Collapse of Russian defenses in the North

September 8, 2022

ZSU counter-attacks in the North.

When ZSU began the counter-offensive, I wrote that it’s unlikely that it was going to be a full-scale thrust toward Kherson because it would have been too predictable, and, given the concentration of Russian forces in the South, too costly. The strike would be somewhere least expected. I thought it might be Crimea but that was not the case, at least so far.

It appears that one place that the Russians truly did not expect to see an attack from was the Izyum direction south of Kharkiv. ZSU has torn through the Russian defenses there, advancing about 50km deep, liberating 400 of territory, and killing or capturing more than 700 Russian soldiers. In the process, they have all but encircled two Russian groupings, one in Balakliya, and another to the west of Shevchenkove. The Ukrainians are mum about any of this, so most of this information comes from pro-Kremlin channels, where people are fuming at the pathetic performance of the Russian troops and their commanders. As one of them put it, “it’s not that the ZSU knows how to attack, but we do not know how to defend.” The source indicated that the ZSU are using daring tactics: attacking with tanks and armored vehicles and then just dropping infantry from them on the go, leaving the Russians no time to react with artillery fire. War criminal Ghirkin/Strelkov, on the other hand, blamed the poor command and even insinuated that treason was at play. The main target of commentators’ wrath is the commander of the Western Military District, Lieutenant-General Sychevoy. (Incidentally, this is the district that started painting “Z” — “Zapad” means “west” — on their equipment, as the Eastern District did with “V” — “Vostok” means “east”.)

At any rate, the ZSU successes there are quite stunning because the Russians turned out not to have prepared much of a defense at all, apparently in the belief that the Ukrainians would not dare attack the large Izyum grouping (which, per pervious post) is quite menacing to the ZSU itself. They did not build defense installations in depth, and used troops from Rossgvardiya and Donbas “volunteers”, which were badly trained and with fairly low morale. Many of them ran, abandoning all their equipment, as soon as the bombardment began. I am not sure the ZSU expected this either, but they seem to be developing the thrust, creating the very real possibility of a fire cauldron (that is, not physical encirclement but one where all directions of enemy’s movement are covered by fire) of the entire 10,000-strong VSRF grouping around Izyum. The ZSU might try to take Kupyansk, which is the hub of Russian logistics for the entire northern/eastern areas of the front. Kupyansk and Izuym are key to the Donbas operations of VSRF, and losing either one will be a first-rate disaster.

Ukrainian counter-offensive in the South.

I wonder what the Russians would have to rush there to stabilize the front, and whether the ZSU is just waiting for that to start to pounce on any weakened positions should the VSRF try to move forces already in Ukraine. It is not clear to me where they could get them from: the 20,000-strong Russian force on the right bank of the Dnipro River is still facing the real danger of encirclement itself since efforts to dislodge the ZSU from its platzdarm south of Davydiv Brid have thus far proven futile. If anything, the pro-Russian TG channels are indicating that the Ukrainians have managed to enlarge their footprint and have advanced in the direction of Beryslav, which, if gained, would split the VSRF in the South in two, isolating the pocket around Kherson completely. The Russians might seek to activate their troops in Belarus and in the Belgorod/Kursk regions of Russia.

This is the first major success of the ZSU in the war, and an unmitigated disaster for the Russians. Let us see if the Ukrainians can sustain the momentum as the VSRF will throw everything they can think of to stem their advance.

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