- I—Background and Russian Unit Organisation
- II—Russian Equipment and Personnel
- III—Russian Onslaught
- IV—Russian Inertia
- V—Russian Rout
“The Russian Army is a boxer who has a great right hook and a glass jaw.”—Phillips O’Brien, Prof. of Strategic Studies, St Andrews University
The Ukrainian offensive that began around Kherson in the South at the end of August was a cautious affair, involving first destroying bridges across the Dnepr by which Russia was supplying its troops there. It developed as an encircling movement and caused comment because the Ukrainians seemed to be revealing intentions to the public. But it appears that this was primarily a feint—and it worked.
The Russians had assembled the 3rd CAA as a strategic reserve east of Moscow, with the intention of deploying it offensively to regain the initiative. With news of the threat to their stepping stone to secure Odessa and the entire Black Sea coast, they switched it to the South. This allowed Ukraine to launch a completely unexpected offensive east of Kharkiv in the North, which caught the Russians napping.
The Ukrainian Army liberated first 1,000 in the first week of September. They then doubled that several times, each in a couple of days, so now 8,000 square km of the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kherson Oblasts, once occupied by the Russians for months, are freed in not much more than a week.
Once the front was broken, the command and morals difficulties that had plagued the Russians initially were amplified by months of failure and stasis. A blitzkrieg by well co-ordinated Ukrainian forces gave bewildered Russian units no time to regroup. The absence of air superiority to allow reconnaissance simply added to chaos, which turned into a rout.
As the rout continues, the Russian army is losing at least a battalion’s worth of vehicles and men a day as twin Ukrainian counteroffensives roll back Russian territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine. That’s hundreds of casualties and scores of vehicle write-offs every day.
These losses are catastrophic for Russia. The Russian army barely was sustaining a little over 100 under-strength battalions in Ukraine before Kyiv’s forces counterattacked in the south on Aug. 30 and in the east eight days later.
Around 5,500 Russian troops have died in Ukraine since Aug. 29, according to Ukrainian officials. It’s possible the Ukrainians are overstating the death toll, but it’s worth noting that recent U.S. estimates of Russian losses have been only slightly lower than Ukrainian estimates.
The aircraft losses alone explain Russia clumsiness, having failed to gain air superiority and the intelligence that goes with it. But the sheer scale of losses puts the Russians in general ((and Putin in particular) between a rock and a hard place. To retain whatever hope of victory they might have to save face when the reality a quarter of their original force that included their best units and equipment seems delusional.
But if Putin calls for full mobilisation to bolster his flagging front, the gaffe is blown, and 145 million Russians will know his “special military operation going to plan” was just so much chin music.