The Ukrainian War – An Early May Update
The Ukrainian War has gone on for 10 weeks. The promised Russian offensive that was to take Donbas is described by US and British defense officials as “lackluster.” Under the barrage of heavy artillery, the Russians have managed to advance in some places on the front like the city of Izyum. However, the advances have been slow, and the ground gained has been generally limited to the roads, as “General Mud” has made armored movement through the terrain difficult.
Here are the main issues:
Mariupol. As this is being written, Ukrainian forces continue to hold portions of the steel plant, which has a maze of bunkers underground to support civilians during a nuclear war.
Putin has called on the defenders to surrender, however, the chances that the defenders will surrender to the Russians has declined. Russia may capture the rest of the steel plant in the next few days or weeks, but the siege of Mariupol has been a Ukrainian sign of resistance. While Ukrainian forces were deployed to defend Kiev, the Maripol defenders kept Russian forces tied down. Now that NATO supplies are coming in, the Ukrainians are better able to fight the Russians in the east and south.
There are reports that 10 Russian Battalion Tactical Groups have been heavily targeted in the battle for Mariupol and have been sent to the rear for refit and rest.
The focus of the war is now on Izyum, a city south of Kharkov.
Putin’s plan is to move his forces south from Izyum and north from Donbas to encircle Ukraine Army forces. However, reports from both the British and Americans indicate that the Russian army has hardly advanced in the face of Ukrainian defensive positions.
One problem is that the Russian forces are ad hoc units cobbled together from Russian units that were heavily damaged in the battle for Kiev. These units have been quickly merged and moved back into combat. Usually, combining several units that have been damaged in combat require months to refit and maneuver as a single unified military unit.
Another problem for the Russians is that Ukraine forces have gone on the offensive around Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkov. In the past week, the Ukrainian forces have advanced as much as 40 kilometers east of Kharkov and are posing a threat to the supply lines that are supporting Russian forces in and around Izyum. This will force Russian forces to reinforce this flank, which will make the slow Russian advance even slower.
If the Russian units protecting the Russian flank around Kharkov break, much of the Russian offensive in the east could fall apart.
While the Russians have been attacking the middle of the Ukraine battle line in Donbas, the Ukrainians have been attacking the flanks at Izyum and Kherson.
The Kherson region is important if Russia has any hopes of taking the Ukraine port of Odessa. However, the Russians have carried out few offensives, while the Ukrainians have launched some successful counter attacks.
Another issue in the war is the unrecognized nation of Transnistria, a part of Moldova, which is occupied by Russian forces. Although the number of Russian forces in this undeclared nation only total about 1,500. Putin may use them to try to tie down Ukraine forces that would normally shift to the battlefront in the east.
The Logistics War
A few weeks ago, we mentioned that while amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.
Apparently both Ukrainians and Russians have decided that logistics is an important part of war. The Russians have started to take out the Ukrainian logistics of war – electrical power stations, rail lines, weapons repair facilities, and weapons manufacturing factories. These attacks are usually made with smart missiles, a dwindling part of the Russian arsenal.
The Ukrainians have also carried out attacks. Since the war started in February, the Ukraine military has carried out attacks on fuel and supply depots in Russia with helicopters, long range missiles, and possibly Ukrainian Special Forces. This week, Britain promised long range missiles to help Ukraine reach further into Russia to attack supply centers.
One advantage for Ukraine is that much of their supplies come outside the country from NATO nations. Although these supplies become “fair game” for the Russian military once they reach Ukraine, the supply lines from the Polish border to the front lines aren’t that long and are covered with the still operational Ukrainian Air Force.
How effective the attacks on factories and other logistical targets will be is questionable. During WWII, the Americans, and British sent hundreds of heavy bombers to attack critical parts of Germany’s supply system. However, when the Germans rebuilt the factories, they made them smaller, scattered them throughout the country, and camouflaged them. Thanks to this, some of the highest production of armored vehicles and aircraft came in the last months of the war.
Expect Russia and Ukraine to do the same.
Much was made of the withdrawal of American trainers like the Florida National Guard in the days leading up to the Ukraine War. US and UK Special Forces were also ordered out of the Ukraine.
That has changed. According to reports, the British SAS are back in Ukraine training soldiers. And, the Florida National Guard unit, which is based in Germany and “other locations,” is once again training Ukrainians in the use of high-tech American weapons like the Javelin and Stinger.
The Florida National Guard also changed the Ukrainian way of fighting. The US teachers taught Ukrainian junior officers to be more flexible in a combat situation and not wait on orders from above. They also taught aggressiveness in infantry combat and less reliance on heavy weapons like artillery and armored vehicles.
NATO teachers said that the Ukrainians took their lessons to heart and are operating like a modern European army.
What Will Putin Do? Will He Start a Nuclear War?
There is no doubt that Putin has committed himself to the Ukraine War. And, to show his commitment, the Russian government has made several aggressive comments that imply that Russia may use nuclear weapons.
Is that a bluff?
Limiting the war to Ukraine and using only professional soldiers is the best way forward. Mobilizing for war and drafting Russian men will hit Russian households and might create opposition to Putin. If he wants to stay in power, it makes more sense to keep the war limited to Ukraine and not try to expand it.
“Going nuclear” would be risky as it would risk bringing the war to the average Russian family. It would also be of limited use as a tactical nuclear weapon designed to counter a major armored spearhead in open terrain like Central Germany. Given current circumstances, we shouldn’t expect any massive Ukrainian armored spearheads.
This doesn’t consider the ramifications of using nuclear weapons. It could very well bring NATO soldiers into Ukraine itself.
A more likely move by Putin would be to seek an armistice and pull back by Russia. Putin could paint the armistice as a victory.
It would also reflect the thoughts of Field Marshal Foch, who said of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”