Nikishino: Novorossia’s “Extraordinary Force” in Action ?
The two bloggers who write most extensively about the conduct of military operations on the Donbass are YuraSumy and Colonel Cassad, who cover the same topic in strikingly different ways. Whereas YuraSumy tends to cover the “big picture” in a breezily optimistic tone, Cassad is highly detailed, and at the same time guarded in his judgments, to the point of being pessimistic. Yet it’s YuraSumy who seems to have a better grasp on the dynamic of the events or, as an alternative explanation, Cassad simply knows (much) more than he is willing to say. Consider, for example, Cassad’s oft-used characterization of engagements fought by Novorossia’s forces as being mainly won by artillery fire, with the militia largely occupying abandoned positions. Well, this description does not square with the aftermath of the battle for Nikishino, as shown on Komsomolskaya Pravda’s video report from the liberated village:
Visible evidence suggests that Ukrainian forces did not merely leave Nikishino after an artillery bombardment. The sheer number of destroyed and abandoned vehicles, ammunition scattered everywhere and, especially, personal belongings left behind as if it were some land-based Mary Rose, indicate this was no pull-back to a position less exposed to artillery fire. No, this heavily defended and well fortified town (as Cassad noted on his blog, the two sides have been butting heads over Nikishino for a long time, with no success) was clearly overrun by a conventional ground assault, and overrun so quickly its defenders in effect had to flee for their lives. This is far from the only engagement that seems to have unfolded in this manner. The Donetsk Airport, strongpoint 31 on the Bakhmutka, possibly the initial assault on Peski that led to the capture of the city, the initial assault on Popasnaya, definitely Uglegorsk, all are strikingly similar in their execution. A short but violent artillery preparation, followed by an overwhelming assault that overruns a well fortified position (and they all were) with apparent ease and minimal own casualties. However, the initial assault completed, the “extraordinary force” withdraws, and the “ordinary force” takes its place, digs in, and repels Ukrainian counter-attacks which are moreover attrited by artillery fire. Rinse, lather, repeat, until the Ukrainian forces collapse from demoralization and attrition, or the internal contradiction within the junta result in a split within the Ukrainian armed forces, with a resultant civil war.
This bifurcation is consistent with Sun Tzu’s concepts of “ordinary force” (which actually does most of the fighting, especially of protracted positional nature, but also creates preconditions of the “extraordinary force”) and the “extraordinary force”, which is small, elite, and used to achieve decisive results once suitable conditions are met. The militia seems to be the “ordinary force.” They are the ones holding the front lines and defeating Ukrainian counter-attacks. The “extraordinary force”, on the other hand, is a hit-and-run force, and therefore largely invisible to the cameras.There are precedents for this. The Red Army of the Great Patriotic War used the Guards and Shock Armies to spearhead breakthrough operations (which in turn would be exploited by Tank Armies), while the mass of ordinary infantry armies bore the brunt of defensive operations and positional fighting in general. Since Novorossia forces are steeped in that tradition, it’s not surprising they resorted to a similar organization, particularly under conditions resembling that of the Great Patriotic War, namely a continuous front line.
The events of the past several weeks indicate Novorossia’s forces are not a merely “artillery destroys, infantry occupies” army. They can do much more than that. They can take out a well fortified Ukrainian position in a matter of hours. Their effectiveness is such that one is starting to see absolutely fantastic reports from the Ukrainian side, including the sightings of the brand-new Armata main battle tanks (which as of right now exist only as prototypes and pre-production models). Ukrainian forces, it should be noted, lack a similar capability. Nowhere have we seen them demonstrate an ability to seize a defended position with a rapid ground assault. For example, the battle for Uglegorsk, specifically the Ukrainian counter-attack, featured some pretty elite formations, namely the Kulchytsky Battalion of the National Guard reinforced by the Svityaz MVD special operations unit. These were clearly the rapid reaction force of the Debaltsevo grouping, intended to counter-attack on endangered sectors of the front. And? They failed to eject the “ordinary force” Novorossia militia out of Uglegorsk, even though the resulting battle was costly for the militia. About the only success the Kulchytsky Battalion was…shooting up Semenchenko’s Donbass Battalion as it blundered onto the battlefield.
So, why aren’t Novorossia’s “extraordinary forces” used more? Because one gets the impression the Novorossia army is toying with its enemy.
One is reminded of the recent announcement made on the Russian Spring website which, although not made by Zakharchenko, was issued in such a way as to suggest he endorsed the ideas expressed within it. The statement, in essence, stated that time is not right for an outright offensive against Kiev forces. Novorossia’s army will have to stand pat for a while and fight a positional war, even if it means immense hardship for the people of the Donbass in the short term. However, Zakharchenko was also emphatic that there is a plan for further action, which for obvious reasons cannot be revealed.
So, what is the plan? Why are Novorossia’s forces being kept on a short leash? There are two possibilities. One is that Zakharchenko (and, by extension, Putin) are hoping that the internal contradictions within the junta will bubble up to the surface as Ukrainian forces are being ground to bits by a combination of lightning assaults by Novorossia’s “extraordinary force”, futile counter-attacks against positions firmly consolidated by the “ordinary force” militia, and of course the ever-present artillery fire. There are already indications that the many components of the ramshackle Ukrainian military (regular army, National Guard, volunteer battalions, MVD, the Right Sector battalions which don’t seem to recognize any authority, etc., etc., etc.) are starting to look askance at one another, suspecting each other of, if not treason, then at least not pulling their weight. So you have Samopomoga deputies accusing the National Guard of fleeing the battlefield in panic while the National Guard is accusing one of Samopomoga’s “stars”, the Donbass battalion commander “Semenchenko” of gross incompetence and cowardice. Which is not surprising. Each of these formations is somebody’s private army. The more it gets thrashed on the Donbass, the less weight it will have in the inevitable battle for Kiev against other private armies.
The second possibility is that Novorossia’s powers that be still don’t want Poroshenko to fail, because they don’t actually want to see a neo-Nazi regime in Kiev. It is for that reason that the Debaltsevo salient has not been transformed into a genuine pocket. If too many regular army formations are destroyed in that pocket, that will only strengthen the hand of the neo-Nazi volunteer battalions and render Poroshenko very vulnerable to overthrow. Therefore the VSU will be degraded to the point of not being able to pose another offensive threat to Novorossia (let’s face it, the armored vehicles and artillery it has lost in January will not be easy to replace), but sufficiently powerful to keep the Right Sector and imitators in check. Perhaps there is still hope that, chastened by defeat, Poroshenko will get around to the task of wiping out the Right Sector and all the rest and then, his domestic right flank secure, will be able to finally negotiate a final settlement with Russia concerning both Crimea and the Donbass. This is the only plausible scenario for Ukraine to survive as a state, in any form at all.
Which scenario will come to pass? We may know as soon as the beginning of March.