Ben Morgan: A chaotic Russian election week


Russian elections last week, from 15-17 March, were an opportunity for Ukraine to maximise chaos.  A task they set about with gusto, Ukrainian drones damaging Russian oil refineries and anti-Putin Russian militias crossing the border to attack villages in Belgorod and Kursk Oblasts. The accession of Sweden into NATO and signs of increased European support for Ukraine combined with Ukrainian air and ground attacks set off another round of Putin’s nuclear rhetoric.  Russia’s president also stated he would increase the number of soldiers on the Finnish border. But, the biggest untold story this week is the sudden improvement in Russian deep strike capabilities.  

NATO support

Germany, France and Poland issued a joint statement expressing their support for Ukraine and pledging to deliver more equipment and help build the Ukrainian defence industry. Additionally, French President Emmanual Macron is not ‘walking back’ statements about NATO troops deploying to support Ukraine.  He qualified his position, a little, stating that this step was ‘not currently required’ but he is continuing to keep discussion about this option alive. 

The most important action that Europe took this week was on 15 March, in Brussels, where the European Union’s executive authorised 500 million euros (US$ 545 million) for a project that will streamline the production of artillery shells. The plan is to produce 1.7 million shells by the end of 2024 and to be able to produce 2 million per annum by 2025.  

This week NATO flexed its military muscle in its largest exercise since the Cold War.  Exercise Steadfast Defender saw the alliance’s border, from northern Finland to Poland, flooded with 90,000 troops and 1,100 combat vehicles.   The exercise also included 50 ships and 80 combat aircraft including helicopters and drones. Essentially, it demonstrated NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy substantial manoeuvre forces across Europe, on top of providing its existing garrisons.  

NATO is working hard to demonstrate that even if US support is uncertain, Europe is committed to Ukraine. The alliance appears to have realised the threat that Putin’s Russia has become and is keen to deter future aggression.  


Ukraine’s election week attacks on Russia

TDB Recommends

Drone strikes

Ukraine’s offensive against Russia’s oil industry intensified during election week. Dozens of drones attacked a range of targets across Russia.  On 12 March, a refinery in Krishi and another in Oryol were badly damaged. Then on 13 March, Ukrainian drones attacked refineries at Ryazan, approximately 180 km south-east of Moscow, Kstovo approximately 400 km east of Moscow and in Rostov-on-Don.

The week’s attacks demonstrated Ukraine’s deep strike capabilities with roughly 1,500 kms separating Rostov-on-Don in the south and Krishi in the north and some targets being about 800km from Ukraine.

The impact of the drone offensive has already forced Russian petrol prices up.  Hitting Russian voters in the back pocket. Putin was also forced to extend, by another six months, the ban on exporting refined petroleum products so that domestic prices stay low.  In turn, reducing the flow of overseas revenue into Russia.  Ukraine’s drone strikes on oil infra-structure appear to be an effective way to rattle Putin. Attacking oil refineries is unlikely to cause many civilian casualties but creates large fires that make for powerful visual images when they are circulated on the internet.  Finally, over time Ukraine is influencing production of oil-based products that bring Russia valuable foreign exchange.  Some estimates put the current loss of production at 10%.  

Ground attacks

Anti-Putin Russian fighters crossed the border again this week, in a repeat of similar attacks last year.  Two areas were targeted; Kursk and Belgorod.   The attacks are essentially theatre, the forces involved are too small to take and hold ground but the propaganda value is significant. Photos and video footage of Russian ‘freedom fighters’ in action in the villages of Kursk and Belgorod Oblasts remind people in Russia that do not support Putin, that they are not alone. The attacks also demonstrate to people in Russia the relative weakness of the border, undermining Putin’s ‘strong man’ image.

The overall impact

Ukraine’s air and ground attacks clearly shook Putin.  In general, the war has recently been moving in his direction. However, the chaos that Ukraine created last week made him react, issuing another round of threatening nuclear rhetoric. However, this is probably directed at Putin’s domestic audience. Putin ‘pointing a finger’ west, and blaming NATO and the US for the attacks.  His nuclear threats are designed to reassure Russians that he is a strong man able to defend them from the ‘West.’  

If Putin does use nuclear weapons there will probably not be any warning. He will want to maximise the shock effect.  However, he is unlikely to do so because NATO has constant air and space surveillance of Ukraine and Russia and will already have detailed contingency plans in place.  Putin knows that NATO’s reaction will be immediate, probably as the weapon detonates, NATO aircraft will be in the air heading to their targets.  It is likely that across NATO, militaries will already be briefed and ready to respond. 

We do not know the details of the response but some options could be sinking the Black Sea Fleet or immediate establishment of a ‘no-fly’ zone over Ukraine.  Strong but measured responses to demonstrate NATO resolve and capability, while providing the option to de-escalate.  In my opinion it is likely that NATO’s counter strike would be shockingly fast and effective.  Aiming to disincentivise further escalation. Putin is smart and has probably done the same analysis and reached a similar conclusion but nuclear rhetoric costs nothing, scares the international community and plays well to his domestic audience. 


Russia hits more targets, further behind Ukrainian lines – What is going on?  

Ukraine operates just over 20 Patriot air defence missile systems.  Patriot is probably the most advanced and well-tested air defence system in the world and can shoot down most targets. It is a valuable and rare piece of equipment. Recently Ukraine has been moving them close to the frontline and using them to snipe key Russian aircraft.  

Last week, Russia hit two Patriot launchers with a long-range Iskender missile, guided onto its target by a drone.  The launchers were hit, as they moved 40-50km behind the frontline, near a small-town west of Avdiivka called Pokrovsk. The Patriot launchers were probably in this area to attack Russian aircraft bombing Avdiivka, the weapon systems long-range allowing them to hit aircraft over the Sea of Azov and flying from important Russian air bases at Tagnarog and Rostov-on-Don. 

In the last couple of weeks Russia is demonstrating increased ‘targeting’ capability.  Managing to find important targets and then guide long-range missiles to destroy them. In the last couple of weeks, Russia has destroyed not just the Patriot launchers but also a HIMARS and three helicopters at a forward refuelling and re-arming point. All these attacks were a similar distance behind the frontline and used the same method of attack.  These events have not been discussed much in the mainstream media but should ring alarm bells in Ukraine because Russia is demonstrating a new level of capability.  

First, larger and more capable Russian drones are reported to be ranging deep behind the frontline.  An indication that this is a new operational factor is that the Patriots launchers were moving and did not have air defence covering their movement.  A standard procedure for a valuable weapon system like Patriot if there is a significant threat. The same applies for the HIMARs.  This observation could indicate that the Ukrainians have poor planning, that they lack air defence resources or that the Russians have made a sudden leap in their surveillance capabilities.  Based on the war-to-date the answer is probably a combination of the last two factors.  Ukraine has limited resources and as soon as a key system is in a ‘safe’ area, scare air defence assets are quickly redeployed. The risk being that if Russia’s capabilities increase suddenly equipment can be lost.

The second observation is that to-date Russian drones have not demonstrated the ability to guide long-range missiles onto targets. A technically difficult capability that requires relatively large drones that can mount laser designators, can maintain digital communications and are connected to the GPS network.  In late 2022, there were reports of Russia using Iranian, Mohajer-6 drones to guide attacks by suicide drones but since then there has been little evidence of deep strikes using this method of attack.  Some in the military blogging community are speculating that these attacks are evidence of more Mohajer-6 drones being in service or of newer and more sophisticated Mohajer-10 drones being deployed in Ukraine.  However, at this stage deployment of newer more sophisticated drones has not been confirmed. 

Russian targeting process improvements  

New equipment is only part of the story and Russia’s success striking depth targets in the last couple of weeks is also an indication that their ‘targeting’ systems and processes have improved. Most likely, Russia is forming deep strike teams, by pairing a long-range weapon with specialist ‘Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance’ (ISTAR) teams that find targets. ISTAR assets then provide the constant observation required to guide a missile or drone to hit the target.

Linking ISTAR and long-range weapons shortens the ‘sensor – shooter’ link and allows for rapid engagement of fleeting targets deep behind the lines.  This way of operating is unconventional, most armies work hard to centralise and tightly control the use of both ISTAR and long-range weapons. Requests for fire are escalated through layers of command, then triaged at each level to prioritise which targets are most important.  This process takes time and during the war Russia has been very poor at shortening the ‘sensor – shooter’ link. A feature of Russian operations early in the war, was that artillery and missiles too a long-time to respond to ‘calls for fire.’  Last week, we noted observations from Avdiivka, confirming improvements in Russian artillery responsiveness on the battlefield.  

Now it appears they have formed specialist teams tasked to hunt out and hit key Ukrainian assets like; helicopter, HIMARs and air defence missiles deep behind the frontline. This evolution in capability may rapidly increase Russian combat effectiveness, especially because Ukraine’s best defence against large drones used for depth target acquisition is short-range air defence missiles that are very expensive and may be in short supply. 


The results of Russia’s election will be confirmed as this article is published and are unlikely to be a surprise. The most important observation from the electoral period is that Putin is visibly shaken by NATO’s activities and by Ukraine’s air and ground attacks.  Putin’s level of concern being demonstrated by his threats and angry statements. It is obvious that Ukraine’s attacks on Russia’s oil infrastructure are affecting the economy and Putin politically.  Additionally, although they are small, the attacks on Belgorod and Kursk Oblasts are embarrassing.

Last week, we discussed the inflection point the ground campaign is reaching and although Russia continues to batter Ukraine’s defences there has not been a breakthrough of the type we identified last week.  Every week that passes without a Russian breakthrough, the more ‘the curve’ moves towards Ukraine. Putin’s problem is that Russia is ‘all in,’ aside from manpower Russia will struggle to generate more combat power than it can currently.  Russia needs a significant victory before support like European shells and F16s arrives so that politicians in Europe and the US can be convinced that that the war as a lost cause. Each passing week without that victory, entrenches European support and may even bring the US back to the table.  At the end of the week, Russia had not broken through and every week that Ukraine holds its line the balance moves slowly in its favour. 


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack


  1. Why don’t we shoot MDMA AKA Ecstasy at each other? Killing each other instead with bits of flying lead simply because someone’s perceived by others to be on the wrong part if a hurtling space ball is so old fashioned don’t you think?
    MDMA or Ecstasy. No money in it though I suppose and money’s worth far more than human lives not to mention animal and plant lives.
    MDMA. Or Ecstasy.

  2. So the “Freedom Fighters” attacks against Kursk and Belgorod were just theater for propaganda purposes.
    So that’s non-state actors (Ukraine denies that they’re their men) attacking civilian targets for political purposes.
    That’s your basic textbook definition of terrorism.
    Or are you working with the more common use of the term, where YOUR non-state actors attacking civilian targets for political purposes are Terrorists, but MY non-sate actors attacking civilian targets for political purposes are Freedom Fighters?

        • You seem mad that Africa is being liberated from more than half a century of neocolonialism by human nations like Russia and China, Pat. Why?

          • Why?

            Because all colonial powers, (including Russia), eventually turn to genocide to maintain their looting of the local resources and exploitation of the indigenous people.


            At a July 2022 press conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the West for trying to bring back the “colonial epoch”.
            His speech conveniently missed the fact that his ancestors wanted to be part of the imperial domination of Africa that defined that epoch. Indeed, today’s official Russian rhetoric outlines the history of Russian relations with Africa in exclusively anti-colonial terms. And yet, historical facts reveal that Russia was part of the imperial “scramble for Africa” – only, it failed miserably at it…..
            …..While the Russian Empire failed in Africa, it enjoyed remarkable success in expanding and maintaining its dominion in Eurasia, where its imperial troops imposed brutal rule on various nations and established infrastructure for the extraction of resources.
            Throughout Asia, Russia pursued the same mission to “civilise the natives” that its Western allies and rivals did elsewhere in the world, sharing with them the same “white man’s burden”. Contrary to the Kremlin’s bold anti-colonial assertions today, Russia was part and parcel of global European imperialism….

            Mohammed just in case you are tempted to say; ‘But Russia’s history of imperialism and colonialism is in the past’.

            The current President of the Russian Federation has made several explicit statements and delivered speeches and written essays about reclaiming that imperial past.


            But more than words is proving it in actions.

            • Ah, so because Russia might- in some future- hypothetically behave like evil regimes like ‘israel’, the US, or occupied Ukraine, their positive involvement in freeing Africa is bad? Interesting

              • “So because Russia might- in some future- hypothetically behave like evil regimes” – Just so many examples that I could cite here Mo but run this past the next Pole you come across and then come back to us . .

                • I think according to B.Awaesky below, the accepted term is now “dumb Polack”

                  I am confused though what he means by the evil regime of “occupied Ukraine”. Are we saying now that those dastardly villains in Kyiv have occupied parts of their own country? Or that in fact Kyiv is the “occupied” part and Russian will hopefully liberate it and return it to their loving embrace?

                  Life used to be so much simpler when Stalin was in charge and everyone just agreed that he was a bastard. Or maybe I’m wrong about that as well.

  3. MK the people you support are the terrorists. Look at how Iran treats the Bahais!
    The Ukrainians are just defending themselves against Putin’s aggression. How can they be American puppets when hard line Republicans are threatening to cut off aid to Ukraine?

  4. When a politician gets 88% of the vote I wouldn’t use the word “chaotic” but rather “miraculous”, almost at the level of credibility of the loaves and the fishes.

    I wish we had politicians who were so awesome that 88% of us would get behind them. We would be unstoppable and Tasmania would once again be rightfully ours.

    • Tasmania would be overreach. I suggest Norfolk Island. There wasn’t anyone there till early 1800s. There is a percentage of the population that is dissatisfied with rule from NSW. And indisputably Aotearoa New Zealand is closer to it than Oz.

  5. Here is Radek Sikorski’s address to the UN. It is a devastating reply to all the Putinist propaganda on this site: Transscript of @radeksikorski s excellent speech…
    And I now give the floor to his Excellency Mr Radoslav Sikorski Minister for foreign affairs of Poland
    Madame President, I associate myself with the words of minister Kuleba of Ukraine and my colleagues from the European Union,
    but I am amazed at the tone and the content of the presentation by the Russian Ambassador. and I thought I could be useful by correcting the record. Ambassador Nebenzya has called Kyiv “The clients of the West”, actually Kyiv is fighting to be independent of anybody.
    He calls them a criminal Kiev regime, in fact Ukraine has a democratically elected government.
    He calls them Nazis. Well the president is Jewish, the defense minister is Muslim and and they have no political prisoners.
    He said that Ukraine was wallowing in corruption, well Alexei Navalny documented how “honest and full of propriety” his own country is.
    He blamed the war on us, on neocolonialism, in fact it is Russia that tried to exterminate Ukraine in the 19th century, again under the Bolsheviks and it’s the third attempt.
    He said that we are prisoners of russophobia. Phobia means irrational fear, yet we are being threatened almost every day, by the former president of Russia and by Putins propagandists with nuclear annihilation. I put to you that it’s not irrational, when Russia threaten threatens us, we trust it.
    He said that we are denying Russia’s security interests. Not true we’ve only started rearming ourselves when Russia started invading her neighbors.
    He even said that Poland attacked Russia during World War II. What is he talking about?
    It is the Soviet Union that attacked Poland TOGETHER with Nazi Germany on the 17th of September 1939, they even held a joint Victory Parade on the 22nd of September.
    He says that Russia has always only beaten back aggression. What were Russian troops doing at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920. They were on a topographical Excursion? No the truth is, that for every time that Russia has been invaded, she has invaded 10 times.
    He says that this is a perfidious proxy war by the West. My advice is don’t fall into the Western trap, withdraw your troops to the international border and avoid this um Western plot.
    He also says that there was an illegal coup in Ukraine in Kyiv in 2014.
    Well I was there. There was no coup. President Yanukovych MURDERED a hundred of his compatriots and he was removed from office by a democratically elected Ukrainian Parliament, INCLUDING his own party, the party of regions.
    And finally he is saying, that we, the West are somehow trying to be persuaded that Russia can never be beaten.
    Well Russia didn’t win the Crimean War.
    It didn’t win the Russo Japanese war.
    It didn’t win World War 1.
    It didn’t win the Battle of Warsaw.
    It didn’t win in Afghanistan
    and it didn’t win the Cold War,
    but there is good news, after each failure there were reforms.
    Such demagogy is unworthy of a member on a permanent basis on of the the security Council,
    but what the Ambassador has achieved
    is to remind us why we resisted Soviet domination and what Ukraine is resisting now.
    They failed to subjugate us then, they’ll fail to subjugate Ukraine and us now.
    Thank you very much.

    • Yup Radek Sikorski’s comments a pretty concise summary . . Antforce, B Awakesky & Mo will all still have their heads buried in the sand if they bothered to read them . . .

  6. I support Ukraine ‘and’ Palestine — think they’re connected by basic right and wrong morality. Quite amazed at the diff of opinion about it.

    Putin is a twot in charge of a country, like Musk is a twot in charge of a social media site. Who the fuck wants to invade Russia, and it’s not even allowed by international law that has kept us safe these 78 years? It’s all in how dictators operate.

    Poor dear Russia.

  7. Who cares about the bullshit that some dumb Polack and NATO lackey takes up UN time with ,,,, apart from Ovod who dreams that this fiction/propaganda is devastating ,,, rather than embarrassingly irrelevant .

    There WAS a violent coup ,,,,, and following the well worn CIA playbook,
    murders were committed by the agitators/proxy’s,,, to be blamed on the Govt targeted for being overthrown ….. Ovod has previously in his in fact free posting style blamed ‘Putin’, for the violence in the western backed Ukraine coup

    …. and here’s some more interesting and relevant information,,, that is ‘devastating’ to the PDS crowds arguments (Putin Derangement Syndrome ),,,, but it will do nothing to change their condition……

    ” The CIA network of spy bases (in Ukraine) ‘includes’ twelve along the border. In other words, there’s a lot more than twelve bases…… ”

    …..”First, the CIA’s bases obviously aren’t on the literal border with Russia, because Russia has already captured twenty percent of Ukraine’s eastern flank, but the CIA is still offering reporters spy-base tours. So the bases are more likely placed along the country’s ethnic borders, leading to an ugly conclusion that the CIA was actively helping Ukraine’s Nazi military attack and brutally oppress its own people in the more Russian areas in eastern Ukraine. So that’s one very ugly fact.”

    ….. .”What would the U.S. do, if Russia were building dozens of secret military bases along our southern border and training Mexico’s military and installing Russia-friendly, KGB assets into all of Mexico’s top political, military, and intelligence services?”….

    ….”if I were a Senator or Congressman who had gone around repeatedly assuring my constituents and telling the media that Russia invaded Ukraine for no reason, I would be pretty hot right now. This disclosure just made liars of them all.”

    • B Awakesky March 20, 2024 at 10:25 pm
      “Who cares about the bullshit that some dumb Polack…”

      As well As being a bloodthirsty warmonger, B Awakesky exposes himself as racist bigot. Racism and bigotry of course go hand in hand with imperialism. How else could someone like B Awakesky justify to themselves invading and taking over someone else’s country unless they considered themselves racially superior.

      Po·​lack ˈpō-ˌläk -ˌlak
      offensive —used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a person of Polish birth or descent

      [ poh-lahk, -lak ]SHOW IPA

      Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a contemptuous term used to refer to a Pole or person of Polish descent.

      Wikipedia › wiki › Polack
      … offensive, is obsolete. In both languages it was replaced by the neutral поляк (polyak). Another common Russian ethnic slur for Poles is пшек (pshek)…..

    • That’s what happens when you have a nation with a leader who actually represents the people, rather than being a filthy rat beholden to foreign alien interests like Luxon/Hipkins.

      • There is video out there somewhere of V V Putin after the previous election results have been announced, where he sits down behind his office desk and says something like “ah, I think I’ll stay here till I’m 90!” (in Russian of course)

  8. The Crocus Hall massacre in Moscow throws up certain questions.
    Why did it take such a long time for the security forces to arrive? How did gunmen get through the heavy security checks at the hall? Perhaps bribery? Perhaps it was an inside job?
    All is not well in Putin’s Russia.

  9. Everybody will be pointing fingers but the truth will come out. One report is that a gunman has been captured. Either way one senses that Russia have moved from SMO to unconditional war mode.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here