This is a bit of a potpourri update, as there’s only so many ways to say “Ukraine keeps advancing.” Note that as much as we want to see Kharkiv-style lightning advances, what we’re seeing now—10-15 kilometers per day—is the upper end of what could be reasonably hoped for. The reality is far less, as advancing forces have to, at bare minimum, clear roads and approaches of land mines. In Kharkiv, Russia was caught 100% unawares. That’s not the case in Kherson, or as Ukraine pushes into northern Luhansk, and yet the advances still come fast and furious.
If you want a deeper at the overall picture on the ground, my previous update offers that. This post is more about spot updates, random observations, and a place for you guys to continue the discussion.
I previously updated with this and said that yes, it’s “captain obvious” for this audience. But maybe it’s not so let me expand a little.
The Russian approach to taking a city is to lay waste to it with artillery, then send cannon fodder ahead in “reconnaissance by fire.” If defenses remain, sure you lose some cheap infantry, but artillery has a better idea of where those defenses remain and it opens up again. Rinse, lather, and repeat until no resistance remains. It’s somewhat effective for a country that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the value of life, and it allowed for advances in the Donbas during that long, painful summer as we waited for Ukraine’s new Western-armed units were spun up and trained. If you wonder how Russia could indiscriminately target civilians, heck, they don’t even care about their own people.
Ukraine does it differently. They avoid direct urban warfare, cutting off a town’s supply lines until just one road out is left. This forces Russia to abandon hardened defensive positions lest they remain trapped, a la Mariupol. Thing is, armor is not the best escape vehicle—it breaks down and is slow, using up a great deal of diesel that may already be in short supply. So it’s easier to abandon the heavy stuff, steal some civilian vehicles, and hightail it out of dodge at top speed. Ukrainian artillery can target those roads, and many won’t make it out, but many do. End result, towns like Lyman are liberated with very little damage to their infrastructure. Not only does this encircle-and-starve-out approach save Ukrainian lives, but it moves the front much faster than Russia’s wasteful rinse-lather-repeat approach.
And here’s the bonus—Ukraine doesn’t even need to stick around for a town to surrender. It can leave a blocking force behind to pin down the Russian garrison as the spearhead races ahead. In the Kharkiv blitzkrieg, there were towns well in the rear of the advance that Ukraine didn’t mop up for days. There was no need, as the spearhead romped in the backfield. From many indications, this is what Ukraine appears to be doing once again as it rushes to Svatove in what used to be the Kharkiv front, but is about to become the northern Donetsk front.
There is little need for Ukraine to fight for all of those red dots. Easier to blow by them, cut them off, and wait for the eventual inevitable surrenders and replenishment of the Russian Lend-Lease military equipment program (captured abandoned Russian armor).
You’ve seen me and Mark Sumner cite Rybar, the largest, best-known pro-russian military reporter/blogger on Telegram. This new account translates and posts their dispatches on Twitter, which saves me a great deal of work, and makes the reports more accessible to everyone. It’s pro-Russian, and it’s often wrong about Russian advances. But when it comes to Russian retreats, it has been pretty solid.
This particular snippet confirms what I speculated in the last post—that Russia would abandon positions on the eastern bank of the Oskil once Borova was emptied out. Feel free to laugh at the “trying to inflict unacceptable losses on the enemy,” which is how these pro-Russian outlets are salving their wounds. Sure, they are getting their asses kicked, but Ukraine is suffering so much more. They’re not. It’s hard to inflict much damage when your back is turned to the enemy and you’re fleeing in a blind panic through Ukrainian artillery.
Speaking of, let me re-up this from a Sunday post:
Pro-Russian propagandists are full of claims of the thousands of soldiers Ukraine has lost in this or that attack, and how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is happy to feed Ukrainian soldiers into the mass death. There are never pictures, of course, just an article of faith.
Their obsession with Ukrainian losses is weird, however. It would be expected that native forces would happily resist invaders to the death. Witness Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty, or give me death” rallying cry in the War of Independence, as well as Russia’s own experience in WWII, and Vietnamese and Taliban casualties in their wars with the United States. Resistance forces will often suffer greater casualties against a superior invading and occupying force. So even if it was true, that Ukraine was losing more military casualties than Russia, so what? It’s as relevant as the Pentagon’s daily death tolls during the Vietnam War. Ukraine’s problem isn’t men and women, there are over 1 million in uniform, with volunteer lines out the door for more. The bottleneck is in uniforms, helmets, body armor, light and heavy weapons with which to equip them.
Russia, on the other hand, is dealing with this:
Russia is out of forces to move. They are f’d. The (cold) strategic question isn’t how many dead Ukrainian is suffering, but whether Russia can replace its own mass casualties and loss of equipment. The answer appears to be nyet.
And anyone that looks to their mobilization for hope is a fool.
It’s a shame Russia is such a docile society. It’s surprising these men haven’t just walked back to the nearest town, to take a bus back to their homes. Although, maybe they have some fight in them—this is fascinating:
Russian expert Kamil Galeev has written repeatedly about the abhorrent conditions of Russian conscripts, and the astonishingly high rates of suicide amongst them as a result of that mistreatment.
These new conscripts near Moscow didn’t put up with those abusive traditions, as the contract soldiers tried to extort the new arrivals of all their belongings.
The older contract soldiers were outnumbered, hence the power differential. In the end, the humiliated contract soldiers didn’t even press charges. How could they? They’ll be lucky to be alive by next week.
Anyone freaking out at this story that Russia is supposedly moving a Russian nuclear unit toward Ukraine? Well, don’t.
Russia is desperate for trucks and other military gear. You’ve seen the WWII era buggies on their way to the front? This is almost guaranteed a wartime requisition, with the side benefit of panicking observers into thinking Russia might go nuclear.
Finally, an interesting anecdote from the Kherson front:
“Due to communications problems, many of our units are forced to retreat so as not to be surrounded by the enemy.” Why would communication problems force a retreat? Because Russian units never had encrypted, protected communications from the first days of the war. That means that their equipment can be jammed by Ukraine. Or maybe they don’t even have cheap Motorola walkie talkies. Whatever the reason, they can’t coordinate with other units around them, which means that they hear of the front collapsing, and they’re like “shit, let’s get out of here unless we end up isolated!” No one wants to be the last unit left hanging on an exposed limb, so they all hightail it out. That’s how you collapse a front with minimal fighting.
Mark has one of our biggest updates ever, as Russia’s entire Kherson oblast defenses have collapsed, and they scramble to set up a last-ditch defense of Nova Kakhovka.
And even that map above is out of date. Nice animation using Rybar’s maps:
This week on The Downballot
we check in on Pennsylvania, where Republican Doug Mastriano has called for "40 days of fasting and prayer" to save his ailing campaign for governor; dig into ad spending numbers that show Democrats airing far more spots because they aren't relying on super PACs; and recap the dispiriting results of Italy's general election, which saw the far-right win for the first time since Mussolini.