By the end of the day on Tuesday, the group of Russians who launched their mini-invasion of Belgorod Oblast had finished wandering around a pair of villages and hurried back across the border. It took Russia more than a day to mount anything that looked like a response to the cross-border expedition, revealing—and not for the first time—just how weak Russian forces are at many points along their long border with Ukraine.
As far as the less than admirable members of the Russian Volunteer Corps go, it’s unclear if they actually lost any men while raising flags, driving around, and generally spreading panic from Belgorod to Moscow. However, they did lose some vehicles, including what looks to be a pair of U.S.-made Humvees. They were reportedly lost attempting to cross a defensive trench across a minor road when the eventual arrival of Russian forces in the area forced the insurgents to make a hasty retreat.
There has been some analysis suggesting that the images of the lost vehicles were staged, but a closer look makes this seem unlikely. The make, camouflage, and markings of the vehicles match those seen in images and videos released by the Russian Volunteer Corps when showing their entry into Russia. However, the group does seem to have made off with one Russian BTR-82 Armored Personnel Carrier … so that’s something. Maybe they can point at that accomplishment while explaining to Ukrainian commanders why they ran off and lost their U.S.-sourced vehicles. Whether this brief incursion will have any lasting effect on how Russia deploys its forces is still to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues as everyone on both sides of the conflict and in nations around the world waits for the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, delivered news that’s likely to have everyone anxiously hitting their refresh button on Twitter as they’re waiting for Ukraine to make its move.
“Many civilians are still under Russian occupation, and time cannot be wasted anymore,” said Budarov in an interview given during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s trip to Japan and reported on Telegram, “We already have minimum weapons and other equipment stocks in place. I can only say that it will start soon.”
There’s no denying that Budanov’s desire to get things cranking is real, or that this attitude is shared by almost everyone in Ukraine. With about 15% of the nation still occupied by Russian forces, getting Russia the hell out of Ukraine is at the top of everyone’s list with daily stories of atrocities, theft, abuse, kidnappings, and the regular bombardment of Ukrainian cities.
But there are still good reasons that Ukraine should wait at least a little longer. For one thing, an effective counteroffensive is going to be dependent on the ability of Ukrainian forces to not just advance, but to keep advancing in areas where Russian forces collapse. That means not just getting a phalanx of tanks through an opening, but supporting them with infantry, artillery, and most of all fuel, spare parts, and all the other materiels of an army that’s trying not just to win a battle, but take back territory.
That means this weather forecast for eastern Ukraine over the next week is still important.
The longer-term predictions going into early June show the area drying up. That’s a prerequisite if heavily burdened fuel trucks and support vehicles are going to follow advances in areas where mines, trenches, and blown bridges make following normal roads impossible.
Waiting until mid-June would also have this advantage:
According to the Danish minister, the transfer of 80 [Leopard 1A5] tanks should take place by June 1.
That’s over a battalion’s worth of tanks, and it’s not all. Between Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, the total delivery is expected to be around 100 tanks—two battalions’ worth. Ukrainian forces are already far along in their training on operating and maintaining these tanks. Assuming the manpower and equipment are there to fill out the ranks (and they almost certainly are), this looks to be new brigade numbers 11 and 12 ready to join the fight.
Pretty good reason for waiting a few more weeks.
Budanov is certainly right that Ukraine has the equipment to launch a counteroffensive right now if it needs to, or if it spots an opening too good to pass up. Looking at the advances around Bakhmut and at other points on the line, the immediate impression is that these are still small unit actions, often involving units the size of a platoon or smaller. There’s little doubt that Ukraine could hurl its existing forces at any point on this line, break through, and make significant gains.
Ukraine wants more than that. At Kyiv, Ukraine forced Russia to face the failings of its intelligence and the myth of its invincible army. At Kharkiv, Russia was faced with an inability to maneuver to address a rapid advance. In Kherson, Ukraine underscored the weakness of Russian logistics, generating a withdrawal from thousands of square kilometers with patience and a few precision weapons. Now Ukraine wants to do more. They want to show that Russia is incapable of winning the war in Ukraine, no matter how long the fight drags on.
It’s not enough for Ukraine to push Russian forces out of some area. They need to bring them into decisive battle and thrash them, to break them so convincingly that the futility of the invasion is clear. A few more weeks for an outcome like that … is not too much to ask.
At the beginning of this month, I said I would stop tracking Russian advances each day. Seems like I lied about that.
For most of the month, the numbers are down, and the lowest days in May had fewer attacks than any previous dates. The big spike on May 19 was primarily the closing act as Wagner struggled to take that last portion of Bakhmut, along with a simultaneous attack near Avdiivka that turned out to be a disaster for Russia. The low numbers on most recent days reflect how everyone seems to be poised for the next act.
A quick trip along the front line shows several small actions, but little that constitutes a major movement. At Bakhmut, Ukrainian armed forces report continued movement north and south of the city, but Russian sources indicate that Russia has moved in reinforcements. There are few details to show except for this scene of fleeing Russian forces pausing to drink from a muddy ditch between Bila Hora and Klishchiivka.
Other videos from the area show Ukrainian forces located across that same canal, as well as drones and artillery strikes closer to Klishchiivka.
Those trenches just west of Klishchiivka are located on a hilltop and as Russia was moving west it was thought they would represent a stronghold for Ukrainian forces. However, they were overrun within a day of the town being captured. Now those same trenches are once again in dispute with Ukrainian forces directing fire into the area from multiple directions.
Meanwhile, on the extreme left of the line, Russian sources report that Ukrainian troops have been shelling an area south of Kamyansk. As with a lot of activity along the southern front, this has been seen as shaping the battlefield for an attack toward Melitopol.
Russia has reportedly blown up an entire series of dams south of this area, flooding roads and fields north of Tokmak. That whole area is also one of the areas where Russia has done the most preparation in terms of digging trenches, laying down “dragon’s teeth,” and installing pre-built concrete pillboxes. They certainly seem to think that Ukraine is going to attack in this direction. Ukraine appears to be signaling it will attack in this direction. I have no idea if this is a deception.
North of Bakhmut, Russian forces have actually advanced near Bilohorivka, the famous town where Russia lost over 100 vehicles attempting several river crossings in May 2022. Some reports indicate that these forces came down from Kreminna, but since Ukraine still appears to be positioned in the forest south of that city, it’s likely they approached Bilohorivka more from the east than the north. In any case, reports indicate they’ve been able to occupy industrial sites east of the town.
A dozen kilometers to the south, Ukrainian forces stopped an attempted Russian advance on Spirne, with the loss of at least one vehicle to an FPV drone (see video below).
That’s the level of activity going on at most places on the front over the last 24 hours. There continues to be areas of heavy fire around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka. Elsewhere it appears there is a whole lot of hunkering going on.
Reportedly three drone boats attacked a Russian ship. What’s confusing about the Russian report on this event is that it puts the boats all the way down near the Bosphorus Strait, over 400 kilometers from the nearest point in Ukraine, which seems very unlikely. That location may be incorrect, or there may be a part of this story that is simply missing.