GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan: Ukraine – New developments in Putin’s plan

30
1417

During the last 72 hours, there are reports of small but significant Russian activities signalling potential Russian plans.  This week’s negotiations, in Turkey are stalled and did not produce any meaningful break through towards a peace agreement. 

In the last few days, we have also seen a Ukrainian propaganda blitz as videos of successful attacks on Russian forces are released along with announcements that Russian commanders have been killed.  The Russian bombing of a hospital has been front-page news around the world and western audiences happily devour footage of captured Russian soldiers being illegally paraded in press conferences.  The Ukrainians are projecting an image of strength and resolve, winning the propaganda war in the west, and possibly in Russia as well. This ‘information war’ operation is obviously timed to coincide with and influence peace negotiations.  

The Russians have countered with threats, the release of reports that Ukraine is developing chemical weapons is an obvious pre-text for an escalation and although ‘called out’ factually, the fact that the Russians are constructing such a pre-text should be read as a threat.  It is not a threat to NATO though, it is a threat to the Ukrainian negotiators.  

Today, mainstream media is reporting the dispersion of the column of Russian vehicles massed north of Kiev.  Unfortunately, this reporting is not generally accompanied by analysis so today we will start by providing some analysis of this movement. Two tactical reasons can explain the dispersal of this column.

The first being that the Russians are ready to move on Kiev.  That the area north of Kiev is secure and the logistics bases, field hospitals and ammunition dumps required for an assault on the city are operational.  Therefore, the column of supply trucks can move the goods they are carrying to these locations ready to support the assault.  Recent reporting, puts about 18 – 20 battalion battlegroups in this area.  A force of about 15-20,000 so still not really large enough for the task. However, there are recent examples of Russian operations in Syria and Chechnya that provide insight into possible tactics.  

In these countries, Russia used their massive artillery arm to simply demolish cities sending foot soldiers into urban areas only after the buildings are flattened and defenders neutralised.   Further, doctrinally the Soviets (Russia’s predecessors) saw the potential for using poison gas in urban areas because it kills the defenders but leaves the buildings and infra-structure intact. Shelling a city into oblivion destroys the city’s drainage system. Being on a river Kiev is likely to flood easily if it is heavily bombarded slowing movement and creating an unhealthy environment for occupying forces.  The cold calculus of military planning is sometimes very disturbing, and it is highly unlikely that chemical weapons will be used in this way because of the condemnation that it would attract, but does need to be considered in light of recent Russian comments.

 In simple terms, though the Russians have the ability to lay siege with relatively small numbers of troops, if they are prepared for the international condemnation that these methods would attract. 

- Advertisement -

Yesterday, there was another round of precision attacks across Ukraine using cruise missiles and long-range rockets.  This is probably a prelude to an operation, these strikes aiming to destroy more Ukrainian aircraft and command, communications and control infrastructure.  An attack of this nature is a text book indicator of an offensive. However, it could also be a deception. 

The encirclement of Kiev’s western side is not yet complete, the cities of Obukhiv, Fastiv and the town of Makariv to the south and west of Kiev are still being contested.  However, their capture may not be required to prevent reinforcements and supplies reaching Kiev, and there is likely to be considerable pressure on Russian commanders to take Kiev.  

The second reason for the dispersal of the column could be that the Ukrainians have forced it to disperse.  That their counter attacks are effective and are forcing Russian commanders to move off the roads and find more easily defended locations.  If this hypothesis is correct then long-range rocket and cruise missile attacks are a ruse designed to draw attention away from Kiev.  

At this stage based on balance of probabilities it is most likely that the Russians north of Kiev are moving into their positions for the assault.  However, it is to early to discount the possibility of a Russian withdrawal or dispersion to avoid Ukrainian counter attacks.  It is hard to judge the situation, Ukraine’s dominance of the information war means that we must be sceptical and careful about analysing information.  So don’t expect to see the Russian’s withdrawing, instead expect to see more bombardment of Kiev, further fighting to the south and west and possibly an intense artillery assault.  

But, will Russia commit to the assault on Kiev?  It is still uncertain and we need remember to keep looking at the big picture, not where Putin wants us to look.

The recent development that I believe is most significant are the Russian attacks on the cities of Mylolaiv and Voznesens, in the south.  Previously, it was predicted after capturing Kherson the Russians would either push west towards Odessa or North along the Dnieper (See – Kherson falls possibly a game changer) and since then we have been watching this front, looking for an indication of Putin’s strategic plan. Yesterday the Russians provided that information.

Mylolaiv and Voznesens are both on the Bug River, a large river that runs parallel with the Dnieper and that needs to be crossed to attack Odessa, the largest Ukrainian city on the Black Sea, a major port and cultural centre.  Mylolaiv is about 50km west of Kherson and Voznesens about 140km north and west of the same city.  We have already discussed the importance of cities and their bridges to an advancing army.   Attacking these cities, rather than heading north is an indicator of Russian plans.

It is unlikely that the Russians have the combat power to push north towards Kiev on the Dnieper and simultaneously push west towards Odessa.  

Capturing Odessa would be a significant win, it would be the western section of a ‘Crimean Corridor’ cutting Ukraine off from the Black Sea, potentially linking up with pro-Russia Tranistria, guaranteeing the security of Russian Black Sea access and providing a buffer for Crimea.  Putin needs a win to extract himself from the war.  Kiev is a Pyrrhic victory.  Odessa is a real win, securing ice-free access to the sea has been a Russian strategic objective since the reign of Peter the Great. 

Time is not on Putin’s side; the Russian economy is only slightly larger than Australia’s, so it does not have the economic reserves to keep fighting under the impact of international sanctions.  Capturing a ‘Crimean Corridor’ could be possible, particularly if the strategic focus of NATO and the world is Kiev.  Although, Kiev was the original objective maybe Russian focus is changing and the operations being reported around Kiev are a deception.  Remember that Putin’s most recent territorial demands related solely to the security of the Black Sea; recognition of the Crimea as Russian, and Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states.  

So at the end of D + 15 let’s look at our predictions:

  • The Russians are starting to manoeuvre strategically and tactically.  A thrust west towards Odessa and activity around Kiev are both interesting. Elsewhere, they continue to contest areas around the country, but are not moving forwards in any significant manner.  The coming weeks will be a test of the Russian army either they are going to develop offensive operations or they are going to collapse.  However, do not expect an assault on Kiev soon, instead expect artillery and bombing but a large ground attack is unlikely.  
  • Expect more activity in the south, that is unlikely to be reported, drowned out by artillery and bombing elsewhere.  Putin will keep pressure on Kiev, probably punishing the city and keeping the media focus on that area while he moves west in the South.  Remember Putin is well schooled in the art of maskirovka, strategic deception. 
  • Tactically, the Russians are in a precarious position. Open-source intelligence websites are busily identifying and verifying photos of damaged Russian and Ukrainian vehicles, and the numbers don’t look good for Russia.  Further, Ukraine is winning the information war and although the press conferences with Russian soldiers breach the Laws of Armed Conflict, they will being having an effect on wavering Russian moral.  It will be impossible for Russian officers to stop their men from seeing their seeing compatriots, not beaten up and looking well-treated speaking on social media.  This is a powerful weapon and we will see more and more of these as more Russians surrender or desert contributing to the attrition of the invasion force.  This contributes to the prediction that although there will be lots of artillery and noise around Kiev the real action will be in the south because it provides the best conditions for a rapid ‘win’.

In summary, the situation is starting to change, as predicted the Russians are looking for options and may have found one in the south.  Negotiations have not achieved a ceasefire and I think that the Russians are holding a stressed army together in the north, while they develop an offensive in the south.  Although there will be a lot of noise around Kiev, remember to look south in the next couple of days. 

 

 

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

30 COMMENTS

  1. There is talk in the last few hours of a false flag air strike on a Belarusian border village ( Kopani )by Russian aircraft taking off from Belarus but striking from Ukrainian territory, according to Ukraine.
    An attempt to bring Belarus in to the conflict if true.

    • Putin will not stop until we position United Nations inside the Ukraine. His end game is total control and he will not stop, he wants to be greater than Stalin that is his objective.

      • Nah. That’s the US spooks CIA propaganda been pushed. Remember WMD’s propaganda?
        He’s just defending his borders from Azov, Ukraine’s Nazi-Fascist Military leaders and NATO.

      • Wow! You really are inside his head, aren’t you?
        I think you are pretending to be gullible. Let a little time pass by, and you may find that things were not a simple as you thunk (thought in real English).

      • Get a perspective, Putin whether he wanted to be greater than Stalin is not in a position to be. Russia isnt strong enough in terms of population and economy to project power further than its own borders.

        If you think Putin wants to be the Tsar who rebuilds Russia as a great power you could be right but Im sure he knows that the West wont allow him to walk into the Baltic, Poland or Balkans.
        What Putin has done is preempt Western expansion and American attempts to undermine Russia. If he had not sorted the proxy war challenge in Ukraine you’d see his country “Colour revolutioned” and its assets stolen by Wall St. Vlad may be the baddest man on Earth but in his shoes what would you have done?

  2. I think you are right. NATO is in the North so anything untowards there will involve US and UK forces based in Poland and the Baltic Republics. Putin has to be mindful of Belarus for once they remove their dictator, he could loose them as well to democratic reform.

    Now Russia could capture the whole of the south to establish a Black Sea waterfront under their control.

    However that will soak up military might for any number of years. Ukraine will rearm and harden their resolve to recapture access to the Black Sea. How useful is the Black Sea coast if it needs infrastructure rebuild, a heavy defense presence for any number of years and resettlement with a pro Russian populace.

    All he will get is a land bridge to Moldova (not much there worth the effort). Unless Bulgaria and the rest of Europe is in his sight?

    • You are right the Russia will now rejig the Ukraine, it will be split up into “statelets”.

      The irony is that the whole mess is an inheritance of the Soviet who added Donbass, Crimea and the coast to Ukraine for administrative reasons. Being good socialists they professed national determination but failed to practice it. Worse Stalin then stole chunks of Poland and Hungary and added them to the mix. Does it leave any wonder that Ukraine has had an ethnic civil war raging for years?

      When the Soviet fell apart the Republics all voted for self determination, the problem was that they weren’t nationally cogent, it didnt fit national determination. Sort of an updated version of the national problems cooked into Versailles in 1919.

      So yes, expect West of the Dneiper to be Ukraine, east to be Russian aligned states. Whether that will satisfy anybody who knows?

  3. From my reading , the comments about chemical warfare have been coming entirely from Ukraine and the west ,intensifying after the discovery of some 2 dozen biolabs in Ukraine, as admitted by Victoria Nuland answering Rubio at a Senate committee Q/A.Anyone who hasn’t seen that yet should read Greenwald on it, and view the session .”We’re worried about the Russians getting their hands on those materials”said Nuland.Why?Has the Pentagon been developing bioweapons in Ukraine in contravention of the Biological weapons Convention?
    About the hospital in Mariupol, the Russians brought up on the 7th, at a session of the UNSC, the humanitarian situation in Mariupol .Buried in that statement was a reference to their intelligence that maternity hospital #1 had been converted to a military post, the staff and patients evicted
    I go to original sources.Here is a transcript of that statement
    https://russiaun.ru/en/news/070322n
    The bombing, actually adjacent to the hospital, took place 2 days later….in response to fire from that building?

    • I’m predicting the Russians will gas or poison a home for disabled children, kindergarten, old people’s retirement village or at the very least a kennel for abandoned dogs.
      The US has been clamouring for it and setting us up for it.Nuland herself referred to false flag”Russian tradecraft, blame the other guy for what you’re doing yourself”
      She unwittingly alluded to possible ploys perpetrated by who knows who to vilify Russia and win the propaganda war if not the actual war.
      Stand back for propaganda on steroids

        • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ukraine were to report that the Russians had cruelly shelled their only home for homeless homing pigeons.

      • Have you heard of an outfit called the “White Helmets?” They were a big hit in Syria at making news stories for cash.
        They did quick takes of a bomb sitting on a bed after it had crashed through the roof. Didn’t go off. Looked suspiciously like an LPG BBQ tank.

        Or the one where peeps were in an A&E with a fire hose and lots of peeps in clean whites with fresh blood painted on them. Lots of makeup. This was supposed to be a gas attack??

        Unfortunately, they are no longer as notable since their chief took a walk on the wild side and stepped out of his bedroom window in Turkey a while back.

        Check out Aaron Maté at the GreyZone. https://thegrayzone.com/2021/04/18/at-un-aaron-mate-debunks-opcws-syria-lies-and-confronts-us-uk-on-cover-up/

    • Francesca you are spot on, Nuland scored a huge own goal when Rubio raised the biolabs. The crazy thing is that the US left a huge internet trail to these labs. Denial is not possible and the Chinese and Indians are alarmed.

      The hospital incident gives suspicion to the Ukrainians using people as human shields as the Russians accuse them of doing. I have no trust in either side.

    • Interesting about the Hospital, too – a comment coming from an American website (Moon of Alabama)… Big building multi-stories high, multiple levels of windows all blown out by the same huge blast… But if this was a busy maternity (oh, the emotional wrench!) hospital, how come only 17 were casualties? There should have been hundreds, not just 17. Fishy?
      Of course, nobody would dream of fake news being concocted by ‘our’ side, would they?

      • Have another look at the image. The foreground has been an open space with blasted trees blown away from the camera. The explosion took place from behind where the camera is placed. The wall of broken windows is the damage. It has not been hit directly. Any injuries sustained inside would be from flying glass and bits of plaster falling off walls and ceiling. Injuries will not have been severe if any occurred at all. The Russian’s say the building was cleared of patients days before and artillery set up there. The artillery would need to be in the open space where the camera is now placed.
        Which narrative fits the picture?
        D J S

    • they’ll use the Porton Down defensewhich goes something like
      we have to develop really fuckin horrid bio/chem weapons in case the other side do so we can develop countermeasures(but first we have to develop the nasties…not as weapons ohhhh noooo) such research is illegal within the US so both they and the UK subcontract(and probably others) the dangerous stuff out to other countries…cos if it leaks well it’s just a bunch of (fill in racial slur here).

      now I don’t know what the ukrainian labs were working on but the yanks seem very keen that the russians don’t capture the materials….juz sayinnnn…

  4. Imagine our surprise finding USAMO actually HAVE been funding Bio-labs creating the really nasty stuff; are confirmed operating IN Ukaraine by no less that Victoria(MaidanSnipers anyone?) NULAND; under question by the odious Marco Rubio in senate hearings..yes that NULAND, the even more odious neocon hack now back as sec or ass/sec of State to finish the job attacking Russia by the proxies in Ukraine Government she and her AZOV/Svoboda/PravvySector collaborators began in 2014; along with McCain and Lindsay and Pyatt and Kolomoisky and USAID and CIA in charge of regime change ops under OBAMA and BIDEN.

      • Ah – I think I get it. Ngungukai is not that ignorant – he is here as a Right Wing troll, and as such it is his function to cast doubt over anything like the UN – an unwelcome, restrictive body to the minds of acolytes of the industrial-military and the Right..

  5. So China has the final say whether the UN can do anything, well that is not going to happen is it, as they are in very light intimate relationship. This is a WW2 Repeat but instead of Hitler we have Putler ?

  6. Anybody interested in analysis from a Russian perspective go to thesaker.is which will allow you to contest this and other Western sources. Theyve got there own retired military man to comment.

    Just looking at the maps leads me to conclude that the bulk of Ukrainian forces were caught out deployed for an attack on the Donbass and are now surrounded and impotent. That means that the only defense left is to hide in cities with civilians and hope somebody will rescue them. That is the point of the propaganda war that Ukraine was winning brilliantly until Nuland admitted to US funding biolabs.

    The significance of that admission is that the whole world outside of the West will clamour for investigation, the propaganda war may stall. Its WMD again, and weve been lied to. And this is seen by other powers as the equivalent of nuclear warfare. Think Covid on steroids.

    Time, economic sanctions. I see petrol is at $3 a litre, Vlad is happy, he has sold his to China, no problem. Ditto grain and fertiliser. Europe is out of gas. The world economy is a clock with cogs removed. Given prior sanctions Id posit Russia is better placed to survive than the Yanks are. $8US a gallon, watch the mid-West explode in fury at their government.

    So the ongoing situation. The West needs to tell Ze to negotiate as best he can because Putin wont waste Russian soldiers in street fighting. He doesnt even need to bombard, just cut off the power, water, food. Nobody is coming to help unless they want to turn it into WW3. The longer this takes the more the people of the West will reassess what their side is saying and the real cost to themselves. Food, petrol. Where’s a Metternich when you need one?

    • Only thing I question in this Nick is that Putin won’t waste soldiers in street fighting. that is exactly what he is doing if you call it a waste. The population of Ukraine , especially in the East where most of the action is not his enemy and he is trying to cause as few casualties among the population as he can. So street fighting is what is necessary rather than indiscriminate bombardment from the sky. Cutting off the power etc again targets the very population he has entered Ukraine to protect from the very armed forces that have been subjugating them for the past 8 years.
      D J S

      • David Stone: I agree with your assessment above. The commentary I’ve seen tends to support it.

        “that is exactly what he is doing…”

        Where this is happening, for example in Mariupol, it’s because Ukrainian forces (neo-Nazi volunteer battalions there, I believe) have inserted themselves into population centres, and are using the population as human shields. You’re correct that Russia doesn’t wish to cause civilian casualties. It is there to protect ethnic Russians, not to kill them.

        Nick J is correct: Ukraine was planning a large attack on the Donbass, timed for early March. The preliminaries had already started: massive bombardments on a level not seen since 2015, this attested to by OSCE monitors. Also many incidents of Ukrainian sabotage groups conducting operations along the defence line and attempting to breach rebel territory.

        Hence the swift move by Russia; you’ll recall that, just before the Russian operation began, Putin announced formal recognition of the breakaway republics.

        Note that no western media outlets reported what has been recently happening in the Donbass, despite the evidence being available.

        The bulk of Ukrainian forces were in position for the attack and have been encircled. As I recall, the Soviets did something similar to the Nazis at Stalingrad in WW2. Seems they’ve used the same technique.

        On another thread, you were commenting on Zelensky. In my response to Zack Brando below, I’ve posted a link about him from the Moon of Alabama site. I recommend it you: it explains how he got to where he is at present.

  7. Well, things aren’t always as they seem.

    Putin and Zelenskyy might have some goals in common. I wouldn’t trust either of them! After all Russia could easily swat Ukraine AND/OR send in dozens for Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets for Zelenskyy.

    They are both involved in some kind of theatre and are not to be trusted.

    • Zack Brando: “Putin and Zelenskyy might have some goals in common. I wouldn’t trust either of them!”

      I’m wondering why you’d say that about Putin.

      Having grown up in an Irish Catholic family as I did, politics was part of family dinner table discussion for as long as I can remember. The Korean war is one of my very early memories. I’ve been observing the political circus all of my considerable lifetime, paying more attention to it once I reached my teens in the early 1960s.

      I watched the rise to power of Putin. remember when he was first elected. At the time, the US thought him quite unexceptionable. As I recall, their views began to change when it became clear that he would not allow any more theft of Russian assets by US (and other) neoliberals, as had happened in the 1990s, on the watch of that old lush, Yeltsin. He took Russian oligarchs to court, forcing them to pay their taxes. As a consequence, many fled to London, from which safe haven they whined about that evil, nasty Putin (forcing them to pay their share: how dare he!).

      From what I’ve read and seen, it is Putin who has behaved honourably. Not the succession of US presidents, who in my lifetime (going back to Eisenhower) have all been variably awful – with the possible exception of Jack Kennedy.

      If you’re wondering how it is that he’s been president for so long: it isn’t because elections are rigged in Russia (good luck with that in such a huge country). There’s a history of long-serving presidents and heads of state in that part of the world. If they’re competent, people re-elect them over and over. Consider how long Angela Merckel was chancellor of Germany. And she isn’t the longest-serving chancellor: I think that Konrad Adenauer holds the record in that regard. Yeah, you need to be as old as I am to remember him.

      Russia has a word for the US: it translates more or less as “not-agreement-capable”. About sums it up really, where the US is concerned:it cannot be relied upon.

      As for Zelensky: a comedian, dropped into a situation which he didn’t – and doesn’t – have the political skills and nous to handle. See this post about him, from an American website. Well worth the read, and explains how he came to be what he is:

      https://www.moonofalabama.org/2022/03/zelensky-and-the-fascists-he-will-hang-on-some-tree-on-khreshchatyk.html

  8. funny how the ‘free democratic west’ has no media with the russian forces, maybe putin won’t allow it but in the age of ‘sports reporting media’ you’d think a russian fire fight would be as ‘entertaining’ as a ukrainian one…..cos that’s what most serious media is—ENTERTAINMENT
    forget petrol prices, forget the duopoly, see the pretty rockets.

Comments are closed.