In a recent briefing, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines warned, “I would characterize it as the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.” So, where is the Russia-Ukraine war heading? What is Russian President Putin planning next? Is Europe ready for it? Are the American strategists having the last laugh?
The War Objectives
Eighty-four days into the war with Ukraine, Russia claims that it has achieved the primary aim in the first phase. That sounds correct since today; no one is talking about Ukraine joining NATO. Therefore, comes the question, what are the aims of the second phase?
The Americans understand the second phase aims very well. They know that Kherson, Snake Island, Odesa, Transnistria, and Poland’s Suwalki gap connecting to Kaliningrad, would make a Russian corridor or buffer zone with NATO states. Therefore, the US would make every effort to sabotage those objectives.
Russian Controlled Territory As On 08 May 2022 – Courtesy: elpais.com
Recalibration Of Focus
German-Austrian statesman Prince Metternich had said, “Any plan conceived in moderate terms must fail when the circumstances are set in the extreme.” Russian generals would have studied Metternich in-depth. In my assessment, the war is moving towards those extreme circumstances, and Russia is likely to give up moderate terms.
The U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s recently warned that Russia would face a full-fledged NATO response if it hits a member-state, Poland. Does the United States sense a Russian plan involving NATO state like Poland, or are they inciting Russia to take such a step? Whatever it may be, there is no smoke without fire.
U.S. President Joe Biden, in March 2022, said, “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent.”
These are conflicting statements. However, NATO has to come to the rescue of Poland if Russia makes a move. The collective defence stated in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty clearly states, “An attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” And Poland has been an ally and a NATO member since 1999.
Gaps Between Capabilities, Objectives, Planning, And Execution
While the war is about to reach three months, Russia has slowed down its war efforts. As per globalfirepower.com, Russia is still the number two military power globally. But that number two world military power is not acting as per their ranking. It looks like Putin, who admires Joseph Stalin, has taken his quote “Quantity has a quality of its own,” literally.
Despite going in for Joint Strategic Commands in 2014, the cohesiveness in the three arms is not visible. The Russian navy and air force are missing from the action and are used as a support arm. Their tactical manoeuvres not only display a lack of jointmanship but expose a lack of training in the individual arms too.
As per Professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews Phillips Payson O’Brien, the 4,000 aircraft strong Russian air force did not display airborne military ecosystem. The airborne radar stations to provide command and control, fighters to protect and police the skies, refueling aircraft to keep everyone full of gas, electronic-warfare planes to keep enemy defenses suppressed, and a range of intelligence-gatherers and attack aircraft to locate and destroy enemy forces were missing from the action.
Despite having complete sea control, the sinking of Russia’s flagship Moskva and brand new naval support ship Vsevolod Bobrov questions Russian technological advancements, the effectiveness of training, and preparedness. On 13 May 2022, Russia has put its Black Sea Fleet’s all six “Varshavianka” project (improved kilo class) submarines, each loaded with four nuclear-capable Kalibr cruise missiles. Even these submarines have not participated in any operation until now.
Hypothetical Russian Objectives
In the initial days, Russia fell for the Western (read American) propaganda where Russia was made to believe that it was walking over Ukraine in a few days. That made Russians ignore the basics. Let us keep aside the Russian shortcomings and look at the plausible second-phase objectives.
By deploying air defense cruise missiles on Snake Island, Russia could control the northwest portion of the Black Sea – Map Courtesy: insightful.co.in
The first aim should have been to secure the Donbas region, including Mariupol. Russia already controls over 75 percent of the region, and Mariupol fell on 18 May. Simultaneously Russian navy should have secured Snake Island. The strategically located island in the Black Sea grants control over maritime traffic in the port of Odes. Unfortunately, the Russians still don’t have full control of the island. There have been claims and counterclaims from both sides of destroying each other’s forces on the island. Control of the island and Crimea would have given Russia complete sea control. The ambition of making Ukraine a landlocked country was far-fetched.
Russian Controlled Transnistria – Map Courtesy: BBC
The next area of interest for the Russians is Moldova’s breakaway region Transnistria. The region is already under Russian control, with over 1500 soldiers. If at all Russia wanted to connect with this region, taking control of a portion of south Odessa Oblast would have created a land bridge to Transnistria. Since Moldova is not part of NATO and has only applied for European Union membership recently, this exercise would have been a futile one.
Recent blasts in Transnistria indicate that specific forces be it the Western or Russian, want this region to get involved in the war. If it was a Western affair, then it was used to put pressure on Moldova to join NATO or scatter Russian efforts. If Russians were behind it, then they were giving a direct warning to Moldovan leadership to dissuade them from joining NATO.
Suwalki Gap – Courtesy: insightful.co.in
The trickiest but rewarding would be the annexation of the Suwalki Corridor or Gap. It is a Polish region bordering Lithuania, stretching 60 miles (100 km) between Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. If Russia collaborates with Belarus, then annexation of this stretch of land has three-fold benefits. Russia gets unhindered land access to Kaliningrad via Belarus, creates a buffer with the Western world and cuts off the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) from rest of the NATO nations.
Military Commanders As Advisors To Civilian Leadership
While one may have farfetched aims, the military commanders have a duty toward the nation to give an unbiased and honest picture to the civilian leadership without fear and ambitions. The Russian commanders have faltered in this department repeatedly. Humiliating defeat against the alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia in 1856 Crimean war and the sinking of Russian Baltic Fleet in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima Strait by the Japanese navy should have given them some lessons.
If own mistakes were not good enough to learn from, then Russia should have drawn lessons from their enemies. ‘Operation Barbarossa’ or Führer Directive 21 of December 1940 was an order for the invasion of the Soviet Union and controlling Russian land up to a hypothetical line running from the port of Archangel in northern Russia to the port of Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. The control of this land would have brought majority of the Russian population under the German control.
German logistical problems, intelligence failure, and involvement of Hitler in the operations giving haphazard directives, ignoring the military advice and not sticking to objectives made a very plausible mission a failure. The Russian superior tank technology, will to fight, and adverse weather added to the German pain. In a classic way Russia has repeated each and every mistake in the present Ukraine war.
The US-Russia Game Plan And The Lingering Questions
The US has tactfully handled Russia without getting involved in a direct conflict. It has achieved the aim of convincing Sweden and Finland to join NATO (though there are many Erdogans between the cup and the lip). The situation pushed Georgia and Moldova to apply for the European Union membership formally. Countries in Central Asia also appear to be slowly distancing themselves from the Kremlin. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have maintained neutrality in the war. Tajikistan is specially warming up to US.
It is à la Taliban and déjà vu Afghanistan once again. The trap for Russia was set long time ago and Russia fell for it. In the end it is the chessboard between two giants, the United States and Russia. One has outmaneuvered the other repeatedly. Would that nation succeed this time around, only the time would tell.
Is Russia preparing for a long haul, smartly fighting Ukraine with old generation machinery and keeping the next-gen equipment for the bigger game or the reality is completely different? Should the West consider giving an honourable exit to Putin or let more pain be inflicted upon the Ukrainians? In the end, granting Ukraine the membership of NATO was never the aim. The United States had different sets of aims, and it is achieving them with ease.
“Alas, a team of pawns has been formed by the Ukrainians who have the ambition to reach the promotion square to become a ‘Queen’ one day.” ~ Insightful Geopolitics
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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