UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Russian forces are reportedly approaching Ivanivske to the west of Bakhmut and pushing into the northeast area of the city. The situation is bad. Some sources have suggested Ukraine’s forces have begun to withdraw toward a secondary defensive line to the west. This is unconfirmed, but there is no good news tonight.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Reports of Russian forces possibly making a breakthrough south of Bakhmut, endangering Ukrainian positions. Unconfirmed, but multiple reports place Russian forces near highway to west.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
This is Saturday’s map of the area around Kreminna. How do things look today? Pretty much the same.
Russia forces reportedly attempted to advance through those woods to the northwest of the city, driving in the direction of the town of Terny, which is on the left side of this map. That advance was reportedly repelled. As of right now, it appears that Russia did launch a large attempted move. It just … didn’t.
Further north, more fighting is reported in the Kuzemivka area just to the northwest of Svatove. Unclear if any ground has changed hands.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Not every piece of important hardware on the way to Ukraine is designed to blow a hole in something. This giant tank-rantula is going to that Ukrainian farmers (and good dogs like Patron) can be a little safer.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
I had honestly hoped no one would treat “Ukraine needs Western tanks” as an opportunity to clean out the barn. But this is making me worried.
Over the last two weeks, Russian military bloggers have insisted that Russia was launching a huge new offensive west of Donetsk that had broken Ukrainian lines and was about to plow to the west. And a new offensive in Zaporizhzhia Oblast had broken through Ukrainian lines at eight places and was about to roll to the north. And, of course, a new offensive, both south and north of Bakhmut, was about to finally push Ukrainian troops out of that pesky city so they could roll … just anywhere.
But wait! That’s not all! According to news accounts, both the U.S. and U.K. have warned Ukrainian officials that this time—unlike the fifteen previous times that Belarus was just about to get into the fight—Belarus is serious about joining the fight. Also, there are reports that Russia has massed VDV (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska, Russia’s supposedly elite airborne forces) forces near Kreminna in preparation for a counter-counteroffensive designed to recapture Izyum. Whether that comes before or after Russia’s new plan to occupy the city of Kharkiv is not clear.
It’s like the military equivalent of everything, everywhere, all at once … only with slightly fewer googly eyes and hotdog fingers. Probably.
But is there really anything to all of these warnings of new Russian offensives? No. Maybe. And also, yes.
I’m including this tweet not because I have evidence that it’s accurate, but because it’s typical of what’s been coming out over the last few days. Of all the places where Russia is said to be massing forces at the moment, the Donetsk area may top the charts for pro-Russian acounts, but it’s Kreminna where Ukrainian sources keep pointing a worried finger.
There could be good cause for this. After two months of fighting to get beyond those last few kilometers, Ukraine is literally on Kreminna’s doorstep. They currently hold positions in the forest south of the town that, at times, have included some of the city’s outer streets. Ukraine has also taken both the small villages immediately west of Kreminna and has moved toward both Pryvillya and Shypylivka to the east. But they may not be positioned well to receive a counterattack from the Russian side.
One thing that’s likely to blunt the impact of any Russian attempt to follow those arrows on the map above: The area east of Kuzmyne has been described as a sea of mud. That’s why both Kuzmyne and Dibrova are more accurately described as a “gray zone” than fully under anyone’s control. It’s nearly impossible to move armor through that area right now without their progress being slowed to the point where they’re extremely vulnerable to artillery, drones, and hand-carried weapons.
There’s also something else interesting about those Kreminna rumors, something that is shared with the news of those attacks down at Vuhledar in the south and with the latest assaults in the area south of Bakhmut: This isn’t Wagner. None of these attacks are apparently being lead by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary forces. Instead, they’re being attributed to the VDV in the north, and to the equally vaunted Guards Naval Infantry Brigade down at Vuhledar.
Does this mean that Wagner has run out of prisoners to feed the grinder? Has Moscow lost patience with Prigozhin and decided to reduce his power and influence on events in Ukraine? There’s been a huge level of infighting between Prigozhin and more traditional elements of the Russian military, so anything is possible. Wagner might actually have finally culminated in the people-bit stew down along Patrisa Lumumby Street (Hey folks, yesterday Russia was almost at the winery … again.) There are even reports that Wagner is being completely moved out of the Bakhmut area, with regular troops taking over the task of dying somewhere between the hardware store and the scrapyard.
In any case, those elite Russian units have, so far, been repeating the level of success that the VDV demonstrated back at the beginning of the invasion, when they were slaughtered in an attempt to take and hold Gostomel Airport just north of Kyiv. Those naval forces at Vuhledar in particular have come in for losses that would make you feel sorry for them … if you didn’t take one second to think about what they’re doing, or what Russia has done so far in this war.
However, on Wednesday, Russia is once again attacking at Vuhledar. Actual fighting is also reported near Kreminna, though it’s unclear if Russia is seriously trying to drive through Ukrainian positions, as earlier posts have indicated.
So … here’s that No. Maybe. And Yes.
No, Belarus is not about to join the war. It’s been extremely unlikely from the outset, and it still is. Belarus will not join unless Vladimir Putin literally has a gun to Alexander Lukashenko’s head. Lukashenko understands that if they do join, he’s as good as dead anyway. Plus Lukashenko is 68. Putin is 70. Neither one of these men is healthy. If Belarus delays long enough, one of these jackasses will no longer have to worry about it. Lukashenko may feel that time is on his side. Stalling is his major skill.
Maybe Russia is serious about pushing out of Kreminna and Vuhledar. There are strategic reasons why they want to secure the area about both these locations. Russia’s logististics are poor in the worst of times, and without these locations their options get worse. Kreminna and the highway to the north is essential for holding on to other locations — including Lysychansk and Severodonetsk — as well as making it a good deal easier to move supplies to the south. Russia would like to push Ukraine back so that it doesn’t have fire control over this area.
Vuhledar provides Ukraine with a location from which it can shell rail lines in Russian-occupied territory that have become especially vital since the railroad bridge into Crimea was taken out. Russia is likely feeling the pinch, and if it can push Ukraine back a few miles, they may be able to move materiel with a lot more freedom.
And here’s the yes. Yes, Russia still wants it all.
Russia has not surrendered its ambitions to capture and occupy all of Ukraine—it’s just lost the fight on the battlefield. Going from all of Ukraine; to just Kharkiv, Kherson, Crimea, and the Donbas; to just Crimea and part of the Donbas, wasn’t by choice. It was forced on them by Ukrainian troops acting in a coordinated counterattack that defeated Russia repeatedly and soundly on both a tactical and strategic level.
If support for Ukraine falters, Russia will advance, and despite losing over 125,000 people so far, Putin isn’t backing off. If anything, he realizes that he’s in a win-or-die situation. If advancing in Ukraine requires him to pull down the Russian military along every other mile of border and fly in every plane that’s supposed to be watching China, he’ll probably do it. Russia is still counting on simply crushing Ukraine with the strategy that has worked for them forever—crush an opponent not just under sheer numbers of troops, but with an unending willingness to accept massive losses.
To overcome that, Ukraine doesn’t just need to maintain its existing force, it needs to upgrade its capabilities technically and tactically. The first M113 troop carriers arrived in Ukraine last July. The Ukraine counteroffensive in Kharkiv began in September. This is not a coincidence. The M113 helped provide Ukraine the ability for troops to better keep up with armor and position themselves to exploit breakthroughs. It was one of several tools that allowed Ukraine to step up its game.
Now Russia is occupying a smaller area with more forces. The quality of those forces may be declining every time Russia tries to employ its VDV or naval forces, but quantity … etc. etc. Ukraine needs to step it up again. The incoming wave of new Western hardware should help give them the necessary edge against Russia.
But don’t think that Putin has surrendered the rest of Ukraine. He doesn’t think this is over. Not by a long shot.
And now, enjoy another video of the Belarus military doing its Belarus military thing.
Here are a couple of excellent visuals to help explain both where things are on a big scale, and what we’re seeing on a small scale.
On the grandest level, Russia never came close to holding all of Ukraine. However, it’s not necessary to occupy every square foot, just as it would be necessary to plant a flag on every South Dakota prairie dog village to effectively occupy the United States. In a lot of ways, that decline from March to April last year is still the important one, because that’s where Russia was forced to retreat from the area around Kyiv after seriously overtaxing its ability to sustain a large force at a distance.
By comparison, the Kharkiv counteroffensive in September was relatively small, even if it did cover 12,000 square kilometers. Russia’s exit from Kherson in November barely leaves a blip.
Now, here’s that promised look at action on a smaller scale, and why there are still plenty of reasons for concern. (Sorry for the requisite click-through of non-sensitive “sensitive” content.)
Even as Ukraine has been able to move Russia back in Kharkiv and use clever strategy and HIMARS to force a withdrawal from Kherson, that advance around Bakhmut has continued. Yes, it’s been slow. Yes, Ukraine was busy much of this time, taking much more substantial actions elsewhere. Yes, every one of those lines on this map represents thousands of Russian forces lost. However, Russia has been able to keep those lines moving. The Wagner attacks directly on Bakhmut, which get most of the attention, have been the least successful action in this area. They’ve genuinely been fighting over that same street for six months. It’s north and south of the city where the line has been grinding forward.
This is a pretty clear signal that, despite all those checklists of things sent from the West, Ukraine lacks the counterbattery firepower necessary to halt Russia’s strategy of Zerg attacks moving under massed artillery strikes. Which says a lot about why Ukraine wants aircraft, as well as why they have an unending thirst for more artillery, more precise artillery, and longer-range artillery. They want to quiet those guns.
Oryx has documented 1663 Russian tanks lost in this invasion. However, only 327 self-propelled artillery, 170 MLRS, and 161 towed artillery are on that list of documented losses. Considering how Russia is executing this war, those are probably the more important numbers. That artillery is what’s doing the real damage to both Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian forces.
Tomorrow: Assuming some major new conflagration doesn’t dominate the day, I’m going to be looking at France’s AMX-10rc along with the highs, lows, and booms of the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB).
Sometimes I’m tempted to include the videos of some Russians being captured—like the guys taken this week because they had stolen Ukrainian uniforms and were trying to infiltrate, but were still wearing Russian discount store rubber galoshes instead of proper boots. Not going to do it, but I’ll say … those videos are out there.
Yesterday, Twitter was hit with thousands of posts from some of the most followed of the MAGA crowd, all saying the same thing:
That’s right. No one has seen any video from Ukraine … on Newsmax, which apparently only mentions Ukraine when discussing how Trump could fix it with a phone call. If that’s not enough to make your skull hurt, watch the last few minutes of this video. Not only is there no war, Ukrainian refugees are crisis actors. Millions of crisis actors.