Russia has started military operations in Ukraine and this article is being written at the end of the first day of the invasion. It’s aim is to analyse the situation and make some predictions about how it could develop.
The first point to understanding Putin’s position is understanding the strategic picture, and the concept of ‘maskirovka’, the Russian concept of strategic deception. The basis of Soviet and later Russian strategy is using maskirovka to mask your intentions, create confusion and develop military advantage.
We saw this technique in the build up to conflict both in the constant denials that force was going to be used and, in the build, up of forces. The denials of an invasion, the statements that the concentrations of troops on the Ukraine border are “exercises” may seem primitive, however at a strategic level they keep the opposition guessing – Will this be war? Or is it a bluff? Further, the large build up of troops masks potential objectives – Where will the attack come? Is this an invasion of the whole country or just the contested regions of Donbast and Crimea?
We see it again in the development of operations on the first day of the war, cruise missiles and long-range rockets making precision strikes across the country. Creating, widespread concern and making it difficult to predict the real objectives. The only way we will know Russia’s real objectives is to follow the development of the ground battle, at the moment this is being fought around the south-eastern regions and in the Dnieper River valley north of Kiev. Chernobyl and Pripayt, both near the border with Belorussia and on the Dnieper River north of Kiev are reported captured by Russian forces.
An interesting observation is that no airborne operations have been reported yet, the Soviet military (Russia’s direct doctrinal ancestors) placed considerable emphasis on coup de main or seizure of vital points by airborne forces a technique used extensively in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The obvious conclusion is that the Russian military has assessed the Ukrainians as a ‘near peer’ military with sufficient air power and anti-aircraft capability to make this type of operation untenable. This indicates that their planning is probably for a slower more conventional type of operation.
Ground battles develop slowly, in this type of fighting a standard rate of advance is probably twenty kilometres a day, if the Ukrainians are defeated and retreating the Russians might achieve fifty. The key point is that in will take days for an accurate picture to develop.
So, what are my predictions:
- This offensive is a push for the whole country. Strategically, Putin has stated many times that Ukraine is part of Russia. Clearly, his objectives are reunification of the old Russian Empire. We will know soon if the troops near Kiev are a feint, but a key fact is that by invading he has ‘crossed a line’ that will have a significant impact economically on Russia. Therefore it is makes sense to gamble big and try to take the whole country.
- The war will be slower than expected. Three factors contribute to this prediction. The Ukrainians have been preparing for this war for years and are unlikely to give up. The area has a long-history of foreign domination and its people are motivated. Further, although the north east of the country is relatively flat farmland and steppe, it is bisected north / south by the Dnieper River that becomes an obstacle to an advancing army and west of this river the country’s geography is more mountainous and difficult. An area difficult to control and through which Ukrainian forces could be resupplied from the West. Most important, recent shipments of Javelin and Next Generation Light Antitank Weapon (NLAW) missiles cannot be underestimated, these weapons are very, very effective latest generation tank-killers. Both are ‘fire and forget’ systems with hit rates of almost 100%.
- Long-term this adventure could be the end of Putin. The Russian economy is already in poor condition, if the invasion degenerates into a long and difficult war the cost of maintaining more than 100,000 soldiers in Ukraine will be politically damaging to Putin.
- We may see Chinese activity in the Pacific or Indo-Pakistan regions become more aggressive. Movement of Russian troops from the Far East to the West allowing deployment of approximately 2/3rd of total Russian combat power to the Ukraine, indicates a strong sense of security on the Russo-Sino Border. It is likely that there is agreement between China and Russia about strategy and the distraction of a war in Europe may allow China the ability to operate more aggressively in their sphere of influence.
In summary, there is no quick solution, it will take time to confirm the Russian’s objectives and there is a distinct possibility that the Russians overwhelming numbers may be thwarted by motivated Ukrainian soldiers equipped with advanced weapons. Meaning that this war could degenerate into long drawn-out conflict increasing tension in Europe and perhaps bringing down the strong man of modern Russia. It is also a distraction from other areas of conflict that may allow aggression by other nations to go unchecked.
Ben Morgan is a tired Gen X. Interested in international politics.