Ukrainian rock band embeds with M777 crew for their music video, Fortress Bakhmut. (With subtitles)
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
A study in techniques. First up, here’s yet another example of Ukrainian forces scoring an incredible bullseye on the open hatch of a Russian tank.
But say you just can’t get that bomb to go into the small opening. Or maybe you want to keep your drone at a higher altitude, which would make it harder to notch the target. What then?
Why then … you go fishing for Russian tanks.
We’re at least three weeks into the latest round of “Bakhmut is going to fall any moment.” Still, Bakhmut holds. In fact, it’s worth taking a look at the Bakhmut area again this morning because Ukrainian forces there have done more than just hold. In at least one area—the area that may be the most critical to sustaining the city—Russia’s line of control has been moved back significantly.
On Saturday, we looked at how the only clear access route in and out of Bakhmut is the one that runs through Khromove, directly west of the city. However, while this point on the road lies neatly between areas now under Russian fire control to the north and south, the only paved section of the road goes southwest to the town of Chasiv Yar. Last week, pro-Russian sources claimed that Wagner forces had crossed the highway south of Bakhmut, circled around the town of Ivaniske, and were in the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, which would put them in a position to completely block access in and out of the city.
As with so many claims from Russia, that never really happened. Russian forces seemed to have succeed in using artillery to take down a bridge west of Ivaniske, which is likely to restrict Ukraine’s movements along the T0504 highway for the immediate future. However, they never seemed to get a substantial force within a kilometer of the highway at any point south of the city. Then on Tuesday Ukrainian forces staged a counterattack, pushing Russian forces back at least another kilometer.
North of the city, heavy fighting continues in Krasna Hora, another location that Russia had claimed to have captured at least a week ago. As some of the fog lifts over the situation around Bakhmut, it seems that Russian forces haven’t progressed as far west of Blahodatne as had previously been thought, though Russia is definitely pressing the M03 highway west of Paraskoiivka. It doesn’t seem that Russia actually has control of this road—the only videos of movement still show a handful of Ukrainian vehicles—but they are definitely positioned to have fire control over the road and make it of very little utility to Ukraine at the moment.
Mostly what seems to have happened on the north side of the city over the last week is more of a solidification of positions. Russia hasn’t made any new significant advances, but they have apparently secured some of the locations that were captured in the push that began with the attack on Soledar. Now it appears that the lines both north and west of this small salient have become more static. And of course, on the south side is the kind of block-to-block fighting that has so long characterized Bahkmut.
Ukrainian military officials have declared that when it comes to Bakhmut, “every block is a fortress.” Likely that’s an exaggeration, but it gets the point across: Ukraine has no intention of withdrawing from Bakhmut and intends to sell every square meter at a high cost.
It’s tempting to start to wonder if Russia’s attack in the area has culminated, or if they’ve overextended their forces in an attempt to encircle Bakhmut. However, it’s too early for statements like that. Combat in the area remains intense, and forces inside the city continue to report an extremely difficult situation. There remains the possibility that Russian forces could break through defenses in a new location, allowing them to press into the city or go for that last vital highway connection. But right now, the Russian offensive at Bakhmut appears to be back to where it has been for month after month: fighting against tough defensive positions and suffering heavy losses for very small gains.
But that counterattack near Ivaniske shows that Ukrainian forces in the area aren’t just dug in and waiting. They’re aware of weaknesses in the Russian lines and are willing to extend themselves when there’s an opportunity to regain territory without engaging in a high-loss engagement. Russian forces south of Bakhmut have largely been thrown back into the area around Klishchiivka, an area Ukraine had trouble defending, even with some trenches in place. It will be interesting to see if Russia has better luck clinging to that location.
There’s no doubt that the loss of Soledar was significant, and that Russia’s advance to Blahodatne changed the situation when it comes to lines of communication in Bakhmut. However, for the moment, Ukraine is adamant that they are not going anywhere. The effort being expended in holding the area does not speak to a force that is in any way defeated.
Expect to see “Bakhmut holds” for some time to come. Hey, remember when people were convinced Bakhmut was about to fall because Russia had almost reached the “wine factory?”
I thought it might be interesting this morning to see how this looks from the perspective of the most tankie of tankies. For them, it’s not that Russia has failed to encircle Bakhmut, it’s that they have deliberately “left one side open” so Ukraine can “take all its broken equipment and retreat.”
Note that not only is Western assistance dismissed as too little, too late—there’s this peachy claim: “Even if that stuff arrives, it won’t get there for three, four, five months, and I’ll be frank with you, I’d be very surprised if anything is happening in Ukraine at that point.” So there you go: Russia to have Ukraine all wrapped up before May.
In tankie land, it’s Ukraine that has “lost most their officers and NCOs” so they’re sending in untrained and disorganized forces. Ukrainian forces have been whittled away to nothing, a ragtag few who cannot possibly stand. Meanwhile, Russia has “2,000 of their best tanks and 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles” ready to crush Ukrainian resistance at the head of massive army. Once they’re past Bakhmut, it’s all just “flat open land” that Russia will cut through like butter. Other cities, like Kramatorsk, are breezily dismissed as “indefensible.” They don’t enjoy the defensive advantages of Bakhmut, which was … which was … it doesn’t really matter.
In their minds, Russia has lost nothing, all is going as planned, and Putin’s boys are going to race back to Kyiv and beyond … as soon as they get this tiny pebble out of their shoe. Any day now. Any day now.
Meanwhile, in reality …
Overall, Russia has burned through about 40% of all operational tanks—and that’s just one military system. Russia has also lost over 2,000 of their infantry fighting vehicles. But surely not the shiny new ones that the tankies are certain exist.
There are so many different spins on the idea that Russia has already launched, is now launching, or soon will launch some new offensive that the idea has lost a lot of meaning. Two weeks ago, we complained that the handwringing over a new Russian offensive in the north, or is it south, or maybe at Donetsk, had already become so vague and ill-defined that it was was becoming more of a distraction to planning rather than a guide.
That hasn’t stopped. The Financial Times may be one of the most sensible sources when it comes to prognosticating events in Ukraine, but they’re also repeating the everything, everywhere, all at once predictions that are now apparently coming from all quarters.
When Russia’s long-expected spring offensive begins, there will be no proverbial whistle to mark the moment Russian troops attack and go “over the top”.
It will arrive unheralded, from multiple directions and probably using tactics unlike those Russia has employed so far, including a greater role for its air force, military officials warned.
On the one hand, there’s little sign that Russia is capable of any tactics other than the ones it has used at all times and in all situations throughout the invasion: High-cost, low success rate probing attacks, where those occasions when they do win are used to establish new positions for artillery. Then artillery pounds everything in reach as the process starts over.
The Financial Times report once again points to the reported massing of Russian fighters and bombers, suggesting that air support could play a major role in Russia’s next round of fighting. However, that seems to be ignoring what’s regularly happening with Russian air forces already.
Maybe the idea is that if Russia puts enough planes in the air, Ukraine would have trouble shooting them all down. They’ve tried human waves at Bakhmut. They’ve tried armor waves at Vuhledar. Maybe now Russia intends to deploy air waves.
It would definitely be something different. But that doesn’t mean it would be successful.
Meanwhile, as Western military experts fret over the threat represented by Russia’s big new offensive, there’s one man who isn’t worried. That would be giant Russian a-hole, guy who expected to be running this war, and full-time grudge-master Igor Girkin.
At the moment, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation DO NOT HAVE A SUPERIORITY OVER THE APU ANYWHERE, that would guarantee the success of a large-scale strategic offensive. … in any case, a full-scale offensive battle will very quickly and inevitably lead to very large losses and the depletion of those resources that have been accumulated as a result of previous mobilisation and other preparatory actions. And, regardless of successes, it will not lead to the complete defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (precisely because of the lack of strategic reserves).
No, no, no. It’s all over by May. Clearly Girkin hasn’t been reading his notes.
Markos and Kerry are joined by University of St. Andrews Professor of Strategic Studies, Phillips P. O’Brien. O’Brien, an expert in military history, explains how we got to where we are right now, what is unique about the world’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the parallels between the conservative movement’s isolationism in World War II and now.