Is A Russian Attack On Ukraine Imminent?

"If Russia does not launch an offensive latest by the first week of February or earlier, the Russian campaign is bound to get stuck into the ‘mud’, both natural and diplomatic."

Is A Russian Attack On Ukraine Imminent?

The world is waiting with bated breath. When will the Russian offensive to annex Ukraine commence?

Many well-informed military strategists think that a current Russia-Ukraine face-off is a recent event barely a few months old. All of them, including the USA, missed the Russian actions after a war game in early 2021.

Russians did not move the military hardware back to barracks. Strategic bombers, missile units, armoured vehicles and most importantly, clandestinely transported ammunition in colossal quantity to forward areas were left behind under protected cover. Few interesting points emerge;

Firstly, during war games, live ammunition in large quantities is rarely moved to forward areas.

Secondly, even if the decision to move ammunition on a large scale to check the logistic model is resorted, it is promptly shipped back to storage depots immediately after the war games conclude.

The Russian military did precisely the opposite. It moved a massive quantity of ammunition during war games merely to mask it as a part of ongoing war games with apparent intent to keep it there for a possible/probable campaign against Ukraine in Feb-Mar, 2022.

Russian offensive mounted across Ukraine from the Belarusian border gives Russian armour the fastest penetration in Ukrainian territory. The recent massing of Russian troops, tank formations, and other armoured vehicles on the Ukraine-Belarus border clearly indicates Russian intent. Ukraine border is barely 20 km, where Russian tank formations have already assembled in Belarusian territory.

However, quite a few parameters will/might go against the planned Russian offensive. These are;

  • Weather. Terrain, where the war is likely to be fought, is currently under sub-zero temperatures. However, sub-zero temperatures ensure that ground is firm and tanks/heavy vehicles will not bog down. But this comes with a rider; in Ukraine, thaw sets in around the middle to end of March, causing extreme difficulty in large scale ground movement. Russian attack in April and beyond might just be a repetition of the German disaster in the second world war on the Russian front.
  • Window of Attack. As highlighted above Russian window of opportunity to attack Ukraine and annexe it is from ‘now’ till the end March.
  • State of Russian Military. The Russian military was mobilised nearly nine months back. Military in peacetime location and during operational deployment behaves differently. The mobilised military is hugely expensive. The waiting game results in demotivation. Their morale dips, level of alertness drops and most importantly even the field commanders doubt the decision-makers. The Indian military has first-hand experience of such actions during Op Parakaram, during which the Indian military stayed on alert for nearly 18 months at a stretch. There is a very famous saying;” military is like a sword-you can do anything with it but SIT ON IT”.

Russian experience during the Crimean conflict might have created few doubts in Putin’s mind about USA/NATO response. Two vital parameters have changed since the 2014 Crimean war. These are;

  • While USA/NATO did not send troops/military equipment of any substance to Ukraine then, billions of dollars have moved into Ukraine as defence aid during the intervening years. Ukraine is much better prepared in 2022 than it was in 2014.
  • One of the most important events leading to the annexation of Crimea was the defection of then Ukrainian Naval Chief Admiral Berezovsky, along with more than half the Ukrainian troops stationed in the Crimean region. The Crimean campaign lasted barely 20 days and concluded in mid-March.
  • The readiness of the Ukrainian military in 2022 will offer stiff resistance to the Russian military.
  • USA/NATO (except Germany) are vociferously condemning Putin’s probable option of a Russian military response to annex Ukraine.
  • The Crimean campaign had an element of surprise in favour of Russia. In the present instant, there is no surprise. It is merely a matter of ‘when’.

The Crimean campaign was a swift Russian move with not too much bloodshed. Face off with Ukraine will be different, both on account of the time required and the number of casualties. Russia will have to take that into account. From the military balance of power as it exists now, Russia will not have a cakewalk. The window of opportunity is shrinking with every passing day.

If Russia does not launch an offensive latest by the first week of February or earlier, the Russian campaign is bound to get stuck into the ‘mud’, both natural and diplomatic.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of war being drummed by Putin and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian military is not well placed to win the short, swift war while facing NATO/US weapons, maybe soldiers.

Direct confrontation between Russia and NATO/US combine invariably carries the risk of a nuclear exchange. Putin’s doctrine clearly enunciates that Russia will resort to the ‘FIRST USE’ of nukes in the event of disproportionate conventional weapon attack by the adversary. No more clarifications are required. Therefore, the use of tactical nukes on threatening UNU (Ukraine/Nato/USA) forces in the frontline and strategic nukes to hit the heart of Europe and the USA cannot be ruled out. The world is closest to a possible nuclear exchange unless Putin calls off the bluff.

However, Putin has crossed the proverbial ‘point of no return’ by insisting that NATO/USA give it in writing that Georgia and Ukraine will not be part of NATO. Despite the Bucharest announcement and a verbal assurance of the then US Secretary of State James Baker during the reunification agreement of Germany that the USA will not seek entry of Ukraine in NATO, the USA has retracted its undertaking and is insisting on Ukraine joining NATO.

If and when Ukraine joins NATO, NATO forces stationed in Ukraine would be breathing down the neck of the Russian military, an option Putin would be unwilling to bargain for. Also, Putin would have lost the ‘chicken-chicken’ war to NATO/USA should he decide to withdraw now.

Putin, with his survival at stake, has only two options left;

  • Firstly, to attack Ukraine. Will Russia win against the combined onslaught of Ukrainian military supported by NATO/US forces and military hardware?
  • Secondly, to install a puppet government in Ukraine.

Neither of the above-stated options is easy to achieve. Hence war/long period of instability in Ukraine is inevitable. If not, Russian (read Putin’s) misadventure in Ukraine will go down in the annals of modern history as the most prominent bluff, which did not succeed and might even result in Putin’s departure.

Also Read: Russia & Ukraine: How Do Their Military Forces Fare Head-To-Head?

About The Author

Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'. He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'. He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]

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