More to ignore, Book 57........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Near the beginning of Donald Trump’s time in office, the then-president had a pressing question for his national-security aides and administration officials: Does China have the secret technology — a weapon, even — to create large, man-made hurricanes and then launch them at the United States? And if so, would this constitute an act of war by a foreign power, and could the U.S. retaliate militarily? Then-President Trump repeatedly asked about this, according to two former senior administration officials and a third person briefed on the matter.

“It was almost too stupid for words,” said a former Trump official intimately familiar with the then-sitting president’s inquiry. “I did not get the sense he was joking at all.”

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, tell Rolling Stone that Trump began interrogating national-security officials and other staffers about the alleged weapon during the first year of his presidency, and his question would pop up sporadically until at least 2018. Two of the sources recalled that as Trump got deeper into the second year in his term, he started to drop the topic, and occasionally joked about it.........
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: 'Russian army has reportedly begun to withdraw from Kharkiv area across the border'
Mark Sumner

For days, it’s seemed every story about activity in Kharkiv has included the phrase “and we don’t actually know what’s happening on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River.” After racing up the river to surprise everyone by grabbing Staryi Saltiv, Ukrainian forces then began shelling the area surrounding the bridge near Rubiznhe. When that bridge was blown, shells began falling farther north near Starytsya. But did that mean Ukrainian forces were racing up the river? Were they moving forces out of the area after failing to capture an intact bridge?

Why not option C? Ukrainian forces today pushed through Russian positions to reach … Russia.

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Ukraine makes another astounding push north of Kharkiv

In another massive and unexpected move, Ukrainian forces cut a path 18km northwest of Staryi Saltiv and recaptured the town of Ternova along with the surrounding territory. That means that Russian-occupied territory within Ukraine is no longer contiguous, but has been split on the north end.

This isn’t the first time that Ukraine has reached the Russian border, of course. Ukraine already controlled the Russian border region all the way from just east of Chernahiv in the north down to just outside Kozacha Lopan north of Kharkiv. But there’s no doubt that this action at Ternova is making Russia gulp. Not only does it place Ukrainian forces at the border in a location very close to critical Russian supply lines, Ukraine has twice in the last few days demonstrated the ability to move quickly, surprise Russian troops, and capture a large chunk of territory in an unexpected direction.

In addition, Ukraine took villages like Slobozhanske and Pytomynk, tightening down the space still occupied by Russian forces. There is still fighting just outside of Lyptsi, and whether Russia still controls Petrivka … who knows? There’s a good chance that if Russian forces are still there, it won’t stay that way for long.

Perhaps the best thing about Ukrainian forces unexpectedly moving to recapture Ternova is that it puts us right back into the position we were in this morning — we have no idea what Ukrainian forces in this area are going to do next. Neither does Russia.

Not only does this side by side from @war_mapper give you a thumbnail view of progress north of Kharkiv, the dots he has here for towns and villages gives a good sense of just how many different locations have been liberated in this brief period of high activity. I usually take recaptured towns from past days off the map, leaving just those sites around the front line, to make each day’s actions more legible, but it’s nice to see them all here.



............
MilitaryLand.net is out with their daily summary. However, they put this together before the news about Ternova was firmed up. So, while they still report considerable activity north of Kharkiv, it’s not quite as exciting as it could be. That said, their report does include this sweet line: “The Russian army has reportedly begun to withdraw from the Kharkiv area across the border back to Russia.”



Elsewhere, they report on Russia capturing Velyka Komyshuvakha west of Izyum, a process that’s been underway for the last few days. Outside of that small change, the message in other locations is the same: Russia attacked, but Ukrainian troops successfully repelled the attacks. That also seems to be true in the area of Popasna, where Russia has not yet been able to exploit Ukrainian forces departing from the heavily damaged town.


That would seem to be worth a solid huzzah.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022 · 9:57:54 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
Looking at the FIRMS data, there has been some active shelling over the last two days at two small towns SE of Mykolaiv, but not the kind of activity there you might expect with reports of heavy fighting.

Caution for anyone looking at the FIRMS data in this area: There are a number of extreme hotspots south and southwest of Kherson, but these are not artillery fire. They are forest fires which Russia has blocked anyone from addressing.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022 · 10:11:13 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
A note of caution. As of 9ET, OSINT was still saying they did not have clear evidence of the Ukrainian forces at Ternova. However, that news is being reported by a number of so-far reputable sources including reporters on the ground in Ukraine. Please keep this in mind.

As in almost every case when it comes to Ukraine, I’m basing these updates off sources that have been reliable as well as a great deal of “chatter” on Twitter and Telegram.








Other outlets are describing the news about Ternova as “solid” but also “unconfirmed” and you should continue to take it that way until there is video, official confirmation from the Ukrainian government, or a statement from U.S. intelligence.

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: Russia pulling forces from Izyum to deal with what's happening north of Kharkiv
Mark Sumner

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Injured Ukrainian serviceman in the tunnels beneath the Azovstal steel works, Mariupol, May 10, 2022.

All anyone has to do is tune into pro-Russian Twitter—or U.S. right-wing media—to discover that Russia’s plans for Ukraine are both simple and brilliant. It works like this: In order to capture the Donbas, Russia invaded everywhere that was not the Donbas. Like the area north of Kyiv, and the border region at Chenihiv, and Sumy, and all the areas around Kharkiv, and in the south around Kherson. And then Russia, simply and brilliantly, went on to lose 20,000 men, dozens of aircraft, hundreds of tanks, and thousands of vehicles while slaughtering villages, dusting off the term “rape and pillage” for a new generation, and in general racking up a list of crimes against humanity that is making Pol Pot spin in his nonexistent grave.

(Author’s note: After he died in prison, Pot’s body was literally put on ice until enough people could view his frozen corpse to make sure there would be no rumors the mass-murdering SOB was still alive. Then he was cremated by throwing his body on a stack of burning tires and trash. There’s no word that anyone bothered to collect what was left.
That’s the kind of funeral planning that ought to be kept on file.)

Listening to Russian media, or pro-Russian Twitter, or far-right evangelicals who have suddenly decided to join the Russian Orthodox Church because they like the “traditions”—all that stuff was just a feint designed to distract Ukrainian forces from Russia’s real goals in the Donbas. You have to particularly like the part where Russia had their own troops dig trenches in the “red forest” around Chernobyl, exposing themselves to a few hundred lifetime doses of radiation in a week. That’s real commitment to a role.

Except if all that was a feint designed to distract Ukraine, why are Ukraine’s repeated victories in the area around Kharkiv suddenly causing such concern to Russia that they are shifting forces away from the Donbas?

On Monday, Ukrainian forces reportedly quick-marched northwest from the area of Staryi Slativ to capture the town of Ternova and the surrounding area, putting them right on the border with Russia and dividing Russia’s area of control in Ukraine. This action still has not been confirmed by official sources in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, but has been repeated by knowledgeable sources on the ground. With the capture of Ternova, and over a dozen other villages and towns in the Kharkiv area in the last two weeks, Russian forces in Kharkiv oblast are reduced to not just a small area north of the hard-hit city, but an area that is difficult to hold and to supply.

That result is generating two statements that seem to be at odds. On Monday, Ukrainian officials stated that Russia was withdrawing some if not all of their troops from the Kharkiv region. Reports had indicated that as of last week, Russia had three Battalion Tactical Groups in the area, and that has proven to be utterly insufficient to hold positions as Ukraine has advanced from town to town. Withdrawing from the area and just ceding the area west of the Siverskyi Donets River seems reasonable.

So why, in addition to reports that Russia is abandoning its small, pointless, and increasingly difficult to support positions north of Kharkiv, are there also reports like this one:




That Ukrainian actions in Kharkiv are impacting Russian movements from Izyum is also the assessment of U.S. intelligence. But why? Why is Russia dragging forces back to the north, even as it also reportedly tries to withdraw forces from the same area?

It’s probably because of reports like the one in this Telegram message. The message is from Russian sources, and spends most of its time talking about May 9 celebrations, praising the firing of missiles into Odesa, and claiming that Ukraine has lost dozens of UAVs and boats trying to retake Snake Island. However, it also includes this:

“In the northeast of Kharkiv region, we continue to record the enemy's advance towards our border. Now the enemy is near Vovchansk. But to continue the offensive, he will have to ford the Siverskyi Donets. And it's not so easy to do. It will be difficult for the enemy to advance further.”

With the rapid movements of Ukrainian forces to take first Staryi Slativ and then Ternova, it’s clear to the Russians that Ukraine is not practicing the Russian technique of spending days pulverizing a town with artillery, then slowly advancing into the ruins. Ukraine is moving quickly, and not always in the direction that analysts might predict.

Russia has blown up the bridges at Staryi Saltiv, Rubiznhe, Starytsya, and Ohirtseve. Which is all of the bridges on the northern Donets. But the river is only 30 meters wide at Ohirtseve, and less than 50 meters wide at Starytsya. These are the kinds of distances that engineering units with pontoon bridges were designed to tackle. Even all the way down at Staryi Saltiv, where the river is dammed into a reservoir over 1,500 meters across, the actual span of bridge that was taken down was much smaller. Ukraine has been directing artillery at the area around the other end of that bridge, which may be a sign that they believe the Staryi Saltiv bridge could be repaired.

In any case, the Russian forces moving north away from Izyum are unlikely to be getting dragged back into Russia, then fed back down the pipeline to hold onto positions like Pertrivka and Kozacha Lopan. Because what do those positions matter anyway? They were important when Russia occupied a ring of villages around Kharkiv because Russian supplies coming down the road from Belgorod through the entry port just east of Kozacha Lopan keep the shells falling on Ukraine’s second largest city. (Note: If you haven’t already seen it, UnHerd reporter David Patrikarakos has a terrific, informative, and heartbreaking piece up about how Kharkiv has suffered after weeks of constant assaults from Russian forces).

But those Russian positions are not allowing them to keep pressure on Kharkiv at this point. Absolutely the only purpose they are serving is to occupy the attention of some Ukrainian forces that are whittling back Russia’s area of control day by day. Those Ukrainian forces are just about to get to the point where the ugly phrase “mopping up” starts showing up in the media. And yes, Russia could put in more forces just to keep Ukraine fighting in the area, but pumping forces into these locations is just another way of throwing them away.


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It may be difficult to tell on this slightly 3D-ish map from Google Earth, but Staryi Saltiv is on high ground with woods on two sides and the river on another. This should have made this an extremely difficult area to assault. Ukraine took it. Ukrainian troops have captured multiple points that had both strategic importance in terms of their location in the region, and tactical advantages in terms of the battlefield conditions. This does not appear to be true of Russia’s remaining positions in the area (with the possible exception of the area between Lyptsi and Kozachan Lopan, where Russian forces were reportedly digging into defensive positions).

All this means that the only thing any Russian forces in Kharkiv oblast can do at this point is defend unimportant crossroads in areas where holding those points provides no benefit to Russia. Also, they will likely lose these locations anyway. Putting more forces there wouldn’t be a feint, it would just be stupid.

So when Russia is moving forces out of Izyum, it’s unlikely they’re headed to Lyptsi. Instead, they’ll be defending the area that kos talked about on Tuesday, and which was hinted at by those Russian Telegrams: Volchansk and Kupyansk. Because it’s not so much that Russia is going to defend their areas on the western side of the Donets as it is that they don’t trust Ukrainian forces to stay on the western side of the Donets.

The bridges might be blown, but there are a good 25 kilometers of river along which Ukraine could construct some kind of crossing point. Ukrainian forces that moved fast to take Staryi Saltiv, then Rubiznhe, then Ternova might also carve a path east of the river. And they don’t even have to capture a rail hub like Kupyansk to cause damage. Ukraine could just take out rail lines or bridges leading into these critical supply points.

Russia is moving north not to take the area around Kharkiv, but to keep the forces that recaptured that area for Ukraine from doing the same thing to the east. That Russian Telegram message may believe that the Siverskyi Donets represents a real barrier that will keep Ukrainian forces away from their supply lines. Someone in Russia doesn’t agree.

The weather this next week looks to be rainy in northeastern Ukraine, which is likely to keep rivers high and roads muddy. Russia should be glad.
......

RUSSIAN STUFF BLOWING UP THEATER​

For reference, the turret on a T-72 weighs close to 3 tons.

 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Florida court blocks Ron DeSantis' congressional gerrymander for discriminating against Black voters
David Nir

A state court judge blocked Florida's new Republican-drawn congressional map from taking effect on Wednesday, ruling that it violates the state constitution because it "diminishes African Americans' ability to elect candidates of their choice." Circuit Judge Layne Smith, who was appointed to his current post by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, further ordered that the state implement a remedial map that restores the 5th District in northern Florida to its previous Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee configuration and makes commensurate changes to neighboring districts.

At issue is a set of amendments reforming the redistricting process that voters approved in 2010, often known as the "Fair Districts" amendments. These amendments prohibit, among other things, the "retrogression" of minority voting rights in both congressional and legislative redistricting. As ACLU attorney Nicholas Warren explained, "This means no backsliding in minority voters' ability to elect candidates of choice"—which in the case of the 5th District would mean a Black Democrat.

Indeed, the current representative for the 5th, Al Lawson, fits that mold precisely. But to maximize GOP fortunes and please his base, DeSantis demanded a map that shattered the 5th and transformed it from a safely blue district with a 46% Black plurality to a solidly red seat with a 67% white majority. That, said Smith in an oral ruling from the bench, violated the Fair Districts amendment that governs congressional line-drawing.

Republicans are certain to appeal, so Smith's decision may not stand. But it bears noting that the present east-west version of the 5th District was ultimately blessed by the state Supreme Court in a 2015 ruling following a successful challenge to the GOP's prior map under the Fair Districts amendment. The high court has grown considerably more conservative since then thanks to appointments by DeSantis and his predecessor, Rick Scott, though as Warren noted, "the anti-retrogression mandate is a clear and uncontroversial part" of state law.

Whether that proves any sort of obstacle to the justices is the key question, though the appellate courts could also rule—as the U.S. Supreme Court regularly has in cases that disfavor Republicans—that it’s too late for Florida to change its map this year. Practically speaking, however, the state has three and a half months to prepare as Florida’s primary is not until Aug. 23.

The remedial plan adopted by Smith leaves the rest of DeSantis' map intact, but several other districts are still being challenged as partisan gerrymanders, which are also barred by the Fair Districts amendment.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukrainians eliminate at least 2 pontoon bridges near Bilohorivka, satellite and drone images show

3 days after she married inside Azovstal, this Ukrainian soldier became a widow

Russian civilian reported killed in shelling of Belgorod

Ukraine offers Russia an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for injured Ukrainians in Azovstal

Ukrainian deputy commander inside Mariupol's Azovstal plant says all civilians are likely out now

 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: 'Their objective was to cross the river and encircle Lysychansk. They failed.'
Mark Sumner

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Ukrainian soldier on an anti-aircraft missile system near Sloviansk on May 11, 2022.

The fact that 24 hours later we’re still waiting for confirmation of Ukrainian forces at Ternova is certainly concerning, but then, it took at least that long to confirm that Ukraine had recaptured Staryi Saltiv. It’s almost as if the Ukrainian troops at the vanguard of assaults in the Kharkiv area have been told to not immediately send video clips and photographs—conveniently geolocated—of their every move.

One thing that seems very clear is that there is still fighting going on immediately outside Lyptsi, so Russia is certainly not abandoning all its positions in this area. We can be sure that Russia still has forces just north of this town, because artillery was directed from there toward Ukrainian positions closer to Kharkiv. It does look like Vesele may have been captured, as most of the activity—both reports and satellite data—have moved north along the road toward Neskuchne, but I’m leaving it as contested for now. There is definitely still fighting in the little mini-salient extending down to Pervika.

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Ukraine and Russia controlled settlements, Kharkiv area

There’s a change in both software and layout for the map tonight. Hopefully it gives a better sense of which areas are under control and where there is dispute.

Despite statements from both Ukraine and Russia that they were preparing to advance in the Kherson area, that doesn’t seem to have happened yet. There was some tank-to-tank fighting north of the city at the the beginning of the day, but there seems to be little action in terms of artillery, and no reports of new settlements captured by either side. Russian attempts to advance toward Lyman and Ozerne to the east of Izyum were turned back, with Russia suffering multiple vehicle losses, but details are sketchy.

And that seems to be about it. Something of a breather day in terms of updating maps, but a day that was still almost certainly unbroken hell on the ground. Which seems like a good opportunity to post this story of a Ukrainian officer and a Russian pontoon bridge.




Summing up the thread, an engineering officer for Ukraine was informed of a Russian attempt to cross the Siverskyi Donets a couple of kilometers east of Ozerne, where Russia had another failed advance on Wednesday. By seeing the position Russia was starting from, the engineer was able to predict where they were going, how many bridging sections it would take to get there, and how long Russia would take to complete the operation. Under cover of fog and smoke, Ukrainian teams prepared and, sure enough, the Russians aimed directly for the spot the engineer predicted.

Russia needed to get eight pieces of bridging in place to complete the crossing. Ukrainian troops let them get to seven. And then …



When the artillery let up, the planes took over the job, with the Ukrainian Air Force streaking in to drop bombs on the Russian position. The results of the engineer’s prediction, and the immediate, accurate action by the heavy artillery and aircraft can be seen in the tweets below.



That’s an entire Battalion Tactical Group wiped out in a moment: a BTG and then some. Plus boats. Plus bridge sections. Plus bridging equipment. Plus all the men who had the expertise to complete this work. It’s definitely worth going back and reading the full account from the engineer involved, but the best bit may be about how to complete his observations, he employed ordinary consumer drones shipped out to him by a friend.



Gotta have those sweets. However, this event was anything but sweet for the Russians attempting to cross the river. This is not the first such attempt that Ukrainian forces have halted. In one day, three bridges were stopped in another area closer to the eastern lines, though none of those efforts seemed to come with anything like this kind of equipment count.

Seriously, go read the thread and understand the steps that were involved: scouting, planning, getting forces into position, and then striking at just the critical moment when Russian forces were most exposed. There are a couple of money-asks in this thread, and I have to state right now that I can’t confirm that this guy is real, or that he really did what he says he did here. This is not an endorsement. But man, if he’s a fake … he’s a good one.