Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (third part)

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

After having analyzed the trend of both air and land operations in the two previous analyzes, we now close our series relating to the latest developments in the war in Ukraine with some tactical-strategic considerations.

To begin with, it must be stated that from a temporal and intensity point of view, the duration of the conflict exceeded what the political leadership of the Kremlin had predicted. It seems evident from the deployment of forces and the tactics used that Putin had originally imagined a brief war lasting 11 days with the first 1-3 dedicated to a vigorous military operation aimed at eliminating the political-military leadership of the enemy country and then proceeding in the days following an occupation of the Ukrainian territory without encountering significant resistance. In this context, the initial violent air offensive had the task of "striking and terrorizing" the Ukrainians, preventing them from reacting and mobilizing their reserves. This calculation has proved wrong (it is not yet known whether due to errors of assessment by the FSB department dedicated to the collection of information or due to a macroscopic error on the part of Putin himself).

Going to shatter the opinions and feelings of many "admirers" of the Russian leader in the West, the author of this analysis believes that the second explanation is the correct one. In fact, there are two things we need to consider:

- first: the accuracy and effectiveness of the missile campaign and of the Russian Air Forces in the very first days of the war that led to the destruction of a considerable number of targets are certainly also to be attributed to the excellent capacity of the Moscow secret services (SVR, FSB and GU / GRU) to map the military and industrial infrastructures of Ukraine;

- second: as happens in many countries in the world, also in Russia the choice of the objectives to be achieved in a given conflict is up to the political leadership, which then passes the directives to the headquarters of the armed forces which formulates the military plans strictly respecting the political directives received from above. In turn, the commanders in the field receive the plans drawn up by the headquarters and have the task of translating them into reality; in the Russian case, then, not much choice or freedom of action are left to local commanders.

Once these two aspects have been considered, we understand that the system has jammed in correspondence with the political leadership. Indeed, it would not have been possible for Russia's Air and Missile Forces to conduct today's military campaign if before and during the conflict they had not been constantly "supplied" with information on the targets to be hit.

It is therefore very strange that the various Russian intelligence agencies, which also supported very well the operations of military colleagues of the blue weapon, have at the same juncture committed such a great mistake as that of underestimating the enemy and his capacity for resistance and mobilization..

At the same time, the bad evidence provided by some of the commands on the ground (in particular with regard to the "Third Front" and the "Fourth Front"), especially in organizing an efficient logistical network and effectively training soldiers in anticipation of the outbreak of hostilities, it is due to incomplete and misleading plans produced by the headquarters of the armed forces. But these plans in turn are based on the precise directives received from the political leadership and this brings us directly to the Gordian knot of the whole affair: Has Vladimir Putin committed a blatant error of assessment perhaps even against the opinion of his trusted men and his shortcomings, which then reverberated along the entire chain of command, contributed to putting Russia in difficulty? Posterity will judge.

In any case, the war is in full swing and there is very little chance that it will end with a negotiated solution given that, in the meantime, the opposing political-military leadership as well as public opinion in the two countries have entered, so to speak, in the " tunnel of patriotism ”and any failure or honorable compromise would be seen by extremists on both sides as a failure and betrayal. In short, both "the last Tsar of Russia" and "the last Grand Prince of Kiev" are now hostages to their own rhetoric and promises.

For Putin by now, taking Ukraine and "denazifying it" (in his words) has become an indispensable goal while on the other hand Zelensky and his followers, galvanized by a resistance that has achieved excellent results after all, have pushed some of their supporters to believe that Ukraine is not only capable of stopping and repelling the Russians but also of taking back all of Donbass and Crimea as well.

But which of the objectives (and the "dreams") of the two contenders are achievable and which are not? To understand this we try to analyze the situation on the ground before and during the conflict. From February 24 to today, the alliance made up of the Russian Federation and the two People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk has in all engaged 497.000 men in the so-called “Special Military Operation”. These forces were deployed as follows:

  • “First Front” (Donbass area): 130.000 “Donbassian” soldiers and reservists and 20.000 Russian soldiers;
  • “Second Front” (Crimean area): 17.000 Russian soldiers;
  • “Third Front” (eastern and north-eastern Ukraine): 200.000 Russian soldiers and 100.000 reservists;
  • “Fourth Front” (Kiev area): 30.000 Russian soldiers arriving from Belarus.

To date, according to Pentagon estimates, all the force originally made available for the invasion is currently and actively engaged in combat on the various battle fronts. Opposing the Russian offensive attacks and their "Donbassian" allies are the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which we have already described in great detail in the past. Alongside them, however, Ukraine has other military, paramilitary or "militarizable" forces which, in the event of total war, could contribute to the defense of the country's territory to varying degrees. One of these is the State Emergency Service, but in addition to it there are also the Border Guard (which controls, as a sub-branch the Coast Guard), The National Guard (heir to the troops of the Interior Army of Soviet memory), the various paramilitary forces that report to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, heir to the KGB club), la National Police of Ukraine (reformed on the ashes of the Militsiya inherited from the USSR) and the very famous ones Territorial Defense Forces born in the wake of Euromaidan, the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the Donbass War to mobilize volunteers and thus support the conscripts of the Armed Forces, who had initially proved poorly suited to fight a war prolonged.

The (theoretical) mobilization capabilities of all these entities at the start of the war were 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.

This gave Ukraine's military and paramilitary forces a theoretical total of 1.610.000 men who could be mobilized in a "reasonably short" time at the start of hostilities.

Again according to the aforementioned Pentagon sources, but also according to the Kiev authorities themselves, Ukraine has already reached "the maximum possible degree of mobilization". This statement seems oxymoronic at first sight, given the fact that Ukraine has a fairly large population and that one of the first measures of the government when proclaiming total mobilization was to prohibit all males aged between the 18 and 60 years of leaving the country. Logically, this should make a large amount of "armable" personnel available to Kiev and, although the Russian Air Forces and Russian cruise and ballistic missiles have hit the Ukrainian bases and depots very hard, there should still be sufficient supplies to provide , very brutally "an assault rifle and two magazines to each". But war, especially if conventional (but also guerrilla warfare) is not an improvised affair and indeed requires method and organization.

The Ukrainians do have a large number of men at their disposal, but apart from the above figures, the great mass of "theoretically available" men are essentially "useless" because even if in the recent or remote past they have had the opportunity to appear in the military world (perhaps when they were conscripted soldiers) once they abandoned both active service and active reserve they completely stopped being framed in any organized structure that makes them suitable for a new raid use.

Contrary to what happens in Western countries or in Israel, the great mass of Ukrainian "reserves" are not organized into "dormant" brigades and divisions which in the event of war can be mobilized and made operational in a short time and therefore give "depth both tactics than strategic ”to the national armed forces. In Ukraine, "human reserves" are simply "a reservoir" from which to draw from to make up for losses as regular units are literally "eroded" by the friction of battle in the course of fighting. However, this means that the "strategic amount of human material" available to Kiev has little chance of turning into a tactical advantage if the Ukrainians do not have the ability to deploy more maneuvering units than their enemies.

There is also a second aspect to consider: the firepower of the units involved

From 2014 onwards, Ukraine's military instrument has definitely veered towards a reform in the Western sense. This involved, among other things, the transition from the previous divisional structure inherited from the Soviet period to that of brigade in vogue at NATO. In Russia, a similar reform was initiated from 2007 to 2012 by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov but was effectively canceled by the current head of the aforementioned department, Sergey Shoigu, who from 2013 onwards actually reinstalled the divisional system, albeit with some corrective. In practice, this means that the Russian Armed Forces can deploy their units on wider battle fronts than the Ukrainian ones.

Not only that, the Russian units have a number of men and means greater than that of the Ukrainian units, so they can remain operational for longer periods of time and "absorb blows" in a much greater way. By having a greater number of means at their disposal, they can also develop a greater volume of fire and cause debilitated losses to Ukrainians in the long run.

To give a practical example, let the 2a Division of Motorized Riflemen of the Guard “Tamanskaya” that the 4a armored division “Kantemirovskaya”, both appearing among the units engaged in the war, each have between 500 and 600 tanks therefore, for comparison, greater than the entire tank equipment of the Italian Armed Forces.

Of course, having "larger dimensions" also has disadvantages; for example in the logistics sector, as we have seen in the first few weeks. In order to be effective and unleash their full potential, large units need a "logistic train" that is always efficient, otherwise they risk running out of the indispensable "lymph" to move forward. This is what we saw, for example, in the poor performance of the "Third Front".

Conversely, when the units are well supplied they can penetrate the enemy front line as if it were made of butter. This is the case of the excellent results obtained by General Zusko, head of the "Second Front". In general, the most serious problem that the Russian Armed Forces faced in this first phase of the war was the inability to deploy supply lines that would allow their four war fronts to be able to achieve their intended objectives.

This does not mean, however, that, with the passing of days, the officers in charge of operations have not made amends for their mistakes and have run for cover "in progress". Conversely, on the other side of the front the Ukrainians undoubtedly enjoy the advantage of having internal supply lines, however Russia's conquest of absolute domination of the skies means that in the long run the pressure both from the ground and from the sky risks becoming unsustainable for the defenders.

The domino of the air, in addition to the obvious tactical value, also has a special strategic implication because it is allowing the Russians to literally demolish the military-industrial complex in Kiev.

Many examples can be given, but I believe that two are particularly illuminating. In the night between 10 and 11 March, the Russian missile forces repeatedly hit and destroyed the "Motor Works" plants in Lutsk, a leading plant in the aeronautical sector and the only one capable of carrying out overhaul works on the RD-33 engines. of Kiev's surviving Mig-29 fighters that have since been virtually maintenance-free. Even more important in my opinion was the complete "demolition" caused by a wave bombing carried out, on March 5, by a series of Su-34 formations of the "Armor Works" of Zhytomir, the last armored factory to date. remained intact at the time. This was a disastrous loss for Kiev because from that moment on the Ukrainians are no longer able either to produce or to guarantee the maintenance and repairs of their armored vehicles.

In the medium and long term, this type of action will increasingly contribute to gradually putting Ukrainians in difficulty, who already now seem to be suffering from a shortage of heavy equipment. Such news would at first glance seem exaggerated and would be liable to be accused of "pro-Russian propaganda", but this is not the case at all. During the fighting that took place on November 13 around the village of Varvarovka, located in the Lugansk oblast, the Russians confirmed the destruction of 3 Ukrainian T-72AV tanks through video and other documentary evidence. The event seems to be of ordinary administration, but it is not so.

On the eve of the Russian invasion, Ukraine lined up on paper a massive armored component consisting of about 4000 tanks including T-64, T-72 and T-80, as well as a small number of T-84s. Having inherited some of the most important facilities for the production and maintenance of tanks of the T-64 and T-80 models since the Soviet era, the military leaders of Kiev had decided to store all 600 T-72 in service, effectively assigning them to the "reserve". The confirmed destruction of some specimens of this model of tank could be a clear alarm bell in signaling to us that, by taking the T-72s out of their warehouses, the Ukrainians are essentially "scraping the bottom of the barrel".

That is why, from my very modest point of view, the loud proclamations of the international mass media according to which "Ukraine is managing to resist Russian aggression" must be treated with extreme caution and indeed it is necessary to redouble efforts and continue with the constant and methodical monitoring process in order to understand how things will evolve on the battlefield.


Also read: "Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (first part)"

Also read: "Analysis on the progress of the second week of war in Ukraine (second part)"

Photo: Russian Federation MoD