Sunday, August 6, 2023

Mr. Victoria Nuland: "How the Ukraine Counteroffensive Can Still Succeed"

I'm being facetious with the "Mr. Nuland" bit. Although his wife is the more notorious and more powerful member of the marriage, Robert Kagan is a warmongering neocon in his own right.

He and his two co-authors write under the imprimatur of the Institute for the Study of War and here at TIME. By-the-bye the ISW was founded and is run by his sister,  Kimberly Kagan.

This piece looks to be around seven thousand words. It almost reads as if the writers think war is a giant board game.

From TIME Magazine, August 3:

The situation in Ukraine still favors Kyiv despite the limited progress made in the counteroffensive so far. Ukrainian forces attempted a limited mechanized penetration of prepared Russian defenses in the south in early to mid-June, but failed to break through the Russian lines. They then switched to slower and more careful operations while disrupting Russian rear areas with long-range precision strikes. Ukraine began the next, reportedly main, phase of its counteroffensive on July 26 with a determined drive to penetrate Russian lines in western Zaporizhia Oblast. It’s far too soon to evaluate the outcome of that effort, which is underway as of the time of this writing, but it is vital to manage expectations. Ukrainian forces are fighting now to break through the first line of long-prepared Russian defenses. Several lines lie behind it, stretching for many miles. Ukrainian progress will very likely alternate periods of notable tactical advances with periods, possibly long periods, of pause and some setbacks. Much as we might hope that the road to the Sea of Azov will simply open for Ukrainian forces the odds are high that fighting will remain hard, casualties high, and frustration will be a constant companion. All of which is normal in war.

But the Ukrainian counteroffensive can succeed in any of several ways. First, the current Ukrainian mechanized breakthrough could succeed, and the Ukrainians could exploit it deeply enough to unhinge part or all of the Russian lines. Second, Russian forces, already suffering serious morale and other systemic problems, could break under the pressure and begin to withdraw in a controlled or uncontrolled fashion. Third, a steady pressure and interdiction campaign supported by major efforts such as the one now underway can generate gaps in the Russian lines that Ukrainian forces can exploit at first locally, but then for deeper penetrations. The first and second possibilities are relatively unlikely but possible.

The third is the most probable path to Ukrainian success. It will be slower and more gradual than the other two—and slower than Ukraine’s Western backers desire and expect. It depends on the West providing Ukraine with a constant flow of equipment likely over many months so that Ukraine can maintain its pressure until the Russian forces offer the kinds of frontline cracks the Ukrainians can exploit. It is not primarily a matter of attrition. The slow pace of the pressure campaign Ukraine had been using before July 26 is designed to minimize Ukrainian losses. It is not primarily oriented towards attriting Russians either, but rather towards steadily forcing the Russians out of their prepared defensive positions in ways that the Ukrainians can take advantage of to make operationally significant advances. It is still maneuver warfare rather than attritional warfare, just at a slower pace. It therefore requires patience, but it can succeed.

The Ukrainians have been successful with such an approach both in Kherson and in the Kharkiv counteroffensive. The rapid collapse of Russian positions around Kharkiv in October 2022 was the result of months of steady Ukrainian pressure on the ground and in the rear. Ukrainian forces stopped determined Russian advances around Izyum in southeastern Kharkiv Oblast and then launched their own limited counterattacks in mid-September 2022. They targeted Russian logistics hubs and concentration areas behind the front lines for months before launching their decisive effort. That effort caught the Russians by surprise, leading to the sudden collapse of Russian defenses and rapid, dramatic Ukrainian gains. A similar approach in Kherson did not achieve surprise and so did not generate such a large-scale rapid Russian collapse, but it still liberated a large and heavily defended area. A similar approach in southern Ukraine now can offer similar prospects for success.

Ukraine has reportedly committed the main body of the forces it had prepared for counteroffensive operations, although it is not clear what proportion of those forces are actively engaged in combat. Ukraine retains the initiative and benefits from the many advantages discussed below. Its counteroffensive could nevertheless fail. The Russians might prove more resilient than they seem. The Ukrainians might be unable to develop the tactical skills they need to overcome well-prepared Russian defenses. The West might fall short of providing Ukraine the equipment and support it needs in time. The last is the only thing fully under the West’s control. As long as Ukraine still has a serious prospect of liberating strategically vital areas, which it still does, the West’s task is to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to succeed.

Russia’s Problems

Reasons for confidence in the possibility of significant Ukrainian successes are closely tied to a number of fundamental challenges inherent to the Russian position in Ukraine and the Russian military. These cannot be resolved in 2023, so the opportunities they offer Ukraine are not fleeting. At the strategic level, the geometry of the theater favors Ukraine. At the strategic and operational levels, the lack of Russian reserves forces difficult and complex choices on the Russian military command in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives. And at the tactical level the way the Russians are conducting defensive operations puts much greater pressure on Russian combat units than the lack of regular or large-scale movements on the map would suggest. All these problems are exacerbated by fundamental flaws in the Russian military itself.

Theater Geometry

The defining characteristic of this phase of the war is that the Russians must defend a ground line of communication (GLOC) consisting of a road and a rail line that runs from Rostov-on-Don at the northeastern edge of the Sea of Azov to Crimea. Vast quantities of food, fuel, ammunition, personnel, and other supplies are required by the tens of thousands of Russian troops in southern Ukraine and must travel along this road and rail line. The Russians were already relying on (and dependent on) this GLOC to supply their troops in southern Ukraine before the most recent break in the Kerch Strait Bridge, because Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian forces not to rely on the bridge for their logistics after the last major attack on the bridge. The break in that road bridge deprives the Russians of any fallback if the Ukrainians can threaten or cut the Rostov-to-Crimea GLOC.

This state of affairs favors Ukraine in an important way. If the Ukrainians can reach the Sea of Azov anywhere and hold their positions, they will have cut the GLOC. The Russians, thus, have to hold the entire thing. Put another way, the Ukrainians only have to win and hold in one sector to render virtually all the Russian-held territory west of their advance untenable. The Russians have to win everywhere all the time. The Ukrainians don’t even have to make it all the way to the water. The GLOC does not hug the coast all the way, for one thing, and is thus closer to the current front lines in some areas than the shoreline. If the Ukrainians can push to within artillery range of the GLOC (about 25 kilometers), moreover, they can begin to shell it intensively in a way that would badly degrade the Russians’ ability to continue to use it. The Ukrainians are thus free to choose any sector of the line or take advantage of any hole that opens anywhere in the line, to push to cut the GLOC in a way very likely to collapse the Russian defenses west of that break. The Russians cannot allow any such holes to appear.


The Russians suffer from an additional challenge in that they lack operational or strategic reserves. Reserves are uncommitted combat forces able to respond to developing situations in the battlespace. They can be used to take advantage of opportunities such as to break through the lines during an offensive operation or to handle emergencies, for example by rushing in to close a gap in friendly lines before the enemy can exploit it. Reserves are essential in mechanized maneuver war when the combatants can break through each others’ lines and then exploit those breakthroughs to make large-scale and rapid advances. Reserves can play a different role in protracted war, whether attritional or to simply slow maneuver, because the frontline troops in such a conflict become exhausted over time. Reserves can then rotate onto the frontlines to allow the exhausted troops there to move to safer areas in the rear, rest, receive replacements and new equipment, and prepare to take their turns again on the front lines. A military without significant reserves has to require its troops on the frontlines to stay there indefinitely and can temporarily generate the effects of reserves only by pulling forces from one sector of the line to another to deal with unexpected opportunities or reverses. This is exactly the situation the Russians find themselves in now, and the Russian force generation apparatus is currently incapable of bringing up quality reserves to fulfill these roles fast enough.

Lack of dramatic advances or withdrawals does not mean lack of action, still less stalemate. Ukrainian forces continue to press Russian defenders all along the lines with combinations of artillery strikes and ground combat. The Russian defenders are tiring—and complaining about it publicly. It is clear that Russian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov, who is also the overall theater commander for Ukraine, has established a policy that seriously limits troop rotations across the theater. One Russian senior commander resigned or was fired over the issue. Russian soldiers or their families periodically release videos complaining about the lack of rotations. Russian milbloggers constantly express concern about the problem. These indicators clearly suggest that Gerasimov’s policy is largely pinning the same Russian forces on active front lines for a long time, forcing them to continue to receive Ukrainian artillery strikes and ground attacks for weeks or months without rest. Since the nature of the Russian defense requires considerable activity of the defenders, as we will consider below, the burden on soldiers required to execute that defense continuously for a long time is wearing....


Possibly also of interest, posted three weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

Ukraine: NeoCons Nuland and Kagan; A Family Business of Perpetual War

This piece is seven years old but evergreen. The warmongers are back in the news, Kagan because he is pitching civil war in the U.S. and Nuland because there are some loose ends (secrets to bury) in Ukraine, dating back to the 2014 coup and some serious skullduggery before and after. Looking from the outside-in, it appears Nuland has some regime change planned for Belarus as well. And then maybe Poland.

Polish politics is such a thorn in the EU's (and NATO's) side that a change of government may be the neocon's only solution for getting what they want. Which would be hilarious if it weren't so serious; Stalin ran into the same thing trying to install communism. Unlike East Germany which took to it quite easily, to the point that many of the old people still have Ostalgie (East-Nostalgie). 

Stalin got so frustrated that he said trying to impose communism on Poland was like putting a saddle on a cow [NYT August 1989, some have him saying the same thing about Germany but I know of no ref.] Similar sentiments in Brussels, I'm sure.

From the now-deceased Robert Parry, writing at Consortium News, March 20, 2015, i.e. a year after the Maidan coup:....


Sunday, November 14, 2021
Russia—Ukraine+USA: It's Probably Nothing (plus Ozzy)
Anybody know where Nuland and Kagan are?
Via the Twitter box: 

Friday, January 14, 2022
"White House: Russia prepping pretext for Ukraine invasion"

Dear General Milley,

Counterattack if you must but DO NOT take the Paris - Borodino route.

The off-season discount seems attractive but really it's,

Bad, bad, no good, very bad.

Yr. Pal,

Lil Boney

p.s. Is Victoria Nuland still married to that Kagan guy?
She hot, in a Harpy/Valkyrie sort of way
July 2022

The writer of this piece, M.K Bhadrakumar is more pro-Russian than he appears in this blog post and we've only linked to him once before -Vatican Frontruns The Rest Of Europe To Buy Russian Gas. However, at this moment seeing the world through the lens of his former life in the Indian Foreign Service might bring more value to the reader than tuning in to Fox or CNN or hanging out with the warmongers at the Nuland/Kagan Institute for the Study of War....

And dozens of posts on Ms. Nuland solo.