Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin, nor his under-pressure commanding general in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, likely saw this coming. They have been narrowly focused on the battle for Bakhmut and the defense of Crimea. Rear area security – a habitual failure since the beginning of Putin’s ‘special military operation’– must have just moved up on their list of critical elements to address. 

On May 22, elements of the pro-Ukrainian, self-styled Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion, composed solely of anti-Putin Russian citizens, used the most essential of the principles of war – surprise, and combined it with speed to achieve an effect that has shaken the confidence of many Russians. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), several Russian sources claimed they advanced and captured “the settlements of Glotovo and Gora Podol – approximately 3km and 5km from the Ukrainian border, respectively.”  

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Like a hot knife cutting through butter, unimpeded success likely surprised the rebel raiders as much as the Russian defenders caught off-guard . According to Oryx, they captured a BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, and destroyed a 100mm T-12 anti-tank gun and two Ural-4320 trucks. 

But this was not solely a ‘mission impossible’ type operation; rather, it was also a planned raid designed to create confusion in the Russian rear area and to  relieve pressure from Bakhmut. If so, it achieved its objective, and then some, similar to the probing and armed reconnaissance missions conducted in Bakhmut just two weeks ago. As George Barros, a Russia analyst with ISW commented, “If these Russian volunteers indeed penetrated as deep as they claim to have, then it demonstrates that Russian field fortifications don't really mean anything if they're not sufficiently manned.”

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Was the raid a prelude to the counteroffensiveMaybe, given its success in Belgorod. And that has the Kremlin worried. They will need to reposition forces to shore up their border posts along their lengthy border with Ukraine – if not Belarus as well.

The raid into Belgorod probably exceeded all expectations. According to Retired-Army Lieutenant General and former Commander of US Army Europe, Mark Hertling, the raid “surprised Russian border guards and the defense ministry, scared local Russian citizens, sent a message to Putin, achieved greater distance with few casualties, and caused the relocation of Russian forces.” But it also served an intelligence purpose – exposing the 3rd Motorized Rifle Division (20th Guards Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) that responded to the incursion, along with other Russian formations in staging areas on the Russian side of the border.

Equally as important, the raid further exposed a deepening and critical vulnerability – a badly demoralized Russian army at its wits end.  28 Russian soldiers from assault platoons assigned to the 110th Brigade surrendered to Ukraine’s 59th Motor Rifle Brigade in Avdiiyka on May 21. In a video made after their surrender, the commander complains about a lack of provisions, their weapons, the lack of ammunition and fire support, and then accused the Russian command of “sending them to sure death.”

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As Putin’s leaning tower of Jenga teeters ever closer to collapse, Russian propagandists like Olga Skabeyeva are beginning to lodge reservations about the war’s outcome as newly trained soldiers and US and NATO provided weapon systems begin to take their place on the battlefield. During a recent show, Skabeyeva challenged an overly optimistic guest by asking “could there be fighters? And tanks? What about HIMARS? What about long-range artillery? And Storm Shadow? Everything seems impossible, and an attack on Belgorod also seemed impossible the day before yesterday.” 

When you factor in the  drone that struck the flagpole atop the Kremlin days before the May 9 Victory Day Parade, Zelensky and his generals are making the impossible possible – from shooting down Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles to launching cross-border raids. Slowly, confidence in Putin and his ‘special military operation’ is eroding – in the foxholes and in the homes of ordinary Russian citizens. 

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So is Russian faith in Putin’s Wunderwaffe weapon systems. Those hypersonic Kinzhal missiles? Turns out they might not have been so hypersonic after all. Chalk up yet one more failed Russian weapons system to go along with the T-14 Armata tank, Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) system failures that likely led to the recent downing of an Su-34 and Su-35 as well as two Mi-8 helicopters, and outdated and outmoded secure communications equipment.

Combined, the erosion of the average Russian soldier’s confidence is becoming contagious and is leading to fear. Like Ukrainian golden sunflower seeds being planted against the backdrop of a crisp blue Spring sky, seeds of doubt are being planted deep into the Russian’s psyche be it in Moscow, border staging areas or in Bakhmut and Crimea.

The brilliance of Belgorod was in the daring. Daring to bravely challenge the Western-imposed rules of the war. Daring to audaciously deny Putin and his generals any sanctuary. Daring to win at all costs. Zelensky and his generals are masterfully keeping Gerasimov and the Kremlin off-balance, while seeking out an array of new Russian weaknesses to exploit alongside strategic and tactical targets to interdict. 

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Russia’s day of reckoning is coming and will soon arrive. When it does, the smoldering fires of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s heroic defense thereof, will be fully atoned for because of the critical time the ‘City of Wine and Roses’ gave Kyiv to prepare for its long anticipated counter offensive.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

Copyright 2023. Jonathan E. Sweet and Mark C. Toth. All rights reserved.

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Comments (6)

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Christopher Zylstra
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Bakhmut, her citizens, and, finally, her immortal defenders, live on in our hearts just as Mr. Zelensky said. However, I speak of hearts in Montreal and in Ottawa. Of hearts in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Victoria. Calgary, Winnipeg, St. John's and St. Johns. In fact, across the full breadth of the North American continent, day by terrible day, the mourning intensifies, as seemingly endless as the Ukrainian steppe, as apparently unforgiving as the Canadian prairie. Yet, in our grief, we are reminded that none work alone on the steppe or the prairie, nor mourn alone over Ukraine. Together, we discover, that even our grief may be fashioned into weapons to pierce the invader. Together, we discover the great strength to resist. We discover that when resources falter 'here', they will be now be provided from 'there', for such is the nature of free men when freedom itself is made hostage. We will never forget what Mr. Putin has wrought in Bakhmut, and in Ukraine. The once, 'City of Wine and Roses' now has a single, terrible, meaning that is this: in his greed-fattened arrogance and chlorotic chauvinism Mr. Putin has sewn the wind -- and harvest approaches, sickle in hand.

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Greg
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Not a troll just a dumb ass way over his head wished I'd never said anything it came off the wrong way I surrender I suck.

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Greg
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If this is a out my posts I've admitted my ignorance and have publicly apologized that's all I can do . You are over there I'm not so what do I know nothing.

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GregC
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Some write that Americans need to know how their equipment was used to invade into Russian territory. Why?

Let us know why American companies continue to do business with Russia? Why are Americans willing to financially support Putin's Nazi war against Ukraine?

Why is American technology being used by Russia to build missiles, military equipment to kill thousands of Ukrainians, women and children, to bomb hospitals, schools, churches....

Why? Why? but hey it is easy to voice some concern about a few trucks and small arms being used to invade Russian territory in order to protect Ukraine...

Those who disapprove of this need to step back... why is Russia a military power today? Because of the US 'Lend Lease Program" back during the WW2.. Without this support Russia would be nothing today, still using pitch forks to attack tanks.

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lend-Lease;

"that without these Western shipments under Lend-Lease the Soviet Union not only would not have been able to win the Great Patriotic War, it would not have been able even to oppose the German invaders, since it could not itself produce sufficient quantities of arms and military equipment or adequate supplies of fuel and ammunition. … Stalin told Harry Hopkins [FDR's emissary to 1] that the U.S.S.R. could not match Germany's might as an occupier of Europe and its resources "

the world faces a Fascist Nazi nuclear power today because of American support of the USSR many years ago.

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Greg
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Who's supporting these guys? We have a right to know this from Ukraine. I don't wish ill will but this is serious provocation.

Alex
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@Greg,

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Alex
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@GREG, Invading a sovereign country is a serious provocation. Targeting civilians, hospitals, schools is a serious provocation. Kidnapping and resettling women and children is a serious provocation. Acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing while justifying yourself by claiming the identity of those you kill doesn't exist is a serious provocation. Minor border raids in response to all those provocations into the invading country is most definitely NOT a serious provocation.

Greg
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@Alex, no argument there just want to know the facts that's all.You are passionate and I respect your opion again no argument Russian war crimes are despicable sorry I'm just wanting some info .

Greg
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@Greg, my apologies if it came across the wrong way was not my intent to provoke .But I see now I should have communicated in a more direct way my mistake I own it.

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deathtoorcs
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@Greg, Fuck off with your stupid concern trolling. Death to Orcs, All of them.

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Greg
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As much as gleefully enjoyed seeing the happen. The questions about the support vehicles and ammo needs to be addressed. The deal was no US equipment used on Russian soil. So prove it's not because more border raids with armour is a dangerous red line. Sorry to be a killjoy but that's the facts.

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