12 months ago, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, was in the final stages of making his mind up about his planned re-invasion of Ukraine. His Navy was engaged in manoeuvres off the Southwest Coast of Ireland, sending a clear message to the EU and NATO that a neutral EU member left a proportion of the Atlantic approaches undefended and reliant on the Royal Navy and possibly French Navy to police the area. Putin was testing Western political messaging to see what any reaction might be if he attacked Ukraine.
What I had been noting in my blogs which started on 4th January 2022, discussing the Russian options around their large-scale deployments for manoeuvres close to Ukraine that “What is clear is that Putin is playing a game of 3D or 4D chess, every time he moves, he sits and watches what the global reaction is. He knows that he controls the timings to an extent. Troops deployed without purpose can become disillusioned, equipment deployed where it can’t be maintained properly becomes unreliable, funding large military deployments is expensive and the court of Russian public opinion, no matter how much it is controlled, will only stay silent for a finite period.”
In the information domain, Putin continues his tirade of commentary, much aimed at his domestic audience, trying to find excuses to justify why his Special Military Operation is going on a lot longer than he had hoped and why the number of Russian casualties is growing. On casualties, a rough number based on 100,000 dead Russians, fewer than Ukraine claims but about the same as many other analysts – in Warfare for every death there is 3-5 severely wounded – if we say 4 – that is 400,000 wounded – ½ a million in total – it is likely the Ukrainians have similar casualties, in almost 12 months we are possibly in the 1 million casualties’ bracket!
It must be recognised that Putin has lost every phase of his special military operation to date. Initially, his main effort was the rapid replacement of the Zelensky government through the capture of Kyiv, that failed and caused the collapse of all elements of his special military operation outside the initial successes he had in the East around the disputed Donbas Region. It was clear, although Ukraine had built strong defences, that they were forced to trade space in the East for time and that time was used to mobilise and deploy additional Ukrainian forces, stop and then defeat the Russian attack on Kyiv and then set the conditions for support from the international community.
The second phase was Russian withdrawal from Kyiv and the north-eastern Ukraine and the relaunch of a Russian main effort concentrating on the disputed Donbas Region. The decisive battle in this phase was the Russian battle to capture Mariupol and the eventual surrender of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion in the Azovstal Iron and Steel works in the city.
After that the momentum shifted, the Russians clearly having culminated again gave the Ukrainians an opportunity to wrestle the initiative back and dictate the operational tempo. The key element that enabled this was the deployment of the HIMARS and with that the Ukrainians managed to recapture two massive chunks of territory, initially around Kharkiv and then Kherson. They have now entered an operational pause whilst they continue to fix Russian forces in the Bakhmut area allowing time for more experienced soldiers and tank crews to go to the west to be trained on Challenger 2, Leopard 2, M1 Abrams, Bradley IFVs and more. They not only need to learn how to operate the individual pieces of equipment but also how to fight them as part of an all arms battlegroup. This is no mean feat in a few short weeks.
Russia knows it must act decisively to regain the initiative and try and dislocate Ukrainian defences before these game changing new capabilities get deployed and will be planning a major offensive with what manoeuvre formations it can cobble together and regenerate.
There have already been reports of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division moving from its regeneration and training in Belarus round to the Lushank Oblast ready for operations. The new commanders of the Russian Campaign, General Gerasimov is taking a much more disciplined conventional military thinking approach, hence him starting to sideling the Wagner Private Military Company and more. Additionally, there are reports of 10’s of thousands of new Russian Troops in Melitpol waiting to be deployed.
However, it is unlikely that Gerasimov will have been able to fix some of the fundamental flaws in the Russian military, his logistics will likely remain uncoordinated, equipment unreliable, command and control hap-hazard at best with junior commanders lacking initiative, his logistics vulnerable and uncoordinated and I suspect he will be able to generate little more than a one shot wonder which is why simultaneously his forces have been preparing further defensive lines to try and slow any Ukrainian counter Offensive.
However, that one shot wonder could have a decisive breakthrough in their desire to secure the whole of the Donbas, but it is unlikely to have sufficient combat power to do so. We will then have the Ukrainians deploying their new manoeuvre capabilities, equipped with modern Western Tanks, IFVs and AFVs, able to fight 24 hrs a day. This is when any Russian gains will likely be very short term. Remember it is a sound and deliberate military operation to trade space for time and the Ukrainians are masters at it.
We are about to enter the decisive phase of this Russian Special Military Operation and the Russians love anniversaries so symbolically the Russian strike could come around 24th February with a secondary aim of wanting to broadcast success back to the Russian domestic audience. One thing is certain, we are in for a busy few weeks and months and the human cost is immeasurable.
Ukraine, what’s happened and what’s to come in 23?
By Philip Ingram MBE
It was hard to predict as the world celebrated the birth of 2022 that only a few weeks later Russia would launch a major European conflict with global consequences. As we witness the birth of 2023 it is right to reflect on what has, is, and could happen.
I have been commenting continuously on this re-invasion and globally impacting conflict from before it started with my first blog on 4th Jan 22 and assessment was in the right ballpark! (https://greyharemedia.com/russia-and-ukraine-an-intelligence-goldmine/). Several blogs on the build-up later and 3 days before Russia’s re-invasion I had assessed their main effort would be in the East (https://greyharemedia.com/potential-war-plan/), largely Russia’s current plan. I had discounted Russia’s attack on Kyiv as nothing but a possible feint as I believed it beyond them. Russia proved it was beyond them and to date have failed in all of their strategic and operational objectives.
Tactically in the early part of the conflict Russia gained a lot of Ukrainian territory in the East, across the disputed Donbas region, building on that had been annexed by separatists in 2014. However, it is increasingly clear that those tactical advances were giving the Ukrainians the time they needed to reset after defending Kyiv, mobilise and start training new military personnel, protect, train, and deploy manoeuvre formations with new units, new capabilities and integrate new donated equipment’s.
The Ukrainian military were trading space for time, a recognised military tactic, slowing the Russians as much as possible, disrupting their logistics and command and control and causing massive attrition on their first and second echelon forces as they advanced. Ukraine fought a textbook defensive battle preparing for its counter offensives which have both been massively successful, initially in the Kharkiv area and then in the Kherson area, giving us a masterclass in planning and executing complex combined arms, all arms high intensity warfighting at formation level. They have prepared their formations for this in a few short months, of note it takes a British Army Brigade a 2-year training cycle to get to that level of preparation.
Ukraine is now controlling the tactical battle and has Russia fixed in the Bakhmut area where fighting has been ongoing for months. With the Russians effectively fixed, Ukrainian reconnaissance are probing for the next weak point for another Kharkiv and Kherson like counter offensive. This is what we are likely to see in 2023, Ukraine taking back more chunks of territory after attritting the Russians before exploiting weak points in a very well planned and deliberately executed way.
Ukraine controls the momentum of the tactical battle and as such is dictating the time and place of activity. This will likely continue through the year with pauses in the early spring and autumn as the ground will be too soft for manoeuvre warfare with armoured formations. Territory will be taken back in manageable chunks unless the whole Russian defence collapses. It is probable that Ukraine will leave any actions into Crimea to recapture that until 2024 unless there is a rapid collapse of the Russian military inside mainland Ukrainian territory, remembering all territory recaptured has to be secured, protected and rebuilt.
From a Russian perspective they just want to slow the war down as much as possible and attrit Ukrainian forces to deplete their military capability. They will be hoping to generate a manoeuvre formation from something, however what is clear from what we have seen in 2022 is the basic building blocks just don’t exist. Russia will therefore be looking at its operational level and strategic tactics to get some form of victory. Putin wants and needs the war to become as protracted as possible but also is beginning to realise that the longer it goes on the less secure his position is.
At the operational level Russia wants to continue with its fight to try and break the will of the Ukrainian people by attacking infrastructure targets like power, water, and communications, hoping that the people will force the politicians to seek peace quickly. However, what is clear from UK Defence Intelligence Reports is Russia is running out of missiles, hence why it is sourcing Kamikaze drones from Iran. In addition, at the operational level, keeping a potential threat from Belarus means that the Ukrainians must keep some forces focused on defending any incursions from there, however unlikely they may be. I can’t see Belarus entering the conflict this year.
Operationally, Ukraine has shown it understands the deep battle and use of SOE type capabilities causing fires and sabotage deep into Russia and the use of conventional drone attacks deep into Russian territory. The Crimea Bridge attack had a major effect, and we will likely see more of these type attacks through 2023.
The next continuing area of conflict is at the Strategic Level. For Ukraine the focus is maintaining the support of the international community, pushing for more weapons, better weapons, continued military support through training, combat supplies and of course money to keep the country going. The Ukrainians will continue to use the information domain which has been captured and utilised perfectly by President Zelensky and he will likely continue to do so.
Russia has more strategic ambitions as it sees its strategic ‘battles’ as its way of winning something. Strategically it wants to break the will of the international community, hence attempts to restrict grain from Ukraine, hence the use of energy as a weapon, hence the desire to elongate the conflict as Putin sees a growing tiredness and will try to exploit instabilities in the run up to the US Presidential Elections and UK General Elections. Watch for strategic cyber operations aiming at information compromises around both!
His internationally focused strategic actions will continue to generate more economic migrants heading to the West. I would not be surprised if Russian crime gangs are backing many of the people trafficking syndicates we are seeing in the UK. Russian focused espionage activities will continue and grow aimed at ensuring dissenting oligarchs continue to fall out of windows, downstairs or have heart attacks whilst looking for opportunities to exploit in traditional espionage ways. Strategically Russia’s cyber operations will continue disrupting Western businesses and operations.
Strategically Putin wants to expand relations with Iran as a weapon supplier and could trade nuclear technology for weapons. He is courting North Korea as a potential supplier but also a plausibly deniable outlet for Cyber and with Kim Jong Un firing missiles off frequently it keeps many countries having to maintain a focus there and not with more assets on Ukraine. He sees China as key, needing China economically to buy natural resources but Xi Jung Ping will have ambitions to buy Russia and keep Russia as stable as possible fearing a breakup causing him more problems along his 4,209.3-kilometre common border. We will see Putin operating more ruthlessly in his strategic actions through 2023 all backed by his information operations.
2023 will be a year of more Ukrainian success but it is vital to remember the human cost is nothing like has been seen since the Second World War. Pressure on the international community will continue and may increase but the only hope for a long-term peace is for Russia to be ejected from Ukrainian territories. As the momentum lies with Ukraine then there is no need for them to seek an early diplomatic settlement. The pain will remain throughout this upcoming year.
Philip Ingram MBE is an international commentator and former senior British Military Intelligence Officer and is available for comment.
As part of its preparation to ensure this Christmas is the safest and most secure possible for the all the Global Cyber Security Centre, has issues a warning of a new phenomenon they believe will have a global impact. It is not unusual for the US Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue alerts around impending threats but to date they have missed this one.
As more and more devices become part of everyone’s home, trying to ensure devices without ulterior uses is always a challenge. Manufacturers often try and squeeze something in to aid their functionality and this can be exploited by threat actors. You don’t want to start me on devices that require apps to function, people just don’t realise what permissions they are giving when the click accept to app terms and conditions.
However, one thing that comes from nosing around seasonal trends and lights up the curiosity like a bright red beacon is when you discover something new. It doesn’t have to be complicated and in today’s society of gloom doom, strikes, recession and war, what we need is something that delivers hope.
Sponsored by the Big Red team in the Artic Circle the beacons of hope twinkle silently as they are blown around by the waves of love that overpower all of the hate and negativity that seems to engulf us. For one night of the year, for one day that hope is everywhere being delivers at speed by our old friend Stanley, Arthur, Nigel, Thomas, Arbuthnot, or SANTA for short.
So a few facts we rarely hear about SANTA. His sleigh moves at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. This makes Rudolf a very special type of reindeer as a conventional reindeer can run at a maximum of about 15 miles per hour.
It has been a while since I wrote an assessment of my thinking on Ukraine, so I will start by way of a summary as to where we are today and how we got here. Putin’s aim when he stated his Special Military Operation in February was to topple the increasingly West leaning Zelensky Government. His secondary aim was to open a land bridge between Crimea, annexed in 2014 and Russia, via what has become known as the disputed Donbas Region.
With vastly superior troop numbers on paper, and different command structures Putin launched his attacks and plucky Ukraine, war hardened by eight years of fighting Russian backed separatists in the East and emboldened by Western training and weapons such as the UKs NLAW anti-tank missile, defended.
Militarily, Russia was found wanting, their command and control was poor, their equipment unreliable, logistics and troop motivation close to non-existent. Their ability to conduct what are known as combined arms operations, fighting tanks, infantry, artillery, and airpower together, proved impossible, embarrassing many western analysts but embarrassing the Russian military and political leaderships more.
Ukraine defended its capital and government, giving ground in the East and South, trading space for time and it used that time to defeat Russia’s main effort of capturing Kyiv. Ukraine continued to defend, forcing the Russians to pay a high price in equipment and personnel for every village captured in the South and East.
Ukraine used the time they gained to plan their counter offensives, to train on and deploy new western equipment’s, including longer range NATO 155mm artillery and of course the infamous HIMARS missile systems. Ukraine knew the Russian weak points, their logistic bases and their command headquarters and put the HIMARS missiles to good use destroying those whilst preparing their counter offensives.
Launching an attack towards Kherson in the South, using social media to suggest this was the expected main counter offensive, Russia rushed to reinforce its positions there, the bluff worked, and Ukraine launched its main attacks further North towards Kharkiv, recapturing 3000 sq Km in days, when it took the Russians months to gain the same territory. The Ukrainian counter offensive has switched back to the Kherson area in the South as troops in the North secure the re-captured ground and wait their next move.
Putin’s response was to deliver the referendum on Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zapopizhzhia joining Russia, with his pre-decided results, to mobilise 300,000 reservists and increase the economic war on the West by blowing up the NordStream 1 and 2 Gas pipelines. At the same time, he increased his nuclear threat rhetoric, hoping he could hold what he had till winter, allowing the 300,000 to be trained and equipped and deployed, but to what effect? Ukraine has already defeated Russia’s best units and troops; the reservists are merely more lambs to the slaughter.
He is pinning his hopes on Western support dissolving over a fuel crisis filled winter in Europe with a nuclear threat hanging over the world. However, China and India have warned him to be careful. They still want Russian gas and oil but also want to keep some relationship with the West.
Underpinning where we are is the fact that Ukraine has the initiative on the ground and is giving the world a master class in combined arms operations. In conjunction with these combined arms operations Ukraine has learned from the allied SOE operations of WW2 and this is evident with facilities across Russia blowing up, airbases in Crimea blowing up and the latest, the destruction of part of the Kerch Strait bridge, being the latest master class in strategic effect. All of this will likely lead to the Russians further collapsing and being pushed much further back before winter sets in, recapturing more territory, further embarrassing Putin and stimulating unrest in Russia.
Putin, increasingly isolated, will likely lash out, especially with the Kerch Bridge attack the day after his 70thbirthday. His information operations aimed at splitting the West will become more vocal as will his threats. Undersea pipelines and cables could be at risk, cyber could grow, economic warfare is certain. In Ukraine, he will likely target infrastructure and cities more violently in retaliation.
However, he could still decide that using a tactical nuclear device, 1 kilo-tonne , destroying an estimated 1 square kilometer area could send a strategic message, ‘negotiate and accept what I have captured, else the next one in on Kyiv, or Kherson.’ If he did, international condemnation would have to include China and India, for their sakes, and his isolation would be complete.
NATO and the Wests response would probably be conventional and against Russian troops in Ukraine, but once a foot has been placed on the nuclear escalation ladder, it can be climbed very quickly. We are entering the most dangerous phase of Putin’s folly.
BBC Panorama – SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime
by Philip Ingram MBE
I have waited to comment on the BBC Panorama programme “SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime?” and waited until this morning to comment as I wanted to think through what was presented against the knowledge I have and ignore the rightly emotionally driven comments from some and the clearly planted comments from others.
I have worked with special forces, including the SAS and SBS all over the world, on operations, and I couldn’t be clearer they are the most professional and capable soldiers I have ever come across.
I have also been struck that as individuals, on the whole they are some of the nicest characters you could meet. I hugely respect and admire their as units and formations and admire so many individuals from their ranks past and present at all levels. They remain one or the UKs best military capabilities and global influencers.
So, my immediate emotional reaction to the Panorama programme is this is complete bollocks.
This was backed by the over concentration on input from the Australians, the interviews of the local Afghan ‘family’ members, they will have been told exactly what to say by the Panorama local fixers, fixers – I have seen that happen in so many places before.
Special Forces Operations tend to go in quietly, deal with their target and extract quietly. I have been involved in operations where they have raided a house and got in and out without other occupants knowing they had been there, but that was Iraq and not Afghanistan, however I see no need for any different tactics.
I will caveat my praise and doubts by the fact that US General Stanley McChrystal had to tell all troops in Afghanistan that Hearts and Minds were more important than body counts and rein in overly aggressive operations. I am aware of instances where the legality of what happened is at best questionable and when discusses with the Service Police, ignored.
None of this was with Special Forces but to this day I remain convinced that some senior officers chased body count for medals and perceived career enhancement. This means that the standards of oversight and integrity of command did not on occasions meet the standards expected of a professional army. This is a personal assessment.
However, there are some things that do concern me and, in my view, MUST be investigated.
Panorama cited emails from within Directorate Special Forces, cited formal Unit Records, cited emails circulating within the MoD. The substance of those is not speculative – how did they get them and what are the wider security implications? Why were concerns recorded, what was done about them and where are the outcomes of any formal or informal enquiries? The needs to be a detailed counter intelligence investigation now. (**)
The Unit records, for anyone who has been on operations, citing so many prisoners getting AK47s or grenades after capture is something that should/would never happen in any military unit, never mind special forces. This questions leadership and therefore command at so many levels. Unless it is thoroughly investigated it will leave an indelible stan on units reputations.
The next concern is about the so called RMP (Service Police) investigation. Accusations of the investigation being blocked, evidence being withheld, the Chain of Command restricting the Service Police Investigation with a final conclusion meeting the wider MoD narrative of nothing to see, opens a pandoras box of issues.
The Service Police have come under very real criticism in recent years, HH Judge Lyons review into the Service Justice System, Sarah Atherton’s review into Women in the Armed forces and drawing those and other threads together the latest Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report into the competence of the Service Police.
The defending cry as to why there needs to be service police and a service justice system is to investigate crimes on operations outside the jurisdiction of the Home Office Police or others and that the Service Police are completely independent of the chain of command.
This programme blows that cry out of the proverbial water. It accuses the RMP of being got at by the Chain of Command, how can any service police investigation be considered fair if this accusation remains? What was the influence on the Sgt Blackman investigation? Can any Service Police investigation past or present ever be trusted? This is something the Judge Advocate General needs to wrestle with and again mandates an investigation.
My concerns have been reinforced and reinforced by the MoDs own tactics. There is a policy across defence of not commenting on special forces operations, yet the MoD Press Office has been unusually vocal on its criticism of the Panorama programme before it aired and subsequently. Their approach to ‘information operations’ is clunky, and it is too easy to read between the lines of what they are saying – they are worried.
In addition, a number of accounts associated with a group loosely called ‘Defence Influencers’, who are given behind closed doors briefings by the MoD and asked to deliver or reinforce certain messaging have been very active and vocal. Why, unless the MoD is worried?
My final comment is the gossip networks of people in the know reinforce the assessment that the MoD are worried and because of this there needs to be a fresh and independent investigation.
Let’s be very clear, strategically Russia has lost its war against Ukraine. Russia’s main effort was to topple the West leaning Zelenskyy Government and replace it with a Moscow centric puppet, as in Belarus. Not only has it failed in that effort, but part of the reason was to stop any potential for NATO to expand and Ukraine to join. With Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO he has lost that strategic objective.
In his initial operations, Putin has lost many of his best military units, caused the expansion of NATO meaning the Baltic Sea is now almost completely NATO territory. He has emboldened the people of Ukraine, brought the EU together, focused the international community and has China, India and Pakistan nervously watching as events unfold.
Militarily, the Russian forces have failed to achieve any operational objectives in a timely manner and their taking of the Southern Coast along the Sea of Azov has been very costly. Ukraine was forced to give up much of the additional territory captured by the Russians, by fighting a well planned and executed defensive battle trading space for time. That space was the coastal ground, the time was used to defeat the Russian aggression against Kyiv and to the Northeast of Ukraine.
The cost to the rest of the world has been heavy. Cutting the reliance on Russian oil and gas has been costly and shocked global economies. The impact on the closure of the Black Sea for Ukrainian food exports, in particular wheat and oils, is only just being realised and hasn’t yet translated into effects on the ground in different countries, but it is coming. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is just starting to have a global impact and potentially the worst is to come.
However, what is happening in Ukraine will dictate how long the global impacts are likely to continue. The oil and gas shock to Western economies will be absorbed relatively quickly but will impact less well-developed countries for a longer period of time. The food export difficulties will have an impact on the less developed areas of the globe as Western countries will be able to absorb any shock. Sanctions on Russia are having an effect but will take time to really change attitudes and cause pain to the Russian people, that time is measured by calendars, not watches.
With military operations, Russia is pushing hard to capture the final areas of the Donetsk and Lushank Oblasts and has probably decided that with its coastal gains opening a land bridge between Crimea and Russia, these will suffice as a ‘victory.’ If Putin is able to achieve that he will then be likely to propose a peace settlement. He will do this to try and wrestle the initiative back. I suspect he is getting bored with what is happening and bored, rather than concerned, about hearing of continuing Russian losses, that is a measure of the value he holds against Russian soldiers’ lives. Of note at the lower estimated Russia has 20,000 dead and that means probably another 80,000 at least with life changing injuries, off the battlefield.
However, he will have calculated that by proposing a peace settlement he can break the international community’s support for Ukraine. He will already have seen the Italian peace plan proposal what ceded territory to Russia, he will calculate that Germany, Austria and Hungry will all support any peace proposals he puts forward as will China, India and Pakistan. He will want to split NATO, the EU and create global division if he can.
Getting to the point where he can propose a peace settlement is still some way off and whilst Russia has been hit hard and suffered horrendous losses at the hands of the Ukrainian defenders, it has much more it can and will throw int the fight to achieve its objectives. Fighting in the East is ramping up and will likely become more intense. To make up for a lack of ability to carry out true armoured manoeuvre warfare, and a poor logistic tail, Russian advances will be preceded by use of heavy indirect fire and where possible air attacks. Drones, battlefield surveillance and EW, as well as sympathisers, will continue to provide targeting information.
Only when they believe Ukrainian defences have been neutralised will ground forces move forward. The Ukrainians may withdraw faster to additional pre prepared defences, trying to extend Russian lines of communication, knowing that will put pressure on incompetent logistics, as they prepare for potential counter offensives.
All of the time the Ukrainian defenders will be gathering intelligence on where the Russian Artillery Regiments are operating from and, with their new longer-range artillery, be preparing for concentrated counter battery fire. This will only really become apparent when the Ukrainians have armoured manoeuvre formations reedy to counterattack and try and disrupt the Russian plans. That is likely still some time off as there has been no evidence of armoured formation level attacks to date. Until then we will likely continue to see the intense fighting we are today, where every field, hedgerow, track, road and village is being hard fought for.
Russian objectives will be to encircle Ukrainian forces in a cauldron and then destroy them however, the Russian ambitions have been decreasing with each month of the war and it is probable they are not far off having to transition to a defensive posture. That gives the initiative back to the Ukrainian’s, who have been defending against Russian attacks and having to be ready on multiple fronts. Ukraine will then be able to choose the time and place for its counterattack(s). This transitional phase will see large artillery exchanges and use of air power if available with attrition being the aim rather than capturing ground. Ukraine will want to weaken any Russian defences and set the conditions not to let the Russians know where and when they will counterattack.
This unfortunately means a period of not massive moves but lots of attrition on the ground. When Ukraine will be fully ready is unclear and whether it will wait for further Western supplied equipment is again unclear. What is clear, is there will be no quick solution on the ground and Putin’s inner circle seems relatively secure. The people of Ukraine and the international community have a lot ahead with this conflict. The most important thing is that we maintain international unity as if cracks appear, Putin will enlarge them, and the war will go on longer.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO Planner and is available for comment