The old adage that “if it’s too good to be true, it likely is,” definitely applies in this war, as I spent much of the day trying to verify fantastical claims from both sides. I even had to enlist Mark Sumner at one point to help me sort through one rumor of a major Ukrainian breakthrough toward Mariupol. Turns out, no one is making big sweeping gains. It’s all “lay down artillery until defenders get the f’ out, walk in. Leave when their artillery returns fire.” Rinse, lather, repeat.
Kutuzivka is a perfect example, as Ukraine claimed to have captured it back in April 8. Then, it was supposedly “partially” liberated on April 17. And here we are, today, confirmed fully captured. Given the heavy shelling in the area, it very well may have gone back and forth for a while.
Ruska Lozova is on the main highway heading back to Russia, the largest town (pop. ~5,000) before the border. It would allow Ukraine to hit Kozacha Lopan up north on the border from three sides. Ukraine suffered heavy losses just a few days ago trying to take that town.
I am curious why Ukraine is pushing so hard north of Kharkiv. Russia can sit on its own side of the border and shell Kharkiv with impunity, so I suspect it’s not about protecting the city, but the supply routes that flow to the south and south east—a way to prevent an exposed “Chuhuiv salient” as Ukraine pushes east toward the Russian supply hub of Kupiansk. By clearing the north, there’s no left flank to worry about.
It could also be a simple, emotional “get the f’ out of my land” effort. But given the limited scope of Ukraine’s offensive abilities at the moment, I doubt they’d waste them on symbolic gestures. Let’s head down south:
I spent way too much time trying to confirm the Oleksandrivka news before posting this. The terrain in the area is flat, open, and exposed. Look at the picture at the top of this story. That’s here. So one side lays down heavy artillery, drives out exposed defenders. That side waltzes in. But oh shit! The other side is now returning fire! So troops withdraw, and the other side moseys back in. So wait, who is in control of the town? No one, that’s who.
Oleksandrivka presents another challenge—it’s one of the most popular town name in Ukraine, with over 100 of them. At least four are in contested areas. There’s this one in Kerhson Oblast. But head north from Kherson toward Kryvyi Rih, and there’s another one. These two are a real pain to keep straight.
Then there’s the two Oleksandrivkas near Izyum, on the Donbas front, one straight north, the other to its southwest.
I swear I’ve also seen one east of Izyum, and there’s likely several. So anytime someone reports “fighting in Oleksandrivka,” I groan and throw my hands up in the air.
Anyway, looks like the one west of Kherson is back in Ukrainian hands after falling to Russia yesterday, which had been pushed out the day before, etc. Given how these battles are shaping up, don’t get overly invested in who holds what. It’s all fluid outside of key locations like Izyum, Kherson, Kharkiv, etc.
That’s the north and south, so what about the Donbas front in the west? Ukraine fended off nine separate attacks. Maybe there’s a big massive Russian offensive brewing somewhere, ready to be unleashed on Ukrainian lines on the Donbas front. I remain forever skeptical.
There is one change we’ve seen to Russian tactics: “The concentrated use of artillery by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in April is one of the few major changes Russia has made to its operations compared to the early weeks of the war.” Before, Russia would send a bunch of kids to die against entrenched Ukrainian defenders. Now, those defensive positions are first shelled before Russia sends those kids to die. Most of the time, Ukrainian defenders remain, but every once in a while Russia gets lucky, the artillery does its job and clears out an area, and Russia can creep up a kilometer or two.
Given that around 5,000 square miles of Donbas territory remain in Ukraine’s hands, does anyone truly believes this is a winning strategy? Ukraine’s job is to hold their strongholds at Slovyansk (pop. 111,000) and Kramatorsk (pop. 157,000), while Russia burns through their troops, equipment, and ammunition in time for those sweet Western artillery guns to make their way to the front.
As of now, Russia has a long way to go before directly threatening those two cities. Heck, a chunk of Russian forces are heading west of Izyum, in the wrong direction! You know those network of defenses that have held on the border with separatist Donbas? There’s a lot more of that around Slovyansk and Karamtorsk, and that’s before Russians even think about entering those cities, which would be its own special kind of hell.
Another 4-6 weeks, maybe, and then we can start talking about Season Three of this war.
Meanwhile, the breakaway Russian-held territory of Transnistria in Moldova is on the verge of calling a general mobilization, blocking all military-age men from leaving the territory. Both Transnistria and Moldova don’t look to have have military forces worth a damn, and the 2-3,000 Russians stationed there wouldn’t be enough to seriously threaten Moldova. But the destruction of a Ukrainian bridge south of Odesa opens up an interesting possibility: Is Russia planning an amphibious assault?
By blowing the bridge, Ukraine wouldn’t be able to defend an attack on Moldova from the sea, though I doubt it would be interested in trying anyway. Ukraine is sort of busy at the moment. Of more interest would be the chance to take out yet another landing ship, but this one full of Russian naval infantry. Ukraine doesn’t need that bridge to threaten any landing effort.
Would Russia really be stupid enough to open up yet another front, spreading out its troops even further, and risk additional naval losses, for a logistically unsupported assault on a piece of land with zero value to the current war effort in Ukraine? Russia’s naval infantry is already heavily committed (and heavily attrited) in Mariupol. Meanwhile, don’t forget that in addition to losing their flagship Moskva guided missile cruiser, Russia also lost two landing ships in that “accident” in Berdyansk, offloading their gear for land operations after giving up on their Odesa dreams. Russia can’t reinforce either, with the Black Sea closed to military traffic by Turkey.
So is Russia that stupid? Doubtful. I’m guessing it’s pay-ops, destabilizing Moldova and keeping Ukrainian troops in the Odesa region on alert. Given the resources at their disposal, I just don’t see it physically possible for Russia to do this, no matter how much its generals may want to.
Friday, Apr 29, 2022 · 3:58:08 AM +00:00
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