Today I have to interrupt everything else for important BREAKING NEWS! And yes, this is the real deal, not a joke. Yesterday (Monday May 23) will go down in history as the day the Donbass front cracked open. I have this piece by Evgeny Krutikov, to explain some of the details. And I also have this youtube video that you can watch. Most days, I try to watch 3 youtuber war-map analysts to get some balance, namely: a pro-Ukrainian (but somewhat honest) guy at [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NVQrCJSnZI]; a pro-Russian Belorussian guy (who is also honest and objective, I think) at [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o8zOAQveNM]; and then my personal favorite Defense Politics Asia. For our purposes today here is the Belorussian guy’s analysis of the Russian breakthrough. He starts off by announcing: “We can say that the 23rd of May is the second, or maybe third, worst day in this war. For the Ukrainians.”
When The Flower Bloomed
This big breakthrough in the Donbass all started with the Russian capture of Popasna. In time, this Popasna bridgehead “bloomed like a flower”, in the words of Russian Defense Minister Shoigu. See, the Russians just kept trying different things, different attacks, different approaches. Some things didn’t work or even were colossal failures. But then something started working, and the Russians just doubled down and focused on that thing until it bore fruit. Compare this dynamic tactic with the Ukrainians who seemed to be just paralyzed and stuck in place, always playing defense. Which is super-ironic, because (a) this whole war started because the Ukrainians were planning to dynamically attack the Donbass and Crimea, so they had an offensive strategy; and (b) the Russian defense doctrine, on the contrary, against NATO, was initially based on defense not offense. In other words, the two sides sort of switched doctrines once the fighting started.
As for Popasna, it’s got to be, at least a week, these various youtubers were pointing at the map and saying excitedly: “Do you see what this means?” Er, no, to me it just looked like meaningless squiggles. (Just like, I look at a chess board in full play, and it means nothing to me, because I don’t understand chess and can’t see patterns; but real chess players can look at the pattern and say, stroking their chin, “I see Mate in three.”)
In other words, to military minds, to people who know this stuff, they could look at the Ukrainian war map and understand the pattern, they could see that these squiggles led, inexorably, to the surrounding of tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers in several cauldrons. Even the pro-Ukrainian guy was saying that a week ago, and sounding the alarm to his team. Those Ukrainian soldiers needed to get the heck out of there fast! Even if leaving their equipment behind and just hightailing it on foot. Which is what they started doing. Prior to that, they had been ordered to stand their ground and die to the last man. But then the ice started cracking, and even Zelensky had to relent and give these poor sods permission to crawl out of that cooking pot that was being prepared for them.
Jumping to the chase: What all the smart people are saying now is that the Ukrainians are pulling out of their fixed Donbass positions and regrouping to build a north-south defensive line which cuts through the city of Pavlograd. I am also reading that a battalion of Polish reinforcements is being sent to Pavlograd to help shore up this secondary Ukrainian defensive line.
Donbass Punch Through
Next let us quickly summarize Krutikov’s analysis of all these amazing movements which happened just yesterday. The end result is not that big huge cauldron that some pro-Russians were hoping for, but rather a series of smaller cauldrons. Hey, whatever works, right?
First, Russian forces busted through an entire arc from Svetlodarsk through Avdeevka, a line which had been completely static since 2015. Ukrainian forces beat a hasty retreat in the direction of Artemovsk. This puts the Russian troops in a position where they can move on Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
Another cauldron was built around the Lisichansk/Severodonetsk twin-cities conglomeration. Previously the Ukrainians had lost the single road which supplied from Bakhmut to Lisichansk. This was when the Ukrainian generals realized they needed to get out of Lisichansk and sought permission from the political authorities to evacuate. Permission was not given at the time when it was urgently needed. Which contributed to the hasty and disorderly evacuation that we see taking place now.
Krutikov: Certain units of the Ukrainian armed forces started to leave Severodonetsk on their own volition [i.e., even before official permission was given], retreating in the direction of Slavyansk. They were crossing the Seversky Donets [river] on three bridges. But from morning of Monday, one of these bridges were blown up by Russian artillery, and the second bridge fell under Russian fire control. After which the retreat from Severodonetsk to Lisichansk turned into a panicky flight over the one remaining bridge.
Previously, the Kiev authorities regarded Lisichansk as a good defensive position, because this city is located on the high ground in the middle of the [flat] steppe… But the quick movement of Russian forces Sunday evening and Monday morning in the direction of Severodonetsk deprived Lisichansk even of that advantage. By noon on Monday [Dear Readers: please remember that all of this exciting stuff happened just yesterday!] the Russian troops had occupied already several quarters of Severodonetsk with high buildings… And, by the way, this city of 100,000 residents is also a serious symbol: Until recently this was the headquarters of the Ukrainian “administration of Luhansk Oblast”, headed by [Serhii] Haidai [Russian spelling would be Sergei Gayday], one of the most despicable representatives of the Kiev regime.
Father North, Red Liman fell to the Russian troops, after which, without pause, they continued marching towards Slavyansk. Literally within just a few hours, the Ukrainian grouping at Severodonetsk found itself in tactical encirclement. To add to their discomfort, Russians started shooting Kaliber rockets at them.
Meanwhile, South of Popasna, the Ukrainian front suddenly collapsed like a house of cards along the Svetlodarsk Arc. The Ukrainians had painstakingly built this Platzdarm in 2015 from which to counter-attack Debaltsevo. Now all their plans are laid to waste in a single day. As mentioned, the remnants of the 58th Brigade are being hastily moved out in the direction of Artemovsk.
If You Can Take New York, You Can Take Anything!
Meanwhile, back on the Avdeevka front [sorry all this is being presented so chaotically, it’s mostly Krutikov’s fault but I didn’t have time to clean up his content, blame the fog of war], the Russian troops are moving to take New York. No, that’s not a joke. There actually is a Ukrainian town called New York, and it’s next on the list to be taken by Russian troops; I can only imagine the headlines in American newspapers once that goes down. American people, being so geographically challenged, will be freaking out, for sure.
Krutikov: New York is an actual populated place, founded back in the days of Catherine the Great. She invited a Mennonite sect to populate the town, these were primarily German and Dutch settlers. Like many Protestant colonies, New York flourished in Little Russia. Up until 1931 when the Mennonites were shipped out to Siberia [by Good Old Uncle Stalin?], and the town was renamed to the bland Novogorodskoe. But last year the Ukrainian Rada [parliament] returned to it its historic name of New York, in the hopes of attracting foreign investors.
The real [military] value of New York consists in the fact that the high-rise buildings on the outskirts of Gorlovka are visible to the naked eye, when viewed from the suburbs of New York. For this reason the town was turned into a Ukrainian artillery base, raining shells on the residential areas of Gorlovka and Yasinovataya.
Krutikov concludes by stating that it is hard to guess at this point, just how many Ukrainian soldiers are currently stuck in these “small cauldrons” in Severodonetsk and Avdeevka. Some sources estimate there could be as many as 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers. They will either be killed or taken captive.
That may be an exaggeration, and a lot depends how many of these units were smart enough to get out in time and regroup. Even so, the number is so huge, that their destruction or capture will surely provide a turning point in this war, especially coming after the Mariupol events.
yalensis conclusion: One might say, at this point, that it’s all over except for the shouting. But there are still many, many things for Team Russia to worry about. Not least of which: the Poles moving their soldiers into the combat zone; the fact that the Ukrainian High Command is getting smarter and not listening to that idiot Zelensky so much; the tactical regrouping at Pavlograd; and so on, and so forth. Above all: Please remain vigilant and realistic.