Following on from yesterday’s musings at this link, some updates. First off though, 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.
With that out of the way, as noted yesterday, I considered the southern axis as the most dangerous one. Based on where we are today, this view has not changed much, although I consider the development on the Chornobyl – Zhytomyr axis quite concerning now due to their impact on the immediate ability to supply Kyiv, both militarily, and to sustain the over 4 million inhabitants, including my friends.
Important to note that overnight Berdyansk seems to have fallen. This means that the defenders of Mariupol are now in real danger of a 360 degree siege, something that will probably resolve itself quickly due to lack of supplies and end with Russia having a land bridge along the coast of the Sea of Azov. That’s obviously not good, but probably not desastrous either, unless you are in Mariupol. Important to note that residents of Mariupol indicate a heavy battle going on there, as well as the city being encircled.
My observations on the logistics issues in the north are borne out by US military observers, while it is clear that no headway is being made by Russian forces in the Kyiv and Kharkiv directions, while their losses are piling up there. Nevertheless, an ominous development is indicated by a drone video shared by the C-in-C of the Ukrainian Air Force on Facebook. While the strike was successful, the location should give pause for thought.
As the drone strike happened on a road from Malyn to Zhytomyr, it appears clear that the Kyiv – Korosten road is cut, while the E40, the other west-bound road out of Kyiv is in danger of being cut. This is an issue, as it is the secondary axis out of Kyiv to the west in terms of distance (although I suppose better quality than the Korosten road, the M21), and the critical link to L’viv in the west. I suspect the ability of sustaining the fight in the Kyiv-Kharkiv-Donbass areas will critically depend on the ability to keep this road open.
As the map above shows, the strike from the north to Zhytomyr, and that from the south via Mykolaiv, are presenting major dangers to rupturing the Ukrainian government’s ability to supply anyone east of the Zhytomyr – Vinnytsia line. The situation is much less fraught further west due to higher redundancy levels in the road network. This situation would have been familiar to the commanders of Hitler’s invasion force in 1941 and then again in the large battles in Ukraine in 1943 and early 1944.
The other ability to transport stuff, then and now is of course on the rail network. The vulnerability of rail to air strikes tends to be overestimated, and as such the expected loss of the main western connection Kyiv – Korosten – Kovel’ – Lublin (Poland) is a hard blow. Zhytomyr is now critical, even though not a transport hub in its own right (that’s Korosten, but…) as losing the southern line Kyiv – Rivne/Kyiv – Vinnytsia would remove rail completely as a supply option, given that the Odessa – Cerkasy line should be assumed to be cut or at least in severe danger of being so.
Considering the above, despite the obvious tactical and operational success in the north, the critical question will become whether there are sufficient assets further west to push to keep the main supply arteries open and to prevent/hold a possible new push by Russian/Belarussian forces against Kovel’ or Rivne in the west (indications are that this is something that is at least a plausible event – see here). If not, the Ukrainian forces in the North-East and East of the country will be in trouble as operations continue, unless they begin a withdrawal from the line of contact to concentrate in the Dnipro-Kharkiv-Kyiv triangle.
The best hope for Ukraine, in the absence of a cease-fire and given that pulling back and abandoning the lands east of Zhytomyr isn’t a political option, is that they keep racking up the kill score of Russian soldiers and equipment, making it clear to the two invading dictatorships that the cost of gaining and then keeping Ukraine is not going to be acceptable. That’s a gamble, but it appears Ukraine doesn’t have better options right now.
What will help with this of course is that the further west military action goes, the more hostile the local population will become to the invaders. I.e. if you are a Russian soldier and think Kharkiv was bad, just wait until you get to Zhytomyr. The Ukrainian defense strategy is clearly building on this, with instructions on where to target the Molotov cocktails being distributed through social media. This is going to hurt the invaders and wannabe occupiers.
Triumphant civilians pouring over their latest acquisition, a Russian armoured fighting vehicle, one careless owner. Bucha, NW of Kyiv, 27 February 2022 Thomas V. Linge on Twitter.
How to stop an armoured fighting vehicle – General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Facebook, 28 February 2022