The military strategies of Ukraine and Russia in their full-fledged war. From what points did the counterparts start, and how did the strategy change during the war. I spent two weeks in Donbas, a full-scale war zone. I spoke to many military men of different ranks. We were discussing both Russian and Ukrainian military strategies during this war. Indeed, each has its point of view about the course of events. So I decided to compile down everything I’ve heard in one text.
It’s no secret that Russians were going to seize the capital of Ukraine – Kyiv within 72 hours, and in 21 days, they planned to destroy the whole Ukrainian army and announce Ukraine’s total surrender.
For that reason, the Russians launched an offensive using archaic Soviet military perceptions they had while conducting the offensive operations. Namely, they started the offensive from multiple fronts, attempting to encircle Ukrainian forces. For example, they were moving from Crimea aimed at seizing Kherson and Melitopol, from the territory of Belarus in the direction of Chernihiv and Kyiv, from the Sumy region to Kyiv and Kharkiv, and finally from the territory of the so-called “LDNR” (Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, collectively, two occupied regions of Ukraine) to Kharkiv and unoccupied territory of Donbas.
At the same time, Russians tried to carry out an air assault, landing its troops at Hostomel airfield as well as Vasylkiv air base, just 25 km away from Kyiv. But fortunately, none of their plans worked out as Russia lost the battles being wiped out by the Ukrainian army, so they had to develop a contingency plan.
Strategy at the beginning of the war
In the first stage, the Russians concentrated all their efforts on seizing Kyiv. However, as I have already mentioned, the use of outdated soviet warfare technologies played its role. Moreover, Ukrainian soldiers were tactically retreating, thus maximally drawing Russian troops into the depths of the country.
When the supply lines of Russian troops stretched for more than 100 km, Special Operation Forces, together with the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s artillery, started destroying convoys with fuel supply. Everyone knows that the Soviet military equipment (tanks and armoured personnel carriers) without fuel – is just a useless pile of metal.
After a month of tense fighting near Kyiv, the Russian forces sustained huge losses in personnel and equipment. Their military leadership understood that they could lose all their combat-ready army after a month or two of such battles. Therefore, Russian troops received an order to withdraw from the territory of Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv regions. To cut a long story short, the Russians failed in the Battle of Kyiv, due to the long “logistical leg”. They are simply unable to fight without the use of a railway. The depth of their advance depends on the presence of iron tracks. The Russian military cannot carry out its operational and tactical tasks without a railway.
In the second stage, Russians announced their significantly less ambitious goal – fully seize Donbas. Russians deployed those units, who were withdrawn from the territory of Kyiv, to strengthen its group of troops in this direction. So, the main front was the offensive on Izium in the Kharkiv region and Huliaipole in the Zaporizhzhia region. These joint actions aimed to control the Ukrainian army based in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Unfortunately, even though the Russians managed to take Izium, they still could not make decisive progress and move forward. Their offensive near Huliaipole failed even to start.
Ukrainian artillery and aviation, the Russians kind of “eliminated” in the first days of the war, were constantly destroying Russian convoys of equipment. As a result, Russian soldiers were again stuck in the local battles. So, considering the significant losses, the Russians had to adjust their military strategical plans. Now they want to seize at least the Luhansk region. To do that, they need to take control over two cities – Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Intense battles have continued since the beginning of the Russian invasion, but the Ukrainian military tactically retreated to the new lines of defence. Battles for Severodonetsk started in the middle of April.
Change of strategy: Armed Forces of Ukraine/Russia
After the defeat in the battle for Kyiv, the Russians significantly changed their strategic plans. If earlier they just wanted to capture the territory of Ukraine, now the Russians are already purposefully trying to destroy the Ukrainian army in the bloody battles in the Donbas because that’s where the most capable Ukrainian military units were located.
Russians make everything possible to “grind” the most experienced Ukrainian contract servicemen on the battlefield. Clearly, Ukraine will not be able to quickly staff the army with such experienced people with a proper military background. And it will lead to the collapse of Ukraine’s defence sooner or later. At the same time, this strategy has its disadvantages because the Russian army is also suffering significant losses among these experienced combatants. Ukrainians are massively destroying experienced Russian pilots, tankers, and paratroopers, so it is very unlikely that Russians will be able to replace them quickly and properly.
In Donbas, the Russians kept shooting themselves in the foot, as they did in the first stage of the war – trying to advance from different fronts. Important to mention that they have achieved some tactical success due to the combination of three factors: short “logistical leg”, peculiarities of the landscape, and the number of weapons and ammunition. So, let’s start with the first key factor – logistics. When Russians were attacking Kyiv from the territory of Belarus via the territory of Sumy and Chernihiv regions, they had to use the regular road.
Ukrainian soldiers were blowing up the bridges, arranging ambushes, and destroying convoys with fuel and lubricants. As a result, Russian soldiers were cut off from the on-time delivery of everything needed and finally didn’t succeed with their plan to seize the capital of Ukraine. In Donbas situation is totally different: Russians are using the railway in the so-called “LDNR” to the full for delivering military equipment, ammunition, and personnel. It enables them to draw on military reserves and provide the continuity of artillery work regardless of the quality of the roads and weather conditions.
The second is the peculiarities of the landscape. Donbas has mostly flat terrain and large urban areas compared to the wooded area in Northern Ukraine. This means the Ukrainian army doesn’t have such natural concealment and protection as the forest on this territory. The only place where Ukrainian soldiers could consolidate were cities, but Russians kept striking at Ukrainian cities with massive artillery.
The third factor is the considerable advantage of the Russians in terms of the amount of artillery together with multiple rocket launchers. Indeed, it is far from what they have expected to achieve. After all, in 3 months of the full-scale war, they moved 30-40 forward. Therefore, you can hardly call it a great success.
The Ukrainian Army is also applying a new tactic. Even though Russia outnumbers Ukraine in manpower and weapons, they suffer many tactical defeats in Eastern Ukraine. For instance, the Armed Forces of Ukraine let Russians enter Severodonetsk and then started to destroy their best units in street battles systematically. As a result, the Russians were trapped since they were both stuck in the unknown city and deprived of their own artillery support. Also, Russian artillery is now very inaccurate, and the probability of Russians hitting their own people is quite high. So now Russians have no idea what to do with Severodonetsk. They failed to take the city in one fell swoop as well as they could not bypass it. Therefore, the Russians are forced to keep a considerable grouping of troops in this direction.
One more factor starting to play a key role is military aid from the West, such as modern heavy artillery systems. The effectiveness of Western artillery compared to the Soviet-type ones, which Ukrainian and Russian forces armed with, is just tremendous. For example, it took more than 400 artillery shells and 3 hours of work for Ukrainian Soviet-type artillery to destroy the Russian pontoon bridge and over 70 items of armoured vehicles near the Bilohorivka village, not far from Severodonetsk. At the same time, the Ukrainian battalion equipped with American howitzers M777 used more than 100 artillery shells and 20 minutes to destroy a similar pontoon and the same number of vehicles. The difference is noticeable.
Siverskyi Donets river plays a significant role in the enemy’s deterrence, serving as a natural barrier for the Russian offensive. But, as it has turned out, it is a big problem for Russia to cross the river. They simply do not know how to do that.
Few words about the “Harpoon” anti-ship missile, which are sort of aimed at solving a problem with the Ukrainian seaports blockade. Indeed, the Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports may lead to a world food crisis. However, it is less likely that “Harpoons” will solve this problem since they reach the only naval target, while Russians also have submarines and aviation, able to destroy convoys with grain.
Finally, Putin seeks to create a precedent that would help him mobilize the entire male population of the “LDNR” to the war under the pretext of protecting their “homeland” and the “Russian world”. What Russia does now – is simply moving to the systematic practice of terror in the occupied territories of Ukraine in order to ultimately demoralize the people living there and shift the blame for the war crimes committed by the Russian army onto Ukraine.
Massive shelling, resulting in destruction and human casualties, is evidence that Russia doesn’t care about these people: Putin sees them as “expendables” on a path to achieving his imperial goals, and the last thing Russia is going to do is protect them. However, it is due to Russia that these “republics” are facing a demographic catastrophe, destruction of infrastructure, outflow of refugees, and the evaporation of the last remaining economic capacities.
Anyway, the bitter truth is better than sweet lies. While the West is starting to feel Ukrainian fatigue, Russia continues the devastating war in Ukraine with no intention of sitting down at the negotiating table. Yet the Ukrainian army is bravely defeating and restraining Russia.