Military analyst on pivotal battle in Ukraine, Russian dreams of 'southern belt'

14 April, 07:55 PM
Russian military in Mariupol. April 13, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

Russian military in Mariupol. April 13, 2022 (Photo:REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

According to an intercepted conversation of a Russian soldier, the Russians may be planning to destroy Ukraine, military, if Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s plans for a victory in Ukraine by May 9, Victory Day, are not met: “Putin said that if we get f**k all done before May 10, then everything will be razed to the ground.”

Radio NV sat down with military expert Mykhailo Zhirokhov to analyze Russian capabilities - and how likely they are to raze everything to the ground. He also outlined the situation on the fronts, suggested what an upcoming pivotal battle could be like, and surmised what plans the Russian Federation had in the south of Ukraine.

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NV: We live in a state of war in which battles are pre-announced. International intelligence and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine report that the Russians are drawing troops to the east. Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts may play host to the most fierce battles. How do our defense capabilities measure up?

Zhirokhov: Firstly, I would not assert that the pivotal battle will be for the Donbas. There is such a thing as strategy. And there is an understanding that the Russian generals are not as stupid as our propaganda — in the positive sense — portrays them.

The first weeks showed that it is very, very difficult to storm our positions in the Donbas head-on. Therefore, the Russians can resort to simply blocking communications. And their offensive will not be exactly in the Donbas, where the so-called army of the [Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics”] is now trying to attack our positions, but maybe an offensive from Izyum, from Kharkiv Oblast in order to sever the communications of our group in the Donbas.

NV: The Pentagon said that the Russians retained approximately 80% of the forces and personnel that they had prepared for the invasion. This is good news for us, as every fifth occupier has already been “croaked”, but still 80% is a lot.

Zhirokhov: This is quite a lot, but you need to understand that they already have losses in equipment; their morale is down. The first wave of invasion was on a roll — they expected a walk in the park. And now there is already an understanding (at least among Russian officers) that this is not an easy war and they need to work themselves to death. Not everyone is ready for this.

Quantity does not always outweigh quality. Their offensive spirit and capabilities are lower than they were at the beginning of the war.

NV: To what extent are Ukrainian defenders ready for different scenarios of the enemy’s military operations?

Zhirokhov: There is an understanding that our General Staff has several options for plans for how our troops will operate. Of course, this is classified information. Everything will depend on where the main offensive of the Russians will be.

There is currently an operational pause. The Russians gather, first of all, their troops in the Belgorod and Rostov regions, and reorganize them. Unfortunately, every night they launch rocket attacks on our communications. They are trying to somehow reduce our ability to pull up reserves from western Ukraine.

NV: One of the units of the marines in Mariupol was able to break through to the Azov fighters. What does this mean for us? Many of my military friends say that this feels like enemy psyops, when civilians start bewailing a “surrendered Mariupol”, demanding “their immediate liberation”. As if they would not do this if there was such an opportunity. How would you characterize the situation?

Zhirokhov: Information from Mariupol is tainted because there is no civilian communication there. The military also has neither the time nor the inspiration to provide regular updates.

The reports that the marines and Azov have linked up means, firstly, that unfortunately we lost control over part of Mariupol, because it was the so-called local boiler where the marines were located. On the other hand, the contact line in Mariupol has become shorter and will be easier to defend. Both human resources and resources of ammunition, fuel, and food will be used more sparingly.

The question is how long they will last. People will cope, but there will be nothing to fight with! How soon will that moment come? A few days ago, there was still the possibility of transfers by helicopters, but when two of our helicopters were shot down, this possibility, as I understand it, ceased to be. The question of what our General Staff, our generals will do, remains open because the situation there is very tense.

NV: What is the situation on the southern fronts?

Zhirokhov: Information from there is also tainted. This is a possible sector of the front, where there may be an offensive, both by our troops and by Russian ones. They need Mykolaiv, Odesa in order to form a so-called southern belt from Transnistria to Rostov.

I personally have information that may indicate that in the coming days there may be a turning point for us.

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