Ukraine War, 20 November 2022

Good morning everybody!

Today, I’ll try to do something that was long overdue — i.e. catch with developments on the ground — before returning to the analysis of air warfare, later on (probably in 2–3 days).

STRATEGIC

There’s a growing number of reports that Putin is preparing another ‘round’ of mobilisation of reservists. Alone because of massive losses of the first wave. Problem remains the same like in the case of the ‘1st wave’: the VSRF is constantly proving unable to simultaneously mobilise, equip, train and command more than around 75,000 new troops. Add another 23,000 recruited, equipped, and trained by Wagner PMC — and that’s it: about 100,000 is the best they can do at once (which is: something like 2–3 months). …but, because about half of reservists mobilised in October have been ‘spent’ by now, Putin ‘must’ mobilise another wave just to keep himself in the war.

Thus, we’ve got to expect another, ‘100,000 or so’, ‘fresh’ Russian troops to reach the battlefield during mid-December….less if Wagner PMC fails to find another 23,000 convicts ready to be spent as cannon fodder on Putin’s behalf.

That said, there’s another important thing to keep in mind: like earlier withdrawals from Kyiv and Chernihiv, then the catastrophe in eastern Kharkiv, and then the withdrawal from Kherson have shown, whenever the VSRF has more than 150,000 combatants deployed inside Ukraine, its logistics is starting to fail and it cannot keep these supplied. It’s always forced to withdraw at one or another point. This has happened already three times by now and is certainly going to happen again.

But, well….‘Listen to the president, love the Motherland’, so Putin’s propagandists about a week ago…

SUROVIKIN’S BILLION DOLLAR OFFENSIVE

Generally, Surovikin’s Air-/Missile Offensive on Ukraine slowed down, significantly, the last few days. However, Ukrainian services are still busy repairing all the damage caused on 15 November.

Late on 16 November, the Russians hit the town of Vilniansk with three S-300s: one hit a residential building killing 10 civilians.

On the morning of 17 November, the Russians seem to have surprised air defences of the Odesa oblast, then a powerful detonation was registered at 06.35hrs. No idea what was hit, but an air raid alert was sounded only around 07.23hrs.

Four incoming cruise missiles were reportedly detected at 08.06, and air raid sirens were sounded in all of Ukraine at 08.44. From what can be made out from all the possible Ukrainian reports, seems that most of these have targeted the Dnipro area. Between 08.30 and and 09.00hrs, two infrastructure facilities, an industrial facility and numerous homes were hit, and 23 injured.

Two other missiles — reportedly: both Kh-55s — were shot down while approaching Kyiv. Ukrainians report that both had a ‘simulator of a nuclear warhead’ instead of a warhead installed. Kh-55 is the ‘nuclear origin’, from which the conventionally armed Kh-555 was developed. Ukrainians are assuming that such weapons are deployed for two reasons: one is to overload Ukrainian air defences, the other is that the Russians are running critically short on Kh-101s. This conclusion is based on investigation of wreckage of Kh-101s deployed on 15 November: most were manufactured in October and November this year.

Wreckage of one of two Kh-55s shot down on 17 November.

At around 09.00hrs, several missiles — type unknown — reportedly hit the Izyum area in the Kharkiv Oblast. Another attack hit Kupiansk. From what is known, one industrial facility and several infrastructure facilities were hit, and about a dozen of people were wounded.

All clear was sounded only at 11.08.

During the night from 17 to 18 November, the Russians deployed several S-300s against villages in the Zaporizhzhya Oblast. From what is known, there were no casualties.

Later during the day, the Russians hit the infrastructure and an industrial facility in Zaporizhzhya, knocking out the heating for much of the city.

Claims according to which the US-supplied NASAMS SAM-system should have shot down a VKS Su-35, on 19 November, were denied by the High Command Ukrainian Air Force. That said, in addition to NASAMS and Italian-made Aspide SAMs, Ukrainians should now have at least one MIM-23 HAWK SAM-system (US design) in operations.

The VKS is flying some 150 combat sorties a day, on average: most of these are air defence sorties, though; Ukrainian Air Force is down to flying less than 10 by fighter jets; slightly more by helicopters.

BATTLE OF DONBAS

Ukrainians are reporting that the number of Russian troops deployed along the eastern frontlines was significantly increased, the last few days. This should have been especially the case for the areas between Avdiivka and Vuhledar. Might mean that the mass of troops withdrawn from Kherson was re-deployed there. That said, operations of both sides are badly hampered by mud: the first snow fell, but temperatures are still positive during the day, and thus the soil is still soft.

As for ‘details’….

Kupiansk-Svatove area… Ukrainian MRLS’ (M142s and others) were repeatedly deployed to strike Russian bases and supply depots in the Svatove and Starobilsk areas.

Considering ‘even’ War Gonzo is reporting ‘difficult’ battles in the Novoselivske area, it’s almost certain Ukrainians are meanwhile inside that village, some 10km north-west of Svatove. Further south, Ukrainians have reached both the P07 and P66 highways at several points and crossed the former in the Kyzemivka area: that village might be under their control.

Following weeks of bitter fighting — during which the VSRF wasted lives of thousands of mobilised reservists while counterattacking Ukrainian positions reached during the Izyum offensive of late September and early October — Ukrainians have, finally secured Makiivka. In order to push the Russians away from the place, they are meanwhile attacking through the forests east of it, in the direction of Ploshchanka.

Kremina… a series of heavy and sustained Russian counterattacks west from Kremina, in direction of Torske and Terny, run through October and early November, was extremely costly for the VSRF, and failed, too. However, it ‘served the purpose’ in thwarting a development of an Ukrainian attack on this town before the ‘Rasputitsa’ season. Arguably, the ZSU managed to reach Zhytivka on P66, north of Kremina, and is in the southern outskirts of Kremina. However, constant Russian counterattacks, wet weather and muddy terrain are hampering its operations.

ZERG RUSH

Bakhmut… while checking something I’ve published earlier, caught myself reading reports about Russian assaults on Bakhmut from back in early August. Means: actually, the frontline ‘moved’ by 5–100 metres ever since. The Russians — which is: primarily the ex-convicts of the Wagner PMC — continue launching multiple attacks along the entire frontline from Bilohorivka on the Siversky Donets in the north, down to Kurdyumivka in the south. To quote an Ukrainian source: ‘a bit less than a company worth of troops, few tanks, BMPs, BTRs and MT-LBs, every time’. ZSU-troops call this tactics the ‘Zerg rush’. Arguably, most of such attacks are haphazardly prepared and run by small units, and easily repelled by a combination of Ukrainian artillery, mortars, and ATGMs, well before reaching ZSU positions. Russian casualties are massive, too: there are reports about mulitple villages behind the frontline being filled by up to 500 casualties, during the first half of November. But, they keep on coming, and thus keeping Ukrainians under pressure.

Unsurprisingly, this is causing lots of guessing — both in Ukraine and in the West — about the importance of Bakhmut, for example. Say: reasons why are the Russians attacking that town, relentlessly, and regardless of all the failures and massive casualties they’ve suffered there in the last 3–4 months. I think it’s simple. To paraphrase the character of Salah ad-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub (better known as ‘Saladin’) from the (historically: awful) movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’: ‘What’s the worth of Jerusalem? Nothing. Everything….’ In sense of military strategy and tactics, these endless Russian assaults on Bakhmut are outright doomed to failure: they are too small, too poorly prepared, too poorly supported, but driven by Putin’s obsession of capturing urban centres because these are important for his propaganda machinery. At the times even the mass of his TV-propagandists is beginning to realise that this war is a complete failure, and Russia can consider itself happy if it comes out ‘just defeated’ (i.e. if it doesn’t fall apart as a consequence) — if for no other reasons then because they can’t keep on buying themselves Hugo Boss suits, nor latest I-phones — it would be crucial for Putin to capture any kind of a town in Ukraine. No matter the size. No matter how much ruined. And regardless the price (measured in lives of those who can’t afford Hugo Boss suits, nor I-phones….)

Mind that the regular VSRF has proven incapable of running high-speed mechanised offensives for which it was originally equipped and trained: it was destroyed while trying to conduct such operations, back in February-July period. Still, Putin has the armed forces under his full control: his favourites are in charge of the Security Council; Kadyrovites, FSB, Wagner PMC and Rosguardia are keeping him safe, and everybody else is sidelined or outright subordinated to his favourites (even if not officially, i.e. characters like Shoygu and Gerasimov remain in their positions, but are entirely ignored by Putin, who nowadays ‘commands via Surovikin’). And he has his own aims: no aims of military nature, but aims serving purposes of bolstering his public image. Scoring propaganda points. Crucial for that purpose is some sort of success: any kind of success, meanwhile…anything, but another failure (like in Kyiv, then in north-eastern Ukraine, then in eastern Kharkiv, then in Kherson….)

Therefore, in interests of Putin, the VSRF must capture any kind of a town in Ukraine. Name of the place doesn’t really matter: it only must be a town, not ‘just another village’. This is why the VSRF (and Wagner) are violating all the ‘rules of warfare’ and instead of attacking in between of heaviest Ukrainian fortifications (something outside their capabilities, meanwhile, and ‘anyway’, alone due to massive losses in artillery, tanks, and APCs) — are launching one frontal assault after the other, upon best protected Ukrainian positions. This is about all they are still capable of doing with what’s left in terms of troops and equipment. From Putin’s point of view, characters like Dvornikov, then Zhidko — the entire VSRF — failed in serving his purposes: now it’s Surovikin’s turn — and nothing else matters. In turn, from Surovikin’s point of view (indeed: even from Putin’s point of view), continuous attacks on Bakhmut (and on Avdiivka, see below) do serve one military purpose: they’re tying down a growing number of Ukrainian forces. Thus preventing these from running offensives on their own. It seems that Putin (and Surovikin, too) is hoping that this is going to buy him time until something else saves him from the predicament into which he’s put himself (and entire Russia).

A BPMT geo-located in the Nyzhnia Duvanka, outside Luhansk, few days ago.

Unsurprisingly, from the Ukrainian standpoint it’s the the situation further south — between Avdiivka and Vuhledar — that is ‘critical’. On 13 November, the VSRF took the village of Mayorsk, east of Toretsk. Ukrainians seem to have launched two counterattacks on this location so far, but, gauging by the lack of confirmation of success, both were unsuccessful. North of Avdiivka, fierce fighting is going on in the Kamyanka area, with both sides bringing reinforcements, attacking and counterattacking. South of Avdiivka, the Russians are attacking on a relatively wide frontline, from Pisky on Nevelske, from Pisky on Pervomaiske, from Pisky on Vodyane, and from Donetsk on Opytne. The VSRF and the Separatists seem to have captured the latter (Opytne), sometimes between 14 and 16 November.

Overall, fighting in the area between Bakhmut and Avdiivka is — roughly — comparable to that of Verdun in 1916, with Surovikin pushing BTGs of mobilised reservists into ZSU’s lines regardless the cost, aiming to grind down Ukrainians through encircling both ‘Fort Douaumont’ (Bakhmut) & ‘Fort Vaux’ (Avdiivka) from the north and from the south. So far, with very limited to no success.

Further south, the Russian assaults on Marinka have provoked a brutal urban battle, supported by plentiful artillery of both sides. The only thing good for Ukrainians there is that — precisely as predicted already in August — the Russian artillery of these days has a massive problem with bad weather: most of their UAVs are incompatible with low temps, not to talk about rain and snow. This is resulting in the Russian commanders having very little clue about Ukrainian positions and troop strength, which in turn resulted in massive Russian casualties in the Pavlivka, too — although meanwhile there’s no doubt that they have secured the place.

SOUTHERN FRONT

The weather seems to have been much better along the southern frontlines, though, especially in the Vuhledar area. The last two weeks this was the scene of a major artillery show-down, and also the place where the VSRF deployed dozens of its Lancet LPGMs — apparently, with some success: as far as can be gauged from videos released by the Keystone Cops in Moscow, these have hit at least a dozen of ZSU artillery pieces and different vehicles. How much of these were ‘destroyed’ or ‘just damaged’ is next to impossible to say: the Russians tend to cut their videos right after the hit, while Ukrainians never talk about their losses.

Typical video of a Lancet strike (on a French-supplied Caesar self-propelled 155mm howitzer):

Gauging by what can be seen, the cabin was demlished, no doubt — but, I doubt this was a ‘total loss’.

West of Vuhledar is Velyka Novosilka — the area where the ZSU so nicely smashed several Russian assaults, during the summer. Subsequently, the place was converted into another fortress, which is why multiple Russian assaults of the last few days have all failed, although supported by massive artillery barrages.

Along the Dnipro…. essentially, there’s next to no evidence for anything at all of what is reported about developments in this area, the last week. Arguably, even the Russians say they have withdrawn their forces 15km east of the river, and there’s a growing number of reports about Ukrainians liberating Heroiske. But, again: no evidence for anything of this, except for some fighting in the Oleshky area, and Ukrainian HIMARS strikes on air bases and supply depots deep behind the Russian lines.

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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

From Austria; specialised in analysis of contemporary warfare; working as author, illustrator, and book-series-editor for Helion & Co.