Maintenance. In Ukraine, Ex-Colonel Michael Goya’s Counterattack “Shouldn’t Have Succeeded”

On September 6, 2022, the Ukrainian army launched two counter-offensives in the Russian-held regions of Kharkiv and Kherson. Since then, Queue has not stopped demanding the resumption of territory, prompting the recapture of up to 8,000 km2.

How to explain such a reverse situation, More than six months have passed since the invasion of Ukraine ? Former Army Colonel and military strategist Michael Goya gives us his analysis of the situation.

Can you imagine such a quick turnaround in conflict?

The Ukrainian army has withdrawn significantly more than the Russians have captured in the past three months. It was a pretty amazing success. Perhaps even Ukrainians did not imagine that it would be so important.

This progress is quite amazing. We are [les militaires] I don’t understand how the Russians let themselves be fooled like this.

Situation in Ukraine, September 14, 2022. | Infographic West-France

Moscow did not seem to anticipate the scale of the Ukrainian counterattack. How is that possible?

It is a mystery. This kind of attack does not go unnoticed: 20,000 men are united with hundreds of armored vehicles just a few kilometers from the front. Especially at a time when the battlefield is usually more transparent, the Russians use satellites, drones, planes, commandos, spies…

This attack should not have succeeded. This surprised everyone and showed that the Russian army was much weaker than it was thought at the time. We had obviously overwhelmed the Russian army.

There must have been deep flaws. When you encounter a disaster, there is inefficiency somewhere. I think there is a lack of appreciation of the situation.

Why did the Ukrainian military choose to occupy these areas in the first place?

The Ukrainians attacked a sector that was known to be particularly weak. The Russians did not see this attack in preparation, which is already a mystery. From there, the Ukrainians broke through and won the first displacement battle. They penetrated the Russian posture and could not fight coherently across the region.

The war is not over. We will have to see if this is really cyclical or if the Russians really have structural problems, I believe. The coming weeks will be decisive: whether the Ukrainians can regroup their forces and strike back with a similar move. This means that the effort has gone completely to the other side.

There are currently two counteroffensives in Kharkiv East and Kherson. Is the Ukrainian military using the same tactics there?

Not exactly. The Battle of Kharkiv was classic, a concentration of forces against a weak device.

The situation in Donbass, east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on September 14, 2022. Infographic West-France

From the Kherson side, it looks like a siege. The 20,000 men on the bridgehead across the Dnieper were largely isolated by artillery fire, airstrikes, and the cutting of bridges and logistics. It was a fortified area that was much stronger than North Kharkiv, but they were almost besieged. The Ukrainians are moving little by little and they are hoping for a collapse in the area, which causes the Russian forces to retreat behind the river.

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So these are different fights but they are two operations of roughly the same scale. Also, orchestrating two major attacks at the same time is already, in and of itself, a feat we can’t imagine right now.

How do you explain that these counterattacks are happening now, not two weeks ago or two weeks ago?

First, organizing such an activity takes time. At least three weeks. There, it comes from an opportunity, which is to find the weakness of the Russian device. You had to catch it now. Next, the Ukrainians want to take the initiative in the fight and try to achieve decisive results, or win the war as soon as possible, perhaps before winter.

Is winter phobia a dead end in the fight?

We can always fight in winter, but it is more complicated to launch attacks in the middle of a very severe winter, which we can be in the region. Hence the interest in trying to get the maximum result early.

And then there is this desire to get it as soon as possible. This is a terrible ordeal for Ukraine. So Kyiv will try to take advantage of this advantage.

What is the success rate of this type of surgery? Is it limited in hardware capability? For the morale of the soldiers? A little of both?

Waging war is a human affair. On both sides, we have 80% identical equipment. Material plays but it is above all a human problem. The victory was mainly due to the technical quality and morale of the fighters on both sides.

The Ukrainian army has gained strength. In terms of training and mobilization, all the efforts made in the last six months are paying off.

From the beginning of the war, the Russian army tends to retreat. There were good combat units, elite, marines, paratroopers. They suffered heavy losses and were completely worn out from July onwards. On the other hand, we have seen more and more battalions coming up with young, poorly trained men. There has been a deterioration of human capital.

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In contrast, the Ukrainian military, despite experiencing difficulties in May and June, has grown in power. Apart from the Western aid, all the efforts made in the last six months like training, mobilization are bearing fruit. So we have an army that is more powerful than before and more powerful than the Russian army.

There are actually two Ukrainian forces: the active army and the regional, national guard, or militia units formed at the start of the war with reservists and mobilized civilians. Territorial brigades can now attack north of Kharkiv. This means that these units are tactically far superior to what they were at the beginning of the war. That is the difference.

Did Ukraine also get more aid than expected?

Ukraine benefited in terms of material, artillery, and anti-aircraft missiles. The Americans and the British helped shape the attack. This very important help made all the difference. But it is useless if the army is not good or unwilling to fight.

Ukraine’s developments give hope, but should we not be cautious? How far can the counterattack go?

It raises a lot of hopes and it’s a spiral of success: success leads to success. To be willing to fight and take mortal risks, you must have a sense of worth. The sense that liberating Ukrainian territory would make victory possible makes it easier to take these risks.

Unless there is a very strong reaction from Russia, a very deep restructuring of their military and a major politicization of the nation, it is hard to see how they can get out of it.

If the current Ukrainian advance cannot be halted and other defeats occur, there may be a row with the collapse of the Russian military. It can create an inverted spiral, a chess spiral.

It is unlikely, but if the Ukrainians manage to renew this type of attack, for example, in the Zaporozhye region in the south, they have certainly taken the initiative in operations and if not a very strong reaction. From Russia, there is no doubt a very deep reorganization of their military and a great politicization of the nation, and it is difficult to see how they can get out of it.

And are you hoping for a big rally?

It doesn’t seem great because declaration of war and general mobilization is a bit of a Pandora’s box. First, materially, it will be more complicated because nothing is planned and it will take months. And politically, it’s very unpopular. Vladimir Putin took care to protect the people as much as possible from the consequences of this war. It was the first time a European country invaded a neighboring country without declaring war and without general mobilization. This clearly shows that there was a lack of trust. Crossing this trend is the opening of a Pandora’s box.

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You mentioned the possibility of a continued counteroffensive around Zaporizhia. Is this, in your opinion, the most logical sequence of operations?

Anyway, that’s what I would do if I were the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army! As soon as the Russians have withdrawn themselves in the north, I take five or six maneuver forces (about 20,000 men) and I attack again in a weak zone, that is, between the south of Zaporizhia and the province of Donetsk. An attack could have disastrous consequences for the Russians. If the Ukrainians can break through this sector, they can capture Melitopol, the road junction of the entire southern sector, recover the Enerhodar (Zaporygia) nuclear power plant, and advance towards Mariupol to threaten the rest. On the front side of Gerson. This should be kept in mind for a while, and we should definitely check out this page.

Does the Ukrainian military have the means to hold on to recovering positions and launch other counterattacks?

This is precisely the whole question. The Ukrainians now outnumber the Russians, so they have the ability to hold forward and organize attacks. Something the Russians will find hard to do at the moment. So it is indeed possible. But the Ukrainians must act quickly: once it stops somewhere, they must strike elsewhere.

Can we talk about a “lightning war” (specifically the term used to describe the German invasion of Poland in 1939)?

I’m not a big fan of this term, it corresponds to a time when absolutely decisive decisions are made to win a war very quickly. We’re not there yet.

I liken it to the proceedings of 1918. The war was similar to World War I in that it was accelerated, with major battles including the Battle of the Marne in 1914. Then with the period of trenches for several years, the front freezes. Then, in 1918, the situation was again thwarted by a whole series of offensives. By opening breaches, by opening pockets, the German front collapsed. Militarily, that seems to be the case today.

Can we expect the same result with the Russian collapse?

Exactly.

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