Sucker Play in Kherson
Russia's strategy is bad, Putin will feel bad
Western long-range weapons designed to defeat and destroy Russian armies have turned the tide of battle in Ukraine. Russian leadership has reacted to Ukrainian signalling of a counteroffensive in Kherson province by moving combat power from other points in the line. As will be evidenced by subsequent events, this has been a strategic mistake. Not that I am a prophet. I am simply paying attention to the trends that exist on the ground, such as Russian radars, ammunition dumps, and headquarters exploding in methodical fashion. A new Russian defeat is in progress and the results already speak for themselves.
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As regular readers will recall, partisan warfare has emerged as a key force multiplier. Disturbing as reports of mobile crematoria in Kherson City are, they point to how thorough the Ukrainian infiltration will be by now. If a reporter was able to enter and leave the occupied area, while Russian collaborators are increasingly unsafe, it means that Russia has very little real control of the situation. Russian soldiers already act as if they are in hostile territory, digging defenses as fast as they can.
Which is exactly what Ukraine wanted. As intended, Putin saw the threat of a defeat looming and gambled desperately in hopes of salvaging his “land bridge” to Crimea. Gamblers always double down. The telegraphing, the bridge strikes, the western media stories of a looming counterstroke, were all supposed to make Putin fill up this natural fire sack with combat power so it can be picked apart at leisure. It worked like behavioral software.
You can see the artillery transition happening in these time lapse GIFs made from NASA FIRMS data (source). Three weeks ago, Russian artillery was booming along the whole southern front. Today, Ukrainian long range fire has altered the balance of battle and shifted to a deep strike campaign. Note that some of these fires will be field burnoff after harvesting, as the FIRMS system cannot distinguish why a source of heat and light is flaring.
Russian attacks in the east have shrunk commensurate to the loss of manpower redeploying to the southern front in anticipation of the Ukrainian counterstrike. Long-range precision fire against Russian artillery logistics has changed the condition of the Donetsk front as well. The net effect is visible in the data.
Meanwhile, the patient progress of Ukrainian formations, advancing one small objective at a time rather than trying to achieve an armored breakthrough, has paid off in their efforts to carve up the Russian position in Kherson Oblast into pieces. A war of manuever is not in the offing here as the two main directions of attack are not aimed at rapid envelopment. Instead, the offensive aims to trap Russians within areas separated by rivers that can be easily cut off from one another and reduced in detail. Partisan harassments will increase. Ukrainian artillery covers all the river crossings and they can begin to deny all resupply and reinforcement any time they want.
They have not, so far, because this is a sucker play, and Putin is the sucker.
About a week ago, Russia had reportedly added 7,500-10,000 troops to Kherson in the previous two weeks. Today, some 25,000 Russians have been moved from the eastern front to the Kherson fire sack. Ukraine intends to inflict a crushing defeat on this Russian army, take thousands of prisoners, and spoil Kremlin plans for annexation of the province. Success would prevent Russia from attacking in significant force anywhere, any time soon.