Russia’s invasion is a mix of new technologies, old tactics, and high body count

Volonteers try a children's bulletproof vest on Zlata, a a six-year Ukrainian girl in Kharkiv on December 14, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. - Volunteers handed over the first batch of 20 children's bulletproof vests made by Kharkiv Plant of Protective Equipment to the ambulance doctors and volunteers of Kharkov, intended for the evacuation of children from the shelled areas. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)


For months, the fight on this side of Bakhmut has been characterized by all those sites up and down Patrisa Lumumby Street. Then Russia managed to get a more secure hold on positions around the cement factory and moved forces along Pershotravnevyy street to reach an area of homes and shops. This area had previously been one of those positions from which Ukrainian defenders were able to fire out into this more open area. Now it seems that this stage of the fighting is all but over.

What kind of price Russia paid in terms of casualties taken to occupy this area isn’t clear. Over the course of nearly six months of fighting, they’ve certainly lost more than 10,000 in the attempt to capture Bakhmut, and this is where they are now. But Ukraine’s losses in the area have also been great—and that’s on top of the utter destruction of a city that was home to 73,000 people when Russia’s invasion began.

Evacuation of the remaining civilians from Bakhmut continues, despite the reluctance of some citizens to leave. By several accounts, that evacuation has become much more dangerous and difficult thanks to Russian forces shelling highways around the city. In the last few days, no more than a dozen or so people have been evacuated each day. 

There are also big concerns that Russian forces could move up from Optyne, just south of Bakhmut,  or Klishchiivka to the southwest. Both of those areas are now in dispute, though Ukrainian forces are still in place in both towns.

All that said, for the moment, Bakhmut holds.

This was recorded today in Bakhmut. On the map above, the position would be about where that highway intersection is noted just east of where the name Bakhmut appears on the map. You can see the fatigue, but also the determination, in these faces and hear the pounding of the artillery. I’ll see if I can find a translation for what he’s saying (anyone with the skill, please do so). 

When we see the word Bayraktar, the immediate thought is of the medium-range, missile-carrying drone that Ukraine used effectively—both to hit Russian forces and shore up Ukrainian morale—in the early days of the Russian invasion. But the Baykar Bayraktar TB-2 is just one option in a family of products from the Turkish defense firm Baykar, which was founded by Özdemir Bayraktar. That company is now run by his two sons, including, Selçuk Bayraktar, the company’s chief technical officer, and a PhD graduate in engineering from MIT. 

Today Selçuk couldn’t help but show off the first flight of the company’s newest product, the Bayraktar Kızılelma. The name means “red apple,” and no, I don’t know why. But this jet-powered drone is reportedly capable of flying at over 1,000 kmh and has a combat range of around 1,000km. While it can be used to strike ground targets, it’s also intended as an unmanned fighter aircraft capable of tangling with manned fighters. This first flight is actually ahead of schedule, but don’t expect to see this show up in Ukraine … yet.

What started as the laughable “Wagner line” at an obscure location in eastern Ukraine has become an epidemic of ditches all over Ukraine. And Russia. And Belarus. All over occupied Ukraine, and into neighboring countries, Russian forces have engaged in a flurry of ditch digging. 

Some of these constructions are so obviously pointless as to be laughable—like a series of ditches cut across sand beaches in Crimea.

Others that look as if they have no value, as with the small and unanchored “dragon’s teeth” that Russian forces have been spreading somewhat haphazardly along these lines, may turn out to have some actual stopping power, or at least slowing power, when they’re connected to multiple lines of trenches and fortifications.

Trench warfare reminiscent of World War I has become a horrifyingly familiar part of the fight in Ukraine. The reason for this is simple enough: lack of effective air power by either side. In a fight that has often come down to artillery duels, it shouldn’t be surprising that the lines between armies end up looking like they did when “the king of battle” first ruled the day.

Obviously, some things have changed. Because day after day, we see images and videos showing what happens when 1914-style trenches meet 2022 drones.

Please take the sensitive content warning on this video seriously. This one isn’t kidding.

These entrenched positions can, and have been broken through. More often than not, Ukraine has simply bypassed these positions until they become isolated and can either be approached from the rear or ignored entirely. But Russia is putting an enormous effort into creating more and more miles of trench across the Ukrainian landscape. The formula for these things isn’t new: areas of minefield, backed by dragon’s teeth, backed by another minefield, backed by trenches, backed by a second row of trenches or fortifications. 

How effective are they? Consider this image. Then check the date on this post.

These are exactly the kind of “unassailable” positions that in World War II proved to be absolutely assailable. However, penetrating these lines does require either concentration of force, coordinated action, or time.

Russia is building these lines all across eastern Ukraine. They’re going up (or down) around Svatove, Starobilsk, and across a sizable portion of both Donetsk and Luhansk. They’re being built around Crimea, around locations in Zaporizhzhia, and now along the eastern bank of the Dnipro River across from Kherson city. Part of the reason is simple enough—even “mobliks” who never got a chance to hold a gun during the train trip that passed for basic training can still be taught which end of a shovel goes in the ground. “Digging is easier than fighting” is an old, old saying, and it remains true. Given a choice between digging a trench and assaulting one, even Russian forces aren’t confused about the preferred option. 

Sitting back behind those lines across the river, Russia bombarded Kherson a reported 57 times on Monday alone. That bombardment of the city Putin declared “Russia forever” is continuing.

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Russians shelled downtown Kherson, destroying the city council building on the main square. That’s where civilians are usually gathering.

Russians lost on the battlefield and now want to kill as many civilians as possible out of spite. Cowards. pic.twitter.com/CVluqLL7oK

— Oleksiy Sorokin (@mrsorokaa) December 14, 2022

If Ukraine wants to stop this in the short term, they will need to employ either more air power or some form of artillery (i.e., HIMARS) that can outrange the Russian guns in an effective counterbattery fire. In the long term, they will need to do what was always on the agenda eventually—cross the river and force Russia to step back from the city.

In fact, almost everywhere Ukraine is now trying to advance, with the exception of small towns in the northeastern edge of Kharkiv and some locations around Kreminna, are behind these beefed-up Russian trenchworks, and more are being dug every day.

Two weeks ago, Task and Purpose looked at why these “ancient” defenses continue to be used, and why they continue to work.

“In World War I, the trenches existed for four years. Both sides tried to break through the trenchline and get back to maneuver warfare,” retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former Commanding General of United States Army Europe, told Task & Purpose. In that case, Hertling said, soldiers were going up against machine guns, artillery, mustard gas, and dug-in positions. The issue is, Hertling said, if you can’t get around or over a trenchline, you can’t defeat it. That’s true even in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a bizarre mix of new technology and old tactics. That’s exactly the sort of thing that leads to this:

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A 🧵on RU + UA losses per @Volya_media, for 11/8/22-12/8/22.

Losses = Killed, Missing, POW

TLDR:
🇷🇺 21,320- 21,380 Losses (93.8k-98.1k total)
🇷🇺 43,200- 43,469 WIA (177k-190.5k total)

🇺🇦 7,900- 8,100 Losses (47.2k-50.3k total)
🇺🇦 23,980- 24,000 WIA (89.6k-95.5k total)

1/11 pic.twitter.com/6rSv7kyieK

— LanguageLearner (@LanguageIearner) December 12, 2022

Those are godawful numbers on both sides. As in the American Civil War—where the technology of a rifled bullet made weapons effective over hundreds of yards, but commanders were still lining people up for bayonet charges—the mix of old tactics and new tech almost invariably leads to exorbitant body counts. Russia is likely to hit 100,000 soldiers killed in this illegal invasion before the year’s end.

Even so, those trenches are still effective in slowing the movement of both infantry and armor unless the attacker can bring to bear enough precision munitions in the form of either drones, aircraft, or advanced artillery to incapacitate the trench-based defenders. That really hasn’t been happening in most locations.

And that’s a problem that has to be solved for Ukraine to win this war without seeing those awful numbers double several more times.

Speaking of winning this war, here’s something—something not far removed from pure speculation—that’s been circulating around both Ukrainian and Russian Telegram channels over the last week. According to those channels, Ukraine is massing large numbers of forces in two locations: Near Svatove in the north, and near Zaporizhzhia in the south. According to the reports/rumors/wild-ass speculation, as soon as the ground is solidly frozen around Svatove, Ukraine intends to attack with both forces at once. 

Then, the story continues, if Ukraine wins in the north, they can rapidly take most of Luhansk, cut off multiple supply routes into Donetsk, and negate anything going on around Bakhmut. If Ukraine wins in the south, they can push forward to Berdyansk and Mariupol, break Russia’s lock on the coast, and threaten Crimea. If Ukraine wins in both places—the war is over and Russia has no choice but to try and sue for peace on any terms available.

It’s a very nice story, and it’s always good to see the pro-Russian sources feeling gloomy. But it should be pointed out that right now, I know of zero evidence that this is the plan, or even that the “massing of forces” in these locations is really happening.

In case you didn’t see this yesterday…

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CORRECTION:

Fortunately, there are good news from Ukraine.

The American volunteer paramedic @bekamaciorowski has confirmed that the news of her death are false.

She writes on Twitter and that she is “definitely alive and well”.

Thank you for all you are doing Rebecca.

🇺🇸🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/pJk8d0E97v

— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 13, 2022

Well, that was an awesome way to finish out the 2022 election cycle! Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard revel in Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory on this week’s episode of The Downballot and take a deep dive into how it all came together. The Davids dig into the turnout shift between the first and second rounds of voting, what the demographic trends in the metro Atlanta area mean for Republicans, and why Democrats can trace their recent success in Georgia back to a race they lost: the famous Jon Ossoff special election in 2017.

We’re also joined by one of our very favorite people, Daily Kos Elections alum Matt Booker, who shares his thoughts on the midterms and tells us about his work these days as a pollster. Matt explains some of the key ways in which private polling differs from public data; how the client surveys he was privy to did not foretell a red wave; and the mechanics of how researchers put together focus groups. Matt also reminisces about his time at “DKE University” and how his experience with us prepared him for the broader world of politics.





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