September 26, 2022:
In September Ukrainian forces launched a massive offensive against Russian forces in northeast Ukraine initially and later in eastern and southern Ukraine. As of mid-September, over 8,000 square kilometers was cleared of Russian troops. As a bonus, most of the fleeing Russian troops left behind their armored vehicles. The Russians wanted to flee as quickly as possible and that was best done using cars, trucks and busses. These troops left behind hundreds of undamaged armored vehicles, some of them the latest model tanks with few miles on them. While Ukraine had received thousands of modern anti-tank weapons and towed artillery from NATO nations, but few armored vehicles. The departing Russians solved that problem, greatly expanding Ukraine’s stocks of tanks, self-propelled artillery and mobile anti-aircraft systems. The Ukrainians also captured some of the latest Russian mobile EW (Electronic Warfare) systems. Some of the more advanced Russians systems, that NATO has little first had information about, will be sent to Poland where NATO experts can examine it. This is how Ukraine encourages NATO nations to send more aid. NATO nations have learned a lot about how Russian fights a war against a well-equipped (near-peer) opponent and this knowledge has been extremely valuable. While no NATO troops are allowed in Ukraine, as many as 20,000 foreign volunteers have served in Ukraine. Many of these are expatriate Ukrainians or the children of older expatriates. But thousands of the volunteers are former NATO troops, some of them experts in various technical fields. These men had to learn Ukrainian (which is very similar to Russian) and were used mainly to train Ukrainian volunteers. A large Ukrainian vocabulary is not needed for this. Some of those foreign volunteers are former American Special Forces, some of whom served in Ukraine after 2014, when Ukraine requested that kind of assistance from NATO.
Ukraine requested a lot of top-attack ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) because of a flaw in all Russian tanks built since the 1960s. Between 2015 and 2021 the Ukrainians tested a lot of portable anti-tank weapons and found that Western models, like Javelin, Carl Gustav and several others were ideal for mobile infantry (on foot after riding to the battle zone in civilian vehicles) who destroyed tanks and lighter armored vehicles as the Russians advanced into Ukraine. In the months before the Russian 2022 invasion the Ukrainian military described Russian tactics to NATO without going into detail about how they would deal with it. Anyone paying attention to what was going on in Donbas after 2015 could have figured out what the Ukrainians were planning to do. NATO countries had supplied their latest anti-tank weapons for the Donbas tests, which confirmed that Russian tanks had a fatal design flaw from their use of a main-battery autoloader, which led to the total destruction of Russian tanks hit by a top-attack ATGM. None of the Russian ATGMs used top-attack because of the additional cost and that fact that Western tanks did not use autoloader and were not automatically destroyed by top-attack ATGMs.
During World War II the Russian usually kept advancing past damaged tanks and had tank recovery and repair units restore damaged tanks to duty. That no longer worked because most of the damaged tanks in Ukraine suffered catastrophic damage as all Russian tanks built in the past fifty years used autoloaders requiring that a dozen+ shells and their propellant be exposed in the turret to feed the autoloader. The Israelis noted this flaw and pointed it out to their Western allies, which is why Israeli and Western tanks don’t use an autoloader and, when hit in the turret, do not suffer massive damage as all those exposed autoloader shells explode when the turret is penetrated. Western anti-tank weapons were designed to take advantage of this vulnerability, which was never seen on a wide scale until the 2022 invasion. That is one reason Western nations so confidently shipped so many of their latest anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the months before the invasion.
The initial Russian main effort was in northern Ukraine, in an effort to take Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. That cost the Russians tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of tanks and other armored vehicles, and many trucks carrying supplies, especially fuel. This large-scale destruction was made possible by the top-attack vulnerability. Since Russian ATGMs do not have top-attack capabilities, the captured Russian tanks are more effective when used by the Ukrainians than they are when used by Russians. Equally important is the Ukrainian use of proper combined arms tactics in which tanks are accompanied by infantry armed with ATGMs and supported by artillery fire from guns that follow behind the advancing mechanized units, ready to fire on obstacles encountered by the tanks and infantry. Russia ignored the combined arms approach during their initial attempt to take Kyiv in February. This was done because the Russians believed they had the element of surprise against Ukrainian forces unprepared to oppose. The Russians were wrong on both counts and were quickly defeated. It is a basic rule in combat, especially the first battle of war, that you must not underestimate the enemy. The Ukrainians took this into account while the Russians did not. Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who ordered the invasion also outlawed any public discussion of what was going on with combat operations. After about two months of fighting, even some Putin supporters were calling for those military leaders who ignored the true condition of the Ukrainian and Russian forces to be identified and punished. That has still not been done and the Ukrainians are still winning. All this destroyed Russian troop morale and that was what led to the recent “Russian Gift” to Ukraine. Putin has not been able to fix the morale problem with his troops, especially because despite outlawing public discussion of what is happening in Ukraine, so many Russian troops (over 50,000) have been killed and many more wounded or captured that word of mouth has made existing and potential Russian troops aware that Ukraine is a place they do not want to be.