How A Ukrainian Offensive Could Finally Trigger That Formal Russian Declaration Of War
Putin cannot win, but he may not care
Ukraine has a lot of technicals, or converted civilian vehicles, by necessity. Until recently, they were the weaker power improvising weapons. Now, Russia needs improvisations much more than Ukraine, so we are seeing lots of technicals on the battlefield marked with big Zs. The example in the photo may be a stolen Ukrainian vehicle or one of many used trucks hurriedly bought up and transported to Ukraine by rail after the first offensives stalled.
It is covered in cope. It reflects the wretched state of Russian procurement and logistics. To these eyes, that technical represents the bottom of the tactical barrel for the Russian Army.
Battle has a rhythm. Practitioners gain a keen sense of operational timing. Recent hits to Russian electronic warfare capabilities fit the pattern of methodical, patient preparation in the last days (hours?) before battle. Much like a busy theater on the eve of opening night, there is no crowd to see yet, but the actual work is mostly done.
The best sources this author can develop indicate that Ukraine has at least a 3-1 manpower advantage over Russia in the south of the country, the minimum force level needed for offensive operations, and that a major offensive in the south is imminent.
At some indeterminate hour in the coming days, an armada of small and large drones will buzz over Russian positions. Ukrainian tanks and troops will not be far behind the accurate, withering artillery fire directed by these drones.
Fights will be mostly be short and sharp. Russian artillerists who resist will earn a rapid response from American counterbattery radar and howitzers. Ukrainian Air Force jets will dominate the airspace. Partisan activity has flared up in the south again and any Ukrainian fighters in the Russian rear will surely impede retreat.
We have seen how competent Ukraine has been on the defensive, hedging and holding out for the moment when they could strike back in force. What comes next will be bloody, ugly, and in all likelihood victorious.
Thousands of people are going to die. Too many of them will be Ukrainian fighters. But the idea is that enough of them will be Russians, with thousands of prisoners besides, to cut a path to Crimea and extend the Ukrainian anti-ship missile envelope over the Black Sea, and the Azov, perhaps even threaten the precious naval base at Sevastopol.
It is almost summer. Time for thornbushes to bloom.
Free Ukraine is a triangular salient pointing east. Each Russian offensive effort since the Battle of Kyiv has been progressively less ambitious, attempting to encircle and cut off smaller and smaller pieces of the salient. Attacks in recent days have focused on the narrow end where Ukraine has a last foothold in Luhansk. Despite a tremendous weight of fire, Russian progress even here has been slow and limited.
Meanwhile, Russian troops are clearly bracing for impact in the south. Reports of preeemptive bombardments, intensive fortification, and even deliberate flooding indicate they anticipate a large-scale Ukrainian attack soon.
By holding out more than 80 days, the Azovstal defenders accomplished their mission of tying down Russian BTGs (battalion tactical groups) longer than anyone had anticipated. It should not escape the reader that the now-famous steel factory-turned-fortress is in southern Ukraine, on the shores of the Sea of Azov, straddling the “land bridge” to Crimea that Vladimir Putin needed so desperately.
Ukraine will now endeavor to retake that southern region from him, and collapse the southern front, and (they hope) reach Crimea by winter. Liberating Kherson will be a key early objective. The far end of the salient is unlikely to see major Ukrainian operations for a while because Kyiv sees their key to victory in Crimea. It is one reason why vows to liberate the peninsula abound in official and unofficial Ukrainian public statements, whereas Luhansk and Donetsk are described as future goals.
Sinking or seizing the Black Sea Fleet, and reopening Odessa to global maritime trade, is the first order of business in making Ukraine a self-sustaining nation again. More on that point in a future edition.
It is also worth noting that Russian air sorties reportedly dropped by 100-150 a day after the surrender of Azofstal began. Russian air regiments are sorely in need of a long operational pause. Any call for interdiction or close air support will achieve the opposite.
One final point bears some focus. Recently, we have seen Putin demur and deflect from a formal declaration of war that would allow a real national mobilization. A new Russian army is needed right away and will be needed in any case, soon enough. Prior to Putin’s 9 May speech, this author speculated that the Russian autocrat might simply announce a ‘Special Mobilization’ for his ‘Special Operation.’ Instead, a “covert mobilization” has been reported, with high levels of resistance to conscription notices and firebomb attacks on recruiting centers.
Nevertheless, Putin is at least as aware of what is coming as any Substack writer. At this point, he may even be counting on it.
Late last week, news emerged of a self-appointed governor of Kherson Oblast declaring a petition to have Putin decree the territory a part of Russia immediately. This is of course silly propaganda with a puppet quisling. It has zero democratic validity.
However, such a decree regarding any territory that Ukraine subsequently attacks would technically reverse invader and invaded. Look, Ukraine is invading “us!” Why, this means war! We are free to defend ourselves now!
This is how the Putin clique loses a war to Ukraine and remains in power anyway: by hyping the Ukrainian threat — again! — in order to militarize society and the state.
Except now the Kremlin is not pushing a ludicrous nuclear fairy tale. They are under attack from an actual, real, superior conventional military power. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
War is a material endeavor, not just a moral one. Ukraine now holds the advantage in both dimensions. Moscow is out of time to stop the shifting balance of forces. A new Russian army will likely be twice as zealous but half as competent as this one and take six months to build, anyway. Ukraine is ready right now, indeed they are spoiling for a fight and just waiting for the moment of their choosing.
Putin probably also knows this. It may not matter to him or his oligarchy. A glorious defeat in Ukraine will do just fine to name him a saint. One hundred thousand Russian martyrs in a doomed holy crusade for the Russian Greek Orthodox church is not too much. Perhaps no price in blood or treasure can deter the St. Petersburg mafia from reinforcing failures and calling them victories. Maybe that is the point, anymore.