Please be true please be true please be true…
As you can see in the fortifications map, there is a line of trenches just north of Robotyne, and a second line at the northern edge of town. Presumably, this would be that first line. If Ukraine has breached it, it would be the first major line breached in this counteroffensive.
There’s much fretting about Ukraine’s pace in its counteroffensive, having liberated only a handful of small settlements despite two weeks of heavy fighting.
One of the reasons is certainly Russia’s bizarre decision to counterattack all of Ukraine’s gains, fighting in the open instead of hunkering down in its extensive network of prepared defensive emplacements.
But there is something going on that gives even better insight into Ukraine’s patience, and it’s reflected every day in Ukraine’s claims of Russian kills.
Early in the war, Ukraine would claim one to two daily artillery kills. It was frustrating, seeing Ukrainian defenders and its cities under relentless artillery bombardment, yet unable to strike back at the guns and rocket launchers causing that misery.
Over time, Ukraine developed better counter-battery fire: the ability to find Russian artillery and destroy it. Specialized counter-battery radars provided by its Western partners helped locate the guns; drones pin-pointed their position; and longer-ranged Western artillery, precision-guided artillery shells, HIMARS, and M270 rocket launchers finally became a deadly response. More recently, kamikaze drones have become another tool.
Remember, Russia’s is an artillery-based army. Without it, it has no offensive or defensive juice. A wall of explosive steel is the biggest impediment to any rapid Ukrainian gains. And Russia has lots and lots of guns. It has even pulled up old 1950s vintage tanks and is using them as artillery. It knows no other way to fight.
Thing is, it works. Here is Russian artillery making life miserable for Ukrainian forces in Pyatykhatky, which we’ve written about recently (here and here).
It is suicidal to advance under that kind of barrage. NATO doctrine calls first for air superiority (which means destroying both enemy aircraft and their air defenses), then close air support to destroy that artillery, before any ground troops advance. Ukraine doesn’t have air superiority, and wouldn’t even if they had received their F-16s by now.
Russia’s air defense network is about their only thing that seems to (mostly) work this war. There is no scenario in which Ukraine gets air superiority.
Until three or so weeks ago, the average number of claimed artillery kills averaged 10.5 per day. But as the Ukrainian counteroffensive ramped up in June, we saw something new altogether. Here’s the number of claimed artillery kills by Ukraine over the last two weeks:
June 6: 25
June 7: 22
June 8: 29
June 9: 38
June 10: 16
June 11: 20
June 12: 10
June 13: 20
June 14: 19
June 15: 11
June 16: 21
June 17: 25
June 18: 14
June 19: 18
June 20: 27
June 21: 33
June 22: 23
Ukraine claims it has destroyed 617 MLRS rocket artillery launchers since the start of the war. Russia reportedly had 900. Ukraine claims it has destroyed 3,941 tube artillery. Russia reportedly had 4,900 before the war.
Do we believe these numbers? I sure wouldn’t bet on Russia only having 1,000 guns left. But what I do believe is the increased targeting and killing of those Russian guns. In those 17 days above (3.5% of the 485 days since the war began), Ukraine claimed 371 tube and MLRS artillery kills, or 8.1% of their total claims. That is more than double their previous average.
What’s happening here makes perfect sense.
Ukraine advances to new positions, ejecting Russian forces. They counterattack, allowing Ukraine to destroy valuable men and equipment out in the open. Meanwhile, Russia does what Russia does best and puts up a wall of artillery. But it’s an ambush—Ukraine has clearly devoted extensive counterbattery resources to the front, immediately striking back at those Russian guns.
This is what it looks like:
The result is mass attrition of Russia’s greatest resource. The more Ukraine degrades Russia’s ability to hamper its forces with artillery, the easier it will be to break through those prepared Russian lines.
A lack of air superiority makes the task harder, but Ukraine’s ability to improvise given the tools it has available is unmatched.
I’ll let Wagner mercenary CEO Yevgeny Prihozhin give us the latest from Zaporizhzhya:
Not going to bust out the maps as none of this is much of a change from what we’ve already covered the last several days. There’s a great deal of see-sawing going on, but as noted, this isn’t bad for Ukraine: Better to fight Russian ground forces out in the open while counter-battery operations degrade Russian artillery.
Up north, around both Kreminna and Kupyansk (remember Kupyansk?), Russian forces are on the offensive.
The general consensus is that Russia is attacking to draw Ukrainian forces away from Bakhmut, where they continue to make incremental headway in the city’s northern and southern flanks. Russia knows it can’t seriously threaten Kupyansk and Lyman, west of Kreminna. But what it can hopefully do is panic Ukraine enough that it abandons its counteroffensive efforts around their precious Bakhmut.
Logistics, logistics, logistics.
That looks like HIMARS damage we saw on the Kherson bridges before Ukraine liberated the area. But at 120 kilometers behind the front lines, that has to be a British-supplied Storm Shadow. Each one of those cruise missiles costs around $3.2 million, so that’s an expensive hole. And it looks relatively easily repairable (again, given what we saw in Kherson) unless the bridge is further degraded.
Also, it seems like the railroad bridge would be the juicier target. But anything that hinders Russian logistics to the Zaporizhzhia front is greatly appreciated.
View from a Russian drone:
View from the Ukrainians on the ground:
Holy crap that MaxxPro held up well, which makes me feel good as that’s what my son is currently riding as a top gunner in a deployment in the Middle East.
Also, the tank looks in great shape for having been hit by that Russian kamikaze drone. Looks like the damage was more from confusion or panic.
If you’re wondering what the Ukrainian soldier says in the video: “armor sex.”
Holy crap. That’s just east of the Kakhovka dam, and it’s increasingly clear that Ukraine will be able to march across this land after it fully dries out, and maybe beforehand with lighter vehicles.
I recently wrote about how Russia reconfigured the region’s geography by destroying the dam.
Personal note: This is my last update in a while. I’m headed out Friday night for two weeks of real vacation, exploring corners of my native El Salvador I’ve never seen. I won’t just be in remote areas of the country, but I’m also deleting Slack and Twitter from my phone, to force myself to digital detox in case I come across wifi somewhere. My travel companion will keep me honest.
I don’t remember ever being this disconnected in the last few decades. So it’ll definitely be weird. But I need it. So I’m hoping I come back to great news of glorious Ukrainian advances (and more Donald Trump indictments!).
Mark Sumner will continue his coverage, and he’ll be bolstered, officially, by community member RO37, who has been doing tremendous work on the war. And of course, the community’s coverage has been stellar, from people like Anieli and quoar. It’s easier for me to let go and embrace my digital detox knowing you guys will continue getting the quality war coverage you’ve come to expect at Daily Kos.