Luigi Chiapperini: "The conflict in Ukraine. Too serious for some generals but especially for certain politicians"

Luigi Chiapperini
Ed. Francesco d'Amato Editore, 2022
pp. 140

February 24, 2022 marks the watershed between two epochs: after the second GM, Europe enjoyed 77 years of peace and the end of the Cold War led to the belief that war as an instrument of political pressure was no longer a viable choice.

Introduced by gen. Farina, former head of SME, the book begins in an unusual way: a theatrical scene with two possible endings, protagonists Putin and his generals, who on their own initiative would not have attempted the risk of invading a country twice the size of Italy. pressing on a 1500 km front with 100.000 soldiers and a 1: 1 odds ratio in front of a modern, trained and motivated army. They are actually aiming at Kiev to overthrow the Zelensky government and impose their own, but they underestimate the resistance and disperse the forces in five different areas, each with its own commander.

It is true that historically the Soviets always aimed at the capital to impose a man of their own (Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Kabul), but this time the local reaction wears out an offensive which is well disguised: no one expected anspecial operation deep down and the few who foretold it were not believed. On the other hand, NATO and the then Warsaw Pact had always carried out large exercises along borders as a means of lobbying and to keep soldiers trained. Now, after four months instead of four days you can take stock and draw some conclusions, which the author does based on his long experience in the field.

We start with the prodromes: Ukraine, an extended Slavic nation that gravitated between East and West for centuries before being absorbed into the Russian orbit at least until 2014, when Ukraine decides to focus on the West. Aggressive Russian politics tend to be justified as a reaction to NATO's expansion to the East, but it is good to remember that membership was free, as were nations that wanted to join a defensive alliance. Strangely, such an important negotiation process left few official documents, nor did it provoke a decisive diplomatic reaction from the Russian side, despite Putin was already in power and could exert pressure on NATO, with which he also maintained a collaborative relationship. So it is likely that the saturation dates back to 2014, when Ukraine changed government and Russia took back Crimea, which was assigned to Ukraine in 1954 by Krus'ev in a different context, inside the USSR.

Next, the problem of the Donbass, a vast and populated Ukrainian region rich in resources, but also inhabited by a strong Russian component, which has not been recognized an autonomy similar to that granted by us to the South Tyroleans. Result: 4000 deaths in 8 years and a creeping civil war, with the unscrupulous use of irregular militias. The so-called Gerasimov doctrine actually envisages hybrid warfare, a mixture of different systems and tactics to be developed according to the situation on the ground.

In 'special operation in reality, little has been seen of fantasy: the Russians moved in a traditional and even uncoordinated way, with logistical and tactical dysfunctions well exploited by the Ukrainian light infantry in the dynamic contrast. The tactical backbone of the Russians is based on the BTG (pages 30-31), mechanized battalions with much more articulated means, weapons and autonomy than the units of the "orange party" of military memory. They are not actually a Russian invention, rather inspired by the German Kampfgruppe. In the first three months, 90 of the 180 theoretically available were employed, which means a maneuvering force of 90.000 men, plus 150.000 regulars and militiamen to keep the rear, garrison the territorial conquests and replace the losses. Ukrainian forces - 250.000 troops - had to deploy at least 150.000 troops along the front, albeit only partially trained and equipped for a high-intensity conflict. So the attacker / attacker ratio is 1: 1, when it should be 3: 1 to be effective, unless you have Rommel or von Manstein leading the tactical group. Here, however, no one identifies the meeting point to open a passage and penetrate deeply. The command centers and communication routes were disrupted, some airports were occupied, but the pressure was uniform on the whole front, which was fed by a very poor second line. In addition, the Ukrainian forces - more agile - have made use of modern and effective weapons: Bayraktar TB2 drones, Javelin counter-tank missiles. The operations are however well illustrated on pages 39-48, complete with maps. In some areas 200 km were conquered in 6 days, elsewhere from 10 to 100 km., Only to have to face the large inhabited centers. Ukraine is flat, but people don't just live in the countryside, and raking 20-story blocks or industries the size of Taranto's Ilva has turned the advance into a siege war, where civilians foot the bill as part of the conflict. The Russians do not discount and proceed to the immediate Russification of the conquered areas, according to the archetype of the second GM.

In the meantime, the Russian strategy has been clarified: not only to conquer all the Donbass, but to weld it to the Crimea by conquering the Black Sea ports - Cherson and Mariupol - one after the other and closing the Azov Sea. The siege of the Azovstal steel plant had media effects, but it would have been more logical to exfiltrate the forces in time and reorganize them elsewhere. Odessa to date (July 2022) has not yet been conquered, but Ukraine does not want to lose access to the sea and therefore sinks the Russian ships and defends the Snake Island. The Russian landing forces (pages 50-51 and 94-96: it is not for nothing that the author commanded the Lagunari) actually do not have the offensive capacity and depth of penetration required by such an operation. But in the meantime the operations on the ground have changed: the Kiev front unguarded (but with the sword of Damocles of the Belarusian ally / vassal) the Russian forces have been concentrated in the Donbass and along the Black Sea coast. Russians are now fighting as they did 50 years ago, making massive use of artillery - nearly 5000 rounds a day plus missiles - to level out everything in front, including cities, to then advance the tanks and finally the infantry. Conceptually the Russians remained at the Battle of Kursk, and indeed… they are in Kursk.

From the other trench, the European and American allies are being asked for long-range artillery, while the armored vehicles arrive from the depots of the former Warsaw Pact members. For now there are no reliable official sources, but so far the two contenders have probably lost each 1000 tanks and at least 6000 soldiers. A high-intensity conflict between symmetrical conventional forces wears out the forces quickly: it's the classic Materialschlacht, a war of attrition that lasts as long as it is possible to feed the front. Only in case of exhaustion of resources is one of the two enemies willing to negotiate. In reality the Ukrainians do not win: they resist.

A question follows (pages 63-70): is the use of nuclear devices possible? No, because it would not suit anyone and the scene of Putin pressing the button is unrealistic (the procedure is more complex, fortunately). The discourse on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) is different: the Sarmat (Satan-2 for NATO) has a range of 24.000 km and can carry both nuclear warheads and hypersonic vehicles. In Kaliningrad (on the Baltic) the 9K720 Iskander missiles (for us: SS-26 Stone), 500 km range and even nuclear assets can be deployed (if they are not already there).

In the next chapter (p.71) the author analyzes the question of command instead. The death at the front of so many generals and officers is actually on the average of other conflicts, but one wonders if the coordination and autonomy of the lower commands are still not affected by the legacies of Soviet centralism, and the Ukrainian generals are well aware of the situation. enemy, having studied in the same military schools. Initially, however, a unitary command was lacking and this is contrary to the strategy. After a few weeks many generals were sent home, but the decision to attack on 1500 km in front with 90 BTG was not only military: war is a function of politics.

But there are also soldiers. The Russians believed they were taking part in an exercise and found themselves at the front, the Ukrainians are motivated because they defend their homes, now looted by predatory Russian soldiers, by their militia allies and by that sort of Russian foreign legion called Wagner. Mercenaries and voluntary militias are not always manageable, but no one has to warn families and therefore they are used. The discourse on advisers and contractors is different: training soldiers in the use of new weapons, for political reasons, cannot always be carried out by instructors on duty or at the front.

The next chapter (p.89-99) is an analysis of the respective armaments (means and organic) and shows a certain quantitative imbalance in favor of the Russians, compensated by better Western technology, tangible e.g. in the control of the field of battle, in the direction of fire and in anti-tank weapons. But the evolution of the battlefield can today only lead to a consolidation of the conquests on the ground. How many? It depends on the forces at play, the resilience of civil society and industrial capacity; this applies to everyone. A long war does not suit anyone and gas is its paradigm. The problem is that those who start a war always rely on its brevity, and in this military history is full of exempla.

The last question: are the Italian and / or European armed forces prepared for a high-intensity conflict? The answer is negative for now: it's fine for the Air Force and Navy, but after the Cold War, a lot has been invested in agile Expeditionary Forces (call them peacekeeping missions or whatever you think) and little about heavy ground forces. Italy, Holland and Germany have an MBT component that is now reduced to the bone; it will take years to rebuild a credible one and the new generation KF51 wagons Panther they are still prototypes.

We have been talking about European Defense for years, but so far the usual problems remain, while NATO has instead revitalized itself precisely because there is war at home. Unfortunately, the shift of the fulcrum to the center of Europe penalizes the Mediterranean, even if the strategic role of Turkey and the management of the grain routes should open the eyes of those who think as if only the Holy Roman Empire existed. As for the role of China, it is still ambiguous, but, as Marcello Marchesi said, the religion of the Chinese is cynicism.

Marco Pasquali

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