Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is seeking a decisive victory in Donbas – something to present to Russians as a victory in the war, international observer Ivan Yakovyna has told NV Radio.
The Russian military is planning to advance on Ukrainian forces in Donbas from two directions: southward from Izyum, and moving north from Zaporizhzhia oblast, trapping the most battle-hardened Ukrainian army units in a pincer movement.
They submit reports saying they are willing to return to their bases, but don’t want take part in further combat operations. Since Russia isn’t formally in a war, and there’s no martial law, such behavior isn’t considered desertion. The so-called “special military operation” has, on paper, strictly voluntary participation in it. 40% of the troops that retreated from Kyiv and Chernihiv regions are not keen on re-entering battle, sensing they don’t have great chances of survival.
Their refusals saddle them with stamps in their documents, branding them as people prone to treason, cowardice, and so on. A service record like that could make it harder for them find other work later on and to advance in the ranks. But I think it’s preferable to get something stamped in your ID than to rot in some field in Ukraine or be reduced to ashes in a burning tank.
However, there are still plenty of Russian soldiers with a deathwish who are signing up for the planned offensive. They are assembled into convoys and herded off to the border, towards Izyum. Meanwhile, a limited Ukrainian counteroffensive from Kharkiv threatens Russian control of Izyum. If that were to happen, Russian supply lines in the region would collapse, and I’m not sure how they would be able to attack Donbas then.
Another peculiar observation: Russia is marshaling a lot of old Soviet equipment that they are un-mothballing, but is short on manpower. That’s because they can’t get enough troops without a general mobilization – something Putin wants to avoid, politically. So, their tanks are moving partially-crewed. These convoys aren’t guarded properly, making them easy targets for Ukrainian recon and spec ops squads.
Regarding Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. As far as I understand, they are currently being transformed into “fortress cities” that would spell doom for any advancing Russian troops. The Ukrainian army is highly saturated with anti-tank weapons: according to the United States, Ukraine has around ten AT weapons for every Russian tank, and those weapons are predominantly modern NATO pieces of equipment. Not to mention Ukraine’s own Stugna-P, which is performing excellently.
Moreover, new AA and MANPADS are arriving – like the UK-made Starstreak – which are grinding down the Russian air force. Close air support is thought to be crucial for any Russian offensive around Izyum, Slovyansk, or Kramatorsk. Starstreak in particular is expected to eliminate a lot of Russian jets and helicopters.
There are more toys coming soon. For instance, Slovakia gave Ukraine 18 Zuzana self-propelled howitzers. Similar howitzers were promised to Ukraine by Germany – a hundred of them – along with 50 Leopard-1 tanks. Slovak S-300 AA systems are already in Ukrainian hands.
U.S.-made artillery radars are also being dispersed around Ukrainian army units. Artillery dominates the battlefield in this war. Reports from Donbas suggest that Russians are leveraging their artillery firepower there, so these radars will be invaluable.
There have been some reports of loitering Switchblade drones being used in battle, effectively. Russian advances in the south, near Berdyansk and Melitopol, are allegedly being halted with these drones, among other tools.
Mariupol remains a sore spot for us. Moscow said that thousands of our troops surrendered there, which, of course, turned out be a lie. We’re talking small troop numbers, nowhere near “thousands.” The invaders are bashing their heads against our defenses, and admit they won’t be able to take these positions without some very heavy weapons. Our defenders are holding out in massive factory buildings made of reinforced concrete. Storming such fortifications would be suicidal. With Mariupol contested, Russian forces in the area can’t shift focus to the Donbas, or they would be hampered by our force holed up in the city.
In general, the battle of Donbas will likely look like a reverse Kursk salient from WWII. Ukraine is holding the salient, and Russia wants to encircle those positions. Back in the day, the Germans committed half a million troops to their operation, while Putin wants to get it done with only 100,000. I don’t know what they are hoping to achieve there, especially now. I think we’ll have a repeat of the Kursk salient, since our defenses there are robust and well-supplied. Not to mention, Russia’s plans are well-known in advance. The Wehrmacht at least tried to conceal their intentions. After their defeat at Kursk, Germany was left without enough forces for any kind of strategic offensive – the Wehrmacht had its back broken.
A couple days ago U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, discussing what weapons Ukraine needs. Following that, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced exactly what Ukraine will be getting as part of the $800 million aid package. These shipments will be delivered in a very short time.
We’re talking about 18 155mm howitzers and 40,000 rounds for them. Dozens of artillery radars. Some of these radars are already in Ukraine, I think. 300 tactical Switchblade drones, 500 Javelins (I’m sure at this point we’re all well-acquainted with the Javelin.) 200 IFVs, 100 Humvees, and 11 Mi-17 helicopters. Chemical, biological, and radiation protective gear, medical supplies, 30,000 bullet-proof vests and helmets, over 2,000 various scopes and visors, C4 explosives, and Claymore anti-personnel mines.
In addition to the UK delivering anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, Ukraine will be able to use these missiles and U.S. drones to sink the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet.
It was also interesting to hear that the Pentagon requested that U.S. arms manufacturers ramp up the production of weapons needed for Ukraine. According to Kirby, the meeting included the following companies: Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and others.
On top of all that, Kirby said that the Unties States will share even more intelligence with Ukraine. AFU will become one of best-informed and well-equipped fighting forces in the world, effectively. An extensive pipeline of U.S.-made military resources flowing to Ukraine is emerging, and Russia won’t be able to stop it.
I’m skeptical that Russians will be able to achieve significant success in Donbas. But even if they did, it would be too late. They had the first several weeks of the war to do that. The United States established training programmes for Ukrainian service members, to train the Ukrainian army to use Western weapon systems.
Russia’s Defense Ministry threatened to bomb our command-and-control centers should Ukraine have the audacity to continue resisting. In Mykolaiv, they struck at the civil – not military – administration. Perhaps, Russia’s command is getting nervous, after seeing modern U.S. weapons being deployed against them in significant quantities. They don’t have good ways to counter them. Their conscripts are hardly effective fighters.
They could declare a general mobilization, but what kind of personnel would they mobilize? Teachers, mall cops, students? How could they assemble this mighty, effective force that could deal with Western weapons? They cannot. They only thing they have are nuclear weapons. But their use terrifies even Putin, since that could prompt his downfall – the Russian elites are hardly keen to die in atomic hellfire for the sake of Putin’s ego.