Azerbaijani military expert on Russo-Ukrainian war, forecasts, NATO’s position

13 March 2022, 06:53 PM
Author: Olga Duhnich

A participant in the Karabakh wars explains why destroyed Russian tanks matter, how many missiles Russia has left and why Ukraine’s army has succeeded.

In the third week of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, talks of the turning point of the war and the decisive advantage of the Ukrainian army are on the rise.

Azerbaijani military expert Agil Rustamzade, an officer with 30 years of service experience and participation in real military conflicts (including the wars for Nagorno-Karabakh), revealed to NV the nuances of the behavior of the Russian army in Ukraine and surmised when the war might end.

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 - The war has been going on for over a fortnight, and there are increasing talks about a turning point in Ukraine's favor. Is there any reasoning behind this?

  - On the third day of the war, it was clear that the adventure started by the Russian leadership would stall. It was a matter of time. And with every passing day. it becomes more evident. A country with 250,000-strong armed forces cannot be attacked with 200,000 [men]. Strategic miscalculations were made in the planning [of this invasion].

  - What kind?

  - In order to destroy the military infrastructure of the Ukrainian army at the first strike, the Russian Federation had to use at least 400 missiles. And according to various sources, from 100 to 170 were used. I don’t know the reason for this, but somehow, the Russian military and political leadership decided that this operation would be some sort of “Crimea-2” – a walk in the park, with the army not putting up a fight.

  - Does the Russian army today have an offensive potential, the ability to hold the already occupied territories?

  - A little less than a week ago, the Russian army was supposed to pull up the reserve so as not to be exhausted and to maintain the offensive pace. If the Russian Federation decided to send in additional troops and announced mobilization, we would be dealing with a new wave of invasion. But that is not happening. And the troops that are involved in this operation have been dealt a tangible blow.

And I believe that today, out of the 200,000-strong invasion group, 50,000 for various reasons – killed, wounded, captured – cannot take part in hostilities. This automatically slows down the advance rate. And in conjunction with the Ukrainian army successfully using the tactics of guerrilla warfare to disrupt the support and control of the Russian army, it is currently simply not in a position to conduct any kind of offensive operation. And its setup is getting worse by the day.

 - We see signs of covert mobilization in Russia, at least now they say that they are calling up young men allegedly for training. Perhaps this is just the replenishment of reserves?

 - They were late with this. Mobilization does not imply guys leaving home and popping up near Kharkiv five minutes later. These guys need to be referred to training centers, they need to be dressed, shod, reminded how to shoot a machine gun. This takes at least a week or two. And what will happen to the Russian grouping on the territory of Ukraine within a week or two? It’s a tough call.

  - What about the cities in the south of the country: this is primarily Kherson, and a number of smaller towns? What are the chances of the Russians holding onto them?

  - Everything that is currently captured by the Russian army, including the southern regions, will remain under occupation until the Ukrainian army starts the hot phase to destroy the enemy. Kherson was taken over by Rosgvardiya, who have already started detaining and isolating ardent protesters.

 It is worth noting that the Ukrainian army did not initially plan to fight in the south of the country. The Ukrainian army prefers ambush warfare. It avoids contact fighting, and it is right in doing so. Thanks to this, they manage to deal a significant blow to the enemy, and the south is mostly a steppe zone. There is nowhere for the special forces detachment to hide there.

Ukraine drew the right conclusions and adopted a successful defense plan against superior enemy forces. The decision of the Ukrainian army to put up minimal resistance in the south was a wise one. And since there is no resistance from the army, the local population also does not get involved in battles. I believe that until the phase of the defeat of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine kicks in, the south will remain under occupation.

 - So let's discuss this hot phase. Given the resources of the sides, can we predict the duration of this war in time?

 -This war is anything but a set-piece battle. And it will end unlike a pitched battle. Its end will depend on the impact of sanctions on the Russian Federation, so Ukraine conserves its strength, as it anticipates several waves of invasion. So this is the first wave of invasion. And if tomorrow the Russian Federation announces mobilization, there will be a second wave. You would not want the Ukrainian army to be exhausted from the first wave of fighting.

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Your military leadership has correctly distributed [its resources] for the long game. Until there is a certainty that the Russian economy is not only in no position to call for mobilization, but even to service its own group of forces on the territory of Ukraine.

  - Are years of hostilities on the cards? Or are we talking months?

 - No, absolutely not. Because with every passing day the sanctions are working on a deeper level. This cannot continue indefinitely. It's a matter of months.

  - What would be the preconditions for the Ukrainian army to enter the active phase?

  - This will happen when the Russian state completely loses its credibility in the eyes of the local population. The locals will demand an end to this war.

 -We already know that Russians are ready to die in the most senseless wars. Why is this time round different?

  - Russia lives in its own world. I still think it’s one thing to die in battle for the liberation of one’s homeland, it’s not only Russians who can do it, but it’s an entirely different thing to die for god knows what. We see the captured Russian military: they look blank, wondering what they are doing here. People don't like to die in a war like this. Not in Russia, not in America, not even in Afghanistan.

 - You mentioned that Russia already has serious problems with supply. What does it mean? It's not just about food and fuel.

 - It's not merely about food and fuel. The Ukrainian troops deliberately retreated ‌so that the enemy’s strike groups have their communications stretched. Take, for example,  the northern front, where they reached Izyum (Kharkiv Oblast).

Can you imagine how much fuel is needed, how many vehicles are needed to deliver 40 tons of fuel to Izyum? We’re talking at least seven or eight trucks. And as these seven or eight trucks move, they are being destroyed at every corner. You are seeing tanks and abandoned military equipment because of this!

They just don't have enough fuel. But it's not just about fuel. For example, the resource of a tank barrel and guns are 500 shells. After a week of active fighting, the tank ought to be sent for repairs. Imagine how these tanks are being returned.

 You know, the Ukrainian army claims that 12,000 people have been killed – 14,000 as of this morning, but it’s always like this: the enemy’s losses are overstated. But it’s ironclad that the 8,000-10,000 casualties does not stop a 200,000-strong formation – this does not significantly reduce its combat effectiveness.

But, let's say, 100 tanks – this significantly dents the ability to lead offensives, even for an army of 200,000. There should be nine tanks in a tank company, and after the ambushes of the Ukrainian military, only four tanks remain. Thus this unit loses the ability to carry out combat operations.

 - The military advantage of Russia is the presence of different types of missiles. When will they run out?

 - A rocket is not a product that can be manufactured within a week or two. Let's take the Iskander missile system. Iskander is armed mostly with two missiles. One cruise missile, of which there are two types, and one ballistic missile, with more or less acceptable accuracy! The deviation is within 10-20 m. But I think that the Russian Federation had no more than 200 pieces of those. And most of them have already been used. What do they have left?

They have missiles of old design, and they have already begun to use the old missiles that they had in store, which are not accurate enough. In the Azerbaijani city of Shusha, in the war with Armenia, such missiles fell 150-200 m short of the target.

 As for the Kalibr [a family of Russian cruise missiles], judging by the frequency of shelling, they are already running out, which suggests that they already have at most a few dozen units left. But they also began to use air-launched cruise missiles. These are missiles that are launched from strategic missile carriers. I bet they also have 200-300 of those.

 -How many days’ worth of an air war is that?

 - At this rate, shooting 4 to 8 rockets, it’s no more than 20-25 days. A month at most. Producing new ones is also difficult. The maximum that they can get in a month is production of 40-50 missiles if the factories work in three shifts.

 - Ukraine is awaiting the transfer of Polish MiG-29 fighters. This expectation runs into difficulties on the part of the U.S. government and NATO. Why is this so and do we really need these fighters so much?

 - Any weapon will help you a lot now. But how effective will this weapon be for you in these circumstances? Thanks to the measured steps of the NATO bloc, you already have a partially closed sky. Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems [supplied to Ukraine by Western partners] have a range of up to 6 km. Thanks to these missiles, you have the opportunity to successfully fight Russian aircraft, whose equipment does not enable them to perform combat missions from high altitudes.

Under these conditions, when Russian aviation flights are reduced to a minimum, to what extent the fighters will help you is a moot point. But the missile defense systems have helped you a lot. Although logistical issues come into play here, because missile defense systems are complex systems.

It takes at least three to six months to learn how to use these systems. Can you spare that much time? Therefore, you rightly demand to close the sky, to hand over fighters to you, but at this point in time, they are not critical.

 - Ukraine has long and persistently asked NATO countries to close the sky over the country. Why won’t the Alliance bring itself to this decision?

  - Firstly, it is impossible to close the entire sky over Ukraine. One can close some infrastructure or some cities. But NATO is pragmatic. They see that this is not critical for Ukraine right now. Yes, people are dying. Yes, rockets are striking. But NATO is assessing the risks of a collision with the Russian Federation. And they see that you can manage on your own. You are coping without a no-fly zone. I think that while Russia was preparing its operation, so was NATO.

And I'm just sure that they agreed: if Ukraine loses the left bank of Dnipro River, there would be attempts to establish a humanitarian corridor over a certain part of the right bank of Ukraine through the UN, by declaring this zone closed to flights or introducing the no-fly zone. NATO was ready for this scenario. But why would they run the risk of war with the Russian Federation now, when Ukraine is coping well even without a closed sky.

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