Sunday, May 04, 2014

If the Lights Go Out

So what could Russia do with their invasion force if they want to invade Ukraine (again)?

I went over Russian army deployments a bit here. This is the map that the Washington Post created:

I'll build on my pre-Crimea thoughts, comments on Ukraine's problem of forward defense in the far east of Ukraine, and the locations of "uprisings" that indicate the area of interest, and whether Russia would go big and drive all the way to Odessa.

The biggest concentration of Russian combat power (by my back-of-the-envelope calculations) is opposite Ukraine's 8th Corps, in the region from Novozybkov to Lgov on the map above. Call it the Lgov Group. Give it 27 "points."

The next largest concentration is at Belgograd. The Belgograd Group. 19 points.

Crimea has the next largest grouping. The Crimea Group. 11 points.

The Rostov region has some troops. The Rostov Group. 10 points.

Opposite Ukraine's Luhansk in the eastern-most part of the country, the Russians have some troops. Luhansk Group. 8 points.

Inside Moldova there are few troops. Moldova Group. 4 points.

And in southern Russia there are substantial troops earmarked. Call this the Sochi Group. 19 points.

My main focus for looking at what Russia would do has focused on eastern Ukraine, as these maps I created (and my Kharkov Storm post described):

If Russia decided to go big, the eastern scenarios could be expanded:

So what about now?

To start, before the war, when Ukraine was not deployed at all to resist the Russians in the east, I assumed the Russian invasion would be led by Ministry of Interior (MoI) troops as the visible component in order to occupy eastern cities and transportation networks. Russian troops would be more active in Crimea, I thought.

Crimea turned out not to need the Russian troops, although the overall number the Russians sent matched pretty closely what I assumed.

After two months, Ukraine has had some time to respond to the Russian threat. So my eastern Interior Ministry-led offensive must be adjusted.

This is what I'd do if I was in Putin's shoes and I was going to invade Ukraine:

Lgov Group would hold in place to threaten Kiev and keep Ukraine's 8th Corps pinned in place and out of action for the main theater of action. I'd consider the airborne troops here as part of the reserve that could be lifted to other areas while the heavy forces remain in place. In theory, Lgov Group could lead a drive on Kiev if Ukraine's government and army just collapse when Russia invades.

With all the pro-Russian activity in the southern part of the eastern salient, the smaller Rostov Group would be sufficient to drive north to Donetsk and then on to Slovyansk, heavily reinforced with Ministry of Interior troops. Other army and MoI troops could advance west along the Sea of Azov to Mariupol.

Luhansk Group would move into the eastern part of the salient, leaving attached MoI troops to hold the region while army spearheads move on to Donetsk to move north to support the drive on Slovyansk.

At most, Rostov Group and Luhansk Group would face elements of Ukraine's 25th airborne and 17th armored brigades, plus whatever National Guard troops are in the area.

Moldova Group holds.

Crimea Group holds. I'd consider the airborne and naval infantry components as a potential reserve for the drive on Mariupol.

The main effort is Belgograd Group. It faces the largest concentration of Ukrainian troops--92nd mechanized brigade--and the Russians have not been able to simulate uprisings here.

So Russia leads with troops in attack mode to hammer the 92nd brigade with the group's mechanized forces, while airborne troops are landed behind the 92nd to cut it off while others seek to hold the road network leading south to Slovyansk so the Russian heavy forces can continue south to link up with the Rostov and Luhanks groups moving from the south and east.

The Sochi Group would act as a reserve force to defend Crimea or Transdniestria if the Ukrainians manage a counter-offensive or to reinforce the Rostov Group's offensive.

This is a limited objective operation designed not to stress my military or risk the undeserved reputation for competence that is has from the Spetsnaz seizure of Crimea:

As for the Crimea operation, while it was impressive it was not a military operation. It consisted of flying in or driving in 20,000 troops to Crimea over several weeks while Spetsnaz special forces simulated a popular revolt by leading 10,000 local militias (and in future years I'll be curious to know how many were actually imported from Russia). Without kinetics, it isn't warfighting that was on display. Impressive, yes. Evidence for a reborn army? Hardly.

There is time to get more, no?

And if I want to go deep into southern Ukraine?

It would be similar, starting out largely the same way in the east.

The differences would be that I'd move the elements of 2nd Russian mechanized division and 4th armored division of Lgov Group down to Belgograd to act as the second echelon to move through Kharkov and drive on Dnepropetrovsk to defeat Ukraine's 93rd mechanized brigade.

The remainder of those two divisions in Moscow would backfill Lgov Group to maintain the force to keep Ukraine's 8th Corps pinned in place. Whether or not they are capable of offensive action isn't relevant since Ukraine couldn't afford to assume they are not and strip Kiev of protection.

Rostov Group would be reinforced by the mechanized forces in Sochi Group to lead the push west along the Sea of Azov to create a ground corridor to Crimea and points west.

Rostov Group would also send its airborne forces to reinforce Moldova Group and to advance on Odessa from the west, and to directly assault Odessa in cooperation with naval infantry forces landing from the Black Sea from Crimea Group.

In addition to that amphibious force, Crimea Group would break out of the Crimea neck to drive on Kherson with its mechanized and airborne troops. Or, at least to keep the Ukrainian 79th airmobile brigade and 17th armored brigade engaged until the spearheads out of Belgograd and Rostov can hit them from the eastern flank.

That would be the deep option.

I think the smaller option of taking the Donetsk Pocket is within the capabilities of the Russians to handle. In a few days, Russian forces could largely road march to their objectives in the face of minimal Ukrainian resistance in the south and east of the salient. And Russia would have tactical surprise to hit the 92nd Ukrainian brigade too close to Russia and defeat it quickly.

Whether Russia can pacify the territory is another matter altogether.

But going deep would be more of a problem given Russian problems in logistics and in command and control and the ability to overcome organized resistance (if the Ukrainians can manage to react to the deep invasion).

While Ukraine probably couldn't counter-attack into Crimea, Ukraine's western-most 13th Corps might be able to manage an offensive to take Transdniestria or fight for Odessa if the Russians don't restrict their objectives to a smaller eastern conquest and declare an end to operations in a few days.

Yet if the death toll in Odessa (and it is too soon to say if fault can be laid on any one side--or even say it is a Russian provocation) is to be the pretext for Russia to invade, it is inconveniently outside of the scope of the prudent military operation to secure just the Donetsk Pocket.

For what it's worth, that's what I'd do if I had delusions of becoming a 21st century tsar and being remembered as the modern Peter the Great.

And if Ukraine is able to frustrate Russia's efforts to pry the Donetsk Salient at levels of military action below conventional military means. Let's hope that our CIA and FBI have been able to help Ukraine fight the shadow war in the east and deny Russia the easy Crimea-style victory:

Dozens of specialists from the US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation are advising the Ukrainian government, a German newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing unnamed German security sources, Bild am Sonntag said the CIA and FBI agents were helping Kiev end the rebellion in the east of Ukraine and set up a functioning security structure.

If Russia invades Ukraine, we need to continue helping Ukraine to bleed Russia over this act of aggression.

Russia may be the sick angry man of Europe (with nukes), but if we rely on the Karma Doctrine to resist an autocrat with a military plan, Putin will be known in Russian history books as Putin the Great who restored Russian greatness and began the process of restoring the Russian Empire (May Day parade and all).

UPDATE: Literally related to the title:

Russia on Friday threatened to cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine in June if it receives no prepayment in an escalating row between Moscow, Ukraine and the European Union over energy supplies.

Which is also a threat to Western Europe, since natural gas goes through Ukraine to western Europe.