A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 12, 2023

The Reason Ukraine's Offensive Will Succeed But Not As Quickly As Desert Storm

Russian photos of damaged Ukrainian armor to the contrary, Ukraine appears to be making incremental advances. 

Resistance is stronger, unsurprisingly, in the Zaporizhzhia area, in which the Russians built their strongest defenses, but even there, progress is being made. This will not be a lightning strike like Desert Storm - or even like Kharkiv and Kherson - but it doesnt need to be. JL 

Phillips O'Brien reports in his substack:

This will not be Desert Storm. Though the Normandy campaign ended up being a significant marker on the road to Allied victory in World War II, it resulted, particularly in its opening phases, in major losses of Allied equipment. The Allies saw huge numbers of their tanks and other vehicles knocked out by German firepower, often operating from well-prepared defensive positions. This happens in war. Ukraine doesnt control the air over the battlefield—until they find a way to do so, they will have continue weakening Russian forces before they make major advances. This seems to be what they are doing.

Well the Ukrainian Counteroffensive has begun its phase of attempted forward movement. This week we saw the first signs of some of the Ukrainian Brigades that had been preparing to be part of the counteroffensive go into action against Russian positions in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. And guess what, there were some losses, including of some of the more advanced AFV that Ukraine has been provided by its NATO partners such as Leopard II tanks. The picture of these losses seem to lead some to portray the opening of this phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive as some kind of failure—when the evidence for this is basically non-existent at this stage. One engagement of even one whole day of combat are in and of themselves unimportant in revealing the course of the war. For instance, if you want to see pictures of masses of destroyed war equipment, you could easily turn to the catalogue of such images of Allied losses (often Sherman tanks) that occurred in massive numbers during the Normandy campaign in 1944.

File:The remains of Sherman tanks and carriers waiting to be broken up at a British vehicle dump in Normandy, 1 August 1944. B8394.jpg
Destroyed Allied Equipment: France 1944

Though the Normandy campaign ended up being a significant marker on the road to Allied victory in World War II, it resulted, particularly in its opening phases, in major losses of Allied equipment. Pressing out of the Normandy beachheads, the Allies saw huge numbers of their tanks and other vehicles knocked out by German firepower, often operating from well-prepared defensive positions. This happens in war.


And it happened near the start of this phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. A Ukrainian armored detachment seemed to have stumbled into a Russian minefield which led to equipment damage and loss of mobility, so much so that a number of advanced vehicles including tanks and some Bradley fighting vehicles had to be abandoned (it seems that their crews survived).

The first damaged Bradley Fighting Vehicles were seen on the battlefield.

The fact that the Ukrainians did not immediately steamroller the Russian lines seemed to give pause to those wanting Ukrainian victory and heart to pro-Russianists. In this case, it was a rather extreme over-reaction to one engagement.

What the Ukrainians are trying to do now is both extremely difficult and it will take time. Its not going to result in an immediate collapse in Russian forces, so people need to be patient and allow events to unfold.

Why is it difficult? The Ukrainians are attempting something that no nation other than the USA and perhaps Israel, has successfully executed since 1945. A large, combined arms breakthrough against an entrenched enemy. And they are trying it without one of the great advantages that these other two states have had during their successes—command of the air over the battlefield. Clearly the air over the battlefield is still contested, from what we can tell, Russian UAVs are operating effectively against Ukrainian vehicles (and vice versa).

Back in January, when Elon Musk of all people tweeted, not insensibly, that tanks were deathtraps in this war, I added “He’s right on this, only way tanks can survive is if one side has air superiority or if one side has been so attrited it can but weakly resist”


And I still think this is right, as Ukraine doesnt control the air over the battlefield—until they find a way to do so, they will have continue weakening Russian forces before they will have the chance to make major advances. This seems to be what they are doing. This one attack aside, what we have seen over the last few days is that the Ukrainians are pressing up and down the line in a number of places in Zaporizhzhia. Using the Deep State Map (the one that Ukrainians often favor, if you look at the front line, a number of grey areas have appeared which represent areas which Ukraine seems now to be contesting.

Of course its not just (indeed perhaps not even primarily) that on the front line that Ukraine is doing the job of weakening Russian forces. While these front-line engagements have started to take place, the Ukrainians have continued their campaign of hitting Russian command and control, logistics, and equipment positions behind the lines. Indeed, if anything these efforts seemed to have stepped up considerably. One of the most devastating was the destruction of a Russian headquarters on the Arabat pensinsula.


It seems Ukraine used its new longer-range Storm Shadows to take out a high value target that before they could not have eradicated so effectively.

So, dont overreact to one picture, the Ukrainians are attempting something extremely difficult (maybe unprecedented) in modern war. They will have to weaken the Russians a great deal before they can proceed.

Why will it take time? Well—mostly because it is extremely difficult. The Ukrainians are trying to advance into a strategically important area, which will allow it to divide Russian forces into two, non-self supporting units. If they can head south from the Zaporizhzhia oblast, they can cut the Russian army in Ukraine into two (one section supplied directly from Russia, and the other which could only be supplied from Kherson. And guess what—the Russians understand this and have defended the area with some of their best troops and deepest defensive lines. While Russian warmaking is crude, its non entirely non-sensical.

What we are seeing now is a major effort to weaken this defensive line. It wont happen overnight. I tried to explain that in greater detail in this midweek update.

Overall, please dont expect instant results from this counteroffensive. To compensate for not having control of the air and in undertaking an advanced combined arms offensive, Ukraine will need to significantly weaken Russian forces (or find a part of the Russian line that was already weak) if they are going to have success. They seem to be going about it the right way, and their are real signs the initiative is going in their favor. However it will take time.

Nova Kakhovka Dam and the Ordinariness of War Crimes

Ho Hum—Russia almost certainly committed another massive war crime this week and most of the world shrugged.

This attack was almost certainly the Russians (the evidence for this is much much stronger than say the evidence for the Nordstream pipeline attack which now seems very much to be in question.

This explosion is setting off an environmental catastrophe that will be felt for years.


The countryside and wildlife will be massively damaged, food production will be sorely hit, villages and town wiped out. We have also seen many civilian lives lost in the ensuing flood. It is a war crime of the highest order.

Of course on its own, it wont affect support for Russia from China or others at all. Support for Russia goes on and has gone on independent of such war crimes—so I cant imagine a change in that area. However, it might play a role even stiffening particularly European support for Ukraine.

One of the things about this war that might be most surprising is that the real pro-Ukraine hawks are not in Washington, but in the Baltics, the Nordics and CEE states. Seeing Russia decide to unleash a catastrophic environmental malestrom (that they really did not have to do) against a neighboring state will only reinforce the desire of these other European states to see Russia defeated. There are already signs that the dam explosion has resulted in increased military and civilian aid for Ukraine. One could also see it aiding considerably the strong and growing push for Ukraine to join NATO.

Militarily, I suppose the destruction of the dam provides Russia with a very small short term benefit, but nothing that would make a major difference. Attacks across the Dnipro were always going to be limited by Ukraine, as they had no working bridges going which could supply heavy armored forces. Therefore, such operations were going to be limited.

That being said, any such operations are now more difficult (at least for a little while). Going forward however, Im not entirely sure this benefits Russia significantly. It might even increase the area which Russian forces need to patrol. As the water rushes from the dam down river (towards the mouth) the water filled area above the dam, which had been very wide and deep, is shriking significantly. There are already signs of new islands either appearing or old islands enlarging in the area emptied out. Looking at maps of the area today and in late May, a growing difference can be seen. (thanks to war mapper: https://twitter.com/War_Mapper

May 20, 2023
June 11, 2023

This area from Nova Kakhovka east and north looked to be the most weakly defended part of the Russian line, as the river was so wide here that Ukrainian operations had to be very limited. Now, there wont be a large cross river invasion, but in equalling out the river flow, the Russians have basically made the channel narrower. They might have to send forces now to defend that area more deeply.

Again, as the Ukrainian counteroffensive will need time, and the water settles, this might not entirely be in Russia’s interest.


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