The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Ukraine Offensive Halts at Oskil River?

Posted on | September 13, 2022 | Comments Off on Ukraine Offensive Halts at Oskil River?

(Click to see full-size map.)

I don’t like this. I don’t like it one bit. More than three days after Ukrainian forces claimed the capture of Kupiansk, they have not established bridgeheads on the east bank of the Oskil River, meaning that their ability to continue advancing eastward — i.e., to drive the Russians out of Luhansk Oblast — is in doubt. While the Ukrainians have reportedly reoccupied Lyman, that crucial foothold is likely to become the focus of Russian counterattacks, if the forces that took Kupiansk and Izyum do not find a way to cross the Oskil and keep pushing eastward.

Momentum counts for a lot in war, and when the Ukrainian advance sent Russian troops scrambling out of Kupiansk and Izyum, it appeared that the Russian panic might spread quickly eastward. The Ukrainian governor of the region said that on Friday or Saturday, Russian forces fled from the towns of Svatove (about 35 miles southwest of Kupiansk on the P07 highway) and Kreminna (another 30 miles south of Svatove on P66 highway). Anyone who looks at a map can see that Svatove and Kreminna are crucial points on the supply line for Russian forces along the front from Lyman eastward to Severodonetsk. So if Ukrainian forces could have seized those towns — even with small patrols of lightly armed infantry, which could not withstand a full-strength counterattack — Russian troops on the Lyman front would have been cut off.

Today, the same regional governor said Svatove has now been reoccupied by the Russian forces that fled earlier, so that golden opportunity — made possible by the panicked reaction to Ukraine’s rapid advance on Kupiansk — appears now to have been lost, at least for the time being. And, as I say, there is no evidence that Ukraine has crossed to the east bank of the Oskil River anywhere between Kupiansk and Izyum. The most obvious sites for such crossings would be at the P79 highway bridges, between Senkove and Kruhlyakivka, and further south between Horokhovatka and Borova. Establishing east-bank bridgeheads in Kruhlyakivka and Borova, and then linking these together in a wider front — the two towns are about 12 miles apart — would provide a solid base for advancing east, toward the P07/P66 junction near Svatove.

Now I suppose that Ukraine’s rapid advance created logistical problems — they outran their supply line — and further suppose that the P79 bridges across the Oskil River have been damaged or destroyed. Be that as it may, the panic in the immediate aftermath of the Ukrainian advance created an opportunity that does not appear to have been fully exploited. Troops and equipment can be ferried across a river (at night, if necessary), and even a fairly small force of infantry scouts might have been enough to chase off any Russians around Kruhlyakivka and Borova, amid the chaotic scramble of this past weekend. Given another couple of days to bring over armor and artillery, that would have been enough to establish a solid grip on the east bank of the Oskil. While I’m perhaps guilty of underestimating the difficulty of such a task, the fact that nothing at all seems to have been attempted in the past three days is discouraging. Given time to recover from their disasters near Kharkiv, the Russians are likely to dig in on the east bank of the Oskil now, making further Ukrainian advances difficult, if not impossible, in the short term.

In the aftermath of the first Battle of Manassas, Confederate commander Joseph Johnston remarked that his army had been as disorganized by its victory as the Yankees had been disorganized by their defeat. Something like this may have happened to the Ukrainians, who recaptured some 1,200 square miles of territory in a few days last week. Probably they did not expect to be as successful as they were and, having reached Kupiansk and stampeded the Russians out of Izyum, the troops figured they’d accomplished everything that had been asked of them, and more.

Yet the war is not won yet, and it won’t be won anytime soon if the Ukrainians don’t make the most of every advantage they gain.



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