Observations on Ukraine Pt. III

Prior entries can be found here (Part I) and here (Part II).

Burning Typhoon 4×4 of the Russian army, unknown location.

The State of the War against Ukraine

Indications are that most of the Russian forces prepared in January and February have now been inserted into Ukraine. I expect this weight to come to bear on the Ukrainian forces in the days to come. The illegal war waged by Russia has kicked up a gear, with increasing reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and infrastructure with a complete absence of care.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian forces continue to resist and fight the attacker on every axis. The Russian proxy forces of the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics have made some progress along the line of contact, while an advance north of Sumy is also preceding. Ukrainian civilians are protesting this throughout.

The campaign was, based on captured documents, apparently planned to last only 15 days. Given that we are half-way through that, and there has been nowhere near the planned progress, I would expect it to be in deep logistical trouble, as is borne out by reports. Fuel, ammunition and other supply requirements will have rapidly shot through the roof.

Situation in Ukraine, 3 March 2022, Financial Times

Destroyed Russian tank, Poltava sector, General Staff of Ukraine on Facebook.

The Current Threat to Ukraine’s Defense

The picture above is from a Russian column with multiple tanks that appears to have been ambushed, and is located by the Ukrainians in the Poltava sector. That is really bad news for Ukraine, as it means that Russian forces north of Kharkiv, previously held at Okhtyrka, are now on the move to the south-west.

As the map below shows, an advance south or south-east from Okhtyrka risks cutting the Kharkiv – Kremenchuk road at Poltava, which would remove an important supply line. At the same time, an advance north in the direction of Dnipro, of which we now have indications, will risk cutting the supply route Kharkiv – Dnipro – Kryvyi Rih. None of this is good news, as it would be an existential threat to Ukrainian forces in the line Kyiv – Kharkiv – Izyum – Line of Control – Mariupol, all of which would be cut off.

South-East of Kharkiv. Author creation based on reports. Blue – Ukrainian main supply routes into Kharkiv. Red, Russian potential advance routes from Sumy.

Putin is not Mick Jagger – Time is not on his side.

The campaign will have to catch up if it is to succeed, as the Russians are well behind their timetable overall, and the campaign is now trying to catch up before the mud period, the Rasputitsa hits, which will make mechanised movement off-road impossible. It has already arrived in some sectors. The impact of the mud on movement will be exacerbated by poor practices in the Russian army, as indicated here. Not looking after your tyres isn’t as much an issue when you are on maneuvers, there isn’t an enemy, and the next spare tyre is a truck-ride away. In a combat situation, hundreds of kilometres from your base, with the risk of being attacked and your logistics up the proverbial without a paddle, a blown tyre can cause you to lose some pretty expensive stuff.

I am indebted to Itdan on WW2talk for this observation. I agree with him that the Russians might have another ten days, probably less, before their movement problems will become serious.

Abandoned Russian Armoured Fighting Vehicle and tanks, Ukraine March 2022, unknown location. Twitter.

History may not repeat itself, except it does. German tanks in Russia during the Rasputitsa, World War 2. Unknown.

The Northern Theatre

Russia is now one week into the campaign to destroy Ukraine as a nation, and so far it isn’t going to plan. The northern campaign to capture Kyiv and Kharkhiv, the two largest cities in Ukraine, has now failed in its initial form, and transformed into a stalemate that the Russian army appears to want to break through the indiscriminate use of area weapons, including thermobaric rockets, non-precision bombing, cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles, the latter two fired from the safety of Belarus. This is unlikely to succeed but will clearly lead to a rapid increase in civilian casualties and suffering.

Far from liberating the subjugated brothers and sisters of Ukraine, the Russian army seems to have adopted an indiscriminate killing approach in the north. This is not suprising, given reports of low morale, and low skills amongst the Russian soldiers. As the air assaults on Gostomel and Vasilkyv airfields outside Kyiv showed, even the supposedly highly trained spearhead forces of the Russian army are struggling.

The Southern Theatre

The critical direction thus remains the southern theatre, where Russian forces are making substantial progress on a N-NW axis, and have now apparently fully occupied the first major centre, the city of Kherson. The Ukrainians are deploying air assets, and utilise scorched earth tactics such as blowing up bridges to slow down this advance, in an attempt to play for time, and indicating that they are not going to make a stand there. Unlike northern Ukraine, the southern area is far more open, which makes meeting the superior firepower of Russian forces a potentially quite dangerous endeavour for the Ukrainian forces. In consequence, the advance there has been far more rapid, and it is likely that low Russian morale does not impact the southern advance as it does actions in the north.

At the eastern edge of the southern theatre, Mariupol continues to be under siege, and I consider it is only a matter of time, and probably not a lot, before it falls.

At the western edge, landings planned towards Odessa were apparenly abandoned yesterday, but I expect a new attempt will be made if not today, then tomorrow.

Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker, RIAT 2018, Wikipedia user Airwolfhound

The Air Campaign

The stalemate in the north and the continuing ability of the Ukrainian air force to inflict losses not just by using ground-based air defence systems, but also from the air against advancing Russian columns, has thrown up the interesting question of what happened to Russia’s air force, which appears to be incapable of gaining control of the Ukrainian air space.

The Financial Times has an interesting article at this link on the failure of Russia to achieve air supremacy, an event that practically all military analysts, as well as many amateur observers like me, expected to be virtually certain to occur. Justin Bronk at RUSI has a good overview of the failure for those who want to dive deeper at this link. This doesn’t mean the Ukrainians are not suffering losses.

Hero of Ukraine, Colonel (ret) Oleksandr Oksachenko, Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 display pilot, KIA over Kyiv, 1 March 2022.

Some sources to keep track of things:

FT Live Coverage

Guardian Live Coverage

New York Times Live

Live map of events

Bellingcat

Ukrinform

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

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