Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 09MAR22–1; 1730 Eastern/0030 Kyiv
1.) There are growing concerns in national security circles regarding the potential use of small, tactical nuclear weapons as frustration grows among Putin’s inner circle. At this point, it is speculative. However, Russia does consider tactical nuclear weapons as viable military arms as part of the so-called “escalate to de-escalate” component of its doctrine. To be fair, though, this doctrine isn’t exactly unique to Russia, but has been put forth conceptually in US military publications. But here’s what “The Priority Tasks of the Development of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (2003)” has to say about the subject:
“De-escalation of aggression [means] forcing the enemy to halt military action by a threat to deliver or by actual delivery of strikes of varying intensity with reliance on conventional and (or) nuclear weapons.”
1.a.) There are also concerns about a potential/eventual deployment of chemical weapons or, perhaps, some manner of “dirty bomb,” the latter of which may be couched as a Ukrainian action which thus legitimizes further Russian escalation or use of non-conventional weapons. In other words, Russia may sabotage nuclear power plants under its control, or disseminate radiological material in another way, while blaming it on the Ukrainians — a false flag operation. At this point, I do not assess that any of these options are the most likely courses of action, but they may be considered among the most dangerous courses of action. However, several days ago the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US Department of Defense of funding a clandestine biological weapons program in Ukraine. This accusation may have been presented as a preparation for an eventual justification of the use of non-conventional weapons. In addition, Russia has faced accusations of having used chemical weapons, most recently in Syria but also in Afghanistan in the 1980s and, despite having signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, its use of chemical agents against dissidents is widely acknowledged. The use of chemical or other weapons of mass destruction cannot be ruled out at this time, no matter how unlikely it appears.
1.b.) Adding to this, earlier today Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated that Ukrainian “nationalists” have transported 80 tons of ammonia to a location northwest of Kharkiv in order to conduct a chemical attack and blame it on Russia, from TASS. Interestingly, on 19 January 2022, the Kyiv Independent reported that Russian-backed militants released ammonia in Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, as part of a “false flag operation.” Horlivka used to be home to a nitrogen fertilizer factory, Stirol, but it was shut down in 2014, but I’m not a chemist. And before this, on 21 December 2022, Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu claimed that “US mercenaries” were going to use an unspecified chemical agent to attack forces in Donbas.
2.) Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby issued a statement via Twitter regarding the Polish MiG issue. From the US perspective, this transfer of Polish MiGs into US control for eventual deployment to Ukraine is “untenable.” At this point, the MiG’s will not be transferred to Ramstein, into US hands, and then into Ukrainian hands. The “Saga of the MiGs” continues… I’ll relay Kirby’s statement in its entirety:
“We are now in contact with the Polish government following the statement issued today [yesterday]. As we have said, the decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government. We will continue consulting with our Allies and partners about our ongoing security assistance to Ukraine, because, in fact, Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents. The prospect of fighter jets “at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America” departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.”
2.a.) This is reflective of the concerns I brought up a few days ago. How does the US get the aircraft to Ukraine, which would likely require them to be flown over “contested” airspace. Additionally, the US seems to have been utterly surprised by this announcement.
2.b.) I have no idea what is going on with these MiGs. This does, however, seem to show a crack in the heretofore solidarity that NATO has shown. That said, Vice President Harris is due in Warsaw at some point today, I’m told. I have little doubt that the conversations in which she will take part will be very interesting.
3.) Russia reportedly struck the maternity ward section of a hospital complex in Mariupol with air dropped ordnance. The building is devastated. Injuries and fatalities are not yet clear, but if the building had people in it, the casualties must be significant. A crater from one munition can be seen outside. It is massive, appearing to be about twice as deep as a human is tall. Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov has stated that the city has had to use mass graves in order to bury the estimated 1,200 civilian casualties who have lost their lives. These casualty counts cannot be verified, at least not by me, but given the destruction and the fact that many of these civilians are not able to flee (due to the repeated failure of ceasefire agreements, among other things), the number does not stretch the boundaries of reason.
4.) In Sumy, Ukrainian forces stopped an attempted Russian advance. It appears that at least one T-90 was destroyed outright. Its turret currently lays upside down, on the side of a road, about twenty yards from its chassis. There have been additional reports of several Russian supply convoys being destroyed.
4.a.) While I often discuss the number of tanks destroyed (because I’m a tank nut), equally significant is the number of destroyed Russian trucks and other vehicles. Currently, 299 trucks, jeeps, and other vehicles have been confirmed lost to Russian forces. This is a very large number and represents a degradation of logistics capability. Ninety Ural-4320 6x6 trucks (roughly equivalent to US M939 5-ton trucks) have been lost alone, as have 121 KamAZ 6x6 trucks. For the most part, we are talking about the types of trucks that haul ammunition, food, water, and other supplies to Russian troops engaged in combat operations.
4.b.) Contrary to official Pentagon sources, open-source reporting is suggesting the movement of additional Russian forces toward Ukraine, including what appear to be some reserve elements, along with multiple vehicles on trains. We’ve discussed train movements in Eastern Russia in the past, and it’s unknown to me if these current trains are the same. It is thought that Russia has approximately 40 battalion tactical groups in reserve. Russia had sent roughly 120 BTGs to Ukraine, out of 168 in total. It seems that after these 40 reserve BTGs, Russia would have to resort to some sort of mobilization effort. I think that at this time it can be assessed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put significant strain on its combat capabilities, especially concerning any potential follow-on offensive.
4.c.) Trains have been reported as arriving in Kherson from Russia. It seems likely that these trains are carrying supplies. I’m not able to make out any military vehicles, but it does look like it is transporting some sort of bulldozer or engineering vehicle.
5.) The US has sent and already deployed two Patriot missile batteries to Poland. The MIM-104 Patriot is a capable high to medium altitude surface to air missile with a proven track record, in particular against surface-to-surface missiles. Interestingly, the US was to deliver two batteries to Poland in 2022 as a result of a deal announced in 2017. Since the reporting suggest that these are US Army Patriot batteries, these may be in addition rather than in lieu of the arms deal between the two countries. It seems like we are seeing an incremental increase in US forces in the region, with requests from some countries for a permanent force of US troops. At some point, I have to wonder when this will be viewed very negatively, and spoken about very loudly, by Russian authorities.
6.) Mykolaiv governor Vitaliy Kim stated, “We’re getting prepared for yet another Russian assault. In particular, we have booked 50 buses to transport new POWs.” The Ukrainians are proving masters at what the kids call the “sick burn.” At least I think kids still call it that. In any case, all is not too rosy, despite the confidence. Some civilians in Ukrainian cities are having to resort to melting snow for drinking water.
7.) According to Oliver Carroll, reporter for The Economist, Ukrainian postal services are still operational in Kyiv. He was informed that delivers “may take a bit longer…You know, sir, with there being a war on.”
8.) A video from Russia’s Ministry of Defense allegedly shows armored vehicles in Ukraine rolling down a road. One BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle is flying the Soviet flag. As you know, Russia’s official flag is very different in appearance. It’s possible, but unlikely, that most of the crew of that BMP-2 wasn’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed. And it doesn’t really send the right message when you’re claiming to liberate a country while flying the flag of a dead one.
8.a.) In addition to that, the Russian Defense Ministry has admitted that “some” conscripts have been deployed to Ukraine, which is contrary to the repeated assertion by Putin that only professional soldiers were taking part in the heroic effort to de-Nazify Ukraine. Professional, in this case, means simply that they are volunteers paid by the state, rather than draftees who are pressed into service. It says nothing of their professionalism in terms of combat arms or military discipline. The Kremlin has stated that Putin wasn’t aware of the deployment of conscripts and, as logic would dictate, couldn’t possibly have known that conscripts had been deployed and thus didn’t lie about it for the last week.
9.) An RC-135W Rivet Joint flew completely around Kaliningrad Oblast, flying through Poland to Lithuania, out over the Baltic and around to complete the circuit. I’m sure that the Russians were paying close attention.
10.) UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba stated that the UAE favors” production increases and will be encouraging OPEC to consider higher production levels.” It isn’t clear what this means in terms of increased production, but it is evidence that the US has been engaging in behind-the-scenes discussions with various OPEC producers in the hopes of alleviating the rise in energy prices that the world sees when this sort of conflict breaks out.
11.) On Sunday, Russia fired eight cruise missiles at the Vinnytsia Airport, striking some buildings and damaging at least one aircraft. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) does not show any damage to the runway.
12.) It appears that the Russian patrol ship, the Vasily Bykov, has been sunk. Dumskaya, an Odessa newspaper, reported that two Ukrainian speed boats enticed the Vasily Bykov into following them. The boats led the Russian ship directly into an area in which Ukrainian rockets were prepared to fire.
13.) I can’t help but wonder about the Russian POWs we’ve seen. Where are they? How are they being taken care of? POWs cost resources; guards, food, and other things. It is perhaps true that some of them weren’t interested in fighting to begin with and thus aren’t flight risks. But the issue complicates things, especially if credible reports popped up that they weren’t being adequately cared for while in whatever camps Ukraine has established. Additionally, should these camps in the future be “liberated” by Russian forces, I cannot imagine that these men would be particularly well treated.
Post-Script: At 2000 Eastern, the US Dept of State issued a statement saying: “The US is in full compliance with its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention and does not develop or possess chemical and biological weapons anywhere.” In light of Russian accusations, this is an interesting announcement.
More to follow as reporting comes in. Thank you for reading.
Correction: I’ve lost track of the days, it seems. It’s 09 March, not 08 March. The title has been amended.