Ukraine War: Operational Analysis and India’s Stance

Ukraine-Russia conflict at a glance.
Ukraine-Russia conflict at a glance.

A war which should have never been fought if all actors had judged geo-political developments maturely and multi-laterally, rather than engage in brinkmanship. Even today the potential of the war escalating beyond the region is extremely high, unless negotiators reach an agreement expeditiously. India with her rising power potential (both economically and militarily) and soft power (friendly with all actors involved) is uniquely placed to act as an honest mediator.

Objectives as laid down by Putin
The main articles of Russian draft proposed agreement demand included eight articles with the following points:
Article 1: the parties should not strengthen their security at the expense of Russia’s security;
Article 2: the parties will use multilateral consultations and the NATO-Russia Council to address points of conflict;
Article 3: the parties reaffirm that they do not consider each other as adversaries and maintain a dialogue;
Article 4: the parties shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other states in Europe in addition to any forces that were deployed as of May 27, 1997;
Article 5: the parties shall not deploy land-based intermediate- and short-range missiles adjacent to the other parties; 
Article 6: all member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commit themselves to refrain from any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other States;
Article 7: the parties that are member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shall not conduct any military activity on the territory of Ukraine as well as other States in the Eastern Europe, in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia; and
Article 8: the agreement shall not be interpreted as affecting the primary responsibility of the Security Council of the United Nations for maintaining international peace and security.  

Bottom Line Condition/Red Line
Ukraine must forswear joining NATO under a guaranteed (NATO/USA) agreement, and no NATO armaments must be positioned in Ukraine; and No additional members should join NATO (Aim plus – no military deployment in NATO member states who joined after May 27, 1997)

Since last 36 hrs President Zelenski of Ukraine, and NATO member nations including NATO and EU Presidents have categorically stated that membership of Ukraine was NEVER ON THE CARDS. Wish they had assured Russia and even formally signed an agreement.

Who controls what in Ukraine?
Who controls what in Ukraine?

Strategic and Operational Military Aim and Objectives

Strategic Military Aim
Capture Kyiv at the earliest, resulting in capitulation of Ukraine politically and militarily.

Operational Objectives
Launch a multi-prong ground operation (3 prongs) to engage and neutralise maximum Ukrainian forces in different sectors as under–
North Prong: Encircle and isolate Kyiv and be prepared to capture Kyiv.
Eastern Prong: Capture the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and consolidate, and assimilate into the Russian Mainland.
Southern Prong: Capture areas to include Mariupol, Kherson and Odessa and provide land corridor to Crimea from Russia (presently a 12 mile two parallel road bridges in Kerch provide the only connectivity), thus preventing access to the Black Sea to and from Ukraine. Be prepared for amphibious operations to capture Odessa from the sea.
Consolidation operations: Link up all three thrust lines to provide depth and stability.

Forces for Offensive
41 Group Army (roughly 40 battalions and 1,20000 troops) with its inherent combat, combat support and logistics elements, and the Russian Air Force and Navy, Special Forces to provide full support and surge capabilities.   

Review of the Situation as on 14 Mar (18th Day)
Slow Progress of operations
Could be due to numerous factors (both operational friction and logistical challenges)

  • The surprising tenacity and willingness of Ukrainian forces to join battle, and possible rustiness of Russian forces to conduct combined arms joint operations.
  • Vast supply of arms, armaments and smart potent precision munitions (specially man portable anti-armour and anti-aircraft and helicopter missiles) to vastly improve standoff capabilities and kill ratios. Logistics support and vital intelligence inputs making the battlefield transparent to Ukrainian.
  • Operations mainly through urban terrain; though Russians are bypassing major towns, movement is restricted to roads due to thaw and marshy nature of ground restricting cross country manoeuvre. Logistics and troop convoys are being ambushed and neutralized, and most bridges en route are being destroyed, leading to delays and human and material costs.
  • Russian attempt to avoid large scale collateral damage and wanton destruction. This will go against their terminal aim of having a neutral Ukraine as its neighbor, and govern by proxy.
  • Cautious employment of the Russian Air Force. Again, to prevent collateral damage specially human (its concentrated employment would certainly have speeded up operations with less casualties, plus allowed less time for Ukrainian forces to regroup, reinforce or concentrate further speeding up advance).
  • One important factor would be the steely resolve and morale of Ukrainian forces vis-a-vis the Russian troops who may not necessarily be overjoyed at starting a war which could bring the World against them.

Prognosis for next 48 to 72 hours
Having looked at reason for slow progress, I must reiterate that operations are moving as per the plan. Next 48-72 hours could find the important city of Kyiv under total siege, the Eastern thrust nearing completion and operations launched for capture of Odessa. The linkup between the thrusts would have been consolidated provided stability and platform to launch further operations with fresh troops if geo-political or operational conditions make it necessary. The period unfortunately will also see more marked aggressive and kinetic responses from the Russians (employing their manoeuvre and fire power elements), resulting in indiscriminate destruction and human casualties. International pleas for ceasefire and cessation of hostilities and verbal assurances from US/EU/ NATO/Zelensky for negotiations or even verbal assurance on his basic demands, is unlikely to persuade Putin to stop or slow down his operations till his red line demands as stated are met in a formal institutionalized manner. Putin is aware that once he has launched the offensive, it has become a political and existential manoeuvre for him, unless he achieves a strategic and military victory which carries a positive message within Russia.

Why India’s Nuanced Position is in National Interest

It is time to remind ourselves that the World and the ‘times have changed to a multi-polar world’, that India is today a rising power (largest democracy, world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), military capability and power in the top 5 countries). Our geo-political and strategic options and stance should reflect our rising international status. Especially in this crisis, India is uniquely placed to act as an honest mediator, given its friendly relations with all actors involved in the crisis. Our national interest is to protect the sovereignty and integrity of our nation, including the 20,000 students caught in the war zone (since evacuated by remarkable diplomatic and logistic actions). Despite the rhetoric emanating about both sides of conflict viewing us poorly due to our principled stance of ‘strategic autonomy’, it is understood and respected. India acted based on its national interest, which is what it should be.

The Storm Intensifies
As the war lingers on, exacerbating the probability of escalation both in terms of scope, intensity, violence, infrastructural destruction, human casualties (probability of nuclear exchange while remote is an unthinkable probability) and geographically (NATO involvement in Chapter 5 operations), there is an urgent need for the actors to sit and talk. The geo-political situation appears grim with fewer options by the day; Putin cannot and will not stop till his basic demands are met; Ukraine may be determined to continue with outside support despite near certain knowledge of adverse outcome of the war; NATO/EU having precipitated this crisis do not want to be perceived as losers and negotiate, apart from gaining geo-political and strategic benefits if the war continues (stronger NATO with a distinct adversary to provide impetus and rationale; nations re-arming specially Germany; EU finding alternate energy supplies and losing dependence on Russia); USA facing a weaker Russia with strong NATO opposing him, is now capable and free to focus in the Indo-Pacific region and China.

The Way Ahead
With a weak and ineffectual UNSC specially with permanent members firmly on either side of the fence, and former cold war nations (virtually all the powerful and rich nations) involved intimately in the conflict, it devolves upon India or another uninvolved power like Israel to mediate and negotiate a temporary peace, stabilise the war zone, draw up an agreement which meets the basic geo-political needs of involved nations, and set the ball rolling for time and negotiations to create a lasting solution. A very tall order indeed, only time and history will tell the future.

Breaking News
Ukranian President Zelensky has requested Israeli PM Naftali Bennett help broker a deal with possible talks in Jerusalem. Concurrently two divergent developments from Russia; Putin struck an optimistic note on consultations with Ukraine and Russian delegation by stating that he is seeing some positive developments in the talks; disturbing media inputs are also filtering in of Putin ready to deploy up to 16,000 battle hardened volunteers from the Middle-East along with Russian-backed rebels to fight in Ukraine. This will certainly worsen an already critical situation.


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