Over the past few weeks, the situation along the front in Ukraine has appeared sickly familiar. Much of the mainstream media is describing it as a stalemate because little territory is changing hands. However, conditions on the ground in Ukraine are neither static nor stable.
Ukraine has tried various strategies for movement, from the extravagantly daring—such as crossing the Dnipro River to engage Russian forces around Krynky—to bullheaded persistence in driving south from previously liberated areas at Robotyne. But there seems to be only one tactic currently moving the needle in a significant way, and it’s being employed by Russia: sacrifice men and equipment in extravagant quantities, and keep doing it until small areas are brought under control. Then do it again.
In short, it’s not only the area around Avdiivka that looks something like Bakhmut in 2022. It’s the whole front. This tactic, which seemed sickeningly inhumane when it was Wagner Group mercenaries hurling meat waves of prisoners to ground out a few meters of advance, has become the standard tactic of the whole Russian military. But even as Russia is temporarily picking up ground, it’s not at all clear this is “winning” in any sense.
The latest map from open-source analyst Andrew Perpetua of the area northwest of Avdiivka may be the best place to see this.
That bright red area near the town of Stepove near the top of the map represents the latest advance of Russian forces. In the past two days, Russia has crossed a small ridge carrying rail lines (that dark double line at the right of the red area) and captured the eastern part of Stepove as well as some mostly empty fields to the north.
The thing that makes this so concerning is not just that Russia could possibly move to positions that would threaten supply lines into Avdiivka, or turn toward areas that are less well defended. It’s that this is the fifth time. The fifth time Russia has sent its forces surging over those lines. The fifth time it has moved into the rubble-strewn streets of the totally abandoned village.
Practically every video you have seen of Russian vehicles being destroyed and Russian bodies lying in heaps has been right there in that bright red area or in the fields just on the other side of those tracks. Earlier this week, Ukrainian forces sent a Bradley rolling forward under electronic warfare cover that limited Russia’s use of drones. That Bradley absolutely plowed the field, mowing down infantry and destroying a whole column of Russian vehicles.
New video out today shows another Bradley driving in this area, hammering Russian positions. Again.
There is also this video from Dec. 13 of a Bradley destroying a Russian column in this area.
And here’s a video of Bradley performing the same action, in the same area, on Nov. 22.
Guess what this video from Nov. 10 shows?
These aren’t videos showing the same action over and over from multiple angles. In fact, there’s another action from the first week of December. I haven’t included that one because the Russian wave seemed to contain primarily dismounted infantry and the resulting video is made up almost exclusively of what happens when human bodies encounter a 25mm autocannon.
Before any of this happened, Russia had already taken more losses in the area north of Avdiivka than it had in the disastrous sequence of battles at Vuhledar in January. Avdiivka certainly hasn’t been a bloodless battle for Ukraine, but the ratio of losses here has been staggeringly lopsided from the beginning—and it has only stayed that way. In fact, since Ukraine pulled electronic warfare gear from other areas (likely including the area around Robotyne) to concentrate on keeping Russian drones grounded around Stepove, it seems that things have been even more like a shooting gallery.
Results like this:
And like this:
So yeah, if you look at the map today, Russia has captured a couple of square kilometers across the rail line. For those who are keeping an eye only on how those patches of blue and red spread on the map, Russia is “winning.” Maybe they’ll sustain their hold on this area tomorrow, or extend their control further west and south.
But it seems more likely that a single Bradley will drive forward to begin the next wash cycle with a 25mm agitator. Then both sides can perform this act again.
How long can Russia keep this up? I have no idea. I don’t think anyone has an idea. We’ve talked repeatedly about how Russia’s use of defensive lines and deep minefields slowed Ukraine’s attempts at counterattacks. It’s been clear for months that the abundance of cheap drones on both sides has made the movement of armored columns an invitation for pyrotechnic carnage. But it’s not clear that anyone in Ukraine, NATO, or the U.S. contemplated this level of self-immolation on the part of Russia.
A sickening disregard for human lives, even the lives of their own troops, barely scratches the surface. Russian losses are at a level that’s simply unfathomable for any Western army. It might be possible to contemplate a military being willing to suffer this kind of loss in a desperate last-ditch defense of their homes. But Russia is trying to storm broken villages in a territory that it does not own. I will not pretend to understand.
Foreign Affairs makes clear that Ukraine still has a path to victory. The biggest obstacle isn’t Russia, but defeatism in the West.
These skeptics suggest that the current situation on the battlefield will not change and that, given Russia’s vastly greater resources, the Ukrainians will be unable to retake more of their territory. They argue that international support for Ukraine is eroding and will plummet sharply in the coming months. They invoke “war fatigue” and the supposedly bleak prospects of our forces.
But what the author of this article suggests is that this is simply a stage of the conflict. There was Russia’s initial failure at Kyiv. Then two huge losses in Kharkiv and Kherson. Now Russia’s remaining forces are being ground down in a counteroffensive that will ultimately make their continued presence in Ukraine impossible.
But considering how Vladimir Putin has directed his illegal invasion so far, it wouldn’t not be all that surprising to see this conflict continue until Russian troops are shuffling ahead single file while waving sticks.
This was being discussed in Telegram as this article was being written. The scope of the operation remains unclear. However, Ukrainska Pravda reports an attack on Sevastopol in occupied Crimea involving a large number of drones. Explosions have been reported in the city.
Remember all those new shells pouring in to resupply Russia?