Russian Forces in a Panicked Retreat from Kharkiv
The photo below is of a Russian soldier whose body was flattened into the roadbed by traffic driving over him. Tanks, trucks, infantry fighting vehicles, and thousands of civilians fleeing Kharkiv by any ready means, We don’t know where this picture was taken exactly. We don’t know who this hapless Russian soldier was, his name or the town he came from, or what he thought about being in Ukraine for the Special Military Operation. We don’t know if he was a deserter caught on the road and killed by his own forces, or a war criminal who raped a pillaged the civilian populations in dozens of towns and villages in Ukraine.
No one will ever know. Hopefully, Ukraine will have the decency to bury him or return his remains to Russia for pity’s sake, but in a war marked by shortages on both sides, pity seems to be in short supply as well.
In our last SITREP, we told you that the Ukrainian advance looked as if they meant to cut off and trap thousands of Russian troops with their backs to the Oskil River taking both Kharkiv and Izium in the process. It would appear the Russians could read maps too and have now withdrawn beyond the river being pursued by Ukrainian forces all the way back to the Russian border and relative safety.
It appears to be a rout in the North at this point. As many as 10,000 Russian troops may be cut off and surrounded in Izium and their surrender is reportedly being negotiated right now. The Russian army got out of there so fast that they failed to destroy vast quantities of ammunition, supplies, and enough armored vehicles to equip a new Ukrainian armored battalion and a mechanized infantry battalion at least. They have already taken thousands of prisoners and are said to be having problems moving them to the rear and providing for them.
Ukraine is probably just as happy to drive the Russians out of their country as they are to kill or capture them, as in any case they are out of their country and not very likely to want to return any time soon.
So what caused this collapse of Russian resistance in the North around Kharkiv? We’re sure it’s a lot of things. Russian troops are said to be chronically short on food, with some units only getting one MRE per man every other day, their equipment is not in a good state of repair or operation and they are not being paid. They dislike and distrust their leadership.
Some of it may come down to troop quality as well, the initial offensive direction aimed at Kherson threatened Crimea and Russia shifted forces from the Kharkiv area to try to stop it. What was left in Kharkiv were mostlyDonbas conscripts and lightly armed Russian National Guard or Rosgvardia troops as placeholders. There are those disputing that the drive on Kherson was a feint to draw Russian formations South but Ukraine sure seemed to have their tanks, guns, and aircraft right there to launch the assault on Kharkiv at just the right time.
Ukraine has also been bombarding the cell phones of Russian troops with text messages telling them to surrender, that they will be well treated and exchanged for Ukrainians held by Russia. We have heard telephone conversations with Ukrainian military authorities reassuring a Russian soldier that he will not be castrated if he surrenders.
Another factor driving this panicked rout was probably the “Nothing to worry about” posture of the Russian army’s own general staff which characterized the Ukrainian offensive as a failure and claimed to have contained it while inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. If you were a Russian conscript in a trench in the path of this offensive, you probably knew different. You might have been promised by your officers that a massive relief force and ample ammunition were on the way to relieve them, but if you are only eating once every other day, how likely are you to believe that?
Prior to the offensive, we noted that Ukraine was hitting their rear areas and disrupting the flow of supplies and reinforcements to Russian units, keeping them in their trenches by putting pressure on them all along the lines and making them expend ammunition they would have a hard time replacing. When they felt they had exhausted the Russians physically, they would strike.
It seems like Russia’s troops and the Russian-friendly civilians in the north decided all at once that their situation was hopeless and what was supposed to be perhaps a delaying action and orderly retreat turned into a rout to get to the other side of the Oskil river while they still could. With Ukraine’s forces continuing to pursue them, it looks like they will not rally until they reach the Russian border.
Intense, Close Quarters Combat
The ugly reality of this war in Ukraine. This is close combat footage in a Russian fighting position somewhere along the advance of the offensive and it is instructive. The camera is mounted on top of his helmet. Ukrainian Marines are taking the position with grenades, a rocket launcher, and small arms fire. A rocket is fired into a bunker, wounding several Russians and then two others drop their weapons and attempt to flee and are cut down by the Marines. They move closer to the bunker and fire small arms into it. You can hear those inside moaning in pain and presumably death a few moments later.
Unlike the movies, an actual war is chaos and confusion, death and carnage.
Unlike the wars we fought in the desert terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine is a country with lots of wooded areas and low rolling hills. It has some of the deepest topsoil you can find in the world. It is hundreds of feet deep in some regions. It’s pretty good tank country with open fields that give gunners a long field of view, but it also has the kind of terrain infantry can dig into like ticks.
And unless you have plenty of artillery or close air support, you have to go in at point blank range and root them out. This means casualties to both sides in terms of infantry losses.
Intense combat footage from GoPro of a Ukrainian warrior. Location/date unspecified. pic.twitter.com/soiHyfUzHj
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) September 11, 2022
Russian Tanks with Broken Guns and Tanks With Working Guns That Cannot Move
Russian Prisoner interviews say that they have tanks that cannot fire their guns and tanks that can fire but cannot move because their engines leak so much oil and they do not have oil to put in them.
Russia is short of field repair crews. This is likely due to losses to these units who were pressed into service as additional tank crews or infantry in the initial months of the war when casualties were the greatest. The way the Russian army works, troops with technical skills like this form the core of their mechanized formations, they are then filled out with conscripts and reservists as needed who serve as infantry. In the early months of the war Russian armored personnel carriers went into action with just the core crews, commander, gunner, and mechanic without the 5-7 grunts riding inside. Ukrainian drones, artillery and anti-tank rockets, and missiles made mincemeat of them and the core of their technical crews able to repair and maintain vehicles may be mostly wiped out.
The picture below is of a large repair yard for Russian tracked vehicles near Izyum. There must be 30 vehicles there of various types including more than one tank recovery vehicle. Hatches are open, heavy machine guns have been stripped from the turrets and they are parked with no sense of order like they were waiting to be repaired. It looks like they are sitting where the tank recovery vehicles dumped them.
Cracks in the Facade of Russian Unity
The Putin-appointed boss of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, used his Telegram Channel to issue a public appeal to the Russian military leadership to clean up its act in the reality of what appears to be a headlong retreat by Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. It is more surprising that it was then picked up and distributed by TASS, which is the official state media of the Russian Federation.
This comes only a week after rumors that the Chechen leader may resign his position as the strongman of Chechnia.
Ukraine-based Defence Express provided a translation of Kadyrov’s warning to the Kremlin.
“The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation clarified the situation, don, why did they, don, leave such cities as Izyum and Kupyansk… BalaklYaya… I don’t know why they are so interesting, don, cities, don… Well, it was , turns out it was necessary from a military strategy, don. To save us casualties… I’m not a strategist, don, at the same level as the Ministry of Defense, don, but mistakes were made, don. I think they’ll draw conclusions, don. ..I always like to tell the truth, don, and I’ve talked to all, don, the commanders who are on the front lines and we have full information, don. Information from the “place of adventure”, don. And if changes are not made today or tomorrow in the strategy of the “special military operation”, don, I will be forced to go to the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the leadership of the country to explain to them the situation that is now “on the ground”.
The odd thing about this is that Kadyrov made this disclosure in public rather than in private conversation with Putin and the Kremlin. It suggests that his concerns are being ignored or dismissed, leaving him no option but to make a public complaint.
Rumors of a Coup Against Putin Swirl
Rumors of a coup against Putin are being reported. There are significant military and security operations underway throughout Moscow. Among the reports is that the Presidential aircraft left Moscow in the last 12 hours. We have seen photos and videos of these military operations underway and they have an alternate explanation as well.
The Russians are scrambling to gather forces to reinforce their troops in the Kharkiv region. Closing roads for military traffic and trying to prevent word of these additional forces being sent by road to Ukraine would make sense.
The Kremlin might also order the center of Moscow cleared to prevent spontaneous demonstrations from the regime from taking shape.
As Newsweek reported recently, the Municipal Council of the Smolninskoe district of St Petersberg issued a letter calling for Putin to be removed by the Duma and charged with treason for his decision to invade Ukraine. The Smolninskoe district has about 175,000 people in it and its local government would have very little influence over the federal government in Moscow. It did manage to attract the attention of the FSB or state police who have summoned the seven politicians who signed their names to the letter to appear before them and face charges of acts that discredit the government of the Russian Federation. Upon conviction, the accused are facing prison sentences of up to 15 years.
The Deadly Panic of Retreat
A video shared on Twitter makes light of a Russian tank attempting to bug out at high speed shedding troops riding on top of it before it careens around a corner and rams into a very large tree which stops the tank and brings down the huge tree as well.
A closer look at the video shows something else. The Russian tank appears to have blundered into a contingent of Ukrainian troops, (blue arrows) and vehicles who are firing at the tank at close range and hitting the troops riding on top of it, or making them jump off to avoid being hit. On the roadside, a Ukrainian soldier can be seen opening fire on the tank as it went by and then hitting the dirt to avoid return fire. Several other Ukrainian troops are in the back of trucks, in a ditch and a side road then open fire on the tank as it runs a gauntlet of fire. At the 15-second mark, you can see at least 4 Ukrainian soldiers firing at the tank as it rockets past them.
As for the tank drifting into the corner and hitting the tree. We normally think of tanks having great traction as it plods along, the truth is actually quite different. The tracks of a tank work to distribute the weight of the tank so that it doesn’t sink into the ground or buckle roads and bridges as they pass over them, but there is lots of mass and inertia to a 41-ton T-72 moving at 40 mph. It doesn’t turn on a dime. US tanks use rubber polymer tread pads for better traction on roads but Russian tanks use steel and it can be pretty slippery as the video shows.
No panic? Russian tank in Kharkiv Oblast flees Ukrainian forces, shedding Russian soldiers as it goes, and then crashes into a tree. pic.twitter.com/QjixpexAXz
— Euan MacDonald (@Euan_MacDonald) September 9, 2022