As Ukraine’s counteroffensive ramps up after days of intense fighting, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally weighed in.
“We can safely state that the offensive has begun. We know this from the fact that the Ukrainian Army tapped its strategic reserves. This is my first point,” Putin said in response to a reporter’s question Friday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry Telegram (MoD) channel. “Second, the Ukrainian troops failed to achieve their goals in all combat sectors, which is clear as day.”
The “intense hostilities have been going on for five days now,” Putin said. “The fighting was intense over the past 48 hours, and the enemy was not successful in any area of operations.”
Putin credited that to “the courage and heroism of our soldiers and the good organization and command of the troops, as well as the high effectiveness of Russian weapons, especially the latest weapons.”
Ukrainian forces, he added, “suffer significant causalities. As is known, losses routinely amount to about three to one during offensive operations. But in this case, they are much higher. I am not going to give these figures, but they are striking.”
After blaming Ukraine for starting the conflict back in 2014, Putin said he “cannot say that the offensive has got bogged down. All I can say is that the counteroffensive attempts that have been made so far failed. But the offensive potential of the Kyiv’s regime is still there. I believe Russia’s military leadership is realistic in its assessments of the situation and will proceed from these realities as it continues to plan up our actions in the short term.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are still remaining fairly quiet about this operation, though its Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar hinted of offensive operations in Zaporizhzhia.
“The enemy is conducting defensive operations in the Zaporizhzhia direction,” she said on her Telegram channel Friday. “Positional battles continue.”
The eastern part of the battlezone remains the “epicenter,” however, she said, referring to combat in and around cities like Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy is withdrawing reserves and trying to hold the occupied positions,” she said. “Makes attempts to attack, but fails. Now our defenders are conducting active combat operations in several areas of the Bakhmut direction.”
Maliar also addressed the issue of combat losses.
“War is not without losses,” she said. “The most terrible, but inevitable losses are people. And unfortunately, they have not yet created military equipment that cannot be destroyed.”
But current wars, she added, “take place in two dimensions – real and informational. They are no less fierce in the information battle. And they also have certain tasks, rules and laws.”
So far, Ukraine has largely refrained from talking about what’s taking place in the counteroffensive. While both sides are deep into an information battle, and neither should have their statements taken at face value, the Russians, as we have written about, frequently offer outlandish statistics, with no proof.
Maliar explained why Ukraine, which runs its own very effective information operation, has largely avoided commenting about the counteroffensive.
The Russians are releasing information to force Ukraine “to reveal as much information about themselves as possible. For example, due to the urge to justify and refute. For this, very inflated figures are thrown in the expectation that we will begin to refute indignantly and issue some data or indirect guidelines for them.”
So now we have a better sense at least why Ukraine says it is keeping its informational powder dry, though it doesn’t clear up the operational picture. Getting reliable information from this phase of the war is difficult, and it is important always to maintain a high degree of skepticism about what is dribbling out. Similarly, despite the images emerging showing the first proof of destroyed Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Leopard 2 tanks and other donated armor, it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about the course of the counteroffensive.
One thing that is becoming apparent is that Russia’s battlefield interdiction and close air support capabilities are playing a role in this fight. Russia’s Ka-52 Alligators have been braving the complex counter-air situation along the front lines to put their weapons to bear on Ukrainian forces. It isn’t clear exactly how widespread or successful they have been, but they are clearly a factor. This does raise questions about Ukraine’s short-range anti-aircraft capabilities along the front, especially in high-risk combat areas where employing man-portable systems is challenging.
Though far from ideal, Russian Telegram channels have provided the bulk of the information coming out of the fighting. They say they are expecting the intensity of the attacks to increase over the next few days along a front line front from southern Donetsk Oblast to neighboring Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated more than 15 settlements and advanced five to 17 km deep into the front in the Zaporizhzhia direction,” the independent Russian Ukraine Situation Report: The Fighting Will Only Get Worse outlet reported Friday on its Telegram channel.
“The most dangerous [area] for the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation remains the southeastern direction (near Ugledar), where the Armed Forces of Ukraine have achieved the greatest success so far,” Volya Media reported, claiming it based its assessment on discussions with Russian and Ukrainian military personnel. “Heavy fighting is going on along the entire line, the Russian command has already activated up to 70% of the reserves in the south.”
Ukraine “achieved the greatest success by advancing from the direction of Vuhledar to Staromlynovka,” Volya Media reported. “According to the Russian military who are in the battle zone, the Ukrainian army has begun to send shock units into battle, which can break through the defenses of the Russian Armed Forces and, thus, bring down the entire defense on this sector of the front.”
If the Armed Forces of Ukraine succeed, “then the [Russian] Armed Forces in the southeastern direction plan to retreat to Volnovakha and occupy the defensive line between Volnovakha and Mariupol (Maloyanisol-Andreevka),” Volya Media reported. “What will happen to the formations of the [Russian] Armed Forces in the Gulyai-Polye and Orekhovsky directions is a question, because the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be able to attack them on the flank and go behind their lines.”
Ukraine has yet to use the main strike units assembled for the offensive, Volya Media said.
“Judging by the information from the front, this may happen in the next day or has already happened, the information comes with a delay. According to our information, the [Russian] Armed Forces have already committed more than 40,000 soldiers from the reserves into battle. The transfer of newly formed units from the Crimea to the Genichesk region is hastily going on, from where they can be transferred further to the front line. The locations of Russian reserves are under constant fire from Ukrainian artillery and [multiple launch rocket systems] MLRS. Also under fire are the roads connecting the rear with the front line. In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation there are large losses of trucks and vehicles.”
Pro-Moscow Russian Telegram channels offer a different take on the progress taking place on the battlefield, but hold similar opinions that the intensity will only ramp up from here.
“Fierce battles have been going on in the Orikhiv sector for several days,” the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported Friday. “Russian servicemen not only manage to successfully hold the defense but also destroy dozens of Ukrainian armored vehicles, including Leopard 2 tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles supplied by the West.”
“Nevertheless, the enemy did not stop attempting an offensive near Orikhiv even that night. At the same time, in the coming days, we should expect attacks by Ukrainian formations in other directions.”
“During yesterday’s unsuccessful attempts to push through our defenses in this area, the established losses of the enemy amounted to up to 23 tanks and other armored combat vehicles and up to 250 personnel,” the Russian Two Majors Telegram channel said, offering no proof.
“The effective work of our army and front-line aviation is noted, as well as the high efficiency of electronic warfare, which managed to disrupt enemy communications systems, including by creating problems for enemy aircraft.”
Near the village of Rabotino, Ukrainian forces “attempted a lightning attack with the forces of 10 armored vehicles. He had no success, tried to drive through minefields and lost all 10 units.”
However, “the enemy has not yet delivered the main blow, which is expected in the near future,” Two Majors said. “The enemy has little time to wait: soon it will rain on the Zaporizhzhia Front, which will reduce the space for maneuver of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Speaking of those damaged and destroyed vehicles, the Oryx open source intelligence group updated its figures for the amount of equipment lost by Ukraine so far in the counteroffensive. Oryx, which tabulates only of vehicles for which there are visual confirmations, says that so far there have been 10 Bradleys damaged and one destroyed.
As we wrote about earlier, that number will only increase as Ukraine mounts a challenging counteroffensive without air support into highly prepared Russian lines in an area they’ve long since known would be contested. Still, 10 Bradleys is approaching 10% of Ukraine’s promised M2 force.
Meanwhile, it seems like the Russians have gotten very close to at least some of those stricken Bradleys.
The Pentagon on Friday unveiled its latest tranche of security assistance for Ukraine. The package, valued at up to $2.1 billion, includes additional air defense systems and munitions as well as the first donation of 203mm artillery rounds. Those are likely to be used by Ukraine’s Soviet-era S27 Pion self-propelled cannon. Those rounds, as we wrote in the past, have been in short supply in Ukraine because they are no longer manufactured anywhere. In fact, images emerged in January of Ukrainian troops using projectiles designed for ancient B-4 howitzers because of that shortage. The B-4, first developed in 1931, was used by the Soviet Union during WWII.
Because this is a Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, the Pentagon will have to purchase the shells. A Pentagon spokesman on Friday told us that it is unknown yet where those shells will come from because no contract has yet been signed.
A Ukrainian defense official told us that they will most likely come from existing stocks in Eastern Europe or elsewhere that has Soviet-era ammo on hand, because “I don’t know any company, even in Russia, who manufactures 203mm shells as a complete round, including propellant, cartridge, fuse, etc. “
In addition to the 203mm rounds, the package includes an unspecified number of:
Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems;
HAWK air defense systems and missiles;
105mm artillery rounds;
Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems;
Laser-guided rocket system munitions;
Support for training, maintenance, and sustainment activities.
While those items are promised, here’s an example of one weapons system already delivered, a U.K.-donated Stormer HVM short range air defense system now in service with Ukraine.
The New York Times is reporting that a senior Biden administration official says that U.S. spy satellites detected an explosion at the Nova Kakhovka dam just before it collapsed. American analysts, however, still do not know who caused the dam’s destruction or how exactly it happened, the newspaper reported.
According to the Times, the official said that satellites equipped with infrared sensors detected a heat signature consistent with a major explosion just before the dam collapsed, unleashing huge floodwaters downstream.
U.S. intelligence analysts “suspect that Russia was behind the dam’s destruction, the senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. But he added that U.S. spy agencies still do not have any solid evidence about who was responsible.”
The paper also reported that seismic data picked up by the NORSAR observatory in Norway “also supported the theory there had been large explosion near Kakhovka dam on Tuesday at 2:54 a.m. local time, when the structure collapsed. NORSAR said in a statement that signals captured from a station 385 miles away from the dam show clear indications of an explosion.”
You can read our report on this revelation and what satellites were likely used here.
Meanwhile, fallout from Monday’s destruction of the dam continues.
At least five people died and 13 remain missing as a result of flooding caused by the destruction of the damn on Monday dam, Ihor Klymenko – Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs and the man tasked with dealing with the disaster’s aftermath – reported Friday on his agency’s Telegram channel.
“In Kherson Oblast, 48 settlements were actually flooded,” Klymenko said. Most of them – 34 – are in Ukrainian territory and included 3,625 homes. The remainder of those settlements are in Russian-held territory on the other side of the Dnipro River.
As of Friday, more than 2,400 people had been evacuated, Klymenko said.
Russia appears to be increasing its cooperation with Iran over weaponry and has received hundreds of kamikaze drones it is using to strike Ukraine, the White House said Friday.
Citing newly declassified information, the White House said the drones were built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea and then used by Russian forces against Ukraine, Reuters reported.
It is a route Ukrainian intelligence officials confirmed to us back in November.
“Russia has been using Iranian UAVs in recent weeks to strike Kyiv and terrorize the Ukrainian population, and the Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Friday in a statement. “We are also concerned that Russia is working with Iran to produce Iranian UAVs from inside Russia.”
Kirby said the U.S. had information that Russia was receiving materials from Iran required to build a drone manufacturing plant that could be fully operational early next year.
“We are releasing satellite imagery of the planned location of this UAV manufacturing plant in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone,” he said.
Kamikaze drones have been effective for Ukraine as well, as you can see in this video below.
And in a highly unusual move, a Ukrainian drone was spotted capturing, then towing, two Russian drones through the air.
A drone that hit a building in Voronezh, Russia – about 120 miles northeast of the Ukrainian border – “lightly” injured three people, local government officials said Friday.
“The Governor of the Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, after visiting the UAV crash site on Belinsky Street, will soon hold a meeting with law enforcement agencies and city services under his leadership,” according to the regional government Telegram channel. “It will develop further actions to ensure the safety of the inhabitants of the region and give instructions to eliminate the consequences of the incident.”
The “most likely target of the UAV attack could be the [nearby] Baltimore military airfield – where Su-34 fighter-bombers are based,” the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram Channel wrote Friday. Russia also uses the facility “to deliver missile strikes against targets in Ukraine.”
In addition, there is a diesel locomotive repair factory and an aircraft manufacturing plant nearby as well, Rybar reported.
“The incident once again raises the question of the need to strengthen security measures at military facilities in the rear regions of Russia,” Rybar wrote. “Shooting down drones on approach is still much safer than in a densely populated center not the most remote from the battle line of the city.”
If you want to get a sense of what it is like to be a Ukrainian soldier storming a Russian trench, check out this video below. It shows Ukrainian troops rumbling toward a Russian trench in armored vehicles, laying down suppressive machine gun fire before dismounting. The video cuts out before we learn what happened.
Russian disinformation continues apace. While the Russian Defense Ministry claimed its attack on Thursday in Uman targeted an ammunition warehouse, video emerging from the scene appears to show otherwise.
And finally, meet what may be the luckiest dog in Ukraine. Residents of the Black Sea coastal city of Hryhorivka, near Odesa, say they rescued a dog that washed ashore on a raft. That part of the Black Sea has been inundated with garbage, cars and other debris that floated ashore after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Kherson City. Locals surmised that the dog survived the ensuing floods and came ashore. That a distance of about 90 miles from the dam and some 35 miles across the Black Sea from where the Dnipro River drains into it.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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