Ukraine, a month in

Ukraine, a month in

Ukraine, a month in.

by Philip Ingram MBE

Life changed not just for Ukraine on 24th February 2022 but arguably for a large proportion of the world. Russia’s further invasion of a sovereign country has changed the continent of Europe, changed its political priorities and economies as well as those of most countries across the globe. It has brought the EU together in a way hitherto unseen, shocked NATO with a threat many members had thought had disappeared into a puff of cyber into a grey zone and brought the possibility of nuclear war, a prospect last seen in 1983, but for many last considered with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

A lot has happened in that month, with millions of Ukrainians displaced, some 3.5 million out of the country. Thousands have died and for what? And many more have been injured and scarred for life. Towns and cities have been reduced to wastelands and lives changed for generations.  Causing this, Russia has failed to achieve a single operational objective.

Russia’s main effort (ME) was to topple the current Ukrainian Government and replace it with a more pro-Moscow regime in order to quash Ukraine’s increasing EU and longer-term NATO ambitions. Putin and his Foreign Minister, Lavrov, have both said this, which is why the Russian ME is known.  Its secondary objective was the linking of Crimea along the Southern coast of Ukraine, via the Donbas region to Russia with a Land Bridge and that is clear from the formations used, their operational dispositions and axis of advance. The third objective was likely the capture of Eastern Ukraine unto and including the Dnieper River. This is known from the axis of attacking Russian formations.

To achieve these three objectives, looking at what happened on the ground, Russia had tried to prepare the battlespace with small teams of special forces and from their intelligence agencies, the GRU and FSB inside Kyiv to identify and snatch key Ukrainian leaders whilst an Air Mobile Operation with an Airborne Reserve captured a key airport near Kyiv, Antonov Airport, in order to build a bridgehead whilst ground forces advanced rapidly from the North and North West to link up with the Bridgehead. These manoeuvres were seen in the first hours of the invasion. They failed.

They failed because the teams operating inside Kyiv in the first hours failed to find and capture any government or senior officials and were routed by Ukrainian defenders, it is likely that Ukrainian intelligence had known about them and had a clear plan in place to neutralise them. It worked. The Airmobile operation to capture Kyiv’s Antonov Airport met heavy Ukrainian resistance and it is likely that Russian casualties were high. Russian forces established a toehold at the airport and airborne forces were dispatched to reinforce that whilst the armoured forces attempted to advance rapidly along multiple axis to link up with their lightly equipped forces at the Airport.

However, the Ukrainians successfully counterattacked the airport before the airborne forces could land, destroyed 2 transport aircraft in the air transporting these troops and blunted the advance of the armoured columns on all fronts. The link up armoured columns and their logistics got stuck in traffic jams stretching 10’s of Km making it easy for the Ukrainian defenders to keep them in place, destroying elements, sowing despair, and further restricting resupply and casualty evacuation.

They failed because Russia did not or could not gain air superiority over Ukraine, allowing the Ukrainians to attack Russian manoeuvre operations, keep the Russia air force at distance and allow Ukrainian air and air defence assets to continue to operate.  They failed because all arms combined operations are complex and need a lot of training and experienced and disciplined commanders and troops, Russia has few in that bracket. They failed because logistic support was an afterthought instead of being central to the operation. They failed because their troops lacked the drive and motivation of the Ukrainian defenders. They failed because intelligence was used to support pre conceived ideas rather than give realistic assessments.

The secondary objective required a move from Crimea North and Northeast along the coast of the Sea of Azov to meet up with formations coming from Russia and the disputed Donbas Region the other direction with maritime landings and operations along the coast to fix the Ukrainian defenders. Once completed the operation would switch to capture the strategic port Odessa and therefore the whole Ukrainian coastline and access to the sea. In occupying territory terms, the first part of this objective has been more successful but to date, has also failed.

It is clear the Russian formations were not prepared for the ground conditions, making it virtually impossible for them to manoeuvre their formations operationally and the continual attacks by the Ukrainian defenders caused an expenditure of combat supplies, (fuel, ammunition, rations, water, medical), that was unprepared for, making it easier for the Ukrainian defenders with internal lines of communication (i.e. easily resupplied and supported) to further influence the Russian advance. That Ukrainian influence has in military terms fixed the Russian attackers. Again, a lack of air superiority was and is a significant factor. This means, stopped their ability to manoeuvre in the way they want and need to achieve their objective.

The Third objective required Russian formations backed by formations from the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas Region to attack West and grab territory up to and including the Dnieper River. This too has failed for the same reasons mentioned above.

So what? Russia will keep pumping troops in and will win. This is what Putin hopes but the signs are it won’t work.  On the ground Russian forces have transitioned from offensive operations to attritional operations and in in some areas purely defensive. Their attritional focus in from what is euphemistically referred to as ‘The Play Book’ which is just shorthand for what happened in Georgia and Syria, but the situation is different, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) template operations. Putin is concerned which is why he has dared use the Chemical and Biological words as well as reaching for his nuclear stick.

He knows that by suggesting their possible use he will likely split some of the political unity seen in the EU and NATO but he also knows that if he uses them then the tacit support he is getting from other countries such as China and India could disappear very rapidly. Putin is playing a game of nuclear chess with words to try and give him and his forces on the ground breathing space to regroup, use attrition to break the will of the Ukrainian people and thereby hopefully the Ukrainian politicians and break the cohesion of the international community reined against him.

This is probably the most dangerous phase of Putin’s Invasion as he tries to wrestle some form of initiative back, knowing he can make this phase last months, with the civilian people of Ukraine paying an increasing price daily. However, there are green shoots of possible Ukrainian counterattacks, North West of Kyiv. If Ukraine can begin to push Russia forces back in any meaningful way, then Putin’s hand will be called earlier. The problem with this is he has nowhere to go and given what he has done should be given no concessions. It is at this point that NATO leaders will have to consider some form of closer involvement with all the inherent dangers that that will bring.

I think we could see Putin waving his nuclear stick harder and the real concern is once he steps onto the escalation ladder, it can be climbed very quickly.  This is a time for international leaders to put politics aside and concentrate on unity of action and unity of message; we live in increasingly dangerous times.

 

Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior British Military Intelligence Officer and NATO Planner – he commentates globally on TV, on the Radio and in print.

 

Russia and Ukraine, the Chemical and Biological threat with a touch of Nuclear

Russia and Ukraine, the Chemical and Biological threat with a touch of Nuclear

Russia and Ukraine, the Chemical and Biological threat with a touch of Nuclear

By Philip Ingram MBE

The Russian messaging machine has gone into overdrive on its claims that the Ukraine and the US are developing chemical or biological weapons for use against invading Russian forces, as they brought the accusation to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Friday.  So that is the reality, a question I have been asked frequently by many press outlets in the past 24 hours?

At the end of February Vladimir Putin issued a statement where he raised the alert level of his nuclear forces and later his Foreign Minister Lavrov blamed comments from the British Foreign Secretary for forcing them to do so. This one act of putting your foot on the nuclear escalatory ladder then taking it off again says so much about Russia’s approach to diplomacy.

Russia has a policy of “escalate to de-escalate” so threatening the unthinkable to then back down is something in their psyche but they also have a history of following thorough, in particular when it comes to bombing, rocketing and shelling civilian built up areas and in Syria, helping to facilitate the use of chemical weapons.

In Ukraine, Russia’s invasion has become bogged down and in some areas fixed. They have little freedom to manoeuvre. That is why we are seeing what many refer to as the playbook tactics being rolled out. Whenever Russia has been fixed or bogged down in the past, they have rapidly resorted to surrounding cities and pounding them from the air, with rockets, missiles and artillery, in an indiscriminate manner, all to try and break the resolve of the people.

The agreement for humanitarian corridors and ceasefires is also playbook stuff as is mining those routes and shelling fleeing civilians. Again, looking at the response from the international community in the past to these atrocities, there has been none; Russia has been allowed to get away with it.

Many of the commanders involved in invasion of Ukraine will have served in Syria, some may even have been in Grozny in 2008, but that playbook tactics will be in their psyche, Putin likely won’t even have had to order it as it will have been in the wider contingency plans for cities showing too much resistance. What Russia hadn’t expected was that is every city! The last time this level of resolve was shown, in Syria, to break the deadlock, Chemical weapons were employed.

It is that playbook combined with the statements from official Russian MoD channels and the calling of the UNSC meeting that makes the threat of use of chemical weapons in Ukraine all the more real.

I will dismiss biological weapons quickly by saying they are not an act of war. Biological weapons are very difficult to weaponise into battlefield delivery system and their effects more difficult to control. You also need superb medial facilities for your own troops in case of accidental exposure, and the Russians don’t.

However, a real threat doesn’t automatically translate into their actual use. Key to this is that in Syria, Putin had a plausibly deniable outlet for blame when the international community called out the false flag attacks blamed on the Syrian opposition fighters, he could blame Assad and say he was misled too. This is a combination of  маскировка (maskirovka), masking the truth behind disinformation and  враньё(vranyo), which means to tell a lie without expecting to be believed, both are frequently exercised Putin tactics.

There are 2 scenarios where Putin may use chemical weapons in Ukraine, one is in a false flag incident in the vicinity of a Ukrainian research facility giving an excuse for him to go to the Russian people as say, “told you so, this is why we have to invade all of Ukraine.”  This remains a possibility but the fact that western intelligence has already called it out may take that option off the table as it has done before with other potential false flag incidents.

The second is horrific, Putin uses chemical weapons in order to break the blockades around Ukrainian cities. Here I am going to assess this as being less likely to unlikely as no matter what messaging Putin puts out, he knows that personally this gives him nowhere to hide within an international context, ever. He may be a psychopath, but he is in some ways still rational. He knows that use of chemical weapons would have to be authorised by him and that would mean automatic prosecution and a massive withdrawal of the tacit ‘turning a blind eye,’ he is getting from the likes of China and India. His pariah status would be further set in stone; irrecoverably so.

He also doesn’t need to go there yet. He has much more he can do with conventional military capabilities, if he can manoeuvre them and support them logistically, in this case that if is probably the biggest word in the English language.   He can threaten other disasters such as nuclear meltdowns in Ukraine’s nuclear facilities currently under Russian control but blame that on counter attacking Ukrainians. He has much more conventional terror to rain down on Ukraine’s cities before he even needs to consider the unthinkable.

The worrying final issue is no matter what the outcome, Putin has lost this war. He has failed, his military have failed. He has strengthened the Ukrainian people as a nation, strengthened the international community including the EU, caused the conditions for possible further NATO expansion.

Sun Tzu says, “Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”  Putin’s forces didn’t listen and are fixed. Unless there is a palace coup in Moscow, this conflict could go on for a long time with all of the associated suffering and deaths. The only other tiny green shoot of hope is that the Russians are becoming so fixed, that if the Ukrainian defenders can generate manoeuvre capabilities to counterattack, their time to push the Russian back in a significant way could come. Supporting the Ukrainian defenders more and enabling them to become attackers is the Wests next logical step.

 

Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior British Military Intelligence Officer and NATO Planner and is available for comment.

 

Sunday 27th February, Russia’s invasion and assessment **Updated**

Sunday 27th February, Russia’s invasion and assessment **Updated**

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

The Russian attack, an assessment as at 26th February 2022

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.

 

 

 

What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?

What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?

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