If you follow the western media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine, you’ll probably come to one clear conclusion: Things aren’t going to plan for Russia. If you’re embedded into the world of twitter, you’ll probably even think Moscow is losing. There’s enough reason to believe it at face value: An apparent plan to occupy Kyiv and the North of the country seemingly failed, resulting in Russia’s withdrawal, whilst Putin’s forces appear to have suffered more than expected losses and the Black Sea flagship the Moskva has been sunk. This is coupled with reporting which repeatedly assumes that Putin aspired for the war to be swift, short and painless, depicting him as miscalculating, mentally deteriorating and falling into an a quagmire of his own making.
Except that isn’t the case. Whilst it is true indeed that wars never do go according to plan, and always do surmount to unanticipated costs, it is nonetheless also a reality that the western media coverage of the conflict has been nothing short of a blatant war propaganda and psychological warfare campaign, which has coincided with a deliberate campaign to censor the other side of the story. It is ultimately preposterous to assume the media could even contemplate being impartial when given the severity of the conflict, they are under enormous social and political pressure to “take a side” and vest in what they hope to be Putin’s looming failure.
And as a result, it is no surprise that things aren’t really going as badly for Russia as people have been told. The situation in the East of Ukraine is now at a critical juncture. Russia has consolidated a huge salient hanging above Donestk Oblast from the town of Izyum, creating a gulf like pocket around Ukrainian forces below it, who also face Russian forces pushing out from Luhansk. Meanwhile, Russian has simultaneously began to push up from Zaporizhzhia oblast, looking to eventually bypass the entrenched line of Ukrainian soldiers outside of Donestk City. The goal? An overlapping pincer attack and two pronged encirclement from the North and South. If Moscow succeeds in their objectives, a huge bulk of the entire army of Ukraine stands to be trapped in this emerging pocket.
Geography is favouring the Russian advance. The Russian lines in this area are entrenched, unexposed and far beyond Ukraine’s reach, preventing them from staging the kind of counteroffensives they did on Russian forces in the North of the country. This is allowing to Moscow to continually make incremental gains without suffering large scale losses, a sign they have avoided the same mistakes they had previously made in the war. Not only that, but their positioning means they are effectively coming at Ukraine from every single direction, depriving the Ukrainian army from concentrating force in one area, as they previously done towards vulnerable Russian supply lines. This has been coupled with Russian efforts at overwhelming them with artillery fire.
The events in Donbass appear to have caught prominent western military analysts by surprise, who were otherwise quick to affirm an inevitable Russian failure. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) a known pessimist, was forced to concede on April 27th that Russia was making a “sounder pattern of operational movement” in Donbass and was even forced to admit that Ukrainian defenses in the north of the region were disorganized. Although the ISW continues to maintain that a broader Russian encirclement of the Ukrainian army won’t happen, it is difficult to see how Ukraine is going to turn the tide on this situation even with western support because they simply do not have the geographic advantage. Russia is gaining in the region every single day.
This speaks volumes about Russia’s strategy. When Moscow announced that it was withdrawing from the North and focusing on Donbass, this was marketed as a retreat and a failure, but on closer inspection it appears that the assault on this region was carefully planned in a logical sequence of preparatory steps. There is growing evidence that Russia used the previous stages of the war to prepare strategic ground for this one. Some people might have questioned: Why did Moscow not just charge into Donbass straight away? And seemingly went for Kyiv? And that’s a good question, and the answer is because with the highest concentration of Ukrainian forces there, “their best trained troops” as frequently eluded to, Russia would not have had the battlefield advantages or positions to push them back which they do now.
Before Russia proceeded with its current offensive on Donbass, it first undertaken a process of “shaping the battlefield” which involved distracting Ukraine by invading the North of the country (even if there was a hope Kyiv could be quickly encircled). As these multiple axis’ were opened, Russia then proceeded to invade from Crimea and seize Kherson oblast (to prevent a pre-emptive Ukrainian attack on the peninsula) and advanced into Zaporizhzhia (setting up a Southern launchpad). Mariupol was then encircled and cut off. These multiple fronts being opened allowed Russia to then invade Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts, which they then developed into a Northern flank with the capture of Izyum.
It is worth noting that at no stage of doing this did Russia attempt to storm through the fortified Ukraine lines surrounding the area of Donestk, the area which was most combat ready and long term prepared for an attack. That area remains relatively unchanged throughout the war. Instead, the bigger picture has been to outflank them from their rear from both the North and South in the view to a strategic encirclement. It is plainly obvious that Russia sees this effort as the defining battle and moment of the war and of course, so does the west, but that’s not what they’ve told their public. They’ve mislead people that these preparatory stages were in fact little more than an aborted operation to quickly seize the entire country and have shifted the goalposts from the reality that Donbass was always one of the biggest prizes.
It seems awfully strange that for a country who is “winning” the west are now severely upping their military aid and also their rhetoric in the anticipation they can make Putin fail, but little do people know such is because the tide on the battlefield is starting to turn against them. Russia suffered a lot of unanticipated losses and resistance along the way, but the narrative they are losing the war and facing defeat is waning thin. Reality is starting to come from. The west are leading Kyiv off a cliff edge by attempting to goad them into a deeper war, and the hubris manifest in the recent speech of Liz Truss is indicative that is them who are more likely to be met with political failure than Putin himself.