Ukraine: Thunder Run to Kupyansk
Stabbing at Russian Logistics
With the core of Russian combat power squeezed into the Kherson fire sack, Russian forces have been spread thin, and Ukraine has taken advantage, achieving surprise with a deep offensive against Russian logistics. If successful, Bakhmut and Izyum will be cut off from supply by railroad. If that happens, the Russian front in the east of Ukraine could collapse, reducing all their gains in that region of the country since April.
Russian Telegram channels admit to the extent of Ukrainian victory over the last 48 hours. Shock and demoralization are evident. Most of their artillery has been destroyed by counterbattery fire and much of their armor has been destroyed or captured. Russian pilots refuse to loiter over the battlefield for fear of Ukrainian tactical air defense, or else cannot do so because they are operating from airfields beyond HIMARS range.
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Balakliya was surrounded yesterday. Since then, social media channels have filled up with videos of Russian prisoners. Poorly-dug trenches, soldiers who appear to have been sleeping when they were shot in their holes by Ukrainian infantry, the abandonment of gear and vehicles — all of this imagery speaks to the indiscipline and lack of training in Russian formations.
Ukrainians, by contrast, are showing remarkable discipline and they have clearly trained rigorously for an aggressive mission. As of this writing, they are already reported to be outside of Kupyansk, having advanced along the P07 highway. If true, the Ukrainian pincer has moved 76 kilometers, or about 47 miles, in just three days, an impressive advance in any war, let alone this one, which has been so characterized by immobility.
More to the point, if Ukraine surrounds Kupyansk, the most important logistical artery in Russian-held east Ukraine will be cut. As we have seen, the Russian Army lacks enough truck support to replace railroads as a means of getting all that artilery ammunition to the front. At the very least, if this offensive succeeds, sham referenda for Russian annexation in Donetsk and Luhansk will be impossible.
Early reports of Russian soldiers surrendering in large numbers, or crossing the Dnipro on makeshift rafts to escape encirclement, suggest that the Kherson fire sack is being reduced. Steady pressure and a relentless Ukrainian dominance of the tactical air and artillery dimensions are squeezing key cadres. So many elite units are caught in the Kherson trap that it will take years for Russia to rebuild them, should they be annihilated.
Simultaneous defeats in the east and south would leave Russia without any spare combat power left to throw into battle, anywhere. Clearly, the assumption in Kyiv is that Vladimir Putin will continue to refrain from invoking full wartime mobilization powers, so Ukraine’s path to winning back Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea, and the shores of Azov lies through a systematic reduction of the Russian Army.
So far, that plan appears to be working. Perhaps most ominous from the Russian perspective, however, is the appearance of partisans in the east. Areas that had seemed under their control for eight years are increasingly unsafe to be Russian.
For more than a week now, officials in Ukraine have signalled that the Kerch Strait Bridge is being left intact so that Russians can leave the Crimean peninsula. “Crimea is Ukraine” has become more than a slogan, it is now a genuine possibility, one that Russians apparently believe, since they are leaving in droves over that bridge.
Residents of the occupied territories have reportedly been subject ot brutal treatment, forced conscription, and much else for the last eight years, which is a recipe for resentments. These flyers not only communicate the imminence of liberation, they create a hostile psychological space for Russian military personnel. A blooming thornbush, Ukraine is becoming difficult to occupy.
Residents in “liberated villages” do in fact seem to be welcoming liberators, so far. That is consistent with the recent rise of partisan activity and suggestive that Ukraine may have developed those capabilities further to the east as well. So many Russian-appointed administrators of occupied territories are either dying of car bombs now, or else safe in Russia, that governance from Moscow is just about impossible.
To be clear, unrestricted celebration is still unwarranted. There is a great deal of fighting ahead. The Russian Army has not collapsed quite like 1917, at least not yet. Nevertheless, the Army of Ukraine seems to have the upper hand, and it is not clear just how Russia could regain the initiative through conventional arms at this point, or improve their strategic position, except by withdrawal.
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