The papers are full of reports that the Ukrainians have broken through on their southern front, opening the way for an armored offensive on the operational level. Such an offensive could seek either to destroy the Russian army by getting between it and the Russian border, or go for a terrain objective such as the coast of the Sea of Azov. From a maneuver warfare perspective the former is preferable, although I think the latter is more likely. Aiming for the Sea of Azov is much easier logistically; rolling out behind the whole Russian army leaves Ukraine’s logistics train following in trace with whatever Russian units hold together on its left flank.
However, I question the reports of a Ukrainian breakthrough. Much more likely is a break-in. In other words, Ukrainian forces have succeeded in entering the Russian defensive lines – a break-in – but they still face more Russian lines ahead of them. While that is a step toward opening the door to an operational offensive, it does not do so of itself.
Ukraine learned the hard way a lesson the Germans learned early in World War II: don’t try to make a breakthrough by charging headlong with tanks. Neither Germany then nor Ukraine now could afford the tank losses, and the effort usually fails anyway. Use infantry to make the breakthrough and then send in your armored units to turn a tactical success into an operational victory. I think it likely the Ukrainians are employing the infantry infiltration tactics developed by the German Army in World War I; they still work against an enemy who employs a static, linear defense.
As I noted in previous columns, the Russians’ cordon defense is inherently weak. It is likely to fail unless it is supported by a strong tactical and operational reserve, with the latter made up of the defender’s best armored units. I do not know what the Russian Army has left to make up those reserves, but the outcome on the ground depends largely on the answer.
Meanwhile, on the strategic level both the U.S. and NATO are sleepwalking. There is no apparent effort to address the central threat to the western powers, namely a nuclear war. If Russia is defeated on the ground, she has no choice but to go nuclear; she cannot afford to lose this war. If Putin refuses to escalate (the correct decision), he will be replaced by someone who will. From this perspective, every Ukrainian victory moves us closer to the worst possible outcome, nuclear weapons landing on American and/or European cities. That in turn can lead to a state collapse in Russia, Europe, and the U.S.
What the West needs most right now is an effort to end the fighting and begin talking with Moscow about peace terms. That initiative will not come from the Blob, the Washington foreign policy establishment, where any departure from neo-con/neo-lib groupthink is a career ender. The only potential sources in NATO for a push to end the war are France and Germany. As usual, Germany’s worst enemy is her own foreign office, which is terrified of crossing Washington. The French rather enjoy doing that, so Paris is the only hope. God save us.