If you missed Mark Sumner’s recent writings on the Leopard 2 tank, check it out. Poland, Denmark, and Finland have all expressed interest in delivering the first Western main battle tank to Ukraine (and Spain did earlier during the war), and have the numbers to make a significant contribution. But they all say they need to be part of a broader coalition—in other words, Germany needs to give the okay.
The next Ramstein meeting of Ukraine’s allies is January 20. If not before, I’d be surprised if the allies don’t make an announcement there. With American M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles on their way, the taboo against modern heavy armor has been busted, and there’s no rational reason for the allies to hold out on the Leopards.
See also Mark’s great writeup on Ukraine’s need for the tanks here, one of his best pieces on the war (and given his consistently high quality, that’s saying something).
By all indications, the situation in Soledar is difficult but under control. Even Russian sources have backed off claims of broken Ukrainian lines in the key suburb northeast of Bakhmut.
We’ve seen large industrial facilities serve as key strongholds throughout this entire war, from Mariupol, to Severodonetsk, to the industrial zone in Bakhmut. Soledar has its salt mine. Like the Azovastal steel factory in Mariupol, the salt mine has a network of underground facilities (Wagner’s chief called it an “underground city”) that facilitate the storage of armaments, the ability of Ukrainian defenders to both barricade themselves, and their ability to move around under potential Russian occupiers.
Russian sources claimed control of the salt mine at some point, but later admitted they didn’t have it. Those claims are not mutually exclusive. Here we have video of a Ukrainian tank advancing in the salt mine, suggesting Russian forces did penetrate deep into the facility at some point:
Remember, Ukraine engages in what’s called “flexible defense.” I described it as such, discussing their defense of Bakhmut:
So Ukraine holds the trash dump, but retreats as Russia rains artillery on the location. Russia’s Wagner mercenaries push into the dump and declare victory. They celebrate on Telegram and TikTok as the Ukrainian side despairs. Things are tough, and tenuous, and Russia is advancing, Bakhmut is in danger! Oh no, even the “wine factory” is in Russia’s hands!
In reality, those Wagnerites at the vanguard are now exposed, facing Ukrainian concealed defensive positions, as a wall of Ukrainian artillery hinders both the advance and the ability to resupply those troops.
It’s a lot harder to kill Russians in their trenches; best to let them come out, expose themselves, and hit them out in the open. That means the lines of control ebb and flow, like the tides, creating a no-man’s land “gray zone” between each respective side’s main defensive positions. Here’s another look at the tactic:
[Ukraine] Holding the first line of trenches (the ‘trip line’ as it was known in German terminology) at all costs is avoided. This leads ‘to artillery damage and significant losses for the defenders.’ Instead, ‘Defensive units should be able to withdraw to reserve positions, and surveillance should be strengthened on attack routes. And then even if someone [enemy] manages to advance under fire to an advanced position, there will be losses… positions from the flanks must be able to cut off the approach of significant enemy forces, and the situation can be restored by a counter-attack of the tactical reserve with armoured vehicles.’
‘It makes no sense to hold a position until the last while the enemy bombards it, and constantly replace people in this position, because the “Wagnerians” will not run out, their goal is to impose an exchange on us.’
It helps that Russia has apparently run out of armor, and is relegated to sending out small squads of cannon fodder, in broad daylight, to advance on Ukrainian defensive positions without any artillery or air support. This is what it looks like:
I wonder if Russia appreciates the irony: They began the war with a wealth of equipment, but lacking manpower. Now, they are flush with soldiers from their mobilization, but no longer have armor or artillery to support them. Ukrainian intelligence claims Russia is about to announce a general mobilization, which would grant Russia another 500,000 lives for the wood chipper.
War criminal and Russian nationalist war critic Igor Girkin remains unimpressed at the Russian focus on Bakhmut and Wagner CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin’s excuses for their failure to take the city.
Prigozhin spoke about the “network of underground cities” with tanks in Bakhmut
And at the beginning of the assault, presumably, the presence of such mines was unknown? Or did the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces specifically choose the most fortified of all positions in order to “wipe the nose” of General Erich von Falkenhayn, who failed to take Verdun in 1916?
Girkin also says what I’ve been saying for months—that Bakhmut has no strategic value anyway.
[T]he capture of the Bakhmut-Soledar agglomeration is very far away. “Battle of attrition” (mutual) can continue for more than one month. And even if our troops win a tactical victory in it, then strategically – we have already lost, once again throwing the best forces and means “on an unusable object.”
Russia does seem to have accomplished one thing—forcing Ukraine to reinforce the city and its surrounding defensive strongholds. While we may yet see a surprise counteroffensive this winter, especially now that it’s finally cold enough for the ground to freeze, there are growing indications that Ukraine might prefer to wait a few months. Not only will Ukraine have shiny new armor to use for any spring offensive, but Russia’s challenges in supplying its artillery guns with ammunition (“shell hunger”) will only worsen in the months ahead. Why risk Ukrainian lives in under-armored attacks with Leopards (likely) and Bradleys on the way? Ukraine could spend this waiting time degrading Russian logistics, equipment, command and control, and manpower—all of which would make a spring offensive even more likely to succeed.
Or, perhaps Ukraine can use armor it has kept in reserve now, knowing it will be backfilled with new Western deliveries in the coming months. And maybe all the new chatter about a “spring offensive” is misdirection, to keep Russia guessing. It’s bitterly cold in those trenches, HIMARS and tube artillery are working, and Russia still hasn’t fixed its logistics. If Ukraine has the juice, this is as good a time as any to make a move.
Yeah, this is old news for many of you, but I was on vacation when it happened and it’s still funny today: Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (he was Vladimir Putin’s puppet), the current deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, had some “predictions” for 2023.
1. Oil price will rise to $150 a barrel, and gas price will top $5.000 per 1.000 cubic meters
2. The UK will rejoin the EU
3. The EU will collapse after the UK’s return; Euro will drop out of use as the former EU currency
There’s lots of 2023 left, obviously, but:
The United Kingdom will not rejoin the European Union so long as the Tories remain in power, and talk about some wish casting on the collapse of the EU.
4. Poland and Hungary will occupy western regions of the formerly existing Ukraine5. The Fourth Reich will be created, encompassing the territory of Germany and its satellites, i.e., Poland, the Baltic states, Czechia, Slovakia, the Kiev Republic, and other outcasts
6. War will break out between France and the Fourth Reich. Europe will be divided, Poland repartitioned in the process
7. Northern Ireland will separate from the UK and join the Republic of Ireland
I thought Poland was occupying western Ukraine, now they won’t even exist anymore? This will be an action-packed year!
8. Civil war will break out in the US, California. and Texas becoming independent states as a result. Texas and Mexico will form an allied state. Elon Musk’ll win the presidential election in a number of states which, after the new Civil War’s end, will have been given to the GOP
Conservatives in Texas will join with … Mexico. I guess that border wall won’t be necessary anymore! Also, the new Conservative States of America won’t have a natural-born presidential requirement.
9. All the largest stock markets and financial activity will leave the US and Europe and move to Asia
All the financial activity is leaving the US, y’all. All of it.
10. The Bretton Woods system of monetary management will collapse, leading to the IMF and World Bank crash. Euro and Dollar will stop circulating as the global reserve currencies. Digital fiat currencies will be actively used instead
The Bretton Woods system ended in August 1971, but who’s counting?
Russia is free to adopt Bitcoin as its currency, lol.
As the whole internet laughed at Medvedev, one person was impressed:
Everyone laughed some more.