More to ignore, Book 55........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Shocking SCOTUS leak shows abortion rights overturned under draft opinion from Justice Alito
April Siese

A draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito shows that the Supreme Court could overturn abortion rights in the U.S., essentially nullifying the landmark Roe v. Wade, which Alito called “egregiously wrong from the start.” The document, obtained by Politico, spans 98 pages and was apparently drafted in February. It marks an unprecedented leak for the nation’s highest court. Per Politico, “no draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending.”

A source told Politico that Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, all voted in agreement with Alito in a conference following oral arguments in December. The conservative justices have found zero support from their liberal counterparts. That conference and those oral arguments stem from a Mississippi case brought before the Supreme Court challenging the state’s law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has yet to be decided — and this window into some of the Justices’ thinking is absolutely alarming.

This is a developing news story.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: How could Russia make use of a general mobilization?
kos

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Trench warfare on the eastern Donbas front.

I wrote an entire update earlier today on the possibility that Ukraine had taken a key city near Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s northeast. Looks (indirectly) confirmed.



While War Mapper is wisely still waiting for official confirmation before marking it on his maps, this activity means a lot of previously red and pink territory east of Kharkiv has been cleared:



Ukrainian forces pushing out from Chuhuiv southeast of Kharkiv can rest easier about their northern left flank, but the effort has come at great cost. Today, Ukraine admitted they took heavy losses in the liberation of Ruska Lozova, just north of Kharkiv. And a few days ago, Ukraine got smashed trying to take Kozacha Lopan up north, on the Russian border. Russia isn’t giving up this territory easily, and things might get even tougher the closer Ukraine gets to the international border.

In the Izyum axis, Russia made some incremental gains.

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Lyman and Yampil are on the north side of the Donets river, so Ukraine has room to fall back to the next defensive layer, behind the river. As long as those towns are fully evacuated, Ukraine has plenty of ground to spare. It’s a miracle they’ve lasted this long on the Russian-separatist side of the Donets. Losing those cities isn’t catastrophic, it’s likely inevitable. It just means Ukraine gets to move behind the river, where the defenses are even stronger. Land for blood.

Incidentally, that river is the reason Izyum was so important—it finally gave Russia a river crossing, the only one thus far in this axis.

All other fronts were quiet, including the rest of the long Donbas front. People are already talking about a “strategic pause to resupply and reinforce positions,” but I bet Russia is already running out of steam. And whether Vladimir Putin calls a general mobilization or not will be irrelevant.

Say he does—something I explored in a previous update—then what? Russian logistics are stretched to the breaking point, unable to keep up with whatever they have in theater at this moment. They have a conscript class of 130,000 currently in progress. Are they going to throw them all into Ukraine at once? Draft even more? How will they feed 130,000 (or more) new soldiers, when they can’t even take care of what’s there now? What vehicles will they ride, when everything arriving at the front these days look like “Scooby vans”? What dusty and rusty old Soviet-era equipment will they dig up from pilfered reserve stocks to equip them?

I suspect these new conscripts will be sent to existing units to replace combat losses, just like Russia has done all war. Ineffective units will become even more so, low morale will reach even deeper lows, and forget about any notion of unit cohesion. Or worse, they’ll be used in a “Zerg rush,” as suggested by Ukrainian Presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych. If you’ve played Starcraft, you know what he’s talking about.

It’s a computer game, it has a nation—Zergs, insect. And since earthlings and another people have advanced technology, these just throw in masses.
So what I’m thinking, judging by the people who are right now reinforcing infantry units of the Russian army, they are not specialists, not artillerists, not tank men. They are recruiting lumpens, they are given some old uniform, given boots from 1951, machine gun from 1947, and a helmet from 1943, and sent into combat. Heroically sent to battle [...]
[But,] they do not pose a combat power, only representing live power, but it’s not for long either. 30% of those who entered Ukraine in two weeks, only 30% are still alive. A part ran away, a part was destroyed. I think that by mid-May they can recruit 10,000 people. And they will heroically go somewhere, the question is where? And this will look similar to invasion by Chinese volunteers in the Korean War.

Human waves. That’s the only way Russian volunteers and conscripts can be used in the war. They're not going to learn combat skills. The original invading force lacked them, and they were supposedly trained.

These poor souls will be sacrificed en masse to Putin’s megalomania as Ukrainian artillery shreds them to pieces. This is a war crime, not on the Ukrainian people, but on Russia’s youth itself.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: Surprise Ukrainian gains north of Kharkiv could impact Battle for Donbas
Mark Sumner

The big story today is that something not small happened over the last week. Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine moved to what is being called the Battle of the Donbas, most actions seem to have taken place at a rate that roughly approximates the growth of fingernails. Here and there Russian forces have managed to advance, but far more often attempts to dislodge Ukrainian forces from towns and villages have been repulsed.

Sadly, because the area of the battle is close to the Russian border, Russia is able to defend the airspace with both planes and anti-aircraft systems working from across the border. That makes it difficult for Ukrainian aircraft to operate in the area and give Ukraine the kind of air support that would allow them to make large-scale counter attacks. So Russia keeps shelling, then tries to move forward. Then it shells some more. Russian losses are terrible. Ukrainian losses are also painfully high. But Ukraine has multiple prepared positions against just this kind of attack, and Russia has nothing like the ratio of forces necessary to overwhelm Ukrainian positions.

So, in most of eastern Ukraine, the fields are getting heavily fertilized with blood, and the muddy roads are getting heavily strewn with wreckage, but not much else is happening that looks like progress for either side.

Which only serves to make what’s happening north of Kharkiv more exciting.

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Approximate situation in area north and east of Kharkiv.

Over the last week, Ukraine has mounted a steady counteroffensive directed at troops north of Kharkiv and west of the Siverskyi Donets River. Starting with Russian forces right on the doorstep of the battered city, Ukraine has pushed back through the suburbs, then into outlying towns and villages along multiple roadways. On the west, they’ve pressed in to take the town of Udy, less than 5 miles from the Russian border.


In what may be one of the most impressive moves of the second phase of the war, Ukrainian forces bypassed Russian forces in multiple villages, took a series of small roads, and entered the town of Staryi Saltiv on Sunday—a move so unexpected that when I first got reports of Ukrainian forces in the town, I disregarded them. After all, there were several other areas with Russian occupation “in the way.”

But the Ukrainian move into Staryi Saltiv was real, and though fighting in the town continues, it seems that Russian forces that were south of that location, but on the west bank of the Donets, have gone missing. In other words, they’ve withdrawn north or south before they could be cut off and chopped up in an isolated position. As a result, a whole chain of villages appears to have come back into Ukrainian-controlled territory without the need for a step-by-step fight.

Reports have indicated that the troops assigned to this area by Russia just are not very good, or that some of them are forced conscripts put in place by the Luhansk “republic.” Whatever the case, Ukraine has been able to shift them roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) since the counterattack out of Kharkiv began.

However, it’s not clear that this will continue. Russian forces may be falling back in chaos, with Ukrainian forces chasing them to the border. On the other hand, they may be falling back behind lines being held by more stalwart troops, where they can get their act together and be plugged back into the line.

For Russia, the threat is not so much that Ukrainian forces will march to the border and just keep going. The threat is right there in Staryi Saltiv. That’s because this town is the site of a highly strategic bridge crossing. If that bridge is intact, and Ukrainian forces could push over the Donets, they would be in the rear—and sitting on the supply line—of a whole series of Russian-held towns to the south. If they could push 15 miles north from there, they could reach Vovchans'k, a critically important road and rail junction. All the men and material coming in from Belgorod (20 miles northwest) passes through this point.

These actions seem improbable. Even laughable. But then, so did the possibility of Ukraine suddenly showing up in Staryi Saltiv in the first place. Right now, pro-Ukraine Twitter is full of tweets like this one:




Meanwhile, pro-Russian Twitter is full of claims that the territory taken by Ukraine had “no military value,” that Russia only fell back to more important positions, and that by doing so it freed up forces to be used elsewhere.

Right now, the fog of war over what’s happening at Staryi Saltiv is a real pea-souper. But as we go through today, maybe it will be possible to tell what’s happening. If Ukraine continues to advance along those other roads moving north of Kharkiv, it may signal a general Russian withdrawal from the area west of the Donets. If Ukraine reports that it has put forces on the east side of that bridge, it will be a genuinely big deal—one that’s likely to demand Russia turn some force around from other efforts to secure its rear.

One thing to watch for soon: Look for what happens in the town of Shestakove and village of Fredirivka north of Kharkiv. These towns are sitting on a much better roadway between Kharkiv and Staryi Saltiv. If Ukraine really intends to move a lot of force in that direction, expect these towns to become the focus of some attention Real Soon Now.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: The incredible shrinking Russian army
Mark Sumner

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Turret of a Russian tank next to a destroyed petrol station in the village of Skybyn, northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine, May 2, 2022.

It’s fair to say that, at this point in Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the reputation of the Russian military has shrunk by, if not 100%, something like 99%. Every film that made Russian forces seem like an unbroken mass of Dolph Lundgren clones marching perfectly along in their smartly tailored coats needs to be updated to represent the combination of sniveling incompetence and thoughtless brutality that seems closer to the truth.

In a purely physical sense, the U.S. Defense Department estimates that Russia has lost about 25% of the force it sent across the Ukraine border. On top of that, the U.K. Ministry of Defense estimates that about 25% of the Battalion Tactical Groups (BTG) that remain are “combat ineffective” due to lacking either personnel or equipment. In recent days, there have been reports of assaults from Russian forces that were far below the supposed scale of a BTG, and there have been translations like this one showing that a BTG with just two remaining tanks deliberately sabotaged one of them to keep from being sent into battle.

“Our tank, we broke it ourselves in the morning as to not go. BTRs went with out us and they have a lot of 200s [killed] and 300s [wounded] in critical condition.”

But losses on the battlefield and a withering loss of reputation aren’t the only ways the Russian military is shrinking. Based on some analysis from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, it seems like the standard BTG was literally not what it was cracked up to be.

Kos has written several times about the nature of Russia’s BTGs and what they’re meant to do.

A brigade combat team (BCT) is the U.S. Army’s basic maneuver unit. That is, the smallest deployable unit able to stand on its own (with intelligence, artillery, support, and other assets). Russia is organized around the much smaller BTG, which is what we see in Ukraine. Problem is, as that report states, it doesn’t take a lot of casualties to knock a BTG out of commission.

Exactly what constitutes a BTG has always been something of a question, but in general it’s supposed to be a somewhat self-sufficient army in the field, like a U.S. brigade combat team. Only a BCT includes around 4,500 soldiers. A BTG contains something like 800 soldiers. Or maybe just 700. Or maybe it’s 600.

As it turns out, that last number turns out to be closer to correct, even if it’s still a smidge too high. The Ukrainian military has had a chance to see multiple BTGs in the field, and they’ve now issued a document describing a typical BTG. The document can be a little confusing because it includes numbers from a series of specialist BTGs, and the columns don’t all add up (Russia apparently does not play by U.S. spreadsheet rules). But the numbers at the bottom of the chart give away the game: 588 soldiers and officers. That’s what they’re seeing.

This helps to explain the high degree of BTGs that seem to have been easily knocked off kilter. As kos explained back at the beginning of the fight, the small size of the BTGs means that a single skirmish that takes out a few key elements can render the entire BTG unable to continue as a self-sufficient force—something that’s much less likely to happen with a larger, more robust U.S. BCT.


With that in mind, here’s a map put together by military analyst Henry Schlottman. Using the published positions of Russian BTGs that have been made available by U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence, Schlottman made an estimate of where each of those groups is focused, how much “front” each of them is addressing, and came up ultimately with a “kilometers per BTG” rating that shows where Russia is really putting in the effort. (I recommend that you click on this tweet, then on the map to see the image in its full size).



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The results of looking at it this way show an order of magnitude of difference between the areas Russia seems to be beefing up for a push and those that seem more like efforts to secure any previous gains. For example, the area northeast of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian forces seem to be taking back towns and villages by the day, has a “density” of 20 km/BTG. Meanwhile, next door in the Izyum area, Russia’s big stack of men and material results in a 2.7 km/BTG figure. Poor little Popasnya is similar. Seven BTGs are focused on a very small area there, resulting in 2.9 km/BTG.

The “least dense” area on this map is down by Kherson, where the number goes up to 22 km/BTG. However, that one is a bit deceptive. Schlottman calculated that based on an extensive potential line of combat, but most of that line is actually the wide Dnipro river. Both Russia and Ukraine have their forces there concentrated within a much smaller area.

Looking at the map this way does seem to provide some kind of information. After all, those least-dense areas are the ones where villages have been changing hands. However, the other end of the scale doesn’t seem to be true so far. Neither Izyum nor Popasna has been the scene of big Russian advances in spite of incredible numbers of BTGs shoved together in a small space.

Why not? Well, that goes back to the other thing kos has written about on a number of occasions: the inability of Russia to coordinate their forces and conduct large-scale combined arms operations. As long as Russia can only send forces down the line one or two BTGs at a time, it doesn’t matter that they have 20 more in theater. In some ways, all those additional forces are more of a problem than a help because they put a strain on—say it with me—logistics, logistics, logistics.


Looking at the kilometer per BTG doesn’t give a very good idea of where Russia is going to be effective. However, it probably is a pretty good idea of where they want to be effective. That alone makes the map worth studying.

Oh, and don’t be too concerned if the Ukrainian forces on the other side of those lines seem puny in comparison. Those Ukrainian numbers are in brigades. Here are the components of a typical Ukrainian brigade—in this case the 24th, which is based in western Ukraine.

  • Headquarters and Headquarters Company
  • 1st Mechanized Battalion
  • 2nd Mechanized Battalion
  • 3rd Mechanized Battalion
  • Tank Battalion
  • 3rd Motorized Infantry Battalion, "Volya"
  • Brigade Artillery Group
  • Headquarters and Target Acquisition Battery
  • Self-propelled Artillery Battalion (2S3 Akatsiya)
  • Self-propelled Artillery Battalion (2S1 Gvozdika)
  • Rocket Artillery Battalion (BM-21 Grad)
  • Anti-tank Artillery Battalion (MT-12 Rapira)
  • Anti-aircraft Missile Artillery Battalion
  • Engineer Battalion
  • Maintenance Battalion
  • Logistic Battalion
  • Reconnaissance Company
  • Sniper Company
  • Electronic Warfare Company
  • Signal Company
  • Radar Company
  • CBRN-defense Company
  • Medical Company
Each one of those battalions within the brigade is itself about 400 soldiers and 40 to 50 vehicles. In other words, this is a much larger structure than a BTG. And one that’s much harder to take out.

Just as with Russian forces, some of these brigades are going to be patched up and pieced together, with companies and battalions that have suffered heavy losses. Even so, none of them are likely to be “combat incapacitated.”
 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022 · 6:48:40 PM EDT · Mark Sumner
Russia has fired a number of weapons into cities across Ukraine, including some that had so far been untouched in the invasion. The targets appear to be primarily rail lines and electrical substations. On this occasion, at least, Russia doesn’t seem to have deliberately targeted civilian dwellings. Just civilian infrastructure.