GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Ukraine – Putin must be listening to advice, I was wrong

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The situation is Ukraine has changed considerably, last Thursday I predicted that the Russians were close to collapse, partly because of their military weakness but more because I thought that Putin would not accept the tactical situation, and that political factors like capturing Kiev would force his generals to operate in a manner that would inevitably lead to their defeat.  

The next day I was proven wrong, and watched as Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, Deputy Chief of the Russian General staff, supported by two senior Russian generals stated at a press conference that “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas.”  

So we found out that; Putin never wanted to capture Kiev and force regime change, the thrust toward Kiev was obviously a clever ploy, maskirovka, strategic deception!  The real objective was always securing Donbas.  Yeah right!  However, it is an important statement that changes the assessment of the situation.

In the last couple of days, information also become available that the Russians are secretly mobilising forces.  Sources at the Pentagon indicate that Russian garrisons in the Georgian occupied territories, Syria and Tajikistan are likely to be providing troops for service in Ukraine.  The details are sketchy, and these new forces may already be on the ground.  In the next few days we should start to be see how these fresh, well-equipped new troops change the situation for Russian forces in Ukraine.  It is a risk for the Russians, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are both claimed by Georgia, in Syria the Russians are engaged in the civil and in Tajikistan the Russian garrison provides security for the border with Afghanistan.  Reducing garrisons in these areas is dangerous and indicates that the situation in Ukraine is precarious. 

Today, President Biden, made a mistake and escalated the situation, saying in a speech that “Putin must go”, the statement was unscripted and is dangerous because it backs Putin into a corner and is an ‘existential threat’ to him. It allows Putin to argue that Ukraine is being used as an American proxy war specifically to remove him from power. The statement removed the moral legitimacy of America’s position by making American activities seem personal rather principled. Further, it allows Putin to argue within his inner circle that ‘they’ are being specifically targeted.  ‘No man is an island’ and no dictator exists without supporters.  If Putin, and by definition ‘his’ people, (the lackeys that control the military and its nuclear weapons) have nothing to lose, then we edge closer to a nuclear exchange.  President Biden’s poorly thought-out remark makes this war personal, and makes negotiation much more difficult. It was very disappointing and certainly raises the risk of a nuclear exchange. 

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In Ukraine the situation is evolving rapidly, north of Kiev, the last couple of days were marked by a variety activity.  Makariv and Borodianka are both contested and at the same time the Ukrainians are pushing into the northern suburbs of Kiev, Irpin and Hostomel. The Andropov Airfield is also under Ukrainian pressure.  This fighting is very interesting, last week my analysis was that the Ukrainians would concentrate on pushing from Makariv north and west capturing Bordianka so that they could envelope the tip of the Russian thrust. 

Current fighting, especially local Russian attacks on Makariv, a town that 48 hours ago was in Ukrainian control may indicate the Russians are trying to ‘break contact’, to separate themselves from the Ukrainians and withdraw.  When large formations like brigades and divisions break contact, they typically launch spoiling attacks to put the enemy off guard, allowing time for the forces they are supporting to withdraw in an orderly manner.  

Further evidence that this is happening north of Kiev, may be provided by the fighting in Irpin, Hostomel and around the airport.  If the Russians are withdrawing the Ukrainians will be ‘hard on their heels’ trying to maintain contact and pursue them.  Is this happening at the moment in Kiev?  It is too soon to tell but certainly tallies with the latest Russian announcements about strategy. Kiev, is definitely an area to keep watching in the next few days. 

Across the north east of Ukraine there has been a flurry of Russian activity. Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkov all seeing increased Russian activity in the last 24 -48 hours, unfortunately at this stage it is too early to confirm whether this is full assaults by soldiers on the ground or increased artillery fire.  It is unlikely that the Russians will be able to generate sufficient combat power in these areas to make large scale ground assaults however, we can never say never because even a relatively small number of new professional soldiers could change the situation quickly. 

In the south the Russians stopped the attack on Kherson.  This is a key battle because the Dnieper River provides a natural defensive line and holding Kherson is key to creating a defensible border on the west of any potential, new Russian backed Donbas. Kherson also protects access to Crimea.

So what happens next?

It is almost certain that Mariupol will continue to be attacked. The city is vital for the security of a new Donbas. It will continue to be bombarded then assaulted by ground forces.

Fighting will continue around Kiev for days or weeks and at this stage and it is too early to tell exactly how it will develop.  The Russian are going to have a difficult time extricating themselves from the area and it remains to be seen if they have the combat capability to achieve a break, separate themselves from their Ukrainian opponents and withdraw.  

Many pundits are predicting that the Russians will try and launch an offensive thrust south from near Kharkov, or north from Donetsk in order to encircle the large Ukrainian forces located on the border of Donetsk’s breakaway region.  The Ukrainians have significant forces defending the western parts of Donetsk Oblast (administrative region) protecting cities like Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and Bakhmut.  In theory a thrust of this nature could happen and would envelop these Ukrainian forces, however I do not think this is likely, it would require a thrust of approximately two hundred kilometres into enemy territory and to date the Russian’s deepest sustained penetrations into Ukraine are only about 100km.  The Russians may have more combat troops entering the battle but without a strong logistics infra-structure to support them even fresh, new soldiers are going to be limited in their effectiveness. 

More likely is that the Russian soldiers from Georgia and Tajikistan will be fed into the war from the east and that there will be a slow push from secure Russian areas in Donetsk and Luhansk west and north. However, the initial objectives will need to be reinforcing Kherson to secure the west flank and capturing Mariupol.  After these objectives are achieved, I think that we will see local offensives capturing small areas with overwhelming force rather than deep envelopments.   The Georgian garrison can provide only a couple of thousand troops but they are relatively close so are likely to already be moving into action.  In Tajikistan, there is a division or about 20,000 soldiers of which perhaps a third could be spared, however moving them 2,000km with their equipment is likely to take at least a week.  Although, they may already have been moved secretly. 

The most useful new soldiers will be the ones brought back from Syria. Russian soldiers fighting in Syria are professional and will therefore be much more combat capable than the conscripts currently fighting in Ukraine. Unfortunately, there are no firm estimates about exactly how many Russian soldiers are in Syria which makes judging their impact difficult.  My thinking is that these soldiers are likely to become Russia’s ‘fire brigade’ being switched quickly from place to place as needs dictate. Perhaps, we are already seeing their impact as the Russians counter attack Makariv.

Strategically, Putin now has a realistic option to achieve a victory.  Negotiations may or may not continue as the Russians slowly secure Donbas and Crimea.  Any ceasefire would only be a ploy to allow Russian forces to withdraw safely and for that reason is unlikely to be accepted by the Ukrainians.

 Securing Donbas is an achievable objective; the Russians are supported by the local population in these areas and can slowly take time to re-focus and move troops into these areas.  Looking at Crimea, Donestk, Georgia, Tranistria the slow and steady, low-level but inexorable conquest of an area over time is a game that Russia excels at. Longer-term it is also an operation that can be fought slowly with professional soldiers and mercenaries leading offensives, capturing areas then handing them over to less experienced local militias who can defend the areas. This seems to be a sensible long-term strategy and that is also politically sustainable because conscripted soldiers aren’t being killed in large numbers.  

The key issues in implementing this strategy will be withdrawing forces in other parts of Ukraine without taking large loses and limiting the effectiveness of Ukrainian offensives to retake the disputed areas.  Both risks can be mitigated but will take time, it is likely that the Russians will keep pressure on Ukrainian cities outside of Donbas in order to support withdrawal and to keep Ukrainian forces from being committed in the south east.    Longer term this strategy will test NATO commitment, will there still be a will to keep sanctions in force after a year of small scale fighting on the borders of Donbas? 

In summary, the situation is evolving quickly and it seems that the Russians now have a workable strategy that will allow Putin to claim victory. Unfortunately, this change in strategy will mean a longer war. Further, President Biden’s recent slip raises the level of nuclear risk meaning that the world is looking a long period of tension while the new Russian strategy unfolds.   

 

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

37 COMMENTS

  1. ” President Biden’s poorly thought-out remark …”

    LOL

    The man’s not all there in the head. Within the hour of him saying it, the white house corrected him. So who in the white house gets to correct the President? Who is in charge? Because it certainly isn’t Biden – he’s just a faded old glove puppet.

    • “He’s just a faded old glove puppet”. That’s exactly why the Dems put him in the White House.

    • Biden is at an age where the brain is often not properly engaged before he opens his mouth, very similar to our very own ex Deputy PM Winston Peters, often the brain is not engaged b4 he opens his mouth.

      Once those words are out in the Public Arena they can not be withdrawn. Hence his personal comments about the Ukraine were probably better left unsaid.

    • No doubt you’ve seen the press conference with Biden answering questions about the “poorly thought-out remark,” the ‘correction’ and ‘walking the comment back.’

      Biden should have been more astute and said exactly, “Putin is a murderous fucking dictator.” The world then could have dropped metaphorical nuclear weapons on Biden for using foul language.

      Of course Putin is allowed to be boss of Russia and he should remain in power as long as they want a murderous fucking dictator. Biden simply saying Putin can’t remain in power means that Russia is going to nuke the US? When I was a kid there was a saying about ‘sticks and stones.’

      The Russians invade another country and is responsible for millions of refugees, thousands dead and inestimable infrastructure and that’s not nice. Tut tut, bad boy Vlad.
      Biden says the leader of that needs to be replaced and that is bad, that is real, this is seriously serious, this is The Big Deal?

  2. Looking longer term, even id Russia somehow “wins” the war to take the south of the Ukraine, the cost in the loss of material and men, plus the need to keep Ukraine at bay for the mid term future at least, opens up Siberia to the Chinese “sphere of influence” (a stolen Trotter expression).

    Posted this link on the Trotter article. Worth a read in full;

    https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/was-china-betting-on-russian-defeat-all-along/

    “We do know, however, that if China wanted Russia to win, it would need to adopt a different approach than the one that it is following right now, and the Beijing elite is doubtlessly aware of this. China may have concerns about Western sanctions in case it provided additional assistance, however as Beijing didn’t seem afraid to embark on a trade war with the US and Australia before, these concerns would unlikely prevent it from helping Russia if it saw a Russian victory as something vital for its global aspirations. Thus, the simplest explanation is that China doesn’t want Russia to win because a victorious Russia would likely become too assertive to handle, while a defeated, weakened, isolated Russia would have no choice but become a docile strategic ally of China, granting access to the natural resources of Siberia in the process. Given the fact that China seems to have been aware of the Russian plans to invade Ukraine from the very beginning, and encouraged Russia to do so, only to roll back its support once the war started, this all suggests that China may have been betting on a Russian defeat all along.”.

    With climate change, Siberia becomes a huge and hugely valuable agricultural resource. Not to mention the mineral wealth there. With Russia weakened (and only having 14 million people in Siberia) it will be unable to prevent China taking Siberia.

    Is China being cunning and encouraging Russia to expend its resources westwards leaving the valuable east undefended through the very lack of military resources so being expended in the Ukraine?

    • If Russia had no nuclear weapons coupled with an apparent willingness to use them (i.e. they had to reply on conventional weapons only) I imagine it wouldn’t take long for the Chinese to start looking north.

    • why would china have anything against russia? it’s just wishful thinking from anglo-sphere pundits…if china starts paying for oil with yuan the dollar is over and with it the US empire.
      they together constitute a large landmass with excellent trading relations and easy access to the europian market, as s.e asia turns increasingly to their neighbours rather than the west…the pool of customers and cash increases whereas in the west our govts policies of deliberate impoverishment reduces both our ‘spend’ and our importance to the new upcoming bloc.

      • It’s always refreshing to see a comment that isn’t just repeating the US propaganda as gospel.. Reputable military analysts I’ve read have all said that the Russian tactics are working as they expected, which is why uncle Joe has gone all feral and bloodthirsty on us… We should never forget how much blood that man already has on his hands as VP of the Obama admin.. Between Biden and Clinton, they are responsible for the deaths of possibly millions of innocent civilians, and at least two countries being laid to waste, to the point that they are fast becoming the breeding ground for a whole new wave of disaffected “terrorists”… All in the name of imperialism…

      • It might take a while to tool up but never mistake silent resolve for inadequacy. The democratic capitalists are way ahead of the autocratic communists on competitive advantage and the generation of good ideas alone. I’m with the IP. Look over there – a high speed train.. meh.

  3. My uninformed opinion has been that first Putin expected a rapid win and a regime change. His fallback seems to be establishing an increased Russian territory in the east and Crimea resulting in a divided Ukraine going forward. Coupled with this would be inflicting massive physical damage on Ukraine infrastructure just because they fucked him off and to cost Europe billions in aid etc. I did think if things were going badly he might just drop a nuke on downtown Kiev or Chernobyl if he had a sense or irony. My question is would the West retaliate?

    • Yes I agree – it does appear that Putin gambled on / expected the Ukrainian forces to collapse quickly and easily a la 2014 and subsequently he is increasingly looking to ‘save face’ by looking to suggest that all along that he had only limited territorial aspirations etc rather than the complete occupation of Ukraine.

  4. One thing we all know with absolute certainty….the answer to the Russia – Ukraine crisis is most definitely NOT….Joe Biden. The man should not be in charge of a pet hamster.

    I thought his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal was diabolically bad. This a new unprecedented level of ineptitude at every step.

    Nek minute…..China lands in Taiwan.

    • are you really thinking? what Joe Biden thinks is irrelevant. The US is not run by the President although if they allowed one in that had a brain cell it could be. I’m longing for the day when an intelligent and erudite thinking person of mana rides in on his horse and takes the reins – lol – JFK FDR – I’m dreaming right? wake me up.

  5. Ben may be a tired Gen xer, but has he also got it wrong? His analysis of the war essentially follows the same script as the rest of the mainstream media – Russian failure to capture the cities, troops bogged down etc.
    Yet there are others – Scott Ritter, Alexander Mercouris, Alex Christoforo etc who stated right at the beginning, that Russia’s main war aim was to defeat the main Ukranian army in the Donbass. That the troops around Kiev were there primarily to prevent the main army being reinforced.
    Whether the above is correct or not, surely a more important issue is what is this war actually about. I see very little discussion of this, yet once again we have walked into this war, just as we did before in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    We are sanctioning Russia, sending weapons, and now involving our military.
    This is arguably the biggest issue in our lifetimes, yet there is virtually a zero discourse. Other than the “West”, no other country is sanctioning Russia. Have we thought to ask why?
    The US has made it clear, what their target is. Regime change in Russia, followed by the same with China. America has already started sanctions against China, presumably thinking they prefer a war on two fronts.
    You may disagree with what I am saying, but as a nation we should at least be discussing it. The silence is deafening.
    John Rothery (Tauranga)

    • Good to see some reality John Rothery. All this BS that Russia is losing the war is doing my head in. My wife says I shouldn’t get so upset about this war, but Jesus Wept I have never seen such concentrated bullshit on any subject in my life. Christ, wake up people. This war was decided on the first day when Russia took out virtually all of Ukraines defences. Apart from ground forces which are very courageous they have SFA to fight back with. Missiles gone, Airforce fucked, Radar and satelites taken out, on the first day. The USA propaganda that Ukaraine can win is just genocide of another nations military. Uncle Sam is watching and getting a lesson on how to deploy a ground force without the air force wrecking everything in advance. Ukraine needs to tell NATO to fuck off and cease fire.

      • You are wrong on just about all of that.
        The initial Russian strikes did not decapitate the Ukraine Army, or even the Ukrainian Airforce. The Ukrainian armed forces have been able to fight back as an organised military force. In effect they have stopped the Russian advance. The Russians have no even been able to overrun Mariupol.

        Admittedly the western anti tank weapons have substantially helped change the military equation.

        I have formed the view Russia can no longer achieve their initial military objectives. They have effectively used up all their initia invasion force of 150,000 which was a third of their regular army. Their regular army can provide only one more rotation before Russia has to call up all their reservists, whose training will be highly variable.
        How will Putin explain that to the Russian people, especially if all it looks like they are doing is feeding their forces into a stalemate?

        In a negotiation, will Russia be able to hold onto the land bridge between the Crimea and the Donbas? Because I think that is what it is going to come down to.

      • You’re exactly right.

        Anyone disagreeing with you has yet to accept the lesson that they do not comprehend the completeness of the Western propaganda system. Only then can they even hope to begin to have a conversation about what is happening in Ukraine, either the war or the geopolitics.

      • wtf has western propoganda got to do with it – Russia invaded the Ukraine – that’s all the propoganda you need. stop and just look at the average Ukranian- they’ll be strapping on suicide vests soon and you’ll be calling them terrorists – the nazi propoganda has already piqued western apologists – Russia will never win this war but I’m not sure that’s the intention. Just weaken them enough to continue with the settlements and annexing strategic positions. Interesting that the first visitor to meet Putin was the Israeli Prime minister.

  6. “I predicted that the Russians were close to collapse”

    Well I got it right. Securing East Ukraine break away states with population that supports Russia who suffered years of being tortured and murdered by Kiev’s Nazi Azov attack dogs with thumbs up from the ‘International Community” AKA U.S. State Department. Maybe Russians get that corridor in the south to secure warm water harbour. Anything else = bonus points.

    Has anyone seen a copy of Putin’s Plan(*TM pending)? I’ve heard from day one that things have not being going well according to Adolf Putin’s Plan. But I have never seen a copy, did Putin upload it to a file sharing service – google docs?

    • Putin laid out his objectives when he announced the ” special military action” . I wonder if it reflects our expectations of our own leaders integrity that no one who comments seems to give his clearly stated objectives a moment’s consideration. Everything is being discussed in terms of success or failure in terms assumed objectives that Putin himself either specifically excluded from his objectives or never claimed as an objective.

      D J S

  7. second guessing russias aims can only be a strawman position you put out ‘all out invasion’ and when it doesn’t happen it’s defeat, I said from day one donbass/crimea was his aim..but I don’t know only the history books will tell.

    putin doesn’t want years of partisan warfare in the ukraine but nato does sacrificing ukrainian lives to wear down moscow seems to be our tactic..

    • As I suspect you know, we should all be well aware that NATO is run by the USA , and that “sacrificing Ukrainian lives to wear down Moscow” is indeed our tactic (OUR because we no longer have an independent Foreign Policy). There seems to be no easy way to get this past the nonstop ,wall to wall Western bullshit propaganda.

      • Yup!
        The good ole US of A is happy to sacrifice as many Ukrainians as is necessary.
        To be fair, their elutes are quite happy to sacrifice their own people too.
        None of this is to suggest I support Putin who is an evil despot.

    • correct – smashing the capital and power structure is just a means to an end – colonisation and usurpment of the east – the nazi’s come for free as does hamas in palestine. it’s a settlement play that Israel only dreams of. (because to be honest the West Bank has fuck all but historical value and place for hippies to have a place to grow dope)

  8. I’m wondering what sources Ben is using.Russian ground forces have been in Mariupol for some days .A Russian flag has been erected on top of one of the administrative buildings in the Kalmius district of Mariupol, the largest district of Mariupol Evacuees have been reporting the Azov tactics against the population.Most of the remaining Azov forces are bottled up in the industrial Azovstal factories, with some suburbs in the process of being mopped up.
    See it yourself on Southfront, which is equally prepared to report losses and retreats

    • Yeah, Southfront isn’t even the best. Mariupol is mopping up in a race against time from hideous war crimes from the Azov nazis who hate the people there.

  9. Russia doesn’t wage War like America does? America does Shock & Awe that relies on Air Superiority to destroy everything including Infrastructure then it moves Troops in! Russia follows Carl Von Clausewitz’s Playbook for waging War, with the main goal being not to destroy the Enemy Country or its infrastructure, but the priority is given to destroy the Enemies ability to wage War hence the main tactical decision of destroying the adversaries Military! The encirclement strategy is called Cauldrons to create pressure & cutoff supply lines to surround the enemy while enabling Humanitarian corridors so the Public can get out! This strategy was successfully employed by the Russian Military in Syria & is being employed in Ukraine! If Russia wanted to utterly destroy Ukraine, it could have done it in days but is trying to preserve the Nation as intact as possible!

    • Well put KiwiAntz, and accurate. I’ll add the “Cauldron” tatics were employed in WW2 by Russia at Stalingrad and other cities which effectively shutdown the German army on the eastern front. Except that the Russian artillery bombed the shit out of the place to kill and wreck everything in sight. The civilians long gone only the Germans there. Total hell for both sides but it worked. The Germans surrendered, starved exhausted and totally beaten. The Cauldron was probably one of the major victories of WW2 and significantly wounded the German war effort. Russia is/has surrounded major Ukraine cities to make the Cauldron effect but not wrecking infrastructure or killing civilians. Staying back 25-40km their forces are not advancing, airforce and artillery is minimal. The outcome is long decided.

      • Of course it is. It’s all about taking of strategic positions and de-militarizing the eastern bloc of the country for it’s own uses. Smashing the capital and Ukranian resolve is just a means to an end. They aren’t interested in “ruling” Ukraine – just parts of it. Good luck to them – the Azov battalion has just grown 1000 fold. The CIA will get more hooks in. Going to be an ongoing cesspit in the East for generations. More dead Russians and Ukranians. Wonderful.

  10. Yes, breaking contact near Kiev and withdrawing is the goal. The same for Chernihiv.

    Moscow has come out and said it would “drastically reduce military activity near Kyiv and Chernihiv to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.”

    This couched as a reaction to Ukraine returning to its former position of neutrality (its policy until Russia annexed Crimea in 2014).

    Russia’s objective is now clear – some form of novarussia occupation (Crimea plus in the south connected to the east secured – new troops for this) and talks with the western backed regime in Kiev. Presumably on the basis that the west will accept the concessions this regime makes (at least realising the end of sanctions applied this year to ensure a cease-fire).

    Ukraine is referring to (having no foreign bases or troops) but seeking security guarantees (supply of weapons … ) from nations such as Turkey, France (the two nations most independent within NATO) and Israel.

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