Ukraine’s Future Depends on These Three Fights That Russia Must Win – Opinion

Putin’s War, the invasion of Ukraine, is about to enter its third month. Western experts had predicted that it would be 72 hours of romp, ending with Volodymyr in exile. However, in Kiev another Putin puppet is being paraded, while a victory parade in Kiev has turned into a meatgrinder.

Below is a map that shows the daily war since February 24, 2019. The gray areas indicate areas not under either side’s control.

Although all Russian forces involved in the attack on northern Ukraine are now under control of Belarus, some intelligence sources indicate that the Belarusian troops were relocated to Donbas). Russia is responsible for replacing them and providing reequipment and integration. Now, the focus is on Eastern Ukraine. This seems to be a Russian plan to take the entire of Donbas as well as create a landbridge from Russia to Crimea. (See Russia Creates Facts on Ground to Support Annexing Eastern Ukraine).

Tuesday, Russia declared a “new phase” was beginning. So far we’ve seen what we should call “shaping operations.” That is localized attacks to try to take key terrain or secure avenues of approach, and increased preparatory fires. The documented losses of Russian infantry fighting vehicles and tanks as well as artillery, which have been captured, destroyed and abandoned, make it difficult to predict when the main offensive will begin. Photographs of the demise of over 500 tanks and 800 tracked or wheeled infantry fighting vehicles/armored personnel carrier, 140 multiple rocket launchers, or self-propelled howitzers, are available.

You can see that 130 Battalion Tactical Groups have been killed in the organizational chart. They crossed into Ukraine from Ukraine in February.

My professional opinion is that it should take at least six weeks for the units to rebuild but I don’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to be up for that (Intelligence Claims Putin Wants a Big Victory in Ukraine Before May 9).  Likewise, I’d recommend the Russians try to mass their forces and focus on one objective, but it seems as though units are being fed into the fight as soon as they arrive and, in my opinion, Russia is trying to do too much with too few forces.

Russia has to win the three major battles in its next campaign if it hopes to attain its territorial objectives. I would contend that Putin’s political objectives of deposing the Zelensky government, disbanding the Ukrainian army, and preventing Ukraine from having military alliances with the West are, barring some deus ex machinaOut of reach.

Battle #1–Kherson.

Russia needs to keep control over Kherson in order to reach its goal of controlling all contiguous territories stretching from Russia to Crimea. Kherson surrendered without resistance to the Russians on March 2nd (see Breaking: Russian Invaders Fall to First Major Ukraine City). Since that time, the Russians struggled. About 80% of the population is Ukrainian and it supports Zelensky’s government. The city is home to a resistance group.

Although the Russian soldiers in this area seem very bad, Kiev is unable to mobilize enough troops to control the battlefield. Although Russia holds the city, it’s not vital for Ukraine to take it. Current Ukrainian offensives are underway in the north and south. They are designed to cut supply lines to Kherson, from Donetsk in the east and Crimea to its south. If either of these routes are cut, and I don’t mean that Ukrainian troops have to be sitting on the route, they only have to be able to take it under direct fire, holding Kherson is difficult. Kherson would have to be evacuated if one or both of these routes is cut.

Battle #2–Mariupol.

Mariupol is an important port and industrial area. The city has been surrounded by Russian forces since March 20, when Russia requested that they surrender their troops. This was despite the fact that the Russians had given no indication of any intention to give them quarter (Mariupol Defenders Resist Russian Demand for Surrender, Setting Up the Most Prolonged Siege of a Town Since WWII). This is an exciting battle. The Azov and Ukrainian Marines make up the majority of the defenders. Russians and Donetsk conscripts along with a large number of Chechens make up the attackers. Putin declared victory as the majority of the city has been taken over by Russia. They have now been forced into a massive steelworks, which is honeycombed by tunnels and shelters that are designed to counter a nuclear attack. About 1,000 Ukrainians appear to have joined the ranks.

It is crucial because about twelve BTGs still remain and are currently engaged in degrading the defenses at Mariupol. Putin and Russian High Command would love to take those weapons out of Russia and transfer them to Donbas. Putin ordered that the steelworks be sealed. The clincher is  that simply organizing a perimeter around the steelworks is going to take most of the Russian troops in Mariupol. Even then, the perimeter is only going to be one-man deep so  to prevent a breakout by the defenders a mobile reserve will be necessary. The bottom line is that most of the BTGs will remain where they are.

The map shows Mariupol sitting astride Donetsk-Kherson’s main route. If Kherson falls, and Mariupol defenders keep holding, or worse still, break out then those Russian forces are at risk of being separated. It is also worth noting that the area of brown cross-hatching north and west Mariupol has been the site of intense partisan activities.

In short, while the Russian might like to leave a light screening force in Mariupol and move most of their troops to Donbas, they can’t. Although they’ve won most of this battle if they keep the existing units intact, can they resist moving the majority of their troops to join the Donbas war? I doubt it.

Battle #3–Donbas.

Main fight will be for Donbas’ control. This includes the region between Izium in the north and Zapohizhia in the south. Problem facing Russia is logistics. Transportation and supply are the main problems. They rely on their supply routes from the south, but to counter an impending attack they must run east-west. This area is lined with rivers and streams that flow northwest-south, which runs perpendicularly to the direction of Russian advance. Multiple bridging operations will slow down offensive operations. They also have to build supply routes to provide fuel, food, and ammunition to the fighting forces. It was just me joking about Russians taking care of the injured.

In a perfect world, an army would launch attacks on the Ukrainian salient’s shoulders. Zapohizhzhia and Izium could both launch attacks. A few minor offensive actions could be used to freeze the Ukrainian forces at the front edge of the battlefield area (FEBA), while heavy shoulders attacks would result in a pincers capturing all units within the pocket.

Supply routes are the root problem. The Russian main supply line has been in danger due to a string of Ukrainian counterattacks, which have resulted in successful attacks west and north Izium. The area below Izium must be evacuated if that route is closed. It creates an issue for next Russian supply route.

While the Russian lines of communications are 90-degrees out from where they should be, the Ukrainians have the advantage of the same thing that allowed Frederick the Great to hold off Russia, Austria, and France for seven years–interior lines of communication that allow them to shift forces rapidly to shore up threatened areas.

What the Russians plan to do here is anyone’s guess. The artillery fire directed at Ukrainian positions is steady but not heavy and doesn’t seem focused on preparing an area for a breakthrough. The supply lines are so long that it remains to be determined if the BTGs fighting along the Zapohizshia-axis have enough Class III/Class 5 to make another credible attack. They will not be able to counter the forces from the south, who have only been active for 2 months. The supply lines suggest that they won’t be the first to receive replacements or vehicles.

Summary.

My view is that the Russians have a difficult task ahead of them. They have to cross the terrain in the north, which favors the defenses. They will have to work hard to supply the 70-80 BTGs that they are deploying there. The race against the clock is another factor. More Ukrainian units and heavy weapons are being added to the war zone every day. Russia has to find that sweet spot where their units have rebuilt back to combat effectiveness and the Ukrainians haven’t yet begun to field the weaponry sent to them. They also, in my view, have to win all three of these battles–holding Kherson, sealiing off Mariupol, and taking positive control of Donbas–to have a chance of gaining their territorial objectives. Only one battle must be won by Ukraine: Donbas.

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