Mark Sumner wrote earlier today about the incredible shrinking Russian army. It’s an important read, as it explains why Russia is stuck on all fronts in Ukraine despite having a seemingly overwhelming numerical and equipment advantage. The bottom line, as it turns out, is that Russia doesn’t have a numerical and equipment advantage.
Russia didn’t gain any ground today, anywhere. They are stuck stuck. Meanwhile, Ukraine finally confirmed the capture of the strategic city of Staryi Saltiv, which actually took place over the weekend. Those Ukrainian gains around Kharkiv now allow utter destruction of supply convoys anywhere that city. No wonder the Donbas front is stymied.
Henry Schlottman is an Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) guy painstakingly tracking the movement of individual units in this war. This chart of his speaks volumes. (I’ve cropped for legibility, so click on this link to get the full view.)
The green squares represents the estimated strength of Ukrainian forces in brigades. The Russian numbers in red are their battalion tactical groups (BTG). A Ukrainian brigade is the rough equivalent of 2-3 Russian BTGs, though I would estimate on the higher end (3x) given how under-resourced those BTGs have turned out.
Down near Kherson, in the south, Ukraine actually has a numerical advantage—seven Russian BTGs vs 10-15 Ukrainian equivalents. It’s no surprise that Russia is stuck trying to move on Krivyi Rih and Mikolaiv, while Ukraine is slowly rolling Russian forces in that axis.
Similarly, Russia is severely under-resourced in the Kharkiv axis with just five BTGs, while Ukraine has 6-9 equivalents. That’s why Ukraine is moving. However, the advantage isn ‘t huge, so progress is slow. Ukraine has admitted severe losses, and even got smashed trying to enter the northern town of Kozacha Lopan.
Defending is much easier than military offense.
In the Izyum direction, Russia is far more resourced with 22 Russian BTGs, opposite 12-18 Ukrainian equivalents. Russia has an advantage! Except that the standard military ratio—assuming competent combined arms (artillery, air, armor, and infantry coordination)—is a 3:1 advantage over defenders, and perhaps as high as 5:1 against well-trained soldiers in well-defended positions. Here in Izyum direction, Russia’s advantage is less than two-to-one, which explains why Russia can’t punch through.
The supposed Russian advantage in the Donetsk direction is even more stark—20 Russian BTGs opposite 6-9 Ukrainian equivalents, yet those Russians haven’t even tried to move in at least four days, seemingly afraid to push forward. Ukraine General Staff keeps warning that Russia is organizing and resupplying for a big push. Obviously, Ukraine has to prepare for the worst-case scenario. But it hasn’t happened and I’m not expecting Russia to surprise us anytime soon.
Still, Ukraine has held fast because of the steady resupply of weapons and munitions from its NATO allies. The Pentagon has noted Ukraine’s high consumption rate and is working with allies and other third-parties to resupply. For example, the United States has approached India and other countries utilizing Soviet-era munitions to buy them on Ukraine’s behalf. As long as the spigot is running—and it is—Ukraine can hold off the Russian hordes.
Meanwhile, Russia is still doing what it claimed to be fixing after the Battle of Kyiv—spreading its forces too thin, along too wide of a front, unable to mass its forces for a decisive punch through Ukrainian defensive lines, all the while its long supply lines are decimated by Ukrainian forces.
Except this time, Russia can’t attempt a do-over like it did after Kyiv. It’s do or die, and mostly, it’s the dying part.