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POLITICS

Donbas standoff: The war in Ukraine so far

In June, The Insider delivered a comprehensive analysis of the ongoing war in Ukraine, delving into the reasons behind the stalling of the much-anticipated “counteroffensive.” Now, as we reflect on the past six months, it becomes evident that the military dynamics between the opposing forces has only seen marginal shifts. Ukraine, despite its efforts, has struggled to make significant territorial gains. On the flip side, the Russian military's desperate attempts to reclaim the initiative have resulted in staggering losses in both personnel and equipment. The prevailing narrative suggests that the conflict has firmly transitioned into the stage of a “war of attrition.” Both sides grapple with the challenge of addressing an acute shortage of ammunition. While North Korea has already extended its support to Russia, Ukraine's Western allies find themselves on the cusp of a critical juncture. They are yet to scale up the production of munitions — a concern lingering since the end of the Cold War.

RU

Content
  • AFU counteroffensive: what went wrong?

  • Russian “counter-counteroffensive”: “they press forward like zombies”

  • AFU's Left-Bank bridgehead: Anzio Kherson-style

  • The Zaluzhny deadlock

  • What comes next?

AFU counteroffensive: what went wrong?

At the outset of 2023, both Ukraine and the West pinned high hopes on the AFU counteroffensive, aimed at liberating territories that remained occupied after the 2022 campaign. Substantial resources were allocated for the operation, including the deployment of Western tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, and several Ukrainian brigades underwent training in NATO countries. The strategy envisioned powerful mechanized force strikes, supported by artillery fire, to breach Russian defenses and annihilate enemy forces—an approach reminiscent of the one successfully employed by the international coalition against the well-armed Iraqi army during the Gulf War.

The Insider initially assessed the counteroffensive in June. Now, six months later, it has become definitively clear that the desired outcomes have not materialized. Despite significant losses on both sides, the AFU has failed to liberate even a single major population center or penetrate the defense to reach operational depths. The operation deviated from the plan right from the start—on the Zaporizhzhia front, the AFU aimed to capture the village of Robotyne on the first day of the offensive. However, this was only achieved at the end of August, nearly two months later.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

The AFU counteroffensive deviated from the plan right from the start

At the same time, the Russians failed to crush the advancing AFU formation—attacks on the Robotyne bulge persist to this day, a fact acknowledged even in pro-Russian Telegram channels. According to OSINT analyst Naalsio's calculations, Ukrainian forces on this front are even losing slightly less equipment than the Russian Armed Forces—although convention suggests that the losses on the attacking side should exceed those of the defenders at a ratio of 3:1.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

Destroyed Ukrainian tank near the village of Robotyne, August 25, 2023
Destroyed Ukrainian tank near the village of Robotyne, August 25, 2023
Viacheslav Ratynskyi / Reuters

In any case, Russian defense was not broken, and the defeat of Russian forces did not occur. Furthermore, the AFU ceased their advance in certain areas, redirecting brigades of marine infantry to the Kherson region. To the south and north of Bakhmut, the Russians are attempting to regain the initiative and reclaim positions lost during the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Why did this happen? Firstly, the Russian command prepared for the Ukrainian counteroffensive by adapting to modern warfare realities—thousands of kilometers of defensive lines were constructed (reaching up to 30 km in depth), and continuous minefields were established with a higher density than required by Soviet regulations—up to 5 mines per square meter. The demining equipment provided to Ukraine proved insufficient for such dense minefields.

Additionally, the AFU did not receive long-range ATACMS missiles and F-16 fighters by the start of the counteroffensive. The absence of effective air support and limited capabilities for strikes beyond 60 km (the range of HIMARS MLRS) hindered the ability to conduct a full-scale combined-arms battle, involving the coordinated efforts of all branches of the military.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

The absence of air support and limited capabilities for long-range strikes hindered the AFU's ability to conduct a full-scale combined-arms battle

The training of Ukrainian soldiers in the West, while providing invaluable tactical skills, was not adapted to the specifics of the Russian-Ukrainian war. According to a report from the Institute for Modern Warfare at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. made the same mistake as in Afghanistan and Iraq, attempting to teach partners to “fight like Americans.” The training courses emphasized maneuvers, neglecting the use of drones, a familiar tool to many Ukrainian military personnel, which was not incorporated into the curriculum. German instructors advised Ukrainian tank crews to “simply go around” minefields—something that, for the reasons described above, proved impossible.

Additionally, Western experts highlight the decision of the Ukrainian command to entrust the containment of the Russian winter counteroffensive to experienced units while simultaneously preparing new units intended to be the main force of the counteroffensive. The recently formed units did not have the time to familiarize themselves with new equipment and coordinate at the brigade level. This led to significant tactical errors at the beginning of the counteroffensive and an inability to conduct coordinated combined-arms warfare at a level beyond the battalion. As a result, instead of a powerful mechanized strike, the offensive turned into tactical actions by platoon and company-sized groups, which continue to this day.

Russian “counter-counteroffensive”: “they press forward like zombies”

After several months of Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Russian military and political leadership had ample reasons for optimism—especially considering Putin's serious pronouncements of astronomical numbers of destroyed enemy armored vehicles and his belief in a loss ratio of 8:1. Against the backdrop of news about a manifold increase in arms and ammunition production, rapid rearmament of the army, and the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of volunteers into contracted positions, remaining in a purely defensive posture would have been odd. Therefore, the Russian Armed Forces transitioned to the offensive themselves.

Initially, this occurred on the Kupyansk front in the eastern part of the Kharkiv region, liberated by the AFU in the fall of 2022. Initially, the Russians managed to seize three (small) villages and capture a Swedish CV90 —the first sample of Western heavy equipment brought to the rear and demonstrated to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

However, due to Ukrainian “stabilization measures,” the occupied positions had to be abandoned. After that, the frontline in this area did not change significantly, and Russian propagandists had to invent successes. Even the hasty deployment of the recently formed 25th Combined Arms Army to the combat zone, which hadn't completed its combat readiness exercises, failed to alter the situation.

Despite months of combat, the Russians have been unable to approach Kupyansk and the Oskol River. This is despite Ukraine facing a shortage of personnel and tactical challenges for the AFU in this direction, as described by one Ukrainian military source, the author of the Telegram channel Mannerheims son. When discussing the strengths of the Russian Armed Forces, he highlighted well-coordinated interactions among assault groups, aerial reconnaissance, and drone drops. Regarding the Russian infantry's advance, he described it as follows:

“To walk two kilometers on foot through a wooded stretch, only to encounter a machine gun nest and meet one's fate in a mere two seconds—that encapsulates the stark reality of the Russian storm Z trooper. The crucial factor lies in the relentless barrage of cassettes, shells, and airborne mines aimed to kill him. Urgently, he presses forward, wishing to reach the trench at last and jump into it.”

Such suicidal attacks are frequently mentioned in descriptions of the Russian “counter-counteroffensive.” Svyatoslav Golikov, a serviceman (alongside war correspondents Filatov and Zhivov), criticized the command for unprepared assaults south of Bakhmut aimed at reclaiming recently liberated areas such as Andriivka and Klishchiivka:

“Esteemed responsible comrades! Finally, rein in these insatiable officers that continue to kill people in poorly thought-out and poorly supported counterattacks! Our defense may collapse! Because there will be no one left to hold it! We are running out of people!”

Golikov also noted the advantage provided by the US-supplied cassette ammunition for artillery, which allows the AFU to “effectively suppress our defensive positions, providing a leap for their assault groups inside the armored vehicles, mowing down our attacking assault groups and approaching infantry reserves, preventing the evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield, and finishing them off.”

According to Golikov, the situation near Bakhmut led to the resignation of the commander of the troops in the corresponding group, Andrey Sychev. Since then, the Russians have managed to stabilize the front and even make progress south and north of the city. However, this has not changed the overall tactics of Russian attacks.

Arguably, the main event of this autumn was the Russian offensive operation near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region. This city, north of Donetsk, has been on the front line and subjected to attacks and shelling for eight years of the conflict in Donbas. Over the past eighteen months since the start of the invasion, Russian forces have partially surrounded Avdiivka from the southwest and northeast. Successes were achieved at the cost of heavy losses during the Russian winter offensive in 2022-2023. After six months of relative calm on this front, the Russian command apparently decided to make Avdiivka the focal point of their efforts.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

Mural on the wall of a house in Avdiivka, November 8, 2023
Mural on the wall of a house in Avdiivka, November 8, 2023
Serhii Nuzhnenko / Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty via Reuters

The initial plan of the operation, it seems, was to surround Avdiivka with converging strikes from the southwest and northeast, cut off the only paved road supplying the city, or at least bring it under fire control, and force the garrison to retreat along dirt roads or fight under disrupted logistics conditions. A similar approach was attempted by the Wagner PMC near Bakhmut. Back then, cutting off the road to Chasiv Yar wasn't achieved, but the AFU regularly lost equipment on it due to artillery and anti-tank missile fire.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

The Russian offensive unfolded as if by a military playbook, marked by an extensive artillery barrage that targeted urban areas not only with conventional artillery fire but also precision-guided aerial bombs. After prolonged shelling, tank columns and infantry fighting vehicles rolled into action. By the close of the initial day, the Z-channel Military Informer acknowledged that “completing the entire operation in one day, as some analysts had speculated, appears unattainable.” Their subsequent prognosis painted a sobering picture of “days filled with strenuous and repetitive combat,” a prophecy that would soon be substantiated. Drawing parallels with the AFU's offensive in Zaporizhzhia, the channel expressed dissatisfaction with the intricate defensive structures and minefields, compelling Russian forces to navigate in tight columns.

As the hours of the offensive unfolded, the internet became a repository of photos and videos capturing Russian military hardware succumbing to mines and to the onslaught of Ukrainian artillery, anti-tank guided missiles, and FPV drones . This spectacle prompted the moniker “Muradovshchina” for the Russian command's actions, paying homage to Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, the architect of the ill-fated Russian offensive on Vuhledar in the winter of 2022-2023. The Vuhledar offensive resulted in significant losses for the Russians—130 vehicles, including 36 tanks—but without making significant inroads.

However, the focus swiftly shifted to Avdiivka, where Russian losses of equipment outpaced previous engagements. By November 24, analyst Naalsio's calculations revealed a staggering toll: at least 265 pieces of Russian equipment, comprising 84 tanks and 153 armored combat vehicles, lost in the area. In stark contrast, the AFU reported a mere 20 confirmed losses. This level of attrition within the span of a month and a half near Avdiivka rivaled the Ukrainian losses during nearly six months of the counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia direction—92 tanks and 187 ACVs , according to Naalsio's data.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

Russian losses within the span of a month and a half near Avdiivka rival the Ukrainian losses during nearly six months of the counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia direction

Nonetheless, Russian forces persist in their attempts to seize Avdiivka. Similar to the situation in Bakhmut, the operational plan might have been altered, shifting from encirclement to a push strategy. Instead of flanking movements, Russian forces are advancing within the urban setting, clearing the industrial zone south of the city. Both sides continue to reinforce this area.

The former separatist Pyatnashka (15th) brigade, recently returned from rehabilitation, has appeared near Avdiivka. On the Ukrainian side, the 47th Mechanized Brigade, also rehabilitated after engagements in Zaporizhzhia, is actively involved in this direction. The brigade, equipped with Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Leopard 2 tanks, effectively demonstrates its capabilities in active defense, leveraging high reverse movement speeds.

While praising their combat vehicles, members of the 47th Brigade express concerns about the relentless nature of Russian attacks, characterized as zombie-like, attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses. They lament their own significant losses and criticize Soviet-style thinking among commanders, who often deploy soldiers in poorly planned counterattacks. Additionally, the Russians have shifted tactics, moving away from tank columns to small infantry groups.

The observation that Russian soldiers “press forward like zombies” against Ukrainian defenses might be explained, in part, by an informal punishment system on the front lines. Soldiers refusing to engage in combat are sent to “basements” — illegal prisons where they undergo torture — or are transferred to the Storm Z convict units, which are evolving into an improvised penal battalion.

In overall assessment, the Russian “counter-counteroffensive” has yet to achieve strategic objectives, whether the defeat of the AFU or full control over the Donetsk region. However, it has demonstrated the ability to prepare sufficient reserves, attacking on multiple fronts despite exhaustion in certain units during the repulsion of the Ukrainian offensive. On the other hand, the utilization of these reserves indicates that the Russians have not learned any lessons from recent setbacks experienced by the AFU or their own failure in the winter offensive.

AFU's Left-Bank bridgehead: Anzio Kherson-style

Following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the right bank of the Kherson region and the liberation of Kherson by Ukrainian troops, the frontlines stabilized along the Dnieper River. Departing Russians detonated all bridges behind them, leaving the command of the Russian group of forces “Dnieper,” which held the defense on the left bank of the river, feeling relatively secure. Ukrainians clearly lacked the capability to cross the full-flowing Dnieper with substantial forces, let alone establish a foothold under the barrage of Russian artillery and aviation.

However, three factors favored the AFU in this direction. Firstly, the right bank of the Dnieper is significantly higher than the left bank almost throughout, providing an advantage in observation and artillery range. Secondly, in the Kherson area and upstream, there are numerous practically uninhabited islands with narrow channels, facilitating movement on water. Thirdly, due to the secondary nature of this direction, the “Dnieper” group began to act as a reserve donor with the onset of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, with the reassignment of units from the 7th Airborne Assault Division to the Robotyne area being the most noticeable.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

The Ukrainian forces' activity on the Dnieper islands began as early as February 2023 when Ukrainian soldiers planted the national flag on Potemkin Island near Kherson. Initially, the Russian command did not attach much significance to the skirmishes in the Dnieper delta, though they proved to be so challenging that Russian servicemen now consider deployment “to the islands” a threat.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

Russian servicemen are now threatened with deployment “to the islands”

The situation saw little change even after the landing of small Ukrainian groups on the left bank in late June, formally on another island adjacent to it, near the destroyed Antonov Bridge. Intense battles unfolded in this area for many weeks—although the “governor” of the Kherson region, appointed by Russia, Vladimir Saldo, had purportedly “cleared“ the territory on July 1.

Ukrainian artillery and drones complicated the Russian approach to the bridge along the only road, while Ukrainian soldiers took cover from shelling under the bridge and in the houses of the nearby dacha settlement. The bridgehead couldn't be eliminated, even with an Iskander missile strike, which, according to Z-channel Two Majors, was “two weeks in the making” and eventually had to be repeated at the end of October.

Eventually, the Russian command seemingly abandoned attempts to push the Ukrainian forces into the Dnieper around the bridge, likely judging that this relatively limited bridgehead wasn't worth the significant losses of assault infantry from the right bank's fire. Over the next months, the Ukrainian forces troubled the Russian defense line with small landings and sabotage operations. The most notable of these occurred in early August when Major Tomov, commander of the 1822nd Battalion, and several of his unit's servicemen were captured.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

Ukrainian military personnel on the banks of the Dnieper River, October 2023
Ukrainian military personnel on the banks of the Dnieper River, October 2023
Photograph by Alex Babenko / Associated Press

The AFU's largest landing operation to date occurred in mid-October upstream of the Antonov Bridge, near the settlement of Krynky. According to reports from war correspondent and military volunteer Alexey Zhivov, this was the “area of responsibility for several 'fresh' general-purpose units,” likely implying a shortage of combat experience. The lack of firepower was also evident, as initially, the Russians repelled the airborne assault with makeshift mortars. Despite these challenges, the AFU managed to establish a foothold in Krynky and began advancing toward the nearest road to complicate Russian logistics in the area and pose a threat to neighboring settlements, Poyma and Peschanivka.

The urgency of the situation became apparent when the Russian command hastily appointed Lieutenant General Mikhail Teplinsky as the commander of the troops in the “Dnieper” grouping. At that time, Teplinsky held the position of deputy commander of the Joint Forces Operation in Ukraine. He is considered, at least among war correspondents, the most knowledgeable and capable Russian general.

Teplinsky seemingly took on the role of a “firefighter,” reminiscent of World War II tactics where commanders like Georgy Zhukov or Walter Model were sent to lead threatened fronts in the hope of rectifying the situation. While welcoming Teplinsky with a strike on the “Dnieper” grouping's headquarters, the AFU- failed to harm the general, who remained intact unlike some of his deputies.

As of the time of writing, the battles on this bridgehead continue. According to Z-channels, the Russian grouping which purports to be numerically superior struggles to defeat two enemy platoons holding a 10 km strip. Andrey Morozov, mocking the analytics whom he dubs “red arrow dealers”, attributes this to a “barrage of enemy fire of all types” from the right bank. While Shoigu speaks of colossal Ukrainian losses and a failure of their airborne operation, Russian fighters talk about numerous problems, assessing the situation as “all messed up” and “this is a damn shame.”

On the other hand, the AFU also face challenges in significantly expanding the bridgeheads on the left bank. The situation resembles, in miniature, the Allies' landing at Anzio behind the German defense line in Italy. Germans struggled for months to push the landed forces back into the sea, and the Allied forces found it hard to break the defense around the bridgehead and reach Rome and the supply routes of the German “Gustav Line.” Nevertheless, the Battle of Anzio forced the German command to deploy all reserves, leading to the inability to hold the main defensive line. If the Ukrainian landing pursues a similar objective, it is already bearing fruit, evidenced by the redeployment of the 810th Marine Brigade and two regiments of the 104th Airborne Division to Krynky.

The Zaluzhny deadlock

All the operations described above share the commonality that the attacking side has been unable to capture significant territory or defeat the defending forces. This led not only analysts but even US officials to discuss a deadlock. While the White House denied the existence of a deadlock, the discussion took a sharp turn after an interview with the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhny, and an article written by him, along with an expanded version of the latter, were published in The Economist.

In the interview, the Ukrainian military leader compares the situation on the front to World War I, when technological advancements also led to a deadlock on the front lines. If a century ago, the widespread use of machine guns and magazine rifles dramatically increased the firepower of entrenched infantry, now, according to Zaluzhny, the development of aerial reconnaissance, communication means, and precision firepower is the cause.

This allows both sides to detect and promptly destroy large concentrations of enemy armored vehicles and infantry even before they launch an attack and especially on the battlefield. This is confirmed by Polish military analyst Konrad Muzyka, who, during a trip to Ukraine, observed how mortar fire was opened on the attacking Russian group within 30 seconds of detection, and four minutes later, it was shelled with artillery cluster shells. According to Muzyka, a mirrored situation arises during Ukrainian attacks.

According to Zaluzhny, a war of attrition has begun in Ukraine. This term has gained a modern meaning in the works of German military historian Hans Delbrück and Soviet military theorist Alexander Svechin. These authors divide military strategy into “annihilation,” which is a quick and decisive defeat of the enemy's forces, and “attrition,” which is the systematic infliction of sufficient military and economic losses on the enemy to prevent them from continuing the war.

In the strategy of annihilation, the pivotal roles hinge on the operational finesse of commanders and the caliber of training for soldiers and officers. Conversely, in a war of attrition, the spotlight shifts to human resources and the economic prowess of the involved parties. Hence, as per Zaluzhny's perspective, a war of attrition doesn't favor Ukraine, given that Russia significantly outmatches it in these crucial metrics.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

A war of attrition doesn't favor Ukraine, given that Russia significantly outmatches it in these crucial metrics

General Zaluzhny envisions a way out of the current situation through a new technological revolution on the battlefield. Specifically, he mentions the widespread use of drones to overload the enemy's air defense and counter-battery capabilities, the development of electronic warfare systems to counter Russian drones, the implementation of new demining technologies, the creation of a unified battlefield management information system, the disruption of the enemy's logistics using long-range missiles, including those of Ukrainian origin, and the active preparation of reserves with the involvement of Western instructors. All of these measures are intended to enable the AFU to gain superiority over the adversary and transition the war from a positional phase, hazardous in the long term, to a maneuverable one—shifting from mutual “attrition” to the “annihilation” of Russian forces.

What comes next?

It is easy to notice that the measures proposed by Zaluzhny are rather asymmetrical. This is not only due to the popular expression in Ukraine that a “small Soviet army will never defeat a large Soviet army.” Another crucial factor in the further course of the war will be the depletion of heavy equipment and ammunition reserves in NATO countries that they could provide to Ukraine without risking their own security. The only country in the bloc that still has extensive reserves of armaments is the United States. However, allocating funds for further assistance to Ukraine faced resistance from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of production capacity in the NATO countries' military-industrial complex, which has “atrophied” since the end of the Cold War. The most telling example is the failure of the European Union's program to supply a million artillery shells to Ukraine: in the first six months, only 300,000 were delivered. At the same time, as the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis noted, North Korea supplied Russia with over a million shells. Moreover, according to Zelensky, the deliveries of ammunition to Ukraine have decreased due to the needs of Israel, which requested 57,000 shells after the escalation of the conflict with Hamas.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

The West is struggling with the delivery of promised ammunition to Ukraine

Analysts Rob Lee and Michael Kofman see a temporary solution to the situation in the ramping up of FPV drone production and the ammunition for them. They believe it will be easier for NATO countries to assist Ukraine with this in 2024 than to quickly increase the production of shells (the U.S. plans to reach 100,000 shells per month only in 2025). Konrad Muzyka agrees with them, but he is confident that 2024 will be a challenging year for Ukraine in terms of supply shortages. He anticipates that the AFU will have to shift to defense and restore the combat readiness of units and formations that participated in the battles in 2023.

It's worth recalling that in the summer of 2022 Ukraine already faced a situation where the Russians had overwhelming artillery superiority. Back then, the Russian Armed Forces were firing up to 60,000 shells per day, while the AFU were firing ten times less. During that campaign, the Russians managed to take several major population centers (Popasna, Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk), but they couldn't fully exploit their advantage and defeat the Ukrainian forces. The situation changed, in part, due to HIMARS missile strikes on Russian depots. However, since then, the Russians have dispersed their logistics and moved key hubs out of the 60 km strike zone. This is why Zaluzhny emphasizes the importance of long-range missiles to disrupt Russian supplies.

Another significant factor could be the impact of Russian long-range missiles, repeating the “energy terror” campaign of the winter of 2022-2023. It is believed that Ukrainian air defense assets and energy infrastructure are better prepared for new attacks. Still, the Russians have learned from the previous campaign and have accumulated substantial reserves of missiles. For more details, see The Insider's article.

OSINT stands for Open Source Intelligence, which refers to intelligence gathering from publicly available sources of information.

ATACMS refers to the family of operational-tactical missiles MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. These missiles belong to the same category of precision-guided munitions as the Russian «Iskander» or «Tochka-U» systems. The range of individual modifications can reach 300 km, with the warhead weight ranging from 227 kg to 560 kg. The HIMARS and M270 MLRS systems, already transferred to the AFU, serve as launch platforms for these missiles.

MLRS – multiple-launch rocket system.

CV9040 is a modification of the Swedish infantry fighting vehicle Stridsfordon 90. Sweden announced the transfer of over 50 units of CV9040C to the AFU.

Storm Z refers to Russian units specifically designed for storming fortified enemy positions. Initially, they recruited prison inmates after the Ministry of Defense took over this responsibility from the Wagner PMC. Over time, according to some reports, Storm Z began to include regular servicemen who had, in one way or another, broken the law (for example, by committing crimes or refusing to participate in attacks).

FPV drones, short for First Person View drones, are unmanned aerial vehicles operated by an operator who has a direct, real-time view from the drone's perspective. The advantage of such systems lies in the operator's clear visibility of the drone's flight path, often utilized in scenarios where the drone is employed as a kamikaze vehicle. This allows operators to lead drones into enclosures and target specific vulnerable components of military hardware.

ACV – armored combat vehicle.

«Andrei Morozov,» also known as «Murz,» is a well-known war blogger and a serviceman in the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. He gained prominence as a «patriotic» activist and LiveJournal blogger in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he joined the «Donbas militia» on his second attempt. He is now known for his pessimistic assessments of the progress of the so-called «Special Military Operation» (SMO).

Electronic Warfare is a form of military technical activity associated with the suppression of radio-electronic means and components of the enemy's command, control, communication, and reconnaissance systems. It also involves the protection of one's own similar systems.

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