Would they dare? Russia promises a 'harsh' response if Ukaraine attacks Crimea or the Kerch Bridge, which connects the disputed territory to Russia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Summary/Overview

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired his head of Secret Service (SBU), Ivan Bakanov, and General Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova. Bakanov was a childhood friend and then was Zelensky’s manager during his career as a comedian.

Apparently, SBU was heavily penetrated by Russian intelligence. The SBU directors of the offices in Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Sumy, Zakarpattia and Zhytomyr were also relieved of their duties.

Ukraine faces difficulties getting Western weapons to the front lines, the Wall Street Journal reports, explaining that the country has been given multiple complex systems with not much in common.

Russia has responded to statements by the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Vadym Skbitsky, who claimed that Crimea could be targeted by US-supplied HIMARS and UK M270 MLRS systems. The Russian response would be “harsh,” said Mikhail Sheremet, who represents Crimea in the Russian parliament.

Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu met with Lieutenant General Muradov, commander of Russian forces operating north of Slovyansk, and told him to prioritize the destruction of Ukrainian long-range artillery systems.

On the ground, action throughout remains subdued even after the Russian “operational pause” has been declared over.

Center/East

The battle for the town of Siversk, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the northeastern part of the Donbas salient, continues. As was seen in the capture of Lysychansk, Russian forces are cutting off access to Siversk by moving in from the southeast and northeast. Russian progress is slow.

Simultaneously, two Russian moves – in the south, in the direction of Bakhmut, and in the northwest, down from Izium, cutting between Barvinkove and Sloviansk in the direction of Kramatorsk – indicate a strategy of encircling a larger territory and cutting off Ukrainian troops from resupplies.

Near Bakhmut, Russian forces have moved into the town of Prokrovske, 8 kilometers outside of Bakhmut, and appear poised to attack the transportation and supply hub.

Farther north, fighting continues for the town of Dementiivka – famed for its role in World War II when Kharkov (now Kharkiv) changed hands four times between German and Russian forces.

Dementiivka is about 15 kilometers north of Kharkiv and sits astride one of the two roads leading from Kharkiv to the Russian border. Controlling it would allow the Russians to cut the main lines of communication supporting Ukrainian forces nearer to the Russian border, and would provide Russia with better logistics support in the event they want to attack Kharkiv in the future.

South

Stepped-up Russian action in the South and a Zelensky-ordered million-man counteroffensive have been much talked about, but nothing of the sort has materialized to date.

Russian forces continue to conduct artillery and air strikes along the line of contact. Ukrainian artillery returned fire in a number of spots. Russian forces continue to shift positions to improve their defensive posture.

Russian reporting indicates that Ukraine is moving forces into the region south of Kryvyi Rih in preparation for an offensive and may be in the process of setting up a pontoon bridge across the Inhulets River. If that’s true, then Ukrainian forces will have to make a move here soon or render a pontoon bridge useless.

Assessment

Military intelligence reports point to the inference that Ukrainian manpower has been depleted to such an extent that a major frontal assault on Russian positions in the region stretching from Mikolaiv in the southwest through Kryvyi Rih to Zaporizhzhia is a pipedream: It could only be undertaken at the risk of a large-scale Russian breakout from the Donbas toward the Dnepr defense line and into central Ukraine.

US National Security Council official John Kirby has been quoted as asserting that “Ukraine has the right to go on the counteroffensive against Russian forces in their own country and the US will provide the tools and the training for them to do so.”

However, not even those strange encouraging words are likely to persuade Ukrainian military commanders that exercising such a “right” granted by the US will be a good idea.

Our forecast for now: The Russians will continue to grind out territory and grind down Ukrainian assets. A war of attrition favors the party with more assets to be attrited.

The danger for a wider war lies in the possibility that the delivery of longer-range artillery weapons from NATO to Ukraine will lead to an “accidental” attack on Crimea or – as has been threatened by Ukrainian commanders – on the 19-kilometer Kerch Bridge.

Actually, a pair of parallel bridges, one road and one rail spanning the Kerch Strait between mainland Russia and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea, it is the longest bridge Russia has ever built and currently the longest in Europe.