TLDR: Russia has not “collapsed”, as some say, and the old nasty Bear may still have some very unpleasant surprises. The Ukes’ offensive against the Orcs has been brilliant and not unexpected, but this is far from over.
The Orcs could husband air power for a massive wave of attacks, over 200 sorties, aimed at the Ukes’ command and control centers and supply hubs. The Orcs could marshal forces into Byelorus and debauch upon the Ukes from the north. Other surprises we cannot even foresee are equally possible. The Ukes no doubt also understand this and don’t seem to underestimate their terrible foe.
It is expected the Ukes will attack from Oleksandrivka, east of Kherson, down the T1505 road and the E97 highway to Antonivka and then toward the neck of the Crimean Peninsula, bypassing the Orcs in Kherson, and cutting off Crimea. This would end all southern resupply to Russian forces in the southern coastal region.
The Ukrainian offensive in the east and the strangulation of Russian forces in the Kherson Oblast are taking the Kremlin by surprise and jeopardizing their attested goals, which include essentially the dismemberment of Ukraine as a contiguous country.
Russian forces under Vladimir Putin include ethnic Russians who betrayed Ukraine, the Bagner Group and other mercenaries, as well as their own armed forces. These forces have been suffering a series of setbacks as their front lines are pierced. The Ukrainian blitz operations in and around the Kharkiv to Izium sectors have resulted in what some call a collapse but others claim to be a hasty tactical withdrawal. The point is that vital territory for the Russian war machine’s operations has been lost and dramatically so. This is not a collapse.
Meanwhile, in the Kherson Oblast Ukrainian forces announced well in advance their intentions to attack. That offensive is going slower going, however the supply situation is concerning for the Russians. It begins to appear the Ukes, our shorthand for Ukrainians, are conducting an aerial encirclement aimed at turning the Russian, hereafter Orcs for shorthand, occupied areas into a massive killing zone.
The Orcs cannot leave the area on account of the loss of vital bridges across the Dnieper but they cannot get substantial resupply either. The Ukes evidently pushed slow but steady. The Orcs sent in massive reinforcements. Perhaps 25,000 troops are now in a cauldron of constant air and artillery fire and who cannot attack nor be moved.
This may seem to have been a feint. It is reasonable to predict the true target remains an axis running from Kherson down to the neck of the Crimean Peninsula. The goal is to cut off the Orcs in the southeastern coastal zones of Ukraine from Crimea and to close on the massive Russian bridge at the Kerch strait. No doubt the aim will be to destroy that bridge and essentially bleed the Orcs on the peninsula while further isolating those on the southeastern shore, including Mariopol.
While gains in the east are desired, the true target is Crimea.
I would expect the Ukes will have a day to three more days to run wild in the east before the Orcs stop them and attempt counter offensives. This likely to be done in the Donbas and Luhansk regions both for tactical and face-saving reasons. The Kremlin could risk losing control of the narrative internally, desperate measures will take place, and they will probably push back or gain ground.
The Russian high command has not shown they have more than a one-dimensional view. This means they are reactionary and are likely to shift focus to the Donbass and Luhansk, per their own statements, and assume the Kherson attack was an elaborate feint.
This doesn’t mean the attack in the east, which was a surprise, is itself a feint, some sort of 4d chess. The Ukes saw an opportunity and were able to move forces quickly, but they remain focused on Crimea because unlike all other areas, if Russia loses Crimea the prestige loss at home will become critical and force Putin to the table.
Will Russia mobilize?
The problem is that the Russia of today is not the Russia of the past. Russian mobilization could add a million men on paper, but their ability to supply them is simply not there. An open question at to whether this would tip public support away from the war remains, but the likelihood of this producing unrest is very low.
Putin is a true believer and this war is not over. Battles lost do not mean a war is lost. There are many possibilities for Russia to find new and unexpected angles of attack that would turn things around for them. The Russians could do the same thing and husband forces for their own surprise attack out of Belorus, for instance, or mass an air war that sends in hundreds of daily sorties per day.
The Russian Bear is dangerous, but he is definitely bleeding and limping, and that is most worrisome, however the Ukes seem to understand this about the Orcs.
Update September 11, 2022- It appears the Ukes are now entering Lysichansk and Sverodonetsk which took the Russians months to take from them.