The Victory Day spectacles were like a cope cage on a tank — ineffective ultimately against a proper anti-tank weapon. Fortunately Putin’s declarations were low key in the context of memorializing 1945’s victory and making the comparison to the war in Ukraine. Not a good look to refer to “cancel culture” and pimping traditionalism. The expected national mobilization has not yet happened. Odessa was hit by missiles early this morning.
- Russian forces will likely continue to merge offensive efforts southward of Izyum with westward advances from Donetsk in order to encircle Ukrainian troops in southern Kharkiv Oblast and Western Donetsk.
- Russia may change the status of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, possibly by merging them into a single “Donbas Republic” and/or by annexing them directly to Russia.
- Russian forces have apparently decided to seize the Azovstal plant through ground assault and will likely continue operations accordingly.
- Ukrainian counteroffensives around Kharkiv City are pushing back Russian positions northeast of the city and will likely continue to force the Russians to reinforce those positions at the cost of reinforcing Russian offensive operations elsewhere.
- Russian forces may be preparing to conduct renewed offensive operations to capture the entirety of Kherson Oblast in the coming days.
Many (me included) were wrong on predicting:
1. A declaration of victory (strategic, operation, or tactical).
2. A formal announcement of mobilization.
What wasn't said is important (especially #1) because intel said he had told his generals to produce a victory by 9 May. 2/
As a reminder, here what I thought were the early RU Strategic objectives:
-Execute regime change in Ukraine (replace Zelensky in Kyiv).
-Control Black/Azov Sea access
-Destroy Ukraine's army in the east
-Subjugate Ukraine's population
-Further Divide NATO & US 3/
And here are what I believe were the related initial Operational (military) Objectives:
-Main Effort (ME): Seize & secure Kyiv
-Secondary Effort (SE) 1: Attack to the East & West from Crimea; seize/secure Black/Azov Sea ports
-SE 2: Envelop/Annihilate UA in the Donbas 4/
-Seize Kyiv within 3 days
-Conduct large scale combined arms operations in N, E and S, with overwhelming land and air arms.
-Control Black/Azov Sea
-Secure all cities (then emplace govt supporting RU)
-Establish supply lines to support continued ops. 5/
Back to the speech.
It contained many of the old tropes/lies:
-NATO going to attack Crimea, Donbas, then Russia (a standard lie. I never heard a RU general ever say any of this...and it's counterfactual).
-Nazis are everywhere, but especially in Ukraine
-The west is weak 3/
What was NOT said, but observed:
-Troop & equipment parade seemed smaller
-No aircraft Z- pattern overflight ("bad weather;" skies were clear!); no "doomsday aircraft" (Putin's C2 bird)
-No GEN Gerasimov (rumored wounded at Izyum)
-Hammer & sickle flag behind Russian tricolor 4/
This is a unrefined analysis, but here's what I take from this:
1. Putin knows he's losing: militarily, diplomatically, economically, informationally...it will get worse?
2. Putin can't spike the ball right now; he's looking for a way out?
3. RU domestic support teetering? 5/
The next few days are critical. Here's what I'm watching:
-Call for mob
-The NE Donbas fight, especially near Sieverondonestk/Popasna; the fight south of Izyum, & the fight over control of the Donets River bridges.
-The UA counterattack NE of Kharkiv
• • •
“Like the Pacific Salmon, Russian tanks migrate long distances from the abyss of Russia to end their lives in Ukraine’s beautiful fields,” says the narrator, who has a somewhat believable British accent. “Driven by an evolutionary desire to end their life somewhere better, after reaching Ukraine, all species of Russian tank die.”
That’s not too far from reality. Since late February, the world has seen just how vulnerable Russian tanks are to shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons, such as Javelins and Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon, both of which the United States and other NATO allies have been sending to Ukraine in mass quantities.
The exact number of Russian tanks lost in Ukraine is unknown. Ukraine’s defense ministry recently claimed that 1,145 Russian tanks have been destroyed since the start of the Russian invasion in February, but Ukraine is also waging an information war, so that figure may very well be too high.
In the homage to Attenborough, our friend and humble narrator explains that this year’s migration of Russian tanks to Ukraine “was a major event for predators,” including Ukrainian special operators, Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, and even “local farmers on tractors.”
- Russian forces are likely amassing in Belgorod to reinforce Russian efforts in northern Kharkiv to prevent the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive from pushing closer to the Ukraine-Russia border.
- Russian forces near Izyum focused on regrouping, replenishing, and reconnoitering Ukrainian positions in order to continue advances to the southwest and southeast of Izyum.
- Russian forces continued their ground attacks to drive to the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts but did not make any territorial gains
- Russian troops continued to assault the Azovstal Steel Plant and advanced efforts to economically integrate occupied Mariupol into the wider Russian economy.
Russian troops may be preparing for a renewed offensive on the Southern Axis but are unlikely to be successful in this endeavor.
Main effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of one subordinate and four supporting efforts);
- Subordinate main effort- Encirclement of Ukrainian troops in the cauldron between Izyum and Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
- Supporting effort 1—Mariupol;
- Supporting effort 2—Kharkiv City;
- Supporting effort 3—Southern axis;
- Supporting effort 4—Sumy and northeastern Ukraine.
In the public imagination, the history of WWII outweighed other pages of Russian history. There is nothing unique in this. Every nation deals with the pain of history in its own way. Russian society has coped with shame thanks to the memory of May 9… 1/
The reality of Russia’s criminal war against Ukraine means that May 9 can no longer prevent Russian society from confronting its history. Propaganda, self-deception, unwillingness to know the truth, unwillingness to leave a moral comfort zone can no longer serve as excuses. 2/
The nightmare of what is happening now should make every Russian face it, own it: it all did not start on February 24, 2022, nor did it start in 2014. In our past and present, there is a willingness to use violence against entire peoples who appear disloyal to Moscow. 3/
Russian citizens can no longer pretend that the past is merely an issue for academic discussion. In our past and present, we follow a policy of colonialization in neighboring countries as well as in our own country. 4/
In our past and present, people—whether citizens of other countries or of Russia—are seen as expendable in the eyes of the authorities. The Russian (and especially the Soviet) state has never limited itself in its methods. 5/
In our past and present, the state has arrogated to itself extraordinary authority, unlimited by laws and institutions. In our past and present, expediency—defined ideologically and now arbitrarily—is valued more than human life. 6/
The means that the Soviet authorities used included summary executions, arrests, forced labor, requisitioning of food and property, attacks on civilians, hostage-taking, torture. This “past” is now the present in Ukraine. 7/
The current war has been made possible by the fact that the Russian state’s historical crimes have never been put on trial and that the perpetrators have never faced a day in court. It has been made possible by the impunity of the Russian leadership. 8/
If Russia as a national and cultural project would like be part of the global community again, then the first new institution established in Ru after the war should be a court empowered to investigate the crimes of the Russian state in all its guises, past and present. 9/9
• • •
Whatever this “new phase” can and has achieved by the end of next month, this will be it: Without an influx of new forces, Russia’s initial offensive momentum will be spent.
As a result, Putin will very soon be faced with a binary choice: Either he forgets about his initial view of what “victory” may be, “digging his heels” and going for an ugly and long war of attrition; or he chooses to double down on its offensive, taking more risks to salvage his war, in a move some would call throwing good money after bad.
This upcoming choice will significantly impact the various “end-game scenarios”:
Putin doubles down and “wins”
Russia faces a clear problem with a potentially risky solution. Moscow is carrying out a “special operation”, rather than a war, and this has a very concrete implication: In a war, Russia could call conscripts and reserves to mobilise its army to its fullest. In the framework of a “special operation”, it is limited to active duty and contract soldiers. Whatever additional contract soldiers, mercenaries and foreign auxiliaries it may find elsewhere are a band-aid on a deep and bleeding wound...
Putin doubles down and negotiates
Beyond the military logic, upping the ante might be viewed as the only way to gain enough leverage to negotiate a “good” agreement - one that ensures Crimea, the Donbas and most of southern Ukraine remain under Russian control, and that Ukraine stays “neutral”. Announcing a full-scale mobilisation could help Moscow gain whatever leverage it feels it needs, after a botched start to the invasion...
Putin doubles down and loses (potentially) big
There is a reason why Putin didn’t go for a full-scale war, beyond the fact that he clearly misjudged how much of a resistance his invasion of Ukraine would face. Going for a full-scale mobilisation exponentially raises his own domestic exposure.
There is no climbing down from grandiose objectives if Putin picks a full-scale war, particularly as it becomes an even costlier one. Limiting the operation to the Donbas after declaring a full-scale mobilisation will seem like too small of a “success” particularly if the cost attached to it is measured in tens of thousands of dead Russian soldiers...
Russia digs its heels turning the war into a “frozen” conflict
There is a more “prudent” course of action for Putin, one that I think is more likely than “doubling down” given the risks involved. To be sure, caution hasn’t exactly been the defining concept behind the Russian war in Ukraine, yet the initial failure may have led to some amount of rethinking on the Russian side.
Instead of escalating its ground war, Russia could try to simply “lock in” the territory it already secured, and “dig its heels”. Ukraine is fighting on its own territory, which militarily is an advantage. But this also means that its economy is taking far more damage than that of Russia, despite heavy sanctions targeting Moscow. The World Bank recently predicted that the Ukrainian economy would shrink by 45%. By contrast, the highest estimate suggests the Russian economy will contract by 15%...
In modern warfare, victory is an elusive concept, something Moscow is finding out in Ukraine. But when defending against an invasion, the notion of “winning” is relatively straightforward: The expulsion of the invader is the ultimate goal. The costs may be very high, and in many ways this would be a pyrrhic victory given the scope of the damage to the country, and the war crimes committed by the invading force. But contrary to a Russian victory, which appears remote unless Putin is ready to go “all-in”, the concept of a Ukrainian victory isn’t.