It appears that despite official Russian claims and apparent intent and the opinion of almost all analysts, including myself, that there would be a Russian winter offensive, that offensive never occurred. It has been delayed. Why? The answer lies in the timing of the proposed Ukrainian counteroffensive and more mundane issues of war such as logistics and weather.
The most logical explanation is that the Russian civilian and military authorities did not consider that the military forces were sufficiently prepared and that the mud flooding during the Ukrainian spring known as the ‘rasputitsa’ prohibited an effective offensive and saw no reason to carry out such offensive as long as the enemy continues to come to them at Bakhmut and elsewhere. The extent of the rasputitsa can be seen in the recent video of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trip to the southern front, where hundreds of tanks and hundreds of military transport vehcles can be seen lined up for inspection in knee-deep mud. The trip was a response to Wagner chieif Yevgenii Prigozhin’s tirades at Shoigu and Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Genaddii Gerasimov, charging them with negligence in failing to secure sufficient artillery supplies for the storming of Bakhmut. Shoigu’s video sent the message that the larger counteroffensive rescheduled for spring-early summer gets priority, though it appears Putin has stepped in and patched up matters, meaning Wagner will now get increased supplies as they clean up Bakhmut. Earlier, Putin fired the commander of Russian military logistics a little over a month ago, suggesting that troubles in this sphere remain in the Russian military.
The Ukrainians conducted a de facto offensive in attempting to defend Bakhmut at all costs, throwing wave after wave of mostly poorly trained defenders at the Russian Wagner forces. Bakhmut has fallen, with Russia holding 98 percent of its territory and with the Ukrainians gradually retreating, being killed, or surrounded and in small number surrendering. Total casualties for the Ukrainian army in and around Bakhmut since November easily reached 200,000, almost all of whom will never return to the battlefield. Even though offensive forces usually suffer three-four times the casualties of defending forces, in this case matters are reversed because of Russia’s overwhelming artillery and air superiority. Kiev’s stubborn, courageous, but stupid and failed defense of Bakhmut, insisted on by Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskiy and questioned by his generals, is now over.
While both sides were focused inordinately on Bakhmut, they also were preparing their forces for respective offensives. Although the Ukrainians and their Western allies have been constantly declaring that Kiev’s major counteroffensive is imminent, the rasputitsa has set the timing for not just the Russian counteroffensive but the overhyped Ukrainian offensive, which will be plagued by Ukraine’s lack if air defense and air power (other than drones and the now Russian-jammed HIMARS) and insufficient armor and trained forces. Kievan and Western media and officials in recent days have been dampening expectations for the offensive: Kiev because they did not receive the hoped-for air power, in particular F-16s, or the quality of ground equipment needed for the offensive. The Ukrainian General Staff has warned that the offensive is high-risk and comes with likely ‘negative scenarios.’ The Russian enemy is seen as well-prepared defensively, and any Ukrainian offensive will have to repeat what Russian forces achieved in Bakhmut in Melitopol and Mariupol in the south in order to break the land bridge to Crimea. The re-taking of Crimea is something we now here from only the most agitated Kievan and Western propagandists. The Ukrainians seem to be placing their hopes on an initial blitzkrieg and destruction of the Kerch Bridge producing panic among Russian forces, who will then supposedly make a rapid retreat to Crimea, where they will need to set up a hasty and thus vulnerable defense. Zelenskiy’s love of PR and simulacra will likely dictate that the counteroffensive begins on May 9th – Victory Day, Russia’s great patriotic military holiday commemorating the victory of fascism in the Great Patriotic War along with Moscow’s long-lost Western allies.
For their part, the Russians appear poised to carry out an early defense in the south, which will be followed in short order by a massive counteroffensive east of Zaporozhe and in the north in the Kramatorsk-Seversk and Lyman directions, deploying some 400,000 additional well-trained forces and tens of thousands of drones and missiles and thousands of tanks. Russia’s complete air superiority and the Black Sea Fleet’s powerful missile barrages likely will be decisive, and this summer will either lead to the complete victory of the Russians, threatening to drive to the Dnepr and forcing negotiations or a reset stalemate that could also force both parties to the negotiating table by the New Year,. This ‘positive’ scenario assumes there is no outside military intervention to prolong and escalate the fight. The main result of any and all these scenarios is hundreds of thousands more war dead and perhaps another million total casualties, excluding a World War III and/or nuclear scenario.
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.