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Slowly the Ukrainians continue to regain their country

The Ukraine War as of September 11, 2022
The Ukraine War as of September 11, 2022. Click for full map.

The Ukraine War as of November 16, 2022
The Ukraine War as of November 16, 2022. Click for full map.

In the two months since my last update on the Ukraine Way in September, the steady and continuing retreat of the Russians has continued, with the Ukrainians last week finally retaking all the territory north of the Dnipro River, including the city of Kherson.

The two maps to the right, created by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and simplified, reduced, and annotated to post here, show these gains, with the top map from their September 11, 2022 analysis and the bottom from their November 16, 2022 update. Pink areas are regions controlled by the Russians. Blue areas are regions retaken by the Ukraine. Red-striped areas are regions captured by Russian in its 2014 invasion. Blue-striped areas are regions inside Russian-occupied territories that have seen strong partisan resistance. The green lines in the top map mark the locations of important rivers.

Overall, the military actions of the Russians have continued to be haphazard, poorly thought out, and inexplicable, as they have been from the start of this war. For example, even as the Ukrainians were continuing their steady gains in the north, the Russians seemed relatively uninterested. Instead, it continued its attempts to gain ground in the middle, near Donetsk, as indicated by the two green circles. The Russians have been attempting for months to make gains in this area. Though they have captured some territory, those captures have been tiny and very costly. Nor have these captures done anything to impact the Ukrainian gains elsewhere.

Similarly, after each major Ukrainian victory, the Russians have responded by launching a fleet of missiles and drones at scattered targets across the Ukraine, attacking its major cities such as Kiev (or Kyiv in the recently imposed more politically correct spelling) as well as much of its infrastructure. While intended to invoke terror and lower morale, these missile attacks have instead solidified the Ukrainian determination to fight, even as the attacks contributed nothing to the Russian military effort. They are reminiscent of Hitler’s use of his Luftwaffe in World War II and the Battle of Britain. Rather than plan a ground invasion to actually defeat his enemy, the Germans tried to terrorize the British into surrender by bombing its cities. Instead, the attacks energized the British, and since the attacks did not generally target military resources, it did nothing to weaken Great Britain in the long run.

Likewise, Russia has essentially wasted its high tech missile resources while doing nothing to weaken the Ukraine’s military forces or their advances. The result: Continuing steady gains by the Ukrainians.

In fact, every aspect of the Russian attack from day one has followed this same pattern. The initial invasion, designed to conquer the Ukraine quickly, badly overestimated the Russian capabilities while underestimating the Ukrainians. It quickly failed, forcing the Russians to abandon in April almost all their initial gains or risk losing their armies entirely.

The Ukrainians meanwhile have maintained a sustained and rational military policy. At first they focused on stopping the Russians, with the limited resources available. Later in August they used disinformation and careful planning to convince the Russians the next big Ukrainian effort would be near Kherson. The Russians thus put all their best resources there, and were caught flat-footed in September when the Ukraine instead made a big push in the north.

In the south the Ukrainians have used the missile resources provided by the West with care and intelligence. Rather than bomb indiscriminately, as Russia has done, they aimed these missiles at the bridges and ships used by the Russians to convey supplies and troops across the Dnipro River to the north. With their resources limited, the Russians finally realized they could not hold this ground, and retreated quickly last week.

What happens next remains of course unclear. What we have learned however about the Russians’ military and political leadership has been striking. Its military is poorly maintained, badly manned, and does not plan its campaigns well. Its politicians, led by Putin, are ill-informed and have been willing to push foolish goals that are counter to the interest of their nation and themselves.

If Putin remains in power, this war will not end soon. He has made it clear he will not back down, even as his armies continue to lose on the battlefield. He knows that Russia is big enough with enough resources to drag out this war for years.

Will he remain in power however? One factor that suggests the Russian power structure is soon going to go through major changes is the decision by Putin to give significant independent power to private military warlords in order to replace the failures of his own military. In addition, Putin has increased his reliance on Iranian support, a deal that certainly carries with it enormous risks. Neither these warlords nor Iran are really interested in Russian interests. Both could eventually move to grab power and thus help tear Russia apart.

The Ukraine meanwhile has no motive to negotiate a peace, as long as it continues to gain ground. Right now its leadership and people seem determined to push the Russians completely from the Ukraine, including recapturing the territory Russia grabbed in 2014. The 2022 invasion has given them the determination to fight that they did not have in 2014.

The situation on the battlefield is now such that the Ukraine have a number of strong military attack alternatives. Even as they continue their steady push in the north, a close look at the geography suggests their next advances in the south could come from several different directions, all of which will be difficult for the Russians to defend. We must also remember that the Russians are the invaders here, interlopers who have proved it by behaving generally like barbarians in the territories they have conquered. The local populations have generally been hostile, which makes it even more difficult for the Russians to hold their gains.

I must point out that this analysis is not intended as a endorsement for more western aid to the Ukraine. Though I strongly want the Ukrainians to push the Russians out, I also see this as a regional war that has only limited concerns to the United States. Providing them some financial and military aid is reasonable, but we must be careful not to become too involved. This is not really our fight, and we must not make it so.

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18 comments

  • Doubting Thomas

    The Ukrainian’s are very very slowly pushing the Russians back at the low low price of only $6 Billion per month of US aid.

  • James Street

    “the low low price of only $6 Billion per month of US aid.”

    It’s called money laundering. It’s the whole reason the U.S. is in this “war”.

    1. Foreign aid goes to Ukraine.
    2. Ukraine invests in FTX.
    3. FTX donates back to the Democratic Party.

    (plus 10% for the big guy)

  • wayne

    An email referenced “10% held by Hunter for The Big Guy.”
    (October 2020)
    https://youtu.be/Fpxf-66mYBY

    Crypto CEO Accidentally Describes Ponzi Scheme….
    (April 2022)
    https://youtu.be/C6nAxiym9oc
    8:09

  • Craken

    “Neither these warlords nor Iran are really interested in Russian interests. Both could eventually move to grab power and thus help tear Russia apart.”
    Iran has no power to dismember Russia. They have some quite limited power to help Russia, but no power to harm it. There are only two warlords: Prigozhin and Kadyrov. The latter is a Chechen Muslim, which greatly limits his potential support base in Russia: he is no threat to the throne. Prigozhin is the only potential threat. If Prigozhin took power somehow (I give the odds at 10%), he would not do much different from Putin, meaning it doesn’t matter much to us if this coup occurs. The real tragedy threatening Russia is an American controlled puppet regime being installed, as happened in the 2014 Ukraine coup that the Obama administration pulled off.

    By the way, America has only actually *spent* about $20 billion in Ukraine thus far. It has *appropriated* about $65 billion. There is a difference.

  • Independent George

    $65B is an absurdly low price – maybe the single most efficient use of tax dollars ever. For a tiny fraction of the US defense budget – most of which has been sending dollars, but clearing inventory of 40 year-old weapon systems like Javelin, Stinger, M113, and HMMWV – we get to see a major rival get crushed, while also field testing modern systems like HIMARS in a contested airspace environment we haven’t fought in since air superiority was even a thing. The sheer intelligence we’re getting – such as captured, completely intact Russian C & C, EW, and radars – worth it by themselves, to say nothing of having firsthand observations on how the rules of conventional warfare are being re-written in front of our eyes. All without putting a single American life in jeopardy in the battlefield.

  • William A Befort

    “Independent George” is right: we’re getting a huge return for the fraction of our military budget going to Ukraine. The obvious comparison is the return the Soviets got for their support of North Vietnam. And in Ukraine we’re also fighting exactly the sort of international aggression the now-neutered United Nations was established to combat after WW2 — aggression no longer even bothering to camouflage itself as popular insurgency.

  • IrishOtter49 (Roughcoat)

    It is indeed our fight, albeit indirectly, by proxy. The aid we provide Ukraine is worth every penny it costs us. It is money well-spent.

  • Cotour

    Q: Does 10% go “To the BIG guy”?

  • pzatchok

    I also look at this as a way to retrain and reorganize the Ukrainian military to a more western standard instead of the old Soviet style they inherited.

    Not just in materials but in structure. The Soviet/Russian system has conscripts with little to no training, Not even in combat skills, NCO’s who are the real trained and skilled personnel and officers who do ALL the leadership roles.
    Thus if an officer is lost no one is available to take command even for a short while. And this is demonstrated by how the Russian solders react when under attacks they didn’t expect. They run for the most part.
    They also tend to show a disturbing lack of moral fortitude and discipline when officers are not around. Civilian depredations are a prime example. If the officers condone such behavior then the whole of the system if corrupt and broken.

    When the Ukraine does enter NATO they will be equals needing nothing but materials. Being the new front line I predict they will get what they need.

  • Mike Borgelt

    I can’t get excited about a ghastly corruptocracy that is damaging western economies and is trying to start WW3.
    War is never as simple as who actually fires the first shot. The Russians were never our enemies since the collapse of Communism but they have been made out to be so by some very evil people.

  • Biglar

    The Russians are retreating and the Ukrainians are attacking because the latter are much more willing to suffer casualties than the former. The Russians have also realized that if the Ukrainians attack, the Russians can effectively trade land for Ukrainian casualties. The long game of Russia is to demilitarize Ukraine. This will only happen if the Ukrainian army is effectively destroyed. Especially in the northern part of Ukraine, the gains of the Ukrainians can be easily reversed with an attack from the north, behind the advancing Ukrainian army. Kherson is an interesting case – it was clear that with all the nearby crossings of the Dnieper river destroyed that Russia was having a harder and harder time supplying its forces. The nightmare scenario for the Russians was that the dam got destroyed and the Russians would be forced to supply their forces only by air, which would have shortly led to a rout when they ran out of supplies and ammo. So they left. I wouldn’t count on the Ukrainian offensive continuing for long.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I respect everyone’s opinion on this site. I find I must disagree with the opinion of those that suggest the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a bargain for the US in keeping Russia in check.

    There are growing reports that the US inventory of front lines inventory. One quote from the Warzone:

    “….the U.S. military is running low on some of the weapons that have been the centerpiece of aid to Ukraine during nine months of high-intensity conflict. The officials specifically named Stinger man-portable air defense (MANPADS) missiles, AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS), and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), as well as artillery shells — over 1,000,000 of which have been supplied to Ukraine from the U.S. military alone. ”

    None of the weapons referenced are aging surplus but would be used by US troops in combat should the need arise.

    As other’s mentioned, Ukraine has a significant kleptocracy of their own and where the money and resources are going is not well known. To my knowledge, after the incident where Ukrainian surface to air missiles fell into Poland, Ukraine has not yet clearly and plainly admitted to the accident.

    Russia is at best an oligarchy and probably a one-man dictatorship. But we should always exercise caution as we engage the single largest holder of nuclear weapons in the world.

  • James Street

    Russia is such a threat to the U.S. that they can’t defeat some country most Americans can’t locate on a map fighting with 40 year old weapons we’ve given them.

  • James Street: You point out one of the major discoveries from this Ukraine War, that Russia is no threat. It is for this reason especially we should do nothing to energize them. The war isn’t doing that, and we have no reason to give them reasons to fix their problems.

    At the same time, gently and discreetly helping the Ukraine resist and push the Russians out is morally right, as it signals to the world where we stand on such invasions. The key words however are “gently” and “discreetly”, something Biden and the swamp in Washington have not done, being the fools their are.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Robert – I agree with your observations.

    I will continue to repeat that not all the weapons systems that we are providing are 40-year-old weapons. While I share your sentiment to help Ukraine to gently and discreetly resist Russian, our nation’s first priority is to ensure our troops and our nation are equipped to fight.

    As always, thanks for your site.

  • James Street

    Robert, I agree. The U.S. government should be a force for good in the world. But except for a brief time when Trump was president it hasn’t been that for years. Today the U.S. government is as virtuous internationally as it is nationally. It ain’t.

    I don’t think Biden and the swamp in Washington are fools. There are dozens of wars going on around the world right now.

    Why Ukraine?

    Money laundering.

  • pzatchok

    Why the Ukraine and not someplace in Africa?

    The Ukraine is a first world nation with a working democracy.
    We learned in Afghanistan that you can not impose democracy onto a culture not ready for it. And the best way to prove they are ready for it is to already have it.
    The far east is Chinas playground for the most part. And even they are moving toward an open democracy.

  • To my knowledge, after the incident where Ukrainian surface to air missiles fell into Poland, Ukraine has not yet clearly and plainly admitted to the accident.

    Military analyst Trent Telenko (who has been enormously insightful throughout this war, especially concerning the war’s technology) recently posted a couple of threads (here and here), wherein he analyzes those supposed “Ukrainian missiles.”

    Telenko concludes that evidence at the site shows they could not have been from among the kind of surface-to-air missiles they’ve been associated with (to wit: an S-300 battery firing 5V55K missiles), which the media narrative had immediately latched onto and jumped aboard with.

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