In 72 hours, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have retaken over 2,500 sq km of Russian-occupied Ukraine
By Mike Martin 11 September 2022 • 9:45am
By the time you read this article it will most probably be out of date, such is the speed of the advance of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Most likely the last 72 hours of warfare in Ukraine are going to be studied by generations of future military officers and historians. In summary, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have retaken over 2,500 sq km of Russian-occupied Ukraine.
And they have done this by punching a hole through thinly-guarded Russian front lines east of Kharkiv, and severing the Russian lines of logistics, forcing the withdrawal of large contingents of Russian soldiers from multiple locations, but most importantly Izyum and Kupyansk.
Without these two cities, Russia cannot effectively supply its forces in the north-east or the east of the country, and so further collapses, withdrawals and surrenders of Russian forces are to be expected.
In fact, as this article was being written, reports are emerging that the Ukrainians have retaken Donetsk Airport, and are heading for the Black Sea coast—either Mariupol, or Melitopol. It is a quite stunning success.
So what does this mean?
For the war, it means that we are seeing the disintegration of Russian forces in Ukraine. They may be able to stabilise their lines temporarily, but we have crossed a point of no return. Russia’s forces were previously poorly equipped, supplied and of low morale. To that list you can now add terrified of encirclement.
Some are worried that this will force Putin to use nuclear weapons, but as long as the Ukrainians stay within their borders this is unlikely—for Putin knows it will be the end of him, and potentially of Russia too.
Only a matter of time
Geographically, the Ukrainians are carving up the Russian forces into small pockets which they will deal with individually. The hardest of those pockets to defeat will be Russian forces in Crimea, but once Ukraine has isolated them by destroying the Kerch bridge that runs between Crimea and Russia, it is only a matter of time.
The Russians are not going to be able to pull this together – we are witnessing an army in rapid decline, it is just a question of the speed at which it declines.
Of course, for Ukraine, this means that they are getting closer to their overall strategic goal: the removal of all Russian forces from the sovereignty territory of Ukraine.
This has been achieved with exceptional skill and bravery on their part, and huge losses of civilians and soldiers, including an estimated 1.5million Ukrainians who have been transferred to Russia. (Luckily they have captured and are capturing thousands of Russian soldiers and so these two groups may well be swapped.)
It has also been done with billions of dollars of weaponry, terabytes of intelligence data, and discrete operational advice from western countries, and especially the US and the UK.
But what does this mean for Russia?
Well, first and foremost it means that Putin could be finished. This has been his war. And it has not only failed, but achieved the opposite of what he said it would: Russia is now ostracised, sanctioned, has unified its enemies, and is about to have its army defeated in the field. This may seem like a good thing but there is only one thing worse than a strong Russia, and that is a weak one.
A weak Russia, with its leader defenestrated, leaves many unknown questions. Could there be a coup? Who takes over after Putin? Does Russia stay whole? What happens to the nuclear weapons — and Russia has over 5,000 of them while all of this is happening?
So while everyone’s eyes are focused on what is happening in Ukraine, I hope someone is thinking about what may be shortly to happen to Russia.
Dr Mike Martin is a War Studies Visiting Fellow at King’s College London and author of Why We Fight.