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Four battles that broke the Ukrainian army

The latest fighting near Avdeevka in Ukraine repeats the same disastrous tactics which led to the Ukrainian army’s previous defeats in the “cauldrons” along the Russian border (the ‘southern cauldron’), in Ilovaisk, at Donetsk airport, and in Debaltsevo.

Alexander Mercouris

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The latest fighting in and around the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdeevka is being represented as the product of a supposedly new Ukrainian ‘infiltration’ tactic whereby Ukrainian troops are said to insert surreptitiously into no-man’s land thereby gradually gaining territory and putting the eastern Ukrainian militia at a disadvantage.

In my opinion this is wrong.  The latest ‘infiltration tactic’ is simply a variant of the same tactics the Ukrainians have used throughout the war, which is to attack headlong, putting their troops in an untenable position, which causes them to suffer heavy losses for no actual gain, and in which certain cases leads them to becoming surrounded in pockets which the militia calls “cauldrons”.

The militia use of the term “cauldron” (sometimes translated as “kettle”) to describe how these pockets work.

The Ukrainian troops cut off in these “cauldrons” are deprived of resupply and reinforcement.  Over time their position becomes completely untenable.   The militia does not try to storm the “cauldron” but instead lets it slowly ‘heat up’ until resistance finally collapses.  Any Ukrainian troops still left in the “cauldron” when the collapse comes are then generally exchanged for militia prisoners taken by the Ukrainians.  The heavy weapons left behind – the tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery – are however taken by the militia and refurbished in the militia’s workshops.  The Donbass being a major industrial area there is no shortage of the necessary tools and skills to do this. They are then reused by the militia, becoming weapons in its increasingly sophisticated army.

An unknown but probably very large percentage of the large number of heavy weapons the militia now possesses have probably come to it in this way, with no less a person than President Poroshenko admitting in September 2014 that the Ukrainian military had as of that point lost 65% of its armoured vehicles (see my discussion here).  It is likely that a good percentage of these vehicles are now in militia service.

The fighting in Ukraine most of the time now has something of the static quality of trench warfare.  Whenever the Ukrainians have however attempted large-scale offensives the result has however almost invariably been “cauldrons”, which are the result of the Ukrainians’ own tactics.

A list of the most important of “cauldrons” (there have been other smaller ones) would include the following:

(1) The “southern cauldron”

Arguably the most important and decisive of them all, though one which has been entirely unreported by the Western media.  This arose in July 2014 as a result of a Ukrainian attempt to outflank the militia and cut it off from the Russian border.  The result was that a large Ukrainian armoured column itself got cut off and found itself pinned down against the border.  The Ukrainians tried to resupply this force by dropping supplies by air, but to little effect, and lost several aircraft in the process, for which they blamed the Russian air force.  Without going into the details of this contentious topic, I would here merely say that MH17 was shot down during this fighting.

This “cauldron”  finally collapsed in early August, providing the Ukrainian militia with many of the heavy weapons (including armour) they used in the counter-offensive they launched in late August.

(2) Ilovaisk

This arose in mid August 2014 as a result of a Ukrainian attempt to split the two militia strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk from each other.  A large Ukrainian force advanced into the town of Ilovaisk only to be rapidly surrounded there.  Ukrainian losses in this “cauldron” were exceptionally heavy, but were limited by Russian President Putin’s call to the militia to allow the Ukrainians to retreat.

The Ukrainians have consistently blamed their defeat in Ilovaisk on the intervention of the Russian army, and this has become an article of faith in Ukraine and amongst the Ukrainian regime’s supporters in the West.  Ilovaisk is also often cited as the decisive battle which caused the defeat of Ukraine’s military campaign in the Donbass in the summer of 2014, which up to that point was supposedly going well.

Neither of these claims should be allowed to go uncontested, though in the West both invariably are.

The reality is that by the time of the battle of Ilovaisk the Ukrainian offensive launched to suppress the Donbass on 1st July 2014 was already in serious trouble, with the defeat in the “southern cauldron” having already happened, and with Ukrainian troops elsewhere becoming increasingly bogged down and unable to make progress against the strongly defended militia positions in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Far from being an unexpected defeat brought about by Russian intervention in a hitherto successful campaign, the advance on Ilovaisk looks more like a desperate last throw to rescue a campaign that was already failing.

As for claims of Russian military intervention in the battle, the supposed ‘proofs’ of this are nothing like as clearcut as is usually said.

The excessive emphasis given by the Ukrainians and their Western supporters to the Ukrainian defeat in Ilovaisk, and the blame for it which they put on the Russians, is arguably explained by a wish to conceal the extent of the Ukrainians’ previous unreported failure in the summer campaign.  In that incidentally it has been largely successful, creating a false narrative of a decisive defeat in August brought about by Russia, which supposedly threw into reverse a previously successful campaign.

(3) Donetsk airport

The temporary ceasefire agreed between the Ukrainians and the militia in Minsk in September 2014 left the Ukrainians in control of a part of Donetsk airport.

The Ukrainian defeat in August 2014 left the Ukrainian troops holding the airport in an untenable position.  However despite this, and despite suggestions by some in Ukraine that the Ukrainian troops in the airport should be withdrawn to more defensible positions and militia claims that the September 2014 Minsk Protocol required control of the airport to be transferred to them, the Ukrainian leadership ordered its troops in the airport to dig in, and reinforced them with some of Ukraine’s best Special Forces troops, whose prowess was talked up by the Ukrainian media, which called them “cyborgs”.

This is very typical of the approach taken by the Ukrainian leadership throughout the conflict.  It persistently refuses to give up a centimetre of territory however indefensible it has become, an attitude that has repeatedly doomed Ukrainian troops to heavy defeats and heavy losses.

The result was that throughout the autumn and early winter of 2014 and 2015, despite the supposed ceasefire, fighting in Donetsk airport continued unabated until Ukrainian resistance finally collapsed in January 2015 after hundreds of Ukraine’s best troops had been killed, with hundreds of others captured.

As in the battle of Ilovaisk the Ukrainians have blamed their defeat at Donetsk airport on military action by the Russians, with President Poroshenko making the fantastic claim that no less than 9,000 Russian troops were involved (presumably defeating the “cyborgs” needed that many).

In reality the Ukrainian defeat at Donetsk airport was the result of the Ukrainian leadership’s insistence that the Ukrainian troops hold an indefensible position long after that fact had become obvious.

(4) Debaltsevo

Debaltsevo is an important town and railway junction which was captured by the Ukrainian army during the summer 2014 campaign.  The ceasefire in September 2014 left it in Ukrainian hands but surrounded on three sides by militia controlled territory.

In January 2015, following a Ukrainian offensive coinciding with the battle of Donetsk airport, a militia counter attack caused the Ukrainian troops – supposedly the ‘heart’ of the Ukrainian army and numbering according to some reports as many as 8,000 men (some reports put the number much higher) – to become trapped there.

The Debaltsevo “cauldron” caused panic amongst Ukraine’s supporters in the West, with concern that the best part of the Ukrainian army would be destroyed there.  This led to a frantic round of negotiations spearheaded by Angela Merkel, who flew to Moscow for private talks with Russian President Putin leading to further talks in Minsk which eventually resulted in the February 2015 Minsk Agreement.

During the negotiations in Minsk Merkel and French President Hollande, who also participated in the talks, discovered the same intransigent refusal by the Ukrainian leadership to face reality and retreat from an untenable position in Debaltsevo that has been a consistent feature of the whole Ukrainian war.

Not only did Ukrainian President Poroshenko refuse their pleas to order his troops to retreat from Debaltsevo, but he refused even to admit that they were trapped there.  This is how I described his behaviour in an article I wrote at the time for Sputnik

The denial reached farcical levels during the negotiations in Minsk. Half the 16 hours of negotiations were reportedly taken up with attempts to get Ukraine’s President Poroshenko to admit the obvious, that his troops in Debaltseve were encircled. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko refused to do so, refusing to order his troops to retreat and rejecting all offers from others to arrange this.

There is no logic behind this denial of reality. No military objective was achieved by continuing to defend Debaltseve when its capture by the militia was just days away.  As commander in chief President Poroshenko owed it to his men to agree the terms of their withdrawal when it was clear their further sacrifice was in vain. At an earlier stage in the war militia commander Strelkov withdrew his men from Slaviansk when it had become clear Slaviansk was undefendable and that no purpose was served sacrificing the lives of his men defending it. That is the basic duty owed by every commander to his men.

President Poroshenko failed in that duty.

The result is scores of Ukrainian soldiers (thousands by some counts) who might be alive are now dead.

In the event the Ukrainian troops did eventually retreat from Debaltsevo after suffering heavy losses and in great confusion, and apparently without waiting for orders from Poroshenko, after which Poroshenko preposterously claimed a “victory”.

As I have written previously, reports of the fighting in Avdeevka suggest that nothing has been learned from these repeated disasters.

The Ukrainian leadership continues to order its men to take and hold indefensible territory.  The Ukrainian ‘infiltration tactics’ near Avdeevka have not resulted in any significant change in the overall military situation.  What they have achieved is to expose the Ukrainian troops to heavy artillery fire by the militia, which has caused them to suffer heavy losses whilst threatening them with encirclement in another “cauldron”.

Realistically, just as peace in Ukraine is impossible whilst the present regime remains in power there, so a change in tactics is hardly likely whilst the same people remain in charge.  It is Ukrainians in the meantime who pay the price.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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