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Ukraine’s and Israel’s people are fighting our Battles.

Ukraine Washington
Written by Adrian Hill

Pour all the ingredients of both wars into a mixing bowl and you’ll find that Iran supplies both Russia and its proxies attacking Israel. Putin must feel relieved, perhaps smug. America has been ambushed, forced to divide its attention and resources. Yet this second invasion and war may not deliver the impact Putin anticipates. America is the only real super power. Russia is not one any longer. America doesn’t have to beg Iran for drones and glider bombs, or North Korea for ammunition.

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Frederick Kagan at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC recently pointed out that positional war in Ukraine is not a stable stalemate, nor the result of fundamental realities in modern warfare that can only be changed with a technological or tactical revolution, as was the First World War’s stalemate. Neither, he says, does it rest on a permanent parity in military capacity between Russia and Ukraine that will continue indefinitely regardless of Western support for Kyiv. On the contrary, it results from self-imposed limitations on the technologies the West has been willing to provide Ukraine and constraints on the Russian defence industrial base largely stemming from Putin’s unwillingness so far to commit Russia fully to this war. The current balance is in fact, highly unstable and could readily be tipped in either direction by decisions made in the West.

Trump’s manipulation of Congress doesn’t say much for the people who were elected – unless they too are isolationists. Closing your eyes and hiding in a corner won’t stop these modern dictators. At the time of Munich the British Government spent about 3% of GNP on defence. Four years later they spent 46% of GNP on defence. Trump and the EU think they can do a deal with Putin. Press leaks suggest the EU is doing this presently, combined with slowing the supply of military help as a means of putting pressure on Zelensky and his government. American and British military aid is much more crucial – ours more than the EU put together. The reason we should start seriously rearming is because Putin broke the previous deal over Ukraine. Had Ukraine kept its nuclear arsenal – almost as big as Russia’s today – Europe would still be peaceful. In addition, the EU proposes moving towards abolishing national vetos and developing European armed forces. In other words the end of NATO, and this makes a deal with Putin for some form of EU neutrality a serious prospect. Time for the Five Eyes partners to wake up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Frederick Kagan made further observations on the current battlefield situation:-

  • Widespread deployment of reconnaissance drones makes large-scale surprise impossible, and the effective creation by both sides of reconnaissance-strike complexes that merge reconnaissance and strike drones with artillery and other long-range systems makes visible concentrations of vehicles prohibitively dangerous.
  • Russian electronic warfare, particularly jamming of GPS signals and drone communications, on an unprecedented scale severely hinders Ukraine’s ability to make full use of Western-provided precision munitions that rely on GPS and undermines the effectiveness of Ukraine’s own drone systems;
  • Russian defensive works prepared over the course of many months and supported by extremely deep and dense minefields preclude rapid mechanised manoeuvre;
  • Limited Ukrainian air defences and Ukraine’s lack of a modern air force allows Russian manned aircraft to operate in close support of front-line units and to target Ukrainian tactical reserves and logistics nodes;
  • Limited Ukrainian long-range strike capabilities preclude the effective operational-level interdiction necessary to isolate the battlefield from Russian operational and strategic reserves;
  • Inadequate numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles, coupled with uncertainty about the future availability of replacements, require Ukraine to husband its mechanised forces rather than accepting the losses inherent in concentrated assaults in the current state of the battlefield.

I would add one more observation. Bear in mind that at their present rate of fire a million rounds will last Russia one month. Putin, his war and fate are now in the hands of Iran and North Korea. During September 1965 the night sky above Lahore and the Punjab turned white, search-lit by gun flashes climbing until directly overhead for seventeen nights. The artillery of two army corps, one Indian, one Pakistani, bombarded each other non-stop. My boss had won an MC as a battery commander in Normandy. Leslie Heptinstall forecast they’d both run out of ammunition on day seventeen. They did and a ceasefire followed.

Putin’s latest stunt is shoving hundreds Muslim migrants over the Russian frontier with new NATO member Finland. Were I still a practising diplomat my gut instinct would be to ask the Chinese if they really want the global economy and all international trade at the mercy of Putin’s Kremlin, the Ayatollah’s eighth century tyranny and Fat Kim’s hermit kingdom? Maybe Xi could influence his neighbours?

Current Situation

Kiev has been under large scale attack from missiles and drones. Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to conduct offensive operations in eastern and southern Ukraine despite rain and snow. Russian shelling of the west (right) bank of the Dnipro River around Kherson has decreased due to the poor weather conditions.  Snow and frost will reduce the number of Russian attacks generally but poor weather conditions won’t stop offensive operations completely. During a meeting with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on 20 November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasised the need to strengthen Ukrainian capabilities before the winter period

Both Russian and Ukrainian forces are struggling to operate their drones, including those for artillery fire adjustment, given poor weather conditions throughout the front. Mud makes vehicle movement hard though both sides continue manoeuvre warfare. Heavy trucks within a number of days will destroy a poorly made road. I can still see Route Nine, where it passed beyond the Khe Sanh Plateau, resembling an orange mud track with huge American Army trucks crawling westward with supplies for the South Vietnamese fighting on the Ho Chi Minh Trails through Laos. That was February 1971. Freezing weather conditions during this winter in Ukraine will likely prompt the resumption of more active combat operations.

Donetsk and Robotyne Salient

Russian forces began a renewed offensive effort towards Avdiivka on the 22 November although most likely with weaker mechanised combinations than previous offensive waves during October. The following day they launched a “third wave” of assaults. Ukraine reported a 25 to 30 percent increase in Russian ground attacks near Avdiivka that day and said that Ukrainian forces repelled several Russian columns of roughly a dozen armored vehicles in total during these assaults. Ukrainian forces repelled at least 50 Russian assaults in the Avdiivka direction over the 23 and 24 November. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces continued to advance north of Avdiivka and made further gains in the industrial zone southeast of Avdiivka but did not make any territorial claims consistent with a successful renewed large-scale Russian offensive push.

Ukrainian forces destroyed three Russian tanks and seven armoured fighting vehicles on 22 November. This suggests that Russian forces are currently conducting smaller mechanised assaults than in October when Russian forces lost 50 tanks and 100 armoured vehicles making assaults on Avdiivka. Russian forces have lost a confirmed 197 damaged and destroyed vehicles in offensive operations near Avdiivka since 9 October. The Russians appear to have spent the end of October and most of November preparing for a wave of infantry-led ground assaults to compensate for heavy equipment losses. Large infantry-led ground assaults pose a significant threat to Ukrainian forces defending in their Avdiivka salient but will not lead to local rapid Russian advances.

East Bank of the River Dnipro

These are early days but the ISW issued an assessment after Ukrainian officials announced that Ukrainian forces have established bridgeheads on the east (left) bank of the River Dnipro near Kherson and are conducting ground operations aimed at pushing Russian forces out of artillery range of the west (right) bank of the River. The Ukrainian Marine Corps Command stated on November 17 that Ukrainian marines have secured several “bridgeheads” on the east bank following successful actions and are conducting actions to expand these positions. Forces News in the UK reported that a lot of the training for opposed river crossings took place in Britain.

ISW went on to explain how US military doctrine defines a bridgehead as “an area on the enemy’s side of the water obstacle that is large enough to accommodate the majority of the crossing force, has adequate terrain to permit defence of the crossing sites, provides security to crossing forces from enemy direct fire, and provides a base for continuing the attack.” The doctrinal definition of a bridgehead does not stipulate a certain size for the crossing force, the extent of the secured positions, or the ability to transfer and operate heavy military equipment from those positions. The necessary size of a bridgehead depends on the operations it is meant to support, and the official Ukrainian acknowledgment of these positions as bridgeheads indicates that the Ukrainian command assesses that these positions are sufficient for continuing ground operations on the east bank.

An important objective for Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank is to prevent Russian shelling of Ukrainian civilians on the west bank of Kherson Oblast, particularly near Kherson City. The 152mm tube artillery systems that Russian forces widely deploy in Ukraine have an approximate range of 25km, although Russian forces are unlikely to deploy these systems to immediate frontline areas due to the threat of Ukrainian counter battery fire. Ukrainian forces on the east bank are conducting diversionary actions, raids, and reconnaissance and are particularly seeking intelligence on Russian logistics and ammunition concentrations.

The Ukrainians maintain strict media silence about their plans but you don’t need to be a military genius to realise that a firm bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnipro is a launching pad for a big offensive. Why not drive eastward and behind (south of) the Russian’s three huge defence lines thereby outflanking all of them and their protective mine fields. The southernmost defence line is really for servicing and supplying the first two lines. That may prove the quickest way to clear the Russian Army from southern Ukraine.

Watch this space? News Fumbles

Russian state media released though later retracted reports about the “regrouping” of Russian forces on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast to positions further east of the Dnipro River, suggesting to ISW that the Russian command and/or Russian state media apparatus failed to establish a coordinated information line for the Russian response to ongoing Ukrainian ground operations on the east bank. The Russian command has previously struggled to establish a coordinated informational approach to developments in Ukraine, particularly when the Russian command failed to set the ‘news mood’ for defeats during the Kharkiv 2022 counter-offensive.

General Winter

Ukraine plans an interdiction campaign against Russian supply routes during the coming winter. They need more long-range missiles, such as ATACMS, to hit Russian rear areas. The current main task is to disrupt Russian ground lines of communications (GLOCs) and these disruptions, coupled with the onset of winter weather, will “freeze” Russian offensive operations. Disruptions of Russian GLOCs will create problems for the supply of food, water, ammunition, and winter materials to Russian forces. Ukrainian forces have been conducting an interdiction campaign against Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea, primarily Black Sea Fleet assets, since June this year to degrade the Russian military’s ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian operations in southern Ukraine, and Ukraine may intensify and widen this interdiction campaign in the coming months.

Large-scale Russian strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure are expected during the coming winter. Ukraine is preparing air defence capabilities though needs additional air defence systems. Russian forces launched the largest drone strike against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion overnight on the 24/25 November trying out a new version of the Iranian Shahed 131/136 drones. Ukrainian military officials reported that Russian forces launched 75 Shahed drones that mainly targeted Kyiv City from the southeast and northeast. Ukrainian forces shot down 74 drones.

Russian forces attacked Kyiv with new modification of Shahed drones, black in colour, containing a material that absorbs radar signals, making them more difficult to detect. Iranian media published footage on 19 November showing the Iranian Ashura Aerospace University of Science and Technology presenting the new Shahed-238 jet-powered modification of the Shahed-136 drone. The presented Shahed-238 appeared to be black in colour, but it is not known if the Russians used the Shahed-238 version during the 25 November strike.

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About the author

Adrian Hill