• 22 June, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

United States Outmanoeuvres Russia Once Again?

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Fri, 20 May 2022   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

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


A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.


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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Ashutosh Bahuguna

May 23, 2022
A good perspective . Russia weakened economically, American superiority restored , in spite of Biden, without shedding even a drop of blood, Ukraine just a collateral damage and finally the US arms industry the only winner

Harbir Singh Chahal

May 23, 2022
Very informative sir akin to your earlier articles. Russia Not likely to Bow Down easily..until it walks away appearing victorious and having achieved it's aims of territory grab and consolidation. Can Russia sustain this kind of Posturing and Rhetoric in coming months ..in this and other theatres or fronts..if they open up, remains to b seen

Kalidan Singh

May 22, 2022
Russia gave the US a great opportunity to weaken Russia for a long time. Ukrainians get up-to-date information about Russian troop movements and logistics (based on satellite data), they get up to date hand fired/shoulder fired missiles that make low flying aircraft, armored carriers, tanks pretty much useless. US intelligence tells Ukrainians where the ships are, where the generals are (so they can be eliminated). In the mean time, US has hurt Russian banking, and mineral exports, confiscated much of the oligarch's wealth. Whether US is engaged in a shooting match or not, US is weakening Russia beyond measure and making the best use of the opportunity presented to them. There is little Russia can do. The US is also benefitting with a united NATO, a Sweden and Finland wanting membership. No the EU alliance is not a military alliance, and can never be one. But it is clear that even Europeans don't trust European jets and munition. Member states are not buying French or British or Swedish built jets, they are placing orders for American built stealth aircraft, heavy bombers, drones, etc. Whatever Putin has in his mind or not, he has given US an opportunity to reassert its power again - just as it did after WWII. It is clear to the whole world that US is getting more powerful, and Russia less so. The exact same thing is going to happen to China. This time, the entire southeast Asia (and Asia Pacific) will seek refuge under the US-umbrella. Russia and China had a good thing going; but their obsession is their end.


May 22, 2022
Sandeep, Thank you for your informative article. It does update me on the scenario of Ukraine / Russia operation, as I have been busy with other works during the last few weeks. Congratulations 👏

Cdr Deepak Singh

May 21, 2022
Why doesn't Russia know what we discuss. There is something more than meets the eye. Something different going on?? Please read my comment on your article posted on WhatsApp. Your articles are so liked amongst youngsters in college, that I have requested you to share a few again, so that I can share. Waiting for your next article.

Rajesh Premani

May 21, 2022
I would like to correlate this article with a totally different perspective. Likewise, if godforsaken, a stalemate results into a war between India and China, I can vouch for this that China would have a bloody nose given their incompetence in handling the human element in their massive force, akin to the Russian defeat (even if partial) in the current war. Our forces fight with the element of serving their motherland foremost in their hearts, and not our of fear of the regime or the masters they are compelled to serve. A food for thought for the strategists to keen in mind. A wonderful and insightful analysis nevertheless. Thanks for sharing.

बी राजा

May 21, 2022
ऐतिहासिक रणनीतियों की ओर ध्यान आकर्षित करके इस लेख ने नए पाठकों को उत्साहित किया होगा विचारों के आधार पर युद्ध के विध्वंसात्मक फल को नाकारा नहीं जा सकता जिस प्रकार रूस के मन को पढ़ना मुश्किल है उसी प्रकार चीन के मन को पढ़ना असंभव है जबकि हमे आधुनिक युद्ध से शिक्षा लेनी है य़ह बात हमारे दिल और दिमाग पर भारी होनी चाहिए कि हमारा युद्धक्षेत्र बिल्कुल अलग है व्यवसाय वाणिज्य मुद्रा अर्थशास्त्र की प्रधानता को आपके लेखों में सम्मिलित करना अनिवार्य होगा

Rakesh P

May 21, 2022
Very informative and innovative approach. Thanks for sharing.

Wendell Bruges

May 21, 2022
This article was a complete lesson in strategy. I appreciate your research and hard work in bringing together so many aspects of war-making. A must-read for every student of war and strategy.

Alok Aditya

May 20, 2022
Like always, the author has come out with another well articulated article. However, this time, I felt that the author seems to be seeing the issue more from an American prism. Notwithstanding, keep up the good work...

Joseph Mathew

May 20, 2022
A well analyzed article. The Russians have apparently walked into a trap and have proved their military incompetence to the world. After this kind of performance against a 'military pygmy' nobody is going to consider the Russian military as the No2 military power in the world. NATO has gained two new aspiring members. Hike in NATO defence budget is likely. Western arms industry is expected to benefit from increased sales. Let us wait and watch.

M Thakur

May 20, 2022
Well analysed write up dada

Praveen Bhaik

May 20, 2022
Very detailed and informative. 👍👍

Sid Gupta

May 20, 2022
Great articulation. As always, love reading your research. Do some research on how the business and currencies realigning. A sift to Crypto as a currency is also evolving. Keep up the good work.

Capt(IN) Sanjay Jaiswal

May 20, 2022
A very well compiled article with excellent research Undertaken by the author. All aspects have been brought out in an explary manner. Good show

GP Singh

May 20, 2022
Sandeep has nicely analysed the messy situation in the region. It has serious lessons for others with territorial ambitions.

Cdr NK Kulkarni

May 20, 2022
This article reflects only the American point of view, with the sole aim to further just their own intrest, by under mining the Russians. Fact remains that the US & western countries would never contemplate any military action against the Soviets. Citing age old concepts of Ops Barobarossa is no good in present times. Warfare has progressed leaps & bounds in all arena's & the US should understand this. Russia has clearly not used its most potent weapons till now since ukraine is not considered a target worthy of such potent weapons. But the yanks know very well that the Russians would not hesitate to use it against them. To summarise, this article is more of a US propoganda to undermine the Russians & yet play safe

James Sebastian

May 20, 2022
A very current & upto date topic. Well written Cdr Sandeep.

Rajiv Gaur

May 20, 2022
Well analyzed article. US as usual playing its old game to increase its dominance in the world affairs. This may further boost strong alliance between China and Russia. Russian needs to modernize their weaponry and tactics as major wars can't be fought for very long duration as it effects world economy.

Ajay Vig

May 20, 2022
Sandy Very lucid articulation of an ongoing conflict. It traces the genesis and pronosticates the future


May 20, 2022
Great insight in the US gameplan to trap Russia into war and achieve its aim of convincing nearby nations still deliberating whether to join NATO or not to finally come on board and ask for NATO membership.

Captain PK Misra

May 20, 2022
Excellent article. It is still some time when we will learn full outcome of this war.

Rakesh Saxena

May 20, 2022
A very deft analysis of the clever US plan to incite and trap Russians into a no win situation. Yes the stark similarity between Barbarossa and the present trap is quite revealing. Russia however has control of Mariupol and that is some gain. A very insightful analysis of the war as it has so far been by Sandeep Dhawan

Gp Capt TR Ravi

May 20, 2022
"Russia fighting Ukraine with old generation machinery and keeping the next-gen equipment for the bigger game....." Statement reverberate absolute truth!!! Very interesting write up.... thanks dear Sandeep Sir

Gaurav Chaturvedi

May 20, 2022
An excellent and up to date summary combined with well analyzed objectives behind the action.The Russian slow paced ops remains a mystry ,whether deliberate or series of failures.Mor e needs to b seen.An excellent write up.Amust read for all those who r interested in world around us.

Ashish Popli

May 20, 2022
Sandeep has brought to fore more questions on the ongoing war. He's left it rightly at questions which will get answered in time...as to who ran circles around whom in the game between superpowers. Some things do look certain though..pitiable condition of Ukraine and it's citizens, China may take a relook at offensive postures on Taiwan and elsewhere. Overall, the balance is certainly tilted in favour of the stars and stripes ..period. Well researched article.. specially about the Suwalki Gap.

Hemraj Parmar

May 20, 2022
Excellent analysis!

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