Russia goes ‘scorched earth’ in Ukraine


Editor’s note: Jeffrey Owens is a Jeffersonville native, a 1995 graduate of Miami Trace High School and 2000 graduate of Ohio University. As a life-long history buff, Owens published Victory In Europe; A People’s History of the Second World War, a more than 700 page analysis of World War 2 in Europe in 2015. Since 2015, Owens has hosted more than a dozen educational symposiums on a variety of military history topics at the Grove City Library.

Once Russia invaded Ukraine, Owens applied his love of history and writing to the topic, and transformed his personal Facebook page into an educational blog about the war. Utilizing in-depth research and his knowledge of military history, Owens has provided a unique coverage of the war from multiple angles through his writing.

Owens is a resident of New Holland, is married and the father of two children. His son Luke is currently completing his freshman year at Miami Trace.

The following is Owens’ 15th Ukraine analysis:

Scorched earth is the chosen tactic of the Russian military and high command throughout Ukraine; especially in the Donbas region where the ground war continues its grinding advance day by day and hour by hour. Massed artillery preceding advancing Russian columns; irrespective of civilian casualties, leaves in its wake pure devastation and lays waste to the birthplace of Tsarist Russia’s industrial revolution. Putin makes it clear not just with his words but also through his actions that a demolished and uninhabitable Ukraine is preferable to a westernized independent one.

Russia’s land war in the Donbas creeps along in three directions; northeast from Donetsk City, west from Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), and south from Isyum. Each of these offensives are designed to overrun and possibly encircle Ukrainian defenses, to seize and hold the Donbas, and from there Russia would either sue for peace or continue pressing on to seize more Ukrainian territory if possible. The limited gains the Russians are reaping is due to the greatly diminished combat power of the hodgepodge units across the fronts.

The United States Army defines combat power as “the total means of destructive, constructive, and information capabilities that a military unit or formation can apply at a given time.” The six elements of combat power are intelligence, movement and maneuver, fires, protection, sustainment, and command and control. An analysis’ of the balance and employment of each of these elements can assess the battle readiness and effectiveness of any size military formation.

Losses can cause the designation of a unit, for example division, to be potentially misleading regarding the amount of combat power that it brings to battle. Much was cited in the news about the ten Russian battalions that would be released for fighting in the Donbas if Mariupol fell. However if each was reduced to the combat power of one or two companies due to very costly urban combat, then the battle effectiveness of these “battalions” is grossly overestimated.

Due to heavy casualties in both soldiers and equipment across all fronts, the lack of cohesion within broken down units haphazardly put together and redeployed, all with insufficient supply chains; not to mention the high rate of attrition of Russian officers and generals, Russian forces struggle to achieve even mediocrity in most of the six elements of combat power.

Save only one, “fires.” This, Russia spares no expense with, as they saturate each battlefield with tens of thousands of explosive ordinances to destroy everything in their path. Although in the new offensive the Russians are advancing a few miles a day and have overrun some towns and villages, the mere fact that they are accomplishing so little at such great cost while converging on a relatively small area from three directions simultaneously reveals incredibly poor combat power.

Russian forces continue daily frontal assaults against the dug in Ukrainian defenses along the Donetesk-Luhansk line with limited but costly gains. Even after eight years of seprtist combat and more than two months of all-out war, Putin still only possess 60% of the Donetsk and 80% of Luhansk. The costly push north from Donetsk City in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces in conjunction with the westward advance from the DPR and LPR has seen little progress other than widespread destruction.

By contrast the southward advance from Izyum by the First Tank Army displays the soundest military operational tempo yet seen by the Russians in Ukraine. Their advance down multiple, nearly equidistant roads, each within covering distance of each other, has been slow, steady and methodical with relatively low casualties. Additionally they are attempting to bypass Ukrainian forces by spitting and simultaneously pushing southwest toward Barvinkove and southeast to Slovyansk, with both forces likey aiming to converge on Rubizhne from the west.

This relative success is clearly still insufficient for Putin, who insists on announcing a victory by May 9. As of April 28, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, has assumed personal command of the Isyum front, as its success is seen as essential to a swifter Russian victory. This is a highly unusual move, to relocate the top staff officer of all Russian military forces to command an individual front in the field. To complicate things further, Army General Alexander Dvornikov was named overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine a week prior to the renewed Russian offensive in the Donbas beginning April 18, but Gerasimov, now an individual front commander, is Dvornikov’s boss.

From Kherson City, where Russian forces have been helpless to stop weeks of Ukrainian counteroffensives that have not only cost them territory but also have killed upwards of three generals, the Russians have again resumed their attempted push west towards Mykolaiv on the River Buh. Russia’s last offensive on Mykolaiv, as recounted in Analysis #5, ended in both in defeat and withdrawl back to Kherson. As the war rages in eastern Ukraine, Putin now hopes to seize all of Kherson Oblast, which he wants to keep along with the Donbas in the aftermath of the war. In this scenario, the land bridge connecting Crimea with the DPR would be fully in his control along with a considerable cushion of territory in all directions separating Crimea from Ukraine.

Putin now seeks to create a “People’s Republic” of Kherson, similar to the DPR and LPR, but this initiative has been met by violent and consistent resistance from the Ukrainian population of Kherson. In just two months time the people of occupied Kherson Oblast have been subjected to mass “filtration” to sort out citizens who might be useful in future prisoner exchanges, from potential troublemakers who are shipped off to forced labor camps deep inside Russia. If a “KPR” is established, the situation would get worse as the citizens of Kherson would further be subject to forced conscription into a Russian backed separatist military force.

Simultaneously Russia is setting up a false flag scenario in Transnistria; a narrow strip of of land to the west, bordering Moldova, and sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Russia has maintained two motorized infantry battalions in Transnistria since the 1990’s, but these units alone could accomplish little in an eastward invasion of Ukraine towards Odessa. However a false attack on Transnistria, framed as a Ukrainian aggression, could set a pretext for Russia to further escalate the conflict. Putin might place missiles, planes and troops in Transnistria for its “protection” but in reality use those bases for closer, quicker and easier attacks on western Ukraine.

Putin’s desperation continues to mount as his behavior becomes more erratic and unpredictable; replete with irresponsible threats of nuclear war, cruise missile strikes, and the launching of energy warfare.

On April 25, Russia conducted precision guided missile strikes against five major railway stations throughout central and western Ukraine, intent on interdicting both NATO armaments flowing east, and evacuees heading west. With seventy percent of his precision guided munitions expended, there was a hidden sense of desperation and anger behind this strike, as the clock is ticking on Putin to subdue resistance or claim a victory before western Ukraine falls out of his reach (hence the Transnistria option).

Putin further introduced energy warfare into the conflict in the final days of April by cutting off several Eastern European nations from Russian gas over their refusal to purchase gas in Rubles, which would soften the blow of western sanctions to the Russian economy. Additionally multiple nuclear “saber-rattling” demonstrations were put on by Russia in the last days of April, as it conducted an ICBM nuclear test, while both Putin and Foreign Secretary Lavrov issued several public statements that the threat of nuclear war was very real.

The threat of nuclear war could be more real than most would ever care to realize. If backed into a corner, with nearly the whole world against him, and facing either a humiliating withdrawal from Ukraine or taking the world with him, an erratic, desperate mad man like Putin could very well choose the latter. He is so intent on restoring Russia’s respect as a world power and reclaiming Russia’s lost imperial lands, that he may in a desperate hour prefer no world at all to one that involves an even weaker Russia, ignored by global powers as a nuisance.

By Jeffrey Owens

Local History Writer

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