Russia’s ‘Sew and Chew’ Strategy will Work

Ukraine needs counter measures

Shankar Narayan
7 min readFeb 27, 2024
Devastation from air (Licensed Image)

What is Bakhmut?

What is it?

It was something before this war. It was something else when Ukraine fought to keep it. It is something else today. It went from a breathtakingly beautiful town to an urban public cemetery in less than two years.

When ever Putin’s eyes falls on a residential area, they just pop up. It makes him feel. He has to turn the whole thing into a ruin.

Aleppo. Grozny. Bakhmut.

Now, Avdiivka.

But unlike Aleppo and Grozny, the ruins of Bakhmut have provided something very valuable for Putin: a modern 21st-century template for destruction. The Russians have a new strategy to defeat the Ukrainian army, and this template came into its own during their one-year fight for Bakhmut. Now, it is fully operational.

Russian Air-Force is back in the mix

Following the significant losses endured in the initial two months of the conflict, during which hundreds of aircraft were lost, the Russian high command made the decision to withdraw their airforce.

No more flying into Ukrainian territory. Just stay within Russian borders, fire your weapons, and immediately return to the base. This helped because the Russian jets were far away from the reach of Ukrainian air defenses.

Then the Wagners started to slowly encroach on Bakhmut. They were dying in thousands, but they were also advancing. The Russian air force slowly started dropping bombs over Bakhmut.

In March 2023, the Russian airforce dropped a 1.5 ton glide bomb in Cherniv Oblast. Their first drop. One month later, they were dropping twenty glide bombs every day.

As the Wagner forces, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, kept pouring manpower into the urban fight, the Russian military took positions on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut and dropped artillery shells on Ukrainian positions. Wagner infantry were at the front door, Russian infantry at the sides, with artillery firing into this pocket.

“[Russia] is destroying buildings and positions with air strikes and artillery fire. The defence of Bakhmut continues. The situation is difficult but manageable,” said Oleksandr Syrskyi, then commander of the Ukrainian army’s forces in the east, in April last year.

“We hold the last 25% in the west of the city… we managed to gain a foothold there, because it is the last small district with high-rise buildings,” said Yevhen Dykyi, a military analyst and former company commander of the volunteer Aidar battalion. “They’ve already squeezed us out wherever there were detached houses and wherever there were stand-alone five-story buildings,” he said. “But when they reached the high-rises, they were stopped. It’s harder here.”

But the Russians also used Bakhmut to test the boundaries of their engagement from the air. The Ukrainian troops defending Bakhmut from high rises became perfect target practice for the Russian jets.

In the early stages of the war, “Without air superiority, Russia’s attempts at strategic air attack have been limited to expensive cruise and ballistic missile barrages at a much more limited scale,” said Justin Bronk, Nick Reynolds and Jack Watling from the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Little by little. The Russians introduced their fighter jets to the battlefield. Glide-bombs became their go to weapon.

A grinding advance by the infantry. A town surrounded by Russian troops in three directions. Ukrainians troops sewed into a tiny pocket. They cannot march out of this pocket because Russia would have positioned brigades in three directions. Artillery guns will rain into this pocket, supported by glide-bombs raining from the fighter jets. There are only two options available, either destroy all the Russian brigades surrounding you, or retreat.

It is a war of attrition.

It works.

It works because it brings a lot of Russian advantages to the fore.

  • Mass infantry — check.
  • Mass artillery — check.
  • Imprecise bombing runs— check.

Now, if you look at what Russia is doing right now, you will notice they are trying to repeat the same strategy wherever possible. It was a near repeat of their final months of assault on Bakhmut that helped them win Avdiivka. They were aided by Ukraine’s lack of artillery, but that was not the sole reason for their victory.

There were multiple factors that allowed the Russians to gain upper hand in Avdiivka. Their ability to drop glide bombs was one of them. Russia has seriously expanded their bombing sorties all over the frontline.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 26 that Russian forces dropped 3,203 glide bombs against Ukrainian cities and frontline positions between January 1 and February 24, 2024.
  • ISW previously assessed that Russian forces have increased their use of glide bomb strikes and were able to do so particularly effectively at scale to provide close air support to ground troops in Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast, facilitating the Russian capture of the settlement.

Russians have realized they can utilize their air force by instructing them to drop glide bombs all over the frontline. These devices weigh more than 1.5 tons, with some as large as 3.5 tons. Imagine dropping a medium-sized truck from the air; the impact alone would be sufficient to cause significant casualties. Now, envision packing that truck with explosive material, enough to create a small crater on impact. It would result in widespread destruction and loss of life.

What will happen now? What can Ukraine do?

Ukraine is in the process of losing all the strategically advantageous positions it had acquired in the second half of last year. Sadly, I do not see a way out. They need to cede territory, allowing the Russian army to advance into open fields and making them pay for that advance. They need to utilize their depth.

After taking control of Avdiivka, Russia has continued to advance further from the town. Immediately after its fall, the Russians chased the withdrawing troops but were blocked by prepared Ukrainian defenses. Heavy fighting was reported in Lastochkyne on the day of Avdiivka withdrawal. A week later, Ukraine withdrew from Lastochkyne.

Russians have also advanced near Robotyne. They have also advanced near Kupiansk. So, the frontline is changing at an extremely fast pace. But these changes appear somewhat planned. Ukraine is relinquishing territory while relocating to more defensible positions. How long this process will take and how much territory Ukraine will cede, I have no idea. They will fight, absorb a certain amount of Russian combat capacity, while retreating to better defensive positions.

I do think they are already trying to use their depth to defend. Not a bad choice under the current circumstances. When you give Russia a clear pocket to target, their strategy will be to surround that target with forces, then utilize the glide bombs and artillery advantage for indiscriminate shelling. They will devastate everything that stands above and below ground.

Just like they did in Aleppo. Grozny. Bakhmut. Avdiivka.

The Robotyne pocket looks vulnerable because it offers the size the Russians need to deploy their ‘sew and chew’ strategy.

Russian brigades are already in position around Robotyne to try their ‘Sew and Chew’ strategy

I wish Ukraine were not in this position because they are conceding many advantages they earned in the second half of last year. Let us take the Robotyne axis, for example: Ukraine endured heavy losses to advance to less than two miles away from Russia’s main defensive line, also known as the Surovikin line. Now, they are going to be pushed back.

It has not happened yet.

But I can see the Russian axe coming after Robotyne from a mile away.

Ukraine is still in a spot of bother

The Russians will try to push the Ukrainians back from the current frontline and create some buffer zone between the Surovikin line and the Ukrainian position. This is a loss of a huge advantage Ukraine had painstakingly built in Southern Ukraine.

The same story repeats itself in the Kupiansk direction as well as Bakhmut. It is pretty much the entire frontline.

How long the current pace of losses continue?

As long as Russia holds the advantage in all the following three

  • More troops
  • More artillery
  • Ability to drop glide bombs

We can blame Ukraine for losing sight of factor one. The other two are mistakes made by Ukraine’s western partners. Ukraine has to seriously ramp up its military recruitment efforts.

The artillery situation, according to recent reports, has improved since December. While the Russians still possess significantly more firepower than Ukraine, the west has made some progress in procuring artillery shells.

The German government is in discussions with India, seeking to procure Indian-made artillery shells through a third party. Additionally, the Czech government has declared its readiness to take the lead in sourcing artillery shells from various countries, indicating movement in that direction. However, it’s important to note that such efforts typically require considerable time to materialize.

The most attainable objective we currently possess: Slow down the Russian air force’s deployment of glide bombs over the frontline. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate the presence of Russian fighter jets in the theater, we can make substantial strides in diminishing the rate of bombardment. Therefore, it’s imperative to expedite the deployment of additional Patriot air-defense systems to Ukraine. Utilize all available Patriot missiles from the European stockpile, but distribute them gradually over several months rather than all at once.

The West has what it needs to keep the Russian air-force quiet.

Ukraine is doing what it can. Bringing down more than twenty aircrafts in three months is not a joke. They have done it. But the Russians are refusing to pull back. They are most probably going to keep at it until the Presidential elections are over. And also until they can push the frontline in Southern Ukraine further away from the Surovikin line.

I think the Russians will keep their attacks on Kupiansk going, but I also believe that they will try to get Robotyne under their control. It is the latter I am very worried about now.

May be use Robotyne to pin the Russian troops until summer?



Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.