Why Is Russia Losing on 3 Fronts? Math (the Short Answer)

In moving troops from stronger positions in Ukraine’s east to weaker positions in the country’s south, Russia exposed those troops to more danger in the south while making its eastern positions more vulnerable to counterattack, with predictable results playing out now

(Russian/Русский переводBy Brian E. Frydenborg (Twitter @bfry1981, LinkedIn, Facebook) September 7, 2022; adapted, updated, and excerpted from August 3, 2022, article How Ukraine War Will Likely Go Rest of 2022, or, Kherson: The Beginning of the End for Russia

Ukrainian forces display the flag, captured in a Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv, of an elite Russian unitTwitter/Taras Berezovets

SILVER SPRING—In my August 23 article, I built upon previous work to explain that two major factors were at play in explaining why the war had slowed down and was unfolding the way it was then:  Russia’s weakening capabilities were running into Ukraine’s prudence in methodically and patiently picking a series of targets on and behind Russian lines to soften up Russian targets before an announced counteroffensive in the south.  After a period of devastating attacks by Ukraine against targets in Russian-controlled parts of the Donbas with advanced, distance, precision weapons provided by the West (hello HIMARS and M777s), Ukraine had by later August been replicating that success from the east on the southern front, in Kherson Oblast.  I had noted back in April that that Kherson and Crimea were both vulnerable to an eventual Ukrainian counterattack, and since then we have seen both come under increasing Ukrainian attack, first Kherson and (to the surprise of many but not me) then Crimea. 

At certain points, war can be confusing, but at other points, it can be mathematical, a series of related inputs and outputs.  Before Russia had even redeployed troops from its east to the south, it had already seen its offensive there stall amidst heavy casualties on its side and very minimal progress.  That was the equation then, and the numbers on both sides of the equation are more perilous for Russia after that redeployment, as I discuss below is an excerpt from my August 3 article outlining how much of the rest of the war would unfold; as I was writing that part, potential Russian redeployments I was outlining actually happened, and, as I wrote back then, combined with Russia’s tendency to engage in fruitless attacks, Russia’s redeployments from the east to the south “could even leave itself vulnerable to counterattacks in the east (if it hadn’t already even before this redeployment) while the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south progresses.”  Simply put, Ukraine’s recent successful counterattacks in the Donbas and Kharkiv fronts over the past few days reflect Russia’s poor mathematical calculations as outlined below, giving Ukraine targets of opportunity of which Ukraine is now taking advantage.

Considering Russia’s Redeployment (excerpt)

July has seen the end of one phase of the war and the beginning of another, with Russia now trying to stave off disaster in the south by taking troops from the east that are still much-needed in the east, and yet, Russia has little choice: if it does not reinforce the south, it risks having almost all of its position there being steamrolled rapidly by the coming Ukrainian onslaught.

I wrote most of this before Russia moved troops from the east to the south, but while I was busy finding specific sources I had come across over the past month to cite throughout, it happened.  But before it was clear Russia was pulling troops from the east, I was writing that the best Russia can probably do is weaken its eastern front to slow down the Ukrainian advance in the south, but not enough to really stop it, because that could precipitate a collapse on the eastern front.  So far, that seems to be the path the Russians have chosen: weakening one front even after they had pretty much already stalled there to reinforce another front where they would have been crushed relatively quickly if they did not reinforce from that first front, with the most likely result that they will lose on both fronts, just less quickly in the south and now more quickly in the east (as opposed to really quickly in the south and less quickly in east).

Such is the dilemma—the trap—in which Russia has found itself: choosing how quickly or slowly to lose on one front or another, any serious victory out of reach regardless of any decisions about conventional forces (unless Ukraine starts suddenly making disastrous choices on the battlefield) and I seriously doubt Putin will use nuclear weapons, which could hurt Russia in the long-run more than any imagined gains Putin thinks their use would get him.

As much as anything else, Russia needing to move forces from one front where things are already going badly to another where things are going even worse is as much a sign as anything else of Russia’s generally weakening, losing position in the overall war, which the Kherson counteroffensive is about to expose for all to see beyond doubt.

When it comes to this reinforcement effort in the south, consider that most of those troops are in units that have been fighting in the east for a long time, taken many casualties, are exhausted, and will have to travel in a long radius around the front line to get to the south and may come under fire in transit, that will be fighting in more exposed, less defensible terrain with fewer fortified positions than in the Donbas and with longer supply lines to maintain than that front.  So the idea that they are going to fare well against the extremely well-executing, highly motivated, and well-equipped Ukrainian troops that are currently having success after success near Kherson is quite a hard sell.

Additionally, if Putin and their commanders are dumb enough to focus on attack and, as a result, Russia likely suffers heavy casualties, they will be wasting an opportunity to buy time by having those troops play it much safer and dig in where they can to defend southern Kherson Oblast and Zaporizhzhia; after such failed attacks, reduced Russian forces will be even less able to defend than if they had not attacked, but, again, with the dynamics as they are, it is mostly a question of how much Russia can slow Ukraine down and exact a higher cost on Ukrainian forces in the south than actually stopping Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

While all this is going on, if Russia is not careful (and let’s be honest: when has it been?) it could even leave itself vulnerable to counterattacks in the east (if it hadn’t already even before this redeployment) while the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south progresses.

(end excerpt)

See full August 3 article from which this is excerpted, How Ukraine War Will Likely Go Rest of 2022, or, Kherson: The Beginning of the End for Russia, related August 23 article Ukrainian Prudence Meets Russian Limitations: Explaining the Current Pace and Nature of Russia’s War on Ukraine, and all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here

© 2022 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

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