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SitRep 2/23: Putin, Prigozhin, PMC's and PMR's
Well, strap in to your seats, folks, things are heating up and we’re in for a wild ride.
Putin’s big address came and went. And depending who you ask it was either a dud or full of eerie portent. The speech mostly focused on banal domestic and economic matters, hardly mentioning the SMO—at least not with the fiery rhetoric some of us expected.
However, there was an important theme laid out by Putin which confirms certain things we mentioned previously. Namely, that the focus of Russia will be on the human development of its people, its culture and values, and that Putin will not allow the country’s spirit and operations to be overshadowed by the SMO, or to fall into the trap of letting Western Atlanticist powers use the SMO to degrade the social fabric of society.
In short, in many ways this speech seemed to signal a firm taking of a stand on one side of the two poles of: full blown war, militarization of society, restructuring of the social/national consciousness around war and militarism.
And that of the second option: continuing the status quo of society ‘as is’, and not letting the war detract from important socio-economic and human-index development.
Now, one can hear the grumbles already. Many a deflated observer were hoping for a firebrand declaration, mass mobilizations and a barrage of threats against NATO/U.S. Well, to some extent you got them, just in Putin’s usual underhanded, ‘nod-and-a-wink’ demeanor. Not only did he announce the seminal suspension of the START III Treaty, which paves the way for all sorts of new nuclear developments and testing, but, also nonchalantly explained that Russia will continue taking more territory if U.S. continues sending longer-ranged weapons. Medvedev too fired a shot across the bow later that day with the threat that, ‘Russia can use nukes to defend itself’ against the West.
Rumors already swirled, last month, that Russia would ‘soon update its nuclear doctrine’ (not confirmed) to include the ability to use nuclear weapons not only in the scenario of ‘existential crisis’, but also that of 1. a mass-casualty terror event on Russian soil 2. critical Russian infrastructure being struck 3. Russian strategic infrastructure being struck (which has already happened, when Ukraine struck Russia’s strategic airbase holding the nuke-carrying Tu-95’s last year).
And what Putin said was true—the reason he gave for the suspension of the START III treaty was that the U.S. helped Ukraine strike the Russian strategic nuclear bases of Ryazan and Engels Airbase. The Tu-143 Soviet jet-powered drone used was proven by Russian investigators to have been modified with the technical help of U.S. engineers, likely in the area of the guidance system (adding GPS ability, etc).
So Putin’s reasoning was: why should U.S. inspectors be allowed (as ordained by the treaty) to come inspect our nuclear bases so that they can draw up intricate maps/charts of them to give to Ukraine for future strikes? Sure, you might argue, the base can be seen by satellite, and targets easily drawn up, why would the inspectors matter? Well, satellites can’t see the secret sites, inside hangars and depots, where the weapons and nukes are stored. The inspectors would necessarily have to access those areas (as per their job), and thus be able to give Ukraine distinct coordinates on how to strike Russia’s strategic reserves—not much different than OSCE’s underhanded espionage tactics in Donbass.
Some in the Russian blogosphere and punditry circles are taking the speech as confirmation, as Vladlen Tatarsky put it, that Putin has chosen to merely ‘endure’ the SMO, and that Russia will commit to a long, local grinding campaign in the Donbass, due to the inability to conduct mass maneuvers in the style of WW2.
Many people continue to jump to unfounded conclusions. For instance, while it’s true that Putin appeared to signal toward a ‘status quo’, which many disappointingly took to mean that Russia won’t be actuating a full ‘war-time economy’ as they so hoped, if you peer under the surface, there are some interesting movements which point to ‘far more than meets the eye’.
A Financial Times report showed that Russian Year On Year budget expenditures in January registered at a whopping 59% higher, which some pundits suggested could mean Russia’s 3%+ of GDP military spending could balloon as high as 12-15%—an enormous leap toward actualizing a real ‘war-time economy’.
After all, Putin announced a 43% hike to defense spending last year, but it seems there could be an even bigger ‘shadow budget’ taking shape beneath the surface. And this would be a good sign: that Russia is taking war-time armament and industrialization far more seriously than Putin’s lowkey speech implied.
Ultimately, we need to wait and see how Russia truly responds in this next ‘Phase’ to judge whether Putin is committing to the so-called ‘status quo’ slow-grind, or whether it’s just an act disguising far more serious preparations.
One Ukrainian General issued this forecast:
Russia is preparing to send hundreds of thousands of troops to the war in the coming weeks - General Romanenko
▪️This is a strategic reserve of the Russian Armed Forces, which numbers about 200,000 soldiers, said the former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Igor Romanenko.
▪️ “According to military logic, they are using the forces of this reserve to strengthen themselves in the east and try to fulfill Putin’s political task of taking the Donbass,” the general assures.
▪️The ex-deputy head of the General Staff noted that the reservists will be on the battlefield in the next month - in March.
According to him, the attack will happen in March, though some sources are still looking at the key February 24 anniversary date of the actual start of the SMO.
Another thing Putin’s speech subtly confirmed is the likely focus of Russia’s troops on securing Russian territory. Not only Donbass, but specifically Russian territory proper, from long range missile strikes. This jibes with what we outlined in a previous report regarding Putin’s #1 task and priority being that of securing constitutional Russian lands, which would necessitate the prioritization of liberating Kharkov, Sumy, and Donbass in order to push AFU forces back far enough that their long range systems can’t strike Russian soil.
Putin stated explicitly in his speech that, “the more long range weaponry the West supplies to Ukraine, the more territory Russia will have to take” to push Ukrainian lines back. This further corroborates various reports, some of which we posted last time, from UA troops/officials who continue to see Russia’s next phase offensives developing in the Donbass region, rather than the improbable and far-flung vectors like that of Belarus toward Lvov, etc.
More and more, reports continue to mount that Russian forces appear to be gathering in the Donbass region—not only near Donetsk/Avdeevka, but the southern sector—Mariupol to Zaporozhe, and large reserves in Kremennaya / north Lugansk / east Kharkov oblast. These are looking like the most probable vectors, barring some unforeseen maskirovka tricks.
And in fact, it’s increasingly looking like a stealth offensive has already begun. Today again there was news of major breakthroughs in the Kremennaya area, where Russian forces reportedly advanced 4km. And what’s more, is we’re seeing signs of major increases in Russian aerospace operations. For instance, in this video and this one, both from the Kremennaya area, Russian attack choppers of every sort, and planes, are visibly providing CAS to the advancing troops with a density of airpower we haven’t seen since the early days.
Further, there are increasing intermittent missile strikes. Whereas before, Russia would wait a week or two to launch one large grouping of strikes, now we are getting smaller pinpoint doses every day/night. Several days ago a Russian frigate fired off Kalibrs, then yesterday cruise missiles from tactical aviation were launched, as well as various drone strikes.
And the Sumy/Kharkov regions continue to be hammered by artillery from the Russian border for the first time in half a year. Again last night powerful strikes on Sumy were reported, which suggests ‘softening up’ operations.
As stated in one of the earlier reports, I was most partial to the idea of a ‘staggered’ offensive simply because it makes the most strategic sense. By staggering your advances, you can first intuit your enemy’s reaction, where they’re pulling their forces, how they’re moving their reserves, and then respond accordingly at their weak point. There does look to be like a concerted push from the Svatovo-Kremennaya direction with newly injected troops and increased airpower, while the north is being ‘softened up’ with artillery with some shaping strikes. However, the vast majority of new forces have not yet been committed so we are still awaiting either a major push from all sides or more staggered infusions of formations.
But, the CIA/SBU are not sitting idly by. As we said last time, it’s turning out that Transnistria (PMR) is in fact culminating into a dangerous thorn of hybrid activity. A raft of escalatory reports have come in today which weigh dangerously on the direction things are headed in.
We reported last time how the Moldovan president suddenly and belligerently announced that Russian troops need to be ‘expelled’ from Transnistria. Followed by the announcement of military exercises to be held Feb 21. - Feb. 23. Today, this was followed by Arestovich again releasing a statement (in deja vu of last year), that if only given the word, the AFU can seize the Russian garrison in Transnistria “in 3 days.”
Interestingly, TV station TVR in Romania broadcast a segment explaining that French Leclerc tanks in Romania are also there to ‘protect Moldova’ if necessary. This was also broadcast on TVM Moldova station.
“Recall that the first column with French military equipment, consisting of armored personnel carriers, arrived in Romania on October 23. The second column of French military equipment, consisting of a company of Leclerc tanks, arrived by rail in Brasov on November 16. In total, the French army brought 13 Leclerc tanks to Romania. Military equipment is intended to replenish the technical means of the NATO Battle Group Forward Presence (BGFP).”
Now, there are reports the AFU moved border guard units to within 2km of the Transnistrian border.
This isn’t far away from Kobasna, the location of the ‘largest ammo depot in all of Europe’(47.76043303138093, 29.20634523295087)—the same we mentioned last time, which Ukraine threatened to attack in April of last year:
It contains over 20,000 tons of armaments, something the depleted AFU would kill to get their hands on. Now, some of this might sound like hype, but there are too many moving pieces that attest to real goings on. Photos of Ukrainian BTRs appeared near the border:
But some were quick to dispel it, as there’s an agreement between Moldova and Ukraine that allows transits on that road, so it’s difficult to gauge (albeit that would make strange, coincidental timing). The below map claims to show where Ukrainian security forces were seen to move nearer the border.
But Moldova’s PM Dorin Recean reportedly affirmed Zelensky’s statement that ‘Russia plans to seize Chisinau airport’.
Later in the day, a flight track of NATO P-8A Poseidon (out of Sigonella base in Italy) with electronic data gathering suite seemed to show a very peculiar fixation on the region:
And, Putin revoked a 2012 decree signed with Moldova.
The order revoking the 2012 document was published on the Kremlin's website and states that the decision was taken to "ensure the national interests of Russia in connection with the profound changes taking place in international relations".
Here’s the full text of the decree revocation on the Kremlin’s official website: http://kremlin.ru/acts/news/70571
The page also links to the original 2012 decree in question. Most interesting of all is the point which says:
“Continue to actively participate in the search for solutions to the Transdniestrian problem based on respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and neutral status of the Republic of Moldova in determining the special status of Transdniestria;”
So, in short, Putin just cancelled a decree which obligated Russia to respect the sovereignty of Moldova, specifically in question to the resolution of the special status of Transnistria. Do you see where this is going? Putin is laying the legal groundwork to be able to use force in a way that violates Moldova’s sovereignty—if necessary, of course.
Not long after, Moldova retaliated with an announcement that it will be annulling several treaties with the CIS states.
And the corporate media are doing the bidding of the MIC planners, dressing the stage for confrontation.
But, most troubling of all, was this late rumor:
And here is a reputable Russian TG channel’s take on the situation:
There is information that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are preparing a breakthrough from two sides, from Stanislavka and Tymkovo to the PMR (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic).
Having previously staged an attack by the RF Armed Forces by the PMR as a pretext for a response.
To this end, redeployment began today from the Kotovsky garrison at 20:00 with a forced march towards the border with the PMR. It is planned to organize a "breakthrough" in the area of \u200b\u200bthe settlements of Tymkovo or Stanislavka. (these are the two red arrows shown in map below)
In the Krasnooknyansky district (near the border with the PMR), border guards will be redeployed a little +/-2 km. deep into Ukraine, away from the borders. Also on Slobodka there are trains both empty and with equipment.
Preliminarily, in the plans for the railway lines, to make the penetration of railway trains right up to Kolbasnaya (the warehouse of the BC of the Western troops of the former USSR).
Kirovograd highway (aka Poltavka) a few kilometers from the checkpoint "Platonovo" There is an accumulation of vehicles. There are a lot of military Humvees and units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the checkpoints.
As you can see, there is a potential for a major flashpoint here that can blow the conflict wide open. Some say Russia’s garrison in PMR is only 1,500 troops, however, it was reported last year that Russia allegedly reinforced it with discreet flights of troops, by way of small groups using civilian airliners so as not to attract attention.
Either way, the situation is shaping up to be incendiary.
I explained last time that for every option Russia has, NATO/U.S. have responses prepared in escalation to ‘off-balance’ them. It is no ‘coincidence’ that last year we had the sudden outbreak of conflicts (or nearly so) in many Russia-related spheres, from the Serbia-Metohija situation late last year, to eruption of Nagorno-Karabakh hostilities, the briefly violent clashes between Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan, the attempt to stir up Georgia, inflaming of the Syrian crisis (as well as new large drone attacks on Russian bases), the Baltic imbroglio, such as Lithuania’s brief flirt with disaster when they tried to blockade Russia from Kaliningrad last year, and more.
These are all scenarios straight from the RAND report playbook (amongst others) in how to ‘un-balance Russia’.
Folks, just look for yourself, this isn’t rocket science, after all. They spell it out quite directly and openly:
To summarize: the U.S. has a multitude of ‘pressure points’ they intend to activate at each stage of Russia’s forthcoming successes in the next phase. The U.S.’s job will be to create chaos, uncertainty, imbalance, and make sure Russia expends inordinate effort to try and contain the flames which U.S. will be pouring gasoline on.
That’s why I’ve said since the beginning, when Russia starts getting close to liberating everything east of the Dnieper, or even encircling/capturing the main Kramatorsk-Slavyansk agglomerate, the next Western escalation will unquestionably be a large falseflag of the nuclear or biological variety.
And that brings us to the next disturbing news. Days ago, the Russian MoD (Ministry of Defense) released this statement:
⚡️Ahead of the Eleventh Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Kiev regime continues preparing for a major provocation to accuse the Russian Federation of allegedly ‘gravely violating’ the obligations of the Convention on Nuclear Safety during the special military operation.
To implement this provocation, several containers with radioactive substances were delivered to Ukraine from the territory of a European country without passing through customs inspection. These containers will be used to stage local contamination of a region close to one of the radiation-hazardous facilities controlled by the Kiev regime.
The provocation is aimed at accusing the Russian Armed Forces of allegedly launching indiscriminate strikes on radiation-hazardous facilities in Ukraine, leading to the leakage of radioactive substances and terrain contamination.
Which was followed by an unconfirmed report today:
MediaKiller: "We confirm the information that a cargo emitting a radioactive background was delivered to one of the ports of the Odessa region. Scanners recording an increase in the radioactive background were turned off, followed by several people who came into contact with the cargo . A similar cargo was delivered to the port of Odessa on February 19.
This cargo is the radioactive metal California-252. Californium was obtained in reactors in which radioactive elements were split under the influence of neutrons. It is logical that the resulting metal is also radioactive and it appeared as a result of a well-directed nuclear reaction. Californium - seventeen combined isotopes, naturally radioactive.
Of all 17 isotopes of California, 252 is the most studied. It is extremely toxic, but contains an unrealistic charge of energy released during the process of atomic fission: 1 gram produces 2.4 billion neutrons per second, and this is the power that a small nuclear reactor emits. It is actively used in determining the integrity of nuclear reactors of nuclear power plants."
It’s something to keep an eye on, as the AFU may once again be preparing a nuclear false-flag for the above-mentioned reasons of destabilizing Russia’s offensive.
The other big development to cover for now, is that of the Prigozhin-Wagner affair. It’s been simmering for the past week or two, with Prigozhin using increasingly hostile language in condemning the Russian authorities for allegedly cutting Wagner off from heavy ammo supplies.
Earlier he released a long-winded jeremiad aimed at Russian authorities. And although we reported last time several bits of info suggesting that it may be an elaborate psyop on Russia’s behalf—and so it may yet be—now there’s much new developments to the saga.
Firstly, Prigozhin released an actual exact accounting of the alleged munitions totals delivered to Wagner:
This paper by Prigozhin was released earlier (translated). To disseminate it: 1 day (ammo requested for 24 h of fighting) 10 days (ammo requested for 10 days of fighting) And the handwritten numbers on the furthest right is how much they received vs the requested amount.
Personally, I can’t quite make out the chart, as the first column is supposed to show the requested daily amount of shell pieces, while the second column is 10 day requests, and third—handwritten on the far right—is supposed to be ‘how much they actually received’. However the numbers appear all over the place. Maybe some of you can make better sense of it.
Either way, though—the Russian MoD fired back and released their own set of numbers in tit-for-tat fashion:
Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation: "Only from February 18 to February 20, the volunteers of the assault detachments were supplied with:
-1660 rounds for multiple rocket launchers
-10171 rounds for large-caliber cannon artillery and mortars
-980 rounds for tanks"
One Russian commentator claimed this is a tiny and insufficient amount. On the contrary, to me, it looks pretty gargantuan. But we can’t accurately judge because we don’t know the exact force total that Wagner has in Bakhmut, as confirmations of troop numbers are much harder to come by.
Russia is supposed to have been down to 20-30k shells per day, according to AFU sources. This here gives nearly 13,000 various long-range artillery (tube & barrel) for a two or three day period just to one PMC outfit, which sounds like a lot to me.
But Commander of the famed Vostok Battalion, Alexander Khodakovsky, added his two-cents to the mix, stating that:
In short, he’s saying that Wagner was in fact getting a far larger allotment than any other group in the armed forces, and now they haven’t been ‘cut off’ from ammo, but rather brought down to parity with the same allotment as everyone else.
Another allegation was that Prigozhin had an ‘in’ with previous general Surovikin, who helped funnel much more ammo to Wagner due to their special relationship. But now that Gerasimov has taken over, he doesn’t give the same favorable treatment to the PMC unit.
So how to unpack this saga? Most people are quick to jump to conclusions without all the facts, or due to favoritism of one side or the other; like the pro-Strelkov anti-Kremlin ilk who naturally distrust everything the Kremlin says or does and jump to support whoever goes against them.
But the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Fact is, it is true that the Russian MoD had begun curtailing ammo somewhere around December or even earlier, to begin saving up a healthy stockpile for the start of the next big phase of operations. This is when all the ‘rumors’ began that Russia dropped from 60k to 20k shells per day. And by the way, for those wondering, that doesn’t mean Russia’s shell stockpiles have dropped to zero—Russia’s doctrine obligates it to always have a certain strategic reserve saved up for the extreme contingency that war with NATO breaks out. That ‘red line’ might be somewhere around the 50% stockpile mark, below which they cannot dip for fear of being caught with their pants down against a sudden NATO assault. Thus, Russia could be near that limit now, which means they’ll go lean on the shells for a while to build up inventory so as not to dip into the emergency half of the stockpile.
Next, it’s also very plausible that Russian general staff did in fact have increasing friction with Prigozhin, if only for the reason that he began to ‘outgrow his britches’. Not only did Prigozhin begin to hog the limelight with increasing regularity, but he’d begun to pull stunts with actual globally geopolitical ramifications. Like when he sent the ominous, ‘blood’-spattered ‘hammer of death’ as a threat to the European council:
This surely would have chafed Putin and top leadership, marking Prigozhin as having gone a bit ‘rogue’. The issuance of increasingly inflammatory statements on social media also did him no favors, and couldn’t have sat well with the uppers.
He’d begun to garner so much fame and popularity he was even said to be politically ascendant, with calls—serious or not—for him to run for president or even usurp Shoigu. It can be said that, in some ways, he crossed the line, and his actions reflected on Russia and its leadership on the world stage. So it’s wholly plausible that the powers that be chose to knock him down a peg.
And lastly, it’s also plausible that command saw fit to ‘discipline the unruly child’ of Wagner for the sin of becoming too popular. It’s true that Wagner had begun to turn into a bit of a movement, both globally and in Russia. With soldiers who were once strictly ‘clandestine’ (even refusing to wear patches in the early part of the SMO, to keep a low ‘covert’ profile), they now regularly vamp for the cameras and partake in a sort of growing iconography surrounding their brand.
Russian commanders realize that the nominal Russian forces, whose strict OPSEC precludes them from the mindless TikToking subculture of the frontlines, are invariably at a disadvantage when it comes to these ‘popular’ brigades with more allowances. This creates a distortion in the perceptions of the Russian armed forces, as Wagner, the Chechens, and even random LDPR volunteer battalions all garner online fame, glory, and valor, while the unsung Russian troops increasingly appear the pariahs.
So it’s perfectly plausible and reasonable that Russian command might’ve decided to pull the plug on Wagner, curbing them a mite to send a message, to prevent them from growing too comfortable in their burgeoning popularity, and begin throwing their weight around. After all, remember a time when all you’d see were Chechen videos, with ‘Akhmat Sila!’ everywhere? Then suddenly it all disappeared. The Chechens are still there, but it’s clear they were given an order to tone down so as not to steal too much thunder, or create misconceptions about who’s pulling all the weight.
Sure, to the outside or inexperienced observer, this may seem like crass and even callous behavior from the MoD; after all, Wagner was, and is, having extreme success in Bakhmut—as some say, the only current tangible frontline success on the Russian side. However, the nuances of politics and commanding an army go far beyond the surface-level purviews of some localized progression; from the MoD’s perspective, they are looking at things within a broad, holistic and long term standpoint. And there are innumerable implications that must be taken into account in light of global, geopolitical considerations.
That’s not to say I personally side with the MoD, if there even is a real squabble here. I’m simply analyzing both sides’ unique perspectives to make the point that the truth is far more nuanced, granular, and complex than what many are making it out to be, simply because most people want things to be easy and straightforward. It’s much more convenient to point a finger and move on, than to actually analyze the multifaceted truth.
Anyway, as of this writing a new late update from Prigozhin himself has percolated down the channels to tilt things in another direction:
“Today at 6 in the morning they reported that the shipment of ammunition was starting. Most likely, the train started moving. So far on paper, but, as we were told, the main papers have already been signed. I would like to thank all those who helped us to do this,” said the founder of Wagner PMC.
That’s all for now—next time we’ll hope to cover more on the ground developments of how the battlefield is actually taking shape and where things will likely go next, as well as explore some of the new missiles and weapons systems U.S. has announced for Ukraine.