This is a review of the recent battlefield events and an assessment of not only where we are, but the trajectory of this conflict.
A busted up Russian 2S19 Msta self-propelled howitzer sits in L'viv's open-air museum of former-Russian military vehicles. Ukraine has destroyed or captured thousands of pieces of Russian heavy equipment.
How did we get here from there?
How did we get from a situation seven months ago, where we were contemplating how many years a Ukrainian insurgency would take to wear down an under-manned Russian occupation force, to now where we’re watching Ukraine become one of the world’s most potent and sophisticated “traditional” armies? (Your answers in one-minute or less.)
Back in the winter, I was thinking about what role I could play in the defense of L’viv, where I live near the Polish border. Now, I'm in southern Ukraine, not too far from the artillery, observing a very organic and sophisticated system that is working behind the scene of a theatrical play that will be in history books well beyond my time... and perhaps beyond actual books for that matter. I do my small part, but we've moved well beyond Molitov Cocktails and town patrols.
Similarly, how did the Ukrainian military (ZSU) transform itself from an embarrassingly absent body in 2014 in Crimea to one that can successfully execute a combined-arms, consolidate-then-disperse tactical maneuvers that the US and UK generals talk about, but few armies have actually performed? There certainly were some brave fighters within the Ukrainian forces back in 2014 – see the Ukrainian film “Cyborg” (not the Jean-Claude Van Damme film, unless the Muscles from Brussels is a guilty pleasure) – but the ZSU on whole was in a dismal state back then. It had no response to the Green Men who swept into and took over Crimea in a matter of days, and took months to effectively throw a tourniquet on the Donbas crisis. It was basically a sleepy, poorly funded Soviet vistage with little modern thinking.
I’m going to focus on answering the questions in that first paragraph, but at times the longer history is going to come into play, and I think most of you reading this would gain from realising that a lot of work was done in the eight years leading up to February’s invasion. A lot of work done by Ukraine and by its new allies and partners.
Back at the outset of the February invasion, and perhaps repeated too often these days as if it were gospel, there were few voices out there that saw Ukraine being able to repel the initial attack on the battlefield. While most political and military analysts were quite confident of a swift Russian move to take and hold some cities, almost none believed Russia could achieve its ultimate objective of subduing a nation of 40-million with a force of under 200,000. I was of the mind that this was a strategic miscalculation of an arrogant and desperate Putin, and a plan that was doomed to fail. I also thought we’d be seeing fighting in the streets of Kyiv and Kharkiv and Odesa.
What has transpired could be summarised as a string of successes for Ukraine that have been attributed to Ukrainian skill, courage, morale, and foreign aid as well as to Russian arrogance, ineptitude, and corruption. The initial big successes in repelling the Kyiv attack and halting the Kharkiv assault, was quickly humbled by a refocused and powerful Russian assault on the Donbas front. By spring, after the drama of Mariupol and the Azovstal siege was no longer in the headlines, Russia seemed to re-embrace its long-held tactics of leveling towns and cities with artillery all while probing with small infantry detachments. Ukrainian territorial losses were not fast, but they were coming at a cost of hundreds of lives per day. The outlook was bleak, particularly as media analysts were looking for ways of categorising and understanding what was going on.
They chose a comparison with World War 1 and its long, grinding, war of attrition. In many ways, I think this is when international public opinion was waning, particularly with inflation at generational highs and economic woes at crisis levels in places like Sri Lanka. This is when most folks seemed to conclude that the war would go on much longer, opting often to say the war was “dragging on”, despite few wars (especially in Europe) ever resolving themselves within weeks and months. This is when I really felt the media and analysts were missing what was going on away from Donbas. One side certainly out-gunned the other, but that other side was strengthening in such a comprehensive way that the amount of brute firepower was going to be offset with precision tech, tactical advantage, morale, and eventually manpower.
Ukrainian troops being trained in the UK back in July (photo courtesy of Radio Free Europe) The new troops that Ukraine is bringing to the fight are more motivated and better trained.
Both Ukraine and Russia had suffered substantial losses through the summer’s artillery slog, and many of those were from their most experienced forces. What was different is that Ukraine was replacing and growing its forces with a blend of hastily trained men and some that were getting intensive training in NATO countries on sophisticated weapon systems; weapons that were steadily flowing across the full length of Ukraine to where they were most needed.
Russia, conversely, was mostly getting recruits from domestic riot police outfits, prisons, the homeless, the usual mercenaries (like the Wagner Group and various Chechan groups), and the destitute from far-flung reaches of the federation, like Zabaykalsky Krai. And what they have been getting hasn’t been enough, and this has resulted in a line of contact that is getting stretched ever thinner for the Russians. This becomes critical in the Kharkiv counter-offensive, as I’ll relate in a moment. What’s even more important to realise is that this situation isn’t improving for Putin. The people of St Petersburg and Moscow aren’t getting anymore excited about joining the war effort, especially as the truth about not only deaths but the state of the Russian military becomes clearer. This plays into the discussion as to whether Russia will declare war on Ukraine and thus move for full mobilisation (see added insert furhter down), but few people see that as likely because there is a difference between supporting the special operation and being willing to die in Ukraine.
Regarding those deaths, it apparently turns out that Ukraine's estimates might have been the closest of all the sources all along. A leak from the Russian finance ministry pointed to more than 48,000 “death” payments being made to families of fallen soldiers and that this was going to require more money. I believe that was from August. So it’s quite fair to say that Russian casualties and prisoners combined are over 100,000, and deaths may now be over 50,000. I don’t know if those figures include casualties from conscripts from the DPR and LPR (the two breakaway oblasts), which are ridiculously high. Men living in occupied Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea are finding Mother Russia a rather cold bitch these days.
Those astronomical casualty numbers – rivaling the total US losses in over ten years of fighting in Vietnam – have been replaced by weaker recruits who are mostly on six-month contracts. The bulk of those contracts will expire over the winter. If you keep following the trajectory of this war, you can see a scenario where the Russians run out of men to man their howitzers and drive their tanks (into trees) and BTRs (into bogs). That is, if they don’t abandon them all to the Ukrainian forces, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Along with the NATO training of existing and new Ukrainian forces, the previous months have seen a gradual but extremely meaningful increase in the sophistication of Ukraine’s heavy weapons, including the M270 and M142 (HIMARS) precision rocket artillery systems firing GMLRS munitions deep into Russian occupied territory. More recently, we're seeing the precision-guided Excalibur shell being fired (sparingly) from the M777, what they call the triple-axes in the ZSU because of how the sevens look like axes.
In a matter of months, with only a couple dozen of the deadly precision-rocket systems, Ukraine has hit over 400 targets deep behind Russian lines. These have been ammunition depots, command and control centres, and some transportation structures, like bridges. Russia has not had an answer to this other than to push their depots farther from the lines, which slows resupply and puts a higher demand on cargo trucks. If your travel time to an artillery position doubles, you need two-times as many trucks to keep the existing flow going. Well, they don’t have that and artillery shelling from Russian positions has dropped off tremendously since July.
Another technological improvement that hasn’t been getting the press that HIMARS has is the jerry-rigging of AGM-88 (HARM) anti-radiation missiles onto Ukrainian MiG-29s (and possibly other airframes). Anti-radiation missiles aren’t there in case something goes awfully wrong at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, but rather they locate and destroy radar installations. When radar locks on to a target, that target “knows” it, and it can locate the radar with a missile of its own (or jam the radar in a defensive effort). As such, Ukraine has been taking out Russia radar assets and thus increasing its capability to fly close air support for ground forces, and diminishing Russian chances of ever gaining an upper hand in the skies over Ukraine.
A still-frame from a video of a Texas-Instruments-designed and Raytheon-produced AGM-88 (HARM) missile about to take out a radar installation (not a photo from Ukraine). Coutesy Defense News.
This is another trend that is set only to continually favour the Ukrainian side, as air defenses over Ukraine will continue to improve and Ukrainian Sukhois and MiGs should be able to play a bigger role in the war. This doesn’t change the fact that Ukrainian planes are very old and can be “jerry-rigged” with advanced weapon systems only so far. The future of the Ukrainian air force beyond 2022 is probably the F-16s that the US and others are retiring, and perhaps some retired tank-busting A-10s.
The future of the ground forces may be in US-made Abrahms tanks, or the German-made Leopard IIs, as well as vehicles like the hundreds of Bradley fighting vehicles just collecting dust in the Pentagon's deep storage, where they are only being given up for parts. This is a timely question because the news is still giving conflicting reports on the tug-of-war between political ambitions and military inventory realities. That's primarily a reference to the on-again-off-again German reports. Still, with each turn of the calendar, we are seeing Ukraine looking more and more like a NATO army. I’d just remind folks that what’s getting done now could have been done months ago if we were more focused and better prepared in March.
All of this might make it seem like I’m saying we’ll wrap up this tussle with Putin by Thanksgiving, and we’ll all be booking holidays in Yalta come May. Not so.
There’s still intense political resolve in Moscow to see this out, and I don’t think they’re quite in tune with the reality of their situation just yet. The Kremlin still seems to think that there is a “win” in this somewhere for them. Any of you who have spoken with me over the last several months know that I haven’t thought there was a chance of a Russian win really ever. Those of you who expressed concern about a Russian escalation heard more often than once my answer of “with what?”
I’m not of the camp that some coup or break-up of the federation is anywhere on the near horizon, but that doesn’t mean that our experts familiar with the difference between Chechnya and Dagestan, or a krai and an oblast, shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep from making similar missteps like we did with the collapse of the Soviet Union (see the Budapest Memorandum of 1994). I encourage you all to do a little YouTube and Wikipedia research into how ethnically and economically diverse the Russian Federation is. It's really been a difficult beast for the Muscovite Rus' to manage.
Russian Mobilization News: “You’re gonna need a bigger meat grinder.” BREAKING NEWS! Geez. Just when I’m ready to go “to press” and, again, there’s new pertinent news. On whole, I don’t think a couple hundred thousand reservists and new recruits will change the outcome of the war. They may not even slow a Russian defeat, especially if this move follows the trend of the increasingly unpopular nature of the war back in Russia. I don’t think too many people in Russia are mistaking this for what it is: a last-ditch effort to save a terrible plan. The annexation of the several oblasts in Ukraine via sham referenda is a joke. Why not just annex all of Ukraine and then try to enforce that? Now it’s just that Russia will be losing a conventional war within “Russia”. That’ll reduce the sting of the embarrassment, Mr Putin, won’t it? (Lots of people in the Kremlin share this view, but for them it’s much more of a concern than it is for me.) It’s not like annexing Crimea kept Ukraine from hitting targets in Crimea, and now with the blurred lines between the two nations, maybe Joe Biden won’t worry too much about where the Ukrainians target with their sophisticated US-made weapons. Sure, Ukraine would like to face the army that they’re beating up right now, but further mobilization has always been in the cards, and now it may be too late for Russia. They’re not winning, and any Russian reservists showing up with minimal training know it. When the shells start falling around them, how are they going to react? Plus, none of the reservists or recruits is going to solve the Russian logistical problems or save their air force or navy. I’ll address the nuclear question once more, because the media knows the headlines with "nukes" sell ads. I’ll also reiterate that I’m in a targeted area as I share this opinion. Here, olive green and camouflage fashion is not only all the rage, but if you’re not wearing a shirt with Velcro on the shoulder, you get looks. (I’m exaggerating, of course.) We are aware this is a possibility, and no one wants it to happen, but I cannot see how it can happen without the reprisal being worse. I cannot see how the Russian Federation survives the response to even a one-off strike with weapons of mass destruction.
So what has actually happened?
What happened in the month of September was remarkable even if it doesn’t portend an imminent end to the war. It’s remarkable even disregarding the flawed preconceptions of the invasion back in February. The headlines talk of Ukraine retaking 6000km2 of territory in eastern Kharkiv Oblast, which is much more than Russia has managed to take in the last several months. What doesn’t get enough coverage, though, is how many pieces and the large stockpiles of hastily abandoned Russian hardware and munitions were left behind for the Ukrainians to take. Just in terms of tanks and armored vehicles, we’re talking about numbers that are half of what the whole French army has in active service today. In there are T-80 tanks that likely belonged to the First Tank Guard, one of Russia’s top fighting units.
To understand how the Kharkiv counter-offensive achieved so much, we have to go back to the fact that Russia has been severely under-manned along many stretches of the front for months. Ukraine saw the weak position around Balakliya way back in the spring. These Russian defensive lines were further weakened when they chose to reinforce Kherson way around to the southwest. This was half of Zelenskyy's goal in broadcasting the Kherson counter-offensive, perhaps one of the most hyped military maneuvers in history. The other half of the reason was to confront the Russians on the battlefield of Ukraine’s choosing, which is the right bank of the Kherson Oblast.
I’m sure the Russian command was aware that Ukraine aimed to draw as many of their forces there to cut them off and destroy them, but they weren’t left with many choices. Choosing not to reinforce Kherson was basically a choice to give it up. US intelligence recently said that it looks like Russia may be planning to withdraw from Kherson now. There may also have been Russian units discussing the terms of their own surrender given a dearth of supplies, but I haven't heard more about that in the last few days.
The Russians were also aware that they would be weakening their positions elsewhere by reinforcing Kherson, but so long as they had mobile reserves (in this case it included the First Tank Guard) and Ukraine was focused in Kherson, any (small?) counter-offenses could be contained. Or that’s what the Russian command hoped.
This plan diagrams what seems to be the tactical goal for Ukraine on the right bank of the Dnipro River. It's basically a full assault along the 100-mile Kherson Oblast front, but with the main thrust intended to divide the Russians into two cauldrons with no easy route of escape.
The Kherson counter-offensive apparently started on the last few days of August and with the stated objective of retaking Kherson city by the start of the winter. It would be a slow but steady campaign waged with the heavy weapons Ukraine had, if not the number of heavy weapons they wanted. The aim was to be modest in pace so as to minimise losses.
Not losing troops on this kind of terrain is tough, because it’s extremely flat and open down here. You can see infantry from kilometers away in places. Still, the offensive started with a push at basically five points along the line of contact in Kherson Oblast. The centre push is the main thrust, with the idea of breaking the Russian defenses into a northern and southern “cauldron”, but separated from the remainder of the Russian forces in southern Ukraine by the bridges that Ukraine disabled with the HIMARS precision rockets in July/August.
The term cauldron is a direct translation of the German “kessel” (where we get the word kettle), which is how the Wehrmacht referred to an encircled military unit. You’ll likely have heard of the pincer maneuver, often attributed to Napollean but used well before. It's an aspect of the same tactic. By the way, the concept of Blitzkrieg is often misunderstood as having been highly dependent on armoured mechanised units, the panzer tank. It was in part, but it was even more an employment of co-ordinated combined-arms air and ground assault chiefly enabled by the use of radio. I believe the Wehrmacht deployed just as many men on horseback as they stuck inside tanks for the invasion of Poland. I also understand that in the final days of the war in Europe, allied cavalry troops successfully overran Nazi logistics and reserve positions southeast of Berlin (where Schenfel/Brandenburg Airport is today). The unit? Polish cavalry. (Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna.)
Having a media blackout on operations in the south made it very hard to know what was happening from one day to the next, and still does even though I’m editing this less than 20 miles from the line of contact. The blackout also gave the Russian propaganda machine its opportunity to make all sorts of claims: the counter-offensive was squashed on the first day, etc., etc. Of course by the third or fourth day, the Russians stopped with that claim, and they admitted that Ukraine made modest gains but with heavy losses. There was hope the Russian positions would be able to hold out.
Then, on 7 September, as those of us who follow the daily updates of the Deep State tactical map online – the source of my graphics herein – were looking for incremental gains of the blue lines into the red area, a big dent formed in the red Russian area all the way up north east of Kharkiv. Within hours the whole map in the Kharkiv Oblast was fluid, and each half-day update of the map saw that dent going deeper. With the depth of the Ukrainian charge, the most obvious significant change was the apparent isolation of the Ukrainian town of Izyum, where Russia kept its main strategic base for the northern movement to create a cauldron in western Donbas.
This video of Ukrainian forces singing the national anthem on the morrning of the Kharkiv counter-offensive widely circulated here on Ukrainian Instagram and Telegram channels. The format doesn't fit the best here.
What the ZSU was able to do, likely with the co-operation of allied and domestic intelligence outfits, was to exploit a weak position in the Russian lines near the town of Balakliya and similarly empty reserve ranks behind. They were able to form-up in near complete secrecy given the media blackout that was supposed to protect the Kherson counter-offensive. It also exemplified the tactical maneuver of consolidating forces quickly from dispersed positions, then bringing in artillery and air assets to help punch the hole and then just keep moving forward. Then, within hours, those forces could fan out to help wipe out any enemy positions on their flanks as well as accomplish a set of tactical goals. It takes tremendous co-ordination, particularly for a brigade that isn’t made up of professional soldiers and has been on the defensive for the entirety of this war.
It’s helpful to go back to this concept of dispersion and consolidation and maintaining some fluidity. In modern warfare, with sophisticated long-range high-explosive munitions, one thing you don’t want to do is cluster your forces together. Russia made that mistake several times during this invasion and has paid for it dearly. This is also the reason that tactical nuclear weapons are not a great threat to the Ukrainian side, and reciprocally, tactical nuclear weapons are among the reasons Ukraine maintains dispersion.
Dispersed forces, though, don’t have the punching power necessary to break through defensive positions and move through the reserves that will be called in to plug the hole. So the maneuver needs to be done within a few hours and likely under cover of darkness and/or cloud so the enemy’s eyes in the sky (satellites and drones) cannot observe the formation.
In these operations, there’s also often more than one area of “push” to keep the enemy engaged (or "fixed) so it can be flanked and, later, be fixed long enough that the enemy may be surrounded and not be able to retreat. In the case of this operation, taking Izyum was the main goal, despite the main push from Balakliya toward Kupiansk occurring 30-50km north of the Russian stronghold. The attack would effectively cut off the Russian forces from their supplies coming directly from Russia to the north. If the push to Kupiansk would be fast enough, the forces could then fan out to take the river/reservoir crossings of the Oskil River to the east, and that could pin-down tens of thousands of Russians. That takes many "ifs".
This map shows more of what actually happened, showing how the main force punched through from Balaklya to Kupiansk on the Oskil River (highlighted in yellow). The effort to encirlce the Russian forces at Izyum succeeding in taking hardware but not many PoWs.
Once the front lines were breached, the Russians did try to bring in reserves to patch the hole, but the speed with which Ukraine's advance units were planting flags on municipal buildings throughout the area created a fear of being encircled by a numerically superior force within the Russia ranks. Rather than wait for orders to form-up, most of the Russians just ran. They ran leaving vehicles and ammunition behind. Usually you’d blow that all up so it’s not used against you later. Some Russian soldiers changed into civilian clothes, stole bikes and tried to blend in as they hurried out of the potential cauldron.
As of writing this, it sounds like the PoWs taken were only in the hundreds, though. We haven't seen those numbers yet, but the material take was huge. As I wrote earlier, we’re talking about a number of tanks and armoured infantry transports (APCs and IFVs), that would out-number the entire active inventory of many nations: 102 tanks (many T-80s), 108 IFV, 86 APCs, 66 artillery pieces, or about 530 vehicles in total.
The T-80s are a newer tank and less common than the T-72s used on both sides of the conflict. Their presence in Izyum, along with some other information, points to the inclusion of the 1st Guards Tank Army being present in the rout. This is one of Russia’s most prestigious mechanized divisions, one that was setup to counter a NATO ground offensive on Moscow. And, yes, these elite troop just ran and left their equipment behind to be used against them later.
I point this out to reinforce the point that the Russian military is not the formidable operation people have made it out to be, but also to combat the argument of some pro-Russian bloggers that the Kremlin is only throwing conscripts at Ukrainian forces and holding back their best for later. Well the VDV (Russian airborne units) have been seen in just about every front in Ukraine, including at Hostemel outside Kyiv at the beginning, where they got slaughtered.
Similarly, if you look at the litter of personal effects left strewn around camp sites (along with the horde of stolen items, like washing machines and TVs) where the Russians evacuated, it points to a severely undisciplined army. If you’re in a combat zone, you have your gear packed just about all the time because you don’t know when something like this might happen.
I’m hopeful that by this stage, if you’ve been reading my stuff and following the war through other sources, you’re no longer of the opinion that some mysterious Russian force lingers somewhere out there that can be deployed in case the Ukraine situation goes sideways for Putin. (See my "Breaking News" insert above if you didn't read it. ) This thing is so far off the rails for him, the initial goals seem a fiction of a parallel universe. This is really the Russian military: corrupt, poorly trained, and still arrogant. It’s more than a balloon of hot air, for sure, but the Russian Black Sea fleet is hiding on the other side of Crimea and the Russian air force is relegated to firing on targets from hundreds of kilometres away with little idea of what they're hitting (or missing).
Yes, there is the nuclear weapons threat -- a truly terrible option -- but as I said before, if Putin goes nuclear, and his military follows through with the order, it guarantees a bigger loss for Russia. The Russian Federation will not survive in its current form. If the hawks in the Kremlin want to go nuclear because they couldn’t steal what they wanted through conventional warfare, then how much are we willing to give them before they go nuclear anyway? Fortunately President Biden has become more vocal about this matter and more stern in where the US stands on that.
I suck at selfies; this old guy with a white beard keeps getting in the way. One of my volunteer contacts here believs that Mykolaiv is the second most "shelled" Ukrainian city that wasn't occupied. The first being Kharkiv. Obviously Mariupol and many of the cities in the occupied areas are far worse.
While advances in the east in Kharkiv have slowed at the Oskil River and reservoir, it hasn’t stopped entirely. The most interesting moves now are coming up from the south of that new front, coming from western Donetsk Oblast. It’s imaginable that Ukrainian forces will be moving into Luhansk Oblast but facing stiffer resistance. I’d expect Russian counter-attacks, but with the serious manpower issue that they’re facing, it’s hard to imagine these will be significant attacks by well trained forces. How motivated would a band of convicts be to put their lives on the line for the Russian state when they only signed up to get their permanent jail pass six months later?
(Following on the BREAKING NEWS, it's quite possible that Ukrainian forces will be deep into Luhansk before the reserves arrive from mobilzation.)
How about down South?
The Kherson counter-offensive isn’t getting a lot of press given all the excitement up north, and I can understand the questions that were circulating about whether it was just a feint on Kherson to make the Kharkiv attack more of a surprise. All evidence points toward it being a deliberate counter-offensive in Kherson, and the weather down here points toward quite a long time before winter sets in. There’s plenty of time for the ZSU to take Kherson Oblast on this side of the Dnipro River. Up north in Kharkiv and certainly from L’viv along to Kyiv, you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that winter was a month away or so. There were some cold days in Kyiv recently. Muddy terrain will become more of a factor there sooner.
There’s not much to report on the Kherson offensive other than to say that while the Ukrainian bridgehead over the small Inhulets River has been sustained and expanded, it has been under pressure, particularly from some temporally raging waters that swept away the Ukrainian pontoon bridges.
You may have heard about missile attacks on the reservoir dam above the city of Kryvyi Rih that caused minor flooding in the city. The apparent purpose of those several attacks on the dam was to wash away the Ukrainian bridges that were miles down stream. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that the Russians were able to exploit this opportunity as the Ukrainians quickly moved to using Mi-17 helicopters to bring in troops, munitions, and supplies. That’s an extremely risky option given the availability of Russian shoulder-fired air defenses, but it seems to have held up. Again, there aren’t many detailed reports, particularly of Ukrainian setbacks, but there's no updates showing a Ukrainian retreat.
You’ll also have heard recently of a large-scale power outage that struck eastern Ukraine caused by a missile strike on a power plant. It’s goal wasn’t simply to wreak havoc upon the civilian population, though it did, but rather to complicate Ukraine’s use of electric locomotives for moving troops and material. Specifically it may have been to slow a troop buildup east of Zaporizhzhia that the Russians seem to believe could be the next major offensive by Ukraine. There are diesel locomotives around, and I suspect they're being used now.
Two ATACMS missiles -- each weighing nearly 2 tonnes -- sit in front of an M142 (HIMARS) light multiple-rocket launcher. Speculation perists as to whether Ukraine will get these surface-to-surface missiles from the US. The US bought over 3,000 of the Lockheed-Martin missiles and discontinued the programme in preference to a new PrSM missile, so... kinda seems like they could be better used here, Joe.
That Zaporizhzhia counter-offensive would likely be directed toward Mariupol and intended on dividing Russia’s southern holdings and cutting its east-west supply route. It could also give the ZSU a clean shot at the Kerch Bridge with hard to defend GMLRS rocket artillery. It’s also likely that the US will finally give Ukraine the ATACMS missiles that have the extra long range with similar precision capabilities, and those could be used for the same target. The ATACMS (pronounced "attack-ems") are just a lot more expensive, fewer in number, and a lot is needed to disable that well defended, newly built bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula with mainland Russia. The warhead on the ATACMS is twice the size of the GMLRS with multiple times bigger punch, but six of the latter can be launched from the same HIMARS launcher at one time while only one of the big ATACMS can be fired at one time from the same vehicle.
If Ukraine could cut off Crimea from mainland Russia, and if it could split Russia’s east/west route along the Azov coast, the end of Crimean occupation could come without much of a fight. These are two huge “ifs” (again) and unlikely to arise any time soon in my eyes. I could even see the case arise of a large-scale disintegration of the invading Russian force before that happens, or that the two kind of happen simultaneously. I don’t think the Russian army can take too many more defeats before it realises how futile its aims are.
If you look at western Donbas, you’ll see that Russian forces are still making small gains there, but it’s not as if any of them are meaningful. The goal had been to draw in the bulk of the Ukrainian forces to resist a Donbas offensive and encircle them and destroy them. That goes all the way back to March. Well they just lost the whole northern base for that pincer movement when they lost Izyum. So now their in some mindless push for one more damned village, while they’re on the cusp of losing parts of Luhansk in much larger pieces.
For all that I can imagine, the Russian goal is to try to hold what they have, which is still a lot, but much of that predates the February invasion. They have to know now that the Ukrainian side is emboldened and the weapons support to Ukraine will only improve. NATO has seen that Ukraine is an excellent steward to Western largess and that corruption isn’t taking off with the lion’s share of military aid. Ukrainians, though from a nation of low income now, have prioritised their independence and their good relations with the West. It's about the future.
I’m hopeful that this relationship that Ukraine has developed, particularly with Poland, the Baltics, the UK, and the US will really only grow stronger with time. Even the more complicated relationship with Brussels and Berlin seem to be strengthening, with Chancellor Scholz telling Putin the war could be over tomorrow if the Russians just left Ukraine. He said Germany will stick by Ukraine until Ukraine decides it has completed its task of retaken what the Russians have temporarily stolen. This is quite a different tune than a few months ago.
Everyone loves a winner.
Personal Note: this entry was so long, I'll likely put together in a couple weeks a separate personal account of what I've been doing in the last month. Thanks for getting this far.