GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Is the campaign starting to tip in favour of Ukraine? And, some thoughts about Prigozhin’s death.

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Last week, we discussed leaked United States intelligence assessments of the land campaign that were reported in the Washington Post. The article’s assessment of the Ukrainian offensive was grim. Stating that United States officials were concerned about the offensive’s chance of reaching the sea and claiming that Ukraine’s military leadership was not using the tactics suggested by their American and British allies. The article’s key conclusion being that Ukraine will fail to reach the Sea of Azov severing the Crimean Land Bridge. However, this week the campaign is characterised by a change in Ukraine’s tactics, the focus shifting from three axes of advance to one.  

Until recently, Ukraine’s offensive has been directed on three key axes of attack; 

  • Attacking near Bakhmut.
  • Advancing from near Orikhiv towards Tokmak; and then toward Melitopol. 
  • Flattening the Velyka Novosilka salient.

A wide range of other probing and shaping operations have been reported for instance; 

  • Before the offensive, Ukrainian sponsored anti-Putin partisans raided areas along the country’s northern border causing confusion and drawing Russian soldiers out of Ukraine to defend the border. 
  • During the offensive, Ukrainian forces have persistently raided along the Dnipro River, sometimes crossing and holding sections of territory to draw Russian forces away from the frontline and attrit them using artillery on the west bank of the river.
  • Raids are now starting to take place on the Crimean Peninsula.  Although small these operations are embarrassing for Putin and are likely to draw Russian forces away from the frontline and undermine support at home for the war.  Some of these attacks have destroyed key facilities like anti-aircraft radar sites and firing positions, that Russia probably thought were safe from attack. 

But, none of these activities represent Ukraine’s main effort, or the point at which Ukraine is aiming to achieve decision in this offensive. Instead, over the last twelve weeks attention has been on the areas in which a large force of armour and artillery can be used to penetrate Russian defences, most likely on one of two southern axes.  An offensive in the south being able to drive a wedge to the Sea of Azov that cuts the Crimean Land Bridge.  The Crimean Land Bridge is strategically important because it provides guaranteed land access to Crimea; and Crimea is important because it dominates the Black Sea.  If Ukraine can reach the Sea of Azov’s coast, holding Crimea becomes very difficult for Russia because the Kerch Bridge that links the peninsular to Russia is within range of Ukrainian rocket artillery.  The peninsular itself could also be subject to persistent air, sea and artillery attack.  

Therefore, the Crimean Land Bridge is Putin’s ‘ace,’ if he holds it, he can hold Crimea. While he retains the Crimean Land Bridge the war can be declared a victory.  At this stage, he is banking on NATO and United States support evaporating over time because he knows they have invested a great deal of money in Ukraine.  An investment that needs to show a return. The return on investment may not be publicly stated but severing the Crimean Land Bridge would guarantee United States and NATO support because it demonstrates that Ukraine can win. So, if Putin can stop this happening he can still win and that is why the offensive’s slow progress is causing Western commentators to become concerned that Ukraine will not make enough ground to retain political support. The recent Washington Post article highlighted command issues that commentators have speculated about but been unable to confirm adding credence to these concerns.  

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And; now the campaign appears to be reaching a very important transitional phase, Russia’s frontline forces are likely to be reaching a point of exhaustion. The defenders have been ‘stretched’ and ‘starved.’ Ukraine’s shaping operations forcing Russia to move forces around, revealing artillery and reserves that can be attacked; stretching their defensive resources. Recent reports indicate that Ukraine is successfully destroying Russian artillery at a rate of at least five Russian guns for each one Ukraine loses.   Meanwhile, behind the lines Ukraine has maintained a constant attack on Russia’s logistics infra-structure, bridges destroyed, ammunition dumps blown up, airfields attacked all designed to starve Russian frontline soldiers of the resources they need to fight. 

The effects of this activity are being reported Russian troops posting social media videos detailing their lack of equipment and poor orders, sudden disordered withdrawals from defended areas ending in Russian troops being killed as they retreat and reports of Russian forces not being rotated out of the frontline for rest periods paint a picture of a force that is faltering.

This week Ukraine appears to be transitioning to a new operational phase. First indications are that near Bakhmut and on the Velyka Novosilka salient we can see stabilisation of the frontline.  Near Bakhmut, Ukraine is settling in and focussing on holding the area to the south of the town dominated by the villages of Klishchiivka, Andrivka and Kurdyumivka all of which sit on an important ridgeline. One that if captured will provide a route to advance north-east and block the main road into Bakhmut. Ukraine needs to capture these villages but does not appear to be prioritising this activity.  Likewise, on the Velyka Novosilka salient after capturing Staromaiorske then Urozhaine Ukraine is slowing down and appears to be re-constituting in this area.

The lack of action on these two axes would be worrying. But on the axis that starts near Orikhiv and is directed south, towards Melitopol there was a significant change in tempo this week. This axis was easily the most heavily defended and is the one Ukraine was making the slowest progress along.  However, last week things changed. The composition of Ukrainian units operating in this area changed as units 82nd Air Assault Brigade, from the strategic reserve started to move forward and enter the battle.  


The village of Robotyne fell to Ukraine this week. The village sits astride the T0408 motorway that runs north-south and provides a supply line for an advance on Tokmak, about 17km further south.   Melitopol is approximately 70km south of Ukraine’s current positions.   Right now, Ukraine is pushing along the T0408 towards Novoprokpivka 3km south of Robtyne, and is also enveloping the village from the east.  However, the most important activity is taking place about 6km east of Robotyne, Ukraine has managed to penetrate Russia’s trench lines. We should expect to see the trench lines that stretch from that point back to Robotyne and Novoprokpivka cleared quickly opening a gap in Russia’s first line of defences. On Friday 25 August, United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley confirmed Ukrainian forces are fighting through these Russian defensive positions. 


In this area we are starting to see a couple of important combat indicators. First, Ukraine’s tempo of operations is increasing. Last week, they covered as much ground on this axis as they have in the previous eleven weeks.  Ukraine is committing higher quality forces to the battle and is increasing the concentration of forces; or putting larger forces into battle against key targets. The second indicator is the retreat of Russian forces, instead of the well-prepared and executed withdrawals that we have seen previously the withdrawing defenders are conducting less well-ordered retreats and being punished by accurate Ukrainian artillery fire.  Taken together these observations could indicate a change in the campaign.  We should expect to see more forward movement on this axis in coming weeks and I think that we are starting to see Ukraine commit its main effort.  

The next step is likely to be widening and securing a gap in the first line of defence, probably between Robotyne, Novoprokpivka and Verbove.  Advancing ‘along’ a defensive line is easier than advancing into it because after breaking through Ukrainian forces will be in the rear of the first line of trenches so able to advance attacking the trench line from three sides. So, expect this activity to be relatively rapid. After clearing a gap, Ukraine will be positioned to continue its advance south and if they are now focussing on one axis expect to see some rapid movement.  It is likely that the next lines of defence are less heavily mined so that Russian troops can move easily between the lines of defence.  It is also possible that subsequent lines of defence will be less heavily defended, troops from the rear having already been moved forwards to defend the first line.  In fact, the Institute for the Study of War, an American ‘think tank’ assesses the situation as follows “However, the extent of the minefields in the area of this series of prepared defensive positions is unclear, although they may be less heavily mined to give Russian forces operating north of these positions the ability to retreat. ISW additionally recently assessed that this series of prepared defensive positions may be less heavily defended than the positions Ukrainian forces already penetrated to the north, although this remains unclear.” 

Essentially, Ukraine may be soon be through the hard shell of the Russian defences and if the defenders have been sufficiently starved and stretched a powerful strike may bring fast results. So next week, watch carefully because it is increasingly likely that we will start to see more and quicker Ukrainian progress.  Tokmak is already being shelled by Ukrainian forces; and remember that by for an autumn victory Ukraine does not need to take Melitopol. Even getting close enough so that artillery can prevent movement of supplies by land; or within about 20km of the city is a win. 

Back in Russia, politics is still the focus political figure Yevgeny Prigozhin meeting an untimely end this week when his private jet crashed near Moscow.  Mainstream media and the internet is ablaze with speculation and interpretations of this incident but my assessment is simply that Prigozhin’s death should not come as a surprise to anybody and that it will have very little impact on the war.  When Prigozhin launched his coup, my assessment was that its short-term impact on Putin or the war would be minimal.  That Putin responded quickly, putting down the insurrection and demonstrating that he was in charge limited damage and quickly restored the status quo.  

It seems that Prigozhin’s death will have little impact on Russia’s political elite. He was already an outsider, a low-class ‘wideboy’ who had no history with Putin’s ex-intelligence silovaki, and my feeling is that his extravagance and loudness would not have been appreciated.  Wagner Group’s soldiers are dispersed and the military brains behind the organisation Dmitry Utkin, the original call sign ‘Wagner’ was also on the plane and died with Prigozhin, effectively cutting off the snake’s head.  Wagner Group’s soldiers will quickly be either soaked up back into the Russian army or another private military company set up for those that are best employed in Africa.  

Finally, there have been reports that Russia is planning an offensive in the north-east. Starting on the Svatove-Kremina line and pushing west targeting Lyman and Kupyansk.  The Institute for the Study of War reporting that “Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated on August 25 that Russian forces are transferring elements of newly formed brigades and divisions to the Kupyansk and Lyman directions after a month of significant losses in order to resume active offensive operations in these directions” however the Institute assessed the likelihood of this movement developing into a successful offensive before winter as highly unlikely.

In summary, this week was a good week for Ukraine their forces continuing to make ground and starting to cross the first Russian defensive line.  It appears that Ukraine the campaign is starting to tip in their favour, that they are prioritising one axis of advance; and that this decision will mean the rate of advance towards Melitopol will increase.  Ukraine’s offensive is gaining pace and by winter could be close to Melitopol creating a very difficult situation for Putin.  If when the rain comes in October and November Ukraine has cut the Crimean Land Bridge, or is even close to cutting it. Putin’s political capital will plummet because to retain Crimea Russia will need to go on the offensive against a battle-hardened Ukraine now with new F16 fighter aircraft, removing one of Russia’s key battlefield advantages its airpower.   A prospect that even the most hardened Putin supporter will dread. The question is; Can the Russians hang on?

 

 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger

73 COMMENTS

  1. The main Russian defence line has been breached near Verbove. Some on here were saying that would never happen. Momentum does seem to be going Ukraine’s way!

  2. Hopefully now that Ukraine has broken through the main line of defence we can see some real progress . . next few days will be interesting.
    Glory to Ukraine.

    • One line out of three, standard tactics is for Russia to withdraw to the second line of defence then undertake massive shelling until they withdraw rinse and repeat. A fact Ben ignores is numerous Russian mines are activated by remote control so too early to hold your breath for a Ukrainian breakthrough.

      • Problem is that Russia is defending. They want sovereignty over Ukrainian territory they need to attack and hold. The fact that Ukraine is not carrying out frontal attacks on the Russian defensive positions sort of makes using artillery and mines ever so much more ineffectual for the Russians (risking bombarding their own troops and mining retreat or attack lines for Russian operations). The Ukrainians are splitting the defensive line and rolling parallel to it to mop up Russian resistance.

        One thing that is against the Russians is that their controlled territory is some 600km long but only 150km’s or so deep (Auckland to Matamata), their backs are against the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian offensive is threatening to cut that salient in half. Logistically a problem.

          • From what Seer? They will have superior air-to-air missiles and superior HARM missiles for SAMs and the like. They will also be able to launch cruise missiles. It’s all over for Putin.

            • https://t.me/CyberspecNews/40884

              The Sarmat strategic complex has been put on combat duty

              This was announced by the general director of Roscosmos Yuri Borisov.

              “Sarmat” is the most powerful missile with the world’s longest target engagement range. It is capable of hitting targets at long ranges using various flight trajectories.

              The weight of one projectile of the complex exceeds 200 tonnes. The range of fire is 18,000 kilometres.

  3. Ben, I respect your military knowledge but politically you are wrong about Prigozhin’s death. The assassination is very significant as it affects the morale of Russia’s fighting forces and not just Wagner PMC either. The Kremlin has become more unstable as a result of the assassination and rumours are that Patrushev, head of the Security Council, could take over from a very sick Putin. This war will not continue if Putin falls. Even hard line successors will pursue peace. This war is Putin’s war.

  4. The Russians are continually doing dumb things which help Ukraine. The Ukrainians are so lucky the Russians are so fucking stupid.The Russians have a big attack plan at Kupiansk which is just attack Ukrainian fortifications without armour support because they get taken out anti tank weapons every time a coconut.The Russians expect the Ukrainians will thin out their other vectors to reinforce Kupiansk not going to happen Ivans. The Ukrainians are on a bit of a roll and will smell the salt air of the Azov sea soon. The Kherson front will soon move in Ukraine’s favour as well I predict. 10k more and the land bridge road can come under Himars attack.
    Never in the history of human conflict has one side been so stupid like Russia long may it do so.

    • Russian won at Starlingrade but the errors made by both sides were mind blowing . It was the weather that turned the tide in Russias favour

  5. Eliminating the Middle Man

    Just as the East India Company was the spearhead of British Imperialist penetration of India, the Wagner group is the spearhead of Russian imperialism and penetration of Africa.

    Alongside the elimination of Prigozhin, the elimination of Wagner’s top military commanders in the same crash which has left Wagner leaderless and without a paymaster, it is likely that the Russian Federation will take over direct military control of Wagner’s African holdings and the wealth that flows from them.
    The good thing for Russia about Wagner was the deniability and separation of Russian government involvement in Wagner’s plunder of African resources. As well as taking over Wagner’s commercial empire, Wagner’s military role in backing repressive corrupt regimes that aided and partnered with Wagner, is likely to be taken over by the Russian army.
    What Russian Federation regular army boots on the ground will do for anti-imperialist and inter-imperialist conflict in Africa is an open question.

    • Slight problem Pat, “Wagner leaderless and without a “Paymaster”
      Wagner was directly financed by the Kremlin, even Putin admitted as much when he said how much Wagner was paid over the last year.
      Kind of throws your whole post into disrepute, which in all honesty does indicate you believing Western propaganda again. You talk about “plunder” in Africa where Russia offers fair value verses France that pays 20c on the dollar for Uranium in Niger, is it any surprise France supports military action in Niger?

  6. What is the source of this claim that Ukraine is knocking out Russian artillery at a ratio of 5 to 1 to them? No evidence is presented. If Russia can make public video of Ukraine materiel being destroyed (and I’ve seen a hell of a lot of those) and if Ukraine is destroying even more (presumably with better surveillance systems drones etc.) then they should be able to produce videos at a 5 to 1 ratio in their favor as well.
    Russia sees an advantage in making these videos public so why wouldn’t it work for Ukraine as well? especially if they have so much more of them.
    If it exists then in can be stated with maths.
    With no attempt to make some hard numbers calculations this sort of analysis just looks pointless.

  7. “Terrorists” cause damage in Moscow with no lives lost. “Liberators” kill thousands including 500 children in Ukraine.

    Only total idiots could believe this shit.

    After cutting a bloody swathe across Ukraine Russians are confused at why their capital is being struck with drones.

    Moscowvites display levels of stupidity approaching insanity that our one eyed resident trolls do.

    https://news.yahoo.com/russians-strangely-stumped-why-moscow-085337503.html

    Exerpt:
    …..some residents near the Russian capital have taken to social media to vent about the inconvenience of being woken up in the middle of the night, question why the “international community” isn’t coming to their rescue,

    • FFS Pat, only you could quote Yahoo news as a reliable source.
      Yahoo original meaning: Yet another hierarchically organized oracle.

    • There is a certain irony in the people here claiming bias in the MSM, while apparently thinking the media in Russia isn’t. To many people in Moscow (perhaps most) this is a SMO of “liberation” from the Neo Nazis in Ukraine because that is what they have been told over and over (just the other day Putin was talking about the “neo nazis” again).

      This shit is insane: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66450520

      Then again perhaps we should discount that article because it isn’t from RT, that well known bastion of independent journalism

      • No, Vlad

        We have been brought up to expect Russian propaganda to be biased, and we agree that it is.

        What is much worse is the realisation that ours is no better. You appear to have yet to understand that point.

        • You are wrong IV. The west has a free and independent press which can clearly identify what is propaganda, independent verified reporting and editorial content. Putin has closed down all independent news organisations in Russia and the blurring between reporting and editorialising becomes no more than propaganda. The aim is to confuse local and international audiences. To say that major western news outlets do the same thing is to be a conspiracy theorist.

          • Ovod – “The west has a free and independent press”

            The case of Julian Assange proves that’s a big steaming pile of bull-shit ,,,, that only hypocrites,,,, or fact free brain dead idiots could write…..

            ie Ovod.

  8. One thing no one has mentioned and you’ll only hear it from The Daily Blog is Trump is going to destroy all of your really lovely and wonderfully well laid out plans for destroying Russia. You just don’t have the right mentality for total victory.

        • D’ohvod – who do you mean by ‘he’?

          Silly ambiguity – you could have made it clear whether Trump or Biden is at risk of not being allowed to stand. The nearest antecedent is Trump, so we have to guess that you meant Trump. Make things clear – Biden is also being accused of being too old, gaga, etc.

    • I wrote out what I thought was a good post yesterday about, censorship, propaganda, character assassination and narrative control.

      Foolishly I posted it before saving it and it got snagged/dissapeared in the TDB system and I do not have the time to re-write it today.

      Instead today I’ll just link to this very informative video from Scott Ritter who has been deleted/censored from the Atlantic Council beholden platform Youtube https://rumble.com/v3aydh4-scott-ritter-extra-ep.-92-ask-the-inspector.html

      And to pre-empt the predictable smears from all the pro-NATO Ukraine proxy war cheerleaders ,,,,, Ritter got the ‘Julian Assange treatment’, for telling the truth about ‘The Weapons of Mass Destruction’ lie,,, a lie which was used to justify the Iraq war/invasion,,,, which lead to around a million dead and the present state of the middle east ,,, with hundreds of thousands of children victims ,,, or untold millions of child victims if we include being orphaned, starved, injured, made into homeless refugees etc etc etc.

      Same shit’s happening with the huge amount of lies and propaganda both causing and keeping the Ukraine proxy war alive.

  9. Russian won at Starlingrade but the errors made by both sides were mind blowing . It was the weather that turned the tide in Russias favour

  10. Interesting comments from Russian Telegram bloggers this morning NZ time. To paraphrase they are saying the situation for the Russian military near Verbove is catastrophic. Meanwhile Ukrainian sources are tight lipped about what is happening near Verbove but they did announce they are aware that the evacuation of Russian officials from Tokmak is underway. If the second item is true then the Russians are not confident they can protect Tokmak.

  11. Paul you take the Kremlin sponsored news sources with a grain or three of salt that is for sure. The telegram bloggers or at least some of them are imbedded with Russian or Ukrainian units and the do provide some useful insights and often much earlier than main stream western or Russian media. A couple of days has now passed since my post and the tipped “catastrophe” near Verbove for the Russian military has been clarified by video and satellite imagery and various reports from both sides. The “Surovikin” main defence line being breached and passed and Verbove threatened seems to what this was all about. Momentum is not favouring Russia at the moment and they will be praying for an early rainy season.

    • But The “Surovikin” main defense line has not yet been reached ,,,,,, let alone breached, Trev.

      “” For all the lofty boasts of demonstrating the superior art of maneuver, Ukraine still finds itself trapped in a siege, painfully trying to break open a calcified Russian position without success.”

      “So what went wrong? Well, conceptually it’s easy. There is no breach. The bulk of the maneuver scheme is dedicated to exploitation – reaching such and such a line, taking up this blocking position, masking that city, and so forth. But what happens when there’s no breach at all? How can such a catastrophe occur, and how can the operation be salvaged when it comes untracked in the opening phase?

      Indeed, this is precisely what has happened. Ukraine finds itself stuck on the edge of Russia’s outermost screening line, spending substantial resources trying to capture the small village of Robotyne, and/or bypass it to the east by infiltrating the gap between it and the neighboring village of Verbove. ” ,,,,

      “We could be generous and say that Robotyne is the last village before the Ukrainian attack reaches the main Russian defensive belt, but we’d be lying – they will also have to clear the larger town of Novoprokopivka, two kilometers to the south. Just for reference, here’s a closer look at the mapped Russian defenses in the battlespace, ” https://bigserge.substack.com/p/escaping-attrition-ukraine-rolls

      “The number of troops that the Ukrainian army attracted in three months to capture half of Rabotino village:

      33rd Independent Mechanised Brigade (OMBr)

      47th UMBR

      65th UMBR

      78th Independent Material Support Battalion

      73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre

      10th Army Corps:

      116th OMbr

      117th UMBR

      118th UMBR

      Maroon Tactical Group:

      46th Independent Airmobile Brigade

      71st Independent Jaeger Brigade

      82nd Independent Airborne Assault Brigade

      132nd Independent Reconnaissance Battalion

      14th UMBR

      15th UMBR

      3rd Operational Brigade of the National Guard

      Foreign mercenaries and NATO special forces.

      Thus, 60,000 personnel were involved in the capture of one village, of which half were lost, along with hundreds of pieces of equipment.

      NATO’s understanding of war and tactical skills have brought Ukraine to this situation, and the ending will be even sadder for the Khohols, but more salutary for all.”
      https://simplicius76.substack.com/p/sitrep-83023-ukraine-smokescreens?utm_source=profile&utm_medium=reader2

      Throw away a few more tens of thousands,,, or hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian lives ( but not yours) ,,, and she’ll be right, Trev?.

      Slava what again …..

      • Blood thirsty anti-Ukraine chauvinist B Awakesky exposes himself again as a disgusting pro-war Kremlin troll.

        B Awakesky refers to Ukrainians as “Khohols” a derogatory Russian term for Ukrainians.

        Referring to Ukrainians as “Khohols” is as offensive to Ukrainians as the derogatory White Supremacist term “nigger” is for African Americans or Maori.

        Dehumanising human beings with derogatory loaded terms is to justify atrocities to be committed against them.

        Which of course is B Awakesky’s intent.

  12. B Awakesky your info is out of date; Surovikin line has been crossed in the direction of Verbove and Russian troops retreated from Robotyne some days back though the south of that town is still contested. There is too much geolocated footage and video of Ukrainian troops contradicting your assertions for them to hold water. Yes Novoprovopivka is still to be taken but that is just a matter of time as Ukrainian forward units have flanked it to the east and south east. Things are dynamic and there are ebbs and flows with attacks and counter attacks but as I’ve said before the momentum is with Ukraine.

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