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After Bakhmut: let the trolling commence

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For all intents and purposes the town of Bakhmut has fallen, albeit that Ukraine has taken the opportunity afforded by the exhaustion and tactical ineptness of the invading forces, to pinch it on either flank.  For the time being there will be no Russian advance on Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, which were supposed to be the next towns down the road, last summer while Putin still enjoyed a (tiny) bit of momentum.  Informed opinion varies as to whether the 4-month street-fighting defence of Bakhmut was as advantageous to Ukraine in ratio of casualties as merited holding on for quite that long.  It certainly blunted the Russian Donbas offensive to the point of total standstill, depriving Putin of one of his stated main aims.  Further, it fixed Russian forces to an extent they would not have welcomed.  My own observation would be that Ukraine has not thus far demonstrated gratuitously bad military judgement, or overly emotional attachment to any particular piece of real estate.  (Most mistakes have, understandably, been ones of caution – always easier to identify in retrospect.)

We now await the long-heralded Ukrainian 2023 counteroffensive.  As I endlessly say, there’s no such thing as strategic surprise … so it will be interesting to see what tactical surprises they have up their sleeves.  It’s imperative they have something clever in mind; otherwise, with no prospect of air superiority they are potentially in trouble against a lengthily-prepared, albeit unsubtle and static defensive plan, established in depth.  Frankly, there are no good 20th century precedents that I know of, notwithstanding that static defences have often been swept aside – with air support.  The major points in Ukraine’s favour are:

  • excellent intelligence; the initiative; and many months of active planning
  • the front is huge, and Russian forces (of poor fighting quality on average) are thinly spread.  Their defensive depth looks excellent on the map, but only a small % is actively manned
  • defence in such circumstances relies upon good communications, coordination and decision-making under conditions of chaos, plus adroit deployment of highly mobile reserves: and the Russians have thus far been found badly wanting in all those regards
  • I’m not convinced Putin dares hazard his airforce, the only wholly irreplaceable asset he has

I shan’t bother to list Ukraine’s difficulties.  Anyhow, we may not need to speculate for long.

*   *   *   *   *

I was looking back at an excellent June 2022 article by Adam Tooze the other day, and was amused to take a peek BTL.  We’ve been honoured with some pretty silly trolling on C@W back in the early months of this war – who knew we merited the attention of the Russian troll factories? – but Tooze got both barrels.  Samples: 

… the [Russian] breakthrough at Popasna** and the developing envelopment of Slavyansk, as such defences tend to hold in place until they break, and then they break quite quickly. In this war the Ukrainian side has been the rigid and inflexible one (dig in, defend anything to the point of encirclement and annihilation), while the Russians moved and maneuvered over a 800km length of battlefield, changing axis of attack and intensity many times. The results are slowly becoming visible – the Ukrainians are losing the war 

Russia’s outnumbered, highly mechanized force has constantly set the rules of the engagement and Ukraine’s massive mobilized force, it seems, is fundamentally reactive.

it is very obvious that Ukraine is retreating everywhere. … a full collapse (of Ukr) is coming

the Russians are winning in a very loss-effective manner. Once beyond the in-depth defences of the Donbass, and with much of the professional Ukrainian army under the ground, a prisoner of war, or injured beyond recovery to the field (or refusing to fight as has been shown in multiple cases), the war tempo will move much faster. Zelensky and his government have made a major strategic error in pouring in men and arms into a salient thats will inevitably collapse, a meat grinder being used by the Russians to destroy the Ukrainian army … Zelensky throws more and more of his army into this cauldron. Once the cauldron, and much of the Ukrainian Army, is finished who will be left to defend the rest of Ukraine?

The Ukraine military has been defeated for two months already. I don’t know what kind of funding you are smoking, Adam, but the only successes in Ukraine are the people cleaning up all the dead Ukrainian soldiers. It is beyond disgusting that people are pretending that those facts are not real … They all should have surrendered long ago and every death is just another mark of American hubris.

Admit it. Russia has won, will win, will demand all sanctions removed. And Ukraine, for its efforts better remove crooked Zelenskyy and admit that their sacrifices were in vain. 

Hmm.  I think we shall see more like this with which to decorate Ukraine’s counteroffensive.



** Russian “breakthrough”?  Very short-lived; subsequently routed; and Slavyansk never troubled. 


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