We’ve had an awful lot going on in the news here at home and we’re all bracing for a literal onslaught in the next week or two. However, the U.S. isn’t the only place on this earth where important, even crucial things are happening. I wrote the other day about Israel and the unfolding crisis with judicial “reform” (Netanyahu neutering the courts) which can cause far wider repercussions that will include us.
Then there are the goings on in the war in Ukraine. It’s been a long fight already, and still there’s lots of fighting and dying that will happen before it’s resolved. I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine over in Europe it’s getting more attention but let’s face it. It’s the United States that has led the effort to build and hold together widespread support in Europe and around the world to help Ukraine prevail. So let’s take a look at where things stand.
As the headline notes in the past week I’ve noticed two things that don’t seem connected, yet over the weekend I’ve come to believe in fact are interconnected. One is some not very specific reporting about a possible breakthrough in the south – Ukraine being poised to get through the formidable defenses Russia built and advance to Melitopol. The other is drone strikes on Moscow and the surrounding area.
Let’s look at Ukraine proper and what’s going on in the south first. In June, the long awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive began. Many an armchair warrior assumed a delpleted and demoralized Russian army might put up a short fight, before collapsing and initiating a retreat. Those of us who know something about war knew better, and that it was going to be one brutal and long fight, especially in the south. To understand why we need to go back to the beginning of the war. I’ll be as brief as I can.
Russia thought it could quickly “decapitate” Ukraine’s leadership/government with a large airbone strike at the airport at Kyiv and that large force, complete with lots of tanks and heavy trucks bearing soldiers and equipment rolling down a fairly short distance from Belarus. If disorganized, Ukraine still fought back fiercely enough to prevent that “lightening” 24-48 hour victory and installation of a puppet regime as other forces rolled through the eastern front, and another force rolled through southern Ukraine. That last part is huge.
Why? Because within two weeks it was clear that Ukraine not only was NOT beaten, but that they were quickly mobilizing and more importantly the west was rallying to help them. So, Russia knew they’d be in things for a much longer time than they’d anticipated and set a new overall strategy. One of them in particular is key – establishing what’s been referred to as the “Land Bridge to Crimea.” The Crimean peninsula is almost an island, connected by land to the rest of Ukraine by a tiny isthmus, and to Russia via a 23 mile highway and railroad bridge. Russia had long ago set up formidable defenses for miles below that narrow land connection. They weren’t (with justification) worried about Ukraine trying anything that way. However, that bridge was another matter.
The Kerch Bridge is a significant piece of engineering that has provided a logistical lifeline to Russia’s occupying forces since they invaded and took over Crimea. It’s been a source of pride even. However, as we’ve seen it’s a tenuous connection because bridges can be taken out. Ukraine could have demolished a big chunk of that bridge long ago. Why they’ve only damaged it would take too long to explain. What matters is that to control the coast and the ports and provide a more secure means of supplying Crimea they wanted a “land bridge” and they put a lot of resources into creating one.
With Ukraine justifiably focused on defending Kyiv, and trying to limit Russian advance in the east where Russia had already gained a measure of control in two separate disputed regions, Ukraine was unable to stop Russia from establishing that “land bridge.” It’s vital to Russia. So, during that long period of time when Ukraine was building up for its counter-offensive, rebuilding and replenishing units worn down by fighting AND re-equipping them in many cases with western weapons, and providing really, really good western style training Russia was busy reinforcing their “land bridge” to Crimea. They proved to be masters at this during WWII and believe it or not the same tactics still apply. Worse, it doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment – just combat engineers that know what they are doing (which Russia has had) and plenty of labor. People to dig. Usually by hand.
A serious multi lined series of defensive trenches were built along hundreds of miles, and in front of the first and in between the extra lines massive amounts of anti personnel and anti tank mines were laid. Behind all this, ready to pound any significant attack by Ukraine was a LOT of well practiced artillery, still with plenty of shells.
I apologize for going on as long as I did and believe me it’s far more complex than what I’ve written but if you want to know why Ukraine’s counter-offensive hasn’t already “won” perhaps now you understand why progress has often been measure in yards instead of kilometers each day. This kind of fighting is about as brutal as war gets. For Ukraine what has been needed is a breakthrough somewhere and on a wide enough front that they could pour a significant amount of troops and tanks (and other heavy equipment) into and through the gap. Both to gain control over the breakthrough territory but more importantly to get past the Russian defenses and into their rear. THAT would allow for classic maneuver warfare and then Russia would be in deep sh*t.
Once they break through to the coast, they gain both initiative and options. But in the end what matters is that they could “flank” and start rolling up Russian forces. Those east of the breakthrough could be driven back towards and even all the way into Russia. Coastline and ports would be regained by Ukraine. At the same time Russian forces to the west of the breakthrough and Crimea itself would be cut off. Ukraine is already doing a helluva lot of damage there, with four major weapons depots blown up in the last week or so. Better missiles and long range artillery and no doubt more and better trained (by the UK and us) special forces operating behind the lines.
Again, I know this is one of my “will he get to the damned point” articles but again it’s all necessary to understand this next part. Remember I mentioned reports that Ukraine said it was looking at a possible breakthrough? Keep this in mind – the quite real “fog of war” means sometimes what gets reported turns out wrong. But, Ukraine has long had a habit of noting battlefield progress without saying just how significant the gains are! More than a few times they’ve been much further along in attacks/regaining territory than they’ve publicly announced. Not always, but an awful lot of the time.
There are two reasons for this. First, as with so many other things it’s always better to exceed expectations than to set them via premature declaration of success or imminent success. Second, they know their enemy. Russian commanders who admit to their big bosses that things are beyond their control face a world of hurt and maybe an unmarked grave. Or the “honor” of being at the head of a suicidal attack or defensive stand and dying that way. Hell, this whole thing turned into a mess for Russia at the beginning because all those regimental officers didn’t want to admit all that shiny equipment (those tanks and heavy trucks) only LOOKED all shiny and ready to go. While in fact were barely operational. Confusion in the Russian command from their not realizing just how precarious things might have gotten works to Ukraine’s advantage.
I’m not predicting a sudden breakthrough and retaking Melitopol in the next week or two. Possible but not likely. (explaining how significant taking Melitopol would make an already long article a lot longer) But within a month seems like a real possibility. That my friends would be huge, and give Ukraine the “broken field maneuver warfare” opportunity I spoke about already. Well BEFORE winter sets in. With Putin facing increasing threats to his rule and even his life, with a general sense amongst his military command (not to mention the ranks) that it’s time to end this war who knows? Maybe real, serious peace talks could make for a very special Christmas for so many people and countries.
Finally, there’s that second thing I started out by mentioning. Drone strikes by Ukraine on Moscow. Russia of course is denouncing them as “terrorist acts” by Ukraine. Perhaps we’ve got what came first, the chicken or the egg question. Did Putin learn projection from Trump or did Trump learn it from Putin? There are two things to keep in mind. First is that Ukraine hasn’t hit Moscow with all that many drones. From where I sit it’s more of a “Just so you know, we’ve got the capability and are willing to use if if we feel the need” type of thing. Second, think about all the missile and drone attacks Russia has rained down on Kyiv and so many other Ukrainian cities. A huge and widespread intentional assault on civilians to inflict terror and unrest with Ukrainians in the hopes they pressure their govt. to give in to Russia.
Boy does Putin, or Pootie as I’m growing fond of calling him NOT understand who he’s been dealing with. The hatred in Ukraine from most Ukrainians goes back generations!! Raw, unmitigated hatred over what Russia/the USSR has done to their country and people and for so long! Russia has by any definition engaged in a campaign of Crimes Against Humanity and by grab their leaders and many in their military should face a Nuremburg type tribunal.
That’s why Ukraine’s own attacks on Moscow have been limited. They could do a lot more. A LOT more. And, given all that Russia has done it would be defensible in a tribunal investigating war crimes. The important part though is that they’ve carried out enough limited drone strikes to tell Pootie/Russia “keep attacking OUR civilians and the grumbling we’ve caused by our very restrained efforts so far will turn into something way bigger if we do what you now know we are capable of doing. A guy fighting for his position as dictator of Russia (and again his life) has to know that a massive popular uprising, especially if Russia is suddenly losing and losing big on the battlefield will be too much. And, that doesn’t just apply to Putin – but also to those in his gang of oligarchs that see their own futures/survival tied to his own.
That’s why I think two seemingly unrelated developments might in fact be intertwined. So keep an eye out in the next couple of weeks or so. Because if more reports start coming out, showing progress by Ukraine that does start getting measured not in yards or “football fields” but in even a kilometer or two almost daily it means Ukraine is doing better than that. And that by the end of August will have broken through to the coast with a major force. Should that happen we can entertain hopes we’ve entered the phase of the “beginning of the end” of the war in Ukraine.
Again, my apologies that this was longish and pretty dense reading. Trust me when I tell you earlier versions were WAY longer and I fear I’ve left out too much but after a couple of days of effort this is as short as I’m comfortable making this. If you did read it to this point I thank you. And I hope you’ll think about it and offer your own thoughts whether you have military knowledge/experience or not.