Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Ukraine's Counter-Subliminal War

Ukrainian ground forces are nibbling away along the front line in the Donbas to take ground in the no-man's land between their troops and the Russian hand puppets holding ground for Russia.

I've worried that Ukrainian morale could take a severe hit if their role is just to sit and take it on the chin as Russia attacks and settles down on their own initiative.

Ukraine is striking back in their own subliminal war:

Frustrated by the stalemate in this 33-month war of attrition, concerned that Western support is waning, and sensing that U.S. President Donald Trump could cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he tries to improve fraught relations with Moscow, Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength have gone on what many here are calling a "creeping offensive."

Interestingly, Ukraine has been doing this since mid-December.

Ukraine is absolutely justified in trying to eject the invaders. Any accusation that his undermines diplomacy is nonsense. Russia invaded Ukraine. Who thinks Russia is willing to concede anything without pressure in Donbas? Let alone Crimea that was the initial and more successful Russian invasion operation.

Yet the Ukrainian strategy has potential pitfalls:

There is also a haunting prospect of Ukraine's creeping offensive: the risk of provoking a military response from Russia, as Kyiv and Western officials say previous advances did.

Ukraine suffered two devastating defeats -- in Ilovaisk in August 2014 and in Debaltseve in February 2015 -- that left hundreds of troops dead after Russia-backed forces encircled them and pounded their positions with heavy artillery. The battle changed the Ukrainians' calculus and gave the separatist side the clear upper hand.

On the bright side, if Putin has any hope of better relations with America under Trump, the Russians can't escalate the violence in response too much.

But I don't believe Putin believes Trump is a friend waiting to offer concessions as Democrats here insist. So Ukraine had best be ready to cope with a Russian escalation better than they managed when Russia struck at Ilovaisk and Debaltseve.

If the movement forward is just by the forward elements with major Ukrainian firepower held in reserve, any Russian ambush will hit mostly air (sorry spearheads) and potentially expose their units attacking to a major counter-ambush by Ukrainian forces.

The key for Ukraine is killing Russian soldiers inside Ukraine rather than focusing on separatists and unofficial Russians enlisted in the separatist forces. Dead Russian soldiers are the center of gravity, and not dead nameless separatists who are cannon fodder from Moscow's point of view.

If these gnawing attacks can provoke the Russians into exposing their forces in an escalation of fighting scope, Ukraine will have an opportunity to hit the Russian occupiers.

And if Russia loses the will to suffer casualties to defend their conquest, Ukraine can push back the separatists and send them fleeing into Russia proper.

It would also help if Ukraine has the ability to deter even bigger Russian escalation. If Ukraine has the ability to bombard the Sevastopol naval base with long-range missiles and the ability to lay mines at the harbor, Russia will have to think twice about escalating.

Harm Russia enough and maybe there is a face-saving way to restore Ukrainian sovereignty to the the Russian Occupied Donbas and Crimea that leaves Russia with a base lease in Crimea (as they had before) and some limited autonomy for ethnic Russians in the Donbas.

Is Ukraine's military capable of this kind of operation three years after the initial invasion?

UPDATE: Of course, Russia's goons are trying to take a Ukrainian town, so what Ukraine is doing is relatively nothing:

It's mid-winter, with temperatures plunging to five degrees Fahrenheit, but Russia's creeping war of aggression in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region is heating up once again as Kremlin-supplied rebels attack Ukrainians defending the town of Avdiivka.

Despite the Minsk Protocol ceasefire of September 2014, the Kremlin's Ukraine war has never ceased. It began in Spring 2014, an opportunistic follow-on to Russia's February 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Given this history, I'm not so sure that increased aggression now is intended as a "test" for Trump, as Bay says. It's just what Russia has been doing. Sure, in a sense it is a test of whether Trump will do more to help Ukraine stop the Russians. But that test would have been given regardless of who is in the White House now.

And for Democrats out there, why would Putin even need to "test" Trump if Putin engineered Trump's victory?

UPDATE: Ukraine is worried about American policy. Would trump offer Putin concessions on Ukraine in exchange for Russian concessions elsewhere?

I strongly oppose selling out Ukrainians for any deal with Russia.

UPDATE: In a cart before the horse analysis, this writer wants Ukraine to win the Donbas with a population-centric counter-insurgency campaign.

Sadly, there is a front line with massive numbers of Russian-supplied heavy equipment plus Russian troops and mercenaries that keep the Ukrainian military from patrolling the streets in Russian-occupied Donbas.

When the enemy controls the ground as the Russians do in eastern Donbas, any Ukrainian attempt to operate among the people would be called insurgency. 

But other than that, the plan for victory is splendid.