Ukraine War, 24 March 2023

Tom Cooper
6 min readMar 24


Good morning everybody!

Few updates from different sectors of the frontline.

Generally, I would describe Gerasimov’s ‘biiiiiiiiiiiig’ offensive as ‘over and out’: except in the Bakhmut area — where it’s not even the Keystone Cops who are claiming successes, but Prigozhin and his Wagner PMC — it failed to achieve any kind of durable advances. On the contrary, most of the frontline is exactly where it was back in December.

Svatove-Kremina…the frontline is largely where it used to be, which is along the P-66 highway, or a kilometre or two west of it. The Russians seem to have pushed the 25th Airborne away from Chervonopopivka, to have recovered entire Dibrova, and forced the ZSU away from south-western Kremina into the forests below it.

Siversk… not that the Russians didn’t try, but their assaults on Bilohorivka (the one on Siversky Donets), on Verkhnokamianske, and few minor villages south of Siversk of the last few days, were — once again — all repelled. The 81st Airborne and the 10th Mountain Assault, ZSU, held up whatever came their way.

Bakhmut…the last three days, the Russians continued expanding their penetration along the M03 highway, north-west of the town. As usually, it’s ‘one field today, another tomorrow’-rate of advance, but perfectly enough for their purposes: as long as Moscow can claim any kind of ‘advance’, that’s fine for its purposes. What I do not understand there is: after nearly three months of this, and in the light of reports that there is no critical shortage of artillery shells in this area (on the contrary: ZSU should even enjoy something like ‘superiority, light’ in regards of artillery): what kind of super-commanders there must be in the ZSU that they still can’t stop this?

At least the Russian attempts to cut off the Road 0506 remained unsuccessful: indeed, assaults in the area between Bohdanivka and Khromovo have not only been repelled: Ukrainians managed to re-gain some ground, pushing the Russians away from 0506.

Avdiivka…northern sector… the Russians are pressing from Novobakhmutivka and Novoselivka Druha towards the local section of the H20 highway, in general direction of Novokalynove. Once again, the rate of advance is similar to that in the Bakhmut area, but it’s certainly so that they’re still coming forward, field by field…

….north-eastern sector, the last weekend, two Russian assault groups attacked from Krasnohorivka towards west, on Stepove. Have infiltrated and then collapsed Ukrainian frontline, and then reached the railway line opposite to Stepova, taking a low hill north-east of that village. No idea why both the Russians and the British claimed the Russians took Stepove, too, but that was not truth. Ukrainians brought in reinforcements and counterattacked, forcing them back to the railway line (actually, Ukrainians say, ‘further east’, but I have my doubts).

…southern sector: there was a powerful Russian attack from Opytne in direction of south/south-western side of Avdiivka, on 18th or 19th March, with some Russians claiming they’ve reached the outskirts of the town in the process. Is perfectly possible they did, but it’s also certain Ukrainian counterattacked there, and pushed the Russians back. Net result; the Russians came forward from Opytne something like ‘one third of a field’.

…further south-west, the Russians continued grinding into Pervomaiske, and claim to have reached the Izmailivskyi Pond.

What’s foremost worrisome about the Avdiivka area is that the VKS is — time and again (say: ‘few hours a day’) — free to operate at medium and high altitudes there. Means: it has managed to push heavy Ukrainian SAMs (see: Buks and S-300s) away from the frontline; it has managed to bring its own artillery, SAMs and electronic warfare systems forward and close enough for these to diminish the effectiveness of Ukrainian SAMs, and to block the airspace for the PSU, in turn enabling own Su-34s and Tu-22M-3s to strike with heavy weapons. See Grom, see FAB-500M-62s with ‘JDAM-like’ assemblies, see UPAB-1500 and similar stuff…

Think, Ukrainians can consider themselves happy the System Putin has debilitated the Russian arms industry to the degree where this has major problems with manufacturing more of such weapons, or has to reach back upon 60–70 years old bombs like FAB-3000M-54….

BTW, the use of the latter (by Tu-22M-3s) needs not even being particularly precise, but when so much explosive blows up, be sure: that’s felt, strongly, even 2–3 kilometres away.

Contrary to what diverse of Western experts are explaining, the VKS is (once again, i.e. exactly like back in November-December) operating in bigger formations, too: 10–20 aircraft. Usually, these are including a combination of Su-34s and Su-35s, which — with support of massive volumes of electronic countermeasures — are deploying a mix of Kh-31s and Kh-58s anti-radar missiles, and Kh-29s (BTW, last night, some 10–12 VKS fighter-bombers did something similar against unknown targets in the Sumy area, too).

All these developments are a clear indicator of what I’ve explained in my last two or three reports: the ZSU is simply not ready for a counteroffensive. One can’t run a large-scale operation in this war, if both lacking ammo and spares, and air defences, and the enemy is — de-facto — in control of the airspace.

Orikhiv…What happens when the ZSU tries some sort of a ‘bigger counterattack’, ‘nevertheless’, was nicely demonstrated in quite a dramatic fashion, sometimes around 16th-18th March, in the area directly south of Orikhiv (southern Zaporizhzhya), or in the Pologovsky area, further east. Really, not 100% sure about all the geographic details. Nor even about the scope and purpose of this effort: some are describing it as ‘reconnaissance in force’, others as ‘local counterattacks’, and characters like Rybar are claiming this all happened the last two or three days, while it actually happened about a week ago…

….not sure what of Ukrainian units were involved, either: perhaps the 65th Mech?

Everything started reasonably well, with Ukrainians — well-supported by artillery, and even by few air strikes — smashing the first line of Russian defence and then driving their T-72s and (Dutch-donated, but hopelessly obsolete) YPR-765 infantry armoured vehicles into the Russian rear.

However, it seems Ukrainian military intelligence missed the deployment of the GRU’s 22nd Spetsnaz Brigade some six to seven kilometres behind the frontline. And, as already described (at least one if not two months ago), the Spetsnaz is nowadays largely used as ‘heavily-armed, line infantry’ by Gerasimov. No matter if it’s VSRF’s Spetsnaz, or that of the GRU: it’s deployed in the second line of defence, and acting as ‘safety’ for the case Ukrainians break through…and that worked well in this case.

While flanking Russian units to their left and right, Ukrainians drove straight in front of the Spetsnaz brigade, and then got hit by a murderous combination of artillery and ATGMs, and then by the VKS. Here’s one of related videos (at least YP-765s don’t blow up to pieces when hit, like ‘better than Bradley’-BMP-3s), and here a link to account by one of troops of the 22nd, who’s claiming he’s knocked out five tanks with his ATGM. Essentially, videos and this account are mutually confirming, and I have little doubts that the involved ZSU troops came away with a very unpleasant experience (and opinions about their superiors, too).

That kind of things happens when there’s insufficient reconnaissance, and even if there’s artillery around, there’s not enough of it to hit both, the first and the second line of Russian defence, and the Russian artillery — all at the same time….

Guess, we need not expecting reports about this ‘super-turbo tank battle’ and ‘Ukrainian success’ by the CNN, Daily Mail, The New York Times, Forbes, or any other, similar, instances…

Ah yes, and a ‘note’ for all those ‘certain’ Leopards 2, M1s, A-10s and F-16s would’ve performed differently: NO, they would not. Because ‘even’, say, 24 F-16s, and 30 A-10s, and 200 M1s and Leopards would still lack the necessary artillery support. F-16s and A-10s because they can’t deliver the same amount of high explosives like artillery can.

After all, we’re not talking here about a war of NATO vs Taliban, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After…. well, between 9 years and 13 months of this brawl, perhaps it’s about the time for people to realise: that’s a ‘little bit different’ type of armed conflict.



Tom Cooper

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