A different kind of war is about to begin.
As we reach the three-week mark of the widely celebrated and massively propagandized September 2022 Kharkov counter-offensive, events that were initially beclouded by the fog of war can now be seen more clearly.
First of all, it is well-established that, from July through August, there had been a fairly transparent buildup of freshly constituted Ukrainian and NATO-affiliated forces (“foreign volunteers”) in the northeast quadrant of Kharkov Oblast.
The vast majority of the Ukrainian force consisted of battle-naïve conscripts, a substantial proportion of which had received a few weeks of “accelerated training” at NATO bases in Poland, Germany, and Great Britain.
In addition, the lion’s share of NATO equipment delivered during that time was hoarded for this new army rather than being dispersed in other regions along the 1000 km line of contact from Kharkov to Kherson.
The total count of the Ukrainian forces assembled in the area remains somewhat uncertain, but appears to have been between 35,000 – 50,000, including approximately 5000 of the NATO-affiliated “foreign volunteers” who would ultimately serve as “shock troops” for the offensive.
It is also indisputably established that the Russians had, in the weeks preceding the Ukrainian attack, significantly reduced the density of men and equipment in the geographic triangle formed by the Seversky Donets River running northwest to southeast, and the Oskol River running north to south.
The confluence of these two rivers is immediately southeast of Izyum, with the transportation hub of Kupyansk straddling the Oskol to the north, and Andreevka on the left bank of the Seversky Donets to the northwest.
The Russians had left small but satisfactorily supplied formations of Donbass militia and Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard), covered by relatively potent long-distance artillery fire, modest close air support, and occasional precision missile strikes against concentrations of Ukrainian forces.
There is dispute, even among Russian-friendly analysts, as to whether or not the Russian strategic commanders deliberately weakened this particular area, or were simply compelled to leave it depleted because they lacked sufficient forces to adequately cover the entire front.
There are persuasive arguments for both views, although the consensus opinion holds that the line was inadvertently weakened in this region primarily because Russian commanders believed the impending attack would occur elsewhere.
I remain persuaded the Russian high command intentionally weakened their line in this particular area in order to entice the NATO commanders of this newly created army to attack precisely where they did, and then to deliberately lead them into the triangular pocket defined by the two rivers, as described above.
My argumentation supporting this view is as follows:
First of all, it must be kept in mind that, from the very beginning of this now three-week-long battle, the Russian forces defending the area in question have been outnumbered at least 5:1 at almost every juncture. It is absurd to believe this disparity in force numbers was not anticipated by Russian commanders, and a battle plan conceived to exploit the geography and the inherent firepower superiority of the defending force so as to conduct a punishing tactical retreat.
And, in retrospect, it is now plainly evident that is precisely what they have done.
Contrary to the ridiculously exaggerated tales of a disorderly Russian retreat – with a thousand destroyed/abandoned tanks and armored vehicles, thousands of casualties, and ten thousand captured (yes, numbers such as these were breathlessly reported by western “expert analysts” in the first week of the battle!) – the Russian forces conducted a remarkably disciplined fighting retreat, progressed through multiple prepared lines of defense, and exacted severe losses on Ukrainian men and equipment every step of the way, while suffering relatively modest losses themselves.
Yes, several towns and villages were briefly defended and then abandoned along the way. In each case, the Ukrainian propagandists and their western media allies trumpeted the glorious victories, but none of these stories of supposed martial brilliance bothered to mention the exorbitant price being paid for the modest pieces of real estate they claim to have “liberated”.
Nor have the subsequent “filtration” purges of “Russian collaborators” in each of these towns and villages been reported in the completely one-sided western media accounts. Instead, western audiences were once again treated to evidence-free atrocity tales of barbaric Russian troops engaging in wanton rapes, murders, plunder, torture, indiscriminate massacres, and mass graves of innocent civilians.
But despite the flood of delusional propaganda, the blitzkrieg-like movements of the first days of the offensive have long-since slowed to a bloody crawl in the second half of September, chewing up hundreds of men and dozens of pieces of equipment every single day, with precious little advance to show for the expense.
The Russians established their primary line of defense on the eastern bank of the Oskol River. Every day for the past two weeks, Ukrainian reports claimed that the AFU had taken or were about to take Kupyansk, which sits astride the river. But it was never true until two days ago, when the Russian forces in the eastern part of the city finally ceded it to the Ukrainians – but not before having inflicted a massacre entirely disproportionate to their own losses, and notwithstanding having continually faced attacking forces many times their own number.
Not that there has been a whole lot of infantry battle taking place. Rather, the Russians have, in typical fashion, savaged the Ukrainian assaults primarily with indirect fires provided by artillery and airstrikes, continually corrected by drones and forward spotters.
In the far southern corner of the pocket, the Russians abandoned Izyum early, putting up only sufficient resistance to cover their withdrawal. They then concentrated in the vicinity of Liman, on the east bank of the Oskol, and it has been the defense of Liman that has since become the largest and bloodiest engagement of the entire protracted battle.
For several days, the Ukrainians and their “foreign volunteer” shock troops struggled vainly, with significant losses of men and equipment, to establish enduring bridgeheads across the Oskol. Eventually their superior numbers prevailed and they pushed their forces across the river.
Immediately reports of the “imminent fall of Liman” appeared in western media. But the announcements were always premature. And now, for well over a week, repeated Ukrainian attempts to assault and defeat the defenders of Liman have been repulsed with enormous losses for the attackers. Hundreds of Ukrainian troops, and large quantities of their NATO-supplied equipment have been chewed up in this meatgrinder battle, and yet they have continued to feed even more troops, armor, and vehicles into the ongoing fray, fanatically determined to take the town at all costs.
As I write, the Ukrainians have finally achieved a near-total encirclement of the Russian forces in Liman. Their only remaining avenue of supply and escape is a single narrow corridor that is largely covered by Ukrainian artillery. It remains to be seen whether they will make a last stand in the city, or attempt a costly withdrawal through the fire zone.
In any case, the garrison in and around Liman, supported by long-distance artillery and airstrikes, will have, with their sacrifice, inflicted a ghastly wound on the combat capacity of the Ukrainian army formations they have battled. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims thousands of Ukrainians killed in the recent battles along the Oskol River line of defense between Kupyansk and Liman. This is in addition to other thousands dead in the first week of the offensive. And now the nearly exhausted Ukrainian attack is at the far extent of the salient created by this last-gasp “counter-offensive”.
Regardless of whether the Russian defenders of Liman fight to the last man, surrender, or manage to effect an escape, I submit that it will likely be viewed in retrospect as the pivotal battle of this stage of the war.
To advance to this point, the Ukrainians have now expended an irreplaceable portion of the army their NATO overlords worked so hard to assemble over the course of the summer. Yes, there may still be several thousand less-capable soldiers left to nominally staff future engagements, but they have lost large numbers of their “foreign volunteer” shock troops as well as vast quantities of western-supplied equipment and limited stores of ammunition that can no longer be readily replaced due to the simple fact that all the NATO countries of Europe, and even the United States itself have simply run out of their finite inventories of the necessities of modern industrial warfare.
So keep these realities in mind even as exultant western mainstream media reports in coming days rejoice in the almost inevitable “glorious victory” at Liman.
And then consider the most relevant realities of all:
For several weeks now, seemingly endless trains of Russian military equipment have been flowing from Russia into Ukraine. The video evidence of this unprecedented buildup is abundant, and has increased notably over the past two weeks, and particularly in recent days.
Make no mistake, these are not columns of rusty, antiquated Khrushchev-era tanks and vehicles, as the clueless empire propagandists would have you believe. From what I have seen, it is mostly pristine stuff – hundreds of top-shelf tanks, self-propelled artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, hundreds of rocket artillery launchers, impressive numbers of various air-defense systems, and uncounted seemingly brand-new support vehicles of all types.
Yes, much to the chagrin of the many Russian-friendly analysts I follow, it appears virtually none of this huge buildup of military strength has been promptly distributed to the front lines. The valiant forces who have fought at Kupyansk, Liman, and other places for the past several weeks have apparently been adequately supplied, but not substantially reinforced. The ongoing buildup is clearly being reserved for “something big” that is yet to come.
That “something big” is almost certainly to follow on the heels of this week’s referenda in Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhe, and Kherson oblasts, and last week’s announcement of a partial mobilization of Russian reserves – 300,000 soldiers total, most of which will eventually be deployed to take the place of the much more experienced combat troops who have been compelled to also serve in rear-echelon support roles for the past seven months of this war.
Perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial but as yet unknown number of Russian professional battalions previously withheld from this war who will now be added to the front-line striking power – undoubtedly manning a lot of the fresh infusion of armor and artillery that has been observed flooding into the battle zone.
It is also essential to remember that over eight hundred aircraft of multiple types have been assembled in various Russian bases surrounding the current theater of operations. Although daily air sorties numbering in the hundreds have continued to be mounted all across the battlefield, a mere fraction of the immediately available strength has yet to be deployed.
Indeed, as I have argued for many months now, Russia has been fighting this war with one hand tied behind its back, even as the United States and its various NATO vassals have methodically advanced from one escalation to the next.
It is reported that Vladimir Putin is even now delivering an important speech in a celebration of the re-assimilation into mother Russia of a significant portion of historical Novorossiya. Coming as it is in the immediate aftermath of the shocking sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, and given the massive but as yet unused military buildup in the active areas of battle, it is almost certain that October will mark a major turning point in the Russo-Ukrainian War.