Russia: Racing For Perekop

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November 15, 2022: Ukrainian troops moved into Kherson City four days ago. As news of the arrival of Ukrainian troops spread, it turned out there were still nearly 50,000 civilians in Kerson City. Many had hidden in the city or its outskirts because they feared Russians might try to defend the area. The peacetime population of Kherson City is about 280,000, mostly Ukrainian with some Russians. The city is heavily damaged and without water, electricity or anything else the civilians need to survive. It was quickly clear that Ukrainian troops were entering the city and civilians came out and cheered their liberators. A week before the announcement that Russian troops were withdrawing, most of them left quietly at night.

Ukraine quickly began moving in supplies for the remaining civilians. The civilians were helpful in reporting where Russian weapons or explosive devices were. The Russians did not have the time or inclination to plant a lot of landmines or improvised explosives because they were in a hurry to get to the other side of the Dnieper River before the rapidly advancing Ukrainian troops arrived. The Russians were surprised at the speed of the Ukrainian advance. Most of the remaining Russian troops were recently “mobilized” and sent to Ukraine with little training or support. There were apparently hundreds of these Russians in the area, many of them not sure who controlled the city. Few appear to be hostile and most surrender when confronted by Ukrainian troops. Most of these Russian stragglers were abandoned by their officers and left to fend for themselves. Within a week, about 200 Ukrainian police arrived along with the restoration of Ukrainian radio and TV service plus Ukrainian journalists to report on what was happening in the city. Work is under way to restore water and electricity to parts of the city and provide medical services for the civilians, especially the elderly.

The civilians still in the city reported that the final days of the Russian withdrawal were chaotic, especially after the last bridge to the east bank of the river was destroyed and only rafts and small boats were available for the last troops. Ukrainian troops drove the Russians out of 41 towns and villages on the way to Kherson City. Ukrainian forces continued to advance south of Kherson City. This has resulted in Russian forces seeking to withdraw all their troops from Kherson City and the west side of the Dnieper River. Russia is still withdrawing troops south of Kherson City and still on the west side of the river.

The Russians abandoned the west bank because their troops, especially the recently mobilized men, were untrained and unprepared to conduct even defensive operations when attacked by the better trained, led and equipped Ukrainians. To make the most of these poor-quality soldiers who made it to the east bank, they have been put to work building two fortified lines on portions of the east bank of the Dnieper River that are most likely attacked by Ukrainian troops attempting to get across.

There is a limited supply of more reliable Russian troops and these are needed in Donbas as well as Kherson province. If the Ukrainians can get across the Dnieper River in force, they can advance to the Isthmus of Perekop which connects Ukraine to the Crimean Peninsula. This isthmus is five to seven kilometers wide and less than ten kilometers long. It is a vital supply line because the Kerch Strait bridge is still undergoing repairs and not able to carry enough traffic to keep troops and civilians in Crimea supplied. That means the isthmus forms a vital supply line (via rail lines to Donbas and then to Russia). Through it is a canal that supplies much of the fresh water for everyone in Crimea province. In 2014 Ukrainian forces blocked access to Crimea via Perekop, which limited the number of people that could live in Crimea and forced Russia to use lots of shipping to supply Crimea. That was a major reason for spending nearly $4 billion to rapidly build the long-planned Kerch Strait bridge, which opened for truck traffic in 2018 and rail traffic in 2019.

If the Ukrainians can reach Perekop by the end of the year, the Russians won’t be able to hold onto Crimea. The Ukrainian military believes it will take until early 2023 to block Perekop and force Russia to abandon Crimea without a fight. That would leave Donbas, where most of the Ukrainian population has, since 2014, either fled to free Ukraine or moved (voluntarily or otherwise) to Russia. Compared to Crimea, liberating Donbas will be much more difficult. Vladimir Putin will violently oppose losing Crimea and Donbas territories, which Russia seized in 2014 and now consider Russian territory. Russia was hoping the Ukrainian offensive would pause after three months of continuous attacks. Russia could use such a pause but Ukraine has announced that the offensive will continue. Ukrainian troops consider this secrecy a key element in the Ukrainian ability to continually hit Russians forces with surprise attacks using novel tactics.

Russian Economic Crisis

As was the case during the Cold War, Russia still had a command economy that produced a lot more weapons. Fortunately, the Russians were still unable to maintain a lot of those weapons or adequately train sufficient manpower to operate them. Russia command systems and tactics were still stuck in Cold War mode and that led to the surprising ineffectiveness of these weapons and troops in Ukraine. Russia used its command economy system to gather more resources and troops but these were poorly armed and equipped, and even less trained. Despite that Russia is still able to send these second-rate troops to Ukraine while NATO has a difficult time supplying Ukraine with weapons and economic aid. Russia took advantage of this by switching their attacks to economic targets. This meant Ukraine was in desperate need of food, fuel and other necessities to keep the country alive, especially during the months of cold weather. Ukraine and its NATO allies proved up to the challenge so far.

European nations are also having problems getting through the cold weather season. Too many European nations thought they could depend on Russian supplies of petroleum and natural gas. Selling this to European nations was profitable to Russia, but also a powerful wartime weapon that the Europeans downplayed. Dealing with this error in judgment has caused political as well as practical problems for Europe. Many Europeans want to deal with their own economic problems at the expense of aid to Ukraine. Once more, they look to the United States to make up for the shortfalls. Even with all their resources, the Americans are unable to cover all needs of European nations and Ukraine. One would think this would prompt European nations to carry out needed reforms. It will, in some cases, but with 30 NATO members in Europe, the degree of reform will vary. All politics is local and this very much applies to the willingness of all NATO nations to do what must be done.

Sensitive Shortcomings Revealed

The reality of the Russian defense industry problems were revealed in Ukraine. For example, Russia has lost four of its Su-34 fighter-bombers so far. Since the Su-34 entered service in 2014, 17 have been lost, most of them to accidents. That’s 12 percent of the 140 Su-34s the Russians were able to purchase. The last loss was in October and left 14 civilians dead while the two pilots ejected safely. Russian jets have performed poorly over Ukraine this year, which has left Russian combat aircraft with a recent record of poor performance in combat and led to canceled export orders. This is not a sudden development but has been a problem for a long time, especially after the Cold War ended in 1991 and the Russian government was no longer able to purchase large numbers of combat aircraft. After 1991 many state-owned firms were privatized and a lot of defense manufacturers disappeared because they had nothing to sell that anyone wanted. Two exceptions were Sukhoi, which manufactured “Su” aircraft and MiG (Mikoyan and Gurevich) which only had one major product, the MiG-29 fighter, that was considered inferior to similar Sukhoi aircraft. For the last twenty years the government has been desperately trying to keep the MiG company viable but failed. Until the Ukraine debacle Sukhoi was still viable but now Sukhoi is headed for the same fate as MiG. The MiG-29 dates from the 1980s while Sukhoi has introduced two, the Su-24 and Su-35, in the last decade. Both performed poorly in combat over Ukraine. The Su-34 is a ground support fighter-bomber while Su-35 is an air-superiority fighter. Both have been built in small quantities (about 140 each) and depend on export orders to be financially viable. Same with the Su-57 stealth fighter, which is too expensive for the Russian air force and unable to find any export customers.

A year ago, Sukhoi introduced a new single engine stealth fighter called Su-75 Checkmate. Sukhoi displayed a mockup of the new single-engine Su-75 stealth fighter, which is apparently the Russian answer to the similar American F-35. Su-75 is being developed by the same team that designed the Su-57, the Russian answer to the American F-22. The Su-57 proved to be a failure as an F-22 competitor. The Su-75 appears to be a desperate move to salvage something from all the money spent on developing the Su-57.

The Su-75 won’t make its first flight until 2024 and might enter production before the end of the decade. There will be one and two seat versions. The two-seater will be used as a trainer or an electronic warfare aircraft. There were also plans for an unmanned version, without a cockpit, and thus cheaper to build. Russia already has the S-70, a UCAV (unmanned combat aircraft) in production. This stealthy, delta wing aircraft has already been tested accompanying manned fighters and production is underway. Because of the Ukraine fiasco, it is unlikely that the Su-75 will find any export customers and the Russian air force may not be willing to buy.

The situation was similar with helicopters. The air force had about 1,500 helicopters when Russia invaded Ukraine. Most (74 percent) were older transport helicopters though many were recent versions of the Cold War era Mi-8 transports and Mi-24 gunships. This helicopter force seemed formidable but the Russians had a shortage of pilots and maintainers. Most of the available pilots and maintainers were assigned to operate the 400 more recent models that had been introduced since 2006. These were the ones sent to Ukraine where they received their first real combat test against modern anti-aircraft weapons and aircraft. The new Russian helicopters did not do well. The KA-52 gunship (introduced in 2011) was thought to be well equipped to handle modern portable anti-aircraft missiles like the American Stinger. The Americans had updated the Stinger more than the anti-missile defenses of the Ka-52 could handle. Transport helicopters were even more vulnerable. After eight months of combat Russia had lost nearly a hundred helicopters, mainly to ground fire. There were also losses due to accidents and mechanical failures. It was obvious that the most modern Russian designs were not up to the demands of combat against well-equipped opponents.

This failure was not confined to high-tech aircraft, but all other new (since the Cold War) weapons. With few exceptions all the “new and improved” military equipment failed to impress or perform up to the standards export customers expected. This is the main reason Russia has switched tactics to emphasize attacks on civilian infrastructure. This is not the tactics of an army that believes it can win in combat. This contradicts the message Russian state-controlled media has been presenting since the invasion began. The rapid and continuous Ukrainian victories over the last three months can no longer be explained away as unusual and unexpected events. This string of defeats was unexpected but was not unusual. Russian forces are less capable than their Ukrainian adversaries. In Russia, even the state-controlled media are starting to report the growing problems in the military and the economy. Economic sanctions are not being “dealt with” as inflation, unemployment, poverty rates and shortages of all manner of goods are increasing. President Vladimir Putin is now being blamed for these military and economic defeats. Until recently, any criticism fell on Putin’s subordinates. This is no longer the case and some journalists are openly discussing the removal of Putin. Such comments are not supposed to be made by members of the state-controlled media, at least not without retaliation. There is less and less retaliation as more critics speak up.

Ukrainian War On Russian Hackers

Ukraine and Microsoft began developing a cooperative relationship over the last two decades because, after 1991, Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine and Russia, were major sources of hacker activity. Ukraine cooperated with Microsoft to reduce the hacker threat while Russia insisted it didn’t exist. The Soviet Union, which Ukraine was part of until 1991, created a lot of software engineers who worked for the government. Most of these programmers and software engineers were out of work after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Some left for the West and found good jobs but most sought opportunities at home and the most lucrative ones involved illegal hacking, often for criminal gangs. Russia never cleaned up this problem, Ukraine did. Russia allowed the gangs to operate in Russia as long as they did not hack Russian networks and did jobs for the government. This included developing malware to be used against neighbors and Western nations in general. Ukraine vigorously enforced laws against hacking and the local hackers either left the country or found legit jobs. Other East European nations also cracked down on the hackers. Most of those, not including Ukraine, joined NATO, and sought to have NATO declare massive hacker attacks as a cause for war against the aggressor. After the 2022 Ukraine invasion Russia launched a major Cyber War attack on Lithuania because of Lithuanian threats to disrupt access to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Coast that must use Lithuanian or Polish railroads to reach the enclave. By the end of 2021 Ukraine had created a network of half a million software engineers, information specialists and other experienced Internet users to deal with Russian Cyber War attacks as well as carry out information campaigns worldwide to let the world know what was really happening in Ukraine. The Ukrainian efforts were successful and this resulted in Ukrainian attacks against Russian networks and propaganda. The existence of these formidable Ukrainian Information and Cyber War capabilities is another reason NATO is eager to have Ukraine join the EU (European Union) and after that NATO.

Israel Reconsiders

Israel may now be able to change some of its policies towards Russia, Iran and Ukraine because there is a new Israeli government with a more flexible foreign policy. Meanwhile Ukraine revealed that Israel had agreed to provide Ukraine with military communications systems and other support equipment but still refuses to supply weapons. Ukraine downplays the role Russia is playing in Syria to keep Iranian forces away from the Israeli border. While most Israelis support Ukraine, they also support keeping Israel safe from Iranian attacks. Many Israeli and Arabs throughout the region were hoping that two months of protests in Iran would topple the current religious dictatorship but that has not happened. At the same time, despite increasing violence against the protestors and the use of lethal force, the protests continue. Over 300 protestors have been killed so far and the use of more lethal force against protestors has not stopped the demonstrators, who are appealing to the police to side with them against the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the heavily armed and fanatic force created to protect the religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s. Anti-government demonstrations have become more frequent in the last twenty years and that means most Iranians are not only demanding an end to the dictatorship, but are increasingly willing to die trying. That’s what overthrew the monarchy in 1979. That revolution was hijacked by the Iranian political parties. In effect, the 1979 revolution isn’t over yet. If the rebels succeed it would mean a change on Iranian policies towards Israel, other Arab states and the West.

Ukrainian Air Force

Ukraine again called for Western nations to supply Ukraine with modern combat aircraft, longer-range missiles and modern air defense systems, like Patriot. With modern American or European fighters and Patriot systems, Ukraine could quickly eliminate Russian warplanes from Ukrainian air space. Ukraine points out that Russia is seeking to destroy civilian infrastructure to the point where many Ukrainians face months of cold weather with little heat or even fresh water. The objective is to demoralize Ukrainians and reduce their willingness to resist. Russia is using the same tactics against European nations by cutting off all Russian supplies of natural gas. NATO nations are supplying Ukraine with more air defense systems, especially systems that can shoot down cruise missiles used against urban areas. Many of these systems are mobiles, like the American Avenger. This system is composed of eight ready-to-fire stinger anti-aircraft missiles and a fire control system carried by a Hummer type military vehicle.

China

Russia’s self-destructive invasion of Ukraine meant China has lost a major economic and military partner. Russia was unique to China because the two countries have unresolved disputes over ownership of Russian territory near the Pacific coast. China found Russia a good source of petroleum and natural gas as well as many other raw materials. Ukraine-related sanctions included the loss of export sales in Europe. The best alternative customer is China, which makes China the major customer for these natural resources. This has led many existing Chinese trading partners in Europe and other parts of the world to reconsider their economic ties with China.

The Ukraine War demonstrated the importance of motivation and morale. The Taiwanese identify with the Ukrainians while the Chinese note that they, like Russia, are basically police state dictatorships while Ukraine and Taiwan are democracies that are highly motivated to innovate and fight to preserve their way of life. China would also suffer more from any economic problems an attack on Taiwan would lead to.

Taiwanese leaders are also watching the Ukraine War intently and have already made it clear they identify with the Ukrainians. That meant Taiwan again sought to establish diplomatic relations with Ukraine. Since the end of the Cold War Taiwan had been seeking to establish diplomatic and other relations with Ukraine. Until recently Ukraine tried to work with China. That did not work out and, when Russian invaded, China sided with Russia while Taiwan sent more and more economic and medical aid to Ukraine. Taiwan also obeyed economic sanctions against Russia, and sold Ukraine nearly a thousand specialized UAVs via a trade contact in Poland. Taiwan additionally offers aid to Ukraine for reconstruction once the war is over, including establishment of hospitals and much more.

The only major military threat Russia has is China but Russia rarely mentions this because China has become an economic and diplomatic asset for Russia. Nevertheless, China is and remains the major potential threat to Russia. The Chinese Army is three times larger and has 15 tank and mechanized infantry divisions it could place on the Russian border.

Xi Jinping and his senior military Chinese leaders are watching the Russian and Ukrainian military performance during the current war with great interest and growing alarm. That’s because current Chinese armed forces are closer to what Russia is using than to the Ukraine’s, which China would like to emulate. That would be difficult because of China’s politics and endemic corruption.

For most of this new century China's leaders have complained about the state of their armed forces. The critics include many irate generals and admirals. Increasingly the complaints are published, so that everyone knows the problem is still seeking solutions. Initially these complaints were confined to private meetings, but so many people attend these meetings that details eventually get out to the general public. Since these leaks do not represent official policy, they do not get repeated in the Chinese media, and foreign media tends to ignore it as well. It's more profitable for the foreign media to portray the Chinese military as scary.

November 14, 2022: For a week there have been no missile airstrikes in Ukraine. The Russians have apparently run out of Iranian Shahed-136 cruise missiles and, by the official Ukrainian count, Russia is nearly out of ballistic missiles. Russia is known to be negotiating with Iran for more cruise and ballistic missiles. The Iranians want Su-35 fighters and Russia does not have many to give. Iran also wants help with their nuclear weapons program and the Russians are reluctant to do that. Iran is no friend of Russia and, historically, has been a bitter foe, seeking revenge for past losses of territory. To Iran, Russia is currently a frenemy. That is a status that will eventually revert back to the enemy and both countries know it.

November 13, 2022: In the south (Kherson City) Ukrainian soldiers searching for any remaining Russian soldiers, weapons or explosive traps made an odd discovery when they reached the bank of the Dnieper River. There were many piles of Russian uniforms and weapons. Apparently, some Russian soldiers were so desperate to escape the Ukrainian advance, even with all the bridges gone and no Russian boats in sight, that they stripped down and swam across. The water is cold this time of year but the distance across the river is not difficult for a good swimmer.

November 12, 2022: As Russian manpower (too few and untrained) problems increased, so did Ukrainian Partisan activity in Russian occupied Ukraine, which now covers 110,000 square kilometers. This includes Crimea, which Russia took in 2014 and declared part of Russia. Not all inhabitants of Crimea, which comprises a quarter of the occupied territory, agree because there has been increasing partisan activity in Crimea for nearly six months. The Ukrainian government does not say anything specific about this because that could endanger the partisans and their operations. Some proof of government support comes from commercial satellite photos or rare reports from the Russians. Known support techniques include low night-flying helicopters and, if coastline is available, small boats used at night. Currently partisan violence is most widespread and frequent in Kherson province, which is due north of Crimea. Russia is losing ground there at a rapid pace because there are less than 150,000 Russian troops in Ukraine, few of whom have much training beyond a few days with assault rifles some were never allowed to fire, and pretty much uniform desire to be anywhere but Ukraine. Partisan groups are usually led by someone with military experience and months of operating as a partisan. Most partisans are local and operate in areas where they grew up. That means lots of local support for the partisans and little help for the Russian soldiers.

In Russian occupied Ukraine, there have been a growing number of disruptions in the railroads that carry most of the supplies from Russia to Russian forces inside Ukraine. Ukrainian civilians in Russian occupied territory were inspired to sabotage rail lines because of the early example of anti-Russia Belarusians who sabotaged the few rail lines crossing the Ukrainian border. These lines were used by Russia in the first months of the war before Russian forces were driven out of northern Ukraine. One reason the Russians withdrew was this sabotage of the rail lines into Ukraine. When those lines were down, the primary mode of transport into or out of Ukraine was halted as Russia depends on rail lines more than roads or rivers to move people and supplies. Local civilians discovered that they could sabotage the rail by damaging signals and other auxiliary equipment and forcing a temporary halt in traffic. Three months into the war these civilian railroad saboteurs were getting in touch with one another via encrypted Internet apps. Many of these local groups learned what to sabotage by searching the Internet for information, especially about how Ukrainian and Russian partisans sabotaged German rail traffic during World War II. Employees of the Ukrainian railroad were soon on these Internet groups, explaining post-World War II equipment improvements and how to sabotage them. This soon brought the Ukrainian military, especially the special operations and partisan activity support departments, help Ukrainians in Russian occupied territory obtain explosives and advice on how best use this to cut rail lines. Each of these cut lines can take several days to repair. The special operations people also carried out their own major attacks on some Russian rail lines. One such attack was on the rail line across the Kerch Strait bridge from Russia to Crimea. This attack wasn’t completely successful but it weakened the bridge structure to the extent that Russia had to substantially reduce the cargo tonnage of trains using the bridge. There were also attacks on other rail bridges. If successful, these attacks can disrupt traffic for weeks or months. When Ukrainian forces come within 80 kilometers of such choke points, they can be attacked using GMLRS guided missiles.

November 11, 2022: Ukrainian troops began entering Kherson City, finding that a lot of civilians had survived nine months of Russian occupation and bad behavior.

November 10, 2022: The United States officially withdrew its 2002 recognition of the Russian economy as a free economy, comparable to the economies of Western nations. This made it possible for Russia to join the WTO (World Trade Organization) by 2012. This made it easier, and more profitable, to export goods to other WTO members. Back in 2010 Russian reformers pointed out that Russia's bullying government style has caused problems with neighbors, especially Georgia and Ukraine, and many others. This has also frustrated Russian efforts to join the WTO. Russia was still heavily dependent on oil exports, a product the WTO membership is not needed for in order to profitably export.

November 9, 2022: Russia announced that its remaining troops in Kherson City are being withdrawn across the Dnieper River where Russian forces are building defenses to prevent the Ukrainians from getting across. The Ukrainians are still advancing methodically towards Kerson City and the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian media were told before the public announcement was made. The media was also informed about what responses and criticisms were acceptable. Media outside Russia will have a different assessment. One major difference is that Russian media see this as a minor action and that Kherson City will be retaken. Observers outside Russia note that the Russians have learned to handle the reporting of these defeats because they have had so much experience with this sort of bad news. For example, the Russian media knows that you don’t use the word “retreat” but refer to these actions as “maneuvers”. Either way Kherson City is a major loss because it is the capital of Kherson Province, which Russia recently declared part of Russia, along with three other Ukrainian Provinces via fake elections. This made these provinces plus Crimea, officially (to Russia) part of Russia and now legal for Russians conscripts to go to and fight to “defend Russia”.

November 8, 2022: Poland has donated 54 of its now locally produced KRAB self-propelled 155mm howitzers to Ukraine. Poland is manufacturing more and will soon deliver another 54 KRAB systems to Ukraine. Poland has given Ukraine priority on receiving these newly manufactured artillery vehicles and currently Ukraine has more than half the KRAB vehicles in service. The rest are used by Polish forces. KRAB is a 48- ton self-propelled howitzer operated by a crew of five using a NATO standard 155mm gun. The idea for KRAB emerged in the early 1990s when Polish military planners began developing a locally produced self-propelled 155mm artillery vehicle. This led to the KRAB vehicle, which was to include new command, communications and fire control subsystems. KRAB was designed to deliver accurate fire at targets 40 kilometers away. This was farther than the existing Russian 122mm and 152mm artillery still used by Polish forces. Poland wanted to join NATO and to do that had to have a reasonable plan for replacing much of their Cold War era Russian weapons with Western “NATO Compliant” equipment. Poland was able to join NATO in 1999 and is now nearly finished with replacing all its Russian designed weapons. Ukrainian forces consider KRAB their most effective weapon. Unlike most other recent self-propelled 155mm artillery vehicles, KRAB has lots of combat experience. After the Russians invaded in February Poland agreed to begin deliveries to Ukraine as soon as possible. So far Ukraine has lost only two KRABs in combat and the Ukrainian crews consider the heavily armed and easy to operate KRAB a superior weapon.

November 7, 2022: Ukraine revealed that their latest data indicates Russia has lost about 77,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine since February and at least as many wounded. There were more wounded but the poor first aid in combat units means many wounded troops die before they can reach a facility with doctors and surgeons. When the war began the Russian ground forces had about 310,000 troops. About a third were massed on the Ukrainian border for the invasion and since then Russia has tried to maintain at least 150,000 troops in occupied Ukraine but has had problems doing that because so many officers and experienced soldiers have been lost and there are few such veterans left to replace those losses. That means there are not enough veterans to run training programs for new conscripts or volunteers and many 0f these are sent to the combat zone with little or no training and not much equipment besides a uniform and rifle. There are few officers available and most of them have little experience. In contrast, over half a million Ukrainians have volunteered or been conscripted to join the military since February. Ukrainian forces are composed of troops with more training as well as better equipment and leadership. In combat Ukrainian losses are less than a quarter of what Russia losses. Training, leadership and better weapons and tactics make a big difference. Ukraine also assigns many of its troops to perform essential transportation, supply and other support functions that Russia neglects or puts less effort into. It should not be this way because Russia has over three times the population of Ukraine and an equal superiority in resources, but still does not acknowledge the importance of support services for the combat troops. As Ukraine turned to the West for new and more effective ways of doing things, they discovered, especially since 2014, that Western military practices were superior to what was still standard in Russia.

November 6, 2022: In northwest Syria (Idlib province) Russian warplanes bombed several refugee camps because it was believed these camps had become a major refuge for Islamic terrorists planning attacks on Russian bases on the Syrian coast. This sort of attack on refugee camps is another war crime for Russia, which is compiling quite a list of in Syria and Ukraine. Despite sending most of its forces based in Syria back to Russia since February, a small force of warplanes is still based in Syria.

November 5, 2022: It’s been revealed that Russia paid Iran in cash, plus captured Western weapons in order to obtain the first shipment of Iranian UAVs and missiles. Russia overpaid for each Iranian missile or UAV. Iran also provided Iranian personnel to train the Russians on how best to use these new weapons. Iran offered a large discount if Russia would provide technical and equipment assistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Russia declined to do so but made it clear that may change in the future.

November 3, 2022: Ukrainian hackers revealed that they had hacked the Russian Central Bank in September and made off with 2.6 Gigabytes worth of bank records. These documents detail how the bank operates internally and with customers. This is the second time the Ukrainian hackers have breached the Russian banking system. In March there was a hack that made off 35,000 documents compared to 28,000 in the latest hack. All documents were made public. Some documents dated back to 2002 but most covered more recent activity. The sanctions included denying Russia access to Western network security firms and their tools for keeping networks secure from hackers.

October 31, 2022: Russia has proposed a new peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan that would involve a demilitarized zone around Nagorno-Karabakh and withdrawal of troops by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since 1991, Russia has been attempting to arrange peace deals between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There was a ceasefire in 1994 after an earlier round of heavy fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia became a military ally of Armenia as part of that arrangement. That did not prevent a military buildup in Azerbaijan that led to another war in 2020, which saw Armenia suffering a major defeat after six weeks of fighting. Iran has tried, and not always succeeded, to be on good terms with Azerbaijan, if only because about a quarter of the Iranian population are Azeris. At the same time Iran and Russia, traditional enemies, have become allies and those links are being used to deal with the latest round of violence. Russia still has several thousand troops in the area, acting as peacekeepers.

October 30, 2022: Fourteen European NATO nations are spending over three billion dollars to buy Israeli Arrow 3 BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) systems. The Arrow 3 missiles and radars will be a key component of this European Sky Shield Initiative. Increasing instability and aggression from Russia made this sale possible. Israel, with U.S. support, developed the Arrow system to defend Israel against attacks by Iranian ballistic missiles with chemical or, eventually, nuclear warheads.

October 29, 2022: Ukraine used a combined force of explosives-carrying UAVs and ASVs (autonomous surface vessel) bomb boats against three Russian frigates and several other ships docked at the Sevastopol naval base in Crimea. The night attack was detected and machine-guns and autocannon were seen firing on the attackers. One of the frigates and an amphibious ship were hit by the ASVs and damaged. This attack upset the Russians who responded by launching more attacks on Ukrainian civilians and ending its cooperation in allowing Ukraine to export grain that was needed in many Middle Eastern nations that get a lot of their imported food from Ukraine. The additional Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities led to higher than usual losses for the cruise missiles employed. Turkey had negotiated the grain export deal and responded to the Russian action by putting Turkish flags on the grain ships. Turkey is a member of NATO and an attack on the reflagged grain ships would be an attack on a NATO nation that would mean all NATO nations would be at war with Russia. This led Russia to quietly reinstate its cooperation with the grain export arrangement.

What angered the Russians most about the Sevastopol attack was that it was another embarrassing (for the Russians) demonstration of Ukrainian ingenuity and improvisation. Bomb-boats are nothing new as they are the latest incarnation of centuries-old fire ship tactics and the use of small boats carrying explosives used in the 19th and 20th century. A month before the Sevastopol attack one of the Ukrainian ASVs, which was not carrying explosives, washed up on a Crimean beach. Russia did not release details but a photo did get it out and indicated that this was a rather sophisticated ASV that was equipped with optical sensors, water jet propulsion and the ability to be remotely controlled. This ASV was apparently on a reconnaissance mission when equipment failure disabled it.

The attack on Sevastopol was launched from several hundred kilometers away. The Ukrainians managed to get seven ASVs and nine UAVs across that distance at night and into Sevastopol harbor in a coordinated attack. This was unprecedented in naval warfare and it worked. Russia has to come up with some kind of defense against a form of naval warfare never encountered before. Russia has to do this with its Black Sea fleet, which includes amphibious ships, maritime infantry, a few maritime aircraft and even some submarines that have so far been little used. The Black Sea Fleet in general has been a disappointment. Upgrading and reinforcing the Black Sea fleet is not an option as long as Russian ground forces are losing their battle against a month-long Ukrainian counter offensive that appears unstoppable. This situation does little for the reputation of the other Russian Baltic Sea, Northern and Pacific fleets. These fleets are still dangerous but unless they are somehow a lot more efficient than the Black Sea fleet, not as capable as they were once believed to be. Because of the growing risk of more Ukrainian attacks on ships based in Crimean ports, some of the Black Sea fleet ships are being moved to the port of Novorossiysk, which is on the Black Sea coast southeast of the Kerch Strait.

Meanwhile, the United States is sending Ukraine 40 more Defiant Class patrol boats, which can be delivered via a Polish port and then moved by tractor-trailer flatbed trucks to Ukraine. Each boat weighs 50 tons and is 26.6 meters (87.3 feet) long and 6.1 meters wide. An alternative delivery is via a series of European rivers and canals to a port next to Ukraine. Many of these boats will eventually be used on the Dnieper River, where Ukraine has captured the west bank and is preparing to cross to the other bank in an effort to clear Russian troops out of Kherson province.

October 28, 2022: Ukrainian app developers recently created an app (ePPO) to enable civilians to quickly report incoming Russian cruise missiles, especially the new Iranian Shahed 136 Russia obtained which is low (down to 100 meters) slow (180 kilometers an hour) and noisy. These are often sent in small swarms (4 to 12 missiles) and at night. With ePPO all a user has to do is point the phone in the direction of the missile and press a large button. The information quickly arrives at the local air defense headquarters where numerous reports are instantly combined on a computer display so the officer on duty can instantly send the data to nearby air defense units. With that kind of information, more and more of the Shahed 136s and even some larger, faster cruise missiles are detected and shot down. Civilians with a “take cover” app get an alert to do that if they are in the target area. Suppliers of this data are verified by another app, Diia, which contains user identification documents.

October 27, 2022: Ukraine is currently detecting and often intercepting nearly 90 percent of the Iranian-made Shahed 136 UAVs serving as cruise missiles. The 200 kg (440 pound) Shahed 136 has a flight endurance of four or five hour at about 180 kilometers an hour carrying explosive warheads with 25 kg (55 pounds) of explosives. Shahed 136s are believed to cost about $50,000 each, with most of that ($30,000) being their gasoline engine. Shaded uses GPS navigation with a crude INS (inertial navigation system) backup. Russia replaced the GPS guidance with one dependent on Russian GLONASS satellite navigation in an effort to increase reliability and effectiveness. Shahed 136 operates at low (a few hundred meters at most) altitude to avoid radar detection. These missiles are launched either individually using a portable launch rail or from a truck mounted system carrying four or five missiles in a box type storage/launch container. A small rocket is attached to the bottom of the missile to get it airborne and the engine running. The rocket is then supposed to fall away. GPS locations have to be entered into the GPS system before launch.

The Ukrainians quickly developed tactics to defeat the Shahed 136s, especially those used against military targets. The low-flying Shahed 136 engine is so loud it can be heard several kilometers away and, while rifle and machine-gun bullets are effective against it, larger caliber weapons like 12.7mm machine-guns and 20mm or larger autocannon are much more lethal. Another vulnerability of the Shahed 136 is that its inexpensive components are often unreliable and a large portion of them fail before reaching a target. These usually crash-land intact, allowing detailed analysis of components and construction. Another vulnerability is to electronic AUD (Anti-UAV Defense) systems that employ jamming and other EW (Electronic Warfare) techniques to disable UAV guidance systems.

Shahed 136 attacks are supposed to demoralize Ukrainian civilians and weaken the war effort but it has the opposite effect, making Ukrainians angrier at the Russians and more determined to drive them out of Ukraine. These attacks on civilians were going on before the Shahed 136s arrived. The Russians used guided missiles that were more difficult to intercept but were also in limited supply and Russia was unable to replace those used because of sanctions. Iran was one of the few nations supporting the Russian invasion and offered to sell Russia the cruise and ballistic missiles it manufactures. Iranian stocks of these missiles are limited and a current outbreak of nationwide protests against the Iranian religious dictatorship appears to have disrupted production. The many nations threatened or under attack by Iranian missiles appreciate the situation where Iran is reducing its stockpile of these weapons in order to supply Russia.

October 26, 2022: Russia is in worse shape when it comes to guided missile production because Russia depended on Western suppliers for key components, and those have been cut off by sanctions from Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Russia now depends on unguided rockets and 152mm artillery shells as well as 120mm (and smaller) mortar shells. At the same time American and other Western production of 155mm shells is already large and being expanded. Iran has provided Russia with some cruise missiles but not enough to make a difference on the battlefield.

Ukraine still receives missiles from NATO nations. Among these GMLRS has become a vital weapon in their offensive operations in Russian-occupied areas. Russia is losing control of more of that territory every day but not quickly enough to end the Russian occupation of all Ukrainian territory by the end of the year.

The war in Ukraine resulted in NATO nations now facing major military, economic and security problems. What it comes down to is that military leaders back all possible military aid for Ukraine while political leaders face problems with paying for it. Not just the financial cost, but the impact on voters who find themselves facing higher taxes and as well as inflation and shortages of essential goods. Supporting the Ukrainian war with Russia is expensive and exposes the true costs of cutting defense expenditures in the past by not maintaining sufficient stockpiles of weapons and munitions.

 

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