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WAR ROOM TEAM
Military analysts in the West are, we must assume, deliberately getting the Russian tactics in the war in Ukraine all wrong. One recent press release from the Institute for the Study of War thinktank made the woefully ignorant comment that ‘Russian forces are increasingly refusing to re-enter combat (Clark and Stepanenko, 8 April 2022)’ after the redeployment of Russian Federation forces from Kyiv to the south and east. Standard Russian military doctrine since World War II has dictated that ground forces engage in combat only when bull-horning hostile forces into controlled zones or ‘cauldrons.’ Right now the Russians have Ukrainian forces nicely kettled in a number of pockets in the east and most notably at Mariupol. The key to the game for Russia now is patience. These Ukrainian forces will either surrender or run out of essential supplies and ammunition.
With forces fresh from Kyiv, the Russian General Staff has launched a number of offensives along the line of contact in Donbas. In the north of this front the Ukrainian resistance at Kharkiv has been stiff, making it difficult for allied forces to flank the city’s defences. Towards the centre, however, the Ukrainian resolve has faltered — allowing armour and infantry to puncture the frontline at Popasna. Russian forces now have a toehold inside the giant cauldron forming in the south of Kharkiv and north of Donetsk oblasts. In the south of this eastern sector, Mariupol is all but neutralised. Azov forces are entirely cut off from supplies and locked within the Azovstal steel works.
In the south-west, at Kherson, Russian forces have been building up, but the whole sector remains relatively quiet. During the day yesterday high precision missiles were deployed by Russian forces to destroy a SAM missile battery south of Mykolaiv. This would give the observer the idea that the Russians are thinking about pushing west from here to Odessa, cutting Ukraine off from its ports and the Black Sea. The bombing of command centres and the military infrastructure in and around Odessa would serve to confirm this suspicion. Though, given the pace of the Russian war so far, this assault may be put off until the Russians are satisfied they have control of Donbas.
The Ukrainian strategy has shifted from one of static defence to asymmetric warfare – guerrilla warfare, and so making life difficult for Russian armour in open terrain. For the time being, Russia has not adapted to a war standing fit to address this — focusing on its strategic objectives. Interestingly, the Kyiv government has requested tanks from NATO; a fact that points to the AFU having lost more tanks in action than it has admitted. This request has been frustrated in recent days with Germany’s refusal to transfer tanks to Ukraine.
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