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Ukraine's Counteroffensive At 100 Days (On Day 567 Of Vladimir Putin's Four-Day War)
An assessment of their progress in destroying Russian armies
First of all, stop calling those ‘dragon’s teeth.’ Actual dragon’s teeth are built into the ground so that tanks cannot simply push them out of the way with a bulldozer blade like these three-foot tall pyramids, which are not fixed to the ground in any way. Those are mere speed bumps. Concrete cope. Not the teeth of a dragon. When the full story of Russian wartime profiteering and fraud gets told, no doubt we will learn which generals pocketed the procurement margins on this extravagant waste of resources. My guess? Start with the original designer, Sergey Surovikin.
Furthermore, the so-called ‘Surovikin lines’ are not real obstacles at all, as they do not seem to appreciably shape the battlefield, whereas the disposition of Russian units does. Leave these ‘lines’ off your OSINT maps, please. New construction of similar lines is a similar waste of resources. All they do is make Russian pretensions visible from space.
Show me instead where the 1430th Regiment of mobiks, ‘armed’ with obsolete T-55 tanks, has been rotated to from the village of Novoprovopivka. This unit was thrown into the fire in order to stop a Ukrainian breakthrough out of Robotyne and lasted about ten days. Expect many more units to be similarly redeployed, because the same Russian generals who kept the folding money for those non-dragon ‘teeth’ also think of their men as consumables.
Slow is fast.
Ukrainian intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov says that the counteroffensive operation in the south will not culminate with the season. Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) intend to press on even when the fall rains turn fields to mud. “We don’t want to see our kids and even our grandkids fighting against Russians,” Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskiy told The Guardian at the beginning of September.
Contrary to all the hysteria from anonymous sources in the military establishments of western capitols since counteroffensive operations began near Robotyne on 6 June, slow and steady pressure appears to be working for Ukraine at a far lower material and moral cost than a headlong rush to the Azov Sea might. Minefields slow this progress, but not any more than, say, the weather. It takes as long as it takes. Like bankruptcy, the Russian defense of Tokmak is meant to crumble slowly, then all at once.
Slow is fast.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that Kyiv was forced to wait too long before kicking off their counteroffensive. Western partners took too long delivering promised systerms, especially mine-clearing equipment, giving Russian troops time to seed those dense minefields. Nevertheless, the 82nd Airmobile Brigade is reportedly using armor as battle taxis to deliver fresh troops to the fight for Novoprovopivka, indicating that hasty Russian minefields below Robotyne have already been cleared.
Slow is fast.
As noted above, Ukraine counts the beginning of this campaign as 6 June. I argued that preliminaries were underway already in April, but let us accept the Ukrainian date as a fair starting line. During the sixth week of their counteroffensive I began to use the Hundred Days campaign of 1918 as a point of historical comparison. Other commentaries used the Normandy landings, as the fight to break out of bocage country and expand the Operation Overlord beachhead took months. Either comparison fails on one key point: Ukraine is the first modern army to attempt this kind of breakthrough without air superiority.
I have been consistent about what I expect Ukrainian operational goals to be. Kyiv is prosecuting a force-directed offensive. Taking territory is currently secondary to destroying and degrading the Russian forces which occupy the territory. The Ukrainian general staff wants to “inspire collapse of depleted Russian formations.” Noting that “there are apparently no substantial troop reserves to rush into second and third-line fortifications, no matter how carefully prepared those are,” I have repeatedly observed that “to fall back in good order and recover in a second line of defense is a challenging military endeavor all on its own.”
Some Russian retreats have been chaotic and Ukraine has inflicted high casualties on them. Likewise, every Russian counterattack uses up ‘expendable’ manpower beyond the line of contact. Units are being redeployed from Luhansk and the Bakhmut area to extend the line of contact as the Ukrainian wedge enlarges in fits and starts. They keep up one counterattack after another, none of them stopping Ukraine, because the Ukrainians’ whole plan is to demolish those Russian counterattacks.
In a post this week by the Rusich Militia, we learn “there is often no communication” in Russian formations in Zaporizhzhia. Although a new tactical radio system, ‘Azart,’ was recently introduced after 19 months of frustration with the poor state of Russian radio communications, it “does not correspond to the declared characteristics” and remains unsuitable for combat.
The post complains “there are no regular repeaters for it (they say they have made it, but it's not commercially available).” Basic 21st century comms tech remains out of reach for the average Russian trying to call in fire support. Cheaply made — how else is Gen. Sergei Shoigu supposed to get his cut? — “the frequency converter mode drops, there is a shortage of stations.” In other words, no spectrum management at all.
Russians have tried to rig up field expedient solutions since last February, but spectrum integration is not actually anybody’s job in the Russian Ministry of Defense. The results are predictable: “Various digital connections supplied by volunteers or purchased by the military are often impossible to connect between different models (and which can be connected, often each unit sets its own keys and frequencies, and the head of communications of the unit is not at all interested in who is sitting on what and what means the neighbors use).”
And the work of the communications platoons themselves (which are in every battalion) — they do not crawl like in World War II with a reel under fire, but sit in Pologi or the Petrovsky district of Donetsk and drink vodka. Although when there is no communication, they should immediately run to their units and fix the problem. Well, there is no space and satellite communications at the mouth level.
One side effect of this negligent disregard for basic communications, besides spectrum management and signal security, is the current lopsided artillery battle around Robotyne. No longer buried under mountains of Russian artillery ammunition, the Ukrainians now hold the upper hand thanks to consistent and devastating focus on counterbattery operations. As I explained in this paywalled post yesterday, the scenes in Zaporizhzhia closely resemble the history of artillery-on-artillery battles in the First World War.
Slowly, this strategy is working for Ukraine. Slowly. As Russian casualties mount and formations take their place in the grist mill, the whole Russian force is now being diminished and corroded along the entire line of contact. Rumors of a magical reserve army waiting in Russia are rampant, and also hollow. Kremlin oligarchs are in fact having a bitter debate over another round of ‘special operation’ mobilization. That is the Ukrainian strategy in Zaporizhzhia working.
Nor can we limit the counteroffensive to one single front. Russian VDV troops are being forced out of Andriivka and Klishchiivka this week. Russian attacks in Luhansk have subsided. Russia is throwing everything they have into the fight below Robotyne and burning it up while Ukraine increases cross-river harassment on the Dnipro, hits the Russian Navy hard in Sevastopol, strikes targets daily in major Russian cities, and reclaims oil rigs in the Black Sea. Ukraine is not simply advancing slowly on one front now, but multiple fronts.
It will all go slowly until it goes fast. I cannot say that Ukraine has won the war in one hundred days. I can say with certainty that Ukraine has found a way to win during the last one hundred days, slowly but surely.
Russians themselves are telling us they cannot sustain this defense forever. Suppose that Russia actually produces 200,000 conscripts in November, turning out trained soldiers by the new year in another rush job like last October. Shoigu’s MoD will not accomplish this, but pretend that they do manage it. If those new troops are still wearing fake body armor and carrying ‘Azart’ radios, what will Moscow accomplish, other than to delay the inevitable and reinforce failure?
The next hundred days will likely reveal the winner in Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine wins there just by continuing to fight, while Russia loses every day the fight there continues. This dynamic of the battlefield is itself a victory, a product of planning and training and logistics and hard, brutal work. Putting it together was not easy. It was at least the equal of Russian effort to defend Putin’s ‘land bridge’ and now it is a dagger in the hopes of the Kremlin insiders responsible for the war.
We shall see if Russia can last another hundred days in the south. If the goal in Moscow is to form a solid wall of corpses and hold Ukrainians back until next November, the chances of success are slim. Slow as Ukraine’s advance seems from Washington or Brussels or Berlin, from Russia it looks like imminent defeat.
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