Big kill for Ukraine, the highest ranking Russian killed in the war.
Well, Russians of equal rank have been killed, but Tsokov had the largest command. The fact that Ukraine knew where he was holed up is huge, and likely took out a big swath of Russia’s command and control in a single strike.
Maybe he had his Strava on.
When I was in the Army, I did fire direction for an M270 MLRS rocket artillery battery, the only kind of rocket munitions for that system were those carrying cluster bombs. Those M26 rockets carried 644 submunitions, scattering them across the area of a football field.
I’ve written about them before, in a story titled, “As Ukraine begs for MLRS, here's a weapons system we absolutely shouldn't send them.” It was written back in May of 2022, and the article was premised on a factual inaccuracy: I assumed MLRS still fired those cluster munitions, rather than the unitary GMLRS warhead. In any case, the cluster bomb part of that story is still salient, and leaned heavily on an Army report that found:
Just two years after the war’s end, the Government Accountability Office reported that M.L.R.S. rockets failed at far higher rates in combat than the Army had advertised, and that dud grenades left over from rocket attacks had killed and wounded at least 16 American troops. An Army report in the early 2000s noted that even though the M.L.R.S. was deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, “not one rocket was fired because of the lack of precision and potential for collateral damage as well as the high submunition dud rate.”
Sounds terrible, right? And it was a good argument for May 2022. Today? It no longer applies, and it’s a great thing that cluster munitions are being sent. Here’s why.
First of all, no one is talking about sending MLRS/HIMARS-launched M26 rockets. Their dud rates were astronomical, and they started being dismantled a decade ago, the rocket bodies reused for GMLRS rockets. As far as anyone knows, there may not be any left. Instead, we’re talking about a version launched via 155 millimeter artillery.
RO37 has been on the story here, here, and here. I will say that people are putting too much hope on these munitions. They’re not the game-changers people claim they are, and getting those individual grenades to drop into trenches is still incredibly hard. They’re best used against light vehicles and troops out in the open. What they bring to the table, as RO37 notes, is millions of potential new rounds at a time when the West is running frightfully low on conventional artillery shells.
If you want to call “a shit-ton more artillery shells” a game-changer, then I’ll grant that. It’s a volume play.
In any case, I don’t need or want to rehash any of that. Read those links above if you want the technical details. Instead, let me explain why my original analysis no longer applies.
In short, the battlefield looked a lot different in May 2022. Russia was at least a half year away from beginning to create the trench and defensive network that scars the entire front line today. The people laying mines were the Ukrainians, trying to stop the Russian hordes from advancing. Creating a whole new class of unexploded ordnance near the population centers then-besieged by Russia could actually imperil Ukrainian defenders and civilians for marginal utility.
Russia itself used the munitions as a tool of terror, regularly dropping those cluster munitions on cities like Kharkiv and Mykolaiv. The point was to sow terror. Ukraine wasn’t in that game.
The argument against cluster munitions, and the reason 100 countries have outlawed them (though only seven out of the 20 largest countries has done so), is all about that dud rate, and the potential to maim or kill civilians long after the fighting stops.
Does anyone think any civilians will be walking that front line anytime in the next decade? Unexploded cluster bombs will be the least of the problems with millions of buried anti-tank mines, anti-personnel mines, unexploded artillery shells, conventional grenades, degraded TNT, assorted booby traps, unexploded rockets and missiles, and god knows what else. The environmental pollution will add to the dangers.
This isn’t a question about introducing a brand new UXO threat to a previously clean zone. This is a part of the front that will already require massive, sustained, and long-running UXO cleanup. And those dud cluster grenades will have the chance to be swept up in the cleanup along with the tons of other ordinance that will inevitably be left behind.
Or put another way, those cluster munitions will not introduce any danger that doesn’t already exist.
That’s not all.
The desire to protect civilian lives is laudable. Yet right now, every day, Ukrainian civilians are being tortured, raped, murdered, deported, and subjugated under Russian rule. Every liberated city has borne witness to Russia’s depravity and cruelty. And where Russia doesn’t control, it rains rockets, missiles, and artillery, killing more civilians every single day.
The quicker the war ends, the fewer civilians die in the long run. If the price is that a handful of future civilians meet an untimely demise at the hands of these weapons, that’s a tradeoff to which few will object.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleskii Reznikov listed the guidelines under which these munitions will be used:
1. Ukraine will use these munitions only for the de-occupation of our internationally recognised territories. These munitions will not be used on the officially recognized territory of russia.
2. We will not be using cluster munitions in urban areas (cities) to avoid the risks for the civilian populations - these are our people, they are Ukrainians we have a duty to protect.
Cluster munitions will be used only in the fields where there is a concentration of russian military. They will be used to break through the enemy defence lines with minimum risk for the lives of our soldiers. Saving the lives of our troops, even during extremely difficult offensive operations, remains our top priority.
3. Ukraine will keep a strict record of the use of these weapons and the local zones where they will be used.
4. Based on these records, after the de-occupation of our territories and our victory these territories will be prioritised for the purposes of de-mining. This will enable us to eradicate the risk from the unexploded elements of cluster munitions. The Minister of Defence of Ukraine is by law acting as the Head of the national de-mining agency. In this capacity I will ensure the implementation of the relevant legal framework for the de-mining process after our victory.
5. We will report to our partners about the use of these munitions, and about their efficiency to ensure the appropriate standard of transparent reporting and control.
All of this speaks to my points above: They won’t be used near civilians, but against Russian military positions in occupied territory. Any duds will be swept up as part of the broader de-mining operation. Keeping records is irrelevant; where there are Russians, cleanup will take years to finish, and the records would be fudged if any off-label use were proscribed. But if it makes everyone happy to pretend otherwise, so be it.
Yes, unexploded cluster bombs will inevitably kill some Ukrainian soldiers. But you know what will kill them more? Living Russian defenders able to fight back. The math is clear, and so is the moral authority. As long as these are kept away from civilian areas, it makes perfect sense to make use of them.
A quick addendum: Here are the world’s 10 most populous countries, and whether they have outlawed cluster munitions:
Old-ish news, added as an update to yesterday’s Ukraine Update:
Still, I’m laughing at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan humiliating Vladimir Putin twice in as many days, first by releasing the Azovstal commanders he had promised to hold until the end of the war, then a day later by signing off on Sweden’s NATO membership after a year or so of obstructing it.
We still don’t have confirmation of rumors claiming that Turkey will guarantee the safety of Ukrainian grain shipping vessels if Russia refuses to renew the grain corridor agreement. Just the threat of doing so should prompt Putin toward renewing the agreement, perhaps even indefinitely. What’s the alternative? Putin is better off appearing magnanimous in agreeing to extend than impotent by watching Turkey escort those vessels and Russia unable to do anything about it.
Incidentally and totally coincidentally, the U.S. has dropped opposition to the Turkish purchase of modern F-16s. If you want to learn more about the Turkish F-16 issue, this is great background here.
The Israeli Mossad spent decades hunting and assassinating former Nazi officials hiding overseas. It looks like Ukraine has already started its own retribution campaign.
Image is slightly outdated (Finland is already a NATO member), but check out NATO lake:
St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad (the little gray blotch between Poland and Lithuania) sure do look squeezed. In fact, Finland and Estonia are combining their coastal defenses under unified command.
Somewhat relatedly, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) are unifying their air forces under a single command, creating an air force powerhouse of over 250 combat aircraft. While the idea had circulated for decades, Sweden and Finland’s nonaligned status created impediments. Thanks to Putin, that is no longer a problem.
At the beginning of the war, we all watched helplessly as Russian Grad MLRS rocket artillery systems rained unimpeded death on Kharkiv. Remember these videos?
That’s why I’ll never get tired of seeing GMLRS rockets destroying Grads by the dozens these days.