Michael Kofman Profile picture
May 25, 2022 18 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
A few thoughts on the current course of the war and the situation in the Donbas. Recent Russian gains offer a sobering check on expectations for the near term. Will use a few of Nathan’s maps. Thread. 1/ Image
The initial Russian offensive sought to press Slovyansk/Kramatorsk from Izyum, and to envelop Severodonetsk at the same time, severing the two sectors from each other. This was not an attempt at a big operational envelopment in the Donbas, but nonetheless ambitious. 2/
Having been blocked south of Izyum, the thrust of the offensive shifted to Severodonetsk, where Russian forces hoped to achieve an encirclement. Izyum now seems to be a fixing action, designed to prevent UKR from moving substantial forces towards Severodonetsk. 3/
UKR successfully pushed Russian artillery away from Kharkiv, but Russian forces still hold a narrow strip of territory north of the city. That said, it is not clear that the UKR offensive in the north has the forces or momentum to threaten flow of Russian supplies to Izyum. 4/
Russian forces have broken through further south at Popasna. This now threatens to sever Sevorodonetsk/Lysychansk and create a pocket. UKR forces also conducted tactical retreats further south at Svitlodarsk. The Russian mil seems to be pushing towards Soledar. (Nathan's map) 5/ Image
The extent to which this breakthrough at Popasna threatens Ukraine's overall position depends on whether or not Russian forces gain momentum. That in turn hinges on force availability, reserves, and logistics to support this advance. 6/
Russian forces have also begun encircling Lyman, and supposedly entered the city, which suggests they will probably consolidate control of terrain north of the Donets river. Meanwhile UKR forces will move to secondary defensive lines. 7/
@JominiW has good details on the recent movements, I will instead focus on the broader picture. I don't think the Russian offensive looks stalled, and while sluggish, there is no good way to predict when it will culminate. This is why I often say that outcomes are contingent. 8/ Image
Recent Russian gains in the Donbas, despite a relatively weak military advantage, suggest that UKR forces have suffered significant attrition. Zelensky mentioned a range of 50-100 KIA per day. This is a high casualty rate. 9/
The overall military balance in this war still trends in Ukraine's favor, given manpower availability and access to extensive Western military support. That will show itself more over time. But the local balance in the Donbas during this phase is a different story. 10/
There are rumors that UKR is bringing in reinforcements to prevent a larger Russian breakout. Either way, the fight in the Donbas is much less significant for UKR than it is for Russia. If it must, Ukraine can trade territory for attrition, then hope to retake it later. 11/
Despite high Russian losses (I previously suggested 10-12k KIA), and issues with morale, the Russian military appears unlikely to easily give up terrain. Russian mil is also using fires more effectively, and to an extent has adapted, despite observable tactical failures. 12/
I think we shouldn't overstate the significance of the Russian breakthrough at Popasna, but also consider the implications. Are UKR forces going to be in position to conduct a major counteroffensive in the near term, or will both sides face a degree of exhaustion? 13/
Russian forces west of Kherson have also used the past few weeks to dig in and fortify their positions. They're not going to give up territory easily even in areas where they're at a relative disadvantage. 14/
Russian forces may not be prosecuting offensives with much enthusiasm, but it is equally difficult to expect them to rout or melt away. Similarly, the situation within Ukraine's army remains a major unknown, but it is clear the war is taking its toll. 15/
The battlefield is likely to stay dynamic, with territory changing control via advances and counter attacks. I doubt we will see a stalemate emerge, but rather operational pauses that folks will be tempted to declare a stalemate. 16/
In my view it is too early to make predictions on how the battle for the Donbas will go. Ukraine may lose territory in the short term, but Russia faces major problems with sustaining its military effort in the long term, or holding on to gains. The war could become protracted.
Will add, this is why I often refrain that it is difficult to tell where you are in a war. Big turning points are easiest to discern in hindsight. In the present many tactical events seem to take on outsized significance.

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More from @KofmanMichael

Jul 7
A few thoughts on DPICM. Providing cluster munitions to Ukraine, at this stage, could have a significant impact beyond what other capabilities might achieve. Despite the drawbacks, unlocking this stockpile has important implications for the course of Ukraine's offensive. 1/
Ukraine's offensive is limited by the artillery ammunition available. The US, and other countries, provided a significant amount for this operation. Much of this was borrowed from South Korea. Without this ammunition it is difficult to imagine this offensive taking place. 2/
Progress has been slow, difficult, and without sustained breakthroughs thus far. While UA retains the bulk of its combat power, artillery use rate is likely higher than anticipated, especially as the past weeks have seen a largely attritional approach. 3/
Read 6 tweets
Jun 25
A few thoughts on Prigozhin's armed insurrection/mutiny/rebellion. For now it appears over. Wagner seems to be standing down, and leaving Rostov for LNR. Prigozhin launched a mutiny that ultimately challenged Putin’s power, and the system. Thread. 1/
This was not a traditional coup, but with Putin’s video and FSB statements it became a challenge that would reveal the extent of brittleness in the regime. It wasn’t a good showing for Russian state capacity or competence to respond to this kind of challenge. 2/
I had long wondered whether Prigozhin understood something intuitively about the system, if the regime was fundamentally hollow, prominent members like Shoigu were weak, and Putin could be pressed into deals, etc. or if he was grossly miscalculating. 3/
Read 19 tweets
Jun 7
A few thoughts on the dam’s destruction and its implications for Ukraine’s offensive. In brief, I doubt it will have a significant impact on UA mil operations. The Khakovka dam is at least 100 miles from where much of the activity might take place at its closest point.
A Ukrainian cross-river operation in southern Kherson, below the dam, was always a risky and therefore low-probability prospect. There is no evidence that such an operation was under way, or would have necessarily been a part of the UA offensive plans.
Destroying the dam does not substantially shorten Russian lines, or make defense much easier, although it does make a UA cross-river operation exceedingly difficult in that area. But, the flood will likely also destroy the initial line of Russian entrenchments along the river.
Read 5 tweets
Jun 3
Highly recommend this article. Objective insights based on in country experience. It’s very useful to have other researchers, trainers, and those doing field work compare their observations. warontherocks.com/2023/06/what-t…
The way to read this is not as a list of problems or challenges, but as an honest portrayal of a force in transition that’s done remarkably well on the battlefield and continues to evolve. UA is managing attrition, and reconstitution many modern militaries have not experienced.
Like any large force UA has areas of excellence, areas where it is looking to improve, and problems to manage. Even a well funded peacetime force is often uneven. Under these conditions it should be expected. And UA mil is still dealing with a host of Soviet legacy issues.
Read 4 tweets
Apr 22
I want to highlight this important article from @EvansRyan202. Presently, US policy is optimized to not learn, or to learn the wrong lessons from this war. Missing access & information that could best inform objective analysis and lessons learned. 1/ warontherocks.com/2023/04/bind-u…
Over a year into this war there seems to be little to no institutionalized effort. No observer groups. Folks go on self-initiative to study, observe, learn the history and gain access in a personal or informal capacity. There is very little support. 2/ Image
In my view a fair amount of what we think we know about this war is probably wrong or will require major revisions. Missing observations, lack of data beyond anecdotes, poor causal inference, baseless claims, etc. few efforts to put together a composite picture. 3/
Read 10 tweets
Apr 4
A few thoughts on the current course of the war, Russia’s winter offensive, battle of Bakhmut, and how this phase might affect the coming months. Also check out the WOTR podcast episode below that covers some of this. Thread. 1/ warontherocks.com/2023/04/russia…
The Russian offensive in the Donbas has not yet ended, but it has weakened in pace of operations and intensity. Having achieved little, Russian forces are probably preparing to shift to a defensive posture in anticipation of a Ukrainian offensive. 2/
At Vuhledar Russian forces fed the better parts of two brigades into UA minefields and ATGMs, then eventually switched to Avdiivka. There they created a partial encirclement, but UA may have stabilized the situation at this point (its unclear). 3/
Read 25 tweets

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