Ben Morgan: Ukraine holds on, the situation on land is stabilising

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Russia’s Victory Day celebrations on 9 May were punctuated by missile strikes launched from both sides of the border. Russia and Ukraine both commemorating the 79th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat with large and well-coordinated missile strikes.  

Like last year, Moscow’s parade was subdued. Instead of the displays of armoured might that were once a feature of this event, a relatively small amount of hardware was on display in Red Square. Most media focussed on the single tank on parade, a lone World War Two era T 34.  And; Putin was more subdued this year, even admitting that Russia is currently facing hard times. However, there appears to be no desire to negotiate Russia out of those hard times and the recent discovery of a plot to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will undoubtably harden Ukrainian attitudes.  

The land campaign, an overview 

Throughout the week, Russian attacks continued, but key town Chasiv Yar is still in Ukrainian hands. Further south, the push west from Avdiivka near Ocheretyne appears to be culminating. However, Russian attacks continue along the entire frontline and on 10 May a new Russian axis of advance opened pushing west from Belgorod towards Kharkiv, a major Ukrainian city. 

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Operationally, the key battle is still the one for Chasiv Yar, this town’s surrounding terrain makes it a very important location.  The local area’s elevation means that holding the town provides observation of the surrounding area.  West of Chasiv Yar the ground falls gently towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, two cities that are probably Russia’s key objectives in Donbas.  This combination of factors means holding Chasiv Yar is a pre-requisite for Russia to attack these cities.

Additionally, Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut are at the junction point between two Ukrainian bulges, the first a salient to the north centred on Siversk, the second salient to the south is centred on Toretsk.  Holding Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut will help Russia develop future operations to reduce one, or both of these bulges. Likewise, in the unlikely event that Bakhmut is retaken by Ukraine, Russia’s operations in the area will be badly compromised. Holding the high ground secures the Ukrainian bulges into Russian held territory and could provide a firm base to link the two together and form one large salient.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that fighting in and around Chasiv Yar is going to slow down in the immediate future.

On 10 May, Russian troops crossed the border and advanced into Kharkiv Oblast.  Unfortunately, this operation is generally reported in mainstream media as an advance on Kharkiv city, creating the impression that the advance is large and developing into a significant threat. However, it appears likely that the operation’s aims are more limited. 

Belgorod is a major Russian city and supply base for the war in Ukraine, it is a relatively short distance from the border, about 30 km.  Belgorod therefore suffers from regular artillery, drone and missile attacks and Russia’s operation appears to be aimed at pushing Ukrainian artillery out of range. The Ukrainian village of Vovchansk was evacuated immediately, but by 11 May Russian forces had not taken the village.  


Reporting from the front indicates that despite several Russian attacks Ukraine is holding the Russian attack. The Institute for the Study of War’s 11 May summary assessing that “The reported sizes of the Russian elements committed to these limited operations and of the Russian force grouping deployed along the border in northeastern Ukraine indicate that Russian forces are not pursuing a large-scale operation to envelop, encircle, or seize Kharkiv City at this time.” 

It appears that the Russians are conducting a limited offensive, probably aiming to push forwards about 10km. An advance that puts Belgorod outside Ukrainian artillery range and vice-versa brings Russian artillery into range of Kharkiv. However, the small size of the force and the lack of reserves indicates that the plan was probably to exploit the opportunity of surprise and make this gain in the first 12-24 hours.  Ukraine has responded reasonably quickly and has probably stabilised the situation.  

Russia continues to innovate; more about ‘turtle tanks’ and talking about Mad Max motorbikes

Last week, we discussed the ‘turtle tank,’ a recent Russian innovation. A turtle tank is a T72 with what looks like a ‘barn’ built over it. The barn is there to protect the tank from attack drones and often electronic jamming devices are also bolted to the roof.  This week there are more reports of these vehicles and more information is becoming available about how they are used.   

Turtle tanks evolved because of Ukraine’s shortage of artillery ammunition. Faced with reducing stockpiles of ammunition, Ukraine started to rely on First Person View (FPV) attack drones to break up armoured formations. The turtle tank is a response to this situation and appears to be used as a ‘breeching’ vehicle, leading assault groups across areas dominated by drones then using its firepower to blast Ukrainian positions at close range. Recently, it was reported that the barns are sometimes used to shelter assaulting infantry and engineers.  

This use clearly demonstrates that Ukraine is short of artillery ammunition and anti-tank missiles both weapon systems that would make short work of these vehicles. Further, it demonstrates how effective FPV drones are against infantry. 

The most interesting reported use of turtle tanks though is them being used to deploy Russian FPV drones close to Ukrainian positions.  The large barn providing protection for the drones until they arrive on a Ukrainian position and can then fly out in a concentrated swarm.  This is an entirely new and fascinating integration of drones with armoured vehicles. 


Another recent Russian tactic involves the use of motorbikes in combat. Swarms of Russian soldiers on motorbikes racing across no-man’s land and swamping Ukrainian positions.  This tactic probably has more to do with necessity and Ukraine’s ammunition shortages than with innovation.  An immediate and effective counter to ‘Mad Max’ style motor cyclists is artillery, without protective armour motor cyclists are vulnerable to shrapnel.  Further, it is harder for a motor cyclist to ‘duck and hide’ when the first rounds of a barrage land, increasing the likelihood of them being hit.  But a motorcyclist has great situational awareness and probably has the speed to outrun most FPV drones so may be less vulnerable to these weapons.

Insurgents across Africa and the Middle East often use motorcycles because they provide exceptional mobility at low-cost. In these areas, fighting against forces that do not have large amounts of artillery, motor cycle forces are effective.  Russian mercenaries and military advisors have operated for decades in both areas and may have brought the idea to Ukraine, taking advantage of the defenders shortage of artillery ammunition. 

Further, Russia has lost a very large number of armoured vehicles and trucks so is probably experimenting with other types of mobility. It will be interesting to see how these forces develop and if they become a feature of the war, particularly as Ukraine’s supply of artillery ammunition becomes more stable.

What comes next in the land campaign?

In the next few weeks, we should expect to see the battle for Chasiv Yar intensify.  Elite airborne units are concentrating in the area and Ukrainian sources are predicting intense fighting over the next few days.  If Chasiv Yar falls, Russia’s next objective will be Kostyantynivka about 10km to the south-west and an important road and rail junction. If Russia controls Chasiv Yar and the surrounding high ground it can dominate the H20 motorway network that provides a supply route to push either north-west towards Kramatorsk or south towards the ground recently captured near Ocheretyne. 

Regardless of developments near Chasiv Yar, expect to see pressure maintained along the whole frontline. Currently, there are Ukrainian reports of Russian forces building up near Vuledhar in the south so we may see another attack on this important town.

Regarding the situation near Kharkiv, it seems unlikely that this operation will develop into anything more than a short advance on a wide front to reduce the impact of Ukrainian artillery on Belgorod. It is unlikely that Russia has the force to try and threaten Kharkiv itself, but getting artillery within range of this major city is possible. 

Ukraine’s air campaign, the strategic battle

Ukraine’s drone and missile strikes against Russia’s oil infrastructure continue. Since October 2024 at least 20 refineries have been damaged. On 9 May, Ukraine’s drones set a new distance record damaging the Neftekhim Salavat oil refinery, 1600km from Ukraine in Bashkortostan.  The campaign is effective enough that in February the Whitehouse became concerned about its impact on world oil markets and asked Ukraine to stop its campaign. In early April, Reuters estimated that Russian refining capacity had dropped by 14% forcing up domestic petrol prices and initiating a six month ban on petrol exports. 

Ukraine continues to attack Russian oil infrastructure but is focussed on petrol refineries.  Specifically aiming to impact on Russia’s domestic petrol market, forcing prices up and fuelling public disharmony.  The maths is simple, Russia lacks oil storage capacity and with reduced refining capacity must choose between stopping extraction of oil; or selling more unrefined product. The latter is more likely because Russia needs foreign revenue. However, this situation lowers oil prices around the world further reducing Russia’s oil revenue. 

But Russia still needs petrol, and the reduction in refining capacity means it needs to either; not export petrol or (possibly) if Ukraine’s campaign continues to buy petrol on the international market. Essentially, Russia is forced to sell oil at progressively lower prices as refined product is used to subsidise the domestic market. Worse it may soon need to buy petrol at pay market prices, rather than refining it domestically.  A tough economic conundrum that over time will further weaken Russia’s economy. 

Summary 

Russia may have the tactical initiative but has failed to transfer this into advances on the ground. The best chance to change this situation is to capture Chasiv Yar. Russia’s recent deployment of elite soldiers to this area is a good indicator that they understand the situation.  

At this stage, we have not witnessed sudden or un-expected Ukrainian withdrawals so it looks like the situation on land is stabilising. The first of the Czech Republic sourced artillery ammunition will be starting to arrive in Ukraine soon, so expect to see less turtle tanks and Mad Max motor cyclists. If tactical innovations have not worked by the time this ammunition is at the frontline, they probably will not make a huge difference. 

Most commentators estimate that Russia is losing about 900-1000 casualties per day, a loss rate that is sustainable at current rates of recruitment.  However, a relatively small change in Ukrainian lethality such as more artillery ammunition or air power will change this equation.  The war is far from over but at this stage Ukraine has probably weathered the current storm and will soon start being able to transition to the next phase of operations, isolating Crimea.

 

Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack

56 COMMENTS

    • It amazes me that Ben is still pushing the US/Ukraine propaganda when even the New York Times is more upfront about Ukraine’s problems. Here’s General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence agency, as reported in the NYT:

      Like most Ukrainian officials and military experts, General Budanov said he believes the Russian attacks in the northeast are intended to stretch Ukraine’s already thin reserves of soldiers and divert them from fighting elsewhere.

      That is exactly what is happening now, he acknowledged. He said the Ukrainian army was trying to redirect troops from other front line areas to shore up its defenses in the northeast, but that it had been difficult to find the personnel.

      “All of our forces are either here or in Chasiv Yar,” he said, referring to a Ukrainian stronghold about 120 miles farther south that Russian troops have assaulted in recent weeks. “I’ve used everything we have. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone else in the reserves.”

      • The photos of the sub par defences north of Karkiv (abandoned tank traps, badly made trenches etc) were symbolic of Ukraines over all chances of holding off Russia.

  1. The Russian over all are beating the shit out of the Ukrainians and their NATO overlords. Battle of attrition is the key and Russian weapon superiority will be the decider IMO

  2. Thanks Ben.

    In other news:

    > Cuban mercenaries shot and killed their own (Russian) commanding officer over their poor treatment.
    >There is a video going around that shows a Russian officer telling conscripts that they’re all going to die, but assuring them that they’ll be regarded as heroes by future generations (they won’t)
    > There are numerous reports of Russian soldiers ‘fragging’. That is suiciding by hand grenade. This is enough of a problem that officers are limiting the supply of grenades.

    • Aww, as always, Andrew the wingman flying in with disinfo even Ben wouldn’t stoop to.

      Yet to work out if you two are two loser flatmates, a couple, his boss or his dad.

  3. Of course Ben is creaming himself over the Ukranian ATACMS strike targeting an Belgorod apartment building. What a sick man

    • And no doubt you care as much about the drones and rockets that have been sent into Ukrainians cities.

      Of course you don’t. Because to you Zalenskyy is a “zionist” which means in your world those pesky Ukies deserve everything they’re getting. In fact the more of them killed by the forces of humanity the better.

      • Hahahah, as if a human-run nation like Russia would target civilians, particularly Ukrainian civilians who are kin to Russians. Noone believes your zionist lies.

        • You should go to Ukraine and let the people there know. They’ll be pleased to hear it.

          While there you can let them know that anyone that claims to have died was obviously just a zionist and is(was?) patently lying.

          Don’t forget your pliers.

    • It is good that the Russian people can experience what Ukraine has experienced for 2 years now .It was an unwarranted attack by Russians power mad leader Mr Putin who has just been realected

      • Bollocks. Ukrainians were stupid enough to get caught up in a neocon adventure. They voted for peace and Z promptly went to war with separatives in Donetsk. Total clown show.

        • To you NJ the Ukrainians were stupid to kick Yanukovych and his pro-Putin cronies out.
          You are the stupid one you arrogant twat!

            • Yanukovych was a convicted criminal who managed to cover up his criminal record. He was friends with previous presidents Kuchma and Kravchuk and no doubt did a deal with them.

              • Who mentioned Yanukovych? Very straw dog PhuD, don’t try and deflect him on others to justify your favouring of neocons, neoNazis etc.

                • Do you actually know any Ukrainians NJ? If you do, do they know what you think of them? I don’t think you know any Russians either. Why don’t you talk to some as you know so much about their countries!

                  • I’m part Ukrainian. Totally support Russian actions, same as I’d expect Australia to invade if a foreign power overthrew government out and made us “anti-West”.
                    Ukraine has been made a basketcase since 91 by the usual amerikan destab tactics.

          • Hi PhuD, you still have you head inserted in your posterior. And you wonder the contempt we have for academic integrity.

  4. As earlier experienced by Germany on the Eastern Front Ukraine is faced by an enemy who are unwavering in their determination to grind the enemy down, who are willing to accept massive casualties and have an ability to slowly but steadily learn from earlier mistakes made.
    These factors coupled with enjoying access to greater resources (men and material) and a ruthless suppression of any internal dissent are translating into what appears to be a general weakening of the situation on the front for Ukraine and the only way that Ukraine can turn this around that I can see is getting (much) more Nato weapons and ammunition to combat units immediately (and in particular artillery shells) and getting more men (and in particular younger men) to these units.

  5. James, everything you say flies in the face of facts. It is wishful thinking asking Ukraine to accept more pain, more life lost.

      • For a start James casualty rates are hugely in Russia’s favour whilst Russia refuses to take high casualties.

        The West portrays
        the opposite, I’d contend the record clearly demonstrates Russia is casualty adverse.

        You refer to brutal repression of dissent by Putin. Evidence please. Also explain students heads beaten on US campuses protesting Israel, Assange….. Who really is repressive?

        More NATO weapons… Who will man them? Who can supply? Answer to each nobody. Will there be enough? No.

        • I was going to respond but again this will only come down to your discrediting anything that I am getting from established news sources such as the BBC / Guardian / Washington Post etc in favour of what your mate Mad Barry posted on Facebook because ‘he knows a guy who knows a guy’.

          Guessing we didn’t land on the moon as well yeah?

          • “..I am getting from established news sources such as the BBC / Guardian / Washington Post etc..”

            The sad thing is you and others will probably go to your grave before ever questioning those “providers of THE truth”.

            James Brown, where you the commenter who said he would be having a drink in Crimea? When was that going to be?

            • “James Brown, where you the commenter who said he would be having a drink in Crimea?”

              Nope not me but great attention to detail – I can see why you eschew ‘traditional’ news sources.

          • Yeah, that’s your problem. If you don’t understand the function and operation of those “established news sources”, it’s like living in a box with the lights out. In simple term, hose are just the big guns on the front line of the propaganda war. You’re incapable of contributing to an intelligent conversation until you understand that.

            • “Aww, as always, Andrew the wingman flying in with disinfo even Ben wouldn’t stoop to.

              Yet to work out if you two are two loser flatmates, a couple, his boss or his dad.”

              Whereas you are filled with sparkling wit

        • Checked out your mate William Schryver (who it appears is also a Utah Mormon gospel doctrine instructor and ward organist) and also read the following comment which after what I have read seems fair:

          “He’s clearly intelligent and an excellent example of how intelligence does not save anyone from confirmation bias and wishful thinking. He hates the liberal, secular political order that dominates the West and sees Putin as the strongest arm to bring it down. He’s gained quite a following with this stuff, once you gain notoriety you have to keep playing the hits. It reminds me of the woman from Wisconsin you posted an inane rant about an experience at a candle store. After it went viral she had to come up with more petty inconveniences while shopping.”

          • James, let me deconstruct your response.
            Schryver is a Mormon who plays an organ…. does that make him unreliable? Have you got something against Mormons and any other religious types who incidentally have as much access to information as you and me? Does that make their interpretation less valid than yours?
            What can you tell us about the person whose rant you quoted? Has that person anything useful to add?

            • “Schryver is a Mormon who plays an organ…. does that make him unreliable’?
              It sure as shit doesn’t help.

          • So Mormon organist have unreliable opinions James? Have you got something against religious people?
            You didn’t give us the bona fides of your quoted source and the reason for their diatribe. Rule one Dr Google has his bias.

  6. Seems the defense lines “funded and constructed” around Kharkov are actually villas in Florida and Dalmatian. Sending billions to Kiev, hilarious.

    • I would venture that nothing about this war is hilarious – the deaths and suffering being experienced by both sides is in fact a tragedy but hey maybe that is just me . .

      • It seems many people here in their joy at the thought of Ukraine being punished for being some type of CIA/NAZI/NATO/SOMEONEKILLEDPUTINSKITTEN plot do take actual pleasure in what is happening.

        Schadenfreude seems to be the word that best describes them

        • You are such a broken record. Because I think that Putin is a thug that immediately makes me a . You also forgot “banderite”.

          From reading your posts here I would say you do take pleasure in what has happened to the people of Ukraine and do find it funny.

          • I forgot Banderite. Yeah look up what Banderites did to Jews. And you care to support their political heirs. And you give us bullshit about caring for Ukrainian life’s. What did you say whilst civilians were shelled by Banderites for 7 years before Russia intervened? Nothing I bet.

            • It’s OK Nick. Once again last night the air raid sirens went off in Kyiv. You can feel good that your idol is still punishing the Ukies.

  7. Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls, welcome to the Thunderdome in Ukraine, dying times here, two men enter, one man leaves or more like two nations enter, Russia & the US & one Nation leaves? Russia is Mad Max & the US is the retarded giant in the mask, with its mask knocked off to reveal a impotent simpleton & imbecile that is all talk & is Militarily useless & at the mercy of Russia in the ultimate Gladiator dilemma, will it be thumbs up for death or thumbs down to spare the life? Unfortunately, unlike the Movie, the Russian Max Max won’t be showing any mercy to his simpleton opponent because the US & West isn’t deserving of mercy, so that’s it in a nutshell, dying time for the West, NATO & the US Empire is here?

  8. All power to Ukraine. There is zero threat to Russia, apart from the feeling of an old KGB agent, reclusive, paranoid dictator. Every time I stay too long at home I come up with the same paranoia. Nil difference between me and Putin, except the whole state bends to his will and doesn’t right his point of view like I get.

    • No difference between you and Putin?
      So you also had an actively hostile, Russophobic putsch regime backed by a foreign powers and military alliance that keeps expanding to your borders which you have reminded them politely not to for 30 years, overthrow a pluralist democratically elected govt, instate neo-nazi battalions, rewrite history, persecute Russian culture, butchers its own Russian-speaking speaking citizens in its political east, and fortifies this area while calling itself “the new israel”?

      Another difference between you and Putin is you are bleeding idiot and he is the “greatest” world leader of the century by a country mile. If a US leader had achieved what he had done to you’d all be bending down to slobber his chops, and you know it. That’s why there’s so much hate from the globalist West. And of course he has defied their bullshit “rules and orders” and is leading a new path for states to be sovereign against US interests without being bombed or sanctioned to oblivion.

      When he came to Putin all he wanted was for Russia to sit at the big table with respect for the big boy club, but the racist imperialist West saw Russia still as meat to be carved up – not enough power to share.

      Th collective of idiot empire managers made their own bed. Now they accept defeat in Ukraine, and hence accept defeat, or they accept Ukraine and double down, or they just double down. Problem is, these stupid middle manager “world leaders” for global capital are so arrogant they can’t imagine a world where they’re not on top. Instead of being victors writing the history, they’ve been controlling the writing the history to make sure they are always the victors for 40+ years. They’re now discovering there’s a real world limit to that bullshit propaganda They’re shitting the bed all over the world and their only answer is to throw up an iron curtain of propaganda pillared by feeble tools like Ben and believed by the old, ignorant, racist and gullible.

      • So many wrong things in your statement. Worthy of Anti-Covid. Agree with you entirely about the last 40 years of crap for the rich. Just want a democratic rational response, which dictators can never provide. Maybe the dictators are the best bet but I’ll still prefer my option. A good way to go down.

        • I guess that comes down to the question we’re all lucky to not have to answer: what would you have done taking over Russia in 2000?
          Just continue to do what the US advisors and experts had been telling them to do for the last 10 years?
          Or something braver and centred on preserving your people’s nation, culture and freedom? (something very much advocated by Martyn in his own posts here).
          Putin became what he had to to defeat the powers that wanted to (still want to ) tear Russia apart.
          THat’s what we need from our next real leader.

  9. Putin’s aide Yury Ushakov has given details of the president’s forthcoming visit to China (16-17 May):
    ▪️At the talks in Beijing, the leaders will discuss the situation around Ukraine, in the Middle East and in the Asian region.

    ▪️Moscow notes Beijing’s balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis, and China understands its causes.

    ▪️Putin and Xi Jinping will hold an informal meeting, in which Belousov and Shoigu will also participate.

    ▪️A large number of bilateral documents, including economic ones, have been prepared for Putin’s visit.

    ▪️Russian government members Chernyshenko, Manturov, Novak, Trutnev and Golikova will attend the extended talks as chairmen of bilateral commissions.

    ▪️The delegation will also include other members of the Russian government, including representatives of the economic bloc: Oreshkin, Lavrov, Nabiullina, Siluanov, Belozerov, Likhachev, Borisov, Gref, Deripaska, Kostin, Mikhelson, Sechin, Shuvalov and Shokhin.

    ▪️Putin will address students at the Harbin Polytechnic University on 17 May and answer their questions.

    ▪️A preliminary agreement has already been received from Xi Jinping to attend the BRICS summit in Kazan.

    ▪️Putin will conclude his visit to China with a meeting with Russian journalists covering the trip.

    https://t.me/ukraine_watch/22408

    [sorry if this a double post – I posted it hours ago but it didn’t appear, so try again]

    • I’ve said it brfore, you have to question the sense behind making enemies of Russia AND China at the same time, surely divide and conquer is the usual practice?

  10. It’s nearly a week since Ben claimed Ukraines front lines would stabilise. So far no sign of that. Meanwhile Blinken has been in Kiev asking local students to enlist and die for “freedom and democracy”. He fits within Ukrainian enlistment criteria. Notice that he is not volunteering himself or his children for his “ideals”.

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