Interview with Marko Marjanović, Editor of Anti-Empire
MIKE WHITNEY • APRIL 12, 2022
Question 1– The war in Ukraine appears to be shifting eastward to an area in the Donbass around the city of Krematorsk. This is where upwards of 60,000 Ukrainian combat troops are “dug-in” and prepared to take on the advancing Russian army. In one of your posts, you suggested that the “real war” is about to begin. Most of the military analysts I have read, seem to agree with you on that point. Some analysts, however, think that it could take up to three weeks for Russia to assemble the troops and material needed to launch a full-blown offensive. Others say the artillery phase of the battle has begun already. In your opinion, will the upcoming battle determine the outcome of the war? Also, what will it take for Russia to prevail in this extremely challenging fight against an entrenched and capable army?
I have no idea how long it takes to get the forces that were in the Kiev operation ready for a coherent, ambitious and well-supported effort in the southeast. We would need a staff officer to tell us that. Somebody who knows trains.
Generally speaking, better-prepared offensives work better. The element of surprise now being out the window, you want to err on the side of too late rather than too soon. Taking a few extra days for buildup that you didn’t really need, is far better than starting a few days too soon.
Throwing forces into attack before you are able to properly back them — with opposite arm forces for support, supplies to sustain their success, and follow-on forces to exploit it — is the surest way to have wasted effort, and casualties with little to show for them.
The battle of Donbass started a couple of days after the start of the war itself. If you look at the map you will see that Ukrainians have already been dislodged from two-thirds of the old contact line. Only one-third of the contact line remains. In the south the Russians took Volnovakha which opened a direct rail link to their forces in the south (making Ukrainian control of Mariupol a moot point), and in the north the Russians continue to make slow but steady progress past Izyum carving out a salient that threatens to envelop the Ukrainians to the east of it.
This is a battle that is already 6-weeks old, it is just that until now the Russians didn’t have forces in the theater sufficient for truly spectacular success — because they were not focusing on this theater. Now they are getting massive reinforcements and if they stay true to the best Russian military traditions they will use them all at once and in a way that aims for something big, rather than squander them piecemeal.
How the battle is resolved won’t determine the outcome of the war, but it will determine whether there is a future for the Ukrainian military on the left bank outside cities.
If the Ukrainian army in the Donbass is encircled and marched into captivity then it would demonstrate the folly of trying to hold solid lines against the Russians out in the open.
You will note that in the north the Ukrainians did not even attempt to create and hold a solid line against the Russians but were quick to pull back into cities like Chernigov, Kiev and Sumy.
This is somewhat understandable because of the Russian strength in numbers in the north and the fact they had achieved a measure of operational surprise (Zelensky didn’t order reserves to start standing up until Feb 23).
If offering battle out in the open ends in disaster even for the strong and entrenched Ukrainian Donbass army it will show the unworkability of such an approach.
The Ukrainians might still form some sort of a frontline against the Russians but these wouldn’t be more than skirmishing lines to harass the enemy when standing still and offer token resistance to slightly delay and disorganize it when it advances.
This would still leave open the problem of the right bank and the problem of sieging left-bank cities, but in a certain sense it would leave the Russians the masters of the left-bank and Ukraine a rump state.
Russia can not “not prevail” in Donbass. The fighting so far proves this. Russia has already dislodged Ukraine from two-thirds of the old contact line. If it is contended to slowly push back Ukraine from the rest it can do so. The question is can it do something more? Something with a big big-picture payoff?
For example — surrounding numerous Ukrainian troops and forcing them to lay down their arms because they ran out of ammunition, rather than having to continuously push back the same units bit by bit, over and over again in a protracted grind?
Even wrestling control of Donbass quickly only to encounter the expelled JFO army again in the built-up environments of Dnipro, Zaporozhye, Poltava and Kharkov isn’t ideal.
Arguably a spectacular, decisive victory wouldn’t take more than what Russia has already demonstrated. The way in which the Russian drive on Kiev was conducted especially early on was very perplexing. Also, the drive stalled out before it could encircle the Ukrainian capital from either the east or the west. However, that does not mean that on a certain level it wasn’t very, very impressive.
In not much more than 10 days, the Central Military District covered more than 200 miles past Sumy to the outskirts of Kiev. The push may have finally run out of steam just before the strategic payoff, but that kind of advance is nonetheless hugely impressive in any book. Arguably had the Central Military District and the 1st Guards Tank Army from the Western one been set to advance 200 miles past Kharkov to Pavlograd and Dnieper instead, the Russians could have had their Donbass cauldron formed a month ago.