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Ukraine Is Still Crossing The Dnipro In Slow Motion, With Or Without Your Kind Assistance
They are too busy making history for defeatism, thanks
Russian armed forces are running out of time to stop Ukraine from bridging significant forces across the Dnipro. It is increasingly likely that the Kremlin will instead choose to defend the gates of Crimea along the ‘high ground’ in southern Kherson Oblast — which, to be clear, is just ten meters above sea level. Russian defenses here are nowhere near as deeply defended as the Russian lines in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The minefields have not been seeded as deep.
Ukraine has been carving out a space in which to assemble forces capable of breaching and flanking operations on the left bank. Each side is racing to build up forces in this Battle of the Dnipro. As I explained on 1 November, Ukraine is content to figure out their own way to victory without waiting or relying on furtive western politicos for permission. Bold action has a way of silencing sour talk in foreign capitals. If Ukraine is able to expand its division-sized force already on the left bank into an offensive threat before Russia can fortify their lines effectively, no number of pundits can save Vladimir Putin from a critical defeat.
Putin replaced Col. Gen. Oleg Makarevich in October, reportedly due to his failure to communicate the truth of the situation on the ground in Kherson. Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky is reputedly in charge, which means that Putin is directing matters from the Kremlin in the typical Russian ‘command push’ style. Teplinsky is competent, but he has inherited a situation in which Russian control of the river bank is already badly compromised.
Ukraine is reportedly fighting to expand the width of the left bank they hold to the west, due south of Kherson City. The more bridging points engineers create, the more places they can cross convoys over, dispersing the potential targets for Russian long-range fires and avoiding high-casualty strikes by heavy weapons, such as gliding bombs. Establishing air defense and electronic protection systems on the southern bank has been a key part of this campaign.
To a degree, Russian habits of bombarding civilians in northern Kherson have pulled Ukrainains across the river to force Russian defenders back. “Ukrainian troops pushed the invaders three to eight kilometers away from the Dnipro on its left bank in Kherson region, so Russian mortar fire is no longer a threat to the right bank settlements,” Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Operational Command South, said this weekend.
“Tentatively, the distance varies from 3 to 8 kilometers, depending on the specifics of geography and landscape across the left bank. Now their mortars can’t hit the right bank, so we see it as a certain achievement," the spokesperson said. Hemeniuk indicated that Russian artillery is pounding away, and getting pounded, losing between 4 and 10 artillery systems per day. Ukraine has enjoyed counterbattery dominance in the theater all year. It is a crucial component of any river crossing operation in the modern era.
Russian counterattacks are reportedly getting stopped by fire on approach. At the end of October, ‘Romanov light’ wrote on Telegram that Ukrainians were using first person viewer (FPV) drone munitions “for mine ambush — the drone flies up and carefully lands in an ambush — waits for fighters to appear within the range of the explosive. The enemy conducts surveillance from another copter,” he writes.
Drone observation is crucial to the Ukrainian strategem. On Friday, another Russian Telegrammer revealed a recent disaster in which “76 Russian servicemen were killed during an attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces” when the commander “decided to use them as a ‘distraction maneuver.’” He reports “the command of the 35th separate motorized rifle brigade of the 41st combined arms army of the Central Military District received a combat order to march with the forces and means of two battalions” as a diversionary effort.
This order was initiated by the headquarters of the Dnipro group with the aim of “misleading the Armed Forces of Ukraine” regarding the true intention of the command of the Russian Armed Forces in this area. Based on the order received, the personnel of the 1st motorized rifle battalion of the 35th Motorized Rifle Brigade were loaded into a vehicle without proper equipment and, as part of two columns, left for the Gladkovka area. While in Gladkovka, both columns of the 1st MSB were struck by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as a result of which 76 servicemen were killed.
Because “this fact is carefully hidden,” the “obviously criminal order from the group’s command, due to which the military personnel found themselves in the role of a living target” is not being investigated. This incident appears to have involved a HIMARS strike, demonstrating good battlefield awareness and excellent response time on the part of Ukrainians.
Substantial Russian losses can be inferred both from Ukrainian claims as well as high-value targets being destroyed. ‘Two Majors,’ another Telegram reporter, complained yesterday that thermobaric TOS-1 systems are unable to approach Ukrainian positions without being targeted by ‘Baba Yaga’ drones, which are actually repurposed agricultural drones used as tactical bombers. Thermobaric weapons are some of the most horrific of the war, but the system has a short range, and the ammunition tends to explode at the slightest excuse.
The Telegram author ‘Two Majors’ is eager “to confirm the words about the increased threats associated with the intensified use of this type of equipment” in Kherson. Although “most often such drones are shot down by small arms using thermal imaging sights,”
this Nazi pepelats [?] somehow flew over the Dnieper, took a position above our TOS and was able to calmly bomb. That is, despite the strengthening of anti-drone measures, questions regarding the organization of countering UAVs, electronic warfare and the destruction of operators’ operating areas remain.
‘We Hear From Ioannina,’ our fourth Russian milblogger, reported another example of Ukraine attriting Russian formations ten days ago and indulged in some doomcasting. Here is a run-on sentence for the war correspondence histories about a high-ranking officer who got the rare privilege of casualty evacuation from the Kherson battlefield only to die in Moscow. Emphasis mine:
Just how quietly and inaudibly for the mass reader of these our Internets truly significant unpleasant events take place, which then, having gained a critical mass, will collapse the situation, can be assessed by the fact that our crackling Z-telegram passed by the news that November 8, 2023 At the age of 44, the Chief of Staff of the 810th Separate Order of Zhukov Marine Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet, Colonel Yan Aleksandrovich Sukhanov, born November 25, 1977, died in Moscow at the Burdenko Hospital.
The 810th, which is no longer a secret to the enemy, is currently being cut down precisely near Krynki and arrived there as one of the first “fire brigades”. The chief of staff of a brigade is not a company commander, who can be killed somewhere on the front line. The armchair Z-community can thus roughly imagine how tightly the enemy controls the space around the bridgehead from the air.
Last Thursday, ‘Ioannina’ pronounced the situation “discrediting” to Gen. Teplinsky. He complained that “from the right bank there is such a stream of fire of all types that these two companies,” which is all that Russian propaganda can admit to exist on the left bank, cannot be dislodged, even though they are supposedly “dispersed along a front of about 6-7 km” and “need to sleep at some point and carry cargo from boats.”
Worse, the prospect of “diverting forces from a neighboring direction is, to put it mildly, alarming.” In the earlier post, ‘Ioannina’ noted that the Ukrainian bridgehead is “pulling [in] and destroying as many of our combat-ready units as possible from other areas, for example from near [Robotyne], from where the fastest ‘firemen’” were dispatched to oppose the crossing. Indeed, the talk of Ukrainian counteroffensive ‘failure’ seems slightly premature, since they have resumed small-scale attacks around Robotyne in the last week to take advantage of reduced Russian reserves in that oblast.
‘Ioannina’ seems to think it is working. Ukraine, “on the Dnieper, in parallel with the summer attempts to break through to Tokmak in the neighboring direction, methodically undermined the defenses along the coast, parasitizing on stupid attempts to quickly eliminate bridgeheads,” he writes. Ukraine always prefers to defend against Russian counterattacks if they can, as the attrition ratio is almost always in their favor.
Russian propaganda is dismissing the threat but ‘Ioannina’ wants everyone to take it seriously, or else Ukraine might just break Russia’s grip on the south. “How you can draw any other conclusion from the constantly growing scale of enemy landing operations in the same area, I don’t know,” ‘Ioannina’ cries.
Some Russians are already reaching the limits of their morale. “Near the settlement of Krynky, (Kherson oblast), about 20 servicemen of the Russian occupation forces from the 144th separate motorized rifle brigade of the Russian armed forces deserted from their combat positions,” the Ukrainian general staff reported yesterday. A trickle, for now, perhaps, but the Dnipro is known for flooding quite suddenly.
As I explained during the earliest phase of Ukrainian offensive operations this April, the idea in Kyiv is to stretch Russia’s available combat power along as much frontage as possible, then make it break locally, inducing local collapse. Crossing the Dnipro, or at least threatening to cross it in force, was always a potential game-changing part of this strategy.
‘We hear From Ioannina’ has acknowledged the dangerous state of Russian reserves in Kherson. If they “are properly drawn into the fight in this area, a blow will follow in another place, where the enemy will find a weakness that will give quick success with minimal losses, which can be converted into attracting and disintegrating our last reserves, which are being transferred to this area for ‘attacks outright,’” he says, emphasis original. Crimea has served thus far as the reserve area for southern Kherson, but more Ukrainian forces coming across the river will force the Kremlin to make tough decisions.
Russian casualties appear to be at a new all-time high. “In these battles” in Kherson, “we will again lose a bunch of experienced people, whom we might not have lost if the country’s leadership had soberly assessed the situation back in the spring of 2022,” ‘Ioannina’ writes.
“Time after time, delaying the adoption of the inevitable ‘unpopular measures’” — real wartime mobilization rather than quasi-mobilization in a ‘special operation’ — “as much as possible, time after time they are still taken at the moment when the benefits from [conscription] are minimal, and the ‘political losses’ (and the military losses incurred before this) are maximum,” he warns.
Ukraine thus still enjoys a “window of opportunity” for “permanent mobilization and Western assistance” to “give [them] the desired advantage for large-scale movements of the front” — they still have time to make Russian lines collapse significantly before Putin can hold an election in 2024 and claim a mandate for full-scale mobilization.
The Dnipro crossing “was very poorly covered by very weak troops,” ‘Ioannina’ complains. Russian generals exhibited contempt for enemy capabilities and overestimated their own defenses: “on paper the positions were much stronger than in reality.”
Reports of Ukrainian armor crossing the river point to another difference between Kherson today and Zaporizhzhia over the summer: Russian helicopters are not as present, so they cannot stop attacks with armor quite as effectively this time around. This changed state in local conditions was brought on by the belated arrival of ATACMS and their immediate prioritization against Russian helicopters one month ago. More than a dozen were damaged or destroyed in that first strike. Forced to base helicopters in Russia proper to park them out of range, and refuel them en route to the battlefront, Russian pilots are now taking longer flights. They have less loitering time to support troops on the ground.
Notably, Kherson is the furthest point from any viable helicopter base, now, thanks to ATACMS, a missile system designed in the 1980s to do this exact sort of job.
Ukraine is still very capable of finding a victory this year. What’s more, they are able to do it at the very moment when the political fortunes of the Kyiv regime seem, falsely I think, to be at an an all-time ebb. Western leaders deserve criticism for the halfhearted, staggered, parsimonious way in which they have withheld crucial combined arms kit from Ukraine for fear of enlarging the war. Putin has used their slow-walking, red-line respecting, oh-so-cautious and nuanced procrastination to fan the flames of war everywhere instead of suffering the defeat Ukraine is determined to give him.
Nevertheless, breakthrough is close. Perhaps a wave of political resolve will follow. Americans, and Europeans too, have observed the Churchillian dictum that a democratic society will eventually do the right thing once it has tried everything else. Russians do not actually have magical winter-fighting in their DNA. Vladimir Putin does not actually enjoy inexhaustible manpower, nor is his sovereign wealth fund infinite. Western acts of determination — signals to the Kremlin — that reckon with the failures of their ammunition policy, and military-industrial policies more broadly that underlie Ukrainian material shortages, are still capable of having the appropriate impact on the Kremlin.
Perhaps it will be a merry Christmas, though probably not for Russian Telegrammers.
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