Ukraine War Day #102: Who Controls Severodonetsk?

Dear Readers:

The Russians control most of Severodonetsk (in red), to the West and across the River is the twin city of Lisichansk.

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.

Kadyrov was summoned to Moscow to meet with his boss.

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.

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18 Responses to Ukraine War Day #102: Who Controls Severodonetsk?

  1. colliemum says:

    Frankly, I believe nobody’s statements about whatever battle as posted on social media like ‘telegram’. I agree with your analysis: “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. ” and would suggest furthermore that, unless there’s a statement by the Russian Defence Ministry, it’s futile (and bad for one’s health, such as getting high blood reassure or sleepless nights) to puzzle out military strategy based on video clips on Intel Slava Z. Remember: all those bloggers, video makers and podcast providers know as much as we do, which is not much at all.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Yeah, one can go nuts trying to follow the daily ebb and flow of battles. Imagine if we had this technology during WWII? People would have gone completely mad, every time their team lost some ground.

      Like

  2. steve lancs says:

    I’ve tried three or four times to leave a comment but I’m getting a message that I’m an unknown or deleted user. Is there a reason for that? I wasn’t aware of having said anything offensive. Steve

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Hi, Steve, no, you never need to worry about that. I just logged on and saw your comment in the spam filter. I changed its status to “approved”, I think it should show up again, although I don’t see it yet. Sometimes it takes a few minutes…
      I have no idea why wordpress sometimes decides to dump a perfectly good comment into spam. Fortunately, I always check. I apologize for the inconvenience!

      Like

  3. the pair says:

    as soon as i saw the map i thought “a river AND mountains? looks fun!”

    one factor that keeps it from being too worrisome is russian air power. the ukrainians can barely get the odd su-25 in the air before it gets shot down while the RAF seems to have free reign. “east and west” don’t matter as much when you have airborne impunity.

    as for the ukrainians being idiots; one area where idiots excel is brute force and lack of inhibitions (say, for example, not really thinking through the possible explosion of deadly chemicals that might send a toxic cloud eastward.) i am curious about the demographics of the “foreign legions” as well. different countries have different types of idiots.

    just my take as a random punter but it seems like that side will probably stay on the other side of the river for now, but i guess that depends on the speed of russian reinforcements. crossing a big body of water means you can be pushed back into it at any given time. leaving high ground has also proven to be a tactical mistake for like…a hundred different wars.

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    • yalensis says:

      Interestingly enough, I was just reading today (on that same site, Military Summary Analysis) that the Severodonetsk River has suddenly become very shallow, even dry, in a lot of different places. Maybe not there, in Lisichansk, but in other areas. The thought is that Russian tanks can cross the river in several different places, without having to build pontoon bridges. Sort of like Moses with the Red Sea.
      Only thing that’s confusing to me: Sometimes they need to cross the river from Right to Left bank. And sometimes the other way. And I don’t know which is which. Reminds me of that old nursery rhyme (colliemum will appreciate this):

      There was a Duke of York,
      He had ten thousand men.
      He led them up to the top of the hill,
      Then he led them down again!

      Like

      • colliemum says:

        Ah, but there’s more to that ditty of that Grand Old Duke of York (not Prince Andrew, you understand) – here it is:

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        • yalensis says:

          Brilliant! I knew there had to be more to that song. I wonder what is the deeper meaning, there usually is, in English children’s nursery rhymes. I like that singer, by the way, he is funny and he has a great voice!

          Like

          • colliemum says:

            There is indeed more to this than just having a little song for little kids. This ‘grand old duke of York’ was a military commander whose forays on the continent during the Napoleonic wars ended in horrible retreats – see under ‘Military Career’:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Frederick,_Duke_of_York_and_Albany

            The then unknown Arthur Wesley was one of the officers in the first campaign where he successfully fought rearguard actions. Mr Wesley was already in India during the second campaign. His eldest brother, shortly after becoming Governor, insisted the whole family change their name to ‘Wellesley’. Mr Wellesley then fought some outstanding campaigns in India, thus allowing Napoleon to sniffily call him ‘that Sepoy general’ … Well, we all know how the story of that sepoy general ended – at Waterloo, by which time he was already known as 1st Duke of Wellington, having had chased France and Napoleon’s brother out of Portugal and Spain.
            When asked about that frost Flanders campaign under that ‘grand old duke’, the 1st D of W said that this was where he learned what not to do.
            (Sorry, I’m a card-carrying fan girlie of the 1st D of W …)

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            • yalensis says:

              Great story! Proves that even a bad commander can have his uses, if such as the great Duke of Wellington learned something from him, namely, how NOT to do battles – LOL!

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  4. Antoinetta III says:

    Why cannot the Ukrainian artillery positions in the high-elevation areas be taken out by standoff weapons, such as Kalibr, Kinzal or TOS?

    Antoinetta III

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    • yalensis says:

      Hey, Antoinetta, that’s a good question. I also wonder why Russia can’t just send a plane overhead and bomb Ukrainian artillery on the high ground. Or send a drone over? Obviously I am not cutting the mustard even as an armchair general, grrrr.

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      • Ben says:

        Because the Ukrainians, those paragons of military morality, continue to intentionally position their gear right next to civilian homes and infrastructure.

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        • yalensis says:

          It’s even worse than that. For the past week or so, the Ukrainians have been shelling the living sh*t out of the city of Donetsk, blasting it 24/7 from their high ground in Avdeevka. Knowing full well there are no military or political targets left in Donetsk, it’s just pure civilians there now. Wasting so much ammunition to kill civilians, just out of pure spite, because they know they will never get this land back. In just a few days, at this rate, if the Russians can’t figure out a way to stop this shelling from Avdeevka, there will be literally nothing left of Donetsk.

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  5. Ben says:

    It may indeed be that the Chechens rushed in ahead of schedule; that’s just the type of thing they’re likely to do. But I kind of think it won’t matter much in the end. Worst case scenario is they pull back and the advance (which they were ahead of schedule on anyway) is delayed a few days And whether this was intentional on the part of the Russians or not, Ukraine has exposed a bunch of troops of their own by counter attacking, which Russian air power and artillery can now take to pieces.

    I cannot overemphasis has little Ukraine has left. They’re absolutely scrapping the bottom of the barrel (and that’s even while being extremely generous and pretending that all the hyped NATO aid is getting anywhere near the fighting and having any impact at all). They have no heavy equipment. They just have men, and those are increasingly territorial militia cobbled together into ad hoc units with little practical combat worth.

    It’s just a meat grinder at this point. It isn’t war between two vaguely comparable sides; it’s just slaughter. Zelensky and his generals are giant pieces of shit. The outcome of all of this is 100% clear. The only impact the Ukrainian leadership’s orders have now is determining how many Ukrainian corpses there are lying around when Kiev capitulates.

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  6. BM says:

    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.

    The earlier Ukrainian boasts to have destroyed 73 Russian tanks etc while trying to cross a pontoon bridge were very comprehensively debunked. I presume you are referring to a different event this time?

    On Ukrainian claims vs Russian claims:

    The important rule of thumb is that the firmly established pathological liar must always be assumed to be lying as soon as he opens his mouth, unless the contrary can be very comprehensively proven – in which case the POSSIBILITY may tentatively be examined that there might be some fragment of truth, but always whilst maintaining the possibility of all alternative explanations. The level of proof required for a tale coming from an established liar is at least 1000 greater than that from a more reliable source.

    Conversely, information coming officially from the Russian MOD as an established reliable source may tentatively be assumed to be accurate, whilst entertaining the possibility that it may be strategic disinformation.

    Kadyrov, according to some, is somewhat inclined to boastfulness and to making premature claims, although to some extent that might perhaps reflect wishful listeners over-interpreting Kadyrov’s claims and thereby misunderstanding him – I don’t know.

    Many of the pro-Russian video sources, it seems, systematically exaggerate Ukrainian losses/Russian gains, such as Intel Slava. In one case for example the RF MOD stated that (about, from memory off the top of my head) 17 Ukrainian UAVs had been destroyed in the Snake Island attacks, of which a small proportion (4?) were Bayrakters. Intel Slava meanwhile make the indefensible categorical assertion that 50 Bayrakters had been destroyed without a shred of evidence, together with many other exaggerated claims compared to the RF MOD. Intel Slava comprehensively destroyed their credibility that day in my perception.

    Anything any of these video outlets claims has to be taken with a pinch of salt. If Ukrainian, assume lies unless proven otherwise. If Russian, and there is video evidence, assume that it is a tentative possibility, but may be subject to other interpretations, and assume it to be exaggerated; if there is no evidence, ignore it. The pro-Russian claims can probably be tentatively assumed to be pointing in the right general direction a reasonably good proportion of the time, but likely to be over-optimistic.

    Just my opinion.

    As Martyanov points out time and again, nobody really knows for sure except the Russian MOD. Anything else is either guesswork or fabrication.

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    • yalensis says:

      Epistemology is an infuriating science! I consider myself to be a red-pill kind of person, I want to know the unvarnished truth, so it infuriates me when I have to sift through various truths and lies.
      On the other hand, one can treat this as a logic problem…
      🙂

      Like

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