At Friday afternoon’s Pentagon briefing, Defense Department officials reported that Russia was:
- Continuing to bring in additional forces to the Donbas region, including some of those who fought in the losing Battle of Kyiv.
- Continuing the kind of probing attacks along the eastern defensive lines they’ve employed since the beginning of the invasion.
- Continuing to bomb the massive Azovstal metal plant in Mariupol, even though Putin claims to have given up on actually taking the plant.
- More forces are moving into the area around Izyum, bringing the estimated number of BTGs there to 25.
The U.S. continues to assess that Russia has not actually begun its major offensive in eastern Ukraine, but “how can we know that?” is a real question. After all, considering Russia’s demonstrated inability to coordinate anything beyond one or two BTGs, what would a major attack look like anyway? In any case, the number of total BTGs in the Donbas area now exceeds 80.
Increasingly, the build up around Izyum looks like the pileup that resulted at the end of the vaunted “40-mile convoy” that carried what seemed to be a massive number of men and material from the Belarus border to the outskirts of Kyiv. Those forces then proved themselves capable of two things: committing massive atrocities against civilians, and getting killed to the extent that they had to surrender their positions.
Can Russia do better when the next obstacle in their way is not Kyiv but the smallish cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk? That’s not clear. Neither is it clear when the force at Izyum will begin to move. If Putin wants something to actually celebrate on May 9, Russia needs to find a new gear and move. On the other hand, what do actual accomplishments even mean when you have complete media control? Putin could just announce that Russia has taken all of Ukraine and is marching on Germany. Then all the planes could get back to practicing flying in a Z formation.
Meanwhile, additional U.S. weapons are arriving in Ukraine daily, as are weapons from other NATO partners.
Also on Friday, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said they are investigating sending Challenger 2 tanks to Poland so that Poland can send some additional T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Most of Poland’s T-72s have been significantly upgraded, but would still fit in with Ukraine’s existing arsenal.
Overall, Russia seems intent on replicating in eastern Ukraine the same strategy they deployed in northern Ukraine: piecemeal advances without adequate air support and with poor implementation of combined arms tactics. Maybe they have learned, but they don’t seem to be demonstrating it.
One week ago, we looked at the towns of Popasna and Pervomaisk, which straddled the border of Russian-occupied territory in Luhansk. With just 2 miles of flat farm fields between them, it seemed incredible that Popasna had already turned back several attempts at a Russian breakthrough by the time of that April 16 report. However, on Monday Russian forces had reportedly broken through the defensive trenches east of Popasna and were slowly advancing on the town where just one grocery and one pharmacy remained to serve the dwindling population. On Wednesday, Russia announced that Popasna had been taken. On Thursday, Russia showed images of Russian tanks supposedly rolling into the center of the town. On Friday, Russia is … heavily engaged in shelling and bombing Popasna, which doesn’t exactly seem like something that would be true of a town completely under Russian control.
In fact, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reports that Russian forces are still “advancing on” Popasna, and directed fire toward buses carrying evacuees away from the town. So while things are not going well there by any means, Russia seems to be somewhat behind what it’s been showing on Russian TV.
If you’ve always felt left out because you lacked an archnemesis, fret no longer. The Russian duma has a bill in the works intended to show you just where you stand, though … the picture is confusing.
Can we not get Lex Luthor or Dr. Doom going in this thing? At least a little color coding? Honestly, for Russia to start down this path and not go full Red Son just seems like totally missing the boat.