Analysis on the progress of the war in Ukraine: tactical-strategic scenarios and general considerations (second part)

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

We have already spoken extensively in the first part of this analysis of Ukraine and its situation; now it's time to talk about Russia.

Recently there has been much talk (perhaps even inappropriately) of the fact that war and international sanctions are "bleeding Russia" and are bringing it "to the brink of collapse". I will not speak now of the sanctioning regime to which Russia is currently subject, postponing this analysis at least until the end of May when together with my colleague Paolo Silvagni I will tackle the thorny topic with the scientific attention it deserves and once a series of trends macroeconomics will finally become clear. But I can already anticipate one thing: the sanctions regime to which Russia is currently subjected was set up to "expel Russia from the world economy", but It is NOT designed to affect the progress of ongoing military operations. Simply put, whatever happens to Russia's economy, the country has the ability to continue the war effort for 6-12 months if necessary, regardless of everything else.

In any case, I repeat, economic and financial matters will be dealt with methodically at the appropriate time.

Coming now to the issue of the "bleeding of the Russian Armed Forces", this has become a popular theory circulating in the journalistic world and not only after it was first touted by American General Frederick Benjamin "Ben" Hodges III in an interview. with the Australian media. Originally Hodges had started with a much more modest (and correct) prediction that the Russian forces engaged in the offensive around Kiev were encountering severe supply problems because their logistical lines were not adequately prepared to support that prolonged effort in the time. This "detail" had already been widely noticed by insiders already after the first 3 days of the war, so well before Hodges spoke about it. Subsequently, the general has increased the dose and now speaks openly (but to tell the truth he is in good company, as the case of General Camporini demonstrates) of the "collapse of the Russian military system" taken as a whole.

I have already spoken extensively in a whole series of analyzes devoted to air warfare that the Russians are not only not slowing down the pace of their air operations, they are actually speeding it up. Furthermore, in spite of all those who spoke and continue to speak of "shortage of missiles and smart bombs or not", Russia's campaign of attacks by ballistic missiles and cruise missiles of all kinds is continuing undaunted, and indeed the more time passes, the more military observers are able to notice how new versions and types of missiles are being deployed from time to time by the Moscow forces starting from the analysis of the video frames available on the Internet as well as from the photos fragments of the bombs also spread by Ukrainian news channels.

This state of affairs has only two rational explanations:

- hypothesis number one: the western intelligence services and the various and eventual "experts" have greatly underestimated the previous numerical consistency of Moscow's missile arsenals;

- hypothesis number two: Russia has a production capacity in progress which guarantees it to replenish step by step the arsenals that are "consumed".

Personally I opt for hypothesis number one, since, probabilistically speaking, it is the most realistic and it would not even be the first time that Western spy agencies are wrong in assessing the consistency of the Kremlin's arsenals. We can therefore already say that, at least in the aviation and missile sector, Hodges' prediction is currently not supported by the facts. Turning instead to the land front, which is Hodges' true specialty, being an army general, to assess whether the Russian Ground Forces are truly on the verge of collapse, one must necessarily understand the overall extent of both human and material losses. that they have suffered and whether the country is able to "support and replace them".

Let's start with some categories of vehicles, in particular those that represent the central pillar of Russian military doctrines: tanks and artillery. By consulting the open sources used by most of the news and disinformation media active in the context of this war we know for sure that, at the time of writing this piece, the Russian Armed Forces and the Unified Forces of Novorossiya certainly have (but the number real is undoubtedly higher) lost 584 tanks (16 T-64, 357 T-72, 111 T-80, 18 T-90 and 82 tanks of undefined type). Although on paper these appear to be serious losses, given the enormous availability of tanks by the Russian Armed Forces (it is estimated that Russia has between 23.000 and 25.000 tanks, but some estimates even speak of 33.700 (!), Both in service at the front line units that are stored in one of the multiple bases that are located throughout the immense territory of the country), they certainly cannot be defined as "debilitated losses" (we are talking about 2,6-2,3% of total, in the best case, and 1,7% in the worst case). Not only that, in addition to the large number of wagons available in the warehouses, Russia also has formidable production facilities that would guarantee it to cover the losses suffered in the blink of an eye.

From the Soviet Union, Russia inherited a mighty military-industrial complex which, among others, has 5 large factories for the production of tanks and other armored vehicles, centered around the large Uralvagonzavod complex, located in Nizhny Tagil, in center of Russia. Since the start of the war, several news outlets have re-launched the news over and over that Russian tank factories have stopped production due to a lack of spare parts. First of all, it should be mentioned that the Kiev secret services first broke this news, and this should automatically raise more than a suspicion. Secondly, the notion that tank factories suddenly run out of spare parts clashes soundly with established industrial and military policies already common in Soviet times and that modern Russia has simply continued by inertia.

According to the testimony of Jens Wehner, veteran tanker, director of the "Panzermuseum" of the Bundeswher and profound connoisseur of contemporary armored military history: “The consolidated practice of the Russians is to keep stocks of materials in their factories that can guarantee the continuation of production output for a whole year even in the presence of a complete blockade of supplies. Each of the large Russian factories has the capacity to produce 800 T-72 tanks per week, which becomes 3.200 in a month for a single plant and 16.000 if we count the work of all the plants in the event of a total war situation, and this simply making the ordinary organization of the two production shifts more effective, without even introducing the third daily shift as it was during the Second World War ". At first reading these figures may appear exaggerated, however they acquire their own meaning for those who are informed about the production practices that Russia has inherited from the Soviet Union and who literally foresee in emergency situations, to mass produce vehicles belonging to weakened sub-variants (the so-called "monkey models") which would then equip the reserve units. In any case, we will return to this topic as well as to the estimates relating to the availability of Russian equipment reserves in a special addendum that will be published later.

At the moment what we are witnessing, filtering the news coming from the Russian rear, suggests a scenario in which the Russian factories have maintained a moderate production regime sufficient to make up for the losses suffered while the technicians and mechanics of the storage units are working hard in all the storage bases to put the vehicles (not just tanks) stored there back into service.

Some effects of this new trend are already being seen on the battlefield. During the recent fighting in the Donbass area, the Ukrainians managed to knock out some T-64 tanks of the opposing side. At first glance it seemed that these tanks were Ukrainian vehicles (the T-64 in fact is the most numerous battle tank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces) captured during the fighting and then used by the Unified Forces of Novorossiya (the joint military instrument of the so-called Republic Lugansk People's Republic and Donetsk People's Republic) as has been the practice since 2014. Yet upon closer inspection the Kiev armed forces realized that these means were neither Ukrainians nor "separatists" but Russians! Analyzing the identification numbers, it soon became clear that the T-64s in question belonged to a "depot unit" located in the territory of Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, they had been reactivated two weeks earlier and subsequently transferred along the Trans-Siberian railway. until'oblast' of Rostov where they had been assigned to a newly called up reserve unit. However, it should not be assumed that this is an isolated case, given that, since the beginning of April, the Ukrainians have reported a gradually increasing number of cases in which their Armed Forces have destroyed or captured Russian vehicles coming from the arsenals of the reserve.

We have talked about tanks so far, now it is necessary to dedicate a proper space to the "Queen of the Battlefields": the artillery.

Talking about Russian military history is equivalent to talking about artillery, given that, since the time of Peter I the Great, Russian artillery has often proved to be the winning weapon in deciding the final result of battles. Always consulting the same open sources that illustrate the losses of war material suffered by the Russian Armed Forces and the Unified Forces of Novorossiya, it is noted that, in the sector of "guns" of all types (starting from heavy mortars and reaching the multiple rocket launchers) those lost by the Kremlin armies amount to 230 specimens, which is nothing if we consider the immense supply of artillery both in active service and in reserve that is available to Russia. In fact, not only does Russia have more "guns" overall than any other country in the world, but it even outclasses all possible adversaries in every single category of "artillery weapons", no matter if it is heavy mortars, field guns , anti-tank guns, howitzers, self-propelled, multiple rocket launchers and so on and so forth.

The almost total absence of Russian artillery in the first days of the war (with the exception of the First Front, that of the Donbass) was one of the great "mysteries" of this war that fascinated analysts. The most probable explanations to justify this "lack" are essentially two:

- first; as all experts in the diverse world of artillery can confirm, a composite and complete "artillery train" enormously "burdens" the moving armies and this does not make it ideal for a mechanized army engaged in a high intensity blitzkrieg as Putin had imagined from the beginning;

- according to; given the enormous destructive potential represented by a field artillery barrage, the hypothesis that, initially wanting to cause the least possible damage to the cities and infrastructures of Ukraine, the Russians deliberately decided not to deploy it is far from strange precisely in order to initially keep the level of the battle low also at the risk of exposing oneself in turn to the Ukrainian artillery (which is not so dissimilar from the Russian one even if, predictably, less numerous).

Obviously the subsequent evolution of the conflict has blown all the initial parameters and now the Russians have no qualms about using their firepower both in the open field and against the Ukrainian cities that have now been often attacked by Russian troops using their own artillery and armored vehicles.

In any case, at the moment the Russian Armed Forces are not yet able to muster forces for a "decisive blow" in Ukraine, and this is one of the reasons why they are opting for the continuation of the current phase of the war of attrition.

However, we must not believe that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely. As mentioned above, there is every reason to believe that Russia's initial objectives have not changed at all and that the current "Phase 2" of the war will be followed by a "Phase 3".

The real unknowns at this point are: understanding when this phase will start and assessing the level of preparation of the contenders when the event will occur. As everyone has seen, the Russian Armed Forces withdrew from the north and north-east of Ukraine down to the city of Kharkov and repositioned the troops belonging to the "first wave of attack" in Donbass and southern Ukraine. however, in strategic terms this means absolutely nothing.

In fact, it is necessary here to place the emphasis not so much on what is happening on the front line, but on what is happening in the rear. First of all, an unprecedented mobilization of reservists is taking place in Russia of which there is little or no trace in our media (but also in the Russian media, to tell the truth).

The news made a "sensation" in our mainstream media that, with a presidential decree that became effective on April 1, 2022, Putin has ordered the recruitment of 134.500 conscripts (the so-called "spring draft") who should then be backed up by another 134.500 who should be enrolled in October (the so-called "autumn draft") even if in reality such measures are the norm.

On the other hand, what has completely escaped the "radar" of our information is the fact that, at the same time, the Moscow authorities have suspended any "demobilization" measure concerning conscripts enlisted during the spring and autumn 2021 levers (which would have had to see the end of their compulsory military service at the end of March and at the end of September of this year respectively) and that with the new provisions are in effect "veterans subject to service indefinitely and until the new order" . Not only that, alongside the cancellation of the "demobilization" measures, the Russian authorities have also begun to call back into service the reservists taken from men between the ages of 19 and 42 who have served in military service or under contract in 15 previous years. This mobilization has not been announced at the national level, but is being carried out by the various military commissariats at the level of the individual territorial units into which the Russian Federation is divided.

At this point it is necessary to ask ourselves: what are Russia's ability to mobilize for what promises to be a long and bloody war? The answer in this case is not simple.

First of all it is necessary to start by saying that, to date, the population of Russia totals 145,5 million inhabitants to which must be added 11,6 million immigrants who live permanently in Russian territory, for a total of 157,1 million. people who make up the "demographic basin" of reference. The presence of the immigrant population must be specified because a law approved in 2010 makes foreign citizens residing in the Russian territory liable to enlist in the event of a serious national crisis. Furthermore, being the vast majority of immigrants to Russian land from ex-Soviet countries, having a sufficient command of the Russian language and having in turn served military conscription in the Soviet Armed Forces or in those of the ex-Soviet republics (which are substantially modeled on the model of the Russian ones), their absorption into the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces is by no means an insurmountable problem.

In 2016, during the NATO-Russia crisis immediately following the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 over Syria by the Turkish Air Force, the Russian Armed Forces tested their aircraft for the first and only time since the end of the Cold War. capacity for overall mobilization in the event of the outbreak of a new world conflict. As a result, in the event of a large-scale conflict, Russia could mobilize 40.000.000 men. However, it was agreed that this effort could only be sustained for a very few weeks (probably 1 month or so) because it would have irremediably brought about the paralysis of the country's economy despite Russia having ample reserves of armaments such as to be able to equip all potential soldiers ( to create a comparison it will suffice to recall that the total number of soldiers who were enrolled in the Soviet Armed Forces during the Second World War was 34.600.000 out of a total population of 200 million inhabitants). In the subsequent reorganization of the reserve, the Kremlin planners decided to consider as potential reservists all adult males who had served in the military in the previous 15 years; in doing so they reduced the recruitment pool to the considerable figure of 20.000.000 men, which has remained the ideal reference since then.

But to say that Russia is ready to mobilize 20 million men for the war in Ukraine is equally unrealistic, and not only because that number would put the country's resources under stress anyway, but also because the organization, command and control of such a mass of armed men would be a priori impossible. Also in this case a comparison with the Second World War may be useful:

- June 22, 1941: at the time of Operation Barbarossa the Soviet Armed Forces were in arms 5.500.000 soldiers huddled by 12.000.000 of reservists;

- June 7, 1942: on the eve of the start of the offensive by the Axis forces against the Caucasus and Stalingrad, the Soviets could count on 9.350.000 men on the entire Eastern Front;

- July 9, 1943: at the beginning of the Battle of Kursk, the Soviet Armed Forces counted in everything 10.300.000 (the peak reached since the time of Operation Barbarossa);

- June 22, 1944: on the eve of Operation Bagration, during which the Germans suffered their decisive defeat for the fate of the war on the Eastern Front, the Soviets counted 6.425.000 men;

- January 1, 1945: at the start of the final offensive against the Third Reich, the Soviet Armed Forces counted 6.532.000 men;

- April 1, 1945: at the time of the start of the Battle of Berlin, the Soviets could count on altogether 6.410.000 soldiers in total.

The study of these data shows that, although in the popular imagination the Russians (and / or the Soviets) are known to be those who employ large armies, nevertheless they too must obey the "tyranny of the law on command and control" based on to which the use of a large mass of soldiers in the absence of adequate command and control systems risks even being counterproductive.

On closer inspection, the entire revision of the Russian war strategy from early March until now has to do with precisely this: reorganize the forces present in Ukraine, increase them numerically and equip them with adequate firepower and support them with calibrated logistic lines. in order to allow the success of the mission and "govern" the whole process in such a way that the military instrument functions as a well-oiled machine and not as a patchwork of forces as it was in the very first period of the war. The first right step in this direction was the appointment, on April 8, of General Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov, commander of the Southern Military District and previously commander-in-chief of the Russian and Syrian forces during the Syrian Civil War, as responsible for all operations in Ukraine. This appointment has finally created a coherent command line and an "administrative" structure that can direct troop movements as well as the allocation of resources. At the same time, the process of mobilizing the reserves as well as the reactivation of the arsenals previously placed in stock is accelerated.

It is unclear exactly how long it will take for the Russians to muster all the forces they will need to again conduct a full-scale offensive aimed at subduing the whole of Ukraine. In the period between the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991, during the Operation Desert Shield (Desert Shield), the United States and the International Coalition needed 5 months to gather the 1.000.000-strong manpower needed to demolish Iraq's defenses during Operation Desert Storm.

According to several estimates that I agree, to inflict a knockout blow on Ukraine, Russia would need to deploy a force of 3.000.000-3.500.000 men supported by the necessary single-time firepower. for a short-term operation or in successive stages for a longer time.

Contrary to what our media (or propaganda) media, always ready to portray Russia as "a country on the brink of collapse", Russia is actually working hard to gather these reserves. An example of this is by monitoring the activity of air transport aircraft.

Since the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian War, both the transport aircraft of the V-VS and those of the MA-VMF (the Navy Aviation) for a total of 900 aircraft have been engaged in a constant airlift between the most remote corners of the country and bases located near the war front. Not only that, given that Western sanctions have had the effect of causing the grounding of a large number of Western-made aircraft in service with Russian airlines due to lack of the necessary airworthiness certificates, these aircraft have been punctually requirements from V-VS to contribute to transport operations. Furthermore, as reported since the beginning of the war by my contact Vedetta 1 specialized in monitoring air operations and expert in the aeronautical sector, the Russian-Ukrainian War also saw the massive mobilization of the aerial assets of Rosgvardia, of the Guards of Frontier of the FSB, EMERCOM and even the 31 planes that are part of the Presidential Air Squadron.

The airlift is not the only instrument through which Russia is moving men and vehicles from the most remote corners of the "empire" to the front line. In fact, the greatest effort takes place by rail, as per the purely Russian tradition; and in fact the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War coincided with an unprecedented mobilization of the Russian Railway Troops, which went into action even in Ukraine with the mission to repair the local railway track battered during the fighting and bring the necessary reinforcements as much as possible. as close to the front line as possible.

Road transport is also very active even if its excessive use in the very first phase of the war caused terrible traffic jams, especially along the road layout of the oblast' Russians facing Ukraine, a fact that partly contributed to the failure of the initial "blitzkrieg".

A final element that needs to be remembered is that the present Russian-Ukrainian War has also seen a massive mobilization of the paramilitary and internal security forces of Russia such as: the police, the Rosgvardia, the OMONs, the SOBRs, the FSB paramilitary forces. , etc ... which have been deployed in Ukraine with operational tasks both of controlling the occupied areas and in support of both offensive and defensive operations of the Armed Forces engaged on the ground. Although this report may seem to most people nothing less than a footnote, in reality the fact that the leadership of Moscow has decided to heavily deploy its own paramilitary and internal security forces in Ukraine (troops perfectly suited to the control tasks of the territory and anti-guerrilla struggle) is actually a very important indicator of the fact that the Russians expect local involvement for a long time and what the Kremlin's long-term plans for Ukraine could be.

Analysis on the progress of the war in Ukraine: tactical-strategic scenarios and general considerations (first part)

Photo: Russian Federation MoD