Looming Battle of Donbas. Major Axis of Russian Advance

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A Russian armored column – inevitably potential pile of scrap -- is driving towards Ukraine / Representative photo
A Russian armored column – inevitably potential pile of scrap -- is driving towards Ukraine / Representative photo

What are the main axis of Russian advance on Donbas and what are the actual physical locations where the enemy consolidates their power? Here is a review by Defense Express

The enemy is preparing for an offensive operation in the Donbas. Ukraine’s Armed Forces (UAF) General Staff assesses that the enemy is currently focused on preparing for an offensive operation in the eastern theater of battle. aimed to destroy UAF defenders in the area and to win control over the entire territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The adversary is currently in the final stages of completing putting together an assault force at the Eastern front; it is searching perceived vulnerabilities in our defenses and bolstering its command-and-control and logistics.

Read more: Neptun ASCM plus Vilkha MLRS: To Destroy Moskva Due to Ukrainian Defense Industry's Missile Program

Below is an up-to-date situation map of the Donetsk-Kherson theater, compiled by @JustasVitkauskas, @jominiw.

Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express

The maps show positions of the Russian forces, identifying them by the type of military formation they belong to: tank army (TA), combined arms army (CAA), army corps (AC), tank/motor rifle/ air assault/amphibious assault divisions (TD/MRD/AAD/AmAD) and their constituent regiments (TR/MRR/AAR/AmAR), independent motor rifle brigades (IMRBr), tank/motor rifle/air assault battalion tactical groups (TBTG/MRBTG/ASBTG). The maps also give the assessed numbers of Russian troops and major weapon and equipment systems (combat tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, mortars, howitzers, multiple rocket launchers etc) Russia has deployed towards the theater.

Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, , Defense Express

Note here that the numbers of Russian personnel and military gear featured in these maps are standard for the current organizational charts adopted by Russia’s Armed Forces and actually can be lower than assessed here.

Also, the maps show all the Russian weapon and equipment systems irrespective of their operational status: a significant part of the systems have been destroyed and later restored or taken out of stockpiles and storages, meaning they are not fully combat effective.

The adversary’s morale was not taken into account either; intercepted phone conversations of Russian soldiers with their families and friends reveal they are scared to fight in Ukraine.

We have decided to make relevant calculations in order to have an overall situation awareness on the eve of the "Battle of the Donbas", which is likely to be carried on several separate axis but under a single operational plan.

Our assessments are given below:

A destroyed makeship bridge used by Russian troops, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance,  Defense Express
A destroyed makeship bridge used by Russian troops

Kharkiv axe: 6th CAA Headquarters:

26th TR within the 47th TD; 437th Tank and Motorized Rifle Training Regiment (TMRTR), and 3 BTGs formed out of the 25th, 138th, and 200th IMRBr’s.

In total, upwards of 4.100 service members, 145 tanks, up to 70 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV’s), upwards of 120 MT-LB auxiliary armored tracked vehicles (AATV’s), up to 20 mortars, 12 guns, up to 80 self-propelled howitzers, up to 20 MLRS systems.

Russian soldiers getting ready for war, Defense Express, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance
Russian soldiers getting ready for war

Izyum axe:

The Headquarters of the 1st TA, 20th CAA, and 35th CAA

Ten regiments (5 TR’s, 3 MRR’s, and 2 AAR’s) of the 4th TD; 2nd, 3rd, and 144th MRD’s, and 98th (or106th) AAD, in addition to 1 BTG of the 38th IMRBr.

In total, upwards of 18.200 service members, upwards of 570 tanks, up to 520 IFV’s and up to 220 BMD airborne armored vehicles, upwards of 50 mortars, 12 self-propelled guns, up to 70 self-propelled howitzers and gun-howitzers, up to 20 MLRS systems.

Adversary soldiers getting ready for combat, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
Adversary soldiers getting ready for combat

Donetsk axe:

The headquarters of the 5th CAA, 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the [self-proclaimed] DNR and LNR People’s Republics:

5th CAA: 1 MRR and 2 battalions within the 127th MRD, 4 (?) MR BTG's, 57th and 70th IMRBr; 2nd AC: 2nd MRBr, 3-5 MR BTG’s within the 4th and 7th MRBr’s, 6th MRR, as well as 1 MRR and a trritorial defense regiment (TDR).

1st AC; 1 MR BTG within the 11th MRR, 4 MR battalions, 4 TDR’s.

A total of 14.800-16.200 service members, 140-160 tanks, 670-730 IFV’s, 120-130 mortars, 200-234 self-propelled howitzers and gun-howitzers, 70-80 MLRS systems.

Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express

Mariupol axe:

The headquarters of the 8th CAA:

2 TBTG’s formed out of the 68th TR; 2 MR BTG’s formed out of the 102nd MRR of the 150th MRD, 3 Marine BTG’s of the 810th Independent Marine Brigade (IMBr) and 177th Independent Marine Regiment (IMR).

In total, upwards of 5.100 personnel, upwards of 80 tanks, 210 IFV’s, 18 mortars, 12 self-propelled howitzers, 30 self-propelled guns and gun-howizers, 10 MLRS systems.

A destroyed Russian tank, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
A destroyed Russian tank

South-East axe:

The headquarters of the 58th CAA:

2 BTG’s formed out of the 163rd TR of the 150th MRD, 2 MR BTG’s formed out of the 71st MRR of the 42nd MRD, 2 MR BTG’s (503rd MRR of the 19th MRD. 2 MR BTG’s of the 36th IMRBr).

A total of 7,000 personnel, upwards of 120 tanks, 260 IFV’s, 44 mortars, 72 self-propelled howitzers and gun-howitzers, up to 30 MLRS systems.

Ukrainian soldiers are defending the world, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
Ukrainian soldiers are defending the world

Kryvyy Rih axe:

The headquarters of the 58th CAA:

3 MR BTG’s of the 126th Independent Coastal Defense Brigade (ICD Br), 2-4 MR BTG’s of the 34th and 205th IMR Br’s, 1-2 AS BTG’s of the 11th IAS Br.

A total of 5.800-7.200 personnel, 50-60 tanks, 30-60 IFV’s, 200-280 armored personnel carriers / MT-LB AATV’s, 26-34 mortars, 48-80 self-propelled howitzers and gun-howitzers, 24-30 MLRS systems.

This is how combats gonna go down for the invaders on the Ukrainian soil, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
This is how combats gonna go down for the invaders on the Ukrainian soil

Mykolayiv axe:

The headquarters of the 22nd CAA:

2 MR BTG’s of the 33rd and 255th MRR’s of the 20th MRD, 1 AABTG of the 56th AAR of the 7th AAD.

A total of 2.700 personnel, 30 tanks, up to 70 IFV’s, 30 BMD’s, 12 mortars, 6 self-propelled guns, 12 self-propelled howitzers, 8 MLRS systems.

NLAW firing, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
NLAW firing

An analysis of the numbers of personnel and weapon and military equipment systems the enemy accumulated in these areas reveals that, of the above listed axes of Russian advance, the Izyum axe is the one that carries the highest risk of defeat for Ukrainian forces.

This is where the Russians have accumulated their major tank power - the highest amount of the RF Armed Forces’ strike capabilities (10 regiments, including 5 TR’s, 3 MRR’s, and 2 AAR’s), in addition to personnel and strike weapons, including tanks and IFV’s / BMD’s (18.200 personnel, upwards of 570 tanks, up to 520 IFV’s, and up to 220 BMD’s). In addition, the Russian battle group on the Izyum axe is highly likely to have been tasked to launch a southward strike, encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbas, and close the encirclement ring by joining its South-West grouping of forces.

Ukrainian artillery firing on the enemy, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
Ukrainian artillery firing on the enemy

The Donetsk axe is second most challenging.

This is where the adversary has accumulated its second largest battle force, comprised of Russian and LNR/DNR forces. (1 MRR, up to 4 MR BTG’s, 2 Russian Ground Forces’ battalions and 1 MR Br, 1 MRR, 4-6 MR BTG’s, 4 MR battalions of LNR / DNR Ground Forces). It ranks second in terms of the numbers of personnel, tanks, and IFV’s involved, and even first in terms of the number of artillery (14.800-16.200 personnel, 140-160 tanks, 670-730 IFV’s, 120-130 mortars, 200-234 self-propelled guns and gun-howitzers, 70-80 MLRS systems).

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
Destroyed Russian armored vehicles

The adversary’s battle group in Donbas, comprised of units of the Russian and LNR/DNRground forces, is tasked to keep Ukrainian forces pinned down in Donbas and to prevent them to withdraw in an organized manner from encirclement should this prove successful.

The South-East axe is third most challenging.

There the Russians have 2 TBTG’s, 6 MR BTG’s, 7,000 soldiers, more than 120 tanks, 260 IFV’s, 44 mortars, 72 self-propelled howitzers and gun-howitzers, and up to 30 MLRS systems). They are going to bolster it further by adding 2 TBTG’s and 2 MR BTG’s from the 150th MRD, if the two can be re-grouped and restored after the fighting in Mariupol. Russia’s South-East battle group should strike north and encircle the Ukrainian Donetsk group by joining friendly forces in and around Izyum.

The enemy seeks to divert UAF’s attention with threatened attacks, Looming Battle of Donbas, Major Axis of Russian Advance, Defense Express
The enemy seeks to divert UAF’s attention with threatened attacks

Russia’s battle groups on other axis are much weaker in terms of the amount of offensive capabilities and will have to carry out ancillary and distracting tasks. The adversary will seek to divert UAF’s attention with threatened attacks, for example on Volyn from Belarus, an amphibious landing in Odessa, or an attack by two BTG’s from Transnistria. The tasks facing the Ukrainian forces are very difficult, but not impossible. - to thwart the adversary’s plans and inflict on it a decisive defeat.

Read more: ​Top Ten Ranking of Russian Armored Vehicle Types by Numbers Lost in Ukraine War