Ukraine – What comes after the counter-offensive?
By Philip Ingram MBE
As we are waiting for the Ukrainian counter-offensive against the illegal Russian occupying forces to get under way, it is important that we begin to think of what could happen next and ask if it will see the end of this unnecessary and brutal war that is impacting so many in Ukraine. We also have to ask what the continuing global impact could be, and could the end state be worse?
So, where are we at the moment with Putins 10-day Special Military operation, AKA all-out war against Ukraine? It’s quite simple, he is losing. His initial objective was clear, topple the Zelensky Government through a rapid operation into Kyiv and oversee the transition of Ukraine to a pro Russia puppet state like Belarus. He expected it to be all over and done with in 10-14 days at most, as he believed the might of the Russian military.
He failed in his strategic objective because his operational planning and tactical execution were flawed. He failed because of an overestimation of his military abilities and an underestimate of Ukraine’s resolve and ability to generate international support. The Ukrainians stopped him achieving his initial goals forcing him to change his main effort to the East and withdraw from all other places. However, the Ukrainians then ‘fixed’ his forces, counter attacking in Kharkiv and then Kherson taking huge tracts of land back from under Russian occupation.
Then the weather changed, making manoeuvre warfare almost impossible. The Ukrainians continued to ‘fix’ the Russians militarily and psychologically in Bakhmut, buying time to send their best troops overseas to be trained on western tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery, with associated changes in tactics. This has enabled them to get into the position they are now, ready to restart the initiative through a new counter-offensive and take more occupied territory back.
Ukraine has four potential areas it could attack and may attack one or more simultaneously, ensuring the Russian ability to concentrate force over what is a 1200+ km frontline, remains dislocated. That is why we are seeing attacks into mainland Russia as part of the Ukrainian counter-offensive battlespace preparation phase. It keeps the Russians guessing and weakens their reserve capability by ensuring it remains geographically spread. This adds further command and control (C2) and logistic headaches, especially with Ukraine targeting logistics and C2 nodes as part of this preparation phase.
base map thanks to UK MoD Defence Intelligence
The Ukrainian counter offensive has started, we are in phase 1, prepare the battlespace and this can continue until the conditions are judged right to move to the next phase. That could be days or weeks away. However, the time and place will be decided by the Ukrainians but what could happen after that?
The Ukrainian ground counter-offensive will likely come to a natural pause in the Autumn when the ground becomes too soft for armoured warfare and will probably transition back to the deep battle and fixing operations in preparation for another counter-offensive phase in Spring/Summer 2024. By then the political landscape will be becoming more complex. Residential elections in Russia and the USA, parliamentary elections in the UK all giving Putin influence opportunities. How much territory the Ukrainians will have liberated by then remains to be seen.
It also gives those circling Putin an opportunity potentially to oust him and he will be aware of that. Western influence operations will be trying to help set the conditions for that, and we will likely see an increase in efforts around this over the coming year. However, that may not bring in anyone more sympathetic to the West or wanting to solve the current crisis.
Many of the architects of the “Special Military Operation,” or those who think they could handle it better (including Shoigu the defence minister and Prigozhin the head of the Wagner Private Military Company) are in a potential succession line. Of note, even though Private Military Companies in Russia are technically illegal, Shoigu is setting his own up. Could we see a face-off between him and Prigozhin?
However, there are bigger issues. The Russian Federation is a complex and multifaceted nation, marked by its vast expanse, rich history, diverse cultural landscape, and intricate political system. As the largest country in the world, Russia boasts a unique geopolitical position that has been shaped by its relations with neighbouring states, internal political frictions, and the ongoing process of regionalisation.
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Russian Federation embarked on a journey towards democracy and a market economy. However, this transformation was fraught with difficulties, as the country lacked a clear conception of how to achieve these goals.
During this period of political and economic upheaval, various factions and interest groups vied for power, often leading to intense internal struggles and policy inconsistencies. These internal struggles and factions behind them haven’t gone away. The disparity between the casualties coming out of the Special Military Operation from the Moscow, European elite and other regions of Russia will likely increase tensions as they become known. Any weakening of the centralised power base could see moves in some areas for greater autonomy.
According to the New WorldEncyclopedia.org, “The Russian Federation comprises 85 federal subjects, namely:
- 47 oblasts (provinces)
- 21 republics (states) which enjoy a high degree of autonomy on most issues and which correspond to some of Russia’s numerous ethnic minorities
- eight krais (territories)
- six okrugs (autonomous districts)
- two federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg)
- the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
Federal subjects are grouped into seven federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President of Russia. For economic and statistical purposes, the federal subjects are grouped into 12 economic regions. Economic regions and their parts sharing common economic trends are in turn grouped into economic zones and macrozones.”
That is a complex set of groupings over a vast area, 17,075,400 km², with a population in excess of 145 million and multiple ethnic and religious groupings is a challenge when there is clear control from Moscow and strong leadership. With potential leadership infighting, a vastly weakened military and an economy in free fall, the ability for Moscow to retain control could be questioned. Any fight for leadership in Moscow post Putin would be fraught with difficulty and potentially a real ability to continue to hold the federation together.
Should the potential for a former Yugoslavia type breakup of the Russian Federation become more likely, then the possibility of pre-emptive action from the likes of China and Japan would increase. China has a 4000Km border with Russia and the potential for unrest along that area would not be welcome. Japan disputes Russia’s continued occupation of Kunashir Island, part of the Kuril Island group and the southernmost island, nearest the Japanese mainland. Japan has recently changed its constitution to allow the Japanese Home Defense Forces to project power to protect Japanese interests.
We have to be cognisant that the end of the Special Military Operation (War) in Ukraine will likely lead to the downfall of Putin, if he isn’t deposed beforehand, but the outcome could easily become a much wider global problem which would make the breakup of Yugoslavia seem like a minor issue. If ever there was a time for looking forward and strong international cooperative diplomacy, now is that time.
There are leaks and there are leaks – how easy should it be to find a leaker?
The recent leaks of Top Secret and other documents have generated a massive debate in the US and other press outlets as to the potential damage caused by this classified material getting into the public domain and who could have leaked it and why.
Many of the comments are speculative and not looking at the actual classifications on the documents and what this mean. As these will point clear to a relatively small cohort of people who should have access to them.
The most highly classified document has the header and footer below:
So, what do these terms and abbreviations mean in reality?
Top Secret: – information that id compromised could cause Exceptionally Grave Damage to national security or international relations.
HCS-P – HUMINT Control System – Product – Contains information derived from sensitive Human Intelligence sources (spies)
SI-G – COMINT (Gamma) – This is communications intelligence derives from intercepting different communications and the Gamma is an extra compartment suggesting more sensitive collection means.
TK – Talent Keyhole – Satellite or U2 spy plane derived Signals Intelligence, Communications Intelligence Measurement and Signature Intelligence or Imagery Intelligence – this is another limited compartment restricting who can access the information. For example, if you are Top Secret cleared it doesn’t give you automatic right to TK material or SI-G material.
FGI – Foreign Government Information – it says what it means, information and intelligence has been obtained via foreign government, usually through bilateral or multilateral arrangements. This makes any leak extra sensitive as it is someone else’s intelligence, entrusted to you to look after.
RSEN – Risk Sensitive – again what it says on the tin – some of the information or intelligence is especially sensitive.
ORCON – Originator Controlled – this means that further release of the information can only be authorised by the originator.
NOFORN – Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals
FISA – Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act derived – data authorised for collection using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which can data held in US based servers but belonging to non-US personnel or entities.
Secret – one step below Top Secret – information that could cause serious damage to national security.
REL – means releasable and here FIN means to Finland, UKR means Ukraine, FVEY means the Five Eyes Community (UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and NATO means releasable to NATO countries and NATO HQs.
In the US it has been quoted that there are 1.25 million people with Top Secret Clearance but that doesn’t mean they have access to these documents. Documents at all classifications are released on a need-to-know basis only as well. So only smaller number with a need for Ukraine related information and not just Top-Secret Clearance but also authorised for TK, Gamma, HCS and FISA access – with each caveat the pool of who can get access gets smaller.
In addition, the documents shown online were printed. Where Top Secret and above documents can be printed again is very carefully controlled and what is missing are the copy numbers that should be on the documents. Top Secret Material is very carefully controlled, so printer records can be checked and those who authorised the printing questioned.
Finally, to have a camera and or phone capability in a location where Top Secret Documents are available, shows a huge laps in basic security. These locations can be identified by auditing the few locations where these documents could be.
The bottom line, any leaker will be caught, that is if it is wanted that they are caught.
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.
Ukraine, what’s happened and what’s to come in 23?
By Philip Ingram MBE
It was hard to predict as the world celebrated the birth of 2022 that only a few weeks later Russia would launch a major European conflict with global consequences. As we witness the birth of 2023 it is right to reflect on what has, is, and could happen.
I have been commenting continuously on this re-invasion and globally impacting conflict from before it started with my first blog on 4th Jan 22 and assessment was in the right ballpark! (https://greyharemedia.com/russia-and-ukraine-an-intelligence-goldmine/). Several blogs on the build-up later and 3 days before Russia’s re-invasion I had assessed their main effort would be in the East (https://greyharemedia.com/potential-war-plan/), largely Russia’s current plan. I had discounted Russia’s attack on Kyiv as nothing but a possible feint as I believed it beyond them. Russia proved it was beyond them and to date have failed in all of their strategic and operational objectives.
Tactically in the early part of the conflict Russia gained a lot of Ukrainian territory in the East, across the disputed Donbas region, building on that had been annexed by separatists in 2014. However, it is increasingly clear that those tactical advances were giving the Ukrainians the time they needed to reset after defending Kyiv, mobilise and start training new military personnel, protect, train, and deploy manoeuvre formations with new units, new capabilities and integrate new donated equipment’s.
The Ukrainian military were trading space for time, a recognised military tactic, slowing the Russians as much as possible, disrupting their logistics and command and control and causing massive attrition on their first and second echelon forces as they advanced. Ukraine fought a textbook defensive battle preparing for its counter offensives which have both been massively successful, initially in the Kharkiv area and then in the Kherson area, giving us a masterclass in planning and executing complex combined arms, all arms high intensity warfighting at formation level. They have prepared their formations for this in a few short months, of note it takes a British Army Brigade a 2-year training cycle to get to that level of preparation.
Ukraine is now controlling the tactical battle and has Russia fixed in the Bakhmut area where fighting has been ongoing for months. With the Russians effectively fixed, Ukrainian reconnaissance are probing for the next weak point for another Kharkiv and Kherson like counter offensive. This is what we are likely to see in 2023, Ukraine taking back more chunks of territory after attritting the Russians before exploiting weak points in a very well planned and deliberately executed way.
Ukraine controls the momentum of the tactical battle and as such is dictating the time and place of activity. This will likely continue through the year with pauses in the early spring and autumn as the ground will be too soft for manoeuvre warfare with armoured formations. Territory will be taken back in manageable chunks unless the whole Russian defence collapses. It is probable that Ukraine will leave any actions into Crimea to recapture that until 2024 unless there is a rapid collapse of the Russian military inside mainland Ukrainian territory, remembering all territory recaptured has to be secured, protected and rebuilt.
From a Russian perspective they just want to slow the war down as much as possible and attrit Ukrainian forces to deplete their military capability. They will be hoping to generate a manoeuvre formation from something, however what is clear from what we have seen in 2022 is the basic building blocks just don’t exist. Russia will therefore be looking at its operational level and strategic tactics to get some form of victory. Putin wants and needs the war to become as protracted as possible but also is beginning to realise that the longer it goes on the less secure his position is.
At the operational level Russia wants to continue with its fight to try and break the will of the Ukrainian people by attacking infrastructure targets like power, water, and communications, hoping that the people will force the politicians to seek peace quickly. However, what is clear from UK Defence Intelligence Reports is Russia is running out of missiles, hence why it is sourcing Kamikaze drones from Iran. In addition, at the operational level, keeping a potential threat from Belarus means that the Ukrainians must keep some forces focused on defending any incursions from there, however unlikely they may be. I can’t see Belarus entering the conflict this year.
Operationally, Ukraine has shown it understands the deep battle and use of SOE type capabilities causing fires and sabotage deep into Russia and the use of conventional drone attacks deep into Russian territory. The Crimea Bridge attack had a major effect, and we will likely see more of these type attacks through 2023.
The next continuing area of conflict is at the Strategic Level. For Ukraine the focus is maintaining the support of the international community, pushing for more weapons, better weapons, continued military support through training, combat supplies and of course money to keep the country going. The Ukrainians will continue to use the information domain which has been captured and utilised perfectly by President Zelensky and he will likely continue to do so.
Russia has more strategic ambitions as it sees its strategic ‘battles’ as its way of winning something. Strategically it wants to break the will of the international community, hence attempts to restrict grain from Ukraine, hence the use of energy as a weapon, hence the desire to elongate the conflict as Putin sees a growing tiredness and will try to exploit instabilities in the run up to the US Presidential Elections and UK General Elections. Watch for strategic cyber operations aiming at information compromises around both!
His internationally focused strategic actions will continue to generate more economic migrants heading to the West. I would not be surprised if Russian crime gangs are backing many of the people trafficking syndicates we are seeing in the UK. Russian focused espionage activities will continue and grow aimed at ensuring dissenting oligarchs continue to fall out of windows, downstairs or have heart attacks whilst looking for opportunities to exploit in traditional espionage ways. Strategically Russia’s cyber operations will continue disrupting Western businesses and operations.
Strategically Putin wants to expand relations with Iran as a weapon supplier and could trade nuclear technology for weapons. He is courting North Korea as a potential supplier but also a plausibly deniable outlet for Cyber and with Kim Jong Un firing missiles off frequently it keeps many countries having to maintain a focus there and not with more assets on Ukraine. He sees China as key, needing China economically to buy natural resources but Xi Jung Ping will have ambitions to buy Russia and keep Russia as stable as possible fearing a breakup causing him more problems along his 4,209.3-kilometre common border. We will see Putin operating more ruthlessly in his strategic actions through 2023 all backed by his information operations.
2023 will be a year of more Ukrainian success but it is vital to remember the human cost is nothing like has been seen since the Second World War. Pressure on the international community will continue and may increase but the only hope for a long-term peace is for Russia to be ejected from Ukrainian territories. As the momentum lies with Ukraine then there is no need for them to seek an early diplomatic settlement. The pain will remain throughout this upcoming year.
Philip Ingram MBE is an international commentator and former senior British Military Intelligence Officer and is available for comment.
Ukraine – Russia being backed into a corner
By Philip Ingram MBE
It has been a while since I wrote an assessment of my thinking on Ukraine, so I will start by way of a summary as to where we are today and how we got here. Putin’s aim when he stated his Special Military Operation in February was to topple the increasingly West leaning Zelensky Government. His secondary aim was to open a land bridge between Crimea, annexed in 2014 and Russia, via what has become known as the disputed Donbas Region.
With vastly superior troop numbers on paper, and different command structures Putin launched his attacks and plucky Ukraine, war hardened by eight years of fighting Russian backed separatists in the East and emboldened by Western training and weapons such as the UKs NLAW anti-tank missile, defended.
Militarily, Russia was found wanting, their command and control was poor, their equipment unreliable, logistics and troop motivation close to non-existent. Their ability to conduct what are known as combined arms operations, fighting tanks, infantry, artillery, and airpower together, proved impossible, embarrassing many western analysts but embarrassing the Russian military and political leaderships more.
Ukraine defended its capital and government, giving ground in the East and South, trading space for time and it used that time to defeat Russia’s main effort of capturing Kyiv. Ukraine continued to defend, forcing the Russians to pay a high price in equipment and personnel for every village captured in the South and East.
Ukraine used the time they gained to plan their counter offensives, to train on and deploy new western equipment’s, including longer range NATO 155mm artillery and of course the infamous HIMARS missile systems. Ukraine knew the Russian weak points, their logistic bases and their command headquarters and put the HIMARS missiles to good use destroying those whilst preparing their counter offensives.
Launching an attack towards Kherson in the South, using social media to suggest this was the expected main counter offensive, Russia rushed to reinforce its positions there, the bluff worked, and Ukraine launched its main attacks further North towards Kharkiv, recapturing 3000 sq Km in days, when it took the Russians months to gain the same territory. The Ukrainian counter offensive has switched back to the Kherson area in the South as troops in the North secure the re-captured ground and wait their next move.
Putin’s response was to deliver the referendum on Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zapopizhzhia joining Russia, with his pre-decided results, to mobilise 300,000 reservists and increase the economic war on the West by blowing up the NordStream 1 and 2 Gas pipelines. At the same time, he increased his nuclear threat rhetoric, hoping he could hold what he had till winter, allowing the 300,000 to be trained and equipped and deployed, but to what effect? Ukraine has already defeated Russia’s best units and troops; the reservists are merely more lambs to the slaughter.
He is pinning his hopes on Western support dissolving over a fuel crisis filled winter in Europe with a nuclear threat hanging over the world. However, China and India have warned him to be careful. They still want Russian gas and oil but also want to keep some relationship with the West.
Underpinning where we are is the fact that Ukraine has the initiative on the ground and is giving the world a master class in combined arms operations. In conjunction with these combined arms operations Ukraine has learned from the allied SOE operations of WW2 and this is evident with facilities across Russia blowing up, airbases in Crimea blowing up and the latest, the destruction of part of the Kerch Strait bridge, being the latest master class in strategic effect. All of this will likely lead to the Russians further collapsing and being pushed much further back before winter sets in, recapturing more territory, further embarrassing Putin and stimulating unrest in Russia.
Putin, increasingly isolated, will likely lash out, especially with the Kerch Bridge attack the day after his 70thbirthday. His information operations aimed at splitting the West will become more vocal as will his threats. Undersea pipelines and cables could be at risk, cyber could grow, economic warfare is certain. In Ukraine, he will likely target infrastructure and cities more violently in retaliation.
However, he could still decide that using a tactical nuclear device, 1 kilo-tonne , destroying an estimated 1 square kilometer area could send a strategic message, ‘negotiate and accept what I have captured, else the next one in on Kyiv, or Kherson.’ If he did, international condemnation would have to include China and India, for their sakes, and his isolation would be complete.
NATO and the Wests response would probably be conventional and against Russian troops in Ukraine, but once a foot has been placed on the nuclear escalation ladder, it can be climbed very quickly. We are entering the most dangerous phase of Putin’s folly.