It’s been a week since my last update and that’s in part because a lot has changed. When we last spoke, the Russians had announced they had successfully completed the first phase of the “special military operation”.
Instead, Russian forces have completed a full-on retreat from northern Ukraine, sending troops and equipment back to Belarus and western Russia for refit, repair, and resupply. These are then likely to head south towards the Donbas and eastern Ukraine, the new focus of the war.
That area, in particular the south, has been Russia’s lone area of success in this war and it makes sense for Russia to reinforce its success and take the loss in the north where it was in fact losing. In fact, during the Russian retreat we saw continued, limited gains in the Donbas and the south. There, Russia appears desirous to envelop Ukrainian forces and cut them off from resupply, especially in the area of Kramatorsk.
For those that recall my coverage back in 2014, get ready to start hearing the same cities and towns mentioned all over again.
Russia wanted to capture Kyiv and cities in the north to topple the Ukrainian government. But militarily, offensive operations in the north prevented Ukraine from reinforcing their units in the south. Since 2014, Ukraine has been conducting the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) in the Donbas. These are the best-equipped and most-experienced Ukrainian troops int he war as they’ve been fighting the Russians and Russian-backed separatists for eight years. I suspect that Ukraine’s success thus far is in no small part due to the knowledge Ukraine has gained about how to fight Russian units and counter Russian tactics in this very theatre. In other words, Russia needed to prevent these forces from being resupplied. With Russia’s retreat, this is an option.
That isn’t to say Ukraine can send its whole army south, because I imagine some Russian troops will remain on the Russian side of the border north of Kyiv just in case a moment of opportunity arises.
So if Russia cannot stop Ukrainian reinforcements by pinning or fixing Ukrainian units to the north, Russia needs to cut off routes of resupply. Not surprisingly then, we’ve been seeing increased numbers of operations to take cities and towns that serve as vital rail and road hubs. And further away from the battlefield, Russian artillery and cruise missiles have been relentlessly striking similar towns in attempts to destroy transport infrastructure.
For now, it seems as if Russian forces continue to probe Ukrainian defences in an attempt to find a weak point in their lines that they can then exploit through an artillery barrage and likely an armour and mechanised infantry blitz. What works for Ukraine is that despite being surrounded on three sides, that makes it easier to shuffle units and supplies between forces facing the most pressure. Russia, on the other hand, has to move its reinforcements along the entire circumference of that bubble.
Ukraine obviously wants to retake all the territory lost to Russia thus far. In the southwest, we have seen some successful operations in repulsing the Russians around Mykolaiv and pushing Russian forces back to the outskirts of Kherson. Kherson and Nova Kakhovka control the only two southern bridges across the Dnieper. Russia needs to defend these in order to keep Ukraine from attacking its units in the south from the rear so to speak. Russian units are holding in the cities thus far despite enormous pressure.
Russia still controls the vital rail lines leading up from Crimea that allows them to keep Russian forces in that theatre resupplied. The lack of resupply was one of the issues in the north, but Russian infrastructure is better in the south and east and that could present an obstacle to Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.
Finally we have the city of Mariupol, which remains under siege. Russian units continue to make bloody but slow and steady progress into the city. What’s fascinating are reports of Ukrainian units being resupplied despite the siege. And that may explain Russian attacks on civilian convoys, because with no air, rail, or sea transport links into the city, the only way Ukraine must be able to resupply its units is under the guise of civilian lorries or cars. And if Ukrainians are using civilian vehicles to resupply their military forces, that could open civilian vehicles to being sometimes legitimate targets.
So long as Russia continues to control broad swathes of territory surrounding the city, I think it’s a matter of time until Mariupol falls. But the longer the city holds out, the fewer combat effective troops Russia will later have to reorganise for a push north into Zaporizhzhia oblast and the Donbas, which is ideal for Ukraine.
I don’t think I’m going to touch on the atrocities we’re seeing coming out of northern Ukraine in this post. But I will say that the visuals we’re seeing confirm some of the worst reports and rumours that had been circulating on the internets over the last few weeks.
Credit for the piece is mine.