My bewilderment at Russian tactics has been a running theme throughout these updates. Despite building an extensive network of seemingly effective fortifications, Russian forces insist in fighting in front of those fortifications, out in the open—where they are easier to kill.
And it’s happening again.
After two months of grinding attritional warfare and battlefield shaping, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has picked up steam in the last week, penetrating deeper into Russian-occupied territory, and even reaching the first major Russian defensive lines.
Among those gains was the village of Staromaiorske, on the Staromlynivka/Mariupol axis. This is a dangerous advance for the Russians, as they have only a single major defensive line. If Ukraine breaches it, there’s lots of potential havoc it can create.
Russia’s best bet is to hole up in those trenches and punish any Ukrainian advance. Indeed, Ukrainian forces are at their most exposed when they have to tread carefully through minefields, bridge anti-tank ditches, cross more minefields, push aside anti-tank barriers, and then occupy trenches full of infantry.
Russia should be well aware of this, given its costly efforts to gain territory against entrenched Ukrainian positions. All Russia has to do now is sit back and let Ukraine crash against its own. It would be a great opportunity for payback.
Here’s what I wrote Friday:
If Ukraine is lucky, Russia will continue its human-wave charges against newly held Ukrainian positions, further thinning the Russian herd out in the open. Sure, it means that further progress might be delayed a week or three, but that would be a delay everyone would be happy to tolerate
Well, Ukraine got lucky.
This is a pro-Russian account, but it has a track record of accuracy. The pro-Putin crowd is happy about this. They think it’s good to rush out in the open to recapture lost territory, when it’s very much in Ukraine’s best interest to retreat, lay down a wall of (cluster) artillery, and further thin the Russian herd before the next advance.
Russia is very wedded to this tactic. In Friday’s Ukraine Update, I featured a Russian officer at the front who explained why Ukraine was winning. His rant was illuminating in various ways, but this part particularly stuck out to me:
So. If you spend all your reserves and resources on the defense of the “foreground”, and do it reasonably, because in the foreground you have places that are convenient to defend, exchanging people and equipment at the most favorable rate, then the enemy’s access to the main line of defense is very very bad
For some reason, they think reaching the main defensive line is bad, and that defending in the “foreground”—that is, in front of that line—is “convenient.” Please make it make sense! We’re not talking one or two inept Russian commanders giving bad orders (or attacking out of fear of reporting failures back to Putin); no, this is deeply entrenched Russian doctrine.
In the comments to that post, community member Patrick Walsh noted that this is nothing new for the Russians.
It’s largely forgotten now — but the USSR also did that at the Battle of Kursk— they had layers of defenses set up, they were making the Nazis pay dearly for every meter gained… and then halfway through the battle, the Soviets suddenly came charging out of their prepared defenses with hundreds of tanks… and that part of the Battle of Kurk, the largest tank on tank battle in history, was an utter fiasco for the Soviets- they got absolutely mauled- it was a gallant effort at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory- but the Soviets won anyway, because the German offensive was pretty much doomed to run out of steam any way.
The thing is, the way the Soviets and now Russians tell it in their popular history, was that mass charge of T-34s against the German Panzers was the glorious highlight- that is WHEN they turned the tide and won the battle! That myth version of the battle is completely untrue- that ill-conceived charge/counterattack- almost cost them a battle they were already winning.
Anyway, the idea that you don’t stay in your fixed defenses when attacked, you charge out to counterattack immediately- seems to be something that many Russian officers are fixated on.
Community member RO37 added the Russian imperative is to always be on the offensive:
Russian tactics in the Russo-Ukrainian War have consistently held to 100 year old [principles developed by the early Red Army’s greatest theorist and WW1 tactician, Alexei Brusilov]. The near blind adherence for Russian commanders to feel a need to maintain an offensive somewhere somewhat comports with Brusilov’s ideas of the need to dictate tempo and intiative… although i’d argue Brusilov would be aghast at how his ideas of offensive tempo weren’t meant to abandon the idea of the value of defensive actions.
Brusilov emphasized how friendly trench positions can serve to secure rearward security of limited counterattacks to disrupt enemy offensive actions—basically, if a unit charges forth out of a fortified line, they can launch limited attacks without needing to worry about being encircled. And can be deeply disruptive to enemy offensive actions aimed at a fortified line.
I don’t think he meant never fight on a trench, but the idea of aggressive defensive actions aimed at disrupting enemy advances towards a defensive line broadly comports with traditional Soviet doctrine.
RO37 makes a great point—the notion of harassing an approaching enemy is as old as time itself. You want to make life as miserable as possible for any attacking force, and guerrilla-style attacks are part of that, as are larger-scale raids. But those are generally fight-and-run attacks. Inflict damage and boom! You’re gone. Lather, rinse, repeat, sapping the enemy’s supplies, manpower, and morale.
But of course, that’s not what’s happening here. Yes, Russia is trying to disrupt the Ukrainian advance, but it’s trying to do so by holding territory. That’s not disrupting, that’s stopping. And again, it’s much easier to stop an advancing enemy from entrenched positions.
Another line from that Russian officer caught some people’s attention:
The answer to the question “How did it happen that the enemy has such a numerical superiority over us, and in some places also a qualitative one?” lies in the winter and spring “meat assaults”, which gobbled up the lion’s share of the people mobilized in the fall.
Here we see both admission that Russia threw away its mobilized troops in “meat assaults”—something their propagandists accuse Ukraine of doing, as well as a lack of regret about that loss of life. All those lives were just “gobbled up.” Oh well. That sucks. Too bad they’re not around to throw into new meat assaults in front of these great trenches.
I mean, look at how they treat their own:
What a sick society.
For all of Russia’s talk about the “Global South” and the decaying morality of the West, immigrants from those Global South countries aren’t risking their lives to get into Russia (or China, for that matter). They’re trying to get to the West—Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Speaking of the Global South, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is hosting leaders of nearly two dozen African nations, trying to expand his country’s influence in that colonialism-scarred continent.
Thing is, he can’t help but lie—about everything.
Russia has all the conditions for peace it needs; Putin can send the order to withdraw all forces from Ukrainian territory anytime he wants.
And though he offered free grain to six friendly African nations (nothing is free), his charm offensive is coming up short, according to Reuters.
African leaders pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to move ahead with their plan to end the Ukraine conflict and to renew a deal crucial to Africa on the safe wartime export of Ukrainian grain, which Moscow tore up last week.
While not directly critical of Russia, their interventions on the second day of a summit were more concerted and forceful than those that African countries have voiced until now.
They served as reminders of the depth of African concern at the consequences of the war, especially rising food prices.
“This war must end. And it can only end on the basis of justice and reason,” African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat told Putin and African leaders in St Petersburg.
“The disruptions of energy and grain supplies must end immediately. The grain deal must be extended for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, Africans in particular.”
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi humiliated Putin by showing up late for their meeting.
This is fun.
(NVO refers to “Special Military Operation,” which I guess is still a thing, since Putin won’t call this a war.)
This Russian literally recorded his own death on his phone: