World is waiting with bated breath. When will Russian offensive to annex Ukraine commence?
Very large number of well informed Military Strategists think that current Russia-Ukraine face off is a recent event barely few months old. All of them including USA missed the Russian actions after holding a war game in early 2021.
Russians did not move the military hardware back to barracks. Strategic bombers, missile units, armoured vehicles and most importantly clandestinely transported ammunition in huge quantity to forward areas was left behind under protected cover. Few interesting points emerge;
Firstly, during war games live ammunition in large quantity is rarely, rather never moved to forward areas.
Secondly, even if the decision to move ammunition on large scale to check the logistic model is resorted to, it is promptly shipped back to storage depots immediately after the war games conclude.
Russian military did exactly the opposite. It moved huge quantity of ammunition during war games merely to mask it as a part of ongoing war games with very clear intent to keep it there for a possible/probable campaign against Ukraine in Feb-Mar, 2022.
Russian offensive mounted across Ukraine from Belarusian border gives Russian armour the fastest penetration in Ukranian territory. Recent massing of Russian troops, tank formations and other armoured vehicles on Ukraine-Belarus border is a clear indication of Russian intent. Ukraine border is barely 20 km where Russian tank formations have already assembled in Belarusian territory.
However there are quite a few parameters that will/might go against planned Russian offensive. These are;
• Weather. Terrain where the war is likely to be fought is currently under sub zero temperatures. However sub zero temperatures ensure that ground is firm and tanks/heavy vehicles will not bog down. But this comes with a rider; in Ukraine thaw sets in around middle to end of March causing extreme difficulty in large scale ground movement. Russian attack in April and beyond might just be a repetition of German disaster in 2nd world war in Russian front.
• Window of Attack. As highlighted above Russian window of opportunity to attack Ukraine and annex it is from ‘now’ till end March.
• State of Russian Military. Russian military has been mobilized nearly nine months back. Military in peace time location and during operational deployment behaves differently. Mobilised military is hugely expensive. Waiting game results in demotivation. Their morale dips, level of alertness drops and most importantly even the field commanders doubt the decision makers. Indian Military has first hand experience of such actions during Op Parakaram during which Indian Military stayed on alert for nearly 18 months at a stretch. There is a very famous saying;”Military is like a sword-you can do anything with it but SIT ON IT”.
Russian experience during Crimean conflict might have created few doubts in Putin’s mind about USA/NATO response. Two vital parameters have changed since 2014 Crimean war. These are;
• While USA/NATO did not send troops/military equipment of any substance to Ukraine then but during the intervening years billions of dollars has moved into Ukraine as defence aid. Ukraine is much better prepared in 2022 than it was in 2014.
• One of the most important event leading to annexation of Crimea was defection of then Ukrainian Naval Chief Admiral Berezovsky alongwith more than half the Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimean region. Crimean campaign lasted barely 20 days and concluded mid March.
• Readiness of Ukrainian military in 2022 will offer stiff resistance to Russian military.
• USA/NATO (except Germany) are vociferously condemning Putin’s probable option of a Russian military response to annex Ukraine.
• Crimean campaign had an element of surprise in favour of Russia. In the present instant there is no surprise. It is merely a matter of ‘when’.
Crimean campaign was a swift Russian move with not too much bloodshed. Face off with Ukraine will be different, both on account of time required as well as number of casualties. Russia will have to take that into account. From the military balance of power as it exists now, Russia will not have a cake walk. Window of opportunity is shrinking with every passing day.
If Russia does not launch offensive latest by first week of February or earlier, Russian campaign is bound to get stuck into the ‘mud’, both natural as well as diplomatic.
Notwithstanding the rhetoric of war being drummed by Putin and Sergei Lavrov, Russian military is not well placed to win the short, swift war while facing NATO/US weapons, may be soldiers as well.
Direct confrontation between Russia and NATO/US combine invariably carries the risk of nuclear exchange. Putin’s doctrine clearly enunciates that Russia will resort to ‘FIRST USE’ of nukes in the event of disproportionate conventional weapon attack by the adversary. No more clarifications are required. Therefore use of tactical nukes on threatening UNU (Ukraine/Nato/Usa) forces in the frontline as well as strategic nukes to hit the heart of Europe as well as USA cannot be ruled out. World is closest to a possible nuclear exchange unless Putin calls off the bluff.
However Putin has crossed the proverbial ‘point of no return’ by insisting that NATO/USA give it in writing that Georgia and Ukraine will not be part of NATO. In spite of Bucharest announcement and verbal assurance of the then US Secretary of State James Baker during the reunification agreement of Germany that USA will not seek entry of Ukraine in NATO, USA has retracted its undertaking and is insisting on Ukraine joining NATO.
If and when Ukraine joins NATO, NATO forces stationed in Ukraine would be breathing down the neck of Russian military, an option Putin would be unwilling to bargain for. Also Putin would have lost the ‘chicken-chicken’ war to NATO/USA should he decide to withdraw now.
Putin, with his survival at stake, has only two options left;
• Firstly, to attack Ukraine. Will Russia win against combined onslaught of Ukranian military supported by NATO/US forces as well as military hardware?
• Secondly, to install a puppet government in Ukraine.
Neither of above stated options are easy to achieve. Hence War/long period of instability in Ukraine is inevitable. If not, Russian (read Putin’s) misadventure in Ukraine will go down in the annals of modern history as the biggest bluff, which did not succeed and might even result in Putin’s departure.