In the past week, Russia used six hypersonic missiles, likely Kh-47M2 Kinzhal “Killjoy”. This is at least the consensus reporting in the West. Most media reports in the West admit being at a loss as to the motivation and goal of using these weapons at this time. Many attribute it to the same boogeyman used throughout the conflict, “bad Russian thinking”. This may have happened, but I have not seen any BDA that would prove the use of a Kinzhhal - no distinctive fuselage in the debris, etc. I am doubtful this occurred, although it is possible and it could be for many valid reasons and a couple of irrational reasons. Russia test-fired 390 of these in 2019, they are not as super rare as Western media portrays.
I would be inclined to believe this is a lie that will be used to justify a request for air platforms by Ukraine. Ukraine cannot shoot down Kinzhals and there is no weapon system in the West that could be given to them that can reliably do the job. If your nation is being pummeled by weapons you cannot defeat, the only logical thing to look for is a way to control the air. I anticipate we will see efforts to pull the remaining MIG platforms from Poland and give these to Ukraine and then a move to hand over 3G platforms like F-16s.
This will merely kick the problem down the road and raise the stakes of escalation. Ukraine cannot establish air superiority with airframes like that, no more than Russia can at this point with more advanced aircraft. The air defense mesh from MANPADs to theater defense is simply too thick.
I recall saying to several friends over the last year or so, each time I saw FORTE 10 or its pal doing figure eights in the Black Sea that that thing was going to get splashed. If the US were conducting a SMO in Ukraine and an asset like that were lingering over the US Navy it would have been splashed long ago. Iran Air Flight 655 comes to mind. The US would have shot FORTE 10 down a long time ago, right wrong or indifferent and the wrong of that might say a lot about what is really happening in the world. I will wait to see video of a Russian pilot ramming a drone before I believe that. I am not inclined to believe it at present, he is not flying a Mack Truck but rather a relatively fragile machine traveling fast. I am not saying the Russians did not cause the crash, common sense says they should have a long time ago. We do know the Russian Navy sortied out of port in a robust way and is patrolling in the area around where the Reaper crashed.
The Russians are not going to put the thing back together and use it, I saw people saying that. They are not going to reverse engineer all the secrets of Predators, not in the short term. If the Russians did this it was a diplomatic message (or an overeager pilot showing way too much initiative). If they did not do it and it is all a lie (I am inclined not to favor this scenario) but if it is a lie then it is to be used as a minor provocation.
What Ugledar can tell us
This one is interesting, and maybe telling. I have watched similar events in the past, I took them in isolation but I see this too often to be mere isolation. I observed Russian Marines conducting urban operations in the vicinity of Ugledar. They rode their infantry fighting vehicles to the objective, dismounted, and began operations. Watching them reminds me specifically of US operations in Fallujah in 2004.
In my observations, Russian Sea Infantry troops would occupy and clear a building. They would isolate and draw fire from a Ukrainian position in another building then they would either use squad maneuvers to bring a heavy weapon up to engage the position or call for fire from an indirect fire weapon system. This sort of work is slow and ponderous, but effective. Each enemy position is identified, isolated, and eliminated one by one. In Fallujah, the US took ridiculously low casualties for an urban offensive operation. History says it should be bloody, but if your opponent is reduced to dead-ended hidey hole defenses, well he is merely waiting for you to find him and kill him.
This does not explain the entire way in which the war is being fought. It does explain what is clearly an odd ratio between Russian and Ukrainian casualties, especially considering Russia has been on the offensive much more of this war.
“Maginot Part Deux”
Imagery does seem to indicate that Russia is digging in and establishing fortifications along the line depicted above. I have seen some laughing that ‘the Maginot did not work and this just means one has to go through Belgium' (Belarus) Some people see this all as a sports game with teams and their minds have been so broken they do not even understand the analogy they are making when they say a thing like that.
Russia is not stopping and establishing a new international border along the line depicted in the graphic above. It cannot stop there now, for strategic and operational reasons. I think it would be wise to stop there and wait for the next round of “wonder weapons” to arrive from the West and let the Ukrainians throw those tanks against these fortifications. This seems to match the Russian strategic patience demonstrated in the past.
I recall all the internet laughter when Russia pulled T-62s out of stocks and sent them to Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers probably did not laugh when it became obvious that Russia was not sending them to replace real tanks, but rather to assign them as infantry support guns.
The T-62 is of course the same generation tank as the Leopard 1. Too old to be a main battle tank. Ukraine received 88 Leopard 1s last month, not a game changer and not even really a MBT now. The New York Times reported recently that Europe will have a hard time finding all the Leopard 2s Ukraine was promised. This is all about nothing, a handful of old tanks and a smattering of less old models.
This is a bloody mess. If I were to venture to think I can understand what I cannot fully know, I would say that Putin's strategy was the reverse of the thing people claim ended the Cold War. You often hear that Reagan spent the Soviets into the grave, but this is not exactly true, if anything ruined the USSR it was Chernobyl. But the idea stands. If tactical footage from Ugledar tells us the truth of reality on the ground we find an army of conscripts told to hold positions being systematically sent out of this world by professional soldiers. If that is happening at scale, it explains a lot in terms of pace and timing.
God bless and receive the young man that stands a post as a dead-ender while determined killers surround him. I felt the same for guys in Fallujah that dug their own graves and were determined to fight and die there in a hopeless last effort. Shame on us for prolonging this misery.
I assess that Putin pushes as far and in the most kinetic way possible that will not demand a Western response. He has not turned off all the electricity in winter or carpet-bombed Kiev. Russia tolerated FORTE 10/11 poking around. I think this is a war of resources and will. Russia has calculated how many rounds it can make per month, what remains to be seen is how many billions can the West afford. I am not saying Putin is a genius, but we can almost discern his strategy if we look and it is brilliant.
Ukraine has no hope of winning this if by winning we mean emerging without being destroyed. The West could perhaps win it for them but that would involve steps I am not sure are possible (I am not speaking of some crazed ideas of military action). If Ukraine received all the modern weapons required to mount a broad offensive it would still be an offensive, it would not look like the ponderous house-to-house clearing we see from the Russian side. It would be bloody like all offensives generally are by historical standards. There are many nuances in what I just said and much I did not say.
My assessment has not changed from the period right after Russia tried the Shock without the Awe to end it all early in 2022. It is a game of patience, resolve, will, and resources now. Nobody is winning this right now, and the only losers at this point are the dead and homeless. But, I think Russia may have a stronger hand to play in the long game.
If I had to venture a prediction. This conflict will remain without a winner and will play a part in the narrative of complete failure that dominates the 2024 US election cycle. This conflict will not be resolved any earlier than 2025 and many will die in the interim. If it ends before 2024, my assumption is that it will be a clear Russian victory. That too would play into a narrative of failure and the 'need' for a savior hero in 2024.