Ed mentioned the rout on the river near Bilohorivka in a post last week but you can’t appreciate the magnitude of it until you see it.
The Russian army was attempting to cross the river on pontoon bridges, crowding dozens of armored vehicles manned by hundreds of troops near the riverbank in anticipation. The Ukrainians attacked, destroying the pontoons and leaving the Russians trapped.
The result was a turkey shoot unlike any seen in war in many years.
— BlueSauron👁️ (@Blue_Sauron) May 12, 2022
The unsuccessful attempt of the Russian army to cross the river Seversky Donets
Ukrainian forces’ operations near Belogorivka became one of the most successful during the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army lost more than 70 units of military equipment there pic.twitter.com/WIJAfXaDst
— Barbara (@BGarattini) May 16, 2022
The Institute for the Study of War estimates that some 550 Russians from 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade were involved in the operation and that close to 500 of them were killed or wounded. ISW’s best guess at what went wrong: “The unit’s command and staff may have failed to recognize the dangers that Ukraine’s improving artillery capabilities posed two months later, or may simply have been incompetent or unable to control their troops.” Right, it may be that the Russians thought the Ukrainians were based far enough away from the river that their artillery couldn’t reach it. And it wouldn’t have — earlier in the war, before NATO countries began showering goodies on Zelensky.
Retired Australian Gen. Mick Ryan explained a few days ago how complicated river crossings are, typically involving no fewer than six phases. And because they’re complicated, they’re usually only undertaken if the army believes that the success of the operation is worth the risk. Which means this is likely an even bigger fiasco for Russia than at first appears:
19/ Consequently, this is probably a larger set back for the Russians than some have speculated. Yes, they lost a lot of vehicles – but they are used to that now. It has likely resulted in not just a BTG but probably an entire Brigade losing a large part of its combat power. pic.twitter.com/5zEbIDWHQA
— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) May 13, 2022
The footage of the riverbank being turned into a tank graveyard apparently caught the attention of Russia military bloggers, who are normally eager to signal-boost the Kremlin’s line but who were taken aback in this case at the scale of the massacre.
“I’ve been keeping quiet for a long time,” Yuri Podolyaka, a war blogger with 2.1 million followers on Telegram, said in a video posted on Friday, saying that he had avoided criticizing the Russian military until now.
“The last straw that overwhelmed my patience was the events around Bilohorivka, where due to stupidity — I emphasize, because of the stupidity of the Russian command — at least one battalion tactical group was burned, possibly two.”…
“Yes, I understand that it’s impossible for there to be no problems in war,” he said. “But when the same problems go on for three months, and nothing seems to be changing, then I personally and in fact millions of citizens of the Russian Federation start to have questions for these leaders of the military operation.”
Another blogger sneered that the operation was tactically so inept that it amounted to “direct sabotage.” I assume the Russian population is past the point of believing that the war is going well, having already seen what was supposed to be a 72-hour operation to seize Kiev turn into a three-month grind. But the Donets disaster may have driven home to them in a way nothing yet has that victory isn’t a matter of time but is no longer assured.
Particularly since the Ukrainians were able to cross the same river without a problem within the last 24 hours:
🇷🇺 russia crosses the Severskyi Donets = defeat, disaster, retreat.
🇺🇦 Ukraine crosses the Severskyi Donets = advance, exploit, win. https://t.co/jNyo7fsX0r
— Thomas C. Theiner (@noclador) May 16, 2022
Experts spent the weekend considering a fateful question: How bad are things for Russia in Ukraine right now?
They do seem to be quietly finding and sending reinforcements into battle, notes Phillips O’Brien. But if this is true, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel:
A Muscovite friend on Facebook published a conscription notice he received today. He is 44.
— Anton Barbashin (@ABarbashin) May 15, 2022
Putin declined to order a full mobilization of the Russian population during last week’s Victory Day parade, which O’Brien takes as a sign that he fears an uprising if he were to do so. For all the hype about Russians rallying behind the “Z” symbol and against Ukrainian “Nazis,” the Kremlin apparently isn’t confident enough that a national draft aimed at replenishing the ranks and overwhelming the Ukrainians would be tolerated by the people.
He may not have a choice in the end. The UK estimates that after less than three months of fighting, Russia has lost a third of its combat force. Either there are enough 44-year-olds in Russia to plug that gap or there aren’t.
I’m betting on “there aren’t”:
Incredible shrinking of Russia’s goals in Eastern Ukraine since the start of the war pic.twitter.com/2IwWiAqXTd
— Igor Schatz (@Copernicus2013) May 14, 2022
The operation to encircle and destroy Ukraine’s forces in the Donbas seems to have failed decisively now that Russia’s forces in the north have retreated from around Kharkiv. Ryan believes that the entire Russian campaign in Ukraine may soon culminate, in fact — while adding that “culmination” doesn’t mean defeat. What it would mean is that Russia would give up trying to advance and switch instead to a defensive posture to protect the territory it already holds in the east and south. There’s already evidence of that happening:
Southern Axis Update:#Russian forces are likely fortifying occupied settlements in southern #Ukraine, indicating that the Russians are seeking to establish permanent control in the region.https://t.co/Sd8HoGLk9b pic.twitter.com/t84pt4Bzc4
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) May 16, 2022
Ryan believes the Ukraine have an opportunity in the northeast, near Kharkiv, to advance into Russian-held areas and potentially cut the supply line to the eastern front, endangering Russia’s position. But time is of the essence:
11/ The region to the east of Kharkiv is vulnerable to a Ukrainian advance. Not only are the majority of Russian forces further south and east of this area, seizing this region (to the east of the Donets) poses a threat to ground supply routes for Russia’s eastern offensive. pic.twitter.com/dVm2zOXmFs
— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) May 15, 2022
16/ Summarising, Ukraine doesn’t have a lot of time to assemble the forces & support if they are to conduct another counter offensive in the east. They have to strike before the Russians shift to a defensive posture. The Russians will be much harder to push back if that occurs.
— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) May 15, 2022
The toughest nut for Ukraine may be the area around Kherson in the south, which the Russians have occupied since the start of the war and where they’re now building fortifications. There’s already a puppet government in place there insisting that Kherson is part of Russia, with rumors about a sham referendum to be held at some point to make the area’s annexation “official.” One Twitter pal claimed a few days ago that he has a friend in Kherson who’s witnessing the “Russification” of the city and the surrounding province firsthand:
– This sort of thing is going on all over Kherson.
For example, a story of a Russian person moving into an apartment block, becoming admin of the block and sending messages to residents about how they want Ukrainians to burn.
— Joseph / йосиф сташко🇺🇦 (@JosephStash) May 12, 2022
The Russian army has reportedly deported more than half a million Ukrainians from cities seized during the war and, it seems, is bringing in Russians to take their place in sites like Kherson. You could call that population transfer if you like but it’d be more accurate to say it’s a version of “light” ethnic cleansing, making occupied territory less Ukrainian and more Russian in order to enhance Russia’s claim to annexation of the south. If and when there’s a peace deal offered by Moscow, that’s sure to be part of it. They’re not moving all of these people around for nothing.