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.