Ukraine at D+621: Infiltration tactics require a trained force.
N2K logoNov 7, 2023

Hard war dissent in Russia excoriates President Putin's kind heart. Few outside Russia perceive this, but OK, then.

Ukraine at D+621: Infiltration tactics require a trained force.

There's little change on the ground this morning: Ukraine continues its slow advance in the vicinity of Bakhmut, and Russia continues to throw infantry against Ukrainian defenses at Avdiivka.

The UK's Ministry of Defence this morning assessed recent Ukrainian long-range strikes against the Russian Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea. "As reported by Ukrainian and Russian sources, on 4 November 2023, a newly built Russian naval corvette was almost certainly damaged after being struck while alongside at the Zaliv shipyard in Kerch, occupied Crimea. The KARAKURST-class Askold, launched in 2021, had not been commissioned into the Russian Navy. The incident is farther to the east in Crimea than most previous Ukrainian-claimed long-range strikes. Ukraine's capability to hit Crimean shipbuilding infrastructure will likely cause Russia to consider relocating farther from the front line, delaying the delivery of new vessels."

Dissent, but from the hard-war party.

It's easy to think of Russian dissenters as being reflexively anti-war. This is a mistake: many of the Kremlin's most vocal critics task Moscow with softness, with incompetence, and with lack of serious, disciplined preparation. One such voice is now speaking from prison, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports:

"Imprisoned ardent nationalist and former Russian officer Igor Girkin argued that Russian forces will be 'even less capable of offensive operations than they are now' by spring 2024 given the current nature of Russian offensive operations along the frontline. Girkin’s wife, Miroslava Reginskaya, published a hand-written letter from Girkin dated October 26, in which he summarized the frontline situation in Ukraine for the month of October. Girkin claimed that the situation for Russian forces is 'gradually deteriorating' and that Russian forces are showcasing 'growing weakness (compared to [Ukraine’s] capabilities,' despite Russia’s 'generally successful repulsion' of the Ukrainian offensive over the summer and fall of 2023. Girkin argued that Russian forces were not only unable to start broad offensive operations at the beginning of the fall season but were also unable to complete even limited offensive operations to achieve operationally significant goals – namely around Kupyansk, Lyman, and Avdiivka. Girkin claimed that Russian forces failed to advance in the Kupyansk direction and are now impaled in battles on 'the distant approaches to the city,' while also failing to change the situation in the Lyman direction. Girkin added that tactical advances around Avdiivka led to significant losses in Russian manpower and equipment and did not lead to the further development of the Russian offensive. Girkin observed that the Avdiivka offensive demonstrated Russian forces’ inability 'to achieve superiority on a very narrow sector of the front” despite Russia’s careful preparations, good coordination of strike forces and means for the initial stage of the offensive, and the abundance of ammunition 'unheard of since the assault on Bakhmut.'"

Mr. Girkin, who for unclear reasons has been permitted access to Telegram from his place of confinement, had earlier fingered President Putin's good nature as the root cause of Russia's problems. "The current president is too kind," Reuters quoted him as saying back at the end of August, surely a minority view among all but Russian hard-war milbloggers. Mr. Girkin made several other points in his recent communications:

  • Russian defensive efforts today will render any spring offensive difficult.
  • Russian offensive operations are also failures, and will further degrade the army's ability to go over to the attack. A broad offensive campaign is simply not in the cards.
  • A combination of Western military aid to Ukraine and ineffectual Russian mobilization may enable Ukraine to undertake a major offensive in 2024.
  • Ukrainian interdiction of Russian lines of communication and the support zone itself is likely to continue to be successful over the winter.
  • F-16s will enable Ukraine to achieve local air superiority when they desire to do so.
  • Ukraine currently enjoys a numerical superiority in manpower because of Russia's failure to mobilize.

Auftragstaktik is only available to well-trained forces with effective junior leadership.

A number of Russian milbloggers are speculating, the ISW writes, about the possibility of their army adopting a more flexible, effective tactical style. This would be a method of warfare that relies upon small units to take effective action in accordance with general, mission orders, understanding the big picture and not dependent upon centralized direction from above. German military theorists called it "Auftragstaktik," sometimes loosely rendered "infiltration tactics" by Anglophone military writers. It's unlikely that this is a short-term solution for the Russian army. Auftragstaktik require a well-trained force with intelligent, effective junior leaders. Russia has shown neither of these, and its doctrine has long called for highly centralized command. On the other hand, the Ukrainian army does seem to be showing some ability to do this. (In cyberspace, there's also evidence among Russia's hacktivist auxiliaries of an ability to act opportunistically in way that's consistent with the general line. But this is much more difficult to do IRL.)

The hard-war milbloggers, commentators, and dissidents have long advocated ruthlessness, not proficiency. Small Russian units have indeed shown initiative in the commission of atrocities, which have been widespread. The reports linked here focus on the now much-diminished Wagner Group, but the Wagnerites haven't represented a departure from common Russian practice. Atrocities indeed display ruthlessness, and a kind of depraved commitment, but they don't take and hold ground.


Interfax Ukraine reports the SBU's tally of bot-takedowns. Since the beginning of the current war in February of 2022, Ukraine's SBU says it's taken down seventy-six bot farms operating on Ukrainian territory and pushing pro-Russian narratives. "This is no longer just about professional intelligence services. We have information that a number of educational institutions are already teaching the subjects of 'cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure,'" SBU Cybersecurity Department head Illia Vitiuk said. "They want to increase the scale of attacks and the number of people who can do this professionally. By the way, they teach how [to] attack not only Ukrainian systems, but also partner countries." Students and criminals are prime recruits into the Russian cyber services and their auxiliaries, the SBU maintains.