"The Russians do not have the ability to enter the Azovstal tunnels ... That is not just a normal tunnel, that is a deep tunnel complex ... and the Russians do not have the training, the equipment or the will to enter. ... they would lose thousands of soldiers ". Word of John Spencer, the master of modern urban warfare that we already mentioned exactly one month ago (v. article)
It is useless for us to fill our heads with communications from the Russian defense ministry or with articles on deadly bombings and incessant ground attacks: as Spencer himself claimed, you cannot bomb urban areas hoping to subdue them. You can't even bomb well entrenched soldiers aiming at their submission. All military history proves that ultimately you have to close the gap to get what you want.
What are we talking about?
Let's be clear: the Azovstal is not just a complex of industrial warehouses and tunnels, but one of the most colossal and fortified bunkers in the world: the six floors - all underground - of rooms, warehouses and passages, built to accommodate 12.000 people (you have read well: twelve thousand!) have walls and ceilings that, at the thinnest points, go down to eight meters thick. It was built in the Brezhnev years to resist a nuclear attack directed and refurbished after 2014 to make it fit for the purpose for which it serves now. In short, the most powerful conventional bombs supplied to the Russian armed forces do not scratch it.
At the moment, according to our estimates, it hosts more than a thousand Ukrainian resisters, including military and paramilitaries, all with years of training and combat experience behind them, most of which are still valid to stand up to Russian troops and mercenaries. It is not known how much food and ammunition it contains, but at the beginning they had to be enough to fit in the spaces available for four fifths of the 12.000 potential guests.
Let's remember: a nuclear bunker is not like a tram where you stand and wait to leave, but a multipurpose space where thousands of potential guests can find food, rest and areas to stretch their legs. In short, the Azovstal underground is the size of a medium-sized stadium, but with thicker walls than the distance between the goal posts.
What are the Russians doing?
Against all this, how can the Russians have won? We remember it: it is built to withstand a direct nuclear attack, which means that already entering - by force - is a devastating undertaking, for those who try.
We decrypt the news that reaches us: they speak of CIVIL victims of the Russian attacks. Yes, you got it right, Putin's forces are bleeding to fight in the external areas of the plant but not in its well-protected "heart": it is in the "crust", in fact, that some inhabitants of Mariupol have found refuge. To try and gain access to the underground complex, they have to get tremendously close to the Ukrainian fighters. They have to do it in tight and dangerous spaces, which the resisters know well and which you only discover as soon as you enter. They must do so without having any advantage from the use of aviation or artillery, indeed risking their lives at any time for friendly fire, which in very narrow spaces is never a friend.
We saw videos of Russian soldiers retreating from the complex, committed to bringing the wounded to safety: we noticed how the wounded, at the end of the videos, were now dead, because during the infernal fighting in such a dangerous environment, the magical hour of time between injury and death runs very quickly.
An impossible journey to hell
You understand - don't you? - that up to this point we have talked about fighting OUTSIDE the bunker? Well, assuming that you - yes, try to put yourself in the shoes of Ivan Ivanov, the typical Russian soldier - finally found yourself at the entrance to the gigantic bunker, what would you do? You do not have a map of the structure: even if a traitor has kindly provided you with some information, do it to find out if they are accurate and if the spaces are recognizable during the fight.
Yep, the fight! Tunnels, large rooms and narrow rooms: you have to earn every inch of space at the cost of your life and that of your companions, with little possibility of communicating with the command and with little chance of safety if you are injured.
As and more than outside, the defenders know every ravine, they can ambush you, they can have set infernal traps everywhere. And then what do you expect to find: maybe plywood doors? Or dividers made of multiple layers of metal to get the best of which machinery and ammunition are needed to be delivered, again, at the price of leather?
Do you have any plans to suggest to your general to have the Ukrainian defenders suffocate or drown or lock in there? First of all, make sure that the general has not already put his skin back on his skin by accompanying you in there because you, as a good Russian soldier, are not capable of taking the initiative, indeed they have always taught you that you must never do it. Then, do you think the Azovstal underground complex has only one entrance like a small church? Do you think it doesn't have a ventilation system and electric generators that can run for weeks? Do you really believe that a bunker built facing the sea does not have a system of watertight doors to prevent water from filling it?
In short, to get the better of the courageous Ukrainian fighters barricaded there, you must be willing to die. On the contrary, you have to sacrifice soldiers in large numbers, because the tactical groups of battalions of the Russian forces are absolutely not useful in urban combat and, indeed, only come to ruin when employed in these terrible tasks.
Yes, you got it right: the war continues and probably even if Putin hits the complex with a nuclear attack it will not get results. Or rather, he would only get one: he would make his own men die. But that's already doing it ...