Russia appears to be losing its key advantage in Ukraine: time. The deal has been that Ukrainians will fight to keep the war from spilling over, with their lives and cities, while NATO supplies the arms, training, and logistics to grind Putin’s army to dust. The problem here is that Russia has a seemingly unlimited supply of fresh bodies to throw at Ukraine, and an enormous pile of ammunition and rockets to level Ukrainian cities. Time is seemingly on Russia’s side like it was in the second Chechnian war. But things are not what they seem.
The Soviet Union diverted rivers to drain the Aral Sea, which Russia continued into the 21st century. The water was used to irrigate Ukbek cotton fields, the crops of which are still harvested by slave labor. The “white gold” was used in weapons production through nitrocellulose, or guncotton. Every country, including the USA, considers cotton a strategic resource for ammunition production. The Russians precipitated an environmental disaster to fill their storehouses with artillery shells.
Russia also stockpiled short range ballistic 9K720 multiple-use Iskander missiles which can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. They are using these missiles to great effect on Ukrainian cities well beyond the battlefield. Russia believed it could lob missiles from protected Russian territory, and keep its supply lines short after the failed “lightning” attempt to topple Ukraine and capture Kyiv. It believed that with the proper application of military force, and time, it would grind down Ukrainian fighters through attrition.
But that may no longer be the case. Attrition seems to have infected Russia.
I’ve been following strieff’s coverage of the Ukraine war over at RedState. (I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t abandon entire news sources just because you don’t agree with their political ideals. Many at RedState are not readable for me, but streiff’s war coverage is on point.) First, he covered the game-changing use of U.S. and NATO 155mm artillery tubes and ammunition. Old Soviet-era guns fire 152mm, but NATO uses a standard 155mm round. New U.S. howitzers like the M777 have advanced electronics and ability to coordinate with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems to perform almost instant counter-battery, and saturation fire missions.
Having American artillery and NATO-trained crews (Ukrainians have been rotating through training at undisclosed European sites) is a major advantage to Ukraine, which limits the effect of Russian artillery and rocket launchers. This, combined with American loiter weapons like the Switchblade 300, and the extensive use of drones and MANPADs, makes it difficult for Russia to spot for their own artillery. They frequently hit rubble or empty fields, while Ukrainians now have the capability to destroy Russian guns before they can be moved. Russian gun crews live in constant fear.
But time would have fixed that for Russia, and Ukraine is now burning through its Soviet-era ammunition stocks at a greater rate than planned. So conversion to NATO is happening faster, which is making it harder for Russia, but again, mountains of ammunition and a fresh supply of bodies is the Russian way.
Except, “mystery fires” are breaking out all over Russia. The newspapers report explosions at “storage depots” and “oil depots.” Some of these are cover; diversions of the real targets. Buried in the Washington Post’s account are these two key paragraphs:
Last Thursday, a blaze tore through the upper stories of the Defense Ministry’s Second Central Research Institute in the town of Tver, northwest of Moscow; at least 17 people died, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency. More than two dozen people were injured, the news agency said, including some who jumped for their lives out of the building’s upper floors.
The institute is known as a center for highly sensitive research on key missile systems, including Russia’s most advanced stealth programs, as well as the Iskander missile, extensively used in Ukraine, and the S-400 air defense system.
Ukraine is targeting Russia’s stocks of Iskander missiles. We don’t know exactly how, but Ukraine has penetrated Russian defenses and intelligence, and is making Russian missile regiments non-operational by depriving them of missiles to shoot.
The Tver facility contains the plans for the Iskander and many other logistical details required to make more, or modify the weapons. Ukraine (read: NATO) is planning to close the time window for Russia, to run their stock of missiles down, destroy their ability to rain artillery on Ukrainian cities, and grind the Russian military to dust.
If this is true, then Russia is really in bad shape. Its ammunition stores, supply routes, top commanders, and ability to maintain its own advanced systems are totally exposed and at risk. Gerasimov is reportedly the only man in Russia who stands between a Putin-ordered nuclear strike and armageddon. We should be happy that Gerasimov wasn’t killed outright, but lived.
The latest round of NATO weapons and Ukrainian deep penetration of Russia’s weapons and logistics supplies may be turning Putin’s biggest advantages—time and resources—against him as he is losing both. This leads to speculation of what a cornered Putin might do.
For this, I’m glad Gerasimov survived, because Putin could order a low-yield nuclear weapons to detonate over Ukraine, targeting grain harvests or supply centers. He could order a strike on the Lithuania-Poland border, the 40-mile stretch between Russian-held fortress Kaliningrad and friendly Belarus to test President Biden’s “not one inch” red line. He could continue to have his army commit war crimes and use thermobaric or chemical weapons to target civilians.
Putin could do many things to attempt to widen the war, blaming separatists in Transnistria (part of Moldova) or other pro-Russian groups. Gerasimov would be the one man who could use the army to stop Putin from a suicidal path for his own country, and massive death and destruction for Europe.
One thing that appears to be true is that time is no longer on Russia’s side. These fires, explosions and the quick introduction of superior NATO weapons, not handheld anti-tank weapons but back-breaking artillery batteries, is turning the tide of time. Russia’s days in this war are becoming limited. The window for Russia to maintain any operational tempo or initiative is closing, and fast.
I love hearing this. I hope all of it, and more, is true.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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