The Strategic Picture in Ukraine: October 2022 By Sloppy Goppy
Guest Post by Sloppy Goppy
Note: This is a Strategic Analysis written in early October… As such the Crimean bridge bombing and the confrontation building at Kherson are not addressed.
The Strategic Picture in Ukraine
(as of October 6th 2022)
Some Criticisms of the Russian Political and Military Leadership
When Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine Civil War began on February 24th 2022, the Ground Force contingent that entered the country numbered approximately 200,000 men, a pooled force of professional soldiers largely drawn from the Western Military district. Ukraine’s immediate National mobilization in February and March brought the overall number of man under arms to as high as 600,000. The superior training, equipment, and firepower of the Russian force enabled it to punch above its weight, it consistently fought outnumbered and won from February to August. This force was likely the bare minimum required to defeat Ukraine in a vacuum. By July Ukraine’s pre-war Army was effectively defeated, having lost nearly all of its pre-war artillery and the balance of its tanks and combat vehicles, it was no longer capable of combined arms maneuver warfare and was in a static defensive posture, manning its Donbass fortifications with hastily trained conscripts and elderly territorials who were being slowly ground down to nothing by Russian Artillery.
However, the strategic picture was being altered in the background.
NATO’s involvement as a quasi-belligerent opened a strategic depth to Ukraine that Russia couldn’t touch. Ukrainian soldiers, supplemented by western mercenaries, have been trained in the UK and Poland and formed into fresh units. The ability to field high quality formations , trained, equipped, and largely commanded by NATO, combined with full access to the intelligence apparatus of the US and UK, altered the balance of forces to a substantial degree.
Russia for reasons not yet clear, did not match this escalation and marshal the resources necessary to counter it in a timely fashion. The call-up of 300,000 reservists to redress the balance of forces only began on September 21st, when the new Ukrainian formations had been in-theatre and mounting offensive operations for a month. The fact that these reserves will not be ready for at least a few more weeks has given Ukraine a short window of opportunity where they will temporarily enjoy a substantial manpower advantage at the front, and they’ve gone all-in, committing these high-quality formations to 2 major offensives on the Kherson and Kharkov/Lugansk fronts.
In Kherson, the sector where substantial Russian Ground Forces are present on the front lines, the Russian side have largely been able to hold a positional defense. However on the Northern Kharkov/Lugansk front there were no regular Russian units on the front line which was instead manned by a very small tripwire force of LPR Reservists and Rosgvardia units insufficient for positional defense with operational reserve relatively far away in Belgorod. The Ukrainians have gained substantial ground on this front as the Russian units have conducted what is doctrinally known as a “maneuver-defense”, basically a phased fighting retreat which gives ground in exchange for inflicting maximum losses on the enemy (for details on how this works see The Russian Way of War pages 190-200 by Grau and Bartles). The organized nature of these retreats has enabled the units involved to avoid the encirclement and destruction the Ukrainians are hoping for, they have gotten away in good order with minimal casualties while the advancing Ukrainians are savaged by artillery and air power.
The Russian hope is likely that the Ukrainian offensives will culminate in the next few weeks as they over-extend and exhaust themselves, worn down by heavy casualties as the infamous season of Autumn rain known as Raspusitsa begins. This will soften the ground into thick mud rendering open country impassible to heavy vehicles and making large scale maneuver impossible, effectively forcing both sides to stand-fast on present positions until the ground freezes with the arrival of winter. By the time winter arrives Russian reserves will more than double the size of the force committed in Ukraine which will then be able to launch a winter offensive that will finish off the Ukrainian army. This is the outcome that I consider most likely, there may be additional retreats in the next few weeks before the front stabilizes, it will likely remain static through November and possibly December, and then a new phase like nothing we’ve seen so far.
This situation should never have been allowed to arise in the first place. The training of fresh Ukrainian formations in NATO countries has been public knowledge since at least June and the call-up of Russian reservists should have happened then to redress the balance and retain the initiative, but they weren’t. As a result the field commanders didn’t have sufficient forces at their disposal to properly defend all sectors of the front line against a concentrated enemy attack and, although they were able to retreat in good order and inflict horrendous losses on the enemy in the process, they abandoned large numbers of civilians whom they had assured they would never leave, to a terrible fate as the Ukrainians now openly admit in the western press to mass murder of civilians in recaptured territories, though always being careful to cloak these admissions in stories of equal or greater brutality from the other side (for which they provide no evidence ) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11284819/How-Ukrainian-intelligence-chiefs-tracking-collaborators-worked-Russians.html
But I’m not going to let the Ukrainian strategic plan off the hook here either. I believe that committing precious high-quality formations to offensive action under the current conditions is a grave mistake which will hasten their defeat in the long run. If I were in charge I would have continued to man the forward trenches with low quality conscripts and territorials (since they’re all going to die anyway) and held these high quality units back as mobile reserves to counter enemy breakthroughs. In this capacity they would likely have been able to prevent a Russian breakthrough into Ukraine’s operational depth, slowing their advance to tactical level bite-and-hold operations which would have to dig in and be reinforced promptly in order not t be thrown back by counterattacks. Instead these elite units that took 6 months to assemble are being thrown into offensives where they are being destroyed in the space of a few weeks, ensuring that when the Russian winter offensive comes there won’t be any reserves to counter it. Especially if rumors that the Ukrainians have stripped forces away from the capital and Northern border are true. Comparison is always suspect, but the German ‘Kaiserschlacht’ spring offensive of 1918 makes for fascinating reading when looking at this.
That is all
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