- OPSEC: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told government officials last week to stop talking about the coming offensive and Kiev’s military tactics, an apparent response to remarks by the Ukrainian General Staff G-3, Major General Gromov, that the offensive would begin soon and liberate much of occupied Ukraine by the end of the year. “The general rule is simple: war is definitely not the time for vanity and loud statements” Zelensky said, forgetting perhaps that he had forecast the liberation of Kherson “by September.”
- UK MinDef Ben Wallace said: “They [the Russians] have failed so far and are unlikely to ever succeed in occupying Ukraine.”
- The Ukrainian General Staff reports that Russian air forces have doubled their sortie rate since last week and that Russian artillery fire across all lines of control has increased substantially. Independent observers (American) report that the Russians are now sustaining 20,000 rounds of artillery fire per day while the Ukrainians are firing 5,000-6,000 rounds per day.
- Russian ground forces’ activity at the western end of the Donbas salient near Bakhmut and Kramatorsk has picked up significantly.
- Further to the southwest opposite Donetsk, both sides report heavy fighting near Avdivka and Krasnohorivka. The town of Pisky has been taken over by Russian forces and is being cleared out.
- Ground activity in the south is limited to, at most, company-size skirmishes at the small Ukrainian bridgehead across the Inhulets River.
- On the regional-strategic level, continued concern is voiced by Western observers over Russian plans to move west from the City of Kherson and beyond Mykolaiv for a link-up with Russian and pro-Russian forces in Transnistria. However, we’re talking here about covering a distance of close to 200 km, which – with current Russian forces – is as unrealistic as Gromov’s home-by-Christmas talk.
The Ukrainian General Staff over the weekend reported that the city of Kramatorsk was attacked by Russian ground forces and later was struck by heavy rocket fire. The UGS also said that the Russians were pushed back.
If the UGS reports are correct, even if only Russian reconnaissance elements were involved, this is a new development. Kramatorsk lies about 30km northwest of Bakhmut and 8 to 10 km south of Sloviansk. As Bakhmut falls (as is expected in the course of the coming 7 to 10 days), Russian forces driving southwest from the Izium region could be pushing between the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk or just south of Kramatorsk and trap Ukrainian forces to the east of the Izium-Kramatorsk-Bakhmut line.
Near Bakhmut, the town of Zaitseve just southeast of Bakhmut is now under Russian control. The Russian front line is still moving slowly, but now more perceptibly westward. The UGS says that more than 150 missiles hit Bakhmut overnight.
The intensity and size of engagements has also been picking up opposite the city of Donetsk from Krasnohorivka 20 km to the north to Avdivka directly opposite to Pisky further south. The town of Pisky essentially is leveled. According to the UGS morning report, a Russian foray along major route M-04 toward the town of Pervomaiske was unsuccessful.
Avdivka, as we have previously detailed, is a fortified town that has defined the line of control since 2017. A breakthrough by Russia there would open up major railroad and highway connections to the western portion of Donetsk Oblast and be seen as a strategic loss for Ukraine. No surprise that both sides describe the fighting as fierce.
The Kherson region where the Ukrainian offensive was supposed to take place has arguably been the quietest region over the past several weeks.
Russian ground forces undertook no substantive ground operations in the past several days, but did conduct artillery and missile strikes across most of the line of contact. Seven to eight towns in and around the small Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets – about 6km wide and 5km deep – were subjected to air strikes, and essentially every town was struck by rocket and or tube artillery. The city of Mykolaiv continues to be struck by rockets, as does Nikopol.
Ukrainian artillery and HIMARS and other MLRS systems continue to target Russian supply and ammo dumps and are reported to have struck two more ammo dumps in Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblast, but with diminishing effects as the Russians have minimized their size and dispersed them.
An American observer on the scene near Kherson City notes that “HIMARS has been effective, but the numbers are not adequate to change the outcome, only provide scattered tactical successes. Without the advent of some game-changing technology in sufficient quantity to shift the balance, it’s hard to predict anything other than a grinding war of attrition.”
But Ukraine cannot win a war of attrition.
A Ukrainian official, not the one chided by President Zelensky, commenting on the explosions at the airfield in Crimea last week, told a reporter, in response to a question as to whether that might mark the start to Ukraine’s long awaited offensive, “You can say it is.”
A NATO member country military intelligence report of which we have seen excerpts noted, “The comment by the official doesn’t ring true. Rather, it would seem that the Ukrainians are reaching the end of the rope before the Russians – optimistic predictions of most Western media and some Western governments and intelligence agencies notwithstanding.”
This war, on all fronts, has settled into a war of attrition. It also appears that Russia is meeting both its manpower and firepower supply needs. Without an infusion of substantial amounts of new offensive weapons and the trained troops to wield them, it will be difficult for the Ukrainians to win in even a limited sense. A few spectacular hits like the sinking of the Moskva or the destruction of a Crimean military airfield will not turn the current tide.
A war of attrition in which neither side is willing or able to launch decisive offensive action is, in effect, a war in which both sides are trying to destroy the other’s army, to kill or disable as many enemies as possible. Such a war the larger army wins – unless the smaller army’s allies supply large amounts of added resources, including personnel.