Combat continues even as conflict has subsided enough for UK PM Boris Johnson to stroll in Kyiv with Zelensky. The UK seems to have approved the delivery of anti-ship missiles. The transfer of Slovak S-300 missile systems to Ukraine also comes with the move of a US Patriot missile system to backfill one of a number of transfers. The Pentagon assesses that the war will be more intense, “a closer fight” or a “knife fight” as the action shifts more to the East and South. Considering the conflict from 2014, driving Russian military influence completely from Ukraine might be impossible, placing more emphasis on the need for diplomacy even as weapons are the primary Ukrainian need.
- Russia is unlikely to be able to mass combat power for the fight in eastern Ukraine proportionate to the number of troops and battalion tactical groups it sends there.
- The Russian military continues to suffer from devastating morale, recruitment, and retention problems that seriously undermine its ability to fight effectively.
The outcome of forthcoming Russian operations in eastern Ukraine remains very much in question.
We assess that the Russian military will struggle to amass a large and combat-capable force of mechanized units to operate in Donbas within the next few months. Russia will likely continue to throw badly damaged and partially reconstituted units piecemeal into offensive operations that make limited gains at great cost. The Russians likely will make gains nevertheless and may either trap or wear down Ukrainian forces enough to secure much of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but it is at least equally likely that these Russian offensives will culminate before reaching their objectives, as similar Russian operations have done.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) reported on April 8 that the Russian armed forces have lost 15-20 percent of the “combat power” they had arrayed against Ukraine before the invasion. This statement is somewhat (unintentionally) misleading because it uses the phrase “combat power” loosely. The US DoD statements about Russian “combat power” appear to refer to the percentage of troops mobilized for the invasion that are still in principle available for fighting—that is, that are still alive, not badly injured, and with their units. But “combat power” means much more than that. US Army doctrine defines combat power as “the total means of destructive, constructive, and information capabilities that a military unit or formation can apply at a given time.” It identifies eight elements of combat power: “leadership, information, command and control, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment, and protection.” This doctrinal definition obviously encompasses much more than the total number of troops physically present with units and is one of the keys to understanding why Russian forces have performed so poorly in this war despite their large numerical advantage. It is also the key to understanding the evolving next phase of the war.
US DoD statements that Russia retains 80-85 percent of its original mobilized combat power unintentionally exaggerate the Russian military’s current capabilities to fight. Such statements taken in isolation are inherently ambiguous, for one thing. They could mean that 80-85 percent of the Russian units originally mobilized to fight in Ukraine remain intact and ready for action while 15-20 percent have been destroyed. Were that the case, Russia would have tremendous remaining combat power to hurl against Ukraine. Or, they could mean that all the Russian units mobilized to invade Ukraine have each suffered 15-20 percent casualties, which would point to a greatly decreased Russian offensive capacity, as such casualty levels severely degrade the effectiveness of most military units. The reality, as DoD briefers and other evidence make clear, is more complicated, and paints a grim picture for Russian commanders contemplating renewing major offensive operations.
ISW has updated its assessment of the four primary efforts Russian forces are engaged in at this time:
- Main effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate supporting efforts);
- Supporting effort 1—Kharkiv and Izyum;
- Supporting effort 2—Southern axis;
- Supporting effort 3—Sumy and northeastern Ukraine.
Main effort—Eastern Ukraine
Subordinate main effort—Mariupol (Russian objective: Capture Mariupol and reduce the Ukrainian defenders)
The Pentagon is “not buying” Russia’s denial that they are responsible for a missile strike on a train station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, that killed dozens of civilians today, the senior U.S. defense official says.
- The Pentagon assesses the missile is an SS-21, a NATO designation for a Tochka short-range ballistic missile variant.
- The train station attacked today in Ukraine is a “major rail hub” with strategic value, given its location in eastern Europe, senior U.S. defense official says.
- Ukrainian forces continue to search areas north of Kyiv, which Russia just vacated, and have launched a “judicious” de-mining effort there.
- Both sides have used land mines, Gen. Milley testified yesterday.
- Mariupol still under siege and getting bombarded, senior defense official says. The majority of strikes in the last 24 hours have been there in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, official adds.
- Kharkiv is still “being fought over.” Izyum, too. Also fighting around Micholeiv, though the Pentagon does not assess that Russia occupies that town.
- Russian forces that have withdrawn from northern Ukraine are still moving to both Belarus and western Russia. Units are going to both Belgorad and Valuyki, Russian towns near the border with Ukraine.
- “We think that that area is going to serve as one of these resupply-refit areas for these troops, and we have some indications that some units are moving in that direction as we speak,” senior defense official says of Belgorad and Valuyki.
- Valuyki, Russia, would likely be used by the Russians as a launching pad directly south into the Donbas region of Ukraine, senior U.S. defense official says.
- The Pentagon assesses that Russia has “not solved of their logistics and sustainment problems” and that those problems “existed outside Ukraine and still exist,” senior U.S. defense official says.
- Some Russian units are “much more devastated than others.”
- That said, Pentagon assesses that the number of Russian battalion tactical groups in eastern Ukraine has ticked up from about 30 to 40 in recent days.
- That’s nebulous, but it signals a potential increase of thousands troops already.
- Can the Russians actually seize the Donbas? Senior U.S. defense official says it would be “imprudent” to make a prediction.
- “I think we need to remember that the Ukrainians get a vote here and that they have been very successful on the ground.”
- While there has been lots of attention on large weapons systems, Ukraine sees the small-arms ammunition they are receiving as a “lifeblood,” senior U.S. defense official says.
- A prediction on the fight ahead in the Donbas:
- “This will be a knife fight. This could be very ugly and very bloody,” senior U.S. defense official says.
- As of Friday, Russia has launched more than 1,500 missiles at Ukraine since its invasion began Feb. 24, Pentagon says.
- And, worth a read:
- Nine ways Russia botched its invasion of Ukraine
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US Pentagon PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things at the top. I think you all saw the secretary's statement expressing our gratitude to the government of Slovakia for their willingness to transfer an S-300 air defense missile system to Ukraine. In that statement, he also talked about our ability, willingness, and upcoming provision of a temporary deployment of a Patriot system into Slovakia so that their air defense can be preserved. It's part and parcel of the larger effort that we've been doing now for quite some time to bolster NATO's eastern flank and improve our deterrence and defense capabilities there.
This is a temporary deployment of a Patriot system, while we continue to consult and talk to the Slovakian government about more longer-term solutions. I don't have those solutions to speak to today or what that might look like. I can't give you an exact timeframe for how long this temporary deployment will occur. We'll be working this in real-time and iteratively with the government of Slovakia, but we're grateful for their willingness to help out Ukraine with this critical need, particularly as the war in Ukraine now enters a new timeframe here, a new phase if you will with a stronger focus by the Russians on the Donbas. I know that you all have been covering the missile strike that occurred Kramatorsk. Sorry, I probably messed that up, but the train station there in the Donbas.
We find unconvincing Russian claims that they weren't involved, particularly when the ministry actually announced it. And then, when they saw reports of civilian casualties decide to unannounce it. So, our assessment is that this was a Russian strike and that they used the short-range ballistic missile to conduct it. And you've seen the reports for yourselves. Many of your colleagues have been reporting it from on the ground that there are civilian casualties there. It is, again, of a piece of Russian brutality in the prosecution of this war, and their carelessness for trying to avoid civilian harm.
Q: That's -- well, anyway, as General Milley said yesterday, the action is going to be shifting to the Donbas region, which is a different terrain than much of Ukraine, and it was the scene during World War Two of huge tank battles and armored battles. From a strategic point of view, bullets are great; and a lot of javelins are on the way. But does this give the Russians now an advantage in the sense that they do have more armor than Ukrainians? And this is a terrain made for armored fighting?
MR. KIRBY: So, this is a more confined geographic area. I am not a topographical expert. I'm certainly not an expert in land warfare. And yes, while I taught history, it was naval history. So, I want to stay inside my lanes here.
What I can -- and I don't want to be, and I don't think we should be predictive about what the outcome is going to be. But there's -- I think what the chairman was really getting at, and he was absolutely right to do this, was to provide a sense of the potential here for the conflict to increase in intensity and to be prolonged. And I think that's really the larger point he was trying to make. Because now the Russians are going to be concentrating their available combat power, and they still have the vast majority of their combat power still available to them, Tom. They're going to be concentrating that now in a more confined, smaller geographic area.
So, they -- you know, earlier on in this invasion, they were working on three massively separate lines of access: south, east, northeast, north, northwest, right? They divided the massive force, but they divided it on three big lines of access, and now we're going to see that they're going to concentrate on smaller, fewer lines of access and a smaller geographic area. So, still, a lot of combat power to be applied in a smaller part of the country. Again, I'm not an expert on the geography here, but just looking at it on a map, you can see that they will be able to bring to bear a lot more power in a lot more concentrated fashion.
That said, and this is not unimportant, the Ukrainians have also been fighting hard in Donbas for the last eight years. The Ukrainians are certainly familiar with the terrain, the topography, and -- and the cities and towns and the roads and the railways. And I mean, this is their home. And as we have seen in the last -- well, last few weeks, but certainly last several days, as the Russians have concentrated more effort there. The Ukrainians are fighting back just as hard and will be working just as hard to continue to defend themselves there. And again, our support is of a piece of this as we continue to talk with them about what they need for this closer fight, if you will, we're going to continue to try to support them in that.
The ghosts of Iraq have since haunted discussions about using intelligence in public - but Ukraine offered an opportunity to try to put that legacy to bed. New procedures had been put in place to ensure secret information went through a strict assessment process to govern how it could be used.
Other allies were also briefed. But many remained sceptical. Because the source of the intelligence could not be shared it was sometimes hard to overcome this incredulity, one official says.
Some European partners did not buy the analysis that Russia's build-up was anything more than bluff. A scepticism about Anglo-American intelligence was also another legacy of Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction. France has recently sacked its head of military intelligence for failing to appreciate what was being planned.
The fear for spies in publicising material is that this tips off the other side that they have a leak and potentially closes off that source. This was why, in World War Two, the UK kept the secret of Bletchley Park so tightly. There have been other occasions since Iraq when intelligence has been made public, for instance over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but never on the scale seen over Ukraine.
The release included the UK sharing details of Russian plans to install specific individuals as part of a puppet government in Kyiv - and Washington revealing plans by Moscow to stage pretexts for war, so-called false flags, involving dead bodies whom they would falsely claim had been killed by Ukrainians.
American and British spies both believe that publicising this material robbed Moscow of the ability to justify the invasion to its own people and other countries as a defensive move.
One spy says of those days before the invasion that he had never seen anything like it - highly classified material would be on his desk one day and then emerge in the public domain the next.
But the unprecedented outpouring of intelligence was not enough to stop the invasion.
The public release had not deterred Moscow. That may never have been possible but officials believe it did disrupt Russia's plans. And it meant the reaction across the West was swifter and more unified than it might otherwise have been, they argue.
They say they made it much easier for other countries to rally round tougher measures than if there had been a confused and disputed picture of who was the real aggressor.
The release has continued after the invasion in speeches, statements and briefings - the head of GCHQ claimed just over a week ago that Putin was still not getting the full picture from his own officials and there have been warnings of possible "false flag" use of chemical weapons.
There is also a recognition of a new world in which so-called open-source intelligence - things like commercial satellite imagery and data - has made it more possible to verify or support assertions and that fighting an information war - including through intelligence - is now vital, partly to counter Russian assertions.
On one level, much of the intelligence was spot-on. There was, as forecast, a full invasion from multiple directions with the purpose of toppling and replacing the Zelensky government.
Western spies also correctly predicted that Moscow had misplaced confidence about the reception it would encounter. "They genuinely believed there would be flags out to welcome them," says a Western intelligence officer.
But one assumption did prove wrong - that Moscow's military would prevail in a matter of weeks. Instead, the war would not turn out as many expected, with Ukraine outperforming militarily while Russia underperformed.
- When Russian missiles hit my hometown of Odesa on Feb 24, my mom jumped on the first bus out of the country. Her obvious destination was Moldova—because of geographical proximity, but also, because our family lived there until 1995 when we moved to Ukraine.
- My mom has a network of friends there—Russian-speakers who, unlike our family, still live in Moldova. From the bus, she called her old friend—I’ll call her Tanya—who still lives in Moldova, and asked if she could spend the night—she could only find a hotel room for the day after.
- Tanya was irritated. It was her birthday, and my mom’s unexpected visit was at an bad time. The Russian invasion shook up the entire world, forcing millions of Ukrainians to walk over the border with Moldova in the middle of winter—and Tanya was having a party!
- Tanya is not a monster (at least not fulltime)—she is a highly educated woman that plays the piano and casually quotes Russian literature in everyday conversations. But if you ask her about the Bucha massacre, she’ll tell you it didn’t happen.
- There are millions like her in Moldova, Ukraine, Russia itself, and even in Western countries like Germany, Canada and the US. We call them the "deceived generation," the last victims of Soviet propaganda.
- The break-up of the USSR marked the start of nation-building (actually re-building), pitting Russian minorities against the ethnic majorities. After more than 50 years of repression (think Bucha), the ethnic majorities finally got a say in the politics of their own states.
- This nation-building consisted of downplaying or outright rejecting everything Soviet (read Russian) in favor of national (Moldovan, Ukrainian), and the corresponding change in the distribution of power and wealth.
- All of a sudden, ethnic Russians who refused to learn the national language, started getting passed over for promotions in favor of those (including ethnic Russians) who spoke the national language.
- In Moldova where I lived, everything around me—TV programming, store signs, street signs, and ever street names—changed from Russian to Romanian.
- Other changes included an increase in the hours of Romanian (in schools for Russian-speakers, like the one I attended), as well as the content of literature and history classes.
- I was a child, so none of this was a big deal. I quickly picked up Romanian, as children do. For the Russian-speaking adults, however, it was not so easy. It is difficult to learn a completely new language as an adult. But the real obstacle was the hubris.
- Decades of Soviet propaganda (backed with repression) taught the ethnic Russians about their undeniable superiority over everyone else. Why should they learn some backward language like Romanian or Ukrainian if Russian is the “purest and the most beautiful language”?
- How and why should they accept a government made up of non-Russians? And anyway, there was no point in trying, because Russia was going to come back and re-absorb all the former satellites soon enough, setting everything back how it was.
- I kid you not, these were the conversations I listened to as a kid in our Russian-speaking circle of friends. More surprisingly, these are the conversations I still hear (even from my own relatives) today, 30 years later.
- These people still hope that Russia will come to save them from the “inferior” national majorities AND give them their coveted Russian pension. These people are still waiting for Russia to give back the money they lost (na knijke) when the Soviet Union broke up.
- These people did not cause the Russian invasion—contrary to what they think, protecting them is the last thing on Putin’s mind (he doesn’t actually want to pay them pensions). But these people are complicit in the crimes being committed against Ukrainians.
- Deep down, they know that the Bucha massacre did happen—they just don’t care, because the victims are “inferior.” Just ask them about Russian crimes in Chechnya. #StandWithUkraine #StopPutin #BuchaMasacre #MariupolMassacre
- Please consider using this form letter to ask you Rep/MP for more help for Ukraine:
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