UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Yeah, it’s sensitive content because she burned the ears off pro-Putin listeners.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
A whole series of strange reports concerning Russian forces leaving Nova Kakhovka, which is across the Dnipro, and about 50km up river, from the city of Kherson. Why Russia would do this is hard to say, as it would leave Crimea open to a direct attack, but the Ukrainian military issued almost simultaneous reports saying that Russian forces had left Nova Kakhovka, and that Nova Kakhovka was still under occupation by Russia. So I don’t know…
Maybe they’re testing a messaging system and someone pushed the wrong button. Like that time there was an incoming missile announcement for Honolulu.
This is a story that PBS ran at the beginning of August 2022.
Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military and local officials said. …
Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been considered key targets of Russia’s ongoing offensive across Ukraine’s east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance on the regional hubs of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
Almost eight months later, Russia has not taken either Bakhmut or Avdiivka. In fact, the most remarkable thing about Bakhmut these days may be how little we’re talking about Bakhmut. There’s not just one road bringing supplies and reserves in and out of Bakhmut right now, there are several. Russian forces aren’t just moving slowly in their efforts to occupy the remainder of the city—in many areas, they have stopped. Or are even going in reverse.
Perversely enough, because the situation at Bakhmut has somewhat stabilized, it’s possible to get very detailed about where Russian forces are still advancing, where Ukrainian forces are pushing them back, and where forces from both sides are currently located. Thanks to dedicated work by hundreds if not thousands of online OSINT folks exchanging videos and picking out details from exchanged text messages.
If you want to see some of the most detailed work in putting together a sequence of events through geolocating buildings and landmarks in videos and images, check out this thread from @Danspiun. To understand what’s happening in the last week, start with post number 255. Just to give you a sense of just how detailed the information is in this thread and others like it, here’s a single post on Russian positions at the southwest corner of Bakhmut.
This puts together video from Ukrainian soldiers running up a road, Wagner Group videos of sniping from a building, drone video of buildings being hit by artillery, another video of a single soldier walking inside that building, reports from the Ukrainian Army General Staff, and a lot of careful plotting of positions. And this is just one of several such threads.
For guys like me, who are shoving around control points in a bunch of yellow and red polygons on a map, it’s a godsend. It’s also little short of amazing, both in terms of the volume of information that’s out there and the hours of work being put into contextualizing that stream of images. There are always things I can’t figure out or pieces that don’t snap together (the morning report includes Ukraine fighting back a Russian assault near Klishchiivka, but how they can they be near Klishchiivka?). There is supposed to have been a small counteroffensive over the last day in the same area of southwest Bakhmut covered by these images, but what can be put together is pretty darned good.
Maybe even more importantly, the stream of videos and still photos captured in many of these threads gives an insight into the soldiers and situations that is never quite captured in the headlines, or even by the best photographers.
Of course, when things are in serious motion, the quality of the information can begin to break down. That’s what happens when you see one of those days where I shrug about the fog of war, admit that I don’t know what’s happening, and just cross my fingers for Bakhmut. Big changes still show up on days like that, but these little details are lost in a swarm of motion.
Anyway, here’s what Bakhmut looks like at the moment, as best I can assemble it.
Roughly half the city itself is either under Russian control or has some presence of Russian forces. That’s up from about 30% a week ago. Wagner Group forces continue to pick away at blocks at the north end of town near a series of warehouses, and at the south end of town in a residential area.
Ukraine has apparently repelled Russian attempts to take control of the road through Khromove and the road through Ivaniske to the southwest, but Russia is able to direct artillery and anti-tank weapons at vehicles on both these routes. Recently constructed dirt roads in between are taking the bulk of the traffic, even in mud season.
It’s worth noting that the area of genuine Ukrainian control along that Khromove road, from about the location of Khromove itself to the big bend in the road to the west, is actually right at the road line. The area north of the road is not so much in dispute as it is a no man’s land that both sides have difficulty crossing. It’s not impossible, though, as that first video above shows. You could draw the yellow line right along the north side of the road, and it would be accurate in a way, except that Russian troops aren’t actually able to reach this line at this point.
Maybe the most worrisome thing is that the one area where Russia does seem able to advance is along the M03 to the northwest toward Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. These are the genuine strategic targets mentioned back in that PBS article last August, and that’s the direction Russia has been able to make the most progress.
At this point, it’s hard to say whether Russia is extending a salient along this road by bypassing Bakhmut, or whether Bakhmut has essentially become a salient through near encirclement. Both positions appear vulnerable. Anyway, before we go, one more view of Zelenskyy visiting Bakhmut on Wednesday.
Now, what about that other city that got mentioned in the PBS article almost eight months ago? What’s happening at Avdiivka?
Avdiivka is a smaller city than Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of around 30,000. But at this point it looks a lot like its bigger sister thanks to the remodeling efforts of Russian artillery. In some ways, it also looks surprisingly like Bakhmut on a map.
Just as with Bakhmut, Russia spent months hammering Avdiivka head on, attempting and failing to take the city. Just like with Bakhmut, Russian efforts in the last couple of months have switched to pressing forward both north and south of Avdiivka. There is almost no town or village on the border with Russian forces in this area for which multiple assaults were not reported in the last day.
Unlike Bakhmut, Russian forces don’t seem to be trying to worm their way into the city even though they now surround Avdiivka on three sides. Instead, they are pressing forward toward the rail line on the north and toward a series of villages on the south that would gain them access to the road through Orlivka, which is the equivalent of that “road of life” for Avdiivka.
As with Bakhmut, the concern is that Russia has finally rubbed two brain cells together and determined that the way to deal with Avdiivka is to keep hammering it with artillery while moving most of the forces around the city. They can always come back for it when it’s buried in red.
However, there’s one other way in which Avdiivka is like Bakhmut: In the last week, there has been a lot of talk about both of them being the centers of a new Ukrainian counteroffensive.
On the surface, this makes no sense. Why direct a counteroffensive at the area where Russia has most of its forces concentrated? There are hundreds of kilometers of front line out there, including areas where Ukraine knows that Russia has stripped forces to bolster the attacks and Bakhmut and Avdiivka. Why not go for those weaker areas? Why go right into the place with the greatest concentration of Russian forces of all types?
This appears to be why.
It may be that Ukraine is not just seeking a battle, they are seeking a decisive battle. Maybe they don’t want to take some piece of Zaporizhzhia, or a chuck out of Luhansk, only to see Russian forces reposition behind some of the defensive lines they’ve been building for months.
If they can engage the Russian forces at Bakhmut and Avdiivka, if they can crush them there before they can retreat, then it matters little how many miles of trench Russia has put in the beaches of Crimea. Maybe Ukraine doesn’t want to be Hannibal, wandering around their own country for years, but never coming to that final confrontation. Maybe they want to be Scipio, sowing salt into the whole idea of any possible Russian presence in Ukraine.
Russia has no second army. It is all in. Its forces are fully engaged, and both the bulk and the best of those forces are in a small area of the eastern front, from Avdiivka to Bakhmut. Hit them there, take them out, and what happens next is a foregone conclusion.
General Sirskyi is right to note that the only Russian forces fighting well along this line are Wagner forces. He’s also right in saying that “they are losing significant strength and are exhausted.” Still, this is a very high risk, high reward strategy.
Maybe this will happen. Maybe maintaining Bakhmut and Avdiivka at all costs against months of bombardment and assault is one fantastic feint to distract from the real direction of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
We’re probably going to know soon.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a traveling man. This morning he was in Kherson Oblast visiting towns and villages that had been along the front lines of fighting.
It’s hard to know at this point how long Zelenskyy will remain in office after this war is concluded. But for now, it’s hard to believe that there is anyone better for this job.