We Kinda Predicted This Would Happen.
Back on May 12, Newsweek reached out to us to ask about how much longer the war could go on. We looked at some estimates of what Russia was burning through in terms of men, equipment, and the cost of imposed sanctions and told Newsweek that in our considered opinion, Russia would not last much longer than 90 days more.
On August 29th, Ukraine launched an offensive that has proven stunningly effective. In the North, they have all but routed Russian forces and large pockets of Russian troops are cut off and trapped. We think as many as 15,000 may be forced to surrender. The rest seem to be trying to get back across the border into Russia like they have rockets strapped to their boots.
Anyway, our prediction was about 16 days off.
Ukraine is having a POW problem that is about to get much bigger
Don’t believe anyone who says they know how many Russian prisoners Ukraine is holding. The number is constantly changing because both sides engage in prisoner exchanges. So rather than Ukraine having formal POWs camps as we think of in WWII, they have smaller facilities where they are housed and fed until they are swapped for Ukrainian prisoners in Russia.
As it looks right now in Kharkiv Oblast, the Ukrainians have an unknown number of Russian troops trapped in villages and towns they bypassed on their offensive. We have seen reports that all Russian troops West of the Dneiper river are trying to negotiate a mass surrender. We’re skeptical of these claims for a few reasons.
The Russian troops fighting in and around Kharkiv are a mixed bag of regular Russian army troops, Donetsk People’s Republic(DPR) militia conscripts, Russian Rosvgardia or Putin’s personal army, Russian Interior Ministry, and Federal Security Service(FSB) troops. They are all commanded by different authorities. There is no one guy in charge of everything trapped behind the lines working out surrender terms.
What we think is going on are individual unit commanders in these pockets trying to make a deal to surrender to Ukraine. They are most likely the DPR militia units. This will create a problem for Ukraine. Ukraine considers Donetsk its territory, its government as illegitimate, and the people in it as Ukrainians. Ukraine is not going to exchange these DPR prisoners and lend legitimacy to its government and, the prisoners themselves may not want to even go back just to be handed another old Mossin-Nagant bolt action rifle and a pot helmet and be sent into the fighting again. Ukraine is going to have to hold on to them. The question then is whether Ukraine will treat them as traitors who took up arms against their own country or eject them from Ukraine outright as stateless persons when Donestsk is folded back into Ukraine proper.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has also appealed to Russian troops to surrender, promising them all the protections of the Geneva Convention as prisoners of war. In a brief video address by him on social media he told Russian troops,
“The movement of our troops in different directions of the front continues. At this time, within the framework of active actions since the beginning of September, about 2 thousand kilometers of our territory have already been freed. These days, the Russian army is showing its best, by showing its back. And, after all that’s happened it’s a good choice for them to run away. There is no place for the occupiers in Ukraine, and there will be no place. However, I make clear once again: any Russian military or security forces who are afraid to return to Russia now, we guarantee everyone who is captured by our soldiers will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.”
Russia is Not Sending Any Fresh Units to the Front
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia is no longer sending new units in to reinforce degraded units in Ukraine,
“The military command of the russian federation suspends sending the newly formed units into Ukraine. The current situation in the theatre of operations and distrust towards the higher command forced a large number of volunteers to categorically refuse the prospect of front-line duty. The situation is aggravated by information about the actual number of dead. At that, losses from private military companies and the personnel mobilized from temporarily occupied territories are not taken into account. The situation worsens further because of the overall attitude towards their own wounded. In particular, Russian hospitals are deliberately toning down and simplifying diagnoses and the nature of combat injuries. This gives no time for rehabilitation.”
Additionally, Russian commanders are withholding the pay of troops wounded and in the hospital as an incentive for them to get back to the front quickly rather than stay in the hospital and recover properly.
There are videos and images of convoys heading for Ukraine so this may not be exactly correct. On the other hand, given the rapid advance of Ukraine’s offensive and the paranoia of Russia in general, they may be moving these units to the Russian border, fearing an invasion by Ukraine, which is extremely doubtful in the near future.