Category Archives: Military Affairs

Military Confrontation

About the Tanks to be Delivered to Ukraine

Andrey Rudenko @RtrDonetsk

These slightly more than 300 tanks that will hit the battlefield in Ukraine within a year are not to reinforce existing armored groups, but to restore their combat effectiveness by replacing destroyed equipment with newly arrived examples of Western engineering.

The hunger of the AFU for equipment during these months is enormous. Our military has knocked out practically all domestically produced tanks and armored vehicles. To replenish the Kiev regime’s army, the West collected Soviet-made tanks from all over the world. Echelons of them were sent to Ukraine, but the Ukrainians apparently have none left either.

But in addition to the equipment, the crews who operate it have also been destroyed. To train the same number of crews for 300 tanks would take at least half a year because modern tanks are stuffed with all kinds of electronics, especially imported ones. Of course, it is possible that the crews began to be trained much earlier, and the whole epic with the “supply” or “non-supply” is purely theatrical.

At that, no one will supply the Ukrainians with the whole amount at once, because they do not have it. That is why this aid will be stretched out for a year, maybe even for years. At the same time, one destroyed batch will replace the second one.

So there can be no question of any advantage in the combat zone with the arrival of these tanks. All this equipment will be used to “maintain the trousers” of the AFU. The West gives them just enough to enable them to conduct defensive operations with the possibility of counterattacks. The task of the “partners” is not to extinguish this conflict for as long as possible. Because the Ukrainians are the same Russians as the Russians, and the more people die on both sides, the better.

Meanwhile, according to @Politnavigator:

Two huge “cauldrons” are being prepared in the Donbass: The Russian Armed Forces are trying to divide and cut off the AFU group in the Donbass in order to arrange a large encirclement for the enemy, — military expert Konstantin Sivkov.

“Today we are observing two offensive points. One is in a fairly narrow strip from Opytnoye to Soledar. Both of these settlements have been taken; we are already moving on to the capture of Artemovsk and into operational space.

After the capture of Artemovsk, there are no fortifications until Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. That is, by attacking the enemy head-on, we broke through two strips of defense and cut them into two parts—the northern and the southern. “The logic of military operations suggests that one of these parts, or both of them at once, should be surrounded and destroyed,” said Sivkov.

According to him, the Russian army is also expected to break through in the southern direction, which threatens the AFU with a very large encirclement and defeat.

But then, here is what Medvedev has to say:

Defending Ukraine will not save decrepit Old Western world from retribution, and if WW3 starts it will not be fought using tanks or fighter jets, everything will be in shambles – Deputy Chairman of Russian Security Council Medvedev.

A NATO Assessment of Ukrainian Army’s Condition

A NATO command post undertook an analysis of the state of Ukranian forces following 11 months of war.

One of the important conclusions reached is that the quality of Ukranian complements continues to fall.

The primary reason is due to high losses of personnel suffered from the period of March to September.

Particularly experienced and prepared troops of the infantry, airborne, and Spetsnaz forces were practically destroyed.

In March their professional forces (that is, men who have served for at least a year) in infantry brigades made up approximately half of the unit, while if accounting mobilized personnel with any battle experience in Donbass or simply any experience in the armed forces, it rises to about 65%.

By august, the professional core dropped to a remaining composition of about 20% of the total, and that of mobilized with experience to about 35%.

Going into December, there remain only 15-20% of infantry tempered in battle, and of those, almost only remnants of mobilized forces which experienced some combat.

Remnants of experienced professional core troops had fallen to 10% of unit composition, of which in turn that number primarily consists of those who had prior service in the Soviet armed forces

In 11 months, some infantry Brigades have been reformed three times over (rotating out and replenshing personnel after suffering up to 50% losses), and today the professional core remnants are preserved by operating in command and control units behind the immediate line of contact.

Today the front soldiers are now a rotational force, constantly supplemented with rookies, and this brings about a marked decline in morale in vanguard troops.

If in Spring hyper-motivated troops made up 70% of a unit, now it is safe to say that such men compose no more than a quarter of a unit. Even in the official Corps, no more than half.

Because of this, the amount of men in mobilized waves who choose to go willingly to war when called was about 1 in 10, including from called up reservists and Officer Corps.

They both have a shared apathy, no longer believing in a Ukrainian victory and experiencing a bloody fear.

The number of men hiding from mobilization is enormous.

The situation in armored cavlary forces is somewhat different. Tank forces have preserved some 40% of their core personnel, artillery up to 65%, but even here high losses have had their effects. Motivation here has also significantly fallen.

A large portion of extant forces in these units are motivated by vengeance for dead friends, and are often named “trade corruptionists”.

As such, primary factors in such cases remain faith in help and support. Deliveries of foreign technical equipment (heavy armor) and weapons reinforce the hopes that, with support from Western nations, the UF will be able to route the “Russian army”.

But in the last two months, due to RF re-taking intiative and UF experiencing poor fortunes on the fronts, a shared consensus has arisen that soon NATO itself will step into the war directly, and that this factor will make or break the war

Other than the sharp fall of professionalism and motivation, NATO specialists observe serious problems in education of the populace. For two months, half of the mobilized forces with no prior military service have simply been impossible to train due to lack of education, skills, and discipline. As such a large part of these forces are deployed to the front with only the most basic of preparation and suffer extraordinary losses in the face of intense battles.

The more qualified ones are trained by the alliance, up to about 3,000 men per month, but this is clearly insufficient to replace losses.

Therefore right now, all commanding elements of Ukraine and NATO are at a loss as to how to form new assault Corps, in which consolidation of new heavy armor, artillery, and training of personnel must take place with existing personnel at hand.

It is specifically these forces that in Spring must become the primary armed forces of the UF in order destroy RF forces in the Cherson front.

Patriot vs. S300

Western SAM systems are, for the most part DIRECTIONAL, i.e., unlike the Russian S300 and later, they have a limited angle on which to act. The Russian systems go out vertically and then in flight, they take direction (360 degrees coverage).

This means that a Patriot battery, in a location like Dnipro, will have to have launchers pointing south, others west, others even east. Coverage is therefore less dense, and even easier to saturate by the adversary.

In this way the Yemenis, choosing poorly covered routes, attack Saudi Arabia, which uses Patriot systems (and that is why they want to buy S400s).

In the same way, the loss of a launcher system in the battery is a major damage, as there will be gaps in coverage.

NATO’s Best Tanks are going to Ukraine, What Will it Mean on the Battlefield?

By Mikhail Khodaryonok, military observer, retired colonel, and air defense specialist, via RT

Tank supplies to Ukraine from NATO members is the top news story this week. Kiev has been calling for these weapons from its western sponsors since the beginning of the Russian offensive, and it looks like now, eleven months into the fighting, these demands are being met.

The US has announced it will send 31 Abrams main battle tanks. In a hastily scheduled speech on Wednesday, President Joe Biden noted that they are complicated to operate and maintain, so the US will provide Kiev with “parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield.”

It was also confirmed, the same day, that the German government will send Leopard 2A6 tanks from its own stock and will allow other nations, such as Poland, to transfer German-made machines, to Ukraine. On January 14, London announced plans to ship its Challengers 2s to Kiev, while it now seems inevitable that Paris will supply AMX-56 Leclerc vehicles.

Russian experts and journalists have been locked in a heated debate over the differences between these western main battle tanks and the Russian T-90s, comparing their armor, guns, accuracy, active and passive protection systems, maneuverability, fire-control systems, ammunition, and many other attributes.

At the end of the day though, these discussions lack any practical value. The battlefield is the only litmus test for the advantages and drawbacks of any type of weapon or military equipment. Reliable statistics on combat use are all that is required for a comparative analysis of modern main battle tanks, if it is to be credible.

Another thing to remember is that all tanks are vulnerable to modern anti-tank systems, so the question is, how many NATO tanks are going to make their way to Ukraine?

FILE PHOTO. A Leopard 2A6 main battle tank drives across the training area during preparations for the ‘Land Operations 2017’ information training exercise in Munster, Germany. © Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP

How many tanks does Kiev need?

To simplify calculations, we’ll be using an armored division, the main structural and tactical unit of armored forces in the former Soviet republics, as our yardstick. According to Soviet manuals, an armored division must have 296 tanks, 230 infantry fighting vehicles, 54 self-propelled artillery systems, over 2,000 regular vehicles, and almost 12,000 soldiers and officers.

How many divisions does Kiev need? At least one per each of the three main fronts — in Lugansk, Donetsk, and Zaporozhye. The line of contact in the special military operation zone right now is 815 km long, making three divisions too modest an amount to make a difference, but let’s disregard this for the time being.

Three armored divisions combined would have a total of about 900 tanks. Apart from that, another armored division may be necessary on the Belarusian front, which could see some very heavy fighting. In case of an escalation there, an armored division or a similar unit in reserve is a must, which drives the number of required tanks up by 300 to 1,200.

Finally, no commander-in-chief can do without his own reserve, the so-called reserve of the supreme high command. Without at least one armored division, this reserve cannot really count as such, which means another 300 tanks for a required total of 1,500.

Another thing to consider is probable Ukrainian losses during offensive operations. The average daily losses of an armored unit in this case stand at 10 to 15%. About 15 to 20% of incapacitated tanks are typically irrecoverable losses, while the rest require repairs (general maintenance for 30 to 50%, medium-level repairs for 15 to 30%, and an overhaul for 10 to 20%).

Simply put, at least another 300 tanks are required to offset losses during combat operations. This gives us a figure of 1,800 tanks, which must be considered an absolute minimum.

These are very approximate and somewhat simplistic calculations, yet they give us ballpark figures.

FILE PHOTO. A Challenger 2 tank at a training area near Tapa in Estonia, as 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh takes part in ‘Exercise Winter Camp’. © Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

How many tanks will Kiev get?

So far, NATO countries have earmarked tanks for Ukraine numbered in the dozens. This is only a fraction of the hypothetical minimum.

Great Britain and Poland have officially pledged an armored company each, respectively consisting of up to 14 tanks. Germany will supply a similar amount, while the US is preparing the supply of 31 Abrams heavy weapons.

At a recent meeting of the US-led Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, officials from 12 countries discussed sending a total of about 100 tanks to Kiev, if Berlin were to give the green light, which, according to an ABC report, it has done.

Rheinmetall could additionally supply a total of 139 tanks to Ukraine, including 88 Leopard 1s and 51 Leopard 2A4s, yet the German manufacturer concedes that only 29 of them could be shipped before the summer of 2023.

What impact will NATO’s tanks have?

Will all these tanks see combat any time soon? Let’s consider the example of the M1 Abrams, which is seen as one of the symbols of US military power.

A small number of these tanks manned by poorly trained crews and lacking full-scale maintenance and supply infrastructure support would most likely yield negative results. They will fail to change Ukraine’s fortunes on the battlefield, while images of burning American tanks will likely hurt US public opinion.

Thus, one of America’s premier weapons, the pride and joy of its defense industry, will be humiliated on the battlefield for a long time. This is something the Pentagon can’t allow to happen under any circumstances.

Therefore, before any actual fighting happens, evacuation teams, tank repair units, and spare part supplies must be in place, while crews must receive superior training to handle American tanks.

FILE PHOTO. US Marines drive an M1 Abrams to take part in an exercise to capture an airfield as part of the Trident Juncture 2018, a NATO-led military exercise near the town of Oppdal, Norway. © Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

Last but not least, the first deployment of US main battle tanks in Ukraine must be accompanied by a significant Ukrainian army success, at least at the tactical level, which would necessitate no fewer than 200–300 (maybe even 400–500) tanks.

Otherwise, supplying the M1 Abrams to Ukraine makes neither military nor political sense. Transferring them one company (10 to 15 tanks) at a time would only mean that this equipment will burn on the battlefield without making any significant impact or even catching anyone’s attention.

So far, according to known data, Russia has not had any significant trouble dealing with enemy equipment. This is something on which both the Russian Ministry of Defense and most Western analysts seem to agree.

Since the launch of the military operation, according to Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman, Russian forces have destroyed 376 planes, 203 helicopters, 2,944 UAVs, 402 anti-aircraft missile systems, 988 MLRVs, and 3,898 field artillery guns and mortars.

As well as 7,614 tanks and other armored vehicles.

No room for complacency

It’s very likely that the first NATO tank companies will be used as training units for Ukrainian crews, while Poland will initially provide maintenance and repair capacity for servicing German or American tanks.

One shouldn’t think, however, that training will stretch over a very long time. It can take just weeks to do a full training program, while teaching T-64/84 crews to fight in the M1 Abrams or the Leopard 2A5 could be completed in a matter of days.

What matters in the reports about the West mulling tank supplies to Ukraine is not the tanks themselves as much as the breaking of a taboo, which, until recently, prevented the transfer of heavy western-made armored vehicles to Ukraine.

Once this taboo is broken, there is every reason to assume that, sooner or later, Kiev will receive not only the 1,800 western main battle tanks it badly needs, but much more than that.

At that point in time and maybe even earlier, Ukraine will be able to create a strike force on the Zaporozhye front for example. If a force like that succeeds in breaching Russian defenses, it could cover the 82 km to Melitopol in less than three days, which would dissect the whole depth of the Russian defense in this region.

With this in mind, the Russian armed forces must achieve tangible military and political results long before western arms supplies reach their full potential.

Wagner Founder Explains US Hostility

The Wagner Group scares the US because it is willing to oppose American atrocities around the world, the private military company’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on Monday, answering a question from RT.

Washington said last week that it would designate the Russian PMC as an international criminal organization, accusing it of “widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.”

“Unlike American paramilitary structures,” Prigozhin said in a written response to RT, “Wagner PMC only goes after the enemies of peace, and does not commit crimes. Of course, if you’re doing a reversal of concepts, you can make anyone look bad.”

The US is the only country to use nuclear weapons in history, and “organized wars and revolutions” in “Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Central Africa and so on,” Prigozhin noted, adding that in some of those countries Wagner came in and “stopped the wars with an iron fist.”

Calling the US “a powerful criminal syndicate subsisting on the money of the entire world,” Prigozhin said Wagner was “more like the vice police” in relation.

Washington “trained bandits and terrorists all over the world so that there would be unrest everywhere,” while the “fantasy island called the USA” lives in peace, he added. Used to people not fighting back or getting intimidated by name-calling, the Americans don’t know what to do with Wagner, who “looks into the eyes of the personification of world evil without fear.”

Prigozhin said the US objective is to break up Russia just as it did to the USSR, then take on China, in order to maintain its global hegemony.

The Wagner Group was originally established in 2014. Over the past year, its fighters have taken part in battles against the Ukrainian military in the Donbass. Earlier this month, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged Wagner’s role in capturing the key town of Soledar.

US authorities have accused the PMC of unspecified “human rights violations” in Syria and the Central African Republic, where Wagner helped the government against jihadist insurgents. Last month, the State Department declared Wagner an “entity of particular concern” for religious freedom in Africa, in the same category as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

via RT

France, Doubling the Military Financing Plan for 2024–2030

France is doubling the military financing plan for 2024–2030 to be paid by the savings from pension reform. No wonder why the French are taking to the streets in mass protest.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the allocation of €400 billion, an astronomical amount by the standards of the country, for military spending. In fact, the situation with the distribution of funds is much more multifaceted. Moreover, an analysis of the plans of the French army shows that a sharp increase in spending was planned for a long time but was not advertised.

€400 billion is not a one-time allocation but Macron’s personal demands to parliament about the draconian military budget for 2024–2030, which will be published in the summer of 2023. The previous army funding program was adopted for the period 2019–2025.

From 2019 to 2022, Paris annually increased military spending by the same amount of €1.7 billion. And only in 2023 began a sharp increase in spending ,which is around $ 3 billion. The bottom line is that the military program for 2019–2025 initially assumed an allocation of € 295 billion, which means that a sharp increase in spending in 2024 and 2025 was planned. That is, back in 2018, France intended to build up its armed forces by the beginning of the 2020s.

Calculations show that in 2024–2030, the country will progressively increase military spending by equal amounts, as in 2019–2022.But this time we will be talking about an annual increase of €3 billion, not €1.7 billion. Thus, Macron will fulfil his promise to increase France’s military allocations by two times by 2030 compared to 2017—from €32.3 billion to €66 billion.

Such serious cost estimates require funding sources. The Macron administration followed a simple path and announced an increase in the retirement age in the country, which caused outrage and unrest among the population. The Montaigne think tank estimates that the government’s cumulative savings from raising the retirement age from 62 to 65 will amount to €18 billion by 2032. If in 2023 Russia chose the “social spending is paramount” approach, then the opposite situation turned out with France—the appetites of the military-industrial complex and generals are above all.

Medvedev Warns Russia’s Defeat In Ukraine Would Mean Nuclear War

via Zero Hedge

Outspoken former Russian president and current deputy chairman of the security council Dmitry Medvedev has issued his latest stark warning to the West on Thursday, saying that if Russia is on the brink of defeat, nuclear war is likely to follow. He made the comments in a post on the Telegram messaging app. “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war,” he began.

“Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends,” the former president, who in prior years had actually been seen as more dovish when compared to Putin, added. Medvedev’s comments came in reaction to news of a major meeting of Western defense leaders set for Friday at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Image via AP

“Tomorrow, at NATO’s Ramstein base, the great military leaders will discuss new tactics and strategies, as well as the supply of new heavy weapons and strike systems to Ukraine,” he wrote.

The meeting in Germany is expected to involve military commanders and officials from some 50 countries, the bulk of them being from NATO, and will seek to gain consensus on moving forward in terms of military and strategic support for Ukraine.

Central to the discussion will be whether or not to provide heavy tanks and longer range missile systems, and there’s also the question of aircraft, given Zelensky’s persistent request to help “close the skies”.

According to at least one prominent international outlet, the Kremlin has backed Medvedev’s ultra-provocative nuclear remarks as Western allies gear up for the Friday meeting:

The Kremlin was quick to endorse Medvedev’s remarks, saying they were in full accordance with Moscow’s principles.

Moscow’s doctrine allows for a nuclear attack after “aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened”.

Medvedev hasn’t been shy about raising the specter of nuclear Armageddon throughout much of the 11-month conflict. He typically gives voice to the Kremlin’s ‘worst case’ – or most escalatory – way of thinking in response to the West escalation. His words often represent the ‘big stick’ approach from Moscow’s point of view.

Backward political good-timers in Davos reiterated: “To achieve peace, Russia must lose”. None of them gets it that a nuclear power’s loss of a conventional war can lead to a nuclear one. Nuclear powers haven’t been defeated in major conflicts crucial for their destiny

— Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiaE) January 19, 2023

Regardless of these fresh severe warnings, there’s growing consensus among Western powers that Ukraine needs heavy tanks. At the moment, all eyes are on Washington and Berlin, also while new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius takes his post:

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said Berlin remains one of Washington’s most important allies at his first meeting with his new German counterpart before crunch talks on supplying German-made tanks to Ukraine.

“I’d like to thank the German government for all that it has done to strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense,” Austin said at the start of his talks with Boris Pistorius.

Additionally NATO’s Jen Stoltenberg said Thursday when speaking about the Ukraine war, “weapons are the way to peace.”

Calling things “Orwellian” is a bit of a cliche. But come on. This is like “Orwell for Dummies”

— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) January 19, 2023

It’s increasingly looking like whatever comes out of the Ramstein meeting on Friday will determine the future course of the war – and whether de-escalation is at all possible at this point, given the mood among NATO allies definitely suggests they are gearing up for a bigger fight.

Meanwhile, the mood in Moscow

⚡️Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems being placed on the roof of building in Moscow.

Is this the plan?

— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) January 19, 2023

Seems the Kremlin is getting nervous.
In Moscow a Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile system was put on the roof of 8 Teterynskyi Lane.

— Robert van der Noordaa (@g900ap) January 19, 2023

80 Years Ago: How Leningrad Survived

By Anatoliy Brusnikin, Russian historian and journalist

Saint Petersburg, then Leningrad, was the scene of one of the bloodiest and most tragic episodes of the Second World War.

Nazi Germany’s siege of Russia’s former capital lasted 872 days, claiming the lives up to a million civilians and about half-a-million soldiers. Eighty years ago, in a colossal military effort, a breach was made in the blockade of the city: Operation Iskra opened a narrow, bare, exposed, but nevertheless operational land corridor from the ‘mainland.’

This was the first relatively successful attempt to break through the Nazi lines after four catastrophic failures over the previous years. The success of the operation was incredibly important, but the victory took such a toll and is associated with so much indescribable grief and destruction that, even in Russia, it is recalled very rarely.

Superfluous city

According to Germany’s plan for the Eastern Front, the initial task of Army Group North was to capture Leningrad by mid-September 1941. This turned out to be impossible. The mobilization of the civilian population to build defensive lines to the south of the city (mostly women, as men were either employed in factories or went to the front) and the stubborn resistance put up by the Red Army prevented the Germans from taking it by storm. Not wanting to waste time and effort on the ‘doomed’ city, as it seemed at the time, Franz Halder, chief of staff of the Nazi ground forces, convinced Adolf Hitler to move tanks and mechanized units towards Moscow, and leave Leningrad under blockade.

It was assumed that, after a hungry and cold winter, its defenders would no longer have the strength to resist. The city would be captured and razed to the ground, and all the lands to the north of the Neva River, which flows through the city into the Baltic Sea, would be given to the Germans’ Finnish allies, who were securing their blockade sector. In encircling the city, the last railway line was cut near the Mga station on August 29, 1941, just two months and one week after the war began. September 8 saw the capture of Shlisselburg, 12km to the north on Lake Ladoga at the source of the Neva River. Supplies could potentially have been transported from here to Leningrad. The blockade of the northern capital is counted from this date.

Almost immediately after it was founded by Emperor Peter I in 1703, Saint Petersburg became Russia’s main commercial port and naval base. Wide avenues, cathedrals, the stunning beauty of the palaces of the imperial family and other nobles, as well as drawbridges over the wide Neva River, still remain a reminder of Russia’s grand history. But by the end of the 19th century, the city had also become the country’s main manufacturing center, retaining its industrial significance even after the Bolsheviks, who came to power in 1918, moved the capital to Moscow. In addition, both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin recognized the city’s ideological importance, since it was here that the first socialist revolution had taken place, and the city itself had been renamed in honor of the leader of the global proletariat, Vladimir Lenin.

FILE PHOTO. Vladimir Lenin delivers a speech during a rally marking the opening of the Second Congress of the Communist International. Petrograd, July 19, 1920. Photographed by V.K. Bulla. A reproduction. © Sputnik

Thus, by wiping Leningrad off the face of the Earth, Hitler would be able to destroy large Soviet industrial and military plants (there were over 300 in the city), make the Baltic Sea safe for German shipping, capture a powerful merchant fleet, and move further towards Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, thus paralyzing supplies coming in via the Lend-Lease scheme, agreed with the US. Finally, and most importantly, Hitler was going to expel the ‘Asians’ from Europe and demoralize his communist opponent, depriving them of the cradle of their revolution.

Hell on ice

Due to the Red Army’s disastrous start to the war and the general chaos in the country’s administration, Leningrad was absolutely unprepared for the siege. It was impossible to carry out a fully fledged evacuation of the city’s three million residents along just two railway lines in a relatively short time, and military enterprises were evacuated first.

Children were also sent away to protect them from bombing and artillery shelling. However, Leningrad’s youngest residents were not taken inland, but to suburbs and villages near the city, from which most of them soon returned.

No significant stocks of food had been created, and warehouses had been destroyed by German aircraft on September 8-10, when the blockade was established. By October, rations for residents who neither worked in factories nor fought in trenches had already been reduced to a catastrophic 125 grams of bread per day, and real famine set in as early as November. Cases of cannibalism were recorded and investigated in the city during the entire period of the siege, their number entering the hundreds. However, given the inhuman conditions in which millions of Leningraders found themselves, this is not as unconscionable as it may seem.

Of course, the situation was aggravated by the cold. The winter of 1941 turned out to be the chilliest in recorded history. The average daily temperature had already dropped to 0°C by October 11 and did not rise above freezing until April 7. Fuel reserves in the northern capital quickly ran out, and the electricity supply fell to 15% of the pre-war level. The central heating was turned off, and sewage and water supply systems froze. People put small cast-iron stoves in their apartments and heated them with everything they had, including furniture, flooring, wallpaper, and books.

FILE PHOTO. Besieged Leningrad townsfolk leave the bomb shelter after attack over, 10.12.1942. Leningrad, Russia. © Sputnik/Boris Kudoyarov

The months of the first winter were the bleakest. People died from cold and exhaustion at home, at work, and on the streets. Many just sat down to rest and never got up again. In February, special teams removed over 1,000 bodies a day from the streets. According to official statistics presented at the Nuremberg trials, bombing and shelling killed a total of 17,000 people, while the famine planned by the Germans (their commanders were forbidden to accept refugees from the city), along with the cold, took the lives of another 632,000. Meanwhile, 332,000 soldiers perished. However, modern researchers tend to believe that these statistics are underestimated, partly due to the fact that Stalin probably didn’t want to take responsibility for a catastrophe of this magnitude or show weakness in front of former allies with whom the Cold War was already brewing.

Survivors of genocide

Imagine: You wake up in the only warm room of a huge Leningrad apartment. All movement is difficult; your head is foggy due to hunger. You don’t need to get dressed, as you’ve slept in a padded jacket. You drink leftover water from a bucket taken from the well yesterday. You wrap yourself up more tightly and set off for your factory halfway across the city – public transport stopped working long ago. Supplementary nutrition is organized at the factory; it gives you a chance to survive. In the hallway, a smell hits your nose – a corpse lies under the stairs, for the third day – you don’t want to look. On the way to work, you meet people hauling sleds laden with the bodies of their relatives. They weave their way between snowdrifts and stationary trolleybuses so they can bury the dead. But none of this evokes any emotion anymore – during the endless months of this winter, about a million people have perished around you. You have already lost all hope – you live on autopilot and know this fate could soon befall you as well. Hundreds of thousands of people went through this and kept the trauma in their memory, although they preferred not to voice their recollection of all the horrors.

In terms of brutality, scale, and planning, the siege of Leningrad is quite comparable to the most infamous acts of genocide, including the ‘final solution of the Jewish question,’ as the Germans were fully aware of the consequences of their actions. And while, for a number of reasons, the Soviet leadership failed to draw attention to this, including in the international arena, in October of 2022, the Saint Petersburg City Court finally called a spade a spade and recognized the siege as genocide.

“Just recently, the blockade of Leningrad was also recognized as an act of genocide. It was high time to do it. By organizing the blockade, the Nazis purposefully sought to destroy the Leningraders – everyone from children to the elderly. This is also confirmed, as I have already said, by their own documents,” Vladimir Putin noted in November 2022. Though Russia’s current president was born ten years after the Leningrad blockade was finally broken, his family was directly affected by this tragedy.

FILE PHOTO. A woman standing by corpses and coffins , 01.02.1943, in Leningrad, Russia. © Sputnik

At the beginning of the blockade, the one-and-a-half-year-old son of Vladimir Putin’s mother, Maria Ivanovna, was taken away for evacuation, but he never made it out of the city. According to the official account, the child, Viktor, died of an illness. The only notification his mother received about this was a death certificate. As the Russian leader himself said, she only managed to survive due to the fact that her husband, Putin’s father, had been wounded at the front and received augmented rations, which he passed on to his wife during her daily visits to the hospital. This continued until he fainted from hunger, and the doctors, who understood what was happening, forbade further visits. After leaving the hospital on crutches with a shattered leg, he nursed his wife, who had stopped walking from weakness. Vladimir Spiridonovich had fought on the Neva Bridgehead.

Attacking over comrades’ corpses

According to the memoirs of Georgy Zhukov, who repulsed an attempt to storm Leningrad in September-October 1941, Stalin initially considered the city’s situation nearly hopeless and was more focused on saving Moscow. But the desperate resistance of the city’s defenders, the steadfast perseverance of its inhabitants, and later the heroism of the brigades that transported scarce food supplies to Leningrad in trucks and carts along the city’s sole lifeline – the ‘Road of Life’ established on the ice of Lake Ladoga – forced the Bolshevik leader to change his mind. At that point, he began to demand that his military leaders break through the defense by any means and as soon as possible. The impatience of the Georgian, who had had the leadership of the Western Front shot just two months before, led to a number of hasty and ill-prepared attempted to break the blockade.

What was the German ‘wedge’ that penetrated to Lake Ladoga and cut Leningrad off from the rest of the country? It was a low-lying 15kmx15km area consisting mostly of woods and peat bogs, but in its very center was a hill on which the village of Sinyavino stood. To the west, the site was bounded by the wide (about 500 meters) Neva River, behind which the defending troops of the Leningrad Front were positioned. To the east was the Volkhov Front; to the north, the shores of Lake Ladoga; and to the south, the main part of Germany’s Army Group North.

During Stalin’s industrialization of the 1930s, a large condensing power plant had been built on the banks of the Neva River. Peat was dug from the marshes to provide fuel. Workers lived in several scattered villages connected by dirt roads and narrow-gauge railways. In the north, there was the ancient fortress city of Shlisselburg; in the south, deep behind the German lines, was a railway junction at the Mga station. The attempts to break the siege of Leningrad are conventionally called the Sinyavino Offensives.

FILE PHOTO. The 2nd Sinyavinsky operation. Soldiers pulling camouflaged tanks on muddy roads, Leningrad, January 11, 1941. © Sputnik

The first Sinyavino operation began literally the day after the blockade was established, on September 9, 1941. It turned into two weeks of counter-fighting between Marshal Grigory Kulik’s newly formed 54th Army, consisting of recruits and retreating units moving from the east, and German forces trying to break through to the Svir River to meet Finnish troops. Had the Wehrmacht managed to accomplish this, there would have been no question of any ‘Road of Life’, and Leningrad would definitely not have survived the siege. From the points of view of Stalin, Chief of the General Staff Shaposhnikov, and Zhukov, who commanded the encircled Leningrad Front, the operation was an immediate failure. Enraged, Zhukov even decided to act independently and gave an order to force a crossing of the Neva from the west. In the vicinity of Shlisselburg, the landing forces were destroyed, but another attempt 12km to the south, on a narrow river bend, was more successful, and the Neva Bridgehead, where Putin’s father fought, was formed.

The Neva Bridgehead was constantly changing in size, with a width of up to 2km and a depth of about 800 meters. Although the relative narrowness of the river allowed boats to bring in reinforcements, albeit over icy water and under constant shelling (one in five made it), the bank itself was absolutely unsuitable for staging a further offensive. From the north, it was bounded by the huge power plant, which the Germans quickly turned into a fortress. From the east, it abutted two sand pits, through which it was impossible to launch an attack or conduct maneuvers. The bridgehead was under constant fire from enemy artillery and machine guns. However, this did not stop the generals – they demanded frontal attacks and successes that they could report to Stalin.

Between September 19, 1941 and April 29, 1942, and September 26, 1942 and February 17, 1943, countless regiments and divisions cycled through the bridgehead, and over 50 hopeless attempts were made to advance towards Sinyavino and Mga to breach enemy lines. In 1941 alone, during the first and second Sinyavino operations, at least 68,000 people died on this small piece of land. It was nearly impossible to evacuate wounded soldiers, let alone corpses, across the river. When bodies were buried, they were buried right there, sometimes more than once, since incessant artillery fire (up to 50,000 shells, grenades, and aerial bombs per day) kept churning up the earth and exposing dead bodies. Winter temperatures made it impossible to dig pits in frozen ground, and frozen corpses were used instead of logs to reinforce trench walls or shelter roofs and make loopholes.

“All of that against the constant backdrop of our and German artillery fire, the unmistakable smell of mortar shell explosive, the repulsive sound of German ground-attack planes, the moans of the wounded, and the swearing of the living, who were cursing the Germans, the war, this wretched bridgehead, and sometimes our gunners if they were firing on our own positions,” according to Yuri Poresh, a soldier who survived the fighting.

FILE PHOTO. Soldiers of the 168th Infantry Division of Colonel Andrei Bondarev during the Battle of Leningrad, Nevsky Pyatachok, Leningrad, May 11, 1941. © Sputnik/Vsevolod Tarasevich

It is estimated that the average combat utility of a soldier on the Neva Bridgehead was 52 hours, after which he was either killed or wounded, left facing the prospect of a challenging evacuation. Vladimir Putin senior, who had had his heel and ankle shattered by a grenade, had to swim across the river and was only able to make it to the right bank with the help of a comrade-in-arms.

The scale of suicidal losses suffered in this area was not properly recognized until after the war. Back then, thoughts were focused on saving Leningrad from the disastrous siege.

The Birth of a Traitor

Fighting at the Sinyavino wedge was no walk in the park for the Germans either. They had to repel countless waves of Soviet attacks from two opposite directions. Continuous artillery fire soon obliterated almost every tree in that spot, so all Wehrmacht soldiers could see from their fortified positions, especially from the Sinyavino heights, were swamps, which never froze even in winter, scarred by heavy artillery fire, laid with mines, and littered with the corpses of Red Army infantry soldiers with an occasional burnt tank here and there. Further south, at the entrance to the Demyansk Pocket, whose defense by the Germans was closely linked to the defense of the Sinyavino wedge, there was a handmade road sign which said, in German: “Welcome to hell.” The Germans must have been thinking similar thoughts about Sinyavino, which looked like something out of Hieronymus Bosch’s disturbing paintings.

After victory near Moscow, followed by a counteroffensive, Stalin demanded again that the siege be lifted, which led to the notorious Lyuban offensive operation that took place between January 7 and July 10, 1942. Its purpose was to cut off the whole of the Sinyavino wedge south of Mga and, by doing so, not only relieve the siege of Leningrad but also seize the strategic initiative in the north. Created specifically for this operation, the 2nd Shock Army succeeded in breaking through German defenses. However, due to the lack of roads, adequate supplies, and sufficient reinforcements, as well as the incompetence of Mikhail Khozin, the commander of the Leningrad Front, it was forced to halt its advance before being gradually encircled and destroyed. On April 20, almost by accident, Andrey Vlasov, a hero of the Battle of Moscow and one of the generals Stalin respected the most, was put in charge of the 2nd Shock Army to relieve its ailing commander.

By then, the army was all but doomed. When the high command finally allowed the army to retreat, it was too late, as the encirclement had been completed. After giving his last orders, Vlasov attempted to escape on his own, as he had done near Kiev in the summer of 1941, but was captured and identified. He would go on to lead the collaborationist Russian Liberation Army and become the epitome of a traitor. A total of approximately 350,000 soldiers and officers perished in the disastrous operation.

FILE PHOTO. World War II. Soviet General Andrey Vlasov during manoeuvres of Russian volunteers’ training, 1943. © Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Last setbacks

A month later, in late August 1942, the Red Army began the 3rd Sinyavino operation in another attempt to lift the siege. This time, the Leningrad Front was in the hands of Leonid Govorov, a much more capable general and a meticulous artillery officer. The commander of the Volkhov Front was Kirill Meretskov, an experienced general who had fought in Spain and been tasked with penetrating the Mannerheim Line in the Winter War. Up against them was Georg Lindemann’s German 18th Army, which included, among other units, the 250th Blue Division of Spanish volunteers.

However, given the local landscape, the mission still looked nearly impossible to accomplish. “Soldiers had to build fences out of wood and dirt instead of digging trenches for their fighting positions and living quarters. Instead of foxholes, they piled earth to build open platforms, laid log roads for many kilometers, and constructed wooden platforms for artillery guns and mortars… The vast peat bogs stretching from the banks of Lake Ladoga all the way to Sinyavino and, south of Sinyavino, the dense woods with large swamps, almost impenetrable even for the infantry, were severely limiting the troops’ maneuverability and created more advantages for the defending side,” Meretskov later wrote.

The new attempt, which had been planned much more thoroughly, called for several waves of advancing troops supported by heavy artillery fire and flame tanks to destroy enemy fortifications. The operation could have been a success but, in August, the Germans were reinforced by the 11th Army, which had emerged victorious from the bloody Battle of Sevastopol. It was led by Erich von Manstein, one of Hitler’s top generals.

Von Manstein was initially expected to replicate his Crimean success in Leningrad. However, as the situation near Sinyavino was beginning to look increasingly dire, the German leadership told him to check the Russian offensive, which he did. It looked like another setback for the Red Army, which lost over 100,000 people, 40,000 of whom were irrecoverable casualties, yet it succeeded in averting the Wehrmacht’s attack on Leningrad and weakened the 11th Army so that later, when it was sent to Stalingrad, it failed to break the encirclement around Paulus’ doomed 6th Army.

FILE PHOTO. Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Manstein (R),German Field Marshal of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. © Ullstein bild/Ullstein bild via Getty Images

The spark that burned through armor

The 3rd Sinyavino operation allowed Govorov and Meretskov to gain a better understanding of the terrain and enemy capabilities. Stalin suggested that the next operation should be codenamed Iskra, or “Spark” (the idea being that it would finally set the siege ablaze). What set the fifth attempt at lifting the siege apart from the previous efforts was the meticulous planning that went into it and the special training the troops received.

For example, soldiers practiced crossing the Neva at spots inside the city where the enemy could not observe them. Artillery fire was supposed to take out all of the enemy’s firing positions on the left bank. To achieve that, one of the soldiers, who was a painter before the war, came to the frontlines several nights in a row and carefully examined the German defenses before returning to the headquarters and depicting everything he had seen and committed to memory on a canvas four meters wide. The picture was then used for reference by artillery officers.

Logs held together by metal spikes were initially intended to help medium and heavy tanks to traverse the river. After the first two tanks sank during practice, it became clear that the wooden “rails” had to be given about 24 hours to become stuck to the ice before they could be used. Figuring out such nuances, combined with the surprise factor, was instrumental in ensuring the success of the operation.

Attacking from the west along the southern bank of Lake Ladoga was the 67th Army under the command of Mikhail Dukhanov, who began his military service before the revolution as a pontonier. Moving from the east was the unfortunate 2nd Shock Army, now put together for a third time, led by Vladimir Romanovsky. It numbered 164,000 men and had received a significant boost in terms of armor and artillery. Just two months prior, only 4,600 troops remained after defeat in the 3rd Sinyavino operation. It was in this army’s sector that the Germans’ defenses were exceptionally formidable. They built several lines of fighting positions linked by pairs of walls made of earth and wood with water poured over them to make them icy. There was a total of over 400 emplacements for artillery and machine guns complete with minefields in front of and between them.

Ivan Fedyuninsky, deputy commander of the Volkhov Front, who was made responsible for the overall coordination of Operation Iskra, had 302,000 men under his command, five times the size of the German troops at Sinyavino. The first stage called for creating a land connection to Leningrad, the second phase was aimed at capturing Mga, a vital communications node, to establish a railway link with Russia’s central regions.

FILE PHOTO. Infantry in attack after a massive artillery preparation, 01.02.1944, Leningrad, Russia. © Sputnik

Breakthrough at last

The operation was initially planned for early December. However, since the Neva was slow to freeze due to a relatively mild winter, the offensive was postponed by a month. On January 12, 1943, after an aerial bombing attack at dawn and two hours of artillery barrage, the two fronts began advancing towards each other through a 12km-wide corridor. Significant headway was made in the west, where the blow, contrary to the Germans’ expectations, was delivered not at, but to the north of, the Neva Bridgehead. The advancing troops secured a position on the left bank of the Neva measuring 6km by 3km on the very first day.

Achievements in the east were more modest. Over the next four days, the advance slowed and turned into trench warfare. The Red Army stormed German fortifications in the workers’ villages as the Wehrmacht sent in reinforcements. Those days saw the first deployment of the Tiger. One of those heavy tanks, which were still a rarity, was captured and carefully studied, which allowed Soviet and Allied armored soldiers to identify its vulnerabilities and learn how to deal with it effectively.

At last, on the morning of January 18, advance units of the two fronts met south of Workers’ Village No. 5, located on the railway line connecting Sinyavino and Schlisselburg, repelled a German counterattack, and broke into the fortified village itself by midday. Realizing the urgency of the situation, the German command ordered the Schlisselburg garrison to leave, with about 8,000 soldiers and officers successfully escaping from the encirclement. By January 20, a land corridor about 10km wide running south of Lake Ladoga had been cleared of enemy forces, which dug in at the Sinyavino Heights. Further attempts, which lasted until April, to dislodge them were just as bloody as they were futile, meaning Operation Iskra failed to reach its second objective. The Germans left Sinyavino a year later, in January 1944, as part of their widescale retreat.

That did not matter much to the survivors in Leningrad so long as the horrible siege was over at last. The construction of a railroad running through the corridor – which had to be constructed in clear view of Sinyavino and could be reached by German artillery fire – began immediately on January 18. It took just 17 days to build a 33km stretch working only after nightfall in freezing temperatures, upon which the Road of Victory was used to deliver supplies to Leningrad and evacuate survivors. Russia’s northern capital and the cradle of the Bolshevik Revolution was saved.

German General: What Are the War Aims?


Erich Vad is an ex-Brigadier General. From 2006 to 2013 he was the military policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is one of the rare voices who spoke out publicly early on against arms deliveries to Ukraine, without political strategy and diplomatic efforts. Even now, he speaks an uncomfortable truth.

by Annika Ross


Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brigadier General Erich Vad in Kunduz in 2010

Mr. Vad, what do you think of the delivery of the 40 martens to the Ukraine that Chancellor Scholz just announced?

This is a military escalation, also in the perception of the Russians – even if the more than 40-year-old marten is not a silver bullet. We’re going down a slide. This could develop a momentum of its own that we can no longer control. Of course it was and is right to support the Ukraine and of course Putin’s attack does not comply with international law – but now the consequences must finally be considered!

And what could the consequences be?

Do you want to achieve a willingness to negotiate with the deliveries of the tanks? Do you want to reconquer Donbass or Crimea? Or do you want to defeat Russia completely? There is no realistic end state definition. And without an overall political and strategic concept, arms deliveries are pure militarism.

What does that mean?

We have a militarily operational stalemate, which we cannot solve militarily. Incidentally, this is also the opinion of the American Chief of Staff Mark Milley. He said that Ukraine’s military victory is not to be expected and that negotiations are the only possible way. Anything else is a senseless waste of human lives.

General Milley caused a lot of trouble in Washington with his statement and was also heavily criticized in public.

He spoke an uncomfortable truth. A truth that, by the way, was hardly ever published in the German media. The interview with CNN’s Milley didn’t show up anywhere bigger, when he’s the chief of staff of our western powerhouse. What is going on in Ukraine is a war of attrition. And one with meanwhile almost 200,000 fallen and wounded soldiers on both sides [yes, on the Russian side out of 150,000 SMO – Ed], with 50,000 civilian dead and with millions of refugees. Milley drew a parallel to the First World War that couldn’t be more apt. During the First World War, the so-called ‘Bloodmill of Verdun’, which was conceived as a battle of attrition, led to the deaths of almost a million young French and Germans. They fell for nothing then. So the warring parties’ refusal to negotiate has led to millions of additional deaths. This strategy didn’t work militarily at the time – and it won’t work today either.

You too have been attacked for calling for negotiations.

Yes, as did the Inspector General of the German Armed Forces, General Eberhard Zorn, who, like me, warned against overestimating the Ukrainians’ regionally limited offensives in the summer months. Military experts – who know what’s going on among the secret services, what it’s like on the ground and what war really means – are largely excluded from the discourse. They don’t fit in with media opinion-forming. We are largely experiencing a media synchronization that I have never experienced in the Federal Republic. This is pure opinion making. And not on behalf of the state, as is known from totalitarian regimes, but out of pure self-empowerment.

They are being attacked across the board by the media, from BILD to FAZ and Spiegel, and with them the 500,000 people who signed the open letter to the chancellor initiated by Alice Schwarzer.

That’s the way it is. Fortunately, Alice Schwarzer has her own independent medium to be able to open this discourse at all. It probably wouldn’t have worked in the leading media. The majority of the population has been against further arms deliveries for a long time and also according to a current survey. However, none of this is reported. There is largely no longer a fair, open discourse on the Ukraine war, and I find that very disturbing. That shows me how right Helmut Schmidt was. In a conversation with Chancellor Merkel, he said: Germany is and will remain an endangered nation.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Kharkiv. – Xander Heinl/IMAGO

How do you assess the Foreign Minister’s policy?

Military operations must always be coupled with attempts to bring about political solutions. The one-dimensionality of current foreign policy is hard to bear. She is very heavily focused on weapons. The main task of foreign policy is and remains diplomacy, reconciliation of interests, understanding and conflict management. I miss that here. I’m glad that we finally have a foreign minister in Germany, but it’s not enough to just use war rhetoric and walk around in Kyiv or Donbass with a helmet and flak jacket. This is too little.

Baerbock is a member of the Greens, the former peace party.

I don’t understand the mutation of the Greens from a pacifist to a war party. I myself don’t know of any Greens who even did military service