* The Ukrainian “offensive” in the south has been underway for 18 days as of today. As an American military intelligence officer observed, “I’m reminded of Lincoln’s comment about McClellan: ‘He has a case of the slows.’” More on this propaganda offensive below.
* In the principal theaters of action, the mouth of the Donbas salient, the line of Ukrainian fortifications near Avdivka, west of the city of Donetsk, and the areas west and north-west of Kherson, there is heavy and stepped-up Russian artillery shelling accompanied by multiple missile attacks throughout Ukraine.
* Russian forces are within 2-3 kilometers of the city of Bakhmut, the transport hub that anchors the south end of the Donbas salient.
* Amnesty International acknowledged the “distress and anger” caused by its report that accused the Ukrainian army of criminal behavior by using civilian facilities as ambush sites and shields but said that it “fully” stands by the report.
* Reports of Russians mining and threatening to blow up the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have been shown to be false, according to US military sources.
Russian forces are engaged in ground and tacair operations with strong artillery support along all points and lines of contact from north and northwest of Sloviansk to Bakhmut and further south to the area west of Donetsk with activity focused on Avdivka, the scene of heavy fighting back in 2017.
Sloviansk itself and at least 11 small towns near Bohorodychne northwest of Sloviansk were struck by sustained artillery fire. Further east, there was small unit ground activity near Siversk.
But principal Russian attention continues to be on Bakhmut as ground forces are pushing toward the transport hub from the Luhan River Reservoir as well as from the east.
Reports that Russian forces have entered Bakhmut from the south-east were contradicted by the Ukrainian General Staff. But even the slowest Russian grind will bring the south-end anchor of the Donbas salient under Russian control in a matter of days to a week.
The most intense current fighting in the East/Center sector is taking place further south along an extended line of contact from Krasnohorivka in the north to Avdivka and Pisky around Donetsk City all the way down to Marinka. The Avdivka to Pisky segment is being contended the hardest.
After taking the fortified Butivka mine halfway between the center of Donetsk City and the center of Avdivka, Russian forces now appear intent on pushing through the fortifications of Avdivka established by Ukraine in 2015-17.
The Ukrainian General Staff still reports that the Russians have not taken Pisky but bloggers and videos show Russians in the town center. A breakthrough at Avdivka looks possible in the near term and would open the western areas of the Donetsk Oblast to Russian attack along the major M-04 highway.
The vaunted Ukrainian southern offensive “to liberate Kherson Oblast by September”, as asserted by President Volodymyr Zelensky, to date has been desultory at best.
Aside from establishing a bridgehead across the Inhulets River between Bilohirka and Andrivka some 100 kilometers north of Kherson City prior to the announced start of the offensive on July 23 and off-and-on company-size engagements with Russian forces in the area, there has been no Ukrainian ground forces activity.
The main tactic appears to be to use some of the 16 HIMARS delivered by the US to strike Russian ammo depots and attack bridges across the Dnepr River upstream from Kherson. Perhaps the Ukrainians are still massing forces and the plan was to sever the Russian supply lines and let them “whither on the vine.” But that is not playing out.
Another Ukrainian plan might be to conduct a grand deception, tie some Russian forces down near the bridgehead and build a large strike force near the City of Kryvyi Rih to drive down the west bank of the Dnepr River and catch the Russians from the rear. But there’s no evidence of that yet.
Meanwhile, the Russians are moving more men and material to the region, reportedly at a rate of three to four major convoys a day, and are directing near incessant artillery fire into the bridgehead toward the cities of Mykolaiv, Kryvyi Rih, and Nikopol and into Ukrainian defensive positions along the LoCs.
That has the feel of a Russian “counteroffensive” in the direction of Mykolaiv and some Russian forces have probed in that direction. US military intelligence is now picking up talk by Ukrainians of “postponement” of the offensive.
If the Ukrainian offensive that never was is indeed being postponed, then the delay would merely acknowledge military realities. To conduct a significant military offensive without sizeable air support or decisive air superiority is difficult if not impossible.
Even the best of long-range artillery cannot substitute adequately for tacair operations. Moreover, of course, the classic three-to-one manpower advantage or close to that has to be in place. How would the Ukrainian armed forces have come up with that?
Manpower losses on both sides in the months-long slow grind in the Donbas salient were large, probably larger on the Ukrainian side while they had been larger on the Russian side in the early ill-fated attack on Kiev.
New Ukrainian recruits plus forces withdrawn from the East and Center sections of the war theater would have had to make up a Kherson offensive strike force. But there are major constraints on both of these resources.
Russian forces pushing west out of Donetsk into Pisky and threatening Avdivka – even if they were not to continue to drive west – represent a severe threat to more central regions of Ukraine.
Moreover, a Russian victory at Avdivka would have serious morale consequences as it would mean a loss of positions held by Ukrainian forces for seven years. A similar threat is posed by the likely fall of Bakhmut, which might be followed by the fall of Sloviansk.
There may have been the vague and rather desperate hope by the Ukrainians to be able to trap substantial numbers of Russian forces in exposed positions west of the Dnepr River and deliver a quick and demoralizing blow. There may also have been the hope that allegedly exhausted Russia would fail to marshal forces to counter the slow-motion Ukrainian moves.
But it was always a high-risk gamble, a push they will have known could not succeed but undertook nonetheless to convince the US and NATO to deliver massive additional offensive weapons or even eventually intervene more directly.
Follow Uwe Parpart on Twitter at @uwe_parpart