The radical change in Russian military strategies in the second stage of the war with Ukraine

The radical change in Russian military strategies in the second stage of the war with Ukraine

The war in Ukraine took a decisive turn on April 19. After a first phase in which Russian forces massively attacked in unison the main Ukrainian cities, the efforts of the offensive launched by Vladimir Putin were concentrated in the eastern region of Donbass.

There they intend to conquer “as much territory as possible” under the pretext of defend the Russian-speaking population. This change of scenery was also accompanied by new military strategies by the invading forces.

If the first stage was characterized by attempts to quickly break through with shelling, long-range artillery and long tank convoys, as happened unsuccessfully in the capital kyiv, for example, now this second step involves a more methodical approach.

“A much slower attack that hopes not only to capture, but also to maintain territory and minimize losses”, analyzes for BBC Mundo Mathieu Boulegue, expert in Russian military affairs at the Chatham House Institute in London, UK.

A new strategy which, due to the constant Ukrainian resistance and its counterattacks, seems to be heading towards a stalemate and glimpses a longer war than expected.

After concentrating the war in the Donbass, we are experiencing the second stage of the military offensive launched by Vladimir PutinPictures GETTY

Same goal, different methods

From Russia’s point of view, the main objective of the war has not changed: “To destroy and break the sovereignty of a free Ukraine”, mentions Boulègue. Get as much territory as possible, keep it under your control and influence their future political decisions,” adds the expert.

But the “lightning and multi-front” war that Russia had attempted had far less fruit than expected. Ukraine resisted in a way the Kremlin did not expect, experts say.

The tank convoy that had been threatening kyiv for weeks had to withdraw and regroup. No major Ukrainian city, with the exception of Kherson, fell under the control of the invader. Russia suffered significant military losses, as recognized by the Kremlin.

“In the first stage the russians rushedthey kept four or five fronts open and did not use their artillery effectively,” Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, told BBC Mundo.

The long convoy of tanks that had been threatening the capital kyiv for weeks had to withdraw and regroup in the face of logistical problems and Ukrainian resistance.
The long convoy of tanks that had been threatening the capital kyiv for weeks had to withdraw and regroup in the face of logistical problems and Ukrainian resistance.Pictures GETTY

The academic lists several of the Russian mistakes: “They failed in their attempt to create air superiority. Then they wanted to take kyiv too quickly, with many Ukrainians inside the city outmaneuvering them. The result? Logistical problems and tanks abandoned in the streets for fear of ambushes.

“Everything was very incompetent“, he concludes. This is why Russia now attacks with more caution. Take one step at a time. No more keeping multiple huge fronts open.

Experts agree to define Russia’s new strategy as more methodical and traditional. “You could describe it as a kind of capture and retention of conquered territory, a slower advance. past from long-range artillery strikes to thrust deeper into the groundin short,” says Boulègue.

“They identify where to attack, they use artillery, then they push with infantry, then they prepare to defend,” Freedman adds. From a military and logical point of view, this strategy makes more sense for experts and, if applied from the start, maybe Russia would have done better on your goals.

In fact, from the Russian service of the BBC they point out that thanks to the new strategy the Russians are advancing in the Donbass and also minimizing the losses suffered in the first stage, although for specialists it may already be too late for the Kremlin.

The Russians inflicted huge human and material losses during the first phase of the war.
The Russians inflicted huge human and material losses during the first phase of the war.Pictures GETTY

Among their arguments, they say that the Russians no longer have the same supplies and equipment. They have lost too many men and their reserve does not seem sufficiently prepared.

In addition, the weapons sent by NATO members to Ukraine have given it additional resistance to the defense shown so far and its counterattacks are slowing Russian advances.

The Russians control large areas in the south and have caused a humanitarian disaster in the port city of Mariupol with a devastating siege.

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Ukraine believes that Russia’s intention is to control more than Donbass and also cover the entire region around Kherson, northern and western Crimea and parts of Zaporizhia. Several key areas of Donetsk and Luhansk are still under Ukrainian control and they are resisting and holding the country’s second most populous city, Kharkiv.

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However, Russia controls the strategic regions of Izium, Kreminna and recently conquered Popasna, a relatively small town west of Luhansk. Before the war, it was populated by about 20,000 people.

Pictures GETTY

The city has changed command several times since the start of the armed conflict in Donbass in 2014, but until a few days ago it remained under Ukrainian control. Despite weeks of artillery and missile fire, Russian forces have penetrated relatively little into Ukrainian defenses in the Donbass.

According to US military analysts, the only scenario in which the Ukrainians withdrew tactically was when Russian soldiers made so much havoc that they considered there was nothing left to defend.

However, the Russian conquest of Popasna risks complicating the Ukrainian positions. Other key territories are within 30 kilometers of the bombing zones, which would fit in with the artillery strike and progressive offensives against the enemy that Russia is using in this second phase of the invasion.

The possibility of a long war

But for the Russian forces, it is not enough to occupy the territory, it is also important to hold it. After taking over Popasna, now they have to defend themselves against a Ukrainian army reinforced with NATO weapons.

The ferocity and accumulation of offensives, advances, defenses and withdrawals have led to something of a stalemate, say US intelligence officials, who warn of the high likelihood of a protracted war.

A scenario that experts consulted by BBC Mundo also see as possible. “I don’t think a war at this rate is sustainable. There is a lot of ammo wear. I see it’s hard for the Russians to win now, although they could make progress,” Freedman said.

Some analysts think we may be in a stalemate zone of war where little meaningful progress is taking place.
Some analysts think we may be in a stalemate zone of war where little meaningful progress is taking place.Pictures GETTY

“It will be a long war, a war of stagnation, of people die every day on the front line but without great strategic gain and without the ability of each adversary to repel the enemy,” explains Boulegue. However, defining what progress entails would be somewhat difficult, especially on the Russian side.

Russia’s goals are very vague. They don’t say what they really want. Ukraine intends to liberate all of its territory, but the Russians are talking about empty goals such as ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification’, so we don’t know what they really want,” says Grigor Atanesian, from the BBC Russian Service, to BBC Mundo.

Whether or not these new Russian operations work as planned, we can get an idea of ​​what might happen if more Ukrainian populations fall under Russian control.

Experts say that if other Ukrainian cities and regions fall under Russian control, they could face a fate similar to that of Kherson, where there are plans to introduce the ruble and hold a separatist referendum.
Experts say that if other Ukrainian cities and regions fall under Russian control, they could face a fate similar to that of Kherson, where there are plans to introduce the ruble and hold a separatist referendum.Pictures GETTY

Perhaps the best example is in the south of the country, in the port city of Kherson, where Russia is introducing its own currency, media and internet service.

Russian forces occupied Kherson in early March, a week after the invasion began. It was the first major Ukrainian city to fall to invaders. Russia has since ousted the city’s elected mayor and replaced him with a pro-Russian administrator who also looks after the surrounding region.

These authorities imposed by Moscow have announced their intention to ask President Putin to officially annex the region to Russia. The Kremlin replied that residents should decide their own future, in accordance with a warning from Ukraine, warning that Russia plans to hold a referendum in the city to see if its residents want to install a pro-Russian separatist people’s republic.

By Jose Carlos Cueto

BBC News World

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