GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Can Ukraine turn Russia’s flank?


Ferocious fighting continues as Russia advances on Avdiivka. Further south, all eyes are on Ukraine’s crossing of the Dnipro River.  Meanwhile, both sides are battling against the clock as we count down to the autumn rain and winter snow.  And, across the campaign we can see indications that the situation in Ukraine is evolving, that the battle for the ‘centre’ is over and that the campaign is rapidly developing into a battle for the flanks.  Both sides trying to develop a credible turning movement that will draw their opponent’s forces away from the centre, creating space for manoeuvre. 

Ukraine’s main effort has changed, although still attacking on the Orikhiv Axis and Bakhmut their intensity is reducing considerably.  Russia meanwhile continues to maintain pressure, launching a continuous barrage of small attacks along the whole length of the frontline.  Additionally, Russia maintains a large force of about 100,000 soldiers in northern Luhansk (See the ? on the map below.). At this point, Ukraine’s defences are holding but it clear that Russia is keen to keep Ukraine’s forces in the north-east fixed in defence, making sure they cannot be redeployed easily.    

 Additionally, the large Russian force in the north creates a dilemma for Ukraine’s commanders.  The force may consist of newly mobilised and poorly equipped soldiers that have consistently failed to generate momentum in several large attack but is still very large creating a threat that must be mitigated. This means that Ukraine needs to keep reserves in position that can be deployed north to defend against an advance in this area. Early in the campaign, this area provided logistics facilities that Russia used to support forces advancing towards the important Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. It is also the route to Ukraine’s second most important city Kharkiv.  A combination of factors that makes this area vitally important for Ukraine to hold. 

Russia’s force in north Luhansk is only a threat at this stage, and whether it develops into a flanking force executing a turning movement remains to be seen.  It is dependent on the situation further south, the key factor being Ukraine’s capacity to develop a bridge head on the Dnipro River’s east bank. And, therefore on whether Russia need to send its best troops there. 

Last week, Ukraine continued to expand and develop the bridge head an operation that is clearly a flanking manoeuvre designed to lodge a force behind Russia’s main defensive line.  So far, the Russians have not been able to defeat the force and it is slowly expanding its foothold. Russian milbloggers reporting that Ukrainian forces are digging in and have brought mortars across the river.  The reports are not confirmed but the observations are likely to be correct. 

Ukraine’s assault force is from the well-trained and equipped 35th and 36th Marine Infantry Brigades. These brigades trained with the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines earlier this year and are very capable units that have spent the last four months raiding Russian positions along the river.  Essentially, if Ukraine is looking to cross in large numbers these are the units they would use to create a bridgehead.  Unlike a Russian or United States force, the Ukrainians cannot swamp a defended river with artillery and airpower then use masses of amphibious vehicles and assault bridges to cross a river very rapidly.

Instead, it is more likely that Ukraine’s foothold will develop slowly, the marines of the 35th and 36th Brigades slowly pushing forwards on foot to about 15km east of the Dnipro River.  The rough distance that they can expect consistent artillery support from supporting fire units on the west bank of the river.  The marines will carry lots of man portable air defence and anti-tank missiles that will be used to protect a foothold for other heavier units as they cross the river.  On the map below, the blue line shows what a secure bridgehead might look like.  A perimeter secured on natural features (like lakes, high ground and forests) at the limit of artillery cover. This week it was confirmed that Ukrainian forces are in Krynky and are fighting to capture Oleshky and Pishchanivka.  Potentially tough battles as Russia has about 5,000 soldiers in the immediate area and is sure to be rushing more into the area.   

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Looking back at Ukraine’s September 2022 Kharkiv Offensive, we can see that if Ukraine can get highly mobile forces across the river with support it could create a very dangerous situation for Russia. The activities that we need to watch for in this area in coming weeks are:

  • Whether Ukraine can maintain logistics support to the soldiers on the east bank.  
  • Ukraine’s aggression, if they push forwards quickly and try to secure places like Radensk.  
  • The movement of heavy equipment, especially artillery over the river.  

Essentially, it is hard to tell if the crossing is an opportunist operation that developed from a sudden and unexpected Russian weakness being exposed or whether the operation is more carefully conceived and planned. In my opinion, the key combat indicator will be the movement of artillery across the river. Artillery is vital during all phases of war but requires enormous logistics support.  If 35th and 36th Brigade plan to advance further than about 15 km then they need to have artillery on their side of the river. Likewise, if Ukraine intends to secure a crossing it needs to create the largest possible security zone and with artillery on the east bank the potential zone becomes much larger.

So far Russia is not able to push the Ukrainians back over the river unlike previous crossings that were defeated by Russian airpower, attack helicopters and ground attack aircraft.  This may indicate the Russia’s aviation capability is reducing.  This may be improvements in air defence or the impact of ATACMS destroying and forcing the dispersion of Russian attack aircraft and helicopters.  In its 27 September update the Institute for the Study of War assessed that “Russian forces are likely worried about future Ukrainian strikes targeting Russian airfields in Russian rear areas. Satellite imagery dated October 26 indicates that Russian forces have likely painted four outlines of MiG-31 aircraft on the flight line at Belbek airfield near occupied Sevastopol, Crimea, likely intended to draw Ukrainian targeting from the four real MiG-31 remaining at the airfield.” The ATACMS threat is likely to be keenly felt amongst Russian aviators. 

Further, we know that Russian troops have been moved from both the frontline and from reserves to Kherson because of Russian concerns about a crossing. Where are these soldiers?   The most likely answer is a that they are furiously digging in defensive positions, outside of Ukrainian artillery range, to contain any future crossing.  Russian conscripts may not be good on attack but in recent months have proven they can certainly defend.  

Currently, Russia is clearly focussed on taking Avdiivka, sacrificing thousands of soldiers and scores of vehicles.  Ukraine claims that the attack has destroyed whole Russian brigades and the White House stated on 28 October that there is evidence that Russia is executing soldiers that refuse to fight.  An indication that Russian morale is low.  However, last week Russian soldiers captured a small, 20m high artificial hill about 7km north of Avdiivka.  An important feature despite its small size because it overlooks the main supply route into and out of the town.  This small hill may be the key to Russia winning the battle, because from this vantage point Russian observers can interdict Ukraine’s supply line into the town. Russia’s continued concentration on Avdiivka is therefore warranted.  My assessment is that Avdiivka will fall and that when this happens, we will see a Russian counter attack that’s objective is to drive the Ukrainians back over the river. 

This may become a turning point in the land campaign. If Russia forces Ukraine’s soldiers back onto the Dnipro’s west bank, they remove the threat of Ukrainian forces breaking out in a relatively undefended area and running amok, defeating Ukraine’s operational level turning movement and forcing Ukraine to fight in the centre.  Ukraine’s operations in the centre; the Orikhiv attack, the assault on Bakhmut and flattening the Velyka Novosilka salient have not been as successful as hoped.  Russia’s defence system generally stopping Ukraine’s attacks producing stalemate.  Strategically, a stalemate in the land campaign is a win for Russia. However, if Ukraine can execute its turning movement by successfully turning its lodgement on the Dnipro’s east bank into a base for offensive action, then Russia’s prospects look grim.  

At strategic level the European Union has been active in the last week, demonstrating support and creating aid packages for Ukraine. Probably to demonstrate that regardless of the impact America’s domestic politics, Europe is firm in its dedication to deterring Russian (or future Chinese) aggression and will not be worn down.  Putin on the other hand is ‘rattling the nuclear sabre,’ Russia conducting a large exercise specifically designed to test and demonstrate Russia’s capability to fight a global nuclear war.  

My assessment is that this exercise has a larger purpose, Putin’s position in Ukraine is currently strong and he has grounds for confidence. His forces appear to have blunted Ukraine’s offensive and are holding on, creating an operational stalemate. Ukraine’s only option is crossing the Dnipro River and creating a new flank on which to generate manoeuvre. A difficult and time-consuming task. Further, it is likely that Russia will soon close the Avdiivka salient, and when that that operation finishes resources can be release to push the Ukrainians back onto the west side of the Dnipro River.   Essentially, he may not have achieved his original objectives but can certainly claim to his domestic audience that he won. My expectation is that if Ukraine is not successful opening a new flank, then we will see more nuclear ‘sabre rattling’ and calls for a negotiated peace.  The threat of nuclear escalation being used to force NATO and the United States to acquiesce. 

In conclusion, the next few weeks may see sudden changes in the status quo. The outcome of the battle of Avdiivka and Ukraine’s river crossing look set to have far reaching strategic implications.  If Ukraine runs out of options to turn a flank, then it faces either; a long and bloody battle of attrition or a negotiated peace.  A long battle of attrition is unlikely to be supported by either Ukraine’s people of by their international supporters.  So, the next few weeks may be very important indeed. 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger


  1. Thanks for the update Ben.

    Ukraine needs those longer range ATACMS to destroy bridges and ammunition dumps in the rear in order to deny Russian troops resupply. This endless dithering by the Biden government (on this and a whole lot of other things!) is costing lives.

    • Washington isn’t sending them because Moscow has the escalation advantage. The Russians are willing and able to go further than the Americans. How many chips are you willing to place on the table?

  2. Well, well, well, the armchair military experts and US Imperialist spruikers seem to be like a German tank stuck in the WWII snow of a 1940s Russian winter.

    I have regularly stated here that I do not support authoritarians like Mr Putin, and that it is horrific that a shooting war of this type has happened, working class people and the innocent always cop it when imperialist powers wage war. But…the Russians were under encirclement from US Imperialism and their Euro mates at NATO so it is easy to say from our relatively safe South Pacific home in NZ what should happen!

    The yanks have wobbled a bit it seems in supplying the necessary trillions to Ukraine, no problems keeping the money and arms tap turned on for Israel though in the Mid East.

    • “I do not support authoritarians like Mr Putin…..
      Tiger Mountain.

      TM has obviously never heard the saying, “Everything before ‘But’ is Bullshit”

      Meet Tiger Mountain, the mirror image armchair warrior.

      TM doesn’t support Putin, ‘But’ does support Russian imperialism.

      TM doesn’t support the invasion of Gaza, ‘But’ does support the invasion of Ukraine.

      TM doesn’t support the flattening of Gaza, ‘But’ does support the flattening of Mariupol

      TM doesn’t support war, ‘But’ does support peace

      In the weird mirror image world that Tiger Mountain inhabits, (from the safety of his armchair), TM does support war and does oppose peace.

      • Learn to write and comprehend perhaps, Pat…you have attributed many points to me that I did not even put in my post! Your imagination is on twin turbo boost.

        • “Pat…you have attributed many points to me that I did not even put in my post!” Tiger Mountain

          Just because you didn’t put these points in your post this time, doesn’t mean you don’t agree with them.

          If I read you right, you are telling me TM, you don’t support Russia’s aggression against Ukraine?

          And you don’t deny the flattening of Mariupol?

          Do you agree with my point TM, that the Russian Federation is an imperialist state as dangerous and vicious as the US the UK or France?
          Do you agree with my point, that a Russian victory in Ukraine would strengthen imperialism around the world?
          And that you support the defeat of the Russian imperialist aggressor at the hands of the Ukrainian people because it will weaken the whole imperialist system?

          I am glad that you agree with me that the Ukrainian people have the absolute right to self defence and to seek arms from whoever they can to liberate their country from the Russian imperialists.

    • You can’t have it both ways TM. You are either for Putin or against him. You don’t like the man but you support his policies. You are not convincing TM.

  3. Russia is in no hurry to take territory while the enemy is coming to them, usually in near suicide raids.
    The objective is to destroy the Ukraine military, men and machines. Russian meat grinders are very effective at reducing UAF forces while minimising own loses. The Keiv regime is desperate, western support is reducing significantly, manpower is close to critical shortage. Biden’s war is going tits up and the money will dry up soon, the little green Z man is going to have to ration the white powder very soon and head for the hills.
    Ben, you are very optimistic if you think Ukraine has a snow balls chance of winning from here. Oh and now
    the little Z man is dragging women off the street and sending them to certain death. Who’s next, children between 12 and 15?? Why isn’t this on the news Ben?

  4. It is hard see the current front lines changing much. Both sides are now heavily dug in. Both sides can effectively supply their troops. As was entirely predictable since the last winter.

    You would think that both sides might be looking at ways to end this, given it is now unlikely that neither can make any major gains.

    An armistice, followed by a peace treaty? The current front lines equate to a reasonably sensible border, which by and large also separates the people on broad linguistic and nationalist lines.

    What’s the alternative? Another year of war with tens of thousands killed, but with the same geographic outcome.

    Surely there must be people in both nations with real influence who are thinking this through.

    • I tend to agree that the frontline is now about where things may end up. Ukraine will have a hard time dislodging the Russian forces and anyone that thinks Russia is going to conquer Ukraine is insane.

      There are real problems with coming to the peace table

      1. Ukraine doesn’t trust that Russia won’t use the time to re-arm and then do it all again in a few years (assuming Russia doesn’t find itself embroiled in another conflict which could easily happen)

      2. There is a generation of young people in Ukraine that don’t understand why they need to respect Russias opinions when it comes to whether the have closer relations with the EU, or in fact on anything else. They have only know Ukraine as an independent country. Some of the people I know there now hate all Russians with a passion – and these people are only in their 20s

      3. There is an older generation of Russians that believe Ukraine still belongs to them. Even here in NZ I have spoken to the parents of Russian friends who have told me this. And similarly despite what some people here say, Russia has also suffered massive casualties and many Russians now intensely dislike Ukraine.

      And of course there is the issue of the border territories where some people consider themselves Ukrainian and some consider themselves Russian. I don’t know how much peace there will be there.

    • I don’t see the linguistic lines as relevant Wayne. There are many Russian speakers who would prefer to remain in Ukraine and what about the heavily repressed Crimean Tatars?

    • Wayne, good assessment but I think there’s more to it. It has become obvious that big arrow offensives are off the cards due to the technology. By ignoring this Ukraine have lost 90,000 men in a counter offensive driven for political reasons. Russia by contrast has decided that attrition is their biggest advantage, hence Soledar, the defense of Kherson, Bahkmut, Robotyne and now Avdiivka. The latter is where it plays out next. It is another Verdun replay.

      With regards to the possible line of settlement I doubt Russia will accept anything less than the whole of Novorussia. They will want a land locked rump state that keeps NATO further back. To ask less would make mockery of their strategy.

      • Spot on. …. And that is why it should not be allowed to happen.

        The independent countries of the Baltics and the ex soviet republics should be afforded the option and opportunity to choose their own destiny.
        That is called freedom, democracy and autonomy.

        • JKT, you might note that since the break up of the Soviet that the Russians have not threatened Scandinavia or the Baltics, nor crossed borders. They respected and maintained the integrity of their Eastern borders post Soviet. What changed?

          Pretty simple. NATO despite being warned for a decade not to encroaching east. Then a US inspired civil war between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. Now converted into a proxy war for Russia’s future.

          Put yourself in Vlads shoes. What would you have done? Put yourself in the shoes of Western leaders. How could you have avoided this?

          • Vlad choose his shoes, so he can keep wearing them and I hope they pinch him.
            I would have changed my shoes if I was him.

          • Go and read Timothy Snyder’s ‘The Road to Unfreedom’ which provides a perfect riposte to your propaganda influenced theories NJ.
            In short Putin never raised any concerns about NATO before 2008 but became influenced by the fascistic Eurasianist philosophies of Alexander Dugin and Lev Gumilev, who was not worthy of being the son of the great poet Anna Akhmatova.

            • The warped and twisted world of PhuD where reality is denied and fantasies indulged. Hence quoting American academics like Snyder. Here’s a sample accusing Putin of “the politics of eternity,” a project in which illiberal states perpetuate themselves by manufacturing enemies, stoking grievances, manipulating the truth, and undermining foreign countries that offer alternative ideals to their citizens.
              Doesn’t that sound dreadfully akin to the USA and the neocon project with which PhuD is fully aboard?

              • What a load of crap NJ. You are an intellectual lightweight. Tossing meaningless labels around gets you nowhere!

          • These countries are joining NATO as a precaution to avoid being invaded by ……America?

            If after all this time we cannot agree that Putin’s military operation is not a peace mission and is harming ordinary Russians, the Russian and Ukrainian economy and causing the death of ordinary people and hero’s alike then there is nothing more to be argued.

  5. “Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger”

    I value Ben Morgan’s insights into the war in Ukraine, Ben’s view matches my view that the people of Ukraine will will defeat the Russian Federation invasion of their country.

    What we really need right now is our TDB in-house milblogger insights into the genocide in Gaza.

    Does Ben support the genocide?

    They say silence speaks volumes.

  6. GreenBus is gaslighting like typical Kremlin disinformation operators. Everything said is truer if reversed. I notice it is Russia putting it out there that things are stalemated and there should be peace talks not the Ukrainians. Russia don’t care how many are killed if there is a glimmer of a chance of taking more territory. However their high attrition rates of equipment and manpower especially after current events in Arvdivka leave Russia seriously weakened. They would love to get to keep the currently occupied territories even though it was a fraction of their initial goals. I don’t see it happening as Ukraine have the will to keep fighting. Russian front line moral is near zero. ATACMS, F16’s, maybe Taurus missiles etc. will continue to ramp up the pressure on the Russian military going forward. Naval and aviation assets are steadily retreating from occupied territory and troops will follow.

    • Sadly, Putin is prepared to feed more Russians into the meat grinder.
      Will the Russian people wake up in time to prevent the destruction of Russian “empire”?
      The Russian people will …… destroy this idea. History tells us so. What will replace the current ruling ideology? That, my dear friend, is for Russians to decide.
      The sooner, the better.

  7. Give it up, Ukraine has no chance of evicting the Russians and the Russians probably can’t or won’t take much more territory. It’s a stalemate that has destroyed Ukraine and a generation of young men and has emboldened Russia. It was all avoidable but the hubris of the US and its NATO puppet are on full display. This is the Suez Crisis of the US Empire, the moment they overstretched themselves and were found out. 500 years of Western Imperialism, colonialism and crony capitalism is ending and not a moment too soon.

  8. The war in Gaza cannot be ignored.

    How the war in Gaza is impacting the war in Ukraine.

    Under the cover of Israel’s massive aerial campaign against civilians in Gaza, the Russian Federation has conducted a similar aerial campaign against civilians in Ukraine.

    Ukraine war: Russia hits most settlements in one day, says Kyiv

    Russia bombarded 118 Ukrainian towns and villages in 24 hours, more than on any other day this year, says Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko.
    He said 10 of Ukraine’s 27 regions had come under attack and the onslaught had caused deaths and injuries….
    …..attacks away from the front lines, on a block of flats, shops and a pharmacy in the southern city of Nikopol on the bank of the Dnipro river, and in Kremenchuk, where a disused oil refinery was set on fire by a Russian drone….

    What should be the priority?
    The US Congress debates whether helping Israel conquer more Palestinian territory should be the priority, or whether preventing Russia conquering more Ukrainian territory should be the priority.

    In real time, US imperialism shows its priority for Israel’s colonisation of Palestine, over helping Ukraine defend themselves from the Russian imperialist colonisation of Ukraine.

    …America’s support for courageous Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion took two demoralizing blows in Congress last week. Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, together with former Speaker contender Rep. Jim Jordan, have consistently voted against continued military support for Ukraine, while robustly championing similar assistance to Israel. Then, in the immediate wake of Speaker Johnson’s election, four Republican senators announced their proposed resolution to decouple President Biden’s joint military assistance package to Israel and Ukraine, potentially leaving Kyiv out to dry….

    The war in Gaza cannot be ignored.

    • Pat, who do you think Hamas works for? Certainly isn’t the people of Gaza.

      It Certainly does look like an attempt by Iran and Russia to draw attention from the war in Ukraine. Iran also wishes to prevent Israel and Saudi Arabia from normalising relations. Egypt and Jordan a quietly cheering from the sidelines and it isn’t in support of Hamas. Some of you guys are seriously 20 years behind the times

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