Yves Smith asks:
What if Russia Won the Ukraine War but the Western Press Didn’t Notice?
She points to several headlines which, despite decisive Russian victories like its taking of Soledar, present the Ukraine as winning the war:
Nevertheless, Soledar has fallen and the loss of Bakhmut looks baked in, absent horrific Russian errors. The so-called Zelensky line is breaking even before Russia has put its recently-mobilized forces to work in a serious way. Regular commentators are waiting for the Russian hammer to fall, although Russia may simply grind more forcefully by pressing harder at more points along the very long line of contact. Remember one concern on the Russian side is avoiding “winning” in a way that leads to NATO panic and desperate action … not that the Collective West’s fragile emotional state can be readily managed.
With that context, you’d expect some members of the press to have worked out that things are not going very well for Ukraine and the classic cowboy movie rescue of the calvary riding over the hill (here in the form of tanks and artillery) will be too little, too late.
Instead, the media seems to be trying to integrate snippets of facts on the ground with the heroic tale of inevitable Ukraine victory.
That is certainly correct for the wide majority of the stories, which claim that Soledar and Bahkmut, are irrelevant towns, but some pieces are creeping up that differ. A few days ago the Washington Post headlined:
Bloody Bakhmut siege poses risks for Ukraine
Ukraine faces difficult choices about how much deeper its military should get drawn into a protracted fight over the besieged city of Bakhmut, as Kyiv prepares for a new counteroffensive elsewhere on the front that requires conserving weapons, ammunition and experienced fighters.
Russia has escalated its assault in the area in recent days, unleashing savage fighting that has underscored the high cost of the battle. Russian mercenaries and released convicts from the Wagner group pushed into the neighboring salt-mining town of Soledar and inched closer to Bakhmut, the capture of which has eluded them for months despite an advantage in firepower and the willingness to sacrifice troops.
The piece quotes several Ukrainian soldiers which speak of huge losses on their side. But the U.S. is still egging them on:
The senior U.S. official cautioned against completely dismissing Bakhmut or neighboring Soledar as nonstrategic places that Kyiv can simply relinquish, noting that the salt and gypsum mines give the area economic significance. Theoretically, the Russians could use the deep salt mines and tunnels to protect equipment and ammunition from Ukrainian missile strikes. Moscow has also endowed the city with import.
“To some degree, Bakhmut matters to [Ukraine] because it matters so much to the Russians,” the senior U.S. official said, noting that control of Bakhmut is not going to have a huge impact on the conflict or imperil Ukraine’s defensive or offensive options in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
The official added, “Bakhmut is not going to change the war.”
I believe the senior U.S. official to be very wrong. Soledar and Bakhmut are bleeding the Ukrainian army dry. That is of relevance. Look at the insane number of Ukrainian units deployed on that only 50 kilometer (30mi) long sector of the front.
Source: Military Land Deployment Map
Zaluzhny has pulled units from other fronts like the Kreminna and Svatove sector further north in Luhansk province to feed them into Bakhmut. That has minimized any chance that the Ukrainian forces in those sectors will be able to make any progress.
What nearly all reports from Ukraine seem to miss is the huge damage that Russia artillery is causing on a daily base. Ukraine has little artillery left to respond to that and whatever it still has is getting less by the day.
A few weeks ago the Russian military started a systematic counter artillery campaign which has since made great progress. The typical western way of detecting enemy artillery units is by radar. The flight path of the projectile is measured and the coordinates of its source are calculated enabling ones own artillery to respond. But counter-artillery radar itself depends on radiating. It is thereby easily detectable and vulnerable to fire. Over the last months Russia deployed a very different counter-artillery detection systems with the rather ironic name of Penicillin:
Penicillin or 1B75 Penicillin is an acoustic-thermal artillery-reconnaissance system developed by Ruselectronics for the Russian Armed Forces. The system aims to detect and locate enemy artillery, mortars, MLRs, anti-aircraft or tactical-missile firing positions with seismic and acoustic sensors, without emitting any radio waves. It locates enemy fire within 5 seconds at a range of 25 km (16 mi; 13 nmi). Penicillin completed state trials in December 2018 and entered combat duty in 2020.
The Penicillin is mounted on the 8×8 Kamaz-6350 chassis and consists of a 1B75 sensor suite placed on a telescopic boom for the infrared and visible spectrum as well as of several ground-installed seismic and acoustic receivers as a part of the 1B76 sensor suite. It has an effective range for communication with other military assets up to 40 kilometres (25 mi) and is capable to operate even in a fully automatic mode, without any crew. One system can reportedly cover an entire division against an enemy fire. Besides that, it co-ordinates and corrects a friendly artillery fire.
The system pinpoints Ukrainian guns as they fire. They are then eliminated by immediate precise counter-fire. As the artillery relevant part of today’s ‘clobber’ list provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense claims:
Operational-Tactical Aviation, Missile Troops and Artillery of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have neutralised an artillery ordnance depot of 114th Territorial Defence Brigade near Veliky Burluk (Kharkov region), as well as 82 artillery units at their firing positions, manpower and hardware at 98 areas.
Counterbattery warfare operations have resulted in destruction of:
- one Polish-manufactured Krab howitzer near Peschanoye (Kharkov region);
- one U.S.-manufactured M109 Paladin howitzer, and one fighting vehicle equipped with Grad multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) near Lozovaya (Kharkov region);
- one D-20 howitzer near Terny (Donetsk People’s Republic);
- two Giatsint-B howitzers near Maryinka and Orlovka (Donetsk People’s Republic);
- two Akatsiya self-propelled howitzers near Nevskoye (Lugansk People’s Republic), and Preobrazhenka (Zaporozhye region);
- five D-30 howitzers near Zmiyevka, Novokairy (Kherson region), Sofiyevka (Donetsk People’s Republic), and Orekhov (Zaporozhye region).
Four U.S.-manufactured counterbattery warfare radars have been destroyed:
- two AN/TPQ-50 stations near Mylovoye and Dudchany (Kherson region),
- one AN/TPQ-36 counterbattery warfare radar near Ugledar (Donetsk People’s Republic),
- one U.S.-manufactured AN/TPQ-48 counterbattery warfare radar near Senkovo (Kharkov region).
Air defence facilities have shot down six Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles near Kremennaya (Lugansk People’s Republic), Nikolskoye, and Petrovskoye (Donetsk People’s Republic).
14 rocket-propelled projectiles launched by HIMARS and Olkha MLRS have been intercepted near Udy (Kharkov region), Smolyaninovo (Lugansk People’s Republic), Donetsk, and Khartsyzsk (Donetsk People’s Republic).
One U.S.-manufactured anti-radiation missile has been shot down near Radensk (Kherson region).
One Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missile has been shot down near Berdyansk (Zaporozhye region).
The above is the equivalent of two artillery companies (batteries with six guns each) eliminated in just one day. Ukrainian counter-battery fire against Russian artillery is no longer possible as the necessary detection equipment gets eliminated and as Ukrainian counter-fire is shot down by Russian air defenses.
This Russian counter-artillery campaign has been going on for several weeks. It has disabled large parts of what was left of Ukrainian longer range capabilities. Meanwhile the Russian artillery keeps on knocking down Ukranian troops that hold the frontline. Only when all parts of the Ukrainian trenches have been hit by intense fire will the Russian infantry move in to clean up whatever is left behind.
This form of battle is causing huge losses on the Ukrainian side while the Russian forces incur just a minimum of casualties.
In his recent talks Col (ret.) Douglas Macgregor put the deaths in Ukraine forces at 150,000 and casualties at 450,000. I, like Yves Smith, doubt that number of wounded is that high. As the system of Ukrainian battlefield extradition and hospitalization is in a bad state there will be less wounded and likely more dead.
In a huge contrast to U.S. waged wars, the civilian death count on the Ukrainian side is remarkably low:
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential staff, said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, “We have registered 80,000 crimes committed by Russian invaders and over 9,000 civilians have been killed, including 453 children.”
Feeding more troops into the battle in the Bakhmut sector, as the Ukrainian side has been doing, is not a good use of resources.
We can state that Ukraine has by now lost the nominal equipment of two larger armies.
At the beginning of the war the Ukrainian army was said to have some 2,500 tanks, 12,500 armored vehicles and 3,500 large artillery systems. It is doubtful that more than half of those were in a usable state but they may have received enough repair to be workable.
The Russia military claims that most of those have been eliminated:
7,549 tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, 984 fighting vehicles equipped with MLRS, 3,853 field artillery cannons and mortars, as well as 8,081 units of special military equipment have been destroyed during the special military operation.
If one doubts those numbers one has to ask why the Ukraine has needed to import so many more weapons and is still short of them:
- 410 Soviet-era tanks delivered by NATO members in former communist bloc, including Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia.
- 300 [Armored/Infantry Fighting Vehicles], including 250 Soviet-designed IFVs from former communist states.
- 1,100 [Armored Personnel Carriers], including 300 M113 troop carriers and 250 M117s.
- 300 towed howitzers. 400+ pieces of self-propelled artillery, of which 180 is on order.
- 95 [Multiple Rocket Launchers]
There were also a number of fighter airplanes, helicopter and air-defense systems. The above was the second army, after Ukraine’s original one was mostly gone, that has by now been nearly eliminated.
The Russian clobber list now regularly reports of combat with Ukraine forces that kills, for example, one tank, three armored vehicles and a number of pick-ups and motor vehicles:
One Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group has been eliminated near Liman Pervy (Kharkov region). The enemy has lost over 50 Ukrainian personnel, one tank, two infantry fighting vehicles, and two pickups.
[In Donetsk direction] over 60 Ukrainian personnel, one tank, three armoured fighting vehicles, and six motor vehicles have been eliminated.
Two AFU sabotage and reconnaissance groups have been eliminated in the area to the north of Levadnoye and Vladimirovka (Donetsk People’s Republic). The enemy has lost up to 40 Ukrainian personnel, two armoured fighting vehicles, and three motor vehicles.
Pick-ups and unarmored motor vehicles should avoid the frontline and certainly not be part of force attacking the immediate frontline. If these reports reflect the current structure of Ukrainian forces, as I believe they do, than its state is indeed dire.
In his Economist interview General Zeluzhny has requested a third army to be delivered to him immediately:
“I know that I can beat this enemy,” he says. “But I need resources. I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs [infantry fighting vehicles], 500 Howitzers.”
As the Economist writer dryly noted:
The incremental arsenal he is seeking is bigger than the total armoured forces of most European armies.
The stocks of two complete armies have by now been destroyed in Ukraine. The resources for a smaller third one will be delivered in the next rounds of ‘western’ equipment deliveries during the next months. Russia will dully destroy Ukraine’s third army just as it has destroyed the first and second one. It is doubtful that the ‘West’ has enough material left to provide Ukraine with a fourth one.
That then leaves only two options. Send in ‘western’ armies with the equipment they still have or declare victory and go home.
The neo-conservatives as ever favor the first option. President Joe Biden may still be against sending U.S. soldiers but this could change if he indeed gets blackmailed into doing it:
[A]s the ‘classified documents’ scandal gains momentum, the malleable president will likely fall-in-line and do whatever the hawkish foreign policy establishment demands of him. In short, the documents flap is being used by behind-the-scenes powerbrokers who are blackmailing the president to pursue their own narrow interests. They have Brandon over-a-barrel.
There is no evidence that this is happening but the signs are there.
The second option is to declare a non-existent victory and to forget about the whole issues.
But will the ‘western’ media, as Yves asks, notice any of this?
As commentator David correctly remarks at Yves’ site:
I’ve said for a long time now that the West will be able to claim “victory”, or at least not defeat, by establishing fantastical victory conditions that the Russians never had and never wanted, and then claiming credit for frustrating them. With luck, this will just about enable western elites to hang onto power, at least temporarily.
“Putin tried to conquer Europe but we stopped him after he took only half of Ukraine,” will sound like victory. But it is of course extremely far from the truth. Anyway, the media may well buy it:
But in the wider sense, we’re seeing the latest and most degenerate stage of the stupidity and ignorance which has afflicted the western media and pundit class over the last year. They didn’t know about the war in the Donbas, nobody told them Russia had the strongest army in Europe, nobody knew about the defensive lines in Donbas, nobody understood the seriousness of the Russian threats, nobody realised the Russians hoped for a short, sharp war to bring the Ukrainians to their senses, nobody understood why Russia went over to Plan B while it mobilised, nobody realised the Russians had been stockpiling weapons and ammunition for years; nobody knew what attrition warfare was …. In other words, the most disgraceful example of ignorance and stupidity of any ruling class in modern times. It will go on to the end, and “victory” will be proclaimed.
The war the U.S. provoked in Ukraine has been won by Russia even when no one wants to note it.