Much has been happening in the eastern Ukraine Oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in Kherson Oblast which borders Crimea. Quite a lot in fact which most news media are largely ignoring, especially American news media who only acknowledge ‘troubles’ with the ceasefire. Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Phillip Breedlove however, is under no illusions about what is happening; calling it a ‘ceasefire in name only‘.
What is happening in Ukraine is not an insurgency, civil war or a separatist movement, nor is it gang warfare or ethnic strife common to Lebanon or between Israel and Hamas. Such notions are smoke & mirrors fostered by Moscow for the consumption of European and American politicians looking for any reason not to acknowledge what is really happening; a Russian invasion and war against Ukraine.
The Kremlin has employed a slow method of escalation for the simple reason that the Kremlin and Pres. Putin need Ukraine and its armaments industry as much in one piece as possible. This however is not the only reason for seeking the total Russian conquest of Ukraine and it is no less than total conquest being sought.
The Russians have been rotating troops in and out of the battle zones in Ukraine, while still denying they have any troops there. However, they have troops there as well as tanks, missiles, multiple launch rocket systems and heavy artillery. It’s simply stretches any semblance of credulity that local separatists could have captured as much heavy equipment as has been seen used against Ukrainian security forces.
Luhansk Oblast is where the least activity has taken place since Russia’s intervention in east Ukraine. Luhansk airport was captured and held leading up to the ceasefire, so no major advances have taken place there. Instead the Russians consolidated their positions there and reduced a salient of Ukrainian forces jutting into their lines to even out their front.
Donetsk Oblast is a different story with two key sectors of fighting. Donetsk is the focus of heavier Russian activity for a very good reason. It’s the springboard for Russian attacks to both reach Crimea and establish an overland link from Russia, and to reach the Dnieper River and cut off Ukrainian forces between the Dnieper and the Black Sea coast of Ukraine.
To that end, leading up to the ceasefire Russian forces pressed hard to achieve the objective of capturing Donetsk airport, which they did not accomplish before the ceasefire went into effect. Ukraine concentrated enormous effort to hold the airport. The importance of it to the Russians is most likely to stage helicopter gunships and light attack aircraft there for any forthcoming offensive to capture all of ‘Novorossiya‘. (New Russia); which refers to all of southern Ukraine.
Russian infantry have made several attacks in an attempt to capture the airport, however have still failed to achieve that objective. The reason this isn’t going so easy for them, is that they are trying to capture the airport without doing any damage to the airstrips and runways. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that Russia has plans for that airport.
Artillery and rocket attacks have been made on Donetsk airport, but they have been limited and very specifically targeted with short-range fire as one photo journalist frighteningly experienced.
The coastal city of Mariupol is also key, as it is along the shorted path from the Russian border to Crimea. Russian forces halted just east of Mariupol as the ceasefire went into effect and have not attempted to advance since. However, the Russians have been launching artillery and Grad rocket barrages on a daily basis. Most of these attacks have been concentrated east of the city to prevent Ukrainian forces from effectively digging in and fortifying defensive positions. Occasionally round land in the city.
As these ceasefire breaking engagements have been taking place, there have numerous unconfirmed reports of Russian reinforcements arriving little by little. There have been numerous videos of convoys filmed in Ukraine, which are quite obviously Russian, with well quipped and well-groomed Russian soldiers who are obviously not ‘separatists’ of any kind, though they are intermingling with so-called ‘separatist’ fighters.
There is a paramilitary force of Russian speakers, along with Chechens and Russian Cossacks in Ukraine. Of that, there is no doubt and I personally have seen videos of these units, speaking both Russian and Chechen in Ukraine taken after battles with Ukrainian security and army troops. Most of those videos are rather graphic and shocking and I will not be posting them here.
However, these men are distinct from Russian regular troops. They are not personally groomed in a military fashion, they do not carry themselves as military men would, nor do they handle their weapons in a professional military manner. Most of them seem more of a disorganized rabble, while others look unkempt as the rabble do, however they are quiet and seem operate very methodically and professionally.
I believe this latter group are Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and possibly operatives of Russia’s FSB (successor organization to the old KGB). They most likely are operating with and in support of the ‘rabble’ the way U.S. Rangers did in places like Luzon in the Philippines in 1944, and Britain’s SAS did with Greek partisans throughout the German occupation of Greece.
In Kherson Oblast, nestled between the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and Russian occupied Crimea, Ukrainian Security Services have captured numerous operatives made up of both local Russo-Ukrainians and Russian nationals. That phenomena has continued since the ceasefire and indicates an ongoing Russian reconnaissance effort being maintained on Kherson to keep up to the minute track of Ukrainian defense measures and deployment of forces.
There is a method to the Russian actions which this map of possible attack axes will help explain.
For all intents and purposes, the first step has already been achieved. Russian forces have advanced into southeast Ukraine in preparation for a drive to Crimea to establish a land link. Russia has also built up a large number of troops in Crimea itself with 4,000 combat troops alone concentrated on the road leading into Kherson Oblast along the one isthmus connecting Crimea to Ukraine.
There is also a large Russian force staging adjacent to Odessa, Ukraine in the southern end of the Russian breakaway republic of Transniestria, which lies sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova. It’s more likely this buildup is intended as a diversion to make Ukraine split it’s forces in the south to try to hold Odessa, which would weaken Ukrainian positions guarding against a Russian attack out of Crimea.
A full Russian invasion would likely involve simultaneous attacks against Mariupol in the east, Kherson from Crimea, Odessa from Transniestria (perhaps with an amphibious assault out of Sevastopol to assist) as well as a heavy attack and drive toward the Dnieper River out of Donetsk. The Donetsk and Mariupol attacks would involve heavy concentrations of armored forces, while forces in Crimea and Transniestria would constitute more mechanized and foot bound infantry than armor.
The key however, is the Mariupol front. Without a Russian advance breaking through Mariupol and advancing with all haste to link up with Crimea, the Russians run a risk of a supply problem for Crimea based forces. Those forces, must also affect a link up with Russian forces in Transniestria, if the latter are to play a role beyond mere defense.
The Ukrainian government and military leaders do seem to recognize that Mariupol is key and have concentrated troops there as well as brought up artillery. There has been some artillery brought to help defend Odessa as well. But, the Ukrainians have also redeployed BM-30 Smerch (Tornado) heavy rocket artillery from west of the Dnieper River for the first time.
A smart Ukrainian commander would concentrate those BM-30 Smerch in a position to turn the Isthmus connecting Crimea to Kherson into a hellish cauldron and bottle up Russian forces there, and/or to block Russian armor advancing from Mariupol.
Were that defense to be successful, then any Russian advance on Odessa from Transniestria would be put in jeopardy as would any amphibious forces landed between Odessa and Kherson. Both groups of forces would then be open to being cutoff and destroyed. And, a Russian advance out of Donetsk to the Dnieper River, even if successful would be rendered moot.
However, this is where new problems arise for Ukraine in the form of the Russian Air Force and Navy. Both of which would be employed in an open invasion, whereas now neither is being employed yet.
Russian fighter jets would establish tactical air superiority in short order over the outnumbered Ukrainian Air Force allowing Russian tactical strike aircraft and attack helicopters free rein to hunt down and destroy Ukrainian artillery, rocket launchers, missiles, tanks and troop concentrations.
The Russian Navy would also have free rein to launch cruise missile strikes from out to sea or provide naval gunfire support close in shore without the worry of Ukrainian air attacks.
Ukraine however, may well be going for the option of bottling up Crimea. There was a story in the Kiev Post about a lack of Ukrainian troops in Dnepropetrovsk Oblast, which lays between the Russian front line in Donetsk and the Dnieper River, as well as lack of government authority in preparing local defenses and negotiating prisoner swaps with the Russians, leaving both matters for local authorities to handle on their own.
When the battle will begin and whether or not one or all of the displayed invasion axes will be used, is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that what is in fact a Russo-Ukrainian War has been on since Crimea was annexed to Russia in March of this year and it will not end until Russian troops stand on the border between Ukraine and Poland, Slovakia & Romania. Then it will be the turn of Moldova and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.