Ben Morgan: Ukraine’s Syrskyi strategy is working, what next?

18
788

This week ended with no significant change in the frontline. Ukraine is still under pressure but thanks to Russia’s dispersion of its force on multiple fronts is not facing a significant operational threat.

Meanwhile, the big is that European nations and the US are starting to relax their restrictions on using long-range weapons against targets in Russia. Ukraine can now target Russian forces in greater depth, impacting on how the land campaign develops.  Additionally, more European nations are committing to long term military and financial support for Ukraine, signing bi-lateral support agreements.  Arrangements driven by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to guarantee support for Ukraine, allowing it to plan with a buffer against the uncertainty of a potential Trump Whitehouse.

On the ground, Ukraine’s campaign appears to be developing in the manner predicted by General Oleksandr Syrskyi, defending in the north-east and forcing Russian forces to attack and fight a battle of attrition.

US and European nations relax long-range strike restrictions

Ukraine’s supporters are relaxing their restrictions on using long-range missiles against targets in Russia. On 29 May, NATO defence ministers met in Prague and discussed the Ukraine War. Before the meeting, both the UK and France gave Ukraine permission to use weapons they supplied against targets in Russia.

After the meeting an interesting series of events took place. On 30 June, two US B-52 bombers circled the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad.  A B-52 can carry 20 AGM-86B nuclear armed cruise missiles, recently the US has cancelled several similar exercises to alleviate tension.  So, it was interesting that this exercise continued. Some commentators assessed it was a ‘demonstration of resolve,’ sending a clear message that the US is willing to act should Putin use nuclear weapons, signalling American intent to relax restrictions. Then on 31 May President Biden relaxed restrictions on Ukraine’s cross border use of American weapons.

- Sponsor Promotion -

The new policy allows the use of 90km range, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) missiles and US supplied artillery to fire across the border to defend Kharkiv.  But does not allow use of the longer-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATCAMS) or using GMLRS and artillery anywhere else. Germany also relaxed its restrictions on cross border use of their weapons systems on the same day.

Russia’s reaction was predictable, Putin made more nuclear threats, and since the announcement hundreds of drones and missiles have struck Ukraine. Killing civilians and damaging the power network.

The immediate impact of President Biden’s decision will be near Kharkiv, a point at which Russia has large troop concentrations close to the border.  Russian forces will need to disperse and withdraw from the border, increasing the complexity of attack coordination. Likewise, Russian artillery that was located safely over the border can now be attacked.

Longer-term the impact is harder to judge, President Biden’s decision opens the door for future discussions. For instance, ATACMs could be used to target Russian supply and air bases like Rostov-on-Don and Tagnarog, across the Sea of Azov.  Bases that provide air defence and logistics support for forces in Crimea.  Could US policy expand to include targets like these?

The land campaign, what is Ukraine’s plan?

Russia continues to feed soldiers into the battle for Kharkiv Oblast.  Simultaneously, 200km to the south-east Chasiv Yar remains in Ukrainian control.  In February 2024, General Oleksandr Syrskyi was appointed Ukrainian Commander in Chief and stated clearly that his plan was to hold the current frontline and attrit Russian land forces.  Since capturing Avdiivka, Russia has not made any operationally significant advances indicating that Ukraine is achieving this objective. ‘

The ground, why Chasiv Yar should be Russia’s main effort

Contrary to much commentary, Russia does not have limitless resources and needs to prioritise its effort.  Currently, the frontline can be divided into five sectors;

  • Kharkiv.
  • The Kremina-Svatove Line.
  • Chasiv Yar.
  • Zaporizhia.
  • The Dnipro River.

 

However, it is only at Chasiv Yar that the Russians are close to capturing ground that provides the opportunity for immediate and punishing exploitation.  Sitting on high ground, roughly halfway between Ocheretyne and Lyman this village overlooks the H20 motorway and road and rail junctions in the town of Kostiantynivka. The town’s capture would provide Russia a firm base for future operations that could include:

  • Using the H20 motorway to advance north-west toward Kramatorsk putting pressure on Ukrainian forces located in the salient centred on Siversk.
  • Advancing south-west and closing the salient centred on Toretsk.

And, either of these provides a firm base for future operations threatening the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. But Russia is dissipating its effort, attacking in relatively small numbers across all five sectors.

Russian situation – What is the plan?

Some commentators argue Russia’s plan is to attrit Ukraine through constant offensive action.  This is an illogical and tactically flawed assumption because history demonstrates the defender will always inflict greater attrition on the attacker.

Casualty figures are very difficult of confirm but Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) mil-bloggers are relatively consistent setting the attrition rate at between five to eight Russian casualties for every Ukrainian casualty.  Further, OSINT sources estimate that since the beginning of the year Russia has lost approximately 4000 armoured fighting vehicles, compared with Ukraine’s loss of 900.  Roughly, a four to one advantage in Ukraine’s favour.

Russia is approximately three times larger than Ukraine. Its pool of available manpower is roughly 69 million men compared to Ukraine’s 22 million.   Therefore, if the OSINT community is correct the attritional battle is currently running in favour of Ukraine. Most commentators judge that Russia is losing around 1000 casualties per day, a rate of attrition that Russia can currently support because it is mobilising and training about 30,000 soldiers a month.

Based on these figures the war is in stasis and regardless of tactical innovations like glide-bombs, better drones, more integration between long-range weapons and surveillance assts, Mad Max motorcycle units and Turtle Tanks; Russia is not breaking the Ukrainian defensive line in a meaningful way. Instead, Russia’s force is being incrementally worn down without gaining operational advantage.

At this stage Russia is not prioritising its effort to gain operationally significant momentum.  For instance, using the 50,000 soldiers currently fighting near Kharkiv to reinforce their forces at Chasiv Yar, or reducing their numbers at Chasiv Yar and attacking Kharkiv with a larger force. Instead, Russia is dissipating its effort possibly indicating that its campaign strategy is poorly developed.  A situation that is probably exacerbated by a politicised officer corps, individual generals pursuing their own objectives with little centralised control.

Ukraine’s next moves

If I was a staff officer providing advice in the Ukrainian headquarters it would be as follows:

  • Keep defending in the north and north-east. The defensive line is holding and Russia has not broken through and captured ground that could provide a base to advance deep into Ukraine, threaten a large city or isolate and destroy a large Ukrainian force.  In war, the attacker generally suffers higher casualties and while Russia continues to dissipate its forces on multiple fronts it reduces the likelihood of an operationally significant victory. Therefore, do not waste limited Ukrainian resources counter-attacking or trying to gain ground.  Let Russia continue to attack and attrit its force, even if it requires tactical withdrawals.
  • Build reserves in depth. US and European aid is flowing into Ukraine and new mobilisation laws contribute to more soldiers being available.  Take time to build a strong reserve, that is well-trained and equipped.  This will take time, probably at least a year.  So do not even think about large offensive operations until summer 2025.  By then the impact of attrition on Russian forces will be greater and new opportunities can be created, perhaps reinforcing the foothold across the Dnipro River and threating Crimea from the north.
  • Reduce Russia’s battlefield airpower advantage.  Take time to erode Russia’s air advantage. ATACMs and cruise-missile attacks on air bases are already forcing Russia to base aircraft further away. The same weapons and drones are already taking a toll on radars and ground-based command facilities. Patriot missiles and launchers can create a deep ‘air denial’ zone over the battlefield, making the use of Russian airpower to support ground operations more difficult.
  • Isolate Crimea using long-range weapons. The peninsular is Putin’s ‘vital ground,’ a term used in tactics describe the ground that a side needs to hold to win. If the vital ground is lost; or becomes untenable the battle is lost.  Ukraine does not have to occupy Crimea to defeat Russia, it only needs to make it untenable and since Crimea is a peninsular with only three access points this goal is achievable. Especially, now that the Ukraine has access accurate long-range missiles.

It seems likely that the land campaign will develop in roughly this manner, Ukraine using the advantages of defence to wear Russia down while taking time to rebuild its own offensive capabilities.  We should expect Ukraine to focus on eroding Russia’s airpower and isolating Crimea by targeting the roads, bridges and railways that supply it.

Summary

At an operational level, Russia’s Kharkiv offensive is failing. Its gains are limited and their opportunity cost is that Russia cannot commit forces to taking Chasiv Yar. Putin has publicly committed to this axis, stating that the objective is creating a buffer zone to protect Belgorod.  A defeat will damage his political credibility, so Russia will probably continue this attack wasting more resource.

Another consequence of the Kharkiv offensive is the US and European relaxation of restrictions on using long-range weapons on Russian soil.  A change in policy that will make Russia’s campaign harder. A key observation is that the Kharkiv offensive is emerging as a serious threat to Russia’s campaign.  This situation indicates that despite evolving tactically, Russia’s highest levels of command still suffer significant problems.

While Russia wastes its resources, Ukraine’s Syrskyi strategy appears to be working. The north and east are holding and inflicting attrition on Russia. In my opinion, Ukraine’s campaign is set to transition to a new phase, isolation of Crimea with long-range weapons.  It is already starting, Ukraine using long-range strikes to damage Russian air defence surveillance networks and to destroy its surface to air missiles. Opening the door for strikes against the bridges and logistics infrastructure that supply the peninsular.  If Crimea can be starved, Putin will have to negotiate or commit to an offensive elsewhere providing an opportunity to destroy a large Russian force.

In conclusion, the war still has a long way to run and we should not expect Ukrainian ground offensives anytime soon.  Instead, Ukraine will be biding its time waiting, inflicting casualties on Russia and using long-range weapons to slowly strangle Crimea.

 

 

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

18 COMMENTS

  1. Ben should link to these fake commentators he quotes.
    Who says Russia has unlimited resources?
    Who says Russia is attriting in offense?
    “Some commentators” is propagandist-speak for “straw man I’ve created to argue against”.
    The idea that Russia doesn’t know Chasiv Yar is a priority but Ben does is risible.
    They’re still setting the tempo and have the initiative and know what they’re doing.

    If Ukraine was in Russia’s position Ben would be wetting himself over their advantages.

  2. Meanwhile the ordinary Ukrainian is suffering from lack of or no power the daily grind is taking its toll and all the NATO flunkies can do is give long range missiles that expands and prolongs the war and guess who the winner Ben?

    • Exceptional clear-eyed analysis. Thank you, Auric and Colonel Reisner (and Ben for inadvertently providing a portal to information that doesn’t read like its copied and pasted from the Institute for the Study of War).

    • It’s hilarious that despite New Zealand, like Austria, being semi-free (not a subject of NATO), Ben is still as sycophantic as any lying rat in a NATO country.

  3. If Pfizer can supply the masses with a drug to protect we, *The Feeble’s, from an airborne hy$teria particulate then why can’t they manufacture * 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine to stop a blood letting horror fantasy from exploding all the hand operated penises globally? Serious question.
    Meet the Feebles. Jim Henson’s spirit goes full psycho in a film by Peter Jackson, his greatest work.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_the_Feebles
    War, in this day and age is a literal madness so why not give good drugs a chance, especially such a fantastical one as * Ecstasy. But we should “Just say no” aye Nancy?
    Ronald Regan
    Take particular note of the section ; “reganomics and the economy” while being mindful of nancy slithering around in the background just saying no.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Reagan
    I’m only writing this because Fuck War. It’s unnecessary, highly addictive and extremely profitable.

  4. Who says Russia has unlimited resources?
    It’s a common enough exaggeration for effect, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be true. But depending on the tone of voice you say it in it could mean something slightly different. It’s a common misconception about the USSR during World War II as well.

    Who says Russia is attriting in offense?
    Difficult to get exact casualty and matériel loss figures, but there are some respectable people who study open sources who said this. Go look on YouTube it’s full of this sort of stuff. Some of them even know what they’re talking about.
    Try ATP geopolitics. He is not a huge military expert, but he admits it, and he is very, very thorough.

      • I watched ATP, man oh man, all over the place. He liked Navalny and hates Putin, which puts him at odds with 95% of Russians. He also apologised for Azov SS style insignia and claimed that they were nice and not neoNazis. Another confused messenger.

    • You make a good point GS.

      Yes, indeed Russia has pivoted its economy into a war mode with nearly all its resources thrown at it. However, Russia’s entire economy is about the same size as that of Spain. LOL. According to the best estimates available Russia has lost about half a million men and its economy is going up a blind alley if it does nothing but make munitions. It is simply not sustainable. Russia now faces a similar problem to what it had in WW1 and the result then was a revolution. How long will Russians put up with losing their husbands and sons in this futile war?

      As for the USA, their international ‘strategy’ as always, is driven by short term internal politics. It’s all about the election! Biden knows that an escalation in Ukraine or Gaza is going to lose him votes:

      > That’s why he’s trying to slow the Israelis in Rafa – a win for him in Michigan relies on a million Muslim votes, while capitulation to Hamas will lose him a similar number of liberal Jewish votes.

      >That’s why he told Ukraine not to attack any more Russian oil installations – he wants to keep the oil price down to quell inflation. Along those lines also expect him to sell off the US strategic oil reserve like he did before the midterms.

      In summary if Russia is to win, it has to win quickly because by the end of 2024 it will be too late for them. The F16s will be on station and the western political limitations will be removed. The Europeans have at long last figured out that they cannot afford to let Putin succeed. The resultant wave of refugees and threat posed by Russia would be unbearable.

  5. “We will give it a thought.” hehehe – you gotta enjoy VVP’s understating style of rhetoric.

    https://www.rt.com/russia/598819-western-long-range-missiles-ukraine/
    Russia is considering “asymmetric” measures against Kiev’s sponsors due to Ukraine’s use of Western-supplied weapons against its territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

    The Russian leader’s remarks came at a meeting with heads of international news agencies on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

    “We have no illusions in this regard,” Putin added, repeating his prior comments that Ukrainian troops might be pulling the trigger but the US and its allies are providing the intelligence and targeting information.

    Russia will respond by boosting air defenses and destroying these missiles, Putin said.

    “Secondly, if someone deems it possible to supply such weapons to the war zone, to strike our territory… why shouldn’t we supply similar weapons to those regions of the world, where they will be used against sensitive sites of these countries?” the Russian president added. “We can respond asymmetrically. We will give it a thought.”

  6. https://www.rt.com/russia/598824-putin-attack-nato-nonsense/

    The idea that Moscow has some kind of plan to attack NATO is a stupid attempt to maintain the West’s global hegemony by fear, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

    Putin was asked about NATO’s preparations to defend from a Russian “invasion” at the meeting with the heads of the world’s major news agencies on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

    “Look, someone has imagined that Russia wants to attack NATO. Have you gone completely insane? Are you as thick as this table? Who came up with this nonsense, this bulls**t?” Putin said.

    The Russian president suggested that the “bulls**t” was in the service of deceiving the people at home in the West, urging them to arm themselves and send more weapons to Ukraine.

    Putin outlines Russian response to long-range strikesREAD MORE: Putin outlines Russian response to long-range strikes
    “Why is this being done, really? To maintain their own position of greatness, that’s why. There’s nothing to these scary stories, intended for the townsfolk in Germany and France and elsewhere in Europe,” Putin explained. “In Ukraine, we’re just protecting ourselves.”

    “Don’t make up things and then form opinions about Russia on the basis of them,” he added. “You only hurt yourselves this way.”

    During the session, which lasted more than three hours, Putin repeatedly addressed the root causes of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, from the 2014 US-backed coup to the atrocities of the Kiev government in the Donbass and the failed Minsk peace process that Western leaders have admitted to being a sham.

    The Russian president argued that the US hasn’t poured billions of dollars in cash, weapons, ammunition and equipment into Ukraine because it loves Ukrainians, but because of the belief that this will further American “greatness and global leadership.”

    “Nobody in the US cares about Ukraine’s interests,” Putin told the agency heads.

    While Moscow has no intention of “invading” Europe, it will consider retaliating against the US and its allies for providing Kiev with long-range missiles by supplying adversaries of the West with similar weapons in “sensitive” areas, he added.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here