Ukraine, one year back and now
By Philip Ingram MBE
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.
Russia’s next move in the East
by Philip INGRAM MBE
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.
Russia and Ukraine – we all sit and wait
by Philip INGRAM MBE
One thing about some Western Press coverage of the potential escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, is that everyone is searching for an immediate headline and therefore examining every little statement to report an opinion and try and suggest our analysis and therefore politicians must be wrong.
Two things must be recognised, in military operations there are long periods where little or nothing happens, you can have days of inactivity and there can be many causes. The weather isn’t right, politicians are still debating what to do, key capabilities have problems which must be fixed, final rest days prior to launch, consolidating in position before packing up and going home; any of these or other issues will deny todays or tomorrows sensational headline.
The second thing is that the military don’t decide when to go. If Russia further invades Ukraine, it is not a military decision, but a political one. Military forces are merely a political tool, used to reinforce diplomacy and then to clear up the mess when diplomacy fails. Military personnel are the same all over the world, the last thing they actually want to do is put their profession into action, as they know the horrors that come with it. The person who will decide if and when those horrors begin, is Vladimir Putin. He is highly unlikely to delegate the go / no go decision.
So, what is keeping him, what is he up to? The first thing that is occupying Putin is he is enjoying the ride. He is playing with the West; he is loving being centre stage with world leaders queuing up to visit him or speak to him on the phone. He is playing them, like a fisherman plays a prize salmon on the hook. The conference table games, where some meetings are from opposite ends of a huge table whilst others are side by side with just a coffee table between; the deliberately inflammatory or inaccurate remarks in joint press calls, trying to provoke, and more.
He is not just doing this for fun, every moment, nuance, statement during and after by world leaders will be examined by Putin’s team looking for sentiments he can use to create or enhance political cracks inside other countries or between countries. He has been playing Germany particularly well and the way he got Lavrov to deal with the British Foreign Secretary showed a real distain for the UK. He will also be judging what the international reaction is likely to be if he does further invade Ukraine.
One of the things he will have registered very quickly is the increased appetite for US and UK intelligence on Russian intent to be put into the public domain. As CNN reported earlier this month, “US officials alleged that Russia has been preparing to fabricate a pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine by creating “a very graphic propaganda video” that would depict a fake attack by Ukraine against Russia. The US’ disclosure of the alleged plot is the latest in a series of revelations designed to blunt the impact of any pretext Russia may use to invade Ukraine, and comes after US officials warned that Moscow could use a false flag operation to justify such an invasion.”
The Russian response, was to play the US intelligence machine by setting 16th February as the day the attack would be launched and when that was published in the press, ridicule it, which is exactly what happened with Russia’s ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov, denied suggestions that his country had plans to attack Ukraine and said that “wars in Europe rarely start on a Wednesday,” in a snipe at the intelligence relations. Why that snipe? Simply to sow distrust in reports being attributed to US and UK intelligence and it is probable that in the coming days we will hear references to the reliability of US and UK Intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war! He fed the headline machine.
However, whilst all of this is going on their standard Russian playbook is trundling on. More capability is being deployed into higher readiness formations and positions on the border with Ukraine, whilst Russian messaging is that their manoeuvres have finished, and units are returning to barracks. This is standard маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do.
We have seen the first cyber-attacks into Ukraine, but relatively unsophisticated and at inconsequential targets. More worrying are the political moves started by Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the Russian State Duma, when he called for a discussion in the parliamentary body on recognising the independence of the Donbas region and its separation from Ukraine.
Any formal recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbas could be used as an excuse by Putin to invade to protect the people from a humanitarian perspective. This is what I refer to as the Kosovo scenario, where Putin tries to mimic NATOs reasoning for going into Kosovo. He has referenced Kosovo more than once in the recent past.
An indicator of this coming to play are the claims we have heard over the past day or so regarding claims of genocide and the increase of shelling in the Donbas region, with suggestions of Ukrainian shelling contrary to the Minsk Protocol of 2015, designed to maintain the ceasefire. The genocide claims and what is being said around shelling is again маскировка (maskirovka), standard playbook stuff.
So, what does this mean? Well, the original analysis on potential attack dates were not before 20th February when the Winter Olympics finish, thereby not detracting from Chinas place on the world stage. Putin does not want to have President Xi lose face. The continued deployment of Russian military capability keeps that date as the earliest go date distinctly possible. There still needs to be a ramping up of маскировка (maskirovka), possible false flag incidents or one major incident and more cyber activity before Putin pushes the GO button.
He could of course, if he feels he can maintain the military readiness, de-escalate completely but he has backed himself into a corner. Can he trust the German Chancellor to keep his word if he did actually promise to stop Ukraine joining NATO, because he knows that if Ukraine does get into NATO then he had no hope of ever capturing and holding it, so now may be his only window to continue the process he started in 2014? Remember, Putin can think and act in very long timelines, salami slicing parts of Ukraine away.
I still believe Putin is looking for an excuse he can sell to the international community using another old ‘soviet’ tactic, враньё (vranyo), which means to tell a lie without expecting to be believed. He will be gauging if he can consolidate the Donbas region under Russian military control with possibly a bigger buffer and get away with that in the international community’s eyes. Threaten all, take a piece and hope the world goes “phew” is that all?
The lie is told purely to save face knowing they won’t be challenged, and we saw this when RT interviewed Colonels Chepiga and Mishkin after the Salisbury Novichok poisoning and they came out with their infamous spire height quote. Remember, he likes the Kosovo scenario.
President Putin is still sitting behind his grand desk in Moscow, with a very large glass of the best vodka on ice, stroking a white cat on his knee, knowing he has the world dancing to his tune, and he is loving it.
This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer and Colonel. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE
What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?
by Philip Ingram, MBE
Watching the debacle that was the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the huge amounts of equipment abandoned, destroyed, or falling into Taliban hands as the Afghan security forces melted away, with the political ramifications that spread across the US and UK in particular with the mad scramble, and failure to get all of the locals who had helped the coalition out of the country, it is likely President Putin smiled. Russia had its own debacle in Afghanistan, but it left in a more orderly fashion. Vladimir knew the West was a shadow of its previous self.
At the time of the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan the then Vladimir Putin of the KGB was finishing his career as an intelligence officer, destroying files in Dresden in the former East Germany. As the wall came down, he moved to be an advisor on international affairs to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak, where, by his own admission, he resigned from the KGB in 1991 not wanting anything to do with the post-Soviet regime’s intelligence machinery, his destination was politics.
However, his foundation, the belief at the core of his soul, was the USSR, and a USSR as a world leading global power. He has never lost that belief and has resented everything that has diluted the reality around it. When it comes to Ukraine, for over 10 years before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin ran a long media campaign aimed at suggesting that Russians and Ukrainian’s were one people but painting them in the eyes of ethnic Russians as “little Russians” and mobilised strong anti-Ukrainian sentiment in the run up to the Annexation. He hasn’t stopped since.
However, what this says is that Putin has a long-term plan, measured in decades not months and his actions into Crimea, support for separatists in the Donbas region, cyber-attacks, possibly assassinations and military deployments to the Ukrainian borders over the years culminating in the current deployment, clearly display his long game approach to achieving his objective; Ukraine being absorbed back to mother Russia.
What is different about this deployment is its scale, not just combat troops but combat support (artillery, engineers) and logistics. It is on a scale not seen before. In addition, it is no accident that Putin is having joint military exercise with Belarus, deploying Naval capability into the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean, having joint exercises with China and Iran in the Indian Ocean, all at the same time. The Russian military has not been tested like this since the old USSR days, something Putin will be proud to have achieved but also concerned about the message at home.
So why doesn’t Putin just invade and take Ukraine immediately?
There are several issues around this simple question, the first is size. Ukraine is the second largest country by land mass in Europe at some 603,628 Sq Km and has a population of approximately 55 million people. That is a huge area to invade and a huge number of people to subjugate; it is not a simple military operation even for a country with the size of military forces Russia has on paper. Even if he had enough land based military capability to take and hold Ukraine, he would very quickly become fixed and be able to concentrate on nothing else.
The second reason is the potential international reaction. Putin does care about the international consequences, especially if it will hit him and his supporters in the pocket too hard. Economic sanctions he can handle, even though the Russian economy is in turmoil, note how he is courting and getting increased Chinese support! Are we seeing or is there already a coalition of the leaders for life?
However, if it came to the point where his personal assets overseas or those of the oligarchs supporting him (keeping him in power) were badly affected then he would be concerned. Politically he needs to keep the oligarchs onside and able to keep their lucrative businesses, otherwise support to keep Putin in power would disappear rapidly from those with the power to remove him.
Remember the attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with Novichok? That was to send a message to some errant oligarchs more than it was to assassinate Skripal. Exactly 14 days before the last Presidential election, Putin wanted a greater percentage of the vote and at least one oligarch could have disrupted that. After a smear of Novichok in Salisbury, there was no dissent.
Of note Russia has just changed its position on Crypto Currencies from banning them to regulating them, could this be a move to allow Putin and Oligarchs to protect some of their assets in decentralised currencies, less easy to subject to asset freezing? Regulation would continue to allow him and his political friends to maintain oversight of their use!
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.
His military exercises with China and Iran in the South China Sea, 240 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, sending landing ships through the Mediterranean, mobilising elements of all of his Naval Fleets are doing two things – the first is sending a message to the West, “you don’t know what I am up to,” and the second is splitting intelligence and diplomatic efforts. Intelligence assets monitoring a large number of events simultaneously means there is less of a concentration of them to monitor what actually happens when it does at Putin’s time and place of his choosing.
When it comes to land-based deployments and his exercises in Belarus, it gives him the ability to outload and forward deploy the military capability he needs to take action into Ukraine but also place troops on boarders with NATO countries as a deterrent. The rationale is twofold – deterring NATO from physically getting involved and secondly splitting Ukrainian defences by suggesting potential multiple axis of invasion. However, no matter what numbers of troops and pieces of equipment are on paper, when analysing Russian capability, only a finite amount will be the newest, the best trained, the capabilities at proper combat readiness. The rest is there for show.
Diplomatically Putin’s manoeuvres are providing him invaluable insights to western thinking, possible reactions, weak points and options. He will continue to play the political and diplomatic game as long as he has options to manoeuvre in this area and gain and keep from his thinking’s perspective, the high ground. He has offered an olive branch to deescalate knowing the thorns on the branch make it unacceptable to the West who rejected it. However, from Putin’s messaging perspective aimed at his troops and his domestic audience, the West have been the aggressor. This is reinforced by pictures of the US and UK and others sending weapons to Ukraine and talking of military deployments to shore up NATO countries. All of this will be played by Putin as aggression. We just seem paralysed when it comes to confronting Putin in the information sphere, the Grey Zone!
Putin has found two major cracks in the EU, one he knew about, the inability of Ireland to influence the waters off its coast and how this provides a potential weak point on NATOs flank. However, the bigger weakness is Germany and her political stance not to send military support to Ukraine. From a longer-term perspective, Putin will see this as a huge victory proving the EU can and will never be one security entity and it easily manipulated and fractured economically.
What is missing currently are the final triggers and indicators of an invasion. They will likely start up to 2 weeks before troops move further into Ukrainian territory and will possibly involve false flag incidents in one or all of Russia, Belarus and the Donbas region and/or Crimea, followed by at least one in Ukraine itself, targeting the Russian speaking population. The possibility of a Russian target being subject to a false flag attack anywhere in the world, is very real. Around these there will be increasing cyber activity targeting NATO countries and political entities such as the EU. As these start and as they ramp up, we know an invasion is coming in days.
However, putting all the troop numbers and posturing to one side it is likely if Putin gives the green light to further invade Ukraine that it will be limited, probably just capturing Eastern Ukraine and up to parts of the Dinipro River, consolidating the Donbas region and another land bridge to Crimea. He will likely judge the International community would breathe a sigh of relief if he doesn’t attack all of Ukraine, but that is a dangerous assessment for him to make. However, he does have to do something and relatively quickly. Whatever that is his driving factor will be to maintain credibility domestically and internationally.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former colonel in British Military Intelligence and is available for comment