Aug 4, 2022
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Zelensky goes for broke: It became clear where the offensive will be

The military-political situation is such that it forces the Ukrainian leadership to attack. The theater of the future battle is actually already predetermined, and its character is generally clear. Questions are only the result.

In the south of Ukraine, the main battle of the summer campaign is gradually flaring up – the battle for Kherson. Since July 19, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have been launching missile strikes on the Antonovsky Bridge, which is of strategic importance for supplying our group on the left bank of the Dnieper. In Nikolaev and Zaporozhye, all the forces available to the Ukrokommando are being drawn together; most of the Western artillery is sent south, including American M777 howitzers and HIMARS multiple rocket launchers (MLRS).

The situation has been steadily escalating for several weeks in a row and, apparently, should be resolved by a maneuvering battle on a scale unprecedented in the entire time of the special operation.

Military-political necessity

In a purely military sense, Russia is waging a classic war of attrition, grinding tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and officers in positional battles in the north of Donbass. The Ukrainian army is still holding on thanks to mass mobilizations and no less massive deliveries of weapons from the West. In order to maintain an acceptable morale in society and the confidence of Western partners that investing in war is not a waste of resources, Kyiv constantly needs a beautiful picture of at least local victories. Hence these endless races with border posts, the installation of a flag on an uninhabited Snake Island, constant “counter-attacks” and other fuss.

In fact, showman Zelensky and his team have turned PR into a strategic factor in Ukrainian defense capability. One of the main topics that the Ukrainian media of disinformation have been discussing since May is the imminent “liberation” of Kherson, which, within the framework of Ukrainian discourse, is organically complemented by promises to massacre the disloyal population (such is Bandera-style liberation).

Such efforts have been invested in the promotion of this topic that it has turned from an ordinary propaganda episode into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Ukrainian leadership simply cannot help launching an offensive without signing its military impotence with understandable consequences – both for the mobilization of new cannon fodder and for the volume of Western supplies.

The front is wide, but there is nowhere to advance

With all this, Kyiv simply does not have any clear alternatives to the attack on Kherson. Attacking the Donbass means throwing hard-won reserves into the already hyped meat grinder of the Russian offensive. At best, this is a head-on battle without any sane PR prospects. That is, the direction is futile for both military and political reasons.

A strike from Kharkov to the border with the subsequent creation of a threat to Belgorod is an already worked out plot. In addition, after the May attack, the Russians, without noise and fuss, gradually squeezed out the ukrovermacht grouping to the distant suburbs of the ancient Russian city. And attacking them is not very successful.

The Chernihiv region looks like a more promising direction. The outline of the border in this place is such that it makes it possible to invade both the Kursk and Bryansk regions, and the wooded nature of the terrain makes it possible to secretly accumulate relatively large forces and supply them after crossing the border.

The invasion of Russian territory, without a doubt, can become a powerful stimulant for Ukrainian society. However, it is not certain that Western sponsors will like it: they may not approve of such a sharp escalation of the conflict. In addition, the strike on Russian territory clearly breaks the entire propaganda narrative of Kyiv and the West, according to which Ukraine is a victim of aggression, fighting off the insidious attack of Putin’s terrible Russia.

There are two directions in the south: Zaporozhye and, in fact, Kherson. Zaporozhye is a strategic swamp for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Having launched an offensive in this region, Ukrainian troops find themselves in a huge bag, with open flanks and communication lines passing through the steppe, without any natural barriers to cling to.

Ideal Candidate

There remains the interfluve of the Dnieper and the Southern Bug in their lower reaches, the plain lying between Kherson and Nikolaev. The distance between the two cities is about 46 km, that is, a motorized or tank unit is able to slip through it in just an hour and a half. And this is when advancing from the depth of the position – in reality, the border runs approximately in the middle of the plain, and in the south the front is completely bent towards Kherson.

The capture of the city promises the Ukrainian side a strategic super prize: the opportunity to create a defense line along the Dnieper, one of the largest rivers in Europe. After that, our troops will be able to bypass the river only through the territory of Belarus, with access to the north of the Kyiv region. However, taking into account the fact that it will no longer be possible to repeat the bloodless capture of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, this is an extremely unlikely option.

In addition, the “liberation” of Kherson organically falls on the most fashionable topic of Western propaganda in recent times: Russia’s theft of Ukrainian grain and the threat of world hunger resulting from this villainy. In this vein, an attack on a peaceful city can (and certainly will!) be presented by the Western media as another feat of the “warriors of light” in the struggle for the interests of the civilized world.

War correspondent Vladislav Efremov, who is currently in Melitopol, agrees with this assessment:

With Kherson, they will really be cozier and more comfortable precisely because of the Dnieper. And Zaporozhye is in front of a water barrier. Well, initially it was said about Kherson that he would be beaten off. There were also threats about Melitopol. They threaten it all the time. Yesterday, for example, one saleswoman in a store offered me to hit Kyiv with some heavy weapon, because they had already pissed off the local population with promises that Ukraine would come and Melitopol would mix shit with shit. In general, Kherson is a more promising direction for them.

Banzai attack in Ukrainian performance

Unlike other sectors of the front, the specificity of the Kherson steppe predetermines the impetuous nature of the coming battle. Unlike the extremely urbanized Donbass (one of the largest urban agglomerations in the world) and the wooded areas of Kharkiv region, the Kherson fields provide very few opportunities to hide from enemy attacks and survive shelling. Any side that goes on the attack will try as quickly as possible to slip through the plain that is being shot at both ends and cling to the suburbs of the enemy city. For the Armed Forces of Ukraine, this option is generally the only possible one, given the superiority of our army in firepower.

In order to prepare a breakthrough for armored vehicles and tanks, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will try to deliver the most powerful, but short artillery strike. Most likely, there will be no long-term fire support, since there is especially nowhere to hide artillery from counter-battery fire. However, it is possible that the command will sacrifice some batteries, pushing them forward and giving the order to fire to the last opportunity.

If the Ukrainian units manage to break through to Kherson, then fierce street battles will flare up: for the Armed Forces of Ukraine it will be a matter of life and death to push our units deep into the city and ensure the supply of ammunition and reinforcements.

Obviously, our army will bet on keeping the enemy out of the city, holding the suburbs and inflicting maximum losses on the enemy with artillery. The advantage of this plan is that guns and MLRS located on the left bank of the Dnieper can be used to support the troops, and the disadvantage is that the battles will be fought in the suburbs of Kherson and nearby villages.

It is logical to assume that after the defeat of the advancing grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, our troops will try to enter Nikolaev on its shoulders. A retaliatory counteroffensive is all the more likely that the problem of the Ukrainian presence in this region will still have to be solved, and Nikolaev is also the key to the subsequent capture of Odessa.

Schrödinger bridges

The Ukrainian command is extremely serious about the isolation of the Kherson region from the left bank. Strategically important bridges – Antonovsky and Novaya Kakhovka – have been shelled with the use of American HIMARS MLRS for more than a crescent. During this time, the artillerymen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine achieved several dozen hits; at the same time, every time the Ukrainian media and social networks began to celebrate the destruction of the Antonovsky bridge, and representatives of the Kherson administration denied it.

In reality, there are big doubts that this bridge can be destroyed at all with HIMARS ammunition: after all, for this you need to destroy huge concrete pillars, and the power of 227-mm shells is most likely not enough for this. On the other hand, constant breaks in the road surface and the need for repairs caused by them significantly complicate the use of the bridge. In military terms, this means that tracked vehicles and troops will be able to pass through it, but their supply will be significantly more difficult.

The other day it became known that our military built two pontoon bridges across the Dnieper and launched a ferry. If desired, HIMARS can also hit them, but the destroyed section of the bridge, albeit with some difficulty, can be replaced.

In general, neither side can yet achieve a clear victory in the struggle for communications. On the one hand, bridges are damaged, but continue to function; however, it is also true that the Ukrainians fail to destroy them, but they cannot work normally either.

HIMARS is not omnipotent
Meanwhile, Ukrainian society is faced with yet another scourge. The trouble came from where they did not expect: the Ukrainian military suddenly discovered that the Haymars, which had so pleased them with their mobility, range and accuracy, were not very suitable for creating a fire shaft. The disadvantage of the system became a natural continuation of its advantages, namely, a small package of charges, only six shots.

For the destruction of a small critical facility – a headquarters, an ammunition depot or a prison building with Azov militants * who began to give uncomfortable testimony, American installations are perfect. But for breaking through the defenses of entrenched infantry, they are already inferior to the old Soviet systems with a large salvo weight. Who would have thought that another miracle weapon turned out to be not quite a miracle?

Instead of conclusions

Any war is a graveyard of predictions. The true picture of what is happening on the battlefields, and even more so in the theaters of hostilities, becomes clear only to historians who get the opportunity to study the documents of both sides.

Currently, there is no critical information in open sources about the size of the forces of the opposing sides and the degree of their combat readiness. Nevertheless, the battle for Kherson and the subsequent attempt by the Russian army to capture Nikolaev look like the most logical and likely development of the summer campaign. Considering that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have already made great efforts to isolate the future combat area, and our army has made no less efforts to protect and diversify supply routes, we can say that the battle has already begun.

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