A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Aug 31, 2022

Why the Battle For Kherson Is Political, Economic - and Military

The current fighting in the southern Ukraine around Kherson has political, diplomatic and economic dimensions in addition to the military ones. 

Reports so far have been fragmentary because neither side wishes to inadvertantly reveal crucial information to the other and because the decision remains in doubt. This battle may be the most important of the war in terms of securing an outcome as well as furthering support for leaders of each side. The Ukrainians would presumably like to recover lost territory as well as further weaken Russian military capabilities. Russia would like to demonstrate it has not completely lost the fight for Ukraine. Shaping those perceptions into reality is what will drive this battle. JL

Mick Ryan reports in War In the Future:

The political dimensions of this offensive are as important as the military ones. For Zelensky, it is key to his meeting his promise to take back the south but it is also an area that is of great economic importance to #Ukraine.For Putin, after the failures of #Kyiv and Kharkiv, losing the south would be a significant blow. The status of #Crimea seems to be in play. That would pose a major problem to the Russians, given their infrastructure and bases there. In this clash of wills, the understanding of purpose is one of the most important differences between combatants. It is unclear if Russian commanders & soldiers know what they fight for. The Ukrainians have a clear understanding of why they fight.

The situation with the Ukrainian #offensive in the south remains unclear. That said, we know enough about both sides - and from the history of such operations - to propose a few areas that are likely to determine success or failure in the coming weeks.

 

The political dimensions of this offensive are as important as the military ones. For Zelensky, it is key to his meeting his promise to take back the south but it is also an area that is of great economic importance to #Ukraine.For Putin, after the failures of #Kyiv and Kharkiv, losing the south would be a significant blow (but probably not fatal to his regime). The status of #Crimea would certainly seem to be in play, if not in this phase of the Ukrainian offensive then perhaps subsequently. That would pose a major problem to the Russians, given their infrastructure and bases there.

 

Key issues to watch - #Ukraine. What might be the Ukrainian objectives for this southern offensive? Is it just the land to the west of the Dniepr river, all of the the south, or something in between? And, are seeing the main effort or a supporting effort for something else?This will determine sequencing for attacks as well as priorities of allocation for the range of support mechanisms required in their advance, such as logistics, fires, comms, engineers, info,ops, etc.Are the Ukrainian objectives related primarily to territory or to the enemy? Is their principle aim to take back ground, or is it to capture/destroy a large part of the Russian forces in the south? These are subtly different, and determine tactics, risk, etc.

 

The ground also plays an important role, and control measures such as operational phase lines and limits of exploitation are influenced by it. For example, the Dniepr may be a phase line for operation. Perhaps the Ukrainians might have to cross it - and that will be hard.The amount of equipment and munitions the Ukrainians have stockpiled for this offensive will determine how long it can be sustained. Likewise, the quantity and location of reinforcements and reserves will be important.I have no privileged insights into the above. But from my campaign planning experience, these are some of the things that will influence the success or otherwise of this southern campaign. The Russians will be thinking about these issues as well.

 

The Russians. What will influence Russian success or failure? First, how have they laid down their overall defensive scheme of maneuver? Are they defending forward or back, and what are the capabilities of their dedicated and situational reserve forces?These reserves (and their locations) will determine how well the Russians can undertake counter attacks, or conduct counter penetration activities to seal off where the Ukrainian break into or through Russian defence.Their C2 - both the human and comms aspects - will be vital. Do they have assured secure comms to coordinate their defence? What level of decision making has the senior Russian commander delegated to more junior commanders?

 

Importantly, how much flexibility does the senior Russian commander have to make tactical realignments and conduct withdrawals? Has the Kremlin dictated that they defend at all costs or not?How will the Russians be able to support the defensive fight with tactical fires, EW, engineers, attack aviation, long range strike and logistics? This will impact on the sustainability of their defence over the coming weeks.Other issues for the Russians: Will they fight street by street for Kherson, or withdraw to preserve their combat forces? And what is the impact of Ukrainian resistance activities behind the lines on Russian resupply, deployment of reserves and morale?

 

The Ukrainian efforts to ‘isolate’ the battlefield by cutting bridges and destroying C2 hubs in recent weeks will have an impact on sustainability of the Russian defence, as well as their tactical cohesion and morale.Ultimately, now the fight is underway, this is a battle of wills between opposing commanders who will seek to deceive and out think their opposite numbers. They will each seek to destroy communications and corrode the others ability to command and control.

 

It is also a battle of logistics, to keep up supplies and reinforcements, and an information battle to fight for - and with - relevant battlefield information. It is also a battle to preserve essential friendly information while also informing the world of events.Most importantly this will be a campaign featuring hundreds of close combat engagements on the ground (with some also in the air ). This combat - brutal, bloody yet necessary - is the purest expression of will during war.In this clash of wills, the understanding of purpose is one of the most important differences between combatants. It is unclear if Russian commanders & soldiers know what they fight for. The Ukrainians have a clear understanding of why they fight.
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