GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Putin’s second ground war starts, but don’t get too excited things won’t change quickly


Last article’s critical question was whether the Russians would slowly build their offensive power or commit to an early offensive. The key points arguing against an immediate offensive were that the Russians, fresh from being defeated near Kiev, are still weak.  At the start of the invasion their forces were too small, poorly trained, lacked logistics support and key communications equipment. After six weeks of fighting they are even more depleted. Rebuilding a capable Russian offensive force will take time and to-date the Ukrainians have not demonstrated the capability to launch large scale offensives so the Russians have time on their side. Further, recent wet weather in eastern Ukraine hampers armoured vehicle movement.  

Reports of Russian ground offensives are starting to emerge and there is a good chance that they are launching a major offensive.  Heavy fighting is reported around Izium, pushing south and east indicating that this area is likely to be a staging area for a thrust.  Shelling and large attacks are reported on broad front especially on Rubizhne, Popasna, and Marinka.  The reported large attacks are an escalation and may represent a move from probing attacks towards a full-scale offensive. Although earlier than expected the area of activity predicted appears to be correct.

Elsewhere, Kharkov is being shelled and numerous cities throughout Ukraine have been bombed with long-range missiles including Lviv, Dnipro and Kramatorsk. The Russians continue to destroy the defenders of Mariupol and there is fighting around Kherson.  However, it seems that the Russian main effort is the ground offensive in the north-east from Luhansk and Izium toward Kramatorsk and Sloviensk. 

The last article predicted that the Russians would give themselves time to rebuild and that major offensive operations wouldn’t start until early-May and it is important to assess the potential impact of an early offensive on the war.

The last article also predicted that even a later, better prepared “offensive of this nature is unlikely to be effective”, and I stick by that assessment and believe that launching an offensive this early will only increase Russia’s military woes and lead more quickly to their military defeat.  In recent days, credible commentators like General’s Ben Hodge, Barry McCaffery and Mark Hertling have all made similar assessments of Russian military capability. 

Yesterday, think-tank the Institute of War stated that “The Russian offensive in the east is unlikely to be dramatically more successful than previous Russian offensives, but Russian forces may be able to wear down Ukrainian defenders or achieve limited gains”.   In this article it is useful to explain the reasons why military commentators believe that the Russian offensive is unlikely to gain much ground.  

First, the Ukrainians are fighting resolutely and with a high level of technical sophistication. Since 2014, the United States and the United Kingdom have invested heavily in building the ‘soft capabilities’ of the Ukrainian defence force. Ukrainian effectiveness is not just about high-tech missiles.  It is also based on something called ‘mission command’ doctrine, a way of fighting that NATO and allied armies use.  It involves giving commander’s giving their ‘force’ broad direction about objectives then allowing the individual leaders within their force to find the best way to achieve the objectives given to them.  

It is a difficult way to fight because it involves commanders being able to express their objectives clearly in way that doesn’t hamper initiative. Commanders also need to trust their subordinates to make decisions and deliver what is asked of them. Further, the whole organisation needs operational flexibility to quickly exploit success or mitigate failure.  The Germans have operated this way since World War One, and ‘mission command’ ideas were the basis of their World War Two, Blitzkrieg tactics. Since, probably the early 1990s other NATO armies started using this model and it is how over the last eight years the Ukrainians have been trained to fight.  It allows them to operate flexibly and effectively at a tactical level, for example the small groups of infiltrators that pushed forward and attacked the Russian column as it approached Kiev.  Making small attacks and ambushing Russian units.  The Ukrainians may not have the armour and artillery to mount large scale offensives, but at a tactical level they have demonstrated tactical superiority and are well placed to win a defensive battle. 

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This is opposite to the way the Russians fight.  Fighting like this requires a high-level of trust that comes from training, motivation and a shared sense of mission.  A largely short-service army like Russia’s without a cadre of long-serving non-commissioned officers (the sergeants, corporals and warrant officers that make sure plans happen on the ground) simply does not have the time to produce relationships of trust. Instead, an army like this relies on detailed plans and set procedures.  If the situation changes suddenly, it is stuck unable to quickly change its plan.  

The second reason is ‘mass’, the Russians simply do not have the numbers.  Fighting in defence confers considerable advantages to the defender.  The defender knows the ground, has secure supply lines, is fighting from a fortified position, can set up obstacles like barbed wire but most importantly can coordinate a web of firepower.  From carefully planning and digging in machine guns or anti-tank missiles to accurately predicting artillery and mortar fire the defender is able to coordinate their firepower to makes sure it is brutally effective. 

A successful offensive requires that infantry assault defensive position and this requires two elements for success; motivation and numbers.  We know that individual Russian soldiers in this war lack motivation, so they are unlikely to press an assault.  

History shows that sometimes a smaller but more motivated force can be successful against superior numbers. British soldiers in the Falklands War pressed assaults against greater numbers and better weapons at both Goose Green and Mount Tumbledown. However, the British are long-serving professional soldiers and their training and spirit-de-corps provided motivation to keep advancing in the face of casualties and heavy Argentine defensive fire. 

Today’s Russian soldiers are far from the professional British soldiers that re-took the Falkland Islands in 1982. A significant portion of them are young men, conscripted immediately after their last year at high school into a brutal military system that provides minimal training and leadership.  Assaulting, motivated soldiers defending their homeland in prepared positions would be a tough task for professional soldiers let alone the Russians that we have seen in action to date.

Without motivated infantry the Russians need to rely on numbers, or ‘mass’ if they are to succeed.  And as we have discussed previously, the Russians simply do not have those numbers.  Even, with their Syrian ‘ring ins’ and reinforcements from around the Russian ‘Empire’ there is unlikely to be enough soldiers to mitigate this qualitative disadvantage.  The original invasion force was small and has now suffered lots of casualties, it has also suffered a number of moral sapping defeats it is unlikely to have the numbers to fight an intense offensive battle.

The attacker must compensate for the defence’s advantages and does this most often with firepower, and the Russians certainly have plenty of artillery.  However, a secret about war is that artillery’s main role is not killing soldiers.  Its actual role is to cover movement, or to suppress the defenders and allow an attacking force to get close to the enemy.  Dug in soldiers are almost impossible to kill with artillery, look at Mariupol, the Germans at Monte Casino, the Russians at Stalingrad. Committed soldiers dug in are able to absorb enormous amounts of punishment.  

However, if you are a solider in a trench or fighting pit being shelled you will normally be at the bottom of it taking cover. While you are taking cover, you aren’t firing your weapons and the enemy is moving towards you.  Immediately, before the attackers enter their own artillery’s danger zone, the barrage stops and they start their assault.  A key aspect of tactical coordination is minimising the time between artillery fire stopping and the assault starting, it is one reason armies use armoured personal carriers.  The vehicle’s armour protects the infantry inside for longer allowing them to get closer to the defending soldiers.

The Russians, certainly have lots of artillery but can they coordinate it effectively?  Historically, poorly coordinated artillery covering fire has killed many people through misadventure. Sometimes by shelling the wrong side or more often by lifting its fire too soon and allowing the defenders a longer time to engage the assaulting force.  It is easy to imagine what it must have been like for the US Marines assaulting Tarawa in 1943, walking across the island’s lagoon when their shelling stopped and silence fell.  It would have been terrifying standing in that lagoon hundreds of metres from cover and knowing that soon, the silence would be broken by enemy machine gun fire.  ‘Bloody Tarawa’ became that battle’s title.  Lacking good leadership and communications makes coordinating artillery fire very difficult.  The Russians can have all the artillery in the world but if they can’t integrate it into an effective combined arms attack it is useless. 

Even in the 21st century, when the artillery finishes its covering fire, it is still the infantry responsible for winning the assault.  Infantry soldier close with the enemy and kill or capture them seizing the enemy’s position and holding it against the inevitable counter-attack.  Tanks and attack-helicopters can’t get into trenches and bunkers and ‘weasel’ out enemy infantry. The only way to do that is with infantrymen fighting at close range with grenades, assault rifles and even bayonets. It is a tough job and one that the Russians don’t appear to have the resources to carry out.

So how will the next few days unfold?

In summary it is unlikely that the Russians will make any significant ground in the next few days or weeks.  We should also consider that for all the noise and fury this may be the Russians probing along a wide front an activity designed to find a weakness in the Ukrainian lines rather than the main attack.  So over next few days, keep watching the following areas:

  • The area around Izium for movements south towards Sloviansk or Kramatorsk which would indicate an attempted envelopment of Ukrainian forces on the Luhansk border.  
  • If on the other hand, the offensive develops more near Rubizhne, Popasna, and Marinka then this is likely to indicate more limited and sensible objectives.  
  • Keep an eye on the south, there is activity reported around Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, this is most likely diversionary activity but may indicate an attempt to secure the Dnieper crossings for possible further action against Odessa.  However, it is unlikely that the Russians have the manpower to do anything significant in this area without winning further east. 
  • Russian strikes will continue on depth targets, like Lviv and Dnipro.  I don’t think these strikes will do much to limit the movement of Ukrainian supplies but will provide propaganda wins for Russia.

In conclusion, the war is entering another stage the battle for the south-east.  If the Ukrainian defence holds, afterwards there may be an opportunity to pursue the defeated Russians and drive them out of Ukraine.  In the unlikely event that the Russians advance a significant distance, defeating the Ukrainian then it could dramatically change the situation.  The Russians then able to pursue the defeated Ukrainians from firm bases in Donetsk and Luhansk.  So, the next few days or weeks are a critical stage in this war. 

Ben Morgan is a tired Gen X interested in international politics. He is TDB’s Military analyst.


    • Hear hear. Propagandist rubbish.
      Looking purely from a western style of warfare. i.e. kill innoncent people and be damned to get ‘it over with quickly’. Versus the stated Russian style of warfare, being slow and grinding offering to negaiate a peace rather than obliterate a country, it’s innoncent civilians and thus leave a non-functioning country in place to govern after the war, i.e yet another western created failed-state.

      • the west don’t want it over quickly they need the ukraine to bleed..donated arms need to be replaced in NATO stockpiles, manufacturers rub their hands and generals get next gen shiny things in replacement….also a long conflict wears down russia without having to risk a single NATO life…the ukrainians are dying heroically for NATO

  1. ” Mariupol is finally about to be thoroughly denazified – as the Azov contingent long entrenched in the city and using civilians as human shields were their most hardened fighting force.

    Meanwhile, echoes from the Empire of Lies all but gave the whole game away. There’s no intention whatsoever in Washington to facilitate a peace plan in Ukraine” …..”Ukraine is just a pawn in the game – or worse, mere cannon fodder.”

    This also means that the 14,000 deaths in Donbass for the past 8 years should be directly attributed to the Exceptionalists” (Usa/Nato.

    Meanwhile the Nazi infused Zelensky puppet Govt increases it’s murderous war on democracy,,, that Nuland/Hillary/Usa supported in premeditated steps to turn Ukraine into a bloodbath ,,, starting with their violent deadly coup. ,,,,

    Then eight years of of punishment and murder against the civilians of Donbass & Luhansk ,,, No mercy,,,, or concern from the west for them or their children

    Now the actor Zelensky is using the NATO engineered, massively supported, weapons flooded proxy war ,,, to increase the anti-Russian anti-left-wing purge in Ukraine that the coup government began in 2014
    “In a March 19 executive order, Zelensky invoked martial law to ban 11 opposition parties. The outlawed parties consisted of the entire left-wing, socialist or anti-NATO spectrum in Ukraine.”,,, “Openly fascist and pro-Nazi parties like the Azov National Corps were left untouched by the presidential decree, however.”

    “Zelensky has further exploited the atmosphere of war to outlaw an array of opposition parties and order the arrest of his leading rivals. His authoritarian decrees have triggered the disappearance, torture and even murder of an array of human rights activists, communist and leftist organizers, journalists and government officials accused of “pro-Russian” sympathies……. With training from the CIA and close coordination with Ukraine’s state-backed neo-Nazi paramilitaries, the SBU has spent the past weeks filling its vast archipelago of torture dungeons with political dissidents.”

    ““The war is being used to kidnap, imprison and even kill opposition members who express themselves critical of the government,” a left-wing activist beaten and persecuted by Ukraine’s security services commented this April. “We must all fear for our freedom and our lives.”

    Torture and enforced disappearances “common practices” of Ukraine’s SBU

    Since 2016 ,,, “Pro-Western monitors including the United Nations Office of the High Commission (UN OHCR) and Human Rights Watch have accused the SBU of systematically torturing political opponents and Ukrainian dissidents with near-total impunity.”


    Bucha relevant ???? ,,,, “the founder of the infamous neo-Nazi C14 unit, has detailed the close relationship his gang and other extreme right factions have enjoyed with the SBU. The SBU “informs not only us, but also Azov, the Right Sector, and so on,” Karas boasted in a 2017 interview.

    “Kiev officially endorses assassinating Ukrainian mayors for negotiating with Russia

    Since Russia launched its military operation inside Ukraine, the SBU has hunted down local officials that decided to accept humanitarian supplies from Russia or negotiated with Russian forces to arrange corridors for civilian evacuations.


    Regarding the 2nd phase of the military operation ,,,,,, The DPR & LPR forces…who had fought for their homes, lands and lives for the past 8 years are battle-hardened ,,,, and they never had the advantage of Russian air-power before ,,, but they do now.

    These highly motivated battle-wise fighters ,,, with the added steel put into the Russians by ukraine army torture and execution videos ,,,and the Chechnya soldiers freed up from the Azov Alamo,,,, will combine to defeat NATO’s proxy army in eastern Ukraine.

    The western media and the Usa’s in particular, sensing Ukraine defeat despite their own propaganda?,,, is calling for Usa/Nato ‘boots on ground’.

    Both NATO and Russia have a doctrine of tactical Nukes to stave of military defeat……..

    … and somebody HAS to be defeated.

    Glory to nuclear war for Ukraine’s corrupt murderous ‘democracy’.

    • Zelenski is the most dangerous person on planet earth. Win?. He can’t win, he must be catatonic with his parroting of US dreams. It’s not going to happen. Your war is lost, Kaput! Spare your people you ego maniac.

  2. Ukraine produces alot grain for the world including china. War equals famine. Just read up on WW2 and you can predict fairly easily the things that will occur. Every empire must fall. No empire is ever destined for total world domination. The banksters don’t want that. They pull their support before that can occur. The playbook has been used before. Thats why it’s so sad to see so many elderly who should know better, and could be a vital source of info for younger gen, walking around NZ fairly oblivious to anything but the possibility of catching cooties

  3. So far Ben has been pretty accurate with his assessments. For instance he predicted the failure of the Kyiv assault somewhat earlier than many, noting the effectiveness of small unit tactics coupled with advanced hand held anti armour and anti air weapons.
    The quality of the articles is such I could have assumed that Ben has had the benefit of professional officer training coupled with a pretty deep academic study of modern combined arms operations.
    I concluded a few weeks ago that Russia can’t win this war. Even if they are well trained, which they may well be, the Russian Army is too small to defeat Ukraine. The Army is 500,000 total size, with 150,000 (one third of the total) deployed for the initial assault. With at least 10,000 being killed and thus at least 20,000 wounded, much of the initial force has to be replaced with the next third of Army. You can see where this is going. Within a few months the whole Russian Army has been put into the battle, but with never enough force to actually prevail. There isn’t enough time to train another 500,000. Would the Russian government even want to?
    Or will they call it a win if they can hold on the territory already gained?

    • Yours is one of the very few ‘voices of reason’ on here Wayne . . even ‘reason’ is nuttier than squirrel shit.

    • The Russians never wanted to “take” Kyiv, depose the Govt’ and wreck the place. There aim was, and still is to contain the Ukraine forces at Kyiv so they can’t go east to fight the main battle. That has happened as planned. The Yanks call this a defeat, but they are wrong. It’s military strategy.

      “I concluded a few weeks ago that Russia can’t win this war. Even if they are well trained, which they may well be, the Russian Army is too small to defeat Ukraine.”
      Russia has nearly 1 million combat ready troops plus another million in reserve. 2 million and Russian recruiting offices are jammed packed with men trying to enlist for the fight. Putin has 80% support of his people.

      • The total size of active personnel in the Russian Armed Forces is a little under million. These are divided into the Ground Force (500,000), the Aerospace Force (165,000), the Naval Force (160,000) the Rocket Force (50,000) and Airborne (50,000). Around 150,000 of the Ground Forces are 1 year conscripts.

        Russia does not have Reserves in the way they exist in western defence forces. The 2 million are people who have done their training and their full time service, but who stay on the “books” as it were. Only 100,000 actually do any continuing training. These 100,000 would be the only people who could do a useful military job within the next 3 to 6 months.

        Just to use an example of Reserves in NZ. When I was in the TF, there were 5,000 TF personnel. There was a minimum requirement of 20 days training per year. Anyone who wanted to get ahead did a lot more (courses, and additional weekends). For instance I usually did 40 days. This is the equivalent of 2 months per year, taking into account the normal cycle of work.

        So I reiterate my broad point. The Russian military is too small to defeat a country of the size and population of Ukraine. Because Ukraine has been invaded and is in an existential fight, they have hugely bolstered their Army. It will be close to 1 million strong, though only 200,000 are full-time professional soldiers. But the others can do a myriad of military jobs freeing up the professionals to fight the hardest battles.

        The most the Russians will be able to do is secure the Donbas (those parts they hold already) and probably maintain the land bridge between Crimea and the Donbas.

        In short, a massive land war ultimately with hundreds of thousands of dead. These will be the deaths from direct military action, not all the additional deaths from delayed medical treatment (cancer heart, etc) or from poor sanitation due to destroyed infrastructure. These may well exceed 1 million.

        Will Putin be able to say it was worth it?

        He probably could have done so if the Russians had been welcomed in the way that some expected. But that was not the case. The Ukrainians have resisted in way that few commentators anticipated.

        • I would also note the 20 days was on top of the Initial Basic Training, which was 3 months long. By 1 or 2 years it was considered that a TF solder was pretty proficient at his or her job.

        • Appreciate your comments Wayne, but strongly disagree. But that’s OK we all see it differently.
          I understand Ukraine is “dug in” and ready for a scrap, but the Russians have them surrounded or nearly have and will bring massive force that Ukraine simply won’t be able to hold out. 2-3 weeks will see Ukraine surrender in big numbers, or die. The western propaganda will have to be in top form to explain this or more likely create another crisis to swap the headlines away from their stupid war, which they are losing.

  4. All good comments Ben. Thanks. Some additions:
    You make a particularly important point about rain. Ukraine turns into a sea of mud under tank tracks in the spring. This will prevent the Russian armour from moving far from the highways, making them vulnerable to attack again. Another reason to delay a full assault.
    The other way to support attacking troops is close air support but with thousands of stinger missiles waiting for them, the Hinds and the Frogfoots won’t dare venture out. By the time the Russians get their act into gear the Ukrainians will have a number of NATO 155mm howitzers too – let’s see how bold the Russian artillery is under incoming fire.
    Russia is reportedly running out of precision missiles and cannot replace them because they need foreign tech. They fired a volley of these at Kiev in anger, in response to the sinking of the Moskva, but they were ineffective.
    Overall this war is turning into a long term slogging match and Russia is slowing bleeding to death as a result. It is losing its mainstay – oil and gas revenue. Its youth are getting out of the country to avoid conscription – youth it desperately needs slow its demographic collapse in the medium term. As long as the Ukrainians are prepared to fight, NATO will resupply them. All this war has done is hasten Russia’s demise.

    When Putin’s allies are being shot (or shooting themselves) and their families, you know things are becoming dire.

  5. Russia can’t lose this war….period.
    It’s tragic…the Ukrainian monkey’s organ grinder cares not about the tragic death and destruction.
    No sign of any resolve to negotiate.Tragic.

    • Russia cannot lose this war, nor can they win the war. At best they will control the break away regions and a contested walkway to the Crimea. Having defeated the Russians in the north, Ukrainian forces can now be concentrated in the South. That walkway to the Crimea will fester on as a war zone. Sucking in Russian forces for a long time.

      Disturbing interview from the point of view of Russian troops inexperience. Not even been trained to fire his weapon before being sent to war with just 4 magazines for his AK74. Also that he was given a lie detector test after capture having been been left injured on the battle field by his comrades. Was captured in the civilian killing fields so no doubt to establish his innocent of not being involved. Reported wide spread looting and lack of leadership where instead of transporting troops, trucks were loaded with loot by their commanders and driven east. Food shortages as well for the conscripts.

      Interviewer completely looses the plot when they call his mother. Mother is fully indoctrinated even to the extend that the old soviet chemical warfare labs in the Ukraine released the covid virus. How quiet any reports on those chemical warfare laboratories have become.

      There is an excellent Utube channel called 1420 that interviews Russian citizens and asks them about the war. Worth a look.

  6. “Do you felch this dribble from the Kagan/Nuland/Noodlemans, Benny?” I wondered. And then I read “..Yesterday, think-tank the Institute of War…”

    Our Board Members
    General Jack Keane (US Army, Retired), Chairman, Institute for the Study of War; President, GSI, LLC
    Dr. Kimberly Kagan, Founder & President, Institute for the Study of War
    The Honorable Kelly Craft, Former US Ambassador to UN and Canada
    Dr. William Kristol, Director, Defending Democracy Together
    The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman, Senior Council, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, LLP
    Kevin Mandia, Chief Executive Officer & Board Director, Mandiant
    Jack D. McCarthy, Jr., Senior Managing Director & Founder, A&M Capital
    Bruce Mosler, Chairman, Global Brokerage, Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.
    General David H. Petraeus (US Army, Retired), Member, KKR & Chairman, KKR Global Institute
    Dr. Warren Phillips, Lead Director, CACI International
    Colonel William Roberti (US Army, Retired), Managing Director, Alvarez & Marsal

    Well, at the Daily Blog Notsohappy Hours, consumed by that Putin – you, Martyn, Paul, Selwyn, Chris, Pat and even John can quote those good people to each other!


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