Friday, October 3, 2014

What the battle for the Donetsk airport reveals about the Ukrainian and Novorussian forces

I hear contradictory reports about the situation of Donetsk airport ranging from "airport 90% in Novorussian hands" to "airport taken".  Whatever may be the case, I believe that there is a pretty good chance that the Novorussians are correct when they say that airport will be taken this week-end.  I took a quick look at the site to get the latest report and this is what I saw:

There are combats taking place right now (5PM Moscow time) but most of the airport is in Novorussian hands.  Furthermore, the Ukies have been pushed back just barely enough to make it very hard, if not impossible, for them to resupply their buddies at the airport.  In fact, Novorussian soldiers interviewed in the Russian social media say that every time the Ukies try to send in a resupply convoy it gets destroyed.  The AngloZionists are also apparently preparing for the loss of the airport: they are currently discussing the imposition of more sanctions on Russia is the airport falls to the Novorussians.  Very stupid and yet oh so typical of these arrogant and clueless bureaucrats.

But the really interesting thing in all this is the Ukie behavior.  Try to make sense of that:

What the Donetsk airport reveals about the Ukrainian forces

For *months* now the Ukie forces at the airport have been resisting in very hard conditions, often completely surrounded and very rarely resupplied.  The Novorussians have offered them innumerable times to do what most other Junta forces did: leave through a corridor.  But the folks at the airport refused.  Sure, the (previously) ultra-modern Sergei Prokofiev Donetsk airport gave them a lot of very strong buildings and plenty of underground tunnels and facilities to hide, but their conditions there were not made much easier by that: they have been shelled, submitted to sniper fire, attacked by special commandos and basically starved and one can only imagine their morale considering that the chances for victory or even evacuation were close to zero.  And yet they resisted with a fierce determination.  According to one Novorussian source, over 1000 Ukies have already died in and around this airport.

Why?  Why did they resist that way?

Did that airport really have such a strategic meaning?

The answer is no, not in the least.  One silly notion was the the Ukies were holding on to the airport to prevent the Russians from using it to land their forces in Donetsk.  This is laughable for several reasons.  First, the Russians can land a fully mechanized airborne division anywhere, they don't need an airport for that.  Second, if the Russian military wanted to take that airport, it could do that in a few hours (more about that later).  But most importantly, why in the world would the Russian bother landing in a contested airport when they could land in Lugansk or even simply drive from the border?!  So no, the control of this airport does nothing to prevent a mythical Russian invasion.

Does the airport have some other strategic meaning?  Does it allow to control Donetsk maybe?

The answer again is, no, not at all.  In fact, if we look at what the Ukies have actually been doing from that airport we come to the most baffling "mystery" of it all: for months now the Ukies at the airport have submitted the city of Donetsk to completely random and indiscriminate fire.  The kid of fire which kills civilians and destroys buildings, but which will have exactly zero impact on the Novorussian Armed Forces (NAF).  And when I say zero I really mean zero.  Let me explain.

The Ukies do not have the reconnaissance/intelligence capabilities to track the movements of NAF units inside Donetsk.  Nor do they have correctors which could correct artillery fire.  Furthermore, while the Junta Repression Forces (JRF) forces to the northwest of the airport can, maybe, provider fire support to the Ukies in the airport, the artillery in the airport itself is useless because the NAF forces are too close for that kind of artillery to be of much use.  Besides, the JRF have a few (2?) tanks and mortars to do that.  So the only possible use for the Ukie forces at the airport is to try to terrorize the people of Donetsk.  This is simply mind-blowing, but it appears that 1000 or so Ukies were killed in months of heavy fighting for the sole purpose of killing civilians.  Yes, it does sound absolutely crazy, but that is because it is absolutely crazy.

Now, it is true that the Ukie "Minister of Defense", Valerii Geletei, is an incompetent clown.  A former cop turned state security official turned military (literally overnight), he is the guy who claims that Russia used nukes in Lugansk, the guy who "signed" his pledge of service with a closed pen and the guy who has just shown WW2 era ammo as proof of a Russian invasion.  He is hated and despised even by the Ukies.  I an see that guy giving the order to "keep killing civilians until all of you are dead", but why in the world are the Ukies at the airport following such an idiotic order?

Finally, consider that one of the few good aspects of an otherwise very controversial ceasefire was precisely to freeze the conflict more or less along the current line of contact and get any surrounded units out with no more blood spilled.  And several Ukies units used this chance to get out of some rather desperate looking situation.  The JRF even unilaterally withdrew from some contested villages.  Except for the crazies at the airport who, instead of getting the hell out of Dodge, decided to dig in, stay and keep on terrorizing civilians.

I might be mistaken here, and I would appreciate any insights into this from you, but the only explanation I have for the apparently insane behavior is that these Ukies have been terminally brainwashed.  They are like the SS in 1945 who screamed "Heil Hitler" while standing in front of a Soviet firing squad.  Just like the SS, these guys apparently believe that their "honor is called loyalty" and they are apparently willing to fight to their last breath for the opportunity to terrorize civilians.  Those Ukrainians who fought for Saur Mogila at least could tell themselves that they died in a battle for the control of the critically important southern edge of Novorussia.  But to die for the Donetsk airport is either to die for nothing, or to die for the capability to kill civilians.  Crazy and scary stuff.

What the Donetsk airport reveals about the Novorussian forces

There is another thing about this airport which strikes me as important.  For months the Novorussians could not take it. Granted, this was a tough objective to seize and one could even argue that the NAF was stretched thin by more important combats elsewhere - both arguments are true - but still that does not explain why they could not take that airport.

There is one fact which civilians are always unaware of and which even military people often fail to realize: all military forces are good when they are winning.  Let's me explain: when a battle starts and, say, side A gets the upper hand and begins beating or pursuing side B, the actual performance of side A is almost always good.  It is exceedingly rare for a military force to show incompetence, poor training or make mistakes while engaged in the pursuit of a retreating enemy.  This also means that you cannot judge the effectiveness of a force by seeing how it performed in a battle it won.  The key criterion to measure the combat effectiveness of a military force (from the foot solider up to the commander) is whether it can turn the tide, whether it can fight well while retreating, whether it can take a severe beating and then successfully mount a counter-attack.  That is something only a truly effective force can do.

I think of the Afghan insurgents who showed superb capabilities against the Soviet military (especially the Tadjiks in the north).  Everybody had assumed that as soon as the last Soviet solider would leave the insurgents would simply enter Kabul in a matter of hours.  It took them three years!

Urban offensive operations are one of the most difficult tasks any military force can be given and even a force which performs superbly in the countryside can completely fail in an urban environment, especially against a determined defender.

The NAF did turn the tide and from a situation where the JRF almost surrounded Donetsk and cut off Donetsk from Lugansk.  The NAF very skillfully used the fact that the JRF was "hugging the roads" to let them in, then surround them, then cut them off and then destroy them.  But this was defensive operation.  Furthermore, they got *a lot* of help from Russia including not only "voentorg", but also direct fire support from across the Russian border.  Then the Ukies ran.  Their retreat was a total disaster, a botched and chaotic retreat in which the JRF truly showed how poor of a military force it was.  But we must not mistake the military incompetence of the Ukies for a proof that the NAF is a very capable force on the offensive.  The fact is that we don't know how good the NAF would be in an offensive operation, especially against a determined defender.  The case of the Donetsk airport is rather unique and does not prove that the NAF could not do well, but it should at the very least give some pause and reasons to think to those who believe that if not for the ceasefire the NAF would have liberated Mariupol or the rest of Novorussia.  Furthermore, if we accept the argument often made by the Novorussians that they could not get the needed forces to the airport because they were stretched thin and needed these forces in other directions, then what does it tell us about what would happen of the NAF indeed did advance on several fronts as it appeared to be doing just before the ceasefire was signed?  Do those who today deplore that Mariupol was not take realize that all the best units of the NAF had already been allocated to this task and that they were all far away from the rest of Novorussia?  To those who are so upset about the ceasefire I have a basic question:

If all the best NAF forces were allocated to the battle for Mariupol, what NAF forces would have remained available in case of a Ukie attack from the north?  IF that had happened how "thin" would the NAF forces around Donetsk and Lugansk have been?

I know that I will not get an answer to those who have accepted as indisputable the thesis that the NAF could have taken Mariupol and freed the rest of Novorussia (nevermind those who believe that the NAF could have taken Kiev).  For them, the botched Ukie retreat from Novorussia is a clear proof that the Ukie military was finished and that total victory was at hand.  And nevermind the Donetsk airport.

History cannot be re-written and we shall never know for sure.  But as long as one can make a plausible argument that the ceasefire was signed just about at the perfect time for NAF - at the peak of its success - then there is no need to assume that all those who are not categorically opposed to that ceasefire are all traitors, agents of Surkov or any other kind of nasty nonsense which the hurray-patriots have been spewing on those who do not share their opinion.  In my opinion the battle for the Donetsk airport clearly shows that the NAF was already stretched thin and that it is far more skilled in rural defensive operations than in offensive urban ones..

The Saker