Ukraine Situation Report: Champagne Glass In Hand, Putin Vows More Energy Grid Attacks
After saying Ukraine “started it,” Putin made a veiled vow to continue strikes against its energy infrastructure.
With a drink in his right hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood in the Grand Hall of the Kremlin on Thursday and proclaimed that the ongoing barrages against Ukraine’s power infrastructure, which have left millions struggling without electricity and water in frigid weather, are a response to the Oct. 8 attack on the Kerch Bridge — the prized $4 billion bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula (which Russia has occupied since 2014).
Complaining about that and several other incidents he blames on Ukraine, Putin said he would ignore international criticism - which includes that his plan to take out Ukraine’s power infrastructure is a “war crime,” as U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and others have alleged. And he made a veiled vow to continue those attacks, which began on Oct. 10.
“There’s a lot of noise right now about our strikes against the energy infrastructure of the neighboring country,” Putin said after an awards ceremony. “Yes we are doing it, but who started it? Who struck the Crimean bridge? Who blew up the power lines of the Kursk Nuclear Power Station? Who is not providing water to Donestk? Not providing water to a city of one million is an act of genocide. No one said a word about it anywhere. At all. Complete silence. Just as we make a move, do something in response. Noise and crackle start from the whole universe. This will not stop us from completing military objectives.“
Though Putin admitted inflicting so much suffering in an act of vengeance (and forgetting the fact that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine in the first place), such claims have been previously disputed by Kyiv.
“[W]e possess information and evidence that that attack was pre-planned before the 10th of October and before the Kerch Bridge explosion,” Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of his nation’s Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR) told The War Zone on Oct. 28. “They just used the Kerch Bridge explosion as a pretext, as justification for those massive strikes at Ukraine. But as I say it was pre-planned long before all of that.”
The most recent wave of attacks against Ukraine’s power infrastructure came on Dec. 5. The Black Sea port city of Odesa suffered the most damage, said Ukrainian officials working to repair the affected systems.
“After shelling on December 5, the energy system of the city and surrounding settlements suffered the most,” Deputy Head of the Office of The President Kyrylo Tymoshenko wrote on his Telegram channel Thursday. “Today we are working here on site. Energy workers have done a great job. The situation has been stabilized, and we will return to the scheduled electricity supply schedules in the near future.”
Wednesday night, he said, "specialists found a way to reconnect Odesa and Odesa district to the network! Also, the issue of water supply and drainage in almost all communities of the region has been resolved. Of course, the work continues, and not only here, but throughout the country.”
“The Russians are looking for ways to sow panic and discontent. We will not allow this,” Tymoshenko said. “We are working 24/7 to overcome all the consequences of Russian attacks.”
Before heading into the rest of today’s news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here:
On the battlefield, it appears that Russia is not only continuing its attacks on Bakhmut in the Donetsk Oblast, but it is also increasing pressure on Ukrainian troops with counterattacks in the Kharkiv and Luhansk oblasts. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin is setting conditions for a protracted war of conquest in Ukraine.
- Putin is using Russia’s Human Rights Council to consolidate power while rejecting principles of international human rights law.
- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made comments supporting ISW’s previous assessments that an operational pause in the winter of 2022-2023 would favor Russia.
- Russian forces used Shahed-136 drones in Ukraine for the first time in three weeks.
- Russian efforts to pressure Belarus into joining the war in Ukraine may be causing friction in the Belarusian military.
- Russian forces are likely increasing the pace of their counterattacks in eastern Kharkiv and western Luhansk Oblast.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City areas.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations and the reorientation of their forces in eastern Kherson Oblast.
- Independent Russian media sources indicated that mobilization efforts will continue despite statements from Russian officials to the contrary.
- Russian occupation authorities are likely transforming Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, into a rear military and logistics base for Russian forces.
More reports emerged Thursday of attacks on Russian targets deep in the Ukrainian territory the country occupies.
Three powerful explosions, followed by 15 smaller ones, reportedly occurred at an air base in the occupied Sea of Azov port city of Berdyansk, according to the chairman of the occupation military administration of that city.
"According to available information, this caused a large-scale fire," the Ukraine Today news organization reported. "Almost all the ambulances and fire trucks that are in the city left for the scene." It is unclear, what, if any damage was caused, but the base is most likely used by Russians to store ammunition, not aircraft.
There was also claim of an attack on the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
"During the morning, a ship of the Black Sea Fleet has shot down a drone over the sea," Mikhail Razvozhaev, the occupation governor of Sevastopol said on his Telegram channel Thursday. "Our Army, as always has acted well."
Speaking of long-range attacks, Russia claims that the U.S. defense manufacturer Raytheon helped improve Soviet-era jet drones it says Ukraine used recently to attack two Russian airbases, Engels and Dyagilevo, which resulted in damage to at least one Tu-22M3 Backfire-C bomber and apparently also to a Tu-95MS Bear-H, which you can read about here. Russian officials, and at least one Ukrainian official, had previously attributed those blasts to Ukrainian drone strikes, with Moscow saying they involved the use of Soviet-era types, referring to the jet-powered Tu-141 Strizh, originally built as a reconnaissance UAV. Smaller Tu-143s have also likely been used.
On Thursday, Russian officials accused Raytheon of making improvements to those drones earlier this year.
"The activities involved experts from the Kyiv-based Luch Design Bureau and the United States’ Raytheon Technologies," the Russian official news agency TASS reported, citing Konstantin Gavrilov, head of Russia’s delegation to the Vienna talks on military security and arms control. "The drone was turned into a combat weapon with a range of action of up to 1,000 kilometers, capable of carrying out a high-explosive warhead weighing up to 80 kilograms and using the US Global Positioning System (GPS) for targeting," Gavrilov told TASS.
Russia has provided no proof to back up any of these claims. We reached out to Raytheon for comment and will update this story with any response the company provides.
Gavrilov also claimed that NATO was aware of the attacks ahead of time.
"Provocations against Russia’s Dyagilevo and Engels strategic airfields, which involved Tu-141 Strizh jet combat drones, could have created serious nuclear security threats," Gavrilov said at a plenary session of the OSCE Forum on Security Cooperation, according to TASS. "NATO was aware of the preparations for the recent Ukrainian attacks on Russian military airfields. We immediately responded to them by conducting a massive strike on Ukraine’s military command system, defense industry facilities and related energy sites. No one should have any doubts that this is what will happen every time if Ukraine continues to carry out terrorist attacks."
We reached out to NATO for comment and will update this story with any response it offers.
This week, Germany delivered 20 more DINGO Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored transport vehicles to Ukraine, bringing the total number of such MRAPs Berlin has delivered to Kyiv to 50, according to the German Defense Ministry. Germany also delivered two more M1070 Oshkosh tank transporters, bringing the total to 12. Germany is also planning to deliver 18 wheeled self-propelled RCH 155mm howitzers to Ukraine as well.
Speaking of German arms supplies to Ukraine, the United States "signaled to the federal government some time ago that it would approve the delivery of German Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine," the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported earlier this week. "Two sources with access to confidential information from two countries told the FAZ that the US President's security advisor, Jake Sullivan, had already informed the Chancellor's foreign policy advisor, Jens Plötner, in October."
The newspaper said "a source said Sullivan told Plotner on the phone that America would welcome Germany to deliver the Leopard 2, but that it should do so at Germany's initiative. America is not asking Germany to make such deliveries. The second source said Sullivan signaled Plotner in October that it was 'okay' if Germany delivered."
The U.S. is not making the request for Germany to ship Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the State Department says.
"We are leaving this to the Germans to decide, not making requests of them," said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in a statement provided to The War Zone. "We appreciate the security assistance that Germany has provided to Ukraine, including MLRS artillery, air defenses, and ammunition."
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the German parliament's defense committee, said in a Tweet that the U.S. approval of such a move "was confirmed to me during my visit to Washington in all my discussions in the State Department, in Congress and in the Senate. Our partners expect Germany to live up to its responsibilities. We must not abandon Ukraine. You need tanks."
Slovakia announced on Thursday it will provide Ukraine with a new aid package, worth more than $11 million, that includes ammunition, clothing and other support.
Ukraine is also getting help from foreigners to help clear mines, in this case thanks to retired Green Beret Ryan Hendrickson.
Regardless of the aid it receives, Ukraine continues to innovate on the battlefield. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT account reported that Ukrainian troops turned a Ford F-150 Raptor pickup into an improvised multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) by mounting a 12-tube launcher using 80mm S-8KO rockets typically fired by tactical aircraft.
Ukrainian troops apparently also installed two UB-32 57mm aviation rocket pods on a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle chassis, turning it into a mobile rocket launcher.
Ukrainian snipers will have easier shots to make as they are provided some top-line weapons, like the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare sniper rifle and Sako TRG-42 sniper rifle.
Russian mobilized reservists, meanwhile, apparently have to make do with substandard makeshift equipment, like poorly outfitted medical kits.
And, apparently, Scott-taped "bulletproof" plates.
The influential, well-connected Russian "Rybar" Telegram channel on Thursday offered a blunt assessment of the conditions faced by those mobilized troops.
"We saw both positive aspects (many guys are well dressed, normally armed, commanders are in control of the situation, the mood is combative), and negative (management chaos reigns in some units, supply interruptions, an absolute lack of communication, low motivation of personnel)," Rybar reported. "According to our subjective observations, there is more good than bad. But some cases of negligence and idiocy are just outrageous. For example, we know a situation in which several soldiers froze to death during the period when the frosts came. For the 9th month of the Northern Military District, after all the mistakes that were made (and in the LPR they know how to cross the river in the month of frost, march about 30 km in summer shoes and lose entire companies from pneumonia), such situations are unacceptable."
Elsewhere, the battle for Bakhmut remains a bloody slog, as this crew from Sky News, embedded with Ukrainian troops, highlights.
And though troops try to hide in trenches, drones are an ever-present menace, in this case dropping munitions on Russian soldiers.
And in this case, observing strikes on Ukrainian troops.
While drones have added a new wrinkle to trench fighting, some things have not progressed much beyond World War I.
The trenches may be miserable, but the open road isn't often much better.
And there is always death from above, as this undated footage from a Ukrainian MiG-29 illustrates.
And finally, we recently shared a video of a Ukrainian soldier getting jiggy with the Pikachu Dance, something that apparently drew a lot of online fire from haters. The Ukrainians, far from shy and masters of information operations, have been doubling down, showing more troops shaking their collective booties.
That's it for now.
We will update this story if there is anything major to add until our next new update is posted.
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