Why the Russian army broke the bridges ahead if they wanted to advance deeper?

Because their northern incursion prioritizes holding territory over advancing further.

Shankar Narayan
7 min readMay 15, 2024
Why on earth would you do such a thing?

Both the Russian army and the Ukrainian armed forces continue to adopt tactics from each other. At the end of last week, when the Russian army opened a new front in the northeast, the opening moves felt eerily similar to Ukrainian efforts in the south, in the Dnipro/Kherson sector.

The similarities were so overwhelming that I wrote the following:

I would like to draw your attention to the Kherson/Dnipro operation conducted by Ukraine, which is still underway. What Ukraine did in this sector is very similar to what Russians are trying to do in the north.

In the Dnipro/Kherson sector, Ukraine is not trying to advance. They could if they amassed a large number of forces. However, for the last six months, despite the beachhead they established on the left bank of the river became wide and sizable, they have stuck to their limited objectives.

In doing so, they achieved two things:

  1. If they ever want to advance, they have the option to do so.
  2. If they do not advance but still keep fighting from this section, the Russians have no choice but to respond to the Ukrainian presence. If Russia wants to fully evict the Ukrainians, there will be a price they need to pay.

By exploiting the terrain, Ukraine can deploy fewer troops and resources to hold positions effectively. Defensive operations typically require fewer resources than offensive ones, allowing Ukraine to conserve manpower and supplies. On the other hand, Russia needs to commit significantly more resources to overcome these natural defenses and sustain prolonged offensives.

The cost balance of the fight in Dnipro/Kherson favors Ukraine’s limited objectives, and when we consider the entire theater of war, Ukraine has no reason to abandon this sector.

Russian Advance in the North East

When the Russians advanced in the northeast, as usual, the Western media went off the rails. I just finished reading a sob story in one of the leading publications. I have no idea why I keep spending my time there, but I keep doing it.

Force of habit.


The Russians are not particularly keen on advancing deeper into Ukrainian territory through the north east. They broke several bridges that would have helped them move further into Ukraine.

ISW has not yet observed claims or confirmation that Russian forces have crossed to the southern (left) bank of the Vovcha River in Vovchansk or its immediate environs.

Russian forces notably conducted strikes against bridges over the Vovcha River immediately west and east of Vovchansk on May 12 and began targeting bridges over the river and logistics lines in Vovchansk itself on May 13, reportedly only leaving Ukrainian forces with two usable bridges over the Vovcha in Vovchansk.

It is unclear why Russian forces would largely target bridges they would need to cross and ensure stable logistics across the Vovcha River for offensive operations deeper into northern Kharkiv Oblast, so these strikes suggest that Russian forces may be prioritizing immediate gains in an unfortified area of northern Ukraine.

It’s evident that Russian forces are strategically targeting bridges they would need to cross. Their objective seems to be impeding Ukrainian counter-attacks rather than advancing deeper into Ukrainian territory.

By securing the territory they’ve taken and fortifying their positions, they aim to consolidate control before extending their reach further. This tactic will help them safeguard their crucial supply lines, ensuring they can sustain their operations in the captured areas without the risk of being cut off or facing disruptions from Ukrainian forces.

The Russian armed forces took a small bite of Ukrainian territory and now they are trying to hold on to em.

Unlike sweeping offensives aimed at deep penetration into enemy territory, a “bite and hold” strategy keeps its focus on capturing small, specific sectors of the enemy’s territory. After capturing a designated area (“the bite”), the army would prioritize holding that ground against counterattacks rather than pushing further (“the hold”).

The Russian approach of “bite and hold” in the northeast appears to have its own unique characteristics. Given the level of combat capacity allocated to them in the northeast, totaling 50,000 troops spread across three oblasts, it’s challenging to find fault with the Russian strategy in this region.

Their deployment of forces seems to be calibrated towards achieving specific objectives while maintaining a manageable logistical footprint. By concentrating their troops in small pockets, they can exert control over the territory while minimizing the risk of overextension or resource strain. This approach allows them to consolidate their gains and leave the option open for a future advance without spreading themselves too thin.

What can we glean from the Russian actions in the north east?

If it were a typical “bite and hold” strategy, they would not have broken the bridges. After establishing their hold in a particular area, they would ideally want to advance further. So the priority would then be to create a garrison that is well defended and has the capacity to deter counter-attacks.

But they broke the bridges that would have helped them to advance…

When will I break the bridges ahead of my position?

  1. If I believe I am not going to advance.
  2. If I think I may not get a lot of support to create a proper defense in the captured sector.
  3. If I have been ordered to stay here for as long as possible.

What should Ukraine do under these circumstances?

The one question that still keeps ringing in my ears is: Can Ukraine turn the tables?

I don’t think they can do this right now, not without some additional assistance in the form of approval from the allies. The Russians are advancing in the north to further strain the Ukrainian forces, who are already grappling with a severe manpower shortage. While the ammunition stockpile is better than it was last year, it’s still not at a level where Ukraine can start thinking about launching strong counter-attacks.

The Russians are trying to exacerbate this weakness by leveraging their strength in manpower. As a defender, you have to respond wherever your enemy shows up.

Ukraine should increase the intensity of their attacks to dial up the rate of Russian losses in the northeast. They need to hit them a little harder than they are doing in other areas.

With the Russians probing all over the frontline, it will be challenging to prioritize a single sector, and sending a large number of troops to the northeast is precisely what the Russians want Ukraine to do. So, some balance is needed.

But why not show up in their rear?

Why is Ukraine only fighting within its territory in the northeast? How about using the open terrain in the northeast to get behind the Russian troops trying to advance?

The same open terrain that allowed the Russians to quickly move into border towns in the northeast will offer the same benefits to Ukraine if they attempt to get behind the Russian troops.

Let’s dispel the notion that Ukraine’s military actions must be confined solely to its borders. If Russians amass their forces along the border, then Ukraine should have the freedom to engage Russian troops not only at the border but also behind it and within its own territory.

This will escalate tension in the region significantly. However, didn’t Sun Tzu say that you have to show up in unexpected places? Show up and completely disrupt the Russian plans, which are operating under the assumption that Ukrainian troops will not cross the border and that they are safe within their own territory.

The Institute for the Study of War believes that the American decision to prevent Ukraine from using its weapons inside Russia has created a sanctuary for Russian troops along the border. The Biden administration must allow Ukraine to target the brigades stationed within the Russian borders.

Ukraine can and should cut off the supply routes behind the Russian troops that advanced. Why respect someone’s border if they refuse to respect yours? This will completely disrupt Russian plans and significantly increase the cost they are paying for their northeast adventure. Once these troops are neutralized, Ukraine can return to its side of the border and consider the mission accomplished.

It is escalation management.

Ukraine can deliver this message to the Russian armed forces: If you advance in the northeast, I will march right behind you. So, don’t you dare try to leave your forces exposed.

Do this and call this a Special Response Operation.

I think it will work really well.

The few ways in which you can defeat a bite-and-hold strategy are flanking maneuvers, rapid counter-attacks, and the regular mobile defense strategy that Ukraine has always been good at. To regain control of this sector, Ukraine must deploy all three tactics.

That is one way to win the fight for the northeast. However, I don’t think the United States is going to allow the Ukrainians to fully utilize the terrain and fight the invaders with the best of their abilities.

As a result, they will continue fighting from their side of the border and pay a hefty price for evicting the invaders. The Russians will attempt to hold onto the villages they captured. Ukraine has no choice but to keep them contained in those pockets, surround them, and subject the Russian troops on the ground to constant bombardment.

The west will force Ukraine into a sub-par response and the western media will write stories about how Ukraine is not able to win.


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Shankar Narayan

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