Ukraine Update: Russia is stuck, and they can’t even blame it on the mud

Ukraine Update: Russia is stuck, and they can’t even blame it on the mud

For the second straight day, Russia lost more ground than it gained. Ukraine is pushing Russian forces around Kharkiv toward the international border. Mark Sumner made this map for his last update—blue cities taken the last couple of days, yellow ones under current Ukrainian assault. 

Mark searched the names of all the villages NE of Kharkiv on Google and social media to get a handle on that Kharkiv front. All the villages. It takes effort to penetrate the fog of war. Otherwise, you get mistakes like this one:

🇺🇦soldiers blew up the Lyman-Rayhorodok railway bridge across the Siverskyy Donets river. At the time of the explosion, Russian freight cars were on the bridge. Lyman is at the epicenter of the fighting in the Donbas,–Hromadske citing🇺🇦army command

— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) April 29, 2022

Turns out that 1) both Lyman and Rayhorodok are in Ukrainian territory, 2) the rail cars were Ukrainian, and 3) it was Russia who blew the bridge. That original story never made sense, but confirmation bias is powerful and people cheered slava Ukraina. Oops. In short, Russia likely assumed Ukraine would blow the bridge if Lyman fell, so by preemptively blowing the bridge themselves, they cut off those Lyman defenders from their supply lines and potentially blocked their retreat. (On the plus side, it means that when and if Lyman falls, Russia will be stuck on the wrong side of the Siverskyy Donets river, further hampering their advance.)

I digress. So Ukraine got some stuff around Kharkiv. What did Russia get? Nothing. While Russia shelled the entire line, as usual, Ukraine General Staff reported only a handful of ground attacks—pushes southwest (toward Barvinkove) and southeast of Izyum (toward Slovyansk), and ongoing fighting in Rubizhne and Popasna. (Mark has written extensively about Popasna, including here.)

If you’re wondering, “what’s going on with that push to the west of Izyum, in the wrong direction of their stated objectives?” Well, the answer is nothing! Did it run out of gas? Was it abandoned? Who knows! What we do know is that after a couple of weeks of increased op tempo, Russia has suddenly gotten really quiet the last couple of days. Not only has it been unable to deliver the promised and feared massive offensive, its current efforts are fizzling out. 

The Pentagon says logistics are a big part of the problem, “The Russians have not overcome all their logistics and sustainment challenges, and we assess that they’re only able [to] sustain several kilometers or so progress on any given day.” Thing is, Russia isn’t even moving a couple of kilometers per day. They’re stuck

This is how much they’ve moved in two weeks:

You might need to open that image in a new browser window, full-size, to see any of the scant changes. Given Ukrainian pickups around Kharkiv and Kherson/Mykolaiv, Russia may be at a net-negative in territory for those two weeks. This thing is a standstill. And what’s worse for Russia, even if they break through at Popasna or Rubizhne, then what? Ukraine just drops back to their next set of prepared defenses a few kilometers back, and we’re back to the daily grind, except now Russia has to run their supply lines a few kilometers further. 

Remember, Ukraine’s defenses in Donbas aren’t a single line. They are layered deep. 

As of now, Ukraine holds around 5,000 square miles of territory inside the administrative boundaries of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (the Donbas region). Vladimir Putin thought that would be fully taken for his May 9 parade. So yeah, let’s have a good laugh. But then let’s remember that the status quo has come at great sacrifice of Ukraine’s brave defenders, holding out under desperate, inhuman conditions, as well as many Russian and proxy forces that don’t want to be there, have no business being there, and are being sacrificed to Putin’s megalomaniacal designs. 

Russia’s stalled advance means Ukraine can also wreak havoc on its rear lines, with artillery work that seems to improve by the week.

Ukrainian sources are claiming this artillery strike on a 2nd Army Russian command post near Izyum, Kharkiv Oblast, killed Major General Andrey Simonov. It’s yet to be confirmed by Russian sources but it’s significant they named a specific general.

— Jimmy (@JimmySecUK) April 30, 2022

The general confirmed killed was the guy in charge of Russia’s VDV airborne troops, the same crew up in Bucha and Irpin committing heinous war crimes. He can rot. But this attack tells us a couple of other things: 

1) The first hit is the command post, some sort of agricultural structure. It was specifically targeted, scoring a direct hit. We may be seeing the first of the suicide drones in action, or a direct-hit artillery smart round. Ukraine made sure that round hit dead on, and hit first, before the rest of the barrage took out much of the supporting gear and vehicles. They didn’t want anyone getting out alive. Coordinates 49.2902805019397, 37.23174981492426:

2) That command post could’ve been set up in the residential parts of town, instead of that exposed complex. For once, Russia didn’t do a war crime, and it cost them. Then again, someone probably lived there at one point, so let’s not rule out war crimes just yet…

3) In a typical artillery attack, a battery fires a handful of one-off rounds, then spotters (now with drones) call in adjustments. It’s not just GPS coordinates that matter, but atmospheric conditions, earth’s rotation, wind speeds at various altitudes, etc. In this case, there was no spotter rounds. It was fire-for-effect from the start, with the guided round hitting just a split second before the rest of the barrage landed. 

4) You can assume that the entire barrage was targeted at that command center, which gives you a good idea of artillery’s margin of error. For the M777s headed from the US and other allies, it’s around 150 feet from the target. Some of these rounds actually miss by more, so perhaps Soviet artillery is less accurate.

5) Not sure about Soviet artillery, but modern NATO artillery can shoot three rounds before the first one hits, and all of them hit at the same time. The guns make automatic adjustments as new rounds are loaded. The first round is shot higher, and the subsequent ones adjust downwards for shorter flight durations. That allows for the quick saturation of a target area, then quick departure before counter-battery radar can pinpoint the location of the guns and retaliate.

6) This command post was in the town of Zabavne, 8 kilometers north of Izyum. Take a look at the map below. This is what happens when Russia can’t protect its main supply line into the Izyum salient from Ukrainian flank attacks, and it’s only going to get worse with the arrival of Western artillery reinforcements.

You know the irony? It’s looking like a pretty dry spring. The mud is drying out, and the skies have been clear—perfect weather for their air power. Doesn’t matter. They’re stuck, mud or not.

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