Current military situation in Ukraine crisis, end December 2022

In the update article Current situation in Ukraine crisisof November 30, there were assessments on the political-military situation and possible trajectories, where the things are going. Here I am updating, particularly the military situation on the whole theater of war and assessing the probable military outcome. Some interesting and important new features and issues will be studied closer.

Hotspots in the frontline, activities on battlefields

In November, Russian troops went on the offensive in several directions on the Ukrainian front lines and declared significant successes in some areas. December has further confirmed this trajectory but the main tactics of Russia’s forces is still “meat-grinding” by heavy artillery and rocket strikes and slow advance of infantry troops. Frontlines have been quite stable during December.

Overview of recent Russian strikes on military and energy facilities in Ukraine

Russian resumed missile attacks on December 5, after more than two weeks of the latest Russian strikes in Ukraine. Immediately after the first strikes, the “second wave” of missile attacks was declared. Russian missiles hit their targets at least in: Kiev, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kirovograd, Vinnytsia, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr and Zaporozhye regions.

The main targets of the attacks were the Ukrainian energy infrastructure facilities. Emergency shutdowns continue in different regions throughout the country. In addition, due to problems with electricity, there are serious delays of trains throughout the country. The Internet was almost cut off in Sumy, Odessa and Zhytomyr. The freezing weather has already come to almost all regions of Ukraine. In these conditions, stopping the water supply will lead to accidents and difficulties when restarting the system.

The next major attack of Russian UAVs and missiles in Ukraine took place on December 16, on targets like military command systems, military-industrial complexes and their supporting energy facilities of Ukraine. According to open sources, the Russian Air Force carried out 4 missile strikes and 7 air strikes by UAVs as well as 55 strikes from MLRS. All designated targets were hit.

All the assigned targets were hit, Russian Ministry of Defense (RMOD) said. As a result of the strike, the transfer of weapons and ammunition of foreign production was disrupted, the advancement of reserves to areas of hostilities was blocked and Ukrainian defense enterprises for the production and repair of weapons were halted.

On December 19, air raid alarm sounded in many places of Ukraine.Russia has recently resumed the missile and UAV strikes at military and energy infrastructure facilities throughout Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities officially reported that only 5 drones achieved their goal. However, the night attack led to a power outage in about a dozen regions of Ukraine. According to Ukrenergo, emergency blackouts are carried out in Sumy, Kharkiv, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Kirovograd, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Kiev regions and Kiev, as well as in the part of the Zaporozhye region controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.

Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack claiming that the Russian military inflicted a massive blow on the military control systems, the defense industry and the facilities of the energy system of Ukraine that provide them with energy. The Defense Ministry said that as a result of the massive strike, the transfer of weapons and ammunition of foreign production was disrupted, the advance of reserves to combat areas was blocked and Ukrainian defense enterprises for the production and repair of weapons, military equipment and ammunition were stopped.

On December 29, over 120 Russian UAVs and missiles strikes in Ukraine. This wave of Russian strikes was one of the largest bombardments since the war began.

At night, Russian Geranium-2 UAVs hit military facilities of the AFU in the central regions of Ukraine. Military warehouses and air defense systems were hit in Kharkiv, Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa and Nikolaev regions. Russian UAVs also hit at least two military facilities of the AFU in Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. In the morning, Russian forces launched massive attack with air and sea-based cruise missiles.

At least four strikes hit Kiev were reported. Missiles reportedly hit an energy facility in the Goloseevsky district, a target in the Darnitsky district and destroyed an S-300 air defense system. 40% of residents of the capital were left without electricity. In Kharkiv, missiles hit military facilities at the Malyshev plant in the Sloboda district. A warehouse of Ukrainian military vehicles was also hit nearby. Missiles reached two targets in the Nikolaev region. Another energy facility was hit in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Explosions reported near Mirgorod in the Poltava region, where a military airfield and an electrical substation are located. One of the targets in the Odessa region was the Usatovo energy substation northwest of Odessa. The air defense system was destroyed in the Aleksandrovka area. As a result of explosions in Lviv, 90% of the city were left without electricity and water. Also, strikes were reported in Sumy, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Vinnitsa, Poltava, Ternopil and Khmelnytsky regions.

On 31 December, Russia launched a strike by high-precision long-range air-based armament at the defense industrial facilities of Ukraine involved in producing assault unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) designed for committing terrorist attacks against the Russian Federation. The parking ramps and launch sites of the assault UAVs have also been neutralized. Kiev regime’s plans to commit UAV attacks against the Russian Federation in the nearest future have been frustrated.

On 1 January, 2023, was also seen strikes on hotels and other accommodation buildings used by foreign military servicemen and mercenaries in Ukraine. Russia has resumed strikes also on 2. and 3. January, obviously indicating a prolonged campaign.

Ground operations

The offensive of the Wagner Group continues in Bakhmut and on its outskirts, where the Ukrainian forces suffer ever growing heavy losses day by day. Therefore, the most likely scenario of the coming weeks is the continuation of the slow advance of Russian forces towards Bakhmut. That battle is chewing up Ukrainian reserves and has cost Ukraine large amounts of ammunition that cannot readily be replaced. Chechenian fighters are resuming slow advance in Soledar area.

Russian units continue to storm both in Luhansk and Donetsk regions claiming new gains in the area. Heavy clashes continue in Ugledar region. In Donetsk direction, as a result of the offensive actions of Russian troops, the settlement of Andreevka (Donetsk) has been completely taken over by Russian troops. RMOD noticed on Dec. 18 that in the Donetsk direction, the settlement of Yakovlevka of the Donetsk has been taken under control. In the evening of the same day, Russian military sources noticed that the main part of Maryinka has fallen to Russian hands.

On other Ukrainian front lines, the situation remains unchanged. In the Kupyansk region, Ukrainian forces continue their attempts to break through towards Svatovo but fail and retreat suffering heavy losses. It seems that Russian troops are preparing offensive operation there. In Krasniy Liman direction, AFU continues its unsuccessful attacks making heavy losses.The common thread here is that the ongoing beefing up of the Russian forces deployed in Donbass after the mobilization of nearly 400,000 soldiers is beginning to show its first results. For once, Russian forces are outnumbering Ukraine’s and Russian fortifications have been significantly strengthened. 

The fall of Bakhmut would signal that the Battle of Donbass, which is the Russian special military operation’s leitmotif, is entering its final phase. The Ukrainian defense line in Donbass is crumbling and Russian full control of Donbass seems to be at hand in a conceivable future. According to Ukrainian information sources, the heavy losses of the AFU near Bakhmut, reaching 500-700 men, a battalion per day, are the result of the active use of heavy weaponry by the Russian army.

NATO tactical systems, which have been well proven in local combat operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan against poorly armed Islamic militant groups, have turned out to be inefficient against heavily armed regular army forces in Ukraine. In the hope of preventing a catastrophe in Bakhmut, the AFU command can only send new units there, while reducing its capabilities in other parts of the battlefront.

Considering a possible intensification of combat operations in the north of Ukraine, combined with the reduced ability of European allies to provide the AFU with weapons and equipment in time, the destruction of the most combat-ready Ukrainian army units in the Donetsk region can be critical for Kiev’s potential to continue the military confrontation with Russia.​

The Russian objective may be to push the Ukrainian forces further away from the Donbass region and keep the steppes to the east of Dnieper-river as a buffer zone. Indeed, the Dnipropetrovsk oblast is also rich in mineral resources, containing large deposits of iron ore, manganese ore, titanium-zirconium ore, uranium, anthracite coal, natural gas and oil and lignite coal and is the major center of Ukraine’s steel industry, apart from being a region of intensive grain growing, animal husbandry and dairy industry. Its loss will be a crippling blow to Kiev. 

Ukrainian troop losses

Ukrainian military fatalities are now a big issue, although western mainstream media and most western military analysts try to explain that Russia is bleeding but Ukraine is winning. The truth is the opposite, because Ukraine is running out of manpower it cannot replace. It is losing by attrition on the battlefield and the Russians have systematically destroyed its infrastructure. It is unlikely the country could recover even, if the war should end tomorrow. In December, daily Ukrainian troop losses have been 200 – 500 servicemen per day, being at the same level as in November.

More than 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been highly likely killed since Feb. 24 and that amount won’t readily be replaced, while US arms deliveries are depleting stocks and exposing security holes in Asia. In a shocking statement that has now been withdrawn, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote the losses Ukraine has suffered (by the end of November).

This conforms to earlier comments made by US Joint Chief of Staff head General Mark Milley, who talked about similar number of casualties. While a “standard military calculation” estimates the number of “wounded/missed/others” about 3x of killed, this means that total amount of lost Ukrainian servicemen may amount up to nearly 450.000 soldiers at end-December, closing half a million!  These estimates are again in conformity of those figures stated in my article of August 11 , which were based on Ukrainian, Polish and other military sources.

At the start of the war the total number of mobilized AFU troops were over 900.000, of which 400.000 in active service and 500.000 in reserve. Now, half of that army may have been lost and another half of less-trained reserve troops are left, in addition to those some 25.000, who are in various training programs abroad.

Russia’s current military leadership is not following the tactics Soviet generals employed in WW II (i.e., mass troop assaults). Russia primarily has relied on massive artillery and rocket/missile strikes before launching a ground offensive. The Russian rate of artillery fire is unlike anything we’ve seen in the war history. More importantly, the accuracy of the artillery is enhanced by the increasing use of drones (usually Orlan-10) and new satellites to adjust fires, with updated coordinates relayed in real time to the artillery units.  It appears that some Western analysts, who previously undervalued the Russian tactics, are finally beginning to realize that Russia is serious about de-militarizing Ukraine via methodical, “meat-grinding” tactics.

Another factor contributing to Ukraine’s horrendous casualties is its lack of air power and effective air defense systems to counter Russian batteries. If Ukrainian troops try to attack a Russian fixed position, their movement by foot or vehicle is unprotected and vulnerable to Russian artillery or combat air.

Another groups, suffering severe losses, are pro-Ukrainian, foreign mercenaries, from which Polish group is the biggest and taking biggest losses too. In mid-December, there are estimates by military experts, based on information from publicly available Polish sources, that about 1600 Polish fighters have been killed so far. The number of wounded is probably three times the number of dead making the total Polish losses up to 6500 since the start of the war.

Based on the public data (RMOD, SouthFront, VT, others), it seems that the first three days of January have been very destructive to AFU and its allies. Jan. 3, missile and air strikes launched at a hardware concentration near Druzhkovka railway station (Donetsk) have resulted in the elimination of: 2x HIMARS, 4x RM-70 Vampire MLRS (Czech) & over 800 rockets, 6 armoured vehicles, up to 120 Ukrainian servicemen. Other destroyed equipment: 2x HIMARS in Kramatorsk, 3x M-777 in Bakhmut, 2x Grad MLRS in Serebryanka and 2x D-30 in Kamenskoye. Jan. 2, elimination of 2x M-777, 1x Krab, 4x D-30. Jan. 1, elimination of 2x Krab, 2x D-20, large drone production facilities. In these three days of January AFU troop losses amount up to 1200 servicemen, from which eliminated foreign mercenaries are up to 300.

Russian troop losses

The Russian military has suffered about 10,000 verifiable deaths in the course of its SMO in Ukraine, according to open-source research conducted by the BBC and independent Russian news outlet Mediazona that was released on Friday, Dec 9. The true death toll in the conflict is expected to be far greater than that established in the research, the BBC said. Losses of Wagner Group and Chechenians may not be included in those figures. When using a standard accounting, one killed and 3 wounded, the total losses of Russia may amount up to 40,000 servicemen.

These estimates are in conformity of those previous assessments of the summer and early autumn 2022, stated in my several articles. Russian losses are approx. 10-15% of AFU losses, in some single cases up to 20%. This is because of the way and tactics of Russian warfare, massive using of heavy artillery, rocket forces and missile strikes until the enemy is destroyed and just then putting infantry troops to offensive. This is quite opposite compared with the tactics of Soviet Red Army in WWII (massive infantry troop offensives, not caring of men losses).

Meanwhile, Russia’s manpower problems are less severe. Moscow has been replenishing its supply of front-line troops through a partial Russian mobilization, a normal conscription, Wagner Group’s mobilization program and a regional mobilization of Chechenia at home that has now been extended to the occupied territories in Ukraine.

Russia has also made progress by improving its command and control and management in the field. The Russians pulled back strategically from Kherson in order to preserve manpower and organize better defensive positions.

Russia’s main tactics, utilize massively heavy artillery in “war of attrition” has been effective maximizing AFU losses and with minimum or reasonable Russian losses, about 10-20 % of AFU losses. Russia has recently focused on destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, energy and Ukrainian command and communication posts and systems, and liquidating Ukraine’s high-value weapons, particularly precision rocket systems such as HIMARS, air defense units and Ukrainian artillery.

On 1 January at night, the AFU struck a college building in the village of Makeyevka located on the north-western outskirts of Donetsk. The building was reportedly used for accommodation of Russian servicemen. The AFU shelled the area with the US-made HIMARS. According to the reports, the building was completely destroyed. As a result of the strike, 89 Russian servicemen were killed.

This is the first time since the war started in February 2022 that Russia has suffered more than 50 casualties in one engagement in one day. It was carried out by NATO specialists supporting the operating with HIMARS and with Western supplied intelligence that identified the troop concentration and provided the coordinates and satellite guidance for launching a precision strike. This kind of single strike change nothing in terms of the strategic picture but is a clear indication of NATO’s endeavor to force the Russians into a premature winter attack, in other words to mess up Russia’s plan regarding planned and prepared winter operations. It is highly likely that the Russian General Staff does not get provoked and go into this trap.

Strengthening Russian Armed Forces

December 21, Russian Ministry of Defense (RMOD) held the end-of-the-year Board Meeting, where Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu proposed calling up Russian citizens aged 21-30 for active duty, building up the personnel strength by another 30% and deploying 20 new divisions. He also spoke for re-establishing the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts and setting up a new combat group in the country’s northwestern regions. Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the Ministry’s initiative to increase the size of the Army and raise the conscription age.

New formations

The defense chief proposed increasing the size of the Russian Armed Forces to 1.5 million. At the beginning of the year, the Russian Army had about 1 million personnel and its numerical strength was intended to reach 1.15 million from next year. Contract-enlisted personnel should be increased to 695,000, with their numerical strength reaching 521,000 already by the end of next year, the defense minister said. In the spring of 2021, Shoigu said that 380,000 Russians were serving on contract.

Shoigu proposed re-establishing the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts and setting up ten new divisions: five artillery divisions, two air assault and three motorized infantry formations. The existing brigades will be used as the basis for deploying another seven motorized infantry and five marine infantry divisions, the defense minister said.

Shoigu also spoke for setting up three operational commands of aviation divisions, one fighter and eight bomber aviation regiments and six army aviation brigades in the Russian Aerospace Forces. Each combined arms army and tank army should have a composite aviation division and an army aviation brigade of 80-100 combat helicopters, he said.

Russia’s nuclear triad

Russia will maintain and raise the combat readiness of its nuclear triad, Putin said. Shoigu pointed out that the Russian nuclear triad is maintained at the level that ensures “reliable strategic deterrence.” The Russian nuclear triad is already 91.3% provided with modern weapons and another 22 missile launchers, including for Sarmat ICBMs, will go on combat alert in the Russian Strategic Missile Force next year, the defense chief said.

Army’s provision with new weapons

Russia’s defense procurement plan for the basic types of armaments has been 91% fulfilled this year, Shoigu said. The deliveries of the most needed types of military hardware and weapons scheduled for 2024-2025 have been rescheduled for their supplies already in 2023, he said. The Russian president handed down instructions to provide the troops with all the necessary items – not only weapons but also medical aid kits, rations and footwear “at the most advanced and highest level”. Putin stressed that the Russian Armed Forces were receiving all the required means: “We have no financing constraints and the country and the government give all that the Army requests.”

Securing its western border

With NATO expanding eastward, Russia reacted now. One move is the integration of Belarus into its defense sphere. The other is an increase of its military force to cover new threats towards its northwest. Belarus seems to be a small country with about 10 million people, when compared to Russia but it is an important buffer state and the supply route to its exclave around Kaliningrad.

In 1999 Russia and Belarus signed a treaty to form a Union State covering Russia and Belarus. In summer 2020, there was a first sign of “color revolution” in Belarus, the protests took off but two weeks later the attempt to overthrow Alexander Lukashenko was ended. Russia had come to the rescue of the Belorussian government after it had agreed to finally implement the Union State. Russia will take care of the security problems and the Union State will finally be established.

With the war in Ukraine ongoing and potential NATO involvement increasing, defense issues have become increasingly important. The consistent implementation of the Russia-Belarus military doctrine means working on joint military planning and having an operational Russia-Belarus regional force grouping. Countries’ divisions and military units currently undergo coordination training in Belarus. They have created a joint air defense system that is already on combat duty (S-400, Iskander missiles), joint training of the troops and regular joint combat training events, mutual supplies of essential weapons and producing new military equipment together. The air and ground forces of the two militaries are now under a common command. Belorussian planes will soon be able to use nuclear armed missiles and cruise missiles against NATO ground targets.

The current Belorussian military is quite small. Its army has only 40,000 soldiers of which less than half are potential frontline units. This is one reason, why Belarus is unlikely to join the war in Ukraine. It has long borders with NATO countries that need protection and without activating reservists, the number of troops it has, are barely enough for that purpose. But an Iskander missile fired from Belarus can cover all of Poland, which is now NATO’s main concentration area for an eventual escalation. To Russia the Union State means that it has secured an additional 500 kilometer of buffer zone between NATO borders and Moscow.

The potential accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will require creating “the corresponding group of forces” in Russia’s northwestern regions, the Russian Defense Minister said. In particular, new army corps are expected to be deployed in the Republic of Karelia.

Depleting stockpiles of NATO but increasing direct participation

Months before Russia launched its invasion in February 2022, European and American NATO members started sending massive amounts of weapons and munitions to Ukraine. Even then, it already became clear that NATO’s stocks could not provide enough weapons for a long-term conflict, while it would take years to ramp up deliveries by expanding production lines. This was further exacerbated, when the Kiev regime started asking for more and more advanced weapons amid mounting battlefield losses. In late November, it appears that approx. two-thirds of NATO members have effectively run out of weapons by sending them to the Kiev.

The Europeans have made clear that their resources have diminished to a critical level and that continuing to supply Ukraine may not be possible. The US is also facing an empty cupboard, especially regarding important high-tech systems such as HIMARS, antitank weapons such as Javelin and MANPADS including Stinger.

The US also is short on conventional ammunition, including 155mm shells. Worse still, the emptying of vital war stocks has delayed deliveries of supplies to Taiwan and created vacuum opportunities for China should it choose to strike Taiwan. Taiwan is not getting HIMARS, or long-range artillery, or even F-16V jets, whose manufacture has been strangely delayed for some years. In a recent exercise in Japan, the US Marines flew in a HIMARS but did not fire it because of rocket shortages.

President Biden wants to run for president again in 2024 but that may not be the case, if his war goes belly-up, if Europe moves in another direction or if real trouble comes in Asia focused on Taiwan or even Korea. Biden cannot survive a crisis over who lost Europe, who lost Taiwan, or who lost Korea. To be credible and remain in office, Biden must change direction on Ukraine soon.

In early December, CNN reported that the Biden administration is considering “dramatically” increasing its training of Ukrainian forces. The proposal would involve US advisers training “much larger groups of Ukrainian soldiers in more sophisticated battlefield tactics” at American installations in Germany and possibly other locations in Europe. This could involve as many as 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers trained by US advisers a month, which over a half-year period would total 15,000 going through the proposed ramped-up US program. Meanwhile the ongoing British program at multiple UK bases continues to be large in size. The UK’s own infantry program for Ukraine forces has a stated goal of training at least 10,000 Ukrainian troops.

This kind of news has prompted a response from the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov alleged that the US and NATO are now directly participating in the Ukraine war. He reiterated prior Kremlin statements, while highlighting that growing US-NATO involvement greatly heightens this risk. “Even if someone plans to start it by conventional means,the risk of escalation into a nuclear war will be enormous,” Lavrov added.

Lavrov’s comments are significant. Russian officials have been spoken of the growing proxy war nature of the conflict. But now it appears the Kremlin sees that there’s been an escalation to direct NATO involvement. It remains that the Kremlin has warned repeatedly against such deepening Western involvement, which clearly is now going far beyond just weapons shipments.

In mid-December, in an article of the official publication of the Royal Marines and cited by The Times, British Lieutenant General Robert Magowan admitted that marines from 45 Commando Group not only escorted British diplomats in Kiev but also took part in other “covert operations” in Ukraine in an “extremely sensitive environment” in the first half of 2022. Magowan explained how 350 Marines were sent to escort diplomats from the British Embassy earlier in the year but the commandos returned to Kiev in April. During both phases, the commandos supported other covert operations in an extremely sensitive environment and with a high level of political and military risk.

Confirmation that hundreds of British Royal Marines are operating in Ukraine is one of the most significant revelations regarding Western personnel’s contributions on the ground to Kiev’s war effort since the New York Times reported in June that a CIA “stealth network” was at the crux of the war. The Times referred to the US as establishing within Ukraine “a stealthy network of commandos and spies rushing to provide weapons, intelligence and training. CIA personnel have continued to operate in the country secretly, mostly in the capital, Kiev, directing much of the massive amounts of intelligence the US is sharing with Ukrainian forces.

The Times reported further that, commandos from other NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, have been working inside Ukraine in training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing an on-the-ground conduit for weapons and other aid. Arms shipments from NATO members to Ukraine have amounted to tens of billions of dollars since February, while Western satellites, surveillance aircraft, advisors, volunteer combatants and even military contractors, have played very central roles in allowing the country to hold its own against Russian forces. 

Moscow announced, on December 16, that data from intercepted drones confirm the involvement of the US and Poland in preparation of terror attacks on the Russian territory. “Relevant agencies of the Russian Federation analyzed electronic components of the intercepted unmanned aerial vehicles, used by Ukraine for attacks on Russian infrastructure objects – in particular, in Sevastopol, in Crimea, in Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh Regions,”

The Russian research agency noted that “the avionics and drone control stations were produced by US’ Spektreworks, a company that performed the initial tuning and check of the drones at the Scottsdale airport in Arizona.” In addition, “the final assembly and flight trials of these drones were carried out on the Polish territory, near the Rzeszow airport, used by the US and NATO as the main supply node for Ukrainian armed forces.”

On December 21, RMOD Board Meeting, Putin noticed that “Now the military potential of practically all the major NATO countries is engaged against Russia”. In Shoigu’s estimate, 27 countries have spent already $97 billion on military aid to the Kiev regime and the alliance’s specialists are present in the zone of combat operations, while over 500 Western satellites (incl. Starlink satellites) are operating for the Ukrainian military.

On December 8, The Ukrainian Embassy in Washington hosted a reception in honor of the 31st anniversary of their Armed Forces. Interestingly, the invitation itself displayed the logos of major military contractors Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney as the event’s sponsors – right below the official Ukrainian emblems and the Ambassador’s name. It was very revealing that the Ukrainian Embassy has put their names on an invitation.

These American defense and arms corporations are some of the world’s largest weapons and aerospace manufacturers. They are part of a complex web of interests and they too shape Washington’s foreign policy. To sum it up, they have much to gain from US proxy wars – even at the expense of global peace.

The total US defense and financial assistance to Ukraine that has been either proposed, pledged or enacted, exceeds a $100 billion so far. 

Much of this money has been doled out with little oversight. Under Biden’s tutelage this conflict has become not so much about defending Ukraine but ending Putin and Russia. The Ukrainian people and much of Europe have become mere pawns in a big game. The Biden administration along with Ukrainian officials have been manipulating the western media with claims of how well things are going on the battlefield. White House now calculates that the Ukrainian armed forces are capable of retaking the Crimean Peninsula and Biden’s administration officials are using this as a reason Congress still needs to fund Ukraine.

Still, few Americans are paying attention to just how much money Biden administration is spending supporting Ukraine.  The additional “proposed” billions have at this point been approved with the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023. Approving the current request would bring the total amount approved to $104 billion in less than a year.

The ramifications of the Biden proxy war extend far past spending. It includes using presidential draw-down authority to pull hundreds of millions in weapons and anti-air missile systems from American stockpiles. Biden’s newly announced pledge to send Patriot missiles to Ukraine means the US may be short weapons, if a problem comes up somewhere else.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is one of those calling for urgently finding a path of negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine. He warns the entire world is in danger as nuclear-armed superpowers inch closer to a disastrous confrontation.

New technical measures and systems, taken use in Ukraine crisis

During the spring and summer 2022, Ukrainian forces, conducted by NATO, had one unique capability compared with their Russian opponents. NATO’s satellite-based data and intelligence system, with which the ground operations can be managed and conducted accurately, while having a real time situational picture over the whole theater of war. I have explained this system in my article ”Short updating of Ukraine crisis, mid-September 2022”.

The Russian troops, in Special Military Operation (SMO), had no such total system available in Ukrainian theater but Russia has put over ten new military satellites into the space orbit, in the period of April-August and developed the similar system including Internet connection.

This new system has enabled Russian troops to carry out high-precision strikes in real time on wide range of targets like Ukrainian troops accumulations (preventive hits frustrating offensives beforehand) and troops and equipment transports, especially foreign material by railways. This has optimized and supercharged significantly Russian missile and other strikes.

The US and several other NATO members have supplied Kiev forces with around 20 HIMARS systems and other 16 MLRS (M270) systems since Feb. 24. The Russian military has been working nonstop to locate and destroy these launchers, while at the same time attempting to limit their effectiveness with air defense fire. So far, about 40% of those systems have been destroyed by Russian counter-strikes.

Recently, Russian air defense systems received a new software update (in September) that allows them to quickly detect, tack and shoot down MLRS rockets fired from Ukrainian MLRS and HIMARS systems. These systems are mainly armed with M30/M31 series GPS-guided rockets, which have a range of more than 70 kilometers. Russian efforts to minimize the impact of Ukrainian MLRS and HIMARS systems on the battlefield have succeeded to some extent. Despite the improvement in air defenses, HIMARS and MLRS systems will likely continue to pose a real threat to Russian military and civilian targets.

RMOD reported on Dec. 20 that a batch of advanced T-90M “Proryv” main battle tanks has arrived for units of the Central Military District and will operate within various zones of SMO. T-90M is outfitted with a 125mm tank cannon that can fire new powerful munitions and missiles capable of eliminating enemy tanks at a range of up to 5 km. T-90 tanks fit for operations on a present-day battlefield due to its all-round protection, a modern round-the-clock highly automated fire control system and enhanced survivability technology and a more powerful 1,130 hp engine.

AFU is reporting that its whole air defense system is running critically low: radars, launchers, missiles, spare parts etc. only a small part is left. Just in December, Russia destroyed 9 air defense systems (S-300, Buk-M1) in Ukraine.

In mid-December, the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine. Ukraine has been calling for the US to send the advanced long-range air defense system as it comes under a barrage of Russian missile and drone attacks that have destroyed key infrastructure across the country. However, what has not mentioned, is the fact there is a question of only a single battery, not a real integrated AD system (emphasis on “system”). This is more a PR (optics) hype than any real military asset.

I released a study “Drones and air defense systems in modern warfare”, Feb. 5, 2021, on this website, where I analyzed, among other things, American Patriot air defense system. I stated

As to the US air defense technology, one can notice that the US armed forces are poorly protected from air threats. THAAD is good only for ballistic missile defense, not for general air defense. Patriot PAC-3 is destined to counter tactical ballistic and to small extent cruise missiles. It has very limited capability against aircrafts. Majority of aircraft-capable Patriot PAC-1 and PAC-2 versions are either upgraded to the PAC-3 variant or sold abroad. Patriot air defense system has low combat efficiency especially, when it comes to counteraction to small-sized air targets like drones and cruise missiles.

It seems quite obvious that Patriot (and Aegis) air defense systems, do not correspond to their stated specifications. They have low combat efficiency when it comes to counteraction to small-sized air targets and cruise missiles. These air defense systems are simply not fully capable to repel enemy’s air attacks of drones and cruise missiles in a real combat situation.

Those conclusions are still valid, also in Ukraine case.

Russian Sestroretsk Arms Plant is developing a new mobile system that can detect and locate Starlink internet terminals on the ground. The new system, dubbed “Borshchevik,” can reportedly detect Starlink terminals with a range of 10 kilometers. The system can be mounted on several types of vehicles, which makes it suitable for operations near hot frontlines. The system will soon be tested in real combat conditions on the frontline in Ukraine.

The Starlink satellite internet constellation, which is operated by the US-based SpaceX, was activated over Ukraine just a few days after the Russian invasion February 24. The system quickly became the main internet provider for the Kiev government and its forces. By mid-August, Ukraine internet service was being provided by more than 20,000 Starlink terminals, paid by some Western governments and volunteers as well as directly by SpaceX. The Russian military has been hunting down Starlink terminals on the ground with direct fire and with EW means to disturb the system’s functioning.  On September 30, Kiev reported major Starlink outages across the frontline, resulting in “catastrophic” losses of communication.

The new Borshchevik system will further boost the Russian military’s ability to detect and locate Starlink terminals along the frontline, thus denying Kiev forces the ability to communicate properly in critical areas.

Russia winning the electronic war in Ukraine

Russia is gaining the upper hand over the electronic war in Ukraine, knocking out the latter’s drones and potentially blinding its artillery. This began to emerge during the summer and strengthening towards yearend 2022.

According to RUSI Report of November , Russian electronic warfare (EW) capabilities have knocked out the majority of Ukraine’s drones, with the average lifespan of a small quadcopter drone reduced to three flights and that of fixed-wing models to six. Report tells that 90% of the thousands of drones Ukraine managed to amass before Russia’s invasion in February, were shot down or crashed by summer, forcing Ukraine to request replacement drones and fighter jets from the US and the NATO. Russia’s EW has blunted Ukraine’s intelligence advantages, which enabled its much smaller artillery force to punch far above its weight early in the war. 

As Ukraine’s drones are falling out of the sky at an alarming rate, this complicates artillery fire control causing Ukraine’s artillery batteries soon be firing blind and removing any precision advantage. Ukraine’s air force is also buckling under the effects of improved Russian EW capability. Ukraine’s fighter pilots were the first to feel the effects of enhanced Russian EW, noting that the pilots frequently discovered that their air-to-air and air-to-ground communications were jammed, their navigation equipment suppressed, and their radars knocked out. 

Given these reports, the drone war in Ukraine has potentially changed course. The early successes of Ukraine using Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones, may have been due to the Russian military’s shortcomings rather than the combat effectiveness of the TB-2. In a report last year by the Turkish think-tank SETA, the TB-2’s success can be ascribed to Russian shortcomings. During the summer, Russia’s EW was gaining an advantage as the Ukraine conflict turned into a war of attrition. 

Cyber warfare

The cyber environment has become a real battlefield also in the conflict between Russia and the West. Recently, NATO cyber troops have been escalating their anti-Russian campaign as part of the broader fight against Moscow in the current Ukrainian conflict.

As well as in battles of the physical world, the Atlantic alliance also often uses Ukrainians as proxies, with several attacks by Kiev’s hackers having occurred. However, Russia seems to have control over the situation.

The anonymous Russian team of hackers known as “Joker DPR”, which has recently hacked military command and control programs used by the AFU, including the advanced US DELTA program, claimed new data over the Ukrainian and NATO military. On November 11, they leaked secret documents of NATO commanders to the AFU and US, Canadian, British forces. The newly leaked documents are confirmed evidence that the NATO military is already at war against Russia in Ukraine. NATO reconnaissance is providing the Ukrainian military with all the necessary data.

The Russian hacker group RaHDit published on its website a report on the attacks that Moscow has been suffering from Western cyber forces. According to spokespersons for the group, there is an international network of cyber-agents operating in NATO countries and allied states although the attacks have been disguised to appear as maneuvers of exclusively Ukrainian responsibility.

The network operates under the central direction of the alliance, which establishes cyberwar bases in countries close to Russia, mainly Poland and the Baltics. In these centers, Ukrainian hackers are trained to carry out the war plans established by NATO, obeying Washington’s orders in the same way as in the battles outside the cyber world. The main proxy organizations involved in such operations are the hacker groups IT Army of Ukraine and Save UA – both formed by Ukrainian cyber soldiers but commanded and financed by NATO.

In July, RaDHit members had already published data on more than 2500 hackers linked to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, which made a series of counterintelligence operations possible. The fact that there have been no reports of major damage to Russian cyber infrastructure in recent months, despite NATO efforts, shows that the situation is stable.

Interesting interviews in The Economist

In mid-December the British magazine, The Economist, has interviewed the three men at the crux of Ukraine’s war effort. One is President Zelensky, the second is General Valery Zaluzhny, Chief of Ukrainian Armed Forces and the third is Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine’s ground forces. All three men emphasized that the outcome of the war depends on the next few months. The Economist identifies three critical challenges Ukraine faces in its war with Russia but neither General Zaluzhny nor General Syrsky sounds triumphant.

First problem is the escalating air war. Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power stations and electrical grid with drones and missiles almost every week since October, causing long and frequent blackouts.

Second, Russia’s grinding tactics has been success in the Donbas, which is a consequence of General Surovikin becoming the Supreme Russian Commander and instituting coordinated operations and Russia’s growing cooperation with Belarus. The Wagner group, a mercenary team, fights in the first echelon. Troops from the Russian republic of Chechnya and other regulars are in the rear but whereas these forces once fought separately, today they co-operate in detachments of 900 soldiers or more in coherent and coordinated way.

Ukraine also faces a renewed threat from Belarus, which began big military exercises in the summer and more recently updated its draft register. On December 3rd Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, visited Minsk to discuss military co-operation. Western officials say that the aim of this activity is probably to fix Ukrainian forces in the north and so prevent them from being used in any new offensive.

The third observation from Zaluzhny and Srysky is a real “stunner”, according to the Economist, because they acknowledge that Russia has out-mobilized Ukraine and this challenge is the most serious. Russia’s partial mobilization effort has been widely disparaged and criticized in the West. Now, Ukraine’s general staff and its Western partners are more wary. The fact that Russia can mobilize so fast is an early-warning dilemma for Ukraine and ultimately for NATO. Schemes run by Britain and the European Union can train around 30,000 Ukrainian troops in 18 months. Russia has been able now to conjure up five times as many new soldiers in a fraction of the time.

“Russian mobilization has worked well,” says General Zaluzhny. Mobilization has also allowed Russia to rotate its forces on and off the front lines more frequently, General Syrsky said, allowing them to rest and recuperate. “In this regard, they have an advantage.”

After 10 months of Ukrainian and Western officials and media insisting that the Russians are a beaten force and led by incompetents, Zaluzhny and Syrsky kill that meme. Not only is Russia a powerful force, they can mobilize and train 10 times the number of troops in half the time that NATO can. The two Generals also reveal an uncomfortable truth, only 28% of the Ukrainian army is “trained for combat”.

Ukraine has still enough men under arms due to initial general mobilization at the start of the crisis. Today over 500,000 are in uniform, of whom about 200,000 are combat-trained but majority of materiel is in short supply. Ammunition is crucial, artillery plays a decisive role in this war and therefore, everything really depends on the number of supplies and this determines the success of the battle.

Zaluzhny and Syrsky are signaling the desperate and deteriorating state of the Ukrainian military capability to fight Russia and their blunt concession that Russia is winning and Ukraine has no viable path to victory. An interesting question is, why would British Intelligence give the Economist the green-light to tell the truth?

Hard facts of the war

In all basic books of the war, the primary purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy’s ability to resist. That is a long process, weapons and ammunition destroyed, supply routes blocked, war production stopped, political will broke and the enemy’s soldiers must be killed or maimed. Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “Fighting is the central military act… The object of fighting is the destruction or defeat of the enemy… Direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration.”

Why so? Simply, once you have destroyed the enemy’s power, you can do anything you want. One may wonder, whether this is understood at West Point given the number of western TV generals, who say Russia is losing because it’s given up territory and was “defeated” in Kiev. They seem to forget that the US troops took over Kabul and Baghdad quite early in their war but that didn’t end either of those wars and the final result was upside down.

These hard facts of any war are valid and universal throughout the times but today’s western “military analysts” have turned blind eye on them and fanatically repeat Ukrainian war propaganda of territorial achievements.

Demilitarization, denazification, securing safety of Donbass and Russia are the stated aims by Russia in this crisis. They can happen only, when Ukraine’s power to resist is broken. Moscow may have hoped the job would have been easier but it should be done in the long way.

The above-mentioned article in the Economist was very revealing. A shocking statement was General Zaluzhny’s saying “I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs, 500 Howitzers.”

To put this in perspective, he is essentially asking for the half of what the UK and Germany armed forces combined have today. A year ago, when the war broke out, Ukraine was estimated to have 2400 tanks, thousands of IFVs and 2000 artillery systems. What happened to them and all the other hundreds of additional weapons Ukraine has received during last ten months from the West?

It is easy to see Zaluzhny’s request as being of admitting that Russia has nearly finished the destruction of his forces. Recall the phrase: First destroy the enemy’s power, then make your choice.

Russian commander of SMO, General Surovikin, is surely approaching the judgment call. Ukraine has lost a huge amount of its power of resistance and its friends in NATO are running out of what they can send. He has plenty of options, which can be combined too:

  • Continue “meat grinding” attrition and watch Ukraine and NATO demilitarize themselves. With forces in place, trained and equipped, take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. This is the easiest option but the slowest.
  • “Big arrow offensives”: a) Deep penetration from North to cut off the supply chains to Ukrainian forces in the east, b) Powerful raids from South along Dnieper River into the Ukrainian rear to encircle AFU troops in the east, c) Powerful drive along the coast to Transnistria leaving “Stub Ukraine” landlocked. Any or some combination of these arrows.
  • Block the border with Poland and the supply of NATO weaponry and wait for the whole thing to collapse.
  • If the Ukrainian collapse at Bakhmut is big enough, just move to the desired end-state borders.

As to timing of these options, it appears that the first half of this year is crucial. It is wise to recall again a legendary Sun Tzu who said: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. “

In order to understand more about the situation in Ukraine, I recommend to see this video, where Clayton Morris sits down with Colonel Douglas MacGregor to outline the next phase of the war in Ukraine. MacGregor says anyone who thinks Putin isn’t about to launch a massive operation is delusional. The interview, about 20 minutes, is available here.

December 21, Russian Ministry of Defense (RMOD) held the end-of-the-year Board Meeting. The interesting video from this meeting shows speeches of Putin and Shoigu. Worth to see.

What if?

As described above, it seems that the result of the Ukraine crisis is such that Russia will win the war on the ground and Ukraine will suffer a crossing defeat, within next 4-5 months period.

My assessment regarding the coming chain of events in the warfare is based on all the above-mentioned information as well as my own reckoning of dynamics in the battlefield. The probable trajectory seems to the following:

  • Russia starts its winter offensive within next three weeks
  • Offensive comes in the form of three “Big Arrows”, from north, from northeast and from south
  • Overall purpose is to blockade AFU troops (in the east) in a big “cauldron”, cut all the supply lines and grind AFU and its equipment in pieces

This strategy enables the above-mentioned Clausewitz principle “First destroy the enemy’s military power, then you can make your choice as you will.”

Russia’s leadership understands that the current war with the West is not just going to be fought in the fields of Ukraine. It also is a political and economic battle, worldwide. To this end Russia is forging important relationships with China, India, Iran and the former imperial colonies of Europe and the United States around the world. This aspect will be studied in my next article on this website. Please, stay with.