Massing Ukraine forces for a breakthrough offensive would be to step into a classic Tukhachevsky trap, as the Germans did in WWII
By UWE PARPART
Summary / Overview
- The Kiel Institute for the World Economy (Institut für Weltwirtschaft, IfW), Germany’s most influential economic think tank, runs a Ukraine Support Tracker. The IfW reports that “newly committed aid for Ukraine dropped to almost zero in July.”
- Commenting on the announcement that gas pipeline Nord Stream 1 would be shut down for three days of maintenance, Bundesbank (German central bank) head Joachim Nagel said that German inflation could exceed 10% this fall.
- The price of natural gas hit an all-time high of US$310, over 17 times the 2003-2020 average of $18. Putin now collects the same amount of money for only 1/17ththe 2020 volume sold. The Russian current account, says Bloomberg, is strong enough for Moscow to shut Europe off from its gas for a year.
- Ukrainian armed forces Commander-in-Chief General Valery Zaluzhny said that “nearly 9,000” Ukrainian soldiers had died in the war so far. In early June, Oleksii Arestovych of the Office of the President of Ukraine said that the Ukrainian Army had suffered 10,000 killed in action (KIA).
- US think tank ISW (Institute for the Study of War) and Britain’s MI6 continue to predict “culmination” and “exhaustion” of the Russian offensive in the Donbas. The evidence? Slow progress.
- The slow but steady advance of Russian ground troops alternating with massive artillery barrages (now outgunning Ukrainian forces by at least five rounds to one along the 1200-kilometer frontline) is evident from Ukrainian General Staff reports.
- Newsweek reports an estimate by retired US Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian that the supply of HIMARS missiles provided by the US to Ukraine will be depleted within the next three to four months. Cancian is a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated on August 24 (Ukrainian Independence Day) that the coming offensive – by his own words coming since May and winning by September – will liberate the Donbas and Crimea. This latest announcement did not contain a date of completion.
Center / East
Of the 1,200-kilometer-long front line reaching from Kharkov in the northeast to the Kherson region in the southwest, the most active engagements over the past several months have been from Izium and Sloviansk down to Bakhmut and farther south near Avdivka, west of the city of Donetsk.
More recently, Russian forward activity has picked up along a line from Marinka south of Donetsk through Vuhledar to the Dnepr River south of the city Zaporizhia.
In the area southeast of Izium toward Sloviansk and farther east near Siversk, company-size Russian ground forces are probing dozens of villages on a daily basis, only to retreat again and hit the area with heavy artillery fire.
Farther south, Russian forces are pressing into Soledar and the edges of Bakhmut. Around Donetsk, Russian forces are slowly pushing out of Pisky heading northwest to Pervomaiske along highway M-04.
Farther to the southwest, there’s activity all along the line of contact from Vuhledar to Velyka Novosilka. The patterns are identical: small unit probes followed by targeted artillery massed fire
In the southern Kherson region, to be liberated by September according to President Zelensky, there is still no evidence of a Ukrainian offensive.
Russian forces conducted probes in the direction of Mykolaiv, followed by artillery fire. Artillery and air strikes continued against Ukrainian positions in the bridgehead across the Inhulets River (about 72 kilometers northeast of Kherson).
Ukrainian forces continue to conduct long-range artillery strikes (primarily HIMARS) against Russian lines of communication and again struck the Kakhovka Bridge across the Dnepr River.
The basis for the culmination argument tirelessly advanced by the British Ministry of Defense, MI6 and US think tank ISW lies mainly in the slow movement of the Russians after their successes in taking Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
Why have Siversk, Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut still not fallen? What about the Ukrainian fortified positions at Avdivka?
An American military intelligence officer points to historical precedents for such odd hesitation by Russian forces over the past two months.
He cites the observation by BH Liddell Hart of the puzzling behavior of the Russians in World War II after the critical victory at Kursk: Advance of Russian forces was very slow and never able to decisively exploit obvious holes in the German line. But the successes kept coming and the Red Army leadership never risked or incurred a major loss or a major flanking movement again as had happened at the outset of Germany’s Operation Barbarossa.
It’s a valid and important observation. The initial Russian rush in Kiev was clearly based on faulty intelligence inspiring sloppy Blitzkrieg-type advances without in-depth logistical back-up.
It was the very opposite of the doctrine of “deep operations”, which had been developed by Russian Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky prior to WWII and prior to his political purge by Joseph Stalin in 1937. Although Tukhachevsky did not survive, his doctrine did: Stalin to his credit allowed his top generals to execute it after the initial defeats in 1941.
In an offensive mode, “deep operations” call for assault actions over a very wide front – underpinned by the principle of simultaneity attained by creating the largest possible contact area in order to force the enemy to forego tactical depth. The Russian mode after Kursk was to probe and attack on a broad front with combined-arms force.
Probes would be exploratory but hard enough to be defended and to establish a favorable attrition rate and – at a given moment – to achieve local superiority. This would be the time and place to deploy the “shock army” so far kept in reserve but then inserted into the breach for an operational breakthrough.
The Red Army after Kursk enjoyed both manpower and firepower superiority but still lacked mobility to counter rapid tactical flanking maneuvers by the enemy. Proceeding slowly and methodically was the appropriate tactical answer.
It looks and sounds familiar. Importantly, and unlike the Red Army in 1943, Russian forces at present also enjoy virtual total air superiority. Under these circumstances, a significant massing of forces by the Ukrainians for a breakthrough offensive would be a fool’s errand.
It would run into the same devastating deep operations trap as did German generals Erich von Manstein and Guenther von Kluge.