Analysis of the progress of the war in Ukraine: the land fronts

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

After having carefully spoken, in the two previous analyzes, of the air and naval warfare operations undertaken by the two contenders, the time has now come to take stock of the situation also as regards the fronts of the land war. This time, however, we will follow a different path of analysis, first looking at the developments around Kiev and then on the other war fronts.

As mentioned earlier, the Russians had started the conflict by attacking on four different fronts located respectively in Donbass (First), Southern Ukraine (Second), eastern and northeastern Ukraine from Kharkhov up to Chernigov (Third) and north. of Kiev (Fourth).

The most important event we have witnessed was, after the achievement of a series of points of maximum advancement, a subsequent withdrawal of the Russians from the areas occupied by the Fourth and by most of the Third Front, so much so that today many Ukrainian cities including Kiev , Chernigov, Shostka, Konotop, Romny, Lebedny, Sumy and Akhtyrka have either been liberated (when they were occupied) or are no longer under siege. Not only that, the fact that in these areas the Russian Armed Forces have withdrawn within the borders of Belarus and Russia itself means that these large and important inhabited centers are no longer even under the fire of Russian artillery, even if the threat posed by aerial bombardments by the V-VS as well as attacks by ballistic and cruise missiles.

The beginning of the Russian "detachment" from those areas dates back to the beginning of the last week of March and was then completed about ten days later, with the first sign of the change of strategy signaled by the withdrawal of troops from the city of Brovary, literally located at the gates of Kiev.

Throughout the period between February 24 and, roughly, March 25, the Russians first tried to take control of Kiev, as well as other major cities in the north and north-east of Ukraine with a quick blitzkrieg. compared to which, however, they did not expect a fierce resistance from the Ukrainians, and this explains 90% of the shortcomings shown by the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation in that first phase of the war; from the poor preparation and motivation of the soldiers, to the poor management of logistics and the rear in general, to the macroscopic failures in the field of communications sector that heavily exposed the Russians to the enemy's response, etc ...

In a previous analysis relating to the events of the first weeks of the war they had mentioned that the troops of the Fourth Front, coming from Belarus and bound for Kiev through the so-called "Chernobyl Exclusion Zone" had failed in their attempt to storm Kiev on two different occasions, between February 24 and 27 and March 5 and 10 .

The massive mobilization of the Ukrainian forces, the insufficient logistical organization and the very narrow front are all elements that have contributed to the failure of the initial Russian "shoulder" by denying that "quick and easy" victory that dominated, at least initially, in dreams of Putin. The Russians then changed tactics, trying over the next two weeks to achieve the dual objective of widening the bridgehead in enemy territory by pointing west and, at the same time, isolating Kiev by completing a large bypass maneuver in a southerly direction. -west which at some point should have predictably turned east and reached the Dnieper.

After very fierce battles, which saw the losses increase on both sides, by March 25 the advance of the Russians finally stopped once they reached the following areas:

- to the north-west, near the towns of Malyn and Pirizhk, at the intersection of the M07 / E373 and the T0608;

- to the west, on the town of Makarov, located on the T1019;

- to the south, on the town of Bishov, also located on the T1019, in the direction of Fastov;

- to the east, on the town of Yasnogorodka, located on the P04;

- to the north-east, on the infamous quadrilateral between the Antonov airport and the towns of Gostomel, Bucha and Irpin.

The area inscribed within these coordinates has been the subject of some of the bloodiest and most brutal fighting in the entire military campaign so far. The Ukrainians engaged as many as 6 brigades of their Armed Forces plus units of the National Guard and Territorial Defense in defensive battles, inflicting heavy losses on the enemies but suffering some in turn.

The forces of Kiev have tried several times to go on the offensive but the concentrations of their troops were each time identified by the Russian tactical UAVs and then heavily bombed by artillery, once the armies of Moscow began to deploy them more massive, unlike what they had done in the early days of the conflict.

A stalemate was created in which both forces in the field possessed a credible capability in defense operations but the erosion of the available units had the effect of the progressive "vertical fall" of their ability to produce offensive actions. The same videos available galore (especially from the Ukrainian side) on the Internet show a clear prevalence of "small cabotage" operations at team or at most platoon level, indicative of a need to save forces in the event of a return fire. . Moreover, the area of ​​the Kiev oblast subject to Russian penetration, from the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in the north to the E40 in the south, is characterized by the presence of numerous wooded areas and therefore lends itself excellently to masking and infiltration, as the Russians have discovered to their expense on more than one occasion.

Given the containment of their circumventing maneuver, the Russians, as part of an overall review of their war strategies, progressively evacuated their beachhead in the days between 25 and 31 March with the Ukrainians once again in control of the aforementioned territory in the period between 1 and 3 April.

The withdrawal of the Russian forces and the reconquest of the aforementioned territory by the Ukrainian forces resulted in the discovery of mass graves and indications of other serious human rights violations that Moscow troops allegedly committed, especially around the areas of Bucha and Borodyanka.

The present analysis does not aim to analyze the events of Bucha (which will eventually be done separately in the future) however for the record it is necessary, at least for the moment, to mention these events to remind us once again that the dimension of the war it does not end only where the battlefield ends but generates shock waves that completely invest the lives of innocent civilians who have the misfortune of living in countries subject to destabilization.

In the area of ​​operations of the Third Front we have witnessed a similar evolution of the situation but in a different way according to the areas, being a front that, from the Kharkov area, in the east, extended to Chernigov, in the north-east. The point of maximum expansion reached here by the Russians was the city of Brovary, reached on 9 March, and from that moment the scene of fierce fighting until 1 April. However, it is necessary to specify that in this front the advance of the Russian troops was not at all regular and proceeded, so to speak, "patchy", preferring armored points along the main roads and trying to isolate the main inhabited centers to then bomb them and reduce them to submission. In some cases this strategy has been successful such as in Trostianets, Konotop, Shostka, Slavutych and other centers.

The result was much different in Kharkov, Sumy, Chernigov, Akhtyrka and in other small and large cities that have become theaters of violent urban battles or endless sieges. In the open areas of the countryside as well as in the forests located in the northern portions of the Chernigov and Sumy oblasts the units of the Armed Forces, National Guard and Territorial Defense of Ukraine have put up a strenuous resistance trying where possible to engage the Russians in battles arrest and in other cases to use the war of movement intelligently and flexibly.

To penalize the Russians the most in this theater of war was the bad initial strategic setting almost certainly dictated by political directives. An analysis of the geographic maps with the lines of advancement highlighted makes it clear immediately that what the Muscovite generals were told to prepare for had to be nothing more than a show of force characterized by rapid penetration without encountering great resistance. It goes without saying that, by strictly applying the directives received and consequently organizing a supply line suitable for this type of operation, the entire stage collapsed at the first decisive resistance opposed by the Ukrainians. Worse, despite the initial plan having proved fallacious very soon, the Russian generals in charge of operations in that particular area, such as generals Andrey Aleksandrovich Sukhovetsky and Vitaly Petrovich Gerasimov (both died in the fighting) made further mistakes by deciding to act "with the logic of the ram ”and blindly pursuing the objectives originally set instead of resetting a new strategy in light of the new situation that has arisen in the field.

By launching all their forces forward towards Kiev and the other major cities without taking care to protect the flanks of their leading units, using tanks and other armored vehicles without the contextual protection by the infantry (an essential element of any strategy of "combined arms" warfare!), deliberately leaving artillery behind because it "weighs down the advancing forces", the Muscovite generals have ended up in a series of enormous traps as large cities and pockets of resistance are left behind they did not capitulate at all as they had hoped but on the contrary they opposed a spirited resistance by counterattacking whenever there was the opportunity with the result of literally devastating the supply lines of the Russian armies and further increasing the losses of both men that of means.

The Russian troops belonging to the Third Front therefore found themselves in a very difficult situation for over a month, not to say unsustainable until the Armed Forces Headquarters took the decision, at the same time as what was happening north of Kiev, to withdraw them. gradually abandoning all the conquered territory up to the borders of Russia and Belarus, with the only exception represented by the forces engaged in the sector of the city of Kharkov which instead remained in their place and who saw their mission completely reconfigured, which has now become to support the operations of the other two war fronts. Which now leads us to analyze the operations of the First Front, that of the Donbass, and of the Second Front, the southern one, which have now become the real thrust area for future military operations in the land of Ukraine.

At the end of the analysis relating to the second week of the war in Ukraine we had left the commander-in-chief of the Second Front, Mikhail Stepanovich Zusko struggling with the overexposure of the meager forces that had been assigned to his command at the beginning of the offensive. Depending on the sources at our disposal, at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Zusko had between 12.000 and 17.000 men at his disposal; this suggests that at the beginning of the whole, his strength had been entrusted with an "auxiliary" role, probably of simple support for the advance of the forces assigned to the "First Front" in Donbass. Compared to other Russian commanders engaged in military operations in Ukraine, Zusko could however benefit from some advantages:

- first: he is Ukrainian, so he knows his people well and knows what to expect from them, for better or for worse. It is therefore certain that he immediately prepared the troops at his disposal for a real war and not for a simple "show of strength" as we have seen on other fronts;

- second: he has considerable war experience that has led him to go through all the conflicts in the Russian Federation to date, in particular that of the Donbass, where he has been able to appreciate the growth in all senses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the last 8 years ;

- thirdly: the fact that the command he chairs, in the Crimean peninsula, is in fact an autonomous command which guarantees him a considerable degree of freedom of action;

- fourth: having a staff of competent officers with extensive operational experience in the conflict in Syria available;

- fifth: the fact that the forces assigned to the Second Front at the start of the offensive were based on part of the 58a armed, "his army", since Zusko was the commander of it before being assigned to command the southern front of the Russo-Ukrainian War. This is a very important point because it has created a strong bond between the commander and his soldiers, and as everyone knows, soldiers fight best in war if led by a general they trust, especially if they are competent.

Picking up the narrative where we had left it in its time, on the western side of the front under his responsibility, Zusko regrouped his repulsed forces in their attempts to assault Voznesensk and Krivoy Rog and, taking everyone by surprise, struck again, this time the Ukrainian forces present in the Skadovsk district, in the southwestern part of the Kherson Oblast, who had been trapped there by its lightning advance in the early days.

The Ukrainians were hit hard but not completely vanquished, so much so that they subsequently launched several counterattacks, recovering the lost positions. Zusko then brought his troops back to the northwest, beyond Kherson, launched a new attack in the Nykolayev area, always the scene of a violent battle, and, continuing again in the direction of Voznesensk, tried to create a bridgehead beyond the Bug River at Doroshivka.

This attempt failed due to the prompt reaction of the Ukrainian forces defending the Odessa area, the general left part of his troops in the area and brought the rest back to the Skadovsk district area where he vanquished the remaining Ukrainian troops. present in the area and definitively conquering this important peninsula.

Subsequently Zusko reorganized his forces again sending one part of it again to the attack of Nykolayev and another on two columns in the direction of Krivoy Rog and Nikopol ', being stopped respectively at the height of Noviy Bug and Zelenodolsk. These attacks coincided with the maximum penetration achieved so far by the Second Front forces in the western part of their area of ​​competence.

After the first weeks of defeats, and also taking advantage of the simultaneous containment of the offensive bets of the Fourth and Third Front, as well as the indefinite postponement of the planned landing in Odessa, the Ukrainians managed to strengthen their proven forces located in the south of the country and to launch a series of counterattacks that made the Russians retreat.

Zusko was forced to withdraw his forces from each of the three advancement areas he had gained: from the outskirts of Voznesensk, from that of Noviy Bug and from Zelenodolsk. During the retreat he also abandoned the siege of Nykolayev and withdrew his men in good order as far as Kherson and the lower reaches of the Dnieper. Here his forces entrenched themselves and absorbed the Ukrainian offensive thanks to the favorable terrain, the support of the aviation and a massive array of artillery.

It was during this phase of the fighting that Zusko also had to mourn the loss of his colleague and subordinate general Yakov Vladimirovich Razantsev, killed by Ukrainian artillery fire while organizing the defense of some strongholds along the western bank of the Dnieper. In any case, after this setback some things have changed for Zusko who, finally, got the reinforcements he desperately needed in the form of the rest of "his" 58a army that had not yet been assigned to military operations and of the 49a armed, "heavy" unit with a good supply of tanks and other armored vehicles that went to garrison the lines around Kherson.

Having obtained these reinforcements (actually the only reinforcements obtained so far by the Russian forces since the beginning of this war in general) Zusko has rationalized both the disposition and the missions of his forces by opting to send the entire 58a armed in the east to support the operations of the First Front while the 49a army was concentrated on the left bank of the lower course of the Dnieper. By doing so, and having neutralized all the Ukrainians' offensive bets one after the other, Zusko went on the attack again, on the west side as well as on the east side of his area of ​​operational responsibility.

To the west and northwest, the men of 49a army have recaptured almost all of the northwestern part of Kherson Oblast, which they had previously occupied and abandoned twice, as well as the Snigirevka area, located in Nykolaev Oblast before stopping and establishing new defensive positions.

To the east of the Dnieper instead the 58a armed forces invested the Ukrainian positions located in the central and eastern part of the Zaporozhye oblast and, despite having suffered violent counterattacks by the Ukrainian forces, managed to stabilize a new front line that from Vasilevka (located on the Dnieper) reaches up to to the front lines of the Donbass, passing through Orechov, Gulyaipolye, Velika Novoselka and Ugledar, the latter the scene of fierce fighting even in these days.

At the end of the examination of the operations on the land fronts, let us now spend a few words on the operations relating to the First Front, that of the Donbass. Here the pressure from the Russians and the "Donbassians" on the defenders of the so-called "Zelensky Line" continues to be strong but the really important developments took place on the "wings" of the deployment. Coordinating their offensive efforts with the forces of the Second and Third Front, the Unified Forces of Novorossiya on the one hand joined with the Russian forces operating in the Kharkhov area and took control of almost the entire Lugansk oblast. and on the other hand they have now united with the 58a army of Zusko and are besieging the city of Mariupol.

In truth, the fighting in the Mariupol area had already begun on February 24, however it is from March 18 that the grip on the city has become irreversible. At the start of the battle it appeared that the city (which in peacetime had over 431.000 inhabitants) was defended by at least 14.000 men (who should now have been reduced by at least half) belonging to some of the best units of the Armed Forces and the National Guard of Ukraine as the 10a Mountain Assault brigade, the 56a Motorized Brigade, the 36a brigade of the Navy Infantry and the infamous Azov regiment.

Today, despite a prolonged siege that has lasted for weeks and which has caused the destruction of 90% of the city, Mariupol still resists and has earned the reputation of "Second Vukovar" from the name of the famous Croatian city which, together with Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, has become city ​​symbol of the wars that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In any case, in light of the desperate strategic situation of the defenders and the disproportion of the forces on the field, the fall of the last Ukrainian resistance center on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov seems only a matter of time.

(Go on)