Ukraine SitRep: U.S.-Russia Talks, Bakhmut Retreat, Laughable Casualty Numbers

The Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung published a piece today (in German) which claimed that CIA boss William Burns had offered 20% of Ukraine to Russia in exchange for peace in Ukraine.

As Newsweek summarizes:

NZZ reported on Thursday, citing high-ranking German foreign politicians, that in mid-January, Burns presented Kyiv and Moscow with a peace plan that would put an end to the war, which began when Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

According to the newspaper, the proposal offered “around 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory”—about the size of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov, the White House and the CIA rejected the claim:

A CIA official told Newsweek that claims in the NZZ report that Burns took a secret trip to Moscow in January and that there was a peace proposal put forward by the director on behalf of the White House were “completely false.”

Last month, Burns traveled in secret to meet and brief Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, the Washington Post reported.

The Neue Züricher says that Kiev as well as Moscow had rejected the U.S. plan.

That everyone is denying that this happened means that the Züricher claims are likely true.

We know that talks between Washington and Kiev are ongoing.

On January 30 Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in Egypt and met with its Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. A day later Shourky flew to Russia and met its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Egyptian media reported that Shoukry carried a letter from Blinken:

The Egyptian state-owned news outlet Al-Ahram reported that Shoukry delivered a message to Lavrov from Blinken. The message appears to be in reference urging a halt to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

“Russia should stop these actions in order for negotiations to succeed,” was the message, according to Al-Ahram.

A State Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor that Blinken has had a consistent message that Russia should stop the war in Ukraine and remove its forces from the country for the sake of peace. The message he gave to Shoukry did not differ from this, according to the spokesperson.

Lavrov described the proposal as “incomplete.” Lavrov also praised Egypt’s “balanced” approach to the war in Ukraine. Lavrov further said Russia would continue to engage with Egypt on the Ukraine issue, Al-Ahram reported, citing the press conference.

“We will stay in touch. And I trust that this will be in the interest of the friendship between the two countries,” said Lavrov.

In sum: Russia has accepted Shourkry’s role as a middleman in the negotiations but wants a better offer from Washington.

We will see what will comes from this.

The U.S. knows that Ukraine’s army is not able to hold the current defense line in its east. The fear is that it will run away when the line is breached.

Ukraine has already pulled several brigades from the Bakhmut/Artyomovsk line to plug holes in other defense lines (Ugledar, Kremmina). On January 17, using the deployment map by Military Land, I counted 27 Ukrainian brigade equivalents in that area. The map now shows only 18 Ukrainian brigade equivalents on the Soledar-Bakhmut line.

January 17 – 27 Ukrainian Brigade equivalents

Source: Military Land Deployment Map 

February 3 – 18 Ukrainian Brigade equivalents

Source: Military Land Deployment Map 
Ukraine will soon give up on the city.

The Ukrainian death toll in the city must be extremely high:

[Mykola] Bielieskov, [a research fellow at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies,] Bielieskov said that Ukraine compensates for its lack of heavy equipment with people who are ready to stand to the last.

“Lightly armed, without sufficient artillery support, which they cannot always be provided, they stand and hold off attacks as long as possible,” he said.

The result is that the battle is believed to have produced horrific troop losses for both Ukraine and Russia. Quite how deadly isn’t known: Neither side is saying.

Along the front line on the Ukrainian side, emergency medical units provide urgent care to battlefield casualties. From 50 to 170 wounded Ukrainian soldiers pass daily through just one of the several stabilization points along the Donetsk front line, according to Tetiana Ivanchenko, who has volunteered in eastern Ukraine since a Russia-backed separatist conflict started there in 2014.

Russia has increased the intensity of the fight:

Russian artillery barrages had risen from an average of about 60 per day four weeks ago to more than 90 per day last week. On one day alone, 111 Ukrainian locations were targeted.

On Tuesday, Russian forces hit Ukrainian positions in Bakhmut with short-range artillery 197 times, and the two sides clashed some 42 times, Ukraine’s military said, significantly more than a month ago. Ukrainian forces beat back Russian soldiers, assaulting their lines time and again, the military said.

The above confirms the artillery engagement numbers given in the daily reports of the Russia Defense Ministry. It also confirms that Russia has no lack of artillery ammunition.

But despite that the New York Times is again stenographing implausible claims of high Russian casualties:

The number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, a stark symbol of just how badly President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion has gone, according to American and other Western officials.

While the officials caution that casualties are notoriously difficult to estimate, particularly because Moscow is believed to routinely undercount its war dead and injured, they say the slaughter from fighting in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and the town of Soledar has ballooned what was already a heavy toll.

With Moscow desperate for a major battlefield victory and viewing Bakhmut as the key to seizing the entire eastern Donbas area, the Russian military has sent poorly trained recruits and former convicts to the front lines, straight into the path of Ukrainian shelling and machine guns. The result, American officials say, has been hundreds of troops killed or injured a day.

Ukraine’s casualty figures are also difficult to ascertain, given Kyiv’s reluctance to disclose its own wartime losses. But in Bakhmut, hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been wounded and killed daily at times as well, officials said. Better trained infantry formations are kept in reserve to safeguard them, while lesser prepared troops, such as those in the territorial defense units, are kept on the front line and bear the brunt of shelling.

On Norwegian TV on Jan. 22, Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway’s defense chief, said estimates were that Russia had suffered 180,000 dead and wounded, while Ukraine had 100,000 killed or wounded in action along with 30,000 civilian deaths.

I find these claims of high Russian casualties laughable because we know that the Russian artillery is firing several times more shells per day than Ukraine’s army can provide. Artillery is the big killer in this war.

There are often claims from amateur ‘experts’ that the defender has the advantage in urban warfare and less casualties than an attacker. Both claims are simply wrong:

The idea that urban terrain favours the defender, a common claim by today’s urban exceptionalists, is incorrect.  In the 1980s the UK’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) showed that urban terrain was not a defender’s paradise.  The opposite was true. The attackers almost always won, and in almost all cases for which detailed data were available, the defenders suffered high casualties. 

Notably, the deciding factor in urban operations was good training and supporting fires from armoured vehicles.  Based on comparing historical analysis with trials using the Berlin Brigade, further research confirmed that urban operations usually, but not always, ended badly for the defender for very easily understood reasons.  Skilled urban defences were rare and required pre-planned counterattacks best supported by armour.  Yet more evidence was apparent from work done by Christopher Lawrence, who confirmed the DERA findings. 

Even a cursory analysis of commonly available data tends to support the above. For example, the Battle of Marawi saw 150 days of fighting where the defenders lost catastrophically, suffering a KIA loss rate of 6.52 per day compared to the attacker’s 1.12 KIA per day. Fallujah 2004 was fought over 50 days and saw the US attacker suffer 112 KIA at a rate of 2.24 per day while the defender suffered an estimated loss rate of 40 KIA per day. Operation Protective Edge in 2014 saw 49 days of fighting, with the IDF losing 67 KIA, so a casualty rate higher than Marawi at 1.3 KIA per day, but only very marginally.

The fight for Bakhmut is way more intense than the above mentioned battles.

The Russian forces are attacking urban conglomerations while having absolute artillery superiority and lots of ammunition and armor. The Ukrainian army is defending the cities mostly with little trained territorial brigades on foot while keeping its better trained and equipped regular units as backup. There is also an acute lack of armored support on the Ukrainian side.

But we know from military history and science that the defender will usually have have multiple times more casualties than the attacker. We also know that good training and armored support is key for the defending side. The Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut have neither.

Ten days ago the well informed Col.(ret.) Doug Macgregor put the numbers (video) of dead on the Ukrainian side at 122,000 killed plus 35,000 missed in action (presumed dead). The number of dead Russians (including Wagner forces and Donbas militia) is at 16,000 to 25,000 with 20 to 40,000 additionally wounded. The numbers have since increased with the Ukrainian ones several times those of the Russians.

Despite that we are to believe that Russia is losing many more men men than the Ukraine? No one should be that stupid.