Russia expended considerable efforts to take Kyiv in the first five weeks of the war, for all the obvious reasons: Regime decapitation, propaganda value, cutting off supply routes to Ukrainian forces in the east, and so on.
However, the effort quickly ran into trouble. The prong from the northwest, through Chernobyl, stalled at Bucha and Irpin. From the northeast, Russia’s inability to take Chernihiv fixed Russian forces just over their border. Thus, desperate to encircle Kyiv, Russia stretched itself out from Sumy, all the way to the capital’s eastern outskirts.
You can see the two long, billowy east-west supply lines from the Sumy region. Maps marked those roads as Russian controlled, but the reality was quite different. For weeks, Ukraine feasted on supply convoys attempting that trip (here, here, here, here, here, and here, are just a few examples), until at the end of March, Russia cried “uncle!” and that was that. Those forces were withdrawn. Well, what shards of them remained.
Why bring up this old bit of news?
U.S. intelligence has been mostly good this entire war, so it’s hard to dismiss it out of hand. But … wut?
The obvious goal is to try and enact a pincer maneuver from Izyum in the north, to Mariupol in the south, to trap the third (or so) of the Ukrainian army currently holding defensive entrenched positions on the border with the purple separatist-held area. Efforts to breach those defensive positions head-on have repeatedly failed, all the way back to 2014, hence the effort to surround them and cut them off from supplies and reinforcements.
The pincer maneuver is tough enough, requiring Russia to stretch out around 200 kilometers (~120 miles). This opens them up to the same resupply issues they faced up in their Sumy-to-Kyiv effort, while simultaneously exposing themselves to flank attacks from both the east and the west.
I noted over the weekend that there is little indication Russia can mass the kind of forces needed to make a real go at this. The existing, obvious plan is already a bit of a Hail Mary pass, as Russia desperately tries to notch any success in time for Vladimir Putin’s precious WWII commemorative parade on May 9.
Yet despite the difficult odds, Russia is supposedly looking to additionally march on Dnipro? Let’s get a close-up of the route Russian forces would have to take:
First of all, there is no direct highway to Dnipro. Shortest route would be to head west through Hrushuvakha (pop. 800), down through Lozova (pop. 55,000), take a right at Pavlohrad (pop. 109,000), then push through Novomoskovsk (pop. 70,000), and the rest of the eastern suburbs to Dnipro (pop. 966,400). Total distance? 231 kilometers (144 miles).
Or Russia could head east, through tiny Hrushuvakha again, all the way out to Sakhnovshchyna (pop. 7,000), to the outskirts of Krasnohrad (pop. 20,000), then directly south toward Dnipro until they hit Novomoskovsk. Dramatically smaller population centers! But the distance is now closer to 300 kilometers (186 miles). Both routes would suffer from the same exposed flanks as the pincer. And looking at the satellite imagery of the route, it’s all like this:
That’s wide-open agricultural fields, punctuated by the occasional wooded forest. Meanwhile, Ukrainian artillery would sit in Dnipro and hammer any approaching columns, while those woods would provide natural ambush sites. Ukrainian drones could operate far from most Russian air defenses. It would look like more of this:
And say Russia gets to the outskirts of Dnipro, then what? It won’t enter. Russia can’t even take cities on its border with zero supply lines to worry about. Are we really going to pretend that Russia would have a chance against a much bigger city than Kharkiv, Sumy, or Mariupol, except at the end of a long, extended, and vulnerable supply line?
U.S. intelligence is fallible. It has, at various times, and multiple times, claimed Belarus was about to directly enter the war, and that Odesa faced an amphibious assault. And sure, I bet Russian generals are currently hovering over a map of Ukraine, fantasizing about taking Dnipro. But we would be so lucky if Russia attempted to pull that trigger. It won’t. Just like their fantasies of taking Kyiv and Odesa will never be realized.
Shifting gears slightly, I’ve noted multiple times, including yesterday, how Russia is incapable of attacking with more than 1-2 Battalion Tactical Groups at a time. Here’s additional evidence:
They’ve got six BTGs in Izyum. At full-strength, each would have 800 soldiers, or 4,800 total. (Remember, a big chunk are support, but let’s pretend Russia is throwing everyone into the meat grinder.) Why not mass that force and punch through Ukrainian defenses south of Izyum? Or better yet, why not wait for the rest of the reinforcements from the Kyiv and Sumy operations to arrive in the area, and slam the hell out of Ukrainian defenses? Because they can’t. And as we saw yesterday, those BTGs aren’t even at full strength. Nowhere near it, in fact. Ukraine gets to handle the drip-drip of Russian attacks, because the former superpower is incapable of turning on the spigot.
And actually, we really don’t have to pretend that Russia is throwing support personnel into the meat grinder, because we know they are. We have evidence:
Three lieutenants, three officers, means they are out of contract soldiers to crew armored personnel carriers (APC). Remember, Russia doesn’t have a non-commissioned-officer corps to bridge the gap between the officer corps and lower enlisted personnel. So apparently, it was either untrained uneducated conscripts, or three officers.
But they weren’t even combat officers, with experience handling such equipment! One was
a weather guy, likely there to help inform aviation efforts. But since so few planes and helicopters are flying, I guess it made him expendable a metrologist, which I originally thought was a typo, but is someone who deals with calibrating measurements. So yeah, support guys, including officers, are being thrown into the same meat grinder as the (likely also dead) conscripts who were in the back of that APC. I doubt my 15% rule is operative anymore.
Russia is running low on skilled soldiers and can’t manage a half-coherent attack a few kilometers south of Izyum. So no, they’re not going to now push 230-300 kilometers to Dnipro. That’s the dumbest shit I’ve heard all war, in a war so f’n stupid, that if it was a movie, we’d all groan and give it a thumbs down for being so unrealistic.