January 4, 2023
A military disaster looms for Russia’s army in northeastern Ukraine
There is movement in the war in the east – and it is the Ukrainian army that has apparently been able to seize the momentum. While the Western public, to the extent that it still follows the war in Ukraine, which has coagulated into normality, at all, was mainly aware of the offensive around the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, large territorial gains seem to have been recorded in the northeast by combined Ukrainian units in a rapid attack.
Ukrainian units were able to break through the Russian lines southeast of Kharkov on a broad front and gain dozens of kilometers of ground within a few days, between the 4th and 9th of September. Even pro-Russian propaganda sources openly admit this. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are reported to be on the outskirts of Kupyansk, the main Russian-held city in Kharkov Oblast. Moreover, the most important supply route of the Russian army units in the western Donbass around Izium runs through Kupyansk. Consequently, cutting this supply route would be devastating for the Kremlin’s operations in eastern Ukraine. The attacks by Ukrainian troops in the south thus appear to have contributed primarily to weakening the Russian front in the north – and it is precisely these weak points that Kiev’s army leadership – probably evaluating Western information – was able to correctly identify and exploit.
The Russian defense, thinned out by troop deployments to Kherson, sometimes consisting of conscripted reservists from Lugansk and units of barracked police, is said to have literally collapsed. The Ukrainian army, ironically, has successfully employed the same tactics that the Russian army leadership failed to implement at the outset of the war. No mobile units of combined forces have advanced far into enemy territory after breaking through on the front lines without capturing towns and settlements where significant Russian occupation forces are entrenched. The difference so far, at least, is that the demoralized and encircled Russian troops are not leading attacks on Ukrainian supply routes and supply lines, as Ukrainian soldiers did during the Russian advance at the outbreak of war.
Currently, thousands of Russian soldiers are said to be in these cauldrons west of the Oskol River. It’s a disaster for the Russian army that even Western military experts could scarcely have imagined before the war broke out. In the coming days it will be decided whether the Ukrainian forces can maintain these gains in terrain, or whether Kiev overestimated its forces, overstretched its supply routes – and Ukraine faces similar setbacks in Russian counter-offensives as the Russian invasion forces did at the start of the war.
In response to this disaster, in which terrain that had to be painstakingly conquered over months was lost within a few days, the Russian army is supposed to pull together strong formations in the region in order to quickly reverse any of Ukraine’s territorial gains that are not secured by defensive installations, and to dislodge the encircled Russian troops. But this weakens other sections of the front, as Russia attacked Ukraine with a vastly outnumbered army, and the initial military-technical and equipment superiority of Russian forces is increasingly fading due to Western arms deliveries and war-related attrition.
Further attacks by Ukrainian forces thus seem likely. But this would ultimately mean that the strategic momentum in this war would pass to Ukraine after weeks of de facto stalemate. Russia’s invading army would thus be put on the defensive, while Ukrainian formations exploit weak points to break through thinned Russian fronts and make repeated gains in territory. The coming days will show whether this latest offensive by Kiev southwest of Kharkov indeed marked a strategic turning point in the war. The decisive factor will be the extent to which Kiev’s troops will be able to maintain these gains in the face of Russian counterattacks.
On September 10, the first photos of Ukrainian soldiers from the strategically important city of Kupyansk appeared on the web – as mentioned, the most important Russian supply line to the western Donbass runs through here. Apparently, parts of the city were abandoned by Russia without a fight. It takes Russia months to capture Ukrainian cities. Ukraine appears to be taking them in a hand sweep. Russian troops south of Kupyansk, especially near Izium, are now in a very difficult position. Indeed, it seems that Russia is losing all conquered territory west of the Oskil River. Izium is almost surrounded by Ukrainian army, thousands of Russian troops are threatened with capture or death.
But the unexpected aspect of the Ukrainian offensive is its total surprise effect. Russian intelligence and intelligence services (satellites, aerial reconnaissance, informants) seem to have been blind. It’s 2022, every major Russian troop movement is known to the West, and sometimes troop redeployments – as most recently towards Kherson – are discussed on the internet. Russia is apparently hardly able to do this, the Russian army actually seems to have been “in the picture” and not to have noticed the significant deployment, the preparations for the Ukrainian offensive – this in the era of satellite-based reconnaissance.
The desolate state of the Russian army, which suffers not only from corruption and mismanagement but also from an archaic command structure, enormous casualties and rapid wear and tear on material (Putin has made gestures to North Korea to procure ammunition), seems to have put the Kremlin in a similar position to that at the start of the war: When the Russian lightning advance on Kiev and Kharkov failed, Moscow had to choose between withdrawal and escalation. Putin opted for an escalation of the cycle.
The Kremlin will soon face a similar decision if the current Ukrainian offensive is successful: Either the admission of defeat, which will certainly cost Putin his head in the medium term, or further escalation. And Russia certainly has the means to continue following the logic of military escalation – which at the same time increases the danger of a major war.
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Originally posted on konicz.info on 09/09/2022