Ukraine update: Russia makes minor gains out east, but pays a steep, unsustainable price

An Ukrainian serviceman takes cover as people evacuate the city of Irpin, the front lines of the battle for Kyiv on its northwestern approach.

Russia actually made some gains yesterday


Russia consolidated ground to the east of Mykolayiv, that lower left circle, as well as weirdly pushed up toward Kryvyi Rih. Why weird? Because it’s yet another supply line to protect, even though Russia is having trouble protecting what it already has, and its combat capacity is spread way too thin. Meanwhile, it sits helplessly outside Mykolayiv unable to push into the city that is blocking Russia’s path to Odesa—the last major port city in Ukrainian hands. 

In the Donbas/Eastern axis, Russia continues to consolidate territory outside Mariupol, but once again lacks the combat strength to push into the city. Instead, it’s content to starve its residents and turn it into rubble. It thinks that’ll force the city into submission, but given it’s the home of the neo-Nazi Azov batallion, all its defenders—whether Azov or not—know they will be executed upon capture. It’s a fight to the death. Northeast of Kyiv, an attempt to cross the Irpin river was rejected by Ukrainian defenders. This is critical, as they need to keep Russian artillery outside the 20 mile radius that would put them in range of central Kyiv. 

Russia made gains to the north of Donbas (the blue patch in the east), highlighted by the upper right circle. Russia claims it has advanced 15-17 kms from the pre-invasion border which is kinda shitty progress for nearly three weeks, but at least there’s movement (unlike most other places). Separatists have been unable to breach the defensive trenches directly west of that region, so Russia and its proxies are trying to work their way up and around them, to surround those defenders. If Russia makes headway with its plan, it may force those defenders to withdraw. On the other hand, we’re talking longer supply lines and reduced combat capacity once again. That’s Russia’s problem. It is 100% committed, there are no more reserves to draw on, and if those 15,000 Syrians materialize for Moscow, few expect them to be anything but cheap cannon fodder. Putin needs bodies, but he doesn’t want to throw conscripts into the meat grinder. He’s got a home-front to protect, and Russians are becoming wiser: “The Ukrainian General Staff claimed that Russian servicemen are increasingly refusing to travel to Ukraine despite promises of veteran status and higher salaries.” By law, conscripts aren’t supposed to serve outside of Russia, and having been busted early on, Putin pretended it was all just one big misunderstanding. Many conscripts are being tricked or forced into signing contracts, but word is undoubtedly getting out—sign at the peril of death. 

Meanwhile, those slight territorial gains cost Russia dearly. Oryx, which is tracking all visually confirmed kills in the war, counted 96 new pieces of captured or destroyed Russian equipment, The total is now 1,292 Russian losses. We all thought Russia had plenty more where those came from, but given that it is begging China for armored vehicles, among other things, looks like we all assumed wrong. Unfortunately, only six of those 96 pieces of equipment were artillery guns, which means that Russia’s most effective tool of terror remains relatively unscathed. At some point, those Turkish Bayraktar drones might need to spend more time taking out artillery batteries (and their supply lines) than heavy armor—most of which seems easily handled by Ukrainian ground forces. (What little Bayraktar video is released, it does seem Ukraine is prioritizing air defense and command and control vehicles.)

After two weeks of declaring that a major assault on Kyiv was imminent within 24-72 hours, the Institute of War’s most recent assessment has thrown its hands in the air, “Russian forces may not be able to concentrate the combat power necessary to resume major offensive operations toward Kyiv within the week, despite several operational pauses to reconstitute forces.” That sounds about right. The Russian Battalion Tactical Group has proven too small to do anything of value other than defend the patch of ground it sits on, and Russia has shown zero ability to perform operations coordinating multiple BTGs. 

Meanwhile, while the main Ukrainian army holds down the fort (literally) in key cities on the front lines, special forces and irregulars continue to harass enemy supply lines and ambushing armored columns, While most result in 1-2 destroyed or captured Russian vehicles, the 101st Mudder Division notched a stunning victory in Chernihiv Oblast (northeast of Kyiv). 

That tweet says two, but additional pictures from the scene showed two more. That’s almost half of a Russian’s BTG tank component (normally 10), meaning it’s likely been pulled for reconstituting, because those tiny battlegroups are fragile as heck. And Ukraine has four shiny new modern tanks to add to its defense of Chernihiv. 

Meanwhile, no signs of Belarus joining the war, which they clearly have zero appetite to do. Vladimir Putin is leaning heavily on the country, even recalling his puppet Belorussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to Moscow to order him into battle. But so far, no dice, and Russia has little leverage to press the matter. It needs those Belorussian bases for logistics and aircraft staging. But even if Belarus enters the war, how would they supply their bedraggled army, likely infinitely more corrupt and ineffective than Russia’s? It would be a tragic turkey shoot. Lukashenko knows this, and he’s thus far holding firm. 

Note that Russian advances at this point aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember, every kilometer it advances is one new kilometer of supply lines it must maintain, as Ukraine bleeds Russia dry, one paper-cut ambush at a time. The civilian death toll is horrific, and Russia will continue to lean in on its terror campaign, but militarily, it is far from anything resembling “victory.” 

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