GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Ukraine withdraws from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk claimed by Russia, great victories? No, Russia is still losing


Since the last article, the Ukrainians have withdrawn from Severodonetsk and the Russians claim to hold Lysychansk.  Although trading ground for time must hurt for the Ukrainians, it is a sensible tactical move. It preserves Ukrainian soldier’s lives, husbanding resources for future battles.  The Russians are now attacking Lysychansk, three kilometres west of Severodonetsk and there are Russian reports that the city has been taken.  It is unlikely the Lysychansk will hold for a significant period of time because the Russians are advancing on the city from the south, an axis of assault that is not obstructed by the Severskyi-Donets River. 

Further, Lysychansk is at the eastern tip of a 50-kilometre salient that starts at Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. The salient’s width, or the area the Ukraininans need to withdraw within, is reducing.  Now, after weeks of painfully slow progress pushing north from Poposna the Russians are reported to be close enough to shell the T103 highway, the main road between Slovainsk and Lysychansk.  It is likely that with time the Russians will close this salient making a long defence of Lysychansk high-risk.  Therefore, it is sensible that the Ukrainians are withdrawing west towards their prepared defensive positions around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. 

The other Russian axes of advance from Izyum, south east on the M03 highway and via Barvinkove towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk are not making significant progress.  When the Russians do get to the Sloviansk and Kramatorsk advancing either from the north or east, the battle for these cities will be tough because they are a large urban areas, on high ground that the Ukrainians have spent weeks fortifying.  

Tactically, the Ukrainian withdrawal is minor and predictable, it does not indicate that the Russians are taking the initiative. Instead, it seems to be the next logical step in a planned defensive battle.  The real questions at this stage don’t relate to the current battle but rather to the ‘next’ battle.  In coming days or weeks the Russians will push in on the Lsysychansk salient and the Ukrainians will withdraw to well-prepared positions at Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. This is a slow battle of attrition wearing both sides down. The questions are is which side will ‘fail’ first; and more importantly what happens after they do? 

Evidence indicates that the Russians may ‘fail’ first and that their ground offensive could culminate relatively soon, in a recent interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson summed up NATO assessments when he said that within weeks “Russia could come to a point when there is no longer any forward momentum because it has exhausted its resources”.  Even within Russia, military blogger Yuri Kotyenok stated in a recent post that “Russia does not have enough physical strength in the zone of the special military operation in Ukraine”. The reasons why the Russian army is running out of resource are discussed in a recent article on the ‘War on the Rocks’ blog. Authors Michael Kofman and Rob Lee provide excellent analysis of the structural issues the Russian army is struggling to manage.  In summary, they argue that the Russian army is designed for short high-intensity operations and cannot sustain a long-term war of attrition, stating “The Russian military doesn’t have the numbers available to easily adjust or to rotate forces if a substantial amount of combat power gets tied down in a war.”

Essentially, Putin is stuck in a tough position it is becoming obvious that politically he cannot call for a full mobilisation and instead is working hard to generate combat power; using local forces from Donetsk and Luhansk, hiring mercenaries and as the Institute for the Study of War reported on 26 June 2022, “The Kremlin continues to manipulate Russian legislation to carry out “covert mobilization” to support operations in Ukraine without conducting full mobilization”.  Further, in recent days the Russia Duma (parliament) was asked to consider a range of measures to fast track the repair and replacement of damaged equipment. Putin’s standing army was not designed for a long war of attrition and faced with significant economic sanctions the Russian military cannot sustain a long campaign. Therefore it seems relatively certain that unless Putin is able to win political support for a declaration of war and a full mobilisation, he does not have the manpower to conquer much more of Ukraine. It is very likely that ‘on the ground’ this war will grind to a halt soon because Russia simply doesn’t have enough soldiers to take ground. 

So, when the Russians grind to a halt what happen next?  

Lord Dannatt, a retired British general and former Chief of General Staff (commander of the British armed forces) provided his analysis of the situation two weeks ago.  He demonstrated a good commander’s ability to make complex problems simple, stating that the Russians probably have the combat power to take Donbas (Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts) however “…will by that stage have pretty much shot their bolt”.  Further, he opined that after fighting a series of tough defensive battles the Ukrainians would be exhausted and unable to transition to offensive operations. Lord Dannett is a very smart person with enormous experience and probably has relationships with key leaders across the NATO militaries so his opinion has great weight. 

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However, the ‘fog of war’ still persists and we cannot be sure how the war will develop, there is an argument that the Ukrainians may be able to generate enough combat power to undertake offensive operations particularly against an enemy weakened by fighting long battles against well-prepared defences.  Retired American general David Petraeus, previously discussed the battle around Severdonetsk opining that possibly it was to ‘fix’ and attrit the Russians before a Ukraine counter attack, noting that “If they (the Ukrainians) can get through that and get into the soft spot of the Russian defenses, then it’s very possible that they could just keep on going.”   This development depends entirely upon the state of Ukraine’s military, particularly the key determinants of offensive combat power tanks, tracked infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled guns. The hard-hitting mobile weapons that allow armies to bypass resistance and envelop or surround enemy forces before they can retreat.  The true state of the Ukraine’s offensive capability is hard to determine, it started the war with approximately 1500 tanks, 2500 tracked infantry fighting vehicles and 600 self-propelled guns. Reports of Ukrainian loses are hard to verify but estimates state that the Ukrainians may have lost up-to 50% of their armoured forces in the first battles of the war.  Since then we know the Ukrainians have received 230 tanks from Poland and Czechoslovakia.  270 Self-propelled guns and 140 tracked infantry fighting vehicles. The Ukrainians have also captured large amounts of Russian equipment.  Looking at this information it is very hard to judge Ukrainian capability and we just don’t know how much combat power they have and it is highly unlikely that this information will enter the public realm before Ukraine wants it too. 

An important consideration is that in July and August the weather in Ukraine is good, the ground dries out and the summer campaign season starts. Tanks and other vehicles can move more easily across country.  If Ukraine is going to go on the offensive this year it is likely to start in the next six to eight weeks.  

Further when we take wider view of the tactical battle, we can see that Ukraine is holding ground around Kharkov; and in the south Snake Island was recaptured by Ukraine this week.  This is a small but important victory, previously we have discussed Russian use of the island as a base for anti-aircraft missiles to cover their ships operating in coastal waters.  By removing this air cover the Ukrainians start to dominate the southern (coastal) flank of any advance from Odessa east along the coast towards Kherson.  The Ukrainians recently used anti-ship missiles against vessels supporting Snake Island further reducing Russia’s ability to use combined land, sea and air operations in the area. The south is also subject to considerable Ukrainian partisan activity that ties up Russian forces and most importantly prevents the establishment of a secure environment in which to conduct annexation processes.  Local partisans could also support Ukrainian offensives in the area. 

Strategically, the Russians continue to suffer this week.  Turkey’s concerns were addressed and Finland and Sweden were officially invited to join NATO.  Lithuania enforced sanctions against Russian goods being shipped across their territory to the Russian exclave of Kalingrad. Leaders from both G7 and NATO met and committed to supporting Ukraine. NATO placed 300,000 troops on high alert for deployment.  The United States announced the deployment of more permanent forces in Europe including construction of a permanent base in Poland. Finally, Russia defaulted on its international debt.  Threatening Russian rhetoric about invading the Baltic Republics or Poland abounds but the hard fact is that they do not have the capacity to invade any other NATO country.  NATO’s military power dwarfs Russia’s and their equipment, logistics and training are modern and effective.  A third of total Russian combat power is now deployed against Ukraine and is not performing well.  The only military option Russia has against NATO is nuclear escalation, and if it takes that option, it will lose everything. 

In summary, Russia is over-extended both strategically and tactically.  It is increasingly apparent that their military forces in Ukraine are not capable of large-scale offensive operations for instance breaking through Ukrainian lines, bypassing resistance then surrounding pockets of Ukrainian forces and destroying them. The Russians are forced instead to advance on a broad front committing very small tactical groups to attacks on limited objectives with massive artillery support.  This is a slow and costly way to fight and will become increasingly costly as more NATO long range artillery weapons become available to Ukraine.  Further, the Russian focus on assaulting heavily defended Ukrainian cities contributes to Russia’s problems because although capturing cities is politically expedient, it is very difficult and dangerous for the infantry soldiers that do it.  Russia is already terribly short of these soldiers and sacrificing them fighting in urban areas for political ‘wins’ is not sensible. 

Combined with the changing season’s better weather, Russia’s over-commitment to attacking the cities of Donbas factors may provide the tactical conditions for a Ukrainian transition to offensive operations in coming weeks.  Do the Ukrainians have the resources?  At this stage we don’t know, but we can certainly remain optimistic and should be watching for Ukrainian activity like: 

  • A rapid withdrawal to Sloviansk and Kramatorsk drawing the Russians into a large defensive battle. A battle for Sloviansk and Kramatorsk would ‘fix’ large Russian forces in one place allowing them to be counterattacked or possibly enveloped. 
  • More Ukrainian activity in the south aiming to dominate the sea and air along the Black Sea coast. If Ukraine controls the coast, the sea becomes a safe right flank for an advance east towards Crimea. 

In coming weeks, we will know if the Ukrainians are exhausted or if they have reserves and a bigger plan.  A large and successful Ukrainian offensive at this stage could be fatal strategically for Russia. 


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


    • Once you look you need to understand what the evidence means, while they have occupied the Donbas there is a big area still left in Ukrainian control and their supply lines appear to be more reliable. As the article says we will soon find out.

    • Um, you’re just some guy on the internet.

      Ben’s Lord Dannatt is a MILITARY GENIUS who directed the British effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Show him the respect he deserves!

      • The british effort in iraq and afghanistan was a success?! really?
        What planet are you living on? The taliban rules afghanistan with absolute power. Isis born out of iraq, so many dead due to the military genius’s actions. The british military today is a shadow of its former self, thanks in part to those wars.

        • It was sarcastic, I think Garrott. John White is new on this site, and i see him as provocative rather than genuine. Agent provocateur?

      • Yep, NZ is teaming with billions of communists, isn’t it ted?
        Can you quickly define communism for us please?

        I thought not.

    • Tactical withdrawal. As the dopey Chechens follow thinking they are winning they are slowly being picked off and decimated. Great display of tactical leadership. Way too clever for Putin.

  1. Great summation Ben. Thank You.

    For those who think Russia has “won”; if we look at the map they have not achieved control of the Ukrainian heartland nor installed a puppet regime. They have control of the eastern and southern provinces that were break away republics at best but to achieve that control have leveled, back to the stone age, the infrastructure to support life and the peoples endeavour.

    It will take a huge amount of Russian resources (at least 15 years) to make those provinces habitable again. Resources it could have better spent internally in rural Russia.

    As for those that think Russian expansion and imperialism is wasting Ukrainian blood. Ask Ukrainians if that sacrifice for freedom is worth it.

    There was a WW2 expression said in German occupied territories; “Wel geboven maar niet gebroken”. Well bent but never broken. The will of the people to fight imperialism and occupation will remain unbroken. Russia needs to take cognitive fact of that any occupation will be difficult and costly for a long time.

    Will blood be spilled? Yes on both sides. Just like New Zealand blood would be spilled if any foreign nation did here what Russia is doing in the Ukraine.

    Would New Zealanders roll over as easily as suggested Ukrainians do, by Nick J?

    • Russia hasn’t occupied the Galician homeland of the Ukranian nazis who murdered hundreds of thousands of Poles and Jews.

      Here’s the thing…. they don’t need to. They’ve already liberated most of their people, and they can keep on rolling on with ease.

    • Determining whether or not Russia has won depends on what their goal is. Many believe Putin wants to control Ukraines border with the Black sea from Kharkiv to Odessa. He is clearly about to achieve that.

      • On what basis do you think Putin can successfully invade Odessa and and the adjacent coast?

        That is the area that the Ukrainians have put in a lot of the new western weapons, given its vital importance to Ukraine. Evidenced by the fact they could launch missile and artillery attacks on Snake Island.

        I have stated several times on this blog, mostly around a month ago, that the Russians would be able to occupy the Donbas. But would not be able to advance in the South West (the Black Sea Coast around Odessa). From what I have seen so far, that is being borne out.

        I also think at some point the Ukrainians will have to accept that outcome. But that won’t happen until after the summer offensive which will be primarily directed at liberating Kherson. A quick look at the map shows a possible outcome. The Russians ejected from any territory west of the Dnieper River.

        The Russian will be able to achieve the permanent occupation of the Donbas and a land bridge from Crimea to the Donbas. But that will be the limit.

        Was a that worth a major war?

        One which strengthened NATO with two new members, isolates of Russia from the West for the next decade or two, with Ukraine becoming part of the EU, and getting a substantial Western security guarantee with permanent armed forces of around 500,000 fully equiped with new western weapons..

        • Yep, I’m pretty sure Ukraine won’t become a member of the EU before Turkey does .How long has Turkey been waiting?
          And if the EU does accept such corruption, and such an economic basket case more fool them.
          I think Russia has turned its back on Europe anyway, has been doing that for a while, I strongly expect a new Eurasian bloc, along with Africa, the ME and Latin America to be rising strongly and eclipsing the collective west

  2. Ben – the price of petrol is skyrocketing, the Russian currency (ruble) has increased in value, and, Russia is slowly winning the war…we (NZ, and friends) are losing the war — Russia is winning.
    Wait for about 3 – 4 months, as Europe’s temperature cools down, then watch as Ukraine is pressured to accept terms, from European nations, due to Russia’s Gas and Heating oil supply to Europe.

    • In my opinion Putin’s strategy and stated goals are a stroke of genius, denazify and demilitarize Ukraine.
      Russia has successfully bought the fight to them in the Donbass which the Azov happily obliged. Two birds killed with one stone. I highly doubt the West can do anything now.
      The reality is, even though the collective West is better armed Russia holds the advantage i believe in both land and sea.
      Time to face facts. The US had another failed hyper-sonic missile test last week whereas Russia has both hyper-sonic and thermometric missiles already used in Ukraine. Advantage Russia. Apparently Iran has them as well. (6x faster than the Wests)
      Good luck going against Russian Poseidon torpedoes which are supercavitating nuclear powered, nuclear armed, unlimited range and a speed 185km per hour. When Russia talks of drowning the UK under a tsunami make no mistake what they will use. The West? they have no defense.

      • Such a genius he increased NATO membership by two and still has not finished in Ukraine despite all these so called superior weapons. If Putin hurries he can still win Wimbledon

    • The strength of the ruble is not all good news. Sure export values of crude have taken off ( probably not volume though) but if you can’t import anything it’s a bit of a problem. Unemployment is increasing as is poverty.

      If it was such a wonderful situation the Russian central bank wouldn’t be taking measures to cool the Ruble off (like removing that capital controls that stopped you selling rubies in the first place)

      I am not sure if anyone is winning overall.

      • Possible Wheel…sad fact that due to the war, the threat of famine within parts of Europe could occur within 4 months, due to Ukraine – Russia food growing industries, and areas being knocked around.

  3. Good work Ben.
    It is almost impossible to work out what is going on because of contradictory reports from both sides as well as misinformation from partisan spectators, but I think your evaluation is pretty darn close.

  4. Ukraine are allowing the bullish Russians to push forward thinking they are winning as the Ukrainian’s are picking the Russians off one by one. It is funny watching Russia be humiliated but Putin thinks he is doing well. The blokes a mug.

        • You do understand that those young Russian boys getting killed and maimed are as human as you right?..or are you really as deeply racist as your comments seem to imply you are?

          • Haha racist? I have heard it all now. I love the slavic Ukranians but despise the slavic Russian invaders. That makes me racist. Idiot.

            • But you are obviously anti-gnome, and wot’s rong with us gnomes?
              Try to use less silly, insulting language if you want people to think you have a brain.

  5. This war is like watching a big heavyweight bare knuckle forward attacking bruiser being slowly picked apart by a much smaller retreating intelligent tactical boxer. There will be only one winner. Putin has lost already.

  6. The only options for Ukraine is to keep fighting with no chance of winning OR to negotiate terms before they have nothing to negotiate with.

    All you who fantasise about eventual Ukrainian victory are deluded. You are supporting your dreams with Ukrainian blood. And Bens analysis to date is just not supported by facts, its been nonsense.

  7. I would be very surprised if ‘John White’ didn’t go to the school ball on his own wearing a Mao suit a la a Kim Jong-un.

    Very surprised.

  8. Ukraine had their best success when the Russians were stretched out thin across a wide front and were vulnerable to localised counter attacks in the rear. The current strategy of successfully advancing and retreating into Russian artillery barrages is not a winning one and will likely fail as the Russians continue to shorten their frontage and free up reserve units for deployment elsewhere.
    It turns out that sitting on stockpiles of coldwar artillery shells is far more valuable than a handful of NATO wunderwaffen used to shoot at goat herders in Afghanistan.

  9. Good OP Ben. Who wants the Donbas anyway? It’s occupied by a gang of lawless thugs. The Donbas has no economic value any more. Russia can have it back as it will be an economic liability for Ukraine as it is.

    • Lawless thugs? I guess somebody forgot to tell them that. I have yet to see anyone from the Donbas sporting Neo Nazi tattoos. For goodness sake Cantabrian get your head out of the clouds and read. I know Radical. Rape, torture, murder, beheading’s and swastikas carved into peoples backs and that’s only AMNESTY INTERNATIONALS Report pre SMO.

    • Massive coal oil and gas reserves, most of the black earth region I learned about in primary school. Sorry but it is a terribly loss to Ukraine financially. They should have treated the inhabitants better.
      D J S

      • Thank you Dave, I’d speculate that none of the anti Russia commenters know anything about the region.

        I’d invite them to investigate Burisma and their gas exploration in the Donbass which could have made Hunter Biden a fortune for sitting on his butt, at the same time ruining the drinking water for 2 million. Who would benefit? Zhelensky and his US and oligarch buddies no doubt.

        They should also investigate the grain business where Monsanto is deeply invested in GE seeds and herbicides, land ownership and local “influence” aka corruption. Russia by contrast has banned GE crops, and as most Ukrainian grain comes from the east Monsanto are going to be the big losers. More dosh gone from US, Zhelensky and the oligarchs.

        What Ukraine is facing is the loss of the major income earning regions whilst being saddled with unplayable war debts to US banks. The Zhelensky regime and oligarchs walk away, cash secured, drafted middle aged men get sent to die at the front, if they survive they come back to a life paying war debt.

        A couple of days ago I took a photo of a homeless black man asleep on Wall St outside the NY Stock Exchange. The suits walked around maybe oblivious but more likely preferring not to see. It’s the same deliberate blindness, the idea that you can run rough shod over reality that pro war comments on this site mirror.

        Reality is a harsh mistress. Ben and his pro war acolytes seem to think she can be ignored because they don’t like what she is saying. Meanwhile Ukrainians die. And Ben and his fan boys applaud and keep fantasising.

  10. So boring and meaningless to read all these geopolitical experts, pro-Putin fascists amongst them. Blah blah…what a bore

  11. Great post Ben. Keep them coming!
    I’d love to know what NATO equipment the Ukrainians have in their back pocket that they haven’t deployed yet.

  12. And Nick J you would be wrong. Your arrogance astounds me! I cannot believe how bellicose and aggressive the Nazi/Bolshevik Putin supporters are. They would be supporting Hitler all the way to 1939. I have both Russian and Ukrainian ancestry and know the countries and language well. Russian culture is astounding but they have such a sad history of tyrannical leaders that they are always oppressed. Navalny for president. Слава Украине!


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