Ukraine is tight-lipped about its advances, and Russia has effectively muzzled its Telegram milbloggers, forcing them to report on Russia’s glorious victories under threat of imprisonment. So getting accurate information has suddenly gotten a bit tougher, and the fog of war has always been a challenge to see through.
The front around Svatove and Kreminna is a perfect example, with claims and counter-claims and rumors muddying the picture. Mark Sumner worked hard all week to peer through the fog, but confirmed news is hard to come by. The best he had was educated guesses.
Today is no less certain, but Russia has taken two curious actions suggesting Ukrainian advance are, indeed, coming along—they blew the rail bridge north of Svatove, and they blew another bridge leading into the town of Krasnorichens’ke, south of Svatove.
As Mark wrote yesterday, there are rumors that Ukrainian forces are working their way north of Svatove, attempting to surround the city from multiple sides. Blowing a key bridge north of Svatove suggests those rumors have merit. The bridge into Krasnorichens’ke is even more intriguing, as it is located not just well east of the P66 highway that runs north and south west of those two towns, but also on the other side of the cliffs that run parallel to the highway.
If you look closely at the map, you’ll see that Krasnorichens’ke has the only road east through those hills anywhere between there and Svatove. It’s a military checkpoint. If Russia blew the bridge into town, it almost assuredly means that Ploshanka, to its west, is in Ukrainian hands. Whether Russia still holds positions on the hills remains to be seen, but Ukraine doesn’t have to walk into town to dramatically impact Russia’s positions on this front. Holding the high positions will give it fire control into that entire string of towns, and the roads that help supply Svatove.
Remember, if Svatove falls, another major slice of Ukraine is immediately liberated, and opens up the road toward Starobilsk, which would single-handedly liberate the entire northeast corner of Ukraine.
Look at how EVERY road in their regions go through Svatove and Starobilsk (circled, from left to right). Liberating Starobilsk would also cut the last supply line from Belgorod in Russia to the Ukrainian front lines, requiring Russia to completely rejigger their already-strained supply efforts. Taking those two cities would literally turn all this red on the map liberated yellow—both a massive propaganda victory for Ukraine, and a substantial strategic blow to Russia’s war effort. As much as we want to see Kherson liberated, taking these two cities would have the biggest immediate impact on Russia’s war effort.
Just a day or two after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cautioned that Russia wasn’t pulling out of Kherson, and that any claims otherwise were Russian disinformation, the Ukrainian General Staff reports that … Russia is pulling artillery out of the Kherson pocket.
Now, this isn’t incompatible with a Russian defense of Kherson, it just requires really tight defense lines close to both Kherson and Nova Kakhovka—critically important for Russia because it is the source of occupied Crimea’s water supply. It makes sense logistically, as artillery is hungry and Russia is limited to what it can get into the Kherson pocket via barge or ferry.
The 2022 midterms are just around the corner, and you sent us a ton of fantastic questions for this week’s episode of The Downballot. Among the many topics we cover: which states are likely to report results slowly—and how will those results change over time; the House districts that look like key bellwethers for how the night might go, and which might offer surprises; why and how Democrats make the hard decisions on which races to triage; the top legislative chambers to keep an eye on; and plenty more!
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