Russia: Down But Not Out in 2023 – What a difference a new year makes. That is the adage that Russia is working toward in 2023 – that next year will be a new era in the war that sees Russia come out on top.
Moscow is preparing for a major offensive next year that it hopes will push Ukrainian forces out of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia – the regions that Russia originally took control of before the invasion.
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba, thinks that Russia may be preparing for a large counter-attack that would take place in late January or in February to re-take major amounts of territory that Ukraine now holds.
Will the Draftees Be Able to Deliver?
Kuleba believes that Russia is training tens of thousands of conscripts and moving additional equipment to the front that would result in a new energized attack by Russia in 2023. The foreign minister promises that the Ukrainian military will be ready for the counter-offensive should Russia try the operation.
By the time Russia executes its plan, the war could enter its first year anniversary.
It Doesn’t Look Good for the Conscripts
Russia is likely preparing up to 200,000 new troops for next year’s fight if the counter-offensive happens.
So far, the conscripts are believed to be woefully unprepared for battle. They are not being fed or clothed well and have not received arms, much less engaged in extensive weapons training.
Some observers have alluded to Russia attempting to re-take Kyiv. That appears to be optimistic and not a likely outcome of the potential offensive. A push to Kyiv would have to come from Belarus and long columns of armored vehicles would not surprise Ukraine and would likely become bogged down easily.
The Decisive Point Is Donbas If Equipment and Ammunition Get to the Front
Thus, the potential attack is more likely to come from the east and have limited objectives – namely to control more of the Donbas region.
But the main problem that has dogged the Russian military from the beginning is that they would need ample military hardware and ammunition, particularly howitzer rounds and artillery rockets, not to mention precision-guided munitions.
New General Takes Over
Vladimir Putin hopes that about three months of training for the reinforcements will be enough to plus-up his forces and create the number of troops that could succeed in a counter-offensive.
Putin has been enthused about his relatively new military commander General Sergei Surovikin. This leader has attempted to make improvements that will give Russia more momentum. Surovikin is responsible for the air campaign to attack Ukraine’s electrical and water infrastructure to make civilians suffer during the winter. Surovikin also took the fight to civilians during the Russian campaign in Syria.
Surovikin is attempting to unite his forces under his command and staff. He wants to improve morale and equip his forces for the long haul.
Surovikin is also keeping Putin “better informed,” according to Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general, writing in Foreign Affairs this month. Putin now knows that his troops need better training and equipment and that the domestic arms industry needs a shot in the arm to deliver the supplies that Russian forces require.
Establish a Fake Attack from the North
One tactic that Surovikin might try is to base some of his new troops in Belarus for a feint in the north that would require Ukraine to re-position troops to the south of Belarus and reduce the forces in Donbas.
Political Warfare Is Part of the Plan
Ryan believes the new offensive will have elements of political warfare to “Russify” the East. “This process will resemble what Russia did in Kherson: moving the local economy off the Ukrainian hryvnia and onto the ruble, changing the school curriculum, and the repulsive practice of stealing Ukrainian children and sending them to Russia for adoption,” he wrote.
Will It Work?
I have mixed feelings about the new Russian commander and the efficacy of a large attack. Surovikin does appear to have Putin’s confidence. He is battle tested and knows how to effectively retreat and fight another day.
But the Russian military is still a beaten down force. They will need victories to build confidence. Betting on unproven conscripts who are too old, out of shape, and who don’t want to be there will be a challenge.
Don’t Violate the Principles of Warfare
Speed, security, and surprise are important principles of warfare. Since I am writing about how Ukraine is preparing for a Russian offensive means the defenders will not be surprised. Russia has not shown it can secure its attacks with close air support and the capacity to withstand ambushes.
And speed is something that Russia lacks with its maneuver warfare. Russia will have to improve on its principles of warfare attainment to be successful. It remains to be seen whether this new commander can abide by the vital principles and lead his forces to victory.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.