R.B. Myers: War in Ukraine updates

The Ukrainian offensive is slowing down in the Kharkiv Oblast as the Ukrainian army sets up logistics/supply lines, regroups and “pacifies” the region. It has to be said that the AFU has also met with increased resistance from the Russian side which has established a more robust defensive line behind the east bank of the Oskil River. Russian forces are even trying to regain a foothold in Kremmina.

During their lightning advance through the Kharkiv Oblast, the Ukrainians crossed the Siverskyi Donets river and attempted to storm Liman. The situation seemed to be touch and go for several days but it seems the Russians managed to contain this bridgehead and brought the Ukrainians to a stop for the time being.

Interestingly, Russian forces in the north of the Kharkiv Oblast also withdrew from the region and went back to Russia. They were arrayed between the Russian border and Kharkiv city and were slowly advancing prior to the Ukrainian offensive. Since that withdrawal, Ukrainian artillery has been indiscriminately shelling areas inside Russia in the Belgorod Oblast. In return, Russia keeps on striking Kharkiv city with missiles… Ukrainian artillery has also shelled Melitopol, Donetsk’s residential areas and Kherson’s city centre, including administrative buildings.

The Ukrainian authorities are hunting for “Russian Sympathisers” in the recently liberated territories. The definition is very loose and acts of violence have been reported. Many citizens in the region are indeed sympathetic to the separatist cause and not all of them managed to evacuate to the Russian lines or Russia proper following the Russian withdrawal from the Oblast. There are currently several active Ukrainian Telegram channels dedicated to allowing citizens to denounce their neighbours to the authorities for acts of traitorous collaboration. Ukrainian adviser to the Ukrainian president Alexey Arestovitch has confirmed that civil servants that remained in their post and worked under Russian authorities (including council workers and teachers) are indeed criminals and should be punished. Furthermore, it was announced that all Ukrainian citizens that have voluntarily acquired Russian passports will be convicted of treason by Ukrainian authorities.

On the 11th of September, Russian Tu-160s launched several Kh-101 cruise missiles and hit Kharkiv’s number 5 power station as well as the Zmiivska power station (near Zmiiv, south of Chuhuiv). Blackouts were observed in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava and Sumy oblasts. The strike occurred the day the Russians switched off the last reactor at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. The imbalance on the Ukrainian grid created by the strikes led to rolling blackouts as far as Odessa and Moldavia! Those blackouts affected everything from water supplies to telecommunications and even air raid sirens failed in the affected areas. Power was completely restored in Ukraine by the following day but damage was reported on electrical and electronic installations across the country due to voltage fluctuations following the strike.

Ukraine is left with 15 power stations. All dating back to the Soviet era. So far, they are producing enough power for the country’s needs. However, should the winter be exceptionally cold or should the Russians damage/destroy several other stations, the situation could quickly become critical. Yesterday, water supply temporarily failed in Nikolayev, creating panic amongst the residents. While water supply was restored in Nikolayev today, a power plant in Slavyansk was hit and damaged today.

Multiple Russian strikes reported on Krivyi Rih, Zaporizhzhia, Nikolayev, Chuhuiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Vinnitsya and Dnipro in the last 7 days.

On the 14th of September, Russian strikes hit a dam/sluice gate on the Karachunovsky reservoir (Krivyi Rih), partially flooding the city as the Ingulets river rose sharply. Krivyi Rih partially lost power, water supply and internet throughout the night. The following day, Russian strikes hit the same positions again, as well as hitting the dam on the Isrka reservoir.

As the Ingulets river rises and as its flow speeds up and gains momentum, Ukrainian supply lines to units present on the east bank of the river in the Davydiv Brid bridhegead might be temporarily impeded. The Russian strikes on the dams over the Ingulets coincided with strikes on several Ukrainian pontoon bridges across the same river.

The Davydiv Brid bridhegead is currently the only area in the Kherson area where the Ukrainian offensive still has some form of momentum: The Ukrainians have managed to enlarge the bridgehead somewhat but have failed to make any other meaningful progress elsewhere. This doesn’t mean the frontline is quiet: Heavy fighting in Pravdino (between Nikolayev and Kherson) has been reported for the past three days.

Russians are still creeping forward in the Donbass and manoeuvring around Bakhmut. Several reports state that Wagner militiamen have gained a foothold inside the city’s industrial area (situated in the suburbs).

Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drones are increasingly being used by the Russian side; with some success. It is unknown if those are Iranian made or built under license by Russia: On one hand, cargo planes are seen flying from Iran to Russia several times a week. On the other hand, debris recovered by Ukrainian forces at strike sites are displaying Russian markings. The Shahed-136 seems to be operated by the Russians under the designation “Geran-2”.

Analyst Scott Ritter stated the war has entered a new phase. He identified three distinct phases in this conflict: The first phase started on the 24th of February when Russia launched its SMO (Special Military Operation) in Ukraine. This was an attempt at manoeuvre warfare. It was rather successful in the South of the country with Russian forces quickly reaching Berdyansk, Mariupol, Kherson, Nova Kakhovka, Energodar and Vasylivka. The results were rather mixed elsewhere, with no initial progress in the Donetsk oblast (opposite the Ukrainian fortified sector), good progress through the Lugansk oblast and initial advances in the Kharkiv oblast. Russia’s endeavours in the Sumy, Chernihiv and Kiev oblast only yielded disappointment and attrition on the Russian side.

April ushered in the second phase of the conflict: Russia withdrew its forces from Kiev, Chernihiv and Sumy so as to focus on the Donbass. Overextended Russian forces around Nikolayev were also pulled back toward Kherson. From April to August, we saw Russian and separatist forces imposing a battle of attrition on the Ukrainian side. The Russians won the totality of the Lugansk oblast and started making gains in the Donetsk Oblast. This was no blitzkrieg, but rather a battle of attrition reminiscent of WWI, with Russian artillery punishing Ukrainian dugouts and trenches. This phase imposed unsustainable losses on the Ukrainian side as Kiev decided to stop trading space for time and instead committed reserves and fought for every inch of land. As a reminder, Ukrainian losses at the time averaged around 300 men per day, with units being near-wiped-out on a regular basis and untrained personnel being sent to the front in a hurry to hold it at all cost.

According to Scott Ritter, still, what we have seen from August up until now is a “new” Ukrainian army fighting the Russians, or in his own words “NATO versus Russia”: “Russia… Facing a NATO style military that is being logistically sustained by NATO, trained by NATO, provided with NATO intelligence and working in harmony with NATO planners… following a battleplan made in Brussels”. He goes on: “Russia is no longer fighting a Ukrainian army equipped by NATO but a NATO army manned by Ukrainians”. This is therefore a new distinct phase in this war, its third one.

The first Russian response was a withdrawal from the Kharkiv oblast and all the way back behind the Oskil river. The withdrawal was not a pretty affair and a fair bit of equipment was left behind, alongside Russian speaking Ukrainians that will face the wrath of a vengeful Ukrainian army. This withdrawal was a Russian admission that 200,000 men is definitely not enough to hold a 1000km long front!

The Ukrainian (NATO?) offensive was a thing of beauty: The “Kherson offensive” had been announced months in advance, prompting Russia to send in reinforcements in the region. When the offensive kicked off, Russia sent its operational reserves to the region. When the Ukrainians launched a second counterattack in the Kharkiv Oblast, it only met Rosvgardia militiamen, Donbass reservists and some elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army occupying scattered strong points rather than a solid defensive line. The Ukrainians penetrated deep and fast and the Russians had nothing at hand to stop them. According to the BBC, the Ukrainian side benefited from an 8-1 local numerical superiority in Kharkiv. It took Russia over 3 days to scrape the necessary reinforcements and begin to send them to the Oskil river in order to stabilise the front.

What’s next?

Both sides still have options. The Ukrainians currently have the initiative and still have untapped troops and hardware concentration in the Zaporizhzhia region. Several clashes have already been reported near Vasylivka and along the line of contact in the province. They could also try and advance toward Vuhledar and Volnovakha in an attempt at cutting off the Mariupol-Donetsk highway. Therefore, Zaporizhzhia could be an area worth watching in the coming weeks. Back in the Kharkiv area, the Ukrainians could be tempted to try and take Zvatove or the P-66 highway directly south of the city. This would cut supply lines toward Lugansk Oblast and threaten Russian positions in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. They could also try and burst out of their bridgehead in Liman and threaten Seversk. Finally, in the South, the Ukrainians could try for another push along the Nikolayev-Krivyi Rih line, either toward Kherson directly or through their bridgehead at Davydiv Brid.

The Ukrainians will, however, have to carefully pick their next target: Their initial offensive in Kherson was a bloody mess which resulted in few strategic territorial gains in exchange for some not so insignificant losses, both in manpower and hardware. NATO support or not, the Ukrainian army cannot afford these types of losses in personnel too often. The Russian lines in Kherson were pushed back but did not break. They are still intact and Russian forces in the area still have local superiority both in the air and in firepower (artillery). The Ukrainian air force announced a big uptick in sorties and air strikes, but that was only after having started to categorise drone flights as aerial sorties/strikes.

As for the Russians, they will no doubt be able to replace their losses both in hardware and manpower through their current ad-hoc “hybrid” recruitment system. However, they do need two or three times their current numbers to achieve all their main objectives in Ukraine (Hold Kherson and Lugansk Oblasts as well as “liberate” the totality of Donetsk Oblast). Those numbers/objectives are not realistic without a partial or full mobilisation of their armed forces. Something the Russian leadership has been reluctant to do for many valid reasons: Mobilising an army and sending it to war is a very expensive endeavour: Manpower is transferred away from the productive economy and sent away, greatly harming the country’s economy in the process. Meanwhile, the state must find the money for both supporting the economy and paying the salaries of servicemen sent to war… That’s without even starting to consider the reaction of the Russian population should mobilisation be called!

The Russian armed forces and separatists have for six months fought in numerical inferiority in Ukraine (200,000 versus 260,000 + 600,000 reservists). However, NATO’s direct, continuous and massive involvement in the conflict is threatening to change the nature of this war. In order to regain the initiative and move forward again, there is a feeling Moscow will need to adapt or increase those numbers up.

There is an alternative to mobilisatrion, however; An ugly one: Actively targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. One is talking about the remaining 15 Ukrainian power stations. Taking several of those offline would result in regular blackouts with everything that it entails: No electricity, heating, water or telecom. In the middle of winter. The resulting humanitarian crisis would probably force Kiev’s attention away from the front and toward trying to support its civilian population. The resources necessary to do so could very well be overwhelming for Ukraine. That’s beside taking into account the fact that the Ukrainian army is dependent on rail network for its logistics and on NATO for its need in fuel.

This option is not far-fetched. In fact, it is on the table as President Putin recently stated: The initial strikes against Ukrainian power stations and dams can be taken as a warning and further Ukrainian shelling of Russian (or separatist) territory could very well bring additional strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure. This option is overwhelmingly supported by several Russian Telegram channels calling for Ukraine to be „rolled back to the stone age”. It has also been supported and discussed openly on national Russian television.

The Western goodies train has no brakes:

New platforms have recently arrived in Ukraine: YPR-765 AIFV from The Netherlands alongside Vector PPV, Mastiff MRAP and Jackal SP from the UK.

Germany has approved the sale of 100 units of PzH 2000 to Ukraine for $1.72 billion. Source of the money unknown. Four IRIS-T units will also be supplied with the first two being delivered before end of this year.

Since February, the US has supplied Ukraine with 142 artillery platforms (including 126 X M777), 900,000 artillery shells, 8,500 ATGMS, 1,400 MANPADS, 15 helicopters, 38 radars (including counter-battery systems), 700 Switchblade drones, 10,200 assault rifles and just short of 64 million rounds for small arms. Washington aims to supply Kiev with two NASAMs systems before the end of the year.

The EU will give Ukraine 8 billion euros before the end of this year: 3 billion in the form of a grant and 5 billion in the form of loans.

Washington is trying to source US and Canadian arms manufacturers that can produce up to 12,000 155mm shells monthly. For comparison’s sake, the Russian industry currently has the capacity to manufacture over 80,000 shells monthly.

NATO secretary general Stottenberg stated that while the Ukrainian counterattack in the Kharkiv region was impressive, the war was not over and that people had to be ready for a “long journey”.

Sursa: Renaud Myers – Defensionem (FB)

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