22JUN2023 – Update on Ukraine

Information on the Ukraine War is both ubiquitous and dubious.  Probably the best policy is to wait until information from both Russian and Ukrainian sources intersect.  Well, I couldn’t get that yet but at least both sides agree that the Ukrainians are finding the Russian defenses daunting.

But as for Putin’s video, the amount of losses he quotes are interesting: ~250 tanks and almost 700 other armor/vehicles. I outlined recently how even at the highest Western estimates, Ukraine is said to have 600-800 total tanks remaining (as per Pentagon leaks, etc.). If Putin’s numbers are even remotely true, it would mean the Not-Offensive has potentially wiped out upwards of 30-45% of Ukraine’s remaining heavy armor which would put them in dire straits. Recall, that even remaining armor is misleading as much of it is older tanks with 105mm or 115mm cannons that are no match for Russian MBTs, and the majority of remaining 125mm’ers are likely T-64s, which likewise is not promising.”

So that’s by a Russian partisan.  Now here is an article from the Institute for the Study of War, neo-con think-tank.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the progress of Ukrainian counteroffensives has been slower than expected, likely due to effective Russian defenses. Zelensky stated that Ukrainian counteroffensive progress has been “slower than desired” and will take time.[6] Zelensky noted that Ukrainian advances are not easy because Russian forces have mined 200,000 square kilometers of frontline territory.[7] Russian President Vladimir Putin also addressed ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensives and preposterously claimed that Russian forces have destroyed 244 tanks and 679 armored vehicles since these operations began on June 4.[8] Russian forces’ doctrinally sound defense in western Zaporizhia Oblast and prepared defensive positions throughout southern Ukraine are likely slowing Ukrainian advances, as ISW has previously assessed.[9] A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian defensive positions in southern Ukraine, dubbed the “Surovikin Line” after former overall theater commander Army General Sergei Surovikin, consist of several defensive zones between lines along dominant elevated positions up to 30km into Russian held territory.[10] The milblogger claimed that the “Surovikin Line” consists of a forward line of defense with several dozen platoon and company strongholds, and a main defensive line roughly 25km back with minefields, anti-tank ditches, and other defensive structures in between, though the extent of these defenses along the entire front line is unclear.[11] These Russian defensive lines are likely arrayed to enable a first echelon of Russian forces, deployed to the forward defensive line, to slow advancing Ukrainian forces while a second echelon of forces deployed closer to the main defensive line launch counterattacks against any Ukrainian breakthroughs, as well as providing prepared fallback positions for frontline Russian units.[12] Localized Ukrainian territorial gains are unlikely to immediately disrupt these Russian defensive lines and localized Ukrainian attempts at rapid breakthroughs are less likely to degrade these lines than a wider concerted operational effort, one which may be focused on degrading Russian defenders and fixing reserves rather than the immediate liberation of territory.”

Notice this article scoffs at the Russian numbers of Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles destroyed, but agrees that the offensive has been “slower than desired.”

But what were they expecting?  Driving tanks across heavily mined fields into flat steppe-land where hand-held anti-tank weapons and aircraft missiles are waiting for them doesn’t sound like a cake walk to me.  And that’s before they get within twenty miles of the reinforced entrenchment lines and anti-tank emplacements.

I can’t make up my mind whether the Ukrainians will commit to the full offensive or not.  Without air superiority or overwhelming numerical advantage what they are attempting is very likely to cost them tens of thousands of casualties and still come up short of their objective.  If they lose forty or fifty thousand men and don’t even reach the coast it will be a disaster of enormous magnitude.  That will probably cost them the war.

I suspect they will continue on with the probing attacks for a month or two more and then declare victory somehow or other.  Maybe they capture a few towns or smaller cities and wait for the F-16’s to save the day.  But I’m not sure.

The Ukrainians have fought very bravely but modern war is very tough on the underdog.  The Russians have a big advantage in population size, quantity of artillery and aerial offense and defense.  They are waging a war of attrition where they stand back and bombard the Ukrainians from a distance.  It’s slow and wasteful of munitions but it conserves lives.

Lately even Washington insiders are starting to talk about the necessity of negotiations with the Russians.  And the terms they mention are more or less what the Russians proposed in Turkey.  But I don’t think they’re likely to agree to those terms any longer.  They’ve been forced to put their country on a war footing and and it’s unlikely they’ll be satisfied until they obtain most of what they currently want.  They want the four regions they’ve officially annexed, they probably want further territorial gains that include Odessa and the rest of Black Sea coastline.  They may also demand a buffer zone between Russia and Ukraine to avoid guerilla warfare after the war.  And they want Ukraine disarmed and neutral.

So this may be a long war because it may be a very slow one.  If the Ukrainians hold off on their big offensive then the Russian counter-offensive will be more of what we saw in Bakhmut; a long slow war of attrition that pounds the Ukrainians down inch by slow inch.  In other words, hell on earth.