Russian Panic Blogging Confirms Ukraine Counterstrikes Are Packing a Punch

A Russian blog reports that Ukrainian forces have pushed more than a mile into key Russian-held positions in Donetsk.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry via AP
A video released by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on June 4, 2023, shows military members gesturing to silence, suggesting that no formal announcement of a possible counter-offensive against Russia will be made. Ukrainian Defense Ministry via AP

Nearly 80 years ago today on D-Day, Allied troops stormed the broad cold beaches of Normandy in a monumental push to eject the Nazis from occupied France. Part of the secret of Operation Overlord’s success was the secrecy that preceded it. As if anyone needed proof of how tough it is to stay mum in the social media age, earlier this week Ukrainian officials released a video of soldiers with fingers pursed to their lips. 

One need not be a sailor to know what loose lips can do to even study ships. But all signs — Russian included — point to Kyiv striking back against Moscow with renewed vigor. That is despite the fact that the destruction of a major dam will impede, for the short term at least, Ukrainian army movements in the southern part of the country.

Prior to explosions at the Kakhovka dam, Russia’s ministry of defense reported that a two-brigade assault on the Donetsk flank of the southern front line was repulsed, undoubtedly with casualties, but Russian bloggers who follow every move the battle action were less sure. 

The Russian blogosphere has since Monday lit up with blow-by-blow accounts of what is happening in eastern Ukraine in particular, down-to-the-minute detail. The main takeaway for now is that prominent Russ war trackers are casting doubt on the Kremlin’s bluster. One of them, Igor Girkin, wrote on Telegram that “the enemy managed to cut into our position.”   

Another blog called War Gonzo reported that Ukrainian forces had by Monday pushed more than a mile into Russian-held positions between Velyka Novosilka and Vuhledar, using Western-supplied mechanized vehicles to do so. 

References to Vuhledar, a small town in the Donetsk region south of the city of Donetsk, are rippling across Russian media as Ukraine continues to take renewed counteroffensive action in the embattled east. 

A Russian battalion commander, Alexander Khodakovsky, wrote on Telegram that a Ukrainian force,  “having found our weak points, is stepping up efforts. For the first time, we saw Leopards in our sector … the enemy managed to cling to Novodonetskoye.” In a subsequent Telegram post, that commander backtracked, saying that Russian forces had “restored control over the settlement,” but clearly it is a dynamic and fast-evolving situation on the ground. 

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that the Ukrainian “counteroffensive is already underway” and highlighted activity around Bakhmut and Vuhledar as well as “in the direction of Zaporizhia” and the Russian region of Belgorod that borders Ukraine on the north. 

According to that report, bad weather in the area prevented drone reconnaissance that might have tipped the Russians off to an advancing Ukrainian column and Ukrainian units seeking to make a concerted push toward the south. That could include, in time, an assault on Russian-held Mariupol that could sever Russia’s land corridor to the Crimean peninsula. 

Piecing together various dispatches from the Russian blogosphere, there appears to be real concern from the Kremlin that Ukrainian units are making swifter progress than foreseen in that all-important southerly direction. The Black Sea port Berdyansk and the city of Melitopol west of it are still under Russian military occupation and it appears that big battles could be brewing in both places. 

In the meantime, indiscriminate Russian aerial bombardment continued. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, Russia launched 35 air-based cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea area. According to multiple reports all were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses. Most of the missiles were aiming for Kyiv. 

Separately, Ukraine’s interior ministry reported that at Kherson “the Russians are bombarding (people) with artillery” as residents are evacuating following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. 

With Russian bloggers attuned to every move along the front lines, the Russian propaganda machine is also in overdrive. A report in Komsomolskaya Pravda claimed that the village of Nova Tavolzhanka in Belgorod has been infiltrated by a contingent of pro-Ukraine partisans partly made up of Polish fighters. That report referred to Ukrainians pejoratively as “Vlasovians” — a reference to a Soviet Red Army general, Andrey Vlasov, who was an infamous German collaborator. 

On the Russian social media site Vkontakte, the governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that Russian officials “cannot enter” Nova Tavolzhanka. The admission by a Russian governor that he is now persona non grata in a Russian town may be a short-lived situation, but it is also an undeniable badge of shame for the Kremlin. 

Whether the counteroffensive shapes up to be one fell swoop or robustly incremental, one secret is out: Moscow will have more humiliations with which to contend and, with very limited success, to try to spin.

The New York Sun

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