Ukraine update: Russia vs. Russia as Putin adds a host of paper soldiers

Ukraine update: Russia vs. Russia as Putin adds a host of paper soldiers

On Wednesday, as Ukraine marked its independence day, Vladimir Putin put his signature to an order officially increasing the number of slots in the Russian army to over 2 million. While that sounds impressive, it was clearly a declaration with only symbolic value, as the total number of people in the Russian army is currently well below 1 million. There are plenty of empty helmets to fill—assuming Russia can find the helmets.

On Thursday, Putin declared that he intends to follow his symbolic bump by adding 137,000 actual soldiers to the army’s total number. Only … from where?

Since the outset of the invasion, there have been reports of Russia having to engage in everything from bribes to outright extortion to get people to sign on as contract soldiers. And even then, many of those who have been dragged into Ukraine have refused to fight. As Radio Free Europe put it last month:

Nearly five months into the largest war in Europe since World War II, a growing number of Russian soldiers… are refusing to fight, demanding to return home, or outright not going to Ukraine in the first place. Russian rights activists say hundreds, possibly thousands of troops are balking at orders to deploy, to keep fighting, or to remain on the battlefield without rotating out or home.

At one point, Russia reportedly had at least 26 Battalion Tactical Groups at Izyum, and still that Izyum salient was barely able to advance over a period of months. In the past two weeks, Russia has actually lost ground in that area and is reportedly withdrawing troops from the city that represents one of its biggest victories in the invasion. Rumors on both Twitter and Telegram have laid much of the blame for the failure in this area on Russian troops that simply refused to fight.

Considering that Russia continues to engage in a daily ritual of “reconnaissance by force” in which it engages in dozens of failed attacks in order to determine Ukrainian troop dispositions, with each of those mini-attacks accompanied by what are often described as heavy casualties, it’s not hard to see why those shoved up to the front lines would be reluctant. Russia’s strategy may be to use artillery to blast targets into rubble, then advance across the rubble, but even in an age where there are so many other options for gathering intelligence, Russian forces seem to make those advances in a way that’s incredibly casual with the lives of Russian soldiers. Even in recent weeks, it’s not difficult to find reports in which some of these groups sallying forth to attack a town or village ran headlong into a Ukrainian hard point and were totally destroyed.

That’s how Russia has racked up an incredible loss of 45,000+ troops in the middle of what has basically been an artillery war.

To backfill those deaths, Russia has become increasingly forceful in using men from Luhansk and Donetsk to plug the gaps. There might not be mobilization in Russia, but there certainly is in the longtime Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine. Reports of men being press-ganged off the streets, and of men hiding to avoid being forcibly conscripted are all over posts from that area. This is apparently the glorious independence that the people of the Donbas have earned: being herded onto trucks and being sent to die in other areas of Ukraine.

Every intelligence report for weeks, whether from Ukraine, the U.S., or the U.K., has made note of the same thing when talking about Russia: “Morale is poor in many parts of its military and its army is significantly degraded.” How bad is Russian morale? Bad enough that this week Russian forces reportedly engaged in … intermural activities.

Trusted 🇷🇺 Spetsnaz source confessed that situation among SpN units and between PMCs has deteriorated so bad that GRU high-ranking officer from central apparatus has arrived to 🇺🇦 to calm situation. There was armed conflict where one BGD sided with PMC against another BGD.

— Russian_VDV_Textbooks (@VDV_Textbooks) August 25, 2022

This note followed earlier reports that Russian forces were firing on each other going back into June.

If Putin genuinely intends to add over 100,000 more men to the Russian army (and it is men, because … Russian reasons), it seems unlikely that any form of wheedling, promises, or threats is going to do it. It’s going to take some level of mobilization—a draft—to make it work. If that happens, it’s still unclear what happens next. After all, Russia supposedly opened this war with 190,000 of its own troops around Ukraine, and 30,000 LNR/DNR conscripts on the side.

Getting Russian forces to fight in Ukraine is reminiscent of how Abraham Lincoln spoke about getting reluctant general George McClellan to move. “Sending armies to McClellan is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard,” said Lincoln. “Not half of them get there.”


Russian troops did have a reported success in the Kherson region. With more forces brought to the front line, Russia has reportedly captured (again) the village of Blahodatne, southwest of the long fought-over town of Snihurivka. 
Russia makes small advance at Blahodatne.

It’s a very minor advance, with Russia moving only around 2 kilometers beyond the previous front line to capture a town with just seven roads. Just west of this location, Russia has continued to lose forces in an attempt to get closer to a series of much more hardened Ukrainian positions surrounding the town of Pervomaiske (yes, another one). Really, the Russian move into Blahodatne wouldn’t be worth noting, except that it’s the only change on the map.

Otherwise, things appear to have been more or less static. Even the Ukrainian position on the east side of the Inhulets River south of Davydiv Brid, which at last reports was the subject of a major Russian effort to hit it at all points simultaneously … is still there.

As Russia was trying to boost flagging positions along the front line, there was also fresh action on Friday back at the critical bridge. More high-precision rockets rained down, this time during the day and during a point when Russian forces were trying to both patch and utilize the bridge. I’m not including the resulting video, because the only video I found included recognizable bits of bodies flying around in the aftermath.

Russian engineers have been at work on a pontoon bridge across the Dnipro, as well as utilizing partial pontoons and barges to move supplies and equipment across the river. So far, the pontoon bridge, now about one-third complete, appears to have not been subject to attack. Don’t expect that to be true when it nears completion.


Southwest of Izyum, Russian forces attempted to move southwest down the T2122 highway, bypassing Brazhkivka, but were reportedly stopped without progress. 

Russian forces seem to be back to working the SW edge of Izyum area … which makes little sense

Russian troops also tried to move south from Andriivka, apparently moving over fields rather than along the highway. It’s not clear if they had any success, but no other villages or towns seem to have changed hands.

The focus of Russia in this area seems more than a little odd. To get those forces from Izyum to the big targets at Slovyansk and Kramatorsk means moving to the southeast. The areas under attack now seem more like where Russia was engaged several months ago when it was planning to conduct a massive pincer move … only to have both blades of the pincer fail.

Honestly, I put up a map of this even though absolutely nothing changed. See the red arrows? Russia tried to advance there. All signs say they did not.


West of the city of Donetsk, Russia seems to have made several additional attempts to push through Ukrainian lines. Only nope.

Near Bakhmut, which has been the anchor point for the Ukrainian line since the loss of Lysychansk, Russia attacked repeatedly at Bakhmuts’ke, Soledar, of Kodema. Nope, nope, and also nope.

This time I think I’m going to skip the map. Just imagine Russia creating a whole lot of new examples for why no one wants to be in their army.

In retaliation for all the Russian ammunition depots that have been turned into ersatz fireworks displays during the daily celebration of HIMARS O’Clock, Russia on Friday reported that they too had blasted a warehouse filled with ammo. That would be this warehouse.

Russians: WE BLEW UP A WAREHOUSE FULL OF NATO AMMO! The warehouse: No ammo, just lies.

— Andrew Perpetua (@AndrewPerpetua) August 26, 2022

Friday, Aug 26, 2022 · 7:14:06 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

This was reportedly the only intact bridge over the Inhulets remaining under Russian control.

Ukraine says it took out the Daryivskiy bridge in Kherson This bridge is a Russia-controlled crossing on the Inhulets River. Its collapse impedes coordination between Russian troops on either side of the west bank of the Dnipro, as the Inhulets River splits these forces in two

— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) August 26, 2022

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