GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan: Ukraine – A week into the war are we at stalemate?

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The war continues to progress as predicted with Russian bombardments of Kiev continuing and possibly increasing.  Elsewhere, Kharkov has been bombarded but the overall situation does not indicate a significant change in Russian plans.  

Regardless of the media coverage, yesterday’s bombardments are not the start of the predicted deliberate attack.  Instead, they were attacks that targeted communication’s infra-structure, scared the population and stopped Ukrainian forces moving easily around the city.  That a significant attack is coming is indicated by the targeting of communications infra-structure.  The last thing the Kremlin wants is for the world to see is the true fury of its artillery bombardment.


The bombardment in Kharkov does not seem to indicate a significant change of Russian main effort. This activity seems to a sporadic and less targeted.  It is likely designed, to keep the Ukrainian forces guessing and prevent the Ukrainians from moving forces around easily. In military terminology ‘fixing’ them in place so Russian forces know where they are and can prevent them counter-attacking or retreating.  

The most interesting points yesterday were related to the situation in Southern Ukraine, with video emerging of Alexander Lukashenko the President of Belarus briefing his ministers on the campaign, using a map that appeared to show a Russian thrust from the south aiming to link up with Russian forces in Transnistria and threatening Moldova.  The video was interesting and may have been an example of maskirovka, strategic deception, many Western commentators assume that the invasion’s objective is capturing Donbas and Crimea, building a ‘Crimea Corridor’ that secures Russian access to the Black Sea and to Transnistria.  It is possible that the map was designed to show Western intelligence analysts what they want to see and distract people from the real objective – Kiev.   Another hypothesis is that Lukashenko made a mistake.

The only way to defeat maskirovka is to look at the evidence.  In a previous article (the third in this series) I said that it was important to keep watch for activity west of the Dnieper and in the last 24 hours there were reports of fighting north west of Kherson which indicated that the Lukashenko map may need to be given some weight. However, these reports do not seem to have developed into anything significant and Russian forces will struggle to develop operations in this area without capturing Kherson.  At this time Kherson is still in Ukrainian hands.   

Another useful assessment made in the last twenty-four hours came from the Royal United Services Institute, a very well-established United Kingdom based military think tank.  This group issued an assessment saying the Ukrainian army had lost it ability to fight offensively.  Essentially, that like the Russians the Ukrainians are now so committed to battle, that they cannot generate combat power to launch attacks in any strength.  This is not unexpected, to counter the initial Russian offensives the Ukrainians required all their force and had no choice but to commit their reserves to battle.  

Further, the Ukrainian army has now suffered a week of precision attacks on its infrastructure. It is likely that they are running out of supplies, cannot communicate effectively and are exhausted too.  This does not mean they are defeated, rather it means there will be a transition to a digging in, holding positions and generating an organic form of local defence as regular units merge with local militia and volunteers. Over time, if the war continues these groups will likely merge into irregular insurgent units. 

The big question in the last twenty-four hours has been – What are we not seeing?  At this point if they want to ‘win’ then the Russians need options.  Recently, I have discussed the fact the going nuclear is an option however we all hope that the Russian are looking for other options.  What are they doing that we cannot see?  

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A key point to remember is that the invasion force was very small, to New Zealanders an army of 180,000 seems enormous it is important to remember that only a small portion are actually fighting men. 

In Western armies, each fighting man is supported by between five and seven support soldiers.  These people supply the combat soldier with ammunition, food, service their technical tools, repair their equipment, bandage their wounds and support them to fight.  In the Russian army probably the ratio is closer to two to three support soldiers per fighting soldier, because historically Soviet armies relied on less logistic support.  This means that the actual fighting strength of the Russians in the invasion is probably closer to about 60,000 men on the ground.  

The Russians started the invasion with a force of fighting men that could watch a rugby game together in Eden Park.  Remember that Ukraine is the second biggest country in Europe and has 40 million people living in it.  

In the last post I said that; I would have loved to have watched the officers selling net-work centric tactics and a plan to use such a small force to ‘shock and awe’ Ukraine into submission.  If you hang around the military, you realise that optimism is a key characteristic of military men.  I believe this is why generals need to be conservative; it tempers misplaced optimism.  In this case the optimism was clearly misplaced and the Russians now desperately need ‘boots on the ground’.  Remember that tactical flexibility is provided by having spare soldiers or a ‘reserve’ that can be deployed quickly to exploit success or open new operations.  Where will this reserve come from?

Belarus intervention is unlikely to make a huge difference, their military is comparatively small and less well trained than the Russians.  Recently, reports of flagging Russian motivation have painted a picture of soldiers that are not well-trained enough to fight using modern tactics and generally lack motivation.  The Belarus soldiers are likely to be even less motivated and worse trained.  

Are the Russians moving forces from across their ‘empire’ towards Ukraine?  I haven’t been able to find reporting to confirm this but it seems likely and I would expect to see confirmation of the this in the next few days.

The search for options may also see the Russians resort to unconventional tactics, another round of negotiations is planned soon and we should expect to see demonstrations of Russian strength and resolve leading up this meeting probably with bombardments of key cities and destruction of civilian infrastructure. 

Unconventional warfare is likely, there are reports that Wagner Group contractors have been sent to assassinate Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This is likely to be true and the we can expect to see more operations by forces like this or by Russian special forces in coming days as Russia looks for ways to ‘unstick’ the operation.  

Further, we need to ask what the United States is doing in the background.  I am sure that there will be back-channel negotiations between Western and Russian generals and diplomats looking for a solution that allows a face-saving end to the conflict.  In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States gave Khrushchev a ‘win’ by removing its missiles from Turkey.  Perhaps there is something similar being debated at this point, unfortunately I don’t have an opinion on this yet.   

So at the end of D + 7 let’s look at our predictions:

  • Kiev remains the decisive point in the campaign. I still predict that Kiev will not be taken, believing that Russia lacks the combat power to take a city this size that is well-defended. However, expect the battle to be long and probably culminate in a stalemate rather than a clear victory for either side.  
  • Another round of negotiations is planned and Putin’s nuclear rhetoric continues. So there is a risk that there may be a nuclear show of force.  A demonstration designed to ‘scare off’ NATO and international support, ‘escalating to de-escalate’.  Hopefully, there is enough common sense and back-channel negotiation happening that this does not eventuate. 
  • Conventional Russian activity across the remainder of Ukraine will continue to slow down as Russian Forces consolidate, reconstitute and dig-in focussing their efforts. However, we may see an increase in unconventional warfare; assassinations, raids on airfields and similar activity.  Possibly, as the front stabilises the deployment of Spetsnaz or Wagner Group units in key local attacks to create break-ins that less well-trained and motivated conventional force units can exploit.
  • If Kherson falls, the situation may change as this city provides a firm base to develop operations in the south-west.  Capture of a ‘Crimea Corridor’ might be enough for Putin to save face and start ‘real’ negotiations. 
  • Expect to see reports of more Russian troops being mobilised and moved to Ukraine.

 

In summary, yesterday’s events followed the pattern that we predicted.  At this stage unless there is a nuclear escalation, expect to see little change in the situation for some days or weeks.  The Russians will continue to consolidate for their assault on Kiev, this will take time and the final deliberate attack is unlikely before the next round of negotiations.  After all it is easier to capture a city with words than with soldiers.  However Kiev, Kharkov and Kherson will be bombarded heavily.  The key questions now are what is happening that we can’t see?  

 

Ben Morgan is a tired Gen X interested in international politics. He is TDB’s Military analyst.

 

48 COMMENTS

  1. The EU are not mucking around with sanctions, hit them where the new power is, money and influence!

    This will end the war quicker and probably be a precedent for any president who decides to invade if their dual nationals suffer financially (thus much less likely to have the backing or will to do it – thus greater chance of peace!).

    Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov was sanctioned by the European Union on Monday. Two days later, Forbes has learned from three sources in the yacht industry that one of his prized possessions—the 512-foot yacht Dilbar, valued at nearly $600 million—has been seized by German authorities in the northern city of Hamburg.

    Alexei Mordashov: Russia’s richest man is now an EU sanctions target
    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2022/mar/02/alexei-mordashov-russias-richest-man-is-now-an-eu-sanctions-target

    Two UK-based Russian oligarchs have shares in $22bn conglomerate frozen
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/mar/02/two-uk-based-russian-oligarchs-have-shares-in-22bn-conglomerate-frozen

    Best thing for peace is that NATO agree not to have their military too close to Russia in exchange for withdrawal. In the mean time, removing financial power from cohorts to Putin around the world, will help keep pressure on, that that was a bad idea to invade.

  2. This article add another dimension to the reason Russia wants Ukraine. To bolster the reducing Russian Slavic Orthodox Christian population. Russia east is slowly changing to the Islamic religion as slavic birthrate degreases and the Islamic birthrate is increasing. Note to that the Chinese repatriation of the Russian eastern shore is a consideration.

    “Most of the reasons behind Russia’s interest in Ukraine are well-known. Dig a little deeper, though, and one finds an overarching theme: the underlying fear that Russia will be absorbed by Asia. A “demographic insecurity”, if you will. While Russia’s population is shrinking, that of Central Asia is increasing, and China’s growing shadow looms over the Eastern part of the former Soviet Union. In a way, for Russia, losing Ukraine means trading a European future for an Asian one. ”

    https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/blog/why-ukraine-matters-russia-demographic-factor

    “At the heart of the problem is Central Asia, a region Russia has always been ambivalent about.

    On the one hand, the region was an important component of the Empire and the Soviet Union, which allows Moscow to claim its rule over a multi-national and multi-ethnic space. “Russia’s imperial legitimacy relies directly on maintaining rule over Central Asia”, writes Marlène Laruelle, a French historian on Eurasia and Europe. “The glorification of the land’s vastness, of expansion into Asia, of the “great game” with Western powers, the idea of being the meeting point of the Christian and Muslim worlds – all these notions were made possible by the colonization of the Steppes and of Turkistan”. Control of Central Asia also helps Russia claim great power status – and keep an eye on China. ”

    and

    “Putin himself has embraced a Eurasian and inclusive, multicultural vision of Russia – the “Russian world” being a cultural, rather than ethnic, entity. Notions of citizenship and nationality are distinct in domestic law. Yet there is evident discomfort in nationalist circles about an internal evolution, which has mirrored that of the former USSR. In 1959, the country was 83% Russian. In 2010, that percentage had gone down to 78%. Russia currently hosts 15-20 million Muslims, which amounts to 10-15% of the population. Fertility remains much higher in Muslim-majority regions (with Dagestan having the national record). According to the Grand Mufti, Muslims will make up to 30% of the population by the mid-2030s. ”

    So is Putin needing to strengthen is Slavic Orthodox Christian base to keep a hold of eastern Russia?

    • Demographic trends are fascinating and an essential variable to consider.

      China has an even worse demographic trajectory than Russia.

      The problem with Empires is its like trying to herd cats – all the different tribes you got to keep in line. And you risk losing your own culture and blood as immigratns from every corner of your empire gravitate towards the political and economic power centers.

    • Also the problem is that Kiev is the mother city of Russia. It was a foolish mistake of Lenin to divide the motherland up into states (similarly to USA type states). When the West achieved a violent overthrow of the govt (via an approx $6 billion “revolution) of the Ukraine, they seized the chance to set up the current neo nazi govt. This allowed them to continuously chip away at eliminating the Russians living in the Ukraine whilst lying through their teeth about remedies to the problem to Putin. Putin has done this to save the “motherland” because of the West’s intransigence and lies. He may have well bitten off more than he can chew, but time will tell

      • “they seized the chance to set up the current neo nazi govt.”
        Tip: resorting to vitriolic exaggeration to validate your view has the opposite effect, no matter how you feel to the contrary. Outside of Israel, Ukraine is the only nation on earth where the positions of President and Prime Minster are occupied by Jews. Right-wing extremists are a global issue, no less in Russia than anywhere else. Perhaps check yourself first before you post such wild generalisations, lest you be mis-characterised in the same way.

    • It’s an interesting dimension seems to be a similar logic to Samuel P. Huntington’s “A Clash of Civilization?” (that cultural differences; ethnic, religious, clan and tribal ideologies inherently clash).
      I tend to think, in realpolitik terms, a more proximate reason is resources and cultural differences are typically a mobilising ploy used by political elites (such as the political distraction of ‘culture wars’ by the wokeness/Critical Theory elites).

      In addition to demographics, other dimensions that seems to be relatively under reported are natural geographic boundaries, water but most importantly the discovery of natural gas in 2012 in Ukraine which, if allowed to develop, would make it another major petrostate in direct competition to Russia as an exporter to the EU (and expedite Ukraine’s access to the EU and NATO membership).

      Therefore it’s predictable that the West and Russia would compete to gain influence over Ukraine or prevent it from developing a resource industry.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If61baWF4GE&t=141s

      • In my humble opinion, you make some excellent points. I ponder your response to the following caveats:
        1. “resources and cultural differences are typically a mobilising ploy used by political elites (such as the political distraction of ‘culture wars’ by the wokeness/Critical Theory elites)” – I believe your bracketed example is more illustrative of elites fanning division amongst their own discontented populace, to deter revolution.
        2. I am not aware of evidence of any attempt on the part of NATO to expedite Ukrainian membership since 2012. It could be argued that the contrary approach of stalling Ukrainian integration indefinitely has been NATO policy – as a foil to Putin’s overt aggression at the very notion.
        3. NATO’s hesitancy at military unification with Ukraine, despite the economic rewards, has fuelled (pardon the pun) Putin’s resolve to act more decisively (soft influence vs hard).
        Thus far, NATO is defending Ukraine “at a distance” – it’s not politically expedient to escalate Putin through direct military confrontation. NATO (in gathering non-NATO global support) is not yet positioned to gain influence over Ukraine, and I believe will seek compromise.

        • Eddy – thanks for the thoughtful ideas and questions

          1: My original sentence structure is ambiguous I mean
          – Control of resources is the proximate cause
          – Cultural differences are the mobilising ploy
          Agree, the bracketed example is ‘elites fanning division amongst their own discontented populace’, divide and conquer. However I see this as a distinction without a difference. In woke-culture-wars, culture is the mobilising ploy the result is that political elites acquire or maintain power and thus a vastly disproportionate share/control of society’s resources.

          2: As you say ‘stalling’ Ukrainian membership into NATO. If the desire was to defuse Putin’s aggression over the notion, why not reject all possibility of Ukrainian membership? 

          I’d see the agitation leading to the 2014 revolution as a move to install Western influence in Ukraine and push Russia out. Since then the US and EU are consolidating influence through internal reforms, civil institutions a visa-free travel with the EU etc. I’d see these all as milestones towards ‘alignment with’ and then (potential) ‘membership of’ EU and NATO. A gradual process rather than stalling. For Russian sensibilities like ‘boiling frogs’.

          3: Potentially although granting Ukraine membership already would IMO have guaranteed a military response from Russia. Putin’s resolve to act is multi-factor, but as Martyn has pointed out a possible trigger could have been ‘foreign interference’ in the unrest in Kazakhstan.

          Agree with your last point on political expediency. I suspect the gamble is the war will retain public support and not go nuclear if the West supplies the means and Ukraine the blood.

 However if US/EU are prepared to take the economic hit and downstream consequences of sanctions on Russia, I don’t think they will be forced into compromise. Putin is on the clock, the West can afford to wait while Ukraine is stuck in the middle.

          On the Russian side the economy and business sector is being crushed, oligarch’s overseas toys and money are being confiscated or frozen, Moscow’s public narrative of ‘peace keeping’ will break down as body bags return home, there is a brain drain especially of dual nationals. Perhaps most significant politically, China’s Belt and Road, a CCP trade centrepiece, cannot function if Russia is under sanctions.

          
On the western side there is a perfect storm of neoliberal chickens coming home to roost (super bubbles, collapse of globalisation, social division, poverty etc) the downstream effects of sanctions on Russia add to this. However as a public narrative ‘the moral need to sanction Russia even if it hurts us’ is a perfectly timed catch-all scapegoat and source of political opportunism.

          My guess is Putin will be forced into a face-saving compromise or be overthrown by the oligarchs. Russia will be weakened and the West left with greater regional influence. I could be completely wrong and one obvious alternative doesn’t bare imagining.

          * None of this is to say Russia/Putin are good actors, I see it all as power politics.

  3. praising ukrainian bravery is like ‘clapping for the NHS’ ultimately meaningless if you aren’t going to help, NATO seems to be prepared to fight to the very last ukrainian, whilst watching and tutting, for them it’s giving putin a bloody nose at the ukrainians expense.

    • Putin dared Nato to defend Ukraine and Nato is defending the Ukrainians to the very last one of them. Did anyone expect anything else? Never mind, that sanctioning Russia is going to hurt the west as much as it may hurt ‘Putin’.

      • no nato is sending arms not men and they won’t, better to watch the slavs kick seven shades out of each other whilst pontificating like child molesting catholic priests.

        nato via their ukrainian nazi surrogates begged putin to give them a bloody nose and he is…so now we’ve sorted both sides have been goading the other can we get off the high horses? bratty huh?

      • RBW – I sympathise with your point but I think you underestimate the effect of sanctions on Russia, they look set to crush the Russian economy. Yes it will hurt the West but various neoliberal chickens were coming home to roost in any case. The ‘need to sanction Russia’ is a perfectly timed scapegoat for economic woes rather than admit decades of mismanagement.

    • And that comment,Ngungukai, is exactly why Putin sees the current situation as an existential threat Years of USA/Nato encroachments have brought it all to a head. If this does end up as a ‘fight to the death’, then we will all be toast.

  4. as do many equally shithouse world leaders wanna start a list nugungukai….

    Boris
    biden

    there you go there’s a start

  5. Hopefully he will do a Hitler on himself before the Special Forces take him out, only way to deal with these type of people strategic intervention is how they describe it ?

    Hopefully it will be one of his own people that does the job on him or he does it to himself, I think Putin and his cronies will be watching their backs as there could be another Russian Revolution, you heard it first here on the Daily Blog.

    Get out the Pop Corn.

    • the russians have spetsnaz who make ukrainian cowboys well look like cowboys now if you’re suggesting jacinda send our SAS that’s a different kettle of worms.

  6. Russia has the eastern break away areas that are Russian blood anyway. The rest is all bonus points and nice to have acquisitions with potential long tern management headache.

    That is not stalemate.

    Western elite lots of arm flailing and setting propaganda volume control at 11.

  7. MSM: Putin did a bad. So Ukraine must be good.
    I just can’t with Western media at all now. Banning RT is a noteworthy low that has ensured we are guaranteed a one-sided narrative. Slow clap.
    So TDBers, are you “Ridin’ with Biden” or are you “Rootin’ for Putin”?

    • you can still find RT on free internet streaming tv sites..hemm hemmm
      so yeah all they’ve done is stop the casual western viewer the determined can still watch.

    • Nitrium: your naivety is a worry. If you look you will find excellent journalism – just don’t confuse populist op-ed with factual reporting. This applies to Russia more so than western media, for what it’s worth:

      In 2013 Russia ranked 148th out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. In 2015 Freedom House report Russia got score of 83 (100 being the worst), mostly because of new laws introduced in 2014 that further extended the state control over mass-media.[63] The situation was characterised as even worse in Crimea where, after its annexation by Russia, both Russian jurisdiction and extrajudicial means are routinely applied to limit freedom of expression.[64]

      So don’t feel too bad for RT.

      • nice to be able to watch though, even if it’s crap afterall we can still tune into RNZ etc etc etc….
        y’know that old nugget ‘freedom of speech’ which is one of the things the ‘plucky ukrainians’ are allegedly fighting for….what about RT scares the west if it’s obvious propaganda? are they scared some of it makes sense?….WELL you’ll never have the opportunity to make your OWN decision will you eddy?

  8. Me, I think everyone who owns an Edmond’s cookbook should rip the Russian fudge recipe out and burn it.
    These words should be excised from the Oxford dictionary
    Balaclava, cosmonaut,mammoth and parka , they are unpatriotic
    Anybody eating pavlova should be ashamed of themselves, that dessert honours a Russian ballerina
    I have sacked my masseuse, who specialises in Russian massage.

  9. Today, Lavrov decries the unexpected extent of Western sanctions on Russia. Oh, the humanity!
    Time to throw out the Ambassador’s.

  10. In my opinion, Ben has written a solid OSINT assessment (rate A-B/1-2). Regarding regional Russian deployment of military assets in support of the campaign, there is some evidence here: https://maphub.net/Cen4infoRes/russian-ukraine-monitor
    Backchanneling is no doubt red-hot, your remarks re saving face/pay-off are historically on the money and in the interests of all parties…non-Putin aligned interests, fortunately with respect to the prospect of peace, hold a swathe of valuable cards. Time is not on Putin’s side, nor sadly, the citizens of Ukraine. Keep up the good work!

  11. We’ll know the truth about the military campaign soon enough. From what I read, the main action is not around cities but the main concetration of Ukrainian (50k, perhaps as many as 70k) troops in the Donbass, in the east of the country. The militias of the breakaway republics have them pinned down, while Russian pincers have closed in around them and are now in the process of annihilating them, probably through the use of ever powerful conventional weapons. The other significant action is the envelopment of Mariupol on the Azov coast, another large Ukrainian concentration that now is doomed. The only major city the Russians have decided to capture is Kherson, because that opened the way to the west of the country, where Russian troops now seem to be set on surrounding Odessa from the north and joining with their long-established force in Transdniestria. Meanwhile, the Russian navy has the coast blockaded, Russian air forces completely control Ukraine’s air space, and virtually all of the important Ukrainian military infrastructure was destroyed by missiles, drones, and planes on the first two days. As for the cities, as Scott Ritter says, Russia went in soft: minimizing civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. If all this is true, we’ll know soon because there will 50k+ Ukrainian troops surrounded in the east will either surrender or be killed in the next days, and organized resistance, except where they use cities and their populations as shields, will effectively collapse. And the campiagn will then go down in the books as a model for future militaries to study and present militaries (the “victors” of Afghanistan and Iraq) to envy.

  12. The ICC need to be strong here and bring the Western allies to account for decades of war crimes and mass murder, America especially. No one in the Western hemisphere worth their salt gives a damn about historic and continued bombardment of sovereign (typically poor) peoples and including those in Donbass. They also don’t care about Ukrainians in this proxy war. Russia are trying to restore order, save their people and prevent further catastrophe; they are preventing a war. They are showing true courage in the face of illegal expansion on their border; massive arms importations to an aggressive, fascistic, corrupt neighbour; economic and information warfare on their citizens; and sanctions and hate from every Russiaphobia cult member imaginable (Helen Clarke: “Go home Russia”, Ardern: “Glory to vassal states and quangos”, the Greens: “We’ll take 2000 white refugees thanks”). The big tough-talking Americans or weapons manufacturing Brits would not stand for this on their borders and against their people (i.e. this is a defensive operation by the Russian Federation rather than yet another invasion by America to conquer the world for it’s shareholders) so why would another superpower?

  13. Exactly G, to the West this is not existential. As Russians, you might be able to tolerate your cousins next door having a domestic but when your cousins invite a modern equivalent of a Mongol horde up to you fence action becomes mandatory.

  14. I have been wondering about my fellow subjects of the global plutocracy. If we were called upon to fight in the Ukraine by our plutocrats, for Ukrainian oligarchs against Russian oligarchs would we go? Would we be protecting Western democracy or values? I know where I stand.

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