Russia accidentally bombs itself. Again
Russia is likely lying about the extent of the injuries resulting from this bomb, but the bigger question might not be “Why is Russia bombing Belgorod?” It’s “Why isn’t Ukraine bombing Belgorod?”
One thing should be clear right from the start—if Ukraine wanted to destroy the Russian city of Belgorod, or at least cause enormous damage and kill many Russian civilians, it could do so. The city is located within 30 km of the border in an area Ukraine fully controls. It’s less than 50 km from Kharkiv. Between Belgorod and Kharkiv is a checkpoint on the M20/E105 highway, which, before the invasion, was the busiest port of entry between Russia and Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are right there, right now, holding that point against any possible return of Russian forces. They are within sight of the nearest Russian town.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Russia has used MLRS systems, missiles, and aircraft stationed at bases outside Belgorod to launch almost daily attacks into Kharkiv. The bases around the city have served as the staging point for troops and weapons heading to all areas of occupied Ukraine. The rail lines through the city and the big switching station in Belgorod make it a critical transportation hub that sends ammunition, fuel, and vehicles all along the front.
And it is just outside of Ukraine; very definitely within reach of Ukrainian weapons.
Back in April of last year, Ukraine conducted a spectacular operation in which two helicopters, flying at high speed incredibly close to the ground, zipped into the center of Belgorod and surgically hit a fuel depot before turning around and leaving.
In October of last year, Ukraine fired what appeared to be HIMARS rockets into an ammunition depot at Belgorod, resulting in a fairly spectacular series of explosions. This was done at the same time as Ukraine was hitting ammunition depots in Crimea, near Kherson, and elsewhere around Ukraine in an effort to reduce Russia’s supply of artillery shells, and to force Russia to move their depots further away from the front lines, generating strain on Russia’s always underperforming logistical operations. On one other occasion, Ukraine reportedly hit an electrical substation near Belgorod with drones.
But why hasn’t Ukraine done more? This is a map for just one day’s worth of Russian shelling, as reported on Thursday morning in Ukraine.
Honestly, this doesn’t really begin to cover it all. For example, reports indicate that at least 40 locations were shelled in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts, but barely a dozen of those locations are on this map. During the day on Thursday, officials in Sumy Oblast reported that Russia had shelled 44 locations around the city of Sumy. Included in this were 25 mortar shells fired into the town of Bilopillya. That town is almost 9 km from the Russian border. That means Russia placed mortars almost on the borderline to be able to lob those explosives into Bilopillya.
While the map of Russian artillery strikes certainly indicates just how heavy the firing is from the area around Bakhmut down to the line west of Donetsk, what’s also clear here is that Russia is repeatedly, day after day, throwing shells into towns that have nothing to do with winning a battle or even setting the stage for a tactical move. In Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv oblasts, Russia is repeatedly hammering small towns and villages in areas where there is not, has not been, and will not be in the foreseeable future, any on the ground fighting.
Why shell these locations? Because they can. Because it kills people. Because it causes suffering and misery for Ukrainians. Because even when Russia has had to slow the rate of fire around its biggest strategic targets over a reported shortage of ammunition, it can still spare a few hundred shells to crush the home, or the lives, of some rural babushka.
But, as the map shows, there are many Russian towns and cities that are just as easily within range of Ukrainian weapons. Ukraine’s limited supply of HIMARS rockets has kept them firing just an average of around 35 a day, which suggests that using them to take out apartment buildings in Volokonovka wouldn’t be the best application of resources. Still, there are many more conventional weapons, including Ukraine’s plain old Soviet-era BM-37 mortars, that could reach out and share the misery with Russian communities all along the many hundreds of kilometers of shared border.
Kharkiv is hit by rockets, artillery, MLRS, and drones almost every day. Why not Belgorod? Surely the people in these border towns must be beyond angry. Surely they want to strike back at the places that have robbed them of homes, family, and any illusion of peace. Surely they want revenge.
Some part of that is concern over the United States and other NATO allies that have expressed qualms over the possibility that any weapons they give to Ukraine might be used in Russia, leading to some kind of escalation of combat. But with 97% of the Russian military already engaged in Ukraine, and Russia launching every missile it can aim toward Ukrainian cities, it’s unclear what form any escalation could take.
The simplest reason is that Ukraine doesn’t do it, because they don’t think we would like it. In this case, “we” isn’t just the United States, and really not even limited to those nations supplying Ukraine with weapons to fight against the invasion. It’s everyone.
Ukraine’s restraint in not attacking Russian towns and cities, when it very much could, is in part because it wants to maintain the moral high ground. No matter how much the West shares with Ukraine, or how foolishly Russia wastes its men and materiel, Ukraine is still the underdog in this fight. Maintaining the moral high ground is important to how Ukraine presents itself to the world. Russia brought this fight to Ukraine, not the other way around. Ukraine doesn’t want to do anything that makes them appear as the aggressor, even if it’s plain old retaliation.
Ukraine is defending its nation from an illegal, unprovoked invasion. Period.
Surely, Ukrainians in Kharkiv must want to see the Russians across the border in Belgorod suffering the way that they have suffered. That’s called “being human.” But they, and their government, have displayed an incredible restraint in protecting the moral high ground. They defend that moral integrity and the nation’s standing in the world with a level of determination that may actually exceed the tenacity shown in the trenches around Bakhmut.
They treat it as the most valuable real estate in Ukraine. But the temptation … has to be great.
The trend of declining daily assaults has leveled off
Over the last two months, I’ve been charting the number of daily assaults by Russian forces reported by the Ukrainian military. Friday was one of those rare days when Ukraine failed to issue a morning situational update, so it seemed a good day to revise the graph I hadn’t updated in the last two weeks.
While the Ukrainian military is no longer reporting the over 100 attack days that dominated February and the first part of March, the decline in Russian assaults appears to have leveled off to the extent that I changed the trend line from a simple linear trend to a polynomial curve, which gives a better sense of how things are now going.
There have been some notably low days, but in general, Ukrainian forces are facing down between 60 and 70 assaults each day, most of which are around Bakhmut and Aviidrivka. As with a leveling off of reported artillery firing from 60,000 shells/day peaks down to around 5,000-10,000 shells/day, this may represent a situation where Russia is now operating close to the line of what its current logistics and manpower can provide.
Ukraine forces continue to stop assaults around Donetsk
This video shows a Russian BMP being taken out along the road just west of Pisky, one of several suburbs of Donetsk.
Not only is this happening just 5 km outside of a regional capital for Russian-occupied Ukraine, but the line in this area has also barely moved a meter since the invasion began. In fact, this explosion took place almost exactly on the line between Ukrainian and Russian forces that I drew up from the best sources almost seven months ago.
Despite Russia’s continued efforts, they have not been able to break through Ukrainian lines in this area and have not been able to shift Ukrainian forces away from Donetsk—which is another city that could easily be in Bakhmut-style ruins if Ukraine were operating the way that Russia has. But Ukraine expects to get Donetsk back, and they’d like it as close to intact as possible.
Of all the places where Russia has built extensive, multi-tier lines of defense over the last 14 months, Donetsk … is conspicuously not one of them. If Ukraine wants to surprise all those folks who are convinced they’re about to roll on Meltipol when the counteroffensive begins, just driving straight east into Donetsk seems like a worthy alternative.
Russia tries to sneak new warships into the Black Sea
Ukrinform reports that Russia has brought additional warships into the Black Sea over the last few days, including some that carry Kalibr cruise missiles. These ships reportedly entered through the Kerch-Yenikal Strait with ship transponders silent.
A total of nine warships are now active in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Together with one ship in the Sea of Azov, they could potentially volleys of eight Kalibr missiles toward Ukraine.
Ramstein meeting underway, Zelenskyy will attend next NATO meeting
Friday marks the start of another round of talks in support of Ukraine at Ramstein military base in Germany. Considering Ukraine’s vocal requests for air defense systems over the last two weeks, don’t be surprised if updates today include announcements for those systems, as well as additional ammunition.
Meanwhile, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to attend the next meeting of NATO commanders when they convene at Vilnius in July. Zeleneskyy says he will attend the meeting in person.
Let’s hope that, by July, that attendance comes on the heels of much good news from the counteroffensive.
Tomorrow we’re going to begin a review of some training efforts that Ukraine has been carrying out since the early months of the war and how that fits with the potential for a counteroffensive. Until then …