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A Russian Regiment, Currently Surrounded In Eastern Ukraine, Has A Tragic History Of Defeat

Forbes 9/30/2022 David Axe, Forbes Staff
Ukrainian troops advance. Ukrainian defense ministry photo © Provided by Forbes Ukrainian troops advance. Ukrainian defense ministry photo

The Ukrainian army reportedly has nearly completed its envelopment of the Russian garrison in Lyman, a transport hub in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region—and a top objective of Ukraine’s month-old counteroffensive in the east.

Among the thousands of Russians reportedly trapped in Lyman are members of the 752nd Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment. It’s a regiment with a tragic tradition of getting cut off, surrounded and all but destroyed. The 752nd GMRR was one of two regiment-size units that, on New Year’s Eve in 1994, got enveloped in Grozny during the first of Russia’s two bloody wars in Chechnya.

The 752nd GMRR barely survived the First Chechen War. Its chances in Ukraine aren’t much better.

Lyman has been in the Ukrainian army’s sights since the Russians captured the railway hub back in late May. But it wasn’t until the Ukrainians’ eastern counteroffensive gained momentum a couple of weeks ago that liberating the town became possible.

First, the Ukrainians punched through Russian lines east of the free city of Kharkiv, exploiting weaknesses in Russian defenses that appeared as the Kremlin began shifting forces to the south in an effort to slow another Ukrainian counteroffensive along the Inhulets River.

It didn’t help that the Ukrainians since late spring had been targeting Russia’s supply dumps and command centers, steadily starving Russian battalions and disrupting their leadership. The Russian east of Kharkiv abandoned their tanks and fighting vehicles and fled into separatist Luhansk Oblast.

Barreling across the Oskil River, the Ukrainian army split. While some troops secured their Oskil bridgeheads, others turned south. They liberated Izium and its vital highway intersections. Then, coordinating with battalions advancing from the west and south, they began encircling Lyman last week.

There reportedly were as many as 5,000 Russians in the town at the time. Some lightly-armed reservists from two Russian battalions. Two regiments from the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic. And the 75nd GMRR, arguably the best of the units in the Lyman garrison.

The 752nd on paper is a powerful formation, although it like much of the Russian army has suffered steep losses as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its eighth month. Before the war, the 752nd GMRR possessed 41 T-72 tanks, 120 BMP-2 fighting vehicles, 36 2S3 howitzers and scores of other vehicles. It’s unclear how many vehicles remain. The Russian army in total has written off 6,600 vehicles that analysts can confirm.

As the Ukrainian noose tightened around Lyman on Thursday and Friday, Russian troops began pulling out of surrounding settlements and concentrating in Lyman itself. “This is significant,” tweeted Malcolm Davis, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “Another major setback for Russia in Ukraine.”

By Friday there was no road out of Lyman that the Ukrainians couldn’t bring under intensive fire. Whether the 752nd GMRR and other units in Lyman surrender, attempt a breakout or fight to the last man will determine how many casualties the Ukrainians inflict as they inevitably liberate Lyman in the coming days.

In Grozny 28 years ago, Chechen fighters killed and wounded hundreds, maybe thousands, of 752nd GMRR troopers. The regiment’s losses in Lyman could be just as severe.

All that is to say, it’s nearly time to add the 752nd GMRR to the growing list of major Russian formations that Ukrainians have dismantled just in the last month. The elite 1st Guards Tanks Army and its supporting 144th Guards Motor Rifle Division, the reserve 3rd Army Corps, the 559th Bomber Aviation Regiment with its Su-34 fighters.

What happens next depends on three factors. How much reserve combat power the Ukrainian army possesses after a month of intensive operations. How quickly the coming winter turns eastern Ukraine into a sea of mud. How quickly the 300,000 men the Kremlin is drafting begin reaching the front in meaningful numbers—and whether they’re in any condition to fight.

It’s possible Lyman falls and the Ukrainians keep advancing. It’s also possible Lyman represents the culmination of the current counteroffensive in the east. Either scenario is a loss for the Russians. And likely signals the end of the 752nd GMRR as an effective fighting force, at least for a while.

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