ZSU Counter-Offensive Update

September 13, 2022

The Ukrainians have slowed down a bit, but that’s only relative to their breakneck speed over the past week. The counter-offensive continues.

Northern Front

Kharkiv Oblast: almost entirely liberated. The Russians failed to construct defenses on the left bank of Oskil River, and the Ukrainians have crossed it in several places.

Luhansk Oblast: Some reports say the Russians withdrew their forces from Svatove but then had orders to return, and that in the process some units got lost and now nobody knows where they are and what happened to them. More to the point, Svatove was deep in Russian-occupied territory, and so has no built defensive positions. This makes it very hard to defend, and it is likely that ZSU will push to take it. This will open all of the northern Luhansk. I think that ZSU will push south though, toward Rubizhne and the Severodonetsk agglomeration. Recall that the Russians attacked there for months before ZSU withdrew. Some smaller ZSU units (most likely RSGs — reconnaissance and sabotage groups) reportedly reached the outskirts of Lysychansk days earlier but withdrew after some desultory exchange of fire. According to the info I have, there are fierce battles southwest of Lysychansk now. This town, being on the right bank of the river, is problematic from a Russian perspective, and so is most likely to fall over the next days. If the Ukrainians break through toward Rubizhne in the north, the Russian position will become very difficult. This might mean ZSU could liberate this agglomeration during this counter-offensive.

Central Front

Donetsk Oblast: ZSU has crossed Siverskyi Donets River in two new places in addition to the one south of Lyman, and has entered the area of Kreminna east of this key city, threatening it with encirclement like they did with Izyum. This might force the Russians to withdraw while they still can. The liberation of Lyman would allow ZSU to come into “operational space” in north Donetsk and south Luhansk.

Further south, the Russian attacks on “Avdiivka Bulge” have failed again. There are indications that they cannot keep up the same intensity as before. Nevertheless, their attempts to push ZSU away from the city of Donetsk continue, and the Ukrainians are under very heavy fire. I do not have updates about the Bakhmut situation, which probably means nothing has changed there.

Southern Front

Kherson Oblast: The Ukrainians confirm the liberation of Oleksandrivka, a costal town west of Kherson. ZSU has also enlarged its platzdarm south of Davydiv Brid. The Russians rushed 1,500 Chechens hastily mobilized by Kadyrov to the right bank of the Dnipro River. These are almost certainly not for frontline operations but to hunt down deserters and prevent the mass surrender of Russians who realize that their high command has abandoned them. I very much doubt that the Russians would mount a “defense of Stalingrad” style desperate last stand on this side of the river.

Zaporizhzhie Oblast: I am only aware of panicked messages from pro-Russian Telegram channels about massive reinforcements being concentrated there by ZSU, with a coming attack south. I will update as I learn more.

Comments. The politically-directed phase of the war might be coming to an end. The hunt for witches is gearing up in Russia — people really need to find someone to blame for this embarrassing defeat. The propagandists blame the Generals, the bloggers blame Putin/Shoigu/Gerasimov, and the regular people (at least judging from *very* limited data) seem to be blaming the corrupt elites who misled Putin.

In a solid Russian tradition, they will now find some traitors that will be sacrificed to calm down the nerves. Putin’s own position must be shaken by this — in the gangster paradise that is the top ruling elite of Russia, everything is forgiven except weakness. The army, in particular, might be a serious threat to him if the Generals start taking too much blame for what happened. Putin added fuel to that fire by recently complaining that corruption in the military is so bad, his favorite Wagner mercenaries have not received their full pay. Ordering Gazprom and oligarchs to pay for more mercenaries is deeply resented by the regular military, and signifies a total loss of trust in them by Putin’s circle. Of course, the bridge to a military coup is a bridge too far, especially since the Ukrainians have all but destroyed most military capabilities that were used to defend (or threaten!) Moscow, including the famous tank brigade. Kadyrov, who is massively hated by the siloviki, but whose safety is deeply intertwined with Putin’s made fresh threats. Some people consider him the most likely successor but I think that just makes him the most likely first victim. I cannot possibly predict which way this internal tension will resolve, but there must be some serious tectonic shifts in the Kremlin coming.

One possibility is that Putin would give up the political micromanaging of the war and let the Generals attempt to salvage some limited aims. This might well mean abandoning Donbas, or most of it, and concentrating on the defense of Crimea and the preservation of the land corridor through it (and so, abandonment of the right bank of the Dnipro River as well). This would be thoroughly unpalatable to Putin, who might prefer some other desperate gamble to stave off what would be hard to masquerade as victory (Hey! Crimea is still ours, and we got land access to it! Donbas? What Donbas? Never heard of no stinkin’ Donbas?)

More likely, the Russians will turn on the screws on Ukrainian civilians again. Ukraine is in deep trouble, economically speaking. Its government is forecasting a contraction of the economy by a third by the end of this year. This is a massive decline (the projected Russian one, of about 10% is still huge) and Kyiv is desperately in need of money to prevent a social disaster when the cold months arrive (middle of October). The EU is promising billions, but it’s a drop in the bucket. Moscow seems determined to make civilians suffer — and the latest attacks on the energy infrastructure is just a taste of things to come. If you think Western Europe will have a cold winter without Russian gas, try thinking what the Ukrainians will have to go through without light or electricity, and — in many places — with barely habitable homes because of Russian bombardment. The West needs to accelerate financial aid immediately.

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