Ukraine – Day 13

March 8, 2022

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We are now thirteen days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine and it now seems an appropriate time to take stock of the situation, though please note this is just a brief overview. The confused situation on the ground means that it is actually useful to consider both of these maps, as they portray both the theoretical minimum and maximum of Russian control.

But we can also see the general progress and short-term intentions of the invasion force and how the Ukrainians are seeking to counter Russian moves. Russian troops in southern Ukraine continue to divide their efforts between attacks westward toward Mykolayiv and Odessa, attacks northward toward Zaporizhya, and attacks eastward toward Mariupol and Donbas. Though there has been a distinct lack of focus on any single line of advance, the Russians are taking ground in the south gradually.

Russian troops in the vicinity of Kherson also appear to be attempting to bypass Mykolayiv, probably intending to encircle the city and continue their drive on Odessa. Should an assault on Odessa take place, it will likely be supported by an amphibious invasion from the fleet the Russians currently have just offshore.

It is uncertain if the drive north from the southern front will head directly for Zaporizhya, as taking that city would be a substantial undertaking. It seems more likely that they wish to apply pressure to the city, forcing the Ukrainians to concentrate forces for the defence and impeding their ability to interfere with the continued reduction of Mariupol. Once this city falls the combined southern forces will be free to head inland.

A potentially dangerous situation exists for Ukrainian forces in the East. The defences along the old front lines that have stood since 2014 have proven resilient to attack by Russia and their separatist allies. But there is a danger that if the Russians can encircle Ukrainian forces, broadly with a line running from Khakov to Luhansk, they threaten to destroy a substantial part of the regular Ukrainian field army.

Most of the world’s attention has been focused on the Russian drive from the North down toward Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Currently Russian forces are concentrating in the eastern, north-western, and western outskirts of Kyiv and a full assault on the city is expected within the next three days.

Should this occur, I would expect the battle to be absolutely horrendous.

President Zelensky of Ukraine has made plain that the city is to hold, and is still present there.

 

Whether he will remain throughout any fight remain to be seen, but I personally would not be surprised if he does.

The statements from the Ukrainians indicate that they consider that the battle of Kyiv will be their Stalingrad – a battle resulting in the defeat of their enemy and their expulsion. I certainly think that should a fight for Kyiv occur – and currently that seems inevitable – then it will be a battle the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Second World War.

But before that can happen, the Russians have to get there, and they have so far been spectacularly inept in their actions, in sharp contrast to the Ukrainians.

While comparatively little has been seen in footage released of stand-up fights between conventional military units, it has become brutally apparent that the Ukrainians are lethally efficient at raiding and guerrilla tactics.

 

The reason for the long approach time for the Russian army’s drive on Kyiv is constant harassment all along the approach road by small units that have been conducting hit and run attacks on Russian logistical and rear echelon units. This have been supplemented by drone attacks from the Ukrainians own military models and their Turkish supplied TB2s.

The Ukrainians have even apparently gone and borrowed a page from non-state actors and weaponized drones by fitting tailfins to ordnance and dropping them on the Russians. Of course, as they are a modern military they are able to effectively make these official weapons, and they are 3D printing tail fins that can be fitted to RKG-3 anti-tank grenades, making these obsolete weapons a very dangerous piece of ordnance to even an advanced battle tank.

 

All of this attrition has caused the Russians northern front to practically grind to a halt, and the deliberate targeting of fuel supplies by the Ukrainians has caused remarkable losses to Russian field units. The current best estimate at the time of this video going live is that the Russians have lost 145 Main Battle Tanks, including several of their latest T-90; 132 Infantry fighting vehicles and hundreds of other combat vehicles.

They have also lost at least eleven aircraft and eight helicopters confirmed destroyed.

Ukrainian losses are far more nebulous, but they have lost at least 46 tanks and eight aircraft.

And I should point out, these losses are only the ones that open-source intelligence sources have confirmed – the numbers are almost certainly much higher.

Certainly, the collapse of the Russian logistics train and subsequently the morale of many Russian troops has led to some bizarre footage. Ukrainian farmers have been recorded so often recovering Russian armoured vehicles that have been abandoned that it has become a meme!

 

And the abandonment of equipment has seen high value units just left lying around unattended. This example of four Tunguska anti-aircraft vehicles is a great example. Discovered by Ukrainians with the crews absent, they set fire to them so that they could not be recovered by the Russians.

 

These things go for something like $16 million each!

Key to the Russians problems are their technical failings, especially in communications and navigation equipment. We have seen some extraordinary examples of this.

Today the news broke that General Gerassimov, Chief of Staff of the 41st Army, had been killed by the Ukrainians. We know this because the information was openly discussed on a civilian cell phone between senior officers. They did this because the Russian army’s encrypted communication equipment, even that issued to high level and elite units, doesn’t seem to work.

 

Multiple pictures show Russian troops using commercially available radios. It is even at the point that ham radio operators all over Europe are listening to their communications just for fun!

In terms of their navigation equipment, this also seem to be failing terribly. This picture was taken in the cockpit of a Russian Su-34 strike aircraft operating in Ukraine. It is the most advanced attack aircraft in service in the Russian Air Force, but a commercial GPS unit that has been stuck on so they can navigate.

 

The Russian plan apparently assumed that the Ukrainians would not resist too hard and the occupation would be a literal walkover. They have been very much disabused of that idea and the extermination of large numbers of the elite Russian paratrooper corps in their first efforts to grab strategic points early in the campaign, as well as the heavy losses suffered in helicopters and aircraft, let alone the stalling of the drive on Kyiv indicate that clearly.

But Russia is a far larger country than Ukraine and has greater reserves to call upon. Footage shot in Russia itself indicates that more of these reserves are being called up.

 

Substantial amounts of older Soviet-era equipment is being mustered and, bizarrely, it seems that civilian vehicles are also being procured to be thrown into the continuing offensive.

 

Personnel losses are even harder to ascertain than material ones, with both sides giving very different numbers. Ukraine claims to have killed 11,000 Russian soldiers and captured 2,000. Russia states they have lost around 500 killed and 1,500 wounded.

But the Russian losses have caused some controversy in Russia, especially as President Putin has stated that only contracted professional soldiers of the Russian service are being deployed.

Countering that, Senator Lyudmila Narusova of the Duma, the Russian Parliament, stated that she knew that: “…conscripts, who were forced to sign a contract or signed for them, were withdrawn from the war zone in Ukraine. But from a company of a hundred men only four were left alive.”

 

Whatever the truth of the matter, the losses are serious enough that the Russians, according to US officials, are in the process of recruiting Syrian mercenaries. These soldiers have years of experience in the brutal city fighting of the civil war in their home country and their expertise, and expendability, will be valued if the Ukrainians do fight for every major urban area.

And though the majority of the Russian people do, apparently, support Russian intervention in Ukraine, there is certainly a vocal minority who do not.

 

Multiple protests have been held throughout the country against the war and President Putin has now brought in a law that makes those guilty of such protests or “spreading misinformation” about the conflict subject to a 15-year jail term. Currently an estimated 13,000 Russians have been arrested for this.

In fact, Putin’s actions seem to be in effect a doubling down on his move against Ukraine. For better or worse, he appears to be all in.

Returning to the conflict itself, the Russians lack of progress has led to a regrettably predictable outcome. Russian troops are now levelling villages so as to stop infiltrators using them to attack them and the bombardment of contested cities has become a standard tactic.

 

There are also serious allegations of war crimes being committed by Russian troops, including multiple occasions of the attacking of “safe corridors” that have been established to allow civilians to leave the besieged areas.

As already pointed out, the Russian communications are atrocious, and these could be simple mistakes with troops on the ground not getting the ceasefire orders in time. But as it was a standard tactic employed in Syria by the Assadist allies of the Russians, whom they worked closely alongside, the coincidence, and repeated occurrences, makes these seem less likely.

And the war, barring a breakthrough by either side, seems likely to continue. The Russians demands for an end for the conflict require that Ukraine cease military action, change its constitution to enshrine neutrality, acknowledge Crimea as Russian territory, and recognize the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states.

This seems unlikely to occur. The Ukrainian government and people seem determined to fight, apparently none to confident in Russian promises. Instead, they are making more and more vocal demands that the international community establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine to stop the bombing of their cities by the Russia Air Force.

This, I personally believe, will never occur.

To establish an effective No Fly Zone would mean directly pitting European aircraft, likely NATO, against their Russian counterparts – in effect the start of an actual Russia-NATO war.

President Putin has already made multiple threat against European nations concerning their support for Ukraine and maintaining the pretence that there isn’t a major intervention ongoing against the invasion is too important.

Instead, support is continuing in the form of supplying defensive weapons such as anti-tank rockets and missiles and Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). And the numbers being provided are extremely large.

An estimated 17000 anti-tank munitions and 2000 stinger anti-aircraft missiles have been supplied to the Ukrainians so far.

In addition, foreign volunteers have flocked to join the Ukrainian army. Again, numbers are uncertain, but the Ukrainians said last week that 14,000 had been recruited to fight, while today I saw one admittedly unconfirmed figure that the number was now 40,000.

 

With the failure to establish a No Fly Zone talk continues to revolve around if MiG fighters in service with European nations can be given to the Ukrainians for them to continue flying. It now seems that Poland may be about to do that, though this still needs to be confirmed.

And as the war rages on, the real suffering is borne by the Ukrainian people. To date, an estimated two million people have fled Ukraine.

As the war continues to grow, and it gives every indication that it is going to, many more are liable to join them. With all that said I would hope that any government not doing its utmost to at least assist in this crisis review their procedures and make sure they are not just doing their minimum legal duty, but actually doing as much as they possibly can to mitigate this disaster.

Sources/ Related:

https://www.overtdefense.com/ – Tracking day-to-day developments

https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/ – Ongoing tracking of equipment losses by both sides

Ed Nash

Ed Nash

Ed Nash has spent years traveling around the world. Between June 2015 and July 2016 he volunteered with the Kurdish YPG in its battle against ISIS in Syria; his book on his experiences, Desert Sniper, was published by Little, Brown in September 2018.
Ed Nash

Ed Nash

Ed Nash has spent years traveling around the world. Between June 2015 and July 2016 he volunteered with the Kurdish YPG in its battle against ISIS in Syria; his book on his experiences, Desert Sniper, was published by Little, Brown in September 2018.

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