When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, he believed that a quick victory was at hand. Within a few days, his forces would topple the Ukrainian government, and the Ukrainian people would flock to him, thankful for their liberation.
On paper, that was the plan.
After nearly two months, thousands of Russian troops killed, and thousands of destroyed tanks, aircraft, and vehicles, the Russian leader has had to reconsider his battle plans and goals.
The new Russian plan
On Friday, a top Russian general went public with the Kremlin’s plans for the second phase of its “special military operation.”
Major General Rustam Minnekaev, the acting commander of the Central Military District, said that the Russian military’s goals are to establish full control over the Donbas and south Ukraine, creating a land corridor with annexed Crimea.
“Since the beginning of the second phase of the special operation, it has already begun literally two days ago, one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbass and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to the Crimea, as well as influence the vital objects of the Ukrainian economy,” the Russian flag officer said at the annual meeting of the Union of Defense Industries of the Sverdlovsk Region.
But how well the Russian military can achieve the new plan is doubtful.
In its daily estimate of the war, the British Ministry of Defense assessed that the situation in the Donbas is still very much contested. The Russian forces are advancing toward several urban hubs, but they are plagued by casualties and logistical issues.
In Mariupol, the decision not to attack the Azovstal steel plant was most likely taken to avoid more Russian casualties. The Russian military has dedicated approximately 12 battalion tactical groups, or 12,000 men, to the siege of the city.
“Putin’s decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. A full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.
“In the eastern Donbas, heavy shelling and fighting continues as Russia seeks to advance further towards settlements including Krasnyy Lyman, Buhayikva, Barvinkove, Lyman and Popasna as part of their plans for the region. Despite Russia’s renewed focus they are still suffering from losses sustained earlier in the conflict. In order to try and reconstitute their depleted forces, they have resorted to transiting inoperable equipment back to Russia for repair,” the British Military Intelligence added.
But the Russian aspirations aren’t limited to south Ukraine alone. According to the Russian flag officer, the Kremlin wants to reach Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway province in Moldova, in order to “free” the Russian-speaking population that is being “oppressed.”
To achieve that, however, the Russian military would have to capture Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and its biggest port. For the past two months, Odesa has been preparing for a Russian attack. Judging by the performance of the Russian military thus far, it is highly doubtful that it would be able to capture such a major and well-defended urban center.
The Ukrainian military is getting stronger by the day with constant shipments of weapons from the U.S. and the European Union. The Pentagon assessed that for the first time since the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian military has more tanks on the ground than the Russian forces. That is a significant milestone and a material explainer of how the war has gone for Moscow so far. And despite the continuous funnel of U.S. security aid to Ukraine, Russia hasn’t reacted too aggressively.
“Putin had most likely priced in Western lethal aid to Ukraine. Some have argued that U.S. lethal aid to Kyiv prompted Putin to invade, fearing Ukraine would be more capable of asserting itself with Western arms, so he invaded,” former CIA Russia analyst Michael E. van Landingham told Sandboxx News.
“Well, that invasion created space for more arms, and the west has been circumspect about supplying some things like fighter aircraft. In other ways, Washington has been very in your face about arms shipments, but Moscow shouldn’t be surprised,” van Landingham who is also the founder of Active Measures, LLC, a research firm, added.
On the opposite side, the Russian forces continue to bleed men and materiel on the Ukrainian fields. Without a general mobilization, the Russian military simply doesn’t have the manpower and capabilities to achieve the Kremlin’s ambitious goals in southern Ukraine.
Judging by how the Russian military launched its renewed offensive in the east, it seems that it might be on a timetable. Instead of waiting for all of its forces that were fighting in the north of Ukraine, Moscow launched its offensive with what it could put together in the region.
May is approaching, and with it comes “Victory Day,” the annual celebration of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany on the ninth of the month.
“Russian military leaders would be foolish to think they’ll finish up combat by 9 May. Of course, the Russian political leadership of this conflict has been foolhardy since the start, so perhaps they believe they will be able to declare victory on 9 May. For example, Putin declared victory in Mariupol. Maybe there will be a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment,” the former CIA analyst said.
A plan that failed
By now, the whole world understands that Putin’s gamble in Ukraine has failed. The Ukrainian government didn’t fall, and the Ukrainian people are now united against the Russian invaders. Meanwhile, NATO is stronger than ever and is looking to add two new members, Sweden and Finland, which for decades had been non-aligned.
The new Russian plan sounds lofty as the previous. It remains to be seen if it will have the same fate as its predecessors.