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The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast has been defeating Russian forces and collapsing the Russian axis in the northern Donbas.

The Russian lines became divided along the Kharkiv - Izyum axis, with Russian troops manifesting signs of erratic withdrawal in some critical areas. The irregular withdrawal quickly deepened the Ukrainian offensive in the specified areas. Russian forces did not make a controlled withdrawal and hurriedly fled from south-eastern Kharkiv Oblast to escape the encirclement around Izyum. This highlights a number of elements that are highlighted below:

In addition, Russian forces had previously weakened the northern Donbas axis to redeploy units from this front to southern Ukraine to contain the Ukrainian advance on Kherson, complicating efforts to halt the Ukrainian advance or, at the very least, to deploy a covering force for the withdrawal.

Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian lines as deep as 70 kilometres in places and captured more than 3,000 square kilometres of territory in the last five days since 6 September, more territory than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since April, I recommend reading the following Twitter thread:

This has led to a large influx of Russian units, as we reported on the Instituto Symposium's Twitter feed on 9 September:

This is a good reflection on tanks. War and its doctrine are taking a more realistic course, but this means that new proposals must be formulated from the hand of cosmopolitan idealism: this is the right way to apply Machiavelli. Those who have the responsibility and the capacity to make decisions should not forget it.

All in all, the speed of the Ukrainian advance is truly astonishing (this could be reminiscent of the Blitzkrieg). All this points to what could be described as a massive failure of Russian intelligence; on the other hand, the Russian forces apparently had no local operational reserve units or moved them in from elsewhere too late. The front line was poorly covered by Russian forces; and finally, Russian C2 has collapsed miserably (C2: command and control, which is the exercise of authority and command and control by the specifically designated operational command over the forces assigned to accomplish the mission).

On C2, it has confirmed what has been observed since the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine, which has been characterised by an apparent lack of coordination and an ostensibly flawed plan.

As can be seen, Russian forces have been pushed deep into Ukraine since 3 March, only to be cut off by fuel shortages, vehicle breakdowns (the Russian equipment found by the Ukrainians in this counteroffensive, for example) and, ultimately, Ukrainian forces.

For its part, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the withdrawal of troops from the Balakliya-Izyum line on 10 September, under the false pretext of a "regrouping" of forces to support Russian efforts in the direction of Donetsk Oblast. Previous Russian moves failed to secure Izyum and prevent Ukraine from cutting Russian lines of communication in Kupyansk.

Kharkiv is one of the main supply areas of the Russian operation because of the railway infrastructure (on Russian logistics and other issues I published this paper which I advise you to read). If Ukrainian troops secure full control of the city in the hypothetical near future, then the supply lines of the Russian Western Military District troops will fail. Recall that Ukrainian forces have recaptured almost the entirety of Kharkiv Oblast in a rapid counteroffensive.

The Ukrainian armed forces used HIMARS and other Western systems to attack Russian ground lines of communication (GLOC) in the Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts, setting the stage for the success of this operation.

In fact, according to a Ukrainian military intelligence source, the success of the offensive depended on US-supplied AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) tactical air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles, which target Russian air defence radar emissions and other equipment.

It also relied on ground-to-air systems that threatened Russian aircraft: Ukrainian sources point to Germany's Gepard, a set of tracked anti-aircraft guns. This threat left Russia reluctant to deploy air power; when it did, it suffered losses. Unconfirmed reports suggest that at least one Russian fighter jet and two helicopters were shot down during the Ukraine operation. Russian aircraft are reported to have had trouble distinguishing between Russian and Ukrainian units in the melee of fighting, with front lines shifting rapidly.

The Ukrainian offensive, which has been underway for some time in the southern sector, also played an important role in the dominant character of the attack, which began unexpectedly and developed rapidly in the northern sector. The offensive in the northern sector is under the direct command of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander.

The Ukrainian recapture of Izyum put an end to the possibility that Russia could achieve its declared objectives in the Donetsk Oblast. After withdrawing from Kyiv in early April, Russia's declared objectives had been to seize the entire territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.

The 4th Kantemirov Guards Division has had problems keeping its vehicles operational since the war began. Shortage of spare parts, lack of preventive maintenance, or even I would not rule out a lack of fuel, or the sum of all these factors. But one thing is clear: if these tanks had been operational, the Ukrainian counteroffensive might not have been as successful as it was. Now, all this material, whatever is recoverable, comes under Ukrainian control, with whatever supplies they can find, and this too should not be ignored.

The Russian campaign to achieve these objectives was an attack along an arc from Izyum through Severodonetsk to the area near the city of Donetsk. That attack was aimed at seizing Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Slovyansk, Bakhmut and Kramatorsk, and continuing to the western edge of Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces managed to take Severodonetsk on 24 June and Lysychansk on 3 July after a long and extremely costly campaign, but then largely culminated, seizing no major settlements and little territory. However, the Russian position around Izyum still threatened the Ukrainian defenders of Slovyansk and retained for the Russians the opportunity to return to the attack in the northern sectors of the arc.

The fall of Izyum dooms the initial Russian campaign plan for this phase of the war and ensures that Russian advances towards Bakhmut or around the city of Donetsk cannot be decisive, should they occur and succeed, as Izyum is a key piece.

Indeed, the Russian capture of Bakhmut in these circumstances is becoming unlikely to occur considering that Russian forces have been entrenched in small surrounding settlements for weeks, and at this point would not be supported by any larger effort to achieve the original objectives of this phase of the campaign, for the reason that such a move would not be supported by an advance by Izyum in the north.

The operational importance of Izyum has long anchored significant Ukrainian forces in the defence of Slovyansk to the south. The liberation of Izyum allows these defenders to join the counteroffensive, strengthening it and enabling it to continue.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have also liberated the operationally significant town of Vovchansk, northeast of Kharkiv. Vovchansk lies on one of the key land lines of communication from the Russian military centre of Belgorod into northeastern Ukraine, very close to the Russian border. Securing and holding Vovchansk may impede Russian efforts to retake the areas they are now losing.

On the southern axis, the operation targeting Kherson is not a diversionary attack, because Ukrainian forces have attacked and made gains at several important locations on the west bank of the Dnieper River. They have cut the two bridges across the river and continue to keep them cut, as well as interfering with Russian efforts to maintain supplies via barges and pontoon ferries. Ukraine has committed considerable combat power and focused a significant portion of its Western-supplied long-range precision-guided systems on this axis, and is unlikely to have done so simply to draw Russian forces into the area. However, it is critical to the northern sector, as it forces the Russian General Staff to send troops south, creating a time and space dilemma for the Russians.

If this is the case, the disaster that lies ahead is certainly a major one if it is not corrected.

It is likely that Russia lacks sufficient reserve forces to complete the formation of a new defensive line along the Oskil River, as it is allegedly trying to do before Ukrainian forces continue their advance through that position if they wish to do so. Prudence would require Russia to withdraw forces from other sectors of the battle space to establish defensive lines further east than the Oskil River in order to ensure that it can hold the Luhansk Oblast border or a line as close as possible to that border. But Russian troops around Bakhmut and near the city of Donetsk continue offensive operations as if unaware of the danger to Luhansk, and Russian forces in Kherson still face attacks and the threat of further attacks on that axis.

In contrast to the northern sector, Russian defence lines in the south show much more effective resistance. In addition, irrigation canals and river and bridge infrastructure are among the geographical factors hindering progress.

Another aspect to underline is the manifest inability of the Russian Air and Space Force to provide air superiority for six months, which is one of the most important reasons for its failure. There is an interesting attempt at an explanation in the following Twitter thread:

With the onset of winter, climatic and topographical conditions will be more difficult for Russian supply lines and especially for troop movement and manoeuvre warfare for both sides, so we will be able to see what the situation really looks like for the contenders, including a Russian counter-attack in the near future, in the spring of 2023, in an operational sense.

Below is a Twitter thread to see the relative positions now:

Ukraine has decisively won the Battle of Kharkiv Oblast, regaining territory to the northwest, north and northeast of the city and ending the Russian ground and artillery threat to Ukraine's second largest city, and unlike the withdrawal from Kyiv, because of the urgency of the withdrawal and not for humanitarian reasons, this time the Russians have not mined the areas from which they are withdrawing.

However, the response has been swift in a series of attacks from the Black Sea that have left several Ukrainian cities in the dark by attacking the electricity infrastructure, a way of also projecting Russian power in different forms of warfare:

Personal Comments and Certain Aspects to Be Taken into Account

Let's start from the obvious: there is still a lot we do not know about ongoing operations.

The Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv shows that the dominant military character of this conflict is that of a war of fire and attrition, and brings us into relation with concepts such as "Bewegungskrieg" and the theory of manoeuvre warfare (MW) enunciated by John Boyd.

To fix a model in the minds of the people who read us, manoeuvre warfare is warfare on the model of the German Blitzkrieg, a high percentage of the great Israeli campaigns, or Genghis Khan. What is pursued as an objective? The destruction of the vital cohesion of the enemy, not necessarily the physical destruction of unit after unit. In other words, it is fought not in the material part of the war, but in the mind of the enemy: in other words, it is more psychological than physical.

The main tool is to move forces to unexpected places at surprisingly high speeds, as we have seen here. Firepower is an element that must accompany manoeuvre (firepower + movement), and is used to create openings in enemy defences and, when necessary, to annihilate the remnants of their forces after their cohesion has been broken. The effort is focused on the operational rather than the tactical level.

The objective is set in terms of destroying enemy forces and not seizing a terrain seen a priori as "key". The contender A would set a sort of "trap" forward and move to execute counter-attacks on the flanks and rear of contender B's penetrations, the rule being established: "one up, two back", so that attacks are made through and around enemy defences. Battles are often encounter engagements. Rates of advance are high. Movement is constant, irregular in direction and timing, and responds to fleeting opportunities.

A fundamental key to understanding the war of manoeuvre is to realise that not all movement is manoeuvre. Manoeuvre is relational movement. Manoeuvre is not simply a matter of moving or even moving quickly. Manoeuvre means moving and acting consistently faster than the opponent.

So, in manoeuvre warfare, if the enemy is physically destroyed (and not infrequently that is not necessary), that is not the decision but simply the result. The real defeat we seek to inflict on the enemy is the nervous/mental/systemic collapse that occurs when he realises that the situation is beyond his control, which in turn is a product of our ability to constantly disrupt the timing of his observation-decision-action cycle. In this respect, technology and the ability to move units in such a way that multi-dimensional combat unfolds in an integrated and synchronised manner, as well as intelligence, prove to be decisive factors. Here they have been able to prove it.

If I have succeeded in bringing this to your attention, I recommend the following article.

Having done so, let us turn to other points to be considered.

Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Valery Zaluzhny and Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada Defence Committee Lieutenant General Mikhail Zabrodsky published the article "Prospects for the military campaign in 2023: Ukrainian vision" on the "Ukrinform" platform, and it came out just before a meeting at the Ramstein air base in Germany of the group to coordinate military assistance to Ukraine.

Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky argue that there are all the arguments to conclude that the Russia-Ukraine war will continue after 2022 and therefore it makes sense to answer questions about the scale of Ukraine's military ambitions in 2023 and what kind of assistance Ukraine needs from partners, so that this counteroffensive is a reinforcement for Ukraine.

By 2023 the article mentions the "extremely unfavourable" contours of the collision line in the Izyum and Bakhmut directions, where a "double set of forces" is required to contain the enemy, as well as highlighting a "lack of firearms and air defence". "The situation in the south and east does not look any better either," the report's authors conclude. And it is true: there are important lessons for Ukraine to learn about how the Russian front collapsed, and how to sustain it for Ukraine in an efficient way, if not to expand it.

Russia's objectives in 2023, according to the authors of the article, could involve reaching the administrative border of the Donetsk region, a goal insistently stated by the Russians, as well as advancing in the Zaporozhye direction and into southern Ukraine. The possible capture of Zaporozhye and the Dnieper would mean the loss of a significant part of Ukraine's left bank to Kyiv and, in case of success in the south, the capture of Nikolaev, Odessa, the creation of a threat to Krivoy Rog, the central and western regions of the country: something I pointed out in this commentary, which is worth revisiting.

Another aspect pointed out by the report's authors concerns "the Russian Federation's centre of gravity in this war", the impact of which could be a game changer.

The Russian Federation's first centre of gravity would be Crimea, which is such a centre, so that if in 2023 Russia were to retain control of Crimea, and to argue this point Ukraine must control Kherson, not only because of the obvious strategic fact for that purpose, but also because from there it can control access to water for the peninsula. In addition, it is in Crimea that "significant troop concentrations and material arsenals" can be found; the Black Sea Fleet is also based there; and, there is a network of airfields from which Russia can strike throughout Ukraine; to which should be added Russia's projection into the Sea of Azov, Black Sea and control of the Exclusive Economic Zone, something I have discussed here.

As I explain in the article I just recommended reading, Russia's domination of the Black Sea was built on General Gerasimov's speech highlighting the capabilities of the Kalibr on the one hand and, partially, the Kilo class submarines on the other (for the Kalibr and Russian Kilo class submarines I recommend you read this article I wrote on the importance of the GIUK gap).

In this regard, Turkey has been using different elements, including Ukraine, to protect itself from Russia by means of A2/AD (area denial weapon or anti-access/area denial weapon system, which is a defensive or strategic device used to prevent an adversary from occupying or trespassing a certain area on land, sea or air), drones such as the Bayraktar TB2, and so on.

On how Russia and Turkey conceive of themselves in the Black Sea, for example, you can read this article I wrote. Equally, the space between Russia and Turkey is starting to become mutually exclusive, and could be growing, as we are seeing for example in Libya, or eventually in Syria.

So, on these premises, both authors conclude that if Crimea is considered Russia's "centre of gravity" in the war, then Ukraine should plan a campaign to seize the peninsula in 2023. For this, the authors argue, it will not be possible to use existing formations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but will be necessary to create "one or more operational (operational-strategic) groupings composed of ten to twenty combined arms brigades". In the process, it will be necessary to provide the existing formations with modern weapons from Ukraine's partners. All this, the article argues, is "absolutely real", although it requires political will and good planning, as well as drawing on "the productive base and reserves of the leading countries". On this point, it is worth reviewing how those who have been supporting Ukraine have behaved in this area, for which see the following link.

In this regard, it is worth pointing out the potential of the Leopard 2A4 tank compared to Russian units. We should remember that there were some movements on this issue a few months ago, and Germany should make up its mind on this point, because it could change the course of the war. I recommend reading this article by Gustav Gressel, Rafael Loss and Jana Puglierin.

This would touch on aspects of Germany's energy planning and the established ties between the German establishment and its Russian counterpart, which I discussed here. On how Germany has contributed to Ukraine's support against Russia (and the possible contradictions and tensions between the established ties between Russia and Germany, not to mention Germany's much stronger ties with China, which is a key player and will become increasingly so, as I have recently pointed out in the case of the Western Balkans), it is worth reviewing this link and checking this other link.

However, Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky point out that even if Crimea were to be lost to Russia in terms of its control, the Russians could relocate the Black Sea Fleet and aviation to Krasnodar, for example, and thereby compensate for the losses over time and prepare to strike more blows on Ukraine with greater certainty in the future and even on a larger scale in my view.

Russia's real "centre of gravity", in Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky's view, lies in what they call the "remote nature" of the war for most Russians and the "impunity ensured by physical remoteness". "Thanks to this remoteness, the citizens of the Russian Federation do not perceive so painfully the losses, failures and, most importantly, the cost of this war in all its senses".

Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky referred to a series of missile attacks on Russian air bases in Crimea, including the Saki airfield on 9 August, "a convincing example of the correctness of this approach".

In conclusion, Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky emphasised that allied assistance must remain "the material basis of Ukrainian resistance" in 2023. In their view, the timing and volume of assistance is affected by the global community's lack of understanding of the true scale of the conflict, due to the fact that the realities of the war in Ukraine remain for the "absolute majority of people in the world... only the ghostly reality of the world wars of the last century".

Another aspect I would like to address has to do with one of the consequences of all this that is being made from Belarus. I have already warned that one of the factors that the Kremlin should monitor during the course of the war was President Lukašėnka, as I anticipated on 21 January this year, as he is already acknowledging that what happened in Ukraine was a mistake and that perhaps diplomatic relations with Kyiv should be re-established, according to the following tweet:

I do not rule out this move by Lukašėnka, but for the Russian counteroffensive Belarus plays an indispensable role for the Kremlin. The counteroffensive could come, as Russia has the means to do so and is moving society to achieve it (and in the process eliminating critics), as I explained in the article on the assassination of Darya Dugina. The Ukrainian defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, is of the same opinion, and in declarations to the FT he expressed this opinion.

The reaction in Russia to the Russian army's disaster on the north-eastern front in Ukraine has unleashed the wrath of the "real war party" in Moscow, ultra-nationalists and hawks of various stripes who are calling on Vladimir Putin to "start getting serious", including the group where the late Darya Dugina and Dugin himself, and of course, those who support them, fit in. Why? Because they see the possibility of achieving the goal of general mobilisation being decreed closer, and with it the promotion of the Special Military Operation to a patriotic war and the tactical nuclear weapon from an instrument of propaganda to an element of the available arsenal. I recommend reading this article by Michael Kofman and Anya Loukianova Fink, entitled "ESCALATION MANAGEMENT AND NUCLEAR EMPLOYMENT IN RUSSIAN MILITARY STRATEGY", to try to anticipate possible Russian actions in the event of such a scenario.

Russia's president is not making any clear statements on the matter, although the declarations of the "Great Patriotic War 2.0" ultras annoy him, the inevitable reverberations in public opinion irritate him, but after all they are figures outside the nervous centres of the system and their weight really and for now turns out to be limited, although Russia cannot afford to lose in Ukraine, in fact it has already cost it a lot, beyond the economic, as far as China's position in the relationship between the two is concerned. This generates movement within power circles: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, in fact, would like to take advantage of this situation and run for the federal circle of power, for the Ministry of Defence or to head a new military corps.

For the time being, signs of concern about the war situation have already appeared, as we reported on the Instituto Symposium's Twitter feed, something that could be the organisation of a sort of vague internal front in the face of a winter that will materialise in the form of economic complications that for now are limited, exposing difficulties in strategic sectors such as air transport.

However, if the sense of possible defeat spreads, resistance will be eroded from within and it would be the beginning of an end, which for the moment is difficult to be sure, but which could be a repeat of the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war that precipitated the events that led to the First World War and a series of revolutions in Russia. If Russia sinks into a sense of failure, nothing is impossible. I stress again: Russia cannot do without Ukraine, in any respect, and build on it, which does not necessarily mean peace.

This would explain why Putin opted to ignore the celebrations of the 875th anniversary of Moscow's founding, with the traditional fireworks on 10 September, despite calls for cancellation from many quarters, implying that in Ukraine "everything is going according to plan and the goals will be achieved", as stated by the number two of the National Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, who liaises between the warring extremists and the more cautious factions.

So what about general mobilisation? It is clear that this situation is approaching, although Putin is resisting general mobilisation now, because both the Defence leadership and much of the army (but note, no longer all) are of the opinion that a general call to arms would not make a decisive difference and would assign the outcome of the war in an "intermediate" phase to the military dimension alone, so they conclude that for the time being it is necessary to wait. So they conclude that for the time being it is necessary to wait. For what? For the levers of pressure on gas supplies "with the expanded West", and particularly with Germany, which is "locked in" by technology and other factors with China in an even more intense way, on the one hand, and France, on the other hand, on the other; and France, on the other hand, suffer from a mixture of geopolitical ambitions, a clear blindness as to its true weight in the current and forming European Union, plus what would come by way of pressure on France in Africa, the need for uranium (and remember, France seems to have forgotten, that there is uranium in Spain... but it has forgotten because it has forgotten because it has forgotten that there is uranium in Spain...). ... but it has forgotten because it is focusing on Turkey, an Anglophile, and its containment... something difficult when one bears in mind Turkey's real position in Africa and its link with Europe, as I explained here), and meanwhile, observing how the midterms evolve in the United States.

With France blockaded in Africa, and with the struggle with Spain (which has uranium, and the possibility of following the Eastern European countries and using it but with American technology, given France's blindness), the weight of Russia and China in France's ambitions in Africa, in Europe and against Turkey increases, and even more so if we add uranium. Another trump card of the Beijing-Moscow axis

Indeed, there are dissidents in the Russian power machine, and that they are now tolerated is significant. The call for 'more war' is gaining proselytisers among the siloviki, the men in the security sector closest to Security Council chief Nikolai Patrušev. In theory, though, no one would dare rebel against Putin's orders. But what has happened could heat things up, depending on how the parties involved read the murder of Darya Dugina.

To this must be added the vision of the Russian population, of which there are already several indicators. The latest of these is the result of the ruling United Russia party in the elections for 14 governors and hundreds of local assemblies at various levels has exceeded the already flattering forecasts. According to preliminary data, the Communist Party (KPRF), a supporter of a general call to arms and seen as a refuge for voters orphaned by a real opposition, did not perform well... this serves to understand the nature of the Communist Party as a cog in the dominant power structures of the Russian Federation. The more markedly national-patriotic positions advocated by writer Zachar Prilepin's Za Pravdu ("For the Truth") did not break through.

With shadows of suspicion, quite solid, that could be considered in more than a few respects a re-run of the Duma elections of 2021, which we discussed here, and with voting that lasted no more and no less than three days (from 9 to 11 September), we can say that, for the moment, the machinery of power is resisting and receives approval along these lines, even a reinforcement, although by the means and their scope the discourses already overlap and are contradictory between the respective spokespersons.

This makes Putin want to go ahead with referendums in the occupied territories of southeastern and southern Ukraine that are to lead to annexation, so that this will be decided on November 4, National Unity Day, a bank holiday reintroduced into the Russian holiday calendar in 2004 in place of the October Revolution commemorations, which existed in the Russian Empire and was more explicitly dedicated to the "liberation of Moscow from the Polish invader": you can imagine the connotations, when Russian-made fake news has imagined the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth rebuilt and attacking Russia as if it were in the past.

Once annexed, the Ukrainian counteroffensive would become an act of war against the regions declared an integral part of the Russian Federation, with all the relevant consequences, just as war was declared on Ukraine last February on this very basis. Including an implicit and perhaps then inevitable green light for general mobilisation, which the Russians would have to accept in the name of defending the homeland, by which time it will be clear whether the wedge driven by Russia and China has achieved its goal with Paris and/or Berlin, with a focus on Turkey.