Ukraine: What would a Russian offensive look like?
Ukraine: What would a Russian offensive look like? It is now estimated that the Russian forces near the Ukrainian border amount to 107,000 men (33,500 more than the entire British Army), 1,300 battle tanks, 3,700 drones, 1,300 artillery and mortar units and 380 multiple launch rocket systems (according to documents leaked to The Daily Mirror). A total of 330 warplanes have also been deployed near the Ukrainian border, as well as 240 helicopters, according to Ukrainian GRU. Chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR MO) Kyrylo Budanov expects that Russia will beef up its military grouping along the Ukrainian border to a total of 56 Battalion-Tactical Groups totaling 110 000 troops. This initial deployment should be completed on april 20th.This means it will have taken Russia 20 days to mobilise and transport 110,000 troops with hardware and logistics from across the whole country and assemble them in order of battle on jump-off points on its Western Border. The Ukrainian GRU estimates that there are now 42,000 Russian servicemen in Crimea. Up until 2014, the Russian Garrison in Crimea was capped at 25,000. By 2020, the Crimean Garrison had grown up to 31,500. Moscow basically sent in an extra 10,500 men on the peninsula this month.5 more vessels belonging to the Caspian Flotilla have joined the Black Sea Fleet, bringing the total number of gunboats and landing crafts transferred from the Caspian at 15 ships.Three distinct Russian Battlegroups face Ukraine: One in the South (Crimea), one in the East (facing Donbass) and one in the North-East. The CIA briefed members of the Congress yesterday. American intelligence estimates that Russian forces are now in a position to roll out a limited incursion and prosecute limited aims inside Ukraine. In a couple of weeks time, they will have the logistics in place to support a much larger opération/invasion should they wish to do so. If Russia launches an offensive in Ukraine, what will it look like?
The Ukrainian map
BMUS has found an Ukrainian map online showing what a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would look like in Ukrainian minds.
In the East, Russian troops penetrate into separatist controlled Donbass and push further into loyalist (Ukrainian army) controlled territory. This “Donbass Army”‘s role seems to be seizing the whole of the Donbass region before pushing West all the way to Kharkiv.
In the North, a Russian army established between Belgorod and Kursk penetrates into Ukraine and advances all the way to Dnieper, cutting the country in half and potentially isolating Ukrainian troops fighting in the East (Donbass). Russian troops advancing from the same starting point push toward Kiev and Cherkasy.
Russian troops based in Belarus join in on the offensive toward Kiev. Troops from Belarus (Russian?) make a bee line for Ukraine’s main Western cities: Lviv, Lutsk, Rivne and Zhytomyr, cutting off the main roads linking Kiev to the West and NATO (Poland).
To the South, we see two amphibious landings on either side of Odessa, with one thrust aimed at the city while another thrust bursts toward Tansnistria. From there, one sees small incursions onto Ukrainian territory initiated from Transnistria.
Russian forces in Crimea burst out of the peninsula and push toward Melitopol, cutting off Berdyansk and Mariupol. Both the Sea of Azov ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol are targeted by amphibious landings.
There seem to be several marks on the map indicating airborne assaults/drops, including on the junction between the North Crimean Canal and the Dnieper river, but also in Kherson (isolating the peninsula from Western Ukraine) and near most main Ukrainian cities. This would indicate airborne assaults deep inside Ukraine, tying up precious Ukrainian resources from the borders and from the Black Sea. Those Russian pockets would then have to hold up until Russian army units make a junction with their position. Lviv and Lutsk are included in those airborne assaults. Lviv is 60km from the Polish border, Kutsk, less than 90km from Poland.
Is this Ukrainian scenario likely?
In short, no. This is a map for the total invasion and occupation of Ukraine. Russia has no immediate need for such an operation and the backlash from the international community and the unrest amongst the West Ukrainian population following such an operation would definitely outweigh any rewards. This operation also involves Belarus (militarily speaking or as a jump-off point). This would expose Minsk to Western sanctions. While Belarus is in a defensive alliance with Russia, it is doubtful president Lukashenko would be easily convinced to embark on a military adventure in Ukraine or even to allow Russian troops to use Belarussian territory as a springboard for an invasion of Ukraine.
Then, there is the topic of Russian armed forces advancing into Transnistria (an unrecognised republic claimed by Moldova) before crossing into Ukraine from there. Chișinău could and would call for international help as such an operation would violate the neutrality of the country.
The only way this scenario would see the light of day is if NATO.suddenly accepted Ukraine’s request to join the alliance and fast-tracked its application. Moscow, having nothing more to lose in its relations with the West, could be tempted to invade Ukraine to prevent the country joining the North Atlantic Organisation and thus prevent having NATO troops parked full time along the Russian border less than 450 km from Moscow and have NATO ships rotate in and out of Odessa 300km from the Black Sea Fleet of Sevastopol.
Does this mean there is no chance of a Russian offensive in Ukraine?
No. The odds of a limited Russian military operation in Ukraine are actually real. Medium to low, but real.
Looking at the Russian and Ukrainian build-up and what assets the Russians have mobilised, our analysis concludes that the Russians might want to stop or prevent an Ukrainian offensive in the Donbass or take such an Ukrainian offensive as an opportunity to burst out of Crimea and push 60 km north all the way to the Dnieper river and detonate the Ukrainian dam over the North Crimean Canal (16km from the border) in order to secure water supply for Crimea.
Here is what could potentially happen:
The offensive would be preceded by intense GPS and communication jamming as well as large cyber attacks on Ukraine.
Russian troops along the Ukrainian border would push into the Donbass to “fix” the Ukrainian army there (1). The Russians would then push toward the strategic industrial city of Kharkiv in the North-East (2) while putting pressure on Mariupol in the South (3), thus seizing the initiative and forcing the Ukrainian army to stretch between those two objectives. The VKS (RuAF) could potentially play a role in suppressing SAM sites near Crimea. what could follow is an airborne assault on the Dnieper (4). Simultaneously, an amphibious landing could be conducted near Kherson (5), thus flanking the heavily fortified Isthmus of Perekop. This landing would threaten the rear area of Ukrainian troops on the isthmus, giving the Russian army elements in Crimea the opportunity to break out of the peninsula (6) and rush north to relieve the paratroopers at the Dnieper, making the junction there (7). This move alone would threaten to cut off Ukrainian troops based in Berdyansk and Mariupol as well as threaten Odessa, forcing the Ukrainian army to make difficult choices and making them fight on two fronts / deal with three separate thrusts simultaneously. A pincer movement on Berdyansk and Mariupol (8) could then be rolled out, securing the ports on the Azov and the Crimean Bridge. All this would be done with the assistance of the Black Sea Fleet blockading Odessa and the Sea of Azov.
The Ukrainian map is a little bit dramatic and represents a complete and total war of invasion and occupation waged by Russia on the Ukrainian territory. It matches the Ukrainian narrative but isn’t really realistic for the present times. Keep in mind president Zelinsky’s goal is to internationalise the conflict. Thus, exxagerating the Russian threat plays in his favour. This doesn’t mean it would never happen: Ukraine being close to joining NATO or a large deployment of foreign troops so close to Russia could very well be taken as a casus belli by Moscow and precipitate such a preemptive invasion. We feel our map reflects a more realistic scenario: Small achievable objectives serving Russian interests and matching the Russian “(Self-)Defence of Russian citizens/interests wherever they are” narrative.