On February 24, 2022, at 4.00 am in Italy, with a pre-recorded message addressed to both the nation and the rest of the world, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin announced the start of a massive " special military operation ”against the Ukrainian state in support of the newly recognized Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic. The whole world soon discovered that, under the guise of the “Special Military Operation” heralded by the tenant of the Kremlin, there was also a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Today, a whole week having passed since the start of hostilities, and the "fog of war" that inevitably reigns supreme at the beginning of every conflict having partly cleared, it is possible to make a first 360-degree analysis of the situation both on ground that in its broader context touching all the most important points and trying to make predictions about how things can evolve to their conclusion. Obviously, such judgments must necessarily be "tempered" both by what, in some cases, is the scarcity of information, and by what we could define as "poverty of attention" on the part of the main news providers who, for a reason or other, they are unable, unable or unwilling to provide all the data necessary for the public to appreciate the so-called “overview”.
Let us now dutifully analyze the most important of the "plans" on which this historical event is developing: strictly military and field operations.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine started, together with the airing of Putin's speech, with a massive bombing by both the Russian missile and air forces of the whole Ukrainian territory, from the far east to the far west of the country . According to data provided by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, over 1150 targets of varying size and importance were bombed in that first wave ranging from air bases, naval bases, to the main industries that are part of the country's military-industrial complex and a host of other sites of all kinds.
The initial bombardment saw the use, among others, of no less than 150 tactical ballistic missiles of the type 9K720 Iskander and OTR-21 Tochka (the latter reactivated for the occasion by the large stocks of the reserve) while they are not currently confirmed rumors about the use of the R-11 / R-17 / R-300 Elbrus (better known to the general public as "Scud"). The Russian Armed Forces used a large number of cruise missiles of all types and versions, launched from aircraft of the Air Forces, from surface ships and submarines of the Navy as well as from ground batteries of the Ground Forces.
Among the aerial platforms that made the greatest contribution during this initial bombardment were the 138 aircraft of the Strategic Bombing Force of Russia (55 Tupolev Tu-95, 66 Tupolev Tu-22M and 17 Tupolev Tu-160) each capable to carry a plurality of cruise missiles. From evidence resulting from numerous videos posted by users originating from the places of military confrontation, a role of absolute importance was played, as already during the Syrian Civil War, by various types of missiles belonging to the 3M-54 Kalibr family (which, it must be remembered, it is an "umbrella denomination" that covers a wide range of missiles), but they were by no means the only ones, as already described in great detail in the analysis entitled "Swarm of Fire" which I invite you to re-read. As stated in the same analysis, the Russians also massively attacked Ukrainian air defense missile batteries both under the control of the Ground Forces and under the control of the Air Forces in order to achieve full air dominance. The Russian missile and air offensive, however, contrary to the war doctrines of Western countries, coincided in all respects with the beginning of the conflict on land as well as on the seas.
What impressed the international observers the most was the speed with which the Russians proceeded at least in the first hours of the attack. The long list of targets hit, as well as the timing of the movement of armored and mechanized columns in the territory of Ukraine suggest excellent intelligence preparation which provided the military and political leaders with a correct representation of the positioning of the targets as well. such as the location of the Ukrainian units.
As is known, the most important intelligence agencies of Russia (the domestic secret service, FSB, the foreign one, SVR, and the military GU / GRU) have all increased their presence exponentially in the territory of Ukraine since the events of 2014. and it is logical to expect that the rapidity with which the Russians hit the Ukrainians on all fronts is largely attributable to a methodical "preparation work in the shadows" which lasted for a long time.
Having to evaluate overall the performances and the results obtained by the Russians on the air and missile front we can say that they have been excellent.
As correctly anticipated in the analysis "Swarm of Fire", The logistical infrastructure supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces was completely devastated as well as the anti-aircraft defense system which was largely demolished during the first night of operations despite having a large number of missile batteries and discovery radar. The scenario feared in the aforementioned analysis of an anti-aircraft system rich in means but unfortunately not integrated into a coherent IADS and which has not been able to act in unison against the enemy's air and missile offensive has therefore been correctly verified. At the same time, the Ukrainian Air Force also suffered terribly from the enemy attack despite the fact that the Ukrainians had previously dispersed a part of their assets in numerous secondary airports and even on dirt runways located on the edge of the forests of western Ukraine.
After seven days from the start of air operations, Kiev's aircraft can only carry out hit-and-run attacks carried out by one or two aircraft at a time whose survival capacity, moreover, decreases more and more every day. While the Russians, now masters of the skies, can operate their aircraft at all altitudes, according to the type of missions they have to carry out (free hunting, cover, bombing, interdiction on the battlefield, tactical support, etc ... ) Ukrainian aircraft now operate exclusively in low flight to avoid being intercepted by the Russians, but in doing so, whenever they try to attack the Russian armored and mechanized columns, they must do so literally crossing "tunnels" of missiles and tracer shells of the conventional anti-aircraft aircraft accompanying the tip armored elements.
This tactic has already cost the Ukrainians an unacceptable number of their surviving aircraft and pilots without achieving great results. The best "hits", from this point of view, were inflicted by the Sukhoi Su-25 tactical support aircraft and the Baykar Bayraktar TB2 armed UAVs which, although inflicting damage on the Russians, were not and will not be able to stop the advance of the enemies. It is true that in the context of discussions at European level concerning the emergency military supplies that the EU should send to Ukraine, there is the possibility of making available aircraft that are in service today or are in stock, with the Air Forces of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and now members of NATO.
More in detail we are talking about 44 Mig-29A / UB in service and in stock owned by the Polish Air Forces, 21 Mig-29AS / UBS in service and in stock at the Slovak Air Forces, 19 Mig-29A / UB and 23 Su -25 in service and in stock belonging to the Bulgarian Air Force, 28 Mig-29A / UB in stock belonging to the Hungarian Air Force, 21 Mig-29A / UB / S stored by the Romanian Air Force and 25 Su-25K / UBK stored by the Forces Czech Air. It is true that, on paper, it would be the potential supply of as many as 181 combat aircraft, however before getting caught up in the easy enthusiasm it is necessary to remember that aircraft stored for years need long and complete overhaul cycles before they can return to fly. , while those that still fly are worn out after decades of operations and training flights.
Finally, the electronic instrumentation and IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) equipment of the aircraft previously or currently in service in the aeronautics of the aforementioned countries are not minimally compatible with the instruments in service with the Ukrainian Air Force, therefore their use with literally zero preparation would only lead to damage and further increase the already serious losses. That is why the author of the present analysis believes that the aforementioned proposal to supply ex-Warsaw Pact aircraft to Ukraine will ultimately lead to nothing. Surely the surviving aircraft and pilots of the Ukrainian Air Force will continue to serve and fight, distinguishing themselves and taking advantage of every opportunity to inflict damage on the invading forces, but as the days go by they will fight until the progressive "extinction".
However, what has been said so far does not mean that Russian airplanes and helicopters can operate "with impunity" over the skies of Ukraine, occasionally having to defend themselves from the sorties of Kiev's surviving aircraft and missile batteries, as well as from conventional anti-aircraft and missiles. Shoulder-carrying short-range anti-aircraft (MANPADS), always ubiquitous, and which have already had the opportunity to inflict several bloody lessons on enemies. However, it is also possible to say without a shadow of a doubt that, on balance and considering all the elements in our possession, the V-VS has steadily conquered the dominion of the skies.
A final element that makes us understand the importance that the domination of the air plays in this dispute concerns the fact that it neutralizes the elite forces of Ukraine by going to the advantage of those of Russia. In fact, left without both transport planes and helicopters, both the paratroopers of the Air Assault Forces and the operators of the Kiev Special Operations Forces are now forced to fight as simple elite infantry, thus seeing greatly reduced, if not canceled, the possibilities of being able to express one's added value in conventional warfare.
This is not the case, however, for the men of the VDV, the Paratrooping Forces of Russia and their colleagues in the Spetsnaz who can instead reach every corner of the Ukrainian territory with almost total impunity and becoming an excellent power multiplier for Russian strategies.
The same goes for the naval front. In anticipation of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia had concentrated the largest naval force in the Black Sea area since 1991, reinforcing the Black Sea Fleet stationed there with other additional units from the Northern Fleet, the Baltic Fleet , from the Caspian Flotilla and even the Indian Ocean squadron, in addition of course to the light ships made available by the naval component employed by the FSB Border Guards.
At the outbreak of hostilities, the Russians intensely bombed all Ukrainian naval bases both in the Azov and Black Seas, sinking the units present there and devastating the infrastructure. The swan song of the Ukrainian naval component occurred on February 25 when a force of 16 units headed for the so-called Snake Island occupied the day before by the Russian naval forces was confronted and dispersed by a broadside of anti-ship missiles fired by the cruiser Moskva and patrol vessel Vasily Bykov suffering the loss of 6-8 vessels depending on the sources.
The fate of the flagship of the Ukrainian fleet, the frigate "Hetman Sahaidachny", is unknown for the moment, but according to Russian sources it was sunk by its own crew to prevent its capture. The Ukrainian Navy still has at its disposal some batteries of anti-ship missiles including the Neptune with which to engage Russian ships in case they get too close to the coasts, while it seems that the Ukrainian Naval Aviation aircraft have been destroyed on the ground in their Kherson base. The conquest of full control of naval space is also of fundamental importance for the progress of war operations because this guarantees the complete safety of the Crimean peninsula and its role as a springboard for offensive operations in the heart of the Ukrainian territory as well as the possibility of being able to carry out the long-awaited amphibious landing that would allow the Russians to attack both the strategic port of Odessa and the finite area of the "Mouth of the Danube".
Last but not least, the domination of both the sea and the air also has a strategic value because it prevents Ukrainians from receiving military aid via air and naval bridges and allows the Russians to continue to use these two "dimensions" to proceed in their work of both strategic and tactical bombing of the enemy.
In conclusion, after the first week of the war we can say that the Air Force, the Navy and the Air Defense Forces of Ukraine have ceased to exist as organic combat forces and their residual resistance is essentially entrusted to isolated elements.
To date, the only sub-strategic response that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have managed to achieve to counterbalance the Russian excessive power has been the bombing, using OTR-21 Tochka missiles, of the Millerovo air base, located about 80 kilometers away. from Lugansk which caused the destruction of 1 or 2 Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft depending on the sources. The situation of the land dispute is proving to be more complex, essentially divided into four fronts.
The "First Front", What actually gave rise to the conflict, is the Donbass front which, in the deafening silence of the world press, is seeing the most fierce fighting between the opposing sides.
On the eve of the outbreak of the war, 125.000 Ukrainian soldiers (equal to 50% of the country's Armed Forces) and 55.000 men from the Unified Armed Forces of the People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (also called "Unified Forces of Novorossiya") faced each other in this theater. by two Russian army corps with another 20.000 men. In the days preceding the outbreak of real hostilities, following the order of general mobilization of the entire male population of the two separatist republics, the "Unified Forces of Novorossiya" saw their ranks, composed largely of veterans, swell to excess. of the conflict of the last 8 years. On the other hand, the 125.000 men of the Ukrainian Armed Forces already present in the theater, were reinforced in the weeks preceding the outbreak of hostilities by as many as 225.000 reservists, bringing the total of the Kiev forces present in the area to the remarkable figure of 350.000 men.
Already in the time span between 21 and 23 February, the aforementioned forces present in the Donbass area had begun to engage the Ukrainian soldiers positioned along the "Contact Line" (also called "Zelensky Line") to shelter of their highly equipped defensive works. Much has been said in recent days about Moscow's deployment of urban combat systems and anti-bunkers such as the TOS-1 "Buratino" and various other types of genius vehicles in Ukraine but, looking carefully at the videos from that war area, it can be seen that even before the start of hostilities the Russians and the "Donbassians" had already concentrated a large number of such vehicles, indicating that they were expecting the start of a "Siegfried Line" style battle. This is indeed the case since the beginning of hostilities until today, with the Ukrainians holding their massive defensive line despite mounting pressure from both the ground and the air and the joint Russian-Donbassian forces continuing to attack strong both. experience and superiority in firepower.
Only from February 28 the Ukrainian lines in the Donbass area began to break down in the areas of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Novoaidar, Shchastia, Stanitsa Luganska, Volnovakha and Mariupol, but it should not be forgotten that a rapid breakthrough in that area will not it had never been taken into consideration by Moscow strategists who, in fact, had immediately thought of using the "battle of the Donbass line" as a sort of "battle of arrest" to attract vital forces that Kiev could have employed instead in a more profitable way elsewhere, and in fact the events today are beginning to prove the strategy of the Russian High Command right, but to be able to appreciate it, we need to see what is happening elsewhere.
The "Second Front”Of the Russo-Ukrainian War is the southern one. Here, since the beginning of operations, the Russians have launched a mechanized force of 12-17.000 men to attack, including, among others, elements of the Navy Infantry subordinated to the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla.
Contrary to what has been stated by numerous media outlets, neither along the Sea of Azov nor the western Black Sea has so far been any amphibious "World War II style" landings and the only Russian units infiltrated by sea or helicopter transported into the theater. of the operations were those of the Spetsnaz, on which however exhaustive details are not available at the moment. The presence of favorable terrain and the intense support received by both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft meant that the Russians were able to advance rapidly in five directions:
-to the north-west, towards Nova Kakhovka, Kherson and Nikolayev;
-to the north, in the direction of Energodar and its nuclear power plant;
-to the north-north-east, towards Tokmak and Zaporozhye;
-to the north-east, towards the Donbass;
-to the east towards Melitopol, Berdiansk and Mariupol.
The Russian advance was not a "triumphal march", however the Moscow armed forces managed to obtain excellent results in relation to the forces employed. Developments in the southern zone must be closely watched because if the north-westerly advance, once the resistance of Kherson and Nikolayev is overcome, it will predictably point to Odessa, removing any access to the sea from Ukraine and allowing Russian forces to join forces. to those of Transnistria, the north-east advance towards the Donbass threatens to cut off any retreat to the 350.000 men of Kiev who still defend the “Zelensky Line” tooth and nail.
Up to now there have been no episodes of disarray among the Ukrainian ranks but it is not certain that things cannot turn towards the worst scenario if the offensive of the Russian troops of the southern front continues to advance towards the north-east and is supported by a similar breakthrough in the Kharkhov area.
Contrary to what the "table generals" would say, Ukrainian senior officers have done very well up to now to order their troops to hold the Donbass lines because a tactical retreat in the presence of Russian-Donbassian pressure and under the constant threat of artillery and, above all Russian air force, could have transformed this retreat into a complete rout, not to mention the fact that, most likely, the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have at their disposal a sufficient number of mechanized and motorized means to succeed to promptly withdraw 350.000 men. The problem is that the more the days pass, the more the danger that the “Zelensky Line” becomes a deadly trap for its defenders becomes real. The methodical annihilation of a force of 350.000 would echo in history as and as much as that of the 6a Wehrmacht army during the battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War. For this reason, it is good that ideas come to mind in Kiev, albeit quickly!
The "Third Front"Of the Ukrainian War is the largest and is the one that both before and during the war, until now it has reserved the most" interesting "surprises for both the Russians and the international public. It includes the whole area of north-eastern Ukraine which is part of the Kharkhov oblast (the second largest city in Ukraine), Sumy and Chernigov. In the areas of Russia overlooking this vast area of Ukraine, in the months preceding the outbreak of the conflict, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation had deployed an impressive force of 200.000 men huddled by 100.000 reservists (the famous deployment of which all the media they talked over and over and that we all learned by heart). It seemed that this was the force destined to give the “KO blow” to Ukraine, however the Russian offensive in the area failed for several days in an attempt to acquire the necessary drive and determination to carry out the assigned mission.
The reasons for this humiliating debacle were various such as: the incompetence of the senior officers placed in charge of the troops in the sector, a completely erroneous assessment of the logistical difficulties that such a mass of troops would have encountered while channeling along a few and very distant roads, the strong resistance offered by the Ukrainian forces present in the area. The choice of a few and predictable axes of advance meant that the mass of Russian troops lined up in kilometer-long "caravans" clearly identified by satellite photos now widely available on the web and which still clog the traffic along the road arteries of the oblasts. 'Russians from Bryansk, Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh.
This state of affairs has meant that, to date, only 45.000 men among those assigned to the "third front" offensive have actually been engaged in fighting against the Ukrainians while all the others are simply "queued" wasting fuel, launching insults and driving their officers mad, already under pressure from the High Command. The advance of Russian troops in this sector met with fierce resistance from both regular and irregular forces in Kiev which, also thanks to the incompetence and logistical difficulties, inflicted serious human and material losses on the adversary. In this regard, it is interesting to note that most of the images and videos circulating on the Internet and depicting a large number of Russian vehicles of all kinds destroyed in the fighting or simply abandoned by their crews due to lack of fuel or mechanical failures come from this operating theater. The Ukrainian resistance also proved to be very tough and made excellent use of the adversary's shortcomings, amplifying them to the point of paroxysm.
The forces of Kiev were able through lateral attacks to "channel" the Russians towards the main cities of the area such as: Chernigov, Shostka, Krolevets, Konotop, Sumy, Akhtyrka, Kharkov, Kupiansk and several others where they engaged them in grueling urban fighting. Only in the last two days it seems that the Russian officers have managed to regain control of the situation (and their men) and after having overcome the resistance of the city of Konotop they have launched their forces to attack along the two axes constituted by the highway M02 and from the H07 motorway. Should the Ukrainians fail to organize a resistance at the height of the towns of Nezhin and Pryluky, the peak mechanized columns should (conditional here is a must) finally reach the Kiev suburb of Brovary within the next two days, closing in two huge pockets of Ukrainian forces engaged in the defense of Chernigov oblast.
Elsewhere along the line of combat, Russian forces are slowly surrounding the city of Sumy and have stormed the city of Akhtyrka in the vicinity of which, according to the Ukrainian authorities, an ATBIP device (also called FOAB, acronym that stands for "Father of All Bombs"), weighing 7,1 tons and capable of unleashing a power equivalent to 44 tons of conventional TNT explosives and a thermobaric explosion characterized by a radius of 300 meters. They are also engaged in a bitter battle for the city of Kharkhov, but it is currently unclear whether they will try to take it or surround it. Should the Russians overcome the obstacles constituted by Sumy and Akhtyrka, they would then head towards Poltava and from there towards Kremenchuk, located on the homonymous lake which is part of the Dnieper river. Once Kharkhov is neutralized, they would instead advance to Dnipropetrovsk and from there to Zaporozhye, both also on the Dnieper, thus joining with the advance of the aforementioned "Second Front" and thus leading to the fall of all Ukraine to the east. and south of the Dnieper.
The last battle front, and the one that from the beginning of the conflict up to now has captured the collective imagination of the media and the international public the most, however, was the "Fourth Front". During the very first hours of the conflict, while the planes with the red star hit a myriad of targets placed around the capital, the Russian forces entered Ukraine from the north crossing the so-called "Total Exclusion Zone" located between Ukraine and Belarus all around the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and a Russian airborne unit, probably composed of a mixed force of paratroopers and Spetsnaz, of unknown size was transported by a force of 34 helicopters directly to the runways of Gostomel airport , controlled by the giant of the aeronautical sector Antonov in order to make it an advanced launch base for the assault on Kiev.
The sudden action of the Russian raiders, as well as the unexpected attack through the "Total Exclusion Zone" served as catalysts for one of the most violent but at the same time controversial battles of the conflict so far: the battle of Gostomel airport. .
Depending on whether Russian or Ukrainian official sources are consulted or the residents of the area are questioned (as the author of this analysis did), different and contradictory answers will be obtained and, probably, a long time will pass before military historians have the possibility of consulting all the information necessary to draw an exhaustive profile of this titanic clash.
Among the many hypotheses and inferences, the following elements constitute a minimum certainty:
- first: the Russians organized an ambitious operation at the limit of their projection capacity;
- second: the Russians have considerably underestimated the capacity and speed of reaction of the Ukrainians;
- third: the battle that ensued was very violent and caused the devastation of much of the infrastructure and aircraft stored there, including the only existing example of the iconic Antonov An-225 Mriya, lasted a couple of days and it ended with the victory of the Russian forces who are now using the port as an advanced landing and refueling point for their forces engaged in the progressive encirclement and assault on Kiev.
In any case, despite their shrewdness and blatant audacity, the Russians have failed in their attempt to repeat the coup of "Kabul 1979" and are now mired in a series of protracted and costly military operations on the outskirts of the enemy capital. The main reasons for this glaring setback lie in the choice of territory, absolutely unsuitable for conducting a lightning assault by a mechanized army, and in the underestimation of Kiev's ability to react to the Moscow coup. In any case, Russia currently has around 30.000 men engaged on this front who, if for the moment they have failed in their main objective of taking Kiev, are nevertheless widening a very important bridgehead in view of future operations and are attracting the last reserves of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in a gigantic "battle of attrition" which, for numerical reasons, they cannot win under any circumstances.
As previously described in another analysis, on the eve of the outbreak of the conflict, the mobilization capacities of all the military and paramilitary forces of Ukraine were about 1.610.000 men divided as follows:
- Armed Forces: 250.000 soldiers plus 900.000 reservists;
- National Guard: 50.000 men;
- Border Guard: 50.000 men;
- State Emergency Service: 60.000 men;
- paramilitary forces of the Security Service of Ukraine, SBU: 30.000 men;
- National Police: 130.000 policemen;
- Territorial Defense Forces: 10.000 men on active duty plus 130.000 volunteers.
Despite this apparently mammoth figure, it seems that the Ukrainians have already exceeded the mobilization threshold reported above, and that this is precisely the reason why, according to the regulations of the "directive on general mobilization and martial law", to all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently prohibited from leaving the country.
Mind you, so far the Ukrainians have fought exceptionally well and, in some ways, have managed to stand up to the Russians, albeit not on all fronts of the conflict. However, as their colleagues in the opposing camp also realized very quickly, “War is a terrifying industry that relentlessly grinds men, means and financial resources. At this moment Ukraine is already in a situation of general mobilization while Russia, as shown by the data cited in the course of the text, in the first seven days of hostility carried out its offensive actions using (excluding the "Donbassians") about 112.000 men out of the 367.000 mobilized at the start of hostilities (equal to about 31%).
In light of the setbacks, the Russian authorities have launched a broad campaign of reservists' risk across the country and expanded the compulsory conscription base for this year so as to be able to free as many operational units of the ground forces as possible. 70% of which are currently being redeployed on the various fronts of the Ukrainian War. Not only that, numerous clues on the ground suggest that very soon Belarus and Transnistria will also join the alliance led by Moscow, thus opening two further fronts that would end up obliging Kiev to further disperse its forces in the process of progressive thinning. While in the first three days of the war the maneuvering units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces counterattacked the enemies at every opportunity in order to drive them back or even simply wear them out, subsequently the British analysts headed by the Royal United Services Institute reported that "now the army regular in Kiev is no longer able to operate in functioning formations but is largely falling back on a system of fixed defenses and must increasingly rely on the recruitment of armed volunteers ”.
It is clear, however, that this can only represent a pro-tempore palliative because it is not able to sustainably and continuously bridge the existing gap in firepower, especially now that the Russians can enjoy absolute and almost uncontested air superiority with the which to increase the pressure on the Ukrainians to the point of crushing them, slowly but surely. A final comment concerns the figures relating to losses.
The Ukrainian War is proving to be a carnage like Europe hasn't seen for decades. It is difficult to provide precise data given that both sides maintain a substantial regime of strict military censorship on this delicate subject in order not to undermine the morale of the troops and their respective internal public opinions. However, the hypothesis provided to the author of this analysis by some German sources which already speak of 14.000 deaths in the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces and of the Donbass separatists and of a number of deaths in the Ukrainian ranks oscillating between the two and a half times and five times that of the Russians and the "Donbassians" (therefore a fork between 35.000 and 70.000).
If these figures were true and this massacre were to go on throughout March and equal the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (44 days) in time, and there is a very good chance that it will, then we could all face it. to the dismal prospect of witnessing the bloodiest war on the European continent since the end of the Second World War.
Photo: Russian Federation MoD