A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jul 5, 2022

Implications: Donbas Battle Among Longest In Modern History

The Russians have won a pyrrhic victory in Donbas, sacrificing a generation's worth of soldiers and equipment to capture a minor slice of territory that it is probably incapable of holding. 

It is now conscripting men between 17 and 65, reminiscent of Nazi Germany in 1945 as American, British and Russian forces approached Berlin. Those Russians' successors are incapable of executing the basic tasks of modern war, even with substantial advantages. And as such, they cannot win in Ukraine. JL 

Phillips O'Brien reports in Twitter:

It has now been 78 days since the Russians launched the Battle of the Donbas making it one of the longest battles in the 20th and 21st centuries, longer than Kursk, Normandy, Bulge. Its much closer to WWI (Somme, Passchendale, Verdun). After 11 weeks of Russia's combat, major losses and command changes, desperate attempts to raise forces and concentrating their firepower in a very small area, the Ukrainians have withdrawn in good order. The Russian Army is incapable of fulfilling the basic tasks of modern war. Instead its does incremental, slow advances. It cant breakthrough, it cant exploit, it cant encircle.The Duma raised the age for military service to 65! This is Volksturm WWII levels of desperation. It has now been 76 days since the Russians launched the Battle of the Dohnbas. This would make it one of the longest major battles in the 20th and 21st centuries. Many times longer than Kursk,e Bagration Normandy, Bulge, etc. Its much closer to WWI (Somme, Passchendale, Verdun).
And what has happened in the 2.5 months so far. Best to start with this map below. Basically the Russians have dialled back enormously on their expectations (and frankly the expectations of others) that they would take a big chunk of Ukrainian territory. Instead after 11 weeks of combat, major losses and command changes, desperate attempts to raise forces and concentrating their firepower in a very small area, the Russians have compelled to Ukrainians to withdraw from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

 

Even that phrase needs to be emphasized--the Ukrainians have withdrawn in good order, as the Russians have never cut their communications. The map above (and indeed modern combined arms and Russian doctrine) would have had as a basic task an encirclement of Ukrainian forces.However the Russian Army is incapable of fulfilling the basic tasks of modern war. Instead its does incremental, slow advances, a kilometer at a time. It cant brekthrough, it cant exploit, it cant encircle. This is not a sign of an advanced military.

 

What has it taken. Well in the scheme of things, it might eventually take an amount of territory equivalent to greater London (think within the M25). Here are some maps that make it clear--imposed London on the region.Had it been said on April 18, that the Russians would have taken such a small amount of territory, at cost, in 77 days, Been unable to encircle Ukrainian forces, etc, it would be have construed as a great Russian failure.

 

Now going forward, where are we? There seems to be a split between two groups. The Russians will take and hold group and the relative balance will shift group.The Russians will take and hold group, mostly made up by those who were talking about how easily Russia would conquer Ukraine before Feb 24 and by Russianists who seem desperate to show Russia is a great power to make themselves seem relevant are saying that basically Russia can hold what it takes and that Ukraine has to take a peace deal that accepts that.

 

Needless to say I dont see Russia as a great power. Its a mid-ranking, deeply flawed power with nuclear weapons. As such I definitely believe that the Ukrainians, if properly supported, can drive the Russians back. Indeed the trajectory of the battle (and the constant dialling back of Russian goals) is part of a trend since day 1 of the Ukrainians gaining strength. What we see is Russia getting increasingly weaker and relying on older systems. There tanks, APCs, missiles, etc, are all degrading as they try to make up losses/wastage by bringing older systems into operation. Even their soldiers are getting older. As Putin is terrified of bringing the realities of war to his people. The Duma just passed a bill raising the age for military service to 65! This is Volksturm WWII levels of desperation. (But) The USSR was able to increase production and raise millions of new troops, Russia today cant produce nearly enough modern equipment to cover its losses and is terrified to conscript society.Ukrainian strategy seems coherent. Continue attriting Russian forces until an attempt to push them back can be made. 'when the time is right.'

 

Also, the intellectual trajectory of the war shows the Ukrainians adapting and improving and the Russian not. Snake Island one example. The counterrattacks near Kherson another. Smart, low casualty moves, getting closer and closer to a major objective. So that is why, imho, the Battle of the Donbas, indeed the war as a whole, even with halting Russian advances in the Donbas, has the strong potential to transform in Ukraine's direction going forward. The Ukrainian population sense this too.

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