Three weeks ago to the day Russia launched a multi-force, multi-direction, and multi-purpose invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government called it a “Special Military Operation”, much like the Ukrainian government called their military crackdown on Donbass separatists an “Anti-Terrorist Operation”. One can’t help wonder if the Russians weren’t having a bit of fun with that one. Bottom line is, as was predicted here, the Russians did invade Ukraine on multi-fronts to: isolate the Ukraine army positioned against Donbass separatist forces, encircle Kiev, and occupy the Russian “L” stretching from Cherniv to Odessa on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
The question at the moment is this: what happened to the plan? Any person with any military experience knows the old saying: “a plan only survives until first contact with the enemy”. That is clearly the Russian experience in Ukraine. The problems with the Ukrainian campaign began at the top. Russian President Putin was using his military as a tool of politics, and that was and remains his major mistake. Much like the US government’s political objectives in the Vietnam war, which in many ways tied the hands of its forces and caused many unnecessary casualties, Putin started this war with clear political objectives in mind. It is clear that these political objectives included: non-use of serious weapons in civilian areas; non-use of strategic bombers for carpet bombing; non-use of naval borne cruise missiles of guns for shelling; the list goes on. Essentially, Putin was trying to present the Ukrainian government with a fait a compli so that sober minds would realize resistance was futile and they would capitulate.
That was the best case scenario. Instead of conducting an air campaign like the US did in Iraq (for a month and a half), the Russian military moved in after mere hours of missile and air strikes. The result was that Russia did not destroy Ukraine’s air defences and air force completely before entering ground forces, and perhaps more importantly did not cripple Ukrainian’s will to fight. There may have been geo-political/strategic reasons for this, or there may have been political calculations, but the bottom line is that Russian planes and helicopters were vulnerable, and remain so. That means, necessarily, Russian ground troops suffered unnecessary casualties from Ukrainian artillery and tanks. So the Russian command gave up prudent military doctrine to satisfy the political goal of not alienating eastern Ukrainian civilians for a post conflict order. In other words, it got too cute.
The Russian Navy has also been conspicuous by its absence in the campaign. It has complete dominance in that area of the Black Sea, yet has only fired six cruise missiles at an air base. You can also throw in the Russian strategic resources like heavy bombers and massive electronic warfare assets which have basically remain unused. All these forces would have made a massive difference in the three weeks of battle thus far. While not using the navy or strategic bombers may be incorporated under the strategy of not alienating the population, or political reasons in other words, the very limited use of electronic warfare is more likely strategic in nature. Russian strategic thought is to keep its capabilities close to its chest until the big war happens, ie: World War III (hopefully that never happens). A good example of this is the recent discovery that Russia has decoy missiles in its barrages of missiles that fool the enemy’s anti-missile systems, which was unknown until then.
The primary difference between an American war and a Russian war today seems to be the Russians are trying to placate a population before they occupy them, while the Americans level the place and face uprisings thereafter (ie: Iraq, Afghanistan; etc). That doesn’t mean the Russians won’t face the same in any case. Certainly the main stream media, and social media, have portrayed the Russians as leveling Ukraine. However, from a military perspective, this is far from the truth. From a strictly military perspective Russia would be guilty of not using all its strategic and heavy forces to ensure its troops didn’t take unnecessary casualties, and objectives wouldn’t be impeded. Certainly the US or NATO would never be accused of that.
The US has a strategy of “battle space dominance”. The idea is that its forces must dominate every aspect of the battle space on air, land and sea. That strategy has been woefully lacking in the Russian’s Ukraine campaign. Ukrainian tanks, and especially artillery have been relatively unbothered moving around Ukraine. NATO has managed to transfer anti-tank, and anti-air man-held portable missile systems to Ukraine without any issue. The systems have found their way to the individual fronts. Here there are collective failures in intelligence, and forces designed to restrict battle space. That may have been the reason two senior Russian intelligence officials were detained by their government. It may also point to a lack of precision weapons and/or drones that can interdict these supplies en route, or it maybe a case of sacrificing soldiers and tanks on the ground to keep military capabilities hidden from NATO forces. Don’t forget the Russians sacrifice in WWII, like one rifle for two men. That dedication to “Mother Russia” is still there. Whatever the case, Russian troops and Russian objectives are paying the price on the ground. Unfortunately for the Russian military, troops morale may well suffer when they realize weapons that could be employed to limit their chances of being killed are not being used.
The last week of the campaign has changed somewhat. It appears now that Putin’s grand gesture to the Ukraine has been replaced with some military imperative. Strategic missiles were used to destroy a Ukrainian base on the Polish border housing foreign volunteers, and more than likely NATO arms. Russian ships fired off a few more cruise missiles near Odessa. The cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv/Kharkov have been facing methodical military bombardment. This is the way of war. Ask the people of Mosul, Bagdad, Tripoli, Benghazi, Aleppo, the list goes on and on. If your military chooses to put its positions in a city, don’t be surprised when the city is levelled to defeat you. My own father fought in the city of Ortona, Italy in WWII, and the place was levelled. He was at Monte Casino too, which was a beautiful historical monument that German paratroopers decided to make a defensive position. The US air force bombed it into oblivion – no questions asked. This is the ugly truth of war, no matter how many “Karens” scream about it. The self-righteous, hypocritical posturing of the US and some other countries is frankly upchuck worthy – especially amongst military people who know the truth of war.
It is now the beginning of the third week of the war in Ukraine, and news is “leaking” out that Russia and Ukraine are close to signing a peace agreement which pretty much includes all the demands Putin put on Ukraine before the war started. That being said, it seems inconceivable that Russia would sacrifice so much for so little. Even if Ukraine agreed to formally cede the Donbass and Crimea to Russia, it still leaves Russia without a land bridge to Crimea, and Russia already effectively controlled both anyway. Therefore, given the Russians already fully occupy the Kherson region we may see a referendum there on Kherson as an independent republic or a part of a Donbass/Kherson republic, or a part of Russia. If Russia is preparing to sign a deal, then an attack on Odessa would be out, Odessa would remain as Ukraine’s only sea port. It also seems counterintuitive that Russia would miss the chance to take all of eastern Ukraine, making the Dnipro River the new “Iron Curtain”. Afterall, once you have gone all in you may look very weak to leave with nothing of much strategic or even tactical consequence. Such a face to your enemy will likely embolden them to come for your throat. That, after all, kind of defeats Russia’s stated objective of deterring NATO aggression against it.