But given the marching orders Zelensky issued, they hint that there may be more to the story.

Anyway, Syrsky has to take command of an army engaged in combat, with the old guy looking over his shoulder. It will be obvious soon enough if he has what it takes.

The other story to follow is the military assistance bill for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. It was initially strapped onto a so-called border security bill, which made zero sense as anything other than a way to delay or prevent additional aid to Ukraine. The bill has now passed two votes and will clear the Senate on Wednesday.


$96 Billion Ukraine-Israel Assistance Bill Clears Major Senate Hurdle

$96 Billion Ukraine-Israel Military Aid Bill Moves Closer to Passage Despite Trump’s Opposition

Speaker Mike Johnson will try to delay the bill for reasons one can only speculate about. There is talk that he will offer separate bills for the different military contingencies. I’m not sure what that does for him. It will be interesting to watch some of the more vociferous pro-Russian voices explain why they voted against military aid to Ukraine, which desperately needs it, but in favor of aid to Israel, which could easily pay its own way. There are sufficient votes for a successful discharge petition should he try to bottle the bill up. He may want to fight that fight, but losing it will make him look weak. In the end, the bill will pass because a supermajority in the House favors supporting Ukraine.

If you recall, I predicted the “border security + military aid” bill would go nowhere, and that was exactly what it turned out to be: Failure Theater. No one thought it would pass, but you’ll be reading about how hard they fought in fundraising emails for the next nine months.

READ: Putin’s War, Week 95. The Russian Air Force Takes a Beating as Disease Rips Through the Russian Army

There is no doubt that the White House has deliberately starved Ukraine of munitions to create the funding under crisis conditions that we see playing out now in Congress. Over $3 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority remains on the books, plus there are hundreds of thousands of artillery and rockets that are scheduled for “demilitarization” because the US military no longer uses them.

And, of course, there was Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin. Personally, I think you have to be something of a moron to believe that Putin is upholding Christianity and family values as a bulwark against globalism, Klaus Schwab, the WEF, and gay groomers. But YMMV. I plan on hitting this more in detail in the next few days, but the fact that the vatnik accounts dropped coverage of the interview like a bad habit leads me to believe they think it was as horrific as I do. The people praising Putin’s knowledge of faux history don’t want to talk about this classic.

I recommend this thread if you want a serious look at his speech.

My view is a lot closer to this but without the “making out” part.

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

Politico-Strategic Level

Zelensky Starts Government Shakeup

The dismissal of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valeriy Zaluzhny points to an overhaul of the direction of the Ukrainian government.

“A reset, a new beginning is necessary,” Mr. Zelensky told the Italian media outlet Rai News. “I have something serious in mind, which is not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership.”

Zelensky hasn’t been reticent about sacking ministers who aren’t performing, even when they are political allies. In September, he defenestrated his defense minister.

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

This week, he fired his Minister of Veterans Affairs, who oversees an agency widely viewed as inept and uncaring.

Now that General Zaluzhny has been told to pack his bags, look for more changes.

Ukrainian Graim Exports Approach Pre-War Levels

It’s hard to believe only a year ago, Russia claimed it had a “close blockade” of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, and grain exports had to be negotiated with Russia.

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

US Ramps Up Artillery Ammunition Production

I’ve posted frequently on the efforts many European countries are making to increase ammunition production, particularly artillery shells. This thread gives one of the best overviews I’ve seen of what is happening in the US. By way of background, in the early 1990s, we produced about 200,000 155mm shells per month. Then, the Soviet threat went away, and we celebrated the “peace dividend” by gutting our defense production infrastructure. We are at a point where we don’t have the machine tools to make machinery for the factories we need to construct. Some of the skills are human skills, and because of the destitution of the industrial base, only a handful of Americans know how to do some critical tasks. Now, we are trying to get back on our feet to deal with a war in Ukraine and the looming prospect of a war in the Western Pacific.

Zelensky at the Front

President Zelensky visited the defenders on the front lines near Robotyne. He did the same last year during the battle for Bakhmut. I think this says several things. First, Zelensky has the physical courage to place himself in danger. I’m sure the Ukrainian military did everything possible to ensure his safety, but being within artillery range of the enemy does entail risks. Second, these visits increase the bond between soldiers and their government. Third, it clearly conveys that Zelenky is “hands-on” in this war and not just sitting around playing president.

Operational Level

Duma Defense Committee Chair: We Can’t Defend St. Petersburg

Ukraine has carried out dozens of drone strikes on targets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities far from the frontlines. At first, the Russians denied such a thing happened. Then, anti-aircraft defenses started sprouting in large Russian cities. Now, the Chairman of the Duma’s defense committee has admitted that it is impossible to defend Russian cities from Ukrainian drone attacks.

Another Assassination

In July, Russian Navy officer and former submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky was shot multiple times while on his morning run. He was killed in a location that CCTV did not cover. Rzhitsky had previously commanded the Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar based in Sevastopol. Under his command, the Krasnodar frequently launched Kaliber missiles against Ukrainian population centers.

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

Now we have a new case. 

The fact that Ukrainian special operations forces can carry out targeted killings like this has to have a morale effect on the aircrew carrying out these missions.

Starlink Joins the Russian Army

This is an interesting story. Starlink internet terminals have been delivered to Russian military units in Occupied Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has had access to Starlink since the first week of the war. 

The fact that the Russian military is using Elon Musk’s Starlink is disturbing. While I doubt that Musk, despite his open sympathy for the Russian point of view that he expresses on “X,” would engage in this kind of sanction busting, this is something that should get the interest of the Justice Department if it can pry itself away from prosecuting grannies for jaywalking. At a minimum, Starlink should be at least pretending to follow a “know your customers” policy.

Despite imagery to the contrary, Starlink says it isn’t happening.

Muddying the message is Starlink’s service map, which shows Occupied Ukraine served by Starlink. At the same time, areas occupied by Russia before February 24, 2022, are blocked from coverage by Starlink to prevent the Ukrainian military from using the system in those areas. There is no reason for non-Ukrainian military Starlink access in Occupied Ukraine.

Drone Manufacturing

Ukraine Creates a New Military Branch

We probably need to keep an eye on this to see how it plays out. But creating drone units in the Army and Marines is probably inevitable.

Missile Strikes Against Cities Continue

This is part of a pattern that has seen Russian missile, air, and multiple launch rocket strikes increase in temps since the last half of December.

Combat Refusal

This is one of the few documented cases of combat refusal by Russian military units. There have been rumors of others. The best leadership in the Russian Army died in February-September 2022. The backfill, both in leaders and soldiers, has been incompetent. With weak leadership, combat orders become items of negotiation, and sometimes, the negotiations fail.

Only the Best Men

The chief logistics officer of the Federal Customs Service, Lieutenant General Oleg Zavgorodny, was arrested and spent the night in the drunk tank in Kaliningrad after brawling with police. Read the whole story; I can’t do it justice.

New Weapons

Ukrainian Jet Drone

This new drone made its combat debut several weeks ago, but this is the first look at a largely intact one. I’m not an engineer, so I have no comments on it beyond that this war is doing for drones, what previous wars did for aircraft and tanks. Increasingly sophisticated and capable models quickly supplant the primitive models that, mark the first appearance of a weapon type. Read the whole thread if you’re interested in this subject.

A Look At the Shahed

The Iranian-designed and supplied Shahed-131/136 has become the workhorse of Russian drone attacks on Ukrainian cities. Hackers recently obtained documents detailing the manufacturing process and costs for the Shahed-136. 

They ain’t cheap. And the payment is in hard currency, not in (lol) rubles.

Combat Operations

Russian Armored Attack Stopped

This attack took place southwest of Donetsk City at Novomykhailivka. What appears to be a Russian mechanized infantry company team attacked Ukrainian positions out of march column. It was engaged by Ukrainian artillery, drones and direct fire. Three tanks and eight infantry fighting vehicles were lost.

All Drone Attack

There are as yet unconfirmed reports that the Ukrainians executed an all-drone attack on Russian positions. Ground drones mounting a machinegun and guided by other drones overhead were used in a single attack. This is reminiscent of the introduction of poison gas and tanks during World War I. Both were revolutionary, and both were first used in very localized attacks and frittered away the element of surprise.

What Air Defense Doing?

“What air defense doing” is a snark social media phrase you’ll see in comments below videos or images of damage from air or missile strikes. The last update I posted covered a Ukrainian Storm Shadow or SCALP-EG cruise missile attack on the Russian airbase at Belbek in Occupied Crimea. This video was taken by the crew of a Russian surface-to-air missile site, supposedly a Tor M-1 (SAM identification is not my thing) in Crimea. The cruise missiles pass overhead at 0:17. Note the missile battery is not set up and operational. My guess is that the Ukrainian attacks on SAM sites are beginning to have an intimidating effect.

Clash of Aces

I’ve written before about how there are two levels of drone warfare underway in Ukraine. The more visible ones are FPV drones attaching enemy vehicles and positions or larger drones calling artillery fire. The other level is drone pilots searching for other drone pilots and using either FPV drones or artillery to kill them. Last week, Ukrainian drone operators in the Krynky bridgehead in Kherson hunted down and killed the most famous Russian drone operator known on Telegram milblogger channels as “Moisey.” This is one of those seeming throwbacks to 1915-1916 when pilots on opposing sides knew each other by name and carried on their own war above the trenches.

He was located along with his support element in a farmhouse and killed by FPV drones.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Don’t Try This At Home


Ukrainian paratroopers are on the second floor, and Russians are on the first. 

Follow Me

War is often a race to the bottom of human conduct. We’ve seen gratuitous killing and summary executions by both sides. Perhaps it’s just a function of Ukraine being more attuned to Western sensibilities, but we’ve seen a lot of video involving Russian soldiers leaving wounded comrades behind. This video is a refreshing change. Read the tweet.

Someone Call For a Tow?

Last week, I posted on the Ukrainians combining unmanned ground vehicles with aerial drones to attack Russian positions. This video is one of those UGVs, guided by an aerial drone, recovering a crashed Russian reconnaissance drone.

The implications of ground and aerial drones working as a team are immense.

Northern Front



Even though the Russians launched several major attacks last week, the situation remains static, with some marginal Russian gains.

Attacks on Civilians Continue



The situation around Bahkmut had fewer attacks than last week, and the front lines remain essentially unchanged.


The situation in Avdiivka is messy and opaque. It is difficult to divorce what is being said about the battle from the backdrop of the debate over more defense funding for Ukraine playing out on Capitol Hill. Is the city about to fall? Or are messages saying it is about to fall aimed at an American audience? I don’t trust any of the sources enough to say more than the fighting for Avdiivka is intense, and the Russians are reporting some gains in the city.

I don’t think I have enough trustworthy information to make a guess on what might happen. What I can say is that the Russians seem to have abandoned their effort to cut off and reduce the Avdiivka Salient in favor of sledgehammering the city. 

They have gained some ground and have lost some to counterattacks. 

More Attacks on Civilians

Don’t Bunch Up

I’ve posted several times on opportunistic Ukrainian strikes on Russians at parties and once on an artillery strike on a Ukrainian unit that was stupidly ordered to an awards formation within Russian artillery range.

BACKGROUND: Putin’s War, Week 97. The Missile War Continues

This is another one.

On Monday, the head of the Russia-annexed Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) said that the strike killed the minister of emergency situations, Alexey Poteleshchenko, who had been celebrating his birthday at the restaurant that was hit.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces deliberately targeted the bakery, knowing that “locals traditionally come there on Saturdays for baked goods and groceries, including the elderly and families with children”.

The unofficial death toll is 26. The Russians are claiming that this is terrorism.

The Russians complained to the UN.

Southern Front


Robotyne-Verbove- Novoprokopivka

Like the rest of the front, there are repeated Russian attacks but very little, if anything, in the way of gains.



The Ukrainian bridgehead at Krynky continues to hold and marginally expand.

Operating under a formidable air defense umbrella and with a disproportionate number of drones, the Ukrainian forces in Krynky have turned Russian attacks on the bridgehead into another meatgrinder that is wearing down what should be the Russian operational reserve.

I’m still not sure how this will become more than it currently is, but for the time being, it is proving its worth as a distraction for Russian planners.

More Attacks on Civilians

Ever since abandoning Kherson in the autumn of 2022, the Russians have continued to shell the city. The purpose seems to be to inflict damage and casualties. This is just another incident.

Rear Areas


Lukoil Refinery at Volgograd

Last week, I posted about a Ukrainian drone attack on an oil refinery near St. Petersburg.

More Refineries Hit

Missile Factory

RELATED: Putin’s War, Week 101. How to Not Fire Your Commanding General and the EU Approves Massive Aid Package 

What’s Next

With the Ukraine funding bill looking more and more certain, Ukraine will have access to the funding it needs to stay in the fight for the next year. The fear of God that Putin put into the EU and NATO by invading Ukraine is beginning to be felt in increased European production of ammunition and weapons and increased emphasis on military affairs.

I think we can expect the Ukrainian military, except the drone/special forces, to be quiescent as the new CINC gets his bearings. If the Russians do have the capacity to launch a major attack, look for it in the next couple of weeks before Syrsky is firmly in the saddle. If they could hand Ukraine an obvious defeat as a welcome gift to the new CINC, it could cause a lot of damage.

Look for the fighting around Avdiivka to intensify. The Russians want to take this city before Putin’s “election” in March. Syrsky can’t afford to lose the city after presiding over the loss of Bakhmut. 

Though most commentators predict 2024 as a year of stalemate and positional warfare, I don’t think we should rule out a major offensive action by either side. I have doubts that the Russians are technically capable of much more than “hey-diddle-diddle, straight up the middle” because of the losses they have suffered in trained personnel and first-line equipment. The Ukrainians have received ground-launched small-diameter bombs, and we’re probably less than 60 days from the appearance of Ukrainian Air Force F-16s. Smartly handled, those could cause some anxious moments for the Russians.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top