How Will Russia Will Move to Renew Attack In Eastern Ukraine – The Russian invasion of Ukraine has not gone anywhere close to plan, regardless of what its Ministry of Defense or political spokesman has said thus far. Their failure to take Kyiv has to be considered a major strategic failure.
The attempt to seize the Antonov airfield in Hostomel outside of Kyiv by Russia’s elite airborne forces in the opening hours of the war was a tactical success but a pyrrhic one, where they were able to seize the airfield but lost it and had to fight to retake it, suffering heavy casualties. But it never became the beachhead to ferry in more troops.
Failed Offensive in the North, Refocusing on the East/South
Russia is now pulling back their badly mauled troops to refit and regroup and moving them to shift their expected renewed offensive in the separatist areas of Donbas and Luhansk. They are expected to conduct larger operations to seize more territory in eastern Ukraine and open a land bridge (through Mariupol).
The time frame for the regrouping of the withdrawn troops from the failed northern incursion could take several weeks as it is widely considered that Russian units have suffered between 25 and 30 percent casualties (dead, wounded, captured, missing), as it won’t be a quick turnaround.
The UK Ministry of Defense has been doing a fantastic job of gathering and disseminating intelligence about the war thus far. They spoke about the issues that the Russians are facing.
“Many Russian units withdrawing from northern Ukraine are likely to require significant re-quipping and refurbishment before being ready to redeploy for operations in eastern Ukraine,” they posted on Twitter.
Key Cities Will Be Mariupol and Slovyansk
With its strategic goals being reassessed and becoming much more limited in scope, at least for the time being, Russia will attempt to take the coal-rich area of Donetsk and Luhansk. But the continuing thorn in the Russian’s side has to be Mariupol.
That has been a major target for the Russian military since the war began and is only about 37.5 miles from the Russian border. What makes it so important is first and foremost, it will create a land bridge from the separatist areas to the Crimea that Russia seized in 2014.
The city is an important cog in Ukraine’s economy as a major port in the Sea of Azov and is the home to two major steel and iron industries. Russian-proxy separatists failed to capture the city in 2014 and despite encircling most of the city, thus far the Russians have failed in their attempts to capture it, destroying it piece by piece with massive artillery and missile barrages. Some estimates put the damage in Mariupol as high as 90 percent of the buildings damaged or destroyed.
In speaking with a former Special Operations officer with knowledge of the situation and the region on Sunday, he told 1945 that the area in eastern Ukraine is flat and much more open, which should favor the Ukrainian defenders. “Russian artillery is the key”, he said. “So far, they’ve stayed reasonably intact, but I would imagine the artillery, which is a key factor in any advance, would be a key Ukrainian target in the days to come.”
Without massive artillery barrages tying down Ukrainian units, he said, the Javelin antitank weapons will likely wreak havoc on Russian armored formations.
The city of Slovyansk is likely to be a major Russian objective in the coming days and weeks, according to the British Institute for the Study of War ISW). There are sizable Ukrainian units to the east. If they take the city, the Russians could move to encircle the units in a pocket there or move toward the north into Donetsk.
However, the best Ukrainian units in their military are in the east. While their dispositions and casualties are unknown, they remain intact and should be receiving some reinforcements from units now freed from defending Kyiv.
The Special Operations officer we spoke to had one other factor that he mentioned. “We (US intelligence) totally missed the boat on the Russians’ complete lack or use of night-vision equipment. They’ve been totally fighting by the day and that could become a huge advantage in the fighting in the east for the Ukrainians.”
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for more than 10 years and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.