Considering how the last couple of days have brought Vladimir Putin calling for partial mobilization in Russia, President Joe Biden blasting Russia in the U.N. for significant violations of the charter, and a big prisoner swap that saw many Azovstal defenders and U.S. POWs returned in exchange for an oligarch and some captured Russian agents, it’s understandable that the last few updates haven’t gotten far into the nitty-gritty of events on the down.
This afternoon is an attempt to remedy this, at least when it comes to the area around the northern Donetsk city of Lyman.
Despite 100 “any minute now” claims over the last few days, as of this writing (2PM ET, 10PM in Kyiv), it doesn’t seem that Lyman has been completely liberated by Ukrainian forces. There are certainly Ukrainian forces in the city, and Russia has certainly surrendered several positions that it has held over the last week of fighting, but the latest reports are that conflict inside Lyman continues. However, something else appears to be happening that may be more important than whether the last Russian forces have been booted from Lyman.
In the last day, Ukrainian forces have reportedly broken through the Russian defensive lines near Rubtsi, on the east side of the Oskil River, resulting in a significant movement of the front. The reports coming in on Telegram and Twitter at this point have the same kind of excited, rapid-fire change seen during the Kharkiv counteroffensive, with some reports suggesting that Ukraine has already liberated the town of Lozove—which was a position that Russia was supposedly using to mass for its own counter-counterattack. One report indicates Ukrainian forces failed in an attempt to take Karpivka. Other reports have Ukrainian forces as far north as Ridkodub (one of several new locations I had to add to the map).
Multiple Ukrainian sources have images of Ukrainian troops at Korovii Yar. However, it’s unclear if this is more than just an advance force moving through the area. There are a number of sources now claiming that this town is confirmed to be liberated. This alone would make for a 5-kilometer advance of the line in the last day.
It’s possible the area under Ukrainian control now extends to Lozove on the river and north to the Kharkiv-Donetsk border on the west side of Lyman, making this counteroffensive much more extensive than indicated on the map. Or, of course, not. In the post-Kharkiv counteroffensive period, there have been a lot more reports where formerly reliable sources seem to be jumping the gun, anxious to be first with some new announcement. In this case, it seems certain there has been some level of breakthrough near Rubtsi, Ukrainian forces have advanced to the next line of towns to the north, and that Russia has been put back on its heels in this area while fighting to hold positions around Lyman.
The map above represents a pretty good middle ground when it comes to the reports. Ukraine may have liberated more. We should know soon. Some of the reports also suggest that, rather than continue to the north, Ukrainian forces are swinging around to put Lyman in the kind of “pincer” that Russia tried, and failed, to achieve in so many places. If so, it should be obvious in the coming day.
Elsewhere, Russia continues to attack in the area of Bakhmut, and Ukrainian sources indicate Russia has had “some success” to the south. It appears Russia is not going to try to drive into the city from the east, but to flank current Ukrainian positions by trying to move southwest of Bakhmut. But as always, movements in the area have been small. In Kherson, Russia reportedly retook the village of Pravdyne in the southern part of the area in what Ukrainian Telegram channels called “an unpleasant loss.” This may be connected to images seen on Russian sources that reportedly show a column of Ukrainian vehicles being destroyed in Kherson.
Earlier on Thursday, there were images circulating that purported to show Ukrainian special forces at Enerhodar, near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The best that can be said for these is that they are fake. Also … why?
The other story that’s circulating widely in the last few days is a rumor that the U.S. intends to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. It’s a request that Ukraine has made for some time, and there’s little doubt the Pentagon would like to make them happy on this point. The U.S. has made over 10,000 Abrams. They can spare a few. It’s a matter of figuring out how to make it work.
More than 40 years ago, the U.S. and Russia took drastically different directions in tank development. Russia’s T-72 (and all its many descendants) is basically what would have been called a light or medium tank in earlier days. Though the latest versions have swollen to over 40 tons, it’s intended to be cheap, fast, and maneuverable. At the other end of the spectrum, an M1A2 Abrams tips the scale at 70 tons. It’s about 10 kph slower than a T-72, but that T-72 is not dressed out in a sandwich of depleted uranium, graphite, ceramic, reactive explosives, and steel. It’s also not equipped with a technical wonderland of thermal and IR vision systems.
Basically, the Abrams is a tank that’s meant to take a punch and keep punching. The T-72 is a tank that’s meant to take a punch and … be replaced by the next cheap T-72 in the line.
Does the Pentagon want to see how an M1A2 SEP stacks up against a T-80M or T-90? Or just how it holds up in a battlefield littered with drones and portable anti-tank weapons? Yes, it most certainly does.
However, almost every tank the Ukrainian military is driving now is some variant on the Soviet T-72 family (or older). Each and every one of the variants poses problems in terms of different engines, different electronics, different fire control systems, etc. At first even those differences seemed like too much to deal with, but as the war as stretches on, Ukraine has become fairly expert in handling a mixed bag of tanks and other vehicles from multiple countries.
On the other hand, the Abrams has nothing in common with anything now on the battlefield in Ukraine. It doesn’t just have a different engine, it has a different type of engine (a 1500hp multifuel turbine) and none of the fire control, visual systems, and coms gear inside the tank is at all compatible with anything else on hand. A tank company moves out with thousands of spare parts and truckloads of maintenance gear, none of which Ukraine has. It’s not just a matter of learning to drive the tank, it’s learning to maintain it, repair it, and deal with specialized systems used just in the maintenance.
But hey, you can load it up with 500 gallons of almost anything that burns. That’s something.
The training, maintenance, and logistical challenges of using the Abrams in Ukraine are almost insurmountable. The U.S. may be interested in seeing how the tank performs on the battlefield against Russia, but it’s a lot less interested in seeing Russia drive away with an Abrams that was abandoned because it was missing one of 10,000 necessary parts. And that, considering how often Russia and Ukraine have swapped gear at this point, is absolutely a concern.
This is difficult, but not impossible. And Ukraine wants it badly, so it’s probably going to happen.
For now, expect other NATO countries to keep working to dust off their own older Soviet designs to send to Ukraine. But don’t be surprised if once mud season really sets in for Ukraine, there are Ukrainian soldiers doing some training in Texas.
Remember that part of Putin’s speech where he said this was only for members of the reserves with combat experience, and it wasn’t like he was about to start conscripting college students? These are college students being pulled directly from their classrooms.
Allow me to kinda hijack this thread to brag about my son, who graduated from infantry training today.
It’s not a complete hijack, because it’s a good excuse to point out that his infantry training was 22 weeks, or nearly six months. Think about that when you see these Russian conscripts getting sent to the front with two-week training (if that). Real military training takes time, effort, and resources. That’s why it took Ukraine 4-5 months to spin up their new Western-equipped battalions. Russia isn’t bothering with any of that nonsense. That’s a big reason, of many, why they have been so ineffective on the battlefield.
As for my son Ari, next stop is Ranger school. If you don’t know what that is, or are curious to learn more, this article is a fantastic look at the Army’s toughest school.
It is impossible to overstate just how livid Russian nationalists are at this betrayal.