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Another day, another “operational pause” as Russian forces remain mostly dead in the water, starved of all the supplies necessary to wage war. There’s some movement in the Donbas axis in Eastern Ukraine, but it’s mostly picking at the edges: a small village here, another one there. Russia still hasn’t shown the ability to engage in large-scale offensives. In fact, it seems more and more likely that Russia never intended to have to do any actual fighting

“The military operation is, no question, tougher going than had been expected,” said Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin commentator who appears frequently on state television. “It was expected that 30 to 50 percent of the Ukrainian Armed Forces would switch over to Russia’s side. No one is switching over.”

Russia would be greeted as liberators! And just like in Donbas, Russia could then put that half of the Ukrainian army, that was supposedly defecting, to work attacking the other half. No reason for Russians to die, when they have puppets nearby for their meat grinder. 

But the lack of movement on the ground doesn’t mean there’s no war. On the Russian side, war crimes add up by the hour, as those sick bastards targeted a theater packed with refugees and children—despite actual outside messages to Russia about who was inside. 

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There was nothing around that theater worth targeting, this was a direct strike at a building marked with “Children” signs. 

On the other hand, for the first time all war, we’re seeing Ukrainian artillery being put to use, and the results are amazing. 

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Here’s on-the-ground footage of the Kherson attack as a Russian officer surveys what can be saved as they retreat from the airport. At last count, 14 helicopters were confirmed destroyed in this and a previous attack. Here’s some hi-res satellite imagery of the damage. Note that Russia claims control of all of Kherson Oblast, and the airport is 64 kilometers (40 miles) from the Ukrainian-held city of Mikolaiv. 

More Ukrainian artillery attacks herehere, here, here and at this supply depot near Kharkiv:

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Thousands of commercial drones are in the air in Ukraine, with civilians tracking Russian troop movements and reporting them to Ukrainian military high command. This is one of those reported civilian drones, and what you see is standard artillery procedure: 

  • (0:04) Two rounds land, general vicinity, but don’t hit anything. They’re not meant to hit anything. These are spotter rounds, designed to dial in range, wind, and all the things that can impact where an artillery round lands. One used to need artillery spotters in sight of the target, calling in the result of these initial targeting rounds and making adjustments, but the drone takes care of that now.
  • (0:22) A second cluster is fired. It misses everything. But now they have two points on their grid, which is all they need to dial everything in.
  • (0:44) The order to “fire for effect” goes out, which means unload. And these rounds strike true (though you see some duds hit the outskirts), not just in the center of this supply depot, but on some additional pockets of vehicles on its extremities. 

If you’re wondering why the Russians packed all those trucks conveniently together, who the heck knows. It does allow for a smaller security perimeter, but if you’re deep in conquered territory and you’re still worried about ground attacks … then you don’t really occupy that territory. And they didn’t even bother to camouflage! Here is my M577 command and control vehicle when I was in the Army: 

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You can see the nose of my M577 and its tracks bottom left. 

That camo netting was a pain to set up and take down every time we moved to a new position, but it helped conceal us from the sky. I checked to make sure this was still standard operating procedure these days, and of course it is. That supply depot had plenty of space for the trucks to conceal themselves in the woods, and strategically strung camo netting would make them even harder to see, but the Russians just don’t care! They are exposed, out in the open, no effort at concealment, and bunched up. People keep saying “Russia will learn and adjust,” but THEY ARE NOT! Russia is lucky that Ukraine has limited artillery capabilities, or that entire position would’ve been a smoldering wreck. 

Yet “limited” is more than “nonexistent,” which is what we saw early in the war. So where did all this new artillery capability come from? Good question, and no one knows. Perhaps it’s new equipment quietly delivered by allies. Or perhaps Ukraine had some serious military capability held in reserve in western Ukraine, with the expectation that the eastern side would fall quickly and devolve to guerrilla warfare. It would make sense to fortify out west to preserve Ukrainian statehood. 

But with Russia stalled and existing forces able to effectively hold ground, even in cities right on the Russian border, it would now make sense to deploy some of that firepower and increase Russia’s pain. There have been more and more reports of Ukrainian counterattacks, though none have retaken major territory. These new artillery barrages may very well presage bigger Ukrainian moves. Or at least, that’s what I hope they are presaging. Because with Russia out of supplies and stuck in the mud, Ukraine could break them with one massive offensive, assuming they have the reserve firepower to do so.

Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 12:09:46 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Welcome news in the last few hours of survivors taken from the rubble of the Mariupol Drama Theater. An estimated 1,000 were thought to be in the building, which was visibly labeled with the word “children,“ when Russia bombed the historic structure.

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 12:20:45 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

With Vladimir Putin giving a speech on Wednesday that called for a purification of Russia, called many of the oligarchs he helped to create “traitors,” and declared that they would be “spit out” like a mouthful of flies; it’s not surprising that some of those flies are flying.

Russians who can’t afford their own jets continue to fight for airline seats to Turkey, Uzbekistan, and other locations still flying to Moscow or St. Petersburg. Airlines still serving Russia have put on extra flights in response to the demand.

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 12:37:18 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Whether it was Putin or China who put brakes on Lavrov’s visit, it doesn’t seem like a good sign for their partnership. A translation of the Bild article wonders “is this an alarm sign?” for relations between Russia and China and notes that “Moscow has asked Beijing for both financial and military assistance” but Beijing “has not actively supported the invasion so far.”

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 12:42:37 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Multiple reports this morning that the U.K. will be sending the Sky Sabre system to Poland. Like the U.S. Patriot system, this is a complex, truck-based system with each battery being made up of three vehicles: a launcher, a radar station, and a command truck. Operating Sky Sabre takes training, and the U.K. is reportedly sending along 100 people to operate the units being dispatched to Poland.

Like the Patriot systems send by the U.S., these are likely to be installed near the Polish border and may extend protection into Ukraine, hopefully helping to protect against missiles like the one that struck a training base just a few miles from the border, killing 35 people last week.

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 12:51:57 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Images of these ships show what appear to be supply trucks and troop transports on the decks, but where these ships are going is impossible to say. That Russia would be bringing troops around the whole mass of Asia, rather than dispatching them across Russia by train, seems … odd.

In any case, Japan may well be using those satellite images to see if Russia left any forces behind in the Kuril Islands

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 1:11:01 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

This number has appeared several times over the last few days. If true, it’s absolutely astounding — and certainly a wake-up call to areas long under Putin’s thumb.

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 1:34:29 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Russia has made a practice of bombing food storage facilities. This one was near Kyiv, but they’ve also bombed facilities in Mariupol, where hunger and lack of clean water are becoming as great a threat as Russian attacks. Again, this is not coincidental. Russia is deliberately targeting schools, hospitals, and those parts of infrastructure needed for civilians to survive.

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Thursday, Mar 17, 2022 · 1:57:22 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

This video appears to show two Ukrainian jets being lost within seconds of one another. Not clear if this is due to ground-to-air fire or the actions of a third plane seen in the video.

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