An exchange of blows
Comparisons of war to a skirmish, a duel, a boxing match, and any other physical activity requiring contact with an opponent have been made many times and are really tired to the point of shaking. And despite everything, the past week of the war in Ukraine resembles more than ever precisely a fierce and dynamic clash with a rapid exchange of blows on both sides. And the most interesting thing was that this clash seemed to be multiplied and took place simultaneously in several rings, most of which were in countries quite far from the battlefield. And in all of them, Kiev and Moscow were involved in a rather strange and at the same time curious way. There was also fierce fighting, albeit briefly, in Nagorno-Karabakh and even in distant Sudan, where Ukrainian special services are said to have attacked with kamikaze drones units of Moscow-backed militias. A diplomatic and institutional war broke out in Europe over Ukrainian grain, and Ukraine and Poland somehow buried the love that had blossomed between them in recent years and returned to a much more familiar relationship based mostly on mutual suspicion. verbal threats and flaunting of wounded egos.
Target: the Russian Navy. Topic with continuation.
One of the things that guarantees the ultimate success of any endeavor is persistence. As well as persistence. The ZSU (Ukrainian Armed Forces) apparently have them in excess, because this week we also witnessed a series of strikes on objects in Crimea, mostly those related to Putin’s fleet. It is also noticeable that in Kiev they work quite consistently and clearly follow some plan. For example, they used a month or even two to eliminate the Russian air defense on the west coast of the peninsula, and now it looks like a decommissioned yard through which all kinds of drones and missiles fly. And the results were not long in coming.
Unlike last week, this time the ZSU’s priorities were not ships, but land targets. On Wednesday and Thursday, various Russian military facilities were attacked from the air, mostly barracks and warehouses, as well as radar installations. The climax was on Thursday, when an aircraft-launched Storm Shadow missile blew up one of the main command posts of the Russian Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol. On the night of Thursday, however, an even stronger blow was delivered – this time against the Crimean Saki airport, the main air base of the naval aviation.
Ukrainian kamikaze drones were used, as well as Neptune missiles. According to unconfirmed final data, up to 12 aircraft were destroyed, as well as an air defense system. If the information is at least partially confirmed, this will be the largest simultaneous loss of aviation equipment for Russia since the beginning of the so-called Special military operation.
None of the above, however, can even come close to what happened in Sevastopol on Friday afternoon. Then, in broad daylight, at least two Storm Shadow missiles hit the large white building of the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the center of the city.
At least one ton of explosives carried in the warheads of the cruise missiles caused such a fire that it was still not extinguished hours later. Of course, it was not without casualties, and so far rumors are circulating that even the commander of the fleet is among the dead.
This terrible blow to Ukraine is sure to have a long-lasting effect. First, it is not known how many Russian officers and other specialists have paid with their lives because of another hole in the “Moscow Air Defense”. This, in turn, should seriously complicate the management of the fleet, at least for a while. Secondly, the building in question, where the headquarters is located, is a source of pride among many local patriots, the image of thick clouds of black smoke pouring from it is already permanently imprinted in the minds of millions – a heavy blow to their morale.
The attacks in Crimea have so far followed a pattern. First, to confuse the Russian air defense as much as possible, the SZU sends dozens of drones. Then they launch decoy missiles for the missiles of the Russian systems, and finally they fly the real cruise missiles packed with at least half a ton of explosives. But this time, measures to jam the Russian Internet and block Internet traffic were added to the usual sequence.
At the front – again the same, but similar
On the land Ukrainian front again from the same, in the usual doses. As I suggested last time, the ZSU liberated another village south of the almost non-existent Bakhmut – Klishchivka and secured a serious crack in the Russian defense there. But I don’t expect to see a quick breakthrough, because the Russians are desperately throwing everything they can get their hands on, like the crew of a sinking ship trying their best to plug a breach. The other thing that gives me reason to think so is that for the third month now the Ukrainians have failed to make a breakthrough north of Bakhmut, where Putin’s troops are entrenched on the heights around the Berkhivka reservoir. And without a breakthrough on both sides (the so-called “pincers”), there is no way to achieve complete encirclement. But is this actually the goal of the Ukrainian High Command? Remember why the ZSU so persistently defended Bakhmut for almost ten months! Then the goal was to bleed the aggressor and, above all, his then most combat-capable PMC “Wagner” formation. And they achieved their task. In the end, “Wagner” suffered such colossal losses (there is talk of over 20 thousand killed) that after finally capturing the city in May, it withdrew from the battlefield and self-destructed. (Or liquidated her “from above”, if you prefer that.)
We are currently observing something similar. If you remember, the positions of Prigozhin’s mercenaries were occupied by units of the Airborne Forces (Airborne Troops) – elite infantry that could act equally well both in defense and in attack. It is said that about half of the active airborne units of the aggressor – up to two divisions and three independent brigades – are now operating in the Bakhmut area. The other half are in Zaporozhye, desperately trying to stop the ZSU near Rabotino and Verbove.
They are actually the cement that serves to bind together the rest of the not so good Russian units – prisoners, conscripts, Chechens, the militias of the LPR and DPR, etc. and so prevents the front line from collapsing. It can be safely said that if the “cement” of elite paratroopers is not there, we will again observe shameful scenes of mass escape of the invaders, as in the autumn of last year in the Kharkiv region. In Kiev, they are aware of this and strive to disable as many of them as possible on a daily basis. With artillery, with cluster munitions, with drones, with tanks, in close combat – in general with everything they have in their arsenal. And this daily persistence is already bearing its bloody “fruits” – on Tuesday, the authoritative Institute for the Study of War (ISW) announced that near Bakhmut, in addition to the defeat of the Russian 72nd Motorized Rifle Brigade last week, two Guards Airborne Brigades also suffered heavy losses – 31 and the 83rd. To top it all off, it became clear that the commander of the 31st Brigade, Colonel Kondarshkin, was also killed at the beginning of the week.
On Thursday, during his visit to New York, in an interview with major Western media, President Zelensky confidently stated that “we will de-occupy Bakhmut” and also that “we will liberate two more cities.” This was quite an interesting statement from any point of view, because at last we have some real announced Ukrainian plans for the immediate objectives of the counter-offensive.
On the other hand, it is not accepted in wartime to publicly disclose, from such a high place, details of strategy. Therefore, we should not rule out the possibility that this is a kind of trap for Putin. After all, Bahmut was his only win that year, and his only significant success. Now Zelensky is threatening to take her away as well, and the ambitious Putin cannot ignore the gauntlet thrown in his face. And so he will do everything he can to keep his most prized possession. Even the cost of thousands of lives and the burial of one of his best troops – the airborne.
As for the other two cities, whose names Zelensky refused to name, the circle of possible targets of the ZSU should not be large there at all. It can certainly be argued that one of them is Tokmak, one of the most important logistical centers of the occupiers in Zaporozhye. At the moment, the ZSU have approached approximately 20 kilometers from it. The second, however, should be Melitopol, which is located southwest of Tokmak. Both, especially Melitopol, are too large in area, infrastructure and population to be simply abandoned by the Russians. On the contrary, their proximity to the Sea of Azov makes them key strongholds for Putin’s troops, and who controls them will likely decide the outcome of the war. And here the strategic importance of Bakhmut again comes to the fore – attacking in the area immediately next to the city, the Ukrainians pinned down the elite Russian Airborne Forces so that they could be transferred elsewhere. In the area of the endangered Tokmak, for example.
Otherwise, the ZSU continue slowly and methodically, like hard-working miners, “digging” the defense of the Russians on the way to Tokmak. They have already reached the outskirts of one of the largest villages – Verbove. And even more important to the ultimate success was the wide breach in the main Russian defensive line also known as the “Surovikin” line. The Russians there are currently having enormous difficulty in forming a solid defense, mostly because they don’t have enough men to put in the trenches. Leaving aside the dense minefields and other obstacles, as well as the murderous barrage of their artillery, their front in Zaporozhye currently relies mostly on small defensive groups, which are currently deployed quite accurately and competently – in the words of General Alexander Tarnavsky, commanding the Ukrainian troops in Zaporozhye. A compliment is a compliment, and when addressed to the enemy it can only inspire respect.
Tarnavskyi also claims that it was the effective Russian defense that forced the ZSU to switch to the tactics of operating with ultra-small assault groups (8-10 people). This is expected to give results both in terms of reducing own losses and in terms of conducting combat operations in the upcoming autumn-winter period, when the scorched fields will become insurmountable obstacles for heavy military equipment.
Meanwhile, information is constantly coming in about increasing Russian losses in the war, mostly due to advanced Western weapons. At the same time, for the aggressors, there is no longer any security either in the rear or on the front. The headquarters and command posts of the Russians are of particular “respect” among the ZSU – at the beginning of the week, the headquarters of the 7th Guards Airborne Division was first hit, and a little later there was a direct hit at the headquarters of the 58th Army. Dozens of people were injured, and among the wounded was the commander of the Russian 58th Army.
Against this background, some rather interesting news appeared as if out of the blue in the Russian media space. I will pass them on without comment.
The first of them states that the Ministry of Labor of the Russian Federation has ordered 230 thousand certificates for the families of servicemen who died in Ukraine. The second is from the labor market – from there they report that in the nearest future the shortage of men aged 30 to 39 will reach 30%. The third is from an authoritative team of analysts – they calculated that the average life expectancy of a mobilized Russian is about 4.5 months, and 20% of them live no more than two. And finally, one more interesting piece of information or just a rumor that has been hanging in the air for quite some time – Putin is desperate and preparing a new mobilization. This time he will try to raise a million.