A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 5, 2022

Why Russian Attacks On Bakhmut and Ukraine Infrastructure Are Failing

Russia's infantry attacks on Bakhmut and its missile attacks on Ukraine's utility infrastructure are both based on false strategic assumptions.  

The attacks on Bakhmut assume that 'dumb' Soviet-era artillery and human cannon fodder can overwhelm Ukrainian forces equipped with better intelligence, more accurate technology and decidedly superior morale and leadership. That is why the Russian attacks continue to fail. The same holds true for Russia's spiteful missile assaults on civilians and infrastructure. Ukraine, as a technologically advanced modern state can repair the Russian damage within days, causing Russia to waste declining resources in vain attacks on an socio-economically superior foe. JL

Phillips O'Brien reports in his newsletter:

Wars are rarely won by what one side has when it starts, they are won by what can be made/procured after it starts. In Bakhmut, the Russians are the ones on the offensive and have to expose their forces more. Though the fighting around Bakhmut is horrible, the Ukrainians prefer the Russians continue these wasteful attacks rather than defend rationally. Russian attacks on Ukraine energy are inconsistent, allowing too much time for Ukraine to adjust and repair. Ukraine is a progressive industrial state. Its specialists are able to restore energy within several days after the blackouts. Ukraine’s advantage is in accuracy and range. They need less ammunition to do equivalent damage.

Ammunition, Airpower and the Endless Russian Offensive to take Bakhmut.


The battlefield seemed to relatively static over the past week, though there are small signs of movement. The Russians continue to creep closer and closer to Bakhmut (see below) which they have been trying to take since this summer. On the other hand, there are some scattered reports that the Ukrainians are pushing forward a little in the Svatove-Kremina area. Maybe the most interesting report are Ukrainian claims that the Russians are withdrawing some units from around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. These claims are based upon the Ukrainians once again degrading Russian logistic capabilities through ranged attacks, making it difficult to supply units in a facility the Russians would very much want to keep.

However even this report seems uncomfirmed.


So, for all of these reports, it’s the relative lack of movement on the line that is so important. Part of that is definitely down to the need of both sides to replenish and resupply after 9 months of intense fighting. Its clear both sides now need to pay very closer attention to their ammunition supplies. For weeks/months now we have heard that the extreme usage of ammunition on the battlefield is leading to supply shortages, and in particular that the Ukrainian supplies are strained. Certainly the consumption of ammunition is so much higher than expected before Feb 24.

This happens in every war btw, which is why the issue of production capacity is so important. Wars are rarely won by what one side has when it starts, they are won by what can be made/procured after it starts. And that brings up what I would argue is the most important report of ammunition shortage from the last week. It is now claimed that Russia beginning to have serious ammunition supply issues—from of all people the Director of US National Intelligence, Avril Haines.

Before the war, it was confidently claimed that the Russians had enough ammunition for six years of war in their depots. Now this estimate was probably based on a lower consumption rate than we have seen, but regardless it had to be grossly inflated (as most claims about Russian military capabilities undoubtedly were). There have been signs for months that the Russians were having trouble with ammunition supplies—having to scrounge up supplies from Belarus and North Korea for instance.

Now that US intelligence is coming out and saying openly that the Russians are having significant issues making up ammunition supply, its safe to say that (except for a few select areas) the Russians will have to remain on the defensive along most of the line—and btw if this is serious it probably makes the idea of any major Russian counteroffensive in the Spring/Summer of 2023 (as many pro-Russian sources claim will occur) difficult to imagine. Russian advances with overwhelming ammunition usage such as in the summer of 2022 were halting and ‘incremental’. Without access to such supplies going forward, offensive action will have to be very carefully controlled.

And if both sides are struggling, as they seem to be, then this should be a significant advantage for Ukraine. Why? For the simple fact that Ukraine has access to systems and intelligence that is giving them a range and accuracy advantage. Russian accuracy seems to be declining in some areas as their front line equipment and forces are getting chewed up.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians are getting more and more comfortable with their NATO standard equipment.


So both sides seem to be suffering ammunition. If this continues, and both sides are relatively equally affected, then I would certainly rather be in Ukraine’s position with its advantage in accuracy and range.  They will need less ammunition to do equivalent damage.


I sent out this tweet a few days ago, as there had been a serious, and welcome, lull in the concentrated Russian attacks on Ukrainian power generation.



These airpower attacks (based on missiles and UAVs) were starting to cause problems for Ukraine. They actually represented one of the greatest challenges to Ukraine’s war effort in a few ways. If the Russians had shut off Ukraine power generation for a long time, that would undoubtedly have hampered the Ukrainian war effort. Everything requires power, from Ukrainian production, to food processing and distribution, to hospitals, etc etc. Moreover, the systems Russia was using, particularly the UAVs, were relatively cheap. In some cases it cost Ukraine more to shoot down each system than it cost for the Russians to use the system (that’s never a cost Ukraine wants to bear). Certainly Russian attacks have done damage, one estimate Ive seen is that these attacks have damaged 40% of Ukraine’s power grid.

And then we seem to have this pause in the Russian power generation attacks after an intense few days in late November. This is most welcome to Ukraine, and already is giving the Ukrainians the opportunity to prepare for future attacks. They are getting more power generation systems from NATO countries, they are getting more and better anti-air systems to protect their power generation, and maybe most importantly, they are gaining valuable experience on how to repair and restore power generation after these attacks.

When I said the way the Russians have waged this campaign reminded me of the use of strategic airpower in WWII, I was specifically thinking of UK/US strategic bombing of Germany in 1943. This campaign did have some significant advantages for the Allies, and in the end cost the Germans a great deal. Here is a link to my chapter on the subject in How the War was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge, 2015).

However it took the US/UK Air Forces a while to learn the lessons of how to actively destroy the targets they wanted. They had problems in campaign coordination, follow up, intelligence analysis et. What do I mean by this.

Well, to begin with, the two allied nations poorly coordinated targets. While they were bombing different things (the British opting for evening raids on German cities and the Americans trying to his German factories by day), they rarely ever attacked the same areas. The British might bomb Hamburg and the US attack a factory in the Ruhr. Moreover, they would launch these attacks for a day or two (or occasionally for a week such as Hamburg) but then they would not return for a while. Moreover, intelligence was poor in 1943 and it was often assumed by the British and Americans that their attacks were having a greater impact on German production than they were.

This lack of coordination meant that the Germans were often able to restore production and services far more quickly than expected. The Germans learned in long pauses before areas were attacked, and when the allies returned, they were often ready for them.

That is what we are seeing now in Ukraine. The Russians clearly don’t have the stockpiles to continue the attacks daily in the mass ways that they were, and this means when they come back, and they undoubtedly will soon, the Ukrainians will have coping means. It wont be easy, but as WWII shows, if you really want to shut down a system such as power or transportation, as the allies did very effectively in 1944, you need to be able to attack it relentlessly day after day until it stops functioning. It cant be a case of some massed attacks, and then significant pauses.


Russian attacks continue on Bakhmut. Once again, though, I have no idea why they seem to be expending so many resources to take this town. Bakhmut plays no role in the generation of Ukrainian military force, so taking it will not harm Ukrainian force recreation in any way. In that case, the only purpose of the battle for the Russians rationally would be if they feel they can damage the Ukrainians more in taking the town than they are suffering in their attempts to seize it.

This seems decidedly unlikely, as the Russians are the ones on the offensive and have to expose their forces more. Most of the reports seem to be of Russian casualties in the area.

All I can do is go back to what Ive been writing for months (since June for instance). Though the fighting around Bakhmut is undoubtedly horrible, Im sure the Ukrainians prefer the Russians continue these extremely wasteful attacks rather than just dig in and defend rationally.


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