Prigozhin's Potemkin 'Victory' Parade Marches Into A Fire Sack Called Soledar
No salt will be mined there
Under pressure to produce results, Yevgeny Prigozhin has gambled his last offensive strength on a small city called Soledar, named for its salt mine. Salt profits do not justify the tens of thousands of casualties being inflicted on the Russian force this way. Even “Putin’s chef” is not such a gourmet as to fight a war for salt.
Soledar is yet one more random Donbas objective that certain Russians have decided is some sort of victory, based on something something quick tell the boss something. In Russia, they call this vranyo. It is the culture of lying which says that the objective is already conquered when you are still taking casualties from enemy direct fire. Which means they send in the next wave, because things are going so well.
The next day, when the enemy is hitting you with everything they have from every side, things are going so well that another wave is justified. And another. Because things are going so darn well.
Soledar is in fact a death trap right now. American artillerists would call it a fire sack. If organized Ukrainian resistance is indeed entirely removed from the city, that means Ukrainian weapons will be firing freely on everything that moves, and whatever new bulge in the “control lines” you see on a map will be an area smaller than the range of any large artillery weapon, enfiladed by fire from three directions.
There is nowhere to hide in Soledar. A great majority of wounded Russians will die of exposure before evacuation. This is not what victory looks like, no matter what you see on Twitter. Try being inside Soledar, right now, and then talk to me about whether Russians have the place “under control.”
Artillery conquers, infantry occupies. Russians are occupying Soledar. Ukrainians are conquering them in Soledar.
“If Russian troops have not taken Bakhmut by Christmas morning, they never will.” I said that more than a month ago. The Battle of Bakhmut indeed culminated in disappointment during the depths of December.
Terrain and weather do not allow for much armored support in this country. Tanks are mainly being used for indirect fire, in other words as artillery. Infantry must advance through open ground, and upon seizing any objective, it must be supported and reinforced by troops advancing over open ground.
It looks like the holocaust of the Western Front because this arrangement is perfect for artillery. It looks like the blasted wasteland of the Somme because the same kind of battle is happening. An artillery battle.
“Progress” is almost always illusory in this sort of strategic picture.
Prigozhin seems to have gone too far with his embarrassing complaints about shortages of artillery shells. Analysts are guessing, of course, but this seems to be a consensus guess.
Vladimir Putin reappointed Gen. Aleksandr Lapin this week, possibly a sign of displeasure with Prigozhin. Lapin had been removed from the regional command after criticism by the Wagner Group boss and his “musicians” in the wake of Ukraine’s Kharkiv offensive last year.
Russian sources have complained more generally of a “monstrous shell hunger in artillery.” Perhaps Prigozhin now has a real shell supply problem, in that he might not get any more shells at all unless he wins some sort of victory in Donbas — even a flimsy, temporary win on which he can hang his proverbial hat.
A Potemkin victory.
As I keep saying, Ukraine has an attrition strategy to deal with this Russian mobilization wave over the winter. Ukraine wants to whittle away as much combat power as they can and strike back when the ground is frozen and Russia is weakest.
Russian mobilization failures, such as the training and doctrine failure that led to the Makiivka strike, lean right into that strategy. So does a headlong, human-tsunami style attack on an insignificant objective like Soledar.
It was thanks to a degradation by fire in Kherson that Russian troop density in Kharkiv was too low to stop a breakthrough and envelopment. It was that defeat which spurred Putin to finally pull the trigger on conscription.
Bakhmut and Soledar have brought that moment of numerical vulnerability, when the mathematics of Lancaster’s square foreshadow collapsible armies, much closer, much quicker. Rumors of another conscription wave in Russia may reflect this reality being appreciated in the Kremlin, too.
No salt will get mined in Soledar. If it is even still in Russian hands in a month, the town will be a charnel house of ten thousand dead Russians at a minimum. According to some estimates, Prigozhin has already achieved this. Hooray?
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