A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 28, 2023

The Out-Sized Importance of Liberating Small Town Staromaiorske

If you drove through Staromaiorske prior to the war, you might not have even noticed it. But it has become a key node in Russia's heavily engineered defensive belt in occupied southern Ukraine, known as the Surovikin Line, named for the now deposed general who designed it. 

That Ukrainian forces have taken this redoubt - and without air cover, let alone the air superiority NATO allies have enjoyed since the middle of WWII - is an unprecedented achievement. It was accomplished by first, intelligently, reducing rear echelon artillery and logistics, identifying a specific area where prepared defenses and troops were weaker than others, due in part to the removal for insubordination of the sector's highly respected commander - and only then attacking with armor and infantry. And, in this sector, it appears that once this village is taken, the defenses to the south of it, towards Mariupol, grow weaker, potentially cutting the Russian land bridge to Crimea.  JL

Pete Shmigel reports in the Kyiv Post:

Staromaiorske is the first settlement liberated within the inter-locking defensive layers of the heavily prepared 'Surovikin Line.' (It’s) liberation confirms the strategy by Ukraine to systematically destroy Russian rear echelon forces before attempting large-scale advances. The minefields and other fortifications seem to be less concentrated than elsewhere along the front, and the topography offers military advantages. At no time in modern military history, is there a precedent for mechanized infantry to advance against an entrenched enemy without strong air support. To the south, fortifications get thinner on the approach to Mariupol, 80 kilometers further.

Here are ten reasons why Staromaiorske, home to just 900 mostly older people matters in the context of Ukraine’s summer offensive to take back Russian-occupied territory.

1.     Staromaiorske’s liberation confirms the wisdom of the strategy by Ukrainian military commanders and political leaders’ to ‘starve, stretch and strike’. Under this approach, Ukrainian forces took their time to systematically target and destroy the Russias rear echelon forces with missiles, artillery and armed drones before attempting large-scale advances with mechanized infantry units on defended points like Staromaiorske. As a result, and in full alignment with their proclaimed military doctrine, the General Staff were able to save Ukrainian lives and new equipment.

2.     I am advised by leading global military strategists that, at no time in modern military history, is there a precedent for mechanized infantry to advance against an entrenched enemy without strong air support. Ukraine is able to fly less than 10 sorties per day which is at least 5 times fewer than their enemy. In part, the Ukrainians compensate for their lack of air cover with the increased and effective use of Western supplied HIMARS, Storm Shadow cruise missiles and other long-range weaponry. This took time to acquire and to learn, and it would also be good to have the time to further master battlefield drone technology and management software systems. (Subject experts strongly affirm that the military IT systems Ukraine itself has developed, including for use in artillery engagements, are better and much more flexible than many NATO-standard versions.) What the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are accomplishing is admirable and has, obviously, taken great attention to detail to prepare and execute. That’s called discipline and purpose rather than PR.


3.     Staromaiorske and the neighboring settlement of Urozhaine are the southern-most points of the summer offensive with the TO518 farm road literally the road to Mariupol. It appears to be a key aim of Ukrainian commanders to cut the occupied land bridge in southern Ukraine that links western Russia to Crimea. In combination with the now threatened Kerch Bridge, that land bridge is critical to maintaining RF logistics and supply - which have been shattered for two months at least.


4.     Choosing to specifically move along the TO518 and the parallel Mokri Yaly River show that the AFU are being very smart about identifying and selecting the weak points in the Russian defense lines. The minefields and other fortifications here seem to be less concentrated than elsewhere along the 1,000-kilometer front, and the topography of the area offers particular military advantages.


5.     The advances in this region – and elsewhere in southern Ukraine – involve some of the Ukrainian military’s newly formed brigades many of whose troops are Western trained and Western equipped, with modern tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. With, potentially, up to 60,000 new Ukrainian troops having been recruited and prepared for the summer offensive; gains like Staromaiorske validate the time and effort taken to prepare them, with the support of international allies, as well as their quality - which some “experts” have questioned.


6.     Moscow’s forces had more than a year to prepare their positions in southern Ukraine and to have breached those defensive lines is very significant. Russian defenses, the so-called Surovikin line, consist of many layers of minefields, artillery “kill boxes”, dragons teeth obstacles, bunkers, tank traps, concrete fortifications and more. Staromaiorske is basically the first settlement liberated that is within these inter-locking defensive layers whereas the eight previously liberated villages were ahead of them.

7.     Satellite imagery shows that the lines of fortification around the towns to the south of Staromaiorske are also less fully formed and solid. After Staromlynivka, a further 10 kilometers to the south, the fortifications basically get thinner on the approach to Mariupol, some 80 kilometers further on. Looking forward Staromlynivka represents the key next juncture in the summer offensive, potentially allowing a very different and faster pace. Wars have a habit of progressing very, very slowly before accelerating all at once.

8.     The win, like any win in any war, will partly shut up both critics and energize those responsible for “going too slow.” Ukraine’s Defense Minister had already mocked the naysayers by reminding them this war isn’t “a computer game”. While the views of armchair experts, the media or RF propaganda narratives are of course no distraction for Ukrainian leaders, strategists and commanders, general negativity about Ukraine’s progress can seep into the minds of decision-makers among its allies, and can be averted by operational results


9.     Just as importantly, momentum matters in war. It matters operationally, clearly costs less than operational setbacks. It matters psychologically, as it encourages your own side to fight and demoralizes the other side and reduces their preparedness to resist. It also matters psychologically to non-combatants, as Ukraine’s cities and towns get regularly pummeled by Putin’s cruise missiles, more than 50 airstrikes per day, artillery attacks against nearly 100 settlements per day, and more than 50 MLRS attacks per day. A win, no matter how small, gives hope to Ukraine’s communities. It matters diplomatically and politically, in terms of maintaining the strong international alliance in support of Ukraine.

10.  The Staromaiorske progress, as well as further likely gains this week in western Zaporizhzhia south of Orikhiv, continues to show that NATO needs Ukraine as much as vice versa. Victories, progress and momentum give Ukraine a stronger voice in the whole range of multilateral forums, be it NATO, the EU or within the Ramstein contact group to secure and coordinate further military aid. Everybody wants to back a winner.


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