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Andrei Raevsky

Ukro troops operating in the Donbass.

Dateline: 7 Sept 2022
Yesterday I posted a short SITREP about the Ukrainian offensive on Balakleia.  And, sure enough, there are 72 comments on this already!  Many of them show a total misunderstanding of the nature of the SMO (it was a mistake for me to post a map which, obviously, most people cannot make sense of!).

So all I propose to do today is to explain something really basic about the concept of defense (in reality defensive operations are much more complex!).

First, this is how Hollywood and the mainstream media present defense: you stand and fight, and if the enemy overruns your defensive position, you lost.

The reality could not be further from this silly notion.

For one thing, the USA never fought a real war, nevermind a defensive one.  As for the Europeans, they are used to the kind of terrain you would have in central Europe, i.e. a terrain with a lot of geographical and topological features which favor a dug-in static defense.  For example, I did my basic training in an electronic warfare unit which was mostly deployed in the Swiss mountains and I can tell you that a single mountain infantry company (in some extreme cases even a well-prepared platoon!) can fully lock a narrow valley or a pass against an entire mechanized/armored battalion (especially if that mountain infantry is supported by well concealed –  mountains are ideal for that – and powerful long-range artillery!).  Much of Europe is what is called “mixed terrain” that is to say a mix of fields, forests, small towns and villages, many rivers (often with steep banks and rapid currents), bigger and stronger regional towns, etc. etc..  In that terrain you are naturally inclined to make the best use of these features and hold on to good defensive positions.  In fact, in this kind of terrain it is often impossible to deploy a full mechanized/tank brigade or division (they are too big!) and you are simply forced to fight mostly infantry battles with smaller subunits.

The Ukraine is totally different.  The eastern Ukraine, the Donbass, has a lot of small towns, and this is why the Ukrainians dug in and hold towns like Avdeevka.  However, once you leave that more heavily populated line of towns and villages, you mostly have open steppe with a few rivers and scattered forests, many of them pretty small.  This is why only small Ukronazi units can hide in these small forests, their bigger units mostly hide inside towns and cities, basically using the local civilians as “human shields” and since these Nazis hate the local “separs” anyway – they have no illusions about the real sympathies of most Ukrainians in the south and east – they don’t care at all if scores of civilians die in Russian strikes!  In fact, in a recent video Gonzalo Lira, who is currently in Kharkov, stated that since most of the anti-Russian locals are under no illusion about the inevitable outcome, they have long left Kharkov, hence the SBU’s “hunt” for “separs” and other “pigdogs” and “biomaterial” amongst the remaining population.  Yet another reason for the Russian to do everything humanly possible to avoid civilian casualties!

So in the case of warfare in the Ukraine, I think that it is helpful to think of it as “a land version of a naval battle” which centers not on the control of this or that wave, but on destroying the enemy forces while not getting destroyed yourself.

The next thing which I need to bring up is force concentrations.  The war in the Ukraine is more similar to soccer in which attackers and defenders fight each other all over the field than to US football in which there is a clear line of scrimmage and where everything is about “conquering” more terrain or advancing downfield.   This means that there are always temporarily unoccupied “grey zones” (think of them as parts of the soccer field which happen to be empty but which could quickly become a “combat area” if a pass is made there and two players will fight each other for control of the ball).

Just these two facts very strongly suggest that a mobile defense is the way to go on such terrain.  These are generalizations, of course, but, by and large, they apply.

Next, when you have enough manpower, you normally would organize your defense into two, more rarely three, defensive echelons so if the enemy breaks through the first line, he is faced with a second line of defense and his flanks are potentially exposed to envelopment from all sides. And just to make sure that your defenses hold, it is recommended to have a reserve force behind the 2nd line of defense ready to “plug” any “holes” and/or to be used in a counter-attack (and if things go well, this reserve force can be used as a maneuver group to counter-attack).  With a few crucial exceptions, this is not the case in the Ukraine, especially not for the Russian forces who are roughly at a 1:3 numerical disadvantage.  This 1:3 figure is misleading, because it ignores the kind of force ratios which can be achieved locally.

Conversely, the Russians have an advantage in 1) firepower 2) maneuverability (they can move under the protection of Russian airpower and artillery, which the Ukrainians cannot) 3) logistics 4) reach (the Russians can strike even in the far western Ukraine 5) C3ISR 6) morale and 7) training.

There is another rule of thumb which should not be taken as dogma, but which is still helpful to keep in mind: a successful attack often requires a 3:1 advantage for the attacking side.  This ratio can go up to 6:1 and even higher in strongly built cities.  Since the Russians already have an overall 1:3 DIS-advantage in manpower, it is quite possible that in specific segments of the front, that disadvantage might locally peak at even much worse ratios, yet another argument for the Russians to first grind down Ukronazi forces, if needed by conceding terrain, before engaging in any counter-attack/counter-offensive.  And this is why,

All these Russian advantages all dictate a flexible, mobile, defensive strategy to counter Ukrainian attacks.

In other words, it would be absolutely INSANE for Russians to try to hold a static defensive line at all cost just to prevent the Ukronazis to claim yet another “immense victory”.  So, keeping this in might, let’s revisit the Ukrainian “counter-offensives”, bullet style.

  • These supposed “counter-offensives” were announced weeks in advance (which the Russians noticed)
  • Then the Ukrainians began by sustained artillery strikes to weaken the Russian defenses (and, thereby, indicate again to the Russians where they planned to attack).
  • Then the Ukrainians concentrated large forces (which the Russians saw, of course) and then threw them all into a (relatively) mass assault on what they believed were the weakest spots in the Russian defenses.

This is what happened north of Kherson and this is what is happening just north of Balakleia now.  And it will happen again on other parts of the immense frontline.  And, each time, the Russians will resist if/when possible, but they will quickly concede terrain and fall back if pressed hard, not only to save Russian lives (why waste them for a few trenches or buildings??) and to “pull in” the Ukrainians into a network of mobile defenses.

So how does a mobile defense work?

Basically, it uses the Russian advantages (firepower, maneuverability, logistics, reach, C3ISR, morale and training) to save as many Russian lives as possible while killing as many Ukrainian soldiers are possible.  Why?  Because while terrain can always be re-conquered, dead soldiers cannot be resurrected.

So let me repeat this again: the Russians retreating before a determined Ukrainian attack is not the exception in this war, it is the rule.  So we should EXPECT the Russians to do that every time the Ukrainians launch a mass assault and sends entire battalions into the Russian meat grinder.

Some have suggested that this is bad tactic since it gives Kiev a good PSYOP/PR opportunity.  To this I will reply two things:

  • Kiev does not need anything anchored in reality to declare “heroic victories”, they can literally take a photo in the “grey zone”, then quickly run away and present that as a huge victory (they did just that a few days ago)
  • Russian commanders will not sacrifice Russian soldiers for a short lived PR victory.  That would be both immoral and totally self-defeating.

Think of the Russian advantages for a second (again: firepower, maneuverability, logistics, reach, C3ISR, morale and training) and realize that they are all dependent on the Russian ability to fight against the Ukronazis with lower manpower which, in turn, should suggest to you that the single most precious element of the Russian warfighting machine is the Russian solider: if the Russians tried to emulate Ukrainian “tactics” (i.e., throwing as much meat in the meatgrinder as available) they would quickly run out of the required manpower which, in turn, would create both military and political problems for the Kremlin.

And now, a flashback of sorts.

Remember when before the Russian SMO many observers including myself said that Russia would not invade the Ukraine simply because the Russians did not have the kind of numbers needed to invade the Ukraine?  Well, this was true then and this is STILL true!

The SMO is not a regular combined arms operation and the Russian STILL do not have the kind of manpower to “occupy the Ukraine”.  However, what the Russians did is the following:

  1. First, they gave the US/NATO (not the clowns in Kiev) and ultimatum which they knew the West would reject.
  2. Next, they basically destroyed the Ukrainian military as a coherent whole and broke it up into smaller, uncoordinated forces.  Oh sure, after a week or so, the Ukrainians still had a few aircraft left, plenty of subunits (brigades and below), some air defenses, etc. but what they lost is the ability to use all these resources as part of a single plan!
  3. Then the Russian began slowly and methodically grinding down the huge Ukrainian force in the Donbass (that is the force whose attack the Russians preempted).
  4. They pushed hard along the coast creating a southern front which the Ukrainians had to protect, tying down Ukrainian forces (which are still terrified by a possible Russian land and amphibious assault towards Nikolaev and Odessa).
  5. And now they are basically waiting for the Ukrainians to come to them instead of going after the Ukrainians.  Oh sure, when possible, the Russians will push forward, but they will concede terrain if/when needed.

Which leaves one last parameter: time.

Banderastan is a bloody mess, a failed state, a country 404 which is turning into a horror show run by a mix of local Nazis and US Neocons (what an ugly pair these two make!).  Western governments, ALL OF THEM, are in really bad shape, all the western economies have gone over the edge and are now falling into a recession and even into a fullscale de-industrialization.  The biggest western power, the USA, is fronted by a brain-dead old man, a former call-girl and with a Neocon ruling class which is absolutely terrified of the upcoming elections.

In sharp contrast, the Russian economy’s contraction will be in the 2% range by the end of the year, Putin is as popular as ever, as is Mishustin, the vast majority of Russians fully support the SMO and the Russian economy (a real economy, not a FIRE based one!) is flush with money and has the support of most of the planet.

So whose side is time on?  I think that the answer is obvious.  So the full list of Russian advantages should also include time: firepower, maneuverability, logistics, reach, C3ISR, morale, training and time.

Sidebar: right now there is still plenty of forest and foliage in the Ukraine, but with the winter coming, this “green” cover will become very thin, making it even harder to hide for the Ukrainian forces!  That is also one more reason why the Russians are now mostly waiting.

Remember how “Ze” spoke of a “million soldiers army”?  Well, that is nonsense, of course, but it shows one thing:

“Ze” feels that his biggest advantage is to throw tens and even hundred of thousands of soldiers into suicidal attacks.  As for the West, it poured so much money, manpower and hardware into the country 404 that many western leaders now complain that their countries have compromised their own reserves of weapon systems.  The US alone is spending 228 million dollars PER DAY on the Ukrainian fiasco.  In sharp contrast, Putin is now openly saying that the SMO has been “beneficial” for Russia!

Apparently, “Ze” and his Neocon masters want to try to “drown the Russian military in Ukrainian blood“.  If you sincerely believe that this is a winning strategy, please contact me as I have some super bridges to sell you for very cheap prices 🙂

Having said all that, if the next time the Russians retreat for a few kilometers you want to either freak out and declare that “all is lost” or proclaim with great gravitas that “Russia is losing the war”, by all means, feel free to do so.  I will just ignore these claims simply because, frankly, I am sick and tired of repeating the same truisms over and over and over again, especially when plenty of “commentators” don’t even bother reading what I wrote, they just want to flood the comments section with their talking points!

If you rather trust Girkin-Strelkov or Arestovich that is fine by me as long as you don’t have to parrot their nonsense in the comments section which I consider as “deliberate pollution of the comments section”.  That will get you banned and, once we have the “comments for signed-up commentators only” thing ready, I will simply remove you from the approved list.

Anyway, that is all I had to say for right now.  I hope that the above has been helpful (though I am under no illusions: as I said, trolls don’t even bother reading what I write, they just need to populate the comments section with their slogans).


Andrei Raevsky, The Saker, is the founder and editor in chief of The Vineyard of the Saker network of geopolitical analysis sites focusing on the clash between the US hegemon and its vassals and the rising Eurasian powers.



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