Ben Morgan: Chasiv Yar, will Russia break the deadlock on land?

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Last week was a busy week, both on and off the battlefield. Currently, NATO is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary. In Ukraine, both sides continue to trade blows along the full length of the frontline and there were small but potentially important movements on the front. At strategic level, Vladimir Putin’s lobbying for a ceasefire could indicate that Russia’s military position is weakening.

The overall situation, campaign dynamics and why ground matters

Russia’s aim at the start of the year was to reshape the campaign’s dynamics by capturing enough ground to shake Ukrainian resolve, or to convince the nation’s supporters that Russian victory is inevitable. In this campaign, ground is a vital measure of success. I believe the reason for this trend is that gaining or losing ground is a simple measure, that mainstream media can easily articulate in news reports. The information war is strategically important because of the impact it has on for Ukraine’s international support.

This produces an interesting situation in which Ukraine, that has currently sunk about a third of the Black Sea Fleet, has delivered two successful offensive operations (the 2022 Kherson and Kharkiv Offensives) and is crippling Russia’s oil industry is consistently portrayed in mainstream media as losing the war whenever Russia makes a small tactical advance.  Therefore, if Russia is gaining ground it contributes to the perception that Russian victory is inevitable, undermining the resolve of Ukraine’s supporters.

Currently, Russia is in a similar situation to Ukraine at the same time last year. After launching an offensive aiming to achieve operationally significant manoeuvre (a deep advance or capturing a strategically significant town) Russia’s ground forces now appear to be culminating without delivering meaningful results.  This undermines the narrative that ‘Russian victory is inevitable.

Meanwhile, Russia has many other military problems to solve including stopping Ukraine’s attacks on its oil infra-structure, defending Crimea and destroying Ukraine’s combat power.  In his recently published mid-year review of the war, ’Has Russia Blown its 2024 Opportunity in Ukraine,’ Mick Ryan, a former Australian general has a simple question, “Russia is undertaking many operations and expending a lot of resources. What is it getting in return for its investments in people, treasure, information and time?”

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Back in May, I explored the potential Russian objectives for its military operations in 2024, and how it was progressing towards those objectives. Russia has built strategic momentum with its ground and aerial assaults on Ukraine over the past six months. Most analysts of the war agree that Russia still has the initiative…
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A simple but important question. In October and November, the wet, mud season or rasputitsa starts and ground fighting will become harder meaning the opportunity for rapid advances disappears.  Currently, it appears that Russia’s campaign is culminating because like Ukraine, their effort is dissipated across the frontline in a roughly 750km arc from the Dnipro River in the south to Kharkiv in the north.  The net result of this activity has been essentially nothing.

Now, Russia has two-three months before the rasputitsa to change this situation. Russia still has a large artillery ammunition advantage, Ukraine’s air defence has not yet defeated the glide bomb threat and Russian commanders are still willing to sacrifice their soldiers.  This means that the next questions are – Where will Russia try and manoeuvre? and – Does Russia still enough combat power to conduct operationally significant manoeuvre?

Chasiv Yar, Russia’s best chance to break the deadlock

Although fighting continues along the whole frontline, all sources describe it as ‘positional,’ or that neither side has an advantage or is advancing.  Fighting near Vovchansk, in Kharkiv Oblast continues but there is a growing recognition that this offensive has failed. A Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) article ‘What Next After Russia’s Failed Kharkiv Offensive?’ summarises the situation as follows “Despite initial territorial gains, the Kharkiv campaign had stalled by early June due to fierce Ukrainian resistance and logistical challenges exacerbated by Ukrainian targeting of supply lines across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region…”  (Here is a link – https://cepa.org/article/what-next-after-russias-failed-kharkiv-offensive/)

Unable to open a new axis, Russia’s next option is clearly Chasiv Yar and Russia has increased offensive pressure on this town in recent days. Chasiv Yar is an important Donetsk town that sits on high ground between two Ukrainian salients. If Russia captures Chasiv Yar it can use it as a firm base for closing either of the salients or for advancing towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.  The last large Donbas cities in Ukrainian control.

On 4 July, Ukrainian government sources confirmed that their forces have withdrawn from positions in the Kanal Microraion part of the town. A measure of the importance of Chasiv Yar is that the Russian forces committed to this operation include elements of the 217th, 299th and 331stVDV Regiments (elite airborne units). Additionally, a Ukrainian military blogger, Konstyantyn Mashovets reports that Russian forces are on the west side of the Siverskyi-Donets Donbas Canal. This is noteworthy because the Siverskyi-Donets Donbas Canal is a physical barrier that reinforces the Ukrainian defensive line, and Russian positions west of the canal could undermine the defence.  The use of large numbers of VDV forces indicates that Chasiv Yar is an area of Russian main effort.

Additionally, Konstyantyn Mashovets observes that Russia has constituted a tactical reserve in the area ready to push deeper in the town. He assesses that roughly a battalion (400 soldiers), the 2nd Luhansk People’s Corps is being held in reserve. Probably, to occupy the captured section of the town allowing the elite VDV units to continue their advance. Russia is attempting to encircle the town with attacks to the north near Kalynivka and east near Ivansike.

But can Russia transition to operationally significant manoeuvre?

If Russia can capture Chasiv Yar, the nature of the ground provides potential for large scale manoeuvre.  The town sits on high ground, dominating the local area providing an easily defended area that can be used to observe Ukrainian forces and direct air, missile and artillery attacks against them.

But even if it captures Chasiv Yar, Russia may not be able to capitalise on the victory because it does not have sufficient combat power in reserve to ‘follow through’ and exploit the situation.  Russian command decisions negating the advantage of numbers. General Ryan points out that “Russia may still have a couple of months where they can conduct more offensive activities against Ukraine before they culminate. But, given Russian losses so far, the lack of any new, wide-ranging offensive doctrine, and that Ukraine’s strategic prospects are improving with respect to manpower, air defence and munitions, Russia appears to have blown what might have been its last chance to strike a decisive blow against Ukraine in this war.” Essentially, that regardless of Russia’s ability to produce tanks, guns and ammunition or mobilise manpower, their ability to successfully utilise their forces remains low.

General Ryan’s assessment of the reason for Russia’s failure on land is worth consideration, he states that “Russia has yet to develop a new offensive doctrine for land operations in modern conditions. It has not been able to balance quantity and quality across the force, generally leaning on mass for its attacks. Its military leadership is clearly not capable enough to build and implement the right military strategy for such an intellectually demanding war.” An assessment that is confirmed by the lack of Russian advances over the last six months because regardless of numbers, artillery supremacy and glide bombs the frontlines have remained static. Although, Russia’s doctrine of centralised control allowed dissemination of some tactical lessons (i.e. new indirect fire tactics, Turtle Tanks, small group infantry attacks (meat waves) and use of motor cycle units) it has not translated into changes in command philosophy at operational level.

In ‘What Next After Russia’s Failed Kharkiv Offensive?’ CEPA appears to concur with General Ryan’s position stating that “Russia’s inability to break Ukrainian forces underscores persistent issues within its military structure, including poor planning and coordination, inadequate logistical support, and low troop morale.” Essentially, that Russia is not demonstrating the ability to fight a large and complex campaign. So, if or when, Russia takes Chasiv Yar it may be unlikely to be able to plan, organise or support an effective follow ‘on operation.’

Putin’s peace offers probably indicate he is worried

Putin is clearly concerned about the situation. The lack of Russian progress in the ground campaign, Ukraine’s air campaign and the prospect of foreign aid starting to arrive all contribute to his concerns. Putin knows that his combat power is diminishing and that Ukraine’s is increasing. Under current conditions, it may take time, but Russia will eventually be outpaced by Ukraine. Therefore, Putin needs to change the situation either by increasing domestic support for the war to allow for greater mobilisation and sacrifice; or by reducing international support provided to Ukraine.

This week he continued to claim that he wants peace and to publicly offer unrealistic ceasefire terms. Further, he enrolled Hungarian President Viktor Orban into the plan. Orban flying to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky to encourage him to accept Putin’s peace proposal.

I believe that Putin has two objectives, the first is aimed at convincing his domestic audience that he wants peace. On July 4, the Levada Centre, an independent Russian polling organisation published the results of its latest survey that shows 58% of Russian want the war finished. The highest number since the war started. Putin’s rhetoric often portrays Russian NATO’s victim and ceasefire offers that are not accepted probably contributes to this narrative with Russian voters.  This likely to be his primary goal because he needs more resource and to get it, he requires domestic political support.

Secondly, it appears that Putin is crafting an information operation around the US presidential and European elections. Putting peace plans on the table allows him to portray Russia’s position as reasonable, allowing future leaders of countries that support Ukraine, to argue that disengagement from the war is a morally sound decision.  Putin wants peace after all.

Summary

This week it appears that Russia is starting to acknowledge the failure of its Kharkiv offensive and is switching main effort towards Chasiv Yar.  In my opinion, this is likely to be too little too late because the last six months of fighting has depleted Russian reserves. Essentially, although Russia may take Chasiv Yar it is unlikely to be able to capitalise on the victory because too many of its reserve soldiers are already committed in other places, or are dead.

If Russia cannot exploit the capture of Chasiv Yar and inflict a jarring defeat on Ukraine, it is unlikely to be able to reduce international support for Ukraine. History tells us that Putin will keep fighting, and the loud discussion about potential ceasefires is probably designed to shape domestic political opinion to accept the sacrifices required by greater mobilisation.

The battle around Chasiv Yar will provide observers with good insight into Russian combat power.  Whether it is captured, and if Russia can exploit the situation are good indicators of Russia’s real combat power.  Further, the longer the battle for Chasiv Yar lasts the less chance of a Russian victory as foreign aid starts to impact on the battle.

At this stage, my assessment is that Putin is looking further ahead, trying to work out how to- convince the people of Russia to endure greater sacrifice. So, expect to see more ceasefire offers and discussions with world leaders designed to demonstrate to Russian voters that Putin’s desire for peace is being frustrated by an aggressive NATO.

 

 

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

42 COMMENTS

    • Sincere? He wants control over territories he does not occupy, he wants to meddle in Ukraines country status in regards alliances or treaties. Not going to happen.

      His treat of nuclear weapons is empty for it will mean the immediate retaliation destruction of St Peterburg and Moscow. He also knows the Poles have designs on Kaliningrad, a territory he cannot defend. NATO troops are already operating in the Ukraine (French Foreign Legion). Agriculturally the Crimea is a wasteland without the rebuild of the Dnipro river dam so thoughtfully destroyed by him. Add giving away the Tumen River to China for no good reason (means the only rail link to North Korea from Russia is in Chinese hands) and Putins bargaining position is feeble.

      He has lost free access to the Danish and Black Seas meaning no warm water ports to export through unless through “friendly” nations.

      As an opening preamble by Putin is laughable and totally insincere.

      Yo also need to realise that NATO has nothing to loose by entering the ground war and everything to gain (such as the end of Putin and the inclusion of western Russia into the European alliance).

    • It’s Ok Trevor. Putin is there to liberate them. He’s such a swell dude. If the world is lucky he’ll release another photo shoot of himself shirtless polishing his missile

      • Apparently he has a huge approval rating and is really popular with the people. I mean Stalin was really popular as well while he was alive. It does seem the popularity magically disappears the moment these people die.

  1. Thanks Ben

    It’s been reported that the Russians have lost over 10,000 men in Chasiv Yar in the last two weeks. You can imagine the morale of the soldiers being thrown at the Ukraine lines. Russian bloggers are showing images of wounded Russians, complete with bandages, being ordered to go back and fight. At what point is the Russian ship of war not going to respond to the helm?

    Ukraine has just got to keep killing Russians until they revolt.

      • Because Putin is immensely popular in Russia, imagine that! Seems nobody really likes our Western leaders, they keep losing elections.

        On the 10,000 “dead” Russians, yeah right, flying pigs must abound at your window.

        • We don’t really know how popular he is because polls in Russia are even more untrustworthy than here. L0L

          That said, I’ve seen some street interviews where people say they like him, but they appear to look over their shoulders as they say it, if you get my drift. There are some strong supporters though, notable oldies and women who don’t have to do the dying.

          • Andrew might as well be talking about himself, and other ‘pro-Ukraine’ people, when he writes … ” There are some strong supporters though, notable oldies and women who don’t have to do the dying.” ,,,

            Andrew does seem as gullible and credible as a demented old woman with some of the batty stuff he seems to believe and repeat…..

            … Lets be honest, Andrews support for the Ukraine fighting/war,,, would disappear in less time than it would take him to shit his own pants ,,, both of which would happen if he had to do any of the fighting he’s presently so keen on and ill-informed about .

            Same goes for James Brown, Ovod, P Carren ,, who all support Israel’s war crimes and THEIR mass murder/starvation of children …..

            ****************************************

            NATO”s morals and (world-wide) objectives, are the same regarding either Israel or Ukraine….

            Theses local people are who NATO and now Luxon/the NActs are spending a lot of money trying to kill https://www.bitchute.com/video/pBirmHxcqUOi

            Slava Ukraine as the saying goes …. https://youtu.be/iY-zOOjTO7U?list=TLPQMTAwNzIwMjRFeVMih6Jkyg&t=5497

              • The dribbling halfwit hat fits P Carren very well ,,, if we take what he wrote about Mohammed Khan in this thread as just one example ….

                “P.Carran July 10, 2024 At 3:40 pm

                From memory you’re quite a fan of Modi….”

                It seems P Carren has trouble reading or remembering ,,,,, ………

                “Mohammed Khan April 3, 2024 At 7:30 pm
                Supporting gang rape is bad, sir. That’s why people don’t like Modi or ‘israel’.”

                … and from the same thread
                ” Mohammed Khan April 4, 2024 At 8:38 am.
                Perhaps Parmar could get a statue put up right by it of Nathuram Godse, the member of the RSS organization which founded the BJP which is now led by Modi and the assassin of Gandhi? If we’re going to go for Hindutva racism, might as well go whole hog, right?”

                …. For others who can not read like P Carren ,,, in the second quote Mohammed Khan was denouncing BJP and their “Hindutva racism” ,,,

                Yet P Carren claims Mohamed Khan has Modi as one of his idols …

                Dishonest or stupid? ,,, that’s the question I’m asking about P Carren

                • No you are a halfwit that apparently can’t understand sarcasm. Like when someone asks M Khan how he feels about Modi (who he detests) being given a medal by Putin (who he likes).

                  And just to help you:

                  sarcasm
                  the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

                  Oh and by the way, talking of dishonest, point me to where I said I supported Israel with what is happening in Gaza.

    • > At what point is the Russian ship of war not going to respond to the helm?
      When your imagination becomes reality (never).

  2. Ukraine Bleeds Troops and Territory as New Russian Tactics Prove Unstoppable … ” according to ‘European security sources’, Ukraine requires 50,000 soldiers per quarter and 200k by the end of the year just to maintain losses” …. ” “Putin has articulated a theory of victory that assumes that Russian forces will be able to continue gradual creeping advances indefinitely, prevent Ukraine from conducting successful operationally significant counteroffensive operations, and win a war of attrition against Ukrainian forces.”

    Well, uh, yeah—that’s exactly what Russia is doing and will do. And there’s nothing Ukraine or the West can really do to stop it because to do so would require a force disparity. And Ukraine cannot generate a force disparity because—surprise, surprise—it is losing more men than Russia. ” https://simplicius76.substack.com/p/sitrep-7224-ukraine-bleeds-troops?utm_source=profile&utm_medium=reader2

    ” News release after news release revolves around Russia nudging toward a cessation of hostilities, with Putin’s various speeches and soundbites used to support this.

    But how true is it, really?

    I’m here to tell you unambiguously: it’s total misdirection.

    Not once has Putin brought up ceasefires or negotiations—in every case it is others who push him on the topic, and he’s merely forced to respond in diplomatic fashion. Just like recently, when Putin peevishly commented on the nuclear issue, when someone had asked why he was pushing the concept of nuclear war so much of late: Putin said it was not him bringing it up, but people continue to ask him about nuclear weapons during Q&As or interviews, and he’s forced to respond to their questions. These answers are then quoted out of context by clickbait-happy yellow press outlets to make it seem like Russia is constantly agitating for nuclear war. ” https://simplicius76.substack.com/p/sitrep-7624-narrative-builds-that?utm_source=profile&utm_medium=reader2

    Simplicius
    @simplicius76
    In depth geopolitical and conflict analysis, with a dash of the sardonic. You can support me by pledging here or tipping me at: http://www.buymeacoffee.com/Simplicius
    66K+ subscribers

  3. I had to laugh at the 10,000 dead Russians. Given reports of Russian tactics it’s basically target an area with a couple of platoon, drop 3 ton bomb, use artillery to mop, walk in. Rinse, repeat. Seems 9,500 Russians are well in reserve.

  4. If Russian weaponry is as superior as the Putinists claim, some evil bastard targeted a children’s hospital deliberately. Alternatively Russian weapons are so poor that they are appallingly inaccurate. Which is it?
    Bellingcat has proved that a Russian Kh 101 cruise missile hit the hospital. Once the F-16s are operational, the Tupolev 95s that launch these missiles, will be toast!

      • Mohammed, we will never know who funds Bellingcat. This is from their website.
        There are several organisations who graciously support our work, but prefer not to be mentioned in public. We honour their wishes and express our sincere gratitude.
        Check Wikipedia and what they have NOT
        investigated, and yes your suspicions may be well placed. No EU or US wrongdoings feature. Silence speaks volumes.

    • Those old F16’s (which are being donated to Ukraine as a means of Western Nations to get rid of obsolete planes that are no longer relevant in a modern Air Force) are going to get shot down almost immediately by Russian SAMs. That is assuming they can even get these things to fly by inexperienced Ukrainian pilots that have had next to no training.

      • Indeed. It is my foremost hope that there will be no Ukranian pilots pressganged by the murderer Zelensky in those planes, but the kind of Western ‘volunteers’ who have spent their career bombing Iraqi and Afghani freedom fighters without the means to shoot them down.

  5. What a bugger for neocons and the Empire. Seems arch bad guys Putin, Modi, and Xi are on somewhat friendly terms. And they are on talking terms with the rest of the world outside of good old US and Europe. Do I hear panic bells?

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