War Is Not Going Super Great for Either of the Sides. It’s Also No Stalemate
No plan survives contact
Ukrainian Impotence in the South
Not looking good for the Kievan side in the south. They have given up a lot of territory in just 3 days while offering only light resistance. They haven’t attrited the enemy much at all.
Their biggest success was probably hitting Russian columns with Su-25s hard on at least two occasions, but they have had their own forces obliterated from the air on the same roads to an even greater extent.
It’s difficult to know where the Russians are now. Some reports still have them on the Dnieper, while according to others they have already reached Mykolaiv/Nikolaev to the west and the Bug river that runs through it.
They could also be somewhere in between, past the Dnieper but not yet at the Bug. Particularly their lighter, screening elements. [For good maps and sense of space turn to War Mapper, Wikipedia, and Livemap.]
In any case, nobody denies that Ukrainians gave up both of the bridges on the lower Dnieper (in Nova Kakhovka and Kherson) intact so when the Russians decide to cross they can.
However, the Russian forces advancing from Crimea seem to be more interested in the north-eastern direction.
Driving north-east the Russians rolled through Melitopol. A city of 150,000 where they encountered what amounts to token resistance. Driving further they have now passed Tokmak to the north and bypassed Berdyansk along the coast.
In the next few days, they will probably try to make contact with Donetsk forces somewhere to the north of Mariupol at which point this coastal city of 450,000 will be cut off.
Even more critically, if the Russians keep driving from Tokmak north they could be in a position — if they bring enough forces — to cordon off Zaporozhye and its Dnieper bridges and deny the strong Ukrainian forces in Donbass one avenue of retreat across the Dnieper.
The most worrying thing for Kiev isn’t even the extent of the Russian advance but that it can’t seem to muster a defense or put anything in front of the Russians that would significantly frustrate them. So far it seems the sheer vastness of Ukraine is the bigger challenge for the Russians in the south than Kievan resistance.
Was this all just a tactical retreat of the Kievans and will they at some point plant their feet and meet the Russians with a defensive line, ideally before Zaporozhye? Possibly. Perhaps this was indeed a “tactical retreat” rather than a flight. Particularly since this coastal part of Ukraine is vulnerable to amphibious landing so the Kievans’ back was not secure.
On the other hand, the Russians could only land at the very most 2,000 troops at a time. Moreover “tactical retreat” doesn’t explain why the lower Dnieper bridges were allowed to fall to the enemy intact.
Now for the Russian Troubles
From the Russian side the fact they could soon be blocking the Ukrainian forces in Donbass from Dnieper bridges in Zaporozhye is great. But it’s not going to mean anything if a northern pincer to cut them off from the Dnipro bridges doesn’t materialize as well and so far there is no sign of it.
It’s early on, but nonetheless, so far the Russian forces in the east are stuck at Kharkov. Unable so far to either take it or go around it.
A city of 1.5 million, Kharkov is a big obstacle indeed, but the lack of Russian preparedness here nonetheless seems confusing. The existence of this sprawling city is not a secret and could not have come as a surprise to the Russians.
Doing armchair generalship (with only bits of information) it seems obvious they should have planned to either storm it in force from day one, or should have moved decisively to bypass it also from day one.
So far they have ended up with the worst of both worlds, neither fully avoiding it nor being able to clear it.
The option of storming it is not very appealing due to political considerations. It could further alienate Ukrainians as well as the Russian homefront.
That however doesn’t explain why the Russians haven’t been able to race past it instead.
There is something that might explain it.
There is considerable indication by now that Russian forces are having severe supply issues. They run out of fuel and have been filmed raiding supermarkets to feed themselves.
This scrounging for supplies is a distraction and leaves them vulnerable. Moreover while ripping off Aldi is a way to get food it can’t replenish your ammo.
Further to the north, around Sumy, a puny 5K troops (6 battalion tactical groups) have been able to drive an impressive 120 kilometers into Ukraine (to Bakmach) but were then stopped to a considerable extent by supply issues.
My take on 1st GTA's axis. Elements 27th GMRB or 1 of 2nd GMRD's MRRs bypassed Sumy day 1 to Nedryhailiv and Romny via Postol'ne. Elements 4th GTD passed through Okhtyrka day 1, Trostyanets day 2-3. ~6 BTGs forward, major logistical issues. @The_Lookout_N @Danspiun @konrad_muzyka pic.twitter.com/iOZdlScnCn
— Henry Schlottman (@HN_Schlottman) February 26, 2022
It is unclear why are they having logistical difficulties of such magnitude.
Is it because they are racing deep into Ukraine with very small forces which leaves their supply routes exposed and easy pickings for any Ukrainians left behind? It’s possible.
If that is the case then Russia simply needs to commit more units to the fight and the problem will fix itself.
There is also another possibility. This is the first time ever that post-Soviet Russia has amassed 150,000 troops in the field. It has neither the US experience in doing this nor its deep pockets. Actually Anti-Empire reported the story where even before the war kicked off a company of men near the border was left without food for 5 days.
It is possible that Russian supply issues aren’t simply about lines of supply through Ukraine, but more generally about Russia struggling to supply the 150K strong force it has amassed in general. For all we know these supply issues are faced by Russian troops on both sides of the border.
If so, and if Russia intends to win, then it needs to get the civilian sector involved and soon. Maybe its state-owned corporations which have been so eager to show their “patriotic” colors by financing and distributing Sputnik can cough up some money to get a fuel and food bridge to the troops going (the army can do the ammo).
Anyhow, as best as we know the two central parts of the Russian plan were to go for Kiev, and to go for the encirclement of the Ukrainian military in Donbass.
At least when they write about warfare the Russians do not believe in fighting attritional wars and do not believe wars are won by capturing territory.
What they believe is that a war is contest between systems, and that a war is won decisively when the system of the other side that enables it to wage war is destroyed.
There is the military system and the political system that commands it. You can take away the ability of the other side to wage war by destroying its military or by coercing or dismantling the political system above it.
The encirclement of Ukrainian units in Donbass would go a long way toward destroying its military. The Russian pre-war claim of Ukraine having 125,000 troops there was an obvious exaggeration, but clearly it was the most militarized part of Ukraine by far. Without the units there Ukrainian military is much diminished.
On the other hand, the Russian drive from Belarus toward Kiev has been all about targeting the opposing political system. It is not impossible that encircling Kiev or marching into it would cause the Kievan leadership to disintegrate or accept an armistice favorable to Moscow. Not a certainty, but for Russian military planners worth a shot.
Nonetheless, the drive on Kiev from the north has met with similar setbacks as the campaign in the east around Sumy and Kharkov. The combination of insufficient forces committed and supply issues.
Particularly the pincer to the east of the Kiev Reservoir has stalled due to inability so far to either storm or bypass Chernigov, a city of 300,000. (Actually it has been bypassed in part but this leaves the Russians relying on inferior backwater roads).
Actually so far of the four major cities the Russians have reached they have only been able to capture Melitopol where only token resistance was offered. This can be justified in Sumy (250,000 people) which was eventually successfully cordoned off and bypassed, but Chernigov and Kharkov are so far serving as serious obstacles.
Thus both sides are having serious problems, and the war is not taking an ideal course for either of them. But it is important to keep perspective. It is the Kievan side which is ceding ground, which is so far unable to contain the Russian forces in the south, and which has enemy forces parked 15 kilometers from its Presidential palace.
The Russians have their own problems but these are not on the same plane as the Ukrainian ones. Even with just a minority of the assembled Russian forces committed it is they who are advancing. And while taking territory does not win you wars, it does go to show that there is an overmatch.
Despite some questionable committals of Russian troops and unnecessary losses it is the Ukrainians who are on the back foot and who are reaching for desperation strategies like retreating into cities and giving away weapons to civilians.
In fact, it is clear that some Russian problems stem from the fact that political factors were given priority over military orthodoxy. In other words, Moscow still fears the capabilities of the Ukrainian military a lot less than it fears that unleashing the full firepower of the Russian military would turn the homefront against the war and possibly make post-war Ukraine ungovernable.
— Harry Kazianis (@GrecianFormula) February 27, 2022