For four months, Russian troops have been trying to seize the eastern Ukrainian village of Synkivka. On a map, this looks easy. Their forward position is on the edge of a forest. It is a mere 500 metres away from the Ukrainian frontline and a shattered collection of cottages.
Every few days the Russians attack. Their forays across open ground end in the same way: complete disaster. Armoured vehicles with men perched on top, speed across a landscape of moon-like craters and splintered trees. Soon it goes wrong. Some blow up on mines; others panic and reverse. The Ukrainians pick off fleeing infantry with drones and artillery. Typically, all the Russians die.
“It’s really fucked up down there,” Gleb Molchanov, a Ukrainian drone operator said, showing video he took from above the battlefield four miles north-east of the city of Kupiansk. The images are gruesome. Bodies can be seen lying in a zig-zag trench and frozen hollows. Nearby are the burnt-out carcasses of BMP-1 fighting vehicles, at least 10 of them. Despite this, the Russians keep trying.
Almost two years after Vladimir Putin’s all-out invasion, Ukraine has abandoned its offensive. Instead it is employing a strategy of active defence: keeping the Russians back, and waging the occasional counter-punch. Moscow, meanwhile, wants to go forward. It has mobilised tens of thousands of troops in the Kupiansk area. Many are former prisoners, recruited directly from jail and serving in “Storm-Z” units.
The Kremlin has two immediate goals. One is to take back Kupiansk, the gateway to Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv. Another is to capture the salient town of Avdiivka, not far from the occupied regional capital of Donetsk. So far Moscow has been unable to achieve either military objective. In the process it has lost spectacular numbers of troops, tanks and equipment.
The difficulties experienced by Russia in Synkivka point to a wider problem facing both armies. “It’s a war of armour against projectiles. At the moment projectiles are winning,” Molchanov said. The Russians had some tactical success, flushing out Ukrainian soldiers from the forest and a few villages. But a significant breakthrough was almost impossible, he said, in an era of cheap and lethally accurate drones. [Continue reading…]