"Ukraine Sitrep - Reality Defeats The War Narrative"
Moon of Alabama (July 18, 2023)
At the beginning of the war in Ukraine I pointed out that the false narrative of 'Ukraine is winning' which the 'western' propaganda steadily promoted would not win the real war on the ground.
As the war continued I made the point again and again.
•Propaganda Does Not Change The War - The Ukraine Is Still Losing - Updated - March 25, 2022
•Ukraine - War Propaganda And News Items - October 11, 2022
•No - Such Propaganda Delusions Will Not Win The War - June 07, 2023
In this week's SCF column Alastair Crooke makes the same point in much more detail.
A Bonfire of the Vanities
Hubris consists in believing that a contrived narrative can, in and of itself, bring victory. It is a fantasy that has swept through the West – most emphatically since the 17th century. Recently, the Daily Telegraph published a ridiculous nine minute video purporting to show that ‘narratives win wars’, and that set-backs in the battlespace are incidentals: What matters is to have a thread of unitary narrative articulated, both vertically and horizontally, throughout the spectrum – from the special forces’ soldier in the field through to the pinnacle of the political apex.
The gist of it is that ‘we’ (the West) have compelling a narrative, whilst Russia’s is ‘clunky’ – ‘Us winning therefore, is inevitable’.
It is easy to scoff, but nonetheless we can recognise in it a certain substance (even if that substance is an invention). Narrative is now how western élites imagine the world.
The weakness to this new ‘liberal’ authoritarianism is that its key narrative myths can get busted. One just has; slowly, people begin to speak reality.
Ukraine: How do you win an unwinnable war? Well, the élite answer has been through narrative. By insisting against reality that Ukraine is winning, and Russia is ‘cracking’. But such hubris eventually is busted by facts on the ground. Even the western ruling classes can see their demand for a successful Ukrainian offensive has flopped. At the end, military facts are more powerful than political waffle: One side is destroyed, its many dead become the tragic ‘agency’ to upending dogma.
Even as reality seeps out the narrative of a 'successful' western battle tactics in form of combined arms warfare gets reinforced.
Ukraine aims to sap Russia’s defenses, as U.S. urges a decisive breakthrough - Washington Post
Western officials and analysts say Ukraine’s military has so far embraced an attrition-based approach aimed largely at creating vulnerabilities in Russian lines by firing artillery and missiles at command, transport and logistics sites at the rear of the Russian position, instead of conducting what Western military officials call “combined arms” operations that involve coordinated maneuvers by large groups of tanks, armored vehicles, infantry, artillery and, sometimes, air power.
Ukraine’s military leaders argue that, lacking aviation might, they must avoid unnecessary losses against an adversary with a far larger pool of recruits and weaponry. To preserve manpower, Ukraine has fielded just four of a dozen trained brigades in the current campaign.
A new element in the narrative is that Ukraine is loosing because it does not use the glorious combined arms operations 'western' military told them to use.
Franz-Stefan Gady, from the British International Institute for Strategic Studies, has just been in Ukraine where he talked with Ukrainian soldiers and commanders at the frontline. In a Twitter thread he summarizes what he has seen but is strongly promoting the same narrative:
By and large this is an infantryman’s fight (squad, platoon & company level) supported by artillery along most of the frontline. This has several implications:
1st: Progress is measured by yards/meters and not km/miles given reduced mobility.
2nd: Mechanized formations are rarely deployed due to lack of enablers for maneuver. This includes insufficient quantities of de-mining equipment, air defenses, ATGMs etc.
2.) Ukrainian forces have still not mastered combined arms operations at scale. Operations are more sequential than synchronized. This creates various problems for the offense & IMO is the main cause for slow progress.
4.) Minefields are a problem as most observers know. They confine maneuver space & slow advances. But much more impactful than the minefields per se on Ukraine’s ability to break through Russian defenses is 🇺🇦s inability to conduct complex combined arms operations at scale.
Lack of a comprehensive combined arms approach at scale makes Ukrainian forces more vulnerable to Russian ATGMs, artillery etc. while advancing. So it's not just about equipment. There’s simply no systematic pulling apart of the Russian defensive system that I could observe.
The narrative element is the same as in the Washington Post. That the Ukrainians are not using our vaunted combined arms operations is the reason for their failure.
The well synchronized New York Times piece is making the same point:
But that artillery-centric approach raises questions about whether Ukraine has lost confidence in the combined arms tactics — synchronized attacks by infantry, armor and artillery forces — that nine new brigades learned from American and other Western advisers in recent months. Western officials heralded the approach as more efficient than the costly strategy of wearing Russian forces down by attrition and depleting their ammunition stocks.
Senior U.S. officials in recent weeks had privately expressed frustration that some Ukrainian commanders, exasperated at the slow pace of the initial assault and fearing increased casualties among their ranks, had reverted to old habits — decades of Soviet-style training in artillery barrages — rather than sticking with the Western tactics and pressing harder to breach the Russian defenses.
However, the narrative is wrong.
The Ukrainians do not fear increased casualties. They did try combined arms warfare in the beginning of the counteroffensive in early June. After a few days of trying again and again they noted that the attacks failed with ever greater losses and were not sustainable. A third of the tanks and other material the 'west' had sent to Ukraine was destroyed in the attempts to use 'fire and maneuver' to break through Russian mine fields and defense lines.
Ukraine then returned to the current 'mosquito tactics' where small groups of infantry soldiers try to make small progress bit by bit. The likely loss of more tanks was thus replaced with the likely loss of more lives.
The narrative element that a combined arms attack would have more success is simply false.
As Crooke explains:
The hubris, at one level, lay in NATO’s pitting of its alleged ‘superior’ military doctrine and weapons versus that of a deprecated, Soviet-style, hide-bound, Russian military rigidity – and ‘incompetence’.
But military facts on the ground have exposed the western doctrine as hubris – with Ukrainian forces decimated, and its NATO weaponry lying in smoking ruins. It was NATO that insisted on re-enacting the Battle of 73 Easting (from the Iraqi desert, but now translated into Ukraine).
In Iraq, the ‘armoured fist’ punched easily into Iraqi tank formations: It was indeed a thrusting ‘fist’ that knocked the Iraqi opposition ‘for six’. But, as the U.S. commander at that tank battle (Colonel Macgregor), frankly admits, its outcome against a de-motivated opposition largely was fortuitous.
Nonetheless ‘73 Easting’ is a NATO myth, turned into the general doctrine for the Ukrainian forces – a doctrine structured around Iraq’s unique circumstance.
In the first year of the second world war the German Wehrmacht used combined arms warfare to wage its blitzkrieg against inferior adversaries. The tactic failed two years later when it tried to break through solid Soviet defense lines.
In the battle of 73 Easting the U.S. army could repeat blitzkrieg tactics because he had air superiority, well trained troops and better weapons. But the circumstance in Ukraine can not be compared to a mobile war in the desert.
The Black Sea grain deal has, as we expected, ended. The Ukraine reacted to this anticipated loss with a another successful attack on the Kerch bridge. Road traffic will be hindered or blocked for two or three months but the more important rail lines along the route are still intact.
As the grain deal was expected to fail, the Ukrainians may well have thought of breaking the blockade of its harbors by asking for more ships to come. But the Russia military has now used a large drone and missile attack to make sure that the facilities in Odessa and other Ukrainian Black Sea harbors can no longer be used to load or unload ships. It thus does not make sense for any ships to go there.
Over the last week the ground war in east Ukraine has further intensified. In the north of the eastern contact line the Russian army has launched its own attacks. In the center and south the Ukrainians still try to break through Russian defenses. But they are losing about 700 soldiers per day with little to show for the losses.
The Russian's are again concentrating on the defeat of the Ukrainian artillery. Over the last five days they claimed to have destroyed 27 brigade level ammunition depots. Each of these should usually hold around 30 tons of shells and missiles. Thus such attacks add up. During those five days the Russians also claimed to have destroyed some 66 Ukrainian artillery pieces. It is race of what will be completely lost first, the ammunition the Ukrainian's can use or the guns that are needed to fire it.
But some Ukrainians still insist on continuing the senseless fight.
War Monitor @WarMonitors - 10:38 UTC · Jul 18, 2023
⚡️“Returning Bakhmut is a matter of honour. We have lost many of our brothers there, we simply must recapture it”— Syrsky during a BBC interview
The way too emotional interview quote is not in the writeup of the BBC interview but I still have not seen a video of it.
That Ukraine has already lost many soldiers in Bakhmut should certainly not be a reason to continue fighting for it. It has by now only symbolic value. Even if it would again change hands it would not change the trajectory of the bigger war.
Ukraine is losing that war. The Jig Is Up and NATO knows it. Ukraine will never be allowed to become a member.
A new narrative element is creeping in with talks about a ceasefire in Ukraine. It would give the Ukraine time to refit its military.
But Russia has absolutely no reason to agree to a pause in the fight. During the war its military has become larger and better and a total defeat of the Ukrainian army is only a question of time.
The U.S. and NATO will soon have lost their big proxy war against Russia.
In light of this reality the much larger, centuries old narrative of the superior West is also breaking down.
This will have global consequences for decades to come.