Russia continues to shrink its ambitions in Donbas, as Ukraine doubles down on its strategy of guerilla attacks, interrupting supply and communication contacts and ultimately undermines the morale of the enemy.
For years to come, military experts will be studying how Ukraine managed to push back a far stronger enemy and grind Russia’s major offensive in the east of the country to a halt.
Some military strategists are already trying to find a term to sum up the Ukrainians’ success. Australian military expert and retired army major general Mick Ryan credited Kyiv's stunning showing to "the adoption of a simple military strategy: corrosion. The Ukrainian approach has embraced the corrosion of the Russian physical, moral, and intellectual capacity to fight and win in Ukraine.”
Ryan argues that while the Ukrainians have used the firepower they possess to halt the Russian advance, while aggressively targeting their enemy’s greatest shortcoming. “They have attacked the weakest physical support systems of an army in the field – communications networks, logistic supply routes, rear areas, artillery and senior commanders in their command posts,” Ryan wrote.
According to reports, Ukraine’s corrosion strategy has focused on a previously neglected area: guerrilla attacks in Russian-occupied cities. Last week, the Ukrainian army reported that it had killed multiple Russian officers in an attack in Melitopol. The following day, it reported another successful attack in the city, this time on a Russian armored train apparently transporting soldiers from Crimea to the front.
Donbas in the balance
The situation is also escalating in occupied Kherson, which the Russians plan to annex by holding a rigged so-called “referendum.” The city is plastered with posters calling for Russian soldiers to leave or be killed.
One such poster shows a Ukrainian guerrilla fighter slitting the throat of a Russian soldier from behind. Above the image are the words “Get ready! We know all your patrol routes! Kherson is Ukraine!” The intention is clear: to make sure the Russian occupiers don’t feel safe anywhere and to further erode the already shaky morale among Russian troops.
Over the last few days, the situation at the front has not changed significantly. The Russians are concentrating their attacks on the Donbas region, but have only managed to take a few villages there, and it seems they have paid for the ground gained with heavy losses. The offensive on the Izium axis is still stalled, while around Kharkiv the Ukrainians have pushed the Russians back towards the Russian-Ukrainian border. Their artillery may soon be within range of the railway line between the Russian city of Belgorod and the occupied Ukrainian city of Kupiansk, an important supply line for the Russians.
Weapons from the West
For the last few days, the Ukrainian military in the south of the country has been reporting that the Russians are digging in and reinforcing their positions at certain points along the front. All of which suggests that they intend to halt their offensive there and focus instead on holding the territory they have already gained.
The current situation favors a stalemate in the short term.
At the same time, more and more heavy weaponry sent from Western countries is arriving at Ukrainian positions in the east of the country. According to the Pentagon, 79 of the 90 M777 howitzers sent from the US have now arrived at the front, and the Soviet-style Type T-72M1 and T-72M1R tanks sent from Poland have apparently also arrived, making the Ukrainians more evenly matched with the Russians in terms of artillery.
“The current situation favors a stalemate in the short term and is increasingly favoring Ukraine in the medium to long term,” according to Polish military analyst Konrad Muzyka from Rochan Consulting. “The influx of Western weapons and Ukrainian personnel will allow Kyiv to start pushing Russian forces back across a much wider stretch of the front.”
Many military experts believe that, with the number of troops it currently has available, Russia will not be able to turn the tide in Ukraine. That is why Moscow has begun a secret mobilization effort, as reported by the BBC and other media outlets over the last few days.
It seems that reservists have been summoned to recruitment offices, where officials are trying to convince them to sign short-term contracts to fight in Ukraine. At least ten such offices have been attacked in the last few days, some with petrol bombs – possibly the work of Russian saboteurs who fear they may be conscripted.
Ukrainian soldiers resting at a checkpoint on the outskirt of the separatist region of Donetsk.
The Kremlin’s decision to reportedly suspend many military leaders has caused even greater uncertainty among troops. According to the British Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, commander of the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, has been suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv. Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, has reportedly also been fired because of the sinking of the flagship Moskva.
The British believe the blame culture within the Russian military and ministries means that high-up Russian military leaders spend more time covering their own backs than concentrating on the war itself.
“This will likely place more strain on Russia’s centralized model of command and control, as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors,” according to the British. And that will make it even harder for Russia to gain back the upper hand in this war.