Last Sunday I went out on a limb and declared the culmination of Russia’s war effort. Two days later, Ukraine launched its surprise Kharkiv offensive in northeastern Ukraine, and yesterday Sunday, Russia cried “uncle!” and announced its withdrawal of the entire Kharkiv oblast, yet another humiliating defeat in a war that has featured several.
Vladimir Putin wanted the entire Donbas in Russian hands by September 15. He’ll be lucky to have much of Luhansk Oblast by then.
The light yellow on that map is recently liberated territory. The light pink is questionable control. All of that should clear out in the next day or two as more settlements are confirmed liberated. Given the fact that Russia abandoned its fierce defensive positions at Kozacha Lopan, on the very Russian border itself, confirms that they are truly quitting the entire oblast. That will pull the yellow even further east (to the thin red border on the map above). Then there’s that massive expanse of red in the northeast corner, northern Luhansk oblast.
The region is agricultural steppe, with grain and sunflowers comprising fields dominating the landscape.
The militarily logical thing for Russia to do would be to fall back to Svatove, east of the administrative border with Kharkiv Oblast, and build defenses to protect that mass to its east. Yet Russia isn’t bothering to try. Ukraine General Staff reported last night that “In Luhansk region, the Russian military and their families left the town of Svatove. Only soldiers of the so-called 'people's militia' from among the local residents remained." With Russia abandoning them, will the Donbas cannon fodder decide to fight? Hopefully not. And with Svatove liberated, Ukraine can look east to the vast empty nothing of northern Luhansk Oblast.
The town of Starobilsk (pop. 16,600) anchors the entire region’s transportation network—all the major roads cross through town, as well as the lone rail line east of Svatove. It’s wide, it’s open, it’s flat, with few settlements standing in the way. The Aidar River borders Starobilsk to the west, but that would be nothing more than a nuisance to Ukrainian forces, who could cross it with little interference to the north or south of the town.
So if Svatove falls, so does northern Luhansk, and we’re almost back to the pre-February borders in that region. Ukraine could station a small territorial defense force garrison in Starobilsk, just for early-warning if Russia decides to cross that long border again, but the bulk of the force could head south and lay siege to Luhansk city, pressuring it from both the north and west. If Luhansk were liberated, western Luhansk would be effectively cut off. Pushing further south would threaten Donetsk city from multiple directions.
As for Russian forces, reinforcements were seen heading toward Mariupol. Russia isn’t feeling too great about its “land bridge” to Crimea, and for good reason. Ukraine doesn’t want to just cut that land bridge, but wants its Azov Sea coastline back. Not only is it of upmost economic importance, but it would also threaten more of Russia’s Black Sea fleet as well as the Kerch Bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland.
By some estimates, Russia has around 40% of its total combat capabilities between Mariupol and Melitopol. Kherson city is actually strategically insignificant. Melitpol? Liberate it, and Russia loses supply lines to Kherson Oblast (a major reason Russia wanted its land bridge in the first place) and shatters Russia’s dreams of expanding to Transnistria in Moldova, through Odesa.
Quite simply, taking Melitopol would cause that entire sector to collapse, the way we saw in Kharkiv, and would provide a staging area for the liberation of Crimea.
It’s all very exciting! But I’d expect things to slow down as Ukraine finishes mopping up around Kharkiv, while giving its units time to rest, refit, repair, and resupply. And then we see if Ukraine prioritizes Luhansk city, or shoots toward Melitopol. Or heck, maybe it gets back to Kherson and aims for Nova Kakhovka, cutting Crimea’s water supply and threatening Russians in Melitopol from two sides.
That’s 32 tanks and 52 armored infantry vehicles of various kinds the last two days alone. In total, Ukraine has captured around 40 tanks and 76 armored infantry vehicles since the counteroffensive began. A full-strength Russian BTG is 10 tanks and 40 armored infantry vehicles. We’ve got over two BTGs worth of equipment over here. The tally will only go up as more territory is liberated, more weapons depots and bases are discovered, and more of the captured loot is documented and posted online.
Add around a dozen total artillery guns, and dozens of assorted command vehicles, engineer vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, trucks, etc. There have been well in excess of 300 pieces of equipment captured.
And if you look closely, there are far more vehicles captured than destroyed. This was a Russian army that was completely routed, putting up little fight.
The Bavarian newspaper got this information at the Ramstein gathering of nearly 50 nations supporting Ukraine’s war effort, led by the U.S. and the U.K. If the U.S. is ready to deliver M1 Abrams and M2 Bradleys to Ukraine, it’s because they think Ukraine’s logistics can finally handle the expensive requirements of those weapons systems. (The M1’s mileage is 2 gallons per mile.)
Perhaps they’re talking about German Leopard tanks, fielded by several NATO nations, but there just aren’t that many of those in operation, while the U.S. has thousands of Abrams tanks in storage.
Ukraine has two glaring holes in its war fighting capabilities left—modern armor, and aircraft. Ukraine will have M1s and F16s in its future. Only question is whether they’ll get those systems before or after the war is over.
Always so delightful seeing the Tractor Brigade in action!
Kherson wasn’t a diversion. There’s still lots of movement.
I’m writing this Sunday night. There are lots of rumors about a broader Russian pullback closer to Kherson, which I hope are confirmed and real when I wake up Monday morning.
More fight than any Russian in Kharkiv.
Click here to donate to help those escaping Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Some people were asking what Tucker would say given the clear battlefield reversal, and I responded “why would he change? He’ll keep lying about it.” Well, there you go.