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
77th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, what next for Putin?
By Philip Ingram MBE
May 9th, 2022 was the Victory Parade in honour of the 77th anniversary of the victory of what the Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War, the Second World War. In an ideal world, Putin would have wanted to congratulate his victorious Russian forces for rapidly toppling the Zelinskyy Government, bringing Ukraine back under the safety of Russia and pushing western influence out and away from Russia’s borders. He would have described it as a further victory over the Nazi’s, as encouraged by his Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, he has been pushing conspiracy likening the Ukrainian Government and support from the West to Nazis.
He has failed with that desire.
He would have wanted to say how his victorious Russian forces have liberated the whole of the Donbas Region and now control the Luhsank and Donbas Oblasts having heroically captured Mariupol; his forces have failed to do that, and he didn’t even mention Mariupol in his speech. In fact, there was little of real substance in his speech apart from him emphasising that capturing the whole of the Donbas Region was his aim. Oh, how his military ambitions have been curtailed by Ukrainian defences enhanced by Western assistance and resolve.
The Victory Parade was different to previous years in that size of the parade seemed smaller by comparison, certainly there was a lot less equipment on display and a planned flypast was cancelled at the last minute due to “weather.” The skies were clear and the weather as dry. Putin wanted the Russian people to be rallied to the cause in Ukraine and in awe of his ongoing memorial to militarism and stance against what he described as a threat to Russia. To an extent he probably achieved that.
Of note, he talked of the threat created by the US and NATO but not of a need to defeat it just to protect the people of Donbas. This is a significant reduction from his original objectives and likely a recognition of the loss of military capability on the ground. In addition, the only thing of substance from Putin on Victory Day is an executive order to waive entrance exams to various military academies for children of those killed or wounded in the ‘special military operation’, replicating elements of the US, Forever GI Bill. He knows the impact of the real casualty figures.
Interestingly, after the parade, former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, said, “Mr Putin is clearly in trouble, and it is the “beginning of the end of Putin’s era”. He added “the fact that no victory was announced today means Russian forces are losing strength.”
However, to date it is more than strength he has lost. The initial attack on Kyiv was to be opened via an airbridge through Hostomel airfield on the outskirts of Kyiv. FSB intelligence had said the Ukrainians would roll over quickly, the 331st Guards Parachute Regiment, referred to as the “best of the best” in the VDV, the ‘elite’ Russian Airborne Forces, led the attack.
They were supposedly professional soldiers, well-equipped, well-trained, and well-led and were well beaten by the Ukrainian defenders. What came clear over the coming days is the Russians had conducted bad battle preparation, poor operational planning, had inadequate equipment and support and had troops who didn’t know the mission, never mind believed in it with a passion. Ukraine’s defenders had passion.
Losses likely drove Russia to refocus to the East and Putin emphasised his now limited objective again in his Victory Parade speech, control of the Donbas Region, that is the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, only part of which has ever been under Russian influence since 2014. Russian forces are still trying to encircle Kharkiv from the north and east in a horseshoe-like shape, they are not even carrying out bold moved to capture the whole of Eastern Ukraine and this is because their military clearly isn’t up to it. The forces trying to do this are not the best of the best, are not well equipped, supported or motivated.
For a professional soldier and former NATO planner, the fact the Russians have failed to achieve air superiority and don’t seem to be trying to achieve it, it a fundamental mistake. However, where is the mass of the Russian air force?
On the ground, every day the Ukrainians are getting stronger, with longer range and better western equipment and weapons, facing a weakening illegal invasion force. As the weather improves and the ground hardens, the conditions for manoeuvre warfare will be better and the Ukrainians will likely be in a better position to conduct it. June is probably the month for formation counterattacks at scale rather than the smaller ones that are happening today, but still with huge success.
Putin is in a pickle; he has a real dilemma. The fact he didn’t make any firm statements about the ongoing operation like Kasyanov, said, “Putin is clearly in trouble,” he doesn’t have the military wherewithal to wrestle the initiative back and doesn’t know where to turn. Where his rule to be threatened then that would put him in an even more dangerous position, however, the primary audience for his speech today will have been the Russian people.
To a people where messaging is controlled by the state and peoples psyce is to believe the state his words will have been believed at face value and his justifications for his actions in Ukraine, no matter how far-fetched they sound to the informed in the West, will play to many in his wider support base, in Russia. He seemed comfortable around his inner circle and those allowed to attend the parade, he has, for the time being, probably kept his home fires burning.
Putin will be confident economically he can exploit his relationships with China, India and Pakistan and now Hungary, which gives him a potential veto and crack in the EU and NATO which he will attempt to exploit. However, he hasn’t initiated any new and ground-breaking military initiatives, possibly because they have run out and that means a war of attrition to be fought to a geographic stalemate.
He has the resources to do that in the part of the Donbas he has already but whether he can expand that or consolidate elsewhere is rapidly becoming not his gift but the gift of the Ukrainian defenders and as such we will possibly see a slow transition to Ukrainian Offensive operations, breaking Russian supply lines and defences and Putin’s dilemma will get worse, but until them the people of Ukraine will continue to pay an enormous price and the international community an increasing price as the wider global implications over not just energy but foodstuffs including sunflower oil will have an increasing impact; especially on developing nations and economic migration.
The potential for this conflict to go on for significantly longer remains and we have only just begun to see the potential global impact.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO planner – he is available for comment.
There is a lot of commentary suggesting Vladimir Putin will want to announce a victory in Ukraine at Moscow’s annual Parade, commemorating victory in the Second World War, with this year’s parade taking place on 9thMay. Putin hasn’t said he wants to announce anything but given its position in Russian society and his ongoing Special Military Operation, it is logical to suggest he will want to do something.
In an ideal world for Putin, he would have wanted to congratulate his victorious Russian forces from rapidly toppling the Zelinskyy government, bringing Ukraine back under the safety of Russia and pushing western influence out and away from Russia’s borders. He has failed with that desire. He would want to say how his victorious Russian forces have liberated the whole of the Donbas Region and now control the Luhsank and Donbas Oblasts; it is increasingly unlikely he will be able to do that.
So, what is he likely to say? He could resort to straight враньё (vranyo), telling a lie without expecting to be believed, but as he controls the ‘truth’ as presented to the Russian people through маскировка (maskirovka), masking, he could invent a victory. However, he is unlikely to do that as it won’t explain the continuing bodies coming back to Russian mothers and need to mobilise additional troops and units to go to Ukraine.
However, he will want to do something. The indicators are appearing to suggest just that. The indicators I am talking about are:
Increasing rhetoric threatening the West for interfering
Issues appearing in other Russian breakaway regions
Missile attacks on cities across Ukraine
Russia exercising energy warfare
Unexplained incidents happening in Russia and Russian breakaway areas
Russia putting messages out about Russian victories in history
Russia continuing to try to court international support
Russia failing to gain advantages on the ground
Incidents and activities hitting all of these indicators have happened and are continuing to happen as well as increasing in frequency. Explosions in Transnistria, threats to hit supply routes from NATO countries into Ukraine, attacks on the likes of Lviv, Dnipra and other cities, the gas being turned off to Poland and Bulgaria, Foreign Minister Lavrov saying, “The risks [of nuclear war] now are considerable,” on 25th April, and more, are all examples, every indicator and warning of something else brewing, has been ticked. The important issue now is what these indicators point to?
Putin’s ambitions for a swift operation to topple the Ukrainian Government and replace it with a Moscow centric regime like in Belarus has failed. Strategically his desire for a weakened EU and NATO has failed. His desire for Russia to be seen as a Global power like the old Soviet Union, something he has been working on for almost the past 20 years, has failed His contempt for the international rules-based system was highlighted perfectly by the way he treated the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on his visit to Moscow to Putin’s version of ‘Tablegate’ and then rocketed Kyiv when Guterres was visiting there, 48 hours later.
The International Community is hitting back, ‘NATO is ready to maintain its support for Ukraine in the war against Russia for years, including help for Kyiv to shift from Soviet-era weapons to modern Western arms and systems, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in April.’ The UK Foreign Secretary said, “Ukraine must triumph. We will not relent in our efforts until they do,” as the US President, Joe Biden, asked Congress to approve $33Bn of aid including arms, for Ukraine.
We are likely to see an increase in rhetoric from both the Russians and stronger responses from the International Community as 9th May approaches. I can see Russia increasing its nuclear threats and moving from the implied to openly stated. I can see the Russians increasing their global saviours against Nazis rhetoric, siting WW2 and comparing Ukraine and the Wests ‘interference’ in a similar light to 1940’s Nazi Germany. I can see the Russians calling Ukraine and other Western countries, existential threats to Russia itself. All of this could well lead to Putin declaring War on Ukraine on 9th May. We are already hearing more war like talk from Russian commentators at all levels.
So, what will a declaration of war change? It will allow Putin to change his messaging at home and start to explain the huge numbers of casualties, it will allow him to mobilise greater numbers of reserves and give him an opportunity to try and garner additional military support from his strategic alliances. However, the main reason is all about messaging, domestically and then internationally. It is unlikely to change much on the ground except we would see more strategic rocket capabilities brought to bear with conventional warheads, on cities across Ukraine.
What happens next will dictate how the War develops. If Putin manages to capture the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, the whole of the Donbas region, then he would likely try and sue for peace as quickly as possible with the aim of retaining all of the territory he has captured. That would probably be unacceptable to President Zelinskyy and the people of Ukraine, and this is where the first nuclear option could come into play.
To force the Ukrainians to the negotiating table, especially if they were preparing to counterattack, Putin could drop a tactical low yield nuclear device in an unpopulated area, for example the forests around Chernobyl, telling his domestic audience there was an accident but knowing the international community would know instantly what happened. He would then possibly tell the West to back off and say to Ukraine, negotiate and agree to terms or Kyiv, or Lviv are next.
I think this would be below the threshold for a Western nuclear response however, it would almost certainly alienate the tacit relationship Putin has with China, India, and Pakistan. He would be balancing advantages and disadvantages off carefully in his mind. A Joint diplomatic response from the USA, UK, France with ideally China, India and Pakistan could be the precursor to any Western Military response, as there would have to be one or Putin will declare a victory. That possible response would likely be conventional and limited to Russian forces in Ukraine, but the nuclear escalation ladder has been joined!
If Putin doesn’t capture the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and looks like he could be counterattacked and pushed out of Ukraine, he could try the same tactic with a lesser territorial demand.
However, both options carry a terminal risk for Russia on any part of the international stage so would be last resort tactics. The possibility, however horrifying, exists, and it is critical that Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have a contingency plan agreed with President Zelinskyy, should the unthinkable happen. Macron will have the greatest difficulty with options, as he is the only EU nuclear power and will have to try and bring the whole of the EU along with any decision he makes. Again, if it happens it will likely stimulate a massive nuclear arms race amongst many smaller countries across the globe. The global doomsday clock would be slightly closer to midnight.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO Planner – he is available for comment.
The headline recently appeared in the Daily Mail saying “Zelensky declares social media WAR: President launches campaign telling the world to demand politicians act by swamping the internet with signs reading #ArmUkraineNow amid Russian assault on the Donbas.” In March President Zelensky delivered a historic address to the House of Commons that was beamed into the chamber via a live feed invoking Churchill in only a way a seasoned orator could. To the US Congress he invoked memories of Pearl Harbour, to the German Bundestag, memories of the Soviet days splitting Germany into East and West and the Berlin Airlift.
In his address to every country and institution his messaging has been personalised, focused and expertly targeted. However, it is not just his addresses to parliaments, congress, institutions that have an effect but his regular phone calls with world leaders and his nightly address to the Ukrainian people but also the world. Messaging, the power of words is at the core of his political and military defence and this is something we must understand an learn from quickly. President Zelenskyy is delivering a masterclass in the use of information in crisis.
However, the public master class we are seeing is reflected in an understanding of manipulation in the widest sense of the word that has underpinned Ukraine’s transition from a former Soviet State to one courting EU and NATO membership such that Russia felt compelled to act. Russia’s own information campaign is straight out of their books of враньё (vranyo), telling a lie without expecting to be believed, but told often enough through as many outlets as possible and control the truth through маскировка (maskirovka), literally masking, propaganda to many the lie becomes the reality.
Putin, usually through his foreign minister, Lavrov, frequently masks his intentions in an inflammatory way by stoking up the nuclear threat, knowing it will panic different countries in different ways. The statements we have heard the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Nebenzya deliver, beggar belief in their warping of reality, but Russia doesn’t care. What is good about Russia’s information war is their maskirovka and vranyo are so obvious to the free world. In Russia where the state has total control over all media, it is a different matter.
Their use of information is to reinforce their own beliefs, groupthink, and aimed domestically with the odd poorly aimed snipe internationally. An example of the latter is when Putin made his first nuclear threat, he said it was because of comments Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary made. He saw this as a way of worsening a perceived post Brexit rift between the UK and EU and in particular the Germans, he ignored the reality that the international community was coming together as never seen in recent years.
So where did Ukraine come from in the information sphere, to properly understand their development I talked to a former senior Foreign Office official and ambassador, (not to Ukraine) but someone who was involved with many interactions with the Ukrainians before Russia’s first invasion in 2014. Ukraine had been sending officers to the UK Advanced Command and Staff Course at the Joint Services Command and Staff College since at least 1997 and were trained in complex combined arms and joint operations. They had been courting NATO countries and the UK for many years before then.
Scale and capability is important to understand. The Ukrainians have one of the largest armed forces in region apart from Russia. They have at least 6 times as many tanks and APCs as UK and an Army c126K, with 900K reservists. They have some serious military capability and the Foreign Office official said in visiting Ukraine he was at the “Largest live fire power display I have ever seen, including major Close Air Support, battlefield breaching, manned APCs para dropped from Antonov’s.” The “so what?” from this is Western military support in terms of Armour offered from a numbers perspective is almost militarily irrelevant in terms of its scale; it is all about the message it sends and locking the Wests involvement into Ukraine’s conflict.
“The approach by Ukraine pre 2014 to diplomacy was aways to try to get signature to agreements tying us to support to Ukraine of similar nature to NATO commitments and of course support for NATO membership.” The Foreign Office Official went on to add, “Ukrainian delegations arrived for official Ministerial visit to Secretary of State with agreements for signature despite clear agreement before visit that we did not intend to sign yet another support agreement with Ukraine,” the tactic of trying to bounce the government into different positions was commonplace.
He added, “On official visits to Ukraine, the general tenor/approach was very Soviet, a massive reliance on bulk consumption of vodka morning noon and night, raunchy entertainment at official events as well as regularly being implicitly offered female staff as prostitutes,” as was ever, influence and manipulation was conducted the old Soviet way.
Since 2014 the Ukrainians have worked hard on improving their approach, moving from the very Soviet to the more western approach, but not forgetting what worked in the past. President Zelenskyy is giving global leaders a masterclass in leadership under pressure. The messaging, the influence operations he is conducting are all aimed at getting support from NATO the EU and the wider international community, tying them into the outcome of the war, so that Ukraine is not left on its own and the conditions are set for as rapid a rebuild of the country and its welcoming into other international institutions, as quickly as possible.
He has successfully courted the international community to cooperate in a way that has not only helped and continues to help Ukraine but has also brought international organisations and alliances closer together than they have been for many years. His words, his messaging, his actions have brough billions of dollars of aid in financial and equipment terms, he has pushed the boundaries of what the EU and NATO have ever done before, he has united a dividing world and refocused some interesting polarisations. What we have seen from President Zelenskyy is true effects-based influence and messaging.
The effects he is achieving are seen domestically where his relationship with the West maintains hope for the people of Ukraine. The effect he is achieving internationally is an increasing perception that Ukraine is fighting to protect the wider international community. He has achieved this in a very careful and subtle way. His actions, methodologies and achievements show a real lesson in the information sphere that the West needs to learn from.
We must ask why the West ignored genocide in Africa with the Tutus and Hutsis, why the International Community didn’t respond to Russia’s first invasion if Ukraine in 2014 but has responded now, and the answer, or a major part of the answer is the Zelenskyy effect. We must learn how to do this given the growing importance of information and messaging, we must take a leaf out of Zelenskyy’s book.
Philip INGRAM MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO Planner and is available for comment.
The appointment of General Dvornikov to be the overall Russian commander in their new phase of operations which will concentrate on seeking full territorial control of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, part of which make up the disputed Donbas region, is an attempt to bring unity of effort to Russian operations. It makes military sense, and a lack of unified command is one of the reasons why the Russians have failed in their objectives so far.
Dvornikov has experience in Syria, however, Syria was and is not an all arms, combined, high intensity military operation. His experience in high intensity warfighting will only have been tested since 24th February when Russia re-invaded Ukraine, so he is likely the best of a bad bunch of commanders.
So, what is his plan likely to be? I would think that to capture the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and enable rigged referendums in each he needs to attack towards the city of Dnipro, a key city on the Dnieper River and Ukraine’s 4thlargest city. As such it has a political significance, but it has geographic significance with transport hubs controlling access to SE Ukraine from the West and economic significance as a manufacturing hub critical to Ukraine’s export market. Ideally, to gain a favourable position for a negotiated settlement, Dvornikov would want to capture Dnipro.
Of course driving this are the Russian updated Strategic Goals of February 2022, which are:
Ukrainian recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea
Ukrainian declaration stating rejection of future NATO membership
The ‘demilitarisation’ of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Recognition of the Donbas People Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic as sovereign states at their pre 2014 Oblast borders
In addition, Dvornikov would want to move to capture Zaporizhzhya again on the Dneiper River, south of Dnipro and utilise land and naval forces to threaten an attack on Odesa, to fix Ukrainian defenders. He will likely continue to pressurise Kharkiv and Sumy in the NE of Ukraine again to fix Ukrainian defenders and protect the flank of his main attacking force. In doing so he could attack from the South and Northeast in a pincer movement to fix the Ukrainian defenders whilst a main effort tries to smash through the centre of their defences towards Dnipro.
Focusing on a more limited objective, given the heavy defeat the Russian forces have suffered so far gives an improved chance for some potential tactical victories. However, one man and a reduced objective won’t make this next phase easy for the Russians.
For the Russians, concentrating on Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts has the advantage of shorter lines of communication for logistic supplies and combat formations from Russia into Ukraine. It allows air support, strategic missile support and other shared capabilities to be concentrated where one commander wants their effect, not split across multiple areas of operation. These are the positives for the Russians.
However, Russian formations will be no better than those that have been defeated by the Ukrainians thus far, their commanders are no more experienced and still not able to carry out complex armoured manoeuvre warfare. Russian logistics and logistic planning will not have improved dramatically as they prepare for this new operation and the Russians still do not have air superiority. In addition the ground is unlikely to have dried out enough to enable armoured formation manoeuvre. This will severely hamper their ability to properly manoeuvre and fight as armoured formations.
The Ukrainians have been defending against attacks from the disputed Donbas region of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts successfully for the past 8 years and have had real successes defeating Russian attacks elsewhere in Ukraine. If they have sufficient manpower, weapons, and equipment available, they are perfectly capable of stopping further Russian advances, especially if they use a tactic of blocking Russian advances with disruptive activity in the Russian rear areas destroying logistics, command and control and artillery as a priority. The question then comes if they can generate enough of an armoured manoeuvre capability to forceable eject the Russian forces from at least further parts of Ukraine.
Should that happen, then the clamour for further international community involvement will continue to grow and the Russian response would be to further up attacks on centres of population to destroy the morale of the people, the economic viability of Ukraine and break political will to continue the fight. A sound planning assumption date, is that Putin would want to be able to announce some success at his annual Red Square Parade on 9th May.
If Putin doesn’t get a victory, then it is the people of Ukraine who will suffer further as Putin has the ability to sustain the attritional battle against civilian centres of population in a policy of ‘rubblising’ towns and cities. If he achieves his objectives or even partially by capturing the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts he is likely to try for a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible. The trouble for him is the price the Ukrainian people have paid already is too much for them to countenance giving Putin one square metre of Ukrainian territory. I believe we have many more horrors to come.
Philip Ingram is a former Senior British Military Intelligence Officer and NATO Planner and is available for comment.