Let’s talk about Ukraine’s very good week.
1. Ukraine liberated 32 square kilometers of territory around Robotyne
After Robotyne’s liberation over the last few days of August, things seemed to slow a bit. However, the lack of progress on the ground did not mean a stalled campaign. Ukraine used the following two weeks to consolidate its gains and soften the next set of Russian defensive lines. The result? Last week, Ukraine made significant gains in all directions.
Ukraine is systematically degrading Russian positions across the entire salient, preventing them from moving their reserves to plug any single hole.
We’ve all been looking at Ukrainian advances west of Verbove, and Ukrainian forces are at the edge of the settlement today (if not deeper into it, as some more outlandish and unsupported rumors currently claim). But look at how, having beached the Surovikin line in that direction, Ukraine is now sweeping down and around it, as I suggested they would three weeks ago. Remember, that main defensive line is on a ridge, requiring Ukraine to attack uphill. If Ukraine can execute a pincer maneuver and cut off that line from behind, it could precipitate a Russian withdrawal or surrender.
Still, I am most excited about that tiny sliver of liberated blue on the high ground west of Robotyne, because that’s the second major breach of the Surovikin line. Russia has struggled to contain one breach. A second one makes it an impossible task. The dam is bursting.
Yesterday, Russia released video of one of its soldiers ambushing and killing two Ukrainians. It was a sad and devastating loss, but it provided visual evidence that Ukraine is now at the edge of Novoprokopivka, directly south of Robotyne. These are solid advances against fierce Russian resistance.
2. Russian soldier admits to massive losses around Bakhmut
We’ve wondered endlessly why both sides are so obsessed with Bakhmut, a city with little strategic value. Over 9 months, Russia lost tens of thousands of men to take it, while Ukraine lost multiple thousands resisting that advance. And now, Ukraine is expending valuable resources and men to claw back territory all around the city.
Thanks to another Russian video, we know that Ukraine currently holds Khromove, literally on the western tip of Bakhmut. Only a small canal separates it from Bakhmut proper.
Ukraine has made more significant advances to the south, further consolidating its hold around Klishchiivka and has advanced to the edge of Kurdyumivka further south, having crossed a canal that protects it from the west.
This is the part of the discussion where I kvetch that Ukraine could better use those forces pretty much anywhere but here. But I’ll have to rethink that if this Russian dispatch from Russian television is true.
If Russia admits 100-150 wounded a day, the number of killed is likely around 35-100 a day, merely to preserve Russia’s single propaganda victory over the past year. Given that half of Russia’s units around Bakhmut are VDV airborne or Spetsnaz special forces—the best trained units Russia can deploy—this would be catastrophic for the invaders.
For better context, we’d need to know 1) are those numbers accurate, and 2) what are Ukraine’s rate of losses in this direction. But there would certainly be no reason for a Russian soldier to exaggerate losses on Russian propaganda TV. At this rate, Russia is losing around 1,000 soldiers per week for this strategically insignificant plot of land. If Ukraine’s losses are modest in comparison, it’s a trade Ukraine will be happy to make.
3. ATACMS coming
ATACMS long-range missiles are coming.
Supposedly, U.S. President Joe Biden was always going to approve them, but it was supposed to be a big secret to catch Russia unawares, or something. “The decision was made before Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the US this week, but the Biden administration chose not to announce it publicly,” said the Financial Times report. “One person said this was to avoid tipping off the Russians.”
Never seen something so consequential cited to “one person.” It could be some random person on the street, or National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The gamut of possibilities is large. And, it’s kind stupid. Are we really going to believe that Russia would move its logistics back on the mere announcement that ATAMCS was coming? If so, they should’ve announced them a long time ago, even if they had no intention of sending them.
Not to mention, if the mere threat of ATACMS arriving pushes Russian logistics further back, that’s more the reason that this announcement should’ve been made months ago. But really, Ukraine already has long-range missiles. There’s nothing magical about ATACMS, other that it gives Ukraine more capabilities than it already has.
So don’t expect these to be game changing. They will be game … helping. Ukraine is already doing a good job of disrupting Russian logistics and command and control centers, and ATACMS will help. More excitingly, this opens up the likelihood that Germany delivers its Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine. They have a range of 500 kilometers (300 miles), are cloaked in stealth technology, and pack a serious 500 kilogram warhead. Now those could be game changing, insofar that they have the range and punch to take down the Kerch Bridge.
Cutting Russia’s Crimean logistical lines would, indeed, change the game.
4. Speaking of Crimea
Earlier this month, Ukraine staged several daring missile and special forces raids to destroy Russian air defense capabilities in Crimea, including destroying two of its five billion-dollar S-400 batteries on the peninsula. And as a result, Ukraine now seems able to strike targets at will.
It started 10 days ago, when Ukraine destroyed a submarine and landing ship on a dry dock at Sevastopol, the massive Russian naval base on the southern tip of Crimea. But that was just the beginning, as last week, Ukraine destroyed the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as destroyed two additional naval ships.
The Black Sea Fleet HQ was a particularly important strike, as Russian telegram sources claim the strike killed at least 34 officers, while Ukrainian intelligence claims the strike seriously injured two admirals and, plot twist, two key generals —Col. Gen. Alexander Romanchuck, who commands Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, which is the southern front, and Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsekov, who has commanded various brigades, and might be serving as chief of staff for Romanchuck.
This suggests that the strike wasn’t just a random target, but was chosen because Ukrainian intelligence knew of the gathering. The strike was specifically targeted to hit senior Russians during a meeting. Russian propaganda is stunned.
Note, Russia has yet to strike any of Ukraine’s command and control buildings in Kyiv—the presidential palace, the legislature, the ministry of defense, etc. Given how eagerly they strike civilian targets, it’s bizarre how they’ve left Ukraine’s top governmental buildings alone.
Meanwhile, we don’t know much about the two additional ships Ukraine reportedly struck, other than Russian Telegram coping hard. Rybar, for example, claimed that the two ships were “slated to be written off.” Well, they’re sure as heck written off now!
Note, leadership decapitation is a key part of “shaping” operations. And Ukraine is systematically degrading Russia’s officer command.
Destroy Russia’s leadership and supply lines, and rolling up those defensive lines becomes infinitely easier.
5. M1 Abrams are arriving
I’m kinda cheating here—the M1s Abrams main battle tanks are arriving next week. But it was confirmed this week. With Russian defensive lines crumbling around Robotyne, one of the big questions is whether Ukraine has the reserves to exploit the breakthroughs. Adding 31 of the best tanks in the world should provide some much appreciated backup at just the right time.
There is no public information on what units will get them, but we are guessing they land with Ukraine’s 82nd airmobile brigade, currently fighting in that Robotyne salient. That unit operates T80BV tanks, which have the same kind of gas turbine engine as the Abrams. Their mechanics are already familiar with that kind of machinery, and their logistics are already built to sustain gas-guzzling tanks. An Abrams needs 2-3 gallons per mile. Not 2-3 miles per gallon, but 2-3 gallons per mile. Their logistical demands are astronomical.
A reminder that this “good week” comes at a horrific price.
“On the day of our victory, I’ll put away my uniform, don an elegant gown and heels, and celebrate. I’ll get married and have a big happy family. But I’ll never forget the men & women who died for our freedom,” Ivanna Lemeshko once wrote.
Ivanna died in combat this week.