Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Target Ukraine: Melitopol & Wagner

By @crymzyn

Daily KOS

December is here and the Ukrainian War for Independence continues apace. Hopefully, historians will agree with me with the name suggestion because that is what is truly going on. Ukraine, along with Georgia, is the only former Soviet state that had the audacity to defy Moscow and align with the West. Both countries have been invaded and their territory seized and now Ukraine, the larger of the two, is taking the fight to their former imperial masters for their independence. 

So where are we today? Ukraine’s liberation of the west bank of the Dniepr river with the taking of Kherson has firmly put Ukraine’s military on the offensive. While at this point of the war Russia was unlikely to mount a serious offensive from Kherson, by simply holding on to it they at least had the option of future operations to either move north and threaten the city of Dniepr or move west and threaten Mykolaiv and Odesa with either direct invasion or placing them under artillery and rocket bombardment should the opportunity present itself. This meant that Ukraine had to liberate Kherson and secure its western and rearward areas before another focused offensive in the east could begin. There are also political considerations as well as Kherson was the only regional capital occupied by Russia during the 2022 invasion and retaking it puts the Putin regime under increasing criticism by their far-right militant nationalists, which are far more of a threat to his regime than the liberal and democratic left which have been either imprisoned or fled the country. 

While things have been more or less quiet militarily since the liberation of Kherson for a few weeks, that may have just changed yesterday with a large-scale HIMARS bombardment of Melitopol and the beginning of the systematic destruction of Russian command posts, logistics centers, and troop concentrations. What many Russian soldiers had believed to be a relatively safe rear area has now been turned into an inferno as Russia now has to face the very real prospect of an offensive that seeks to split the Russian-occupied territory in two if Ukraine can take Melitopol and then reach the Sea of Azov. 

Meanwhile, the city of Bakhmut has been the object of near obsession by Wagner, Putin’s personal army, since the summer. Ukraine's territorial defense forces have been bravely holding on during the assault while Wagner continues to throw their forces against it. Ukraine has now sent reinforcements from the Kherson operation to help bolster its defenses. Yet, a lot more than just replacements came in with both artillery and likely Ukrainian armor showing up. Wagner may now find themselves in a far more precarious position than they realize. 

The interesting thing about the Wagner group is that they are not integrated into Russia’s military command. They have essentially no communications with Russia’s normal ground units that are adjacent to them or bother telling the Russian military command even what they are doing, due to both their misplaced elitism and Prigozhin’s own private ambitions. 

This creates a fault line that Ukraine can exploit as they can cleave between Wagner’s position and the Russian military with an offensive due to the lack of coordination between Wagner and the Russian Army. This can result either in an encirclement of Wagner's forces near Bakhmut or force Wagner into an inglorious retreat. And I believe there would be no love lost between Russia’s Army and Wagner as the Russian military has not been able to integrate Wagner into their chain of command or operational plan. Wagner only answers to Putin and Prigozhin and seeing them defeated would both embarrass Putin and nearly destroy his personal Army, which Russia’s senior military leadership wouldn’t mind seeing happen as this would force Putin to work through them rather than through Wagner. 

Interesting times are afoot and while we celebrate the holidays, let us keep the brave people of Ukraine in our thoughts and prayers as they endure this struggle and emerge into what Churchill called the “bright, sunlit lands of peace.”

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