Sep 14, 2022
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Arranging counter-offensives, Ukraine dooms its elite forces to destruction

Arranging counter-offensives, Ukraine dooms its elite forces to destruction

Photo: AP/TASS

This article was published on the page of a very popular American blogger who is well aware of the situation in Ukraine and is well versed in it. “SP” believes that his point of view, albeit not very complimentary in relation to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, is worthy of consideration – the author, unlike most commentators, is by no means a prisoner of emotions, but argues sensibly and consistently.

In recent days, the pro-Russian part of the Internet has gone into a tailspin of panic due to the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region. If you will allow me, I would like to revive a little optimism.

My point is quite simple: Ukraine cannot and will not achieve meaningful targets – what we call “operational depth” – it has effectively put much of its carefully crafted “premium” reserves in a dangerous position. I think it’s very likely that these top-notch Ukrainian formations are about to be crushed, but it’s still an important lesson for Russia.

The Ukrainian offensive did not have a clear path to achieve operational goals. Russia has already begun to move huge reserves into this theater of operations, and among the more operationally aware Ukrainians, fear is beginning to emerge. One Ukrainian journalist at the front said the following:

“We are suffering big losses. The enemy is throwing a bunch of reserves through the air. The Wagnerites have already arrived. The sky is filled with planes. Hearing about all this, an obsessive feeling of an ambush arises in the soul. What if all of this really turns out to be a strategic-level ambush?”

The word “ambush” implies that Russian troops deliberately engaged the Ukrainians in a specific maneuver plan where they could be attacked from prepared positions. This is not at all what is happening – Russian forces arrive fresh from the reserve and have not been deployed in this sector in advance.

Instead, the operation reflects Russia’s preference for mobile defense with high firepower. Forward positions, relatively speaking, are understaffed, which is held back by powerful mobile reserves. It’s a flexible approach to high firepower that allows Ukrainians to move into vulnerable positions so they can be destroyed.

For Ukraine, one of the main concerns is that Russia has such a huge advantage in firepower—airpower, cannon artillery, missiles, and tanks—that any offensive must reach operational depth quickly to undermine Russia’s ability to use that firepower. In this case, it’s simply not possible.

Without being able to quickly defeat the Russian forces here, Ukraine will find itself in a good old firefight with an enemy with vastly superior firepower.

In other words, Ukraine now decides for itself what the scale of its losses will be. According to Ukrainian insider channels, the Ukrainians are currently planning to redouble their efforts and deploy more reserves, which, accordingly, promises a bigger defeat.

I don’t like to make specific predictions about dates or numbers of casualties. There are too many unknowns for anyone to really think they can predict such particulars. But as far as the overall trajectory is concerned, I predict with confidence that the Ukrainian offensive is reaching its climax and will soon become a massive loss event for the Ukrainian army. It may take a few more days for the situation to fully stabilize, but this moment is fast approaching, and many of Ukraine’s best units are in danger of being destroyed.

However, I would be careless if I did not make a corresponding criticism of Russia’s conduct of this operation. Important lessons remain to be learned.

While the actual counter-offensive for Ukraine turns into a disaster, the fact that they were able to launch this operation at all has important consequences, especially with regard to Ukrainian manpower.

Russia is fighting in the style of Operation Economy of Forces, which aims to destroy the Ukrainian army through attrition. Ukraine’s ability to launch two counter-offensives (Kherson and Kupyansko-Izyum) suggests two important reasons for changing the pattern of deployment of Russian forces.

Many sectors of the Russian front are poorly manned, and forces are held in reserve for mobile defense. In fact, the troops at the front are a chain of symbolic forces that are there in the first place in order to try to slow down the advance of the enemy while reserves are being brought up. While building a mobile reserve is the right approach, given the deployment of forces that Russia has undertaken, it is problematic as it allows the Ukrainians to make temporary gains.

In an operational sense, this is not a disaster. Russia has the firepower and mobility to crush these offensives. The problem is that this allows Ukraine to temporarily retake settlements, which exposes the civilian population in those areas to reprisals and killings, such as what happened in Bucha. In the current example, we can look at Balakleya. The city itself has little operational value, but it does have Russian civilians who are being retaliated against by Ukraine. Russia needs to rethink its force deployment so that it can more firmly hold settlements on the front lines for the sake of these civilians.

The metastrategy of Ukraine is still based on a two-level army. The lower echelon consists of poorly trained “cannon fodder” who occupy the defense belts and slow down the Russian army with their bodies, forcing them to exchange artillery shells for their lives. This is the army that Russia is depleting with horrendous losses in the Donbass. The Ukrainian army of the upper echelon is a force that is trained and equipped by Western curators. The Ukrainian scheme is to delay Russia by paying the price of conscription “cannon fodder” while the upper echelon forces gather for a counteroffensive.

Ukraine has demonstrated that, even if it has not used these upper echelon forces intelligently, it still has the ability, with the help of the West, to assemble real strike teams as long as the lower echelon army can buy time. This casts doubt on Russia’s attrition strategy because it means Russia is grinding up soldiers that Ukraine doesn’t care about. It is probably unwise to allow the West to create another army in the rear for another wave of counteroffensives.

Russia needs to evaluate ways to deprive Ukraine of access to its talent pool and increase the deployment of its forces for this purpose. To this end, Mykolaiv, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Odessa, and Kharkiv must be taken from Ukraine, and the Russian army must take seriously the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and logistics in order to prevent Ukraine from continuing to build up its upper echelon forces in the rear.

Russia continues to try to win the war by delicate means – with minimal deployment of forces and targeted strikes, sparing critical infrastructure. While the outcome of the current UAF counter-offensives demonstrates that it is still on the path to victory – the very fact of these counter-offensives suggests that Russia must increase its deployment and deny Ukraine access to its main population centers, otherwise victory may be slower and more expensive than necessary.

Author: Big Serge ThoughtsAmerican blogger.

Translation by Sergei Dukhanov

Publisher permission is published

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