BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettelfold caught up with Sibylline CEO Justin Crump to discuss the next phase of the Ukraine conflict.
The Russian Spring Offensive is already ramping up and building in strength. This offensive will see as many as 300,000 extra conscripts and associated equipment ranged against a Ukraine army which although well dug in and defended is still short of the crucial armoured and artillery strength not only to defeat the new offensive but to launch its own Spring Offensive to drive Russian troops out of the conquered regions.
The positive comments last year that the successful Ukraine offensive would result in a Russian defeat and a peace deal have now been tempered with the realisation that President Putin is in no position to make any deals and that Ukraine is in desperate need of new equipment to complete the job.
Will President Zelensky be satisfied with the mooted German Peace Deal for Russia to retain the land taken since 2014, including Crimea? After all the Donbas Region has always been regarded as pro-Russian given its long-standing treatment by the Ukraine government as ‘The poor relation.’
Will Ukraine delay its Spring Offensive, as requested by the Allies to ensure the proper training and troop build-up or will it change tactics and draw Russia into a protracted and extended war into Kiev to lengthen and weaken supply lines, resulting in a Stalingrad-like defat for Russia with the obvious consequences for Russia and President Putin in particular? Russia already has a long border to police with regular incursions by Ukraine’s Special Forces and patriots.
If Russia fails, will there be a revolt by the Army as occurred in 1917 which would bring Putin and the government down and end the war immediately?
“How do you see the war going from now on?”
The Editor asked Justin Crump.
“Well it’s in line with what we have long been saying about the course of events. Russia has been trying to wear down Ukrainian forces through attrition especially around Bakhmut, largely unsuccessfully. Ukraine still has significant reserves and is building and training more to a higher combined arms standard, albeit still operating largely no higher than Brigade level.
Russian small unit effectiveness improved and better with aviation and EW, but still constrained and slow to coordinate at higher levels. There I no likelihood with current forces of an operational manoeuvre group breakthrough – the strategy of house/field/wood line at a time is the way for them; usually with heavy losses.”
“Does Ukraine hold enough Reserves to stem the Offensive?”
“Ukraine holds significant reserves in Zaporizhzhia either to threaten an attack or repel an offensive, from here they can also move east. Russia is on the defensive here, given critical threat to cut them in half, or deny logistics East to West, in addition, Crimea must be protected at all costs.”
“How do you see the Russian Spring Offensive progressing?”
“The Russian offensive plans are probably over ambitious for capability of forces available – being over-stated by commanders under political pressure.
So, they have more but on average lower quality, against which some lessons are being learned the hard way, and they’ll continue to trudge on in a very Russian manner.
“Let’s not forget though that the Ukrainians also have a resilient heritage of digging in and are better cared for and continue to receive significant support – even if not all they’d wish for. In addition, they are better across the moral and conceptual components of fighting power; increased support needs to be talked about and executed by the Allies.”
“Has Russia carried the proper intelligence assessment to ensure succsess?”
“Russia is going earlier than really ready on a political offensive with inadequate intelligence on their own capabilities. This will likely grind Ukraine back but probably not enough to require significant deployment of reserves. Ukraine can still trade space if required. Bakhmut, then Siversk, then Lyman, before you get to the Konstantiivka- Kramatorsk – Sloviansk conurbation, which is a much tougher nut to crack.”
“If Russia fails how do you see the reaction from Ukraine?”
“Once Russia culminates then Ukraine can push back in better conditions in March and April. Obviously this will be costly and against harder targets but where Russia has advanced they will be more vulnerable than where big defensive lines are created. Of course, fixed defences manned by conscripts and others cut both ways; if bypassed then will wither and the advance will increase in tempo.”
“Is this the tipping point in favour of Ukraine as discussed by many pundits and politicians?”
“I think you are right, but Ukraine hasn’t yet reached the place where it has to make big trades. If we assume the main Russian effort will come in Luhansk/Donetsk then they have scope to hold and bleed them out 1985 style, just over a much longer period. But could lose lots of ground and be weekend militarily and strategically.”
“Are there any sign that Russia will capitulate in order to retain the ground it already hods?”
“The issue is that Russia won’t give up, and I’m not sure how successful a Ukrainian offensive will be this time. The reality is that Russia doesn’t lose but might pay too high a price for marginal gains as in the Donbas. Also, this implies the fighting will continue in some form for many years, Ukraine wanting territory back, Russia utilising a frozen conflict. Then we are into how long Russia can survive sanctions – which I’m afraid might be indefinitely if you consider similar examples such as Iran and North Korea, and the people at least somewhat in their corner. This is also too useful for China and others as leverage, they’ll keep them going even if only as a useful semi vassal in all but name.”
“What will happen in the event of a Russian collapse?”
“A Russian collapse, on the other hand, will potentially lead to chaos across much of Eurasia and that abs cascading consequences too.”
“Does this show the wider issues of lack of European defence policy in Eastern Europe?”
“Sadly no, lessons for defence are not going anywhere as a priority and the UK is too far behind the curve and unsure what to do with limited and stretched budgets. Arguably, give Ukraine, everything now should be aimed at trying to end this fast – while rearming – but that’s not going to happen.”
“Thank you Justin for an excellent and concise analysis as ever.”
In the excellent bi-weekly Sibylline 1600 online brief on February 13th, Justin Crump confirmed that although the Russians are reported to be losing 824 men per day and on one front 120 vehicles and 30 tanks, they are in tis for the long term and are prepared to take the war into late summer and beyond. Their ‘Grinding’ tactics are relying on the inability of Ukraine to obtain sufficient ammunition to return the sustained Russian artillery bombardment.
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