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.
What does Russia’s withdrawal from around Kyiv mean?
by Philip INGRAM MBE
Russia’s withdrawal of forces attacking into Kyiv from the North is a hugely significant step and change to its main effort in Ukraine. It makes no military sense to withdraw completely unless the force is completely unsustainable and there are wider concerns around continued access to lines of communication through and via Belarus. If these were sustainable then you would leave a force to fix further elements of the Ukrainian defenders splitting and thereby weakening their combat power.
However, withdrawing they are, and it is clear this is a defeated army withdrawing to reconstitute before being sent to the newly stated main effort concentrating military operations in the Donbas Region. Russian losses are clearly unsustainable both in equipment and manpower terms across their whole front.
The pictures of allegedly massacred civilians and stories of abuse, not by the first Russian occupiers but by those who relieved them in place, as they withdrew suggests an ill disciplined and very poorly led military force. No amount of reconstitution will change that culture and these units will be a liability on any new front, just adding to the Russian cannon fodder.
It is important to call these alleged atrocities until they are investigated, and a call is made by a recognised independent international body. There are claims and counter claims on both sides and whilst it seems clear which are right and which are made up, a formal process should be the decider. What is in no doubt is Russia carried out an illegal invasion of a sovereign country and its forces have been involved in some horrific war crimes. That does not need alleged in the sentence.
As more alleged atrocities are uncovered, and they will be in all areas of Russian occupation, the pressure on the International Community to do more will grow. The uninitiated will be calling for NATO to intervene directly on the ground and in the air and the immediate moral gut feeling is that is what should happen.
However, those of us who know about warfare, rightly raise the concern that for the 10’s of thousands killed in Ukraine, and millions displaced, if the war spills outside Ukraine’s borders, that death toll would very quickly rise to 100’s of thousands with 10’s of millions displaced if not more.
The pressures on our political leaders at this moment in time could not be greater and it is not a time for armchair commentators to criticise and shame on anyone who tries to score cheap political points when the country needs to pull together. The danger is very real, and a country’s leaders first priority, is to protect its own people. Putin is a long-term threat to all the people of Europe but the most important factor in dealing with him is multinational and international unity of effort; we must work collectively of any activity is to work at all and to do that effectively we need to accept different countries have differing challenges.
The world order has changed for generations to come. If Putin had just occupied the disputed areas of the Donbas region and sued for a negotiated settlement, he may well have got it. However, with the ever-rising civilian death toll, the increasing alleged atrocities, and the clear war crimes then the only solution is for Putin to lose and be ejected from the whole of Ukraine. From Putin’s perspective he must win and will want something to trumpet on his national day on 9th May at the traditional annual Red Square parade. What a target if the Ukrainian’s had long range missiles!
The battle at the moment, is one of attrition and logistics. Can the Russians keep their aircraft flying, missiles launching and artillery bombarding? Can the Ukrainians keep fighting, do they have enough stocks, or can they be resupplied quickly enough? Russia will have to rely on its own stocks and the West is acting as Ukraine’s 3rd line logistic chain with ever increasing moves to provide smart munitions, better anti-aircraft systems, armoured vehicles, artillery including loitering munitions.
It is only a matter of time before that turns into armoured fighting vehicles and aircraft, however, there are complexities. It’s not just operating them but fighting them, fixing them, resupplying them all takes resources and training. You can’t give an army or air force kit it hasn’t trained extensively with and expect it to be able to fight it. However, when it comes to tanks and other Armoured Fighting Vehicles, the weather is still not right for formation level manoeuvre, the ground is too soft for manoeuvre operations. Fields are very muddy; roads are easily blocked, and heavier armour needs to be fought as a formation for best effect. There is still time before the ground in many places will be ready as the Russians have found to their cost and Ukrainian farmers delight as their tractors tow away the abandoned detritus.
Putin’s forces have one attempt to try and wrestle any initiative back and if they fail then it is decision time around the Ukrainian’s going on a proper offensive to attack to push Russian forces out of Ukraine. Whether they can generate sufficient concentrated combat power to do that is not clear, and what is also not clear is what additional support they may need I the form of weapons, fighting vehicles and aircraft and if they can still man and operate them.
If that point comes, then Putin is backed further into a corner and there will come a period where the potential threat from tactical nuclear weapons will raise its ugly head, Putin cannot lose, from his perspective, however from the Ukrainian perspective Putin cannot win. The horns of the political dilemma have no easy or see able path for reconciliation short of a palace coup in Moscow, of which there seems little appetite at the moment. The only fact is that the people of Ukraine will continue to suffer in the most horrific way for the foreseeable future.
Philip INGRAM MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO Planner and is available for comment.
Sunday 27th February, Russia’s invasion and assessment. *** Updated as at 1400 hrs to add comment ref Nuclear threat***
By Philip Ingram MBE
Another day has passed where Russia has failed to achieve its main effort, the decapitation of the leadership in Ukraine. Open-source reporting indicates that Russia has still not achieved air superiority and given their on-paper air force strength it is important to ask why?
Better progress has been made along Russia’s secondary axis along the coast of the Sea of Azov from Crimea towards Mariupol trying to create a Russian controlled land bridge between the disputed Donbas region and Crimea, and therefore a land route into Russia itself.
There has been much talk of the Russian capture of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in the East of the country. I have even seen commentary from a senior former military commentator that Putin could have switched his main effort to the East. However further reports of the Ukrainians having recaptured it and Russian forces surrendering, add to the ‘fog of war.’
One thing you don’t do lightly in a military operation like this is switch your main effort – doing that has many of your supporting elements geographically misplaced and could give an opportunity for your opposition to seize the advantage as you redeploy them. A switch of main effort would also symbolise that your original mission has failed and would indicate that the whole mission is in jeopardy.
I don’t think Russia has taken that decision at the moment but certainly has the secondary objective of securing the whole of Eastern Ukraine and would use that as the bargaining position for peace talks should their objective of toppling the Ukrainian Government and capturing Kyiv, fail.
Pictures of Russian vehicles running out of fuel, casualties being abandoned where they fall suggest an undisciplined force with command-and-control issues and likely logistic issues. In this type of conflict, it is your logistics that could lose you the war! I must question how many Russian commanders will actually have been properly tested in the complex logistic operations needed to fight over such a wide area with such numbers of forces? I doubt it has happened.
The reports of Chechen units being brought into the battle, with one allegedly destroyed and unconfirmed reports of elements of the Belarus military being readied would suggest at this early stage that the Russians are coming unstuck. You don’t bring in reserve elements unless your main force has been fixed and you don’t bring in strategic reserve elements, which the Belarusian military would be, unless you are in real danger of losing any momentum and your tactical and operational reserves have already been fixed.
What I assess is more likely in the coming days is that Russia will use increasingly violent tactics in an attempt to surround and secure Kyiv. Possibly bombarding the city trying to break the will of the people and attempt to force the leadership to surrender in order to stop civilian casualties. This of course is contrary to the Geneva conventions and protocols and would indicate a desperate Putin.
All of this points to thinks not going well for Russia at the tactical and operational levels. Therefore I assess we are entering one of the most dangerous few days of the conflict. Putin’s forces need to try and wrestle the initiative back. They will have to throw all their resources at doing that. The pressure from Moscow for good news will be immense. The potential for extremes of violence aimed at the civilian population of Kyiv in the coming days is increasing, however, if Ukraine can blunt Russia’s moves for another few days it is distinctly possible that Putin could switch his main effort to just capturing an increasing part of East Ukraine before suing for peace.
Time and more information will tell.
*** Additional Comment as at 27 1400 Z Feb 22***
President Putin has ordered his nuclear forces to a “special” level of alert. We shouldn’t be immediately concerned at this as he hinted at the beginning of the invasion that there would be consequences for “whoever tries to hinder us,” and given the increasing pressure the international community is putting on Russia economically, increasing isolation at sea and in the air and the increased supply of weapons to Ukraine from 27 countries he likely feel his only option is to flash his big stick, ie his nuclear forces.
He is trying to gain advantage in the information sphere. His statement is also an indication that operations on the ground are not going as well as he would like and that the support the West is giving Ukraine and the amazing resolve shown by Ukrainian forces and defenders is having a very real impact on the Russian invaders.
Russia’s nuclear capability has been a very high priority for western intelligence for many years so any real changes in their status will likely be closely watched. This is an attempt at deterrence by Putin, not a statement he has any immediate intention to use nuclear weapons. However, you have to remember that if you threaten something, it is only credible if you are prepared to use them.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former British Army Intelligence Colonel and NATO planner., he is available for comment.
The Russian attack, an assessment as at 26th February 2022
By Philip Ingram MBE
With Ukraine firmly under attack by Russia in the Air, from the Sea and by Land forces it is an opportune moment to take a proverbial step back and analyse what seems to be happening with the Russian campaign, attacking Ukraine.
What is clear is the Russian Main Effort, the capture or destruction of Ukraine’s political and military leadership, decapitating Ukraine, in order to install a leadership more sympathetic to Russia’s (Putin’s) goals. Putin and Lavrov have effectively said this. Militarily this would be achieved by attacking and capturing Kyiv.
So, in military terms what is a main effort? The main effort is defined in the Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations as: “the concentration of forces or means in a particular area and at a particular time to enable a commander to bring about a decision.”
That in simple terms means it is what the military commander should concentrate his best resources and primary focus with all other activity designed to support that main effort. In Ukraine, the attack on Kyiv is clearly the Russian military commander’s main effort and the other activity is supporting effort aimed at dividing Ukraine’s defence forces by giving them multiple areas to focus on.
To have achieved their main effort the Russians should have rapidly secured air superiority by destroying Ukraine’s radars, air force and air defence assets. This would have given Russia the ability to manoeuvre freely on the ground and using airmobile and airborne assets whilst restricting Ukraine’s ability to manoeuvre defence forces to counter Russia’s attacks. It is clear Russia tried to do this, but it is equally clear it hasn’t been successful.
Once air superiority had been achieved, I would have expected rapid Air Mobile and Airborne operations to capture and hold key terrain, those areas that would give the attacking Russians an advantage, so bridges, airfields, power plants and for another blog, the information sphere. It is clear with the Russian Special Forces air mobile attack on Antonov Airport, 20 miles north of Kyiv, they tried to do this. If they had been successful, they would have been reinforced rapidly with other airborne and airmobile troops so they could break out, fix Ukrainian defenders and join up with advancing armoured forces. They have failed to do this.
Simultaneously Russian Armoured formations would be expected to deploy rapidly towards Kyiv with the main axis of advance likely following the M-01 highway from the Russian Border to the Northeast of Kyiv, bypassing but surrounding the city of Chernihiv to fix defenders in place whilst continuing to move the main body of the ground offensive to Kyiv as rapidly as possible.
A secondary axis to Kyiv would likely be from the Northwest of Kyiv following the M-07 highway. Artillery, rockets, ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters would provide cover for the armoured forces to advance as rapidly as possible by neutralising any defences before that got there. This clearly hasn’t happened.
The one question that hangs over all of what seems to be happening, from open-source reporting only, is; where is the expected overwhelming force by air and land that was expected looking at Russia’s on paper capability and superiority over the Ukrainian defenders?
The longer the Ukrainian’s can slow, stop, defeat, disrupt the advancing Russian forces the more frustrated their commanders will become. This is called creating friction, that friction makes what should be simple, more difficult and the difficult impossible and increase the potential for the ‘fog of war’ to further cloud Russian command and control decision making. I can just imagine the language Putin will be using to his military commanders.
However, what must be remembered and is clear in the Land Operations publication, is human dynamics lie at the heart of all conflict.” The human dynamics of a frustrated attacking force made up of personnel hundreds and thousands of kilometres from home who have been deployed for months already and don’t know the real reason why they are there, will be very different from the human dynamics of the defenders fighting for national survival and the safety and security of their families.
The loss of 2 IL-76 aircraft, likely carrying some of Russia’s elite airborne forces will not just have led to another mission to capture key terrain to failure but will impact heavily on that human factor.
It is because of this that Russia has only days to achieve its main effort because the first troops are the best equipped, best trained and most motivated, you never lead with your second best. Only a small percentage of the on-paper strength of the Russian military will be those troops, the more poorly trained and equipped will be there to hold ground after the fight has been won, not to become embroiled in a protracted campaign.
A very early assessment would be the Ukrainian defenders have the Russian attacking forces on the back foot the coming days are vital as if Russia is defeated in its main effort (which must happen) then Putin’s days are numbered. It is clear that secondary effort is a land bridge along the sea of Azov coastline connecting the Donbas region to Crimea but securing only that may not be enough to keep Putin in power.
We can expect Russia to become more aggressive around Kyiv with further attempts at Airborne and Airmobile troop insertions and increasing indirect fire and missile attacks to try and attack the morale of the defenders of Kyiv and the population. This next 48 hours is critical to both sides.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO planner. He is available for comment.