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Ukraine Before The Offensive

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Rob has provided material to read in preparation for the Ukrainian offensive. This is more of a situation report.

The Ukrainian government holds its plans for the offensive very close. They apparently are not sharing them even with the US government. So nobody outside of Ukraine knows what is going to happen, no matter what any rando bluecheck may claim.

Russia has been expending missiles on Kyiv since the “attack” on the Kremlin of a hobbyist-type drone carrying a firecracker’s worth of explosives. Ukrainian air defense has been quite effective, and a Patriot took down a Russian Kinzhal missile, one of Russia’s supposedly super weapons introduced by Putin along with a couple of things that didn’t pan out. It looks like Russia’s supply of missiles is running down, along with other equipment.

The May 9 parade in Moscow is reported to have included one (1) tank, an antique. However, antiques are being mobilized to Ukraine. A number of military experts say that Russia will have to mobilize more men soon, but there aren’t many signs of that.

Public opinion in Russia seems to be softening on support for the war, but it hasn’t turned against Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine has mounted a number of probes to the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River, the largest dividing line for the occupation. There have been reports of missiles toward the west coast of the Crimean Peninsula. Actions like these serve both harassment and reconnaissance.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, on the left bank of a large reservoir on the Dnipro, has been occupied and militarized by the Russians since early in the war. In preparation for the Ukrainian offensive, the Russians are evacuating Enerhodar, the town in which the plant’s Ukrainian staff lives. It’s not clear how they plan to continue necessary operations at the plant. All six reactors have been shut down, but they still require circulating coolant water and people to monitor those operations. The Russians have sent nuclear experts, and the IAEA has two observers at the plant.

Bakhmut has been the center of fighting in the more northern Luhansk-Donetsk front. The city has some strategic value, but the full reasons for the persistence in fighting for it are not clear. Russia’s Wagner Group has been a major force there, and Yevgeny Prigozhin has used that fighting to demand ammunition and other supplies from Putin. There were rumors that Putin had ordered Prigozhin to take the city in time for the May 9 celebrations, but that didn’t happen. In fact, reports today indicate that Russian forces in the area are pulling back.

Ukraine’s stated objective continues to be to take back all of its territory, to pre-2014 boundaries. That includes Crimea. With the Russian naval base at Sevastopol and Putin’s pride in the Kerch Bridge, Crimea seems like a dangerous target for Ukraine, but what Putin has done over the last year suggests that allowing Russia to continue to occupy the peninsula is also dangerous. Ruth Deyermond of Kings College London wrote an excellent Twitter thread about balancing these dangers. There’s no easy way through. European and US provision of weapons has escalated without triggering a nuclear response from Russia. Russia has escalated up to serious warcrimes by targeting civilians and infrastructure like the food depots hit this week. An argument can be made that Russia will not escalate up to nuclear use, but it’s not an argument any of the governments involved can afford to base plans on.

I think that Ukraine will make progress in its offensive and has a chance at victory. We need to be thinking about how that would affect Russia and how to rebuild Ukraine afterwards.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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