No matter what direction Ukraine heads, they will have to hit Russian defenses head on, and that won’t just be costly in lives—it creates the kinds of Murphy’s Law scenarios that could prove catastrophic. And Ukraine doesn’t have much experience with complex NATO-style combined arms maneuvers; it’s just beginning to learn those tactics in recent months. Their traditional Soviet-style doctrine is dated and, as Russia has shown, disastrously ineffective.
Meanwhile, Western and allied armor is still streaming into Ukraine.
We don’t know when that video was taken, but that doesn’t look like winter to me. It’s at most a few weeks old, which means Ukrainians are either still training on these new vehicles or they just arrived in Ukraine. Other gear is still in transit. Denmark donated 100 old-generation Leopard 1 main battle tanks, and the first 80 aren’t slated to be delivered until June 1.
All of these weapons and units would be invaluable in the counteroffensive. Why rush them to the front lines when there is no imminent deadline for Ukraine to launch it?
At the start of the war, we marveled at Russia’s inability to attack with any force larger than 1-2 Battalion Tactical Group (BTG), around 1,200 men at most. In hindsight, I don’t remember seeing any attacks even a fraction of that size. At most, Russia would attack with 10-20 vehicles, less than half the 50 vehicles of a full-strength BTG. As much fun as we had mocking Russia’s ineffectiveness, we never saw Ukraine attack in force either.
With at least nine new combat brigades preparing for the counteroffensive, each of them around 5,000 men large, it would behoove Ukraine to drill large-scale attacks. That means integrating artillery, armor, infantry, engineering, electronic warfare, surveillance and combat drones, and bolstering the long-tail logistics efforts that will keep that spearhead moving. The engineers are particularly important as they'll be breaching Russia’s defenses. They can’t possibly drill those maneuvers enough.
Meanwhile, keep Russia guessing. Is the attack today? Tomorrow? Next week? Keep drone-dropping grenades on their heads, hitting them with artillery, attriting their forces, blowing up their supply and command and control centers, sapping their morale. Bakhmut? At some point, Russia will take the 10% of the city still held by Ukraine, but so what—Ukraine can hold the high ground west of the city, raining artillery on any Russian effort to break out like we’ve seen around Vuhledar. And if Wagner continues to advance 100-200 meters a day, big deal. Ukraine can well afford to lose 3-5 kilometers per month. In a successful counterattack, they’ll take that in an hour.
This isn’t novel advice for Ukraine. “Apparently, they still have a feeling that they do not have everything to start successfully an operation,” newly minted Czech President Petr Pavel said in an interview with The Guardian. “Because it might be a temptation to push them, for some, to demonstrate some results. It will be extremely harmful to Ukraine if this counteroffensive fails, because they will not have another chance, at least not this year.” Not only is Pavel a former general and war hero, but he was the chair of the NATO Military Committee, the alliance’s top military advisory board.
In the end, all our jabbering means nothing. Ukraine will attack when they feel they’re ready to attack. The moral of this story is that if Ukraine decides to wait another month or two, that’s not a bad thing. Outside of meager gains in Bakhmut, Russia has lost all offensive capability, and there’re only so many trenches they can dig. Eventually they run out of manpower to occupy them.
With more western gear coming in, more artillery shells being delivered, and more training for the new storm brigades, chances for that all-important breakthrough increase dramatically. The wait may suck, but victory will be sweet, no matter when it arrives.
Is there anything more pathetic than a terrified and paranoid Putin afraid to attend his country’s biggest national holiday in person? He’s pretty much attending it via Zoom, and that’s just sad.
A day after his bid to exit Bakhmut failed, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group mercenaries launched a fierce attack on the remaining Ukrainian pockets in the city, backed by a massive artillery barrage. So much for “shell hunger.” I’m writing this Sunday night, so I’ll update later Monday with the results of this attack.
Those high rises are in the last little Ukrainian-held corner of Bakhmut. Russia really wants their big victory—Ukraine’s 58th largest city—for their big Tuesday parade, and it looks like they’ll have to flatten all those buildings to make it happen.
Eh, Putin doesn’t care. All he wants is his trophy to parade via his Zoom link on Tuesday.