There is a battle coming in Ukraine and anyone that does not understand this either in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin or Kyiv now is too late already. Why is there a battle coming? Because A. either the Russian proxy army will advance or B. the Ukrainian forces will advance to regain the sovereign territory of Ukraine.
There is also one option that you can bet everything on NOT happening and that is on Minsk 2 actually be followed through back to the peaceful transferral of Ukrainian borders back to Ukrainian forces, but I have spoken to a lot of people from London to Washington and Brussels to Kyiv and Bucharest to Australia – soldier types and they tend to agree by and large with what I have written up as the battle is likely to be in Ukraine sooner rather than later.
For now let us first consider the more likely option of Russian proxy advance as it more likely to happen first. Why will this happen first? Of the many defects of Minsk 2 the worst effect was this: That Ukrainian troops acting to regain control of Ukrainian sovereign territory by advancing onto and into areas occupied by Russian troops and mercenaries within Ukraine would be a breach of the supposed ‘ceasefire’. So Ukrainian forces are not permitted to advance into their own sovereign land until Russians invade further. The insanity of Minsk 2…
There are several options all which Russia theoretically has manpower and sufficient armour, artillerly, airpower etc to accomplish. When considering which option they may chose we must remember the extragavant lengths the Putin regime has gone to hide it’s involvement in Ukraine so far already and even today they deny that there any Russian troops in Ukraine. This is necessary of course for the maintenance of domestic order at home and the prime objective of the kleptocractic Mafiosi of which Putin is at present is to retain power so they can continue bloodsucking the Russian people; thus let us name our enemy the Russian regime for the Russian people are in large part guiltless victims, even if brainwashed, of the same regime which is waging war against Ukraine. Also we must remember that the occupied area of Donbass by itself would take alot of money in investment to rebuild and bring up to date before any international in the region could be expected, nor are Western sanctions likely to end when Minsk 2 fails. No wonder in his recent yearly ‘phone in’ Putin pleaded innocent “Russia sees no one as an enemy” but yet accused the US of wanting the world to be it’s “vassal”. For the Russian regime it must seem that they are between a rock and a hard place; retreat is not possible due to the nationalist sentiment they have themselves encouraged, standstill is a slow economic and demographic decline as Ukraine and Europe diversify gas supply and forward risks increased sanctions and almost certainly Western arming of Ukraine. No doubt President Obama and other Western leaders also think they have the rat in a box. All who have who lived, or who’s family’s have lived, or have even studied the history of this region know this a false dream – they will come on. The numbers of tanks in Donbass alone are said be 500+ and the constant supply of more supplies of every kind is not intended for defence. They will break the box and then pretend to be bound by a new one.
Which Option Will the Russian Regime Chose?
For Ukrainian planners this question is central to planning a response but the truth is one can never be sure and must plan on a likelihood basis. We know that too many deaths and open admission of being involved in the war would upset the Russian regimes domestic situation (Mothers screaming for compensation etc) and invite the possibility of further sanctions so we must assume limited or gradual gains are most likely designed to regain ground north of Luhansk and west of Donetsk toward Kramatorsk. However should the whole Gerasimov/hybrid war doctrine be thrown over because, let’s face it, it worked in Crimea but is not working in Donbass then a larger movement may still be possible. Economically the Crimean ‘land bridge’ option makes most sense since it secures water and electricity for region but all options barring the exceedingly limited or most gradual expansion involve the Dnieper. The gradual advance we can also to some extent rule out as it would involve taking on prepared Ukrainain defences time and again and the loss ratios would make it long term attritional. Given the numbers of mobile units currently in Donbass, the tanks alone are 700+, a ‘break out’ is surely coming and in force; for all Putin’s judo his General Lentsov still fights the same old Russian way. Nor given that the forces in the occupied area are working on ‘interior lines’ and the fact that re-supply can and is obtained from Russia in the both the southern sector and the norther, can or should the entire Ukrainian forces be committed to containing the occupied pocket. They can focus their attack at any one point alot faster than Ukrainian forces can be brought to bear to resist a ‘break out’. The point is that any one time at one point they can and with certainty will accumulate sufficient forces, artillerly and mobile to break out and frankly there is not much the Ukrainian forces can do stop it. Where will they head for is also clear – the Dnieper though at which point we cannot yet say but most likely along the coast for the land bridge to Crimea as Kursk bridge is both expensive and strategically vulnerable as a sole supply route to the Fleet at Sevastapol.
Given that any break out by the Russian proxy forces cannot be contained or due fought head on due to the Ukrainian army simply not having the number of mobile armoured units to go head to head with these Russian supplied stockpiles Ukraine therefore has to fight smart and use applied force where it is most likely to do damage. Most important is to preserve the armoured units and keep them together in any one sector so that when the opportunity presents itself they can deliver a decesive counter blow. Nor while we must assume that a break out is coming does it mean that fortress areas cannot be maintained and be relieved so long as the mobile group is kept intact and together. Therefore ‘fortress areas’ and partisan groups even to disrupt any enemy resupply should be established – Mariupol, Kharkiv, Dniepropetrovsk, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Odessa, even Kyiv itself need to have defence plans and a nominated Military Commander should they come under attack. Nor am I saying that fortress areas should not be allocated tanks or artillery; certainly they must be but sparingly. Ukraine cannot afford to rule any option that it may happen. No matter which option they chose we know they will base it on the Dnieper and it is the cities on the Dnieper where they must meet their Stalingrads. It is a terrible thing to consider this even but Ukrainians never invaded Crimea or Donbass but Russians are invading Ukraine and when one has an implacable enemy one must either fight, submit and hope for more Holodomors, or run. The children and elderly should obviously be evacuated but the adult must make their choices soon for otherwise events may be upon them. The sad truth is that if/when they break of the currently occupied area they will head for a city or cities on the Dnieper. There is no other obstacle in the way of even 350 tanks and if they want a land bridge or more Ukraine must use it’s cities as defecive fortresses to absorb and hold the enemy while keeping the mobile units largely preserved and intact west of Dniepropetrovsk. By this I do not mean all mobile units, merely those currently in the ATO command, for the defence of all options or variation of the options must be considered; Kyiv itself should be considered within a potential war zone if/when they break out. The point is to engage them in the fortress areas and then use the mobile units which have been held in reserve west of Dniepropetvost to cut the lines of supply once the enemy is involved in urban war – Ilovaisk them – to relieve Mariupol even Kherson from an axis in rear of the Dnieper front line; go around not at and re-establist Ukrainian lines of supply while denying the invader his; supply is always the weakest point. Even should an attack be made via Chernihiv toward Kyiv the eastern counter offencive breaking the supply and aimed primarily at capturing enemy forces and capture of supply rather than aiming directly to liberate Donetsk or Luhansk would serve to force a withdrawal from Kyiv by itself and those mobile units allocated for the defence of the Capital then be moved east etc. My point is to draw their superior armour into urban environments where it is less maneuverable and then simply cut them off using lesser numbers of armour.
Why should a plan not aim directly at the liberation of Donetsk and Luhansk I sure many readers will ask. I can give numerous reasons: 10,000 or even 5,000 Russian prisoners will be undeniable in Russia and most likely end this conflict. Also the guns and general booty that the Ukrainian forces captured could not be denied as not being Russian. Thirdly even if Ukrainian forces liberated the occupied area and captured 10,000 prisoners and 200 tanks what then? Yes Ukraine would be weaker and Russia more so but would they stop? We cannot say so must plan that they would not. They would shell Ukrainian forces from their side of the border then pour in more ‘green men’ etc etc and the whole cycle repeat from last August. The war is won not diplomatically, as so many diplomats like to claim, but when the Russian people cannot ignore the losses of their sons and brothers in Ukraine. If Ukraine can entice in and bear the strain of capturing 1000s of them and then publicising it, ironically from those prisoners freedom will have won.
Clearly there are many problems within the Ukrainian Command structure as pointed out in their previous operations most particularly by Yuriy Butusov at Ilovaisk and Debaltseve among other serving Officers. Should the Chief of Staff General Viktor Muzhenko be blamed entirely? Clearly not. Ukrainian forces suffer disadvantages compared to Russian ones as even Western visitors have noted. Should Muzhenko go? To quote a wise friend “It’s an old rusty machine, if you try to move it too quickly, things brake instead of starting to rotate”. Muzhenko is definately rusty, he graduated from the Leningrad Higher Military Command School in 1983 but who would the replacement be? Nor should one forget to credit him with his success’s; the Ukrainian offencive last July/August required direct Russian intervention to save their proxy mercenaries and the occupied area has not expanded in a large way since last September. Neverthless the communication between the higher and lower command on the ground has been at all times nothing short of pathetic by any and all accounts. The communication at Debaltseve to withdraw quoted by the President was countlessly contravened by the troops.
The real point is not a communication one but a refusal to devolve to command to a local HQ. Let me explain this: if a Ukrainian unit north of Luhansk is in trouble can one from Mariupol support it? Clearly not but then why do all requests have to pass through the central ATO Command and sometimes be referred to Kyiv (I am told) rather than the decision to hold or withdraw be left to the Commander on the ground? Clearly a more ‘devolved’ chain of command is required to allow the professional and now somewhat experienced local commands to decide what is best for themselves. To my mind it is sense to establish area Commands rather and an ATO Command in general. Clearly the whole coastal area from Mariupol to Kherson cannot come within the same local Command as Kharkiv or Chernihiv… but this is only speaking common sense and learning from mistakes that the General Staff have failed to understand as yet as far as can be seen. For the coming battles it is vital that local Commanders be directed by a local command with it’s own resources and reserves. In their fights the Higher Command cannot ‘know better’ the situation on the ground than them and so must remain silent but only send relief or reinforcement if possible. If the change the line of command structure takes Muzhenko’s resignation so be it. It is vital for Area Commands to act on their own initiative when an opportunity presents itself and for those Officers who succeed in doing so be promoted. At present the Ukrainian forces that have been in action ALL know how to fight and fight hard and mean and dirty if need be; they can win this war inflicted on them and know how but the High Command has too long had control over even the smallest scale actions. This must change. Appoint the Commanders you trust to areas and trust them and then let them get on with it or resign when they break out is the option for Muzhenko.
Ukraine has the dedicated troops and, if used at crucial areas as I have suggested, to win this coming battle. It cannot win it however without concession from the Command centres to the very capable local Command centers – indeed instead of discouraging local and area command the Staff must encourage it.
What then should a ‘Miracle on the Dnipo’ come? It would not necessarily mean the end of this war Ukraine liberated both Donetsk and Luhansk… The Russians have fired over the border before as many will recall and could Ukraine even build a ‘Great Wall’ under fire? and what would purpose would it serve if a single bulldozer could break it? No mines and forward intelligence are far more cost effective along with a light border force and a mobile responce to await, judge and time any incursion of the border. A line defence is committing Ukraine back to WW1 and cannot succeed today. Giving ground is often preferable to losing the valuable mobile units without which no victory can be achieved. Flexibility is needed and opportunism from local commanders to cause the enemy the maximum damage. But even the brave Ukrainian Hero’s who are defending not only their liberty but all of Europe’s win this it will not be a celebration or the end. All military victories are tragedies for people, soldiers and civilians die. Yet a belief and future of freedom and prosperity may often spring from them. It is to the West’s eternal shame – and may well be to their cost should Ukraine lose the coming battle – that they have not done more to help Ukraine preserve it’s sovereign freedom in face of Russian aggression on an scale unseen since their invasion of Afghanistan. Would Ukraine’s – or Poland’s or Romania’s “grave concern” suffice if the Argentine’s seized the Falkland and sent little green men into Cornwall and the Channel Islands? Would the UK accept a Franco – German ceasefire on the occupied area of Cornwall or would the US in Alaska? Do you not understand what this Russian regime is yet? It will not stop should it achieve it’s aims in Ukraine and victory, not only for today in Ukraine but for the Russian people themselves can only be ultimately achieved by changing Russia. In this greater liberation of the Russian people in future all those who help today’s Ukraine’s sacrifices are also contributing. A successful and prosperous Ukraine in 5-10 yrs will be the ultimate victory, not just for Ukrainians but long term for Russians. First though Ukraine must win the Battle of Dnipro and for this any aid from her ‘European partners’ is welcome.