GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Stalemate? Not yet, but Ukraine has strategic concerns.


In November last year, Ukrainian Colonel, Olen Zhdanov described the impact of the rasputitsa or ‘mud season’ on military operations for the Economist, stating that” Farm tracks leading to the front lines are churned into slippery swamps, armoured vehicles founder, soldiers slip and fall and sometimes break bones .“ Colonel Zhdanov’s quote captures the difficulties of fighting in Ukraine in the autumn, difficulties that tamed Hitlers’ panzers 80 years ago.  In this war, fighting will continue but it will slow down becoming limited actions fought by small forces, until the ground freezes in February next year.  Ukraine’s opportunity for a large-scale breakthrough is rapidly disappearing this year. 

Large military operations require huge amounts of support.  A mechanised infantry battalion of about 400 soldiers employs around 90 vehicles and most of its support vehicles are wheeled.  A brigade with three battalions and its supporting units employs several hundred vehicles, and as the rain falls each tank, armoured personnel carrier or truck’s movement will be confined to a limited number of formed roads. Essentially, both sides ability to bring supplies and ammunition forwards and take the wounded back reduces because instead of being able to drive cross country, use farm tracks or dirt roads all this activity will require road space.  Leaving only the infantry able to manoeuvre effectively at walking speed. Slipping and tripping in the mud. 

Time is running out to see a Ukrainian break through to the coast that cuts the Crimean Land Bridge before the rasputitsa. This is the set of strategically important motorways and rail lines that are the main supply route between Russia, Southern Zaporizhia and Crimea. It is shown as a yellow line on the map below.  If the Crimean Land Bridge is not cut then Russia’s hold on Crimea remains tenable and Ukraine’s ability to exert domestic political pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime is low. The rasputitsa’s inherent slowing down of military operations means that it will be a milestone for observers of the war, keen to judge the success of Ukraine’s offensive. 

Currently people around the world are taking stock of the situation and asking:

  • Is the offensive successful?
  • Is Ukraine losing?
  • Are we entering a period of stalemate indicating a long-drawn-out war?  

The best way to answer these questions start at the tactical and operational levels of the war. Later, we will discuss the strategic level.  Currently, Ukraine is committed to offensive operations on two axes:

  1. The Orikhiv axis pushing south towards Tokmak and Melitopol. This axis is aimed at driving south to cut the Crimean Land Bridge. This is the most important axis and is likely to be Ukraine’s main effort.  
  2. Advancing on Bakhmut, an offensive that is probably designed to hold Russian forces in this area, often call ‘fixing’ so they cannot be used to defend in the south. 

In the last two weeks, we have seen Ukraine’s rate of advance slow.  Some commentators believe that the offensive is reaching a culmination point; or that Ukraine’s offensive capability is exhausted and starting to lose momentum. However, closer analysis indicates that Ukraine’s frontline is well-supported and their units are being regularly rotated into; and more importantly out of combat to rest.  Further, over the last two weeks Ukraine’s weather has been rainy slowing operations down.  

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Looking deeper, on the Orikhiv Axis the offensive is pushing into urban areas, Novopropivka on the west flank and Verbove on the east flank.  Any military activity in urban areas is difficult and slow. The complexity of the terrain providing hiding places, cover from fire and routes for concealed movement that assist the defenders and force the attacker to take time slowly and deliberately clearing the area. Further, operations in urban areas are very manpower intensive requiring lots of infantry soldiers to enter buildings and clear them of their defenders.  It has been confirmed that Ukrainian armour (tanks, armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles) have crossed the Surovikin Line near Verbove; and there are reports of Ukrainian attacks towards Kopani. However, the size, nature and success of these attacks has not been confirmed yet.  Overall, Ukraine’s operations on the Orikhiv axis continue with constant pressure on Verbove and Novoproppivka. See the map below. 

Likewise, on the north-east axis around Bakhmut the terrain is also difficult and complex.  The Russian defenders have withdrawn to an easily defended line anchored on the main rail line south of Bakhmut, slowing down the Ukrainian advance.  Although, Ukraine controls high ground south of the city and is inflicting casualties on the defenders it is not making large gains on the ground. As in the south there has been little movement in the last two weeks but Ukraine still holds the initiative setting the tempo of operations. And; Ukraine plans to continue fighting into the winter, the Institute for the Study of War reporting on 6 September that “Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Captain Ilya Yevlash noted that Ukrainian forces are preparing for offensive operations throughout the autumn-winter period.” The Institute has long assessed the fighting will continue through the rasputitsa and the winter and this statement confirms Ukraine’s position.

Russia is also preparing for the fighting continued and last week the Institute for the Study of War also reported that units of 42nd Motor Rifle Division defending near Novopropivka and Verbove had successfully rotated out of the frontline and were successfully replaced. Many observers were surprised the Russians can conduct complicated tactical manoeuvres of this nature. It should not be surprising because throughout the campaign Russian units have demonstrated the ability to successfully break contact and withdraw. The real problem for Russia is whether its tactical logistics operations can support the re-constitution of withdrawn units.  Additionally, in the north-east Russia has launched more unsuccessful attacks towards Kupiansk. 

At tactical and operational level (i.e. within the land campaign) Ukraine may not be advancing right now, but it still has the initiative and appears to be far from culminating.  Instead, we are seeing consolidation and relentless pressure on Russia. Pressure that Russia is going to find harder to contain after Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu recently announced there will not be another new mobilisation.  This should be interpreted to mean – “There will be no new mobilisation until after the presidential elections in March 2024.”  Obviously, Putin’s regime does not have the political capital to mobilise more troops over the five to six months.  Meaning that Russia is betting on being able to hold on, while on the hand Ukraine knows that if it can destroy Russia’s forces in theatre it can win.  And; both sides are showing no signs of slowing down regardless of the weather.  Ukraine using its developing artillery supremacy to slowly attrit the Russian defenders. Russia digging deeper and holding on, hoping that Ukraine’s supporters will fail.  

And; that is Ukraine’s strategic problem.  Billions of dollars of aid poured into Ukraine and unfortunately this aid is seen by some as an investment. The return on which is measured in ground captured.  Already, we have seen a funding debate in the United States that includes the issue of aid to Ukraine.  The Republican dominated Congress stopping authorisation of the annual budget, specifically questioning expenditure on Ukraine. The New York Times reported on 6 October that “In the past few days, Republicans managed to strip billions in military and humanitarian assistance requested by Mr. Biden out of a stopgap spending bill to keep the government from shutting down.”   The European Union rallied in support of Ukraine this week, committing to long-term support at a meeting in Spain. However, America is by far Ukraine’s biggest donor and without the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ behind them Ukraine’s ability to maintain the fight reduces considerably.  

This is a good example of the interface between tactical battles and strategic operations.  In recent weeks, Ukraine has driven Russia’s navy out of the Black Sea, destroyed some of Russia’s best military units, broken down Russia’s Crimean air defence network and breached the Surovikin Line but without occupying large areas of land its successes are hard to demonstrate to politicians in countries supporting their war. Funding the Ukraine War is a tough position to support and will get tougher.  Rest assured that Putin’s intelligence services are already seeding conspiracy theories across social media undermining support for the war.  

A good example of this type of activity was provided by cyber security expert and military blogger Ryan McBeth who recently promoted work by Dr Caroline Bueno that traced Russia’s use of social media during the Hawaiian wildfires in August this year to encourage Americans to question their nation’s support for Ukraine. Dr Bueno’s article outlines how she tracked social media posts with the key words “Hawaii, not Ukraine” to their source; a Russian ‘bot.’  The campaign was successful with a string of commentators including Tucker Carlson using the phrase and actively questioning United States support for Ukraine. This is link to Dr Bueno’s article: .  

Although it is unlikely that Ukraine will completely lose support because too much has already been spent and the risk of ‘giving up’ and letting Putin believe that he has won a ‘battle of wills’ is too great. Instead, it will involve slow pressure on Ukraine to seek a negotiated solution. Perhaps giving up on Luhansk, Dontesk and Crimea in exchange for peace; or worse accepting the current situation as the basis for a peace deal. It is a dangerous time for Ukraine. It cannot afford to lose support because without an uninterrupted stream of ammunition, the nation will need to risk more lives to achieve results in battle.  

In summary, Ukraine is fighting hard continuing to attrit the Russians and retains the initiative.  It sets the tempo in the land campaign and still has resources available. So, even if fighting slows down during the rasputitsa pressure will be maintained on Russian forces. Most importantly, Russia’s manpower is limited because there is not the political will to conduct a second unplanned mobilisation; at least until March next year.  Putin is gambling that his soldiers can hold until then but any failure on the Orikiv axis will see a sudden Ukrainian advance and a big change in the campaign.  

 However, the upcoming rasputitsa will become a key milestone for some people assessing the success of aid to Ukraine and without demonstrable progress on the ground arguments against funding the war can be made.  Arguments that will be exacerbated and propelled by Russia’s highly effective social media warriors.  We are witnessing a crucial point in the campaign, if Russia can convince the world that its aid is not working, then Ukraine will be pressured to end the war and make peace on negotiated terms probably losing territory.  So, it is important in nations supporting Ukraine there is informed discussion about the war and that decisions about continued support are based on careful consideration of all factors, rather than just on how far Ukraine advanced last week.  


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger


  1. Excuses galore for why Ukraine is failing – tragically so. We, yes we Westerners (our governments led by the UK and USA), should never have put Ukraine in this position in the first place. If only we had unbiased and accurate mainstream media reporting, but then again, we’d need truthful military and political leaders to help facilitate this, granted the all too few truth-tellers that they are, are demonized out of the media spotlight anyway. Ukraine has lost a lot and unless we put a stop to this (stop funding war, start promoting peace and tolerance) then they are going to lose a heck of a lot more.

    • It depends on your definition of truth is AO. I think your definition is very, very different to mine!
      If Putin had been told the truth by his advisers the SVR,GRU and FSB, he would never have launched his ill fated invasion of Ukraine in the first place!

  2. What Stalemate? Ukraine & the West want a frozen conflict & Stalemate but unfortunately it ain’t going to happen? WHY! Because Russia will not accept a North Korean or Kosovo situation in which the conflict is frozen & a NATO, American enclave that can allow Ukraine to be rearmed to the teeth with US nukes, Russia will settle this conflict & are settling this Conflict on the Battlefield, no negotiations or Peace talks until Ukraine unconditionally surrenders or Zelensky is Regime changed! Russia is strategically patient, time is on its side, the West & Ukraine has ran out of weapons & has no industrial capacity to replace artillery but Russia does, for Goodness sake, the US is sending stolen Iranian weapons because they & NATO have run out! Russia is just staying put behind its massively fortified lines & just allowing the Ukrainians to come to them, to coral them into a Death zone for annihilation, what you don’t understand is Russia’s goal is to degrade a Enemy’s capability to fight, through attritional Warfare, to destroy their opponents Military, not by taking worthless pieces of Land! Stalemate, I don’t think so!

  3. Right through this year, I have said the current frontline will essentially be where the war ends. It was reasonably obvious that Russia has enough capability to hold a strong defensive position.
    How long before both sides recognise this and therefore are prepared to negotiate? Maybe this winter?
    Or will both sides believe they can launch a successful offensive from February next year.

    • To add. Although Russia can hold the existing lines, it is hard to imagine they can go on the offensive. Their weapons (tanks, etc) are way too vulnerable to the newer western weapons, especially the 155 mm artillery with precision rounds.
      So just as Ukraine can’t successfully advance, neither can Russia.
      Surely at some point the logic of all this will prevail and serious negotiations will occur.

        • Sufficient to hold a defence line, but probably not sufficient for an effective offensive. The superior accuracy of the 155 mm compared to the Russian 152 mm means fewer rounds are required to achieve the same effect.

          • If you Wayne were watching closely enough you would have noted that both sides use of drones has made any movement difficult in the extreme. Loitering weapons such as the Lancet are becoming a nightmare for anybody foolish enough to mount an armoured vehicle. The location of destroyed armour is greatly different to previous wars, most AFVs are being destroyed on deployment and in the grey zone before they ever get close to the line of contact. Artillery too is hunted at a distance. Forget big arrow assaults, neither side can concentrate enough force undetected and unharrassed.

        • The West have completely run out of 155mm artillery shells, hence the US has resorted to raiding other Nations limited supplies, sending Ukraine equipment from Army museums, sending confiscated & stolen Iranian weapons & suppling illegal cluster bombs & depleted uranium shells because the weapons cupboards are bare & will be bare because they don’t have any industrial capacity to replace the artillery for a further 5 yrs!

      • Actually Wayne, whilst you are right Russian tanks are vulnerable, reality is as demonstrated by Leopards and Challengers All tanks are vulnerable. Russia is unlikely to commit to “big arrow” offensives when it is clear that they gain more through attrition on the current line. At the point Ukrainian losses become unsustainable Russia will merely move to where ever they wish.

  4. “….Putin’s intelligence services are already seeding conspiracy theories across social media undermining support for the war.” Ben Morgan

    The information war has always been a powerful tool in waging war, captured in the famous saying; “The first victim of war is truth”

    Being heard in the United Nations International Court of Justice, the case being taken by Ukraine against the Russian Federation under the 1958 UN Convention on the prevention of genocide takes on added importance. Counsel for the Russian Federation are arguing a losing battle against having to present Russia’s evidence for waging this war to the court.

    Unwilling, or unable to put up their evidence of the allegations that the Russian Federation have made against Ukraine, as their reasons for waging this war; It is quite possible, that the Russian Federation will walk away from the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, the only nation to ever do so in the history of the convention.
    Walking away from the UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide could well be grounds for the removal of Russia’s veto rights in the United Nations Security Council.
    This would be a momentous event in world affairs.

      • How can Russia veto anything if their veto was removed?

        Admittedly the mechanics for removing Russia’s power of veto would be procedurally treading new ground.
        I imagine the process would start with a vote being put and most likely carried in the general assembly. Armed with a resolution from the General Assembly to remove Russia’s Veto, for the first time ever, the Security Council will take a majority binding vote to to remove Russia’s veto. This too will be likely to be carried.
        Walking away from the UN convention on genocide would be powerful impetus for the UN to start this process and carry it through to its conclusion.

        • Seriously Pat? the Irish in you is showing so i will post this Slowlyyyyy for you.
          Any vote to remove the Veto will be vetoed by Russia.

    • It is interesting when unusual names pop up on TDB supporting Putin. I think the Russian Embassy could well be involved in posting disinformation on this site maybe SVR as well.

  5. “Ukraine using its developing artillery supremacy to slowly attrit the Russian defenders.”
    Developing artillery supremacy?? Firing what?
    You neglect to mention the firing ration has been 10 to 1 in fvourv of Russia, and the gap is only getting larger.
    Meanwhile the average age of Ukrainians at the front is 40, and there are no young men to fill the gaps. They’re already gone, or dead..

    If this is Ukraine “With the initiative”, what will losing look like?

  6. So whilst all eyes are on Palestine there is movement on the fronts in Ukraine. Avdiivka is now reported operationally in threat of encirclement by Russian forces.
    Around Robotyne Ukrainian offensive operations have been repulsed and are under counter attack.
    The Ukrainian summer offensive is over. Whatever Ben’s fantasies are the UAF aren’t going to Maruipol or the sea.

  7. Russians have suffered huge men and equipment losses in the attempt to encircle Avdiivka and have made very little progress three or four days in to the assault.
    As for the grain corridor which has been discussed here from time to time the Russians seem to have abandoned the idea of a marine blockade as too dangerous now and attempts to destroy stored grain and port facilities have been insufficient to stop exports. 19 loaded ships have departed Ukraine so far in October carrying 740000 tones of grain following on from a few loaded ships in September. Talk of enforcing the blockade by mines is not deterring the shipping companies but I notice there is talk of a Russian Cruiser hitting a Russian mine near Sevastapol.

    • Trev, you are arse about face in terms of reality. Like Ukraines constant claims of success you are gasping at straws. After 90,000 Ukrainian casualties and not even breaking the first Russian line you can’t keep these fantasies going. As for shipping grain you need grain elevators. They are kaput. The result is not in doubt, it’s just a matter of when, and what Russia will settle for.

      Reality is a bitch. Last night I didn’t want a National win but I got one.

  8. As expected, the Americans, EU & West, have found their offramp from their Ukrainian Project disaster, Hamas & Israel has provided the means for them to dump Ukraine like a soiled diaper? Just like in Afghanistan, the US has done a runner, having tired of the pan handling beggar Zelensky running around in his Che Chevera green pyjamas & being outed as Neo Nazi’s sympathisers of the Azoz battalion in Ukraine & have moved on to the next Conflict war in the Middle East in Israel, washing their hands of this US Neocon disaster & memory holing this humiliating defeat! So long Zelensky & Ukrainian suckers, thanks for playing & dying but we are done with you? To the Victors go the spoils & Russia will take whatever they want now, Kharkov, Odessa, game, set & match! The Ukrainian flags projected on the Buildings around the Globe have now been replaced with Star of David Israel flags & the Twitter handles gone from Ukraine to Israel, Slava Ukraina is now Stand with Israel? But unfortunately this was eventually going to happen because the Americans are a dishonest Actor with no standing power, they abandon their proxies at the drop of a hat, it was so predictable & soon we’ll see Zelensky stuffing a Helicopter full if cash like the Afghani President & fleeing, that’s if the Neo Nazi’s don’t get to him first & hang him from a Lamppost & when we’ll soon see Neo Nazi’s falling off C130’s Cargo Planes, flying & fleeing outta Kiev? So Ben Morgan, what will you be writing about now the Ukraine is DONE?


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