Ukraine Update 06/23/2023
An Entire Ukrainian Brigade Destroyed Russia Claims
Tass says the following: “Russian President Vladimir Putin is aware of the situation that is unfolding around Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private military company Wagner, and the necessary measures are being taken, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday.
"President Putin has been briefed on all events around Prigozhin. The necessary measures are being taken," he said.”
There are various reports on social media. Prigozhin claims Wagner forces were attacked by the Russian army. This has been denied officially. There are reports that Wagner’s base camp in Russia, Molkino, in the Krasnodar area is where fighting is taking place.. This base is shared with special units of the Russian GRU (military intelligence brigade). Meanwhile, Prigozhin is saying he intends to march on Moscow and if anyone tries to stop him they will be killed.
[Prigozhin's comments are on social media. It is very difficult to tell what is real and what is created by propaganda agencies in Russia. However, it is clear that Prigozhin is under attack of some kind, probably kinetic, and decisions have been made about his fate.
Prigozhin is said to release the following “official” statement:
"PMC Wagner Commanders’ Council made a decision: the evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped. They neglect the lives of soldiers. They forgot the word “justice”, and we will bring it back. Those, who destroyed today our guys, who destroyed tens, tens of thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished. I’m asking: no one resist. Everyone who will try to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way. And any aviation that we see above our heads. I’m asking everyone to remain calm, do not succumb to provocations, and remain in their houses. Ideally, those along our way, do not go outside. After we finished what we started, we will return to the frontline to protect our motherland. Presidential authority, Government, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardia, and other departments will continue operating as before. We will deal with those who destroy Russian soldiers. And we will return to the frontline. Justice in the Army will be restored. And after this, justice for the whole of Russia."
The statement cannot be verified.”
The fight between Prigozhin and the Russian army has been brewing for months with various accusations and demands by Prigozhin.
It isn’t clear how these events will impact the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine. After Bakhmut, Wagner forces were mostly pulled back and are not currently active on the front in the conflict. Where they all are isn’t clear.
Wagner has at least two capable Russian generals who mostly do day to day command. It is unlikely they have joined Prigozhin, and therefore it may be that Prigozhin has limited control of the private military group. All this remains to be seen, but these actions that are now unfolding appear to have been clearly planned by the Army.
Thus, the initiative appears to be from the Russian army side and Prigozhin is the target.
-The great Ukrainian counter-offensive is stalled, but there are some important developments that could impact the Ukraine war’s outcome.
Ukraine is throwing more brigades into the so-called counter-offensive which now stretches from the north in the Luhansk area all the way to Kherson. However, Ukraine is sustaining heavy losses and despite some optimistic western statements, is not gaining any significant territory.
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The Russian Defense Ministry says that Kiev lost 246 tanks between June 4 and June 21. Of the 81 Western tanks that it had, 13 have been knocked out. Russian troops also destroyed 152 infantry fighting vehicles, including 59 Western-made, and 279 field artillery pieces and mortars, including 48 Western-made. Other Ukrainian losses, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, include 443 armored vehicles, 424 regular vehicles, 42 multiple rocket launchers, ten fighter jets, four helicopters and 264 drones.
The Russians may be launching their own offensive in the north, although its focus is not yet clear, nor is there any real information on its scale. This will become clearer in the next few days.
Ukraine fired two Stormshadow type long range cruise missiles that hit the Chonhar bridge in north Crimea. The bridge connects the E-105 highway to Crimea. The missiles were fired by modified Su-24 aircraft launched from two airbases. The bridge was damaged and the roadway will have to be repaired, which can probably be done fairly quickly. The missiles could either have been Stormshadow, a UK product, or its French version known as SCALP-EG. Follow on reports say that the Russians have attacked the two airports used to launch the weapons. Another cruise missile reportedly damaged a portion of the E-105 highway.
On June 22nd in the forest area around Kreminna, which is north-east of Lyman, the Russians say they totally destroyed Ukraine's 42nd Mechanized Brigade, the remnants of which have been withdrawn by the Ukrainian army. This was a western trained brigade. The Russians appear to be on the offensive in this area, first attempting to shut down Ukrainian supply lines running roughly north to south and, possibly, forming up for a bigger push westward if they are successful in clearing out this Ukrainian bridgehead.
Night Fighting Equipment
Commentators in Russia say that Ukraine's offensive has been predictable. Every time the Ukrainians make some gains, mostly at night, they are repelled in the daytime by the Russians. Professional articles have emphasized that Ukraine has third or four generation western-made night fighting gear while the Russian forces do not have similar equipment. However, effective night fighting in summertime around the time of the summer solstice is limited to 3 or so hours, and after that Ukrainian forces are perfectly visible to Russian gunners. It might be different in the middle of winter, but the night warfare advantage is not great in the current season.
Poland has told the Germans that the story about the Polish yacht used by Ukrainians to blow up the Nordstream pipeline is hokum. The Poles inspected the Yacht and checked the passports of the group renting it. It was not carrying any explosives or equipment that could be construed as useful against the Nordstream pipeline.
Many stories have appeared in US and European newspapers apparently fed by US intelligence claiming that Ukraine blew up the Nordstream pipeline. The Germans are investigating the allegations although it is likely Berlin knows who the real culprits are.
Meanwhile, Poland has deported a fake defector from Russia. He claimed to be a senior FSB officer who sought asylum. He was handed over to Russia at Poland’s land border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Nuclear Threat Growing
There is a lot of chatter and some related incidents focused on nuclear weapons. In the US Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) have introduced a resolution that says if Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine the US would see such an attack as an attack on NATO. This implies quite clearly that the US would have to respond with nuclear weapons of its own.
US Senate Resolutions are not legally binding. Even so, they do reflect Congressional sentiment.
Meanwhile the Russians have arrested part of a clandestine team operating in Russia trying to buy Cesium-137 according to Russia’s FSB. Their alleged Ukrainian handler has not been apprehended. The FSB is the main successor to the USSR’s notorious KGB.
Cesium-137 is a byproduct of the fission of U-235. In 1996 Chechens allegedly placed a "dirty bomb" composed of dynamite and Cesium-137 in Moscow's Ismailova Park. The bomb never went off and was recovered. During the 1990s radioactive "waste" materials were smuggled from the former Soviet Union through Uzbekistan and other nearby countries, possibly through Turkey, going to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Some of these shipments were stopped thanks to an international effort and strong support from the Pentagon.
There also is concern about the security of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station which is impacted by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam on June 6th.
The nuclear power complex gets its cooling water from the reservoir behind the dam, which is now empty. One worry is whether the power plant can be maintained safely. It is under Russian control. The second concern is that Ukrainian forces can now cross the now drying fields that were once the reservoir and attack the nuclear complex. Both sides have also talked about false flag operations to create a nuclear incident at the plant. The power station remains a huge environmental and health threat, far larger than Chernobyl. Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors: Chernobyl had four.
Tactical Nukes to Belarus and Threats to Belarus
Also of concern is Russia's decision to move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. The Russians have done this because they say they fear that under cover of a Polish-supported attempt to overthrow the Belarus government, a general war with NATO may develop.
Militants from Belarus are getting military training in Poland, perhaps a first step in destabilizing the Lukashenko regime.
The Russians say they will defend Belarus against any attempt to overthrow Lukashenko.
The Russian end-game appears to be an effort to neutralize Ukraine and force NATO out. No matter how that is understood, it means regime change in Kiev. Russia is also talking about a "buffer zone" but the width of a buffer zone would have to be based on the types of weapons Ukraine has after a settlement is reached. Right now no one can answer that, or even if a buffer zone is a viable idea.
One should expect Ukraine to try and pour everything it has into the ongoing offensive, but the mood back in Kiev (or Kyiv if you prefer) is getting desperate and Zelensky may be starting to lose clout with his generals as the losses pile up. There are a lot of desertions, refusals to fight, and surrenders indicating serious dissatisfaction in the ranks.
Putin has said that Ukraine has far from exhausted its military capabilities in the offensive. The Russians expect the war to continue.
There also are rumblings in western capitals, especially Washington. Pressure will grow on Biden and others for a NATO intervention. That would surely touch off a general war in Europe and even the use of tactical nuclear weapons. NATO members will discuss Ukraine’s future status at its upcoming summit in July. There is talk of some sort of guarantees for Ukraine, or possibly a fast track for NATO membership. France is now supporting immediate NATO membership for Ukraine. Germany is opposed.
At the operational level NATO security is endangered by the draining of military resources, hardware and ammunition, and the lack of an industrial base that can replace what has been sent to Ukraine. The US is also short on ammunition and some “smart” weapons. Russia, meanwhile, has stimulated its military industry and put it on 24/7 operations. Russian output of artillery and rocket systems well as new and refurbished tanks, have been increased significantly. The US is also stepping up manufacturing, but has serious supply chain problems. Raytheon’s Chief Executive Greg Hayes has told the publication Zero Hedge that US defense contractors are almost totally dependent on China for vital materials, putting China in the US defense driver’s seat.
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