Ukraine: “The Russians were not ready for a high-intensity war”

On March 23, Volodymyr Zelensky continues his virtual world tour of Western parliaments. After Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, the Ukrainian president addressed the French deputies and senators. “February 24 put an end to the efforts for peace, crossed out the word dialogue and European relations with Russia,” he explains. A month ago, the Russian armed forces launched an assault on Ukraine to “denazify” and demilitarize the country. For FRS Foundation researcher Vincent Tourret, Vladimir Putin’s blitzkrieg hopes have evaporated. Ill-prepared for a high-intensity war, the Russian army is slipping in the face of unexpected Ukrainian resistance.

After a month of war, the situation on the front line has stabilized. Are we entering a phase of reorganization, a less intense phase of the conflict?

The Russians were obviously not ready for high intensity warfare and major combat operations. They thought that Ukraine was an artificial state and that its people would welcome its soldiers as liberators. The military plan centered on a rapid airmobile assault by its special forces to decapitate the Ukrainian government in the early days, a plan which if executed would have facilitated the takeover of the rest of Ukraine by Russian conventional forces. .

The failure of their initial plan obliges them to rearticulate, to reorganize their extremely rigid system. The Russian army is now trying to use all the military means at its disposal. Moscow seeks to compensate for the numerical weakness of its armed forces by resorting to its massive firepower, far superior to that of the Ukrainians. We are witnessing a period of procrastination of a disorganized army which entered Ukraine in shambles.

North of kyiv, the Russian units are trying to defend their territorial gains, very fragmented positions without much geographical continuity. Where things are moving is in the Donbass, the Russians are trying to break through to undertake encirclements but it is still very hypothetical. The Russian army set a lot of goals, but did not necessarily concentrate its efforts to achieve them and did not expect much resistance. In the future, one can imagine a more sequential military action. By bringing down Mariupol, the Russians could, for example, redeploy units to other sectors. It is also a symbolic city which has already resisted in 2014, it is still resisting today and concentrates a lot of military resources.

In the direction of Odessa (note, Kherson oblast), this is where the advance was the fastest and the most significant territorial gains. The Russian army has great difficulty in ensuring control of these territories. On social networks, videos reveal important demonstrations in Kherson. The Ukrainian units stand up to the Russians and carry out counter-offensives. The front is very volatile. This volatility demonstrates the fragility and elongation of the Russian military system. Russian intentions are to push further east but I don’t see how they can carry out these projects. They are consumed by the kilometers and the wear and tear of the terrain.

This change of tactics translated by the massive use of artillery, does it not risk multiplying humanitarian disasters?

The Russian army revolves around its artillery and the speed of its tanks. It is also the army of indirect fire (note, shooting at a non-visible target). The military scenario that will unfold in Ukraine is close to what happened in Syria: manoeuvre, encirclement and destruction. The Russian army will act in sequence by besieging the Ukrainian cities, one after the other. It will be Mariupol elsewhere. At the start of a siege, the goal for the Russians is to destroy the sustainability of civilian life. The military targets first and foremost governance infrastructures, civil security and health services. The idea is to scare away the population, the fewer inhabitants you have, the more the urban center is easily taken by the besiegers. This tactic subjects the defender to a double pressure: to provide for his own military needs and to meet the growing needs of the civilian populations present on the spot. It is a brutal calculation.

On March 22, a pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) media revealed on its website the losses suffered by the Russian army and mentioned the number of 9,861 killed and 16,153 wounded since the start of the offensive. According to the Pentagon, this would correspond to a fifth of the personnel deployed. How can Russia replace these losses without harming its effectiveness?

The army of the Russian Federation is no longer the Soviet army and no longer has this human mass. It has modernized its resources and reduced its workforce since the end of the Cold War. 80% of employable Russian forces are deployed in Ukraine and it is estimated that between 120,000 and 130,000 men are present in the Ukrainian action zones. It is plausible that the Russian losses are difficult to replace. Russia has limited operational reserves to continue the offensive. The country very recently constituted this operational reserve and it seems that a large part of these troops are already engaged.

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Moscow will have to find a way to fill the ranks. They can undertake a new mobilization by resorting to new age groups, but this risks threatening the social balance and pushing the Russians to revolt. To maintain its operational efficiency without jeopardizing this balance, Moscow is fighting with Chechen auxiliaries and launching appeals to its Syrian allies.

The economic sanctions put in place by the West are disrupting the supply of spare parts and components, can the Russian arms industry resupply its units under these conditions?

In the short term, the sanctions have little consequence. The Russian army will not face a shortage in the coming weeks and will manage to maintain its operational capacity. Russia has a massive fleet and can count on more than 2,000 active tanks. We are already observing on social networks the delivery of this material to the affected units. In the long term, however, there is a risk of deep and significant disorganization of the productive apparatus.

Since the start of the fighting at the end of February, there has been strong Ukrainian resistance. With the exception of Kherson and the towns of Donbass controlled by the separatists before the outbreak of hostilities, the major towns of the country are still escaping Russian units. Is this Ukrainian resistance unexpected?

What is surprising is the effectiveness of the Ukrainian army, which outperforms the underperforming Russians. Since the start of hostilities, Ukraine has benefited from massive support from Western countries, and the weapons delivered play a major role in the effectiveness of its armed forces. We must also take into account a factor that is not often put forward, the intelligence provided by NATO and foreign countries allows the Ukrainian general staff to maximize and optimize its means on the front line. . The Ukrainian army has also undertaken tactical innovations on the front line. It has achieved an important network of its territory with very skilful units oriented towards maneuver. She put the package on the territorial defense with an effective light infantry which causes important losses.

This war is for the Ukrainians, a national war, of defense and survival against a foreign invasion. In history, we observe that this type of conflict has a significant mobilizing effect on the attacked populations. Carl von Clausewitz explains that the defensive is superior to the offensive because of the political advantages it provides. To take a sports illustration, Ukraine is fighting at home against an opponent who has less intelligence, suffers from logistical problems and does not enjoy the support of the local population. The defenders have a significant psychological ascendancy. This conflict will consolidate the cement of national unity and mark a break with Russia.

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