Nick Gunar, Ukraine edition

The most current map, via the British MOD:

Tea leaves?

The minutes after the Russian offensive into Ukraine kicked off, RIA Novosti, which is owned and operated by the Russian federal government and is basically just a descendant of the old Sovinformburo, released a fairly wild piece by commentator Petr Akopov that, while it has been zapped from RIA’s website proper, still exists in web archives. 

So interesting, and mechanically translated, excerpts (with commentary added), basically painting the conflict as a civil war that is correcting the wrongs of 1918, when the old Russian Empire fell apart, and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed:

A new world is being born before our eyes. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has ushered in a new era – and in three dimensions at once. And of course, in the fourth, internal Russian.

Russia is restoring its unity – the tragedy of 1991, this terrible catastrophe in our history, its unnatural dislocation, has been overcome. Yes, at a great cost, yes, through the tragic events of a virtual civil war, because now brothers, separated by belonging to the Russian and Ukrainian armies, are still shooting at each other, but there will be no more Ukraine as anti-Russia. Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together – in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians (Ukrainians). If we had abandoned this, if we had allowed the temporary division to take hold for centuries, then we would not only betray the memory of our ancestors, but would also be cursed by our descendants for allowing the disintegration of the Russian land.

Vladimir Putin has assumed, without a drop of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.

Now this problem is gone – Ukraine has returned to Russia.

Did someone in the old European capitals, in Paris and Berlin, seriously believe that Moscow would give up Kiev?

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry has set up a Telegram channel with videos that it says show captured Russian soldiers– which the country says they have over 200– and in public statements say they were tricked or otherwise threatened to take part in the operation. These statements were replayed on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is of course paid for by the U.S. government.

These kinds of videos are extremely distasteful, no matter who puts them out, as EPOWs should never be made to release public statements while in enemy custody.

However, it does kind of point to the fact that the Russians seem to have pushed into Ukraine with their “B Team” of second-line units and recalled reservists outfitted with old equipment– the better to soak up Ukraine’s limited supply of expensive donated MANPADS and ATGMs (NLAW, Javelin, Stinger, Panzerfaust 3, etc).

Notably, when you see Russian vehicles and aircraft in videos and images from the conflict they are older models with none of the cutting edge types (e.g. Su-57 strike aircraft and T-14 Armata tanks) seen. Further, there are few divisional- or even brigade-size maneuvers, with the Russians sticking to battalion-sized elements, as well as a lack of significant night-time operations, another indicator of lower-trained, under-equipped troops. 

Now a half-week in motion, Russian troops seem to be facing growing morale and logistics issues, with videos circulating widely of tanks and AFVs parks on roadways out of fuel and with poor (no) perimeter security. As anyone who has been around tracks can vouch, armor is the Great White shark of the battlefield, always hungry, always looking to top off every day, whether on the move or not.

The Pentagon on Sunday acknowledged, “We believe that their advance was slowed both by resistance from the Ukrainians, who have been quite creative in finding ways to attack columns and, number two, by the fuel shortages and the sustainment issues that they have had.”

The British MOD had the same take on Saturday:

With the Russian lines of communications being very porous, and growing longer every day, the current Ukrainian bywords seem to be “Ласкаво просимо до пекла!,” or “Welcome to hell” with roadway signs defaced with the warning and official government ministries signing off their social media posts with the catchphrase.

Ironically, as far as I know, the most popular pop culture reference to this is in the tragically underrated popcorn action film Men of War (1994) in which Swedish strongman Dolph Lundgren, portraying former SF weaponsman Ameri-Swede Nick Gunar, uses it when taking on a group of mercs looking to carve off a random South Pacific island for its value in guano. Welding a CG-84, he also delivers a great “Spring, era jävlar” line, which is funny if you know Swedish.

The Ukrainians say the current tally (as with all “body counts” issued during war should be taken with a grain of salt) 60 hours into the war is:

Aircraft – 14 (including an Il-76 reportedly full of VDS)
Helicopters – 8
Tanks – 102
Combat armored vehicles – 536
Guns and howitzers – 15
SAM (Buk-М2) – 1

The war is also getting very asymmetric, with reported “Russian saboteur teams” engaging in wild gun battles in Kyiv and elsewhere. These units, dressed in Ukrainian police and military uniforms, and in Ukrainian-marked vehicles, are a throwback to Skorzeny’s Battle of the Bulge Operation Greif and need lots of pre-planning.

At the same time, the Western Europeans are getting more muscular with their support of Ukraine, mirroring roughly what was seen with the Finns and the Soviets in 1939.

As noted by the ISW:

The European Union announced direct military aid to Ukraine for the first time in EU history (€500 million worth) on February 27 while Germany announced a dramatic reorientation of its foreign policy to mitigate the threat that Russia poses to Germany and its allies. Germany will prioritize military spending and energy independence despite short-term economic costs.

Unexpected new allies such as Belgium, Sweden, and Germany are all sending Ukraine anti-armor weapons directly from their war stocks while France and Denmark have announced they will allow volunteers– including furloughed military personnel– to head to join a new “foreign legion” set up by Kyiv and recruited through the country’s embassies and consulates abroad. 

A number of Americans have been war tourists in Ukraine since 2014, sometimes paying for it with their lives, and I am 100 percent sure this next wave will be high and deep. I can vouch that some of my own acquaintances have messaged they will be taking an extended vacation in Eastern Europe starting as early as next week, a sticky proposition if captured, as they are on the Retired Reserve rolls.

While peace talks are reportedly on the horizon, there seems to be little hope of them yielding any results in the near future. I hate to say it is WWIII by proxy, so maybe let’s just call it the Winter War Part II. 

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