Ukraine at D+517: NATO prepares for Russian escalation in the Black Sea.
N2K logoJul 26, 2023

Slow progress in Ukraine's counteroffensive as Russia escalates its war against grain and deals with internal fissures.

Ukraine at D+517: NATO prepares for Russian escalation in the Black Sea.

Russian strikes against cities returned to Kyiv overnight. All the incoming drones are reported to have been shot down by Ukrainian air defenses during their approach to the capital. On the ground, Ukrainian forces continue to make small but "tactically significant gains" (as the Institute for the Study of War calls them) while Russian attacks in the direction of Kharkiv have faltered.

Russia's war against grain escalates.

The end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative has led Russia to alter its naval posture, the UK's Ministry of Defence writes in this morning's situation report. "Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has altered its posture since Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), in preparedness to enforce a blockade on Ukraine. The modern corvette SERGEY KOTOV, has deployed to the southern Black Sea, patrolling the shipping lane between the Bosphorus and Odesa. There is a realistic possibility that it will form part of a task group to intercept commercial vessels Russia believes are heading to Ukraine. The BSGI has moderated the involvement of the Black Sea in the war: there is now the potential for the intensity and scope of violence in the area to increase."

Monday's strikes against Ukrainian grain ports on the Black Sea and the Danube were the stick to the carrot of Russia's offer to replace Ukrainian grain on the world market with Russian grain. The Danube strikes were particularly alarming--the grain storage facilities hit in the Ukrainian river port of Reni were only two-hundred meters from the Romanian border, and also close to Moldova. NATO and Ukraine, Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports, are beginning discussions on Black Sea security.

US announces next round of military aid to Ukraine.

The US Department of Defense yesterday announced more military aid for Ukraine: "Today’s commitment in security assistance, valued at up to $400 million, includes additional air defense munitions, artillery and other ammunition, armored vehicles, anti-armor weapons, and other equipment to help Ukraine counter Russia’s ongoing war of aggression." Obstacle-clearing charges and armored vehicle bridging systems were among the munitions provided. These are useful in attacking prepared field defenses of the kind Russia has emplaced in the Ukrainian territory it occupies.

Implications of the Wagner mutiny.

The Washington Post, citing sources in US and European intelligence services, reports a Western assessment that Russian President Putin was weakened by his failure to take immediate and decisive action when Yevgeny Prigozhin led his Wagner Group on its brief March on Moscow. Russian security services had warned that the mutiny was imminent at least two days before it took place. President Putin increased the readiness of his own security detachment, but otherwise seems to have done little to prepare for the Wagner action. “'Putin had time to take the decision to liquidate [the rebellion] and arrest the organizers' said one of the European security officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. 'Then when it began to happen, there was paralysis on all levels. … There was absolute dismay and confusion. For a long time, they did not know how to react.'”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reports as "nonsense" fomented by those with no knowledge of the events, but irresolution and weakness would explain what's otherwise a baffling failure to act against the Wagnerites. One of the stranger aspects of the March on Moscow was the way the regulars stood by and let the mercenaries take control of Rostov and make considerable progress toward Moscow. It appears the regulars lacked instructions, and stood aside for what, as far they knew, was an action that may have had Presidential sanction.

Ukraine's assessment is that the incident is evidence of serious weakness in the Russian regime. “'The local authorities did not receive any commands from the leadership,' said a senior Ukrainian security official. 'From our point of view this is the biggest sign of the unhealthy situation inside Russia. The authoritarian system is formed in such a way that without a very clear command from the leadership, people don’t do anything. When the leadership is in turmoil and disarray, it is the same situation at the local level and even worse.'”

Since the March, Russia's Defense Ministry has undergone a wave of dismissals and disappearance of senior officers. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty has a scorecard of the shuffle.

That the Kremlin continues to face sharp dissatisfaction from its own domestic ultras is highlighted by the way the mil-bloggers (especially the Angry Patriots Club) have continued to excoriate the government over the arrest of Igor Girkin for his defamatory remarks about President Putin. This has led the Angry Patriots in particular to assume the unlikely role of civil liberty advocates arguing for the rule of law: they claim the arrest was illegal. Their criticism is a development of the traditional wicked-boyars-around-the-throne form that Russian dissent has often taken. If only the President could be made aware of how his government was flouting his own deep respect for the law, he would bring a stop to such abuses.

Mr. Prigozhin himself appears to be preparing a second act in Belarus, according to the Hill, which breathlessly compares the Wagner Group boss to a Bond villain.

Ukrainian drone strikes on Moscow may have hit GRU offices.

According to the Telegraph, Ukrainian drones that hit Moscow on Monday (which Moscow said did little damage) appear to have struck an office building that houses the GRU's  Unit 26165, an organization responsible for Russian offensive cyber operations. The unit's activities are best known under their Fancy Bear nickname. Ukrainian officials said more attacks against Russia could be expected, and derided Russia's ability to defend its own airspace. “Today, at night, drones attacked the capital of ‘the orcs’ and Crimea,” Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said. “Electronic warfare and air defence are already less able to defend the skies of the occupiers.”