Originally appeared at Vpk-news; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The LDPR may repeat the tragedy of the defeat of Serbian Krajina
For the Russian viewer and reader, since Novorossiya “disappeared” from the media in the spring of 2015, it is as if there is no war in Donbas. “Are they still fighting there?”, Russians ask in surprise, if they happen to meet a volunteer on holiday. Meanwhile, the distant place is only a hundred and fifty versts [Translator’s note: a verst is an old Russian measure unit, equivalent to 1.07 kilometres] from Rostov. It would be possible to call the current phase of the war in the Donbas a “low-intensity conflict” if both sides did not have a special desire to continue it.
However, the desire of the Ukrainian political leadership to return the Donbas and the military leadership at any cost – to take revenge for the defeats of 2014-2015 – has not promised and does not promise any “low intensity”. What’s happening? What are the daily realities of the front line in Donbas? What are the goals and objectives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), with what means can they achieve them?
The “Croatian routine” in Donbas?
Sensibly assessing the chances of a confrontation with the Russian army prepared for a counter-attack and most importantly, ordered to do so, the Ukrainian military is waiting. They are waiting for the moment of a large-scale economic and political crisis in Russia, which can paralyse the Russian leadership and minimise the chances that such an order will be received by the troops in a timely manner. Of course, any large-scale economic problems of Russia will not slow down the impact on the Ukraine either, the uninvolved will simply be crushed by the wreckage of the “hated empire”, but it will happen later. And the timely attack of the UAF in Donbas is the first step to minimise future troubles at the expense of Russia. Waiting for favourable political conditions for the recurrence of the Croatian “storm”, who, in a matter of days, swept away the Serbian Krajina, the UAF does not stop working for a day to get the most favourable military conditions for this.
The cornerstone of such a favourable military situation is the maximum possible reduction of combat efficiency of the National Militia Corps of the republics, which in 2014-2015 were transformed into the People’s Militia. That is, the Ukrainian fighters need to kill as many defenders of Donbas as possible, and to convince the rest that the resistance is useless. To achieve this, the UAF simply needs to consistently realise its numerical superiority as a country with a conscript army and a population ten times larger than the Donbas.
The essence of daily battles on the LPR, the contact line, from Shirokino to the village of Lugansk: the Ukrainian army, bearing quite acceptable losses and getting invaluable combat experience every day, puts the defenders of the republics before the choice – either to retreat or to bear losses commensurate with the UAF, which in their numbers are unacceptable. And the next repetition of the cycle will facilitate either further advances of the UAF, or causing new damage to the troops of the republics. Anyone who happened to come face to face with two or three opponents of comparable size in a street fight knows, even a double advantage of the opponent dramatically reduces the chances of victory/survival. Most of the “wonders” in the world history of military battles, achieved by the incredible steadfastness of soldiers and genius of the commanders of one side and the short-sightedness and passivity of the other, are victories “only” over the two- or three-times superior enemy. You can defeat them only if you are above your opponent’s head in quality. And with this the republics have problems – technically, the UAF are now equipped, on average, a head higher than the people’s militia.
Anatomy of the modern trench warfare
It may be argued that this is not so important in the context of positional warfare. Let the doubters serve as ordinary men in the Lugansk or Donetsk infantry and feel how important it is to have quality technical superiority. You can be a hero, but if the enemy is guaranteed to destroy you before you reach the border of effective heroism, it becomes meaningless.
Speaking of the positivity of the war, first of all, it is worth mentioning the positions we are talking about. In fact, unilateral compliance of the Lugansk and Donetsk to the Second Minsk Agreement led to the fact that since spring 2015, the vast majority of the elevations in the gray zone between the belligerents were occupied and strengthened by the UFA. Later on, the ban on the massive use of heavy weapons allowed them to move almost everywhere to the correct siege of the “support” of the militia.
From the point of view of classic schemes of positional defence, the density of corps troops on the LPR is ridiculous. It cannot be said that the militia units on duty control or cover some areas. With a front of ten, fifteen, or even twenty kilometres, a battalion that puts one of its companies on the front line in rotation can only “observe” it. And then only if it finds enough inventory items and provides communication. It is usually not necessary to talk about a full-fledged repulse of attacks: it is good if from neighbouring positions at least the fire of large-caliber machine guns can cover the gaps. The enemy, in turn, cannot only maintain the necessary density of battle formations, but also everywhere installs on the power line poles, towers, masts rotary video cameras with modern optics, providing a constant good view of the advanced positions of the militia, even without UVAs.
In such a situation, no matter what profitable position to take at the prevailing altitude, the enemy, having a numerical advantage and having a preponderance in firing capabilities (because he did not care about the truce and ceasefire), simply surrounds it with his “supporters” and observation unit, “squeezing” it on its flanks. With a constant, very accurate, UAV-corrected artillery fire, the enemy damages the garrison of the position, sniper fire, automatic grenade launchers and large-caliber machine guns block approaches to the position, making even trivial things like troops rotation, food and ammunition delivery very dangerous and difficult. In the end, after a while you are forced either to accept that this position is a source of constant losses for you, or to leave it, so that after a few months to face exactly the same situation at the next turn. Retreat or lose people, retreat – retreat again or lose people.
The only “antidote” invented by fighters and militia commanders against this unsuccessful tactic of advancing UAF is digging. Dig communication passages that allow you to get into positions without being exposed to enemy sniper fire. Build deep dugouts-shelters that can withstand the impact of mortar mines. But it is simply impossible to overtake the pace of earthworks of a superior enemy. In addition, trenches that crumble over time should be constantly cleared. Mechanisation of this work is impossible – at any loud sound of work in the trenches and on the observed movement, the enemy raises the UAV and conducts very accurate corrected mortar fire. At the same time, the UAF during the truce excavators are freely driven to the front edge to dig up caponiers for equipment or shelter for personnel.
The story of the “Daring” hill on the southern wing of the front, near Kominternovo, whose months-long siege began in 2018 and ended with the surrender of this position in the spring of 2019, is very characteristic. This is a glaring example of the enemy’s success in the described progress tactics. The height was held for many months under continuous attacks by the soldiers of the reconnaissance company of the 9th separate marine regiment of the DPR People’s Militia Corps. At a certain point because of the above-described “Minsk format” of the war, the rate of destruction of fortifications at height by the enemy began to exceed the rate of their restoration by a small garrison of this position. The enemy controlled by fire the approaches to it, so that as a result “Daring” became a constant source of losses, which paid for visual control of the surrounding area. In “Minsk” conditions, it’s almost useless: how to effectively hit the identified targets, if the artillery and mortars should be silent?
After the change of the regiment commander, the order was to leave the heights. Soon it turned out that the height “works” in both directions: we had to leave the neighbouring positions, “Seven” and “Plate”. The attempt to return the “Daring” ended in failure and losses. As a result, the UAF came close to Kominternovo and the settlement finally went down in anticipation of Shirokono’s fate, which was handed over to the UAFchiks in early 2016.
The psychology of confrontation
In addition to the destruction of our life force, the psychological pressure on the fighters, providing a sense of hopelessness, is very important. The enemy, of course, takes this into account and constantly strives to demonstrate its technical superiority and demonstrates with impunity in a demonstrative and effective manner. For example, when working with mortars for any reason, such as another “truce-all-truce”, it is not at all decent, the enemy very effectively, without sparing ammunition and barrels’ resources, using the 30 mm guns of their BMP-2, often from closed positions. To “get” such a “beemer” working from behind the hill, can only be done with artillery, corrected with UAVs, which do not exist and cannot work in the LDR.
Alas, throughout the war, almost all of the People’s Militia drones constantly working on the front line are commercial DJI Phantom and Mavic quad-copters. Already in 2017-2018 in some areas of the front there was effective work of “silencers” of the UAF, blocking control signals and GPS. An asymmetrical response from the militia was to launch drones on a fishing line – so that they would not be taken away. Flying over the enemy, behind the front trench for most air observers was impossible, only to rise above one’s trench as a tethered blimp from World War I. After a while, in the most important areas of the LDR, the power and coverage of the “silencers” reached such a level that it was not even possible to take off: GPS satellite signals near the ground were completely extinguished. The People’s Militia of the republics actually went blind: what can you see when you lift a “quadric” in our own rear?
The militia has no means everywhere and all the time, as the UAF, to actively counter even the simplest commercial quadcopters of the enemy. The rate of artisanal production of Donetsk “silencers” “Terrikon M2N” declared “up to two complexes per year” – a drop in the ocean. At the same time, the enemy is increasing the number of drones constantly hovering over the front line, including striking ones.
Wealth and poverty of arsenals
For the Ukraine, this war is real, it is in every news releases, independent – a warring country, and as a result, not only the Ukrainian military-industrial complex supplies the army with its new products, but also volunteer organisations, relying on private donations, saturate the troops with serial reconnaissance aircraft that search for targets (including at night), and shock heavy copters that hit detected targets with 82-mm mortar mines and hand-shaped grenades.
The artillery fire of the UAF batteries, adjusted through UAVs (including night-time), clearly shows that if one artillery is firing all the time, and the other is forbidden to shoot all the time, sooner or later the first will start shooting better than the second. Given the balance of forces of the parties on the number and caliber artillery guns (for one battery of 120mm mortars on our side, two batteries of 122mm howitzers on the enemy’s side, for our one battery of 122mm howitzers, two-three batteries of 152mm guns of the enemy), we can confidently upset the Internet audience of this war, commenting on the pictures with questions like: when did the militia give permission for “payback”? When will the artillery of the People’s Militia move from an occasional short, “partisan response” to attempts to suppress the UAF artillery in protracted duels? Answer: the enemy’s batteries will simply destroy the People’s Militia’s “artti”, crushing it with the number and accuracy of volleys. Five years of “Minsk” have led us from the situation where the Minsk Agreements saved the UAF from defeat to the situation when they also save us from the defeat by the republic.
The technological lag of the People’s Militia compared to the UAF is simply monstrous and every day of the existence of such a situation is paid for with the lives of the defenders of the republics. The enemy actively and everywhere uses sniper teams armed with modern large-caliber and long-range snipers, including night and thermal sights. At the same time, the standard armament of snipers in the republics is the SVD rifle with PSO-1 sight with an effective firing range several times less than that of the enemy. Equipping anti-tank guns of the Second World War with optics, PTRs and PTRDs, does not make their shooting a sniper – neither the barrels of the PTR, nor 14.5mm ammunition from the KPVT machine gun do not give sniper accuracy at the required distances.
While the Internet propagandists were foaming at the mouth to prove that the mass receipt by the Ukrainian army of American anti-tank missiles “Javelin” will not change the balance of power in the Donbas, the Ukrainian military-industrial complex supplied the troops with ATGMs of its own production, the “Stugna-P” and “Corsair”. In 2019, the mass use of “Stugna-P” began in the Donbas and practice has confirmed that the enemy can confidently hit this ATGM moving targets at a distance of up to five kilometres. As a result, rock roads in the immediate rear of the People’s Militia were covered in many areas, and after demonstrative successful launches with the dead and wounded on our side, it was even more difficult to supply these advanced positions. Without any “Javelins” (which the UAF, of course, also receives), the balance of forces looks quite caricatured – now, repeating the Croatian “Storm”, the UAF will first send their subversive reconnaissance units with ATGMs to the LDR and successfully isolate our advanced “support” from the reinforcements approaches, and then will be able to cover the flanks of their attacking groups with mass use of modern ATGMs from the tank counterattacks of the National Militia Corps, when and if they follow. In turn, the use of ATGM in the People’s Militia is still limited to the Soviet complexes “Fagot” and “Competition”, missiles and launchers of which, due to expired storage and operation periods, are faulty and do not work properly.
When to wait for the “Storm”
Of course, the reader, fascinated by the bravura reports from Syria, will have a question about the possible surprise of the Ukrainian offensive. How can “these half-finished Ukrainians’ ensure the secrecy of such a large-scale offensive operation? How can so many troops and supplies be brought to the front without being noticed?
First, every day in order to instantly crush the defence of the republics at the right moment, fewer and fewer troops are required – every day experienced soldiers on our side die in an unequal battle, and soldiers of a numerically superior enemy receive combat experience and new equipment. The UAF-2020 is not the same army with which the Ukraine entered this war in the spring and summer of 2014. But the People’s Militia in 2020 in terms of personnel is not the militia of 2014. At the front – they are usually 45-55-year-old lieutenants and captains, commanding either soldiers of the same age, or 18-20-year-old youngsters. Thus, a significant part of the People’s Militia fighters, the most experienced and motived, simply for health reasons will not withstand the loads of several days of continuous maneuverable combined-arms battles. Unfortunately, there are not so many strong, intelligent 25-35-year old men who would be interested in working for years as targets for Ukrainian snipers and artillery for the sake of returning the Donbas to the Ukraine, spelled out in the Minsk Agreements.
Second, how many troops does the enemy need? The enemy has already crated and constantly maintains a three-or five-fold numerical advantage at the front. In regular rotations when changing brigades on the front line, it can easily mask the necessary movement of ammunition and fuel.
Third, the capabilities of the People’s Militia will be further reduced by the enemy’s saboteurs, whose sabotage will start the offensive in warehouses, parks with military equipment and other objects of the republics’ People’s Militia. The capabilities of these saboteurs have been confirmed for several years by successful arson attacks on ammunition depots (Donetsk), bridges blown up (Krasny Luch), and tanks burned at People’s Militia’s ranges (Torez).
For many years, these questions about the technical level and real combat capability of the People’s Militia were met with the same answer both in the high offices of Moscow and in the military leadership of the republics: “Russia will help, there can’t be a situation in which it won’t help”. Now, in the summer of 2020, with the development of a severe economic and political crisis in Russia, there is a situation where the reaction of the Russian Federation to the transition of the UAF to the offensive in the Donbas may be slow or it may not follow at all. There are too many well-wishers who suggest that it is time to reset the freelance subsidised region, closing their eyes for a couple of days, until “the Ukrainian authorities restore control over these territories”. This is not Crimea, it is possible. It’s still “wrong way up”.
Only a sharp and clearly expressed position of public opinion in Russia on the Donbas, stated decisively and en masse, can reverse this kind of indecision of the Russian authorities. But in order for this position to be formed, for the necessary changes to take place in the position of the Russian leadership and for the corresponding order to be issued, time is needed. Will the Donbas be able to hold out for these next few days?