The Russian Cauldron: Where Victory Looks Like Defeat

David Reavill
5 min readMay 28


Ukraine Infantry Soldier takes a breather.
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The War in Ukraine is like nothing we’ve ever seen. For NATO and especially the United States, the conflict remains a mystery, a contradiction from every theory of modern warfare. The West’s concept of War goes back, at least to Genghis Khan and his Mongol cavalry — a strategy of broad sweeping attack over vast areas of land. The objective is to cover as much territory as possible and drive out the enemy. War became a giant chessboard where the winner had the most ground.

In World War II, the German Army utilized much the same strategy as the Blitzkrieg attack. This time it was tanks instead of cavalry, but the objective was to move across giant swaths of land at “lightning speed” (Blitzkrieg).

Nearly half a century later, the American Army would perfect this strategy with their “Shock and Awe.” Again a strategy aimed at capturing large areas of enemy territory with great speed. This attack method was used with deadly effectiveness in the Iraq War in 1991. One of the heroes of that war and principal proponent of Shock and Awe was Colonel Douglass MacGregor. On the morning of February 26, 1991, MacGregor leads a force of just 19 tanks and Thirty support vehicles against a force of more than twice their size. Utilizing his superior speed and maneuverability MacGregor’s unit defeated the Iraqi forces in less than an hour in what’s now called the “Battle of 73 Easting.”

It was a remarkable accomplishment and perfectly exemplified the American Theory of War, where great speed and maneuverability are utilized to outdistance the opponent.

Unfortunately, Iraq was the last War and provided little, if any, insight into the current conflict in Ukraine. If you’ve been near Washington, DC, lately, you may hear the Brass over at the Pentagon declare that Russia’s strategy is no strategy at all. While the American General Staff has been busy fighting the last War (Iraq), the Russians are utilizing an entirely different strategy, which has the Americans and NATO befuddled.

The Russians appear to be not interested in gaining territory. There have been no great tank battles as we saw in Iraq. What’s more puzzling, Russia seems more than willing to concede territory that they’ve already gained, like when they “retreated” from Kherson City last year. Surely Putin’s Army must know that Kherson was a defeat for Russia and, thereby, a victory for Ukraine. And that’s precisely how this was reported in the Western Press. It looked, to all the world, like Ukraine was winning.

But to the seasoned observer, someone like MacGregor, something strange was happening. The Ukraine Army moved back into Kherson with little or no opposition from the Russians. It was as if the Russians had used a strategic withdrawal. Something entirely foreign to NATO and the Americans. But as MacGregor pointed out, this would be a strategy to save Russian lives while conceding only territory of marginal value from the Kremlin’s perspective.

Throughout the War, the Russian strategy has been to destroy Ukraine’s fighting capability, not to capture territory. It is where the Cauldron Strategy has been most effective. Unlike the American Strategy of Shock and Awe, speed and maneuverability, the Cauldron is the ancient Russian siege method. A trap that encircles an enemy and then slowly cuts off water, food, and supplies until the enemy capitulates or is annihilated.

Russia has utilized this method to defeat its enemies for centuries. And while it’s not nearly as dramatic charge of a phalanx of tanks and doesn’t play well on the 6 o’clock news, it is deadly effective.

This Cauldron Strategy proved highly effective in the recent battle for Bahkmut, now called by its Russian name: Artemovsk. It was a battle that raged on for months, long after the American Press had given up on the story. To the West, Bahkmut had become a quagmire, the spot where the Russian advance ground to a halt.

If Ukraine could pin the Russians down in Bahkmut, Russia might lose this War. If the Russian Army couldn’t advance in Bahkmut, Ukraine could control the rest of the country. At least, that was the territorial thinking in Washington and Kyiv at the time. After all, it’s territorial advancement that counts, isn’t it?

But not in Moscow; the objective was not territory for President Putin and the General Staff. Instead, Russia sought to destroy Ukraine’s ability to wage War. In short, Russia sought to destroy Ukraine’s Military. And Bahkmut became an opportunity to pursue that goal.

However, there was a significant distinction between the Bahkmut Cauldron and a conventional siege. Again, kudos to Colonel MacGregor for pointing this out. All during the battle for Bahkmut, the Russians left open access roads to the city. Open roads are the last thing any attacking army would do in a regular siege. After all, the point of the siege is to cut off all contact with the external world. Supply lines to Bahkmut would have been severed in a traditional siege.

But, as MacGregor points out, Russia left a least one road open all through the battle. These roads presented an open door, allowing additional Ukraine troops to enter the trap. The more Ukraine soldiers entered Bahkmut, the more who would be killed, which was Russia’s ultimate objective.

It’s a strategy that seems odd to you and me. After all, it is counter to our conventional view of War as conquered territory. And yet, the Cauldron has worked brilliantly for the Russians. Every major battle in Ukraine has been won using this strategy.

Ukraine and NATO have poured soldiers, weapons, and wealth into battle after the battle, only to have them destroyed by the Russian Military, which already had them surrounded. This month alone, the Russian Military has destroyed critical warehouses in Pavlohrad and Khmelnytskyi, likely containing NATO-supplied munitions and weapons.

In each case, Ukraine believed it could control the battlefield, not realizing it had stepped into the Russian Cauldron instead. What appeared to be Russian weakness, the inability to gain territory, was, in reality, a Russian Strategy to draw us into a trap.

To the Ukraine Military and their American and NATO supporters, the Russian Cauldron has become a bewildering trap, easy to get into but nearly impossible to escape.

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David Reavill

David Reavill writer + finance +iconoclast + hiker + Pennsylvania #valueside daily podcast + medium + meditate