Ukraine-Russia conflict: Putin’s likely courses of action


Russian forces would take a similar approach to other key urban centers, such as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, located in the northeast of the country less than 50 kilometers from the border.

By Major General PK Mallick, VSM, (retired)

Russian air and ground forces are pressuring Ukraine from three sides. The three-way Russian advance is contested but progressing. A senior US defense official told reporters in Washington on Thursday: “You’re likely to see this unfold in phases. How much, how long, we don’t know. But what we see are the initial phases of a full-scale invasion. So far, we’ve seen progress on what are essentially three main thrusts. One is north of the Crimea towards Kherson; another to the south, mainly from Belarus to Kiev; and the third from southwest Belarus to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. These three axes are what we believe are clearly designed to take key population centers. I say they are moving on Kiev… They have every intention of decapitating the government and installing their own mode of governance. We are currently witnessing the heaviest fighting in and around Kharkiv. »

Based on OSINT, Dr. Seth Jones and his team highlighted Russia’s options and likely courses of action in Ukraine. In a way, it has an uncanny similarity to what’s unfolding right now.

It was presumed that with thousands of troops stationed in Belarus, less than 200 kilometers northwest of Kiev, Russia could launch a simultaneous attack on multiple fronts, sending mechanized forces across the country’s frozen countryside. A key target would be Kiev, which the Russians could attack from both sides of the Dnieper, as well as from the air.

Russian forces would take a similar approach to other key urban centers, such as Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, located in the northeast of the country less than 50 kilometers from the border.

Russia had three options:

A full-scale invasion, penetrating deep into Ukraine to seize the capital, Kiev and overthrow the government.

Annex more territory in eastern Ukraine, carving out a corridor connecting Russia to Crimea.

A small war, in which Russia “saves” Kremlin-backed separatists in Donbass, an eastern region of Ukraine, from supposed Ukrainian atrocities and degrades the Ukrainian armed forces.

Seth Jones makes the argument that if Russia decides to invade Ukraine to reassert Russian control and influence, there are at least three possible lines of advance to seize Ukrainian territory:

A push north, perhaps attempting to outflank the Ukrainian defenses around Kiev by approaching through Belarus.

A central thrust advancing due west into Ukraine.

A southern thrust advancing through the Perekopisthmus.

Russia had surrounded Ukraine on three sides with a conventional invasion force, posing an imminent threat to Ukraine. Russia has prepared Russian air and naval forces to support a possible ground invasion. This is given in the figure below:

Russia could also carry out widespread irregular operations in Ukraine, including cyber operations, subversion and sabotage by Russian intelligence and special operations forces. These actions could extend far beyond Eastern Europe, such as Russian cyberattacks on US critical infrastructure and sabotage operations against undersea fiber optic cables.

Operations would begin with cyberattacks aimed at degrading Ukraine’s military command and control systems, as well as public communications and power grids. After that, kinetic operations will begin with air strikes and missiles against the air force and air defense systems of Ukraine. Once air superiority was assured, Russian ground forces would intervene, somewhat preceded by special operations forces, to further degrade command and control capabilities and delay the mobilization of reserves by carrying out bombings, assassinations and operations. of sabotage.

Northern Route. Russia can advance to Kiev along two routes:

Moving through Novi Yurkovich i (Russia), Chernihiv (Ukraine) and Kiev (Ukraine) all about 150 miles by road.

200 mile push through Troebortnoe (Russia), Konotop and Nizhyn (Ukraine) to Kiev.

With the use of its Belarusian road and rail networks, the Russian army could outflank the Ukrainian defenses around Kiev via a 150-mile axis of advance from Mazur (Belarus) to Korosten (Ukraine) and finally to Kiev and the approach from behind.

Central Route: Russia could also advance due west along three routes:

A 200-mile axis that passes through Belograd and (Russia), Kharkiv and Poltava (Ukraine) finally to Kremenchuk (Ukraine).

A 140 mile push through Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya (Ukraine) and probably another push from Donetsk to Dnipro, Ukraine.

Along the coastline to Mariupol, Berdyansk and the Perekop Isthmus connecting Crimea to Ukraine.

South Road. Russia can advance operations across the Isthmus of Perekop to take the source of fresh water for Crimea, Kherson, and simultaneously to Melitopol to join Russian forces advancing along the Sea of ​​Azov coast. This would be more difficult to maintain logistically due to the lack of a railroad running along the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov.

The figure below highlights the possible routes of invasion. With the exception of the coastal axis, all these roads run parallel to the existing railway lines. This is important because the Russian army’s logistics forces are not designed for large-scale ground offensives far from the railway lines.

If Russia wants to deny Ukraine access to the sea in the future, it must seize Odessa. This can be done via amphibious and airborne landings near Odessa and linking up with mechanized forces coming from the east. If Moscow wants to conquer all of Ukraine, it would have to take Odessa. Port facilities would help Russian logistics.

The Russian army will have to cross the Dnieper River at several points to march and fight further west, another 350 to 700 miles to occupy all of Ukraine to its borders with Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova.

Russian prospects of success.

Russia has enough troops, firepower, logistics, time and national will to advance until its army achieves its political goals. Russian armed forces outnumber Ukrainian military in the air and on the ground, Russia has extensive experience in conducting combined arms operations in Syria. The terrain favors offensive mechanized warfare. However, there are several intangibles that can play an important role in the early stages of war weather, logistics, urban combat, command and control, and morale. The true calculation of military success can only be taken after the start of an arms clash.

(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).


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