Over-Confidence Before The Fall?

Tuesday, 13 September 2022– Geopolitics & Climate Change

Roger Boyd

In the past couple of weeks there has been much celebration in the Western media about the Ukrainian taking of territory in the Kharkov area. After the fog of war cleared a bit it has become apparent that the Ukrainians took advantage of a Russian planned retreat (to consolidate forces in the east and south) in a relatively lightly defended area to rapidly gain territory. Russia traded territory for a shorter much more easily held defensive line, on the wide Oskil river to the west and the Siversky-Donets to the south. The latter is still relatively easily passable, but will soon swell in width, depth and speed with the Fall rains.

With the Ukrainian forces advancing without air cover and with very limited artillery cover, they suffered extremely high losses in both men and material. The earlier attacks in the Kherson area were even worse in this respect, as they did not benefit from the forest cover of the Kharkov region; creating open killing fields in which the Ukrainians suffered severe losses for very little territory gained. Ukraine traded territorial gains for very high losses, while not inflicting anywhere near the same losses on the Russian army and not disrupting the Russian military’s overall plans. If the Ukrainians had been able to take Yampil and Lyman there may have been a very different outcome, but the attacks on these two towns failed with additional heavy Ukrainian losses. The danger for the Ukrainians at this point is over-confidence, and Russian military doctrine over the years has repeatedly allowed its enemies to make gains at extremely high cost and then for those enemies to find themselves threatened with encirclement and successful counter-attack; Stalingrad is a very good case, the Kursk Salient another.

Ukraine does have extremely large human resources to funnel into its army and therefore may consider that it can trade people for territory. Even before these Ukrainian attacks though, they had taken very high losses – a conservative estimate would be that irretrievable losses (killed, MIA, taken prisoner and wounded beyond return to the front) were running at 1,000 per day; particularly with the limited medical field resources that the Ukrainians possess. That’s 30,000 a month, for six months: 180,000, including many of the best trained and experienced soldiers. The probability of such grave losses is supported by the Ukrainian government’s extension of the draft to younger and much older ages, together with plans to mobilize the female population. Also, complaints by Western trainers that those sent to them are raw recruits with little or no basic training, and the presence of older and less fit Ukrainian troops in the front lines. Add to the losses up to the end of August probably at least another 30,000 from the Kharkov and Kherson offensives, plus the daily losses on other fronts (e.g. Bakhmut, Avdeevka, Maryinka). At the same time, the armories of the West are being emptied onto Ukrainian soil, especially with respect to the Soviet-era munitions, tanks and aircraft usable by the majority of Ukraine’s armed forces. What happens when Ukraine’s soviet-era artillery runs out of the soviet-era shells that it needs? The relative artillery strength already seems to be 10-1 in favour of the Russians, and only a handful of Ukrainian attack aircraft seem to be in the sky (and get rapidly destroyed by Russian AA technologies and fighter aircraft).

Any further attacks, as the Ukrainians seem to be preparing, would add yet more large-scale losses in men and material – especially when they will not be facing a lightly defended area that the Russians are exercising a tactical retreat within. The Russians will be very happy for the Ukrainians to come to them, outside of the Ukrainian defensive works, making easy killing for their artillery, air force and men situated in defensive positions. At the start of the war, Ukraine’s army was about 250,000 strong – a 125,000 regular army that had seen much combat experience against the Donbass republics and had been thoroughly retrained and rearmed by NATO, plus about the same amount of much less trained, experienced and equipped territorial defence units and border guards etc.  A high share of the losses would be expected to be concentrated in these two groups, probably even more with the need for experienced troops during the recent attacks. In addition, Ukraine may have already mobilized up to 250,000 conscripts but these will be at best basic-trained and much less well equipped and perhaps much less physically fit. The “human wave” tactics employed in the Kherson area, designed to exchange these little-trained and experienced conscripts lives for local Russian supplies of ammunition and mental endurance, would seem to be one attempt to use such recruits to shield the highly depleted more experienced cadres from heavy losses; a tactic that seems to have failed as the Russian defenders were still fully operative for the later Ukrainian attack waves. So, Ukraine may currently have 500,000 – 180,000 – 30,000 troops, 290,000; predominantly made up of basic-trained recruits and severely lacking in the experienced non-commissioned officers so vital to the functioning of an army. Ukraine does seem to have recruited more foreign mercenaries to replace some of the lost experienced soldiers, but these can be counted in the thousands not the tens of thousands.

In the next few weeks we may hear about further limited Ukrainian advances in the south, but the Russian lines will not break. A much bigger question will be the scale of the Ukrainian losses exchanged for those territorial gains. Also, in parallel the Russian assault in the Bakhmut, Avdeevka and Maryinka areas continues – with the Ukrainian defences slowly being broken with limited Russian casualties but with continuing high Ukrainian casualties. The allied force consists of about 150,000 experienced, well trained and equipped Russian troops together with about 100,000 Donbass militia troops that have gained much experience over the past eight years; with losses being very limited and easily replaced. There has also been talk of Russia recruiting and training up to 60,000 volunteers, which would bring the overall allied position to 310,000. Given a 10-1 artillery advantage, air supremacy and short supply lines between Russia and the front lines this represents a formidable threat to the predominantly little-trained, ill-equipped and older Ukrainian army; especially when not protected by the Donbass fortifications. If the Ukrainians wish to further weaken their position the Russians will be happy to let them; once “demilitarized” Ukrainian territory will be relatively easy to take. If the Russian military becomes less restricted in its actions, as seen with the recent attacks on Ukrainian electricity generating stations, circumstances could deteriorate very rapidly for the Ukrainian army.

On the home front, the Ukrainian economy is already collapsing into a hyperinflationary crash and also seems to have exchanged much of its food stores with Europe for weaponry and financial support (so much for feeding Africa!). This will not create a good outcome for a Ukrainian population which will also be short of the means to keep themselves warm; the result could easily be a new wave of emigration that creates much internal conflict as the Ukrainian state attempts to stop “able-bodied” women from leaving. This will be in contrast to the Donbass republics and Russian occupied territories in which it will be in the Russian’s interests to keep the population warm and well fed. If the Russian military is released from some of the constraints upon its actions, the experiences for both Ukrainian military and civilian populations may become much, much harder. At the same time, the European populations will be dealing with significant falls in their real incomes and quite possibly electricity blackouts or forced usage restrictions; not a conducive existence for welcoming more Ukrainian refugees and supporting them with more money and material. At such a point, a successful Russian winter campaign (the idiots masquerading as Western “military analysts” who state that Russia cannot carry out a winter war seem to have no sense of Russian history or Ukraine’s climate) would be perfectly timed to tip opinion in the West and Ukraine, together with taking advantage of a much-weakened Ukrainian army. The Ukrainians should be digging in and spending much more time training and equipping their new recruits rather than wasting them on territorial gains that will be forgotten by the Spring.

Ukrainian over-confidence may very well precede the Fall, followed by a General Winter who happens to be Russian.

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