Ukraine’s High-Cost/Low-Reward Strategy – WWIII Prelude News 5/9/2023 – Salients and Extraditions
Above is a crude and simplified diagram representing the extensive defensive line which runs from the Sea of Azov to the Russian border which Ukraine has been pounding its head against with no result for 3 months now, resulting in the needless deaths of thousands of combatants. It’s necessary in order to understand why Ukraine aren’t winning and media reports of their “breaking through” are a slight, yet dangerous, distortion of the facts.
Dubbed “The Surovikin Line” after Commander Sergey Surovikin, this extensive network of fortifications were constructed along the border of the Russian-annexed regions of Ukraine with the rest of Ukraine. After the long battle for the strategically-valuable Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) earlier this year, Russia has dug in to protect their new territory and the citizens within it, only making minor advances to better their defensive positions. Since then the war has frozen in place, except for the long-awaited Ukrainian Counteroffensive in June. Despite deliveries of Western equipment and their best configurations and reshuffling of units, they haven’t been able to break through this defensive line. This isn’t for lack of courage and ingenuity – they’re simply out-matched.
Without visuals, we’re prone to assume that the Russian front line is literally a strip of soldiers camped out waiting to fight the Ukrainians when they arrive, so it’s then easy to believe they’ve broken the line when the media reports it. The fact is that the advancing troops have to contend with three layers of defenses, behind which are thousands of Russians who rotate into the front and back behind the line to avoid both danger and fatigue, while making sure they’re fully supplied at all times. So you can see why I say it’s no bad reflection of the capabilities of the Ukrainians. The only thing that could give them a shot at breaking through would be air superiority, allowing for Russian positions to be bombed from above.
The asterisks * represent minefields, which are placed very liberally ahead of the front lines. These minefields are so numerous that when the Kakhovskaya dam exploded, flooding hundreds of miles of fields and towns, it was a very real concern that mines would have come loose and flowed downstream toward populated areas, endangering civilians. In wars past, mines were relatively easier to detect and deactivate, but it now requires special crews and equipment as they’re no longer made of metals. Ukraine is short on these at the moment and simply have to “make do”, which has predictable and tragic results.
The ▲ symbols represent dragons teeth. These are pyramids of concrete reinforced with steel (rebar) which prevents (or at least delays) tanks and other motorised units from crossing. This slows any advancing troops and forces them to proceed on foot, which will become relevant later.
Funnily enough, I grabbed this photo from a Pravda article from December 2022 with the headline “Russians are panicking, begin to fortify Kursk Oblast with ‘dragon’s teeth’ and ditches.” It’s important to any propaganda war to frame everything your enemy does as either out of panic, delusion, or recklessness, to both soften the blow and bolster the morale of your own people. But common sense tells us that when you’re at war with your neighbour it’s probably a good idea to build defensive structures at the border you share with them, especially if that border area isn’t already well protected. Just ask the Polish about their border with Belarus – I suppose the Poles are also “panicking” despite not being at war with their neighbour.
The snaking lines I’ve drawn in red represent the extensive trench network constructed by professional engineering companies. These fill several functions: they further slow enemy progress, they serve as cover for troops engaging with the enemy, and they are used by troops to travel between locations on the front undetected. The □ symbols represent fortified positions in elevated or obscured areas, further giving the Russians an advantage.
Where this front line gets particularly perilous for the advancing troops is that big red square over the middle of the diagram. This represents Russia’s fire control. With the use of bombers, drones, and artillery, Russia can suppress the advancing forces even further. Since Ukraine has almost ran out of tanks and personnel vehicles weeks ago, troops are forced to advance on-foot, leaving them as easy prey for scatter-shot artillery rounds and anti-personnel drones, or simply being shot at from a higher elevation. This makes the Ukrainian counteroffensive, frankly, disgusting and unconscionable as it all-but guarantees wounding or fatality. If sane minds write the history books of tomorrow, they’ll condemn this war and agonise as to why it couldn’t have ended by the Summer of 2022.
This diagram, of course, isn’t an exact replica of the real thing. For one, it snakes around key towns, cities, and strategic geographical features. More importantly, there are about 3 or 4 of these lines, making it even more difficult to fully penetrate. Perhaps Russia would have constructed these fortifications anyway, but maybe Ukraine shouldn’t have spent half a year talking about how they’re going to launch a “Spring Counteroffensive”.
Further to the left we have another snaking line, representing yet another trench network being constructed roughly 40 meters behind the rear of the line.
Let’s Talk About Drones For a Minute
Once upon a time, not so long ago, drones were a new technology and they were valuable. This is due to their size as well as their rarity in terms of how many could be produced. In the space of this war, this concern has almost completely vanished. These small and light-weight aircraft, capable of shooting or dropping grenades on troops, are astronomically cheaper than mortar or artillery shells, so they’re used as if they too are disposable. The website LostArmour.info reports the Russian use drones has increased dramatically over the 3-month offensive – 92 in June, 123 in July, 201 in August.
Being shot at and having artillery fired at you when you have no cover is frightening enough, but now you have to get into firefights with drones!
The Foolish Strategy
I’d like to thank HistoryLegends on YouTube for filling in some of the holes in my knowledge of the current battle and also for creating the useful maps below.
The focus of Ukraine’s counteroffensive has become a very small town about 70km South-East of Zaporizhia called Robotyne. A direct assault has been attempted on the town, but that had failed and been replaced with the strategy to carve out a salient to the East – basically, a bubble inside the enemy lines – about 10km in.
Although this is a valiant and commendable effort, to say that they’ve breached the Surovikin Line is simply wrong as they have simply entered deep into the fire control zone. For the majority of their counteroffensive they’ve been arguing with their Western allies, with them saying the promised equipment isn’t arriving soon enough and the West retorting by saying Ukraine is failing to use the Combined Arms tactics they’ve been trained in. Having failed at making any significant gains for two important propaganda-sensitve moments – the “Peace” Summit in Saudi Arabia on August 5th and Ukraine Independence Day on August 24th – they are now under pressure to show some kind of progress to further justify more Western aid. The result is the blunder happening right now outside of Robotyne. In their push to advance even further passed the fortifications they don’t seem very concerned about their flanks (the east and west of their position). With the recent repositioning of 3 highly-trained Russian units to this part of the front from elsewhere, it’s easy to see how they can be surrounded – cut off from supplies and overwhelmed.
Now let’s look at the height map from the last known troop movements. Bearing in mind that the advancing troops are mostly on foot, they’ll be fighting up-hill to the west and through a valley to the east. Common sense alone should tell anyone that this is not going to end well. Troops on higher ground have the advantage of increased sight as well as superior mobility and strength.
More Meat For the Meat Grinder
This would be a comedy if thousands of mostly innocent people weren’t dying with no diplomatic resolution in sight. In fact, so many of Ukraine’s soldiers have died or been taken out of commission that the long-standing culture of corruption is suddenly a problem for Zelenskyy’s government. 112 instances of forged medical exemption documents prompted the firing of ALL senior regional military recruiters in early August.
On the 4th of September, VisitUkraine.today reported in their article Extradition of Ukrainians from abroad: who can be returned to the homeland and how?
The other day, the head of the Servant of the People faction, David Arakhamia, said that Ukrainian law enforcement officers could request the extradition of people who went abroad on forged documents from the Military Medical Commission (MMC) to almost any country in the world, except russia.
This information was later confirmed by Fedir Venislavsky, a member of the parliamentary committee on national security, defense and intelligence, the President’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada.
According to him, it is legally possible to use the extradition mechanism to return to Ukraine men who went abroad with purchased certificates from the Military Intelligence Service.
“Such a mechanism is possible when a person bought a certificate when he illegally crossed the state border on the basis of false documents. This is a question for law enforcement agencies, how they will quickly register proceedings and notify of suspicion,” he said.
I find it hard to believe that the Zelenskyy government and its wide-reaching intelligence network had no idea that corruption was occuring on this scale, and given that voluntary recruitment has been enough to satisfy the military’s needs over the past year, I suspect that they allowed that status quo to remain, thinking the war would have ended well before now. It appears the authorities are scraping the bottom of the barrel, especially since recalling these men from abroad will require individual extradition orders to be sent from Ukraine and individual extradition hearings to be held in the receiving country. The issue is further complicated by the fact there is no way of actually knowing where an individual would have settled after, for example, fleeing across the Polish border and leaving into the EU; and how will they be validating these men’s exemption papers, exactly? Will they all be brought back to Ukraine to undergo a fitness check?
Another concern is the third-level education exemption. Currently students studying abroad are exempt, but not those studying at home. Are young men who, under normal circumstances, would be studying abroad but are now simply displaced in another country, subject to being treated like criminals and dragged back into the country? What about the potentially tens-of-thousands of young boys who fled who will soon turn 18? According to their last census, over 200,000 17-yr old boys will turn 18 next year. Many of them were taken out of the country by their families knowing that day was coming.
There was a country in Europe in the 1940s that started training their young people for combat in preparation for the tide of the war turning against them. I hope this current conflict ends before things come to that extreme.