On July 1st of this year - just before an imminent Ukie attack - I made a short post entitled Novorussia - Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and settle for anything in the middle in which I was trying to prepare my readers for the possible consequences of a massive Ukrainian assault.
Разбор полетов - "after action report"
Looking back, I would say that what actually took place was neither the best, nor the worst, option, but an "in the middle" kind of outcome: initially, the Ukies almost severed Donetsk from Luganks, but they never had the capability to really enter these cities and execute urban offensive operations. The junta forces did penetrated deeply in Novorussian territory, but they were soon surrounded and the famous "cauldrons" began to form. The biggest loss for the Novorussians was the loss of Slaviansk and Kramotorsk which Strelkov attempted to hold as long as possible apparently in the hope of a Russian military intervention, even though he always knew that Slaviansk was indefensible. When it became clear that the Russians would not come, Strelkov did the right thing and pulled his forces out of Slaviansk and into Donetsk.
All in all, the Novorussian Armed Forces (NAF) proved to be a force far superior to the Junta Repression Forces (JRF) which suffered from the following problems:
- Criminally incompetent top commanders in Kiev and at the operational headquarters.
- Terrible logistics
- Poor morale
- Poor training
- Poor coordination
- A hostile local population
- An overwhelming advantage in firepower
- An overwhelming advantage in armor
- An overwhelming advantage in numbers
- A monopoly on heavy weapons
- A total control of the skies
- The individual courage and resilience of the soldiers of the regular and, especially, special army units
The weak points of the NAF were:
- A acute lack of firepower
- A acute lack of armor
- A acute lack of men (especially specialists)
- The total absence of heavy weapons
- The absence of a true central command
- The extremely high morale of the all the fighting men and woman
- Very competent commanders and experienced officers
- Very strong tactical skills
- An excellent knowledge and use of the terrain
- Excellent intelligence (no doubt with Russian GRU help)
- Extremely effective air-defenses (which imposed a no-fly zone on the Ukies)
- Strong support from the local population
- A remarkable network of highly skilled technicians capable of repairing, cannibalizing and even rebuilding weapons with old, damaged and abandoned Ukie hardware
What if the Junta attacks again?
Bu now - Sunday morning - there is a quasi-consensus that the Junta is about to launch yet another massive offensive. Assuming that this is true - and I personally think this is very likely - what are we likely to see? Furthermore, since the same causes tend to produce the same effects, the key question is this: what have the Ukies learned from their defeat this summer and what could they do differently this time around?
Alas, I don't have access to any first hand information about how the Junta has been preparing itself for the new assault. Here is what I have found out through the Russian and Ukrainian media:
Junta-controlled military factories have been working night and day to produce a large number of tanks, APCs, IFVs and artillery pieces. The Ukrainians have been training their SU-25 and Mi-24 pilots. New volunteer units have been created and regular army units have been re-organized. The Ukies have built defensive lines along key sectors of the front (such apparently "defensive" preparations are actually crucial for any offensive plans since a highly prepared defensive sector can be held by a numerically smaller forces while preventing an counter-attack or envelopment from the other side). We have to assume that more men have been mobilized and trained and that the next Ukie assault will again pit a very large Ukrainian force against a much smaller Novorussian one. But will that be enough for the Ukies to prevail?
I don't think so.
What the Ukies are preparing is rather obvious. They will pick several key axes of attack along which they will unleash a massive artillery attack. This fire preparation will serve to prepare for a push by Ukrainian armored units (this time around we can expect the Ukrainian infantry to properly defend their tanks and not the other way around). The Ukrainians will not push deep into Donetsk or Lugansk, but rather they will try to, again, cut-off and surround Donetsk in a pincer attack and then negotiate some kind of quasi-surrender by the Novorussians. At most, they will try to enter a few important suburbs. I don't expect much action around Luganks - Donetsk is far more exposed.
Now, if I am correct and this is what happens, then please understand and remember this: the correct Novorussian response to this plan is to begin by retreating. It makes no sense whatsoever for the Novorussians to sit and fight from positions which are densely covered by Ukrainian artillery strikes. During the first Ukrainian attack I was dismayed to see how many people clearly did not understand the importance retreats in warfare. The "hurray-patriots" in particular were adamant that the initial Novorussian retreat was a clear sign that, as always, "Putin had betrayed Novorussia" (when the NAF went on a long and brilliant counter-offensive, these "hurray-patriots" fell silent for a while until the moment when Moscow stopped the NAF from seizing Mariupol, at which point they resumed chanting their mantra). The fact is that retreating against a superior forces is the logical thing to do, especially if you have had the time to prepare for a two, possibly, three echelon defense. While I do not know that for a fact, this is what I expect the Novorussians have been doing during all the length of the ceasefire: preparing a well-concealed and layered defense.
My hope and expectation is that once the JRF attacks the NAF will, again, carefully retreat, pull the JFR in, and then being to gradually degrade the attacking force. I particular hope that the Russians have finally send some much needed guided anti-tank weapons through the voentorg.
Second, the lack of political unity in Novorussia is not as big a military problem as it is a political one. Most Novorussian commanders are clearly very gifted and at least as competent as Strelkov. Folks like Bezler, Kononov, Zakharchenko, Mozgovoi, Khodakovskii, Motorola, Givi and many others do not need to be told what to do to do the right thing in their area of responsibility. The weaker Cossack units have now apparently been reassigned to the Russian-Novorussian border and only combat proven units are facing the Ukie side.
I don't think that the Ukie air force will be of much use, if anything the Novorussian air defense probably got even better. Mostly, I fear their long range artillery and their sheer numbers. But even if we look at the worst case scenario (successful Ukie attack cutting off Donetsk) I don't think that the the JRF will prevail. There is still no doubt in my mind whatsoever that if Novorussia is really threatened then Russia will intervene, overtly if needed. From what all sources are reporting, the voentorg is working at full capacity and weapons are flowing in in very large numbers including sophisticated ones. I think that Putin's plan is to try to keep the Nazis out of Novorussia only by means of voentorg. But should that not be enough, I am confident that Russia will overtly move in. There is no way that Russia can accept the fall of Novorussia to the Nazis.
The good news is that the Ukies most definitely don't have what it takes for a long, sustained effort. They will risk it all on one powerful push. If that push fails, we will see a flurry of US/EU/OSCE "diplomacy" to save the Ukies and come right back to the negotiating table. At that point the conflict with be "frozen" again (on the Ukie side literally) and the focus will be on keeping the regime in power or replacing it with something else. After that, the next attack can only come in the Spring on 2015.
Finally, there is also a more optimistic possibility: the real reason behind the chorus of warnings about a Ukie attack might be the Russian way of telling them "we know what you are up to and we are ready". In theory that should deter a Ukie attack. Alas, we need to remember that a) there is no real power in Kiev - all the decisions are taking by the USA and b) the goal of the next attack might not be to win, but to draw Russia into an overt intervention. I personally believe that this was the plan all along and I have been saying that for months: the real goal of the AngloZionists is to force a Russian military intervention in Novorussia while the real goal of the Kremlin is to stay out and keep Novorussia alive by means of voentorg on one hand, and chaos in Banderastan on the other. So far the Kremlin has prevailed. We will probably soon find out if that strategy will work again.