Russians at the Gates of Kiev

Too far to go back, too far to go forward

Russian lines around Kiev on both sides of the river. A lake that is 8-miles wide between them that stretches back into Belarus. Haven’t edged further south in 2 weeks.

Everything is going according to plan and is on schedule. At the same time, Kiev has yet to be either taken or encircled, and 2 weeks have passed without measurable gains in that direction. So then was the plan to tie up one-half of the invasion force in the Kiev operation and not have it achieve a strategic objective for 26 days?

In that case, it was a bad plan.

Nobody crafts a plan that says “we’re going to drive very close to the enemy capital and then we’re just going to kind of sit there”. You don’t stop until you’ve crowned your tactical success in advancing 200 miles with the strategic success of covering the last stretch and at least isolating the enemy capital. Not if it’s up to you.

And if there was never any urgency to meeting strategic objectives in the Kiev area, then why was there such a mad rush to reach it in the early days? Paratroopers were landed at an airport on its outskirts just 6 hours into the campaign, and the Russians force advancing from the east looked more like a racing team than a battle formation. It was in such a hurry that it accepted all the trade-offs of bypassing cities and enemy concentrations, leaving behind areas of resistance, and advancing deep with small company-sized forces. It sacrificed so much for speed, why? Because it was so eager to reach the part of the plan that said “and then we’re just going to kind of camp out on Kiev outskirts, not doing much of anything”?

Actually, when you consider what was asked of them the Russian troops did rather well. Take the force west of the river tasked with encircling Kiev from the west. Of the major arteries leading out of Kiev they cut the highway leading northwest in the initial advance, and the highway going west to Zhitomir after they got reinforcements (the famous convoy that was actually only 5km long). Only the southwest and south remain.

They have accomplished this as a small force of perhaps 17 battalion tactical groups that thanks to the huge lake behind the Kiev hydroelectric dam is not in contact with the rest of the Russian army (except through Belarus). A small force that to its left faces a heavily defended city of 3.5 million and to its right faces the entire right-bank Ukraine on its own.

As it tries to move southwest to cut the highway to Bila Tserkva it has to at the same time:

a) cut through the enemy in front of it,

b) defend its flank facing the city, and

c) and defend its western flank to the entire rest of Ukraine.

This as a force of 17 reinforced battalions against which the Ukrainians can theoretically position as many units from western and central Ukraine as they please. 

Yeah, I would say that these (likely outnumbered) Russian troops are doing rather well considering. And that the slow progress in encircling Kiev isn’t because the Kremlin has suddenly decided that encircling Kiev quickly isn’t important after all, but because it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, and the NW Kiev guys are already doing the best you could possibly expect of well under 20,000 soldiers.

Imagine this is you. The only bastards on the “wrong” side of the river in the entire north
Even if you are able to push on from Makariv and reach the river to the south of the city to encircle the city from the west what does that really mean? It means that you now have to maintain an inner ring against the city, and an outer ring against the entire rest of Ukraine at the same time. You have to split your small force between the two requirements, all the while cut off from the rest of the Russian army on the other bank. It’s very hard to do.

On the other side of the river, the Russian forces have similarly taken highways leading northeast and east, while the southeastern one still remains to be taken.

The Russian force to the east of Kiev is at least twice, if not three times, as large as the one to the west of the city, but having advanced 200 miles as the crow flies it also has a 200-mile flank to cover.

It also has substantial forces tied up in containing cities and towns that were bypassed and cordoned off during the advance but were not captured.

In all likelihood, the decision to not attempt to take Chernigov and Sumy, the two largest cities in their rear was a wise one. Each contains over 250,000 people and city battles are incredibly manpower-intensive, protracted, and costly to armies and civilians alike.

However, I will profess myself ignorant as to why the takeover of small towns like Konotop, Mena, and Nizhyn has not been attempted. I single out these three in particular because they sit on important railway lines.

One reason the Russian advance in the south has been doing better is that it is able to utilize captured railways, dramatically easing supply. Russian trains have been observed in Kherson, Melitopol, Starobelsk and Volnovakha.

By contrast, the supply in the north is still entirely dependent on trucks. This with the problem of Ukrainians sallying out of their towns to interdict them still not completely solved. As an artillery army, the Russian military is very supply-hungry. Artillery and especially rocket artillery demand great volumes of ammunition.

No rail without Nizhyn and one of Konotop and Mena — small towns now playing outsized roles

The Russian approach to supply has always been rail-based. Trucks are meant to transport material in the final stage from the rail yard to the frontline, but ideally these rail yards are not located over 300 kilometers away.

If they were able to wrestle control of Konotop (80,000) and Nizhyn (70,000) the Russians would be able to get supplies by rail from Russia to as near Kiev as they deemed it safe. Meanwhile, if they took Nizhyn and Mena (10,000) they would gain the full control of a secondary, roundabout line from Belarus.

The longer these towns stay in Ukrainian hands, the more time the defenders have to sabotage the rail. Russia has 30,000 Railway Troops devoted to just running and fixing railways (that’s how important rail is to Russian military), but with that kind of time given to the enemy even these might be hard-pressed to return the rail to service quickly.

Railway map, NE Ukraine. As you can see all Kiev-bound rail from Russia north of Kharkov, goes through Konotop and Nizhyn, and Mena blocks the connecting branch from Gomel, Belarus

It is this Kiev operation that occupied the central stage in the Russian plan and took the lion’s share of the resources. Even so, nearly 4 weeks into the campaign it has yet to meet a goal of strategic significance. It hasn’t taken Kiev, it hasn’t encircled it, it hasn’t even yet sorted out its supply lines.

Moreover, for the last two weeks in particular its progress has been glacial or non-existent.

And yet it cannot be said that it is far from reaching some of these objectives either. Wrestling control of the railway and completing the encirclement of Kiev on the east side of the river seems doable with just the tiniest of reinforcements. The great majority of the work has already been done. Just the last final stretch of cutting one more highway and taking three more small towns remains.

And yet, currently, it probably doesn’t make sense to reinforce the Kiev push because the southern theater is more promising.

Albeit treated as a sideshow in planning it is the southern front that now looks closer to meeting an objective of grand significance, namely the encirclement of Ukrainian forces in the Donbass. If there are any reinforcements it makes the most sense to send them there.

Donbass theater. 180 kilometers to seal the gap

Underresourced as it has been, the progress of the Donbass front has been steady but non-spectacular. 5 to 10 kilometers a day. Usually heavily aided by forces of the Donetsk Republic.

Ukrainian defeat in the Donbass is inevitable but there is the chance that if the Russian pincers are too slow or too shallow that relatively few opposing units will be caught. They may retreat and live to fight another day.

This would make strengthening the push here with reinforcements critical.

But it isn’t at all clear that Kremlin feels the same urgency. Are reinforcements being generated and sent? Perhaps they are, we saw some evidence of that before TikTok went dark in Russia. But at the same time, Putin is telling the public that conscripts and reservists aren’t going to Ukraine, which if it is actually followed, will hamper giving the military what it needs.

In a way, Russia is a victim of its almost-success.

The Kiev operation that probably should have never been the central part of the campaign failed to trigger a quick collapse of the Ukrainian state, but it did capture a staggering amount of territory and has encircled Kiev from three sides.

It doesn’t appear to be able to finish the job on its own, but it is so close that you don’t want to weaken it and lose ground there even as the southern operation looks much more promising and is crying out for reinforcements. In a way it would have actually been better for Russia if the troops in the Kiev operation had not achieved as much and were now available to ensure the Donbass operation is quick and deep and decisive.

As it is, there is some risk of Russia having two near-successes. Two undertakings that can’t get past that last hump in time. Two objectively impressive efforts that don’t hit the truly big payoff for the lack of just a little more.

Having taken that huge area in the northeast is impressive, but it also means keeping it is tying up numerous troops, both on the flank and vs encircled cities in the rear. Had less been captured the manpower needs here would be lower and some would be available to bolster Donbass.
Kiev
One (pro-Ukrainian) interpretation of the area east of Kiev (black denotes supply by road rather than rail)
Opponent can draw from a huge area to pressure your flank

22 Comments
  1. Docua says

    The Biological weapons labs has been more important to Russia to take asap -thats one reason why the troops been so dispersed all over Ukraine

  2. guest says

    In 21 days Grand-Protector Vladimir caused the death of more Slavs than anyone in his lifetime. What exactly is the purpose of this special operation ? To kill the nationalists (who are under the mistaken delusion that it is their homeland, and are very much willing to fight for their homeland); and to de-militarize the province. Well, the nazis are dying everyday on both sides of the frontline; the Russian nazis who think they are liberating Slavia from its inhabitants, and the Galician nazis who think it is their country and want nothing to do with the government in Moscow.

    As for de-militarizing Ukraine; there is more military and more weaponry in Ukraine today than any time since 1944.

    So what was the plan ?
    Was it to kill as many people as they can ?
    Was it to chase away the residents of Ukraine ? (10% of them already left)

    The Russian Army pretends to be very incompetent. In 21 days they couldn’t take Harkov which is 10 miles from the Russian border, and they want us to believe that it is because of supply lines (or the lack of them). What would the Russian Army do against an enemy that has an airforce that every day attacks the supply depots and command centers (and railroads, and bridges) on the Russian side of the border ?

    https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/images/maps/easterneurope1.jpg
    http://www.emersonkent.com/images/wwii_russia_1941_june_august.jpg

    //If the Russian Army takes Ukraine, and there is a common border with Poland and Rumania, will NATO walk away, or just sit there looking stupid and useless ? what is the plan ? who will populate Little Novo Russia ? new Slavs from Africa ? Chechnia ? Greece ? India ?

    1. GMC says

      Patience GrassHopper.

    2. XSFRGR says

      You really don’t have a concept of strategy, do you?? Putin is operating in the Russia area of Ukraine, among Russian people, and is attempting to minimize casualties. Unless the advancing army plans on annihilating the defending army the attackers should always leave a way out. If there’s a way out the trapped rat will run before it will fight. If Russia wanted to destroy Kiev it could do so in 3 days, but that’s not the plan because Russia wants Kiev intact.

      1. Eddy says

        You have to excuse these morons posting such crap on here, they are all thinking with the Western mindset, and trying to project that onto Putin, hoping he will act like them.

    3. Eddy says

      Quote, “n 21 days Grand-Protector Vladimir caused the death of more Slavs than anyone in his lifetime” Unquote. Not true. Seems you’ve ignored the numbers butchered by NATO when attacking Yugoslavia and Serbia. Why is that ???

  3. Peter says

    It is rather dumb to badmouth a police operation that one doesn’t even want to understand. Yet it seems to me that all the information has been given, and what is happening on the ground is what was said that will be done. This, my dear Empire fans is not the way to write commentary. It looks like it is written in bad faith. Anti-Empire? Really?

  4. ken says

    All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
    ― Sun tzu, The Art of War

    I myself wonder why the Russians are being so slow… it almost looks like they are trying to sucker Nato or the USA in. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

  5. Cooky says

    Are you sure? You remember the USA siege in Iraq city they failed at then carpet bombed with phosphorous? Faluja was it’s name one month. Lost full USMC battalion before they then did the bombing. No Russia has locked down the country and is methodically denazifying it. They will get to Kiev last and by then hope the non combatants have left. If you will take the time to watch some footage Russian forces are not hurrying they are being patient careful and calculating.

  6. Eric the Red says

    Articles such as this absolutely refuse to understand that there are strategies other than ‘shock & awe’. If the Russian military had used that strategy, they would have taken most of Ukraine in four days. Since they didn’t, it logically means they’re employing a different strategy, one that the writer of this article doesn’t understand. Therefore all your words, maps, diagrams, and speculation are moot.

    For example, not once did the author use the word ‘cauldron’ in this article. However, it’s not my job to do your research for you, so instead I’ll suggest that you do some actual investigation about the classic strategy the Russian military employs.

    Until then, if you start with the wrong assumptions, you’ll always come to the wrong conclusions.

    1. Greg Follis says

      Excellent!!!

    2. ladybird says

      Well said Erik!!

  7. Maiasta says

    Off-Guardian touches on all the right points here, as it asks:

    Is Russia REALLY “fighting globalism” in Ukraine?

    1. Burns says

      What exactly are Ukrainian Nazis? National Socialists? Why is this group, whomever they are, being labeled as Nazis? What area do they control!? Do they have an agenda?

      1. Maiasta says

        The Azov Battalion, for example. They’re not labelled as Nazis. They are Nazis, by their very own definition. If you’re a reader of this site, it won’t be hard to find information on them.

        But there’s nothing new here. Everything that Putin’s citing has been going on for 8 years. So why has he done this now?

        1. Eddy says

          Because he tried to avoid loss of life by allowing the West to dictate to him policies that they had no intention of ever applying. You can only follow stuff like that so far, before you realise, your being led up the garden path, and stronger action is required. NO ONE, even the most virulent critics on here, can say Putin’s actions came as a surprise, he told us clearly, what he was going to do, and the West laughed at him. Wonder if they’re laughing now.

          1. Maiasta says

            I’m not convinced, Edddy. There are many ways to skin a cat. Putin could have organised a coup d’etat against Zelensky. The Russians still have (or had) a lot of residual support in Ukraine, so there would have a been a good chance of it succeeding.

  8. Victor says

    A relatively small Russian force around Kiev is keeping a relatively large Ukrainian force tied down, unable to assist in the East. They are slow because they are simply keeping the Ukies tied to that spot. In the east, meanwhile, they are slowly and painfully surrounding Ukie and nazi forces trying very hard to minimise civilians and infrastructure – this by nature is a very slow process.

    In the end they will take the east and the south including Odessa, and then move north taking all of Ukraine east of the Dnieper, including Kiev. At that point they will establish a military junta to organise a transfer of power to Russian-friendly civilians who will establish a constitution and a new government called Novorossya, or some such.

    The rest will be left on its own as part of a landlocked western nub inclusive of Galicia. This part will be likely taken by Poland in the end. And Ukraine will vanish like the fog.

    1. Neilo says

      Agree, the strategy is working by keeping half the Ukie army tied up in the Nth while the real deal is happening in the East. Why would you waste blood and treasure on Kiev if you are going to leave it anyway.

  9. Adrian von Folkersam says

    I think the russian hurry in kiev is to tied the 10 brigades that are there and to avaoid they will be deployed in Dombass, the actual operational objective of russian. First they need to eliminate the resistance in Mariupol, then close the cauldron

  10. kkk says

    The idea is to push out south of Kiev as many people as possible

  11. XSFRGR says

    This is one of the most pathetic articles, related to strategy, and tactics, that I have ever read. I’m not going to waste my time picking it to pieces, but I will say that if this is the future of military reporting at Anti-Empire I don’t expect this site to remain relevant for much longer. Were I still a tactics instructor at Command, and General Staff school I would use this article as an example of military ignorance.

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