Time is short for Ukraine and Russia: Who will strike first this February
Front lines (Photo:REUTERS)
The one who first masses their resources and best chooses the direction of their main strike will have the advantage
I think we should prepare for very hard, very bloody battles. In fact, the West’s decision to provide Ukraine with the weapons we need, in particular armored vehicles and a number of other types of arms, is connected with their conviction that Ukraine is capable of winning a military victory, while at the same time that Russia is not inclined to withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine, nor to enter into any agreements.
In fact, a certain part of the American elite (and not only American, but also Western elites, like the Germans and French) sincerely believed that some negotiations were possible. And when it became clear that both sides were very determined, it became clear that it is necessary to provide Ukraine with the weapons that would allow it to retain the initiative as soon as possible, and, if possible, to develop a strategic offensive that would allow it to inflict a military defeat upon Russia.
The problem is that there is not enough time. In fact, both sides now have similar problems tied to the need to form new units, replenish their ammunition, and train their personnel. And here the question is who will handle this task faster.
The task is quite difficult. And it is much more complicated for us, because we receive Western models which are both very different and quite complex. So, whoever will be first needs to form a mass of resources needed for an offensive, and the side which better chooses the direction of their main thrust will actually have the advantage.
There are many options for where to wage these fierce battles, and they are varied.
For example, there is the activation of Russian forces on the Zaporizhzhya front, rather on the border of the Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk fronts, meaning the attack on Vuhledar. It is now difficult to say whether this is a very large-scale combat reconnaissance or whether it is the beginning of a very large strategic offensive.
The Russians need a strategic victory. On the other hand, sober Russian experts say that given the current state of Russia's military-industrial complex and the Russian army, as well as its size and technical equipment, it will be very difficult for them to inflict a strategic defeat on Ukraine. That is, it is unlikely they will be able to strike the sort of blow that would end in the defeat of a large part of the Ukrainian army with significant territorial seizures.
Therefore, the more sober Russian politicians believe that Russia's offensive will most likely be limited to certain tactical directions. This would mean an attempt to further advance on Donbas, ideally with access to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. But for this it is first necessary to take Bakhmut and Siversk.
Or they could still try to advance on a large scale in the direction of Zaporizhzhya, not so much as to threaten Zaporizhzhya and Dnipro as to push Ukrainian troops away from the so-called land corridor that connects Russia through the occupied territories with occupied Crimea.
By my feelings, February will be a revealing, very defining time
It is very difficult to get into the head of the Russian General Staff. So far, for example, if we analyze the numbers and equipment of the forces in the north, there is nothing to suggest that the main blow will be delivered from there. But theoretically, considering that Russia has accumulated a certain amount of resources from mobilization and is now very intensively replenishing its ammunition, an offensive from there is also possible. At least I wouldn't rule it out. It is not foreseeable at this point.
There is yet another possible option — not so much from a military point of view, but from a political point of view, which may be rather attractive to the Russians. This is another attempt to attack Kharkiv. This is due to the small distance between this city and the Russian border, and the peculiarities of Belgorod, where there is an opportunity to raise reserves, build warehouses, and the availability of highways and railways. In addition, it would represent a political victory if the Russians succeed, relatively speaking, in capturing a large regional center that is one of the symbols of Ukraine. This could be a political victory.
I would outline the following scenarios. It is very difficult for me to say which of them the Russians will choose.
The Russians, like us, have huge problems with 152-mm and 122-mm shells, especially with the 122s. This is the caliber which the Gvozdika self-propelled gun and the D-30 howitzer fire. At one point, during the so-called Serdyukov reforms, the Russians practically chopped up the lines for the production of these shells.
I know that, for example, from the staff of certain units, they have generally withdrawn artillery systems that fire this projectile. Instead, they have enough industrial capacity where they can produce 152 mm shells. Six Russian artillery systems fire them at once. They are now ramping up production at a very accelerated pace, but they are having problems.
They have problems with qualified personnel. This is connected with both mobilization and the outflow of people abroad. And they have certain problems with new equipment and critical materials. A projectile is not as simple a thing as it seems. Therefore, they are partially using, first and foremost, the arsenal and storage bases in Belarus. They have actually looted them already. The Belarusians are being used as a donor for replenishing losses of both ammunition and armored vehicles, primarily tanks. In Belarus, if I am not mistaken, there were two tank armies stationed. There are a huge number of tanks in warehouses. And the Russians are using these opportunities.
There remain countries that can supply them with ammunition of the appropriate caliber. This also applies to the countries in Russia’s orbit in Europe (which we will not name), and countries that do not advertise their aid, but can theoretically provide such aid. These are first and foremost North Korea and Iran. There is no concrete confirmation that they are supplying ammunition to Russia, but there are some signs that this is taking place.
For us, it is indeed a huge challenge. Who will be the first to prepare for an offensive? President of the European Council Charles Michel recently said that the next weeks will be decisive for Ukraine and for the world. Other Western officials are offering different terms and different options. Both Russia and Ukraine are forcing preparations. Both we and they are creating not just new military units, but new formations. We are talking about large formations that have to take on large-scale tasks. Large formations, on the one hand, have great power. On the other hand, these units are much more difficult to operate than, tactical groups like a battalion-tactical group. It requires much greater coordination, much greater clarity of interaction, and better use of the rules of combined arms combat, when you have everyone working systematically — from intelligence to artillery, from aviation to tanks. This is when everyone knows their maneuvers and their role in the system.
This is now being done at an accelerated pace. But it feels like we and the Russians are running out of time to do this in the coming weeks. Each side could take a risk, trying to strike before the enemy has prepared for it. Here the question is both of time and confidence in these forces, or at least those parts that have been created, being ready for large-scale use.
Again, both we and the Russians have big problems related to the fact that a large part of those reserves that were planned for a large-scale offensive were used during the battles near Bakhmut. This also applies to part of our reserves, which, unfortunately, had to be used in order to change the situation; and the Russians, who during both assault and flanking operations had to use part of, for example, their airborne troops that were planned for other operations, in particular for large-scale offensive operations.
Therefore, I would not take the risk of saying exactly when it will happen. By my feelings, February will be a revealing, very defining time. While it is possible that it will be postponed to a later date, it seems to me that it will still be February.
Firstly, there will still be enough frozen ground: this is important for the offensive — not in all sectors, but in the vast majority it really matters for machinery, especially wheeled.
Secondly, this is another make-it-or-break-it moment for the Russians, because of the anniversary of the attack and their aggression. They need to demonstrate some successes by this date. They subordinate military goals to political ones. This is despite the fact that the political goals are not really clearly announced and explained to the population, but these things are of great importance to them.
Therefore, I would say that the big counteroffensive will most likely take place in February. But there are options here. There are a lot of arguments, a lot of caveats, a lot of circumstances, and I cannot know them all for sure. This is known only to the people who plan these operations and who are carrying out this strategic plan.
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