Since June 26, the noise from the Bavarian Alps (G7) and Madrid (NATO), mainly from the mouths of the same principal actors, has drowned out (as, one suspects, it was designed to do) much of reality, whether on the ground in Ukraine or, more importantly, in the global economy. I address some of those issues in the assessment below.
In the Donbas, as is evident from the map, Russian troops are now in control of all territory east of the Donets River and the fighting for Lysychansk appears to be evolving faster than the capture of Severodonetsk. The main road from the west into (or out of) Lysychansk is closed and the escape hatch for Ukrainian forces by small roads has narrowed to less then 10km.
South of the transport hub of Bakhmut, Russian forces have gained ground and have established at least some control over the main north-south road in the area, sufficient to deny the road to Ukrainian usage.
Russian forces north and northeast of Kharkiv continue to improve their positions and are continually shelling Kharkiv and its suburbs.
In the south (Kherson area), position skirmishes continue with no significant gains or losses by either side. It’s the typical scout activity one would expect, as the main theatre of war will shift south after the Donbas campaign is finished.
Lysychansk, as noted, is nearly encircled. The Russians are making small but steady progress from the south and southwest; in the northwest of Lysychansk, they have crossed the Donetsk River. The pincer will force the Ukrainians to leave the pocket and retreat on small roads in the direction of Siversk. There are indications that the retreat is underway. The question is how fast.
The hardcore defense of Siversk itself is mainly by a group of several hundred foreign mercenaries, primarily Poles. The issue is whether these troops and retreating Ukrainians from Lysychansk will stand to fight.
Ukrainian troops withdrawing from Lysychansk not only will be pursued to the Siversk area; they also will be confronted from the west by Russian forces advancing down from Izyum and Lyman in the direction of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
Siversk-based units will need to decide on whether to stay or withdraw much farther west to and beyond the Slovyansk-Kramatorsk line.
There now, incongruously, exist two diametrically opposite assessments of the situation by the opponents of Russian President Putin.
First, there’s the view of the “US intelligence services” referenced by the major German daily Die Welt and channeled by US conservative political analyst (and secret services mouthpiece?) Edward Luttwak. This view is that – having regained the offensive – the Russians will not stop any time soon and “there is the sinister possibility of yet another plan, this time to seize all Ukraine except for the territories given by Hitler to Stalin in 1940.”
Au contraire, says Ukrainian President Zelensky, the war will and must be over before yearend because winter conditions would give the Russians an advantage. Before winter, he says, Russia needs to be and can be forced back to the lines of control prior to the Russian February 24 attack.
According to CNN, White House “officials” aren’t so sure of any of this, are “losing confidence” that Ukraine can retake all the territory Russia has seized and feel that they need to convince Zelensky to change his “definition of victory.”
A realistic net assessment of Ukrainian versus Russian manpower and weapons provides clear evidence in support of the White House concern.
Here’s a calculation by a US military intelligence officer who has done the math:
Zelensky’s aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, passed that the Ukrainian army needs the following to reach parity and go on the offensive: 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, 300 MLRS, 2,000 armored vehicles, 1,000 drones.
This is a large amount of equipment. Five hundred tanks is roughly six armored brigades or 15 battalions. An artillery battalion (depending on the nation) has three or four batteries of four to six guns each, so 16 to 18 guns per battalion (though some only have 12 guns – lots of variables). A force of 1,000 howitzers equates to more than 50 battalions.
As I was regularly reminded by an old boss (he had just come from being 1st Infantry Division commanding general), it takes six months to train a battalion and a year to train a division. Ukraine and Russia appear to be fighting in a battalion structure, and that might be shortened a bit, but even if cut in half it would mean three months after the equipment was delivered –assuming you could find someplace to simultaneously train 15 battalions of armor.
And then there is the problem of logistics – a huge amount of ammunition would be needed as well as fuel, maintenance, etc. All of which is possible, if you decide to do it. But at this point it would require stripping NATO units of most of their gear and giving it to Ukraine.
Can this be done and executed before winter? It would be exceedingly difficult.
As Clausewitz noted, some things must be done and some things can be done and one must not confuse the two.