The recent drone attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge that connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula begs the question of whether Ukraine aims to bring its attack inside of Russian territory, or even Russia itself.
Should Ukraine’s large-scale counteroffensive result in substantial incursions into previously held Russian territory, many military leaders are likely to attempt to determine the optimal distance to travel into Russia.
Should Ukrainian forces move into Russian territory?
One is likely to wonder how far Ukrainian forces might wish to advance. Perhaps Ukraine would be best served to consolidate gains and establish a strong, well-defended, and fortified perimeter. Maybe the country merely wishes to preserve its Ukrainian territorial integrity and simply preserve its borders.
It does not seem likely that Ukraine would have massive territorial ambitions well beyond its borders.
However, it would not seem at all surprising should Ukraine seek to take back the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Extending too far into Russia, should that even be possible, might not make sense for Ukraine for a number of reasons. Clearly, Ukraine wishes to liberate its sovereign territory and likely has designs on retaking Crimea, yet advancing further into Russia might spread its smaller force thin.
An overextended or spread-out Ukrainian force might lose power concentration and make its force extremely vulnerable to Russian saboteurs and military forces seeking to attack supply lines or exploit the fact that the Ukrainian forces are spread out across wide areas.
While advancing further into Russia would, without question, weaken the Russian military, it could also likely stretch the smaller Ukrainian Army too thin and imperil its ability to ensure the territorial integrity of its own borders. Also, destroying Russian power altogether could create a destabilizing power vacuum in the global geopolitical arena, making Russian territory far too vulnerable to unwanted takeover or occupation.
Why Not Take Over Russian Territory?
By contrast, there may also be an argument in favor of why Ukrainian forces should advance well beyond their own borders and ultimately “occupy” or take over Russian territory, should that be possible. With the massive amount of U.S. and NATO backing that the Ukrainian forces have, they might be able to establish a secure supply line and fully advance into Russian territory. The challenge for Ukrainian forces may not be to penetrate a Russian perimeter and “take” Russian territory but rather “hold” the territory once captured.
The more vast the geographical area, the harder it can be to secure captured territory. However, with sufficient long-range fire and a secure, well-established logistics chain, the Ukrainians might be able to “hold” large amounts of territory. Such a possibility will only become more achievable as more heavy armor arrives in Ukraine. In the coming months, more Bradley Fighting Vehicles and U.S. and European tanks will be arriving to support Ukrainian forces.
In recent months, the Pentagon has been sending many tactical trucks, wheeled vehicles, and other kinds of supplies enabling Ukraine to establish a secure logistics train. When supported or spearheaded by more heavy armor and mechanized forces, advancing Ukrainian forces will be well-positioned to hold territory. Therefore, what may have merely begun as an intense need to defend their homeland could well evolve into a massive, much larger-than-expected counter-attack.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.