Small Wars Journal

Impotent Missile Strikes Can’t Reverse Russia’s Losing as Beginning of the End of the War Unfolds

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 7:24pm


Impotent Missile Strikes Can’t Reverse Russia’s Losing as Beginning of the End of the War Unfolds

By Brian E. Frydenborg

Twitter @bfry1981

This Is the Beginning of the End of the War.  The current Ukrainian advances will be the ones to push Russian ground forces completely out of Ukraine, leaving any remaining combat to take place on or just over the border with Russia or with longer-range systems, ending major ground combat operations on Ukrainian soil

Ukraine war

Ukrainian soldiers ride on an armored vehicle near the recently liberated town of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast on Oct. 6, 2022. (Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)


SILVER SPRING—Since early march, I have been bullishvery bullish—on Ukraine’s prospects for victory, but even I am continually thrilled and elated at how often Ukraine surprises me by exceeding even my high expectations.  And, after the latest events, it is clear to me now that in many ways, we are seeing the beginning of the end of the war, at least in terms of major ground combat operations in Ukraine not on the border with Russia.  I don’t mean to imply that this is soon, but that these current operations will lead to and include both the climax and most of the denouement, even if it takes months, half a year, or longer.


How I Got to Here

Back in April, after Russia had collapsed quickly on the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy fronts, I realized that if (when, for me) Ukraine could retake Kherson City and the rest of the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, that would mean that the bulk of Russian forces would have been exhausted, weakened, damaged, or even destroyed, with little to stop for long a determined Ukrainian advance along the additional sixty-ish miles to the northern border of Crimea with Kherson Oblast.

While in April I was focused on the eventual coming of Crimea into play (including how Ukraine would very likely take out the Kerch Strait/Crimean Bridge)—itself inspired by my piece analyzing how anti-ship missiles would soon sideline or even destroy the Russian Navy (and in which I was probably the only person, at least in English, to predict the sinking of the Moskva in an article before it happened)—by late July, with Russia having stalled in a spectacularly pathetic fashion, I was focused on explaining why Ukraine will win and then, in early August, the logical follow up: how Ukraine will win.

At the time, Russia had already begun moving significant numbers of troops—including some of its remaining better-quality troops and equipment that hadn’t yet been destroyed or routed—from the eastern theater to the southern theater, from the Donbas line running through the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, mainly to Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, neither of which were fully under Kremlin control (indeed, the regional capital city of Zaporizhzhia Oblast was and still is not under Russian control).

I noted then that this was taking troops from more easily defended terrain and more entrenched positions and moving them to less defensible terrain and less dug-in positions.  Furthermore, just as strikes with advanced recently supplied precision Western weapons—designed specifically in years past to counter the very weapons Russia was deploying against Ukraine—had decimated Russian logistics, ammunition dumps, command posts and headquarters, and communications on the Donbas front (both on the front line and well-behind the front in the Russian rear) to the point that Russia had lost all major offensive capability there, that had all also started to happen on the Kherson front in the south.  In fact, even before Russia’s reinforcements began arriving in the south, these attacks were so effective that damage to key regional bridges across the Dnipro River along with all the other attacks had effectively trapped thousands of Russian troops on the west bank of the Dnipro and largely cut off their escape and resupply. 

Knowing how poorly-led the Russians were, Ukraine took its time, announcing far ahead of time that they were coming large, hard, and fast for Kherson, baiting the Russians into committing more troops into an easily-cut-off position so that they added thousands more to the troops stuck on the west bank of the Dnipro River, waiting to more severely disable all the bridges so that now, there are as many as 25,000 Russian troops that are effectively cut off and in the process of being encircled.

And, in a masterstroke the type of which I anticipated (but not its location), while all this was unfolding, Ukraine saw a major target of opportunity in the Kharkiv sector and smashed Russia’s entire Kharkiv front back literally thousands of square miles in a just days.  I had noted in my early August piece that Russia’s redeployments from the east to the south would weaken its strength there and provide just such targets of opportunity, on which I fully expected Ukraine would sniff out and capitalize; it was somewhat mathematical.

The intrepid and swift Ukrainians exceeded even my expectations, though, with this Kharkiv sector smashthrough (“breakthrough” doesn’t really do it justice) and it continuing through to the important nearby Russian logistics hub of Lyman in Donetsk and beyond.  Both a tertiary-, relatively-sideshow front compared to the Donbas and Kherson fronts but also and extension of the Russian Donbas line, the Kharkiv front presented the Russians to the Ukrainians at their weakest, with the Ukrainians completely surprising and outmaneuvering them.  Throughout the Kharkiv sector fighting, it was clear that advanced Ukrainian weaponry supplied by the West, which had destroyed Russian air-defenses and also gave Ukraine effective air-defenses, had actually given Ukraine air superiorityand not Russia—on the front lines (still one of the great ongoing stories of this war).  Thus, during these offensives, Russia has been unable to provide effective air cover or reconnaissance for its inferiorly-equipped troops (who have far less night-vision equipment than their Ukrainian counterparts).  All these and other factors explain why the fighting has been so one-sided of late.