UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Because who can resist Prigoshin saying the quiet part out loud over and over and …
On Wednesday, Ukraine liberated still more area, attacking Russian lines in new places even as it continued moving forward in the areas where it has recently engaged Russian forces. Behind the lines, at locations kilometers away from the active fighting, strikes took out Russian artillery with jaw-dropping precision. Further back, Ukraine was able to hit Russian forces in coastal cities with the use of new, even longer-range weapons.
Compared to the heavy fighting over the weekend, Monday and Tuesday were relatively “light” days in terms of Russian losses—the average loss since the counteroffensive began has now dropped to below 800 Russian soldiers per day, and Russia made it through Tuesday giving up only 8 additional tanks as Ukrainian forces south of Velyka Novosilka repositioned for their next advance. Still, there’s no doubt that Ukraine’s continuing action is the big story of the week, month, and year.
However, Russia seems to have another opponent. And it’s Russia. As in the various factions within what passes for the Russian military are so busy going after each other, it’s a wonder they have any time left to think about Ukraine. Best of all, the biggest battle seems to be brewing between factions where everyone can just sit back and enjoy the fight: Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin vs. Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov.
For months, Prigozhin’s collection of mercenaries and jail yard fodder was on the front lines at Bakhmut, while their leader railed against the Russian military for failing to provide his forces with all the support they wanted. That led to a near daily soap opera where Prigozhin hurled his unfortunate crew against Ukrainian forces in waves, then spent the evening making videos screaming at Russian military leadership, and in particular minister of defense Sergei Shoigu. The absolutely bizarre highlight of this sequence came in May when Prigozhin made a series of videos while pointing out the heaps of corpses around him.
Prigozhin blamed the death of his mercenary forces on lack of artillery support rather than how he was running them full speed at Ukrainian positions in small, lightly-armed groups. Over the space of a few weeks Prigozhin’s rants swung between whining about a lack of supplies, and murderous threats over the incompetence of Shoigu’s leadership.
Enter Ramzan Kadyrov.
Early in the invasion, Kadyrov’s Chechen forces made a huge show of preparing for battle, lining up rows of troops and squares full of vehicles as Kadyrov made speeches about how they would soon be in Kyiv. The only problem was that the Chechens actually had little to no armor, artillery, or other gear they could bring to the fight. That’s not surprising, since Russia was unlikely to be handing out tanks to a guy who already demonstrated his propensity for switching sides and betraying supposed allies.
That didn’t stop Kadyrov from making several photo op visits to Ukraine, including bringing his sons to Mariupol for some pretend soldiering well after Russian forces had safely captured the city, and sending Chechen troops to towns within the so-called DNR where they could pretend to be threatened by artillery or show off their skills in a series of fake TikTok videos. Earlier this year, Kadyrov was still bragging to reporters that he could take Kyiv personally if Putin would just give him the word.
As Prigozhin began to get more and more belligerent in Bakhmut, Kadyrov responded by sending taunting messages, saying his men would replace Prigozhin’s mercenaries at the front lines. Prigozhin then declared victory and went home, pulling Wanger forces to a position in the rear and leaving Russian military forces to struggle (and fail) to hold their positions.
In a development that shocked no one, Kadyrov’s forces never showed up to replace them.
Instead, two weeks ago Kadyrov announced his men would be going to help secure Belgorod, where members of the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps had managed to hold onto a border town for a full week as Russian defense forces bumbled about. The fact that both these groups together never had more than a couple of hundred men, and that they have already withdrawn back across the border with Ukraine, made Belgorod a much more attractive place for Kadyrov’s TikTok troops.
However, there was an issue. Prigozhin’s rants weren’t just amusing to those who want Russia to fail and leave Ukraine, they were also interesting to people inside Russia. So interesting that Russians were searching for news about the Wagner CEO more often than they were checking in on Vladimir Putin. Putin doesn’t like it when anyone has a higher profile than Putin.
In order to rein in Prigozhin, Shoigu created a new rule that private military groups like Wagner have to sign a loyalty pledge along with new contracts requiring them to report up through the Russian military chain of command. Prigozhin immediately refused, saying Wagner would never report to Shoigu. However, Kadyrov—always eager to curry favor with Russia—signed the new contract.
The result of the signing is that Kadyrov was given orders to actually send his force inside Ukraine and get their hands dirty. That includes a group that was apparently dispatched to Kreminna, where Russia is trying to hold the city after having failed in their winter offensive with an announced goal of retaking Lyman.
Which brings things up to yesterday. And some more capital-S Strangness from Kadyrov.
In this message, Kadyrov isn’t asking Russia where to find his right-hand man Adam Delimkhanov, or asking Shoigu to let him know where Russia had taken losses. He’s asking Ukrainian intelligence to let him know what places they struck so he can have an idea of where to search.
On Telegram, there were some reports that Delimkhanov was killed in explosions which took place two days ago in Beryslav. There were other reports that Delimkhanov was trying to break away from Kadyrov and simply refusing to talk to his boss. In the last hour, Kadyrov has claimed he found Delimkhanov and has put out a picture of them sitting together that looks as if it might have come from any day this century. However, the consensus seems to be that Delimkhanov was injured in a HIMARS strike on Kreminna.
The other claim which is circulating widely is that Prigozhin, or someone within the Wagner group, told Ukrainian intelligence where to find Delimkhanov, a claim that is being backed up by officers in the Russian military.
“According to the information I have, they have now taken revenge on Ramzan Kadyrov, who earlier threatened to reveal the sources of wealth of Prigozhin, who has been a food supplier for our army since 2006. Adam Delimkhanov, right-hand man of the President of Chechnya, is in critical condition …”
Members of Wagner certainly had cause to hate Delimkhanov almost as much as his boss. Earlier this month he joined Kadyrov in telling Prigozhin to stop whining and called him incompetent. Delimkhanov also called for a “face-to-face meeting” between the Chechen forces and Wagner Group, which is a fight that everyone in Ukraine, and probably a lot of people in the regular Russian military, would love to see.
The truth of what happened to Delimkhanov is probably more closely related to one of the items from Dmitri’s translation of Russian military bloggers than it is to Wagner taking revenge. It appears that when the Chechens arrived in Kreminna, either one of their own commanders or one of the Russian leaders already there, wanted to stage some sort of formal review. That led to everyone standing around in a mass for two hours as the commander gave a speech.
And, as Russian observers noted, “B*tch, you shouldn't stay in a column for two hours in one place! What are you doing, father commanders?”
That’s a message that has been repeated several times in Telegram and Twitter since the counteroffensive kicked into gear: staying in the same place for two hours is a death sentence for Russian forces.
As an absolutely lovely example, here are a set of artillery guns—five in total—lined up in a field about 20 km southeast of Velyka Novosilka. What happens next is an act of such precision that it makes even explosions beautiful.
Here are guns one and two.
And here are guns three, four, and five.
Multiple sources attribute these hits to the use of Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB), which reportedly arrived in Ukraine this spring after being announced by the U.S. in February. At the time of their announcement, many experts scoffed at the effectiveness of GLSDB because it’s range is limited to about 150 km, and Ukraine was looking for access to the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which can be paired with HIMARS to give it a range over 300 km. However, since then the U.K. has provided Ukraine with Storm Shadow missiles with an operational range of 550 km.
So Ukraine now has weapons it can use against high-value Russian targets in locations like Mariupol, Berdyansk, or even Sevastopol. It has medium-range weapons it can use against targets well beyond the range of any artillery gun. And it has HIMARS able to fire Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) at ranges up to 70 km.
Looking at what’s going on in the south, it’s likely that all three of these tools are now in active use, with Storm Shadow responsible for the recent explosions in Berdyansk, GLSDB taking out Russian positions in the midfield, and HIMARS systems moving south as Ukraine captures new positions to hit Russian artillery and MLRS.
Reports suggest that Ukraine also has at least one HIMARS in the area of Kreminna. That’s reportedly how that cluster of Russian and Chechen soldiers, including Delimkhanov, was targeted. At least they don’t have to listen to more of that speech.
With all this, it’s very easy to understand why Russian soldiers start to sweat if they stand in the same place for too long. But everyone would probably put down the missiles and wait if Kadyrov and Prigozhin really want to throw their forces against each other. Genuinely a fight where everyone wins.
Southern Ukraine Front
As we’ve written several times over the last week, all the fighting going on right now is happening in advance of Russia’s prepared defenses. Russia wants everyone to remember this as well, and they keep cranking out statements about how this fighting is in the “gray zone.”
The biggest reason for doing this is so Russia can claim it isn’t actually losing control of territory in Ukraine. As in, “that area was never ours, it was just the gray zone.” However, what Russia is doing now completely negates the whole concept. That’s because Russia keeps pressing more and more troops into the effort to hold this area in front of their defensive line.
The area that Ukraine is fighting through now is reportedly where Russia has done the most heavy mining, arranged the most booby traps, and created the most “surprises,” like aligning distant artillery so that they can strike Ukrainian forces navigating narrow, relatively mine-free strips. This is supposed to be the area where Ukraine loses lots of armor to mines, drones, and artillery strikes before it ever encounters Russian forces.
Instead, Russia keeps putting its forces into the mix, piling in more and more troops who are facing Ukrainian forces nose to nose rather than taking positions in the many trenches, pillboxes, and fortifications built on the other side of those dragon’s teeth and vehicle trenches. The physical barriers of the defensive line are meant to slow the advance of armor so that troops behind the barriers can pick them off.
Why Russia is out there fighting to maintain positions in the area ahead of those lines, at places where they don’t have strong fortifications, is a mystery. It’s like World War I forces constructing all those trenches, then marching their troops out and telling them to hold no man’s land.
After repeated failed attempts to retake Makarivka, Russia has moved still more reserves into the area to try and prevent Ukraine from advancing. The primary fighting is now going on within that orange triangle around Staromaiorske, Urozhaine, and Zavitne.
Ukraine is apparently able to bring forces to this area from both the east and north, but I don’t have good status on the control of Oktyabrske. Further out to the east, there are reports on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces are fighting at Shevchenko, but so far there are few details. The front lines appear to keep expanding. However, earlier reports that Ukrainian forces were attacking Marfopil, just southeast of Hulyaipole, are now described as “small” and “probing.”
The small blue marker directly south of Oktyabrske shows where that serious artillery gun was taken out so neatly. The red marker near Klychove shows where yet another dam was reportedly breached by Russian forces. Taking out every possible dam seems to be part of their standard plan these days, and since Ukraine’s advance in this area has been along the twisting Mokri Yali River, smashing this dam might actually slow that advance somewhat—though it does seem to be an acknowledgment that Russia plans to retreat.
If it looks as if nothing much has changed on this side of the line, that’s because nothing much has changed. On the left, Russian sources continue to give contradictory information, with claims both that Luhove has been abandoned and Ukrainian forces have entered the town, and that Russian forces are surging through Luhove to attack Ukrainian positions to the north. There’s nothing like confirmation of anything, and each passing day makes it clear the Ukrainian forces in this area are much lighter than the group south of Velyka Novosilka.
The biggest addition to this map is that there are reports that Ukraine has launched counterattacks on another pair of “Novos”--Novopokrovka and Novokarlivka. In particular, Ukraine is reportedly having success near Novopokrovka, and the town is now about evenly divided.
The big potential change here is a reported attack by Ukraine on Verkinia Krynytsia, directly north of Vasylivka. This would seem to either indicate that Ukraine does hold Luhove and are moving on from there, or that they have launched another attack down the M18 highway. Either way, if fighting at Verkinia is confirmed, it would be a major advance and position Ukraine to drive into one of the biggest targets so far in the counteroffensive. Vasylivka is not as important a road and rail hub as Tokmak, but taking it would put a serious crimp in Russian operations on this western flank of the line.
Waiting for confirmation of this attack, and some feeling for its direction, before changing the map.
Prigozhin working to keep his social media profile high.
Russia is continuing the recent trend of just shooting missiles at civilians in cities where Patriot systems don’t swat everything down. Last night's targets included Odesa and Kramatorsk.
I’m not sure being in this place would in any way improve my mood. It probably would raise my blood pressure.