Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ukraine SITREP May 31st, 21:13 UTC/Zulu: why can't the junta take Slaviansk?

Combats SITREP from "Juan"
  • Igla-S man protable anti aircraft missiles were found 'abandoned' beside a country road' by Donbas Army, confirmed. Quantity unknown. 
  • A video of a Ukrainian Sukhoi ground attack plane being shot down 30 May is extant. No verification of the incident by witness account from a crash sight. The pilot ejecting is visible on the video. 
  • Ternopol: Some government buildings have been taken by the people, one admin building burned 30 May.
  • Several ZU-23 anti aircraft systems (which can be used with devastating effects as heavy rapid-fire machine guns on ground targets) were "found" by Donbas Army. Source and number of as new condition weapons unknown. The weapon systems are now in use of the Donbas Army.
  • Casualties from the bombardments of Slavyansk and Donetsk are estimated in excess of 50 civilians but this number is not verified. It is verified that one 5 year old girl child has lost a foot. 
  • Children were being evacuated from Slavyansk to Russian Federation and sent to Sevastopol yesterday and today. That evacuation has been suspended due to the situation in Slavyansk as of early this afternoon local time.
  • Heavy fighting is continuing in parts of Slavyansk and outlying areas all day and intensifying as of 17:55 31.05.2014. 
  • Donetsk Airport is still the scene of sporadic fighting since afternoon 29 May. Fighting still occurring 31 May. 
  • Casualties of junta Army as of 28 May are reported to be 627. Casualties of the junta Army since that date are reported by the same source as 250. Both figures are KIA (killed in action). WIA (wounded in action) are not known accurately but the source estimates in excess of 700 WIA up to 28 May. WIA after there is no estimate.
  • Desertions from Ukrainian Army are confirmed at a minimum of 1428 as of 28 May. No numbers reported after that date. It is unknown if these figures include national guard/right sector casualties. 
  • 18:21 local time unconfirmed reports from Donetsk Airport that a junta Army unit has turned at least some of their weapons on national guard/right sector fighters in airport terminal, reason unknown. 
My own sources confirm that Slaviansk has seen the heaviest artillery strikes ever with shells landing more or less randomly in the city.  Still, the huge artillery barrage which "Juan" and, by the way,  one of the leaders of the Resistance, Viacheslav Ponomarev had feared would occur last night did not happen.  In other words, the means to flatten Slaviansk have been deployed, but the political decision seems to be the only thing waiting to happen and, as Crossvader on others had suggested, this decision would entail major risks for the regime in Kiev.  My personal guess is that the local commanders of the Ukie death-squands around Slaviansk would love to open up with everything they have against those they call "terrorists", "bugs" or "Moskals" but that folks like Poroshenko in Kiev see, if not the big picture, then at least a bigger picture.  For one thing, the Russians could simply walk out from the negotiations on gas deliveries.  What is certain is that the fight for the control of rump-Ukraine is now on, with on one hand the Poroshenko-Klichko duo trying to get Kiev under control and on the other the Iarosh-Timoshenko-Tiagnibok-Liashko freak show trying to put pressure on him with maximalist demands.  The compromise in Novorossia seems to be "we will shell enough to create a panic, but not enough to trigger a real bloodbath".  This is most definitely not an effective tactics.

Combat operations in many parts of the world have all shown that while the initial shock takes a very heavy toll on the civilian population, after a while people learn how to adapt and survive.  There are already reports about children recognizing the the weapons used to shell them by their sound.  Schools are now closed, and most families spend their time in or near shelters.  As for the fighting men of the Novorosiia Defense Forces (NDF) they will not be eliminated or forced to retreat by artillery strikes.  Again, an analysis of recent urban combat operation shows that artillery and air strikes are not enough to prevail against a trained military force dug-in inside a city.  The only known way to defeat a force dug-in inside a city is to engage in building-to-building infantry warfare, something very similar to WWII.  As soon as you put your own force inside a city it becomes very tricky to use artillery fire support (because you risk hitting your own men) and air strikes, especially with powerful bombs or missiles, become especially dangerous.  The only way to clear a city from its defenders becomes to send in heavily armed (infantry) assault teams, supporter by armor, to clear the city street by street and house by house, probably the most difficult mission one can give to an infantry force and one in which the better trained and most experienced side will have a huge advantage over your typical "street rioter turned national guardsman in 2 weeks" kind of attacker. 

Right now the junta is using an old Bolshevik technique: they send conscript units into combat and right behind them they use "blocking squads" - special Right Sector death squads which will summarily execute anybody not willing fight.  While such methods are more or less doable in open terrain they are absolutely impossible to use in an urban environment.  Thus, those Ukrainian army forces which might be able to competently execute an urban assault (paratroopers) are rarely willing to do so, while those who would be most willing to do so would either be killed in minutes ("street rioter turned national guardsman in 2 weeks") or to cowardly to try (death squads).

What we have witnessed so far is typical of the inability of the junta to lead a competent military operation.  All they have done so far is:

1) First terror tactic: the random shelling of Slaviansk and other cities.
2) Second terror tactic: random shooting at civilians.
3) Attacking checkpoints located outside the cities.
4) Attacking symbolic objectives located outside the cities like the Donetsk Airport.

As I have said it many times, time is not on the side of the junta.  Civilians are gradually being evacuated from the combat zone and even if the Ukrainian authorities use various intimidation and nasty harassment techniques against these refugees (like forcing them to get out of their buses and continue on foot), they cannot simply kill them all (too many cellphones with cameras, too many reporters out there).  As for the NDF, they are clearly getting more and more weapons such as the MANPADS (man portable air defense systems) and rapid fire AA (anti-air) guns mentioned by "Juan" which the NDF seems to regularly "find" here and there.  By the way, MANPADS and AA guns are the *perfect* weapons for urban warfare.  The first ones prevent not only air strikes but also air mobility (ferrying around of men and equipment) as we have seen with the recent death of the junta thug-general in charge of the "National Guard" in the Donbass.  As for rapid-fire AA guns they can not only shoot helicopters and aircraft, they can turn any wall or lightly armored vehicle into confetti in just a few seconds.  Even a main battle tank will be badly rattled if a ZU-23 puts well-laid burst of steel armor-piercing rounds on it.  My understanding is that so far the NDF only has the towed version, but sooner or later they are going to get the self-propelled one (the ZU-23-4 lovingly called "Shilka") which is normally used as air-defense system for in any motor-rifle or armored regiment.  As for the old ZU-23-2 they can be mounted on pickups and trucks (though these vehicles will shake badly during firing).  I think of these simple but formidable weapons has "WWII weapons on steroids".

Everything I wrote above about Slaviansk is even more applicable to big cities like Donetsk which feature two additional and formidable obstacles to overcome for the attacking forces: big strong buildings build with reinforced concrete with deep basements and a buried and redundant communications network.  The former make it even harder to use artillery or airstrikes to support attacking infantry units while the latter make it all but impossible to disrupt the defenders communications.  Big cities also have more food stores, more supply and ammo dumps, they can be better prepared for defense (axes of attack are easier to predict in a city) and the defending force can be *more* mobile inside a big city than in the open.  Finally, cities have even more civilians with video cameras and cellphones and they also have more journalists and reporters.  The political costs of attacking a big city are thus much higher than the ones of a almost "private massacre" in a small village which, at any rate, might be discovered only days later.  Some of the worst massacres in Rwanda did not take place in Kigali (which saw plenty of horrors) but in small villages hidden in the hills and forests.

Bottom line: this is one the junta leaders cannot win.  They hope to bait Russia in, but if Russia resists the provocation, and I believe Russia will, they will have to give up and, as I said yesterday, I think that the junta will do so sooner rather than later.

The Saker