The War Now Hinges on Whether Russia Can Encircle the Ukrainian Army in Donbass

Merely pushing it back would be suboptimal

Map by the excellent Yurasumy, old-timers will remember him from 2014

Editor’s note: When pro-Ukrainian (actually simply anti-Russian) UK think-tankers write about how Russia could win and is perhaps on the verge of doing so that’s an interesting and worthwhile read. RUSI is a kind of Britsh RAND Corporation. Military-focused and influential with the government.


Source: Royal United Services Institute

An assessment of Russian movements and successes in Ukraine indicates that Russian forces are advancing and may still achieve their goals. To survive the next few weeks, Ukrainian forces will need to adopt an operational plan based on exploiting their interior lines.

The war in Ukraine has been dominated by an effective and far-reaching information campaign led by the Ukrainian state. The Ukrainian narrative is dominating both the news and social media cycles, which are now of equal importance in forming public opinion. The narrative is littered with broken Russian convoys, farmers triumphantly towing boutique Russian air defence systems away from their hiding places, and harrowing footage of Russian tank formations being destroyed. And yet, by analysing three maps depicting the operational picture, including one released by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and two curated by open-source investigators – the Twitter account Jomini of the West and Konrad Muzyka’s Ukraine Conflict Monitor – it is apparent that Russian forces are making progress.

Stars denote settlements taken from March 1 through March 13 (Credit: Geroman  (pro-Russian guy from Austria))

What the Maps Say

In the north of the country, Ukrainian forces have enjoyed significant successes, many of which have been well-publicised. The advance of Russian forces from the First Guards Tank Army and Second Combined Arms Army through an axis running past Sumy has proceeded on a narrow front with an extended vulnerable line of communications. Russian forces advancing from the north including from Belarus to both encircle Kyiv from the west and conduct a secondary offensive against Chernihiv have, similarly, stalled. Indeed, the inability of Russian forces in the north to make ground after an operational pause [true, the speed of Russian gains around Kiev after the pause has been underwhelming] has led some analysts to question whether the Russian army can in fact encircle Kyiv at all. In other theatres, Russian forces have made few gains against major cities, having captured only Kherson in the south so far, although it is likely that they will also take Mariupol.

However, an exclusive focus on cities [which the Russians are mostly happy to cordon off and leave be] – though understandable – may obscure more than it reveals. Though it seems clear that the initial Russian plan was based around a swift coup de main against Kyiv while the bulk of the Ukrainian army was pinned in the east opposite Donetsk and Luhansk, this is unlikely to remain the case. Even under best-case assumptions (from a Russian perspective), it is unlikely that Kyiv will be taken soon.

However, it is worth considering that there is a second Ukrainian centre of gravity – alluded to by Vladimir Putin in his pledge to ‘demilitarise’ Ukraine – the regular Ukrainian army, most of which remains near Donetsk and Luhansk under the aegis of the Joint Forces Operation (JFO).

Situation on March 7, ten days ago

The position of this force is looking increasingly precarious as Russian forces advance to encircle it on three axes. Russian forces of the 58th Combined Arms Army and 22nd Army, pushing north from Crimea, have commenced assaults on Beryslav along the Dnieper, and appear likely to link up at Polohy with Russian separatist forces and the Eighth Combined Arms Army advancing from Donbas. Elements of the First Guards Tank Army and Sixth Combined Arms Army advancing past Kharkiv also appear to have largely eschewed attempts to take the city – focusing instead on reducing it with artillery while bypassing it as they advance south and west past Poltava, cutting the JFO off from escaping northwards. Finally, in the southwest, Russian forces of the 20th Guards Motor Rifle Division appear similarly intent on bypassing Mykolaiv but, notably, may not be advancing on Odessa. Instead, they appear to be advancing north, which could suggest a desire to seize the western banks of key crossing points over the Dnieper.

Viewed in conjunction, these advances present a troubling picture whereby the Ukrainian forces opposite Donetsk and Luhansk are at risk of encirclement on the eastern side of the Dnieper.

If this is indeed the focus of Russia’s approach, then the emphasis on Russia’s ability to take major cities as a metric of success will have been an analytical error, as Russia appears more intent on pinning Ukrainian forces in cities like Kharkiv while it bypasses them. Indeed, preparations for an amphibious assault on Odessa may have been a feint, given that the ground forces such an assault could have linked up with appear to be moving north.

Situation on March 14, three days ago

For Ukraine, this represents a critical moment. The encirclement and destruction of a large part of the country’s regular armed forces could represent a victory condition for Russia in two ways. First, we might consider what figures like Jomini and Clausewitz postulated in the context of their own time: that armies and not cities are a nation’s centre of gravity. The destruction of armies tends to lead to a broader collapse of will that makes sieges unnecessary.

In 1940, for example, German forces did not besiege Paris; having encircled the French army in the field and decisively beaten it, this became unnecessary. To hold Kyiv and other major cities at the cost of allowing the forces of the JFO to be encircled could prove disastrous. Even if Ukrainian will did not collapse following the encirclement and destruction of the JFO, the elimination of this force could lead Russia to claim it had achieved its goal of demilitarising Ukraine and would enable an annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk at a minimum.

Finally, it is worth considering the importance of regulars in any post-war campaign mounted against Russian occupation. Compound warfare, involving both regular and irregular formations, tends to have a good track record of eventually defeating occupation by a stronger force, with examples including the Peninsular War and Chinese Civil War. It is, in many ways, preferable to a pure insurgency strategy. While irregulars can raise the costs of occupation and harass supply lines, they require a regular force to both pin the attention of an occupier and conduct eventual counteroffensives. The survival of the forces currently in the east of Ukraine would therefore be critical to an insurgency’s success.

Withdrawing will both prove difficult and entail the politically painful decision to abandon Donetsk and Luhansk. Despite this, however, it remains necessary to withdraw the force to the west both to ensure its immediate survival and, moreover, to enable Ukraine to exploit its major geographical advantage – interior lines of operation – by concentrating counteroffensives on select axes against locally inferior Russian forces.

Lessons for Analysts and Planners

Though it is too early to predict the outcome of a dynamic conflict, if Ukrainian forces do risk encirclement, this will be a salutary lesson for analysts in several ways. Firstly, our initial focus on Kyiv, despite the Russians pursuing this objective in tandem with a much broader encirclement, highlights the risk of tunnel vision, whereby specific objectives are viewed in separation from their context. Secondly, an emphasis on the impressive results achieved by Ukrainian forces at the tactical level, and the immense losses sustained by Russian ground forces, may have come at the expense of a focus on the operational level of warfare. This overemphasis on tactical-level results has historically been a challenge – one that bedevilled Cold War plans such as the active defence concept – and should be guarded against by analysts and planners in the future. It is apparent from the operational situation discussed above that the Ukrainian forces are suffering setbacks, and open-source evidence of this is lacking.

It follows that the situation is at best being misrepresented, and that a balanced assessment in this case will require a degree of patience from analysts.

The last Dragon_First map from March 12
20 Comments
  1. drb says

    well, if it hinges on encircling them that is good news and the war will be over soon.

    1. JohnBrown says

      No the main part of the war will be over when the main Judeo Nazi force in the Donbass is destroyed and the Russian forces there will be freed to go on the offensive in the rest of Ukraine.

      Russia also needs to deploy conscripts to occupy and hold areas taken by the professional army freeing the rest of the professional army to go on the offensive in the rest of Ukraine.

      Ukraine is just to large goegraphicaly to have so few Russian soldiers to take it. Russia is also holding back too much on the use of its air and ground fire power on Ukranian Judeao Nazi formations in the Donbass. War is hell so get it over with ASAP.

      It appears the Russians are making this adjustment now.

  2. Mr Reynard says

    Ohh.. Come on, just read from “respected” unnamed western sources, that Zelensky has accepted the unconditional surrender of the Russian Army & V Putin is surrendering himself as a prisoner personally to Ukrainian President Zelensky & soon as well President of Russia ?

    1. Mr Reynard says

      You get $12,000 from Zelensky ??? Do you help him with his doodah playing the piano ??

  3. Cap960 says

    Russia is after the Ukrainian army. 70 % of it are already encircled soon to give up. Period. Russia is not interested in Kiev. It just wants to strangle it to submission. This will soon happen.

  4. Ultrafart the Brave says

    Finally, it is worth considering the importance of regulars in any post-war campaign mounted against Russian occupation. Compound warfare, involving both regular and irregular formations, tends to have a good track record of eventually defeating occupation by a stronger force, with examples including the Peninsular War and Chinese Civil War.

    Interesting that the analysts neglected to consider the recent example of the Americans having their butts handed to them in Afghanistan.

  5. Martillo says

    When Mr Bear heats up the Kessel get ready for some sizzlin’ Nazi stew.

    It’s all over bar the whining in the rest of the anglozionazi empire of shit. Now watch the flushed dollah and gimp basturd €urodollah take down the ponzi shitter on Wall St and the zionazis free lunch on everyone else’s dime.

    Onward through the Natostan sewer, one day at a time

    https://southfront.org/

  6. ken says

    Russia appears to be fighting this ‘incursion’ with both hands tied behind their back, both eyes covered and a frontal lobotomy.

    [Germany WWII]

    “In just over six weeks, German armed forces overran Belgium and the Netherlands, drove the British Expeditionary Force from the Continent, captured Paris, and forced the surrender of the French government.”

    You have the West robbing Russia of its gold and money while robbing Russians of their assets while President Putin declares Russia will not do the same. I commend Russia for being a patsy and a easy mark. It’s not every country that obeys law and property rights while being robbed by the enemy.

    Soon it’s possible the West will do a counter attack on Russian forces as it has had plenty of time to get organized. Already the buildup of Western forces is taking place. The lackadaisical method of the Russian forces are actually egging the West on.

    The massive psyop the West is operating on Western citizens has been extremely successful – not that it takes a lot to bullshit dumbshits -. The West is giving intel to Ukraine which is costing Russian soldiers lives and equipment with nary any response except hysterical warnings. It’s ‘almost’ as if their soldiers are expendable.

    Maybe,,, just maybe if Russia handles this incursion just right, while in the clutches of victory they can manage lose the game. Even if they retreated, does anyone think the West would stop at Russia’s borders especially when the West thinks it has the edge?

    Either Russia does not understand the full nature of the situation they are in or this is a planned method of losing Russia’s sovereignty to the West as per the bankers at the WEF.

    1. Kieran says

      West counter attacking Russian forces? i don’t think NATO would last beyond 48 hours in a nuclear showdown with Russia. They are already on nuclear alert maybe they see red lines being crossed and Putin says no further room for retreat

      1. Shimrod says

        Russia is dispersing its government and command structures I hear……..looks like they are preparing for this to go nuclear.

        1. XSFRGR says

          I agree ! Putin told NATO what would happen if NATO interfered, and NATO is interfering big time. The Jew Banksters are demanding a war, war hysteria has taken over the U$, and I think Russia knows what’s coming. This is as good a time to settle things as any; especially before the U$ develops hypersonic delivery systems.

          1. ken says

            I am in the US and you are correct about the hysteria. Lunatics everywhere!

          2. Dog says

            And you say the Ukraines are Nazis? This whole forum is nothing but anti-semitism- dripping with Nazi phrases. So, at least we now know who the actual Nazis are – the attackers it seems

            1. Kieran says

              Semites would include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, Hebrews, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes and NOT blue eyed Ukrainians. who but Nazis would attack their own countrymen with artillery and air bombing for 8 years in contravention of the Minsk Accord

            2. XSFRGR says

              EXACTLY !!!

            3. XSFRGR says

              I never said that the Ukrainians are Nazis. If the Ukrainians were Nazi they wouldn’t be in a battalion formed my a Jew, and fighting other White men at the behest of a Jew president. As Vladimir Zhirinovsky once said, All White men are brothers.” This forum is, for the most part White, and very few are Nazis. How about you: White or Jew ???

      2. ken says

        But it’ll be conventional at first.

        IMO, the West will get the wrong message from Russia’s slow methodical military operation. I understand Putin’s hope of keeping the deaths and damage limited but the West is considering that as being weak. The US is already sending more material and troops to Europe and even to Australia. The Western leaderships are totally insane. They cannot be trusted to act responsibly.

    2. DannyWhite says

      Peace Keeping operations are a road to no-where
      Sure they keep you busy, but they achieve nothing
      and your country hates you for sacrificing your people for nothing
      Move into Ukrain
      round up every nationalist
      Execute it
      Compost the bodies and fertilize the forests
      Replace the population with Russian with free land give away.

  7. DannyWhite says

    Agree
    Russia must liberate everything on the east of the dnieper river
    And had it over to the independent republics.
    Otherwise it’s just going to be a terrorist war for the next 2 decades

  8. Sportsbet.io says

    Thank you.

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