“For Putin, who dreams of regional hegemony over former Soviet space, Washington’s insistence on unencumbered global hegemony is the unacceptable threat that his war in Ukraine was designed to thwart”
Both the U.S. and Russia are guilty of what has been labeled “imperial overreach,” trying to dominate other countries or regions beyond their capacity to do so.
– Ronald Suny ( Emeritus Professor University of Michigan and University of Chicago), The Moscow Times, 07 Feb 2023
The Russian juggernaut started rolling on 24 February last year bringing about mayhem of unparallel dimensions not seen since Second World War. The political sanity and rational thinking has been the biggest casualty in the saga of this ongoing military confrontation. The war continues with open ended objectives with senseless destruction of life and property with no end in sight. To start with, this war could have been avoided by simply according primacy to the diplomacy to seek amicable answers to the insecurities of sovereign import and forced political impositions.
Russia as well as Ukraine have been nurturing environmental distrust against each other ever since they parted ways in 1991. Ukraine in particular has been trying to shake off the claustrophobia of communist afflictions seen to be an enigma impacting their sovereign freedom. Add to this sentiment, a well orchestrated narrative of western world has further increased the schism making it difficult for a compromise. There are multiple stakeholders in this war wherein Ukraine happens to be in forefront in the shadow play of the proxy participants .
The potential of Russia to re emerge as a super power once again did not fit into geo political designs of western world lead by US. China was already a big challenge to them, and now with Russia as another competitor, the prospects of a multi polar world was a matter of discomfort of compulsive dislike to US. Accordingly, Russia is being isolated by the west with an aim to deny her political space what they aspire for. In consequence, the political hubris and national egos have already reached a stage that may engulf the entire humanity into a third world war. The possibility of nuclear calculus cannot be ruled out, hence matter of global concern.
The Russia (USSR), after its breakup, wanted to keep Ukraine under her folds as a buffer against seemingly scheming intents of the west. Whereas, the US Inc encouraged Ukraine to shed the baggage of past and join European Union for better economic prospects. They were also assured of security umbrella by according membership of the NATO to them. It meant presence of NATO right at the Russian borders , a situation that was obviously not acceptable to Russia due to her existential security concerns.
The Russia impressed upon Ukraine not to tinker with the existing politico- military status quo. Looking at no change in Ukrainian attitude, Russia chose to up the ante by deploying military on Ukrainian border. The purpose was clearly to convey Russian resolve to take the matter in her hands in the face of inimical intents of the west in her backyard. It warranted creating security structures against any military threat to them, and control over Black Sea for economic and military purposes . The coercive military diplomacy continued for almost a year to make the proponents of new political order understand the seriousness of Russian concerns. Looking at the intransigence of Ukraine, and built up of political crescendo by west beyond acceptable levels, Russia chose to shed her strategic patience.
Russia moved into Ukraine from multiple directions on 24 February calling it a special operations. In military parlance it meant a short and swift operation a coup de main of sorts to bring about conflict termination soon. The objective of show of force was aimed to bring about collapse of Ukraine. It did not happen as Ukraine chose to not to get intimidated despite military asymmetry and pushed to the wall. This paper encapsulates analysis of Russo-Ukraine war as it has unfolded with its politico- military connotations. It is based on information available in open domain, common military insight and reasonable conjunctures.
The war seems to have unfolded in roughly in four phases with continuous slugfest all across the Russo-Ukraine borders so far. The first phase started with attempted seize of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The Russian army moved in from north from Belarus astride road axes alongside capture of an air head closer to Kyiv for logistics ease. Simultaneously, Kharkiv , a town on the north eastern border was also attempted to be captured. The probable aim was to divide the Ukrainian forces, or may be even link up with the northern pincer to further pressurize the Ukraine to give in.
The force primarily consisted of mechanized elements , albeit not seen to carry out any tactical maneuver specially in Kyiv sector. Ukraine in the mean while had converted the towns into fortresses with anti tank obstacles and fire positions covering the approaches. Capture of built up areas warrant Infantry predominant attacks which are slow, need large forces and often result in high casualties. Whereas ,no such serious infantry operations seem to have been attempted. Even the air borne troops inserted in the sector were not utilized to attain tactical advantage in right earnest.
Russian positions in Kyiv sector became untenable after few days. However, they were successful in securing substantial ground in Kharkiv region. While Kyiv, Kharkiv and other towns were subjected to heavy fire assaults by artillery, missiles and aerial means but could not be captured . Subsequently, Ukraine repulsed Russian attacks and pushed out Russian troops gradually out of these regions. Russian troops withdrew from Kyiv, Sumy and Zhytomyr areas by March end. The encirclement of Kharkiv continued for quite some time with reduced Russian troops.
Russia also made incursions into eastern as well as southern regions with political leaning towards Russia. Capture of eastern region facilitates Russia to create a defensive line based on Dnieper River. The southern region was important to both Russia as well as Ukraine as it controls the ports on Black Sea. Russia alongside their sponsored rebel groups secured few selected areas in Donbas region as also astride Maripol, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson sectors in phase one. In that, Kherson fell by 02 March, and Zaporizhzhia on 04 March after heavy fight close to Antonivsky bridge on Dnieper River. While Russia had blocked access to these towns but made no further push for their capture probably due to resource constraints. The Ukraine in response managed to stabilize the situation by early April in all the sectors of Russian incursion as seen in phase one.
The analysis of phase one suggests that capture of ’political centre of gravity’, Kyiv appears to be central to Russian strategy alongside overwhelm Ukraine in other sectors. The plan appears to be based on presumption of a paralytic shock leading to collapse of the Ukrainian government facilitating a regime change. There seemed to be no signs of a viable contingency planning in case of a failure to achieve the desired conflict termination. Russia had expected that either the Ukrainian leaders will run away, or sign on the dotted lines . None of this happened even though the US had offered to evacuate the Ukrainian president. The Ukrainian leadership, army and citizen soldiers stood the ground in the face of Russian coercive military threat.
From military perspective, selection of objective located 400 km in depth without shaping the battle field was not a very sensible idea. The link up from Kharkiv, if that was part of plan, was impractical and certainly over ambitious. There were logistics constraints due to distances involved and insecure lines of communications. Add to above, Russia divided her forces over almost thousand km on widely separated multiple axes in piecemeal manner. Russian operations were launched against Ukrainian strong firm bases based on built up areas instead of drawing them out and force their tactical dislocation. Moreover, Russia aborted the mission Kyiv, main stay of their strategy, without a fight and shifted her forces to other sectors .
Apropos, ‘Selection of a viable objective’, ‘Concentration of Force’ and ‘Maintenance of Aim’ as principles of war were violated. It appeared to be primarily a ‘political plan’ sans sound military considerations of ground, troops to task and time and space factors. It reflected adversely on first Russian move leading to a cascading effect in subsequent operations. The Russian army troops in contact were found to be wanting in their fighting skills and motivation as reported by the western media. It obviously, gave a morale boost to Ukraine that was amply reflected in their resolve in subsequent standoffs with high nationalist quotient.
Consequent to miscalculations in phase one , Russia shifted her focus on ‘Military centre of gravity’ in phase two from April onwards. The aim now was to capture tactically important terrain for building up security structures over land as well as sea space. The areas of interests were identified as Donetsk & Luhansk tracks in eastern, and Zaporizhzhia & Kherson in southern sectors. The objective seemed to be capture & consolidation of Donbas region and lean on the river line to maximum extent. Major Russian push came in summers of 2022 in the eastern sector probably after side stepping of troops from Kyiv and Kharkiv regions and some fresh reinforcements. The progress of operations was slow due to built up areas and stiff Ukrainian resistance. Substantial parts of Luhansk and Donetsk were captured by June end.
In southern sector, the Black Sea Provides access to Mediterranean Sea, a junction of three continents and two Oceans. Accordingly, capture of ports and coastal areas dominating Black Sea is essential for Russian economic as well as military interests. While the Russian encirclement of Mariopol, Metlitopol, Zeporizhzhia and Kherson was in place since March, the major offensives were launched to capture these towns in late summers. By September, major parts of eastern as well as southern sectors were under Russian domination.
The Russian captured areas at this stage happened to be in a semicircle over a wide frontage resulting in lesser reserves available for offensive. Whereas, Ukraine had advantage of shorter direct approaches to attack selected Russian held areas. There appeared to be a shift in strategies on both sides in emerging situation in phase three. Russia, having achieved their optimal objectives, was seen to be consolidating her gains. On other hand, Ukraine was seen to be aggressive with motive to take back occupied areas from late summers to onset of winters.
Ukraine chose to launch offensives on two extreme flanks of the Russian defences namely north eastern (Kharkiv/Luhansk) and southern (Kharson/ Zaporzhzhia) sectors. This seem to have divided the Russian response resulting in tactical advantage to Ukraine. Ukraine evicted Russians from Kharkyiv by early September, however, Russia called it a redeployment exercise. Kherson was being subjected to Ukrainian assaults since July and these continued till Russians were forced to pull back to eastern bank on 11 November. Simultaneously, major part of Zaporizhzhia region was retaken by the year end.
Russia, in this campaign had captured 28% of Ukrainian territories including Crimea by April which was reduced to 18% by November. As per estimates of western media, Ukraine has reclaimed more than 50% of territories since commencement of Russian offensive in February. Success of Ukraine in Kharson sector facilitates counter veiling options towards Crimea and other coastal areas. However, Russia continues to dominate the major part of Black Sea coastal belt as of now.
The phasefour has been more of psychological warfare targeting the Ukrainian civil society trough coercive use of winters as a weapon to break their will to fight. In that, Russia is known to have targeted power, water and essential civic infrastructure required for survival in harsh winters. It was done to force the civil population to rise against the government to stop the war and agree to Russian dictates. However, Ukrainian civil society did not yield to such Russian pressures despite all the hardships heaped upon them.
The media is rife with talks of spring offensive by the Ukraine with newly acquired mechanized equipment from western countries. They have also requested for aircrafts, drones and missiles of offensive variants. It clearly shows offensive intents of Ukraine to take back captured areas, probably to exploit their gains in Luhansk and Kharson sectors.
On other hand, Russia is known to have invested Bhakmut since last six months. Bhakmut is a major communication centre controlling north- south laterals east of Dnieper River. It acts as a firm base for capture of high grounds to its north west that dominate the eastern belt as also the river line. It is suitable as a pivot for riposte against Ukrainian offensive on northern flanks of Luhansk and capture of Donetsk industrial belt. Russian held areas in Donbas region alongside Bhakmut and high grounds leaning on Dnieper River make a formidable crescent shaped defensive line. That seems to be their possible objective in next phase.
Capture of Bakhmut would be seen as a symbol of major Russian victory, a much needed political bargaining chip in the present circumstances. On other hand, denial of its capture by Ukraine would go in her favour with tactical advantages. Hence, the ongoing slugfest in this tactically important town has political connotations of strategic import.
As the events have unfolded over the last one year the military asymmetry between Russia and Ukraine seem to be getting narrower by the day. It is the will power and resolve of the leadership and public of Ukraine that has kept the Russians at bay despite all the structural constraints. Ukraine has the advantage of political, material, financial and moral support of the western powers. Majority of UN member countries have expressed their support to Ukraine due to violation of UN charter by Russia.
The end state as of now is that Russia is in command of large areas east of Dnieper River, as also the coastal belt dominating the Black sea. These were the two appreciated objectives of Russia that provide optimal security and economic outreach. As the situation stands today it can be described as ‘ Neither Russia has emerged as a victor, nor Ukraine has lost the plot’ as yet. There appears to be a strategic pause as of now with exception of intermittent fire assaults to keep the pressure on Ukraine. The game of nuclear sabre rattling by Russia continues apparently for the consumption of the NATO fraternity to keep their hands off the table.
There have been talks of need to bring an end to this war as it has potential to spiral out into a nuclear slugfest. It was first in Samarkand when Indian Prime Minister gave a voice to this move by his statement “It is not an era of war”. It has found echo in varied subsequent international forums, latest one being recently held G-20 foreign ministers conclave in New Delhi. Russia having achieved some what they were looking at seems to be open to talks. The Ukraine also have been hinting at reproach by indicating their pre conditions for coming to the table.
There are clear indications of war fatigue amongst all the parties concerned. It is a matter of who blinks first. The world is hoping for some sense prevails amongst the warring nations and their supporters to bring down curtains on this senseless confrontation that could have been avoided in the first place. It is time for diplomacy to take lead to bring both the warring sides to negotiating table, failing which it would have disastrous consequences for the world peace.
An exhaustive appre of on going conflict in Ukraine that clarifies and put in perspective the Geo, Fin, nuclear and Global Threat Perceptions clearly for the Lady Man’s Understanding. Profound View Pts. Kudos —):
The rigorous research about the geography and minute details of warzone progression is incredible. Your in depth analysis in this article is par excellence of your status. Congratulations and kudos to you.