Some observations on the war in Ukraine

Some observations on the war in Ukraine

Thinking a bit more about what is going on, thanks to John Salt’s post on Facebook, some observations on what the situation is evolving into. First off, thanks to the Twitter user who referred to me as an ANALyst. I am no such thing, have no degree in military history, only a life-long interest, and so you should take my writings for a similar worth as you paid for them. I hope people can see that.

Also, I am unashamedly pro-Ukrainian. I have friends and colleagues in shelters in Kyiv. I feel for the Russian conscripts who are being abused and murdered by their ‘leaders’, but Russia needs to lose this war. Badly.

Part II is online here.

Part III is online here.

Destroyed Russian tank, Ukraine 2022, unknown location, General Staff of Ukraine Armed Forces

First off, John’s post:

I should have done this a while ago, but I have just done a quick bit of ground-force-totting-up for the Russian armies attacking the Ukraine and the Ukrainian defenders.

This is, obviously, a hugely crude sum, disregarding all artillery, aviation, air and other support, reckoning only brigade-sized chunks of ground forces, subject to the imprecision of using readily available open sources, mostly Wikipedia, and, most of all, disregarding all human factors.

I have included the Russian force elements from Southern, Western, Central and Eastern military districts reported as near or inside the Ukrainian border, and the whole of their air assault forces. I was surprised at the large fraction of their total force the Russians have committed; it seems to include all their armoured brigades, and leaves only 14 brigades elsewhere.

With this in mind, I get:

Russia: 9 tank, 42 combined arms, 1 mountain, 5 para, 8 air assault brigades

Ukraine: 2 tank, 13 mechanised, 2 mountain, 1 para, 6 air assault, 24 territorial defence brigades

Totals: Russia 65 Ukraine 48

Bearing in mind that, like Gazza, I do not make predictions, and I never will, I have a few swivel-chair colonel (like an armchair general, but more junior) remarks.

Depending on the fighting value of the Ukrainian territorial defence brigades, that does not seem to me to be a correlation of forces sufficient for the Russians now to conduct effective “deep battle” in the Tukhachesky tradition. Had they achieved an appreciable shock effect from the initial surprise attack, it would have been plenty. Unfortunately for Vlad, the Ukrainians have not lost their nerve. It remains to be seen whether the deep strikes by Iskander and the like will succeed in disrupting Ukrainian C2 to the extent required to inflict the necessary shock; personally I tend to be dubious of bombardment-based routes to military success.

I have no information on the logistic position of either side. However it seems reasonable that missiles will be the first ammunition nature to become depleted. Iskander is a big, expensive missile. The anti-tank missiles and hand-held anti-tank rockets the Ukrainians need for effective defence against tanks are not only a lot cheaper, but Ukraine has been a successful manufacturer and exporter of them for years.

Our best hope for a quick resolution is, I think, the collective conscience of the Russian people. Russians with a conscience saved the world from a nuclear holocaust on at least two occasions during the Cold War. Let’s hope they can do the world yet another great service by booting Putin.

Until then, it’s back to the question of “deep battle”. Recall that its principal originator Tukhachevsky, military genius though he was, still got chinned by the Poles in 1920.

Map of Russian advances into Ukraine, 1pm EST, 26 Nov 2022, New York Times

Now, my thoughts on the matter:

  1. It appears to me that the Russians had a massive intel failure, either at the gathering or at the processing end – i.e. they either didn’t understand Ukraine’s will to fight, or they understood it but it didn’t make it into the planning because the decision-makers were too drunk on their own Kool-Aid.
  2. The consequence of 1. was that they had a Hitlerian view of ‘kick at the door and the whole edifice comes crumbling down’.
  3. Given 2. they planned to quickly take over Kyiv and Kharkiv, and install a puppet government in either of the two. For this to happen the Ukrainian defence at Kharkiv needed to collapse and inhabitants had to welcome the ‘liberators’ with flowers on tanks, and/or the assault seizure of Gostomel’s Antonov airfield had to succeed, so that heavy units could be flown in quickly. Remember the Russians pulled this off in Pristina in 1999 and as Mike points out here, this is a pretty standard op.
  4. But neither of these two things happened, as the Ukrainians kept fighting at Kharkiv, and Antonov airfield was retaken, and probably made unusuable (I suspect Russian engineers are fixing the runway as I type this). That left the northern two prongs in trouble.
  5. It appears the Russians then advanced over what I understand is a pretty crappy road from Chornobyl to the NW outskirts of Kyiv, and they opened up a new push N of Kharkiv at Chernigiv. The former one got them into outer Kyiv, but they bogged down, while the latter one didn’t do well by the looks of it. Operations are also ongoing west of Sumy, a major centre captured by the Russians, but these may have just been redirections of the initial attempt to cut off Kharkiv, and in any case seem to have been stopped as well.
  6. In consequence of the above, I think the battles around Kyiv and Kharkiv are now in a stalemate, but this plays to Russia’s advantage, as it ties down Ukrainian forces. Ukraine clearly cannot afford to lose either city.

Destroyed Russian APC, Ukraine 2022, unknown location, General Staff of Ukraine Armed Forces

Meanwhile, along the lined of control in the east what is going on are most likely holding actions, to keep the Ukrainians from pulling out their troops to use them to reinforce Kyiv. I suspect the Russians are using their proxy DPR/LPR forces there and not much else.

So in the north and east, the Ukrainians are holding their own, which in strategic terms means they are winning. All they need to do is hold on and keep killing Russian troops, as the operation will then falter due to lack of political momentum, sanctions biting, and more time being given to absorb re-supplies coming from the West.

But, the biggest threat now appears to be the southern advance out of Crimea. Until now, this would have suffered from coming out of, well, Crimea, i.e. with a long and somewhat constrained supply line. The Ukrainians seem to have traded space for time there, only fighting in locations where the Russians cannot bring maneuver to bear – Kherson and Melitopol.

The big risk of this advance to Ukraine is if these forces turn east/north-east, and cut off and eventually eliminate the Ukrainian forces at and north of Mariupol and along the line of control. Or they move North-East towards Dnipro and try to link up with Russian forces outside Kharkiv, which would be a deep envelopment of the Ukrainian forces in Donbass/Luhansk, but not be quite as great as supply line as long as Kharkiv isn’t taken. Either way this would give them a landbridge, and remove or at least reduce supply constraints on the southern force element. Once this happens, Russian forces will be able to strike in any direction they want. Either engaging Ukrainian forces in their rear, encircling them, or moving north-west for a deep envelopment that cuts the bulk of Ukraine’s forces off from their supply line to the west.

So I’d watch what is happening down south. This is a long way from over militarily, and political events as well as the commitment of the civilian population will become critical, and continue to closely interact with the military events.

Some sources to keep track of things:

FT Live Coverage

Guardian Live Coverage

New York Times Live

Live map of events



Kyiv Post

Facebook Page Ukraine General Staff of Armed Forces

Facebook – Антон Геращенко – Ministry of Interior, Government of Ukraine

Facebook – C-in-C Ukraine Air Force

Facebook – Ukraine Navy

Twitter – Megathread by Thomas V Linge

Twitter – Stanimir Dobrev

Twitter – Kremlin Counterintelligence