The Belgorod raid was a successful operation by Ukraine
Incursions into Russian territory are a sign of things to come
If the intention of this week’s Belgorod raid was to distract attention from the fall of Bakhmut, then it was a tremendous success. The year-long battle for the city, which cost the lives of unknown thousands of men, already looks like yesterday’s news: the daring raid into Russian border villages, carried out by a few dozen Russian exiles from the Free Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps militias, was a perfect social media spectacle. Just like the British Commando raids of World War Two, explicitly masterminded by Churchill to boost morale after the evacuation from Dunkirk, the operation — which Moscow claims it has repelled — showed that Ukraine is still firmly in the fight, and can take the war to Russia wherever it chooses.
More, the raid proved that despite its recent, painful success in Bakhmut, the Russian army remains poorly organised, unprepared, and slow to react to events on the ground. A humiliation to Vladimir Putin, a fillip to the morale of both Ukraine and its international supporters, and a demonstration that the war is far from over, the Belgorod operation was a perfect example of information operations in a social media era.
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In another way, too, the operation demonstrates Ukraine’s total mastery of the war’s information space. Given the nature of Russia’s propaganda attempting to justify the invasion, it would instinctively seem poor optics to permit open neo-Nazis, like the Russian Volunteer Corps’ Alexey Levkin and Denis Nikitin, to invade Russia from Ukraine, especially in American-donated vehicles. But Putin is likely to make less of this apparent gift than may be expected: the propaganda value will likely be outweighed by the humiliation of Russia’s lax border security, causing Moscow to downplay the operation.
The pro-Russian voices who will make most of it have already cried wolf by erroneously calling all of Ukraine’s forces Nazis, and Ukraine’s loudest foreign supporters will happily avert their eyes. Whether or not the Biden administration, a far more cautious actor in Ukraine than its domestic opponents seem to think, will view the operation with the same equanimity remains to be seen. Given Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s promises that any donated F-16s will not be used to attack Russian territory, the deployment of American-donated vehicles inside Russia itself may be a risky step.
Despite Kyiv’s winked denials, there is no doubt that this was a Ukrainian-managed operation. If anything, the alternative scenario — that dubious Russian militias had somehow acquired weapons and American armoured vehicles and were independently roaming around Ukraine’s border regions — would be far more alarming. The Pentagon US intelligence leaks already established that Zelenskyy had previously proposed occupying Russian border villages for leverage in future peace negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Russian military blog “Rybar” — at times a fierce critic of Moscow’s prosecution of the war — warned earlier in the month that “we can say with confidence that among the [Ukrainian] junior command staff the topic of creating a “buffer zone” 15-20 km in the Russian border area has been discussed for a long time.”
Whether or not the Belgorod operation can be considered a shaping operation for Ukraine’s long-anticipated spring offensive remains to be seen. But by demonstrating that Russia’s thinly-defended 700 km border with Ukraine is vulnerable to incursion, the operation may have the effect of diverting troops needed to man Russia’s defence lines in eastern Ukraine away from the battlefield, weakening its response to the eventual blow. A sideshow in the grand scheme of the Ukraine war, the Belgorod operation nevertheless sets the stage for what Ukraine hopes will be its defining campaign.
Even for those who want Ukraine to win, I think calling two defeats a win is self-delusional, much how Russians pretended they never wanted to capture Kiev. Kiev still has a massive mountain to climb and these propaganda “wins” really set the wrong expectations. All wars had their ebbs and flows, admitting a setback should not be a surprise.
I usually like Aris’ articles, but I find his usual objective insights into complicated situations have been a bit lacking late.
This article is crazy..
A bunch of Ukrainian Na*ies get Biden supplied weapons, attack a Russian town, maybe 50 of the attackers get slaughtered and several captured (sources depending). They achieve nothing but that , and as the one valid point the writer makes – distract from the huge defeat the day before..
A successful operation? It did nothing but move the clock 3 more minutes to Midnight, show Ukraine still uses Na*i Paramilitary, and got more Ukrainians killed.
Aris has a very liberal use of ‘Successful’, as in not useful at all but for the sheep picking up the chant.
I forget how Orwell put it – but the sheep would stand about grazing and one would let out the chant, and in no time every one would be doing it – often one end of the pasture would say the ‘Four Legs Good’ part and the other end would chant the refrain of ‘Two Legs Bad’ in reply; they could keep this up for hours and hours, seemingly enjoying it immensely….
Much like the MSM…..
You know only the very evil support this war continuing. PEACE is the answer. This is a totally EVIL war – and these stories glorifying it are horrible.
Unless Putin withdraws his forces then there can’t be peace can there, not unless you’re calling for Ukrainian subjugation
It was never meant to change the minds of delusional Westerners who swallow the Kremlin line.
They are beyond hope.
Instead, it forces Russia to use its already scanty resources to defend a much wider front.
Indeed, an attack across the Russian border that outflanks Russia’ positions in Ukraine would be a very good option for Kyiv.
Won’t be long now…
“Ukraine’s international supporters will happily avert their eyes”
Western progressives daily call any of their fellow citizens who disagree with them even slightly, “Nazis”, but will ignore actual, real Nazis when they serve a useful purpose in Ukraine.
I’ll admit I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the Russian paramilitary groups behind these attacks (albeit with the Ukrainians blessing), but is there any evidence that they are a neo Nazi outfit or merely anti Putin? Also don’t forget the far right is a much more prevalent force in Russia, both politically and militarily
They would be unironical morrons if the would do so. Just imagine Churchill letting USSR fall in 1941 because “screw you filthy commies”.
Well, we’ve certainly destroyed any credibility of Russia’s military.
With the shootdown of teh 6 Kinzhals, everyone sees that Russia is a Paper Bear. Has been even before the Raspad.
Now everyone laughs at Russian sabre-rattling.
Unless they want to commit suicide like the Old Believers, Russians will just have to accept the most ignominious defeat in its history.
Attacking small rural villages along the border, killing civilians in the process is not what i call a succes. If it were done by the Russian military, the narrative would be one of a russian war crime. Denis Nikitin is also known to be a Neonazi. Nobody doubts that.
“were done by the Russian military, the narrative would be one of a russian war crime”
Precisely, well said. And that’s why there is so little support for Ukraine outside the Western block. The US and friends think war is about optics and “feelings”, and they are winning. They are wrong on both counts.
“Denis Nikitin is also known to be a Neonazi”
Really? So a country that reveres Bandera, proudly flaunts Nuzi symbols, gives prominence to organisations like Azov, sent over a bunch of Russian mercenaries…..and they turned out to be neonazis?
I did nahzi that coming. Not at all.
But it doesn’t even matter what support there is for Ukraine outside of the Western bloc. the latter control half the world’s economy.
And…not many Indian or Brazilian tanks going to Russia these days.
According to the Russians no civilians were killed in the attack
Soviet forces did multiple “incursions” on german territory in 1945 and I never ever heard anyone blaiming them for that. Also, no civilian casualties reported in this raid.
There’s a lot of speculation here. I would say that the raid was not a success but a long-term invitation to disaster. The assumption by Aris is that the Ukrainians are so powerful and smart, and equipped with so many western/US sophisticated weapons, that they can attack Russia wherever and whenever they want. But this is not the reality, and further may invite a massive retaliatory response from the Russians. The strategic savvy of the Ukrainians (sarc) is clearly illustrated by what happened in Bakhmut where the kill rate was 7 Ukrainians to 1 Russian. And for what purpose? And I suspect that the so-called spring offensive by the Ukrainians will end up the same way, especially as it’s been telegraphed so far in advance.
Spring offensive, they better get a move on, when does summer start in the Ukraine
“7 Ukrainains to 1 Russian” the only source of these numbers is neverending circlejerk on z telegram. You are delusional beyond any imagination and must believe that 70 of the raid participants were killed in Belgorod (official MOD information, public express of doubt in this is a felony in Russia)
Johann, you need to know something about war.
Initially, in any battle like Bakhmut, the attacker always suffers far more casualties than defenders. The former are out in teh open subject to small arms fire and artillery.
Dug in, any defender always has a better chance of survival.
Unless Putin ahs somehow suspended the laws of physics, you’re just falling for not very well thought out Kremlin propaganda.
But no one is forbidden from accepting idiotic memes, so no problem.
Tik Tok suicide mission is a “daring raid”? Thank you for reminding us that your former employer Vice is a regime mouthpiece just like RT. Hopefully some of them made it home alive and didn’t murder any civilians.
A huge success…? Sending 100 neo nazis on US armoured vehicles to kill a number of civilians in rural villages. To be followed then by the total annihilation of the invading force with at least 70 of the 100 terrorists involved being killed. Well if that’s a “success” I would love to know what you might consider a “failure” to be? Such adventures, undoubtedly planned and approved of by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, with UK spooks being involved also no doubt, smacks of desperation and serves only to strengthen the Putin “we are under attack” narrative, which undoubtedly solidifies support for the SMO in the Russian Federation.
Now an already overstretched Russian army has to defend even more territory.
Whatever the anti-Putin casualties, from Kyiv’s point of view, it was a rousing success.
At some point, isn’t every ‘information space’ sat on a piece of land?
Servers occupy real estate,no?
Russia has a lot of land, and isn’t too bad at acquiring more.
Except it shrunk by half a few decades ago.
Moreover, it now controls quite a bit less of land than it did in March 2022.
The Incredible Shrinking Empire.
It is a small, low cost psych-op that casts serious doubt on Russian border security inside Russ. Bad for morale one thinks. If it draws a large mobile force north off the Ukraine front, it will be a big success. Time will tell. To make more of it is premature.
The Age of the Sledgehammer has already begun in Russia.
The real story is that Putin is now a totally passive entity. The best he can do is trundle out 17th C maps that somehow “prove” his nonsensical case that Russia and Ukraine are the same.
The next battle will be inside Russia, between the “hard men” (siloviki) who really now run the country. Prigozhin, the Army and the senior politicians will all vie for power. Moreover, it will be a fight to the death for each party.
Like the Russian Civil War, will involve Russian-on-Russian violence.
Given that Russian soldiers still have cell phones, this was a rousing success.
Now they know their lines will be stretched even further, and thus fewer Russians will face the Ukrainians at any given point.
With largely untrained soldiers who have little unit cohesion, practically any place on the Russian front line will be a good place for Ukraine to attack.
Just hope some of them make it back home.
BTW, looks like the Ukrainian ammo shortage will soon be over.
S. Korea has agreed to start shipping arty rounds.
An unusally good article, Aris. Thank you.
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