Russian military strategy in Ukraine – analysis

Russian military strategy in Ukraine – analysis

To prevent complete defeat, NATO ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst

In Western media coverage of the Ukrainian conflict, there is only one conclusion we can come to – Ukraine is winning, decisively. Russia is weak, its soldiers are suffering frostbite, the infamous “Ghost of Kiev” shot down hundreds of aircraft, Russia also lost dozens of ships, tens of thousands of soldiers, it has no fuel, no artillery shells, it has run out of long-range high-precision missiles at least 5 times since late February, Ukrainian farmers using nothing but tractors are defeating entire Russian tank columns and even Ukrainian babushkas are successfully downing Russian drones by throwing pickle jars at them. This is virtually the only discourse allowed in the mass media. Any informed and objective debate is off the table. People with extensive military background, such as Scott Ritter or Colonel Douglas McGregor are shunned or even accused of being “Kremlin’s propagandists” because they find the media narrative not just outright false, but simply ridiculous.

In a purely propagandistic sense, these false narratives are used to great effect, by both the media and the US government. By leading the public to believe Russia is losing, it’s easier to portray president Putin as supposedly desperate and more likely to use things such as nuclear weapons, which is then said to be the “red line” for the US. Needless to say, all those lies are extremely dangerous, because they lead the Western public into believing that Russia is weak and that the US/NATO would easily defeat it. After all, if Ukraine is so successful, it would be a walk in the park for the political West, wouldn’t it? This is why an honest military analysis of the situation is necessary for people to understand what is actually going on.

Before the special military operation in Ukraine, there was a lot of speculation that Ukraine would fall within 2-3 days. Such claims were coming not just from NATO, but also from many of those who support Russia. However, we often forget just how huge Ukraine is. Getting a car and going on a tour from Kharkov to Lvov would take days. Imagine how much time you would need to take control of the same territory by military means. It’s virtually impossible to do it in 2-3 days. This is especially true in 2022. Even if such an operation had taken place in 2014, it wouldn’t have been possible in a few days, although it would’ve been easier. The conditions at the time were perfect from a purely military standpoint. Ukraine had barely 6,000 combat-ready soldiers, while the Russian military was already halfway into completing a major modernization effort and had over 150,000 professionals in its ranks. Not to mention that intelligence services like the SBU, as well as the Ukrainian military itself, had a lot of pro-Russian personnel who would’ve sided with Russia, as many did by switching to the DLNR side at the beginning of the conflict in 2014.

We’ve also seen this in Crimea, where almost all troops which were stationed there in 2014 decided either to remain neutral or join the Russian military. The reason why Russia did not react the same way in most of Ukraine is that it wasn’t ready for an economic war on the scale it is nowadays. The Russian economy experienced a shock in 2014 and there was a severe devaluation of the ruble, even though the number of sanctions at that time was “only” a few hundred. However, this is incomparable to the current situation (around 10,000 sanctions). The political West may be fuming over the unexpected resilience of the Russian economy, especially its currency, but this is hardly surprising, as Russia had 8 years to prepare for this contingency, which wasn’t the case in 2014.

On the other hand, from a military standpoint, this operation is incomparably more difficult now than it would’ve been 8 years ago. First, Russophobia in Ukraine was nowhere near the current levels. Surely, it was strong in the far west of the country (primarily in Lvov), but it already existed there for quite some time. However, nearly a decade of rabid anti-Russian propaganda spread the hatred to much of western and central Ukraine (to Vinnytsa, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy, Kiev, etc). After 8 years, entire generations were raised with Russophobia being the norm. A child aged 13-14 in 2014 is now a young person, 21-22 years old, ready to fight the “evil Russians”, because he/she has been trained to think they have no enemy but Russia.

The new Western-controlled Ukraine was transformed into an anti-Russia. It has created a strong professional military numbering 200-250 thousand people, trained to the highest NATO standards and much better armed and equipped than in 2014. NATO countries have invested tens of billions in modernizing and training the Ukrainian military. Even before 2014, Ukrainian officers and soldiers had extensive training with NATO troops, primarily American and British since at least 2001. In 2003, Ukrainians directly participated in the invasion of Iraq and also had a military presence in Afghanistan.

Thus, it’s safe to say the Ukrainian military was one of the largest in Europe, entirely interoperable with any NATO force, as proven in numerous military exercises in Germany, Poland or Ukraine itself. It had extensive cooperation with NATO within the so-called “intensified dialogue” program, which is just another euphemism for the MAP (NATO Membership Action Plan). Also, after 2014, NATO engineers in Ukraine designed and helped build one of the largest fortification networks of our time. According to various sources, underground fortifications stretch for hundreds of kilometers in western parts of the former Donetsk oblast (region) which remained under Ukrainian control after 2014.

When the Russian military started the operation, it had to take all this into account, which is why it had multiple contingency plans. The original plan was to quickly take the most important strategic points, mostly by conducting long-range missile strikes, followed by daring helicopter assaults. The main goal was to cause the coup regime in Kiev to effectively crumble and finish the operation as soon as possible, with as few casualties as possible on both sides. Long-range missiles targeting air and drone bases, command centers, air defense sites, supply lines, etc. were very successful, while helicopter raids helped establish forward operating control over airports such as the Gostomel, just northwest of Kiev.

In the following days, battalion-tactical groups (BTGs) quickly took control of territories in the north, south, east and southeast and isolated all major cities in those areas. It was expected that the cities would quickly surrender and that the Russian military would enter without the need for massive employment of artillery and airstrikes. And that is exactly what would’ve happened if NATO had not ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Using civilians is hardly a new strategy for the losing side. Examples include Nazi Germany during WWII and more recently, terrorists in Syria. NATO-backed terrorists, known as the “moderate opposition” in Western media, usually infiltrated densely populated areas, where they would start coordinated attacks on security forces, intending to provoke a harsh reaction from the Syrian military. The desired result was to be retaliation which would hit a densely populated area, such as an artillery strike in response to a terrorist act, which was expected to turn the population against the Syrian government.

This severely hampered the fighting capabilities of the Syrian military, as it wasn’t able to respond effectively to hundreds of daily attacks, forcing it to a slow, almost perpetual retreat. In 2015, Russia intervened after a formal Syrian request. It provided key intelligence, finally determining who was behind various terrorist groups, so instead of having to target entire neighborhoods under terrorist control, the Russian military used a combination of precision strikes and negotiations.

In exchange for Russian-brokered safe passage to areas under Turkish and American control, the terrorists allowed civilians to evacuate safely. In this way, areas such as the west Idlib and the territory around the American base Al-Tanf became isolated territories with a large terrorist presence. This drastically reduced civilian casualties and facilitated easier neutralization of terrorists. Then followed slow but decisive offensive operations aimed at minimizing casualties among Russian and Syrian soldiers. It was certainly a slower way of regaining territory, but it proved to be quite effective in the long term, often preventing insurgencies from reemerging in previously secured areas.

The Ukrainian military used the same tactics as the terrorists in Syria – occupying civilian buildings from which they would then attack Russian troops. Given the strict orders to prevent civilian casualties, the Russians found themselves in trouble, because now their BTGs could no longer advance due to Ukrainian attacks which they could not effectively respond to without endangering civilians. This was almost identical to the situation in Syria. Ukrainian soldiers would occupy the upper floors, while civilians would be forced to the ground or possibly first and the second floor, rendering Russian artillery and air power practically useless, as targeting these residential areas would lead to tens of thousands of civilian casualties in a matter of days. The same tactics were used throughout Ukraine – from Nikolaev and Mariupol to Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Kharkov, Chernigov, and Kiev itself.

As a result of this approach, the Russians had to go with the next plan, the one they hoped they would not have to use. The military was to set up defensive positions in the north, destroy the logistics of the Ukrainian military with long-range strikes and start regrouping to the east, southeast and south. In doing so, 35-40 thousand Russian troops in the north managed to tie up over 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers. It was clear that in such a situation there was no way to capture Kiev, a city of around 3 million people, where those 100,000 Ukrainian troops could easily hide in buildings and use civilians as human shields, as was the case all across Ukraine.

The fate of Mariupol is a very good example of why Russia was trying to avoid urban combat. When Ukrainian forces in and around the city were isolated and the Donbass front secured, a withdrawal from northern Ukraine was ordered to prevent further attacks by Ukrainians to which the Russians could not respond effectively, due to Ukrainians placing artillery between apartment blocks and even in schoolyards and playgrounds. There is an abundance of footage taken by Ukrainian civilians confirming this.

The Russian military and DLNR troops had to take control of Mariupol to secure a land connection between Crimea and Donbass, as well as secure the left flank of troops in Donbas. The city suffered significant damage due to intense fighting, and the harrowing testimonies of civilians clearly attest to atrocities committed by neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian military. This confirms why the Russian military decided to avoid urban battles and continue with the second plan.

The key component of the second plan is not taking territory. On the contrary, it boils down to exhausting the enemy through attrition, combined with slow but steady maneuver warfare in which careful progress is made with strong artillery and air support. This is the main reason for the “slow” progress of the Russian military in Donbass. In this type of warfare, it’s wrong to try and see progress through territorial change. Instead, we should look at Ukraine’s heavy losses in manpower and equipment. This gives a much clearer picture of just how “slow” the Russian military is. It also explains NATO’s plans to supply military equipment to Ukraine, as their goal is to make the war last as long as possible and with as much destruction as possible, in order to weaken the Russian military.

Russia responded by targeting railway and other transport infrastructure in western and central Ukraine, preventing delivery of NATO weapons and making sure the operation in Donbas continues unabated. The ultimate goal of this type of warfare is to limit combat operations to as small an area as possible, with as few civilians as possible. This is preventing mass destruction, exhausting the enemy, while its morale crumbles due to lack of food, water, ammunition, reinforcements, etc. As soon as Ukrainian forces in Donbas are neutralized, the Russians will be able to dictate possible peace terms, preventing further bloodshed. Still, even if Ukraine refuses to capitulate, it will be easier to retake areas in Donbass and elsewhere in the east, which prevents or at least significantly mitigates the recurrence of another Mariupol.

Russian military strategy in Ukraine – analysis

To prevent complete defeat, NATO ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst

In Western media coverage of the Ukrainian conflict, there is only one conclusion we can come to – Ukraine is winning, decisively. Russia is weak, its soldiers are suffering frostbite, the infamous “Ghost of Kiev” shot down hundreds of aircraft, Russia also lost dozens of ships, tens of thousands of soldiers, it has no fuel, no artillery shells, it has run out of long-range high-precision missiles at least 5 times since late February, Ukrainian farmers using nothing but tractors are defeating entire Russian tank columns and even Ukrainian babushkas are successfully downing Russian drones by throwing pickle jars at them. This is virtually the only discourse allowed in the mass media. Any informed and objective debate is off the table. People with extensive military background, such as Scott Ritter or Colonel Douglas McGregor are shunned or even accused of being “Kremlin’s propagandists” because they find the media narrative not just outright false, but simply ridiculous.

In a purely propagandistic sense, these false narratives are used to great effect, by both the media and the US government. By leading the public to believe Russia is losing, it’s easier to portray president Putin as supposedly desperate and more likely to use things such as nuclear weapons, which is then said to be the “red line” for the US. Needless to say, all those lies are extremely dangerous, because they lead the Western public into believing that Russia is weak and that the US/NATO would easily defeat it. After all, if Ukraine is so successful, it would be a walk in the park for the political West, wouldn’t it? This is why an honest military analysis of the situation is necessary for people to understand what is actually going on.

Before the special military operation in Ukraine, there was a lot of speculation that Ukraine would fall within 2-3 days. Such claims were coming not just from NATO, but also from many of those who support Russia. However, we often forget just how huge Ukraine is. Getting a car and going on a tour from Kharkov to Lvov would take days. Imagine how much time you would need to take control of the same territory by military means. It’s virtually impossible to do it in 2-3 days. This is especially true in 2022. Even if such an operation had taken place in 2014, it wouldn’t have been possible in a few days, although it would’ve been easier. The conditions at the time were perfect from a purely military standpoint. Ukraine had barely 6,000 combat-ready soldiers, while the Russian military was already halfway into completing a major modernization effort and had over 150,000 professionals in its ranks. Not to mention that intelligence services like the SBU, as well as the Ukrainian military itself, had a lot of pro-Russian personnel who would’ve sided with Russia, as many did by switching to the DLNR side at the beginning of the conflict in 2014.

We’ve also seen this in Crimea, where almost all troops which were stationed there in 2014 decided either to remain neutral or join the Russian military. The reason why Russia did not react the same way in most of Ukraine is that it wasn’t ready for an economic war on the scale it is nowadays. The Russian economy experienced a shock in 2014 and there was a severe devaluation of the ruble, even though the number of sanctions at that time was “only” a few hundred. However, this is incomparable to the current situation (around 10,000 sanctions). The political West may be fuming over the unexpected resilience of the Russian economy, especially its currency, but this is hardly surprising, as Russia had 8 years to prepare for this contingency, which wasn’t the case in 2014.

On the other hand, from a military standpoint, this operation is incomparably more difficult now than it would’ve been 8 years ago. First, Russophobia in Ukraine was nowhere near the current levels. Surely, it was strong in the far west of the country (primarily in Lvov), but it already existed there for quite some time. However, nearly a decade of rabid anti-Russian propaganda spread the hatred to much of western and central Ukraine (to Vinnytsa, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy, Kiev, etc). After 8 years, entire generations were raised with Russophobia being the norm. A child aged 13-14 in 2014 is now a young person, 21-22 years old, ready to fight the “evil Russians”, because he/she has been trained to think they have no enemy but Russia.

The new Western-controlled Ukraine was transformed into an anti-Russia. It has created a strong professional military numbering 200-250 thousand people, trained to the highest NATO standards and much better armed and equipped than in 2014. NATO countries have invested tens of billions in modernizing and training the Ukrainian military. Even before 2014, Ukrainian officers and soldiers had extensive training with NATO troops, primarily American and British since at least 2001. In 2003, Ukrainians directly participated in the invasion of Iraq and also had a military presence in Afghanistan.

Thus, it’s safe to say the Ukrainian military was one of the largest in Europe, entirely interoperable with any NATO force, as proven in numerous military exercises in Germany, Poland or Ukraine itself. It had extensive cooperation with NATO within the so-called “intensified dialogue” program, which is just another euphemism for the MAP (NATO Membership Action Plan). Also, after 2014, NATO engineers in Ukraine designed and helped build one of the largest fortification networks of our time. According to various sources, underground fortifications stretch for hundreds of kilometers in western parts of the former Donetsk oblast (region) which remained under Ukrainian control after 2014.

When the Russian military started the operation, it had to take all this into account, which is why it had multiple contingency plans. The original plan was to quickly take the most important strategic points, mostly by conducting long-range missile strikes, followed by daring helicopter assaults. The main goal was to cause the coup regime in Kiev to effectively crumble and finish the operation as soon as possible, with as few casualties as possible on both sides. Long-range missiles targeting air and drone bases, command centers, air defense sites, supply lines, etc. were very successful, while helicopter raids helped establish forward operating control over airports such as the Gostomel, just northwest of Kiev.

In the following days, battalion-tactical groups (BTGs) quickly took control of territories in the north, south, east and southeast and isolated all major cities in those areas. It was expected that the cities would quickly surrender and that the Russian military would enter without the need for massive employment of artillery and airstrikes. And that is exactly what would’ve happened if NATO had not ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Using civilians is hardly a new strategy for the losing side. Examples include Nazi Germany during WWII and more recently, terrorists in Syria. NATO-backed terrorists, known as the “moderate opposition” in Western media, usually infiltrated densely populated areas, where they would start coordinated attacks on security forces, intending to provoke a harsh reaction from the Syrian military. The desired result was to be retaliation which would hit a densely populated area, such as an artillery strike in response to a terrorist act, which was expected to turn the population against the Syrian government.

This severely hampered the fighting capabilities of the Syrian military, as it wasn’t able to respond effectively to hundreds of daily attacks, forcing it to a slow, almost perpetual retreat. In 2015, Russia intervened after a formal Syrian request. It provided key intelligence, finally determining who was behind various terrorist groups, so instead of having to target entire neighborhoods under terrorist control, the Russian military used a combination of precision strikes and negotiations.

In exchange for Russian-brokered safe passage to areas under Turkish and American control, the terrorists allowed civilians to evacuate safely. In this way, areas such as the west Idlib and the territory around the American base Al-Tanf became isolated territories with a large terrorist presence. This drastically reduced civilian casualties and facilitated easier neutralization of terrorists. Then followed slow but decisive offensive operations aimed at minimizing casualties among Russian and Syrian soldiers. It was certainly a slower way of regaining territory, but it proved to be quite effective in the long term, often preventing insurgencies from reemerging in previously secured areas.

The Ukrainian military used the same tactics as the terrorists in Syria – occupying civilian buildings from which they would then attack Russian troops. Given the strict orders to prevent civilian casualties, the Russians found themselves in trouble, because now their BTGs could no longer advance due to Ukrainian attacks which they could not effectively respond to without endangering civilians. This was almost identical to the situation in Syria. Ukrainian soldiers would occupy the upper floors, while civilians would be forced to the ground or possibly first and the second floor, rendering Russian artillery and air power practically useless, as targeting these residential areas would lead to tens of thousands of civilian casualties in a matter of days. The same tactics were used throughout Ukraine – from Nikolaev and Mariupol to Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Kharkov, Chernigov, and Kiev itself.

As a result of this approach, the Russians had to go with the next plan, the one they hoped they would not have to use. The military was to set up defensive positions in the north, destroy the logistics of the Ukrainian military with long-range strikes and start regrouping to the east, southeast and south. In doing so, 35-40 thousand Russian troops in the north managed to tie up over 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers. It was clear that in such a situation there was no way to capture Kiev, a city of around 3 million people, where those 100,000 Ukrainian troops could easily hide in buildings and use civilians as human shields, as was the case all across Ukraine.

The fate of Mariupol is a very good example of why Russia was trying to avoid urban combat. When Ukrainian forces in and around the city were isolated and the Donbass front secured, a withdrawal from northern Ukraine was ordered to prevent further attacks by Ukrainians to which the Russians could not respond effectively, due to Ukrainians placing artillery between apartment blocks and even in schoolyards and playgrounds. There is an abundance of footage taken by Ukrainian civilians confirming this.

The Russian military and DLNR troops had to take control of Mariupol to secure a land connection between Crimea and Donbass, as well as secure the left flank of troops in Donbas. The city suffered significant damage due to intense fighting, and the harrowing testimonies of civilians clearly attest to atrocities committed by neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian military. This confirms why the Russian military decided to avoid urban battles and continue with the second plan.

The key component of the second plan is not taking territory. On the contrary, it boils down to exhausting the enemy through attrition, combined with slow but steady maneuver warfare in which careful progress is made with strong artillery and air support. This is the main reason for the “slow” progress of the Russian military in Donbass. In this type of warfare, it’s wrong to try and see progress through territorial change. Instead, we should look at Ukraine’s heavy losses in manpower and equipment. This gives a much clearer picture of just how “slow” the Russian military is. It also explains NATO’s plans to supply military equipment to Ukraine, as their goal is to make the war last as long as possible and with as much destruction as possible, in order to weaken the Russian military.

Russia responded by targeting railway and other transport infrastructure in western and central Ukraine, preventing delivery of NATO weapons and making sure the operation in Donbas continues unabated. The ultimate goal of this type of warfare is to limit combat operations to as small an area as possible, with as few civilians as possible. This is preventing mass destruction, exhausting the enemy, while its morale crumbles due to lack of food, water, ammunition, reinforcements, etc. As soon as Ukrainian forces in Donbas are neutralized, the Russians will be able to dictate possible peace terms, preventing further bloodshed. Still, even if Ukraine refuses to capitulate, it will be easier to retake areas in Donbass and elsewhere in the east, which prevents or at least significantly mitigates the recurrence of another Mariupol.

Russian military strategy in Ukraine – analysis

To prevent complete defeat, NATO ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst

In Western media coverage of the Ukrainian conflict, there is only one conclusion we can come to – Ukraine is winning, decisively. Russia is weak, its soldiers are suffering frostbite, the infamous “Ghost of Kiev” shot down hundreds of aircraft, Russia also lost dozens of ships, tens of thousands of soldiers, it has no fuel, no artillery shells, it has run out of long-range high-precision missiles at least 5 times since late February, Ukrainian farmers using nothing but tractors are defeating entire Russian tank columns and even Ukrainian babushkas are successfully downing Russian drones by throwing pickle jars at them. This is virtually the only discourse allowed in the mass media. Any informed and objective debate is off the table. People with extensive military background, such as Scott Ritter or Colonel Douglas McGregor are shunned or even accused of being “Kremlin’s propagandists” because they find the media narrative not just outright false, but simply ridiculous.

In a purely propagandistic sense, these false narratives are used to great effect, by both the media and the US government. By leading the public to believe Russia is losing, it’s easier to portray president Putin as supposedly desperate and more likely to use things such as nuclear weapons, which is then said to be the “red line” for the US. Needless to say, all those lies are extremely dangerous, because they lead the Western public into believing that Russia is weak and that the US/NATO would easily defeat it. After all, if Ukraine is so successful, it would be a walk in the park for the political West, wouldn’t it? This is why an honest military analysis of the situation is necessary for people to understand what is actually going on.

Before the special military operation in Ukraine, there was a lot of speculation that Ukraine would fall within 2-3 days. Such claims were coming not just from NATO, but also from many of those who support Russia. However, we often forget just how huge Ukraine is. Getting a car and going on a tour from Kharkov to Lvov would take days. Imagine how much time you would need to take control of the same territory by military means. It’s virtually impossible to do it in 2-3 days. This is especially true in 2022. Even if such an operation had taken place in 2014, it wouldn’t have been possible in a few days, although it would’ve been easier. The conditions at the time were perfect from a purely military standpoint. Ukraine had barely 6,000 combat-ready soldiers, while the Russian military was already halfway into completing a major modernization effort and had over 150,000 professionals in its ranks. Not to mention that intelligence services like the SBU, as well as the Ukrainian military itself, had a lot of pro-Russian personnel who would’ve sided with Russia, as many did by switching to the DLNR side at the beginning of the conflict in 2014.

We’ve also seen this in Crimea, where almost all troops which were stationed there in 2014 decided either to remain neutral or join the Russian military. The reason why Russia did not react the same way in most of Ukraine is that it wasn’t ready for an economic war on the scale it is nowadays. The Russian economy experienced a shock in 2014 and there was a severe devaluation of the ruble, even though the number of sanctions at that time was “only” a few hundred. However, this is incomparable to the current situation (around 10,000 sanctions). The political West may be fuming over the unexpected resilience of the Russian economy, especially its currency, but this is hardly surprising, as Russia had 8 years to prepare for this contingency, which wasn’t the case in 2014.

On the other hand, from a military standpoint, this operation is incomparably more difficult now than it would’ve been 8 years ago. First, Russophobia in Ukraine was nowhere near the current levels. Surely, it was strong in the far west of the country (primarily in Lvov), but it already existed there for quite some time. However, nearly a decade of rabid anti-Russian propaganda spread the hatred to much of western and central Ukraine (to Vinnytsa, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy, Kiev, etc). After 8 years, entire generations were raised with Russophobia being the norm. A child aged 13-14 in 2014 is now a young person, 21-22 years old, ready to fight the “evil Russians”, because he/she has been trained to think they have no enemy but Russia.

The new Western-controlled Ukraine was transformed into an anti-Russia. It has created a strong professional military numbering 200-250 thousand people, trained to the highest NATO standards and much better armed and equipped than in 2014. NATO countries have invested tens of billions in modernizing and training the Ukrainian military. Even before 2014, Ukrainian officers and soldiers had extensive training with NATO troops, primarily American and British since at least 2001. In 2003, Ukrainians directly participated in the invasion of Iraq and also had a military presence in Afghanistan.

Thus, it’s safe to say the Ukrainian military was one of the largest in Europe, entirely interoperable with any NATO force, as proven in numerous military exercises in Germany, Poland or Ukraine itself. It had extensive cooperation with NATO within the so-called “intensified dialogue” program, which is just another euphemism for the MAP (NATO Membership Action Plan). Also, after 2014, NATO engineers in Ukraine designed and helped build one of the largest fortification networks of our time. According to various sources, underground fortifications stretch for hundreds of kilometers in western parts of the former Donetsk oblast (region) which remained under Ukrainian control after 2014.

When the Russian military started the operation, it had to take all this into account, which is why it had multiple contingency plans. The original plan was to quickly take the most important strategic points, mostly by conducting long-range missile strikes, followed by daring helicopter assaults. The main goal was to cause the coup regime in Kiev to effectively crumble and finish the operation as soon as possible, with as few casualties as possible on both sides. Long-range missiles targeting air and drone bases, command centers, air defense sites, supply lines, etc. were very successful, while helicopter raids helped establish forward operating control over airports such as the Gostomel, just northwest of Kiev.

In the following days, battalion-tactical groups (BTGs) quickly took control of territories in the north, south, east and southeast and isolated all major cities in those areas. It was expected that the cities would quickly surrender and that the Russian military would enter without the need for massive employment of artillery and airstrikes. And that is exactly what would’ve happened if NATO had not ordered Ukraine to use its weapon of last resort – civilians.

Using civilians is hardly a new strategy for the losing side. Examples include Nazi Germany during WWII and more recently, terrorists in Syria. NATO-backed terrorists, known as the “moderate opposition” in Western media, usually infiltrated densely populated areas, where they would start coordinated attacks on security forces, intending to provoke a harsh reaction from the Syrian military. The desired result was to be retaliation which would hit a densely populated area, such as an artillery strike in response to a terrorist act, which was expected to turn the population against the Syrian government.

This severely hampered the fighting capabilities of the Syrian military, as it wasn’t able to respond effectively to hundreds of daily attacks, forcing it to a slow, almost perpetual retreat. In 2015, Russia intervened after a formal Syrian request. It provided key intelligence, finally determining who was behind various terrorist groups, so instead of having to target entire neighborhoods under terrorist control, the Russian military used a combination of precision strikes and negotiations.

In exchange for Russian-brokered safe passage to areas under Turkish and American control, the terrorists allowed civilians to evacuate safely. In this way, areas such as the west Idlib and the territory around the American base Al-Tanf became isolated territories with a large terrorist presence. This drastically reduced civilian casualties and facilitated easier neutralization of terrorists. Then followed slow but decisive offensive operations aimed at minimizing casualties among Russian and Syrian soldiers. It was certainly a slower way of regaining territory, but it proved to be quite effective in the long term, often preventing insurgencies from reemerging in previously secured areas.

The Ukrainian military used the same tactics as the terrorists in Syria – occupying civilian buildings from which they would then attack Russian troops. Given the strict orders to prevent civilian casualties, the Russians found themselves in trouble, because now their BTGs could no longer advance due to Ukrainian attacks which they could not effectively respond to without endangering civilians. This was almost identical to the situation in Syria. Ukrainian soldiers would occupy the upper floors, while civilians would be forced to the ground or possibly first and the second floor, rendering Russian artillery and air power practically useless, as targeting these residential areas would lead to tens of thousands of civilian casualties in a matter of days. The same tactics were used throughout Ukraine – from Nikolaev and Mariupol to Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Kharkov, Chernigov, and Kiev itself.

As a result of this approach, the Russians had to go with the next plan, the one they hoped they would not have to use. The military was to set up defensive positions in the north, destroy the logistics of the Ukrainian military with long-range strikes and start regrouping to the east, southeast and south. In doing so, 35-40 thousand Russian troops in the north managed to tie up over 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers. It was clear that in such a situation there was no way to capture Kiev, a city of around 3 million people, where those 100,000 Ukrainian troops could easily hide in buildings and use civilians as human shields, as was the case all across Ukraine.

The fate of Mariupol is a very good example of why Russia was trying to avoid urban combat. When Ukrainian forces in and around the city were isolated and the Donbass front secured, a withdrawal from northern Ukraine was ordered to prevent further attacks by Ukrainians to which the Russians could not respond effectively, due to Ukrainians placing artillery between apartment blocks and even in schoolyards and playgrounds. There is an abundance of footage taken by Ukrainian civilians confirming this.

The Russian military and DLNR troops had to take control of Mariupol to secure a land connection between Crimea and Donbass, as well as secure the left flank of troops in Donbas. The city suffered significant damage due to intense fighting, and the harrowing testimonies of civilians clearly attest to atrocities committed by neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian military. This confirms why the Russian military decided to avoid urban battles and continue with the second plan.

The key component of the second plan is not taking territory. On the contrary, it boils down to exhausting the enemy through attrition, combined with slow but steady maneuver warfare in which careful progress is made with strong artillery and air support. This is the main reason for the “slow” progress of the Russian military in Donbass. In this type of warfare, it’s wrong to try and see progress through territorial change. Instead, we should look at Ukraine’s heavy losses in manpower and equipment. This gives a much clearer picture of just how “slow” the Russian military is. It also explains NATO’s plans to supply military equipment to Ukraine, as their goal is to make the war last as long as possible and with as much destruction as possible, in order to weaken the Russian military.

Russia responded by targeting railway and other transport infrastructure in western and central Ukraine, preventing delivery of NATO weapons and making sure the operation in Donbas continues unabated. The ultimate goal of this type of warfare is to limit combat operations to as small an area as possible, with as few civilians as possible. This is preventing mass destruction, exhausting the enemy, while its morale crumbles due to lack of food, water, ammunition, reinforcements, etc. As soon as Ukrainian forces in Donbas are neutralized, the Russians will be able to dictate possible peace terms, preventing further bloodshed. Still, even if Ukraine refuses to capitulate, it will be easier to retake areas in Donbass and elsewhere in the east, which prevents or at least significantly mitigates the recurrence of another Mariupol.

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