Holy crap, the fireworks in Crimea tonight…
This will have an effect on Russian logistics. Fuels make armies move. Also, this will have an effect on the environment. The environmental damage created by this war is incalculable.
The count of Russians killed in Ukraine, as compiled by the Ukrainian military, is likely to top 200,000 within the next two weeks. Estimates from U.S. and U.K. intelligence have been much smaller, with totals at perhaps one-quarter of that level. However, back in March, a story in The Telegraph put a different value on the cost of Putin’s war: 1 million men. That total includes not just Russians who have died on the battlefield, but the hundreds of thousands of men who have fled Russia rather than be drafted into the war.
Even with so many gone, there are multiple reports that Russia is preparing to institute another round of mobilization, and that it is willing to lose 1 million, 2 million, even 3 million men if that’s what it takes to capture a large part of Ukraine. And it may get there.
The scale of the Russian battlefield casualties are wholly out of line with modern Western military expectations. The West places a premium on short, decisive war-fighting, taking great care to minimise losses. Russian military strategy, in contrast, is still largely governed by Soviet-era doctrines of human wave-style assaults with massed infantry and artillery overwhelming the opposing force’s defences.
The one thing Russia can reliably bring to the front lines is bodies. But their ability to translate lives expended on the battlefield into square kilometers controlled is hampered by three things: incompetence, corruption, and a growing inability to supplement those bodies with necessary equipment.
On Thursday, the man in charge of logistics for the Russian army, Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, was fired. Mizintsev, known as the “Butcher of Mariupol” for his role in commanding the forces that destroyed that city early in the invasion, replaced former minister Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov last year. Mizintsev has now been replaced by Col. Gen. Alexei Kuzmenkov.
Why was Mizintsev fired after being hailed for clearing Mariupol and finally bringing the siege of the Azovstal steel works to an ugly conclusion? Speculation is that Mizintsev was sent to the showers after Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky completed an inspection of the front lines, reporting that weapons and ammunition were not getting to the right people. In particular, the colonel general determined that Wagner Group mercenaries weren’t getting their fair share of artillery and small arms ammunition—the same complaint that Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin has been making for months.
This is not a coincidence. Col. Gen. Teplinsky, in spite of the title, isn’t actually a part of the regular Russian military. He’s Wagner, wielding literally undefined authority (an “unspecified role”) in seeing that things are operating correctly at the front.
So Wagner Group officer Teplinsky may have given the nudge that got Russian Army officer Mizintsev fired. But wait. It gets better. Because the new guy, Col. Gen. Kuzmenkov, is also not an army officer. Nor from Wagner.
Kuzmenkov is from Vladimir Putin’s personal army, the Rosgvardia (“national guard”). He might have ascended to the role because Mizintsev proved inadequate. But it might just as well be Putin making sure one of his own is in this crucial position.
This looks like a three-way squabble in which Putin shoved Kuzmenkov into the logistics position to show that neither Wagner nor the Army was going to tell him what to do. If someone is in control of where the bullets go, Putin wants that man to be his man. Now Prigozhin’s private army gets only as much as the guy from Putin’s private army says it gets.
This shuffle is only one of the ways in which the squabble over military power in Russia is being expressed. Remember, in addition to the Russian regular army, Wagner Group, and the Rosgvardia, Russia also has the Kadyrovite forces from Chechnya, commanded by Chechnyan warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. The possibility that these factions—and some of the other private armies now under construction—stop fighting Ukraine and go to war among themselves is extremely remote, but it’s not zero. "Today, there are already three and a half [Russian] armies [in Ukraine],” said Oleksii Danilov, Secretary of the Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. “And it's only a matter of time before they start to clash between themselves."
For decades, Putin has been systematically purging the Russian military of its most competent officers, fearing that the most likely source of a rival would be someone who could command the traditional respect and power of a Russian general. Putin believes, in the immortal words of Tina Turner, “We don’t need another hero.” After all, Putin is already there. No one else is getting a triumph through Moscow while he is still breathing.
What Putin needs are people who will carry out his orders in obscurity, then quietly depart the scene—at the front lines where possible, through the nearest available window when necessary—before gathering anything that looks like a personal following.
Remember Mizintsev? The “Butcher of Mariupol” Mizintsev? On paper, being placed in charge of logistics was a promotion. But notice that his reward for completing what was at that point seen as the greatest success of the Russian invasion was not being given a bigger field command; it was being put in charge of what may be the most thankless task in the Russian military—a task where no one wins praise or gets their picture in the state media. Mizintsev won a battle. His reward was being put behind a desk. Now he’s not even commanding that desk.
For Putin, the direct result of winnowing out the wheat and keeping the chaff is that he now finds the military populated by people who have gone through a Darwinian process to select for poor leadership. That leaves a bunch of uncharismatic losers whose one skill in life is being able to carry their box of belongings from one desk to the next while never doing anything that brings them attention.
Whether things are any better in Rosgvardia isn’t really clear. These are the guys who are reportedly watching Putin’s back. Does he want those people to be highly competent … or is that his greatest fear?
TANKS, YES. ENGINES, NO.
From well before the beginning of Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, it’s been clear that the Russian military was not just incompetent by design, but corrupt from head to toe. Military budgets were inflated—not because Russian generals were pursuing new weapons systems, but because at every step along the chain of command, officers and enlisted were selling off every system for which they could find a willing buyer. Tanks are more expensive when their price includes an oceanside dacha.
According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a Russian colonel decided to enrich himself by selling the engines out of seven of Russia’s best T-90 tanks for $250,000 (in actual dollars, not rubles) and leaving Russia with seven lumps that can’t make it to the front lines.
This was reportedly done in conjunction with a “major criminal gang.” As we’ve written about several times, the connections between the Russian military and Russian criminal organizations run deep. In this case, the military culprit is listed as the head of Russia’s armored vehicle servicing department for a regional military command, Col. Alexander Denisov. Denisov supposedly rerouted engines that were meant for use in T-90 tanks (likely replacements for engines that had failed, though that’s unclear) to his criminal partners, pocketing the profit.
The paper mentions three other colonels who were prosecuted for corruption in 2019, but the big things to note here are: These are relatively low ranking officers, and these are very few prosecutions compared to the amount of corruption everyone knows is happening. So, it may be a signal that Russia is willing to go after some cases of corruption, but it’s unlikely to worry the senior-level guys selling off billions of dollars in gear at wholesale prices.
In Denisov’s case, the engines stolen were reported to be V-92C2 models. More likely, they were the more modern V-92S2F, which is used in both the T-90 and in upgraded T-72s. But even in this improved design, these are massive engines that weigh in at over a ton and a half. Their likely use for anyone who doesn’t happen to have an engine-free T-90 handy is in some kind of fixed facility—like running a pump—rather than going into a vehicle.
Russia shifting sources of supply
A new report from Silverado Policy Accelerator looks at how Russia is adjusted to life under sanctions, particularly when it comes to laying its hands on the parts it needs to keep building modern weaponry. The report notes that while sanctions from the U.S. and other Western nations have “isolated Russia from the global economy and degraded Russia’s military capabilities,” that doesn’t mean Russia is completely cut off from things like complex electronics and computer chips.
Mostly, it is now seeking the parts it needs through looking at “dual use technologies” that don’t necessarily count as trade in weapons, and through partners such as China. Overall, while Russia is still certainly able to get almost anything it wants if it tries hard enough, there are several reasons why sanctions are working to prevent Russia from repairing and improving its military. Not only have sanctions “immobilized Russian Central Bank assets” and “choked off exports of technologies and other items that support Russia’s defense industrial base,” getting them through the limited countries available can mean seeking alternatives to familiar parts.
It can also mean paying much steeper prices for a simple reason: Anyone dealing with Russia knows that it has them over a barrel. Even parts from a second- or third-tier manufacturer become much pricier when that manufacturer knows you can’t go to the big name for what you need.
However, there’s some good news for Putin in the report as well. Russia seems to have anticipated that the West would respond to their attack with economic isolation. So they laid in supplies to ride out the expected sanctions.
“Russian imports of key goods (e.g. chips) increased substantially in 2021 before the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, it likely meant that they entered the 'sanctions war' with strong inventory levels that allowed them to withstand the initial shock of the export controls.”
This shows just how sure Russia was that they would invade at a time when they were still claiming they had no such plans, and when Republicans were feigning shock over warnings by Biden.
Right now, Russia import levels are almost as high as they were before the war, with most of that material coming through Armenia, Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. If most of those names sound like unlikely places to source high-tech gear, there’s something else actually going on here: transshipment. According to the report, “Transshipment of Western goods, particularly from former Soviet states, is a huge issue.”
The report uses cell phones going through Armenia as an example, showing a sharp rise in Armenian cell phone imports from the U.S. after sanctions were levied on Russia, and a sharp rise in exports to Russia at the same time. However, you can bet one thing about those importers and exporters: They don’t work for free.
Just how big a profit these guys are makeing isn’t clear. We can only hope it's huge. Watching Kyrgyzstan or Belarus fatten up by skimming profits off exports to Russia to get around the sanctions may not be ideal. But the more they charge for this “service,” the less Russia is able to turn oil sales (which are still happening at a steep discount) into equipment in the field.
Russia upping air strikes over missiles
On Wednesday night, a nationwide air raid alert and explosions from Kyiv to Odesa seemed to signal that Russia was launching its first large missile barrage since March. But at the end of the day, the Ukrainian military totalled eight ground-launched missiles (likely the S-300) and 23 air-launched cruise missiles including the Kh-101/102 and Kh-55 that were likely launched from bombers flying over Russia.
Most of these were shot down. Hwever, the greatest damage appears to be in Uman, far in the southwest of Ukraine and well away from anything like a front line. As with so many Russian attacks, it appears to have targeted a civilian apartment building.
Russia may have hit Uman simply in search of areas not well-protected by air defense systems, as missiles lobbed at Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and other large cities are increasingly shot down and new air defense systems are rolling in.
The importance of Russia’s war of missiles seems to be declining. But that doesn’t make things any better for those on the receiving end of a strike, The death toll in Uman is now at 20, and three of those were children.
Russia opting out of its own ‘Olympics’
The actual Olympics may be inexplicably allowing Russian athletes to compete, but the U.K. Ministry of Defense says that Russia is not competing in this year’s International Army Games, an event Russia created so that it could show its supposed prowess by beating out competitors like the Belarus juggling team.
Why is Russia a no-show at its own event? Well …
“There is a realistic possibility that due to losses in Ukraine, the Russian MOD is concerned a shortage of tanks, tank crews, and other skilled personnel will risk the Russian team’s usual domination of the medals table.”