As usual, War Mapper has the best visualizations of daily battlefield changes:
Popasna is on high ground, giving Russia a good viewed of that highway running southwest of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Soon, that highway is very likely to be cut. Pro-Russia twitter is overjoyed, while many pro-Ukraine people are despondent.
Everyone needs to chill.
First, why does anyone assumes Russia has the ability to close that circle, all 30 miles of it? Russian is fated the same problems it has suffered everywhere else—logistical difficulties compounded by flanks exposed to Ukrainian ambushes and artillery. If Mariupol could survive nearly three months of siege, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk can certainly survive for an extended amount of time with Ukrainian forces just on the other side of a shaky Russian salient.
That’s all assuming Ukraine decides to hold those two towns, and in particular, Severodonetsk, on the wrong (Russian-facing) side of the Donets. As of now, it seem clear Ukraine is happy to let its defenders continue bleeding Russia dry while its reserves get trained and equipped out west.
But say the worst case happens, and those two towns fall … so what? Tactically, hurray for Russia. They accomplished something. But strategically? There’s over 5,000 square miles of Ukrainian-held territory in the Donbas region. Capturing 300-500 square miles of that barely moves the needly, holding the rubble of two towns that Ukraine doesn’t need. Meanwhile, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk present imposing roadblocks to any further Russian advances, neither on the far end of an exposed salient like Severodonetsk.
At best, Russia will grab a tiny slice of the Donbas region it so desperately wants.
Henry Schlottman is an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) savant, meticulously tracking Russian units across the map. He’s got a good read on the current situation in the Popasna salient:
We discussed yesterday why the BTG was a useless designation, with one Russian’s account claiming his “infantry company” was 13 soldiers … instead of the 120-160 soldiers it should actually have. So yes, attempting to pass off 100 unwounded men as a “BTG” seems par for the course. That said, there is real combat strength arriving to this front.
Another convoy here. So Russia is certainly trying to exploit the breach. Their problem, aside from their typical logistical challenges, is their continued inability to truly mass forces.
Typical formulas for attacker-to-defender ratios is 3-1 to 5-1. Parity won’t do it, not with new artillery rushing into the area. The more artillery floods in, the more videos we’ll get like this, of a smashed Russian convoy supporting the Russian push geolocated 4 kilometers directly north of Popasna. No Russian is safe in this salient.
Rather than panic over Russian gains in this area, just assume Severodonetsk and Lysychansk fall. Consider them gone, off the board. Then ask yourself, what did that get Russia? The answer is truly not much. And hey, there’s a really good chance Russia never gets them anyway! We’ve seen them screw up too many times to assume that they’re finally getting their shit together.
Meanwhile, this paragraph in the May 19 Washington Post has spawned a great deal of speculation.
The bill, passed on an 86-to-11 vote Thursday, provides a combined $20 billion in military aid that is expected to finance the transfer of advanced weapons systems, such as Patriot antiaircraft missiles and long-range artillery.
There has been no credible source saying Ukraine is getting Patriot missiles, nor long-range artillery (read: MLRS). In Pentagon briefings, the answers are always along the lines of “we’re constantly reassessing Ukraine’s needs…” As always, never forget the logistics. People keep saying stuff like “Ukraine can learn to fire it quickly!” and that’s true. The initial training to shoot a Patriot is 13 weeks, but that’s just the start. Soldiers then head to their unit where they’re trained by NCOs with years of experience. None of that exists in Ukraine. Even worse, remember that training to maintain the Patriot air defense system is 53 weeks. That’s just the basic maintenance training. Again, soldiers learn more at their units working with experienced NCOs.
There is a solution—use military contractors to perform maintenance. Retired soldiers from nations who have operated that system could head to Ukraine to perform all needed maintenance (assuming all the obvious risks of operating in a combat zone), and act as NCOs to Ukrainians learning the craft. Patriot air defenses would be a definite upgrade to Ukraine’s defenses if those maintenance issues can be managed.
Anti-ship missiles are also rumored to be on the way, theoretically to break the Russian blockade. However, Russian submarines would pose a threat, as would mines and aircraft. “Breaking the blockade” could simply be a public pretense for what the United States would really get—the destruction of a significant part of Russia’s naval power. That would be well worth the investment. And anything that raises Russia’s cost of war gets us closer to the day they sue for peace.
As for aircraft, talk has died down recently. But given Russia’s difficulties fielding a functional air force, and Ukraine’s growing use of its own (lots of videos this last week), it really is time to reconsider sending F-16s and A-10s to Ukraine. Again, maintenance would have to be provided by contractors, but it’s definitely theoretically possible.
To close the loop, note that we can have this discussion of advanced weapons systems, specifically because Ukraine has defended so well in Severodonetsk and Mariupol and all along this front. Russia creeps along, gaining mere single-digit kilometers per day, all the while an entire new army is being trained and equipped out west.