Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says that he personally asked his American counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for 100 A-10 Warthog ground attack jets just weeks after Russia launched its all-out invasion in February. Reznikov says that Austin bluntly refused, saying the request was not only impossible to fulfill, but that the aircraft would be dangerously vulnerable to Russian air defenses.
The intelligence I gathered showed a huge Russian force that could not maneuver off the main highways. The winter was mild, and the mud was so thick a boot could get stuck in it. Russia would not be able to do anything but drive in straight lines along fixed roads. The Ukrainians were looking forward to killing everyone and every thing on them. To an intelligence professional the red lines on the TV news maps were not pointing to potential Russian successful objectives, they were pointing to future tank graveyards. The Ukrainians were busy sharpening their Cossack sabers and breaking out the Javelin and Stinger missiles from their war stocks. They had earned their freedom from Moscow in 2014 and fought a war of attrition for eight years. But this time, they would make Russia pay in burning tanks and carbonized convoys. This was going to be a slaughter.
Several times I went on air I mentioned this disproportionate misunderstanding of the situation on the ground. Not only was this opinion against the grain of the US news media, but I was literally mocked on air by both professional journalists and academics for my supposed naïveté. One Russia expert said to me in private that I just didn’t understand how vastly superior the Russian army was. At the time that may have appeared true, but what they didn’t know was that Ukrainians would not-- could not-- be subjugated -- by anyone.
In the days after the invasion, my Ukrainian friends started calling me. You could feel their anger. Some were weeping with distress, grieving that their nation was under attack. A few in the army, on their Donetsk front line flatly stated they would soon be dead. They said they had 24 hours, tops. This was not a map exercise. This was hundreds of thousands of men in maximal kinetic warfare. It was a real war with millions of bullets, rockets and shells flying within hours. People were dying in droves.
On a strategic scale Russia’s decision to invade had to have an underlying philosophy to explain this rash action. It was simple, particularly if you are seeing it through the eyes of a devout ex-KGB officer. The west’s liberal governance must be broken to make way for autocracy and oligarchy. So a direct, Soviet-style frontal attack on global democracy was to be undertaken against the upstart Ukrainians. They would be the first to go.
Putin was going to upend the European order established in peace since World War II. Ukraine was essentially a wall that had been keeping out Moscow’s desires for domination from the democratic western world. Now it was clear, if this wall crumbled and the people whom I came to love were erased from history, the pillars American democracy weakened by Trump, a Putin lacky, would also collapse. NATO could fragment, European Parliaments could start cutting deals and oil and natural gas would be leverage for the dictator to suggest they just get out of the way and let the rape of Ukraine happen. Worse of all is that many of Putin’s loudest cheerleaders for the ruination of all democracy, particularly in the United States, were Americans. The Republican party openly revered the old KGB officer, led by ex-president Donald J. Trump who met secretly with the same Russians destroying Ukraine in a secret Oval Office visit.
Yet, the one thing I could not do was sit back comfortably in my home or a TV studio and explain why Ukraine was being devastated. There is no amount of money in the world that would get me to stand in front of a map and point to those long red lines, that were in fact columns of hundreds of tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers on a rape and murder spree. I made a choice I will never, ever regret. I resigned as a contributor and became a combatant. If Ukraine was going to survive, then like the Marquis De Lafayette, the Baron Von Steuben, and the World War I African American-turned-French Foreign Legionnaire Eugene Bullard, I was going to fight in another country’s army for the very principles upon which America was founded: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now after participating in nine months of fierce fighting, I can confirm what I stated in my pre-war assessment. Russia will lose this war. Absent blowing up Kyiv with an atomic bomb, the loss is inevitable. They cannot win conventionally, no matter how many men they feed into the maw of our combat power. During the liberation of the Kharkiv province I bet my life on this prediction and a lot of Russians lost their lives proving me right.
Eastern Ukraine: (Eastern Kharkiv Oblast-Western Luhansk Oblast)
Russian forces likely conducted at least two reconnaissance-in-force missions in northern and northeastern Ukraine on December 22-23. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in Vysoke in Sumy Oblast (Vysoke is on the international border 50 km southeast of Sumy City) and Khatne in Kharkiv Oblast (about 8 km from the international border and 90 km northeast of Balakliya). Sumy Oblast Military Administration Head Dmytro Zhyvytskyi reported that Ukrainian territorial defense forces destroyed a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group in Vysoke on December 22. Russian reconnaissance of Ukraine’s northern border advances both a Russian information operation designed to convince Ukraine and the West that Russian forces will attack northern Ukraine, as well as preparations for an actual operation.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Ukrainian forces likely made tactical gains east and south of Bakhmut City over the past 72 hours.
Ukrainian forces likely drove Russian forces that temporarily entered eastern Bakhmut back to the industrial zone in eastern Bakhmut over the past 72 hours. Geolocated footage posted on December 23 shows Ukrainian forces conducting indirect fire against Russian forces in Bakhmut’s eastern industrial areas. The footage, if confirmed to be recent, supports previous Ukrainian social media reports that Ukrainian forces conducted a tactical counterattack that repelled Russian forces from the outskirts of Bakhmut on December 21. Girkin stated on December 22 that Ukrainian forces drove Wagner Group forces in Bakhmut out of positions they occupied several days ago and back to the eastern industrial zone.
Ukrainian forces recaptured a trench line 700 meters west of Ozarianivka (13 km south of Bakhmut) around December 22. Geolocated combat footage posted on December 23 shows elements of Ukraine’s 28th Mechanized Brigade after clearing a previously Russian-occupied trench west of Ozarianivka, likely on December 22. A prominent Russian milblogger stated that elements of Ukraine’s 28th Mechanized Brigade were fighting in Ozarianivka and failed to retake the settlement on December 23.
Supporting Effort—Southern Axis (Russian objective: Maintain frontline positions and secure rear areas against Ukrainian strikes)
Russian forces are continuing to establish defensive positions in left-bank Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts and are conducting defensive operations in southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on December 23 that Russian forces are engineering positions along the Krasnoperekopsk-Dzhankoy highway in northern Crimea. Satellite imagery also shows that Russian forces constructed trenches around the perimeter of Tokmak, an operationally significant settlement in occupied Zaporizhia Oblast on Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Berdyansk and Melitopol. The head of the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavrisk Direction Defense Forces, Yevhen Yerin, stated that Russian forces have not changed their tactics in southern Ukraine and are continuing to use sabotage and reconnaissance groups to reconnoiter the islands on the Dnipro River delta in Kherson Oblast.
Technically speaking, JDAM refers to a kit that is bolted onto the U.S. military’s general purpose Mark-80-series bomb and turns it into a GPS-guided weapon.
The Mark-80 warhead, which was developed soon after World War II, was designed to be easily fitted with a variety of tail fins and fuzes for use in a range of situations. Over decades, different attachments have been fielded — for low-level bombing, and to turn them into land and sea mines, and finally into various types of guided weapons.
The Mark-80 warhead was designed just after World War II as a modular weapon that could be fitted with different kinds of tail fins and fuzes, and was streamlined so that it created less drag when carried by supersonic jets. It typically comes in three sizes ranging from 500 to 2,000 pounds. However, which model or models will be provided to Ukraine is unclear.
Since their first combat use in the late 1990s, JDAMs have been improved and new capabilities have been added. They can work with a variety of fuzes that control whether they explode above the ground, on the surface or after burrowing into the ground. One updated kit adds a pair of wings that open after the bomb is dropped, allowing it to fly more than 40 miles to a target.
Eight months after Mariupol fell into Russian hands, Russia is eradicating all vestiges of Ukraine from it – along with the evidence of war crimes buried in its buildings, such as the famed Drama Theater where demolition started Thursday. The few open schools teach a Russian curriculum, phone and television networks are Russian, the Ukrainian currency is dying out, and Mariupol is now in the Moscow time zone. On the ruins of the old Mariupol, a new Russian city is rising, with materials from at least one European company, The Associated Press found.
But the AP investigation into life in occupied Mariupol also underlines what its residents already know all too well: No matter what the Russians do, they are building upon a city of death. More than 10,000 new graves now scar Mariupol, the AP found, and the death toll might run three times higher than an early estimate of at least 25,000. The former Ukrainian city has also hollowed out, with Russian plans to demolish well over 50,000 homes, the AP calculated.
Russia is now moving into the historic city center. Russian authorities in October dismantled Mariupol’s memorial to victims of the Holodomor, the Soviet-engineered famine in the 1930s that killed millions of Ukrainians, according to video posted on Russian television. They also painted over two murals commemorating victims of Russia’s 2014 attack on Ukraine, images obtained by the AP show.
“They spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on things like erasing demonstrations of Ukrainian identity and very little time tending to the needs of the Mariupol people,” said Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which for years monitored eastern Ukraine. “It’s really a very brutal inhuman colonial experiment unfolding before our eyes.”
In the 20 December meeting with Putin, Luhansk leader Leonid Pasechnik revealed that the Vostokugol coal mine holding is in financial trouble so deep that wages cannot be paid. Pasechnik explained that the holding can hardly keep up production because 58 per cent of its miners had been called up to fight in the war against Ukraine. One of the pits was working with just three miners instead of more than 300, he said. (Pasechnik had mentioned the missing miners back in November and warned that the holding risked becoming unprofitable).
Vostokugol was formed as a “state” holding in April 2020 after the “LNR” leadership closed unprofitable coalmines following a sharp drop in demand at the onset of the COVID pandemic. The closures were accompanied by unprecedented strikes and unrest over wage arrears and pay cuts (see Newsletter 85). Ukraine’s Luhansk region is the chief producer of anthracite coal, which has a very high energy density.
Pasechnik basically begged Putin to pay more subsidies to keep the holding afloat – and complained that it was challenged by illegal private mines (kopanki in local parlance) which, he claimed, operate profitable because they pay no or much fewer taxes. He did not explain, however, why local authorities could not solve the problem themselves by e.g. enforcing tax payments or lowering them. Putin said that subsidies could be paid for some time but stressed that the “LNR” should “analyze”, why its state mines were unable to operate efficiently.
Pushilin complains about labour shortages, border checks
Like Pasechnik, “DNR” leader Denis Pushilin, who talked to Putin the same day, complained about staff shortages due to the many months of forced mobilization, but only blamed Ukraine for having started the war in 2014. As an example, he pointed to communal services, where he said that up to 70 per cent of personnel were missing and asked for extra pay. Pushilin also said that water was rationed in Donetsk and other cities to just two hours every three days. He added that the Soviet-era central (district) heating was suffering from war-inflicted damages to water pipes.
Donetsk has been the target of repeated attacks in the past months. Artillery attacks on December 5 and 6 killed at least ten civilians, including “DNR” MP Maria Pirogova and Viktor Isayev, a judge of the “DNR” military court. Pirogova was the daughter of Maya Pirogova, a former “DNR” Information “Ministry” official and blogger, known for her radical anti-Ukrainian stance.
Early on 22 December, a rocket hit a leisure complex south of Donetsk, killing two persons and injuring at least two more. Among those injured was prominent Russian nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin and “DNR” Prime Minister Vitaly Khotsenko. While Khotsenko’s injuries were minor, Rogozin wrote on Telegram that he needed an operation. The former head of the Roskosmos space agency apparently celebrated his 59th birthday when the attack came.
Omnibus contains $11.9B for Pentagon to replenish weapon systems sent to Ukraine