The struggle for Kharkiv oblast
UPDATE 20 SEPTEMBER 2022
Our observations below, to the effect that all Ukraine's recent territorial conquests have been exclusively in Kharkiv oblast and no progress has been made encroaching upon Russian occupation of Kherson oblast, is confirmed by the articles below.
The pattern seems to be that the Ukrainians will keep the entirety of Nikolaev oblast, but the Russians will keep the entirety of Kherson oblast.
UPDATE 14 SEPTEMBER 2022
Despite a flurry of confusing and inconsistent media reports on both sides (West and East), including photographs of Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenskiy visiting troops in what some articles describe as 'liberated Donbas', it is our understanding that all the territory Ukraine has liberated from Russian occupation, including most significantly the city of Izyum, is in Kharkiv oblast. None of the liberated territory is in Donetsk or Luhansk oblasts.
Each day a new and ever higher figure is quoted for the thousands of square kilometres of territory that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have liberated. We understand all of this territory to be in Kharkiv oblast.
This is consistent with our theory, conveyed below, that there is a tacit agreement for Russia to abandon Kharkiv oblast in favour of Ukraine in exchange (approximately) for Russia to keep her territorial holdings in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
Whether or not this tenuous deal holds will only be found out with the passage of time. Let us hope that it does, because it might serve at least as a temporary respite upon the delivery by two large nations of their young men to the slaughter as if cattle. The first priority in stopping the carnage of civil conflict is always to fix the front line. Then you can work on trams-frontier cooperation, and later federalisation. That is the way virtually every civil conflict has concluded since the end of World War II (the exceptions are few; think FARC in Colombia or LTTE in Sri Lanka) and we would imagine that this is how the current conflict in Ukraine will end as well.
The following map is worth studying with care although ifs sources are manifestly entirely or almost entirely the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, and hence it should be treated with caution.
It appears that before ceding Kharkiv oblast to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Russian President moved a number of Ramzan Kadyrov's units to that oblast so that they would be decimated by Ukrainian armour supplied by NATO. Russian Krasnopol artillery pieces, in combination capable of shredding any advancing army, were removed from theatre to leave Kadyrov's units for slaughter.
Kadyrov is a particularly violent (even psychotic) Chechen leader with his own private army that the Russian President incorporated into the Russian Armed Forces, making Kadyrov a General, so that he could expose Kadyrov's forces to maximum danger and prospects of death. Kadyrov thereby has become a diminished threat to Putin; once an appropriate successor has been fixed stably in Grozny, Kadyrov may find himself falling from a peculiarly high place.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE 10 SEPTEMBER 2022
In recent days there has been a lot of newspaper copy devoted to the Ukrainian surprise pushback of Russian troops in Kharkiv oblast in eastern Ukraine. Here we seek to present a more balanced version of events.
There is no struggle for Kharkiv oblast. The Russians have decided upon a strategic withdrawal from Kharkiv oblast. Hence they have stripped their positions down to the minimum military presence, and left the Ukrainians to invade it and more or less rapidly re-occupy the Russian occupied parts of the oblast (not including Kharkiv city on the Russian border, which has remained in free Ukrainian control throughout).
The reason the Russians are abandoning Kharkiv is because there is nothing there for them. Kharkiv is a light industrial city with a population of restive ethnic Ukrainians. It is not strategically essential for any transport, military or other logistical purpose. It is just a problem.
In fact Kharkiv's principal business is and since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been trafficking in people and smuggling of guns. The Russians do not want a city that specialises in either of those things.
What Kharkiv needs, from the Russian point of view, is not invading but a border wall to stop all the people trafficking and small arms smuggling. It is amazing to behold that free Ukraine holds borders with Russia that remain open just outside the city's edges. Or maybe it is not so amazing. There is money in moving people and guns.
Nothing in Kharkiv is essential for Donbass coal and steel operations.
If you do not aspire to take Kharkiv City, then there is no point in holding the rural areas of the oblast or the settlements within it. Hence we predict that the city of Izyum in Kharkiv oblast, currently under control of Russia, will shortly fall to free Ukraine. The Russians have no need for such a place and there is no value in it for them. It can just be a source of insurgency by a restive ethnic Ukrainian and hence anti-Russisn population.
The relinquishment by Russia of occupied rural and small-town Kharkiv oblast appears to be being coordinated between Russians and Ukrainians. Russian columns move out in advance; then Ukrainian columns move in, making some big bangs with their new NATO weaponry.
We have heard a report that Russia is sending rookie fighter pilot trainees in old MiG-29's (the Russian airforce no longer uses these old aircraft except for training; she uses the next-generation MiG-35's instead) for reconnaissance sorties over Kharkiv oblast, to test the effectiveness of the NATO HIMARS surface to air missile systems being supplied to Ukraine.
The decision to abandon Kharkiv represents a significant reduction in Russia's strategic thinking as to what she can achieve from this war. Our tentative current views are that Russia's war goals have now been amended as follows: (a) hold the entirety of Luhansk oblast; (b) complete acquisition of Donetsk oblast (probably a mopping up operation towards the end of the war or during a lull); (c) maintain total control over Kherson oblast; (d) maintain the current line of control in Zaporizhzhia oblast; (e) render Nikolaev the principal front line border city frontier between free Ukraine (where Nikolaev sits) and Kherson in Russian occupied territory, some 45 minutes away. Nikolaev has suffered extensive shelling damage, so the Russians may offer to rebuild the city as a way of exercising soft power / influence of the Russian intelligence services in the border city.
All other Russian war goals, outside those, appear tacitly to have been abandoned. If there any reports suggesting other Russian war goals being pursued, then we will update this page
Russia's revision downwards of her war goals is a good thing. It shows that with sufficient resources and might, one can tame the Great Bear - or at least tether her. Fears of further European invasion by Russia, beyond the borders of Ukraine, are now revealed as fanciful.
Zelenskiy is presumably being edged towards a similar sort of concept of stalemate, frozen conflict, or armistice without peace, by his Kyiv advisors.
There is hope for a de facto armistice fairly soon, upon the line of military control, once some adjustments have taken place in particular in Kharkiv oblast (Russians to leave) and Donetsk oblast (Ukrainians to leave).
11 September 2022: Ukrainian troops are reported to have entered Izyum the prior day. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62867560