A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 13, 2022

About Those Ostensible Russian "Gains" In Ukraine

The map on the left below was the status of Russia vs Ukraine two weeks ago. The map on the top is the status today. No, not much difference. JL

Daily Kos reports:

If you're finding it hard to see changes, it's because you need to zoom in to see any. Russia has a little more territory in Donbas. Ukraine has a little more territory around Kherson and Kharkiv. So the hysterics over Russia  taking Severodonetsk, a strategically irrelevant city, (now) reduced to rubble, on the far eastern tip of Ukraine, are meaningless. Russia is exhausting itself trying to take that dot on the map and that's the easiest job it faces anytime soon. Russia has honed its one winning strategy: turn rubble into smaller rubble.

We don’t know what the numbers are. Right now, it’s in Ukraine’s interest to exaggerate the number of its own deaths in order to create urgency among Western allies and arms shipments. Ukraine clearly believes that there was too much complacency and celebration after Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from Kyiv and Sumy regions. This new phase is an artillery slugfest, and Ukraine wants more, so it’s amping up the rhetoric to spur faster action among its allies.

But even there, there is a disconnect from its politicians, who are screaming doom and gloom: 

Ukraine urgently needs to shift to longer-range and more sophisticated Western systems, but those have only recently been committed, and in insufficient quantities to match Russia’s immense firepower, he said.

And Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, which is like “we’ve got this”: 

It is worth noting, for instance, that the initial request of the Armed Forces regarding 155 mm artillery units has been 90% fulfilled by the Ministry of Defence.

Either Ukraine is getting what it is requesting, or it’s not getting what it’s requesting. Me, I believe the soldiers before I believe the politicians. Either way, they’re clearly not coordinating their statements and claims. And when they do, as in both pleading for MLRS rocket artillery, it’s clear that yes, Ukraine desperately needs longer-range rocket artillery. 

Information warfare is part of warfare. Information, and its ability to shift public opinions and perceptions can be more important than a M777 howitzer. It could be the difference between Germany, France, and Italy deciding they’ve done enough, and newfound urgency to deliver the heavy weaponry Ukraine needs to hold the line in Donbas, and behind the arduous task of reclaiming its lost territory. 

Someone in my last thread was wondering what the overall status of the war was like, that perhaps we were too optimistic here, particularly given stories in the media (like the one above) claiming Ukraine is out of ammo and suffering unsustainable losses. So let’s look at the big picture 

Today, June 12: 


Nearly six weeks ago, May 2: 


If you’re finding it hard to see changes, it’s because you literally need to zoom in to see any changes. Russia has a little more territory in Donbas, measured in tens of kilometers of advance, and Ukraine has a little more territory around Kherson and Kharkiv, also measuring in the tens of kilometers. 

So all the hysterics over Russia eventually taking Severodonetsk, a strategically irrelevant city, reduced to rubble, on the far eastern tip of Ukrainian territory, means nothing. It’s literally a dot on the broader map. 

Russia’s incredibly shrinking ambitions. 

Russia is exhausting itself trying to take that little corner of territory, and that’s the easiest job it faces anytime soon. Beyond Severodonetsk, Lysychansk is protected by higher ground and river barrier. Meanwhile, any advancing Russian forces, and their artillery, are all within Ukrainian artillery range, blasting anything that moves. 

For their part, Russia has honed its one winning strategy—flatten a town, send in some poor souls to see if any defenses remain. That probe gets smacked? Oh well. Must’ve sucked! Turn rubble into smaller rubble. Send in next probe. Lather, rinse, repeat, until all that’s left is dust and craters. Move on to the next town. Like Dovhen’ke

Zoom in on the right photo. It’s shocking. (Incidentally, there are conflicting reports about who holds Dovhen’ke. Both pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine Telegram sources had declared the town captured on Friday-Saturday, but today, Ukraine General Staff claimed it was still in their hands. How … how is anything still alive in that moonscape?)

Russia’s “bomb everything until nothing is left” strategy is slow going. Look at, well, Dovhen’ke. It takes a a lot of time and manpower that Russia can’t easily replace. And Ukraine estimates Russia shoots 50-60,000 artillery shells per day. Assuming that’s an accurate number (see the first half of this update), can Russia keep that pace up indefinitely? 

Ukraine has fewer guns and claim they only shoot 5-6,000 shells per day. But remember, as the Ministry of Defense states above, “these new shells are more effective than their Soviet equivalents, and hence their consumption is lower.” Also, you don’t need as many shells when you’re not busy randomly destroying civilian infrastructure. The targets matter when you’re counting shells. 

If there’s one thing the West has plenty of, it’s cheap artillery shells. Each one costs $800 (compared to an excalibur guided artillery round, cost $130,000). With Western artillery guns still arriving in Ukraine in large numbers, that and the steady supply of shells can be a great equalizer. MLRS and HIMARS rocket artillery will make Russian lives even more difficult. 

MLRS rocket artillery range in the Donbas front.

A single HIMARS/MLRS platoon, well-supplied with ammo pods (the real challenge) can cover virtually the entire Donbas front line and beyond. Russia’s slow pace of advance will face even bigger hurdles. And let’s not forget, Russia hasn’t had to deal with long supply lines this Severodonetsk/Popasna push. Russia still hasn’t proven the ability to sustain supply lines longer than a few dozen kilometers.

The time to really worry would be If Russia managed to take the twin strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Given that Russia is still struggling to subdue Severodonetsk, far more exposed and isolated than those two cities, I’m not worried about their capture anytime soon. 

But if Russia’s rate of advance is microscopic, that still doesn’t mean Ukraine is in better position to retake lost ground. Ukraine faces the same challenges Russian does—in their cautious counter-offensives around Kherson, Kharkiv, and Izyum areas, advancing Ukrainian troops are at the mercy of Russian artillery fire. The country’s wide-open and mostly-flat terrain (plus the proliferation of drones) is ill-suited for sneak attacks. Meanwhile, Russia has been busy digging its own fortifications around key Ukrainian avenues of advance.

The biggest challenge won’t be stopping Russia, it will be reversing their existing gains. And that’s where the outcome of this war gets hazy. Russia won’t meet its goals, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine will either.


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