Ukrainians choose to constantly deploy artillery, while Melitopol guerrillas carry out assassinations and sabotage.
The guerrilla-style tactics of Ukrainian troops have made life dark for Russian forces. But analysts point out that Russia’s strategy of creating ‘cauldrons’ – that is, carrying out successive sieges of Ukrainian locations, devastating everything inside – could still turn the battle for Donbass in its favor. It is not surprising that over the last few days the Russians have escalated their bombardments, along the entire front line in Donbass, where the fighting “has reached maximum intensity”, warned Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, this Thursday. But it’s hard to hit an unseen, flexible enemy that launches successive attacks behind the attacker’s lines. Whether constantly shifting its artillery to avoid Russian response fire, or committing assassinations and acts of sabotage in occupied cities like Melitopol.
Just last week a Russian armored convoy was derailed near this southern town on the Molochna River, which used to have 150,000 inhabitants and became a crucial logistical axis in the Kremlin’s failed attempts to advance on Zaporizhzhia. Two days later, two Russian soldiers were found dead in a street, and the previous month a bridge near Melitopol, used by Kremlin forces, was destroyed.
“It was the work of our guerrilla groups, our secret services, and soldiers. They do this work together”, praised Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, who himself was kidnapped by Kremlin forces, who accused him of funding Right Sector – the Ukrainian far-right party with the most electoral representation – and dragged him to a van with a bag over his head. They eventually released him in March, in exchange for nine Russian prisoners. At the time, this provoked protests of thousands in the city, with thousands of inhabitants protesting it before the Russian military.
Part of that population now seems willing to put their lives on the line to stop the Russian war machine. Local guerrillas have passed information to the Russian military, Ukrinform advanced this month, killed more than a hundred “invaders and collaborators” – a worrying term, indicating that even pro-Russian civilians may have become a target – and created “a deeply secret clandestine network of pro-Ukrainian patriots in the city and district of Melitopol».
Russian forces, desperate to keep Melitopol under control, if only because they are using the city’s airport, reported CNN, have imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and are accused of resorting to kidnapping, torturing, murdering, or ‘ disappear’ local leaders, veterans, and opponents.
The resistance of the Ukrainian guerrillas even in the face of brutal repression by the Russians – who found themselves forced to garrison this Russian-speaking city with troops that could have been sent to Donbass – surprised everyone and everything. “If Russian forces had come to Melitopol in 2014, they would have been greeted with bread and salt,” admitted Fedorov himself, in an interview with the New Yorker, using an expression associated with hospitality. But a lot has changed since then.
Among the many weaknesses that are pointed out in the Russian military structure, the absence of an intermediate level between commanders and soldiers is particularly notorious. This layer of the military, people with years of experience on the front line, is crucial in NATO’s military doctrine, which puts strategic decisions in the hands of commanders, yet allows lower echelons to improvise on the ground.
“Ukrainian doctrine is very similar to Western doctrine – the freedom to adapt and achieve goals according to your understanding of the situation,” explained Mykhailo Samus, director of the New Geopolitics Research network, to the Financial Times. “The Soviet model is to follow the exact written instructions of your commanders.”
Despite this, the Russians very slowly made advances around Severodonetsk, the largest city under Ukrainian control in the Donbass. At the military level, it is not considered a crucial target. But along with the fall of its twin city, Lysychansk, across the Donets River, it had allowed Vladimir Putin to proclaim the capture of Lugansk.
The Kremlin seems to have learned its lesson not to bite off more than it can chew. After the failure to encircle Kyiv and Kharkiv, followed by the failure to isolate Ukrainian forces from the entire Donbass, failing to take Kramatorsk, their tactic has been to create smaller and smaller ‘cauldrons’. In a way, it seems to be an admission of disability. Three months ago, the Kremlin thought it could encircle Kyiv, a city of nearly three million people. Now he must use all his might to besiege Severodonetsk, where just over a hundred thousand people lived.
Source: With Agencies