As of the moment that I am penning this, people on the intertubes do not know for sure exactly which side (Russians vs Ukrainians) controls the Donbass city of Severodonetsk.
We all remember how, just a couple of days ago, LPR forces along with Kadyrov’s Chechens, stormed Severodonetsk and took over, say, 90% of the residential portion; and the pro-Russian blogosphere rejoiced. Geography: Recall that Severodonetsk is split into 2 portions, roughly East-West, with the Eastern half being residential; and the Western half industrial. Then, moving even further West, past the industrial area, there is the river (Severodonetsk River), and on the other side of the river lies the twin city of Lisichansk, still controlled by the Ukrainian armed forces.
Knowledgeable military analysts say that the Russians must take Lisichansk eventually, if they are to close the cauldron around the Ukrainian army and drive them out of Luhansk altogether. However, Lisichansk cannot be taken directly, from the East, because (1) there is a river in between, and (2) Lisichansk is on a much higher ground, so its defenders have the advantage, when it comes to artillery. Some analysts even believe that it was a mistake for the Russians to take Severodonetsk so early, for this very reason. They say that a second and even third grouping must come at Lisichansk from the rear and/or the flank, coupled with the frontal attack from Severodonetsk . Earlier attempts by the Russians to encircle from the North (by crossing the Severodonetsk River on pontoon bridges near Belogorovka) were foiled by the Ukrainian forces. After that tactical defeat, the Russians have been searching for a different way to encircle Lisichansk.
Anyhow, the big news yesterday was the Ukrainian counteroffensive within Severodonetsk itself. Employing a battalion of foreign mercenaries (the International Legion), the Ukrainians attacked eastward from the industrial zone into the residential zone. They claim that they pushed the Russians out of Severodonetsk almost completely. If true, this is particularly worriesome, when one recalls how the Chechens posted all those jolly photos of happy Severodonetsk residents greeting the pro-Russian soldiers. What will happen to those civilians now, if the Ukrainians are truly back in control?
Are the Ukrainians telling the truth about their big victory? It is certainly factual (everybody agrees) that they launched a counteroffensive. But the Russian side disputes the success of said counteroffensive; they say they pushed the mercenaries back with great losses to the latter. There are two completely different narratives, what happened. Hopefully, later today more news will emerge from the fog of war.
My Spidey Sense?
I have to be honest: I am a worrier by nature. I inherited this trait from my mother. I am also superstitious: As soon as people start rejoicing about something, I start worrying, what can go wrong now? And I have to admit, that my spidey senses were always somewhat on alert when I heard Kadyrov boasting about his amazing speed in taking this city. I am psychologically alert to possible undercurrents and cunning plans; and I don’t believe it is correct to always mock the Ukrainians and call them total idiots. Well, they are idiots a lot of the time. But not all of the time.
Please recall the fact that, as was earlier reported (back in late May), President Zelensky gave General Zaluzhny permission to “withdraw” (or retreat) from Severodonetsk. And they made quite a big deal about this in the media, making sure the Russians understood that there was a conflict of opinions there, and that Zaluzhny eventually won the debate. After which, the General completed this operation and pulled Ukrainian army troops back to the more defensible Lisichansk. So, my question is: Was this a cunning plan all along? Was this a trap to lure the Russians into a city they could not hold? Zelensky’s personal advisor, Alexei (aka Lusya) Arestovich claims that this is precisely what it was.
Exhibit A: Let us examine this blogpost by Anatoly Shariy, Ukrainian dissident (currently residing in exile, in Spain). For those not in the know, Shariy is a patriotic Ukrainian, but he absolutely loathes Zelensky and the current regime in Kiev, and he loses no chance to mock them.
Most of the time Shariy gives good political analysis, but in this case I don’t think his mockery is on target. Here I think Shariy is mixing two different things, namely (1) the propaganda nonsense of calling the Azovsteel surrender an “evacuation”; and (2) Arestovich’s claim that they set a trap for Russian forces in Severodonetsk.
Around 3:00 minutes in there is a clip of Alexei boasting that the Ukrainians didn’t actually “retreat” from Severodonetsk, what they actually did was “lure” Russian forces into a trap. Shariy (and most of his commenters to the podcast) split their sides mocking Arestovich and his outrageous porkie pies. And truly, Arestovich is world-class dissembler, some people even compare him to “Baghdad Bob” of Iraq War fame.
Around 2:35 minutes into the video, you will see Arestovich making his outlandish claim, which Shariy compares to the nonsense surrounding the supposed “evacuation” of Azov soldiers from Mariupol.
Arestovich: “We have lured the Russian troops into a trap in Severodonetsk, having pretended to cede the city. Currently the Russian command is in a state of shock…”
Going on to say that Ukrainian troops [actually the International Legion] then launched a brutal counter-offensive, in which they killed or captured many Russians. A bit later, at 3:50 minutes in, Alexei Nikolaevich suddenly rises up on the wings of Calliope and starts spouting verses from his Soviet schoolboy memory:
Переправа, переправа! Берег левый, берег правый, Снег шершавый, кромка льда., Кому память, кому слава, Кому темная вода, - Ни приметы, ни следа.
TRANSLATION: The crossing, the crossing! The left bank, the right bank, Rough snow, blocks of ice. for some, eternal memory, for some glory, For some just the dark water, Not a trace left.
Which fragment, interestingly, is from the famous Vasily Terkin, by renowned Soviet poet Alexander Tvardovsky. In this “novel in verse” which is considered a classic of Soviet Russian literature, Tvardovsky relates the adventures of a fictional soldier in the Great Patriotic War. The fragment cited by Arestovich concerns a feat in which the Red Army troops attempt a very dangerous river crossing using a pontoon bridge. Perhaps hinting at the earlier Russian defeat in this war when they attempted to ponton their way across the Severodonetsk River from Right to Left bank, near the town of Belogorovka.
Things To Worry About
Undeniably, Arestovich is a paid propagandist and a known liar. BUT what if he is, in fact, just a little bit right about Severodonetsk being a trap for the Russian army? Even if they weren’t driven out, we know that they are sort of stuck there until help arrives from the rear or flank. Like I said, they cannot attack Lisichansk directly from the front. So, they are pinned down until more help arrives, they must keep at a certain distance and under a certain perimeter of defense from Ukrainian artillery. Which the Ukrainians are free to unleash from their much higher ground in Lisichansk.
Moroever, on this very topic, “Dima” from Military Summary and Analysis openly worried about this in his post from June 3:
The following day (which was yesterday), Dima posted the shocking news of Ukrainians victoriously re-taking Severodonetsk. (Or having their asses handed to them for a second time, depending on whom you believe.)
Some Kremlin Conspiracies
This might be an opportune time to mention that General (yes! he is a General now) Kadyrov captured Severodonetsk ahead of schedule. He was given a 3-week timetable to capture the city; but, being the Stakhanovite that he is, he conquered the residential part of town in just a day! This is how the Chechens like to do things (Kadyrov was frequently heard to complain about the slow tempo of the war), but sometimes there is such a thing as going too fast. Kadyrov even created a bit of a scandal when he launched a scathing verbal attack against a Rossia-TV reporter who dared to fact-check his claim that he had conquered the entire city in under three hours.
After which, and you can read whatever you like into the fact that Kadyrov was summoned back to Moscow to meet with Defense Minister Shoigu. Thank goodness we don’t live in Stalin times, when such a summons might inspire a man to start thinking about defecting to the enemy, instead of having to meet with his boss behind closed doors!
Fortunately, Kadyrov’s tête-à-tête with Shoigu seems to have gone well. No discernable whip marks on his back. Obviously we have no idea what the two men chatted about, because it’s top secret. But Kadyrov gave us a little hint afterwards when he tweeted the following on his Telegram feed:
“We had a businesslike discussion about the issues of conducting the Special Operation to De-Nazify and De-militarize the Ukraine; and we determined the future paths that our collaboration would take. Sergei Kuzhugetovich defined new tasks which presuppose the improvement of our tactics. The measures which we are about to take will permit us to improve, by several factors, the effectiveness of our offensive maneuvers, and this will help us to conduct the Special Operation at a faster tempo.”
Reading between the lines (and possibly reading it completely wrong), I worry that Kadyrov, being sort of a loose cannon as he is, may have rushed the gun [more gun metaphors!] and taken Severodonetsk too soon, before the flanking maneuver was ready. Leaving the Russian/Allied troops like sitting ducks for the Ukrainian counter-offensive, at a time when the Ukrainian army appears to be getting slightly better than they used to be, at pulling off offensive and counter-offensive operations.
And One More Thing
Oh, and one more thing to keep one up at night and worrying fruitlessly, and that’s this.
According to reporter Vera Basilaya, the Ukrainian soldiers while earlier retreating from the residential portion of Severodonetsk (sorry, I mean, luring the Russians into that trap), had taken the time to mine a chemical plant in the industrial portion. The factory is called Azot (not to be confused with Azov), which is the Russian word for “nitrogen”. Already, that doesn’t sound so good, does it? The cisterns contain a highly volatile mixture of nitrogen and nitrates, with a volume of over 100 tons. The Russian Ministry of Defense is warning the world that a Ukrainian diversionary-tactical group could possibly explode these tanks in order to create a deadly toxic cloud which could then be blamed on Russia.